Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 12
“Wait.” Frederick held up a hand.
Eldon squeezed his hand into a fist, stopping the flow of blood into the first bowl. Rho bit her tongue to keep from protesting the interruption. The group turned in unison to stare at the prince.
Frederick folded his arms across his chest. “English, please. Do the spell in English.”
The request broke Rho’s fixation on Eldon’s clenched hand. She glanced at the group, distrust clear in their expressions.
Cadence’s eyes narrowed before she lifted a shoulder in acquiescence. “That is not our way, but I’ll grant you the request this once.” She glanced at Eldon. “Continue.”
Eldon released his fist over the second bowl, allowing the blood to run freely again as he filled each of the four bowls. The delightful spicy scent Rho had associated with him before made her senses take flight, fangs ever ready to answer the call of her instincts. Damn, what she wouldn’t give for a cocktail.
“We call you now, spirit earth,” Cadence whispered while motioning to Tim.
Tim stepped forward and extended his hand, his nose to the sky. He held himself as a true alpha would, outwardly unfazed as the mover slashed her blade along his tan flesh, streaming fresh blood into each of the bowls.
“By water, fire, land and sky.”
Rho extended her hand at Cadence’s command, watching the same blade carve a path along her palm. The burning tinge of pain arced across her senses. The blood fell from her hand and hit the bowl beneath.
“So by this magick bound in flesh.”
Preshea took a reluctant step forward and offered her hand, cringing as the blade met her skin. The sour stench of fear coiled around the shifter, coating Eldon’s sultry spice. It would have been easier to feel a little bad for her if she wasn’t such a bitch.
“Each shall not let the other die.”
Silence filled the night. Rho could practically taste the apprehension lingering in the air around her, intermingled with the heavy tides of anger and fear emanating from her right. It rolled off of Preshea in waves.
Cadence dropped low, as if to scoop the air from the ground as her voice grew louder. “These four alone were separate souls.”
Rho watched in wonder as the colored liquid in the bowls, tainted with freshly added blood, began to stir themselves. Extending an arm, the Collective leader made a swiping motion across all four bowls, forcing the mixture to spin like a cyclone in a drain.
“These four a tie shall bind.”
Nervous energy gathered in the pit of Rho’s stomach. She’d thought this was just supposed to be a tattoo or something.
Cadence lifted her hands over her head, expression lost in the power called to her fingertips. At once, the air became electrified. The instinct to run pulsated against Rho’s brain, but her feet wouldn’t budge. Impressions of fear permeated the air, throwing her keen olfactory sense into overdrive.
What. The. Fuck.
“For where their purpose was e’er apart,” the mover spoke clearly, voice booming.
Something was wrong here. This couldn’t be what she’d signed up for. Frederick had warned her about blood magick, and had she listened? No, of course not. She’d run to the damn house and got the ink to facilitate this whole thing. Idiot.
“This spell shall unify!” Cadence shouted as she fell to the ground, slamming her hands against the earth.
The sound of crystal shattering blasted in Rho’s ears, followed by the shouts of familiar voices that seemed inexplicably distant. Pain radiated through her right hand, intensifying as it spiraled through her shoulder and headed like a heart-seeking missile into her chest. She fell to her knees, the burning in her soul matching only the burning in her palm, somehow doubling as a floodgate opened in her mind.
Her thoughts were no longer her own as they jumbled with the voice of another. Someone who had been in her mind before, although the pain was so tremendous she couldn’t remember who or when. Or care why.
The voices were suddenly drowned out by screams, bloodcurdling screams. Whose, she couldn’t be sure.
And then everything faded to black.
The breeze took Rho along as she rode through the air like a fallen leaf, the wind stroking her skin and twirling her at its leisure. Tendrils of warmth pulled her closer to a thick wall of heat, reminding her of the days she’d spent playing outside when she was a little girl. Glorious, summer heat. Sunlight had been her best friend.
Flailing her arms, she fought to free herself of the heat’s embrace, yet it only held her tighter. She couldn’t die this way. Maybe on a mission or in a fight or something. Definitely not from making the stupid mistake of sleeping outside. Or getting her ass dragged into the sun.
Unable to open her eyes, Rho fought against the darkness and the unfamiliar heat. She kicked her legs and screamed as loud as she could—not a sound escaped her lips. In fact, she couldn’t hear anything at all.
Was she dead?
The skin binding. The pain and the spell, those were her last memories.
Oh, hell no. She wasn’t going out like this. The Collective leader must have fried her right in front of the race leaders. That bitch. And she thought Rho was dead?
Rho threw her arms out harder, kicking higher and faster than she had before. She felt like she was riding a bike and striking a punching bag at the same time, the muscle memory churning through her brain. She may not be able to see or hear, but she could swear her limbs were moving. Had to be.
“Whoa, whoa, calm down.” The familiar voice spoke quietly into her ear, stilling her at once.
