Twenty Years Ago
"I need your help. Tallis, please, I need you."
The Sun. She was back.
Tallis of Pendray wanted to jerk free of his dream. He wouldn't listen to her exotic, lilting seductions. He would wake up this time. He would
"You try my patience and break my heart," she whispered. "You're fighting me when there's no need to fight. Don't wake. Stay with me. Stay..."
Her steely words were coated with sweet honey. This was the sixth time she'd slipped into his nighttime mind. Five times previous, he'd refused to obey unthinkable entreaties spoken by a wide, smiling mouth. Five times previous, he'd awoken to the dawn sunlight streaming through the windows of Castle Clannarah, convinced he was losing his mind.
By the Dragon or the Chasm, he wasn't going to look himself in the mirror come morning and ask the same questions.Is she real? Is she right?
Am I going mad?
"Always the same worries in that fevered mind of yours.""You're
in my mind," he replied, although his voice sounded metallic and distant. "It will always be fevered."
"I'm afraid that's true. You deserve better than all this confusion."
Tallis wanted to wake, but there was a reason he'd endured her nightmare appearances. Again. And again. And again. Colors glistened on her skin, as if she were a woman made of light rather than flesh. The swirl of her silken gown created yet another shimmer that haloed her entire body. Dark hair with caramel highlights swished back to reveal ethereally perfect features. Eve, Helen of Troy, Lady Godiva--none of them would compare. How could they? They were human.
The Sun was a Dragon King.
Tallis was, too, but she made him feel like a commoner crawling in the dirt just to bow at her feet. She had chosen him. Who was he to deny the wishes of a goddess when she offered the warmth of her golden attention?
"I've asked you before." She hovered just out of reach, but her breath brushed his cheek. "Are you ready?"
"I can't," he rasped. "What you ask... It's obscene. It's criminal. I will not kill for you."
"The true crime is what has become of your people. The Pendray are ready to rip one another to pieces. You are so few in numbers compared to the other Five Clans. Soon you'll be as lost as the Garnis, reduced to a few frail remnants who'd rather spit at one another than claim kinship."
"Murder will stop more murder?"
She placed a hand to his brow. Tallis hissed through his teeth. It was the first time she'd touched him. His body went rigid so quickly that he feared he'd wake. He didn't want to, not now, not when she was finally skin to skin. He closed his eyes and absorbed the soft warmth of her fingers threading into his hair. He sank deeper into the realm of sleep.
"Tallis." She said his name with a slice of warning.
As with the hours after sunset when cool shadows reign, the Sun's withdrawal was just as chilling. Tallis reached out to grab her hand, but she slipped away. A frustrated growl reminded him of his capacity to do harm. A beast waited in his blood--the Pendray gift from the Dragon--and that beast was rousing from its sleep.
"You want me in your arms," the Sun said, her voice bold with confidence.
"And what else?"
"I want you beneath me."
She smiled as if she'd already given permission and was only waiting for him to grab her and lay her down. "I want that, too. Shall I show you how much?"
The dream world had become as real as the North Sea, with its icy aqua waters. He loved the view from the top of the crest, just north of his family's ancient castle. Although the sea's waves were a roiling tempest, they had the opposite effect on his thoughts. He was always calm when looking across that imposing scene, knowing his people had mastered its waters for millennia.
This was as real as the sea.
If he was mad, he didn't care. "Whatever you want," he said. "I can't... I can't resist anymore."
"You make this sound so terrible, Tallis, my handsome one."
"Beheading a priest? Of course it's terrible." Lust hummed through his body, burning with the strength of an animal caged by iron bars and prodded from all sides.
She shifted. Her mouth was an inch from his. "Right now, you want
to kill. You'd kill me if you could."
"You won't. You want to make me happy."
The Sun was hypnotic. Every time Tallis thought he could peer through the soft rays of light that surrounded her and blurred her features, she shifted.
"I'll make you happy, too, Tallis. Let me show you."
She kissed him.
Lip to lip.
Without words she gave Tallis permission to unleash his gathering violence. They kissed like Pendray in the midst of a berserker rage, where pleasure and pain merged into a ferocious dance of push, pull, scratch, claw.
He had her in his arms. Yes
He had her stretched beneath him. Yes.
But as Tallis positioned himself between her wet folds, she was gone. He thrust into nothing. He bucked and fought, howling his frustration, spitting with anger at her and at himself. She'd taken him so far. She'd given him so much.
She'd snatched it all away.
He couldn't see himself from that dream perspective, but he felt the embarrassment of kneeling and being unable to hide his erection. Shame burned his cheeks as he looked up. The Sun was hovering again, clothed again, smiling as if she hadn't just teased him within an inch of insanity.
"Get back here," he growled.
"You're not giving orders, Tallis. We have so much to do."
He blinked and looked at her again--and froze. She was no longer hovering but riding a dragon as real as anything he'd ever beheld while conscious. The creature was even more real than the Sun, who continued to shift though myriad colors and forms.
"Do you see? You and I are bound. I will tease you, cajole you, even pity you. You will hate me and worship me. And in the end, you will do as I bid because we have both been chosen by the Great Dragon."
The magnificent creature turned its face toward Tallis. Strong ridges outlined its brow and hid small, dark eyes. It wasn't scaly but layered with what appeared to be endless varieties of fabric, in shades of black, orange, blue, purple, a fiery red--anything a waking eye could behold. The effect was radiant. Every movement rippled across its long torso and forked tail. It bared its teeth in a wide grimace. A lolling tongue appeared just before a burst of flame and a snort of smoke escaped.
Elegant and eternal, the Dragon was so humbling that Tallis hugged the ground in a deep bow. He shuddered. He could no longer look upon the creature that had birthed their race, knowing his eyes would burn to cinders and madness would follow.
The Sun rode the Dragon. A true goddess.
"You know what I say is true and just. Our people are dying."
The dream had become the most astonishing nightmare. "We can reverse that?"
"Yes, we can. The Chasm isn't fixed."
Chilly air rippled across his back, accompanied by the swish of flapping wings. The Great Dragon was near yet far in that way dreams could warp perspective, yet she still rode upon its back like Boudicca into battle. No mist or light or golden silk swirled between them. He clearly saw the color of her eyes. Amber. The swirling amber of a consuming fire--the fire breathed by the Dragon as it began to fly away.
"I will let you touch me every time we meet," she said, her voice receding. "One day, I will let you unleash that monstrous temper and take what you want from my body."
"Fix the Chasm. How?"
"You kill for me. Whenever I ask. No matter who it is. You'll behead one Dragon King after another. We will rid our people of those who sow discord. Only when we achieve unity will we heal what has been bleeding for thousands of years. I command you just as the Dragon commands me."
She'd won. Even without the miracle of witnessing their Creator, the tingle up his spine whispered that she would've won anyway. She always
"I'll be hated. I'll never have a home after tonight."
The Sun blew him a kiss before fading into darkness. "Yes, dear one, but you will always have me."