Never make a deal with a dragon.
Sandra’s sister is dying. Doctors say nothing can be done, but she refuses to give up hope. She has depleted all their resources searching for a cure, when a little bird whispers in Sandra’s ear about secret worlds, gates, and the keepers who protect them. A dragon gatekeeper, who hoards magical treasure within his volcano home in Japan, possibly owns an item capable of curing her sister.
Gates choose their keepers, and Koishi thinks his did an excellent job in picking him. Not many dare to cross, and none who try survive. However, one tiny human female with either the courage of an army or the intelligence of a gnat has arrived on the island asking for him. Curious, he waits for the locals to steer her to his human servant—actually him, in man form.
Let the games begin…
CONTENT WARNING: Goblins, mayhem, and sushi await you with hot dragon sex and Koishi’s odd sense of humor.
Mud sucked at his boots as he made his way toward them, searching the flock for the fattest ewes. Using his dragon reflexes, he darted in and tucked one under his arm. It squirmed and bleated as he carried it back to his truck. It was more cumbersome than heavy. Closing the pen gate behind him using his foot, he recognized a familiar pretty brunette hiking up the hill toward his truck.
She’d made good time. He hadn’t expected to see her at least until tomorrow. “Good morning, Sandra. Did you sleep well?” He opened the large crate door in the bed of the truck and settled the ewe inside. Patting its head, he watched as Sandra came around the back to confront him.
“You!” She set her hands on her hips. “You knew I was here to see the dragon. Did it ever occur to you to mention that you work for him?”
He shrugged. “I’m not his secretary. I don’t schedule his meetings.” Everyone knew Koishi as the dragon’s human servant. If contact or messages needed to be relayed, they sought him out. Imagine if they ever found out they were speaking with the dragon directly… He chuckled.
By Annie Nicholas
To my fellow dragon lovers.
Never make a deal with a dragon.
Koishi yawned so wide his jaw cracked. If he didn’t kill something soon, he’d–he’d have to find a hobby. A shudder ran down his human form’s spine. At least the winds were growing stronger so there would be good flying tonight.
Takai Crossing, the gate to Outremer in the east, had been quiet the last two months. Too quiet. Nothing had tried to escape into Inverness, otherwise known as Earth.
Outremer was the realm of magic. All manners of creatures lived there, including his kind. It was a dark and dangerous world. The gates, where both worlds touched, allowed people to cross. Keepers, such as he was, protected the worlds from spilling too much into each other.
The two worlds around his gate were safe for the moment.
The rough seas splashed warm water onto his bare feet and washed away the dirt from the dock. Dark storm clouds brewed over the horizon, racing toward Izu Oshima Island. Bands of orange and red slashed across them as the sun set.
He couldn’t wait until it arrived. Flying against the elements, muscle and sinew versus lightning and rain, would provide some relief from this calm.
Sheep bleated as the cargo ship knocked against the dock wall.
“Moe,” he called out over the noise.
The animals scurried to the far end of their pen and silence fell over the small herd. Sometimes animals were smarter than humans. They could sense a predator in disguise.
“Koishi.” Captain Moe waved from across the ship’s deck. He helped a female to stand, hanging her head and arms over the side rail. “Vomit in the sea, not on my ship,” he told her before shuffling toward the stern.
Clinging to the pens, Koishi kept his balance and surveyed the stock. A few cattle, less than he’d like. Twentyish head of sheep, difficult to count when they squeezed together like that. From the barking–he grinned–a few dogs.
Moe gave him a quick bow, then gestured to the livestock. “This week’s order. Was Master Ishi pleased with last week’s?” His voice shook. Who could blame him? Koishi’s dragon form was fierce, which forced him to hide among them in his man-form, as his own servant. A genius idea.
“Yes, he especially enjoyed the little dogs you brought.” The small bundles had been tender and their hair very short so they didn’t tickle when swallowed. They went well with a movie.
“Yes, those. You should buy a few breeding pair and start producing them. He’ll buy whatever you bring.”
Moe grimaced, but nodded.
Why did humans frown upon him eating dogs? They were delicious. He’d even sent his crazed mother a basket of them as a present. He would have loved to see the expression on her stern face when those arrived. She never played with her food. Her warrior nature wouldn’t allow such nonsense.
The boat jerked from under his feet as a fierce wave knocked the ship once more. “Better unload my–uh–Master Ishi’s–cargo before the storm hits. He finished the last of his prey yesterday and is hungry.” His stomach grumbled and he rubbed it. Not long now.
A groan traveled from the half-conscious female hanging on the side-rails for dear life.
“Your woman looks ill.”
Moe snorted. “Not mine. The ferry won’t run in this weather and she refused to wait. She bought passage with me.” He chuckled. “She fed the fish the whole way across. Where such a tiny thing keeps all that stored is beyond me.”
