Time was fleeting for Myka as he shivered uncontrollably before suddenly sweating like he had just ran the entirety of Greyson Valley. The boy couldn’t focus on anything whenever he opened his eyes for brief moments of time; only seeing blurry shapes as someone moved around him.
‘You’re safe, now.’ The rich baritone voice said in the back of his mind. ‘You’re safe and we’re together. That’s all that matters.’
‘If you say so,’ Myka thought to himself, only to be surprised when the voice responded.
‘I do,’ the voice said with a huff. ‘Now, sleep. I need you to get better.’
‘But. . .’
Myka started to protest, but his thoughts fell silent as he felt a heavy weariness press down on him and the boy fell back to sleep. He saw a green dragon doing loops high above him, the sunlight making it appear as though the dragon was encompassed within a golden halo as it performed its aerial acrobatics. Myka smiled wistfully as he thought about how exhilarating it must be to fly on the back of a dragon. The boy reached up towards the sky with the same dopey smile on his face as he continued to watch the elegant creature perform its dance with the sun and clouds. A wave of peaceful happiness seemed to flow into the boy’s mind as he watched the dragon for what seemed like hours; neither living being was feeling the slightest bit exhausted by their tasks. Myka could tell the dragon was happy, and that kept him happy, as well.
Myka screamed as he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder; quickly yanking him from the dream he had been enjoying. His body instantly tried to pull away before the boy was even fully awake.
“Hold him down, Nikolai!” A woman shouted, making Myka groan in pain as his head throbbed.
“Not him!” Myka grunted out between clenched teeth. He heard a slight gasp come from his left, but Myka ignored the sound. “Anybody but him!”
‘Calm yourself, Myka,’ the voice said in Myka’s head.
“No!” Myka practically screamed as he went to yank his arm away from the boy that was holding onto it tightly. Myka was delirious as his fever began to spike again, and someone placed a cold cloth against his forehead. He didn’t want to feel the other boy’s skin against his own any longer, though. “Make him let go!”
‘They’re trying to help you,’ the voice told Myka calmly. ‘Relax and let them do their job.’
“Not him!” Myka cried as he felt other hands begin probing around his body. He felt his body shaking as tears started rolling down his cheeks. “Please, not him.”
Myka tried to fight the wave of exhaustion that was pressing down on him, but it was more than he could handle, and the boy slipped back into the land of dreams.
The green dragon wasn’t flying this time. It stood in the middle of the clearing with its green scales glistening in the light of the afternoon sun shining down from above. Myka was close enough to the great beast that he would have been able to reach out and touch it if he tried, but his fear of the majestic creature was holding him back. The dragon made a huffing sound, and Myka giggled slightly as the dragon lowered its massive head until it was eye level with the boy.
Myka frowned as he reached out with his right hand, afraid that he was overstepping his bounds with the emerald green-eyed creature. The boy dropped his gaze until he felt the leathery snout press against the palm of his hand, and a rush of warm air blew the boy’s hair back, making him giggle.
‘This is amazing,’ the boy thought happily as he risked a glance at the dragon. It huffed at Myka again and pushed its snout harder against the boy’s hand. Myka couldn’t help but to start scratching the proffered nose in front of him. As he did, Myka felt his worries start to fade away and he smiled as a gentle feeling of peace came over him. His voice cracked slightly as he spoke to the dragon. “You’re beautiful.”
The dragon huffed again and pushed its nose into Myka’s chest, making him fall onto the dragon’s head. The boy instinctively wrapped his arms around the head that was slightly larger than his small body.
‘I wish you were my dragon,’ the boy thought as he felt the dragon lift him lightly from the ground. ‘I would ride you every day. I would never let anybody hurt you, either. I. . . I would always love you!’
The dragon huffed like it was laughing before it returned the boy’s feet to the ground. Myka couldn’t bring himself to let go of the dragon, though. It didn’t seem to the boy like the dragon wanted him to let go.
