Alluna gaped at the beautiful dark winged angel at the foot of the long table. The end of a thick, golden braid had slid over his waist to rest at his hip as he bent over in a reverent bow. More wisps of gold curled around his face. His shoulders and arms bulged with muscle. The soft, brown woven leather encasing his thighs strained over the impressive girth there. The reaper was enormous and breathtaking.
Her heart pounded a frantic staccato against her ribs, and she suddenly had the strong impulse to go to him.
The feel of the king’s arms tightening around her had her snapping out of her trance with the death angel.
Alluna looked up into the face of the man who claimed to be her father.
His eyes glowed like embers, and that very moment he was narrowing them at her. “Do you know this reaper?”
Alluna heard the steel edge in his deep voice. Somehow it made her feel uneasy. She shook her head slowly. “N-no, sir. I do not,” Alluna answered softly.
The king’s lips pursed minutely, his gaze lowering to her belly. His hand came up over the small bump. “Are you sure?”
“I don’t know him. I’ve never seen him before.” I think,
she thought quietly to herself.
“Alluna, who left you with child?”
The hush in the dining hall was so complete, Alluna was sure everyone heard her nervous gulp.
Her eyes welled, making the king’s features blur. Alluna bowed her head, feeling self-conscious. “I don’t know, sir. I don’t remember.”
King Lumar cradled her against his chest. “Don’t cry, my child. I promise you that when I find out who degraded you, he will wish he’d never been born.”
Those words made her shiver. What if something had happened to the father of her unborn? What if he hadn’t abandoned her after all but had been… abducted…hurt…slain?
She closed her eyes with a sniffle, but opened them again to cast a sideways glance at the reaper. He still knelt, however, his eyes were now trained on her. Alluna felt trapped in their silver depths. Her breath caught in her throat and she felt herself begin to tremble. Oh, gods, what was he doing to her? Who was he?
King Lumar’s finger turned her face to his. “Do you fear this reaper, daughter of mine?” The king’s lips were turned down in a frown. “One word, Alluna… is this
the man who defiled you? I will put him to death this very instant, my child.”
She gasped, her head shaking before she even realized what she was doing. “No, sir, please. Don’t kill him. I…” Alluna peered at the kneeling reaper. He must have heard her father, and yet he remained on his knees, pledged sword still held out in offering. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a reaper up close. That’s all. Please don’t hurt him.”
The king seemed satisfied with her answer, to her relief. He looked back up at the reaper and his two companions. “My daughter will have eight guards watching her all the time. I want them changed every eight hours, a fresh set of eight, rested, well trained. You and your companions report to your commander. If he deems you fit for the job, then you will be one of Princess Alluna’s personal guards.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” the reaper said in his deep voice. The blond and redhead to either side of him bowed also, and then they stood upright and began to back away.
“Wait,” the king suddenly said. “Zachariel of Angelos, come here.”
Alluna’s spine stiffened, and she gaped as the six-foot-plus death angel advanced to the head of the table.
He sheathed his sword at his side and moved with feral grace toward her. Alluna was reminded of a predator stalking prey.
When he towered over her and the king, king Lumar ordered him to kneel.
His golden head dipped again just before his knees touched the floor a second time. The silky black of his feathers rustled as once again he spread them. They had to be no less than fifteen feet from tip to tip.
King Lumar lifted Alluna off his lap and leveled his golden eyes on her, face solemn. “I would have no heir of mine fearful. Touch your guard.”
What? She couldn’t believe he was telling her to put her hands on a reaper. She really didn’t want to, but didn’t want to displease the king.
She looked down upon the reaper’s bowed head. At least he wasn’t staring at her face. Her hand trembled as she lifted it to his head.
The ground beneath her feet trembled and the sound of distant thunder echoed in her ears.
Alluna snatched her hand back with a gasp as the reaper surged to his feet. Black feathers whispered over her face and the sound of steel being unsheathed hissed through the room.
Her nose was almost pressed against the thick braid that hung down his back. Another booming roll of thunder rolling beneath her feet had her gripping his waist in fear.
The reaper turned a little, his arm going around her waist to bring her to his side. His silver eyes burned down into hers.
King Lumar stepped up next to them, his face thunderous. “We’re being attacked. Make sure you keep her safe, reaper.”
“With my life,” he answered.
Movement surged all around her. The queen and the royal princesses were being ushered out by their guards. The guards that had escorted her down into the dining hall crowded around now.
“We’ll take over from here, warrior,” a blond guard snarled up at the reaper.
The reaper’s arms tightened around her. “I promised the king I’d guard her with my life, Brock.”
“The second shift of guards take over immediately after breaking the morning fast. You are not part of my shift. Back away.”
The edges of the room grew dark. People were being ushered out and the King had already taken up his sword and rushed out through an outer passageway. Alluna felt the darkness close in on them. It wasn’t something natural, but exuded magic… evil magic.
She felt the hair at the nape of her neck prickle and wriggled out of Zak’s hold.
He released her to grip his sword. The shadows turned to shapes, with glowing gold eyes and slit pupils.
Devils. Alluna stared horrified at devils. They blinked their golden eyes at the reaper. Shouldn’t they be running in terror of him?
One of the warriors slashed a sword toward one. The creature darted out of the way and sent its tail whipping back to crack across the guard’s chest. The man fell writhing to the ground, screaming in agony.
The demons gave a hissing laugh and pounced upon all present.
The ones surrounding her and the reaper only circled, as if still unsure.
Alluna stared from the creatures to the reaper. He didn’t need to touch them to kill them, but she sensed no power emanating from
him. She sensed power, but it was contained in a vacuum-like control. Why wasn’t he releasing it?
