Authors: Lola Kidd
Lena was trying to stay calm. She wanted to wipe her sweating palms on her dress but she didn’t want to appear nervous in front of the vampire and the shifter. Margaret hadn’t said anything since they had sat down for dinner. Lena had to get Sophia to send the girl back, but that was the least of her problems. How was she going to kill Sophia? Was she going to have to kill Hera too?
“I will help you.”
Lena looked to the door. Vlad came as close as he could get to Ellia’s security field. “I owe you and your friends an apology. I am sorry I attacked without finding out who you were first.”
“Apology accepted.” Lena wasn’t worried about the hybrid. She had easily gotten him off Troy and she was sure she could kill him if she wanted to. She had no idea why her sister was afraid of him. There were rumors Sophia had killed his wife before he was turned. Lena didn’t believe them, but it was clear Vlad did.
Eric pulled a small device out of his pocket. “I’m going to tell my sister where we’re going. If anything happens to us, I want them to be able to find my body.”
“That’s pretty dark, Eric.” Violet wrinkled her nose. “Nothing’s going to happen to you. You’re with dark fae, a hybrid, an all-powerful witch, and a fucking dragon. I think we’ll be okay.”
“My sister has a dragon too,” Lena spoke up. “I think her dragon will cave once the going gets tough, but it’s still something to consider.”
“I have some contacts near Iowa who may help us,” Eric said, still toying with his small device. He looked up. “Hey, were you guys in Iceland?”
“They were,” Twilla answered. “Why do you ask?”
“We had some friends looking for my contact’s father. They were never able to get close enough to the spot, though. Every time they did, they would be turned around.”
Twilla nodded. “That would be Sophia. She was putting off big bursts of magic when she first got here.”
“Not anymore,” Vlad said unhappily. “The only Northlands Fae I could locate were you people. Sophia is doing a fine job hiding herself.”
“Let’s get this show on the road.” Violet clapped her hands together. “I don’t want those pricks surprise attacking my mother while we sit around talking.”
“We have a little more time.” The air behind Twilla started to shimmer. “We need to pick up a few more allies first. I want this battle over as quickly as possible. I would never make the mistake of underestimating Sophia and her followers.”
“Where are we going?” Allen asked.
“To pick up Eric’s contact and one more of Lena’s sisters.” Twilla pointed to the shimmering air. “If you’d all step through, please.”
Lena took Troy’s hand and stepped through the portal. This time when they stepped out Troy didn’t retch at all, but Tavis threw up in the first bush he could find. They were in some kind of compound. A pack of wolf cubs came up to greet them.
Lena reached down and scruffed one behind the ears. “We must be in a werewolf camp.”
“Werewolf?” Troy was standing very still at her side.
“It’s a shifter who becomes a wolf.” Lena looked up to see there was a group of females running toward her. They turned mid-stride and soon they were surrounded by snarling wolves. The rest of the group came in behind her.
“Hello ladies,” Twilla greeted the wolves. “We’d like to see Grizzly, his son, and his daughter-in-law. Time is of the essence.”
A giant black wolf came running into the group. He snarled at them until Eric stepped forward. “Hey, man. We need to see your dad. It’s pretty important.”
The wolf shifted up to a very naked young man. He couldn’t have been more than a quarter century old. All these shifters were so young! Lena didn’t know how old Troy and Tavis were, but they seemed older than these pups.
The young man nodded at Eric. “Follow me.”
Lena wondered what kind of shifter Eric was. He was tall and muscular, so it had to be a big animal. He didn’t look like a wolf, but he wasn’t a sea creature either. She would have to ask when they had a moment. Everything was moving so fast she didn’t want to interrupt to satisfy her curiosity.
Eric and Violet held hands as they walked to a house.
“I’ll wait outside.” Allen eyed the wolves who had followed them.
“Me too.” Tavis was eyeing the wolves who had shifted back to human. “I think I’d like to talk to our hosts.”
“Me too.” Ellia waved at one of the weres. Lena sighed and let them be. They weren’t going to be there long enough for her brother-in-law or her best friend to get into any trouble.
