Excerpt for Elemental Claim by , available in its entirety at Smashwords







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This is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are all products of my imagination and should not be seen as having anymore creditability on reality than fake news does. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living, dead, or stuck in purgatory, is entirely coincidental.


Copyright © 2017 by Miranda Grant

Excerpt from War of the Myth Book Two: Think of Me Demon copyright © 2017 by Miranda Grant


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ISBN: 978-1981987832 



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


CHAPTER ONE


Emma frowned at the darkened clouds in the distance as she stepped out of her car – an old sedan that was in desperate need of repair. The driver’s door could only be opened from the inside, her gas pedal was only being held on by a mere, though hefty wrench (which if she was being honest, probably wouldn’t ever be fixed as it was doing a surprisingly good job), and now just three days ago her car battery had died.


Which was the only reason she had left the car running as she quickly shut the door behind her. Normally she was a stickler for anything that would save a bit of money, especially if it helped the environment, but given the alternative was hanging out at her twin sister’s house for an unknown amount of time until she found someone to help jump her car…well, she didn’t even feel guilty about it.


It wasn’t that she hated being at Elizabeth’s that made her leave the car idling. Rather it was for a number of innocent reasons. For one, her identical twin wasn’t even in, having flown off to Europe months ago for the start of her gap year and given Liz hated to read, it would be a horribly boring wait. Two, she still needed to pack for tomorrow’s trip of meeting her sister in England, and three, there was a large, black canine trapped in the backseat of her car already begging to be let out.


She might not know what to do with him yet, but there was no way her sister would not absolutely freak if she came back to a paw-printed house and torn furniture. It’s not like Emma would have the time to clean up the mess before her flight.


A deep bark cut into her most forward thoughts and she gave a small shake of her head to rid herself of the rest of them. She would deal with the dog when the time came to it, but for now she needed to get that package so she could finally head home and pack.


Facing back towards her falling apart piece of junk (which she secretly loved), she held out a hand in the universal command for “stop,” locked eyes with the massive mangled mess that she suspected was part, if not entirely, wolf, and commanded him to stay. He barked again, this time pawing at the door in his desperation, but Emma held firm.


She wanted to be in and out in five minutes before the storm hit, not getting drenched as she chased after a semi-wild animal determined to mark every fence post as his and his alone.


Stay...um...Max? No, Rex. No...oh I’ll figure out a name for you later. Just stay. Okay? Stay.” She waited until he finally admitted defeat and plopped his butt on the backseat of her car before making her way up the short pathway to her sister’s house.


She left the front door open behind her in case the dog – Wolf? Horse? Bear? - had separation anxiety, then continued inward to the master bedroom. A large bed with red satin sheets dominated the space, but it was the walk-in closet that grabbed Emma’s attention.


On the top shelf at the back was a black box that she was supposed to grab and take to her sister by the 9th – only two days and an entire ocean away.


God, she was thankful she lived in the time of aviation. Although that was not to say she was pleased with Elizabeth’s ridiculous expectations of her.


Nevertheless after their mother had died on their 20th birthdays two years ago, Emma could never not be there for her younger sister. Irregardless that she was only older by a mere twenty minutes, she was the eldest and had mentally promised not to shirk her sisterly duties to a dead mom and unknown father.


Which, for some stupid reason, now included catching an expensive, last-minute flight to Manchester, England in order to deliver a mysterious box and its extremely important contents.


Contents, Emma realized as she finally located it and pulled it off the top shelf, that she knew absolutely nothing about.


Her sister could be asking her to transport drugs or blackmail secrets or other illegal items. Liz liked to party into all hours of the night and even some of the morning. And sometimes she even kept company with some very suspicious characters. So really, who knew what criminal belongings could be lurking inside this box?


Chewing on the inside of her bottom lip, Emma’s right hand hovered over the lid. On one hand, she was invading her sister’s privacy; on the other, it could be a potential national security situation…


Her prying fingers grazed the under side of the lid, but before they could curl into a hold, a crack of lightning whipped across the sky and started the dog off on a barking frenzy.


With a disappointed sigh that was lightened only by knowing that she would have twenty-nine hours alone with it, Emma cradled her twin’s secrets under an arm and headed out into the pouring rain.


Quiet...dog!” she hollered over her shoulder as she twisted the key to locked. “It’s just a bit of mmmmfh!”


Her scream was efficiently cut off by the hard grasp of a hand over her mouth as a strong arm locked around her petite waist and began to drag her backwards without a fight.


Hurry!”


Emma’s eyes widened at the clear trace of fear in her attacker’s command and the question of why helped to clear her brain’s panicked fog.


With a sudden decision of action, she rammed her head backwards as hard as she could and gasped at the pain of contact, though pride filled her when she felt his nose buckle beneath the sudden pressure. His grip relaxed slightly as he howled, but it didn’t loosen enough to free her. Rapidly blinking the stars from her vision, Emma bit down hard at the now exposed soft flesh between his thumb and forefinger, gagging only slightly when she tasted blood.


She stomped on his foot before twisting out of the final strength of his grasp as a tornado of expletives exploded behind her. However, before she could take two steps on her own, another hand locked around her wrist. She kicked out blindly in the direction of her newest attacker and felt her heel slam into the unprotected cushion of a man’s balls.


As soon as she was free once more, she scrambled towards her car where the dog was currently tearing up the backseat in his frenzy to get out. She prayed to unknown powers that he wouldn’t bolt when she reached for her handle, knowing that her fear for her own safety wouldn’t let her wait for him for long.


