The Shifting World holds many wondrous mysteries and magics, but Jane finds herself unique among them in her power to touch an object and have visions. That unique ability intrigues her grandfather enough to lead them to the city of Rubris, a metropolis buried underneath an unhealthy fascination for junk.
They search for an item that will activate her ability and find one in the most unlikely object, an old compass. The compass points in an unknown direction, but they quickly learn that it leads to trouble. A mysterious guild wants the compass and will do anything to have it, including killing them.
In the middle of all this trouble is Jane’s growing feelings for the dragon shifter, Caius. She can’t ignore the intense looks of lustful longing he gives her nor the way his handsome features make her blush. There’s no way she could have fallen so quickly for the sly dragon. Could she?
I knew where I was and that it was the last place I wanted to be. Still, doubts lingered in my mind. Doubts that would lead me into trouble.
That was how this adventure began. Well, that and on the road. There were a lot of roads in the Shifting World, all of them primitive but with the familiar potholes of home. Some of them were large enough to swallow a unicorn, which happened to be the animal I rode at that time.
"Don't exaggerate, pumpkin," Sage scolded me as we traipsed our way down the dirt highway.
Even after just a little more than a week in this new world I'd learned that a flat stretch of road was considered a four-lane freeway. If two carts could pass each other and not be forced into the mud that hunkered on either side waiting to swallow an elephant then that was considered modern technology.
I leaned over the left side as we passed a pothole. There were a few white bones in the deep depths. "I don't think I'm exaggerating, Grandpa."
"Sage," he corrected me.
"I don't think I'm exaggerating, Sage."
"Isn't this wonderful?" Bee spoke up as she beamed at us. She rode in front of Sage in the same saddle. A few birds sat on her shoulders and a butterfly was perched atop her head.
Sage wrinkled his nose at the menagerie. One of the birds turned around and snapped its beak at him. "Do you have to bring so many friends with us, Bee?"
She breathed in the fresh air completely oblivious to the glares bird and man gave each other behind her. "It's just like old times."
"Too much like old times. . ." I heard him mutter.
I tilted my head back and looked up at the early morning sun. Sunrise was only an hour behind us, and the long day stretched before us. I sighed and my shoulders slumped. "I'd kill for some coffee."
Sage shooed away the offensive bird and glanced over at me. "As we told you before, pumpkin, there's no coffee in this world."
I still cringed at that fact. "Maybe we could head back and I could grab a can from home?"
"That's a week's ride back to the tree," he reminded me.
I shifted in the saddle and winced. "Don't remind me."
"What about your handsome young man?" Bee suggested as a dragon-shaped shadow flew over us. "Perhaps he'll give you a nice ride."
I watched the bone dragon fly over the road that stretched out before us. The Plains of Fiora were several days back and had been replaced by a narrow valley. A few rugged hills on either side teased us with the tall peaks of the mountains high above us. Trees lined both sides of the road and through their thick foliage I glimpsed ponds full of strange snake-looking frogs and geese that made a noise like a squeaky tire. The winding road followed a river on our left that rounded a rocky bend a mile ahead and went out of sight.
"I feel like I'm just using him like a horse if I ride him too often," I argued.
"Pish-posh!" Bee assured me as she waved my concern away with her hand. "Male dragons are very fond of having pretty girls on their backs. Why, I remember the first time I rode a dragon shifter." She leaned back against Sage's chest and sighed. "What a wonderful feel it was with the breeze against my cheeks and his smooth, strong scales beneath me."
"Naturally, this was before my time," Sage mused.
Bee tilted back her head and smiled up at him. "Naturally, my love."
The sweet looks they gave one another made me return my attention to the dragon above us. Caius turned as smooth as a spirited kite and returned to being in lock-step with our steeds. I bit my lower lip as I thought about his handsome features and that teasing smile of his. A slight blush came to my cheeks.
"She's blushing!" Bee squealed.
I shook my head and frowned at my grandparents, both of whom looked at me with wide grins. "I'm not blushing! It's. . .it's just the sun! It's too bright!"
Sage chuckled. "Then you'll be glad to know we have only a few hours until we reach your first town."
"Please tell me it has indoor plumbing," I pleaded.
He shook his head. "I'm afraid not. The town of Rubris is a rather trashy place as most towns go, even in the Shifting World."
I wrinkled my nose. "So why are we going there? Is it the first stop on the road?"
"No. I thought we might test that strange ability of yours in the trash shops for which Rubris is known," he revealed.
My face drooped. "Come again?"
"This will be such fun!" Bee spoke up as she clapped her hands together. "Rubris was where your grandfather found me a wedding ring, you know."
I snorted and my eyes flickered mischievously to my grandfather. "No, I didn't. He always told me he had to pay a mortgage on it."
Sage cleared his throat and tightened his grip on the reins. "Yes, well, my memory isn't what it used to be. Perhaps I was thinking of a different ring."
"But it's the only ring you've given me," Bee reminded him.
A faraway look slipped into his eyes and a slightly lecherous smile adorned his lips. "Well, there was that one dancer girl, if you'll recall, and the witch with the luscious-" He noticed the growing look of ire on Bee's face and coughed into his hand. "But those were unimportant women, and beside the point. We should see if Jane's abilities can be controlled. And speaking of Jane, perhaps we should figure out a new one for you."
I blinked at him. "A new what?"
"A new name," he reiterated as he swept his hand over the hills.
"What's wrong with Jane?" Bee argued.
"It doesn't exactly strike anyone as being of this world," he pointed out. "I hardly remember finding any Jane, even in the largest cities."
"So I should do like you did and add a noun to the front of my name?" I teased.
He flashed me a grin. "We can't be all talented at what name we choose for ourselves, but perhaps something a little shorter will work just as well."
Bee crossed her arms over her chest and looked ahead with a frown. "I still like Jane."
"What's wrong with Jane?" Caius asked us as he landed close beside our beautiful steeds. The unicorns didn't even blink at the large dragon landing on all fours along the road. Caius shrank down to his human form and trotted along side my steed.
"Nothing a little name change won't fix," Sage assured him.
"I'll think about it," I promised as we neared the bend in the river. "But where's this town supposed to be?"
Sage leaned forward and pressed himself against Bee's back as he gazed around the corner of the rock bluff. "You can see it right. . .about. . .now!"
We rounded the bend and the narrow valley widened into a huge bowl. The side of the bowl in front of us dipped down a hundred yards in a gentle decline that ended at a stone wall. The wall wrapped itself around a town some ten miles wide and twenty miles across. Houses and trash piles stood side-by-side in the winding, haphazard streets.
I stopped my unicorn and studied the sight. "That is a really big hole."
"I suspect a volcano once occupied this area and blew its top several millenia ago," Sage mused as he led his unicorn onward. "Now let us see what we can make of your unusual ability."