The Four Nations Tournament (Paperback)
The Four Nations Tournament (Paperback)
Book 7 in The Aegis of Merlin
After a long Autumn, Conryu Koda is ready for a rest.
His hopes are dashed when Chief Kane asks for another favor. Ratings are down for the Four Nations Tournament and having the world’s only male wizard participate is just the thing to give them a boost. An exhausted Conryu has no interest in playing in an event broadcast worldwide.
Unfortunately for him, everyone else thinks it’s a great idea. Before he knows it he’s off to London for the games.
But Conryu isn’t the only one visiting the city. The sinister Lady Tiger is in town and she’s got her eye on the other half of the broken elf artifact.
Throw the stunning Heather James, a scheming Malice Kincade, and an army of fanatics into the mix and ratings will be the least of Conryu’s worries.
The winter wind seemed colder in the Land of the Night Princes. The sun had set hours ago so the locals were up and about. Conryu surveyed the area under the light of a spell globe. He didn’t bother with a jacket as his fire magic teacher had been kind enough to show him a spell called Fire Aura. It surrounded him with an invisible energy field that generated heat.
Would’ve been nice to know the spell this time last year when he was crawling around frozen sewer drains, but school policy said only sophomores and above could learn it.
Conryu stood, hands on hips, as a pair of vampires took down the final Imperial tents. The thirty-two witches whose families he’d failed to locate now lived in a refurbished apartment building in one of the many abandoned cities that dotted the country. They’d rigged up generators for power, heat, and to run the water pumps. It would do for the winter. When the weather turned, they’d arrange something more permanent.
He would have liked to find everyone’s kin, but most of the older women’s parents had died and those still alive barely remembered them. The former White Witches seemed content to live in peace together in the vampires’ country. At least their minds were their own again.
The younger witches had been welcomed home with open arms and much crying. Reuniting those families ranked among the most satisfying things Conryu had ever done. When he’d asked, not a single one of them had shown the least interest in studying magic again. Not that he blamed them.
The snow crunched behind him and Talon said, “You should have told us you’d arrived. It’s a horrible evening to be standing out in the cold.”
As if to emphasize the point a light snow began to fall and sizzle on his fire aura. Prime shook the flakes off his cover and glared all around as if insulted that the precipitation would dare fall on him.
“I only arrived a minute ago and I’ve learned a trick that keeps the cold from being an issue. I figured when your people saw me they’d tell you I’d arrived. Besides, it’s nice out here, peaceful. If ever I need a quiet place to think, I know where to come.”
“Yes, if there’s one thing we have in abundance, it’s quiet.” Talon took two more steps until they were side by side. He’d dressed in a formal jacket and tuxedo. Where he’d found one Conryu had no idea. “Are you certain we won’t be a burden for your family? It was very generous to invite us to Christmas dinner, but we wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Relax. I admit my mom was a little leery when I first mentioned I wanted to invite some of my new friends, but once I convinced her the stories were just stories she got into the idea. She even has a surprise dish she made just for you and Sasha that takes into account your unique dietary needs.”
Talon raised an eyebrow but refrained from commenting.
“Conryu!” Anya called.
She and her mother were approaching together on foot, each of them dressed in white gowns trimmed in black fur. They made a stunning pair, looking more like sisters than mother and daughter. Only Sasha’s glowing red eyes and pale skin marked her as anything out of the ordinary.
“Ladies.” Conryu bowed then grinned. “I trust you’ve been enjoying your time together?”
“It’s been great,” Anya said. “I’m starving, what’s your mom fixing for dinner?”
“Turkey with all the trimmings, same as we have every year.” Conryu held out his hand and when she took it he cast, “Cloak of Darkness.”
With Anya protected from the energy of Hell, he opened a portal and they all stepped through. Cerberus was waiting to guide them home. Kai had to be close, but she didn’t show herself. He’d invited the ninja to join them, but she claimed not to like crowds and begged off. She probably wanted to keep an eye on him from the borderland. As if Christmas dinner was some sort of military operation that might end with him in combat fighting for his life.
