Darkwyn Dragonelli tucked and rolled into a damp, pungent alley and
came to a forced stop against a pair of well-turned ankles, one of
them about to puncture his shoulder with the spike at its heel.
“What have we here,” she with the spikes asked. “A naked acrobat?
Don’t kneel there hiding your assets. Stand and introduce yourself.”
Darkwyn ran his slow gaze upward, along a set of curves that could
make a dragon man weep. She wore boots of a sort, that ended at her
thighs, slick-black leg-huggers with the supple, sturdy texture of
leather, though he could see himself in them.
her face, her horned mask of the same sheen revealed a striking pair
of bold violet eyes. Eyes that met his, head on, no backing down, a
gaze that brought his heart to life, and, oddly, to beat in time
with hers, a heart of flawless beauty.
Darkwyn took pause. How would he know how fast her heart beat, how
beautiful it was? Unless—
Per Andra, his guardian, he must seek his heart-mate—the single
female in the universe whose heart he could see for its undeniable
beauty and whose mind and emotions spoke to his.
Heart-mates did not stand waiting at the threshold of the veil,
destination side, no matter how tempting and extraordinary their
they? Did his?
if to prove his argument, the stunner’s valor yielded to hesitant
confusion, and she stepped back, boots squeaking when they rubbed
together. She seemed as perplexed as he. Except, she did not have
the Goddess Andra’s counsel on seeking heart mates, nor would she be
of a mind to find hers, in the way he must seek his
Without another word, she quit the dim alley for the sunny outdoors,
her long violet hair bouncing off her perfect backside with every
sultry swing of her hips, in the same way the door bounced behind
She’d made an escape of sorts, but why?
action concerned him, as if she refused to succumb to her own inner
thoughts, an attitude that might concern her life quest, soon to be
his . . . in the event she was his heart mate.
Absurdly, as he watched her go, Darkwyn sensed that he wanted more
from the enchantress, but what exactly? Besides seeing behind her
mask. Why show courage one moment and run the next?
sensed her unease and did not feel mistaken in that. Did the
violet-eyed wonder have the sight like Andra? Could this splendid
earthling who braved him in the present expect to fear him the
future? A question not to be answered until, if and
when, at some point in time, they met once more.
Subject closed. Perhaps.
Darkwyn took a moment to appreciate the quiet after his erratically
raucous passage through the ether, avoiding clawed, wailing felines
and the colorful mockery of a dive-bombing bird. Magickal creatures
all, per Andra’s invisible assurance.
Their caws and mews filled the distance, still, but Darkwyn saw
nothing of their owners as his cramped legs forced him to rise to
he’d not been crouched in an alley but behind a half wall. And
judging by the sea of gape-jawed patrons, he stood in a publick
house and must appear to have risen as if from the dead. Close
Given his lack of dress, Darkwyn appreciated the waist-high
flat-topped divider between himself and his watchers.
took in the sweet-sour scents of fermented grapes and roasting
meats. He observed the wary, hostile whisperers, clear tankards in
hand, and found this to be an extraordinarily ordinary world, much
like the one he left centuries before, when Killian of Chaos turned
his Roman legion into dragons in an evil act of spite.
Civilization, Andra might call this. But given the expressions on
the human types watching him, civil did not fit the mood.
Nevertheless, Darkwyn firmed his spine, thinking he might, after
all, prefer drowning in lava to standing here.
Andra’s words rang true: “No going back.”
throat rusty, he had yet to form a word. A dragon, silent for
centuries, now a man, again he firmed his lips. Telepathy and dragon
speak, he knew well, with but a rudimentary grasp of English, thanks
employed it attempting a telepathic call for help, but no one
replied. So he raised his chin, revealed no fear, and regarded his
watchers as steadily as they did him.
Astonishing, women sitting with men in an alehouse. Neither serving
wenches nor prostitutes, they drank the fruit of the vine wearing
less than dancing girls. Another world, this, where camp followers
lived equal to men, and birds squawked in the distance.
his magickal companion, set to breach the veil, perhaps, since
magickal supernaturals journeyed at different speeds.
Cranky bird would enjoy the hostility here—wherever here may be.
Darkwyn looked from one to the other of his watchers and felt the
need to grab a nearby flask by its neck, while in his left hand, he
hid a fist sized island diamond from Andra Goddess of Hope, a stone
rough and raw for ‘she who would acclimate him,’.
Raising his weapon-flask warmed local expressions, their amusement
giving him hope. Not as hostile as he surmised.
Thankfully, Jagidy, his sea green guardian dragon arrived, and flew
about, emitting a faint air-shivering whistle as he smoke-tested the
area. Green smoke meant neither good nor bad, but an inability by
the guardian to detect malice or kindness, likely a result of
general surprise. He’d caught them off guard, of course.
Darkwyn opened his thoughts to the miniaturized elder, now a pocket
sized dragon. “Jagidy, methinks we stand in Rome no more, even the
Island of Stars is a memory.”
Fortunately, no one could see Jagidy but him.
man entered the narrow alley beside him, bearing on his shoulder a
shiny silver barrel, on his face, a small mask. “What’s this?” said
he. “Inebriated entertainment?” He’d come in the door through which
the violet haired beauty left.
Given the man’s affability, Darkwyn lowered the flask.
