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First Chapters of The Heart of A Dragon Tamer

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

"Mock, before you even start. YOU promised you would come talk to us about spanking and then you left. Where were you?"

Um, yeah. Sorry about that. And don't I always talk about spanking? Okay, okay. I know I mean without my characters to shield me. My original plan was to make an entire page of "Kinds of possible Spankings." Though, I thought about it for too long and I'm not sure I should do that. Still thinking on that one. That could be a mini-novel on its own!

So I came up with a new idea for now. Like, hear me out.

Dragon Tamer is long. I could release half the book before it's set to come out (which sorry, need to see what my editor says before I can come up with a date) and you'd still have more than a novel to read.

I thought I could try to talk a little of spanking along the way. I also want to reintroduce the characters. So we can do this for a bit and see what churns out and then maybe I'll put it all in a booklet? Let's try it and if you have questions or just want to talk about your own experiences/feeling/etc, maybe we can make a group here in the groups section?

All right, so Jude.


This model is exactly as I see Jude. Like, even when I wrote the original I pictured someone like this for the main character. I don't even have a "but I would change." This is him. Jude. He is actually Model Jan Francken. I would really like to get my hands on a photo I could license it for a cover or something so I'm putting it out there. Universe? Do you hear me?

Jude is a powerful wizard with a hard past. He is, of course, one of the brats of this story.

If Jude wasn't a wizard, I could easily see him listening to a lot of Nirvana in his room. When I write him, I often listen to Lithium (by Nirvana) and other classics.

This story is a romance novel, yes, but it's also the story in which Mock takes you on a wild ride though 9 years of Jude's life.

I was partially inspired by Hana Yanighihara's "A Little Life," who also happens to have a Jude in it but this one is very different from hers. What I liked (and wanted to try) was how she took us through many years of the characters lives, involving us so far down the rabbit hole of their lives, I felt like I'd read a book about real people. Now, that story is FAR more angsty than Dragon Tamer. Dragon Tamer does have some angst but it's fairly low on the angst scale.

And mine has spanking in it. Don't forget that. One critical reviewer quoted in their comment (in the original version) "This was one big spank fest." And they are right. I also wrote it to explore (and enjoy) spanking in a myriad of ways.

Here's the real catch though---it's ALL non-sexual spanking. Yep. For many, many, many words, no sexual, kinky spanking takes place. At the very end there is a little because c'mon, us spanksters (I refuse to call myself a "spank-o", I'm sorry but I just despise that label) um, so as I was saying, us spanksters are always gonna enjoy a little of that even with other tastes.

Even after all these years trying to find the words to describe what happens with a non-sexual spanking, I struggle. Which is why in the book several different kinds are explored. That's right, there's more than one.

There is some parent to teenager spanking happening in this old fashion, yet present day ish Wizard universe. If you're on this page, you probably get it and I don't have to explain. This is definitely of the non-sexual variety. But in addition to that, it's absent of "that feeling" which is the term I use to attempt to describe the feeling between a "brat" and their "Top." As you'll see the "that feeling" is not there in these instances.

However, the feelings of safety, and vulnerability and even very mild humiliation are there to serve the wiring inside a person such as this. Jude in the story is very much this person. Mock is very much this person.

Because it goes beyond sex. And honestly? I am finding, the more spanksters I chat with, we're often on the ACE spectrum. Not to say we all are. Just many I've talked to. I myself, am DEMI. The means I'm on the ACE spectrum. Spanking really isn't a sexual thing for me ...


(I'm going to leave the "except" dangling.)

But the parent to teen spanking? There's a comfort to it. A vulnerability. We get something out of reading it that's soothing. There's an element of "made to", "have to" that you can only get in this context. That's part of it.

So yeah. I hope it will be as comforting for some as it is for me.

All that being said, while this element is weaved into the book, it's not the larger portion and the book has MUCH more going on than this.

The greater portion is, of course, our Charlie with Jude (which I will talk about in another post). But before all that, we need some set up and background.

These first two chapters will set up the world some. There will be lots of questions at this point which will be answered as you read the story. I hope you enjoy them. Remember, they are unedited and I'm sorry, I need a break from editing so I'm not looking them over again right now. They will be professionally edited before publication.

