A Dragon's Heart – Chapter 30

"Get the hell off of me before I cremate you." Natsume growled at the man above him. His panic over Mikan being attacked had allowed Narumi to take him down with humiliating ease. At the moment he was flat on his back and Narumi had one knee that was pressing hard into his chest while the other knee was poised over his neck. If the incubus just shuffled his weight ever so slightly, he would be crushing Natsume's throat.

Giving him a thoroughly disgusted look, Narumi shifted back a little from his throat but still kept him pinned to the ground.

"Are you going to be able to control yourself?" the incubus asked bluntly with nasty glare. Clearly he was not happy with younger man's unexpected outburst for which Natsume at least had the grace to be embarrassed about. Currently they were hiding in a cluster of trees and large rocks just outside of the estate, but if they had been any closer, Natsume would have given away their location and this whole operation would have gone to waste.

The young red dragon had obviously never intended to create such a ruckus, but when he had felt Mikan in pain he reacted instinctively. This is to say that he completely flipped out.

Even though hundreds of kilometers separated them, he could still hear Mikan screams echoing inside his head and it was all Narumi, Serio and Shizune could do to stop him from transforming and flying off after her. I really should have been prepared for it. I wanted the mate-bond and I knew what it meant.

He could clearly recall how his stepfather had suffered after his mother had passed away. Natsume and his sister were still fairly young when she had died and his dad had forced himself to hold off on joining his beloved mate in the forever plains for a few years solely for the children's sakes. Everyone could see that every day without his mother was a strain for his father, so he should have known and resisted Mikan's bond until after they were all safe.

Yeah right. As if I could have stopped myself from becoming her mate just because it was inconvenient timing. He would just have to focus more somehow to get through this.

Narumi gave him a concerned look, "She is alright now though?" he asked, and Natsume nodded and looked at his uncle.

Serio gave him his own nod of confirmation while his eyes still had a distant look. Unlike Natsume, his mating had developed to a point where they had a weak telepathy. "Nobara says she appears to be okay although it sounds like Ji-chan might be in serious trouble."

"Maybe we should call this off until the others are okay." Narumi repeated, and Natsume shook his head.

"We can't afford to delay because I'm sure the king has already called back whatever clones of his that might be around the globe. Now that I know she is okay, I'll try to ease up on our connection so I won't be caught off guard again."

Serio shook his head at him. "Are you sure you can? I remember what it was like when my bond was new. It is almost impossible to not think about it or her which is pretty much what you are going to have to do."

Natsume had already figured that much out by himself but he did not have much of a choice and he said as much. He shook his head at the others "No. Something tells me that if we don't do this now, we will never get another chance." He was not certain how he knew that, but he was sure of it. "Now back to what we were discussing. Get off me and we-" Natsume's words were cut off as a flock of birds dove out of the sky and began attacking his uncle's head.

It was no surprise to anyone when Luka left the evacuation group quickly and quietly in the small hours of the morning. If they noticed him leaving, no one had felt the need to call him back. It didn't matter anyway, his first priority at the time was meeting up with his brother again.

No scratch that.

His first priority was Aoi, but since he knew he did not have a hope in hell of rescuing her without Natsume, he followed the faint link between them. He continued to follow the link the rest of the night and into the morning, resting only briefly when his wings would no longer hold him. Their bond led him all the way to a point that was almost back at the estate.

At one point during his rest stops, he was rather surprised to feel that his brother was moving closer to him as well. He made several attempts to call out to Natsume's mind, but he lacked the kind of power his brother had. Unless Natsume was listening for him, there was no way he would have heard him at their distance so he kept moving forward.

The very last thing he had expected when he had finally found his brother was the scene that he had walked in on.

Luka had known Natsume was close and had tried to call out to him a few times, but he received no indication that his brother had even heard him. In fact, it felt like his brother was in some sort of distress or panic and could not answer back. Naturally worried that his brother had been found by one of the king's patrols, he rushed to his side only to find him being pinned to the ground by two men while a woman looked on.

One man he almost mistook as another woman and the other… was Persona.

At that point his thought processes came to a screeching halt leaving only the sight of the last person he had seen his beloved mate with. The face of the man who had stolen Aoi from him was now attacking his brother.

