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       Created Darkly, p.20

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  Rafe rushed to Torra’s side without another word, or rather, whine. Deidra smiled and floated over to where her great-granddaughter was covering her casket. With a motherly smile and soft tilt of the head, she reached over and smoothed her hand over Torra’s cheek.

  “You make me proud, granddaughter of mine.”

  For the first time since we saved her life, Torra actually smiled. Not a smart-ass laugh, but a loving expression. I almost fell back on my ass from the glare. I couldn’t believe it. The look on her face was so innocent and child-like, not resembling the hard-as-stone hellcat that Rafe likened her to.

  While Torra and Rafe finished filling in the hole and packing down the dirt, I slipped my hand into the bag Rafe had tossed at me. My fist squeezed around the hilt of a dagger, and I pulled it free. The steel blade was long, with a fine, sharp point that glinted in the moonlight.

  I turned it sideways, inspecting it, and my eyes landed on an insignia. I saw two entwined figure eights etched onto the blade, matching the ones on Kristina’s dagger—the symbol representative of their family line. The difference was that Deidra’s figure eight was carved into the hilt, rather than the blade.

  Deidra floated past me, heading farther into a darkness that wrapped around the original cemetery like a well-used blanket. I put the dagger back in its sack. As I followed her, night crept in, leaving me nearly blind.

  It was surprising, how eager we all seemed to venture deeper down the broken path of cobblestone decay. The path was lined with old, fog-shrouded trees and weeping branches, helping to paint a nightmarish picture, giving squirming fingers of dread free rein to prod at and tweak my already antagonized nerves.

  The path stopped, and I blinked several times, an absurd attempt to clear my vision. The fog was too thick to see anything clearly, but I was able to make out a dirt field. The closer I crept through the rolling fog, the clearer things became. My hand brushed against frigid stone. It was a headstone, among the many gothic crosses and angels that stood tall with crumbling wings.

  On the other side of the private burial place was a building. It loomed hauntingly in the distance. Deidra bee-lined towards it, leaves bursting underneath her, scattering like frightened insects in her wake.

  “It won’t be long now.” Her voice trailed.

  ***

  “You want me to do what?” Rafe asked while staring at the dagger I pulled from the dirt-caked bag. I pushed it towards him, chest level.

  “Must you complain about everything?” Torra asked. She snatched the knife from my outstretched hand, and after a quick flick of the wrist, sliced the blade across the fleshy meat of her palm. Blood welled from the shallow gash. With an impatient grunt, she jabbed the dagger in Rafe’s direction. “See, nothing to it.”

  “Okay, okay…I’ll do it. I’m not scared of cutting myself, hellcat. If I haven’t proven it already, I’d do anything for my sweet Kris. Even grave rob.” He arched a brow, daring Torra to argue the fact.

  A rumbling growl tumbled from my chest. She was MY Kristina, not that joker’s. And who the hell did he think he was calling her sweet?

  Rafe gave me a hard side glance in response to my possessive claim. My eyes shot heated spears of warning at him. My lips twitched, almost exposing my clenched teeth. He needed to tread lightly. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to keep or protect what I considered mine, and that included sending that punk back to the grave for another fifty years.

  I shook away from those crazy thoughts. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I’d never reacted so strongly over a woman before. I felt like a coiled snake ready to strike. Kristina wasn’t just another woman or conquest to me. She was the one. The woman I’d spent countless hours fantasizing about, the goddess that haunted my dreams and filled my heart with passion. The sex-kitten that I planned on spending the rest of my life with, playfully chasing after and catching, a million times over.

  Rafe’s loud chuckle dragged me from my thoughts. He’d already dismissed me and was talking to Torra.

  “I don’t understand exactly what needs doing, but thanks for the moral support. And by the way, you smell like Heaven, flowers after a spring rain.” Rafe sniffed the air around her.

  Her face contorted in disgust. “Get away from me!”

  He threw back his head and laughed. He took the knife, eyes flashing to Deidra. You’re sure I shouldn’t go last? My wound will close up faster than you can sniff a flower after a spring rain.” He chuckled and shot Torra a devilish grin.

