It had been almost a full moon cycle since Lucien had freaked out and forced them to leave Mama Goose’s home. Apparently, they had been found and needed to flee.
had found them was still a mystery to Alluna, but she did notice that Lucien stuck closely to Eriel’s side and was constantly looking over his shoulder, shying away from reflective surfaces and dark shadows.
The second day into their Northbound journey, they stopped at a roadside tavern. Alluna was hungry and refused to eat one more roasted rodent.
Zakreel shifted to accompany her inside, leaving Lucien, Eriel and the caged vampire out in the shadows.
“How long do you plan on keeping that vampire under lock and key?”
Zakreel shook his head, giving her a sad look over his shoulder. “We can’t set him loose. He’s out of his mind. I’ve been feeding him from my dragon’s blood, but he needs to go to his home planet to heal. Once there, it’ll only be a matter of months.”
As Alluna digested that bit of information, she followed him past the swinging doors into the tavern. The scent of stale alcohol, smoke, sweat, and cheap perfume filled her nostrils. There was also the aroma of food that made her hungry. The interior of the dilapidated building was made of grayed wood. Alluna felt her boots stick to the mucky floor. She cringed when she heard one of her heels accidentally squish a bug that had inadvertently scurried into her path.
The interior was dim, but she was aware of the interested stares of the patrons.
Alluna’s eyes grew wide as she took in the array of ginormous, barbaric warriors watching her. She scooted closer to Zakreel, clutching his arm. He patted her hand reassuringly, but she wasn’t convinced. Some of the men had arms as big as tree trunks and they all carried swords, axes, and pronged clubs.
Zakreel approached the rickety bar, nonplussed, and ordered a tankard of ale for himself and a bowl of stew for Alluna.
A few long moments later her food was placed before her along with Zakreel’s ale.
“Eat quickly, lass,” he murmured just before taking a deep slug of his ale.
She spooned the stew, which was surprisingly good, into her mouth. It was hot and smarted her tongue, but she sensed Zak’s growing tension at the silence around them.
“Hey, you’re a dragon shifter, ain’t ya?” a deep gruff voice said behind them.
When Alluna looked up, Zakreel shook his head at her. “Finish up, lass.”
She’d lost her appetite by now but obeyed the golden weredragon.
“My battle-dragon was slain this morning. I could use a new one… as well as a pretty piece of ass to warm me at night.”
The other warriors snickered.
Alluna choked on the last spoonful of stew and stared in horror at Zakreel.
“Well hell, Brock. If ya don’t want the female
then, the rest of us will be more than happy to share her.”
The laughter turned raucous.
Zakreel clenched his fist on the counter as his arm drew around Alluna’s waist. “I’m going to hold you close as I shift, lassie,” he told her in a low voice. “Don’t be afraid. I’ve done this before.”
“There you are, you son-of-an-Orgward,” someone shouted from the left.
Everyone turned to regard the newcomer. The tall man wore a hooded cape leaving only his face and hands bare.
He stabbed a finger in Zakreel’s direction. “I’m going to kill you. You’ve ruined me. Five thousand credits for a quick fuck and you left me and my crew crawling with Space Liechies. Look…” He opened his cape a bit and a long bloodied appendage fell to the floor. Little bugs crawled away from the rotted meat, and a few flew away. “Oh, my dick. It’s finally fallen off,” the male wailed.
Chairs and tables were overturned as the barbarians in the tavern stampeded out. Even the barmaids and owner scrambled away screeching in terror.
Alluna felt sick and buried her face against Zakreel’s back, but he suddenly moved.
“Remuel, ya bastard. Where have ya been?” Zakreel exclaimed joyfully.
To Alluna’s surprise, they hugged, laughing loudly. The other male’s hood fell back, revealing a head of glossy blood-red hair. “I’ve been stuck in Dragotulia.”
Zakreel’s eyes widened. “What?”
The red-haired male nodded, eyes wide. “It really exists. The queen of the vampires has the key to the portal. But that doesn’t matter, Zak. I need to find one of my sons. There’s this prophecy, two royal princes, twins, are going to be involved in saving our universe from destruction. They come from my bloodline.”
Alluna stepped out from behind Zak to study the man closer. He stopped talking to stare at her.
She swallowed convulsively. He seemed familiar.
“Ah, Rem. This is Alluna. I think one of my randy boys bedded her. She smells like kin.”
Remuel extended his hand to her, eyes wide, drinking her in.
Alluna placed her hand in his and then gasped when he bent and licked her knuckles. “Alluna. Enchanted to meet you, my dear.”
She drew her hand back and tucked it behind her hip to wipe the wetness from it on her dress. “Hello,” she whispered shyly.
“We’re taking her to Lumar.”
“What for?” the weredragon asked keeping his green-gold eyes on her.
“She’s the princess.”
Now Remuel looked at Zakreel. “A human princess. Do you not think the old king will be a bit miffed at his young princess being returned heavy with child?”
Zakreel puffed his chest out, clearly affronted. “She’s pregnant with Golds. That’s a high honor.”
