Pearl's Dragon + Great Easter Bunny Hunt - S.E. Smith - ebook
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USA Today Bestseller! Asim Kemark has lived a long, lonely life. It is his pledge to his former king and to Mandra Reykill that keeps him, his dragon, and his symbiot from going mad. He has given up on finding his true mate and devotes himself to caring for the wide assortment of creatures on Mandra and Ariel’s mountain retreat. The last thing he expects to happen when he visits the palace is to lose control of his dragon and his symbiot after they sense their true mate. Before he knows it, he has kidnapped her! Pearl St. Claire is enjoying a new adventure – learning to live on an alien planet. As a mature woman in her sixties, she thought she had experienced just about everything life could throw at her – only to discover she hasn’t really experienced anything yet! She is both amused and exasperated when one of the dragon-shifting aliens kidnaps her, believing she is his true mate. Life is no longer boring or lonely as Asim courts the enchanting and spirited human woman, but he isn’t the only one who has noticed Pearl or the unusual animals under his care. When poachers attack, determined to steal the exotic creatures under his protection – including Pearl and a new clutch of alien eggs from Earth – he will do everything he can to protect them. Can one dragon keep the most precious creatures under his care safe, or will he lose the biggest battle of his life? Internationally acclaimed S.E. Smith presents a new action-packed story full of romance and adventure. Brimming with her signature humor, vivid landscapes, and beloved characters, this book is sure to be another fan favorite! Main Content: 105 (6x9) pages, 32,064 words

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Pearl’s Dragon

A Dragon Lords of Valdier Story

S.E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Pearl's Rules for Living:

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Epilogue

Sample of The Dragon’s Treasure

The Great Easter Bunny Hunt

Additional Books and Information

About the Author

The single greatest gift for me is to be able to give to others. I am honored to share my talents to bring joy and offer support through the Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2Project.

I would like to thank my husband Steve for believing in me and being proud enough of me to give me the courage to follow my dream. I would also like to give a special thank you to my sister and best friend, Linda, who not only encouraged me to write, but who also read the manuscript. Also to my other friends who believe in me: Julie, Debbie, Christel, Sally, Jolanda, Lisa, Laurelle, and Narelle. The girls that keep me going!

And a special thanks to Paul Heitsch, David Brenin, Samantha Cook, Suzanne Elise Freeman, and PJ Ochlan—the awesome voices behind my audiobooks!

—S.E. Smith

Science Fiction Romance

Pearl’s Dragon: Dragon Lords of Valdier Story

Copyright © 2017 by S.E. Smith

First E-Book Published October 2017

Cover Design by Melody Simmons

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the author.

All characters, places, and events in this book are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations are strictly coincidental and not intended by the author.

Summary: When sixty-something year old Pearl St. Claire traveled to a far off alien world with her granddaughters, she never expected to be caught up in the adventure – or in the grasp of a dragon warrior who insists she is his true mate!

Pearl’s Dragon: Dragon Lords of Valdier Story, Copyright © 2017 by S.E. Smith. All rights reserved. Used with permission of author.

Synopsis

USA Today Bestseller!

Asim Kemark has lived a long, lonely life. It is his pledge to his former king and to Mandra Reykill that keeps him, his dragon, and his symbiot from going mad. He has given up on finding his true mate and devotes himself to caring for the wide assortment of creatures on Mandra and Ariel’s mountain retreat. The last thing he expects to happen when he visits the palace is to lose control of his dragon and his symbiot after they sense their true mate. Before he knows it, he has kidnapped her!

Pearl St. Claire is enjoying a new adventure – learning to live on an alien planet. As a mature woman in her sixties, she thought she had experienced just about everything life could throw at her – only to discover she hasn’t really experienced anything yet! She is both amused and exasperated when one of the dragon-shifting aliens kidnaps her, believing she is his true mate.

Life is no longer boring or lonely as Asim courts the enchanting and spirited human woman, but he isn’t the only one who has noticed Pearl or the unusual animals under his care. When poachers attack, determined to steal the exotic creatures under his protection – including Pearl and a new clutch of alien eggs from Earth – he will do everything he can to protect them. Can one dragon keep the most precious creatures under his care safe, or will he lose the biggest battle of his life?

