Knight of Fire, Terra Series Book 2
Once in the kingdom of Ocassus, humans and dragons shared the lands as allies. That time has passed into legend. But there’s one who wants to see it return.
As a Dragon Speaker, Torran is gifted with the rare ability to understand dragons. He knows dragons aren’t the vicious, mindless creatures many believe them to be and uses his gift to save them. It’s a lonely task. He’s never found a partner who understands him. He doesn’t believe he ever will.
Sir Karrick Brenton is a Knight of the Crown and a man with secrets…one in particular that draws him to Torran. They come from different positions in life, but never has he met anyone he feels more kindred to than Torran.
When Torran is requested to come to the capital city of Dragon’s Landing, both he and Karrick realize their passion for each other. As he seeks to help the king, soon the threats to the crown shift to becoming dangers to him, Karrick, and their friends.
Torran lowered to one knee, brushing his fingertips over the grass, dirt, and dead leaves. He looked back the way they’d come, then forward again. “The trail’s gone.”
An annoyed huff broke over the soft birdcalls of the forest. Torran didn’t need to look to know which of his companions the impatience came from.
“It can’t be gone,” Zain said. “The bloody thing burns its way across the ground. Those sheep it killed and ate were about as cooked as if they’d been spitted over a fire.”
Torran glanced at Zain. Dressed in his usual black to blend with the shadows, Zain reclined on the trunk of a large tree. Waves of ebony hair spilled past Zain’s shoulders, two braids at his temples ending with silver beads that glinted in the fading sunlight.
If he was going to put a bet on anyone throwing shite at him for losing the trail, his coin would’ve gone on Zain. Torran motioned with his hand to the surrounding forest. “Do you see any burned ground? The trail vanished back at the stream, as if the damn thing disappeared or took to the sky.” He turned on his knee to see Bryson. “The things don’t fly, do they?”
His earthy brown eyes scanning the area, Bryson shook his head. “I don’t know. All that I’ve read on Nightmares hasn’t said they have that power, but not much is known about them. Very few of them have ever crossed over from the Underworld and I’m pretty sure anyone who’s seen them in the Underworld hasn’t come back.”
As Bryson was a witch and Gatekeeper between two worlds, Terra and Earth, Torran more than trusted his knowledge of such things.
His voice soft and musical, Larkin spoke up. “As a creature of the Underworld, if Nightmares are akin to demons, then maybe they can disappear and manifest anywhere they want. Once they’re in this world, that is. The spiritual boundaries between this world and the Underworld keep them there, unless they’re given permission to cross through summoning.”
If there was one other in their group who’d have even more knowledge of demons than Bryson, it’d be Larkin. While Lark had the most beautiful gift with his voice and skills as a minstrel, he was equally cursed with his second-sight, which allowed him to see and speak to the dead. Small in build, exquisitely beautiful in his young face, eyes of dark blue, and hair so black it had a bluish sheen in the sunlight, Lark’s physical appearance seemed far too delicate for him to carry such a heavy gift. Yet he bore it without complaint…save one. It kept Lark from being with the man he wanted.
“Fucking Gethin,” Zain spat out. He bent down, scratching his silver fox companion, Kit, behind one ear. “He got what he deserved when the bloody thing killed him.”
Lark sat on the ground, pulling Ghost onto his lap and stroking the white cat. “You know I always argue with you that no one deserves to be killed, but on him I have to agree.”
Zain ran a hand over Lark’s hair. “You know it makes me happy when you agree with me.”
“Aye, because it’s such a rare occurrence.”
Soft laughter moved through the group.
Torran brought his gaze to Aleric, the newest in their band of misfits, as he liked to call them all. Even when Aleric laughed or smiled, sadness still haunted the elf’s eyes, as though it never fully left him. And it probably didn’t. Aleric had turned his back on his family, his society, his position as a prince among elves, all to search for his lost lover. “What do you think, mate? Any elvish lore on how to hunt a Nightmare?”
Aleric tipped his head back, looking to the sky. “I’m afraid not, dear Dragon Speaker. Elves, unlike humans, are intelligent enough to not summon such things.”
Zain flipped a hand toward Bryson. “If that bastard warlock, Gethin, could summon it, why can’t you summon it to a place already set up for us to trap it? You’re a lot stronger than he was.”
Bryson slowly brought his gaze to Zain. “Because I can’t send out a summoning spell hoping it latches onto the Nightmare we want, instead of bringing over another one.”
“I say you give it a go. If you do call up the wrong one, then send it back.”
Bryson rolled his eyes at Zain. “It’s not fishing. If I catch one I don’t like, it’s a little trickier than tossing it back into the water.”
Garrett stepped forward, his blue eyes focused on the ground, his handsome face concentrated. Same as Bryson, Garrett had been born in the other world, Earth, though he felt Garrett spent more time in Terra than on the other side these days to be with Bryson.
Garrett ran his fingers through his golden blond hair in a thoughtful gesture. “When horses gallop, for a split second between strides they have all four feet off the ground. They’re flying over it. What if when the Nightmare gallops, it does the same thing, but stays hovering? Or maybe skimming the ground?”
Bryson slipped his arm around Garrett’s waist, kissing him on the cheek with smiling lips. “I love how since you’ve spent more time here, that beautiful mind of yours applies what you know from the other side to Terra.”
“Aye, he’s bloody brilliant,” Zain said, sarcasm thick in his voice. “Now if only his pretty little mind could figure out where the beast ran off to, then we’d be getting somewhere.”
Garrett fixed Zain with a glare. “I apologize, I was giving you the chance to track it, since you said you’d be able to find it by high sun. And now, the sun’s setting.”
