The sun was warm and a soft breeze brushed the hair out of his eyes. Ternach took a deep breath and sighed. What a great day. He chewed on the end of a piece of grass and closed his eyes, the sound of the small stream lulling him to sleep. He cracked open one eye lazily and, sure that there was no one in the immediate area, closed it again. The rabbit he’d shot was roasting over the fire and the smell made its way to his nose. He smiled. It was on days like today when he didn’t really mind the fact that he was now human. It was nice to know that this moment, this feeling, wouldn’t simply be forgotten; wouldn’t become a blink of time in his travels. It made him wonder just how many moments, people, or places he’d simply forgotten due to his long life.
A branch breaking to his left made him tense. He sat up, loosening his dagger as he moved toward the sound.
Fantastic, he thought to himself. Five men were walking into the small clearing where he’d thought to make lunch.
“Hello, camp!” A tall blond man called out the customary greeting.
Ternach stood and nodded. “A fine afternoon to you,” he responded. His heart started to beat faster as the man’s form blurred and reappeared as a tiger. His heart sank. By the moons, what had he been thinking? He knew he’d run into packs if he left the Northern Regions. He’d known what would happen if he was unlucky enough to come across one and he was also more than aware of the fact that the closer the got to the Wedelven River and Sageden, the more likely he’d be to run into them.
The red headed man glanced at Ternach’s bow and arrows and frowned. Ternach held his hands up.
“I don’t want any trouble. I’m just heading to Sageden to visit Hayden and her pack.”
The shortest of them, he had to be a good head shorter than Ternach’s six foot one, raised an eyebrow and snorted. “Right. And why in the name of the moons would the Chosen One want to visit with a human.”
It was Ternach’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “You’ve never met her, have you? Hayden doesn’t care what kind of being you are; she has this ridiculous ability to trust anyone and everyone.”
The short man glared. “We don’t like your kind in these parts.”
Ternach took a deep breath and blew it out of his nose, knowing that his next statement would either get him a free pass from these men, or a beating. “I’m not just randomly going to visit her. I’m a part of her pack.” He paused there, hoping beyond hope that they’d leave the matter alone. Bloody shifters; ever since Braw had been defeated in Paradin, they’d gotten a bit high on themselves.
The man standing to his left looked at the red headed man. “She did have quite a few humans that ran in her pack.”
His friend frowned. “Were you a part of it?”
“So you couldn’t vouch for him?”
The man shook his head and had the decency to look apologetic. Ternach tried to smile. He’d have to re-evaluate his opinion on shifters it seemed. Not all of them were full of hot air. The decent Namael tried a different approach.
“Do you have a name?”
Ternach’s heart jumped. Damn it, any question would have been better than that one. He opened his mouth to lie then shut it. He’d tried that approach on his way home a few times and the outcome was still the same as when he’d told the truth. He looked the man squarely.
The red headed man started to laugh. “Ternach? The immortal Ternach? You’re standing there in front of us and you expect us to believe you’re the Evertimeless?”
Ternach ran a hand through his raven black hair and grunted. “I do.”
The man made a show of slapping his knee and wiping false tears from his light blue eyes. He straightened and took a few deep breaths to calm himself. “I don’t believe you.”
Ternach nodded. “I got that.”
The most humble of the five smirked and looked embarrassed. “Can you prove it?”
Ternach shook his head. “No, I can’t. I lost my powers and became mortal in Paradin when Hayden and I destroyed the staff.”
The man nodded eagerly and turned to his friends. “I’d heard that. I wasn’t in the courtyard, but he’s telling the truth. That’s exactly what happened.”
The red head looked at the other man in disgust. “By the moons, Eric, everyone’s heard that story. Any idiot out there could say he was Ternach.”
This caused the former immortal to grunt. “Well, then, what would you have me do? I have no magic, no way of proving I’m me unless you want to follow me to Sageden and Hayden can tell you herself.”
The tall blond man who’d shifted into a tiger shifted back. “He does have strange eyes.”
Ternach turned his white green eyes on him. He looked from one man to the other. He was now surrounded and all of them looked on edge. He had a bad feeling about the outcome of this meeting. His eyes widened.
“Wait! I can prove I’m me.” He turned and bent to rummage through his pack.
