“Thank you, but I have to go.” A soft female voice rose above the din and Bleu stilled. “I have to fly.”
A chill skated over his skin beneath his armour, his eyes slowly widening as he finally comprehended why he had felt such a strange yet familiar sensation on seeing the female on stage attacking the fallen angel.
He spun on his heel to face the stage.
A heartbeat of time passed, a split-second that felt like an eternity as he stared up at the female on the stage, taking in the striking violet-to-white eyes that he would never forget as they locked on him. Her lips parted, long lashes falling to shutter those incredible eyes, and his pulse hammered into overdrive as the three long scars on the left side of his neck tingled. He slowly raised his hand to rest his fingers on his armour over them.
He inched his right foot forwards.
She turned in an instant and he could only watch as she transformed into an enormous violet dragon, tearing stunned gasps from the remaining few people in the arena. She reared onto her hind legs, flashing the white stripe that ran from beneath her jaw, down her throat, and under her ribs, and beat her wings, the white membrane between her purple wing bones stark against the dark sky of Hell.
His breath left him in a rush as she threw her head back, her long white horns almost touching her neck, and roared, the sound deafening as it echoed across the land.
“Wait!” He launched onto the stage in a single leap, unwilling to let her escape him again.
She snarled through gleaming white fangs each as long as his arm and swept her left paw downwards, delivering a devastating backhand that hit him square in the chest, knocking the air from his lungs and sending him flying across the arena so fast that he didn't have a chance to teleport.
His back slammed into the rough black rock, fire searing his bones as his mind scrambled, the pain so intense that he couldn't breathe, couldn't think or feel anything for a second.
All the time it took for the dragon to launch into the air, her enormous wings sending gusts of wind at those remaining on the stage, almost knocking them over.
He couldn't let her escape him again.
He wheezed as he pushed onto his feet and staggered towards her, his ears ringing and vision wobbling.
He growled as she took flight and used the last of his strength to call a portal. Green-purple light shimmered over his black armour and he dropped into the darkness. It dissipated a second later as he landed on the stage where the dragon had been.
Bleu bit out every curse available to him in his native tongue, his legs wobbling beneath him, barely strong enough to support his weight as pain wracked him.
He stared at the dragon as she flew into the distance, unable to pursue her in his current condition, forced to watch her as she disappeared into the gloom.
Slipping through his grasp once more.
The world around him dulled and then light pierced the darkness, colourful and bright, twinkling.
Bleu let his breath out slowly and inched his eyes open, his vision slowly coming into focus, sharpening the beautiful display of light above him. The delicate small flowers on the tree sparkled like starlight and he lost himself in watching them. A warm breeze blew across him, causing the long grasses and colourful flowers that surrounded him to bend and dance, and their scent to fill the air with sweetness that sank deep into his soul.
Whenever a stronger breeze blew, the blooms on the trees would flutter closed in a wave before opening again, shining brighter than ever.
He rested in the grass, encompassed by nature, bathed in her warm and comforting light.
His muscles felt liquid beneath his skin, his bones loose, his body filled with a floating sensation, one that he couldn't remember feeling in a long time but he still knew the name of it. Peace.
He lifted a heavy arm and managed to run his fingers through the longer lengths of his blue-black hair, preening it back as he tried to remember the last time he had felt this sedated and relaxed. Long enough that it felt foreign to him now. Centuries perhaps.
Gods, maybe he hadn't experienced it since he had left his home village to join the ranks of the soldiers, swearing to protect his kingdom and his princes.
He had been serving one of those princes for forty-two centuries, almost his entire life. It had become his whole life. It was his purpose.
Had been his purpose.
He threw his arm across his eyes and heaved a sigh as he pushed away from that thought and crushed it out of existence by focusing on the nature surrounding him, soothing his weary soul and bringing him a moment of peace that he knew would be all too brief.
He switched his focus from the nature around him to the dream once he began to relax again, picking out every detail of what was actually a memory, a moment that had occurred only months ago.
He pushed deeper into his memories of the female, running back to another time three centuries ago when their paths had crossed in a dragon clan's village. The scars on his neck tingled, luring him into drawing his arm away from his eyes to run his fingers over them. Scars she had given to him.
He focused on them and turned the clock back another four centuries, to when he had first set eyes on her.
She had been in her dragon form, her violet scales dark in contrast to the white of her breast, an invader in the elf kingdom and one he had been dispatched to pursue and capture, and bring to justice for her crimes.
