Playing With Fire
Sera Cardoso's thistle tattoo generally warns her away from danger, but this time it's different. Now she's seeing visions and hearing voices in the flames that she fights. A younger man with whiskey eyes haunts her and she worries the stress of her job is getting to her. When her abuela disappears, Sera returns to Italy and is pulled into a magical world by the man in the flames.
If Logan Blackwood is unable to find his soul mate by the end of three moon cycles, his life will be altered--forever. When the fiery woman with the temper to match enters his life, he can hardly believe his luck. She is empowered, strong and will make the perfect bride for him. But the choice must be hers and she clearly doesn't feel the same connection.
As Sera connects to the element of fire; the volatile nature of her energy has her seeking out help. The other elements help her with her transition, and it becomes clear there will be much expected from them all in the battle that lies ahead. Her decision to accept Logan into her life is one of many she will have to face as the evil in Wisteria grows stronger.
New Age Magick. Mystical Creatures. Swoon-worthy Alphas. Playing With Fire is the third installment in the Fantasy Romance series the Power of Four. Download this award-winning book today!
The Complete Series:
Prequel: Twist of Fate (Fantasy lead in to the series)
Novelette: The Jinni's Wish (Fantasy Short)
Book One: Sea of Dreams
Book Two: Winds of Change
Book Three: Playing with Fire
Book Four: Heaven on Earth
Release date: November 3, 2020
Publisher: Saray Books LLC
Print pages: 345
Content advisory: Adult content
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Playing With Fire
The radio woke Sera Cardoso with a start. “Four alarm at 89A and East Cornville, all units respond. EMT in route.” As she shook off the fog of sleep, Sera kissed her day off goodbye. She replied to the call on her handheld while she searched through the dirty laundry on the floor for something to wear.
“Cardoso responding, ETA five minutes.” She pulled on a pair of gray sweatpants and a wrinkled white tee, trying to recall if it was once or twice that she had worn them. Wouldn’t matter much since, once she donned her turnout gear, she would sweat like a cold beer on a hot day.
“All units, fire at 800 Wellness Center Drive. Station three on-site, setting up command.”
Sera swept up her ebony curls and secured them with one of the clips she kept in a basket on her dresser. She didn’t need to look in the mirror to fix it; she had been wearing it in the same style since she was little. By the time she was done with the messy updo, she was in her living room. She scanned the floor for her shoes. Where the hell were they? She heard the radio crack with another message, this time from her chief.
“Station one waiting for responders, ETA ten minutes.”
“Copy that, station one.”
Damn. She should have spent the night at the station, even though she wasn’t technically on the schedule. With one co-worker out on medical and the other on his honeymoon, they were extremely short-staffed. Guess the gynecologist visit she had scheduled for the day would have to wait another few weeks. Not that it would matter; it wasn’t like she had been seeing any action lately anyway.
She found her Skechers on the other side of the couch, where she had kicked them off the night before. Her back ached from the broken sleep she endured on the ancient piece of furniture, before she finally took herself to bed, just hours before. It was definitely bitching to her as she bent over to slip on her shoes.
“Crap,” she muttered, “just what I need.” She rubbed the knotted twinge in her lower back and grabbed her go-bag off the kitchen counter. She prayed it still had enough Motrin and snacks to get her through. She needed to grocery shop. That was yet another errand she wasn’t going to get done on her non-existent day off.
Sera wasn’t sure how much longer her body could take the abuse, she really needed to get that promotion. She hoped she would hear by the end of the week, and then her plan was to take a nice long vacation.
She raced out the door, slamming it behind her, and jogged to her truck. The engine hardly started before she screeched out of her assigned parking space and ripped onto the highway with her siren blaring and lights ablaze. She was halfway up the street before she realized she hadn’t swished any mouthwash. She looked at the empty pack of Trident in her center console and shook her head with a laugh.
“Shit, well that figures.”
She lived five miles from the station, which typically took less than ten minutes travel time when she didn’t have her lights and siren on. It was always a battle getting through the tourist traffic in Sedona, especially on highway 89A, but there wasn’t an easy way to get there.
Her radio crackled with updates from dispatch and her chief. “Station two on route to the Wellness Center. All units report.”
“Station one responding. Cardoso, where the hell are you?”
“Cardoso ETA one minute.”
“Dispatch, station one to scene in five.”
At times she wished she lived closer, but purchasing a house wasn’t something she was willing to do - at least not yet. Everything in her life hinged on getting the Arson Investigator position. It would determine if she grew roots in Arizona or moved on. She really wanted to grow roots; she was getting too old for the alternative.
