It’s My Birthday and I’ll Post if I want to…

I told Sheri I was going to take the day off, then I woke up and wanted to ramble. Today is my 52nd birthday. I can’t believe I’m past the half-century mark. Everyone says the years go fast, that your children grow faster and you don’t really believe them until you wake up and realize so many years have passed. This year I’m not going to wait until the New Year I’m going to take stock of my life now and think of the things that I like and the things that I should change. I believe we spend too much time concentrating on the bad parts of life, where we went wrong, what we could have done better, and forget what we might have done right. I’m going to focus on my health in the upcoming years. Not just to lose weight but overall healthy. To get out of the house, go for a walk, meet some new people, become more thoughtful, and reconnect with my love of writing. Even as a young child, my favorite activity was to sit down and jot down ideas for stories. Somehow through the years that has become more of an obligation than a pleasure and my writing has always been a source of joy in my life, a joy I’ve let wander by the wayside and grow grey hairs without me. In the spirit of this note, I’m going to give one random person a $10.00 GC to Amazon. To enter you have to share one thing you’ve stopped doing that you think, ‘perhaps I’ll give it another try’. Thank you for reading my ramblings.

First of many contests!

Happy Birthday Amber!!

I have been Amber’s assistant for many years and I have had a blast every year. I am excited for what 2023 us going to bring and hope to see lots of familiar faces on here!

So for the first contest, for a $10 Amazon gift card, what are you most looking forward to in 2023?

Christmas cards and a winner

Every year Amber sends out Christmas cards to her fans. US and International fans welcome. We take the first 100 entries and I will close the form on December 1st or when we hit 100. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s a fun card from a great author.

Here is the link for the Christmas cards this year:

https://forms.gle/sktSDDARBubAZVsF8

And the winner of an earlier contest is Trix. Please email me at authoraccomplice@gmail.com.

The Sunday contest is still open. As well as please keep your eyes open for some fun birthday contests tomorrow as we celebrate Amber’s birthday.

Snippet

I’ve had this idea of hybrid heroes for a while. I have several semi-started. Here is one:

Hal blinked trying to adapt his vision to the bright light.

Where the fuck am I?

He sat up and took in the luxurious room. It had the impersonal feel of a hotel and the smell of cleaning spray beneath the surface. He scanned his memory but could only remember going to dinner with his parents the night before. They’d gone to a steakhouse and discussed his future.

He hadn’t known what to tell his parents about his plans. He’d never thought about leaving the pack even though they had never accepted him since his first change. Apparently turning into a scaled wolf with wings freaked out the normal wolves. Hybrids weren’t supposed to exist. Hal didn’t know of any others like him. Of course reproduction between a wolf and a dragon didn’t happen often and the few times Hal had heard of resulted in either a dragon or a wolf not a weird conglomeration of both.

The alpha of their pack had grown increasingly upset with Hal’s presence. He had to either challenge the alpha for leadership or find a new place else to call home. Hal had hesitated to leave his parents. Although at twenty-one years old he’d stayed longer than he planned.

A piece of paper caught his attention.

Dear son,

You need to start your own life now. There are rumors the alpha is planning your death. We have paid for this room for a month. We also opened your trust fund so you have money. Love you son. Keep in touch.

Mom and Dad

Hal stared at the note for a long moment. His parents had effectively banished him. He’d never doubted his parent’s love, but he hadn’t seen this coming. They must’ve drugged him in order to get him here.

“Now what the fuck do I do?”

Groaning, Hal threw himself on the bed. Depression pressed him down. He didn’t have any reason to get up. He understood why his parents had acted but it didn’t take away the sting.

It only took a few minutes before he was so disgusted by his self-pity he had to get out of bed. Exploring his environment would be a good first step. He needed to figure out where he was and if he planned on putting down roots here or if he’d be heading out somewhere else.

His parents were right. Sticking around where the alpha could find him wasn’t a good idea. Hal could’ve stayed and killed the alpha but despite his prejudices the Alpha Viden was a good man. It wasn’t completely his fault the pack never warmed to Hal.

A quick shower and a peek in the closet revealed his wardrobe had been entered. He wondered how long they had planned this venture. He’d thought they were responding to his recent comments. This smacked of planning. A great deal of planning.

Sunday Contest

Hello Wonderful Fans,

Let’s start the week with a contest. With Thanksgiving around the corner, why don’t you share your favorite side dish? If you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving then share your favorite holiday food. One random winner will receive a $25.00 GC.

Sorry for the lack of update!

