Teak’s Second Start
With a grunt, Teak released the final box and slumped against the wall of his new apartment. Closing his eyes, he listened for the sounds of the city—sirens wailing on the streets, people shouting, dogs barking, glass breaking as people fought. He didn’t hear them. He wouldn’t hear them again. The silence brought a smile to his lips. He’d done it. He’d escaped that place.
Tomorrow he would start his new job, working as a veterinarian’s assistant. Those night classes were hard while working fulltime during the day, but worth it. Thanks to the hovel he’d lived in previously he’d managed to save up enough money to afford a down payment on a house in the country and his new career afforded him enough equity to get the loan for the rest. He could hardly believe it. After years of being stuck in that suffocating city he was free of it.
His new found life had his skin itching with the desire to let his fox run, something he hadn’t been able to do safely for years. Standing, Teak moved to his back door, opened it, and stepped out onto the large wooden deck. A snow covered evergreen forest spread out just a few yards from his house. Smiling, he stripped down, and jumped into the freshly fallen snow—shifting in midair. What landed wasn’t his human form, but a white, artic fox.
Yipping enthusiastically, Teak rolled in the powder and jumped from snow bank to snow bank. He danced around the trees and dove under bushes as he reveled in the feeling of being free for the first time in so long. It felt so good he almost didn’t want to return to his human form.
Running deeper into the woods Teak chased the light smell of rodents beneath the snow, never actually catching them. He was just enjoying the hunt.
After a good hour of bliss Teak froze and hunched down beneath a bush. Wriggling slightly, he half buried himself in the snow and watched the trees in front of him. He wasn’t the only one in this forest.
Keeping perfectly still, Teak waited for the presence he felt to either come closer or leave. He wanted it to leave preferably. He wasn’t ready to meet with anyone else right now. Just these next few hours. He wanted this moment to himself.
Teak’s breathing slowed as a snow leopard entered the small clearing he’d been chasing mice in. His heart stilled and then thumped wildly in his chest as the large cat’s scent drifted to him. The earthly aroma, like that of an ancient forest, surrounded Teak and made him hot. It urged him out of hiding.
He found himself moving before he froze, memories of another reason why he’d left his old life surfacing. One sided relationships that always ended with his heart broken. With a firm sniff, Teak spun around and dashed from the clearing. He’d run enough for tonight. He needed to get home and rest anyways. He had a new job tomorrow to prepare for.
The leopard wasn’t an issue. Maybe once he was settled in this new life he’d search for him again. Right now he didn’t need it though.
* * * *
Dr. Frost’s Animal Hospital was a modest sunshine yellow building situated between a mint green pet supply store and a light blue animal salon. From the little information Teak had found online all three businesses were owned by Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Olander Frost.
Teak parked his car behind the building and walked around to the front door. He was sure the staff were supposed to enter via the back entrance, but it was his first day so he’d chosen to enter this way. The waiting room smelled like sick and scared pets. The disinfectant didn’t help any, only adding to the sour air.
“Hello. How can I help you?” a pretty young blond teen girl asked. If he judged her age accurately, Teak would put her at around seventeen.
“I’m Teak Ranta. I’m supposed to start work here today.” He gave her a charming smile. It was one he’d spent years cultivating while working customer service in retail.
“Oh, right. I’m Jessica, Dr. Frost’s niece. I work here part time.” She returned the smile and offered him a hand, which he shook. She had a surprisingly strong handshake for a girl her age. “Come on back and I’ll get Uncle Olander.” She opened a door and shouted, “Uncle! Your new assistant is here. Try and keep this one!”
“Excuse me?” Teak paused in the doorway, unsure what she meant.
Jessica continued to smile. “No, don’t worry about. My uncle’s just a bit eccentric so people tend to not stick around working here. He’s an amazing Vet though.”
Teak followed her into the back where a tall man was placing a puppy into a kennel. He was whispering to the young animal in a soft cooing voice, much like how a mother would talk to her kids. Teak found himself softening to his new boss with each gentle sound.
“Uncle,” Jessica snapped.
