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|Cover Art by Heather Scoggins|
Excerpt from Chapter 18
For his part, Alador had been surprised at the extent of power which he had felt at his command. It had felt like he had stood on the very shores of the ocean itself. In a lesson earlier today, he had learned that many lesser skilled water mages made their living on the sea by protecting shipments from the weather, sea creatures and pirates. It put them in their element with more power at their command; for the ocean was a force unto itself, and gave off far more power than a mere pool or stream.
Alador had realized at that moment that not only did he have access to the ocean’s unlimited depths, but for a moment the very currents of it had flowed in his veins. It left him with a longing to slip beneath the waves as Renamaum had done and just move through its murky, cold depths. He shivered as he set the mug carefully down upon the table. A frost had built up on the mug, and it stuck to his hand for a second.
He was so lost in the allure of that power that he could smell the salt and hear the ocean waves. The sounds of the others dining faded as the full power of the ocean washed over him. He closed his eyes and completely opened up to embrace it. The caress of the cold water through his hair did not bother him, and he watched in awe as fish swirled around him. He could feel his pounding heart and the containment of his weak lungs. He whispered words he did not even remember learning, then opened his mouth. Breath came easily as he opened his eyes and looked around.
Alador had expected to see Nemara or others staring at him. He was not prepared for what mysteriously appeared instead. He must be dreaming. The mage thrashed a bit, but the feel of the silky water on his skin and the floating of his cloak drove home that he had somehow ended up in the sea. Not only was he under water, but he was able to breathe. Had he turned the caverns into ocean depths? Was this merely the act of imagination or had he transported himself into the ocean’s deep arms? He swirled about in the watery depths, but saw only fish and the sandy bottom. He cast a spell to form simple leggings as his cloak and armor were weighing him down.
Alador found that he could see using the dim light from the surface. His initial panic began to settle as his mind rationalized that he must have touched his amulet. That was how he come to be here, it must have brought him. Fortunately, he knew how to swim and he had a fairly well trained sense of direction. He swam along the ocean’s silted bottom towards what should be the shore. As the bottom slowly rose, the light grew brighter around him. He was still amazed at the beauty of it all. There was a world all its own beneath the surface of the ocean. It was unmarked or spoiled by mortal hand, and he hoped that this would never change. The water was cold, and as he moved forward rock formations began to rise up out of the silt below him.
He swam through a forest of orange kelp dancing forward and back with the motion of the waves above him. An eel swam up to him, and Alador reached out slowly. He was surprised to see that the creature was so friendly. Even more so, the eel allowed him to pet it and soon after was swirling around his body. Other types of fish soon surrounded him, and he gurgled with delight as more and more of them gathered. He noted them all; from the dark spotted fish that kept to the bottom below him to one of a brilliant blue that nibbled at his ear curiously. He brushed it away before it decided to take a more serious bite. As he was enjoying this silent symphony of color, the fish came to a fluttering stop. As if one body, they turned to his left then turned to opposite way and fled.
Warily, Alador turned to face whatever predator had brought such fear from the marine creatures. Instead, all he saw was a murky ink blot of blackness that light did not pass through. He realized after a moment that it was making its way slowly to him. It drove fear into him as he stared at it. Deciding to follow the wisdom of the marine life that surrounded him, he turned to flee for the shore. He was not as fluid in the water as whatever came for him. Alador would frantically check behind him and around him only to find it in front of him again. Feeling trapped he headed straight for the surface, breaking the top of the water and looking about frantically. He still had a fair distance to the beach, but there was a rock nearby. Alador swam for it hoping that getting out of the water would be safer than being enveloped in what ever it was that the fish had feared.
He scrambled up onto the rock and watched breathing heavily from the exertion as the black water surrounded the rock slowly. Water pooled around him as he stood dripping on the safety of the stone.
“Do not fear, it will not harm you unless I bid it.” A melodious voice spoke from behind him.
As he whipped around, he nearly fell back into its clutches. There stretched out on the other side of the rock where it was somewhat flat was a mermaid. He had heard stories of mermaids. Sirens that could sing a man to his death beneath the watery waves. This one looked oddly familiar to him. Her skin was pale and her hair, long and flowing ebony was threaded with red strands of seaweed which did nothing to hide her upper body’s naked form.
“Who are you?” he asked. He shuddered, suddenly feeling chilled despite the sun’s rays.
“You know who I am. Search yourself, pseudo-dragon.” Her voice caressed the word pseudo-dragon as if she called a lover’s name. She stretched lazily, and he found he could not look away from her. She was so perfect, a combination of fish and woman who melded into seamless beauty. Her tail flipped making the scales dance with a myriad of colors in the sunlight. It was her flawless red lips and deep set emerald eyes that gave away who she truly was.