“He’s getting a weapon!” The red head took three strides and kicked him in the ribs. Ternach’s breath left his body in a rush and he scrambled backwards, trying to pull some air back into his lungs. Knowing there wasn’t much he could do against five other men, he lay where he’d fallen and clenched his jaw as he awaited the pain.
The red head kicked him again and this time Ternach cried out as the bone in his forearm broke with a sickening crunch.
“Jason! Stop!” Eric ran forward and grabbed the object Ternach had dropped. “It’s not a knife, it’s a note.” He glared at his friend and smoothed out the piece of paper before reading aloud.
Jason’s eyes widened as the words Hayden had written in her last letter made their way to his ears. He ran a hand over his face, swore under his breath, and walked away. Eric folded the note and handed it back to Ternach.
“Sorry about that. He’s been a bit… on edge since Paradin.”
Ternach grunted and got up slowly, his arm cradled to his chest.
“Did he break it?”
“Wait here. I’m not a healer by any means, but my sister’s one and I’ve learned a few tricks from her.” Eric disappeared into the woods and reappeared a short while later with four thick sticks. “Do you have a tunic you don’t mind ripping?”
Ternach gestured to his pack with a nod of his head. “Use the blue one.”
Eric took his arm and fabricated a splint from the sticks and tunic. Ternach tried to keep the pain of off his features. The Namael looked up at him apologetically as he tied the last knot.
“Sorry.” He glanced around and realized his friends had already moved on. “Think you’ll be able to manage?”
Ternach nodded. “Thanks.” He watched as the smaller man’s form wavered and shifted into a jaguar. The big cat tilted his head in silent farewell then bound off after his pack.
“By the moons, Ternach, you haven’t even crossed the Wedelven River yet. A cracked rib and a broken arm; at this rate, you’ll get yourself killed by the time you reach Plaintree.” He pulled the burnt rabbit from the fire and tossed it onto the grass to cool off. It was going to be the worst meal he’d had in a while, he knew, but he was aware that with a broken arm, the chances he’d actually be able to hunt for his next meal were slim. He blew his breath out of his nose and ran a hand though his hair. Leave the Northern Regions? By the moons, what had he been thinking?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
His stomach growled and complained.
“Just a minute,” he told it, aware that for the past two days he’d spent the better part of the day talking to his digestive track. He reached up into the cannie tree and gasped in pain as his broken arm touched the branch he was looking at. He cradled it against his chest and used the other hand to get the pulpy fruit his stomach was telling him it wanted.
It had been nearly four days since he’d met the pack and he was almost at the Wedelven River. He wasn’t exactly sure where the invisible bridge lay at this very moment. It was one of the reasons he was nervous at the moment. As an immortal he’d been able to see the beautiful wooden structure. Would he be able to see it now that his magic had been taken away? He groaned and sat with his back to the tree. By the moons, why hadn’t he just taken Hayden’s invitation and gotten on Dodge? He’d have been in Sageden at this very moment enjoying a mug of sloan, his arm would still be intact, and he wouldn’t be hungry. He took a bite of the sweet juicy fruit and wagged a mental finger at himself. But no. He’d had to decide to travel by himself across a land he knew was hostile toward humans. He thought of a small dragon and concentrated. Nothing. Still human.
A woman’s laugh made its way to his ears and he scrambled so he was lying hidden under a bush. The laugher broke off.
“Did you hear that?”
“No.” The second voice was a man’s.
Were they humans, shifters, or Wedelves? Ternach didn’t think that getting up to ask them was an entirely great idea. Their footsteps moved to his right.
“Are you sure you heard something?” the man asked his friend.
Ternach stayed as still as possible. He was fairly sure he was completely hidden. If he couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see him, right? He supposed he could show himself and hope for the best. Most shifters were aware that he’d helped Hayden and her pack. The problem was that many of them didn’t know he’d lost all his powers. This had been proven once again with Jason and his friends. A lot of the packs he had met in the months after the war seemed to think the only way he could prove he was himself was to show some sort of magic. He’d almost been killed twice because of shifters who assumed he was simply human. The only thing that had saved him was that he’d rattled off everyone who was a part of Hayden’s pack and what they looked like.
The woman giggled and he heard footsteps getting closer.
Ternach jumped to his feet and whirled toward the woman. His heart was pounding, his hands shaking, his arm throbbing.