Without thinking, Luka instantly called any animal in the area to attack and a group of ravens answered his call. The man he thought was Persona had only a moment to cry out in surprise before he was forced to use his forearms to protect his head and face. No matter what he did though, the birds continued to peck and jab at him relentlessly with beaks and claws in a flurry of black feathers. If Luka had been in his right mind at the moment he probably would have noticed the stunned looks on the other three people standing nearby but he was blind everything but Persona. Even the brother he was supposedly saving from these attackers.

The usually passive Luka was little more than a blond blur that darted in and slammed Persona painfully into the ground. His normally gentle blue eyes looked feral and his lips were pulled tightly back to expose snarling teeth.

"Where is she?" Luka rasped, gripping the collar of Persona's shirt.

"Luka, stop! That's not Persona!" Natsume called, but Luka was now deaf to him. In some recess of his mind, he had probably rationed out that his brother was safe because all he saw was the man who had taken his mate from him.

Frustrated that his prey wasn't spitting out where his love was hidden, he picked the man up by his collar and then slammed him hard into the ground again. "Where is she!" he demanded again.

"Luka, stop!" Natsume tried again, and again Luka ignored his presence. Instead he picked his captive up by the collar. This time however, instead of knocking his head against the ground again, he swiftly moved around his prisoner until he had him in a vicious headlock. Years of training with Natsume were not for nothing. He knew very well how to take down a dangerous opponent.

He failed to notice however, that his opponent was not fighting back. At most, a little of the rot alice was leaking out of the man in self defense, but nothing more.

From the draman's perspective, it was like an out of body experience. He could hear his brother yelling at him and he could see the black smoke rising from the man in his grip but it was like they were too far removed from him, as if they were no more real than images on a movie screen.

What was real were the several snakes slithering out of the bushes. The animals slid up between Natsume and the other two with him, ignoring them completely as if they were no more aware of their existence than Luka was. Like Luka, their attention was focused solely on Persona. The group of serpents fanned out to form a reptilian wall between their collective prey and the others. The snakes gave the black dragon varying dead looks and a few opened their mouths to display wicked looking fangs.

"I suggest you give me what I want or my friends here will not be happy." Luka hissed in a low tone "Now, where is my mate you son of a bitch!"

'Luka! Luka!' He almost heard Natsume call out, but it was still too far distant from him. He thought he might have heard something like 'I'm sorry I have to do this.' But it was forgotten quickly when a wall of fire appeared between the snakes and Persona. At the same time his brother plowed into him, knocking him into the dirt. Unlike the vicious way Luka tackled Persona, Natsume tried his best to shield his brother from hitting the ground too hard.

Luka hit the ground and the impact seemed to jog his attention away from his target. "Natsume?" he blinked, feeling a little stunned at suddenly being back in his body and… ohhh… how much it hurt. Both from Natsume's tackle and from the faint marks caused by the rot alice. Wait, why did Natsume just attack him? He just saved him, didn't he?

Didn't he?

His exhausted, beaten mind felt like it was trying to pull itself free of a mud bog.

"Luka, it's me." His brother said firmly, using both his voice and his mind. "You've got to stop what you are doing. That is not Persona." Luka did not answer him right away. Instead he looked around and tried to take in his surroundings. Then he looked back at Persona and felt rage swell in him again. "This is not him. I swear." Natsume reassured. 'It's no wonder you are confused, it has been a very long, very rough few days on you and you never did get the dragon stamina. You are probably running on fumes now.' His brother added kindly in his head.

Gods, the last few days were all blurred together. Natsume was right. In some ways he was more human than dragon and the stress of the last thirty hours or so had taken its toll.

Slowly, little bits of reality came drifting back to his mind and he almost crumbled in on himself. All too soon he was able to remember all of the information that his brother had dumped into his head the last time they spoke. There had been so much information and it had been so fast that it had almost made his eyes bleed. With all of his focus on getting to Natsume and getting Aoi back, it was understandable that he had forgotten little details like a second Persona.

Serio. This man on the ground was Serio, Natsume's real uncle. The one called Persona was a fake. A clone of the king. There were other tidbits like Mikan's other alice and meeting Narumi the creepy incubus for example.

"I need her back Natsume." He stated in a half-sob, not caring at all at what it did to his pride. "I feel so empty without her."

Natsume put his hands on Luka's shoulders "I know you do. We will get her back." Luka gave him a look and nodded. By now the others had decided it was safe to approach and rather surprisingly, Serio spoke first.

"You're the little draman from Europe aren't you? France, I think it was. I remember you and Natsume used to be attached at the hip when you were little." He said, trying to sound harmless.

