Dragons and witches aren’t supposed to mix, but love doesn’t care.
Clarabelle’s been tasked by her coven to look into the disappearance of some witches. During the course of her investigation, she saves a man.
Not just any man, a dragon.
“On to the next order of business. Changing our broom supplier.”
A very bored Clarabelle wanted to scream. The quarterly Colony Coven meeting was tedious, as usual. At times, Clarabelle wondered if she’d gotten stuck in a witchy version of Groundhog Day. Without even trying, she could have predicted the subjects they would cover, because they never seemed to change much.
First on the agenda, dwindling recruitment numbers. Today’s witches lacked interest in joining a coven with restrictive rules, even though those laws were in place for their protection. Not even the temptation of real power could draw them in. Gone were the days when most witches worshipped the Lord of Hades. Now, new wave, crystal-loving wannabe witches fell in with the Wiccans, who had been making a comeback.READ MORE
Item two on the quarterly docket, the All Hallows’ Eve committee needed volunteers to ensure the yearly bonfire and ensuing orgy with Satan went smoothly. The Dark Lord did so hate it when he didn’t get at least one virgin to deflower. Never mind the fact that, in these modern times, virgins who made it to adulthood were a rarity.
Three, the coven coffers could use some replenishing. Bribing officials to look the other way when they almost burned down the forest didn’t come cheap. It didn’t matter the bonfire happened on private land. Eco warriors had been trying to get their old and sacred forest declared a historical site, complete with a permanent fire ban put in place.
Which led to number four, should they be hexing those annoying climate change twats? Bonfires weren’t their only target. They had a long list of causes they fought for that would affect the coven’s way of life. No witch wanted to see their gas stove banned. Cauldron cooking on an electric range just didn’t work the same.
“Are we boring you, Clarabelle?” The rebuke from Marjorie, current Coven Witch Superior dragged her attention back to the meeting at hand.
“Uh, sorry. Just thinking of the ride home. Forecast says rain.” She’d not checked before leaving on her broom.
“Afraid you’ll melt like your great-aunt?” mocked Jezebel. Then mimicked the famous line from the movie in a high-pitched voice, “I’m melting!”
“You know it was a badly cast rain-repelling spell that caused my aunt to die most horribly,” Clarabelle stated primly. “And you shouldn’t talk. With the amount of makeup you’re wearing, once you get wet, you’ll be lucky if you’re not mistaken for a ghoul.”
“Daughters, that’s quite enough.” Marjorie’s firm tone quieted them both.
Clarabelle could have kicked herself for rising to Jezebel’s bait. “Sorry, Witch Superior,” she mumbled, even as she plotted revenge on Jezebel. The kind that couldn’t be traced to her. Their rivalry began in college and never stopped. Perhaps a hex on Jezebel’s favorite mascara? She’d read about one that turned eyelashes into wiggling spider legs.
“Seeing as how these meetings bore you, I have a task you can concentrate on. Two actually. Jezebel, you’ll be travelling to New York for Comicon with the aim of recruiting prospects.”
“Me? Why not her?” Jezebel jabbed a finger at Clarabelle.
“Because she is going to be investigating the suspicious disappearances of some witches in Ottawa, Canada.”
“Canada, as in the frozen wasteland north of us?” Jezebel snickered, whereas Clarabelle held in a sigh. She wasn’t about to point out that Ottawa pretty much had the same weather as New York because she didn’t want to piss off Marjorie, given the task sounded interesting. She’d not done anything of any note in months unless a pregnant hippo—by a drunk ogre—counted. He’d claimed he thought it was his wife. Said wife got offended seeing as how her girth was at least double that of the pregnant zoo animal.
Marjorie didn’t let Jezebel’s taunting pass. “Maybe you’re not the best person to send given your ignorance of simple geography. Do better or the next time you open your mouth to bray something stupid, I’ll turn you into a donkey.”
With that rebuke, the meeting ended, but Marjorie signaled for Clarabelle to remain behind.
