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Sneak Peek at Dragon King Of Treoir (coming Jan 2017)

Chapter 1

The underworld realm of Anwynn

 

Two thousand years of paying for one mistake.

Two thousand years of pain, every minute of every day.

Lorwerth cursed his thirty-one-year-old body that would not age and could be healed so easily. He begged for death with each breath. Today would be different.

I should be leading a powerful army against my enemies, but instead ...

“The Koovl!” Stomp.

“The Koovl!” Stomp.

All at once, his world spun back into focus. He lost his grip on that place in his mind where he traveled to escape reality.

A loud crack from the forty-foot whip rent the air above his head. Fire danced along the strands, throwing shards of sparkling light across this cavernous den of misery.

None of it touched him.

This time.

Prisoners cheered on Y Cwfl, The Koovl.

Lorwerth’s naked backside and legs had been flayed to pieces, left raw and burning. He tensed, waiting for that next hit, but the bastard flogging him, Y Cwfl, toyed with each prisoner, reaching for emotional abuse as much as physical.

Lorwerth bit down hard, focusing only on the end.

It would come today.

Prisoners of Anwynn shouted their favorite chant, calling Y Cwfl’s name and stomping.

Death would not come. No blessing of eternal sleep for the damned. Not in Anwynn, land of the dead, ruled by the Celtic god Arawn.

Pain fed Arawn’s power. The more his minions suffered, the stronger Arawn and his enforcers, like Y Cwfl, became.

No more. This ended today.

Lorwerth had a plan.

The Koovl!” Stomp.

The Koovl!” Stomp.

Lorwerth’s knees quivered.

His body would have sagged if not for his outstretched arms held up by woven iron rope. Spikes along the binding dug into his wrists.

Stinking sweat poured into his eyes. His hair stuck to his head and neck. His back lay in raw agony from a whip split into five lengths, each strip hot as burning coal spun into leather.

The Koovl had paused in striking him.

If Lorwerth’s heart gave out, which it had many times, The Koovl would call his master to bring Lorwerth back to life. They’d dump him in his hole, a circular space ten feet across, and leave him until he’d healed enough to start the vicious cycle over.

Torture came in many forms.

Like waiting for the unknown.

Every time he regained consciousness after healing, he waited in terror for what would come next. It changed constantly, from beatings to perversion to flogging to losing body parts that were later regrown.

Through it all, his mind refused to give way to insanity.

That left him only one choice—force The Koovl to destroy his body beyond the point Arawn could heal it.

Lorwerth had seen The Koovl make that mistake once before, three or four hundred years ago. Arawn had meted out his punishment. Lorwerth shuddered at that memory, even though he should be smiling.

The Koovl!” Stomp.

The Koovl!” Stomp.

He smelled his death. So close. He would have his victory today.

Now was the time to take control.

Lorwerth allowed a groan to slip from his cracked lips.

Cheers went up around the room, then quieted. The Koovl shouted, “What say you, llwfrgi?”

Being called a coward shouldn’t bother Lorwerth, not after all this time. But he’d been a feared warrior in his day. An eternity ago. No person would have dared call him such a name back then and expect to live.

He should never have given Y Cwfl that weapon to use against him.

The first time The Koovl had called him a coward, Lorwerth had foolishly attacked Anwynn’s enforcer. The Koovl had never let him forget his mistake.

Llwfrgi? Have you nothing to say for your worthless self?”

Remaining silent would lead to being whipped at least three more times. As Lorwerth’s breaths came slower, The Koovl would watch for the moment he could call in Arawn to heal the prisoner.

To succeed at forcing The Koovl to lose control and lash Lorwerth without stopping until he cut his body in half, Lorwerth had to push The Koovl beyond all reason.

He drew in a deep breath to show that he had plenty of life left in him. A lie.

The whip slapped the air back and forth as The Koovl warmed up for another attack.