The rest of the group went inside the house.
“Dad!” the werewolf called loudly. “There are visitors.”
Two heavily bearded men emerged from a door. The one with brown hair went right to shake Vlad’s hand.
“Vlad. Nice to see you again.”
Vlad nodded. “Nice to see you too, Grizzly. I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“What’s going on?”
Twilla stepped forward and explained everything to the two weres. Lena assumed they were the pack beta and alpha. The younger of the two was the alpha, curiously. He also appeared to be the father of the were who had led them inside.
“Wait, you want Rory’s help?” The young were shook his head. “I don’t think so. The last time we barely got away from Sophia.”
Lena’s ears pricked up. “Sophia took you?”
The were shook his head. “She wasn’t interested in me. I followed my wife through the portal to the other dimension.”
“Wife? Then you’re my brother-in-law. What did you say your name was, again?”
The man put out his hand. “I didn’t. I’m Cross Hemlock.”
Lena shook the man’s hand while taking care to look only at his face. He was handsome. “Where’s Rory?”
“Look, I don’t know if I want her to get involved in any of this.”
“Excuse me, young man,” Troy said. “But Sophia very much wants her to be involved.”
Lena nodded. “Sophia said she had someone in mind for being the leader of the witches. I would assume it’s Rory, since the rest of her choices are family.”
“Except for Sven,” Twilla said. “If the Moon Brothers would be inclined to help, I think we can crush this little Sophia problem in one fell swoop.”
The beta shook his head. “You’re pretty confident, Twilla. They weren’t that easy to take care of last time, from what I heard.”
“This time we have the help of her sisters. The three of them will be able to bind Sophia easily,” Vlad said.
Margaret raised her hand slowly. “I don’t want to go.”
The room turned to look at her and her faced burned red.
“I don’t have any magic,” Margaret argued. “Sophia tried to get me to help her open a portal back to Earth but I couldn’t. She almost killed me!”
“She’s right.” A woman appeared out of thin air and Lena almost jumped out of her skin. “That one is useless. If you bring her with you, you will regret it.”
“Beatrice!” Cross scolded. “I told you to stay out of Moon Brothers business.”
“This is Silver business, if I heard you right.” The ghost woman stuck her tongue out at Cross. “I’ve already told Magda what I heard and she’s going to ask the coven to help too.”
“You did what?” Cross moved toward the ghost, but she disappeared.
“You’re going to need all the help you can get if you’re going up against the Lost Tribe. The rest of the tribe is amassing at Sven’s home right now.”
“How do you know that?” Lena turned around, looking for the apparition.
“I can see everything, honey. I’m not bound by your rules.”
There was a ringing. Grizzly pulled a device like Eric’s from his pocket. “Magda. I’ve gotta take this.”
The alpha excused himself.
“What is that?” Lena asked Eric.
“It’s a cellphone.” He tried to explain when Lena, Troy, and Margaret all looked confused. He eventually threw up his hands. “It’s a way to talk to each other over long distances. Just leave it at that, okay?”
“Sounds like magic to me,” Margaret declared.
There was a knock at the door and Cross went to answer it. A man with auburn hair and a striking blonde entered the room.
Lena gasped. “You must be Rory.”
The young woman looked Lena up and down. “I’m guessing you’re my sister.”
Lena nodded. “You look so much like Margaret and Sophia!”
The woman nodded. “Our father has some good genes. I hear you guys need some help.”
Lena smiled. “We would very much appreciate it.”
Grizzly came in the other door to the house. “The Cleary Coven is in. They just need to know where we’ll be meeting in Iowa.”
“At the mansion,” Twilla said. “Sophia will attack at any time now. We should start getting ready.”
“I think we should leave Margaret,” Troy said. “She won’t be of help anyway and will only get in the way.”
The black-haired man nodded. “She can stay here with the pack. Bone.”
The auburn-haired man stepped forward. “I want to go too! I’ve fought with you guys before.”
The old man put his hand on the boy’s neck. “I know, son, but this time we need you to sit it out. Someone needs to stay back and protect the pack.”
