CHAPTER 1 ✨
Reg was eager to see Davyn as she drove down the highway toward the isolated area he had directed her to. To be honest, she was more excited to see Ember, but that seemed unfair to her mentor. Reg had, after all, only known the dragon since he had hatched a few weeks earlier in the garden behind the guest cottage Reg rented, and she had known Davyn for almost a year. There were no other firecasting witches or warlocks in Black Sands as far as Reg knew; none that had made themselves known to her. But Davyn had been helping her learn control of her craft, and they had become pretty good friends. She had helped to rescue Davyn after he had been kidnapped not that long ago, which had cemented their friendship even further.
So why was she looking forward to seeing the dragon so much more than her teacher?
She felt that it was a bit of a betrayal of Davyn, after all the time and effort he had invested in training her, for which he charged her nothing. But Reg imagined it was like going home at the end of a long day to the eager greeting of a loyal dog. Ember didn’t judge her or care what she was doing, whether she made small talk or had been following all the rules. He was just happy to see her. And Reg was happy to see him, even if Davyn said he had been getting into things and not listening. He was a dragon. What did he expect? The creatures were not well-known for being house-trained.
Reg could feel her connection to Davyn and Ember strengthening, so she knew she was going the right way. She watched for the old Carroll Property sign Davyn mentioned and turned onto the small road. The vegetation was thick around her, rubbing against the sides of the car as she drove deeper into the wild. Eventually, she broke into a clearing and saw Davyn’s car parked off to the side. She parked her car alongside his.
She couldn’t see either of them and peered into the thick green foliage. “Davyn?”
There was a loud flapping of wings. Reg froze in place until she felt claws grasp her shoulder. She turned her head to look at Ember, who was looking very satisfied to have found her.
“Hello, there, handsome,” she greeted, grinning.
Davyn walked out of the trees. He was cloaked, with his hood up, so she couldn’t see much of his face, but she could see the corner of a smile as he surveyed Reg and the dragon.
“I see you found each other.”
Reg reached up her hand to rub against Ember’s jaw. He rolled his head into her palm like a cat begging for more scratches. Reg obligingly scratched his neck and around his small round ears. “I can’t believe how much bigger he is every time I see him.”
Before long, she wouldn’t be able to support him on her shoulder. His grip was much more comfortable than the first time he’d landed on her shoulder, still an unsteady fledgling. But his weight was getting to be too much, even though he occasionally flapped to get some lift and lighten the load.
“He’s growing fast,” Davyn agreed, surveying the young dragon, who had also changed color, from the pinkish-gray he’d had when he first hatched, to a blue-green sheen. “Sometimes, when I get home at the end of the day, I could swear he’s bigger than when I left that morning.”
Ember puffed out his chest and made a rumbling noise. Reg could see the picture of the adult dragon that Ember aspired to be in her mind. Huge and magnificent. She felt a pang of worry, wondering what they would do when he got that big. Where was he going to live? How would she be able to ensure that he would be safe from hunters or other dangers? Would she even be able to see him?
He squeezed her shoulder and bent down to rub the side of his face against hers, making coaxing noises. Reg patted his neck and scratched his ears some more.
“How has he been?”
She really shouldn’t ask. She didn’t want to hear complaints about what Ember had gotten into lately or the trouble he was causing Davyn, who had been happy to take the dragon in without any expectations of payment for pet boarding.
“He’s been amazing,” Davyn said affectionately. “I’ve never had a familiar, but he is quickly becoming… indispensable.”
Ember jumped off Reg’s shoulder and strutted around. Reg and Davyn laughed.
“He’s like a puppy or a toddler, though,” Davyn said, giving a little sigh. “Not that he’s teething, but he gets into things and makes a mess or destroys things. I need to keep an eye on him all the time he’s in the house. And I worry about him leaving the property when he’s outside. We do not need him menacing Black Sands and bringing the villagers down on us with pitchforks and torches.”
“I wouldn’t suggest torches,” Reg said with a laugh. Fire wasn’t likely to harm a firecaster and a firedrake. “We just have to… convince him to stay where he’s safe.”
“And have you ever tried to explain that to a toddler?”
