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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Tricky, tricky. She might almost be impressed, if not for the fact that she knew she was about to strike them a lethal blow.
She had to disengage when she felt the locking spell had reached critical mass. She reached to take the spell over, creating the receptacle. She shaped a crystal ball into her hands, the clear glass of it the purest thing anyone would ever see. She magically lowered it to the ground and opened it up. Light from it sparkled in an upward cone, and she carefully moved away from it.
Now the trap was ready.
She teleported away, appearing at Adam’s back. The Water Demon was on his knees, gasping for breath as he tried to recover from her previous attack. She leaned forward and whispered.
“You are going to wish you’d never met the future,” she promised him.
And with a lightning-quick movement she hurled an explosive force against him, sending him flying toward the cone of light. He was headed into it, nothing to stop him.
Yet suddenly he sprang to a stop, as if an invisible safety net had caught his big body. When he touched the net it sparkled into existence, blue light etching the shape of it, sending him rolling safely to the ground.
Infuriated and shocked, Ruth twisted to and fro, searching for the necromancer who had turned against her, the necromancer who dared to cast magic counter to her own.
She saw her then, a curvy little redhead kneeling behind a tree, her hand extended toward Adam, her fingers curling to withdraw the energy so it wouldn’t be wasted once she was certain Adam was safe. Then the woman looked Ruth dead in her eyes, and Ruth could see the fear inside her. She was strong, Ruth sensed. A natural-born Witch. A being who, unlike Ruth, had to speak spells aloud or in her head, could call magic from herself and from all around herself as naturally as she could draw breath. She had been born to make magic.
Yet Ruth saw into her mind and saw she was afraid of her own gifts. She saw the woman was limited by her fears and limited by her conscience. She would only use defensive magics. She would only use magic to protect herself and others.
Ruth laughed at her.
“You idiot! You think what you do is good magic? Clean magic? It is the same as mine. You are as deep into it as I am, and going deeper with every spell!”
“You’re wrong,” the redhead said, her lip moving nervously between her teeth. She glanced around, looking for someone. Someone who could comfort or support her. But there was no one.
She would be so easy to destroy. Ruth could easily jump into her mind and twist that fear into something the little Witch would never be able to escape.
The portal ...
Again, a thought not her own, but a gentle reminder that the locking spell was drawing on her energy every moment the portal stayed open. It drew her attention away from Valera and brought her back to Damien and Adam, whom she deemed the bigger threats. She had to get rid of them, just in case her companions were not able to manage Jasmine and Syreena. She was strong, and her protégé was proving to be a huge asset, but they would not have much success if they were so thoroughly outnumbered. And who was to say what other Demons or Nightwalkers were waiting in the wings? Ruth couldn’t take any more chances. It was unwise to do head-to-head battle with these brethren. She had always understood that. It would benefit her far more to escape for the moment and get back to her workroom, where the key component of her most powerfully destructive spell ever lay trussed to her workbench.
She would have far more victory over the Demons by destroying Kestra and Noah than she ever would fighting them like this. So Ruth cast a snare, snatching Damien up into it, pausing only a moment to enjoy the fruitlessness of his struggles against the power that held him. There were no hands to hit, arms to break—no weaknesses to exploit so he could free himself. All his ancient power was for naught as she pushed him toward the portal.
That was when a vine burst out of the ground and lashed itself around her calf. The living thing, made strong by magic, yanked at Ruth, pulling her off her feet and slamming her hard to the ground. Once her concentration was broken, Damien was freed. He hit the ground hard, rolling and attempting to get to his feet, but she had abused him greatly and there was no quick recovery from that. She took satisfaction in his pain even as she threw her attention back to the little Witch cowering behind the tree.
“This?” Ruth laughed with contempt. “I am the master of this spell!”
