Dray stepped outside the narrow cave's entrance, his eyes scanning the surrounding region thoroughly. The only living creatures within a mile was a tiny sand rat scurrying beneath the safety of a boulder, away from a hawk circling the skies nearby, and a couple of camels which had wandered from their tethers.
Walking quickly through the valley, he avoided the scattered groups of tourists and guides. Following the sand rat's example, he kept his visibility to a minimum as he climbed the ragged cliff face, making his way across the stony ridge to the plateau almost one hundred and seventy feet above the hustle and bustle of people below. Not that anyone noticed him. If there was one thing he knew how to do in a land such as this, it was blend in, disappear into the background. Even if they did, to the majority he appeared to be nothing more than one of the locals with his white thoub robe and keffiyeh headwear. The only part of him visible was his face, and that too appeared nondescript. His native American skin tone blended well enough with the locals olive complexion that no one gave him a second glance.
Would he care if they did? Nope. He had ways of dealing with anyone nosy enough to attempt to talk to him. Not that many did, he gave off a definite vibe of fuck-off, which worked well as a curiosity repellent. For those not smart enough to walk the other way, mind compulsion was his first go-to when dealing with unwanted or inconvenient attention. Compelling someone to forget they'd ever seen, talked to, or even heard of him, was a great asset to his arsenal. The alternative usually required body disposal and was best avoided whenever possible, especially in the desert. The ground was too damned hard to dig up. There were always the caves he supposed. He'd found more than one set of bones hidden away over the past couple of days, another couple of bodies would blend in well,…after a decade or two of decomposition.
Fortunately, there hadn't been a need to give that option too much consideration.
It had taken two days of searching more than one hundred caves and tombs, but he'd found what he'd come looking for. It would have taken much longer if it hadn't been for sheer luck. Finding the Templar's clue in the mosaic floor in the Byzantine church definitely had been helpful. Although, as they had learned over recent years, the Templar's clues to find the artefacts which they'd so carefully hidden, often led them to dead ends. Either because time and human habitation had erased the clues, or nature had. In one case the artefact never made it to the designated destination, the ship it was being carried on had sunk, so the pre-designed clue had been worthless. If it hadn't been for Shani and her gift of finding lost objects….
Dray shut down the thought before it took him into an area he didn't want to go, refocussing on his surroundings and finishing his current mission.
The Templars were smart. Petra had been so inaccessible it had become relatively forgotten for centuries. Which made it a perfect hiding place, especially after the earthquake of 363AD, crumbling many of the buildings and all but destroying the city's water management system. The city died almost overnight. In the time of the Templars, the city had become somewhat of a curiosity in the Middle East, but because of its location in the middle of a desert, it remained just that, a curiosity. Only a select few were crazy enough to temp their luck at finding it. Of those, there were many who did find it but never managed to leave. Their food and water rations already low from the trek to find it, ran out long before they could replenish them. Unless of course they happened to arrive during a rare rain fall. But that too presented its own hazards. With sheer cliffs surrounding the valley and only one narrow passage in and out, flash flooding was likely to catch the weary travellers off guard.
Even today, more than eight hundred years later, this city was almost inaccessible.
Dray sat down on the plateau above Al-Khazneh, laying the sacred artefact carefully beside him and surveyed the land below. The last of the day's tourists were making their way toward the Siq gorge for the trek back to civilisation. A couple stopped to take one last photo, capturing in the dying light, the richly pigmented sandstone structures of the Rose-Red City of Petra.
And then he was alone.
The peaceful solitude and cooling, late afternoon desert breeze had a lulling affect, shifting his thoughts toward quiet reflection.
Shani stepped into his side as his arms wrapped around her.
It was a slow series of movements but they had a profound effect on him. Her scent filled his nose. Her warm, soft body fit the hard contours of his like a hand in a glove, his senses so in tune with the way her shoulder fit under his arm and her head rested on his chest just under his chin.…
Dray shook his head irritably, intent on dislodging the memory of the moment, indelibly burned into his brain. Turning his back on her was like putting his heart into cold storage. It wasn't quite dead but it wasn't living either.
Despite the passage of three years, thoughts of Shani still dominated every one of his brains higher functions, along with his body's base needs. Sadly, neither one could ever be appeased.
He consoled his loss, if you could call it that since Shani had never been his, by pretending he'd never felt the pull of mating bond toward her, putting her out of his mind as if she had never existed. Obstinately he continued his daily routines as though nothing had changed. As though he hadn't changed.