“Frederick?” The noise that escaped her throat was a barely audible scratch of sound.
He pulled her closer to his body. “Shhh, I’m right here.”
“Where? I can’t see.” Her vision remained a frightening blanket of darkness as she tried to focus on the sound of his voice.
“None of you awoke after the skin binding, but you all survived. I held you while I misted to try and get you home faster.”
“I misted?” She’d seen older vampires mist before, turning into nothing more than dense fog as they moved around undetected.
Frederick’s chest rumbled as he let out a small laugh. “Technically I misted, but yes. That’s why you can’t see yet.”
“I didn’t know you could take people with you.”
“You’re not supposed to know.”
Ah, so that was one of the gifts reserved for the oldest vampires, or perhaps only royalty. Thankful Frederick was the source of the heat and not the blazing sun, she allowed her body to relax into him, his strong arms surrounding her with a sense of safety despite her vulnerability.
“That’s it, relax,” Frederick said quietly.
“Where are we?”
“Just got to my bed chambers.”
The prince’s bed chambers? She tried to squirm out of his grip, but he easily overpowered her feeble movements.
“Don’t fight me on this.” Frederick’s tone was stern. “You’re in no position to protect or take care of yourself.”
“But the king—”
Soft pillows took the place of Frederick’s chest beneath her head, his arms replaced by the soft luxury of an expensive mattress and silken bed sheets. Sleep was eminent, only a hairsbreadth away as she fought to keep it at bay.
He chuckled. “I’ll worry about the king. You go to sleep and heal that hand.”
She wasn’t healed yet? A slight pang took hold in her gut as she considered the newsflash, but the thought only lasted for a brief, fleeting moment before the darkness consumed her once again.
Coffee. The scent was Rho’s mental alarm clock, one of the only things capable of springi
“Easy there, tiger.” Frederick sat in a chair pulled up alongside her bed and extended the mug like a peace offering. “I knew this would get you up.” He flashed a smile, his sharp white incisors peeking out from behind thick lips. Even in the dark, she could see the familiar sparkle in his light gray eyes.
Rho glanced around the room, still dazed. “Where am I? What day is it?”
“Relax. You’re still in my bedroom and you’ve only been asleep for the day. Sun just set. Hence…” He motioned the cup in a circle to taunt her.
“You know me too well.” She pushed herself up on the pillows to take what he offered.
He grinned and turned his gaze to the ground. “That I do.”
The coffee slid down her throat, burning its way into her stomach and anchoring her to reality. Last night had been quite the—
“Holy shit!” The coffee sloshed in her mug as Rho set it quickly on the nightstand. Whipping the blanket off her body, she glanced down at her arm. She shoved her long sleeve up to her elbow and turned her hand over.
“What is that?” she whispered, glaring at her palm.
“The mark.” Frederick’s response was dry, as if he didn’t care or didn’t want to remember that she’d been bound by the flesh on that hand.
Lifting her palm toward the candlelight, she studied the pattern woven into her flesh. In the blackest ink she’d ever seen, her skin had been branded with the emblem of the magick movers. The interlaced triquetra sat at the center of her palm, a knotted pattern of three interconnected loops, bound together by a circle. Mind, body, and soul, unified to one purpose. Surrounding the triquetra were four smaller circles, each comprised of a different color of ink, matching those the witch had poured into the bowls.
She pulled her hand a little closer to the light to get a better look.
No wonder the witch had needed so much ink. She’d never seen a tattoo with this much pigmentation before in her life. Her skin had absorbed the dye like a sponge, the colors so vivid she wouldn’t argue if someone told her that her flesh had changed colors altogether.
North of the triquetra sat a circle filled with red ink, and opposite a black-rimmed circle unfilled. To the right there was a circle half shaded with blue ink, a yellow version mirrored on the left. Rho squinted in the dark light, allowing her acute vision to focus.
Those weren’t circles. They were moon phases.
The triquetra sat at the center of the illustration, the moons positioned around the symbol as the moon revolved around the earth. The center of life—of mind, body and soul. The marking was truly a work of art.
“How did I get this?” Rho asked. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember the tattoo gun. No humming or wiping. Just pain and then… nothing.
Frederick leaned back in his chair crossed his arms over his chest. “The Collective leader performed the spell. What she neglected to inform us was that the skin binding spell would knock you out cold.”
“All of us?”
He nodded. “As soon as the spell was over, you all hit the ground like someone pulled your plug.”
Rho twisted her wrist to examine the rest of her arm. “No shit?”
“Such language.” Frederick shook his head before rising from his seat.
She winced. “Sorry.” Along with her tattoos, Frederick disapproved of her potty mouth. She tried not to curse in front of him, but sometimes the words just came out.
He took a step toward her bed and reached out a hand, stroking her cheek with the back of his knuckles. “You never have to apologize to me.”
