Blurb:

A blood debt shrouded in secrecy… 

From birth, Camryn has been groomed for sacrifice. She’ll do anything to fulfill her last mission—protecting the Paraspecies king. Recent betrayals have left everyone on edge, especially the king’s second in command. He has no intention of standing down. She must either earn the trust of the mate she can never have or destroy him. 

He won’t fail his king again… 

Trent will eradicate the treachery within the Paraspecies that nearly killed him and the king. No one is above suspicion—especially the female succuba mage who rescued the king and saved them both from certain death months later. Why would she help the enemy? The elusive female is a hindrance he’s determined to break.Type your paragraph here.

Prologue

Blood dribbled on Sera’s tattered clothing as she sprinted down the cold, narrow corridors. Each twist sped her heartbeat. The keys jingled in one hand and in her other…She paused long enough to make sure the blanket covered what was in the other. She didn’t understand what she’d seen, but she knew it wasn’t good.

Tears spilled down her cheeks. This was her chance to save them. The ground overhead shook. Debris splattered down and smashed into her. With a startled cry, she huddled the silent bundle closer and ran harder, faster.

She skidded to a halt before the first massive door. She hadn’t been down here in months. What if they weren’t here? Maybe they’d all died.

No.

Her fingers trembled as she searched for the right key and twisted the rusted lock until the metal door slid open. Filth struck her nostrils, followed by the distinct stench of blood. Or maybe the coppery metallic scent was stuck in her senses from upstairs.

She rushed to the mighty gryphon chained on the wall farthest away. Dried blood coated his torso. Semi-healed gouges along his cheeks and down his chest seeped black. His coal-black eyes opened when she approached.

“You shouldn’t be down here. Go.” He hung his head in a gesture she’d never seen. Defeat.

Anger and fear hastened her steps forward. They’d broken him. “Kelman. Something’s happening. The guards are going through the dungeons and killing everyone. They’re on their way here. We have to go.”

“Go. Save yourself. Forget about us. You’re all that matters.”

“I’ll never leave without you, or them.” She pointed to everyone else in the dungeon’s dank cell. She didn’t recognize more than half, but it didn’t matter. If they were down here, they deserved freedom. A fresh onslaught of tears assailed her. “She’s dead. I-I couldn’t save her. It was too late. H-he k-killed her.”

Kelman’s head rose. “She’d want you free. For her you will obey me and leave.”

What should she do? She’d been raised to never disobey the mighty gryphon, but she needed him. She hadn’t trained much with the warriors. Dad didn’t like girls learning the warrior ways.

She settled the tiny bundle on the ground and cooed softly.

“What is that?”

“All I have left of her,” she replied. She reached up and worked to remove the shackle from around Kelman’s wrist. “I think we should call her Camryn, after the ancient warrior princess.”

“You dared to bring a succuba whelp down here? She’s an abomination. The moment we escape I’ll kill her myself.” Kelman made quick work of the other restraints once his hand was free. She backed up and sprinted toward Levi.

The mage would help protect Camryn. He was older by at least five winters—almost old enough to be a fledgling. He smiled despite the pain ravaging his aura. She tentatively swept fingertips along the wounds on his exposed torso until they no longer bled. Kelman forbid her using healing energy on him, but she’d help the others.

“Get Maeve. She needs you,” he implored.

She crawled over to Levi’s ancient grandmother, who looked more like a forty year-old human. The two strangers had tried to protect her when the succubae attacked two years ago. They’d been unsuspecting victims when the succubae attacked two years ago. They’d kept her alive during the battle.

“Kelman doesn’t want me to take Camryn,” she whispered. “I can’t leave her.”

“No, child. You must take her. Protect her, make him train her in the warrior ways. Your two destinies are wound together.” The woman reached out. “You did good getting down here, child. Your mama would be real proud.”

The words renewed the anguish. An ache rose in her heart, burning deep. She’d lost everything, everyone. She helped the woman stand. Levi helped Kelman free the other prisoners.

The baby gurgled happily when she picked her up. Levi’s grandmother took the small bundle. Tears shimmered in the woman’s gaze.

“Your road will be rough, young warrior. Your sacrifice will save us all.”

She shivered. Sacrifice? Sera studied the infant. No one would hurt her. Ever.

“Let’s go,” Kelman ordered. He glared down at her. “You’re in the middle. If someone attacks, you crouch down. I’ll never fail you again.”