‘I wish I could stay like this forever,’ the boy thought sadly.
‘You can once you’re better, Myka.’
The voice stunned the boy into suddenly sitting up and finding himself in a cave with a large green dragon curled up beside his cot on the floor. The dragon was breathing deeply in the dimly lit cave, and Myka was surprised when he felt love coming from the direction of the sleeping giant. There were few ornaments throughout the large cave, and the boy was certain the orangish light was coming from the other side of the dragon. The boy looked down beside the bed and saw several stones circling the bed: each one resonating with a dull bluish glow.
‘What happened?’ Myka asked himself.
“You were badly injured, young one.” An older looking woman said as she stepped around the head of the dragon into Myka’s view. Her long gray hair was draped across her shoulders, and the woman’s friendly green eyes looked tired as she approached the boy’s bedside. She sat down on the edge of the cot and put her wrist against Myka’s forehead. “Your fever seems to have finally passed. Your color is returning, as well, Myka. So, would you like to tell me why a dragon pulled me and my grandson from our beds in the middle of the night, and made us come here?”
“I’m sorry,” Myka said as he suddenly remembered how he had been caught kissing Nikolai by his cousins.
“I’m not mad at you, Myka.” The woman said as she clasped the boy’s hands in her own. “I would just like to know why I’ve spent the past nine days nursing you back to health.”
“It’s okay, Myka.” The boy glanced up to see the blonde-haired boy that had stolen his heart. Nikolai refused to meet his gaze and kept his blue eyes focused on the ground. “I told her about the kiss.”
Myka heard Nikolai sniffle slightly as he turned and went back to the other side of the dragon.
“Was it your cousins, Myka?”
The boy froze as he suddenly remembered how the older boys had pushed him over the snow-covered cliff. His hands started to tremble, but the Master Healer of Greyson Valley held his hands tightly in her own.
“You can trust me, Myka.” Lady Tamera reassured the boy before she glanced over at the form of the sleeping dragon. “I doubt that you have to be afraid of anything ever again, Myka.”
Myka followed her gaze and found the dragon’s closest eye open and staring at him. The boy felt a wave of love and devotion wash over him so fast that he swayed slightly where he sat.
“What’s going on?” Myka asked in disbelief. “It was a dream. . .”
‘Not all of it was a dream, Myka.’
Myka jumped and the Lady Tamera quickly put her hand on the boy’s leg to keep him from getting out of the bed.
“Bylanth,” Myka said in awe as the dragon huffed. The boy’s vision clouded as his hazel eyes filled with tears. “It wasn’t a dream. They pushed me. . . You. . . You caught me! They. . .” The boy’s gaze turned back to the Healer. “They beat me, Lady Tamera.”
The woman nodded as a tear slid down her pale cheek.
“Then, Mytch and Myra tied me to a tree,” the boy broke off his story as a tearful sob escaped his throat. “It was so cold. . .”
“That’s why your aunt and uncle couldn’t find you,” the woman said absently before she motioned for Myka to continue. “Sorry, child. Go ahead.”
“It snowed all day, and I couldn’t get free from the ropes. . .” Myka trailed off as the images of his cousins returning to push him off the cliff flashed through his mind. Then, he thought about how Nikolai had run away when his cousins found them. Myka didn’t blame Nikolai for running, wishing he had done the same after suffering through being drug through the pigpens by his cousins. It had taken his Aunt Hannah nearly an hour to help him get clean. The boy sniffled as he thought about how his aunt and uncle had both held him tightly that night, telling him how much they still loved him. A soft growl from Bylanth brought Myka back to the moment. “When my cousins came back, they untied me before Mytch made me turn around and face them. He told me that he wanted to see the look of terror in my eyes as I died. Then, they both pushed me over the edge. . .”
Lady Tamera gasped in disbelief before she pulled Myka into her chest.
