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“Now the linkings are complete. But I think it will take time to get used to the two of you being in my head.”

Lucas snorted his agreement. “I guess privacy is a thing of the past.”

Grinning, Danolas shook his head. “You will quickly learn to shield yourself. It is a basic skill, one easily learned.”

“I don’t get it.” Lucas stared at the witch. “I know you said I’d absorb some of your skills, but I’ve never been able to do anything other than shifting before. Yeah, I’m strong and all that, but I don’t know any magick.”

“That is where you’re wrong, shapeshifter,” Gallegar said quietly. “You always had the ability in you—all supernaturals do—but for some reason you chose not to use it. Your magick is much stronger than you think, yet I believe it took Kira’s presence in your life before you’d open yourself up to it.”

Lucas looked away, but not before Gallegar caught sight of some inner pain. He knew he could go inside the wolfman’s mind to see what it was, but because of their feelings for Kira, their relationship was already unsteady. Best he not trespass without permission. Lucas would tell them his story when it was time.

As he watched, Kira slipped her hand into Lucas’ and squeezed. The tension left the man’s face and he looked down at her with a soft smile. As much as their closeness bothered Gallegar on an elemental level, he was glad the shapeshifter had someone to comfort him.

As long as that was as far as the comforting went.

Turning to Danolas, Gallegar brought of them back to business. “Before Lucas got here you were going to tell us about your day.”

Danolas stretched, un-kinking his neck. “It’s been a tough one.” He looked at Kira, then back at the other two men. “I called my council together today. I told them about our lady, and what she proposed to me.” He grimaced. “They were not pleased to know about the Words of Death. Some believe she should be destroyed so she wouldn’t endanger the Society.”

“Where have I heard that before?” Kira murmured, sending a coy glance Gallegar’s way.

A Ghra…you’re still here, are you not?” was Gallegar’s amused protest. Yet he shuddered inwardly as he remembered how close he’d come to killing her. Thank the Gods they were past all that. Looking back at the witch, his face became more serious. “What did you do?”

“They are my advisors.” Danolas shrugged. “I listen to their council and then make a decision. In this case the decision was already made. Some were not happy, but I am High Priest. My powers are stronger than any others, even combined. They will obey me.”

The vampire smiled slowly. “My flock has also been told of the Peacekeeper. I have marked her as mine. They should give me no problems. They all know the penalty for disobedience.”

The witch toasted him with his staff. “The benefits of a dictatorship.” He looked at Lucas. “And what happened with Elijah, other than the obvious?”

“He was very interested in all that went on last night. Especially learning a witch was in the mix.” Lucas frowned as he remembered the conversation. “It didn’t seem to worry him much though. I am beginning to think my leader is too overconfident for the clan’s good.

“Elijah has always been arrogant, my friend. It is just you are seeing him with different eyes. With those of an equal, rather than a subordinate.” Gallegar looked thoughtful. “I had hoped this news might make him more amenable to your joining, but…”

“Nope,” Lucas stated grimly. “He is just as stubborn as he was last night. We did the right thing, me joining anyway. I don’t think he will ever allow it. He’s afraid of me. Afraid I’ll get too much power.”

Gallegar’s lips quirked into a smile. “That much is obvious.”

The wolfman shrugged. “He won’t admit it. Says he has too many other concerns.”

“Speaking of concerns—” Danolas changed the subject, “—we have another problem we need to think about.” He held all their gazes for a moment. “Where does our lady go tonight, when we are finished here? She must be kept safe.”

“That is easily taken care of.” Gallegar’s tone brooked no argument. “Kira will go below with me to Sanctuary. No one can get in. She will be completely safe.”

“Are you crazy?” Lucas was appalled at the thought. “You want her to spend all day underground? She’s not dead. She did fine last night at my apartment. She can go there again.”

“Your apartment is not secure!” The vampire’s voice rose slightly. “We would have no way of monitoring her safety.”

“I kept her safe all day today. Something you couldn’t do!”

Danolas jumped in, as if worried Gallegar might do something they’d all regret. “Lucas, he’s right. Your apartment would be difficult to defend. But Gallegar…think a moment. Do you really want Kira underground? She needs fresh air and sunlight.”

“So what do you suggest, witch?” Gallegar sounded none too pleased.

“She is welcome at The Keep. It is warded, so she would be safe. I could give her a room permanently.”

“Here I thought you were being noble. Trying to keep us from arguing,” Lucas accused, pushing off the couch. He suddenly wanted to bash the witch’s pretty face in. “But you just want her with you.”

Danolas’ lips tightened. He stood also, threatening the others with his staff. “I want to keep her safe and happy. I think The Keep will give her both of those.”

“She goes home with me.” Gallegar’s tone was hard as he shot to his feet and faced them both. Emerald green power licked around him, striking out like angry lightning.

“Not a chance,” Lucas growled. His fists clenched, he forgot all about being linked to the two men. His mind burned with the sudden need to hurt them both. “Over my dead body.”

“That,” the vampire snarled, showing his fangs, “can be arranged.”

