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A Reckoning (2).png

Chapter one
of 
A Reckoning
of 
Rogues and Rescues

Ah, moving day. The sweet smell of cardboard boxes, the thrill of hauling your entire life’s possessions up three flights of stairs, the joy of realizing you forgot to label anything so each box is a fun little mystery. It’s like Candlenights came early this year.

“I still don’t see why you didn’t just levitate everything up here with magic,” Xander squawked from his perch on my shoulder, his beady raven eyes judging me hardcore. “Aren’t you supposed to be some hotshot Sparklemancer now?”

I huffed, blowing a stray lock of pink hair out of my face as I set down yet another box in what would generously be called a “cozy” living room. “Okay first of all, just because I graduated from Sparklemancer Academy doesn’t mean I’m a ‘hotshot’ now. And secondly, using magic for every little thing is lazy. I like to rely on my own natural strength and stunning good looks, thanks very much.”

Xander let out a caw that sounded suspiciously like a laugh. “Whatever you say, champ. I’m just glad to be out of Luminos. If I had to wake up to the sound of glitter cannons going off one more morning, I was going to fly into the sun.”

 

I snorted. Xander loved to play the part of the surly, sarcastic familiar, but I knew he had a soft spot for Luminos deep down. After all, it’s where we first met, when he literally crashed into my dorm room one night after a wild raven rager. I nursed him back to health with stale bagels and old Sparklemancy textbooks, and we’ve been thick as thieves ever since.

But he wasn’t wrong about the glitter cannons. Luminos was the Sparklemancer capital of the world, and they took their glitter very, very seriously. Every morning at dawn, a dozen massive cannons would fire off shimmering salvos into the air, covering the entire city in a fine mist of sparkles. It was pretty for the first week or so, but after three years of waking up with glitter in places glitter should never be, the charm had definitely worn off.

Which is why I was so excited to be starting this new chapter in Eclipsia. A new city, new faces, and most importantly, a distinct lack of institutionalized glitter bombardment. 

Sure, it helped that my cousins, Rook and Cassie Spellbound-Shadowcloak (the royal twins of Eclipsia, because of course they were) had generously offered to let me crash in their old apartment while I figured out my post-grad life. But more than the free rent and prime location, I was looking forward to living in a place where I wasn’t the weird one for not bedazzling every inch of my body.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a Sparklemancer. The rush of channeling pure arcane energy, the glitzy outfits, the camaraderie of studying with fellow mages—it was everything young Maeve had dreamed of and more. But after three years of intensive training and mandatory pep rallies, I was ready for a change of pace. A chance to figure out who I was without the constant pressure to out-glitter my peers.

Xander flapped over to the windowsill and peered out at the bustling streets of our new neighborhood. “So, what’s the plan now, chief? We just going to sit around the apartment and eat ramen until you have some sort of existential epiphany?”

I rolled my eyes, sinking down onto the lone, battered couch that had come with the place. “No, you overgrown pigeon. The plan is to take it one day at a time. Explore the city, meet new people, maybe take up cross-stitching while I contemplate my larger life purpose.” 

I let my hand trail along the faded upholstery, my mind drifting back to all the stories Cassie and Rook had told me over the years about their adventures in this very apartment. The late-night scheming, the dramatic entrances through the window, the infamous “Unicorn Incident” after that one particularly rowdy house party.

I sighed wistfully. Now those two were off living their best lives—Cassie shacking up with her hunky knight in shining armor and Rook being all domestic with that pretty-boy elf of his. Even Orza, their unflappable orc roommate, had bigger and better things to do as the newly minted Captain of the Royal Guard.

Part of me envied them, with their epic love stories and grand destinies. But another part, the louder, more insistent part, was determined to carve my own path. To find my place in this crazy mixed-up universe, even if I had to stumble my way through it fueled by nothing but stubborn optimism and a frankly impressive coffee habit.

Xander settled on the arm of the couch, eyeing me shrewdly. “You’re doing that thing where you gaze off into the distance like a brooding maverick again. How about instead we go grab a drink and commence Operation New Beginning before you get too introspective?”

