Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chapter two of Master of Dragons

I wanted to share the second chapter of MASTER OF DARKNESS because it gives a preview of the next trilogy, THE FAMILIARS series. Let me know what you think of my critter and my new heroine...

Silence fell with Daliya’s death, heavy as a lead weight.
“Belle. God, Belle . . .” Tristan leaned across the fallen couple and kissed his lover with sudden, desperate hunger. She kissed him back just as fiercely, a single tear trickling down her face, her armored fingers stroking his face.
The naked love in that kiss made Miranda’s chest ache. She tried to pull her gaze away and give them some privacy, but there was something about all that raw emotion that was hypnotic. She’d never seen a kiss so ferocious with pain and need, born not in desire, but in the awareness that death could strip them from each other.
Belle and Tristan were Truebonded just like Daliya and Kadir; the death of one would kill the other. Yet watching that kiss, Miranda realized neither would want it any other way.
Envy struck like a punch in the stomach. She’d never known that kind of love. Her mother had chased chimeras of it, only to find abuse and death.
Miranda glanced across Daliya’s body at Justice. He, too, watched the couple kiss, the same helpless longing she felt in his ebony eyes. She jerked her burning gaze away and dragged an armored hand across her face to wipe away the tears. She had no idea if she was crying for Daliya . . . or herself. “Dammit. Dammit, what was that about? Who’s the Mother of Fairies?”
Justice lowered the woman’s limp hand to ground, giving it an oddly tender pat before settling back on his booted heels. He slid one arm around Miranda’s shoulders, drawing her closer. Astonished, she looked up at him.
As if realizing the intimacy of the gesture, he straightened away so quickly his gauntlet scraped against her armored back. Clearing his throat, he looked over at Tristan, who’d finally broken the kiss. “And what the hell is Merlin’s Blade?”
“Damned if we know.” The vampire’s deep voice sounded gruff, and his eyes shone as if he’d shed a tear or two himself. “Neither of us has ever heard of the Mother of Fairies or Merlin’s Blade. I’d think she was talking about Excalibur, but Arthur never lets that sword out of his sight.” A smile twitched the corners of Tristan’s lips. “I think he sleeps with it.”
Miranda and Justice exchanged a frown. Tristan had been a vampire Knight of the Round Table for fifteen hundred years, while Belle had been a Maja for more than a thousand. Between the two of them, they knew damn near everything there was to know about magic. Anything or anyone they’d never heard of was going to be a bitch to find.
“What happened to them?” Justice turned his attention to the two Magekind corpses. His intense, professional gaze reminded Miranda he’d been a homicide cop before somebody bit him. “Who took that vampire’s head? And where’s the rest of his body?”
Belle sat back on her heels and sighed. “Warlock’s got himself a couple of new Beasts.”
Two of them?” Miranda demanded, appalled. It had been all they could do to kill the last one.
Justice winced. “Oh, fuck.”
“Fuck is right.” Tristan picked up the vampire’s head, cradling it in a big, surprisingly gentle hand. “Kadir was one of our best agents. He worked deep cover for five years gaining the trust of those Sword of Allah assholes . . .”
Justice frowned. “Those are the terrorists who tried to buy the Russian nuke last year, right?”
“Yeah, same bunch. Kadir’s the reason they didn’t succeed. He had them thinking he was God’s gift to jihad, even as he sabotaged every plot they put together. Whenever they’d start catching on, Daliya would cast a spell to make them forget their suspicions.”
“Too bad she couldn’t make the fuckers quit trying to blow up the planet.” Belle opened her mouth, and Justice waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Doesn’t work like that.”
Once a belief became deeply engrained in someone’s brain—particularly a religion-based obsession like jihad—you couldn’t erase it no matter how you tried. Too many associations with other memories that would eventually bring it back to the surface. You had to either change the mortal’s mind by old-fashioned persuasion. Or kill him.
Arthur and his Magekind didn’t believe in killing any mortal unless there was no choice at all. Even terrorists.
“So how did Kadir die?” Miranda asked.
The knight looked up, the curl of his upper lip revealing one fang. “Warlock’s pet fucker ate him. Literally ate him. Poor bastard was halfway down the snake’s throat when we got here. We were only able to save his head.”
