Home > Druid Vices and a Vodka (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #6)(16)

Druid Vices and a Vodka (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #6)(16)
Author: Annette Marie

“I didn’t ask you to save me.”

A high-pitched hiss escaped my clenched teeth. I stomped up to him and stopped almost on his toes. “Well, we did save you, and now you owe us. And I’m calling in my favor immediately.”

He tilted his head back, gazing at the dark sky. “I agree that I owe you, but it’ll have to wait. I have more important things to worry about than Kai’s family drama.”

“Too freaking bad.” I grabbed the front of his shirt and yanked hard, trying to force him to look at me. “Zak!”

He pushed me backward. “Get out of the way.”

“Out of the way of what?” I growled, tightening my grip on his shirt. “You—”

“Tori, move—”

Wind blasted over us.

Debris flew everywhere, my hair whipped across my face—and something boomed like a parachute catching the wind. A solid force slammed me into Zak. The world spun, I was being crushed around the middle, the wind was roaring in my ears—

And the ground disappeared from beneath my feet.

Monstrous black wings, dusted with blue and purple stars, swept down, propelling us higher. Shimmering galaxies swirled in waves, and it took my bewildered brain a moment to recognize the shape.

A dragon.

The huge winged reptile soared upward. Below us, Aaron and Ezra were specks, their pale faces tilted upward as the dragon carried me into the night sky.

Chapter Ten

“Echo!” Zak shouted over the roaring wind. “You weren’t supposed to bring her!”

I gasped for breath, crushed against Zak, the dragon’s huge clawed hand encircling us both. The air was so cold it hurt.

“That doesn’t mean—I know, but take her back!”

Another sweep of giant wings. The city lights, far below, shimmered and rippled, losing solidity as though we were underwater—a terrifying distortion I remembered from my one and only dragon flight before this.

“Z-z-zak,” I chattered. “What the h-hell is g-g-going on?”

He started to speak but the wind whipped his words away. Leaning close, he put his mouth to my ear, his breath hot on my chilled skin. “I called him to take me home, and since you were standing with me, he decided you were coming too.”

“B-b-but—”

“He won’t go back. You’re coming along for the ride now.”

The world eddied and shimmered around us, obscuring my view of the ground and warping the passage of time. I had no idea if seconds or hours were passing, aware only of the icy wind and Zak’s body heat. That, and the crushing grip of the dragon’s foot, but like hell I was going to ask Echo to loosen his hold on the shrimpy, wingless humans. Echo was enough of a dickhead to take that as permission to drop us. He and Zak were a matched pair of dickish jerks.

My stomach swooped as the dragon began to descend. His shimmering black wings surged up and down in a sedate rhythm, and the rippling world began to steady.

The darkness resolved into a star-dusted sky, the waxing moon peeking out from behind thin clouds. Its silvery light reflected off snow-capped mountains, the white peaks seeming to glow. They jutted into the sky all around us, stretching as far as I could see.

Echo soared over a ridge, then tilted his wings to sweep into a dark valley. I squeezed my eyes shut, unable to watch as the ground rushed toward us. Our plummet abruptly slowed, the wind whipping over me, then a jolt and a thud as we landed.

I cracked my eyes open.

Echo lowered me and Zak, and my feet met wonderfully solid ground. His thick, scaled digits uncurled and I staggered backward, limbs numb. Zak caught my arms and pulled me upright.

Echo’s huge body, luminescent with soft swirls of blue and purple light, cast an eerie glow over the thin dusting of snow, but neither the snow nor the darkness could hide the charred, lifeless earth that surrounded us.

Zak’s hands tightened, squeezing hard.

A soft whoosh of wings much smaller than the dragon’s broke the silence. A black eagle glided out of the darkness on outspread wings. Shadows spiraled around Lallakai as she swept to Zak’s side, and her human form appeared, her bare feet touching down with soundless grace.

“My druid,” she breathed throatily, enveloping Zak in a tight embrace

I stepped back, pulling away from his hands. Lallakai purred delightedly at her consort’s return, her full bosom pressed against his arm and a hand splayed against his chest. Her crystalline eyes cut across me, her gaze lacking either gratitude or warmth.

Zak didn’t seem to notice her. He was staring into the distance, his face tight.

I turned. The gentle hill slanted down toward the base of the valley where the house, gardens, and stable formed the three points of a sprawling triangle beside the winding creek.

The house was a crumbling, blackened ruin. The barn was a burnt shell. The garden was gone—along with every tree, every plant, every blade of grass. Everything was black, scorched … dead.

With the scuff of slow steps, Zak walked past me. I wasn’t sure he saw me any more than he’d noticed Lallakai’s arrival. Her expression sobered as she followed him, a respectful two steps behind. Despite his sleeveless shirt, he seemed unaware of the cold as he trekked down the slope toward the ruins of his home.