Pearl's Rules for Living:

Use your brain - that is why you have one.Safety is something you take seriously, otherwise you end up dead.If you have expressive eyes, keep them covered if you are going to bluff.Give someone enough rope, and they are bound to get tangled and hang themselves.Always carry a roll of quarters, you can do your laundry and knock out bad guys at the same time.There are rules and there are rules, pick which ones work for you.Don't fuck up unless you are willing to make it right.Mistakes are good, learn from them and move on.Always stay alert and don't let your guard down.Ask yourself, ‘Am I ready for this?’ If the answer is yes, go for it. If the answer is no, run like hell.If you are going to hit someone, make sure they stay down the first time. You might not get a second chance.Don’t trust a man, especially a good-looking one who starts out with sweet words. Same goes for a woman, she just wants something.A good book and fresh batteries can make your day tolerable.Your word is your honor, be careful what you promise.Humor solves any problem; think in animation.The only opinion you have to worry about is your own, since you have to live with it.Be the best possible you that you can be.Your goal each day is to make it a good one.Words can be as powerful as a fist; be careful how you use them.If you or your family/friends’ lives are on the line, ignore all of the above except Rule Number 1.

Unbreakable rule: Family and friends come first. Be loyal, be true, and love them like there is no tomorrow.

Prologue

Present Day:

“The last rule I’m going to share is the Unbreakable Rule,” Pearl St. Claire stated in a firm tone. She released a sigh and raised an eyebrow at the scarred warrior sitting in one of the two chairs in the room. He was staring at the board she was pointing to with a mutinous expression. “What is it now, Brogan?”

“I told you when you started. I don’t follow anyone’s rules but my own,” Brogan stated, folding his arms.

“And look where that got you! All I can say is you’d better learn if you want to get out of this room – alive,” Pearl snapped in a sharper tone than she originally intended before adding the last word under her breath.

“Pearl,” Asim cautioned in a low voice from where he was sitting on a bench by the door.

Pearl slowly counted to thirty. She’d already bypassed ten and twenty. Why she was chosen for this exasperating task was beyond her. The only thing she could think of was that she had survived raising Riley and Tina without any casualties.

Surely, I can manage a few lessons in humility for the two men sitting in front of me, she thought.

Unfortunately, she felt like she was starting all over again – only this time during the toddler stage. Being over sixty, she’d thought she was finished dealing with stubborn, defiant, and downright ornery kids. Back on Earth, she’d been a surrogate grandmother to the kids in the neighborhood. During that time, she had seen and heard a lot. She was well aware that she was the kind of grandmother every kid wanted to have – and the one every parent wished they could hide in the closet.

She didn’t dress like a grandmother – she preferred leather and boots to dresses and pearls. She didn’t go to church; instead, she owned a bar. She never carried a wooden spoon, but hell if she didn’t still have a shotgun loaded with rock salt. Her platinum-white hair was cut short and she stayed in shape by doing Yoga, Zumba, and Weekend Warrior trainings with her newly adopted great-grandson.

Jabir, Mandra and Ariel’s son, had captured her heart as quickly as her own great-grandsons, Roam and Leo, had. Unfortunately, Roam and Leo lived on the Sarafin home world while she lived on Valdier. Living on another planet wasn’t much more of a problem than living across town – well, except for having to use a spaceship to visit. Still, Pearl was able to talk with the two boys regularly and they loved visiting her here.

At the moment, she would rather be with the cuddly little dragonling and his menagerie of unusual pets or her great-grandsons. It sure as hell beat resisting the urge to find a baseball bat and knock some sense into two well-seasoned warriors who had an elephant’s hair up their asses.

As it was, there were currently only the four of them – her, Asim, and the twin dragon warriors – in the barn’s tack room. Her classroom was not much larger than a ten by ten shed back home. There was just enough room for the table and two chairs that Asim had brought in earlier this morning, plus the bench he was sitting on by the door. Harnesses for the Pactors, leashes for the smaller animals, and maintenance tools hung neatly on two of the four walls. The floor was clean and the room smelled of the sweet warm grass that was used as hay for the animals in the outer stalls.

Pearl shot a heated glare at her amused mate when he smothered a chuckle. Asim raised an eyebrow in response and tried to look innocent. With a shake of her head, she slowly turned back to the twin dragons.

