Magic Bound: The Peacesmith Series Book 2

by Carly Hansen


PROLOGUE

The worn tires of the old pickup sank into a pothole on the dark mountain road, rattling the doors and windows. Instinctively, the nineteen-year-old girl at the wheel swung her head to look at the precious cargo in the backseat.

“How’s my little tyke holding up?”

The six-month-old smiled and gurgled as he played with the edge of the soft blanket he was wrapped in.

The girl quickly turned back to the road, keeping her eyes on the small arc of yellow formed by the headlamps.

This lonely forested stretch of her journey had been a trial. Between swerving sharply to avoid a deer and banging her head on the roof of the pickup after meeting a crater in the road, she was already on edge.

It’d been no joyride for her little one either. He’d been rudely awakened by the close call with the deer.

The girl stretched her neck to look at the blue-eyed tot in the rearview mirror. “Go back to sleep my lo— What the hell?”

Tires screeched as the pickup careened off the road. The smell of burning rubber invaded the air.

Thrown to the side, the girl screamed as her head slammed against the window.

The truck bumped along the gravel shoulder and skidded toward a tree. Her heart racing and her head pounding from the impact, she held tightly to the steering wheel, forcing herself not to swivel her head to keep an eye on the baby.

“Hold on, darling.”

Breathing heavily, the girl fought with the steering wheel and slammed on the brakes. She swung away just inches from the tree.

Her heart raced wildly as she jammed the gas. The tires spat up gravel. The stones pounded the undercarriage, and the pickup pulled back onto the road.

The girl blew out a long breath.

Driving on slowly, she reached back to the car seat. She was relieved to see the baby staring at her with wide eyes, showing no sign of the terror that’d left her shaking. His tiny mouth opened in a wide “O” as he yawned and turned his head.

“What the hell was that?” the girl whispered to herself.

She shook her head as if to get rid of the memory of the thing that’d suddenly appeared in the road directly in front of the pickup. She swore she was going to hit it. But then it just vanished.

Am I going crazy or something?

She took her hand off the steering wheel and ran her fingers through her long, black hair. It was a gesture she always made whenever she needed to calm herself. But it wasn’t quite working. Her hand shook uncontrollably.

I swear something was there.

The girl shook her head and blinked several times.

“Either that or my mind’s playing tricks on me.” She sighed.

It’d been a long drive. Maybe it was simply that she hadn’t had enough sleep.

She closed her eyes, trying to remember what the thing had looked like. Like a man. A tall, thin one with pointy ears. But it was as if he were made of light.

He had been right in front of the truck. But just as she was about to hit him, it was as if the light got switched off and he disappeared.

She knew it sounded crazy, but she was almost sure it had happened that way.

She was thankful she’d been able to handle the old pickup. It was her fiancé’s, and he’d never let her drive it before. He always said the thing had a mind of its own and she’d never be able to master it.

“The hell! There it is again.”

The girl hit the brakes hard. Tires screeched.

For a brief second, she caught a glimpse of a tall, thin man. He seemed to shimmer. And just as incredibly, he suddenly vanished.

The girl couldn’t believe her eyes. But she had no time to process this.

The truck skidded and spun out of control. It slid toward the guardrail on the side of the road that overlooked a precipice.

“No,” the girl cried, her heart jackhammering.

The pickup crashed into the guardrail, throwing the girl forward in her seat belt.

The baby wailed. Ignoring the pain in her collarbone, the girl wrenched her body to the side and reached for him.

“It’s okay, honey. Everything’s okay.” Her trembling voice betrayed her words.

With her hand still reaching out to comfort the screaming child, the girl bent her head to look out the window. In the bushes across the road, a long shaft of light dangled in the air. It seemed to come from nowhere.

Just ahead of it stood the man she’d seen a while ago, flanked by two others. Their bodies appeared to glow and sparkle.

The three began moving toward the pickup with determined steps.

The girl screamed.

She put the truck into reverse and pressed hard on the gas. But the wheels didn’t move. “What the—”

The girl shook the steering wheel and mashed the gas pedal repeatedly, but nothing happened. “This is impossible.”

The three figures were almost upon the pickup.

The girl knew she couldn’t just wait around like a sitting duck. These men looked like they could kill.

With trembling fingers, she reached under her seat and felt for the tire iron her fiancé usually kept there. Her hand grasped and grasped, but clutched only air.

She slapped the steering wheel. “Damn it.”

Breathing hard, she glanced behind at the baby screaming and squirming in his seat. “It’ll be all right, honey.”

The young mother scanned the four doors of the pickup. All were locked.

Reaching back, she rested her free hand on the baby’s chest and shook him gently to quell his cries. “Shh,” she whispered as she looked into his wide, startled eyes. “Everything’s going to be all right.”

Click, click.

The sounds came from inside. The girl looked at the locks on the two back doors; they were now open.

“What?” The girl’s jaw dropped. Her hands were nowhere near the switch to open the locks.

Suddenly, the two back doors swung open. Two of the men entered from either side.

“What are you doing?” the girl screamed.

The men said nothing. They didn’t even look at her.

With swift movements, one unbuckled the baby’s restraint. The other reached in for the wailing child.

“Leave my baby alone,” the girl yelled. She tugged at her seat belt but couldn’t get free.

One of the men lifted the child out of his seat. With terror in his eyes, the baby kicked and bawled.

“Put my baby down,” the girl shouted.

Ignoring her, the men silently withdrew with the wailing child.

“Please, don’t take my baby.” The girl frantically struggled against the seat belt to break free.

The two men took the child to the third. He inspected the baby, then nodded.

As the men walked away, the girl frantically pounded the buckle of the seat belt with her fist. “Bring my baby back,” she screamed as tears streamed down her cheeks.

She bashed the clasp over and over until her hands bled. Her wounds stung, but she continued banging. Finally, the buckle released.

The girl flung the door open and ran after the men. Drawn by the cries of her child, she found them as they walked toward the shaft of light.

“Stop,” she called out. “Give me my baby.”

The man carrying the child turned around and stared at her. His cold, hard eyes struck terror into her heart, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her.

She ran straight at him.

Suddenly, he lifted his right hand and narrowed his eyes.

The girl felt her feet leave the ground. Terror gripped her heart. She looked down and saw she was hovering in the air. Worse, she couldn’t move her limbs. She was frozen.

The man flicked his wrist and turned to the shaft of light. As he walked to it, the girl felt herself moving backward, floating further away from the men holding her child.

“No,” she screamed. “Come back with my baby. I want my baby.”

Whatever force was moving her took her swiftly past the truck, over the guardrail, and just above the precipice.

The three men walked through the shaft of light and vanished.