“I always have to stay with the pack,” Bone complained. “If you don’t think I can fight, just tell me.”
“You’re a valuable member of the pack.” Grizzly stepped up. “I would make Cross stay home if I thought I could. Charlie and I need to protect the next leadership of the Moon Brothers. If my idiot son gets himself killed, at least we’ve still got you, Oswin.”
Rory put her arm around Cross’s waist. “I’m not going to let anything happen to Cross.”
Lena could feel magic flow as Rory started casting protection spells and putting charms on Cross, Grizzly, and Charlie. Lena boosted Rory’s magic as best she could. It was difficult to get a grip on the complicated witch magic.
“You two are going to have to get a lot better at that very quickly,” Vlad noted. “As soon as we have your sister immobilized, you’re going to need to send her back very quickly.”
Rory frowned. “Send her back? Aren’t we trying to kill Sophia here?”
“Only if we have to,” Lena said quickly. “She didn’t try to hurt anyone on Manna.”
“Except for you and Margaret,” Troy said quietly. He squeezed Lena’s shoulder. “I don’t know if Manna is the right place for her. What if she teams up with Hera to march against our Castle Blackfire?”
Lena’s shoulders fell and she let her chin fall to her chest. “I know she isn’t very popular, but she’s still my sister. If I don’t have to kill her, I would like to avoid it.”
“There is another option.” The ghost appeared again. “We could send her somewhere else. There are empty worlds she and the rest of her tribe can live on.”
Lena’s eyes shone. “How do you know this?”
“I can go there,” Beatrice said matter-of-factly. “I can direct you two to the right frequency and then you shove them all through.”
“Works for me,” Rory said. “Sophia never tried to hurt me. Might as well give her a shot at what she really wants. A world of her own.”
Lena smiled. “I would like that very much.”
She might never get to see her sister again, but at least she wouldn’t have to kill her.
“I don’t agree with this punishment,” Vlad sighed. “But I will agree to help you if it means Sophia won’t be on the same planet as me.”
“Wait a minute.” Rory looked at Vlad hard. “Are you Vlad?”
He nodded. “I am.”
Rory put her hands over her mouth and looked at Cross. “I don’t get to meet many hybrids.”
“There aren’t many of us. Though your father is seeing to it that our ranks are fuller by the decade.”
“I’d love to talk to you after all this is over,” Rory said.
Vlad nodded. “I think I can spare the time for that.”
Twilla clapped her hands. “If we’re done with the meet and greet, I’d like to talk strategy now.”
Troy was sitting near the fence with Tavis, the Moon Brothers, and Vlad. He was not a happy camper. Violet, Eric, Ellia, Allen, Twilla, the Cleary Coven, and Lena were inside the mansion with Melody. He would have preferred to stay with his wife but she agreed with Twilla. They wanted all the shifters to go against Sven. The witches would attack Sophia and anyone who got close to Melody. The only reason he was outside was Lena’s insistence.
“I think this is it,” Vlad said. He stood and looked to the sky. The men shifted down to wolves but Troy waited.
He put his hand on Tavis’s arm. “Wait. We have to make sure this is needed. This world doesn’t have dragons and I don’t want to risk getting caught.”
“I think you’re going to need to shift,” Vlad said calmly. Troy could see someone running in the forest now too. A line of figures broached the tree line and came for the fence. They were like Vlad and Violet. These undead creatures all had fangs and were very fast. Some started ripping open the fence. Once there were holes, wolves ran from the trees and started attacking the Moon Brothers.
“The Sun Riders.” Vlad grabbed one of the wolves and snapped its neck. “They work for the vampires. I’m going to find Sven. Keep your eyes open!”
Troy and Tavis crouched just behind the action.
“I can’t tell who are allies are,” Tavis growled. “How will I be of any use if I can’t tell them apart?”
The first vampire came through the fence. Troy stood up. “I think we can still be of assistance.”
They were armed with knives and stakes. Cross had tried to show the brothers how to use a gun. Troy didn’t like the metal weapon. He’d hunted all his life with his claws or a sword. He didn’t need to learn new tricks when his wife’s life was on the line.
