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By Cheyenne McCray
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2008 Cheyenne McCray
All rights reserved.
Jake Macgregor tightened his grip on his Glock as he eased through the shadows, the midnight broken only in patches where moonlight squeezed its way through the clouds. The closest streetlight's glow didn't touch him.
Moist air chilled his face and his hands, but adrenaline and his raid suit kept the rest of his body warm.
Members of his reconnaissance team fanned out beside him in front of homes on each side of their target, slipping by cars parked in front of the garage-level entrances on Kearny. Several officers from the Paranormal Special Forces that he captained comprised half his team. The other half —
The PSF officers, gray magic D'Anu witches, D'Danann warriors, and Dark Elves now called themselves the Unified Otherworlds Alliance. Or just the Alliance.
The only witch missing was Cassia, who had vanished to Otherworld after the last big battle against the dark magic and chaos threatening San Francisco. His gut tightened every time he thought of Cassia. She was such a mystery ... a mystery he wanted to solve.
Jake blinked. Why was he thinking about her now? He wasn't even sure he could trust the witch after her past deceptions.
Six D'Danann warriors had unfurled their powerful wings to circle the target home, and the fire escape in the back, from above. Once they took to the sky, the warriors became invisible to human sight, including Jake's. The rest of the Alliance flanked him on the ground or guarded the back door and the gate to the minuscule alleyway.
A sense of déjà vu swept over Jake as they crept up to the historic home. Months ago, he'd been on a similar mission, preparing to raid an older apartment building. At that time, the only magical being who had accompanied the PSF had been Silver Ashcroft, one of the D'Anu witches.
That was the night Jake first realized someone was practicing dark magic at a whole new level in his city. That night everything changed — and not for the better.
This time they prepared to enter a well-kept home in a nice San Francisco neighborhood near Union and Kearny. With space at a premium in the densely populated but relatively small city, the house was like most homes — squeezed between similar three-story houses.
The houses were packed along a typical steep incline, which wasn't exactly optimum for a raid. But at the same time it would be difficult for anyone inside to escape — the only ways out were the front door and the three levels of upstairs windows. What could hardly be deemed an alleyway in the back had a locked gate for an exit — the only possible rear egress.
On this stretch of the street, residents normally kept the sidewalks and the fronts of their homes in good condition, and any bushes and trees well maintained. In light of the hell the city had been through recently, Jake wasn't surprised the neighborhood didn't look so perfect anymore.
All those months ago, they had been searching for Darkwolf at that apartment building. They were searching for him now, too.
Years ago, white witch Kevin Richards had picked up Balor's stone eye on the shores of Ireland. From that moment on, the man who was now known as Darkwolf had become a dark god's pawn.
Only now, the warlock had obtained the dark god's magic and his goddess wife's magic, powers so great that it was nearly incomprehensible. With the magic of two gods, how powerful had Darkwolf become?
That's what they had to find out.
A flash of lightning followed by a rumble of thunder rolled through what had been a slightly foggy but cloudless night. Wind kicked up, bringing with it the sudden smell of rain.
And something else. Something musty and bitter. Like wet laundry soured from sitting too long.
Jake glanced at the sky. The clouds swirled overhead — almost as if a funnel cloud were gathering. Which was impossible considering they were in San Francisco.
Something was off, not right about that storm, and his skin grew tight.
Just like it had in that small Middle Eastern village ...
Maybe he was overreacting. He turned his attention back to the house and the mission. Soft yellow light spilled through uncovered windows on the first floor above the garage. Jake crept up the three steps to the entrance and peered through the vertical six-inch-wide pane to the right of the door. No curtain obstructed his view.
He frowned. No movement, no activity. And if this was Darkwolf's base of operations, why would the home be lit up and the windows not covered?
Keeping his voice low, Jake spoke into the microphone attached to his raid suit. "Everyone in position?"
He counted the number of affirmatives as they came into his earpiece. Only eighteen of his men and women answered, which didn't include the magical beings. Mentally he ran through the voices of his team. Marks and Taylor hadn't answered.
Jake called to the two PSF officers who were part of the team covering the rear of the house. "Marks. Taylor. Are you in position?"
"Negative visual contact," came Ricker's low tone.
A prickling sensation rolled up Jake's spine as gut instinct took hold.
Either their information was wrong — or someone had leaked their plans.
He paused one moment as the realization sunk in.
This wasn't the warlock's headquarters.
It's a trap.
The slaughter of the men in his US Marine Force Recon squad outside that Afghani village flashed through his mind. He'd led them into a dark-magic trap, something he'd never been able to forgive himself for.
No fucking way. He couldn't let it happen again.
"Get your asses out of here," Jake growled in his microphone as he scanned the street behind him. "It's a setup!"
He turned and scanned the area. No sign of an attack. No one on the street but the Alliance.
But it wasn't right. Something wasn't right.
