Home > Shadow Hunt (Disrupted Magic #3)(15)

Shadow Hunt (Disrupted Magic #3)(15)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

She didn’t answer, so Jesse tried a new tactic. “You’re supposed to stay out of Los Angeles,” he said. To his own ears he sounded like a petulant child. “There was a deal.”

Sabine smirked. “I think it’s safe to say the deal is off.”

“Because you couldn’t stand to have someone else take your toy?” he scoffed. “All this is about you being a sore loser?”

She didn’t like that. “This is about the natural order,” she hissed. “And yes, we want what is owed to us. Our birthright.”

Shadow? “The bargest is your birthright?” Jesse said without thinking.

Her expression grew cagey as she realized he was trying to keep her talking. “Clever, clever,” she sang, giving him a little mock bow. “But that won’t work. And we’ve already got what we came for. You are quickly running out of usefulness, Jesse Cruz.”

“So first you let Scarlett get away, and now you’re going to murder a mildly famous ex-cop? Won’t that get you in trouble with your superiors?”

That annoyed her. “You forget,” she snapped, spreading her arms. “This is my world. Here, I have no superior.”

“Then why did you run away before?” Jesse taunted. “You were scared I’d learn something from you, because this connection goes both ways. If you’re so confident about killing me, why not tell me the plan?”

Her fists clenched. Suddenly the shelves around Jesse seemed to grow, rising to tower threateningly over him. Boxes rattled toward the edges of their shelves, poised to fall right on him.

“If this is you trying to show me you’re not scared,” Jesse said in a bored voice, “you really do suck at it.”

She grew again, her body distorting and leaning into him in a horrific parody of human behavior. It was as though someone had taken everything in Jesse’s eyeline and stretched it like Silly Putty, first vertically, and then horizontally. Only Jesse stayed the same size.

The now-giant woman leaned down, wrapping her oversize fingers around Jesse’s neck and lifting. She slammed him against some of the shelving, his spine making impact. It hurt like hell, even though it seemed ridiculous that it would.

When she touched him, though, it was like a window opening. Jesse could feel the anger and crazed intentions leaking out of her. There was something wrong with this woman, aside from the obvious. She had a screw loose.

There was something else there, too: a longing, a wish that occupied part of her mind at all times. Jesse had a brief image of riding a horse, carrying a sword. Violence and viciousness and unimaginable power.

What, she secretly dreamed of being a warlord?

Then she tightened her fingers, and Jesse immediately forgot about the sensation of riding. “Little boy,” she thundered, “you have no idea what’s coming. It’s a shame you won’t live to see your friends suffer and die.”

Jesse clawed at her hands, trying to get air, which he somehow still needed.

Then she smiled. “But I can help with that.”

She let go of his neck, and Jesse tumbled to the floor, dazed. It was eerily quiet, and when he finally managed to sit up, he saw that Sabine was gone—and so were the endless shelves. He was back inside Scarlett’s little cottage. Everything looked just as it had when the Luparii witches had knocked on the door.

Had he really woken up?

He noticed that Scarlett’s bedroom door was closed. She usually left it open so Shadow could go in and out as she pleased. Had it been closed when he’d gotten back to the cottage with Shadow?

He couldn’t remember.

Jesse staggered to his feet, leaning against the wall. He felt feverish, and he was desperate for water, but first he had to know. Lurching toward the bedroom door, he knocked lightly. “Scarlett?”

There was no answer, so he turned the knob and pushed the door open.

Scarlett’s lifeless eyes stared at him.

She was lying upside down on the bed, her head hanging over the foot, pointed at the door. Her clothes had been slashed and shredded, and blood soaked the sheets around her, running down her neck and into her hair, soaking the carpet.

Jesse gasped and yanked the door shut, trying to control his breathing. Was it real? It couldn’t be real . . . could it? He was still in the twisted slumber . . . right?

He opened the door again, hoping it had vanished like a hallucination in a horror movie, but no, her body was still there. Still staring at him.

Jesse closed the door again, distantly hearing his own whimpers. He wanted to run outside, to fight something, to move, but he felt weak and light-headed. And so hot. His clothes were soaked with sweat. Did that mean he was awake now? He couldn’t be.

It’s still the spell, he told himself, even as he slid down the wall, his sweaty clothes aiding him. Scarlett will call to check on you. When you don’t answer, she’ll realize that something is wrong. He’d have to wait for that. She would come for him. She was still alive.

She was.

Jesse felt a rush of despair, and then there was only black.

Chapter 13

“A witch? You said she was three,” I protested. “Witches don’t come into their power until they go through puberty.”

“Regular witches, yes,” Maven answered. “But the little girl in Azad had activated her magic before she could walk. She was a witchling.”

Lex looked up sharply. “What does that mean? My”—her expression soured—“biological father called me a ‘deathling.’”

“Because you’re nearly a purebred conduit,” Maven told her.

Conduits were the first humans—well, whatever was before humans—who bonded with magic. They are also the ancestors of every magical race on earth: vampires, werewolves, witches, and—yes—nulls all descend from them. I didn’t really understand what she meant about Lex, but I was too wrapped up in the story to ask. “Please,” I said to Maven, “why were those nulls able to get pregnant? And why was the baby a witch?”

Maven sighed. “This part is all theory, you understand? I can’t prove it, and short of Lex’s friend the scientist”—she glanced at Lex—“no one has ever even tried. But we know that witch bloodlines have become more and more diluted, which has caused the ley lines to fade, which has caused all of magic to diminish.”

This was all news to me, but Lex was nodding. “That’s why vampires and werewolves are having a hard time reproducing,” she explained to me.

“Ley lines,” I repeated. Were there ley lines in LA?

I had about a dozen follow-up questions on that alone, but Maven continued, “I believe that nulls are an evolutionary response to the diminishment of magic. When two nulls have a baby, that child is born with power nearly equal to a conduit. A witchling.”

“Which is why the parents are nulls,” Molly supplied. “Because they can keep the baby from hurting anyone with magic.”

Maven nodded again. “Witchlings may only come once in a thousand years, but they restart the bloodlines, boost the ley lines. They keep magic going.” She held out her hands, palms up. “That’s my theory, anyway. But the witchling in Azad was the first I’d met, and the last.” She gave me a sad, complicated smile. “Unless, of course, you were to hypothetically become pregnant.”

Without thinking, I leaned forward and let my head thunk on the card table. Little exclamations of surprise came from Maven and Lex, but Molly just patted my back. “She does that,” she explained.

I was in so much trouble. I mean, I hadn’t felt great about the future when I was just a single twenty-something who’d gotten knocked up by her dead lover, but now I was also carrying the frickin’ savior of magic?

Above me, Lex was asking Maven, “Is this why you brought me on? So you could keep an eye on Charlie through me?” Her tone was completely neutral.

“You’re a tremendous catch in your own right, Lex,” Maven answered, sounding a little amused. “But I’ll admit, I want to keep an eye on Charlie, too, to make sure she stays safe. When she grew older, I always planned to have a word with you about this.”

“Why?” Molly asked, practically. “I mean, no offense, um, ma’am, but do you even have a horse in this race?”

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