Luka could not stop the disappointed look "You really aren't him are you?" when nobody said anything he continued. "I'm sorry I attacked you. I just reacted without thinking. Sorry."

The man who still looked too much like Persona for Luka's comfort nodded in understanding. Actually If Luka needed any proof that it was not Persona, the reality that Luka was still alive would be it. Serio's rot alice had only attacked him in self-defense, holding himself back and only hurt him a little. If it were the real Persona (what an oxymoron that was) then he would have been dead.

Brushing himself off he redirected his focus back to where it was to begin with, getting Aoi. "Well then, if I understand correctly about what is going on we have three objectives. Aoi, the stones, and the king, so it is probably better if we split up. I can take these two," he said, indicating to Narumi and Shizune "to look for Aoi and hopefully those stones you are looking for, while you and your uncle look for the king. If we are lucky, we might even be able to provide each other with a distraction when we need it."

"That sounds great, but where are we going to look? There are a lot of places on the estate Aoi could be, and I can't picture the old bastard just leaving those stones in the regular family vault where anyone could find them." Narumi finally spoke for the first time.

Luka gave a weak smile. "Actually, I may have an answer for you."

When he had first lost contact with Aoi, he had panicked. Luka had sent every animal on the estate out in search of her. All of them had come back empty handed, but some of the animals had hinted that there was a spot on the estate that they could not get to. After a quick check with Hotaru and her new bug cameras he was able to confirm that there was a small storehouse near the king's residence that they could not approach without getting destroyed.

Two hours later, and he was trying to get two complete strangers and himself into a heavily guarded compound. Hopefully without being noticed before he could find his mate.

Gods he missed her so much. He could not remember a time where Aoi was not in his life. From his earliest memories she had always been there. She was always the light and centre of his life and he loved her with everything he had. If anything happened to her he knew he would never survive it. She was everything to him.

Fire and air, Natsume was so right about everything. Luka should have just grabbed her and ran away way back when they had first realized their feelings for one another. Gods knew that he and Aoi had talked about it often enough in the few stolen moments they had together. If he had just been brave enough to take what was his, she would still be beside him right now and he would not be suffering like he was.

If there was ever anything that could be called 'good' coming out of this experience, it was that he was done regretting and lamenting that he was born to a different social class than her. Natsume was right. Their king and clan were not worth the suffering they had endured. Luka's loyalty was to Aoi and Natsume. Everyone else could just rot in hell.

Oh gods he felt so empty without her. She was so close and yet he was quite certain that if he tried calling to her in his head right now all he would hear was a vast hollow echo over and over again in his head. And then he would lose his mind, which was why he kept all of his focus on the next immediate task at hand. If he thought too much about her absence he would never make it. He would probably just stand there screaming in despair until he dropped. Or worse, he would make a suicide attempt at the king himself.

Easy Luka, don't think about it. Only think of one thing at a time. Aoi is there, all we need to do is get in.

Luka crouched low and dashed almost silently to another out cropping of rocks and bushes. The king's residence stood higher and slightly apart from the rest of the estate buildings. The storehouse in question sat lower and off to the side from his home.

Normally the position of his residence was to symbolize his superior position over the lower member of the clan. The great lord in his castle high above the lowly peasants, as it were. Right now that arrogant attitude worked in their benefit. Thanks to the isolated position, and the guards busily preparing for Natsume's impending attack, they had successfully skirted the outside edge of the estate and managed to get within twenty meters of the storehouse.

But this is where things started to get difficult. The storehouse might in sight now, but he was currently hiding behind the last bit of cover to hide behind. There was pretty much nothing but grass, flowers and open ground between his hiding spot and the storehouse. He and the pair with him would be in plain view with nowhere to hide.

He looked again at the pair not too far from him and used crude hand signals to tell them to wait where they were while the animals he had summoned to help did a quick sweep of the area for guards. The animals would tell him if there was anyone in the vicinity, but that would not help them with modern surveillance systems. Hotaru had guaranteed him that the king and his men could not hack into her system, but the king still had his own and that was where his companions came in.

The incubus, Narumi had assured him that he could handle any guards that came their way with his ability as long as they were not in dragon form. The siren woman Suzune made a similar claim there was not a wall or electronic circuit that could hold up to her sonics for long. He just had to make sure to tell the animals to flee at top speed when she needed to use her sound.