He had tried.
He hadn't succeeded.
Dray began to question his own purpose. There had to be more to this life than work and the occasional aimless shag with strangers. What was the point of living for centuries if all it provided was empty embraces and quiet misery? No female could ever alleviate the hollow centre in his soul, but sometimes they were just the gym workout he needed.
When there was actual work to do, he functioned without any problems. His focus never wavered from his job. It was only when there were no immediate matters to deal with that his cognitive abilities began to wane.
He was self aware enough however, to realise that this current funk in his mood was not likely to subside. The thought that this was his lot in life now, wishing for a woman he could never have, giving his palm calluses from his nightly workout on his ever-ready hard-on, made him want to scream...or kill something.
His frustration was reaching nuclear territory.
Which was how it came to be that he was the one in Petra, Jordan, to retrieve the recently located artefact. A change of scenery and routine was supposed to reset his volatile mood back to neutral. It seemed logical at the time. A desert location far away from civilisation and the pressures of his daily life should have been just the thing he needed to accomplish his goal. As it turned out though, too much of his past was tied to places similar to this. By coming here all he managed to accomplish was to dredge up regrets of a love he could never have, and distant memories of a life he'd lost and thought buried long ago.
Glancing at his watch he did a quick mental time zone conversion with England which was only two hours behind, it was still mid afternoon there. Pulling his phone from his pocket he dialled Alaric.
"I hope you've got good news." Alaric was nothing if not straight to the point. Just the way Dray liked it. None of those annoying pleasantries or meaningless chit chat.
"I've got it. I'll head out to Amman tonight. I'll be on the first flight back tomorrow."
The line was silent for moment, which wasn't necessarily a good sign.
"Alaric, if you have an objection to that I can head across to Israel and charter a plane from there?"
"No, it's too risky. I have something else in mind. Stay put and I'll send someone to collect you."
"What, get one of the nephilim to open a portal? That's not possible, I'm in the middle of a desert. There are no forests for a thousand miles of here."
"Not exactly what I had in mind but, yes. I'll send someone who can open a portal. He'll arrive just after the sun has fully set."
Dray didn't object. He wasn't too happy about it either. "Who?"
"Raif's youngest brother Ky. See you soon."
Again there was none of the pleasantries to end the conversation. The line just went dead. And again Dray was good with that. He could bitch and curse as much as he wanted at the blank screen without running the risk of having his unflattering words overhead, which would lead to getting his arse chewed out later, or worse, losing his head, literally, because he'd pissed off the most powerful vampire on the planet.
Dray checked his watch again and looked to the horizon. By his calculations he had just over an hour. Great. What was he going to do to kill the time? He could think about all things he's been trying to hard to forget about since arriving in Petra, or he could do what everyone else does when they're bored.
He flicked through the apps on his phone, opening one Teagan had downloaded for him as a joke and he swore he would never use. Candy Crush. But what the hell, it killed the time. Who knew that popping those bottles and saving those bears could make the time fly by so quickly. Before he knew it his concentration was broken by the sound of a sonic boom.
Just one more minute, I only have two more bears to find and three more moves left, Dray thought.
Okay, so he was beginning to understand the addiction to the ridiculous game. Not that he planned on confessing it to anyone though. Ever!
Putting his phone back in his pocket, Dray looked up. Overhead Ky circled the valley. It wasn't quite fully dark yet, he noted. Although it was a risk arriving early, clearly Alaric had decided the risk was minimal and worth taking. It was a remote location so it probably didn't matter that there was a mythical dragon flying about the skies in full view. There wasn't anyone around for miles to see it.
Ky circled the plateau one more time before coming into land. For such a large beast, the dragon barely made a sound when it touched down. Its body shimmered and a moment later a dark headed wyvern man stood in its place.
"Dray, good to see you again," Ky said as he walked casually toward him.
"You too," he replied.
Ky sat down beside Dray and looked about the canyon below, drawing in a few deep breaths of the cool air.
"Wow, I love this place, it reminds me a little of my home. Our citadel in Avengard is carved into a mountain, as you know. Although, our granite is more robust and durable than this sandstone," Ky said, picking up a handful of the red dust and small stones, crumbling it between his fingers. "I think I would've liked the people who built this city. Who were they?"