“Yes, yes. I heard you the first time you shouted for me.” Olander Frost closed the kennel door and turned to face them. He was handsome, in a studious kind of way with his disheveled black hair. There was something about him though, something not entirely human in his grey eyes as he looked at Teak. “Teak Ranta, I assume.”
“Oh, yes.” Teak snapped himself out of the funky daze he’d drifted into. “Nice to meet you.” He held out his hand to the other man and froze when he grasped it.
“The pleasure’s mine,” Olander purred before kissing Teak’s hand.
Instantly he snatched his hand back and gaped at the man standing cockily before him. That’s when the scent finally registered through the fog of chemicals and sick animals. The smell of an ancient forest. Teak’s heart thudded painfully against his chest as he looked into the eyes of a predatory cat.
“Oh, fuck,” Teak murmured beneath his breath.
Olander grinned as he closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around Teak. “To think my mate would be my new assistant. What an amazing match.”
Teak wasn’t sure what to make of this turn in events. This man was the leopard he’d seen in the forest last night? He was his mate? What on earth was going on? All he’d wanted when he’d moved to Spirit Valley was a peaceful life away from drama and men. Now it looked like he had both waiting for him at work.
* * * *
The little fox’s scent was intoxicating and Olander found himself hard pressed to pay attention during the day as they worked side by side. Every time Teak walked by him, or looked his way Olander wanted to press the man against the nearest flat surface and kiss him. Too bad his mate didn’t appear to return his interest.
“Trish and Dozer are here for their three o’clock,” Jessica announced. “Dozer got into a scrap with a raccoon again.”
Sighing, Olander handed Teak a kitten, instructing him to give the little one its last vaccine and then join him in exam room two. Entering the cream colored room he found the owner Trish, a single woman who lived alone and had rescued Dozer for both protection and companionship, coddling the large Rottweiler. As for the patient, Dozer, he was licking her hand trying to comfort her.
This kind of scene was all too familiar. The owner, worried about their beloved pet, ended up causing so much stress within themselves the animal usually ended up comforting them.
“Doc, is he going to be okay?” Trish asked, tears in her brown eyes when she spotted him. “He isn’t going to get rabies, right?” Her usually pale cheeks were red and puffy, no doubt from crying.
“I would think not.” Olander shined a light on the scratches on Dozer’s neck and chest. “He’s up-to-date on all his shots, so he’ll be fine on that front. Did you clean these?” He indicated the cuts.
Trish worried her hands as she looked from Dozer to Olander. “Was I not supposed to?”
“No, you did a good job.” Olander needed her to relax before he could hope to treat Dozer. If he couldn’t get her to calm down he’d have to send her out to the waiting room. Olander wasn’t going to risk being bitten over an anxious owner.
A soft knock on the door drew Olander’s attention for a moment while Teak entered. “Hello, I’m Teak. The new assistant.”
“Hi,” Trish’s eyes widened as she looked at his mate, obvious interest reflected there. An interest Olander fully understood. Teak was beautiful. Platinum blond hair, azure eyes, and skin as white as snow paired with soft pink lips made him look like an angle. His slim build and the confident way he carried himself made it impossible not to notice him.
“Teak, please get me some gauze and tape from the cabinet,” Olander instructed, his voice a bit harsher than he meant for it to be.
Teak said nothing as he got the supplies and helped Olander clean the rest of the wounds, just a few grains of dirt, probably from the car ride over, and then wrapped the patient up. Next they placed a cone around Dozer’s neck to keep him from scratching at the wounds for the time being.
“Jessica will collect payment and make a follow up appointment,” Teak said as he helped Trish with getting Dozer out of the room.
For a large dog, and one that was rescued from a fighting ring, he was certainly a docile animal. Olander liked seeing cases like his. It proved even the most damaged and abused creatures could get a second chance.
Olander had been the one that helped Trish with the adoption, a good fit in his opinion. Dozer needed to be in a single animal family, and Trish needed someone that would bond with her.