Remuel grinned. “After all the whoring I’ve seen you do, I think not, Zakreel.”
The golden weredragon snorted.
Alluna turned to see Eriel poking his head through the swinging doors of the tavern.
“I don’t believe it. If it isn’t the randiest reaper ever created. Eriel, how the hell have ya been?”
Eriel darted inside to kiss and hug the red weredragon.
Lucien, who had followed him in, snorted in disgust and stalked a few feet away.
Remuel caught sight of him and began to growl, fire appearing on his skin.
“Rem, it’s okay,” Zakreel said gripping his arm. “It’s little Luke.”
The red weredragon’s mouth fell open. “What?”
He took a step toward Lucien, but stopped abruptly when Lucien opened his wings and hissed at the red-haired weredragon.
Alluna took a step back as well.
Zakreel stepped up beside Remuel. “He’s been enslaved by the demons.”
“How the fuck?” Remuel gasped.
Zakreel opened his mouth, but Lucien interrupted him. “After I was abandoned on Earth, A sadistic, devil-worshiping bastard stole me away.” His face twisted with hatred. “I knew nothing but abuse and torture until my eighteenth birthday. I was approached by a Dominatio and a devil. One offered me a divine sword and asked me to find it in my heart to forgive everything that was done to me.” Lucien snorted in derision. “The other offered me Lucifer’s sword and a chance at taking revenge on the man that raped me for years. Guess what I fucking opted for, asshole.”
Remuel shook his head and turned to Zakreel. “No. Please tell me this is a lie, Zakreel. Little Luke is a demon? I held his squirming, bloody little body when he was born.” The red weredragon looked at his palms as though remembering it all.
Alluna bit her lip, feeling pity well up inside her at the thought of Lucien as a sweet, innocent newborn.
Zakreel put his hand on Remuel’s shoulder. “He’s bitter and has plenty of reason to be filled with hatred, but the demons abused him as well. He isn’t evil, brother. There’s hope for him yet.”
Lucien laughed bitterly. “Hope? Hope for me? Let me tell you something, fuckers. Just because I want to screw the demons over by not letting them free Lucifer doesn’t mean I still don’t want to kill Devon.”
“Blasphemy,” Remuel sputtered. “Why the devil would you kill your twin?”
Lucien sneered, one tear rolling down his cheek. “Because we’re cursed. Our father was cursed, and we don’t belong here. I know that the angel that frees Lucifer will come from Davariel’s bloodline. If we die, then the prophecy will be broken.” He wiped the tear from his face in anger. “Now let’s get moving. I want the girl back with her father before the demons find us again.”
They traveled north during the cover of night and took refuge in caves during the day, because Lucien refused to close his eyes in the dark and the vampire Drakken couldn’t be transported in sunlight. The weredragons shifted into their beastly forms, the Gold always carrying the cage with the vampire. Remuel had taken to carrying Alluna in his claws, pressed close to his chest to keep her warm. Eriel and Lucien flew side by side between the two dragons.
On the fourth day, the sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon when Alluna rose from her sleeping palate. She tiptoed to a hot water spring that bubbled up at the back of the cave they slept in to bathe before the others awakened.
Quickly divesting herself of her clothing, she stepped into the steaming water. It reached her waist so she sat on a boulder toward the middle of the pool. Her hands smoothed over her rounded belly. Milk dripped from her breasts and she proceeded to caress and squeeze them. It relieved the pressure and swelling. Again, she remembered lips suckling her… remembered kneeling to take him in her mouth and suck as well, her mouth filling with hot milky sweetness....
A soft sound had her turning in fright. Lucien stood behind her. She jumped to her feet to face him. His eyes swept down her body.
“You still love him, don’t you?”
She backed away a step, glaring at him as the familiar ache twisted her insides. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Lucien gripped her wrist and proceeded to sit on the boulder she’d just vacated. “I’ve had many lovers in the past… women who I used and who used me. No one ever loved me.” His hand palmed her belly and she jerked back, but he held her wrist firmly. His ice-blue eyes rose to hers. “Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like.”
Alluna stared at him. “Feel like? What are you talking about?”
Lucien’s eyes lowered to her belly and continued to caress it. “Devon remembered what it was like for us—with Luciel and Davariel. But, it’s like living someone else’s dreams. I don’t remember a thing. I don’t know what it’s like. They said they loved me, but… I’ve never been someone’s special someone. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like,” he mused in a small voice, as if he were merely talking to himself.
She knelt before him, feeling her heart twist with pity, and touched his cheek. He closed his eyes and clasped her palm, rubbing against it like a cat. He turned his face and kissed the center and then she felt his tongue dart out and lick.
She gasped in surprise and tried to draw her hand away. His eyes opened and she saw the desperate desire in them.
“Wait. Please. It’s been so long since I’ve been touched without expecting some horrendous torture.”
Her eyes widened at his words and she cringed when he drew her hand lower, over his chest and abs.
“Please,” he whispered again, bringing her hand to his cock.
“No,” she exclaimed, trying to pull her hand away.
