Book Review – The Serpent that Swallowed Its Tail


The third book of The Panagea Tales, The Serpent That Swallowed Its Tail, follows Kazuaki’s crew after the climactic showdown at the end of the book 2, but I’ll keep this review short to try to avoid spoilers.

With the crew spread out, one prominent character noticeably missing, and Panagea, itself, trying to rearrange in the face of new world, Book 3 definitely takes on a slower, more morose tone than the last two books. This book tackles some heavy themes head on, and builds even further on the intricate world-building of the first two entries. The characters are more spread out here, and although they eventually connect in the end, their narratives feel much more independent in this book. Still, the story retains the epic scale and beautiful prose that makes the series stand out. I will say I did miss a certain missing character in this book, and I missed some of the crew interactions and comradery I loved in the first two.

A solid entry in the Panagea Tales that I would definitely recommend to fans of the first two, and one that definitely left me curious for Book 4!

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Epic, dark, and unique. Let’s see what book 4 brings!

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)


Okay, so to review.
Book 1: I thought the first half was boring, and the second sucked me in. 4.5 stars
Book 2: Totally got me with the side characters, the enemies-to-lovers romance, and the plot. 5 stars
And now here we are at book 3.

So… I jumped right into this book from Book 2, excited and ready, and for about the first 30% I was riveted… and then we ran into some problems. First, the romance seemed to overwhelm the plot, which isn’t super problematic, but the MCs were square in the honeymoon phase for pretty much the whole book. Their relationship didn’t seem to grow, and the smut was honestly kind of repetitive. The inside jokes that were cute in book 1 and book 2 (Miss Willa’s diary and Poppy’s neverending questions) felt stale here, and the plot as a whole just seemed to stall with lots of talking and not much doing. There were also a few plot points (won’t give away without spoilers) that also didn’t really work for me.

I actually hesitated reading this book with #4 not out yet since I thought I would be dying to get my hands on it. As it is, I think I’ll read it once it comes to the library, but I’m really hoping it has more to it then this one.

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

There’s always hope for the next one!

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire


Okay, so I had mixed thoughts on the first book (specifically I thought the first half was boring, and the second half was awesome), but it left off on a bit of cliff-hanger so I decided to give book two a try, and I was NOT disappointed.

I INHALED this book. Book two successfully intensified everything I enjoyed from book one. Although once again, I did think the start was a touch slow, I wasn’t bothered too much because I was already so invested in the characters. And the side characters really showed up here too in the best way. I absolutely loved Kieran. And this time, I loved learning about the world. The world-building definitely fleshed out and deepened here, but it was more seamlessly woven into book two.

It’s darker, it’s steamier (kind of veering into the weird, but this is a world of essentially vampires and werewolves so… you know), and in general, it’s just more awesome. Cas and Poppy are borderline dysfunctional and absolutely violent, but they seem so suited to each other, and their dynamic just totally works. If you’re unfazed by sex, violence, and language, and you enjoyed the second half of book one, then I wholeheartedly recommend. On to Book 3!

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Modern day Wolven reporting for duty here.

Thanks for reading!

Burning Shadows: Chapter Ten

A Place to Rest

Intent on their quarry and blinded with bloodlust, the Rastgol flew into an ambush of raining arrows and flashing steel. But wounded and head-sore as she was, Kaia took in almost none of it. In seconds, two of Madoc’s men had her and Klaus by the arms, dragging them to the safety of the short bluff before jumping back into the slaughter. Though one-legged and bruised, Klaus still leapt to his feet with his blade drawn, ready to cut into any Rastgol that made it over their small ledge. But they didn’t have to wait long before the cheers of Madoc’s victorious soldiers echoed down the river, with no other casualties to be seen besides the battered Heirs.

At last, Klaus collapsed beside her, his bravado crumbling with an exhausted sigh. Scrapes and scratches covered his face and arms after his tumble from the horse. Still, he looked at her with a widening smile on his face. “Okay, so tell me, how did Madoc know to be waiting for you?”

Dizzy with pain and relief, Kaia squeezed her head with her hands in a vain attempt to keep it from spinning off of her shoulders. “You don’t think the huge smoke signal was enough warning?”

He chuckled and laced his fingers in hers. “Now he’s never going to let me live this down.”

“Ya got that right!” Madoc’s rough voice shouted gamely as he crested the ledge. “But at least tell me ya took care of our Lost problem while ya were on yer lil holiday.”

Kaia nodded. “They were Idriel’s Lost the Rastgol managed to shepherd together somehow.” She lifted her chin at the smoke curling in the horizon, the image of Mogens still burned into her mind. “But they’re gone now. So if you see any freshly raised, that will mean a new necromancer we’ll need to know about.”

“I must say, Dragon, I didn’t know if ya’d actually deliver on yer promise.” He gazed around the battlefield. “But torching an army of dead and cutting down the Rastgol cavalry on the same day?” He nodded approvingly. “And you even had time to drag Thane back with ya.”

Klaus picked up a pebble and threw it at Madoc, hitting him square in the chest. “I would’ve made it back if not for my busted foot.”

Madoc waved him off, swaggering in the glow of his victory. “Sure, Thane, whatever ya say. Just when ya go, be sure to leave the dragon here with us. We’ll take right good care of her.” He spread his arms. “After all, a dragon with an army atter back? Okarria could be no safer than that.”

Turning to Kaia, Klaus’ brow furrowed. “Did he ask you to stay?”

“He—” Kaia started, but a happy bark broke through her thoughts. Across the river, a red blur ran out of the castle walls, tearing down the bank.

“Oh no, Gus, wait there!” Kaia called.

But he would wait no longer. Gus hesitated for only a moment before plunging into the river, his legs beating the water furiously as he swam across. My girl! My boy!

Kaia started to stand to go after him, but Klaus put a hand on hers. “It’s okay, Firefly, he’s making it just fine.”

And sure enough, a few moments later, Gus ran up the near bank, whimpering with giddy joy. He leapt from Kaia to Klaus, wriggling and licking their faces. You’re here, you’re here, we’re here!

“There’s my Gus.” Kaia laughed as he shook off his thick red fur and sprayed them with river water. “Thanks for looking after him, Madoc.”

“We got along just fine, the pair of us. Seemed to make himself right at home,” Madoc said with a wink.

Klaus’ eyes narrowed.

“Enough, Madoc.” Kaia held up a hand, a stab of pain piercing through her skull. “Do you think you could spare a mender this time?” She glanced at Klaus with a weak smile. “My usual nurse looks a little banged up.”

“I s’pose ya’ve earned that much.” He gestured to Klaus with a dismissive hand. “And I guess we can let Thane in too.”

“Madoc, as soon as my foot heals, I want to see you in the training square,” Klaus said.

Madoc straightened. “You’re on, Thane.”

Klaus and Madoc continued their bickering while Kaia laughed and hugged Gus’ neck, soaking in the brief moment when they were safe, if only for a little while.

***

Kaia awoke at midday and made her way to the mess hall. Her sore muscles protested every movement, while her arm hung in a loose sling, but for the first time since they’d arrived, her feet were light and her mind was clear. The curving stairwell echoed with the boisterous shouts of the soldiers still celebrating their victory with food and music and cheer. But when she stepped into the cavernous dining hall, a wave of quiet whipped through the crowd as all eyes turned to her.

Madoc approached, his booming voice echoing across the silence. “Guardian Dashul, what ya did for us yesterday will not be forgotten. Here in Direfent we have a tradition—once ya’ve proved yerself in battle we say ya’ve earned your ale.” A boy handed him a red earthen mug already filled to the brim. “As such, yer mug will always hang over our fire, to show yer blade will always be welcome here with a hot meal and a stout drink.”

He thrust the mug into her good hand, and Kaia fingered the letters carved into the side, taking a moment to make out the word: Dragon. She chuckled softly.

Madoc raised his own mug. “To our very own Dragon, Odriel protect whatever fool dares challenge us now!” The soldiers raised their steins in a rumbling cheer, fists slamming their tables with wild abandon. “Drink up, Dragon.” With that, Madoc crashed his mug into hers, and she raised the drink to her smiling lips, trying not to spit out the foul concoction.

“You know it’s tradition to drink the whole thing,” Klaus said, leaning on a wooden crutch with a smile.

Kaia hid her grimace behind her mug. “You’ll help me right?”

“Not a chance,” he laughed.

She wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re just jealous you didn’t get a mug.”

Madoc held out a hand and took her by the elbow. “Now, my lady, I do believe there were a few things ya wanted to discuss.”

But Klaus knocked his hand away with his crutch. “You mean, my lady.”

Kaia’s eyes crinkled as she tried and failed to smother a grin.

“Oh, is that right? Last time ya tried to win a lady, I recall ya changed yer mind.” Madoc rubbed his beard with a bemused smirk. “And ya know, now that Guardian Dashul has met a room of real men, perhaps she’ll be changing her mind.”

Laughing, Kaia switched her mug to her sling hand, and looped her arm in Klaus’. “He speaks the truth, Madoc. We are a pair, the two of us.”

“So you say.” He shrugged, mischief still gleaming in his eyes. “But I haven’t seen any sparks between the two of ya, perhaps you’ll find—”

Then Klaus’ crutch was clattering to the floor, and his arms were around Kaia, his mouth on hers, and her back bending as he dipped her low in a deep kiss. Her arm wrapped around his neck as another wild cheer went up over the crowd—the whistling, banging whoops almost as loud as the first.