The glow became dimmer and dimmer. As soon as it disappeared, the force keeping the girl suspended in the air also died.

Before she could understand what was happening, she plunged to the ground and tumbled down the hill.

Her screams echoed in the cool night air.



Chapter 1


“Hey, watch it up there.”

Fenix swung out of the way just as loose rocks and earth came cascading down. A few inches above her head, Twain clambered up the steep hill in the dark.

“Ouf.” Gaius cried out below her. It sounded to Fenix like his reflexes were slower than hers.

“Just a bit more to get to the top,” Twain said, panting.

Suddenly, braying pierced the silence of the night.

“Damn, it’s the hounds,” Twain said. “When we entered the field and I didn’t see them, I thought it was our lucky night.”

Fenix turned around and squinted. By the dim light of the moon, she could make out the silhouette of the pack. There were maybe a dozen of them.

They were big creatures—demon hounds that reached as high as the average man’s hip. Their bulging muscles rippled as they bounded across the field below, charging toward the hill.

“Well, our luck just ran out,” Fenix said. She dug her combat boots into the soft soil and scrambled up the hill, trying not to lose her flat cap, which chose this of all times to slip off her short shag.

She was a girl just past twenty, but as a runaway who’d lived rough on the streets, she’d found it easier to survive by dressing as, and pretending to be, a boy.

The week before, an even bigger secret about her came to light, one Fenix hadn’t been aware of.

Fenix had learned the sister and parents she’d grown up with were not her real family. She’d been secretly switched with the couple’s dead baby. A great mage had placed her with the family to protect her identity as the first human in centuries to be born with the magical peacesmith gene.

“Move it, quickly,” Fenix yelled.

The hounds were at the bottom of the hill now, barking and snarling.

“Let’s get out of here,” Gaius cried out with a trembling voice. One of the dogs leaped up and caught hold of the edge of his purple robe. “It’s got me,” he screamed.

Gaius was not a fighter or an adventurer.

Unlike Fenix and Twain, he’d never run with street gangs. As the apprentice to the great mage Nostrad, who’d placed Fenix with her foster parents, he’d lived as a scholar. Now, as Fenix approached her twenty-first birthday, the age at which peacesmiths took up their duties, he’d been sent by Nostrad to act as her mentor.

Out of loyalty to her, he’d put on a brave face and followed her on all her escapades since showing up the previous week.

He wasn’t sounding too brave now.

Screaming, Gaius shook his foot. With one hand, he held onto a rock on the slope. With the other, he frantically pulled at his robe to dislodge it from the hound’s jaw.

Fenix looked down at the growling, snarling beasts with their long, sharp teeth that glistened in the moonlight. Her heart raced. All she wanted was to scramble to the top of the hill, but she couldn’t leave Gaius to fend them off on his own.

“Hold on,” she said. Gripping a rock with her right hand, she dug her feet into the slope to give her more stability. With her left, she reached past Gaius’ long, sandy-blond hair and grabbed the hood of his robe.

She tugged at the fabric, but she could feel the powerful force of the hound yanking Gaius’ robe down. The fact that he was swinging his leg wildly at the beast wasn’t helping matters either.

Her palms itched, as if being pricked by a thousand needles. Her magic was rising inside her.

All her life, she’d tried to stifle the sensation whenever it came. Before Gaius had shown up, she’d been confused about it. The very notion that magic powers might exist within her had struck terror in her heart.

It was illegal for anyone to practice magic unless they had a license. And even the few who were authorized faced grave danger from vigilantes in a land where magic was feared and scorned.

Fenix had learned from Gaius that the sensation arose because of the peacesmith gene, a rare mutation that enabled her to channel natural forces. She could control fire, water, wind, and earth. Or, at least, she had the potential to. She’d faced one major battle in which sheer terror had spurred her to unleash her powers.

Although Gaius now tried to occupy all Fenix’s free time in lessons about being a peacesmith, she hadn’t called on her magic since the big battle.

Dirt and pebbles struck Fenix in the face as Twain climbed further up.

“Come on, you guys,” he called.

With the hood of Gaius’ robe slipping through her fingers after each powerful tug by the hound, Fenix thought now was as good a time as any to try her powers again.

But she had more to worry about.

The rock she was holding began to wobble. It was the only thing preventing her and Gaius from sliding into the waiting jaws of the demon hounds.

There was only one thing to do.

Well, two, actually.

She would have to call up two different magical powers at the same time.

Fenix wasn’t sure she could accomplish this feat, but with disaster looming above and below, she had no choice but to try. Closing her eyes, she visualized the earth around the rock she held solidifying, with pockets forming in the slope above to give her an easy escape route.

She threw her whole will into making the vision real. Her right hand burned, as if on fire. The pain was so intense Fenix wanted to let go of the rock. But she held on, even as she felt the stone loosen further.

White light glowed from under her palm. Her entire arm shook violently. Fenix feared the trembling alone would dislodge the rock and send her and Gaius plummeting.

Just as the stone was about to come free, it stopped moving.

What had been soft earth touching the tips of Fenix’s fingers now felt like solid concrete. A soft crackling sound continued upward, as the rest of the slope transformed under her magic.

Even though her hands were scorching, Fenix squeezed hard on the rock to hold the magic in place. She visualized fire shooting out of her other hand. This came easier.

Throwing fire was the only power she’d had any clue about in the past. Since childhood, she’d been frightened by the small sparks that would burst out of her hands whenever she felt angry or in danger.

Now, with her hand tightly curled around Gaius’ hood, Fenix wondered how she would be able to unleash her firepower.

Suddenly, pain ripped through her head. She felt as if a flaming sword was slicing right down the center of her brain. Fenix squeezed her eyes shut. Her jaw fell open as she cried a silent scream.

This was the price for trying to use two powers at the same time.

Below, a second demon hound leaped and caught Gaius’ robe. The doubled power of the beasts’ muscles was more than Fenix could withstand. The creatures jerked Gaius, and Felix felt his hood slip further out of her fingers.

“Help,” he yelled.

“Let go of your robe and grab my boot,” Fenix shouted.

Just as the hounds pulled down and wrenched the hood completely out of Fenix’s fingers, she felt Gaius’ hand clamp around her ankle.

Fenix’s now-free hand flared with the sting of a thousand pinpricks. It glowed white, and a flame burst forth in her palm.

Ignoring the searing pain in her head, Fenix flung her hand in the direction of the beasts. A ball of fire hurtled at them.

The flame struck the hounds on their noses and flared up in their faces.

The demon hounds let go of Gaius’ robe and yelped.

Fenix grabbed Gaius by the hood and yanked him up. She pushed him ahead of her. “Let’s go,” she shouted.

