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Arcadia, 2986 BCE
Is this dead or hell?
Maxis growled at his brother as he struggled to carry Illarion out of the filthy dungeon where he’d been held for more weeks than he could count. Damn, his little brother was heavy for a creature who made his meals mostly off field mice and wheat.
Shut it, Max snapped at him with his thoughts. If you can’t help, then don’t distract me while I’m trying to save your scaly, worthless hide from the human vermin.
I don’t know why you’re complaining so. Humans aren’t so bad. I rather like them, myself… They taste like chicken.
In spite of the danger surrounding them and his bitter rage over their latest “lovely” predicament and the betrayal that had put them here, Max had to bite back his laughter. Leave it to Illarion to find humor at the worst time imaginable. But then, that was why he was risking life, scale, and claw to save Illarion when all dragon-sense he possessed told him to abandon his brother and worry about his own cursed arse.
You’re not making this any easier on me, you know.
Sorry. Illarion tried to use his human legs to walk, but the weak, unfamiliar appendages buckled beneath him. How do they balance on these spindly things, anyway? He scowled at Max. How are you doing it?
Sheer piss and vinegar… and the resolute need to live long enough to get to the ones who’d done this to them and kill them all.
And after those poor demons went to all that trouble to cave-break you. They’d be so disappointed to see their efforts go for naught.
Max let out a frustrated breath. I swear by all the gods, Illy, if you don’t stop your nonsense, I will leave you here.
His expression sobering, Illarion fisted his hand in Max’s long, matted blond hair and forced him to meet his gaze. Go, brother. Like this, I’m nothing but an anchor to you and your freedom, and we both know it. Together, we’re caught. Alone you stand a chance at daylight again.
Tightening his arms around his brother’s frail human body, Max locked gazes with Illarion. It was so eerie to see blue human eyes staring up at him and not his brother’s normal yellow serpentine ones. To stare into the face of a man and not a dragon. What had been done to them against their will was all kinds of wrong.
Without their permission, they’d been bespelled, captured, and merged with a human soul that neither of them understood, or comfortably wore.
One day, they’d been fully Drakos, the next…
But though they weren’t the same in form, they were still the same in heart and spirit. And one thing would never, ever change.
We are drakomai! And we do not abandon our kinikoi. You know this!
They might not cluster together in living communities, or share domiciles, once they reached their majority, but when the Bane-Cry sounded, they were honor bound to heed it and fight together until they defeated all threats…
Or death separated them.
Illarion winced as he stumbled and fell, dragging Max down with him. Why did they do this to us? Isn’t it enough that they hunt and kill us for sport? That they’ve enslaved us for centuries? What more do the human vermin want of our kind?
Max didn’t speak as he helped his brother regain his feet and staggered with him toward the narrow opening he prayed led to the forest where they might find shelter. The answer wouldn’t comfort Illarion any more than it’d comforted him. Rather, it pissed him off to no end.
They’d been a merciless experiment so that King Lycaon could save his worthless, whiny sons who’d been cursed by the god Apollo to die at age twenty-seven. While Max could respect the man for not wanting to lose his children over a curse that had nothing to do with the king’s family, but over an ancient grudge the god bore the queen’s bloodline, Max didn’t appreciate being the means by which Lycaon hoped to accomplish the cure.
Even now, he remembered the sight of the fierce Akkadian god Dagon in his blackened armor as Dagon had trapped him with his arcane powers.
“Easy, Drakos,” the god had breathed as Maxis had struggled against him and done his damnedest to fight him off. “You’ll thank me for what I do. I’m going to make you better. Stronger.”
But this was neither of those things. Never had he felt so weak or vulnerable.
And the worst had been to awaken in front of his “twin.” A human male identical to this body whose soul had somehow been merged with his. Unlike Max, the human hadn’t been strong enough to survive the spell that Dagon had used on them. Probably because Dagon hadn’t bothered to learn what type of drakomai Maxis was before he cast his magick.
Magick had never played well with Max’s accursed breed. It was why they’d been originally conceived and charged with their sacred duties.
The weak human had died howling in agony a few hours after the spell-casting, as his body attempted to become a dragon’s form. While Max hadn’t enjoyed the transition to human, he’d survived it.
He just wished he could control the impulse that threw him from human to dragon and back again. Those horrid transitions came at random intervals without warning. Something that kept him grounded for the time being, since the last thing he wanted was to be airborne when his wings turned to arms and sent him plummeting.
“There they are!”
Max hissed as he heard the humans behind them. He tried to use his powers on them, but like this…
Illarion’s eyes widened in panic. Go! Leave me.