Home > Natural Dual-Mage (Magical Mayhem #3)(15)

Natural Dual-Mage (Magical Mayhem #3)(15)
Author: K.F. Breene

“Yes,” Darius said. A new wave of ferocious vampire magic swirled through the room, the first time Darius had come close to losing his cool. “I would look into your people, Vlad, if I were you. The breach was…wholly unexpected.”

For a moment, the unnaturally handsome mask peeled away from Vlad’s face, and I knew that no matter how lovely he looked, he was a ruthless killer. A predator of predators. Shivers coated my body.

“So let me get this straight,” Rex said. He braced a huge hand on his knee. Sweat beaded his brow. “You’d be going up against a host of some four hundred mages or more, at least one natural, and an unknown number of vampires, one of whom is an elder?” He paused to look around the room. “And you’d do this with only one more untrained natural, a bald bounty hunter, and one more elder, who I wouldn’t trust with my worst enemy’s life?” He laughed, shaking the table. Roger watched him silently. Angry, potent magic from everyone else slashed at my senses. “No wonder you are desperate for our help. They got numbers and the home field advantage, and you’ve got a losing battle. I mean, look…” He tapped his finger on the table, his grin implying we were all idiots. “It’s pretty obvious they’d wipe us out. I get the issue, but—”

“Do you?” Reagan leaned forward against the table and speared him with a hard stare. A challenging stare.

Rex’s magic blasted me again, slicing into my body and jabbing at my energy.

Rip. Kill. Tear.

“How in holy hand grenades are you in charge of anybody?” Struggling to breathe, already on edge and barely holding it together, I squeezed my eyes shut and clasped my hands together, the desire to jump to Reagan’s defense so strong I could barely think.

“What did you say?” He swiveled toward me slowly, his eyes on fire. Emery stiffened next to me.

I rubbed my temples, my mind hazy from the constant battering of powerful magic. My filter was long gone. “When someone argues with you, your first inclination is to rip them apart. It’s so second nature that it seems like it must usually work for you. You’ve learned brute force ends arguments. But you haven’t stepped up once tonight. I can only surmise that it is because you are, at heart, a coward. Here, among these powerful people, you know you’ll lose. You are the worst kind of leader. The worst kind of person to have power at your disposal.” I squeezed the bridge of my nose, his new blast of magic suffocating me. The desire to lash out at him boiled my blood.

“We have but a small collection of mages,” Darius said, somehow unruffled by the fuss and clearly ignoring me, “but their power and experience is vastly superior to anything that will be thrown at us. And I can’t imagine I have to tell you the power Vlad and I can summon. We each have vast resources at our disposal. More so than any other elder.”

“Their natural is nothing,” Reagan said, tag-teaming with Darius (while also ignoring me). “Emery is indisputably the best mage in the world. He is above everyone else…save Penny. Together, they are better still, as we’ve said. The Guild’s natural might be as powerful as each of them individually, but she will not stand a chance when confronted with Penny and Emery together. Not a chance.”

“Says the bounty hunter?” Rex pushed.

“Yeah,” Reagan said, her eyes glittering menace, her magic flirting with mine. “Says the bounty hunter. Don’t play dumb. I know you’ve heard of me. Your shifters give me a wide berth. Why do you think that is? Because I smell weird?”

Rex scoffed and turned. “Look, Roger, I get why you’d want to bring me in on this. Two elders and two naturals? It sounds great on paper. But this”—he gestured around the table—“doesn’t add up. Not compared to what they’re up against. It isn’t our fight, but it would be our deaths. And for what? We’d be pushed out of the end prize.”

“You are only this flippant because you have no idea what the Mages’ Guild is doing,” Reagan said, frustration ringing clearly in her voice. “You said you had some bad mages filtering into your area. Just a couple, you said, right? Well, that couple has run you ragged. What do you think a host would do, and you powerless to stop them?”

“We’re stopping it before it starts,” Rex bit back. “They won’t get a host in. We’ll kill them before they do.”

A wave of dizziness overcame me. “He’s the wrong sort.” I shook my head, power pumping through my middle. I exhaled and wiped my eyes, but it didn’t help dislodge the strange feeling of disembodiment. “We don’t need all the help; we need the right help. And he is not it. If there is anyone in the world I wouldn’t want to go into battle with, it is that man right there. Oh good, there’s another blast of magic. I was worried he’d suddenly learned to control himself.”

“You okay?” Emery asked quietly.

“No. I don’t know. I don’t feel right. But one thing is certain—he won’t step down from leadership. He craves the power. We can all see that. And clearly, none of the shifters can, or will, tear him down. How many people is he squashing with his rage? How many people have been killed because of his ego and small-mindedness?” I shook my head, and a wave of vertigo had me leaning forward. “Wow, I need a breather. But before that…I can help. We want the shifters to help us, so we should help them. It’s only fair. I can help…and I should. Right?”

Confused silence descended, and I struggled to piece together coherent thoughts. I couldn’t think past what I knew, in my heart of hearts, needed to be done—the right thing, which only I could accomplish. But I couldn’t stop to analyze my own thoughts. Shifter magic was shoving me. Rolling me. Yanking me. It was like I was trapped in the rolling, surging tide, no idea what direction was up.

“Please stop,” I begged. “I’m losing control.”

“Do it.”

Darius’s words on the breeze. Barely loud enough for me to hear, but plenty loud for me to feel.

Because I could feel words now, apparently.

Rex leaned forward just a little, and the power shoving me thickened. He was pushing his advantage, I could feel it. Bullying me with his brawn and, perhaps unknowingly, also bullying me with his magic. He didn’t think I had the might to take him.

“Rush him,” Reagan said softly.

Without warning, all four vampire guards from around the room charged forward, right toward Rex. Roger surged up, his magic erupting. The shifter sentries launched into action.

Reagan’s magic pumped out and then through me, wonderfully complex. A solid wall of air cut the rest of the shifters, including Roger, off from Rex. The Alpha roared, something unbalanced and vile about the sound. He braced and ripped his arms forward into a flex, his jacket finally giving way. It ripped at the seams and across his back.

I reached through Rex’s magic with a kung fu fist, battering away all the wires and spindly parts and strange things that I didn’t understand, until I found the root. The spark. The thing that made magical creatures change. It had been in that goblin, it was in Rex…and it was also in the vampires. Pulsing way down deep, far below the surface of their magic.

Rex’s spark flared…and I twisted it, snuffing it out, just like I’d done with that goblin. Magic ballooned in the room, but his animal didn’t emerge.

The vampires reached him, and I felt their sparks erupt before their claws and fangs extended.

Roger slammed into the wall he couldn’t see, his magic whirling around him, ready to change.

“Don’t hurt him,” I yelled at the vampires, now hustling Rex out of the room. He howled like a beast, and his magic choked me, but he didn’t change. Couldn’t. I’d blown out his spark. “Do not hurt him! It’s no longer a fair fight.”

Clothes tore as the other shifters in the room, save Roger, erupted into clouds of fur. A snarling weretiger and werewolf fell down on all fours, but the wall of air held them. They had nowhere to go.

All the magic swirling in the room sucked me up in a tornado, dragging me under.

“Easy, Penny,” Emery said, his hand on my arm.

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