From the corner of her eye, his companions did not hesitate to attack the devils. The white-haired blond looked like a blur of motion, a small pile of twitching devils forming around him. Heads, arms, legs and tails flew, gobbets of flesh and innards splattering all over.
Alluna covered her mouth, feeling her stomach heave.
In another corner, a poor warrior was torn asunder by three devils.
The red-haired fae that had also accompanied the reaper kicked out and swung his sword, his body moving with the grace of an exotic dancer. He allowed the devils closer access to him and actually licked his lips in delight whenever a tail or claw sliced ribbons of red across his body.
One devil slashed its tail at the reaper. The blue tail wrapped around his forearm, but he swiped his sword and cut the tail with one clean swing. The blue devil screamed and red blood dripped from the reaper’s thick forearm. Golden eyes darted from the screeching devil to the reaper.
They probably drew the same conclusion as Alluna. This death angel was not really a death angel.
Alluna stumbled back and watched horrified, her heart beating practically in her throat. He fought valiantly though, became bloodied from the claws and tails, but, just like his companions, killed as many devils as they did.
A few devils drew near her. Her belly moved, drawing her hands to it.
There was life within her. More than one. She needed to protect her babies. Desperation pushed out the terror inside her, followed quickly by anger.
Everything began to glow. It was like seeing the world around her through blue fire. Her skin crawled with it.
Zak’s eyes widened when he looked at her. That momentary lapse of attention had two devils lash their tails around his arms. A third wrapped its tail around his neck. They were going to kill him.
Her voice was alien even to her. The blue glow grew intense until she channeled all that energy to her hands. Blue fire licked down her arms to her hands and she sent it out.
The light was blinding, the backlash of power blowing her hair back, causing the tables and chairs and food to fly against the walls.
When the light faded, leaving a static crackle in the air, the devils were gone.
Most of the warriors were injured. Four of them were dead.
The white-haired warrior knelt over the reaper, who was still trying to breathe after almost having his throat crushed.
“Way to go, Luna,” the red-haired fae grinned as he neared her.
She stared at his face. His clothing was ripped, showing bloody cuts. One cut was so close to his eye, that just a hairsbreadth higher might have cost him one of those glittering green-gold gems. He was beautiful, not handsome, but sexual, alluring.
She took a step back. “You look like Remuel.”
He stopped, his grin fading. He blinked at her. “What?”
The white-haired warrior was helping the reaper stand. Sapphire eyes darted to her. “Luna,” he croaked.
The fae gripped her arm. “Who did you say I looked like?”
Alluna stared at him. She remembered the name and the face, but she didn’t remember anything else. Who was Remuel? Why did looking into this fae’s face bring the image of another similar to him? The hair was the same color, like fresh blood, deep, dark, vivid crimson, but the other man’s hair had been a shimmering spill straight down his back. This one’s hair was cut in a way that it stuck up in all directions, like the corona of a sun before trailing down his back in a sharp V to his backside.
“We need to get the princess out of here,” one of the warriors shouted.
She felt the reaper approach before she even saw him.
He shoved passed the fae and gripped her arms. “Are you okay? Did they hurt you?” His hand splayed over her belly and she felt whatever was inside roll against his palm, seeking his warmth. It made her gasp. She stared up at him and the realization hit her. This was the man who’d gotten her pregnant. The babes in her womb recognized their father.
She didn’t know whether to be overjoyed or outraged. So many questions swarmed in her mind. Who was he? Why weren’t they together? Why couldn’t she remember anything that had to do with him, or why or how she became pregnant?
Another boom shook the floor beneath her slippers.
“It’s the mages. They’re attacking the kingdom,” a new warrior shouted, running into the dining hall.
Everyone that wasn’t a warrior had cleared out. She was left surrounded by a group of fifty warriors and guards.
A tall warrior approached. He was gigantic, dark-skinned, but not as black as her father. His hair was pulled back away from his harsh face in rows of thin braids that fell half way down his broad back. He might have been a handsome man once, but half of his face was mutilated like minced meat. One ebony eye peered out from beneath a mass of scar tissue and the skin covering his deformed cheek looked raw and deep red. Something big and pronged has bashed the side of his face. The fact that he’d lived after such an injury spoke volumes of the type of warrior he was.
“We need to get her aboard a boat and out to the northern sea,” he barked striding toward her.
Zachariel, the reaper, stiffened and scowled at the man. “Out to sea? Commander Braze…”
“It’s the only way we’ve managed to keep our women and children safe,” commander Braze said. He gripped Alluna’s hand and pulled her after him.
Alluna stumbled after the commander, but after a few steps, she was swept off her feet by the reaper.
“I’ve got her,” he said.
She gaped at him for two seconds before scowling. “Put me down. I can walk.”
All her bravado shriveled up and withered when he looked at her. His brows drew together and his mouth tightened into a firm line.
Alluna held her tongue and finally looked away from his burning gaze, biting her lower lip.
Stars above, what in hell's name was that all about? Her whole body shivered and she felt as if she’d done something awful. He didn’t say anything to her. Didn’t say a word, but she felt his…what? Anger? Annoyance?
One look was all it took to have her casting her glance away from him. The weight of his stare had been too much for her to withstand.
Again she shivered. Why? Why had yelling at him made her feel so…bad, guilty?
They moved through a secret panel that slid in the floor by one of the fountains in the main hall in the center of the royal tree—a tree that measured about two hundred paces across and towered four times that height into the clouds. It was what perhaps a normal tree would look like to an ant, Zak mused.
