At the foot of the mountain in the comfortable warmth of a mid-summer evening, the Festival of the Dragon is in full swing. Drums and music combine with fireworks and the bob and glimmer of paper lanterns. The air is filled with the excited laughter of the townspeople and the joy of the celebration. A night of fun and dancing to honour the Dragon Spirit that guards the land from harm.

A lone figure stands in the night breeze, both central to and apart from the joyful chaos. He's restless, trying not to pace as he waits for the moon to rise higher, and the warrior's query is both a welcome distraction and an irritation.

'Raphael-sama, are you sure you'll be alright alone?' The samurai is uneasy as he eyes the thick forest.

Raphael shakes his head impatiently. 'There's nothing out there that can hurt me tonight. You know that well enough by now.' Already he can feel the call in his blood, a persistent throb of need is blossoming in his chest, making him feel warm … so warm. The sensation is consuming him, a soft but powerful demand, playful and full of longing ...

… come to me.

He closes his eyes, feeling an answering flush of warmth to the gentle command. It takes all his self-control to remain in place when every fiber of his being aches to obey.

I'm coming ...

When the moon is high in the sky, it's finally time.

Everyone falls silent as the local priests sprinkle him with sacred water. A child tugs impatiently on his mothers sleeve and whispers. 'Okaa-san, isn't the Daimyo scared of meeting a dragon spirit?'

Others grin and nod as the woman replies. 'Of course not, Shujo-kun. Raphael-sama is a strong warrior and a powerful leader. They say the Dragon has been very happy since he became our lord. See how tall and proud he stands? Work hard and one day you might be as strong as he.'

'Besides,' Someone else mutters. 'The Dragon spirit has always been good to us.'

Others nod and murmur their agreement, and then all eyes turn to watch as the Daimyo begins his mysterious journey up the gigantic staircase that winds up the mountain to the Temple of Stars.

Raphael is glad to leave the noise behind. The night is too heavy with expectation for him to concentrate on anything but this rising feeling. Honouring the dragon is his responsibility but he goes willingly, his movements faster than perhaps they strictly need to be. The haori he wears is long and ornate, trailing the steps behind him, the rich red brocade gaping open at the front to show he's almost naked, wearing only a light pair of black hakama beneath. He tugs it open impatiently, revealing his strong frame and emerald green skin to the cooler night air.

Tonight the full moon glows, as warm and bright as his own golden eyes. The further he goes, the more changes he feels in the forest around him. The air is heavy with power and warmth. Like stepping into a dream. The air is so thick with feeling it almost seems to ripple lazily around him. Fireflies drift in slow motion, suspended like tiny suns, weaving softly across his path, gentle sparks between the trees of the forest. Crickets and other insects hum in the shadowy undergrowth and the night air turns to a velvet caress against his bared skin.

The journey seems to take twice as long as usual. His impatience grows as the forest stirs around him, shivering with a new urgency, the leaves whisper of the dragons restlessness. Is that just the wind rushing out of sight, that fading glimmer light on water - or ethereal scales in a stray moonbeam? Raphael moves faster to answer the silent call that hums in his blood and pounds in his heart. At the top of the stairs there is a paved plateau and surrounded by the tall trees of the forest is the shrine. It's a grand building, centuries old and only recently lovingly restored by Raphael's order. He had to do it … couldn't stand the thought of the dragon coming to such a tired and worn out temple. Now its richly coloured and stunningly beautiful gardens soothe the spirit. He can only hope his efforts pleased the dragon.

The shiver of knowing that tremors up his spine as he stands in the moon-flooded courtyard alerts him to that presence. The breeze slips past him, tugging at his robes playfully and Raphael closes his eyes, lifting his head to breathe the forests sweet, heavy scents - knowing how shy the dragon is ... even tonight, restless and powerful, the spirit won't appear if he's watching. He likes games too much for such a direct approach.

The caress intensifies, solidifies against his breastplate until gentle claws are trailing up his chest. His breath catches and he clenches his jaw with a faint sound of longing, knowing he's not allowed to open his eyes yet. When the soft touch has explored him, testing his endurance, hot breath feathering the back his neck playfully, the torture finally ends. He hears a faint giggle and knows he's passed the test. Raphael finally allows his eyes to drift open.

