The pale green fire ripped and twisted at the knots of the dried-out driftwood a bit too quickly for Artemis's taste. Green fire was certainly not the hottest on the scale of dragon fire, but it was hot enough that she had to constantly feed it rather than trying to enjoy its warmth like she wanted.
Ashent was not likely to help her light another if this one went out. He was in an absolutely foul mood, even worse than before, and likely only did as asked because of the precious item she held in her lap.
He lay far on the other side of the fire pit with his chin in the sand and stared at her hatefully, his nostrils flaring with every angry breath. She did her best to ignore him, feeling safer to do so with his sentia as her accidental hostage.
The dark prince lifted his horned head, breaking the silence between them with what Artemis was surprised to hear was a question.
"Why would he do this?" he asked, more of an accusation than an inquiry. "It burns me, his son, but not you, a human?"
Artemis shook her head a bit and stared into the fire, likely far more lost with all this than he was. "I don't know...were you close?"
The skin on the ridge of his nose wrinkled a bit at her response. "Close enough."
She didn't know what to say. A small fraction of her thoughts broke off to reflect on what she'd seen earlier. It was unlikely she would be able to get him to laugh again, but she could try and tread water.
"Maybe it's a test?" she suggested.
His intense green gaze flickered with reluctant interest. "What kind of test?"
"I don't know," she repeated, feeling less than helpful, and at the same time unsure if she actually wanted to help him. In her opinion, it was better off in her hands...or back in the sea.
What if it really did contain some destructive inheritance for Ashent? Eques was no friend to humans... and Ashent obviously took after him.
It would be so easy to toss back into the ocean. What could he do at that point? Killing her was out of the question.
But torturing her was not.
It was not something she'd ever had to think about before, but a dragon's mind and body were infinitely stronger than a human's. With the way pact partners shared pain and life, and with her partner being a black dragon, she was reminded again how dangerous her position in their pack was.
He could endure the pain if he tortured her. She was not too prideful to admit she likely could not.
Artemis pulled the sentia in closer, anxious. "It could be worse."
Ashent gave a great snort, perplexed. "Really? Please tell me how," he mused. "I'm dying to hear a human's perspective."
"Well, if he really didn't want you to have it, wouldn't he have just cursed you with it instead?"
He eyed her steadily, seeming to consider, so she continued.
"Dragons do that sometimes, at least I heard so."
"Only if their offspring displease them."
"Then this could be good news, right? The fact that you can't touch it yet, I mean."
Artemis couldn't believe it – they were practically conversing civilly.
The dark prince wrinkled his nose again and turned his head away from her, resting his chin on the sand and heaving a deep sigh. His pale green gaze was suddenly content with a view of the ocean.
"Good news? The sight before me is a pale imitation of that."
The comment cut her deep, plunging right down into the resentment that was already festering in her heart. She didn't like him, and it wounded her that he'd kick away the small stepping stone that she was just trying to place down for them. But she was angry at herself too, in that instant, because a fool’s hope had led her to momentarily imagine something different. Well, she was awake now.
Artemis turned her back to him in anger and laid down, curling herself around the warm sentia. She had never felt more afraid or alone than in the company of this dragon and his cruelty, and talking to him only made it worse.
She tried desperately not to think anymore about her circumstances, and not to cry. When that failed and the tears broke loose, she tried her best instead not to let it show. The concentration that took finally broke her cycling thoughts, and Artemis drifted off into a fitful slumber not long after.