The crows murder, p.21
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       The Crow’s Murder, p.21

         Part #5 of Kit Davenport series by Tate James
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  “Well, that’s interesting,” I murmured. “What do you suppose that could be?”

  Caleb shrugged. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Maybe an altar or something? It looks like an old, magical artifact, at any rate.”

  “Definitely old,” Wes agreed, staring at the darkened hole where the chest had disappeared with its guards. “We will need to keep an eye out for that when this all kicks off.”

  “Hopefully it’s just a pretty box that she thought would look great holding her cauldron and spell book,” I mumbled under my breath, and Caleb arched an eyebrow at me. “Yeah, yeah, not the time for jokes. Got it. Any new orders from River?” I asked Wes.

  “Yep, he said if nothing more has happened to fall back to the meeting point. It won’t be dark for another couple of hours yet, so we should be conserving energy.” He gave me a little nudge with his shoulder. “Or maybe fuelling up on coffee?”

  I snickered, despite the tense situation we were in. “I love it when you talk sexy to me, Wes.”

  “You two are addicts,” Caleb muttered, scooting away from the roof edge and dusting off his clothes. “Why don’t you just throw in some cheesy bread for Kitty Kat, and she’ll really be in heaven.”

  I licked my lips with enthusiasm, even as my stomach rumbled its agreement. People shouldn’t joke about coffee and cheese with me; that was a quick way to getting stabbed with a fork or something.

  “Silly thing to joke about, bro,” Wes chuckled, following us back over to the fire escape on the far side of the building. “Now you’ll need to follow through on that offer.”

  Caleb groaned, and I laughed as we made our way down the rickety iron ladder to the dirty alleyway below and then around to the diner we had named as a rendezvous point. It was a totally inappropriate time for joking and coffee, but... if not now, then when? We really needed to seize these moments when they arose because who knew when the next one might be.

  If ever.


  Our carefully planned mission of infiltration fell to pieces mere moments after crossing the threshold into the greenery-lined atrium. Wesley had been correct in his guess that the passage Caleb and I had been watching would lead us to the greenhouse. From what we could tell, the exteriors of the building were totally separate from this center area and the only way in or out of this inner part was via underground passageways.

  That was all well and good, except for the booby traps Bridget had left for us along the way. Turned out she wasn’t as stupid as I had thought she might be.

  Cole and Vali had found another way in, accessed via a manhole in the street on the other side of the building, so they had taken that way in, along with River. I could only hope they were faring better than we were.

  After disabling the wolf shifters guarding the entrance, we had made it barely fifty feet inside before Caleb stepped on a trap spell that immediately encased him in ice. Thankfully, both he and Austin had their familiars out, and Sam was able to relay Caleb’s message to me that he was fine and to go on ahead. He was confident he could get out, but unsure how long it’d take. Seconds after delivering that message, the ice extended to Sam, even though the snake was nowhere near the trap.

  “Because he’s part of Caleb,” Austin explained without me asking.

  No sooner had we left him than we ran into our next roadblock.

  “Shit,” Austin cursed as he threw a white hot ball of magic at the first half-shifted wolf who lunged at us from the darkness. His ball hit, sending the deformed beast flying back several yards, only to be replaced by another. “How many? Can you see, Wes?”

  “No,” Wesley replied, sounding frustrated. “They’re moving too fast for me. There’re a lot though.” Even as he said that, he spun to narrowly avoid the slashing claws of another wolf and then seized its furry head between his palms. Whatever he did in those few seconds that he clasped the shifters face resulted in the creature slipping lifeless to the ground, twitching as foam bubbled from his mouth. It was scary as fuck, and also crazy awesome.

  “There’s a hell of a lot more than fifteen shifters in here, Princess,” Austin snapped as he took on two more rabid creatures who both tried to pounce on him at once. “Something tells me your mom expected you to show up.”

  “No shit,” I replied, using my handgun to shoot a third shifter who was attempting to catch Austin unawares. “Notice none of them are going for me?”