Sera squealed into the staff parking, hopped out of her truck, and hustled through the door held open by one of her co-workers. They were already geared up and preparing the second engine. She stowed her bag in her locker and pulled on her gear as she received a brief update from her friend Nathan.
“Second station is almost there,” he said abruptly. “We need to haul ass.”
She grabbed her coat and helmet. “Ready. I can finish in the truck.”
Sera and Nathan piled onto the engine and prepared for the ten-mile ride. Lopez was already in the driver’s seat and pulled out as soon as they gave him the thumbs up. The blare of the siren never ceased to make her heart race and her pulse flutter. It had affected her that way since riding with her father when she was a kid.
Station three had established the command center. They were one of the smallest stations but were the closest to the scene. The man barking over the walkie sounded like her sparring partner Mark.
“Station one, we need you here yesterday. What is your ETA? Over.”
“ETA four minutes. Over,” Sera responded.
“That you, Cardoso?”
“Yes sir, it is.”
“Good. I’ll give Captain Williams a heads up. And Cardoso?”
“You need to be here in three.”
The Wellness Center complex was on the outer edges of Sedona, surrounded by desert on all sides. Since it was so close to one of the area vortexes, its walking paths were open to the public and were often used for mediation. The complex acted as a buffer to the ancient burial grounds behind it and the staff members took great pride in maintaining its integrity and honoring the traditions of the tribes buried there. Sera had spent hours in the common room appreciating the artwork that had been donated by some of the most talented local artists in the area. It would be a shame if the fire destroyed the gallery since many of the pieces on display were created by tribe members who had passed on years before.
Luckily, traffic was light so they made excellent time. Sera and Nathan finished gearing up on the way and checked their equipment as best they could in the speeding engine. As Lopez turned onto the access road, they saw the smoke pooling close to the building’s roofline like mist on dry ice. A billowing column rose straight into the turquoise sky, which made Sera thankful for the windless day. It would make their jobs easier.
There were a number of ambulances waiting to receive patients. On her way to the command center, she noticed a few of the emergency techs working on people with minor injuries. She placed her hand over the tattoo on the upper part of her left breast and said a small prayer that there would be no fatalities. She had promised her Abuela years ago that she would carry a thistle with her into every fire for protection. The tattoo she had near her heart had been the only way she could think of to honor that request. So far the symbol had done its job.
The Wellness Center offered on-site care for patients with addictions, psychological disorders and anxiety stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sera knew the building well. She volunteered on a regular basis in the counseling center and was extremely familiar with the layout. She knew they needed to contain the fire quickly so they didn’t have to relocate the patients. Many of them were traumatized enough.
She spied Mark with the captain and reported in with the rest of her crew. When the captain was finished with the others, he turned to her and Mark made the introductions.
“Cardoso and Miller from Station one, sir. Cardoso was the one I was telling you about who volunteers here. She’ll be the most familiar with the site.”
He nodded abruptly and went right into giving orders. “We have word that there is one patient in wing two who has not reported in and we’re unable to reach their location from the outside. We need you to get the VIC out before the roof collapses.”
“Got it,” Sera responded.
“Your team is on search and rescue and if the building is compromised, you get the fuck out. Is that clear?”
Sera ran to catch up with Nathan who was already making his way to the main entrance. Even though there were no flames present, the space gave her a bad feeling. Something wasn’t right. The pit of her stomach churned with a liquid heat, and her lungs seized, halting her breath. It wasn’t heartburn; she hadn’t eaten anything spicy. As a matter-of-fact, she had only had a bottle of water and a granola bar on the way to the station. The tips of her fingers started to tingle as did the tattoo of the small purple flower that decorated her chest. That was the last sign she needed. Whatever force looked out for her was sending her a warning. She had learned the hard way to heed them.
“Nathan, hold up.” She ran up to him and caught his arm, tugging back slightly. “There is a better way in that brings us closer to the wing. I think we should head around the south side of the building and go in through the entrance there.”
“Okay, but this way seems clear.”
“I know, but I am having one of my feelings. You know how I get.”
He nodded. “Yup, I do. And I am also smart enough to know your feelings have saved our asses more than once.” He waved his hand toward the edge of the building. “After you.”
