welcome to steph's VIP lounge
Here you will be able to have exclusive access to
NEW teasers, Excerpts and FREE Chapters from my books.
I hope you enjoy every word and fall in love with my characters as much as I have.
Now, please enjoy the first Two Chapters
of my latest book!
Tendrils of gold energy darted along my arms, eagerly gliding, and shimmering down my skin like leathery vines.
Pure. Unhindered. Powerful. Newly claimed magic.
A power gifted by the Elementi Caelestes, otherwise known to our people as the Sky Gods, or the Celestials. For many here, they were only a legend, a myth, but I had seen them with my own eyes. I had experienced the creation of this realm, of my realm, uncovering truths that my time in the human world could have never prepare me for, and now, nothing would ever be the same.
Good. I didn’t want it any other way.
The tendrils followed the path my veins created until the thrumming power reached my fingertips. It sang and hummed in my blood as I welcomed it as part of me. With every calling of my Devenish magic to the surface, it became easier to me, until it almost felt like it was an entity of its own. A force ready, and eager, to execute my every wish…
Now, if I could only figure out how to wield it as a weapon.
Evanna’s chuckles reached me when I made a face at my own thoughts, my gaze fixed on the sparking energy that danced over my fingertips. I could heal life-threatening and otherwise unhealable wounds—which was pretty impressive on its own, and I was grateful for it—but that was only a result of my Devenish side influencing Dad’s ability passed on to me.
This power had also intensified and strengthened my connection to my Dragon family—again, incredible—yet I needed to find out what it could do by itself and what I was truly capable of when wielding it.
A soft hand slipped into mine, our fingers intertwining and successfully breaking me out of my thoughts. Evie winked at me when my eyes finally lifted to hers, offering me a smile that said she had no doubt I would figure it all out—hopefully sooner rather than later because the sinister voice in the back of my mind whispered time was not on our side.
We continued towards the landing pad, our brothers and sisters flanking us while the chief and Imogen walked ahead, apparently discussing something important.
Taking a settling breath that failed to push aside the nagging feeling in my gut, I pulled Evie to me and leaned into her ear. “Have I told you that I love you recently?”
Her lips twitched, but her attention remained on the hallway that led out of the dining room. “Not in the last thirty sun-minutes. Frankly, I was getting concerned.”
A slow grin captured my mouth, and I slightly brushed it against the sensitive spot below her ear, causing a shiver to visibly rush down her spine. Enjoying her reaction to me that never failed to amaze me, and the softness of her skin against my lips, my grin widened. “I love you.”
Sky blue eyes glimmered when she turned to me. “I love you too.”
“Not in front of the children, please. We are very impressionable.” Harrison’s words made everyone chuckle, and I glanced back, playfully narrowing my eyes at him.
“What? I’m not complaining. I enjoy the shows; the two of you are very entertaining.” He laughed when Elijah halfheartedly pushed him.
Quinn’s voice stopped me mid-stride, and Evie immediately let go of my hand. We turned to find my friend jogging towards me with the gang. Edward, Aaron, Charlotte, Louis, Harvey, and Thea stopped a few feet away, immediately dropping into a bow when they realized their princess was with us.
“I’m so sorry, Princess Evanna,” Quinn immediately offered, “I did not realize I was interrupting royal business. I thought it was just the Elevated Warriors walking.”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” Evie assured, instinctively assuming her royal manner. “They do a fine job of concealing me when they walk around me this way.”
“We just wanted to say hi,” Charlotte added, her gaze shifting to me. “It’s been a while.”
It really had been.
“We are truly sorry about Penelope’s passing, Princess… Guard,” Aaron offered.
“Please accept our deepest condolences,” Harvey added. “We grieve as one.”
“My most sincere thank you,” Evie accepted graciously, but her muscles tightened at the reminder of our loss. “We were on our way out, but you may have a moment to talk to him.” Evie smiled at them, placing a hand on my arm as she looked at me. “We will wait for you outside.”
With a small nod at my friends, she graciously turned and continued walking.
The guard hesitated for a second, not sure whether to stay with me, their prince, or continue with their princess.
“Arlo, Elijah, Finn, Fletcher, and Hanna, remain with the princess and the chief. Harrison, Islay, Harper, and I will stay with Braxton and meet you all outside once we are done,” Asher ordered without missing a beat.