* * * * *

“What are you doing?”

Camryn sniffled when Kelman slapped her hand. The sting resonated long after he shoved her away from the apple bucket. She grimaced. Warriors didn’t complain. Three months before on her fourth birthing day, she became one. “My belly hurts.”

“And you think our food will ease that evil succuba ache? You think you deserve to eat after what your kind did?” She looked down, hiding wet cheeks. Kelman didn’t like tears. “Come on. I’m sick of waiting. It’s time for you to start training. At least then you’ll earn your keep. I should’ve killed you in the tunnels.”

Camryn gulped and stared at the huge gryphon. He and the other warriors hated her. Lots. Only Levi was nice, but he didn’t stay around much because he was always busy. She used to spend her days with the women, but when she turned four summers Kelman said she was too dangerous to be with Maeve. Sadness engulfed her. She missed Sera. She hadn’t seen her in so long.

But her kind couldn’t be around Sera. She was too important.

Kelman grabbed her wrist and dragged her toward the massive field behind the mountain. She’d spent many hours watching the warriors train. Sunrise to long after sunset every day, no matter the weather. They fought, trained, bled and some even died. All to prepare for what was to come.

Camryn didn’t know what Kelman expected, but Maeve said it’d be the worst thing anyone had ever seen—and she’d seen lots of bad things. Loads of them.

She scurried behind the huge gryphon when he halted in front of the warriors. Hundreds of them. Wolves, white and red dragons, several halves, gryphons and mages. They all glared. Kelman moved away. Her knees knocked together.

“Today we have a special training exercise. We have a succuba to battle.”

“She’s a child,” one of the warriors spat.

“She’s the enemy!” Kelman shouted. “Succubae are born with their powers. This one can already use the shields of her mage blood. Today you will work together to pierce her protective shields. The first team to do so earns tomorrow off.”

Sourness filled her belly. She hated the lie. It tasted bitter on her tongue whenever he said it. He crouched before her. “You lied again.”

His fingers wrapped around her arm like a vise intent on breaking bone. Tears filled her eyes. “You are succuba. Nothing more until now. Today you will learn to use the mage in your blood. If you don’t, you die.”

“I’m not mage.”

“As far as everyone is concerned, you are half succuba and half mage. If anyone ever finds out otherwise, I’ll kill you. If anyone knew who you were, it’d get Sera killed. You don’t want that do you?”

Camryn shook her head. “Never!”

“Then study the shield I constructed in you. I’ll give you a few minutes to figure out how to make one yourself. Then the warriors will begin attacking. You have to keep the shield up.”

“H-how long?”

“Until you can’t any longer.” Kelman rose. “I don’t see you working on it.”

“I’m scared. I don’t know how.”

“Then you’ll hurt way more. You’re weak. By the time I’m done with you, you’ll be worth the air you breathe.”

“What’s going on here?” Levi demanded as he approached and looked down at her. “Hey, Cam. What’s wrong?”

She tried hard not to cry, but the tears ran down her cheeks. The mage hoisted her up and wrapped his arms around her.

“Hey, now. I can’t handle pretty girls crying. What’s wrong?”

“They’re going to hurt me. Bad,” Camryn whispered. “Kelman said so.”

Levi’s body tensed. “She’s too young. She’s only four. She doesn’t understand. We haven’t even taught her how to pull her mage abilities from behind the shields we constructed.”

“She’s a distraction!” Kelman screamed. “You’re a warrior, one of my sentinels. Not a wet nurse!”

“What if she gets hurt? She’s too young to have gotten her regenerative powers yet.”

“Then she’d better do well,” Kelman warned. “Besides, a little pain is good for a warrior.”

“Then let her stay in the village with the other kids where she belongs.”

“No. She’s never to be around them again. She has purpose and today she starts. Otherwise I’ll do what we should’ve in the tunnels.”

“Does Sera know?”

“What I do to keep us safe has nothing to do with her. She’s too soft where Camryn is concerned. Even you and Maeve have said so.”

Camryn remained silent, like a good warrior. Her heart thundered so loud in her chest it almost burst from her skin. Levi settled her down on her feet and smiled.

“I’m going to show you how to shield, Cam. We don’t have much time. Okay?”

“Okay. Are you going to fight with me?”

“I can’t, sweetheart.” Sadness filled Levi’s voice.

