Stone Guardian

Milcah has always held a strange fascination for gargoyles. When she was younger, she often daydreamed about the fantastical creatures of legend, convinced they were watching and protecting her every move. As she matured, so did her dreams. She never imagined her vivid fantasies were more than a mere overactive imagination.

After a freak storm forces her to take cover in an abandoned town alongside a deserted stretch of highway, Milcah’s reality is shattered. Not only are gargoyles real, but her very existence has been a lie.

As the general of the royal gargoyle army, Jarod’s duty is to protect the human world from the corrupt fae and the evil witches who aid them. It’s a never-ending battle as old as time itself. 

After betrayal leaves him and his men cursed and turned to stone in the human realm for centuries, he awakens to find his people’s magic has been stripped and the war still rages on. But that’s not the only thing he’s discovered.

The human female responsible for lifting the curse is none other than one of the five legendary witches destined to save all the realms—and she’s his fated mate.

If you love prophecies, gargoyles, magic, and steamy romance, then this book is for you! Don’t miss out on this epic fantasy, and one-click your copy today!

Chapter One

Gargoyle Court

 

Jarod wrinkled his nose and wished he could be anywhere but where he was. Today was Tribute Day and representatives from every species had come to honor Machisadis, King of the Gargoyles, as he prepared to present his mate to the kingdom. The large courtroom was decorated in black and gold, representing the royal colors, and the soft glow of three large magical spheres gave the room an intimate feeling, if everyone would stop posturing.

With so many alpha males and females in such close quarters, King Machisadis was having a hard time keeping the peace. Jarod watched as the king turned away from the most recent misunderstanding and scanned the crowd. The look in the king’s eyes let Jarod know his sovereign needed a break. Jarod headed over to him. At seven feet tall with solid muscles from daily training, he had no trouble moving through the crowd and quickly reached his king’s side.

“General,” King Machisadis gripped Jarod’s arm in a warrior’s shake and grinned. “I heard you are going out on a mission.”

“Routine only. I need to stretch my wings. I’ve been concentrating more on training with the new batch of recruits and I’m thinking Richard and his men need a rest. I will take Michael and a small group of warriors.” Michael and Richard were captains of the two main Guardian battalions, and Richard was just finishing his turn at keeping the peace in the human realm. “Have you seen him?” Jarod glanced around the half-empty court. “I know they came back last night.”

“He said he was heading to the training yard. Something about checking on your work.”

Laughing, Jarod shrugged. “He’s still upset my choice beat his the last time we had a few of the recruits go up against each other. If you will excuse me, I need to talk to him before I leave.”

“Go with the goddess.” The sound of raised voices had Machisadis shaking his head. “I swear I am going to disappear into the forest and live as a hermit.”

Jarod laughed and thumped him on the shoulder. “I do not envy you my friend.” He watched as a vampire grabbed a merman and held him suspended in the air, the merman gills trying to pull in air around the tight fist around this throat. “I will return later to talk. Go with the goddess.” He watched as King Machisadis started to defuse the situation before he turned and headed for the exit.

As he stepped into the bright morning light, Jarod lifted his hand to shade his eyes. In the three centuries of his life, he had never ceased to be amazed by the beauty of nature. The sky, a deep blue with swirling clouds, made him wish for his home, hidden deep in the forest. A gentle breeze fluttered over his skin, and goose bumps rose in its wake.

“General,” a voice called from a short distance away.

He looked to his right and saw a beautiful female gargoyle, her body a work of studied perfection. Thick, red hair flowed down her back between her deep red wings. The three horns jutting proudly from her head had been painted a lighter, but still vibrant, red. Today, she wore a flowing black skirt and the red silk crisscrossing her chest did a poor job of covering her ample breasts.

Jarod smiled. “Greetings, Grace.”

“One of my friends told me you are going on a mission.” Pouting, Grace did a beautiful job of looking hurt. “I thought we were going to spend the day together.”

Inwardly, Jarod sighed. Despite her beauty, Grace was a manipulative female and lately things had been getting out of control. She wanted their relationship to move quickly in a logical direction, mating. He smiled at her and caught her hand to kiss her knuckles. “Upon my return, my sweet.”

With a wink he turned and headed toward the practice yard. As he walked into the main courtyard of the castle inner walls, Jarod passed a beautifully made water fountain with statues of the five elemental gods and goddesses. As he always did, Jarod stopped to say a prayer and toss a coin in, for good luck. Further along the walkway, Jarod entered the central shopping district. Only the best tradesmen were allowed to sell in this area, each shop passed down from generation to generation. Jarod smiled at the fond memories of shopping with his mother and hatch mates while his father was away, working.  