With a swift nod, the others resumed their places around Evie and Kingston, while Imogen made her way to my side.
Confusion captured my friends’ faces, unsure of why the guard had split in half to remain with me, something they had never done, and I felt bad for not being able to tell them the truth. Soon.
“How are you guys?” I asked, pulling in Quinn for a hug and knowing I couldn’t stay for long. “I’ve missed you.”
“We have missed you too, Friend,” Harvey, the usually quiet one, offered with a sincere smile, giving me a bro hug before I greeted the others. Charlotte’s hug was a bit more heartfelt as she squeezed me. I squeezed her too. She was an absolute sweetheart.
The gang’s eyes immediately went to my torso, sweeping over the large scar now in full view. Aaron, Edward, and Thea exchanged a discrete glance while the rest pretended not to see. Neither of them brought it up or asked any questions.
“You know the guard,” I began, introducing my brothers and sisters since they only knew of them as the Elevated Warriors. “Asher, Harrison, Islay, and Harper.”
“Commander.” The guys immediately bowed at Asher, who shook his head.
“We are not in training or the Legion. You can call me Asher. Any friend of Braxton’s is a friend of ours.”
“Okay… Asher.” Charlotte grinned, completely star-struck by him. Not that I could blame her, Asher was good-looking and as badass as they came, but I doubted Skylar was the type of girl to share, and he only had eyes for her.
Also, Kingston would skin him alive if he even dared to look at anyone other than his daughter.
“Hey, gorgeous,” Islay cooed so smoothly that she was only missing a bike to lean against, and a black leather outfit.
My eyes immediately shifted to see who she was flirting with, and I found Quinn grinning crookedly back at her.
“Hey you,” she answered.
“And who is this cutie,” Harrison asked, stepping forwards while his gaze ran the length of Charlotte’s body.
Her cheeks flamed.
My hand shot out, catching him by the leather strap on his back, and pulled him to my side before he could reach her. “This is Charlotte, completely out of your league,” I warned, feeling protective of her, “and that is her brother, Edward. They are all warriors in the Legion.”
Edward held his sister’s hand, giving the known womanizer a warning glance. With a grin, Harrison lifted his hands in surrender. “No worries. I get it.”
Rolling my eyes, I motioned to my friends. “These are Thea, Aaron, Harvey, Quinn, Charlotte, Louis, and Edward. Some of whom you’ve already met, clearly.”
Islay smirked at that, winking at Quinn, and receiving a blush in return.
“And what am I, darling? A fly on the wall?”
I chuckled, turning to find a glaring Imogen over my shoulder. “I’m sorry. This is Imogen, guys,” I began, stepping aside so she could stand between Asher and me. “She was the Commander of the Harbinger of Justice’s Legion, and now, she is my mentor.”
My friends’ eyes widened with recognition, and they instantly touched a hand to their hearts, bowing their heads to her in respect. “Hallowed be his name, forever,” they echoed like a prayer.
Emotion hit my chest mercilessly with the words recited before me. The truth had reignited our people’s worship of my father and his legacy, but it was the first time I’d been able to witness it. Perhaps this was what Evanna referred to after she told them about the accord.
“You should have been there to see it…”
A hand clapped my back, and I turned to find the same emotion in my mentor’s eyes, accompanied by a brilliant smile that said it was about damn time.
I smiled back, but it took a moment to reconcile what it meant to hear their praise of Dad after hearing his name be cursed.
“You are Red Wing? The Red Wing?” Quinn asked, admiration and recognition bursting through her gaze.
“The one and only, darling,” Imogen replied with a brilliant and cocky smile, reclaiming the title that carved her into the legend.
“Your reputation precedes you,” Aaron offered in awe.
“I’m sorry,” Edward interjected. “Since my sister and I arrived, we thought you just took care of the Dragon babes.”
Charlotte nodded shyly, confirming their limited belief. They had only escaped the Hollow a few months ago, so they weren’t as knowledgeable about the legend as the rest of our people.
“I was biding my time. I, too, had a mission, and I was waiting for it to arrive.” Her gaze went to me, and we exchanged a smile.
“She is my mentor now,” I confirmed.
“Makes total sense,” Charlotte answered. “Brax has skills.”
