Chapter One

The dragon stood before her as a creature of night, its black scales blending with the shadows of the forest. Elena palmed the steel dagger on her thigh though the small weapon stood no chance against the monster before her. Her eyes swept the forest for an escape as her heart thundered in her ears, muscles bracing for flight. The trees whispered to her as a breeze pushed blonde hair from her face, the woodland giving her peace in a moment of terror.

The charcoal black eyes of the creature bore into her, menacing in its unwavering gaze. It blinked slowly, exhaling its searing breath through the space between itself and the elf. It shifted its weigh, opening the large, pointed wings to their full width, threatening to tear through the forest.

She inhaled sharply. It already dwarfed her tiny frame, but the muscular appendage spoke of strength and sheer power. It rose up on its hind legs and pushed down with bladed wings, beating at the forest floor with the turbulence of wind. At the motion of the dragon, Elena turned to run, a cry escaping as dirt, leaves, and rocks hurdled at her back.

She pushed herself, willing her legs faster as she ran, adrenaline rushing through her veins, keeping her body low to the ground to hinder the creature from grabbing her. Her arms flailed at her sides as she pushed branches and leaves from her face. Wind fell on her in a steady wave and she looked up to see the sharpened talons of her pursuer. She threw herself deeper into the thick knot of trees, seeking shelter in the azure woodland. The dragon, unable to follow her into the tangled foliage, lifted higher into the air.

Elena weaved a path through the brush, glancing skyward to find the dragon directly above her. The trees fell to the side as it descended upon her in a rush of speed, the wind from its wings pushing the greenery aside as they seemingly made way for the foreign giant.

It bore down on her, legs outstretching as claws opened in preparation to grab the small figure that continued to weave through the trees. Elena looked up in time to emit a scream as the demon grabbed her arms and lifted her effortlessly into the sky on the sound of beating wings.

She cried out and tried to slash at the animal gripping her with the dagger still held in hand, but the awkward position of her arms made it nearly impossible for her to reach it. She kicked and slashed, but it had little effect on the dragon. The creature continued to rise higher into the cloudless sky, its captive held firmly. The high rises of Ashwani fell away, the citizens ignorant of their nearness to the dragon.

As Azure Forest disappeared beneath her, she ceased struggling. A drop from this height would surely kill her. Elena placed the dagger in the sheath on her thigh so she wouldn't drop it during the flight. She would have to make her escape when the creature landed and hope that it did not kill her before she got the chance.

-X-

Elena hung limp from the talons of the dragon as it carried her over forests and mountains, the glinting light of water beckoning to her as she flew overhead. She'd had hours to get used to the vertigo associated with flying and still didn't think it was something she would ever voluntarily do again. It wasn't until the sky turned a deep orange with the fading light that the dragon tilted downward and began its descent.

The tops of evergreens grew nearer and she feared for a moment that it would heedlessly drag her through the thick branches, but it pulled her forward at the last moment, angling her into the small opening between the trees. Dirt and leaves flew into her face as the dragon beat its wings to soften the landing, dropping her when she was mere feet from the forest floor. Elena landed heavily on her hands and knees, caught off guard by the unceremonious landing.

Retrieving the dagger from the sheath on her upper leg, she stood up quickly, instinctively backing away from the creature as it loomed over her. It halted her escape, corralling her between its wings and tail. She swung at the dragon's snout with the blade, but it knocked it from her fingers with the tip of one long horn, urging her backwards. She stumbled over her feet until her back pressed against rough bark, blood pounding in her ears as her heart raced. A semblance of calm had come over her in the past few hours, but panic returned now with full force. It had been fifteen years since a dragon had entered Evori territory so she knew hardly anything of what stood in front of her. It was unpredictable and there was no chance of defending herself if it decided to kill her.

Black eyes bore into blue. She stared at the ancient beast, unease settling over her at the way it stared, the way it held her gaze unwaveringly. Its body still as marble. Seemingly satisfied with her position, it backed up, folded its wings tightly to its body and began to tremble. The sound of bones breaking echoed in the still forest as it contorted impossibly. The black scales melted into the color of honeyed chestnut. Wings molded into the bones of its back as the creature shrank and resized. The trembling finally ceased and it lifted itself from the floor in a smooth motion belying of its strength.

And what appeared before her, was a man.