Being this close to Aoi had started to make him more edgy so the wait until his animal scouts returned was almost intolerable. Eventually they returned to inform them that there were four guards on the storehouse and another four stationed close enough to be of concern. One of the estate's dogs had even tried to dig a hole along the storehouse sidewall, but only succeeded in hurting himself when he hit an invisible wall.

Armed with new this piece of information he dashed back over to Narumi and Shizune.

"There are four guards stationed around the storehouse. They would be fairly easy to take care of, but the whole place is surrounded by a barrier." He whispered tightly.

"Are the guards inside or outside of the barrier?" Narumi asked just as quietly.

"The two at the door appear to be inside, but the other two are walking a perimeter around the building. We have to silence them while avoiding the patrol of the other four that are nearby."

A cold shadow flickered thorough Narumi's lovely eyes. "Leave them to me." He announced, and before either Luka or Shizune could object, he crept out to Luka's former hiding place. Narumi spotted the cameras around him and turned to Shizune to give her a nod.

"What the hell is he doing?" Luka hissed.

"Getting caught obviously. If you like your animal friends now would be the time to tell them to leave." The normally silent Shizune replied and opened her mouth to make a noise to deal with the cameras. Luka himself could not hear anything even with his dragon enhanced hearing, but he saw a rabbit fleeing and heard a bird screech in agitation to the sub-sonic sound. He could only pray it was actually doing what it was supposed to and that there was no one from the king's guards that could detect sound at that level either.

His bigger worry right now was Narumi. What did she mean he was getting caught? Was he trying to get them all killed? Then he recalled that Narumi was an incubus that seemed to appeal to both genders. He had never actually seen the man's seductive power in action, but if it could get them past that barrier, he'd be willing to give it a chance.

Barely breathing, he watched Narumi wait in his hiding spot. Each time he saw a guard come into view he felt his pulse and his adrenaline leap, but Narumi was clearly a seasoned fighter because he continued to wait patiently until they had the guards' timing down. Normally, Luka would have been impressed with the incubus' skill but right now with Aoi so close and the afternoon advancing, he was almost tearing his hair out by the roots in frustration. When Narumi finally made a move his nerves were almost completely shot.

Narumi waited until the man that Luka was now calling in his head 'guard number two' came back into view for the third time. The man scanned the area (at which point they all had to duck from view again) and then just at the point where the guard had turned back, Narumi shuffled ever so slightly again. Normally the slight sound of earth, gravel and grass rubbing against one another was an almost inaudible sound but to Luka, it was loud enough to be a thunder crack and he winced at the sound pollution.

Apparently it was loud enough to catch guard's attention as well. The guard angled his body and aimed the automatic rifle he was carrying directly at the sound.

"I've got another possible movement over here." Luka overheard the guard call out to the others.

"Probably another stupid rodent or dog." Was the faint reply from the other side of the building. "We should just torch the whole area and kill them all. I'm so sick of them popping out everywhere."

Luka let out a silent thanks to all of his animal friends for their help. Apparently their constant attempts to try to get into the storehouse had the added bonus of reducing how alert the guards were. The gods were certainly smiling on them.

Grumbling and looking highly put out, the guard trudged across the open ground directly towards Narumi's hiding spot. Weapon at the ready, the guard appeared to remember the possibility of a real threat at the last moment. So instead of charging in blindly, he paused and took a ready stance on his side of the rocks. By now he was virtually back to back with Narumi and Luka's body was thrumming with tension.

Natsume, we are about to start. He called mentally in silent warning, and kept the link open incase this all went very bad very quickly.

The guard took a last quick scan of his position to confirm that everything was clear in his line of vision before he spun in a pivot with his rifle aimed directly at the incubus' head. Luka sucked in his breath and held it, fully expecting to have to charge in by force, but knew he would never make it before Narumi's brains met the outside air. His muscles tensed, ready to spring…

And… nothing…

The guard did not even utter a sound.

Luka watched in amazement as the guard not only lowered his rifle, he dropped to his knees, grabbed Narumi, and proceeded to kiss the incubus heatedly. Luka suppressed a shudder remembering a time not too many years ago when a couple of the older dragons deep in dragon-lust had tried to do something similar to him. He had managed to kick their asses, but the memory still haunted him.

In this instance though, Narumi did not appear to be bothered in the least by the kiss. In fact, it proved to be the lusty guard's fatal mistake. Incubi and Sucubi were psychic vampires that fed off the lives of their unsuspecting lovers. All the kiss did was give Narumi a way to suck all of his life out.

