Not every romance is a fantasy, but ours are!

Ian squeezed my hand tightly as I stepped into the tower. Alathea had scrubbed it from top to bottom. The entire place gave off a clean, white light feeling everywhere you looked, but even now I could remember the biting pain, the feeling of hopelessness, and the broken conversations with Hue. A chill shot through me and I couldn’t help myself. While I would never admit to the fear, I knew deep down I still woke up some nights in a panic from nightmares starring this place.

Ian whirled around to face me as I pushed down my discomfort. He pressed me against the wall with his hands on either side of me. “Princess, look at me.” I lifted my eyes to meet his. “I’m here and I swear, nothing in this tower will harm you while I am here.”

I felt the corner of my mouth turn up. “You called me Princess.”

“You are the Princess, aren’t you?” There was a teasing tone to his voice that made me relax. I felt part of my worry fade away as he ran his hands down my sides before pulling me closely against his chest. “I swear, I will keep you safe. You just have to believe in me.”

I felt my breath catch. “I trust you with my life, Ian. That has never changed and I can’t see it ever changing in the future.”

“Thank you,” he whispered, stroking my hair a few times before letting me go. Taking my hand again he led me up through the floors and around the many stairs until we reached the top where the row of doors lay. “Which door are we looking for?” he asked.

I pulled my hand free and walked over to a rather boring wooden door. The only thing that made it different from all the others was the type of lock that was on it. This lock gleamed with magical wards. The amount of protection on this one door told me it was a gateway to the most secret of places. Possibly the Dreaming, but more likely the Forgotten Realm. “This one,” I told him.

Ian sank down to one knee, leaning in to get a closer look at the lock. “And how do you suppose we unlock it and get through?” he finally asked.

“I brought a book from Hue’s vault. It talks about how only certain Dragon bloodlines have the ability to open the locks and gates. The Keepers of Omniglot have a strange Fae blessing or tie somewhere in their heritage that gives them the ability. It’s not super clear, but it has something to do with their blades and Dragon Fire.” I pulled the book from my pack and a dagger as well. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I knew Vallen had gifted both Hue and Geren a dagger with his family crest on it. Now that I held it in my hands, I noticed for the first time how the hilt never seemed to warm to the touch. I handed it to Ian and opened the book.

Ian held it carefully, paying close attention to every little marking on the hilt and blade. “It’s a beautiful piece. Not just ornamental but highly lethal as well. This looks like the same steel that was used in Excalibur.” He looked like he was in awe.

“Well be careful with it then. I don’t need you to nick yourself and bleed out because of it.” Looking down at the book in my arms, I found the spell. I took a deep breath and began chanting the old Draconic language. I watched as one by one the threads of the ward peeled away from the lock. When I finished I carefully took the dagger from Ian and with all my strength drove it down into the stone floor with a burst of Dragon Fire. The door clicked open and swung inward.

Ian looked at me wide eyed. “Well, that was easier than I expected.”

“Speak for yourself. I feel exhausted already,” I told him.

“Old magic requires a lot of energy to perform. It doesn’t surprise me that you feel drained, but it’s only going to get worse. The walk to the lake is said to age you one hundred years while you are here. It causes your bones to grow more brittle, and many choose to lay down, sleep, and never wake up because the realm swallows them up.” I could tell that there was a mixture of curiosity and and fear in his voice. “Luckily, I’m pretty young still and you’re practically a baby.”

I rolled my eyes and waited for him to step through the doorway before I bent and removed the dagger from the ground. I had planned to close the door behind us, which I knew was a dangerous choice, but I couldn’t chance someone else following us in. It took a hefty tug but the dagger pulled free and I dove through the door just before it slammed shut behind us. There was a crackling that sounded like thunder as it sealed. The finality of it was almost heartrending. I tucked the dagger into my belt and looked up at Ian, whose eyes told me of the seriousness of our situation.

“Now where?” I asked.

Ian shook his head and pointed down a path. To our left was a dirt road that led to a large blue lake. All around it were green trees that appeared to be made of silver and gold. Above the lake on a hill sat a large, white castle. Blue and silver banners hung from its walls, all bearing the mark of Vallen’s family crest. The same crest that was on the dagger. Wordlessly Ian and I set out on the road. Though the lake was close, I felt like we were moving in slow motion as we walked.

“Why does it seem like we are walking so slowly?” I asked.

“Kat, save your energy. Try not to speak and just keep moving,” he said with his eyes focused forward.

I didn’t understand at first, but the more we walked the more memories of my entire life flashed before my eyes. The sorrows and pain were all there for me to face. The laughter seemed to flicker by, giving me small bursts of strength to keep moving. Finally, after what seemed like hours or even days, we arrived at the shore of the lake. I touched the water with my toe and all the memories, noise, pain, and so on stopped, and absolute silence engulfed me. I felt like I could breathe again.