Stay,” she pleaded as she wrenched the door open and chucked her sister’s box inside.


But of course, he ignored her command and instead dashed into the front seats, then leaped for freedom. She barely managed to dodge his bulking frame, but before she could yell at him to get back in, a terrifying scream claimed the silence.


A knot formed in Emma’s throat as she whirled around due to the close proximity of the painful cries. She was surprised only for a second as she watched the dog rip into her attacker’s wrist, for the feeling was quickly replaced by nauseous horror.


A recently dropped syringe lay in a puddle at her feet, thankfully not yet used.


As the entire situation came crashing down on her in mind-warping clarity, Emma raised a leg and kicked her attacker hard in the stomach as she screamed out in feral frustration. This was not how she had planned her day to go when she had forced herself out of bed this morning. First, her sister had left a frantic voice-mail the night before. Then, when she had requested emergency time off work, she had been fired on the grounds of not giving them enough notice – after having just worked a double shift! Despite never having asked for a single sick day before. And now – now! - she was being attacked by a group of men all because of something her dead mom had done long before she was ever born!


Ahhhh!” she screamed again with another kick just as the dog attempted to move his biting hold up to the man’s neck.


However, before his sharp teeth could fight their way past the man’s panicked flails, a movement off to the side had Emma making her own panicked flails as she desperately grabbed the dog by the muff of his neck and hauled him out of harm’s way.


She screamed at the sound of gunfire, then again when she noticed the blood pouring out of the man’s head and mixing with the rain. His blank eyes stared up at her in accusation as she vomited onto his legs.


A sharp bark demanded her attention from behind and she turned back to her open car door to see the dog, Tank?, waiting inside expectantly. On shaky legs she climbed in and with even shakier hands she somehow managed to throw the car into drive and screech off down the street as one hand automatically groped for the safety of her seatbelt.


A frantic glance in her rear-view mirror told her that she wasn’t anywhere close to being free of her pursuers. The three men that were still alive were running towards a black SUV, even as another came screaming around the back of her sister’s house. Bile threatened her mouth once more at the confirmed knowledge that they had been waiting for her specifically, but with a hard swallow she managed to keep it down. Barely.


She knew this day might come eventually; had even been trained for it ever since she was a child. However, having lived for twenty-two years without ever so much as a peep from the mafia, she never actually believed that they would find her. She had slacked off on attending her self defense classes, stopped always having a bag packed and kept closed by, and hadn’t had a safe house option in years. The only training she had kept going was her breathing exercises and given her current hyperventilation and scattered mind, she should probably ask for her money back.


But how had they found her? She had habitually kept her head down and her roots adrift even though their mother wasn’t around any longer to force them to constantly be on the move. Was Elizabeth in the same danger? Did the mafia here still have ties to the family in Italy? Was that the truth behind her sister’s urgent voice-mail?


A sharp bark had her eyes jerking away from the mirror in horror as she realized she hadn’t been paying attention to her physical surroundings for nearly half a minute. She prayed that they weren’t about to crash when she flung her vision forward, only to give a desperate cry as she slammed on the brakes in an instinctive effort to miss the solitary figure before her. His features were almost completely obscured by the heavy rain and Emma froze as her brain tried to tell her something important.


But then the car was spinning and she suddenly realized that they were on the bridge that marked the last turn to her sister’s house.


With a frustrated sob, Emma let out a string of oaths that cursed her sister’s stupid box, all of her unknown attackers, and the damn idiot standing in the middle of the road that she definitely should have just hit. Had it not been for all of them, she certainly wouldn’t be crashing off the side of a bridge and into her watery grave.


If only she had ever taken the time to learn how to swim.


CHAPTER TWO


Rogan’s stony features didn’t even twitch as he spotted the target’s beat up sedan flying straight towards him. Despite the urgency of his mission and the normal lack of response, he had taken the time to ask the gods for rain and for once they had complied. Maybe they too realized the gravity of the situation even though it wasn’t yet on their doorstep or maybe one was just pissed off at the breach of contract; whatever the reason, his request had been granted despite the humans’ forecast of clear blue skies.


So now armed with his number one weapon of choice, there wasn’t anyone or anything that could stop him from completing his mission of grabbing the package conveniently heading towards him. Not even the two trailing SUVs packed with hostiles.


His icy blue eyes narrowed as he recognized them to be members of the WALL. Warriors Against Lycans and Lessers was a human organization that knew shit all, but just enough to keep them afraid and their trigger fingers twitching at every shadow. They were a brutal group that had started off assaulting their own kind for one ignorant reason or another, but somehow in the last decade they had learned first about werewolves and then a few other species of the Myth. Once in possession of that knowledge, their feeble minds could only come up with one solution: kill them whenever the chance arose. It didn’t often, but just enough to keep them interested and their numbers stable.


Normally they only went after vampires, werewolves, and witches – those that were well-known in “fictitious” stories due to their constant bragging and uncontrollable urges to be worshiped as false gods. However, rumors of a new descendant weren’t easily contained, especially since the last one of the gods’ children to walk the Seven Planes had more or less obliterated two realms and nearly brought the fey and elementalists into extinction.


Immediately after the smoke had cleared, the remaining supernatural clans had put aside their many differences for the first time in history. With the common purpose of forcing the gods and goddesses into signing a Holy Blood Contract concerning the birth of a child, the armies of every warring species stood together in unity. The deities had eventually conceded and such an oath could not be breached without dire consequences, giving much relief to the creatures of the Myth.


