A Kal'brath Novel
Dimensional Rifters Were Nothing But Legends.
Ages ago, one of the old gods threw Minuvel, the last Ivari, into a dimensional prison. She was too powerful to kill, and too dangerous to let roam free. But her vault was lost.
A Spoiled King and A Skilled Hunter.
After a beautiful stranger saves his life, Xastrian, the new Dragon King, owes Velithor a life-debt. But as the two join forces to battle the crazed Ivari who shares their prison, he discovers he wants so much more. Soul-bonding with the shy, resourceful hunter would be worth anything. Even facing death a second time.
Trapped and Hunted.
Xastrian must rely on Velithor's knowledge of the forest. Velithor must help Xastrian regain his power. And one of them must tap into the magic of legend to become a dimensional rifter before the Ivari drives Xastrian mad and ruins their chances of ever finding their way home.
- Mage of Legend
- Lurir: Going Home (Short Story)- Exclusively in the newsletter! Sign up today!
- Dragon Court
Dragon Highlands Book 1.
This side duology to the Kings of Kal'brath series is set in the same universe where Mother, the sentient planet, cradles the races of three parallel worlds: Adradis of the elves and other magical races where the continent of Kal'brath resides, Earth of the magicless humans, and Morka of the magic-negating bashkai. If you loved the Kal'brath books, this duology brings back Velithor for more fun, romance, and gripping adventure.
These light fantasy romps are sure to be favorites you will want to read again and again.
Please note that this is book contains an M/M (Gay) Fantasy Romance subplot.
Want to know the reading order for the entire universe? Here you go!
- Race Against the Dark (Kings of Kal'brath Pilot) [Het]
- Healing Wounds: Mother Book One (Kings of Kal'brath 2) [Het]
- Twilight's Children: Mother Book Two (Kings of Kal'brath 3) [Het]
- Mage of Legend (Dragon Highlands 1) [Gay]
- Lurir: Going Home (Dragon Highlands Short) [Clean]
- Dragon Court (Dragon Highlands 2) [Gay]
The hall slowly filled with people. As the new Eldrake, Xastrian Senuvesal waited with an outward appearance of calm aloofness that befitted his station while the twelve Drakeir—the nobles appointed to represent the masses in Court—filed past the throng and into the central circular chamber to take their appointed seats before his throne.
Today’s court session, he was told, was to be mild. Boring. Something he could have completely missed without censure. But his father, retired Eldrake, and Xastrian’s official adviser, whispered to him that if he failed to show, it would be a black mark on the start of his reign. He would be seen as weak, as negligent, as disinterested in his people and their plights.READ MORE
While his father hid among the pink granite pillars with their gray veins like permanent representations of lightning strikes, Xastrian forced his attention to remain opaque but open, a juxtaposition his father taught him well. Opaque to hide his thoughts and boredom, open to make himself appear approachable. He watched with feigned interest as the Drakeir took their positions just inside the middle ring of crushed diamonds pressed into clear enamel to give the central perimeter a dazzling quality. The Drakeir were seen as untouchable here. Knights for the cause, as the humans might have put it. They circled the black and green jade fighting dragons in the center, laid in white marble—the symbols of his grandparents, the apparent first Dragon Royals, his grandfather in black, and grandmother in green to match her eyes. Having them battle in the midst of court amused him, considering his grandmother’s multiple defeats and recent permanent death. Though, he shouldn’t amuse himself with their past at a time such as this.
He waited until the scribe settled into his trance in the corner before standing to greet his Drakeir. His fiancé, Asseisal, in particular, who held the position of Wisedrake, the Head of the Dragon Court. He should have been leading the proceedings, but instead Eliariel, one of the two Vordrakes, the two representatives for the nobles, stood and bowed to him while Xastrian’s fiancé looked none-too-pleased. It may be an arranged political marriage, but that didn’t take the sting out of the obvious slap in the face.
“I trust there is a grand reason our Wisedrake is not leading proceedings this day, Eliariel,” Xastrian said. His terse, commanding voice boomed through the circular chamber’s acoustics and instantly silenced the entire assembly. All eyes immediately turned toward him, and every soul bowed including the other eleven Drakeir who had remained seated when Eliariel stood. Now, they settled back into their chairs with barely disguised fear. “This is highly irregular.”