When I looked up at Ian he was breathing heavily. Taking his hand I urged him forward until his foot hit the water. He shuddered and seemed to snap back to reality. “Thank you,” he said weakly to me.

“OK, we’re here. I need the rope,” I told him.

Ian nodded – he still seemed unable to fully speak. Shifting his bag he pulled out a massive spool of Elven rope. Its said to be unbreakable. I ran my fingers over it before grabbing the end and looping it around my waist three times. He finally met my gaze. “Kat, before you do this…” His words trailed off and he looked away.

I felt my heart miss a beat. I stepped closer to him. Reaching my hands up, I slid them to his shoulders and urged him down. “Ian, no matter what happens, know that I have and always will love you.”

It was all he needed to grab me hold of me tightly and press his lips to mine. I felt my knees buckle, but it didn’t matter because I was pressed too tightly against him. We kissed with a hunger that told the story of our tragic love. We would always love each other, no matter what had happened in the past, but despite it all I needed Hue and loved him just as much. When all the air had left our bodies and we finally parted, gasping for air, I looked at him. “Kat, you have to come back to me. I swear if you do not make it back I will lay down on this very shore and die. I can exist happily in the world as long as you are there and happy, but I refuse to exist in a world where you are not. Let all three of us live or let all three of us die.” He set me back on the ground and took hold of the rope.

With a nod I turned and waded out into the icy waters of Loch Omniglot. By the time I reached the center my body was numb and I was treading water. “Water guard me, Air fill my lungs, Earth lend me your strength, and Fire, be with me.” I whispered and felt the elements swirl around me. I was about to dive when I heard a chilling voice.

“Who DARES to swim in these waters without my permission?” I watched as a swirling blue form took life over the surface of the lake. A woman who was impossibly slender and almost nine feet tall stood over me. Her hair moved like running water and her face was ageless.

Pushing down my fear I looked up at her. “I do!” I called.

She glared down at me. “Princess Alizeyah? How did you get here?”

“Through a gateway in the Archmage’s tower,” I explained.

“And my grandsons permitted that?”

“No. They do not know.” I should have been afraid and I knew that, but I had survived too much to let fear stop me now.

“Why are you here, Alizeyah?” The Lady of the Lake crossed her arms over her chest.

“I’ve come for Lord Hudraer. He is my Soul Mate and I will not leave without him,” I told her firmly.

“My dear Princess, you think I will let you leave at all?” There was disappointment to her voice. “Besides, doesn’t your mate stand on the shore?”

I looked back at Ian and up at her. “I love him and will not lose him, but Hudraer is my Soul Mate. I will not relinquish either of them,” I said firmly.

“You must choose,” she insisted.

“No, then I choose them both.” I would have stomped my foot if I had been able to.

She sneered. “You are a selfish, selfish child. You are unworthy to lead,” she bit out.

“I am, but you see, the world needs both of them. I need both of them. Return Hue, let the two of them leave, and I will stay. Let death take me,” I said, tears pricking my eyes.

She blinked and almost looked surprised. “You admit you are selfish? You want them both to live but are willing to take Hudraer’s place? What game do you play, little Princess?”

I shook my head. “No game at all. Ian will one day have to rule and take care of his people. Hudraer is needed to unite the Dragons and keep them together. I’m just a Tempest that really isn’t all that important in comparison. Please, let them live, and take me instead.” I felt the tears roll down my face.

The Lady of the Lake was quiet for a long moment. “The decision is not mine, Alizeyah. I will allow you to dive, but understand that you only get one chance. The lake takes all to the next life and you will be no different. If you choose to dive, then you are choosing to die.”

I chanced a glance to Ian on the shore. He nodded to me. I looked back to the Lady of the Lake. “I’m not other people and my story is just beginning. I do not fear the unknown. I do not fear you. I do not fear this damned lake. I sure as hell don’t fear death. I write my own destiny!” I shouted up at her. “Water protect me, Air fill my lungs, Earth give me strength, and Fire be with me.” My words were short but I felt the elements surge through me and I dove.

I kicked and I pulled my way deeper and deeper into the water. All feeling in my body was gone but still I kicked and pulled myself deeper. Soon all light had disappeared and my lungs burned from holding my breath, but I kept going. I seemed to dig through the water for what felt like an hour and then there was a sliver of light ahead and the deeper I went the lighter the world around me became. I released my breath and with one last burst of energy I pushed myself towards the silvery reflective surface of the light.

I burst through the water, gasping for breath. Looking up at the sky I realized there was no sun. The light just seemed to exist. I swam towards the shore, still fighting for air, where I pulled my body from the icy cold water. The rope around my waist was still knotted and hung at my hips. I began wandering through the thick woods that surrounded the lake. Every direction I turned looked the same. I felt lost and helpless.

Closing my eyes I focused on Hue. Where are you? I’ve come to take you home. I was met with only silence. My heart tightened in my chest. Please talk to me! I need to find you. Panic stirred in my heart. What if I couldn’t find him?

