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Shadow blood, p.12
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       Shadow Blood, p.12

           Jayde Scott
 
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  My clothes caught fire first. Then my skin. A sharp scream echoed through the night, and then another. It took me a while to realize those were my own. Through the hazy blanket of unimaginable pain, I glimpsed faces moving toward me.

  Elyssa.

  Iain.

  Brendan.

  The blaze engulfed me completely. When my life started to flash before my eyes, I knew I was dying, and they were all here to watch it live, as though I was some circus freak. The fire kept burning my skin, my hair, penetrating each layer. Excruciating pain shot through me, making me scream out while tugging at my skin and clothes, unable to stop it. And then the faces disappeared one by one and I was sure they were all smiling, leaving me behind to burn like a witch on a pyre.

  “Please, help me,” I screamed. But no one listened. No one hurried to help me. An instant later, the fire stopped and I slumped to the ground, grateful for the cold, hard asphalt that numbed my sore body. I barely managed to draw a sharp breath before I noticed that the floor was made of ice that crept up my body.

  Chapter 23

  The pain was so intense I knew if I hadn’t died already, I would soon. All I wanted was for it to stop. That’s when I realized at some point the pain had changed from a burning sensation to a freezing tingle that had completely numbed my arms and legs.

  “Amber,” a thin female voice whispered in my ear. “Wake up. You need to get away from here or they’ll kill you.”

  My tongue flicked over my cracked, numb lips a moment before a strong, cold shudder ran through me, followed by an electric jolt right where my heart was located, then another, and one more. I had never been so cold in my life. My eyes fluttered open, struggling to give the voice a face, and the blurry shape before me slowly turned into Julie. Deep worry lines creased her forehead as she reached out to touch me again. Her hazel eyes shimmered a tad darker, filled with fear and determination as she waited to see whether her attempts at bringing me back from my current state were successful.

  “Please, no more,” I croaked, praying she’d hear me and stop her torture.

  “I thought you wouldn’t make it.” Her voice betrayed a worrying edge. A painful yelp rocked my body as I raised my head an inch or two to peer around me. The first thing I noticed was that I was standing in the Council hall, about a foot from the strong moonlight beam falling from the ceiling in the shape of a star. A circle of thin ice had spread beneath my feet. Where I expected to see blisters, my skin had a purplish tint to it; the knuckles below were white.

  Ice.

  So it hadn’t been my imagination. The fire had turned to ice, and I was frozen indeed.

  “Piss off. This has nothing to do with you,” a male voice to my right said. With great effort my head snapped in his direction and I noticed several people had gathered: Iain, Elyssa, Brendan, and a few men belonging to the Night Guard. Right behind them hid the traitors: Riley and someone I vaguely recognized from the Council. I couldn’t recall his name but I remembered his white hair and dark eyes. He had looked like a nice guy. Stupid me really thought he was on our side.

  “She’s awake,” someone murmured. Several heads turned in my direction, making me wonder how long I had been spaced out. Elyssa walked in a circle, whispering words I couldn’t understand and then sliced the tip of a dagger across her palm just like Blake had done. The blood pouring from the cut trickled down on the floor and in an instant, a fire raged at her feet. I watched the thick drops hungrily, but not for my own gain. If only I could get close enough to catch a drop, I might just be able to counteract the Shadow magic coursing through Aidan. Drawing a sharp breath, I bit my lip to control the pain soaring through me and dragged my body forward. It was just an inch or two, but enough to peer behind Elyssa and past the others, at the frail girl sitting on the altar with eyes as white as snow, stirring the water inside a bowl. Aidan’s tracker ring dangled from her skinny fingers.

  The fire at Elyssa’s feet rose into a thick curtain reaching up to the high ceiling and leapt toward me, only to die down to a small campfire an instant later, much to her displeasure. An angry curse escaped her throat. Her glare made me wonder what I ever did to her to hate me with such vengeance.