A few of the shop owners were outside setting up their wares, and Jarod nodded to each one as he pasted. As he pasted the jeweler a blinking red stone caught his eye and he stopped. The beautiful stone would look amazing against Grace’s skin and Jarod picked it up, weighting it. If he bought her anything, the gift would look like he wanted more than what they had. The mutual satisfaction they found in each other’s arms was enough for him. He shook his head at the shop owner, who had walked closer when he stopped, as he placed the stone back and moved on.

The sound of grunts reached him first and then the smell—sweaty fighters. Jarod stopped at the edge of the ring of spectators and watched as he best friend, Michael, took on two elite guardians with broadswords and Richard, who had a war hammer. If any of his other men had been in the ring, Jarod would have jumped in, but Michael looked like he was having fun.

The cheers and jeers coming from the young warriors had Jarod shaking his head. He turned his attention back to the ring just in time to watch Richard go flying backward. The loud thud as he hit the ground made Jarod wince. Michael, on the other hand, stood in the middle of the ring, arms above his head, doing a victory pose, while the other two males knelt on the ground in surrender.

Laughing Jarod pushed the rest of the way through the gathered warriors and gripped Michael's shoulder. “One day you will meet your match.”

“Not today.” After a bow to the crowd, Michael followed Jarod over to Richard, who was still on the ground. Michael held out his hand and helped the young captain to his feet. “No hard feelings?”

“No.” Richard dusted off his but and gave Michael a rueful smile. “One day, my friend.”

“That’s what I keep telling him,” Jarod said. “Richard, we’ve received word of a witch sighting from a small village of coyote shifters. I am taking a few warriors and checking it out.”

“I’m going with you,” Michael cut in.

“I wouldn’t dream of going without you. We leave in an hour. Go, get the men who serve under your command.”

“Yes, sir.” A group of admirers caught Michael's eye and he turned and headed toward them. “We'll be ready.”

Richard shook his head. “I can’t wait until he finds his mate. There will be a lot of disappointed young warriors.”

“Yes, there will,” Jarod chuckled and then became serious and lowered his voice. “The new sighting seems out of place. Witches have kept to themselves, mostly. What has changed?”

“I have no idea. Yesterday, before we came back across, we spotted a few outside a nest of vampires. There is change in the air and I hope we are prepared.” Richard rubbed his shoulder where a bruise was forming. “Michael knows how to deliver a powerful blow. I need to head over to the healing pools. If you give me a little time, my men and I can come and watch your back.”

“No, go take care of that bruise, I know how much it hurts. We will be fine.” Jarod watched as Richard walked away before he turned to look for Michael. He laughed to himself when he saw his friend standing with a group of older warriors, his arm around a younger one. Leaving the recruitment in Michael’s capable hands, Jarod headed to the armory.

The smell of the ever-burning forge had him stopping and taking a deep breath. Melted metal and the smell of honey assaulted his senses and memories of his father brought a smile to his lips. He’d come here with his father when his first weapon was forged. He had stood trembling in excitement, watching as the smith picked the perfect hilt and instructed him on how to infuse some of his magic into the metal. He still carried the same broadsword.

A few days ago, after a very rough practice with Michael, he had dropped Thunder, his sword, off to get it rebalanced. During a real battle he usually relied on his magic, the ability to call focused lightening attacks, but his battle mentor had taught him to always prepare for the worst, so he would not go to battle less than fully armed. He pulled open the heavy door of the outer forge gates, then walked across a neatly cultured lawn before pulling open the door. He entered the armory and nodded at Jennifer, the armorer’s mate.

“Greetings, Jarod.” Jennifer was an older female with blue hair, four small horns, and beautiful, deep blue wings. “Jonathon’s in the back, finishing up your sword.” She walked over with a tray of refreshments. “I don’t know if you have had time to have something to eat. Want some milk tea and sweet cakes while you wait?”

“Yes, thank you.” Jarod took the tray from her and sat on a stool next to the counter. Selecting a piece of cake from the plate in his hand, he took a bite. “I heard your last hatchling had her introduction party. Congratulations.”

“Thank you. I cried as I watched her. My mate told me I was making a fool of myself, but I swear I saw tears in his eyes too. She has picked a mate. He’s of the warriors’ class.”

“Goddess bless them.” Taking another bite of the sweet cake, Jarod stood and turned when he heard Jonathon walk into the room. Large, with huge black wings, two enormous pointed horns and steady hands, Jarod had always thought the armorer would make a formidable warrior.

