Daegan’s dragon rampaged inside him. Ruadh wanted blood.
“What will it be, dragon? Make a choice,” Joavan shouted over the roar of a storm hammering the cliffs of Spain’s northern coast towering above them. The Faetheen lifted his hand where the grimoire volume Daegan and Casidhe had risked their lives to retrieve floated above his palm. “This box ... or the woman?”
As if Daegan could turn his back on Casidhe and leave her imprisoned in TÅμr Medb?
Pain ripped up his insides and muscles across his chest expanded, pushing him closer to shifting. He crouched, feeling the bones in his face crack as his mouth pulled out of shape. “How can ya expect me to be choosin’ between a woman’s life and the future of all other livin’ beins’? I shall not turn my back on a woman who has risked much to save others, but neither shall I give up that box.”
Joavan leaned forward, eyes glittering. “I could leave now and never care about the consequences to your world. You should have presented saving the woman as something you wanted when I came to offer you aid to escape imprisonment.”
Daegan flexed his fingers, wanting his claws around the Faetheen’s throat. Holding back from shifting into his dragon physically ached.
We win all battles with Fae, Ruadh declared telepathically.
Daegan’s power boiled, anxious for a target. Yes!
Boss? Are we gonna shift and throw down with this guy? Tristan asked telepathically.
Daegan glanced at his second-in-command standing on a boulder next to him. Soaked pale-brown hair flattened against his head, jaw stiff with anger, and just as ready to jump in.
Ruadh spoke again, but only to Daegan. No battle is too great if you do not lose what you fight for.
That stopped Daegan’s mad thoughts as fast as flying into a wall.
What would he lose?
Casidhe. His people, innocent humans, everything he’d fought to protect. What was he thinking to shift and attack Joavan? He hadn’t been thinking. Daegan shoved a hand through his wet hair and gripped the back of his neck, breathing for a moment before lowering his arm.
He sent a silent message to Tristan. No. I cannot gain the box or save Casidhe by attackin’ Joavan.
Daegan forced his body to pull back from the edge of shifting. Muscles tightened and twisted back into shape. He grunted with the strain.
Wind howled around the cloaking protecting them from the sea where dark had fallen.
Ruadh normally voted for complete destruction of an enemy and would kill this Faetheen if Daegan gave the order. But his dragon knew him as well as Daegan knew Ruadh. This had been a rare time when his dragon had been the one to caution him to be sure of his next step.
Daegan had never lost his ability to think clearly in the midst of a battle. But Casidhe lived in his every thought. Nothing would soothe him until he yanked her from TÅμr Medb and into the safety of his arms. Call him selfish, but Daegan’s insides ached with the need to save Casidhe above all.
He could not make the mistake of allowing an enemy or a dangerous ally to know how important she felt to him. If he did, Casidhe would become a bargaining chip to be used against him by every adversary once he freed her from Queen Maeve’s clutches.
If he freed her.
Not if. He would find a way.
Every minute Casidhe spent in TÅμr Medb and out of his reach clawed at his need to protect her.
Far better to convince this narrow-minded, half-blood Fae of her importance for stopping the Imortiks. Daegan could not save her if he did not win this battle, but neither would he forsake his people or the humans.
He told Ruadh, Ya are correct and stopped me from makin’ a bad mistake. I must find a way to renegotiate my deal with the Faetheen.
Daegan could not deny the importance of the liquid solution Joavan had brought from a healer to prevent a coating spewed on him by satyrs from hardening over his body. If not for the Faetheen’s help, he would be dead by now.
Sucking in his pride to deal with Joavan, Daegan said, “I do not take savin’ my life lightly. I only ask ya to work with me so that we may both succeed.” It took all Daegan’s effort to ignore the arrogant pose Joavan struck.
His dragon roared, angry with Joavan and wanting to turn the Faetheen into ashes.
That was the dragon Daegan had known and loved his whole life.
Joavan had claimed his people would be safe if he went back and took the bronze grimoire box with him to his hidden world.
Daegan doubted that as truth.
He could not allow the grimoire to disappear with Joavan. Without all three grimoires, no one could force Imortiks behind a death wall again.
Tristan sent a new telepathic message to Daegan. Want me to poke at Joavan to see if we can make him reveal a weakness?
