Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 24
Snap. A twig broke beneath the heel of her boot, and she closed her eyes.
“Who’s there?” Alexander’s voice boomed from the back porch.
A green light flashed before a woman’s voice joined his. “Show yourself.”
A chain rattled against the tile floor somewhere inside the house. Silence stretched for several seconds.
And then all hell broke loose.
A scream tore across the sky as three owls descended from the trees, taking human form just before they hit the earth. Eldon dropped to a crouch and whipped out the gun from his holster.
Damn him, he’d been so distracted with Preshea showing up and so dumbstruck with the conversation happening inside the house, he’d neglected to pay attention to their surroundings. He hadn’t considered that Alexander would be able to summon help so quickly. Shifters could take any form. They could be anywhere.
“Rho, look out!” Eldon shouted, watching the vampire as she tucked and rolled along the grass.
She propped her elbows up and sighted her gun on Alexander. A shifter lunged toward her and she modified her aim, pulling the trigger and nailing him in the shoulder before he got close. The shifter hit the ground hard, his face contorting as he clutched his shoulder. The bloodstain spread quickly, staining his white shirt a deep shade of crimson. Served the bastard right.
“Eldon!” Tim’s voice boomed across the night.
Eldon swiveled around, spotting the second man’s face just before he saw the fist. Stars exploded, clouding his vision. Oh, fuck him, that hurt.
He cracked his watering eyes open to see the shifter stumble back, clenching his thigh. Eldon lunged forward and threw a fist across the man’s face, feeling the satisfying crunch on impact. The man howled in pain, but Eldon ignored him. He needed to find Rho.
Blinking several times, he tried to stave off the wetness in his eyes, hoping his nose wasn’t broken. Blood tickled his upper lip and he wiped it off on his sleeve.
“Nice,” Rho said from behind him. “You all right?”
He gave his nose another swipe, but the blood wouldn’t stop. “I’m fine.”
“Sweet nose job.”
“Thanks.” The muffled sound of metal slipping across leather brought his head up. He watched Rho handle a dagger like a pro as she stuffed the gun back in its holster. “Switching to blades?”
“Two gold shots left. Need to save them for a special occasion,” she answered as her eyes scanned the treeline.
He glanced over at the two shifters still lying on the ground. With the gold bullets lodged deep in their flesh, they’d be stuck in human form for a while. And that was fine with him. Locking onto a flying target would present a whole new set of challenges they didn’t need.
“Take my gun,” Eldon said, holding out his Glock.
“You’re clearly a better shot than me. I still have three bullets.”
A pop sounded from the other side of the house. Eldon snapped his head up to find Tim working over the third shifter, shirt torn and bloody but his stamina unyielding. He hadn’t had time to shift forms like they’d planned. A man lay on the ground to the right, unmoving.
“Hold him still, Tim!” Preshea shouted, crouching behind a manicured bush with her gun drawn. Thank God. When she’d vanished again, he wasn’t sure if she’d leave for good. And Tim needed the backup.
Preshea’s finger danced on the trigger as she followed their movements, but with the way Tim and that shifter were tumbling, she wasn’t going to be able to get a clear shot.
“I’ll trade you.” Rho snatched the gun from Eldon’s hand and put her own in its place. She jerked her head toward their teammates. “They going to be okay?”
Eldon nodded. Now that they were two against one, taking that shifter down should be a piece of cake. “Where’s Alexander?” The porch was empty. Both Alexander and the woman had disappeared.
“Don’t know.” She met his stare. “Let’s go find out.”
An arc of green power smashed into the ground between them.
“Shit!” Rho shouted, dropping flat to the ground. He followed her lead and made nice with the lawn. The floodgate opened between their minds, Rho’s thoughts and his own combining in a familiar pattern. He could feel her focus, so sharp he wondered if she knew he was in her head again.
He gave her a quick once-over, relieved to see she hadn’t been hit. The firepower landed had an inch from her body with enough force to punch a small crater in the earth. The aroma of wet dirt hit his nostrils, the magickal signature of the fae dominating his senses. He’d recognize it anywhere, and he’d felt this particular pattern before—on that letter. He was absolutely certain of it.
He rolled along the ground until he reached Rho then covered her with his body.
“What are you doing?” she ground out.
Before he had a chance to answer, another ball of green fire shot from the house and slammed into the ground, this one closer to them than the last. The two wounded shifters pushed themselves to their feet, rushing forward like linebackers on a mission.
Fury burned in his brain. Rho had almost been hit. Twice.
“Stay down,” he ordered.
She protested but didn’t rise from the ground when he jumped to his feet, hovering over her small body. Silently calling the ley lines into his hands, he welcomed the tingling in his fingertips. With all the force he could muster, he hurled a ball of ley line energy toward the men, knocking them down like bowling pins. They flew across the clearing and landed hard on their backs.
This time they didn’t get up.