Pulling disinfectant from the cabinet, Olander sprayed the metal table and the floor before wiping it up. He only had three exam rooms, so he cleaned as he went to ensure he was always ready for the next patient.
“Care to explain what that was about?” Olander turned around at the harsh tone in Teak’s voice and found the small man leaning against the now closed door.
“Be more specific.” Olander tossed the paper towels he’d used to wipe the room down into the trash and leaned against the metal exam table.
Teak’s pretty blue eyes blazed with irritation as he looked at Olander. “Look, I don’t care what fate says, you have no right to act like a jealous husband when I talk to someone else.”
Was he that easy to read? Yeah, okay maybe. It was just, when Trish’s eyes had lit up upon seeing Teak, he couldn’t help feeling territorial. “You’re my mate. I have every right to feel jealous when some woman checks you out.”
The bright blush wasn’t what he’d been expecting. The defiant set of Teak’s jaw was though. They made an adorable combination on his face.
“We may be fated, but we are not…I’m not looking for anything right now. I need time to settle in before I get into another relationship.”
“Another?” Olander couldn’t keep the growl out of his voice even if he tried with the mention of Teak being in a relationship with someone else.
“That’s none of your concern,” Teak rushed to say before he hurried from the room.
Olander was left stewing in the exam room. If Teak thought he was just going to sit here and let his mate walk out with that weak ass explanation he had another thing coming.
* * * *
Fire crackling in the hearth, a cup of hot chocolate with a splash of brandy in hand, and a good book. Did nights get much better than this? Teak curled up on his sofa as he read his adventure novel. Unfortunately, as he read he imagined a certain tall, cocky, leopard shifter in the place of the hero.
With a frustrated sigh, Teak set the book down and stared at the fire. Maybe he was looking at this all wrong? Perhaps Olander was his new beginning? Wasn’t finding your mate supposed to be a grand thing?
No, Olander was obviously an alpha type. Controlling and overbearing. He’d demand Teak to change his lifestyle and give up his dreams. They all did. Well, he wasn’t going to. He’d come too far to give up.
Mind made up, Teak pushed all thought of Olander away.
Reading wasn’t going to happen, so Teak moved to the kitchen to grab a bite to eat when his doorbell rang. Curious who could be making a visit at this time of night, especially when he considered he didn’t know anyone local, Teak looked through the living room window and paused at seeing Olander standing on his front porch.
Despite his previous resolve, Teak found himself admiring the larger man as he stood at his door. He looked good in his tailored black pea coat and dark blue jeans. Teak couldn’t exactly make out Olander’s chiseled form through the coat like he could while at work, but he still got hints of the power hidden in that body by the way the man held himself.
Damn it, he was getting hot again.
“Teak, I know you’re home. I want to talk, please.” Olander rang the bell again.
Cursing under his breath, Teak opened the door and gave the handsome man his best glare. “Talk.”
“Can’t I come inside?” Olander looked over Teak’s shoulder.
Stepping out of the house, Teak closed the door behind him. “Talk,” he repeated.
“Okay.” Olander raised a questioning brow, but Teak didn’t budge. No way was he letting this man into his home. That was asking for something to happen. “Please go on a date with me.”
“Now?” Teak blinked.
Olander smiled and stepped closer to him, crowding him against the door. “Yes, now.”
“I, I’m not dressed to go out,” Teak stammered. Having Olander so close filled his nose with his scent and did funny things to his insides.
His smile grew. “I’ll wait.”
Not sure what else to do, Teak nodded and scrambled to open the door behind him. Managing to get hold of the handle he turned his head to make sure he was turning it the right direction when Olander leaned down and captured his lips in a time stopping kiss.
Olander’s tongue slid across his lips and Teak found himself opening up before he could think to stop. Their breaths mingled and their tongues dueled as they both fought for their next gasp of air between the passion that was quickly falling over them.
The door opened behind Teak, and they fell through. Olander twisted and ended up on the bottom, cushioning Teak’s fall with his own body. In the process Olander’s head hit the ground with an audible crack.
