Outside, under the cover of the night sky, the black dragon was nearly impossible to distinguish. The only way Artemis could make him out – after tailing him through the giant gap he’d smashed through the wall – was from the intense green glow of his eyes, and the newly lit spark that flickered in the base of his throat. Even that was quickly fading.
In the distance all around them, roars of fear and anger traveled back to her. The bravest of their party guests were lingering; in dragon form and on the backs of their dragons. None would come to challenge the black dragon though. Certainly not in the thick of night.
Artemis struggled, not knowing how to orient herself around this creature. She didn’t have the luxury of bonding with a friendly dragon, far from it, as far as she could tell. Just the idea of touching him made her nervous, but now she had to sit and trust that he wouldn’t fling her off. There was no discussion, nor reassurance, nothing normal about this partnership.
Seeming to realize she hadn’t decided to scale him, he finally turned to look at her. A small growl escaped him.
“Resigned to walking, are you?”
“No. I’m just not sure how to...”
Artemis swallowed nervously, knowing his scales were too slick to find purchase. “Can’t you lean down?”
His bright eyes narrowed vehemently. “You would have me bow to you? Or use my body as a step to lift your frail form? I don’t think so.”
He’s too proud, Artemis thought.
Despite this debate, Artemis worried about her family laying unconscious in the castle behind her. If they did awaken and recover while she remained in Glassgarden, there was nothing they could do to help her now. The bond was in place. The dragons would fight, even if she and Lane did not.
There wasn’t much time.
Artemis went forward, aiming for the jagged scales protruding from the base of his neck. It was the most wicked looking armour she had ever seen—spikes made of black ice—but thanks to the bond, when she jammed her hands and feet between them, they couldn’t cut her.
She dragged herself awkwardly up the side of his body near his shoulder, barely able to see the footholds thanks to the darkness of both the sky and the dragon. When she was tentatively aware that she might manage to make it to his back by her own will, a spike that was no more than a trick of shadows derailed her. She slipped down, a gasp escaping her, but to her relief and surprise, her foot caught on something else just as sturdy.
Once she got her bearings, she looked down, and recognized the dragon’s wing beneath her foot. Surprised, she looked him in the eye. He snorted and looked away, but didn’t move it as she climbed up the rest of the way.
As she finally settled upon his back, Artemis couldn’t stop a breath from escaping her. The dragon was massive, his size greater than any dragon she’d ever seen with her own eyes. Inside the castle, even with Razorit as a comparison, she now realized how clamped his wings had been, how tense his body was in the small space. Outside, however, he unfolded. With her legs straddling either side of his body and his wings finally able to unfurl to their full potential, Artemis realized why it was nobody dared challenge this dragon.
“Don’t try my patience like that again, human,” the black dragon rumbled. “There is no room for weakness in this world.”
The words, the notion, deeply scared Artemis, stuck on the brink of leaving Glassgarden upon the back of this heartless beast. If he truly thought that, why did he agree to a bond with her? Had he even looked at her?
“I’m a human...” she voiced meekly. Not to mention, a woman.
“As if I’ve forgotten.” He lifted and turned his huge head around to look at her. “How long do you plan to hide yourself behind that excuse? Just curious.”
What? Artemis thought, perturbed. Maybe she was accidentally staring a bit too openly, because the beast decided to elaborate, letting out another irritated snort.
“Being weak is not the problem.”
Artemis puckered her brows, and licked her lips nervously before asking, “Then...what is?”
He narrowed his eyes, glaring. “Remaining that way.”