The Heart of A Dragon Tamer: Chapters 1+ 2, Edited

Copyrighted Material 2021


That owl’s always had it out for him. It stares with judge-y, yellow eyes having claimed Jude’s meagre dinner, daring Jude to have another go at snatching the bag. “Owls aren’t supposed to eat crisps,” he says. “Won’t that hurt your stomach?”
Annoyed at the accusation, it grips the bag in its beak and huffs off into the night leaving Jude to nurse his bitten hand alone. He shivers in the cold barn, tugging the thin blanket around his thin frame. He considers a healing spell. His best friend’s mum made sure they (he and Preston) knew the basics before they began at Ravyndell.
“With what you lot get up to, you’d best know something antiseptic and binding so you don’t bleed out before you can get a bandage,” Myra’d said.
Jude looks around. Some ungifted folk don’t believe in magic, even when they see it with their own eyes. Would one teensy-weensy healing spell be noticeable? Probably not but his uncle doesn’t like it, and if he’s caught, Jude’ll suffer.
He won’t get caught. Not for something small.
He slowly gathers what he needs from the earth’s energy field, the light building in his fingers. There’s plenty for Jude to grab from the constant stream of charged currents moving through the atmosphere. Different kinds. Different colors. Different purposes. All available to be moved at Jude’s will.
Instead of sending his cache of force out to the world, he exhales and lets the energy spread across his insides. Seemingly a contradiction, but that’s what it feels like—an exhale that goes in rather than out. When Jude was learning how to use his gift, he thought about magic as something you wield. In a way it is, some kinds, but not all magic is like that. It depends on what’s gathered. It depends on intent. It depends on the strength and ability of the wizard.
Sometimes, magic is something you move softly. The simple maneuvering of energy. Finding a path. Matching with other energies.
That’s why it takes so long to master it. To recognize the feel of the threads of the universe. To know how much to take and what to do with it. Learn to move it quickly.
He struggled. Using his gift hadn’t come easily. Not with the amount of potential power Jude has available to him. Having a lot of power is useless when you haven’t a clue as to how to channel it.
More harm than good even.
Once his hand is patched as good as it’s going to get with the simple spell, Jude rips a strip from his threadbare blanket and ties it around his palm as an extra barrier of protection. His body will still need to do some of the healing—a kind of magic of its own.
He lays on the scratchy pallet, mentally running through his chores while his body hopes they’ve finished them all. It’s just him and his uncle on the large farm spread over twenty acres along the English countryside. If it weren’t for the explicit instructions left by his parents that he attend the special schools for people like Jude, he probably wouldn’t get to go to school at all.
The barn became his home two years after he’d begun at Bonny Blackridge Primary, a boarding school for young, gifted people. Wizards. Aunt Elma—his mother’s sister—had a heart attack. Jude was seven. Uncle Webster blamed Jude and his “magic tricks”. He wouldn’t allow Jude back in the house but if he worked hard, he’d get lodging and food.
Because his aunt and uncle weren’t gifted. No magical abilities whatsoever.
Seven-year-old Jude didn’t have much say but when he reached his teens, he thought to get a job in town. Maybe he could find his own lodgings for the summers, someone willing to take a student.
But he couldn’t leave the property. Like, physically couldn’t leave. Not one toe off.
It was frustrating. Sometimes he was angry with Uncle Webster and wanted to do something about it. Jude was a wizard. It didn’t seem fair he couldn’t use his magic to help himself—isn’t that what it’s for? But magic can be performed by minors only with permission from a magical guardian and even then, only under supervision. He was lucky they didn’t cuff him as it was. That’s what they did to little children who couldn’t be trusted not to use magic when they weren’t supposed to and who didn’t have magical guardians—made them wear cuffs with runes on them that prevented use of their gift.