Justice stared at his friend, his stomach knotting in revulsion. “Warlock must have recruited himself a pair of bugfuck crazy serial killers. Sane werewolves don’t eat people.” When you became Direkind, you kept whatever moral compass you had to begin with. You might take a bite out of someone who pissed you off, but you didn’t actually eat them. “And did you say ‘snake’?” He’d loathed snakes since he’d damn near stepped on a copperhead when he was nine.
“Yeah. Some kind of cobra, but sure as hell not anything you’d see in nature. Had to be sixty, maybe seventy feet long, three feet around. The other Beast was a werewolf centaur the size of a truck. Built like a Clydesdale, armored from head to tail. Carried the biggest damned battle-axe I have ever seen.”
“Damn,” Miranda muttered. “That sounds nastier than the first one.” Warlock’s original monster had looked like a cross between a wolf and a grizzly bear. The creature also sucked down magical blasts like a kid guzzling Red Bull.
“These bastards were definitely nastier,” Tristan agreed. “They ambushed Kadir—I think he was on his way to some terrorist planning session. Daliya was back at the couple’s home, but she sensed the attack through their Truebond. She alerted Gwen and gated to help, but by then the snake was already swallowing Kadir. We arrived a minute or two later, but there was nothing any of us could do.”
“Christ.” Justice winced, remembering some of the homicides he’d worked. The anguish of the victim’s wives had haunted him worse than the murders themselves. At least the dead had stopped suffering by the time he arrived. “I hope you made those bastards pay.”
“We gave it our best shot.” Tristan’s brooding green eyes dropped down to Kadir’s face, and he returned the head to the protective circle of Daliya’s body. “The entire Round Table tore into them with everything we had. Our blade attacks bounced right off their shields . . .”
“And our blasts were worse than useless,” Belle said grimly. “Just like Warlock’s first monster, they drank our magic and got stronger.”
“We trashed six blocks of Mirpur City before we finally made them gate for home.” Tristan pulled off his helm and raked his hand through his hair, pulling it from its tight warrior’s queue to fall in disordered, sweaty strands. He looked tired, his face smeared with dirt and blood. “Had to bring in a hundred extra witches for crowd control when the fight brought the Pakistanis out to investigate. That damned centaur trampled six people and cut a three-year-old girl in two.”
“Oh, my God.” Miranda recoiled, her expression sick. “Why?”
“I think he was just pissed off. He killed that kid the way you’d swat a fly.” Tristan’s green eyes narrowed in fury, a muscle jerking in his jaw as he ground his teeth. “But it backfired on him, because Arthur lost his mind. You know how he gets whenever a child is hurt. Tore into the bastard so hard, he actually beat his way through the fucker’s magical shield. Excalibur must have just overwhelmed the spell. Bloodied the centaur badly.”
Justice grinned in genuine pleasure. “Good for him.”
“We all cut lose then, whaling away until the sons of bitches lost their nerve and gated for home.” He curled his lip. “Apparently they can dish it out, but they don’t like taking it.”
“The civilians still paid the price.” Belle dragged her shoulders back and winced, putting a hand on her arm as if it ached. If anything, she looked dirtier and more exhausted than her partner. “We’ve had our hands full putting out fires and healing the wounded ever since.”
Miranda glanced up. “I gather the Beasts kept you from tracking where their dimensional gate went.” The Majae had been trying to locate Warlock’s lair for months now, with no luck at all.
“Per usual. We have got to figure out how to punch through that jamming spell of theirs.”
“How did you explain all this to the Pakistanis?” Justice asked.
“The usual suspects.” Belle shrugged. “Team of suicide bombers hit the neighborhood. We changed everybody’s memories to match the story. And made damned sure we wiped every camera phone for blocks around.”
“Sure as hell don’t want that little fight going viral,” Tristan agreed. “All we need is for something like that to hit CNN, and we’re all fucked.”
“Why didn’t Arthur call me in to help?” Justice asked in frustration. “Immune to magic, remember?” One of the joys of being a werewolf.
Unfortunately, that immunity meant his magic was limited to shape-shifting. Miranda and her psychotic father, Warlock, were the only Dire Wolves who could cast spells, which meant they were also vulnerable to magical attacks.
And now there were these new Beasts. Out there among the humans, eating people and blowing shit up. A snake, for God’s sake.
“You’re more useful making sure nothing happens to Miranda.” Displaying a forearm, Tristan gave Miranda a tired smile. A set of bloody fang marks punctured his gauntlet. “The centaur got its teeth into me, but your vaccine really works. Otherwise I’d be dead now.”