Reg shrugged, conceding the point. She reached out to Ember with her mind, trying to form pictures that would warn him of the hazards of leaving the property without Davyn. But the prospect of danger seemed to excite him. Like a child who had just watched a superhero movie and thought that he would be able to kick butt just like his favorite character if he had to face off against bad guys. Reg rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“You have to be careful,” she told Ember aloud, even though he was less likely to understand the English words than the pictures she had given him. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Ember snorted, shooting flames from his nose. Reg reached down to pat his head, hoping she had not hurt his ego. “I know. You’re going to be bigger than any of them, and you have fire. But humans can still be dangerous, even to full-grown dragons. There aren’t very many of your kind left in the world.”
That seemed to give him pause. Maybe he was thinking of his parents and wondering where they were and what had happened to them. Davyn assured her that dragons didn’t normally raise their young, but that didn’t mean that the young dragon didn’t have questions about where he had come from and what had happened to his mother after laying her egg many years before. Ember seemed to have a lot of knowledge that he had simply been hatched with. He knew things that he had never been taught by a mother, including a few English words. She and Davyn had agreed that it must be genetic memory, something that scientists had only speculated about.
“Well… are we ready to begin?” Davyn asked.
“Yes. Sorry. I know you don’t have all day.”
“Well, as the guardian of this little fellow, I fully expect to need to take time to discuss him. But we can talk more while we’re working.”
“Playing,” Reg corrected with a grin. How she loved to play with fire. Her sessions with Davyn were the only time she could safely explore her abilities. He had recently agreed to allow her to light a small, candle-sized flame for meditation in the cottage where she lived behind Sarah’s big house. She had to only do it in the bathroom with all the flammable materials removed, just in case she was to get distracted or let it get out of her control. But at least she could now have a small flame in her home when she was alone. It was a step.
“Playing,” Davyn agreed. He held his hands apart as if cupping an invisible basketball between them and started to kindle a small ball of fire between them. Reg mimicked him and, watching the development of his flame, tried to copy each change he made precisely. Making it larger and smaller, hotter and cooler. It was a familiar warm-up exercise. She could do it in her sleep. But she didn’t complain about having to do the same thing over and over again. After all, even the most advanced athletes still had to stretch and do proper warm-up exercises before performing. In their case, it helped to prevent injury. The firecasting warm-up exercises would, she believed, help her to focus and gain greater and greater control over the fire that burned within her and was always so eager to get out and cause destruction and chaos. A fire could be helpful. It could be controlled. It could be used as a tool.
But it didn’t always want to be.
CHAPTER 2 ✨
Have you met the new witch in town?” Davyn asked.
“New witch?” Reg shrugged. “I don’t know. Not that I’ve noticed.”
But there were lots of witches and warlocks in Black Sands. Reg certainly didn’t know all of them and wouldn’t necessarily know if she had met someone who had just moved into town. Unless the witch mentioned being new, Reg would assume it was just someone she hadn’t met before.
“I think you would have noticed her.”
“Oh? What was so special about her?”
“She appears to be young and inexperienced, but I got the feeling that her powers are much stronger than she would have those around her believe.” He paused, looking for something else to say, then just repeated, “Much stronger.”
“Did you get her name? Or where she lives or works?”
“Verity. I don’t know where she is living or working, if she has found work yet. She’s only been around for a day or two.”
“Verity.” Reg shook her head. “No, I don’t think I’ve run into anyone with that name.”
“You would remember her.”
“So who is she? Is she related to someone here? Or just came to Black Sands because…” Reg shrugged. Because Black Sands had the highest number of witches and other practitioners of any town in the country? The same reason Reg had initially come to Black Sands. Knowing that there was a high density of psychics and people using their services, she had figured it would be a good place for her to run a fortune-telling con. But things had turned out very differently from what she had expected.
“I don’t know. Didn’t get much of her history,” Davyn confessed. “I was trying to be polite. Sometimes people don’t want to share their reasons for moving to a new town. If she got run out of the last place she lived… a lot of people are anxious about anyone finding out what happened, worried that Black Sands will run them out on a rail too.”
Reg held the glowing ball of fire in her hands, letting its warmth seep into her. She was glad to have “found her tribe” in Black Sands. She had always moved frequently from one place to another as people discovered her talents. Constantly watching out for the police or anyone that she had run into previously. Changing her name, her scam, making up a new history. That life had ended with her arrival in Black Sands.
