Magic Currents (Cursed Angel Collection), page 1
Table of Contents
The Cursed Angel Collection – Watchtower 8
Magic Currents: The Cursed Angel Collection – Watchtower 8 © November 2017 Jayne Faith
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In The Colony, where the Demon Lord devours the hearts of witches to feed his power, a woman’s magic must stay hidden . . .
The Demon Lord claimed Victoria’s mother and fiance years ago. Now she’s living her life raising six orphan girls and trying to conceal her magical abilities before the Demon Lord claims her next. But when a handsome, foul-mouthed, bad-tempered stranger begins following her, any hope of avoiding the same fate as her mother is shattered.
Lorenzo, a fallen angel, knows how to end the Demon Lord’s tyranny, but he was betrayed by the last witch who was supposed to work with him. Despite his grudge against witches, he knows Victoria is the key to breaking the curse of the Watchtower, and he needs her water magic to finish the job.
There's only one problem: his plan to take down the watchtower could kill hundreds of innocent people in the process, and Victoria can’t let that happen. But if they don’t break the curse, the Colony will be condemned to a fate worse than death: another hundred years of the Demon Lord’s cruel reign.
About Jayne Faith
THE URGE TO use my magic was like an itch between my shoulder blades that I could never quite reach. It had been only a week since I’d cast a tiny spell to enhance Chelle’s medicine, but I longed to feel the delicious zip of enchantment in my veins again. In spite of my desire to help my adopted daughter heal, I shouldn’t have chanted even those few words. Any display of witch power was inviting the eye of the Watchtower.
I stood shivering in my bedroom, which was so small I could stand in the middle, stretch out my arms, and touch both of the walls across the narrowest part. Everything was within reach, so there was no need for a light. In the darkness, I freed my one clean dress from its hanger and started getting dressed.
I had to be careful, so very careful, in this world where the slightest wisp of witch magic could attract the attention of a Hunter and lead me to certain death. Even this, rising well before most people in the The Colony were stirring from their beds, was enough to draw notice. I always had an explanation ready, though, an excuse for a Hunter who might stop me for questioning.
Over my dress I added a cloak, and then a knit hat pulled down to cover my ears, smashing my sleep-wild tangle of hair, which was naturally amber-orange.
The hair was a gift from my father whose ancestors were from a far-off land where many people had fair skin, light eyes, and hair with red or orange tones. The color contrasted richly with the walnut shade of my skin, inherited from my part-aboriginal mother, so much so that it would have attracted attention if not for the small illusion charm in the ring I always wore. The Colony was not a safe place to stand out, especially for a hidden witch like me.
The charmed ring changed the hue of my hair to a generic brown. Because it was a static spell set into an object, it eluded the detection of the Hunters.
My shivering faded as my body heat warmed my clothes and the movements of dressing got my blood flowing. Last, I strapped my knife high on my thigh. It was a small weapon, but sharp as a razor. The wooden handle was inlaid with opal in a floral pattern. It always gave me a sense of satisfaction to carry something that was both pretty and dangerous.
Holding my boots in one hand, I pushed back the pocket door and stood there a moment to let my eyes adjust. I could just make out the lumpy forms of the children sleeping on the floor in the flat’s one proper bedroom, but didn’t want to chance stepping on a wrist or a foot in the dark.
“Victoria?” came Chelle’s sleepy voice from the right. She coughed, a painfully deep and congested hack that made me wince.
“Shh, don’t wake the others,” I whispered. “Go back to sleep. I’ll return by breakfast.”
She turned under her blanket and fell still and silent. With any luck, she wouldn’t even remember me sneaking out.
I tiptoed through the obstacle course of sleeping girls—six of them, now. More than I’d ever had at one time, and three whose magic would come in within the year. They were all Watchtower orphans, as we called them. Kids whose mothers had been sacrificed to the Demon Lord and his followers, and whose fathers were either unknown, brainwashed into service as Hunters, or dead.
I was made a Watchtower orphan myself twelve years ago, when my mother was captured by a Hunter and taken into the Watchtower where the Demon Lord would feast on her heart to extend his immortality. He already had, I reminded myself with as much stern detachment as I could. There was no way she was still alive in there, not after more than a decade.