She slid a folder over to Clarabelle, saying, “I didn’t want to say anything in front of the rest of the coven, but you should know there might be danger.”
“You think the disappearances are linked to foul play?”
“It seems most likely, seeing as how it’s not just witches reported missing. We also have received reports of numerous werewolves losing touch with the local pack, as well as a half-elf, and a gargoyle. And those are just the ones we know of.”
“We’re sure they didn’t relocate?” Clarabelle questioned.
“Without taking a single thing with them?”
“Any clues as to why anyone would want to harm or take them?”
Marjorie shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I mean, if this were the Dark Ages, I’d suspect witch hunters, but with the wolves and others… It could be anything.”
“You don’t think it’s the government, do you?” A fear held by non-humans everywhere. It didn’t help that Hollywood movies and shows like Stranger Things and blockbuster books like Firestarter, always had those with special powers being studied and dissected in the name of science and national security.
“My sources inside the various agencies haven’t heard anything, but it’s a possibility. Think you can handle it?”
“No worries. I’ll figure it out.”
A cocky claim that proved harder to achieve than expected. For one, Ottawa sprawled over quite a distance. Two, the local pack refused to meet with her, citing they didn’t like to deal with outsiders. At least the Ottawa Coven agreed to talk with her. Not exactly surprising since they were the ones to notify Colony Coven—the main coven that ruled over the rest in North America—of the disappearances of their members.
Clarabelle met them in a Starbucks of all places, the witches each sipping a different foamy brew. Five women in total, ranging in age with one thing in common; a weak affinity for magic. They eyed Clarabelle with curiosity.
The oldest of them greeted her first. “Hi, I’m Jewel, and these are my sisters, Kandy, Gertrude, Nelly, and Fiona.”
Seeing as how Jewel hadn’t done anything to protect their conversation, Clarabelle flicked her hands quickly to settle a dome of privacy over them, which widened some eyes. “Hello, I’m Clarabelle Montgomery, Colony Coven attaché. Sorry to meet you under such circumstances.”
“Thanks for coming. We didn’t know what else to do,” Jewel apologized.
“You did the right thing. Can anyone tell me anything about the missing witches?” Clarabelle asked.
The youngest of the group, Kandy, with enough piercings to make Clarabelle leery of her spell-casting, given metal distorted, had a theory. “Maybe Felicia and Molly ran off together because they’re in love.”
“With none of their things?” scoffed Fiona, whose fiery red hair didn’t come naturally.
Kandy didn’t seem daunted by her retort. “Minimalist living is a growing trend.”
Before Fiona could mock the girl, Gertrude, with her gray hair pinned in a chignon, snorted. “Don’t be an idiot and stop sniffing so much toad juice. They disappeared a month apart, and you know damned well Felicia was engaged to that lawyer in the Glebe.”
“Only the two gone?” Clarabelle clarified.
“We thought there was a third, but Gloria, unlike the others, cleared out her apartment. Most likely she joined another group. Not a big loss. She lacked a willingness to follow the rules,” explained Jewel.
“Did they mention anything suspicious? Maybe someone following them? Emails? Texts?”
The women shook their heads.
The shyest member, Nelly, from behind her long bangs, whispered, “Do you think we’re in danger?”
Much as she wanted to reassure, Clarabelle remained honest. “Until we know what’s going on, you might want to take precautions. Don’t go anywhere by yourself. Report anything that seems odd. Put protection spells on your doors and windows. Check-in with each other often.”
Not the news they wanted to hear. The meeting broke up not long after, and Clarabelle found herself musing on what she’d learned. Not much other than it felt like foul play. Women, even witches, didn’t disappear without packing at least a bag. As she walked back to her hotel, while deep in thought, she still paid attention to her surroundings and immediately felt it when someone started to stare.
Rather than turn around to peek, she cast a spell of surveillance on the clip holding her hair back. It recorded what it saw and she watched it once she returned to her hotel, which turned out to not be as interesting as expected. The replay showed some big blond dude staring after her before heading into a bar.