“How are you still alive, child?” Tamera asked in a voice filled with a barely controlled rage.
Myka looked over at Bylanth and smiled.
“It was so strange,” the boy said in a daze as he continued to stare at his bond mate. “Everything seemed to go in slow motion, and I had resigned myself to my fate when I saw a golden glow in the sky. Then, I felt a rush of warm air as the snow suddenly swirled upwards and Bylanth caught me. Everything else is a haze.”
Myka felt the woman’s arms tremble as she continued to hold him.
“Thank Draconis, you’re alive, Myka.” The woman said. “Now, I need to run back to my cottage to get a few more supplies. Plus, I think your aunt and uncle would like to know that you’re awake.”
Myka froze and pulled away from the woman.
“You have nothing to fear from them, Myka.” Lady Tamera said calmly. “Your aunt and uncle love you almost as much as your mom and dad do. Mytch and Myra tried to kill you! That cannot go unpunished, Myka!” Then, the woman smiled. “Besides, you’ve got your own personal bodyguard, now. Nobody is going to mess with you ever again.”
Myka frowned discontentedly.
“I’ll be back before you even miss me,” the old woman said before she rose to her feet and turned her attention to the dragon. “I’ll be back in an hour or two, Bylanth. Nikolai will be remaining behind. . .”
“Grandmother. . .” Nikolai started to protest but the woman held up her hand to silence him.
“There are some things that a dragon just cannot help with, Nikolai.” The woman said sternly. “You have to stay.”
“He even said he didn’t want me here,” the boy said bluntly, trying to dissuade his grandmother from leaving him behind.
Myka froze as he briefly remembered being held down and a sharp pain in his arm. He reached up and rubbed his left shoulder absently, noticing that it felt a little tender.
“This gives the two of you time to talk it over, then.” The woman then glared at Bylanth. “Make sure this problem is resolved, or I’m going to have a new rug in my cottage, Bylanth.”
The dragon snorted in surprise before it nodded once at the woman. Lady Tamera turned her attention back to the boys.
“You will figure this out,” she said.
Then, she gave each of the boys a firm look before she turned to grab the fur-lined coat her husband had given her before he passed into the arms of Draconis. Neither of the boys moved until the woman walked back over to them with her bag in her hand.
“I won’t be too long, boys.” The old woman said, her tone softer than before. “There’s too much love to be shared for you to let this come between you. Bylanth is in charge.”
“Yes, Lady Tamera.”
Both boys kept their gazes averted as the Master Healer’s footsteps could be heard growing fainter as she left the cave. Bylanth snorted before he used his tail to push Nikolai to the side of the bed.
‘Sit,’ the dragon commanded. Nikolai complied immediately with the command. ‘Now, talk.’
“I’m sorry, Myka.” Nikolai said in a trembling voice. “I never meant to hurt you.”
“It’s not important,” Myka started to say, but the boy was interrupted by a growl from Bylanth.
“You almost died, Myka!” Nikolai shouted angrily. Myka looked at the boy in surprise and saw his blue eyes were filled with tears, and his entire body was shaking. “They saw us together and I panicked! I ran to my grandmother’s cottage so I could tell her what happened, but she wasn’t home. My grandmother had been called away to help out with a mare that was having a difficult labor at Decker Farms, and she didn’t get back until the afternoon that you disappeared. I told her everything when I found her, and she promised me that she would go handle it with your aunt and uncle. She couldn’t find them, though. They were out looking for you, Myka. Everyone at Carter Farm was searching for you.”
Nikolai paused as Myka’s gaze fell.
‘Tell him, Nikolai.’ The dragon commanded. ‘He needs to know.’
Nikolai stumbled forward slightly at the sudden intrusion to his thoughts and found himself sitting on the edge of the cot to keep from falling over. Myka just watched as his companion twisted his fingers together. Nikolai sighed as he regained his composure.