The entire kingdom was made up of these trees, but the one where the royal family resided was the largest and most impressive. Commander Braze had told him that at one time the entire planet’s surface had been covered with these sacred trees, but the newcomers that had been allowed seek refuge on Arboria began to desecrate the planet by killing the trees to build other types of shelter.
The native Arborians ran most of the aliens out to the dessert, into the southern regions of the star-shaped main continent. At least there, there was nothing to kill but sand dunes and the large mountainous rock formations.
The secret passage beneath the fountains was wide and smelled of wet soil. Roots hung from above like lacy webbing. The faint scent of the sea tickled his nose and a faint breeze wafted against his skin, giving him goose bumps.
Alluna was quiet in his arms, sullen. Her little outburst of temper had really riled him. After the attack on the kingdom and the appearance of devils, he thought he’d go insane thinking she’d be hurt or killed. Seeing her body aflame with blue fire had scared the living shit out of him. He hadn’t cared that his momentary lapse of attention had nearly cost him his own life. That fire had come from her—her own powers manifesting themselves. She’d burned those devils to vapor. Not even their ashes remained. Fucking awesome.
Still, he was so terrified something might take her away after he’d finally found her that when she protested his carrying her, it was all he could do not to pull her over his lap and swat her beguiling little ass.
Zak looked down at her bowed head and fought the urge to press a kiss to her forehead. He longed to take her home, to Alpha 7. Damn protocol, damn the king and Arboria. Fucking planet was still in its barbaric warring stage. Never mind that the aliens had actually started it all. Beings moving into other planets had to observe and respect the host planet’s laws. If they didn’t like it, they should leave.
But why didn’t the Arborian Master Guardians toss out the rogue aliens? Something did not make sense here. Zak was sure the Master Guardians were up to no good. Unfortunately the LOS didn’t realize that when they backed them up. In all this insanity, only the Alpha Angels were regarded with suspicion.
After running for what seemed like eternity, the tunnel widened out to a large, windy cave. The smell of sea salt was strong and the waves could be heard thundering ahead.
Light blinded him when they turned one last bend in the cave and came upon a straight drop. Hundreds of feet below, the sea churned and smashed against the cliff face.
Alluna’s arms tightened around his neck in fear.
Zak glared at commander Braze. “What the fuck? Are we supposed to drop her to some boat down there?”
Commander Braze snorted. “Of course not. Are you daft? We drop her so that dragon can catch her and take her to the safety of the royal ship beyond the horizon,” he growled, pointing to the sky.
Zak’s jaw dropped and he looked back out, but this time up to where commander Braze pointed. The sun was sinking out to the west, turning the sky shades of gold, pink, lilac, and plum. Before wisps of cottony clouds dusted pink was an enormous golden dragon. His wings beat a steady rhythm as he zipped back and forth in the sky, his fiery eyes riveted on Alluna.
Zak could not help the snarl that erupted from his throat. His skin seemed to crawl with rage as he hugged Alluna tighter to his chest. Hands gripped his biceps to whirl him around.
Seth’s wide, pale-blue eyes stared him down. Remien was already humming the Dragon’s Lullaby, looking just as nervous.
“Zak, calm,” Seth said holding his arms in a death grip.
“What the hell’s going on,” Brock snapped. “Commander, do something. Why isn’t he dropping the princess?”
“Stand down, soldier,” Braze commanded when Zak heard the unmistakable hiss of steel being unsheathed.
It was either fight or flee. One look at Alluna’s terrified face had him making up his mind. She was his to protect, and protect he would.
Zak opened his implanted wings. There was no time to hope or pray he was strong enough to fly. He took a flying leap off the lip of the cliff and saw the sea rushing at him. His arms tightened around Alluna, who’d buried her face against his neck as she screamed.
Alluna’s throat felt raw. His body bulged with muscle against hers, hot like fire. The wind was icy cold, but not as cold as she imagined the water was going to be when they finally hit it.
Would they survive the plunge? Impossible. She caught a glimpse of the hundred foot waves that smashed against the cliff face before he dived off. She closed her eyes tight, unable to look at the horror that awaited them. They would be pulverized in an instant.
She panted, no longer feeling the sensation of falling, and peeled back one eyelid to see.
Misty clouds surrounded them for a second before the endless sky stretched over their heads. His black wings thundered behind his back and below, through brief holes in the puffy clouds, she caught sight of the glittering ocean…far, far below.
She gasped and held him tighter with a whimper.
“It’s alright baby. I’ve got you,” he whispered in her ear.
“Hey, what gives?” another deep voice asked, making her scream.
Flying right next to them was another reaper with dark hair.
She heard them gasp, both reapers staring at each other in shock.
Zak’s eyes narrowed. “Eriel?”
“Holy shit! Zak?”
A shadow passed over them. Alluna looked up to see two dragons hovering over them.
“Shit,” Zak cursed.
“Easy,” Eriel shouted with a grin. “They’re with me. We need to take her down there.”
Alluna looked to where he pointed. There was a large ship below. They descended.
Nothing but females and small children were aboard. Alluna clung to Zak’s neck when he landed upon the deck. He allowed Alluna to slide from his arms, but kept her close against him.
“You must leave now, warrior.”
It was the queen who’d spoken. She cast a venomous glare at Zak.
“We’ve got to go, Zak,” the other reaper called from above. “You’ll anger the mermaids.”
Zak’s eyes widened and he looked around, before cupping Alluna’s face in his big palms. “I’ll be back once everything is safe in the kingdom, Luna. I promise.”
“Take your hands off the princess, warrior,” the queen hissed.
