Prague Preview

“Open the door. Just peek. No one’s around.”

“No, I can’t. I don’t have the clearance,” he argued, panting and leaning against the door as if his weight and not the biometric lock kept him out. “I shouldn’t.”

“Why not? You’re the one capturing the paranormals. How can you not have a right to know where they end up?” I coaxed, playing the same game I had for many, many dreams now. Agent Paul Lake of the America’s agency on paranormals—official name unknown to us—was my “in” to find out what happened to the paranormals after they were caught.

Up until several months ago, we’d thought they were all dead. My temper ended up being what changed all of that. In general, paranormals had a very hands off policy when it came to the government groups that knew about us—whereas, fanatical hunters were always fair game when they tried to kill us. But I had been in a mood and angry over a lot of things, which is my standard setting, and punched Agent Lake, deciding to mess with him.

Sadly, it was simple. And by sadly, I mean it was too fucking easy and sad that no one else had dared try it before.

“You’re a traitor, Paul. The shame you must feel—”

He spun around to face his subconscious, currently played by me, as if he could do something if he found the source of the taunting. “I’m not a traitor! I won’t look in there. How can I be a traitor if I don’t break the rules?”

“And the people you swore to protect? Did you take an oath that only covers humans or all Americans? You give excuse after excuse about fake licenses and papers, but really, that would lead to a slap on the wrist, not life in prison. Assuming that’s what really happens. You don’t know, do you, Paul? You’re just a brainless cog in a machine that betrays the citizens of the country—”

“Stop! Just stop,” he whimpered, falling to his knees and covering his ears. That was a new one. Normally, I taunted, he argued, and slowly, I chipped away at his resolve. Never had he seemed the least bit defeated. “I can’t take this anymore. If I look, I can’t do anything about what I might see anyways. Why open that door and put myself through that? I have to believe in the system and they’re doing the right thing.”

“Spoken like a weak man who doesn’t care who’s hurt as long as his life is easier.” I changed the dream so his hands and clothes were covered in blood. “It’s on you, Paul. How many have died because of you?”

He started screaming hysterically and I mentally patted myself on the back, glad it had been the right time to go over the top with that. If I’d done it too soon, not played the long game as Baccacus and I had agreed upon, he might have scoffed at theatrics.

“Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll look. I’ll get in somehow and see what’s going on—I swear it!”

Bingo. I removed all the blood and sat him in his room, still asleep, but familiar surroundings helped, even in a dream. “When? When will you look, Paul? One day or someday isn’t what—”

“Thursday,” he panted, rubbing his chest. “We’re bringing in someone we found and interrogated on Thursday. I’ll talk to my boss then and let him know that I’ve been with the agency long enough to ask to see the containment facility. I’m not some rookie, after all. I should know.”

“Of course you should. Why else would your conscience be on you for all this time?”

“Thursday,” he repeated, snuggling down into his bed, seeming lost and scared.

Yeah, because I would totally feel bad for the bastard capturing and helping the government to do god only knew with our people. I did slip out of his dream then, tired myself from using that much energy to stay so long this time. Granted, it had been fruitful, and I had my jars of chi that seemed to come in limitless supply now to feed energy off of instead of using my own stores. But still, it was taxing to have it even flow through me.

Plus, I hadn’t been sleeping much.

To get the chi, I needed to deal with Phillip from the Venice werewolf pack, since he had his own store that sold products online as well and had a great reach. But that meant doing business and regularly dealing with a pack that was large, had a precarious situation with a leader that wasn’t respected by others, and well… Needy.

It was like people who had never had electricity before and suddenly had access to it. They would never go back to the way things were before. In a way, it was the same situation with people who found out there were spells they never dreamed of and had an access point to them.

In some ways, it was good. I now had a network that would easily guide me to any wolf child or pregnant mother who could use my help, given the high mortality rate.

The flip side was they could also find me much easier now with all kinds of requests and, as people always would, they were taking advantage of the relationship as if I was now the wolves’ enchanter, not the Enchanter who had the respect of all the elders.

It made me want to cut off the relationship entirely. Besides becoming fond of baby Abriana, whose life I had saved, there was one main reason I didn’t—Mikas. I couldn’t cut my ties and excuses to see Mikas. Just thinking of him, I wanted to see him, talk to him more, and not just as a sounding board, which he had become for me—even going so far as to be my shrink sometimes—but because I wanted to be near him.

I need to eat. Food is good. Sure, that was the reason I knew I would pop over to Venice. I was hungry. Because there was no other food anywhere else in the world.