Eliariel bowed again and stepped forward into the circle’s center. “It is the belief of the Noble Quarter, my King, that as your fiancé, Asseisal is now unfit for the position of Wisedrake, and should step down. His political career should be suspended until your marriage, as it colors his ability to—”
Xastrian cut her off with a harsh bark of laughter. “Surely you jest.” Xastrian stood and narrowed his eyes as he met the gaze of each of his twelve Drakeir. “Asseisal will soon be your Eldrakar, and you fear being Wisedrake will color his perceptions of court? He and I have been courting for nearly an era. Almost a full thousand cycles, and you are bringing this up now? What has changed, Eliariel?”
He went quiet a moment as Eliariel fought to regain her composure. But before she fully recomposed herself, he attacked again. “I can only assume you and the other Drakeir bullied him into submission for an attack against him in court. Sit down, Vordrake, or I will remove you from this court.”
Asseisal finally lifted his eyes and gave Xastrian a brief smile of thanks before rising to take his place at the head of the day’s proceedings. Xastrian paid only enough attention to be able to answer questions while his blood pressure settled into normalcy again. By the time court finished, he was almost calm, but outwardly none would know he still boiled inside.
“Thank you for defending me, darling,” Asseisal murmured when he neared. The throngs of people surrounded them as everyone mingled to speak on the day’s court topics en masse. His lover squeezed his hand, a deft and imperceptible move to the masses with the way Asseisal had positioned his body to shield them from prying eyes. It almost made Xastrian wonder, almost, whether Asseisal was ashamed of showing public affection. Then again, Xastrian really did not want affection. Not from a political match. He quickly cleared that thought from his mind and smiled at his fiancé.
“What else would I have done?” Xastrian asked. Truly the question perplexed him. What kind of idiot would commit political suicide by not defending his future co-ruler in a court flounce?
Asseisal went to answer when light exploded around them. Xastrian’s heart fell through the floor. He glanced up, but all he saw was an almost constant pulse of magic in every color. Red, blue, green, gold. The pulses came as strobes that sent Xastrian’s stomach to roiling. What is happening?
Something sharp hit Xastrian’s back. It burned like a lightning strike in its swiftness, then spread like sticky fire. His breath left him in a long, pained moan that was lost amid the shouts that echoed through the court. His legs gave out. The only thing that kept him from hitting the floor was Asseisal. Xastrian’s vision blanked out, but he heard his fiancé scream for a healer.
His vision returned in flashes of light and void. Garambor’s face, the ground army’s Crest, or General in human terms, leaned in. He murmured something, and in the next flash was gone. Parion’s face came, the Wingleader of the aerial force touched his chest, then manhandled him onto his front. Strong hands molested his back.
Then everything came back with a clarity that could only be brought with pain. Searing heat flooded Xastrian’s back. He smelled the acrid scent of scorched flesh rising from him. His throat grew raw with his hoarse screams as his Wardrake battle tended him. It wasn’t anything close to finesse, but it would keep him from dying until those loyal to him could get him to the healer’s wing.
The intense pain made the lights too bright. Motion seemed to leave trails. Sounds echoed in warped ways that made his head spin. He shuddered, and Parion wrenched his head to the side so he could vomit without covering his future husband in it.
“Flight! Lay cover!” Parion bellowed. “Claws! To me!”
The Claws were the ground army’s elite fighters, those who had studied both elven war tactics, as well as mastered most forms of human martial arts. That the Wingleader would call the ground forces, rather than his own aerial force made little sense to Xastrian’s blasted mind.
He had little time to dwell on such nonsense, as with his next breath, those rough hands snatched him from Asseisal and against Parion’s dragon scale armor. “Shields!” The Wingleader snapped up his own, and an instant later, six others followed, encircling them both in a rainbow sphere that Parion then used as a battering ram to mow down anyone in their way as he bolted for the arched doorway and the two massive, heavy black granite and Damascus steel doors.
Xastrian’s last conscious thought echoed with the shouts of his fiancé, “Where are you taking him?”
He woke some time later in his own chamber in the Royal Quarter. The lights remained on but low to grant his bedroom a gentle glow. Proof that his family tended him, as they knew his fear of the dark. As testament to that proof, at the foot of his bed sat his grandfather, Va’asdrian, his eyes staring off into the hearth’s gentle purple fire.