I cracked a smile. Xander always knew how to snap me out of navel-gazing mode with the promise of adventure and/or alcohol. “You’re right. Enough unpacking-related pity partying. To the tavern!”

After a quick wardrobe change (I swapped my sweat-stained “Hug me, I Sparkle!” t-shirt for a slightly classier off-the-shoulder number), Xander and I hit the streets, ready to paint the town a glimmering shade of “new girl in the big city.” 

The tavern was almost exactly what I expected—dim lighting, sticky floors, and a eclectic mix of humans, elves, orcs, and other assorted fantasy types all imbibing merrily. But there was an energy to the place I instantly loved, a hum of possibility and barely contained chaos. 

Xander and I shouldered our way to the bar, where a no-nonsense dwarf taverness was pouring drinks with practiced efficiency. Within moments, I had a frosty pint in hand and a prime spot next to the hearth to people watch.

That’s when I saw him. A lanky elf with long, silver hair and laughing blue eyes, strumming an oddly-shaped lute in the corner. Even from a distance, I could feel the magnetism rolling off him in waves, an almost palpable aura of charm and raw bardic energy. 

He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, and that’s saying something considering my social circle back in Luminos was just stupidly attractive people wall to wall.

I nudged Xander, nodding in Tall, Fair, and Chiseled’s direction. “Check out the bard. That’s some serious fantasy Fabio hair, am I right?”

But Xander, for once, didn’t have a snarky quip at the ready. He was staring at the elf with an intensity usually reserved for particularly shiny objects or unattended pork buns.

Before I could ask what his deal was, the elf’s eyes met mine from across the room. He flashed me a quick, dazzling smile and, I kid you not, winked. Actually WINKED. At ME.

I didn’t have time to process whatever the helck was happening before he was suddenly right in front of us, all windswept hair and cheeky grin. “Well hello there, beautiful. The name’s Bastian, wandering minstrel and professional heartbreaker, at your service.”

I blinked. I had never met anyone who introduced themselves as a “professional heartbreaker” without even a hint of irony, but here we were. Still, there was an undeniable thrumming attraction between us that I couldn’t ignore, much as the rational part of my brain really, REALLY wanted to. 

“I’m Maeve,” I said as casually as I could manage. “Just moved to town, in the market for new friends and/or whirlwind romances that make great brunch story fodder later.”

Bastian laughed, low and musical. “I like you, Maeve of Parts Unknown. You’ve got moxie. What do you say we get to know each other a little better over another round?”

And just like that, with the clinking of beer steins and a talking raven as our witness, the love story I didn’t know I was starring in commenced. But little did I realize that my first fresh start in Eclipsia was already working some serious narrative magic behind the scenes…

Fast-forward a whole YEAR, and Bastian and I are disgustingly, deliriously in like-like. We’re painting the town red (or in my case sparkly magenta), having picnics in meadows, and going on long walks on Eclipsia’s equivalent of the beach (if you substitute sand for pixie dust and seagulls for tiny enchanted crabs). 

He serenades me with soulful power ballads, I pretend not to swoon while secretly doodling “Mrs. Maeve Barstian” in my journal with little hearts everywhere. It’s all pretty cute and not at all ill-advised.

But beneath the shiny veneer of New Relationship Energy, there’s these little tiny red flags that keep popping up—his chronic inability to commit, his tendency to improvise “hilarious” and yet somehow insulting jigs about me—you know, the usual. 

Like, I once broached the idea of him moving into my place over an idyllic meadowy picnic, and he just started hemming and hawing and deflecting with some truly impressive footwork for a dude hoovering cheese like it was his job.

“I mean, don’t you think a year is still a little early, sugarplum? Why fix what ain’t broke?” He leaned back on the blanket, popping a grape into his mouth.

I stared at him, wondering if I had been dropped into some alternate reality where a year was considered a crazy short amount of time for a relationship milestone. “Um, a year seems pretty standard to me, Bastian. It’s not like I’m asking you to pick out wedding china, I just want to take the next step.”