The Imortik venom in Daegan’s body still drove spikes of pain through his head at unexpected moments, and right now, that spike felt thick as his fist. He was thankful to have Tristan and his dragon with him.
It cannot hurt, Daegan replied silently to Tristan. If Joavan were so confident about disappearin’ with the box, he would have done so by now. He clearly needs help, but I believe the stubborn fool is determined to make me choose because I left the lockdown cell before he returned.
Understood, boss. Clearing his throat, Tristan called out, “How can you expect us to retrieve some necklace when we’re trying to protect the future of the world for all of us?”
Joavan’s face distorted into major pissed. “Some necklace? The Cearcall na Sìorraidheachd is not a trinket! It bears the Talamh An Asraon diamond valued above all by my people. I must have that to protect them.”
Tristan lifted his hands, palms out. “Hey, chill. I’m just trying to understand why we can’t get the woman now, which will make it easier for us to focus all of our attention on what you want. Then once Daegan gets your amulet and you hand over that box, all of us can go about our business. Why do you want to fight about this when we could solve one problem quickly?”
While Tristan drew Joavan’s attention for a moment, Daegan took that opportunity to sort through the few conversations he’d had with Joavan. As he did, an idea began to form, but he’d only get one chance to try it.
“Hey, boss. Incoming,” Tristan muttered, looking over his shoulder to the east.
Daegan glanced around at the sound of a large helicopter approaching. Far away, a bright beam shined down along the coast. They were hunting his red dragon. If the machine stayed on course, it would fly right over them.
Joavan flashed a look in the same direction and shouted, “They can see nothing in this cloaking.”
Turning back to face the ignorant fool, Daegan argued, “The humans shall notice how the water is flowin’ around the cloakin’s invisible barrier and breakin’ against a wall they cannot see. A jet dropped an explosive device on my dragon earlier while we were underwater right before I returned here.”
Tristan’s eyes popped at that. “You okay?”
“Yes.” Daegan slashed his gaze back at Joavan. “They may do the same here if they find somethin’ unusual. I say we teleport up on the mountain where no one is searchin’ for a dragon.”
Joavan had a moment of indecision while the helicopter noise grew louder. “I will drop the cloaking. You will teleport all of us. Do not leave my sight or I am gone.”
Daegan’s teleporting could not be trusted with the venom interfering. Rubbing his pounding forehead, he quietly asked Tristan, “You up for this?”
“Oh, hell, yeah. I’ll take you up then I’ll come and grab him.”
Daegan hesitated, worried Joavan would vanish if they left first.
Water suddenly crashed over the rocks, soaking the three of them. Joavan shouted, “What are you waiting for? The helicopter will be here in less than a minute.”
Tristan said, “Hang on, boss.”
Daegan spun away in a blur of teleporting. When his eyes focused again, he stood fifty feet from where Tristan had hidden Casidhe’s backpack.
Tristan blinked into view then out of sight again. In ten seconds, Tristan reappeared with Joavan shouting.
“We were supposed to teleport together!” The Faetheen shoved dripping hair off his face. “Do you not care about this?” Joavan lifted his open hand where Daegan’s grimoire box floated majikally above it.
The helicopter continued searching the coastline, but far enough away now it was no threat.
Daegan replied in a hard voice, “We took a risk huntin’ a place to land first or ya might have been dumped on the side of the mountain. Ya would have accused me of doin’ so to knock the box from your hands.” But the fact that Joavan had waited for Tristan’s return, reinforced Daegan’s budding idea. “I have made a decision.”
“Finally. I was not staying any longer,” Joavan warned.
“I understand and I wish to make good on my agreement to help you.” Daegan felt Tristan’s eyes on him, but he trusted Tristan to follow his lead. He did not want to be distracted by telepathy.
Allowing a victorious smile to curve his lips, Joavan asked, “Did you choose this box over the woman?”
“No.” Daegan crossed his arms and spoke with confidence born of hope. “I have realized that if ya know how to rescue her from TÅμr Medb then another Fae, who is an ally of the Beladors, could do so just as easily. I only need a moment to send for the Fae woman. Once she comes here and receives the details, she can take care of savin’ the woman. Then we are free to search for the amulet.”
“What? No!” Joavan shouted. He clamped his lips shut.
It didn’t matter.
Joavan had confirmed Daegan’s belief that this Faetheen would not want a strange Fae involved. Not after Joavan’s people had run from the Fae. Also, as a half-Fae and half-druid being, Joavan might fear going up against a more powerful pure-blood Fae.
