Cathbad the Druid doth bind Queen Medb
By vow thus struck with blood and blade
Birth afore death and death afore birth
The last shalt rise afore the first
That by fair child of Findabair
Medb queens shalt rule the tower lair
Twenty score years and sixty six days
Not one more breath shalt they take
Until such time the beast doth rise
Of ancient blood and flame green eyes
And bring to power a queen once more
Immortal to rule as none afore.
Prophecy of Cathbad the Druid
â€œAnswer me or accept death,â€ a female demanded.
The smooth texture of her voice was familiar to him, but not the dangerous edge in her tone. Storm floated in a timeless cocoon of peaceful darkness, content to stay here if not for that disturbing ultimatum.
â€œThis is your last chance,â€ she snapped at him, fury powering her words. â€œI would never have thought you a coward when it came to facing pain, Storm. Speak now or prepare for eternity.â€
Time. Pain. Death.
Understanding crept into his wavering consciousness. He focused on his body, or lack of one now that he identified this murky sensation as being suspended between life and death. He’d been here once years ago, as a teen.
Threads of awareness pulled together, weaving a tapestry until an image formed of the woman speaking. Kai.
Storm forced his heavy eyelids open to find her. His guardian spirit sat with crossed legs, surrounded by her favorite meadow, where he always met her. He sat in the same position across from her. Acres of wildflowers swayed gently in a soft breeze that swirled with the fresh scent of outdoors. Sunshine blazed overhead, showering golden light across Kai’s honey-colored skin and coal black hair that fell past her waist, sliding over the butter-soft deerskin dress. Not the old crone form she sometimes took. He preferred this younger Kai.
Still fighting his way through a haze of confusion, Storm found comfort in seeing the native Southwestern blanket she used as a shawl. The colors of a sunset woven in the wrap reminded him of one he owned.
His thoughts bumped into each other, knocking loose a memory here and there. Such as, that this realm was always a sanctuary, a welcoming place.
It didn’t feel like that now.
Kai existed only in the spirit world. Storm didn’t recall initiating this visit. That was not normal. Something had happened to him, to his physical body.
He wasn’t here by choice.
She folded her delicate arms. Worry lingered in her doe-brown eyes. â€œI have given you all the time I can.â€
Though simple, her words were weighted with a finality that washed away the last of his mental fog. He asked, â€œAm I dying?â€
â€œBut I have a choice?â€
â€œPerhaps,â€ she amended.
Less good. â€œHow damaged is my physical body?â€
â€œYour human form is close to expiring. I have fought to prevent your spirit from crossing over for three weeks, but–â€
â€œThree weeks? Am I in a coma?â€
â€œYou were, but no longer.â€
He searched his mind, poking at dark corners to open doors to his past. Nobody wanted to die, but he had a strong sense that he had a duty to stay alive, odd as that sounded. Why? â€œWhat happened to me?â€
â€œYou were attacked, mortally injured. Your spirit burst into my realm, pleading for me to keep you alive, shouting why you must return to the human world. It has been a battle to grant your wish to this point.â€
Images sheared past the inside of his eyes. His body crashing into a brick wall. Bones shattering. Internal organs exploding from the force.
But not in his human form.
He’d been a black jaguar.
Strange. He’d refused to shift into a jaguar for many years. Why now?
A new image surfaced. Glowing green eyes on a woman who sent his senses into overdrive. An Alterant.
He’d used his Skinwalker gift to shift into animal form for Evalle. To help her find other Alterants…before Sen came to take her…to the Tribunal trial. Sen. Liaison to VIPER.
More images. Sen grabbing Evalle. Storm leaping at Sen.
Sen attacking, wielding kinetic power. Slamming Storm into the brick.
A heart-breaking last look at Evalle’s horrified face. One brief rush of her emotions across his empathic senses… Desperation. Misery. Had the tribunal locked her away forever? He had to find her.
One thing at a time. First he had to live.
He nodded, letting Kai know his memory had begun to surface. â€œWhere’s my body?â€
â€œSafe and hidden.â€
â€œHow did you manage that?â€ He didn’t think a guardian spirit could physically move bodies around in the human world.
