Phoenix Freed, page 1
BY ELISE FABER
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2014 Elise Faber
Cover Art by Jena Brignola
About the Author
Also by Elise Faber
Daughtry knelt on the ground, her hands clamped to her friend’s thigh, desperately trying to exert enough pressure on his wound so that he wouldn’t bleed out before her eyes.
Events had taken a sharp left turn.
First, she’d been kidnapped, then Cody—whom she was bonded to on a magical, mental, and soul-deep level, had come after her and repaired their crumbling relationship. And then just when things had been looking like they would settle down finally, the Dalshie had appeared.
They were evil. Cruel monsters who could do dark magic and would stop at nothing to unleash their cruelty on the world.
They’d attacked her and her friends.
One of whom, Tyler, was now gushing blood onto the ground after having resisted the pull of their dark magic by refusing to kill the man she loved.
Complicated. Messed up.
Life and fucking death.
Yeah, that seemed to be how she rolled these days.
Dominic, the leader of the Forgotten—humans who had been experimented on by the Dalshie, but who had sheltered Daughtry for a time—reacted first.
He launched himself at Elisabeth, at the strongest Dalshie, who machinations were responsible for getting them all to this place. Something flashed in his hand: a knife blade, maybe the metal of a gun’s barrel. Then—
A cloud of black as Elisabeth disappeared.
Dominic had been mid-leap when the Dalshie leader vanished from sight. He hit the ground with a hard thump and a muffled curse.
Daughtry forced her eyes back down. Tyler was unconscious, the wound on his leg deep. Her stomach rebelled at the sight of the rent flesh, a clean dissection down to his femur, but she shoved her hands more firmly against the skin above and below the cut.
There was so much blood.
Not that she was a stranger to it, but the fact that it was Tyler’s—
Her throat went dry and for a moment, her head spun, black spots flashing behind her eyes.
A nudge in her mind—Cody’s calm, comforting presence despite the strain of the situation—centered her. A breath slid through her lips and she focused.
“Okay,” she said. "Sorry,” she thought along their mental connection.
The warmth and love he sent along their bond in return was as tangible as any embrace. “Ready?” he asked.
Sweat glistened at his temples, on his cheekbones. He’d lost weight over the last several weeks and the bones of his face were sharper. But he was still gorgeous, still the man she loved.
And also, somehow, still a mystery.
"Not quite," she thought back then added, "But I know the important things.”
The mysterious, proud, strong, selfless man was hers.
The rest—his history and memories, more of which she’d learned in the previous twenty-four hours than in their entire relationship—would come. The hurts—the bitter words and shared anger—would fall away.
Cody’s regret was a sharp slice that made her heart hurt. "I’m sorry. I’ll be better about sharing—"
She snorted. "He-man, I don’t want you as anyone beside yourself."
The shock that exploded across his end of the bond was so great that it squeezed her lungs the slightest bit. His breathing was worse, great pants of effort as he tried to come to terms with her words —
And hold on to Tyler.
He nodded at her unspoken thought. "Yes. We should probably talk about this later."
“Okay.” He glanced around the clearing, as if just recalling where they were, what they were doing.
Her eyes followed suit. Dante and John—Rengalla like her and Cody, and soldiers along with Cody in the elite Rengallan military division, the LexTals—surrounded Dominic. Morgan and Mason, two thirds of a set of triplets and LexTals as well, were walking through the crowd of Forgotten.
Mason stooped to chuck Laila, one of the youngest Forgotten and an unfortunate witness to their fight with the Dalshie, under her chin, and received a wobbly smile in return. Daughtry was shocked to see him extend his arms to the girl, to wrap her in a tight hug. She’d never seen Mason as anything other than hard.
Apparently, the triplet had a softer side.
“What can I do?” Morgan asked when he came close enough.
“I’ve regained control of his blood,” Cody said.
Daughtry glanced down at the wound, something she’d avoided doing since she was hand-deep in the decimated limb, and was surprised to see that Cody was right. Warm liquid no longer seeped through her fingers.
