Flint Onyx meditated in his mother’s spaceship as it hurtled toward Draconis, the main planet of the Dragon Empire.
The marriage summons showed on his viewscreen.
…as the seventh and final dragonlet of House Onyx, you will take the claw of the new Empress of Draconis, her consort…
His stomach squeezed.
He should not feel nervous. All proceeded according to his plan.
Flint stretched in human form, cracked his back, and shook out his arms. He straightened his dark gray business suit and smoothed the Chinese collar.
Another pang lanced his stomach.
He took a deep, calming breath and focused on his strategy board.
Red metal warships clustered around the key resources of the Empire. Some were flagged to the Palace; others belonged to the five aristocratic families who fought for control.
In the center of his board spun Draconis.
Farther out were the Outer Rim planets. They had once marked the edge of known space.
Way off to the right rotated the Colony planets where most of the Palace warships were engaged.
And then way down at the bottom of the board—so far away that, to be to-scale, he’d have to extend it through the hull and into outer space—spun a tiny, resource-poor, backwater planet named Earth.
He edged a Palace warship closer to Earth, then away.
Five years ago, the humans of Earth had thought they were alone in the universe. They barely remembered the survey the Dragon Empire had conducted during their Middle Ages. So, when Flint and his siblings had shown up, they had been almost comically surprised—
A call from Earth dissolved the marriage summons on his viewscreen.
“Flint!” His oldest brother, Mal, spoke gruffly. “Mother just told us the news. Come back to Earth. Don’t marry the Empress!”
The video showed a conference room at the Onyx Corporation headquarters building in Vancouver, Washington.
Flint’s dragon siblings sat around a conference table wearing business suits and somber expressions. Their human spouses sat beside them. They all looked serious and worried.
Before voyaging to Earth, his siblings had barely known each other. Rejected by their aristocratic grand dragon and doomed to the low caste, they’d been forced into an orphanage and raised with limited contact.
But look at them now. They cared.
And so did he.
“It’s unavoidable,” Flint assured them so they wouldn’t worry. “Necessary to save the company, in fact.”
“Necessary?” Mal slammed his palms on the massive conference table, overturning coffee mugs and causing the humans to jump. “How can a no-name, low caste dragon marrying the Empress of Draconis be necessary?”
“The old Empress gave up her insane offer when we married humans. Come back to Earth and we’ll find you a spouse!”
“You won’t survive a night in the Palace,” Alex, the sixth sibling, told Flint. His exotic dual-color eyes, teal and lavender, flashed with ice. “The old Empress ripped off the arms of her last consort. The new Empress is rumored to be more vicious.”
“Rumored,” Flint repeated with a flippant grin. “Who can trust rumors?”
His siblings devolved into shouts and arguments. Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you can afford to lose a few limbs! And so forth.
He edged the model warship a little closer to Earth.
The hubbub quieted.
Mal took over again. “To find you a human spouse, Alex has made you a dating profile. Alex?”
“You don’t have to—”
“Listen to this.” Alex read from a computer screen. “Hyper-intelligent, emotionally distant recluse desires marriage. Must love curt responses, cryptic answers, having no idea where your new husband is, and being unable to reach him most of the time.”
The dragons all nodded.
The humans traded skeptical looks.
Alex continued. “You will be female, unmarried, and a passionate defender of the second amendment.”
“Hold up.” Darcy, their human vice president, raised an index finger. “You want a girl who’s a big fan of the second amendment?”
“As an American, you should know about it, Darcy.” Amber nudged him with her elbow. She was a terrifying female dragon, but in human form, she looked misleadingly small in her petite cream blouse, plaid skirt, and maroon Mary Janes. “It’s the Right to Bear Arms.”
“But ‘arms’ in this case means guns.”
“Yes, guns.” She encircled his bicep.
“No, not those guns. Guns.” Darcy made the finger gestures for shooting bullets.
“Fingers and hands too.”
“No, no. Machine guns, cannons, you know. Bombs. Actually, those aren’t protected. Do not stockpile bombs. Or cannons. Hmm, I wonder about machine guns now…”
Amber frowned. “What a confusing rule.”
“Well, sure, it causes a lot of debate.”
Alex tapped on the keyboard. “I was under the impression that this country protected the right to keep one’s arms from being ripped off by an angry spouse.”