“Alizeyah?” I heard a warm voice from behind me. Whirling around quickly I felt the air I had fought for rush from my lungs.

There he stood. My Hue. Different, but still him. His skin was so pale it looked almost white, and his hair and eyes seemed more golden than before. When he moved towards me it was with a slight limp, but his eyes lit up. I threw myself into his arms and knocked us both to the ground.

Straddling his hips I leaned down and kissed him. He tasted like fire and smoke. I moaned against his mouth where his tongue touched mine in an erotic dance. He struggled with the movement but twisted, rolling me under him. He ran his hands along the length of my body urging and twisting us closer and closer to one another. Moaning, he released me from his kiss but stroked the hair from my face. “How are you here? Are you dead?” Grief crossed his face.

“No. I’m here to take you home,” I explained.

“How is that possible?” he asked.

I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, but we need to go.”

Nodding in understanding he climbed to his feet and offered me a hand in getting to my own. “Then we should go soon before this world decides to keep you.”

Taking his hand I guided him back to the lake. Once there I carefully untied the rope around my waist, then looped it around him and knotted it. Then I looped it around myself again and tied it off. “I just have to tug this a couple times and Ian starts pulling and we start diving and swimming,” I explained.

“Ian came with you?” he asked curiously.

“Yes. Now, are you ready to go?” He nodded and I led him out into the water. Giving the rope several good hard tugs, I felt the slack disappear and gulped in big gasps of air as we were pulled under. With one hand firmly locked on Hue, I kicked and pulled as hard as I could through the water. The light slowly disappeared and the darkness consumed us. I felt Hue tiring, his kicks not as strong. I looked back at him and saw the pain in his eyes as he finally let out his breath, unable to hold it any longer. Panic washed over him. I stopped swimming and pressed my mouth to his and breathed into him. Giving him my last breath. I returned to kicking, resisting the urge to take a breath, ignoring the pain of a body starved for air. Finally I saw the glowing surface of the blue water welcoming us back to the other side.

I pushed myself harder than I ever had before. The closer we got to the surface, the darker my vision became. It started at the edges and slowly grew towards the center of my sight. I could almost touch the surface. I reached for it as my vision went black and my body went numb. No! It can’t end like this!

“You did what?” I yelled a little louder than I meant to.

Kat rolled her eyes. “I kissed Ian.”

“Didn’t you already go down that path? I thought we were rescuing Hue?” I was so confused. This conversation seemed exactly like the one I had last summer when she and Ian finally admitted to liking each other.

“We are rescuing Hue. I love Hue, he’s my Soul Mate, but I love Ian too and he’s…. I don’t know what, he is but he’s  mine too,” she argued.

I found myself pinching the bridge of my nose. “AND how is that going to work?” I asked.

Kat gave a shrug, offered up one of those confident smiles, and said, “I don’t know. It just will.”

I groaned. I knew this was a bad idea. I had told her multiple times this was a bad idea, but all I could do was be there to pick up the pieces when it all went to hell in a handbasket. “Ok, let’s table the whole Ian and Hue love triangle thing. We are going after Hue in two days. What is our plan?”

“Plan? We don’t need no stinking plan.” She grinned at me again. I picked up the pillow from her bed and hurled it at her.

“Be serious!” I snapped.

Kat’s reflexes allowed her to catch the pillow, causing her to laugh. The action alone irritated me but at the same time released some of my tension. She hadn’t been so playful in forever. “The simple outline to go to the tower, use the door that leads to the Forgotten Realm, get past the gate, make it to the lake, swim deep enough to reach the other side, find Hue, make it out of the lake, and back through the gate. Then we need to find the gateway that leads to the pond under Vallen’s manor and escape from Maht.”

“Because that all sounds sooooooooo easy. Do you think Alathea will let you just go sauntering into the Forgotten Realm?” I had no doubt she had thought this through. Kat planned things out better than anyone I had met. When it came to sharing her visions with others… let’s just say she still had some growing to do.

“Alathea won’t be an issue because Aiden has already agreed to invite her to the castle for some family time with him and Leonide. Ian and I are going to go and cross the barrier into the Forgotten Realm.” She explained all this, but I failed to see how I was part of all this yet.

“And what is it I’m going to be doing?” I finally blurted out.

“You?” she said with a quirked eyebrow.

“Yes, me. You know I really HATE the idea of sitting around twiddling my thumbs while you go off and kill yourself.” I growled the last words because I had a funny feeling she was trying not to worry me. “Don’t think you can just leave me at home and that all will be well because Dani will be safely sitting this one out…”

She cut me off. “Oh, you aren’t sitting this out. Not even close. Your job is to go to Maht, break into Vallen’s house, and find a way to open the gate so we can get back out.”

Break in? To Vallen’s house? I doubled over laughing. I looked at the surprise on her face and laughed again. “You want me to break into a Dragon’s house? Me? Break in? Are you crazy? Even if I could, why wouldn’t I just tell Vallen what I was doing?”

