From the time I joined the Knights of Boudica, I’ve pretended to be just like all the others. A magic specialty or two. Skilled with a blade. An innate sense of justice.
But normal is overrated, right?
Now that I know there are more ancient and powerful stones out there, I won’t rest until I find them. If that means using more of my magic and risking exposure, then it’s a chance I have to take.
My research leads me to a place I never imagined. A place where history is stored.
And secrets are revealed.
Unfortunately my discoveries put a target on my back. I can’t make a move without a vampire breathing down my neck. Of course, there’s one vampire whose closeness I don’t really mind—if only he wasn’t a dark prince with a deadly past and a monstrous family.
If only he wouldn’t kill me on the spot if he finds out what I truly am.
With the race on to claim the remaining stones, I have to put my personal feelings aside and do the job I was born to do. These stones could change the world for the better—or they could be the end of us all.
Deadly Knight is the third book in the Midnight Empire: The Tower series. Don’t miss this supernatural action and adventure series that features a kick-butt heroine, a sexy vampire hero, and a quirky cast of characters.
Release date: January 6, 2022
Publisher: Red Palm Press LLC
Print pages: 220
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Kamikaze Marwin trudged up a set of concrete steps in central Britannia City. “You would think people would be happy about a tree sprouting in the middle of the city. Maybe we can hang those cute little lights on the branches and make it festive.”
“Let’s see what we’re dealing with first,” I warned. “Normal trees don’t grow in the middle of the city.” And they certainly didn’t bust straight through a fountain and send statues flying like oversized shrapnel.
Kami kicked aside a pebble. “Normal trees don’t grow anywhere anymore.”
She wasn’t wrong. Nature suffered after the Great Eruption, a cataclysmic event that involved ten of the world’s supervolcanoes blowing their stacks simultaneously. The expulsion of ash left the world shrouded in darkness which took a catastrophic toll on Mother Nature. Without sunlight, most plant life became reliant on magic to grow and thrive.
We crested the steps and Kami released a whistling breath. “Blimey Charlie. That’s quite a tree.”
No kidding. It stood over sixty feet high and had a circumference of at least thirty feet. Thick branches twisted from the trunk like broken arms reaching for restoration. Wisps of powerful magic brushed against my skin. Even without the magical hint, it was obvious this was no ordinary tree.
“It’s a Parijata tree.”
Kami cast a sideways glance at me. “Am I supposed to know what that is?”
“A wishing tree. My mother told me it yields objects of desire.” If anyone would know the background of the Parijata tree, it was dearly departed Rhea Hayes, beloved mother and history teacher extraordinaire.
Kami’s eyebrows lifted. “Any limits?”
“None that I know of.”
She regarded the tree. “Huh. So I can ask the tree to restore the sun and bam!” She slapped her palms together. “Instant rays of light.”
“Okay, maybe there are some limits. I’m pretty sure the wish has to be for you personally.”
“Still seems too good to be true. What does the tree get out of it?”
Kami and I had fought enough monsters to know that magic gifts often came with a price tag. The greater the gift, the heftier the cost.
“The wishes feed the tree. The more wishes there are, the bigger the tree grows. The next thing you know, you’ve got a tree the size of a city block and a root system that destroys everything in its path. Farewell Britannia City.” What was left of it. The city wasn’t fully rebuilt after the Great Eruption. The Eternal Night took hold and bye-bye infrastructure.
Kami’s shoulders sagged. “A huge tree and here’s me without my power saw. We should’ve stopped by a hardware store. All I have on me is a crossbow.”
“No worries. First order of business is to clear the area. The tree only grows stronger if we let people continue to make wishes.”
“Please don’t feed the tree.” Kami started to usher people out of the way. “The wish factory is closed. The genie has left the building.”
An elderly man turned toward us, eyes flashing. “I’m not going anywhere, young lady. This is my chance.”
“Your chance to what?” Kami asked.
“Reclaim my youth,” he shot back. “What else?”
Kami and I exchanged glances.
