“Luminamages can control light,” Aaron explained, checking his mirrors before changing lanes. The car zoomed across a short bridge, and towering trees closed around the road as we entered the forested park. “He can bend light around objects to hide them, suppress all the light in a room, or even stop light from reaching someone’s eyes, effectively blinding them. Lumina magic is difficult to master—it requires more finesse and control than the other elements.”
I resisted the urge to glance at Ezra. He, too, had an eerie ability to make rooms go dark—and cold.
“It’s an insanely effective defense,” Aaron continued. “When he and Alistair work together, they’re unstoppable.”
“What kind of mage is Alistair?”
“Volcanomage,” Aaron answered reverently. “Fire and earth. Probably the most destructive Elementaria combination.”
“Think lava,” Ezra suggested helpfully.
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks, Ezra. I wouldn’t have guessed that from the ‘volcano’ part.”
Dark trees leaned over the road. It was ten o’clock and the last of the dusk light had vanished while we were driving. The forested corridor went on forever, but finally, Aaron turned onto a single-lane road. No other cars exited the main thoroughfare with us, and we drove alone around another winding bend. The woods opened into a parking lot, empty except for two vehicles: a blue sedan and a black motorcycle a few spots over.
Aaron parked beside the bike and we piled out. As he opened the trunk so he and Ezra could gear up, I pulled on my leather jacket and checked that my runners were double knotted. Trip on my shoelaces? No thanks.
The guys joined me—Aaron with his big-ass sword, Sharpie, strapped to his back, the hilt jutting over one shoulder, and Ezra with his fingerless gloves running past his elbows, the knuckles shining with steel. A strap crossed his chest, holding his weapon against his back—a transformative pole-arm that could be used as a baton, twin short-swords, or a double-bladed staff.
Mages wielding weapons had taken me by surprise, but I’d learned they worked best with special tools—called switches—to channel their magic. And being combat mages, their switches were always weapons.
Aaron also carried a black bundle under one arm—Kai’s gear, I figured. He set out first, and Ezra and I fell into step behind him. Across the parking lot, a sidewalk led to a cluster of buildings—a steakhouse, a small café, and a souvenir shop, all dark.
“Where are we?” I whispered.
“Prospect Point,” Aaron answered over his shoulder. “Kai texted me that he’s waiting with the witches at the lookout spot.”
I didn’t have to wonder what that meant. Ahead, the trees ended, and the sidewalk widened into several tiers perched upon a cliff edge, offering a stunning view of what lay beyond.
Dark water, moonlight reflecting off its rippling waves, stretched across a wide inlet. Orange city lights blazed along the coast at the other end, and beyond them, a backdrop of low mountains was silhouetted against the midnight blue sky. A brilliantly lit suspension bridge arched over the water, each thick cable topped by a star-like sparkle.
On the lowest tier of the lookout point, three shadowed figures waited. Kai, his arms crossed, stood a few feet away from two familiar blondes. Olivia and Odette smiled shyly at me, but I stared back coldly. Kai’s expression was painfully neutral—meaning he was pissed off. But who was he irritated with?
Aaron handed the electramage’s gear over, then gave the witches a grin that toed the line between friendly and sharp. “You two must be the O’Conner sisters.”
“Aaron Sinclair,” Odette said breathlessly. “Your reputation precedes you.”
His grin was definitely sharp now. He gestured. “This is Ezra Rowe, a Crow and Hammer aeromage.”
The sisters assessed Ezra, their eyes nervously tracing the scar on his face.
“How lovely to see you again, Olivia and Odette,” I said with venomous sweetness. “I hope we didn’t keep you waiting long.”
“N-not at all,” Olivia stammered. “Though we really should get moving.”
“Look west,” Kai instructed as he pulled on his ninja-vest, the subtly armored black garment arrayed with pockets of throwing knives and steel stars. “Someone has lights set up down on the beach.”
I squinted along the coastline. Beyond a rocky outcropping, a man-made glow glimmered on the water.
“There are definitely people down there,” Aaron agreed. “Let’s go see who they are and what they’re up to.”