Lorwerth mentally prepared himself and yelled, “We are men and will always be men. The Koovl wears a robe to hide that he is a eunuch. That is why he is Arawn’s bitch.”

All the shouting stopped in a flurry of gasps.

Lorwerth would like to see The Koovl’s face. Actually, everyone would like to see the enforcer’s face. That wasn’t happening since it was hidden deep inside a hood.

Rage ripped from The Koovl in a long, feral roar, the sound of a beast threatening to destroy everything in his path.

That’s what Lorwerth wanted. The Koovl completely out of control.

The whipped cracked through the air above Lorwerth with so much power his ears felt as if they’d burst.

That had been a prelude, a taunt meant to drive terror through every corner of a man’s brain. It worked. But that would be The Koovl’s last win over Lorwerth.

He panted fast, gritting his teeth and fisting his hands, ready for that final strike. The one that would rip his body in too many pieces to repair. He shook with anticipation.

Air whistled sharply.

“Cease!” thundered from the only person capable of interrupting Y Cwfl and stopping his strike in midair.

Arawn.

Silence swept the room.

No!” Lorwerth screamed. “No, no, no!”

Candlewicks burst into flame, sending a red glow over the cavernous room.

Please, no. Not now, with Lorwerth poised to draw his last breath. Tears ran down his face. How could they have known that stopping at this moment inflicted more agony than at any time in the past? He closed his eyes, no longer able to face what came next.

Lorwerth’s bindings vanished.

He dropped hard onto his feet and went to his knees, burning them on the hot stones. Struggling, he wobbled his way back up to stand on bare feet he could no longer feel. Blood streamed along his back and legs, sizzling when it hit the stones. Blisters bubbled and the smell of burned flesh clogged his nose. His head spun. His eyes blurred, then everything came back into focus.

So close, if only he could lose consciousness.

Just give me that.

The damned in this treacherous underworld stomped and cackled. They howled at him with joy.

But he stood with his hands free.

Or was he hallucinating?

Something was off, even for Anwynn. Never had he returned to his hole while able to stand.

Turning to face his persecutors, Lorwerth expected to see Arawn. The ruler was not in sight.

Only the ten-foot nightmare of Lorwerth’s world stood in the center of the room. Two searing red orbs peered out from inside his hood.

Where was the master? Had Lorwerth only imagined the interruption?

What was going on?

Lorwerth’s heart thumped slower and slower. The Koovl stood there, power so strong radiating from him that tendrils of red smoke drifted off of his robe.

Lorwerth dropped his head and closed his mind. The Koovl would rip his chest and genitals apart now, a reminder that anything could be worse. For the millionth time, Lorwerth pleaded to every god he’d known before landing in this dung pit, offering his soul, anything he could in exchange for relief.

No one heard him here.

His head spun. He recognized the blessed end of consciousness. Thank you. Sweet darkness swallowed him. A reprieve? Not possible.

Time passed. Bloody nightmares kept him company.

“Wake up,” a voice close by ordered, dragging Lorwerth back from oblivion.

He cursed at being roused already. His eyelids fluttered, struggling to open, then giving up the battle.

Why should he open them?

“Get up, Lorwerth.”

That wasn’t Y Cwfl. The Koovl had a voice that would raise hair on a corpse.

The master never spoke, not to Lorwerth.

So who was it?

Opening one eye, he squinted at a blurry figure. No matter how long he looked, the tall shape would not come into focus.

“I do not have time to waste, Lorwerth. If you do not rise soon, I will find another.”

In all these years, no one had come to see him.

This wasn’t a place to visit. This was an eternal destination of suffering, and no one risked setting foot here voluntarily.

But unless he was imagining it, he had a visitor.

Sliding his hands next to his shoulders, Lorwerth pushed up on trembling arms. He kept forcing his naked body to move until he stood at his full height of over six feet.

He’d had a commanding profile at one time. He’d been considered a handsome warrior with coal black hair. A man who should be ruling—

Excruciating pain stabbed his heart at all he’d lost.

