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Koishi yawned so wide his jaw cracked. If he didn’t kill something soon, he’d–he’d have to find a hobby. A shudder ran down his human form’s spine. At least the winds were growing stronger so there would be good flying tonight.
Takai Crossing, the gate to Outremer in the east, had been quiet the last two months. Too quiet. Nothing had tried to escape into Inverness, otherwise known as Earth.
Outremer was the realm of magic. All manners of creatures lived there, including his kind. It was a dark and dangerous world. The gates, where both worlds touched, allowed people to cross. Keepers, such as he was, protected the worlds from spilling too much into each other.
The two worlds around his gate were safe for the moment.
The rough seas splashed warm water onto his bare feet and washed away the dirt from the dock. Dark storm clouds brewed over the horizon, racing toward Izu Oshima Island. Bands of orange and red slashed across them as the sun set.
He couldn’t wait until it arrived. Flying against the elements, muscle and sinew versus lightning and rain, would provide some relief from this calm.
Sheep bleated as the cargo ship knocked against the dock wall.
“Moe,” he called out over the noise.
The animals scurried to the far end of their pen and silence fell over the small herd. Sometimes animals were smarter than humans. They could sense a predator in disguise.
“Koishi.” Captain Moe waved from across the ship’s deck. He helped a female to stand, hanging her head and arms over the side rail. “Vomit in the sea, not on my ship,” he told her before shuffling toward the stern.
Clinging to the pens, Koishi kept his balance and surveyed the stock. A few cattle, less than he’d like. Twentyish head of sheep, difficult to count when they squeezed together like that. From the barking–he grinned–a few dogs.
Moe gave him a quick bow, then gestured to the livestock. “This week’s order. Was Master Ishi pleased with last week’s?” His voice shook. Who could blame him? Koishi’s dragon form was fierce, which forced him to hide among them in his man-form, as his own servant. A genius idea.
“Yes, he especially enjoyed the little dogs you brought.” The small bundles had been tender and their hair very short so they didn’t tickle when swallowed. They went well with a movie.
“Yes, those. You should buy a few breeding pair and start producing them. He’ll buy whatever you bring.”
Moe grimaced, but nodded.
Why did humans frown upon him eating dogs? They were delicious. He’d even sent his crazed mother a basket of them as a present. He would have loved to see the expression on her stern face when those arrived. She never played with her food. Her warrior nature wouldn’t allow such nonsense.
The boat jerked from under his feet as a fierce wave knocked the ship once more. “Better unload my–uh–Master Ishi’s–cargo before the storm hits. He finished the last of his prey yesterday and is hungry.” His stomach grumbled and he rubbed it. Not long now.
A groan traveled from the half-conscious female hanging on the side-rails for dear life.
“Your woman looks ill.”
Moe snorted. “Not mine. The ferry won’t run in this weather and she refused to wait. She bought passage with me.” He chuckled. “She fed the fish the whole way across. Where such a tiny thing keeps all that stored is beyond me.”
The smell from that side of the ship soured the air. He shook his head. Tourists. Always in a rush, clogging the beaches and disturbing his home. No matter the rumors of his existence, a few had to be chased down the volcano’s side as a reminder that the area wasn’t safe to play around. He doubted any of them truly wanted to cross through the gate–it would be suicide–but he couldn’t allow concrete evidence of him to surface. Baker Morris, a human company that dealt with the gatekeepers, would have a fit.
The magic realm tolerated some humans, but not the section where his gate exited. Shadowburn was a place where nightmares were born, and Takai gate resided close to a goblin nest. Whatever mortal stepped through wouldn’t survive for long. No, his duty was to keep the vermin from crossing into Inverness, or like the humans called it, Earth.
His memory surpassed those of the short-lived locals, though they did tell their young the goblin stories. He had heard them repeated often in taverns and around campfires. In each one he was the hero. He’d driven back the goblin hordes when the last gatekeeper had been overwhelmed, and he would continue to do so until he fell.
What dragon wouldn’t want such a destiny?
He had easy food, battles at his doorstep, and an island full of people who worshipped the myth of him. The gate had chosen well when it bonded to him.
Moe followed him off the ship. “She barely speaks Japanese.”
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