PAYBACKS ARE A BITCH.
And Hannah Wentworth would see to it that Ceithlenn, a dark goddess from Underworld, paid. Big time.
Banshee, Hannah's falcon familiar, made a soft cry and gripped her shirt tighter in his talons, reminding her of where she was and why she had come to this secluded pond deep in the forest of Otherworld.
Those . . . feelings she'd been having.
Ever since she'd been forced to leave San Francisco, Hannah's instincts had told her things were about to get worse. Impossibly more dangerous.
Whatever was coming, Hannah wasn't about to face it blind or unaware. She would find out what she could, or die trying.
Hannah knelt on the damp grass beside the pond and dropped the pack she held. She dug through the leather bag until she found her crying mirror then drew it out and settled it on the grass in front of her.
Smells of moss and rich wet earth mingled with the scents of evergreens and wildflowers as she focused on the mirror. A breeze ruffled Banshee’s feathers, and stirred her dark hair and the shock of blond that swept down one side of her face. A night bird began its evening song, and Hannah thought she heard Fae voices joining in.
Her grandmother had given her the crying instrument after Hannah left her socialite mother to live with her father. The strength of Hannah's innate talent for alomancy, using the mirror and sea salt crystals to scary, had astonished the high priestess of her D'Anu Coven. Hannah's power over this form of divination as well as her connection to the Dragon Elementals grew greater as time passed.
The ornate ebony wood frame was fashioned of two Dragons, each biting the tail of the other so that it was a never- ending circle. Hannah rubbed her thumb over one of the intricate carvings. Ebony was the most powerful magical wood and was associated with all of the Elements-Earth, Air, Fire, and Water-and aided her in her communication with the Dragons.
They were her totem and always had been. Even her falcon familiar was the living embodiment of Dragons in her world.
Hannah tried not to grind her teeth at the thought that she and her Coven sisters had been forced to flee their homes in San Francisco for Otherworld, just days ago.
No time for that now. Deep breath. We are going to figure out how to toast that goddess- bitch.
She gripped the soft grass in her fingers as she looked over the mirror. Only Hannah could "see" in the black glass within the ebony frame when she screed.
Hannah pulled a vial of salt crystals from her pack and tugged out the cork, which she then set aside. She leaned forward so that she looked directly over the mirror, her hair swinging forward at the sides of her face. The mirror didn’t show her or Banshee’s reflections.
She concentrated with everything she had, pushing out all other thoughts to still her mind and prepare herself for the vision to come. Silently, she asked for the aid of the Dragon Elementals and the great Druid Ancestors, and she called on Banshee’s powers to strengthen her own.
The falcon's magic joined hers as it .owed through her body.
Her heart rate picked up as it always did before she screed something monumental. The world closed in on her until all that remained was her, Banshee, and the mirror. The forest's sounds and smells vanished and it was as if she floated outside her body.
Time slowed. She tilted the vial and studied the patterns of the salt crystals in the air as they spilled out of the vial and onto the mirror. The vial slipped from her fingers, dropped onto the grass, and rolled away as she braced her hands to either side of the mirror and analyzed those patterns, too.
The thrumming of her heart grew even more rapid until it felt as if her entire body throbbed.
Images appeared in the mirror and she tumbled, tumbled into the vision, all five senses, body and mind and soul, as if the events she visioned were truly happening.
As if she were truly there.
Her heart nearly stopped beating.
Rain pounded down so hard it soaked her to her skin, chilling her, and she had difficulty seeing. But through the downpour she made out humans fleeing from a San Francisco tourist pier. Their terror flooded Hannah so deeply she felt it in her bones. Blood and death and the acrid odor of fear mixed with the rotten- fish stench.
Magic sparked at her fingertips as she caught sight of malformed shapes attacking humans. A scream rose in her throat.
But then something enormous appeared, coming closer. A blast of .re bellowed from it as it spread its wings.
The Fire Dragon. An Elemental.
No! Not possible.
Inside her vision, Hannah heard herself screaming, begging the Dragon to stop.
And then it turned its .re on her. Heat slammed into her and she screamed again.