She sat back and rested her hands on her thighs, not quite able to hold back the nauseous feeling when she saw the dark crimson stains on her jeans.
“Can you get more bandages and a tourniquet?” Cody asked. “I’m going to try to jump-start his powers.”
When Morgan went to retrieve the supplies
“That’s a dirty lie.”
His lips twitched then flattened into seriousness. “I’m going to partially heal him, see if that will get his powers to finish the process. That way I can concentrate on keeping his blood in place.”
The little of it that remained.
Daughtry knew that what Cody was doing was intense work. Not only did he have to keep Tyler’s blood from leaving through the wound, he also had to cycle it through his body, make sure that his heart was pumping, his lungs taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide.
Healing wasn’t just knitting muscles and tissues together. It was often the pieces below the surface that took the most effort to keep functioning.
Morgan reached past her to hand a tourniquet to Cody, who wrapped then tightened the heavy nylon strap on Tyler’s thigh. Daughtry winced at the sight of it digging into the flesh. It’d bruise deeply. But if it meant that he’d live—
Her eyes closed and she struggled to keep her composure.
If Tyler lived, there would be heavy consequences for his actions.
If he’d turned—
This would all be for nothing.
Cody took a breath. “Here goes.”
It was an out of body experience to watch him work. His magic felt pure as angel dust, flittering along his end of the bond as she tracked its movements.
Out his brain, down his spine and arms, bursting free from his palms.
Vibrant green strands crawled over Tyler’s thigh, digging into the gruesome cut.
That part, she knew, was painful. An almost scalding heat as the tissues began to regenerate.
Through it all Tyler was unconscious.
After a moment, Cody stopped. She could feel his hope, joined in on his silent prayer to see brilliant sky-blue fibers emerge from Tyler’s body.
“Try again,” she whispered.
He started to shake his head.
“No,” she said, firmer. “Try. Again.”
More green threads, more power, more healing.
Another pause without blue magic taking up the job.
Cody began to withdraw. She read his intent before he could release his hold on Tyler’s blood.
“Just one more time,” she said. She was begging and she didn’t give a damn.
Because this was Tyler. Because he was important.
“His heart is only working because I’m pumping it. His body is shutting down.”
“Dee.” This time it was Morgan.
Her throat was a bevy of serrated edges, her tears heavy as iron as she tried to hold them back. “Once more. Please.” She stared into emerald eyes, filled to the brim with kindness and compassion and . . . resignation. But Daughtry refused to let him give up. Pinning him in place with her gaze, she tried to pierce through that dreadful acceptance, tried to will him to understand.
He nodded. “Okay,” he said, soft as velvet. “Once more.”
Cody let his magic flow forth, a spider web of green that encased the tissue. The wound wasn’t as egregious now that he had partially healed it.
It was an injury that Tyler could survive. But it was his heart, his lungs, his brain that worried Cody and in turn, worried her.
"Come on," she thought. "Come on, Tyler."
As far as mantras went, it wasn’t creative. But it was all she had. That and faith. In Tyler. In the man who’d tried to save her from her pain. Who had once jumped into a scrum to save her from the Dalshie and had been kidnapped alongside her.
A man who’d given her the courage to fight and then had healed her when that courage faded.
“Fuck, Tyler!” she yelled. “Fight, goddammit!”
At first nothing happened.
Then blue sparks seeped out of his skin, sparkling like glitter. They grew, coalescing into narrow strands, into thick bands of magic.
Tissue and muscle grew together. The wound closed, knitted together, until only a bright red line remained.
She watched the bond, observing as Cody pushed Tyler’s blood. Felt when Tyler’s own powers began to take over.
His heart was undamaged and began working on its own. She sensed through Cody as oxygen hit Tyler’s brain with a heady rush, the paltry amounts Cody had been able to push through only a stopgap.
Lungs heaving, sweat sheeting his body, Tyler finally opened his eyes, and spoke. “You should have let me die.”
