Phoenix Freed, page 2
Instinct told her that Tyler hadn’t turned. The blood staining the ground didn’t smell, didn’t look like a Dalshie’s.
Shouldn’t that mean more than a six-inch stripe of black?
She stared at Cody. “You once told me to trust in my instincts.”
“I did.” Green eyes gazed back at her, understanding beginning to dawn in their depths.
“He’s not a Dalshie,” she said.
Mason took a step forward. “Bullshit.”
“Quiet, Mason,” Dante said, his brow was furrowed, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Why do you think so, Daughtry?”
How did she put her feelings into words? She didn’t think Dante would buy the because-I-know-so explanation. “Dominic has the markings and he’s not Dalshie.”
And? “You’re not slaughtering them.”
“They were never Rengalla, Daughtry,” Dante said. “They’re of limited risk. We’re more powerful.” He knelt next to her, and touched her shoulder. “Cody’s explained this. You’re only making it worse by drawing it out.”
Her throat went dry, her stomach churned like the ocean during a freaking hurricane. “He’s not a Dalshie,” she said again. “You know I can sense them. You know I can— ” Her voice broke.
It was her fault that Tyler was going to die.
Tears slid down her cheeks. “Dammit,” she said. “He’s not.”
Tyler’s hand reached up from where it had been resting on the bloodstained earth. She felt Cody tense along the bond, ready to intercede at the slightest provocation.
Soft fingers stole her attention as Tyler rubbed his thumb below each eye. “Don’t cry, sweetheart. It’s for the best.”
The wave of murderous intent surrounding her and Tyler didn’t abate.
They were going to kill him no matter what she did.
Daughtry’s shoulders slumped. “I-I can’t—”
“You have to.” He cupped her cheek and ran his thumb along her jaw.
This time when Cody tugged her back, she let her arms slide free.
The events happened in a series of broken images.
She watched Tyler as he lay prone on the ground—had the banal thought that the tourniquet had to be hurting his leg.
Mason stepped forward, a blade in his hand. It was at least six inches long and silver.
The blade rose into the air, glinted in the muted sunshine.
Tyler didn’t move. Not one damn inch.
“Stop.” Every gaze flew to Dante. “Stop,” he said again.
For a second, she thought Mason was going to listen.
The knife plunged into Tyler’s heart.
She screamed and wrenched herself against Cody’s grip.
Mason didn’t react, just stared down at Tyler, whose lips had curled up in a small smile.
“Knew you’d be the one to do it, buddy,” Tyler said. “Thank—” His mouth flattened. His eyes slid closed.
Cody exploded into a burst of activity. He pushed her at John then launched himself towards the prone body on the ground.
“Why isn’t he ashing?” Mason asked. When Dalshie were killed—and there were only two ways to accomplish that: a blade through the heart or to sever the head from the shoulder—they burst into ash. But because Tyler wasn’t a Dalshie, he wouldn’t burst into ash. He would bleed out, dying by inches in front of them. Blood stained his hands, his shirt, splattered across his cheekbones.
“Because he’s not Dalshie!”
She tore free of John and ran to Mason. Then shoved him. Hard. “How could you?” She pushed him again. “What the hell is wrong with you? Dante said stop!”
She’d heard the story about Mason, knew that his wife and son had been killed by the Dalshie. Sympathy had always been the primary emotion she’d felt towards the man.
Now she simply felt rage.
“You let fear rule you, you son of a bitch.”
With one more shove, she turned away, dropping to her knees by Cody in one smooth movement.
“Is he—?” She couldn’t even finish the question.
Cody shook his head. “Tyler’s alive. Barely.” He looked at Dante. “I need Suz.”
Dante nodded to Morgan.
“If the Colony is under attack?” Morgan asked. “He said the Dalshie might go there next.”
Tyler had also told her the Dalshie wanted an Orb—whatever that meant.
It wasn’t a term she was familiar with, and nothing she’d read about since discovering she had magic had ever mentioned an Orb the Dalshie might want for nefarious purposes.
How did she know they wanted it for evil one might ask?
Because they were Dalshie.
There wasn’t any good left in them.
“Mason, John, and I will go with you,” Dante said. “Bring Suz back. If we’re under attack, you and John can teleport in afterward.”
“Stay strong,” John told her. He stood across Tyler’s prone body, compassion and frustration clinging to the navy depths of his eyes.
He didn’t think Tyler would live.
She glanced away.
A hand found her shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. Then the pressure was gone.
Dual bursts of hazel lights signified the four men’s departure.
Dominic came up beside her. “You okay?” he asked.
A shake of her head. “No,” she said. “I don’t think so.”
Dominic spread a blanket over Tyler’s body then shifted to place a crumpled T-shirt under his head.
Cody barely spared him a nod. He was in damage control mode. She could feel the effort it took for him to stop the blood from flowing out around the knife penetrating Tyler’s chest, to keep the oxygenated portion moving through his damaged heart.
They were lucky—she could barely hold the bile back at that word—that Mason hadn’t pulled the blade out.