Hannah jerked out of the vision and with a gasp she almost fell backward. It took her a moment to realize she was in the present again. Her clothes were dry. She no longer felt as if she were burning from the blast of flames that had engulfed her in the vision.
The images whirled in her mind.
No sense. They make no sense.
She wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head. Her eyes were moist as if she had felt an emotion deep enough that a tear had wet each eye.
She never cried. Ever. Not since she was a child and had had to live through all of her mother’s choices. She had no tears, wanted no tears. Nothing could make her cry.
Hannah lowered her eyelashes as she looked at the mirror again. It was cold, no vision remaining. But the pattern of the salt crystals remained the same. Whatever change was
coming, it involved her totems.
Especially the Fire Dragon.
Banshee gripped her shoulder tighter and she winced as his talons went through her shirt and bit into her flesh. Her familiar gave a cry, more than likely sensing her fear and confusion. "I’m fine, Banshee." Hannah raised her hand to his beak and he nuzzled his head against her fingers.
She eased into full reality and after a few moments realized that it was nearly dark. How long had she been in the vision? It had seemed like only minutes, but the remnants of sunlight had vanished, leaving only a veil of murky twilight.
Blessed Anu, her heart wouldn't stop pounding and her mind wouldn't stop whirling. Hannah bit the inside of her cheek and stuffed her things into her bag after dribbling the salt crystals from the mirror back into their vial.
Hair prickled at the nape of Hannah's neck.
She went still.
Someone or something was watching her.
Hannah dropped her pack to free her hands so that she could use her magic if she needed to.
She twisted to the right, her hands ready. And caught her breath.
Through the gloom Hannah saw a tall, powerful- looking man. The sudden urges rushing through her body made her breath catch. His broad chest was bare save for straps that crisscrossed his flesh. Gems on the straps glittered in the waning light.
Images flashed through her mind of rubbing her palms over the man's carved biceps, down his .at stomach . . .
She blinked and swallowed, but couldn't take her eyes away from him. Long hair dusted his shoulders, and she wondered how it would feel to run her fingers through the strands that caught the last of the sunlight enough to glimmer slightly. What color was his hair? Dark? Light?
Desire made her shiver as she let her gaze travel lower to where his snug black pants molded to his muscular thighs, trim hips, and-
She swallowed again.
Dear goddess, what had come over her? She couldn't stop looking at him. She felt no fear-more of a recognition. Like she knew this man. As her gaze moved back up from where his pants were tucked into his boots, she took in the sheathed sword resting on one side of his hips. The sword hilt's gems sparkled like those on his chest straps.
Hannah's gaze met the man's as she finally looked from his body to his face. He had an aristocratic tilt to his head as he stood with his arms crossed over his chest. And studied her.
His gaze was unwavering and her body heated as she realized he had been looking her over as much as she'd been checking him out. Her body was responding to a man she'd never met.
The moon and crescent engraved band on her upper right
arm tingled and grew warm against her skin.
Hannah raised her chin and narrowed her eyes as her thoughts came back into focus and she tightenened her grip on reality. Who did this man think he was, watching her like
this? Was he one of the D’Danann?
Somehow she didn’t think so.
She opened her mouth to demand that he tell her who he was and inform him that he had no business watching her. But he turned and melted away into the darkness.
THE FOLLOWING MORNING, HANNAH stood in an open area of the woods, her face tilted up as she studied the unfamiliar crystal- blue sky. She frowned as she lowered her head and looked into the forest. The two D'Danann warriors and Rhiannon were late joining her so they could make the journey to the Drow realm.
Goddess bless it, she hated to be kept waiting.
Hannah whistled and held out her arm. Banshee answered with a screech and sailed in a wide circle over the forest before he landed with delicate precision on her outstretched forearm. The crow- sized falcon knew how to rest his talons on her bare skin without hurting her. Although sometimes he would grip tightly enough to get his point across when he felt Hannah needed an attitude adjustment.
Banshee had something in his hooked beak and dropped it at her feet.
Hannah glanced down. "Ugh." A dead mouse. "You know I'm not crazy about your version of presents."
As he responded, Banshee raised his wings and kept his cry to a decibel that wouldn't hurt her ear drums.
Hannah stroked the black feathers on his head and cheeks that made him look like he was wearing a helmet. "I think you do it just to gross me out."