She didn’t understand how she felt people’s emotions. He wouldn’t explain. No one would. It was a byproduct of the monster buried in her, the one she wasn’t allowed to release. Ever.

“Warriors obey their Commanders, no matter the order. A unified team ensures success. Do you understand?” he asked.

No. She looked over at all the warriors. “I’m not part of the team? You said I would be one day.”

“You’ll never be on a team. You’re a worthless succuba who should’ve died years ago,” Kelman spat. “Get her learning or I’ll end this charade.”


Chapter One

 

“Camryn.”

She stopped in Redemption’s bustling visitor sector, too shocked to turn around. She’d gone crazy. No way had she heard Blade call her name. The mysterious procurer knew better than show up here. Weeks of stress had finally shoved her into insanity. Adrik and his wolves barely tolerated her hanging around. They’d made their dislike for her business partner quite clear.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Alley.” Blade’s obsidian gaze flicked left, then right as Impures and Paraspecies shoved their way through the crowded market square. “Now.”

He shuffled his lithe weight from one foot to another and fisted his hands at his sides. Strange. Discomfort tinged his aura. Unease weighted his typically sleek gate as he prowled toward the narrow corridor between Medical and the Warrior Barracks. A low breeze rustled his unruly black hair. When Camryn didn’t obey, he halted. A growl rumbled from him.

“It’s been a few weeks since we’ve interacted so I’ll cut you some slack. I take orders from no one.” She lowered her voice and closed the distance. “What. The. Hell. Are. You. Doing. Here?”

“Alley. Now.” His voice thundered on the last word.

Power flared within the alley when she entered. Shock locked her knees as her gut knotted. No. She rushed forward, throwing up haphazard shields of her own to mask the power emanating from the massive gryphon warrior too close for comfort.

A tremble settled in her clammy hands as she stopped. Kelman. The man haunted her nightmares and terrified everyone in his wake. He had no business in Redemption. If anyone saw, there’d be no way to explain.

“Why are you here? Are you crazy?” she asked.

“Funny. We were all wondering the same thing about you,” Kelman growled. “You and I had an understanding.”

“What we had wasn’t an understanding. You issued an ultimatum I never agreed to honor. This is my mission. I handle whatever comes up however I can.” She stepped forward with feigned bravado. She wasn’t the terrified child warrior any longer. Her beast rushed to the forefront, a silent reminder for her and the massive gryphon what was at stake. “Why are you here?”

“You know damn good and well why I’m here.”

She flicked her gaze over to Blade. “Why the hell did you bring him here?”

“You think I had a choice?” The man glared at the gryphon. “I’m starting to suspect he left a few things out about your relationship with him. 

Relationship. What a joke. Kelman crossed his arms and stared. Revolt and rage mottled his aura. Her leg muscles tightened as she battled an instinctive urge to flee and forced the lump in her throat down. If she left now she wouldn’t hear whatever harshness he’d poised on his acidic tongue. The man hated her more with every breath she drew. Yet they were stuck working with one another to defend the one person they’d both die for.

“Give us a moment in private, Blade.” When the procurer she’d befriended didn’t move, she forced a deep breath and firmed her voice. “I’m fine. Go. Please.”

Kelman constructed a second shield close around him and her. Its power suffocated her. She swallowed a couple times, forcing breaths past the lump lodged in her throat. Why was he here? He never went into the field. Ever. Had she run out of time?

“I can save them both,” she repeated.

“Camryn.” Emotion threaded his voice with uncommon regret. “We discussed this at length before you took this mission. Maeve’s seen the potential outcomes hundreds of times now. None keep them both alive. You know what must be done.”

“I can save him,” she whispered. “I’ll save them both.”

“No.”

“Yes. You don’t get to sit back and decide either of their fates. I’m here to save the Paraspecies. Any future worth a shit needs them both.”

“You have your orders,” Kelman growled. “And no more going off book. You’re taking too many risks, like this asshole.”

He motioned to Blade, who tensed, but remained several feet away. Camryn wasn’t sure which of the two men was the worst evil. One tormented her since birth under the guise of training, conditioning. The other had offered hope when King Bredon’s fate seemed bleak.

Blade was more of a mystery than she was—which spoke volumes since no one except Kelman, Maeve, possibly Levi and the one they served knew her true heritage. Blade was the means to an end—and a necessary part in her covert operation.