He hit the first vampire at a full run. He drove his stake through its heart like Vlad had shown him. The vampire burst into a bloody mess. Three vampires were on Troy once he’d killed one of theirs. They managed to get him on the ground before Tavis was stabbing at them in a frenzy. Together they dispatched the vampire trio.
Troy saw Vlad further down the fence grappling with a blonde vampire. His mouth was covered with blood and there was an injured black wolf at his feet. The wolf looked very familiar. Troy ran toward the two fighting vampires. When he got close, the wolf shifted back to human form.
“Cross!” Troy knelt next to his newly discovered brother-in-law.
“I’ll be fine.” There was blood dripping from his mouth. “I just need time to get back on my feet.”
Troy healed very fast, like all dragons, but he wasn’t sure if all shifters shared the trait. He couldn’t let Cross die while he was right there.
He turned to locate Vlad and saw the blonde vampire punching him the face full force. Vlad’s head was getting buried in the ground. Troy didn’t have time to wait for his companion to get the upper hand. He stood up and shifted.
The battlefield was much smaller for his dragon. Most of the fighting stopped as everyone froze to gape at him for a moment. Tavis shifted up moments later and then all hell broke loose. A black and grey wolf leapt to Cross’s side and crouched over him protectively. It had to be Grizzly. The wolf was almost the size of a man.
Knowing Cross was taken care of, Troy went after the blonde vampire on top of Vlad. Troy assumed it was the Sven whom Vlad had been looking for. The vampire was fast and hit Troy with a ball of fire. He turned so it hit his back scales. Troy reared up and breathed fire at Sven. He let his fire unleash for as long he could before taking a breath again and blasting him with more fire.
The vampire didn’t even move. He took the full force of Troy’s fire and emerged with melted skin. Troy could see shiny white bone in some places. Some of the man’s skull was even visible. The vampire just pulled off his skin and as Troy watched in horror, the skin grew back.
“I’m very old, dragon,” the vampire yelled. “It’s going to take a little more than your magic fire to kill me.”
Vlad flew up to Troy’s back. “You’re going to have to tear him apart.”
Gladly, Tavis was crushing any vampire who got close to the mansion but two wolves stepped up to help Troy in his battle. Vlad jumped down and hit Sven with a magic light. It melted more of Sven’s skin off.
The ancient vampire only laughed. The ground under Troy’s feet started to shake. He had a hard time staying on his feet. The ground started to separate in big chunks. The wolves started to hop from piece to piece. They scrambled to keep from falling into the growing cracks. Troy beat his wings a few times and floated above the ground. Vlad hit Sven with another ball of light and this time the vampire stumbled.
The ground stopped shaking and the wolves managed to get to a solid piece of earth and run off to join another fight. Troy didn’t blame them. They were no match for the vampire. Troy tried to dive at Sven but some kind of magic field protected him. Troy wished he could talk to Vlad. He needed him to take down the field or he wouldn’t be able to have a shot at Sven.
Troy flew higher and breathed fire. The flames ran along the edge of Sven’s field and Vlad understood. He stepped far back and started to hit the field with different spells. He was moving fast and hitting it from all around. Troy didn’t let up with his fire. He waited until a small crack appeared and his fire entered Sven’s protective bubble.
He dove at the crack and pulled with his claws until the magic broke with a spine-tingling snap. He snapped at Sven before he could run away. Troy managed to rip off one of the vampire’s arms before the wolves descended. Three wolves tore the vampire limb from limb. He burst into flames and left a black mark on the grass. The other vampires didn’t stop attacking because their leader was down but the wolves left the mansion quickly.
Vlad flew up to Troy’s back. “We need to get to the other side of the mansion!”
Troy lifted off. Once he was in the air, he saw the problem. Hera was on the other side of the mansion. Her white dragon was throwing flames at vampires as they attacked her. None of her fire reached its intended target and Hera was getting more and more desperate.
