Feel the Burn Page 68

“Of course war’s coming.”

“And while Talan and Rhi have their magicks to manage during battle, I will be the one leading the troops. You know it. And I know it. And the best one to learn that skill from, shockingly . . . is you. And, of course, Daddy.”

“Of course.”

“But he’s dragon and I’m not. Not fully. Not like Auntie Ghleanna or Branwen. I’ll be on the ground, fighting with other Abominations, to stop Salebiri and the Chramnesind cult. And I think I’d best learn how to do that from you.”

Annwyl snorted. She couldn’t help it. “You expect me to believe that you—you—will take orders from me? Really?”

“You forget. I spent years with the Kyvich witches. And I followed orders. Quite well, actually. Never got lashed once for disobedience.”

“How did you manage that?” Annwyl asked. And even she knew her tone was taunting.

“Just give me a chance, Mum.”

“I kicked your ass and now you want me to teach you how to not let it happen again? Is that it?”

Talwyn had the good sense to cringe a bit. “Kind of.”

Stepping close to her daughter, Annwyl slapped her hand against the side of Talwyn’s neck and yanked her close.

“Good,” Annwyl told her. “Because everything I’ve done—and everything I plan to do—I’ve only ever done for you and your brother. To keep you alive. To keep you strong.” Annwyl moved her hand to the back of Talwyn’s neck and rested her forehead against her daughter’s. “No matter what you think, you spoiled brat, you and your brother mean everything to me. Everything. Never forget that.”

Talwyn swallowed, her eyes blinking quickly, as if she fought back tears. She finally gave a small nod and Annwyl stepped back.

“Now come,” she said, turning away from her child. “War’s coming fast, and we have a lot of work to do to get you ready.”

Annwyl led her daughter to a place a good distance from the castle and out of sight of most. As they cleared a few boulders, Talwyn stopped, reaching out to grab Annwyl’s arm, her face pale, her eyes wide in shock and panic.

“Mum . . . Mum . . . Mum . . .” she kept muttering as she stared.

“Stop that,” she ordered her daughter. “You sound like an idiot.”

“But . . .”

Annwyl gestured with a wave of her hand. “Talwyn, this is Mingxia. Eastland goddess of war and love.”

The goddess smiled, her mouth revealing row after row of fangs. “You can’t have one without the other, I’m afraid.”

“My daughter wants to train with me.”

The goddess’s tiger-shaped dragon’s head turned and she studied them for a moment.

“Hhhmm,” she said, dark eyes unreadable.

The goddess’s long dragon body rose up without benefit of wings, impossibly long whiskers floating around her. The winds rose, surrounded Mingxia, and when they were gone, she stood before them as a human Eastland woman in leather armor with many weapons on her person.

She walked around a still-stunned Talwyn, sizing her up as she’d once done to Annwyl.

Mingxia circled her once, and when she stood in front of her again, she pulled her sword from its scabbard and held the scabbard up before Talwyn’s face, letting her eyes settle on the intricately embossed steel.

It took seconds for Talwyn to throw her arms up to block her eyes and fall to the ground, trying to shield herself from what she’d seen. It had taken Annwyl far longer to see what Mingxia had wanted her to see: a full battle come alive in that scabbard. A full battle that she was suddenly a part of, on a magnificent steed, slashing and killing as she rode into the fight.

In fact, the only reason Annwyl’s vision had ended was that Mingxia had grown bored and pulled Annwyl out of it.

Talwyn, however, had panicked.

“It seems we have much work to do with this one,” Mingxia noted. She held out her hand, and Talwyn seemed to force herself to take it. The goddess helped her to her feet.

“She’s powerful, your daughter. She saw me in seconds, even though I didn’t reveal myself to her. So, once we get this one up to speed, you two together will be a mighty thing to be feared among the enemies of your world.”

“Good,” Annwyl said, cracking her neck and pushing her stunned daughter out of the way. “Then let’s get started.”

Lady Ageltrude sat in a thick wooden chair, staring out over the night sky. This was her own private place. Her husband had made it for her. This place on top of the keep. He knew how much she loved heights and how important her privacy was to her.

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