The Paraspecies had been ravaged by The Rending, a decades-long war between them and the succubae who’d aligned with the North American Humanitarians. Although a peace treaty was supposedly in place, the NAH had opened a secret facility in Hell’s Playground and created a drug.

Camryn lacked proof, but she suspected the toxin she’d termed Hellfire harmed golden dragons. More importantly, the fuckers running Facility Six had poisoned King Bredon with it before she’d rescued him. She couldn’t allow anyone to know, not until she’d ascertained the threat and found a cure. She’d noted the blackness in the golden dragon when she was feeding from the cloud of negative energy wafting from him after he was freed.

And then there was Trent.

Her heart thundered wildly. She’d save him too. To hell with what Kelman ordered or what the mage saw. The bitch hated Camryn. No way in hell would she speak any truth where she was concerned.

“This is my op. Stay the hell out of my way, Kelman.”

Pain slammed into her cheek. Rage mottled the gryphon’s face as she stroked where his punch landed across her cheek.

Blade appeared between them, shoving the gryphon until he slammed against the brick wall. “Hit her again and you won’t live to regret it.”

“You’d better stay out of this, whoever the hell you are,” Kelman warned.

“Blade, please.” She couldn’t handle a battle between them, not now with everything in upheaval.

“Everyone is expendable except Bredon. He’s the only reason you’re still alive. If Maeve hadn’t had the vision about his death, you’d be dead. You’re lucky you can save him. I should’ve snapped your neck when you started crying in the tunnel. You didn’t have common sense even back then.”

“Trent isn’t expendable. He’s the Commander and as respected as the king. Hell, he was the king while Bredon rotted in Facility Six. If the golden dragon was so important, why did it take you over a year to let me save him?”

“You forget your place, succuba. This is my mission. You’re simply the pawn. Don’t forget that. There’s more than one way to accomplish what must be done.”

Camryn sneered. “Speak whatever words you want, but we both know she’ll never let you end me. And I’ll never get to gut you from stem to stern. I’m boots on the ground, which means the plays are mine to make. Not yours. Leave me alone. I’ve got enough to handle without you in the mix.”

“Let’s talk about your so-called shit. You were flying under radar as a fledgling succuba mage until you took down an entire field of NAH soldiers and Outsiders.” He took a step forward and leaned into her space. “Real fucking brilliant.”

“What would you have me do? Stand there like a neutered bitch and do nothing? I didn’t do enough as it was.” Her voice rose as she released three weeks, four days and twenty hours of guilt and rage. “Trent put himself in front of a missile to save King Bredon. I stood there and watched his dragon form fall to the ground. Kadal fell too, if you care to know. Tell me, oh mighty warrior, what would you have done differently?” 

The man’s jaw twitched as he looked away. Mentioning Kadal was a low blow, but one she’d gladly land again and again if it helped. No matter what happened, Trent would live. She hadn’t taken on the suicide mission to let him die.

“Stop taking risks. You aren’t any good to anyone dead.”

“Funny, you just talked about snapping my neck when I was hours old. I don’t trust anything out of your mouth.”

“I see you’ve been off the training fields too long. You’ve gotten lippy.” He coiled fingers around her throat. “You need a reminder about the chain of command. You’d better fall into line.”

“I’ve gotten smart.” She glared at Blade, who leaned against the wall with arms folded. Fucker didn’t even bother pretending not to listen. “I’m the only one who can handle this mission without putting everyone we’re protecting on radar. It’ll take me days to undo you being here.”

“They’ll never know.”

“Bullshit. Felicity is a sentinel in Redemption now. She and Marek patrol every inch of this place and five miles out daily. Without fail. She scents everything. Everyone.”

“I told him,” Blade sneered. “He wouldn’t listen. I don’t want that snarly bitch on my butt.”

“Speak about Felicity like that again and you’ll be picking your teeth off the ground.” She focused on Kelman. “I get you’re worried. I am too. There’s a lot more in play than Maeve’s visions indicated.”

“Or you’re creating trouble by going off book,” Kelman stated. “Bredon is your only objective.”

“Or Maeve didn’t share all she saw,” Blade retorted.

She’d thought the same thing several times the past few weeks. Mages weren’t known for honesty. They’d played both sides of the Rending so brutally the mere scent of one sent Adrik’s entire wolf pack into a frenzy. Coming in as a half succuba, half mage initially seemed ideal. They should’ve done a bit more research. She’d yet to earn their respect.

Oh well. Too late now.