If birds could have an amused twinkle in their eye, Banshee did.
Like all peregrines, he was striking in appearance. He had slate- blue upper parts with bluish speckled bars across his white chest and on his undersides from wing tip to wing tip.
Banshee worked his way up her bare arm to her shoulder. Hannah brushed back the natural shock of blond that swept over her brows and curved along one side of her face. The thick streak was a stark contrast to the rest of her dark hair. It hung in a straight but sophisticated cut, styled by the best- at Joseph Cappucci's Salon and Spa near Union Square in San Francisco.
San Francisco. Her home. Hannah clenched her jaw as Banshee reached her shoulder. Thanks to that goddess- bitch, it was likely that Hannah and the other D'Anu witches wouldn't be returning to their former lives anytime in the near future.
Returning to their former lives . . . as if that would ever be possible. Nothing could be the same after what Ceithlenn had done.
Still, Hannah closed her eyes and pictured herself on Market Street during rush hour. She missed it all. Every bit of it. Bumping into other people as she walked through the crowds. Stopping by her favorite bakery for an éclair. Having a Frappuccino at Starbucks. What she wouldn't give for a Venti double caramel with an extra shot of espresso right about now.
With a sigh she shook her head, opened her eyes, and looked in the direction of the D'Danann village. Definitely no Starbucks in Otherworld.
After Banshee ruffled his feathers and settled himself, Hannah hitched up the small leather pack higher on her opposite shoulder and waited for her companions, one of whom was another gray magic witch, Rhiannon.
Hannah's Coven practiced gray magic, unlike all other D'Anu Covens that believed only in white magic. For some of Hannah's Coven sisters, maintaining the fine balance between gray and black was a fierce struggle. Hannah was certain that none of her sister witches would cross the line.
But sometimes . . . Hannah worried about Rhiannon and Mackenzie. The way the witches fought with their magic was maybe too intense. Too close to the dark.
Hannah shook her head. "Mackenzie and Rhiannon are fine."
Once Hannah had become a gray magic witch, she'd had no problems, no guilt, in using a power that could save lives.
With her strength of will and her utter confidence in herself, she knew she would never cross the line to black magic.
Faint voices caught Hannah's attention. It was time to head to the transference stone and make their way to the realm of the Dark Elves, the Drow.
In the distance, Hannah could make out Rhiannon and her husband-a Tuatha D'Danann warrior named Keir-as they walked through the forest toward her.
Eavan, also a D'Danann warrior, accompanied them. The infuriating man wouldn't stop chasing her. Although he was charming, sexy, and exceptionally good- looking, she didn't plan on having anything to do with him, much less any male in Otherworld.
This wasn't her home. Unlike four of her Coven sisters, she refused to get entangled in some romantic mess that would pull her between two worlds. She'd seen enough of that thanks to her mother. And thanks to her mother's choices.
Her chest constricted at the thought of her less than loving childhood. Deep breath. Calm and controlled. She never lost her cool in front of other people and she wasn't about to now.
As her companions neared, Hannah rubbed the moon and crescent engraved band that encircled her upper right arm. The gold band was a symbol of her Pagan ancestry, and through a special ceremony it had been imbued with ancient magic. She'd had it designed as a gift to herself when she'd guided her software corporation past the twenty- five- million- dollar mark.
Her company . . . Hannah's whole body went rigid and she clenched her teeth. What was happening now to the company she'd built from the bottom up?
She let her hand fall away from her armband. The moon and crescent were for intuition and fulfillment, success and optimism.
Right now she was a little low on optimism and could use all the help she could get. Not to mention the reminder of what it felt like to be in control of her life. Of any damned thing.
Banshee gripped her shoulder tighter with his talons, bringing her firmly back to the present. She straightened her spine as Rhiannon, Eavan, and Keir finally reached her.
The tension radiating from Rhiannon when she approached kicked up Hannah’s own. She and Rhiannon had never found common ground, and frankly, had never liked each other. But they were sister D’Anu witches, and Hannah respected Rhiannon for her magic, her talents, her dedication, and her love for her sister witches.