She rested one hand on her hip and tapped her fingers against her side. She was really going to have a private talk with Asim later. She needed to remind him that her personality was not conducive to being a teacher.

Pearl studiously observed her two pupils. She had quickly distinguished the difference between the identical twin dragons known as Barrack and Brogan. Barrack had more patience and control than his brother, Brogan – by about the width of a human hair.

After hours of trying to explain human culture to the brothers, Pearl decided her patience was fast disintegrating to their level, almost nonexistent. While Brogan had questioned or argued every single rule she had tried to explain, Barrack had just released long, drawn-out sighs of impatience.

Raising her chin, Pearl returned Brogan’s steely gaze. Time was fast running out for the two men. She was about to open a can of whoop-ass on them if they didn’t get their heads out of their asses. She pointed a determined finger at Barrack.

“What is Rule number one?” she snapped.

“Use your brain – that’s why we have one,” Barrack replied with an uncertain tone in his voice.

Pearl would have felt more confident in Barrack’s answer if he hadn’t looked doubtful and raised his hand to scratch at his temple. She gave Barrack a firm nod of agreement. Of course, Brogan snorted. She shot the scarred warrior a sharp, reproving look. The fingers of her left hand twitched. Pearl drew in a deep breath. She would not resort to violence!

“Yes, use your brain. You can’t use your brain, Brogan, if your head isn’t attached to your damn shoulders,” she stated.

“Fine, but what has this got to do with our mate? The Curizan takes us to your world, Jaguin and Sara show us where our mate is, and we claim her. Why do we need to learn these… rules?” Brogan demanded with a wave of his hand.

“Because Aikaterina is giving you a second chance at life,” a voice dryly replied from the doorway.

Pearl turned to see two tall, lean warriors and a slender, blonde woman standing in the entrance to the tack room. She recognized one of the men and the woman as Jaguin and Sara. For a private meeting, the room was quickly filling up.

“Hi Pearl. Thank you for doing this,” Sara said with a sympathetic smile.

“Hi, Sara. I wish I could say teaching these two boneheads was a pleasure, but….” Pearl gave Sara a wink to show she was teasing. “Hi Jaguin, I see you brought a friend. Are you part of this mission, too?” Pearl asked.

Pearl turned her attention to the tall man with the scar running down one side of his face. He positively exuded an air of power and danger. It was a good thing he was obviously a friend because she sure as hell wouldn’t want him as an enemy.

“This is Adalard Ha’darra, the captain of our transport to Earth,” Jaguin replied.

“Better known as Curizan trash,” Brogan added with a heavy dose of disdain.

Pearl had had enough of the twins’ attitudes – especially Brogan’s. He had a smart retort to just about everything she’d said and an expression of condescension on his face that reminded her of the college-educated Preppies who came into the White Pearl Bar she’d owned back on Earth. He continued to be a pain-in-the-ass from the second he stepped into the classroom. Her patience was on empty.

Pearl decided that some people just needed to learn the hard way and Brogan was one of those people. She slipped her hand into the pocket of her black pleather jacket. She wrapped her fingers around a small but very handy device that she had confiscated from one of her granddaughters. In the background, Pearl heard Asim’s loud curse, Jaguin’s warning, and Sara’s smothered gasp as she stepped forward, pressed the Taser firmly against the dragon warrior’s chest, and pushed the button.

“Rule number nine: always stay alert and don’t let your guard down,” she stated. “That means for everyone,” she added with a nod of gratification when he grimaced and hit the floor with a resounding thud.

The grunted curses coming from the two men on the floor finally began to fade. Relaxing back against the wall by the door, Asim patiently waited for the men to recover. Studying the sculpture, he blew off some of the loose scrapings from the small creature he was carving before he lowered the knife and the wood figurine to his lap.

Brogan was the first one to sit up – if you could call scooting back against the wall and propping himself up ‘sitting’. Barrack continued to lie on the floor, rubbing his chest. Barrack would have fared much better than his brother if he hadn’t growled at Pearl. The second he did, she shocked his ass and put him on the floor next to Brogan.