His voice barely sounded like his own, as if he hadn’t had a drop of water in epochs. He stretched on his bed, and when he opened his eyes, Va’asdrian stood over him with a goblet of clear fluid. He helped Xastrian sit up and pressed the cool crystal to his lips. “How do you feel, my grandson?”
Xastrian didn’t answer until he had drained the entire goblet of its chilled water. “Like I have slept far too long in the same position.”
His grandfather chuckled and smoothed a hand over his hair. “That tends to happen after your first assassination attempt.”
And then it hit him. Assassination attempt. Someone had tried to kill him. And they did it in broad daylight, in the middle of court with hundreds of people present. Such brazen acts meant he was in danger every moment unless the culprit was caught.
“No,” his grandfather murmured. “Your assassin is still at large.”
Wonderful. The only thing that kept him from groaning, or crying for that matter, was thousands of cycles of court training. He allowed himself a small shudder in his grandfather’s presence and slid from the comfort of his bed. “I must bathe. I have things to attend.”
Va’asdrian gave him a concerned look. “Your itinerary for the next few days has been cleared. What could you possibly have to attend?”
What, indeed? Xastrian waved that away with a deceptively steady hand and headed for his bathing room. “I must see my brood.”
Tending their dragons was always a priority for the Dragon King. It was one thing that was never questioned, one thing that held more weight than any other duty an Eldrake possessed. With that singular mention, his grandfather bowed and left the room, leaving Xastrian alone with his own thoughts. But before he could enjoy his solitude and put his plan into place, he needed to bathe, dress, and eat.
“I won’t be gone overlong,” Xastrian murmured.
Ta’emir snorted, blowing smoke in billows to either side of Xastrian. Unlike what many thought, different dragons had different scented smoke depending on their breed. As a black variety, Ta’emir’s smoke smelled of some exotic incense, a scent that instantly brought Xastrian a modicum of calm. He leaned his forehead against his soul-dragon’s snout and sighed.
Take your time, beloved, Ta’emir said into their mind link. Will you be home before nightfall?
I will. I just… I need to be away from this place. Away from assassination attempts, from duties, from people for a while. When I return, I should have my thoughts and feelings more organized.
And you will not allow me to take you.
Ta’emir always hated when Xastrian phased, calling it unnatural and heinous to move from point to point without a mount to carry him. The reminder brought a small smile to his face. “I will go the unnatural way, beloved. You will not fit where I go.”
His dragon mount huffed. Very well. Be safe and return soon.
You have my promise.
The truth was, he did all he could to hide the location he had in mind from their mind link. Xastrian wanted no one to know of his location. Not a soul. And his dragon could easily be swayed to divulge information by a savvy dragon handler. Those few souls who could mentally connect and speak with any dragon of quantitative sentience. If they had spoken thought, they could answer direct questions.
Which meant his assassin could easily find him by feigning concern for his whereabouts.
The thought spurred him on. He cast one last glance around the brood hall and stepped toward the center. With Ta’emir in his sights, he took a deep breath and gathered his power about him. He fused it with every cell of his being. Then, with a thought to guide him, and his location firmly in place in his mind, he closed his eyes and the world blurred.
When he opened them again, he stood in a forest clearing. The scents of green, growing things swirled about him on the gentle summer breeze, creating a dizzying haze of alien comfort. Xastrian’s place was the Dragon Highlands, high in the mountains. Here, in the Erithal Forest that bordered his cousin’s kingdom of the Summerlands, he knew he would be undisturbed. Hunting here was forbidden. Few entered due to the many creatures that inhabited the place. It was often feared that ancient beasts still walked these woods, those thought long extinct.
This forest was ancient, but Xastrian held his certainty that beasts would be registered if they existed, not thrown onto the list of the extinct. All he would have to worry about were the normal denizens: rabbits, wolves, and deer. Perhaps a cojiva or hishkir, but nothing he could not handle.
Even as he was certain of his solitude, Xastrian afforded himself a time of quiet. He listened to the surrounding woods. Carefully screening the sounds of birdsong and the rustle of underbrush for anything that might prove him wrong. Was he truly alone? Was that rustle the footstep of an elf, or the scurry of a rodent? Was that a sigh, or the breeze through the leaves?
The wind stirred his robes. He only now thought how foolish it was that he hadn’t worn pants beneath. He reserved pants for riding and any activity where his robes would split or ride up. Now that blades of grass tickled his bare calves beneath his ankle-length robes, he pondered phasing back to the Highlands to reassess his wardrobe. But, if he returned now, he may not be able to make it back today. Someone would find something for him to do, something that needed his undivided attention. Something that would keep him in the sights of his assailant who still had not been caught.