"Are you ready?" Rhiannon asked Hannah, managing to keep her tone civil. Morning sunlight gleamed on Rhiannon's chin- length auburn hair and her green eyes held a hint of irritation. She wore a leather outfit like that of the D'Danann warriors.
When Hannah and her sister witches escaped from San Francisco a week ago, they hadn't been able to pack much, which had limited their wardrobes considerably. The choice had been peasant dresses like the women in the village, or the leathers of the male and female D'Danann warriors.
Leather won out with all the D'Anu witches.
It'd be a real pain fighting in a long skirt.
"I've been waiting for you for a good half hour." Hannah resisted tugging down her own leather shirt. So much for her Vera Wang tailored slacks and Dior blouses. Her Jimmy Choos and Pradas were back in San Francisco, but at least she had her Arche running shoes and didn't have to wear D'Danann boots.
Rhiannon brushed her palms against her pants, her expression turning from irritated to anxious. The demon scars on one of her cheeks stood out a little more as her face paled. Rhiannon was no doubt nervous because the four of them were about to come face- to- face with Rhiannon's newly discovered father, the king of the Drow.
Hannah wondered how she'd feel if she found out her father was one of the Dark Elves-and a traitor. A determined look came into Rhiannon's eyes. "Let's do it then." The four strode through the thick forest. Only the light weight of Banshee on her shoulder, and the slight bump of her pack against her hip as she walked, kept Hannah’s thoughts grounded.
"A waste of time." Keir's expression was thunderous, which was not unusual for the six- foot- six warrior. "I find it unlikely the stubborn bastard will agree to join our battle." Rhiannon frowned as she looked up at her husband and she sounded edgy and unsure as she spoke. "Even though he said no before, maybe this time Garran-my father-will agree."
Hannah held back her own opinions. It wouldn't do any good to rail again about not trusting the Dark Elves. Two of their sister witches insisted they could and should give the traitorous bastards a chance. Hannah considered the fact that the Drow had sided with the warlock Darkwolf at one time. No, thank you. It didn't matter that they'd had a change of heart later on.
But the D'Anu witches, Tuatha D'Danann warriors of Otherworld, and the Paranormal Special Forces of San Francisco desperately needed the help of the Dark Elves against Ceithlenn and the Fomorii.
If only they could convince the Drow king to commit his forces to battle.
This time they would.
This time they had to.
The moment the trees parted to reveal a meadow and the transference stone, Hannah's gaze riveted on a woman who stood on the opposite side of the stone. Hannah couldn't help but catch her breath in surprise and something like wonder.
Stunning. The woman was absolutely stunning. No high fashion model could begin to compare.
It was impossible to look away from her. She . . . glowed. Or was it the air around her that did? Such blue, blue eyes. Long, flaxen hair hung in a waterfall of silk to her toes, and she had delicate pointed ears. Her filmy clothing ruffled in the soft wind like the leaves of nearby trees.
The woman stood in her bare feet beside a bridge that spanned a small stream. Water made a tinkling sound as it trickled over stones. The scent of wildflowers and rain-
cleansed air swept through the meadow.
Hannah cocked her head. This must be the Great Guardian her sister witches had spoken of countless times. An Elvin woman of indeterminable age, who was reputed to be wise, intuitive, and prophetic.
Strange warmth flowed through Hannah as she stepped closer to her companions. Vaguely she was aware of Keir and Eavan laying their weapons on the ground before the Guardian.
"Rise," the Great Guardian said in a voice that was like a song to Hannah's ears.
It was then she realized all of her companions had bowed. Rippling warmth spread along Hannah's skin. With her upbringing, she had been taught to never bow to anyone but a queen or king of a foreign country. This Elvin woman was far more powerful than any royalty Hannah had met, and a part of her wished she had bowed with her companions. The Great Guardian smiled, her gaze lingering on Hannah.
Some strange force drew Hannah toward the woman and Hannah didn't resist. She walked closer to the Guardian until they were only a few feet apart. Banshee stirred on Hannah's shoulder, but didn't react with alarm.
"Much troubles your soul, reluctant traveler," the Elvin woman said, her words directed to Hannah. "Tell me what burdens you.
" Hannah held back the sudden diatribe that rose up in her throat. What burdens me? Let's see . . . my Top Ten, or the whole freaking list?
