Chapter 1: Chapter 1
"How's it going tonight, Mac?" asked Ryan as he slipped into the darkened pub, guitar case in hand.
"It was pretty slow until that lass showed up and asked to sing a few numbers," replied the pub owner while nodding to the young woman who was perched on a stool in between several musicians.
Ryan turned and felt his eyes widen slightly at the sight. The woman was stunning. "Who is she?"
The bartender handed Ryan a pint and shrugged. "Never seen her before."
"Well, she obviously isn't from around here."
The woman's raven black locks, wine colored lips, and cinnamon colored skin stood out among the pub's usual patrons. She opened her eyes and Ryan was forced to contain a gasp, they were a deep shade of violet and seemed to glow in the dim light.
One of the musicians tried to hand over a guitar and the woman laughed while shaking her head. The sweet sound cut through the din of the pub and hit Ryan like an oncoming vehicle. In all of his years Ryan had never seen a woman like that. She moved with confidence and grace yet she possessed a power that drew him in like a moth to a flame.
The musician finally succeeded and the woman reluctantly took the instrument. After a few beats she began to play and the noise level in the pub dropped dramatically as the words to the song flowed from her lips. She didn't have any formal training but possessed a raw talent that enraptured everyone within listening distance. She sang of loneliness and heartache and by the time the song ended Ryan wanted to find whoever had hurt her and pound them into the pavement.
The roar of applause tore him from his musings and he shook his head. Where had that come from? It had been a very, very long time since anyone affected him in this way. He was determined to find out more about this mysterious stranger and was heading her way when one of the musicians noticed him and beckoned him over.
As he tuned his guitar he followed the woman with his eyes as she headed towards the bar and pushed the sudden rush of feelings down as the musicians began a lively number that brought several patrons to their feet.
Rea leaned against the bar and watched as Ryan enraptured the audience with his music. She sipped her drink and suppressed a laugh. Who would have thought that the first pub that she wandered into in Ireland would have a vampire as it's star attraction?
No one knew that he was a vampire, of course. Vampires had just recently "come out of the coffin" and were still struggling to be recognized in the States, overseas it was another matter. There were some countries, such as Australia, that couldn't care less then there were the countries where religion ran deep, such as Ireland, and the vampires were still staying under wraps.
At first glance it was impossible to tell that Ryan was a vampire. Rea could tell that he was old but he had adapted to the times and his accent matched those around him perfectly. He also dressed of this era, something that many vampires found difficult. He wore a simple button down shirt, jeans, and boots that could have been found at any mall. Yes, his skin was pale but it wasn't much lighter than most of the patrons' in the bar. This far North there wasn't a lot of sunshine at any time of the year. His hair was cut short and slightly spiked and he had a demeanor that made those around him feel at ease.
He was also the most deadly creature in the county.
Rea had immediately known Ryan was a vampire the moment she laid eyes on him. It had nothing to do with his appearance and everything to do with the fact that she was a witch. A very old witch to be exact. She had just celebrated her birthday in June and had received several fine gifts from her family and friends. One of those gifts included a ticket to Ireland. Rea needed a break from the South and had planned out an excellent vacation to the emerald isle.
Part of Rea wanted to leave, she had spent a good portion of her life in New Orleans which was a Mecca for vampires and personally she was sick of them. But another part of her was drawn to Ryan. When they had locked eyes she had felt an energy pass between them, something she had not felt in decades.
She waited until his performance drew to a close and the pub began to shut down for the evening. Slipping towards the back she smiled when she felt the breeze caress her face, she would be downwind of him.
Rea leaned against the wall and silently mouthed a few words, casting a net around them that would keep their voices from carrying. As soon as the spell was finished Ryan looked up from where he was loading his car and frowned, it seemed to Rea that he could smell the magic. He must have been older than she thought.
Finally Ryan finished loading his guitar case into the car and slammed the door.
"I didn't know there were still vampires in this part of Ireland."
Ryan jumped and spun around at the voice. He couldn't remember the last time that someone had been able to sneak up on him and the knowledge unnerved him a bit. He was even more surprised to see the entrancing woman from the bar leaning against the far wall.
"What did you say?"
Rea tossed her hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms. "You heard me."
Before she could blink Ryan had lunged forward and pinned her against the side of the building. The dim light was reflected in his eyes which flashed with something dangerous, revealing the predator hidden inside.
"Who are you?" he hissed. As Ryan leaned over the young woman he couldn't help from inhaling her scent and feeling the rush flow through his veins. He felt desire burn through his body but forced it away as he tried to stare down the stranger.
The witch could feel the rough bricks digging into her skin and attempted to shift her position but Ryan held her in an iron grip.
She rolled her violet eyes and sighed. "That's what I hate about you vampires, you're always so dramatic." She let a tiny bit of her will seep forth and snapped her fingers, releasing the spell. Ryan pulled his hands away as if he had been burned and unwillingly took a step back.
"Honey," she drawled, her soft Southern accent coming out. "Relax. I play for your team." She held out her hand and a small ball of soft, white light suddenly appeared.
Ryan looked at the orb for a moment before throwing his head back and laughing. "You're a witch."
"Handsome and smart, a rare combination." She doused the witch light and held out her hand. "Rea Lebeau."
"Ryan Kelly." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it softly, inhaling her sweet scent and feeling the steady throb of her pulse before releasing her hand. "It's a pleasure."
"It's nice to see that not all vampires have lost their manners."
Ryan laughed again and Rea couldn't help but smile. "Some of us still remember the old ways. And since I have done you such a disservice, please allow me to buy you a drink."
Rea smiled and nodded her head. "Threatening me in a dark alley was quite a disservice indeed but I believe a drink would be a nice start."
Twenty minutes later Ryan was leading her into a darkened bar. Rea could feel the energy in the building and knew that most of its patrons were not quite human. After getting settled at a small table towards the back Ryan took a sip of his drink and let his elbows rest on the table.
"You said your last name was Lebeau, forgive me but you are not like some of the French witches I've encountered."
It was Rea's turn to laugh. "I was actually born in New Orleans, I'm Creole. My mother was a voodoo priestess and my father was a warlock so it was no surprise when things started to fly off of the shelves while I was crying in my crib." She took a drink of her wine, which was excellent, and studied Ryan carefully.
"So aside from singing in pubs and threatening women in dark alleys what do you do Mr. Kelly?"
Ryan rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled. "Honestly? I'm an accountant."
Rea couldn't help the laughter that bubble forth. "Seriously? Accountant by day, singer by night? That sounds like the premise of a bad television show."
To Rea's surprise a slight blush graced his cheeks.. "Well...I enjoy the work and it helps with keeping up with the pretenses, you know?"
The witch nodded and played with the stem of her wineglass. "White Court I'm assuming?"
Ryan frowned and leaned closer. "How did you know?"
Rea shrugged. "You didn't try to attack me or anyone else, plus you're much too well fed so that ruled out the Black Court. You don't have the arrogance of the Red Court so I just assumed..."
"You're correct and you have good instincts."
The witch smiled. "How do you think I've survived so long?"
Rea was more than relieved that Ryan was a White Court vampire but she tried not to let it show. There were three distinct types of vampire, each with it's own ruling group, or court. The Black Court was your stereotypical vampire. Walking corpses with a taste for blood and a severe aversion of sunlight. They hated crosses, garlics, holy water and fell directly into the mold that Bram Stoker had created. No wonder the Black Court had tried to have him assassinated after the book's release. The man had practically written a how-to guide on killing Black Court vampires.
The Red Court still carried the stereotype of living off of the blood of their victims but that is where the similarities ended. Demons dressed as humans with an insatiable hunger and an ego to match. The Red Court claimed that they were the dominant of the three groups and demanded loyalty and respect from all who surrounded them. Rea had several run-ins with the Red Court and each one left her skin crawling. Beneath the facade was a monster that was barely controlled and the slightest spark could set them off. Unlike the Black Court, vampires of the Red Court could survive in the sunlight and were annoyingly difficult to kill. The traditional methods didn't even phase them but Rea was creative...very creative.
The White Court was arguably the most powerful court of them all but don't let the others hear you say that. Made up of a network of powerful families spanning the globe, the White Court had the money, the connections, the influence, and the power to practically take over the world if they chose. Luckily no one had gotten the urge to move forward with that idea...yet. The vampires of the White Court were the most "human" so to speak. There appearance was normal and they could function in the sunlight without any problem. Unlike the other courts, they did not survive by drinking the blood of their victims. Instead they fed on emotion, preferably passionate emotions. One simple touch was often enough to lure a human in and the vampire would proceed to drain away their entire being. It didn't sound bad to an outsider but Rea would gladly be drained of every ounce of blood before letting the White Court get their hands on her.
The woman snapped back to the present with a shake of her head. "Sorry, what were you saying?"
"I was asking what you did for a living. I know you can sing and play the guitar but what other talents do you possess?"
That was a loaded question if she'd ever heard one. Add in the roguish grin that accompanied the question and Rea might believe that Ryan was actually flirting with her.
"I own a spice shop. I'm an apothecary so to speak. I sell teas, spices as well as more...non-traditional items."
"Really? So what brings you to Ireland? In search of some rare spice or herb?"
Rea shook her head. "No, I'm actually on vacation."
The two chatted for hours. Empty glasses began to fill the table and eventually the noise level began to fall as the partons headed home for the night. Typically it would have been strange to see a vampire and a witch acting so comfortably around each other but the two had clicked from the start and the prejudices that had been ingrained were set aside.
Glancing around, Rea noticed that the bar was emptying out. "Do you have the time?"
Ryan looked at his watch and did a double take. "It's half of three. I'm so sorry for keeping you out so late."
Rea waved away the worry. "I'm enjoying myself. I'm not going to turn into a pumpkin, that's someone else's fairytale."
After settling the tab, Ryan helped Rea into her coat and they headed towards the parking lot. "I must say that this has been an...interesting evening. I didn't exactly plan on spending my evening with a witch."
Rea laughed and the sound made the hair on the back of Ryan's neck stand up. "It wasn't all bad was it?"
"Well...not all of it." Ryan tried to catch Rea's eye but it was impossible, every time that their eyes nearly met she would quickly avert her gaze. Finally he couldn't stand it and gently cupped her cheek, forcing her eyes to meet his.
"Don't..." Rea started but it was too late.
Blue eyes met violet and Ryan was suddenly locked into place, he couldn't have looked away if his life depended on it.
Rea could feel herself falling into the depths of Ryan's eyes as the soul gaze began. She watched, her heart breaking, as his story unfolded.
Ryan had been a happy young man who had just reached the age of thirty when war came calling to Northern Ireland once more. He, his father, his brother, and his brother-in-law had all gone to war leaving his mother and his very pregnant sister behind.
Three years later Ryan was the only one to return home. He was already carrying the burden of the loss of his family and was devastated to discover that his sister had died in childbirth and his nephew had only survived for two days after her passing. After hearing about the news his mother had spiraled into a deep depression and had wasted away over the course of the next six months. The night of her death Ryan had wandered down towards the docks in a drunken haze with the intent of jumping into the sea below. A dark figure had suddenly seized him and when he woke he discovered that he was a vampire.
Rea saw flashes of memories dance before her eyes, each one coming more rapidly than the other before they became a single blur. She tore herself away and placed a hand over her heart to calm her rapid breathing.
Ryan quickly took a step back and narrowed his eyes at Rea. "What did you just do?"
"I'm assuming you've never been told not to look a witch or wizard in the eye?"
"I have but I thought it was just a myth."
"It's no myth. When you meet our eyes a soul gaze begins. It's exactly what it sounds like, I can see into your soul and you can see into mine." She shuddered wondering what Ryan saw when he was allowed a glimpse inside.
"I'm sorry...I didn't know."
"It's fine." Stifiling a yawn Rea nodded towards her car. "I should be going. I'm still getting used to driving over here and the last thing I need to do is to fall asleep at the wheel."
"Want me to give you a ride?"
Ryan waited a beat before letting out a slow breath. "Can I ask you something?" Rea nodded and he shoved his hands in his pockets nervously. "Can I...I mean...is there..." he let out a breath then shook his head. "Will I see you again?"
Rea raised an eyebrow. "Are you asking me on a date?"
Ryan rocked back onto his heels nervously. "You said that you've never been to Ireland and I was wondering if you could use a tour guide."
The witch paused to chew over her answer. True, she could use a local tour guide but she wasn't sure if she wanted a White Court vampire to be that guide.
"Sure...I guess having a local showing me around would be helpful." She scribbled the number to her hotel on a scrap pice of paper. "Call me before noon and I will have you beheaded."
Ryan nodded and shoved the paper in his pocket. He hoped that she was joking but part of him knew that she was serious. "Until tomorrow then." He kissed the back of her hand once more and waited until she had disappeared into the night before heading to his own car.
He tipped his head back against the headrest with a sigh. "What are you getting yourself into, Kelly?" Yes, Rea was intriguing and funny and attractive but she was also a witch. The two of them did not mix, it was like oil and water. Yet he couldn't forget her musical laugh and quick wit. He also couldn't forget all of the pain and anguish that he had witnessed when he gazed into her eyes.
She had lost her family relatively early and had spent a good portion of her life fighting for the power and respect that she currently held. She was dangerous, Ryan knew that, but there was something about her that was unique and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Shaking his head he put the car into gear but didn't head home right away. Instead he turned towards a small after hours bar that he often frequented. He needed to be well rested if he was going to play the part of tour guide but for right now he was hungry. He watched as a group of young women stumbled into the bar and grinned before heading inside.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Dawn had nearly reached Dublin. In the far distance the first few rays of sun were clawing away at the darkness leaving bloody streaks in the sky.
Feather light wisps of fog began to rise from the river Lifey flowing over the nearly empty streets of the city. On the far side of the bridge the fog began to bubble and pool, growing darker and larger and more dense until the image of a cloaked figure was revealed.
Golden eyes glowed within the cowl as they surveyed the city. Despite the hour the streets were still teaming with life. Those miserable insects didn’t hold his interest, there was only one who could make this journey worthwhile.
With a whispered word the man cast out his senses, searcing for the one who had brought him across the sea to this spit of land. He briefly touched each consciousness, leaving behind a smear of his sins as he went along.
He had to contain his anger when he realized that she wasn’t in the city. His sources had informed him that she had entered the country three days prior, however they had failed to provide him with her most recent location. She could be anywhere in the country and he had no idea where to start looking. Blood would be spilled for this failure but that was for another time.
A wicked smile slowly crossed his face as an idea began to blossom. Why go traipsing across the country to find her when he knew exactly how to lure her in. After all of these years he knew how her mind worked and he knew that eventually that stubborn morality streak would win out and she would come running. She would rush in to try to save the day and when she did he would be ready. He had been planning this encounter for years, vividly imagining each detail of the moment when he finally took his revenge.
He turned and walked purposefully towards the heart of the city, he had plans to make.
The next afternoon Ryan headed over to the hotel where Rea was staying. He called her room several times but she hadn’t answered. Either she was still sleeping or she had gone out for the day without him.
To his delight he spied her curled up in an overstuffed armchair in the lobby with a newspaper spread across her legs.
The witch raised her head and sent him a confused look. “Ryan? What are you doing here?”
“You said you needed a tour guide.”
“Oh yeah.” She turned back to her newspaper and Ryan sat down across from her with a frown.
“Don’t you remember?”
Rea didn’t reply at once, she finished skimming the article before raising her eyes. “I remember but I thought you were just being polite. I didn’t think you’d actually show up.”
Ryan couldn’t help but let his shoulders slump in disappointment. “Oh. Well, I guess I should be going then.”
An exasperated sigh left her lips. “Wait. You did come all of the way out here so the least I can do is play tourist for the day. But let me finish my newspaper first.”
Settling back in the chair, Ryan took the opportunity to study the woman sitting in front of him. She was dressed simply in jeans, boots, and an old t-shirt advertising some type of concert. Her hair was loose and fell in thick waves around her shoulders but was held back from her face with a colorful scarf. Some type of charm bracelet was wrapped around her left wrist and rings of different types and styles adorned each of her fingers. A gorgeous ruby amulet was nestled at her throat and dimly reflected the afternoon sun.
In all she looked like a typical American tourist not a deadly witch but Ryan learned a long time ago not to judge the proverbial book by its cover. Things were rarely as they seemed and Rea was a perfect example.
He remembered what had flashed in front of his eyes during the soul gaze the previous night and he fought to repress a shudder. He saw a couple being burned at the stake while a screaming young woman was restrained in the background. He saw wars, he saw New Orleans burn, he saw all manners of magical and non-magical creatures fight with and against Rea. He saw fleeting moments of happiness but those were locked carefully away while the darkness ran rampant.
Rea snapped the newspaper and Ryan jumped. He rubbed a hand over his eyes and frowned. How old was she? He knew that witches and wizards had an extended lifespan but what he saw didn’t make sense. Rea didn’t look very old, she appeared to be in her early thirties, but her age didn’t match her memories. She was guarded but that was not unusual, anyone of the supernatural persuasion had to be careful. You never knew who or what was lurking around the next corner. But there was something else about her, something that he couldn’t put his finger on...
“Are you ready?”
The vampire nodded and stood. “Sure.”
As they walked out of the hotel Rea’s brow furrowed. Ryan had been staring at her since the moment he sat down. It wasn’t the usual assessment either, it felt as though he was trying to get a peek under her skin and see what made her tick. The witch shook her head, the last thing she needed was someone, let alone a White Court vampire, digging into her personal life.
“I tried calling your room earlier but you never answered and I realized that you didn’t give me your cell phone number,” said Ryan as they turned onto the main street.
“I don’t have a cell phone.”
“Delicate technology and magic practitioners do not mix. I tend to fry anything made after World War Two.”
Ryan raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Yep. I already blew two lightbulbs in my room and I don’t dare even go near the television, it would probably explode if I tried to turn it on.”
“So how did you get here? Did you fly?”
Rea shook her head. “I’m usually okay around large pieces of machinery but I don’t want to put anyone else at risk. I took a Way.”
Ways were pathways that crisscrossed the globe and coincided with ley lines. Surprisingly, many of these Ways bridged large cities and states together and with the right words they could be used by practitioners to get from one destination to another very quickly. It had only taken Rea about four hours to get from New Orleans to Dublin and none of that involved a customs check or stale peanuts.
Did you ever hear stories of settlers who said that they just knew when to stop and build their home? It wasn’t a coincidence nor divine intervention, it was the electromagnetic pull of the ley lines. Don’t believe it? Look at where the pyramids in Egypt and South America are built. Their positions are not random, they are perfectly aligned with ley lines.