â€œI shielded your body from view until I could find help. Then I called upon one you trust. She moved your body to a place where she could tend your wounds. She has kept you alive, but you are not fully healed and now your body is weakening by the hour.â€
Evalle would be frantic about his dying, but if she was taking care of him that meant she had walked free from the Tribunal. Finally, something positive. â€œBut I still have the choice to live?â€
â€œYou have the choice to go back. Living will depend upon whether your Skinwalker gifts can complete your healing. If you choose to return, you must do so now.â€
â€œThere is no if. I have to go back.â€ He paused, to figure out exactly why he absolutely had to return. To fulfill a task, no, a commitment he’d made. â€œSomething…about Evalle, right?â€
â€œYes, you had dreams that the Ashaninka witch doctor who searches for you has followed you to Atlanta and intends to harm her.â€
That’s right. The bitch who’d killed his father back in South America. His last dreams had shown her threatening Evalle.
Everything rushed back to him with a vengeance.
He would not let that insane bitch touch Evalle. â€œCan the witch doctor find my body where it’s hidden?â€
Relief shoved his worry aside. With Evalle tending his physical body she would be safe until he returned. She’d been watching over him for three weeks? With her so close he was ready to leap back into his body. He missed her in a way he never thought he’d feel about a woman again.
Missed kissing her. Watching her emotions flare. He’d do whatever it took to return. But Kai had said his body was close to expiring.
He asked, â€œWhy haven’t I healed in three weeks?â€
â€œYou haven’t been lucid once in that time so you could draw on your gifts to heal yourself. Taking you to any type of hospital–â€
â€œWould have been dangerous for me,â€ he finished. Because he could have shifted back and forth between human and jaguar form while he had no control over his body.
â€œYes. If you had not remained on the edge of crossing over for so long, you would have regained consciousness and started healing by now. As it is, the woman has done all she can. You must return to your body or you will not survive.â€
â€œWhy didn’t you call me back sooner?â€
She angled her chin to one side and frowned. Clouds appeared, blotting out the sun and draping her meadow in dark shadows, a sign he’d annoyed Kai.
He held up his hand and humbled his tone. â€œI meant no insult and certainly no criticism. I just wondered why I spent so much time suspended between life and death when it sounds as though I should have returned days ago.â€
She relaxed, clearly comprehending his confusion. As the sun shined again, she explained, â€œYou have forgotten our many conversations over these weeks. Every time you disappeared I pleaded, yelled, threatened, anything I could think of to call you back from the edge. Your spirit weakened and slipped further from my hold every day. Had you not answered this time…I would not have been able to keep your spirit from leaving.â€
His blood chilled at how close he’d been to losing any chance of returning. â€œThank you for fighting for me.â€
She nodded. â€œI will always be here for you.â€
â€œI should get going. Can I return on my own?â€
â€œNot this time. I’ll send you, but you must prepare yourself for the pain.â€
â€œI hope so. And regardless of your physical torment, temper your words. She has been most patient.â€
Not even pain could make him speak harshly to Evalle. He disregarded the warning and joked, â€œThat’s saying something since patience doesn’t come naturally to Evalle.â€
â€œEvalle?â€ Kai’s soft black eyebrows lifted in question.
â€œIsn’t that who you contacted?â€
â€œYou did ask me to go to her first, but I could not find her.â€
â€œThen who did–â€
Kai’s eyes flashed with fear. â€œYou must go now, Storm. Your heart is stopping.â€
In the next seconds everything in the meadow blurred into a wash of color and sound as if someone had flushed the world.
He knew the minute he re-entered his body.
Agony ripped through him.
A fist slammed his chest, with supernatural force behind it. Someone shouted at him. Cursed him. Heat roared across his skin. Nerves caught fire with renewed life, flooding pain everywhere. Perspiration streamed across his face.
His heart beat. Again. The thud echoed in his ears every painful time blood pumped through the battered organ.
He grabbed at his chest, struggling to draw a breath. Jagged claws ripped through his insides. His backbone wrenched forward as he curled into a ball of misery. Another cramp tightened his chest muscles, squeezing a guttural moan from his dry throat.
Had he really wanted to return to this? Every nerve in his body screamed.
Finally, slowly, the pain in his chest subsided to a throbbing ache, enough for him to draw a ragged breath and hear someone near him.
A soft voice chanted words that made no sense.
Long moments later, he uncurled until he sagged into the soft bed and let his arms fall to his sides. He licked his dry lips and tried to swallow, but couldn’t draw a spit of saliva.