“Do you think his holy Dragon blood would allow him to let a soul escape? Even Hue’s? Honor before all else.” Kat seemed bitter.

“Ok, so let’s say I can make it in. Why do you think I can open the gate?” I knew this was a fool’s errand, but I had to understand her logic.

Kat’s smile was there again, confident and a bit beguiling. “Because you are the smartest person I know. Research and preparation are like fine art forms to you. If anyone can find a way, it will be you.”

My chest swelled with pride, and then I winced, realizing she had me. “Fine, I’m in.” Famous last words.

Tell me about our life together? he asked.

I felt my lips curl in a smile. We were happy. Frequently arguing, but almost always happy.

You weren’t obedient? I thought Dragon women were obedient to their Mates? There was real confusion in his words.

Ha! Obedient? Where did you hear that crock of crap? I asked.

There are others here. Some have been here a very long time. Some of them remember bits and pieces. An elder told me Dragon Mates were obedient. Voice was quiet. It was still hard for me to call him Hue.

Maybe a thousand years or so ago, I teased.

I proposed! he said.

What? I wasn’t sure I heard him right.

Since I learned my name I’ve had memories. I have three that bring me great happiness. The first is when you said you loved me. I can still feel the moment my heart stopped in my chest. The world became crystal clear and I knew in that moment I would do anything for you. The second one was when I proposed at a big party. There were many people and you agreed to be with me forever. His voice trailed off after that.

What was the last one? I was curious if it was one of our steamy scenes and felt my body flush at the thought.

No. The last one was just before I came here. I knew you were in danger and a voice inside me said it was you or me. I didn’t know if I would be able to save you but I promised the ancestors that I would die willingly if they would spare you. The happiest moment for me was just as the life left me, I saw you alive and well as you gathered me into your arms. I knew I had saved you….

Alizeyah?

Yes, Hudraer?

I don’t think you can reach me. I think I have to wait for you. I promised to die in your place. 

Oh Hue, don’t you see? Without you, I won’t be able to go on. My words met silence.

I thought he had left me when finally he spoke. There are laws that bind me to this place. If you are going to break them you must make me one promise. 

Anything.

Go to the Wolf. Tell him everything and ask him to love you once more. If you can honestly come back and tell me he will not make you happy, I will condone you breaking the ancient laws, but once you cross the through the gate neither I nor Ian will be able to protect you. It will be just you against everything. Do you understand?

I do.

Then go, and come back to me only if you cannot truly find happiness, because if you come for me, you will most likely die and then my sacrifice will have been for naught. 

My eyes welled up with tears. This was cruel. Hue knew I would always care for Ian, but what he wanted me to do was to use him when he had been through enough already. This would hurt Ian. Minutes turned to hours and soon the dark of night had quieted the rustling of the castle. Taking a deep breath, I squared my shoulders and remembered I had made a promise. I stepped out into the corridor and gently eased the door shut behind me. I walked the short distance down the hall to the room Ian had come to call his second home. With a deep breath I knocked lightly.

I heard movement within and the door inched open. Ian’s brown eyes stared back at me, then the door opened wider. He looked alarmed and when he spoke it was in an intense whisper. “Kat? Is something wrong? Are you all right?”

I shrugged. “No, I don’t think I am. May I come in?”

He gave a quick nod and moved out of the way, inviting me in. I noticed as I stepped into the chamber that he had a fire glowing softly in the fireplace, causing the room to be uncomfortably warm. He had a pile of books on the bed and a tray of food. I had interrupted his quiet time and I started losing my nerve. He was going to think I had totally lost my mind. “Can I get you some water or tea?” he offered.

I turned to face him only to realize he was nude. It made sense – he slept naked most of the time and like many Were believed clothing was optional when not around Humans. I found myself stuttering but I suddenly understood why he had only cracked the door when answering.  “Ummmm,…. yeah … tea would be nice.”

Ian flashed me a knowing smile. “You forgot I slept naked, didn’t you?” he asked, handing me a cup.

I nodded as I accepted the cup. I swore loudly as I burned my tongue on the almost boiling liquid within. “Ouch!” I continued to wince.

Reaching out he took the cup from me and sat it on a nearby table. “Do you want water?” he asked with a look of amused concern.

“No, I’m fine. I came to talk to you,” I explained.

He breathed out slowly. “Then have a seat and I’ll pull on some clothing since I am making you nervous.”

“I’m fine. There isn’t an inch of you I haven’t seen. It’s your space I am infringing on. You should be comfortable.” I insisted taking a seat in one of the two chairs near the fireplace.

Ian collected his tray of goodies from the bed and brought it over to share by placing it on the nearby footrest. He grabbed a slice of apple, popping it into his mouth before taking a seat across from me. “Go ahead. You don’t normally come seeking my attention in the middle of the night unless it’s about something important. My ears are always here to listen.”