“You have no idea…” Harrison snickered, pulling chuckles out of Islay, Asher, Imogen, and Harper.
I just shook my head at him, playfully pushing him while Charlotte glanced at us confused.
“I’m sorry, guys. I can’t stay long,” I admitted. “But we can meet later. Is everything alright?” I asked, hoping nothing bad had happened.
“Yes, we just missed our friend.” Quinn punched my arm, making me grin.
In the short time we’d known each other we had become good friends. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see them as much as I’d like anymore.
“Are you giving more reading classes soon?” Aaron asked, and the others nodded with interest.
I really needed to resume those. “How about tonight? If you spread the word, we can all meet after dinner in the training field to continue.”
“That sounds like a plan,” Harvey added, openly excited about learning to read and write. He seemed to be coming out of his shell. A shadow of the shy guy I’d met in the common rooms, who barely even spoke. Part of me was sad I’d missed so much with them while caught in my Elevated Warrior training and the drama of this life.
“We’ll meet tonight then.” Smiling, I waved at them and gave one more hug to Charlotte.
“She has a crush on you,” Harper said knowingly, bumping my shoulder after we resumed our walk.
“Nah, Charlotte is just super sweet and affectionate by nature. Who she has a crush on is Asher,” I teased, nodding towards him to see his lips twitch mischievously.
“What’s there not to love?” he replied with a cockiness that didn’t really belong to him.
“You sound like Harrison,” I snorted, making Harper chuckle in agreement.
“Even as I said it, it felt wrong,” Asher added, grimacing.
“That’s because not everyone can be as glorious as I am,” Harrison assured, gliding a hand over his braids.
Harper pushed him forwards, our laughter mixing.
* * *
“Focus on his energy,” Tharion guided as we flew over the Desertlands, going farther away from the Hidden Kingdom than we had intended during our scouting.
Closing my eyes, I tried yet again to feel the connections within me. Branches of gold came to life in my mind’s eye, in my core, my own extending to a multitude of others in the vast tree of life that united us. Leaves and branches shimmered as they revealed the Dragons linked to me. Some seemed dormant, as though they were too far away or sleeping; others thrummed like tribal drums in a rising song of war.
Their beats became stronger, impossibly louder, the closer I got to them.
Heart slamming against my chest, I opened my eyes.
I felt it all too strongly.
In the Desertlands, our connection seemed unnervingly powerful. All-encompassing. Overwhelming. Everything was stronger here, like the land itself was imbued with vigor.
“Don’t fight it, Prince,” Tharion advised. “Welcome it. Become it.”
Willing my heart to settle, my gaze followed a herd of animals that reminded me of beautiful giraffes. With exotic coats in a mix of caramel brown and red outlines, they ran across the miles of burnt orange and tan sand dunes. Every so often, the endless dunes were peppered with trees that resembled those in the magnificent African plains.
The Desertlands seemed to be a stunning blend of the Serengeti and the Sahara Desert. A dream land only found in Caelisium.
“Do you see those ripples in the sand?” Kingston yelled from where he flew with Spartan, forcing me to glance his way. He pointed to a large section to our right where the smooth, buttery sand seemed to be carved in layers somehow. “This is the motherland of my ancestors. I know they are not natural!” he shouted over the whipping winds caused by the Dragons’ wings.
With a nod, I acknowledged what the chief was saying. We had to be close. He was probably somewhere around here… or was already gone. That sinister voice of doubt whispered in my mind, and I tensed, pushing the pessimism away.
I was going to find him, I had to find him.
“Try again,” Tharion encouraged once more. “Welcome it. Become it.”
The image he sent me engulfed my mind, and I closed my eyes, welcoming the face forming before me. Shadows of dusk spread over a sea of scales with two large, white horns that curled like those of a ram glimmering in the moonlight—almost glowing silver in their purity—accompanied by bright silver irises.
When the face vanished, I reached for the family tree, and instantly, the beating of drums returned. Our connections drummed and shimmered, their beats intensifying as I touched each and every one of them, looking for my next Dragon.
Knight, one from Dad’s Sky Legion.
Like four others, had answered my silent call from my mother’s womb, pledging loyalty to my father afterwards. Technically, he was mine, so I was here to find him.
Slamming against my ears, the tribal drums of war grew even louder, becoming overwhelming again and almost blinding me in their intensity.
Welcome it. Become it.