"Hmmm, right. And what's so special about this blade you recovered?" Ky picked up the seraph blade from the ground beside Dray, turning it in his hand, testing its blade to handle length and weight ratio, and examining the intricate design engraved along the blade's length on either side.
Dray watched him carefully but didn't move to take the blade back. "You talk too much," he growled instead.
"Actually, I'm usually accused of not talking enough. I prefer nature to people."
Dray mumbled something under his breath about leaving his body in one of the caves, which Ky couldn't quite hear, but he caught the gist of the remark in his tone. Regardless, the wyvern wasn't deterred and kept up the conversation.
"Do you know what it says?" Ky asked, running his finger along the engravings.
"I didn't realise it said anything," Dray's brow creased as he reached to take the blade from Ky and re-examine it again himself. He had assumed it was just ornate decoration.
"It's an ancient angelic language. I've seen it written in old wyvern historical records."
"Can you read it?"
"No. I'm not sure there's anyone left who can. This blade must be eons old, but it still looks as good as the day it was made," Ky said in curious wonder.
Dray knew someone who could probably read it, and she just happened to live at the manor where they were headed. Nadia.
"We should get going."
"You don't want to stay a bit longer and soak up the atmosphere of the place?" Ky could never understand why people preferred to be in large cities with their concrete jungle of buildings, all crowded together like cattle. He preferred his jungles to be green and filled with birds and animals and most importantly, peaceful.
"I've already been here too long."
"If you're worried the Guild maybe waiting for a chance to sneak up on us and steal the blade, I had a good view of the area before I landed and didn't see sign of anyone for miles. Even if there was, my dragon doesn't mind the occasional meal of evil arseholes," he chuckled, although not surprisingly Dray didn't so much as crack a smile, if anything his scowl deepened. "So, are you going to tell me what's so special about this blade, besides it having been crafted by angels?"
Dray waited a few moments debating whether or not to answer. Chances were the wyvern would shut up if he told him.
"It's a seraph blade."
Ky's eyes dropped to the blade in Dray's hands, widening in unison with his slack jaw dropping open on its hinges.
"Okaaay then, I think it's probably time we get going." Not waiting for a response, Ky was on his feet and headed for the centre of the plateau, Dray only a couple of steps behind. "Ever ridden a dragon before?" Ky asked.
"Can't say I have," Dray grumbled.
"You're in for a treat then. I'll try not to make the ride too bumpy for you when we cross the dimensional barriers," Ky smiled. "You might want to stand back a bit first though. I don't want to squash you," he advised.
Dray stopped and watched as the air around the wyvern began to shimmer, growing larger and distorting everything within it. A second later an emerald dragon stood where the man had once been, his reptilian slitted eyes viewing him intently below a thick brow of bronze tinged spikes. With a quick flick of his head, Ky urged him to climb up on his neck, extending out a foot for him to climb up. Not that Dray needed it. Being a vampire, the ten foot leap onto the dragon was barely more than putting a little extra spring in his step.
Ky's large dragon head swung around, waiting for Dray to get settled. The corner of his mouth curved up into a grin and winked. Dray wasn't sure what was more disturbing, the fact that a male dragon winked at him, or that his broad grin exposed a set of razor sharp teeth, each as long as his forearm. Not that he had time to debate the matter, in the next moment Ky spread his wings wide, crouched on his back legs and sprang into the air.
It was exhilarating, all that power he could feel surging through the dragon as it soared higher into the atmosphere. He'd always wondered what it would be like, he'd heard others talk about it but assumed that because of the accompanying burst of adrenaline they'd exaggerated it somewhat. He could dispel that hypothesis now. It was amazing. The paradox of feeling so big and so small at the same time was incredible. At least it was until Ky punched through the dimensional barrier.
Reaching a height above the thin layer of clouds, Ky twisted his head around and grinned again. It was the only warning Dray got before the dragon surged forward faster, his head lifted and his tail whipped through the air behind him. He felt a moment of disorientation. The night air felt suddenly thicker, colder, like they were passing through water, and he wondered if this was the veil they had to pass through between the dimensions. It wasn't nearly as unpleasant as others had made it out to be.
He was only partly right. They were nudging the veil, pushing through was another experience altogether.
With a loud roar, Ky punched through. Every cell in Dray's body seemed to vibrate from the force of the accompanying sonic boom, and he wondered if it was too late to change his mind and catch a plane home instead.