Treoir Dragon Chronicles of the Belador World #2 – Dianna Love

Hostile energy swarmed Casidhe’s cottage and buzzed her skin. Her adrenaline rush crashed, slamming into the shock chilling her. She couldn’t stop the ringing in her ears. She’d killed a live being. Two, in fact. Neither had been human, but still. She clutched Lann an Cheartais with a death grip. The sword had come to her aid. The blade trembled in her shaking hands. What were those two dead yellow things at her feet? One headless body. She’d stabbed the second monster and … wait! Had a hand on that one just twitched? Panicked, she whipped her sword up and chopped off another head. Her beloved cottage, her sanctuary, would never be the same. She would never be the same. She fought for a deep breath. The air stunk of rotten eggs, a sulfuric odor from the horrid corpses.

Her stomach twisted and tried to dump the stew she’d barely eaten. She swallowed hard at what she’d done, but she’d had no choice. Those glowing yellow beings had clawed her clothes and tried to kill her. A wailing howl broke through her foggy mind and snapped her back into real time. Her crazy intruder still battled demons outside. She’d lopped the head off of one that had tried to get in. Unlike the bodies stinking up her home, the demon she’d decapitated had burst into orange dust. Move, move, move! Screamed through her mind. Stop wasting time on dead monsters. This was her chance to escape.

Her conscience smacked her brain aside. What about the guy fighting those demons? Leaning forward, she took a quick look out the open doorway at the stranger who had broken into her home. With shoulders wider than the door and long, powerful legs, he battled like a Spartan warrior. One massive booted foot plowed through her gorse and delphinium flower beds now splattered with blood. He swung a monster sword he’d conjured up as if he’d been born with the hilt in his hands. That stranger clearly had everything under control. He’d survive. She could stay here and watch or get the hell out while he was busy. First, she had to reach Fenella and warn her of two threats. Cavan plus tonight’s intruder.

Both men wanted stupid grimoire volumes. Neither one of them were human. Casidhe had to grab what she needed and escape. Hurry! She had seconds to make a decision and act. In her mind, she dashed around the room, but in truth she moved like a wobbly toy top. Of all the things she’d like to take with her, she really only needed one item. Her mobile phone. She dodged headless bodies and searched the destruction at a manic pace. Her phone wasn’t on the side table near the door where she normally dropped it along with a small ring of keys. That table had been shattered.

She jumped around, looking everywhere, but no phone. Damn! A mournful howl outside yanked her head up. She stared out the window as the last demon fell and burst into orange ash. Nothing left for the intruder to fight. Her time had run out! Another glowing demon emerged from the night and raced toward the cottage. Her intruder yanked his sword up again. Casidhe cursed silently and spun to leave. Leaping carefully over the bodies, she raced to her bedroom and laid her sword on the bed. Gripping the oak footboard, she pushed the bed toward the door. Old, but smooth, oak flooring slid apart to reveal a hidden trapdoor someone would have to know was there to find.

Grabbing her sword, she climbed down in the hole, set the blade aside, and reached for a thick rope running through pulleys. Fear gifted her with a boost of strength. She dragged the bed frame and flooring back in place. The boards made a click as they snapped together, leaving her in the dark. She sat on the step listening to the muffled sounds of the battle. Farther away, but the darkness ramped up her fear. Felt like the battle was right above her. Keep moving or there’d be hell to pay if a demon caught her in this pitch-black tunnel. She knew this passage well, but had no light. That meant moving slowly or catching her toe and falling on uneven ground.

She could do this. Gripping her sword, she swung the blade up to point ahead of her. The sword began glowing. Okay, then. Her heart thumped wildly. Every breath hurt. She had to stop sucking in air so hard and calm down or she’d hyperventilate. Easier said than done with what she’d just gone through. She rushed ahead, bent over so she could clear the low ceiling. Her ears roared with blood rushing hard through her body.

Halfway, she stopped short, expecting to hear the trapdoor open and something dangerous come chasing after her. The stranger. Demons. Glowing yellow beings. Any and all made her crab walk faster. What had caused those hideous yellow beings to attack? One looked like a troll, but she doubted trolls normally lit up as bright as caution lights. With every step, she chastised her inability to think clearer under stress. She should have grabbed her backpack, clothes, food … so many things. There had been no time. Her intruder must have finished off the last demon by now.

