- Two Witches and a Whiskey
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
The witch standing six feet away laughed quietly, and my eyes rose against my will. He was around thirty, with blah-brown hair tied in a low ponytail and a scruffy attempt at a beard that made his chin look extra weedy. A pair of oversized, dark-framed glasses sat on his nose.
It was the same guy from the first beach ritual, the one I’d tackled and knocked out with a spell—spells Red Rum had confiscated along with my coat and phone. My hands were tied behind my back, my mouth duct-taped shut.
The witch grinned nastily. “I hope you had fun with my familiar these last few days. The first thing I’ll command him to do is swallow you whole. It’ll be an interesting way to die, don’t you think?”
I said nothing—not that I could speak with my mouth taped shut. Neither did I dare utter a word with that gun pressed to Kai’s head. Two more gunmen stood nearby, plus two witches and three spare sorcerers, including the leader. The remaining four rogues were back in the clearing, holding Aaron and Ezra as reserve hostages.
“After he eats you,” the witch continued in a whisper I could barely hear over the chanting sorcerers, “I’ll have him disembowel the Yamada mongrel—you know, because that’s how Japanese samurai commit suicide, right?”
Wow. Not only a would-be murderer, but a racist too.
“I already got permission to finish off the others as well, but I haven’t decided how yet. So many options.”
I again considered mentally calling Llyrlethiad, but the moment the fae lord showed up, the rogues would kill Kai.
As the chanting grew louder and bolder, the witch looked across the circle. “We’re almost there. Now the fun part begins.”
The chanting sorcerers reached a crescendo, the final word ringing out, then they went silent.
“Lord of the Seas!” The witch lifted his hand, the spun-silver sphere resting on his palm. “Wyldfae known as Llyrlethiad, I summon you!”
Silver light glimmered across the sphere—and agony blazed through my body.
The air around us rippled, then the giant leviathan appeared inside the circle, its thick coils looped around me and the witch. Torment burned my flesh and bones, and I choked back a scream.
The fae’s reptilian head swung around, fangs bared at the witch, but he made no move to attack.
His snarling voice slammed into my skull and I flinched violently—but the witch didn’t react. The sorcerers had resumed their chant, and their chorus didn’t falter either. They hadn’t heard it?
“I speak only to you.”
Llyrlethiad, I gasped silently inside my head. Can you stop them?
“I cannot inflict harm upon the relic’s holder.”
Despair crushed my lungs, cutting off my air. Llyrlethiad couldn’t help, and anything I tried would get Kai, Aaron, and Ezra killed.
“The others are safe,” Llyrlethiad rumbled. “The druid freed them. He is near.”
My heart skipped a beat. Several beats. Zak was alive?
I peeked toward the shore. Beyond the circle, the eight rogues not participating in the ritual waited with flawless patience. Kai was still in the “about to be executed” position, and I couldn’t see any sign of Zak, but I supposed that was a good thing. How he could hide on the flat, muddy foreshore was beyond me.
“Listen, human.” Llyrlethiad’s serpentine coils stirred restlessly. “Once the ritual concludes, this cursed bond will flow from you to the witch. It will take time—minutes, at least. If you kill the witch before the transfer is completed, the bond will fail. I—and you—will be free.”
My eyes widened. After the ritual ended but before the witch gained complete control of the sea lord, I would have a few minutes to save Llyrlethiad and myself? Maybe that would be enough to—
Wait. Did you say I have to kill the witch?
“There is no other way to destroy the binding magic,” Llyrlethiad answered.
My eyes went from wide to bulging. I can’t kill him!
“I told you: I cannot harm the relic’s holder.” A wash of bitterness lined his voice. “You must do this.”
Me? Kill the witch? My gaze darted to the smirking mythic, oblivious to my conversation with the fae lord. Murdering another person aside, how was I supposed to accomplish that? Zak might be close by, but he’d been shot—I was pretty sure he’d been shot, at least. I didn’t know how useful he’d be, and before anything else, he needed to save Kai.
That meant I’d have to take on the witch by myself, and there were four sorcerers within spellcasting distance. They’d flatten me in an instant. I was just a human with no magic, no artifacts, no relics, no familiar—
My thoughts skidded to a halt. No familiar? Or …
Llyrlethiad? My heart crawled into my throat and throbbed frantically. Can you lend me your power?