Some things were far worse than any physical torture. He forced those thoughts back. Thoughts of a golden life that had been snatched away.

Now standing, he stared at the stranger. The person’s shape remained out of focus. Blinking his eyes didn’t help.

Lorwerth asked, “Who ... who are you?”

“I’m the only person who matters in your world from now on. I’m taking you out of here.”

Shock stole his breath. His lungs cried for air. He clutched his chest, sure that his heart would fail again.

Leave here?

Then reality crashed in. This could be nothing more than an evil game being played by his keepers. The kind of evil that The Koovl would enjoy inflicting, but too subtle for the enforcer.

And why now?

Weary to the soles of his blistered feet, Lorwerth wiped his face and scrubbed at his eyes, pausing to peer again at the figure, whose shape wavered.

Foolish man that he was, a tiny flame of hope forced Lorwerth to inquire, “What do you want?”

“To give you your freedom, Lorwerth. For you to live in the current day human world, which has changed much in two millennia.”

His hope died just as quickly.

Who would come here to free him?

“Of course you want to do that,” Lorwerth muttered, mentally preparing for this new phase of torture. He’d been whipped, but hadn’t been bludgeoned in a while.

Why couldn’t they just pound his body?

“I am not toying with you,” the blurry person said. “You made an error in judgment once. I’ve traded a favor as payment for your mistake.”

Payment?

What had the last two thousand years been? He knew how long he’d been here only because The Koovl enjoyed informing the prisoners every time a year, decade or century passed.

Still, what if this offer was real? What if this figure told the truth? Just who was this person? A man? A woman?

Would that matter?

No.

Lorwerth knew better than to allow hope to take root, but his curiosity, dormant for so long, flickered to life now. If nothing else, he’d find out what trick hid beneath the surface of this offer. “If you take me from here, you would then own me.”

“This is true, Lorwerth.”

“What depravity will you foist upon me?”

“None. I am not here seeking entertainment. I need a warrior. Someone who can lead soldiers. You do recall how to be one, don’t you?”

This could not be real.

Lorwerth reached a hand to pinch his side. Ouch. He was definitely awake. Had one of his many prayers to different gods been answered?

Which god was behind this?

Would that matter? No.

Finally, Lorwerth said, “I will lead an army of demons if you take me out of here, feed me and clothe me.”

“Your soldiers will be far more than demons. You will have what you need to accomplish your duty.”

Lorwerth’s heart tumbled over. Was this really happening? He licked his chapped lips. “I . . . I will need time to return to fighting condition.”

“You will regain the same face, body and skill you possessed the day you were sent here. You will retain the ability to heal yourself and I will gift you with a power for defending yourself. You will be revered among your men. You have but to swear that you will perform any task I require.”

Lorwerth made a scoffing sound. As if there was anything he wouldn’t do at this point? “Name your first task so that I may get started.”

“I want the Treoir dragon brought to me.”

Treoir? Dizziness swept him momentarily. “The dragon-shifter? Do you mean Daegan Treoir? He is alive and free of Tŵr Medb?”

“Yes,” his new benefactor confirmed. “Is there a problem or do we have a deal?”

Lorwerth had been sent here because of the Treoirs. “We have a deal, my lord. I will serve you forever and perform any task you request just for the chance to bring that dragon to his knees.”

“I can see I’ve made a wise investment in you.”

He would have freedom and vengeance. For the first time in many centuries, Lorwerth smiled.

 

 

Chapter 2

Present day - East of San Diego, California

  

Reese Ó Rinn checked her rearview mirror one more time for two headlights closing in on her, two bright dots bouncing with the hard pace she kept on this dirt road.

Time to back off her speed so they could catch her.

Winding up out here in the middle of nowhere east of San Diego late at night and alone wasn’t the action of a rational human being, but then she’d never been accused of being rational.