Every small bit he used was a risk.
He’d been warned by Miss Charlotte not to get close to the edge of the property, but she never said why, other than, “It’s to keep you safe, Jude.”
She never said much of anything. She stormed through the thick magical barrier of energy at the edge of farm every summer to bring him to the magical boarding school in Bonny Blackridge and returned him to the farm when school was out.
Of course, he didn’t listen. He was eight when he first tried. It blew him across the field, and he was lucky to land on a hay bale. The magic infected his hand somehow. Miss Charlotte arrived two days later to retrieve him. Thankfully. His hand was sore and turning his sun-kissed flesh colors it shouldn’t be.
“Didn’t I tell you not to touch it?” Her voice was always sharp as a razor’s edge. He liked the feel of her despite her serrated manner. He didn’t like Miss Charlotte upset with him. Miss Charlotte was perfectly polite, but never friendly. And yet he adored her. He knew she would keep him safe—his intuition told him so.
She was pretty. Shiny black hair—a chin-length bob with perfect bangs that curved with the shape of her face. She had fair skin like Jude’s when he wasn’t sporting his summer tan. Giant winged cat eyes angled hard toward her temples, fringed with long lashes. Lips and cheeks so rosy they were a sharp contrast to the rest of her. She looked like the porcelain doll of a good witch.
Only she wasn’t a witch, she was a wizard.
“I’m sorry.” His lip trembled. It sounded more like a plea. Don’t stop coming.
Her lips quirked right as she lifted his hand so she could look. He hissed at the pain. “All children are curious. But you need to do as you’re told.” She marked her words with a press to his nose. “I can fix this, but it might hurt just a little. Ready?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
She looked around and then she began. The sensation was prickly at first. Like when a limb wakes from having fallen asleep. He could feel her creep in, tiptoeing. She smiled as someone does when they’re remembering—she touched Jude’s energy and remembered something. His sore hand warmed, and he breathed in with the anticipation of pain, but it didn’t come. Just more warmth. She wasn’t touching with her hand, but he could feel her with his other senses. She used her gift to grip the poisoned magic decaying his hand. It wrapped around the tainted bit, weaving with it thread by thread. There was a tug and then a pull. The color left his flesh, draining in swirls like water down a drain.
When it was gone, Jude tested his hand. “Wow. Where did it go?”
She removed a black glove from her hand. Her fair flesh was lit with colors that writhed beneath the surface.
Jude winced. “But won’t it hurt you?” he asked.
“It does hurt. That’s not just any spell over there. This requires a potion. I know someone who’ll make it for me.” She slid her hand back into her black glove. She’d said it hurt, but she didn’t look to be in pain.
The woman was tough as hippogryph scales.
Jude pressed his brow down and together. Everyone called it his hawk-like, murder brow. It often got him what he wanted. “You look like you’re gonna disembowel someone, Parker,” Preston’d say. “If you do, make sure it’s Rycroft.”
It was the first time he was ever angry at Miss Charlotte. He crossed his arms, hawk-like brow set to stun. “That barrier is dangerous. It’s an awful thing to keep around children.”
He instantly regretted his temper when she gripped his chin, her long fingernails biting into his flesh. He trembled, his heart pounding. He wasn’t mad about the danger to him. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to Miss Charlotte, but he didn’t think he should say that. “That look won’t work on me.” She stared at him, analyzing. Miss Charlotte always wore a mask. She never let it down. “If it’s that dangerous then it must be holding very precious cargo.”
She released his chin. It stung. “Come along.”
Jude followed her to the barrier. Her words frothed, bubbling through him despite her cool countenance. They said, “Someone cares.”
About him.
It also gave him another clue.
