From the Author
Otherwise, the non-magical humans who lived in the city below would be getting an eyeful.
I snorted, and a small puff of smoke blew out my nostrils. An eyeful, indeed. It would be pure chaos if the people of Roanoke realized a scaly green dragon flew above them on a regular basis each weekend, searching for other shapeshifters.
No doubt about it, they'd be bringing out the pitchforks. Nope. Scratch that. They'd be bringing out the guns, missiles, and who knew what else in an effort to shoot me down.
If they only knew how much magic surrounded them--in the air and on the ground. Lucky for them, all they would see at this exact moment was the illusion of a clear, starlit sky, void of any magical creatures.
Another gust of wind came and I spread my wings further, changing direction until I soared over Roanoke's sister city, Salem, a few miles over.
Yep, Salem, just like the witchy town of Salem, Massachusetts, only this one was in Virginia--and it was every bit as witchy.
Another minute passed, and I was at my destination. I glanced down at the vacant lot beside a small white house, dipping one wing experimentally as I descended to test the shields. They were still strong, so I dropped to the ground, taking care not to let my wings wander outside of the magic that kept me invisible.
I shifted to human, my scales disappearing in a rush of blue flame that licked along my body, and walked toward the house.
The porch light was on.
I was expected.
I didn't even have to knock. The door swung open to reveal a petite blonde girl who looked a good deal younger than I was, though I knew for a fact she was older. A year older to be exact. She was nineteen.
The light from the kitchen illuminated her, making her look ethereal.
"Hadley," I acknowledged with a nod of my head. My hair swung into my eyes with the movement, and I shoved it back, impatient. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes, hurry up and get in here," she replied, waving her hand at me impatiently. "You haven't got all night, you know."
You, I noticed. Not we. You haven't got all night. I walked through the open door into the kitchen, and stood, arms crossed over my chest.
Whatever Hadley Rose had in mind for me this evening, it would likely involve a lot of work. Rarely did the youngest of Salem's witch coven request my presence, but when she did, it was serious business.
"Is it the shields?" I asked when she didn't say anything right away, my brain automatically searching for the worst possible outcome. A breach in the shields would most certainly be that. The coven kept Imperium University's magic hidden from human eyes with a collection of spelled crystals placed strategically throughout the city and within the school's grounds.
"No, no, the shields are fine," she replied, handing me a multi-faceted crystal the color of an evening sky. "Bronwyn, Aunt Sally, and I strengthened them earlier today to be sure. This stone is for the east wing in the school's main house. Everyone in and around Imperium will be safe enough, as well as the forest behind it and the skies above the city. But that isn't why I sent for you..."
"Then what is it?"
Hadley bit her lip.
"Just spit it out. What do you need me to do, Hadley? You've already told me I haven't got all night." And I'd rather not spend it all here with you, trying to figure out what you want.
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. I have a friend I need you to help. She left here a little while ago, so she should be home in a few minutes." Hadley thrust a piece of paper into my hands. "Here's her address."
I looked at the scrap of paper, quickly mapping out Roanoke's streets in my head. "She doesn't live in a great neighborhood. Mind telling me what I'm supposed to be helping her with?"
Hadley didn't waste any time with her next words. "I need you to get her out of there."
"What? Like move out? Do I look like a rent-a-dragon service?"
Hadley's green eyes narrowed to slits, making me wonder if she was contemplating zapping me with a spell that would turn me into an entirely different reptile...a small one that preferred to eat flies. "Smart-ass. She's a shifter, and her foster father has been beating her. She needs to get into Imperium and away from him."
That was enough to make me want to at least try to help, but I didn't want Hadley to catch on. Knowing her, she'd go on a quest to make me a list a mile long of other people she wanted me to help.
"What kind of shifter?" I asked, suddenly curious. As Roanoke and Salem were in the mountain regions of Virginia, the majority of the shapeshifters I encountered were woodland creatures. There was a pack of wolves, several bear, and even a few smaller shifters--the smallest, thus far, having the ability to shift into a small blue butterfly. Imperium School was full of woodland shifters to the point the headmistress wouldn't let just anyone in. It would be nice to have another dragon, though.
"She's a fox...I think," Hadley said, scrunching up her nose as if she wasn't entirely sure.
"You think? The headmistress won't let her in if she's just a woodland shifter. She'll have to..."
Hadley cut me off. "To have problems fitting in with the human world," she finished with a nod of her head. "Yes, I know that. I'm telling you, if you go right now, you'll see the problems she has. If anyone has ever needed into Imperium, it's Claire."