Authors: Annie Nicholas
Sandra stared at the empty bloodstained bed. The gate was killing him. Every time someone crossed it, Ishi was summoned. Injured or not, the gate wanted him to fight until he was dead. And the dwarves knew it.
With the saji back in her pocket, she grabbed Urgle. “Let’s arm up. We have a mission.”
* * * *
The gate appeared in his sight, replacing the vision of Sandra. An army of dwarves marched through. Funny how the mind could play tricks, summoning one’s greatest desires and most horrid nightmares within seconds of each other.
He laughed at their stunned expressions as he materialized in their path, a bloody apparition. More ghost than reality at this point. “Beware. All ye who cross will not return. Heed my warning!” He wailed in his best impression of a phantom as his knees gave out.
“Put it out of its misery.” The leader pointed to one of his soldiers and shoved past Ishi.
The soldier raised his axe over Ishi’s head. Their gazes met like lovers gone bad and the dwarf grimaced. “It’s for the best. Yer dead either way.” The dwarf’s eyes widened and glazed as the axe slipped from his fingers.
Ishi cocked his head to the side. That wasn’t how to behead someone.
Falling to his side, the dwarf landed next to him with a dagger in his chest. He recognized the hilt. He’d given that dagger to his mother ages ago.
She swept into the room, a hurricane of blades and molten magic sweeping across the intruders. “Get off your ass, son.” She tossed him a blade.
By reflex alone, he caught it and swung at the soldiers pouring through the gate. The blade cut right through them like butter, and the momentum swung him around. He raised his head and his gaze rested on Sandra.
She skirted the edge of the battle with Urgle at her side. Cast iron frying pan in one hand and a short sword in the other, she fought toward him.
The veil of weariness lifted from his heart and soul. It wasn’t a dream. He watched as she pounded the pan across one dwarf’s head and Urgle defended her back. His worst nightmares had come true. He’d failed the gate. An invasion had broken into Inverness and his Sandra was caught in the center of it.
Worse, his mother had to rescue him like he’d just broken from the egg.
Ignoring the pain in his gut, he called to the volcano core, to the deep lava rolling in its heart. He unleashed all his draconic magic, not restraining an ounce of it, and pulled it to the surface. The ground shook and the mountain groaned, but he waited. He needed Sandra to be safe before unleashing the might of Earth and fire on his home.
Sandra traveled toward the gate, Urgle not far behind.
He knocked away anyone stupid enough to break his concentration, and waited until she faced the gate, then he called forth the power of his people. Shifting, he lunged forward. The ground cracked and bucked. Poisonous gases poured into the room, followed by the sweet bliss of lava. Clasping both Sandra and Urgle in his claws, he crossed the gate to Outremer.
With a cry, he dropped them before he crushed their bodies with his poor landing. On his side, he faced the gate and watched his mother step through the magical veil, a thick coat of lava on her flesh. It wouldn’t harm her, but it would cook the invading dwarves. Sadly, it would also destroy his hoard.
His mother didn’t bother to shake the dripping lava off as she skewered with the tip of her tail any dwarf who tried to leave the erupting volcano on the other side of the gate. There weren’t many stragglers.
The strong magic in the gate kept the blast from crossing. The eruption would only be on the Inverness side. As he stared, the gate flickered. The water-like surface vanished for fraction of a second.
“Did you see that?” He raised his head. The gate had never changed once in all the times he’d looked at it. Why now?
Sandra stepped in front of him and blocked his view. She cradled his head. “I have the saji. I’m going to save your stubborn ass before that stupid gate zaps you away again.” She gestured to Urgle. “Give me your water skin.”
The goblin handed over the bottle hanging from his belt with a shrug.
She poured the liquid in the saji and fed him. The healing magic coursed through his flesh in a flash of heat. Tissue knitted back together and blood restored from his loss. Unfortunately, the fluid she fed him oozed down his throat, destroying all his taste buds in its path.
He roared at the after taste and shifted to his human form, hoping the flavor would improve in that shape.
Sandra clung to him. “I think it’s killing him instead of healing.”
“No, honey. He’s fine.” His mother knelt next to her. She’d shifted to her human form as well. “You gave him goblin ale. Don’t ask how they make it.”
Sandra assisted him to sit. “Stopping being a baby. You’re not dying.” She brushed the hair from his face and grinned.
“I like her.” His mother nodded and eyed the necklace he wore on his neck. “That gold holds a lot of love. Did she give it to you?”