“My pleasure.” Her voice dropped to a mutter. “I just wish I knew how long that spell is going to last. I don’t want somebody dying because it took me too long to make more vaccine.”
“Miranda, we don’t know when—or even if—it’s going to wear off,” Belle told her. “You need to let your psychic batteries recharge a little longer before you start working on a new batch.”
As usual, the witch was right. Preparing enough of the magical drug to vaccinate the city had left Miranda frighteningly weak. She’d barely been able to move for days. Justice had ended up waiting on her hand and foot.
Not that he’d minded. God, he was such a sucker.
“Then I shouldn’t have wasted all that magic on building my new house last week.” Miranda chewed her ridiculously tempting lower lip. Justice dragged his gaze away. “That was stupid.”
“Well, I don’t consider it a waste.” Tristan’s grin suggested he was trying to distract her from her obvious guilt trip. “It did get you and Justice out of our house.” They’d been Belle’s guests for three weeks, until Miranda had finished conjuring the cottage. “Don’t get me wrong, I like you two, but once in a while I’d really like to have sex on the . . .”
Belle looked up at her lover. She didn’t say a word, but he carefully shut his mouth without finishing the sentence.
“I didn’t notice you held back all that much.” Justice grinned, just as willing to play Let’s distract Miranda. “I felt like a contestant on Knights of the Round Table Gone Wild.”
Tristan hit him lightly on one armored shoulder. It clanked. “You’re just jealous, furball.”
Jealous, me? Watching Tris and Belle flirt, kiss and steal surreptitious little caresses? While he hadn’t dared lay one fuzzy finger on Miranda? Like the Big Bad Wolf at a barbecue festival.
Justice glanced over at Miranda, to find her watching him wearing an odd expression, part longing, part fear. Of me? Why the hell would she be afraid of me? And why longing, for God’s sake . . . ?
Before Justice could consider that puzzle, an empty soft drink can bounced and rattled its way across the alley. He glanced around, instantly wary.
The woman who’d kicked the Coke can strolled toward them, a big video camera balanced on one shoulder. Yet none of the others seemed to notice.
Taking a deep breath, Justice recognized the ozone reek of magic. She’s protected by some kind of spell. Probably an invisibility shield.
Magic didn’t affect Justice, so he saw right through the shield, but the others had no idea she was there. He looked away as if he hadn’t seen her either, his mind working furiously. Since when do TV reporters work spells?
There was no question she was a reporter, given the camera. While you could shoot video with a cell phone these days, professional equipment was a lot bigger and more elaborate. Just like the camera she was carrying.
Plus, she had the kind of stunning looks typical of female cable news reporters: a heart-shaped face, striking violet eyes, and curling hair the gleaming black of a raven’s wing. Snatching another glance, he decided he recognized her. Brenda? Brenna? Something like that.
But he’d thought TV news reporters traveled with an entourage, especially in this part of the world. A cameraman, a sound guy, a producer, a translator, and at least a couple of bodyguards. This girl appeared to be alone. Which was dangerous as hell in fundamentalist Pakistan, especially for a woman who looked like that.
What is she, nuts?
Justice’s protective instincts stirred. You’ve already got your hands full with one beautiful, endangered woman, dumbass, he reminded himself. You sure as hell don’t need another one. Besides, with her power, the reporter could probably twitch her nose and make jihadis compose sonnets to her eyebrows.
Yet despite her admittedly stunning beauty, she didn’t make him feel anything like the kind of elemental lust Miranda inspired. It was like comparing a firecracker to a lightning bolt.
Anyway, this chick is a reporter. Even as a human cop, Justice had never liked reporters. In his former-cop’s experience, they lived to stir shit up. Lacking actual shit to stir, they’d create imaginary shit and stir that. Now that he was one of the world’s tiniest minorities—Magical Americans—he really didn’t like reporters. And that little spell-casting bimbo intended to put them all on CNN?
I don’t think so, baby. But what am I going to do about you?
Justice watched from the corner of one eye as the reporter moved around them with her camera, shooting away. She turned to say something to her left shoulder and absently pushed a black curl behind one ear. One pointed ear. Justice put the ear together with the invisibility spell. Holy hell, the reporter’s Sidhe.
The Sidhe were basically mankind’s cousins, an ancient race of magic-using humans who inhabited Mageverse Earth. Their kingdom lay on the other side of the planet from Avalon; their king, Llyr Galatyn, was one of Arthur’s more important allies.