He wrapped her fingers around his erection, imprisoning them within his larger, stronger hand, and began to stroke his length.
Alluna whimpered, feeling the heat of his cock pump through her fist. She felt appalled by his actions and panicked when he gripped the back of her neck and drew her closer to his straining staff.
“I know no one will ever love me…” he panted, “But just say it. Make believe you do. I don’t care if it’s a lie. Let me pretend for a few moments. Tell me you love me.”
“Lucien, please stop. I can’t!”
“Just close your eyes. Say it.”
Alluna closed her eyes, but in horror, knowing he was ready to cum, and it would be all over her face.
The vision of her golden angel filled her mind… the shimmering blond waves of his hair, sapphire eyes, dimpled smile, and heavily muscled body. With a gasp, she opened her eyes to see him standing over her. Zak. Master.
“Tell me you love me, Alluna.”
“M-master?” A sob tore from her throat and she closed her eyes in confusion. It was a trick. Lucien was playing his mind tricks on her.
“Tell me you love me,” he demanded.
“No, please…” she begged. “I only want my Master. I love—“
His broken cry of completion as well as hot spurts falling against her cheeks and mouth had her halting her blathering.
Her eyes snapped open to stare in dismay at Lucien, his muscles straining as the last drops of his cum bathed her face and breasts.
With a cry of frustrated fury, she pushed him away.
He fell with a splash and she remained, cupping handfuls of water onto her face and into her mouth to remove the traces of his spent lust in disgust.
When done, she glared at the spot where he’d disappeared and frowned. The water bubbled and roiled. Why hadn’t he come back up? It wasn’t that deep.
Rising, she peered into the dark water trying to see him, but it was completely black and only her worried expression stared back at her.
She saw movement and he suddenly popped his head out.
“Help me,” he screamed, but something pulled him back under.
Alluna shrieked and Eriel, Remuel, and Zakreel appeared at the edge of the pool.
“Something has him,” she shouted frantically. “It’s dragged him under.”
Eriel dove in. Zakreel ran out, and seconds later a bright glow blinded Alluna. Zakreel had shifted into dragon form.
The dragon’s tail slithered into the water, looking like liquid gold. He backed up until his rump was almost in the water. For a moment, Alluna feared she would be crushed under the dragon’s hide, but he began to move forward when her back hit the far wall in the pool. His flank was mere inches from her nose.
The dragon pulled his tail up—the end wrapped around Eriel and Lucien. Remuel splashed into the pool and yanked her out as well.
Alluna stared, horrified and shivering, at Lucien. Bleeding cuts, as well as bites and claw marks littered his flesh. Remuel threw a blanket over her while Zakreel and Eriel did the same for Lucien.
“They’ve found us again,” he coughed blood. “We can’t keep running. The girl must be taken to her father. She’ll be safer there… away from us.”
Zak stretched his wings out, finally accustomed to their overwhelming weight. Anniel had kept in touch with him and Seth, telling them that a few people had seen a group of travelers heading north under the cover of night; two dragon shifters, a reaper, a devil, and a girl with dark skin and golden eyes.
Zak wondered who accompanied her, but whoever it was, they seemed to be protecting her and were obviously headed to Lumar’s kingdom. They were three days ahead of them.
Remi and Rowie had traveled to the southern regions before going to the eastern islands. Now that they knew Alluna was headed north, they headed back to find Zak and Seth. Anniel went up North ahead of them with a pack of wolves that were helping her locate Alluna.
Seth sensed Alluna close, but he wasn’t powerful enough to pinpoint her exact whereabouts. He was also afraid of pushing his power out too strongly and alerting the Arborian Master Guardians.King Lumar is recruiting more warriors.
Anniel informed Zak and Seth.
“Rem and Row should be here any moment,” Zak stated, packing his weapons and clothing onto his Ballan. The enormous gryphon-like beasts snorted and pawed at the ground impatiently, mirroring Zak’s mood.
Seth sighed. “I guess we’re going to have to join the king’s army. On this planet, the princesses are always given to the fiercest warriors to keep them safe. You’re definitely going to have to be in the king’s good graces to be able to get near her.” Seth grinned. “You’re going to have to ask her daddy for her hand.”
“Shut up, Seth. She’s probably showing by now. I know I’d want to kill the fucker who screwed my girl and left her pregnant.”
“But you didn’t leave her.”
“We know that, but God knows what they filled her head with after erasing her memory of me.” Zak ran a hand through his hair in frustration before rolling his shoulders. The weight of his black wings still overwhelmed him. They were hot too and he constantly kept them pressed together off his back to let the air circulate. Seth often claimed it looked as if his wings were praying. He caught the weretigri staring often and wondered of Seth was still pining away for Amaranth.
He was just about to ask when a “we’re back,” pierced the silence around them.
Remi slid a sleek Silver Whisper
next to them. The two-person transport hovered silently over the ground. It looked almost like an Edenian motorcycle, sans the wheels.
Seth scowled. “Where the hell did you get that? I hope you didn’t steal it, Fyre.”
“I traded it for a diamond,” Remi answered, looking insulted.
