Treoir Dragon Chronicles: Book 1

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“If you don’t fight for what you love, then don’t cry for what you lost.”

~ Unknown

 

Every major war and crisis can be traced to a specific moment in time.

During the medieval time of chieftains and kingdoms in ancient Ireland, betrayal triggered a dragon war and consequences have rippled through time to today’s world. A supernatural being on a path to expose nonhumans is sparking chaos across the world with Atlanta at the epicenter. Powerful preternatural beings have waited patiently for an opportune moment to strike at their enemies and with no regard for human casualties. Now is the time.

The Belador supernatural race living secretly among humans freed a cursed dragon shifter, who now reigns as their king. Daegan takes a stand to fight for his nonhuman followers as well as vulnerable humans. Tortured by what he lost two millennia ago, Daegan has vowed to destroy any who threaten his new family and allies.

Atlanta and the entire human race have one hope of surviving what’s coming for them, but only if fear of the unknown does not drive them to kill their greatest protector first.

 

 

 

Where it all began …

22 AD during the time of dragon kings in Ériu, an island later known as Ireland

 

What the hell are ya doin’, Fadil? Daegan roared telepathically as he flew hard in dragon form toward the battle his father’s men fought. 

On the far side a cerulean sky stretched from horizon to horizon. Fadil’s brown dragon flapped his wings just as fast, head down and not a sound in reply.

Fadil had heard him.

Fadil! Call off your men! Daegan shouted again mind-to-mind.

The brown dragon lifted his head at that, but the eyes coming into view did not belong to a friend. Wild hate seared those dragon eyes.

Fadil, I do not want to kill ya!

Daegan had to stop this. He didn’t want to kill someone who had been the brother he never had since the age of ten, but neither would he allow anyone to harm his father’s warriors. His men, who would march into battle on Daegan’s word alone.

Protected by Fadil, a new wave of King Anasch’s warriors topped the hill to the south. The distinctive earth-dragon standard snapped in the rising wind as they marched toward the village.

Daegan’s powerful dragon, Ruadh, made a wide arc then descended, blasting a fiery path to cut off the approaching contingent. 

Smoke rose from most of the dwellings, many still on fire, in a village on the outer edge of his father’s land. Hundreds of warriors battled below and blood soaked the ground.

A troll fighting for King Anasch flew through the air, knocked off his feet by King Gruffyn’s Belador soldiers using their kinetic powers. The Belador Maistir, Seamus, protected a group of villagers as the enemy of human soldiers and supernatural beings, including jackal-headed human forms, surrounded them.

Belador cheers thundered when they realized Ruadh had come to their aid.

Peace had reigned the entire twenty-nine years Daegan had lived. He’d been tasked with holding that peace because of possessing the most powerful dragon known of in this land.

No one wanted war with King Gruffyn’s fierce warriors and fire dragon.

Why would Fadil and his king?

Daegan’s Beladors had done nothing to incur this attack and deserved to go home to their loved ones. They’d been sent here to secure this small village on his father’s land.

But King Anasch had declared war by attacking those under King Gruffyn’s protection.

Under Daegan’s protection.

All these years of peace.

Watch your back, Daegan! Seamus shouted mind-to-mind. He grabbed a village child clinging to his leg and tossed the young one over his shoulder.

Ruadh had already started banking hard to the right, bringing into view the threat closing in from the south.

Daegan spoke to his dragon. Do not kill Fadil. Give me a chance to stop this.

He is not your friend to attack you. He should care more for his life, Ruadh replied, then flapped his huge wings hard, catching air to lift toward the heavens.

Daegan and Ruadh fought as one, but his dragon would destroy anyone who attacked them.

Fadil’s dragon had not slowed even to help his men.

Go high, Ruadh! Daegan ordered. No better place to battle another dragon than high above the ground to protect those below.

The brown beast with the eyes of an enemy and wings tipped in black did not rise to meet him.

Instead, Fadil’s dragon swooped low, flying barely above treetop level, approaching the battle. The ground visibly rocked back and forth in his wake. Massive chunks of stone and earth exploded high into the air as he arrowed toward vulnerable humans as well as Beladors.

Daegan yelled, Dive, Ruadh. His dragon flipped and shot down fast as a giant spear.  Ruadh spewed a fiery ball at the brown dragon.

Fadil’s dragon rolled to the right to escape, but the ball slapped his tail, sending him flipping. His dragon hit the ground, bounced, and shoved off, flying straight up with wings struggling to lift his giant body into the air.

That blast of fire had singed the brown dragon’s tail. It also stopped Fadil’s dragon from pounding the Beladors, the villagers, and Fadil’s own army with boulders and burying all of them under piles of dirt.

Daegan’s dragon curved his body up, lurching away from the ground. Ruadh watched for anything unexpected, but the earth dragon continued to ascend with each draft of air caught beneath his wings.

Before Fadil’s dragon reached them, Daegan called telepathically, desperate to get through to a man who had been friend until now. Are ya crazy, Fadil? Why are your men attackin’ mine? What has happened to ya?

A sick thought entered Daegan’s mind. Something he could not accept in his heart, but he had to ask.  The truth, Fadil. Are ya the one startin’ a Dragani War?

Still, he received no answer.

Instead, the earth dragon angled around and flew at him with furious speed. Fadil’s beast weighed a third more than Daegan’s. He couldn’t kill Ruadh, but he could crush bones that would take too long to heal with a battle raging.

Ruadh whipped his long body around quickly, twisting at the last moment to rake the earth dragon’s back with a blast of fire. Brown scales heated to the color of glowing embers, then cooled, leaving a black scorch behind.

Fury collided with Daegan’s desire to not kill this ally. His friend.

Ruadh had fought along with Fadil’s dragon to save King Anasch’s castle when a high king of the north lands had thought to claim it with twice as large an army as Fadil’s forces.

But that army had been no match for one dragon, much less two.

No match for men who fought to protect each other’s backs as if they’d been born brothers of the same womb.  

Ruadh dodged and rolled until they had no choice but to fight. Daegan’s red dragon rammed into Fadil’s. The sudden jarring felt as if they’d flown into the side of a castle. The dragons tangled up, spinning as they fell with their wings tucked in. Claws ripped at each other. Daegan’s dragon couldn’t torch his opponent face to face, not this close.

An earth dragon would suck that fire inside and send it back as a blast of glowing lava rocks.

The earth dragon's jaws clamped around Ruadh’s throat, gashing the thick skin. Ruadh’s claws ripped into the brown dragon’s chest over and over until blood poured from a deep gash.

Ruadh could defeat Fadil’s beast at this point, but Daegan could not kill the man who had bled alongside Daegan in one battle after another. He’d as soon gut himself.

But if Daegan did not give the order to finish the earth dragon, Ruadh would wear down from battling the heavier beast and risk crushed bones if they hit the ground. If Ruadh could not fly until healing, Belador lives would be at risk.

Daegan told Ruadh, We must take away the advantage of being in the air and drive this fight to the ground.

Ruadh countered, Earth is his strength.

Only if we allow him to use it.

Opening his jaws to blast a fierce roar, Ruadh pushed off and broke away from the heavy brown dragon to fly up, up, up, then ...

Daegan shouted, Seamus! Move everyone out of the way. Our dragons are falling to the ground. Save our Beladors and the villagers. King Anasch’s army is Fadil’s problem.

Aye, sir.

When Ruadh broke free of the clouds, he flipped around and dove straight down.

Fadil’s dragon had been slowly ascending and could not maneuver fast enough to avoid the unexpected attack.

Crashing into the brown beast, Ruadh roared and his claws dug deep while he kept Fadil’s dragon wrapped inside giant red wings.

Not prepared for this kind of attack from above, Fadil’s dragon wings collapsed in.

Daegan kept alert as Ruadh tumbled over and over joined as one with the brown dragon, falling as swiftly as a boulder shoved off a cliff.

Fadil’s dragon kept swinging his huge jaws around as far as his head would turn, snapping desperately at Ruadh’s neck.

Daegan’s dragon spewed a small blast of fire to stop the vicious jaws from succeeding. Ruadh struggled to hold as the heavy dragon twisted to break free. Both bodies vibrated with power and strain.

A hundred feet from the ground, Daegan told Ruadh, Free him now!

His red dragon’s wings flared. Ruadh shoved off hard.

That move sent the earth dragon hurtling faster toward the ground, still out of control.

Ruadh’s muscles bulged under the strain of flapping fast enough to avoid following Fadil’s beast to the ground and suffering a vicious hit. He arched his long back, rising until he could bank to the right and glide for a moment to breathe.

Fadil’s dragon crashed into the ground and bounced. He rolled over and over until stopping in a cloud of dirt and plowed-up grass with wings spread and head down.

Beladors had raced away from the colossal giants falling to earth. Seamus shouted, Daegan! The Beladors stand to assist you.

Daegan ordered, Do not touch the dragon.

Aye, sir.

In a deep voice rough from spewing fire, his dragon pointed out, Enemy is weak. Easy to kill.

Pain lanced Daegan’s heart. He argued, Fadil is not my enemy! I would give even an enemy a chance for last words.

Ruadh puffed out a cloud of black smoke that ended in an angry snarl.

Daegan’s dragon slowed until he lifted his head and lowered his rear legs to land smoothly in spite of the painful injuries Fadil’s beast had inflicted. But the red dragon feared by all possessed faster healing powers than Fadil’s and would never show a weakness.

Daegan remained in dragon form as Ruadh stood above the downed earth dragon. Slashes and scorch marks crisscrossed the brown body and wings, but Fadil would live.

For now.

After a long moment, the earth dragon rumbled out a furious sound and lifted his head. He pushed his body up until he and Ruadh were almost eye level. That one may weigh more, but Ruadh stood taller, especially with his head held high.

Fadil’s dragon arched his neck, drawing his head back as if to hit Ruadh with a blast of lava rocks.

Speaking out loud in Ruadh’s booming voice, Daegan warned, “Do not dare, Fadil. I have shown the only mercy you will see this day if you attack my dragon again.”