Opening his eyes, he found the answer to the question he’d been trying to ask Kai.
The woman standing next to him was definitely not Evalle Kincaid.
Adrianna Lafontaine’s arms stretched out over his chest, hands turned up, eyes closed and lips moving as words danced off her tart-pink lips. Barely five feet tall with silky blond hair and a robust shape packed into that small frame, the Sterling witch turned heads everywhere she went.
But she wasn’t Evalle.
He suffered a wave of disappointment almost as crushing as the pain racking his body. Kai had said she’d found someone he trusted. That was a helluva stretch, but he did have to admit he was alive, and safe at the moment, thanks to this witch.
When Adrianna finished her chant, she opened her eyes and looked down at him. â€œYou decided to come back?â€
He croaked out something that should have been yes.
She disappeared from sight then returned with a plastic bottle of water, lifting his head to let a few trickles fall into his mouth before she laid him back down. â€œI’ve pulled out every trick I know, but I’ve reached my limit, Storm.â€
â€œI know.â€ He tried to look past her to see where he was, but the only light in the chilly dark room was the faint glow from a lamp near his head. He managed to get out, â€œWhere am I?â€
â€œAn underground space in Decatur I convinced someone to offer me, then to forget he’d done so once I got you inside.â€
She meant she’d used a spell or some other ability.
Over the next couple of breaths, he closed his eyes and searched inside himself for the power of his jaguar, relieved when he felt his animal presence stir to life. With a concerted effort, he forced energy to spread through his chest and limbs, flinching every time the energy struck damage. He had no idea how long he’d laid there, focused on the healing process, until he expelled a long sigh and paused to rest.
He blinked his eyes open, looking around. â€œAdrianna?â€
She stepped into view and gave him another tiny drink of water. That’s when he took in the unkempt look of her jeans and sweatshirt. Not her usual fashion statement.
Storm said, â€œThank you for all of this.â€
Sterling witches rarely did anything without some form of compensation. He owed her and he paid his debts. â€œI’ll return the favor when you need it.â€
â€œI know.â€ Confidence had never been an issue for Adrianna.
â€œWho knows I’m here?â€
â€œI told no one. I figured you wouldn’t want anyone to know where you were since I doubt your guardian would have reached out to a Sterling witch if she’d had another option.â€
Adrianna made that valid point without any note of insult in her voice, just stating the facts. Spirits of the light, such as Kai, generally did not interact with witches who dealt in the dark arts. He still had one pressing question. â€œDo you know what happened at Evalle’s Tribunal trial?â€
â€œThey released her the next day.â€
His sore lungs relaxed, expelling the breath he’d been holding. So she was free. â€œShe knows I’m alive, right?â€
â€œI doubt it.â€
â€œYou didn’t tell her?â€
â€œI took a leave from the agency. I’ve been here with you for three weeks.â€
Storm lifted his hand to hold his forehead. â€œYou should have told Evalle. She’ll be worried.â€
â€œLet’s get this straight.â€ Adrianna put a hand down on the bed when she leaned in close, smoldering blue eyes turned dark with warning. â€œI’m Switzerland when it comes to you, Evalle, VIPER and anything else. I have my own set of problems that I’ve put on hold while I played nurse. Your love life is the least of my concerns. Are we clear?â€
Kai’s warning to temper his words stopped him from snarling. He didn’t see how hard it would have been to have called Evalle and eased her mind, but he wouldn’t unload his frustration on Adrianna. â€œI understand. I appreciate what you’ve done–â€
â€œI’m sure you do and I want you to remember that when I call in this marker.â€
Could she be as coldly calculating as she sounded when she’d spent three weeks caring for him?
His empathic senses roared back to life, detecting the determination of a war strategist. She had a goal of some sort–one that mattered as much to her as him protecting Evalle from the South American witch doctor. He was sure of it.
Speaking of Evalle, he asked, â€œCan you contact her for me?â€
â€œI don’t have a cell phone and I’m not about to go hunt down that Alterant.â€
â€œI told you, I’m not getting involved. I have no desire to be stuck explaining to Evalle why I’m the only one who knows how you’re doing or where you’ve been for almost a month.â€ She gave a wry chuckle. â€œGood luck with that.â€
â€œEvalle will understand.â€
â€œIf you really believe that, you’re not as bright as I gave you credit for.â€
Did he have a reason for concern? Evalle tolerated Adrianna at best, but he’d never shown an interest in the witch. But now that he thought about it, he recalled how Evalle had suffered a few flashes of jealousy around Adrianna in the past.