Seth glared at him. “And where the hell did you steal a diamond from?”
Rowie rolled her eyes as Remi huffed in indignation. “I didn’t steal any diamond. I did this....” He strode over to the side of the road and grabbed a big black rock. His hands ignited as he pressed his palms together over the rock. When the fire faded, he opened his palms with a proud grin. He held a sparkling diamond in his hand.
He tossed it to Rowie. “Here, babe. Another one for the collection.”
Zak snorted. “Geez. And here we were roughing it.”
Remi chuckled. “We’ve already had two houses. I was going to get a cruiser, but it’s not allowed past the eastern border.” He strode back to his Silver Whisper and retrieved a dark green cube. “I’ve got this, though.”
“And what the hell is that?” Seth asked.
Remi grinned mischievously. “You’ll see tonight when we camp out. I figure it’s about four more days of traveling until we reach Lumar’s kingdom.”
Zak strode over to Rowie and kissed her cheek. “How’re you holding up?” he asked, smoothing his hand over her pregnant belly. It wiggled and rolled beneath his palm, mesmerizing him.
“I still haven’t gotten used to all the action in there. I’m really anxious to get this whole pregnancy thing done and over with,” she sighed, looking tired.
Every protective, dominant instinct in Zak rose as he scowled at her. “If you were mine, you’d be back at Alpha 7, on your back, in bed.”
Rowie scowled back at him. “Well, that’s why Remi is my man and not you.”
His face flushed, and he stepped back. “Sorry. I didn’t mean… it’s just....”
Rowie touched his arm. “I’m sorry, Goliath. I didn’t mean to get snippy with you.”
Remi stepped behind Rowie and wrapped his arm around her belly. “Easy there, baby-girl. Blondie needs to get used to snippy pregnant women. Now let’s cut all this shit and go get Luna.”
Zak nodded and strode back to his Ballan. When Seth mounted his own Ballan, they headed north, toward the ridge of mountains in the distance.
Alluna held on to the saddle horn before her. Around her waist was a thickly muscled arm.
Once again, she found herself confused with a large void of memories missing from her thoughts.
She turned to look into the general’s face. His ice-blue eyes stared ahead from behind his metal mask. Big horns rose from the mask, making him look foreboding. The breeze blew his black cape and blond locks back, and the heat of his thighs cradled her ass.
He frowned. “Don’t look at me that way.”
“In what way?”
His eyes lowered to hers briefly before fixing on the road ahead of them. “Like I’m the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. It makes me want to fuck you.”
Alluna flushed and turned away hastily. Her hand rose to her belly and for the thousandth time, she wondered if he had been the one to plant a baby there. She couldn’t remember anything and bit her lip.
“Did… did he love me?”
“Who?” General Luke snapped.
Alluna rubbed her belly, her vision growing blurry.
The general snorted. “Love is for the weak,” he hissed in her ear, his voice full of contempt. “What has love done for you, Alluna? Filled your heart with sorrow and your belly with a bastard child.”
She shrank away from his cold words. Still, he continued. “You’d do well to harden your heart, or spend the rest of your life suffering for men who lie to gain access to the heaven between your thighs. You are not the only accommodating woman in the galaxy. Heaven can be obtained everywhere.”
She choked back a sob, understanding him completely. She’d been used and cast aside like nothing.
He sighed behind her and his hand came up to stroke her tears away. “Don’t cry, little one. Perhaps in this kingdom you will find a man willing to care for you and your babe. I… I cannot offer you safety. That’s why I must bring you back to your kin.”
His lips brushed her temple. “You are a princess. King Lumar has been searching for you. You will be well cared for in his castle. Your father is the only man you can trust, Alluna. Remember that… always.”
“Are you… are you the father of my—“
He chuckled—a laugh without humor. “If only, Alluna. I am not the man you love, nor am I the father of your child. I’m cursed. No one can or should ever love me. To do so would assure great suffering. I will never allow that. I know this now. This is how it must be for me.”
Shadows passed overhead, and she looked up to see a red and golden dragon soaring overhead. Trailing behind them was a black-winged reaper.
The road twisted and turned as they neared a large river with an arched stone bridge over it. Large stone demon-like creatures adorned the sides of the entryway to the bridge, holding large clubs. The dragons landed before the bridge and roared, making Alluna clap her hands over her ears in fright.
The stone statues moved, their eyes lighting with red fire. Their jaws opened, showing needle-like teeth with glowing fire within. Black smoke erupted from their jaws and out of their nostrils as they growled at the dragons.
“Trolls,” General Luke sighed behind her.
The creatures bellowed their indignation, fire dripping from their jaws. The dragons puffed out their chests and snorted angrily at the creatures, but the trolls refused to allow them to pass.
General Luke got down from the Ballan they rode and strode to the bridge. He reached up and tore his cape off. Alluna sucked in a shocked breath when large red devil’s wings unfurled behind him. The creatures blinked glowing eyes at him and actually began to cower.
His voice growled out in a strange language she did not understand, making the trolls move away from the entrance to the bridge. Black smoke billowed from their nostrils when the general turned and remounted the Ballan behind Alluna.