Asim warily studied both men to see if they had calmed down. He had to admit it had been hard not to laugh when Pearl asked if Brogan understood the rule of learning to shut up before it was too late. While the two men lay twitching on the floor, Pearl calmly turned to Sara to ask if she would care for a cup of hot tea and a piece of the freshly baked cake that Ariel brought over the night before.

Pride mixed with exasperation. He probably should have warned Pearl about the possible consequences of enraging Twin Dragon warriors – especially those who already had a history of maiming and killing anyone who got in their way.

“What was that?” Barrack asked in a strained voice.

“That was my mate being nice,” Asim stated.

“That… was being nice?” Brogan repeated in disbelief. “What happens when she isn’t being nice?”

“You don’t want to know,” Asim assured him with a lopsided grin.

“Why did she react so strongly to Brogan’s comment? Is she part Curizan?” Barrack asked, confused.

“Strongly?! She almost killed us! I swear I can still smell my flesh burning,” Brogan retorted.

Asim couldn’t contain the chuckle that escaped him. He shook his head. He knew exactly what Brogan was talking about. After all, he had been in the same position as the two men on more than one occasion when he finally pushed Pearl too far.

“No, she is fully human,” he replied. “She was asked to help you. If you don’t listen, expect the consequences,” Asim said.

“Are all humans like this? If they are, we need more information about them,” Barrack demanded.

“Finally! Some information that will be more useful than a bunch of rules,” Brogan retorted under his breath.

“Well, I know enough never to underestimate the powers of a human – be they man or woman. I can’t tell you about the others, only those who I have met. You will learn more about them on your journey,” he replied.

“Tell us about those you’ve met then,” Barrack insisted.

Asim thought about where to begin and decided that telling his story might help the two warriors. A lot had changed over the centuries and Pearl was a good example of what they could expect, he reasoned. He had heard of the original Twin Dragons. The stories he remembered said they died.

Asim had been shocked when Zoran Reykill, King of the Valdier and ruler of all Dragon Lords, had contacted him requesting Pearl and he help with an urgent matter. The next day, Jaguin and Sara appeared with the legendary and highly volatile warriors who were alive and well. The only thing Jaguin and Sara said was the men needed to be instructed in the ways of humans, and that a very special person whom they had insisted remain a mystery – much to Asim’s annoyance – had requested that Pearl be the one to help the twins understand.

Zoran had been a little more forthcoming. He said the Goddess Aikaterina had appeared to both Sara and Jaguin. Worried about Sara after her traumatic experience back on Earth with a group of human men, Zoran had suggested approaching Pearl – after all, he reasoned, Pearl had no problems handling Vox and Viper.

Zoran had felt that Pearl was the only one who could get the twins ready to court their human mate in a timely manner – and teach them a little humility at the same time. Asim didn’t know if using that shocking device would count as listening, but it definitely got the men’s attention. He just needed to remember to find the damn thing and hide it again – this time in a place where Pearl wasn’t likely to find it.

“The story I will tell you will seem incredible, perhaps no more unbelievable than your – second chance – but this species is unlike any that we have encountered before. When Jaguin and Sara told Lord Zoran about your second chance, he decided it was important for you to understand what you will face,” Asim explained.

“Surely it cannot be that difficult?” Brogan asked, wiggling his fingers.

“Shut up, Brogan. My chest hurts enough thanks to your comments. I would prefer to keep my head and my nervous system in working order from now on, brother,” Barrack retorted.

Asim released a sigh as he remembered his own struggles with the loneliness and despair when he thought he would never find a true mate. He turned the wooden figurine over in his hands, trying to think of what he could tell the men that would help them understand the difference between a Valdier mate and a human one.

The wooden bird in his hand was a creature alien to their world. It was large, flightless, and smart. In a way, his history with the emus reminded him of the humans he had met. Oh, he didn’t think of humans as flightless birds – just that it was easy to misunderstand them, like it had been when he found Jabir’s hidden cache of eggs. It was better to have the knowledge before you went into battle – every good warrior knew that.

“Over the last couple of years, my life has become very interesting, more fulfilling than I could ever have hoped – and definitely a lot more complicated. Like you, my dragon felt the emptiness of not having a true mate, but it was my symbiot who grieved the most. It was only my promise to our former king and my sworn duties to Lord Mandra, Lady Ariel, and their young son, Jabir, which gave me the strength to carry on. I never expected to be given the gift of finding my true mate. When I saw Pearl….” Asim shook his head and chuckled. “Shocked would be a mild description of my feelings. To find my mate after so many years… it was a revelation like nothing I could have imagined.”