I managed to make it past the girls and out into the tiny living room without disturbing them. There was no kitchen in our flat—I couldn’t afford such a luxury. None of the quarters in the ironically named Royal Luxury Hotel had kitchens, so all the residents had to pool money to purchase food in bulk. We were all on a rotating schedule for making meals for the entire building in the huge kitchen on the first floor. The food was usually bland and there was never as much as we’d like, but it was enough to keep us from starvation.
On the ground floor, I went out a side exit to avoid anyone who might be in the lobby at this hour. Outside, I paused for a deep breath, centering myself and playing my excuse for the Hunters over in my mind. With a brush of my fingers, I felt for the handle of the knife under my dress.
When money got too tight and need was great, I went to collect some of the giant oysters that would fetch up to a gold dollar apiece from the right buyer in the market. I had to use my magic to get to the estuary where the oysters proliferated. I couldn’t do it as often as I wanted to, not just due to the danger of using magic but also because showing up in the market with rare oysters too often would draw the wrong kind of attention.
But Chelle was getting worse. I needed her to be well and strong when her magic came in, which would be any day now. Sick and weak as she was, she wouldn’t be able to catch her powers before they spun out of control, and one of the Demon Lord’s Hunters would sense her magic and come for her. And that meant the bloody death of heart sacrifice at the hands of the Demon Lord. I couldn’t let that happen. I’d never lost a girl before, and I wasn’t about to start now. As long as she could keep her newborn magic reined in, a warlock from the Underground would quickly cast an enchantment that masked her ability and allowed her to access only about one-tenth of her full power. Then, in secret, I would show her just enough to keep her magic in check.
Keeping to the alleys and avoiding the few working streetlights, I swiftly made my way through The Colony’s midtown. The market was a ghost town of empty booths, shops were closed, and residential windows were mostly dark.
The sea added its salty bite to the chilly air, prompting me to pull my cloak tighter around my body. Despite the coldness, I never resented the damp that seeped into everything the way most people in The Colony did. Yes, it caused things to rust and mildew, but the water and I had a special bond. It called to me almost as strongly as my magic.
Already anticipating being near the ocean and letting my magic flow, a delicious shiver worked its way up my spine. What I wouldn’t give to be able to cast freely. To be able to mingle my magic with the sea whenever I wanted to. But that was an impossible dream. Under the curse of the Watchtower, witches were forced to hide our true natures and live in constant fear of discovery.
The scuff of shoes ahead jolted me from my thoughts. Someone had just turned into my narrow alley. Agile as a cat, I darted into a dark alcove. I waited, listening over the rapid thump of my pulse.
Was it a Hunter? That was always my first thought. And my second was usually to wonder whether the Hunter was Armand, my betrothed who’d been taken and brainwashed to serve the Demon Lord. I’d tried not to keep track of how long it had been since I’d glimpsed Armand patrolling the streets of The Colony, but knew immediately it was just over six months. I didn’t know if it meant he’d been assigned to a far corner of The Colony where our paths were unlikely to cross, if he served full-time inside the Watchtower, or if he were dead.
More scuffs and some slurred mumblings. The only words I managed to catch were impressively colorful swears. The steps sounded uneven and stumbling. Unsteady. Not a Hunter. Probably someone who’d overindulged at a pub and forgot which way was home.
I peeked out from my hiding place and watched a man weave down the sidewalk, and I weighed my options. This alley was dark. Even if I passed across the street from him, he probably wouldn’t be able to see my face well enough to identify me. I had no intention of letting him get close enough to see me that clearly, anyway.
Gathering up my skirt in my hands, I tensed, ready to spring out into the alley and hurry away in the opposite direction from the drunk man. Just as I was about to make my move, I caught the sound of deliberate, measured footfalls and the soft rattle of fine metal chain.
My heart jumped into my throat, and I froze. A Hunter from the Watchtower. The jingle of the shackles they carried was a dead giveaway.
My chest clenched, the way it did every time I encountered a Hunter. Was it Armand? I knew I shouldn’t think of him, and I especially shouldn’t long for a glimpse of his face. He’d been taken into the Watchtower nearly seven years ago, where he was brainwashed by a spell cast by the Sorcerer and forced into service as a Hunter. He no longer knew who I was.