The simplest thing would be to avoid mentioning that Adrianna had been here all this time. That might work if not for his Ashaninka ability to detect a lie, which came with a counter side–he suffered serious pain if he lied.
A gift that Evalle knew all about.
He was too exhausted to think on that at the moment. He needed to focus on healing fast and regaining his strength so he could get out of this bed. Right now, he’d have a hard time lifting the bottle of water on his own. â€œI’ll find her in a couple of days. What day is it anyhow?â€
â€œLast Thursday in September. Think you’ll be fully recovered that fast?â€
No, but in a couple days he’d just have to suck it up enough to get behind the wheel of his Explorer. â€œI’ll manage.â€
â€œFrom what I hear, Evalle’s not the only woman waiting for you to call her back, Casanova.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œI hear there’s a female with a Spanish accent asking around about you.â€
â€œWhat the–where’d you hear that?â€ He’d told no one, except Evalle, about the Ashaninka witch doctor. She’d never say a word.
â€œFrom a Nightstalker. I heard about her while I was searching for intel for VIPER the week before you got hurt.â€
â€œYou trade for information on her?â€ he asked. The old ghoul Nightstalkers could take ten minutes of human form if they shook hands with someone who possessed powers.
â€œNo. The Nightstalker tried to cut a second deal for intel on a woman with powers from South America who was interested in a Skinwalker called Storm who could shift into a jaguar.â€ Adrianna paused and looked straight at him. â€œI wasn’t aware of any Skinwalkers…then.â€
Adrianna knowing about his jaguar form wasn’t a problem, but Storm had kept that information from Sen who had brought him in as a tracker for VIPER, an agency that protected humans from supernatural threats. Sen’s real purpose had been for Storm to catch Evalle in a lie, to get her booted from the team or locked up, but Storm had decided to help Evalle instead.
The question now was if Sen had known the black jaguar he’d crushed against that brick wall had been Storm. Had he meant to kill me? A bigger concern shoved forward.
If Sen found out about the witch doctor, he’d have the perfect anonymous weapon for getting rid of Evalle–permanently. He’d just have to point the bitch in Evalle’s direction.
And nobody–not even the Tribunal–would be able to prove that Sen had orchestrated the death of an innocent woman.
Evalle looked up from her menu, expecting to see the tall waitress with blunt-cut purple hair and tattoos for sleeves…not a pissed-off Celtic goddess with the power to destroy everything in sight.
â€œHello, Macha.â€ Evalle mustered the calmest voice she could, considering how much trouble she might be in. Macha wanted information Evalle didn’t have. Facts about Alterants like her…beings who were part Belador and part unknown.
As an ancient race who appeared human, Beladors shared unusual gifts like kinetic and telepathic powers. Since they all belonged to Macha’s pantheon, they weren’t a concern. It was that unknown part of Evalle’s blood that labeled her Alterant, an outcast among her own people, that bothered Macha. The goddess wanted to know what caused someone like Evalle to shift into a beast with exceptional powers, even beyond those of normal Beladors, when Evalle otherwise appeared human like the rest of the Belador tribe.
Well, except for glowing green eyes. The dark sunglasses she wore day and night shielded that little oddity.
Macha arched a graceful, yet deadly, eyebrow at her. A cool September breeze ruffled the goddess’s waist-length waves of auburn hair. Her gown shimmered with colors stolen from an Aurora Borealis. â€œI have allowed you three weeks.â€
Evalle had known this day was coming, but not so soon.
Something must have happened to instigate this unwelcome early visit.
She cast a quick glance around the upper deck of Six Feet Under, her favorite restaurant in downtown Atlanta. A few people had given Evalle’s dark eyewear a second look when she’d walked in after sundown, but none of this Friday night crowd seemed to notice the gorgeous, glowing female deity.
Macha must be cloaking her appearance and voice.
Think the humans would notice if Macha turned me into a ball of flames? Probably not. They’d just chalk it up to another unexplained incident of spontaneous combustion.