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” I told him flatly.

Ian let out a warm chuckle I hadn’t heard in a while. “Kat, I have known you were a little crazy since the first time you flung open that door and told me to either go away or shut up and sleep.” He shook his head a little, smiling at the memory. “Really, who does that? I love that about you. You can be so diplomatic and strong, but at your heart you’re this goofy girl that marches to the beat of her own drum.”

“I can still talk to Hue.” I nodded my head and closed my eyes when I said the words.

When I finally looked up, Ian sat quietly with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at me in consideration. I expected a look of pity. I expected him to think I was crazy. What came next surprised me. “I know.”

“What do you mean, I know?” I spat back.

“Just that, I know. I knew before you told Dani. I sensed it the moment Voice came to you.” I stared blankly back at Ian. He stood and crossed the few steps between us before sinking to the floor in front of me. He gathered me into his arms pulled me against my chest. “My sweet Kat. We are not Soul Mates, but I have wished every day since meeting you that we were, because then nothing would have come between us. Hue is the only person I can stand seeing you with because I can see and feel how happy he makes you.”

“What do you mean, you can feel?” I asked.

Ian took my hand and pressed it against his heart. “I don’t know. I just feel you. I can sense when Hue is part of you and when he’s not.”

“How did you know I call him Voice?” I asked suspiciously.

He sighed. “Because I have watched over you every night since Hue died. I have listened as you tossed and turned in bed. I have heard your mumbling as you lay there dreaming. Can I remind you I spent the first month sleeping at the foot of you bed in Wolf form?”

“But how did you know?” I asked again, wanting more answers.

“My blood and yours run through each others’ veins just as if I had been bonded to you. We are forever connected. I didn’t even have this connection with my first mate. You’re special, Kat. That’s why people protect and follow you with their whole hearts.” He stroked my hair.

“Do you know I plan to rescue Hue from death?” I asked.

“I do. I wish you wouldn’t, because the chances of your own death are almost assured, but I know and understand why you would do it,” he explained.

I sighed. “I would do it for you or Dani too,” I said. “The three of you mean more to me than anything in the world. More than my life could ever be worth.”

“That’s why I’m going to help you,” he said softly.

“But you could die too,” I said.

“Yes, but I will not live in a world where you do not exist.” He said it so simply.

I smiled to myself. Then it hit me. “Hue made a request of me and I don’t feel right asking you.”

“You can ask me anything,” he prompted before releasing me to slide back into my chair. He sat back on his heels and looked at me expectantly.

“Hue wanted me to come to you and ask you to love me. He believes I can be happy without him, but I’m not so sure about that.” I knew for a fact that I couldn’t be.

“You don’t have to ask for my love. You have it freely and always will.” He took my hand and squeezed it. “Now, if it is comfort you seek that I can give you, that you do have to ask for.”

“Comfort?” I should have known, but I walked into it.

Leaning forward, Ian slid his free hand into my hair and cupped the back of my head, pulling me towards him. His lips touched mine. He was still for a moment as he waited to see if I would respond. I pressed my hand to his chest to push him away but couldn’t bring myself to shove. Instead I closed my eyes and parted my lips to his. His tongue lapped at the sensitive skin of my lower lip before it ventured deeper. I breathed in to let his scent fill my senses and drank in the taste of him. When he finally broke the kiss we both leaned back and tried to catch our breath. He released my hand where he held it and pinned me with his gaze. “Goddess of Cruelty,” he breathed. “Kat, I…” He couldn’t finish the phrase. All he could do was look at me.

I let my breath out, slowly looking for the words. “Ian, one of you is my heart and the other is my Soul.” I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I hadn’t properly grieved my break-up with Ian because I had jumped to Hue so fast. Now I realized what Hue meant. He knew how in love with Ian I would always be and wanted to give me a chance at a life filled with happiness. I looked into Ian’s dark eyes and saw visions of children, and laughter, and a life most would kill for, but I knew it wasn’t meant to be my destiny.

Ian looked sad. “I am yours until the day I draw my last breath. I will fulfill my obligations to my people, but I will also fulfill the desires of my heart.”

I shook my head. “And if I bring Hue back?”

“I have sworn my life and love to you. Hue may be your Soul Mate and where you belong, but I know you surely hold a piece of my Soul as well. I won’t exist without you. I just can’t. It would be like living in a world where there was no air left to breathe.” He leaned his forehead against mine.

“Help me,” I said.

“Always,” he replied.

Playing Hosts

I couldn’t help it. I tried not to smile so widely because I knew I looked like a goofy five-year-old excited to eat cake, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Aiden and I sat on our horses just inside the gate of the outer wall to the castle. The envoy had been announced a few hours before and now I was completely giddy with excitement. Tallyn and his wife Lily were getting close to having their first child, so he was unable to make the trip, but Maerryn who had trained right alongside his brother was coming to help train the new recruits and with him, his soon-to-be-bonded mate Fairwynn.