He shuddered at the thought and decided to ignore the tickling grass, and hope that no insects decided to feast upon his flesh while he concentrated. If he was going to take time away from his duties, he would make certain it was for something useful. He had lately been remiss in practicing his most necessary of spells as the new Dragon King. One of his duties was to confront wild dragons, imbue sentience if he was able, and to ask if they would join his brood. The first parts of these missions often came with copious gouts of dragon fire.
His task was to withstand that dragon fire long enough to imbue sentience and make his request known, and get close enough to lay the soul-touch on the Beauty’s face to let her know of his sincerity. Getting the chance to practice this vital spell came few and far between with his rigorous schedule, imposed upon him, of course, by his shrewd father.
If he was to call this anything other than “running away from duty”, he needed to make this time productive. That spell would leave him vulnerable and magically drained if it went wrong. He needed quiet, silence, and serenity. Things he couldn’t gain in the Dragon Highlands, as he had guards following his every step, monitoring his every breath. It took strategy and clever maneuvering to get away from them long enough to escape today. Would that ever change?
Did he want it to after nearly being killed in his own court?
Certainly, they tried to remain hidden, but he could feel them. If not their presence, then their stares.
But thinking on them was not bringing him the peace he needed, nor was it leading to any sort of productivity. Rather than focusing on home and all the perils and angst that came with it, Xastrian turned his focus inward.
After a few calming breaths, his mind cleared of all thought. Another, and he felt like he had reached his center. In order for this to work, he needed every ounce of his magic. He needed to pour it into an impenetrable sphere that would shield him from heat and flame, one that would keep him alive and unsinged should a broodmother become angry or defensive and try to fry him. It needed to surround him, but also feed back into him so that he wasn’t expending magic, but recycling it through himself and back out into his shield in an endless loop.
And he needed to be able to erect it on instinct within less than a second. At just over an aeon, ten millennia in human years, Xastrian had only been practicing this spell for the last five thousand cycles. Much shorter than his deceased brother, Kelendoris, who had been practicing the skill since his youth as he was meant to ascend the throne as Eldrake when their father retired. An unfortunate fall from his dragon during a flight across the continent changed Xastrian’s future forever. He died in a supposed “freak” storm that shredded his mount’s wing. Of course, this meant Xastrian had to fill shoes his father never wanted for him.
He would prove them all wrong. He would become the greatest Dragon King Kal’brath had ever seen. A fortnight was not long enough to label him a failure, not near enough to send assassins for his death. Was it?
His focus needed work.
Xastrian’s entire life needed work.
He tried not to dwell on the past. Tried not to let the sting of failure enter his heart, but it was so hard. He could still feel that dagger in his back. Piercing and cold. But the pain it inflicted was the most intense heat he had ever experienced. Hotter than any broodmother’s attack. Hotter than the purported Cauldron’s fires. He felt whole now, but the ghost of that pain remained with him, colored every movement as if the dagger still stuck out of his back, just below his heart.
It was a very lucky miss. For him, at any rate. Who knew if it would be so lucky for his assassin if they ever came to justice.
And what if they were never caught? What would happen if the next time they assailed him, their mark was true? Would his Wardrakes be able to save him again? Would he survive a second attack?
Will I return home just to die a worse death than my brother?
Xastrian heaved a frustrated sigh and glanced around. The morning sun filtered through the sparse canopy that barely covered the wide clearing in which he stood. Beams of gold streamed down upon him and gilded the grass with welcome warmth. What kind of King wasted time worrying when there was such beauty around him, ready to help lull him into a working frame of mind?
With almost militaristic savagery, Xastrian forced every thought from his mind and reached for his center. He had no time for doubt. No time for self-pity. No time to wallow in his own angst. If he wanted to make today anything other than a self-flagellation party for one, he needed to get his mind in order, and do what it was he came here to do. What he promised himself he would do. What he needed to do.
No more stalling.
When his mind cleared, Xastrian drew upon his magic. He funneled every imagined ounce of the weightless energy into a violet sphere around himself. The sudden displacement of magic made him nauseous, but it lasted only a moment until he set up the feedback loop. Once the progression settled, his magic flowing out into the shield, rotating, then flowing back in, Xastrian relaxed and concentrated on keeping it up. Speed came with familiarity, as his grandfather had taught him. Familiarity came with practice.
