Authors: Saranna DeWylde
his book is
a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events,
business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
ll rights reserved
. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the
publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase
only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
in the United States of America by
over Art by Croco Designs
omewhere in the Flint Hills
, outside of El Dorado, KS
ndrej Tatsu had just killed
The blaze from the fire as it consumed the undead remains crawled high up into the night sky. His attention was drawn to the fire, like a pretty dancing maid. Like all dragons, he was mesmerized and entranced by all things gold. Especially fire.
“What did he want with us?” Mikolas, his younger brother and second in command asked. “You know they don’t usually hunt alone, so he must’ve been a scout.”
“There’s nothing out here for them. This is strictly dragon territory,” his youngest brother, Imre said.
The ghoul’s blood burned his hands and Ondrej passed his hands through the fire, where the blood was destroyed and his hands began to heal. Fire didn’t harm his kind, but it sure as hell dealt with the ghoul, and his damn acid blood.
“Dezo, take Fabian and Jakob and do a perimeter check. Make sure we don’t have any more of these bastards lurking around,” Ondrej directed.
“They’ve gotten bolder since they snatched that witch and I hear rumblings they’re making pacts with werewolves,” Mikolas replied.
Ondrej nodded. “Can’t blame them for that. We’ve got our own accord with the Woolvens.” Ondrej narrowed his eyes. “The werewolf nations just declared civil war. Woolven is at odds with the Remus pack. This could be a pre-emptive strike.”
“Remus and Rommulus are on opposite sides of the conflict. The Rommulus Alpha took a mate and she Turned the hunter Peter Breslin.” Mikolas shook his head. “That guy was a menace, but it’s rumored he has an immunity to silver.”
Ondrej couldn’t fathom a man that evil with no weakness. “There’s only one hunter with the strength or skill to take him down. His sister, Lenore, is the only one who stands a chance.” He couldn’t imagine being faced with the choice to let such a monster roam free or having to put down his brother. He didn’t know if he could put the good of the world ahead of his brothers—ahead of his crew.
Imre knew what he was thinking. “Yeah, that was my first thought, too. It’d be the stuff of nightmares to have to hunt down and kill one of our own.”
“We’re more than brothers,” Mikolas said. “We’re Drago Knights, a bond stronger than blood.”
That was when Ondrej noticed a strange ash falling from the sky—no, it wasn’t ash. It was gold dust falling in ever-larger flakes, seemingly crafted to look like snow, with the same crystalline structure.
And yes, it had definitely been crafted by someone or
“On your guard, my brothers.” Ondrej scanned the horizon, using his preternatural dragon sight.
“It’s gold. There’s gold everywhere.” Imre’s voice was tinged with the awe they all felt. He was the youngest of them and had the most difficult time controlling his natural inclinations around gold.
“Steady yourself, brother.” Mikolas clapped a hand on his shoulder. “It’s a heavy hitter out tonight that can make gold fall from the sky. It’s either a warlock on a gold nymph. Neither of which we have any business with.”
“A gold nymph?” Imre sighed. “I’ve always wanted to see one.”
“That’s why you should never—
.” To Ondrej’s great dismay, Imre got his wish.
Stepping out of what seemed to be a cloud of gold was a tall male with golden shimmering skin, a long beard seemingly painted with gold, and amber eyes. He wore white robes and a crown.
“Do I have your attention, Drago Knights?” His voice resonated like clanging bells.
“Turn off the fanfare,” Ondrej directed.
The male’s countenance no longer shone like the sun, but he stood just as imposing a figure. He met Ondrej’s regard unflinchingly and seemed to study him.
“What is it you want with us?” Mikolas asked.
“A few more minutes,” the royal said.
Ondrej realized what he was doing. The male was testing his reaction to the gold. Perhaps to see how long they could control their baser urges before they were snarling and clawing at him for his gold.
Ondrej prided himself that his brothers, that all of the Drago Knights underwent intense training to overcome their primal response. They still collected gold, they had hoards and hoards, but the brotherhood was first. Brothers before gold. Loyalty before gold. Honor before gold.
“I see the stories they tell about you are true Ondrej Tatsu.” The golden man nodded. “If you will hear my offer, I have a job for you.”
“You seem to know a lot about me. Tell me who you are, what you want, and what’s in it for us.” Ondrej watched his face for any sign of emotion or micro expression.