She was not sure what terrified her more, the snarling trolls staring murderously at her, the fire-breathing dragons snapping their jaws mere feet from her legs at the trolls… or the devil holding her tight against his body behind her. To make matters worse, the reaper had landed at the end of the bridge and stood with his wings unfurled and his eyes emotionless black voids.
“Fuck off, Eriel,” the general rasped.
The reaper grinned. “Can’t help it. Every time you show those wings, my whole system goes into kill mode. Just instinct I guess.”
“Stop your blabbing and get my cape before the guards see me.” He gripped Alluna’s chin and forced her gaze to his. “Sleep, Alluna. Remember nothing about my wings, or the reaper…” …Or the dragons… King Lumar is your father… you were kidnapped by an evil sorceress… kept in a tower from your birth until your twentieth spring. You were rescued by a knight who stole your innocence and left you abandoned.
She tried to awaken, but felt so tired. Visions swam in and out of her consciousness. A wall, higher than anything she’d ever seen, rising up to disappear into the clouds… a canopy of trees… wooden bridges, curious faces peering at her.
She felt her body immersed in water, being bathed, and then silken fabric wrapped around her. The last thing she sensed was soft bedding cushioning her and the face of a very big, dark man with glowing gold eyes looking down at her.
“Welcome home, my child.”
A warm, gentle breeze blew a tendril of her hair across her face. Alluna wiggled her nose when it tickled her nostril. She stretched with a yawn, and opened her eyes. A black wolf with golden eyes lifted its head to stare at her. The creature wagged its tail, licking its snout.
Alluna remained staring back at it, unsure if the pretty creature was dangerous or not. Tentatively, she lifted her hand and the wolf bowed its head to let her pet it. It rolled onto its back offering Alluna her belly in a sign of friendship.
“Where did you come from, pretty girl?” Alluna cooed with a smile.
The creature thumped its tail against the sumptuously appointed canopied bed in answer.
Alluna frowned, looking at the unfamiliar surroundings. A rich, deep green and gold comforter covered her and the drapes that hung to either side of the enormous wooden bed were a filmy green of the same color. The bed’s pillars were gleaming black-brown wood, and, from what she could see, the entire room was all wood, the walls a pale blond as well as the gleaming floor. A furry, gold rug circled the bed, and to either side of the headboard were wide stained glass windows that cast a rainbow of colors to either side of her.
The she-wolf turned over and growled at the door seconds before it squeaked open.
A pretty and very pregnant elf girl peered in. She seemed unfazed by the giant black wolf and stepped inside with a smile. “Ah, you’re finally awake. Are you hungry? Would you like a bath before breakfast? It’s still very early. The royal family hasn’t had their breakfast yet. I’m sure the king will be thrilled to see you at the breakfast table.”
Alluna stared at the girl. Her hair was a mass of jet-black spirals that fell to her waist. Her dark eyes glittered prettily as she flashed Alluna a smile. The cherry red of her lips was a stark contrast against the creamy white of her skin. Alluna looked down at her own golden brown skin. “How did I get here?”
“Well… I heard that a warrior brought you in. He found you wandering in the outer forest.” The elfin girl sat at the edge of her bed. “Do you remember what he looked like?”
Alluna frowned, her brows drawing together. “I remember… horns, and a mask of metal… blond hair… a thousand shades of gold.”
The elfin girl’s face paled as she put her hand over her heart. “Oh.”
“Do you know who it might be?”
She stared at Alluna wide-eyed. “Um… no.“ The wolf whimpered and crawled to the elfin girl. She stroked the creature’s dark fur.
“Is she your pet?” Alluna said pointing at the black she-wolf.
“Annie? No. She’s your guardian. She’s been by your side since you arrived here.”
“Oh.” Alluna reached out and stroked Annie’s fur. “What a strange name for a wolf. And what’s your name?”
The elfin girl smiled. “I’m Rowie.”
Alluna nodded. “I’m Alluna.”
Rowie smiled. “I know. You’re the princess. Come on. Let’s get you ready.”
Alluna felt reluctant to leave her room. Rowie had helped her bathe and then dress in an elaborate outfit made of green and gold scarves that draped down her hips and legs. Her top was two pieces of filmy silk, which crossed over her breasts but left a triangle of flesh over her belly exposed. Rowie brushed her hair into a tail that spilled from top of her head and then draped a veil over the lower half of her face.
Alluna found it strange that her feet were left bare, adorned with a few rings with glittering jewels and anklets that jingled when she walked.
Rowie gripped Alluna’s hand. “You’ll be fine, Luna.”
Alluna looked at her in confusion. That name… Luna… so familiar. The vision of a gothic castle flashed in her mind… many aliens dancing… loud music… a power guitar… fingers sparking fire as they fly over the glowing strings....
“It’s time to go,” Rowie said again as she opened the door.
Six guards waited for her. The men were big, their skin much darker than Alluna’s. They wore woven leather pants and boots. They also had metal breastplates in the form of a giant leaf over their chests and metal helmets with silver horns. Each had a sword strapped to their sides.