After a breath, Xastrian released the spell and drew his magic back into his solar plexus. Once everything seemed settled, he held out both hands. Steady. No shaking. Good.
He did it again.
This time, when he drew on his magic, something seemed to grab hold and rip it from him. With a shout, he tried to draw it back. It built and built until he feared he would level the entire forest. The pull kept coming.
The world flashed again. Something, some concussive force, knocked him onto his back.
Something flailed at his mind. Ripping at his mental shields. Trying to claw its way inside.
As the pain flared, Xastrian clawed at his own face as if to rip those tendrils off.
He couldn’t get his breath. Couldn’t get up.
Something happened. An explosion. Something loud that made Xastrian feel as if he had been stomped on by a herd of adult dragons and beaten with their tails. Pulverized into the ground beneath him.
And the world went dark.
The woods lived with splendid sights and sounds. Velithor reveled in the serenity. Niral stood at his side as he took in the sounds. He held the bow loosely in his hands, an arrow nocked and ready to go. Leaves rustled eight horse-lengths away to his right. With deft feet, he barely made a sound as he turned to scan that area.
Between the trees, Velithor saw the robust body of a large buck as it moved through the forest. When it moved just enough, Velithor counted twelve points, and he grinned.
“Hey old man,” he barely whispered to himself. “May your light shine forever in these woods, your soul bring peace to your brethren, and may Mother cherish you always. I am sorry for what I must do.”
He tracked the buck as it grazed on the lush grass between the trees that appeared as it approached the nearby clearing. That it would go toward such an open space meant it sensed no danger, and Velithor was still just a shadow among the trees.
He drew his bow taut. Pressing his fingers against his cheek, he sighted the arrow, waiting for the buck to clear the denser trees so he could get a clear shot. His breathing evened out as his mind went blank. Niral saw what he saw as their minds linked. The great cat hunched down, her tail swaying lazily.
Once the buck’s head cleared the trees, Velithor pulled the bow tighter and took light, silent steps forward. His aim was true. Just an inch more… Just… an inch…
The explosion rocked the earth beneath Velithor’s feet. He released the arrow, but it hit a nearby tree. The buck was long gone, having bolted through the forest toward denser cover. Birds screamed and took to the air. Niral let out a feral growl and turned toward the area where the explosion came from.
Narrowing his eyes, Velithor headed in that direction. Niral sent him images in his mind. Trees, and her walking through them. She wanted to scout ahead. Velithor returned an image of Niral moving ahead of him by a horse length. With that, she headed out. Her paws were stealthy on the forest floor, barely rustling the leaves. The brambles combed her fur in silent whispers.
Velithor followed, just as cautious. Every footfall was sure and silent. He kept his distance, letting his friend scout ahead and alert him of danger. She crept forward, her tail low to the ground and still, her head down to catch scents and to make herself as small as she was able.
She halted and lowered into her pounce stance. Her tail flicked side to side and a low purr rumbled in her chest as she shot him another image. This time, it was of an elf. He lie supine on the forest floor, unmoving, not breathing. His golden hair fanned around his head as if the sun set behind him.
Slinging his quiver over his shoulder and his bow across his chest, Velithor took off like a shot for the clearing. He dropped to his knees into a skid that ended by the elf’s side. He stroked the fallen man’s tousled hair from his angular face, slender neck and broad chest and checked his pulse. He felt none.
His stomach dropped. Ka’lei, the Netherdark Queen and one of his greatest friends, and the only one who had grown up in the human world for her first twenty cycles of life, had taught him what she called CPR. He hoped at the time that he’d never have to use it, but now he was glad she taught him. He angled the elf’s head back and pinched his nose. Two breaths.
He checked his pulse again. It still did not beat. Chest compressions. Feeling for the end of the elf’s sternum, he clasped his hands and began the fifteen compressions, counting them aloud.
Niral stood on the other side from Velithor and licked the man’s face as she tried to rouse him another way. Velithor had to shoo her away so he could breathe for the elf again. Two breaths, check pulse, back to compressions.
It went on for long, tedious moments. Velithor’s heart raced. His stomach pitted. In the middle of his next breath into the elf’s mouth, the man choked and curled in on himself.