Jasmine and Syreena each recovered from her final opponent simultaneously, throwing back their heads and their hair to take stock of what was happening around them. Their eyes met and each woman had a heartbeat of time to appreciate the deadly skills of the other. Syreena’s ability to shift form on the fly had always been her greatest strength, and she had also spent her entire lifetime training in the fighting techniques of the Monks of the Pride. Ancient and powerful, she had been blessed with their knowledge and had always been their best student. And even though she had outgrown that part of her life long ago, the skills would always be at her fingertips whenever she needed them.
Jasmine acknowledged Syreena’s strength for the first time. She appreciated it for what it was. Suddenly she felt like she was seeing a completely different Syreena than the one she had known for the past two years. She didn’t fully understand why, in this moment of all moments, it was happening. They had fought together before. Jasmine had seen her move and fight and draw on the most incredible ingenuity.
She had simply never felt true appreciation for it before.
There was no time to dwell on it at present either. Simultaneously the two women recalled the Vampire who had been sitting by the wayside, watching to see how the battle turned. He and the Vampire Jasmine had originally attacked were the only ones not dead. There was no sense in leaving them at their backs, a potential threat that could attack later while they were fighting Ruth. Though both women were itching to get a piece of that deceptive traitor, each for her own reasons of vengeance, they had to finish their part of the battle first.
They couldn’t see either Vampire, though.
But suddenly the shadows resolved into the shape of a man. Sagan and his bloodied khurkhuri blade stood strong in the nearly full moonlight. He tossed something in Jasmine’s direction, and her preternatural instincts and reflexes allowed her to snatch it out of the air.
She opened her palm to see the long white match to the fang she had in her pocket.
“I thought maybe a nice pair of earrings,” Sagan offered.
“Perfect. Did you get both Vampires?”
He nodded. A simple gesture, but one that spoke of the fabulous strength and skill of a Shadowdweller penance priest. He might have resigned from his position, but he could never resign from his skills.
Then suddenly, he gave a jerk, as if someone had stabbed him through the head. The expression that moved across his face was a combination of fear and fury the likes of which Jasmine had never seen before.
“Valera needs me. The battle does not go well.”
He took off at a run, leaping through the forest, dodging trees and low scrub that seemed placed in his way just to slow him down. Nothing could keep him from the side of his mate when she needed him. Nothing but ...
Sagan jolted to a stop, dodging behind a tree to protect himself from the blue light bursting in all directions on the battlefield. Even so, he was scorched all over his exposed skin. Somehow, Valera’s protective spell had worn off. Probably because of her broken concentration. Now, as long as light stood between him and Valera, there was nothing he could do to help her. And in his mind he felt her desperation and insecurity. She had come to this battle knowing she had never hurt or killed anything in her life, that it was because the core of her soul was so opposed to the idea of harming another that she was able to break free of her black magic addiction in the first place. Without that powerful core belief, she wouldn’t be who she was.
And yet she had insisted on coming. She had known that the best way to gain advantage in a battle of magic was to use magic in return. She knew she could help protect the others. She had developed an affection for Damien and Syreena during her time in their court. Indeed, she felt strongly for all the Nightwalkers she had met. She couldn’t find it in herself to sit idly by while they fought their worst enemy and battled for their futures.
This was why he loved her.
This was why it was killing him that he couldn’t get to her. He could fade into Shadowscape, the parallel dimension that the Shadowdwellers often traveled in. It was identical to this plane, except there were no people and there was no light. He could cross the field and come out of Fade right by her side.
But still the light would be there and she wasn’t in a position to recast her protection spell on him. Now that Ruth had engaged her, Valera wouldn’t have the focus to cast the spell. Sagan wondered what had happened. She was supposed to have kept low and quiet until she was needed most. How had she exposed herself?
Now as he watched her coming out of her crouch, his eyes burned as blue energy was expelled from her graceful fingers and she faced off against a necromancer who was ten times superior to her in skill and power.
“Well, she’s going to get herself killed,” Jasmine noted, making him realize Jasmine and Syreena had followed him and were now watching the same scene he was.
