Home > Sinister Magic (Death Before Dragons #1)(17)

Sinister Magic (Death Before Dragons #1)(17)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

But one of his paws whipped up reflexively, or in a last effort to get me, and caught me on the side of the head. Pain erupted, and I leaped back, yanking my sword from his throat. I landed in a fighting stance, ready for another attack, but the wolf crumpled, the hatred fading from his eyes as he collapsed.

I whirled to help Mom with her fight, but Sindari sent a mental warning that made me hesitate.

The dragon is back. Right above us.

Shit.

I don’t think dragons do that.

Nobody’s that magical.

With another wolf harrying my mom—she still had her back to the tree, but they knew her gun couldn’t hurt them—I didn’t have time to say anything else. I rushed at her assailant, my bloody blade raised, my heart hammering from the exertion of the fight.

I sensed the dragon swooping down from above, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Would he join in with the werewolves to finish me off? Or maybe he would stop them from killing me so he could have the pleasure.

10

An unnatural darkness fell over the forest, as if a solar eclipse had blotted out the noon sun. The werewolves broke off their attack, snapping jaws and snarls halting all at once.

A roar blasted through the trees, hammering my eardrums with more than noise. Some power rode on that roar, and even with Chopper’s protection against mental attacks, it ached in my mind and almost dropped me to my knees.

The remaining wolves shook their heads and pawed at their sensitive ears.

I took the brief respite to look around and count our enemies. I’d killed two, and Sindari had killed three. They had been doing their best to avoid him and circle around to get at me and Mom, but he wasn’t easy to avoid. The werewolf in human form remained, crouching on the trail and watching me.

Four other wolves turned to watch the trees and a jumble of boulders to one side of the path. I sensed the dragon there. He’d landed.

I backed up, finding a tree and using it for partial cover as a single figure strode into view. If he’d been a dragon when he roared, he had shifted into human form quickly. He wore that same black robe, had the same trimmed dark beard and mustache, and not a single curly black hair on his head was out of place. His violet eyes glowed, marking him as inhuman, even to someone who couldn’t sense his aura. But I thought even the most mundane and non-magical human would have felt the power emanating from him, known that he was a deadly threat.

Gunshots fired, and I jumped.

“Mom, no,” I barked.

But it wasn’t she who’d fired. One of the werewolves had shifted into human form and gotten her gun from her. She was leaning against a tree, bleeding from her temple, with a dazed expression on her face.

The bullets never struck the shape-shifted dragon. Zav, I remembered. That was his name. They burst into flames in the air before they hit him, and tiny thimblefuls of ash fell to the ground. Only after he’d incinerated the bullets did his gaze turn to the werewolf.

Without making a gesture, he hurled a surge of raw power. It knocked the werewolf a hundred yards through the air, until he slammed into a tree and dropped to the pine-needle-strewn ground. He didn’t get up.

When Mom scurried forward to grab her gun—he’d dropped it as soon as he was struck—Rocket tugged away from her. Mom swore and lunged too late. He raced back toward the lake, his leash flapping along the ground behind him. She hesitated, glancing between me and Rocket.

“Go get him,” I said, wishing I could have convinced the dog to run away earlier so she would have gotten out of here before the trouble started.

She backed slowly away, and I wasn’t sure if she would obey, though she had to be worried about her buddy.

Zav strode toward me and the remaining werewolves, glancing at the two I’d killed. I kept Chopper up, ready to defend myself if I had to—was he about to object to me killing them too? This time, I’d only been defending myself, but did he know that?

He ignored me and faced the human-formed werewolf on the trail ahead. I tapped my translation charm to life in time to hear him speak.

“You are Thymust Fast Claw,” he stated to the werewolf.

“I am. What are you doing here, Dragon? This is not your world, and this forest is ours. We have claimed it.”

“I am Lord Zavryd’nokquetal. I go where I wish, and I enforce the laws of the Dragon Justice Court.” He lifted a hand.

The werewolf must have sensed what was coming, for he tried to spring away. But yellow bands of power formed around him, restraining him and halting his escape. They lifted him into the air, his feet dangling a foot above the trail.

“You have violated the laws of Serinmoor by slaying the lover of the princess of Darkenthrall. For this, I will take you to the Court for punishment and rehabilitation.”

The wolf-man threw back his head and howled. I couldn’t tell if it was an objection or if he was already in pain, already being rehabilitated.