Or human.

At twenty-nine, she was stuck firmly between human and screwed.

Yep. Those two motorcycle demons were gaining on her.

That wasn’t an exaggeration or a slur on bikers. She literally had a pair of jötnar demons hot on her tail.

She’d killed her share of demons during the ten years since losing her powers.

But this was the first time she’d been chased by jötnars.

Very likely to be her last.

She had one hope of beating them tonight, but not much faith in her idea working. Her next-door neighbor Donella, who was five years older than Reese, would admonish her negative thinking and offer the old motivational saying to make lemonade when life handed you lemons.

Hey, I’m a positive thinker. When I get handed lemons, I say slice those suckers and pop open the tequila.

It was all about perspective.

As for tonight? No positive way to spin having two demons hell-bent to turn her into their Friday night recharge station.

She’d caught the pair in her neighborhood about to attack an old woman who couldn’t see the demonic appearance beneath human-looking exteriors. Just two clean-cut, twenty-something males trying to convince a lonely old woman to share a meal with them.

If Reese hadn’t come along, the human authorities would’ve found her body in an alley or maybe a roll-off garbage container.

Not exactly her entire body. Her organs would be gone and she’d have a terrorized look stuck on her sweet face.

Drawing the threat away from the woman had required Reese to expose her own internal energy, which demons craved like crack.

Now an hour outside of San Diego into the foothills, she could face those two without worrying about humans being involved.

Killing demons had turned into an art form for her after she’d had her powers bound. For her own good, no less.

Bound. Yeah, right. She had a better word. Stolen.

She’d been left with no supernatural fighting abilities, but she still carried massive internal energy. In simple terms, she’d become a homing beacon for all kinds of demonic nasties. Sure, she actively hunted them in her spare time, but she’d never go looking for jötnars, because they hunted in pairs.

They shouldn’t even be on this continent.

Demons wanted the energy pulsing inside her, but it wasn’t as if she broadcast where she lived. Just the opposite. She kept that pulsing current hidden behind a corset created primarily of silver chains. It wouldn’t completely mask the rhythmic bursts, but it dulled the pulse. Demons had to be very close to notice.

She couldn’t risk a throwdown with humans around. When the jötnars showed up, she’d pulled off the shield in a bathroom, tossed it into her jeep and walked within a hundred feet of the deadly duo.

Their heads had snapped toward her in tandem. Grandma forgotten.

No camera could capture their true appearance, with black eyes, chalky-white skin, tall ears, shark-like teeth, and a horn curving back over the top of each head. As they’d stared at her, their eyes had boiled red with excitement.

Now, nothing short of a ten-story building dropping out of the sky onto them would stop the chase.

She looked up. No tornadoes in sight.

Ten years of fighting with only human ability had motivated her to be deadly with any weapon at hand. She was, which meant she’d become too confident. So much so, that she’d made the stupid mistake of gaining possessions she didn’t want to lose—a dog, a place she considered home and neighbors who treated her like a friend.

She had no business wanting a life with humans. A being like her didn’t deserve to share their world. If she couldn’t even keep her own neighborhood safe, then she shouldn’t be anywhere she put innocent people at risk.

Overconfidence in her skills and a weak moment of loneliness had led to this day.

The game of cat and mouse was now well outside of the city, but she knew this area. She’d hiked here before.

She hoped that advantage would weigh in her favor.

Probably not. Her kickboxing instructor, Wiley, would admonish her to never go into a fight expecting to lose.

She’d think on that, if she didn’t hyperventilate first.

Of course, Wiley thought she’d be using all those ninja fighting moves on humans.

Her bare-bones Jeep Wrangler bounced along the rutted road, blowing up a dust cloud behind her. Her headlights stared into a void of black.

Time to look for the place to make her stand.