His heart nearly exploded when he caught the smell of dark magic. Evil magic.
Not again. Not again. Not again.
Another flash of lightning cracked the sky as Jake moved away from the house. Thunder growled, so loud it seemed to surround them. Wind blasted them and rain rushed down in a sudden torrent.
Water funnels spouted from the rain.
A mass of them.
They barreled straight for the house and the members of his team.
"Oh, my goddess," one of the witches shouted — Rhiannon. "They're going to attack. Those funnels or whatever's inside them."
"Fuck!" someone cried out, followed by an "Oh, shit," from another voice, and then more shouts and screams.
Jake's pulse jacked as one of the funnels reached him. It came to an abrupt stop. Water hit Jake in the face with a hard slap. A naked being appeared — from inside the funnel. Some kind of creature that changed from water into the form of a man.
Water that had surrounded the being sprayed in all directions, then splashed to the concrete with the rest of the rain.
The naked being drove a dagger toward Jake's throat, above his Kevlar vest.
Jake ducked to the side but the blade sliced his right biceps, below his Marine tattoo, close to a healing wound. Pain seared his arm.
At the same time the assailant struck, Jake had raised his Glock and aimed for one of the two points usually good to bring down a supernatural asshole — the heart.
The creature twisted into a funnel before Jake got off a shot. He sighted a spot where the thing's head used to be, but he didn't see so much as the outline of a skull.
What the —
He didn't have time to think as the funnel moved around him in a circle. Jake's pulse raced as wind and rain continued to pummel him. It was difficult to maintain firm footing on the street's steep incline.
His officers, witches, and other magical beings fought the funnel-creatures. Witch-magic blazed and sparked, illuminating the night in eerie flashes. Gunshots cut the air along with screams, shouts, battle cries.
Jake crouched just in time when the funnel came to a stop and water splashed him hard. The naked being struck out again with its dagger. Moonlight gleamed off an almost crystal-like blade as it missed Jake.
He squeezed the Glock's trigger, his shot ringing through the night, mingling with all of the other sounds.
His bullet hit home. The being dropped — and solidified into the form of a flesh-and-blood male. Red blossomed above his heart, over a large tattoo on his chest, the pounding rain turning the blood pink.
A flicker of surprise sparked in Jake. These assholes didn't turn to silt and vanish like all of the other screwed-up things the Alliance had been fighting the past several months.
It had only taken a second for the man to go down. Jake's skin crawled and he whirled to see two more water funnels barreling down on him.
The funnels stopped simultaneously and two hard splashes hit Jake, almost knocking him on his ass. He swept out his leg, bringing one creature down as he shot at the other. The second being had already twisted into a funnel and the bullet went straight through the water.
Jake jerked his gun back to the being he had downed. It was getting to its feet, but Jake shot the creature in the heart before it could transform. The other funnel stopped behind Jake.
Instinctively, Jake dropped and rolled onto his back while keeping his gun clear. He shot the man point-blank in his forehead, blowing the back of his head off.
In one glance, Jake saw the devastation to his team and some of the funnel-beings — or whatever they were — as the battle raged. Dead bodies littered the street while gunshots still echoed. The night lit up with glittering magic as the witches attempted to use their magic ropes and spellfire. They protected themselves with spellshields when they failed.
Heads of funnel-beings rolled down the street. Invisible Fae warriors swung swords to decapitate the creatures when a funnel stopped.
Rain poured and wind blasted them as another funnel barreled Jake's way.
The funnel-beings seemed to be feeding off the water and the wind to transform into spouts. What would happen if they were cut off from their source of power?
As Jake prepared for the next funnel, he shouted at the witch closest to him. "Copper. Throw a spellshield around one of the funnels. Trap it!"
Without looking at Jake, Copper flung her glittering magic around one of the funnels headed toward her. Immediately it came to a stop and a man collapsed to the ground, contained by the shield.
Copper called out to the other witches, but Jake barely heard her voice through the wind, rain, and thunder as a funnel reached him. Jake feinted to his left as the being became visible, then Jake dogged to the right and shot the bastard in the chest.
The storm ceased as suddenly as it had started.
Dark clouds rolled away, allowing moonlight to spill from the sky.
Jake's breath came hard and heavy as he swung his gaze around to see three naked men — beings — contained by witch spellshields while bodies of other men littered the street and sidewalk. No more water funnels.
A sick feeling clenched his gut as he saw how many of his officers were down. A quick count told him eleven of his PSF team remained on their feet, not counting the five in the back if they'd been attacked.
Shit. He couldn't see all of the witches. He jogged up to Copper as he scanned the street. "The D'Anu," he said as he reached her. "I don't see Alyssa or Mackenzie."
"There's Alyssa." Copper pointed toward a dark corner of the street. They both glanced up and down the street. "Mackenzie — there she is," Copper said with obvious relief at the same time Jake caught sight of her near King Garran.
