A Dark War is coming. A war that will pit supernatural against human. And witch, hunter, and traitor Kali Richards is the key to stopping it. But she isn
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There's no such thing as a cheap shot when you're hunting a witch. Anything goes. Literally.
I learned that the hard way a few years back and had a pretty nice five-inch scar on my forearm to remind me. So there was no way I was going to let my current bounty go without using every dirty trick I knew, and that included all non-magic tricks as well.
Being a witch hunter, and a witch myself, had its perks. I not only had the power of magic behind me, but I also had access to some pretty sophisticated weaponry, thanks to a certain, south-of-the-moral-order arms dealer. He didn't ask any questions. I didn't give any answers.
I unsheathed my ballistics syringe — essentially a tranquilizer gun — and took aim once again. A pretty blonde, fashionably dressed, casually sipping a coffee while flipping through a magazine, was seated at a small table outside of a café. To the average, unsuspecting human, she was just another coffee junkie out for a midnight cup of java. To me, she was worth half a million, preferably alive, hence the tranqs.
My bounty was a witch, an extremely dangerous one. She'd killed a teenaged girl, Shelly Curtis, and her parents, my clients, wanted retribution. The human police would be doing their own investigation, which was fine, as long as they didn't get in my way. Ultimately, this was a witch matter. The Curtises wanted the person responsible caught, captured and brought to them. I didn't ask why. Not my concern. They could be building a pyre in their massive backyard for all I cared. And they probably were.
Usually, I preferred dealing with these kind of contracts by killing the witch myself, but I wasn't about to argue. The clients were paying me well and the murdering witch would get what she deserved.
In my book that was totally fine. Young girl, young witch, dead; murdered on the cusp of fully coming into her own powers. Justice sometimes needed to ride in the shadows of the law. I'd taken the case because I knew I would get to the murderer faster than the human justice system. The parents needed it resolved quickly so they could mourn with the peace of mind that came when revenge was attained.
Something I knew all too well, a personal desire that I'd never attained myself, or had the pleasure of delivering.
I zeroed in on my target's chest, looking through the scope, adjusting for wind resistance. My finger played on the trigger and my heart kicked up a notch or two. I'd laced the syringe with a binding spell so when I got her, it'd be a double whammy of a dose, knock her down, bind her powers, nighty-night. And being so late at night, there wouldn't be a lot of witnesses around to argue with me about it. Case closed. Another dirty witch off the streets.
I always loved a good hunt but this had gone on for too long. I'd used my tracking ability to trace her path from the victim's estate to this very spot, but it had taken two days to actually pin her down. Two whole days of tapping into my magic without an opportunity to recharge. I hadn't really eaten. I hadn't slept at all. My powers were waning and my head was pounding. I'd be happy to wrap this up so that I could go home and get some sleep.
I squinted through the scope, teasing the trigger. My finger poised to fire when suddenly she moved her hand up to cover her chest. One hand, beautifully manicured fingers, lying exactly over the spot that the dart would have hit. I shifted the scope up to her face and sucked in a breath.
She was staring right at me. But could she see me? I was wearing all black, nestled in the darkened alcove of a small shop across the street, shielded by a shadow spell. A lesser witch wouldn't have noticed. She shouldn't have noticed.
I lowered the weapon, never taking my eyes off her. A small smile tugged on her lips before she curled her fingers down, leaving the middle one up.
Seconds later, I was flying backwards through the store's glass door, making enough noise to wake every resident in the area. I crashed and then skidded over the crunching, skin-tearing fragments. Searing pain ripped through my body when the glass dug in deep.
Power blast spell.
I shook my head in an attempt to clear the fuzz that was crowding in. She hadn't hit me dead on, but it was enough of a strike to know she meant business. Also to know that I'd underestimated her powers and her willingness to play dirty.
I pushed myself up on my elbow, shaking the tiny bits of glass from my hair and face then scanned the area for my gun. Another blast shattered the ground next to me to bits and I rolled to the side, forgetting the weapon as I moved back onto my feet and quickly began loading a stun spell into my palm. I ducked behind the store's cash counter.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I peered around the corner of the counter, my every movement amplified by the sound of crunching glass beneath my boots. The glint of metal snagged my attention. I found my tranq gun halfway across the room, nestled against a rack of what looked like dried sausage, directly in front of another counter. Frowning, I scanned the rest of the store.
Where the fuck am I?
Glass display cases. Raw meat. Smell of blood. Butcher shop.
My gaze snagged on the knives.
I was pretty good with knives.
I scurried down the length of the store, keeping my head low and moving toward the rack of impressively large knives that hung behind the counter. The clickity-clack of my bounty's heels echoed toward me and the hair on the back of my neck rose. I'd never been hunted before. It was kind of exciting. In a fucked up masochistic kind of way.