The brown dragon closed his jaws and brought his head forward. Hate seared the reptilian eyes.

Daegan asked, “Why would your army attack a defenseless village and our Beladors? Our men have shown great restraint with their powers. They have fought your men on equal ground, but kill even one of mine and you will have no army.”

Fadil’s dragon eyes narrowed into black slits. When he spoke, his dragon normally had a much smoother voice than Ruadh’s. Not this time. Fadil’s dragon bellowed, “Murderer! Ya attacked my father’s kingdom while I was away. Ya burned my cousin to death in front of his mother. Ya savaged our villages. I do not fear ya, red dragon!”

If Daegan had been in human form, his jaw would have dropped.  His dragon boomed, “I did no such thing. I have attacked no one since the last time we fought together against an enemy. What evidence do ya hold to accuse me?”

The merciless eyes of an adversary glared back as Fadil replied, “A red dragon attacked, shooting fire from above. There is no other dragon of such color but yours. There is no other dragon spewing fire but yours. My da watched the massacre from the castle, too far away for his guards to save the innocent servants, livestock, and children. Innocentchildren.”

“No. I swear on my honor that was not me,” Daegan’s dragon shouted. His head and heart could not accept this. Not from Fadil. Not the only friend Daegan had growing up.

“Your king grows feeble and it is said you want to rule all. Ya were my friend once, but no more. Do not ever fly near my land again. If ya do, I will be prepared to kill your dragon next time. Even a demigod can die.”  

“Let me talk to your father, Fadil, so that we will know what happened.”

“You question my father’s words? Our people died under your dragon’s fire. That’s what I know.”

Daegan struggled to accept any of this. Hurt clogged his throat, but Ruadh had no problem delivering his words. “We can war. We can kill. We can blood each other, but that will not change that I did not attack your people. If you leave now and call your army back, I will allow you to live. If your army continues to attack, my Beladors and I will leave them for you to bury. If you attack my dragon again, he will burn yours and eat the ashes.”

“One day, you will not be all powerful, Daegan,” Fadil warned in his dragon voice, shaking with anger. “When that day comes, you will know the pain of watching those you love die when you cannot save them.” With that, the brown dragon took several steps and pushed off with fast flaps to lift all that weight.

How could he lose Fadil this way? Why are ya doing this to me, Fadil? Ya know me.

I thought I knew ya.

White hot rage shook him. Fadil! Don’t do this!

For a moment, Daegan wished for another dragon like his to drag to Fadil’s castle, but his father had made it clear there would be no more dragons, or additional children, from his blood line after Daegan. His two older sisters possessed dragon blood, but would not birth a dragon unless they bound themselves to one.

The ice dragon clan had attempted an arranged marriage between Daegan and Brynhild, a dragon shifter who had been but a child of sixteen years at the time. Many women took a mate at that age.

Daegan had not been ready for a mate, much less with a female whose body had yet to develop past a child’s.

Could King Eogan’s ice dragons be behind this?

Surely not. Months after refusing to take Brynhild to mate, the oldest male ice dragon, Herrick, had joined Daegan to defeat the highland chieftain who had attacked Daegan’s clan.

No dragon family had ever warred over a failed bride pact. Brynhild remained free to choose another, one better suited to her.

Besides, the ice dragons were neither red in color nor at war with King Gruffyn, nor could they spew fire.

What dragon had Fadil’s king seen, though?

Seamus came running up. “Sire, King Gruffyn’s personal guard called to me. He feared distracting ya while your dragon battled. Your da asks for you immediately.”

His father’s personal Belador guard had earned that high position by being a powerful warrior and one of the strongest at relaying communications mind to mind.

Daegan’s dragon lowered his head to meet Seamus’s gaze and spoke out loud. “Secure the village and care for our wounded, then return to the castle. Fadil’s army retreats. But if I find his second contingent pushin’ on this way, I will deal with them myself.”

“Aye, sire. Are we at war with King Anasch?”

“We are at war with no one. I refuse to subject our people to a war I did not start.”

Nodding, his Maistir backed away then turned to issue orders.

Ruadh lifted off and flew hard for the castle in Meath. Ruadh slowed only for Daegan to confirm Fadil’s second line of warriors did indeed retreat.

Perhaps Fadil still possessed some sense.

All the death and destruction after so many years of peace ripped Daegan’s heart. Of all the ways this conflict could have ended, he never thought to lose someone so dear as Fadil.

As King Gruffyn's castle came into view, Ruadh slowed to drop low, gliding until he opened his wings and landed in a wide patch of ground all knew to avoid crossing. Emerald grass shin-high covered most of the ground inside the curtain wall with ivy growing at a lazy pace. His king had chosen an excellent location high atop a rise in Meath, which sat along the eastern coast in the middle of the island and stretched a hundred leagues from north to south.

In two long Ruadh steps, Daegan called up his power, quickly shifting into his human form. A wool cloak with thick fur at the neck fell open as he strode, allowing cool air to reach him through the linen shirt over wool wrapping his legs. Fur and hardened-leather boots encased his feet. He found the battle helmet adorned with two horns a comforting weight on his head.

He strode with purpose and anger, quickly passing through the arched walkway which led to the chapel if he continued straight. His father would often go there to call out telepathically to Daegan. That he had not done so this time added to Daegan’s concern.

Hunting his father’s guard, he shouted mind to mind. Where is my father, Manus?

He is abed, sire.

What? ’Tis hardly midday. Where are ya? Worry slithered through Daegan. He’d never known his father to take to his bed except when injured in battle.

I am with my king, sire. He fell ill while you were away. I brought the healers immediately. I sent for you when the king’s condition became grave.

Without another word, Daegan teleported to his father’s bedchamber and rushed to his side. He grimaced at the pungent odor of sickness slithering through the room. It had an odd taint Daegan had not smelled before.

A burnt lime odor.

His father’s face had lost the flush of health he’d had only two days ago before Daegan’s dragon had flown west to Connaught. A battle had broken out among their Beladors and what Daegan believed to be a rogue pack of soldiers carrying no standard, but whom had once been loyal to the ice dragons.

Another dragon clan he considered allies.

He believed not in coincidence. Concern clawed his neck as more arrows pointed at the ice dragons.

After today, he would have to figure out just what allies he had.

In light of today’s fight with Fadil, Daegan sincerely hoped the ice dragons were willing to speak before attacking.

Dropping to his knee next to the king’s bed, Daegan grasped his father’s over-heated hand. “I’m here, Da. What ails you?”

The king’s face normally projected a robust vitality. When he spoke, his voice would boom with a power and authority that all knew to heed. Every child of the king had inherited supernatural energy from his dragon blood, but Daegan had received so much more from his father and the mother he’d never met. 

Today, the skin on his da’s cheeks held a gray hue.

His da rasped, “The healers do not know what ails me. I recall walking among the gardens this morning when I came upon a lovely red flower new to me. I bent down to sniff it and woke up here.”

Daegan tucked that information away for when he had time to do a thorough investigation of all who had come in contact with the king.

His da’s once commanding voice carried a weakness Daegan had never before heard as he struggled to speak. “We have greater concerns, my son.”

“There is no greater concern for me than your wellbeing.”

His da gave him a smile of appreciation, but pushed on. “I asked for your sisters. Macha delivered Jennyver, but Maeve sent word Lesley was unable to make the trip. Maeve’s servant described Lesley as suffering an ailment similar to mine.”

Daegan felt an emotion he’d never before experienced.

Fear.

He would battle a hundred dragons and armies to keep his family safe, but he had no defense against a silent killer if this sickness turned fatal.

How had his father and Lesley contracted similar illnesses? Lesley resided in the realm of TÅμr Medb, ruled by Queen Maeve, a witch goddess responsible for the wellbeing of his sister. 

Pressured for a child of dragon blood by two goddesses, Macha and Queen Maeve, King Gruffyn had feared losing his kingdom to one of them if attacked for he would not hand over a child even if he had one.

Every babe he and his queen conceived over the years had died in the womb.

King Gruffyn finally agreed to a pact only to protect his family and kingdom, which allowed each goddess to be gifted one of his next two children, believing he would never see any born.

To this day, the king believed one, or both, of the goddesses had used majik on him when he had a dream of he and his queen spending a night of passion. Within weeks, his wife grew round with what he had thought would be one babe. 

She died giving birth to two daughters of dragon blood.

Macha and Queen Maeve arrived the day of the birthing, neither lifting a finger to save his wife, and both leaving with a promised child.

That had broken the king for many months.

To this day, Daegan knew how deeply his father still mourned losing all three females, the only family he’d had, and regretted his agreement with the goddesses. But King Gruffyn had been wily enough to negotiate as much protection as he could on the chance of producing even one babe.

After that loss, he spent months on his knees, pleading with the dragon god Dewi for a dragon-shifter son who could protect him and his daughters. A son so powerful all other deities would not dare try to harm him.

Dewi finally answered his prayers.

Today, Daegan drew every breath to first perform his duty to his da and sisters, then his people.

Having visited with each sister annually, Daegan had come to believe they were both safe. Now, he had deep suspicions and asked his king, “What would ya have me do, sire?” He looked around and added, “Where be Jennyver?”

His father’s breathing sounded painful. “She went to pray in our chapel. She shows no sign of sickness. While she is safely nearby, I wish for you to see Lesley and determine if Maeve is able to heal her. If not, bring her to our healers.”

Daegan nodded. “I fear leaving ya before our healers cure what has attacked your body.”

“Time is of the essence, son. The healers make headway. Lesley is young, but you and I are strong. Maeve surprised me by taking the smaller of the two females when they were birthed. I have feared Lesley and Jennyver’s safety for all these years, but more for Lesley. If she does not show signs of healing, you carry the word of your king and are the most powerful dragon around. Queen Maeve and Macha fear all dragons, as they should. They have more to gain by being allies. You will speak for me and convince Queen Maeve to do the best for Lesley if the child requires more than can be provided in TÅμr Medb.”