“This isn’t the Fountain of Youth, sir,” I said. It wasn’t even a decorative water fountain anymore. The opportunistic tree took care of that.
“I’m wishing to be young again, you fool,” he snapped.
Kami gave him a heavy dose of side-eye. “So you can learn to be a grumpy old man all over again? Don’t do the world any favors.”
A woman pushed through the throng of people wearing a bright smile. “My teeth!” She ran her tongue over the straight, white squares. “Are they as perfect as they feel?”
I nodded. “They look like they belong on a billboard.”
She beamed. “I can’t wait to show my husband. Maybe now he’ll stop calling me Bucky.” She dashed off to display her good fortune.
“Sounds like she should’ve wished for a divorce,” Kami muttered.
Another branch sprouted from the trunk of the tree, this one even higher than the last.
“We need to stop this now,” I said.
Kami tipped her head back to examine the tree’s new height. “It’s already pretty big. How do we get rid of it?”
I sensed the growing agitation around us at the sight of two knights. No surprise. They knew why we were here. Funny thing about people—they tended to dislike the idea of someone destroying their hopes and dreams. If Kami and I weren’t careful, the tree would turn the crowd against us as a protective measure.
“You take care of the bystanders and I’ll deal with the tree,” I told her.
Kami’s specialty was mind control. Although she couldn’t commandeer dozens of people at once, she could quietly manipulate one head at a time and steer them away from the scene.
“Hey,” Kami called to the tree. “Make like a…you and leave.”
The tree remained rooted in place.
Kami sighed. “If we’re going to kill it anyway, would it be so bad to make one teensy wish?”
I jerked toward my best friend. “Don’t you even consider it, Kamikaze Marwin. You and I have magic. It would be like using extra-strength fertilizer.” Feeding the tree my powerful and unpredictable magic would be a huge mistake. There was no telling what my wish would do to the tree—or to the city. The gods knew I had plenty of wishes to make, but I couldn’t afford to be selfish. Not ever.
Begrudgingly Kami turned to the woman next to her and set to work. I focused on the tree and came up with a basic plan. Minimal damage to the property. Minimal damage to the people. Permanent damage to the tree.
Easy peasy, right?
I removed my trusty axe from the sheath on my back and debated where to strike first. Babe was my weapon of choice and not a bad option under the circumstances.
A young woman spotted the axe and grabbed her child’s hand to tug her away from me. “What are you doing with that?” the woman demanded. Her complexion was milky white except for the dark circles under her eyes.
“The tree is dangerous,” I said. “I suggest you take your child and evacuate the area.” There was every chance the tree would fight back and I didn’t want some poor kid getting a concussion due to a flying branch.
The young woman tightened her grip on the child’s hand. “We’re not going anywhere until I get my wish.”
“Mum, we should go,” the child urged. “The knight says it’s dangerous.”
The mother ignored her child’s plea and kept her focus on me. “I’ve been sick. If this tree can cure me, then we’re staying put. I won’t leave Sasha an orphan if I can help it.”
I glanced at the child and resisted the memories that their predicament stirred. I understood the woman’s desire. I’d been older than Sasha when my mother died, but that didn’t make the road to adulthood any easier. A child as young as Sasha would likely die in this city without a caretaker.
“Make your wish quickly and go,” I said. The sick woman was human. Her wish wouldn’t give the tree too much juice.
I pivoted back to the tree and chose an easy branch to test first. One good whack and a branch broke off and fell to the pavement, splintering into pieces.
I glanced up at the rest of the tree and sighed. “One down. Too many to count to go.”
“What are you doing?” a heavyset man demanded. “I’m about to make a wish.”
“I’m aware of that, sir. I’m trying to save you from yourself.”
He sneered at me. “I don’t need some woman telling me what to do. I’ve been wanting revenge on my ex-wife for years and this tree is going to get it for me.”
Before he had a chance to make his wish, I knocked him on the back of the head with the blunt end of my axe. He slumped to the ground.
“Kami, I helped you with this one!”