I should do something. Still seated on the couch, Kira listened to the men as they argued, close to coming to blows. But even though she wanted to intervene, she couldn’t. She felt distanced from it…like it was someone else they were arguing about. It was as if she were watching a movie through the splashes of a waterfall…the picture blurry and undefined. Nothing seemed quite in focus. Her mind was sluggish and tired, her thoughts confused. As she watched Lucas take a swing at Gallegar then get pushed back by a slap of greenish power, it was hard to care. First blood was drawn when Danolas struck the shapeshifter with his staff, but Lucas’ howl of anger as he retaliated barely made her flinch. Even when Gallegar was knocked off his feet, she didn’t react.

Something was very, very wrong.

Her power tickled the base of her neck. Kira blinked her eyes and tried to concentrate, but the air seemed to be so thick it was hard to sense…to see or feel anything. Time passed, but she was unaware of how much. Furniture crashed and fists flew. Lucas cursed and sent Danolas stumbling against the wall. Gallegar struck out with his power, sending the other men flying through the air, but none of it seemed to matter.

She tried shaking her head to clear it, but it helped only a little. She forced herself to take a deep breath and then another. A third deep inhalation gave her the clarity to think easier, and after several more she was finally able to hear the inner voice that whispered in her mind.

Use the powers.

She didn’t understand at first, only stared, watching helplessly as the men she loved fought amongst themselves.

Use the powers. All of them. Quickly, before it is too late.

Obeying that inner command, she sluggishly gathered her magicks together. It was slow going. She was so tired…so sleepy. All she wanted to do was lay down and slide away into oblivion. It would be easy. All she would have to do was give up and…

No. She shook her head again and fought back the overwhelming apathy she felt. Instead, she kept going, knowing instinctively she was the only one who could stop what was happening. And as she struggled, the four joined powers that now lived within her finally were able to come to her aid. Smoothly, they separated the thick heavy air until Kira could once again see clearly. Her eyes widened.

A gelatinous mass of stinking black ooze surrounded them all.

Horrified by the sight, she cried out. “Gallegar! Lucas! Danolas!” Jumping to her feet, she backed away from her men. “Do you not see what is happening?”

Gallegar had Lucas by the throat and was throttling him. The shapeshifter had Danolas’ arm bent behind his back. The witch’s staff hummed as it shot arrows of furious magick over his shoulder at the other two. Yet the whole time their movements were clumsy and uncoordinated.

“Look at yourselves!” she shouted, sending her own power in a wave over her Chosen. It ripped through them, pulling them apart. “Stop! Please!”

The three men all turned and looked at her. Suspicion and doubt was in their eyes as they pushed farther away from each other.

“We know what we’re doing, honey,” Lucas growled, his face still furious. “Just calm down. It has to be this way. You’ll see who’s the strongest. Then you’ll be kept safe.”

Kira shook her head furiously, still fighting her own inner battle. The black ooze crawled higher, trying to steal her voice, but at least she could see what they were up against. Wasn’t knowing half the battle? Now if she could only make them understand.

Forcing herself to move, she stumbled back to them. “See with eyes of power!” she insisted. Grabbing Lucas by the hand, she forced him to touch Danolas’ arm. Then, fighting against a wave of indifference so strong she could barely breathe, she slapped her own hand on the wolfman’s then took Gallegar’s. “Please. Listen to me. Use our magick. Discover what is around you.”

An instant later, the power flared, peeling away the shroud covering their understanding. All the men gasped as they saw what Kira was seeing. “Something horrible has entered this room,” she whispered as comprehension lit their faces. “This has the stench of evil. It has taken and blinded you.”

Gallegar stared at the black ooze that dripped from his clothing. Even though he couldn’t touch it, the awareness of it made him feel unclean. How had this happened? How had he allowed this? His eyes, filled with shame, met hers. “A Ghra.”

Danolas, too, gazed at the evil with horror on his face. “I am your seer. I should have sensed it attacking us. Why didn’t I see this coming?”

Lucas tried to wipe the stuff from his clothing. Since it had no substance, it was impossible to do. After a few minutes of fruitless motion, he stopped.

“This is our fault,” the witch said in disgust. “We gave it a handle to hold on to. Our argument…the fighting fed its foulness.”

“We have allowed this evil to touch you.” Gallegar’s heart felt as if it were ripped in two. He knew he had failed her. “We fought amongst ourselves. We did not protect you.”

“Okay, we screwed up—” Lucas was angry with himself, but ready to move forward, “—how do we get rid of it?”

Kira took hold of Lucas’ and Danolas’ hand. “We are as one now. Our new power allowed us to see it. Shouldn’t it aid us in fighting? Perhaps if we join hands and combine our magicks.” She waited until the others had done so, making a complete circle. Then she closed her eyes and called to the Power for help.

Their powers moved as one and slowly rose above the room. They hovered like a sentient cloud with no hesitation at all. Turning her face up to the ceiling, Kira gazed at the colorful creation, breathless with anticipation. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but she prayed it would be enough.

Suddenly, the magicks exploded, showering down on them all in cascading sheets of gold, silver, green and blue. When it touched the black ooze, the evil gave off a keening sound and shrank away from the cleansing air. The room was filled with the painful noise.

Quickly, flowing like a horrible smoky fog, it retreated from its tormentors. It flowed out under the office door, and their powers chased it from the club and into the night, where it disappeared in the darkness of the shadows.



***end of excerpt***




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