“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I never wanted this for you. This life…I knew it was going to kill me in the end. I wish you didn’t have to be here when it finally caught up.”
“I couldn’t,” he finally whispered. “You were the one who taught me to live, to take chances. For a while, I convinced myself that we were too different, and that it was better to let you go. But now, I’ve come to the realization that my life is probably going to be very short. And I want to spend it doing something that matters. With someone that matters. I don’t want to regret that I gave up without a fight.”
“Wes!” Riley snapped, glaring back at the elevator. “Get out here. The shooting has stopped so you can stop cringing now.”
“Oh, well, pardon me for actually having the sense to get out of sight when bullets start flying through the bloody air,” Wes snarled back, coming out of the elevator tube. “I don’t have scales or armor or the testosterone God gave a gorilla, so you’re all going to have to calm your tits until it’s safe.”
“Your friends are…interesting,” she said, making me snort. “I would hate to see your enemies.” She looked back at me, black eyes assessing. “You did not mention that one of the ‘friends’ you risked your life for was desperately hoping he could rip your head off.”
“I was a soldier of the Order,” I said wearily. “He’s the leader of a rogue dragon underground. I’m sure I’ve killed a few of his dragons in the past.”I’m also stupidly in love with the girl he considers his, and we both know it.”
“I wanted to fly up beyond the clouds, where nothing would hear me but the stars”
“It had been her mercy, her refusal to kill a known enemy, that had made me realize the Order was wrong. It was because of her that I was here now, risking my life to protect the creatures I’d once driven toward extinction. Because a dragon had spared the life of a soldier of St. George, everything had changed.”
“There are two type of cages, hatchling,” the Archivist said, holding up a bony finger. “One is where you have no choice in the matter. The door is locked, and your freedom has been forcibly taken from you. But the other is where you become a willing captive, caging yourself, because the alternative is not acceptable.”
“One hand traced small circles against my back, and I pressed closer to him, listening to his heartbeat. “I used to think that having nothing to live for made you a better fighter,” he murmured. “Turns out I was wrong on a lot of fronts.”
“His fingertips came to rest against the back of my hand, sending a zip of current through my whole body. “I’m done hiding,” he whispered. “Nothing has changed. I know we might not have a lot of time, but what we do have, I want to spend right here.”
“My heart seemed to stop. Garret paused, as if gathering his thoughts, or his courage, then took a deep breath. “I know I’ve made mistakes,” he continued, shaking his head. “But there’s still the chance for me to fix them. I shouldn’t have walked out that night.” His brow creased, a flicker of pain and regret going through his eyes. “Ember, I know you can’t feel what I do,” he said. “I get that. But…I want to be with you. And if that’s not possible, I’ll be content just to be close. Fighting Talon with you and Riley, helping people, saving other dragons from the Order-there is nothing I want more. And nowhere else I want to be.”
“Maybe Talon was secretly operating a chocolate factory," I joked, "because they discovered that making chocolate is much more rewarding than trying to take over everything"
Riley snorted. "If they put something in the bars that turned all humans into mindless drones, I wouldn't put it past them," he replied. "But I doubt that's what happened here, Firebrand."
"Okay, but if we run into chocolate-fueled zombies, you owe me dinner."
"Always the zombies with you.”
“At least I know the truth,” I gritted back. “I’m not the one who’s being lied to.” His brow furrowed, and I spat the truth at him.”
“So that left me. To save my hatchlings and my underground, even if I couldn't be there anymore.”
“But I would not break. I would not give up Ember’s location, or Riley’s underground. The next few hours might have me wishing I was dead, but I would not betray the girl I loved to the organization. They would have to kill me.”
“Our enemies-my enemies-wouldn’t win. The demon lizards had hurt me for the last time. Now, they had a new foe, and I would make sure they remembered my name when I destroyed them on the battlefield.
I would work hard.
I would excel.
I would become the perfect soldier.”
“Helpless, I clenched my fists against my back, well aware that every mile, every minute that ticked by, took me ever farther from getting to them in time and closer to losing the red dragon forever.”
“Well, looks like you got your wish, Firebrand," I whispered, feeling the heat in my veins rise up, growing hotter by the second. "Screw this waiting around. If we survive this, I swear you will have my full attention from now on."
Her eyes flashed, and I released the hold on my true self, letting Cobalt surge to the surface. My wings unfurled, brushing the countertop, and my talons clicked on the tile floor as I sank down and made myself small, folding my wings tight to my body”
“Ember was mine. The other half of me. And I would fight Talon, St George, and the entire d world to keep her safe.”
“There are no whys or hows when it comes to the natural order of things. It just is.”
“I wanted to fly up beyond the clouds, where noting would hear me but the stars”
“Riley took a deep breath. "Yeah," he said, nodding. "You're right. We can't stop. We can't let this continue. The organization will do horrible things to their hatchlings and undesirables even if there are no rogues to take the fall. If I don't keep fighting Talon, who will?
"I will," I said softly.
He chuckled. "I don't know, Firebrand. Think you can handle a dozen hormonal teenage dragons if I go down someday?
" I lived with an obnoxious twin brother for years," I responded. " I think I could manage." He arched a dubious eyebrow, and I sobered. " But that's not going to happen, Riley, because you're not going to die. This work, what your doing now, is too important. Someone has to stand against Talon, to show our kind what the organization is really like. And your not the only one who has a chance." I raised my chin, my voice firm. " You can't let them win. We can't let them win. And I'm going to do whatever it takes for us to succeed." Riley was motionless, watching me with gold eyes, and I held his stare. " I'm not walking away from this," I told him. " Or you. I'll keep fighting, however long it takes.”
“Ember was watching me, green bright eyes in the shadows of the room. She crouched against the wall with her wings pressed close and her tail curled around herself. Even with her fangs slightly bared and her sides heaving with fear, she was still beautiful, elegant, fiery, everything my dragon wanted.”
“Paranormal movies always got to me, because while I was fairly certain the Alien or Predator would die from a fireball between the eyes, and even Jason would be no match for a dragon, what could you do to a ghost?”
“Ember is mine, St. George. You can’t have her. This time, I’ll fight if I have to. *”
“Could a mare only like mares or stallions, or could a mare like whatever she damn pleased? Maybe she just didn't know enough yet to understand what she was or what she wanted. Or maybe she was lots of things, just as her skin was a mixture of browns. Maybe she didn't have to like anything.”
“Wasn’t love a kind of chaos theory? One small look, one smile or one word could alter the course of a life forever.”
“In the course of a long experience of the human race, I have learned that you can never make them understand anything, unless you rub it in.”
“As much as she was enjoying it, Dimity would always rather talk about reading than actually read.”
“Applied, this means instead of buying products on TV, sell products. Instead of digging for gold, sell shovels. Instead of taking a class, offer a class. Instead of borrowing money, lend it. Instead of taking a job, hire for jobs. Instead of taking a mortgage, hold a mortgage. Break free from consumption, switch sides, and reorient to the world as producer.”
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