Heaving a great sigh, Velithor rolled the man onto his side and rubbed his back. “Welcome back, my Lord,” he said. “Deep breaths, my friend. Slow, deep breaths. Rest easy.”
Niral’s mind turned the elf into a cub as she rubbed her face along his back and shoulders. Her purr was gorgeous as she loved on him, urging him to be calm. Velithor smiled at her and rubbed behind her fluffy ears.
“What… happened?” the man asked between gasps.
“I am guessing,” Velithor began, “but since there is no one else here, either you caused an explosion, or whoever did has run off without tracks.”
Without thinking, Velithor tucked stray strands of wheat colored hair behind the elf’s delicately tapered ear. The other shivered and closed his eyes.
“I see,” the elf said. “How long was I unconscious?”
Velithor gave him a sad smile. “You weren’t unconscious,” he said. “You were dead.”
He sighed and lowered his head as if in defeat. “Then I owe you a life-debt. I thank you for bringing me back. I am Eldrake Senuvesal, House Sern.”
“Ah, Elan’s house!” Velithor grinned as Elan was near enough to family for his mind. “I am Velithor Adonel, House Ra’nar. You were lucky that I was hunting nearby. Your explosion made me miss my kill.”
Eldrake frowned. “Hunting is forbidden in this forest. It is why I chose this place for my practices.”
With a soft laugh, Velithor sat back on his heels. “Elan and I are friends through Morough. He has given me permission to hunt and trap in these woods at my whim, as I only do so for myself and my companion. I apologize that you were not told this.”
Having calmed his breathing, Eldrake rolled onto his back and rubbed his chest. “You are a silly creature.” He sighed again, his face contorting in a moment of pain before he added, “Apologizing to me for being near enough to save my life.”
“Silly, or polite, either way, I apologize,” he said with a grin, relieved to see the elf alive and well enough for snark. “Can you sit up?”
He offered Eldrake his hand and helped him into a sitting position. Once the elf’s legs were curled under him in the primmest way possible and he was steady, Velithor sat back again and reached around for his water skin. After untying it from his belt, he held it out. Eldrake took it with a nod of thanks and drank deeply.
“Niral,” Velithor said to the cat, “Go find Zia’nal and lead her here.”
He spoke for Eldrake’s sake while pushing the related images into his cat’s mind. She slowly learned the elven tongue, but it was easier for the both of them to keep the mind link, especially for stealth.
The moment the images were transferred, Niral ran off in the direction of Velithor’s horse. Once she was gone, Velithor retrieved a handkerchief from his bag and took the water skin back from Eldrake as the elder elf handed it over. Wetting the rag, he scooted forward and began bathing Eldrake’s face. The elf sat there stunned, staring at him with wide eyes that reminded Velithor of goldenrod as it swayed in the afternoon shade.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Velithor laughed as he continued. “You are bleeding, and it is in your hair. Also, my cat bathed your face and marked you. You seem… a bit too prim to wish cat slobber to remain on your face.”
Eldrake’s nose wrinkled and he nodded. “Thank you. How bad is the bleeding?”
“It is mostly wind burn and what looks like scratches from your own fingernails,” Velithor replied. “Very small, but your clothes are nice and I don’t want to see you ruin them.”
Frowning, Eldrake shifted uneasily. “Are you this nice to everyone?”
That made him perk a brow and pause in his attentions to the other’s face. “Should I not be?”
Eldrake frowned more. “I just hope you are never taken advantage of.”
A flush heated Velithor’s cheeks and he gave the elf a shy grin. “I’m kind and young, not stupid or foolish. Thank you for your concern, though. It is appreciated.”
A rustle caught Velithor’s attention from the north, and Niral came barreling out of the forest, panting. She blinked and skidded to a halt with the most confused look on her feline face that Velithor had ever seen. Velithor and Eldrake both returned that confused look.
“Did she not just head to the south?” Eldrake asked.
“That… she did,” Velithor replied.
Images flashed through his mind. Niral ran in a straight line as fast as her paws could take her. One moment, she was about to break through the woods where Velithor had left Zia’nal, and the next she broke through into the very clearing she had just left.
“Oh… oh, shit.” Velithor groaned. “Are you certain you didn’t veer off course?”
Niral shook her large head and mewled.
“What is going on?” Eldrake asked, his tone dark.
“Niral ran a straight line toward my horse, and when she was about to break through, she kept going and ended up here,” Velithor relayed. He turned back to Niral. “Go to the east. Try to break out there.”
