Phoenix freed, p.15

Phoenix Freed, page 15

 

Phoenix Freed
 


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  But things were changing.

  Her bond with Cody had come first, followed a few months later by Gabby and Mason.

  More would come.

  Because bonding made the Rengalla stronger.

  But why the Rengalla had lost the ability in the first place was a question she still didn’t have the answer to. With a sigh, she noticed Cody had put the package of noodles on the top shelf, well out of her reach.

  “Sucks being short,” she muttered, climbing on the counter to grab the bag and a jar of pasta sauce. She set both on the granite counter. After plunking her butt down beside them, she began wrestling with the lid from the sauce. “Come on,” she grunted.

  The stupid top stayed put.

  But she’d seen Gabby tap a jar on the edge of a counter one time to loosen the seal of a very stubborn lid.

  Sliding to the floor, she lined up the jar and swung.

  Tap. Tap. Ta—Crack.

  Le sigh.

  Butter noodles it would be.

  Dee tossed the jar into the trash and turned to the bag of pasta. She was going straight to scissors, no yanking the bag and ending up with rigatoni raining down on the floor.

  “It happens to the best of us, cowgirl,” Cody thought, because of course he would have sensed another of her kitchen mishaps.

  “I think you mean it only happens to me.”

  He laughed. “This is true.”

  “You think you’re so funny.” But as she grabbed the pasta and started cutting one sealed edge, she blew him a mental kiss. “So, when are you coming home?”

  “Tomorrow, probably.”

  A putrid scent hit her nose, and she looked down.

  Son of a monkey’s bottom.

  She’d forgotten to fill the freaking pan with water, and it was smoking. A lot.

  “Damn.” She turned off the stove and with a flick of her mind, called her power. The air magic was slippery, but she managed to grasp it, to use a controlled puff to disperse the cloud. Unfortunately, the smell of burning aluminum wasn’t so easy to disband. “I have to go. Suz and Gabby are coming, and I burned—“

  “I know, cowgirl. Which is why I left some pasta and sauce in the fridge,” Cody thought, his amusement easily discernible across the bond. “All you have to do is throw it in the microwave. One minute per plate.”

  “You’re too much of a distraction,” she groused but gave in to the inevitable. She would never be a great cook. Maybe Brigette could give her some lessons. And maybe she’d suddenly grow six inches and be the height of a normal person.

  Who could cook.

  “I like you the way you are.”

  Daughtry sighed. “You know me too well.”

  “I can read your mind, so that helps,” he thought with a chuckle. “Plus your utter lack of cooking skills is adorable. I—” Cody broke off, and there was a beat of quiet in their mental conversation, as though someone were talking aloud to him on his end. When his words came, they were slightly rushed. “John thinks he has something. I need to go.”

  “Be careful.”

  “Always, cowgirl.”

  “I love you.”

  “Call me. For any reason,” he thought. “If you need me, I’ll always be there.”

  She said good-bye, turned her mind away from the smoking pan and toward the fridge. Where were those plates—

  The knock made her jump.

  “Hurry up and say good-bye to Cody, Dee!” Suz’s voice echoed down the hall. “I’ve got ice cream, and Gabby’s looking like she might run right back into Mason’s arms, and then we’ll never get to eat the plate of cookies she has in her hands. They’re chocolate and look really good.” The volume raised by a notch. “Did you hear me? Chocolate!”

  Daughtry laughed and hustled down the hall. She wrenched open the door. “Sorry,” she said. “I was—“

  “Cody drunk,” Suz interrupted then sniffed. “And burning dinner while you were at it.” She raised a brow. “What were you talking about?”

  “Shut it,” Daughtry said, despite the flush rising to her cheeks. Damn her pale-ass skin. She stepped back to let them in. “I’ll have you know that I didn’t even get to burning dinner. I only scorched the pot.”

  Suz grinned as she walked to the kitchen and surveyed the damage. “Darn.” She clicked her tongue. “I guess it’s ice cream and cookies for dinner then.”