The smell from that side of the ship soured the air. He shook his head. Tourists. Always in a rush, clogging the beaches and disturbing his home. No matter the rumors of his existence, a few had to be chased down the volcano’s side as a reminder that the area wasn’t safe to play around. He doubted any of them truly wanted to cross through the gate–it would be suicide–but he couldn’t allow concrete evidence of him to surface. Baker Morris, a human company that dealt with the gatekeepers, would have a fit.
The magic realm tolerated some humans, but not the section where his gate exited. Shadowburn was a place where nightmares were born, and Takai gate resided close to a goblin nest. Whatever mortal stepped through wouldn’t survive for long. No, his duty was to keep the vermin from crossing into Inverness, or like the humans called it, Earth.
His memory surpassed those of the short-lived locals, though they did tell their young the goblin stories. He had heard them repeated often in taverns and around campfires. In each one he was the hero. He’d driven back the goblin hordes when the last gatekeeper had been overwhelmed, and he would continue to do so until he fell.
What dragon wouldn’t want such a destiny?
He had easy food, battles at his doorstep, and an island full of people who worshipped the myth of him. The gate had chosen well when it bonded to him.
Moe followed him off the ship. “She barely speaks Japanese.”
He shrugged and continued along the dock. A truck backed close to the ship. “Load the livestock in there. I’ve hired new handlers, so show them what to do.” He dropped a gold coin into Moe’s waiting hand.
Unfortunately, changes happened quicker in the mortal world. Not many dealt with gold or silver anymore. Humans wanted paper or plastic now, but where was the warm and shiny in that?
Moe liked gold. Koishi could appreciate that in a male, and he trusted greed. They worked well together. Too bad Moe would be dead in a few decades. Finding ships, not only to transport, but to make his purchases on the main island, grew more difficult with each generation. If he had to start hunting the old fashioned way, they’d find a replacement fast, he guessed.
“Don’t let them release the dogs. They escape the pastures too easily, then the fucking locals adopt them. Master Ishi hates to make little girls cry.” He gave Moe a meaningful glare. Some of those Chihuahuas had escaped the pen last week. Little slippery snacks. His old handlers didn’t want them eaten.
Nobody would ever see him setting farmers’ poultry loose because he didn’t agree with the human penchant for winged meat, though technically, chickens couldn’t fly. He wouldn’t eat them. It wasn’t ethical.
Moe bowed. “Please extend my apologies to your master, Koishi. I’ll make sure these handlers are more respectful and unauthorized releases never happen again.”
* * * *
Sandra stared at the mocking gray waves. They rolled the ship back and forth, back and forth, back and…she heaved one more time, pain radiating across her stomach, but nothing came out. Vomit had stopped flowing out of her before they’d docked. There was only so much a woman could puke, after all.
The lovely captain, who smelled of a wonderful combination of aged sheep and fish, had yelled at her the whole trip. Every time he approached and made her lean over the side of the ship, his stench would start a fresh wave of heaving. She needed to get off this forsaken boat before they had to bury her at sea.
Pushing against the railing, she took one stumbling step at a time across the rocking deck. If she waited for the world to stabilize, she’d grow old and gray before making one move. As she fell forward, something hard caught her under the arm and prevented a full force belly flop. A nibble on her fingertips shocked her straight out the nausea. She jerked her hand away and braced herself against a wooden pen.
She wiped the ewe spit on her shirt, next to the vomit stain. A sob knotted in her chest. She had to be here. She’d had no choice. Glaring at the animals, she wobbled away, using the pen’s fence as a crutch.
Captain Moe stood on the dock speaking with a tall Asian man. Hell, they were all Asian. She was the foreigner here. Japan had sounded so distant a few days ago, yet here she stood after spreading her DNA across the narrow strip of ocean separating the main island from this small one.
She hadn’t met too many Asians who were taller than her. Eyeing him, she appreciated the way his jeans clung to his muscular legs. His white t-shirt had a few dirt smudges on the front. He folded his thick arms over his chest and watched her slow progress with what she thought was a hint of amusement.
On weak legs, she stepped off the death trap and took a deep breath. It didn’t smell any better, but it at least didn’t smell worse. She had to find somewhere to stay before beginning her search. Someplace with a shower. Oh yes, a long, hot shower with lots and lots of soap to wash away the boat journey’s nightmarish memory.
The last few months had shredded her world. Her sister’s condition had taken a turn for the worse and the doctors had told Beth that her prognosis was poor. When Sandra had left, they were trying to convince her to send Beth to a hospice. She’d refused the idea.
Beth was all the family she had left. Nothing would stand in Sandra’s way of finding some hope, a procedure, or a…cure.
Not even a dragon.