The Keeper and the Dragons - Cover

The Keeper and the Dragons

Copyright© 2023 by Charly Young

Chapter 6

Fremont Neighborhood, Seattle

Elisabeth Van Horn of Seattle’s Van Horn Coven knew very well that she was like the lone dandelion growing in a garden full of roses and lilies. She was okay with that. The witch-crafters of her coven were all lawyers, politicians and judges with powerful type-A personalities. They didn’t understand her. She knew she had her quirks. But that didn’t stop them from taking full advantage of her gifts. She was okay with that as well. She didn’t mind plying her craft for the family’s benefit as long as they indulged her hobbies and left her alone. They stood by the unwritten agreement—mostly. Her only issue came when events incited their paranoia. They became overprotective and that was a pain.

She wasn’t a sophisticated seer like her sister Cassandra or a beautiful genius lawyer like Emily. Tall and awkward, Elisabeth had an unfortunate sense of humor that came out at the most inopportune times. Two attributes defined her. She was the most gifted harmonizer anyone had seen in decades and she was smart—genius level smart. As a result, the Aunties who governed her coven had allowed her to go her own way and indulge the insatiable curiosity that ruled her life absolute. That curiosity was why she had spent twelve years matriculating at the University of Washington. When she finished one major, she went on to another. She had degrees in mathematics, industrial design, philosophy, psychology and history.

Along the way, she rose to a twelfth-circle adept specializing in the weft and warp of the exotic patterns of magical wards and hexes. Her coven’s clients paid good money to have powerful hexes entangled into their contracts and wills. The consequences of breaking one of Elisabeth Van Horn’s warded contracts were severe.

On the third Monday in September, a dreary rainy day in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Elisabeth’s well-ordered life took an unexpected turn.

The day had started well. After bustling around her morning routine, making sure her craftsman-style house was spotless and in that perfect mix of order and chaos that is the razor-thin perfection of Feng Shui, she spent the balance of the morning editing her latest passion—a historical romance she was writing for fun, which featured the adventures of a young Victorian woman named Molly Quirk. She hoped to read a chapter to a writer’s group she’d discovered that met weekly at the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center.

Emily thought her manuscript “a bit lurid,” but Elisabeth discounted her opinion. What did she know? Emily was one of those people with so much romance in her life that there was no room for any in her soul.

She was jarred out of Grammarly’s punctuation hints when her grandmother’s raven, Nevermore, came rocketing from wherever it was hiding from her cat, Button’s relentless stalking. The big ebony feathered bird perched on the cherry hat stand an antique dealer had assured her had once belonged to Grover Cleveland and began cawing, “Trouble is coming—trouble is coming.”

Next, the oven timer began its annoying beeping, announcing that the treats she was baking for the meeting were done.

And someone came pounding on her front door.

The male who stood in the doorway was easily the most gorgeous man Elisabeth had ever seen. Rumpled blue-black hair barely covering peaked ears, brilliant feline-shaped sapphire blue eyes—tall, well over six feet, with broad shoulders that narrowed to a trim waist. He wore a flawless charcoal suit and brilliant white shirt with no tie to hide the thick, tanned column of his neck. His voice matched his appearance. She searched for a descriptor and settled on euphonious.

An asrai-halfling—a half-blood wood elf.

On her front porch.

Stunned, Elisabeth realized she had gotten so lost in looking at him and listening to that melodious voice that she missed what he had said.

“Beg pardon?”

“My Mistress would like a moment of your time. We understand you are the Van Horn’s Hexer.”

Alarm flared. She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. That she was the Van Horn Coven’s Hexer was a closely guarded secret.

Very closely.

This was trouble, but sudden curiosity overcame her alarm.

“Very well, please come in.”

The elf stepped aside. The women who followed him were equally exotic. Two exquisite Asian women with long ebony hair and slanted, intelligent yellow eyes. They were similar enough to be sisters. The main difference between them was the color of their elaborate silk cheongsams. One wore scarlet, the other emerald green.

Something about them rang warning bells. The presence of the elf told her they were from Oldtown. The women had an aura, a presence that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

“Hello, Elisabeth Van Horn,” the scarlet-clad woman’s greeting contained the faintest trace of an accent.

Nevermore kept chanting the warning, “Trouble is near—trouble is here.” Elisabeth waved her hand to silence the bird.

“N’in hao,” she said politely.

The eldest of the two’s eyebrows rose. “Nǐ shuō pǔtōnghuà?” (You speak Mandarin?)

“A bit,” Elisabeth answered. “I speak seven languages fluently. Unfortunately, my Mandarin is too rusty to carry on a long conversation.”

“Very interesting. My information about you didn’t include that little tidbit.” She shot a glare at the elf.

The handsome halfling shrugged.

The other woman had a distracted look that morphed into alarm. She shouted. “Jiějiě wéixiǎn láile”, (elder sister danger). She stepped back to the door, tried to open it and cursed when she couldn’t.

“You will be perfectly safe as long as you do no harm,” Elisabeth said cheerfully.

The scarlet-clad woman stared at Elisabeth for a long moment, then nodded and smiled.

Elisabeth spoke again. “Ladies, please have a seat. I’ll put the kettle on. May I offer you some tea? I rarely have guests, but I have some Gyokuro Tea that my sister picked up in Hong Kong. I think you’ll find it refreshing with some blueberry tarts that just came out of the oven.”

“Yes, please,” the woman said with a smile. “It had been a long time since I’ve tasted the Gyokuro.”

Elisabeth looked a question at the other woman and elf. They waved her off with a polite smile.

After the tea was steeped and poured, the woman took an appreciative sip. “Most excellent. You do well for yourself. This is a rare blend.”