I didn’t get a posting yesterday. My younger son’s school has had two bomb threats in the past few days and it has rattled us. Today I’m celebrating my birthday with the family a little early so we can enjoy it together. To give you something to read Here’s a bit of a dragon story I’m working on. I’m not sure if it will go anywhere but it is fun 🙂

There are some moments life doesn’t prepare you for. Hrothrehr (Roth) Hennessy could pinpoint the second his life derailed.

“You want me to what?”

His mother didn’t even blink one elegant lash. “Marry into the Byrne family.”

Roth’s hands shook when he pulled a cigarette from his pocket and set it to his lips. Flicking a bit of power into his right index finger he set the end aflame. A deep suck then exhale helped organize his thoughts. “Isn’t there only one eligible member of the Byrne family?” The image of a stunning man with red-streaked blond hair flitted through his mind. He crossed his legs.

“There are two but since one of them is a two-year old girl, I doubt that’s the one you are thinking of.”

Her knowing smile scraped across his last nerve. “And why would I do this?”

“You are still trying to take over the south side businesses are you not?” She arched one artfully arched brow.

“Yes, but I thought Byrne got out of the business.”

“The younger one, yes. Older Byrne is still controlling everything there but he’s getting old, and he doesn’t have anyone ready and willing to take over. Morey Byrne has his mother’s talent of talking to the dead. He spends his time helping people with their loved ones and the occasional police consultation. He is unsuited to mob work. His father despairs of him settling down. Apparently, he likes to date but not get involved.”

Roth took another suck of his cigarette. It took several drags before he came to a decision. “I’m willing to talk about it but not if he is unwilling. I refuse to get contracted to a man who doesn’t want to be married.” This would be the rest of his life. Spending it chained to a reluctant, or worse, antagonistic partner was not something he would agree to no matter how smug his mother looked.

“I’m sure you could persuade him, darling. You are rather known for your bedroom abilities. You’ll have to stop that nasty habit. He won’t have our immunity. And unlike you he’ll have to breathe.”

“Sounds fragile.” He blew a smoke ring. “I’ll give it some thought.”

“You do that darling. All isn’t lost if you choose not to pursue this, but I have a good feeling about this.”

Roth winced. His mother’s instincts had never let them down before and she was ruthless in making sure all of her sons followed her advice when she offered it. If Delilah Hennessy thought he should marry Morey Byrne he might as well get ready to pick out flowers. He stood and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Are you sure you don’t want to take the business back?”

Her smile was far too smug and sharp. “Don’t be ridiculous dear. You run things far better than I ever did. You are much more patient.” With that frightening statement she sashayed out of his office.

“Damn.” He banged his forehead on the table and closed his eyes. He would have to at least meet with the older Byrne to discuss this to get mother off his back.

“Was mother just here?”

Roth lifted his head off his desk and glared at his brother, Cort. Cort was the second oldest of the four brothers and the only straight one.

“Never mind. I can tell by the red spot on your forehead. What did she do now?”

“She’s picked out my spouse.” Roth put out his cigarette then expelled the rest of the smoke from his lungs.

“Wow. That’s pushy even for mother.”

“She presented it as a business deal.” Roth scratched his cheek. The short stubble scraped beneath his fingernails.

“That doesn’t sound like our mother. I mean she likes to get involved but she usually stays out of our love life.”

Roth nodded. “Strange, right?” He straightened his cuffs of his custom-tailored shirt. “I’d best at least talk to the guy before mother does it for me.”

“Better you than me.” Cort smirked.

“Laugh it up brother. You know she’ll be working her way down the line if this first match goes well.”

“You really think she will?”

“Absolutely.” He grinned, showing off his elongated canines. “I’ll call Byrne senior tomorrow afternoon and set up a meeting. I’d rather take control of this thing before mother does something.”

“Isn’t that the truth.”

They shuddered.

Roth held his mother in high regard. She had raised all five of them to the best of her ability and they had never lacked for money nor love. However, when Delilah wanted something. It happened.

Contest

I’ve had a long day so contest it is. One winner will get a $25.00 gc from amazon because I’m not feeling very creative. LOL

To enter the contest answer this question. If you were to create a superhero what would be their name and why?

Moon Pack Birthday!

It’s a little short but sweet.

I know I usually do an Anthony and Silver, or Dare and Steven story ,but this time I’ve decided to go with Dakota and Henry.

***

Dakota opened the oven door then grabbed the hot rack with a potholder to protect his fingers. A waft of heat infused with cinnamon bathed his face. He gave the cake tins a dubious look.