Sera sighed in relief. The warning feelings were becoming more and more frequent, and although she wasn’t sure what triggered them, they did seem to be accurate. A few months back, after warning everyone out of a building that later exploded, the rest of the station started paying more attention to her intuition. She loved all the guys like brothers; it would kill her if anything happened to any of them.
“This access point looks clear,” Nathan said, as he waved to a firefighter nearby. As the man came closer, Sera saw from his helmet that it was Summers. Lopez came up right behind him.
“What’s going on?” Summers asked. “The captain sent us around to this side to help anyone who might be trying to get out from the windows.”
“We are heading in, but using this access point,” Sera explained. “Just want you to know where we are in case shit goes sideways.”
“We’ve got your back,” Summers replied. “Keep your comms on.”
She and Nathan pulled down their face shields, checked the seals for leaks and made sure their Bluetooth comm system was working before entering the building. From her vantage point, she couldn’t see any flames, but Sera knew that could change in an instant. From the looks of the activity on the roof, they wouldn’t have much time to check for survivors.
The smoke was thin, and she thought she heard coughing down the hallway toward the cafeteria. Nathan was already heading in that direction.
“There’s a common area at the end of the hallway,” Sera said through the comm-link. “We should start there.”
Nathan nodded and took the lead, peeking into the rooms along the way to see if anyone was in them. Sera remembered that the end of the building they were in was primarily used for storage. It was highly unlikely they would find anyone, but it didn’t hurt to check.
A voice cried out from the end of the hallway. “Is anyone there?”
Nathan looked back to her and gave a nod, signaling with his hand that he would move in first. She responded with a thumbs-up and a nod and followed closely behind as they made their way deeper into the building. It was definitely hotter in this part of the building, and Sera wondered how close they were to the outer edge of the fire.
The coughing stopped and Sera was unsure about the direction of the victim. Muffled through her helmet, she barely registered a popping sound and turned her head to see dust pouring from cracks in the ceiling.
“Nathan, watch out!”
Sera barely pushed him out of the way before the ceiling collapsed and separated them. She saw him through the flames. He had fallen with her shove but gave a thumbs up to let her know he was okay. He shook his head and touched the side of his helmet.
“We’re okay, sir. Separated in the cafeteria by fiery debris. We’ll need to come out separately. Looks like Miller has something wrong with his comm.”
She heard another muffled cough. There was someone nearby.
“Get out of there now, both of you.”
“On our way, sir. Think I found the VIC.”
“Secure the VIC only if you can do it safely.”
Nathan stood on the other side of the debris looking for a way across. From the height of the flames and the pile of rubble present, it didn’t look like he would be able to.
She yelled as loudly as she could in an effort to communicate over the roar of the fire, and used hand gestures to indicate he should head down the hall then exit left.
Nathan nodded as if he understood her, but stayed in place to wait until she secured the victim.
She looked to the wall of flames once more, trying to gauge how far the victim might be from her location. The flames weren’t acting like any fire she had ever seen. They were staying in place like a wall. Why wasn’t it spreading? Were the floors wet? She hadn’t thought they made it this far with the hoses, but perhaps they did. She called out to the victim.
“Hello? Sedona Fire, is anyone in here?”
Sera felt the tattoo on her chest start to burn and her fingers tingle, something was wrong. She moved into the room toward the area where she heard the voice, pushing aside chairs and tables along the way to clear an exit path. On the wall to her right, there was a hole encircled with flames that should have led to the room next to the cafeteria. But from her vantage point, it looked as though it led nowhere. Why couldn’t she see through to the other side?
The ring of fire swirled around the edges and crackled with lightning-like energy. It started to spin, the outer edges spitting orange and red flames, while the center faded to black. The darkness lightened and she saw a shirtless man in the center staring at her from the other side. He wasn’t in distress; he didn’t call out to her, merely cocked his head in a dog-like fashion and stared her down with his golden eyes.
Her reflexes were dulled as if she had worked a 48-hour shift with no sleep. The tattoo on her chest really stung. Did she have a hole in her coat? She needed to get out of the building to check but wasn’t leaving without the VIC. She shuffled forward and her hand came up of its own accord. He was reaching for her too.
“I’m here to help you. Take my hand.”
The man cocked his head again and then graced her with a dazzling smile. He sure wasn’t acting like he needed saving. And was that a kilt he was wearing? Just as she reached the edge of the flaming hole, she heard a cough in the corner and glanced toward it. When she looked back, both the hole and the man in the kilt had disappeared.
She shook her head, not understanding what she had just seen and even more convinced there was something wrong with her gear. Perhaps her oxygen levels were off. It was either that or the sweat dripping into her eyes was making her see things.