Alluna looked back at the queen, flanked by her daughters. Her majesty’s eyes were cold chips of ice. Zak backed away, apologizing.
“Be off, before you endanger all of us,” the queen spat, shooing him with her bony hands.
Alluna fought the urge to reach out to him when he took to the sky again. He gazed at her a few moments before the other reaper touched his hand.
She had to put her hand to her forehead to watch as he flew away, back toward the lump of land with the two dragons and reaper.
She turned to look at the queen. “We should go below to our quarters until we are fetched. No harm will come to us here.”
She looked down into the water and could see faint glimpses of movement beneath the dark sea.
“Come, child. We mustn’t taunt the merfolk.”
Alluna turned and followed the queen and the princesses through a wide door and down a flight of steps. The floor beneath her feet rolled and pitched gently.
Queen Lucresh turned and gestured to double doors at the end of the passageway.
“You girls stay together. Do not come out unless I come for you personally.”
“Yes, Mother,” the twins drawled in unison.
Alluna walked into the small room with the other girls and stood, unsure, as one of them closed the door on the queen’s unsmiling face.
Yuvy and Aivy turned slowly to regard her…the way a snake regards a bird it’s about to eat.
Alluna gulped nervously.
Zak followed the dragons back to the opening in the cliff face. The warriors were still there waiting. Brock had his sword out and Commander Braze was seething.
They all backed away to allow the dragons to enter the cave. Zak and Eriel landed just behind them.
“Zak, what happened? Where’s Luna?” Remi asked with wide, panicked eyes.
“Oh, shit. Eriel?” Seth’s eyes narrowed on the reaper.
Zak was busy watching the dragons transform. Their scales glowed with fire before shrinking down into humanoid form.
Both males turned, wide-eyed and strode toward him. Zak backed away a few steps. Remi stopped talking and looked back. He also took a few steps back.
“Son? Is that you?” the red-haired male, said walking faster.
They stopped in front of them. Zak looked at the tall blond male staring at him. The man sniffed at him a bit and began to grin. “Aye. You’re my boy. You smell half Edenian. Must’ve been from that batch of seed I donated to the fertility institute.” But then he frowned, looking at the wings folded behind Zak’s back. “But what’s with the black wings?”
Zak clenched his fist and fought the urge to slam it into the man’s face. This was his real father?
Remien’s father was hugging Rem so hard his face was turning blue. Shit, they looked almost alike.
“Don’t I get a hug too, boy?”
Zak lunged, but Seth held him back. “Easy, Goliath.”
“Goliath? Good name.”
“It’s my nickname,” Zak snapped.
His father frowned. “Ya don’t look too happy to see yer da, boy.” He folded his arms over his chest.
Zak clenched his fists, but kept still. “How can I be happy knowing I… knowing that you just…I was a donated batch of fucking seed,” he finally spat.
“Aye, aren’t we all,” Remi’s father laughed out loud until Zak gave him a murderous glare.
The red weredragon snorted with distaste. “Zakreel, I told you not to sell your seed, man. Look how bitter he is.”
“I didn’t know what the hell they were going to do with it.”
“It was a fertility institute,” Zak shouted, enraged. “What the fuck did you think they were going to do with it?”
The golden weredragon scowled at him. Zak just wanted to hit him. The hurt of so many years of rejection from his human father—no, stepfather....
Zak spun around, unable to bear the sight of his sperm donor any longer. He refused to think of him as his father.
“Where’s the princess?” Brock snapped, coming up next to them.
Zak turned to Brock with a growl, but Eriel was already answering. “We delivered her to the royal vessel, safe and sound.”
Brock sneered and Zak felt his skin tingle with the onset of a shift.
Braze stepped up to them. “What the hell is going on here? What’s the problem?”
“Uh, nothing,” Seth and Remi blurted.
Commander Braze scowled. “Well, then get your shit together and let’s get moving back to the surface. There’s a battle to be waged and every able body is needed to defend the kingdom.”
“Yes, sir,” they all responded.
Zak turned on his heel, so many emotions swirling within him. His father. His real father.
Where had he been all these years while he’d grown up shunned and hated? Oh, his mother had adored him, but all his life he’d felt rejected by the man he thought was his true father. And then when he’d shifted that first time... it had been a nightmare to discover he was a monster. A fucking golden dragon.
Seth caught up to him, but remained walking next to him without saying a word.
Behind them, he could hear Remi conversing with his own father. Rem’s father had apparently been that giant red dragon they’d seen on Vildminoria when they’d gone in to discover why vampires were disappearing.
Fuck it all to hell. Zak was pissed. His mind began remembering the crystal-vid Devon had shown them of their fathers… the orgy with Davariel. He shook his head. No. He wanted no part of this man. If Remien didn’t care that his father had impregnated his mother and then abandoned her, that was his problem. But Zak wanted no part of a male who’d sell his seed and just walk away, uncaring about the children his seed might spawn. He’d jerked himself off for a few credits. That’s all Zak was. Sperm in a cup.
Alluna watched the girls circle around her warily.
“So,” Aivy, who had a beauty mark by her left eye, began. “You’re King Lumar’s true daughter.”
It wasn’t a question, but Alluna felt compelled to answer. “That’s what I’ve been told.”
“And where have you been all this time?” Yuvy asked now.
Alluna thought and remembered the tower…and Mama. “I…I grew up in a tower room.”
Aivy plopped herself down on one of the three beds in the room. “Sounds boring. What did you do for fun?” Her eyes alighted on Alluna’s belly and she suddenly grinned. “Did you sneak boys into your bedroom?”