Within seconds he was on the ground, barely clinging to life, and the incubus wasted no time pulling out a wicked looking dagger and drove it into the dragon born guard's throat. Dragon though he may be, with his power already drained, the guard died instantly. With Aoi's safety at stake, Luka did not regret his loss.

Without saying anything Narumi quickly searched him.

'What are you looking for?' he mouthed silently, aware there were still three more guards to deal with in hearing range.

'Something for the barrier.'

Right. They would need some kind of key or pass or something. Luka shuffled over to help while Shizune kept her hiding spot, watching.

A quick search of his clothes and the contents of his pockets revealed nothing that would get them past the barrier. All the items on his person appeared to be ordinary. Knife, radio, gauze, pen, penlight; there was nothing that appeared magical or useful.

'Maybe only the guards inside the barrier have one.' The draman whispered under his breath.

'Then I need to be closer.' Narumi added and they stripped the corpse of his clothes and tactical gear. Naru was lucky it was all black, because as it hid bloodstains well.

He managed to get into the shirt and pants on and was trying to put the boots on when another guard approached. Without another thought, Naru crammed the helmet on, dropped the eye-shield and jumped to his socked feet. Behind the rock, Luka tried his best to hide himself and the dead body.

"Himura! What the hell are you doing?" the other guard yelled.

Narumi seemed to falter for a moment until he dropped the pitch of voice. "Uh… I stepped in shit." He announced and Luka's eyebrows shot up.

The other guard started laughing "Dumbass, get back to your position!"

From his vantage point hidden behind the rock, Luka could not see anything, and he had almost thought they were home free until he saw Narumi tense up and he heard the new guard moving towards them. Straining his hearing, Luka heard the guard make a small sound at almost the exact time that the incubus raised his eye-sheild.

"Who are you?"

The question did not come out as a barked order as it should have. Instead it sounded kind of dreamy and Luka could tell Narumi's power was in full effect. After a few seconds of rustling movement, Luka hazarded a peek only to see this guard fall into the same trap as his friend.

Weapon totally forgotten, this guard had both hands firmly gripping Narumi's ass and trying to suck off his face.

He was dead a minute later.

The pair of them finished getting into disguise and approached the storehouse door with Luka in front of Naru.

"What are you two doing here? Get back to your positions." One of the guards inside the barrier snapped at them.

Narumi pushed an unarmed Luka forward with his rifle. They had worked out this plan in less than a minute and all they could do was hope it would draw one of them out of the barrier long enough to capture them.

"He killed Himura and took his clothes." Narumi announced in his lower pitched voice.

That got both guards' attention, but both stayed cautiously within the barrier. This whole effort would be for nothing if they could not get at least one of them to come out. Weapons and magical abilities were useless if they could not breach the barrier. The one on the right radioed for reinforcements while the one on the left kept his eyes and weapon trained on the intruder.

Come out damn you! One of you come out! He screamed in his head willing one of them to move but both kept their feet planted.

Dammit, dammit! Natsume, we might need a distraction soon! He called, but just then Narumi reached over to snatch off Luka's helmet. Both guards looked at him with surprise when they realized who it was they were looking at.

"We-ell, look at this," the one on the left started laughing; "it's the little draman runt."

"Yeah the one that keeps forgetting his place."

"Oh this might be fun." Mr. Left guard sneered, and much to Luka's joy, he started to swagger towards the barrier's edge. Naru, in turn, pushed him close enough that he could feel the barrier pushing against the toes of his boots.

Come on, just a little closer. He willed.

"Yuu." Mr. Left guard was almost in reach when the right one called out in warning causing him to turn back.

"Don't worry I'm fine." He called out, assuring Mr. Right side that he would not move any closer. Luka almost screamed with frustration. They were so close! They just needed one of them to breach the barrier! Just a tiny bit!

It was then that Mr. Left turned back to him and Luka spotted a possible opening. "So kid, where is that snot-nosed brat hiding?" It wasn't hard to guess who the guard was talking about. His brother was not particularly popular among the king's men.

"Natsume is around somewhere." He assured the guard, then quickly snatched the rifle barrel that the guard had so carelessly allowed to breach the barrier when he had turned around.

Once they were connected, whatever key, pass or spell that allowed the guards to pass through the barrier freely was now extended to Luka.

He yanked hard on the barrel while surging forward to knee the guard in the groin. While the guard was momentarily stunned, he grabbed his head and twisted hard until he heard and felt a rather distinct crunch.

