Read Dragons Realm Online

Authors: Tessa Dawn

Dragons Realm

Pro­logue 

In a land
as an­cient as time it­self, there were those who were born to pro­tect the Realm, to rule over com­mon­ers, shadow-walk­ers, and war­locks alike, and those who were born to serve the rulers with blind obed­i­ence. The former car­ried the prim­or­dial blood of the Dragon in their veins; the lat­ter bore the bur­den of a dragon’s de­sires—his hun­ger,
fire lust
, and pas­sion—on their shoulders.

It was a sac­red duty.

An ele­mental ob­lig­a­tion.

They were chosen fe­males, taken from their homes at the tender age of twelve, reared by strangers at the Keep, and trained to serve, obey, and
feed
their mas­ters in or­der to keep the dragons strong.

A se­lect few, the Sk­la­vos Ahavi, were singled out for an even greater pur­pose: to bear the fu­ture sons of a dragon’s line. To wed the fe­ro­cious be­ings who were so de­cept­ively hu­man in outer form, yet primal, dark, and wild at the core.

The Ahavi were ser­vants who be­longed to their dragon lords.

The shadow-walk­ers and war­locks were re­luct­ant sub­jects who re­sen­ted their dom­in­ant mas­ters. The com­mon­ers were hu­mans who lived in fear of all that in­hab­ited the Realm.

And the dragons…

Well, they were a spe­cies apart—
and above
—all oth­ers.

Part One:

Dragons Realm

“He who fights too long against dragons be­comes a dragon him­self; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you.”

~ Friedrich Ni­et­z­sche

Chapter One

M
ina Louvet was
only twelve years old the day she was taken by the Dragons Guard, the day she was ripped from her mother’s arms in or­der to be schooled in the ways of the Ahavi, those who would serve the Dragon. She had been chosen for her aptitude in lin­guist­ics, her bur­geon­ing abil­ity to speak mul­tiple lan­guages, both those of an­cient tongues and for­eign lands, and for her rare, al­mond-shaped eyes.

She had been chosen be­cause Wavani, the king’s witch, had as­sured the king that Mina would one day be one of the few, the chosen, the Sk­la­vos Ahavi, a fe­male who could not only bear healthy chil­dren but would
only
give birth to sons
. The witch had seen it in a Seek­ing Vis­ion, and the rev­el­a­tion had been enough to change Mina’s life forever.

Now, at the age of eight­een, Mina, along with two other
chosen
fe­males, entered Castle Dragon for the first time. As she stepped into the grand re­ceiv­ing hall, she had to will her­self to be strong, to hold her head up with pride, to keep her shoulders from slump­ing in de­feat. She had to con­sciously keep her knees from knock­ing to­gether in fright.

Her eyes dar­ted around the enorm­ous foyer in anxious, furt­ive glances, as she gawked at the nu­mer­ous ex­amples of op­u­lent wealth: The ar­chi­tec­ture was cut­ting-edge and gran­di­ose. The art­work was rare, re­fined, and price­less. And the floor be­neath her feet was made of ex­quis­ite marbled stone, re­flect­ing the purest blue veins and pear­les­cent ar­royos Mina had ever seen.

The ceil­ing was bey­ond mag­ni­fi­cent. It must have stood at least fifty feet high and, heav­ily coffered in or­nate tiles, its large un­cut beams framed the massive struc­ture like a ce­les­tial cur­tain. And the sparse but or­nate fur­nish­ings—the round table by the grand entry; the golden wing-back chairs, placed on either side of the enorm­ous stair­case; the pair of vin­tage, vel­vet so­fas that sat up against the tex­tured walls—they all looked too el­eg­ant to touch, too ex­pens­ive to sit upon. This was the Dragons’ home. The castle where King De­mitri once lived with his in­fam­ous Queen Kalani, a Sk­la­vos Ahavi who, prior to her death, had given the king four noble sons: one who had died by his own hand, and three, still liv­ing, who would re­main in the gi­gantic fort­ress to serve the Realm along with their newly ac­quired Ahavi.

At least un­til the Au­tumn Mat­ing.

