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Treasured
Author: S.J. Himes

 

Dedication

 

 

To the fantastic people who signed up for my Patreon.

The support from my patrons has helped me in more ways than I can ever express.

Thank you.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

“Rainfall at dawn,” muttered the doorman, scowling as he held the glass and steel door open wide. “Bad luck, is what this is.”

With a sharp smirk at the doorman, Tarquin stepped out into the rain and lifted his face, smiling widely as the cold drops began to wet his jacket and skin. Soon enough, his hair was soaked through and rain dripped down his collar. Thunder rumbled and the gray skies above the city swirled in the increasing winds. He breathed in a lungful of cold, wet air, reveling in the rush of energy that flooded his senses and body. His bones echoed with the booming vibrations above in the clouds, and he exhaled, a thick wisp of vapor spilling from his mouth, only to disappear on the wind.

Such a marvelous way to start his Monday morning. There was more than enough raw power in the storm to spare, and Tarquin absorbed it as easy as breathing, topping off his magical reserves. It beat waiting for a cup of coffee at the chain café down the street.

It was early, just after dawn, and the evening news the night before had called for slight showers with sunshine, but the sky above was casting doubt on the meteorologists’ predictions. The storm brewing above Montreal was no slight rain shower. But then, the meteorologists never accounted for the storm dragon living in the heart of downtown Montreal. The humans liked to pretend he couldn't derail their predictions with a flick of a wrist.

Something was about to happen, fate tugged on his senses, and when he’d awoken before dawn, the heady sensation of anticipation pooling in his belly spurred the nascent rain shower into a thunderstorm. He’d not let it get too out of hand, but the region could use the rain.

“Sir, Master Tarquin? You’re going to catch your death, standing in the rain like that,” the doorman called out from the safety of the lobby, flinching from the rain and wind, holding the door open against random, furious gusts.

“A little rain is good for the soul,” Tarquin replied, grinning back at the old man, who took a startled step back and let the door to the apartment building swing shut. Tarquin caught a glimpse of himself in the glass door. Bright fangs reflected from the glass, and Tarquin turned away with a shrug. His kind were rare—not many humans, or even other supernaturals, had come across one of his people.

Dragons were nearly reduced to legend, their numbers few.

The rain fell in varying waves of intensity, the wind kicking up, and Tarquin leaned into the wind as he walked down the sidewalk, vague hints of scales shimmering under his skin and across the backs of his hands, his wilder nature wanting to shed the trappings of mankind and take to the sky. His offices weren’t that far away, a few blocks across downtown Montreal, and shifting and then flying for less than a minute would be a waste of time.

Tarquin pulled out his earbuds, slipped them on, and then queued up his favorite podcast. The episodes were recorded the week before release, and the newest episode had been released that morning. The focus of the podcast was for people to call in and talk about their troubles, and usually make a wish for what they needed or wanted in their lives. Tarquin was deeply familiar with wants and needs—dragons were hoarders, after all. The podcast resonated with him, even more so when the callers talked about needing a change for the better, or for some injustice in their lives needing to be avenged or rectified. The familiar intro music came on, and Tarquin zoned out until the podcast got to the best part of the show.

He sidestepped deep puddles of gutter water and soaking wet trash, and a flick of his wrist kept the cars from splashing him head to toe as he strode down the sidewalk, the magic humming quietly along his skin. He didn’t mind rain, relished it, in fact, but he drew the line at disgusting, greasy water from the gutter.

Tarquin stopped at a corner and waited for the crossing signal, listening intently to the voicemail clip that was the focus of the episode.

The caller’s voice was sweet and light, young, but not a teenager. Human for certain, Tarquin’s ears were able to discern the specific timbre common to the mortal species. Slim build, nervous, and sad. And American, from the accent. Montreal wasn’t far from the international border and Americans were common in the city, especially the business districts. Tarquin employed a handful of Americans himself.

“Hi, um. My name is Rick. Oh, wait. Do you need my name? Never mind. My wish! I guess my wish is pretty common and boring. I need money.” The caller halted, clearing his throat. He sounded tired, strained. Tarquin’s wilder nature stirred again, and he focused intently on the young human’s voice, fingers twitching with an instinctive desire to reach out and seize. “My mother is ill. She had a live-in boyfriend for a while, and he convinced her to mortgage the house my grandad left her when he passed to pay for renovations to the house and some insanity about helping to pay for my college tuition—I used to go to Boston College in the States—and my mom’s boyfriend took off with the money.”

Rick the Caller paused, and coughed quietly, his tone changing now from nervous to melancholy. “I’m a dual citizen—my dad is an American—but he and my mom don’t have any contact anymore after they divorced and my Dad took me to the States to live, so he doesn’t care about the trouble she’s in. So I left Boston and came to Montreal to help her out. The boyfriend has disappeared and we’ve pressed charges, but that doesn’t mean much considering he’s in the wind with over a quarter of a million dollars, and my mom is stuck with a mortgage she can’t afford, a house that’s falling apart around her ears, and she needs full-time medical care. The medical care is getting covered by the government, but it’s slow going right now while we’re waiting on some treatment plans, and she needs someone around full-time but I have to work to cover the mortgage and expenses.”

Tarquin growled under his breath when Rick finished speaking, startling a fellow pedestrian, who scampered off in the opposite direction. The mother’s boyfriend needed to be struck with lightning. The caller took another deep breath and Tarquin could almost feel the tremors running through the mortal’s body, his sensitive ears picking out the tiniest bits of the subsequent rough exhalation.

Tarquin felt for the youngling—family was important. Young Rick was frustrated and upset for his mother, who Tarquin suspected might have cognitive health issues, perhaps due to age. Humans deteriorated in heartbreaking ways as they aged. The mother’s boyfriend needed to be strung up for the ravens, after being struck by lightning.

“Yeah.” Rick coughed, then spoke in a smaller, more resigned tone. Like he’d given up already. “I wish for a way out of this mess I’m in, and I guess that means money, preferably to pay off the mortgage. I kinda feel like an ass calling in and wishing for money, but thanks for letting me vent, regardless. I’m gonna keep looking for a job. Thanks again.”

The call ended, and the podcast host’s voice came over the exit music. Tarquin clicked off the podcast, pondering as he continued down the sidewalk. The podcast used voicemails left on their messaging service, and the calls were usually fairly recent to the show airing. Depending on how many people called in, Rick had either called in just the Monday before, or possibly weeks ago. Tarquin hoped wherever young Rick was, the problem had improved enough to remove the misery from his sweet voice.

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