Local residents and outdoor enthusiasts drove up Minnewawa Truck Trail to Doghouse Junction during the day so they could hike to the summit and take in a view of Lower Otay Reservoir. She’d seen that beautiful view during one of her reconnaissance trips in preparation for a worst-case scenario.

Like tonight.

She gave her mirror a last check.

They must suck at driving motorcycles. They were falling back. Hey, maybe they sucked at fighting, too.

Keep telling yourself that.

At one time, she’d had the kind of raw power that meant a fair match. Back when she’d been whole.

Just a faded memory now.

Her damp hands clamped the wheel. If they got her down, they’d siphon off her energy and leave her to die slowly and painfully. Not a comforting scenario, but she’d known this day would come. She’d gotten too relaxed and started believing she could live out her life among humans.

She’d even made plans for her thirtieth birthday—an occasion human women focused on so heavily.

She’d likely never see a cake with candles, but these two behind her were not harming another person if Reese had anything to say about it.

Oh the irony. She was a regular battery pack for demons, but could she tap that power and save her own butt?

No. Not after an asshat took her powers away a decade back and left her stranded in the human realm. He’d told her she had to earn them back.

That giant ego hadn’t shared any tips.

Just said go do it.

She’d done everything she could for the first two years in hopes he was noticing. Since then, she’d given up waiting for him to summon her. Years of waiting and not a peep.

Just another male who had screwed her along the way. The first one ...

She slapped the steering wheel and yelled, “Screw all of you men!”

Including those two imposters behind her ... who were catching up.

Her pushy conscience pointed out that she’d passed ten perfectly suitable battle locations.

“Okay, okay. Maybe I am stalling,” she muttered. She hoped her conscience didn’t follow her into the afterlife.

Damn thing had gotten her into more trouble than it was worth. Now it seemed determined to hurry her toward that afterlife.

She spotted a place up ahead. Digging for some backbone, she got her speed just right then let off on the accelerator, pulled the hand brake and wrenched the steering wheel, going into the steps for a controlled spin.

Time slowed as her headlights swept around to face the two motorcycles tearing up the road. She heard every loud heartbeat pumping blood and adrenaline through her. For those few seconds when she was living in a moment all her own, she watched the world turn with her.

All too quickly, time sucked backed to high speed.

Damn good spin, if she did say so herself. The stunt pro who’d taught her would have given a high five.

She pulled out of it, slammed hard on her brakes and killed the engine along with the lights. Yanking on night vision goggles, she grabbed her gear and slipped into the dust cloud still swirling.

The high-pitched sound of sport bikes wound down as the demons pulled up fifty feet away and parked. In the next second, the bikes were quiet and their lights switched off.

They would have overtaken a human by now. Their hesitation meant they had no idea what she could do.

The energy she’d been born with warmed her chest, generating power when anything preternatural got within about thirty feet.

She moved twenty steps away from the Jeep and stood next to a pinyon bush that reached her waist. This terrain offered little in the way of tall cover to hide behind, but hiding wasn’t part of her offensive plan.

She’d come prepared with an uber-short Saiga semi-automatic twelve-gauge shotgun and a homicidal attitude for facing demons bent on stealing her essence.

Full disclosure. She was packing double-ought buck shells full of silver shot and a custom-made short sword sporting a blade also inlaid with silver. A silver bullet wouldn’t kill a jötnar demon, but silver was as close to their kryptonite as it got.

On the other hand, cut off a head and it wouldn’t grow back.

Movement to her right caught her eye. That would mean the other one was coming in from her left.

“I can make this fast and easy on you,” the demon coming in from her right said, his rough voice hitching a ride on a dead wind. All he had to do was slice one of his poisonous claws across any part of her body and she was done.

In less than an hour, she’d be paralyzed and easily accessible.

She said nothing in reply, just stood there as if she hadn’t heard him. Without turning to the right, she could see him easing closer to her, then pausing to stare.

Not answering him threw him off his game.

Not hitting them with a blast of power would too, until they realized she had no supernatural weapons.