Unfortunately this meant that even if, no when, Rogan managed to subdue the descendant threat, another upheaval was unavoidable.


He wondered briefly which clan members and friends he would lose in the near future before pushing the thought away. He had work to do and never could it be said that Rogan Ketea Hunt of the Coventina Clan wasn’t a focused agent. He had spent a half century toning his skills and dedicating his life to each mission, building up a repertoire of successes that pushed him to the top of his field. His name was legendary among the fellow Elv’ve’Nor agents and cursed among their enemies. He had not failed for the last twenty-nine operations and he was determined to make it a solid thirty.


When the sedan had made it to the start of the bridge, Rogan cleared the rain and mist around him. She might be a deadly descendant with the ability to raise the dead and kill with a single touch, but old habits died hard. Her immediate reaction to brake would be all that was needed for him to easily take control of the vehicle. With a quick twist of his wrist he commanded the water beneath its tires to turn solid, sending it to spin uncontrollably towards the rail. As it neared the edge, his right arm motioned for a collection of the rain to push it over the side and into the safety of the river below. For there he had the best chance of containing the package until he was able to deal with it himself.


Eyes cold and feelings detached, Rogan held his position as he focused on dealing with the following members of the WALL. He commanded the rain and mist to envelop him once more, sheltering his form altogether. Completely ignorant to the threat before them, both cars unwisely braked at the broken railing.


A total of nine armed men piled out of the SUVs, two of which cursed in pain as they did so. The inkling of a smile tugged at a small corner of Rogan’s lips, but whether it was due to the upcoming fight or seeing top members of the WALL in pain, for this wasn’t a job for new recruits, he didn’t dwell on enough to say.


Rather, his attention was already on his first target – a man of medium height and middle age, but clearly of the highest command. Had he the time Rogan would’ve disabled the two vehicles first so they wouldn’t have the opportunity to escape his punishment, but luckily for them, or rather some of them, it was too dangerous for him to waste any time where it wasn’t absolutely necessary. The descendant’s full abilities were unknown and though he didn’t yet feel her presence in the river, he wasn’t naive enough to think that she wasn’t planning a very troublesome escape.


So with two deft movements of his hands, he curved the rain around the leader’s head into a sphere with his face in the middle and then solidified it into a solid prison of ice. Before the rest could do anything other than register that they were under attack, he launched a tidal wave from over the rail many were still peering over.


He swept them against the opposite side of the bridge, pinning them down with the onslaught of a powerful current that would undoubtedly drown a few. A sweat broke out on his brow as he held them there while he placed a tracker under each of the vehicles for his three teammates to find later. The fact that they weren’t already here meant that they had run into some sort of trouble, but he was dubious that it would be anything that they couldn’t handle – even if they were one man short.


As soon as the devices were attached, Rogan dove off the bridge without the slightest of hesitations.



EMMA JUMPED with a small scream when she finally noticed the body floating outside of her car window. Her now underwater car window she reminded herself. So naturally her first thought was that he was some poor dead soul whose body she had ironically stumbled upon at the spot of her own grave. But then it reached a hand towards her and she screamed again because dead things shouldn’t be able to move like that.


Her fingers desperately yanked at her stuck seatbelt, but as before it wouldn’t budge beneath her frantic pulls. Her adrenaline had rapidly been sidelined by sheer panic much to Emma’s and, no doubt, her new dog’s dismay. Though out of the two of them, it looked like he at least still had a level head as he had been trying to chew through her shoulder strap since she had realized she was trapped.


He was half-way through it now, but Emma feared he wouldn’t be able to finish in time enough to save her from drowning. Water had been pouring in nonstop from all of the little holes everywhere and it was just about up to her waist. Even a clever dog like hers couldn’t breathe underwater, which was exactly what would be needed for him to free her soon given how rapidly the car was filling.


And though the thought of her dying in her dying car had made her laugh hysterically before, all it did now was make her cry.


Oh, to hell with it! Let the mafia man outside come in and kill me or open my door and drown me faster! What does it matter anymore? Dead is dead is dead! Oh, I’m so sorry Sam!” she wailed as she twisted in her seat to hug the wolf of a dog. “I should have let someone else save you, but now you’re just gonna d-d-die with me! I-i-it’s not f-fair and I’m s-so s-s-s-or- OW!”


The sudden sharp sting of canine teeth in her bicep froze her into silence.


She stared with wide, hurtful eyes and mouth agape at the ungrateful animal before her. In her deranged state, she would almost swear he was grinning at her with his long tongue lolling out of his mouth and his dark eyes shining. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, then opened it again with a hoarse cry as the window behind her shattered.


She swung around to face the onslaught of water for some stupid reason since it was unlikely that she could keep it from flooding in, but then she noticed the man staring at her from the other side and all she could do was blink.


His electric blue eyes seemed bright even in the darkness of the river. She fell into the sheer intensity of his gaze, her mind going blank even as she drank in the rest of his toe-curling features with greedy abandon. A wave of thick dark hair that was so black it looked midnight blue wandered down to the base of his neck, making those blue eyes seem near luminescent. A five o’clock shadow textured his strong, square jaw and his olive skin beaconed to a part of her she never even knew existed.


For fate to let her meet a man like this and then have her die...surely even it wouldn’t be that cruel?


So when he reached for her through the shattered window, instead of fighting for her life she merely closed her eyes with a throaty moan, having finally come to the only conclusion that made sense.