“General.” Jonathon’s voice boomed through the room. He strode over to give Jarod a strong, one-armed hug. “You heading to the human realm?”

“Yes, Richard and his men need a rest and I need to keep my skills sharp.” Jarod said, stepping out of the large male’s reach. “Is that my bodkin? Looks amazing.” Almost as long as Jarod was tall, the bodkin, or broadsword, was built less for speed and more for damage.

“I added in some more spell work.” Jonathon held the sword out to Jarod, proudly. “I also corrected the balance. Stop fighting Michael.”

“He attacks me.” Jarod smirked. “I keep telling him he’s too large to sneak up on me. It’s like you trying.” Balancing his bodkin on his palms, Jarod smiled with pleasure. “Thank you. I hear congratulations are in order for another successful mating. Goddess bless your house.”

After handing Jonathon the agreed upon amount, Jarod placed his sword in the sheath on his back and headed to the Blessed Place.

When gargoyles were flung into the realm, portals had been left for them to return to the human world when needed. The largest and strongest portal had been located centuries ago, and the castle built around it. Now the large piece of ground was saturated with blessings from the gods, layered into the land as kings prayed for their warriors’ safe return before sending them into battle. As Jarod’s talons touched the lush grass, he stopped and tilted his head toward the sun. He took a deep breath as a slight breeze danced along his wings.

Jarod walked along the outside of the ring of warriors waiting and grinned at their high spirits. They were well armed and ready to go. The closest ones jumped to attention and saluted him by placing their right fists over their hearts. Jarod returned the salute.

“Stand down, warriors.” Jarod nodded at each gargoyle as he passed. Finally he reached Michael, who was busy straightening his war hammer across his back. Jarod raised his hand for silence. “Today we cross to the human realm. A village of coyote shifters has requested our aid. As always, we protect the young, they are our future. Now for the king’s prayer of protection.”

As one, the fifty warriors turned toward a large castle balcony where the king stood, watching. With magnificent, gold-tipped, white wings, the king personified power. Raising his arms out toward the warriors, he chanted:

 

Gods and Goddess of the Elements

Who have given us the task of protecting,

Keeping the realms safe from corruption,

Send your blessing, protect your warriors this day.

 

As King Machisadis finished his blessing, Jarod wove a pattern in the air and opened the portal to the human realm. One by one the warriors stepped through until only Jarod and Michael remained.

“Michael, something doesn’t feel right about this mission,” Jarod said. “You should stay here.”

“My place is by your side.” Michael put a foot into the portal. “Don’t start acting old. We have done this many times. What is one more?” With a mock-salute, Michael disappeared. Jarod shook his head at his best friend’s antics and followed him through, sealing the portal behind him.

 

 

 

Samuel hid. There was no way he was going to die. Not now. Finally, after centuries of lusting, he was going to get the revenge he deserved. He would gain his birthright. He was born to be a Guardian and deserved to serve in the higher ranks. From the second he had been placed as a guard, he had always completed his missions, no matter the conditions. Sleep was something only the weak required. Going after the families of the enemies, was sound strategy, and today he would prove it.

In war there were no innocents, yet his superiors always held back, trying to save the whores and spawn of their enemies. Why leave anything behind when you go in to conquer? Land and resources mattered, not people. Today would be different. He finally had something that would stop all those “mighty” warriors in their tracks. He would make them wish they had never been born. And when they were all out of the way, he would take his rightful place: General of the King’s Guardians.

A flying anvil passed Samuel’s head and he laughed. All around him elite Guardians were dying without their usual magical protection, fighting the inevitable. He had sought the help of witches and they had somehow cut off the guardians’ connection to the source, making them unable to tap into their magic. Samuel grinned like a madman. Oh, how the mighty would fall this day, and if the village of coyote shifters fell with the Guardians, it would be worth the cost.

 

 

 

Jarod watched another one of his warriors fall and roared with rage. As general of Machisadis’s Guardians, every death struck a blow to his heart. This was supposed to be a routine scouting mission. Informed by the coyote alpha, Damon, that the women and pups had fled, Jarod had sent two of his scouts to track them and make sure they were safe.

After ensuring his people would be looked after, Damon told Jarod the witches had last been spotted two miles outside of the village. With many of the male coyotes running in animal form, Jarod and his warriors had flown low and fast to try and catch the witches off guard. Knowing the witches’ tendencies to play tricks, Jarod had the coyotes hold back and sent in two of his remaining forward scouts. Before the two gargoyles could finish their first pass, the clearing filled with over two hundred witches.

