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Title: Arcane Magic
Complete series reading order:
All is well in Stella’s world. For the first time in a very long time she feels safe and secure in the knowledge that she’s put the Brotherhood behind her. However, she’s desperately searching for an answer that will set her ex-boyfriend free from a dangerous pact he agreed to in order to protect her, and ensure the survival of the witches. So when her old friend Etoile asks her to run a few secret errands prior to the swearing in of the High Council, Stella cautiously agrees. However finding a dead man on her doorstep, clutching a torn note bearing only her name, doesn’t figure into any of her plans. Who is he and what does he want?
With neighbour and old flame Gage in tow, they head north to discover more about the dead man. There they are plunged into a mystery that appears to span every faction of the supernatural world, and more danger than they could possibly imagine. Just what is it that the werewolves, demons, and witches are searching for and how far will they go to gain the ultimate prize?
With the High Council inauguration drawing close, Stella must race against time to save what could be their only hope of peace, draw out the enemies in their midst, and find the answers she is so desperately searching for.
Editor: Teri @ Editing Fairy
Cover designer: RLD
The green, dewy, countryside rolling far into the distance before me was still and quiet, but for the soft movement of magic in the woods beyond. If I strained my ears, I could hear a bird chirping in the distance. Straining my eyes, I could see a wod nymph unfolding from a tree to walk in the soft moonlight. Instead, my thoughts were focused on other things, other people, and far away from my home country.
In the palm of my hand lay my phone, the screen devoid of the message I wanted to see. My thumb hovered over the icon with Evan's name, the four little letters all I could focus on. Like countless times before, I squeezed my eyes shut and let my thumb find the off button, instead of taking the opportunity to make that dreaded call. When I opened my eyes, the screen was black, and a chill wind snaked its way inside the collar of my jacket. With a heavy heart, I shoved the phone into my jacket pocket and turned back toward the house owned by my friend, Anders. As I was raising a hand to wave, my cousin, Daniel, appeared in the doorway.
"Did you enjoy your walk, Stella?" Daniel asked, smiling as I reached him. In his hands was a blue-and-white-checked dishcloth. He wiped his hands on it as he inclined his head, indicating I should follow him into the house. A comforting blast of warmth engulfed me the moment I stepped inside.
"I went to the house," I said, assuming he would immediately know exactly which house I meant. Hawkscroft. The rambling old house where Daniel grew up; the same house where I was once held captive. It was owned by Daniel's father -- my uncle -- Auberon Morgan. I felt no kinship towards the man. After all, he led the Brotherhood, the clan of witch hunters who tried to kill me; but Daniel was raised by the man... and exploited for his powers, too. Our witch genes ran in the family, but somehow skipped Auberon entirely, leaving the old man bitter. He wanted to possess our powers, but failed; and the thought of that gave me a small surge of pride.
"Oh?" Daniel's eyes betrayed nothing as he turned, tossing the dishcloth onto the counter.
"All quiet," I told him. Since the fire and Auberon's disappearance, Daniel had the place boarded up, and as far as I knew, hadn't set foot in there since. I could understand why. Daniel may have called Hawkscroft his home, but it was as much a prison to him as it was to me, and his scars ran far deeper.
Despite Auberon's disappearance, or maybe because of it, Anders still had the place patrolled occasionally. As head of the British witches, few in number though they were, it was his duty to be cautious about anything that could affect our kind. A few simple, magical wards woven around the perimeter would alert him of any trespassers, but the occasional set of wary eyes provided added protection. So far, nothing. Wherever Auberon was, he apparently had no plans to return. I didn't dare think of him as dead.
Daniel simply nodded and shrugged, indicating the food on the table with a pushing gesture of his hand. Conversation over. Some things were better left unsaid.
Shrugging off my jacket, I slid it over the back of the chair and took my seat, allowing barely a few inches between my back and the wall. Just as I put my glass to my lips, Anders came in next through the doorway from the hall. He dragged his chair roughly back, dropping into it with a sigh. Running a hand through his thick, brown hair, he gave a little huff as he picked up his fork.