The woman fell to the ground laughing, tears rolling down her face.
“By the moons, Cassandra! Peter, is that you?”
Peter appeared, his own laughter shaking his body.
“You should have seen your face!” Cassandra brushed the long curly black hair out of her black eyes. The green vine tattoo under her eye that marked her as a healer was bright against her dark skin. “I thought you were going to die on the spot!”
Ternach grunted but couldn’t help but smile at the two of them. He’d gotten to like them when he’d become a part of Hayden’s pack.
Peter was shaking his head. “Didn’t anybody tell you that if you’re going to hide from shifters that you should do it up in a tree and not down on the ground?”
“No, no one thought to tell me that, and it would have been some great information, let me tell you.”
Cassandra gave him a hug and pulled back at his gasp of pain as his arm was caught between them. “What are you doing out of the Northern Regions and what in the world did you do to your arm?”
“Ugh. Well, my arm was broken when a pack of shifters decided I was human and I didn’t deserve to walk across this land.” He sucked in a breath as Cassandra pulled the green healers’ wave from the air, wrapped it around his forearm and the bones healed themselves. He smiled and kissed her cheek. “Thank you. As for why I’m out of the Northern Regions, Hayden refuses to leave me alone. I’m taking a trip to Sageden to keep the woman happy.” He shook his head.
Cassandra grinned. “Our Ternach is going soft in his humanity.”
Peter laughed. “Leave the man alone.” He started getting things ready for the fire. “Have you had lunch? We were about to stop to eat when Cassandra thought she heard you.”
“I haven’t had a decent meal in four days.” He held his arm up to show why.
“Well, have a seat then and we’ll fix that issue,” Cassandra said as she pulled some cheese from her pack. “There was something I wanted to show you. We were actually thinking of going up to see you, so this works out great.”
“You found something?”
Peter nodded. “We were north of Pinsaber, along the coast.” He put a rabbit over the fire and dug through his pack. “It was in one of the caves we were exploring.”
“If it weren’t for the fact that Peter fell into the underground lake, we would never have found it.”
Peter grunted. “I seem to recall someone pushing me into the lake.”
Cassandra grinned and Ternach laughed.
“Anyway, it was under the water line, almost completely covered in algae.” He found what he was looking for and held it out so that Ternach could take it.
The sphere was small and would probably fit in Cassandra’s hand comfortably. It was a clear yellow color with darker veining running through it. Ternach tapped it with his knuckle.
“It feels like marble.”
Cassandra nodded. “The colors actually change. It stays yellow, but the veining moves around.” They all looked at it intently and Ternach saw what she was talking about.
“We found one in Braw’s offices after we defeated the humans at Paradin. You were already gone by then. No one knew what it was and none of the magic wielders could feel any energy coming from it.”
Ternach frowned. Had he seen one of these before? A small nagging feeling told him yes, but where? And when? He’d been alive since time began and had been everywhere imaginable.
“You’ve seen one?” Cassandra was leaning forward.
Ternach grunted and ran a hand through his black hair. His white green eyes met her black ones. He nodded. “I’m not sure when or where, but I’m sure I’ve seen one.” He looked at the orb again. “It was red, mind you. What color was the one found in Paradin?”
“Green.” They watched him as he tried to think back.
“No. I honestly can’t remember.”
“I wonder how many of them there are.” Peter was looking at the orb with a newfound amazement.
“I wonder where the red one Ternach saw is now.” Cassandra looked into her mate’s dark green eyes. He smiled.
“Feel like going sphere hunting?”
She nodded and grinned. “Definitely.”
Ternach couldn’t take his eyes off of the yellow wisps moving through the orb. He blinked and looked over to his friends. “Mind if I come along?”
Both of them smiled. “Of course not.” Cassandra turned and put the sphere away.
He’d have to find a way to get a message to Hayden and Bryenk so that neither of them worried when he didn’t end up in Sageden in a few weeks. Ternach wanted to laugh at himself. Cassandra was right; he was getting soft in his humanity.
“So? I was wondering, did you ever get any of your magic back?” Cassandra looked at him curiously.
He shook his head. “No. Not a stitch of it.” He grinned. “Do you honestly think I’d be walking to Sageden if I had my powers back?”
Peter laughed. “Maybe you wanted to see the scenery for a change.”