Cursing under his breath, Jarod wished he had taken Richard up on his offer of help but to stop and open a portal now could mean the death of more warriors. Glancing to his right Jarod gave Michael a confused look. In his centuries of fighting, Jarod had never been unable to sense other beings. To know where every living thing in their immediate area was at any given moment was a natural talent of the guardians. Somehow, the witches had been able to mask themselves, and now the Guardians and shifters were outnumbered and out maneuvered.

Heart pumping and a battle cry on his lips, Jarod charged into the middle of the witches. Very few resembled the humans they once were. Open wounds and dead, blackened eyes. The smell of death hung over the clearing. These were witches who didn’t seem to want to mask their inner rot. Now that the smell was in his nose, Jarod had no idea how he could have missed it. With their skill, the Guardians and shifters should have been victorious. Instead, they were dying.

Swinging his broadsword in a sharp arch, Jarod sliced through a witch’s neck before she could blast a guardian on his left. The scream of one of his warriors dying distracted him long enough for another witch to try and avenge her sister’s death. Barely avoiding a direct hit of fire, he ducked and called upon his magic.

For the first time in over a hundred years, he missed.

 

 

 

Samuel laughed at the look of confusion and rage on the general’s face as his magic malfunctioned. Oh, this was going to be more fun than he’d thought. The invincibility potion was working like a charm. He alone of the guardians could tap into the source and his magic worked while the others’ failed. Now, if he could just get close enough to the general. The witch who had given him the invincibility potion had also given him a secret weapon in the shape of a wooden box. She had warned him he needed to be as close to the general as possible before he activated it.

Stepping from behind the cluster of trees where he had been hiding, Samuel walked past one of the fallen elite, who reached toward him, begging with his eyes for help. Laughing, Samuel sidestepped the injured gargoyle and continued toward Jarod. Looking over his shoulder, Samuel saw the witch who had given him the potion standing at the edge of the fight. She caught his eye and nodded, like he needed her permission. When this was over, he was going to enjoy skinning her alive.

 

 

 

“Damnation.” The incessant fighting was slowly wearing down Jarod’s strength. His arms were heavy and he was bleeding from too many deep wounds. Of the forty-eight warriors who’d entered the fight, only twenty-eight were still on their feet. Not willing to rely on his magic, which seemed to be malfunctioning anyway, Jarod pulled his broad sword from the crumbling body of the witch in front of him and backed up until he felt Michael’s heat at his back.

“Michael, what is happening?” Jarod asked.

“We are losing. I cannot tap into my magic and I am as weak as a new hatchling.”

“This was a trap from the beginning.” Turning sharply, Jarod cut down a witch who tried to sneak up from the right. “We need to retreat and get back to the town. We have to save the women and pups. Sound the horn.”

Out of the corner of his eyes Jarod watched as Michael reached for the horn strapped to his belt. The Horn of Retreat had been created generations ago and blessed by the gods. Rarely used, the sound could carry halfway around the globe, signaling to any gargoyle it was time to retreat. Michael ducked a lightning attack from a witch before giving three long blows on the horn. Jarod gave Michael a grim nod and watched as he placed the horn back on his belt. No matter what happened, they would stand together, even if they died protecting each other’s back.

 

 

 

Samuel heard The Horn of Retreat. His time was running out. He smiled coldly as he drew closer to the general and reached into his pocket, withdrawing the small wooden box. To the untrained eye it looked like a hatchling toy, but inside was something so powerful, it could only have been created by the highest of witches. When released, the contents of the box would render everyone in its path a living stone statue, unless they were protected by witch magic. He turned it over until he saw a small indent in the corner, then pressed down with all his might. Immediately his legs became stone. He roared out in frustration. Betrayed! That bitch had used him and he was going to kill her. In a vain attempt to get away, Samuel tried to turn toward the last place he’d seen the witch, but his body no longer responded. Clenching the box tightly, he fell to the ground.

 

 

 

A slimy feeling crawled across Jarod’s skin. He looked down to see a small warrior holding a strange box with an evil smile on his face. The box gave Jarod a bad feeling. He shuddered. How could a guardian stand to touch such a vile thing? This warrior wasn’t part of Jarod’s elite and shouldn’t be in the human realm. Somehow, he’d gone unnoticed and may have doomed a whole village to death.

“What have you done?” he whispered.

As Jarod’s legs start to solidify and he watched his men turn to stone, he could only hope they had given the shifter mothers and fathers enough time to get their pups to safety. With one last look around, Jarod slipped into darkness.

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© 2019 by PAULINA WOODS.