“I am Glorfindel. King of the Orlaith.”
“A gold nymph,” Imre said softly.
“Yes, gold nymphs.” The king nodded. “I’m sure you know we’ve been at war with the Remus for many centuries.” He sighed. “We’ve come to an accord and it will be sealed with my daughter’s marriage to Borgia Remus.”
“You want us to kill him?” Ondrej arched a brow.
“I…” Glorfindel seemed surprised by the question, but almost as if he considered it. “No, I want you to get her safely to the Remus compound in West Virginia.”
“I gotta ask, man. Why would you turn your daughter over to them? Taking her away from her home, cutting her off from anyone who could help her.” Ondrej shook her head.
Glorfindel nodded. “Those are my concerns, but my daughter made the peace with Borgia. They decided this on their own. I may be her father, but Krysanthe may choose her own path. She feels she’s doing what’s best for her people. I can’t fault her in that.”
Ondrej understood the logic, but he didn’t like it.
“I can see from your expression you do not approve.” The king’s tone was reproachful.
He cocked his head to the side with a smirk. “You know how we shifter Alphas are. Your reasoning is sound, but it goes against every instinct I have to let a nymph princess walk into a Remus compound.”
“On that, we agree.” Glorfindel nodded. “If you can persuade her to change her mind, I’ll fill your troves with so much gold, the likes of which even you would have trouble imagining.”
“And if I don’t change her mind?” Ondrej asked. “Then what?”
“Then, you shall have to settle for only the Aurelieus Amulet.” The mythical amulet hung down from his fingers on a chain, the purple stone with shifting colors like an aurora borealis.
The Aurelieus Amulet was long lost to the Tatsu tribe, since the days of the Impaler when they indeed served the Order of the Dragon.
Ondrej itched to touch it. Literally. The Aurelieus Amulet wanted to be with the dragons. “My brothers and I will discuss your proposal.”
Glorfindel seemed pleased once again.
“Is everything a test? I don’t need to prove myself. You’re the one who came to us.”
The king smiled. “Of course everything’s a test. I’m asking you to protect the whole of my heart walking around outside of my body. Not only for me, but for all of the Orlaith. There are those who think me quite mad asking a dragon, but who better to guard a golden treasure than you, Ondrej Tatsu, who can resist the Amulet? Who can resist all the gold in the air, all the gold I’ve brought to the surface around you? No, you and your brothers are focused on me.”
Ondrej realized that in Glorfindel’s presence, the ground around them had yielded her bounty, offering up veins of gold.
“You’ve raised this gold, did you also raise the ghoul whose body I’ve burned tonight?” He motioned to the fire.
“Most likely he was sent to follow me. I don’t know who’s controlling them, but I have a strong suspicion it’s the Remus. Their witch trafficks in darker magick than most and even if it’s not Borgia himself, there are many factions among them who don’t want the marriage, but they still want my daughter.”
Ondrej nodded. As the Orlaith Princess, his daughter would have power that no other did. Not only would she be able to call gold to her, she could make it. She could turn anything she touched to gold, if she wished, but there were limits to her power and going beyond that would take her life.
Fires burst to vibrant light in the area surrounding them and the heavy beating of great wings overhead alerted him that Dezo, Fabian, and Jakob had returned. They landed with heavy thuds, shaking the ground with their bulk and stood behind him.
Glorfindel nodded in turn at each of them. “Now you can see why we need you.”
“If we accept, do you expect us to accompany her as men or dragons?”
“You are always dragons. But I know the law. We can’t allow humans to see you. As Drago Knights, I trust that you have the skills to protect her in your bipedal form?” He eyed them.
“Yes.” He nodded. “Rest assured, I have the skills.”
Glorfindel smirked. “Then I’ll expect your answer in the morning.” He handed him a card. “This is my cell.”
“King of the Orlaith, a gold nymph who travels in a cloud of gold and you have a cell phone?” Mikolas arched a brow.
“Well, of course. How else would I communicate? A Magic Eight Ball?” Glorfindel seemed to melt into the ground and he was gone.
Dezo, Fabian and Jakob took human form again and Dezo asked, “What was that about?”
“He’s got a job for us,” Ondrej answered.
“A job that it seems someone doesn’t want us to take?” Fabian said. “There were twenty or so other ghouls skulking out in the perimeter. They were fast, Ondrej.”