By the time Klaus let her up, Kaia had to hide the breathless blush of her smile against his chest. He curled his arm around her casually, pulling her tightly to him. “We are a pair,” he said, looking from Kaia back to Madoc. “So if you don’t mind, I’ll have the honor of escorting her to our table.”

Madoc threw his head back and laughed, long and deep. “Perhaps ya grew up all right after all.” Stooping, he picked up Klaus’ crutch and handed it to him.

Klaus accepted it and pressed his lips to Kaia’s forehead. “I may have had some help.”

Madoc’s grin glided to Kaia, and she smiled back.

***

Their food tucked away and the music faded to a dull roar, Kaia leaned on Klaus’ shoulder in a wash of contentment, her fingers stroking Gus’ long ears beside her. She looked up as Madoc slid into the chair across from them.

“Okay Dragon, this is my last deal. You can have the whole castle to yerself, and we’ll make you Cap’n—Cap’n Dragon! Doesn’t that have a ring to it?” His third stein sloshed in front of him, the other two showing themselves in the pink of his cheeks and the pitch of his voice.

Kaia laughed. “We already told you, Madoc, we’re only staying until we’re well enough to ride.”

“Bah!” Madoc waved his arms in the air. “Ya can’t say it wasn’t nice having some real muscle to back up just the two of ya.”

Klaus exchanged a glance with Kaia. “Of course it was, Madoc. But we can’t spend all of our time here. You and your soldiers protect the west. We have the rest of Okarria to cover.”

“I know it.” Madoc sighed. “You’re right of course, but sometimes I do miss the strength of a real Okarrian army, ya know?”

Kaia leaned forward in her seat, the seed of the idea that had been taking root finally flowering. “Exactly.”

Madoc and Klaus both looked at her. “Exactly?”

Kaia met their questioning gazes one at a time. “Two Heirs are all well and good, but we need more. When it comes to war, we’re lost without a real army at our backs. An army that doesn’t exist, because Okarria barely has enough soldiers as it is.”

“Right, but what do you want to do?” Klaus asked.

“I want to build a school. A place where people can train to defend Okarria should the time come. Just like when we were young, Klaus.” A wistful smile played on Kaia’s lips. “A Triennial for all, every year. Taught by you, and me, and the Dracour. We’ll teach them to fight and then send them on their way.”

Madoc let out a low whistle. “Ya think you could spare some of those swords for me?”

Kaia nodded. “If they’re looking for a place to do good, we’ll send them here, or to the Guards of the State-cities. That way, when we need warriors, we’ll know where to find them.”

“It’s a good idea.” Klaus bent his head closer to hers. “Is that what you really want?”

She squeezed his knee under the table. “We’ll still wander and aid where we can. But with a school, we’ll have a place to go back to. A place where we can rest and be safe for a time, while still helping our people.” She paused, biting her lip. “What do you think?”

“A damn good idea,” Madoc said, pounding the table with a large hand. Another soldier called to him, and he staggered to his feet, still waving a finger at Klaus. “I still have no idea how a woman like that puts up with a man like you.”

Klaus waved him off, his gaze still on Kaia’s. “I’m in.” He took her hand in his and kissed the inside of her wrist. “When do we start?”

Kaia’s eyes flashed. She could already see the stone walls of the school take shape in her mind. It would be their place of rest—their home. Nestled in the Naerami mountains, a short ride from her fierce Dracour teachers, they would attract students from the land over. They would come to learn from the Heirs, and they would leave with knowledge and strength and purpose.

She cocked her head at him. “Think we can have it ready for the next Triennial?”

“Well, you know I kind of have a standing date for the Triennial, so I might be a little distracted.” He tickled her side with a smirk.

“Oh yeah?” Kaia laughed. “Well, you better watch out, because your date might just catch you by surprise the next time around.”

“She always surprises me.” He pulled her closer. “In the best ways.”

And there, on the edge of the wild country, surrounded by steins of awful ale and the tuneless warbling of raucous soldiers, Kaia’s heart filled with the warmth and safety of love. With a love like this, they could raise mountains.

And they would.


Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed Burning Shadows. If you have time to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your favorite book site, I would be so grateful to any words you’d be willing to leave. Even just a line or two can make a huge difference. Reviews are vital for any author, but as an indie author especially, encouragement from readers like you keeps me going and gives these stories wings. If you’re interested in reading more, you can find the first chapter of Idriel’s Children here. You can also connect with me on Twitter or Instagram @HayleyReeseChow.

Burning Shadows: Chapter Nine

Light the Match

The early dawn light crept across Nathollus’ thick red walls, lighting them in a fiery glow amidst the endless plain of brittle yellow. Kaia moved swiftly through the shoulder-high grass in the morning quiet, the cattle pen before her filled with at least a thousand of Idriel’s dead. With their armor, weapons, and the green sheen of yanaa swirling around their clean-picked skeletons, their origins were easy to identify. The dead raised by human necromancers were usually shabbier, poorly armed with their bodies still rotting. These were the progeny of the demon Idriel, the children he had meant to avenge him.

But still, the question arose, how had the Rastgol drawn them here? How were they controlling them? Even as Kaia asked the questions, she knew the answer somewhere deep inside of her. Mogens had called them. She had always thought Conrad was the only one with the power of necromancy, but perhaps she had been wrong. There had always been something deeply unnatural about Mogens… but if he had really survived her dragon fire, then it was not too far a stretch to believe he had some power of necromancy.

She shook her head. That would have to wait. She didn’t have time for guesses. If new Lost rose after they destroyed these, then that would be a new problem—provided they survived this one.

First, she needed to steal two horses while drawing as little attention to herself as possible. And the easiest way to do that was to unseat two riders. Inwardly, she cursed the buffalen that had mangled Klaus’ foot. Stealing was definitely on the Shadow Heir’s list of duties—not hers.

Her gaze skated to a nearby clay outbuilding where smoke rose from the chimneys. A giant smokehouse judging by the scent of roasting meat on the wind. She cocked an eyebrow. An easy place to accidentally catch fire.

Pulse thrumming in her ears and her ribs aching, Kaia crept toward the smokehouse with a careful eye on the Rastgol guards. Two patrolled the Lost paddocks while another was stationed at the door to a smokehouse that faced the pens. Although the building looked to be built with some kind of clay bricks, the door and the roof were both made of wood. Still, she needed to be fairly close to start the fire, or else she’d give away her position. She could send a blaze through one of the fireboxes piped into the building, but they were out in the open, in full view of the guards.

Still searching for options, Kaia gave the smokehouse a wide berth and approached from the rear to find a conveniently unguarded back door, albeit one with a heavy lock. She breathed a sigh of relief. Locks she could do. Moving to the door, she produced a hot blue flame from one of her fingers and melted the heavy iron. The blaze had to be big enough to attract attention. Setting the wooden roof on fire from the inside would be her best bet.

She opened the door, and the scent of smoke and meat flooded out. Kaia let the flame in her hand grow, ready to thrust her fire into the ceiling, when she caught sight of the meat hanging from the rafters. Nausea wrenched her stomach. Where she had been expecting legs of buffalen to be hanging from the ceiling, full human bodies dangled instead, their faces frozen in horror. Men, women, children… hung naked and hairless in the smoke like raw specters, their skin charred and red.

Kaia retched, the horror nearly paralyzing her as tears pricked her eyes. This was the worse fate that Madoc had mentioned. She tore her eyes away.

These truly were monsters.

Gagging again, Kaia sent her gush of flames into the rafters, enveloping the Rastgol’s victims with it. At least she could provide them this dignity, however small. With that, she swung the door closed, using every bit of her self-control not to slam it—not to blast this building into cinders.

She sucked in deep gasps of clean air as the image burned itself forever into her mind. Another gruesome memory that would haunt her nightmares for the rest of her life. Another one she’d never be able to erase. Breath rattling in her chest, she wiped her eyes. She had to stick to the plan. They had to get out of here.

Behind her, the smokehouse was already crackling to life. She had only a matter of seconds to find cover before the guard raised the alarm. Swallowing her revulsion, Kaia ran toward the tall grass just as the first guard shouted, “Fire in t’smokehouse!”

Kaia looked over her shoulder, trying to gauge the response… and nearly ran straight into a trio of Rastgol riders. Odriel’s teeth.

For a moment, Kaia wasn’t sure who was more surprised, she or the Rastgol. But they recovered first.

“An escaped t’slave,” said one, drawing a curved sword.

“Must be the t’one that set fire to the smokehouse,” said the other.

And that was all Kaia had time for. Now that they’d discovered her, she had no choice but to play her hand. Kaia lifted two palms and released a crackling gush of flames into the air. The horses screamed, their eyes rolling. One bolted, another reared, and the third, shockingly, snapped at her with its strong teeth. The one on Kaia’s left flailed so violently it fell onto its back, the rider beneath it. But the one on the right pawed at the ground, its rider drawing his sword.

Kaia dodged as the steel sliced down on her and grabbed the arm of the Rastgol. Wrenching her body, she threw him out of the saddle into the dirt.

He rolled to his feet in a breath, sword slashing. Kaia ducked and weaved, her fingers finding the knife at her belt. She let the Rastgol take another slash and darted inside his guard, burying the blade in his middle before ripping it to one side, just like she had practiced with Klaus so many times. Still, disgust wriggled through her bones as the blood dripped from his belly. She freed her blade and let the man crumple to the ground.

