Bodies flailed in the seawater, dark and unidentifiable. I turned, searching, desperate. The fae marks on my arm weren’t as bright as they’d been a minute ago.
A flash of blue. There! The witch, his markings glowing like a beacon, was slogging through the shallow ocean toward the shore. I lunged after him, fighting the water. Too slow!
I waved my hand. The water parted in front of me.
Roaring furiously, a man launched into my path—the Red Rum leader. He thrust a carved metal disc at me and screamed the incantation. My hand leaped to my back pocket, but they’d taken my Queen of Spades.
A familiar voice shouted the words, and the sorcerer’s spell rebounded. As the man went down with a splash, I jerked around. Kai stood beside me, holding my card. The genius electramage had seen them take it from me—so he’d gotten it back.
I didn’t have time to congratulate him as Llyrlethiad urged me on. Commanding the water to part again, I launched into a sprint. The fae’s strength filled me, and the ground flew beneath my feet faster than I’d ever run in my life.
Ahead, the witch had reached the seawall. As he climbed onto it, he shouted something.
A dark shape appeared out of the rippling air. A steel-gray horse with poisonous green eyes reared up, screaming in fury at the human who commanded it. The witch jumped onto its back and the fae horse sprang at the sheer bluff Ezra had fallen down five nights ago. It charged up the near-vertical obstacle like it was a gentle incline.
I sprang over the seawall, closing in on the bluff and thinking frantically. How would I get up that bluff?
Llyrlethiad cast an image into my mind—swift instructions. Gulping, I ran up to the wall of rocky clay and leaped. Water coalesced out of the humid air. A geyser of wind and water formed under me and propelled me upward. I landed on the mossy ground at the top.
The thick foliage had slowed the horse fae. It wasn’t far ahead, and I cast out my hand. A band of water smashed through the trees, tearing saplings out by the roots, but the horse sprang out of the bush and onto the trail. It veered left. They were heading toward the lookout point—the restaurant and parking lot. Would the witch try to flee by car?
I charged after him. The fae marks on my arm had faded even more.
As the horse galloped up the trail, Llyrlethiad poured more dizzying magic into my limbs. Running even faster, I slashed my hand again.
The band of water struck the fae horse’s hindquarters. It lost its footing and fell, tumbling across the trail. The witch flew clear and landed hard, but he scrambled up and fled on human legs.
I tore past the downed horse, but my speed was flagging. Llyrlethiad’s magic was weakening—and the marks on the witch’s body glowed brighter. He dove into the bushes before I could summon more water.
Cutting through the trees after him, I came out at the edge of the parking lot, aglow with multicolored lights that flashed and spun, but I scarcely noticed. The witch bolted past the parked cars and closed restaurants. As I gave chase, my desperation twined so closely with Llyrlethiad’s that I didn’t know whose was whose.
The fae’s magic was ebbing. His dizzying power was fading.
I ran harder, lungs screaming, legs burning. The witch was heedlessly sprinting toward the lookout point—a dead end. There was nowhere else to flee. I would reach him. I would stop him. I stretched my hands out, calling on Llyrlethiad’s magic.
With a whisper of despair, his presence disappeared.
The final shadow of the fae marks on my outstretched arm faded to nothing. Gone. The bond was gone.
At the lookout point’s edge, the witch skidded to a stop and spun around, his back pressed to the rail as he gasped for breath. Magic glowed across his right side, shining through his clothes. He threw his head back and laughed in maniacal delight.
I was still running. The ground sloped down, urging me on.
“Llyrlethiad is mine!” he crowed. “Llyrlethiad, I command you to—”
Before the witch could complete the order that would end my life, I ran into him at full tilt.
My shoulder slammed into his sternum and he flipped backward over the railing. I caught the metal barrier before I fell over too, my chest heaving.
With a breathless grunt, the witch hit the steep, rocky ledge on the other side. He scrambled desperately for purchase on the crumbling rock and spindly weeds, sliding in slow motion over the edge.
Hanging half over the railing, I watched him slip out of sight.
His scream tore through the quiet park. The sound went on and on—then cut off as his body met the beach three hundred feet below. I stared at the spot where he had disappeared, eyes unblinking and mind blank.