“Do you ever walk the Ways?” Rea asked while peering into a shop window.
“Rarely. I know of a few out of Dublin but I rarely have the necessity to use them.”
The witch frowned. “Why not?”
“What do you mean?”
Rea glanced around and lowered her voice. “You have eternity. Why not go and see the wonders of the world. Why stay here?”
Ryan shoved his hands in his pockets as they walked. “I do travel. Not as much as I did when I was younger but I do like to get away as often as I can. But I do have a job and pretenses to keep up.”
“Again I ask why.” Rea paused to sort through a rack of scarves set up outside of a shop.
“Because I like the normalcy. Just because I am what I am doesn’t mean I have to act like all of the others. And please spare me from the whole ‘denying your nature’ speech, I’ve heard it many times before. I could ask you the same thing. You’re young and you have a long life ahead of you, why stay in New Orleans?”
Rea was quite for a long time while they walked and Ryan lead them away from the main part of the city lest they be overheard.
“Because it’s home.” She had been silent for so long that Ryan nearly missed her reply. “I travel a lot for work, you’d be surprised how difficult it is to acquire certain specimens, and it is nice to come back to the same place after a long trip. My parents owned the shop and it’s really the only thing I have left that was theirs.”
The two continued to wander through the outskirts of the city but now the silence between them was strained. Ryan could see the stiffness in Rea’s shoulders and knew that the hands in her pockets were balled into fists.
“I’m sorry.” The words surprised both Rea and Ryan. He hadn’t planned on speaking, the words jumped out before he could stop them.
“You did nothing wrong. Don’t apologize.” Rea was lying, he had hit a chord but she wasn’t about to admit it.
Ryan lead them out of town to a small river and they both found a seat on the banks. He watched as Rea leaned back on her hands and tipped her face towards the sun. In the warm light her skin seemed to glow and as the wind shifted he inhaled the sweet scent that surrounded her.
What was wrong with him? For the second time in as many days he found himself entranced with the woman. He momentarily wondered if she was using some type of magic but he quickly discarded that idea. For the first time in a very long time he was genuinely attracted to someone. Shaking his head he chuckled at the knowledge that the first woman to catch his eye was also powerful enough to kill him with a snap of her fingers.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing.” Ryan tossed a stone in the water and watched the ripples fight against the current. “Did you enjoy the tour?”
Without opening her eyes Rea nodded. “You live in a lovely town. Thank you.”
Ryan smiled and Rea could hear it in his voice when he spoke. “What are you doing tonight?”
“Are you asking me out?”
The vampire quickly backpedaled. “No...nothing like that. I was just wondering if you would be at the pub again. A friend of mine is going to be in town and he always puts on a great performance.”
Rea cracked open one eye against the sun and glanced in his direction. “I might make an appearance. What time?”
“Probably around eight.”
“Sounds good. Now is there anything else to do in this town besides wander around having uncomfortable conversations?”
Ryan laughed and stood. “Hmmm...not really but I think I can try to think of a few things.” He extended a hand to help Rea up and after a beat the witch reluctantly accepted.
“I never thought I’d say this but I’m starting to miss New Orleans. There’s always something going on.”
“Well the Moy tends to grow on you. Just wait, after you get home you’ll be longing for the quiet and the solitude.”
Rea raised an eyebrow. “Quiet and solitude over twenty four hours of action? There’s always a party in New Orleans, always something new to do or someone new to meet. Does anything exciting ever happen in this town?”
She thought the small town was quaint and charming but it was just too much fun to watch Ryan desperately try and find reasons to claim that his hometown was better than hers. The two headed back into town playfully arguing as the sun began its slow descent in the sky.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
"Ryan, will you please stop staring at the door?"
Tearing his eyes away he turned towards his companion who was tuning a guitar. "Sorry. Someone was going to meet me here and she's late."
"She?" The guitarist raised an eyebrow. "Can it be that after all of these years the lone wolf, Ryan Kelly, has taken a lover?"
"Shut it, Neil. It's not like that. She's just a friend...well...I don't even know if I can call her that. She's just someone I met here last night."
"And did you go back to her place or yours?"
Ryan rolled his eyes. "I told you, it's not like that. We went our separate ways last night and today I gave her a tour. That's all."
Neil strummed a few chords. "Yet all you've done is talk about her and you can't stop staring at the door."
"She intrigues me. She's definitely not like most of the women I've encountered."
"Well..." Ryan wasn't sure if he should tell Neil that Rea was a witch, There was a deeply ingrained animosity between magic practitioners and vampires. Just because Ryan had taken a shine to her didn't mean that Neil would. "She's different, it's a nice change of pace."
Neil shook his head. "Whatever you say, mate." He glanced at the clock on the wall then stood. "Time to go and earn my keep."
About fifteen minutes into Neil's set the door opened and half of the heads turned to look at the woman who walked in. With dark hair and skin she stood out yet she moved among the patrons with ease. His nimble fingers nearly missed the chord change when she sat down next to Ryan. So that was the mysterious stranger. Neil could understand why Ryan was so smitten yet there was something about her that didn't sit right with him.
"Rea, you came!"
The witch took a sip of her drink then took a seat next to Ryan, "Well, it's not like there's anything else to do in this town at night." She nodded towards the front where a young man with a guitar was holding the crowd captive. "Your friend?"
"Yes, his name is Neil."
"He's very good. He'd fit right in with some of the musicians from back home."
About halfway through the set a group of tourists got a little rowdy. One of the extremely intoxicated female members of the group decided that she needed to document everything with her cell phone and began to take dozens of pictures and videos of everything and everyone. The patrons tried to ignore her but it was becoming more and more difficult.
Ryan let out a frustrated sigh and started to stand. "Excuse me."
Rea's hand on his arm made him pause. "Allow me." The witch turned towards the intoxicated woman and muttered, "hexus" under her breath. The woman shrieked as her phone all but exploded in a shower of sparks.
Several of the patrons couldn't control their laughter and Rea fought to hide her smile as the woman and her friends rushed out of the bar.
Ryan shook his head as he sat back down. "How did you do that?"
"I told you, technology and I do not get along. You should see what I can do to those pricks with the bluetooth headsets." Ryan laughed out loud and ordered another round as Neil's music filled the bar once more.
Despite her misgivings Rea was having a wonderful time. Ryan was funny and smart and charming with a self-depreciating humor that actually worked in his favor. As the evening wore on she could feel a flush spread across her body that had nothing to do with the alcohol. The little voice of reason that resided in her head was screaming at her to stop, reminding her that she was sitting at a table with a creature who saw her as nothing more than food. Rea proceeded to pour whiskey down the little voice's throat until it slid off its barstool and went to sleep.
The two chatted until Neil's set came to a close. Ryan ordered another beer and it was waiting for the musician when he arrived at the table.
"Thanks, lad." Neil took a hearty swig then turned his attention to the woman at his friend's side. "Neil Byrne."
"Rea LeBeau. It's a pleasure."
Neil felt the energy pass between them the moment their hands touched. He looked between Rea and Ryan and back before the pieces snapped into place. "Ryan, can I talk to you for a second?"
"Subtlety is not your strongest trait, is it?"
The comment made both men pause. "Excuse me?" Neil asked.
"You heard me," replied Rea while knocking back the rest of her drink. "Have a seat before we get any more attention."
Neil sank into his chair and took a pull from his beer. "So you're a..."
"You can say it, a witch."
The word actually made Neil flinch. "Alright. So why are you here?"
"Relax, Neil, I don't bite." She paused to laugh at her own joke. "I'm on vacation. I'm in Ireland to enjoy myself, not to hunt down vampires. In a few days I'll be on my way to Dublin and you'll never see me again."
"How did you know I was a vampire?"
The woman raised an eyebrow. "Seriously? I knew you were a vampire the moment I walked in, all vampires have a blood red aura."
"Really?" asked Ryan.
"I know it's stereotypical but all vampires, no matter which court, have a red aura."
"You can read auras?"
Rea nodded. "It was one of my mother's specialties but I inherited a bit of the talent."
"You parents were practitioners?" asked Neil.
"My mother was a voodoo priestess and my father was a warlock."
"Where are you from?"
"New Orleans." The two were amused when she pronounced the word as 'Nawlins.
Warily the guitarist sat back and tried to make himself relax as the woman spoke. He hadn't had the most pleasant experiences with witches but he quickly discovered that Rea was nothing like what he expected and he surprised himself by laughing at her stories. As the night wore on he found himself more at ease around the newest addition to their party and let his guard down a bit.
"Rea, did you have anything to do with that lass' cell phone...er...malfunctioning?" asked Neil after their empty glasses were cleared away.
The witch gave him an innocent smile. "What makes you think that I had anything to do with that?"
"Well I've see cell phones die but never in such a blaze of glory."
Rea laughed. "It served her right. I must say that I'm so happy that I grew up in an age without cell phones. None of my antics could be recorded and displayed for the world to see." The woman paused as a fresh round of drinks was delivered to their table.
Ryan practically beamed when he saw Neil and Rea getting along so well. He had known Neil for ages and the two were practically brothers.
Casually, Ryan let his arm rest along the back of Rea's chair. The witch raised an eyebrow but didn't shrug off the gesture. He knew that she was leaving in a few days but that didn't mean that he couldn't enjoy her company.
Slowly the pub began to empty out as the patrons staggered home and soon the three were the last ones in the bar. "Well, gentlemen, shall we?" Neil gathered his guitar while Ryan helped Rea into her coat.
"Rea, I apologize for my earlier actions. It was lovely spending time with you tonight."
Neil shook Rea's hand and the witch smiled. "No apology necessary. Your reaction was justified. I try not to pick fights when confrontation is unnecessary. Thank you for the wonderful show and if you're ever in New Orleans look me up."
"I will. Ryan, I'm in town until Wednesday. Maybe we can get together for a pint on Monday after work?"
"Sounds good, lad."
The two watched as Neil loaded his guitar into his car and headed into town.
"Did you drive?" asked Ryan. The parking lot was nearly empty.
Rea shook her head. "It was a nice night so I walked."
"Can I walk you home?"
"Why do I feel like I'm suddenly in a cheesy 50's movie? Are you going to ask me to the big dance too?"
Ryan chuckled and tucked her arm into his. "Nah, those dances are only fun if someone spikes the punch."
It didn't take long before they arrived at Rea's hotel. "Thanks, Ryan. I guess I'll see you around."
"Yeah, I guess so."
Rea should have gone inside and Ryan should have turned to go home but neither one moved, they stood in the moonlight with their hands clasped between them.
Ryan traced shapes on the back of her hand with his thumb, feeling her fingers tighten slightly around his. Their eyes met without fear of a soul gaze and Ryan felt himself falling into the violet depths once more. This time he didn't see her soul but he saw her desire, her passion and something else that made his pulse race.
Ducking her head, Rea took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her head was swimming and it had nothing to do with all of the drinks she had consumed that night. She had seen the emotions reflected in Ryan's eyes and hated herself for wanting to give in to those feelings.
Her resolve nearly broke when Ryan gently tipped her chin up and cupped her cheek in his palm. His thumb gently brushed against her bottom lip and she couldn't stop the slight gasp from escaping. In that moment she knew she was lost.
Unfortunately that pesky voice that she had previously silenced decided to wake up and started screaming at the top of its lungs, reminding her of her precarious situation. Steeling herself she took a small step backwards. "Goodnight, Ryan."
For a moment it seemed like Ryan wasn't going to back down, that he was going to pull her closer but the moment passed and he collected himself. "Goodnight, Rea." He pressed a gentle kiss to her knuckles then disappeared into the darkness.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
The following afternoon Ryan headed towards Rea's hotel. He hadn't called her but was hoping that he could catch her before she headed out for the day. All night he had tossed and turned as he fought to banish the image of her from his mind.
To his delight she was curled up in the same chair with a newspaper in her hands. "Good afternoon, Rea."
The witch held up a finger indicating him to wait as she poured over an article. Once she finished she looked up and raised an eyebrow. "Were we doing something today?"
Ryan shook his head. "No, I just thought I'd stop by."
Rea made a sound and turned back to the newspaper with a frown. "Have you read the paper?" Ryan shook his head. "There was a very suspicious death in Dublin last night."
"Really? That's awful."
The witch perched on the arm of Ryan's chair to show him the article. "The police are dumbfounded. It appears that the woman died of smoke inhalation but there was no sign of a fire in her home nor was there any lingering smell of smoke."
"That's bizarre." Ryan skimmed the article and wondered why Rea was so focused on this woman's death. "Why is this bothering you so much?"
Rea glanced around to make sure that they were alone. "Because I think someone used magic to kill her."
"It's simple air magic, well...it's black magic but it's still not very difficult."
Ryan watched Rea as she spoke and knew that there was more that she wasn't telling him. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled her to sit next to him in the overstuffed chair. She didn't protest at the movement and the vampire knew that something about this murder was affecting her deeply.
"What else? What aren't you telling me?"
Rea let out a sigh and folded up the newspaper before tossing it on a side table. "I think she was a witch."
"Did you know her?"
The woman shook her head. "I recognize the last name though. It could be a coincidence but if I'm right then she was part of a powerful coven that has been in Dublin for centuries." Ryan rubbed slow circles on her back as she sorted through her thoughts. "There's a dark witch or wizard using their power to kill other practitioners. That's just so...wrong." She let her head fall into her hands, allowing the fall of her hair to obscure her face.
Ryan was right, this case was getting to her but not because it was a witch who was murdered but because she had seen exactly the same thing in New Orleans. There had been a mysterious string of murders around the city but Rea hadn't paid them any mind. That was until a member of her own coven was found dead in her apartment. The police claimed that it was smoke inhalation but there was no evidence of a fire.
The woman's murder was what spurred Rea's decision to go on vacation. She felt like her city, her home, had been violated and she needed to put some distance between it and herself. It looked like she hadn't traveled far enough. Whoever or whatever was causing these murders had apparently followed her to the Emerald Isle. Why? Why would someone attack her coven? Why would they follow her to Ireland? What did she do wrong? Who did she hurt? Rea had made many enemies over the years and she wracked her brain trying to think of who the killer could be.
Her thoughts began to race and she clenched her fists together in an attempt to control her emotions. Ryan could see that she was slipping and glanced around nervously as the lights began to flicker and the television in the lobby suddenly turned to static.
"Rea, you have to calm down." He could see the witch fight for control but it was a losing battle. Several light bulbs within their fixtures exploded with a soft 'pop' and Ryan made a split section decision. "I'm sorry," he whispered before gently placing his hand on her bare arm. As gently as possible he began to siphon off her excess emotions and the feeling nearly made him fall over. Never had he experienced such a mix of pain and confusion and anger and helplessness all blended with a dozen other emotions that nearly made him sick.
He kept up with the slow withdrawal until Rea was calm and the chaos surrounding her had settled. The witch slumped against him weakly and he tightened his arm around her to hold her steady.
"I should kill you for that," Rea mumbled.
"I didn't know what else to do, I..." Ryan started but the woman stopped him.
"'S okay," slowly she sat up and blinked open heavy eyes. "It's been a long time since I lost control like that."
"Are you alright?"
Rea sighed. "Not really."
Ryan paused then stood and gently pulled Rea to her feet. She stumbled slightly but his hands were steady on her hips. "Come on, I want to show you something."
Carefully Ryan led Rea to his car and her eyes were closed the moment she sat down. "How much did you take? I feel like I've been hit by a truck."
Ryan glanced over as they drove out of the city. "Not much but you were very upset and the emotions were strong, it's no surprise that you're drained." He squeezed her knee gently. "Get some rest, I'll wake you when we get there."
Rea woke as she felt the car come to a stop. She was feeling much better after her nap but her mind was still a jumbled mess. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't center herself.
"Where are we?"
Ryan led her through a dense group of trees towards a slight rise. When they finally emerged from the tree line Rea gasped. In front of her was a perfect circle of massive stones, nearly twice her height, ringing the clearing.
"What is this place?"
"It's called the Home of the Elders. Legend says that during the conversion period a group of elder druids came here and prayed to their gods that they should not be forced to convert to another's belief. There was a flash of lightening and these stones appeared where the elders once stood. The gods turned them to stone so they could forever be as they were."
"I thought you could use some relaxation after this morning."
Rea turned and gave Ryan the first genuine smile she'd shared during her stay. "Thank you."
"I'll be over here if you need me."
Rea nodded and stepped into the circle, immediately feeling the power envelope her. Circles were powerful and were often used by practitioners. They were perfect for keeping things summoned in, or out for that matter. They were also used to gather energy whether it was for a spell or just for personal rejuvenation.
Taking her time, Rea walked around the circle and touched each sun-warmed stone. Each once carried a separate resonance and energy and the power they possessed was incredible. By the time she finished her circuit of the circle her fingertips practically sparked with energy. With a smile she held out her right hand and whispered, "fluer de vida," laughing when the clearing suddenly exploded with color as dozens of wildflowers sprang to life.
Moving to sit in the center of the circle among the flowers Rea let out a breath and closed her eyes, finally feeling the calm that she had been searching for wash over her.
The sun was low in the sky when she opened her eyes once more. To her surprise there was a wreath of flowers in her hands, she must have braided it during her meditation. She bowed her head and whispered a word of thanks before standing and making her way out of the circle feeling the snap of power as the circle closed behind her.
She met Ryan where he was lounging in the fading sunlight. "I didn't realize I would be so long, you should have come to me."
The vampire stood and gave her an easy grin. "You looked so peaceful that I hated to disturb you. I must say, that trick with the flowers was pretty impressive." He took the wreath of flowers and gently placed it on her head. After tucking a stray wisp of hair behind her ear he smiled. "Beautiful."
Rea turned to look back at the circle of stones, watching the flowers bob in the slight breeze. "Just a bit of earth magic, that's all."
Ryan could smell the sunshine on her skin and the flowers in her hair and it took everything he possessed not to pull her into his arms right then and there. She had looked to lost earlier and now she was practically glowing with power and happiness and joy. It was an image that could prove dangerous.
Rea smiled and tucked a flower into the pocket of his shirt. She could see the emotions flash through his eyes and desperately tried to change the subject as they headed back towards the car. "I meant to ask you earlier, why are you dressed up? I didn't think you had to go into work until tomorrow."
"I had mass this morning and went straight to the hotel from the church."
The witch stopped walking to stare at her companion. "Ryan Kelly, you make my head hurt."
"First of all, you are nothing like most of the members of the White Court that I've encountered. You have absolutely no qualms about spending time with a witch and to top it off you are freaking Catholic!"
"Is that a bad thing?"
Rea shook her head and met Ryan's eyes over the hood of the car. "I guess not, I just don't like being confused."