Turning quickly, she grabbed the reins of the strangely stolid horse, its ears pinned peevishly as it pulled against its halter.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Kaia said breathlessly, even as its rider lay bleeding out behind her. The other groaned on the ground while his mount shied away from him. She ran over and grabbed its reins too. “I’m not going to hurt you.” She patted her breeches for something, anything, she could use to win the horses and found the dried periapple slices she usually kept for Sunflash. “How about a treat, huh?”

The shy one took the offering immediately, but its eyes were still wide with nervousness. Still pulling at its halter, the braver one eyed her suspiciously while Kaia continued to stroke its neck. This was the one she needed. She grimaced at the spur scars gouging its flank. “I’m going to get you out of here, okay, brave girl? I just need a ride.” Kaia closed her eyes, trying to communicate with every fiber of her being that she meant no harm.

Perhaps the horse understood her, or perhaps luck was on her side, but the mare lipped the periapple from her palm. With a shaky sigh of relief, Kaia climbed into the saddle, still holding the reins of the other gelding. She tugged on them to make sure he would follow.

Shouts rang through the air in earnest now as the Rastgol tried to extinguish the burgeoning fire with shovels of dirt. Time was running out. Kaia leaned down and patted the mare’s neck. “We’ll have to be fast.”

With a sharp yell, she urged the mare into a gallop straight toward the Lost, the gelding racing along close behind. The gazes of the Rastgol turned to her, and a few arrows began to whistle down from the ramparts. The time for stealth, or her attempt at stealth anyway, was over. And strangely, the realization brought a wash of relief, rinsing the tightness from her muscles.

Now she could do what she did best. Guiding the mare as close to the pens as she dared, she coiled her yanaa within. The Lost churned toward her, whatever power that held them cracked by her presence as they overflowed the paddock, crawling out like a mass of furious mud ants. She thought of the burned village, and the Direfent soldiers, and the bodies in the smokehouse. With those images roiling behind her eyes, she balled all of her worry, anger, and sorrow, into a burning inferno of emotion. And then she unleashed it.

The blast cascaded out from her hand in an explosive tidal wave, devouring the Lost in its path. The gelding whinnied behind her, but still it ran on. Kaia screamed as she pressed even more into her flames, channeling every scrap of yanaa she could and letting it surge from her fingers as the mare charged along the fence line, all eyes on her as she set the Lost ablaze. The fire caught on the dry grass and licked up the clay walls of the fortress, incinerating the dark eyes, the gaping toothy mouths, and the last skeletal bodies crumbling in its heat. Only then did she let her hand drop.

As the mare sped her away from the crackling wildfire, Kaia chanced one last look at the carnage she had caused. The Lost burned and the Rastgol ran frantically this way and that, unsure whether to deal with the fire or the girl that had caused it, but amidst all of the smoke and flame and chaos, one figure stood stock still. Staring at her. Skin festering, eyes growing green, and mouth gaping in a lipless grin. Bile bubbled up Kaia’s throat, her mouth sour with the metallic tang of fear. Even as he shrank in the distance, Kaia knew his rotting form, fresh from her nightmares.

Not Lost. Not Rastgol.

Mogens.

Another volley of arrows rained down just behind Kaia, and she whipped forward, her heart pounding. She glanced back once more but Mogens was gone. Had she imagined it? Should she go back? But she couldn’t spare another thought as a handful of Rastgol riders charged across the plain toward her.

No time. She had to get Klaus and get out of there before—

Another torrent of arrows whizzed by her ear, and she held up a flat shield of protective fire. A line of riders streamed out of the main gate, scores of warriors cutting across the grass toward her.

She grimaced, trying to judge the distance between the riders and the tree where Klaus leaned against the trunk. At this rate, they would intercept her before she could reach him. Apparently, a stable full of burning dead wasn’t enough chaos for them.

She sucked in a deep lungful of burning air, sweat already pouring from her brow, and held out her heavy hand once more, the yanaa sucking the energy from her muscles. Pointing her fingers away and to the rear, she let fire gush into the dry yellow grass.

The blaze continued as she charged straight for the riders, but they did not flinch at the walls of flames that wound behind her. In fact, judging by the metal plating on the front of the mounts, it looked as though the riders were prepared to ram straight into her. They thundered closer under the rising sun, and sweat stung Kaia’s eyes as she took them in. Grins split their scarred faces and the freckled skin of their heads gleamed in the early light. Underneath the vibrations of hooves, the clacking of their bone necklaces punctuated the cacophony.

Kaia gritted her teeth. Almost… there.

“Kaia!” Klaus’ shout nearly cut through her concentration, and she turned the mare sharply across the Rastgol front lines, dragging her sheet of flames with her. As well trained as the Rastgol horses may have been, even they wouldn’t run straight into a sparking screen of fire. They pulled up short, rearing, shrieking, and snapping at the sudden heat.

Kaia allowed herself a small victorious smile. They were cut off. The blaze wouldn’t hold them forever, but it would buy them time. Though she was panting now, Kaia continued dragging her flaming barricade even as she turned toward Klaus. The more fire between them and the Rastgol, the better.

Finally, four horse-lengths from Klaus, she released her fire and slowed the horses.

“Don’t stop,” Klaus shouted, hobbling on one foot out into the grass. “There’s more behind you.”

Kaia barely had time to argue before she was upon him. Grabbing the saddle of the still running horse, his muscles tensed in his arms and shoulders as his good foot found the stirrup and he swung his bad leg over. In a breath, he was astride the beast, still racing away from the flames.

“Well, that was impressive,” Kaia gasped, her chest still heaving as she threw him the reins.

“The perks of growing up on a buffalen farm.” Klaus looked over his shoulder, worry still etching his face. “It’s nearly a half day’s ride back to Direfent, I’m not sure that’ll hold them for long. Even if we make it to the river, we won’t make it across in time.”

Kaia twisted in the saddle, her clothes damp with sweat, to ensure their buffer of flames still churned behind them. “We just need to make it to the banks. If they get too close, I still have flames to spare.”

But two hours later, Kaia could not say the same. She had driven the Rastgol back over a dozen times, her horse shook beneath her, and her body weighed like lead in the saddle.

“It’s just up ahead, Firefly,” Klaus urged. “I can see Direfent from here.”

Sweat dripped from Kaia’s hair as she followed his gaze to the stone walls in the distance. They just had to make it to the banks.

Klaus peered over his shoulder, and his gaze hardened. “But we have another two dozen riders coming in from the north.”

Kaia turned in the saddle, her throat raw from her heavy breathing. “You go on ahead. I’ll take care of it. These will be the last ones.”

“Don’t get too close,” he yelled as she peeled off toward their attackers.

Her energy fading fast, but with Direfent in the offing, she only had to buy a few more minutes. Holding out a hand, she gathered the fire within her. Thoughts of Klaus, injured and fleeing behind her, fed the flames crackling through her veins. She released the blaze in an explosive blast, the hungry roar of the dragon fire tearing through the grass and knocking the riders from their screaming horses.

The horses scattered, and Kaia quenched her flames. They had done it. Now they just had to make it the last—

A figure leapt through the wall of fire in front of the mare, and the horse collided with the man in a sickening crash of muscle and bone, vaulting Kaia from the saddle.

For a moment, the wind whistled in her ears, and then her body slammed into the ground. Air flew from her lungs as pain jolted from her head to her fingers, and black edged her vision. But the panic kept her tethered to consciousness. Ears ringing and vision still blurry, Kaia stumbled to her feet. My… horse. Where’s… the horse?

But there was only a tangled mass of bodies on the ground. The man’s sword had gone straight into the horse’s neck, but it hadn’t saved him from the crush of the beast’s momentum.

Kaia tried to lift her hands to her face, but only one moved. Her other shoulder hung at an odd angle, and pain screamed through her with every movement, scattering her thoughts. Fire snapped at her back along with the hoofbeats of horses and the yells of men. It wouldn’t be long before the Rastgol found their way around the flames.

East. She had to go east. Back to Direfent. Madoc was waiting for them.

She staggered toward the hope of Direfent, and agony shot from her shoulder through the rest of her body. At this rate, she’d never be able to cover the ground in time. Was there somewhere she could hide? How long would it take Klaus to—the sound of hoofbeats was suddenly too close. Kaia turned to meet her new opponent, fire filling her good hand.

But then Klaus’ familiar form came into focus as he slid from his saddle, and she let the fire wink out in a flash of relief. He limped toward her, his worried face filling her doubled vision. “Are you okay? I saw you fall.”

“My… shoulder,” Kaia rasped.

Klaus put his hand on it, and a rattle of pain ricocheted through her body. “Yeah, I’ll have to pop it back in.”

Kaia’s eyes widened. “You have to what?”

“Don’t move.”

“Wait!”

But Klaus had already yanked, and Kaia screamed as her vision flashed black with pain once more. His hand steadied her as she swayed on her feet, but surprisingly, the pain had subsided to more manageable levels.

“That’ll do you for now.” With hands at once urgent and gentle, he helped her onto his blowing horse. He pulled himself into the saddle behind her just as a volley of burning arrows flew through the blaze. Klaus covered Kaia’s head with his arms, and the horse took off with a terrified scream.

More arrows fell around them as the gelding raced toward the river. The poor beast made it within sprinting distance of the banks before an arrow found the mare’s flank. The horse bucked and reared, sending Kaia rolling into the dirt once more, vision spinning, and head splitting. But this time Klaus was right there beside her, and with the Rastgol pounding across the field, the adrenaline blotted out Kaia’s pain.

“We’ll have… to run,” she said through heavy breaths, already rising to her feet.