Preston’s parents cared about him too, but they didn’t go around building magical poison barriers around the house. Why was Jude important enough to merit such drastic measures?
Miss Charlotte put a hand on the invisible barrier Jude couldn’t see but could feel as a powerful build of static electricity. His skin prickled and tingled, and the sensation was all together unpleasant, the magic trying to warn him.
Stay away.
Touching the edge hadn’t been easy. It had tried to repel him even before he’d touched it. The air thickening. Pockets of wind pushing him away.
She walked up to it easily. When she put a hand to it (the untainted one), the thickness died away and they were able to pass through.
When he was ten, he worked up enough courage to ask some questions. He told his fox friend, Bandit, he was gonna do it. His fox that wasn’t a fox. Jude knew he wasn’t a fox because he could feel the sizable magic thrumming through him.
And yet, Bandit could pass through the barrier. Magic and all.
Nothing holding magic—other than Miss Charlotte—was supposed to get in. That one he’d figured out with the help of Preston and Brianna. Brianna, always the voice of reason, came up with the idea to throw magically infused objects at the barrier.
With that in mind, Jude brought a starball home from school. Starballs are smaller than the footballs ungifted folk use. Unlike the black and white, spherical, truncated icosahedron pattern of ungifted folk’s footballs, a wizard’s football is all black and glitters gold, infused with the magic of stardust. He doesn’t like bringing things home. Uncle Webster takes what he finds of Jude’s, but Preston assured him that even if Uncle Webster confiscated the ball, it was an old one from the darkest recesses of the Westley’s garage and no one would miss it.
When Uncle Webster went into town, Jude trudged to the back of the twenty-acre property and kicked the ball at the wall he could feel but not see. It didn’t damage the ball, but the ball was as trapped on the farm as Jude was. They tried many other magically infused items with the same result.
Bandit was gifted.
Bandit could get past the barrier.
Bandit wasn’t a fox.
He had chestnut brown fur with patches of black, a short snout and a long, shaggy tail. He lay with Jude on cold nights to keep him warm. He licked Jude’s toes to wake him so Jude wouldn’t miss any sunlight for doing chores. He had glistering, black eyes—in them Jude could see his human essence.
Jude would tell him everything he wanted to know. Everything he wondered. He’d tell Bandit what he knew. “Miss Charlotte’s my magical guardian. Why can’t I live with her? I’d be so good. She’d never know I was there. But I’m not sure she likes kids.”
Jude knew he required a magical guardian. The magically gifted guardian sets the parameters for the magically gifted child within the magic realm. Wizards, and other magical peoples and entities are governed by the Council of Magic and are separated from the laws for ungifted folk. The age of majority for wizards is twenty-five versus the standard of eighteen for ungifted folk in the UK.
Usually, magical children are born to magical parents. It’s rare for a gifted child to be born into an ungifted family, but it happens. “In the olden days,” he said to Bandit, “Brianna says the Council took those kinds of children when they were born and placed them in magical homes.”
They don’t do that now. They make arrangements, like with Jude, but that’s just one option. Some parents don’t want the child. Others want to keep their child and never tell them about their gift.
Both options make Jude shiver.
Jude’s known he was gifted since he can remember. Miss Charlotte’s picked him up for “wizard kindergarten” all the way through to the end of primary school. He doesn’t remember much before the age of five.
“I suppose they coulda done that with me,” Jude mused to Bandit. “But I’m glad they didn’t.”
He talked on and on, reflecting about his lost family. Longing for them. “My parents put me here though. Do you think they’ll come someday? Maybe even just to see me on my birthday?”
When Miss Charlotte showed to get him at the end of the summer—Bandit and Miss Charlotte were never there at the same time, like the existence of one, erased the other—her cat eyes were poised and sharp.