Just in case, she stored his image. After all, if witches were being targeted then she could be next.
With his head pounding painfully, Dracin woke inside a cage.
A fucking cage!
He had no one to blame but himself. Dracin had come into the city to pick up a part for his truck. He’d been heading back to said vehicle when his attention got distracted by an interesting scent. The intriguing odor had him staring at a woman, trim and petite, her hair drawn back with a barrette. She strode with brisk confidence, not once turning to look, despite his rude interest.
Run after her, his inner beast demanded, but instead of stalking a stranger, he chose to distract himself by getting a drink. Dracin didn’t have that many, just a few shots of burning whiskey that should have barely given him a buzz, yet he’d staggered out of that bar into the night, wavering on his feet, seeing double.
Had someone roofied him? Possible, given he’d been elbow to elbow with strangers. And he had turned from his drink at one point to look over at the commotion caused by two guys arguing loudly. Had something been slipped in at that point?
Didn’t matter. He’d planned to sleep it off in his truck. A plan that failed, seeing as how some assholes jumped him as he was passing out in an alley on his way to the parking lot.
Four of them. It should have been a cakewalk to beat their asses, only Dracin’s reflexes were slow. His vision blurry. He’d swiped and missed. Bad luck seeing as one of his assailants got him in the face with a water balloon that exploded. Dracin roared in rage, ready to beat some ass, only his beast couldn’t emerge.
The balloon held some kind of sleeping drug. The bastards came prepared.
Dracin passed out, and the result? He woke up in a fucking cage.
Not for long.
A grab of the bars sent him reeling and hissing; the skin on his fingers blistering right away. The electricity coursing through the enclosure holding him made it clear someone didn’t want him to break out.
Joke was on them. Dracin just had to shift, and he’d be out of here. He might be fragile in this, his human form, but his beast? A lot tougher.
Wake up. He tried rousing his inner animal, to no avail. Whatever they’d drugged him with lingered in his system.
Once he escaped, someone would pay. I am going to eat whoever is responsible.
If he escaped…
He had no choice. He’d not lived this long to die so ignobly.
Maybe he could shock his beast out of its sleep. He threw himself at the bars and held on tight, the current jolting his body hard enough he blacked out. He regained consciousness to find himself drooling on the floor. Of course at his most humiliated moment would be when his captor showed up to be annoying.
“Rise and shine, buttercup. Let’s get a closer look at what my lackeys dragged in.” The fellow who spoke wore a suit and had slicked-back hair. Young, but with the attitude of someone much older.
Finally, someone to direct his anger at. Dracin rose, seething at the sight of the man before him. Not just a man. A sniff had him frowning. “What are you?” Because he’d never smelled anything like the guy before.
“I’m insulted you don’t know.” The man flashed some fangs. “Does this help?
A fucking vampire? “Is that supposed to impress me? Mine are bigger, and if you don’t want your first and last sight of them to be when I bite you in half, then you’ll release me at once, bloodsucker.”
“Is that any way to talk to the guy in charge of your fresh meat?”
“Don’t make me tell you again,” he stated, not that he planned to let the fucker off easy. Hell no. He’d make him regret ever daring to think he could cage Dracin.
“Whine all you like. I’m not letting you go. I’ve got plans for you.”
“Fuck your plans.”
The vampire shook his head. “Terrible manners. But those can be beaten into you. And speaking of manners, where are mine? I’m Theodore, and you are?”
“Going to make you regret your life choices.”
“So fiery. What fun I’ll have breaking you, Dracin Smith. Interesting first name, by the way. Unique. Yet, oddly, there is little known about you. A good thing we have your wallet, or we might have never even gotten that much.”
“What do you want?”
“What does anyone want in this world? Money. Lots of it.”
“Well, you kidnapped the wrong guy then.”
The vamp chuckled. “Oh, you’re hilarious. Who knew dragons could be so entertaining?”