“We should stay and fight,” Klaus countered, balancing on his good foot as he reached for his blade.

“No.” Kaia pulled his arm over her shoulders and half dragged him across the grass. “We can make it.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Klaus’ eyes gleaned the landscape, even as he hobbled along beside her. “And what if they have scouts waiting for us?”

“They won’t,” Kaia choked out, her vision swimming as she tried to focus on keeping herself and Klaus upright. “Madoc will be there.”

“I don’t see Madoc.” Klaus looked behind them. “Odriel’s Teeth. There are at least a hundred now.”

“Just keep going.” Though Kaia’s muscles screamed disobediently, pain lancing from a dozen different places, she kept on, Direfent rising taller and taller among the grass. The hush of the river tickled her ears now. Madoc had better be there.

“Kaia, they’re almost on us!” Klaus yelled over the war drum of so many hooves, the dust of it staining the air. He pulled against her, trying to get her to stop, to turn, to fight.

With one last burst of energy, Kaia threw them forward into the grass, the sharp hooves of the horses only seconds away. “NOW MADOC!” she screamed.

And in a raucous war cry, the soldiers of Direfent rose from the grass and answered.


Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!

Burning Shadows: Chapter Eight

Into the West

Kaia jogged through the rustling shoulder-high grass, her gaze scouring the landscape as she cut west. Urgency lent strength to her legs as she waded through the early dawn. Stubby trees dotted the sun-streaked expanse while waves of rolling hills loomed in the near distance. A dry breeze rustled the morning’s early hush through the stretching plain, but it carried no clues of Klaus’ whereabouts.

She had crossed the river to the south of Direfent, and Madoc had pointed her along the fork in the river, down the stream to the Rastgol stronghold of Nathollus. The same way he’d steered Klaus. But that was all the guidance she could get. It had been two days since she’d last seen Klaus, and even on foot, he could cover a lot of ground.

She adjusted the small pack on her shoulders, a clammy sweat clinging to her forehead as she considered what she would do if the Rastgol scouts discovered her. Would she run? Fight? How many could she handle on her own? And what if the Lost found her? If she burned them, the Rastgol were sure to find her.

Her only option was to move as quickly as she could, and get out of there even faster. Letting her feelings and thoughts dry up with scant morning dew, Kaia focused on putting one boot in front of the other, stooping low to stay under the cover of the swaying blades of grass. The plains swelled into low hills, and she skirted a herd of gazelbras leaping in flashes of gold and brown stripes.

She tried not to think about what she would do if she didn’t find Klaus. How long would she look before she was forced to turn back empty-handed? Her heart clenched at the thought and her boot slid into the river shallows, startling a flock of pink-horned storks from their nearby bed of reeds.

Her hands balled into fists with another wave of anger. How dare he leave her alone like this without even the common decency to return when he promised? He better have a good excuse for staying out here, at least. She was already mulling over the choice words she would say to him when she finally found out what had kept him—no matter how long it took. She would search for Klaus until she found him… alive or dead.

Night was falling again before Kaia found Nathollus, and any worries she had of missing it were completely washed back down the river. It was easily twice as large as Direfent. The fading sun cast long shadows from the thick red walls of clay that surrounded the compound. Fires burned from every towering guard post as if to announce its presence to the stars, and even from a distance, Kaia could make out the silhouettes of hulking guards walking behind the turrets. The buildings must have been small though, for Kaia could only see the walls and their warriors. But from what she knew about the Rastgol, perhaps that’s all they wanted her to see—the defenses, the warriors, the arms. Maybe that’s all they were—muscled creatures of death that strode out of the hills fully formed.

That was all well and good, but where was Klaus?

Kaia knelt in the mud, searching in vain for tracks in the failing light—as if Klaus would be clumsy enough to leave tracks in the first place. She, on the other hand… Kaia’s gaze swept along the soft river banks toward the way she had come. Well, she had kept to the shallows the best she could and would just have to hope for the best.

Because she needed to get closer.

Her stomach twisted, but she could see no way around it. If the Rastgol had captured… or killed Klaus, surely the gossip would fly from tongue to tongue. She just needed to get near enough to hear it. And not get caught. If she had to use the dragon fire for any reason, the Rastgol would be on her in minutes, chasing her back to Direfent. But she couldn’t leave without Klaus. There was no room for mistakes.

Squeezing the smooth iron hilt of her sword for reassurance, she moved toward the Rastgol torches beckoning to her in the night. Glancing over her shoulder, she quailed inwardly. Now that she was leaving the safety of the water at her back, she could be ambushed on all sides. And there were sure to be Rastgol sentries hiding in the dark.

Luckily, the years of training with an invisible Shadow Heir had sharpened her other senses. She pressed her ears and nose to the wind, sifting through its contents for anything out of the ordinary. The shuffle of a small animal, the croak of another, a faraway grunt of a larger creature. The scent of smoke, river mud, and below that… yes she could just faintly smell it… the rancid stench of rot—of the dead.

She quickened her pace. The Lost were almost certainly drawn to Klaus. If she could find them, they would lead her to him. She just needed to find them before the Rastgol found her. Stifling a groan, she wiped the sweat from her forehead with a sleeve. What a ridiculously awful plan. This was why they didn’t split up. Klaus was the one with the plans.

The winds shifted ever so slightly, and a deep rumbling carried across the plain. Thunder? Kaia crouched lower, straining her ears, but when she put her fingers to the ground, she felt it instead—a trembling of the soil. Which could only mean something was moving… a big something.

Though she could barely see anything above the grass, her head swiveled as she sensed its direction. A barrage of grunting rumbled through the air, and she gasped with sharp realization—it was not just one something. It was a herd of big somethings. And they were carving up the river bank with the furious drumming of many feet.

Swearing under her breath, Kaia turned and raced through the long grass, the blades lashing at her arms and legs. So much for stealth now. She could only hope that a Rastgol would have the sense not to be in the path of whatever was stampeding her way.

The deep brays drew nearer, and Kaia caught her first look at the creatures. Her eyes widened. While she had gotten a glimpse of the bulky buffalen from afar, this one was massive. The line of its back was nearly a head taller than her, and its large eyes darted to and fro as its thick legs tore through the grass. Even more concerning were the four long horns that protruded from its bulky head—two long and reaching and two curving closer to the short black curls lining its hide.

It veered in her direction, jabbing with its sharp points. Kaia pulled up short, letting it cross in front of her while the rest of the herd crowded up behind. Adrenaline squeezed her heart. If she didn’t get off the ground soon, she would be crushed, or gored, or both.

A wild shout somewhere in the darkness drew her gaze, then another and another. The Rastgol were here. Were they after her? Sweat ran down her cheek as the buffalen pressed together in a solid wall of muscled meat around her. Please, Odriel, at least let the beasts hide me.

Then, she caught sight of a rider still far off in the distance with a torch in her hand. She let out a series of high-pitched shrieks as her horse galloped alongside the herd, and Kaia realized this wasn’t a stampede. The riders were herding these creatures toward Nathollus. Breath rushing out in sharp bursts, she whipped her head around and counted five other torches in the night before dodging another bucking steer. If the Rastgol managed to pen her in with the rest of their cattle, they would almost certainly spot her from up on the walls.

Her heart hammered in her chest as she frantically searched for her escape—a boulder, a hut, a tree… anything. But even the stubby trees couldn’t withstand the onslaught of animals, bowing down under their weight as their hooves crushed the willowy trunks.

One of the animals knocked into Kaia’s shoulders, and she almost fell to the ground. Another butted in on her other side in a sudden crush, knocking the air from her lungs with an audible crack of her ribs. Gasping for air and panic blinding her, she heated her hands just a touch and pressed them against the beasts like a cattle brand. They separated instantly with wild grunts.

Dragging in desperate breaths, Kaia staggered diagonally away from the fortress, providing whatever heat necessary to spur the buffalen out of her way. But she could only go so far before the torches swayed too close.

“Hey, what t’be that?” one of them called in the dark.

Kaia nearly froze. She had to get out of here.

“T’beastie?” another called out.

Finally, Kaia saw it, the buffalen dodging around a tree just sturdy enough to part the stream of their bodies. She raced for it.

“Looked t’human,” said the first.

Weaving through the cattle, Kaia’s legs burned and her ribs ached. A sharp horn tore across her back, and she clamped her teeth down on a cry.

“Where ‘tid go?”

Finally, Kaia reached the pathetic excuse for a tree and pressed herself against the lee side. The shrubby branches fanned out less than an arm’s length above the buffalens’ heads, and the trunk was only half as wide as her shoulder blades, but it was better than nothing.

Another horn raked her arm, and Kaia gritted her teeth through a silent scream, crouching down low. Above all the thundering, her ears still strained for the voices.

“I don’t see t’anymore.” The torch edged closer, somewhere on the edge of the crush of animals.

Stinging sweat mixed into Kaia’s blood, and the dust of the stampede coated her slicked skin. Don’t stay. Move on. She tightened her grip on her hilt. Even if she could take them down without her flames, they were too close to the walls for their absence to go unnoticed, and the herd was starting to thin. Soon they would be able to see her. Keep riding.

A companion torch drew alongside the first. “Eh t’was probably one of those dead’uns.”

Laughter cut across the fading hooves. “Well, if t’wasn’t dead before, t’is good and dead now.”

“You’d think Goldie t’would keep a better eye on ‘em.” A steer swerved away from the herd and the rider broke away to turn it back with a shrill cry.