She was having another one of her nightly episodes or ‘nightmares on steroids’ as she and her sister liked to call them. After all, they always felt so real until she woke. Heavens only knew how many times she had experienced the unbearable pain of gnawed off limbs and the practices of sadistic serial killers before. Or the amount of times she had smelt and tasted the delicious foods that would render her poisoned in one fashion or another. Why she couldn’t have normal dreams without all the bloody awareness was beyond her, but that was just the hand she had been dealt. So to hell with it all she thought with a last bit of rage.


Now she was just going to enjoy it. It was her nightmare after all and if she wanted it to turn into a wet dream with her mafia hitman as the star, then it bloody well would.


Or not.


She let out a frustrated groan as she felt his touch miss the mark of her breasts and with an annoyed acceptance she snapped her eyes back open to see where it had landed.


Her cheeks reddened even more with embarrassment as she found the man’s hand on her buckle, or rather, his thumb on its button. Groaning with shame as she knew what was about to come, she watched with horrified eyes as he pressed her seatbelt free using the release that she had completely forgotten about in her panic.


The dog made a noise that sounded oddly like laughter, but before she could shoot him an evil look she was wrenched backwards for the second time that day.


This time, however, she didn’t slam her head back in defiance. Rather, she was too busy first inhaling a sudden gasp of air so that she would survive the long swim to the surface; second with frantically twisting her legs out from under the steering wheel in time to the stranger’s pull; and third clinging like a madman to the only person capable of reaching the blissful air that her lungs already desperately needed.


So what if he was most likely going to finish the job of killing her or kidnapping her to be killed later? Right now she needed him because unfortunately she had come to the harsh conclusion that she wasn’t dreaming after all.


CHAPTER THREE


The effort Rogan needed to pull his package to the surface was no little feat. He had quickly realized that she – it – couldn’t swim, but every time he had tried to arrange for a more comfortable carry, she – it dammit – had fought frantically to cling to him in the most inconvenient of ways.


Ways that were making it extremely hard for him to keep thinking of her as an it. A package. A threat that would not be able to sway him from his mission.


There were simply too many lives on the line if he failed in this. He hadn’t been born when the last descendant had walked the planes, but the damage caused by him was still easily noticeable over 3,500 years later – especially as an elementalist.


Before his kind had numbered in the hundreds of thousands; now there were barely a thousand of them left with any real skill. The fact that their powers didn’t always pass down even when two of the same kind of elementalists got together didn’t allow them to bounce back with the same vigor like the fey had – though even their numbers were still only a fraction of what they once were.


The pain and destruction from the two planes that had nearly been obliterated were also still clearly visible. If this had happened on the Human Plane it would be like the whole of North and South America had sunken into the sea. As it was, the humans had already lost Atlantis and most of the portals to the other realms – the only reason, Rogan suspected, that their world had managed to pull through at all.


Humans might be stubborn and resourceful, but they were too weak and useless to be anything other than fodder when fighting against the creatures of the Myth. Due to this, there had been a collective agreement amongst the supernatural clans for them to be kept in the dark. Their knowledge of the rest of the planes and their inhabitants had whittled away until it was seen as nothing more than the minds of fictitious storytellers in the general populace.


A few rogue groups came here to feast on unsuspecting humans from time to time, but there were agencies in place to cover their tracks as well as punish the offenders caught. Unfortunately, a few weren’t contained up fast enough and had spawned such groups as the Warriors Against Lycans and Lessers, but for the most part humans were completely in the dark.


Rogan wondered if the other members on his team had managed to track the two SUVs yet and if so, whether they had managed to take a captive alive. It wasn’t that they were incapable of fighting without lethal action, but the WALL had a coward’s habit of ending their own lives rather than be taken anywhere – even if it was to a healer.


His thoughts returned to the matters at hand when he finally neared the water’s surface. He stopped just below it to take in an assessment of his surroundings, going deep within his powers to feel the touch of rain on anyone standing around nearby. The storm had already quieted to a light drizzle, but he only needed a drop in order to activate his seventh sense.


Satisfied that there wouldn’t be any witnesses, but still wary nonetheless, Rogan whipped up an unnatural fog before finally pulling his package’s head out of the water. He allowed for a few ragged breaths before clamping a hand over its mouth and dragging them both to shore.


He tried hard to ignore its shaking, but the fearful tremors did odd, forgotten things to his gut. His lips tightened as a scowl broke over his face, angry at himself for feeling anything at all, let alone actual sympathy for his captive.


Bloody hell, stop shaking,” he ground out as he reached land, but unsurprisingly the trembling didn’t stop. “Are ye cold? Is tha’ it?”


Not waiting for an answer, he drew all of the water off of them both, with exception to a well padded ball around its lethal right hand. Though it took more effort to contain as a liquid, ice would be easier to smash and given a single touch of her- its little finger he cause him to die in a heartbeat, the effort was well worth the risk.


Rogan tensed in cold anticipation as its eyes flicked to its now enveloped hand and he instinctively pulled on the power of the river behind them. However, as her- its eyes widened and then immediately rolled back into its skull as she- it went completely limp, he was left in a state of sheer disbelief.


Do ye take me a fool?” he asked, wary that she – for it was tiring always correcting himself to call her an ‘it’ – was faking unconsciousness until he let his guard down enough for her to escape.


He wasn’t surprised when she didn’t answer, for only an idiot would give up pretense after a single question. Though she did forget to press the button on her seatbelt… Then again, those not used to adrenaline often made moronic mistakes before they grew into seasoned veterans like himself.