Tyler had barely escaped bleeding out before. Without the knife stoppering this wound—well, he couldn’t lose any more of the precious liquid.
"Daughtry. If you want to save him . . . we need to combine our magic. We have to use Bond Magic"
“Cody,” she whispered. “I’m not sure.”
Her magic was risky—she’d rarely had control of, had often struggled to contain it and then there was the underlying darkness that was laced with it. Thus far, she’d resisted, but if she slipped up? Did she dare risk Cody? Or turning into one of those monsters herself?
“It’ll be okay,” he reassured her.
Bond Magic at its most basic was simply combining her magic with her bondmates, with Cody’s. That mixing would amplify their individual strengths into something much more. It was why bonding had once been so prized—being able to join their respective abilities together made each person much more powerful on their own. Cody had been wanting her to try this for months, to pick a simple magical take and just try.
To see what happened.
But this was so much more than a simple magical task. She barely understood her magic and to jump straight into healing? What if she hadn’t completely mastered the darkness inside of her and the magic inside of her took over? What if instead of healing Tyler she let the wrongness gain control and—
She’d promised herself to not let fear rule her. If she didn’t attempt this, didn’t try to save her friend, she would be worse than a coward.
She wouldn’t even be living.
All of her second chances of late—at life, at love—would mean nothing. If she didn’t act, she would be throwing all of that away.
"I won’t push you,” Cody thought. “But please. I’m almost tapped out. I can’t do it without you."
The sight of him bent over Tyler, of his emerald strands wrapped around the other man’s torso, his fingers shaking, sweat pouring from his brow undid her.
"Cody . . . Ok—" It would be fine.
The flash of light made her jump.
Morgan stood behind them, Suz in tow.
“The Colony?” Daughtry asked.
The breath of relief whooshed out of her.
“Excuse me,” Suz said, kneeling next to her.
Daughtry blinked. Since when was the doctor polite? But by the time she processed it, the glimpse of polite was gone and Suz was barking orders.
Brown strands joined the emerald. Suz cursed.
“Where did his blood go?” she muttered.
“You’re sitting in it,” Cody said before proceeding to tell her what he was doing, about Tyler’s previous injury.
“Christ,” Suz said. She glanced up, met Daughtry’s eyes.
There was something within the doctor’s expression that gave Daughtry pause. It almost looked like regret, but that couldn’t be—
It didn’t matter anyway. She shook herself and focused on what Suz was asking her to do. “You want me to remove the knife? Won’t he bleed out?”
“I’ve got him covered, cowgirl,” Cody said. “Suz and I have got this.” "Trust me," he thought along the bond.
Daughtry sucked in a breath but nodded and grabbed the blade’s handle.
Her fingers shook. The hilt of the short sword was rough against her palm.
“Ready?” Suz asked.
Her throat was so tight that she could barely speak. “Yes.”
Daughtry gripped the knife tightly, and felt the blade wobble inside Tyler’s chest.
It was difficult but she managed to steady herself, to keep the knife from moving any further. This thing was coming out, dammit. Straight out.
The hand on her shoulder made her start.
“You okay?” Dominic reached slowly across her and plucked the blade from her hand.
It was only when the metal blade was gone that she realized how heavy it had been. Her fingers were actually sore from the strain of pulling it from Tyler’s chest. But he was okay. Or, okay for now. Cody and Suz had worked to stabilize him before Morgan and Mason had teleported him, Dante, and Suz back to the Colony. Now, Cody was clearing the scene and soon the Triplets would return to take them home.
“I’m fine,” she said.
Still, Dominic didn’t seem fooled. He sat next to her on the dusty, bloody ground.
“What?” she asked, annoyed. She didn’t want Dominic to think that she was so pathetic as to need a babysitter, didn’t want him to see through the façade she’d so carefully erected.
Because concern for Tyler pumped through her every nerve, made her spine feel as though it wouldn’t support her body.
“That was amazing.”
For a moment Daughtry didn’t understand. Her mind had been so wrapped up in her thoughts that she barely caught the wonder in Dominic’s expression. It took a moment to comprehend his words.
“Yes,” she said. “Their magic is incredible.”
“I wish I could do that,” he said.
She knew the feeling.
“What can you do?” she asked instead.
Dominic shrugged. “Beside read your and your guy’s smutty thoughts?”
A roll of her eyes. He was telepathic, but could only hear projected thoughts. “Most Rengalla have one specialty, but can also use all of the elements. Is it the same with you guys?”
A blip of amusement crossed the bond. "You should be happy that I’m asking him questions and not you," she thought to Cody.
"Noted," Cody thought, before his focus turned back to Tyler.
When she faced Dominic, his lips were upturned. “What—?” she began to ask then remembered. “Oh yeah, the telepathy thing,” she muttered. That skill was proving to be especially annoying.
The bond was something she shared only with Cody. To have someone intrude on that—
“I can’t do anything with the elements.”
Her brows drew together, her irritation morphing into confusion. “None of them?”
“Nope.” Dominic shook his head. “I can only read projected thoughts.” He shrugged. “Pretty useless when there is only one other telepath amongst our numbers.”