Time stretched as Kaia crouched at the base of the tree. Trying to quiet her rasping, painful breaths, she counted the torches passing ahead of her in the darkness until she could see all six trailing after the straggling cattle. She waited another few breaths, her back and arm still burning and the right side of her ribs already swelling.

She sighed. This was a setback. While she could still draw her sword, this definitely put her at a disadvantage, and she wouldn’t be able to cover as much ground this way, much less flee with any kind of speed. The odds of this already far-fetched rescue were slimming by the minute. She’d have to be more careful.

Kaia was about to push herself to her feet when someone whispered from up in the branches. “Not yet—stay down.”

All the fear and disappointment suddenly clogged Kaia’s throat in a knot of hopeful recognition.

“Klaus?”

“Shh! They always have a far-rear scout, and their ears are sharp like you wouldn’t believe.”

Kaia ducked lower, her heart thudding once again in her chest, but this time with joy. The wounds didn’t matter, her weariness didn’t matter, Klaus was here. And now they could leave. Odriel must’ve been looking out for them.

She was about to let out a breath of relief when the flicker of a torch caught her eye. Kaia froze as the horse trotted up not fifteen paces from where she sat.

She resisted the urge to sink farther, keeping her body as still as possible. The woman was already close enough to see the stark white scars peppering her ruddy skin. Her head was bald just like the men, with the same bulging muscles filling out her buffalen-hide vest and her hard, feral eyes glinted in the torchlight.

Kaia had almost thought the Rastgol woman had passed them by when she pulled up short and looked back toward them. She raised her nose to the air as though sniffing it, and Kaia’s stomach twisted. What did she smell? Blood? Sweat? The rations in Kaia’s pack? Surely she couldn’t smell any of that through the lingering odor of the buffalen.

She took another step closer, and Kaia tensed. Would she have to kill this woman?

Then, a shout rang out from the herd, and the woman turned. She spared one last glare for the darkness behind before turning her mount once more and cantering toward her companions.

Kaia waited until she was nearly out of sight before she spoke again. “All clear?”

“We have two hours,” Klaus whispered from somewhere in the dark. “Then the next herd will be by.”

Kaia stood and peered into the branches. She could just barely make out the outline of his body stretched in the crux of the tree, his dark clothes melding with the shadows. “The next herd? How many are there?”

“At least three dozen and they keep two of them running around the walls at all times. It makes for a tight guard.”

“Please don’t tell me you’ve been sitting here counting cattle for two days.” Kaia pulled a knife from her hip and dug into the bark, using it as a foothold to pull herself up the tree. “I’m not sure that’s the kind of information Madoc was hoping for.” She paused, her voice lowering as she found her next handhold. “You’re not hurt, are you?” Her chest tightened at the thought of how she had once found him bleeding and hanging from a cell.

“As intriguing as buffalen are, especially ones this size, I have to say I got my fill of herding them around as a boy.”

Kaia hauled herself onto the branch next to him and peered into his face in the dim light of the moon. Exhausted yes, but still in one piece. “You’re okay,” she breathed, the all-encompassing relief swamping through her in a light-headed rush. “Thank Odriel.” She let her forehead sink onto his shoulder, and then slapped him half-heartedly. “You nearly drove me half-mad with worry.”

“As much as I do love driving you mad,” he pressed his lips to her forehead with a chuckle, “I really didn’t mean to worry you.” He pressed another kiss to her temple.

He stroked the line of her jaw with the back of his hand, and she looked up into his face. “So why didn’t you come back?”

He frowned. “I was thinning the sentries when a bunch of them jumped me. They ran me into the stampede, and I nearly got trampled. Luckily I got out with just the busted foot, and I’m pretty sure they think their hell cows finished me off.”

Kaia’s eyes widened, and she followed his gaze down to where his right boot lay propped up on another branch. At first glance, it didn’t look so bad. No bones poking out, nothing bending the wrong way… but that didn’t mean his foot wasn’t broken. Kaia gingerly prodded it with her fingers, and Klaus let out a low hiss. She felt his good leg to compare. His foot and ankle were at least twice their normal size, swollen tight against the leather of his boot. She wasn’t sure they’d even be able to get the boot off.

Wincing, Kaia drew her hands away. “Can you walk on it?”

He made a face. “Not well. I was going to rest here for another day before trying to hobble my way back.”

Kaia snorted. “Walking for a full day on a foot like that?”

“What choice did I have?”

Kaia settled next to him again in the cramped space, wincing at her tender wounds. “Well, you could’ve not gone off on your own, for one.”

“I could say the same for you.” Klaus’ fingers moved along the gashes in her arm and her back. “Looks like the buffalen didn’t let you escape either.”

She folded her arms. “Well, in case you’ve forgotten, I have extensive experience in saving you, so there really wasn’t a better choice.”

He chuckled at that.

“And now,” she continued, “we can get you out of here and back to Direfent.”

“Not yet.” He wrapped her fingers in his. “Madoc was right, the Lost are here.”

Kaia turned to stare at him, the dark hazel of his eyes intent on hers. She let out a long breath, turning to look at his busted foot once more. “We’ll get you to Direfent first, and then I’ll return for them.”

He shook his head. “That’s too risky and you know it.”

“Then we wait for you to heal and then we come back and take care of it,” she said stubbornly.

“And how many villages will burn in the meantime? How many more Lost will swell their army?”

Kaia hid her face in her hands with a suppressed groan. The plan had been to torch the place, and then run like Idriel himself were on her heels. But with Klaus’ leg, there was no way they would make it.

He peeled her hands away from her face. “Firefly, it’s going to be all right. We can do this.”

Kaia pressed her lips together. “The Lost. Where are they?”

“They have them locked up in some buffalen pens outside the walls, on the other side of the Nathollus fortress.”

Kaia nodded, her mind churning through the changes in the plan. “I burn the dead. Steal some horses. And we ride back to Direfent.”

Klaus raised an eyebrow at her. “With the Rastgol army on our tail? Not exactly the stealthiest of plans.”

“Not even a little.” Kaia poked him in the shoulder with a smirk. “You had a chance to do it your way. Now we do it my way.”

His smile widened, and he took one of her long brown locks between his fingers. “I’m really glad you’re here, Firefly.”

Kaia glanced around their cramped perch. “In this squat little tree in the middle of Rastgol country, about to set a match to the barn while we’re still in it?”

He shook with silent laughter. “And here I thought we were done risking our lives in impossible situations.”

“No,” Kaia whispered, her voice falling. “It won’t ever be done, will it?” Her mind flashed to the nightmares that haunted her—the clawing fingers of the Lost and Mogens’ eyes in the dark. She thought of all the Heirs whose lives had been cut short. Their grandfathers, their parents, the Time Heirs… She thought of Madoc pleading with her to stay and fight with them. “It’ll always be the two of us risking our lives against the world. Finding the most dangerous places in Okarria and rooting out whatever abomination lurks there. Will there never be peace for us?”

Klaus swallowed, his thumb rubbing across the back of her hand. “I don’t know if there will ever be a time when we’re not fighting, or in danger, or you know, in a tree trying to avoid cannibals.” He chuckled, his gaze meeting hers. “But while I can’t promise I’ll always be right next to you,” he squeezed her hand, “I can promise that you’ll never be alone in this. That, no matter what might happen to us, I will do everything in my power to keep you safe.” He trailed his fingers down the braid of copper lying against her cheek. “And that, no matter where I am, my thoughts will always be of getting back to you.”

With that, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. Her heart bursting in her chest, and his heat twisting with hers, Kaia could not have dreamed more perfect words.

But even such love could not banish the pall of death that lay over them. The fear that soaked them. The pain and exhaustion that followed them wherever they wandered. She wanted more for their lives than that.

Even if she had to banish it all herself.


Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!

Burning Shadows: Chapter Seven

A Choice

The sun rose without any sign of Klaus, and Kaia’s frustration wilted into fear in the afternoon heat. Her eyes strained for any sign of movement or inexplicable parting of the yellowed grass. Her skin itched for an invisible touch, the lightest brush of the unseen. But there was nothing.

By the time the sun reached its zenith, she had made her decision. She dozed through the late afternoon and took her dinner with Madoc and his men, but from there, she walked through the dusk straight to the armory. Swords, spears, bows, and daggers lined the wooden racks along the walls in the otherwise bare room. She selected a light sword with good balance and belted it around her waist to replace the one lost to the river.

“Going somewhere?” Madoc tipped up his wide-brimmed hat to look at her.

“I’m going to find Klaus.” With the reassuring weight of the sword settled on her hips, she turned to where he blocked the door.

Madoc crossed his arms with a smirk, silvery tattoos trailing up his corded muscles into his short sleeves. “Do ya really need me to tell ya that’s not a good idea?”

“Sometimes bad ideas are all we have left,” Kaia replied, straightening under his mocking gaze.

Madoc chuckled to himself. “I s’pose I see where Klaus has gotten his sudden brash streak, but still, I think he’d put steel to my throat if I let ya go into Rastgol territory.”

“I thought you liked getting under his skin?”

Madoc threw his head back with a laugh. “Well, I s’pose yer right about that. But, I’m losing my ace here. I really don’t see how I’m coming out of this on top.”

“We’re bringing back information on the Rastgol which will help your cause, and we might even torch their Lost army while we’re at it.” Kaia crossed her arms in a mocking imitation of him. “I’m really doing this for you, Madoc.”

He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “That’s if ya come back.”