She held the shotgun angled across her body, ready for anything, and cut her eyes to the left. His partner came into view, climbing uphill from a shallow gulley.

The one on her right spit out something in Latin she couldn’t decipher, then leaped at her.

Reese dove away from the bush, twisting to fire off a round that ripped into his shoulder. He jerked in mid flight and landed on the ground with his arm flopping.

Her pulse jackhammered. She sucked in a deep breath, rolling up to her knees and turning.

The other demon raced in howling.

She swung the muzzle upward as he dove forward.

Her aim was true this time.

The tight pattern of shot entered through his eye and blew out part of his head, knocking him sideways with the point-blank impact. He still managed to catch her with a claw as he flew by. The razor-sharp nail tore a gash in her upper arm the length of her hand.

Burning pain almost blinded her.

Shit. She wouldn’t have long. Her body urged her to lie down and curl in on herself, but that wouldn’t stop the pain. Besides, they had to siphon off her energy while she still lived. Not happening.

The second demon she’d blasted got to his feet and walked in a circle, holding his head. He made gargling noises. Was he trying to heal himself?

Unfortunately, it took more than blowing away a serious chunk of gray matter to kill a jötnar.

Blood seeped into her shirt. Hurry. She didn’t have much time and one of the bastards was still on the ground.

Had to be playing possum.

She pushed up and stepped slowly around the pinyon bush.

When she got close, the demon rolled away. She fired two rounds that popped chunks from his side and thigh, but she didn’t keep him down.

He jumped up and ran into the black night.

Huh.

Chills shook her body. Why had one run off? That was not how she’d planned this. Both of them should be coming toward her so she’d know where they were. She needed to reload while she still could. Hands shaking, she grabbed a full twelve-round magazine from the carrier on her belt, released the old magazine and shoved the new one in place.

The second demon still stomped around. jötnars were practically zombies, mindless butchering machines. But even a demon missing part of a head couldn’t function fully. She’d planned to kill this one after she’d cut the head off the first one.

Why’d they have to screw up a good plan?

Her vision blurred and the gash in her arm felt on fire. Don’t quit now. She blinked and turned, lifting her shotgun. She pulled the trigger to blow out the demon’s knee from behind.

He jerked, fell face down then rolled over, screeching and kicking his good leg around.

She walked over and shot each shoulder, disabling his arms, which shuddered as he writhed on the ground. Her skin felt like ice snakes crawled all over her. Sweat ran down her face and pooled at her neck. She reached over her shoulder and withdrew her sword. With one swift move, she came straight down, slicing his head off.

His body stopped moving.

One piece of shit down.

His body began to wither.

She booted his disgusting head twenty yards into the dark.

“Field goal, bitch. You lose.” Turning slowly she sheathed the short sword and waited for the other one. Where was he?

Then she heard it. In the distance, footsteps pounded toward her, fast and hard.

She focused her hearing ... he was coming from her left.

All at once, the sound stopped.

What was he ...

Movement above jerked her gaze up.

Airborne demon incoming, fifteen feet off the ground. He flipped and turned his feet down, intending to land on her.

She lurched backwards to avoid being crushed and ripped off two shots as she fell.

The first round went wide.

Her second one hit right between his legs, striking his jewels. Neutering one of them would make this the field trip of the week.  

He landed hard and rolled over howling, clutching his crotch.

“Regenerate that while I cut your head off, you bag of shit,” she muttered, getting to her feet again and stumbling forward. The ground moved. Hard to look badass when light headed. Hold on, she told herself.

She saw a double image of the demon on the ground.

He lifted a rock the size of a football and flipped it at her. She wasn’t quick enough. The stone missile struck hard, breaking her right forearm.

There went her trigger hand. The shotgun swung loose on its sling.

Sounding like a rabid beast, the bastard twisted around, making guttural sounds that raised the hair on her arms. He came at her on all fours.