“Oh gods! Are you okay?” Teak snapped out of the haze that had been forming and scampered off of Olander, concern for his mate overriding his lust. He helped the larger man sit up and gently fingered the back of his head. “Does it hurt?”
“I’m fine,” Olander waved his concern away.
“You hit your head,” Teak argued, “You’re not fine. Let me get an ice pack. Here, sit on the couch.”
Olander got to his feet and moved easily to the couch. Maybe he was okay. No. No one, not even a shifter, went down like that with no consequences. Going to his freezer, Teak pulled out the ice pack he’d placed there last night, wrapped it in a hand towel, before returning to Olander’s side and placing it against his now swelling head.
The hiss that left the leopard made Teak smile. “See, you are hurt.”
“A quick shift will take care of this.” Despite his protesting words he leaned against Teak’s shoulder and purred contently. “Though being nursed by a hot little fox isn’t so bad.”
Teak could feel his cheeks heating up. “You come on too strong,” he said weakly.
“So I’ve been told,” Olander laughed. “But, we have to start somewhere.”
They had to start somewhere? Yeah, maybe so. “You won’t ask me to stop working?”
“Why would I do that?” Olander demanded. “I like the fact we share a common career path.”
“What about my house? I just bought it,” Teak continued looking for something to support his own ideas of this man being controlling.
“Then live in it,” Olander said. “I sleep in a loft above the clinic. Owning three business in a small town isn’t as lucrative as people would think. Maybe one day I can move in here with you, but let’s not rush that.”
Damn it. He was proving to be the exact opposite of the man Teak had painted him as in his own paranoid scared mind. He’d come to Spirit Valley looking for a second chance, a new start at life, and here he was pushing that very life away. He was an idiot.
One last thing to clear up though. “What about your jealousy?”
Olander was quiet for several long moments before he sighed. “I can promise to work on it, but I doubt I’ll manage to completely remove it. Cats aren’t known for sharing.”
Smiling at that, Teak kissed Olander’s temple. “We still going to dinner?”
“Definitely,” Olander said as he straightened and met Teak’s gaze. “Do you like Chinese?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Teak shrugged. Honestly he’d never thought about what kind of foods he liked and didn’t like. With the budget he’d lived on until now it didn’t really allow him to be picky.
“Go get ready,” Olander urged him.
Feeling a rush he hadn’t felt in years at the prospect of going on a first date Teak nodded and half ran, half skipped to his room. Looking at himself in the full length mirror on his closet door he paused. He was wearing grey sweatpants and a baggy white t-shirt. Olander saw him like this and still called him hot? Maybe his leopard had a few screws loose after all. He looked like a homeless person.
Shaking his head, he stripped out of his clothes and grabbed a fresh pair of skinny jeans and a light blue polo shirt. He put the pants on and then hesitated as he looked at the shirt. It just seemed a bit churchy to him.
Tossing the shirt to the bed he reached for a black band t-shirt. Putting it on, he smiled at himself and then stripped it off. Too immature.
Wasn’t there anything in his collection of clothes that worked for a first date with his mate? Opening his closet, he fingered the few nicer button up shirts he had. He settled on a long sleeve, black shirt with a red design on the cuffs. Putting it on, he debated on whether to tuck it in or not. He decided against tucking it in, not wanting to look too formal.
Lastly he put on a pair of snow boots, brushed his hair, and returned to his living room where Olander waited for him. His light grey eyes darkened to storm cloud grey as he caught sight of him. Teak was glad, it seemed his choice of clothes had the desired effect.
“Ready?” Olander asked, his voice containing a slight husky purr.
“Yes.” Teak collected his navy blue down coat from the hook by the door, and followed Olander out to his silver F-250 pickup.
* * * *
Dinner was delicious. Maybe the improved taste had something to do with the fact he wasn’t eating alone tonight? Olander looked across the table to Teak, and smiled as he watched the little fox moan around a bite of egg roll.
“You like?” Olander reached for his drink, swirling the sake in the small cup.
Teak nodded enthusiastically as he finished off the egg roll and continued onto his beef and broccoli. “It’s good.”
