Now its gaping mouth turned down. “I take these terms. I have never tasted a first-born.” It’s obscene mouth opened wide, and revealed the teeth hidden there. I gasped. It had only four of them, far apart, lined up side by side, top to bottom. The size was the terrifying part. They were closer to the size of tusks than teeth, but razor sharp.
It gripped my arm in it’s slimy hand, and slowly moved it’s head over the inside of my wrist and elbow. In a dizzying flash, it struck.
I screamed. The pain was agonizing, and I wasn’t exactly a stranger to pain. It began drawing hard, and still I was frozen. It drew on my arm roughly, relishing every draw, until I felt the pull of unconsciousness.
I came to, lying near the bloody brook. I heard Dom’s voice, as if at a distance. “How dare you?” He was speaking to the creature.
“Master, she offered blood freely. She is first-born, and she is more. If you offer me tribute, I’ll tell you a secret. It is knowledge you will value.”
Dom’s voice was as icy as I’d ever heard it. “I’m not interested in your secrets. I will deal with you later.”
“It is your secret, Master. Your’s and the first-born’s.”
Without another word Dom turned, picked me up like a child, and strode out. It felt good just to breath outside of that nightmarish place. “What the hell was that thing?” I asked softly.
Dom sent me a cold look. “You think you’re the only one with a f**ked up family? There have always been skeletons in my closet, but not all of us just run away from everything that scares us.” Ouch, that one hit home on several levels that I didn’t even want to think about.
He strode quickly back to the lobby where I had first roused. This hotel had the most confusing floor plan I’d ever encountered. I thought it might be deliberate, to keep people away from that thing.
I shot him a wary glance, my good hand to my still pounding heart. My injured arm was cradled against my stomach carefully. “I have to say, it’s not that easy to shock me, but I must admit you’ve done it.”
Angry eyes bore into me silently for a moment before he spoke. “It’s nothing like you’re thinking.”
I waved the hand of my un-injured arm in the direction of the abomination I’d just witnessed. I wasn’t surprised to note that it was shaking. “How could I misunderstand a thing like that? Are you going to tell me that room wasn’t a grove full of-”
He cut an impatient hand through the air, effectively stopping me mid-sentence. “Of course it is. But you misunderstand. We did stop all of those practices centuries ago, just as we’ve been saying, but we can never undo what’s been done in the past. You can’t get rid of a thing like that. You can only hope to contain it.”
“I know you’ve always been avid with curiosity as to why we set up such a huge population in the desert. Well, that was your answer. We don’t get to choose where that thing resides. It chooses, and we follow. The ancients used to sacrifice humans to gain power, and we pay the price for their transgressions. We feed it power, to stop the bloodshed. As Arch, I am that abomination’s guardian.”
“Only druid eyes have ever witnessed the grove. You wanna tell me how the hell you found that place?” As he spoke, he set me down gently on a plush dark-brown leather chair in one of the hotels many sitting areas. Where the hell were we? I still had no idea. Damned annoying druid casino…
I shook my head. “I think it lured me in. I went to the bathroom, and when I came out, everything was wrong. It was subtle at first, so I have no idea exactly when the enchantment overtook me. It knew what I was, and it wanted to trap me. It called me first-born. I haven’t heard that term from anyone in-I don’t even want to think how long it’s been. But I’ve only ever heard other dragon-kin refer to us that way.”
Dom knelt down beside me as I spoke, gingerly taking my injured arm. He sucked in a harsh breath at the large holes piercing my arm, two near my elbow, two on my wrist. They were already starting to heal, but they looked gruesome and they hurt like a son of a bitch.
He began to heal me without a word, and I gasped in pleasure as soon as he began, biting my lip. To go from a persistent, deep pain, to that kind of pleasure made me suddenly weak. I tried hard not to recall all of the ways he could cause me pleasure with his magic. And his hands…. I tried not to moan a protest when he finished.
He cleared his throat, obviously trying to stay on the subject at hand. “As I said, that thing is meant only for druid eyes. It is one of our darkest secrets. I only hope that you finding that grove doesn’t cost us both too dearly. You must never speak of it. Even thinking of it gives it more power. Let us hope it had it’s fill of your blood. We should get farther away. My rooms are warded against it.”
He didn’t ask, just carried me to his rooms without another word. With the pain in my arms gone, I became all too aware of who was holding me, who was touching me. He cradled me like a child, and I lay my cheek on his chest, inhaling that intoxicating scent of his. I fingered the material over his chest. He had changed since the battle. He wore a soft black T-shirt. I rubbed a hand over his hard chest, kneaded at the firm flesh of his pectoral.
“Stop it,” he said, his tone expressionless.
I sighed. I had no clue where he and I stood, or even where I wanted us to, but it was a fact that I couldn’t keep my hands off of him.
“Why was I lying on that couch, anyways? So close to that…thing?”
His chest rumbled against my cheek when he spoke. “I had some urgent business to tend to. I left you right outside of the office while I went to make a quick phone call. It should have been perfectly safe. The grove is hidden to all but the most powerful of druids. And that thing moves.”
“I’m no druid, Dom,” I told him.
“I’m well aware,” he responded flatly. “This is a troubling development, to say the least.” As he spoke, we reached his room.
I recognized it as the one he had taken me to the last time I’d been in the casino, but absolutely nothing leading to it was familiar. “What the hell is with this place? I remember this room, but nothing else about this floor. And where are all of your people?”
“I dismissed them. We have half of a floor to ourselves, for the moment. I wanted some semblance of privacy. News of our reconciliation is already running rampant among my ranks.”
“Reconciliation?” I asked softly, shocked and…something that I didn’t want to examine.