She leaned close to whisper. “No. You fought for me. I’ll damn well fight for you.”
“Not worth it,” he said, his words a struggle, every breath a gasp.
Her mouth went dry as he opened his palm.
About to say he was worth every ounce of fight she had in her, she found that she couldn’t speak—that the sentence was caught in her throat, frozen in her fear.
Tyler’s lips curved up. “I know.” A rusty laugh. “I’m a lost cause.”
His palm lay open on the dirt, mocha skin covered with dust and blood.
But that wasn’t what sent a chill down her spine.
The black markings did that.
Starting in the center of his spread hand, the stain radiated outward like a sick sunburst. It grew to the size of a half-dollar before a single twisted strand crawled out of his palm and up to his wrist.
The first sign of a Rengalla turning, of the black magic taking hold and ripping away every semblance of morality and kindness and light.
He was becoming a Dalshie.
Cody’s long-ago words rang in her mind.
"The only thing to do when someone is infected is . . . euthanasia. A blade through their heart, separate their head from their body, and they’re dust. Anything less and . . ."
The scrape of steel against leather jarred her to action.
“No!” she shouted, throwing herself atop Tyler.
Hands grabbed at Daughtry, tried to pry her away from Tyler.
She ignored the yelling, disregarded Cody’s calm voice along the bond instructing her to let go.
“No,” she said again, gripping Tyler around the neck, a human shield between him and those who’d kill him.
“Let go,” Tyler told her. He pushed against her but not hard. The blood loss had made him weak.
“I won’t,” she said. “I won’t give up on you. Tyler, you have to fight.”
He deflated. “There’s no fighting the dark magic. You realize that, don’t you?”
The dirt caked under her nails, clung to the backs of her hands as she held tight. “What are you talking about? None of this is your—”
“Don’t you understand?” The question burst out of him. “It’s my fault. The Dalshie did something to me in that dungeon.” When he’d been taken, trying to protect her. “They infected me, tainted my magic. I—”
Daughtry felt as though a boulder sat on her chest. It was hard to breathe, hard to focus on anything but the iron tang of blood in the air and the pain that filled her. Not for herself. But for Tyler. For the torture he’d endured both in the dungeon and afterward.
Because of her.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice jagged and shaky. It was an apology that didn’t change anything, but one she had to give anyway. “It’s not your fault.”
“Then whose, Dee? I just almost killed Cody. I’m not safe to be around—“
“You are.” Her fingers found his shoulders and she leaned back just enough to witness the agony within his bright blue eyes. “I can feel it.” She touched her chest. “Here. I know you’re good, Tyler. You have to fight it.”
His lids closed and she shook him. “You promise me,” she snapped, aware of Cody telling the others to step back. Her bondmate crouched at her side. “Promise me that you won’t let this take you under. We’ve beaten impossible odds before.”
“You have to.”
Cody’s soft touch on her back was the hardest to shake off. As were his words. "Please, cowgirl. We need to get to the Colony."
“I’m not letting you kill him,” she said aloud because she couldn’t take the compassion streaming across the bond, not to mention Cody’s own sorrow at what they were about to do.
“It has to be done.” The cold words were from Mason.
Daughtry turned her head and fixed the triplet with the deadliest glare she could foster. “No. You’re friends. Family. You can’t just—”
“They must,” Tyler said.
That the statement came from below her pissed her off.
So what if Tyler had the marking? Couldn’t anyone else feel that he wasn’t a Dalshie? She’d always been able to detect them, always could feel when one was near. Tyler didn’t make any of her warning bells go off. Beyond that, he didn’t have the instantaneous healing powers. He would have died without Cody’s assistance.
If Tyler was a Dalshie, the wound would have closed almost immediately.
ELISE FABER SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Bad FiancéBreakaway (Gold Hockey Book 5)Collision at Roosevelt RanchBreakawayPhoenix FreedBad HusbandBad Billionaires Box SetBenched: Gold Hockey Book 4
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