“Leave him be, Camryn. You heal him and you put everyone at risk. They can’t know the truth—about you or why you’re here. Not until it’s time,” Kelman said.

“I know exactly why I’m here and what’s at stake. It’s my decision to make, as long as I maintain my cover. I’m not letting anyone die when I’m here. I can heal him without drawing attention. I’m handling the Hellfire problem too. That toxin isn’t hurting Bredon, Trent or any other golden.”

“I’ve rolled out a second plan. I’ve dispatched real warriors, ones worthy of the title whom I can trust to do as told. They’ve been given the green light to proceed with their orders if you put any of us or this mission at risk with your decisions.” Kelman’s lips thinned. “Don’t screw up.”

She fumed silently as the powerful gryphon charged down the alley. She waited until he was several feet away. “I smell them, they’re dead. If they even breathe the same air as the flyers, anyone in this pack, or Dacian’s, and I end them. Without discussion.”

“Fair enough. They won’t issue warning either.”

She waited until he departed before focusing her rage on Blade.

“He cornered me. I’m not crossing a pissed off gryphon, not with everything we have in play.” Blade uncrossed his arms. “Are you okay?”

“I will be once we’ve made progress.” She forced a deep breath. “Tell me what you’ve heard. Did you find anything at Facility Six?”

“We scoured Hell’s Playground. None of the guards are around. They’re either not breathing or gone. Facility Six is ash.”

Of course they’d be dead. Loyalties in the lawless Hell’s Playground were bought. “And the Impures? The ones we rescued?”

“We’ve rounded up a few, but no one remembered anything,” Blade said. “Whatever mojo they use to strip memories is effective. Without Bredon’s intervention your girl wouldn’t have remembered what she did.”

Bredon had taken the name Deimos while imprisoned and kept Mira protected while hiding his identity. But the NAH asshats controlling Facility Six had known who he was. They’d done something to him. To Mira.

The NAH wanted something from Impures’s DNA. Mira was the key, but there was no way anyone was getting near her. Adrik had her on lockdown since she carried his offspring. Twins. At least Camryn had done one thing right by saving her.

“You need to trust the flyers with what you suspect. They could help.”

“Until we figure out what was done to King Bredon, this stays between us.”

“Do you have any idea how many times you should’ve died? Hell, do you remember how we met? You were facing down a legion of dumbasses and couldn’t even stand you were so weak.” Blade closed the distance. “I get you’re backed into a corner. I’m weighing in on this because I don’t like the gryphon threatening you. No female deserves what he’s done.”

She tensed. “He has his reasons.”

“Whatever they are, they’re shit.” He moved closer. “You aren’t alone. Whatever your play, I’ll back it. I don’t give a damn why you want to save the comatose warrior. Tell me the plan and I’ll help.”

“What’s the price?”

“A marker. There’ll come a time I need you. Whenever that is, you help. Without question.”

The risk was tremendous, but she had no choice. She couldn’t get to Trent. She’d tried for the past several days. The upper floor of The Tower was impenetrable, thanks to Felicity’s new security measures. Only Doc, Adrik, Felicity, Marek, Kadal and King Bredon were allowed on the upper floor without escort.

The first week Trent was in Redemption every warrior within the quadrant—dragons and wolves—visited. The support and solidarity waned beneath the crushing fact he hadn’t improved. The half red, half golden remained comatose despite Doc’s pronouncement all injuries had been healed. Why wouldn’t he wake?

Her beast stirred, restless for answers. A solution. If he’d wake, she could calm. It’d be enough. It would have to be.

“What’s the plan?”

“We’ll need help. Someone to shield the entire floor. A healer for me to draw power from. A couple people in reserve in case I need more energy.” She sighed, hating the words she was about to share. Damn Kelman for forcing her hand. Time was running out. “The fledglings King Bredon brought down are our only option.”

“The two mages worship you after you taught them shielding,” Blade commented. “Will she be strong enough?”

She. Nessie. The young healer possessed untapped healing abilities Camryn didn’t need—not that she’d share the fact with Blade. Trust went only so far. Too much was at stake. “She’ll do.”

“Okay. We doing this now? King Bredon and Kadal just left with Daryn. They won’t be back til sundown.”

How the mysterious procurer knew so much yet spent little time in Redemption kept Camryn wondering exactly what he was. He wasn’t a mage. “Then let’s do this now. I don’t want hotheaded Daryn anywhere around us.”

