Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 11
Cadence waved a hand dismissively. “Stepping aside is no longer an option.” She glanced at Eldon. “Set a silence circle, please.”
Eldon offered a quick nod before turning to follow orders. Speaking softly, he wove his hands in the complicated, familiar pattern. Latin fell from his tongue as he recalled the spell from memory. Directing the ley line energy into his palms, transparent blue arcs cascaded over their heads in a blanket of protection. When he completed the circle, he turned to face the group.
Alexander stepped forward, pointing a finger toward the ground. “I demand unification.”
Eldon arched a dark brow. Unification? As in, forced cooperation?
Cadence tilted her head in acknowledgement. “Stepping aside is no longer an option for us. It has been brought to my attention that the mover’s Kamen is also missing.”
Brought to her attention, his ass. She’d known about the loss for days.
“Ours is missing as well,” Alexander said.
Eldon winced. Oh, shit. Three missing Kamens?
The vampire prince’s eyes grew wide. “Why did you not bring this information to the Council immediately?”
Alexander shrugged. “We weren’t certain it was truly missing until now.”
The prince turned to the wolf. “Where is your Kamen?”
All eyes turned to Tim in unison. Please let the fourth Kamen still be in this wolf’s possession. They hadn’t even begun to search yet. Could it already be too late?
The wolf reached into his shirt, pulling out a silver chain woven through his fingers, and held it up to display. A silver band dangled from the thick braid, the prongs supporting a massive black diamond at the center. The wolf’s Kamen.
Eldon released a breath. Sighs were expelled around him, echoing his own relief.
“Our Kamen resides safely within the Austin pack. Our packmother entrusted us with its care until the mission is complete,” Tim answered.
Cadence nodded. “This is good, very good. I agree with Alexander’s assessment. The team must be unified in goal or they will fall apart, as they clearly proved tonight.”
“What would you suggest?” Tim asked.
Alexander folded his arms across his chest. “Blood bonding.”
Rho’s eyes grew wide as Frederick yanked her arm, placing himself defensively in front of her. “Completely out of the question. Blood bonding may not be significant to your kind, but to us it means something much different.”
Alexander’s brows furrowed. “It’s the only way to ensure they are unified in their goals.”
“I’m okay with this,” Tim said.
The prince scowled. “I will not subject Rho to the torture of a bonding which will tie her to these people for the rest of her immortal life. Find another way.”
Cadence smiled. “So the master cares about his minions, does he?”
“Tread lightly, Cadence.” Frederick’s voice was low and menacing.
Smile falling, the Collective leader’s eyes narrowed. “Regardless of your duty to her, I see no other way.”
There had to be another way. Eldon squinted, staring off into the dark space beyond them as he racked his brain for binding spells. Usually he didn’t care about vampires. Undead or really dead, they didn’t matter to him in the slightest. But Rho didn’t deserve to be bound for eternity to someone against her will. Bonding her through blood would mean her teammates would be her only food source. Worse, if one of them died on this mission, she might die, too. Asking her to pay that price for people she barely knew didn’t seem an even trade.
She’d saved his life, and he owed it to her to find another way. Hell, even if she hadn’t, forcing anyone into a bond seemed… cruel.
They needed something permanent. Something that would always be there but wouldn’t affect health or free will. He glanced at Rho, still standing behind her maker, one of the sleeves on her dress torn to reveal…
“Cutis ligare,” Eldon blurted, staring at the designs on Rho’s arm. The solution was right in front of him.
The Collective leader’s head popped up, her eyes meeting his before she gave him a short nod.
“What?” Frederick asked.
Cadence’s stare didn’t leave Eldon as she spoke slowly. “Skin binding.”
Silence prevailed, nervous glances bouncing from one person to the next.
Frederick raised a brow in question. “Skin binding?”
“A marking, bound by spelled ink and blood,” Cadence answered.
“Not a blood bond?” the prince asked, still apprehensive.
Eldon shook his head. “Not really. We take the blood into our flesh, not our soul. It would bind us without compromising Rho’s safety.”
Tim folded his arms across his chest. “How long does it last?”
“How long do tattoos last?” Eldon replied dryly.
Preshea’s expression darkened. “No way.” The ShiftMaster shot her a warning look. Clearly he’d planned on making the decision for her.
“Your actions have given us no choice,” Cadence replied. “You will tie yourselves together, either by the blood in your body or the skin of your flesh, I don’t care which. We can’t afford to have you at each other’s throats again.”
Silence fell for a moment before a small voice spoke. “I’ll do it.” Rho’s head appeared from around the prince as she stepped to stand at his side.
The Prince studied her for a moment. “Are you sure?”
She shrugged. “What’s a little more ink going to hurt? At least it’s not a true blood bond.”
Tim nodded his approval.
Eldon paused before doing the same. What did he get them into?