Narumi quickly grabbed on to him to pass through the barrier as well, quickly dispatching the last guard. They signaled Shizune who continued to use her sound on the surveillance systems. By now the guards had already notified others of their whereabouts, so interfering with camera reception was pointless.

"Well we're in, but they have already called for reinforcements." Naru warned, and they could even hear the sound of several sets of booted feet coming towards them. Almost on cue, three enormous explosions occurred at different points on the estate away from them.

"That would be Natsume with our distraction." Luka announced with some relief "Besides, we should be safe in the barrier for now." He then looked to the door of the storehouse. The lock looked required a palm scan so they hauled the bodies over to try it. Nothing happened.

Not surprising, there would be no way the dragon king would let anyone but himself have access to his secret treasure. Most likely only the king and his clones could access it.

"Shizune, do you think you can get us in?"

Again Shizune opened her mouth and let out a sound that was beyond his hearing range but in minutes the frame around the door began to crack. When that happened, Luka used all of his strength to give the door a solid yank. For a second, nothing happed, then both the door with the frame started to wobble slowly and the three of them had to scramble to get out of the way as it fell towards them. As much as it looked like a normal door, it was actually almost a foot thick and when it fell over, it made a rather nasty sound as it crushed the corpses of the guards.

Shizune looked at the door and then the frame. "A door is only as good as the wall it is in. Why bother reinforcing the door while the building is still ordinary stone?"

"The building has been here for over a hundred years. The king probably thought it would look too conspicuous if he suddenly built a brand new vault and he wants to keep this place as secret as possible. As it is he probably killed whoever installed the door to keep even the upgrade a secret." Luka reasoned, and entered the hall and down the stairs at the end.

By now the tension in him that he had managed to keep controlled while they got this far, was starting to leak out. He was so close now. He could feel it. Aoi was almost back in his arms and it was all he could do to keep his sanity together for this last little bit.

Aoi baby, I'm coming. He silently promised the love of his life. Down another flight of stairs, turn another corner, down another corridor. After the first wooden set of stairs, the walls and floor switched from separate parts to solid stone and he realized that he was actually in a tunnel under the estate's foundation. His whole life living here and he had no idea this passageway existed.

Of course that is what Kuonji wants he reminded himself. The place was like an underground maze with its many twists and turns and stairs that kept going down. The further down it went, the darker it got.

And the colder.

"Is it just me, or did it get really cold in here?" Narumi asked.

Luka had been noticing that as well and tried to light a fireball to brighten their way, but found it very hard to keep the fire going. By the next set of stairs the chill was cold enough that they could see their breath in the air, and his fire was flickering badly. "Damn. That is his real security." he muttered to himself.

"What?" Narumi asked behind him.

Luka gave him a glance wondering whether it was safe to reveal this secret part of dragon lore to non-dragons. Then again he had already decided that he owed the clan and other dragons nothing.

"The cold. It's the cold and the dark. Dragons need the warmth of the sun to fuel their fire. Without it, we become much weaker and can even die."

He tried to control his alarm. Aoi had to be alive. She just had to. Something deep down in his soul told him she was still alive. He was sure he would have felt her passing. He was just going to have to rescue her and bring her back into the sun.

Up until now Luka had been deluding himself that the ease that he had breached the barrier and made it past the door was due to the king's arrogance. He allowed himself to hope the king had become overconfident in his six hundred-plus years of life, but he had been a fool. The king had made sure that even a full blood dragon would not last long down here. Right now it was a fight for Luka just to keep a tiny candle flame going.

"Wait, I think I found something in one of these pockets." Narumi announced and pulled out a penlight. Checking his own stolen clothes, Luka found one as well. It wasn't much, but it allowed Luka to reserve his fire energy.

They went down another hallway and by now all of them were shivering from the cold. At the end of the hall was another door. Unlike the one above, this one was a small, ornately carved metal door that was secured right into the rock wall. There was no way it would come out as easily as the one above.

The door was so small that an adult would have duck down low to enter, but the lock was what held Luka's attention. The lock was old and sturdy, with a spring loaded trap for anyone who tried to pick it. Well He had just the thing.

"Can I borrow this?" he asked Narumi already trying to relieve him of his rifle. Loud shots rang throughout the corridor, and the lock clattered to the floor.

"You would think the all mighty dragon king would invest in a better door with a better lock." Narumi said in a nasty tone causing Luka to shake his head.