Ryan grinned and started the engine. "What if I try and ease your confusion over dinner?"
The woman paused then shrugged. "After everything that you've done for me today I can't exactly say no, can I?"
"I believe that's called cheating."
"A win is a win in my opinion."
"Just shut up and drive."
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Ryan and Rea get better...ahem...aquainted. Nothing graphic but feel free to skip the last few lines if it bothers you.
"This is not what I had in mind when I said I would go to dinner with you."
Ryan chuckled and held open the front door to his home. "You said somewhere private where we could talk."
"Again with the cheating."
"Come on in, Rea. You have my word that it's safe." This made Rea pause. If any supernatural being gave their word it was set in stone. Bad things, very bad things, happened to those who broke their word
The witch gave him a look before stepping into the comfortable home. Unlike many vampires that liked to show off their wealth and power by purchasing massive mansions, Ryan's home was relatively normal. It was a little large but nothing extravagant and it felt lived in.
Ryan took Rea's coat and admired the way that the black dress clung to her curves. "Would you like a tour?" The witch nodded and tucked her arm into his as he led them around the home.
The vampire's home was warm, filled with knickknacks from his travels around the world. His love of music was clearly evident as well as his love of sports. Rea made a face when she saw a signed Broncos football. "You like the Broncos?" Ryan nodded and the witch shook her head. "Come to New Orleans and watch a real team play."
Eventually Ryan led them to the dining room which was dark. "Would you like to do the honors?"
Rea rolled her eyes and whispered, "ignus", with a lazy movement of her hand. At her command dozens of candles sprang to life and cast a warm glow around the room.
"Why are you so interested in watching me do magic?"
Ryan poured the wine and paused. "I find it fascinating."
"Why? You use magic."
Ryan didn't answer until he had returned from the kitchen, arms leaden with dishes. "My magic is different. I'm always taking, using magic to feed the monster that lives inside of me. You can use magic to give, to bring life."
Rea was surprised, she'd never heard a vampire speak so candidly. "I can also use it to take, to destroy."
The vampire nodded. "I know but at least you have a choice. You have the choice to use your magic for good or for evil, to give life or to take it. I will never have that choice. I know this is my lot in life, I know this is the path I was chosen to walk but sometimes I can't help but wish it was different."
Rea's jaw nearly hit the floor and her stomach twisted into confusing knots as Ryan spoke. She could hear the pain and the longing in his voice and it made her heart ache. "You'd be surprised how difficult it is to constantly choose the right path."
Her words made Ryan look up. "You're a white witch, there is only one path."
The witch snorted. "Do you think all dark practitioners start off that way? Some of the darkest mages I've ever encountered started off with white magic." She took a sip of her wine as she attempted to sort her thoughts. "There is always the temptation, the urge to use black magic. When I'm exhausted or when I've nearly used up all of my magic that little voice calls out to me. I know there are stores of untapped power within me, I just need to reach out and take it."
"Why don't you?"
"Because black magic changes you. At first there is a rush, a high that you get from all of this seemingly unending power but you become addicted to that rush and will do anything to get that feeling once more. It's like a drug but worse. You can't just go up to some dealer and buy power, you have to make sacrifices. The more powerful the sacrifice the more intense the rush. It's a never ending cycle that destroys you and those all around you."
Ryan watched as Rea picked at her food. Obviously he'd struck a nerve with her once more and he wished that she would just confide in him. He knew that there were secrets behind those violet eyes but he wasn't sure how to access them without hurting Rea.
The two finished their meal in silence. Once the dishes were cleared they headed into the spacious den, wineglasses in hand.
"Can I ask you something?" It had been quiet for so long that Ryan's question made Rea jump.
The vampire paused then rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Never mind."
"Spit it out."
"Well...this is going to sound stupid but could I see your magic?"
Rea lifted an eyebrow. "You've seen me do magic before."
"I know but something besides blowing up cell phones or lighting candles."
The woman paused then nodded. "Alright."
She led them to stand in the center of the room. Holding out her left hand she drew in energy and the lights dimmed as she absorbed some of the candles' power. She flattened out her right palm and whispered, "lumiere", while pouring a tiny bit of her will into the word. Slowly a ball of warm light began to form. With another whisper she sent the ball gently floating into the room. She snapped her fingers and another ball formed and another until the room was illuminated by the small spheres.
The small orbs dashed this way and that, bouncing off of the walls, ricocheting off of picture frames, twisting their way around both Rea and Ryan. They moved seemingly without reason but at the same time there was a silent rhythm that they followed.
Rea watched with pride as Ryan's face lit up with joy when the lights slowly began to change colors, each one moving with its own unique pattern until the room was painted with a kaleidoscope of colors.
"Hold out your hands." Ryan did as he was told and watched as each ball of light began to land on his upturned palms, melting into each other until they were the size of a basketball. He could feel the slight warmth of the orb and felt the buzz of power against his skin and for the first time he didn't want to take that power he simply wanted to enjoy its existence.
With a grin he tossed the glowing ball towards the ceiling where it exploded into a shower of sparks that rained down upon himself and Rea.
The witch tilted her head up to watch the colorful lights and Ryan couldn't stand it anymore. Her eyes glowed with happiness and he could practically feel the power radiating off of her skin. It was too much for him to take. With long strides he crossed the room and pulled Rea into his arms before dipping his head and kissing her soundly.
He could feel her gasp and dimly realized that the candles flared to life once more once Rea released her control on them. To his delight he felt her fingers dig into the material of his shirt and he swallowed her sigh as the kiss deepened.
Finally the need from air tore them apart and Ryan gazed into the wide eyes of the woman in his arms. He could feel her tremble in his grasp and prayed that she wouldn't send him flying across the room for his actions.
"I...Ryan...I can't..." said Rea. Her head was spinning and she felt as though she had been drugged.
"Give me a reason, one good reason, and I will walk away." Ryan's voice was rough when he spoke and it made the hair on back of Rea's neck stand up.
"You're a vampire."
"Rea, look at me." Blue eyes met violet in a stare that was as intense as any soul gaze. "What you see is me, not the beast. Yes, the monster wants you but I need you. Please, Rea, just trust me."
The witch swallowed hard. Her heart was beating so hard that she was sure that Ryan could hear it and her thoughts raced at top speed through her head. "I..."
"You have my word that I won't hurt you." Ryan gently stroked her cheek and she could feel the slight tremble in his fingers. He was fighting the beast that lived within him so he could be with her. The very thought sent a rush through her body.
Rea didn't reply, she simply wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down for another kiss. Ryan's hands tightened on her hips as he pressed gentle kisses along her neck and jaw. The witch sighed softly and could feel Ryan's smile against her skin.
Without breaking their embrace the two slowly made their way towards the stairs. Ryan eventually pulled away and held his hand out. His eyes were dark and his breath was harsh, making a chill run down the witch's spine.
Rea took a deep breath and for the first time in a very, very long time, she allowed herself to give in as she grasped the outstretched hand and allowed Ryan to lead her upstairs.
Outside a storm raged but its power was diminished in comparison to the two lovers as they moved together beneath the twisted sheets.
Rea quickly discovered that Ryan was a study of contrasts. Hard muscles flexed beneath her hands yet his touch was gentle. His teeth were sharp as they nipped at her skin but his lips were soft as they soothed the bites. More than once she saw a glimpse of the dangerous creature behind his eyes but never once did his control slip, somehow he managed to keep the beast at bay.
The energy between them was palpable, their magic wove together throughout the room gently pulsing to the rhythm they had set. If either one had bothered to look they would have seen their two auras, blood red and ice blue, painting the walls with the color of their passion.
With a wicked grin Rea suddenly rolled and closed her eyes when Ryan's hands went to her hips. The witch knew that just being near Ryan was dangerous and this level of intimacy could be deadly. If his control slipped, even a fraction, she could be killed. All of those thoughts flew from her head when the vampire let out a low moan. Leaning down to cover his lips with her own Rea decided that there were much, much worse ways to die. Pushing the negative thoughts from her head the witch allowed herself to give in to the emotions coursing through her veins.
Midnight brought a hush to the deserted street. Faint wisps of mist began to form, slowly pooling and gathering until a hooded figure was revealed. Slowly he walked down the empty street, casting out his senses as he searched for his next target.
It took every ounce of his discipline to contain his rage. Despite his efforts she still had not come to the city. He knew that the witch's death had been in the papers. She came from an old, respected family and her death had been so mysterious that the press were practically falling over themselves to report it.
Within the cowl a sick grin twisted the man's face. It had been so easy. Yes, the witch had powerful wards around her home but the small threads of deadly smoke hadn't tripped the magical defense system until it was too late.
Once the woman had realized what was going on she had fought but it was useless. How could one possibly try and fight smoke? Her magic had passed uselessly through him and he nearly laughed at the ease of taking her life. He had toyed with her until he grew weary then had merely focused his energy around her nose and mouth, watching as her struggles grew weaker and weaker as the smoke slowly drained her life away.
The hooded stranger stopped in front of a house and took a deep breath while gathering his power. If one death didn't bring her to Dublin perhaps a second one would.
Rea headed down to the lobby with her luggage and was surprised to see both Ryan and Neil waiting for her. From the looks on their faces she knew something was very wrong. "What is it?"
The two led her to a less occupied area of the lobby. "Did you read the paper this morning?" asked Ryan and Rea nodded. "Did you see the article about the man who died from smoke inhalation without any trace of fire in his home?"
The witch fought to keep her face impassive. She knew that whoever or whatever was killing these people was trying to lure her to Dublin and she was sick of evading the inevitable. Maybe she was wrong, maybe this had nothing to do with her but she had to find out before anyone else died.
"Yes, I saw it."
"It wasn't just any man that was killed," said Neil. "It was a werewolf."
The guitarist nodded. "A friend of ours called me this morning. He was absolutely distraught because the man who was killed was a member of his pack."
Rea felt her stomach drop. Not only was she headed to Dublin to track down this mysterious killer but there was going to be a very vengeful pack of werewolves searching for the same stranger. Why couldn't anything ever be easy?
"Have you ever seen anything like this? Someone killing supernatural beings with smoke?" asked Ryan.
The witch looked between both men and nervously licked her lips. Should she tell them that she had seen identical deaths in New Orleans? That one of her sisters had been killed in the exact same fashion?
With a shaky break Rea shook her head. She couldn't let Ryan and Neil get involved with this. She had too much blood on her hands already and she would be dammed if she allowed any harm to come to these two.
"No, I've never seen anything like it."
Ryan frowned. "You're lying."
"Drop it." Rea pushed past them and headed towards her rental car, shoving luggage in the tiny trunk with far too much effort.
"We're going with you." Neil's words made the witch pause and turn.
"Our friend wants to find out who killed his blood brother. We owe it to him to help."
Ryan took a tentative step closer. "I know there are things you aren't telling me and that's fine, you have every right to keep your secrets. But don't you want to find out who is behind this? Don't you want to put a stop to it before someone else dies?" Rea was silent and Ryan decided to push his luck. "You don't have to do this alone. If there is something killing people with smoke wouldn't it be smarter to work together?"
The witch let out a sigh. "Fine. Let's take a field trip to Dublin but first I have to do some shopping. If I'm going to face this thing I want to be prepared."
Sorry it's so short, the next one will be longer!
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
It was late when the trio arrived in Dublin. After getting Rea settled at her hotel they all piled into Neil's car. Soon they were arriving at a comfortable looking home not far from downtown.
Rea extended her senses and frowned. "Is the whole pack here?"
Ryan shook his head. "Most of them are probably out on patrol. How many did you sense?"
"That sounds about right. Ready?"
The witch shrugged her shoulders. She had a feeling that tonight was going to be anything but pleasant. Werewolves and witches rarely spoke to each other let alone worked with each other. Many practitioners looked down upon werewolves because they used magic in order to shift, they saw it as tainting the art. On the other hand werewolves often saw practitioners as snotty and pretentious, something that was all too true.
Rea had worked with and against werewolves more than once and had both good and bad experiences. Something in her gut told her that this upcoming encounter was not going to go well.
She hung back as Neil rang the doorbell. The door was opened a few moments later by a young man with brilliant blue eyes. "Glad you guys could come."
"Good to see you too, Colm. Where's Emmett?"
"Watching the back door. Come on in."
"We brought some help," said Ryan while turning and beckoning to Rea. The witch came to stand on the porch and nodded in greeting. "Rea this is Colm, Colm this is Rea."
Colm turned and took a deep breath then frowned at the two vampires. "You brought a witch? He's not going to like that."
Ryan shrugged. "He'll survive. I think she could be useful."
"Because whoever is killing these people is doing it with black magic," said the witch.
Colm paused then glanced at Ryan and Neil. Finally he shook is head in defeat. "Alright, come on in but if I suspect for a moment that you're up to something I'll rescind my invitation, understood?"
Rea nodded and stepped into the house. Houses were very interesting venues in the magical community. Every dwelling whether it was a tiny shake or imposing mansion possessed a threshold. Not a physical one but one that was made of energy. The more lived in a home was the more powerful the threshold. All magical or supernatural beings were affected by thresholds. Vampires weren't the only ones who had to be invited into a home, the energy of the threshold affected practitioners like Rea as well. She could enter a house without an invitation but she would leave a good portion of her power at the door. If Colm suddenly decided that she was not welcome she would be stuck inside of a house surrounded by three angry werewolves without the bulk of her power.
"Where is he?" asked Ryan once Colm had secured the door.
"Wearing a hole in the carpet of the living room."
Hanging back in case she needed to make a quick exit, Rea followed Ryan and Neil into the living room. In front of the fireplace a tall blonde was pacing and everyone could feel the agitation rolling off of his body.
The man paused and turned towards Ryan. "Man, it's good to see you guys." He took two steps towards them then froze. "Who is that?"
"Her name is Rea, I thought she could help."
"A witch? You brought a witch into this? What were you thinking?"
"Keith, calm down."
"I will not calm down! One of my brothers is dead and your brilliant plan is to bring a witch?" The young man looked past Ryan where Colm was standing. "You! You allowed her into your home!"
"Ryan and Neil vouched for her."
Keith snorted. "For all you know she could have them under some type of spell."
"You know that it doesn't work that way," Neil interjected. "It's impossible."
"And someone being killed by smoke without any type of fire is impossible too."
"Keith, she can help. She knows how this person is killing with smoke. She said it's black magic."
The blonde raked his hands through his hair. "Of course she knows! She's probably the one behind these murders!"
"That's not true," countered Ryan. "She's been up north with us this whole time."
Keith leaned closer to Ryan and narrowed his eyes. "You stink. Please do not tell me that you slept with her."
"You have got to be kidding me! No wonder you've been so blinded, you're thinking with the wrong head!"
Rea watched Neil and Ryan argue with Keith and felt her patience fade away. As quietly as possible she slipped outside and started walking towards the main street, surely there was a place where she could call a cab to take her back to the hotel.
"Rea wait!" She kept walking but stopped short when Neil suddenly appeared in front of her. "Don't go."
"I came to Dublin to try and find out who is behind these murders, not to be insulted by some dog."
"Keith's opinions are very strong but he'll come around."
"What if he doesn't? I don't have time for this."
"He will. If anyone can talk him down it's Ryan. Please come back."
The witch shook her head. "Fine, but the moment he starts running his mouth I'm gone."
The two walked back in silence. The house was quiet when they returned and Rea wondered exactly what Ryan had done in order to calm Keith. After remembering what he had done to calm her she quickly changed her mind, some things were not worth knowing.
Keith was sitting in a chair in the living room with his arms crossed looking like a petulant child. Ryan was softly speaking to Colm and another young man. The trio cut off their conversation and Ryan sent Neil a look of gratitude.
"Rea, you already met Colm. This is Emmett."
The other young man nodded in her direction. "Ryan says that whoever did this killed them with black magic, is it true?"
"I think so. The spell wouldn't be too difficult, it's just a manipulation of air. The practitioner would have to infuse their will into the spell and the darker their intentions the darker their will would appear hence death by smoke."
"Sounds like you've put a lot of thought into it."
Rea nodded. "I've never seen someone use air magic like this before. It has to be very controlled and concentrated plus the practitioner would have to guide the spell from outside of the victim's home because they wouldn't be able to cross their threshold."
"Do you know who is doing this?" asked Colm.
"No but they're powerful. It takes a lot of concentration to perform such delicate magic."
"How do we find them?" asked Ryan.
"I need to go to the last victim's house. I should be able to pick up their aura and I might be able to track it. Even if I can't track it I'll know what their aura looks like and I'll recognize it if I see it again. I should also be able to read their energy signature and see exactly how they put this spell into play."
"No, absolutely not," interjected Keith. "I don't want anyone going near Roz's house let alone a witch."
"Do you want to know who is behind this or not?"
Keith paused. "Why can't you go to the scene of the first murder?"
"It's too old, I won't be able to read anything." Keith was silent and Rea took a breath to ease her frustration. "You are more than welcome to accompany me but the first step is letting me examine the scene. I will do my best not to disturb anything and you have my word that I will treat the home with the upmost respect. This is the only way I know to try and pinpoint our killer."
Keith sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Fine, let's get this over with."
In the end Keith, Ryan and Colm ended up accompanying Rea. There was some grumbling because she made them park several blocks away but she didn't want to draw any unwanted attention to them.
She cast out her senses, searching for any traces of dark magic. It didn't take long before she found something. In the center of the street, directly across from the house was a residual pool of dark magic so foul that it made her stomach churn.
"Stop." The three men accompanying her froze. "Fan out to watch the area but don't come any closer or your magic will interfere."
Narrowing her focus, Rea concentrated on the dark pool of magic. To her senses it was bitterly cold and had a slimy, greasy feel. Whoever was casting this magic had gone off the deep end in a big way. Over twenty four hours had passed and the fact that this much magic was still left behind told Rea that the practitioner was strong. A slight grin quirked her lips, strong but not smart. One of the first skills a magic user learned was how to conserve their magic. The strength of a spell relied heavily on its efficiency. The spell that this mage had used was strong but wasted a lot of energy.
Rea frowned at the thought. It didn't make sense. How could one practitioner cast a spell of this magnitude on their own? Even with all of her years of experience and training she wouldn't have been able to pull off a spell like this, the sheer amount of energy needed would kill her. It would take two or most likely three mages to put this type of spell into motion yet there was only one energy signature.
She shoved that thought to the back of her mind and focused on the pool of energy once more. Eventually she could see the faint glow of the user's aura appear in the darkness. The cool blue hue that was associated with magic users shone brightly but something was very wrong. Woven throughout the aura were thick threads of black and even though they were faint they seemed to be writhing and twisting. It reminded her of a spider's web and she didn't dare move any closer, for all she knew it could be some type of trap.