Yuvy plopped down next to her sister, her eyes wide with excitement. “Yes. Tell us all about it.”
Alluna blushed. “No. No one ever came to my…” She saw herself opening the shutters to her room, turning and seeing a golden-haired angel kneeling in the middle of her room—eyes like blue fire. Blue?
Alluna clasped her hand over her thudding heart, trying to remember his face, instead she remembered being tied down to her bed, her legs spread wide as he....
She sat before she fainted. The man who’d made love to her had blue eyes and golden hair… no wings. The reaper had grey eyes and black wings. He couldn’t be the one.
“Are you okay?”
Alluna looked up at the blonde princesses. They looked at her with blank faces.
“Um. Yes. I’m fine. Just got a little dizzy spell.”
“Aren’t you going to tell us how you got pregnant?” Aivy asked.
“Was he a good fuck?” Yuvy seconded.
Alluna’s cheeks burned. “I… I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
The girls snorted in disdain.
Aivy huffed and walked to the door. She tried to turn the latch, but it seemed to be locked.
“I’m going to go stir crazy here,” Aivy said, stomping one foot as she crossed her arms over her chest with a pout.
“Why don’t you get the key like I did the last time,” Yuvy drawled.
Aivy snorted. “No way. Mother said next time we’d get our favorite jewels taken away from us and given to the poor.”
Yuvy shuddered, but then stared at Alluna.
Her sudden smile had Alluna squirming uncomfortably. “Alluna doesn’t have any jewels yet. Perhaps she can sneak into Mother’s room and find the key.”
Aivy grinned at her, too.
“I don’t want to get into trouble,” Alluna said in a small voice.
Yuvy grinned. “Nonsense. Mother would never punish you.”
“That’s right,” Aivy chimed in, grinning just as wide. “She wouldn’t want to be viewed as the evil stepmother.”
“Getting the key is easy,” Yuvy giggled.
Aivy clapped her hands with a laugh. “Very easy.”
Moments later, Alluna found herself crawling through a narrow vent that started out in the twins' wardrobe and stretched above the ceiling into the queen’s chambers.
She struggled on her belly, hoping she wasn’t hurting her babies, until she reached the queen's closet. After climbing down box-filled shelves, she squinted in the dark for the long, golden robe the queen had worn before retiring to her rooms. The twins had told her that the key was in an interior pocket. Alluna tiptoed through the dark closet and searched through the myriad of cloaks and dresses. She could hear the queen humming not far from the doors and grew nervous. What if the queen discovered her hiding in the closet?
A chill draft made bumps rise on Alluna’s skin. Power emanated from the adjoining room. Just as Alluna closed her fist over the cool key in the golden cloak’s pocket, she heard the queen’s voice.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall… who is the fairest of them all?”
Deep masculine laughter echoed around the chamber.
Creeping up to the narrow crack between the wardrobe doors, Alluna peeked out.
The queen’s chamber was awash in golden candle light. She stood naked in the center of the room before a large black glass. The surface rippled, and out stepped a man with skin the color of deepest mahogany. He was dressed in dark blue and stood tall before the queen.
She fell to her knees before him, clutching at his hips. He only laughed. “Why, you, my dear queen. You are the fairest of them all.”
Alluna’s eyes widened and her cheeks grew warm when she saw the queen wrestle with the closure to his pants until she’d freed his sex from his pants. She gripped it with both hands and wrapped her mouth around him. The man groaned and tossed his head back.
Alluna could not watch anymore. Carefully, she climbed the shelves again and crawled back through the vent to the twins’ wardrobe.
Aivy and Yuvy waited eagerly on the other side.
“Well?” Yuvy prodded.
Aivy grabbed her arm. “Did you get it?”
Alluna bit her lip and unfurled her fist, showing them the key.
Aivy grabbed the key before she could utter a word. Alluna wondered if the girls knew of their mother’s affair with the dark man from the mirror. Somehow, she sensed they didn’t. These girls had dark secrets of their own, she was sure.
Aivy unlocked the door and looked out. Yuvy stood behind her.
“Coast is clear.”
Aivy tiptoed out as Yuvy turned to Alluna. “Well, just don’t stand there. Come on.”
Alluna really didn’t want to go out with them. The queen had told them to remain there until she came for them.
“Alluna,” Yuvy hissed from the door, waving her hand for her to follow them out.
All was dark and quiet, as the girls climbed the stairs back up to the deck. There were a few females standing above, watching and keeping guard. They watched the skies.
“What are they looking for?” Alluna whispered.
“The dragons,” Aivy answered. “When it’s safe to go back, the dragons come to fetch the ships.”
“Ships?” Alluna asked in confusion.
Yuvy pointed out toward the water.
Alluna looked out toward the dark, rolling water and spotted other ships floating nearby. It was growing dark and the lights from the other ships twinkled on the gently rolling sea.
The wind blew across her face in a warm caress and she heard the faint notes of music. No. Not music…but voices, beautiful voices singing in harmony, like a chorus of angels.
“How pretty. Who is singing?”
The girls giggled. “Why the mermaids, silly. Haven’t you ever heard them sing?”
Alluna stared at them wide-eyed. “No. I don’t think I ever have, actually.”
“Have you ever seen them? “
“I don’t think I have.”
Yuvy grinned, her molars glinting in the dark. “Would you like to see one?”
Alluna felt unsure. There were only women and children aboard the ships. Surely the warriors and the king wouldn’t leave them in a dangerous place… would they?
“Why aren’t any of the other warriors present on the ships?”
