There's never a dull moment for Caitlin alongside her handsome dragon shifter, Asher. This time their tranquility is spoiled by Asher himself as he sets them out to find their old enemies.
Their search leads them to a strange professor who holds the secret of the gods, but he'll only tell them at a price: he gets to go with them on their next adventure. Reluctantly they agree, and the trio are driven by Gregor to Molina, the Land of the Windmills.
They waste no time getting into trouble on their first day, but trouble also stalks them. The shadows of their nighttime foes linger over them even as they find themselves being tracked by a mysterious animal. Even more surprising, Cait keeps hearing a sorrowful voice whispering to her on the famous winds of the town.
Will she heeds its call? Or is the voice leading her to her doom?
I peeked out the doorway. The early morning sun shone in my eyes, but I squinted against its brilliance. I had to know. I had to be careful.
I had to get the twenty feet to the carriage.
I took a deep breath. "You can do this, Cait."
I took one last look. Nothing. My body tensed. I sprang forward and rushed toward the open door.
A cackle broke the air. The witch zoomed out of the sky, her clawed hand reaching for me. I flung up my arms to block her grasping fingers.
A shadow appeared beside me. A fist swung at the air and collided with the witch's haggled face. With a terrible scream the witch careened past me and disappeared headfirst into the neighbor's bushes. The top of her black boots stuck out like demented lawn ornaments, and occasionally they twitched. Her broom lay broken, again, atop the brush.
I smiled up at my savior. "I should keep you watch at my balcony."
Asher grinned as he offered me his arm. "I try my best."
I accepted his arm and he led me toward the carriage driven by our old friend, Gregor. "So where exactly are you taking me? I mean, besides the carriage."
His humor fell away and he looked ahead of us with a furrowed brow. "There's someone I want you to meet."
I arched an eyebrow. "One of your crazy friends?"
He shook his head. "No. On the contrary, I've never seen his face."
Asher helped me into the carriage and I blinked at him from the seat. "Come again?"
Asher paused with his foot on the step and looked up at Gregor. "To 11 Magus Avenue."
Gregor tilted his head to one side. "You sure about that?"
"Quite sure, and don't spare the horses," Asher instructed him as he hopped inside. "I don't want him to use the excuse of an early lunch."
"Alright," Gregor called back as he looked with empty eyes at the road ahead of us.
The horses whinnied and I yelped as the carriage, driven by the blind man, shot forward. We drove down the street like we were on fire. Riders and other carriages, apparently aware of the reputation of the mad man, reined their steeds out of the way as we passed.
I grasped one of the strap and tried to keep from rocking too hard into Asher's side. "Who's ‘he?'"
Even Asher had a grip on his own oh-shit strap. "A very ancient and learned man who lives in the older part of the city."
"And what does this very ancient and learned man know that we want to know?" I asked him.
"He may know about the god on Earrach an Athas, and about the vase we found all those years ago beneath the castle," he revealed.
I frowned. "If you think he knows something then have haven't you talked to him before?"
Asher sighed. "Because he is rather a reclusive man. I believe he hasn't left his house in fifty years. All his food, and a great number of books, are delivered weekly and yearly through a large slot beside the door."
"So what makes you think today's going to be your lucky day?" I wondered.
He smiled down at me. "Because I'm taking you along with me."
I pointed a finger at me. "Me? Why me?"
"I heard a report recently that he is fond of beautiful women, and I thought perhaps you might manage to get us an audience with him."
"I'm quite serious."
"He just lets in pretty women?"
"Well, apparently his delivery man of all those years recently retired, and his replacement is a rather attractive young woman. On her first day she was allowed to carry the delivery into the house."
I looked down at myself. "I'm not sure if I can fit into a tight delivery uniform."
Asher's eyes lit up with an unmistakable fire. "I wouldn't mind helping you."
I snorted. "Then I'd never get in it."
"I'm not sure I would see that as a problem."
My mind wandered back to the confrontation in the bowels of Earrach an Athas and I furrowed my brow. "Do you think Davy is going to try to find another god?"
Asher looked out his window and sighed. "Undoubtedly. We must hope that Professor Stephen Cosimos has some insight into finding another god before Davy does."
I bit my lower lip. "Would it be that bad if he did?"
Asher turned his head back to me and studied my face. "You saw the inside of the mountain. Is that a destruction you wish to see elsewhere?"
I shook my head. "No, but-well, I-" I averted my face from his curious eyes. "I was just thinking it would help someone else, too."
Asher grasped my hands in his, and I looked up to find him smiling at me. "I accepted my fate long ago, though it took some getting over the guilt. You've helped me do that."
"Maybe we can do the same for Davy," I suggested.
Asher looked down at my hands and pursed his lips. "Perhaps. . ."
We turned a sharp corner and I was pushed back against the seat as we climbed an incredibly steep hill. "Does this guy live at the top of some haunted mountain?"
