But nope, not even that was going to work.

A rogue peeled away from the struggle and moved to cut me off. Gripping my Queen of Spades, I changed course—and ran right at him. His hand came up, a small object in his grasp. An artifact. He shouted an incantation.

I thrust my card out at the same time. “Ori repercutio!”

A swirl of gold light leaped from his artifact, hit the shimmering reflection of my spell, and rebounded. He threw himself down and the golden spell shot over his head, flashed across twenty feet of foreshore, and hit another rogue in the back.

The man crumpled face-first into the mud. In a single move, the nearest fae—an ox thing trying to smash Kai’s skull in—whirled and grabbed the unconscious witch with two giant hands. Not in a nice, protective way, but with all the violence of an enslaved creature whose master had just lost control of it. The other rogues shouted in alarm, and one gestured wildly. The small, winged darkfae abandoned its attack on Olivia’s familiar and flew at the ox’s face.

My sorcerer opponent scrambled to his feet and pulled out another artifact. Now I was the one retreating—my Queen of Spades card needed five minutes to recharge and it was the only defense I had.

A blast of wind slammed into the sorcerer’s back, throwing him off balance. Ezra charged out of the chaos and the sorcerer spun to meet him. The man bellowed an incantation, but Ezra flicked his fingers. Spiraling wind shoved the man’s hand up, and the fiery light from the sorcerer’s artifact shot into the sky.

Aaron broke away from the battle and swiped his sword through the air. A band of flame hit the sorcerer in the face and the man collapsed with a scream, clutching his eyes.

“Tori!” Aaron shouted. “What are you doing?”

“I need to get to the circle!”

“What? Why do you—”

The leviathan howled, drowning him out, but I was already running again. Aaron shot after me, while Ezra raced back to Kai and the three-way battle between fae, witches, and mages.

“Tori—” Aaron began in a shout as he caught up.

“I have instructions!” I bellowed cryptically. We were almost to the circle, its lines rippling with eerie purple light. “I can save the fae!”

He grunted breathlessly, then surged ahead of me. Fire coated his blade as he grasped the hilt with both hands. Detaching from the circle, the four sorcerers ran to intercept us.

Orange flames raced up Aaron’s arms and across his shoulders. “Go right, Tori!”

I veered to the right. Aaron skidded to a halt, set his feet wide, and brought his sword back. With a roar of effort, he swung the blade in a broad arc. An inferno exploded out of the steel, blasting toward the approaching sorcerers.

Arms pumping, I sprinted past the fiery maelstrom, wholly focused on the black-robed witch in the circle’s center. I leaped over the outer ring and my feet hit the mud within the circle. Electric power shot up my legs. Stumbling, I raced for the witch. The leviathan towered over me, its thick serpentine body thrashing against the mud.

The witch didn’t move until I was almost on top of him. At the last second, he turned, his eyes widening and hands clutching a sphere of delicate silver threads woven into elaborate patterns.

I tackled him.

We crashed into the mud and I jammed my red crystal against his face as I reached for the sphere with my other hand.

“Ori decidas!” I shouted.

With a flash, the crystal’s immobilizing spell activated. The witch went limp at the same moment my fingers closed around the sphere, and I tore it from his grip.

Chapter Nine

On my knees in the mud, I raised the orb triumphantly. “Aha!”

That was as far as I got before hot magic slammed into my hand and up my arm. Excruciating pain lit my nerves on fire—and the leviathan’s head swung down, its blazing ivory eyes fixing on me.


I tried to drop the sphere, but my hand was clamped around it, muscles refusing to unclench. Pain spread through my body, searing every nerve until I could barely contain my scream.

The leviathan’s jaws opened, revealing pointed fangs and huge curved canines. It roared in fury. The ocean frothed, forming a giant wave. The wall of water rushed toward me, hit the edge of the circle, and parted around it. The ocean raged past us toward the shore, and everything went dark as the water swept the electric lights away.

I didn’t have a chance to worry about the guys as the leviathan’s massive jaws snapped a foot from my face. Its head was almost as long as I was tall, its giant eyes glowing from within.

“I will not submit.”