I gave myself a mental shake. Hunters were dangerous. Armand was a Hunter now. It wasn’t worth the risk just for a look at my fiancé’s face that would only cause me pain, reminding me of what would never be.
I couldn’t go in the direction of the Hunter. I’d have to take my chances with the drunk.
I sprinted away from my hiding place and retraced my steps.
The drunken man pulled up short when he saw me coming. He grunted and muttered something. Intending to get past him before he had a chance to think of trying to interfere, I sped up.
“Stop! By the authority of the Watchtower!”
I sucked in a sharp breath, but I didn’t turn to acknowledge the Hunter.
In my alarm, I reflexively started to reach for my magic, but stopped myself just in time.
The drunken man was standing in the middle of the alley now, blocking my path. His stance had changed, and suddenly he seemed much more sober.
“Devil-damned witch,” he hissed at me, spittle flying from his mouth.
My panic shifted to all-out terror. The drunk had sensed me reaching for magic? I hadn’t even touched it, yet he’d felt it. That could only mean he was a warlock, and by his cursing he was one who for some reason didn’t like witches.
I pulled my knife from its sheath and brandished it. As I charged him, I growled and slashed out. Seeing my weapon, he jumped to the side to avoid getting cut.
Our eyes met, and for the briefest of moments a silvery halo of light glowed around the drunk man. I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of great white wings tucked against his back, their feathered tips brushing the dirty, damp asphalt of the alley. I gasped, and the wings and halo of light were gone.
It all happened in a matter of a blink, but in that split second that our gazes locked, his expression shifted from a heated scowl to wide-eyed, open-mouthed astonishment.
I’d expected a slack, drink-hardened face, but what I saw was quite the opposite. The man was younger than I’d expected, and his face was carved in masculine angles, with generous lips and smooth forehead. He was unexpectedly handsome.
A jolt of surprise stabbed through my fear, and my knife slipped from my hand and clattered to the ground. I didn’t dare pause to retrieve it or to examine the man more closely—this definitely wasn’t the time to ponder glowing winged warlocks, not with a Hunter pursuing me.
The Hunter’s heavy footfalls were pounding after me. Lifting my skirt a little higher, I fled with terror-fueled speed. If he’d felt me start to reach for magic, as the drunk warlock had, the Hunter would strike me down with lightning magic, knocking me unconscious so he could shackle me and take me to the Watchtower.
If that happened, I was as good as dead. The Hunter’s steps picked up as he gained speed.
I COULDN’T AFFORD to be careful as I ran, and my footsteps slapped the damp asphalt and echoed off the walls. Swinging my head wildly from side to side, I scanned for an escape. I tried a door, but it was locked. Another, also locked.
“Oh stars, save me,” I breathed.
I made random turns through the streets, hoping the Hunter would give up if I made it too complicated for him to find me.
It was a ridiculous wish. Hunters never gave up. Not if they’d detected a witch. Witches were far too valuable. Our hearts gave the Demon Lord, his part-human children, and a few of his chosen minions like the Sorcerer their immortality. And his appetite was insatiable.
I darted into a dark courtyard and looked arou
Trying to quiet my breath and pulse so I could hear my pursuer’s approach, I turned my head, listening.
Seconds ticked by. Something was dripping from the corner of the trash container, and the steady plink-plink-plink was the only noise I heard.
Maybe the Hunter was lying in wait, hiding around the corner and ready to spring on me with lightning magic and snap shackles around my wrists as soon as I appeared.
I swore silently to myself. I couldn’t go back the way I’d come, in case the Hunter saw me enter the courtyard. But maybe he knew I would try to slip out the other side and he was there instead.
On my hands and knees, I scuttled as quietly as I could over to the other side of the trash bin to the window there. Wincing in anticipation of the sound it would make if it were unlocked, I pushed up the sash. It made only a soft scraping noise. I swung a leg up and crawled through, and then tumbled with a grunt onto the floor. Tile floor, sink, and two bathroom stalls.
I let out a little sigh of relief. At least I hadn’t landed on top of a sleeping citizen. Navigating through the dark hallways, I realized I was in a butcher shop. I made my way past chiller cases and rows of glinting knives on the way to the front, and then checked the street.