Ternach grunted. “Not likely. By the moons this being human is a bother.”
Cassandra’s smile softened. “Do you think Hayden can help you?”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure. She thinks she can, so maybe.”
“We could go there first if you’d like,” offered Peter.
“No, that’s alright.” Ternach frowned. “Do you know, I think these orbs may be a bit more important than my magic?”
“So you’re telling me you’ve been down to the Sandsea?” Ternach shook his head in dismay as he struck his flints together to start a fire.
Cassandra grinned. “We did. We traveled from one end of it to the other and not once did we see a Zerpanay.”
Peter raised an eyebrow at his mate. “You make that sound like it’s a bad thing! Personally, I am very grateful for the fact that we never saw one of those flying oil covered creatures. You do realize they eat shifters, don’t you, love?”
She snorted. “Of course I realize that. I’m not daft, you know.”
He smiled, his dark green eyes twinkling. He opened his mouth to say something and stopped short as she held up her hand and let out a friendly growl.
“Never mind, now,” she laughed. “Don’t even think of responding to that.”
He made his way to her side and kissed her softly. “I was simply going to say that the thought never crossed my mind. You’re the smartest woman I know.”
She chuckled. “I’m sure that’s what you were going to say.” She looked at the fire and her black eyes lit up. “Ooh! Do you know what I’ve a craving for? Grambs!”
Peter wrinkled his nose. “Of course you do.” He took her hand and looked back at Ternach as they started to walk away. “We’ll be back. Do you want one if we find any?”
Ternach remembered that the fruit in question was brown, but not what it tasted like. “I’ll give it a try.” He place a few more logs on the fire and watched as they caught. The quiet crackle and pop of the flames broke the silence of the forest. He settled himself on his blankets, had a drink from his canteen, and waited for his friends to return, making sure to check on the fish he had over the fire.
Ternach looked up from the fish. “Hello, there.” Great, he thought. Of course a pack of six, no, seven shifters would show up while Peter and Cassandra were hunting for some grambs to eat with the fish. The leader of the pack, he had to be shorter than Ternach’s six foot one by a good four or five inches, looked around the site, his light blue eyes stopping to assess the black haired man by the fire. The breeze blew his dark brown hair into his eyes.
“No. My friends are off looking for some fruit to add to our supper.”
The question he’d been dreading was next. “Are you shifters?” He remembered how just a couple of years prior the question would have been ‘are you Namael or Maj’. By the tone of the man’s voice, he wasn’t going to like the answer Ternach was about to give him.
“My friends are; I’m not.” There was no use lying to them; all they had to do was get a look behind his ear to see he didn’t have either mark and he knew the beating he’d receive while they looked for it wasn’t going to be pleasant. He frowned. He’d gone from the most powerful being in Quelondain to this, a pitiful human dreading the next beating he was about to get. Here, he’d sacrificed almost everything to save their kind and now he had to endure this. He looked up from the fish and his white green eyes met the other’s light blue ones.
“What’s your name?”
Maybe he should just make up a name. Maybe they’d leave him alone if they didn’t think he was trying to be the Evertimeless. He decided against it. Damn it, he wasn’t going to lie about who he was.
The light blue eyes widened and a few snickers could be heard from the men behind him. Ternach took a deep breath. Here came the beating.
Ternach’s temper flared. This was ridiculous. “By the moons, maybe it’s about time somebody sent out a note to let everyone know what happened in Paradin that day! I can’t prove it! I lost all of my magic when that blasted staff touched me! Were you even there? Maybe if you had been you’d have seen it happen!” His tirade was ended by the fist that connected with his stomach. He doubled over, his lungs screaming for air. A knee came up and caught him in the face. His head snapped back and he fell to the ground. He could feel the blood running from his nose and he tried to scramble backwards to get away. He looked back to make sure he wasn’t heading into the fire, his one eye already swelling shut.
He frowned. Who was that?
“Stop it! He’s not lying!”
Ternach watched as a small woman with long auburn hair put herself between him and her pack. She glanced back and her dark hazel eyes looked him over quickly as if to make sure she was right. He couldn’t recall having seen her before today. He stayed on the ground. There was no point in getting up if they were going to ignore her and keep on with the beating.
“You’ve met him before?” The blue eyed man frowned at her.