“I will always do as ya wish, Da.” Daegan hated being pulled in two directions, both for family, but he feared leaving without offering the king Ruadh’s healing blood. Only one born of dragon blood could take such inside and be healed. “Please drink a sip of my blood before I go.”

“No, son. I know ya mean well, but my stomach sends back all that I swallow.” Lifting his other hand weakly from the covers to dismiss more discussion, he said, “Now for the greater concern. The ice dragons war with King Anasch and I am told they intend to attack here next.”

Had the world gone mad? Daegan grumbled, “I feared such. I hearkened your call just after battlin’ Fadil’s dragon. He swears Ruadh attacked his father’s people. What is happenin’ to cause this strife among the dragon clans?” He quickly informed his father of the battle and what Fadil had claimed. When he finished, he asked, “Is there any chance of another red dragon besides Ruadh?”

“No.” His king laughed at that, ending in a fit of coughing. He regained his breath. “When I begged the god Dewi for you, I received three conditions. First, you would be the last of the red fire dragons. Second, you and I are forbidden from uttering your mother’s name with the exception of you being at the point of death with no way to survive. Trust me when I say you do not want to call that goddess to you even then. Third is for you to take care when visiting a hostile realm. You would not be as safe there as you would here or in your mother’s realm, which I hope you never visit.”

“I have no desire to create more conflict,” Daegan confirmed.

The king added, “You are safe in Treoir as that realm was created specifically for children of my blood. Jennyver thrives there as do the three babes she birthed from the match I arranged for her. If the need ever arises, you must enter that haven.”

Daegan had a moment of guilt over not agreeing to take Brynhild as his bride. Perhaps that would have protected his father’s lands and people from one enemy. Still, who would have thought any dragon would willingly become an enemy of the red dragon?

Had overconfidence put his family at risk and cost him a friend he considered family?

Clearing his throat, his da said, “Queen Maeve has always concerned me. The best I got from her prior to birthing Lesley was to agree that no child of mine would die by her hand in TÅμr Medb. That means you and Lesley are safe there, too.” Sounding older with each breath, his da said, “One more condition all dragon shifters must pay heed to is when you choose a mate, she must either be dragon-shifter born, as you are, or a direct descendant of a female dragon.”

Daegan’s heart squeezed at realizing his father’s words rung as if this would be their last meeting. He would not allow this man to die.

Trying to sound lighthearted, and failing, Daegan squeezed his father’s hand and smiled. “Choosin’ a mate is of little interest to me at the moment, Da. As for my enterin’ other realms, do not fash over it. I have no reason to enter any realms besides Treoir or TÅμr Medb where each goddess would not dare destroy an alliance that has stood for thirty years.”

His father’s eyelids fluttered shut.

Daegan did not want to leave him. He could not make himself release the grip he had on the hand that had raised him.

Struggling again to breathe, his da’s eyes opened. He turned his head to Daegan. “Once both of your sisters are safe, you must meet with King Eogan. I fear the ice dragons have not found a worthy mate for Brynhild and may hold us responsible.”

While Daegan appreciated the difficulty in finding a suitable mate for a female dragon shifter, this warring still made no sense. “Very well, I shall go to Lesley at once and bring her to ya if she shows little healin’. That should not require more than an hour, maybe two, before I go to King Eogan to demand answers. If Lesley’s health appears to be improvin’ quickly, I will allow Maeve to continue carin’ for her and send word to ya as I travel on to the ice dragon clan.”

Daegan would like a moment to see Jennyver, whose smile always held sunshine for any around her, but he could waste not one second. He would see his sister when he returned to his father’s side.

Standing, Daegan leaned down and kissed his king’s forehead, which felt too warm. He squeezed the clammy fingers again, hesitating to step away.

His father lifted a weak smile to him. “Go, my son. You are the only one I trust. I shall be here when you return.”

Daegan’s heart faltered at the possibility of never seeing his father alive again. He had to trust in their healers, but he stepped to a side table where an empty goblet had been placed next to a jug of wine. Calling up his sword with his power, Daegan sliced his arm and allowed two fingers of his dragon blood to run into the cup. He had never used his blood to heal anyone, but had heard of other dragon shifter families healing with their blood.

Then he smoothed a finger over the cut on his forearm, restoring the skin without a sign of the wound.

Carrying the goblet to his father, he placed it on a heavy wooden stand next to the bed. “If ya do not heal soon, I have left ya a small amount of my blood. Do your best to hold it inside.”

“I will try. Please save my daughter. Bheith sábháilte, mo mhac.”

Be safe, my son. How many times had his da sent him off with that farewell?

Not enough. Daegan needed to hear those words many more times in his life.

He shook off the worry planting his feet near the bed.

He had duties. The sooner he saw Lesley and determined the extent of her illness, the sooner he could meet with King Eogan. Daegan’s dragon would have no problem fending off more than one dragon, but to battle a family of five ice dragons might not be as simple to survive even for a dragon shifter born a demigod.

He waited for his father’s eyes to close again and his breathing to calm as to one asleep. Then he walked out into the hallway as a healer hurried up.

Daegan ordered, “I left blood. Make sure he takes it.”

He’d lost Fadil today.

That pain would live in his heart for a long time, but he would not lose his family.

Shifting into his dragon form would only raise Queen Maeve’s hackles.

Daegan teleported from the castle to a tall rock mound shooting up from the Irish Sea. Ship captains knew to avoid this area, which held more dangers than jagged rocks.

When he appeared on the rock pile rising as tall as the tower on his father’s castle and two strides wide in any direction, wind buffeted his body.

He shoved a foot behind to brace himself.

Raising his voice and pushing power into his words, he called out, “Queen Maeve, I wish to speak with ya.”

A disembodied voice belonging to Maeve replied, “Why do you call me, dragon?”

She had never addressed him properly, but he had more concern than her lack of decorum. 

“I come at King Gruffyn’s request. The king has informed me Lesley is ill. He said she was not healthy enough to visit when he asked for her.”

“What trick do you play? I took Lesley to your father while he waited on Macha to deliver Jennyver. He now complains when I paid heed and teleported her immediately?”

What could Daegan say to this?

Had his father been delirious? “Neither the king, nor I, play any trick,” Daegan explained. “I just left my father’s bedside. Perhaps he was not at his best and failed to recall your visit. Is Lesley sick or not?” Maybe his da had that part wrong as well.

“Your sister was the vision of health until she visited your father. Within minutes, she turned pale. Her knees buckled. To be honest, I do not recall if your father’s eyes were open during this as I stood back to allow them time alone. He appeared to be dying. I teleported her back to TÅμr Medb at that moment.”

Tightening his fingers into hard fists, Daegan held his anger at being told his father could be dying with the same importance of discussing a meal improperly prepared. “My father will heal. I wish to report the same to him regardin’ Lesley, but why would ya not leave her for our healers to attend while they were close by?”

Queen Maeve sounded appalled. “Why would I do such a thing when they appear to be failing your father? Do you not care for your sister to survive this strange illness?”

How dare this irritating goddess question his devotion to his family? He would die for every one of them. Nothing would cut him more than to lose even one family member.

Powering his voice against a wind that continued to grow stronger, Daegan shouted, “Of course, I wish for Lesley to be healed.” He didn’t trust Queen Maeve to care for Lesley. The goddess had power, but it carried too much darkness for him. He steeled himself to sound polite. “I ask ya to teleport Lesley into my open arms for me to take to the castle. My father will not rest until she is recovered. Our healers are making headway with my father and are ready to care for her.” He wished the part about his father had been true, but he would do whatever he could to save Lesley.

“Are you mad, dragon?” Queen Maeve shouted. “She is the only child I have of dragon blood. I will not risk her for your whims. I will not teleport her anywhere when her condition is weak.”

That left him only one choice. “Then I ask to see my sister so I may report to the king.” Daegan waited for an answer.

Maeve made a hissing sound that carried over the wind.

Waves crashed harder against his rock tower, splashing him. As if getting wet would deter him?

Sounding more resigned than welcoming, she said, “If I agree to allow you to enter TÅμr Medb to see your sister, what do you give me in exchange?”

What a soulless bitch.

But Daegan wanted to insure Lesley would survive so he could return to his father. If he convinced Queen Maeve to allow him entrance and Lesley did not appear to be healin’, he would teleport Lesley away and face the consequences later.

Lifting his voice above the roaring sea, he called out, “What would ya have me do in exchange to see my sick sister, Queen Maeve?”

Completely unbothered by his subtle accusation of her keeping a sick sibling from him, the queen replied, “I have not thought on it, but I do need a sword arm. Someone to lead my warlocks to avenge a wrong done to me.”

Daegan couldn’t believe she expected him to lead a group of vicious warlocks, but asking for details and arguing would take too long. He made up his mind right then he would teleport Lesley to his father’s castle and wait there for this dark queen to visit. “Very well, I will do this for you one time only, but I feel ‘tis unkind to ask such a favor.”

“You may enter,” Queen Maeve said, not addressing his complaint. “When you teleport in, do not forget this is myrealm and think to spout orders. I will not be pushed around or insulted by the king’s pet monster.”

Daegan thought about all the times he had dealt with Queen Maeve for his father. She had never shown any grace. Just a goddess with a nasty temperament, but that did not make her unique.

After noticing dark shadows under Lesley’s eyes last year, he’d asked his sister privately, “Do ya wish to return home?”

Lesley had been startled by his question and whispered with wariness, “Queen Maeve will never allow me to leave.”

Keeping his voice just as soft, he had told her, “I do not mean to tout myself, but I am no mere dragon. I have powers Queen Maeve would not dare test.”

“I do not wish for her to harm you, brother.”

“That will not happen. Ya must know I will do anything required of me to protect ya and Jennyver, should either of ya need me.”

Lesley had kissed his cheek then shook her head. “We all have a duty. This is mine, but I thank you for the offer.” That had been the last time he had seen her until now.

“What will it be, dragon?” Maeve bellowed over the churning water and wind.

“I accept your generous offer to allow me to teleport into your realm.” Those words had struggled to leave his throat. “I have no quarrel with ya, Queen Maeve, and have agreed to stand as your sword arm. Therefore, I will cause no trouble.”

