“I have to find Richie,” Karen said as I gulped down the rest of my coffee, scalding my esophagus in the process.
We left the Gus Bus and looked around. Not surprisingly, Richie was nowhere in sight.
“Don’t you have a secret signal to summon your dragon or something?” Karen asked.
“He’s not my dragon,” I was quick to point out.
Marco, who stood to the side, smoothed his mustache. “There is a dragon whistle.”
“So use it,” Karen told him.
“I don’t know it,” he admitted.
I squinted at him disbelievingly. Having been a wizard’s assistant, he was usually a fount of knowledge. He’d even known to use the call of some obscure bird to save me when I’d been battling the Cullers, who had wanted to steal Richie’s power. It seemed unlikely that he didn’t know how to whistle for a dragon.
“Fine,” Karen huffed. “Richie!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, like all mothers have since the beginning of time. “Richie, you get back here right now.” She wandered off, shouting.
Ben, the old man, a Wind Eternal, walked toward us. “Is the boy missing?”
The concern in his tone triggered a low-grade amount of panic in my belly. Ben had joined us in our battle against his own kind to protect the boy. He seemed to know more about Richie and his abilities, but so far he’d refused to reveal much besides being worried about a balance of power.
“Richie’s fine,” Marco assured him. “He’s off exploring with Sol. Karen just wants him to come back.”
“I guess I should help her.” Walking in the opposite direction of Karen, I cupped my hands to my mouth and yelled, “Richie.”
“You’re calling the wrong one,” Marco said from behind me.
I turned to face him. “Do dragons have superior hearing?”
He tilted his head to the side. “There’s a better chance that Sol will hear you. He’s the one you should always call for.”
I sucked in a breath and shouted, “Sol!”
Ben frowned. “She doesn’t know how to call him?”
“They seem to have communication issues,” Marco replied.
Ben strode over to me. “I’ll help.” He put a hand on my elbow and offered a reassuring smile. A light breeze caressed my face. “Say his name.”
“Sol,” I murmured softly.
The breeze kicked up slightly and then was gone.
A moment later, we heard the beating of wings overhead. We all looked up to watch Sol, in all his violet dragon glory, soaring above.
Richie, riding on his back, let out an excited whoop as they landed. He hopped off, glowing greener than usual. “We flew!”
“I thought I told you no dragon riding,” I berated gently as Sol morphed into his human form, complete with his top hat propped on his head at a rakish angle.
“What’s wrong?” the dark-eyed magician asked.
“Karen’s looking for her son,” Marco explained. Turning in the direction she’d disappeared, he bellowed, “Karen!”
Sol focused all his attention on me. “But I heard you.”
“I gave her a boost,” Ben said. “But you should really—”
“Yeah, yeah.” Sol waved a dismissive hand at him.
Ben raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it your duty?”
The heat of Sol’s anger stole my breath as he turned on the other man. “I know what my duties are.”
“If you say so.” The older man raised his hand, signaling his acceptance, before turning and walking away.
Sol swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he curled his hands into fists.
“Am I in trouble?” Richie asked worriedly, sensing the tension but not understanding it.
He wasn’t the only one.
“No,” I assured him. “We’re going to go into town with Marco.” I glanced at Sol. “You can come with us.”
He shook his head. “No, thanks. I need you to put Becky into something for me to carry. We found a pond.”
I nodded my appreciation. “Great. Link will be relieved.”
“I’m sure,” he muttered. “It can’t be easy housing a thief.”
I frowned at him, wondering if he was trying to be difficult or if it just came naturally to him. Without a word, I stalked toward my pink RV.
Becky isn’t your normal talking goldfish. Not that I know what a “normal” talking goldfish would be like, but I assume that most aren’t like me, quelled. Becky and I have both had our magical abilities suppressed, along with our memories.
Because Becky is actually golden, not orange like a regular goldfish, Sol and Marco have determined that she’s a thief. But why she took what she stole and why she was quelled is anyone’s guess, which is why I’d refused to leave her behind.
“Good news,” I said with false cheeriness as I stepped into the camper. “Sol found a pond.”
“Fan-freakin-tastic!” Link bellowed in his metallic voice.
“A pond? A pond?” Becky leapt out of the copper cauldron excitedly and then splashed back into the water.
“You shouldn’t trust him.” Sol took off his hat, stepped into the camper, and pulled the door shut behind him.
My cheeks prickled as his heat filled the small space. “I have no problems with Ben,” I replied, pulling out a plastic cup to use to transport Becky. “Whatever your issues are—” I turned to take her out of the cauldron and found myself crashing into Sol.