“I’m the Dragon Heir.” Kaia let an orb of flame spin in her open palm. “We’re either coming back, or I’ll burn the whole place down trying.”

Madoc’s grin widened, his teeth starkly white beneath his dark beard. “I do like the sound of that. But I thought ya wouldn’t use your fire on the Rastgol.”

Kaia rested a hand on the hilt of her blade. “I know this may shock you, but I do know how to use this.”

“Is that so?” He ran a hand through his beard and cocked his head toward the courtyard. Out in the deepening dusk, Madoc pulled his saber from its sheath. The steel glinted in the light of the flickering torches that lined the stone walls. “I’ll tell ya what then, Dragon, ya best me in a duel, and I’ll let ya go on yer merry way.”

Kaia shrugged and drew her blade. “If you insist.” Madoc was a head taller and at least seven stone heavier than her. Judging from the way he had fought at the bridge, he obviously knew how to use his size to his advantage and preferred to be on the attack. “To first blood?”

“Or yield,” he offered.

Kaia smothered a smile. Once, being underestimated might’ve annoyed her, but now she saw it for exactly what it was. An advantage. She held up her blade. “Shall we begin then?”

“After you.”

Kaia closed the distance between them and let her short sword blaze to life.

Eyes widening, Madoc raised his saber to defend himself. “I thought ya didn’t use yer fire on people.”

Kaia smashed her blade against his again and again, the steel ringing out across the square. “Have I burned you yet?”

As an Heir, Kaia was twice as strong as a man, but it was easy to forget when she looked like a normal blusheep girl. She drove Madoc around the grassy arena mercilessly, the sweat beading on his temple as he strove to parry her blows.

In another swirl of fire, she set her empty hand ablaze with a twist of flickering light. Letting her sword extinguish, she thrust her burning hand toward his face and in a knee-jerk reaction, Madoc lifted his blade to parry it. Taking advantage of the opening, Kaia lifted her still steaming blade and nicked Madoc’s neck, just above the collar.

Not just first blood. First blood could have been taken from a finger or a knee. Both easier to reach than the soft, protected neck. This had been to prove something. She had more skills than just her fire. She didn’t need to burn someone alive to take their life. And she was not to be taken lightly.

Chest heaving, Madoc stumbled back on his heavy feet. He brought his fingers cautiously to his neck and observed the red drop of blood on them, gleaming in the light still flickering from Kaia’s palm. Then, he tossed his head back and roared with laughter.

His booming laugh cracked the quiet of the night air until tears ran down his cheeks, and Kaia couldn’t help but smile.

“Okay, Dragon, I deserved that.” He sheathed his saber. “I s’pose Thane’s not the only Heir half decent with a blade.”

Kaia shrugged and sheathed her sword. “Someone’s got to keep him on his toes.”

“Right ya are.”

“And since I won, can I ask a favor?”

Madoc opened his arms wide. “What would that be?”

Kaia’s smile faded, and she nodded to where Gus waited patiently in the corner of the courtyard, his tail wagging as she looked at him. “Look after Gus while I’m away.” She kicked the dust with the toe of her boot. “He seems rather fond of you.”

“Ah.” Madoc straightened, his expression sobering. He whistled sharply, and Gus ran to his side as if he’d belonged to him all along. “I can do that.” He tousled Gus’ ears, and the ragehound’s furry tail wagged earnestly. “And I won’t stop you from going after Thane. But… have you considered what’ll happen if Okarria loses both Heirs? If you’re sworn to protect the land, can you take the risk?”

 “Even if we were to fall, more Heirs would rise in our places.” Kaia twirled the flame in her hands into a long stream, bending it into an infinite loop in her palm. “To go or not to go is just as risky. There is never a choice without sacrifice. Like your request from yesterday… sure, if I burn a man, I could save another. But what would happen to me? To my soul? Would I even be worthy of Odriel’s gift to use it for something so base?” She let the fire spin around her wrist, sending it along her shoulder and down her other arm. “And for Klaus… if I go, perhaps I will be dooming both of us, leaving Okarria in the hands of the Western Guard and its madcap Captain.” She flashed a grin at him, but it fell away under her heavy words. “But if I stay, then I’ll sacrifice the piece of myself that I love the most, and the one person that makes all of my sacrifices worth making.” She let her fire grow into a flower in her palm, its petals blossoming in the night. “So while I won’t burn a man, I will run into flames for the sake of this one.”

Madoc pulled his hat from his head and put it to his chest. “Hell.” For a moment, he looked at the dirt, as though gathering his words from the grass-littered dust. “I see I’ve underestimated ya in more ways than one.” He pointed his hat at her. “When I first heard the stories of you Heirs and what happened in the south, I have to say, I thought it was a sack of bosh. No two people could defeat an army. They’d have to be stupid to try. Although, I s’pose that made sense in Thane’s case.”

Kaia laughed and Madoc chuckled along with her before he stabbed his hat in her direction again. “But yer certainly blessed by Odriel, Guardian Dashul, and regardless of whether ya return, I’m glad to have met ya.” With that, he lowered his head in a short bow.

“And I, you, Madoc,” she said, bowing back. “But since I do plan on returning, I have one more favor to ask.”

He straightened and replaced his hat on his dark hair. “What else can I do for ya?”

She smiled. “When you see the flames, I’ll need your men ready to fight.”

“Oh yeah, and why’s that?” he asked, crossing his tattooed arms.

“Because two Heirs are all well and good, but I too prefer the strength of numbers.”

“A wise Dragon Heir.” Approval glinted in his navy eyes. “Klaus Thane is a lucky man.”

The smile fell from Kaia’s face. “Let’s hope so.”


Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!

Burning Shadows: Chapter Six

A Long Night

Kaia stalked Direfent’s wide parapet in the dark of night, glaring at the river below her. Swirling fire between her fingers, she wrestled with the tangles of worry that snarled her thoughts. He had actually left without her. She should’ve gone with him. There were only two of them after all. They didn’t have to be invisible to go unseen, and the western border was so vast, they could’ve taken their time and circled around. Maybe Madoc would’ve wanted to come with his men to get a better idea of the Rastgol’s defenses. There were so many options.

The sentries on either of the corner battlements gave her a wide berth, but Gus’ worried eyes followed her as she paced, his long muzzle opening in a wide yawn.

Torches lined the walkway, throwing her shadow back and forth across the path. Did he have to make a decision so quickly? Couldn’t he have waited for them to get a better sense of the situation? Especially after yesterday’s battle. What if the Rastgol attacked Direfent again? What if the Lost raided another village? She gripped the edge of the battlement, her palms heating the stone as she bit down on a scream of frustration.

“Couldn’t sleep, Dragon?” Madoc walked along the wall to gaze out at the west beside her.

“I’ve slept plenty.” Kaia looked at him from the corner of her eye. Though he had a good-natured manner, there was obviously no love lost between him and Klaus. “Did you send Klaus across the river to spy on the Rastgol?”

Bracing his arms against the smooth stones, Madoc chuckled deep in his throat. “I wish I could take credit for such an excellent idea.” He clicked his tongue. “Get information on the enemy and get Thane outta my hair? If he hadn’t come up with the idea himself, I would’ve said it was a stroke of genius.”

“Did he say why he wanted to go?”

“Something about wanting to see if these were Idriel’s dead or if there was another necromancer he needed to take care of.”

Kaia’s fingers tightened into fists. “It isn’t like him to do something so reckless.”

 “Perhaps not, but I’ve noticed Thane is quite different from the last time I saw ‘im.” Madoc shrugged, a smile peeking out from beneath his beard. “Less restrained, lighter, less insufferable… and perhaps a bit more impulsive.” His grin deepened in his weathered face. “I suppose someone must be having a positive influence on ‘im.”

Kaia blushed at the words, looking quickly away into the night. “Well, if it’s my bad habits he’s picking up, then I suppose I’m partly to blame.”

“Enough of that.” Madoc dismissed it with a wave. “Thane is grown and capable of making his own decisions.” He turned to her. “As are you.”

“Oh, am I now?” Kaia humored him with a narrow-eyed grin.

“Ya know, we could use your gifts here, ‘gainst the Rastgol.” He gestured to the river. “After decades of war, we could finally safeguard the border.”

Kaia shook her head. “I’m just one more sword. I’ve told you before, I don’t use my fire on the living.”

“Even after ya saw the Rastgol don’t share yer reservations?”

Kaia flinched as the boy’s screams echoed through her thoughts, the stink of burning flesh singeing her nose. “My flames are meant for the dead, and the dead alone. It takes a lot of yanaa to burn even one man alive.”

“Bosh,” Madoc snorted. “I’ve seen yer power, and Valente Conrad told me what ya did to his old man.”

Kaia froze. “Valente Conrad was here?”

Madoc nodded. “Not two weeks ago. Seems like a better man than his father. He agreed to lobby the Faveno regent fer more men.” His smile had faded into a glower. “We’re always short these days.”

“I… I see.” A chill swept away Kaia’s heat. She could only imagine what Valente Conrad thought of her now.

“You saw the village,” Madoc said, his voice low and urgent. “Think of how many ya could save. Not just soldiers, but innocents too. There are even rumors that they accept human sacrifices in exchange for a reprieve from their raids.” He spat over the battlements as if the words left a foul taste in his mouth.

Kaia nodded. “The Rastgol are horrific, but…” The memory of Conrad’s screams as she burned him alive branded her with a visceral agony. She swallowed, voice shaking. “If I were to turn my fire against them… I think it would kill me too.”