  Seth’s laughter echoed through the quiet room, startling me. I turned my head left, unable to make sense of the image before me. His eyes were as green as moss, narrowed in concentration, starring at me. His arms were stretched out in front of him, aiming toward me. Dark patches had formed beneath his armpits and across his chest where his shirt stuck to his skin. Beads of sweat shimmered across his forehead, but his hands were covered in ice, just like the ground beneath our feet. “You can kill my necromancer when you find me one to take her place,” he said to no one in particular.

  “Take your cheap, dime store magic elsewhere,” Elyssa hissed. In the soft light coming from the torches lining the walls, her cheeks had a sick hue to them. Losing so much blood wasn’t doing her any favors, and yet I could tell from the way her dagger kept cutting into her skin that she didn’t care. She’d fight until she could no longer stand.

  “Dime store?” A dangerous glimmer appeared in Seth’s eyes. “You poor, delusional woman! I’m a half-god. Your entire town would stand no chance against me.”

  Iain took a few steps toward Seth, his gaze darting left and right, circling him to figure out his weak spot.

  “Ah, the stupidity of some folks never fails to amaze me,” Seth muttered to me. The ice below our feet crackled and snaked toward Iain, leaving crystals in its wake. Iain moved a step back, and the ice retreated to Seth and me for a second or two, and then it struck Iain with full force, leaving him frozen to the spot, his lifeless eyes wide open, his mouth agape. His skin turned from pink to bluish gray almost instantly; his heart thumped one more time, and then it stopped.

  He was dead.

  Seth had killed him with a flick of his hand. Another shiver shook my body as I peered at the creepy, frozen statue before me. Elyssa’s fire made Seth’s ice crackle and melt, and drops of water gathered on Iain’s skin, thawing him. But it was too late. His limp body dropped to the floor at Elyssa’s feet.

  Swallowing hard, I shot Julie a fearful look. “Believe it or not, he’s here to help,” she whispered, wide-eyed. In that instant I remembered and understood. I had been outside the Council hall. Someone had started to mess with the torches a moment before a raging fire engulfed me, almost burning me to death. And then Seth appeared and turned everything to ice. Rescued me. He was protecting me from being burned alive by Elyssa’s fire.

  Ice against fire.

  Magic against magic.

  Blood against blood.

  Angel was almost frozen in ice. Seth could step inside the freezing portal without feeling cold. Why hadn’t I seen the connection before?

  “It was you. You all along,” I said to him, shaking my head to get rid of the haziness clouding my mind. “Your touch freezes everything over, just like your sister’s touch can make anyone want to give up their life to be with her. That’s the reason why it’s so cold inside the portal. You made it like that so you could trap Angel, keeping her alive yet unable to ever escape.” I pushed up to my feet, almost stumbling over Julie’s ghost. She stepped aside but not fast enough. Her accidental touch sent a jolt through my chest. My heart skipped a beat before it started to hammer with such force I thought it might just explode. It was the same kind of jolt that had made sure my heart wouldn’t stop beating, like an ECR machine.

  “In case you haven’t noticed I’m sort of busy protecting you,” Seth said, his eyes fixed on me. “A single thank you would’ve sufficed.”

  My gaze sliced into him. “Yeah, that’s what you want people to believe, that you’re protecting them while you’re pursuing your own hidden agenda.”

  “What?” He laughed. “Are you crazy?”

  “How could you lie like that?” I yelled at Seth, then turned to the others. “How could you all lie? The world’s about to suffer a terrible fate, and yet all you care ab
out is your selfish need to defeat your enemies.” My gaze swept over the furious faces around me. Their eyes mirrored their unwillingness to understand a word I said. But I didn’t care. All I wanted was to save my boyfriend and get the hell out of here. My gaze finally settled on Elyssa. “You hurt my boyfriend for a ring. And then you didn’t even have the decency to leave the vial behind so I’d find it and save him.”

  Her eyes narrowed yet she didn’t comment. Instead, she turned her head to Iain and Brendan, ignoring me. I tried hard to control my emotions but the fear for Aidan’s life overwhelmed me.

  “Where’s the vial?” My voice was sharp, menacing. When Elyssa didn’t answer, I yelled, “Where’s the bloody vial? I swear if you’re not giving it to me now I’ll snap you in half with my bare hands.” To prove my point I took a menacing step forward, or as far as my numb legs would carry me.