“Clearly, you’re here because you’re being hidden, Jude,” she said, answering a question he’d asked Bandit. “Stop asking questions to the irksome fox.”
How could he stop?
No one knows the whereabouts of his parents or what happened to them. No one remembers them. He burned with wanting to know, the fire never dimming, only growing stronger each year, with each new bit of information.
Even Aunt Elma had gotten a dazed look in her eyes when Jude would ask about them. She’d repeat the same story, the one that left Jude nothing but an ache in his chest.
“They came and left yah here wit me,” she’d say. “She came with a tall man in black and said they had t’hide yah. They left in the night. Last, I ever saw of ‘em.”
Every time she’d say it, a tingle would sweep over Jude—an eerie, creepy tingle.
Magic. Maybe dark magic. It didn’t feel nice.
Something Jude knew, something he’d figured out early on, was that anything surrounding his parents was … not gone but scrambled.
Like the whole world forgot to remember them.
Aunt Elma could recite for him any recipe, even a new one but she couldn’t recall a single detail about his mother—her sister—except that they were in fact sisters and the one memory she repeated like a record player repeated: “Your mum and I, always swinging. Swinging and swinging at the park.”
The creepy tingle would wash over Jude. It became his radar for when he was being fed a line for what he’d come to know was the spell—whatever spell had been cast to prevent people talking about his parents.
Jude opened his mouth, about to respond to Miss Charlotte but she cut him off with her own deadly brow. “You’re upsetting the damn fox. It’s upsetting everyone. Stop it.”
Bandit never came back.
Jude never asked Miss Charlotte another thing.
Jude’s guardianship remained with Uncle Webster after Aunt Elma’s death. The rest of the time it was Miss Charlotte even though she was mostly absent. Jude was raised at school. Miss Charlotte was only called to the school if there was a problem—a big one. Part of him wanted to cause trouble so he’d see her, but he didn’t dare.
Except the one time. That was a colossal mistake, and he never did it again.
In his last year at primary school, she’d shown up looking like he’d never seen her. Miss Charlotte always wore her mask.
When Jude saw it off, it terrified him. The world had to be ending.
“Jude. Jude I … Jude, I need to tell …”
His flesh prickled with the spell. Whatever she wanted to tell him, she couldn’t. “I know. I know,” he said in frustration. By then, he, Preston and Bri had some idea of how the spell worked. They’d tested the hell out of it. “Just, we can talk around it. Please. Please. I can do it. I can help.”
Jude had never felt so helpless.
She froze. Her lips trembled. “What am I doing?” she said to herself. “I … Jude? I’ll be gone for a while. Someone else will be here to bring you home.”
“What? No. No!” Don’t go.” He didn’t even know why he cared. She was cold and stern and often rough.
But she was his and while her exterior said one thing, the magic thrumming through her said another. He reached for her. He knew her and she knew him, and he didn’t want her to leave him.
She turned heel and left him still reaching.
Magic raced through him. He sucked all the energy from the room and then destroyed it. Not on purpose but he’d lost the tightly held control he maintained on his gift. At twelve, it was wilder because he had no idea about the kind of power his small body held.
He never saw her again.
He spent a week wondering if they would cuff him, but it never happened. As promised, at the end of the school year, someone else came. Another guardian. Another mask. It accounted for the reason he hadn’t received much in the way of a reprimand for his outburst—someone must have argued on his behalf.
Regardless, Jude was in no mood to be pleasant. He’d prepared himself for just how things would go with the new person. You don’t prepare yourself for meeting Mads Payne though. The tall man in black showed up. The darkest black hair. Fair skin tinged with sun-kissed gold. Energy crackling around him like the inside of a plasma ball. His dark robes flourished whenever he moved but lay flat instantly when he stilled with militant obedience.
Jude stared in awe. “It’s you,” he’d said.
“Me what, Parker?”