“I should have told you this the first time I met you, Myka.” The thirteen-year-old said with a frown as another tear slid down his cheek.
“Told me what, Nikolai?” The younger boy asked quietly.
He was fighting the urge to reach out and comfort the boy he loved, uncertain of where Nikolai was planning on going with the conversation. Nikolai smiled briefly as his blue eyes met Myka’s hazel eyes.
“I love you, Myka.” Nikolai said softly. “I always have.”
Myka froze, unable to form a response to Nikolai’s confession. Nikolai frowned when he noticed Myka’s expression.
“I’m sorry, Myka.” Nikolai said softly. “I shouldn’t have run away when Mytch and Myra caught us. I just didn’t know what else to do. . .”
“It’ll be okay,” Myka said as his gaze fell.
The words seemed right to say, but Myka was still torn up inside about what had happened and couldn’t bring himself to forgive Nikolai for seemingly abandoning him.
‘Stop being a child,’ Bylanth said with a growl, startling Myka. ‘He went for help!’
‘I am a child,’ Myka thought bitterly.
‘Wrong!’ Bylanth growled angrily. ‘You’re not a child! You’re a Rider, now!’
‘He went for help,’ Myka thought grimly.
‘And he found it, too!’ The dragon declared. ‘The moment I landed in front of his grandmother’s cottage, Nikolai came running out and began telling me all about you – not even knowing if I would understand. He begged me to find you and save you, Myka. That’s when I told him to get me a Healer and he returned with the Lady Tamera.’
Myka was trembling by the time Bylanth had finished with his story. The dragon’s confidence pierced to Myka’s core, and he glanced up at Nikolai without even realizing he had done it.
“Are you okay, Myka?” Nikolai asked nervously once he saw the blank expression clear from Myka’s face.
“Yeah, Nikolai,” Myka replied softly. “I’m fine, thanks to you.”
“I didn’t do anything,” he stated.
“You got the help needed to save my life, Nik.” Myka corrected the boy. “Also, I’m sorry for the things I said to you while you were helping Lady Tamera.”
“You remember?” Nikolai asked in shock. “Grandmother said that you probably wouldn’t remember anything since your fever was so high.”
“I remember all of it,” Myka said as he glanced down at his hands. There were still red lines on his wrist where his cousins had tied him up, but they were fading just as quickly as the tenderness in his shoulder. “I mean, I remember when I was awake. It’s a little fuzzy in my head and I don’t remember details, but I know it happened.”
“I’m sorry that I took so long,” Nikolai started but Myka stopped him by grabbing the hand closest to him.
“It’s not your fault, Nikolai.” Myka said. The boy sighed as he squeezed Nikolai’s hand; an act that he didn’t think he would ever get to do again. Myka couldn’t help but smile as he ran his thumb across the back of Nik’s hand. “I’m sorry that I overreacted. I didn’t know what to think when I saw you run away. . .”
Nikolai stopped Myka’s apology by leaning over and kissing the brown-haired youth on the cheek. Myka looked up in surprise at Nikolai and put his free hand to his cheek where the other’s lips had touched.
“It doesn’t matter, anymore.” Nikolai said with a sad smile. “You’re safe and healthy again, Myka.
“I still love you, Nik.” Myka said softly as his cheeks flushed red.
Nikolai’s smile brightened before he put his fingertips under Myka’s chin and forced the boy to look at him.
“Do you mean it?”
“I always have,” Myka replied.
Nikolai looked thoughtful for a moment before he suddenly pressed his lips against Myka’s. Myka gasped in surprise before his body relaxed and he leaned into the kiss that he had been yearning for. His stomach felt like it was twisting around inside of him as a warm feeling spread throughout his body. When Nikolai pulled away, Myka wouldn’t let him, and grabbed the front of Nikolai’s tunic to keep the older boy from trying to pull away again. He heard Nikolai giggle lightly and Myka couldn’t help but blush and lean back slightly. He bit his bottom lip as he took a quick glance at Nikolai’s red face and the tunic that was still wound tightly in his grasp. The older boy was panting, but the smile he had on his face seemed to draw Myka in for more.
