Magic Currents (Cursed Angel Collection), page 7
“Well?” Lorenzo demanded.
I finally shook my head. “No, don’t kill them.”
He finished locking them up, and then straightened. Without discussing it, we set off at a much faster pace. We’d been lucky that the episode with the Hunters had occurred out of view of the boats in the Harbor, and that no one else had been around to witness it. But the Watchtower would no doubt send out more men when those six didn’t return.
I clutched my skirt with both hands, lifting it so I could move quickly. “Those discs, they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen. Not a spell, but more like a weapon. What magic was that?”
“Power bestowed directly by God to his legion, sweetie,” Lorenzo said.
I frowned. More crazy talk? The memory of the first time I’d seen him, the flash of great wings that brushed the ground, came to my mind’s eye.
“I saw . . .wings,” I said. “Was I imagining them?”
He shot me a considering look. “No, you weren’t imagining them. I’m surprised you handled the sight as you did, though. Most mortals collapse in ecstasy, and some of them never recover their wits.”
I slowed and then stopped. My mind had been skirting around a thought, an extremely farfetched possibility, and I couldn’t continue to ignore it.
He kept on for a couple steps, but turned when he realized I was no longer beside him.
My mouth had gone dry. “You’re not a warlock at all, are you?”
“Nope. Angel of the heavenly host.” He made a flowery bow.
I gaped at him for a second, and then snapped my jaw closed and swallowed hard. In some crazy way, it made more sense than Lorenzo being a warlock. There was a legend that an agent of God had been sent to The Colony as our savior centuries ago. But because the saving part had never borne out, it had remained nothing more than a fairy tale.
“We really shouldn’t linger,” he said, urging me forward.
I forced my feet into motion, and we hurried past the dump toward the estuary. I kept tossing glances his way, maybe hoping for another glimpse of his wings or some other sign of his divine origins. The cigarette dangling from his mouth and the vague scent of booze that seemed to waft from his pores were seriously interfering with my mental image of a heavenly agent of God.
“Lorenzo can’t be your true name, then,” I said. I still wasn’t completely sure I believed his claim.
“You’re right about that, sweetie. I adopted it during a brief stint in the Old World long ago. Thought it had a musical ring to it, so I kept it.”
“Are you allowed to tell me your real name?”
“Oh, no,” he said, his voice low and foreboding. “If I reveal my God-given name, winged monkey demons will shoot out of my arse and attack us. They’ll yank out our eyeballs and eat them like fat grapes.”
My eyes popped wide, but then I saw the smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth.
“It’s Cecitiel,” he said.
“You’re right,” I said. “Lorenzo is much sexier. Cecitiel sounds like the name of an ointment for treating a festering skin disease.”
He threw back his head and laughed. “You’re not so horrible for a witch,” he said, then flipped his fingers at me in a beckoning motion. “Less talk, more hurry. We need to do this before it’s full dark.”
Fending off the Hunters had delayed us, I realized as the last upper speck of sun balanced on the horizon and then disappeared.
When we reached the cliff overlooking the estuary, we were both out of breath.
Lorenzo turned to me. The planes of his face were softened in the fading twilight, and his expression was as serious as I’d ever seen it. “Time to steel yourself, missy. You must capture the serpent that guards Black Rock, or this whole thing will be for naught. If you fail, your girls will die, your people will remain under the curse, and I’ll have to wait for another water witch to come along. Oh, and you’ll probably be dead, too.”
I shot him a dark glare. But my heart lurched in my chest and my rib cage suddenly felt too tight for my lungs. I looked out at Black Rock, now only a dark mass protruding from the sea’s surface. Pressing my fears aside, I clutched at a thread of determination. I didn’t truly know what awaited me out there, only that I had to find a way to defeat it.
“ANY ADVICE?” I asked Lorenzo’s back. He’d turned to give me some privacy so I could undress. “The last water witch obviously survived this step. Do you remember anything from then?” I stood shivering as much from nervous anticipation as the chill in the air.
“She knocked the creature out and stole one of its incisors, which contained a bit of the venom,” he said. “I wasn’t there with her, so I don’t know exactly how she did it.”
“Gee, that’s helpful,” I said sarcastically. But then a new thought took hold. I frowned. “So, could I just kill it and bring it back here?”
He shifted his weight, his irritation obvious even from behind. “God no, don’t kill it! If you do that, the venom will dissipate and then we’ll be fecked.” He muttered a few more curses under his breath.
Great. I had to get a sample of venom without mortally wounding the creature, or dying myself.
I sighed loudly. “You could have been better prepared for this, you know. Maybe come up with something to aid me. You certainly had the time to think about it.”
“You have the skills you need,” he said irritably. “Unless you’re not the witch I was looking for. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t matter anyway. You’ll be dead and I’ll be back to biding my time for who knows how long on this God-cursed island.”
Anger bubbled hotly through me. I planted my hands on my bare hips, glaring at the back of his head. “You know what? You’re a real horse’s arse.”
