Jane and her friends are both heroes and outlaws. Their notoriety forces them to hide in the wilds of the north in the land where Caius grew up. The serenity of the wide steppes somehow compliments the brash nature of Jane’s dragon shifter.
Unfortunately, the quiet peace they seek is dashed soon after their arrival with the news that not only does Caius have a younger brother, but he’s in trouble. One of the local leaders, Baron Volkov, has taken to his manor at the outer lands of the principality. They endeavor to rescue him, but find themselves surprised by a most unexpectedly warm greeting from the baron.
However, all is not as it seems, as Jane's powers elude. Not all of the doors of the manor are open to them, and behind some of those locked portals lay terrible secrets. Ones that concern Caius, his curse, and his future. Now Jane must save her beloved dragon shifter from the clutches of a dark evil intent on using him, even if it costs him his life.
The land where Caius was raised was a beautiful mix of rugged, snow-capped mountains, wind-swept grasslands, and enough mystery to keep a treasure seeker looking for decades. We were about to find ourselves numbered among those treasure seekers, but first we had to find our way.
"Are you quite sure you know where you are headed?" Sage asked for the third time in as many minutes.
"I know this place as well as the animals in it," Caius argued.
I glanced to my left at a squat boulder. On its top a squirrel-like animal chased its own tail. "Why am I not comforted?"
"We're almost there," he insisted as he looked around.
All four of us were atop the two unicorns, and had been that way for nearly a week. Behind us were many miles of slinking past or completely shirking civilization.
Such was the price of infamy when we had the entire Library system to contend with, not to mention the possibility that their best friend the Church of Gad might uphold their pact and bring our heads to them on silver platers.
These, then, were the Steppes of Taloole where Caius had been raised. The name wasn't unfounded, for all around us were open meadows of tall sweet grass that bent against the tiniest of breezes. Towering over the yellow grass were sparse plantings of tall oak and pine trees. The yellowed ends of the oak leaves told us that frost had nipped at them recently, and judging by the chill in the air there would be another frosting soon.
I glanced to my right where Bee and Caius rode along beside us. Caius sat behind my grandmother looking as comfortable as a fresh fish atop a skewer. He shifted and I saw the bulky bandages move beneath his coat. Those and the injury they covered were why we weren't in the skies. Even with his prodigious dragon healing the wound the god Pallius had given him still hadn't mended. I was starting to think it would never heal.
I tilted my head back and looked up. The skies were clear with not a cloud on the horizons. A sigh escaped my lips.
"Something wrong, pumpkin?" Sage asked me from his position at the head of the saddle.
I shrugged. "I'm just feeling a little down, that's all."
Sage's eyes twinkled. "That wouldn't be because you wish to ride the air currents rather than behind your grandfather, is it?"
I studied the back of his plain cloak and snorted. "Maybe I think the view's better."
Sage's eyes flickered to Caius. "Perhaps the view would change if we would arrive at this mythical village."
"Trava is just ahead," Caius insisted.
I squinted into the distance at a strange shadow lying against one of the few trees. "What's that?"
Everyone looked to where I pointed. Caius pursed his lips. "It looks like someone."
Bee gasped. "They could be in trouble!" She spurred the unicorn onward so quickly that Caius almost fell off the back.
"Nearly a good laugh. . ." I heard Sage mutter before we gave chase.
We approached the shadow and I saw it was a man. He looked to be about seventy with his silver hair combed back over his wrinkled brow. His gray eyebrows were perched above a pair of shut eyes. He wore the dark robes of a priest, though over his heart was a small pin in the shape of an anvil. His back was slumped against the trunk of the great oak and he gritted his teeth as his fingers dug deep into the steppe dirt on either side of him. At our coming his eyes flew open and he whipped his head to look in our direction. The man tried to stand, but his left leg gave out and he crumpled to the ground.
"By Gad!" I heard Caius whisper as we approached. He flung himself off the unicorn as Bee came to a stop nearby and rushed over to the man's side. "Father Ferrero!"
The man opened his eyes and they widened with recognition. "Gad be blessed!" the man shouted as he clung to the front of Caius' coat. "Is that truly you, Caius?"
Caius smiled. "In the flesh, father, but what brought you so far away from the village?"
Father Ferrero nodded at the pair of wood buckets at his side. "I had thought to get some sap from the trees during this warm weather, but my foot-" He pointed at a hole a few feet away. "I'm afraid I wasn't looking where I was going and injured my ankle."
Caius frowned at the containers before he returned his attention to the father. "Why isn't Marcus carrying your buckets?"
The good father's face paled. "Caius, I. . .you must forgive me."
Caius' eyes widened and he grabbed the front of the father's frock. "Father, where is Marcus?"
Father Ferrero closed his eyes and bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Caius. Your brother has been kidnapped."