But wasn’t she supposed to be hardened? Cold? The target in the photos had been deadly and if not experienced, still more than powerful enough to have taken out almost an entire Elv’ve’Norc team. This woman, however, acted like a green recruit. Nay, like a complete civilian.


For the first time in a while, Rogan felt the tendrils of unease wind deep in his stomach, but in the end he trusted his level of command and the intel that came from them. Which meant that she was acting and his next step should be to call her bluff.


Yet, despite having learned what would make any captive, male, female or sexless, stop the pretense of being unconscious, he found himself oddly hesitating. His pulse quickened ever so slightly, but just enough to throw him off balance. Scowling at his lack of control, he forced the cold feeling of indifference back into his body and swiftly placed his lips on hers.


It was such an impersonal kiss, one that he had performed thousands of times to rouse faking captives – whether it was with shock, distaste, or even pleasure. The movements of his lips and tongue were all calculated with the sole purpose of pulling a sudden, unwanted reaction from his target. Not from him.


So why was his heart pounding so hard in his chest and his breath coming in short, erotic gasps? Why was he disheartened when her tongue stayed still beneath his, but not for any reason that concerned the mission? He wanted her simply as a man and nothing more and that primal thought was enough to jolt him back into aloof professionalism.


He severed the intimate contact between them, berating himself for thinking it was intimate at all, and shifted her in his arms to put a bit more space between them. He dug a hand into the pocket of his jacket with the intention of calling his team, but before he could even wrap his fingers around the human device a low growl sounded harshly behind him.


Though he silently cursed himself for not paying attention to his surroundings, Rogan’s body had already spun around to face the new threat of the woman’s dog. He felt slightly guilty using the pet’s owner as a shield, but the thing was more wolf than dog and Rogan was suspicious that it was of a dire wolf line rather than anything from Earth.


It easily stood up to his waist, which was no easy feat given Rogan’s 6’5” frame. With its solid black coat stretching over nothing but packed muscle and its threatening white teeth fully bared, he wasn’t taking any chances. He might be able to control water in all its states, but many an elementalist had fallen to the jaws of a dire wolf.


Rogan forced himself to stay completely still as he awaited the wolf’s assessment. Any movement that could be taken as a threat would end with blood and he wondered briefly why he hadn’t just drowned it when he had the chance.


A low growl had him demolishing the thought immediately as a sick feeling of dread took its place.


So you’re a gods’ companion then? Or was it mere coincidence ye growl, and not a reading of me mind?”


The wolf gave a yawn as if it didn’t even consider Rogan’s hypothesis worthy of an answer and he felt himself only grow more wary.


If the animal truly was a gods’ companion, then it had most likely been sent down by the woman’s godly parent to protect her and though Rogan didn’t want to kill her, he couldn’t exactly claim he had her best interests at heart. He was trying to see that she was forever imprisoned inside Damaculus, after all, where only the most high-profile and dangerous of criminals were kept. Given the link that all godly companions had to their masters, the wolf would also undoubtedly know which side he was on and thus, what his mission entailed.


He touched the river with his mind ever so slightly, careful to keep his face expressionless.


He wasn’t surprised when he was warned again with a growl. His disconnection with the water, however, caused him grave concern. Unable to stop himself even with the immediate threat of the monster before him, he flicked a full glance at the river and felt his stomach sink to the bottom of the ocean.


Well I’ll be damned.”


The beast smiled at him then before passing him with a trot.


Rogan watched as the water turned back to its rightful color as his connection to it also returned, swore once more for good measure, and then followed. For who was he to argue with a god’s messenger?


He paused only once to shift the descendant into a more comfortable carry that left her cradled against his chest. Though it undoubtedly helped walking much easier, the stop to change had also given him the chance to leave a coded message for his teammates.


He hoped it was enough for them to understand and take the necessary precautions. A war was coming and this time the gods and goddesses were playing.


CHAPTER FOUR


Fire crackled all around her, its heat searing every inch of her flesh. The pain was almost unbearable, but there was a deeper fear inside her pushing her onward. They had taken him.


His agonized cries drowned out the crackling of the flames, but when she tried to call out for him, she found her voice had already been smoldered away by the smoke. Terrified down to her bones, Emma fled toward the lone metal door, somehow certain that it would lead to him despite his screams echoing from every direction.


However, her legs caught fire on the fifth step, burning so hotly that they soon disappeared as ash on the wind. And then she was falling, her burnt arms flailing as she reached for the screams that were her husband.


Rogan had been watching his captive ever since he had laid her down on the bed two hours ago and so was acutely aware of the precise moment when she regained consciousness. Her breathing halted with a sharp intake as she woke from whatever nightmare had tortured her beautiful features mere moments before.


He had struggled with the decision to not wake her. She had looked so broken and alone...but the more mentally unbalanced she was, the easier it would be to interrogate her.


And so he had left her within the prison of her own mind.


He watched as her face knotted together, then slowly relaxed once she finally managed to push the dream aside. With her features calm like that, Rogan had trouble believing she was the same monster in the photos that he had been given during his briefing. That woman was completely indifferent to the pain and havoc she had helped wreck during the attack on Xi’aghn. She didn’t care about the multitude of families she had ripped apart with the murdering of one member or another. She felt no sorrow nor guilt. Her soul was simply void of anything other than an insatiable greed for power.


Whereas the woman before him didn’t look as if she could harm a fly without hurting for it.


Then again, even a dragon looked approachable as it slept.


