By: Layla Heart
Just when Sophia thinks she’s got a handle on things going on in the dragon town, her whole world is rocked, quite literally.
While Sophia, Gale and Topaz ‘get to know’ each other more intimately, things are the school they’re camping out at have taken a turn for the worse. A group of dragon rebels were supposed to arrive today, but they never did, making everyone worry that they might have been caught by the deserter fae soldiers roaming the area.
As Sophia makes it back to the school, she finds out that the parents of Gaia, the little earth dragon orphan, went missing last full moon and it’s another full moon tonight… Then more bad news reaches her, another two sets of parents have gone missing…
Sophia and her men try everything in their power to find out why earth dragons are going missing, what’s happening to them. Why can Gaia still sense her parents when they’re not there? And what does a magically locked room at the local library have anything to do with it?
If you don’t want to buy through any of the international stores, this story is also available in the Netherlands and Belgium as part of Fated Hearth (Guarding Their Dragon Mate Collection 2). This features the second three novellas of the series and is available in ebook or paperback.
As soon as the shaking from the earthquake stopped, footsteps began thundering down hallways, people calling out to each other, checking in on others. The shaking from the ‘earthquake’ didn’t take very long, just a couple of seconds, but it’s got my heart beating like crazy and I know that I heard things falling over elsewhere in the building.
“Anyone hurt?” I turn around, looking back to the hallway, waiting for news from the rest of the people.
A handful of rebels burst into the room, their eyes wide, their breathing hard.
“Status?” I step towards them, but then stop. They might be other werewolf rebels, but I’m not in charge, Sophia is.
“Nobody as far as we can tell. Everyone is unharmed. Just books that fell from shelves, a couple of poorly stacked chairs tumbled down, things like that. No significant damage.” The first rebel begins speaking to me, but then turns to Sophia when he realises she’s here too. “Everyone’s safe.” He nods, then looking more serious. “What was that? I didn’t know we could get earthquakes here.”
I glance at Sophia, who shrugs, pulling a face. “Not an earthquake, exactly. Earth dragons, potentially.” She looks at the little girl in her arms, who’s still sniffing, her eyes wet. “We think it might be Gaia’s parents, but we’re not sure yet.”
Sophia nods, like she’s deciding something. “Nobody leaves the building tonight. I want reports of anything that’s different, stuff that fell, anything. Just to make sure that we’re not overlooking anything. If it’s more than just some dragon magic, I want to know immediately.” She glances up at the rebels in the doorway. “Pay attention to windows, doors, anything like that, anything that could be broken and used to enter this building. Go.”
The rebels dart off again, spreading Sophia’s demand. The whole building filling with voices and activity even though it was starting to wind down for the night.
I walk over to Sophia, carefully wrapping my arms around her. “What are you thinking?”
She slowly shakes her head. “I don’t know yet.” She looks out the window, to the sky. “It’s a full moon. Magic is at its strongest during the full moon. That might have something to do with it, that they can only do whatever they do during the full moon because it takes so much magic. But for now, we’re just guessing. I feel like I should…” She sighs. “I feel like I should know something, but I don’t. Like a memory that’s just out of reach.” Sighing again, she turns her head to me and gives me a quick kiss, little more than a brush of her lips on mine, but it lights up my whole body, makes me crave her even more. “This is going to be a long night.”
Another long night… We’ve been doing nothing but long nights since I met her. Day and night are nothing more than the sun being in the sky or the moon. We’re working all hours, sleeping whenever we can. It’s exhausting, but it feels like this is the only right way for now.
I put my head against hers, taking a couple of deep breaths, before I look at the others in the room. Sophia’s hoard is all here, even Kieran, who came back down right after the earthquake, as is Agata, the woman who used to take care of her, and Lapis, an old friend of Sophia, who is the head of a small family of dragon shifter kids, almost all orphans.
Sophia squeezes my arm for a moment and steps out of my embrace, pulling Gaia a little higher up on her hip. Her movements are automatic, like she’s used to it, like she’s used to having a kid in her arms all the time, and my heart soars at the thought that someday she might do that with our kid… But I quickly push that thought down, before Sophia or Topaz feel it and might get awkward over it.
After one last glance my way, her eyebrow raised as she’s got a curious look in her eyes, Sophia walks over to the map we created earlier today, looking out over it. “Lapis.” She keeps her voice soft. “The people you tried to reach, where do they live?”
Lapis stands up from where she was sitting and walks to the table with the map, pointing at two houses on the same street. It’s on the other side of the town from where Gaia and her parents used to live, but like Gaia, they’re one of the outer streets, their back gardens looking out over the fields. Not as well-guarded as the inner streets and much easier to slip in and out of undetected.
“I didn’t know them that well, but well enough to know that they should have picked up when I called.” Her voice shakes and tears drip onto the map. “They wouldn’t ignore us.”
Agate steps forward too, wrapping her arm around Lapis’ shoulder. “I agree with Lapis. They would have picked up. They… They often help to find places for rebels to temporarily stay at and they know that a call from us means that we need them. They wouldn’t ignore it.”