I turned to the tree. I had to hurry or I’d be fighting off an angry mob. If somebody in the crowd was really smart, they’d wish me harm so I couldn’t take away their precious tree.
As I raised the axe for another round of whack-a-branch, the tree sprouted two new limbs at once. What on earth?
I whirled around to see Sasha and her mother still in the vicinity of the tree. A pinkish hue had returned to the young woman’s cheeks and her dark circles had vanished.
“But you’re human,” I said, confused.
“I am, but she isn’t.” The young woman squeezed her daughter’s hand.
Of course. How could I have expected a child that age to resist making a wish? Lesson learned.
“You both need to go. Now.”
A brown pony burst through the crowd of onlookers, mane flying like a mud-covered flag, and halted in front of the mother and daughter.
Sasha brightened. “It worked!”
The kid wished for a freakin’ pony.
Because of course she did.
Mother and daughter climbed onto the pony’s back and off they went.
“Unbelievable,” Kami said, watching the pony trot down the steps.
“I know, right?”
She continued to stare at the vacant steps. “Why didn’t I think of a pony?”
I groaned. “You can have Trio. She’s as big as a pony.” The three-headed canine monstrosity I’d rescued from the tunnels had taken up residence at the Pavilion, the Knights of Boudica headquarters, and now worked as a security guard dog.
“Too much slobber.” Kami contemplated the tree. “I don’t think my crossbow is going to be much help to you unless you want me to launch tranquilizer darts at people.”
“If it comes to it,” I said.
“Looking for one of these?” another voice said.
Fellow knight Briar Niall appeared behind us holding a chainsaw.
“My hero,” Kami declared. “How did you know?”
“Minka told me to bring one to this address.” Briar switched it on, pulled the rope a couple times, and a motor sprang to life.
Kami moved swiftly. She snatched the chainsaw from an unsuspecting Briar and raced to the lowest branch of the tree.
“Hey, no fair!” Briar called after her. “Now I don’t have a weapon.”
“You are a weapon,” I told her.
Briar glanced down at her dark blue suit of magical armor. “Fair enough. At least I came dressed for the occasion.” She observed Kami now sawing off a sturdy branch. “I should probably ask why we’re destroying a perfectly nice tree.”
“Because it isn’t perfectly nice,” I said. “It will destroy this entire block by the end of the day.”
“So it’s basically my nephew after ingesting a bag of candy.”
“Get in there, Briar. We’re wasting time.”
I backed away and a fur-covered monster exploded from the suit. No one would guess the creature Briar was capable of unleashing. As the only shapeshifter in our banner, she was a valuable member of the team, especially during times like this when we needed brute strength. Nobody could identify her species—not even Briar herself. We only knew that, when she turned, she was a walking, talking terror.
Briar rushed to the trunk of the tree, acting as a battering ram. In her case, size mattered. Bark crunched as she threw her impressive body weight against the tree for a second time.
Kami switched to attacking the roots now threaded through the concrete and I used my earth magic to loosen the roots from the ground. It felt good to release a bit of magic. No one knew the pressure I was under to contain the full extent of my magic. I had to shift the lid and let the steam out of my magic pot every now and again or I’d boil over. If that ever happened, I’d scald anyone within range.
A familiar bird swooped down from the sky to land on a tree branch.
“Barnaby, that isn’t a good spot to rest,” I yelled.
The raven cawed in response but remained perched on the branch. Stubborn bird. A pair of gray pigeons followed Barnaby’s lead and landed on another branch.
I made a sweeping gesture. “No birds!”
The tree shook as Briar struck the trunk for a third time.
The raven held fast.
I used our telepathic connection to warn him away. He spread his wings and flew overhead just as Briar prepared for a fourth strike. She stood upright on powerful haunches and yowled. The primal sound sent shivers down my spine. Briar was the most docile woman alive in her human form. You half expected a parade of children to follow her around in the city, their sweet voices raised in song. In her beast form, though, she was a verifiable nightmare.
Briar struck again and the trunk of the tree split apart and collapsed on either side of the base.