His female, a slender barista, crossed her arms. “Were you that worried about it?”
All the dragon males nodded.
“Okay, well, don’t worry.” Darcy reached across Amber and patted Alex’s shoulder. “The right to your own arms is protected under the ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ part.”
They collectively sighed with relief.
“And anyway,” Flint interrupted with what he hoped was a winning grin, “I’m not marrying a human, regardless of her opinion on my arms.”
They all argued with him, shouting over each other to change his mind.
He edged the warship model farther away.
Once more, CEO Mal roared over them for silence. “Okay, Flint. You don’t have to marry a human. We’ll think of some other way to rescue you.”
“I do not need rescue.”
“You could…” Mal gestured foggily. “You could marry a human…no. You could go into exile, or…”
“You like being alone,” Amber said.
“Exile would be very agreeable to you,” Jasper, their fifth sibling, agreed.
Everyone nodded firmly.
“And we could still call you up and ask you for advice on the company,” Mal continued, “which we couldn’t do if you become the Empress’s consort.”
“Mal!” his siblings wailed.
“Way to stay ‘on message,’” Darcy said with a teasing smile.
He looked surprised. “I’m just saying—”
“A company is more important than Flint’s life,” Alex said coldly.
“That is what you said, Mal.”
“Flint spent five years building this company to knock aristocrats off the top of the business charts. He cares as much about beating them as I do! As we all do! And if exporting exotic human-form clothing is the way to do it, he won’t throw our company away just to satisfy some new female, even if she is the Empress.”
Respectful silence followed his rant.
Flint cleared his throat. “Actually…”
“No!” Mal glared at him. “End this madness and return. It’s the only way to save my company.”
“Actually, the only way to save your company is for me to marry the Empress.”
“The same way you trusted me to come to Earth, the same way you trusted me to negotiate the Dragon-Human Treaty, the same way you trusted me to export your first bathrobe, fuzzy slipper, and kimono.” Flint grinned with as much confidence as he could muster. “Marrying the Empress is the best way to save the Onyx Corporation.”
Fury contorted Mal’s blunt features. His fingernails elongated to claws. Malachite-green scales pushed up over the human skin, interlocking in impenetrable armor.
He stood and roared. “Fine. Forget the company!”
Stunned silence followed.
“Forget the company?” Flint stuck a finger in one ear, trying to lighten the mood. “Who said that?”
“M-Mal did,” his timid human wife, Cheryl, said softly.
Mal rested a broad, scaly palm over her hand. “He heard me. You all did.”
Nobody responded. They were still shocked.
He focused on Flint. “It’s not too late. You’re a smart dragon. You can think your way out of this death sentence. And that’s what it is. You go to the Palace and you won’t come back alive.”
“You think I’m smart enough to escape an engagement but not smart enough to handle myself at the Palace?”
“It’s not like your strategy game boards. If you make a mistake, you can die. I’d rather have you alive than own a hundred companies.”
Unfamiliar warmth blossomed in Flint’s chest.
Their scattered family had managed to come together and forge a connection despite all odds.
Now, with the very Empire at stake, he’d done his best to protect his siblings. And, even though they understood nothing of what he was doing, they tried to protect him.
“Even if it would be great to beat more aristocrats,” Mal muttered.
“I’ll make you a promise, Mal. When I’m the Empress’s consort, I’ll topple the whole aristocracy.”
Mal teared up. He sniffled and cleared his throat. “Well, in that case—”
“No!” his siblings shouted.
“All right, all right!” Mal retracted his claws back into ordinary human hands. “One last question.”
“Our rank fell during the unstable weeks between empresses. Should we next export leggings, kaftans, or accessories?”
“Mal!” the other siblings screamed at him.
Flint’s portable viewscreen chimed.
Their mother’s large red dragon face appeared. “Flint, my dear Ferocia Carnelian tells me your ship has been sighted by—Well! If it isn’t all of my lovely dragonlets!”
Flint angled the portable viewscreen to more easily communicate with the Earth conference room. “Everyone? Mother says hi.”
His announcement penetrated the brewing fight.
His siblings jumped apart and shrank into their stretched business suits. Their spouses rushed to greet her.