“He doesn’t trust succubae. You can’t blame him. He’s Alpha and has a squadron of his kind to protect,” Blade commented.

“He’s never here. How can he protect Redemption when they’re always on the border? Yeah, he handles issues with Outsiders, but an entire legion of NAH officers and Outsiders marched right past his so-called defenses and damn near killed everyone here by poisoning the water supply.”

Camryn fumed recalling how close Felicity’s father had gotten to succeeding. The Outsider resented the new Paraspecies leadership and had aligned other shifters with NAH troops to attack Redemption, then hit Command Central.

Command Central was the operational headquarters for the Paraspecies. The massive skyscraper loomed at the edge of Salvation, the newly named compound constructed along the border with the Forbidden Zone.

Camryn grimaced thinking of the area where the majority of the Rending had been fought. So many dead because succubae King Varden wanted everything his golden counterpart had. Power. Love.

“I’ll meet you in the alley behind The Tower in half an hour,” Blade stated. “I’ll round up the fledglings. That should give you time to get ready.”

* * * * *

Camryn wished she could do this without five young whelps trembling around her. Fear saturated their auras. Their gazes swept the corner where Blade stood. He’d shown a major card helping her today, but she doubted anyone else in the room realized exactly how much he’d put at risk.

“W-what is he?” Nessie asked in a whisper. “I-I’ve never seen anyone do that.”

“He can hear you,” Lorn commented. “Hush up. Camryn needs focus. Remy and I can’t shield for long.”

Kandon and Caleb shook their heads. The gryphon and red dragon were far more mature than average fledglings. She suspected both were around sixteen human years. But they’d already assumed leadership of the vagabond group around her.

“Are you sure this is the right thing to do?” Remy asked. “I don’t like when King Bredon gets mad. And Kadal is real scary.”

“Team doesn’t leave a man behind, and Trent is part of our squad. He needs us.” Camryn held out her hands and waited for everyone to form a circle.

Hands clasped with Nessie and Lorn, she jumped slightly when the door squeaked open and Doc entered the room. Gasps erupted from the fledglings. Blade shoved off the wall. The move placed him between the ancient white dragon healer and Camryn.

“Succuba.” Doc halted his progression and studied the fledglings, who placed themselves around her in a protective semi-circle. “I didn’t realize you had any involvement with them.”

“We’re her team,” Lorn stated.

“Oh really? Since when?”

“Since Facility Six. You know we shielded King Bredon, kept him safe when everyone here knew him as Deimos. He would’ve been in danger without us. Camryn said so,” Remy offered.

“Once a team, always a team.” Camryn settled her hands on the two mages’s shoulders. “We’ll be out of your way in a bit.”

“You’ve been circling Medical since they brought him to Redemption. You took longer than I expected.” Doc crossed his arms. “King Bredon didn’t want you or the fledglings near Trent. He doesn’t expect him to recover, especially since we can’t find any reason for the coma.”

Her pulse thudded in her ears as an unseen weight pressed heavily on her chest. Trent would wake. No matter the risk, he’d live. “I’m getting tired of people telling me what’ll happen. I’m also sick of everyone forgetting what all Trent’s done for them.”

“Oh?”

“He commands the warriors, even took over as king when Bredon was thought dead. And you all repay his service, his sacrifice, by shoving him into a room. Forgotten.” She locked gazes with Doc. “I’m not letting him lay in bed another day, not when no one’s tried ancient healing rituals.”

“You don’t think I tried them.”

“I think everyone’s given up,” she charged. “It’s easier to tuck him away and ignore the problem.”

“They’ve got a poisoned water supply and an unknown number of Outsiders and NAH soldiers running amuck in Paraspecies land. King Bredon charged me with waking Trent.”

Like a white dragon could undo whatever damage had been done. The injuries went far beyond physical.

“I haven’t sworn fealty to him or anyone, nor will I. I’m free to use whatever means necessary.” He motioned toward Nessie. “I’ll take her place.”

What?

She hadn’t realized she’d spoken the shocked inquiry until he chuckled. “I’ll take her place. I promise I have more oomph than her.”

She gulped. Amusement glinted in the palest blue eyes she’d ever glimpsed. He’d tied his straight blond hair into a ponytail, which accentuated his hard jaw line and corded neck. She’d heard rumors about Doc. Only Bredon and Trent knew his real name. He remained a mystery for everyone else—the phantom capable of healing anyone with a pulse. He’d appeared the last decade of The Rending and healed the impossible wounds others of his kind considered mortal.