He doesn't know why the dragon likes to mimic his form. Perhaps it's part of the game, or maybe this truly is the dragons other form. He only knows that the sight of the smaller terrapin, skin the colour of new spring leaves, delicate and blushing, similarly clad in a long orange robe makes his heart pound. The heavy ache in his chest, the one that's been there all year is slowly uncoiling, easing as the small delicate hand takes his, their fingers entwining. Their kiss is mind shattering, sending a rush of heat like liquid fire boiling through his blood. Nobody else has ever made him feel this way … and nobody else ever will. When the dragon makes a low keen of need, his warm blue eyes glowing gently with pleasure, he has to stop himself from dragging the smaller into lush grasses right then and there.

The dragon smiles against his mouth and breaks the kiss, walks backwards, tugging him forward, eyes heavy lidded and dancing with laughter. He forces himself to be patient, though the need is throbbing through him. There's plenty of time though he's waited so long. He allows himself to be led past the groves of bamboo, through the inner shrine with its soft hay-scented tatami mats, and out the other side to the sacred pool.

There in the moonlight the lillies are luminescent, and the surface is like a mirror, cool and clear and utterly still with expectation.

His clothes feel so heavy suddenly. He doesn't need them here. The dragon pushes the heavy fabric down his shoulders to puddle in the thick green grass, fingers trailing down the muscles of his arms, eliciting a shiver of pleasure and then leans in to steal a light kiss. Raph trembles with feeling and follows, helpless to resist those gorgeous blue eyes as they lead him forward into the pool. When he's up to his mid thigh the dragon vanishes beneath the water with barely a ripple and he pauses to take it in. So many cares, so much responsibility and pressure … all the burdens of his role begin to slip away, the pool draws them aside, leaving behind the young terrapin that he is. Strong, full of life and energy and the spirit of fire. A spirit the dragon is helplessly drawn to. A union of fire and air energies that can only flame hotter and hotter when they meet.

The dragon surfaced to splash him playfully and Raphael suddenly grinned and lunged. The turtle squealed in delight and dived again. They spend a long time chasing each other through the silky water, splashing and diving, stealing kisses that become hungrier and hungrier until finally Raph can't stand it anymore. He captures the dragon on the next pass, pulling the smaller onto his lap in the shallows so he can lick water off the silken skin, hear the soft pants his touch elicits.

'I missed you so much.' Raph whispered against his partners neck, sliding his hands slowly around the slimmer thighs and drawing him closer still.

The dragon grins, cheeks flushed, eyes glazed from lust and Raph's drugging kisses but doesn't answer with words … he never does. But that's fine with Raph, the words aren't really enough to describe this feeling … He pins the smaller in the shallows, the water surging greedily around their tangled forms, soft cries and fierce calls becoming one with the moon-lush night.

When their hearts have slowed, the dragon takes his hand and leads him round the gardens, eyes huge with delight, to show him the blossoming flowers and kiss him gently for each of the many-petalled gifts. He can't help but laugh at the pure innocence on his lover's face. The dragon is young and delicate and delights in the simplest of pleasures. It reminds him how beautiful the night is and everything within it. It reminds him that he's alive and strong.

Naked in the moonlight they laugh and play, chasing each other between the heavy ferns, tackling into thick blooms of clover that crush sweet and soft beneath their bodies, adding a fresh green spice to the musk of lust that arises when the dragon lets himself be caught, happy when strong green arms enfold him possessively. And the only regret that might be found is the ignored truth that eventually this night must end and dragon and daimyo will be separated once more until the end of another long year - an eternity of waiting. But still ... warm, so warm, Raphael's heat burns into him, aching pleasure between trembling thighs while golden eyes sear him breathlessly and kisses brand him ... they still have the night for as long as his magic can make it last.

And yet fate had already moved against them. At first, Raph felt a prickle of suspicion, but the Dragon seemed calm and oblivious to the danger. Everything was heightened in this place, and time moved differently. Raphael paused as they stood amongst the cherry blossoms in the courtyard, he did not understand his sudden unease until it was too late.

The attack came fast, supernaturally fast. Raph had only an instant to choose and there was no hesitation. He snatched the dragon into his arms and jerked them both aside as the daggers of jade slammed into him. Pain more intense than he's ever known tore into him and he clutched the smaller terrapin closer with a cry of agony, shielding him to his chest away from the assassins that have come and together they toppled. He landed badly, one of the blades driving itself deeper into his side but the pain was eclipsed by his frantic worry - his arms were limp and frighteningly empty. He needed to … protect the Dragon … needed to make sure he was alright … but his lover was somehow gone and distantly he heard a roar of purest rage. Power shivered through the sacred grove and those who'd come with death in their hearts found more than they bargained for beneath the dragons claws.

