Zareth gave a baleful and exasperated glare at the female who sat, crossed legged, floating a good foot and a half above the floor, in front of his desk, languidly polishing one of her three inch long talons a bright florescent green.

“If you are going to assume a human form, then you can at least act the part ! We are, after all, private investigators! It would be a little hard to explain to the clients that I just happen to have a demon for a partner! That would involve having to also admit that I am a wizard, which, if you can stop primping long enough to recall, is not the healthiest thing to be in this day and age! And hide those infernal horns and claws!”

Raysha gave a heavy, somewhat melodramatic sigh, rolled her eyes and caused the bottle of polish, which had been simply floating in front of her, to vanish. She untucked her legs and came to rest on the floor, her hands on her hips, her little beret cocked rakishly on her head, nearly hiding one of her miniature horns. Even as Zareth watched, the horns disappeared and Raysha’s hands morphed into human appearing ones.

“There, now are you happy?” She replied with definite sarcasm, her head tilted a little, her jet black slightly tilted eyes flashing with annoyance.

“You really are not much fun, you know. You need to get out of this office and live a little! The only time we leave this place is when you are after someone…or something.” Raysha informed Zareth, a slightly sulky look on her face as she sat in the chair that had been beneath her when she had been floating.

“And you need to keep in mind that my “being after someone or something” is what keeps those expensive steaks you devour with so much ease in stock. Those things are getting dearer by the day ever since the new Chancellor of Interplanetary Affairs took over the reigns. Meat is contraband by its decree, if you will remember correctly!” Zareth replied, a definite bite to his tone.

A look of what almost could have been described as fury filled Raysha’s eyes, “Yeah, for all but the Chancellor’s species, that is! They only reason he/she got elected was because it had mother ships surrounding the planet with their guns aimed at every major city! That wasn’t an election, that was flat out hostile takeover!”

Zareth turned and began to pace behind his desk, running his fingers through his hair. Raysha was right, things had been going steadily downhill since the new Chancellor had, quite literally, “taken office”.

And to make matters worse, not only was there a ban on meat, but on magic…which meant he was more or less breaking the law every time he took a case and used his powers, which were considerable, to solve it.

He smiled grimly. What was so ironic was that the very thing that put food in both his and Raysha’s stomach’s was also the very thing that, should they be caught, could get them executed on the spot. Continuing to pace, his mind drifted back…

It had all started when that archeological expedition had found those stone tablets and the two strange green mottled stones that almost looked like eggs in that deep underground cavern in the Himalaya’s in 2027. As it was to turn out, those things had not only looked like eggs, they had been eggs…

Dragon eggs, to be precise.

And the tablet, once translated, which took nearly sixty years, had turned out to be not only a prophesy, it had been an incantation…

An incantation that, when spoken, freed not only all magical forces on what, at that time, had been called earth by its inhabitants at that time, but was now called SOL SYSTEM A3, or SS-A3, it had also caused those infernal eggs to hatch.

And just guess who had been the one that had unlocked the secrets to that translation…

And had uttered the incantation.

He had been about thirty one at the time, newly graduated from an upper level ancient languages course, and feeling cocky as all get out that he had been the one to figure out the tablets…and asked to read them.

There had been only one real problem, he had mispronounced one part of the text and had to start over. He had not thought much of it till after the last word was uttered, and the blast had knocked him off of his feet and completely unconscious.

When he had opened his eyes, it had been to find himself looking directly into the jet black gaze of a creature with diminutive horns, wickedly clawed hands and bat-like wings jutting from its back. The creature had been simply sitting there, watching him with what almost could have been said to have been a combination of gratitude and curiosity.

He had started to rise and scoot back carefully, but the moment he had moved, pain had shot through his body with such ferocity that he had nearly blacked out.

And that was when things had begun to get really strange, for the creature, at his gasp of pain, had leaned forward and placed both of its hands on his chest, then it had begun to make a high pitched warbling sound, almost too high to hear, and the pain had, quite simply, disappeared.

The creature had made some form of sound, almost as if it were trying to communicate, but for all of his studies, he had not been able to understand a word it said, nor had it, apparently, understood him when he tried to make it aware of that fact.

It had sat back on its haunches for a moment or two, simply regarding him, its head tilted a little. All at once it had once more leaned forward and pulled both of his hands up on either side of its head, holding them there firmly, then reached forward and placed its hands in the same position on his…

And all at once images, emotions, sounds, and a tidal wave of other information had flooded his mind. At the same time, he had felt like his entire brain had been ransacked as another presence had filled it and begun to storm through his thoughts and memories.