“Over here,” came the coughing voice and through the smoke, she saw a shadow of movement. As she drew closer, she realized that the man, fully clothed, was pinned under debris that he was trying to move off his left leg.
“Command, I found the VIC. He is caught under debris. Getting him out now.”
“Move it, Cardoso!” She couldn’t help but roll her eyes. No shit, Sherlock.
She crouched closer to him to get a better visual. He looked to be in one piece, although his leg was bent at a weird angle. “Don’t move, sir. I’ll get you out.”
“Beam’s too heavy at this angle.”
Was that a British accent she detected? It was hard to tell over the whooshing sound of the flames, but she could swear he sounded just like Benedict Cumberbatch. “I’ll be right back.”
Sera scanned the room, looking for something she could use as a lever. A leg from a broken table looked as though it would work. She pulled it from the pile and tucked it under the beam, yelling at the victim to pull himself out when she moved it. Sera pushed down on the table leg with everything she had, and the man pulled his injured leg out with a scream. He was pale and close to fainting. She would have to carry him out. The leg looked bad. She was surprised with all the smoke in the room, and the bone sticking out the way it was, that he was still conscious.
“Put your arm over my shoulders. We’re going to head up the hallway.” She honestly wasn’t sure how long she had before he passed out. “Sir, I need you to stay awake as long as you can.”
He nodded weakly, his eyes closed but his arm gripping securely around her shoulder. She could tell it took all of his strength to do as she requested. His limbs were starting to shake from the shock.
She hoisted him up as far as she could and took as much pressure off his leg as she was able. Once she got him in a semi-standing position, she leaned up under his stomach and pushed up until he was across her shoulders. As she straightened she pulled down on his uninjured leg and one of his arms. The man cried out in agony, then passed out. She was thankful they didn’t have far to walk; he needed medical attention stat.
Sera trudged up the hallway, slowed by the load she carried. The sweat ran along her forehead and dripped into her eyes as she blinked to clear them. Nathan made his way around the building and was just coming in to help her when she got to the entrance. Summers and Lopez came up and took the victim from her shoulders, and Nathan led her away from the building.
Nathan grabbed her arm and lifted the shield on his helmet.
“You okay?” He lifted her shield and handed her a water bottle, which she drained in record time.
“Yeah. Just need to rest. Think there may have been something weird with my oxygen levels.”
“What do you mean?”
Sera looked at the concern in Nathan’s eyes and decided that whatever she saw in there if it was anything at all, shouldn’t be shared with him. He worried too much, and besides, he was sweet on her.
“It’s nothing, I’m just tired.”
Nathan scanned her eyes for the truth and nodded. Apparently, he believed her. “Okay, head over and get checked out. I’ll check on the vic. Oh, and by the way, good call on the front entrance. It collapsed shortly after we entered. I had to go out through the back.”
“Good to know I haven’t lost my touch,” she said with a smirk.
He gave her a soft smile that warmed his eyes and then ran toward the medic to check on the man she pulled from the building. Yup, definitely sweet on her. She needed to put a stop to that. He was the only one in the station that looked at her as a woman; to the rest of them she was just another guy. They all knew her rules. She didn’t date anyone she worked with, but Nathan was new. He didn’t know any better. Besides, he was ten years younger than her, and she wasn’t sure she had the energy.
She wandered over to another emergency medical unit and sat down just as they finished a woman who had a shallow cut on her head. The injury wasn’t bad, but there was a lot of blood. Sera was feeling better, and she realized as she sat calmly that her earlier feelings had all but disappeared. Her stomach was back to normal and her tattoo didn’t burn. She looked down to the front of her coat, no hole. It was almost as though she had imagined the entire thing.
As the medic checked her oxygen levels and blood pressure, Sera found her mind returning to the image she saw in the fire and wondered what it symbolized for her. She never dismissed a dream, vision or hallucination. Her Abuela taught her years ago that they all had meaning. She often said it was the mind’s way of working out its destiny. She couldn’t for the life of her imagine what a man in a kilt standing in a flaming ring of fire could mean, but she knew from experience that if she was open to the message the universe was sending her, it wouldn’t be long before she found out.
Logan Blackwood stood motionless, gazing into the campfire he built in the woods far from his homestead in Wisteria. The cycles of the moon pressed upon him as he weighed his options. With only two of them left to find her, and no word from the witch who promised she’d bring her, he suffered in edgy silence alone.