  “I don’t have it,” Elyssa finally said. The fire curtain that protected her burned bright, as though to warn me. It didn’t scare me. “I honestly don’t have it,” she repeated. “It disappeared the night you visited. The night I gifted you the ring.”

  “Stop lying.” I shook my head vehemently, not believing a word she said. But why would she be bluffing? “Seth kidnapped Angel. Brendan sided with Rebecca so he could save Angel from sure death.” I moistened my lips as I tried to see each and every connection. “And when that ploy went down the drain, he came here for help, which is why you—” I peered at Elyssa “—stole Aidan’s ring. And you—” I turned my head to Seth, who regarded me amused, his brows raised “—you lied to get our cooperation to stab everyone in the back in the end.”

  “You have an overactive imagination, Amber,” Seth said through gritted teeth. “Of course we’ll have to do something about that if we’re to work together.”

  “I’m not working with you,” I snapped, my gaze focused on Elyssa. “Where’s the vial? Give me the vial and you can do whatever you want. Kill whoever you want. I don’t care, I just want to save my boyfriend.”

  “I told you, we don’t have it,” Elyssa said. Her tone seemed so earnest I almost believed her. “I didn’t know they’d hurt your boyfriend.” They. So she admitted she knew who stabbed Aidan and that they were all involved.

  “Just like you don’t know who killed Julie, right?” I asked probingly.

  She shook her head and for a moment, she lowered her dagger and the fire beneath her feet almost died down.

  “Shut up, woman,” Riley hissed at her.

  “Don’t tell me what to do. It was all your and Iain’s idea,” she spat. “You said Brendan needed to be hurt so he wouldn’t turn. Had I known you’d use his blood to stain your blade, I’d never have let you have it. I told you I didn’t want anyone hurt.”

  “Just shut up, Mother,” Brendan said. I sensed a hint of annoyance in his tone. Or was it anger? I peered from him to Elyssa as I tried to see any resemblance I might’ve missed before. Apart from the similar jawline and nose shape, they also shared an arrogant stance and a cold hint in their eyes.

  “He’s your son,” I said. “But how’s that possible? You’re a witch and he’s a werewolf.”

  “His grandmother was a Shadow who got involved with a werewolf. Naturally, the stronger blood carried over so Brendan’s father was a werewolf,” Elyssa said. “In Morganefaire a mother’s supposed to give away her child immediately after birth. I couldn’t bear not seeing him for the rest of my life, not knowing whether he was well, so I let him grow up with his father. When he died, Brendan chose to live among the Shadows to be near his mate. I didn’t see him for a long time, and when he returned and told me about Angel, I had to help him find her, so we used tracker witches.” I thought back to what Julie told me about Elyssa, that she’d once been engaged to someone living outside of Morganefaire and that she’d given him up out of fear what the Council might do to her once they found out. It all made sense now.

  “When that didn’t work according to plan you decided to steal Aidan’s ring,” I said, tuning back in.

  She nodded eagerly. “Yes, but I never wanted to hurt him.”

  “So, who killed the witches?” I asked.

  “It wasn’t us,” she whispered. “We thought it was you.” I regarded her intently. Her eyes didn’t shift nervously, no scent of sweat wafted from her. Maybe she was telling the truth after all.

  “But if they didn’t commit the murders, who was it then?”

  “I killed them,” Brendan said.

  Elyssa’s head snapped in his direction. “What are you saying?” Her voice trembled with shock. The others didn’t even blink meaning, whatever he had done, everyone but Elyssa knew about it.

  Brendan’s dark eyes shimmered as he turned to peer at her. “Did you really think I came here for nothing but your help? I admit I need your help to find Angel, Mother, but there’s something else you have.” He pointed at Riley. “Connections.”

  “He used his own mother. And you thought I was a psycho,” Seth muttered to me. The way I saw it, he still was a psycho, no doubt about that, but Brendan might just be the bigger one.

  Elyssa looked so flabbergasted, I felt sorry for her. “Why would you do such a horrible thing?” she whispered.