"Dragon's are notoriously greedy about their treasures. Just like upstairs, getting a new door or making a new vault would require letting others know there was something here worth hiding. There is no way he would have allowed anyone this close to it. Aside from him and his clones, we are probably the first ones down here in what could be centuries."

Using the knife from his stolen clothes, he held down the poison, spring loaded trap, while carefully unlatching the door. "I think I've figured out how this place works. It is mostly meant to work against dragons and makes assumptions that no other creature would make it this far. Down here though, a dragon would find it very difficult to keep his power in this cold and dark. Any fire they use would be lost unless they returned to the surface to rejuvenate. By then-"

"By then they would be trapped within the barrier with a whole platoon of guards waiting for them." Narumi finished for him. "Getting in is hard, getting out is harder."

"Yeah." Luka agreed and finished with the latch. Beyond the door caused Luka's breath to catch and he heard Shizune gasp.

The chamber inside was a large cavern and gave them all pause. The roof and the far walls were lost in the shadows, extending far beyond the beams of their tiny penlights. It was mind boggling to think this gigantic space existed under the estate. Scattered around the cavern were dozens of floor to ceiling pillars of ice. Well, that would certainly explain where the cold was coming from.

Looking closer, Luka noticed that the ice was neither melting, nor was there any device keeping it frozen. The ice had to be magically sustained. As he walked closer to one the columns trying to search for Aoi, the tiny beam from their pen lights set off a myriad of colors in the ice. And that was when he noticed it. Imbedded inside each ice column were dozens of multicolored stones.

Fire and air, it was the dragon king's stash of magical gemstones!

The gemstones were completely encased in pillars of magical ice, in a cold cavern, deep underground. If Luka did not hate the king with everything he had, the draman would be impressed. Any dragon that tried to steal this treasure would surely flame out trying to melt even the first column of ice. Between that and the difficulty of getting back out, maybe the king was a bit overconfident for a reason.

He wasn't here for gems anyway. Looking about the cavern he spotted a lump that looked like it had been tossed into the corner carelessly. "Aoi!" he cried and sprinted over to check on her.

Dropping to his knees Luka carefully reached out to take her into his aching arms. Oh god she felt so good next to him, but she was so pale and sooo cold. The draman instantly fed what little energy he had into her and almost wept in relief when he found she still had energy. His relief was short lived when his fears about the cold had proven true though. Aoi had already slipped into hibernation. If she had remained here even for a few more hours she probably would have died.

Gently, he scooped up his precious bundle and held her close as if body heat alone would help her recover. "Shizune I want you to destroy the pillars." He grated out coldly.

"If I do that while the stones are still frozen in the ice, they would be damaged as well."

"Good." he retorted flatly. The stones could turn to dust for all he cared. But Shizune did not seem convinced. Clearly the brightly colored treasure had caught her in its spell.

"Narumi?" she asked the incubus. "The stones could really help us."

Luka tensed on his way to the door. If they were going to try and steal the treasure, they were on their own. He would leave them to their greed, he had his treasure.

Naru however, did not seem to agree to his companions rationale.

"No. If Yuka were here she would tell you to destroy them as well. She hated those stones and all they represented. She would hate them even further if she knew how they were being used. And she would never want us to keep them around so they could fall into the wrong hands again. Bring them down."

Shizune gave one last disappointed sigh before she followed them out of the room. "You may want to cover your ears for this one." She warned and she let out an almighty shriek that almost made Luka's head explode. His knees began to buckle and he almost dropped Aoi in shock. Gods how could that sound be possible? As soon as it started, it was over, but the pain remained along with the buzzing in his head.

Quite sure that he was now hemorrhaging from the ears, it took Luka a few moments to shake his head clear and continue moving. After a few more minutes his ears stopped ringing and normal sound began to slowly return. At first it was all garbled sound, but eventually words became distinguishable.

"Would you please hurry up before we all die?" He heard Shizune order testily.

"Huh? Why? What happened? Gods! I can barely hear anything. What happened?" Luka asked still trying to shake his head clear.

"It sounds like the walls and ceiling of the cavern are cracking along with the pillars. If we don't start moving, we may end up buried here." she announced trying to get them to move either faster or out of her way. Luka gave Narumi a shocked look then proceeded to sprint up the stairs two at a time.

As they were getting closer to the surface the dragon in Luka could feel the sun coming closer. Soon. They were probably a few more stairwells away, but a resounding crack that he felt all the way to his bones caught them all off guard.