“What do you mean? Your dragon and symbiot would know. The female would immediately recognize what was happening. What could be so surprising?” Barrack asked.

Asim raised an eyebrow. “You assume that Pearl is like a Valdier female, but she is not. Her species do not connect the same way we do. Our dragons and our symbiots recognize our mate even before we do, but we understand what is happening. Humans do not have that same connection. They must be courted,” he explained.

Barrack sat up with a confused expression on his face and asked, “Courted? Why should they be forced to go before the council? Are they sentenced to be with another?” he asked.

“No, no. Courted is a term I learned from Lady Ariel. It means you must put your mate first and bring her gifts and spend time with her so that she will accept you and fall in love with you,” Asim said.

“Of course, we will put our mate first!” Brogan exclaimed. “As for the rest, once she sees us, she will grow to care for us. How can she resist?” Brogan asked with a skeptical glare.

“Our symbiots will protect her – even from us if necessary,” Barrack added, glancing at his brother with a stern expression. “She will not need to fear us. We have learned from our experience before.”

Asim shook his head. “You two have a lot to learn about your true mate’s species. They are fragile, delicate creatures with a steely will beyond anything you have ever encountered,” he replied in exasperation.

“Pearl certainly seems to be,” Brogan replied, rubbing his chest. “What is that?” Brogan asked, nodding to the figurine Asim held in his hand.

Asim glanced down and grinned. “This is part of my tale, but first I need to tell you about how I met Pearl,” he said, reaching out and handing the odd-looking bird to Barrack. “My story begins just a couple of years ago during a very bizarre Earth ritual called Easter….”

1

Three years before:

“No more. You’ve had enough,” Asim Kemark ordered in a stern tone.

Of course, the damn creatures ignored him. The mass of small wiggling bodies turned their heads in unison to gaze up at him with dark, soulful eyes filled with a silent plea for more food. The floor of the barn was covered with furry bodies.

If the colorful Maratts hadn’t been enough to drive him crazy, the Grombots swinging from the makeshift lines and custom playset were doing a pretty good job. He and Mandra Reykill had built dozens of the playsets for the six-legged creatures. At the moment, the Grombots were doing a pretty good job of utilizing them.

No have this problem if you let me eat them, his dragon chortled.

Don’t remind me!

“Stop! Get out of there now!” Asim shouted in dismay as he tried to carefully navigate his way to the Grombot reaching into the feed sack hanging on a peg in the wall. The damn thing was using its four hands to sprinkle food onto the floor while hanging by its feet. The Maratts surrounding him turned as one toward the piles of food the Grombot was scattering. His jaw tightened in aggravation when the Grombot looked at him and grinned before it reached into the sack again and dumped not one or two, but four more scoops onto the floor. If he didn’t stop the damn beast, it would empty the sack and he would end up nursing several sick baby Maratts!

Lifting his foot, he started to take another step when a stray Maratt darted out from under a bale of freshly cut, warm grass. Asim twisted in an effort to avoid crushing the tiny creature and his arms wildly pinwheeled as he tried to keep his balance. He might have succeeded if another Grombot, hanging upside down from one of the beams above his head, hadn’t chosen that exact moment to drop onto his shoulders.

“Ugh!” Asim groaned.

His arms came up to grab the Grombot as he fell. Fortunately, he landed on the warm grass instead of the floor or any critters. If he had landed on the floor, his morning would have ended up going from bad to worse. Some of the little ones were not house-trained yet and the floor was usually a minefield on a good day and a landfill on the bad ones.

Holding the Grombot protectively against his chest, Asim leaned his head back and groaned. Three of the Grombots were now in the upper rafters despite the netting that was fitted across the beams to prevent it. One of the older ones must have figured out how to loosen it.

Asim grimaced when he noticed that one of the three was a juvenile. Lady Ariel would have a fit if she saw them up there, especially the baby. Jabir, on the other hand would probably be sitting up there with them. He had caught the little boy trying to imitate the various creatures on the ranch before. Asim pushed up, still cradling the Grombot against his chest, and gazed down at the mass of Maratts eagerly enjoying their extra breakfast.