Instead of pushing it away, I fought through it, opening myself to them. The tribal song reached its climax, and then… and then… it stopped. The abrupt silence became louder than the song itself, until a single beat resurfaced. My own. Others joined in seamlessly, drums of war thumping together with mine. Beating as one.
With each thump, the energy grew stronger, and then it was suddenly on the move. My golden light rushed over the trunk and branches, rustling leaves as it dashed ahead where another light thrummed while it zipped through the tree.
It was him. He was here, and he was on the move.
“I got him! Go faster!”
My urgency sent all Dragons onwards, Harper and Evie yelping when Spike and Star shot forwards.
“What is happening?” Evie yelled at me, and I opened my eyes, focusing on the desert below us.
“We are chasing him!” I shouted back, my eyes noticing the clusters of carved lines along the sand returning, the same Kingston had pointed out as unnatural.
“Where?!” Evie asked, flabbergasted, her hair whipping around as she searched the sky.
Glancing at her, I grinned. “Not above, below!”
Tharion’s speed became staggering just as my attention returned to the dunes. Lines cut across the burnt orange ground ahead of us, carving waves along it, and a cluster of tiny horns peaked through the desert.
I had no idea how Knight was doing it, but the damn Dragon was soaring under the sand.
The golden thread burst like a firework in my mind’s eye, rising above all others, and trusting an instinct I didn’t even know, I jumped to my feet, running full throttle over Tharion’s head. My boot pushed off his nose, and I lunged into the empty air just as the onyx Dragon burst out of the ground, sending waves of sand to fly all around us.
Arms flailing, I landed on his lower back as he shot upwards, narrowly missing Tharion when their paths crossed. My body slammed against his scales, but I couldn’t find my footing, my hands reaching and failing to grasp the row of small horns that rose like spikes along the center of his body.
The tips sliced the skin off along my chest and arms while I fell towards his tail, tumbling down rapidly. Throwing my right hand up again, I caught one of the small horns, managing to hold on and stopping my fall.
My blood clouded his shiny black scales. Yet, as fast as it seeped out of me, the sliced skin knitted together again, the wounds no longer found.
Knight roared, shaking his body to throw me off him. Fat chance in Hell. I had come here for him, and I was not leaving without him.
“Stop this!” I shouted, climbing my way up to his neck. I didn’t know if he could hear me through the ruckus he and the others were causing.
Kingston and the guard called at me to let go of the seemingly wild Dragon. He was like a bull, bucking and throwing his body in all directions to get me off him, but I wasn’t going to let go. I wouldn’t let go.
Now, if only the onyx Dragon could stay still long enough for me to connect with him.
Finally reaching his neck, my hand glowed bright gold—matching the intensity in my eyes. He seemed to sense my magic because he suddenly stilled; I rose to my knees, pressing my hand against his scales—
Knight bucked again, successfully lunging me off him.
Screams burst in the air when I crashed against a tall dune, the buttery sand softening my landing. My body bounced once, and then I rolled down the burning sands, too fast to truly feel their effects on my bare skin but long enough to still register the true danger. These dunes were more perilous than they seemed. They felt like hills of raging fire.
Tharion’s roar echoed through the Desertlands when I finally reached the bottom. Quickly, I pushed to my feet, but not before noticing the red burns along my hands and arms. Grunting, I dusted the granules off me, ignoring the pain long enough for the healing to kick in, and glanced up to find Knight surrounded.
Rows of sharp fangs gleamed all around him as Spartan, Alkor, Star, Fulgur, Spike, and Athina hissed and snarled at him. Knight turned within the circle, seemingly assessing his chances to escape… That was, until he faced Tharion. He reared back, recognition setting in, but instead of calming him, the sight of my Dragon father sent him into a rattled retreat.
Before I knew what was happening, he had somehow tackled Athina, Fulgur, and Spike out of the way, lunging straight for me—head lowered like a bull to ram me out of his path.
“Knight, stop fighting me!” I shouted, hand lifting, before he collided with me. A beam of magic exploded from my palm, sweeping over his entire form, and stopping him in his tracks.
Seemingly dazed by it, the onyx Dragon wavered on his feet, and when he blinked, my golden light captured his irises. The instant our connection took hold, his spine shot ramrod straight, and images flashed in front of my eyes.