Aivy laughed as Yuvy snorted. “Mermaids hate males. That’s why they sing, to lure them in, seduce them, and then drown them.”
Alluna gasped. “W-why would they do that?”
“Many siglons ago, the ancient king of Arboria lured the sea queen out of her watery realm. He seduced her and promised her he’d let her reign by his side as his queen, but he wanted her to bear him sons, princes as heirs to his throne.
"The queen, who came from a realm where males abounded more than females, agreed. Her father, the king of the sea, had warned her to stay away from the surface males. They were evil and treacherous, but she didn’t listen to him and fell in love with the handsome surface king.”
“Sh-she disobeyed her father?”
“Yes,” Aivy continued now. “And every time she got pregnant, she bore the king a daughter. The king would become enraged and toss the baby out to sea.”
Alluna gasped in horror.
“After she’d born him twenty daughters, she finally bore him a son. The king, finally satisfied with his perfectly beautiful son, strangled her and tossed her body out to sea.”
“B-but he didn’t love her?”
“No. He only wanted an heir to his throne. There were barely any females back then because the men only wanted sons and kept tossing their daughters out to sea when they were born.”
“Yes. Where the sea people had too many boys, the surface people had too many daughters. But since the new females were mixed with merblood, they did not drown. Unfortunately they also remembered the king's hatred and vowed revenge. Especially after he killed their mother. There were no women left on the surface, only beneath the sea. So when the young prince grew into a man, he set out to capture himself a wife from the mermaids.
"His sisters waited for him and the king to sail out and they began to sing, luring them farther and farther out to sea. By the time they realized they had been tricked, it was too late. The mermaids attacked the boat and dragged them down to the bottom of the sea."
“They drowned their father and their brother?”
“Yesss,” Yuvy hissed.
Alluna shivered, her hands automatically going over her belly in a protective gesture.
Aivy smiled at her. "But we don’t need to be afraid of them. They don’t hurt females.”
“One of them gave me this comb,” Yuvy said, patting her hair.
Alluna saw the glittering starfish comb she had holding up one side of her silver tresses.
“That’s very pretty,” Alluna admitted truthfully.
“They like pregnant women. I bet they give you something really pretty for your baby.”
“We can lower you in the lifeboat so you can talk to them. Having a mermaid as a friend can come in handy sometime. You never know.”
Alluna cringed, looking out to the darkened sea. “Oh, I don’t know. It looks awfully dark down there.”
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid. The king doesn’t like for us to fear anything,” Aivy said in a mocking tone.
Yuvy stared at her with cold eyes. “Don’t you trust us?”
Alluna didn’t want her new stepsisters to dislike her. “Of course I trust you. I just don’t want to get in trouble.”
The girls giggled. “You won’t get in trouble. Mother wouldn’t dare punish you. That would make the king angry. And the king is so desperate to make up for lost time, he wouldn’t scold you either. Besides, the mermaids are perfectly safe for us females. It’s the males they hate.”
They led her to a small boat to the side of the ship. No one said anything to them as they helped her in. They boat was suspended by ropes on a pulley system. The girls untied the rope and began to lower her to the rolling sea.
Alluna clung to the little seat in the small boat until she felt the soft rise and fall of the waves. The sound of the rope splashing in the water made her frown. Why did they let the ropes drop?
She looked up and barely made out the dark silhouettes of Aivy and Yuvy’s heads against the backdrop of the night sky. The sound of their giggles floated down to Alluna just before they disappeared all together.
The lifeboat began to drift away from the ship. Alluna panicked and wondered if she should call out to the twins. Where had they gone?
Soft splashing drew her attention, making her turn to look behind her.
Three heads were peering up over the edge of the boat. Alluna screamed in surprise and scooted over to the far side of the boat. It tipped, making her panic and dart to the middle again. More heads appeared around the edge of the boat. She couldn’t see their faces because it was so dark, but the scent of the salty sea emanated from them.
“Who are you,” she whispered, her voice breaking on a terrified sob.
“We are your sisters of the sea, little one,” a soft little voice answered. It sounded like a little girl, sweet and innocent.
“Have you been raped and tossed out to sea?” another asked. This one’s voice sounded a bit older, but not by much.
“Raped? N-no. I…I really don’t remember, but… I don’t think I was forced.”
They began to hiss, making Alluna cringe.
“So, then, you willing opened your legs to a man and let him fuck you?”
More hissing ensued. The boat began to rock roughly, and Alluna was afraid it was not the ocean that rocked it. The mermaids were going to tip her boat over. They wanted to drown Alluna for having let a man between her legs willingly.Chapter Twenty
The warriors rushed through the secret passage. Commander Braze lead them through winding tunnels until they climbed up a narrow, leaf-strewn tunnel and surfaced in the heart of the Lumar’s kingdom.
Zak, Remi, and Seth rushed forward, swords in hand, to where the sounds of battle rang out.
Just over the crest of a hill, Zak looked down and stopped in his tracks. Trolls. Not just any type of troll. Fire trolls. He’d thought they were merely legend, but down in the valley below were over a hundred glowing trolls, spewing fireballs at the warriors desperately trying to cut them down.
Remi gave a victorious yell and scampered down into the burning valley, flames already streaming down his body.
“That’s my boy,” his father yipped behind him, also running down the side of the hill. The man was unarmed, but already his dragon’s wings were pushing out of his back as he shifted into his beast.
Eriel stood next to Seth, arms across his chest. Zak stiffened when he felt his father come up next to him. The other warriors were running down into the fray of battle, uncaring of the flames.
Zak turned his head to look at Zakreel. The golden weredragon stared at him sullenly.