Rogan kept his eyes trained on his captive, wary of the smallest of threatening movements. For though he was fairly powerful even when graded amongst his own kind, she was a descendant, a child of the gods. So even though she was magically and physically tied, as well as exhausted, Rogan still wasn’t taking any chances. After his shameful actions on the riverbed, he was determined that nothing she could do would throw him off guard.


Except that.


He had definitely not expected one as powerful as she to be consumed in fear. A bit of annoyance at being bound to a bed not her own? Sure. But stark terror?


She must be faking it. Again. It was the only logical conclusion.


But then she finally spotted him watching her from the single chair across the room. The terror in her bright auburn eyes somehow tripled and she began thrashing about wildly, making him frown with the smallest seeds of doubt. Her screams and tears started tugging at his heart, but he quickly severed that rope with a inward scowl.


Certain that she had to think him a fool, he coolly turned his attention to her pet guardian and simply waited for her to tire herself out as he had already activated his magical containment device that stopped all sound from leaving the confinements of a room. The dog was stretched out on the floor in front of the window with his eyes closed and his head resting on his front paws. Rogan didn’t expect for a second, however, that he was actually sleeping. Though he might as well be given how useless he’d become as soon as he’d led Rogan away from his team. Just like a god to issue an impractical order and then disappear as soon as actual legwork had to be done to make it happen.


Rogan didn’t even know where he was supposed to take the woman other than not back to his comrades. As soon as he had understood that clue, the dog had promptly ignored him.


He wondered if that would change the moment he began interrogating his captive, but given that he hadn’t even twitched an ear at her sudden cries, he figured he was safe enough to at least test the theory.


Enough.”


He watched in grim satisfaction as her thrashing turned into trembles and her screams into chocked down sobs. Her eyes squeezed tight and his chest followed suit, as if they were already connected on some elemental level.


Which was ridiculous he assured himself. For one, they were on opposite sides of order. He had sworn to protect all that needed it, while she was hell-bent on ripping the Planes apart. He had the cold hard evidence to prove it. For another, he – well that first reason was the only one needed anyway. He would not be moved by her pain.


Oh Hades’ fire,” he cursed under his breath as he unfolded his powerful frame out of the chair.


Open your eyes lass and look at me.” His voice was purposefully soothing this time as he stopped at the foot of her bed. When she only continued to shake he lied, “I promise not to hurt ye, love. So open your eyes and look at me. Please.”


He watched as her thoughts flit across her face uncontrollably and knew she would comply. With a deep breath, she fluttered open first one eye and then another and sucked him into the prettiest auburn gaze he had ever seen.


As Emma truly looked at the man before her for the first time, she felt her terror slowly fade into fear. Then wariness. Then finally into a state of odd confusion mixed with curiosity. As his soft blue eyes held her captive, she felt the first inklings of hope concerning her survival.


But then he blinked and when his lashes lifted, a cold sea had replaced the summer’s lake of his gaze.


Emma swallowed, fearful once more.


We know you’re helping Sebastian and tha’ ye were behind the attack on Xi’aghn. We know your real purpose there wasn’t to raid the armory – tha’ was a mere added bonus. Nay, ye wanted Artifact ZX796 – a weapon of mass destruction tha’ only a handful of people even knew existed. I want to know how Sebastian found out about it, what his plans for it are, and where we can find every member of his ragtag group.”


To say Emma was shocked at the Scottish man’s accusations would be the biggest understatement of her life. She was a waitress, ex-waitress, at Oriental Dragon for crying out loud! The most illegal thing she’d ever done was not charge a returning customer for fountain drinks. She made sure all of her bills were paid on time, volunteered at the animal shelter twice a week, and tutored underprivileged kids in three different subjects. And now – now she had been shot at, almost drowned, and kidnapped all because some idiots had mistaken her for some crazy lunatic bent on setting off a WMD! Had this not been her own life falling apart, she’d die in a fit of laughter over the insanity of it all.


You- you can’t be- you don’t actually- this isn’t serious?”


If she thought ice couldn’t get any colder she was wrong. His gaze had hardened considerably until she thought even the fires of Hell wouldn’t be able to warm it.


Oh, I’m serious lass. You will tell me all I wan’ to know.”


The unspoken ‘or else’ hung in the air with such honest ferocity that Emma wished he had just gone out and said it. Then he would sound so cliché and she could dismiss the phrase as wannabe tough talk instead of a real threat with real repercussions that made her stomach clench and her lungs stop in a world of overwhelming fear.


I- um- I-” Her attempts to explain only made sense in the internal workings of her mind. Knowing the man towering over her was truly dangerous, however, had her fighting desperately to express herself clearly.


I-”


Her eyes glazed over, then misted with unshed panic as her childhood stammer came back with the same vengeance it always did whenever she was overly emotional.


I-”


Her lungs were collapsing and any chance of being coherent was dying right along with them. Though as she stared into the hard, unmoving gaze of her abductor she doubted anything that she could have said would be believed anyway. Maybe it would be better to just stay silent.


I’m no’ a patient man, lass; you’d do well no’ to test me on this.”


Shivers started to rake her body as the sobs that had receded to her throat gained the courage to surface once more. She anguished over the unfairness of it all, the insanity of it all, and the hopelessness of it too. She was going to be tortured for information she could never give all because of a damn case of mistaken identity. Why couldn’t she have just left her credit card somewhere and suffered from afar?


A sudden pressure on the bed had her struggling to dry her tears so she could see what was happening and make an attempt – however pathetic – to stop it. She made to wipe the tears away, but with both wrists still chained to the headboard her endeavor would only be successful if she made do with her biceps.


