Okay, so it has been a while. Wow. It’s almost September. Where did the summer go? Oh, right. But I’ve been busy relaunching two series plus writing Maiden’s Wolf and Death’s Queen.
With all that going on I completely forgot that Sorceress Hunting’s Pub Day is only a few days away. So here, have a blurb and a sample chapter. : )
New to the series? You can get the prequel story for only 99c or read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited to see if you like it. Just click HERE.
Some victories feel more like defeat.
Although the Siren’s downfall was necessary, it also brought about a growing divide between Lillian and Gregory. However, personal matters will have to wait, for there is a more immediate concern which must be dealt with first.
Human authorities are now aware something equally as intelligent but far more deadly shares their world, and Lillian’s hometown has been placed under quarantine. To her dismay, it is not just a ‘guns in the woods, boots on the ground’ kind of hunt. Scientists are spearheading this pursuit. Lillian soon learns she and Gregory are their intended targets.
And this just might be one hunt her gargoyle protector is ill prepared for.
Read on for a Sample from Sorceress Hunting. (No worries, Lillian and Gregory are still doing their thing, but in this one Lillian’s baby gargoyle brother gets into lots of trouble with his new ‘pet’ human.)
Shadowlight bound down the path, the afternoon shadows already growing long behind him. He was alone for the first time in his life and found the experience….interesting and a little lonely. Though he was proud his father had given him a mission. He was supposed to join Greenborrow while his parents prepared to aid Gregory and Lillian.
When he’d first learned his sister and her guardian needed help, he’d wanted to go with them. Infiltrating the humans’ territory and switching samples had sounded fun, and it would have given him the opportunity to practice his invisibility weaving. However, he also liked the leshii, making his present assignment tolerable.
Oh, well. There would be time to sneak up on mortals later. He had an important job to do. Help Greenborrow determine if other members of the Fae were missing and how many. He really was on his way to do that. He just happened also to be finishing the patrol his parents had started. He’d watched as his parents had cleaned the sites they’d found. He’d even helped at the last two, so he knew he was more than capable if he should run into a battle site in need of cleaning.
It didn’t make sense to him why all the Fae viewed the humans the way they did, not when they had other creatures to fear. Hmmm, he was young and had never met a human in person. Perhaps it wasn’t right to judge.
Shadowlight turned down a new game trail, and the scent of Riven and old battle hit him full across all his senses. He skidded to a halt, scenting the air, seeking the direction of the highest concentration. Ah. There, to the left of the track he was presently following. He took his time studying the immediate area for dangers and ambushes. His mother’s hamadryad had shown him a great many survival skills while he gestated inside her. He saw no reason not to trust to her teachings.
Even with his concealment magic shrouding him from view, he belly crawled along the ground on all fours, making as little noise as possible. When he’d taken in the scene fully, he studied it a few moments more to be certain.
Scattered across the ground, like boulders left by a retreating glacier, several broken bodies, of both human and Riven origin, lay in a haphazard circle around the base of a balsam fir. Even the evergreen’s pungent fragrance couldn’t hide the breath-stealing scent of violent death and the stomach-souring stench of Riven taint.
The stench burned his nose, tongue, and throat, but he ignored those senses and focused on others as he eased into the immediate area. He called his magic and rid the earth of the demon-tainted corpses first, and then the human bodies next. He added a prayer to speed their souls into the next life.
He noted some of the humans had died from mortal wounds inflicted by the attacking Riven, while others showed obvious signs of Riven infection. The sharp fangs and claws were some of the earliest signs of contamination. Interestingly, some of the humans must have swiftly come to understand what their companions were turning into and ended them before the change made them harder to kill.
He continued to cleanse the land, following a trail of broken underbrush and trampled greenery.
Here, there were fresher signs. He came upon another Riven where it had crawled away from the battle. He glanced at the signs on the ground. No, it was not crawling away, it was crawling in pursuit of something else. A second blood trail led away from the battle.