What the hell is a fairy doing in Pakistan? We’re broadcasting the news to Neverland now?
And what was that moving around on her other shoulder, the one not occupied by the camera? He couldn’t quite make it out, since its bottom half was the same green as her silk blouse, while the rest matched the building behind her. In fact, he could see the pattern of the brick slide across the whatsit as it moved. Had to be alive.
A quick inward breath brought him the scaly aroma of reptile blended with the ozone tang of magic and the woman’s natural feminine scent. Some kind of enchanted lizard? Like a magical chameleon, maybe?
“Do you recognize these guys?” she asked it. She was talking to a lizard?
“The big fella is Tristan, one of the Knights of the Round Table,” the chameleon said in an Irish accent as thick as mud—and about that clear. “The blond one is La Belle Coeur, what they call a Court Seducer. Don’t know who the redhead is, or the other fella, but . . . He’s starin’ at us.”
Her head jerked around so fast she should have given herself whiplash. The CNN Fairy met Justice’s gaze, her violet eyes going round with horror. The camera vanished from her shoulder in an explosion of sparks as she whirled to run.
Justice grabbed for his own magic and leaped, shifting to Dire Wolf as he dove over Tristan’s head. He was distantly aware of his companions’ astounded shouts, but he didn’t stop to explain.
He grabbed the Sidhe woman by one arm as his clawed feet hit the pavement. Jerking her to a halt, Justice glowered down at her from seven feet of muscle, fur, and fangs. “Oh, no you don’t, News Fairy. Where the hell did the camera go? Bring it back now, or . . .”
“Let her go!” The leprechaun lizard Shifted into a dead ring for a Gila monster, its body short and muscular, with a stubby tail and short ’gator legs. It was obviously a hell of a lot more agile than the real reptile, because it launched itself through the air like a flying squirrel. Landing on Justice’s astonished head, it started ripping at him with claws like box cutters. “Get your hands off her or you’ll be diggin’ me out of your face!”
Justice barely grabbed the little beast in time to save his eyes. It screamed incomprehensible Irish curses as he dragged it off his head. It was surprisingly strong for something that weighed less than a house cat.
Justice had to fight to hang on as the lizard lashed back and forth in his grip, all four stubby legs clawing the air, tailbeating his forearm hard enough to bruise. “Leave my Branwyn alone, gobshite!”
He jerked the little beast close enough to get a good look at his much, much longer teeth. “Stop it, or we’ll find out if you really are magically delicious.”
“Cac ar oineach!” The lizard snarled, its eyes narrowed to vicious, glowing slits.
“Don’t hurt him!” the girl yelled, leaping up to grab Justice’s arm, trying to wrench his lizard-gripping hand away from his jaws. “You can have the camera, just don’t eat Fin!” Her eyes were wide with pleading, her lip trembling as she hung from his massive forearm, booted feet kicking a foot from the ground.
Justice’s rage faded in the face of her genuine fear. “I’m not going to eat your lizard, all right? Just tell him to quit . . .”
A fireball splashed against the side of his head. Astonished, he turned just as Fin huffed another green flame baseball into his eyes. “Get away from her, or you’ll get seconds!” the lizard howled.
“I don’t care,” Justice snarled, “because I am immune to magic.”
“Are your balls immune to teeth then? Because I’ll bite the bleeding bollix off you!”
“Try it, you scaly little shit, and you’ll end up a pair of boots!”
Please don’t hurt him!” Tears spilled down the girl’s face as she braced both feet against his ribs and hauled on his arm for all she was worth. Being Sidhe, she was much stronger than she looked.
“Then tell him to keep his teeth to himself,” Justice snapped, though he was starting to feel like a bully, “or I swear to God, I’ll dropkick his scaly little ass right over the rainbow.”
Téigh trasna ort féin,” the lizard spat.
Justice decided it was just as well he didn’t speak Gaelic.
“Fin, you’re not helping!” Branwyn cried, and started to sob. “Please, mister, please!”
“All right!” He lowered his arm until her feet touched the ground. When he handed her the lizard, Fin promptly Shifted back to his original form—he looked a bit like a miniature Chinese dragon—and shot up her arm to wrap his long, limber body around her neck.