Madoc paused at that, the frown smoothing from his lips. Sighing, he straightened. “I suppose yer right. I guess I must be desperate if I’m asking one girl to fight an army’s battles,” he scoffed. “No offense, Dragon. Yer certainly an ace up the sleeve, but even that’s no replacement for a good hand.”

Kaia nodded, squeezing her laced fingers. “Klaus and I could never have taken on Idriel’s army without Okarria’s warriors at our back.” She glanced into the empty courtyard. “But now there are so few of them left.”

Madoc crossed his arms. “That there are. The Guards of the State-cities stay close to their homes, and the hands we get here are all fresh off the farm. By the time they’re trained enough to fight, we’ve got more empty bunks to fill.” He tapped his fingers against his thick bicep and leaned against the far wall. “Ya know, fire or not, we could always use a couple more good fighters here if ya’d like to stay on.”

“Even Klaus Thane?” Kaia’s smile widened with mischief.

He grimaced, his face folding comically under his beard. “I was talking about you and yer wolf. But I suppose if he’s part of the deal, we could stomach him.”

Kaia laughed. “I do appreciate the offer, but I’m afraid our duties don’t let us stay in one spot for long.”

“I suppose I should be glad that someone else is watching our backs in the east while we’re facing west.” He shrugged. “Regardless, ya’ll always have a bunk here should ya ever need one.”

His words stoked the warm flames in Kaia’s belly. “Thank you, Madoc.”

“That said, you go back to that bunk, Dragon.” He clapped her on the shoulder. “Yer Shadow will return with the dawn whether ya stay up all night worrying or not.”

Kaia chuckled. “Is that an order, Captain Madoc?”

Turning away, Madoc glanced over his shoulder at her. “Only a fool would give orders to a Dragon.”

Grinning, Kaia returned to her room anyway. But despite his reassurances, sleep did not find her. And in the morning, neither did her Shadow.


Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!

Burning Shadows: Chapter Five

Shadows

Though Kaia’s body bent with weariness, she couldn’t coax herself back to sleep with thoughts of the Lost raging through her splitting head. She hugged Gus to her chest as the image of the Rastgol breaking the seared boy’s neck replayed itself over and over again in her mind. Surely, there must’ve been something she could’ve done to save him. She should’ve seen it coming sooner—burned the bridge as soon as he hurt the boy. Why did she just stand there? But then would the boy have survived the river with his hands bound? Almost certainly not. But at least then she would’ve given him a chance.

Gus licked her cheek with his smooth tongue. It’s over, my girl. Rest now.

“It’s not over, Gus,” she whispered. “If the Rastgol are collecting the Lost somehow, what are we going to do about it?”

Gus laid his head in her lap with a huff, his long furry body taking up most of the bed. I don’t like it when you worry.

She sighed and shifted him away, moving her feet to the floor. Outside, the sun had begun to lighten the sky with swirls of pink and orange. “Maybe I can go find that mender since just laying here isn’t—”

A soft knock interrupted her. She rose to answer it, but the door opened of its own accord before closing with a quiet click.

Kaia crossed her arms. “Didn’t Madoc say you weren’t supposed to be up here?”

“As if he could stop me.” Klaus blinked into view, his smirk only inches from her own.

 “Besides,” he pulled a waterskin and what looked like a bundle of bandages from his shirt, “the menders were busy, so it looks like you’ll have to put up with me as a nurse instead.”

“Is that a needle and thread?” She groaned. “I’m doomed.”

“Don’t tell me the Dragon Heir is frightened of a few stitches?”

“I think I’d rather just wait for the mender,” Kaia said, edging toward the door.

 “First of all, you shouldn’t be on your feet.” Klaus put an arm around her shoulders and guided her back toward the bed. “Secondly, I’m actually very handy with a needle, I’ll have you know.”

Kaia slouched onto the bed, trading a doubtful glance with Gus. “That’s fine, I’ll let you know the next time my breeches need a patch.” She scooted away as he sat on the bed next to her. “Just keep that needle away from my head.”

“Shh… keep your voice down.” Klaus took her cheeks gingerly in his calloused hands, his face leaning close as he examined the wound. “If Madoc finds me in here, he’s liable to throw me out of the window.”

“Would it save me from the stitches?” Kaia whispered.

“Nope.” Klaus thrust the waterskin into her hands. “Drink this first.”

“What’s in it?” Kaia raised it hesitantly to her lips, a sharp, sour smell tickling her nose.

“What’s wrong? Don’t you trust me by now?”

Kaia narrowed her eyes at him. “Maybe.”

His gaze softened with a smile, and he squeezed her knee. “It’s for the pain.”

Kaia nodded and took a swig, bracing herself for the worst. The rancid drink burned her throat from her stomach to her nose, and she spluttered into her elbow. “Odriel’s teeth, Klaus. That tastes like cheap spirits.” She took another swig nonetheless and wiped her mouth, anything to get rid of the pounding between her temples.

“That’s because it is.” Grimacing, he took the skin from her. “It’s all they had left.” He poured some onto the cloth bandages in his hands and pressed it to the side of her head.

A fiery pain lanced through her scalp. “Ach! That stings,” she hissed. “I thought you were supposed to be helping.”

He sighed. “I know, but I have to clean it first. Here,” he handed her the needle, “I need you to heat this too.”

“Where’s Fiola when you need her?” Kaia whined, warming the needle like a match until it glowed red.

Klaus reached out for it, and she pulled it just out of reach. “Firefly…” He rubbed an exasperated hand over his smooth jaw. “I need that.”

“It’s still hot,” she protested with a cheeky grin, a blessed lightness leeching the pain from her skull. “I don’t want you to get burned.”

“Is that it?” Klaus leaned closer, his golden-flecked eyes boring into hers. “Is it the spirits or the head wound that has you acting ridiculous?”

Kaia’s eyes flicked to his lips and back up to his eyes. A warmth spread through her belly, making her heart stutter. “Maybe neither,” she breathed.

“Hmm…” Leaning forward, he plucked the needle from her hand. “Well, regardless, you still need stitches.”

It took another half hour of coaxing and spirits and whining before Klaus finally stitched her wound together. By the time he finished, Kaia’s head still swam, but with the blissful absence of pain instead of the agony of earlier.

Kaia ran her fingers along the side of her head, where Klaus’ neat row of stitches sat just above her ear. “Does it look terrible?”

“It looks perfectly fine.” Klaus took her fingers in his own and kissed them. “Now, you really should get some rest.” He grabbed the flask and the bandages and moved to rise.

“But where are you going?” Kaia tightened her grip on his hand, trying to wade through the spirits that dulled her thoughts. “Can’t you stay awhile?”

He smiled at her wearily, the shadows a dark purple beneath his eyes. “You want to tempt fate? It’s only a matter of time before Madoc busts down the door.”

“He won’t,” Kaia whispered, lying back on her pillow, her head heavy and her senses muffled. “Besides, since when do you follow the rules? What’s really bothering you?”

With a sigh, Klaus lay down beside her, propping his head up on an elbow. Just as he had done nearly every night for the past three months. “I talked to Madoc… about the Lost.”

Kaia’s eyes snapped open. “What did you say?”

He tucked her braid into place, brushing her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “I’m going to cross the river tonight—to try to figure out what’s going on.”

Kaia rubbed her palm against her forehead. “So soon? I guess we really do need to get some rest if we have to leave tonight.”

Licking his lips, Klaus shook his head. “No, Firefly, not we.”

She sat up. “What do you mean ‘not we?’ We do everything together, Klaus. You know that. We’re too vulnerable when we’re separated.”

“Shhhh, relax,” he whispered, coaxing her back to her pillow. He cupped her cheek with his palm, and she leaned into his hand. “It’s just a quick scouting mission. No one will ever see me, and I’ll be back before dawn breaks.”

“So you’re spying now? Where’s Shadmundar when we need him?” Kaia half-joked, wishing that the cat had come with them instead of returning to his magus’ service.

Klaus smiled, but the shadows in his expression deepened. “The Rastgol have eyes and ears everywhere. I’m the only option.”

Kaia pressed his hand against her face, the image of the Rastgol breaking the boy’s neck scraping through her thoughts. “I don’t have a good feeling about this, Klaus. Those people were…”

“I know,” he murmured, kissing her forehead. “Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”

“I won’t forgive you if you don’t come back.” Her heavy eyelids blinked slowly even as she fought to keep them open.

“So harsh,” he said, flashing a smile.

She pulled on his shirt, the fabric warm against his chest. “I mean it.”

“I’ll come back, Firefly.” He brushed the softest of kisses on her lips. “I promise.”

She curled into the solid safety of him, her exhaustion drawing her into unconsciousness. “Stay for at least a little while.”

“Okay, Firefly.” He wrapped an arm around her, kissing her brow once more. “But just for a little while.”

***

Twisted dark yanaa warped her nightmares, dragging her worst memories from the darkness and weaving new ones to take their place. Her father pulling the dagger across his own throat, Mogens plunging his blade into Klaus, and Conrad burning alive at her hands. And still there were more. She’d seen the images dozens of times, and yet they still managed to claw fresh wounds. The misshapen faces of the Lost morphed into Klaus’, his eyes filled with that same blackness of death, and as he lunged at her with his black blade, all she could do was scream.

Kaia thrashed, trying to will herself awake, but couldn’t quite swim past the heavy exhaustion that chained her to the nightmare. Warm arms encircled her instead, and the familiar smell of soap and leather calmed her pounding heart. Tangled in the blankets, Klaus’ black eyes still haunted the space between dreaming and waking.

