“Happy Birthday,” Arch Lich Chander Daray said as he embraced Idris.
“Thank you. I really appreciate you and your mate coming to my party,” Idris replied. Lich Sentinel Alaric Daray offered him a nod instead of a hug, and Idris smiled widely. He was ecstatic everyone close to him showed up to celebrate his twenty-first birthday. The last five years were the best of his life and ironically, it was because he’d bumped into an evil warlock named Latarian. She’d pretended to be his friend, so she could use his great wealth of magical power to try and kidnap one of the sorcerers from the Draconis Court of D’Vaire. Her plan failed, and she’d paid with her life after sticking a knife straight into the heart of Grand Warlock Dra’Kaedan D’Vaire.
Dra’Kaedan survived and was currently shoving massive forkfuls of cake into his mouth. It was his favorite treat, and Idris didn’t have to ask if he was enjoying himself. The leader of the few living warlocks was humming a happy tune as he was eating. Idris could relate to his apparent joy—only it wasn’t pastry that filled him with delight. It was the amazing people who took time from their own lives to gather at his home. Chander was the one who suggested he learn to use the sorcery inside him. As a wizard, Idris had been ecstatic when Prism Wizard Vadimas Porfyra allowed him to attend the most prestigious school within the Council of Sorcery and Shifters.
With little experience around kids his own age, it was best for him to live in the dormitory while he attended classes, but for Idris it was a nightmare. His natural affinity for spellcasting was formidable, and the other students resented him. The snobbish pupils spent most of their academic careers in classes together and looked down their noses at outsiders. It made Idris an outcast from the moment he walked through the exalted doors. If not for his family at D’Vaire, he doubted he would’ve been sane at the end—not that they’d known how much he’d hated it. Only his best friend, Delaney, could relate since he’d gone through the same thing when he was younger.
Idris and Delaney were alike in nearly all aspects. Both were twenty-one and skilled wizards with vast wells of power. They’d attended the same school, though Delaney started when he was four and had already graduated when Idris was on the loose with Latarian. Without any family at the tender age of sixteen, Delaney had applied and been granted sanctuary at Dra’Kaedan’s Coven. The sanctuary was the core of Court D’Vaire and became a miracle for Delaney and Idris.
“Why aren’t you eating any cake?” Delaney asked. Lost in his thoughts, Idris hadn’t noticed his pal walk up to him.
“Don’t tell Dra’Kaedan, but I don’t even like cake that much.”
“He’s so busy inhaling it, he probably wouldn’t even hear me if I said it,” Delaney remarked. “Did you see Greggory and Roger? They look like someone threw it at them instead of giving them a plateful.”
Idris scanned the large room until he spotted the two dragons, one vibrant indigo and another deep black, and found that his best friend was right. Their small familiars were covered from the top of their scaly heads to the tips of their tails in crumbs and frosting. “We should’ve made them eat it in the kitchen.”
“No way. The party’s in here. We can just hose them down after they’re done.”
King Aleksander D’Vairedraconis, the man Idris admired more than anyone, had suggested they use the mostly empty throne room for the get-together. The D’Vaires went all out, and there were indigo-colored decorations throughout the space. It was the color of Idris’s magic and remained an irresistible force in his life. “Yeah, wasn’t it nice for everyone to come? Even the Emperor’s here,” Idris said.
Delaney patted his back. “Of course everyone would come. We love you.”
“Let me guess,” Duff drawled as he walked up to them. “Idris is shocked everyone wants to celebrate his birthday.” The Kellas cat shifter was the newest addition to the D’Vaire household and although he was a few years younger than Delaney and Idris, the trio quickly became friends.
“I’m not shocked. I’m just grateful they set aside their Saturday to be here.”
“Because seriously, who even likes Idris?” Delaney asked. “He’s super nice, never has a bad thing to say about anyone, always ready and willing to help someone…”
“Constantly looks on the bright side, works hard, openly affectionate, honest to a fault—”
Idris held up a hand to stop the flow of words from Duff’s mouth. “Okay, I get it. You can stop now. I love you guys too.”