A kingdom rose over the burnt orange dunes with Knight flying along the structure that I assumed was a castle, but its architecture was like nothing I had ever seen. It seemed made of sand and gold dust, even though it should be impossible. The multileveled castle stood tall under the gleaming sun, and multicolored fabrics flew from the balconies all around it—like African sarongs in bright reds, oranges, browns, and yellows. Ethnic symbols adorned the fabrics, a royal crest, and I knew then the Desertlands had been a rich, sovereign nation before Raithian’s cruelty and avarice destroyed it.
Knight flew across the bright sky once more before he shot into the buttery dunes, and I instantly understood these were his lands. He wasn’t hiding after we lost the battle and Dad took us away. He returned home, even if his home was no longer standing and waiting for him.
That also explained why he had the ability to somehow “fly” under the sand.
Other images replaced his origins until the memories settled on my mother.
She sat next to a grand waterfall sanctuary in the Greenlands, a hand lazily rubbing her swollen belly while her feet danced in the water. Dad sat next to her. Her belly wasn’t too large but given the way his eyes searched their surroundings every so often, I knew they had already hidden my mom from our people so no one could find out about me.
The trees to their left shook in the next moment, and their heads lifted to find Knight slowly coming out of the forest. Curiosity fluttered through him, pulling him to my mom by a force bigger than all of them. A satisfied grin captured Dad’s face, saying that wasn’t the first time I had called a Dragon to us, and perhaps, his outings with my pregnant mom were not at all a coincidence.
A wave of recognition, and a stronger emotion I couldn’t quite place, washed over me through the new bond just as the golden magic faded from Knight’s eyes. He blinked, shaking his head slowly.
“It cannot be,” Knight whispered, remaining away as though he didn’t want to let himself believe… or hope.
My irises gleamed brightly with Devenish magic in response, the yellow hue engulfing my vision to show him exactly who I was, and he took a step back, stunned by the sight. The strong emotion I had sensed in him became all-consuming—devotion—and without faltering, he fully bowed to me.
“Welcome back, Young Prince,” his gritty voice offered through our link. “I have waited for you…”
Cold tendrils of realization wrapped around my being the next second, and I understood what had brought those Dragons to me while I was still in my mother’s belly. Why they pledged loyalty to my father and fought for him without question.
It wasn’t a silent call. It wasn’t the extent of my power or any kind of influence I had over them.
They sensed exactly what Knight recognized within me now. My magical essence. That I was the one being they had been waiting for, hoped for, for so long…
A pure-hearted Devenish.
And the Prince of Caelisium.
Running over the scorching sand, I jumped onto Knight’s wing as it rose mid-flight, and I was catapulted onto his back. Once I took my place on his neck, an appreciative smile curved my lips when his feelings of honor and pride flowed through me. He felt privileged that I chose to ride back with him.
“You, see?” I sent into Tharion’s mind. “You, too, should feel honored to be in the Prince of Caelisium’s presence.” My lips twitched when he narrowed his eyes, throwing me a side glance that promised bodily harm, but his amusement danced through our connection.
I snorted, chuckling to myself since Evie and the others were too far away. For a moment, I felt relief that everything had gone relatively well—
A prickling feeling hit me like a cannonball, spreading over my spine and onto my skin swiftly. Fuck. It was way stronger than last time. Someone was watching me, and I knew exactly who it was.
My head whipped around to find Azazel’s giant form hovering in the distance. Seven glowing green eyes trained on me.
The beast seemed idle, passive, satisfied to just watch me from afar, and though I couldn’t explain why, I knew he wasn’t here to attack. Familiar questions swirled through my mind instantly. Was this Raithian’s way of keeping tabs on me after our last encounter? If so, what was he trying to uncover? What was he planning that he needed to know where I was?
The Hidden Kingdom!
My heart lurched into my throat, but before I could yell to the others to hurry back, something else occurred to me. If the Warlock King was going to attack our secret heaven while we weren’t there, then why was Azazel here? He wasn’t all-powerful, and the four-headed beast was the best weapon he had against us. Azazel could easily wipe out our people with one or two combined breaths, so why would Raithian send Azazel after us?
The grim reality of my own thoughts and the threat Azazel truly posed fell over me like a bucket of icy water. I was the only one who could fight him head-to-head. With magic. Magic that I needed to understand and learn to wield as a weapon, like the Warlock did, if we had any chance at ending this once and for all.