The Riven, its mad hunger driving it ever onward, had managed to crawl quite a distance with only one leg. The other looked to have been sheared off by one of the human weapons his sister had warned him about. During the past night’s battle with the Riven, he’d heard the fierce noise the guns made, and he’d already seen the damage many times while he aided his parents purifying the forest.
Shadowlight glanced down at the body once more before summoning magic to dispose of it. Had this one not been driven to continue the hunt for its prey, it might have survived the night.
But judging by how the head had been severed from its neck, he guessed its intended ‘prey’ had gotten tired of being hunted and had set an ambush for the Riven. He continued his search with more caution than earlier. This battle’s participants might not all be as dead as he’d first thought. Easing into deeper shadows, he continued his hunt. When he reached the blood trail’s end, he found two more Riven and a human soldier. The human lay propped against an old giant of a tree, his body wedged between two of its massive roots.
Braced against the soldier’s drawn up legs, the long metal device, which he’d learned was what made the fierce sounds and tore the flesh of its victims to shreds by using many tiny projectiles, lay dormant.
Of the two Riven, the one just to the left side of the soldier was dead, its body torn with ragged tears, but that wasn’t what killed it. It had been decapitated, and not with the swift, clean stroke of a sword. It looked more like it had been hacked at repeatedly with a smaller blade. The wounds spoke of desperation, or perhaps the last fierce strength of one knowing his own end was at hand but was determined to take another of the enemy with him.
Shadowlight felt surprise and respect stir in his heart. Here was one of Light’s champions, found among the humans, but a hero all the same. The human’s heart still beat, as weak and labored as his breathing, but it would not for much longer, not with the wounds he had suffered.
Besides, the soldier had sustained several Riven bites, and their taint was already infiltrating his body. He would grant the soldier a merciful death once he’d dealt with the other remaining Riven.
This Riven squirmed and thrashed as it tried to free itself from where it was impaled on a broken sapling. Glancing at the sapling, and giving it a once over, Shadowlight noted the sharpened point. So it was a spear trap, not an accident. Clever human.
Even with the fierce wounds, including one which had taken most of one arm, the Riven continued its slow, painful struggle toward the human.
Shadowlight didn’t know what it planned to do once it reached its destination. It wasn’t as if the human could become anymore tainted. One of his father’s memories surfaced and slid along his consciousness. Ah, that was the Riven’s plan. The demon soul within had concluded its host body was too damaged to repair and the human only a few strides away was a better option to act as host until another was found. Together the old Riven spirit and the new one developing within the human’s soul would find a place to hide for a time, and then start infecting others to rebuild their numbers.
Shadowlight growled softly and released his concealment spell, wanting the Riven to know what was going to send it back to the dark. When the beast became aware of something other than its human target, the Riven glanced up at Shadowlight, flashing its fangs in a mix of surprise and defiance.
Shadowlight unleashed a lance of destroying light and sent it cascading deep into the heart of the misbegotten beast. The Riven opened its mouth wide in a silent scream and then blew apart into a hundred thousand wisps of shadow and light. With its destruction, the forest around Shadowlight already felt cleaner. He turned his attention to the human-killed Riven next, vanishing its taint with the same purifying spell.
He scanned the immediate area looking for other Riven, but sensed only the taint of their spilled blood. He went to work on that, wanting to postpone the other grisly task for a few moments more.
“Enemy of my enemy is my friend. Or some shit like that,” a voice gasped close at hand. Shadowlight swung his attention back to where the soldier lay. He’d thought the soldier was unconscious, but he was wrong. A set of dark brown eyes studied him under thick dark lashes.
“Do a girl a favor and do to me what you just did to those things.” She coughed and then gasped in pain.
Shadowlight paced closer until he was almost on top of the soldier. This close he could scent the soldier’s female essence over all the blood, gore, and taint. Not a male like he’d first thought.