“Everything all right, gentlemen?” Vadimas asked as he strolled up to them.
“I was just explaining to my friends how glad I am everyone showed up today. Thanks for coming,” Idris replied.
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” the leader of the wizards assured him. The deep lines in his face intensified with his smile. Though he wasn’t ancient, his appearance was that of an elderly man. Each wizard had a natural affinity for a color in the rainbow but without any other sorcerers reaching the rank of High Arcanist, Vadimas continued to deny his own hue, to remain impartial for his people. It altered his countenance and until he unlocked the true extent of his power, he would remain withered and gray.
“I just hope everyone knows how much I appreciate them,” Idris said.
“Today is all about appreciating you,” Vadimas corrected.
Needing to take some of the focus off himself, Idris changed the subject. “I wanted to let you know—I’ve moved one step closer to being ready to reach the rank of High Arcanist. I picked out one of my final projects. I’ve chosen what to do for the alchemy portion.”
“Me too,” Delaney threw in.
“That’s fantastic news. What have you selected?” Vadimas asked.
“Before my grandfather died, he gave me the family recipe for a fertility serum. It’s not possible to recreate it. There are ingredients which can no longer be found or that are too dangerous to use, but I like the idea of a formula to help people who want children. I want it to be cheap to produce so it can be offered at a low cost, and I want it to be significantly better than anything currently available,” Idris revealed.
“And I want to do the opposite,” Delaney remarked. “I want to come up with a long-term birth control with little or no side effects instead of the short-term options on the market. It should also be cheap and easy to obtain. I was an unwanted child, dumped by whomever my parents were. While my life is great, not every kid is lucky enough to have what I do.”
“I think those are both great ideas. Have you put together any preliminary ideas for your research papers?” Vadimas inquired.
Both Delaney and Idris shook their heads. “Nope,” Idris said.
“I did want to make a suggestion to both of you, but let’s go find Chander first,” Vadimas replied. The four men walked over to where Chander was standing, chatting with Dra’Kaedan and a few other D’Vaire family members.
“Are you having a nice time?” Idris asked once they got to the group.
“Of course. It’s always a treat to come to D’Vaire, and it’s twice as fun to be here for your birthday,” Chander enthused.
Idris smiled. “We were just talking to Vadimas about our final projects.”
“Finally have everything figured out for all aspects of reaching High Arcanist?”
“They’re still lacking ideas for the research portion,” Vadimas confided. “I was wondering if perhaps you could help. You have a vast personal library of magical things. Perhaps they could find some inspiration within all the tomes and scrolls you’ve picked up over the centuries.”
Chander’s dark brows lifted. “That’s a great idea. There’s certainly plenty of crap in my library in the Spectra Wizardry. I don’t even know what’s hiding in there. The only problem is, the room’s a total fucking mess. Boxes of shit everywhere and none of it’s organized.”
“I know I speak for Idris when I say that’s not a deterrent for us,” Delaney said. “We’ve both worked so hard to get to this point, and it’s frustrating that we haven’t found the right projects to ascend to High Arcanist. It’s time for us to get this done and move forward. We could certainly organize it as we ruffle through, looking for inspiration to strike us.”
“I’m definitely on board to help. I’m already getting excited just thinking about all the stuff we might find in there,” Idris added.
“Do you think there’s any warlock stuff in there?” Dra’Kaedan asked.
“Absolutely,” Chander replied. “I should’ve gone through it years ago and found everything rescued from the residences of your people after the war with the Cwylld elves. Whatever you guys find, you should hand it over to Dra’Kaedan. It belongs to the Coven of Warlocks.”
“I just want to read the stuff, not keep it. It belongs to you now, and I’m fine with that,” Dra’Kaedan told Chander, then turned to Idris and Delaney. “I’d be happy to help you two go through Chand’s stuff.”