He gathered Sandra in his arms. “You came back to help. What about–about us being so different?”
“I don’t care.” She hugged him tight as if nothing could pry him from her arms. It felt nice. He rested his head on her shoulders, ready to sleep there for a week.
“Dwarves gone?” Urgle asked.
He gazed at the gate. It flickered again. “Yes, I think they’re dead. Your home should be cleared. Go get your people. I’m setting you free.”
A huge grinned spread across Urgle’s face. “After fighting, mostly just females left.” He bowed low and left their group.
Sandra raised her eyebrow. “I think you just gave him a harem.”
“Every male’s dream.”
She swatted him.
“Hey, I was just injured there.” He rubbed the spot, thrilled to have his feisty human back in his arms. His spirit had never been so light and he so happy.
“And you will be again.” She gave him a meaningful look, something he planned on exploiting as soon as they were alone.
His mother made a disgusted noise. “Well, at least, she’ll keep you in check.”
“I knew the two of you would be the death of me, which is why I left–”
“Don’t let me keep you from your busy schedule.” Whatever family ties they’d reconnected were snapping fast. He didn’t want to hear about loving his food too much. He narrowed his eyes and met her glare.
“Ishi, she fought to keep you safe.” Sandra hands soothed the heat of his anger.
“You don’t need to defend
Sandra went stiff in his arms. “What did you call me?”
His mother opened a pouch on her belt and pulled out an amulet. “I left earlier to retrieve this. I saw how infatuated you were, Ishi. I’ve never had a male express such love about me. I think such a thing should be preserved and cherished.” She set the necklace around Sandra’s neck. “Even though I know you don’t believe it, dear son, I do want to see you happy.”
Sandra gasped and jerked. Her eyes widened as she gazed at the jewelry. The metal melted into her flesh. “What is this?”
“It will give you the lifespan you need to love and care for my son.” She caressed his cheek. “I can’t be the mother you want, Ishi, but I can give you someone who can love you like you need.” With that, she rose and shifted. “I have wars to start and battles to fight.” She leaped into the air and took flight.
Sandra touched the golden tattoo around her throat with her fingertips.
“Does it hurt?” He lifted her tangled hair for a better view.
“No, just a little cool. Is this the kind of magic you spoke of? The stuff wizards don’t make anymore.”
He nodded his head. “It’s very rare. I don’t even know that there’s anyone alive powerful enough to have wrought such magic.” His mother must have gone to her secret hoard. This piece was a treasure of untold worth, but it didn’t compare to the woman who wore it. “I love you.”
She gave him a shy smile. “That’s good. Otherwise, this would be a little awkward.” Pulling him into her arms, she stared into his eyes. “I love you too.”
“That’s a good thing, considering I plan on keeping you a really, really long time.” He molded his body against hers and watched the gate fizzle away. “That’s bad.”
She turned. “Where did the gate go?”
“I think I broke it.” He sat straighter. Was it possible? He rose and approached where the gate had once stood. The water-like surface had vanished. Waving his hand, he met no resistance or trace of magic. “It’s…gone.”
Sandra stood with her hands over her mouth. “I’m trapped here?”
Surprise shot through his body. “No!” He shook his head and gathered her close. “There are other gates.” He swung her around in his arms, delighting in her cry of surprise. “But I’m free. The gate was destroyed in the eruption. I don’t sense its call anymore. I’m free!”
His beautiful, young Sandra had breathed new life into him. The gate had set him free.
“What are we going to do first?” She grinned and trusted him to make plans for them both.
“Let’s start with a nice inn and a meal. Then I plan on keeping you naked for at least a week.”
Other Lyrical Books By Annie Nicholas
The Vanguards, Book 1
The Vanguards, Book 2
The Vanguards, Book 3
Omegas in Love
The Vanguards, Book 4
The Vanguards, Book 5
About Annie Nicholas
Annie Nicholas still believes dragons exist. They are crafty and hide well, but she smart enough to not pursue them because she is crunchy and would taste good with ketchup. If any would like to come over for tea, she would not be amiss to the idea as long as she wasn’t the snack.
Copyright © 2013, Annie Nicholas
Edited by Piper Denna
Book design by Lyrical Press, Inc.
Cover Art by Renee Rocco
First Lyrical Press, Inc. electronic publication: February, 2013
Lyrical Press, Incorporated
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
Published in the United States of America by Lyrical Press, Incorporated
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