“Fine. Let’s do this. We’ve wasted enough time.” She slowed the quickened tempo of her pulse.

Whites possessed a unique talent for tracking heartbeats, pulses and other body rhythms from great distances. Any change, no matter how minute, was discernible to ancients like Doc, which presented an incredible challenge. If she wasn’t extremely careful he’d pick up on what she couldn’t allow anyone to intuit.

“Remy and Lorn, reshape your shields to cover just me. Let no others in our group in. This will protect them in case something goes wrong.” The lie soured her tongue as the two fledgling mages obeyed. “Excellent. We’ll keep Nessie in the circle so she can experience it herself. We’ve stayed too far from the ancient ways because of mistrust. The new generation of leaders must close the gap.”

“What now?” Caleb asked.

“Now I begin. Remain silent, no matter what you sense. I’ll draw power from you if necessary. I’ll be combining Caleb’s empathic ability with Doc’s healing. I’ll weave the two into a healing tapestry with my succubae powers. The blanket should infuse Trent’s dragon with enough strength to wake.”

The process would be far more complicated. She studied the battle-hardened warrior lying death-still a few feet away. Each exhaled breath fogged the room with hazy pain no one but her could sense. For the first time ever she was thankful for the succubae blood coursing in her veins. For once its existence offered comfort to someone. As long as she absorbed the agonized tendrils, the dragon trapped inside the comatose man wouldn’t suffer.

She couldn’t wait any longer. The more he suffered, the weaker the Paraspecies became. He was a critical component to achieving her objective. He was the brute strength and backbone of the king’s warriors. Hopefully she hadn’t waited too long. The thing buried deep inside her had better be strong enough or they’d both perish.

She approached Trent. He’d been stripped of all clothing since the upper floors of The Tower warmed through the day. A thin sheet covered him from the waist down. Her fingers burned with a need to stroke his chest. Her dormant animal roused when she grasped his hand. So warm and strong.

Mine.

She allowed the fantasy. She settled her hand over his heart and shivered as her beast flexed beneath her skin.

Mine.

She thrust raw energy forward, focusing on Trent’s dragon. Enraged pain assailed her senses. Fiery embers flickered through the tentative connection she formed easily enough. The creature snarled and snapped, but she clung to him until the rage gave way to confusion.

Hurt. Bones burn.

She infused him with healing energy and inhaled the pain until he relaxed. A toxic stench oozed from his aura. Hellfire. Tears pricked her eyes. He’d endured enough. He didn’t deserve to suffer more. Determined to salvage the man she’d never claim despite her attachment, she fed on the toxin until her succuba blood thickened into a gooey paste. She struggled beneath the invasive weight, but the other half of her held the Hellfire back.

Doc’s potent healing power invaded her senses, an overwhelming rush of blinding light within the thickening darkness pervading her senses. She suckled from the massive wave freely while weaving a thick band of its energy with fiery embers and empathic threads from Caleb. Elements of mage from Lorn and Remy sealed the bonds.

Not enough. He needed more. Although she’d sucked the Hellfire stench from him, whatever created it remained. The tormenting pain would return unless she did more. She dragged strands from her succuba self and wove them into the tapestry. She thrust raw power into the shield around her, thickening it to mask the next maneuver. The final component was risky, one she had no business stitching into the intricate weave. Yet she’d vowed to do everything she could.

With the power tapestry complete, she focused on Trent and wove the creation around him. The dragon roared and lunged for her, but she held him back. Her beast stirred, flexed beneath the surface. She thrust energy forward, encasing Trent in a warm cocoon.

Mine.

The creatures calmed as she continued. For once the two halves of her worked in tandem. One sucked the venom from Trent while the other healed and comforted. When the proud warrior roused fully, she allowed a few brief moments until both hummed in awareness.

Trent’s animal awakened fully and flexed against the shields she’d constructed. No one would hurt him again. Ever.

Mine. Forever.

His declaration startled Camryn a moment. Then she recalled her mission, the many reasons his statement could never be. Pain radiated in her soul as she inhaled his scent and branded each second into her brain. No matter the result, the risk had been worth it.

Rest my proud dragon warrior. When you wake you won’t remember this, but know you’ll always be my soul, my salvation.