“Thank you. I’ll put some up for you to take with you.”

“You must be wondering why I wanted to meet with you.”

“Yes,” Elisabeth said. “I was wondering. Usually, people who want to meet me call first. As far as I know, we’ve never met. I’m just an ordinary research librarian. Do you need some research done?”

“You are too modest. I am told that you are anything but ordinary. You hold two doctorates, and as far as we can tell, you hold advanced status as a high circle witch-crafter. Interestingly, everyone we talked to has had a different idea of your profession. But we’re quite certain you are the expert Hexer that the Van Horns are so proud of.”

“I get curious about things,” Elisabeth felt, not for the first time, a stab of regret. The University of Washington campus was what she imagined that heaven would be like. Whenever she picked up a university class catalog, she saw something interesting she just had to look into. She would still be there if Auntie Mary hadn’t demanded she come home.

The dragon woman nodded. “Many years ago, our grandfather came from China. He was able to leverage his connections with the community in Oldtown as well as this realm to make a success of himself and provide a good living for his family.”

“What is your grandfather’s name?”

“Pang Lei.”

Wowzers. The Bailong Shifter. The white dragon banker of Oldtown. That meant that this woman was probably Pang Guang, the eldest of the sisters. She was said to run the bank’s loan operation. Elisabeth had hexed some contracts for them. She swallowed an overwhelming impulse to bombard her with questions.

“This is my younger sister Daiyu and I am Guang.” she paused long enough to shoot a questioning look. “Ah, I can see by your face that you recognize our family name. That simplifies things. We are here because our grandfather has need of your unique services.”

“Oh, what is the nature of your problem?”

“We have a hex that we need unraveled. We will meet whatever price you choose. What say you?”

The exotically beautiful dragon shifter sat back and silently awaited her response.

“I have heard of your bank. You have a renowned master of the art in place. Why do you need me?”

“She met with an unfortunate accident and has passed over. None of her apprentices have been able to unravel the hex.”

A random thought came and set Elisabeth’s imagination afire. This situation was not unlike one of her sister Emily’s stories. She was the one who always had exciting adventures, meeting odd characters in shady places or having wild affairs with mysterious men in exotic locales. While Elisabeth, the stay-at-home sister, was left to ooh and ahh at all the dramatic spots.

Now it was her turn. Fate had offered the opportunity of an actual adventure. Wild buffalo couldn’t have dragged her back to her routine. Now, the humdrum ordinariness of her life seemed unbearable; danger and maybe romance lurked just around the corner. Heck yes. She resisted the impulse to do a fist bump with the two dragon women.

“You betcha,” she said with shining eyes.Elisabeth jumped up, hurried into the kitchen and hastily scribbled a note telling
her sisters of her decision. She pinned it to her bulletin board, muttered a cantrip, and watched as it instantly disappeared, wending its way through the aether to attach itself to their boards. She smiled. The method was enough to notify them, but not fast enough for them to stop her. She coaxed Buttons into her carrier, hurriedly packed a change of clothes in a backpack, slung it over her shoulder, called for Nevermore and she was ready.


“I suggest you leave your pets here.”

Elisabeth looked at her and shook her head. “They are not pets.”

The woman gave her a puzzled glance but nodded her acceptance.

The strange group got some curious glances, but Fremont was known for its quirky inhabitants, so they were mostly ignored. When they neared one of Fremont’s landmarks, an imposing statue of Lenin with its blood-red hand, the eldest dragon sister halted them. She glanced to ensure no one was watching, then led them behind the statue to a glyph burned in the sidewalk.

She held her hand out.

“Grab my hand and don’t let go.”

Elisabeth grabbed the hand, took a step, and stood on a cobblestone street in a different world, staring wide-eyed at a scene from a fairy tale.

“Welcome to Oldtown,” the youngest murmured.

A mélange of smells hit immediately. The air was smogged with coal smoke, horse manure and unwashed humanity. The cacophony of bickering, shouting voices sounded from what looked like a giant street fair, just down the cobblestone street. At the sound of a throat clearing, she glanced to the side and saw that a shiny black carriage hitched to two magnificent white horses awaited. A massive, uniformed troll stood at attention, holding a door open.

Oh My GOD, is that an actual troll?

A crowd of curious beings stood watching them—trolls, dwarves, a motley collection of half-blood sprites, and a score of half-starved-looking children of all races.


Elisabeth nervously eyed an evil-looking one-eyed dwarf in a blackened leather apron who glared at them from among the onlookers. She muttered a cantrip and fingered a woven amulet that hung around her neck. The ward flared around her, then subsided. Her eyes brightened as she turned her attention to the carriage.

“Seriously? A horse-drawn carriage.” Her face broke into a huge smile. She was going on an actual carriage ride - with the clip-clop sound of a horse’s hooves. No doubt, a handsome but kinda grouchy Mr. Darcy would meet her at their destination.

Could this adventure get any better?

She didn’t think so.

The tall woman looked amused at her reaction. “Have you ever been to Oldtown?”

“Mistress, the only places I’ve visited in person are classrooms and home. I know about Oldtown, but knowing is not the same as actually being here.”

“This neighborhood is called Northmarket,” Daiyu said. “Oldtown has five markets. This is the smallest; the largest is at the city’s center. That’s where the bank is and that’s where we’re going.”

Elisabeth nodded and absently stroked Nevermore’s neck. He ruffled his feathers and whispered in her mind.

“Danger is near—we shouldn’t be here.”

Elisabeth listened delightedly to horses’ hooves clip-clopping on Oldtown’s cobblestone streets. Nevermore, paranoid as always in all this strangeness, flew overhead, giving her a running mental commentary on the city and its inhabitants.

The source of this story is Finestories

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