She was encased in some kind of bubble. Troy scanned the ground and saw a line of women chanting while holding hands. The Cleary Coven. He didn’t see Rory or Lena with them. He got close to the ground and Vlad jumped off his back. Troy shifted back to human.
Vlad grabbed one of the vampires standing near. “Have you seen Sophia?”
The vampire stuttered an answer that didn’t please Vlad. He threw the vampire at the force field.
“We have to find her.”
I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” Troy pointed to the sky. It was shimmering. “I think she’s already gone. Come on, let’s go and find Lena.”
Vlad led the way through the mansion. They came to a room with a great throne. Lena was sitting near the foot of it with Rory.
“She’s already gone,” Allen said from behind Troy. “I assume you killed the vampire who wanted vengeance?”
Vlad nodded. “I did. It was a much easier battle than I expected.”
That wasn’t entirely true, but Troy let the vampire continue to believe his myth.
“Sophia left Hera?” Troy asked.
Allen nodded. “She did. We have to figure out a way to calm Hera down and send her back.”
“That dragon bitch is tearing up my grass.” A woman with fiery red hair came into the room and shook Troy’s hand. “Thank you for all your help. I’m Melody and this is my domain.”
“Troy of Clan Blackfire. I’ll try to calm the dragon down. I know her.”
Troy went outside and spoke to one of the witches. “Can you stop her from breathing fire?”
“We can try,” an old woman with short grey hair said. “Ladies, hold the shield. I’m going to try to put out this fire.”
The old woman began to sweat as she changed her chant. Hera didn’t let up. The woman shook her head. “Sorry. I can’t do that. I’ve tried a few different things already. I can’t shut off whatever is making the fire.”
Troy frowned and went closer to the field. “Hera! Hera, you need to calm down! No one is going to hurt you.”
The dragon stopped when she saw Troy. She looked right at him before the air around him started to shimmer.
“Get back,” the grey-haired witch yelled. Something yanked Troy back. He landed on his back behind the witches. He scrambled back to his feet and watched as Hera disappeared, still inside the shield.
“What did you do?” He turned on the witches angrily. “She wasn’t hurting anyone. She was just scared.”
“We didn’t do anything.” A woman with long silver hair stepped forward. “Trust me. We would have done that right away if we could. We couldn’t get a lock on her to teleport her anywhere.”
“I would assume that was Sophia.” Twilla floated down from the roof. “But we have stuck a major blow to her plan. She no longer has any allies in this time.”
“Wonderful. Where was she that entire time?” the silver-haired witch asked.
Twilla sighed. “I think she just killed someone on the Council. I think she knew Sven was dead and went to do what she wanted.”
The youngest witch put her hand over her mouth and shook her head. “She couldn’t. It’s the Council.”
“I think she did. You ladies have been a great help. You can head home if you’d like.” Twilla went inside.
“I’ll stay with Rory, but the rest of you should go home,” the silver-haired witch said.
The oldest witch nodded. “Alright. It seems like everything is under control here. We’ll see you in Cleary when this is done.”
“I’m Magda, Rory’s mother.” The woman put out her hand. “You must be Lena’s husband.”
“I am,” Troy said. “How did you know?”
“The way you look at each other. You’re also very protective of her. I didn’t think you were going to agree to leave her side during the fight.”
Troy smiled. “I didn’t want to.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Two days,” Troy said sheepishly.
“You’ve known her for four hundred years. I think that’s enough time to be sure.”
“Actually, it was far less time. She’s only been a guest in my castle for a few days.”
“Huh. You two are going to have your work cut out for you.” Magda laughed. “Or maybe not. Cross knew he wanted to marry Rory as soon as he had spent a few hours with her. Must be a shifter thing.”
Troy walked with Magda back to the throne room. Rory and Lena stood up when they came in.
“We’re going to go after Sophia,” Lena said.
Magda didn’t look happy about that statement.
“I don’t have to be there,” Rory said quickly. “I just need to sync my magic with Lena. Neither of us needs to go anywhere.”
Troy was happy to hear that too.
“What they are going to need is some practice.” Vlad came forward. “You two are going to have to get used to how each other’s magic works.”