“How are they doing?” Dare asked over his shoulder.

Dakota pressed one of the cakeish disks with a cautious finger. “It’s not rising.”

“Did you remember the baking powder?”

 Without responding, Dakota slid the rack back in, then closed the door. A growl preceded him flinging the potholder across the room. “I followed the directions, exactly.”

He folded his arms across his chest and pouted.

“There, there.” Dare patted Dakota’s shoulder in a condescending show of support.

“You’re not helping.”

“I’m only here for moral support. I’m not much of a baker.”

“I’m not either but this was under Henry’s list of ‘impossible to screw up’ desserts.

“You are usually quite good in the kitchen,” Dare said, supportively. “Maybe one of the ingredients was off.”

Dakota scowled at the oven. “Or maybe I’m off.”

“I doubt that, love.” Henry appeared in the doorway.

Dakota saw Dare slink off out of the corner of his eye.

“What are you doing in here?” Henry’s gaze took in the batter coated bowls, the dirty mixer and the containers of ingredients Dakota had yet to put back.

“I was trying to make you a birthday cake.” He wasn’t pouting. He wasn’t!

Henry came closer. He towered over Dakota and generally he liked that. Not today. Not when he was feeling out of sorts.

Henry traced Dakota’s shoulders with his big hands. “You don’t need to fuss over my birthday, darling.”

“But you always do for mine.”

“Because I enjoy it. Not because I want you to reciprocate.”

“I wanted to do something nice for you.”

Henry pressed a soft kiss onto Dakota’s bowed head. “Having you wake up beside me every day is a gift. Having you part of my life is a gift.You don’t have to bend yourself into knots to make me happy, Dakota. You are everything to me.”

Dakota sniffed. “Does that mean you don’t want your flat cake?”

Henry laughed. “I’ll try the flat cake if it makes you happy. Or we could scrap it and make a fresh one together.”

“I’d like that.” Dakota loved days where it was just him and Henry in the kitchen cooking. “I was trying to make your spice cake.”

Henry peeked into the oven. “Hmm. Well there’s a few things that could’ve gone wrong but how about we don’t worry about them and just start over.”

“Are you sure you want to be cooking on your birthday?”

Henry’s warm smile wiped away the last of Dakota’s sulk. “Baking with you will be the best present yet.”

“Does that mean you don’t want your gift?” Dakota teased.

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that,” Henry replied. “Where is it?”

“Upstairs in our apartment.”

“Turn off the oven.”

Dakota clicked off the stove and removed the flat cakes for good measure. He didn’t want them burning while they were gone. Hopefully it will take a while for Henry to examine Dakota’s new underwear and the selection of toys he purchased. After listening to the antics of some of the people in the club Dakota began a list of things he wanted to try out. What better time to try some of them out than on Henry’s birthday. One of them had a vibration and heat option.

He might feel a bit guilty about giving such a self-serving gift if he didn’t know Henry would enjoy them too.

“Happy birthday, Henry,” he whispered.

Pilgrim

I know I said I’d have a Moon Pack snippet but I was busy writing today..yay writing. Instead I’m posting the first chapter of what I’m tentatively labeling Pilgrim.

The jingle of harnesses and mist from the horse’s breath brought Xaylon to reality. He was really doing this. Escaping. Running. Whatever you wanted to call the coward’s way out, he was doing it.

Xaylon ran his thumb beneath the satchel strap bisecting his chest. Only a few more minutes and he would leave Raven’s Hallow, possibly forever. Pilgrimages were hazardous and often set upon by bandits. A quick glance at their escorts banished most of his worry but not completely silencing the terror nibbling at his subconscious.

Could he do this?

Xaylon would be the first to decry himself as an adventurer, but his father’s actions were forcing him to these steps.

“You all right there young one?” A loud, brash voice jolted him out of his introspection.

Blinking he focused on the person speaking. The very tall, warrior with dark braids and shoulders one and a half the size of Xaylon’s. Only the kind concern in the man’s eyes stopped Xaylon from squeaking in terror.

“I will be.” He offered a nervous smile.

The warrior’s expression didn’t change with Xaylon’s convincing argument, but he nodded and moved onto the next pilgrim.

“Running away from home?” A silky female voice asked.

Xaylon spun around to discover a thin waif like woman, even smaller than him, standing in the shade. It was easy to miss with the way the shadows folded around her. A shiver of unease winnowed down his spine.

“Not exactly.” Caution kept him from blurting out his story.

She slinked out of the shadows with a disturbing grace that hid the fact she had a skeletal structure. “How not exactly?”