Rather than wait for a response, I reached for my magic and formed a swell of water in the estuary. I took a few running steps and then hurled myself over the edge of the cliff in a swan dive. The water rose to meet me, easing the impact, but the shock of the cold liquid on my skin stole my breath.
I surfaced as the swell of water lowered me to sea level and sucked in a lungful of air. My body temperature and that of the ocean were already mingling in that curious way that kept me from getting too cold. I glanced up to see Lorenzo peering over the edge at me.
He raised a hand. “Good luck!”
I made a scoffing noise. “Thanks again for your help,” I said sarcastically, probably not loud enough for him to hear.
Ignoring him, I treaded water and turned my attention to my magic, slowly releasing it into the water that surrounded me. With my eyes closed, I focused my power on creating a gentle current that would carry me out of the estuary and into the open sea. When I raised my eyelids, I was already moving. I shifted my position so I could start an easy breast stroke, accelerated by the movement of the current.
At the mouth of the estuary, the ocean’s riptide began to overwhelm the current I’d created. I pushed more magic for a moment, fighting it, but then realized I shouldn’t struggle and deplete myself. I needed to save my energy for the task ahead.
My pulse thumped with exertion and nerves as I let the riptide begin sweeping me to the left. Maintaining a weak magical current so I didn’t get too far off course, I watched Black Rock in the distance, using its position to keep me oriented.
The vague dark mass of the blood mist—a wall of it that enclosed The Colony—hovered like dense fog not far off.
I’d never been out in the open sea before, and the vastness of it was dizzying, even with the barrier of the blood mist. The tightness of alarm began to clutch at my chest. I forced steady breaths, trying to focus on peaceful thoughts. An all-out panic could be deadly.
“Keep your wits, Victoria,” I said aloud. “Witches have faced much worse than this.”
After a few minutes, the riptide began to lose some of its energy. I pushed more magic, strengthening my own current in the water, and resumed my breast stroke. Concentrating
My affinity for water allowed me to sense the movement of the creatures below, and I kept alert for any big ones that might be curious about me. Tentatively, I reached out with my senses toward Black Rock, searching for the sea serpent.
At first I sensed only the usual creatures—schools of fish, a shy octopus, small reef sharks, and many others. I started to wonder if Lorenzo was wrong, if maybe the sea serpent had died or moved to a new location in the years since the last witch took a bit of its venom.
But then the sea floor at the base of Black Rock began to shift. I probed curiously. After a moment, I detected the life within the movement. My magic stuttered and my heart stalled.
The creature was enormous. So big, it curled clear around the craggy island.
“Oh God, save me,” I whispered. My words ended with a burble as I sank up to my nose in the water.
I hastily reached for magic and renewed the current that helped keep me afloat. Coughing and sputtering, I cleared inhaled seawater from my throat, and then pulled my legs up and wrapped my arms around my shins. I bobbed there like a ball for a second, keeping my head up with magic.
The serpent was still a quarter of a mile off, but even being this close made me want to fold in on myself. I had a whole new respect for the water witch who’d come before me.
Shakily summoning up my courage, I forced myself to sense the creature more strongly, trying to discern whether it was aware of me. Oh shells, it was impossibly huge. But it seemed to have only been changing position, resettling itself around Black Rock.
I thought about turning back. If I died out there trying to get venom from that creature, Chelle and the others would be left to fend for themselves. Six girls on the verge of magic and womanhood, but not old enough to provide for themselves. Not yet experienced enough to be able to control their magic after it came in.
I could go back to the estuary, tell Lorenzo I couldn’t take this risk, and return to my responsibilities.
Or I could forge ahead and take the next step toward breaking the curse of the Watchtower.
I treaded water for a moment, summoning up old memories. Before a warlock had bound a spell to me, concealing my magic, I’d had dream-visions of snakes that danced at my bidding. But not just visions.
When I was younger, I’d once come across a small, pale green garden snake in the courtyard of the building where I lived with my mother. Curious, I’d crouched a few feet away and watched it, transfixed by the way it moved without the benefit of any legs. Its tiny red strip of a tongue darted in and out of its mouth. I tried it, too, pretending I was tasting the air like a snake. The creature seemed to notice me, and it slithered my way.
I remembered feeling delighted, as if the attention of the snake was something I’d hoped for. It faced me, lifting its head off the ground. Without conscious thought of doing it, I found myself swaying back and forth on my haunches. The snake watched me, and began to mirror my movements. I grinned and nodded, and the snake bobbed its head, too.
I was just about to see if I could get the snake to twirl in circles when my mother’s voice startled me. I rose and turned as she rushed outside with a broom, using it to chase the snake out of the courtyard. Then she grabbed my upper arm in that way parents do when a child is in trouble, and marched me inside.
She’d been angry, but also scared. As she lectured me about the dangers of snakes, I kept trying to tell her that the snake was friendly. I tried to explain how it imitated me, and how it was like a game. But she kept cutting me off, threatening to spank me if she ever caught me trying to play with a snake again. It stuck out in my mind because it was extreme. My mother had never struck me, whether after a threat or otherwise.