It didn’t take long for them to reach the edge of Mrs. Kane’s wards. After last summer she’d given him a special rune stone that allowed him to enter and exit the building without smashing holes in her protective spells. Speaking of which…
“I almost forgot.” He dug a pair of engraved bronze rings out of his pocket and handed one to Talon and the other to Sasha. “These’ll protect you from the effects of the wards around my apartment building. Mrs. Kane didn’t want to alter them to allow in undead since not everyone is as friendly and well-mannered as you guys.”
“Perfectly reasonable.” Talon slipped the ring on.
When Sasha had hers in place, Conryu opened another portal into his living room and they stepped out.
Conryu’s mouth watered as the aroma of roasting turkey mingled with the spicy-sweet scent of the surprise dessert.
His mother nearly leapt out of her shoes when he spoke. She was busy stirring six pots on the stove while Kelsie finished setting the table. “How many times have I told you to make a noise when you open one of those things?”
“Once, and I told you I don’t know how to do that. Prime, do you know how to do that?”
“No, Master. I’m not certain it’s possible.”
“There you go, straight from the scholomantic’s mouth.”
Mom growled at them, but she didn’t mean it. The little wrinkle between her eyes said so.
Anya gasped. “That smell. Is it…?”
Conryu grinned and helped her off with her coat. “Baked apples. I asked Sasha for the recipe so we could surprise you.”
She hugged him then her mother. “I can’t wait.”
Mom waved at the dining room where a pair of tables had been shoved together to make room for everyone. “Have a seat. We’ll be ready in fifteen minutes. Sho!”
His father emerged from the bedroom and bowed to his guests. “Welcome to our home. Please make yourselves comfortable.”
He’d changed into his master’s uniform, black pants and a white robe marked with a yin yang symbol on the back. Dad seldom wore it, so Mom must have insisted.
Talon, Sasha, and Anya had barely settled in when someone knocked. That had to be Maria and her parents.
He went to the door and sure enough there they were. Maria looked stunning in a black dress with her hair done up in some fancy style held together with black lacquered sticks. It showed off her slim, pale neck to excellent effect. Hopefully Talon didn’t get any ideas. Conryu swore she got more beautiful every time he saw her.
He motioned them in and Mr. Kane made a beeline for Talon.
“He’s been so excited ever since I told him we were having dinner with a VIP,” Maria said. She took his arm and they walked to the table together.
Mr. Kane was shaking Talon’s hand. “It’s a great honor to have a head of state such as yourself joining us to celebrate the season. I hope this can be the beginning of new relations between our countries.”
Talon smiled. “I wonder if the rest of your government will be equally enthusiastic to be associated with a vampire. It’s been my experience that most humans find our company uncomfortable.”
“There might be a few narrow-minded bureaucrats, they’re unavoidable, but I believe most of my superiors are open to the possibility.”
“Enough politics,” Mom said. “Dinner’s ready.”
Dad brought the turkey over and started carving. Mom dished up the sides and placed them on the table. Now the moment of truth. She filled two goblets and put one in front of Talon and the other in front of Sasha.
“What is this?” Talon asked.
“Turkey blood, warmed and strained.” Mom let out a nervous laugh. “You should have seen the look the butcher gave me when I asked for it. I said I was making turkey blood sausage. I hope it’s to your taste.”
Talon took a sip and everyone fell silent. His eyes went wide. “This is delightful. You know, in seventeen hundred years I’ve never thought to try the blood of a bird. It’s very light, though there’s also a hint of something else.”
“Sage,” Mom said. She sat beside Dad at the head of the table while Kelsie took the seat beside Conryu. “It goes really nicely with poultry so I sprinkled just a bit in the pot.”
“It tastes fantastic. When Conryu mentioned you made a special dish for us, I never imagined something so unique. Please accept my most sincere thanks.”
Mom blushed a little and started passing the bowls around to cover it. Who’d have imagined his mother hitting it off with a vampire? Now if he could just convince her to like Prime a little better.