Her dark eyes trapped him in her unnerving gaze like a mouse before a viper.

“Come. Let’s get you to your mount.” A heavy hand clamped down on Xaylon’s shoulder moving him along. He’d never been so happy to be manhandled away.

A quick glance up revealed the warrior from minutes before. “Thank you.”

“You’ll want to keep a distance from that one. The priestess of the shadow Queen will use any scraps of information you grant them for their own means.”

Xaylon nodded furiously. “I’ll do my best to avoid her.”

“Good man.” He patted Xaylon’s back with a friendly pat that could’ve been an iron bar for the heaviness of his touch.

 Instead of protesting, Xaylon gritted his teeth. It would do no good to start the pilgrimage on a bad note. He had to keep positive relations with his travel companions especially the guards.

“Which group are you traveling with?” The guard, whose name he still didn’t know, asked.

“Lady Selene.”

The warrior stepped back to see Xaylon’s face. “Why would any man want to visit the goddess of magic?”

“I found a notebook from my mother stating she was a priestess of Lady Selene and I would like to give an offering in her honor.” It was a partial truth but a truth all the same.

His answer appeared to calm the warrior and whatever existential crises he experienced over having a man visit a female goddess. “I hope you find the peace you are seeking.”

Maybe Xaylon wasn’t as discreet as he hoped. “Thank you.” He offered a short bow. Not deep enough to indicate a higher status, but low enough to show appreciation.

“Your caravan is over here.” He waved to a group of five wagons with over a dozen women inside. “There will be more guards here than with the others due to the high number of females.”

“Makes sense.” It didn’t really unless they were completely incompetent. Xaylon would pit his sister against any hardened soldier. She not only was a vicious harridan, but she would stab someone without remorse if they thought to take advantage of her, or her little brother.

A smile curved Xaylon’s lips. It was because of Lila that he was following through on this wild plan. If he kept out of his father’s way and went on an adventure maybe he could avoid the ridiculous marriage his father was binding him to. Xaylon had no interest in becoming the bonded spouse of a man with six children and three dead wives. Especially when no one was certain what happened to them.

Still pondering terrible life choices, Xaylon headed for his assigned group trying not to choke on the dust being kicked up by the horse’s hooves.

He reached the group and stood unmoving at the stare from at least a dozen pair of eyes. “Hello,” he offered a small wave and an equally small smile.

“What do you want?” The tallest of the group stepped forward, a hard expression on her face. “If you think you can take advantage of us because we are women I am happy to disabuse you of that notion.”

A scoffing laugh escaped before he could prevent the sound. “My sister is far tougher than me and I have no interest in defiling anyone. I’m a pilgrim same as you and take my duties with a serious mind.”

His words must have been convincing. Most of the group lost their scowls and tension, the girl before him did not. “And what use do I have for pretty words.”

Xaylon shrugged. “I don’t know. My mother was a worshipper and I am here to fulfill her life’s dream.”

She sniffed at him as if he were something foul that came out of a horse’s ass. “We’ll see.” She spun around and stalked back to the watching group.

A sigh slid from between his lips and his shoulders sagged. This would be a long journey.

“Don’t take it personally, Deta has had a hard time of it, and she hates men.” A plump girl with springy brown hair and a wide smile scampered up to him emitting cheery.

Xaylon instinctively smiled back. “I’m both sorry and happy to hear that. At least it wasn’t as personal as it felt.”

Her laughter danced on the air. “You’re funny. I think I’ll choose you as my companion. I’m Sahra.” She held out her hand.

Xaylon gave it a friendly shake. “What do you mean companion?”

“Every person had to have a travel partner. The guards don’t want anyone to be alone.” She lost her cheer as she continued. “I’m not much of a fighter but I can do this.” She held up her hand. Her brow wrinkled as she stared at her fingers. Before Xaylon could comment lightning crackled across her fingers in an arc of sparkling lines. She kept it up for a minute before dropping her hand. Sweat beaded her brow which she wiped with the back of her hand while she took a deep breath. Her skin had a new pallor. “As you can see it takes a lot out of me but I could zap a few people so we can get away if needed.”

“Sold. I’ll be your partner.” Xaylon grinned.

“Great.” She went back to bouncing on her heels. “I don’t suppose you have any powers? I know Lady Selene usually only grants females powers but you never know.”

Xaylon shook his head. “I am good with a staff though.” He lifted his walking stick up for inspection.

Sahra eyed the intricate engravings with proper respect. “Nice. I’m sure between us we can live to escape any bandits.”