“Very well. I will send you a vision as your destination.”

That was different.

The one time he’d visited this realm in the past, the queen had teleported him into the tower where he had been provided time to visit with his sister within the realm.

He had found no reason to complain back then.

But never had this queen provided a vision of her inner tower for teleporting on his own. He would hold that vision in his head should he ever need to return without an invitation once he withdrew Lesley from this realm.

Perhaps he should accept this olive branch and not display poor manners wrought by suspicion on his part, even if Queen Maeve had asked much for a visit.

In the next second, a swirling vision formed in front of his eyes of a bedchamber with his sister sleeping.

He called up his power and teleported into the realm.

Unlike the last time when the teleporting had been calm, spinning energy and power buffeted him much worse now than the wind and ocean. As the swirling finally ended, Ruadh growled in his mind. Bad smell. Leave.

Not now, Ruadh. My sister needs me. Daegan moved across the room, admitting silently that his dragon had a point. What was the awful smell? Burned limes?

The same smell as in his father’s bedroom?

Perhaps Queen Maeve had grounds for demanding Lesley remain here.

As he approached his sister sleeping beneath a fur in the black-wood bed, he took in her pale skin against hair the color of dark wine. Her sunken cheeks and thin arms had not happened in mere hours. She had lost weight since his last visit when she asked him to once more turn down the king’s proposal for a marital match. Was Lesley happy here?

Daegan leaned down to kiss her cheek.

His vision blurred.

He blinked hard and reached out for her hand.

Ruadh shouted in his mind. Stop!

But Daegan had already latched onto her hand.

A black fog burst around him in a thick cloud. He froze. His dragon shouted words, but they were muffled.

Everything slowed as if the world had become weary of moving. Daegan watched in horror as his sister’s eyelids opened and she turned to him.

White orbs stared back at him.

This was not Lesley.

He called upon his power to teleport out.

Nothing happened. His hands and arms refused to move. He struggled, but no  muscle obeyed his order. Even his mouth would not open.

His body suddenly yanked and twisted, sending him teleporting again. He landed on a hard floor in the middle of an area with poor lighting and dried blood splatters. Body parts of some unknown creatures lay along the edge of the round area, stinking. The walls were stone and sizzled with energy. Seventy feet up, a ceiling of smoky fog rolled around.

Only a fool would believe that an escape route.

Daegan tried again to bring the rock tower in the sea to mind and teleport away from this realm. Still nothing happened.

His gut twisted and churned.

Why would Queen Maeve do this? His jaws worked now. He roared, “I came in peace. Ya risk your pact with the king.”

No one answered.

Ruadh’s voice returned, now clear. I smell death everywhere.

I am sorry, Ruadh, but we will find a way to freedom, Daegan assured him in spite of worry sitting heavy as a cold stone in his chest.

Energy pushed at him when another being teleported in. He wished for it to be Maeve. She would face his fury.

Not a goddess. A large wyvern appeared. The dull-gray beast before him resembled a dragon but with two legs. This miserable creature could not defeat Ruadh.

Daegan had no choice but to call up his dragon. When Ruadh burst forth, he stood tall with bloodred wings outstretched and roared a furious sound that shook the stone floor beneath them.

Had the queen done all this just to watch his dragon fight a wyvern?

She should pay close attention.

It would be a brief battle.

The wyvern dropped down to launch itself at Ruadh.

Daegan’s dragon shot his head forward quickly, biting the wyvern’s neck to snap off its head.

Black fog boiled from the headless beast engulfing the red dragon in a muddy cloud of putrid smelling energy. A trap! 

His dragon roared, Teleport now!

Daegan called upon all his power to break free, but he still could not. Neither could he speak a word. He’d never tried to teleport in dragon form, never had a reason to do so, but the action should have worked.

Voices filled the fighting ring, circling him and repeating the incantations.

His vision blurred. His body no longer belonged to him, refusing to task a muscle.

But through the haze, he saw Queen Maeve in a sparkling black gown, floating around his dragon body, chanting nonstop.

He would kill her and take Lesley home. The queen had breached the agreement.

Daegan called up his power, pushing hard to shift back to his human form. He remained in the same spot, still in dragon form.

He fought the urge to panic. He had to stay calm and get out of this any way he could and take his sister with him. A witch could not bind him this way, but he had never been tested by a goddess witch of dark powers.

That sickening burnt lime smell filled his head.

Black majik had to be at work.

Time slowed and sped up as his body warped in and out of shape as if pulled one moment and hammered the next. Pain unlike any he’d ever suffered flooded his muscles, burned his skin, and filled his throat.

If she returned him to human form, he might still teleport out.

He would never forget the words of the incantation she repeated over and over. He would use them to reverse whatever she hoped to gain.

His eyes rolled up into his head.

When he next came awake, he could move no part of his body. He couldn’t speak. Everything about him felt wrong. He could barely turn his head.

Not his head.

His dragon’s head.

He lowered his gaze. Horror flooded his mind. He couldn’t believe what she’d done to him. This could not be real.

Queen Maeve had turned his dragon body into a throne with a seat and square arms, all covered in red scales.

His mind fought the vision, refusing to accept what his eyes saw. He called telepathically to his dragon, Ruadh, can you hear me?

A rough moan came through, breaking his heart. What had she done to his dragon?

The queen appeared in the air before him, floating down until her bare feet touched the ground. She laughed and laughed, finding it more amusing every time she looked at him.

He could only imagine the king’s ransom she would demand for his return.

She finally gained enough control of herself to speak. She leaned in, placing those wicked fingers on him, so close he could see every black eyelash and the hate glittering in her evil eyes. She whispered, “You, the mighty red dragon, feared by all, dared to think you could kill me?”

I never threatened such a thing. The words stayed in his head, unable to be uttered.

She cocked her head and her smile tightened. “You question my words? You rush here at the king’s bidding, so sure you could enter my domain and do as you please. I know you tried to take Lesley from me upon your last visit. Stupid lizard. No one will ever take her. Dragons wait in line to take over your father’s kingdom. He does not have long to live. Not like me. Lesley will now be able to fulfill her destiny and you will never know how all this ends. Your father’s pet monster now helpless to save anyone.”

Damn you, witch, Daegan shouted in his head. My father kept his bargain.

He had never considered calling his mother’s name, but he would risk even that to escape this realm. He struggled to open his dragon jaws. They barely moved and only a puff of smoke came out when he tried to speak.

Queen Maeve dropped her head back and howled with laughter then faced him again. “You will not sleep. You will not speak. You will never be able to tell anyone what happened here even if you could speak. You will remain my throne for eternity.”

Daegan screamed in his head. “Noooo!”

 

 

Present day Atlanta, GA

A female reporter walked up with her cameraman following ten steps behind. “Excuse me, I’m Lydia Stone with Atlanta New Millennium News. I’d like to ask you about the recent paranormal activity rumored to be going on in Atlanta. Do you believe preternatural beings exist?” She smiled as if to let him know she found the mere idea amusing.

He glanced around at Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta then touched the tie at his neck, careful to maintain the look of a legitimate businessman before answering. “I don’t wish to comment.”

She had a tenacious attitude. “So you don’t feel threatened walking around Atlanta at night when these scary creatures are supposed to be out?”

“No, I assure you I am safe at night.” As a warlock who answered to Queen Maeve, he feared little and continued toward the meet point for local members of his coven.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Renata Sanchez paused her step at the odd silence that caught her attention as quickly as someone shouting. A city such as Atlanta had a heartbeat and pulse almost like that of a human. This city was known for many things, quiet not being one, not even in the shadows along the old railroad tracks below street level, the original Underground Atlanta.

Having traveled here from Brazil to aid her Belador counterparts, she’d been assigned a local partner for this patrol in temperatures dropping only to the sixties at night in June. Probably cool due to the scattered showers across the city.

“Do you notice the quiet that just happened?” she asked Devon, who had stopped walking. As a Belador teamed up with her because he knew the city, Devon had proudly stated he was a Cajun from Louisiana. His sexy accent backed up those words. Good thing she loved her Roberto, who had just as wonderful a Latino accent. Devon and Roberto shared similar qualities, both tall with nut-brown skin and deep brown eyes, great smiles and just plain nice.

But Roberto was the only man for her. She hoped to gain the dragon king’s permission to mate with a human.

“I did notice the quiet.” Devon glanced around. “But I’m not pickin’ up any supernatural presence nearby. What about you?”

“No.” As she spoke that one word, the sounds of life in the city returned. She glanced over to find Devon frowning. “That is not normal?”

“Not that I know of, but hey, what’s the definition of normal in our world?” He scratched his chin. “I’m thinking on calling that into Trey, just don’t know what I’d say. Everything got quiet, then noisy again?”

She’d been told that as the most powerful Belador telepathic in the southeast, and maybe in this entire country, Trey McCree coordinated their teams patrolling the city. “I must admit that does not sound significant without anything else happening.”

“Tell you what. Let’s see if it happens again. Right now, we just need to keep an eye out for any demons or other supernatural threat showing up, and keep humans from seeing those things.”

“You mean like the Medb,” she muttered, amazed that VIPER, a coalition of supernatural beings who protected humans from preternatural threats, had allowed Queen Maeve to send witches and warlocks into the human realm recently.

From what Renata had heard, the invasion had been for a short time, but some bad decisions are not easily reversed.

She could understand the friction between local Beladors and VIPER these days. They reached the corner of Turner Drive where they could turn left to walk in front of a large entertainment arena or take a right toward the center of the city. “Which way, Devon?”

He shrugged. “Let’s hang a left then take the next right. That’ll bring us to the World Congress Center then back to Centennial Olympic Park. We have another team working from that area to Baker Street. We’ll check to see if they’ve noticed anything strange like a sudden silence.”

“Good idea. I will follow you.” She fell into step with him. “Do you think humans will learn of us even with all the effort Beladors are putting into shielding the presence of supernatural beings?”