In fact, he was probably searching everywhere for her. Her heart thudded at pissing him off. There would be a price to pay for that, but he had to catch her first. Cool air did little to stop sweat from streaming down her face. She clamped the sword hilt tighter in her damp hands, glad for the blade’s glow or a slug would outrun her. This weapon had been made for Herrick’s sister, Shannon, another dragon shifter who had died in the Dragani War. Would she be pleased or angry an adopted nobody now held her sword? During Casidhe’s time with Herrick and even in college, she’d been trained to swing an average sword one-handed. Not this one. Lann an Cheartais required all her strength to wield the blade with any accuracy. She’d like to ask Herrick if Shannon had used two hands.

She’d like to ask Herrick a thousand questions right now. As she reached the end of the tunnel she’d traversed many times over the years, she slowed and turned to her left. Three steps in, she swung the sword down and changed her grip so she could carry it with one hand as she climbed. At the top step, she unlatched the metal covering and waited, listening. The tunnel had been created centuries ago and ran a hundred meters away from the cottage. Rocks stacked along the walls had been there so long they were settled and tight. Low ceilings allowed women and children to escape as husbands fought off an attack. If a large male enemy followed, he’d be crawling. That would allow even more time for the vulnerable to flee. Much as she appreciated the forethought of an escape route, she hated to feel vulnerable.

A demon would crawl that length fast as a rat after cheese. She pushed the cover up slowly and peeked through the opening. No boots, feet, or unnatural sounds. Lifting the lid out of the way, she climbed out beneath the cover of darkness and stretched her sore back. Pain zinged in muscles strained from remaining in one position for so long. She clamped her lips tight to trap the groan climbing her throat. No time to complain. The physical challenge would only get more difficult from here. Quieting her breathing, she searched the dark forest for any sound of threat. Nothing but a soothing cricket symphony.

Black shadows surrounded her in every direction, even with the sliver of a moon trying to spear light through the trees. The sweet scent of heather blooming rode on a pleasant summer breeze. She sucked in a deeper breath and exhaled to wash away the stench from those dead beings. Hair flicked her face. Propping the sword next to her leg to free her hands, she pulled her hair back into a snug ponytail. Better. She felt more in control. Time for a plan, now that she could think for a moment. She’d heard no one tracking her through the tunnel, but that didn’t mean her late night intruder couldn’t find her. Deep in her gut, she had a feeling that stranger had abilities beyond the majik he’d used to produce a sword.

And how had he entered her cottage without making a sound? After dropping the trapdoor back in place and rearranging the weeds until the area appeared undisturbed, she took stock of her situation. No money. No clothes. No phone. She had Lann an Cheartais, which had stopped glowing. Did that mean the blade had gone dark to shield her position in the woods or that the cranky weapon had returned to slumber mode? Shaking off worry over things she couldn’t change, Casidhe started walking in the only direction that made sense. To Fenella’s farm. Getting the woman she considered a sister as much as a best friend to safety was her one priority at the moment. With no bicycle, she’d have to walk fast to reach Fenella’s farm twenty-seven kilometers away. She did a quick calculation and estimated it would take her almost four hours, less if she could make up time jogging the flat ground.

What if that stranger who broke into her cottage got to Fenella first? He’d mentioned seeing Casidhe’s friend leave the ancestral research centre yesterday. What if a demon or yellow thing had followed this stranger … then Fenella? Terror had her moving faster. She took off jogging with determination. After two short rest breaks and sweating a bucket of water, she had one last hill to cross before reaching the quaint farm she loved to visit. She gave herself an attagirl for running most of the way. That should be the current time between one and two in the morning. Sparing a moment to catch her breath, she pushed again to make it up the last incline. In fairness to her aching legs, she hadn’t stretched before running this distance. The limited lighting allowed her to find her footing and reach the crest of the hill quickly where she paused to enjoy the moment. Her tight chest muscles eased.

She’d reached Fenella’s home in time. Her friend’s white farmhouse and barn stood out against the dark night. Casidhe had always wanted to find someone to paint a picture of this wonderful place. It would make a great gift. How many times had she visited here in ten years? Fenella would greet her with a smile and make her sit for a piece of pie and milk, then they’d visit all the farm critters. New energy pushed her to rush down the slope, smiling the whole way. She’d been switching hands while carrying the sword as she jogged and her arms were turning into rubber, but she’d get a break soon. She’d suffer any discomfort to keep her friend safe. As Casidhe neared the house, she looked up, blinked, and looked again. The relief she’d enjoyed spun away as fast as the last water swirling down a drain.

Something was wrong, very wrong

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