He sat up, pasting on that butter-wouldn’t-melt grin that both charmed and aggravated. “I know, I know. And you’re right! I just think we should enjoy the honeymoon period a little longer before getting all serious, you know?”

I bit back a sigh. Between his commitment-phobia and the blatant hypocrisy of calling me “sugarplum” while dragging his feet, I was more than a little irked. But I also knew when to pick my battles.

“Fine, we’ll table the cohabitation conversation for now. But I did want to mention that I’ve been thinking about opening my own comic shop. You know, using some of that Sparklemancy know-how to create graphic novels so enchanted the characters literally leap off the page?”

Bastian blinked, absentmindedly plucking at his lute strings. “A comic shop? Isn’t that kind of a big risk? I mean, do people even read anymore with all the crystal balls and magic mirrors these days?”

I bristled at his dismissive tone. I had spent many hours pouring my heart and soul into this business plan, and here he was just casually pooh-poohing it while noodling on his stupid lute.

But before I could inform him exactly where he could shove said lute and the unsolicited business advice, a massive shadow fell over us, blocking out the sun. I looked up and nearly choked on my own tongue.

There, landing in the meadow with a grace that belied her considerable size, was an honest-to-gods DRAGON. She had iridescent purple scales, gleaming silver horns, and eyes the piercing blue of a midwinter sky. 

And she was staring right at us with what I can only describe as a predatory twinkle.

“Oh, do forgive my intrusion,” she purred, voice like distant thunder over mountains. “But I simply couldn’t help myself once I heard that bewitching melody. Was that you playing, my good elf?”

Bastian, for his part, looked like all his Candlenights had come at once. He leapt to his feet, sketching a courtly bow. “Indeed it was, oh fearsome and pulchritudinous (that’s a ridiculous word for ‘beautiful’ Bastian always uses) wyrm! Bastian of Clan Gladesong, humble bard, at your service.”

I rolled my eyes so hard I was surprised they didn’t fall out of my head. But I had to admit, I was also just the tiniest bit relieved we weren’t about to be roasted alive and turned into dragon hors d’oeuvres. Yet.

The dragon seemed to be equally taken with Bastian’s over-the-top flattery. She preened, her scales glinting hypnotically in the dappled sunlight. “Charmed, I’m sure. I am Amethystia, connoisseur of the musical arts and, if I do say so myself, a gal who knows talent when she hears it. Would you perchance favor me with another song?”

Bastian practically tripped over himself in his haste to oblige. As the first strains of what sounded suspiciously like a Backstreet Boys song began to fill the air, the dragon closed her eyes in rapt appreciation, swaying her sinuous neck in time.

Me? I was just trying not to have an aneurysm at the sheer absurdity of it all. Here we were, on the brink of a serious relationship talk, and now my boyfriend was serenading a damn dragon. 

Typical. Just typical.

As the last notes faded away, Amethystia sighed dreamily, a tongue of lavender flame licking from her jaws. “Exquisite. Simply exquisite. I don’t suppose you’d consider returning with me to my lair, would you, sweet Bastian? I have a feeling you and I could make beautiful music together.” 

Before either of us could react, she scooped my elven himbo up in one daintily-taloned claw and with a powerful downbeat of wings, lifted off into the wild blue yonder, his delighted whoops echoing behind them.

Leaving me standing alone, slack jawed and covered in meadow debris.

Did…

Did my boyfriend just get dragon-napped by an overgrown iguana with a thing for lute ballads?

Survey says: signs point to yes. 

Well. As the dreadful realization slowly took root, my shock turned to indignation and then, surprisingly, unbridled glee. A snort of laughter bubbled out of me, then another. Soon I was doubled over, cackling so hard my stomach hurt.

Because that rat BASTIAN had just been absconded with by an amorous wyrm right before we could define the relationship and I was a terrible person for finding that hilarious. Right?

Right. 

Once I collected the tattered shreds of my dignity, I did the only logical thing one does when their significant other takes an unexpected sabbatical to Fantasy Mountain:

I hiked up my skirt, whistled for Xander, and set off at a dead sprint to STAB THIS DRAGON BITCH IN THE FACE AND GET MY MAN BACK.

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