“It’s okay, Myka.” Nikolai said softly. “You can kiss me whenever you want.”
Myka grinned before he leaned forward and kissed Nikolai softly.
‘Finally,’ the dragon told Myka with a huff.
“Tell Bylanth to stay out of this,” Nikolai said with a giggle. “He’s done enough for now.”
‘Tell Nikolai that the Lady Tamera is at the bottom of the mountain with visitors,’ the dragon replied smugly.
“How much longer?” Myka asked out loud.
“What?” Nikolai asked as he saw the glossy-eyed look in Myka’s eyes.
‘A few minutes,’ Bylanth said. ‘I will give you ample warning to present yourselves.’
Myka didn’t answer Nikolai, and instead pushed Nikolai back onto the bed before he covered the older boy’s body with his own and proceeded to kiss him again. Nikolai grunted in surprise, but his hands quickly found their way inside Myka’s tunic and stroked gently up and down the bare skin of his back. Myka groaned in pleasure as he kissed Nikolai harder. Neither boy was willing to break their embrace until Bylanth informed Myka that the Lady Tamera was getting closer. Myka moved away reluctantly after stealing one last kiss from Nikolai. The boy felt like his energy was drained and he could feel his body trembling as he sat there. Nikolai looked at him with a goofy smile.
“You look tired,” the blue-eyed boy said.
“I feel exhausted, now,” Myka admitted. “When I first woke up, I felt like I could run for miles, but now it’s taking all I have just to sit here.”
“I let you over do it,” the older boy said. “My grandmother isn’t going to be happy.”
“It was worth it,” Myka said as he began to hear the sounds of approaching footsteps. “Lady Tamera is back.”
Nikolai smiled and pulled back from Myka, but the younger boy kept his hand held tightly in his own.
“I see that the two of you have made up, finally.” Tamera said with a pleasant smile as she joined the two boys. The woman’s smile turned to a frown though as she sat on the other side of Myka’s cot. “Why are you so pale?”
Myka’s eyes shot to Nikolai for a brief moment before Tamera smiled and nodded with a light laugh.
“You will take it easy from now on, Myka.” Lady Tamera said. “No matter what my crazy grandson tries to get you to do. Do you understand, young one?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The boy replied meekly.
“Are you up to having a few visitors?”
Myka trembled at the woman’s question.
“Who is it?” He asked nervously.
“Your aunt and uncle are here, Myka.” Tamera told the boy with a gentle smile. “They’ve been worried about you.”
“They know. . .”
“And they don’t care, Myka.” Tamera reassured him. “Trust me, child.”
Myka hesitated before he finally nodded in agreement.
“Okay. . .”
Bylanth yawned, his massive teeth glistening in the light from the fire, before the dragon shuffled itself closer to Myka’s cot and sat in a protective manner. The Lady Tamera smiled as she watched the dragon help ease the boy’s fears.
“Come with me, Nikolai.” The woman told her grandson. “This is a family matter, and Bylanth is keeping an eye on our charge. He will call us if we are needed.”
“Yes, grandmother.” Nikolai said almost regretfully. He smiled at Myka and squeezed his hand before he followed his grandmother back to the other side of the set of caves.
Myka began to tremble until he felt the warm breath of Bylanth wash over him, slightly easing his fears of what was coming. The boy looked down at his hands as he heard the footsteps approaching and couldn’t even bring himself to look up when he heard his name called.
“Myka?” It was his Aunt Hannah. Myka continued to look down at his hands and even Bylanth’s breath couldn’t stop him from shaking. The woman ran forward but stopped the moment the great dragon growled lightly. Hannah put her hand to her mouth as she took in the scene. “But. . . ”
Myka’s Uncle Myron stepped forward and put his arm across his wife’s shoulder.