Everything was growing dark when the dragon's blue eyes appeared over him once again, somehow melting from transcendent scaled beast of shimmering complexity into the leafy green terrapin he'd held in his arms this enchanted evernight. The Dragon gathered him up gently, denial in his face and tears brimming in his eyes, pulling him into his arms with an air of desperation. Raph grimaced slightly at the pain … he'd ruined the dragon's ethereal robes … blood had drenched them both the colour of death.

'You're ok.' he rasped weakly. 'I couldn't find you … I thought -' he coughed and warmth flooded his mouth, the tang of blood tracing down his chin.

With the last of his strength, Raphael lifted his bloodstained hand to cup the dragon's cheek, barely able to feel it when his hand was gripped tightly in return and held there. Something hot dripped onto his face and he realised … the dragon was crying for him … a mortal … he smiled again, the light fading from his eyes.

' … love you …' the whisper faded with his last breath.

As the emerald hand slackened and dropped away, the dragon shook its head in denial, grabbing the edges of the sopping robe to shake life back into the fragile creature it had come to adore more than anything in its long existence. A shattering roar broke the canopy and the forest trembled in despair.

Beneath the new moon, the dragon bursts free of its web of power.

Confusion makes him roar in fury, struggling, clawing to get free of the clinging undergrowth. Flames spurted from his nostrils, igniting his panic, dribbling from between his jaws to sizzle in the damp moss of the forest floor. His body is too long, too awkward. He can't catch his balance, can only thrash like a fish out of water, flattening ferns and small trees, until he claws desperately up the trunk of a forest giant to escape the clinging mass of vegetation. He gripped the bark, his claws gouging massive rents in the trunk, his new form heaving in panic at the strangeness. A keen of misery reverberates from his chest, turning into a full-throated roar of fury and frustration.

What is going on? The sound comes with a wave of belched fire he can't control and the top of the tree erupts with flames.

Then he appears. A dragon of shimmering colour, of the palest dawn apricot to the intense orange of autumn leaves, sunset to dawn, each scale shivering and changing in an iridescent swirl of colour more beautiful than he could have ever imagined. Bright blue eyes study him in awe and suddenly he just knows. He knows that he's looking at his lovers true form and comprehends that he was offered a chance to change in return for his sacrifice … and he knows that the look the other dragon is giving him is outright desire and admiration. Love and hope and ecstatic joy as glowing blue eyes drink him in.

It helps him to calm and he turns a brilliant golden eye, like a small sun, down upon himself. His body is long but strong, scales sleek his sides and everywhere the light touches them shimmering reds swirl across his body and reds in shades that have no name. Beneath is a lighter crimson, gaining strength and richness until his spine and the rugged manes of fur around his claws and ears are deep scarlet, sparks falling like dying stars from the shadow of his belly. Flames lick the air in random curling tongues of fire from the depths of his mane. It's such a stunning sight his grip on the tree loosens and he crashes into the undergrowth once more.

The sunset dragon coils around him, his touch cool and soothing, until Raphael's breathing calms and his body stops its frantic struggle. They lie together amongst the cool ferns just sharing breath and wonder. Tasting each others unique scents, laced with musk and magic ... and Raphael knows he never has to leave again. His body obeys his rising joy and a spiraling lust and the smaller submits with playful submission and a keening cry of pure magical lust as the fire dragon claims him as his mate, their combined passions levelling a small section of the surrounding forests. Later the churned earth will absorb the traces of their activities and flourish with fresh life. Tomorrow there will be no sign of the two dragons locked together in a fiery tornado of rippling heat and surging pleasure.

Later the smaller will teach him with incredible patience how to use his new body, how to change and flood through the forests like a heat shimmer in the wind. How to draw power from the world around and how to become again, for brief periods, the terrapin he had once been. Together they ruled and explored, played and chased, revelling in the magic that had brought them together and a fierce love that had only just begun. The forests embraced them, coiled together as dragon or terrapin, and at the end of each long day the sunset dragon curled close to his warm, warm partner, sheltered by larger coils and the lethal claws that enfold him gently, protectively. A comfortable snort of hot breath on the back of his neck, a nuzzle that makes him wriggle happily and he falls asleep breathing the spicy scent of his powerful new mate. After many long centuries of searching and waiting, of loneliness and longing ...the dragon spirit knew he would never be alone again.