“We can hope.” Xaylon nodded. He didn’t want to admit it, but the guards had an excellent idea of teaming people together. “How many people are in our caravan?”

“Fifteen women, including me. One male pilgrim, you and six guards.”

“That’s not a lot of protection,” he commented.

“It’s two more than the others. Pilgrims aren’t a high priority with the crown.” Her bitter tone turned Xaylon’s attention back to her. “Not a crown lover?”

“They’ve done little for the citizens. My mother worked for them once. They killed her because she tripped and spilled some sauce on the prince’s robes.”

Xaylon winced. “You have my sympathy for your plight.”

Sahra gave a sharp nod. “Thank you. You said you are doing this for your mother. Has she also passed.”

Xaylon swallowed the lump in his throat. “She died giving birth to me. I’ve only known her by her journals.” Journals that revealed a vibrant woman who had goals and dreams that were never experienced due to her untimely death. “I thought if I lived out some of her dreams it would ease her spirit closer to Lady Selene.”

“That’s so sweet.” Sahra sniffed and discretely wiped at her eyes.

“I know I can’t bring her back, but it makes me feel closer to her.” Xaylon gave a helpless shrug. The gods knew his father never brought out any positive feelings. The typical lord, he only interacted with his children to make sure they were obeying their tutors and following the paths he laid out for them. There had never been a kind word or gesture granted by their father and his parents hadn’t married due to any warm relation between them. Xaylon hadn’t been neglected because of his father’s distress over his mother’s death. That had only been an inconvenience to his schedule. Xaylon firmly believed his father never married because he didn’t want to be bothered with a bride and since he had his son he had no use for one.

Xaylon scratched at his arm glad that his thick shirt protected the vulnerable skin beneath. Nerves had his arms scratched bloody at times.

“Hey.” Sahra grabbed his scratching hand. “It will be fine. We will do our pilgrimage and come back home hopefully with a gift from the Lady.”

“Hopefully.” Xaylon returned her smile. Pilgrims were often granted small powers by their chosen god or goddess if their hearts were pure and their belief strong enough. Xaylon had neither a pure heard nor a burning belief in his goddess, unlike his mother. Instead he had the token she had crafted for the pilgrimage she never had the chance to go on. The small stone figurine sat heavy in the lining of his jacket. If they were robbed it might be overlooked if the bandits were particularly stupid. Almost every thief knew that was where pilgrims hid things but there was no better place. They would just take his bag anyway whether they found anything or not so it wouldn’t be a wise spot to hide anything.

“Let’s get the best position,” Sahra nudged him, knocking him out of his thoughts.

“What do you mean?”

“We are assigned places in the caravan. I’m going to go flirt with a guard and get us a prime spot.” She offered a smug smile before skipping away.

Xaylon remained standing unsure of his next move. If Sahra wished to go flirt with a guard he wouldn’t stop her but he watched her just in case she got into trouble. She all but danced up to the guard who had helped Xaylon find the right group. Her lashes fluttered furiously and she played with the long curl laying against her shoulder. The guard appeared unmoved until she pointed at Xaylon. He remained still while the guard inspected him from head to toe as if he hadn’t seen him before.

After that unnerving stare he returned his attention to Sahra and said something in words too quiet for Xaylon to hear that far away. Sahra gave a loud squeal and nodded enthusiastically before scampering back to Xaylon.

“I should’ve sent you to talk to him.”

“Why?”

A smirk curled her unpainted lips. “Because he was unmoved until I told him you were my partner. Then all of a sudden we had the best spot in the middle. I knew being your partner was a great idea.”

Xaylon laughed. “I’ve never brought anyone luck before. We’ll have to see if it holds out.”

“We shall.” Her eyes continued to dance with amusement. She looped an arm through his. “Come, they are going to leave soon and we don’t want them to leave us behind.”

“No we don’t.” Xaylon let her drag him along with no protest. They really needed to be gone before father noticed him missing. His sister could only hide his absence for so long.

Third part of my Jeweler book

I had been planning to do a Moon Pack short today but I had to go to the eye doctor to get new glasses and that took a surprisingly large part of my day. Instead I’ve decided to post a bit more of my previous story. Enjoy! Please note this is unedited. Thanks.

It took two days before they had a design they both agreed upon. In that time three lamps were broken, one jewel box had been shattered and they had to close the shop two times for damages.

Merek concentrated his magic at the room for the third time that morning. “Are we done, or are we going to use all our magic making repairs instead of jewelry.”

“You’re the one who threw the marble statue at me,” Ulric snarled.