Right.

At least I had brought the light-reducing goggles for poor Abriana. Her development led her to have the sharp sense most wolves would after they were bitten or hit puberty, but as a baby. Yeah, rather unfortunate for her now, but in the long run, it was a clear sign she would become a force to be reckoned with.

I popped into the pack’s kitchen, my normal entry point, since it not only contained the food, but Tommy. The pack’s chef was Abriana’s father and I could do no wrong in his eyes, which also meant he protected me on the chance I simply wanted to eat and be left alone.

However, Mikas had taken to hanging out there when he wasn’t busy and I couldn’t help but hope that had something to do with me.

Unfortunately, this time, the snake was sitting there alone.

“You,” he hissed, narrowing his eyes at me. “Why have you only come now? I have been summoning and summoning you for—”

“That’s your first mistake right there. People don’t summon me,” I drawled, walking over to the fridge where Tommy always left an extra plate of the last meal in case I showed up. That man really did love me.

“This elitist attitude of yours has to end, enchanter. How you can even have it now that we all know you’re a member of the disgraced Warloc clan is beyond me. If you don’t fall in line soon, there will be consequences that—”

I waved my hand and turned him into the snake he was inside, no matter if he was a wolf or not. Then I walked over to him and stepped on his python tail, thinking that breed of snake fitting, given he seemed to suck the joy and life out of everything and everyone.

“Elitist is what you are, underling. You look down your nose at me because I am not a wolf, but someone born with magic. I don’t put up with your shit because I have earned the right to not fall in line with any idiot who commands me to do this or that. When you finally get it through your head that you are so far beneath me on the food chain, then and only then will I consider changing you back to the normal snake you are. Either way, you will no longer address me or speak to me.

“I am tired of this pack and now the wolves treating me as I am their personal errand boy or genie they can rub to get whatever they want. And I’ve put up with your attitude long enough while I try to be friendly with everyone and not make waves. But honestly, you alone are enough for me to break this current relationship and there wouldn’t be a fucking thing you can do about it, you stupid tosser. I don’t have a leash. I’m here by my own good graces, so you better start understanding how things really work or next time, I won’t transform you but end you.”

I lifted my foot off his tail and he slithered away, mostly likely to go snitch on me to Elvina. That was fine. I wasn’t all that happy with her either.

Heating up the plate in the microwave, I sat down, grumbling about idiots and gobshite who pissed me off and annoyed the hell out of me. In my ramble, I decided they should all fall off the same cliff. Two bites into my meal, and a good distance for my rant to go on, the kitchen door flew open and there he stood, shirtless, sweaty, and gasping for air.

I dropped my fork.

“You’re here,” he panted, coming closer. “A python slithered by the training room and I knew you had to be here. What happened?”

“I can’t stand Elvina’s lackey anymore. I want a new contact or—”

“He’s got a rough job, Dorian. No one likes being told no and that’s basically his job, to protect our Alpha. I know he’s cranky, but the job kind of requires him to be since he’s the gatekeeper and juggles so much. Just cut him some slack and things will get better.”

I stood and, without a word, threw my barely eaten meal in the sink. “Nice seeing you, Mikas. Thanks for talking to me like I’m five and throwing a fit. I’ve had it with this shit and being treated like a goddamn doormat. This ends now. None of you should call on me again because I won’t answer anymore.” I shut my eyes to picture my flat so I could return to it, but before I could, strong arms encircled me.

“Don’t go. Please don’t go, Dorian.”

“Release me,” I growled, shoving at his chest. Unfortunately, it didn’t do any good, given werewolves had multiple times the physical strength an enchanter would have. Even though he wasn’t all that much taller than me, though wider with more muscles as well, he could easily restrain me. He didn’t let go and I forwent trying to fight with him and popped to the other side of the kitchen. “See? This is what I’m talking about. I said to release me and you just ignored me! Only here, at this pack, and now with wolves would I be disregarded that way.”

“No, just by me, who’s your friend, and is desperate to not have you leave,” he muttered, hanging his head. “Dorian, please, let’s talk. I’m begging you. I’m sorry if you feel I talked down to you. I see now I pushed aside your feelings, but you do have a tendency to overreact and snap at any perceived slight someone does.”

“Wow, great way to show me you’re my friend and on my side,” I chuckled, shaking my head. “I overreact, huh? That guy tells me I need to fall in line and I should lose my elitist attitude because I’m from the disgraced Warloc clan, and I overreacted? Tell me what would one of your elders do if some lackey talked to them like that? Fuck, if an Alpha said that?”