Once she had memorized the pattern within the aura she turned towards the house. The front door was still covered with police tape and the structure already looked lonely and abandoned.
Rea closed her eyes and concentrated before opening her eyes and using her Sight. Anyone who had even the smallest bit of magical talent had a Sight. Some called it the Third Eye or a chakra but it all had the same purpose, it gave the user the ability to see beyond the physical world. One could see things are they truly were, no spell or veil could hide from a witch or wizard's Sight. Using one's Sight carried a high risk, however. Whatever was seen, no matter how beautiful or horrific, could never be unseen. It was permanently etched in high definition technicolor on the user's psyche.
Rea took a moment to simply take in the house's appearance. With her Sight the deep green aura of the werewolf blazed brightly but the rotten blue aura of the dark mage ruined the image. She could see the wisps of smoke that led from the street into the home as if they were fresh and decided to test a theory.
Holding out her right hand she whispered, "caligo," and focused her will as small tendrils of mist began to spill from her palm. To her three companions the mist was faint but through her Sight it blazed with a cool blue light. The mist began to gather and Rea could physically feel when it hit the home's threshold. Holding out both of her hands she pushed while searching every inch of the house for a breech.
The house was solid and she closed her eyes for a moment to banish her Sight before opening them once more and narrowing her focus. She decided to concentrate on the front door since that is where the attack had begun. After a solid minute she knew that she might as well be pushing against a brick wall. There was absolutely no way that she could penetrate the threshold.
With a curse she released the spell and wiped the sweat from her forehead. It looked like she was going to have to eat her words and admit to Keith that he was right, what had been done was impossible.
She waved her three companions over and they headed back to the car in silence. After getting settled Ryan turned to her with a hopeful expression. "Well? What did you get?"
"A headache," mumbled Rea. "I need to think about this for awhile. I'll explain when we get back."
A handful of aspirin and a hot toddy helped soothe the witch and she found herself surrounded by an eager group of supernatural creatures. "So what did you find out?" asked Keith.
"You were right...the spell is impossible." The room was deathly silent. "I have no idea how the practitioner was able to get through the threshold and manipulate such a delicate spell. I tried something similar and exhausted myself after less than a minute and that was after the threshold had been broken."
"Could it be more than one person?" asked Neil after he found his voice.
"Possibly but I only found one energy signature and one aura."
"We only found one scent too," added Colm.
"Was there anything else you could find out?" Ryan asked as he tried to sit down next to Rea but she was up and moving in a flash.
"The practitioner is strong but they're sloppy. It's rough magic. I'd say they learned from experience versus being properly trained. It takes a lot of strength to pull off a spell like this, that little experiment winded me, so they would have to take time to rest. Most likely several days at least."
"Do you know who is behind this?" asked Keith. Rea shook her head. "Do you know how they did it or why or when they'll do it again?" Each time the witch answered in the negative. "So we know nothing, brilliant."
The room was silent and eventually Emmett stood. "Back to the drawing board, I guess."
Rea's eyes widened at his words. "Say that again."
The young man frowned. "What?"
"Whatever you just said, say it again!"
"Back to the drawing board, I guess."
The witch tossed her head back and laughed making everyone wonder if she had pushed herself a bit too hard. "They're drawing!"
"What?" asked Ryan.
"I know how one practitioner is casting such a powerful spell on their own, they're drawing from the elements around them. I'd bet my magic that they're an elemental, a practitioner that has a little raw talent but has to rely on the elements around them to fuel their spells." Rea's eyes were bright as she spoke. "The first murder was near a river wasn't it?"
Several cell phones came to life as they checked the facts for Rea. "Yes," replied Colm. "She lived about two blocks from the river Lifey."
"But what about Roz? He didn't live near any body of water," countered Keith.
Rea frowned as she tried to picture the house in her head. "There were puddles on the ground. Did it rain last night?"
"Yes, there was a massive thunderstorm."
The witch beamed. "The mage used the storm to cast the spell."
"You can do that?" asked Neil.
Rea nodded. "It's very dangerous but it's possible. I've done it in order to pull off a spell that would normally have killed me and so have a couple other practitioners that I know. I had a very interesting hairstyle afterwards but I obviously survived."
The excitement in the group was palpable. "Alright, we know how they performed the spell but do we know why?" asked Keith. Once more the room fell silent. "Then I suggest we go and find someone who does."
"Who would that be?" asked Ryan.
Bonus points for those who know what character I stole from a movie.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
"Who?" asked Ryan.
"Blind Mag," replied Keith. "She's a seer."
Colm shuddered. "She scares the hell out of me."
"What does she do?" asked Rea, trying to determine what type of creature that they were dealing with.
"She can read people, their past and their future." Keith glanced at his watch. "It's late and she doesn't like to be kept waiting."
The group ended up in an old, dark part of the city where the houses were so close together it was difficult to breathe.
The three werewolves led the way while Rea walked between Neil and Ryan at the rear. It seemed like they walked forever before Keith stopped in front of a nondescript door.
Before he could knock a voice came from within. "Don't just stand there, child. Come in and bring your companions."
Colm jumped at the voice and a slight smile quirked across Rea's face as they entered the small house. It was a tight squeeze but they all managed to fit. Ryan stood directly behind Rea and let one hand rest on her hip, she brushed off his touch and though she couldn't see it she knew he was frowning.
Keith sat down on a cushion directly from the woman. The seer had dark hair that flowed in every direction and her eyes were covered by a thick cloth reminding them of the vision of blind justice.
"You have my sympathies at the loss of your brother," said the woman.
The blonde nodded. "Thank you, he will be missed."
"He's running with the hunt on the other side now." Keith didn't reply, he just swallowed hard. "And the pups, getting stronger and smarter?"
Emmett and Colm made a face. "Pups?"
Mag sent them a crooked smile. "You're still young. You may run as full grown wolves but you have much to learn." The woman turned to 'look' around the room. "You're traveling with mixed company tonight."
Keith nodded. "I want to find out who killed Roz and why so I brought in some others to help."
"I can see that," said the woman with a laugh. She turned serious once more. "She is the only one that can help you defeat him."
"The one you trust least. Even with her help his defeat may not be possible, I see death in your future."
"We're strong, we can win," replied Keith.
"You cannot but I know you, you will fight until the last breath." The woman paused then turned her head. "Rea, will you please come here?"
The witch tried not to jump. In essence she was facing just another witch. If she was correct then Blind Mag was a sensitive. Sensitives were closer to the flow of time than most people. They could read a person's past without a soul gaze and they could often see various outcomes for an individual's future. It was a horrific gift to be bestowed with. They could see the past and the multitude of possible futures for every person that they came into contact with. More often than not they would gouge their own eyes out in an attempt to make the visions stop. Rea had met a couple of sensitives over the years and they always terrified and amazed her.
Slowly she sank onto the cushion that Keith had recently vacated. "You're walking into a trap," said Mag.
Rea twisted her hands in her lap. "I know."
"Still you move forward, why?"
"I have to know who is doing this and stop them before anyone else dies."
"He's been waiting a very long time to confront you."
Rea frowned. "Who?"
"The Shadowman. He's been following you all of these long years waiting for revenge."
"Revenge for what?"
"A sin runs through your veins."
The color drained from the witch's face. "My blood? My...my parents? What did they do?" She shook her head. "You're wrong. It was so long ago that it's impossible to be someone from their past."
"You are not the only one who is cursed, child."
It took all of Rea's willpower not to faint. "I'm not cursed," she whispered.
"Cursed, gifted, enchanted...they're just words. But the Shadowman is coming for you. You will not be able to win this fight. You will die and those around you will perish as well."
"You're wrong. The future is too fluid for that."
"Every thread that I see ends in your demise."
Rea forced herself to keep her voice steady. "If I die I'm taking him with me. Where can we find him?"
"He will reveal himself to you soon. Be careful, he has made a deal with those on the other side and has become infected with powers that he cannot control." Mag reached out and gently patted Rea's hand. "I do not envy your journey but your intentions are true. Trust those around you and perhaps your fate can be changed."
The witch nodded and was up and gone faster than the others knew she could move. "Let her go," said the seer. "Ryan, a word?" The vampire sat down and couldn't help but glance behind him at the door, he desperately wanted to run after Rea. "Your devotion will be her undoing."
The seer's words made his head snap around. "What?"
"Your feelings are clouding your judgment, your instincts are dulled. You are distracted and you will be the one to kill her."
Ryan felt a chill run down his spine. "I would never hurt Rea."
"You will not be the one to strike the final blow but you will be the one to lead her to her death."
Mag shook her head. "You are the only one who can unravel this thread but either way the girl will die."
Ryan couldn't listen anymore and quickly made his way out onto the street. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, searching for Rea's scent. The woman was fast and had nearly made her way back to the car but Ryan was faster and the woman nearly fell when he stopped directly in her path. She stumbled and Ryan steadied her with his hands on her arms. She shrugged him off then started walking again.
"Rea, either stay here and tell me what is going on or I'll make you."
The witch's eyes hardened. "I'd love to see you try."
"Come on, Rea. What was Mag talking about?"
By now the others had joined them and the witch knew that there was no way out. "I don't know who this Shadowman is, I swear I've never heard the name before."
"What about that bit about revenge for something your parents did?" asked Neil.
"She has to be wrong. I'm not saying that my parents didn't have their share of enemies but for someone to hold a grudge for this long is impossible."
"Why is it impossible?" asked Colm.
"Because my parents died a very, very long time ago."
"Rea. Why did Mag say you were cursed?" Keith's voice was soft yet it cut through the fog like a knife.
"I'm not cursed," replied the witch. She tried to hide the slight tremble in her voice and failed.
"Then what is it?" asked Ryan. He could see that Rea was shaking and wanted nothing more then to take her into his arms.
The woman raised her head and her violet eyes seemed to glow in the dim light. "I'm immortal."
For a beat it was silent. Finally Ryan managed to find his voice. "You're immortal? How is that even possible?"
Rea leaned against the rough wall behind her. "When I was eighteen my mother was getting ready to initiate me into her coven when word came that they had been betrayed and the townspeople were coming for them. Voodoo may be a recognized religion now but back then it was worse than witchcraft.
My parents had anticipated an event like this and had transportation out of the city ready for the three of us. My father got me out but was caught while trying to go for my mother. They were sentenced to be burned at the stake. The members of the coven helped disguise me so I could be there in the crowd. If my parents were going to die I wanted to see it, not hear it through rumor.
Somehow my parents knew I was there and managed to pull off the most powerful spell I have ever seen. They declared that when I reached the peak of my womanhood time would stop, I would never age another day. They transferred all of their power to me, infusing me with my mother's voodoo and my father's light and dark magic. I'm probably the most powerful witch on the planet but I'd give it all up in order to be with them again. I was eighteen, a grown woman! I should have died with them that day."
The witch swallowed hard to hold back her tears. To this day she could still smell the thick smoke and feel the searing pain as the spell hit her. "They wanted me to live long enough to find the one who betrayed them and to be powerful enough to stop them when the time came. Ironically, it only took a few months to find the witch that betrayed us and the coven put her to death. Even though my parents' wish was fulfilled I still watch each year pass by, I see those that I love age and die yet I never change."
When Ryan next spoke his words were very soft. "Rea, how old are you?"
"I was born in 1880. My mother studied under Marie Laveau, the strongest voodoo priestess the world has ever seen. I didn't get the honor to learn from her, I was less than a year old when she died."
"That's impossible. You're lying," growled Keith.
"It's amazing how powerful the combination of love and desperation is." The werewolf clenched his jaw and Rea sighed. "Fine." Taking a deep breath she let her eyes meet his.
For a second she felt time stop as she tumbled into the aqua colored orbs as the soul gaze began. Keith had once been a carefree young man who turned a blind eye to the growing decay of his neighborhood. The crime rate had risen and each day was more dangerous than the next. He had played it off, knowing that things would somehow get better when tragedy struck. His beloved younger sister was killed in a crossfire on her way home from school one day.
Keith had been devastated and angry, wanting revenge on those who had torn his family apart. He heard whispers of a way to become stronger, to be able to defend himself and those around him. In a darkened pub he met a mage that showed him how to unlock the magic that was already within him.
From that day forward he was determined to turn his old neighborhood around, to make it safe once more and to help those around him in any way that he could.
The images began to blur and race before Rea's eyes but it was Keith that broke the gaze first. They both were breathing hard and the werewolf's face was pale, Rea always wondered what people saw when they looked into her eyes.
"Do you believe me now?" Keith shakily nodded his head. "Good."
"What about the Shadowman?" asked Colm. "You parents put a spell on you but how could this practitioner stay alive for so long?"
Rea shoved her hands in her pockets. "My guess is that he sold his soul."
"To whom? The devil?" asked Emmett.
"If only," replied the witch with a wry chuckle. "No, I have a feeling it was someone or something much worse. Most likely one of the fairy queens or a demon."
Keith laughed. "He sold his soul to a fairy, I could think of worse things."
Rea turned on the werewolf. "Really? Have you ever met a fairy, a real one? I'm not talking about the little pixies that zip around and pull pranks I'm talking about the real deal. They look just like grown women and are the most beautiful, desirable creatures you will ever lay eyes upon. They also have more power in their little finger than the six of us combined." The blonde fell silent. "Of course it could be a demon but I doubt it, a demon would come after me himself. They wouldn't use a human to do their dirty work."
"Could one of the fairy queens make someone immortal?" asked Colm after a beat.
"In a way, yes," replied Rea. "They could stop the clock but only for so long. If the Shadowman has made a deal with one of the fairy queens then this situation is much more dangerous than I thought. He has to kill me or the queen will take away his immortality. He'll race through the years in an instant, it's a horrible way to die."
"Now what?" asked Neil after a long, uncomfortable silence.
"You heard Mag, he's supposed to contact me. I suggest we all get some rest and I have some work to do. If he's coming to kill me then I intend on taking this bastard down with me."
Short chapter is short.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
More of an interlude than I real chapter. I promise things will pick up after this!
Rea sat down on the end of her bed with a sigh. This was it, she was going to die. The idea didn't bother her nearly as much as it should. For decades she had waited for her body to age, for her powers to wane but she stood frozen as the world moved around her. She missed her family and was looking forward to seeing them once more. She just had to figure out a way to keep the others safe in the process.
She didn't ask what Mag had discussed with the others but it had rattled Ryan. He had reached for her briefly in the lobby but turned away without another word. Rea wasn't sure what to think about the handsome vampire but she didn't have time for that. Perhaps if she managed a miracle and survived then she'd spare a thought for him.
For a moment she considered contacting her coven. If she was going to face such a powerful mage she would have preferred to do it standing side by side with some of the world's strongest practitioners. Instead she had three werewolves and two White Court vampires. It's a good thing that Rea didn't gamble because her luck sucked.
"Maybe I can track him..." she mused then shook her head. In a city this large it was impossible to track someone's aura. There was too much interference and she would be wandering around for days while more people died in the process.
Blind Mag said that the Shadowman would make himself known to her and that didn't sit well with Rea. She could pull off some powerful magic on the fly but when she had time to prepare she was a force to be reckoned with. Of course if this mage had been following her for decades he would know that.
"Come on...think..." Rea tried to piece together as much about the Shadowman as she could. He had sold his soul in order to gain revenge for something that her parents did and he preferred to kill using air magic.
It wasn't much but it was a start. The witch bounced her knee, a habit her papa had failed to break in her, as she thought. Air magic was difficult to counter. Rea typically used fire magic, a simple acceleration of particles to produce heat or light. Fire magic was nearly useless against air magic because they countered each other. Air fueled the fire and fire superheated the air. The same went for earth and water magic, they each were canceled out by air. There's a reason why those are the four main elements of magic, you know, they balance so perfectly that it hurts.
Rea's thoughts were racing as she let her head sink into her hands. A blinding headache pounded behind her eyes and she knew that she should sleep but there was no way that she would rest in this state. She toyed with the amulet at her neck, a gift from her mother, as she tried to find a solution. "I wish you were here, mamma, I sure could use some help. They're going to die and it's all my fault."
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
For two days Rea refused to leave her hotel room. She studied and brewed potions and tried to forget that she held the fate of five individuals in her hands. The witch had pushed all thoughts of the others from her mind as she tried to prepare for her inevitable meeting with the Shadowman. Ryan only called once and that was to make sure that she hadn't fled the city, apparently he was doing Keith's handiwork.
Rea had finally exhausted herself when the shrill ringing of the phone tore her from the first decent sleep she had gotten in days.
"Something better be on fire or someone better be dead," she growled into the phone.
"He's been spotted. We're on our way to the hotel," said Ryan and Rea was up and moving before the dial tone hit her ear.
Despite her exhaustion her eyes were bright when the car stopped in front of the hotel. "Where was he seen?" she asked as Neil hit the accelerator.
"Near an old warehouse district," replied Ryan.
"How cliché. How long ago?"
"One of Keith's scouts spotted him less than an hour ago. Keith and the others will meet us there."
Rea nodded and glanced out of the window at the blurred cityscape. "You guys don't have to come with me."
Neil glanced at her in the review mirror for a moment before blasting through an intersection. "Yes we do."
"It's my burden..."
Ryan interrupted her. "It's not just about you anymore, Rea. When Roz was killed he changed the game. We're going to help whether you like it or not." The vampire squeezed her knee and she turned her head away. Rea knew that the future was not set in stone, at a moment's notice their fates could change. But something told her that the seer's predictions would be coming true sooner than anyone thought.
Due to Neil's driving it didn't take long for them to reach their destination. They parked a few blocks away and walked in silence as Rea cast out her senses. He had been here, she could feel the oppressive weight of his magic pressing against her temples. His aura was visible but faint, she might be able to track him but it would be difficult with so much ground to cover.
She turned a corner and stopped short. Keith was standing between two massive dark wolves, one with brilliant blue eyes and the other with a darker set. She knew that it was just Colm and Emmett but the sight was impressive to say the least. "Any sign of him?" she asked.
Keith shook his head. "No, but we did find something." Rea stepped closer and saw a small piece of black cloth that had been snagged on a loose nail.
"What is it?" asked Neil.
"A breadcrumb," replied Rea with a frown. "He knows I can track him with this, he's luring us in."
Rea didn't reply. Instead she reached into her pocket and produced a small piece of chalk. After drawing a large circle around herself she gently picked up the piece of fabric and placed it inside the circle with her. Kneeling down she touched the circle and forced a tiny bit of her will into it, the others could practically feel the snap of the magic as it closed around her. Drawing a knife from her boot she pricked her thumb and allowed a tiny drop of blood to soak into the dark cloth. She whispered, "suivre", and after a moment an eerie blue white light began to emanate from it. A heartbeat later the light was gone and Rea smudged the chalk with her foot, breaking the circle.