For once the sons were wed, they would be sent out into the three rural provinces, along with Mina, Ta­tiana, and Cas­sidy, to set up their own royal courts and rule as dragons of old.

A soft echo ac­com­pan­ied a dainty set of foot­falls as Pralina Darcy, the Ahavis’ gov­erness, des­cen­ded the grand stair­case, roun­ded the corner into the foyer, and strode regally be­fore the girls, her head held high enough to in­ter­sect with lowly­ing clouds. “Wel­come to Castle Dragon,” she said in a cocky drawl. “This will be your new home for the next five months, and I will be your mis­tress.”

Mina swal­lowed a lump in her throat and glanced long­ingly over her shoulder at the main castle door­way. She had half a mind to take off run­ning, to dart be­neath the high wooden arches, dash into the nearby woods, and es­cape the bound­ar­ies of the Realm forever.

She wanted an­other real­ity.

She wanted an­other life.

She pressed her palm against her lower belly and curt­sied in­stead. “Gov­erness.”

Pralina began to walk in slow, de­mean­ing circles around the cluster of girls, her face a mask of dis­in­terest. She ap­praised the group much like a com­mon farmer might ap­praise a herd of cows at mar­ket, study­ing their fea­tures, scru­tin­iz­ing their fig­ures, and as­sess­ing their pos­tures with barely con­cealed dis­dain. And then she reached out to grab a lock of Mina’s raven-black hair. “Do you sham­poo with rose wa­ter?”

Mina nearly teetered in place. “I…I…yes…some­times.”

Pralina frowned, her severe gray eyes re­flect­ing du­bi­ous shad­ows in their depths. “You stut­ter?”

Mina shrank back. “N…no, ma’am. I’m just nervous.”

Pralina bent low to Mina’s ear. “Do not stut­ter in the pres­ence of the dragons.”

Mina nod­ded, un­able to reply, un­will­ing to risk an­other mis­step.

Pralina let go of her hair and stepped to the side, eval­u­at­ing Ta­tiana next. “Your name?”

The shy girl winced and aver­ted her eyes. “Ta­tiana Ward.” Her voice was barely aud­ible.

Pralina fingered the high, lacy neck­line of Ta­tiana’s gown and scowled in re­proach. “Are you a prude, un­easy, or just stu­pid? You cover your shoulders, your breasts, and your throat…on
this
day?”

When Ta­tiana star­ted to tremble, Mina wanted to reach out and slap Pralina across the face, gov­erness or not. Of course they were all nervous and un­easy—who wouldn’t be? They were the fu­ture brides of dragons, glor­i­fied slaves, offered like lambs to the slaughter for the sup­posed good of the Realm. And even if that had not been the case, Ta­tiana would not have been well suited for this duty. She was un­bear­ably shy, far too sens­it­ive, and this heart­less wo­man, this prickly gov­erness, was noth­ing more than a bully—
as if they didn’t have enough to fret over already
.

Mina bit her bot­tom lip in an ef­fort to hold her tongue. She watched as Ta­tiana curled in­ward, her frail frame re­treat­ing like a tor­toise’s head in­side of a shell, and thought about how hard the girl had struggled at the Keep, how deeply Ta­tiana had grieved her in­es­cap­able des­tiny.

Like Mina, Ta­tiana Ward had been born to a com­mon fam­ily in the poorest province, only Ta­tiana’s fam­ily had des­per­ately needed her help on the farm. Un­for­tu­nately, that fact had not mattered at all to the Dragons Guard or the im­per­i­ous king—not one iota. Once Wavani had dis­covered that Ta­tiana was a Sk­la­vos Ahavi, her sig­ni­fic­ance as any­thing more than a ser­vant to the Realm, a fu­ture bearer of a dragon’s sons, had been com­pletely dis­reg­arded. It was as if her value as a per­son no longer mattered, as if she were noth­ing more than a com­mod­ity to be traded.

Mina sighed, un­der­stand­ing it all too well.