I had been in a much darker place when I went to my cousins’ home in Vesaria, but now that hope had been restored to my life I was more myself and could now return all the warm love and support that Maerryn and Fairwynn had tried so desperately to show me. When the envoy crested the hill so they were easily viewable, I shifted back and forth on Ghost. The horse twitched under me, causing me to tighten my legs to make sure he stayed under control.

Aiden looked over at me with a raised brow. “You didn’t seem this excited to see me when I came to collect you from Vesaria. Does our home not fit your needs, little sister?” The sparkle in his eyes told me he was just teasing but I realized there was an element of hurt there too. I grinned wider. “I’m excited to show them my home after they were so kind to me. It is ok, if I call this home and am excited to welcome them, right?”

My words had the desired affect on Aiden. His smile deepened, his chest swelled with pride, and he nodded in agreement. Since the moment Aiden had met me we had a deep connection. He says that it was because while he was growing up he wanted siblings more than anything. Now that he had one I felt like he was trying to make up for lost time. Then again, by Elf standards I am still sort of a “baby sister”. If I hadn’t been raised by Humans I would still be treated like a child.

Just then Maerryn and Fairwynn, along with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, rode through the gate and into our outer bailey. Maerryn quickly dismounted and helped Fairwynn off her horse. She did the typical walk and stretch that signifies her tailbone was done with the whole riding thing. Taking each other’s hands, they turned and faced us, giving formal bows. Aiden held up his hand and prepared to say something while I quickly threw myself off my horse and flung my arms wide, hugging them. Aiden stammered behind me.

“I’m so glad you’re here! It’s great to see you again,” I declared.

Fairwynn laughed and hugged me back. Maerryn pulled back long enough to see I was smiling, then crushed me tightly in a bear hug. “Oh, it is so good to see you doing better little cousin.” He growled happily as the air was forced from my lungs.

Fairwynn patted his arm and he realized I was turning blue. She hugged me again. “You have color again, and I don’t think I’ve ever really seen you smile.”

I motioned for Aiden to follow then linked arms with the couple and marched them towards the castle where we could let them rest and talk more. Taking Ghost’s reins in hand, he guided my horse back to the stables with his own all the while mumbling about how I had stolen his moment to make a speech.

Once our guests were settled into their chambers and dinner had been enjoyed by all, I made my way to the sanctuary of the library. I had underestimated how much playing hostess would take out of my energy levels. Voice?

Yes, my Princess? answered the familiar voice.

You’ve been quiet lately and I miss you. Are you mad at me? I asked.

No? answered Voice.

No? That’s not reassuring. You are or your not, I told him, frustrated.

I’ve been thinking, he told me.

That’s never good. What about? I asked.

Where I am, all I can really do is think. He was hesitant. You know who I am, don’t you? I’m someone very important to you, aren’t I?

You are.

When I think of you I feel hollow and it hurts. I think I need you, he told me.

I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I need you too. I’m so tired of hurting.

How do I come home? he asked.

You can’t just come home. You’re dead. It hurt telling him that. My heart squeezed in my chest.

Well that’s problematic. How much longer will you be alive? Voice seemed concerned. I couldn’t tell if it was loneliness or hope that made him ask.

Centuries. I paused.

Well, then there is only one answer. My heart pounded in my chest. If he asked me to join him in death right now I might not be able to resist. We need to find a way to make me not dead.

My heart melted. My death wasn’t an option. It was then I realized someone was shaking me. “Alizeyah, are you all right?”

I blinked up at Fairwynn. “Yeah, sorry. I am tired. Hostess is a new job title for me,” I told her, smiling.

Fairwynn smiled softly. “Let me walk you to your room.” As she offered I felt her pull me to my feet. I was helpless to resist her. I nodded and answered the questions she asked me along the way.

Alizeyah? What is my name? Voice asked softly.

Lord Hudraer. Your name is Hudraer, I told him.

Hmmmm. Call me Hue, he told me. I felt my lips curl into a smile.

 

Hey Otherworlders!

You read it correctly. Dragon’s Guide to Slaying Virgins is now available for Pre-order through Amazon.

It releases Friday June 26th, 2015. Get your copy, tell your friends, and then settle in to read an entire book following the adventures of Vallen.

Want it in Paperback from Powell’s, B&N, Amazon, or What the Book? Looking for other digital formats like Nook or Kobo? No worries, we’ve got you covered. The pre-orders for those are all coming soon as well.

Dragon's Guide to Slaying Virgins- June 26th, 2015

Dragon’s Guide to Slaying Virgins- June 26th, 2015

Our New Force

I sat on the dais on my brother’s throne dressed in leggings, tall boots, and a royal tunic. The maids had insisted I wear a crown or a circlet to greet our new troops as they arrived. Lords came to introduce their sons, nephews, brothers, and, to my happy approval, a few daughters, nieces, and sisters. Their reaction was always the same. They would walk in, approach the throne, kneel, realize I was “Your Highness” and not “Your Majesty”, then try to hide their confusion as they presented the newest member of the royal guard. Most of the troops seemed indifferent at being there. It was obvious some were doing it because they had been commanded to. A very few marched up, proud to be the newest members, the gleam in their eyes shining with the honor the position carried.