With the other enraged hounds leaping and snapping at their feet, Fenix and Gaius scrambled up the slope. They made quick work of it, thanks to the pockets created by Fenix’s magic.

Gaius reached the top first and threw himself onto the ridge.

As Fenix reached the crest, she dug her foot into the last pocket and felt the earth come loose. She slipped backward, but grabbed hold of Gaius’ robe and managed to pull herself up.


******


“What went on there?” Twain asked. “I thought I saw flashing lights.” He was lying on the ground, rubbing the stubs just above his peg legs.

Twain didn’t have legs. He didn’t even have regular prosthetics.

Alda, the witch Fenix and Twain worked as couriers for, had replaced his ordinary prosthetics with legs made of broomsticks. Sure, they made him look like a throwback to pirate times, but they were enchanted and allowed Twain to leap incredible distances.

“Must’ve been your imagination,” Fenix said. “There were only demon hounds down there.”

Fenix hadn’t told Twain anything about being a peacesmith. She still hadn’t fully accepted what that discovery meant for her.

Gaius had explained that her powers came with great responsibilities. Peacesmiths had traditionally been women. Each had acted as a one-woman police force in their territory, keeping the peace between humans and supernaturals.

But as the resurgent peacesmith, Fenix had an even bigger duty.

She was destined to face a powerful magical beast called Diabon, the deadliest enemy of the peacesmiths. A prophesy said that only one of them would survive the encounter.

Alda knew of Fenix’s newly discovered identity. But Fenix wasn’t eager to share the secret with the others. It would only complicate relationships and put anyone who knew her at risk of being thrown in jail for harboring someone with illegal magical powers.

Fenix got on her hands and knees, then crawled over to Twain. “You hurt?”

“Climbing was hell on my legs. I really should have just sprung to the top.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I didn’t want to get too far ahead and leave you guys, seeing as I got us into this mess.”

“Hey, I’m the one who got us in this mess, remember? I’m the one who insisted we find Alda’s Harley.”

The witch had sold off her beloved motorbike to raise money to rescue Fenix’s kidnapped sister. Now, Alda swung between desperate sadness and blistering rage, worse than Fenix had seen in the three years she’d lived under the witch’s roof.

Fenix felt guilty about Alda missing the Harley and was determined to get it back.

“Yeah, but I’m the one who found out about this place and led us here.” Twain sat up. “And you know what? I’m not sure we should continue.”

“Are you kidding me?” Fenix folded her arms.

Gaius joined them. “I’m all for bailing on this mission.”

Fenix scowled at him. “We’ve come this far. We might as well check with this Larus character to see if he knows about Alda’s bike.”

Larus was said to be a mean-spirited mountain troll who lived in the hills just outside the city of Tresmort. The hairy giant ran a business called Touched by Magic. He sold items he claimed had or once had magical properties.

Alda’s bike was charmed. It ran on lavender water and a drop of dragon bile. The bike could go faster than the average Harley and could pass through solid walls.

If it was in circulation, the troll would more than likely know about it. Chances were it would end up in his yard with a for-sale sign on it.

Touched by Magic was an illegal operation, for sure. If the authorities knew where it was, they would certainly have shut it down. If the vigilantes knew where it was, Fenix wasn’t sure they would’ve attempted an attack. From what she’d learned from Twain, the troll had such a fearsome reputation that most people gave him a wide berth.

“But he does business by invitation only, when he has something that might interest those he considers potential buyers,” Twain said. “And we don’t have an invite.”

“So what? We are here already. His place is just beyond that oak stand over there, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, well, just dropping in on Larus sounded good in theory. It doesn’t seem like such a bright idea now, after being chased by his demon hounds.”

Fenix got to her feet. “If you want to hang out here or return to Alda’s empty-handed, go right ahead. But I’m not leaving without finding out about that bike.”

She marched off toward the giant oaks.

Gaius got up and shrugged as he passed Twain. “I wouldn’t advise returning the way we came. Too many sharp teeth back there.”

He trotted to catch up with Fenix. Soon, the tock, tock of Twain’s peg legs sounded after them.

Past the oak trees was a massive stone wall, ten-feet high and two-feet thick. At the iron gate, the trio peeped in.

The sprawling grounds looked like a junkyard.

Even in the darkness, Fenix could make out old cars and trucks, and even an ancient-looking fire engine rusting on the lawn. Broken pillars, statues missing arms or heads, and strange-looking pieces of machinery lay everywhere. One corner was piled high with bricks, boards, windows, and doors.

The air smelled musty with decay.

A stone cottage stood in the middle of the junk. Even though it had just one story, it seemed to be at least fifteen-feet tall. Bright yellow light blazed in the windows. From what Fenix could see, it looked like the inside of the place was just as jam-packed.

She pushed her hands through the bars of the gate and felt for the latch. When she found it, her heart sank when her fingers curled around a huge lock that kept the latch stiffly in place.

Scrunching up her mouth, she turned to the others. “You don’t suppose there’s a bell, is there?”

“Not that I’d want to try it even if there was one,” Twain said. “This place gives me the creeps.”

Gaius coughed. “It’s not my type of establishment, either.”

“Too late to turn back now,” Fenix said.

She pulled the charmed knife from the leather sheath at her waist. It was a gift from Alda. In Fenix’s hands, it could turn into any weapon or rudimentary tool she wished it to be.

Fenix visualized a giant lock pick. It had to be as big as a wrench to take on this monster lock. She flicked her wrist. With a flash of orange light, the knife disappeared and was replaced by the pick.

Fenix twisted and rattled the pick. After a short while, the lock yielded with a soft click. She threw it off, pulled the latch free, and pushed in the heavy gate. It groaned open.

“Let’s go introduce ourselves.” With another flick, Fenix converted the pick back into her knife and tucked it away.

Twain stepped back. “Can’t we just snoop around to see whether the bike is here or not?”

“What good would that do?” Fenix stepped into the yard. “We’ve got to get Alda’s Harley back. Otherwise, she’ll remain in a foul mood and we’ll continue to suffer. At the very least, we have to find out how much Larus will want for it if he does have it.”

She continued toward the cottage.

Reluctantly, Gaius and Twain followed her.

They didn’t make it halfway up the path before the door swung open.

Without warning, a giant wooden club came whizzing right at them.

“Duck,” Fenix cried, dropping to the ground. She heard the others drop, too.

She hadn’t even caught her breath when she looked up and saw a three-foot tall metal ball rolling out the door, heading straight for her.

“Look out,” she shouted.

She rolled away in the nick of time, relieved to see Gaius and Twain do the same. The ball crashed into a marble pillar, smashing it to pieces.

The three scrambled to their feet.

“Not much of a welcoming party around here, is there?” Fenix said.

“We’ve got to get out of here.” Twain turned to head back down the path.