Another bolt of green fire blasted into the ground as Rho rolled again, this one just barely missing her ribcage. His mind screamed at the close call, the blue fire he’d summoned blazing and crawling up his arms as he inched closer to her. Rho’s focus was sharper than a knife’s edge, her gun hand solid and pointed toward the house as she stayed near his feet. She held her fire.
“You wanted to kill us,” Eldon taunted. “Come do it.” The woman was somewhere close, hiding. The fae were proud people, and arrogant. Gods among men, as they so humbly put it. But pride always came before a fall. “Or are you afraid you’ll be dominated by a lowly magick mover?”
A woman emerged from the corner of the house, stepping into the light with staggering grace. Layers of green silk hung from her tiny frame, her wings a brilliant combination of purple, green and blue, fluttering furiously behind her. Her hair was long and black, woven intricately with twigs and flowers. She was regal and terrifying all at once, her wide eyes glowing green as she called her own brand of green fire into her hands.
A yellow stone hung around her neck, flashing in the porch light. It matched the yellow mark on Eldon’s palm, the color representing the entire shifter race.
Holy shit, she did have the shifter Kamen. She hadn’t even bothered to hide it. Yet between her green robes and the green fire she commanded, he knew this was no shifter. Couldn’t be.
This had to be Rhyannon, the queen of the fae. A legend of storybooks he’d read as a child, breathed to life here in front of him. She was real.
“Rho, get behind that tree,” he instructed. “Now.”
“But—” she protested
She lunged for the tree, and he fell in right behind her.
Pop. Another bullet cracked against the quiet night, but he couldn’t tell where it came from.
Preshea howled, and Eldon froze in place before peering around the tree. Tim tumbled along the grass. The enemy held Tim in a deadlock, a blade dangling from Tim’s back.
Preshea’s eyes flashed icy blue, claws extending from her human fingertips as the air around her shimmered. She howled aga
Eldon wanted to help, but Rhyannon was a greater threat. She needed to be neutralized. Turning back toward the house, he caught the jade glow of another energy bomb.
“Rho, stay down!” Eldon barked, shoving Rho closer to the ground. Without a thought, he tossed a blue fireball in the queen’s direction.
As if she sensed his aim and identified her greatest threat, the queen turned and lobbed another ball of power at him. He ducked. Tree limbs cracked behind him, breaking under the weight of her magick.
Anticipation churned in his stomach as he sent up a quick prayer that Nick had enough sense to hang back, hopefully far enough away so no one sensed him. The last thing he wanted was a distraction. Or a dead best friend.
A rear window of the house shattered, spraying the ground with tiny glittering shards of glass. Somehow, Tim had removed the blade from his back and was crawling through the opening.
As he disappeared into the house, a small foot landed on the wrought iron railing, followed by a short mop of black and white hair as Preshea pulled herself onto the porch. She’d shifted back to her full human form, her features no longer the grotesque display they’d been before. He glanced over at where she’d been battling only moments earlier.
What’s she doing? Rho asked.
Preshea had sliced the owl shifter into two pieces, his torso on one side of the porch and his lower half on the other. Blood dripped from her fingers, and Eldon swallowed back the bile rising in his throat. She’d split him in half with her bare hands.
“Holy hell,” Rho muttered, this time out loud. Holy hell was right. He made a mental note never to get on that shifter’s bad side.
The queen screamed and pointed at Preshea. “Handle her, Alexander!”
Preshea spun around, standing outside the broken glass entry as she locked her gaze on Alexander. He stood there, staring blankly at her from the other side of the glass. The ShiftMaster took a step back, his expression a strange combination of recognition and shock.
“Don’t you dare,” Preshea snapped, unsheathing two daggers from the leather bands crisscrossing her chest, taking one in each hand. “You stole my sister.”
“I had to—”
“Fuck. You.” She took a deep breath, her eyes locked on his. “You are a liar and a manipulator. I trusted you, asshole. We all did.”
The ShiftMaster’s eyes went wide, as if he realized in that moment that he’d been exposed.
“Ignore her!” Rhyannon screeched. “She’s not worthy of your conscience.”
“You’re dead to me,” Preshea declared as she brushed past him and stepped through the broken window.
Alexander launched himself toward her, a gold shimmer covering his skin. Shit, he was going to shift. Eldon glanced down at Rho. While he’d been distracted by the drama, she’d propped herself up and steadied the gun on her knee.
Take him out! Eldon ordered, handling a gun in his right hand and a ball of fire in his left.
Rho closed one eye.
He fell into a crouch behind her, ready to eliminate anyone who dared come her way. Preshea had created the perfect distraction, and Rho was a better shot than he was. Still, the need to protect her burned in his chest.
She turned the gun slightly, following Alexander’s movement.
Hurry up, Rho. There’s no time.
Pop. Pop. Rho fired two shots—directly into Alexander’s shoulder.
The ShiftMaster’s knees buckled as he clutched his arm, staggering away from the broken window before dropping to the ground. Injured, but not dead. God, that girl was a brilliant shot.