“Don’t know what you are,” she choked out, and then dragged the back of her hand across her bloody lips, “and don’t really care as long as you kill me before I turn into one of those evil bastards. I can feel it growing inside. But it fears you.”
Curious, Shadowlight hunched down next to the human.
She studied him in turn, her gaze lacking fear. His mother’s memories showed that for some, when death came for them, it was a relief and they did not fear the end. While others cried and begged and pleaded, fighting against what came next until their last breath.
“I am a gargoyle,” he said into the silence.
“Gargoyle, eh?” She seemed to think his words over for a moment. “Well, Gargoyle, since you’re no friend of those things…”
“Riven,” he supplied and then added, “No. They serve the Dark, not the Light.”
“Riven. Suits them. Can I count on you…?” She held a knife in one hand, likely the one she’d used to kill the Riven, and gave it a little shake. “Can’t seem to do it myself.”
No, she wouldn’t. The Riven taint wouldn’t let her. It needed a viable host to anchor it to this realm.
Shadowlight took the blade from her. He didn’t need it to finish her off, but again he wanted something to postpone what he’d have to do next. He’d seen his mother and father do what needed doing several times this night. As for himself, he’d yet to end any life not already a Riven. Those ones were already dead in one sense. This human watching him with her pain-filled eyes was something else altogether, and he feared the act would change him in some way. He suddenly felt his age. He wanted his mother or father at his side.
But they weren’t here. And the human was.
She was young. Although several years older than him. From what he’d seen and sensed, she was brave and as honorable as a gargoyle. He couldn’t leave her bright spirit to be overtaken and enslaved by the Riven tainting it.
Yet, he found himself reluctant to end her life even though it was required.
The Riven taint was too deeply embedded to be routed out by normal magical means. While he had powerful healing abilities and could fight off Riven taint with little effort, the human had no such reserves left.
His dryad mother was a healer, and her knowledge and memories told him his magic could heal the human’s injuries, but the Riven taint was not something that could be healed. It had to be hunted down and eradicated first.
By its very nature, his magic-laced gargoyle blood was designed to hunt and eradicate evil. A blood exchange would kill the Riven taint, but there was a good chance the human wouldn’t survive it either. If she did, what then? She’d be tied to him for life, just like the unicorn was to Gregory.
And that was just with one blood exchange. He feared this would take many more. All his knowledge came from his parents’ memories, but neither of them had ever had reason to heal a human in such a way. He wasn’t even certain it would work.
A brave human was dying at his feet, worse than dying actually. He had to help, or at least try.
“Little human, can you still hear me?”
She blinked her eyes open and then took a moment to focus on him. “Yes. Just do it. You’re running out of time. It’s growing stronger.”
“You are brave, stronger, I think, than many of your kind. There may be another way to help you.” Shadowlight dropped down onto his haunches and mantled his wings around himself. He really didn’t want to kill her, sensing it might darken a part of his soul if he did. “Gargoyle blood contains powerful healing and purifying magic. If I share my blood with you, it would hunt down the Riven taint in yours and destroy it. However, it might also kill you along with the taint.”
She laughed, and it turned into a groan. “God, this is the strangest conversation I’ve ever had. I’m worse than dead without your help. The worse your blood can do is kill me.”
“Yes, but it would be a painful death.” Shadowlight gave a little shrug. “I could grant you a quicker death with my talons. However, if you are not afraid of pain, I would prefer to heal you.”
“Can’t believe I’m talking to a hallucination. On the off chance this is real, I’d be stupid to say no. Besides, I really want to get revenge on the bastards who killed my squad.”
Her voice drifted into silence, and he realized she’d just passed out again. She’d given consent, though, hadn’t she?
Shadowlight gave another little shrug. He understood her reasoning. If he’d been in a similar circumstance, he’d want a second chance to live, to hunt down his enemies, to avenge his family. Because that’s what he sensed when she’d spoke of avenging her squad. They were a family.