"Speak freely." The Guardian's gaze firmly held Hannah's and a pulling sensation tugged against her mind.
There was simply no choice but to answer. Words spilled out so fast Hannah almost couldn't believe she was saying them.
"To start with, who wouldn't be upset if their world was falling apart, overrun by a goddess- bitch and a slew of demons?" Hannah’s voice held a bite that she hadn’t intended, but she went on. "We’ve lost our homes and had to flee to Otherworld. But more importantly, thousands, thousands are dead because of Ceithlenn. Not to mention that we can’t get any Anu- blessed help from the armies here, except a few D’Danann."
Hannah's control had nearly shattered, which shocked her like a jolt to her chest and caused her to step back. Banshee sent a warm wave of his magic through Hannah and she sensed his attempt to calm her. Still, she felt anything but.
The Guardian's expression remained serene. Despite her respect for the Elvin woman, Hannah fought not to ball her fists at her sides from the frustration, anger, and fear boiling up inside of her. It was all she could do to keep her own expression as collected and controlled as possible.
"You have much to be angry about." The Guardian's blue gaze continued to hold Hannah's. "You seek the Drow once again for aid. Perhaps you will find some solace for your rage in those dark places below our ground.
" That's supposed to make me feel better?
Hannah's belly clenched. More words bubbled up inside her, angry words, but the Guardian had already turned to Rhiannon.
"Your father represents his people, and he must have a reason to lead them into battle. It is true the Drow lean toward what benefits them. It is their way, one we must respect." "Respect?" Rhiannon's cheeks flushed. "How can I respect a race that isn't willing to help others for the sake of the common good, rather than for their own gain?" She propped her hands on her hips. "Even if I am part Drow, I can't accept that."
"You must." The Guardian looked from Rhiannon to Hannah. "Tell King Garran it has been decided that, providing the Drow help in the battle against Ceithlenn, he will get what he most desires for his people. Conditionally. And he must come to me alone to receive my gift."
Following a brief moment of shock that the Light Elves would help the Drow, a twinge of hope sparked in Hannah's belly. "We'll tell him."
"Thank you, Guardian." Rhiannon gave an audible sigh of relief. "Anything that can help us defeat Ceithlenn is a good thing."
"Anything?" The Great Guardian's gaze moved from Rhiannon to Keir to Eavan and finally landed on Hannah.
"Think well on choices you may be forced to make."
As she continued to study Hannah, the Guardian added, "You will know what you must do in the far reaches of the ground, Hannah."
Hannah blinked. Confusion tumbled through her like a landslide.
Before any of them could respond, the Guardian turned, stepped onto the bridge, and faded from sight.
For a moment, Hannah and her companions remained quiet. Only the sounds of wind whistling through branches and birds singing interrupted the silence. The breeze ruffled flower petals and dandelion fluff floated in the air.
"Why does she do that?" Rhiannon grumbled and marched to the transference stone. "I hate it when she speaks in riddles."
Light laughter tinkled through the surrounding forest but was gone almost as soon as Hannah heard it.
Rhiannon apparently wasn't wasting any time. She stepped onto the stone, Keir following as he held her hand. Rhiannon looked from Hannah to Eavan and said, "Hold tight." Hannah watched as Rhiannon's and Keir's forms wavered like sunshine on the surface of a pond, and then they were gone.
Eavan looked down at Hannah and seemed confused. "Hold tight?" Hannah raised her fingers to Banshee's beak and he nuzzled his head against them. "It means to wait for her and she'll be right back."
"Ah." The warrior's eyes were deep brown, an arresting contrast to his white- blond hair. "Then we have a moment to ourselves," he said in the deep Irish brogue of the ’Danann.
"A moment for you to tell me why you avoid me so?"
I don’t have time or mental space for this right now.
Hannah met his gaze as she lowered her hand. "I made it a policy not to date anyone who flies."
He raised an eyebrow. D'Danann were powerful Fae warriors who had the ability to unfold their great wings when they wished to, and then to tuck them away so that they vanished as if they didn't exist.
She mentally shook her head at the thought of any of her acquaintances in the city getting a good look at a man with wings. She almost smiled. Wouldn't that set them on their asses?