“You called my design pedestrian!” Merek shouted back. He still stung from that comment.

“I liked you better when you were under my thumb,” Ulric sneered.

“I’m sure you did.” Merek snapped together the broken lamp with a pulse of power. Sweat beaded his brow. As much as he disliked Ulric these days, he refused to leave his shop in shambles.

“I think this is the best one.” Merek leaned down, shuffled through the parchment scraps covering the floor and snatched up his favorite. He straightened out the wrinkles and spread it across the glass countertop.

Ulric leaned over to take a look. He turned it back and forth and frowned. “You like it better than this one?” He grabbed a different paper and slid it beside the one Merek had chosen.

“Yes. The emeralds don’t blend as well into the pattern.” Merek compared the two pieces. That one matches a bit better, but I think this one will come across as more elegant.

Ulric spun the design around to look at it from different angles. “All right. I’ll agree to this design.”

“Good.” Now that they agreed it would take at least a week for Merek to have enough energy to power the necklace. Emerald were difficult to use magic on. Something about their makeup absorbed energy instead of transforming it. Tricky but not impossible to work with, it took several days because Merek would have to wait for his magic to come back to high enough levels to power each spell. Ulric was older and insisted Merek should use his magic since he would recoup his energy faster. “I will start it in the morning unless you have different plans.” Technically Merek was still under Ulric’s employ until the necklace was finished. As such he needed to make sure he wasn’t needed elsewhere.

Ulric stood there a moment as if considering his options. After a few minutes he nodded. “This has priority.”

“See you tomorrow then.” Merek exited the room out the back to reach the stairs. He didn’t want to deal with Ulric any more that day. He might say something he shouldn’t. Ulric might have magically agreed to sign off on Merek’s apprenticeship but that didn’t mean he couldn’t ruin him before he got his career off the ground. Old ladies at a tea party gossiped less than the old men in the jeweler’s guild. In order to keep a positive impression, he had to keep Ulric happy with his work if nothing else. Ulric’s own reputation would take a hit if his apprentice was rumored to be less than skillful. Despite knowing that, Merek still had a bad feeling about the older jeweler’s compliance.

The stairs gave a familiar creak as Merek climbed their shaky steps. Soon he would have to find his own rickety staircase. He needed to make plans for after the necklace finished. Merek didn’t have a place to go after his apprenticeship ended, not officially. Hans would let him stay with him if he asked, but he didn’t like to impose. Maybe he should make plans to take the first carriage out next week to the dwarves mines? There wasn’t any transportation that would go all the way, but he could join a caravan and continue on his own by foot when they got close enough. Pleased with his planning Merek went to sleep planning to speak to Hans in the morning. His old friend had a lot of connections and would know who had the best route for Merek’s needs.

“It would be the Banders caravan you want.” Hans took a sip of tea.

“Where are they going?”

“To the Northern Kingdom. They trade with the druids up there since they are magic sensitive and can’t go into town.”

“How do you know that?” He had known Hans all his life and his friend had never mentioned knowing any druids before.

“Do you remember Peter?”

Merek searched his memory. “Tall, skinny with ratty blond hair?” The image appeared in his mind’s eye, diamond bright.

“That’s him. He was part of that magical accident three years ago.”

“Oh, hell.” Merek could still remember the fallout four years ago when an unskilled magical practitioner tried earth manipulation. Unfortunately he wasn’t an earth elemental and the site he chose to practice had been storing chemicals. The explosion had caused more than one magical to have odd side effects.

“Yeah, he had to leave the city. Couldn’t handle all the pressure. He said it made his head ache.”

“So he became a druid?”

Hans nodded. “Sends me a letter every now and then to tell me how things are going.”

“And how are things going?” He didn’t really care about Peter, but his curiosity had always been his downfall.

“Fine I guess. He was invited into the order of the White Tree and he seems happy enough. It must be hard on him being such a social soul, but I guess you do what you have to in order to survive.”

Merek winced. “Probably a lot more than exile myself. You think you can get me passage on that caravan? I should finish my last piece for Ulric this week. I won’t have a place to stay once I’m done. I’ve decided to start traveling instead of renting a room I don’t plan on staying at for very long. I can’t afford to finance an empty space even if it’s only a room.” He had run all the numbers and even getting a shady bed in a questionable part of town still dug uncomfortably into his tiny stash.

“I can get you on, especially if they know you won’t be there the whole trip and you know better than to be messing up their negotiations with the druids, they’ll be more than happy to have you along.”