The moment we touched, every nerve in my body caught fire. I’m not sure which of us moved first, suddenly our mouths were fused together in a kiss so hot that it burned up the air. Our hands seared paths as we explored each other’s bodies in a demanding frenzy.
“You two should get a room.” The petulant teenage voice of Glory, the cast iron pot that belonged to a wizard name Clay, piped up from the bed where she was tucked in among the pillows.
Dragging his mouth from mine, Sol muttered, “This is a room.”
“Do not take the hod’s advice,” Conroy interjected. “You should definitely not use a room. You’ll burn it down.”
Embarrassed by my owl pendant’s observation, I leaned back from Sol.
He smiled ruefully. “He’s not wrong.”
“I never am,” the owl muttered. “You’re lucky you didn’t boil the fish.”
I glanced nervously at the cauldron and was relieved to see there was no steam rising from it.
“Also,” Erich, the top hat that was Sol’s hod, complained, “just because you’re all hot and bothered, you shouldn’t drop me on the floor of this place. There’s cat hair everywhere.”
“Sorry.” Sol scooped him up, along with the cup I’d dropped. “I didn’t mean to submit you to the maddener’s mange.”
“I do not have mange,” Mildred meowed from her hiding spot beneath the passenger seat. “Just like you haven’t mastered the art of foreplay.”
Cheeks hot with mortification, I groaned. “Have any of you ever heard of giving people some privacy?”
“I closed my eyes?” Becky announced in her annoying upspeak.
“She did,” Link, the cauldron, confirmed. “She keeps crashing into me.”
“Thank you, Becky,” I said. She might be a thief, but at least she has a sense of decorum.
I snatched the cup out of Sol’s hand and scooped up some water, and the fish with it. “Be careful,” I said as I handed her over to him.
“You be careful,” he lectured. “Try not to let anyone attract attention while you’re in town. We don’t need to alert any Cullers or Eternals to our presence.”
I nodded my understanding. It was good advice. We didn’t need any more trouble.
“And find an instrument,” Mildred meowed.
I peered down at her. “What?”
She narrowed her blue feline eyes at me. “Like a flute. You know, one of those silver things that people huff and puff into and sound comes out of.”
“Why?” I asked.
“To make music, you fool,” she grumbled.
“Is this part of the love song?” Conroy asked.
“Of course,” the cat hissed at the owl.
Sol scowled down at her. “What love song?”
“I have to find the perfect love song,” I told him.
He raised his eyebrows. “Oh yeah?”
I shrugged. “That’s what she says.”
Sol eyed the cat suspiciously. “And what will this perfect love song do?”
“Right a wrong,” Mildred muttered. “Save your girlfriend from eternal damnation.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Sol muttered.
I winced. Sure, I’d just told Karen that he and I weren’t dating, but it still stung a little to hear him be so dismissive of our relationship. Whatever status it might be.
The Siamese let out a scoffing noise that sounded more like a coughing fit. “Okay, find the love song and save your hottie hook-up from hell.”
It was Sol’s turn to cringe at the label being put on our connection.
Delighting in our discomfort, Mildred stretched indulgently, flexing her claws. “Instrument. Music. Voice.”
“Those are the ingredients for the spell?” Conroy asked.
I made a mental note to thank the owl afterward for making an effort to keep this careening conversation on track.
“Yes,” Mildred hissed. “Find them. Put them together. Perfect love song. She gets another charm.”
“Will it be silver?” Becky glub-glubbed from the cup in Sol’s hand.
“Yes,” I replied distractedly. “The charms are silver.”
“I love silver?” she exclaimed excitedly.
“Is that what you steal?” Sol asked her.
I glared at him, but the fish was blissfully unaware.
“I stole a silver cup?” she admitted freely. “So pretty? So shiny?”
Sol squinted down at the cup. “What kind of silver cup?”
“I don’t remember?”
“But—” he began.
“Instrument. Music. Voice,” Mildred interrupted. “Those are the priorities. No silver cups.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Where am I supposed to find a flute?”
“Break into a school and steal one,” she suggested.
“I’m not stealing from kids,” I told her. “I’m not a thie—”
Remembering Becky, I interrupted myself. “I’m not someone who steals from kids.”
“Well then, be prepared to be with me forever.” With that, the cat turned her back to us, signaling that her participation in the conversation was over.
“Perhaps we’ll find one for sale,” Conroy soothed.
“Whatever you do, do not attract attention,” Sol reminded me. “That’s the first rule. No attention.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I waved him away. “I got that.”
I understood the importance of not doing anything Cullers or Eternals might notice.
I understood that I shouldn’t break the rule.
But I was about to.