She smiled. “Yes, I do. You’re the boss, and you’re old-school. I know you hate it when I curse, so I shouldn’t do it.” She shrugged a shoulder. “Sometimes it just slips.”
He placed a finger on her lips and held it there, as if to hush her. It worked. Rho shrank back at his touch.
“There are so many things I’ve wanted to tell you,” he said softly. “And now it seems we’re out of time.”
She made a move to open her mouth and answer him, but he kept his finger pressed firmly against her lips and cut her off.
“I’ve always known you were different. Never apologize for who you are, Rhowen. You’re perfect.”
Her chest contracted as he leaned closer to where she lay, motionless.
“You don’t have to go on this mission. I can’t tell the king no, but I’d hide you if you asked me to. Just say the word, and I’ll take you somewhere no one can find you.”
He pulled his finger from her lips, brows pinched in concern over his clear gray eyes as he awaited some sort of response. She had no clue what to say.
Her gaze darted around the room, brain scrambled as she tried to process what he offered. Was he offering her a ticket out? Could he do that? She’d bound herself to the obligation physically and magickally. Surely the way out wouldn’t be as simple as walking away.
She slowly pulled her body up to sit in the bed. “Frederick, I—I don’t see how. I mean—I promised. It was my fault. In front of everyone, I promised…”
His long, slender fingers gripped her shoulders as he ran his gaze over the length of her body. “Forget what you promised them. You’re all that matters.”
She searched his face, trying to understand where all this was coming from. Certainly he didn’t mean that she was all that mattered. She knew for a fact that she didn’t matter at all. Not even a little bit. She wasn’t royal, powerful, old, or even very strong. Sure, she was trained, and that counted for a little something. But she was totally, completely replaceable. All executioners were.
“No, you’re not,” he whispered, pulling the thoughts straight from her head.
“I made a promise to the team.”
“Spells can be undone. Don’t worry about the team.”
“I don’t think that spell can be undone. And I made a promise to the king.”
He rested his head against her forehead and let out an exasperated sigh. “Screw the king.”
“Excuse me?” Her jaw flew open. Did he say that out loud?
Frederick pulled his face back only far enough to meet her eyes, his hazy stare penetrating right through the center of her soul. “From the moment I first watched you, long before I ever changed you, I knew I loved you. Everything about you. I thought the king made you executioner to punish me, but now I think he’s always known my feelings for you and wanted to protect the crown. He never wanted us to be together. Please, come with me. Please.”
He stared at her, his eyes pleading his case. Then he leaned in.
Soft lips landed on hers, the aggression in his kiss shutting her up despite the storm of thoughts circling her brain. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been kissed and couldn’t clear her head enough to care. Arms wrapped around her body, pulling her closer into a strong wall of muscle as he deepened the kiss. His tongue licked along her lips, pleading for entry.
His kiss grew more demanding, and she wanted to surrender to him. He could give her everything. He could make her eternity so simple. But Frederick loved her? As in, love love? She couldn’t give him that. She didn’t feel that.
He’d been polite and kind to her since he’d changed her over, but—
Rho pushed back from his embrace, breaking the kiss to glare up at him. “Wait a second. What did you mean, ‘long before you ever changed me’?”
Frederick’s face blanked in surprise. “Uh…”
He opened his mouth before closing it again.
“Tell me what that meant.”
He stood in silence before letting out a defeated sigh. “I knew you before that night
“Before the night you changed me?”
He nodded. “I followed you.”
She leaned back but his grip held firm on her arms. “You saw…”
“I’d left to feed. When I came back, I saw those men all over you.”
“You killed them.” Her hand traveled to her throat as the memory of that night flashed through her mind. She’d been too far gone to know what had happened to the men who’d attacked her, but never forgotten the moment they’d stopped. Her breath hitched in her throat as she stared at the man across from her.
Frederick’s gaze was a combination of sad memories and steely resolve. “I know what they did. I killed them for it.”
He’d been there all along, lurking in those shadows. She’d thought the feeling of being followed was only paranoia after her parent’s death, but she should have guessed by now that every shadow in this world was a real threat. And everyone had a motive.
“You planned on changing me all along, didn’t you?” she accused.
“The king ordered me to follow you. I don’t think he ever intended for me to change you.”
“You were stalking me.”
“Watching out for you.”
Frederick glanced at the floor between them, his hands still locked on her arms. “The king thought you’d be useful, but he couldn’t tell me why. Just that you were someone special who needed to be watched after.”
“Why wouldn’t he send one of the Guard?”
He shook his head. “I can’t answer that. He told me he didn’t want anyone else involved. After I saw you the first time, I didn’t question him again. I knew I was meant to protect you.”
The whole time. All along, she’d been another puppet in the king’s master plan. What he wanted from her, she hadn’t a clue, but she’d made it this far without being killed in his little game. She’d see it through to the end.