She swiped up the shotgun with her left hand, scrambling backwards.

He crawled faster, then stood, lifting his hands and snarling.

She braced for the recoil against a one-handed grip, but the demon hit her with a kick to the abdomen. Shoving the shotgun forward, she unloaded her last seven rounds at his face on her way down.

He stopped at her feet, towering over her.

The top of his head and most of his face had been chewed away. Thank you double-ought buck.

He wobbled, hands flailing blindly, then fell.

Could he have fallen backwards and spared her?

Hell, no.

His body smacked down on her. He raked his claws wildly along the sides of her body.

The pain. Oh, the gods, she hurt.

Screaming didn’t slow him down.

The bastard laughed.

Bad mistake. She hated to lose. Thanks to one last burst of adrenaline, she fought her way out from under him and shoved him off. Reaching a shaky hand for the hilt, she grabbed her sword and chopped at the arm still trying to gouge her.

Her broken arm and the blinding pain of her wounds kept her from passing out.

Tears burned her cheeks.

She damaged one of his arms enough to scoot away. The energy churning in her chest built to a crescendo of noise in her ears.

She sucked in a breath and made it to her feet, hunched over, with her broken arm tucked. This last cut had to be good. She was out of second chances. Story of my life.

Swinging with all she had, she chopped across his neck.

He went still.

The energy calmed down. The demons she’d fought normally turned to dust. Not these. Why not?

She looked in the direction of her Jeep. No point in attempting to reach it.

Even if she lived long enough to make it back to her apartment, she wouldn’t survive the poison flooding her system. She’d just scare her neighbors and her dog.

Weaving, she took two steps and dropped to her knees, then fell backwards, staring up at the stars now out in view. Blood trickled from her mouth. Every breath rattled and wheezed ... sounded like a crow cawing.

She blinked. No. That wasn’t right. She listened.

It was a crow.

Another crow joined the first one. Then another and another.

“Dammit, do not tell me ... the last thing I hear ... will be the sound of crows.”

A tear drizzled down her face. Her sweet mutt would mourn her death even if no one else did. Well, her neighbors might miss her, and they’d take care of her dog. The sitter would not abandon him.

They loved Gibbons. She’d named her dog that because his furry beard reminded her of the guy in ZZ Top. More tears spilled down the side of her face. She’d never been a pussy when it came to getting hurt, but ... this time her heart hurt.

Gibbons was the first pet she’d ever had. Would he understand when she didn’t come home? That she’d abandoned him to prevent risking a demon from following her home and harming her loyal sidekick?

Her muscles tightened up. Here came the paralysis.

The stars overhead turned into a swirling blur of motion.

Her heartbeat slowed to a thump ... thump ... thump.

A bird landed on her chest.

Big freaking crow. Raven. Whatever.

She hissed, “Get. Off.”

It stepped around on her chest. The other birds circled closer and closer until they flew so fast they sent a beam of light down.

Of course, the damn crow would get the spotlight when it was her death.

Something else hit her chest. If it was crow poop she was going to do her best to come back as the biggest flying predator ever known. But she doubted beings like her were sent back to live again.

She’d probably turn into dust and—

The crow walked toward her belly button and dragged something up her shirt until it touched bare skin on her chest.

She forced her head up, but only made it an inch, just enough to see a disk. Not bird poop.

Her inner energy started buzzing again, but this time it sent tendrils sizzling through her chest to touch the disk. She could feel the minute her energy connected with it.

The disk sparkled a bright gold.

Her energy. Was it back under her control? Could she use it to heal?

Evidently not, since the paralysis was continuing to spread through her body. Colors flashed through her aching head and light sparked in her vision.

The big crow on her chest walked up close to her chin and stared into her eyes.

She grumbled, “What?”

It spoke in a throaty voice, “You have been summoned.”

Yáahl.

Spent and hurting, Reese dropped her head back, giving up. “Just kill me now and be done with it.”

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