The usual disclaimers apply. Hope you all enjoy the chapter.

Heart of the Dragon

Chapter 2, Cedric

Belle walked along the path that led back to the house she shared with Deborah, Blaine and Samantha. Deborah and Blaine would stay in the rich soil of the healing chamber until the next rising to take advantage of its properties. Belle would check the soil of their sleeping place at home to make sure it was as rich as possible and free from parasites, as she did every morning before they went to rest.

Since being told about the extremophiles, Belle had been very diligent in examining the soil of their resting places. She was able to identify the organisms and pull them to the surface for destruction, a rare talent among fully Carpathian women. Her approach was different than that of Lara, lifemate to Nicholas de la Cruz. Lara was the first to identify the thing that was killing Carpathian babies, before and after their birth, though she was still partly human at the time.

With the help of Lara and Natalya, Belle learned how to look for extremophiles in the bodies of other Carpathians. They also helped her to draw the creatures out to be destroyed. The problem was that sleeping in the soil often caused them to get re-infected. Belle's talent for finding them in the soil had stopped that cycle. Syndil went with her into the soil, teaching Belle her healing techniques and learning from Belle's experiences.

Belle had regularly been cleansing the resting soil of the other Carpathians since she exhibited this particular talent and she had made sure the soil of the healing cave was clear of the organism. This work was exhausting.

Blaine had always offered to supply her with blood since she was member of his family and under his protection. With Deborah's pregnancy, Belle felt it was too much to ask of him when she was perfectly able to hunt on her own. When she took on the task of healing the soil of the parasites, she had accepted blood from Mikhail and Gregori and a couple of other ancient mated Carpathian males and their lifemates. She would have been reluctant if the men had been unmated, but the mated males were stable and their blood was not a potential threat.

The healers had not been able determine why Belle could identify the organism when other Carpathians could not. The fact that she lived on another continent and started out as a human before being converted might be significant. Regardless of the reason, she was doing her best to rid the area of this tiny monster.

As she walked, she sensed the presence of several Carpathians around her. Everywhere she went, there was someone watching over her. Lucian and his lifemate, Jaxon, stepped out of the forest and saluted her before shifting to mist and disappearing. Lucian and his brother Gabriel often guarded her when she was out. No woman or child was ever left alone. At first, this constant hovering annoyed her but, after hearing some of the horror stories about vampires and vampire hunters attacking Carpathians, she decided she could get used to it.

Sensing another presence, she recognized Dimitri as one of her regular guardians. Dimitri's lifemate, Skyler, would soon be eighteen and he could claim her. The girl had needed a great deal of healing to get past her terror of being mated to such a formidable and ancient male, but Belle had been able to help Skyler's parents and the healers in diminishing that fear. She had gotten to know Dimitri well enough to know that he loved and cherished Skyler and would never hurt her. Belle had seen a vision of the two of them together and happy.

Lucian was at least twice Dimitri's age, over two thousand years old. It boggled her mind to think of all he had seen and experienced. He was a typical Carpathian male, possessive, domineering and bossy, and he was completely under the spell of his lifemate.

As she stepped up on the porch of the house, she sent her awareness out to make sure there were no unpleasant surprises waiting inside. This was a lesson that had been emphasized repeatedly by Blaine and now the other Carpathians she had met here in the mountains. Even with safeguards she could not be too careful.

Walking into the empty house, Belle realized how much she missed Tamara running up to her to wrap her arms around her. She knew Tamara was happy with Maryann and Manolito and she could talk with the child mentally and often did so. A sudden wave of loneliness washed over her.

When other people were around she could push the loneliness away. The years she had spent with Deborah and then the girls were wonderful and she had been content. It was only recently that she had become restless, needing something else in her life.

The Carpathians had heard of how she told Andre to look for his lifemate and had shown him a vision of her. Since then, Andre had found his other half and was living happily in San Francisco near Aidan and Alexandria. No one had heard from Tariq. Her feeling for his mate was odd. She knew there was a mate for him and sensed that he needed to go East and South in the United States. She hoped he was alright and that what she sensed for him was correct.

Belle had felt bad for Andre and Tariq back in Seattle, but in the Carpathian Mountains there were a lot more unmated males. Without Blaine as a guardian, a necessity that annoyed her to no end, she would have been constantly hounded by these men. She had endured the obligatory presentation of an unmated female to the men, but she felt like a heifer on the auction block. She was actually relieved that none of them had triggered the mating instinct. All the men were handsome, but they were all so stern and emotionless and none of them rocked her world.

Now the other males flocked to her hoping she could help them the way she did Andre. She did her best to "see" for them and often did find a location and even see a particular woman, but sometimes she got the impression that a mate had not been born yet. She encouraged the men, reminding them that some of the recent "seen" lifemates might be the mothers to young girls who would grow up to fill the emptiness in their lives. It gave them all hope if nothing else.

Belle had never "seen" her own lifemate and sometimes wondered if she had one. Of course, she had never really been able to see her own future unless it was tied to someone else's. Maybe he hadn't been born yet or was far away. She was in no hurry to find him, whoever he was.

Sometimes, unmated males were among her protectors, but there were always mated males nearby. It was too dangerous to leave a woman alone in the company of an unmated male. Those who helped protect her were those for whom she had "seen" lifemates.

Belle sensed another presence outside the house. She looked through the window to see a male form from mist. She had seen this man at a distance and knew his name was Cedric, but she had never spoken to him. He was a quiet, taciturn hunter with great darkness on his soul. Belle walked out onto the porch as Lucien and Dimitri materialized behind him.

He bowed to her respectfully.

With his head bowed he said, "I have come to ask you to see if I have a lifemate. I have come to see if there is hope." As with all the others, the loneliness in his voice tore at her heart.

She reached both hands out to take his and he raised his head to meet her eyes. The emptiness in him was frightening and his darkness almost complete. He was in danger of turning soon or giving his life up to the sun. She concentrated on him, examining the threads that bound him to earth and the other Carpathians. One thread, the one she called the "lifemate" thread led off into a mist, but it was there.

"You do have a lifemate, but I cannot see her. It may be that she is not born yet, or is much too young. That you have not turned means that she holds you here. Please don't give up. I will take a soul journey in a few risings to try to better see the threads that bind lifemates together. You have held on so long, please keep on doing it."

"I will hold on for a while longer, but I truly need hope. I will seek you out after your journey."

With this statement, Cedric bowed to her again, transformed into mist and disappeared. Lucien and Dimitri waited for a few minutes, nodded to Belle, and disappeared.

She truly believed there was a lifemate for Cedric, but was concerned that she could not see her. If she was dead, why had he not turned vampire? Belle had shared her fears with Mikhail when she could not "see" clearly. He and Gregory had encouraged her to take the upcoming soul journey to see if her foresight could be refined. The prospect of that ancient warrior and others like him succumbing to the lure of the vampire was heart-breaking. With the help of other Carpathians who had taken such journeys she would try to find answers to these problems.

Deep under the mountain in a cave that remained undiscovered by Mage, Carpathian or vampire, the great scaled dragon slumbered. He had been there for over a thousand years, buried deep beneath the soil, his sleep undisturbed by war with its slaughter of the guilty and innocent alike, by earthquake or storm. The centuries had passed him by. Until now. A sense of something tremendously important nudged at his soul, causing him to begin his awakening, and the great heart beat once.