Australian Outback, Four Days Prior to Spring Equinox
“We should have brought a dragon with us, I’m telling you.”
Neela gave her brother a sidelong look as she rifled through the pockets of the unconscious Hunter at her feet, finding only lint. “You keep saying that. If I’d known you were going to be such a whiner about walking, I would have invited Sterlyn and Zamirah to come.”
Naaz frowned. “It isn’t the walking. I’m just fucking sick of getting ambushed by Ultiori every ten miles. We could’ve flown and been there weeks ago.” He finished his own inspection of another hunter and stood, scowling around at the latest unit of mind-controlled mercenaries they’d come across on what had become the mission from hell.
Neela toyed with the hilt of her blade. “This is the same unit that attacked us two days ago and they’re none the worse off for it. It’d take ten minutes to make sure they don’t try again.”
“They’re victims like us, sis. And no match for us, either. We get this mission done, we can free them from Meri’s influence once and for all.”
Neela let out a sigh and dropped her hand to her side, hoping that their mercy didn’t come back to bite them on the ass. Again.
She turned her gaze back to the ocher landscape of the Australian Outback. At times a desolate wasteland, it possessed its own stark beauty. Today they’d hiked down into a canyon of iron-rich stone oxidized by the harsh climate into shades of red. She was surrounded by monolithic natural formations that reminded her of Red dragons in their sanguine majesty.
But Reds weren’t her favorite, though their closest friend was mated to one, and immortal Red blood ran through her brother’s veins. The power that blood gave him was waning, as evidenced by the cut on his forearm he carefully tended now. One of the Hunters had landed a lucky blow.
Neela’s own enhanced abilities wouldn’t last either. She’d been granted one last infusion of Belah’s blood just before embarking on this quest, but that had been weeks ago, and while they’d managed to predict and fend off ambush after ambush on their way to the hidden dragon temple, it wouldn’t last much longer.
Just two more days, that’s all they needed.
“We have no choice but to walk, brother, and be on our guard for the next ambush because I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ve seen of these guys. You may as well take a breath and enjoy the journey. Doesn’t this landscape appeal to you?”
A trickle of sweat carved a path down her brother’s temple, cutting through the layer of red dust to reveal the richer brown of his skin beneath. He was her mirror in so many ways, in some ways identical and others her polar opposite. They could finish each other’s thoughts, knew each other’s deepest desires, possessed the same unwavering determination to prove themselves. He was her best ally in a fight, too, as the six unconscious enemies attested to.
Naaz turned his gaze to her, eyes a vivid blue as much at odds with the dusty burnish of his skin as the bright, cloudless sky was at odds with the red landscape. “I wish I had your patience. When did you turn into such a wise woman?” The corners of his eyes crinkled, pieces of red flaking away with his smile.
Neela couldn’t help but smile back. “One of the necessities of being female, I suppose. It’s a requirement to tolerate the men in my life.”
Naaz’s laugh was deep and rich. “Are we that much of a trial? Perhaps he will be different.”
A knot twisted in Neela’s gut and she shifted her gaze back to the path before them. The goal of her quest was still an enigma, despite his occasional mental visitations that had begun not long after she’d first learned of his existence. She quickened her strides, impatient to end their journey and meet her dragon in the flesh.
“Zorion is different, but maybe not the way you’re suggesting. He’s nothing like you, and I doubt his sister is anything like me.”
Naaz’s brow rose and his lips quirked as though he were about to make some quip. She saw the thought cross his features and disappear as he pressed his lips together, thinking better of speaking the words. He was always better at holding his tongue than she was.
“They are ours, regardless,” Naaz said. “I doubt they are like anything that exists in the world…” His throat rippled with his effort to swallow. “Asha is …” He trailed off and shook his head.
“She’s your mate.”
He nodded and gave her a small smile that betrayed his helplessness. Neela had the same feeling of desperation clawing at her, the same driving need to get there as soon as possible. Only part of it was due to the conflict raging between their allies and their enemies that they were both missing. The repeated attacks she and Naaz had endured during their journey didn’t help. The dragons she and her brother were seeking could turn the tide of this war, but that prospect did nothing to diminish her and her brother’s need to finally be with their mates.