By the time he had felt that presence withdraw, he had not only been exhausted, he had discovered that he had now, somehow, been able to understand the creature when it spoke again,

“I give you thanks for freeing me. Long have I been locked within the words of that accursed tablet. Only one who misspoke the correct passage, and then spoke the entire tablet correctly, could free me. And now I am debt-bound to you for life.”

“Woah there, wait just a minute! What do you mean ‘debt-bound to me for life’?” Zareth had nearly shouted as he had struggled to his feet and begun backing away, waving his hands in front of him, for the creature had moved with him.

“Simply that…you freed me, so I am debt-bound to remain at your side, or very near you, for the remainder of my life…and yours.” the creature had replied with what could only be described as a bit of a condescending little smirk as it had regarded him, making him feel as if it considered him to be lacking in intelligence.

Suddenly the creature’s eyes had taken on an almost mischievous gleam, “Which is going to be a very long time, for there was one other spell on that tablet…that the one who freed me would have eternal life, thus making me a servant forever.”

“And just why, precisely, would my freeing you make you bound to me, if I may be so bold to inquire? And why would the one who freed you be given eternal life so you could be a servant forever? Did you tick somebody off, and that was your punishment?” Zareth had shot back, a little rankled that this…thing…seemed to find him amusing.

For just a moment a look had flashed across the creatures face that had let Zareth know that whatever this thing was, even though it appeared to be friendly and harmless at the moment, it did in truth possess darker aspects, for that look, brief as it was, had turned his blood to ice.

And that ice flowing through his blood did not thaw one wit when the creature responded, as its eyes took on an eerie reddish gleam, “Oh, you might say something like that! I only told the high ruler of my dimension where he could go when he informed me that I was to become his newest ‘toy’ in his harem! And then I compounded that little act by walking up and slapping him! He gave me to a high ranking human wizard, who I angered less than a mortal year after he got me. It was the wizard that created both the tablet and the spell.”

Zareth looked at the creature in confusion, “But if a wizard trapped you in the tablet, and made it to where you would become a servant for eternity to whomever freed you, even giving that person or creature eternal life, it must have been something really bad that you did that ticked off that wizard! Though, come to think of it, if you acted as arrogant with him, and with that one in your own dimension, as you have so far with me, I can sort of understand their wanting to knock some of that cockiness out of you!” he finished, a slight smirk on his face as he regarded the creature, who had given him a baleful glare.

The creature’s response, when it had come, had all too plainly been uttered from between its razor sharp looking teeth, “I will have you know, human, that I am not arrogant! I just take exception to being a slave, plaything, or something to experiment on! And as to what I did to that wizard, well, the fool had it coming! He tried to perform some experiments on me to see if he could turn me into various things, and he tried forcing me to drink those horrible potions he was always concocting!”

The creature had paused for a moment, all too plainly lost to both its anger and to the past, then it had continued, and its voice and face had taken on a sulky aspect, “So, about six months after being given into his not so gentle care, I rebelled. I turned him into an ape. My mistake was in leaving him his human brain and giving him a form with hands! He finally figured out how to change back, though it took nearly two months of ceaseless study, and when he did, he created the tablet…and cursed me to forever be a servant to whomever could translate it, for it was written in a language that was old even in his time. And so that brings us to now.”

Zareth looked at the creature, and his thoughts were not happy ones, “Oh great, I wanted to take up learning magic and study to be a private investigator, in order to clean up some of the slime in this miserable world, and now I get stuck with a…” and here he really stopped to actually look at the creature, “…whatever this thing is.”

The thing’s mouth had widened in what could only have been called a grin…showing all too plainly those wickedly pointed teeth, as it leaned back against a rock and crossed its arms, “Try ‘DEMON’, mortal, for it is what I am. I’m called Raysha. So, what say we get out of here? I don’t know about you, but I am getting a little claustrophobic here.”

That was when Zareth had really looked around at what had once been an underground bunker…

A bunker of which nothing but chunks of shattered rock, concrete, steel beams and dirt had been left. Man, whatever that blast that had knocked him out had been, it had packed a powerful punch.

And it was about then that he had become aware of two other things….

One, the eleven scientists and archeologist’s that had been with him had been nowhere to be seen…

And two,  there had seemed to be a sort of gruesome growling and tearing sound, like the lions he had seen in old films made when they were eating a kill, emanating from behind some nearby boulders.

And Zareth being Zareth, he had had to investigate.

“Uh…I really wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Raysha had told him in a deadpan voice, as she had examined one clawed hand, turning it back and forth, as if admiring a new manicure, as she had continued to lean against the wall, “I don’t think you are going to like what you find.”

Zareth had just turned and given the creature a slight glare, then had resumed heading for the group of boulders from behind which the growling and ripping sounds seemed to be coming.