Mikas winced and met my gaze. “Beat them bloody or end them.”

“And yet I’m not a wolf. I’m practically an elder for another race, a guest here, and that’s how I keep being spoken to, as if I not only fall under the pack’s hierarchy but am your guys’ minion. Seriously, Mikas, I’ve been more than patient, and here my friend is saying I overreact.” I felt my heart break as I stared at his beautiful face, committing it to memory. “You’re simply exemplifying the reason I don’t have friends.” I rubbed my chest and tossed the goggles on the counter. “Those are for Abriana. Good bye, Mikas.”

“No, Dorian, wait—”

“Oh good, you’re here,” Elvina interrupted as she walked into the kitchen. “Sage was supposed to contact you about the order that came in from the Moscow pack. They want the spell to make the ear herbs, as they have a newborn with the same ailment Abriana did. They don’t see the point in traveling here just for the remedy, so they want you to come there. And not just the herbs this time. The spell, Dorian.”

“You are fucking kidding me,” I snickered, shaking my head. Mikas had gone pale, maybe now understanding what I’d been dealing with. I pointed to his Alpha. “Yeah, so maybe now you’re getting it. She just walked in here and ordered me to hand over one of my spells. No, I’m overreacting, sure. It’s me.” Then I glanced at Elvina. “Are you soft in the head that you think you should speak to me like that?”

“What? What is going on here?” she demanded and I about blew. I would have if something strange hadn’t trickled up my spine. Power I recognized but couldn’t place. Something was wrong.

“I’m leaving. Until any of you realize the faulty road you’ve traveled down and figure out a way to fix it, this ends.”

“You can’t break away from us. You need Phillip,” she threatened, a huff in her tone that pushed me too far too fast.

“No, I made an arrangement with Phillip,” I spat, shaking with rage. “One I could make with any proprietor, even if they were human. So when that income dries up for him and the pack, think back to this moment and your attitude.” Then I glanced at the floor, unable to even look at Mikas. “And here I had come for your guidance on the next step to take in uncovering the facility where paranormals are being held against their will by a government. But no, absolutely, I should pop over to Moscow instead and do whatever they order me to, like giving over my spells, which I never do, to strangers no less.”

I shook my head and popped away, not able to look at either of them as I did. That was why I didn’t have friends, close attachments, or any of it. All it did was bring problems and break my heart in the end. Everything simplified if I kept to myself.

I flinched when I felt that surge of magic again, realizing it would interfere with me arriving home. It pulled me somewhere. Instead of letting that happen and ending up in whatever trap that possibly waited for me, I pushed back, wrapped my power around the magic, and brought it with me to neutral ground, high above everything else on the Great Wall of China.

Fine, it was the first place that popped into my head after having watched a BBC special on it recently that I knew wouldn’t have any type of conflict or help waiting for whoever messed with me.

“Explain yourselves and fast, or you won’t be breathing long,” I growled at the three figures with their backs to me. I had only felt one before, so how had three come with?

“Hello, Dorian,” Desmond, my eldest brother, greeted as he turned around. I felt my heart race as Dillon and Donald faced me as well. “Long time, brother.”

“Father and Uncle’s execution, if memory serves,” Dillon purred, anger in his eyes.

“They brought that upon themselves, many times over, so if you’re looking to settle a score or start a war with me, I think you should remember their crimes first.”

“While we would have preferred it to be handled internally as a family matter, we don’t blame you for what they’ve done,” Desmond hedged, waving off Dillon.

“Right, because if I had brought it to you, you all just would have believed me and jumped right in to help take down Father. Right? Of course. Because none of you ever saw him abuse his power or do anything that would be considered a crime. I’m sure none of you knew either that they were working with hunters to find me, and yet I didn’t even remotely point the finger at any of you.” Donald flinched, and I felt my heart break again. “You knew. You knew they were killing hundreds to find me.”

“No, no, we didn’t know that,” Donald admitted, Dillon hissing at him to shut up. “We knew Uncle might have been in contact with hunters to see if they knew your location. Maybe them or some other group. We had no proof that it simply wasn’t another cover. But working with hunters and being a part of Festivaali? No, we hadn’t a clue, I swear it to you.”

I wanted to believe him, my senses telling me it was, in fact, the truth. But something was off with the whole situation.

“I’ll take that under advisement.” That was all I could say until I knew more.

“Then how about this in your assessment of whether we’re the bad guys or not?” Dillon snapped. “We knew who and where you were and never told Father.”

And just when I thought I was finished with the upsets and surprises of the day.