When a deafening roar startled her awake the next morning, barely at the crack of dawn, Artemis was sure that another dragon had found them.
She lurched up from the sand, expecting to have to run for her life, but what she saw was nothing out of the ordinary, except that Ashent was staring at her with wrathful intent. His pupils had shrunk menacingly to paper slits; his sleek black body crouched and prepared to lunge. Artemis turned to look behind her just in case, but there was nothing there besides the huge hill of rocks that lead up to the lighthouse.
She turned back around, alarmed by his anger. "What's wrong—"
"Where is it!?" Ashent roared. "Where did you put it, foul human!"
Artemis grasped for what he was talking about. "Where's what?" she asked, but before she could consider the question further, a gasp escaped her chapped lips.
"The sentia!" she realized, lifting onto her knees and twisting around to frantically search for the small object. "I had it! Where did it go?"
"You hid it! I know you did!" the dark prince bellowed. "Tell me where it is!"
"No!" Artemis cried, shocked. She scrambled to her feet. "I did no such thing!"
"So it just magically disappeared, did it!?"
"Of course not!" she fired back, but inside she was terrified. "There's got to be an explanation!"
Ashent growled menacingly. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end.
"Oh, there is. I picked a traitorous human woman as my bonded!"
Before she could attempt to reason with him again, he was launching into the air with a single full flap of his giant black wings. When he angled them at her, her heart lifted into her throat.
Ashent streaked across the short distance within a blink of her eyes, his clawed feet extended and poised to kill. She didn't even have time to step back before the calloused flesh of his left foot knocked her onto her back and pinned her against the sand.
Artemis gasped at the tremendous weight, struggling immediately for breath and comprehension, the pressure making her head pound.
"Stop!" she wheezed when he settled effortlessly above her and knelt on the joint-bones of his wings. "I didn't hide it from you!"
"I don't believe you," he said angrily. Columns of warm air spiked from his nostrils and whipped the sand into her eyes, making them water. "My father was right to forsake you humans! You're all nothing but devious, lying wretches!"
His foot pressed down even harder and dots of black exploded across her vision, but still, she pushed out words with the little breath she had. "That's...not true..."
Ashent leaned down to her; his green eyes ablaze with hatred and fangs bared threateningly, each one larger than her head. "And you're the worst! All innocence but no truth. I could see it in those dark eyes of yours. I should have known you were planning to betray me somehow!"
"Where is it!?" he roared at her so loud that her ears rang and popped. Tears leaked out of the edges of her eyes, and she could feel herself losing consciousness. Her limbs were weakening. What was going to happen to her? Would he torture her? Would she wake up in so much pain; her flesh so burned and torn that her mind would be scarred and unable to cope?
Lane... she whimpered inwardly. How she missed her brother, how she missed her old, quiet life. Nothing like this downward spiral of distrust and anger that Ashent was forcing her to submit to. Maybe she really was a fool for handing over her life, but a fool she had no choice but to remain.
Artemis knew she was mere seconds from passing out, but her heavy arms reached up to claw at the dragon's cracked, scaled foot, pleading.
Blue light erupted from her palms. The dark prince let out a distressed shriek and stumbled away, pulling the foot she had touched in close to his body, similar to an injured bird. He roared like when she had burned him with the sentia.
Free, Artemis turned herself onto her elbows and coughed desperately, struggling to right her vision. When the black dots parted a little and she focused her sight, Ashent's foot appeared to be smoking.
"What the hell?" the black dragon howled. "What did you do!?"
Artemis started to try to explain somehow, but in the heat of the moment, she realized she owed him nothing. Pinching her lips together, she lifted her hands to her eyes and watched the soft light fade away into her skin. Whatever it was, it had just protected her. She let it go without fear.
Ashent on the other hand wasn't coping as well with the effects of the mysterious blue light. Artemis watched him dance back and forth across the sand, thrusting his leg out repeatedly as he tried to shake away the creeping, swirling smoke that was spewing from underneath the scales of his leg.
The smoke exploded, engulfing the dragon in a horrifying, dark plume. He shrieked in panic beneath it and Artemis felt an undeserved twinge of worry for him. Was he dying?
No, he wasn't, she realized, because she was fine. Whatever it was, it wasn't hurting him. It was merely scaring him.
Suddenly, the clinging smoke swirled to a standstill and settled on the ground like a dense fog cloud. Artemis eyed it wearily, no longer hearing the dark dragon's cries.
"Ashent?" she whispered carefully.
The cloud dispersed slowly before her. The only difference was that instead of leaving a dragon behind...it had left a man.
Artemis stared, disbelief clouding her vision.
His hair was long and as black as night, too much dangling in front of his face. His skin was as pale as the previous night's moon, clashing with armor that appeared to be made of polished, dark scales. From head to toe he was shaking, and after only a few seconds of standing he collapsed helplessly to his knees.
The man lifted his head slightly in her direction. When their gazes locked, she remembered how to breathe.
His eyes were as green as Ashent's.