“All of you will get sick again and Lady Ariel will be upset,” he informed them. Of course, they didn’t pay him any attention. He was about to get up when the Grombot in his arms turned its head. “Ouch! Dragon’s Balls! That is my chest hair you are chewing on. Oh no! You are definitely not trying that! I am not your Dola! You need to keep your grubby lips off my man nipples.”

The Grombot struggled against his grip, trying to suckle. Asim winced when several of his chest hairs were ripped out. He must remember to wear more than a vest when he fed the animals. Some of them were getting a little too attached – literally! He stood up, placed the Grombot on one of the climbing nets, and rescued the almost empty feedbag. He had no doubt that he was going to have a pile of shit to clean up when he returned this evening. He still needed to take care of the Pactor inherited from Lady Melina. He glanced at his communicator and noticed the time.

“Bloody Sarafin hairballs!” Asim cursed. “I’m late and none of you are helping. Pokey, get in here!”

The morning feeding was going about the same as it did every day – complete chaos. He ignored the sniggering of his dragon and waited for his symbiot to come help him. Ever since his dragon learned that none of the tasty treats running under foot and swinging overhead were on the menu, the damn thing was having way too much fun – at his expense.

It better than hurting and being grumpy like Pokey, his dragon pointed out to him.

“I know,” Asim snapped before he drew in a deep breath and replied again in a calmer tone. I know, my friend. I thank you for your control. It is obvious I have very little left.

True. You also have Grombot escaping, his dragon chuckled.

Asim turned to see the Grombot hatchling slowly crawling toward the opened door of the barn. If Lord Mandra didn’t set up another run to these creatures’ home planet, they would have to build another barn. It didn’t matter how hard he tried to keep the boys and girls apart, they always seemed to get mixed up. It had taken him a month – and almost three dozen new babies – to discover Jabir was sneaking out to play with the creatures after everyone had gone to bed and then returning them to the wrong cages.

“Dragon’s balls! Don’t you care that the Pactor would eat you up if you aren’t careful?” Asim demanded in exasperation

He was about to pick up the dark gray creature when his symbiot trotted in, snatched it by the back of its neck, and continued past him. Asim turned and raised an eyebrow at his symbiot. The damn thing had been behaving strangely over the last few months.

“What took you so long? You know they get antsy if they don’t eat on time,” Asim demanded.

His symbiot dropped the Grombot on the bale of warm grass and shook. Its body shimmered for a moment before the glow died. Asim bit back the caustic retort he had been about to direct at the golden creature.

Symbiot like to be called Pokey, his dragon reminded him.

I know, Asim snorted with a shake of his head.

Pokey was the name that Jabir had given Asim’s symbiot because he liked a creature his mother told him about called Pokey the Puppy. Of course, his symbiot wasn’t the only critter with a name on the vast mountain spread that Lord Mandra, Lady Ariel, and little Jabir retreated to whenever they could. Those visits invariably meant more rescued animals added to the menagerie of creatures now under Asim’s care.

“Can you retrieve the three Grombots from the rafters while I take care of the Pactor?” Asim asked.

The symbiot shrugged and began climbing up the thick post. Asim didn’t miss that it moved with about as much speed as the Grombots and with a lot less enthusiasm. Concerned, he touched the thin band of gold on his arm to connect with his symbiot. A curse escaped him when the golden creature sent a warning zap of electricity through it. Asim winced and rubbed his arm. It was obvious Pokey wasn’t in the mood to communicate.

“How can we help you if you won’t let us?” Asim demanded, watching the symbiot climb up onto the rafter.

Asim drew in a swift breath when his symbiot opened to him for a brief moment and showed him the darkness that was dragging it down before it closed their connection again. In that second, it dawned on Asim how much his symbiot and his dragon were hiding from him. While they were all interconnected, the other two had somehow managed to shield his awareness of the slender thread of control they were struggling to preserve.

“What have I done?” Asim groaned, running his hand over the back of his neck in self-disgust. “I think only of my discomfort without consideration of what I’ve been doing to you.”

You protect us – we protect you, his dragon replied in a solemn tone.