Just then, Fenix saw the hairy giant appear in the doorway. He swung another wooden club above his head and released it.

“Look out,” Fenix yelled.

She flung herself onto Twain and brought him to the ground, just as the club was about to hit him.

Gaius frantically helped them up.

“Hide,” he shouted.

The three scampered toward the piles of bricks.

“Who dares invade my property?” The giant’s voice boomed. “I’m going to get you and pound you to dust.”

Fenix peeped over the bricks as the mass of hair in dirty blue overalls came their way.

“Larus, we mean no harm,” she shouted.

The troll’s only response was to rip a metal bar from the nearest piece of machinery and hurl it in their direction. The hunk of iron shattered bricks in front of their noses.

“Whoa,” Twain cried. “Run!”

He and Gaius dashed over to the stack of boards and crouched.

“Fenix,” Twain called.

She waved him off and stayed put, even as the mountain troll stomped closer.

“We came here to buy something, Larus,” she shouted.

“No one can come in here to buy anything unless invited,” the giant roared.

He ripped off the cover from a barrel and sent it flying like a Frisbee. It hit the pile of bricks with a terrifying clang.

“Fenix,” Gaius called.

She ignored him.

“We work for Alda, the healer witch,” Fenix shouted. “We came to see if you have her Harley.”

The troll stopped in his tracks. He twisted his head, putting his hand to his ear. His tangled hair and bushy beard fell to the side.

“Did you say Alda, the witch?”

Fenix slowly rose and peeped over the bricks. “Yes, I work for her as a courier. You know her?”

Larus wiped his hands on his overalls, dirtying them further. He approached with as sprightly a step as his lumbering frame could manage.

“Never met her, but I’ve heard plenty about her.” He stood in front of the pile of bricks and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Saved my grandpa over in the old country. That was long ago, when a plague swept through the Umbra Region. Grandpa was at death’s door, and she healed him good and proper.”

Fenix stood and walked around the pile to stand face to face with the troll.

She trembled at the size of the giant. His head was as big as that of three men put together. Even seated, he towered over her. The unwashed smell of him was so powerful it made her feel faint.

“Unfortunately, Alda had to sell her bike a little while ago,” she said as calmly as she could. “We thought it might have ended up here, somehow. We’d like to buy it back.”

Throwing his head back, the troll chuckled. His body shook, and knots of hair flew in every direction.

Gaius and Twain cautiously crept over and joined Fenix as she stared at the laughing giant.

“I don’t get what’s so funny,” Fenix said.

Larus’ laughter died down as he wiped tears from his eyes.

“You work for Alda you say?”

“Yes.”

“Everybody knows she has no money for herself, much less for her workers. Yet, you think you can buy back that bike for her?”

“How much do you want for it?”

“I don’t even have it. Not yet, at least.”

“So you think it just might fall into your hands?”

“It might.”

“Any idea when?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m expecting some deliveries tomorrow. It might just be in that lot. I can only price it when I have it.”

“So can we come back tomorrow?”

Felix felt Twain tug at her jacket, as if to stop her. She ignored him.

The troll knitted his brow. “For Alda’s sake, I’ll let you come back tomorrow. But I don’t see it doing you any good.”

“Why do you say that?”

The troll got to his feet. “That item is in high demand. I’m going to fetch a pretty penny for it. And something tells me it might be a wee bit over your budget.”

“We’ll come back tomorrow, if it’s all the same to you.”

Larus scratched his under his arms. “Suit yourself. Now get out of my sight so I can go back inside and finish my supper.”

He stomped off toward his cottage, and Gaius and Twain started for the gate.

Fenix stayed put and called after the giant. “Any chance there’s an exit that doesn’t come with demon hounds?”

Larus turned around with a scowl.

Fenix put on her humblest smile and shrugged. “For Alda’s sake. She might like her courier to return in one piece, you know.”

The troll swung his hand in the direction of the vehicles. “Down that way, through the culvert under the maple tree. Use it this once and never tell anyone about it.”

With a huff, he turned and continued to his cottage.

Twain didn’t wait a second longer. “I, for one, am out of here.” He brushed past Fenix and made a bee-line for the maple tree.

“Let’s go,” Gaius said as he hurried off.

Fenix followed them, scooting past the fire engine and rust buckets on wheels she was sure no amount of magic could get going again.

As she walked by the dented bumper of an old pickup, a knot formed in her stomach.

She tried to ignore it, but she couldn’t. The pain grew more intense with every step away.

Fenix turned and walked back to the pickup. She closed her eyes and ran her fingers along the cold metal as she began to slowly circle the vehicle.

The knot tightened, causing her to double over as she walked. It was the kind of feeling she’d had before just as she was about to have a vision.

She was puzzled that she saw nothing as she circled the truck. That changed when she came to the back door on the right.

Her blood went cold, and she froze.

Hands reach in and snatch up a baby. Unloving hands. Uncaring hands. The child smells the danger. Terrified, he kicks and screams.

Fenix’s body went limp, and she fell to the ground. She grabbed hold of the door handle to pull herself up.

Her limbs went stiff again. She froze, hanging on to the side of the truck. Pain riveted her as a new scene flashed across her brain.

The same child, but he’s somehow different. Not just his clothes, although he’s now dressed in a white gown of satin and lace.

He’s lying alone on a cold, pink marble table. Beside him is an ornate knife with a gold handle and a gleaming black blade almost as long as the baby himself.

The child senses danger. He squirms away from the knife, wailing at the top of his lungs.

Fenix suddenly unfroze, leaning against the truck for support.

The door to the cottage banged open. Larus came pelting down the trail toward the vehicles.

“You’re still here?” he yelled. “Don’t try my patience, boy.”

“Fenix, come now,” Gaius called as he approached the truck.

“I saw something,” Fenix said weakly. She felt drained.

“We’ve got to get out of here now.” Gaius grabbed her hand and dragged her toward the maple tree.

With the sound of grunts and heavy footsteps behind them, they ran to meet up with Twain, who was already bending down and squeezing into the culvert.



Chapter 2


Fenix was dead tired when they landed with their bicycles behind one of the dilapidated buildings on the abandoned wharf where they lived with Alda.

The flying bicycles belonged to the witch. They were among the hoard of objects she’d collected over the centuries and stored in the warehouse that doubled as her home.

Alda had no clue Fenix and the others had taken the bikes out for a spin.

They hid the bicycles and headed for the only building that was lit up. There was no electricity on the wharf, much of which had been destroyed several decades before in a series of meteorite strikes known as The Events. Alda, however, kept her home lit with magical torches.

The trio crept to the entrance to the section of the warehouse where Alda kept a garden filled with plants that had magical properties.