Dark brown eyes focused on Alluna, but their expressions remained neutral.
Alluna stepped out of her room, and immediately realized in shock that they were inside the biggest tree she’d ever seen. The size had her mouth falling open as she looked up and saw how it twisted up, ending in a canopy of giant leaves. There were layers of balconies, stairways, and doors as far as the eye could see. She noticed a few archways showed views of bridges, linking to other hollowed out trees nearby.
The guards lined either side of her and escorted her to a large woven basket that turned out to be an elevator.
Alluna held onto the railing nervously as they descended. To her dismay, neither Rowie nor the wolf had accompanied her.
The elevator stopped on the second floor. They exited after the head guard gestured for her to follow, and led her to a sweeping dining hall.
The floor gleamed, the pale blond wood like reflective as glass, showing the grandeur of the vaulted ceilings and metal chandeliers holding large glass orbs. A long table dominated the center of the hall, but it was low and had many cushions strewn around it. More tables, but much lower than the central one, hugged the walls. These also had cushions. Just like in the room she’d awakened in, there were tall stained glass doors leading out to balconies.
The guards led her to the end of the table. At the other side, she saw a low, golden bench, covered in deep green velvet.
A very thin, little man approached her. His eyes seemed to bulge out of his brown face, and his clothes, a long, brown, and gold tunic with gold leggings and boots, looked a size too small for his skinny frame. The effect actually made him look even thinner, like a twig.
“Your Highness,” he said with slight disapproval, before bowing low. “You have not been presented in public to His Highness. And since you have no other family member present to present you, it has fallen upon me to lead you to the king for presentation. My name is Herbeldegard, head keeper of Evergreen castle.”
He finally straightened and stared at Alluna with dark, beady eyes and a frown.
“Presentation? The king?”
She remembered being told her father was King Lumar. Try as she might, she could not remember ever seeing him before. Her only childhood memories were of the woman she called Mama.
The dining hall began to fill up. Most of the people that sat at the central table ignored her. Others, like the big warriors, stared at her, making her blush and look down at her fingers, which she twisted in anxiety.
“Your Highness,” Herbeldegard began, bowing again. “If it is not too forward of me, I would like to ask you to sit as the dining guests take their places.”
Alluna plopped down on the cushion behind her.
Herbeldegard cleared his throat. “If I may suggest also that her Highness learns a few hand signals to ease the presentation process. When I wave one finger at her Highness, she should sit. Two wiggling fingers mean walk, non-wiggling fingers mean simply stand. This,” he raised both palms and then bowed his head while lowering them to his thighs, “means that her Highness should kneel and bow her head, and that would be done before the king. After that, it is up to his Highness whether or not he accepts you.”
Alluna bit her lip. “And if he doesn’t accept me?”
The man cleared his throat and rolled his eyes before answering her in a bored tone. “Then I must escort her Highness out of the castle, but that is highly unlikely to happen, Your Highness.”
Herbeldegard clicked his heels with a little bow, and turned to face the entry to the dining hall. There he remained, still as a statue, as people began pouring into the hall.
Some musicians gathered in the far corner near the entrance and began to play stringed instruments and a lute.
Some warriors settled themselves near Alluna and watched her curiously. Her cheeks warmed at their insistent stares, and she looked down at her hands in her lap, unsure what to do or say. How she wished Rowie were here with her. She felt utterly alone and frightened.
Days of waiting had worn Zak’s patience down. He knew he acted like a bear with a sore tooth, but he’d had enough. Taking his frustrations out in the training field hadn’t really helped either. No one wanted to spar with him anymore, including the two idiots he loved as brothers.
Rowie had verbally cut him to shreds the night before for having knocked Remi out cold for a couple of hours. It had only notched up his rage higher. He had to grit his teeth, bite back the snarls, and bow his head. What the hell else was he supposed to do before an infuriated pregnant woman?
He couldn’t even find it in him to be astounded that he’d finally managed to best both Remi and Seth in hand-to-hand combat. Funny what not being able to use one’s powers did. They couldn’t beat him. He didn’t even use his artificially implanted wings to gain the upper hand. No. His frustration and anger over not being able to see Alluna was enough to turn him into a mindless, rabid beast.
He stomped his way to the dining hall, hand on the hilt of his new sword, eyes staring down. He didn’t care to see anyone, or talk.
If he knew where she was, he’d swing her over his shoulder and disappear into the wilderness. One night was all he needed to shake her memories of him. She had to remember.
He closed his eyes, remembering the way his mother had taken him in from head to toe, almost lewdly, and cringed.
“Fuck,” he snarled, and then actually flashed his teeth at the feel of a hand clutching his biceps.
Seth scowled at him. “Would you calm the fuck down, Goliath.”
Zak only snarled and jerked his arm away. The only reason he still accompanied the few handpicked warriors into the royal dining hall was on the off chance Alluna would be there.
There were rumors she’d been found and returned to the king, but that had been days ago, and nothing more was said.
As they entered the hall, Remi suddenly gripped his arm excitedly. “Zak. Promise me you’re going to stay cool.”