  Something heavy dropped from the ceiling of the tunnel, and Wesley dodged it just before being flattened. When it moved, I fired off three shots into its mass to prevent it disemboweling my dorky lover.

  “Thanks,” Wesley called out to me before slamming his hand into the forehead of another attacker. Whatever it was he could do to them, it looked fucking painful.

  “Yeah, I noticed that,” Austin replied to my question. “I figure Bridget needs you in one piece until the spell is completed. This lot is just intended to slow us down, I imagine. None of them are even trying to kill me.”

  “No, they wouldn’t,” I agreed, shooting another half-formed shifter in the throat. “She wants your strength too, remember? She’d only be weakening herself if she killed you guys now.”

  “Well, in that case, we must still stand a chance of stopping her,” Wesley offered, panting with exhaustion as he got a short reprieve between attacks, thanks to my silver-plated bullets. “Otherwise why bother trying to slow us?”

  “Fucking good point,” Austin grunted, throwing the immobile corpse of another half-wolf off him. “Push forward then. Let’s get Christina to the atrium as quickly as possible.”

  Bolstered by the knowledge that these shifters weren’t actually trying to kill us, our progress was a little easier. Tyson offered damn good help in the fights, too, being quicker and more brutal than the shifters.

  By the time we reached the leafy atrium, the guys were both panting with exertion, and my gun was already out of bullets. Not a good thing when we had yet to even start on the real fight. Nothing could have prepared us for what we found, though.

  “River,” I gasped, spotting him first across the emptied-out room.

  He was being held by two enormous, half-shifted creatures that seemed to be some variety of bear... maybe. Whatever they were, their teeth were longer than River’s head.

  Casting my gaze around, I spotted Cole in a crumpled heap in the corner, while Vali was being dragged out of the opposite corridor by his ankle. He was totally unconscious, from what I could tell, and both their bodies were covered in a glittery sort of dust.

  “Christina, darling, you made it!” Bridget crowed from her seat on top of the ornately carved silver box. “Hope you don’t mind; I have to stack the deck in my favor, you know?”

  A small movement out of the corner of my eye was all the warning we got before Nicholai appeared out of the shadows and blew a sharp gust of shimmery, glittering powder at the three of us. On reflex, I sucked in a breath and choked as the dust infiltrated my lungs. It only caused me to cough a few times, though, and then I was fine again.

  Austin and Wesley, not so much. They both collapsed into boneless heaps, just like Cole and Vali. Tyson winked out of sight the second Austin lost consciousness, too, so I was alone on my side of the room.

  “They’ll be fine,” Bridget assured me, her blood-red lips split in a toothy grin. “This will just take them out of commission for a few hours. I wouldn’t want my new harem of men to be harmed in all of this, now would I?”

  “I don’t understand,” I puzzled. “Why didn’t it affect me?”

  “Because right now you’re nothing more than human. Same, it seems, as your other handsome friend here.” She hopped off her box and prowled towards River on spike-heeled shoes, her velvet gown dragging across the ground behind her. “Imagine my surprise to find you haven’t even changed one of your guardians yet! Not to worry, though. It’s the very first thing I will rectify when I have your magic.”

  River’s golden eyes met mine across the room, and his f
eelings were clear. There was no way in hell he would let that happen.

  “Bridget,” I started, taking a step toward her.

  “Stop!” she cried out, and I froze. “You foolish child, do you know nothing? If you step on the wrong rune, you’ll be incinerated.”

  Foot frozen in mid-step, I peered at the floor a little closer. It was dark within the artium, the only light coming from the stars and the slowly rising moon, but I could still make out vaguely familiar runes etched into the stone floor.

  “These are...” I frowned, crouching to inspect the designs more closely. “These are actually cut into the stone?”

  “You have no idea how long that took me,” Bridget informed me. “So don’t spoil all my hard work by dying now.”