  “Aren’t you supposed to be a healer? Shouldn’t you be reminding us to eat our vegetables?” Daughtry asked. “And besides, Cody left pasta. I just need to heat it up.”

  “Bless that man,” Gabby said, her voice emphatic. “I’m starving.”

  “Vegetables, smegetables.” Suz’s golden brown eyes twinkled in humor as she turned to Gabby. “And anyway, what were you doing with Mason that made you so hungry?”

  Newly bonded, Mason and Gabby’s connection was still strengthening, still struggling for equilibrium between their minds and souls.

  Which was basically code for they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

  Twin spots of bright pink appeared on Gabby’s cheeks. “Nothing!”

  “Uh-huh—“

  “Leave the poor woman alone,” Daughtry said. “And sit down so you can witness my supreme microwave skills.”

  Twenty-Nine

  “You’ve passed with flying colors, Daughtry,” Francis said.

  Her mentor and magic teacher shuffled through the stack of papers in his hands as they sat opposite each other at a small table in the living room of the quarters he shared with his wife, Margaret. Doilies, velvet throw pillows, and porcelain figures abounded, but the rooms had always made Dee feel welcome.

  “You’ve mastered each of the four elements, though your skill in fire far outpaces the other three.”

  No surprise there, since Oracles tended to be a little flammable.

  “Seriously,” Cody thought. “Tell that to my books.”

  “Never going to let me forget it, are you?”

  Her powers had been out of control when they’d first manifested, and Dee had managed to accidentally torch an entire room’s worth of contents—including Cody’s book collection.

  “Never.” She could feel his smile. “Anyway, I don’t want to interrupt. I just wanted to say congrats, cowgirl. Knew you could do it.”

  “When will you be home?”

  “A couple of hours.”

  Cody signed off with a mental kiss, and she focused back on Francis. He’d finally stopped turning pages and held one out to her.

  The paper had a bunch of numbers and graphs she didn’t understand.

  “What’s that?” she asked.

  “It’s your test results. See this—“ He pointed to image on the bottom right. “This is the overall picture of your control.”

  She squinted at the squiggly line and couldn’t make heads or tails of it. “So is it good or bad?”

  “Good, Dee,” Francis said. “I’ve never had a student score higher on this exam. Your control is off the charts.”

  “Well not off,” she said, unable to keep her lips from turning up. She’d struggled with restraining her powers for so long, but it seemed like the hard work and practice had finally paid off. “Since I’m on the graph.”

  “True.” Francis laughed before touching her arm, his expression going serious. “We’ve been working together for a while now, and as you move on to your secondary training, I just want you to know how proud I am of you.”

  Dee started to shake her head, but he froze the movement with a shake of his own.

  “It’s true, my dear. You came to the Colony a scared girl—frightened of your powers and unsure of your place in the world.” He gripped her hand. “You’ve progressed so far, I just want to make sure you appreciate it.”

  She leaned over and hugged him. “Thank you. I do.”

  So very much.

  Remembering where she’d been just two years before, how hopeless she’d felt . . . finding the Colony, the Rengalla, the LexTals, and Cody had m
ade every struggle worth it.

  For the first time in her life, Daughtry was truly happy and fulfilled.

  And it was partly because of the man standing in front of her. He’d taught her how to harness her magic.

  “Good.” He rose and handed the stack of papers to her. “So what were you and Cody doing sneaking off to the gardens so late a couple of nights ago?”

  Her cheeks heated. “Just because you can make yourself invisible doesn’t mean you should be spying.”

  “Perhaps.” Francis carefully placed several objects back onto the small wood table—a lace tablecloth, two glass figurines, a vase of flowers. Her mentor never seemed to mind the femininity. Then again, he would be equally at home on a battlefield or a ladies’ department store.

  Nothing ever seemed to flummox him.

  “No perhaps about it,” she scolded as they walked toward his front door. “You shouldn’t be spying, even if you like to gossip with your buddies.”

  His aquamarine eyes twinkled in amusement. “Can never have enough material for Maks and Val. They’re pushy.”