“You brought me here with my mum. A tall man in black. My aunt said.”
He scowled. “I’m sorry to disappoint you. Tall man in black is a vague description, don’t you think?”
Jude felt the eerie tingle. Mads was under the influence of the spell too.
Maybe he just doesn’t remember.
Jude, Preston, and Brianna would puzzle it out sometimes when they were bored at school. Brianna was certain it had to be a mind scramble spell. Of course, they didn’t know if such a thing existed, but they began calling it that. Through trial and error and various modes of investigation, they figured out some things.
Preston’s parents had to know Jude’s.
Brianna’s parents did not.
The spell is a protective spell—maybe for Jude, maybe his parents, probably both.
Their attempts to get anything out of Mads Payne failed miserably and landed Jude in detention.
He dragged Jude out on a Saturday evening and made him collect moonstrife under the full moon. While he didn’t find out anything about his parents, he did learn about collecting herbs. Payne even knelt beside him and explained where moonstrife liked to hide and that you collected it on a full moon when it had the most energy so you could sniff it out by feeling for it.
It hadn’t felt like detention. He would never admit it to Preston, but he liked spending time with Ravyndell’s stern Potions Master.
This guardianship was different. This time, his guardian would be at the school with him.
He was devastated when he found out the professor was away a lot. Sometimes for months at a time. At the end of every school year, the professor would tell him the exact date and time he’d return to retrieve him and warn, “I want you waiting by the edge of the property, Parker. By that apple tree at precisely eight am, or you’ll be slicing burning wizard’s root for the first week of school.”
He said things like that but there was something sarcastically hilarious about Payne. Jude knew when to take him seriously and when not to. “I can’t go to the edge, sir. Magical poison barrier, remember?”
“You know what I mean, Parker. Merlin, spare me from teenagers.”
It was a whole year before he got the courage to say something to Payne about his living situation. If anyone could help him, Payne was it.
It was like trying to talk underwater and Jude knew there was a lot more to the spell than he could have ever imagined.
And that he was alone.
Jude looks toward the house, considering a fire. He could light one but if Uncle Webster sees it, he’ll know magic’s involved. Not everyone is comfortable with magic. Some deny its existence while others would like to see every gifted person culled. His uncle falls into the latter category, but he gets a hefty sum for every year Jude lives at the farm and is apparently willing to live with a gifted person for a price.
He wishes other stipulations had been named for him to receive said payment, but two things have become apparent over the years of investigation. The first is that Aunt Elma had loved him dearly. His parents probably never imagined they’d need stipulations like “you had better feed our son or else”. As for the second, he’s not sure his parents had much choice of where they left him—there probably aren’t too many people, gifted or ungifted, that would be willing to have their homes surrounded by dangerous magic.
The truth is, Aunt Elma likely didn’t understand what she was getting herself into and did so out of love for Jude. His heart clenches for her. He misses her wrinkled, sun-worn face and kind eyes.
It’s summer but it’s late in the evening and it’s too cold for what he’s been given for warmth. Jude has money. His parents left him lots of money. When he’s at school he has everything. He can buy all the blankets he wants.
Not on the farm.
On the farm, he has what Uncle Webster gives him. He’s learned that the hard way. Uncle Webster doesn’t want anything that could be “tainted” with magic. That’s impossible of course. Magic doesn’t work like that. Sure, you can put magic into things but not any old thing and it’s not as easy to create magical objects as one might think. But Uncle Webster won’t be talked out of his ignorance.
So, Jude doesn’t bring anything home. Uncle Webster tosses him a bag of clothes he picks up from the charity shop, clothes that never fit him well and that’s all he has for the summer.