He’d heard of a cutis ligare before, but he’d never performed one. From what he’d studied, the spell bound a promise to the skin. A version of it was used in mover marriage ceremonies, but this wasn’t a testament of love. The binding would be eternal and couldn’t be removed except in death.
He could only hope there weren’t any side effects listed in the fine print, which he hadn’t exactly read yet.
Casting a casual glance at his teammates, Eldon took in their demeanors. Rho stood tall, resolved and anticipating. Tim’s expression was one of acceptance, although a nervous energy rested beneath its glossy surface.
Preshea was a wall of anger. She shifted from foot to foot like a boxer prepping for the big fight. Her hands curled into tight fists before she splayed her fingers apart. Extend, retract. Extend, retract.
Shifters were independent creatures by nature, held under the mantle of only the ShiftMaster. They transitioned into whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. So long as they answered the ShiftMaster’s call when needed, they were free to travel as they wished. The idea of being tied or accountable to anyone other than her leader, especially someone outside of her own race, must have had Preshea crawling in her skin.
The ShiftMaster tugged on her arm to pull her aside, uncomfortable silence filling the night. The grouping stood under a blanket of quiet and glittering stars, trying to ignore the impatient voices rising and falling from the pair. Although, Eldon wasn’t sure what they could possibly argue about. There weren’t many options available, and the leaders were demanding action.
Face flushed and brows pinched together, Preshea and her boss stepped back into the circle. “Alexander wants me to tie my flesh to this mission. So that’s what I’ll do.”
Cadence clapped her hands together. “Excellent, we’ll do this tonight. Eldon, does your sister carry a supply of spelled ink?”
He nodded. “I think she keeps—”
“I have plenty at my place,” Rho interjected.
Several eyebrows rose.
Cadence cast Eldon a quick glance before staring curiously at the femal
Rho shrugged. “I have it if you need it. Our home is close, so it’ll save you a trip to the store.”
Spelled ink was used sparingly, often by the fae for their special ceremonies. The skin of immortal beings dispelled regular ink. Not a problem for magick movers, their skin being similar to humans, but vampires? He’d never heard of a vamp using spelled ink. Or magick, for that matter, although Rho’s visit to his house seemed to break that particular mold.
She must have gotten it from his sister, but Adelle had never mentioned it. He made a mental note to ask her about it when he got home.
“Frederick?” Cadence sought the prince’s permission.
Rho leaned over, whispering into the prince’s ear. The prince rubbed his eyes and nodded before answering. “Yes, she can go.”
A tiny smile curled along the vampire’s lips. Hiking up the shredded remains of her skirt, she tore off into the trees.
Rho burst through the front door of the ranch house, ignoring the surprised faces of her coven mates as she shoved her way past them and headed toward the kitchen. Whispers echoed off the stone walls in her wake.
The fight had unquestionably made headlines in the DarqRealm by now, and she sure as shit didn’t have any patience for answering inquiries from that rumor mill. Fortunately, no one stopped her as she threw the basement door open, hitting the stairs as if her heels were on fire.
Down the stairs and to the right. Left. Through the corridor and into the main hall. People scattered as she barreled through the common room and rushed toward her bedroom quarters. Another left.
Frederick had been furious. Rightfully so, of course, considering everything riding on this mission, but she hadn’t expected the disappointment hiding in his gaze. Somehow, that stung so much worse than his anger.
She gave the doorknob to her bedroom a harsh twist and pushed the door open. Her heels clicked on the tile floor as she stepped inside and locked the door behind her. Those coven keepers were a godsend. The bed had been made while she was gone, the doors to the wardrobe on the opposite wall closed to hide the mess within.
No one was allowed in her closet.
From the moment she’d been assigned the task of executioner, she’d started collecting spelled ink. As a member of the Guard, her life was earmarked for the service of the royal family. Everything she owned had been paid for by the king and could be taken away as easily as it had been given.
Tattoos? Those were permanent. She could mark her skin however she wanted, and every jar in the box represented another shade of opportunity. A chance to remember who she’d become and where she’d been. What she’d done. And a reminder to never, ever be the weak human female she’d once been so long ago.
Those little bottles allowed her to feel some semblance of control, despite everything else in her life being decided for her. Forever. The only way out of her role in the coven was second death, although with this latest assignment, that release seemed attainable. Hell, she’d nearly gotten herself killed tonight.
She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the negative thoughts.
She flung open the doors to the closet. Clothes that had been precariously stuffed into the wardrobe fell like an avalanche onto her feet, hiding the tips of her dirty shoes beneath a pile of soft rubble. She cast a glance downward. Laundry, both dirty and clean, lined the floor as well as bottom of the closet.
Prohibiting the coven keepers from entering her closet had its downfalls, but that was the price she paid for privacy.
The mess could wait.