Even as a child, Mina had been a rare beauty: Her long, raven hair fell in thick, glossy waves down her grace­fully sloped back, the silky tresses a flaw­less com­ple­ment to her deep green eyes; and her un­canny abil­ity with lan­guages, her mi­ra­cu­lous abil­ity to mem­or­ize and un­der­stand for­eign dia­lects, had ul­ti­mately sealed her fate. The fact that an­other rare beauty, Ta­tiana Ward, had also ex­celled in eco­nom­ics, that she un­der­stood the com­plex dy­nam­ics of run­ning a royal treas­ury and seemed to just
get
the finer nu­ances of a ledger, had rendered any pos­sible ob­jec­tion to her ser­vice fu­tile. With ring­let, au­burn curls and soft, am­ber eyes, Ta­tiana was stun­ning, plain and simple. She was a fiscal as­set to the Realm, and her body was ripe to bear sons. The fact that she was pain­fully shy and far too del­ic­ate to with­stand the lust­ful, tem­pera­mental de­mands of a dragon simply didn’t mat­ter to the powers around her. And that fact, that harsh real­ity, had been a dev­ast­at­ing blow to Ta­tiana’s fam­ily and, quite frankly, a cruel twist of fate Ta­tiana didn’t de­serve.

None of them did, really.

Well, ex­cept,
per­haps
, for Cas­sidy.

Even be­fore Pralina could ap­proach the ob­nox­ious fe­male, Cas­sidy took a bold step for­ward. She flipped her shoulder-length blond hair, bat­ted her crys­tal-blue eyes, and angled her jaw in de­fi­ance. “I am Cas­sidy Bondev­ille.”

Pralina drew back in sur­prise. “Did I ask you to speak?”

Cas­sidy man­u­fac­tured a frown as severe as Pralina’s. “No, ma’am. You did not.” Her voice was clipped and brazenly un­apo­lo­getic.

Pralina raised her open palm and held it just inches from Cas­sidy’s jaw. For a mo­ment, Mina could have sworn the gov­erness was go­ing to slap her, but then, as the ten­sion slowly ebbed, she stroked the side of Cas­sidy’s rosy cheek with her thumb, in­stead. “Ah yes, Cas­sidy Bondev­ille, born to a high-bred fam­ily in the com­mon province. Eager to get on with it, I see.”

Cas­sidy shrugged her shoulders with haughty in­dif­fer­ence. “Eager
enough
…to serve the Realm.”

Pralina snorted. “I see:
to serve
the Realm
.” She laughed out loud, and then she took sev­eral steps back and re­garded all three girls cir­cum­spectly. “As Cas­sidy has so humbly re­minded us all”—she spat the word
humbly
with heavy sar­casm—“you are here to serve the Realm.” She snickered. “More im­port­antly, you are here to serve the king. More
spe­cific­ally
, you are here to learn what you must over the next five months in or­der to
serve
Damian, Dante, or Drake Dragona how­ever they see fit.” She cleared her throat and smiled, and it was a wicked par­ody of mirth. “When the leaves turn color in au­tumn, which they in­ev­it­ably will, the witch will make her re­com­mend­a­tions to the king. Those re­com­mend­a­tions, along with whatever pe­ti­tions His Majesty re­ceives from his sons, will ul­ti­mately de­term­ine your fate, which one of you will be bound to each dragon son. You have no say in the mat­ter, and if you were not already fit for this ap­point­ment, you wouldn’t be here. It is my job to make you
worthy
be­fore then, to en­sure your ab­so­lute obed­i­ence. It is your job to com­ply.”

Ta­tiana choked back a sob, and Mina reached out to take her hand, hop­ing to provide whatever com­fort she could. “Ig­nore her,” she whispered be­neath her breath. “She’s just try­ing to scare us.” She left out the fact that it was work­ing.

Ta­tiana squeezed Mina’s hand in des­per­a­tion, and Mina re­spon­ded in kind.

It was the wrong thing to do.

Pralina in­stantly stiffened and glared crossly at Mina. “What did you just say to that girl…a mo­ment ago?”

“Noth­ing, Gov­erness. I just—”

Pralina seized Mina by the arm and dug her nails into her flesh. She squeezed so hard that her bony fin­gers drew blood, and then she slapped Ta­tiana’s linked hand away. “You just told this girl to ig­nore me. Are you in­sane?”