Especially if he had never fought one.
“Wait. What am I thinking?” Joavan shook his head and sounded relieved when he spouted, “You must know you should never ask a Fae for a favor.”
“I do know this, but ’tis not askin’ for a favor if one is owed.” Daegan walked away toward a high point where he could watch airplanes fly across the vast sea.
“Stop!” Joavan stepped toward him.
“Stop what?” Daegan asked innocently. “We need to get movin’ so that I can find your amulet and take that box to my people. We waste time.”
Inhaling deeply through his nose, Joavan stood there stiff as a board. He exhaled slowly. “Do not call a Fae here. My people are at risk until I find the amulet. A Fae might try to enter our world while I am not there to protect them.”
Daegan glanced past Joavan to Tristan who lifted an eyebrow and nodded in respect. While Daegan appreciated the show of support, this idea had not worked yet.
Not until Casidhe stood here free of Queen Maeve.
Holding his arms out in supplication, Daegan gave an exasperated reply. “I have a way to save the woman and fulfill my agreement to ya, Joavan. If ya do not care for my idea, what do ya propose?”
Lifting his chin, Joavan said, “I will show I am the bigger person and save the woman, but once she is free, we leave to find the amulet. No more arguments.”
Throbbing eased in Daegan’s head. He’d allowed the Faetheen to save face and hopefully rescue Casidhe, too. “What is your plan for gettin’ in and out of TÅμr Medb?”
Joavan frowned, tapping his chin. “This box will be safer if I put it away before saving the woman.”
“I want to know where that box is every minute,” Daegan demanded.
“Do not judge me so poorly when I have been the one to uphold my end of our deal,” Joavan lashed out. “When I returned to your cell, I had planned to make a formal agreement, which would have saved us these issues. If we agree now on the specific terms, I will place a spell for the box to reappear as soon as you have fulfilled your part.”
After giving that offer consideration, Daegan nodded, but not because he trusted Joavan. Daegan added, “Or the box shall appear if ya fail to fulfill your part.”
Frowning, Joavan stared at Daegan, taking his time to decide. “I intend to do what I say, so that will be fine.”
Tristan asked, “Do you need someone to hold the box while you two execute this plan?”
“Hardly,” Joavan snapped. “You are not an objective party.” He bent his knees and dropped down as he lowered his palm to the ground. Using his other hand, he pushed invisible energy at the box until it slid onto the grass. When he straightened again, he told Daegan, “You stand on the other side of the box.”
Joavan cupped his hands above the box. “I offer Daegan, dragon king of Treoir, my aid to facilitate the rescue of ... ” Joavan paused and gave Daegan a pointed look.
“Casidhe Luigsech, a historical researcher,” Daegan supplied.
Joavan continued, “Casidhe Luigsech, a historical researcher, from where she is imprisoned in TÅμr Medb. Once she is safe, Daegan agrees to then retrieve the amulet known as Cearcall na Sìorraidheachd, or Circle of Eternity. As soon as the dragon king of Treoir completes this task, he will receive the Immortuos Grimoire volume beneath my cupped hands. Should he fail to take the amulet from the druid who stole the treasure, the Immortuos Grimoire volume is forever forfeited.”
When Joavan paused, Daegan gave him a narrowed-eyed look. “You do not clarify which druid.”
“I prefer not to mention his name.” Holding his cupped hands in place above the bronze box, Joavan added, “To fulfill Daegan’s part of this agreement, he must take the amulet from only one druid I lead us to as soon as we leave this location. Does that satisfy your concern?”
Daegan nodded. “Go on. Add the rest.”
Acting put upon, Joavan added in a half-hearted voice that suggested his words were ridiculous, “Should I, Joavan of the Faetheen, fail to uphold my end of the agreement, the dragon king of Treoir will receive the Immortuos Grimoire volume to do with as he wishes.” Joavan closed his hands as if wrapping them around a ball. He lifted his fingers to his lips and whispered. When he finished and opened his hands, gold, silver, and red sparkles bounced between both curved palms.
He said, “Open your hands, palms facing up, and place them side by side, Daegan.”
Daegan hated to be touched by anyone’s majik, but he’d survived the satyr coating and had a feeling he’d face worse before finding all the volumes. He opened his hands.