  Pursing my lips, I looked at the runes a little longer, trying to pick out the pattern. It had to be possible to walk across them; Bridget had just proven that herself. So it must just be the occasional rune that wasn’t safe.

  Trouble was, these weren’t the mage runes that the twins had taught me. These were Ban Dia runes, the same as on my ring or that appeared during a bonding. Runes that I knew nothing about. Thanks, Mom.

  “You’re playing with fire, girl,” Bridget snapped as I tentatively slid my foot closer to the nearest design. But her words gave me an idea. Twice now she had made fire references, which meant the runes to be wary of could be fire runes. If Ban Dia magic followed a similar formula to Mage magic—which stood to reason—then all of the elements would be incorporated into a major spell such as this. So if I just...


  I spotted one that seemed to vaguely resemble the Mage rune for water and hopped onto that, squeezing my eyes tight shut and praying for the best. When nothing happened, I heaved a sigh of relief and opened my eyes to grin triumphantly at Bridget.

  “Lucky guess,” she spat, ignoring River and stalking confidently back to her silver chest. I could see now that the top was laid out with a few candles and herbs, but I got the feeling the majority of the preparation had been in her cutting the runes all over the floor.

  I shrugged at her comment. Lucky or not, it was right. That was all that really mattered, wasn’t it? Confident in my guess, I didn’t bother trying to decode another safe rune; instead I just hopped across a few more water-type runes until I’d reached almost the center of the room.

  From there, I could see something seeping out from some small holes at the base of the silver chest. A blackish sort of fluid that I couldn’t make out in the darkness was seeping from the chest and into carefully cut grooves in the floor. They were lined up too damn perfectly for it to be a mistake, and the fluid was slowly filling the etched designs like it was inking them in.

  “You may as well just give up, child,” Bridget told me in a condescending way. “As much as I do appreciate you bringing my new lovers to me so I wouldn’t need to hunt them down, your presence really wasn’t required for this part of the spell. As soon as all of the runes are joined and the moon reaches its zenith, all of your magical essence will transfer across to me.” She held up her own wrist where a twin gold band glinted in the moonlight. “See, the funny thing is that this is the spell my mother was trying to create to strip me of my magic. She was missing this part though. The receiver’s bracelet. She just thought she could strip my magic and have it dissipate into the earth. But it doesn’t work like that. That’s why it all backfired on her, foolish old woman.”

  “Right,” I said, nodding like I was appreciating her genius. “So, she had all the other components in place, like the runes cut into stone and the, er, liquid stuff?” I indicated to the box she was perched on, which almost seemed like it was bleeding. “And the full moon... but just not the second bracelet?”

  I wasn’t as dense as I was sounding; I was just trying to get her to fill in the gaps if there were any other important factors to the spell. So far, my only hope was in stopping the slow-moving fluid from filling all of the furrows in the ground.

  “Yes, that is what I just said, isn’t it?” she snapped at me, and I sent up a mental thanks that she had given me up as a kid. I couldn’t imagine she was very good mom-material.

  Pausing where I was in the middle of the floor, I needed to make a choice. Get to River and try to free him from the huge fanged creatures, or work out how to stop this spell, which was already underway.

  A short glance at River told me he wasn’t totally unaffected by the glittery dust shit. His eyelids were heavy and drooping, and he had yet to speak. Not really within character for him. It confirmed my own suspicion that although I’d never healed him, he hadn’t been totally human to begin with.

  Bridget had already said she wasn’t interested in harming the guys, though, because she wanted them for herself. I couldn’t help wondering if her caution around them had anything to do with Victor and the horrific scarring on his face. Something had clearly gone wrong between them, and now she was trying to replace him.

  I refused to even acknowledge the ick factor of my mom planning on sleeping with the men I loved. That was the icing on the shitcake that was my lineage, really.

  No, my first priority needed to be stopping this fucking spell, which meant either stopping the moon from fully rising or stopping the liquid shit from filling out all the runes. No prizes for guessing which option was going to be easier to achieve.