She had stolen something precious from Prince Loren, a powerful sword of elven making that had belonged to his father and had been protected in the palace, locked safely away from the world where it could do no harm.
In her reckless hunger for the sword, she had rampaged across the elf kingdom, laying waste to many villages, slaying thousands of his kin.
He had fought her near the border with the First Realm of the demons, where mountains rose high into the darkening sky beyond the elf kingdom, beyond the sphere of the light they brought into their realm to make it verdant and give it life. She had escaped them but then she had returned a short time later. That time, he had led the charge against her, but she had been stronger than he had anticipated, had injured several of his warriors and himself too. They had lost her, and he had hunted for her for decades before he'd had to move his focus to matters regarding his prince's safety.
Four hundred years later, when Prince Loren had sensed the presence of the sword again, linked to it through the blood of his father, Bleu had led the three finest elf warriors in the army to the dragon realm to seek her out and regain the ancient blade.
He squeezed his eyes shut as he recalled crossing paths with a slender female in one of the villages and she shimmered into being in his mind, as if it had been only yesterday. Her tightly pulled back hair accentuated her striking sculpted features, her face bathed in the shadows of the small thatched stone building she had exited. He had questioned her, so entranced by her beauty and how she kept her head bowed, a touch of shyness to her behaviour, that he had allowed his men to leave his side to question others.
A foolish mistake.
He had dropped his guard and she had lunged at him when he had pressed her about the violet and white dragon, her talons raking down his throat and her incredible eyes flashing dangerously at him as she came into the light.
It had taken him a moment to realise she was the dragon he hunted, long enough that she had fled before he could stop her, transforming and flying away from him just as she had in the arena only a few months ago.
Bleu stroked the scars on his neck. The proof of her sin and a constant reminder of his unfulfilled mission. She had slaughtered thousands of his kin, had stolen something precious to his prince, and extremely dangerous. With such a weapon, she could slay an entire legion of elves with one swing. Now that she had surfaced again, he wasn't going to let her escape him.
This time, he would capture her and bring her to justice.
The flowers above him in the trees twinkled, their warm light flowing over him, soothing the fatigue from his body. He had been tracking her for what felt like forever, but he wasn't sure how long he had been gone from the elf kingdom. Not more than seven days, perhaps ten at most. Time had lost meaning in his pursuit of her, his mind so focused on his mission and following all the leads he had to their conclusion, or to the next lead that drove him ever onwards, inching closer to her.
He would complete this mission.
He had never failed one, wasn't the sort of male who could leave things unfinished. He always had to see them through to the end, even when that end was one that hurt him. He couldn't leave a fight, could never surrender, not even when his life was at stake.
He would finish this.
Bleu rose fluidly onto his feet and stretched, clasping his hands together above his head. His fingers brushed the flowers on the trees, causing the blooms to briefly close and the light to dip, before they reopened and glowed brighter. The grass tickled his calves as it sprang back and wavered in the warm breeze. Nature cocooned him in a brief sweet embrace that he savoured, aware that it would be a while before he could visit this place again. He tipped his head back and brushed his fingertips across the deep green leaves of the tree that had given him shelter, silently thanking nature for her comfort and for restoring his body, driving the weariness from it enough that he could continue.
He stalked forwards, his bare feet lightly compressing the grasses as he walked through them, heading towards the edge of the forest. With a simple mental command, his armour flowed from the black and silver bands around his wrists, the scales rippling over his body to cover his nudity.
Boots formed over his feet first and then the scales raced upwards, over his calves and thighs, cupping his backside and groin, before encasing his stomach and chest, and running down his arms. He kept his hands unprotected and ran his fingers over the scars on the left side of his throat again, his thoughts locked on the dragon female as he strode out of the forest.
The warm light of nature gave way to the darkness of the Fifth Realm of the demons, the calming soft touch slipping from him and leaving him cold inside. Black gravel crunched beneath his boots as he marched up the incline, heading into the gloom, his eyes rapidly adjusting to the grim realm, sharpening to pick out the subtle difference between the bare obsidian lands and the deep grey sky of Hell.
Bleu halted at the brow of the slope, standing at the precipice where the black land plummeted into a deep canyon. He scoured the lands beyond the canyon. The Third Realm of demons.
Beyond that was the mountainous home of her kind.
If his information was correct, he would find his next lead there.
He called his black blade to his left hand and narrowed his eyes on the deep distance, all of his focus on it.
He was closing in on her.
Seven hundred years of hunting were finally going to end.