She shook her head and Ternach’s heart dropped. The man made to step forward and she pushed him back before standing more defensively in front of him.
“I haven’t met him, met him, but I’ve seen him. I was there in the courtyard when it happened.”
Ternach was so relieved he thought he’d cry. He sat up, a bit more hopeful than a few minutes prior.
“When Hayden touched that staff, I was sure we were all going to die. Ternach helped her kill the power. I don’t know how he did it, but he did. If he says that it killed his magic, then I believe him.”
“How do you know he’s not just some human who knows this story and is using it to his advantage?”
The woman looked back to him again and he could have sworn she was blushing.
“Because…well, because when a man looks like that, a woman doesn’t easily forget.” There was a shocked, amused silence as everyone thought about this.
“By the moons, what do you think you’re doing?” Peter and Cassandra came running to his side. Peter stood by the auburn haired woman while Cassandra knelt beside him. She looked him over and glared at the pack.
“They didn’t believe I was me.” He tried to smile but the split in his lip widened and he stopped. He shook his head and wiped a hand under his nose to wipe the blood that had soaked into the stubble there.
“Lay back and I’ll fix you up.” Cassandra waited until he was situated and ran a green wave over his face. He sucked in a breath as everything healed.
“What do you mean you had to make sure he was who he said he was?” Peter sounded outraged. “When’s the last time you saw a human, or even a shifter for that matter, with eyes that color?”
The dark haired man stood his ground, his face turning red. “White Ones have eyes that color! I’ve seen Queen Melana. Hers are just like that but blue.”
Cassandra grunted from where she still knelt by his side. “Well, obviously he’s not Queen Melana, and if you thought he was a White One, then you mean to tell us you were beating who you believed was to be the next king of the Namaels?”
“I didn’t say that’s what I thought he was.”
Ternach got up. “Leave it be, Cassandra. No harm done.” He started off toward the creek to clean the blood off. What he really wanted was to have a sliver of his power for just an instant so he could fry the idiot where he stood, or to have a fair one on one fight without the chance of the whole pack jumping in, but since that wasn’t going to happen, there was no use in getting everyone more riled then they already were.
He pulled his tunic over his head then knelt by the creek so he could wash his face. When he was clean he submerged his shirt and tried to get all of the blood out of it. Thankfully, the one he’d been wearing was a dark brown so any stains wouldn’t be too noticeable. He wrung it out and set it to dry on a branch.
Maybe you should go back, he thought to himself. Back? Back where? To the camp? The Northern Regions? Well, he planned on going back to the camp eventually; right after his adrenaline quit pumping and he knew he was going to be able to keep his mouth shut. As for the Northern Regions… that too, was an eventuality.
He sat with his knees up, his arms wrapped loosely around them, and watched as the water ran by.
“Ternach?” It was the auburn haired woman. “Can I… I mean, do you mind if I sit down?”
He looked up and squinted in the sunlight. “Not at all.”
“I’m Sarah, by the way. I wanted to apologize.”
He frowned. “For saving my life?” He was fairly sure the dark haired captain would have taken things past the regular beating.
She blushed. “For the others. They get a little carried away when it comes to humans. Robert’s mate was separated by Braw’s staff about five years ago. I don’t think he ever forgave himself for not being home when they took her.”
He grunted. “I’d love to say I can relate, but I can’t, never having had a mate myself.” They were both quiet for a moment and he glanced at her. The setting sun was making her hair look red. “Doesn’t he realize that not all humans hate shifters? There were quite a few humans in Hayden’s pack when we attacked Paradin.”
She shook her head. “I’ve tried telling him, but he doesn’t want to hear it.”
Ternach grunted again. She looked over to him. He was just a breathtaking as she remembered him. His hair was as black as the darkest night and his eyes were such a huge contrast with their white green coloring. The high cheekbones, the tanned skin; she couldn’t stop her gaze as it ran over his wide shoulders and down his side to his narrow hips. She fought the urge to poke him to see if the muscles in his arm were as hard as they looked. She remembered one of the human girls talking about him after they’d attacked the keep of Paradin. ‘Built like a Greek god’ was what she’d used to describe him. Sarah had never seen a Greek god, but was sure she’d be able to tell if she ever came across one.