"Did it work?" asked Keith.
The witch nodded. "Follow me." She closed her eyes and opened them again with her Sight. The twisted blue and black aura of the Shadowman flared to life in front of her, leading them directly into the warehouse district. "I swear, is there a handbook they give to bad guys with criteria they have to follow? Cheesy name? Check. Abandoned warehouses? Check. If he has a maniacal laugh I'm leaving." One of the wolves at her side huffed and it almost sounded like a snort of laughter which brought a slight smile to her face.
Rea lead the way flanked by Emmett and Colm while the other three brought up the rear. "Keep your eyes open, we're getting close." Several twists and turns later the practitioner's aura faded and Rea held up a fist to stop them. After closing her Sight she took a look around. They were surrounded by huge shipping containers on all sides. It wouldn't be difficult for Ryan or Neil to jump to the top of one and even the wolves could probably make it in a single leap but she wouldn't be able to make it without a little help from her magic.
"So glad you could join me, cher."
The voice made their heads almost comically whip around. Directly across from them a figure emerged from the shadows. Well, that's not exactly true. A figure made of shadows stepped forward and Rea raised an eyebrow. "Really? You sent a projection? Too afraid to face me?"
"It is not yet time for us to meet. I simply wanted to give you a small taste of my power."
Twin growls made the group snap their heads to the side as two sets of eyes began to brightly glow a sinister red. The witch shook her head in disgust. "So you raised a couple of demons. I know toddlers who could do more impressive feats for a cookie."
The shadow figure twitched and Rea knew that she had hit a nerve. "You are just like your mother, constantly running your mouth."
"I'm more like my mother than you know." Holding out her right hand Rea muttered a word and sent a searing bolt of heat towards the shadow. For an instant she could feel the Shadowman's will pushing against her own but without anything to draw from he was nearly powerless against her. The shadow seemed to scream before being ripped apart as Rea's magic overcame the other mage's.
"Amateur," she said before joining the others. The two demons were slowly creeping closer and unknowingly the group formed a line with Rea in the center.
"Impressive," remarked Ryan without taking his eyes off the demons. One looked like some kind of frog or toad while the other looked like a wildcat on serious steroids. "Now what do we do?"
"We fight," replied Rea. She heard a sound to her side and glanced over to see a dark blonde wolf join the others.
"Don't witches fight with wands or something?" asked Neil.
Rea grinned. "Some use wands but I prefer something a bit more...substantial." She held out her left hand and a staff began to materialize in front of their eyes. It was pitch black and covered with white runes and symbols. "Whatever you do don't turn your back on them and be careful, it looks like the toad spits."
They could all feel the shock when the Shadowman released his control on the creatures and the two groups ran at full tilt towards each other. The toad jumped at Rea and she swung her staff like a baseball bat, hitting it dead center and sending it flying. Before it could land Ryan and Neil were on it, landing blows at an inhuman speed.
The other demon made a sound very similar to a housecat when it's tail has been stepped on and jumped several feet in the air. "Ignis!" Rea yelled and lobbed a fireball at the creature. It was faster than she anticipated and she missed her mark but managed to burn a substantial portion of its right flank. The acrid stench of burned hair filled the air as she went running across the space once more.
It was obvious that the Shadowman didn't know she was bringing company because the two demons he raised were minor ones. If she had been alone then she would have been in a world of hurt but with the assistance from the others it didn't take long for the battle to shift in their favor.
Rea heard Colm, or was it Emmett?, make a sharp sound to get her attention and she turned and headed where the three wolves had the cat-like demon surrounded. It was horribly wounded yet bared its teeth and hissed at them. "Come on guys, aren't you supposed to chase it up a tree or something?" she asked.
Keith made a sound that she was pretty sure translated into an obscene word and she drew in her will and pointed her staff at the demon. "Cover your eyes!" she warned before yelling "zelde!" A blinding blot of lightning shot from her staff and hit the demon right between the eyes. The creature let out a scream and dissolved into millions of tiny pieces of ash that caught in the slight breeze.
Neil's call made the spin on her heel and she watched as the other demon grabbed Ryan and threw him against one of the shipping crates. The vampire left a huge dent and fell to the ground with a sickening thud.
"Have I mentioned that I hate frogs?" She started to run towards the demon and felt the three wolves catch up with her. "I can't hurt it with my magic, it's going to take brute force. Wear him down until I can finish him off."
She hung back while the three wolves went to Neil's aid. Keeping one eye on the battle she hurried to Ryan's side. Placing a hand on his chest she let out a breath of relief, he was alive.
The sound of something wet hitting the ground reached her ears and a moment later Neil cursed. Apparently the creature did spit some type of acid. Luckily the vampire had only been splashed with a few drops but he held his left arm close to his body.
Glancing up, Rea suddenly got an idea. "Neil, fall back and keep an eye on Ryan. Push him to your left about ten feet and hold him there!"
The demon was strong and fought them for every inch. Rea ran to assist the wolves and even though her magic bounced off its hide it annoyed the creature enough to make it step back a few feet. She could tell that it was going to spit again and Keith was right in its trajectory. Taking off in a dead sprint Rea shook the bracelet on her left wrist free and dove between Keith and the demon. The wolf braced himself for the bite of the acid and was shocked to see the venom dripping off of the shield that Rea had created in front of her.
While the demon was screaming its frustration Colm and Emmett took advantage of its distraction and managed to knock it off its feet. Before it could move Rea pointed her staff at the ground below the creature and said "revenir" while pouring her will into the word. The concrete began to melt back into its natural elements causing the heavy demon to sink into the muck.
"Back up! Get clear!" yelled Rea. The runes on her staff glowed red as she pointed it at the shipping container above the demon. "Ventus anima!" the witch yelled and the container began to rock as it was pounded by the winds she commanded. She let out a cry and the container finally came loose, falling directly on top of the trapped demon. Rea turned and crouched while activating her shield bracelet once more, feeling the shockwave and debris bounce off of the shield.
Her ears were ringing from the volume of the crash and she didn't hear her companions calling her name until they were right in front of her. She let the shield fall and slowly came to her feet, feeling a hand on her arm to steady her.
"Are you alright?" asked Keith.
The werewolf's presence startled the witch. "Yes, I'm fine. You?"
"I'm fine...thanks to you. I owe you one."
Rea nodded in response. "I'll remember that."
The two walked over to where the others were waiting, sheltered behind another crate. "You certainly know how to make a statement," said Neil. The wounds on his arm were nearly gone but she could tell that the fight had taken its toll.
The witch glanced back at the fallen container and chuckled. "I know, this is why I can't have nice things." She knelt down where Ryan was sitting with his back against the wall. "How are you feeling?"
"You took a hell of a hit, are you sure you're okay?"
The vampire took her hand in his own, his fingertips gently grazing the tender skin of her wrist. "I told you, Rea, I'm fine."
He smiled slightly then tipped his head up to meet her eyes. His eyes were almost black, the pupils so dilated that the cool blue hue was nearly gone. Rea snatched her hand away and stepped back quickly. "Lair, you're not fine...you're hungry." Ryan's smile faded as he staggered to his feet. "I'm going back with the others, we'll meet you at Colm's house."
"I'm sure someone heard that crash and we need to be gone before the police arrive. I'll see you there. Come on guys, let's go."
Without another word the witch turned and began to walk off, the three werewolves flanking her. Ryan watched her go and swore before turning and heading in the opposite direction.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
The ride back to Colm's house was silent. Rea was trying to replay as much of the battle in her mind as possible to try and find more of the Shadowman's weaknesses. The others were wondering what they had gotten themselves into. They wanted to find Roz's killer but had no idea that they were going to be drawn into such a dangerous situation.
Once they reached the house Rea stopped them. "Now that the Shadowman knows that you're involved it wouldn't hurt to be a bit more cautious." She reached out towards the home with her senses, going over the entire structure twice before nodding towards the door. "All clear. Remind me tomorrow and I will place wards around the house. Between the wards and the threshold nothing will be able to get in."
The witch sank into an overstuffed chair with a sigh. She was going to be sore in the morning. It had been a long time since she'd had to actually fight, she usually relied on her magic to win the day.
"Are you alright?" asked Colm while handing her a mug of tea.
"I'm fine, just tired. It's been a while since I've had to fight and that last spell took a lot out of me."
"That was impressive," commented Emmett while sitting across from her. "How did you do it?
"I used his own trick against him, it was just air magic." She glanced at her companions. "Are you guys okay?"
"Just a few bumps and bruises, nothing that we can't handle."
The group sat in silence for several minutes until Keith spoke up. "How did you create that shield around us? I didn't hear you cast a spell."
Rea held out her left wrist. "With this. Each charm is an enchanted shield and the band is enchanted as well with a defense spell. I can create a shield without it but the charms help focus and strengthen the spell." She sipped her tea and glanced at her companions. "I don't have to actually say anything in order to cast a spell, it just helps me focus."
"Really?" asked the blonde.
"When you learned how to shift you had to actually speak the spell, didn't you? But as time went by it became second nature and now you can just shift without even thinking about it, right?" The three werewolves nodded. "The same is true with my magic. I can cast basic, everyday spells with just a thought but more powerful or intricate spells require a bit more concentration. Of course sometimes I'm just lazy and use the words so I don't have to use as much effort with the simple things."
The witch placed her empty mug on the table and held out her left hand. The three wolves watched in silence as the black staff appeared in her hand once more. "How do you do that?" asked Colm.
Rea grinned. "A girl has to have some secrets. I learned it from a friend that lives in the middle of nowhere Missouri. He's one of the most powerful wizards that I've ever met. He knew that I hated carrying around this thing so he showed me how to call it when I need it. He also taught me how to cast the spell without speaking so if I'm ever in trouble I can call it without making any noise."
"What are all of those symbols?" asked Emmett.
"Why do I suddenly feel like I'm at show and tell?"
She waved off the apology. "I'm just teasing you. There are runes and spells carved into the staff. The spells are mostly force and energy related to enhance my strength if I actually fight with it. The runes help focus the spells I send through it and amplify them. I can cast powerful spells without it but the staff makes them more precise."
Slowly she examined each inch of the staff, making sure that it wasn't cracked or chipped. Once she was convinced that it was still solid she waved her hand and it faded into nothingness.
"Why did the Shadowman lure us in like that?" Keith suddenly asked.
"He was trying to lure me into the confrontation in order to test my strength and wear me down. I don't think that he was expecting me to bring company."
"Why didn't he just fight you?" asked Emmett. "Why raise the demons?"
The witch settled back in the chair. "I think he's trying to show off his power by raising the demons but that feat isn't very impressive at all. Almost anyone with any amount of magical talent could raise a demon or two without breaking a sweat." She paused and a grin quirked her lips. "He knows that he can't fight me without anything to draw upon. We weren't near a body of water and the skies were clear so he had to rely on his own magic and I must say that he is pretty weak. I could shatter his projection with a thought."
"What will he do next?" asked Colm.
"I wish I knew. I would guess that he's going to change the game again now that you all are involved. He's going to up the stakes so you guys need to be on guard at all times. I would also guess that he's going to wait for it to rain so he can draw off of the power of the storm. He's not naturally strong but he has learned how to amp up his power to a terrifying scale. He might try and draw me into a confrontation near one of the rivers but that's too public. If he's going around calling himself the Shadowman I'm going to assume that he doesn't want to be in the spotlight."
The group chatted on and off but it was late and Rea could feel the effects of the battle on her body. She sat up with a start when Colm gently touched her shoulder. "There is a free room down the hall on the left, why don't you try to get some rest?"
Rea shook her head. "I'm fine. I wanted to wait until Ryan and Neil got back so we can decide our next course of action."
"It's obvious you're exhausted and you need to rest. The Shadowman could attack at any minute and we need to be ready."
"Damn you and your logic," muttered the witch while slowly coming to her feet. She could feel each and every one of her years weighing on her as she trudged down the hall. The room was small but there was a bed with clean sheets and that was more than enough for her. She was asleep mere moments after her head hit the pillow and to her relief she did not dream.
It was several hours later before Ryan and Neil returned to the house. After checking in the two decided to get some rest and regroup in the morning.
Ryan stood in the doorway and watched as Rea slept. When she was fighting she seemed invincible and larger than life but now she seemed small and vulnerable. "Are you awake?" he whispered, not wanting to disturb the others.
"No..." Rea mumbled and Ryan chuckled.
The vampire sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed her hair back. "I'm sorry about earlier..."
"No it isn't, I don't know what came over me. You know that I would never do anything to hurt you."
Rea turned to face him. "Apologize tomorrow, I'm too tired to care."
The vampire chuckled and gently caressed her cheek. "Alright."
She blinked open heavy eyes. "Are you staying or are you on guard duty?"
Ryan smiled slightly. "Emmett is watching the door, I suppose I could stay."
The witch didn't reply she simply burrowed down under the covers. A few minutes later the bed dipped with Ryan's added weight and she rolled towards him, tucking her face into his shoulder.
The vampire pulled her close, she was soft and warm from sleep and he was very glad that he had fed earlier that evening. Even though he swore he would never hurt her there was something about the witch that tested his control. To his surprise Rea tilted her head up and let her lips find his. The kiss was long and slow and Ryan didn't want it to end. The witch slowly pulled back and gave him a slight smile as his arm tightened around her waist.
"You do know that we are in a house full of individuals with enhanced hearing, right?"
The witch laughed and whispered a word, a moment later the room was deathly silent. "Don't you remember the night we met? Silence spells are a piece of cake." She pointed towards the door and the deadbolt engaged with a muffled 'click'. Ryan chuckled and pulled her close as their lips met once more.
The sun was just starting to rise and Ryan watched the shadows stretch across the ceiling. He pressed a kiss to the top of Rea's head and rubbed slow circles across her back, smiling when she curled closer. In the back of his head he heard Blind Mag's warning but shoved it away. There was no way that he could ever hurt Rea. They were going to stop the Shadowman and prove the seer wrong. Fate was never set in stone and he was determined to keep Rea safe no matter the cost.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
When Ryan woke the next morning Rea was gone. He wandered into the living room and frowned. "Where's Rea?"
"Outside with Colm placing wards around the house," replied Keith between bites of his breakfast.
Ryan nodded and headed towards the kitchen. About twenty minutes later Rea and Colm joined him. "Since you are the owner of this house the wards are specific to you," said the witch while stealing Ryan's toast off of his plate.
"So what do I have to do?" asked Colm while trying not to laugh at the vampire's expression.
"Nothing. The wards are like a security system. You'll know when someone is approaching and if someone would try to force their way in they will get a rather nasty surprise."
"How will I know?"
"You just will. They're linked to your aura so you'll be alerted even if you are sleeping."
The werewolf took a moment to process the information and nodded. "Alright, sounds simple enough. Thank you again, Rea."
The woman waved off the compliment. "It's the least I could do. You've been dragged into this mess because of me, the least I can do is help you watch your back."
Rea glanced around and noticed that everyone was finally awake and gathered in the living room. She went to join them and felt the silence fill the room. "I wanted to thank you all for your help last night, I probably could have defeated the two demons on my own but they were fast and strong. Without you the Shadowman would have killed me without even facing me."
"This is our fight too," replied Keith. "I don't know why he wants you dead but I have every intention of ripping him limb from limb for what he did to Roz." The other two werewolves mumbled their agreement.
"Ryan and I have known Keith and his pack for a long time, if they're in this fight then we're in it too," said Neil.
The witch bowed her head in thanks. "I am in your debt. No matter your intentions you did save my life last night." She waited a beat before continuing. "Now comes the part that I hate...waiting. Like I said last night, the Shadowman used a lot of his power to raise those demons and sending the projection. He's going to have to rest and recharge. He's also going to change his plans because he knows I'm not here alone so please be on your guard. I know you're all strong and powerful but we're dealing with dark magic and a practitioner who hated my parents so much that he sold his soul just so he could live long enough to try and kill me. To say he's unstable would be a bit of an understatement."
"So what do we do?" asked Emmett.
Rea sighed. "We wait. Go on with your lives. Take extra precautions but don't let him stop you from living. Just know that at any moment he could strike and now he might not go after me. He might attack one of you in order to draw me out. It's obvious that he likes to hurt people so please be careful." The witch rubbed her eyes. "I'm not sure what his next move will be but be ready, I have a feeling that a confrontation is on its way."
"Do you think we should stay together?" asked Colm. "Ryan and Neil are staying here and there's plenty of room for you."
A smile crossed the woman's face. "You're asking me to stay cooped up in a house with two vampires and three werewolves? Thanks but no thanks. I'll be fine at the hotel. The Shadowman might be able to track me there but it's too public for him and if there happen to be other magic users staying there then he'd really be in trouble."
"Do you need a ride back?" asked Ryan as Rea stood and began to gather her things.
The ride to the hotel was short and Rea rolled her eyes when Ryan insisted on escorting her up to her room. To ease the vampire's nerves she extended her senses into the room and informed him that it was safe.
"Wait, I forgot something."
Rea frowned. "What?"
"This." Ryan reached out and pulled Rea into his arms, one hand sinking into her hair while the other arm wrapped around her waist as his lips found hers. The witch didn't resist and felt the solid weight of the door press into her spine. Neither one wanted the kiss to end and they fought to make it last. Finally the lack of air tore them apart but neither one moved, they clung to each other as their hearts raced.
"Ryan, I don't have time for this," said Rea. Her head lolled back as Ryan placed kisses along her neck and jaw.
"Time for what?" He nipped lightly at her neck and heard her breath catch.
"This." She gently pushed at Ryan's shoulder and he pulled back slightly to meet her eyes. "There is someone out there that wants me dead and I should be trying to stop him."
"And how exactly are you planning on stopping him?"
For once Rea was at a loss for words. Her mouth moved for several seconds before any sound came out. "I don't know. But..."
Ryan kissed her gently. "No buts."
"You heard Blind Mag. I'm going to die no matter what I do."
Rea frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"If your destiny is to die then why not make the most of the time you have left?"
The witch let the idea roll around in her head for a bit and against her will a slight smile tugged at her lips. "Once again foiled by logic."
Ryan grinned. "Glad you decided to see things my way." He leaned in for another kiss but Rea ducked away with a laugh.
"If I'm going to play along with your carpe diem crap then I need a shower...and food...and coffee...then we can carpe diem all you want."
The vampire shook his head. "Fine. I'll meet you back here in an hour?"
"It's a date."
