TOURNAMENT OF RECKONING (A Netherworld Short Story) by Allie Marie

In the far doorway, Rand Emberfang leaned against the frame, watching Siv’s bonding. Not only was her new dragon an impressive creature, but the Zeph herself was. Taller than most females of her kingdom, her every move exuded grace and fluidity, with air her strongest element. He’d long been attracted to her.

Although they had never jousted against each other, Rand had seen many of her matches and knew her to be a formidable opponent. They’d engaged in flirtatious encounters off the field before, but this tournament would give him the opportunity to get to know her more—and likely he’d challenge her in the final match.

He took long, quiet strides, enjoying the melodious blend of Siv’s calm voice mixing with the blue wyvern’s tinkling notes. As he moved closer, however, the chiming syllables turned into a roar as the dragon raised her head and blew out a fireless blast of hot air, knocking Rand flat on his back.

“Good girl, Ghy,” Siv praised, stroking the beast’s neck. She smirked over her shoulder. “I would think you knew better than to disrupt a rider bonding with her dragon, Rand. Be glad we were finished. She could sense you were not a threat to me, or you may have been fried to a crisp.”

Rand bounced to his feet, a slight look of shock on his face. “How did you know I was here?” He rolled his eyes skyward and added, “I forgot about those all-seeing eyes of yours.”

“I saw you the moment you arrived.” Siv declined to mention that she had also felt the heat of his presence when he stepped to the open door. She had tamped down her power of air, allowing her own command of fire to blend with Rand’s so that he had no knowledge she was even aware of him.

He took a few steps forward.

Siv whirled on him. Ghymugras gave a warning snort, a puff of smoke escaping her nostrils. “Why are you here, Rand, in this tournament in my kingdom? They will never name you the Grand Sentinel.”

He shrugged. With a cautious hand, he reached to stroke the dragon’s long neck. “She’s already prepared to defend you to the death, isn’t she? She’s a beauty—like her rider.”

“Spare me.” She elbowed the Fire Elf from her path. “Leave me alone, Rand, I have a tournament to win.”

“I think I might have something to say about that,” he said, moving behind her as she reached for a bridle. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her to him.

Siv hitched her breath, taking in the slightly smoky scent of Rand, aware of his strength, his essence—and of a firm pressure on her lower back.

Either her armor had activated under her cloak to protect her from Rand—or his body had activated of its own accord.

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