Suddenly cracks and fissures began creeping along to walls and stairs. Dust began to rain down on them. "Run!" he screamed, even though they were pretty much already doing so.

Move, move, move! He willed the dragon within him. By now the cracks were like claws that were chasing them down the tunnels almost as fast as they could run. Luka never had the speed of a full blood, and his dragon had already been pushed to its limits, but if he could call out any scrap of power, now was the time they needed it.

The floor had already begun to shake and rumble when he recognized the first wooden stairwell they had gone down. While they were on it the floor began to pitch and heave violently and they stumbled half a dozen times before they were finally sprinting down the hallway as fast as they could.

"SHIT the barrier!" he shouted. This whole place was going down and if they could not find a way past the barrier, they would go down with it.

"Don't worry, I got it!" Naru yelled back and Luka had no choice but to trust him.

As the outside became visible, he saw several armed guards waiting for them. He might have been concerned about them, but the guards appeared to be having their own trouble keeping their balance.

"Earthquake!" he heard one of them call out. Little did he know he was not too far off.

When the guards spied them coming out, they collectively trained their weapons on them wobbly as they were. Narumi did not allow them to stop. Instead, he grabbed Shizune and Luka and pushed forward towards the barrier. Once they breached it, Narumi and Shizune let loose the full force of their powers, immobilizing them with seduction, while stunning them with sound.

Having left the rifle in the cavern, Luka stayed a bit behind them trying to protect Aoi. Naru's and Shizune's attacks stunned their enemies long enough that they could run past them.

At the same time the ground beneath them gave a pained groan and started collapsing in, ripping the storehouse apart. The guards that had been trying to shake off the dual siren/incubus attack, started to cry out in alarm and those that could move, had no choice but to try and run for their own safety.

Luka and his companions ran with the last bit of energy they had and with a last leap they dove behind the very same rocks they had been using for cover in the first place.

A huge cloud of dust swirled up high in the air, temporarily choking and blinding all of them.

'Luka!' He heard Natsume call frantically in his head. The draman couldn't help but smile.

I'm alright Natsume. And I have Aoi.

'Is she okay?' And Luka could hear the love and concern for both he and his mate in his brother's voice. It warmed him to feel such caring.

She's fallen into hibernation due to cold and being sun starved. It will take some time, but I think she will be fine.

'The stones?'

They are gone.

'Good. Then take her and go. Just go anywhere that is not here. I'll meet the two of you in Paris in a month.' He suggested and Luka cringed at the uneasy feelings he was picking up from his brother behind his bold words. There was almost none of the confidence that Natsume usually had.

Natsume, Aoi would never want that and you know it.

'Luka, take your mate and go enjoy your lives. Too much of your happiness has been stolen already.'

Natsume, Aoi would need to know you are safe and so would I. He declared. He and his mate had waited this long, they could wait another day or two in order to make sure he was okay. His brother made a frustrated sound in his head.

'Fine then. Go meet up with the others. Take care of Aoi and I'll try and meet up with you.'

You had better or Aoi will have my hide. At that Natsume chuckled.

'Trust me there is a feisty little sea dragon that gives me plenty of reasons to make it through this.'

Alright, I'll meet up with the others. Luka promised, and pulled his mind back in order to not distract his brother further.

Now that the dust had cleared, he turned to look at where the storehouse once stood. Now there was nothing but a giant sink hole filled with rocks and debris. The edges of the hole encompassed the whole clearing and stopped only a handful of meters from them. Gods that was close.

He gave Narumi a look. "How were you able to break the barrier? I thought we were dead there."

The incubus pulled out what looked like an ordinary paper charm. "I found it on one of the guards while Shizune was working on the door. I knew we would need a way to go back through the other way, so I prepared."

Luka let out a quiet laugh. "I've talked with Natsume. I'm going to take Aoi and go. Are you coming?"

The expression on Naru's beautiful face turned cold. "I have things here I need to take care of."

"I'll let Natsume know you are still around causing mischief then." He stated, and respectfully bowed to both of them while Aoi was still in his arms.


I'm guessing most of you wondered what happened to me. Suffice to say the last year and a half has been really rough on me. There have been five funerals since I last posted. Yep you read right. Five. Some somewhat expected, some not at all, none welcome.

But life continues on and so must I. Can't stay down forever. Besides, I really want to get back into my writing. I'm still not so confident in this chapter, but here it is.