Joavan poured the flickering sparkles onto Daegan’s palms. He could feel nothing from the sparkles.
“Close your hands once, then open them and pour the spell onto the box,” Joavan instructed. “That will bind the two of us and the box into one agreement.”
Daegan opened his hands.
Now blue, silver, and gold, the sparkles dusted down over the box.
The grimoire vanished.
Blood drained from Daegan’s face, leaving him lightheaded. “Where is it?”
Joavan backed up. “Do not shout at me. The box is hidden from both of us until our agreement is satisfied. I cannot call it to me. You cannot call it to you. It is safe. Do you not worry about Imortiks being drawn to that box while we travel?”
The Faetheen sounded so reasonable Daegan had to take a leap of faith just to move ahead. “In that case, how good is your plan for pullin’ Luigsech out of TÅμr Medb?”
Joavan cupped his jaw with his fingers as a sour look twisted his lips. “It is an excellent plan ... but I’m sure you know plans are always perfect until they meet the enemy.”
Casidhe slouched against the elbow she’d propped on the heavy wooden table in the TÅμr Medb library. Turning another page to read with bloodshot eyes, she couldn’t stay on task. At home, she’d lived for days lost in reading. The books stacked on the table around her now felt like a yoke closing slowly over her neck.
Even that was not as bad as being cast aside.
Why had Daegan made her feel wanted only to turn his back on her?
A tear slid down her cheek and landed in a fat splat on the page she’d had open too long. How could she damage a written artifact this way? She jumped up and used her shirttail to carefully dry the wet spot. Finished saving the page, she sagged to her chair and propped her elbows on the table to support her aching head.
What had she ever done to deserve landing in a realm with a crazy queen? Abandoned by a man she’d started to trust. A man who had sent her heart cartwheeling.
She wiped her eyes with her sleeve and sat up straight. No more tears for Daegan. Just accept the truth. That gobshite had used her to gain the grimoire volume and now he was done with her.
She’d believed him when he said he needed all three grimoires. She’d believed that kiss. She’d believed they had a future of some sort.
Stop it, she shouted inside her head.
Blinking her dry eyes to focus, she sucked in a long breath and carefully turned another fragile parchment page. The material crackled as it moved in a book so old majik probably held it together.
That wouldn’t be farfetched either.
She couldn’t imagine any material in this library defying Queen Maeve by daring to disintegrate, especially pages older than dragons still alive today.
Her gaze tripped over to the glass of water that continued to refill when she drank the level down. A half-eaten tray of cheese, meats, and fruit hadn’t automatically replenished.
Her eyelids drooped. She’d love to put her head down and catch a nap.
“What are you doing?” a brittle female voice snapped in the quiet space.
Casidhe jumped at the sharp words echoing through the cavernous library.
Queen Maeve stood to her left at the end of the table in all her outrageous appearance. A striking beauty from a distance, but up close her eyes were dead and mean, her crazy hair changed color on a whim, currently a mix of silver and reddish gold, which fit just fine with a gown the color of blood, if blood sparkled.
There stood the reason Casidhe couldn’t catch a nap, not with an insane queen zapping in and out of here. “My eyes are blurry. I was trying to—”
“I do not care about your whiny excuses. I asked what you were doing. How close are you to locating a grimoire volume?” Queen Maeve actually floated at the end of the table.
Hours ago, when Casidhe first entered TÅμr Medb, everywhere she looked had overwhelmed her. After living on the edge of panic for so many hours, exhaustion had beat the nerves out of her.
Not to mention having her hopes for being saved crushed by a dragon shifter that had duped her.
She just wanted to curl up somewhere to sleep and nurse her wounded heart.
When Queen Maeve left earlier to face Daegan in that Tribunal meeting, Daegan knew for sure the queen held Casidhe prisoner. Had he asked if she was healthy or injured? No. Had he offered something in exchange for her freedom? No.
He hadn’t even tried. That cut the deepest and said the most.
He’d merely argued that anything Casidhe and Queen Maeve found belonged to him.
She’d only mattered to him as long as she could help him hunt the damn grimoire.
How could he just forsake her on that mountain?
Had she meant anything to him at all? Even if he didn’t want her for any other reason, surely he could use her skills. Maybe he only needed one grimoire volume unless every single thing he’d said were lies.
“Are. You. Listening?” Queen Maeve snarled.