"What's wrong?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.
"Nothing. Just tired," Anders replied with a yawn that he stifled, using the back of his hand. Daniel shook his head and moved away as I watched him. It was pure chance that I glanced towards Anders and caught the frown lines deepening on his forehead. His eyes seemed worried as he watched Daniel tidying the countertops of the utensils he used. Judging by the looks of it, that was all of them. Catching my gaze, Anders gave me a small, tight smile as he shoveled in a mouthful of stew.
"Are you eating with us?" I asked my cousin, noticing the table was set for two, not the three I'd become accustomed to during my short vacation in my homeland. Three weeks I'd been here; two more, and I would be home at my little house in the woods, thousands of miles away. I was already homesick, which was a new feeling for me. I wanted to see my friend, and former neighbour, Annalise, and hear all about her baby plans. I wanted to go to the diner in town and eat my favourite pancakes. I wanted to run along the deserted road and see the werewolves in wolf form, racing in and out of the trees. But here... here was Daniel, my only kin, whom I liked very much.
Daniel glanced over his shoulder and grinned. "Not tonight. Bree's going to show me some rare herbs in the woods later on this evening. The nymphs say they have special properties, and they rarely grow, so she's excited." Daniel ignored us as Anders winked at me. Daniel and Bree, a wood nymph, had a mutual crush on each other from what I could gather, although whether one or the other did anything about it was something I didn't ask.
"There was a call from your wolfie friend earlier," said Anders, smiling now.
I looked up sharply, only vaguely aware that the food slipped from my fork to land with a light splosh! in the gravy. I only had two werewolves in my life that I considered true friends, but many more as acquaintances. One was my neighbour, and the other was my heavily pregnant best friend. "Oh? Annalise or Gage?"
"Neither. Beau. Annalise's husband?" Anders frowned like he wasn't entirely sure; but then, as I thought about it, they only met once and it was under very trying circumstances... rescuing me.
That made me blink. "What did he say?"
"Nothing. Just that you should call back right away."
My phone was in my hand before Anders finished talking, the screen suddenly bright. I'd been so busy concentrating on Evan, I hadn't even noticed the message icon flickering in the corner. I stabbed it with my thumb, revealing three messages from Annalise, and one from Gage. What was so urgent? I wasn't expected home for another two weeks, and Annalise's baby wasn't due for another three. Each of Annalise's messages said the same thing: call me. And Gage's was a succinct call now. I definitely understood that. As a cold fist of fear grappled with my heart, I excused myself from the table, the delicious food forgotten before I even had a chance to taste it. I waited as the dial tone rang out, finally clicking onto Annalise's cheerful voice, inviting me to leave a message on her answering machine. I hung up and re-dialed Annalise's cell phone. Instead of ringing, the automated voice told me the phone was off, and again, invited me to leave a message. Frustrated, I rang off, and dialed Gage.
"Stella! Where are you?" he asked, answering on the first ring. In the background, I heard voices talking, then receding, while Gage's heavy footsteps sounded like he was moving out of earshot. I hadn't even thought to check the time difference, but he sounded wide awake.
"England, still, with my cousin and Anders. I got a bunch of messages asking me to call, but I can't get in touch with Annalise. Is she okay?"
"She's fine, but the baby's coming early. We're at the hospital now."
"How far along in labour is she?"
"I don't know. I only just got here. She's definitely having the baby today," Gage confirmed. "That's what I got from the nurses, but I'm in the waiting room and there's no one to ask."
"In the delivery suite. I have never seen the man so pale. Annalise wanted to tell you herself. She knew you wanted to be here."
"I'm so sorry I missed her messages." Guilt crept through me. If I hadn't been so busy obsessing about whether or not to place a call to my ex-boyfriend, I might have noticed the other messages pinging through. "I'll get an early flight. Can you tell her..."