Devon ran a hand over his short hair. “I would have said no at one time, but we think someone, a nonhuman, is behind trying to out us. A few weeks back, one of our females riding a motorcycle through the city was intentionally wrecked along with a witch who’s an ally. Nasty wreck. They kidnapped the motorcycle rider. Of course, some humans were around that time of night with phones and filmed it. That started the first signs of our secret identities unraveling. But someone from our community had been there, ready for prime time video.”

Standing five-foot-eight, Renata had no trouble keeping up with Devon’s long strides. She had hoped the rumors about being outed had been blown out of proportion, but evidently not. “Do you mind if I ask if you’re married, Devon?”

“Nope.” He laughed. “I’m not. You hittin’ on me?”

“No.” She realized how that sounded and laughed, then quickly explained, “While you are attractive, I am spoken for.”

“Just cuttin’ up with you.” He gave her a friendly smile. “Congratulations. Is it just dating or more?”

“Maybe.”

His smile faltered. “Why do you say maybe?”

She debated on saying anything, but she had yet to meet any married Beladors back home mainly because she lived out in the country where there was little need for those with her powers.  “I have been in this relationship for two years and he has asked me to marry him.”

“Well, damn.” Devon grinned. “That’s serious enough.”

She killed demons and other strange predators on her own when she did run into them, but having Devon excited about her engagement made her blush.

He eyed her hand. “Where’s your ring, woman?”

“I don’t want to wear it until I find out if ... it will be approved.”

Tossing a serious look her way, Devon nodded. “I get it. Your fiancé is human, right?”

“Yes. I would have traveled here just to help out my Belador family anyhow, but I jumped at the chance to come so I could ask the dragon king for permission. I have told Roberto nothing, because we are to not tell humans about what we are unless they are family or a spouse.”

Devon lifted a finger. “The dragon king’s name is Daegan, and I can’t see him denying you that opportunity. We have quite a few marriages with humans here. The only thing is he will warn you that now is a dangerous time to bring humans into our world.”

“I know this. I feel confident I can keep Roberto safe. We live so far from the city. I have only had to face two trolls and a demon in the past three years. Roberto had no idea when I fought them, but he was never in danger.” She considered Devon’s words and admitted, “I do not know if I can call our dragon king by his given name.”

Devon shook his head and chuckled.

She gave him a wry smile. She’d just turned twenty-five and felt a little intimidated at the idea of meeting a dragon shifter even if he was on the side of Beladors. More like ruling the Beladors, but things had improved greatly since he kicked Macha out of Treoir realm. Just the fact that he had done so spoke volumes about his power.

“Don’t worry.” Devon waved his hand to dismiss her concerns. “He’s a good guy, the best. He’ll do anything to protect us and he’s down to earth.” 

“I have heard the story of his rescue from TÅμr Medb. It is hard not be a fangirl over our dragon king.” She smiled at Devon.

That made Devon laugh even more.

She enjoyed the Cajun. He was the first Belador from Louisiana she’d ever met.

They had just walked across a highway bridge, which ran in front of the gigantic event arena. This walkway and drive spanned the old railroad tracks below.

Silence once more dropped over her like an invisible shroud.

Devon stopped as abruptly as she had. He held up a finger and whispered, “Stay here.”

Then he walked over to a set of steps going down to a parking deck perched to the side of the tracks. He stood on the second step, looking all around.

All at once, normal sounds of rats scurrying along the gutters and automobile engines droning returned.

Even the air seemed to move again.

Her skin prickled at the odd sensation.

Devon bent over the stairway rail to look down.

She called out telepathically, Anything unusual going on, Devon?

Not sure, came back. He turned his head to look her way then returned to whatever had drawn his attention. He added, But this is enough for me to contact Trey.

Hair raised on her arms. Even so, she never ran from anything and said, Want to go down and take a closer look?

As soon as she said that, he backed away and turned toward her. He called out, Get out of ...

His body was yanked backwards over the rail and out of sight. 

Using her Belador power, she rushed over there in seconds, but couldn’t hear or see Devon. No humans were around her.  She leaped off the steps to drop sixty feet and land next to the tracks.

Devon! she shouted to him mind-to-mind.

Nothing came back.

She opened her mind to call Trey.

Without a sound of warning, a hand grabbed her arm. Claws pierced her skin.

She swung the other arm around to hit whatever it was with her kinetic power. Her hand slapped energy. Not a body.

And she had no kinetics.

The hand on her arm disappeared.

She called out to Trey, Devon was ...

A cold sensation covered her as if someone had dumped ice water over her body. She shouted over and over telepathically, calling for anyone who could hear her, but her muffled words bounced around in her head.  

No one called back to her.

A male figure two feet taller than her appeared as if it formed from mist in the air and glowed yellow. The face that formed had empty holes for eyes and a black maw full of needle-sharp teeth.

Torn and ragged, a translucent robe hanging on the body.

Renata tried to run. She couldn’t move, no matter how much power she called up. She tried shifting into Belador battle form with thicker muscles and a head twice her normal size.

Nothing changed in her body.

She couldn’t open her mouth, couldn’t push words out, but heard them in her head when she shouted, What are you?

He latched translucent fingers around her wrist. Searing pain rushed up her arm. She trembled, her body shaking with shock. Tears sprung from her eyes. She silently pleaded for help. Anything to stop this abomination from whatever he was doing to her. 

Then he shoved his other hand straight into her chest.

 

Chapter 2

 

Daegan! Need you in Piedmont Park.

Hearing his second-in-command call out telepathically, Daegan considered the Medb warlock he’d caught skulking around the east side of downtown Atlanta on a rainy night. He tossed the limp body aside.

It landed in a mud puddle near Vladimir Quinn, Maistir over the North American Beladors.

Daegan wiped water from his eyes. “Tristan called for my aid.”

“No worries. I’ve got this, Daegan.” Quinn had dressed as one of the businessmen of this era for an earlier meeting before being requested to lend a hand tonight. He hadn’t hesitated to come immediately, showing no concern for the drizzle that soaked his suit and flattened his blond hair against his head. Under that civilized exterior beat the heart of a confident Belador warrior capable of battling preternatural beings.

In addition to kinetics and telepathy, Quinn had the unusual gift to mind lock with a supernatural being or human as well, though he avoided using it except in dire situations.

Quinn noted, “I’ll interrogate the warlock once he regains consciousness to find out if he’s hunting humans for Queen Maeve. Then I’ll call Sen to pick him up for VIPER.”

Daegan glanced around to insure no humans observed them at close to ten at night where they stood knee-deep in weeds behind a school no longer in use. Trash had been dumped back here, including a couch, and thick vines climbed the crumbling building.

With a short nod at Quinn, Daegan teleported just north of the city.

When he appeared in Piedmont Park, everything came into focus around the copse of trees where he stood within dark shadows. He’d used this access point for teleporting to the park in the past to prevent humans seeing him appear out of thin air.

That would send humans screaming. 

Especially those with phones that filmed videos and snapped photos. In today’s world, everyone had those damned things.

Tristan had explained they were called devices.

Strange words on Daegan’s tongue.

If not for the ability to manipulate the images and, thereby diluting the authenticity of the photograph, humans would have figured out that supernatural beings existed by now.

He and his Beladors were doing their best to shield humans from realizing preternaturals lived among them. Some of the Beladors possessed excellent computer skills to combat the problem at the source, an evil thing called an Internet.

These humans were fortunate Beladors had continued to thrive through the ages while remaining hidden among their population. Some nonhumans were predators, but his Beladors were honorable. They’d lived peacefully, protecting humans for all these centuries while he’d been ... gone.

Rain pelted the trees and fell in a steady drizzle down Daegan’s face and the back of his neck.

Looking around, Daegan saw a handful of humans jogging alone and some walking dogs, but no Tristan.

Daegan called telepathically. Tristan, I am at the south end of the park where we normally enter. What is the problem?

Tristan’s reply came back quickly. Great. I’m close to ... umph, the foot bridge. North end. Tristan paused, sounding out of breath. I could use your... His voice cut off sharply.

Then a woman screamed, the sound coming from the same direction as Tristan’s location.

Using the cover of darkness to hide his speed, Daegan wove in and out of deep shadows to reach the footbridge in seconds.

Standing in a barely lit area far from the road bordering one side of the park, Tristan held a sobbing woman draped over one arm as he slapped kinetic hits at a troll losing its human-like glamour, plus a demon not trying to hide its horns or the tail dragging behind. 

Daegan stormed forward to take on the demon, which would normally be the greater threat.

Trolls were difficult, but as an unusual Alterant Belador able to shift into a gryphon, Tristan had plenty of power.

The demon whipped its dirt-brown head around at Daegan. A wide red mouth opened to expose long fangs. Thick black outlined the rabid yellow eyes. It growled a warning.

Daegan replied with a punch of power. He drove the demon thirty feet back to slam against an old oak tree.

Tristan called over, “Careful, boss. Locals are watching. Whoa!” The troll tried to slide under Tristan’s kinetic wall. He got his hand stomped on for that and mud splattered in his face.

Twisting around, Daegan realized five humans stood way over on the opposite side of Tenth Street from the park, maybe a hundred feet away.

All of them had their damned phones out.

Daegan wished for a downpour, but the rain had slowed to a sprinkle.

But Tristan had said the quality of images taken at night would not be recognizable unless those phones were brought closer. The female Tristan held away from the troll no longer screamed as her limp body sagged, clothes and hair soaked.

Daegan tossed him a quick look of question.

Wearing glasses with dark lenses to hide his glowing green eyes, Tristan shrugged. “She passed out. Probably best for now.”

Growling at Tristan like a crazed animal, the troll scooted back. “That’s mine.”

Tristan kept his voice down. “Not helping your case, troll.” 

Daegan started to reach for the troll when loud footsteps splashed, coming up from behind. He spun around and shoved an arm up, but not before the demonic creature latched razor-sharp teeth on his arm and clawed his chest.

That stung like being hit by a giant wasp. 

His dragon grumbled, but they could tolerate demon saliva.