Eavan opened his mouth as if to say something when Rhiannon's form wavered on the transference stone.
"Time for you to head back to the village," Hannah said to Banshee. "It's not natural for you to go underground."
She had the strangest sense that she wouldn't be seeing him for a while. An empty feeling settled in her belly. Banshee had become a part of her when she was thirteen, when he had appeared out of the night sky just before she'd performed a moon ceremony alone. When he'd landed on her chest of ritual tools, she'd known instantly he was a witch's familiar. He had filled her with the strength of his magic, imbuing her with warmth and power and heightening her senses.
Sometimes she wondered what witch had belonged to Banshee, and he to her. Somewhere in the world that witch had likely passed on to Summerland. What had brought Banshee to Hannah, she didn't know, but she'd thanked the goddess Anu many times that he had come.
The falcon made a low sound and tugged at her hair with his beak, and she knew it was to reassure her. She held out her arm and he sidestepped until he was far enough away from her face to spread his wings. He pushed away from her arm as he took flight and Hannah watched him for a moment as he circled above her before vanishing beyond the forest. She swallowed back a feeling of loneliness that crowded her throat.
Hannah secured her pack on her shoulder, turned back to the transference stone, and headed onto it so that she stood beside Rhiannon. The strength of the tension between the two of them collided and Rhiannon took a step aside and cleared her throat. She always made it clear that she hated for most people to invade her personal space.
Hannah knew she was pushing buttons whenever she got too close to Rhiannon. Right now they didn't have time for her phobia, or whatever it was.
"You're just going to have to let me inside that little box of yours," Hannah said, "if we're going to get there anytime soon."
"What ever." Rhiannon's eyes sparked before she looked at Eavan. "Come on, I can take both of you." With an expression of distaste directed toward Hannah, Rhiannon held out one of her hands to Hannah, and her other to Eavan. Currents of discomfort ran through Hannah's arm as she clasped Rhiannon's cool hand. Hannah wondered if the dark Shadows inside of Rhiannon were reacting to her in some way, since Rhiannon didn't really want to be touching her.
After seeing in the last battle what the power of those Shadows could do, Hannah felt more than a stirring of unease, like something crawling, under her skin. What if Rhiannon lost control over the Shadows she had inherited from her Drow father?
Maybe going on the transference stone with Rhiannon was a bad idea.
Maybe it was a terrible idea.
"Here we go." Rhiannon clenched Hannah's hand.
The world went hazy then black. Hannah couldn't hear, couldn't see, and her skin numbed.
For a flash, Hannah couldn't feel Rhiannon's hand, and a burst of fear clawed at her throat. What if she became lost in what ever kind of vortex Rhiannon was taking them through?
Bright light suddenly shone in Hannah's eyes and Rhiannon’s hand grasped hers hard enough to scrunch her bones together. Hannah’s feet met grass, and she was certain
she would have tipped over if Rhiannon hadn’t had a hold on her.
Hannah composed herself and shook her hand free of Rhiannon's. She glanced at her companions and saw that Eavan had made it as well, although he looked a little tipsy himself.
Keir stood beneath an apple tree at the center of the meadow. A rock outcropping took up a great stretch of room on one side. From the top tier of the rocks, a waterfall spilled into a couple of pools before disappearing into the ground, and the place smelled of grass and flowers that were being tended by a group of tiny Faeries.
Hannah hadn't been here before, but one of her sister witches, Copper Ashcroft, had been trapped here for over a year. Hannah glanced up at the apple tree. No wonder Copper wouldn't eat anything made with apples.
Hannah noticed that Rhiannon blinked as if the sunlight bothered her, and her skin was already starting to redden. Rhiannon had always had some sensitivity to the sun, and it wasn't until she learned she was half Drow that she discovered why.
In a voice that lacked enthusiasm, Rhiannon said, "Come on," and gestured for everyone to follow.
Hannah flexed her hands at her sides as if she were about to battle the Drow.
The Dark Elves weren't to be trusted, and Hannah wasn't about to start.
Excerpted from Shadow Magic by Cheyenne McCray.
Copyright © 2008 by Cheyenne McCray.
Published in May 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.