"Hold on," Gage interrupted. There was some shuffling and I heard Gage talking to someone before he hurried back and forth, becoming increasingly agitated.
"Yeah? I'm here. That was Beau. He said there's some kind of complication and they're going to take Annalise into theatre."
Panic ricocheted through me. That was not good. "Oh, Gage..."
"Just get here when you can, okay? I'm sure Annalise would appreciate it. Don't worry. I gotta go." The line went dead before I could utter any kind of assurances to Gage that his sister would be fine, and he shouldn't worry. Instead, I mentally told myself the same thing, but not a single word of it alleviated the fear that my friend was probably frightened, in labour, and being thousands of miles away, I was unable to help. Even if I could get a last minute flight tonight, it would still take close to a day to make it home to Wilding. Of course, there was another option...
"Is your friend all right?" asked Anders, causing me to jump. I looked up to find Daniel and him watching me closely. I gave them a palms-up shrug: I don't know.
"Annalise is having the baby early and there's some kind of complication."
"Will she be okay?" Daniel's voice was tinged with the alarm I felt.
I bit my lower lip. "Gage sounded worried."
"Werewolves are hardy creatures," Anders pointed out. "Very strong, very capable."
"All the same..." My voice cracked. "I should be there. If anything happened to me, she would insist on being there for me. I need to go there now, and I need your help."
"You want me to call the airline?" Anders offered, reaching for the house phone.
I shook my head and breathed harder. What I was about to suggest was crazy, but I could do it. I was sure I could. All I needed was a little help. "No, I just need a boost. A power boost. I'm going to shimmer there."
Daniel's eyes widened. "Across the Atlantic? Are you nuts?"
Anders’ expression matched Daniel's and I understood their scepticism. A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable. Back when I didn't know I was a witch or what I was capable of, I teleported accidentally, rather than because I intended to. Now, I was planning to do something that would test the limits of my powers. Yes, it was nuts, but also necessary.
"I've been practicing. I can go really far now so long as I know where I'm going; and I stay really focused; but I'll need a power boost, the way Etoile sometimes does, just to make sure I don't get my feet wet." I lifted a shoulder and dropped it like it was no big deal, but of course, it was. There was a running joke that Etoile Winterstorm had landed in the ocean once, back when her powers were weakened, and I didn't want the same result. Over the past few months, I'd been practicing my shimmering further and further, my confidence and power growing with each success, but those experimental trips would be nothing compared to this. This would be the big test. Not only that, but asking to “borrow” power from Anders, a warlock higher ranked than I, and Daniel, was asking a huge favour of them both. It wasn't unheard of. Close circles of witches, or family members, often combined powers in order to boost one of their members. I'd done it before, and seen it done, but those were in times of dire necessity. This was personal, but as I pulled my jacket on and slung my bag's long handle over my head, I didn't care.
"No problem," said Daniel, resting his hands on the chair back and nodding. "Take whatever you need."
Anders merely nodded and slid his chair out, holding his hand toward me. "Me, too," he said. "Are you ready? Do you want to do this now?"
"As I'll ever be." I didn't want to think about it too much, my crazy idea, as I took Anders' hand, extending my right hand to Daniel. He took it without hesitation and then joined hands with Anders, closing the circle in the middle of the farmhouse kitchen. As soon as the circle was complete, I felt the fizzle of energy inside me -- that base magic, which made up a fundamental part of my existence. It snaked through my veins into my fingertips and joined the matching flows of magic from both Anders and Daniel. Instead of letting my magic flow out and ripple through the circle, however, I halted it at my skin. The magic turned in on itself, this time, drawing within me the added power from my friends. When I'd absorbed enough, and my own magic told me to shut it down, I released their hands, allowing their soft grips to fall away. Their magic filled me; and I was surprised I didn't glow with the increased magnitude of power.