A little after lunch Leonide and Aiden came to check on my progress, choosing to sit at a nearby table and watch as I gracefully welcomed our newcomers. I knew this exercise I had been given was also a test – if I would follow my brother’s orders. If I could be trusted on the throne. If I could act with the grace needed for the position. The lords had finished their parade for the day when the Herald ran up to me. “Your Highness?” she said from bended knee.

“Approach,” I told her, waving her forward.

“Princess Alizeyah, there are a number of merchants here who have sons and daughters they would like to enlist to the guard as well. In the past this has been reserved for nobility only. They are refusing to leave.” Her eyes darted back and forth, landing on the highborn lords and then my father and brother.

I smiled widely. “Show them in.”

She blinked at me a few times. “Shall I announce them each as well?” I gave her a nod before she scampered off to do as I asked.

Setting my shoulders back, I resumed my position on the throne as another group was shown into the great hall. All other chatter came to a standstill as merchants and peasants alike, all dressed in what was no doubt their best, lined up. The first family was announced. A merchant garbed in colorful hues approached the dais he and his two sons approached and dropped to their knees. “Your Highness, my sons and I have come to pledge fealty to the crown. We pay taxes and love this land. Two of my sons wish to protect our home and serve in your guard. I beg you, please accept them, even if it is to do the work others wish not to do.” There was a snicker from the direction of the nobles.

I stood and bid them approach. I ignored the gasps that followed as both sons swore fealty to the crown. I lifted my chin when it was over and addressed all who were gathered. “It takes great honer and strength of character to live the life of a soldier. Nobility rules, merchants sell and bring money and commerce, and peasants farm, craft, serve, raise, and are the backbone and bedrock of society. If you hear nothing else I say this day, then hear this. EVERYONE is needed for this kingdom to thrive. A title is merely the name of a job – it does not mean you are entitled to any more or any less respect than anyone else. All who live here should take responsibility for keeping our Kingdom safe and thriving. From this day forward, all who carry love for the crown, show strength of character, and have honor in their heart may respond to the call for arms.”

There were hisses and angry words from the noblemen but I ignored them. I knew I would no doubt have words with Aiden over this later. I motioned for the next family to come forward. Another twenty-five troops rounded out my ranks. My first royal guard was made up of nineteen existing men-at-arms and knights and sixty-two new recruits. Looking around at the faces, my chest puffed just a little. “For now there are treats to tide you all over until dinner, but tonight we celebrate the newest members of our family. The feast tonight is held in all of your honor as a sign of love and respect from your crown to you.”

I gave a nod, stepped off the dais, and made my way to exit the hall. I had only made it a short distance down the corridor when my father and Aiden both redirected me into Aiden’s solar. I rolled my eyes as they urged me to have a seat at the table. “What was that?” asked Aiden.

“That was me protecting our lands and people. A task you gave me to handle as I see fit,” I reminded him.

“The Guard has always been made of nobility,” he argued.

“Well it won’t be under me. You gave this to me. You disbanded an army. YOU, who have military experience and training, gave this task to your little sister who is only thirty-two, compared to your hundreds. I did what I believe to be right.” I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him.

“What will the nobles think?” he said, dropping down into a chair.

“Hopefully they think, ‘YAY, more soldiers means a better chance of my son or daughter coming back alive.’ ” I took a deep breath. “Is it or is it not a noble’s job to protect the lands he governs?”

My father and Aiden both exchanged looks then nodded.

“The nobles have failed at their jobs. Those merchants and farmers wouldn’t be here right now if the nobles had handled the highwaymen. As it stands now, farmers are being slaughtered in their fields. Merchants are being robbed on the roads. Lawlessness is running rampant and the nobles have sat within the safety of their keeps and failed their people. If you fail your people, you are failing the crown. The lower classes are here because they love this kingdom and want it to be safe again. We would be fools not to accept the love and support of our people.” I sighed.

Aiden looked shocked and Leonide sank into the chair beside me. He held out his hand so I would take it. “Alizeyah, I know you are new to this and I understand your reasoning. It’s good reasoning, but traditions are there for a reason.”

Aiden looked at me and met my gaze. He pursed his lips and then sat in the chair on the other side of me. “No, father. She’s right. She did the right thing. It takes strength to challenge tradition when it isn’t what is best for the Kingdom. Her decision was based on what is best for all, not what is easiest for a few. I’ll support this decision.” He took my other hand and gave it a squeeze then looked back at Leonide.

Our father studied us both for a long moment before letting a grin split his face. “I’m proud of the people you both are. To know you both choose selflessness warms my heart and allows me to rest easier. Now, if we could just find you both mates and produce some grandchildren it would prove the world could be perfect.”