Twisting to face that woman, Casidhe let out a long sigh. “Yes, I’m listenin’. I need material from around the time the original grimoire was created.” She decided to test the crazy queen. “I’m thinkin’ it would be when the first red dragon lived.”
Hate permeated the beautiful face of this vicious queen. “How can you be interested in that lizard after he turned his back on you?”
Just shove that knife deeper, bitch. Casidhe kept that thought to herself and put up a strong front. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about any red dragon and definitely not the one alive today. I am lookin’ for material from a specific period of time, which is why I referenced the first red dragon. If your books don’t go that far back, no problem.”
Queen Maeve shot up into the air, paused, and floated from left to right, pointing a long black fingernail at the spines of different books. When she’d drifted ten feet over, she crooked her finger in a “come here” indication.
A wide burgundy-colored book slid out.
No, not a book, but a wooden chest with tarnished metal adornments at the corners.
Casidhe’s pulse jumped at the possibility Queen Maeve actually had a book from the time of the original red dragon.
Why? her conscience argued.
She didn’t have the energy to carry on a debate with her mouthy conscience. Information was power in her world. She had to survive to help Fenella. The best way to survive here would be by making herself irreplaceable. No one else could come close to deciphering the information in those ancient books.
When the queen floated back down, she waved a hand in a sweeping move at the stack of books on the table.
The books shifted quietly down the long table. Pages on the book in front of Casidhe flipped closed, followed by the cover, then that book joined the others.
Dust floated about after all that movement.
She sneezed and heard no “gesundheit.” No surprise there.
With the table surface now clear, Queen Maeve opened her hands and the chest floated down to land in front of Casidhe. The queen uttered a short blast of sounds under her breath. She could be speaking words in some language, but Casidhe didn’t recognize them.
Wide as her shoulders and a foot tall, the chest turned to face her, then the latch snicked open. The lid continued rolling away from her to reveal a stack of papyrus scrolls, which some scholars called rolls.
Casidhe closed her eyes and inhaled the earthy scent of history from thousands of years ago penned by scribes. If not for being in a dangerous realm, she would stay here for as long as the queen allowed her to research.
But her window of safety would run out soon. Her stomach twisted with anxiety over what would happen at that point.
The queen had been popping in more often.
Casidhe lifted her gaze to Queen Maeve. “I’ll start on this immediately.”
A taunting smile lifted on Queen Maeve’s evil face. “You really think you are capable of deciphering those rolls?”
Warning signals went off in Casidhe’s head. She hedged, “I won’t know for sure until I review them, but I am pretty good at ancient languages.”
Leaning forward, Queen Maeve dropped both hands on the wood surface. Her smile widened. “I doubt you have ever seen a text like you are about to read. This language belonged to a supernatural being long gone from this world. I captured six translators. All human squires. The last one had been the only one who could translate parts of it.” She straightened to her full height again. “If you read any one of those rolls entirely, I will consider freeing you if we are able to locate a grimoire with that information.”
No other words could have rattled Casidhe from her sleepy doldrums and lifted her hope until she realized the queen had said we.
She glanced at the stack of six rolls darkened to a mocha-coffee color by age and curled her fingers. She couldn’t wait to get going. Not that she would hand someone like Queen Maeve a volume of the Immortuos Grimoire, but she might have a better chance of escaping if she left TÅμr Medb to hunt for a volume. Knowing this queen, she’d probably be locked in a cage the whole time.
It didn’t matter. If she found anything the least bit useful, she’d talk it up to convince Queen Maeve for a chance to return to the human realm.
That plan had holes. Still, better to have a plan with holes than no plan at all.
It wasn’t as if Daegan cared if she lived.
Her throat tightened, but she would not waste one damned tear on that cold-hearted shifter. She’d been a fool to care about him at all.
“If you cannot read any of it,” Queen Maeve continued, “you will disappoint me, which would be unfortunate as I am not one to offer second chances.”
Casidhe gulped. She got that message no problem.
Failure equaled death.
Queen Maeve snapped her fingers. An hourglass appeared, floating in the air. She twirled a finger in a circular motion. The glass flipped over and sand began running.
The queen warned, “You have until the sand runs out to show me your value.”
Mouth open, Casidhe stared at the spot Queen Maeve vacated in the next second.
There couldn’t be thirty minutes in that hourglass.