Sipping at the sake, Olander enjoyed watching Teak. With every second that ticked by he could see them doing this every night. Eating together and enjoying the simple silence. Perhaps they’d talk about their day, or maybe how they had a difference in opinion about something that happened at work. Either way, it was going to be wonderful.
Well, as long as he could get Teak to agree to being his mate.
They both finished their meal and Olander paid the bill. Teak offered to pay his share, but Olander firmly turned him down. It wouldn’t be much of a first date if they went Dutch.
Leaving the restaurant, Olander led Teak on a walk down a side street to a park trail that followed the river that wound around the town. Cautiously, he reached down and took his mate’s hand. Teak startled, but didn’t pull away. A good sign in Olander’s opinion.
“You were that fox last night, weren’t you?” Olander asked. He knew he wasn’t alone last night when he’d gone for a late run. The scent had been faint, but it pulled at him. He was certain it was Teak he’d come upon then.
Teak nodded. “I was.”
“Why did you run off?”
“As I said, I didn’t come here with the intention of starting a relationship. I just wanted a new start.”
With that they fell into a companionable silence only to be broken by the crunch of the snow underfoot and the sounds of birds taking off from the trees.
They made a circuit of the park and returned to Olander’s truck. The ride back to Teak’s house was comfortable with their hands clasped over the center console the entire time. The only thing that weighed heavy on Olander’s mind as they drove was whether or not he should walk Teak to his front door. Would he see it as too forward? Or would Teak appreciate it?
No closer to an answer Olander parked his truck, and turned off the engine. He was waiting for some kind of sign from Teak on how to proceed.
“Well, thanks for tonight.” Teak removed his hand from Olander’s and smiled at him cutely.
Damn, I want to kiss him. Olander squeezed the steering wheel to keep himself under control. “Thank you for coming out with me.”
Teak unlocked his seatbelt and opened his door. “Night.”
Teak slid from the truck and closed the door. Olander watched as Teak walked up to his front porch. He hesitated by his door before turning around and looking back to Olander. Teak’s eyes looked hesitant but also held want as he just stared at him.
Olander released himself from his seatbelt and climbed out of his truck. Rushing up the drive, he climbed the few stairs leading up to Teak, and collected his mate into his arms. He gazed down at him, his thumb rubbing small circles on Teak’s cheek. Leaning down he kissed him softly as he if he was trying to breath him in. Olander sipped at his lips, tasting him like a fine wine.
Again they found themselves at the start of the night, only this time as Teak opened his front door they remained standing. Teak pulled away and smiled. “Want to come in?”
“I’d love to.”
To Be Continued….
(Mages of the Nether 1)
Aiden Dalrymple, the Medium for his generation, hates the fact he can’t practice the Craft normally. He tries again and again to use his family’s abilities in the traditional manner, always ending in failure. His parents swear he’s destined for greatness, something he highly doubts. What good could summoning creatures of the Nether do?
Daniel Bradford is a Mage, having studied the Craft since he was young. He returns home from college upon being called by his family. His mother, gifted with the Sight, has foreseen a great calamity within the Nether and he is to play a part in bringing balance. Him and one other.
Aiden and Daniel are sent to the Nether to prevent the foreseen disaster. While they’re there Daniel must find a way to bring balance to Aiden himself, and make him accept the fact he is the only one that can help them solve this mystery.
Aiden took a deep breath as the limo they were in—supplied by King Travis—pulled up to the Bradford Manor. It was one of the oldest houses in the state, and it was the oldest in the town. The brick structure was three stories tall, with a basement below and an attic making it really five levels. Four men in tailored suits stood outside the door. The jeweled rat emblems on their coats meant they were members of the first noble house, most likely lower-ranked members.
A butler came up to the car and Aiden and Camelia got out with their mother. They were dressed in formal attire. Their mother wore a white, full-length strapless dress. Camelia had chosen a baby blue halter dress that came to her knees and split into a V continuing down to the floor. Aiden was wearing a completely black tuxedo, and hated it. Each wore their dragon pendants in plain sight.