“Klaus…” she mumbled, her arms flailing against the nightmare.

“Shh Firefly, I’m right here.” His hands encircled her wrists, and he brought them against his chest. “It was just a dream, I’m right here.”

The words blew the dark images away like a sharp breeze, and Kaia drifted into a peaceful sea of rest.

But when she finally awoke… he was gone.


Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!

Burning Shadows: Chapter Four

Blood

“Cut the bridge!” Madoc bellowed, drawing his sword.

Along the western bank, dozens of warriors leapt from the night to charge the bridge.

Before Kaia could process what was happening, the Rastgol launched across the gap between them, his short sword cleaving down on her. Madoc parried the blade and slashed his torch toward the giant man’s face. The Rastgol grabbed his arm instead, locking them together.

“Cut the bridge!” Madoc yelled again, crumpling under the Rastgol’s superior strength.

But the Direfent warriors on the bank were already locked in their own struggle with the dripping Rastgol warriors charging up from the river’s edge.

“They can’t,” Kaia shouted over the clashing steel, Madoc’s straining body too close to draw her blade.

Something yanked Kaia back and brushed past her. With a whistle of air, a gush of blood oozed from the Rastgol’s throat. But as soon as he fell, another Rastgol surged forward to take his place.

“Get back to the bank!” Klaus shouted, felling another Rastgol in front of him.

Kaia looked behind them to find the Rastgol already coming down the bridge from the other end, battering away at Madoc’s soldiers.

Wresting his torch arm from the dead Rastgol, Madoc hacked at the hefty ropes with his sword. “If they take the bridge, their army will be at our walls in seconds.”

Kaia nodded, finally grasping the situation. “Klaus, hold on to something!” She shoved past his invisible body, practically barreling into the solid mass of the next attacker. The Rastgol stumbled back, his eyes blazing as he rushed toward her once more. But before he could take another step, Kaia ignited the bridge in an explosion of fire. The crackling flames chewed through the wooden planks in an instant, and the Rastgol fell away.

Kaia’s stomach flew into her throat as her body dropped through the air with the corpses, the Rastgol, and her companions falling somewhere around her. Then she was underwater, the cold of it shocking her overheated body as the current dragged her under. With fumbling hands she unbuckled her belt, letting her heavy blade sink into the river. Lighter now, she kicked against the undertow, fighting to the surface. But as she gasped for air, a pair of huge hands pushed her under again.

She kicked and clawed at him, but his grip held firm. Finally, she landed a kick and pushed herself away, only for another hand to find her throat. Blinded by the murky water and desperate for air, she pulled the heat from her core till the water boiled around her, and at last the hand yanked free.

Breaking through the surface, Kaia sucked in air with a hoarse gasp, trying to get her bearings through stinging eyes. The current had taken her west, and several Rastgol warriors cut through the water toward her with strong, efficient strokes. Heart drumming, she kicked away from them toward the eastern bank and the clash of steel on steel. The Direfent soldiers struggled to beat the Rastgol back into the river while Madoc pulled himself onto the bank to charge straight into the mob. She hacked at the water with her arms, her gaze searching for Klaus in the chaos, but there was no sign of him. Was he still in the water?

She was almost midway when something crashed against her head. Pain cracked through her skull, and black edged her vision as she went under. Blinking sluggishly, Kaia forced herself to keep kicking. She bobbed up again to see the Rastgol brandishing the plank once more and raised her arms to protect her head. The wood slammed against her arms, another fist crashing into her face. Black spots threatened her vision once more, and she sucked in a lungful of the river. Ears ringing, she coughed and choked as she struggled to gather her senses.

The Rastgol brought the plank up again, and then fell limp into the water. Klaus appeared in front of her, water dripping from his dark hair. “Firefly, are you okay?”

“I-I’m… okay.” Her words slurred together and Klaus’ grimace doubled in her vision.

Klaus wrested the plank from the dead Rastgol. “Just hold on to this and I’ll bring you in.”

Kaia kicked as he dragged her through the water. At last, the cool river mud rose up to meet them, and he pulled her onto the shore, his chest heaving.

“Watch out!” Madoc yelled from the bank above them, pointing to a trio of Rastgol charging down the slope from the battle. Klaus slipped a knife from his belt and disappeared.

Kaia had to do something. She wouldn’t use her fire on people, especially when her allies could get caught in the blaze, but there had to be something she could do. They were here for her after all.

Her head still spinning, she stumbled to her feet, concentrating every ounce of yanaa into her hands. She might not be able to kill them, but she could at least distract them. She thrust her arms into the air. “Madoc! Klaus!” she yelled. “Shield your eyes!”

With that, she released the blaze within her in an explosion of volcanic flames. The column of fire shot into the sky, driving the dusky clouds of darkness from its heat. Focusing her yanaa, Kaia let the fire burgeon across the night, blotting out the stars in a tidal wave of fiery tongues. Dozens of Rastgol turned toward her, their murderous gazes prickling her skin. Good. She could only hope Madoc’s men had the sense to cut them down while their backs were turned.

Returning her focus to the blaze, she fed the eruption, sending another pulse of flames across the sky. The heat of it in the summer night slicked her skin with sweat, but she kept on, pouring every last drop of yanaa into the spectacle. How long she burned, she didn’t know. Until at last, completely spent, she fell to her hands and knees, her last burst of fire fizzling into the dark.

Her chest heaving and her fingers squelching in the mud, she surveyed the battle. The dead and wounded littered the ground, but from what she could tell, Madoc’s men now far outnumbered the few Rastgol still fighting on. Taking a deep ragged breath, she staggered to her feet, head throbbing. If she was going to help now, she would need to find a weapon. But her legs turned to jelly as she walked, and her stomach revolted against the movement. Kneeling, she drank in deep breaths of the still scorched air, trying to keep herself from vomiting.

A rough hand hauled her up by the elbow, and her stomach flipped again. “Steady on, Dragon, lemme look atcha.” Madoc pulled a torch close with a low whistle. “Someone got a good smack at yer head there. But a dozen stitches and you’ll pull through just fine.” Kaia swayed as he pulled her up the slope. “I must say I always thought Odriel a fool fer thinking three warriors could take on an army, but I’ll admit ya got me impressed.”

“Where’s… Klaus?” Kaia mumbled, her words muddied with pain and fatigue. “And are the Rastgol…” She stopped, her gaze stuck on the dozens of pairs of glowing green eyes staring from across the river. “The Lost.”

Madoc grunted, passing off his torch to a passing soldier. “I told ya the Rastgol were attacking with the Lost. It’s a good thing ya torched the bridge, or we would’ve had an even bigger problem on our hands.”

This time, Kaia couldn’t quell the nausea, and bending down, she heaved into the grassy bank.

Gathering her long hair at the nape of her neck, Madoc patted her back. “Definitely a nasty blow to the head. Get it all out there.”

Kaia straightened, and he passed her a flask of water. She poured some into her mouth and spat out the foul taste of bile.

“I do wonder though why ya didn’t just burn through the Rastgol on the bridge.”

A shiver racked Kaia’s shoulders. “Because then I’d be the monster.”

“Ah, come now, don’t be naïve,” Madoc chuckled. “We’re all monsters on the battlefield.”

His words sloshed in her ears, and Kaia shook her head slowly, wincing at the movement. “I think I just need… to lie down.” She sagged from his grip onto the grass, resting her head on her knees.

“Firefly!” Klaus jogged through the soldiers helping with the dead and wounded. “Are you all right?”

Kaia raised her head, the tension sloughing from her shoulders in a flood of relief. Fatigue lined his eyes and mud coated his clothes, but she could see no visible injuries. “Klaus,” she breathed with a weary smile.

“She’s fine, Thane.” Madoc waved him off. “Just a bit of a head wound thickening her tongue.”

Klaus knelt beside her, taking her face gingerly in his hands.

“I’m fine. You’re fine. It’s… fine,” Kaia whispered, closing her eyes to stave off the dizziness.

“Why didn’t you get her to the mender?” he snapped at Madoc.

Madoc raised an eyebrow. “My my, quite the mother hen now, aren’t we?” He shrugged, a shadow of a smile crossing his face. “Well, if ya insist.”

He bent down and scooped her up like a child, striding off toward the fortress.

Kaia groaned at the rocking motion, her stomach turning.

“Wait—that’s not what I meant.” Klaus’ face flushed as he strode beside them. “You’re going to make her sick doing that.”

Madoc ignored him, a smile growing under his beard. “My menders are a touch busy at the moment, so I’ll deliver her straight to her bed and send one by later.” Nodding at the guards, he ducked into the courtyard, and Gus bounded to his side, nosing and huffing at his feet. “In fact, since I’ve got her taken care of, why dontcha run along and make yerself useful. The lady could use her rest.”

Klaus’ voice rose, even his ears turning pink now. “Madoc, you can’t be serious, you know she’s—”

Madoc kicked the keep door shut on the spluttering Klaus, barring it with a smug grin. The door shuddered as Klaus banged on it from the other side, his angry shouts muffled through the solid wood.

That done, Madoc set Kaia on the ground with a deep chuckle. “Sorry ‘bout that, Dragon, I just couldn’t help myself.”

“Couldn’t help yourself with what?” Kaia asked, the pain in her head nearly blotting out everything else.

“Never mind.” He guided her up the stairs with a gentle hand on her elbow. “Let’s just getcha to yer room. Everything else can wait.”

Kaia couldn’t agree more.


Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!