The fucker knew Dracin’s shifter side. That didn’t bode well. People often assumed the stories of dragons having invaluable hoards were true. Dracin wished. His single mom had done her best to raise him, but they’d gone without quite often. Even now, he didn’t have much. He worked and made only enough to pay his bills.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dracin lied.
“Don’t be shy. I have to admit to being delighted my lackeys found you. When they told me they found a strange-smelling shifter, I thought you just needed a bath. But the moment I got a whiff, I knew. You’re not the first one I’ve ever met. Alas, your predecessor escaped. My fault. I wasn’t as prepared the last time. I’ve improved my methods since.” Spoken with a smile that would have done a shark proud.
“You’re wasting your time. I’m not rich.”
“Oh. I’m aware you’re not. Living in a shack outside of the city. Driving a beat-up truck. You really make dragons look bad.”
“Listen. you pompous asshole—”
“No, you listen,” Theodore hissed, drawing close. “Here is what’s going to happen. You’re going to get cleaned up because I’ve got buyers coming. People interested in owning their very own dragon. AKA you.”
“You would enslave me?” He couldn’t help the shocked reply.
“That depends on your new owner,” Theodore declared with a shrug. “Once they buy you, it’s up to them what they do. Chain you up, set you free, fuck you, hunt you, that’s really up to them to decide once they pay.”
His beast chose that moment to drowsily awake and growl, a low, inhuman sound.
The vamp grinned. “Seems like the drugs are wearing off. Good. The buyers will want to see what they’re bidding on.”
“I’m going to eat you.” He would, even though he could tell by the smell that vampire meat would taste bad.
“So bloodthirsty. I like it. I totally understand. I want to eat everyone who annoys me too. A good thing I don’t, or I’d have no one left to work for me.” Theodore offered a toothy grin.
Dracin had heard enough. With his beast awake, time to blow this joint. “Last chance to run, asshole.” He called on his dragon. Only nothing happened.
“Uh-oh, is someone having a problem shifting? This is probably a good time to mention the device we implanted. It’s the newest technology in controlling pets. With the press of a button inside this handy app, I can… You know what, how about I show you?” The vamp held out his phone and tapped the screen.
Instant agony hit and dropped Dracin to his knees. Holy fucking pain.
“Oops. Does that hurt? Good. That’s the punishment setting. It has different levels, and even better, the app can be programmed to accept voice commands from your owner so as to prevent accidents. We implemented it after the incident where a pet knocked the phone out of its owner’s hands and before he could recover it, well… Let’s just say he didn’t survive. I’m proud to reveal we’ve improved on it since then.” Theodore sounded so pleased.
Dracin’s stomach plummeted. “You fucker…”
“Is that an invitation? Alas, I have to refuse. I learned the last time I had a dragon in my grips that your blood is quite foul. Really disgusting.” Theodore made a moue. “Pity. I’ll bet you’d have made an excellent blood slave. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve much to do to get ready for the auction. Already there is much interest, and I am expecting a rather large crowd. I can’t wait to see the bidding. Just so you know, potential buyers will be popping by for a peek. Try being nice to the ones that appeal. Or stay feisty. Up to you. I know a few that prefer a savage to make things interesting whether it be for fighting or sex.”
Dracin growled, but the unimpressed vamp waggled his fingers and left.
Fucking dick. When he got out…
More like if.
Dracin took stock of the situation. Outside his cage he noticed two more, smaller and empty. Only his had a thick wire running across the floor. A glance overhead showed his enclosure stood ten feet tall, big enough for him to shift if that fucker hadn’t done something to prevent it.
The damp concrete floor hinted of mildew but, more annoying, the pungent aroma and noticeable lumps of rat scat. It reminded him of the shitholes he grew up in, the things he’d done to survive. He’d promised himself he’d never eat rat again. He really hoped he didn’t have to break that promise.
The basement had no windows but did have a few pillars and the remnants of faint lines on the floor. An abandoned parking garage, making it unlikely anyone would hear or find him. A human-sized door marked the exit on one side, and on the other, a ramp that angled upward and around a corner finished off the space. Nothing useful.