“I want to help,” Renny, Dra’Kaedan’s familiar, announced.
“You can count me in as well,” Grand Summoner Dre’Kariston D’Vaire, Dra’Kaedan’s twin brother, threw in.
“I’m not going to miss out on going,” Duff said.
“I promise I’ll put in time myself too,” Chander commented. “It’s the least I can do since you’re willing to wade into that disaster. I haven’t seen most of it in so long, and I’m curious about what treasures might be lurking in there. I still have a major project I’m working on, and I’m missing some vital portions of the spell I’d like to create.”
“It looks like I might lose you to books after all,” Lich Sentinel Alaric Daray teased.
“Not hardly, handsome,” Chander replied. “Besides, there might be some stuff in there related to demons. I know so little about that side of myself.”
“That’s the biggest problem. There’s not nearly as much information out there about dark magic in general,” Delaney remarked.
“It’s going to be a big obstacle for you, no matter what. You’re the world’s only dark wizard. There are always going to be people who see you as inherently evil,” Dre’Kariston stated.
Delaney’s mouth flattened. “That’s why I’ve made up my mind that whatever paper I write, it needs to showcase dark magic in a positive way. It’d be so easy to craft a spell and subsequent data to devise a suitable project that focused on damage or destruction. I want to stay away from that. Dark magic gets a bad name because of a few twisted people, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe it’s malevolent.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Dre’Kariston replied. “Warlocks come in both light and dark but because of people like Carvallius, it’s always going to be difficult for everyone to accept those who choose the dark path.” Carvallius was a dark warlock whose lust for political gain had nearly exterminated their entire race. Dre’Kariston went toe-to-toe with the man centuries ago and ended his life.
The story of Carvallius might’ve ended there, but he and his granddaughter—the same Latarian who’d altered Idris’s life—were temporarily resurrected, and their location was currently unknown. Something the D’Vaires were not taking lightly, as the pair were dangerous in every respect. Dra’Kaedan’s mate, Duke Brogan D’Vairedraconis, had already advertised to add new dragons to serve as dukes in their household. The Lich Sentinel was also selecting candidates within his race of elite assassins to join Court D’Vaire as well.
“There are only three known living warlocks, but we don’t all have to be practitioners of light magic,” Dra’Kaedan said.
“I’m aware,” Dre’Kariston told his twin, then turned back to Delaney. “I’m glad you want to showcase the positive. I’ll help however I can.”
“In the meantime, I’d suggest we enjoy this party,” Dra’Kaedan replied. “I think we should eat more cake.”
“I’m pretty sure you ate it all, Dra’Cakedan,” Renny retorted. “We might have to turn you into a potted plant just so someone else can have a taste of the crumbs you left behind.”
Dra’Kaedan’s stare was baleful. “There’s plenty left.”
“I hope you remembered to make a wish before you blew out your candles,” Renny said to Idris.
“I did. I made an awesome wish,” Idris promised him. While Idris had no complaints about the wonderful people in his life and the amazing future in front of him, there was still one glaring thing missing. Before the baked treat was cut, Idris asked Fate to send him his mate. It was not the first time he’d made such a request of her. He added a small wish list which he hoped didn’t infuriate her, but it was important to Idris that his other half be willing to live with him at D’Vaire. Idris would also prefer a nice dragon shifter who could find it in his heart to love him and be kind to his familiar. He didn’t want to be demanding or overstep his boundaries, but he’d also stipulated that the man he would share his immortality with not be too stupid.
Asking for someone smart seemed like he was forcing Fate to do his bidding, so he stuck with something he didn’t think was challenging. After all, he wanted to be friends with him as well as lovers, and they would need to be able to have conversations that didn’t drive Idris crazy. Idris was young and there was plenty of time to find his partner, but he wanted to give all that was in his heart, and only his mate would do for that.