“Only the bartender, and that’s me,” the masked man said, “belongs
behind the bar, though I’m not sure you want to step around it
advertising that fancy Johnson of yours. The ladies of Salem will
follow you like rats to the sea.”
“What?” A female patron asked, stepping closer. “The ‘Jock in the
Box’ is entirely naked? In that case, I’ll take one of him,
come,” another said, while another moved in. The three leaned over
the bar; all but popping their breasts from their clothes—and his
eyes from their sockets—as they grinned at his man lance, shaped
like a dragon tail, their attention making the thing misbehave.
Jagidy flew by, got an eyeful of bosom, and hit the far
wall—splat—like a buzz-bee in a beaker.
“Will ‘ya look at that,” one of the camp followers said, her gaze
pinned to Darkwyn’s rising soldier. “I gotta get me one of those.”
Unsure of his next move, Darkwyn backed into the rows of flasks on
the wall behind him, knocking them against each other, their banes
and toxicants swishing precariously. He searched his mind for their
language and dared give it a try. “Where am I?”
large, bright, airborne creature appeared and dive-bombed him. “Bite
Me, Peckerhead.” The bird squawked as it perched on his head, talons
closing to get a painful grip. Then the cock leaned forward and
stared upside down into his eyes. “Ride in a coffin, drink some
blood. It’s Bite Me at the fricken Phoenix. Run for your life!”
bartender kicked open the screen door and tried to slap the bird
with a towel. “Get lost, Nimrod.”
Darkwyn backed away, to protect his wily cohort, talons or not.
“Wanna buy him?” the bartender asked. “As far as we can tell, Puck
has all the markings of a Catalina Macaw. Showed up a few days ago.
Seems like forever. He’s brilliant, if off color. Quotes Ambrose
Bierce, according to one customer, jokes until you want to shoot
him, and cusses like a sailor. I’ll give you a great deal.”
Puck squawked. “Hypocrite: One who—professing virtues he does not
respect—secures the advantages of seeming to be what he despises.”
He ruffled his feathers. “Also known as a douche bag.”
Darkwyn felt oddly uplifted.
Jagidy smoke-tested the bird while Puck fake coughed and waved off
the smoke with a wing. Definitely his magick traveling companion. In
which case, Darkwyn supposed it didn’t matter that Puck the cock
could see Jagidy the guardian
dragon, smoke and all, as long as the bird didn’t give them away.
Yellow smoke meant Puck didn’t have a malevolent bone in his bright
Relieved, Darkwyn noticed a resolute female human—not the goddess
he’d rolled into—sweeping into the pub, headed straight for him, her
black-spotted, white cloak flying behind her. The cat at her side,
spotted the same, stood taller and more slender than most felines.
female bore a crown of tiny, fast-flapping air snacks, a whirr of
red and green hummers and a purge of bony black pingers flitting
about her head. “My name is Vivica Quinlan,” she said in telepathic
dragon speak. “I’m here to acclimate you.”
Acclimate him? Not possible, he thought. Yet, the brightest of
yellow smokes dissipated around her while she gave him a cloak,
black as his hair, and long as his overtall body. “My acclimator,”
he repeated, with sudden perception, and placed the island diamond
in her hand. “From Andra, for Dragonelli expenses. She said you
“That I do,” Vivica said.
ducked several of her fluttering entourage until Puck held a wing
straight out. From the corner of his eye, Darkwyn saw several of
Vivica’s critters perched on, or hanging from, that wing.
“Don’t mind them,” Vivica said. “The bats are as harmless as the
Fine, Darkwyn thought, but which was which?
“Follow me, Dragonelli,” his acclimator said. “Your brothers are on
air snacks quit their perch and hovered around her head, moving with
her, like a wreath of living flowers.
someone says something you don’t understand,” Vivica communicated,
“Okay,” he repeated. “But my heart mate?”
“Right,” she said, “your mandate on earth, among other tasks, is to
find your predetermined heart mate and assume responsibility for her
life quest, correct?” Vivica scanned the room and frowned. “Is she
Darkwyn studied one female after another.
Their hearts varied as much as they. Hearts for money, Darkwyn saw
in several. Hearts for lust. No kindness, no softness, a closed
heart, one dark, one clouded, two as empty as the cloth-flicking
bartender. “No heart mate here,” Darkwyn admitted, though he
couldn’t forget the violet-eyed beauty with the cautiously-shrouded
Vivica nodded. “Fine. Let’s go. Give the man the bird.”
way!” The bartender yelled. “I’m giving him the bird.”
“Well, Puck me,” the bird said.
“Air,” Puck said, at the open door. “A nutritious substance supplied
by a bountiful Providence.” And like a fair weather friend, Puck
paid homage to Providence by making a break for freedom.
the bird’s defection fell by the wayside as Darkwyn became
distracted by the woman who seemed to own the sidewalk.
stood in front of the building he exited, at the base of its wide
porch, that tall violet-haired goddess, not twenty feet distant, her
breasts raised by a torso-cincher as black as her horned mask and
Watching her controlled movements, her command, men doing her
bidding, held him captive.
“Bronte,” Vivica said as they embraced. “I hoped to see you before
I left, today.”
vision’s name slipped off the tongue, seductive as a song, and it
matched her heart for beauty. Bronte.
Caught by the aura of mystery surrounding her, Darkwyn’s heart
raced, his hands began to sweat, and his inner dragon stirred.