Opal Dragon by Jada Cox

Chapter 1 - Xander

A sharp, sulfuric stink wafted through the air around the dormant volcano. Xander was perched on the edge of the round Kilauea Caldera, his legs hitting the wall beneath him. The grey and black lava rock were warm beneath his palms, and not merely because it was midday during the hottest month of the season. There was an innate warmth within the stone, as if the volcano was alive.

The caldera looked much larger from here, on the ground, than it had from the sky. It spanned from one end to the other of his vision, with one of the sides so far away that it seemed shrouded in mist and fog.

He had to admit, the caldera made the perfect spot for a combat arena. Kai was a genius for picking the spot, but Xander was slightly grudging about assigning any description to Kai that wasn’t ‘jackass’ or ‘traitor’ or ‘that guy who was supposed to be their leader but thought it would be a good idea to disappear for thirty years without any warning or guidance.’

Thirty years wasn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, at least considering that Xander, Kai, and everyone Kai and the rest of his buddies abandoned were dragon shifters. They were immortal.

But that wasn’t the point.

In any case, Xander had a job to do, and he wasn’t the type to let a little resentment get in his way. He looked over his shoulder, searching for his friends to find Bram and his mate, Roxxy, working together to carry a large wooden crate closer to the caldera’s edge.

Roxxy was averagely built but was well-toned from many hours spent exercising and training with a sword. She usually had her bright green hair tied into a neat braid, and right now, she also wore a shape-fitting leather bodice and a dark green skirt. She was an emerald dragon, but she’d been gone for so long that Xander didn’t really know what her powers were anymore.

Her mate, Bram, on the other hand, was Xander’s best friend and had been for the entire time they’d lived on Rockpool Island together.

“When was the last time that the volcano erupted?” Xander asked.

Bram laughed so hard he almost dropped the crate, and Roxxy scowled at him. “When was the last time you left Rockpool Island?”

Xander shrugged. “I don’t know, a couple of weeks ago? Two months?”

“It’s probably been about that long, then,” Bram said.

Xander scurried from the edge of the volcano. The warmth he’d felt beneath his palms had a whole new meaning. “Why the hell is Kai planning to host a whole tournament here if the volcano just finished erupting? Isn’t that a safety hazard?”

“You really don’t know anything about the Kilauea Volcano, do you?” Bram said. He and Roxxy placed the crate down, then Bram wiped a couple beads of sweat from his forehead covered with his silver-white hair. “It erupts every other week. It’s more surprising that it’s gone a month without erupting.”

“In the ’80s, the volcano erupted for something like five years straight,” Roxxy said. “Those were some great years.”

“None of what you just said made anything about this whole arrangement any more comfortable than it was five minutes ago,” Xander complained. “How do we know it’s not going to erupt in the middle of the tournament? People are going to be fighting down there.”

“By people, you mean a bunch of testosterone-boosted dragon shifters,” Roxxy said. “They’re all going to be fine. That’s the point of having wings, anyway. To get out when you’re in deep shit.”

“I don’t know if that’s supposed to be an insult or not,” Bram said.

“Oh, it was definitely an insult.” Roxxy said as much, but her smirk and mischievous green eyes said otherwise. “That’s what you get for convincing Kai and the other Elders to exclude me from the tournament.”

“Come on, you’re still upset about that?”

“No, no, I’m not upset at all. Who wants to wrestle and play swords with a bunch of sweaty men, anyway?”

Bram placed his hands suggestively on Roxxy’s waist, their faces leaning close. “Maybe I don’t want a bunch of sweaty dragon shifters anywhere near you because you’re all mine.”

“You’re just saying that because you know I’ll kick your ass and anyone else I’m placed against in the tournament,” Roxxy said.

Their bodies were close enough now that it was more than simply suggestive. Xander groaned and looked away. Bram was his best friend, and Roxxy was quickly becoming a friend too, but they’d only been mates for a few weeks and could barely keep their hands off of each other.

Most of the time, that left Xander feeling like a third wheel, which was annoying because, right now, they were supposed to be doing a job and not fooling around. Not that Xander was particularly work-minded now that he knew this volcano was at risk of blowing up at any minute.

On the bright side, he could retract that thought of Kai being a genius. Yeah, the caldera was a cool place to host the tournament, but if it erupted …

“How about you two fight it out in bed later on?” Xander suggested, keeping his eyes trained on the caldera instead of them. “Seems like a fair way to decide. Besides, Kai’s already made up his mind that he wants to kill us all anyway, so why would you want to fight down there in the first place?”

“Don’t be so dramatic. It’s going to be badass, and I’m going to miss out,” Roxxy said. “Can’t you imagine? The volcano erupts in the middle of an intense fight. Lava curling around the edge of the arena, the ground turning hot beneath our feet. Sweat dripping down our bodies from the intensity of the heat, paralleled only by the intensity of the fight—”

“That sounds like the beginning of a really weird dragon erotica,” Xander interrupted.