A crunch of glass sounded from the doorway and I ducked my head even lower as I continued my trek toward the blades.
"You might as well come out, little witch. You're trapped in here and all I want to do is talk to you."
I snorted to myself, then inched ever closer to the knives. Yeah, right.
She took another step in. The sound of her heels skidding along the fragments of glass was followed by a rough round of cursing.
"Seriously, bitch. I'm ruining my shoes. Get the hell out here so I can end this."
"What's wrong? Use up all your power with those two spells?"
She might have been strong, but those power blast spells not only packed a punch, they took a lot of energy to wield. That kind of spell would drain a witch pretty fast.
I made it the last few feet to the knives and braced myself for an offensive move.
She cackled a response, then the mirror above the counter shattered and I covered my head with my arms as another storm of glass cascaded over my body.
Pooling as much power as I could muster, I stood, sending shards of glass out in all directions, simultaneously launching my stun spell and diving for the rack of knives. I snagged two in one swipe and sent them flying. I ducked down low again and skidded across the open area to my tranq gun. I snatched it up and moved quickly behind the second counter, hoping my knives had hit their mark.
The answering yelp of pain had me grinning. Yep, I was damn good with knives.
I'd aimed for her torso, no longer caring if I killed her. The game had changed, but with my momentum, I wasn't sure if I'd hit dead on or not. I quickly sent out a flash sonar spell, allowing the flow of her magic to bounce back at me. The second her magic signature touched my awareness, I swung around the side of the counter and quickly shot off the dart.
At the same moment, she hit me with another power blast. This one was weaker, but it did its job, knocking my arm to the side and causing my aim to go wide. The dart barely nicked her leg before embedding into the wall behind her.
I pushed myself behind the counter, nursing my arm, waiting for the sound of her body to hit the floor. Even though the dart hadn't hit true, it should have been enough to bring her down, especially with the binding spell and considering the amount of magic she was tossing around. She should have been almost completely tapped out of power by now.
I rubbed my hand over the tender spot on my arm. Her spell burned with an afterglow that sizzled my skin beneath my clothing. Nasty stuff she was wielding.
I frowned as each second passed and the sound of her hitting the ground didn't come. Pooling another stun spell in my palm, I first listened for any telltale signs of her panting, or dropping, or otherwise showing her pain, but when another minute rolled around, and I heard nothing, I dared to peer over the counter.
The store was empty. Her shoes lay at the entrance along with a puddle of blood.
Son of a bitch.
I snagged two more knives from the rack, slid my tranq gun into its sheath, then barreled out of the store, scanning the surrounding area. My eyes adjusted to the small amount of light offered from the coffee shop. Sirens sounded in the distance.
So much for not attracting attention.
I released the stun spell that still lay unused in my palm and redirected my power to another tracking spell. My body fought against the recasting, so exhausted by the overuse of my powers that at first, the tracking spell refused to ignite. After a few sputtering false starts, it took off, sending tendrils of magic searching for my bounty's spell markers.
She'd headed west and her trail was strong.
I took off after her, opting for a chase on foot despite my growing weariness. I didn't have time to get my SUV — not when the cops were on their way and my bounty was slipping through my fingers.
It didn't take me long to zone in on her. She was clearly injured, hand clenched to her abdomen, limping slightly as one leg seemed to drag a second slower than the other. Surprisingly, she was still able to move fast. I saw her in the distance. She was racing down a side street, her body illuminated by the street lamps as she ran. I pushed myself to go faster, ignoring the burning pain of my screaming lungs and the waves of dizziness, my body aching with fatigue.
It would all be over soon. I just needed a little more energy.
I slowed as I approached the street she'd turned down. A residential street with a dead end.
What the fuck?
I picked up speed again. Where the hell did she plan on going? She wasn't that far ahead of me now, her wounds definitely slowing her down. This was going to be easy. I just needed to get close enough to tackle her.
I raced forward and scanned the area. Four large homes nestled in a cul-de-sac. With a hasty glance over her shoulder to see if I was following, she slowed, coming to a stop at the foot of the smallest of the homes. I thought for a moment she would launch another spell but instead was surprised to see her spin on her heel. She raced up the walkway and barreled her way through the front door.
The slow creep of confusion washed over me and I skidded to a halt. By all appearances, the quaint, ranch style bungalow in front of me looked like a vampire den, blackened windows, barred doors, cryptic symbols etched in magic that warned humans away.
I quickly cloaked myself with a vanishing spell, praying it would take hold, and took a few steps back, glancing over my shoulder as a wave of vampire creepy-crawlies cascaded over me.