As he stood brooding and watching the flames, he wondered if the vision he saw earlier had been a trick of his mind. There was no explanation for it, and certainly not one for the feelings it awakened in him. While one could argue that he lived in a land full of magick and that this would be something akin to witchery, he knew his fair share of sorcerers. None of them could build an elemental portal, not without an element of course. And there was no one who could have lit the fire inside him other than the one destined for him by Fate. That was the most confusing thing of all.
He poked the fire again, willing the flames to swirl and circle as before, but to no avail. The blackened void was gone and the strange yellow creature with it. Just over a moon ago, when the sorcerer Erebos pulled the bonnie lass Amie through Air’s portal, Logan was close enough to see firsthand what it looked like. Since Amie was gifted the powers of air when she was brought through the portal, he assumed the same might be true for the one he saw in the flames. His gut told him what he had seen was similar to the elemental portal Erebeos conjured, the only difference this time was that it was surrounded by flames, not a cyclone.
After no luck at prompting the portal to rematerialize, he sat down on a nearby stump and opened his kit, pulling out an iron skillet and the scran Mila made for him. His mouth watered in anticipation of the meal, and while he waited for it to heat he consoled himself with a small piece of shortbread she put in his pack for dessert. Although she was human, Mila was like a mother to him, and she took amazing care of the homestead when he was away. The pack members and humans who called his village home adored Mila, and heaven help anyone who tried to harm a hair on her head. That was precisely why he was sitting in the woods alone re-heating three-day-old haggis.
He didn’t dare make his change near the pack since his temper was volatile at best. He had one more night and then he could head back. It would be safer when the moon was in the center of its cycle. At least that was what he hoped.
What was it that he had seen in the flames? Was it real, or was it his exhausted mind playing tricks on him? And why would hearing the yellow beast’s voice cause his breath to catch? His reaction confused him since the vision was nothing like he imagined his intended to look like. It hadn’t even looked remotely human, or lycan for that matter, yet the feelings coursing through him couldn’t be denied.
Could it be that the beast was the key to finding his mate? Perhaps that was why its voice excited him. The more he thought about it, the more he convinced himself that it had to be so. If he had just taken its hand quicker and pulled it through the portal into his world, he would truly know.
He was irritated he hadn’t pulled the creature through. If he didn’t mate by the completion of the next two moon cycles, he would lose his ability to transform back to a man. And as full wolf, he would be unable to see to the safety of his village. There wasn’t anyone fit or young enough to take over his duties as alpha and merging with another pack wasn’t an option. Most of his village members couldn’t shape-shift, and other alphas he knew weren’t as open-minded or as accepting of humans as he was. He needed the image in the fire to help him find his mate. He was running out of time.
He decided he would only return home long enough to replenish his supplies, and then he would head right back to his campsite. If the yellow creature showed up, he would be ready, and then he would put himself in the best position to ask for help. He needed to come up with an alternate plan; he wasn’t sure the witches would come through.
As if he had willed her to be present, the sorceress known as Zilla sauntered up and posed by the fire.
“So, how’s it going, handsome? Did you miss me?”
She was just as stunning as ever, her jet-black hair loose to her hips and her emerald green eyes crackling in the light of the fire. The placement of her hands on her hips only managed to push her breasts up precariously to the top of her corset. While he wasn’t one to ever look away from a beautiful woman, especially a half-dressed one, he had already placed Zilla in the “okay to look but watch your fingers category” in his mind. As far as he was concerned, she had three things going against her: She was a powerful witch and no one in their right mind would mess with her; she wasn’t a wolf, although some would argue that lycan blood was similar no matter the animal you connected to; and lastly, and most importantly, she wasn’t his mate.
He groaned, which she must have heard since she spoke again with an offended tone and a crinkle in her nose.
“Well, if you are going to be like that, I certainly don’t need to stay. I could find much better things to do with my time.”
“Don’t be like that, lassie. Have a seat.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Zilla said with a smile. She looked around the campsite full circle and held back her comments momentarily to examine her surroundings. Her voice was quiet and soft as if the next comment was meant for her own ears. “Curious place for your campsite. Dead center in a clearing surrounded by a circle of trees.”
“I suppose I would typically prefer more cover, but I like to see who’s coming toward me. Fat lot of good it did me with you.”
She laughed as she shot him a wide-mouthed look of shock. “Well!”