In response to my emotions, Knight’s row of small horns rose like hackles along his spine, and I was glad the others were ahead of us. He turned his head, catching sight of the threat behind us, and his mouth opened to roar. Before he could, my palm illuminated, sending a calming wave through him.
Tharion’s eyes sharply cut to the beast and then to me, but I shook my head.
“He means us no harm… not right now. Trust me.”
Knight and Tharion exchanged an apprehensive glance, but they did. They trusted me.
“Invisible…” The word echoed from my mind, and our Dragons’ forms shimmered and wavered until they were fully camouflaged. No longer visible to Azazel.
My attention shifted back to find the four-headed beast slowly turning in the sky and flying away until he disappeared in the horizon.
By the time we landed inside the mountain, I had worked myself into a maddening tangle of stress, anger, and worry. The fact that Raithian was having me followed could only mean two things—one, he wanted to remind me that the danger was there, ever present, to pressure me into agreeing to his proposal of “teaching me” how to use my magic. Or two, he wanted to know what I was up to in case I was planning my retaliation, so he could strike before I even got the chance.
This was personal now, between him and me, even when he really didn’t know the extent of our true connection. Either way, it didn’t bode well for me, for us, and I hated feeling cornered.
Then there was the fact that I promised Evie I would find a way to make the Hidden Kingdom safe for our people again so we wouldn’t have to move them. If she and Kingston found out that Azazel had been following us…
The back of my eyes throbbed with a growing headache while hundreds of possibilities swirled in my mind.
“Aren’t you coming with us?” Evanna’s voice called me back to the present, and I realized I just stood there, next to Knight and Tharion, after dismounting.
She and the others were already moving towards the entrance, where Willow stood after coming out to greet us, and would surely take Evie with her to work on the coronation’s preparations.
A loaded sigh left me when my eyes travelled to her, and I shook my head. “I need to figure out how to use this magic for something other than healing. Learn to wield it in a way that I can use it to defend us.”
“Can’t you just heal Raithian into submission?” she teased, trying to ease some of the tension coiling through me as she walked to my side.
“I wish.” Chuckling, I held her waist when she stopped before me, placing a soft kiss on my lips.
“Where do you plan to practice?” she asked, her hand caressing my chest.
“Not sure. I think I’m going to ask Tharion to take me somewhere isolated where I can’t hurt anyone.”
Kindness shone in her eyes as she nodded. “Okay, let’s go.”
Kingston and the guard moved towards us instantly to accompany me.
“I believe what the prince meant was that he needs to do this alone,” Imogen explained, understanding my intention. “When he said he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, that includes you, my princess.”
Confusion briefly clouded Evie’s features. “You don’t want me to go with you?”
“Not if it can place you in the path of danger…” My hold tightened protectively around her waist. “This is the same type of power Raithian wields, Evie. Dangerous and potent. Except, he once had a teacher who showed him the extent of his magic, and he’s had over two centuries to master it. I’ve never used it before and have no idea how to control it.”
Pained understanding settled in her eyes, and she conceded, though she was not happy about it. “Fine, I’ll allow it.”
A slow grin broke through my gloominess before I kissed her. “Don’t worry. Tharion won’t let anything happen to me—”
The statement was cut off by his loud huffing, and my gaze went to him. “If you are stupid enough to hurt yourself with your own magic, you are on your own.”
“What did he say?” Evie asked, and my lips twitched when I glanced back at her.
“That he has my back. Nothing to worry about.”
Tharion snorted, loudly, making Evie narrow her eyes at me. “It didn’t sound like that to me.”
“Don’t pay him any attention,” Imogen interjected. “When it comes down to it, Tharion will make sure his prince is safe.”
“He will,” I assured. Shutting up Evie’s doubts with one last kiss, I looked past her and nodded to the others. “I’ll meet you guys later. Take good care of my future queen.”
Evie rolled her eyes, but the guys chuckled, clearing a path for her to pass. My gaze met Kingston’s, finding… appreciation there. He respected the fact that I was not placing a woman we both loved in danger unnecessarily.
“Can we talk later?” I asked, hating the fact that I still hadn’t been able to make things right about dating Evie behind everyone’s backs.