The door opened with a soft creak as they neared.

“You got it?” Java opened his eyes wide with expectation.

At fourteen, he was the youngest of the couriers Alda hired to pick up magical ingredients and deliver potions and poultices to her clients.

Twain grunted as he stepped inside. “Does it look like we have a damned Harley with us?”

Fenix entered after Gaius. She shrugged when she saw the disappointment on Java’s face.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t get Alda’s bike,” he said. “I can’t take her moodiness anymore. I thought she was going to rip my head off when I told her Twain was asleep and you and Gaius were out for a walk.”

“It’s the food that’s killing me.” Twain shook his head. “Her magic is really off.”

As there was no electricity or gas supply, Alda prepared their meals using ancient kitchen appliances and a little magic.

“I can’t take any more hamburgers that smell like skunk spray,” Twain said. “And the pizza yesterday was the worst. The dough was raw, the pepperoni tasted like liver, and the cheese was so brittle it was like chewing on eggshells.”

“So the troll didn’t have the bike?” Java asked.

“No, but he said he might get it soon,” Fenix said. “We’re going back tomorrow night.”

“Who’s this ‘we’ you’re talking about?” Twain folded his arms.

“Come on, you’re not going to let a few demon hounds turn you into a scaredy-cat, are you? Besides, if we use that culvert under the maple tree to get in, we won’t have to face those hounds.”

“Yeah,” Twain said. “We’d only have to face the wrath of a foul-tempered mountain troll who told us to never use that passageway again. But that’s beside the point. Going back will be a waste of time. You can’t afford to buy that bike.”

“Larus has a soft spot for Alda because she saved his grandfather’s life. I’m sure we can find a way to use that to persuade him to give us back Alda’s Harley.”

“You’re talking about a troll who tried to flatten us by lobbing six hundred pounds of machinery at us.”

“It’s worth a try.”

Twain huffed. “Well, you’ll have to do it without me, because I’m not setting foot anywhere near that place again.”

Fenix opened her mouth to reply, but Alda’s voice exploded into the garden from the living quarters on the second floor.

“Java!”

Java jumped. He tugged Twain’s sleeve. “We’d better go. She wants us to help her move a bunch of books and boxes from her medicine room to the garage.”

“But didn’t we just spend the entire day lugging a bunch of books and boxes from the storage room to that medicine room?”

“Yep, and I think it’s even the same ones we’ll be moving.” Java shook his head as they walked off. “I tell you, she’s going crazy.”

Fenix chewed her lower lip as she watched them leave. “Fine. We don’t really need Twain to get back to Touched by Magic, anyway.”

“But he does have a point.” Gaius spoke calmly. “I wouldn’t exactly describe that mountain troll as someone you can reason with.”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” Fenix said. “But there’s something else that happened in that place I have to deal with, too.”

Lowering her voice, Fenix related to Gaius the visions she’d had of the baby. “I have to find him, Gaius,” she said. “I have to save that baby.”

Gaius sighed. “But you have no clue what those visions were about.”

“I know a child is in grave danger.”

“But who’s to say this isn’t just something the local police can deal with?”

“That pickup was at Touched by Magic.”

“So?”

“It means it has some connection to the supernatural world. The local police likely won’t be able to make heads or tails of it.”

“What you’re saying doesn’t prove anything. Larus may have got the truck because it runs on magic. And the vision you saw may have just happened to be associated with the truck, but have no other supernatural connection.”

Fenix folded her arms and stared at her thick combat boots. “Even so, what I feel is too powerful to ignore. I saw that child for a reason. He’s in danger, and I have to save him.”

“How do you plan to do that?” Gaius huffed. “Where would you even start?”

Fenix was struck by the hint of anger she’d heard in Gaius’ voice. She kept staring at her boots. The situation did seem a bit hopeless.

She knew nothing about the child. Had no clue who he was or where he was from. She didn’t have the foggiest idea when or why he’d been taken out of his car seat, or by whom.

All she had was what she felt deep within as she recalled the visions. And that was a physical pain that tightened knots in her stomach and made it almost hard for her to breathe.

But there was also a psychic pain, something she couldn’t locate in any part of her body. Rather, it permeated her entire being. Fenix knew she would not be able to rest until she found and saved that baby.

“Well, tell me, Fenix.” Gaius’ voice was almost taunting. “Where would you start?”

Fenix heard footsteps entering the garden. She looked up and saw her sister, Catelyn, bounding toward her, her pink hair bouncing off her shoulder.

Fenix turned to Gaius and smiled, tilting her head in Catelyn’s direction.

“I’ll start right there.”


******


Catelyn led the way to the back of the basement of the Tresmort Public Library.

“Can we use those bikes more often?” She rubbed her hands together. “That was the best fun ever.”

“Don’t go around saying that,” Fenix warned. “The mood Alda’s in, she’d probably throw a fit and turn us all into rats if she discovered we got them out.”

It was late and the place was deserted. Even so, Catelyn had asked at the front desk for the most private space to get an Internet connection.

Fenix felt she could count on her sister to help her find out about the child. If the police were onto the case, then Catelyn could dig up whatever information there was.

It was in large part thanks to Catelyn’s hacking skills that she and Fenix had found each other again after tragedy separated them for five years.

When a fire Fenix blamed herself for destroyed their childhood home, she was sure Catelyn had perished along with their dad in the blaze. Distraught and fearing what the authorities might do to her, Fenix had run away and ended up in Tresmort.

To hide her identity, she’d changed her name from Keera to Fenix and traded skirts and dresses for male attire. After life on the streets with various gangs, Fenix had been recruited by Alda to work as part of the witch’s band of couriers.

Unknown to Fenix, Catelyn had survived the blaze and had been placed in various foster homes.

Although the authorities thought Fenix died in the fire, Catelyn knew better. She joined hacking communities online and learned how to infiltrate networks. She broke into police records, applying her skills to track down Fenix, eventually determining Tresmort was the place where she’d find her long-lost sister.

Catelyn had been right. But she’d had no clue what troubles would confront her before they could meet again, or that when she eventually came face to face with her sister, it would be more like finding a brother.

Fenix and Gaius stood over Catelyn as she settled in at the desk and turned on the computer.

She cracked her knuckles and stared at the screen as it glowed to life. “It’s so good to be back in business.”

Alda had opened her home to Catelyn, too. And while Catelyn seemed happy enough to toy with the gadgets from bygone eras that the witch accumulated, Fenix could sense her sister’s longing for her computer and other modern devices. She wondered how long Catelyn would hold out. At least this escapade had turned up the idea that the library could provide Catelyn some relief.

“You think you can get anything?” Fenix asked.