He shook his head and rose, indicating she should sit on the log near him. He had cut and moved several of them to use as seats around the fire. “I meant no offense. The past weeks have been drainin’.” He sat back down after she perched on the log nearest the fire. As she reached her arms out to warm her hands, he noticed bruises dotting her fair skin. She pulled the sleeves of her shrug down over them after realizing where his eyes landed.
“Well, I can certainly relate to that, as you well know. Sevilla only just managed to wake me from the sleep I was in.”
“Ya fared well. I’m glad of it. Your injuries were severe and your sister was worried.”
The smile on her face was faint, and her eyes shimmered with the beginning of tears. “Yes, I suppose she was. We’ve come a long way but have miles to go, not that you are interested in our relationship and its dysfunctions.” She waved her hand as if swatting a fly; the uncomfortable topic was immediately dropped. “I would like to thank you for saving me, by the way. She told me it was you who carried me to her even though you were injured yourself.”
“Aye. My injuries were but a scratch and I healed quickly. You would have done the same for a fellow lycan.”
He looked into her face, her eyes downcast and a rosy tint highlighting her cheeks. Once again she changed the subject quickly. From what he knew about Zilla, it wasn’t a surprise. She would be the last person he would expect to put her pretty little neck on the line…for anyone.
“So I needed to talk to you, about our agreement.”
She looked uncomfortable; he could tell he wasn’t going to like what she had to say. Shite. He knew he shouldn’t have trusted her. She was squirming, just like Annabelle did when he caught her taking extra treats before dinner. He could tell the conversation was headed in a direction he wasn’t prepared for.
“So, I am just going to say it… I am unable to use my powers. I won’t be able to help you find your mate.”
His heart dropped into the pit of his stomach and he was unable to catch his breath. She had unmanned him with a single sentence. The truth of her words caused his throat to close and his voice to barely rise above a rasp. “I must find my mate. Ya know time is against me.”
“I realize that Logan, but there is something draining the magick of our land, and it has affected our powers. Sevilla and I need to see what we can do to rebalance it. In the meantime, you will need to do what you can on your own.”
What the hell would he do now? His life and the lives of his pack depended on finding her. His mate. He took a deep breath, trying to tamp down the anger squeezing his chest. It was too close to the end of the most recent moon cycle, and he still felt the pull of his wolf. The tips of his fingers vibrated and he responded in a snappish growl.
“On me own? How the hell am I ta do that?”
“Logan, I am going to leave if you can’t calm down.”
“I am calm,” he snapped.
“Well you could have fooled me! Tell that to your hairy knuckles and pointed ears.”
He looked down at his hands; sure enough, they had started to change. What was frightening was that he had hardly noticed. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he centered himself with a picture in his mind. He imagined finding his mate, as impossible as that might be now, and what she might look like. In his mind, she was wild and beautiful, and only had eyes for him. Imagining the love he would feel when gazing into her eyes, he managed to calm his beast and regain control.
“Much better, darling,” Zilla twittered nervously.
He could tell she wasn’t any happier telling him she couldn’t help, than he was hearing it.
“Controlling your beast will be important moving forward.”
“Aye. And it’s getting harder by the day.”
“I’m sorry, Logan. I realize this isn’t the ideal situation, but it isn’t as though you won’t have help.”
“I thought you said…”
“I did say I wouldn’t be able to help. However, I didn’t say I was going to completely bail on you.”
“So what do ya have in mind, witch?”
“Well that was rude.”
“How is it rude? Ya are a witch.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. He always felt as though she talked in circles and today was no different.
“I realize I am a witch, but you shouldn’t call me one with that tone. You make it sound like it’s a bad thing.”
“Okay, lassie, I’ll try to manage me tone.” He was losing his patience; he needed to end their conversation. “So do ya have a point, or should I just go back to warming dinner?”
Zilla rolled her eyes; apparently, he was just as exasperating to her as she was to him. “The elements of Water and Air, Brooke and Amie, have been given the task to find the next two powers. According to what I have seen, and the few things my sister has told me, I believe one of those elements is your intended mate.”
“So, me mate is one of the two that are left? Fire or Earth?”
“And Brooke and Amie are looking for the next element?”
“I have less than two cycles of the moon left. What if they don’t find her in time? Or they don’t find my intended first?”
“This is our only option, Logan. I am truly sorry.”
He looked into her eyes to gauge her sincerity and saw pity in their depths. He worried not only for his pack, but of the wee one that called him “papa”… his little Annabelle. He knew Zilla was fond of her as well.