The chief offered me a single nod. “Later.” With a bow of his head, he flanked Evanna, taking her to Willow’s side by the door.
“Finally!” a spirited Willow huffed. “I have been waiting for you to return for hours! We have so much to do. You need to attend crown and dress fittings; we must meet with the newly appointed ladies, and I need to show you all the final details for the ceremony next week. I believe—”
Her voice drifted way as she began to walk ahead of them into the castle, and Evie sent one last glance at me that screamed she would rather be out here with me and the Dragons than dealing with royal bureaucracy.
“I’ll meet you later, Prince.” Imogen bowed, walking after them.
I turned to face Tharion. “Where to now?”
An image immediately awoke in my mind, showing the sanctuary where Spartan had taken me and the Renascentiae Principis was performed. Its translation meant the Rebirth of the Prince, which made sense since I did feel like a new man after I went through it.
“Is he going to let me ride him, or do I need to take Athina with us?” The unexpected voice startled me, and I turned to find Asher standing just a few feet behind me. His apprehensive gaze was set on Tharion.
My brows knitted. “I need to do this alone—”
“Yeah, I heard you the first time. But as you say, ‘there is no way in hell’ I’m going to let my brother go out there alone to deal with such lethal magic. And with a Dragon who might very well let you burn your own ass just to teach you a lesson.”
Wheezed sounds left Tharion, and I glanced up to see his chest shaking. The asshat was laughing.
“I mean, you are not wrong.” I made a face while Asher grinned. “Can he come into the sanctuary with us?”
Without answering, Tharion began to lift into the air.
“I guess that means we are riding together,” I admitted. Giving enough space for us to run and mount Tharion mid-flight, Asher and I lunged for it.
When we settled onto his neck, Asher hissed, scrambling backwards. I turned to find him watching the scales between us—they were shimmering red.
“Tharion, stop it!” I scolded and felt his chuckles rumble under us. The heat instantly disappeared. “I guess mine is not the only ass he wants to burn to teach it a lesson.”
* * *
“Try again!” Asher encouraged from the other end of the large cavern while heated sweat dripped down my chest and back.
My arm lifted to wipe the drops sliding into my eyes and making them burn. The arm shield and gauntlets I had worn were long forgotten on the dirt-packed ground. With a nod, every single muscle in my body tensed, preparing to push out the energy as far as I could. My healing ability might be intuitive and easy flowing, yet my Devenish power was everything but that.
Focusing on the golden glow growing in my hands, I gritted my teeth as the intensity built within me. My head throbbed, my throat burned from thirst, my chest tightened until I could barely filter air, and each chord of magic felt like it was slicing my veins open. Yet, I pushed. With every ounce of energy that I had in me, I pushed, until I feared a baby might pop out of my ass.
“Aaargh!” The roar tore through my being, burning its way out while the sphere of golden power built between my hands, and still, I forced myself to push with all my might.
“Good! Now hold it, hold it…” Asher encouraged, his voice echoing in the enormity of the space.
Trembling took hold of my upper body as I held on to the sphere I’d created; its magic too volatile to safely maintain. It felt like I was trying to contain the sun itself within my grasp, its heat licking my skin as though it wanted to carve its way through me. Silvery black scales danced up my arms as the sphere grew, protecting me from my own power, which I was grateful for because Tharion had checked out long ago.
At the moment, he lay down by the entrance of the sanctuary, his eyes closed. A small rumbling noise suddenly came out of him. Snoring.
WTF. Was he actually sleeping?!
Concentrate. My mind interjected, reminding me of the small craters my prior attempts had left through the cave. The evidence of my failure.
“Concentrate!” Asher echoed from the other end when I fell to my knees, struggling to keep the power between my shaking hands.
It was a simple ball born from my energy. That was all. I wasn’t trying to move mountains, only hold my magic in the form of a sphere, but even then, its force seemed stronger than anything I could ever hope to tame. It might as well be a supernova.
The scream scorched my vocal cords as something seemed to snap inside me, and the golden sphere escaped my grasp, shooting through the space like a cannonball. Pain blinded me, but it instantly took a back seat when the power exploded against a wall, sending splintered rock and debris towards Asher. Luckily, he was far enough away that he had time to get out of its path.
Glancing down, I caught my stomach turning red and purple… I had literally ripped my insides open from the effort.