Niral roared and took off. Once she was gone, Velithor went back to bathing Eldrake’s face, but the elder elf seemed lost in his own mind. “What troubles you?”
Eldrake closed his eyes. “I am simply hoping that this does not mean what I believe it means.”
“What do you believe it means?” Velithor asked as he inspected the scratches.
“I believe it means my explosion shifted this forest into a different dimension, with you and your companion as hostages.”
“You brought us here.” Velithor shrugged. “You can take us back.”
“Things are never so simple, young Velithor,” Eldrake said softly. “I have no power stone with me, and I fear I am drained.”
“We will make do,” Velithor assured. “I am skilled in the forest. We can last for whole cycles here without worry.”
Eldrake let out a pained laugh. “You have no idea the danger we are in, do you? Or are you simply naïve?”
“What do you mean?” Velithor asked.
“If the forest has shifted into another dimension that only fits this portion of the forest, that means the wildlife here is limited to what exactly was in it during the spell backfire,” he explained. “This means there is a very limited food supply. We do not know how much of the forest was taken with us, so there may be no water supply. We do not know how long our air will last, or if—”
Velithor cut him off with fingers to his lips. “Niral has passed a river that flows. The trees will replenish our air. There is enough wildlife to hunt here that will sustain us until you recover your magic.”
“And you know this, how?” Eldrake demanded.
“The forest is my home,” Velithor said with authority. “I also see what my cat sees.”
“Where is she now?” he asked, raising a slender brow.
“She will be gone long, I think,” Velithor said. “If the forest really is in another dimension, she will test our boundaries, and relay the lengths to me in her terms.”
“And you can convert her terms to ours, I assume?”
“I can,” Velithor laughed. “She has crossed approximately three acres so far.”
Eldrake’s eyes widened. “So far?”
“Kitty-porting,” Velithor said. “The Kir are not the only ones with that ability.”
“You are not in the least bit worried, are you?”
“My stomach is somewhere in my feet, and my palms are sweating,” Velithor admitted. “I would not be a good hunter, however, if I went around visibly showing my fear.”
He finished with Eldrake’s face and sat back to spread the cloth on the grass beside him to dry. When he glanced back up, Eldrake held him in a cold stare that had Velithor’s heart speeding up. “Yes?”
Eldrake’s eyes narrowed. “There are few elves I cannot read,” he said in a low voice. “Those I have met can rarely be trusted.”
Standing, Velithor shrugged and unslung his bow from across his chest and tossed it beside Eldrake, followed by his quiver, and every hunting knife on his person. When he turned to show that he was completely unarmed, he sat back down across from him and started going through his pack.
Eldrake frowned further. “Naïve, careless, and overconfident,” he assessed. “Or simply able enough not to need weapons.”
“You are over-thinking things,” Velithor said. “If I wanted to harm you, I would not have given you my breath and energy to bring you back.”
Rubbing his face, Eldrake sighed and nodded. “You are right. Please… forgive me.”
“Not needed,” Velithor said. “Niral is heading back from the west now. She has reached the edge of our confinement.”
“Around ten acres east to west, and two north to south,” Velithor sighed. “You may be correct about wildlife.”
“For once, I dislike being correct,” Eldrake deadpanned.
Picking things from his pack one at a time, Velithor arranged them between them. He had dried meat, a wedge of cheese, berries he had collected and washed, a hunk of bread, a bag of mixed nuts, and a few cookies that Ka’lei had baked for him.
“We have enough, if we ration, to sustain us for a few days,” Velithor said. “I am also certain there are places to retrieve more nuts and berries. There are leaves and pine needles to make nutritious teas. Niral passed near rabbits and scared two deer during her journey. It will be rough, but we can last.”
“Without a power stone, it will take me weeks or months to regain my magic to a level great enough to return us,” Eldrake muttered.
Velithor began repacking his bag as he spoke. “Trust in my skill, Eldrake. I will keep us alive and fed.”
The elf’s face was handsome, but when he showed that brief smile that bowed his full lips, he was radiant. Velithor’s stomach knotted until he forced himself to turn away. Eldrake shifted and sighed.
“I will trust in you,” he murmured. “I am merely… concerned. With every dimension, there are… other things to contend with.”
Velithor shuddered. The weight of those words settled on his shoulders and pressed against his chest, making it hard to breathe. “What do you mean?”