“Hey, creature, something just occurred to me, if you have been trapped for so long, how can you talk like I do, using my terms and phrases, anyway?” Zareth had thrown over his shoulder as he had begun to try to move around the boulders that were between him and those weird sounds.

Raysha’s response had held just a slight tone of smugness, “Oh, that. It’s really quite simple, when I did the knowledge transfer so we could understand each other, I automatically picked up not only your language, but all of your customs.”

“Well, if that is true, why didn’t I get the same benefits?” Zareth had asked, pausing in his climb over a particularly large boulder to glance back at Raysha, “Why didn’t I know you were a demon? And that reminds me, how did you seem to know what I was thinking earlier? Like when I was trying to decide just what exactly you were.”

Raysha had merely looked him dead in the eye with a decided gleam of wicked amusement in its own, “Simple, really, because I DID read your mind!”

“Oh, this is just great, it isn’t enough that I’ve gone and gotten myself saddled with a demon, but it has to be one that can read my mind.” Zareth had muttered under his breath as he turned and pulled himself up over the last boulder and looked behind it…

Only to drop down, then bent over as he had gotten well and thoroughly sick.

“You can’t say I didn’t try to warn you.” Raysha had piped up, a tone of mock sympathy in its voice.

Zareth hadn’t had the breath to answer, as he had been currently involved with simply standing there, bent over, hands on his knees, trying to fight down the nausea.

“Well, at least I know what happened to at least two of the others.” he had thought to himself as he had tried to gather up the courage to look over the top of the boulder again. He had needed confirmation that he had seen what he thought he had and hadn’t been suffering from delusions from the blast.

Taking a deep breath, and swallowing hard, he had once more poked his head above the boulders and looked down into the tiny chasm that lay behind them, then ducked back down.

Nope, he hadn’t been going crazy. Those sounds he had heard had indeed been ones of flesh tearing.

And the creatures doing that tearing had been, beyond a shadow of a doubt, dragons…very small ones, admittedly, but dragons nonetheless. And they had been feasting on what was left of Themaris, the head archeologist and his snooty little assistant, Bharmayn.

Scrambling down, Zareth had gone to stand in front of Raysha, and when he had spoken, his words might have been demanding, but to his utter humiliation, his voice had come out in almost a high pitched squeek, “Would you mind explaining to me just how in the seven galaxies there are two dragons chomping down on what is left of two humans? Dragons aren’t even supposed to be real! They were a part of pre-first contact fantasy!”

Raysha had merely reached up with one clawed hand to cover its mouth, giving an exaggerated yawn, then placed its hands on its hips as it had leaned towards him, and its voice had held definite traces of heavy sarcasm, “Uh, just in case you didn’t notice, demons were also a part of the era’s stories, fantasies, mythology, whatever, yet you are talking to me, and I assure you, I am very definitely real.”

Before Zareth had been able to form a reply, there had been a rustling of leathery wings, and two small forms had come flying over the boulders to land on either side of him, where they had immediately begun trying to climb his pant’s legs.

He had reached down, meaning to brush them away when Raysha had reached out and grabbed both of his hands, shaking its head, “I wouldn’t do that. They think you are their mother. And you are, in the end, going to need them. Now let them climb up to your shoulders, then let’s get out of here. We have a lot to do to get you trained.”

“What do you mean, I am going to need them? And also, what do you mean about ‘you have a lot to do to get me trained.’? I thought I was the master here, since I freed you. What happened to all that ‘you had to serve me’ stuff you were spouting?” Zareth had asked Raysha, his tone querulous.

He had stood very still, almost not breathing, while the dragonlets finished climbing and came to a rest, one perched on each shoulder. They had each rubbed their head against his face, then they had linked their long tails behind his back, curled up, and promptly fallen asleep, their wickedly clawed front feet gripping his collar.

“Come on, I will try to explain while we get out of here. I smell fresh air coming from behind that small pile of boulders over there in the corner, they may be blocking a way out.” Raysha had said as it began heading to one corner of the area.

Raysha had only taken a few steps when it suddenly stopped, almost causing Zareth to run into it. “And just for the record, I am a “she” not an “it”, thank you very much!”

Turning with a toss of her head, she had continued on to the corner, leaving Zareth to stand there with his mouth agape. This creature…here Raysha turned to give him a glare…okay, this female, sure had had an attitude.

As they had dug their way out, Raysha had indeed filled him in…and, from that day forward…totally and completely turned his world upside down. And he had indeed learned magic…just not quite the way he had thought of doing so.

He’d also gotten his private investigator’s license, and his own offices. Over the centuries he had built up a pretty lucrative practice, though he was very careful to never let his clients know that he was solving the majority of the crimes using magic.