“Are you alright?” Asher yelled from the other side, his voice echoing in the large cave.
“Yeah,” I croaked, putting one hand on the ground to hold me, and wrapping a shaking arm around my torso.
Closing my eyes, I took a slow, measured breath, flinching with the pain the action elicited. My healing soon stirred, coming to the surface while enhanced by my Devenish magic until the agony eased—only a dull ache left.
“It’s alright, Brother. You can always try again.” Asher’s voice was filled with sympathy and patience, one I didn’t think I had.
The internal injuries and bruising finally vanished, but my frustration grew. I was never going to beat Raithian like this, and I had to stop him. That was on me.
“FUCK!!” My fists slammed against the ground, a wave of anger that I didn’t recognize within myself releasing from my core. A hatred so deep that threatened to consume me, one that didn’t belong in my heart.
Except, what came out of me wasn’t a wave of emotion… It was raw power.
The ring of golden energy exploded out of me when my fists hit the earth, sweeping over the space, and taking everything in its path.
“Asher!” I called, eyes widening, but it was too late.
My magic crashed against him, sending him flying towards the jagged, rock wall behind him. Time seemed to stop as I jumped to my feet and shot towards him, only one thought rushing through my mind.
Tharion’s scaly hand caught Asher an instant before his body could slam against the protruding blades of rock and gently sitting him to the ground.
I guess he wasn’t sleeping after all.
The next instant, I reached him.
Wanting to make sure my brother was okay, I took a step forwards, but Asher scrambled back… away from me. Shock, confusion, and fear captured him as his eyes fell to my lower body.
Following his gaze, the air was sucked out of my lungs. Golden smoke swirled around me, slowly drifting away to reveal my legs and feet. Horrified, my head whipped back to find that in my desperation to get to Asher, I had disappeared into magical fog, erasing the entire length of the sanctuary, just to reappear a split second later all the way on the other side... in front of him.
Just like the Warlock King could do.
“I’m sorry,” I croaked, swallowing hard and tentatively lowering myself to the floor because I didn’t trust my legs to keep me upright.
Asher’s words cut off while my attention shifted to Tharion. He stood next to us, looking down at me in the strangest way, as though he couldn’t understand what had us so damn rattled.
“I’m sorry too, Brother,” Asher finally admitted. “I was taken by surprise. I-I didn’t expect you to do that.”
“To attack you or to disappear into a cloud of mystical smoke?” I asked, trying to make light of the situation for both of our sakes.
His lips twitched. “Surprisingly, the attack I expected. I was going to be disappointed if we left this cave and you hadn’t tried to kill me at least once.”
We chuckled at that, but the heaviness crushing my chest soon erased all trace of humor. “I’m not like him,” I vowed, not certain if I was saying that for his peace of mind or mine. “I am not him.”
“I know,” Asher assured, moving closer to grip my shoulder. “I know you are nothing like Raithian, Braxton. I just didn’t expect you to be able to transport yourself like he does. I was taken aback, that is all. We are brothers. I trust you with my life.”
His words brought some relief, but part of me wanted to point out that there was fear in his eyes when I tried to touch him, when he moved away from me. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew that in that moment, it wasn’t me who Asher saw materializing before him… but Raithian.
“Maybe we should take a break,” he added. “Until next year's cycle.”
Chuckling, I nodded and let out a heaved breath. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m well.” His gaze lifted to Tharion, who was still staring at me as though trying to decipher something important. “Thank you for protecting me.”
Tharion nodded once and lowered his wing, signaling for us to climb to his neck. The magic training session had officially ended.
Too shaken to protest, I stepped onto the talon and walked up the bone slowly towards his neck. Asher followed silently. I didn’t even care that my arm shield was left behind, I just wanted to get out of there.
“What is next, Brother?” Asher asked when we dismounted by the rear entrance of the castle, and Tharion returned to the honeycombs for the night.
Remaining silent for a moment, I considered my options. There had to be someone left who could help me hone or guide me in learning about my Devenish magic. “I think I need to talk to my mother.”
His expression distorted as he glanced at me like I had grown a second head. “I thought she was dead.”
“She didn’t really die; she ascended.” I sighed. “It’s complicated.”
“I see. But first, reading class?”
That brought a smile to my face. “Yeah, first reading class.”