"Do you know where to go?" Daniel asked, his kind face showing concern, and his eyes so like my own. In an instant, the concern was gone, his chin pushing upwards as he attempted to give me a supportive look. You can do this, he conferred to me. He believed in me.
"I'll head home," I told them. "My house. It's the most familiar place for me to envision. Plus, my car's also there. I can get the hospital address from Gage and drive there."
"Be safe," warned Anders. "Focus. Don't panic. We'll see you in a few weeks."
"No problem." I nodded, but the little quiver of fear from deep within didn't diminish. I hoped I wasn't being foolhardy, or over-estimating the depth of my power. But, driving me most of all, was the irresistible urge to support my friend in her time of need. The baby meant everything to her; and if anything... if anything went wrong, I possessed some healing powers even if I could provide nothing else.
Closing my eyes, I focused on the neat porch of my home, inherited from the parents I didn't remember. I visualised the white rails, the steps leading up to my house, the uncanny sense of belonging that I felt there, concentrating harder until I felt the magic flooding me.
A half hour later, both feet landed on my porch, and my hands had barely stopped shaking from the incredible relief and jubilance I felt after shimmering from one continent to another.
I pulled into the parking lot of Westside Memorial. After three laps around, I nosed the car into a space just as the sky opened and fat drops of rain began to splash onto the asphalt.
"Welcome home. Brought the English weather with me," I muttered as I climbed out and tugged my hood over my head. Smoothing my hair down, I reached back to grab my bag, the one thing I thought to bring with me. In my haste to try my new skills and get to Annalise, it never occurred to me to grab my luggage. I would have to consult with Anders on whether he could ship my case, and I cringed, knowing he'd have to pack my underwear. I wondered whether a spell could transport my things such a vast distance.
The parking lot was abuzz with people; staff finishing up their shifts and heading home, and a middle-aged couple, crying and clinging to each other. I averted my eyes to give them their privacy in the wide-open space, and stepped through the automatic sliding doors, searching for the sign that would take me to Annalise.
I found Gage pacing on the third floor, hands thrust into his pockets, head bowed, the collar of his shirt slightly askew. On a chair nearby, his leather jacket was folded over a backpack. A cold cup of coffee was abandoned on the low table beside it. Looking pale and strained, he started as I approached, then his eyes lit up, and he smiled warmly. "Stella?"
"In the flesh."
"Zippity zap!" I quipped, adding jazz hands for heightened effect.
It was the first time I'd ever seen Gage so stunned. His jaw dropped slightly, his eyes widened, and his brows knit together in surprise. "Stella Mayweather, you have got to be kidding me!" he drawled as the welcoming smile turned into one of surprise, illuminating his whole face.
"Not one bit."
"That's amazing!" he exclaimed, dragging the words out as he reached for me. He enveloped me in a warm hug before drawing back, and looking down at me. "You're wet. Did you...?"
I batted his arm affectionately. "It just started raining." I smoothed a damp strand of hair behind my ear and shrugged off my jacket. "Where's Annalise? What's the news? Is she okay?"
"In theatre. The baby's heartbeat dropped and they're doing a cesarean. Beau is with her." Gage slumped into the chair beside the one on which his backpack and jacket lay. I took the free chair the other side of him, and waited as he rubbed a hand over his forehead and through his thick hair, waving it into place. He had a few days of stubble, and as usual, I caught his earthy scent. "I haven't heard anything since I called you. I just checked at the nurses' station and they don't know anything yet either."
I folded my hand over his, where it lay on the armrest, and gave it a quick squeeze. "I'll wait with you."
"Thanks, Stella. Appreciate it. I've been going out of my mind." His hand was palm up and his fingers curled around mine as we sat there, waiting without talking, neither of us wanting to voice our fear, or offer meaningless platitudes. Time seemed to stand still as we watched the medical staff move past us, their heads bowed, and clipboards carried close to their chests. Patients shuffled to and fro as relatives arrived and left. Every so often, I checked the big clock over the nurses' station and drew a hard breath. I kept reminding myself that however difficult it was to wait patiently, that was all I had to do. At least, now I was close by. Again, it hit me just how much magic it required to bring me here, but now, I realised I barely felt tired. It should have taken much more from me than that. Perhaps it was from the adrenaline rush.