“Yeah? So what?” Roxxy had a playful tone in her voice and a matching glint in her eyes. “A girl had to get by somehow before this oaf finally relinquished himself to me.”

Bram chuckled. “I really don’t think Xander has any interest in hearing what I have to say in that regard, so no comment.”

“Not the point I was trying to make,” Xander pressed before the two of them went off again. He crossed his arms and glanced at the piles of supplies they had prepared to set up for the tournament over the next three days. “Are we sure we want to have the tournament here? We haven’t started the setup yet. It’s not too late to move it all elsewhere.”

“That ship has long sailed, my friend.” Bram clapped Xander on the shoulder and turned him around to face the enormous hole in the ground. “Kai has been planning this for months, ever since the last eruption started. We’re all pretty confident that the volcano isn’t going to erupt for at least another week; we had some witches with nature and fire magic come check the area out and approve it as safe. There are thousands of people planning to hike up here this weekend for the show of their lives, and we’re going to give it to them.”

“And there will be plenty of security in place to make sure everyone attending will be safe if something does go wrong,” Roxxy added. “But it’s our job to make sure nothing does. The rest of the crew will be here soon … so we better get started with putting these all together.”

Without further complaint, Xander worked with Roxxy and Bram to set up a temporary lodging for themselves and the other dragon shifters who were supposed to be helping out with the setup for the tournament.

The whole point of the tournament was to welcome the Elder Dragons back to Rockpool Island and Hawaii, which was part of the general territory that they were all supposed to protect. It was to make sure all of the magical folk in the area knew they were back and in charge … and to have some fun showing off their fighting skills in the process.

While it was a smart move, Xander had mixed feelings about the Elder Dragons coming back and asserting themselves like this—especially Kai. For thirty years, the Elder Dragons had been away on a mysterious mission, leaving all of the dragon shifters who hadn’t earned that status, such as Xander and Bram, in the dust. From what Xander knew, that mission had been important. At least, according to Bram, who claimed to know the truth and had since stopped bagging on the Elder Dragons as much.

Xander trusted Bram’s judgment, but he was still irritated that it all wasn’t public knowledge yet. He knew he wasn’t the only one annoyed either.

“So, this tournament, is it just Kai’s way of trying to earn everyone’s trust again?” Xander asked after a while. He’d tried to keep the edge out of his voice, but he wasn’t sure he had succeeded. “I mean, considering that the others dragons on Rockpool Island are still asking questions.”

“Most of us have accepted Kai and the Elder Dragons,” Bram corrected. “I didn’t think I could, but…” He glanced at Roxxy. “The situation is more complicated than I originally thought.”

“Is that your way of saying I’m the only one who doesn’t know what happened or why the Elder Dragons left and only just returned?”

Roxxy cleared her throat. “No, you’re not the only one. Bram is the only non-Elder who knows the whole truth.” She looked away from Bram and Xander, off into the vast, desolate landscape around them. All of the land had been ravaged by the volcano’s constant eruptions. “But if you really must know, I had a specific type of health issue that we didn’t think could be cured on Rockpool Island.”

Xander raised an eyebrow, not sure whether to believe her or not. He glanced at Bram, who was nodding along. While Xander didn’t believe that Bram or Roxxy would straight-up lie to him, he figured there was a lot more to the story that they were leaving out.

Something as simple as a ‘health issue’ wouldn’t have had the Elder Dragons in a panic for so long. But, whatever had happened, it sounded like it was something personal for Roxxy, and so Xander decided he wouldn’t press for any more information.

“All right then. If that’s the case, I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Xander said. “I suppose if you both believe it’s worth letting all this go, then I’ll try to follow your lead.”

Still, that didn’t necessarily mean that Kai and the other Elder Dragons couldn’t have handled the situation better. Rockpool Island and the dragons living there shouldn’t have been abandoned for that long. And Kai wasn’t so fond of them showing up out of the blue and retaking control like they’d only been gone for a couple of days.

“Good.” Bram smiled. “I held onto my anger for way longer than I should have, and it cost me many good years of my life. We can’t control what others do, only how we react to them. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Don’t be angry. If there’s a problem, act on it instead.”

And Xander fully intended to. For the others, the tournament was going to be a fun distraction from the daily grind, a way to connect with each other again and assert dominance in the wider world they lived in.

For him, though, the tournament represented far more. It was his opportunity to prove himself against the other dragon shifters in a way that he’d never had the opportunity to do so before.

It was a way to face Kai and show the whole world who was the superior dragon shifter. Who was a better fighter and the best fit as their leader.