Rho holstered her gun. Brows drawn in focus, she glanced toward the house. Her eyes went wide. “No!”
He followed her gaze in time to see the queen throw a ball of green magick through the hole in the window. The energy slammed into Preshea’s back, sending her flying across the room and into a wall.
“Preshea!” a tiny voice screamed from inside the home, one he didn’t recognize.
The queen stepped through the window and disappeared into the house.
The night air exploded with strength, moonlight pouring over the darkness with such abundance, Eldon had to blink twice. It was practically daylight outside. White light coated the living room inside the house as Tim leaped to Preshea’s side, snarling and covered in fur.
The wolf. Tim had called on the moonlight and taken his wolf form.
A chain rattled again, and Tim’s muzzle snapped toward the source of the noise. He glanced from one side of the room to the other, as if torn between two options.
“Preshea?” the small voice said again, quivering.
Vectra was in that house. She was here, and Tim knew it.
As if she’d reached the same conclusion at the same moment, Rho shot to her feet. “No, Tim! Stay right there.”
Eldon fell in step behind her.
“Tim!” Rho shouted. “Stay with Alexander. Guard Preshea.”
Tim growled, clearly unhappy with the plan and even unhappier at being told what to do. Tough shit. His alpha self could just deal.
Rho swung a leg over the railing and leaped over to the other side gracefully. Eldon tried to mirror her maneuver, but with only a fraction of the grace and less coordination. He landed with a thud on the wooden deck.
Rho extended a hand and yanked him to his feet, then rushed toward the ShiftMaster. “He has it.” The man was still lying on the ground, one hand gripping his shoulder and the other balled into a tight fist.
She was right. Hanging from a long chain on his neck was a green diamond, set in a massive gold ring. He had a Kamen, too.
Rho kneeled down beside him and wrapped her fingers around the fist he clutched to his chest. “Give it to me, or I’ll break every bone in your hand.”
Alexander grimaced but stared up at her with cold eyes.
“You should know that I have no aversion to murdering you,” Rho told Alexander sweetly. “Eldon?”
Eldon was happy to oblige. He pulled his Glock from the holster, rocked the slide and centered it over the ShiftMaster’s head.
“How about now, Alex?” Rho asked.
The ShiftMaster’s fist clamped over the stone so tightly his knuckles were white. His lips were a tight slash as a bead of sweat dripped down his forehead.
“I’m sorry,” Rho said. “Do you think I’m not serious?”
When the man didn’t respond, she whipped her gun from the holster at her waist. With sharpshooter precision, she popped a round into his calf.
Alexander screamed as he recoiled, his body twisting against the ground as his blood gave the wood deck a new stain job. Still, he didn’t let the Kamen go.
“It’s your life or mine, fuckhead. And you’d better believe it isn’t going to be mine.” She jammed her Glock to his temple and leaned in. “My job title is executioner, buddy. I kill people for a living. So if you think for one second I’ll hesitate to pull this trigger, you’re wrong.”
Holy… shit. She wasn’t kidding. And though it shouldn’t be, he found her strength incredibly sexy.
She shoved the gun harder against the ShiftMaster’s temple. “What’s it going to be, asshole?”
Seconds ticked by before defeat trickled across Alexander’s face and he relaxed his hand.
Rho snatched the stone from his palm and handed it over to Eldon. “Present for you.”
In the center of his palm sat the pale green stone nestled in the ring, the size of a marble and cut like a diamond. He peered u
“Secure that,” she ordered.
He nodded and tucked it into his front pocket. It wasn’t as secure as he wanted, but until they got back to the house, it would have to do.
They’d done it. They’d found a Kamen, one of four missing parts needed to complete this mission. He’d have to work out the protection spell later, but for now he let the relief and happiness sing in his chest. One step closer to their goal.
A crash echoed inside the house.
Rho gave Alex a hard look. “Tim is on the other side of that glass watching you, and he isn’t shy with those teeth. You move, you die. Remember that.” She marched toward the window.
Eldon reached out and yanked Rho’s arm, pulling her back to him.
“What the hell?” Rho squirmed. “Let me go! Vectra’s in there!”
So were Tim and Preshea. And the queen. Rhyannon’s natural energy hummed, the vibration in the air and the smell of dirt in his nose making him feel too small in his skin. No way would he allow Rho to march in there unprotected. She was immortal, not invincible.
Eldon pulled her tightly against him and clamped a hand across her mouth, ignoring her muffled protests. “Rho,” he spoke quietly into her ear. She stopped struggling. “You barge in there now, that woman will kill you. I guarantee it. Our best bet is if we go in together, in a protective circle. Let me protect you.” He released his hold on her.
She spun around and glared at him. “Don’t do that again.”
He extended a hand. “Take my hand.”
“Just trust me. It’s the easiest way for me to make sure you’re protected without having to concentrate on you.”
Rho slipped her small, cool hand into his before squeezing his fingers so hard he nearly swore he heard them creak under the pressure. She shot him an irritated smile.