Vlad stabbed me hard right in the belly.
I whoofed air out and crumpled to the parched rocky ground, gasping for breath. We’d switched to metal blades for practice out on Vlad’s land once he’d figured out that I was almost completely armored now. Apparently, ordinary metal just didn’t go through dragon scales, not ever. It had to be something more.
“You are not focusing, Damson,” Vlad said, frowning. “If I were a Georgian, I would be taking your head right now.”
Once I had my breath, I growsed back. “If you were Georgian, I wouldn’t be fighting you with a lousy three foot hunk of metal. I’d probably go for a sub-machine gun.”
Vlad laid the flat of his blade over his shoulder and put his hand on his slender hip. It made him look graceful and rogueish. “And where, pray tell, would you acquire such a weapon? They do not sell such things at the Wag a Bag on the corner.”
He had a point. Irritating though it was. “Give em a decade or two.”
“Damson, what is occupying your thoughts?”
“My brain is being flooded with images of things that happened hundreds of years ago. My Ma is pissed at me for the notoriety I’ve been getting saving lives. I keep finding myself working side by side with one of the fanatics who murdered my father. I can’t see in the daylight. Oh, and I’ll probably be completely covered in scales within a few years. Aside from that, everything is peachy. How are things with you?”
“Aside from the fact that the stock market is limping like a drunkard, the woman I love is in love with another, and my student with a penchant for deadly confrontations keeps daydreaming while I try to teach her to defend herself, things are ‘peachy’ with me as well.”
Talk about fighting fire with fire. Vlad gave good sarcasm.
I grimaced and sat down on a big limestone rock, ignoring the crunch of dead grass. Even the mesquite trees and prickly pear cactuses looked dreary and sad. This oppressive drought made everything feel bleak. “I dreamed about Camelot again last night, the battle where Lady Nyneve was stabbed by the Black Knight, and one of the Black dragons killed her sister. I’ve had that dream three times now.”
“It was a profound moment in the history of your family.” Vlad sat down next to me. “But why would a mere dream disturb you so?”
I bit my lip. How do you accuse a friend of murdering a family member? “The black dragon who killed Nyneve’s sister, he was small and he dove down on her from above, the way you did against the giant robots. I never saw him up close, but …”
“Ah, I see.” Vlad sighed, and set his practice sword aside. “It was another time, my love. Dragons ruled all the known world. The only question was which clan would rule which territories.”
“That wasn't just a dragon that looked like you. That was you.”
Vlad didn’t nod exactly, but he didn’t deny it either. “The one you call the Black Knight was my father’s younger brother.” His mouth made a wry twist. “My father’s legitimate younger brother, who was my grandfather’s true heir.”
“You killed my grandmother’s sister, my great aunt.” The bald truth of it tasted sour in my mouth. How had I thought I might love this man?
“It was war, Damson. We were soldiers. Your grandmother slew my cousin and my eldest half-brother. And if I had not killed the Silver, she doubtless would have killed more of my kind.”
I stood up and walked away from him, looking out over the cliff where he taught me to fly. “Do you expect that to make it okay?”
Vlad walked over and stood beside me, just beyond arm’s reach, I noticed. “Your father taught me that nothing I did or said would ‘make it okay.’ No matter how many times we fought together, or saved each others’ lives, he still thought of me as an enemy under truce.”
My father named this man enemy. Vlad killed my kin, personally, with his own claws and fangs. I had more reason to hate him than the White Knight, who at least hadn’t killed anyone in my family himself. I watched the way the moonlight traced the sharp bones of Vlad’s face and his long aquiline nose, and the wind stirred his wavy black hair. Heavy lashes laid soft against his cheek for a moment, as he closed his eyes. “You will not forgive me for this, will you Damson?” He said it flat, as if he knew the answer already.
I handed him the sword that he had given me to learn balance and self-defense in my new skin. I didn’t know what to say to him. He had saved my life repeatedly, been there when I needed him, even to the point of being overprotective. He had taught me how to fly, and for a time, I thought I was in love with him.
A vision flashed in front of my eyes, a flash of dream even though I was wide awake: a Black dragon arrowing down out of the clouds and breaking my sister’s neck. It wasn’t my memory; it was Nyneve’s. But I remembered as if I had been there. I felt the horror and grief and rage as if it were my own, and it was all I could do not to try to kill Vlad with that sword.
“Dragons have long memories,” I said softly, and leapt off the cliff, shredding the old t-shirt I had worn for fighting practice. Vlad had driven me there, but I could fly home now.
The hot dry wind blew in my face and made tears stream from my eyes. Yeah, it was the wind. Right.