Now, I thought about that little snake in the courtyard and the dancing visions of serpents curling in figure eight patterns at my command. Lorenzo believed I was the witch who could tame the sea serpent. Through the fear, something deep inside me agreed with him. I took a breath, centered myself, and set off again toward Black Rock.
When I’d covered half the remaining distance, the great creature moved. I kept my senses trained on it, and I felt the second its attention swung my way. My heart stuttered, and I slowed my advance. Intensifying my focus, I tried to send friendly vibes to the giant snake.
“We have a connection, you see?” I said quietly, in as soothing a voice as I could manage.
There was barely enough light in the sky to make out the details of Black Rock, but I could see the movements of the perenties, the eight-foot-long carnivorous lizards that lived on the stony crag. Maybe it was my imagination or a trick of my eyes, but it seemed as if they’d noticed my approach, too, and were gathering on the face of the island closest to me. One thing was sure: if things went sideways with the serpent, Black Rock would not offer me safety.
I swallowed hard and concentrated on the movements of the sea serpent. Its head was aimed my direction. Suddenly, two huge orbs of blue-green lit up under the surface of the water. I gasped, sucking in a spray of salty water. Spitting and sputtering, I stared at the lights. There was a dark spot in the center of each sphere. Eyes. Then blue-green light began to ripple like lightning, trailing away from the eyes and curving around the island and out of sight. The hypnotic waves of bioluminescence pulsed, illuminating the creature’s spine.
I treaded water, watching with growing apprehension. The display seemed the type of thing a creature would use to distract its prey just before striking.
Oh shells, I should have stayed on dry land. At the very least, I should have made some sort of plan before just flinging myself into the sea on Lorenzo’s direction. Damn warlock. Or angel. Whatever. He didn’t have to worry about being swallowed by some prehistoric, oversized terror of the sea.
The creature was moving. The orbs were coming toward me.
I began to panic, momentarily forgetting water magic, and pushed the water away with my hands as I fruitlessly tried to backpedal.
“No!” I hollered. “I just need venom!”
It was riding just under the water now, streaming toward me.
I screamed as the orbs broke the surface, and I grappled for my magic. The huge head reared up in front of me, the mouth stretching wide. The bioluminescent flashes were speeding up now, giving me a clear, terrifying view of the rows of needle-like teeth.
With another shriek, I pushed magic with as much force as I could summon. A water current punched against me, sweeping me to one side and just out of the way of the serpent’s strike. It splashed down, sending up a giant spray that rained onto me. I redirected the current that carried me, trying to move around to the spot behind the creature’s eyes. There were ridges along its head that I might use for handholds. There, I’d be safe from those teeth, as long as I could hang on.
The creature was too big to be very agile, but it swung around and darted at me for another strike with surprising speed. Its head breached like a whale. With my heart in my throat, I once again evaded its yawning mouth.
The water was churning with the serpent’s efforts, and I was starting to tire. I so rarely got to use my magic, I’d never had the opportunity to build up much endurance. It was a small miracle I’d had enough command of my abilities to survive the past few minutes.
I tensed for another attack, my eyes glued to the glowing spheres. Instead of coming straight for me, the serpent swept wide, away from Black Rock. I watched, confused as it turned. The long body curved back around, forming a half circle around me.
It was going to try to trap me.
“Shells,” I breathed, feeling the blood drain from my face.
I reached for magic, and created a strong current directly below my feet. When a column of water lifted me, my head sank under for a moment. I kicked hard to push myself up to the top. The serpent was circling furiously now, much swifter than I would have expected it to be able to. My magic fought against the vortex its huge body was creating. I had to
It was already starting to rotate the column of water that hoisted me above sea level. I swept my arms out, turning and frantically searching for a place of safety. The serpent swam faster and faster, its tail almost touching its nose as it worked to pull me back down.
I was weakening. The only land within reach was Black Rock.
Without warning, the sea serpent stopped its circling. My pillar of water shot up with nothing pulling against it, and I kicked and paddled, struggling to stay upright and keep my head above the surface. The giant snake was repositioning itself directly below me.
It coiled, and my breath stilled as everything seemed to pause. Then it sprang upward, its head darting straight toward my feet.
WITH NO TIME to think through my actions, I frantically shoved as much magic as I could muster into the water. The force of my power pushed me sideways, I hoped far enough from the serpent’s jaws. The energy of the creature’s attack helped me, increasing the momentum of my magic.
Riding the top of the water column and barely managing to hold it in place, I swung wildly. The glowing serpent splashed down into the sea, but wasted no time coming back at me. Turning and breaching again, it curved its giant body over to snap at me. Its mouth glowed with the bioluminescence that was still streaking down its spine. It was so close, I could see the space where a tooth was missing. The tooth the other water witch had somehow taken.
I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world she’d managed to extract one of the teeth, but I didn’t have time to ponder it. The water had turned to a chaos of currents, churning violently, and I was losing strength. When the serpent darted at me again, I had just enough power left to push back out of its reach.