“I shouldn’t go back to the homestead. My powers are hard to control, but I need supplies.”
“I am still able to work some simple magick. I should be able to find you a stone to wear to help you with your powers. In the meantime, I agree it will be safer for everyone if you stay here alone.”
“Give me a list of things you need and I will get them from Mila. It will be nice to see her again, it’s been some time.” Zilla stood up, brushing the loose debris from the back of her skirt. “After I deliver your supplies to you, I will speak to Sevilla about how to get you updates from Brooke and Amie.”
“And you’ll continue to keep me plight from Mila?”
Zilla looked at him affronted. “Of course I will. Do you seriously think I want to have an alpha tear me in two?”
“I suppose not,” he chuckled and shook his head. “You do realize the last time I saw Brooke she turned me to a chunk o’ ice. Oh, and Amie’s man bashed me face in. We don’t exactly get along.”
“Saying you and Aleck don’t get along is like saying fairies aren’t annoying. Simply not true. You will all just need to kiss and make up, darling,” Zilla said with a shrug. “Just the same as I have. There are much more important things to worry about than who has a harder punch or a bigger haggis. Speaking of which, I will assume you will want more of that horrible smelling stuff.”
“Aye. And I will need you take a message to my Annabelle. She needs to know not to come looking for me.”
“It will be done,” she replied with a nod. “Of that you can be certain.”
Logan looked into her eyes and trusted she was telling the truth. Zilla would be sure to keep the members of his pack safe. He could rely on a fellow lycan, even if she was a cat. He wrote a list of supplies that he would need to get him through a longer period than he originally intended, along with a short note to Mila explaining that she needed to keep an extra eye on Annabelle. Confident that he explained himself adequately, he gave the note to Zilla and she walked off in the direction of his village. He knew he wouldn’t see Zilla until the morning, there would be no way Mila would let her return without cooking her a meal and insisting she rest. Besides, he had requested more shortbread, which would take Mila a little time to make.
It was best to limit his interaction with others while his mood was volatile. Time alone would allow him to concentrate on finding answers in the flames. He thought again about the strange yellow creature and the melodic voice that came to him muffled beneath a faceless mask.
I’m here to help you. Take my hand.
It gave him hope that all wasn’t lost. That there was still time to find his love and save his people. If it involved taking a yellow beast’s hand and following it blindly through a flaming ring of fire, then he would do it. Who was he kidding? He was desperate enough to do anything at this point.
The cloaked figure made his way down the damp stone steps into a cavern designed to hold a great number of captives more powerful than he. The emptiness of the space echoed back to him with each step he took. The stones were slick with moss, and the smooth, damp walls curved downward, lowering him step by step to the levels far beneath the caves he now called home. The symbols etched into the walls were remnants of ancient magic, unknown to him and telling of the beings that used the caves before his arrival. When he happened upon the space all those years ago it was long deserted.
He stepped off the final stair into the enormous hallway. Torches along the wall lit his path, as did the bright green glow from the substance he stole several months back. The mage he held captive had used the same material in his own dungeons, so the sorcerer knew their effects. Weakened and drained of his magic, he had once been held in a cell similar to the one he kept the mage in now. He hoped Ryker was awake; they had much to discuss.
The cell bars glowed bright, like the luminescent light of a thousand fireflies. The sorcerer felt the hum of magic under his skin and kept a few steps back from the bars to prevent it from draining his strength. There were chains of the lit substance crisscrossing Ryker’s chest, and he knew from experience it would be some time before the effects on Ryker wore thin. Not that he planned on letting him leave, since he now realized the true source of Ryker’s power. Wrapped in the magical chains, Ryker fed the sorcerer’s abilities and allowed him to retain a firmer control of the body he now inhabited. In essence, Ryker served as magical fuel.
For what he had planned, tapping into the powers of a mage wasn’t going to be enough to build up his stores of magick; he needed to drain the primal source. He learned from the carvings on the wall that the ancients used elemental magick for spells he had yet to conquer. He believed Ryker was the key to finding a way to harness that magick. He looked into the cell and noted that even though his guest could reach the nearby table, his meal was left untouched. Ryker was seated but slumped over as if sleeping in his upright position. He knew better.
“Weeks have passed and still you sleep,” the sorcerer said gruffly. He waited for a response. Nothing came. He decided on a different approach. “I only have need of answers. Once given, you will be free to go.”
The man’s head slowly lifted, his hollow eyes looked at the sorcerer with mistrust. “Why would I believe you, Erebos? As long as I have known you, you have never been a man of your word.”