His anger sparked inside my head. “What is it you ask?”
The sorcerers’ chant rose in volume again. We were running out of time. Can you give me magical power the way Lallakai does with Zak?
Llyrlethiad snarled silently.
Can you or can’t you? I barked at him.
The chanting rose until the sorcerers were bellowing the words. The rogue witch, holding the relic aloft, squinted suspiciously at me over the serpent coil between us. The light glowing from the relic was brightening.
With a final cry, the sorcerers stopped.
“Llyrlethiad!” the witch cried. “You submitted to this magic and now I take your submission upon me. Your will, your body, and your power are mine. Obey me, Lord of the Seas!”
Flaring with painful heat, the markings on my body flashed. The sphere lit up with equal incandescence, then collapsed into dust in the witch’s hand, its magic consumed.
The massive leviathan reared into the air. Shimmering violently, his body began to shrink, his long tail lashing against the mud. Pearly eyes turned to me, gleaming with deadly power.
The shrinking sea serpent lunged at me.
His head struck my chest—except we didn’t collide. The serpent flowed into the same space I occupied, pouring into my body, cramming himself inside my skin. Possessing me.
Between one instant and the next, I went from being a single person to being two—regular me, and the fae lord sharing my skin. I could feel him inside me, rubbing against my soul, and Olivia’s comments about the obscene intimacy of fae possession now made sense.
But it wasn’t just his presence inside me. With the fae’s spirit came his power. All of it.
It built under my skin, burning holes in my innards and making the world dance in my vision. I was coming apart at the seams, the power pushing against my fragile flesh—crackling electricity and torrential rain and gusting wind and roaring tides, all trapped inside my wimpy mortal body.
Almost as fast as Llyrlethiad had possessed me, lightning flashed—a bolt leaping from Kai to the metal guns pointed at him. The rogues reeled back from the shock—not a powerful bolt like the electramage normally unleashed, but strong enough to startle them.
A dozen yards behind the rogues, a shape leaped up from the mudflats—Zak, his exposed skin smeared with mud to camouflage his approach. He flung a potion vial into the rogues’ midst and heavy smoke roiled out of it in an obscuring cloud.
The last thing I saw was Zak pulling a wickedly serrated dagger from the sheath on his thigh.
I focused through the spinning disorientation of Llyrlethiad’s possession. I had to get to the witch before the fae bond passed to him. Without thinking, I pulled on my bound arms—and the rope snapped. Inhuman strength pulsed through my muscles.
Ripping the duct tape off my face, I whirled toward the witch. He backpedaled, hands raised defensively. A faint shadow of the markings that covered the right side of my body lit his arm. His wide eyes were fixed on me in terror, and in the lenses of his glasses, my reflection shone.
My hazel eyes were glowing like twin lamps, radiant with Llyrlethiad’s power. My skin shimmered like scales and Llyrlethiad’s long, finned tail trailed behind me, semi-transparent but solid enough to score the mud as it lashed.
The witch scrambled away. I had to stop him. My gaze flicked to the waterline, waves gently lapping against the mud. I could feel the ocean’s power inside me and all around me.
I raised my hand, my fingers tipped with phantom claws, and dizzying magic surged down my arm.
The ocean rose like an incoming tidal wave. Roaring breakers charged toward us, and the witch spun around, panic stamped across his face.
The desperate cry came from behind me, and force struck my back. I fell to my knees, then launched up as four sorcerers charged at me, hands filled with artifacts.
“Don’t kill her!” the witch screamed. “Not until the bond is mine!”
A barrage of magic slammed me into the mud again. As I crumpled, Llyrlethiad pushed at my mind with stern encouragements—get up, fight back, use the power he was giving me.
I sprang to my feet and flung my hands up commandingly—and the ocean rose in answer. A six-foot wave smashed into the sorcerers, hurling them off their feet and covering them in frothing water.
The nauseating sensation of my body being stretched out from within worsened, and I could feel Llyrlethiad’s urgency. I whirled, scanning the rushing water as it crashed over my thighs. The last wave had knocked the witch down too. Where was he? Where had he gone?