  “It doesn’t matter who goes first, as long as point A,” Deidra said, pointing to the blood welling up to seep over the side of Torra’s hand, “gets to point B.” Her finger swung to the rectangular stone we were all kneeling in front of.

  The stone she was referring to was a trap door which had odd glyphs and old-timey images carved all over it. The door was situated in the ground inside the mausoleum that we had all followed Deidra into. She’d just explained that in order to open the door to the Shadowscape, we would need the blood from a necromancer and a vampire, as well as the ectoplasm from a ghost. She had also filled us in on the reason we needed her sacred dagger. It was because the only thing on earth or any plain, for that matter, that could cut the ethereal skin of a ghost was an awakening dagger, or the razor-sharp fangs of a ghoul.

  “Aye, aye, captain.” Rafe saluted the ghost. With little sound, he sliced deep into his hand. After he was finished, he handed me the dagger. I wrapped my fingers around it and watched as he squeezed a line of crimson from his cut. It splashed over the trap door, filling the carved-out grooves with blood. The after-effect was a red, snaking stream, and when Torra followed suit, her blood added fuel to the building river.

  Deidra and I traded nods as she held her arm out to me. Her hand hovered over mine, childlike in its size, wispy in its true form. I knew how to give corporeal substance to a ghost, but it took a lot of energy and usually required a certain bond—a familiarity that came from years of sharing the same energy and space. But years weren’t a luxury for us; all I could do was cross my fingers and hope that I had enough juice in me to pull it off.

  Kristina could do it, my longing conscience reminded. I sucked in a hard breath in an attempt to slow my frantic heart. It was half-way broken from the thought of losing Kristina. It would shatter into a million pieces if the worst was to happen.

  It started as a tingle in my skull, a power tightly coiled under the space between my eyes and the bridge of my nose. It built in intensity until it unfurled, spreading out to reach the back of my head. It wanted to leave my body and move into something lifeless. The power’s only motive was to create life. Even though I wasn’t a religious man, I whispered a small prayer. “God, please let this work.”

  My hands began to glow white as my power started a slow crawl over Deidra’s ghostly hand. At first, nothing happened. Then after several minutes of concentration, my power transferred over. I felt a click like a puzzle piece moving into place the moment it took hold. I laughed my relief. Deidra let out a small giggle.

  “Good job. Now, hurry up and cut me. We have no idea how long this will last,” she said, excited.

  It was the first time in over a century that she had a corporeal form, even if it was only her hand and part of her arm. Her joy was apparent in the exuberant expression on her face.

  Her hand was a freezing cold weight in mine. Even though it was flesh and bone, it still belonged to someone who was dead. “This might sting a bit,” I warned.

  Still smiling, she said, “I hope it does. I haven’t felt a thing in a very long time.”

  My heart ached for her. I rubbed my thumb over the spot on her wrist where her pulse should be, but there was no thump of life under the cold flesh. The dagger sliced through her skin like butter, the ease of which it left its path, unnatural.

  “What in the world?” I stuttered when bright green goo slipped from the wound, instead of the expected stream of red blood.

  The green substance was thick
, but still flowed from her hand freely. It splashed onto the stone, swirling among the blood already there, reminding me of a macabre Christmas, with the bold red and stark green colors of the blood and ectoplasm intermingling together.

  “We already have the blood of a necromancer, but if you’d like to add a little more oomph, you can contribute some of your Creator blood, too,” Deidra suggested.

  “Couldn’t hurt.”

  I wiped the blade across my jeans, so I could get rid of the ectoplasm all over it. That was not the time to find out what would happen if I contaminated my blood with the green goo from a ghost.

  The stone walls in the tomb seemed to close in on me the longer I knelt over the trap door. Fire pulsed from lit sconces, shadows danced between sparks of light, only to be swallowed up by darkness. My heart was beating wildly as I slit my palm.

  I will find you, I silently promised Kristina as my blood dripped, intermingling with the others’ offerings. As soon as the first drops of my blood hit the stone, Deidra began to chant. The earth beneath our feet awakened and quaked. In the space of a heartbeat, the door keeping me from my woman cracked open.