Zain lifted his chin with a defiant tilt. “I was letting Tor do the tracking, because —”
“Shh!” Torran snapped his hand up.
Underneath Zain’s and Garrett’s bickering was…silence. Far too much silence for the forest.
Torran looked at King, the black unicorn stallion and perhaps the only creature the Nightmare feared. The stallion stood motionless. Only King’s ears and nostrils moved as he listened and scented the air. Torran gazed through the forest. To his right was a small clearing. The forest all around was thick, but not as dense as in spring and summer. With it now early winter, many trees had lost their leaves and the vegetation was going dormant.
He turned in a slow circle. His senses alert, sensitive to the slightest movement and sound. He knew this feeling. Having spent his life wandering forests and mountains, he knew how to read changes in the animals and land and at that moment, his skin tingled in warning.
Birds burst from the trees, screaming in frantic, startled cries. Loud chirrups, similar to those of the birds, rose over them, but as they came through Torran’s ears they translated into words.
Her long, serpentine neck stretched out, rainbow feathered wings tight to her body, Rose dove from the sky. At her side, the little white dragon, Wynn, kept pace.
“It’s coming! From the south!”
Torran pointed out to the forest. “There!”
Bryson grabbed Garrett’s hand, dragging him into a run as he sprinted forward. “Get across the clearing! We’ll use the space to trap it!”
Torran raced with the others. King cantered behind them to guard their backs.
A high-pitched roar echoed through the forest. The unearthly sound sent a jolt of cold fear through Torran’s heart. From behind, branches and brush snapped and cracked.
Halfway across the clearing, Torran stopped and spun around.
King slid to a halt, flipping his head in silent demand for Torran to run with the others.
Torran flung his hand back toward his companions. “I can’t shoot the arrows from there! Go with them! Guard them!”
King hesitated, then charged after the group.
Reaching back to his quiver, Torran yanked out one of the arrows Bryson had made. He lifted his bow, nocked the arrow, and aimed for the far left corner of the clearing. He willed his hands to be steady, prepared to fire…and froze.
Its body formed as a horse, the Nightmare crashed out of the forest. Smoke and flames blew from its nostrils. Its mane and tail whipped orange and red with the wind, moving as raging fire. Never, not even on the darkest night, had Torran seen anything so black as the Nightmare’s coat. It seemed to absorb all light that touched it. As suspected, with the speed the Nightmare galloped, its smoldering hooves barely skimmed the ground. Speed that was going to bring the creature upon him in only a handful of his rapid heartbeats.
Torran snapped himself to the task at hand. He released the arrow. As it took to the air, hidden runes shone silvery-blue with the warding spell Bryson had imbued it with. Torran only took the blink of time he needed to know the arrow would land where he’d intended and had his second nocked and shot. He had to get all four in the ground—north, south, east, and west—to trap the Nightmare.
“Torran, get back!” Bryson yelled.
Torran put the third arrow to the bow.
The Nightmare screamed again.
In his peripheral vision, Torran saw it open its mouth to reveal its sharp teeth. Its pure red eyes were locked on him. It lowered its head, large horns curling off the sides similar to a ram’s.
Steeling himself, Torran shot the third arrow and reached for the last.
Twin blazes of fire blasted down from the sky, Rose and Wynn aiming at the Nightmare. The demon steed charged through the dragon fire.
Torran’s breath rushed from him. Dragon fire hadn’t stopped the nether being. Hadn’t even slowed it. In the span of a heartbeat, he had to make a decision, shoot the last arrow or dodge the Nightmare and risk not only letting it go free, but it attacking his friends.
Torran shot the arrow.
The wet snap of his right arm filled Torran’s ears over the Nightmare’s roaring. He flew through the air and crashed, tumbling, rolling over the ground. Torran came to a stop on his back and tried to shove himself up on his left arm. The Nightmare charged for him again.
Through his pain, a vision flashed to the front of Torran’s mind— a knight, his armor radiant in the sun, a royal blue cloak billowing out behind him. The knight’s black hair moved with the wind, a few strands drifting near his brilliant green eyes. Tall, strong, and a face so beautiful, Torran’s heart ached at nothing more than the thought of it.
Sir Karrick Brenton. Why in these final seconds before being trampled and ripped apart by the Nightmare was he thinking of the Thirteenth Legion Captain?
A fierce equine cry of challenge rang through the clearing.
Hoof beats pounded behind Torran. King sailed over him in a powerful jump. The black unicorn landed between him and the Nightmare, rearing to full height. Silver light spiraled up his white alicorn.
The Nightmare slid to a halt, half-rearing and twisting away. It galloped back the way it had come. His ears pinned, King gave chase. The Nightmare reached the edge of the barrier and slammed into it, as if hitting an invisible wall. The nether steed fell half to its side, but scrambled up. Frantic, it began galloping again.
Relief surged through Torran. It was trapped. The wards on the arrows had worked.
His relief was short-lived as his pain demanded to be known. His vision blackened with the force of it. Torran dropped back to the ground. The thunder of hoof beats and desperate cries of the Nightmare filled his ears. It might trample him yet, but even if it did, his mates were safe. Bryson would find a way to banish the nether beast now.
Strong hands grabbed him. A deep voice shouted orders Torran didn’t comprehend.
Torran opened his eyes, seeing only a ring of shining armor around him. A face moved over him, taking over his field of vision. Beautiful. So achingly beautiful. Ebony hair framed the handsome face and eyes the color of spring leaves focused on him.
A smile broke over Karrick’s lips. “Aye. Quite the mess you’ve gotten yourself in, Dragon Speaker Torran.”
Copyright 2014 by S.J. Frost and MLR Press