Daegan pounded a fist on the demon’s head, busting one horn off. That unlocked its jaws, but then it squealed a high-pitched cry. Shouting started up from the humans across the street. This demon had to go.

Calling mind-to-mind, Daegan told Quinn, This is Daegan. Do you have a place for a demon?

If he’s contained, yes. Send him.

The demon snarled and leaped at Daegan again. He grabbed the four-toed monstrosity by its throat and shoved a hard blast of energy into its body. The demon went rigid and its back arched. The crazed eyes bulged out and teeth clacked when the mouth shut.

That looked contained to Daegan.

With his back to the street and the human attention on Tristan battling the troll, Daegan laid the demon on the ground then teleported him.

“You’re gettin’ tired, Hollywood? You’ll be dinner, too,” the troll shouted.

Daegan swung around, glanced at the insane humans now crossing the road to enter the park. He told Tristan, “I shall handle this nuisance.”

“All yours, boss.” Tristan dropped the hand he’d been using to flick kinetic hits and backed away.

Before the troll could jump on Tristan, Daegan latched a hand on its shoulder and jerked the troll around.

Fool tried to bite him.

Daegan had lost all patience with being bitten.

He grabbed the troll by the throat, surprised the troll’s lower half still appeared human in dirty gray work pants. Must be getting tired trying to hold a glamour. From the chest up, coarse black hair hung six inches long, plastered against the wet leathery green skin. A horn protruded from the back of his boxy head, bright yellow eyes full of murder bulged, and thick pointy ears to go with all that. Slobber dripped from a mouth filled with jagged fangs. Two large ones jutted up from the troll’s lower jaw. 

Lifting the snarling being to eye level, Daegan said, “Are you a local troll or have you come from afar?”

The idiot raked sharp claws across Daegan’s arms, growling the whole time.

“Boss, we got company coming.”

Angling away from Tristan so the humans only saw his back, Daegan clenched his fingers tighter, surprising the troll by his ability to even hold the creature’s heavy weight one-handed.

Then Daegan called up his dragon just enough to turn his eyes reptilian with a bright silver glow. He ordered in a deep voice, “Look at me.”

The troll’s gaze lifted and lost its glow. Dull eyes now the color of a rotting banana peel focused on Daegan’s face. The troll’s mouth dropped open. He made a guttural sound that could be, “Dragon?

Close enough.

Nodding, Daegan kept his voice low. “You have one chance to live. Tell me who sent ya.”

Indecision flittered in the troll’s gaze.

Disgusted, Daegan tightened his fingers again. The next time he did it, he’d break bones even as thick as these. 

He could hear the humans now, chattering excitedly as they crept closer.

They clearly hadn’t come running to save a woman, but they’d put their foolish lives at risk to record what Tristan had explained as a video worthy of going viral.

On an invisible Internet.  

Rough throat noises dragged Daegan’s attention back to the troll with its mouth opened like a fish sucking in air.

Daegan loosened his grip and whispered, “If you lie to me, I will take you to my realm and let my dragon burn you alive.”

“No.” The troll gulped and swallowed hard. “No one sent me. Came for the gold.”

That was new. “Who offered gold?”

“No name. It’s on the darknet. Said if we loaded an original film proving preternaturals exist, gold would be delivered.”

A darknet? This world might have worse things than trolls.

Tristan stepped close, telling Daegan telepathically, I’ll explain the darknet later, but it’s part of the Internet.

Daegan sighed. Life had been simpler two thousand years ago without phones, Internet, and the need to hide his true identity.

Keeping his voice soft, Tristan asked the troll, “Where was the gold to be delivered?”

Shooting a death glare at Tristan, the troll grouched, “Don’t know. Didn’t get to find out.”

“What’s that thing?” a human called out from behind.

Daegan looked over his shoulder to find the pack of humans had made it much closer. One male with curly black hair stepped forward ahead of the others.

“Fuck,” Tristan muttered then swung around to them with a hand up. “Hey, no filming. We’ve got this under control.”

One of the two girls in the group warned, “Don’t get any closer, Lonnie.”

“Hush,” Lonnie shot back. “This video is gonna have a million hits.” Out of the six people approaching, this mid-twenties male in jeans and a rain slicker appeared to be their leader. They must have had little to choose from to pick that one.

Tristan told Daegan silently, We need to prove he’s not a troll.

Daegan replied the same way, Can you do that?

If you keep a grip on the troll and hold the woman, I can handle this.

Daegan held his free arm out.

Tristan slid her body off his arm and onto Daegan’s, then he turned to face the humans.

Having paused ten feet from Tristan, Lonnie took another tentative step closer, appearing confident even though his hand trembled. “Is that thing, uh, dangerous?”

“Him? Hell, no.” Tristan made a pfft sound at the possibility. “This fool loves to dress up like a troll and scare people. He’s off his meds. We’re here to take him back to the facility. Please stop filming. His family is embarrassed enough.”

Pausing in stride, Lonnie complained, “Aw, shit. I thought he was one of those weird things running around the city.”

“What weird things?” Tristan asked, sounding sincerely curious when he knew exactly what the humans hunted.

“You know, supernatural beings.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Tristan scoffed, making it sound as if Lonnie was an idiot. “Did you really buy into all that crap?”

Daegan admired Tristan’s relaxed manner and ability to blend in as a human with his wheat-colored hair cut in a modern short style, plus his usual worn-looking blue jeans and a gray T-shirt, all of which the rain had drenched.

When Lonnie started mumbling, “I can still make this work,” Tristan inched toward him.

“If you want weird, you should all be at UnveilCon in Buckhead,” Tristan said, still making small deliberate movements hidden by his shifting stance.

Lonnie foolishly continued forward, still holding the camera up.  When the human stepped close enough, Tristan snatched the phone from Lonnie’s hands and tapped on it quickly. Then he handed the device back in a matter of seconds.

Lonnie whined, “What’d you do?”

Tristan shrugged, “Sorry, man, but I get paid a lot of money to run security for the family. This can’t make the news.”

The human stared at his phone as if his favorite toy had been broken. “You wiped out my freaking video, you asshole. That would have gone viral even if he isn’t a troll.”

“Exactly,” Tristan agreed. Pushing power into his voice, he added, “Now get out of here before I make you regret owning that phone.”

The troll started kicking his feet. Daegan gave his body a shake and his captive settled down again.

Fear finally showed up in Lonnie’s eyes.

He backed away. When he turned to the others, they had all left him, running back across Tenth Street.

Daegan had his doubts about that one reaching old age, maybe not even next week.

Once they scattered, Tristan turned back to Daegan with a grin.

Daegan arched an eyebrow and cast a look at the woman on his shoulder.

Smile wiped away, Tristan stepped over to take her. “Sorry, boss. What are we doing with the troll?”

“Hey, you two, stop scaring off the locals,” a female voice called.

“Dammit.” Tristan wheeled around, ready to face the next problem, which turned out not to be one.

Evalle Kincaid, an Alterant Belador like Tristan, who could also shift into a gryphon, came striding up, laughing with each step. She’d pulled her long black-brown hair into a ponytail and didn’t seem to care one bit about water running off the bill of her cap. She never wore makeup, which Daegan found pleasing. He could see no reason for painting her face and preferred that natural look.

Tonight was like any other for her clothing choice. She had on the same black jeans, boots, and a sand-colored, short-sleeved shirt that had been around a long time. She’d explained once that she loved shirts she called vintage BDUs, short for Battle Dress Uniform.

The humans wouldn’t understand the dark sunglasses she also wore rain, shine, daytime, or at night, because they protected her sensitive eyes the color of a baby green lizard. Tristan’s eyes didn’t have that sensitivity, but they were just as bright an Alterant green as Evalle’s.

In spite of the irritating issues in Atlanta, Daegan returned Evalle’s smile. “’Tis good to see you back. You look well. Congratulations on completing your bond with Storm.”

“Thanks. I am not just well, but ready to kick ass.” She took in the troll, then the unconscious woman. “I’m sure there’s a good story behind all this. What is it?”

“Hey. Did you forget I’m ... ” The troll’s words died in his throat when Daegan squeezed out of reflex. Claws swung at his arms again. With a flip of his wrist, Daegan spun the troll in the air and caught it by the neck again. At least now that hideous face and sharp claws were turned away.

Daegan warned in a low voice, “If you say another word, I’m not only handing you over to my dragon, but I shall allow him to keep you as a toy before he eats you. Understood?”

A wobbly nod answered him.

Inside Daegan, Ruadh vibrated with a sarcastic rumble then said, Too stupid for toy. Too small for food.

Daegan agreed.

Tristan suggested, “Let’s deal with the troll and this woman, then I’ll explain everything to Evalle. We’ve probably gotten as much as we can from the troll. So, what do you want to do, boss?”

“Call Sen. He can pick up the troll plus wipe the woman’s memory for the past hour.”

Tristan and Evalle groaned at the same time.

Narrowing his eyes, Daegan asked, “Or would you two prefer to deliver the troll to Sen?”

“Hell, no,” Tristan said, taking a step back with his hands up.

“Nope, nope, nope.” Evalle waved off that idea.

Sen could normally be found at VIPER headquarters located inside a mountain in North Georgia. As the liaison between Beladors and the coalition, Sen tested Daegan’s patience at every turn.

Daegan called out telepathically, Sen, I request your presence at Piedmont Park.

I’m busy, came right back.

Ignoring Sen’s belligerent reply, Daegan made it simple. Very well, I shall handle this problem myself.

The Tribunal, composed of a mix of three gods or goddesses at any given time, stood as the supreme power over the coalition. Sen acted as their enforcer, no matter what they ordered. Daegan had proven to be a thorn in all their sides after the Beladors freed him from the TÅμr Medb realm where his dragon had been trapped in the shape of a throne.

No one expected him to leave TÅμr Medb alive, least of all Queen Maeve.

He and his dragon had survived two thousand years of imprisonment and torture.

Never again.

Looking around first to determine no humans were nearby, Daegan told the troll, “I suggest you behave when you arrive at your next destination. I am sending you to someone who is not as understanding as I.”