A furry head nudged her side, overcoming her with a wave of relief. Her puffy eyes locked with his gentle ones and she found her breath eventually drop into a normal rhythm. After a few calming exhales she turned her attention back to her capturer and swallowed.


Emma winced at the raw soreness of her throat, but her determination to save herself was now unfaltering. She wouldn’t be one of those fairytale damsels in distress that sat around waiting to be saved by a knight she never met so he could rope her into a lifetime of gratuitous servitude. She would be strong. She would explain his mistake. And then she would leave.


You’ve-” She hesitated as she worked out the best way to handle it. No doubt he wouldn’t like being blamed for making a mistake even if was true. He was a man after all and all of her experience with the lot had taught her that they had an annoying and often enraging sense of pride. Better to put the blame elsewhere – even if that meant unfairly upon herself.


I mean, I-I think there’s been some sort of mistake. Did you see me at...um...Zi Uhn...yourself?”


Nay, but we have photographic evidence of your presence there.”


His words were void of all feeling, but his anger of being questioned was unmistakable. This was a man who took clear pride in his work; she needed to tread carefully if she was to convince him to let her go instead of say, killing her to hide his mistake.


Sometimes she really hated her active imagination. Surely he wouldn’t kill her for that. Would he?


Not wanting to dwell on it unbiased, she cleared her throat and tried again.


May I see this evidence. Do you have it here?”


It is pointless, lass. It is ye in the photos; even a blind man could see tha’.”


Please.” She tried to keep the returning terror of hopelessness from breaking up the word, but wasn’t sure if she succeeded. “I’ll tell you everything if you just let me see them.”


A flash of wary confusion cut through the double glaciers of his eyes, but it was gone quicker than she could spot it.


Very well. I will show ye, but then the games end, aye.”


Captivated by his slow approach to her bedside, Emma could only nod.


He seemed to stalk toward her like a big-game hunter who knew the rules of the game could change at any second. It was such an odd level of caution that she almost laughed before remembering that he thought her to be extremely dangerous. Though to what extent she didn’t know. Could this woman he was after escape from such a helpless situation as hers? Fight a man of his strength and ferocity and actually come out the winner? It didn’t seem feasible.


But as his hands reached for her head, she had a fleeting wish that she was such a talented woman. Instead, however, she was completely at his mercy.


In an attempt to control the rise of her constant fear of the past few hours, Emma closed her eyes, missing the fact that her mysterious kidnapper did the same.


His hands were on her then, cradling her head as his thumbs rested over both of her temples. She was about to repeat her desire to see the photos when a blinding series of images ripped through her brain.


Bodies, men and women both unarmed, lying on a cold concrete floor. Their eyes staring up at her with an overwhelming blankness. Blood splattered the walls around them, having been flung from their victims when they had been cut down like wheat at harvest time.


A woman crouched in the distance with long dark hair and auburn eyes that looked as different as she did familiar. No longer were her features smiling with youth and bold innocence, but rather drawn grim with cold dedication in destroying everything around her. No longer was her skin flawless and her body sculptured by curves. Ugly bruises marred every other inch of exposed flesh and her once radiant skin hung from nothing but a bag of bones. However, even with all of the heart-breaking changes, Emma couldn’t not recognize her twin, baby sister.


The image was so real, she opened her mouth automatically to call out in aid, but Elizabeth’s name was overrun by a gasp as more retched images burned their way into her brain.


Her sister now facing off in the distance, though still recognizable as her hands lifted in the air with an unspoken order of command. A feeling of horror settled deep in her stomach at the realization of what was happening.


Her twin standing over a fallen warrior with his accusing eyes proving her guilt beyond a doubt. Eyes that Emma never saw but could decipher all the same.


Elizabeth running down a narrow pathway, hand hugging her right side as blood seeped through her fingers. An unseen man chased her and then Emma’s brain was awash with confusion and anger at the sight of a solid dead-end that shouldn’t be there.


There’s your proof, lass. Now tell me the answers I wish to know.”

His deep voice acted like an anchor, pulling Emma free of the chaos that had flooded her mind. She took shaky breaths as she fought for composure, but they did little to quell her internal screams of frustration and denial.


There was a reason for all this; a drug she had been given to make her see all of those horrid lies. But even as she ordered herself to believe it, she somehow knew it wasn’t true. The images had been too real – as if they had been taken from someone else’s memories with all five senses and emotions attached.


That had been her sister, her little, lovable sister, responsible for all of those deaths.


No, there was another explanation for this. Liz would never do something as heartless as what this man claimed. She had a temper, sure, but who wouldn’t when they had a childhood like theirs? Her twin was not a murderer and she most definitely wasn’t in possession of a deadly weapon with the intent to actually use it.


She was in Europe for goodness sake, enjoying beaches and the sun and the Colosseum and guys and baguettes and castles and all that other cliché tourist stuff.


But even as she reminded herself of all this, Emma had an undeniable sense of fear for her sister’s safety. She was supposed to look out for her; she had promised and Emma Sterling never gave her word lightly.


Okay, I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”


As the damning words left her mouth, Emma wasn’t sure which one of them was surprised more. She just hoped he wouldn’t realize her innocence until he had led her to her sister.


CHAPTER FIVE


Rogan knew his mask of indifference had broken in the way of genuine surprise, but he was too shocked to control it. He had expected days of interrogation before she gave him anything. Sebastian demanded loyalty above all else to the point of suicide. If the bottom rung of his soldiers would choose death over his wrath, then why was it that his right-hand man – or woman in this case – would want to give everything up without a fight?