"Merely a crag that overlooks the city," Asher assured me as he leaned out the window.
I followed suit and froze. Ahead of us, looming against the landscape, stood a rambling house of some ancient lineage. There were more additions than a surprise math quiz, and none of them matched. I could see styles similar to a castle in its thick foundation, a Victorian mansion among its tall, narrow windows, and a Tudor cottage with its wood beams set in mud-covered stone. All of it was in great disrepair. It looked like a windstorm or a soft breeze would take the whole structure down.
Adding to the decrepit state was the dark solitude. The whole place was surrounded by a rusted metal fence that barred all but weeds from growing within a hundred feet of the house. The darks windows stared at us like empty sockets in a skull, and the peeling paint was like flesh being stripped off its bone by time and weather.
"Homey," I quipped as we rolled past the fallen gates and up to the tilted porch.
A pair of weathered wooden doors stood at attention like ancient soldiers ready for retirement. Asher hopped out and helped me alight. I tilted my head back and could hardly see the tops of some of the pointed towers.
"I'm going to guess this guy is rich," I mused.
"Cosimos comes from an ancient family and was instructed in learning at the prestigious University Magicalus," Asher told me as he looked around the porch. "From what I could gleam from Galen, he had lectured at the university for twenty years before a disagreement over the curriculum of his courses led to his quitting and coming here to his ancestral home to study."
I arched an eyebrow. "What kind of course did he want to teach?"
Asher focused his eyes on the doors and started toward them. "Cannibalism."
I moved to join him, but froze. My eyes grew as wide as saucers. "Did. . .does that mean the same thing in this world as in mine?"
Asher stopped before the entrance and half-turned to me with an innocent expression on his face. "Does it mean to eat another being as yourself?"
I stiffly nodded. "Yeah."
I winced. "I think I'll stay out here. I don't want him to admire my legs too much."
Asher grinned. "I was kidding."
My face drooped before I narrowed my eyes at him. "About which part?"
"The cannibalism part," he told me as he turned back to the door. "Mostly."
"What do you mean ‘mostly?'" I questioned him as I strode up to his side.
He smiled down at me. "The good doctor does have an interest in the occult, and he was never one to squirm away from the less pleasant aspects of that form of worship." Asher grasped the knocker, but the metal band crunched and crumbled beneath his strength. He opened his hand and the bits fell into a dusty pile at our feet.
"Apparently he was never interested in the practice of cleanliness," I quipped as I studied the porch. A large slot in the wall to the left of the doors supported the stories about the deliveries.
"Yes, well, let us hope he was a good idea," Asher mused as he brushed off his hands and rapped on the door with his knuckle.
The sound echoed across a large hall. I strained my ears listening for the tell-tale signs of footsteps approaching.
I yelped at the sudden noise that came from the other side of the door. There hadn't been so much as a squeak of a mouse.
"Information, Dr. Cosimos," Asher replied.
"I have nothing to say to anyone," the ancient, raspy voice snapped. "Now go away!"
"My friend here would be very curious to hear what you have to say," Asher persisted as he caught my eyes and jerked his head toward the door.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded, and immediately realized the old man couldn't see me. "Y-yes, that's right. I wanted to ask you some questions."
"I don't answer questions anymore!" the old man growled. "Now go-"
"It's about Athas," I interrupted.
There was a pause, so long I wondered if maybe the old man hadn't died on his own doorstep. "The mountain?"
"No, the god," I told him.
There was a slight scoff from the other side. "What do young people know about gods?"
"I know this one because I talked to him," I revealed.
Cosimos paused again, and his voice came back sharp and angry. "You lie."
"Then let me prove it," I pleaded.
"Prove your words by describing him."
I closed my eyes and recalled the strange creature who protected that sacred mountain. "He had the wings of the pixies, a long mustache for the hares, and the body of the elves."
"Bah," Cosimos sneered. "Anyone can-"
"And he had a staff made from vines for the firfream," I recalled. Silence. I couldn't even hear a board creak. I leaned closer to the door. "Dr. Cosimos? Are you-"
The door swung open and I found myself falling into the house. Asher caught my arm and righted me before I dropped onto a pile of books stacked near the door. It was one of many, and wouldn't have made a particularly comfortable landing.
I hung partially in the door and found myself staring in the wizened face of a most ancient and curious face. Dr. Cosimos himself sported a long mustache and his hair, or what little remained, was combed back. His eyebrows were of prodigious bushiness that partially hid his keen eyes. He was attired in a robe worn by some great ancestor and decorated with fur hems and gold tassels. His shoes were worn to slippers and his pants were little more than thin table napkins, patched by an unskilled hand. The coat hid most of his blouse, once white but now stained with countless dinners past.
Asher stepped inside and righted me so we both faced the doctorate on even footing. My dragon companion bowed his head. "Thank you for-"
"Save your thanks," Dr. Cosimos snapped as he slammed the door shut behind us. "And tell me what you know."