“Great.” He had a plan. He could do this. It was just one more step in becoming a Master Jeweler.

“If you need to stay some place overnight between your apprenticeship and your trip you can stay at my place. I recently got a large feline that keeps the rats at bay.”

“That is oddly not as reassuring as you might think.”

Hans laughed. “I’ll miss you. What is it three or four days to get to the dwarves?”

“About. Depending on how fast the caravan travels. I’ve heard it can take up to four days by carriage and then another two by foot. I need to get a tent or something. I’m unsure of the weather this time of year.”

“I have a tent you can borrow if you’d like. I use it when I have to supervise a caravan.”

“That would be great Hans. How can I repay you for all your help.”

“You just remember that when I find someone to bond with. I expect an amazing ring.”

You’ve got it.” It was easy enough to make promises on future events. “I’ll design you the most incredible bonding set you can imagine.”

Considering Hans’s reputation for bedding anything that moves, it was an easy promise. Merek had years before he had to worry about keeping that promise.

A week later he went with Ulric to deliver Carvelle’s necklace. Once again the dragon lord was sitting beside Carvelle when they entered the room.

“Thank you for accepting the commission to design a necklace for my bride,” Carvelle said.

“We are honored at the opportunity,” Ulric replied.

Merek remained silent. This wasn’t his show. For a newly minted Master jeweler he didn’t want his first official client visit to end with a bad impression.

Ulric motioned him forward. Reaching into his satchel Merek removed the velvet covered case. “I hope it meets your expectations,” he said before lifting the lid and tilting it to display the necklace at the best advantage.”

A low gasp had Merek looking up from the necklace. Both lords stood over the piece, their mouths dropping open. No one spoke for several minutes. Merek started to close the box only to have his wrist grabbed by Blackflame.

“Leave it open for a bit. We’re still taking in all the artistry.”

“Very well.” He set it on the table before Lord Carvelle.

“I hope it meets your expectations, my lord,” Ulric said. The complete oiliness of his voice left a film of disgust on Merek’s skin. He struggled against a shudder, not wanting to give the lords the wrong impression.

“This is the most beautiful necklace I’ve ever seen and my mother has some dwarven jewels.”

Merek flushed beneath the praise. He always seems to be blushing when in the company of these two men.

“Which of you made this?” Blackflame’s eyes examined them closely as if daring them to lie.

“Merek made it as we discussed in our previous meeting,” Ulric said in a calm tone as if they hadn’t had a row over the entire thing.

“I’ve never seen an apprentice with this level of skill before, and I know my jewels,” Blackflame mused.

Merek ducked his head, avoiding Blackflame’s searching gaze. What did the lord mean? Did he question if Merek had produced it, or complimenting him for his skill?

“I can assure you that it was all Merek’s work. He has learned much under my tutelage.”

And there was the self-congratulating Master Merek had worked under for all those years. Ulric had the pride of a king and the temperament of a feral cat.

“I wasn’t doubting you, Master Ulric.” Blackflame held his hands up in a placating manner. “I’m quite impressed with the both of you.”

Merek bowed his head. “Thank you, your grace.”

Unfortunately he drew more of Blackflame’s attention than he had planned. The dragon lord smirked. “And what are your plans now that your apprenticeship has ended?”

“I’m going to the dwarven mines.” It was he dream of every jewel mage to have access to the highly coveted mines. The dwarves would only accept Master Jewelers, apprentices wouldn’t even get into the first cave. The dwarves were strict over who they allowed access and Merek would have to bring his journal with all of his ideas illustrated with the processes he used. He had all the necessary papers. He’d been planning for this moment the first time he picked up a jeweler’s hammer.

“I wish you luck.” Carvelle said. “I’ve only met two jeweler’s in my life who’ve successfully petitioned for an explorer permit.”

“I hope to be the third,” Merek refused to explain how he had been in contact with the dwarves for the past five years. They knew him well and had already agreed as long as he followed their reasonable guidelines and claimed everything before he left. Merek would split any finds with the dwarves. If he discovered a new source of materials, he would split the gold or gems as they were uncovered. Most of the dwarven mines consisted of veins of gold but Merek had strong jewel finding magic and was confident he could expand on their caches.

“Before you go I have a gift for you,” Blackflame said.

“I appreciate you thinking of me sir, but a gift was unnecessary.”

“This one was. I don’t want someone of your talent to be unable to progress in your field due to a lack of support.”

Merek could tell from the expression in Blackflame’s eyes that he’d done his homework and knew of Merek’s background and how he had struggled to reach his current level of training.