The creature glared at him from the shelter of long black curls. “Lay one hand on my girl, you hairy skanger, and you’ll be spitting teeth.” No longer camouflaged, Fin’s scales shone green in the illumination cast by the burning square beyond the alley. They had an iridescent sheen, streaks of violet and gold rippling as he moved. A bright red frill ran the length of his back from his golden eyes to the tip of his long tail. More frills adorned the tail tip, as long and delicate as feathers.
“All right, I gave back your scaly leprechaun,” Justice told the fairy, ignoring Fin’s dire Gaelic curses. “Now, where’s the camera?”
She clutched her friend protectively close and glared at him. “Oh, all . . .”
“Justice,” Miranda interrupted, edging closer as she spoke in the careful tone people use with schizophrenics, “who are you talking to?”
“This sneaking little fairy reporter and her pet reptile . . .” He winced as realization hit. “Both of whom are still hidden behind an invisibility spell.”
Which meant Miranda, Tristan, and Belle just saw him have a screaming row with empty air. No wonder they were looking at him like a candidate for electroshock.
He glowered down at the reporter. “Drop the shield, Tinker Bell. And give me that damned camera before I forget I’m one of the good guys.”
“Oh, yeah, you’re just a fuzzy Prince Charming, you are!” The reporter’s voice dripped sarcasm—along with a sudden brogue almost as thick as the lizard’s. “Picking on poor Finvarra. You ought to be ashamed of . . .”
He stuck out a palm and snapped his clawed fingers. “Camera and spell. Now, Tink.”
The scent of magic disappeared, then flared again as the video camera popped back into view. She handed it over with visible reluctance and a growled “And don’t call me Tinker Bell!”
“Think you’re a hard man now?” The lizard sneered. His frilled tail snapped in contempt. “Tosser.”
“Bite me, Lucky Charms.”
“I tried, Scooby Doo, but the fleas beat me to it.”
“That’s Branwyn Donovan.” Miranda stared at the reporter before turning an outraged glare on Justice. “You threatened to eat Branwyn Donovan? What next, Anderson Cooper à la mode? What’s wrong with you?”
“I didn’t threaten to eat the damned reporter,” Justice gritted. “I threatened to eat her lizard. Which I gave back, despite being seriously provoked. Look, Miranda, she’s been shooting video of us from behind an invisibility spell. Do you want to be on CNN?”
“I don’t work for CNN,” Branwyn announced with icy dignity. “I report for DCN. We have better ratings.”
“Wipe that camera’s memory card,” Tristan told Belle in a cold voice. The Magekind were damned serious about making sure video of their activities never hit the air.
“It’s as good as wiped.” But before she cast the spell, Belle gave Justice an approving nod. “Good work spotting her before she outted every one of us.”
“I’m not going to out you, dammit!” Branwyn planted her fists on her hips and glared at the witch. “I’m Sidhe. I don’t want the mortals to know magic exists any more than you do. They’d either burn me at the stake or dissect me like a frog.”
“So why shoot video of us if you weren’t going to run it?” Tristan lifted a skeptical blond brow. “How stupid do you think we are?”
Branwyn transferred her glare to him, not in the least intimidated by fifteen hundred years’ worth of legendary, pissed-off knight. “I was going to show it to my brother. I wanted him to see what those . . . creatures are doing to those who don’t have a prayer of defending themselves.”
Conal Donovan was the owner of DCN, as well as one of the richest men on the planet. He had fingers in so many pies, he should own his own bakery—and probably did. Figures he’d be magic, Justice thought.
Tristan looked her over, frowning. “What creatures are we talking about?”
She looked impatient. “You know perfectly well. That Budweiser Clydesdale thing and the giant snake that ate that poor vampire.” Her voice dropped to a mutter, and a tear rolled down her face. “And I liked Kadir, dammit. He didn’t deserve to die like that.”
“How do you know Kadir?” Belle eyed her. “And why do you care?”
“How could I not care? Those bastards killed half a dozen people and a three-year-old. They’ve got to be stopped. Kadir tried. God, he gave it everything he had. He blasted the hell out of that snake with his AK-47, but the bullets just bounced off it. Then it bit him and . . .” She closed her eyes and shuddered. “I’m going to hear that scream in my nightmares until the day I die.”
And if I don’t get my hands on that axe of Daliya’s, Justice thought grimly, Kadir won’t be the only one Warlock and his bastards kill.

And again, here's the link to order MASTER OF DARKNESS from Amazon..

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