When Ryan returned Rea was clean, fed, and highly caffeinated. She slid her sunglasses on and followed the vampire onto the street. "So where to?" asked Ryan.
Rea shrugged. "I've never been here before. Let's just wander. If I'm going to die here then I might as well see as much of the city as possible." Ryan frowned at her choice of words and headed towards downtown.
The two spent the majority of the day ducking in and out of shops, hitting the occasional pub and people watching. Rea had a running commentary of both locals and tourists alike and more than once Ryan had to turn a laugh into a cough. The witch had a dry, sarcastic sense of humor that would seem irritating to most but Ryan was always curious to see what she would say next.
They purposefully avoided the area near the river Liffey. It reminded Rea too much of the young witch's death and since it was the Shadowman's old stomping ground it seemed wise to steer clear. The last thing they needed was to be caught off guard near such a large and powerful body of water.
After lunch Ryan led them towards Phoenix Park. Rea took a deep breath of the clear air and felt a tiny bit of her stress fade. She would never admit it out loud but Ryan was right. Tomorrow was never promised to anyone. Just because she was immortal it didn't mean that she couldn't be killed. She was just as likely to be hit by a car as she was to die at the hands of the Shadowman. Of course as far as she knew there weren't any demonic cars trying to hunt her down. Okay...bad example.
Her mind was a million miles away and she jumped when Ryan gently took her hand in his own. She glanced down at their joined hands and raised an eyebrow. The vampire simply smiled and kept walking. Rea shook her head and allowed him to lead her through the park. She felt like she was a teenager again, strolling through the park hand in hand with her beau. The action seemed to make Ryan happy though so she decided she could deal with a little affection.
They sat down on a bench in the warm sunlight and Rea smiled slightly when Ryan's arm wrapped around her shoulders. She let her head rest on his shoulder as they watched the flow of people within the park.
The sound of a crying child caught Rea's ear and she turned her head slightly in order to find the source of the noise. A little boy was trying to fly a kite but there was barely any wind. Tears of frustration streaked his face as he tried and failed once more.
"Ventus anima," mumbled Rea while barely moving her right hand. The child beamed as his kite suddenly took to the skies.
"Nicely done," said Ryan while pressing a kiss to the top of her head. Rea smiled and watched as the child raced around happily with his kite.
Eventually the sun began to set and the weather turned cool. The park was nearly empty as the two stood. Ryan wrapped an arm around Rea's waist and felt her lean into him. He pushed all of the stress and worry from his mind as they chatted about where to get dinner.
They settled on a pub that was known to have an excellent band. One of the musicians recognized Ryan and soon he was being pulled towards the front and a guitar was shoved into his hands. Rea laughed and cheered him on as he led a rowdy drinking song.
After a few more songs he beckoned to her and she shook her head wildly. Unfortunately she was outnumbered when many of the patrons began to chant her name. "I hate you," she hissed under her breath as Ryan passed her the guitar. The vampire grinned then quickly explained the chords to the next song. Rea was a natural and kept up with the musicians even when they tried to throw her off.
The noise in the pub died down when she began to sing and people's mouths dropped open when Ryan chimed in with the accompanying harmony. It was like they had been singing together for years and after each song ended the crowd was cheering for another.
Eventually the two were able to make their escape and the walked down the street laughing and still singing. It had been a very long time since Rea had allowed herself to just let go and have fun. She hated the fact that by the time she had finally found someone that helped her open up she was practically on death's door.
Rea was pulled from her musings by Ryan suddenly grabbing her around the waist and pulling her into a deep kiss. Her arms wrapped around his shoulders as she lost herself in the moment.
"Why do I feel like I'm in some cheesy romantic comedy?" Rea asked as they broke apart for air.
"Are you calling me cheesy?" asked Ryan. He tried to look serious but was failing miserably.
"Umm...pretty much. Yeah."
"I'm hurt." Ryan placed a hand over his heart and Rea rolled her eyes.
"Please. I'm sure you've been called worse."
The two playfully argued the entire way back to Rea's hotel. Once again Ryan insisted on accompanying her to her room and wasn't satisfied until she gave the all clear.
Rea kissed Ryan gently and smiled. "Thank you for today. It's exactly what I needed to get my mind off of everything that has been going on."
Ryan pulled Rea close and the witch felt herself falling into the cool blue eyes in front of her. Almost without thinking she tilted her head up and felt Ryan's smile as their lips met. Unlike their encounter this morning there was an urgency, a need to their kiss. Rea dug her fingers into Ryan's shoulders as he nipped and kissed at her neck. His hands spread across her back and hip in an attempt to pull her closer and Rea made a sound in her throat that made his blood turn to fire.
Blue eyes met violet as their owners fought to catch their breath. Rea suddenly turned and tried to unlock the door to her room. It was nearly impossible because her hands were shaking and Ryan wasn't helping. His hands gripped her hips as his lips pressed burning kisses across her neck. She nearly dropped the keys when his teeth nipped at her earlobe and felt his chuckle rumble across her skin. It retaliation she rolled her hips back and smiled to herself when a hiss left his lips. Finally the door opened and the two went stumbling into the darkness.
Rea held up a hand and Ryan growled low in his throat, he wasn't in any type of mood to be kept waiting. With a grin Rea hung the 'Do Not Disturb' tag on the door and firmly locked the door behind her before allowing herself to be pulled into Ryan's arms once more.
Locked together in their embrace the two lovers could feel something new spark between them. There was a feeling of desperation tainting their air and though neither one was willing to admit it, deep down they had the feeling that this would be their last night together.
The two fought for dominance, neither one willing to submit to the other. Teeth sank into tender skin as nails raked against bare flesh. Their magic sparked and ricocheted throughout the room as their lovemaking reached a fever pitch.
Afterwards Rea sighed and let her head fall back onto the pillow and felt Ryan rest his head on her chest. She could feel that the vampire was trembling and she struggled to control her breath. Something heavy settled in the pit of her stomach and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't force it away. The witch knew that her final meeting with the Shadowman was approaching and on that day her destiny would be decided.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
The phone was ringing.
Why was the phone ringing?
Rea let out a groan and rolled over, fumbling with the phone before finally getting the damn thing off the hook. "Yes?"
"Rea?" asked Colm.
"Who else would it be?"
"Is Ryan with you?" The young man's voice made the witch take notice. At the mention of his name the arm around her waist tightened and a kiss was pressed against her bare shoulder.
"Yes. What's wrong?"
"Umm...nothing's really wrong but...can you guys come over?"
"Of course. We'll be there soon."
"What's going on?" asked Ryan. His voice was rough from sleep and Rea forced herself to focus on the matter at hand instead of man in her arms.
Rea shook her head with a frown. "I don't know. Colm sounded strange on the phone. Come on, we better get over there."
Ryan watched as Rea stood and appreciated the way that the sun seeping through the curtains played across her bare skin. The vampire shook his head and sighed. The Shadowman had the absolute worst timing.
It didn't take long for the two to arrive and when Colm answered the door his expression was somber. "What happened?" asked Rea.
"You need to see this," replied the werewolf while leading her into the kitchen.
The others were standing around the kitchen table where two newspapers were spread out. One was the local paper from Dublin but the other didn't belong. "Did you touch it?" asked Rea while extending her senses.
"No, I don't think so. It was inside of the local paper. As soon as I saw it I dropped them both and called you."
Rea frowned as she slowly examined each inch of both newspapers. Finally she let out a slow breath. "They don't have any magic associated with them, maybe it was a mistake."
"Rea, look at the second paper," said Keith. His voice was tight and he couldn't make himself meet her eyes.
The witch stepped closer and felt her stomach drop to her feet. The second paper was a copy of her local paper from New Orleans dated several weeks ago. In bold letters the front page announced the mysterious death of a young woman who died of smoke inhalation without any trace of fire in her apartment.
"Have you seen this before?" asked Colm.
"Yes, it's my local paper."
"I thought you had never heard of the Shadowman," said Emmett.
Rea swallowed hard. "I didn't know his name until I came to Dublin."
"But you did know of him?"
"Yes and no. There were mysterious deaths occurring around the city but there was never one suspect. The authorities were dumbfounded and I tried not to get involved."
"People were dying in your city, how could you not get involved?" asked Neil.
"Do you know how many people are in New Orleans? We get millions of tourists a year. To top it off it's a nexus for the supernatural community, there are more allegiances and feuds than I can keep track of. I'm not even the head of my coven so even if I wanted to investigate these murders I would have had to go through them first."
The vampire frowned. "You're not the head of your coven? Why?"
"Because I'm immortal. Not everyone in the coven knows but if I was the head of the coven I would always be the head. Once appointed you will never lose the position unless you are killed or if we vote to remove you."
"Why didn't your coven investigate?" asked Keith.
Rea shrugged. "Most of the deaths didn't occur in our neighborhood, we didn't want to overstep our bounds and start poking around in someone else's territory."
"What was so special about this death?" asked Colm. He waited a beat and answered his own question. "You knew her, didn't you? The death that's in the papers, she was in your neighborhood, wasn't she?"
The witch wrapped her arms around herself and nodded. "Yes, I knew her."
"How well did you know her?"
Rea swallowed hard as the memories came flooding back. "She was a witch in my coven." Her voice shook and she forced herself to control her emotions. "She was just a baby, she was only twenty five with her whole life ahead of her."
"And your coven didn't investigate then?"
"Yes, after Jade, the girl in the paper, died they did investigate but I wasn't part of it."
Keith ran a hand through his hair. "You claim to be so powerful yet they didn't ask you to help, why?"
"Because I was too emotionally involved. I was helping train Jade, she was my apprentice." Rea's voice dropped to a whisper. "I was the one who found her."
"I don't believe you," said Keith. It was obvious that he was losing his patience and everyone could feel the tension in the room. "Your apprentice was killed and you don't investigate? If it was me I would have investigated whether I was allowed to or not."
"Well I guess that's the difference between me and you," snapped Rea. She turned away and leaned against the counter. "I did look into her death, I wanted to figure out if a practitioner could use air magic to kill someone."
"That's why you knew how Roz was killed," said Colm.
Rea nodded. "When I figured it out I was nearly sick. Magic is a beautiful gift and I couldn't imagine someone twisting something so precious into a weapon."
Keith shook his head. "I still don't understand. When the witch was killed here in Dublin by the same method why didn't you look into it? I'm sure you saw the connection."
The witch closed her eyes for a moment, remembering the sick panic that flooded her body when she saw the article in the paper. "I did make the connection and I panicked."
"It's true," said Ryan, speaking up for the first time. "We were in the lobby of the hotel and her powers nearly got away from her. I had to siphon off some of her emotions just to keep her from destroying the hotel."
Emmett's eyes widened. "You did what? Rea? How could you let him do that to you?"
"He didn't have a choice. I could feel myself slipping and I couldn't contain my power. People would have gotten hurt if he hadn't stepped in."
"What is it with you two?" said Keith. "Don't you see what's going on here, Rea? Ryan is using you. He's pulling your focus away from these deaths."
Rea frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"You know how the White Court works. Once a vampire has fed from you, even once, they exert a certain amount of control over you."
"Yes, I know but..."
"But nothing. For all you know Ryan is working with the Shadowman."
"That's outrageous," interjected Neil.
All heads turned towards the dark haired vampire. "Come on, guys. Listen to yourselves, you're getting worked up over nothing. Until she came to Ireland I'd never met nor heard of Rea. Why would I be working with someone who has a personal vendetta against someone I've never met? Plus, I was with you guys here in Dublin when the murders were being committed in New Orleans."
The group looked uneasily at each other and Rea refused to meet Ryan's eyes. The vampire reached an arm out towards her but the witch flinched away. "Rea, you knew I had to help you that day. You said it yourself that without my help people would have gotten hurt. I have never once allowed the beast to take over, I've never done anything to hurt you." He let out a sigh and raked his hand through his hair. "We're all tired and afraid of what might come next. Why don't we just walk away before we say or do something we'll regret."
"You're good at that, aren't you?" said Keith.
"Rea was with you when the witch was killed, right?" Ryan nodded. "And instead of coming to the city to investigate what did you do? You screwed around, literally, until someone else was killed."
Keith took a step closer to Ryan and everyone could feel the tension spark between them. "A man was killed because you decided getting her into your bed was more important. That man was my brother and because of you he's dead!"
"Keith, calm down," said Neil. "This isn't Ryan's fault. You're just looking for someone to blame."
"Damn right I am." A growl started low in the blonde's throat and the hair stood up on the back of Rea's neck as she felt his magic begin to rise.
"Stop!" yelled the witch. She poured a tiny bit of her will into the word and for a few seconds everyone froze in place. "This is ridiculous. I thought you all were friends or at least allies. Yes, this situation is terrible and innocent people died but ripping each other limb from limb isn't going to bring them back."
Rea took a moment to look over the group and shook her head. "You heard Blind Mag, the Shadowman is coming after me. I don't know why but it's time for this to end. I won't let you destroy yourselves over something that I did."
"No, I want him to pay for what he did to Roz," said Keith.
"And he will."
"You can't stop us, Rea," said Colm.
"I know but I can at least keep you from following me." The witch closed her eyes and drew in her will. "Disparaitre," she whispered. There was suddenly a rush of air which sent the two newspapers flying and within a heartbeat Rea was gone.
"I'm going after her," said Ryan.
"You won't find her," countered Emmett.
"I have to try."
"Why are you doing this?" asked Neil.
"Because Rea means something to me. When I look at her I feel things that I haven't felt in decades. I'm not going to let her face the Shadowman alone."
"Don't you remember what Blind Mag said? You're going to be the one to kill Rea."
The vampire shook his head. "I don't believe her. Not all prophecies come true. I would never hurt Rea."
Neil took Ryan by the shoulders. "Listen to me. You have to stop this. Blind Mag isn't a prophet, she's a seer. You heard her tell Rea that this was a trap and that she would die. Ryan, you're doing exactly what Blind Mag predicted. You're letting your emotions for Rea blind you."
Ryan yanked himself from Neil's grasp. "No. You are the ones who are blind. Rea may be powerful but she's scared and feels so guilty that she is willing to sacrifice herself in order to make things right. More than once she has told us that this wasn't our fight, that she would do this alone but we didn't listen. The other night she fought with us and probably saved all of our lives." He paused to look at the group but no one would meet his eyes. "We've all lost people we cared about and I'm sick of it. Yes, I might die but I'm not going to lose Rea without a fight."
Without another word the vampire turned and headed outside. He didn't know where Rea had gone but he was hoping that he could track her scent from her hotel room. As he rushed through the streets he couldn't ignore the sick feeling in his gut that told him that he was too late.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Ryan slowly opened his eyes with a groan. His head was throbbing and even the weak light in the room sent a stabbing pain through his eyes. Taking slow breaths he tried to remember how he had come to be in his current situation.
After leaving Colm's house he had rushed over to Rea's hotel. The young woman at the front desk informed him that Rea had checked out but it didn't take much persuading for the woman to give Ryan a spare key.
The room was empty but her scent was still fresh, she hadn't been gone long. Before he turned to leave something made him pause and he took a slower glance around the room. He could still feel the energy within the space and could practically see their shadows ghost through the room.
Closing his eyes he allowed the memories from the previous night to flood his mind. The feeling of Rea's lips, the taste of her skin, the soft cries that filled his ears, the scent of her desire. The images were so vivid that Ryan swore that she was in the room with him.
He sat down on the edge of the bed, the sheets still tangled from their lovemaking, and scrubbed a hand over his face. In a way Keith was right, from the moment that he saw Rea he had desired her but it was more than that. The way she smiled at his terrible jokes, the gleam in her unique eyes when something caught her interest, the quiet confidence that she exuded, the power that thrummed under her skin...it all drew Ryan in.
The vampire sighed and shook his head. He was falling in love with a woman that he was destined to kill. He knew that life was unfair but this was taking it to a whole new level.
Ryan knew that with each passing moment the odds for finding Rea dwindled. Taking one last glance around the room he headed downstairs and into the city. He was surprised that he could actually follow Rea's scent through the crowded streets. She had claimed to not want anyone to follow her yet it wasn't too difficult to do exactly that.
After hours of wandering back and forth through the streets Ryan realized that he had been duped. Rea had somehow cast a random trail of her scent across Dublin in order to throw off anyone who was looking for her.
Ryan swore and leaned against the rails of the Ha'penny bridge. Rea was gone. He had no idea how to find her and he knew that's exactly what the Shadowman wanted. It wasn't a coincidence that the newspaper from New Orleans had been delivered to Colm's house. The dark mage wanted them to see it and to call out Rea. The practitioner wanted them to begin to doubt Rea and her intentions and his ruse worked perfectly. With one small action he drove wedge between them, shattering already delicate alliances.
The sun began to set turning the water below him an array of colors. He watched the colors flow and bend for several moments before deciding to head back towards Colm's house. Before he could turn to leave he caught a slight scent on the breeze and knew it could only belong to Rea.
Ryan rushed across the bridge, his eyes quickly adjusting to the fading light. A flash of movement on his left caused him to break into a run and he called out to the witch. "Rea, please wait!"
He quickly turned a corner and froze, the street was empty and the scent was gone. A frown marred his face. How could that be?
Before he could turn and head back all of the light seemed to disappear within the alley and the shadows suddenly came to life. He didn't even make it one step before the shadows surrounded him and then there was darkness.
The sound of footsteps brought Ryan back to the present. He cracked open his eyes and saw a hooded figure standing across from him. "How nice of you to join the land of the living, mon ami," said the Shadowman with a chuckle.
Ryan struggled against his bonds and was alarmed at how weak he felt. His arms were shackled above his head and his feet barely touched the ground, forcing him to stand on his toes. He pulled at the shackles once more and felt his stomach twist. The manacles were pure iron.
Iron was the proverbial kryptonite for supernatural creatures. It drained their power and could even kill them. Any other type of metal would bend like clay under Ryan's hands but the iron rendered him helpless. Without assistance he wouldn't be able to break free no matter how badly he wanted to wrap his hands around the Shadowman's neck.
"I must thank you for all of your assistance, vanpir."
"How did you find me?" growled Ryan.
"Ever since our encounter the other night I've been keeping an eye on all of Rea's new friends. I must say that when you two sang together at the pub last night I was truly moved."
The vampire's eyes widened. "You were following us?"
"Merely enjoying the lovely music. Rea really should be more careful where she leaves her things though. I suppose I should give this back the next time I see her."
The Shadowman held up a crimson scarf and Ryan felt his stomach drop. That's why Rea's scent was all over Dublin. He had used her scarf to create a false trail and Ryan had fallen for the ruse. Blind Mag was right after all. He had been so distracted that he had walked directly into the Shadowman's trap.