His mother handed over their invitation just as storm clouds began to gather. This was it. This was the start of a display of power meant to intimidate any who meant them harm.
Lightning arced across the previously peaceful night sky as they climbed the steps into the manor. The doors opened, and the music died as wind rushed in. Aiden thought his mom was laying it on a bit thick. Sure, they needed to make a show, to prove they weren’t weak even if they were only three strong—his father had to stay home as the invitation was only for the head of the house and the heirs—but this might be a bit much.
“Who are you?” the queen demanded, her glassy blind eyes looking directly at them. Aiden shuddered at the look. His eyes landed on Daniel. The prince was gaping at him even as security moved in closer.
“Stand down!” the king ordered. “They are guests.”
Natalie smiled. Aiden felt like his heart was going to pound from his chest as his mother stepped forward and spoke with a strong voice, “I am Natalie Dalrymple, head of the House of the Dragon, fifth of the noble houses. I am here to reveal that I did not perish in the fire that claimed my family all those years ago.”
Whispers and outcries rose up.
“Silence!” the king bellowed. “Lady Dalrymple has been under my and my father’s protection. The only reason for her and her children’s presence here tonight is because of the summons my wife, the queen, unknowingly sent to her.”
Aiden could see shock on the queen’s face as the king’s words sank in.
“Truly, it’s a miracle that you managed to survive that terrible incident.” Queen Rebecca recovered quickly. “I’m sorry you were in hiding for so long, but we welcome you and your family back.”
Aiden watched as his mother’s smile never reached her eyes. “I have only brought my family forward because of your highnesses’ warning. As is our duty, if there is an imbalance within the Nether, it is our job to help correct it.”
“Of course.” Rebecca nodded. “Then, now that all are gathered. Let us begin the show of abilities. Shall the heirs step forward in order of arrival?”
“Remember what I told both of you.” Aiden looked back to his mother. “Make them realize we aren’t helpless.”
The firmness in her eyes scared him. Considering he was already on edge in this situation, he wasn’t sure the added stress was a good thing. He could fumble his words and end up summoning nothing. Okay, he doubted he’d summon nothing. Even his most botched attempts at calling on a contracted creature always brought forth something. Whether that something was helpful, now that was always questionable.
Both Camelia and Aiden nodded and stepped forward with the other young adults and teenagers gathered. Aiden looked around noting the wide range in ages. It seemed anyone older than fifteen had been brought here with the oldest being around twenty-five. Not to mention the sheer number of heirs in the families! Did that guy have nine with him? Looking around the circle, he tried to swallow around the lump in his throat as he looked at the intimidating people. These were Mages that had trained since they could walk in the Craft, and there were so many. How could he and Camelia intimidate them?
“First up, our future king, Crown Prince Daniel Bradford,” a proxy announced.
Aiden felt his heart jump as Daniel stepped forward, his owl perched on his shoulder. His brown eyes bore directly into Aiden’s green. Yeah, the other was furious. Aiden didn’t blame him.
“You may begin whenever you are ready,” the proxy said.
Daniel held up his arm, the jeweled band he always wore with the triquetra engraved on it catching the light. A gem sat in each of the loops, with a fourth sitting directly center. “Oh lady of the lake,” Daniel’s strong voice rose up, gaining strength and power with each word he spoke. “I call unto you to guide my hand.” Minerva flapped her wings but didn’t move from Daniel’s shoulders. “Lend me your power. I call upon the waters of time to aid me!”
Aiden’s eyes widened as a magic circle appeared in front of Daniel, water pouring forward and collecting around the prince in four spouts. Despite the extreme concentration that spell no doubt took, Daniel never broke eye contact with Aiden.
This was the first prince of the Mages. This was what their next king was capable of.
“Seems we weren’t the only ones instructed to show off,” Camelia whispered.
“Just try not to overdo it,” Aiden reminded his sister.
The look she gave him reminded Aiden of their mother a little too much. “I promise not to kill any of them. Not that they can say the same.”
The reminder that somewhere in this room might be the one responsible for killing his ancestors made Aiden look around again. They were all clapping and applauding Daniel’s show of power.