Evalle dug out a Bluetooth earpiece she’d found in a parking lot. Clipping on the inactive communication device provided her the perfect cover for conversing with an invisible person. â€œI know you’ve been patient–â€
Macha’s glare returned with full force. â€œWhat gave you the ridiculous idea that I’m patient? I had you freed from the Tribunal prison based upon your agreement to investigate, and deliver, the origin of Alterants. Have you forgotten?â€
Let me think about this. No, I generally remember deals made with deities. Sarcasm would only get her toasted. Literally. Evalle explained, â€œI’ve been trying to–â€
â€œI know what you have not accomplished, such as bringing Tristan in to swear loyalty to me and the Beladors. You said that Alterant would provide significant details about your kind. Where is he?â€
â€œI don’t know…yet.â€ The night Evalle agreed to the deal with Macha, Evalle had been facing imprisonment for the rest of her life, for crimes she had not committed. Who wouldn’t jump to make a deal for freedom at that point? And she’d been sure Tristan would agree, since he and his sister were on the run from VIPER as escaped fugitives. But after three weeks of calling out to him telepathically Evalle hadn’t heard so much as a whisper in response.
â€œPerhaps I was hasty in getting you released.â€
â€œNo, you weren’t.â€ Evalle couldn’t afford for Macha to change her mind and end Evalle’s hope for true freedom. â€œThe VIPER teams need every able body in Atlanta right now, which is why I haven’t had time to hunt down Tristan. You told me I had to fulfill my Belador duties with VIPER. We’ve all been running constantly because of this outbreak of gang wars.â€
Macha waved a hand in dismissal at the mention. Belador warriors, who lived secretly among the human population, made up the bulk of VIPER assets. Macha’s derisive tone left no doubt about where Evalle’s other commitments fell on the goddess’s list of concerns.
â€œGang wars are a human problem.â€
â€œNot this time,â€ Evalle explained. â€œWe’ve found trolls involved with the gangs.â€ She checked to see if anyone watched her talking, but no one seemed to notice. People flowed around them the way water avoided a rock in a stream.
â€œYour first priority is your warrior queen when her safety is in question.â€
That snapped Evalle’s attention back to Macha. â€œHas something happened to Brina?â€ As goddess over the Beladors, Macha’s first concern was Brina of Treoir, the last living descendant. Beladors powers depended upon a Treoir alive and residing inside the castle on Treoir Island.
â€œThe answer to that should be obvious since you’re breathing.â€
Macha would never be known as the nurturing goddess.
Evalle asked, â€œBut Brina’s not under immediate threat, right?â€
â€œYou don’t think so? As of now, you are still the only Alterant who has sworn fealty to me and the Beladors, in spite of the sanctuary I offered to all who will.â€ Macha’s tone sharpened, making it clear that she considered the lack of Alterants coming forward to be an insult. â€œTristan and his group of beasts remain at large, not to mention any other Alterants we haven’t located. With so many beasts and that traitor O’Meary unaccounted for, of course Brina is under immediate threat.â€
Evalle flinched at Alterants being called beasts. She hated that term almost as much as she hated the unknown blood that gave her the bright green eyes and the urge to change into a monster when threatened.
As for the Belador warrior queen, Brina should be safe in her warded castle on Treoir Isle, hidden in a mist above the Irish Sea. But Evalle caught the shift in Macha’s demeanor, the chill in her tone when she mentioned the Belador traitor, Conlan O’Meary. She frowned. â€œI don’t see how Alterants are connected to the traitor.â€
Macha’s luminous blue eyes turned to flint. Furious energy whipped across Evalle’s skin, singeing fine hairs along her arms. â€œI’ll speak slowly so I don’t have to repeat myself. The traitor is working with the Medb coven. You claimed the Medb intend to use Alterants to invade Treoir Island and attack Brina. Even you should be able to connect those dots without paper and pen.â€
Evalle wiped a damp palm on her jeans and bit back a retort. Three weeks ago, she’d been locked in a prison with no hope of escape because she couldn’t bring herself to hand over other innocent Alterants and condemn them to the same fate. She owed Macha for her freedom and for giving her a chance to prove Alterants were not mindless animals and deserved to be a recognized race.
She also didn’t want to be turned into a charcoal briquette. â€œI see your point and with a little more time–â€
â€œNeither of us has the luxury of time, especially you. An Alterant has killed one of Dakkar’s bounty hunters. He filed a grievance with the Tribunal, demanding justice and compensation.â€
On a scale of bad news, that slammed the top. Dakkar ran a bounty hunting operation that VIPER allowed to function as long as Dakkar performed the occasional bounty job for VIPER. But he could be wrong about fingering an Alterant for the killing since RÃas were humans who also shifted to beast state, and the RÃas she’d witnessed had slaughtered without thought.