The troll shook his head. “You can’t ... ”

Daegan teleported him to VIPER headquarters.

Tristan frowned. “I thought you were calling Sen here.”

“I did request his presence, but Sen refused to comply. I sent the troll to him instead.” Daegan crossed his arms, waiting.

Evalle took a few steps back.

Cocking his head at her, Tristan asked, “What are you doing?”

“Standing where I can watch the apocalypse about to unfold without getting my hair singed.”

Daegan snorted at her.

Power flushed hard all around them.

Sen appeared. He stood six feet four and clearly boosted his muscle mass for intimidation, stretching the black material of his T-shirt. His hair never seemed to remain the same in length or color. Today it was a dirty-blond color worn short above a face with Asian influence and odd blue eyes.

As his usual surly self, the VIPER liaison glowered at everyone before turning that hateful gaze on Daegan.

A wasted effort. Daegan had fought and defeated far greater than him.

Daegan locked gazes with the glaring demigod. “You risked exposing teleportation to a human, Sen.”  

“You’re the one who called me, dragon.” Sen leaned hard on the word dragon as if using it as a slur then slashed a look at Evalle. “You have a lackey whose time is not as valuable as mine.”

Sen had an unnatural hatred for Evalle no one had figured out from what Daegan’s Belador advisors had shared. He could overlook the VIPER liaison’s shortcomings as long as Sen crossed no line.

Far from a lackey, Evalle had proven herself time and again. She knew her significance to Daegan and the Beladors.

She crossed her arms and tilted her head, giving Sen an amused look. “We understand. Sen probably had something dirty to wash out in the sink. His mouth. His mind. Lots of laundry possibilities for someone whose resume has one line. VIPER errand boy.”

Slicing a death look her way, Sen sneered, “One of these days, Alterant.”

She said nothing, merely staring him down.

Sen ordered, “Stop dropping your trash at the front door of VIPER.”

“I have an agreement with VIPER,” Daegan replied in a deep voice that rumbled with his dragon’s power. “My people patrol and clean up the city wherever possible. If we capture a nonhuman being, we send it to you to discipline according to Tribunal rules. We all have a responsibility, Sen. Assisting in cleanup and managing anything we send to VIPER is yours.”

“Hey, don’t forget about wiping the last hour of this woman’s mind,” Tristan added. 

Daegan nodded in Sen’s direction. “He’s right.”

If Sen could look any more furious, he did right then. He slashed a hand over the limp body hanging on Tristan’s arm. Drenched and pale, the woman jerked as if the power had hit her too hard.

Sen said, “Done. Now, let’s be clear. I am not at your beck and call.”

Tristan scoffed, “Just what is your problem besides that corncob up your ass?”

Sen whipped sideways, slapping a hit of energy at Tristan.

Tristan jerked to the left and shoved a kinetic hit at the ground to keep from falling on top of the woman sliding from his arms.

Evalle jerked her hands up to defend Tristan.

Sen spun toward her with a vicious look of glee at the chance he’d been waiting for. 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Rage burst through Daegan. Ruadh roared to be set free.

Moving faster than a thought, Daegan flashed between Sen and Evalle. That this bastard would dare to harm her. His voice dropped into an inhuman level. “I have allowed you time to realize this is not a game to me, Sen. Strike out at another of mine and there will be no mercy.”

Sen chuckled. “What’re you going to do, dragon? Piss off three Tribunal entities when you have to explain putting a scratch on me?”

Daegan came right back at him, pushing energy out in a blast.

Sen fell back on his ass and snarled, jumping to his feet.

Not giving Sen a chance to speak, Daegan warned in the deep voice of his dragon, “I don’t give a bloody damn what anyone thinks when it comes to my people. This is your last warning. Touch one of mine again and the Tribunal will be in need of a new liaison.”

Some of the cockiness slid away, but not enough for Sen to appear contrite. He would never go that far. Not sounding as confident, Sen still curled up his lip. “The Tribunal doesn’t have time to indulge the riffraff you waste my energy on. Consider this my last warning. I’m killing everything you send to me that I don’t feel is worth bothering the Tribunal over. They’ll thank me.” Then he vanished.

Tristan shook his head as he shoved his body up to stand and lifted the woman back into his arms. He muttered, “That piece of shit packs a punch.”

Daegan stared at the empty spot Sen left. Years spent replaying his father and sisters’ death had stolen pieces of his humanity. This world had no idea to what lengths he would go to protect what belonged to him. Ruadh rumbled steadily, still ready to battle, but helping Daegan clear the red haze of fury. 

“Did he injure you, Tristan?” Daegan asked.

Running a free hand through his tawny-colored hair, Tristan dismissed it. “No big deal. I’ve taken worse hits.”

Having been rescued from TÅμr Medb only recently, Daegan knew little of Tristan’s full history. He’d met the young man for the first time when Tristan joined a Belador team that went rogue to rescue Daegan.

What had Tristan been through to brush off a powerful strike?

“What are you going to do with her?” Evalle nodded in the limp woman’s direction.

Tristan held up a hand, indicating he conversed with someone telepathically. When he lowered his hand, he said, “I made a call to one of our Beladors on the police force. He’s sending someone who’s close by. They’ll take her home.”

“Well done,” Daegan told him.

“Let’s walk toward Tenth Street to meet him.” Tristan took the lead, heading that way. As he walked, he explained to Evalle how the troll had been intentionally trying to film a video for uploading to the darknet, which was the only reason he hadn’t dragged the woman off somewhere for a meal.

Evalle’s face twisted into disbelief. “How’d the troll plan to make the video if he was starring in it? I didn’t see a tripod.” 

“Humans were across the street using their phones when I got here. He probably planned to take one of their devices once they moved in for a better shot, which they did. Idiots. I dealt with the only one who had a close-up video.” Tristan increased his pace as a police vehicle appeared coming down the street. He met the officer on the sidewalk. They talked a moment, then the officer put the woman in the backseat of his cruiser and left.

That had to be one of their Beladors working secretly with the human law enforcement.

Daegan appreciated Tristan’s expertise when it came to managing so many human situations. Just one of the many reasons he’d made Tristan his Rì Dtùs, an ancient title for his second-in-command. His entire council was priceless when it came to navigating both the preternatural world and the human realm.

Jogging back to them, Tristan said, “One problem down, but now for the bigger one I called you about, boss.”

That surprised Daegan. “What is it?” 

“You know I have a human friend who has her ear to the ground on preternatural activity in the city, right?”

“Would that be your girlfriend?” Evalle interjected with an arch of her eyebrow. “The one who works for Jacob Kossman, who hunts for supernaturals?”

Tristan shot Evalle an annoyed glance. “Yes. But that’s not the point. Her boss is an ally, or would be if we could tell him we really exist. Anyhow, she said someone is going to prove supernatural beings exist and in a way no one can deny it, which will involve the Beladors.”

All humor fled Evalle’s face. “What does she think is going to happen?”

“She doesn’t think, she knows.” Tristan looked all around them, and kept his voice low as he explained, “She said a message was delivered anonymously to every major news outlet in the metro area in the past hour. Someone intends to prove supernatural beings are here and specifically used the term Belador. They said Beladors were dangerous supernaturals and this person claimed the humans would get to see how a professional rids the world of them. We don’t know which of ours they’re targeting, but this person claims that the Belador will suffer before dying if their leader doesn’t show his true self first. They are taunting you to show your dragon.”

Fury boiled Daegan’s blood. “No human can be behind this. It’s one of our kind. Have none of them learned that anyone who harms one of mine will die a painful death?” What would it take to stop his enemies?

Evalle turned deadly serious. “We have to stop this, but you can’t show your dragon, Daegan. This could be a trap just to get you out in the open where your dragon would be killed.”

Daegan’s voice dropped to a deep, gritty sound. “Who dares to think they can kill my red dragon?”

“Uhm, boss,” Tristan said in a calming voice. “Chill for a minute, okay?”

Evalle kept quiet, watching both of them.

Daegan pushed his dragon back down from the edge of shifting. He was tired of his people being attacked. A bounty hunter had kidnapped Evalle three weeks ago after crashing her body and motorcycle into a wall. Then he’d imprisoned her in Scamall realm and shoved Noirre majik in her body, preventing her from healing from daily torture in a desperate attempt to gain immortality from the goddess Macha.

Evalle had barely escaped with her life.

That realm no longer existed after Daegan teleported his people home to his Treoir realm just as Scamall imploded. Seeing what had been done to Evalle disturbed him on a deep level.

Every night since then, what Evalle suffered reminded him of losing his sisters and father. At least he’d been able to save her.

He hadn’t been present to protect his own family.

Evalle had healed with the help of her Skinwalker mate, Storm.

That reminded Daegan to ask, “Is Storm around tonight?”

“Not unless we need him. He’s trying to be good and not hover while I get back to work.” She allowed a quick grin. “It’s making him nuts. Just say the word and I’ll call him if you need him.”

“Not yet, but having dealt with the troll reminded me we may have need of Storm’s ability to detect lies at some point.” Daegan had witnessed Storm’s gift first-hand while searching for Evalle. “We have to narrow down where this threat is originating.”

Tristan had continued to scan the area. “Let’s head for our teleporting spot. I’ve got a troll friend who lives in a hotel on Peachtree Street. He might have information. I can pop in there and no one will see me.”

“Are you our new troll whisperer?” Evalle quipped, waving him ahead to lead the way.

“Very funny. Whoever is behind this probably has a larger goal than just harming, or killing, a Belador.” Tristan leaned past Evalle to address Daegan. “We have plenty of preternatural enemies, and most of them want to kill you, boss. No telling what the bounty is on your head from your favorite pair of homicidal goddesses.”

Daegan would be surprised to find either Queen Maeve or Macha behind this. They were malicious enough to do worse, but he’d proven once already to be a dangerous opponent.

