The ball had gone well, all things considered. The war against evil? That was ongoing. Life was changing and so was the paranormal world. Annie was stretching her magical muscle and her skills had grown enormously. Her relationship with her mom was stronger than ever, but she and her father, not so much. Some things had been decided and one of those was Ram and Annie would stay in Orlando for now. Another was Ram would be heading the investigation into Hubolla and where it was operating currently and where it might go in the future.
Their presence was needed for the battle that eventually would rage between the evil intent on ruling the world and good that just wanted to stay in the world. The fight was on now and would only continue to simmer until more fighting broke out. There were suspicions that some factions of wolves, vampires, and dwarves were negotiating with Hubolla for power they would never have otherwise, but proof was lacking. Right now, there were areas Hubolla seemed to be targeting along the coast of Florida that some of these groups were concentrated around.
Meanwhile, her father was plotting and planning more unfortunate unions. Something was up with her father and she wasn’t sure what it was. He’d never been the warmest person and it was a sure thing that not everyone liked him. Annie herself had seen many things lately that she didn’t like about him.
Sophie had come to her in tears. “Your father is intent on mating me to Boris the dwarf.”
“I’ve heard he’s a dashing guy. Are you sure he’s not your fated one?” Annie had to ask. Contrary to the stories, dwarves were not necessarily short or ugly. Many were sarcastic and often disagreeable. Some, like Boris, were attractive. He had white blond hair, a body to die for, and gorgeous blue eyes.
“I like Boris, but neither of us wants to be mated to anyone, but our fated mate. Boris has found his, but his father is prejudiced against harpies.”
“Did you say harpies? Where do they live?”
“They’ve spread out all over like most paranormal kinds. I can’t do the spell, but I must get someone to do it now. Your father is pressing my dad and he’ll give in to his big brother like he always does.”
“Did you just agree?” Sophie asked as if she couldn’t believe it.
“Yes, I’ll do it, but you can’t tell anyone. Okay?” Annie pressed.
Sophie squealed happily and jumped on Annie squeezing her so hard she couldn’t draw in a breath. “Must breathe!”
“When do you want to do this?”
“Now. Right now, if we can,” Sophie decided.
“Okay.” Annie cast a spell and a list floated in front of her. She tore it in half. “Here, we need this stuff. You spell that half and I’ll spell the other half.”
“Is it okay to cast a spell for something we can easily do without it?” Sophie asked uncertainly.
“Do you want to do it now or in two days after we track everything down?” Annie asked.
“Now, we have to do it now,” Sophie began to cast spells for each item separately.
Annie cast one big spell for everything on her list. Since she had begun to study magic with other witches, not just her father, she had been taught ways to recharge her magic. For whatever reason, her father had never taught her that. She cast another spell to have her kettle waiting for them with a fire under it and the supplies she’d just gathered already in it. It had saved so much time doing it this way.
A few more minutes and Sophie was done too. Ram walked in while they prepared. “What are you doing?”
“We’re going to summon Sophie’s mate,” Annie explained.
“Poor guy. I hope he ends up in a better place than I did,” Ram prayed.
“We’ll be popping into the swamp to do the spell,” Annie admitted. She knew Ram didn’t want her going anywhere alone with the evil on the rise, but surely this was safe enough.
“Not without me, you aren’t,” Ram insisted.
Annie shot Sophie a helpless look. “It’s take him or forget it.”
Sophie sighed heavily. “Fine, but he’ll stay out of the way, won’t he?” Annie shrugged. Mates rarely stayed out of the way from what she’d seen, not only in her mating, but in that of those around her. If Sophie had that expectation, she must not be very observant.
“What are we waiting for?” Ram asked. Annie could tell he wanted to get this done and get back. Fine.
Annie whispered the spell that flashed the three of them to the place in the swamp where she used her kettle. A big black kettle that sat over a fire bubbling with all the contents including those Sophie had been holding which had been added in transit. Sophie looked at her empty hands and then at Annie.
“It was easy.” Annie answered Sophie’s unasked question about the ingredients she’d been holding. Annie moved to the kettle and stirred the contents. It was nearly ready since it didn’t require much cooking time. “Now remember what I explained to you, Sophie.”
“Yes, I get it. He could show up when you cast the spell, he could turn up somewhere else in a week. All the spell does is draw him to me. There’s no guarantee of how or exactly when,” Sophie repeated. “Can we do this now?”
“Fine. Are you sure you’re ready?” Annie asked one last time. After all, this was a huge step.
“Yes, do it now!” Sophie replied and she was highly emotional.
Annie stirred the potion thoroughly one last time before she said the incantation. Nothing seemed to happen for a moment and she thought Sophie’s results would be like hers. That was before all hell broke loose. There was a blinding flash of light and she could smell brimstone. Was Sophie’s mate a damned demon? A shape began to take form then blurred before it finally sharpened and it was huge. The beast was massive with red scales on the top and greenish gold scales on the bottom. The red scales on his head looked almost like a cap.
The scaled beast glowed and smoke puffed out of his mouth. The creature appeared to be sleeping with only the in and out movement of breathing obvious. Suddenly, fast enough to make Annie nearly jump out of her skin, its head raised and the one eye she could see popped open. It was red and angry looking. Streaks of energy flashed in his eye almost like lightning would streak across the sky and his pupil, black as the night, was an oblong slit running from the top to the bottom of his eye.
“It’s a dragon!” Ram stated the obvious.
“Who has summoned me here?” A voice asked that rumbled like thunder.
Annie and Ram stepped away from Sophie and pointed at her. No one wanted to be dragon food. Hopefully he wouldn’t burn or eat his fated mate.