  My gaze rapidly scanned the floor, checking the progress. It had gotten far enough that there were too many channels filling now to simply block them up. I needed to somehow get rid of the blackish fluid altogether. A high pressure hose would probably come in handy at a time like this...

  Actually, that wasn’t such a terrible idea. I still had plenty of unused spells in my spine tattoo. Surely if I used a couple of water ones, I could wash that crap away. It wouldn’t stop it permanently, but it’d buy me enough time to do some damage to the runes or push the box off alignment with the floor grooves.

  Hiding my hand behind my back, I summoned as much water energy as I could, drawing directly from the blood ink and praying it would pack enough force to disrupt the pattern.

  Not wasting time with grand gestures, I hurled the water at the floor, right at the line where the dark fluid was trickling across freshly cut stone. My water hit with an explosion of red-tinted spray, and it was then that I realised what was filling the runes all over the floor.


  Bile rose in my throat, but I tamped it down and refused to let my mind wander onto what might be inside that box. I needed to keep my focus on the water before the spell was used up.

  Directing the stream, I used it just like a high pressure water blaster, forcing the blood out of the floor grooves and spreading it over the flat stone in between. When the magic dried up moments later, it looked like I had succeeded.

  Until the diluted blood began gravitating back to the grooves with the speed of a receding tide. It was almost like it was being sucked back into its correct position, but what was worse, my water had only served to spread it faster and thin out the consistency so it travelled faster through the designs.

  “No,” I groaned, seeing the red blood move faster through the patterns, linking up rune after rune and bringing the spell so much closer to being finished. “No,” I muttered again, even as Bridget broke out into peels of laughter at my expense.

  There was only one option left. I needed to destroy some of the runes. Surely if I hacked into a few of them, the spell couldn’t be completed.

  Not allowing myself another second’s indecision, I summoned lightning from one of the runes I remembered being near the base of my tattoo. With a forceful throw, I aimed it directly into the centre of what seemed to be a water rune. Water was surely going to be a safer rune to explode than fire, right?

  Too late, I realised my mistake. Ordinary lightning and water were a volatile mix, at best. Magical lightning and water was a whole other story.

  The impact was so extreme that I was knocked off my feet, smacking my head hard on
the floor and rolling over just in time to avoid slapping my hand down onto a rune that looked a lot like fire.

  “Fuck,” I groaned, putting a hand to the back of my head and coming away with bloody fingers. Dazed, I looked to where Bridget had been sitting, but her silver box was vacant. Next, I looked for River.

  He and his guards had been hit by the impact too, and I saw the second River spied his opportunity to escape. He probably would have made it too, except his motions were delayed thanks to that glitter dust crap and his guards were supernaturals. They moved ten times faster than him, and he’d barely made it two steps across the room to me when a blade protruded out of his chest.

  “No!” I screamed, my voice echoing off the walls and bouncing back at me in a cruel mockery of my pain.

  River was frozen on the blade of the enormous shifter thing, and I was powerless to help him as the bear-beast tore his weapon from my lover’s body, causing a sickening arch of blood to spray across the floor.

  Freed from the long blade, River’s golden eyes held mine without a single drop of fear as he crashed to his knees, then crumpled face forward. Lifeless.

  “No!” My cry was echoed, but this time it wasn’t from me, but my mother. “No, you incompetent sack of shit! I told you not to harm them!” she screeched at the two shifter guards, hurling blue-purple balls of flames at them that set them alight instantly.

  For several long moments as the two shifters howled and screamed their death song, I crawled over the rune marked floor to reach River’s body. Ignoring the painful deaths of the shifters nearby, I rolled him over and swallowed a scream of pain at just how much blood there was. His own was mixing with the creepy box blood and filling the pattern all that much faster, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.

  “River,” I sobbed, turning his face to mine and finding him still clinging to life. Barely. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t heal you. None of the runes on my back are for healing.” Why were none of the runes on my back for healing? Because they were all for combat. We’d never guessed I might end up needing to save the life of one of my guardians.

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