  “True.”

  Francis opened the door. “Take the next week off. Continue to work with Suz on healing and we’ll discuss what other secondary skills you’d like to learn when you return.”

  “Next Monday? Same time?”

  He nodded. “Same bat time, same bat place.”

  Dee laughed. “Never took you for a pop culture guy.”

  “I’m full of surprises.”

  As she walked out the back door of the Colony, ready to start her week of freedom with a little sunshine and relaxing on the soft grass, Daughtry thought there was a whole lot of truth to her mentor’s words.

  “Come inside.”

  Cody’s voice was tempting as a bar of chocolate to Daughtry’s growling stomach.

  “I’m back,” he thought, and though he’d only sent a few words down their connection, it was the rest of what she felt coming from his mind that was so enticing. Love and affection shaded with just a hint of wickedness. And heat. Always so much heat. “I miss you,” he whispered, nuzzling his mind against hers. He was in their quarters and freshly showered. Monroe must have teleported them directly to the front door. “Come inside.”

  She laughed, the laziness that had invaded her limbs as she lay on the soft grass on the back side of the Colony disappearing. The shoreline of the lake, its sapphire-blue water calm and mirror-like, was just barely visible through the shield. The translucent barrier was made up of Bond Magic, a combination of her and Cody’s powers that protected the Rengalla from the Dalshie.

  It was nearly impossible for Dalshie magic to penetrate the shield. Bond Magic was that powerful.

  But the Dalshie could attempt to wear any magic down, had in fact done so to the Colony’s original shield in their orchestrated attack months before.

  A pang of guilt hit her right in the gut.

  Well, the remorse never really left her. The day the Dalshie had attacked was forever imprinted on her psyche. Daughtry had slain her mother. Had her very own version of you-killed-my-parent, Star Wars style.

  Elisabeth had been lost to humanity, totally overtaken by dark magic and irredeemable. Her transformation to a Dalshie had been wholehearted and complete.

  But that didn’t change the fact that Daughtry had killed her own mother.

  That she was alone—

  No.

  She wasn’t alone any longer. She had Cody and friends. Friends that meant so much more than her biological family ever had. And soon Gabby and Mason would add their Bond Magic to the shield, creating a colorful tapestry of power that would strengthen the barrier protecting the Colony. If there was ever a sign that Daughtry wasn’t alone, that was it. Love. Friendship. Trust. She had all of those things.

  And her man was waiting for her.

  “I’ve missed you, too,” she thought to him. Twenty-four whole hours was too long for her to be without the person who was the other half of her soul.

  “Then get in here.” Cody’s mental voice was just as tempting as his real one, all sexy rasp and delicate velvet.

  She didn’t need any further motivation.

  But as she rose to her feet, something caught her gaze. Her head whipped to the tree line, to the woods outside of the shield.

  Something—no someone—was there.

  Itching erupted under her skin—her own personal beacon that the Dalshie were near.

  A girl walked out of the forest.

  The creepy, crawling, ants-under-her-skin sensation amped up to rip-roaring intensity.

  The girl was slender—almost painfully thin—and perhaps sixteen or seventeen with a flowing cape of auburn hair. Her legs were too long for her body, and she had that equal mix of graceful strides and uncomfortable, scrunched shoulders so common to teenagers.

  The girl approached the barrier of interwoven green and purple, and put her hand to the shining surface.

  Daughtry gasped, and immediately Cody was there in the forefront of her mind.

  “What is it?” he thought.

  She couldn’t answer. Because that small, fragile hand passed right through the supposedly impenetrable magical shield.

  But that wasn’t what frightened Daughtry.

  No, what made her heart shudder with fear, her lungs clench so that she couldn’t take a breath was the color of the girl’s hair. Her skin. Her eyes.

  Auburn. Like Daughtry’s own.

  Porcelain. An identical match.

  And the girl’s eyes . . . her eyes were blue.

  Like her father’s.