“That isn’t necessary, your grace, but I appreciate the thought.”

“It is more than a thought, it is a gift.” A smug smile crossed Blackflame’s handsome face. “It is just a trifle, but I think you’ll find it of interest.”

Now his curiosity had been engaged. “All right then.”

Blackflame handed over a red velvet sack. “I can think of no better person to have these than a jeweler.”

Curious, opened the bag. Dozens of shiny black scales glowed inside. “Are these..?” Excitment clogged his throat.

“Mine. Yes, they are. I expect you can find a good use for them?” A quirk of the lips was the only sign of Blackflame’s amusement.

“I-I can’t take these, your grace. These are too valuable.” His hand shook around the bag he cradled between his palms. Even as he rejected the gift, his more artistic side floated with all the ideas he had of what he could do with them.

“Do you know what dragon scales are good for?” Blackflame asked, instead of immediately taking back the bag.

“Protection from physical and magical assault,” Merek said, recalling the section in Properties of Materials the first source of jewel mage’s everywhere.

“That is correct. What they don’t tell you is that if willingly given they bring the wearer luck. I have a bit of the family intuition and I have a feeling you will need all the help you can get in the future.”

Silence fell between the four men. “Um, thank you then.” No way was he giving these back. If a dragon lord told him he needed luck he was grabbing them with both hands and taking those scales to his grave with him.

“You should craft them into your talisman soon. They can’t be stolen once you’ve set their shape and either put them on or gifted them to someone. If they are taken against your will the thief will be cursed so watch that bag with care.”

Merek couldn’t help but notice Blackflame’s gaze flicker over to Ulric’s greedy expression. Whether dragon scales are cursed or not the change in Ulric’s expression convinced Merek that if his mentor stole his scales he would meet an unfortunate end cursed dragon scales or not.

“Thank you sir, I will take good care of them.”

Ulric puffed up a bit. “I’m sure my apprentice appreciates your gesture. If you are satisfied with your necklace we should be on our way, my lord.”

“Oh yes, sorry about the distraction.” Lord Carvelle’s insincere smile gave Merek a sliver of hope.

If Carvelle disliked Ulric he might seek out Merek for the next design for his jewelry loving wife.

“Here you go.” Carvelle handed over a clinking bag to Ulric and another to Merek. At Merek’s surprised expression he offered a more sincere smile. “Ker isn’t the only one who can give a promising new Master a congratulations gift.”

“Thank you, my lord and thank you again, your grace.” He bowed to the men, letting his gratitude show. He set the bags in his inner pocket. The jeweler mage protections on the garment prevented it from being pickpocketed. Most thieves knew the coats on site with their burgundy sheen and knew most of them had a lightening charm to shock any who dared to try and steal from them.

Ulric weighed the bag with his hand, and offered the lords a wide smile. It must have been of a generous heft to remove the normal scowl from his master. “Good morning, my lords. May the rest of the day bring you joy.”

They both offered bows again, then made their way out of the manor. One the trip back to the jewelry store they didn’t speak. Merek because he had nothing to say to his now former master. Ulric kept eyeing Merek’s jacket and was no doubt plotting how to get his hands on Merek’s bag of scales.

As soon as they left the carriage Merek went to his room and collected the bag he had left there. His satchel held all the belongings he had in the world which consisted of two changes of clothes, his jeweler’s kit, and his mother’s journals. Three precious books that discussed her own trials and tribulations of being a jewel mage. He came down the stairs to find Ulric waiting for him.

“Here are your papers, if you find yourself without a place to work ,you’ll have to buy your spot in my shop,” Ulric scowled.

Merek accepted the papers. Before Ulric’s sneer, he unrolled the packet to verify it was what they had agreed to. The words Master of Jewel Magic made his stomach swirl. After so many years he had finally made it to the first step in a long journey to his ultimate goal of being a Premier Mage of Jewel Magic. Only two people have ever made that distinction and it was decided by magic not by the fussy old men at the Jewel Guild. It was a matter of designing a fully magical piece of jewelry that has a sentience of its own. It took years of devoted study and a large magical talent that most jewelers didn’t have. Of course he had to reach Jewel Master before he went to Jewel Sorcerer, but with dedication and practice, he had confidence in his skills.

There were many parting things he had dreamed of telling Merek over the years. Instead he offered a shallow bow. “I will keep that in mind. Thank you for your training Jewel Master Ulric.”

Before Ulric could respond, Merek turned and marched out of the store. The only sound to his leaving was the tinkle of the bell dangling from the front door and the sigh that passed his lips as he left.