“Dog or cat?” Ternach smiled in her direction. He still didn’t understand women’s fascination with his looks. As far as he could tell he didn’t look any different than the rest of the men; never had. Now had he gotten stuck living as a rock man he might have understood the stares.
Sarah blushed. “What?”
“Are you a dog or a cat?”
“Oh! A cat. A cheetah.” She met his eyes. “Why?”
He shrugged. “I was just wondering.”
They were quiet again.
“Did it hurt? When you lost your magic?” She grew uneasy at the anger that darkened his face but it left just as quickly as it had appeared and he shrugged.
“I’m sorry. That was probably none of my business.”
“No, no, that’s fine. I wasn’t angry with you for asking.” He frowned. “Let’s just say I may be more than a bit resentful with the fact that it happened. I miss my magic.” Why was he telling her this? He hadn’t even told Bryenk. Maybe it was because she’d stood up for him? “Yes, it hurt.”
He sounded so sad. Sarah reached over and put a hand on his arm. By the moons, he was as hard as he looked. She focused on the topic at hand.
“It probably doesn’t help that you sacrificed almost all that you were to save us from annihilation and now every time you come across a shifter you take a beating.”
He jerked. “How did you know that?”
“You weren’t surprised when Robert came at you. I could see it the instant we walked into the camp. You were expecting to take a few hits. You had this most horribly resigned look on your face.”
“Yes, well, thank you for stepping in. It was one of the shortest beatings I’ve had to endure so far.”
“I was going to say something sooner but I thought your speech might do the trick.”
He smiled. “I thought so too until he punched me in the stomach.”
“So why didn’t you fight back?”
“Honestly, I used to.” He shrugged. “It turns out there’s not much I can do against four or more shifters at a time. If I don’t fight back, they leave me alone faster. That’s why I went back to the Northern Regions. I was tired of getting hit all the time. I used to be able to heal myself, it didn’t matter what the injury was. Now it hurts, and it takes forever before it feels better again.”
“When did you leave them again?”
“Oh, about four months ago. I was heading to Sageden to see Hayden because she has a few ideas about how to get some of my magic back, but then I ran into Cassandra and Peter and have been tagging along with them for the past two or so.”
“Did you know them from before?”
He nodded. “They were a part of Hayden’s pack when we attacked Paradin.” She’d taken her hand off of his arm but he could still feel where her fingers had been. “What about you?”
Her eyes widened. “Me? There’s not much to say, really. I was born in Bliar and trained under my mother to be a blacksmith. My father was on the guard. My mother died of a chest infection when I was seventeen and I took over the shop. When Melana announced we would be attacking Paradin I volunteered to go along.” She shrugged. “Melana’s changed her take on having females on the guard and so I stayed on with this pack. I like to see new things so this is great for me.”
Ternach reached over and checked his shirt. “I don’t think it will dry very well now that the sun is going down.” He stood and held out his hand to help her stand.
She looked at him as she let him pull her up and tilted her head to the side. “If you miss your magic so much, why didn’t you head to Sageden as you had originally planned?”
He grinned and she had to catch her breath. “Let’s just say I love a good adventure.”
He chuckled. “I’ll tell you all about it when the rest of your pack leaves.” They started back toward the camp.
“What makes you so sure I’m staying?”
“I could almost see your cat ears perk up at the word adventure.” He smiled down at her and laughed when she stuck out her tongue.
“Alright, fine, I was going to ask if you would mind if I stayed.”
“So long as you promise not to beat on me.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. He had to be a good nine inches taller than she was, not to mention that he outweighed her by at least eighty pounds. She’d have to take him by surprise and even then it would be touch and go. He stopped walking and grinned.
“Look at you standing there trying to figure out how you’d get it done!”
“I was not!” She tried to keep the blush from rising to her face but failed miserably.
“How would you do it?”
She smiled crookedly at him. “Well, if I tell you, you’ll know what’s happening when I try, now won’t you.”
He burst out laughing. “I’ll stay on my guard then.” He looked up at the movement farther in the woods and his jaw clenched.
“Sarah, we’re moving on!” called Robert.
She saw Ternach tense and she put a hand on his arm. She saw the dark look harden his features and she knew without a doubt that should Robert do anything to provoke him at this moment, Ternach wouldn’t just lie down and take the beating. In fact, she was positive that in a fair fight, Ternach was rarely the loser.
