The cabin in the woods looked more suited for a horror movie than a safehouse. Hazel gazed in dismay at the building. It looked secure enough, at least from the outside, but she couldn’t help but think that if something went wrong, help would be quite far away. And as she glanced at the faces of the FBI agents assigned to her protection, she got the sense that something was going to go wrong.
It had only been a few days since the threats on her life became so extreme that her boss, Congressman Zamir Bilal, had decided that she needed to be put into protective custody. As an ambassador between the government of the United States and the dragon kingdom of Byrelmore, she’d ended up with a lot of threats and hate flung at her ever since Byrelmore had magically moved itself to the present world.
Normally Hazel wouldn’t let these threats get to her, except in this case, there had been several attempts as well. Attempts that had gotten far too close for comfort. It seemed like those who were angry about the dragons being here, whether because they thought the dragons were going to invade or whatever other reasons they came up with, thought that by killing her they could cause enough of a conflict that the States would go after Byrelmore and wipe the dragons out.
If that wasn’t their plan… well, Hazel didn’t know what they were after. Dragons had been known for quite some time, but the tensions were only getting worse day by day.
She slung off the backpack she’d hastily packed when the FBI had escorted her home before bringing her here. Several of the agents gave her baleful looks, even now, while their leader, Antonio, glared at anybody who did.
He, at least, was on her side. At least, Hazel was pretty certain he was. She wanted to believe that all of them would do their jobs, but the crawling of her gut questioned if any of these agents were anti-dragon enough themselves to take matters into their own hands…
Antonio stepped over to her, concern in his eyes. “Are you alright?”
“It’s just nerves,” Hazel assured him. He didn’t seem like the kind of person who’d take accusations against his people lightly. “So, is the bedroom mine?”
Antonio nodded. “You’re to keep the curtains and blinds closed at all times. Not even a peek outside.”
“Right. Of course.” She grabbed her pack again and headed into the bedroom. For the past couple of years, she had been living in a nondescript house with a handful of other women. The portals to Byrelmore had opened up in that house, but now? She wasn’t certain how Byrelmore being present was going to change her job. The only reason she, inexperienced in ambassadorial matters, was given the job was because nobody really expected much to come from Byrelmore.
Now that it was here, she had a feeling that she was going to be given ‘mentors’ who would eventually push her out of her own job.
“Carl, you’re with me,” Antonio said. “We’re going to do a perimeter check.”
Hazel retreated to the bedroom and closed the door behind herself, hoping that this would at least give her the privacy she needed to reassure herself. She heard the floors creak and the front door open and close. It wasn’t that soundproof… it was going to cause problems when she tried to sleep, as she was a very light sleeper, but for now, there were other issues.
“Can’t believe this,” one of the men snarled. “You know what we’re doing? We’re guarding the antichrist.”
Hazel threw a hand over her mouth to stop herself from bursting out in laughter. Her heart started to pound even though the ridiculousness of the statement was almost more than she could take. The Antichrist? Was that what people were saying about her? How? Why? What had she done to make people think that?
I’m not a devil worshipper! I’m not even an atheist. True she didn’t really belong to any single denomination, but she did believe that there was a God out there. The arrival of magic and dragons to the world didn’t change her beliefs in that regard.
“Come off it,” one of the others scoffed. “That little girl the antichrist? If she was the antichrist, don’t you think she’d be, I dunno, hotter? I mean, yeah she’s got curves for days, but she’s a bit porky, don’t you think?”
Heat flared in Hazel’s cheeks. Porky? She knew she could stand to lose some weight, but porky? It took all her strength not to knock down the door and yell at the man. That was more of an insult than being called the antichrist!
“The book of revelations talks about a seven-headed dragon, right?” the first man replied. “Well, we’ve got dragons here now and she’s the one that brought them.”
“I don’t think—”
“It’s the start of the apocalypse I tell you!”
Hazel covered her ears, her heart’s pounding getting harder. How did someone like that even end up on her guard detail in the first place? Her stomach started to churn even as she tried to force herself to be calm. They weren’t going to try anything. Antonio, at least, seemed to be dedicated to his job. He wouldn’t have brought them on if he didn’t think they’d do their job…
Then she remembered the cross he wore around his neck. Was it decoration, sentiment or a dedication to his religion? What if he thought she was the antichrist, too?
Hazel had been in bad situations before. She had been a correspondent in several war zones before and had worked with people in hostage situations at other times. It seemed like she flitted from one danger to another. Her family hated it, while at the same time supporting her. But now? With these people who were meant to protect her? She’d never felt more unsafe.
So what was she going to do about it?
The conversation outside hushed, turning to talk about how the dragons’ arrival had made mages and dragons spring up all across the globe—proof, the first agent said, that it was the start of the apocalypse. Hazel tried to block it out as chills swept over her skin.