I watched him go, my heart aching.

Light erupted in a colorful swirl behind me. Wisps of mist and magic circled the massive dragon crouched on the hillside. The rippling distortion spread outward, then sucked back in, and with a shower of azure sparks, it disappeared.

Echo turned his midnight eyes on me, his smooth, androgynous features as indecipherable as his reptilian face had been. Exotic robes draped his slim humanoid frame, and his raven hair, streaked with blue and purple, hung over his shoulder in a thin braid that fell to his waist. Black wings, shimmering with stars, rose off his back and a long dragon tail rested on the ground behind him.

In my totally unbiased opinion, he was way more beautiful than Lallakai.

“Brazen one,” he said softly, the words accented by his otherworldly voice. “We meet again.”

“Hi,” I mumbled. “Why did you bring me here? I don’t think Zak wants company.”

The dragon fae studied me. “Come, human child.”

“Where?”

He glided into motion, following Zak’s footprints in the snow. The druid wasn’t moving quickly. He was only halfway to the house’s wreckage.

I fell into step beside the wyldfae, scarcely able to comprehend his existence. Rows of tiny horns in the same pattern as on his reptilian head poked out of his hair. His ears looked just like Legolas’s.

His eyes turned to me, and I forgot all about make-believe elves and movie makeup tricks. His stare pulled me in, black holes of mystery, unearthly wisdom, and unfathomable power. Fear tingled in my fingers and toes. As we drew nearer to Zak and Lallakai, I rubbed my hands together to banish the feeling. Was it the cold? An icy wind was blowing through the valley in half-hearted spurts, tugging at my hair.

I’d thought Zak was heading toward the burnt-out husk of his house, but he angled in a different direction. With ever-slowing steps, he approached the barn.

Ten paces away, he stopped. Lallakai waited behind him, her hands folded patiently in front of her. For a full minute, he stood there, then he forced himself forward again. He walked to the wide threshold, the shattered door lying on the floor inside. He placed a hand against the charred frame, his head bowed. He didn’t enter. Just reaching the building had taken all his resolve.

Deep, icy horror crystalized inside me. The barn. His horses. They weren’t … they couldn’t be … inside?

A memory, soft and brightly lit like a pleasant dream: Zak striding into the green pasture beneath the cheerful summer sun, whistling for his horses. Their perked ears and bouncy trots as they came to greet him. His gentle hands patting their shoulders and stroking their noses as he carefully checked each horse’s health before leading one to the barn to be groomed and saddled.

My throat closed and my eyes burned. One palm on the doorframe, head and shoulders bent with grief, Zak stood motionless. Steeling myself, I took a step toward him.

Cool hands touched my shoulders, halting me. Echo’s breath stirred my hair.

“To your eyes, he stands alone.” He leaned down, his head above my shoulder, silky strands of his hair brushing against my cheek. “Do you wish to see what my eyes can reveal?”

His hands left my shoulders, and he lay them gently over my eyes, blocking my vision. Shivers ran over my skin and dizziness engulfed my head. My eyes felt inexplicably cool, as though a breeze was blowing across them. He spread his slender fingers, forming two triangular windows through which I could gaze straight ahead.

A pale mist that hadn’t existed moments before draped the valley. It drifted serenely, immune to the fitful wind. The remains of the barn were there but not, a dark structure almost dense enough to be solid. Half a dozen large shapes, heaped on the ground inside, were far darker.

Zak stood before the ethereal building. I could see him … but I hardly recognized him at all.

Shadows spilled out of him like heavy smoke overflowing from an incense burner. Charcoal flames danced across the ground, and pale sparks shot through the strange mist, sharp and agitated. The fae runes on his inner arms glowed with power, and he—he glowed too. A soft, effervescent light radiated through his skin, shimmering like ripples on a sunlit pond.

“Do you see it?” Echo breathed in my ear. “His power, his allure. Sweet, intoxicating. It draws us. Humans possess but a touch. Witches, a taste. Druids … a feast.”

I shivered.

Zak still hadn’t moved, but the darkness spilling from him was thickening. It writhed, flashes and sparks erupting like tiny bolts of lightning in inky clouds. His body’s ethereal glow brightened.

“They come. Called to his power. Called by his pain.”

As though the dragon’s words had lifted a veil, I could see them—shapes drawing closer. Shadows, silhouettes, glittering forms that made no sense to my human brain.

Black wolves with glowing red eyes came first—his vargs. A white panther, its two tails lashing in agitation. Tiny pixies, their gossamer wings fluttering. Strange reptiles, wreathed in shade, crawling on the ground. Tall, thin beings with long, dragging arms and gray skin—the darkfae who’d tried to kill him in the forest last summer. A shaggy creature, similar to a bear, lumbering upright on two legs. Two shimmery silver sylphs, twins to Hoshi, undulating weightlessly as they nervously approached.

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