Dragon Bound(6)

By: Thea Harrison


I understand, my lord, Rune said, keeping his mental voice quiet.

Dragos sensed other conversations in the air, although no one dared direct contact with him. He suspected his First had begun giving orders to transfer duties to the others.

He said, Be very clear about something, Rune. I do not want this thief harmed or killed by anyone but myself. You are not to allow it. You should be sure of the people you use on this hunt.

I will.

It will be on your head if something goes wrong, Dragos told him. He couldn’t have articulated even to himself why he pressed the matter with this creature who for centuries had been as steady and reliable as a metronome. His claws clenched on his implausible scrap of evidence. Understood?

Understood, my lord, Rune replied, calm as ever.

Good enough, he growled.

Dragos noticed they had returned over the city. The sky around them was clear of all air traffic. He soared in a wide circle to settle on the spacious landing pad atop Cuelebre Tower. As soon as he settled he shifted into his human shape, a massive six-foot-eight dark-haired male with dark bronze skin and gold raptor’s eyes.

Dragos turned to watch Rune land. The gryphon’s majestic wings shone in the fading afternoon sun until the other male also shifted into his human form, a tawny-haired male almost as massive as Dragos himself.

Rune lowered his head to Dragos in a brief bow of respect before loping to the roof doors. After the other male had left, Dragos unclenched his right fist in which he held a crumbled scrap of paper.

Why had he not told Rune about it? Why was he not even now calling the gryphon back to tell him? He didn’t know. He just obeyed the impulse to secrecy.

Dragos held the paper to his nose and inhaled. A scent still clung to the paper, which had absorbed oil from the thief’s hand. It was a feminine scent that smelled like wild sunshine and it was familiar in a way that pulled at all of Dragos’s deepest instincts.

He stood immobile, eyes closed as he concentrated on inhaling that wild feminine sunshine in deep breaths. There was something about it, something from a long time ago. If only he could remember. He had lived for so long, his memory was a vast and convoluted tangle. It could take him weeks to locate the memory.

He strained harder for that elusive time with a younger sun, a deep green forest and a celestial scent that drove him crashing through the underbrush—

The fragile memory thread broke. A low growl of frustration rumbled through his chest. He opened his eyes and willed himself not to shred the paper he held with such tense care.

It occurred to Dragos that Rune had forgotten to ask what the thief had stolen.

His underground lair was enormous by necessity, with cavern upon cavern filled with a hoard the likes of which the world had never seen. The treasure of empires filled the caves.

Astonishing works of beauty graced rough cavern walls. Items of magic, miniature portraits, tinkling crystal earrings that threw rainbows in the lamplight. Art masterpieces packed to protect them from the environment. Rubies and emeralds and diamonds the size of goose eggs, and loops upon loops of pearls. Egyptian scarabs, cartouches and pendants. Greek gold, Syrian statues, Persian gems, Chinese jade, Spanish treasure from sunken ships. He even kept a modern coin collection he had started several years ago and added to in a haphazard way whenever he remembered.

On the ostrich’s head was a hot fudge sundae. . . .

His obsessive attention to detail, an immaculate memory of each and every piece in that gigantic treasure, a trail of scent like wild sunshine, and instinct had all led Dragos to the right place. He discovered the thief had taken a U.S.-minted 1962 copper penny from a jar of coins he had not yet bothered to put into a coin collecting book.

. . . and on the hot fudge sundae atop that ostrich’s head perched a cherry. . . .

The thief had left something for him in place of what she had taken. She had perched it with care on top of the coin jar. It was a message written on a scrap of paper in a spidery, unsteady hand. The message was wrapped around an offering.

I’m sorry, the message said.

The theft was a violation of privacy. It was an unbelievable act of impudence and disrespect. Not only that, it was—baffling. He was murderous, incandescent with fury. He was older than sin and could not remember when he had last been in such a rage.

He looked at the paper again.

I’m sorry I had to take your penny. Here’s another to replace it.

Yep, that’s what it said.

One corner of his mouth twitched. He gave himself a deep shock when he burst into an explosive guffaw.





TWO



Pia spent the next hour trekking across town. She witnessed how the city transformed after that unholy sound, as if it were a painting some artist smeared with sinister streaks of dark colors. Stress carved itself into the expressions of the people she passed on the street. Anger erupted in shouted confrontations, and clumps of uniformed policemen appeared. Pedestrians moved with greater urgency. Smaller shops and kiosks put out CLOSED signs and locked their doors.

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