“I don’t know.” Catelyn swept a lock of pink hair behind her ears. “I don’t have a license plate number, a name, date, location, or anything to go on.”

Fenix sighed.

“I mean, I can try,” Catelyn said. “More than likely, though, the library’s blocking software may prevent me from accessing anything useful. Plus, the lady at the front desk said we have fifteen minutes to closing.”

Fenix pursed her lips and stared at the floor.

“But I’ll give it my best shot,” Catelyn said brightly.

Fenix rested her hand on Catelyn’s shoulder and squeezed. “Thanks, sis.”

“We’ll let you do your thing,” Gaius said as he pulled Fenix away.

He folded his arms and paced in a corner. “I don’t know about this, Fenix.”

“What?”

“We’re spending so much time, energy, and effort on something that may not be anything, or at least anything that has to do with your duties as a peacesmith.”

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” Fenix shook her head. “A baby has been snatched, Gaius. I’ve seen his terror. I’ve seen his terrible fate. And you’re telling me I must ignore that?”

“This is a big, cruel world, Fenix. Horrible things happen every day. You can’t go around trying to save everybody.”

“This is not everybody. This is a helpless child, damn it. He’s hardly even had a chance to begin living his life.”

Fenix ripped off her flat cap and slapped it against the wall.

“This isn’t fair, Gaius. You show up in my life and tell me I’m a mutant with some kind of sacred, ancient duty to save humanity from peril. And now, when I’m responding to the strange powers I never asked for, when I’m trying to act on these visions, you’re telling me this is not what I’m supposed to be doing?”

Gaius let out a deep breath. Fenix thought he must have felt her frustration because he spoke now in a gentler voice.

“All I’m saying is that you need to wisely choose where to direct your energies.”

“Well, this is important to me.”

“But so is the need for you to learn about and practice your magic. You’ve only scratched the surface of what you’re capable of. You need to strengthen and sharpen your abilities.”

Fenix rammed the cap back on her head and folded her arms.

“You also need to learn more about Nostrad and the Order of the Chimera that’s been there to support peacesmiths throughout antiquity. Plus, you must spend time studying your enemies. You’ll need to understand Diabon if you are to defeat him. There’s so much we need to explore yet.”

“Well, Alda’s been keeping me and the boys busy lately.”

“I know, but you can’t afford to let everyday distractions leave you unprepared to meet your destiny.”

Fenix bent her head and buried her face in her hands. “I’m trying to accept that. I realize these powers come with responsibilities. And I know I have huge expectations to live up to. But that’s just it. These responsibilities are so huge, and I’m just me—Keera, a girl who had to run away from home because of the fire that flew out of her hand.”

Gaius touched Fenix lightly on the shoulder. She looked up, and he smiled comfortingly.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. All of this must be overwhelming.”

“Understatement of the year.” Fenix snorted.

They laughed.

Fenix drew in a deep breath. “I get that I have a larger duty to perform, and I’m steeling myself every day for it. As much as I’d like to run away, I know I can’t.”

Gaius nodded. “Good.”

“But this thing with the baby, it’s not about running away from bigger things,” Fenix said. “It’s something I must do. That child has no one right now. And I’m the only one who can save him.”

“I would rather you spend your time preparing to face Diabon.” Gaius sighed. “But if you feel finding this child is what you must do, I’ll be by your side to help you any way I can.”

“Thank you, Gaius.” Fenix’s smile felt stiff. A question remained on the tip of her tongue. Something had troubled her about her visions.

She’d started having them only the previous week. Her body felt different on the various occasions. When she pictured the baby being snatched, the sensations that ran through her were the same as she’d felt most times. Experience told her that on most occasions, what she saw was a sliver of time in the past, or a peek into something happening elsewhere in the present.

She’d felt a sharper pain and cold, instead of heat, when she saw the baby on the marble table, next to the knife.

She’d felt those sensations on only one other occasion.

That was when she’d pictured herself in a passionate embrace with Micha Angelo, the powerful local vampire overlord.

She’d been confused by that image when she’d seen it. Reality seemed to argue against the two of them coming together. They’d had a falling out, and Micha had been injured and whisked away by his own kind. Besides, Micha was her natural enemy, having been converted to destroy peacesmiths and other supernaturals who posed a threat to his sire.

But Fenix had seen herself embracing him in a vision. She was content to hold onto the thought that it was a premonition. But she didn’t care to question it or consult Gaius to confirm whether she had the power to see into the future.

This time, things were different. Now a child’s life was at stake, and Fenix needed to know the extent of her powers.

“Tell me, Gaius,” she said. “Can peacesmiths see into the future?”

“Not generally. Nostrad told me of maybe three or four. But it didn’t happen until they’d been working as peacesmiths for decades.”

“But it is possible I may have had a premonition?”

“It’s possible. Remember, you’re different from those who came before. You are the most powerful peacesmith to have been born because your destiny is to be the last to face Diabon.”

“Okay.” Fenix tried not to let that last part bother her. “I think the child has yet to face his moment on that sacrificial table. We have time to find him. I just don’t know how much.”

Fenix caught movement at the side of her eye. She turned and saw Catelyn approaching.

Catelyn sighed. “Sorry, I hit a block.”

“You’ve got nothing?”

Catelyn shook her head. “And truly, if I did get into the police records, it would’ve been like searching for a needle in a haystack. I need something to narrow down the search.”

“The truck had no plates,” Fenix said.

“The vehicle identification number would’ve been the most useful. It should be etched in the windshield.”

Fenix perked up. “I can get that.”

She struck Gaius on the shoulder. “I mean, we can get that. Right? We’re going back to Touched by Magic tomorrow night.”

Gaius nodded, looking reluctant. “Yes, right.”



Chapter 3


The next night, Fenix stepped out of the culvert and onto the soft lawn at Touched by Magic. She stood shaking her head and rubbing her eyes as she tried to make out the scene before her.

She was soon bumped to the side by Gaius as he emerged. She barely noticed.

Gaius stared at her. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s no longer here.”

“What?”

“That pickup truck. It’s gone.”

“What do you mean, it’s gone?”

“There’re all gone—all the vehicles that were here yesterday.”

Gaius stepped forward and poked his neck out as if that would help his eyes pierce the darkness.

Fenix sighed. In the corner of the yard where the vehicles had been the previous night were rough-hewn logs, massive boulders, and smaller, smooth stones that looked like they’d been plucked from some riverbed.

“You think he sold it?” Fenix asked.

“Well, that’s the end of that if he did.”

“You sound a little too happy.”

“I’d rather you get on with the business of preparing to face Diabon instead of trying to put out every fire you come across.”

Fenix scowled. “I’m not going to give up on this so easily. I’ve got to find out what happened to that truck.”