Jakob nodded. “They were smart, too. They were unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with before.”
“You know the job has to be dangerous if he’d offer us all that gold to get her to Remus,” Imre said.
“I don’t think he really wants us to get her to Remus. He wants us to get her to change her mind,” Ondrej countered.
“Change her mind?” Dezo looked skeptical. “Does he understand he basically gave you, a dragon, permission to seduce his gold nymph daughter? Did that click?”
Ondrej laughed. “No, I’m sure that’s not what he meant. It’s why all the tests with the gold dust, the amulet, the gold he raised from the ground. He was testing us to see if we could resist.”
“I wonder if she has a sister.” Imre grinned.
“She does,” Dezo said. “Her name is Aranka. But their bodyguard will kick your winged ass. Voshkie is like an Amazon from hell.”
“Aren’t all Amazons from hell?” Jakob snarked as he rolled his shoulder and grimaced in pain.
“Let’s be fair.” Mikolas interjected. “She caught you in bed with her sister, a witch, and a gnome.”
“So that meant she had to go have an orgy with the Ursari Knights? Fucking bear shifters. Fucking Amazons.” Jakob continued stretching and rolling his neck. “Man, that fight really took it out of me.”
“Too much time chasing tail when you should be training. Can’t blame you though,” Imre clapped him hard on his good shoulder.
“Are we going to take the job?” Mikolas put the question to the group.
“I don’t know if getting involved is the best choice for us. Our alliance is with Woolven. Escorting the Remus bride during a time of war could bring out loyalty into question.”
“We’re allied with Woolven, not their bitches. We have to do what’s best for us as well. Returning the Amulet to dragon lands would be a coop. Not to mention the hordes of gold the king promised us. Our stashes are thin. We’ve been spending too much time on the road and not enough time increasing our hoards.” Dezo always chose the gold.
Ondrej, for his part, didn’t like being controlled by anything. Especially not the desire for gold. It had ended more than one dragon’s life. Ondrej vowed he’d never become his father. Never leave hatchlings alone in a world that would try to tear them apart for his love of shiny metal.
“What do you think, Mik?” Ondrej asked.
“I think that we need to consider all of our options here. Dezo is right. Our troves are not as plush as I’d like them to be.” He held up his hands. “This is coming for a purely accounting standpoint, not the gold lust. We’ve been on the road a long time.”
“We have been on the road a long time,” Fabian agreed. “But where else are we going to be free? What else is as close to soaring in the sky with our wings wide as cruising down the interstate on a Harley? It’s the best feeling in the world, aside from flying.”
“If you want to fly, you can go back to dragon lands,” Dezo offered.
“I could. We all could, but that’s not the way the world works. If we retreat to dragon lands, we’ll never shift again. I love flying, but I love mating with human women too.” He winked. “I don’t want to give that up.”
“Always about the sex with you, Fabian.” Imre shook his head. “I’m supposed to be the incorrigible one.”
“You have to get laid before you can miss it,” Fabian taunted.
“I’m just waiting for the right female. After seeing what was at stake with Jakob and his Amazon lady, I need none of that nonsense in my life. I’m waiting for love.”
Jakob snorted. “Or mating fever. If that strikes, you’re done.”
“It is what it is.” Imre shrugged. “I say we take it.”
“You just want to see the lady nymph,” Mikolas said.
“Uh, yeah. Hello? Glorfindel is badass. I kind of want a look at this Voshkie as well. Even if she kicks my ass. I know the rest of you are older than the gold under our feet, but I’ve still got wonder left for the world.” Imre was completely unashamed at his lack of experience or his enthusiasm.
“Are we ready for a vote?” Ondrej asked.
Jakob growled low in his throat and the sound became a cry unlike any Ondrej had ever heard. It was pain, it was terror, and there was an undercurrent of a kind of pleasure in the sound.
Their attention shifted to him as a group and in the dying ember light, strange shadows danced on Jakob’s flesh. As if the darkness were a part of him, clawing out from inside his bones.
He started to shift, but was caught mid transformation. His abalone scales blackened and rotted off, dissipating like ash. His face was strange, and reptilian, unlike his dragon countenance. It was some nightmare of in between.
Another one of the horrible cries was torn from him. Ondrej leapt to action, catching Jakob before he fell.
“What’s happening?” He’d never seen anything like this before. He didn’t know what to do to help him. “My brother, can you hear me?”