"I must admit that I wasn't sure how to lure Rea in but now I have the perfect bait."
"She won't come for me."
"No? I have been watching her for decades and have never seen her act the way she does with you. She may not admit it, but she's falling in love."
Ryan shook his head. "Rea doesn't love me, she barely trusts me."
"She allowed a vampire into her bed, I believe that takes quite a bit of trust, chere." The Shadowman stepped closer and Ryan weakly struggled against the manacles. "She will come for you and when she does I will finally take the revenge I have been seeking for nearly one hundred years."
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
Rea stood at the window of her hotel watching the storm clouds gather over the city. The time had come, she was going to face the Shadowman at last. Her hands shook slightly and she shoved them in her pockets. She was never one to back down from a fight but this one was different. This time there was more than one life at stake.
Her room service order that morning had arrived with a note. In neat letters she had been informed that Ryan had been taken and would be released as long as she showed up. If she failed to appear his body would be delivered instead. She was to arrive at sunset at a site north of the city called the Hill of Tara. Ryan would be waiting for her, ironically, at the Mound of the Hostages. Apparently it was a rather famous site where hostages were exchanged during medieval times.
It was also a giant circle that the Shadowman could use to contain his power while drawing from the oncoming storm that probably contained enough residual energy to power the entire city of Dublin for several days.
Rea closed her eyes for a moment in order to center herself before stopping to jot a quick note on a piece of paper. She opened the window to her room, tasting the rain in the air, and whispered a quiet word. The wind responded to her will and tugged the note from her hand, sending it across the city.
With a final glance around the room she grabbed her coat and headed to meet her fate.
Colm was lounging on the couch, pretending to read a magazine, when the hair on the back of his neck suddenly stood on end as the wards around the house were activated. In an instant he was on his feet, his enhanced hearing straining to discern if there was a threat.
Suddenly a thin white envelope slid under the door and the young man frowned. "Guys, you better get in here." The other two werewolves joined him and peered over his shoulder as he slowly opened the envelope.
Ryan was taken by the Shadowman three days ago.
He has agreed to release him if I meet him at the Mound of the Hostages at sunset.
I know this is a trap, if the Shadowman fails to kill me Ryan probably will, he hasn't fed in days.
I don't want your help, I don't want you involved, but Ryan is your friend.
If I fail you have to come to his aid, he will be too weak to fight the Shadowman alone.
It has been an honor to fight by your side and I am truly sorry that I have failed you.
Colm read the letter several more times then let out a slow breath. "What do we do?"
Keith raked a hand through his hair. "I want nothing to do with Rea but she's right, we have to help Ryan."
"Guys, look outside. There is a massive storm rolling in. Do you think we can take the Shadowman if he has the power of the storm to draw from?" asked Emmett.
"We can only hope that Rea wears him down before we get there," replied the blonde.
"And if she hasn't? What if he kills her as soon as she arrives?"
"Then we die trying. Rea saved my life, I owe her a debt. Colm, call Neil. It's nearly sunset and it will take us a while to get there especially in this weather." The distant rumble of thunder made him turn towards the window. "Let's just hope we're not too late."
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Rea paused at the base of the Mound of the Hostages and glanced around. The surrounding landscape was flat which meant that the Shadowman would have plenty of time to watch her approach. Of course that also meant that he wouldn't be able to flee undetected or call in any assistance.
The witch squared her shoulders and began to climb. Her adversary might have had the upper hand but Rea was a powerful witch and the energy of her parents flowed through her veins. Her mother was a voodoo priestess and had taught Rea how to store energy and to use the energy that constantly surrounded them. The amulet at Rea's throat and the rings on her fingers were enchanted and stored kinetic energy. Each time she moved a tiny bit of energy was transferred into the talismans. She also had the ability to draw power from anything, whether it was living or not.
Rea's father was a warlock, a wizard who had gone dark but had been brought back over to the side of the light by her mother's love. He taught her how to fight and how to cast powerful evocations otherwise known as quick and dirty magic. He drilled preparedness into her head but also taught her to be flexible and to use what was around her to gain an advantage.
Over the years Rea had fought all manners of natural and supernatural beings and lived to tell the tale. There was a measure of peace and order in New Orleans now but there was once a time where one had to fight for respect and honor. Rea had never backed down when challenged and she wasn't going to start now. Just because one seer saw her demise didn't mean it was true.
The mage paused at the top of the rise and watched the storm roll in. She had literally raced the storm but it seemed like her reckless driving had bought her some time.
"So glad you could join me, chere."
The voice made her turn and she crossed her arms over her chest. "Don't you know any other greetings?" The Shadowman didn't reply and Rea rolled her eyes. "Is this your first time or something? If not you should know the drill by now. You let me see the hostage, I plead for his life, you give me an answer you know I won't agree with, we fight and I go home and have a beer."
"You talk too much."
Rea shrugged. "I like the sound of my own voice. Now let me see him."
The Shadowman stepped to the side and Rea forced herself not to react. Ryan was chained to one of the stones that made up the circle. Even from a distance he looked weak, he was slumped against the stone and his already light skin was deathly pale. Her jaw tightened when she realized that the chains binding him were iron. The metal was slowly draining his energy away and if she didn't do something he would be dead in a relatively short amount of time.
Keeping one eye on the Shadowman, Rea slowly walked towards him. She had to give the other practitioner credit, he was clever. With Ryan chained to the stone he was now part of the circle. She knew that the Shadowman would use the circle to channel his power but if Rea tried to use magic to disrupt the circle it could backfire and kill Ryan.
The witch knelt at Ryan's side and shook her head. "Stupid boy, you're going to get me killed."
The sound of her voice seemed to rouse the vampire. "You shouldn't have come." His voice was hoarse and Rea tried to ignore the bruises that bloomed across his skin.
"I know. This meeting was inevitable but I wish you wouldn't have gotten involved."
"I'm sorry, Rea, I..."
"Hush. Apologize later, I have some ass kicking to do."
The witch stood and faced the dark mage. "Is this this part when you beg for me to let him go?" asked the Shadowman.
Her response seemed to catch him off guard. "What?"
"You and I both know that he hasn't fed for days. If you let him go he'll come after me. He'll fight it but eventually the beast inside will win." She paused and grinned. "Of course it could be fun. I've heard that when a White Court vampire feeds off of you it's the biggest rush you've ever felt. You don't even care that you're dying because it feels so damn good. I'd much rather go out with a smile on my face than waste my magic on you. And trust me, honey, Ryan knows exactly how to put a smile on my face."
The Shadowman was obviously getting frustrated with Rea and that was exactly what the witch wanted. "You are infuriating! Always with an answer to everything. You have a mouth like your mother and the arrogance of your father."
Rea chuckled and leaned back against one of the large stones ringing the mound. She could feel the energy thrumming against her skin and discretely began to draw from it as she spoke. "You have an unhealthy obsession with my parents. They died over one hundred years ago, what could they possibly have done to you?"
"It's what they stood for, they were an abomination to all magic users!"
Rea frowned. "They wanted peace. They helped practitioners overcome their darker natures and helped people find ways to work together. How was that an abomination?"
The Shadowman practically growled. "They were powerful. They could have run the entire city. They could have made it a haven for those who had power instead they taught magic users how to hide, how to blend in with the mortals."
"That's how it had to be. No matter how much power they had they were outnumbered." A memory tugged at Rea's brain and she fought to clear away the cobwebs. "You sound like someone I used to know. Angelique...she was always saying things like that." At the mention of the name the Shadowman visibly twitched and Rea's eyes widened. "Angelique was the one who betrayed my parents. You knew her."
The man nodded. "I knew her very well but I was forced to live most of my life without her."
Again Rea wracked her brain. "Angelique had a son...Dominic. His name was Dominic." The witch felt her stomach flip. "Dominic...is that you?"
The Shadowman pushed back this hood of his cloak revealing the face of a young man that couldn't have been a day over twenty. He had his mother's dark eyes and fair skin but the hatred he possessed seemed to twist his features into a demonic mask. "In the flesh."
"I...I used to babysit you. After Angelique was taken in by the coven we searched for you but no one could find you. We thought she'd killed you."
Dominic snorted. "She left me with her sister who told me the truth about my mother's coven."
Rea's eyebrows nearly disappeared into her hairline. "She left you with Riley? She is the darkest witch I've ever met. You were how old? Three? Four? And for years all you were told were lies dipped in hatred. No wonder you're so twisted."
The man sneered. "She told me the truth about your family. How my mother sacrificed herself by going to the townspeople and telling them what was really going on in the city. How the coven killed her for her actions."
"Because of her my parents are dead! They were trying to help people and Angelique turned the entire city against them. My coven had to scatter and I had to go into hiding. I had to fight tooth and nail just to regain any type of status within the city. To top it off I was cursed with immortality because my parents wanted me to find their killer. I should have died decades ago but I've been robbed of the opportunity to see my family again because of something that your mother did!" Rea swallowed hard and fought to control her emotions. She would be useless in a fight if she was upset.
Dominic let a twisted grin spread across his face. "Well, it seems like we actually have something in common. You want to see your family again and I want you dead." The mage held out his right hand and Rea could see the tendrils of smoke seeping from between his fingers.
"Oh hell no. If I'm going out it will not be by some brat whose dirty diapers I used to change." Rea reached out with her left hand and her staff materialized between her fingers. "You've had a century to plan for this day, let's see what you can do."
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Dominic spat out a word and the field separating them was filled with dark smoke. Before the smoke could reach her Rea held out her left hand and shook her shield bracelet free. "Ventas" she whispered while merging her magic with that of the bracelet. The smoke Dominic had summoned stopped as if it had hit a wall and began to rise.
The moment that the spell was cast Rea began to move, using the smoke as her cover. She rushed as quietly as possible around the field until she was standing behind Dominic. Raising her staff she swung it hard but the dark mage somehow sensed her and turned at the last moment. Rea still managed to connect and Dominic fell to the ground, the smoke he had summoned slowly dissipating.
The witch quickly put some space between them but fell to the ground when her feet were yanked out from underneath her. She turned and sat up to see a thick rope of smoke wrapped around her ankles. "Ignis," she hissed while bringing her staff down on top of the smoke. The rope melted away and she heard Dominic swear in pain.
As she scrambled to her feet she realized that he was pouring his own will into the smoke and using it as an extension of himself. It was clever but also dangerous because any damage she did to the smoke would damage the mage as well.
Rea didn't have a lot of time to process this knowledge. Her extended senses sent her diving to the ground as bolt of lighting slammed into the stone directly behind her. She could feel the first drops of rain splash against her skin and knew that the storm had arrived. The time for throwing taunts and insults had passed, she either had to fight or die.
Instead of coming to her feet she pressed her right hand into the ground and felt the stores of power that had accumulated over the centuries. Dominic wasn't the only one who could draw power from another source but instead of relying on the deadly power of the storm Rea was going to use something a bit more reliable.
A glance at Dominic showed the mage with one hand reaching towards the sky while the other was extended towards her. "Revenir," said Rea while focusing on the ground at his feet. She drew quite a bit of power in and felt it release in a rush as the ground suddenly opened beneath Dominic and swallowed him up to his waist.
The spell he had been preparing went astray and the sky was illuminated with the blast that had been meant for Rea. Drawing more energy from the earth, Rea searched for any type of life that existed on top of the mound. It didn't take long for her to find exactly what she was looking for. "Vida grande," she whispered. A slithering sound filled the air as dozens of vines that covered the stones suddenly sprang to life and began to grow. They raced across the ground and began to wind around Dominic who was struggling to free himself.
Rea slowly pushed herself up and paused when a sound caught her attention. She turned and felt her stomach clench when she saw Ryan. The energy from the battle had roused him and he struggled against his bonds, the beast inside of him craving for a taste.
The witch spared a glance at her adversary who looked more like a topiary at the moment then rushed to Ryan's side. She was careful not to touch him as she knelt next to him. "Ryan, listen to me. Don't fight. You're going to hurt yourself more if you struggle."
"Rea...please, I can't stand it. It hurts."
"I know it hurts but the more you struggle the more pain you'll be in."
"The beast...it wants out. Oh god it hurts. Make it stop, please," the vampire begged. He opened his eyes and Rea swallowed hard. They were completely black and she could feel herself falling into them.
She shook her head to clear it and looked at a spot over his shoulder. "I can't." Before she could say another word an explosion rocked the mound and knocked Rea onto her back. She quickly rolled and covered her head as pieces of earth rained down onto her.
Coming to her feet she saw the crater where Dominic had been imprisoned but so sign of the dark mage. "Rea!" Ryan screamed and that was all of the warning she had before her head exploded in pain. She turned away from the blow but the force sent her to her knees.
"I wasn't a fan of your methods but I must admit that they're most effective," sneered Dominic while tossing the rock to the side.
Rea scrambled away on her hands and knees, trying to will the world into focus once more. She reached out and felt one of the large stones in front of her. The buzz of power was comforting as she hauled herself to her feet. The world was still spinning but her senses warned her when she felt the massive surge of energy hurtling across the field.
The witch held out her left hand and formed a shield around herself as the spell slammed into her like an oncoming train. The wind was knocked out of her lungs as she was forced back against the stone. She poured her will into the shield but could feel Dominic's spell pressing against her.
The dark mage was using the storm to feed the spell and the circle of stones to focus it. Rea was strong but her concentration was shot. If she took her focus away from the shield even for a moment she would be crushed like a bug on a windshield.
Of course that could be a distinct possibility anyway. Her shield bracelet glowed a bright blue in the darkness but it was being pushed to its limits. She could feel the heat of the bracelet began to sting and she knew that eventually it would melt, taking most of the skin on her wrist and hand with it.
Without letting go of the focus on her bracelet, Rea took a deep breath and punched her shield, igniting the power stored in the rings of her right hand. Again and again she punched, using the stored power to counter the spell. For a few moments it seemed to work, Dominic's spell was forced back nearly halfway across the field but before she could ready another punch the mage retaliated.
Rea felt her teeth rattle in her skull and felt something inside her torso shatter like glass as she flew across the field and slammed against the stone once more. It took all of her power to focus and hold onto the shield as the world swam around her. Tapping into the power of the talisman at her throat her shield began to glow blood red. Over the raging storm she heard Dominic's sick laughter and felt her stomach twist. It was over. Her wrist was burning and she knew that she couldn't hold out any longer. There was no way that her magic could overcome the staggering power of the storm. With a ragged breath she steadied herself, getting ready to unleash her death curse.
Every witch and wizard possessed a death curse, a spell that was locked deep within and could only be released when they had met their end. It was an extremely powerful spell which unleashed every ounce of power that the practitioner possessed. It was how her parents had cast their immortality spell and Rea knew that the death curse would kill Dominic without a doubt. Unfortunately it would also kill Ryan but at the moment she was out of options.
Rea closed her eyes and counted down from ten, drawing in her focus as she did so. Before she finished the countdown a deep growl reached her ears and Dominic suddenly yelped in pain.
Letting her shield fall, Rea slid to the ground. She took a moment to try and catch her breath, feeling the cool rain soothe her burned wrist. She knew she should get up, Dominic would be coming for her, but she just wanted to rest for another minute.
A smell caught her senses and her nose wrinkled in disgust. Why did it suddenly smell like wet dog? Blinking open her eyes she saw a massive wolf standing over her. The wolf turned and his bright blue eyes were illuminated by a flash of lightening.
The wolf nodded and turned towards the center of the circle where Emmett and Keith were taking on Dominic. The two worked well together, one would draw Dominic's attention while the other would attack. It was obvious that the mage usually fought with magic because the physical assault threw him off guard.
Rea knew that it was only a matter of time before Dominic found a weak spot and she had to be ready. The distraction that the two were causing was going to be her only chance at gaining an advantage.
Using the stone behind her Rea tried to stand and sat back down with a hiss, there was something very wrong with her knee. It felt like there was gravel grinding against the joints. She wasn't much of a healer but over the years she had learned a thing or two about battlefield injuries. Placing her hands on either side of her knee she drew in her will and whispered "san doule". The relief was immediate as the pain disappeared. She hadn't healed the wound, only tricked her body into not feeling the pain.
Colm nudged her with his head and she wrapped an arm around the broad shoulders, allowing the wolf to help her to her feet. It took a few moments for her to catch her breath and she forced herself not to panic when she realized that she couldn't. She knew that she was badly injured, possibly even mortally, but there wasn't time to dwell on it. The spell that she had used on her knee wouldn't help, it would numb her lungs and diaphragm and she would suffocate. All that she could do was push the pain to the side and pray that she could stay conscious long enough to take down Dominic.
One of the wolves yelped in pain but Rea ignored it as she leaned against Colm. Dominic was too distracted with Emmett and Keith to control the power of the circle of stones and Rea planned on claiming that power as her own. As she turned a touch to her arm made her gasp and she wrapped an arm around her torso as her body was flooded with pain.
"Christ, Rea, what happened?" asked Neil.
"I'm fine. Colm, go help the others. We're running out of time."
The wolf nodded and loped across the field, his teeth bared. Rea watched him go then turned towards Neil. "I don't have time to explain but I need your help. I have to get to each of the stones before Dominic realizes what I'm doing."
Rea shook her head. "Long story. Let's go."
As quickly as they could manage the two walked around the outside of the circle, pausing to allow Rea to touch each stone and infuse it with her will. There were thirteen stones and by the forth one it was obvious that Rea was in serious pain. Her face was ashen and when she coughed Neil could smell the blood on her breath.
Wordlessly Neil swung the woman into his arms and he knew she was in agony because she didn't complain. They quickly made their way around the circle and the last stone they had to activate was the one Ryan was chained to. "I need to be in front of this stone so I'm inside the circle when it activates," explained Rea.
Neil nodded and moved to stand next to Ryan, trying to ignore his companion's current state. The vampire's wrists, chest and arms bore ugly burns where he had struggled against the iron chains.
Rea paused then touched the stone, pouring a bit of her will into it and feeling the circle snap shut around them. Ryan practically howled and arched as if he had been touched by a live wire when his body recognized Rea's power. It took everything that Rea had to ignore the painful cries as she turned her attention towards Dominic.
The three wolves were circling the mage and all four looked worse for the wear. The wolves were all bleeding and missing patches of fur here and there. They all walked with a slight limp and Keith couldn't put any weight on his front paw at all. Blood ran from countless bites and slashes that covered Dominic's body and one of his ears was missing.
Rea wanted to make a Mike Tyson joke but the cough that tore through her lungs made her vision blur with pain. She spat and ignored the copper taste of blood that filled her mouth.
"Put me down, it's time to end this," she said but Neil paused.