“Okay.” Sophia nods, her voice thoughtful. “You said that they have kids?”
Lapis and Agate nod, looking pained.
That makes Sophia think, almost like I can see a plan form in her head, then she looks at me and Gale. “I don’t dare to send dragons out right now, but could you two check on them? Bring any kids back with you? I’m praying that the network around there is down or whatever, anything simple like that, but I’m afraid that it won’t be. Could you?”
“Of course.” I nod. “I’ll take some extra rebels to be safe, in case we find something.”
Gale steps closer, frowning, but his hands move over his waist and arms, like he’s checking his clothes for something. “Anything we can do to make them trust us? You know, to say or do? Because if their parents are gone now, then… they’ll be scared.”
Agate nods. “Call me. They know me. That’s all I can offer.”
This makes Gale eye Lapis, who simply shrugs. Yeah, trusting Agate seems a common theme in this town. When Gale found her, Lapis didn’t trust that Topaz and Gale were really there to help them and not try to break up her family, until they’d put Agate on the phone.
The old earth dragon, one of the oldest dragon I’ve seen in the town yet, Sophia’s former neighbour, is a pretty influential person around here. I’d gotten that idea before, but this is making that feeling only stronger. She’s the one most in contact with the rebels, she’s the one who knows what’s what in this place.
It could work to our advantage, as long as everything goes well, but if Sophia does something that Agate doesn’t agree with, it could turn very ugly too…
Gale gives Sophia a hug and then he jerks his head towards the door as he catches my eyes. Yeah, yeah.
I give Sophia a quick kiss and then nuzzle Gaia’s head for a moment. How scared she must be, sensing her parents, but them not being there, and then… If what just happened really came from her parents, then I don’t know if they’re angry or if they only tried to get our attention.
But I’m not looking forward to more examples of this any time soon. One earthquake is bad enough.
Gale and I are walking down a narrow and dark side street, towards the edge of town. It’s quiet, really quiet, right now, and I hope it’s because people are heeding the warning to stay inside and not for any other reason.
We chose a group of six former werewolf rebels to join us. Four werewolves and two witches, mostly people who can protect themselves and us, but who are also good with kids, since we have no idea what we might find. Two of them are walking a distance behind us and the other four are split into pairs and walking one street left and one street right of us, to cover more ground in case things go sideways.
I nearly jump when Gale speaks, not expecting the grumpy witch to make small talk during something so stressful. He’s not even looking in my direction, still looking ahead, walking on. “Were you aware of what my division in the rebels was for?”
I blink, stopping a moment as I stare at him before I catch up. “Missions?” He shoots me a disbelieving look and I shrug. “I really have no idea. Not sure why it matters.” All divisions had their own purpose, and I didn’t really have much to do with most of them.
“I just don’t want you to be the only one who doesn’t know, doesn’t seem fair.”
“What?” He’s not making any sense.
He looks ahead again. “Not many were aware of it, but my division was in charge of ‘covert operations’.” He makes it sound like that’s the most ridiculous thing to name what he does, or did, I dunno. “Basically, we were sent when things either had to be taken care of quietly or when they needed more leverage during negotiations.”
I’m not really sure what he means, we had loads of different divisions, some were in charge of simple brute-force missions, others in charge of diplomatic missions, yet others were doing what we’re doing now, helping out a town or city, rebuilding or otherwise helping where help was needed. “Okay?”
Now he does stop, his eyes on mine as he thinks. “Putting it clearly, we were assassins. Kieran knew, he told Sophia earlier, and Topaz also probably knows about it by now. I didn’t feel it would be right for you to be the only one who didn’t know. Especially since not everyone is… comfortable… when they find out.”
I run his words over in my head a moment. Gale, an assassin. The werewolf rebels had a whole division of assassins. It doesn’t actually surprise me. I don’t know why, really, but if they’ve got a whole group of rebels who are basically teachers most of the time, turning into smugglers when needed. Why not assassins? “Thanks for telling me, I guess?”
He nods, then looks to the next street. “We’re nearly there. We should keep going.”
“Yeah.” The guy’s great at keeping things segmented in his mind, as far as I know him, but it still sometimes surprises me, like now.
The next street over isn’t as quiet as the streets we just walked through and, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, I know that Sophia’s wish that it’s a communication problem and nothing more severe is going to be in vain. I can already hear the crying from kids, calling out for their parents, and also adults, calling out for the missing dragons.
Whatever happened to Gaia’s parents, I think it happened here too. It’s definitely a pattern. Now we have to figure out what the pattern leads to, before it gets worse and more people vanish…
We need to find out why these people are going missing. Maybe they’ve got more in common than just being earth dragons and living on the edge of town, but until we have more of the picture, it’s going to be hard to predict what’s going to happen next, where they’re going to take the next people from.
But, for now, we need to worry about the kids, and getting them to a place where they’ll be safe. As safe as we can keep them anyway…