He brought his wrist up to his muzzle. A swift, sharp nip and his fangs sliced through his skin and his own blood coated his lips. Scanning the human, he sought the locations of the Riven bites. Finding five in total, he dripped his own blood upon them.
With a strangled hiss of pain, the human blinked her eyes back open and she gasped. He used the opportunity to press his bleeding wrist to her lips. She choked and sputtered at first, trying to spit out his blood, but he simply pressed his wrist harder against her lips.
“Drink, it’s your only chance at life, and even then, a slim one.”
The human’s wide-eyed stare didn’t change at first, but after a moment his words must have sunk in because she nodded and forced herself to swallow.
Her fingers wrapped around his forearm with a desperate strength as the muscles along her neck tensed and flexed as she fought past her natural gag reflex. The hard-fought battle drained away the last of her strength, and her fingers loosened their grip, but her iron will won the fight, conquering her aversion to his blood. Though by her deep grimace and the occasional muffled gag, she didn’t like it. To be honest, he took no joy in the act either. It simply hurt.
She jerked her head to the side.
“Enough.” She held up a hand, which trembled with near violence. “If you force me to drink more, I swear, I’ll throw up all over you.”
Shadowlight didn’t know how much blood was required, but took her at her word and instead held his wrist over her bite marks again.
“Dammit, that hurts!”
He nodded. “It’s working then.”
“Fuck. You don’t say!” She curled into a fetal position and buried her face in her forearms. It did little to muffle her pain sounds.
“There is no one else near,” he offered helpfully. “You can scream if you want.”
“Good to know,” she gasped and shuddered. “Might take you up on your offer later.”
“Or I can knock you unconscious, though it might be better if you remain alert enough to tell me how you feel.” He paused and lapped at his bleeding wrist so his saliva would aid in healing the small wound. After a brief internal debate, he decided to tell her the truth. “I’ve never done a blood exchange or healing before. I’m too young and have never had the chance. Although, I know how it is done.”
She looked up, her expression etched with pain, her brown skin sweat-covered and taking on an ashen, greyish tint. “Seriously?”
If she would have said more, it was stolen by a convulsion wracking her body.
He sat next to her and then gathered her up against his side so she wouldn’t beat herself black and blue against the tree’s gnarled old roots. The Riven taint was putting up a good fight, but he sensed his blood was winning. Soon, there would be nowhere in her body it could hide.
“Distract me,” she managed after the first wave of convulsions past. “Young. How young?”
He didn’t see any point in lying. The truth couldn’t harm her.
Besides, he wanted to make friends. The few Fae he’d interacted with treated him with the greatest respect, but were aloof and cold. Well, perhaps not Greenborrow. The leshii seem genuinely interested in offering friendship. Something about this human’s boldness and quick mouth reminded him of the leshii.
“Eight?” She eyed him from the tips of his horns all the way down to where his talons dug into the soft loam. “Eight what? Eight years?!”
He stopped lapping at his wrist. “Yes.”
“Are you fully grown?”
“Lord,” she choked. “If you’re a child of your kind, I don’t want to meet any adults.”
“My father is only a little taller. Hmmm…it’s probably best if you don’t meet him just yet.”
Shadowlight decided his parents probably wouldn’t be happy about what he’d done.
Perhaps not Lillian or Gregory either. Gran? She seemed the most open. Maybe he could confide in her once the human was healed. Yes, that sounded like a good idea.
Decision made, he looked back down at the human. She was unconscious again, but she breathed. A quick survey of her wounds showed they were still grievous. However, he thought she might live.
For now, he would have to find a place to hide her from the other Fae. Once she was healed, there wasn’t anything the others could do. They’d eventually see the good in her.
They wouldn’t harm another of Light’s warriors, after all.
With a happy snort, he scooped up the human and headed back toward home. After he stashed the human somewhere safe and wove a spell of protection, he’d find Greenborrow as his father had ordered. Later, when no one would miss him, he’d come back and tend to the human’s wounds and then find a more permanent place to stash her.