Evalle asked, â€œIs Dakkar sure an Alterant killed his bounty hunter? Could have been a RÃas. Their eyes–â€
â€œYes, yes, I had a report about RÃas eyes appearing human in color instead of bright green like yours, but I doubt the dead bounty hunter was able to report the beast’s eye color,â€ Macha finished with dry sarcasm.
Evalle started to point out the differences didn’t stop at eye color alone, because she could control her beast when shifted and so could Tristan. But she wasn’t allowed to shift and, with the exception of two RÃas that Tristan had trained, the other RÃas she knew of were mindless beasts when they changed forms, immediately mauling and killing any humans within reach. To some, all beasts looked alike.
Macha added, â€œUntil you supply information to differentiate the two, a RÃas is simply another version of an Alterant.â€
Evalle had no argument when she couldn’t clearly establish the origin of her own kind. â€œSo what happens now with Dakkar?â€
â€œA hearing is scheduled for day after tomorrow to decide who is responsible to him for compensation and what Dakkar should receive. Deliver me Tristan and his information by the time I return from that meeting or I will withdraw my support for Alterants to become a recognized race.â€
The goddess disappeared in a flash of blue and pink light.
Evalle hadn’t found Tristan in three weeks. What was the chance of finding him in less than two days?
Even less chance if she didn’t get something to eat soon. The smell of fried fish saturated the air and brought on another round of grumbling from her stomach. She lifted a hand to wave over the waitress and order something to go when she felt Belador power blast into her mind.
The telepathic voice of Tzader Burke, Maistir of the North American Belador warriors yelled, Calling in Beladors! Gang war going down in Oakland Cemetery.
The upper deck of Six Feet Under overlooked Oakland Cemetery.
At Tzader’s call to arms, Evalle threw cash on the table for her drink and hurried down the stairs, then took off running across Memorial Drive. All Beladors in the area would rush to aid their Maistir, but Tzader was her best friend. She ran hard to protect his back.
She called to Tzader, I’m coming from across the street. Where’re you, Z?
East end. Potter’s Field near Boulevard.
That narrowed down the forty-eight acre landmark. Oakland was the seventh cemetery in the metropolitan area to be turned into a battleground this week.
Gangs had little respect for the living or the dead, but this level of hostility among so many at one time was unprecedented in Atlanta. Why all these throwdowns now?
And why were trolls all of a sudden infiltrating gangs?
Someone at VIPER had suggested this might be connected to the troll crimes that Belador teams had been investigating in Savannah. That some of those trolls had splintered off to create their own gangs here, but that still didn’t explain why they were battling in cemeteries or why every attack involved members of multiple gangs. It didn’t make sense.
She found a shadowy spot along the sidewalk where no humans could see her use kinetics. Bending her knees, she vaulted over the shoulder-high brick wall into six acres that had been part of the original cemetery established in 1850. Now she could tap into her Belador speed to cover the half-mile run through a moonless black night.
Tzader added, This is bad. Must be seventy of them out here…something’s not right.
There’s– His voice cut off and withdrew from her mind as if sucked out.
She ran faster, ignoring the thump of worry pounding her chest at the sudden loss of connection.
She told herself that something had taken Tzader’s attention, not his life. Darting between tall marble statues and elegant grave markers, she navigated through pitch dark easily with her natural night vision where the world looked like daylight rendered in shades of blue-gray, even with sunglasses.
As she watched for any threat, it hit her that there were no signs of the usual spirit activity in the burial grounds. Not even an orb. That was just weird.
Her fingers curled, ready for a fight, but she couldn’t use her powers or her dagger that carried a death spell.
Not on humans.
Gunshots cracked the silence, sharp pops then the boom, boom, boom of a higher caliber weapon.
The acrid smell of blood clung to the wind.
Evalle slowed as she neared the battle. Racing in blind would risk distracting another Belador. Especially if any of them had linked their powers, which multiplied their strength. When linked, Beladors were a near undefeatable force.
But kill one Belador while they were linked and they all died.
Evalle called to Tzader, I’m here and opening up to link.