“Up next, William Bradford,” the proxy announced as Daniel ceased his spell and left the center of the circle. The area that had just been awash in water was dry as bone as the prince stepped away.
Aiden half paid attention to the rest of the displays. He was far too busy trying not to meet Daniel’s eyes again. He didn’t want to see the anger and hurt he saw there the first time. It’s not like he meant for this to happen. His family’s secret had to be maintained. Lying and hurting someone was never part of the plan, but it was a consequence.
Tuning back into the displays, Aiden frowned as the first daughter of the Lucius family—the second noble house, House of the Ox—Balbina made her feline familiar grow in size. It was an interesting trick, but he couldn’t help but see the flaw. It was still just a regular cat. Sure, it was now the size of a polar bear, but it gained no special ability with its growth other than added strength. His nekomata could easily defeat it.
The displays continued. Many of the heirs showed basic elemental control. A few did like Balbina and used their familiar, casting a spell upon the animal to strengthen it in some way. One person, Ivan Volkov—third son of the House of the Wolf, the eleventh noble house—conjured weapons from thin air, showing more advanced mastery of the elements.
All in all, Aiden felt completely jealous and frustrated. They had what he so desperately wanted, and instead of using it to show true control of the Craft, they were merely going through the motions. It was like this display meant little to them.
Taking a deep breath, Aiden calmed himself. He needed to remember that to these nobles this was merely a presentation that they could in fact use the Craft. This display didn’t hold the same weight for them that it did for Aiden and Camelia.
“Camelia Dalrymple shall now present herself,” the proxy spoke firmly.
Aiden smiled at his sister. She reached her hand to him. He took it and squeezed tightly. With a firm nod, she released his hand and stepped forward. Bernard walked to the center of the circle with her before jumping to her shoulders.
Camelia looked around the room before she smiled. Reaching up she stroked Bernard’s fur. “Familiar, bound by contract, I ask you to lend me your strength.”
“Fuck,” Aiden mumbled.
The people around him seemed confused as Bernard’s yellow eyes started glowing in the bright room. At the same time, Camelia’s dragon pendant began to glow.
“Ruler of the skies and heavens above,” Camelia chanted, and instantly a seal appeared at her feet. “King of the gods of old, Jupiter, I call upon you. Send down your wrath. Show these mortal men the might you hold! Send me wind so I might guard my life!”
Another seal appeared on the ceiling, and a tornado descended into the room. The winds were held within the seals, not touching any of the surroundings. Camelia stood in the center of the storm, her figure barely seen by those standing outside it.
“Lend me lightning, to set my enemies ablaze!” Camelia continued.
Lightning arced within the confines of the seals. People started to step back from the circle, whispering words of fear. Aiden stood his ground. He knew the extent of Camelia’s control. As long as those seals held, they were in no danger.
“I am the heir to the Dalrymple line, House of the Dragon, and Guardians of the Nether,” Camelia announced. “Witness the power of my family and know we are not helpless!”
“Husband, what is the meaning of this?” the queen demanded.
“Necessary,” Travis answered without looking away from Camelia’s display.
Finally, Camelia calmed the storm she’d called upon and erased the seals. Her pendant stopped glowing and Bernard returned to normal. The cat jumped from her shoulders and trotted beside her happily.
“Top that.” His sister winked at Aiden as she came to stand beside him yet again.
“Oh, I don’t think anyone here can top that,” Aiden admitted.
Camelia shrugged. She obviously felt no guilt invoking the gods of old for a show that many considered a trivial thing. Still, he couldn’t deny his sister had definitely made a point. Many were casting them wary glances, no doubt curious about what he would do to follow up.
“Lastly we have Aiden Dalrymple,” the proxy announced.
Aiden swallowed around the lump in his throat. Yeah, this was the part he’d hoped wouldn’t arrive.
“Remember, wow them.” Camelia smiled.