“I’ll be staying on with this crew,” she called back to him.
“Our orders are to…”
“Your orders, you mean. I volunteer for this shift and now I’ve found something else I’d rather do.”
Robert growled low in his throat. “It’s none of my business who you decide to do, but can I remind you there are quite a few very available shifters around. By the moons, even a dog would be better than this!”
Sarah threw herself in front of Ternach and pushed him back a step. “Don’t! He’s just trying to get a rise out of you so you’ll go after him. After that you’re fair game for the whole pack to join in.” She stood with her back against his chest so she could look at the other man. By the moons, he was solid. “You’re right, Robert! Who I do is none of your business and if I decide that Ternach is the one who should take care of the urge when it strikes me, then so be it.”
Robert grunted. “How can you even stand to have him touching you? He’s human! And even if he hadn’t lost all of his magic, he would still have been a freak!”
“And they say humans are narrow minded,” mumbled Ternach. “If he hits me first, can I hit him back?”
“Of course,” she glanced up and back at him. The white green eyes were full of mischief and she almost screamed with surprise as his strong hands turned her, his lips pressing against hers. She heard Robert growl and tried to pull away but Ternach’s arms wrapped around her and she was trapped. She started to feel lightheaded before she reminded herself to breathe. She tried to stay focused on the attack she was sure was coming from behind her. Ternach’s tongue ran along her bottom lip and before she could stop herself, she groaned. She melted against him and wrapped her arms around his neck.
Ternach jerked as her tongue found his. By the moons, he’d only meant to give her a peck then look up and stick his tongue out at that idiot of a man, but the instant his lips had touched hers he’d realized a peck wouldn’t be enough. His head was reeling. Her fingers laced in his hair and his groan vibrated through both of them. He had to end this now or he knew he wasn’t going to be able to stop. He softened the kiss and pulled away so that only their foreheads were touching. Both of them were breathing hard.
When he trusted himself to look at her without trying to kiss her again, he straightened, his thumb running over her lips.
“Sorry.” His voice was thick.
The corners of her mouth twitched. “I wasn’t aware I’d been complaining.”
The sound of Robert punching a tree made them both look in his direction. He was stalking away, his anger evident in his steps.
“Damn it, I wanted him to hit me.” Ternach reached down and grabbed a rock the size of a small egg. He tossed it into the air a few times before throwing it as hard as he could. Robert stumbled forward with the impact of it hitting the back of his head. He spun around, his face red. Ternach wrapped an arm around Sarah’s shoulder, pulled her close, and gave a cheerful wave. They watched in silence as he shifted into a lion and bound into the woods.
Sarah burst out laughing. “By the moons, that was great!”
Ternach grinned. “Why, thank you.”
She gave him a shove. “Not that!”
He laughed at her blush.
“Well, alright, that too.” She thought of the look on Robert’s face as he’d spun around to see what had hit him and her laughter started again. “Where in the world did you learn to throw like that?”
He shrugged. “I’ve been alive since the beginning of time. What can I say, I’ve been bored a few times. It’s fun to throw rocks at the dragons and watch them try to figure out which earth dragon has done it. You see, the trick of it is to be well hidden behind something and to be far enough away that they can’t smell you.” He grinned. “It took a few thousand years to perfect my aim, but I can pretty much hit anything I want to now.”
She shook her head in disbelief. Other than the eyes, it was easy to forget what he’d been before the war on Paradin. His smile softened.
“It just sank in, didn’t it? What I am? Or I suppose I should say was.”
She nodded but didn’t pull away from him. “I have a couple of questions about that kiss.” She blushed at the memory of it.
“Alright. What would you like to know?” He had no clue where she was going with this.
“You said you’d never had a mate. There’s no way you can kiss like that without having had some sort of practice.”
He smiled. “I’ve never had a mate, but there have been women in my life and about three thousand years ago I was taken prisoner by the Dreygt Witches. No one around here has heard of them; they live two oceans away on a tiny island most people don’t know exists. They, um, well, they were tired of using mortals to satisfy their urges, as you so politely put it earlier, and had decided that an immortal might do the trick.”
Sarah’s eyes were about to pop out of her head. “How did they catch you?”
“Magic and that’s how they kept me as well.”
“How long did they keep you?”