  “Morganefaire shall side with the vampires, but not with McAllister’s coven,” Brendan said. “Now that the mirror’s complete both Flavius and Rebecca will be released back into our world at Blue Moon. Everything would be easier had we only found Angel, but the ring will do its job eventually.”

  “Rebecca owns the same ring. Why would you need another one?” I asked.

  “Because Rebecca’s a ghost and her ring’s power is limited to the Otherworld.” His handsome features twisted into an ugly grimace. His eyes sparkled with so much malice I couldn’t believe I really thought the guy wasn’t that bad and he only acted out of a need to save his bonded mate. My knowledge of human nature sucked big time.

  “Except Rebecca has already been released,” I said.

  He laughed. “I wouldn’t know about that but even if that’s the case, another ring’s always useful. One that belongs to us, and not her.”

  “You still haven’t told us why you killed the witches,” I said in the hope to gain time before Kieran and the others arrived.

  “Have you never wondered why the werewolves aren’t mentioned in the prophecy as their own court?” Brendan paused for effect. I raised my brows, interested, but remained quiet so he answered his own question. “Because they forge an alliance with the most likely court to win to ensure they won’t be hunted down once the war’s over. It’s politics so I won’t bore you with details. Let’s just say, according to the prophecy one witch will sacrifice herself to hinder our supremacy. That witch is carrying a mark,” Brendan said. “Flavius is very particular about removing each and every obstacle. We cannot let her live so we’ve been looking for her.”

  “Personal sacrifice requires a high score in metaphysical strength,” I said quietly. “Iain found out each witch’s score through Darson. You killed the ones with a high score first, then searched for the mark on her shoulder.” I thought back to Julie’s friend, Samantha, and the tiny wound on her shoulder from where a bit of skin had been removed. So long Brendan didn’t find the witch bearing the mark, the war wasn’t lost yet and there was still hope for the world. The thought filled me with a bit of joy, until I realized my boyfriend might not live long enough to savor that tiny victory. “But why Flavius? He’s your enemy,” I said.

  Brendan shook his head. “You’re right, he is. But the way I see it he’s the only one who can defeat the Shadows without harming Angel.”

  “You’re trusting a liar’s word,” Seth muttered. “Flavius will never let you or your beloved Angel live once the war’s over.”

  I opened my mouth to ask more questions when I felt the ice beneath my feet melting. My boots swam in a puddle of cold water. Brown patches dotted Seth’s moss green iris, multiplying and merging until his eye color shifted back to brown, signaling
either he was losing his concentration, or his powers were weakening. Either way, it was bad news. Brendan must’ve noticed it too because his grin widened. Pushing Elyssa aside, Riley stepped in front of her and slammed his palm against the sharp blade of his dagger. The curtain of flames rose up to the ceiling, then crashed down on us with such force, all oxygen was knocked out of my lungs.

  “Take cover,” Seth shouted. His palms flew up, arms outstretched, as though to block another attack. His efforts were awarded with a few icicles, but they stood no chance against the heat emitted by Riley’s flame. The fire rose again. I stood my ground, prepared for the burn.

  The air seemed to shift behind me. A moment later, Kieran appeared together with Logan and a few of Aidan’s brethren.

  “What the—” Kieran’s words remained trapped in his throat at the scene before us.

  “Do something,” I screamed. Kieran lunging at Brendan was the last thing I glimpsed before the curtain of fire enveloped me once more.

  Chapter 24

  I opened my eyes and peered through the hazy screen of pain savaging my body. Pushing up on my elbows, I tried to make sense of the picture before me. The Council hall looked like a mess. Chairs were shattered, broken glass littered the ground beneath our feet, a few motionless bodies lay on the floor, and the scent of blood hung heavy in the air, making me choke on my breath. With Riley engaged in a dagger fight with Logan, the fire had died down but a few flames still leapt at the rugs covering the ground near the altar. Spread across the vast hall were Aidan’s warlock brethren fighting against Iain’s guards, though I couldn’t really tell who was who. My gaze swept over everyone. Blake was nowhere in sight. Either he was dead, or he had disappeared again. The only vampire apart from me, Kieran, seemed to have made it his prerogative to take on the strongest adversary.

 
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