By the time the door opened again, though, and she heard Antonio’s voice, she had already decided what needed to happen here. Not letting herself doubt, she stepped out of the bedroom and marched right over to him. He rose a questioning brow at her as she clenched her hands. There was a chance he was in on this.
If that’s the case, then best I find out now rather than later.
“I want a different protective force.”
Antonio’s eyes widened. “Pardon me?”
“You heard me.” It was the last thing she felt like doing, but Hazel folded her arms and gave him a stern look. “As soon as you were gone, these two,” she gestured at the two that had been talking, “started saying that I was the antichrist and Byrelmore is the start of the apocalypse. One of them, I’m not sure which, was saying that they’re all going to end up kidnapping and raping virgins. They are clearly highly biased against dragons.”
“I haven’t said—” one of them started, but quailed under the glare Antonio sent his way.
Hazel took it as a hopeful sign and sucked in a breath. “Since I work with the dragons, I can’t trust these people to keep me safe. So, I want a different detail.”
Antonio turned toward the two and glared at them. “Well?”
The two men shifted uncomfortably on the spot. One of them hunched his shoulders while the other glared at Hazel. It was that one that spoke. “I might have shot my mouth off, but I wasn’t being serious! It’s just all this shit happening, it’s got us all on edge. You know I’d never really believe that sort of thing.”
With a grunt, Antonio turned back to Hazel. “My apologies on behalf of my colleague. Bruce has a tendency to talk more than he thinks.”
Bruce scowled but didn’t deny it.
Hazel didn’t budge. “I don’t want him on my protective detail.”
“I understand why you would feel that way,” Antonio said slowly. His eyes flashed, a warning in them. Even though Bruce hadn’t denied saying she was the antichrist, Antonio didn’t like her questioning him. “But you have to understand that resources are stretched thin right now. Between the protests about Byrelmore and our people retrieving the people who are finding out that they’re mages and dragons now, we don’t have a lot of wiggle room.”
Hazel tried not to flinch but failed. People of all ages were suddenly developing the ability to use magic or found themselves breathing fire at the most inopportune time. It was putting a lot of pressure on them. Not only were they in danger from other people, but many times they were in danger from themselves, too. They needed training on how to control their newfound abilities.
Still, she couldn’t image how terrifying it would be for them, to have the FBI show up and take them away. Luckily, Byrelmore had more than enough room to keep them until they got their new abilities under control and could return home—those that chose to go back, at least.
“We don’t have the manpower to switch out good agents at this time,” Antonio continued. “Unless you have some dragons who might want to help out?”
There was a note of sarcasm to his last comment, but Hazel perked up. Of course! Since this had to do with the dragons, it was only natural that they be involved in her protection too, right?
A satisfied smile spread over her face. “You’re right. I should ask for a protective force of dragons.”
Bruce let out a strangled shout. The man beside him elbowed him hard in the ribs, while Carl slunk to a window and leaned against the wall, glowering at the lot of them. It didn’t matter much. They could be skeptical or angry all they wanted.
“And I know just the people. Thank you for suggesting it.”
Antonio stared at her as though he wasn’t sure if she was being serious or not. “What are you talking about?”
“Can I use your phone?” She held out her hand. “I want to make a call to Indulf.”
It wouldn’t be to him. She hadn’t quite memorized the dragon king’s new cellphone number yet, and he hadn’t quite gotten into the habit of carrying his phone around with him. There was, however, someone else whose number she knew well. Four someones, in fact. She’d been talking with them for months now. It was a rare day that she didn’t have something to say to all of them, and there was never a day when she didn’t contact at least one of them.
Jord, Watn, Hyrr, and Vindr were Hunters, basically part of Indulf’s CIA. Spies and protectors. They’d know exactly how to keep her safe and they’d know if Bruce was serious about thinking she was the antichrist.
“My men are the best and—”
Hazel interrupted Antonio as his voice started to rise. “You said that your resources were stretched thin. You suggested I ask for dragon guards. It makes sense, doesn’t it, to have a few here? If something does go wrong, they can get me out of here far quicker than you can.”
Antonio glared at her for a moment before he took his phone from his pocket. “Fine,” he snapped. “But I’ll be contacting my superiors first with your request. We can go through the proper channels… if that meets your approval?”
The hostility in his voice surprised her a little, but Hazel nodded without comment. She thought Indulf and Anna would send the boys. After all, they had been on Earth to defend the portals before Byrelmore was brought forward through time. She retreated back to her bedroom so she could clutch a pillow and sigh with happiness. Soon, hopefully, she’d have the boys here. Then, finally, she might actually feel safe.