She crept up the small incline and hid behind the pile of logs. Gingerly, she poked her head above the logs and looked around the mountain troll’s yard.

“Nothing’s where it was before,” she whispered as she heard Gaius crawl to her side.

“Looks like everything’s been rearranged.”

The statues and marble pillars were now strewn about the corner where the bricks, wood, and windows had been. They’d been moved to a new spot under a short, leafy tree. The bits of machinery had been relocated closer to the cottage.

“That gives me hope then,” Fenix said. “Maybe the pickup’s still here, only in another place.”

The cottage door swung open, letting out a rectangular burst of yellow light. The mountain troll emerged, backing out and pulling something. He grunted angrily as he struggled with whatever he was trying to move.

Fenix tapped Gaius on the shoulder. “Quick, let’s go the gate and pretend we entered from there.”

“Why?”

“Sounds like he’s already in a grumpy mood. Who knows what he’ll do if he finds out we used the culvert to get back in without his permission.”

They scooted as quietly as they could over to the wall and ran alongside it. Halfway to the gate, Gaius stepped on a fallen tree branch. It snapped loudly, and Fenix froze. Her heart thumping, she turned her head to look at the troll.

He stopped in the doorway and perked up his ears.

But, straining with the weight he was pulling, he seemed too occupied to bother with the sound.

“Keep the noise down,” Fenix whispered to Gaius.

Crouching, they ran as fast as they could to the iron gate. As soon as she reached it, Fenix grabbed hold of the bars and rattled the lock. On her instructions, Gaius stomped on the ground, hemming and hawing.

The mountain troll let go of whatever he was tugging and turned around.

“Who’s there?” he boomed.

Fenix took a deep breath and mustered all her bravery to walk up the path to the cottage. “It’s Alda’s helpers. We came back for her Harley.”

“Wait right there,” the troll grunted.

He dropped the sack he was carrying and returned into the cottage.

Fenix started along the path. “I’m going to look for that pickup.”

“You heard him say wait here.” Gaius reached out to catch Fenix by the sleeve, but he was too late. “He’s not going to like you wandering around.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of—that he won’t let me anywhere near that truck if it’s still here. I have to find it before he returns.”

Fenix darted off among the masses of brick. They weren’t piled very high. She had to crawl on her stomach to stay hidden behind them. The sleeve of her leather jacket got caught in a sharp bit of broken masonry, which sliced it in two.

Fenix shook her head. There was another leather jacket ruined. She’d gone through at least half a dozen since she’d begun working for Alda. Luckily, the witch had scores of them among her hoard and didn’t seem to mind that Fenix made use of them. It was good having a ready fix for her leather addiction.

At the end of the pile, Fenix got to her knees and peeped around the bricks. There it was! The pickup stood among the rusting vehicles down in a gully.

Fenix was calculating whether she’d have enough time to run down there and get the vehicle identification number when she heard the cottage door slam.

She immediately turned around and threw herself on her stomach. She’d reached only halfway when the earth started trembling and bricks began tumbling on her head.

Soon, gigantic boots appeared just before her nose.

The next thing she knew, her body left the ground and she was suspended in midair.

The troll had her by the collar. The jacket caught her in the neck. She flailed and gasped for breath.

The troll’s voice blasted in her face. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Put me down, you big oaf!”

“You’ve been snooping, haven’t you?”

“Not true. Put me down or I’ll have to harm you!”

The troll threw back his head and laughed. “You, boy? You think you can do me harm?”

The giant looked down, as if annoyed.

Even as she struggled to break free, Fenix caught a glimpse of Gaius whacking the troll’s leg with a stick.

The troll grabbed Gaius and held him up.

“Put us down!” Fenix yelled.

“You wretches, you’ve come to rob me, haven’t you?”

Gaius gulped. “No, we haven’t.”

“Then what are you doing sneaking around?”

“I came to see if you’d gotten Alda’s bike yet.”

“Well, I haven’t.”

The troll paused as if struck by a thought. Frowning, he shook Fenix harder than before. “Did she send you here to locate it so she could steal it with magic?”

“She doesn’t even know we’re here.”

The troll seemed to relax. “Good. Because the Alda I’ve heard about isn’t a thief.”

“Put us down, you meathead!” Fenix grabbed her throat and coughed, struggling for breath.

The giant opened his fingers, and Fenix and Gaius went into freefall.

Fenix curled her body so she landed on the ground in a squat.

Gaius, though, landed on his side with an “oof”.

“Can’t be too cautious,” the giant said. “That’s why I move my inventory around every day. Don’t want anyone to be pulling my stuff off this lot using magic.”

Fenix rolled over to Gaius and checked that he was all right.

“We’re not here to steal anything.” She got to her feet and pulled Gaius up. “We’re here only for Alda’s bike.”

She wanted to add the part about the pickup, but decided it’d be more complicated than the troll could handle.

“If Alda didn’t send you, then it’s worse than I thought,” the troll said. “She doesn’t have much money. As her helpers, you guys must have even less.” He batted the air and walked away. “Don’t waste my time. I’m already late making a delivery.”

Fenix ran after him. “But you are getting that Harley, right?”

“It’s on its way.”

“Do you have a price yet?”

“Too high for you lot. As I said, it’s in high demand.”

“You mean you have another buyer?”

The giant nodded. “Someone who’s made me a good offer, really good, and is willing to pay double if I get a better one.”

Fenix’s mind immediately flashed to Carpetha. She was a witch who’d had a long history of rivalry with Alda. There was no lie Carpetha wouldn’t tell or dirty trick she wouldn’t play to try to harm Alda or get at her magical things.

The idea of Alda’s beloved Harley falling into that witch’s hands made Fenix’s blood boil.

She tugged at the giant’s overall. “You have to give us a chance to somehow get that bike.”

“And how are you going to pay for it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we can come work for you.”

“I don’t need any help.”

“Come on, Larus.” Fenix stamped her foot. “Let’s find a way to give Alda her bike back. I’m sure it’s what your grandpa would want.”

“Keep Grandpa out of this,” the troll snarled. “And I’ve tolerated you long enough for Alda’s sake. Should’ve sent the hounds after you the moment I laid eyes on you.”

“Let’s talk—”

“Enough!” The giant raised his fist. “Be off with you. I’m going to make my delivery, and I want you guys out of here.”

The giant marched over to a wheelbarrow that sat among the statues and pushed it up the path to the cottage. With much grunting, he loaded the heavy sack and headed around the side of the cottage.

As he turned the corner, he looked up at Fenix and Gaius. They stood in the path, staring at him.

“Scat!” The troll lunged at them. “Believe me, you don’t want to hang around here while I’m gone.”

He disappeared around the back.

“I believe him,” Gaius said. He scampered off to the culvert to make his exit.