“They were hard times, little one. We were being hunted.” He took a deep breath, looking down at the battle below. “We’d lost one of Dava’s babes and were trying to find him.”
“Aye. Remuel and I did everything we could to survive.”
Zak clenched his fists and stepped up against his father’s broad chest. He was actually a few inches taller than the weredragon, and seemed to outweigh him by a hundred pounds of solid muscle. “You did everything, including selling your own children.”
Zakreel scowled. “I didn’t sell you. I was approached by a woman who offered me a handsome amount of credits for a sample of my sperm. I was desperate. The Edenian guardians had Drakken. He was going to be executed…”
“Don’t mean to interrupt, but I think they need us down there,” Seth said, putting his hand on Zak’s shoulder.
Zak turned to Seth, who already was unsheathing his second sword. The weretiger didn’t say another word and turned to head down the hill. Eriel opened his wings and sailed down on a current of air.
Zak didn’t wait any longer. Gripping the hilt of his sword tighter, he began running down the side of the hill.
He felt scorching heat before him, rolling against his flesh from the brush burning below, but a burst of scalding air slapped his back, letting him know his father had shifted. A dark shadow flowed over his head and he felt his skin itch when he caught sight of Zakreel soaring into the valley below. The dragon looked as if made of pure liquid gold, his wings capturing the dimming light of the setting sun and reflecting it back like fire.
Zak cursed and rushed faster. He raised his sword and swung just as he reached the bottom of the hill. Fire burst as the blade cut into the hard metallic back of the fire troll. The creature screamed, throwing his head back. The warrior it had been trying to cook alive scurried out from beneath his glowing metal shield. He thrust his sword into the creature’s belly as Zak hacked the troll’s stubby legs. The creature fell with a clang to the ground and burst into blue flame.
A blast of cold air almost made Zak fall back. He shielded himself with his forearm and looked up. Remuel soared over his head, absorbing the heat of the flames that danced along the ground. The fire flickered and died out, leaving patches of ice, to Zak’s surprise. He could see the fire within the trolls ebbing and dying, leaving the creatures weak and vulnerable. Remi was glowing, as if he were about to shift, but Zak realized both Red dragons were simply soaking up all the fire around them and, as a result, were killing the trolls.
Eriel landed in the midst of the trolls still spilling out of the forest. His wings were open, his eyes black, and full of death. He smiled while his dark hair flowed in the breeze away from his beautiful face.
“Come to me, little ones,” he said holding out his arms, his head tilting sideways in a childlike gesture. “Let me love you.”
The air around Eriel distorted, like ripples of heat. The effect billowed out like a jellied cloud, sweeping over the multitude of approaching trolls. They stopped as if frozen, their metallic skin turning white. Eriel fanned his wings in a slow, gentle sweep. The trolls disintegrated, like burnt paper, their ashes scattering in the breeze like flakes of snow. A reaper in full killing glory.
They continued to fight for hours. Zak could not believe the amount of trolls and devils that kept appearing. Of course, if the mages were behind this, all they had to do was keep building their magic until one side grew tired enough to give up.
The warriors never gave up. Zak was amazed at their strength and stamina against something supernatural.
Zak’s body ached, and was covered in sweat by the time the last troll and devil fell. The sun was already low in the horizon.
A roar of victory echoed in the valley, swords rose. Some of the warriors were hurt, burned, and bloody, but it seemed no one was killed. Lumar’s warriors were legendary fighters. It would take more than a handful of trolls to wipe them out.
In the middle of the field, striding toward the golden dragon, was a tall blond man. The way he walked seemed familiar to Zak. His eyes narrowed on the man with the golden hair, but a mask made of metal covered his face. A dark cape fluttered behind him. He put his hand on the dragon’s snout, speaking to him.
Seth trotted back to Zak. His right arm was singed, but aside from that, he had no other injury.
“That was actually fun,” Seth panted, his eyes shining.
Zak scowled. “I’m going back for Luna.”
He turned to leave, but Seth’s hand on his forearm made him stop to look into the weretigri’s face.
Seth brows drew together, a little line he hadn’t noticed before denting the otherwise smooth perfection of his skin. “We need to go slow, Zak.”
Zak jerked his arm free of Seth’s grip. “Fuck slow. This place is a disaster. I’m not leaving my woman and my children here. I’m leaving, and I’m taking them with me. To hell with the Arborian Master Guardians, the LOS, and everyone else who’s trying to keep us apart.” He began stomping his way up the hill again. “I’ve had enough of this bullshit. Fucking trolls, and witches, and who the fuck knows what the hell else will come at us.”
“Look. I agree with you,” Seth said trying to keep up with him, “but she doesn’t remember who you are. She’s going to be scared, confused.”
“I’ll take her home. I’ll let her have her own room, and win her back”
Seth sounded incredulous. Zak scowled down at him. “I’m not a heartless son-of-a-bitch.”
“What about her father?”
Zak stopped midstride and swerved to growl at Seth. “Whose side are you on?”
Seth held up his hands. “I’m just trying to be reasonable. Somebody got the king to fall for a faerie, knowing that native Arborian males mate for life.”
“What the hell are you getting at, Seth?”
“Just listen to me a second. Lumar falls for a faerie princess, gets her pregnant, the baby disappears and the princess's mind is wiped clean of ever having known him. He won’t lie with another woman, so he never has another heir to take his place. The royal line dies with him, and the planet is suddenly up for grabs.”
Zak scrubbed his face with his hands in frustration. “So you want me to walk away from Luna? Leave her and my daughters behind?”