“What about Laila and Brigette?” Daughtry’s eyes glanced around the clearing, searching for them. Laila was Brigette’s Daughtry, a sweet girl whose mother was even nicer. Brigette had been beyond kind to Daughtry when she’d stayed with the Forgotten, and had comforted her during a very dark time.
“They only deal with emotions,” Dominic said. “They empaths.”
Well, that fit with her experience of Brigette, and even Laila, now that she thought of it, had comforted her with chocolate cookies when she’d been feeling down. “Wow.”
“Sort of. But think about all of the feelings we have through the course of a day, how many even in just a couple of seconds.” Dominic bumped his shoulder with hers. “Sometimes I think it’s less gift than torture.”
“Can they control the amount they hear?”
“It’s a struggle, but they deal the best they can.”
Daughtry had always considered her powers to be the worst, the most destructive. But at least she had a break. To be inundated by other’s emotions all day would be hard to cope with.
“Do all of the Forgotten have only one ability?”
Dominic nodded. “Yes. Each person has their own specialty. Some work with plants, or water, or fire. But no one doubles up.” He hesitated then said, “And we don’t have healers. To be able to save someone like that—” A nod toward Suz and Cody. “It would be . . . life-changing.”
“Do you have a lot of illness?”
“It’s not that we get sick a lot.” Dominic shook his head, as if trying to dislodge a painful memory from his brain. “We’re hardier than typical humans, but we don’t seem to heal as well from injuries as Rengalla.”
A chuckle that was more jagged glass than happiness crossed Dominic’s lips. “Well, considering that we’ve only been around since WWII, I don’t have a definitive case study on our long-term effects.”
She felt her cheeks heat. Sometimes the consequence of asking a lot of questions came with her mouth working faster than her brain.
Of course Dominic wouldn’t understand everything that was happening with his people. They were the byproducts of cruel experimentation by the Dalshie. That didn’t exactly bring clarity.
“I’m sor—” she began.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t be. I’m an ass. It’s just that we’ve spent so much time escaping from the Dalshie, running to stay free. This is the first place where I—we—had a home.” A sigh. “And now that’s gone.”
“I really am sorry.” Guilt hit her with the force of a meteor. “If I hadn’t come—”
“It’s not like you had a choice. Eric and Stephen took that from you,” Dominic said, referring to the two boys who’d knocked her unconscious and brought her to the Forgotten settlement. Kidnapping was kind of her specialty . . . or rather, the bad guys wanted her so that they could use her powers. As the only Rengalla with the power of foresight, as an Oracle who could manipulate death, she’d become valuable to the Dalshie for a multitude of reasons.
Namely, they wanted her to help them bring more pain and suffering to the world.
But she’d already done a damn good job of that before managing her abilities. Which was a big reason she was so hesitant to try Bond Magic. If she messed up using the more powerful magic, the consequences could be even more dire.
“I should have made you leave immediately,” Dominic said. “We all understood the risk when Daniel and Judith”—her adoptive parents, though in truth they’d really been her first experience with kidnapping—“brought you here the first time. I thought it was better for you to stay until you were ready to leave. That was
“But your home.” Daughtry studied the cozy circle of houses, the immaculately kept flower boxes on the windows, the central space that had been filled with lovingly worn picnic tables only a half hour before.
Now the clearing was a study in destruction. Ashes coated what remained of the tables and benches. The grass was torn up and blood stained. Even some of the closer houses had sustained damage—scorched by off-target magic, covered in soot.
“We’ll find somewhere else.”
“How does healing work?” he interrupted.
“Turn about is fair play?” she asked with a smile when he used one of her patented moves—avoiding an argument by asking a question. Dominic nodded, faint twin dimples appearing in his tanned cheeks. “Want to know a secret?” she told him. “I don’t completely understand it myself.”
A wistful look crept onto his face, the words that crossed the space between them so soft that they were almost inaudible. “I wish you guys had been here.”
Her question startled him. He blinked up at her and his expression closed down.
She waited, knowing that if this were a happy story then Dominic’s eyes wouldn’t have that haunted glaze, that his face wouldn’t have just aged fifty years.
Daughtry’s heart gave a brutal thump and her throat went tight. “How awful. I’m so sorry.” She paused, not wanting to ask the next question despite the curiosity eating at her.
“Neither survived. If we’d had a healer—” He shook his head. “No. There’s no point in discussing the past. But if we could learn how to heal, the future might be better.”
Dominic had demonstrated the qualities of a good leader several times over in the course of her knowing him. His words, and the quiet determination with which he spoke them, cemented that conviction.
“I hope that they can teach you. I—”
Morgan reappeared in the clearing.
“You guys get all of the perks,” Dominic grumbled, referring to his enviable ability to teleport.
“Aside from the turning into immortal, evil monsters?” she asked.
“There is that.”
Cody crossed to her. “Excuse me,” he said to Dominic, before pulling her towards the tree line. Once hidden amongst the trunks and branches, his arms wrapped around her and he hugged her tight against his chest.