He strode back up the pathway with Kai beside him. Ezra and I followed, leaving the witches to trail after us. We traipsed up the sloping sidewalk and across the parking lot, then started down a paved path that wound into the thick woods.
“Excuse me,” Olivia called in a low voice. “We were wondering … when is the rest of your team arriving?”
“This is the team.”
She stumbled and almost fell. “Oh. I see.”
I kept half an eye on her as we followed the winding trail down toward the coast. The lapping water grew louder and the odor of rotting seaweed permeated the air, overpowering the pleasant leafy smell of the forest. Light flickered through the trees, and nerves tightened my stomach. We were getting close.
Aaron and Kai slowed, then stepped off the trail into the trees. They moved carefully, barely rustling the undergrowth as they inched toward the lights. Ezra and I stopped to watch. Neither of us was any good at stealth.
“The seawall and a walking trail are just ahead,” Odette murmured. “It’s a steep drop from here down to the trail, though.”
When Ezra and I made no effort to start a conversation, the sisters moved away from us and began whispering. The night was so silent I could almost make out their rapid words. I angled my head, trying to catch the sound.
Ezra glanced at me, then at the witches. A soft breeze kicked up, blowing their voices toward us.
“… only three mages,” one was muttering. “I thought they were bringing a real team! It won’t be enough.”
“It might,” the other whispered back. “As long as they interrupt the—”
With a rustle of foliage, Aaron and Kai stepped back onto the path. The electramage swiveled sharply toward the witches. “Care to explain what’s happening down there, ladies?”
Olivia’s eyes widened. “Is something happening? What did you s—”
“You know what we saw,” Aaron snarled. “What game are you playing?”
“What did you see?” I demanded.
“A black magic ritual on the beach. A massive circle, a dozen mythics, portable lights, and crates of supplies. This is no small operation.”
Cold spread through me, adrenaline tingling in my fingers. A dozen mythics was too many, even for three tough-as-shit combat mages.
“You were supposed to bring a real team,” I informed them with heavy sarcasm, then jerked my thumb at the sisters. “According to them, anyway.”
“You have five seconds to start explaining,” Kai said flatly. “Starting now.”
Olivia and Odette exchanged panicked looks, and I thought wistfully of my illegal interrogation spell. I should have brought it with me.
When they didn’t speak, Kai nodded curtly. “Very well. Aaron, Ezra, Tori—let’s go.”
“Go where?” Olivia yelped.
“Back to our guild.”
He strode past them, and Ezra followed. Aaron grabbed my hand on his way by, pulling me into motion.
“We’re leaving?” I whispered incredulously.
“Hell yeah. We might be reckless, but we aren’t crazy. There’s too many of them, and we’d be going in blind. It could be an ambush for all we—”
“Wait!” Olivia ran after us, her sister on her heels. “You can’t leave! You have to stop them!”
Kai didn’t slow. “No.”
Ooh, someone didn’t like getting played either. I felt a fresh surge of affection for Kai.
“Please!” Odette begged. “You can’t let this happen.”
The guys kept walking, but I hesitated. Whatever was going down on the beach sounded nasty. We should at least find out what those mythics were up to, shouldn’t we? It was the responsible thing to do.
Yeah. Responsible. It had nothing to do with my burning curiosity.
I stopped, drawing Aaron to a halt, and arched an eyebrow at the sisters. “Last chance. Explain.”
Olivia hesitated, then steeled herself. “Those rogues are trying to bind a fae lord.”
She said it like she expected me to gasp loudly, lay a hand against my forehead, and contemplate fainting on the spot.
Instead, I scrunched my nose. “Huh?”
“A fae lord!” she repeated with a spark of anger. “The most elite and powerful of the wyldfae. Black witches have ways to force fae into becoming their familiars, but no one has ever bound a fae lord before. If they succeed, they’ll command a power beyond—beyond anything we can comprehend!”
“You knew about this all along,” I accused. “Was all that stuff about the missing fae a lie?”
“It wasn’t! The smallfae have gone missing—those rogues have been killing them.”