Zak only clenched his fists and glowered at the red weredragon disguised as an elf. Remi stared at him expectantly.
Seth steered them toward their usual spot. “Let’s sit first, Rem.”
Something about Seth’s voice had Zak frowning deeper. The weretigri looked flushed, excited, nervous.
“What the fuck is going on?” Zak hissed.
Remi grinned and opened his mouth, but Seth held up his hand.
“If you get up,” Seth began, looking seriously at Zak, “I swear to God, I am going to bash you over the head with my sword.”
Zak blinked at him. Perhaps the weretigri’s brains were still scrambled from when he’d backhanded him during the afternoon sparing session. Seth’s cheek was bruised, and for a fleeting moment, Zak felt chagrined.
“She’s here,” Remi murmured, and then tensed.
Zak turned his head, his eyes automatically going to the royal table set up in the center of the dining hall.
He didn’t need to scan the entire length of the table as he always did, day after agonizing day.
Alluna sat swathed in an array of hunter green and gold veils, sitting primly upon a satin, golden pillow. The color of the delicate fabric brought out the gold tone in her caramel colored skin. Her hair was a gleaming river of black down her spine, but the soft swell of her belly ultimately drew his attention.
He was almost on his feet, wanting to run to her, wrap his arms around her, kiss her, caress the bulging evidence of their love growing within her.
Seth and Remien’s hands griped the feathers of his wings and twisted them down, holding him in place.
“Easy,” Seth hissed. “Remember the plan.”
The plan. Right. Get near her, court her, get her to surrender herself to him… love him.
Zak rolled his shoulders, feeling the weight of the wings. He suddenly regretted going along with disguising himself as a reaper. How the hell was he going to accomplish getting Alluna to love a death angel? For that matter, was loving an Alpha Angel any better? Most of the galaxy considered them no better than demons. Lucifer’s angels.
“You can do it, Zak,” Remi said as if sensing his thoughts. “She’ll remember. She loves you.”
“Love?” Zak scoffed. “She was trapped in a fucking tower all her life. She didn’t know any better. If I had any decency, I should just leave her with her family. All I can offer her is a life on the run with a rogue Master Guardian.”
“Alpha Angel,” Seth corrected.
Zak sneered at him, “Alpha Demon. Everybody hates us, blames us for the war.”
Remi gave him a shove, his eyes sparking with fury. “Listen, fucker. You got her pregnant. If you’re not willing to bring her back home, I will. She belongs with us now. She carries your babies, for fuck's sake.”
Zak clenched his fist. For the first time in a long time, he felt confused. He wanted her so badly, but now felt… unworthy… scared even.
His gaze drifted back to her. She looked up tentatively, and then ducked her head. His heart clenched when he saw her lip quiver. It took all of his willpower not to run and comfort her.
“She’s scared,” he whispered.
The sound of trumpets announced the royal family’s arrival.
As was custom, they all stood and bowed. Zak kept his eyes on Alluna.
She also rose and turned to face the oncoming royal entourage.
Queen Lukresh drifted in, her face devoid any warmth. Her white hair, as usual, was coiled up in an elaborate coif that looked more like a fusion between a beehive and a bird’s nest. Her dress this morning was confectioned of prickly looking vines, and leaves. The royal princesses dressed in the more traditional northern territory garb of layered veils.
Zak frowned. The royal twins were very promiscuous. He’d seen them sneaking around the training camps of the warriors late at night. They often watched him during training sessions, but as far as he could tell, they were scared shitless of him… as most of the men were.
The queen floated past Alluna as if she didn’t exist. The twins, Aivy and Yuvy, looked with dismayed confusion. Like their mother, their hair and skin was white as snow, like most of the inhabitants of the eastern region of Arboria.
Northern Arborians were dark, from Alluna’s light caramel to King Lumar’s deep dark chocolate.
The king entered the hall last. His attire was far from regal. He wore the traditional woven leather pants and boots made of black supple skin, but he was bare from the waist up. His muscles gleamed as if oiled in the light of the dining hall.
Lumar was bigger than Zak, his muscles incredibly large. The man barely had a neck. His head was bald and sported a thin wreath of gold leaves that matched the molten color of his eyes—like Alluna’s eyes—hammered gold. It was a trait of royalty.
The royal twins’ eyes were violet, like their mother. He had only been hand-fasted to the queen for ten sun-orbits, so it was known that Aivy and Yuvy weren’t his offspring. Queen Lukresh was the widowed youngest daughter of the duke of the eastern region.
King Lumar stared at Alluna as he passed her to sit at the head of the table. Zak saw the longing in his eyes. The king immediately signaled the musicians to stop playing when he reached his royal seat.
Silence fell over the gathering. Zak found himself holding his breath as a servant helped her step up on the table and walk toward the king. When she reached the end, she went down on her knees, head bowed.
“Your highness, I present to you... the Princess Alluna.”
All eyes were riveted on the king now. He stood from his seat. Zak watched his arms go around a stunned Alluna and finally scoop her up.