His breath caught in his throat as the realization of whom she was sank in. “Dethara?” He moved cautiously now. He was fairly certain that it was her as the similarities of the face, eyes and hair to Lady Morana were too great.
“Very good, little one. Very good.” She beckoned him closer, and Alador found his feet compelled to comply. “I chose this form because you seemed so enthralled with the fish of your domain.” One hand slid suggestively down her side and onto the hip that was scaled in a cascading melody of blues and greens. “Do you like it?”
What words could he possibly say right now? He found himself totally enthralled. “You are very beautiful.” Alador admitted looking down at the goddess clothed as a mermaid.
“Tell me Alador, have you ever lain with a fish?” She teased as her hand reached out to draw him closer and down to his knees. “Would you want to?” Her husky tone caressed him as he sank into the depths of her gaze.
Alador found himself kneeling before the alabaster beauty, attempting to keep his eyes locked on her face. Fear shot through him as he realized that not only did she know his name, but she had called him pseudo-dragon. “I believe that such a feat would end in my drowning or worse,” he answered truthfully. He did not dare lose himself here.
She laughed lightly, the delicate peal was pleasing to his ear. “Yes, I suppose you are right.” She put a cold hand to his heated face, running the back of her fingernails over his cheekbone.
“Why are you here, Dethara?” he managed to ask. Alador watched as color swirled around her, and she stood as fully a woman before him. She looked down at him with a gentle smile as she ran her fingers through his wet hair. “Death is often feared by mortal men. It is the end that all must face, and those that serve me are assured smooth passing to what is beyond.” She did not answer his question.
She knelt slowly down to look him in the eyes. “Do you fear death, Alador?”
Alador realized that in many ways he did not. “I think I fear the manner and lingering of my death rather than the actual passing from this world.” He attempted to rise, but found that he could not. A moment of panic swept through him as he fully realized that he was on his knees against his own will.
He licked his dry lips trying not to pay attention to her fully naked form. “What is beyond?” he asked curiously. Maybe if he could intrigue her enough, he would not die here. He was sure that this was why he was here, so that she could end his interference into whatever plan she had.
“That, we are not allowed to reveal.” She put a finger under his chin and pulled him slowly up with her until they were looking eye to eye. “What are you?” She asked more of herself rather than him. She turned his head left and right.
“You named me as have others, a pseudo-dragon.” His voice was the merest of whispers. Her presence was as intoxicating as it was terrifying. He could see why Luthian had succumbed to her wiles.
“Yes, but none have ever existed, not truly one with the dragon that claimed them.” She moved around him, her fingers lingering behind her slightly drawing over his shoulder, neck, and to the other side of his chest.
Alador eyes were shut as he attempted to ignore her allure. He could smell the strange mixture of musk and sea salt on her. It was pleasing to the senses, and he shivered as her fingers caressed slowly around. A fact he was sure she had not missed.
“We could make a wondrous team, you and I.” She pointed out as she came to stand before him again. She put a hand to his chin, leaning in close so that her lips were but inches from his own.
Alador was so tempted to reach out and try to claim those luxurious lips. He felt his body stir in response to her teasing. It took every measure of his will to resist that pull. He shook his head, opened his eyes, and drew in a deep breath. “My mother taught me never to bargain with death.” He closed his eyes again to stop staring into hers. “Such bargains never end well for the mortal and always favor Dethara. I have things to accomplish and I fear that my early ending in your tempting arms has more cost then I could bear.”
“Handsome, powerful, and smart,” she quietly answered. She crossed one arm beneath her breasts, lifting them as the other hand touched her lips reflecting on his words. “You are indeed an enigma.”
She reached out and trailed a finger from his chest towards his groin. He caught it smoothly in his own before she could truly touch him. His body would betray his words. He was not sure that he could deny her if she pressed him any further. He opened his eyes to meet hers bravely. “I do not desire to lay with you, Goddess.” He swallowed hard as the words had sounded hollow even to his own ears.
She leaned forward, allowing him to keep her captured wrist. “Liar,” she whispered in his ear. He tensed as her other hand came up to the side of his face. “Let me make your position very clear, young pseudo-dragon. You will join me here in life,” she pulled back slightly to look into his eyes. “Or you will join me in death. Either way, I will have you.” She laid her lips gently upon his. Her body pressed to his, grinding suggestively against him.
Alador moaned in response as the taste of her lips was salted heaven. Her body pressed tighter against his as she deepened the kiss. He closed his eyes in sweet surrender. Suddenly, he could not break free, nor could he breathe. He released her wrist and grabbed both of her upper arms in an attempt to push her off him. He struggled against the tug within him. It felt as if she sought to rip the very magic from his soul. He panicked as the realization that she was suffocating him became clear.