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  I trudged up the marble steps. When I reached the top, I had to crane my neck around Wolf’s wide shoulders to get a good look, and what I saw shocked me. I was expecting someone or something that was violent or ugly-looking, maybe even a monster like one of the ghouls. Instead, a beautiful woman lay on the bed. She was the picture of perfection with her creamy, white, porcelain-like skin. The sleeping beauty had a heart-shaped face that came to a fragile peak at the smooth curve of her chin. She had a petite nose that was straight, perking up at the tip. The long bridge was nestled between two oval eyes. Dark black lashes accentuated her eyes over symmetrically contoured high cheek bones. Her hair was red and extremely long, reaching to her knees. The luscious locks draped in a cascading wave over the blanket that was covering her petite body.

  Then in a blink, the body before me morphed into someone else, another woman of equal beauty who gave off an essence of danger—a predator hovering over the other woman’s body. I had no doubt that the new woman could hold her own in any situation, with sculpted arms and muscled thighs that bulged underneath a pair of tight leather pants. A ripped stomach that could only be called an eight pack, hard and impressive, was barely covered by a matching leather halter top. Her dark brown hair was long, but not as long as the first woman’s, whose flaming tresses seemed never ending.

  The warrior woman was well armed with daggers at each side of her hips and a long sword that was strapped to her back. The leather harness that secured the sword ran snugly between her breasts. Alarm bells began to ring in my head, the more I took in the fierce woman’s features. Her nose had the same shape as my sister’s, and the dark brown shade of her hair was a match to my own. We also shared quite a few more traits. Our bone structure was similar, as well as our above-average height and curvy build. Somehow, I knew that if she were to open her eyes, they would be emerald green…just like mine and my sister’s. All the Chase women had bright, vivid green eyes. The dark-haired woman was my kin, and if I believed what Wolf was rambling on about earlier, that would mean I was standing over the body of my grandmother, Lilly Chase.

  “What did you do to her?” I screamed. My hand flew to the base of my neck. My breath struggled to come out. “Release my grandmother. Now!”

  “If I could, I wouldn’t need you, now would I, necromancer?”

  I swung on him, my fist denting his cheek, and by the satisfying crack I heard on impact, it seemed I must have fractured a bone in his face. Wolf fell back, a quick hand flashing out to catch the edge of the bed, saving him from a viscous fall down the stairs. How I wished the scumbag had cracked his skull on those steps. His eyes widened, blood trickling between the fingers covering his face where I clocked him a good one. He glanced over to the women trapped in a coma-like state on the bed, and then his eyes swung back to me. He stood, righting himself.

  “I’m in no mood for little girl tantrums. Grab your dagger and the locket. The quicker we start, the sooner we can free them. It’s a win-win situation, really.”

  I felt like I was in way over my head, playing a game where I didn’t know all the moves, or even the point of it. Good or bad, there was a reason behind Lilly trapping something inside her own body. My instincts were nagging me hard, leading me to believe that she did set the trap on purpose.

  Grandma Lilly had a reputation in the family for being ruthless and cunning. Someone as intelligent as she was wouldn’t likely end up vulnerable like that under any other circumstances. But even the best laid plans fail, the sturdiest bridges crumble, and considering what I was about to do…the strongest of instincts were ignored. My grandmother was reputed to be a stone-cold, real grit and bone warrior. I was extremely attuned to battle. Hard, but still yielding—a sucker for anyone in need. That meant I couldn’t leave her that way, to rot with a phantom squatting inside her. Sometimes I had too much compassion and not enough common sense.

  I took out my dagger; the hilt fit snug in my hand, a perfect fit. My skin warmed and tingled in anticipation, welcoming the magic it could unleash. “What do I have to do to save her?”

  Wolf pushed his fingers between his teeth, his face still dripping with blood. He let out a whistle like the one from before. On cue, his two vampire lovers entered the room. They held a woman between them, guiding her forward by the arms. The woman they held had red hair that was spun into a loose bun atop her head, errant strands of scarlet falling haphazardly around a beautiful face. The woman walked with grace, trying in vain to hide the fear that was evident in her eyes. I noticed that she bore a strong resemblance to the woman that hovered like a ghost over the body of my grandmother.