The ocean shimmered. Waves broke across a finned, scaled back as the sea serpent surfaced. The leviathan lifted his head from the water and gazed across the distance between us with ivory eyes. Then he dove beneath the surface, vanishing without a trace.
My hand was stretched toward the cliff edge, but I didn’t remember reaching out. My fingers trembled so badly I couldn’t move them.
A boot scuffed against the pavement behind me. “Put your hands in the air!”
Confusion twisted through my numb thoughts. I’d expected Zak. Maybe Aaron or Ezra. But not …
“Put your hands in the air!” the older male voice bellowed again.
I lifted my quivering arms and slowly turned around.
Standing in a line on the next tier of the lookout were four police officers, their guns drawn and pointed at me. Flashing red and blue lights from the parking lot reflected off the restaurant’s windows, and at the top of the sidewalk, two frightened late-night joggers clutched each other’s arms.
Joggers. They must have heard something—the sounds of a mythic battle, perhaps. Or the gunfire when the Red Rum rogues had shot Zak. Whatever it was, they’d called the police.
And those four officers had just watched me chase a man to the lookout point and shove him off the cliff to his death.
Most people who know me—meaning people who know my temper—would be surprised to learn I’ve never been arrested. Well, my clean record was garbage now.
Sitting in the back of the police cruiser, I stared out the window. My whole body shook from exhaustion, but adrenaline kept me awake—adrenaline and throat-crushing dread.
Outside the car, a dozen officers and investigators bustled around the parking lot. An ambulance, its lights flashing, was parked in the corner, but the paramedics had yet to return from collecting the witch’s body from the bottom of the cliff.
A dozen yards away, Aaron, Kai, and Ezra stood amongst a cluster of cops, handcuffed like me. Kai was speaking, the sharp movements of his head and shoulders betraying his anger. Olivia sat on the curb, also handcuffed and bawling her eyes out. A confused paramedic kneeled beside her.
Two cops had a sniffer dog in the back of Zak’s truck. I wondered what they’d find. The druid was too smart to leave evidence in his vehicle, and the license plate would be a dead end. He wasn’t here with the mages—no, he was far too wily to get arrested. Like the Red Rum survivors, he’d disappeared.
All the doors of Aaron’s car were open as several officers sorted through the contents of the glove box. One cop held my purse, already searched. I’d seen no sign of the guys’ weapons, so they must have stashed them in the woods somewhere.
I leaned my heavy head against the glass, dizzy from the flashing lights reflecting off everything nearby. My chest hurt, but I didn’t know if it was lingering pain from Llyrlethiad’s possession or the weight of my conscience.
An hour ago, I had killed a man.
He’d been an evil man. He’d planned to murder me, Kai, Aaron, and Ezra. He’d been seconds away from commanding Llyrlethiad to kill me. By pushing him, I’d saved myself, my friends, and the fae lord. It had been the right thing to do … but logic was failing to calm my churning gut.
I had ended someone’s life, an action that could never be undone. An evil man or not, the witch’s death was a burden I’d have to bear for the rest of my life.
My lower lip trembled. Right about now would be a great time to get a hug from the guys. To hear their soothing assurances—that I’d done what I had to, that I’d saved everyone, that it had been the only way.
But I couldn’t talk to them. I pressed my face to the glass.
Kai was still speaking angrily. Aaron took an aggressive step toward an officer and the man pushed him back. The disagreement reached a pitch, then an officer pulled out something small. He walked behind Aaron, fiddled for a moment, then stepped back, holding a pair of handcuffs.
Aaron rubbed his wrists, outrage radiating off him. The officer removed Kai’s and Ezra’s handcuffs, then pointed sternly at Aaron’s little red sports car in obvious command. Instead of obeying, the three mages turned to the vehicle where I waited, their distress as obvious as a flashing sign.
Two officers walked away from the mages, heading toward me. They opened the cruiser’s front doors, letting a wave of chaotic noise into the vehicle. They climbed in, settled into their seats, and the driver started the engine.
The cruiser pulled a slow U-turn and drove toward the exit. I pushed my nose into the glass, mentally reaching for Aaron, Kai, and Ezra as the car carried me past them. They stood helplessly in the middle of the parking lot. They were mythics. Police didn’t arrest mythics.