She startled as Ember leaped across the clearing and snatched the fireball from her hands, appearing to swallow it and then breathing out a long stream of fire that reached from one side of the clearing to the other.
“Ember! No, bad dragon!” Reg couldn’t help laughing. “You have to let me practice with Davyn!”
Ember sat looking at her, not the least bit sorry.
“You’ll need to stay focused,” Davyn told Reg, chuckling. He was always trying to think of new ways to distract her focus from her fire, forcing her to strengthen her skills and her ability to stay on-task. Apparently, he had not planned for Ember to jump in and distract Reg, but it was a good challenge. “We don’t usually have to defend against someone stealing our fire, but who knows? Maybe one day you will, and you’ll be glad for this trial. You’ll have to keep your attention on both your fire and your dragonlet.”
Reg eyed Ember as she kindled another fire between her hands. “You’d better stay there. It isn’t going to be easy to do that again,” she warned him.
She shifted her focus to the fire and tried to remember what she and Davyn had been talking about before the interruption.
“I’ll watch for this Verity. I guess. If you think it might be important.”
Davyn shrugged. “Maybe the two of you won’t have anything to do with each other. But I got the feeling that she might… make some waves while she is here in Black Sands.”
“What kind of waves?” Reg was always happy to have someone else in trouble. As long as they didn’t involve or accuse her. Growing up in a series of foster homes, she tried to stay under the radar of the authorities and to divert people’s attention to the other foster children in the home rather than her. Even if it had occasionally been Reg who had caused the trouble.
“I don’t know what her special gifts or interests may be,” Davyn admitted. “She was asking me about the coven, which, of course, is odd because it is not a mixed-gender coven.”
“Did you send her to Letticia? Or someone here in town?”
Letticia was the head of the witch’s coven that Reg was aware of. She knew there were others, but those were the ones she had acquaintances in. Letticia didn’t live right in Black Sands but, like Davyn, outside the town limits. She had a little house on the edge of the Everglades that looked like something out of a fairy tale. Not a gingerbread house, though Letticia did make wonderful cookies.
“Since she doesn’t know her way around yet, I sent her over to Sarah. So you may see her while she’s over there.”
Sarah was Reg’s landlord, a grandmotherly witch who was apparently centuries old, despite looking like she was in her sixties. She had rented the guest cottage to Reg on the day she had arrived in Black Sands, and Reg had been pretty happy there. Though she sometimes resented Sarah’s meddling in her affairs, she had to admit that she didn’t mind Sarah finding her additional clients, tidying up, or feeding Starlight, Reg’s tuxedo cat, if she was away.
Sarah hadn’t wanted a dragon living in the cottage, which was perfectly understandable. Starlight hadn’t been too impressed with Ember’s presence there either.
“Okay, I guess I’ll keep an eye open for her. What does she look like?”
Davyn didn’t answer immediately and, after a period of silence, Reg glanced at him. She was having to split her attention between her fire and Ember. Looking at Davyn, she realized he was flushing pink. She raised her brows at this.
Davyn’s voice was measured and steady when he spoke. “She is… very attractive. Dark hair. Slim. Very pretty.”
“I see.” Reg laughed. “Does Julian know that you are ogling women this way?”
Davyn’s eyes widened. “I’m not! I can’t help recognizing that she was pretty. What do you want me to say? That I didn’t notice? People who say that are just lying. It doesn’t mean I was attracted to her, just that…” He raised both eyebrows and rolled his eyes upward. “She is… stunning.”
“Uh-huh. But Julian doesn’t have anything to worry about?”
“Of course he doesn’t.” Davyn turned even redder. “And he knows that.”
“Did you tell him about this stunning woman you saw?”
“Not yet. Focus on your fire.”
Reg turned her gaze back toward her fire. “Are we going to do some more today? I don’t want to just do warm-ups.”
“Only once I’m sure that you’re prepared. We don’t want to make any mistakes today.”
That sounded like he had something challenging in mind. Reg tried to tamp down her excitement to keep it from causing her to make a mistake or inadvertently grow her fire too much. No mistakes. She would be sure to do everything right so that Davyn would let her do whatever he had in mind.
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