"Are you sure?"
The witch nodded and swayed as Neil placed her on the ground. "Be ready to grab Ryan and run." The vampire gently squeezed her shoulder and nodded.
In the distance Dominic raised his hand and it was almost comical when he realized that he no longer possessed the power of the circle to focus his spell. His eyes widened when he saw Rea striding across the field towards him.
The witch pushed with her right hand and the three wolves went tumbling outside of the circle. The action knocked Dominic off of his feet and it became obvious that he was more seriously injured than Rea had first believed.
She quickly turned and muttered "zelde" while pointing her staff at the stone where Ryan was chained. A thin bolt of lightning shot down and turned the padlocks into a melted pile of slag. The vampire shook off the chains and drunkenly staggered to his feet. Before he could take a step Neil grabbed him and held him tightly. Rea pushed the two outside of the circle with her magic and turned back towards Dominic.
The dark mage struggled to his feet and even in the darkness Rea could see the fear in his eyes. "You're going to kill me, aren't you?" he asked.
"I don't want to. I have wonderful memories of you, you were a good kid once."
"Then just let me go."
Rea shook her head. "I can't. If you had just sought me out, just come to me then maybe we could have figured this mess out. But you killed innocent people, including my apprentice, just to get my attention. I can't let that go."
"Turn me over to your coven, let them decide. Please, Rea, don't do this."
Once upon a time Rea would have looked upon the man in pity. But that time was gone. She was dying, she could feel her life slip away with every heartbeat. For a second time seemed to slow down. She could see the three wolves pawing at the circle, trying to break down the invisible shield that separated them. On her other side was Ryan, nearly mad with pain and hunger, struggling wildly against Neil's grasp.
She could also see the ball of energy that Dominic had been forming while pretending to plead for his life. The ball flew through the air towards her and with a thought Rea's staff reappeared in her hands. She swung the staff like a bat and hit a home run.
The ball flew right back towards Dominic who didn't have time to deflect it. It hit the mage in the center of his chest, knocking him off of his feet and slamming him into the stone behind him. "Vida anima," Rea hissed and the vines she had called forth earlier sprang to life, surrounding Dominic and securing him firmly to the stone. The mage struggled but he had been weakened and the power Rea used was too strong.
The witch's legs went weak and she leaned on her staff to support herself. This was it, she was done. She barely had any magic left and her body was failing her. Turning her face to the sky she felt the cool rain kiss her skin and allowed herself to enjoy the sensation for a moment. This last spell would probably kill her but the thought didn't fill her with fear, it was time and there were worse places to die.
Taking a deep breath she reached upwards with her left hand and pointed her staff at Dominic with her right. She could feel the wild power of the storm all around her and told herself to focus. She drew in more and more power, letting it fill every inch of her. Her hair floated around her and sparked with static as she gathered even more power.
For a split second Rea didn't see the Shadowman, she didn't see Dominic, she saw Dom...the little boy she used to watch when his mother was busy at work, the little boy who was fascinated with her magic, the little boy who cried over the death of a pet frog. She wondered if she could save him, if she could turn him towards the light in the way that her mother saved her father. Then she saw the hatred flash through his eyes and knew that he was gone. Some souls could not be saved.
With a cry Rea unleashed the spell, feeling the power course through her body. It was so powerful that it brought her off of her feet and she fought to control the magic. Dominic's scream seemed like it was a million miles away but Rea didn't let go, she held on until there was nothing left.
The witch collapsed to the ground like a rag doll, feeling the rain mix with her tears until everything around her faded to black.
As soon as Rea fell the magic surrounding the circle fell as well. The three wolves ran to her side, ignoring the charred corpse that was once the Shadowman. There was a rush of energy then Emmett reached out a trembling hand, desperately trying to find a pulse.
"Is she alive?" asked Keith while cradling his wrist close to his body.
"Barely but she's fading fast."
Before anyone could speak Neil's voice pierced the air. "Guys, look out!"
The three turned to see Ryan racing across the field with Neil in pursuit. The vampire easily pushed the three werewolves to the side and dropped to his knees next to Rea's body. By now Neil had caught up to him but a hand on his shoulder made him pause.
Ryan was shaking so hard they could hear his teeth rattle but when he reached for Rea his touch was gentle. It took every ounce of his self control to keep the beast at bay and it was a losing battle. He tucked her wet hair behind her ear and caressed her cheek. "She's dying."
"We have to get her out of here," said Colm.
"It's too late," whispered Ryan.
"No it's not," argued the werewolf.
"She's in so much pain. I could make it stop, I could make her stop hurting."
"No," said Emmett. "There's still time."
Ryan shook his head slightly. "She'll die before we even get her to the car."
"Isn't there something we can do?" asked Neil.
"If there was something I could do don't you think I would do it?" Ryan ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "She can either die in pain or she can die in peace. Unless one of you can manage a miracle those are our only choices." He gently took Rea's hand in his own and felt the pulse in her wrist slow.
The members of the group all looked at each other hopelessly. They had all hoped that Blind Mag's prediction was wrong but it seemed like Rea's fate was coming true before their very eyes.
Finally Keith spoke up. "Ryan, Rea is your lover. She's obviously someone that you care deeply about. I think you should make the final decision."
One by one the others nodded. Ryan took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "I'd like to do this alone."
Slowly the others walked away to give Ryan the privacy he desired. Rea had fallen on her side and Ryan lay down behind her, his arm carefully circling her waist. He found her hand and threaded his fingers with hers. For a moment he allowed himself to imagine that they were curled together in his bed not in the mud in the middle of a rainstorm.
"Rea, I don't know if you can hear me but...I love you."
Swallowing back tears Ryan closed his eyes and called upon his power.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
It was quiet.
Rea slowly turned in a circle with a frown.
The space she inhabited was bare. Not dark, not light...just empty.
"What is this place?" she asked.
The voice made her turn and her eyes widened. "Mama?"
A woman began to appear before Rea's eyes. Her eyes and skin were dark and a bright scarf held a fall of braids away from her face. "It's good to see you, child."
"How are you here? How am I here? Where are we?"
The woman smiled. "Always with so many questions." She gently caressed Rea's face and the witch closed her eyes at the familiar touch. "As I said before, we are in between worlds. A place between life and death, between one breath and the next...a place where you must make a choice."
"What kind of choice?"
"Whether to stay or to go." The deep voice made Rea turn.
The older man smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Good to see you, amore."
Rea crossed the space and hugged her father tightly. "I missed you. I missed you both so much."
"We missed you too. There is so much that we wanted to teach you, to tell you but there wasn't enough time." Rea's mother crossed the space and joined the embrace. The family stood together holding each other for what seemed like forever but for Rea it wasn't long enough.
"How are you here?" asked the witch.
"Magic, of course," replied her father. "Nothing is impossible when you put your mind to it."
The group stood together in silence, enjoying the fact that they were together once more. "You said I had to make a choice," said Rea after reluctantly pulling back.
Her mother nodded. "Rea, you're dying."
"What?" Rea shook her head as she tried to remember. The battle came back to her in flashes, she felt the pain of her injuries and the final surge of energy as she drew from the power of the storm. Then there was nothing.
"Your body was severely injured and you drained away nearly all of your magic. Your spirit still lives but now you have to chose to stay here or to go back," said her father.
"How can I be here? Does everyone get a choice like this when they die? Did you have a choice?"
Rea's mother shook her head. "No, not everyone gets a choice. My love, if we could have stayed with you we would have." The older woman took Rea's hands in her own. "You always stirred things up no matter where you went and this was no exception. When you and Dominic fought your powers awakened spirits that had been dormant for centuries. They're called the Watchers. They once guarded the land and protected the hostages that were exchanged in order to prevent treachery. They have a power that I have never seen before. The Watchers can heal your body, they can make you whole again but only if you choose to do so."
"What if I don't want to go back?"
"Then you move on," said Rea's father.
"What's it like?" she asked?
The warlock smiled at his daughter, in his eyes she was still a curious little girl. "It's perfect. There's no pain, no enemies, no fighting."
"Is there magic?"
The man chuckled. "Yes, there's magic but only white magic. Any darkness is immediately banished. No one can harm you there."
Rea glanced back and forth between her parents. "Does it hurt?"
"Does what hurt, baby?" asked her mother.
The priestess wrapped an arm around her daughter's shoulders. "Yes and no. Physically it's painless. It's just like falling asleep. But I won't lie to you, it's emotionally agonizing. You have to let go of everyone you've ever formed a bond with...everyone that you've ever loved. You don't get a chance to tell them goodbye or to tell them how you feel, it's just over. Depending on the strength of the connection you can sometimes feel it break and that in itself is torture."
"Is that how it felt when you left me?"
"Yes. It was like someone was ripping my heart into a million tiny pieces."
Rea shook her head and ran a hand through her hair. "I don't know what to do. I'm so tired of fighting and running and just...existing. I'm so tired."
"I know you are, my dear," said her father. He squeezed her shoulder gently. "Can I ask you a question?" Rea nodded. "Do you love him?"
Rea sighed. "I don't know."
"He loves you," said her mother.
"I know," replied the witch. "I would never give up paradise just for one person, no matter how much they loved me. You know that."
Her mother smiled slightly. "I know you wouldn't." The woman looked at her daughter's conflicted face and felt her heart tighten. "I can't make this decision for you but perhaps I can help." The priestess waved her hand and two images appeared. The one on the right showed a landscape bathed in sunlight, birds sang and wildflowers bobbed in the breeze. Rea could practically feel the warm air caress her skin and she knew that the air would be pure and clear. In her heart she knew that is what peace looked like, it was something she had longed for her entire life yet never achieved.
The image on the right showed the aftermath of the battle. The three wolves and Neil stood to the side nursing their injuries while Dominic's charred corpse began to disintegrate in the background. Rea was shocked to see herself in Ryan's arms. Her body was limp and lifeless, her skin was pale and her lips were turning blue. The vampire held her as if she was made of glass and even in the rain she could see the tears running down his face.
Standing between her parents she took their hands in her own. She looked between the two images and felt her parents hold her close.
"Our time is short," said her father. "You must choose."
Rea looked between the two scenes and felt her chest tighten. On one side was a life of purity, of magic, of love and an eternity with the family that had been stolen from her. On the other side was a life of pain and uncertainty and danger and the knowledge of her family's fate weighing on her with every heartbeat.
With a shaky breath she closed her eyes and made her choice.
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
It doesn't rain often in New Orleans but it seemed appropriate that it was raining today. In fact, it had rained every day since their arrival from Ireland. Ryan sighed as he watched the drops race down the window pane. It seemed like mother nature herself was crying.
He wanted to cry too but he didn't have any tears left. Closing his eyes he tried to push the memory of the past few days out of his mind.
After the battle with the Shadowman Ryan knew that Rea's time had come. He could feel her body screaming in pain and the agony was too much for him to bear. He knew he couldn't save her but at least he could make her last moments as painless as possible.
Typically when Ryan fed there was a rush, a euphoria that flooded his body but this time was different. It was as if the beast inside was reluctant to feed. He forced himself to slowly absorb Rea's essence, easing her pain as each heartbeat brought her closer to death.
Finally only one tiny spark remained. Ryan paused, praying that somehow there would be a miracle and she would fight her way back from the edge of death. Unfortunately that miracle never came. Ryan swallowed against the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and drew in the last of Rea's power. He saw her final breath slip through her lips and turn to mist, slowly rising into the air until it was gone.
Without realizing it a sob left the vampire's mouth. He curled around Rea's lifeless body, his tears turning to steam against her cold flesh. He wanted to apologize, he wanted to beg her to come back but his mouth couldn't form the words. Finally he had nothing left. No more tears, no more cries...only pain.
When he finally raised red-rimmed eyes he saw the others standing in a rough circle around them. Each one had his head bowed in sorrow and respect.
Even though he was still weak he carried Rea's body back to the car then to Colm's house. Keith called to inform Rea's coven of her death and to ready them for her arrival. With shaking hands Ryan cleaned and dressed Rea then loaded her onto the makeshift stretcher the others had constructed.
Under the cover of darkness the group headed into downtown Dublin and opened the Way that would lead them to New Orleans. Keith, who had a broken wrist and couldn't carry much, lead the way with a light while the other four carried Rea's body down the long tunnel.
It was a macabre sight, the five were still bruised and splattered with mud and blood from the battle. Yet they held their heads high as they acted as Rea's pallbearers, carrying her home for the final time.
Three members of Rea's coven were waiting for them when they arrived. It was late in New Orleans and the three women helped the weary group transport Rea's body to a secure location.
Healers were called in and everyone's wounds were tended to. The healers knew that there were wounds that they would not be able to heal so they attempted to do their job as quickly as possible and move on. The one gift they did bestow was an elixir that caused a dreamless sleep and the five weary warriors were extremely grateful. The last thing they needed was a night spent doing battle in their sleep.
The next day the coven sat with the group and listed in shock as they explained the battle between Rea and the Shadowman. Ryan was the only one who knew the full story and the entire group was floored when the details were revealed. It was agreed that Rea died a hero and the others were commended for their assistance. Even Ryan received praise, the members of the coven knew that he had been trying to ease Rea's pain and appreciated his selfless assistance.
All of the gratitude and thanks fell on deaf ears. For the first time in centuries Ryan had found someone that he cared for, that he loved. He'd only known her for a few weeks but it felt like a lifetime. Now she was gone. Not only was she gone but he had been the one to kill her. Dominic had mortally wounded her but Ryan was the one that extinguished that final spark, he was the one that felt her die.
Despite the rain, Rea's funeral was held in true New Orleans style. Instead of mourning their fallen comrade the members of Rea's coven celebrated her life. A lively jazz band led the way as the street was filled with the members of the coven, Rea's friends, and many bewildered yet highly entertained tourists.
Magic practically flowed through the streets that day as the practitioners within the funeral procession filled the air with spells. The spectators thought they were special effects but the locals knew the scent of magic and took a moment to bow their heads in respect when the group passed by.
Rea was put to rest in her family's crypt. After her parents had been burned at the stake, members of the cover secreted the remains away and eventually entombed them in one of New Orleans' famous above-ground cemeteries. Prayers and spells alike were said and when the heavy door was shut there was a since of finality in the 'boom' that resonated.
After the service a reception was held with music, food, and lots of laughter as Rea's life continued to be celebrated. Ryan knew he should join the festivities, not wallow in his sorrow but at the moment he didn't care.
He headed outside and began to walk, not knowing or caring where he ended up. The rain had slowed to a mere drizzle and he could see the steam rising from the streets. Eventually he stopped in front of a store. The windows were dark but the doorknob twisted beneath his hand. Ryan took a slow breath and after a beat he headed inside.
The moment that he stepped through the door he was hit with a scent that was uniquely Rea's. There was always something about her, a scent that he could never place. Looking around Ryan's stomach twisted when he saw the sign above the door. 'LeBeau's Spices & Teas'.
This was Rea's shop.
Ryan wondered how sick his subconscious was to bring him here of all places. Despite his misgivings he slowly wandered around the shop, pausing to read a label or to smell a dried herb.
Everything in the shop reminded him of Rea. The empty coffee cup on the counter, the scarf thrown over the back of a chair, the books piled onto sagging shelves. There was no doubt that this shop was hers.
On the counter, next to the cash register, was a book that had been left open. The ace of spades was used to mark the page. Even though his heart was breaking into tinnier pieces by the moment, Ryan leaned across the counter to read the text.
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
"That's always been my favorite poem."
The voice made Ryan jump and his face paled. "Rea?"
"Who else would it be?"
Ryan rubbed his eyes and shook his head. "This is impossible. You're dead. I...I killed you."
The witch smiled sadly. "Yes, I am dead but you were not the one who killed me. Dominic did that. He shattered my ribs and caused them to puncture both of my lungs, I drowned in my own blood. On top of that several of my vertebrae were broken and my nerves were severely damaged. You helped ease the pain of my death but I would have died anyway."
Ryan felt his head swim and leaned against the counter. "How are you here?"
"Magic, of course."
"Why are you here?"
The witch paused. "I wanted to say goodbye and also to say that I'm sorry."
The vampire frowned. "Sorry for what?"
"I don't have time to explain all of the details but as I was dying I was given a choice. There was a power that could have healed my body and brought me back or I could choose to move on. Obviously I chose the latter."
"Why? Why didn't you stay? Was it me? Was it something that I did?"
Rea shook her head. "It wasn't you, you're wonderful and caring and I'm so lucky that I did get to know you even though it was for such a short amount of time."
"Then what was it?"
"It was my time." The witch held up a hand to halt Ryan's response. "When my parents cast that spell on me they did it so I could find their killer and bring them to justice. They had no idea that the one who betrayed them would be found in a matter of weeks. I should have aged like a normal witch and at this age I should have been old with waning powers. I should have been mentoring the next generation not going to the front lines to fight." Rea sighed and crossed her arms over her abdomen. "I was so tired of fighting, I was so tired of...well...everything. My immortality was a curse."
"And mine isn't?" Ryan spat. "Do you think that I like what I have become? I didn't have a choice either."
"But you once told me that you've accepted your fate, that you were at peace with the hand you have been dealt. I was never at peace with my lot in life, each day was a burden not a gift. I know it sounds cowardly but I do not regret my choice."
Ryan sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "It's not fair. I love you."
"I know. You have no idea how hard it was to leave you. I miss you."
The vampire swallowed past the lump in his throat. "I miss you too. What am I supposed to do, Rea? I'm immortal, I could live for centuries and each day I have to go on living without you."
Ryan wasn't sure but he was fairly certain that the spirit in front of him was crying. "Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone. I thought I would live forever yet here I am." She paused and met the broken blue eyes of her former lover. "You're going to go on living, Ryan. You have too. Maybe you'll find someone who can mend your heart and if you can't then you can wake up each morning with the knowledge that when the time comes I will be waiting for you."
Rea's image was growing fainter and Ryan reached for her. To his surprise he could actually feel her in his arms. He closed his eyes and breathed in her scent one last time. "I love you, Rea."
The witch smiled slightly and even though Ryan couldn't see it he could hear it in her voice. "I love you too, Ryan, and remember that forever isn't that long at all." For a heartbeat they held each other tightly then she was gone.
Ryan wiped his eyes and glanced around the shop. Rea was right, before he knew it he would be with her once more. Before he left he grabbed the book of poetry and tucked it into his pocket and headed back outside. It was time to gather the others and go home. He had said goodbye to his love and it was time to move on with his life. As Ryan walked he felt the pain in his chest ease and knew that even though he couldn't see her, Rea would always be with him and when the time came she would be waiting for him.
And that was more than enough to live for.