The comment took the sorcerer by surprise. He had known most of Erebos’s thoughts, had inhabited his body for years, and had even done some of Erebos’s dirty work. Ryker was someone Erebos had just started interacting with - wasn’t he? It made the sorcerer wonder just how far back their true relationship went and, more importantly, why he couldn’t remember it.
“It’s Roy,” the sorcerer corrected with a growl. “Erebos is no longer in charge of this body.”
“Whatever you call yourself, the man is still the same,” Ryker murmured. “So, where is Erebos? He can’t be far away.”
The mage was too perceptive. The thought of it unnerved him. “His essence is nearby, that is all you need know.”
Ryker nodded and sighed, apparently too tired to fight. “So what is it you want, Roy?”
“I need to know more about the witches, the ones that control the fates. Much like the rest of the past, Erebos’s memories of them are fractured.”
“They haven’t been part of my life for decades. I have nothing to tell.”
Roy shook his head; he didn’t trust him. “See, that is where I think you’re mistaken. I believe your connection to the past runs deep. You know more than you are letting on.”
“Even if it did, it runs no deeper than the connection you have with the present. Where is Zilla by the way? Has she found another life to destroy?”
“How do you know about…”
“Leopards don’t change their spots, Erebos.”
“She’s a cat.”
“I know precisely what Zilla is.”
“And the name is Roy!”
The man had the audacity to chuckle before continuing. “Okay, Roy.”
Roy fought his compulsion to open the cell and pound his captive to a bloody heap. Much as he would like to beat him black and blue, his powers would drain if he did. He didn’t want to give Ryker the opportunity to escape. He was much too valuable.
Ryker closed his eyes and spoke quietly from a place in the past, almost as if he were picturing the memories in his mind. “Zilla was in love with Erebos long before you ever came to be, Roy. It’s part of the reason we’re all in this mess to begin with.”
He felt his pulse quicken at the mention of his lover’s name. It still angered him that she favored Erebos over him. Ryker’s comment about a past he couldn’t remember, either through his memory or Erebos’s, intrigued him. “Tell me what you mean.”
“I mean we’ve been here before, and Zilla’s choices led to the destruction of the elements. Not to mention the death of my wife.”
Roy was confused, this part of the past he did remember. “The elements weren’t destroyed. You captured Air and had her in a cell just few down from mine. And Water has found its match as well. She was there the day your fortress was destroyed.”
“I remember,” Ryker responded with a sigh. “But they weren’t the first to harness the elemental powers.”
The pause before he spoke was almost indiscernible, yet enough for Roy to realize the mage was holding something back. “Meaning, everything is cyclical. All that once was shall be again.”
“That sounds like the nonsense the witches spout,” Ryker grumbled. He hated cryptic messages almost as much as riddles. He never understood why the Universe had to be so damn evasive.
“That’s because one of them always said it. They also believe that if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.”
Roy had firsthand knowledge of that; Erebos followed the same path and always expected different results. Zilla’s involvement was the only reason he had been able to change his course thus far. The problem was Roy didn’t know how much longer he could trust her. It had been some time since she visited his bed. It made him wonder just how well Ryker knew the sisters.
“My understanding is Zilla’s sister Sevilla is mentoring the elements as they come into power, and Water and Air are searching for the final two.”
Ryker’s face turned to ash and Roy realized he had shared knowledge of something that struck him at the core. Ryker’s body crumpled upon itself and his shoulders drooped. His mistrust of Zilla and his reaction to Sevilla’s name slid a piece of the puzzle firmly into place.
“Sevilla’s your wife,” Roy said knowingly. “The one you thought was dead all these years.” He watched as Ryker’s sobs shook his shoulders, fueling the labored intakes of his breath which echoed from his cell. Ryker’s reaction surprised him.
“You didn’t know she was alive?”
Ryker shook his head, and then responded in a pained voice. “No. I didn’t. Last I knew she had been killed, and her sisters were the last to see her alive. I was told it was Zilla’s fault.” His voice was desperate as he met Roy’s eyes from his cell. “Where is she now?”
Roy couldn’t help the smile that split his face. He had finally found the key to unlock the secrets he needed to move forward. He sensed that Ryker would do anything to learn about Sevilla’s whereabouts; he might do much more if Roy could promise a visit from her. It was time to negotiate.
“We will get to that. But, before we talk about her, let’s talk a little more about the elements. Why would the sisters be so interested in them?”
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