“No,” Mina said, real­iz­ing she should stop there but un­able to hold her tongue a mo­ment longer. “I didn’t tell her to ig­nore
you
. I told her to ig­nore your flag­rant at­tempt at in­tim­id­a­tion, your ob­vi­ous need to hu­mi­li­ate us.” She clasped one hand over Pralina’s, un­peeled the bony fin­gers from her bleed­ing arm, and met the gov­erness’s icy stare head-on. “I told her you were just try­ing to scare us.” This time, she didn’t stut­ter.

Pralina drew in a sharp, angry breath. “You will­ful, in­solent…
whore
! Do you not know that I could have the flesh peeled back from your bones, have that tongue cut out of your in­solent mouth? There are dozens of Ahavi at the Keep just wait­ing for the op­por­tun­ity to take your place. Do you think you are ir­re­place­able, you stu­pid, re­bel­li­ous wench?”

Mina clenched her fists and her arms began to tremble. She was
this close
to tak­ing a swing at Pralina’s jaw when the room sud­denly grew cold, and the air grew in­ex­plic­ably still. It was as if someone had thrown open a win­dow in a dark, creepy at­tic and a gla­cial mist had swept into the room. As the eerie, oth­er­worldly wind swirled about the foyer, a tall, im­pos­ing male stepped out of the fog.

Great ghosts of the ori­ginal dragons
, Mina thought. This was not someone to toy with.

The male had to be at least six-foot-two, and he was dressed in form-fit­ting breeches and a silk black shirt, one that bore the un­mis­tak­able em­blem of the dragon in the up­per left corner. The royal sigil was a deep blood red; the dragon it­self was em­broidered in gold; and in the cen­ter of the dragon’s eye, just be­low his angry brow, there was a pol­ished in­set dia­mond. It was roughly cut and blaz­ing with light. In fact, it al­most ap­peared alive, as if it were wait­ing…and watch­ing…guard­ing the dragon’s heart.

The male was just as cryptic.

His an­gu­lar fea­tures were drawn so taut they ap­peared to be chiseled in stone, and he prac­tic­ally glided when he walked, slink­ing for­ward in the most in­hu­man man­ner. His muscles con­trac­ted and re­leased in waves, rising like the haunches of a pred­at­ory cat, des­cend­ing like an ocean’s foam, as his rich onyx hair shif­ted in the preter­nat­ural breeze, cas­cad­ing around his proud, broad shoulders. Power ra­di­ated from his hid­den aura; danger settled in his wake; and all the while, his mid­night-blue eyes shone like dark sap­phires, emer­ging from hid­den flames.

His move­ment,
his very es­sence
, was chilling yet de­cept­ively calm.

He was ut­terly ter­ri­fy­ing in his an­imal grace.

Pralina stepped back and bowed her head, and for a mo­ment, Mina thought about do­ing the same. Heck, she thought about climb­ing un­der­neath the nearest piece of fur­niture, but she stood, trans­fixed, watch­ing Pralina’s obed­i­ent, sub­missive be­ha­vior.

It re­minded her of a pack of wolves she had ob­served while liv­ing at the Keep.

It had been the dead of winter, and she had been gath­er­ing wood in the forest when she came across an al­pha, a pack leader, snarling at a beta pup. The pup had tucked in his tail, bent back his ears, and ex­posed his un­der­belly in sub­mis­sion, much like Pralina was do­ing right now.

Mina shivered.

The gov­erness’s body lan­guage was more than ac­qui­es­cent—it was pos­it­ively with­drawn. “Mi­lord.” Pralina spoke the word with
rev­er­ence
and more than a little fear.

The male spared her a glance and waited.

For what?

Mina had no idea.

But the seconds seemed like hours as the bizarre scene dragged on. And then, all at once, real­iz­a­tion dawned on her: This wasn’t about Pralina or her piteous show of sub­mis­sion. It was about the royal prince rein­ing in his beast. Some­how, Mina just knew he was telling his barely leashed, prim­or­dial in­stincts to heel, that he was com­mand­ing him­self
not
to hurt the gov­erness.

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