The snarling voice ripped across my senses, and I cringed. Tears streamed down my face from the agonizing magic pounding through me.

“I don’t want you to submit!” I yelled. “I’m trying to save you!”

“Your treacherous tongue cannot deceive me, witch.” Its fangs snapped again, way too close, its hot breath blasting my skin. I had no idea how it was talking—its mouth didn’t move with its speech.

“I’m not a witch, you stupid blind fae!” I hunched over, shuddering with agony. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t release the sphere. “Go back to the ocean and be free or whatever. What are you waiting for?”

The leviathan’s head dropped a few inches and tilted to bring one huge eye closer. “You are human.”

“I know that,” I gasped. “I don’t want or need a familiar. I stopped the ritual, so get your scaly ass back out to sea.”

A snarl rumbled from the beast, but I didn’t care if I had offended it. Everything hurt and I couldn’t think. My anger-fueled mouth was the only part of me still working.

“Make it stop,” I groaned, my limbs trembling, but my hand remained fused to the sphere.

The leviathan’s head weaved side to side, then its lips pulled up, baring its fangs. “So be it, human.”

Heat flashed through my body in a dizzying wave. Beneath my fingers, the silver sphere disintegrated into dust. The purple glow of the circle snuffed out—and whatever magical force had been holding the ocean back disappeared.

Icy water slammed into me. As I went under, I managed to grab the leather cord of my fall crystal off the downed witch. I tumbled beneath the surging current. Flailing, I found the muddy bottom with one hand, planted my feet, and pushed up.

My head broke the surface, and I gasped in a desperate breath. The black water crashed across my shoulders, pushing me backward as I dug my heels into the mud. I slipped and plunged under again.

Arms clamped around me and hauled me upright.

“Tori!” Aaron turned us sideways to reduce the current’s drag. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I half spluttered, half coughed. Freezing water pulled at my clothes. Why did we live this far north? I was moving to Hawaii. Just watch me.

He towed me toward the shore. As we neared the seawall, I spotted Ezra and Kai waiting for us. Grasping my arms, they hauled me out of the water. Aaron clambered out and sat on the concrete, shoulders slumped.

I pushed my sopping hair off my face, checked all my limbs were functioning, then ensured my two artifacts were tucked safely in my pocket. Olivia sat a few yards away, coughing wetly. Sitting beside her was the orange tabby, its crystalline eyes glowing with faint yellow light. Two tiny, semi-transparent dragonfly wings sprouted from its back. As I studied it, it bared its small fangs and faded out of sight.

“I’m exhausted,” Aaron wheezed. “Tori, did you free the fae?”

“Yeah,” I panted, clamping my arms around myself as the shivers started. “Where are the Red Rum guys?”

“The ones who survived have fled,” Kai answered. “I think they expected you to sic the leviathan on them.”

I nodded, my teeth chattering. “Hey Aaron, got any fire to spare?”

“Not right now.”

Kai crouched beside me. “What was that, Tori? Why did you go running in there?”

“Uh, well, you see …”

“Tori!” Odette ran out of the darkness, following the seawall path. She must’ve taken the long way down. “You did it! Amazing!”

Puffing to a stop, she knelt to check that her sister was unhurt. Olivia seemed fine—except for the purple bruise rising on her swollen cheek. Ah. Hmm. I may have gone overboard there.

Aaron pulled me up and wrapped an arm around my waist. I pressed against his side. He might be fresh out of fire, but his skin was always warm.

“Let’s get back to the car,” he said. “We can debrief there.”

We made our tired way up the trail, the guys dragging their feet. Eventually, the impassably steep bluff gentled into a passably steep hill that we scrabbled up. Back in the parking lot, I trudged to Aaron’s car, feeling as though a fifty-pound weight were fused to my shoulders.

As Aaron opened his trunk, the witches murmured their farewells—but they got all of three steps toward their blue sedan before Kai was in front of them, his dark eyes colder than the ocean waters.

“Where are you two going? You have a lot of explaining to do.”

“What’s to explain?” Olivia said weakly. “The sea lord is free. That’s what matters.”

“Nice try.” He pointed at Aaron’s vehicle. “One of you is riding with us. The other can follow in your car.”