Morning will come soon. Tomorrow will be filled with hard labor. He’ll be plenty warm then. The sun will be hot. He’ll wish for the cool breeze he’s got now as he slings hay bales and shovels manure.
He stares at the moon. She’s too cheerful a sentinel so he looks away. Only four weeks, Jude. Four more weeks.
Unless one of his parents finally comes for him before that. He’d be happy with just one. When he was a little boy, he’d wish in every way there was to wish that his parents would come for him.
He couldn’t leave the farm. He couldn’t tell anyone about what was happening at the farm.
So, he’d wish.
He turned sixteen last week. He’s too old for wishes.
Jude turns over, curling in on himself, pressing away the gnawing hunger and the dream that should have died with his childhood.
Because no.
No one’s coming for him.
He knows he had managed to fall asleep when a loud thrashing wakes him. If it’s that cunting owl again, Jude might risk his uncle’s wrath to give it just enough shock to make sure it doesn’t come ‘round anymore.
It’s not the owl. Looming over him is the menacing potions professor from school. It’s not nearly August. What’s he doing here so soon?
“Merlin, Parker. Why are you… what is this?” Payne says, gripping the ratty old blanket between his fingers, its very existence offending him.
“That’s mine,” Jude says, snatching it back. “Don’t judge me. What are you doing here, Payne? Um, Professor Payne.”
Payne looks down his long nose at Jude in a peculiar way. “Gather up your things, we’re leaving.”
Jude would rather dice burning wizard’s root for him all summer than stay with Uncle Webster another second, but he’s never left the farm before the first week of September. He’s not sure he can leave. Professor Payne might not have been able to say or remember certain things, but he knows how the rules work. “I can’t leave here, or have you gone daft?”
Payne sighs, his eyelids heavy like he needs sixty years of sleep. “The spell has broken.”
What? He blinks at the tall man. Jude never thought he’d hear those words. Everything from buoyancy to panic floods him.
“C’mon. Grab your things Jude, we’re going.”
Jude? Payne has never, in all this time, called him Jude. He calls him Parker for everyday and Mr. Parker when he’s in trouble. He’s even tossed out a “chowderheads” to both Preston and Jude after the now infamous mermaid adventure Preston and Jude had their second year at Ravyndell.
No, not all mermaids are nice. Those things seriously need to come with a stronger warning.
Point is, Mads Payne doesn’t call him Jude.
This is a trick. Maybe … maybe his parents have been compromised? This isn’t Professor Payne, it’s a shapeshifter posing as Professor Payne come to kidnap him. Jude gathers threads from the earth and lets the fire of magic burn into the tips of his fingers. “You’re not Payne,” Jude says, ready to release a healthy dose of wizard’s lightning.
Payne rolls his eyes, waving a hand—a much more powerful hand than Jude’s—that eats away any earth energy Jude called forth. His sharp brow cuts upward into a perfect “V”, and Jude shivers—only Professor Payne can do that with his brow alone.
All right it’s him.
“We don’t have time for this nonsense, Parker. Where are your things?”
Jude looks at his feet. It’s embarrassing to have to say it in front of Professor Payne of all people but if what the professor’s saying is true, the words will finally come out. “I don’t have things.”
Payne considers him as Jude finally meets his eyes again—two dark eyes, glittering at him. A look of sadness passes over his countenance—he doesn’t need Payne’s pity—and Jude glares. “Take my arm. We have a long way to travel. It’s at least sixteen stop points.”
Jude narrows his eyes. “You can’t be serious. We’re going to glimmer our way to … where are we going?” Jude has never heard of such a thing—glimmering long distances? “You are aware I’m still a minor, yeah? It’s illegal to take minors from their homes in the middle of the night. At any time really.”
Payne smirks. “You just wait, Parker. This is only the appetizer of your night.”
Before Jude can say another thing, they become waves of glimmering energy until they shimmer out of existence.