Mine. Forever. His emphatic statement thrummed within her soul.

Yes. Yours. Forever.

She pulled herself from Trent’s mind and stumbled backward. Blade and Doc grasped her arms.

“You okay?” Blade asked.

“She’s fine,” Doc stated. “Drained. You pack a hell of a power punch. I haven’t been this weakened in decades.” He reached over and settled a hand on Nessie’s curly dark hair. “You okay?”

“That was awesome!” She whirled and looked up at Camryn. “I gotta learn how you did that!”

“No shit!” Lorn’s voice rose. “Did you see how she held back Doc’s energy like it was nothing? I was here when Kadal and he tried this with Bredon and the gryphon freaking fell to his knees with Doc’s power blow. And she was steady as a rock!”

“What was all the black?” Remy asked.

“You saw?”

“We saw,” Doc stated. “You going to explain what took from him? It’s in your aura now. You’re weakened by it. We got a problem?”

Yeah. They had a problem. “I’m handling it.”

“I’m afraid I can’t accept that answer. Whatever you took from him was hurting his dragon. How did you know it was there?” Doc squeezed his fingers on her upper arm. “I get there’s something more under the surface of you being here, in Redemption. Around King Bredon. Eventually I’ll expect a read in. For now, I’ll accept a brief on whatever that black was.”

Damn. The risk had backfired. They’d sensed the Hellfire. “I can’t explain what I don’t fully understand yet. All I know is the NAH did something in Facility Six, created a drug of some sort. I first sensed it in King Bredon’s aura. Whatever it was affected him differently though. I think it seeps into the beast and becomes something more. I don’t fully understand how it acts. I’ve called it Hellfire.”

“Why haven’t you said anything to them?” Kandon demanded. “We can’t protect him if we don’t know about the threat.”

Blade flexed his fists and shook his head. Yeah, the fewer people who knew the better. Yet the fledglings deserved the truth. And she needed help.

“He could be the threat,” Caleb stated. “That’s what you’re afraid of. Right? You think whatever it is affects personality and judgment.”

The red dragon fledgling had noted the change in the king.

Nessie regarded the other fledglings. Her voice was a soft whisper weighted with fear. “Some days when they brought him back to the cell he was so out of it we couldn’t wake him. Others my healing energy did nothing, like it was bouncing off a hard wall. Whatever they did changed him. He acts the same, but he’s not.”

“I haven’t sensed anything,” Doc stated.

“It’s subtle,” Caleb stated. “We can’t really see it. Only Nessie can, and I think it’s only because we were there. We saw what they did, what he went through. We tried talking to him about it, but he yelled and told us to never mention Facility Six again.”

“Camryn and I have been looking, searching Hell’s Playground for anyone who worked there. We’ll have some answers soon. Until then, we need to contain our suspicions. Remain on watch, but say nothing to the flyers until we have evidence. I’m sure you all know what could happen if we claim King Bredon is infected with an unknown NAH threat,” Blade said.

“The entire Paraspecies would be at risk,” Lorn whispered as his gaze landed on Trent.

The warrior’s color had returned. He’d wake soon. Camryn sensed his mind stirring, slowly awakening from the dark slumber which had imprisoned him for weeks.

“Will he be okay?” Remy asked.

“I’m not sure. I’ve taken what I could of whatever the Hellfire is, but I sensed something deeper. I couldn’t get to it.” Frustration punctuated her statements. He wasn’t safe, not yet. “I’ve got to go. He can’t learn I was here.”

“That’s ridiculous. You healed him,” Nessie stated. “He should.”

“No.” She gritted her teeth. “All he hears is you all helped Doc perform the ancient ritual. No one will question the good fortune of having King Bredon’s second awake.”

“He should know,” she repeated.

“No good comes from it,” Camryn stated.

“But…”

“He hates her,” Caleb stated. “She’s right.”

“He won’t ever find out,” Kandon promised. “We’ll handle this.”

Camryn followed Blade to the door. Her heart ached as the beast rustled deep within the shields she maintained to mask its existence. She turned her gaze to Trent. Mine.

No. He’d never be hers.

As she exited the room, Doc touched her shoulder. She halted her progression.

“For what it’s worth, I believe you about the Hellfire in King Bredon. I’ll talk with him, see what I can do.”

“I’d appreciate it.” She smiled at the ancient white dragon. “You’re a good man.”Type your paragraph here.