He kissed her forehead and then smiled at the people.
“I present to my fellow subjects, my very own flesh and blood, my daughter, Princess Alluna.”
A roar of glee went around the room. Zak felt insanely jealous and wretched. After all, it was
her father… but she’s mine, damn it.
“You need to get his attention, Zak,” Seth whispered to him.
“Good idea,” Remi seconded. “Get in good with the old man. Chicks like that.”
Zak grimaced, remembering how much his first girlfriend’s father had despised him… for getting his daughter pregnant and being a freak.
Not much had changed this time either.
Zak scratched the back of his neck. “Aw, damn it all. And how the hell am I going to do that?”
“We should offer to be her personal guards,” Remi said conspiratorially.
Zak rolled his eyes. “Her guards? As her personal guards it would be a gross breach of trust for me to try to court her. The king would castrate us.”
“Not if she falls for you, Zak.” Seth said. “Again. The bravest and fiercest of the warriors can ask for her hand, remember? Don’t you want her back? Was I right, after all and the spell has worn off?”
Zak snarled. “She didn’t put me under a spell.”
Seth’s eyes narrowed, making Zak angrier.
“She’s the sweetest, most genuine female I’ve ever had, damn it. How could I resist not falling in love?” He looked back to where the king held her on his lap, offering her food. Zak had to forcibly hold himself back from going to her. “She’s mine,” he hissed.
Remi gripped his arm. “Easy, Goliath. Remember that’s her father.”
Zak pulled his arm from Remi’s grasp and sulked. “Yes. I know. Doesn’t make it any easier. I want to hold her… feed her… care for her and my babies.” He felt the color drain from his face. “Fuck. What if the king decides to terminate the pregnancy?”
Seth stepped in front of him, trying to block his view to the royal table. Zak looked down into his eyes. “That’s not going to happen. These people don’t do abortions. Take it easy and get your head on straight. We agreed that Anniel and Rowie would work to get her close to you, or we’d try to get access to her. You need to get into the king’s good graces to court her. The rest will be up to Luna and you. Can you keep focused on that?”
“Yeah, man,” Remi muttered next to them. “What kind of half-assed Dom are you?”
Zak winced and scowled down at Remi’s angry glare. Damn.
The red weredragon was right. He needed to get himself under better control… keep a level head. That’s what a Dom does.
The music began again and everyone resumed sitting at the long tables around the dining hall. Servants carrying large platters of food began filing out from the kitchen doors to either side of the hall.
Zak remained standing, drawing the curious stares of a few of those congregated. Seth and Remi also stayed standing with him, looking at him askance.
Zak began to make his way to the royal table, ignoring Seth and Remi’s insistence that he sit.
Those seated around the royal table gaped at him. Nervous murmuring went around the table as he drew closer.
“Zak, what the fuck are you doing?” Seth hissed frantically at his side. Remi only followed, watching him with wide eyes.
One of the warriors sitting at the royal's table, Brock, sneered and wrapped his palm around the hilt of his sword.
Brock was about as big and brawny as Zak, and he’d challenged Zak to spar on numerous occasions. Each time Zak had made him eat dirt. The man hated Zak with a passion. The feeling was mutual.
Brock made to stand, but their commander, Braze, gripped his arm and ordered him to stand down.
Commander Braze eyed Zak with narrow eyes. He was a hard, harsh man, but Zak knew he was honorable.
The servant that escorted Alluna earlier intercepted Zak when he reached the end of the table.
The little man visibly shook as he wringed his thin fingers. “No one can approach the king without being announced first, warrior.”
Zak scowled at the man making him whimper pathetically. “Then announce me,” he snarled through gritted teeth.
Sweat beaded the little man’s brow. “And your name is?”
“Zachariel of Angelos.”
The servant turned, clicked his heels, and announced in his high-pitched whiney voice, “If it pleases his Highness, the warrior, Zachariel of Angelos would like an audience with his Highness.”
Zak raised his eyes to the head of the table. The king regarded him with narrowed eyes, his grip perceptively tightening on Alluna.
She, on the other hand gaped at Zak. God, did she recognize him?
Zak’s bravado began to slip. She looked at him with terror-filled eyes. Damn black wings.
“You are a holy warrior, death angel, is that right?” the king’s thunder-deep voice asked. The king sneered, his golden eyes flashing as he gritted out, “A fallen reaper.” Fuck.
Zak winced, but bowed his head and answered. “Yes, Your Highness.”
He heard the king grunt. After a moment of silence, his booming voice asked “What do you wish, Zachariel of Angelos?”
Zak looked up at him and unsheathed his sword. Every warrior present jumped to their feet, swords at the ready.
Zak held his sword straight up and out in both hands, and once again bowed his head. “I wish to pledge my sword, and my life, to protect the Princess Alluna.” His spread his black wings, garnering a whoosh of sharp gasps, and then sank to his knees.
There, he waited with bated breath for the king’s answer.
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<a href="http://www.lushstories.com/stories/supernatural/the-witch-and-the-dragon-part-11.aspx">The Witch and the Dragon Part 11</a>