  Thirty

  To say all hell broke loose would be the understatement of the century. Voices echoed across the lawn as people poured out of the Colony. Cody yelled in Daughtry’s mind, her cell phone began to ring furiously.

  The girl’s stare locked on to Daughtry’s, and the prickling under her skin intensified.

  “I need . . .” The girl took another step forward, faltered as though she were one stiff breeze away from hitting the grass.

  “Easy,” Dee murmured, rising to her feet and putting an arm out as though to steady the girl.

  Blue eyes, so much like her—like their—father’s, blinked. The girl wavered.

  “I need . . .” The remainder of her words were lost to space as the girl collapsed, her lids fluttering shut to hide those bright blue irises.

  “Dee?” someone shouted.

  “Cowgirl?”

  “It’s—” she began to reply both aloud and mentally then broke off. “It’s—Hell, I don’t know. I think she’s my sister.”

  The rest of the time passed in snippets of absolute clarity followed by blurs of minutes all at once.

  Daughtry rushed to the girl’s side, felt for a pulse.

  Relief. Her breath rushed out in a whoosh. Alive. But thin—skeletally so—and her skin was marred with cuts and bruises.

  That, more than anything, assured Daughtry that the girl was not Dalshie.

  Their enemy possessed instantaneous healing. Even the most grievous injury disappeared in an instant—anything short of a blade to the heart or severing the head from the spine wouldn’t kill a Dalshie. The Rengalla's much more labor-intensive healing seemed almost a bastardized process in comparison.

  So despite her inner Dalshie detector chiming off the charts, Daughtry was able to focus. She gripped the girl’s hand and pressed her other palm to the largest wound.

  Warm blood dripped over Daughtry’s fingers. She pushed harder.

  They were going to lose her.

  And with that thought, Dee’s magic came forth unhindered, uncalled. It rushed forward in a barrage of instinct to cover the girl’s body. The intertwined violet and green fibers glowed eerily against the girl’s pale skin, giving it an unearthly tinge. It brought zombies to mind. But her brain only halted on the image for a millisecond. Then it was focused on sewing up damage and stopping internal bleeding.

  To be able to do so was insane. She’d bare
ly been able to close Morgan’s flesh wound the day before. Except . . . this time was different.

  Daughtry could see more. She could sense the damage, its burn tearing through her as she healed the injuries.

  But that pain became almost background noise because she could also feel.

  Feel the blood vessels knitting together, the muscles healing, the skin stitching itself closed.

  It was glorious. The best high of her life.

  Strong hands gripped her arms, pulled. She fought to hold on to the sensation.

  “Enough, Dee,” Suz said. “Or you and Cody both will be passed out on the ground.”

  That snapped her mind to focus, forced her magic to cut off. She allowed herself to be separated from the girl.

  “Cody?” she thought.

  “Here.” The familiar scent of him—pine and the salty tang of ocean air—embraced her before he tugged her against his chest. “You’re okay.”

  It was a question even though it was phrased as a statement. She nodded.

  She was okay.

  The girl on the ground with sad blue eyes and cuts lining each of her arms might not be.

  The full magnitude of how much magic she’d used suddenly bombarded Daughtry’s body, a rubber band snapping back into place.

  Her legs went weak, her mind blurry. Cody’s magic flooded into her, stabilizing the huge loss. But it wasn’t enough. She’d used too much, and it would take time to recover.

  The last thing Dee saw before the world went black was a pair of gleaming red eyes standing in the shadow of the trees outside the shield.

  Her next moment of lucidity found Daughtry inside the infirmary, Cody by her side. She was sprawled on a bed in what she’d mentally dubbed as her room—given the frequency with which she found herself there.

  “Cowgirl?” Cody asked, fingers brushing her cheek.

  “I’m good.” She pushed herself up and would have flopped back down if not for Cody’s arm around her shoulders. Whoa. Major brain rush.

  “Maybe you should go lie down in our quarters. I can come get you when—”

  “I think the girl is my sister,” Daughtry said, staring at the pale amethyst of the room’s walls. “How can I possibly have a sister?”

 
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