“I’ll join you soon,” Fenix called after him.

She ran in the opposite direction, toward the gully.

I just need to get that number from the truck.

The incline was quite steep. As she climbed down, she lost her footing. She stumbled, skidded, and tumbled to the bottom, landing on her face.

The smell of moss and mud filled her nostrils. The earth was soft and damp under her fingers.

Before she could lift herself out of the muck, she heard a growl.

It was loud, deep, and menacing.

Slowly, Fenix raised her head. Standing before her was the biggest demon hound she’d ever seen. It was slightly taller than the others she’d escaped the night before, but was easily three times their bulk.

Beads of saliva dripped from its powerful jaws as the creature snarled and showed its long, sharp teeth.

Fenix’s eyes connected with the beast’s blazing-red ones. They told her in no uncertain terms that the hound was going to pounce any second.

Her heart banged against her chest.

Mustering all her strength, she threw her body in a spin. The demon hound bounded toward her, but she’d rolled away far enough that she could scramble to her feet.

She ran for the nearest tree.

Damn, she thought. No low branches.

She’d have to jump and try to catch hold of the lowest branch if she was to have any hope of scaling the tree and escaping the hound.

She reached the tree and leapt in the air. Her fingertips just grazed the side of the branch.

With the sound of the hound’s paws bounding toward her, Fenix bent her knees for a second try. Wishing she had Twain’s charmed peg-legs, she launched herself upward. Her fingers connected, and she curled them around the branch.

She was about the pull herself up when she felt herself being dragged down.

When she looked back, she froze.

The demon hound had the hem of her jacket.

It tugged, and Fenix felt her fingers slipping off the branch.

She crumpled and fell on her side, hitting her head hard on the ground. Pain exploded inside her skull.

She screamed.

But a splitting headache was the least of her worries.

The demon hound locked its jaws on her jacket and started dragging her. If it chose to, it could easily lift her in the air and toss her about.

Fenix reached for the knife at her side. There was no time to convert it. She swung around and slashed at the jacket.

In the hound’s jaws, the leather was pulled taut enough that the knife easily hacked off the hem.

Now free of the demon hound’s hold, Fenix rolled again. But she couldn’t get far away fast enough.

The creature’s low growls sent a shiver up her spine.

Suddenly, the hound sprang in the air and landed inches from her. Opening its jaws wide, it thrust its head down.

Instinctively, Fenix drew her hands up to her face. Needles of pain shot through them.

She lowered her hands to her chest as her palms glowed with white light. Then flames burst out from them.

With a flick of her wrist, she sent a ball of fire and hit the hound between the eyes.

The creature drew back, startled.

But it was a persistent one. It growled, shook its head, and set upon her again.

Fenix threw the ball of fire from her other hand and hit the demon hound in the nose. The beast backed off, but then reared again.

It was going to take more firepower to get rid of this one.

Fenix sat up. She brought her hands together and cupped them, envisioning a massive fire.

Whoosh!

Huge orange, red, and yellow flames danced in her palms.

They were mesmerizing. But there was no time to admire the blaze. The demon hound was bearing down on her with open jaws.

Fenix hurled the fireball.

It hit the hound right in the face.

The beast’s whelp pierced the silence of the night.

The creature backed off, turned around, and ran off with its tail between its legs.

Fenix scrambled to her feet and hustled over to the pickup. She didn’t want to take the chance that the beast would regain its courage and return. If it did, there was no telling what a mad demon hound would do.

With a penlight, she found the vehicle identification number on the windshield. She quickly jotted it down before turning to hightail it out of there.

But an idea struck her, and she stopped.

She circled the vehicle and came to the back door on the right, where she’d had the vision. After popping the handle, she opened the door as quietly as she could.

Sitting forlornly on the backseat was a stained and worn baby seat, exactly as Fenix had pictured when she’d had the vision of the baby being snatched.

As she scanned the interior, a small heap on the floor caught her attention. Fenix reached in, grasping something soft and warm.

Just then, a low rumble came from behind her.

Fenix didn’t need to turn to know trouble had found her.

She pocketed the bundle in her hand, slammed the door shut, and scampered toward the slope.

As she clawed her way up, her fingers digging into the dirt, snarls and growls came from much too close behind her. The hair at the back of her neck stood on end.

Slowly, she turned her head. Thinking she must have been seeing double, she blinked. But no amount of eyelid batting could get rid of the terrifying sight.

The giant demon hound she’d dispatched was back, growling and angrier than ever.

And a second, bigger hound was at its side, snapping and lunging, saliva streaming from its powerful jaws.

Fenix’s trembling fingers slipped, and she slid back into the gully.

The demon hounds pounced.

Fenix splayed her hands. “Wind,” she shouted.

Her hands became hot and shook violently. White light blazed in her palms, sparks flying from them.

A gust of wind swirled around her, picking up leaves and twigs and sweeping the demon hounds off their feet.

Startled, the beasts barked and growled more fiercely.

Fenix raised her hands, and the whirlwind lifted the hounds higher in the air.

She flicked her wrists in the direction of the wall. The twister danced across the yard, kicking up dust and stones.

When the vortex of barking demon hounds crossed to the other side of the wall, Fenix closed her hands into fists.

The whirlwind suddenly stopped. Yelping demon hounds fell from midair and disappeared behind the wall.

Fenix exhaled in relief.

As she climbed back into Larus’ yard, her mind was focused on one thing—catching up with Gaius and getting the hell out of this place.

She made a bee-line for the culvert, sticking within a few feet of the wall.

As she passed the main entrance, she heard a creak and metal hitting metal, as if the gate had just been shut.

Warily, Fenix turned her head and looked in the direction of the noise.

A figure stood in the shadows.

As a wave of recognition swept over Fenix, goose pimples formed all over her skin.

She stopped in her tracks, her jaw dropping.



Chapter 4


Smiling broadly, Micha Angelo stepped forward.

“Great to see you again, Fenix.”

His voice wrapped around her like a warm blanket. She wanted to relish the goodness of hearing him say her name.

But her ears couldn’t believe his words held any truth.

She was a mess. Her face was spattered with mud. One sleeve of her jacket was split, and the back of it was shredded. Her hair was frumpy and her flat cap askew. No, she was anything but a great sight.

He, however, stood tall, six feet of confident masculinity in a smart, cream-colored suit. A light breeze brought the fragrance of musk and sandalwood Fenix had come to associate with him.

The vampire before her looked fine. Really fine.

A buzz coursed through her entire body, and she felt as if she were floating. Her heart thumped. She fought every muscle in her face to stop from breaking into a stupid smile.

She had to remind herself she was standing face to face with someone who was potentially her deadliest enemy.


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