"I hate this," said Gage, dropping my hand and rising abruptly, stepping back just in time to narrowly avoid walking into a cart pushed by an orderly. "She's my only family, Stell. Without Annalise, I have nothing. Shit, that's selfish." He turned away, moving a few paces before coming back and restlessly dropping into the chair again. "I shouldn't be thinking about me when she's somewhere in here, probably scared out of her mind, trying to deliver that baby."
"I can try and send feelers out if you like? Just to get a sense of how she is?"
"Could you? Please."
"Of course." I straightened my back and folded my drying jacket over my hands. Instead of closing my eyes, I picked a spot on the floor and stared at it, concentrating as I opened myself and let a single stream of magic flow from me. I followed its wake as it began to travel through walls, and into rooms I could not see. I couldn't pick up any clues on what was occurring in the spaces around me, but I didn't want to. My magic was programmed to search out Annalise only.
I knew the instant I found her. I could feel her calm, marred slightly by the drugs being pumped through her veins, mixed in with a pinch of panic and hazy disorientation. She absolutely believed that she, her baby, and Beau were all going to be just fine. She clung so hard onto those beliefs that it was beginning to strain her, but I felt it was because she didn't want Beau to worry. I got the sense that he looked exceptionally grim, but was holding her hand. I pulled my magic from her and sent it around the room, only mildly ashamed that I was invading their privacy. I justified it, thinking I wouldn't mind if they did the same for me.
I sensed the presence of medical staff in the room, and traveled quickly from each person to the next, noting that none of them seemed particularly panicky. However, it did surprise me that I noted a witch in the room, a woman. My magic beelined from her before I could get a handle on it. I briefly felt her surprise before she rebuffed it. After a moment or two, her magic prodded back, not forcefully, but more friendly in gesture.
I concentrated hard and sent a telepathic message towards her, hoping it would reach her, and that she would interpret it correctly from a friend, asking if Annalise was okay. A moment later, I got a resounding yes in return, and the assurance that the baby would be born very soon.
"She's fine," I told Gage, when I severed the connection. "They aren't unduly worried and the baby is going to born very soon."
"You got all that just from sending out your feelers, using your magic?" he asked in a hushed voice as two nurses hurried past us.
"Just general impressions, but one of the nurses is a witch, so I asked her."
Gage nodded like our conversation was perfectly ordinary, although I noticed he looked marginally less strained with the good news. It struck me yet again how much my life had changed. Once, I'd been a scared, young woman with uncontrollable power and no knowledge at all of the magic that ran in the world alongside the “normal” one. Now, here I was, a witch with power, conversing with a powerful werewolf about magic in the most matter of fact way. Life was strange and beautiful. Sometimes, as now, it carried the fleeting, stabbing pain of missing Evan, which also hit me very hard. Would I ever have a family of my own, I wondered.
We waited a while longer silently, the hands of the wall clock seeming to slow down, or maybe that was because I kept checking the time every thirty seconds. Just as I finished replying to a worried text message from Daniel, telling him I was fine and not in the sea, a man halted in front of us, his ill-fitted green scrubs swamping his legs. I looked up, expecting a doctor, but instead, found Beau. Stubble sprouted from his chin, and his eyes were bloodshot while his face seemed very pale. I sprang to my feet at the same time as Gage. Gage gulped, and with a stiff jaw, hoarsely asked, "Is she okay?"
"Yes." Beau heaved a breath, his face splitting into a grin as he looked from Gage to me. "Annalise is fine. We got a girl. We got a baby girl!"
ARCANE MAGIC - OUT NOW!