Seth stared at him. “No, Zak. I just think we should get to the bottom of this. We’re taking the man’s only child away. Least we can do is try to fix the situation with him and the fae princess…”
Zak folded his arms over his chest and smirked. “You want to get the king back with his true love? Remi’s match-making shit is rubbing off on you.”
Seth scowled at him. “Don’t compare me to that conceited prick.”
“What’d I do now?” Remi said, popping in next to them with a smug grin on his face.
Seth rolled his eyes.
Zak turned and began to walk back up the hill. It was almost dark now. By the time they reached the opening of the cave over the sea, it would be dark. He was anxious to get Alluna back to the safety of her room. He’d sleep outside her window if he had to, but he definitely not leaving her side ever again.
Zak stiffened a bit when Remi’s father rejoined them. At least his own father stayed away this time. Looking over his shoulder, he still saw the strange masked man talking with Zakreel and Eriel. Zakreel’s eyes followed his progress up the hill. He looked contrite, sad, but Zak would not let that sway him. Too many years of hurt to erase right away. He needed to get his woman back to safety. Maybe later he could sit and talk with his sperm donor… maybe.
They crested the hill and stopped. At the foot of one the trees that housed a few families, was a young girl. She was curled in on herself, legs tucked up against her chest and face buried in her arms, sobbing.
She wore a deep red hooded cape, patent leather maryjanes and delicately knitted white socks that came to her knees.
“Hey, are you okay?” Remi asked as they all approached and knelt by her.
Luminous blue eyes looked up at them. She wore a blue dress and had two coppery braids trailing down her chest.
“It’s dark and I can’t find my way home. I was on my way back from Grandma’s house, but the fighting scared me and I hid up here. Now it’s too dark to go back. I’m scared.”
Zak bit his lip. The little girl obviously needed to be escorted back home. It was dark and the forest was no place for a little girl to be wandering all by herself after dark.
Zak extended his hand to her and she smiled, placing her much smaller hand into his to allow him to help her stand.
He gasped when she did. She wasn’t so little after all. Her dress was altogether too short, showing enticing little thighs and small breasts pressed against a too tight bodice. Zak frowned down at her. “How could your parents let you out so late?”
She batted long lashes at him. “I’m an orphan. I live with Mama Goose.”
Zak snorted. Figures. No man would let his pretty daughter out so late… and dressed so provocatively. He planned to make sure his girls always wore full body suits and never wandered far from his sight.
"Mama Goose?” Remuel whistled. “That’s four days journey from here. How did you get here?”
“I hitched a ride on a blue dragon, but I have no idea where he might be now.”
Remuel snorted. “Blue dragons are unreliable. I can take you back. Wanna accompany me, son?”
Remi grinned with a shrug. “Sure.” He looked at Seth and Zak. “You guys don’t mind, do you?”
Seth frowned. “After what just happened? I don’t think it’s safe outside the kingdom walls.”
Both Red weredragons puffed out their chests in pride. Like father, like son, Zak mused.
“We’re not afraid of anything, are we son?”
Remi snickered. “No way. We kicked those trolls' asses.”
“What if the mages send in something else? It’ll just be the two of you out there?”
“Seth’s right,” Zak seconded. “Maybe you should wait until daylight.”
“What for? If the mages send any more creatures to attack, they’ll send them during the day as well as night. Makes no difference.”
“We can take care of ourselves,” Remi said, placing his hand on Zak’s shoulder. “You just make sure you keep Luna safe.”
“Luna?” Remuel questioned.
Remi grinned at him. “Princess Alluna is Zak’s girl. We’re here to take her home.”
Remuel looked at Zak with big sparkling green eyes. “Sooo. You’re the one who got her with child.”
“That’s right,” Zak scowled at him.
The Red weredragon said nothing more. They turned and began walking back down the hill with the girl between them.
Zak turned on his heel and strode back to where he remembered the entrance to the tunnel lay. In the distance, he heard Brock calling out to him. Anger tinged his voice, but Zak ignored the annoying warrior. He picked up his pace until he was running
“They’re gaining on us, Zak,” Seth panted next to him. “I get the feeling Brock is interested in Alluna. He wants to be next in line for the throne, and winning Luna’s hand is a sure way to get there.”
Zak picked up his pace, but he sensed the powerful Arborian warriors looming closer.
He unsheathed his sword. “I’ll kill the fucker.”
“No. I’ll shift. You can ride my back and I’ll get us the mouth of the cave faster.”
Even as he spoke, his voice grew more animalistic. He passed Zak in the tunnel, disappearing in the darkness ahead.
A low rumbling growl filled the air. Zak ran faster as well, until he came up behind the twenty-foot tiger, hunched down, back to Zak. Zak leapt onto the white tiger’s back and held on tightly when the feline surged forward. He had to crouch low, hugging the giant cat’s back, feeling the powerful roll of muscles undulate against his chest and thighs. What took almost a half hour before only took a few minutes now. Seth’s speed in shifted form was amazing.
The salty air blasted against Zak’s face, and soon the roar of the pounding sea filled his ears. Thunder rolled in the sky and the wind howled through the cave. The coming storm had churned the sea up into a roiling mass of murderous waves. Zak wasn’t sure he was strong enough to fly in such weather, but the thought of his sweet Alluna out there in the dark in a storm-tossed sea made his gut twist with anxiety.
There was a strange energy in the air that made his unease grow. It was as if the wind cried out his name.
“Zaaak, help me.”
“Shit,” he cursed before plunging off the cliff’s edge.
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<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/supernatural/the-witch-and-the-dragon-part-12.aspx">The Witch and the Dragon Part 12</a>