Then when the new Chancellor had taken over, it had put a ban on magic use, decreeing that any caught using it would be executed on the spot.

The reason for the ban? Magic was the only thing the Chancellor and its kind had no defense against.

Zareth had made Raysha his partner about a century and a half after going into practice, after she had saved his life, taking a lazer blast that had been meant for him. Although it hadn’t killed her, it had left her weakened for nearly two weeks.

Zareth was drug back to the present by the sound of an aircar pulling up outside the building. Glancing out the window, he gave a low groan. Just what he needed…a visit from his ex-girlfriend…and it looked like this wasn’t about to be a social visit, for she had her draconian bodyguard with her.

At the sight of the draconian, he felt just the teensiest flare of pride, his two little dragons had proven to not only be very intelligent, they had also proven to be very fertile.

They had mated about five years after the day he had read the invocation, and within fifteen months had had their first clutch of ten eggs. And in the past seven centuries, that clutch bred others and so it had continued. Inbreeding did not appear to be a problem for them.

And Zareth had gotten a bit of a shock while raising them, for although they had seemed to be like the classical depictions of dragons when he had first seen them, as they had matured, they had begun to take on almost humanistic qualities, the main one being that, when they reached maturity, they stood upright and had human-like body structures.

And they could talk.

Zareth gave a quick glance at Raysha to make sure she was in full human form, then sat down and leaned back, and had just put his feet up on the desk when Shahreen and Laeghra walked in without so much as knocking.

Laeghra remained by the door, becoming nearly as still as a statue…save for that tell tale twitching of his tail tip and the flaring of his cat-eyed pupils.

Zareth’s senses went on alert, for the Draconian were an extremely inscrutable race, seldom displaying any emotion…

Unless you knew what to watch for. And Zareth did, he had, after all, raised the first pair. That twitching tail tip and flaring pupils told him at once that something was up…

As if Shahreen’s walking up and slamming her hands on his desk as she leaned forward to tell him, in a tense voice, “We have problems, big ones, and as much as I hate you, and hate having to ask you for a single thing, you are the only one we could come to.” hadn’t been enough of a clue.

Zareth brought his feet back to the floor, then pointed to a chair in the corner of the room, “Why don’t you drag that up and sit, since it seems that you are going to grace my presence for a while.”

As she went past Raysha to get the chair, Raysha glanced up at her with a smirk, “Hey Toots, what’s got your tail in a twist?” Raysha knew that Shahreen hated the term, which Raysha had picked up from some old archive tapes, and so she used it every chance she got just to tick Shahreen off.

Shahreen’s eyes narrowed to furious slits as she continued on past without a word. How dare that…that…THAT THING…even dare speak to her, much less address her with such smug disrespect, she thought to herself as she grabbed the chair and began dragging it over to the desk.

Shahreen had taken an instant dislike to Raysha, a dislike that had turned to hate when she discovered Raysha’s true nature. It had been that discovery, in fact, that had caused the breakup between herself and Zareth. She had told him either to get rid of Raysha or she was leaving.

And Zareth had looked her right in the eyes and asked if she needed help packing.

Once Shahreen was seated, Zareth got straight to the point, ‘Okay, spill it, what is going on, and what is Laeghra so tense about?”

Shahreen’s answer, when it came, shocked not only Zareth…it also apparently shocked Raysha, if the look on her face…and the fact that she had just totally and completely lost control enough to revert to her true form…were anything to go by.

“Zareth, there is some kind of psychopathic maniac running around slaughtering the Draconian’s and stealing the eggs from the hatcheries! Whoever, or whatever, is doing this not only has something that will pierce the Draconian’s scales, they can cut right through them, for every single corpse we have found has been skinned and their claws, teeth and horns were gone!”

She paused, then continued, and Zareth could have sworn there was a trace of both tears…and fear…in her voice, “Zareth, I may hate you, but I also know that you are a superb investigator. I will give you triple whatever your top rate is, if you will agree to find whoever, or whatever, is doing this, and kill them or it.”

Zareth glanced over at where Raysha sat in her natural form, then turned back to Shahreen, his eyes hard and flat, “You just cover the basic expenses, nothing more, this one is on me. Whoever or whatever is doing this is messing with my kids, and you don’t do that and live.”

And Laeghra, his pupils flared to their full extent, stared at Zareth in shock.

Zareth looked at the Draconian, “Oh, didn’t she tell you? I’m the one that raised the first two Draconian’s on this planet, so I guess that makes you one of my kids.”

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About MARANTHA DREAMWEAVER JENELLE

WRITER'S USE WORDS TO PAINT PICTURES ON THE CANVASES OF THEIR READER'S MINDS. marantha d. jenelle/aka 'maradjen'

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