"Thank God," Jake said as he nodded to Copper. The seven witches were still alive, although it looked like Mackenzie and Rhiannon were bleeding some. Thank God, too, that Cassia wasn't here and hurt.
All six D'Danann warriors materialized on the ground, gripping their swords as they studied the massacre with grim expressions. Garran, the king of the Dark Elves — the Drow — moved beside the D'Danann with two of his men. An equally fierce look hardened the king's battle-worn features.
Lieutenant Fredrickson hurried around from the back and stopped at the corner. "Got three officers down in the alley, including Marks and Taylor," Fredrickson yelled from his position.
"Fuck!" Jake glanced at one of their SWAT trucks. "Lyons," he shouted to one of the med techs. "Follow Fredrickson with your kit."
Fury coursing through him, Jake kicked the body of a dead funnel-being next to him.
He stared at the creature for a moment. They definitely looked human when dead. Each of the beings had a tattoo on its chest, over its heart. If Jake wasn't mistaken it was an inverted pentagram. The sign of a dark warlock.
One of the downed officers close to him groaned and moved. Jake ran to her, his boots slapping the wet asphalt. Lieutenant Landers gave another groan and tried to get up, but Jake gently pushed down on her shoulder.
"Don't move, Landers," he ordered in a gruff voice.
Blood seeped from a gash across her throat. A quick inspection told him the cut hadn't been deep enough to kill her as long as they got her medical attention ASAP. He pressed his hand to the wound as he glanced at one of his officers who already had out pads and gauze from a med kit that had been in the back of one of their raid vehicles.
Landers's blood coated Jake's hand as he wrapped the cotton and gauze around her throat, just snugly enough to stem the flow. "Kicked some ass, didn't we?" Jake said as he secured the gauze, and she gave a faint smile.
He kept talking to her, keeping her awake until the paramedics arrived. Sirens wailed and Jake knew the paramedics and law enforcement would be there within two minutes.
His gaze roved the scene again. His gut churned and anger burned his chest at the sight of all of his injured and murdered officers. The seven witches continued to imprison the three men they'd captured within separate spellshields.
Fury burned through Jake's mind, so fierce, so intense, that he wanted to eliminate the beings within those shields.
He shook his head, trying to throw the violent thoughts from his mind. He was an officer of the law. The beings were no longer armed or able to fight. They would be taken into custody, questioned, and imprisoned. With the entire city in chaos due to the current state of affairs — and the loss of most of the heads of state and local military, government, and law enforcement — these funnel-things certainly weren't going anywhere for a long time.
"Get them into the truck," Jake shouted to the witches and Otherworld warriors. "Before the cavalry arrives."
Last thing he needed was to argue with SFPD over who had jurisdiction and explain that this was a paranormal crime before they could take the prisoners away. The Alliance would incarcerate the beings in special cells back at HQ. Containments bound by powerful spells that wouldn't allow those inside to use their own magic.
The SWAT truck drove away with the witches and their prisoners as flashing blue and red lights crested the hill. Sirens silenced as the vehicles pulled up to the scene.
Jake glanced at the spot where the Drow and the D'Danann warriors had been standing. They had vanished into the night.
Normally citizens would've been out of their homes to gape at the scene once the gunshots stopped. But these weren't normal times and the city was under martial law enforced by the National Guard.
Furious heat washed over Jake, and he scrubbed his face with his palm as flashes of Afghanistan strobed through his mind.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Again. The magnitude of what had happened nearly slammed him to the ground as if the row of houses had come down on him.
He'd led his officers into a trap.
It didn't matter that the mission was something the Alliance had approved and organized. When the Alliance's recon passed on the info about Darkwolf's supposed headquarters, it had been Jake who'd pushed for the Alliance to go on the offensive rather than wait for Darkwolf to attack.
In seconds Jake was surrounded by paramedics and law enforcement officers. Military vehicles also rolled up the street.
Once he made it clear that this was a paranormal crime, Jake would have command. But first he had to follow goddamned protocol.
It happened again. Again.
Jake forced back the pain and anger like he had ever since that day, and immersed himself in picking up the pieces.
IT WAS CLOSE TO FOUR A.M. when Jake made it back to the ware house. Dried blood streaked his hands and clothing, and likely his face. Paramedics had cleansed and bandaged his wounded arm but it hurt like a sonofabitch. When the witches got a hold of him, they'd no doubt use their magic and potions to ease the pain and help it heal faster.
At this moment he welcomed the pain. He deserved it.
When he entered HQ, he was still wet from the rain, and so tired he wanted to drop and sleep for at least a week. This war wasn't allowing anyone to get much rest.
Jake didn't let his exhaustion show as he walked toward the command center where he expected the leaders of each faction of the Alliance to be waiting for him.
Excerpted from Dark Magic by Cheyenne McCray. Copyright © 2008 Cheyenne McCray. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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