His voice shouted telepathically to all Beladors in the cemetery. Link now with Evalle to share her night vision.
Eleven hits of power bombarded her from every direction.
She staggered against the initial linking, then found her footing and stepped into the open space where Beladors fought hand-to-hand with humans. Looked like a hundred in battle.
At least now the Beladors would have the advantage of seeing in the dark.
A twenty-ish male wearing blue and white colors of the Ice Blood Posse rocketed out of nowhere, slashing a wicked knife in a quick horizontal arc at her throat.
She bent backwards as the blade tip passed below her chin.
The lack of contact threw her attacker off balance.
Evalle spun forward, planting a foot for support and kicked the ganger against an oak tree as big around as a fifty-gallon barrel.
His body slammed the trunk, but he shook his head.
She’d promised Tzader she’d show restraint after putting a gang leader in traction yesterday…and that had been without tapping her Belador powers. That murdering bastard deserved death for killing a young girl he’d raped and beaten.
Too bad his punishment fell to the legal system or she’d have saved the taxpayers some money.
Shots fired from her left.
With the cover of darkness, she risked shoving a field of energy up to stop the bullets as she turned toward the shooter. Fortunately, he was too far away to see the bullets bounce off the invisible wall of power. She couldn’t use her kinetics to harm a human, but she could protect herself and others, especially if she didn’t expose her unusual abilities.
She sent a mild wave of energy across the field, knocking the shooter backwards off his feet. His weapon fell loose then…flew up to rest in the nearest tree.
Two wrestling bodies bumped into her.
She wheeled around, expecting to crack a couple more heads when one of the men started changing. His head stretched in two hideous directions and his mouth widened, accommodating fangs.
This just turned way worse than a gang war.
She called out to Tzader, We got a RÃas shifting in the open area.
Tzader called back, RÃas? Not an Alterant?
Yep. No bright green eyes. His are natural looking.
Get him away from the humans.
Then another voice came into her mind. Evalle, Tristan here.
Tristan called her now?
Before she could answer him, Tzader ordered, Get the beast to chase you. Don’t engage him until I tell you.
Evalle? Tristan said louder in her head.
Power surged through her mind when Tzader started shouting orders telepathically to all the Beladors.
Evalle shook her fist at Tristan’s sucky timing, but she had to wait for Tzader to finish before she could shield her mind to communicate with only one person. The safety of her fellow Beladors came first. Nine Beladors had died last year while linked when the Alterant they fought killed one of them. Which is one reason Evalle’s freedom had been threatened. Those in power questioned whether she might lose control and also harm humans or other beings.
Like the one shifting before her. Unlike the two RÃas Tristan had trained, this one showed no signs of restraint.
Which meant it would eat the human it had by the arm.
She ripped the gang member from the beast’s grasp and tossed the cursing human thug thirty feet away.
The RÃas roared as he finished shifting.
As per Tzader’s orders that were still flowing telepathically through her mind, she lifted her hand and slapped the beast with a mild kinetic blast to get his attention.
That worked, aggravating him.
He stumbled back a few feet, shaking his oversized head that had two holes for a nose and a mouth big enough to fit a human head in one bite. Fuzzy red hair stuck up across his scalp in a Brillo-pad Mohawk. His forehead hung like a canopy over soulless hazel eyes. Thick arms had ripped his multi-colored shirt and three fingers on each hand curled with sharp claws.
Evalle had to get him moving before the other humans saw him. She taunted the beast, â€œCome on you ugly dog. You gonna let a woman kick your butt?â€
Tzader’s orders kept pouring through her mind as he directed the team then he told her, Evalle, once the RÃas charges you, run toward that patch of trees on the west side of the field.
Evalle glanced away just long enough to make a mental note of the distance. A good hundred yards away. Be ready when I get there.
Tzader and four Beladors would be waiting to capture this beast…unless they were forced to kill it.
The minute Tzader withdrew from her mind, Tristan’s voice snapped at Evalle. You want a tip on the traitor or not?
The traitor? Could Tristan know where Conlan O’Meary was hiding? That would buy her all kinds of points with Macha.
About time she had some good luck. Keeping an eye on the RÃas as the beast’s vision cleared and he focused on her, Evalle called back to Tristan, Where–
A chain wrapped around her neck and tightened with inhuman power from behind.
The beast howled and rushed her.