Sure she had skillfully used her womanly skills to tug at his heartstrings – a feat he was both annoyed at and secretly impressed with given no woman had ever managed before (though not for lack of trying) – but Rogan couldn’t help but feel her performance was lacking in malice. It was almost as if she had never been interrogated before.


But that couldn’t possibly be true for all of Sebastian’s troops went under a rigorous torture session as part of their initiation. He knew this because many an allied agent had been lost when trying to infiltrate Sebastian’s cells. And those that had made it through were lost all the same.


Rogan knew of only one ally still in the enemy’s camp. All others had been pulled out for their own safety years ago when the inside practices had reached new levels of insanity. So as far as he could tell, the one that remained was certifiably insane even though he was so cautious about his identity that no one even knew his name – or gender, at least not with one hundred percent certainty. All anyone knew was that every so often his side would be given an anonymous tip that always panned out – like the one concerning the upcoming attack on Xi’aghn.


An attack that this woman was definitely at. And he had the hard evidence to prove it.


Memorphoric photos could only be tainted if the person with them was hypnotized or otherwise brainwashed into believing that what they were recalling was real. However, Cariad was a seasoned warrior and the chance of his memories being false was minuscule.


The only one that might not have been real was the image of her standing over the fallen Kha’le’Nor. The man had had a sharp mind despite being centuries of years old, but one could not dismiss the fact that at the time of this particular memory he was dying and that by the time Cariad managed to access his memorphoric photos, the man was seconds away from knocking on Hel’s door.


Though even without that particular memory as evidence, the case against the woman before him was damning. Her only defense, if she even lived long enough to make it to the Royal Courts, was to claim that the person starring in the photos was in fact a shape-shifter out to ruin her good name for whatever reason her lawyers could come up with. However, shifters, for all of their similar appearances, could never form an exact copy of the original. For starters, they couldn’t mimic abilities they didn’t have, making such defense claims easy to rip apart by even the greenest of contesters.


Not to mention, the woman was a descendant. Their abilities might differ from one child to the next as each would inherit powers of similarity to their parents, but they were always of a special difference and strength to other beings. True, some powers could be faked with optical illusions, but the spell the woman had enacted in Xi’aghn had been no illusion.

Rogan was certain that the woman in the photos had been the real deal, not a shape-shifting phony.


Resolved in his conclusion that his captive must be guilty, the elementalist hardened his face and heart as he propelled the interrogation forward.


Where is Sebastian now?”


Europe.”


Aye, because tha’s such a small place to search.”


She seemed to grimace at his sarcasm, but he was too seasoned to not realize it was just a stall as she struggled to come up with an answer he would accept. So the little dragon was loyal after all. The only question now was what was her end game?


England. Manchester, England.”


His eyes narrowed as she began talking with conviction.

He’s been there for a few days. I was going to head there to meet him tomorrow morning actually, but- ” She shrugged as if to say, ‘here I am instead.’


How long is a few days?”


What?”


How long has he been in Manchester, England?”


Oh, three. He’s been there three days.”


Where a’ precisely? It’s a big city and I won’ be liking running around withou’ a destination in mind.”


Um- well- uh-” It was like a solid punch to his stomach when her eyes lit up in a moment of Eureka. “He moves around every few days out of paranoia, you know, so I’m not sure of exactly where, but he was to pick me up from the airport. So if we go there together-” she faltered as she realized his hard change in demeanor.


So is tha’ your plan, lass? Lure me over there so you can reunite with your lover while bringing him the gif’ of an Elv’ve’Nor? Tell me true, did ye really think I’d fall for something as simple tha’?”


L-lover? Seb and- I mean you think Seb and I are lovers?”


You deny it then?”


A feeling of unease snaked its way through Rogan’s desire to paint her as guilty. He had known something wasn’t right the first moment he had spotted her fleeing like a bat out of hell from the WALL despite her having the ability to kill them all with the lazy flick of a wrist. He had ignored her frantic underwater attempt to fight off her seatbelt, not daring to ask himself why a woman of her caliber would have such a mundane obstacle in the first place. He had written off her fainting at the sight of his supernatural abilities as coincidence for plain exhaustion and her mediocre claims of ‘you have the wrong person’ as a manipulative ploy to make him actually believe her. But now – now as she focused on the idea of her and Sebastian as lovers with what could only be described as nothing short than alarmed surprise, Rogan was growing more uneasy by the second.


Well- I- uh- no, no of course not. Yep, lovers. Sebastian and I are definitely um, lovers. Of the most passionate variety too.”


Had the entire Planes of Existence not been at stake, Rogan would’ve smiled at her obvious struggle to stop from smacking herself on the forehead. As it was her hands twitched nervously above her until she settled on digging her fingernails deep into her palms.


Before he realized what he was doing, Rogan was already leaning half-way across her with the sole purpose of relaxing her hands so that she wouldn’t mar her delectable skin. He froze with an inward scowl at his sudden crazy desire to comfort her. Then he looked down into her seductive eyes and the scowl came out full force.


Stop it,” he growled. “Ye will release me this instant.”


Her eyes widened in surprise as she gasped as his awareness of her spell, no doubt having never met anyone who could deny it so easily. His magnetic pull to her didn’t go away completely, but it lessoned enough that he was willing to ignore her brazen refusal of his command and focus on the more important matters at hand. For now.


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