“I’m honestly surprised you would even think about canceling the tournament,” Bram said after a while, rerouting their conversation back to the beginning. “Haven’t you been looking forward to this since it was announced?”

“Well yeah, obviously. You and I have been training together for years, but I’ve had so few opportunities to fight other dragons,” Xander said as he finished pegging the large tent up.

In fact, Xander and Bram fought at least twice a week for the last three decades with very few exceptions. They rotated between hand-to-hand combat, swords and knives, and their dragon forms. It kept them close as friends and in tip-top combat shape. They were supposed to be the guardians of Rockpool Island and the valuable artifacts hidden on it, after all. It was their duty to be prepared for anything, as unlikely as it was that anyone would ever discover that there was anything worth stealing on the island. Or that the island existed in the first place.

“Fighting is fun and challenging, and I’m excited to see what the others bring to the table,” Xander continued, “but I just didn’t want to run in a tournament like this if it compromises everyone’s safety. If you all believe that won’t be the case, then it’s no problem.”

He still had his doubts, but if it was more than the dragon shifters from Rockpool Island running the tournament, there would be people with a keener perception of safety keeping everything in order. Since the dragon shifters organizing the event were immortal, it only stood to reason that they would forget about things like that.

“Makes sense. There’s really nothing to worry about, though,” Bram said and went back to hammering some nails to build something out of wood. “Your status as one of the few dragon shifters on Rockpool Island without a mate, though…” He whistled. “That’s something we’re going to have to fix as soon as possible.”

Xander scowled. “Thanks for rubbing it in.”

“I just think that if the rest of us can find the ones we’re meant to be with, then so can you. Some good sex and someone to fawn over will give you less time to stress about island politics and more time to worry about the rest of your life.”

“Message received. Find someone to screw, stop worrying about the Elder Dragons.”

“We just want to see you happy,” Roxxy clarified. “As your friends, that’s important to us. And what else do we have to do these days besides playing matchmakers?”

Xander had no intention of forgetting about Bram’s latter point entirely, but for the sake of not rousing any trouble, he would be on his best behavior for the tournament. If he had his way, by the end, he would have shown his superiority over Kai, anyway.

While Kai was a mithril dragon because he was attuned to the rarest metal in the world and thus gained his magic from that legendary ore, his magic wasn’t the most combat-oriented. At least, it hadn’t been when he left Rockpool Island thirty years ago. Xander had no idea just how much his skills had developed in the years he was gone, but Xander did have one big advantage: as an opal dragon, his abilities were heavily combat-oriented.

Kai and Xander had never gotten into a proper fight before, but Xander was ready to give Kai a taste of his fists. Or claws, or sword, or really any form of weapon that would get his intentions across.

That is, that Xander didn’t like Kai and that he planned to make his voice heard.

Bram’s first point, though, about getting a mate … well, who could say no to that?

“I take it you have someone in mind already, then?” Xander said.

Roxxy shrugged. “Well, no. I only just got back, remember?”

“And you two have been shacked up far too much for you to have glimpsed much of the wider area yet or make new friends. Right?” He winked at her.

She gave a shy smile. “I won’t be ashamed for having a good time. But we’re not here to talk about Bram and me. We’re here to talk about you.”

Xander thought about reminding her that they were actually here at the base of a volcano that had a history of erupting on very short notice to set up for a tournament that was to happen that same weekend but figured it was a moot point.

“I suppose the tournament seems like a good opportunity to find someone, even if only for some fun,” he mused.

“Exactly! Show off some of those fighting skills you’ve been hoarding all these years and make some ladies swoon,” Roxxy said, and as she did, she glanced at Bram and winked at him.

Xander let his thoughts drift away from the flirtatious couple and focused more on their suggestion as a whole. He did want a mate. He’d wanted someone to enjoy his life with for as long as he could remember. Unfortunately, he’d been locked on Rockpool Island alongside the other shifters for most of the time he’d been living there.

But now, things were different. They were free to roam the surrounding areas—namely Hawaii and California, both hotspots for attractive women. They’d had about a year now to fly away from Rockpool Island to enjoy themselves, but Xander wasn’t fond of going out to bars and clubs or other fun places where human women liked to hang out.

It just wasn’t him. He would rather meet someone either in his element—related to his skills and interests as a fighter—or naturally through some chance encounter. Of course, he hadn’t really gone out of his way to make either of those scenarios happen until Kai had the idea for the tournament.

In that sense, perhaps Xander was a bit of a romantic, wishing things would just happen instead of being on the hunt.

But the tournament would be different. He wouldn’t aim for anything so lofty as finding a mate, but … he would find someone he could have a good time with, at least. He owed himself that.

And from the way his inner dragon woke and rippled with delight at the idea, it seemed like he owed his dragon self a bit of fun too.