“Right.” Aiden nodded and stepped forward. Lenore cawed, irritated, on his shoulder. She hated this song and dance routine as much as he it would seem. Turning in a circle, Aiden looked to his mom, who smiled in encouragement, and back to the royal family. His eyes fell on Daniel, and he couldn’t help but feel a calm overcome him. It was the oddest sensation ever, but as he looked into the prince’s eyes, he felt secure in being able to do this.
Reaching for his pendant, he pulled on the tail of the dragon, revealing a small dagger. Pricking his finger, he dripped a few drops of his blood onto the marble floor. Instantly whispers started up.
Closing his eyes and replacing the dragon’s tail in the pendant, Aiden chanted, “Servant dwelling in the Nether. Creature that has sworn fealty to me. Come forth and defend your master. I call on you, hellhound!”
* * * *
Daniel, his eyes wide, looked on in shock as the few drops of blood Aiden had let fall to the floor spread out and formed a circle unlike any he’d seen before. Even more so, he felt his heart freeze in his body at the words leaving Aiden’s mouth.
In a tower of flame and smoke, the circle was replaced by a towering dog. The creature easily stood twelve feet at the shoulders. What should have been fur appeared to be more like scales made of condensed smoke. The creature’s eyes burned with a fire that no doubt spawned from the very depths of hell. Despite the demonic air, the hound’s shape resembled the war dogs of ancient battlegrounds.
He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move. Out of everything he’d been expecting when this night started, he had not expected Aiden to turn out to be the Medium they were looking for. As the hound circled around Aiden, growling and snapping at the nobles slowly backing away from him, Daniel remained where he stood. Aiden was his destiny.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“Daniel?” William touched his shoulder.
“Fuck yes!” Daniel shouted, his fist pumped in the air.
His outcry pulled Aiden’s attention to him, and that of the hound. The creature growled and stepped forward. Aiden held up his hand, halting the hound’s advancement.
“I understand this gathering was called to find this cycle’s Medium. I declare myself as such,” Aiden said strongly. Despite the firm admission, Daniel noted a trace of fear in the man’s eyes.
“No.” Daniel looked to his mother. He could see the anger shining in her eyes. “This is wrong!”
“Queen Rebecca, calm yourself.” Daniel’s father stood, glaring at his mother.
“The Medium is not a man,” Rebecca continued. “Daniel is meant to be partnered with a woman!”
Daniel felt himself fill with rage at his mother’s words. Looking to Aiden, he could see something else in the Medium’s gaze, rejection. The hound growled low, its eyes turning to the queen.
“Aiden!” Camelia shouted.
Aiden turned to look at his sister, Daniel losing track of the man’s emotions. “See, told you.”
Before anyone could say or do anything, Aiden grabbed hold of the hellhound and left. The hound broke through the nearest window, taking Aiden with him.
“Aiden!” Camelia and Natalie called after him.
“We have to go after him,” Natalie said, climbing through the window.
“Right.” Camelia followed suit.
Daniel paused for a second before he rushed for the window, jumped through, and chased after Aiden. “Find him, Minerva,” he ordered his familiar. The owl screeched before lifting off from his shoulder. “Be my eyes far and wide. Let me see what you see,” Daniel chanted, connecting his sight to Minerva’s.
“So, where did he go?” Daniel looked behind him to see his cousins following him. William had been the one to speak up.
Fighting back the smile he could feel forming, Daniel turned his attention to tracking down Aiden. “Minerva caught sight of him heading west.”
“Then, let’s go get your boyfriend,” Marcus said.
About A.M. Halford
A.M. Halford lives in Southern Oregon and enjoy spending as much time outside as she possibly can. Her and her partner often find themselves hiking with their two dogs when the weather permits it. Fishing, camping, and photography are also activities she greatly enjoys. If the weather doesn’t permit going outside she can be found curled up with a sketch book, drawing whatever comes to mind.
A.M. got into writing as an outlet for personal therapy and has since expanded that into a hobby and profession that she enjoys. She often writes down anything that comes to mind, combing through the ideas and expanding on plots that sound the most interesting. She likes to write believable relations between people overcoming unfair hardships set before them. She always loves a happy ending and no matter the hell her characters go through they’ll always get their forever person.