Next, he did a check of his belongings and body. He wore his clothes but lacked his phone and wallet. Though he appeared uninjured, the implant concerned him. He ran his hands over his flesh, seeing if he could find the entrance wound, but there was none. His shifter healing patched him up too damned fast.
He had to find the device being used to control him. Only how? He palpated his flesh to no avail.
Hungry. His dragon didn’t seem to care they were in a cage with no food. It eyed the rat that boldly crept into view.
No, Dracin replied.
Hungry. A plaintive demand.
“I said fucking no,” Dracin snapped, which led to his big bad beast sulking, which didn’t help his pounding head.
An urge to piss left him eyeing the bucket left for him and gave him an idea. While he really wanted to whizz on the bars, he remembered a Darwin award given to a dude who’d gotten drunk, climbed some kind of electrical pole, and let loose on the wire. He died because electricity and urine didn’t play well together.
He could still use that knowledge, but, being a smart guy, Dracin filled the bucket instead. The pungent smell made him grimace. This had better work. Being careful to hold only the plastic parts of his bucket, he poured his piss on the bars then stood back while it sizzled and popped. The lights flickered. He knew his plan worked when the humming stopped.
Next problem, the bars.
He grabbed hold and pulled. They didn’t budge. He’d kind of expected that.
“All right, big guy, your turn to try.”
The sulking dragon within instantly perked up. Surely the device couldn’t control the shift as the vampire boasted. Most likely the drugs still affected him, but if he tried hard enough, his beast could break through. It had to.
Dracin closed his eyes as his beast began to surge and—
He woke on the floor, head pounding worse than before, not improved by his whimpering dragon.
It was true. The fucking implant and not lingering drugs impeded his ability to shift.
“Corpse fucker! Argh!” Dracin yelled, unable to quell his frustration.
If he couldn’t escape, he was well and truly screwed. No one would come to the rescue. Dracin took living a solitary life quite seriously. Hardly any friends. No family since Mom died ages ago. Just him. And now that he found himself truly alone, he kind of regretted that choice. Then again, friendships weren’t exactly easy to make for a guy like him. The werewolves had their packs and tended to not socialize outside them. Other non-humans, while rare, tended to steer clear of him. He blamed Hollywood for making them think dragons ate everyone who got close—as if they could compare to a tender hunk of beef. Of course, when it came to humans, he’d yet to meet one he didn’t want to eat after a while. Hmm, maybe Hollywood wasn’t entirely far off.
Forget a girlfriend. Dracin fucked only when he really got tired of his hand. It wasn’t that he didn’t like women, just that, after sex, he tended to eye them and think, not the one. As if there was someone for an ornery bastard like him.
The melancholy roused his annoyance, and Dracin yanked once more on the bars, only to bellow as they sizzled his flesh again. They’d reset the breaker while he was passed out.
“You fucking bastard. I am going to hunt your scrawny ass. I will pluck out your eyes like grapes. Remove your head and shove it up your ass. Come here and face me, you coward.” At least give him a chance to fight.
No one replied to his challenge.
For the first time since he’d escaped the poverty that plagued his childhood, Dracin felt despair. The digging fingers of dread gripped him tight, urging him to give up hope.
But he refused to yield.
He’d not given up when lying on the ground, cold and hungry.
He’d not given up when, as a small and ill-dressed boy, he gotten beaten up.
He’d not given up when his mother, the only person he’d ever loved, died in a hit-and-run.
No. He’d clawed his way out of poverty. He’d gotten his revenge on those who hurt him. Found the fucker who murdered his mom and had him arrested.
He’d find a way out of this clusterfuck too.
In the meantime, he had to survive. But forget playing nice.
When Theodore returned later that day, bringing the first of the clients, Dracin ignored them. Chose pain over doing tricks.
No, he would not shift.
No, he wouldn’t play their game.
And so he suffered.
Waited for his chance to escape.COLLAPSE