Grabbing a handful of miscellaneous attire, she started digging her way to the bottom. Shoes. Socks. Shirts. Jeans. Damn it, she really was a slob. Her professional life was always in perfect order, her knives in neat rows inside her nightstand, guns and ammo in the drawer. Her personal life never mirrored the concept.
Tossing the clothes over her shoulder, she aimed for the back right corner, pretty sure that was where she left the box. More shirts. Another pair of jeans. How many fuzzy socks did one person need?
Cold metal brushed against her fingertips. Bingo.
She pulled the small black metal box from the recesses of her closet, revealing the simple design, no locks required. Vampires weren’t exactly breaking down the door for spelled ink to mar their eternally-perfect complexions, and with the king taking care of their financial needs, no one truly wanted for money.
She popped the lid open with care, revealing twenty-seven glass vials of preserved ink. Each vial set her back at least a grand, but they were worth it. She’d had to consult with several different movers around the country to amass this quantity. Hunting for something new was always part of the fun. The myriad of colored caps stared back at her, each one identifying the pigment held within the vial.
Just looking at them made her skin itch.
She ran her fingers across the row of lids. She’d started her tattoo collection as a human, the wings on her back a memorial to her parents. The Hebrew script I am who I am on her shoulder was one she’d gotten for her twenty-first birthday five years ago.
But this new marking; this would be the first tattoo she’d ever received which served an entirely different purpose. It would bond her to three strangers she’d barely met.
The idea of this marking made her stomach a little queasy. How could she trust people with her life when she barely knew them? The years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, never quite living up to each new family’s expectations, had taught her to keep her guard up. People came and went; they rarely stayed.
Other than Frederick, she had no permanent ties in this world. Now she would have three.
Trying to ignore the weight pressing against her chest, she snapped the lid shut and set the box back onto the ground, then glanced down at the shredded remains of her slinky gown. What a waste.
At least Frederick had given her permission to change into something less tattered and presumably less revealing before rejoining the group. She shimmied the ragged remnants off her body, kicking the fabric off her ankle and onto the bed before slipping into a pair of jeans, a plum sweater and her knee-high riding boots.
Time to hustle.
She pulled her shoulder bag across her chest and tucked the box of ink into the bottom. Her favorite gun fit neatly into an outer pocket, and the knives took up their normal residency in the holsters at her waist and in her boots.
God, she hoped she was doing the right thing.
The impatient stares of her teammates greeted Rho as she rejoined their ranks.
“The ink?” Cadence asked, extending a hand.
Rho opened the flap of the shoulder bag and pulled out the box, handing the container and its contents to the Collective leader. Not knowing exactly what they’d need for the spell, she’d opted to bring her entire collection.
Cadence took the offering and flipped the lid open, brows rising as she surveyed the contents. “This will suffice.”
Damn right, it would suffice. That ink was like liquid gold, and Rho had handed over her entire piggy bank. Trying not to sulk, she resumed her place by Frederick.
Cadence wasted no time as she stepped toward a table that had been placed in the center of the grouping. “Eldon, bowls, please?”
Eldon nodded and stepped forward. His voice was low as he murmured and moved his hands along the wood surface. With a quiet pop, a small crystal bowl appeared before him. Then another. And then two more.
Cadence placed the box on the table and pulled out a full vial of red ink. The lid cracked as she broke the seal on the cap.
Wait, was she going to—
Rho held back a yelp as she watched the contents of the entire vial splash into the first crystal bo
She held her breath as Cadence repeated the process with the yellow ink, followed by the blue ink, then the black ink. Four entire vials of liquid, emptied. If she’d known the woman was doing a dump-job, she wouldn’t have given it all up so easily.
The four crystal bowls sat in a line on the table, each filled with a different color. Cadence stepped forward. “Eldon, your palm, please.”
He didn’t argue, just held out his hand, palm facing up.
“Knife?” Cadence asked.
Rho glanced up from the bowls to find the mover’s hand extended toward her.
Knife? Oh, right.
Rho had made no attempt to hide the seven-inch steel blade at her waist, the shiny hilt a stark contrast against her dark blue jeans. Eyes drawn to the bowls again, she pulled the large blade from the sheath and absently handed it to the Collective leader.
Damn, so much ink in those bowls. Questions rattled around in her mind as she considered the possibilities.
Blood. The glorious tang of freshly exposed flesh hit the air, snapping Rho back into reality like a slap to the face.
Eldon stood before Cadence and she drew Rho’s blade across his palm with the precision of a skilled surgeon, the crimson liquid bubbling up at the site of the wound. Latin spilled from her lips, a florid arrangement of quiet, foreign words droning in the background as Eldon’s blood stole the show.
Fangs punched out of Rho’s jaw. Eldon tilted his hand over the first bowl. The crimson fluid fell in a steady stream, the mouthwatering aroma riding the air. She’d fed recently, but a vampire was never truly sated. Not without a mate, anyway, and that blood smelled divine.