Rodor ducked an arrow and rocketed down toward the humans bolting in panic. He absolutely loved it when they ran. A tongue of flame licked at the heels of a tardy group, and his lips bared in a fierce grin as they scurried in desperation, shoving each other aside in their haste. Humans needed reminding who was the true dominant creature from time to time.
“That’s enough,” his mate Taren warned as she spread her wings to glide next to him. “They’re no use to us dead.”
Rodor gave her an admiring glance. Her coppery scales gleamed in the bright sunlight, the cobalt sky providing the perfect foil for her lithe beauty. But her expression showed only utter determination. Taren always kept her eye on the main goal.
“Let’s get that elixir,” he said as he shot ahead, a dart of crimson terror. Taren might be beautiful, and smart, too, but she couldn’t really believe she’d beat him to that elixir. Her wingspan was barely three-quarters of his. He would be the victor today—as long as he didn’t waste time playing with the humans.
“I hope that potion’s actually there after all this,” Taren huffed. “One of those archers actually marked me.”
Rodor grinned. “Do we need to stop and bandage your terrible wound?”
Taren raked him with a scornful glance. “Dragons aren’t immune to elixir, you know. In a few hours, you might find yourself eagerly awaiting my next command. Perhaps I’ll have you wait on me until the stiffness fades.”
Ha. Taren was about to discover that what she wanted most was to please him, courtesy of the elixir’s incredible powers of persuasion. “Keep telling yourself that,” Rodor said. His wings beat three times, and Taren flew flat out to keep up. It was going to be so much fun letting her pace him, only to swoop ahead at the end.
“The elixir’s only supposed to last a week,” Taren said, puffing as she tried to flap harder. “Are we going to take turns?”
She was already trying to charm some out of him. “We’ll see,” Rodor said. “We don’t need it for long, now that they’ve gotten a reminder of our power. Just long enough to persuade them to tithe us their flocks—and their gold. As my mate, you’ll be entitled to your own golden couch.”
“How kind of you,” Taren said, her voice dripping sarcasm, but Rodor felt a warm glow at the thought of giving her a proper bed again. She had polished every coin in the last hoard until it gleamed. Rodor was content to toss it into a heap and know it was his, but Taren lavished attention on each trinket, down to the smallest pearl.
They flew east, over hills with farms tucked into their folds, past chattering streams and rivers, and finally approaching a wide lake echoing the sky’s cloud-studded blue. A stone tower rose up, strong by human standards, but it wouldn’t save the magician inside. If he was smart, he was already running.
A ball of flame hurled their way, and Rodor spun on a wingtip as it flew by. Humans were so seldom smart.
A quick duck under another blazing ball, and Taren screamed as her tail singed. Rodor turned in alarm, but she was already diving to collect her due–from the magician’s hide if he had no elixir to give them.
Rodor flew ahead and dove in front to edge Taren away from the next fireball. The magician’s tower was now in range, and they bathed it in twin bursts of white-hot dragonfire. Rodor raked the top as they flew by, but the mortal held.
He put his all into the next burst of flame. It blackened the silvery stones of the tower, and one swipe of Taren’s tail crumpled the top. They circled above, searching for any other signs of battle.
“He’s probably fleeing by now,” Taren said. “Down a tunnel, since I can’t see him anywhere on the surface.”
“A pity,” Rodor said. “I always enjoy it when they fight back.”
“That brilliant thinking lost us our last hoard.” A flicker of flame trickled through Taren’s teeth.
“The fun is all in winning it. We need to get out more often anyway.”
“Hmm. That wasn’t what you said when I wanted to visit my sister.”
If the fates were kind, Taren’s sister would never have a mate. Any suitor would likely be turned into dinner instead. Rodor needed that elixir. A visit to Taren’s family was to be avoided at all costs.
Taren began burrowing into the tower, throwing chunks of rock behind her as she dug. Rodor tore into the other side. This was his chance to get ahead.
He broke through a final wall in a cloud of dust, and a bearded man shouted a word of power. Icy blue flames sprang up between them. Rodor charged and backhanded the man through the air—right into Taren’s waiting claws.
“Where is it?” she demanded. “Tell me where the Elixir of Power is and you may live.”
The man shot a desperate look at a cupboard, and that was all Rodor needed. He flung open the door and wrapped his claws around a cut-glass vial while Taren was still wasting time with the magician.
As the man fled through his tumbled walls, Rodor held up the vial in triumph. “Mine! All our troubles are over now.”
“Yours, perhaps.” Taren’s head went back and her eyes narrowed. “I’m not going to stay and be dominated by you.”
A sharp surge of fear stiffened Rodor’s wings. “How can you say that? You’ve had as much say in the things we do as I have.”
“But that was before you had all the elixir. I didn’t notice you offering to share.”
Well, of course not. Still, some tact was called for. “You’ll be a queen. I’ll tell the humans to worship you.”
“I don’t want their worship. I want their gold.”
“Then I’ll have them pile it at your feet. You can choose all your favorite treasures first.”
Taren shook her lovely head. “With that elixir in your belly, you could tell me copper was what I really wanted, and I’d believe you. There’s nothing you can say, not if you’re unwilling to share with me. Why should I share my whole life with someone so selfish? I’m leaving.”
She turned to go, and Rodor’s gaze wandered dully over the half-dozen chests bulging with gold, some of which had been spilled out on the floor. He even had a new home, but that didn’t matter anymore, not without Taren. He threw his head back and drained the elixir down.
“Taren, wait. I can’t do this without you.”
Taren sniffed and turned back. “You can’t?”
“Your flame lifts me to the heavens and sends me soaring back with gifts. Gold means nothing to me without you.” Rodor gestured to the scattered treasure. “Look—all this can be yours. Just stay with me.” Life without Taren would be pointless.
Taren gazed up at Rodor, and the adoration in her eyes was heady as she twined her neck with his. The soothing rustle of their scales filled the chamber, and Rodor circled Taren with his tail. “Soon we’ll have more gold,” he murmured. “This is just a start.”
Taren blew a smoke ring. “Very well. It will be fun building it up again.”
Rodor heaved a sigh of relief as Taren’s tail snaked out behind them. It tucked a second vial of elixir, taken from the magician before he fled, into an unbroken chest. It would be quite safe there for the trip home.