“Isn’t this fun?” Mother stretched her neck, preening. “Here I am, in the very Palace, awaiting the marriage of my final dragonlet, and what do I see when I give him a call? All of my wonderful dragonlets with their spouses! What good timing. Now, when are you going to start producing my grand dragonlets?”
The couples traded awkward looks.
Mother had missed raising Flint and his siblings because her mother, then matriarch, had forced her to give them up. Now her parents were long dead. She couldn’t wait for a second chance.
“Are there any new announcements? Any surprises since I called yesterday afternoon? Ferocia has twenty-seven dragonlets, you know.”
“Everybody has to go,” Flint interrupted. “They were just wishing me good luck.”
“Ah, I see.” Their mother squinted into the viewscreen. “Now that you’ve reminded me, what are all of you doing at the office? Isn’t today a human vacation day?”
“It’s a Tuesday,” Mal said.
“And what better day for you to go home and get busy? As the matriarch of this family and therefore the official owner of your little company, I hereby order you to take the rest of the day off.”
Mal spluttered. “Little company? We’re the number one company outside Draconis!”
“Were,” Alex said.
“And we have to get back to the number one spot!”
“Absolutely not,” their mother said.
“Not while you could be making me grand dragonlets.” Their mother lifted her elegant snout. Aristocratic silver piercings dangled. She narrowed on her second-oldest son. “Pyro, you’ve been married almost as long as Mal has, but your wife has yet to announce her pregnancy. Do you need me to come down to Earth and supervise? Perhaps I should rearrange your lairs to encourage more rigorous activity.”
“Not needed. I’m out.” Pyro clasped Mal on the shoulder, his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “Happy Tuesday.”
Mal protested. “This is a work day!”
“You’re supposed to be working to make me grand dragonlets. Does anyone else need personal supervision?”
Flint’s siblings hustled out.
Mal grumbled as he reached for the button to end the call. “It’s not fair. Cheryl’s already carrying my dragonlet.”
“So go give her a massage,” their mother urged. “Pamper her well so she’ll want to bear more.”
He reddened to the point of apoplexy. “Are you accusing me of not pampering my wife?”
“Yes, Mal. If you aren’t worried about your wife at this critical time when she is bearing my grand dragonlets, then you are not pampering her enough.”
Cheryl linked her arm in his. “It’s fine. I feel pampered.”
“Hmm. Well, if you say you are, then I suppose perhaps my son is doing an acceptable job. For now.” Their mother raised a claw in a warning. “But if I hear otherwise, Malachite, I will shut down your company until I, too, have at least as many grand dragonlets as Ferocia!”
“That will take forever!”
“Then you had better get started.” Mother turned her attention to Flint. “Ferocia and I are waiting for you in the Palace grounds. It’s already quite crowded. Don’t let any of those rough main planet dragons push you around.”
Their mother closed the connection.
Mal sighed and squared off to Flint. “I meant what I said about the company. It’s not too late to change your mind.”
“On the contrary, it was too late five years ago.”
Mal frowned. “I’m never going to understand you, am I?”
“Nobody does. Don’t feel bad.”
“I feel fine. You’re the one who’s flying into a death trap.” Mal accepted Cheryl’s comforting pats and reached again for the button to cut the connection.
“Mal.” Flint grinned. “Leggings and kaftans.”
“Huh? Oh!” Mal brightened, and he patted his suit pockets for a writing implement, settling on Cheryl’s art tablet tucked under her arm. “Great, great. Those can go together…”
“Make sure they are multi-functional.”
“Convertible, wrinkle-free, and easy to pack for travel or exploration.”
“…convertible…wrinkle-free…and easy to pack for travel or…what? Exploration? Flint, we’ve already reached the limits of the Empire with no possibility of expanding. Why would a dragon care about—”
“It’s time to dock. Wish me luck.”
Mal left the tablet on the table and hugged Cheryl. “Come back.”
“That’s the idea.” Flint closed the connection.
The ship chimed that it had docked successfully.
He had perfectly calculated the length of the conversation and calmed the unsettling sensations in his lower torso.
His guts twinged.
I hope you enjoyed this! I’m posting the first four chapters of Onyx Dragons: Flint leading up to its release into Kindle Unlimited on May 19, 2020.