Chapter Two

They arrive at a creepy old mansion on a stretch of even creepier land. A gate creaks open for them and then slams shut behind them as if it knows them and only them. The trees are half-dead. Most of the landscaping is half-dead. There are bats and other critters that scatter when Payne makes his way across the spooky acreage—apparently, he’s the most terrifying thing out here tonight. Jude agrees. The man is a terrifying menace. Jude’s glad Payne seems to be on his side, though he’s never been absolutely sure. Payne’s chin-length black hair sways like a heavy curtain. His shoulders are firm and bulky under his black sweater. Jude can’t help but admire the way he stalks across the hard dirt, sure and steady. No fear. Just a current of electric ferocity.
Okay. Jude can admit he wants that. He wants to feel as confident as Payne looks right now even if it’s just for five minutes. Jude stumbles after him, trying to keep up with his long strides. The man is tall. Jude’s only managed to achieve a medium height—like he’d ever had any control over that. His parents must be a medium height as well. Though he liked to picture his parents as warriors off on some earth-saving mission, and it’s hard for him to imagine short warriors. He can hear Bri’s voice in his head reminding him about dwarves in the Middle Ages who made fine warriors. She would be right, of course, but it’s just easier to picture a warrior who’s tall and glowering.
Like Payne.
They reach the house, which seems to wake up when Payne, who Jude guesses is its owner, approaches. Lanterns spark to life. The door swings open on its own. The way Payne storms into the old mansion, you’d think there was a robbery underway. He doesn’t stop to remove his shoes and neither does Jude. Jude’s never been a “clean-freak” but there’s dust on the floor toffee thick.
Payne heads through a few rooms, taking twists and turns, finally ending at the kitchen. “Sit, Parker,” he says, removing his scarf and moving to dust off the old iron stove. Is he intent on making tea on that thing? Wizards. It’s like they’ve never heard of electricity. A fire lights in the beast of an oven, roaring to life. Jude’s always known Payne to be a powerful wizard, but watching him perform everyday tasks like this, not blinking an eye, tells him something of how powerful.
Jude eyes the chair that’s seen better days. It’s also covered in dust.
Payne brushes by him. “It’s dust, Parker. Not the bubonic plague.” He blows on the chair and every speck of dust flies away into nothingness. Whoa. Jude has got to learn how to do that.
“Thank you, sir,” he says, sitting and actively not touching the table.
“Now,” Payne begins as he busies himself in the kitchen—yes, he is making tea after all—with his back to Jude. He’s a large man—muscles everywhere. The space he’s working in seems too small for him. Jude’s inclined to get up to help but he’d only be in the way. “You’re going to have questions. I have answers. There will be too many questions for one evening, but I assure you they will all be answered in time.”
Jude is listening to the man, he swears he is, but something with eyes is watching him from a dark corner of the kitchen. Should he alert the professor? It’s not his first choice. Jude’s used to taking care of things on his own. Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel dangerous, so Jude leaves it to make itself known or not. “For starters, I’d like to know why I was taken from my home, thanks.” It’s less of a question; more of a demand.
“Getting there, Parker. I think you’ll want the tea for that.”
“Because tea fixes everything?” Jude can name several things tea doesn’t fix.
The professor catches onto Jude’s unspoken thoughts as if he might know a little something about the things tea can’t fix. “Most things, then. Trust me, for this, tea.”
Jude waits and searches for the eyes he saw in the corner. They’re gone. Is there going to be a lot of that here? Is he staying here now? How’s that tea coming? The professor’s rolled up the sleeves of his black sweater, revealing skin that’s a tad more golden than Jude’s fair complexion even with his summer tan. The severe man is almost domestic, at least from what Jude’s used to seeing of him. Most of the professors at school dress in what Jude considers, eclectic wizard’s attire. Their robes vary. Professor Mads Payne is the proper sort. His robes are open and long with a high collar. Underneath, he usually wears an old-fashioned business suit—black slacks with a black vest (he likes black) that folds across his torso and secures with one large button rather than many small ones. A white shirt pokes out from the top of the vest and sometimes he wears a wizard’s tie—it sits around the collar with the long piece flat and boxed at the end. Almost like a bolo-tie.
The professor sets tea before him after blowing away more dust with his little magic trick. “I don’t have milk or honey yet I’m afraid. We’ll go shopping in the morning. I take mine plain.”
“Me too, sir,” Jude says.
He smiles. It’s a sad smile. “Your mother used to tease me about that—she’d say I like it black like my heart.”
Jude’s heart catches in his throat. He was right. Mads knows his mother. It’s so weird to hear another person speak directly about her.
And something else.
There’s no tingle. The spell has lifted. Jude beams. “You know my mother, sir?”
The professor sits. He inhales deep. “I’m stalling. It’s unlike me but a lot has happened, there’s a lot to tell you. I’ve been over it and over … there isn’t a good way to say this.”
Worry pools in Jude’s gut.
“Jude, your parents were in The Elite.”
“M-Merlin’s Elite?” Jude’s heard of them. No one believes in them. Not for real. The magical realm’s greatest conspiracy theory.
Mads nods. His arms cross as he leans back to study Jude. The man is usually so hard and edged like a blade. Tonight, his sharp features are serene. Feather light. “Your parents were spies on a final mission. But it’s over. The Elite have been disbanded. The spells have been lifted and all can be who they once were.”
Jude’s heart lifts. “D-Does that mean I’ll be reunited with my parents?”
For the first time since this whole thing began tonight, Professor Payne becomes Payne again; the cold aloof potions professor who won’t allow Jude to get away with a thing. “Only one of your parents made it,” he says.
Jude frowns. “How many parents did I have?” is the question that pops out as he reels over the news that he’s lost people—people he never knew but whom he loved anyway. He stuffs that in a box to deal with at another time.
“Three. A mother, a father, and a dad.” Payne hardens further.
Jude’s eyes well up. He had parents, more than most kids, but he’s lost them. Most of them. “Who’s left?”
“Just me.”
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