Kami switched off the saw as the roots shriveled and dissipated. “Is it wrong that I’m disappointed?”
Briar reverted to her human form and smoothed the front of her creased uniform. “I am so grateful Minka invested in these. They make shifting so easy.”
“Don’t tell Minka,” Kami advised. “It’ll go to her head.”
Briar observed the remains of the tree. “We should gather the wood and donate it.”
I heaved a weary sigh. “I wish we could, but it’s unusable. You toss a piece of this on a fire and inadvertently make a wish, and you’ll have a problem on your hands.”
“That’s too bad.” Briar nudged a piece of the broken tree with her boot. “What do we do with it then?”
“We should burn it now while nobody’s within range.” I didn’t need magic for this task. I simply used two pieces of wood as kindling and rubbed them together until they sparked.
“I don’t suppose anyone’s packing marshmallows,” Kami said. “Seems like a waste of a good fire.”
“Whatever you do, don’t wish for them,” I said.
As I watched the tree burn, I felt a pang of loss. It seemed sacrilege to deliberately destroy the tree even though I knew it was for the best.
“Mission accomplished,” Kami declared.
“If only I felt better about it.” The wood crackled and popped as it turned to ash.
Kami hooked her arm through mine. “At least our job is fun. How many people can say that?”
I glanced at her, incredulous. “Your mind works in mysterious ways.”
She gave me an innocent look. “What?”
I waved a hand at the remains of the tree. “It isn’t fun to crush people’s hopes and dreams.”
Briar scooped the chainsaw off the ground. “I’ll take this back to the office. Are you two coming?”
“That depends,” Kami said. “Is Minka there?”
“She was when I left. She made me stop to sign out the chainsaw.”
I laughed. “Of course she did.”
“We have another stop to make, but we’ll be there shortly,” Kami said.
I waited until Briar was out of earshot to turn to her. “We will?”
“No, but she can tell Minka and buy us time before we get the dreaded phone call requesting our location.”
“Where are we going until then?”
Kami smiled. “How about a drink? We just saved the city like proper superheroes. That calls for a celebration.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What’s the real reason?”
She hesitated. “Can’t fool you, can I?”
“You’ve seemed a bit mopey.”
“I haven’t been mopey.”
“You didn’t pet Trio when you came to work yesterday. Major red flag.” She studied me. “Thought you might want to talk, just the two of us.”
“What do you mean? I talk to you all the time.”
Kami groaned. “Not about important things like feelings and whatnot.”
“That’s not true. I’m an open book.”
She snorted. “Only if that open book is closed, locked, warded, and buried underground in the middle of the Sahara.”
“That’s not an open book.”
“And neither are you. Is it something to do with Callan?”
I held my breath. I’d been trying very hard not to think about the vampire prince. “I don’t know what you mean. We worked together. The job finished. End of story.” I started walking. Maybe if I walked fast enough, she’d get distracted and change the subject. Kami was squirrel-like in her commitment to topics of conversation.
“Admit it. You two have a connection.” She hurried to catch up to me. So much for my squirrel theory.
“We did not connect in any way, shape, or form.” A bald-faced lie, but it was a hill I was willing to die on.
“You made out with him, didn’t you?”
I refused to satisfy her curiosity.
“I knew it! Tongue or no tongue? Who am I kidding? He’s a royal vampire. Of course there was tongue. Fangs, too. Did they tickle or hurt so good?”
I glared at her. “Are we fifteen again? Seriously, Kami. Drop it.” I didn’t want to talk about him. I hadn’t heard from Callan since he fled my flat and told me to stay away from him because my life was at stake. I’d never had a guy go to such great lengths to break up with me—not that we’d technically been dating. One intense lip session does not a relationship make.
“Sorry.” She offered a sheepish grin. “What if drinks are on me? Are we good?”
Of course we were good. Kami was my best friend. She’d throw herself in front of a zombie horde to save me. Not many people were fortunate enough to have a friend like Kami.
I managed a weak smile. “Always.”
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