Several of the other wolves, all of them ignoring Sindari and me now, slunk forward, sniffing their leader and eyeing Zav. Two of them shape-shifted into humans, almost as large as the dangling werewolf. Zav wasn’t small in his human form—he was several inches taller than me—but he wasn’t as large or as brawny as they were. They puffed out their naked chests and flexed those big muscles.

“Let him go, Dragon. The laws of Serinmoor mean nothing here.”

Not worried about their posturing, Zav didn’t back down. “The law established by the Dragon Justice Court is applicable in all worlds, and it will be upheld everywhere. Leave now, or you will regret testing my mettle. And my patience. If I have to spend another moon on this benighted world, it will be a moon too many.”

“Release him, Dragon. Or you’ll know the ferocity of the pack—and your own mortality.”

This would be an opportune moment for us to leave, Sindari noted. To either go back for your mother and her pet or to continue on while they are distracted.

Good point.

I backed slowly away, though I was curious if the combined ferocity of the pack could actually hurt someone who could incinerate bullets faster than they could travel from the gun to his body.

Can you lead me to my mom and Rocket? I had no trouble sensing the dragon or werewolves, but I had no extraordinary abilities to help me find normal people—or dogs.

Yes. She recaptured him. They aren’t far. She’s heading back to check on you.

We’d barely moved ten yards away when the werewolves sprang at Zav. Two of them burst into flames, the same as the bullets. They weren’t incinerated, but the squeals of pain as they ran off, fire burning their fur, would haunt my memory for a long time.

I turned and jogged back down the path. By the time I found Mom and Rocket, the skirmish was out of sight, but more yelps of pain filtered down through the forest.

“Are you okay?” I waved at her and Rocket, whose tail was clenched between his legs.

“For now.” She looked warily up the hill. “Do we try to get around them or go back?”

“I don’t think the werewolves will be a problem after this.”

“And the dragon?” Mom’s usually stoic face was ashen.

“He captured one and said he was hauling him off for judgment.” I was tempted to abandon this mission and go back, but to what? I didn’t have any other leads, and who knew how much time Colonel Willard had? “Why don’t you tell me how to get to the tunnel, and I’ll go in without you. You could wait here or go back to the car.”

“If that’s the reception you get when you meet magical people, I think I should offer to go in and you go back.” She held out her hand. “Give me that vial, and I’ll go ask about it.”

“They’re not going to be happy with you, either, after you shot their guard dogs, if that’s what the werewolves were.”

“My bullets didn’t do anything.” She shook her head in disgust. “Do you have special ones?”

“Yes.”

White light flashed up the hill. I whirled toward it, prepared for some new attack. But the dragon vanished from my awareness—from this world. The lead werewolf had too. The others were still out there, the handful that had survived, but I sensed their auras getting farther and farther away. They were running.

“This is our chance.” I cleaned off Chopper and sheathed the sword, though I kept Fezzik out. When I brushed a hand through my hair and pushed my braid over my shoulder, it came away damp, and raw pain burned my scalp. Blood smeared my fingers. Well, if that was the worst I’d gotten, that was a win. But was the battle truly over? “What exactly is waiting for us in your tunnel? A village, you said. Are we likely to have to fight again?”

“I think they’ll let me in—they have before. I’m not sure about you. Did that one call you Ruin Bringer?”

“Yeah. The magical have a lot of names for me.”

“Flattering.”

“Most of them aren’t, no.”

“Is the dragon gone?” She squinted suspiciously at the route ahead.

“He opened a portal and left—that was that light. He could come back, but hopefully, he’s busy locking up his prisoner in the dragon equivalent of a jail cell in his own realm.”

I’d never been through a portal, and I’d only seen them a couple of times. From what I’d heard, they were very difficult to create, and only a few magical beings had the power and knowledge to do so. Some of the other worlds had permanent ones that could be used by travelers, but Earth supposedly didn’t have any. This was a one-way trip for most of the beings who came here to hide.

Mom shook her head slowly. “All the years I lived near and in the woods, and I never saw anything other than elves, and elves only when they wished it. The last few years have been…” She looked at me with a frown. “What’s changed?”

I waved for us to walk while we talked, worried that our enemies would return. “I don’t know what’s changed for them, but the magical have been coming to Earth in droves to hide out here. Colonel Willard and her intel team have theories—overpopulation in their worlds, new and stricter governments, an oppressive tyrannical overlord making their lives hell…” I thought of Zav and had no trouble imagining him oppressing someone tyrannically. “But few of her contacts say anything concrete. They get a haunted look in their eyes and refuse to talk about it.”

   
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