“Do you think this dimension was previously uninhabited?” Eldrake asked. “Small dimensions such as these are generally prisons for those who are too dangerous to let live, and too dangerous to kill, or who are impossible to kill.”
Velithor shuddered again and rubbed the gooseflesh that stood the hair on his arms on end. He swallowed hard. “Which do you think is here?”
“One, or all, of the above,” he said. “Dimensions such as these were created by the head magi for specific needs. Something the size you named would take at least ten magi to create, so I know I did not create it on my own. My soul would be long lost to me.”
“What about day and night cycles?” Velithor asked. “And weather conditions?”
“As far as I know,” he sighed, “they are on par with the area they were created with. So if the forest in our dimension has a storm, we will have it in this dimension, as well. The same for the day and night cycles.”
Frowning, Velithor stood as Niral limped back into the clearing. He went to tend his cat, picking thorns out of her paw. “We need to find shelter, then. There was a storm brewing. It should reach us by late evening.”
Making his way over, Eldrake stood next to Velithor and looked down at the cat. “What happened to her?”
“She was silly and tried going after a rabbit while kitty-porting for swiftness, and instead of batting at the rabbit, she got a paw full of briers.”
Niral hung her head and groaned. Eldrake frowned and folded his arms across his chest. When Velithor looked at him, the frown was set, but his eyes twinkled with laughter. Velithor pressed his lips together to keep from poking fun at him.
“What else is here?” he asked.
Velithor did a mental check and frowned. “A bear den, wolves if the pack was around, and this forest is littered with venomous snakes.”
“Wonderful,” Eldrake sighed.
“Not to worry,” Velithor grinned. “I can talk to most of them.”
“That is not what worries me,” Eldrake frowned deeper. “What worries me is that we are all vying for the same food sources.”
“We will not fish,” Velithor began. “That will leave plenty for the bears if they are here at all. The wolves will share their food if they, too, are here at all. The snakes… can become food, so long as you catch and kill them before they bite you.”
Eldrake chuckled and shook his head. “You have an answer for everything.”
“When it comes to the forest, I always do, yes,” Velithor said. “If the bears are not here, we will have shelter in her den. If they are here, the bears may share if we are kind to her cubs and she is in a good mood.”
“And if that mood changes?”
Velithor smirked. “I will know before it gets out of hand.”
Trying to ease Eldrake’s fears only made Velithor’s mount. The thought of failure was at the forefront of his mind. Eldrake would be little use at all, unless he could hunt for himself. That was a large doubt. Without his magic, he may know little to nothing about how to take care of himself in the wilderness according to how he dressed and the way he moved as if he walked on clouds.
“What do you know of the forest?” Velithor asked. “What made you come out so far, when there are clearings nearer to the edge?”
“I come to this clearing to practice,” he said.
“With no supplies, no mount, no weapons, no knowledge of how to fend for yourself, no power stones, and no guide?” Velithor’s eyebrows crawled further toward his hairline with each tick off the list.
Eldrake’s frown became more pronounced. “I am never out here more than two hours at a time, and I phase here.”
“And you are too magically drained to phase us both out,” Velithor assumed.
“We are in a different dimension,” Eldrake said, his words dripping with irritation. “Even if I were magically whole, I could not phase out of here. I can only phase within the same dimension. We would need a dimensional rifter with us for such a thing.”
“I will pretend I know what you speak of.” Velithor wrinkled his nose and pulled out the last thorn. Niral bathed his hands in kisses as he watched Eldrake.
The elder elf pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dimensional rifters are those who are skilled at traversing between dimensions without opening one and closing another, and without disturbing the balance between the two. They are powerful magi, and thought that only the first generation held such power. That magical discipline is thought to now be extinct.”
“Well, let’s just hope you didn’t fuck up the bonds of this place in case whoever, or whatever is here is that powerful,” Velithor said. His voice held the slightest waver that Eldrake picked up on. A shamed look crossed his features for the briefest of seconds. “Let’s find a place to make camp, and I’ll go hunting to see if I can feed us more tonight than dried meat and cheese.”COLLAPSE
Couldn't put it down!
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
This was a wonderfully well written story with great world building.....and ELVES! I don't get to read about elves very often and I loved the mix of Mage and Ranger, gods and adorable animals.
I can't wait to read more about Xastrian and Velithor