I pulled my hands away and stood. “I should get going. I need to change before dinner.”

As I left the room I heard Aiden begin to explain that I had had a Soul Mate, but he was killed in battle. I didn’t need to look back to feel my father’s sad eyes on me as I closed the door. I climbed the stairs to my chamber. Since learning who I was, I had been given Aiden’s old chamber, which was second largest only to the King’s. I basically had my own wing of the castle. It offered me solitude and peace. When I entered the bedroom I looked around and smiled at the mismatched decor.

Geren had given me permission to move whatever of Hue’s belongings I wanted to the castle. Mine and Hue’s chamber and vaults would remain at the nest, but he and Vallen recognized me as Hue’s mate even if it had never been made fully official. Now Hue’s bed and set of tall wing-backed chairs had replaced the bed and chairs in the room. The books of the Tempests his family had guarded for generations sat on shelves above my desk. Photos from my apartment in Seoul decorated every corner. Pictures of Hue and I, Dani, Ian, and the rest of my friends. I knew for the foreseeable future Everbloom would be my home. When I got Hue back we would stay here until such time as we were ready to return to the nest, if we ever did. To bring Hue back meant to violate sacred laws of the Dragons.

I breathed deeply. “I have an army to build and train,” I told myself.

It was a little after lunch when an Elf wearing the official royal colors of Everbloom arrived with a parcel for me. Marthailain watched carefully as I accepted and signed for the package, but he didn’t say a word when I nodded at him and disappeared back into the library. I crossed through the double doors that marked the entrance to my favorite place in all of Seoul. I let the smell of old books and lost knowledge wash over me and it felt like I had come home.

Head Librarian Natalie was working at the desk when I entered. She looked up, giving me a friendly smile, but didn’t say a word. I nodded to her as I passed and headed directly for the private research room that had become my unofficial office. Once inside, I closed and locked the door behind me before sinking down into my chair and opening my package. On top of the parcel was a note scribbled in Kat’s loopy handwriting.

Dear Dani,

     The recovery of Leonide went well. We have identified three of the doors so far in the Mage Tower. Inside you will find a gift that I believe will help not only my quest, but some things for your personal collection as well. I hope you and Oliver are well and that you aren’t spending too much time in that dusty old library.

Come visit soon.

Love Always,

Kat

I rolled my eyes as I sat the letter aside. As if there was such a thing as too much time in this library! I pulled the paper away and looked inside. Three ancient books. The first had to do with Dragon lore and the planes of afterlife. Ok, that makes total sense, I thought to myself. The other two were a bit more curious. One covered the evolution of the Fae and outlined the many households, branches and mutations. The other was a book on the dark magic of the Fae. I had never seen anything like either of the books. The words seemed to float above the paper. I slid the two books on Fae into my backpack and turned back to the Dragon lore.

I opened the dusty tome and began picking my way through it. My hand feverishly flowed over pages in my notebook as I laid out complicated notes on the topics that I knew needed immediate attention. Hours passed without my awareness. It was only when I came to a particular illustration that I started connecting some dots. There, staring back at me from the page, was Vallen.

Vallen, Lord of Omniglot, was the protector of the lake that led to the next life. His family had served the original Dragon for a thousand or more years. He was part of an exclusive brotherhood and what’s more, controlled the gate that allowed mortals in and out of the Forgotten Realm. I sat back in my seat and tipped my head back, processing the information. Vallen was the gatekeeper and the person Kat would have to overcome to rescue Hue. Could she do it? Could I actually help her?

I closed the book and slid it into my bag. I was just finishing packing up when there was a knock on my door. Without thought I reached behind me and unlocked it. The door popped open and Lover slid into the room with me. His hand rested on my shoulder and his scent filled up my senses. “You ever coming home?” he asked.

I shrugged out of his grip and turned to face him. “I was thinking about it,” I teased.

“It’s almost ten and you weren’t answering your phone, so I came to check on you,” he told me.

“Wait, what?” I fumbled in my backpack only to discover he was right and I had seven missed calls, not all of them from him. “Damnit, I’m sorry. I got caught up in my work.”

He shrugged. “I figured as much. If you’re ready we can grab a bite before heading home.”

“I would like that.” My stomach growled, loudly. “I just realized how hungry I actually am.”

He pulled his coat off and looped it over my shoulders and led me out. Once I was seated in his car and fastened in, he spoke again. “What had you so wrapped up?”

“Kat sent a messenger over to me with a gift.”

“Ah, must have been books.” He smiled at me.

“It was. One of them had some information on Vallen I wasn’t aware of.”

“Ah, the gatekeeper thing?” he asked.

“How did you know?” I said, turning to look at him, surprise probably written all over my face.

“I didn’t, for sure. I just suspected it.” He he pulled into the parking lot behind a pub. “Fish and chips?” he asked casually.

 

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