“Let me handle this, love.” Myron said softly before he bowed his head to the dragon. “Please, dear dragon, my wife only wants to show our nephew that we still love him dearly. Will you please let her approach your Rider so that she may show him the truth?”
Hannah looked startled in Myka’s eyes as he finally glanced up to see his aunt and uncle. He couldn’t stop the tears from falling down his cheeks when he saw the woman’s expression. He thought back to when she had helped him clean up the night before his cousins tried to murder him.
‘It is up to you if she approaches or not,’ Bylanth told him.
‘She may,’ Myka replied.
Bylanth huffed and nodded towards the aunt and uncle, but he refused to move away from the boy for any reason. Myka was his Rider, and he would protect him with his life! The dragon pushed love and reassurance through the bond he shared with Myka, and the boy’s trembling faded. Hannah stepped warily forward, afraid of looking away from Bylanth but still wanting to rush to her nephew’s side so she could console the child.
“It’s okay, Aunt Hannah.” Myka said in a broken voice. “Bylanth won’t hurt you.”
‘The spawn is another matter, entirely,’ Bylanth said angrily. The dragon quickly pulled back his anger when he saw his Rider’s shoulders sag. ‘Sorry.’
Myka sighed in relief as he felt the sudden rush of anger dissipate. The bond he shared with Bylanth was still new to him, and he didn’t understand how to process all the sensations that he was receiving from his new companion. Hannah sat down on the edge of the cot and reached across to hold Myka’s hands in her own.
“Your cousins have been locked away for what they did to you, Myka.” Hannah confessed. “The Elders from the Valley Council have been summoned to the farm for a trial.”
Myka stiffened in shock.
“But. . . ”
“Shh,” Hannah said as she pulled the trembling boy into her arms. “You don’t have to worry about them, any longer. The council will see to it that the boys receive their just punishment.”
Bylanth snorted at her, but the woman waved her hand at him as if dismissing the beast. The dragon sat back in surprise and turned his attention to the uncle who only shrugged his shoulders as if he had no idea what his wife was thinking. Bylanth huffed as if he was laughing.
“I promise that you’re safe now,” Hannah continued.
“The boys will be found guilty, Myka.” Myron assured his nephew. “You don’t have to worry about them coming back either, Myka. They’ve been disowned by the entire Carter Family for their crime, and once they face trial, they will be lucky if they ever see the light of day again.”
“You caught them?”
“Yes,” Myron said with a firm nod. “I found them as they were coming back from the cliff. They were acting suspicious, so after I sent them both home, I went back the way they had come and there was blood in the snow around the tree. I looked around and saw the tracks leading to the edge of the cliff and I knew exactly what the boys had done.”
Myka glanced at his uncle in shock as he heard the venom in the man’s voice.
“I ran down to the bottom of the cliff, but there was no sign of you, Myka.” The man said in disbelief before his gaze turned to the dragon. “Did you save my nephew?”
Bylanth nodded once and Myron dropped to his knees in front of the dragon.
“There is no way I could ever thank you enough for saving Myka, Bylanth.” The man said softly. “Please, Mighty Bylanth, if my family or farm can ever be of service to your needs, do not ever hesitate to ask!”
‘There is another dragon approaching,’ Bylanth said suddenly. Myka looked up at his friend in surprise as he felt the curiosity seep through their bond.
“What is it, Myka?” Hannah asked.
“Someone else is coming,” the boy replied quietly. “Another dragon.”
Hannah and Myron looked at each other in shock. Neither of them had ever met a dragon, and now they were going to meet two in the same day.
“What’s wrong, Myka?” Myron asked when he noticed the worried expression on the boy’s face.
Myka began to tremble and his Aunt Hannah squeezed him tighter.
“Bylanth says that his Rider has been dispatched to bring me back to Dragonsholme,” the boy said, stunning everyone into silence.