“I cannot protect her,” he said with frustration. “You must help her.”
“If you insist,” Jasmine said, giving him a cheeky grin.
Ruth was dragged across the ground several feet by the fingers of animated vines before she teleported out of their grasp. She reappeared only a few yards in front of the upstart Witch who thought she could go head-to-head with her. However, before she dealt with her, she threw instructions at her protégée.
“Get one of them in the lock,” she commanded. “I do not care which! Whichever you think you can manage.”
“Oh, I think I can manage one,” the black-and-gray-haired girl said.
Ruth smiled and turned to face the Witch, letting magical blue power pulse from her hands like someone firing a warning shot. The energy burst above Valera’s head, the sound and force of it making her flinch hard.
“Oops. I missed.” Ruth tsked. “I promise, it will not happen again. You might consider giving in to that wild urge to run that is going through your mind right now.”
“Or she can stay and watch me kick your ass.”
Jasmine grabbed Ruth by her hair with both hands and yanked her back off her feet.
“Concentrate now, bitch,” Jasmine spat as she dragged Ruth over the bracken by her hair. Jasmine heard Syreena whoop out a cheer. Of course, the Lycanthrope had cause to cheer this tactic. Ruth had once ripped out half of Syreena’s hair, and left her maimed because of it. Lycanthrope hair being what it was, alive with nerves and blood supply, it had been a devastating blow.
So Jasmine took pleasure dragging Ruth to heel. Whether she liked Syreena or not, no one deserved to suffer like that. Just as those innocent people in the hidden Nightwalker library had not deserved to die simply because Ruth had wanted to pillage it for spell books.
Jasmine built up momentum, swinging Ruth over the ground by her hair and slamming her into a tree. She didn’t want the Mind Demon to adapt and recoup, to gather her thoughts and teleport out of her hands. So she beat her against the tree like a dirty rug that needed cleaning. She was about to swing her into it a third time when suddenly a black-and-gray-haired Demon girl appeared at her side, having stepped up so quietly Jasmine didn’t notice her until she was practically on top of her.
She could smell the vile magic on her, pegged her instantly for an enemy, and coiled to protect herself or attack as necessary.
“The portal,” the girl said quietly. “Throw her into it. Quickly, before she recovers.”
She pointed to the conical display of light coming from a crystal ball sitting in among the brown leaves waiting for winter to hurry their decay. Jasmine hesitated, not trusting the girl.
Adam’s voice in her head rang sweet and clear, sharing a confidence and strength she found to be beautiful and empowering in that moment. Hesitation disappeared and she lurched toward the cone of light, dragging her captive roughly behind her. She only needed to take a few steps to build up enough momentum.
She flung Ruth into the light like a shot-putter, hauling her off the ground and into the air by her grip on the bitch’s hair. The traitor Demon flew into the light screaming with fury, trying to come up with threats and curses but too overwhelmed by the understanding that everything she was, everything she had striven for, was about to come to an end.
She hit the light and magic burst up around her, magic powered by her very own energy and strength, and it welcomed its creator with powerful, grasping arms. Ruth was swallowed up in a rush of blue energy, then, her screams still audible, was dragged violently down into the crystal ball.
There was a final flash of electric blue light and then, suddenly, everything fell dark and silent. The only light remaining was the glow of the moon in the sky and the barely perceptible glow of the crystal ball sitting in the leaves.
Jasmine walked up to the ball and nudged it with her toe. The light within swirled for a moment, the smooth crystal inside gleaming and showing the face of a familiar blond Demon, her expression contorted into rage.
“Can she get out of there?” Jasmine queried.
“No. Not unless someone casts a very powerful counterspell to free her,” the dark-haired Demon said. “The only person powerful enough to do so at the moment is now inside the lock. But you ought to destroy it. Crush it to dust. Then you will be assured no one can free her.”
Jasmine picked up the ball, turned it in her hands a couple of times so she could catch glimpses of Ruth’s infuriated face, and smiled.