“One hundred and twenty seven years.” He smiled. “Let me tell you, you can learn a lot from four experienced women in that many years.” He blushed at some of the memories that were coming back.
She frowned. “Why did they let you go?”
“They didn’t. I managed to convince them that I would be a good boy and stay if they took off the magical bindings. I think the winning argument was that if I wasn’t busy trying to keep my magic from attacking their bonds on me I could concentrate more on what they’d brought me there to do.”
She seemed about to ask something else but stopped. He smiled.
“Well, I suppose I’m a bit curious as to why you would want to leave that type of situation. I know of a few men who would kill to have been in your place.”
He shrugged. “I missed my home in the Northern Regions and I missed the dragons. I’d go back and visit them from time to time. They’d promised me they wouldn’t try to capture me again if I went back every once in a while; besides the dragons, they’re the closest thing I’ve had to a family really.” He frowned. “You know, it just occurred to me that I’ll never see them again.” He seemed to shake himself mentally and smiled. “Alright, did that answer your question?”
“More than adequately, thank you. Can I ask one more?”
“You lost all of your magic?”
“All of it.”
She blushed. “I thought maybe you’d used magic on me during the kiss to make it feel like that.” She looked at the ground. “It… it was different than the other men I’ve been with.” She wanted to slap herself in the face. By the moons, she sounded like a twit. She was thirty, for crying out loud. It was like he was her first crush and she’d just turned of age. And he was Ternach! What in the world was she doing?
He watched as emotion after emotion passed over her face; shock, embarrassment, disgust, bewilderment, and finally confusion.
“I’m glad you didn’t finish with disgust,” he said softly.
“Oh, well, that was at me, not you.”
He lifted her chin and kissed the bridge of her nose. “Don’t forget, I was just as out of breath as you were.” He took a few deep breaths. “We’d better get back.”
Sarah’s hands were playing along his arms and he shivered. “Alright.”
Neither one of them moved. He ran his thumb over her bottom lip. The last time, no wait, the only time he’d felt like this had been when the three way link between Jasper, Hayden and himself had been blown wide open in the Burrie clearing. The only difference was that this wasn’t what Hayden was feeling for Jasper. This was all him.
He closed his eyes. “I need you to go back to the camp.” His voice was hoarse.
“Ternach! Are you still down here?” Cassandra’s voice caused both of them to jump.
He cleared his throat. “Right over here, Cass!” Thank goodness for distractions, he thought. He took Sarah’s hand and started walking back, but that wasn’t quite enough so he put his arm around her. There. That was better. He looked down at her and smiled as her arm went around his waist. She looked up and blushed.
“It’s a good thing she came along. I think I was about to force myself on you.”
Ternach threw his head back and laughed. In all of his years of existence, he couldn’t remember anybody he’d ever found as amusing as this woman.
“I don’t think I would have complained,” he chuckled.
Peter grinned as they walked back into camp. “Supper’s ready.”
Sarah thanked him and took a plate when he insisted there was plenty for her as well. She glanced at Ternach.
“So what’s this great adventure?”
He grinned. “We’re going orb hunting.” He frowned and reached over to pat her back as she choked on the mouthful of food she had in her mouth.
“Orbs?” She stared at him with wide eyes when she could breathe again. “What kind of orbs?”
Peter reached into his pack and pulled the yellow sphere from it. Sarah blanched.
“Sarah?” Ternach put a hand on her arm in case she fainted. She blinked and slowly looked away from the orb to him.
“I… what does it do?”
Peter shrugged. “Nothing as far as we can figure out. This is the second one we’ve found since the battle at Paradin. A green one was found in Braw’s offices when they were searched.”
“There’s…. There’re two?”
Peter held it out to her and she shook her head.
“Where’s the green one now?” She seemed to have trouble looking away from the orb.
“Marilynn, head sorceress for the Namaels, has it. She’s in Sageden with Hayden at the moment.” Cassandra looked at the newcomer with interest. “Is everything alright?”
Sarah blinked and looked from one curious face to another. She smiled, took a bite of her supper, and nodded. “Everything’s fine. This sounds like a fabulous adventure.” She grinned at Ternach who raised an eyebrow at her.
He shrugged off her odd behaviour. After all, he didn’t know her; this could be normal for her. He took a drink of his canteen and smiled. Now, if he could only remember where he’d seen the red orb…