  “Who is she?” I asked Wolf.

  “She is my mistress’s vessel. Don’t worry. Her consent was necessary in this ritual. Her body is a gift.”

  I looked over at the woman. She knelt at the base of the stairs, head bowed.

  “Whatever.”

  The woman shuddered.

  “I’m not doing this if she’s here under duress.”

  The woman began to laugh. The curve of her slender neck was the only thing visible under the loose coils of her hair. “I bargained for this, and I am here of my own free will,” she said, her voice echoing throughout the chamber.

  “See there. Your conscience will be clear. Can we get on with this?” Wolf said.

  I pressed my knees against the mattress and set the dagger down next to me on the lavender comforter. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the locket. The beautiful antique chain belonged to Lilly. Wolf had explained that a personal object was needed in order for me to anchor myself to Lilly during the ritual I was about to perform.

  Apparently, my grandmother was dead, her body still intact because of the phantom trapped inside it. I needed to bring her back to life in order for the phantom inside her to escape. What happened after that, I didn’t know. Nothing good, would be my guess.

  I almost backed out of performing the ritual altogether, but Wolf threatened to pop back up to my realm, so he could kill not only Torra, but anyone else I cared for, Rush included.

  My heart sank at the thought of Rush. I wondered if he was okay and if he was able to get Torra out of the cemetery. I remembered the sweet taste of his lips and the feel of his skin as it slid across mine.

  I shivered away such thoughts and focused on Wolf. I was hoping that once Lilly was in the picture, she would aid me in hunting him down and seeking my revenge on him. That was always in the back of my mind, the ever-present need to kill Wolf for everything he did to Torra and for what he was doing to me.

  A selfish part of me was excited to finally meet my grandmother. God knew that I never really had a mother figure in my life. Lizet Chase’s main concern had always been herself, so a little part of me—the lonely girl buried deep inside that was always in search of a mother to love her— reached ou
t to Lilly. I was human, and as such, a dreamer, captive to all sorts of emotional baggage. Believe me, I didn’t like it one bit. I always preferred to travel lightly.

  I wrapped the chain around my index finger, the oval locket dangling and swinging like a pendulum. With my other hand, I picked up the dagger. The slice across my palm didn’t hurt much; it only tingled and stung a little as the blood welled to the surface. I outlined the shared body on the bed with my own blood, squeezing the wound, draining my veins, until it was finally time to stop on other side of the bed.

  My body hummed with pent-up energy, the power inside anxious to be released. I walked to the foot of the bed, careful not to disturb the salt I’d already circled around the perimeter, and held out my hands, palms facing out. White light burst forth, landing on the body before me. Foreign words trickled out from between my lips, fluid and beautiful. I would never be able to repeat them on purpose, but in that moment and in my mind, I knew what the words meant. The spell they cast as old as time and as comfortable to me as coming home.

  The world spun around me, doors opening and closing from other dimensions, time and space, life and death. It all flashed in a whirl, circling me in a blur of motion. All I had to do was choose a door to use as I saw fit, the contents available to me behind it. I chose the door that flashed like a beacon of life, bright and blinding. The light cascading out of my hands blinked, and then in a rush of icy renewal, the beam changed, brightening to a blinding pitch to become life itself.

  Lilly’s body jumped, bowing in the middle. I could feel the life pouring inside her. I felt the exact moment her soul became present and entered her body. The rage that crashed into me made me stumble, my feet scrambling for purchase as I kept my arms outstretched. As quickly as the rage flared, it extinguished.

  I took a fortifying breath and pushed even harder. A scream shattered my concentration, and my arms dropped to my sides. I watched as a bubble-like substance began to rise from Lilly’s body. It pulled and bulged, inflating larger and larger still, until a snap sounded. Another screech, followed by devastating laughter, rang out. The evil chuckle that followed came from behind. Wolf leapt out of his body in a fog of smoke. The man he had inhabited fell like a brick, unconscious, maybe even dead. I didn’t have time to worry about him, though; I had to keep my eyes peeled on the dizzying events unfolding before me.

 
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