A fang den? That witch was as good as dead in there.
Moments later, the front door opened and a large, angry looking vampire stood looking out. "I don't see anyone out here. Are you sure you were being followed?" He glanced over his shoulder then scanned the front of the property once again. "Well, if she's using a spell, then I won't be able to see her will I, sweetness?"
A vampire protecting a witch? Things had just taken a turn for the weird.
I took another few steps back. My magic waned, threatening to expose me. The last thing I needed was a bloodthirsty vampire chasing me down.
"Well, there's no one there now." He scanned the front lawn one more time, his eyes easily gliding over me. "As soon as the others get back, we'll go on a hunt."
I cringed at the threat, holding my breath lest the sound of my breathing snag his attention. It wouldn't take him long to find my scent if he truly tried. My spell was so weak I was surprised he didn't detect me as it was.
With panic kicking at my heart, I waited for his next move, bracing myself for the fight that may come. Things had definitely gotten too dangerous.
After another full minute of scanning, the vampire grunted, shrugged, then turned back into the house, closing the door behind him with a loud thud. I released my held breath in a slow hiss, then quickly beelined it back up the street, pushing my body to the limits, I struggled to maintain my magical invisibility spell. A new plan formed in my brain while I ran. I needed sleep. I needed food. I definitely needed more weapons.
I'd come back in the morning. The vampires would be asleep. I'd be able to get my bounty then while her protector slumbered.
The only potential problem? I had no idea if she would stick around long enough for me to return. But I could always re-track her if needed.
Yeah. Good plan. A hell of a lot better than waiting around to become vampire food. With one last glance at the den, I bolted down the next street, my spell wavering with each step as I made my way back to my SUV.
The images unfolded in my mind with no conscious direction. They played out the way they always did, in vivid detail, such authenticity that I thought I was there again, right back into the nightmare of my past.
The bodies lay side by side, the smell of death clinging to them, rancid and distinct. You'd never mistake it for anything else. The kind of smell that burns your throat and makes your gag reflex kick in. But I couldn't turn away. My body was paralyzed by my sleeping mind. I did whatever my brain directed me to do, and right now it wanted to torture me.
The heads and bodies of both victims were wrapped in a thin layer of linen, as was the custom for witches. They were lying upon a pyre, ready to burn, ready for the final farewell.
The funeral was set to begin, but it fell on me to touch the torch to them. Once I did, they would burn into the pure fire of the afterworld, finally at peace, their spirits released from the bodies that housed them.
Peace. Something I knew I would never have again.
My eyes were riveted to the corpses. My heart so burdened with sorrow that I couldn't even cry.
The bodies were only hours dead. The blood of battle still oozing through the fabric that covered them. There was no way to deny it. They had suffered before they died. Even the thin layer of fabric couldn't hide that fact. Their death mask was one of pain and anguish, capturing the brutality of their final moments.
A sob caught in my throat, the coppery smell of blood clinging to my nose as I imagined their terror. Their bodies punctured and sliced, vital organs pierced, blood pouring in rivulets, gushing from arteries. The wounds were dealt with precision and calculated malice. They would have died slowly, but not so slowly that help could have arrived in time. Both of them would have felt their own blood pooling around their cold skin as it drained without pause. They would have known it was futile to staunch the flow. There were too many wounds, too much blood loss.
And the other wounds, the ones that spoke of brutal violations ... I sucked in a breath, fighting to keep the bile from choking me, vomit pressing at the back of my throat.
Dead eyes stared at me through the cloth. Dead eyes pleading to end the torment, to release their souls. I moved to the side and tugged at the flaming rod that had been stuck by some unknown hand, some other witch, into the soft ground. Walking back to the pyre, I said a silent prayer for a blessed afterlife, and then I said another that promised revenge.
I touched the torch to the soft linen and it was done. The bodies were no more.
The screeching sound of my alarm cut through the horrid nightmare, slicing me away from the terrible memories. I shot my arm out, knocking the alarm from its pedestal on my nightstand to the floor. The beeping halted.
It was dead. Just like my sisters.
I laid my hand over my face, pressing my fingers to my eyelids to keep from crying. I didn't dream about them all the time, not anymore.
Come on, Kali, snap out of it.
Sighing, I pushed myself up, then swung my legs to the side of the bed, resting for a moment as I assessed the state of my body. Everything ached. There wasn't one muscle that didn't hurt. And damn, I was still tired. I picked up my cell phone and hit the home button. Six a.m. I'd slept through my alarm for an hour. Shit.
Excerpted from "The Dark War"
Copyright © 2016 Angela Addams.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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