Hello everyone. This story was my 2015 National Novel Writing Month project. It is going to published this year. I thought I would give you all a chance to take a sneak peak. I will be posting only the first few chapters here. A link to purchase the book will be added to my profile once it's published. Enjoy.

The smell of smoke lingered in the air. It permeated every item that had survived. Abigail Palmer stood in the driveway and stared at the charred remains of the trailer, arms wrapped around herself as tears spilled down her face. The six-year-old just stood watching Aunt Gladys' friends box up whatever she deemed "salvageable." There wasn't much; most of it was going in the dumpster.

"Don't cry," said Dominic. The small black dragon sat on her shoulder, licking at her tears. "Please don't cry; I don't like you sad."

"I can't." The tears came faster; her vision blurred. "I can't!" She spun around and ran straight toward the woods her parents had always told her never to enter.

"Abby, wait!" Dominic's claws pricked her skin through her shirt as he clung to her shoulder. "You're not supposed to go in there!"

"I DON'T CARE!" Abby pushed her way through the trees, flinching as thorns tore at her clothes and her skin. She had to get away; she couldn't look anymore.

The woods smelled strange, sweet yet not. Sunlight barely made it through the upper branches, but there was light enough to see. The only sound was the twigs snapping underfoot.

Abby ran until she was out of breath. She hit her knees, tears unchecked. She dug her fingers into the dirt. "Why?" she demanded. "Why are they gone? I want my mommy! I want my daddy!"

Dominic crawled down into her lap, nuzzling her arm, much like her cat would. "I wish I had more magic than just being invisible to other people. If I could bring them back for you, I would."

"It's not fair! They box everything up and put it away like they were never here! Like putting it away means they weren't real! Didn't Aunt Gladys love Mommy and Daddy? Why isn't she crying? I don't understand." She scooped him up in her arms and sat there hugging him tight, rocking back and forth. Sobs wracked her body. "You won't leave me, will you Dominic? You'll never go away, right?"

"Never," promised the dragon. He put a paw over her heart. "I'm right here. So are your parents; they'll always be with you."

"Don't lie!" she screamed. "They aren't here! They're gone and they're never coming back!"

"I'm not lying," said Dominic, nuzzling her neck. "You'll see them again, you know. One day, Abby, one day you'll be together again. It's all part of God's plan."

Her hands tightened around him. She shook once more. "Don't say that!" She couldn't see through her tears. "God wouldn't take Mommy and Daddy away! He wouldn't!"

Dominic stroked her face, careful of his claws. "I didn't say He did, but you know everything is planned. This was meant to happen. You just have to be strong and be brave."

"I don't want to be brave and strong! I want Mommy and Daddy!"

"I know, Abby, I know."

"So trusting, so innocent."

"Keep your distance! She's not yours nor is she your master's."

"She's not yours yet either, and unlike you, I've got the guts to do what it takes to gain leverage." Bjarte smirked, his blue eyes twinkling. "That was too easy."

Aeneas refused to look at the deceiver, his eyes locked on their young charge. "Only a coward takes a child's parents from her to shake her faith. Only a coward makes another do what he himself cannot."

"Get down off your high horse, Annie. It was just a cat; not like I possessed one of your boss's beloved children. Thing had been after the cords for days, anyway. Besides, I'm not the only one using that lizard in her head as a mouthpiece. Hello, Crow, I'm Raven – yes we're both black."

"The dragon is not a sentient being with a soul," replied the guardian. "And Troubador is a beloved pet that the child now will look at knowing his actions took her parents away."

Bjarte shrugged and folded his arms. "Life sucks, and then you die."

Aeneas clenched his fists, fighting back the urge to summon his staff and knock the smug look off his rival's face. A guardian doesn't resort to unnecessary violence, he reminded himself. No matter the provocation. He watched Abby fall asleep on the forest floor, arms wrapped tight against her chest. He ached for the power to fix this; he had not lied when he had told her that. He was half-surprised the deceiver had not played on her sympathies with comfort of his own.

A ripple of energy brought his attention to the ground beside Abby, and Aeneas moved quickly. He took control of a passing fox and snatched the snake up, dispatching it in a single bite. The leaves muffled the struggle. He guided the fox away before letting it go, a meal clutched limply in his jaws.

Bjarte clapped sarcastically. "Well done, Annie! See, small animals are pretty useful, aren't they?"

Aeneas spun and glared at him, his dark hair falling into his dark eyes. "You –"

"Seriously, Annie, we aren't as different as you pretend. You'll see that sooner or later."

"I am nothing like you!" He returned his gaze to his charge, sleeping fitfully as she dreamed of her parents and the flames that had claimed them. "Nothing."

"Keep telling yourself that." Bjarte smoothed back his spiky blond hair. "I'm gonna love laughing when you eat those words." He looked from their charge to the guardian. "Love the family resemblance you got going on."

Aeneas's form did look like Abby's; same brown hair, same brown eyes, and the same heart-shaped face. Bjarte's form changed to match whatever poor soul he had most recently tricked into his master's hands. However, the guardian only ever wore one form – that of the first soul he had lost. The years since had not lessened the guilt. Before this little girl in front of him, another of the line had been his charge, and that one too he had failed.

Not this time, he thought, staring down at the innocent whose fate lay in hands. I will not fail you, Abby. His fists clenched. I promise.