Liang wakes up and discovers breaking the curse had separated him far from the others. The bad news is another dragon has captured him, the good news is he found his mate.
Proteus couldn’t believe he found his mate. Unfortunately circumstances make it impossible for him to go with Liang and it breaks his heart when his mate goes on without him.
Aden has been struggling to keep everyone safe. With the evil against him mounting and the number of people he needs to protect increasing, will he be able to live up to his destiny and become the leader the dragons need or will evil triumph against him?
Liang waited for several minutes before he dared to turn his head. Gone. No one else remained except for Liang and the sea creature, or at least nothing else in the dome.
He needed to get out of there and find his friends. He pondered his choices as the sea beast floated a slow trek across its aquarium. The king hadn’t shown any interest in the aquarium creature, but he must keep it for some reason.
“Hello, little guy,” he called out.
“You need to escape before Bingwen returns.”
The words spilled across his mind in a soft, intimate invasion. The creature had a male voice with a silky, seductive tone that had Liang’s body awakening for the first time since his petrification.
“I can’t get out of the cage. What are you?” Maybe he hadn’t asked in the most elegant fashion, but he needed to keep the conversation going in order to hear that voice again. Whatever compulsion he felt had nothing to do with spells and sorcerers.
“I’m a leafy sea dragon. We’re different from seahorses.” The sea dragon didn’t say how they differed. He didn’t appear eager to engage in conversation at all.
“I’m a water dragon. My name is Liang. What’s your name?” He held his breath as he waited for a response. He didn’t like having to pry information out of the little beast, but he needed to hear his voice again.
“Nice to meet you, Proteus.” Liang sighed as each word Proteus sent across their mind link settled in and made his cock sit up and take notice. He’d never met a sea dragon shifter before. Something about the male had Liang ready to do whatever was necessary to get them both out of their cages.
He ground his teeth together. Exchanging one prison for another hadn’t been in his plans. During his long petrification he’d imagined his life if he ever got free. He’d made elaborate plans to make a home with his brethren dragon somewhere, not live inside a cage. By now the China he’d known had no doubt been buried beneath office buildings and tons of cement. Besides, the land of his birth no longer belonged to his kind.
Once he escaped he needed to find his dragon horde and retrieve a bit of treasure to exchange for modern money. He’d amassed quite a fortune before his capture by the emperor.
“There’s the key!” The sea dragon’s voice snapped Liang out of his introspection.
Liang followed where the sea dragon pointed his nose. A ring of keys sat on top of a bookshelf. “That’s a little far to reach.”
“Use your magic!”
The frustration in the sea dragon’s voice had Liang snapping out of his bout of self-pity. He was a water dragon, under the water. The leafy sea dragon had a point.
Maybe being stone for all those years had broken his brain. He should’ve been able to come up with that solution on his own. Liang took a deep cleansing breath, and for the first time since he woke he pulled at his magic.
Energy rushed through him with a crackle of power. He focused his magic on the keys and pulled at the seawater flowing outside the dome. A thin thread of liquid spiraled toward him. Liang manipulated flow around the keys. The water danced under Liang’s direction. He reveled beneath the joy of using his magic again. Even if the emperor killed him in the end at least he had one more chance to use his power.
“Stop playing, Bingwen won’t be gone forever,” the sea dragon snapped.
“Sorry.” Liang had ignored the urgency of his situation beneath the joy of reconnecting with his magic. Properly scolded, Liang tightened his control and transformed the tip of the water flow into ice. The small hook snagged the key ring. Grinning, Liang called the water to him.
When the keys finally dropped into his hand it took all of Liang’s restraint not to shout his victory and draw Bingwen’s attention. Just because the dragon was out of sight didn’t mean he couldn’t hear what was going on in the dome.
“Good job,” the sea dragon praised.
“Thank you.” Flush from his success, Liang slipped the hand holding the keys between the bars and after a few false tries, he unlocked the cage. As soon as he was free he headed for the aquarium. Liang pressed his fingers to the spot nearest the sea dragon.
This close he could see intelligence glowing in the creature’s eyes. “If you shift I can get you out of here.”
Leafy green fronds floated around the little beast as he shook his head from side to side.
Liang wanted to ask why, but he needed to get out of there not get into a debate. Still, he couldn’t abandon his new friend. A strong connection pinged between them, compelling him to take Proteus along with him.
“Mate!” The sea dragon’s awed tone whispered in his head.
“We’re mates?” Liang didn’t know what to do with that information. He’d always thought he’d bond with one of his own kind, but he knew better than to question The Fates. He stroked the side of the aquarium. “Are you in danger?”
Sadness flowed from the sea dragon. “Not right now. He will keep me safe for a bit longer before.”
Various scenarios flashed through Liang’s head and not one of them was pleasant. “Why?”
How did the little creature know he’d be safe and why was Bingwen keeping him at all? Liang had never known the emperor to be interested in the smaller sea shifters before, but he didn’t know what might have changed during his curse.
“I can’t say. I don’t know you well enough.”
Liang ignored the pang in his heart protesting that his mate should trust him regardless. Weren’t mates fated to be with their better half? Why would Proteus choose to stay here after he claimed they were mates?
“I could take you in your shifted form. My water ability could keep you warm.”
“What about when we travel? I have to retain the same temperature or I could go into shock.”
Liang refused to acknowledge defeat, however he knew some tropical animals were extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. If he weren’t careful he could kill his mate with too large of a temperature fluctuation. He couldn’t chance it.
“I’m going to go get my friends. We’ll come back and get you out of here. I can carry you in a ball of water, but not as a dragon.”
He didn’t dare risk his mate’s life. As much as he didn’t want to leave Proteus, he couldn’t stay there and wait for Bingwen to recapture him. He had to go find his friends and warn them that others were hunting their kind. Telling Zhou the emperor had turned other dragons against them would be painful. His leader had always fought for the prosperity of dragon kind, to learn of their betrayal would be a hard blow. Hopefully the king of the Coral Sea was the exception instead of the norm for dragons.
“You need to go,” Proteus prodded him.
“I will come back for you. I’m not going to leave you here forever. If you don’t want to shift, you’ll have to wait until I can get help.”
The sea dragon’s melancholy increased like an icy shard piercing his heart. “I understand. Save yourself.”
Guilt stabbed at him like broken shards of glass. “As soon as I find my people I will be back. I promise.”
The little shifter nodded, but Liang could feel his distress mingled with fear. He suppressed a burst of anger at the shifter’s resistance over leaving.
“I’ll be here when you return.”
“I wish I didn’t have to leave you behind, but I won’t have hands to hold you in dragon form.” He hated to admit a weakness, but if he couldn’t confess a flaw to his mate, who could he confess to?
“I understand. Good luck finding your friends.”
Liang wished he knew what his mate looked like. “When I come back will you show me your human form?”
“If it’s the right time.”
At least now he had a reason to survive.
He nodded his goodbye to Proteus, unable to say any more words as the pain of separation twisted him up inside.
Proteus seemed to understand since he returned the nod and said nothing else. Liang went to the door and opened it. Some magical force field kept the water out. He checked around, but the king of the Coral Sea must’ve gone off to get a snack because Liang saw no one as he shifted back into his dragon shape then swam away.