Evalle jumped in, strategizing. “First thing we need to do is get a head count of all the Beladors in the metro area, especially with the new influx of warriors I heard you brought in from other countries. Hopefully, we can stop this in Atlanta before it spreads to other cities and countries. Nothing worse than copycat criminals. Thankfully, most sane nonhumans prefer anonymity. For now, we need to know where all of our people are at all times.”

“She’s right.” Tristan stared off in the distance with a look off deep thought in his eyes as he kept a quick pace. “You might want to set a rule that no one patrols or goes anywhere alone. We’ve paired locals with our out-of-town Beladors, but some locals are running solo. It’s been an option until now.”

Evalle’s dark ponytail swung from side to side with her determined steps. “Good idea. Two Beladors are harder to take down than one. That gives one a chance to call for help.”

Having considered their suggestions, Daegan replied, “I agree with both of you.” He told Tristan, “Call Trey to put the word out to all Beladors in the metro area to do just that.” As the most powerful telepath in North America, Trey could reach Daegan or Tristan almost anywhere.

Evalle leaned in. “I can see what you’re thinking, Daegan.”

Daegan caught his breath. Jennyver had once said that to him when he had yet to reach manhood, but believed himself ready to take on a battle with a full-grown dragon who had insulted her. He swallowed at the memory.

When his gaze turned to Evalle, his lips twitched with a smile. “Is that a new gift you have acquired?”

She huffed at him. “No, I just know how you men look when you think you’re going to handle something yourself. Plus, you don’t think anyone can harm you or your dragon, because none of the deities know who your goddess mother is.”

Daegan stepped off the sidewalk to allow a woman pushing a three-wheeled stroller while she ran behind. A light mounted to it lit her way. The child inside a clear protective sheet to block out the rain appeared happy.

Evalle stood with her arms crossed, waiting for an answer.

Her words held truth, but he’d made it clear he had no intention of calling on his mother. Ever. “You are not correct.” When she opened her mouth to balk, he explained, “I do not hold the belief that I cannot be killed, only that it would be an extremely difficult task to accomplish. My dragon and I have no fear for ourselves, only for the safety of my people.”

Tristan grabbed the back of his neck, something Daegan noticed when his second had something to say Daegan might not like. “Look, boss, we know you can hold your own against those from our supernatural world, especially with all of us backing you up, but the humans have greater weapons.”

Daegan glared at his second. “How can mere humans be a threat?  I have seen their puny excuse for weapons.”

“You’ve seen rifles and handguns, but you haven’t been in our world long enough to have seen the human military,” Evalle argued. “They have bombs that can destroy this entire country and jets with rockets that could blow your dragon to pieces. We don’t want that to happen.”

Destroy an entire country? Rockets?

Daegan tried to imagine such things, but could not. “I must see these things for myself so I will know how to defend against it.”

Tristan blew out a rough blast of air. “I doubt that will happen unless they see you in dragon form, which would kick off World War III.”

“There were two others?” Daegan asked.

Yesss, and we don’t want to repeat any of them,” Evalle confirmed.

Tristan stepped off the sidewalk, turning them toward the copse of trees they used for teleporting in and out of this area.

Three young men with a mix of a half-shaved head, bushy curly hair, and a ponytail emerged from the dark shadows Daegan and his people headed toward. Their jackets had odd emblems. One wore a chain from a belt loop to his back pocket. Tattoos covered most of their exposed skin.

The three men slowed, but Tristan, Evalle, and Daegan continued forward.

The one with half his hair flipped open a knife.

Evalle glanced at Daegan. 

Tristan stared down the group.

Daegan allowed his energy to flow out quickly, knocking all of them off balance.

Curly-haired one muttered a curse. “Let’s get the fuck outta here.”

Tristan chuckled as the bunch took off. “You’d be great help for gang control, boss.”

“They were more foolish than dangerous.”

Glancing around first, Evalle returned to Daegan. “Anyhow, the bottom line is the worst thing that could happen with Atlanta on edge is for your dragon to show up in public, Daegan. If we can find out who is behind the threat and stop them without any bloodshed or exposure, the media will blow off tonight as a stupid prank. Then they won’t be so quick to jump at the next anonymous tip. But if you shift and fly through Atlanta, it will be game over. We’ll all be outed to the humans. Then we’ll be hunted simply because they fear the unknown. As Beladors, we’d have our hands full just staying alive and protecting each other’s backs, but the human families of Belador warriors would also be at risk. Having a war with the humans would turn bloody and destroy any semblance for Belador family life.”

She had a valid point.

Much as Daegan hated to admit it, he couldn’t expose his dragon in this world. Additionally, he couldn’t use his powers most of the time either or the humans would see it. 

How was he supposed to protect his people with his greatest weapons out of reach and no way to shield them all in one place?

Tristan stopped short. “I just heard from Trey. Devon Fortier hasn’t checked in for the last two hours. Trey sent two teams to search his area. No one can find him or Renata. Trey hasn’t heard from her or Noah, another out-of-town Belador. I told Trey I was with the two of you so he’ll send all of us a message of anything new. I also told him what we’d heard about an expected attack on Beladors tonight.”

Daegan’s muscles tensed with the need to mount an attack and lead the charge to defend his Beladors.

The tension of holding himself back riled Ruadh. Kill enemy.

His dragon only echoed Daegan’s deepest desire. He’d hated war, but he had never hesitated to jump into battle. Soon, Ruadh, Daegan soothed silently, which eased his mind as well. 

Evalle asked, “Who are Renata and Noah?”

“Renata is a badass female Belador from South America,” Tristan replied. “We teamed her up with Devon. Noah is skilled as well. He came in from the UK, but said he knew Atlanta well from having lived here for three years during college so we let him patrol alone. Other than that, we’ve been partnering local warriors with our people coming here from other countries.”

“Devon has faulty telepathic ability.” Evalle sounded hopeful that this could explain a Belador being unable to communicate with Trey.

Daegan angled his head at Tristan to address her point.

“You haven’t been back long enough to know all the details, Evalle, but we’ve brought in over fifty additional Beladors. That means we always have a Belador close enough to help another pair.” Tristan slowed his steps and looked down, shaking his head. “Even Devon could contact at least one of our people with so many around. Renata had no problem with telepathic communication. Neither did Noah.”

Evalle planted her feet at the edge of the trees and squared her jaw. “We don’t have time for any more planning right now with three of ours missing.” She snapped her fingers. “We need our allies.”

Tristan’s eyebrows jumped at that. “Who?”

“Adrianna for one, and Isak for another.”

“I thought those two were at war,” Tristan said.

“They’ll just have to call a damn truce,” Evalle snapped.

Daegan brought up, “Isak is a good choice if he has no conflict of choosing sides between us and humans.” Isak happened to be one of a small group of humans who knew about the Beladors and other preternaturals.

Evalle shook her head. “I have no doubt he’ll step up to help us. He will definitely protect other humans, but he has friends in our community, too. I also think he’ll do anything to keep Adrianna safe, regardless of their chilly relationship right now. His electronic surveillance and intelligence rivals that of any government.”

Even Tristan admitted, “He did supply key information when we were hunting for you.”

That information had gained Isak ally status from Daegan.

A dark thought passed over Evalle’s eyes at the mention of her ordeal, but she lifted her chin like the powerful Alterant she was and continued. “We need Adrianna, too. She’s key to managing Isak so he doesn’t take things into his own hands.”

Tristan gave her a look that questioned her sanity. “Are you on crack? Ask Adrianna to manage Isak? You want to piss off a witch who literally holds Witchlock in the palm of her hand?” He referenced an ancient witch power Adrianna possessed through no desire of her own.

Daegan lifted a hand to intervene in what was tipping toward a quarrel. “Evalle makes a sound argument for contacting Isak.”

Holding up his hands in defeat, Tristan said, “Okay, got it. We’ll hope for the best.” He turned, leading them into the copse of trees they’d reached. Tristan possessed the ability to teleport, but not a natural gift. He’d been given what he called a witch highball and some immortal blood while imprisoned by Macha.

Once he stood in the center of the dark spot, Tristan turned to Daegan and Evalle. “Here’s my plan. I’ll find out the last place Devon and Renata were before they went dark then I’ll ... ”

Trey’s voice boomed in Daegan’s head. Three Beladors have been reported captured and are to be used to prove preternaturals exist. That just broke on every local news station. Media teams are on the way to three locations. One is downtown in the area around the big Ferris wheel. Another one is Sandy Springs on a building under construction near the mall, and another location is around that UnveilCon in Buckhead. What do you want me to do?

Based on Tristan’s and Evalle’s deadly quiet posture, they’d received the same message.

Daegan replied to Trey, Send teams of six to each location. Tell them to wait for me, Tristan, or Evalle. Tell them not to approach anyone until one of us arrives, which will be in less than a minute.

Got it. Trey’s presence in Daegan’s mind vanished.

Turning to Tristan, Daegan ordered, “You head to Sandy Springs since the location did not sound specific. You can move around best with your knowledge of the area and being able to teleport. Evalle, do you know about the UnveilCon in Buckhead?”

“Yep. Heard about it when I got home. I have a good place to arrive unnoticed. I’m envisioning the top of a one-story coffee shop in that area.” She dropped to stretch her body out, only touching the ground with the toes of her boots and her hands. “Send me.”

Daegan pointed at her and she vanished.

Tristan repeated, “Please don’t shift, boss. Like Evalle said, this could all be just to get a clear shot at your dragon.”

A snarl ripped out of Daegan, but not at Tristan. He could not fight a war with his hands tied. “We will know soon enough who is behind this.”

With a grim look on his face, Tristan teleported away.

Daegan recalled a short building close to the large entertainment wheel in the middle of downtown Atlanta, but had no idea if people would be able to see him arrive.

Following Evalle’s example, Daegan squatted down to remain on his feet while maintaining as small a shape as possible while teleporting.

He would not expose his people to humans for anything, but neither would he allow even one to die.

A woman’s voice with a Latin accent screamed in his head. Help me, Daegan! They're killing me! I am Renata Sanchez. I am Belador. Please, someone, help me.

She screamed a blood-curdling sound.

 

[All nine books will be released in one year.]

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