Cairn Toul Mountain, Highlands of Scotland
Deirdre stood on the balcony overlooking the cavern that made up her great hall. There were no lofty windows to let in the sunlight as they were deep in the mountain.
Instead, there were multiple large, oval candelabras hanging from the arched ceiling high above them shedding their light. In the yawning space, the glow from the candles couldn’t reach everywhere. And that’s just how she liked it.
Wyrran with their pale yellow skin mingled with her Warriors of every color imaginable. They looked like a rainbow below her, but she alone knew the sheer destructive power those Warriors had the potential to create. They were men with primeval gods inside them, each with a distinctive power that set them apart from the others. And these were hers to rule. The Warriors stared up at her, their attention rapt, as they waited to hear why she had convened them.
“Hear me. Feel me. Touch meeee . . .”
Powerless to ignore the call of the mountain, Deirdre closed her eyes and lost herself in the song of the stones. She forgot about the Warriors and why she had called them to her and placed her hand on the mound of rock next to her. She succumbed to the sweet oblivion the rocks gave her, had always given her. And always would give her.
It had been so since her tenth winter. She had woken to hear the mountain’s call beckoning her. She walked out of her cottage and stared at the distant mountain, knowing that one day she would make the journey to the high peak.
That day was eons ago, but she could still smell the bread her mother baked, still feel the lash her father used on her bottom for not doing her spells correctly. And she could still see her sister’s eyes watching her. Always watching.
Even at such a young age Deirdre had more power than any drough in their small community. She hid it well, for any drough whose power was that great was killed instantly. Because the drough aligned themselves with evil and created black magic, their power could be immense—and deadly.
Deirdre had plans. So she waited, and she learned.
The Druids had only been split into the two factions for a short time before they had called the gods from their prison in Hell, but in the time since, the drough did not mingle with the trusting mie. The mie with their talk of goodness and pure magic made Deirdre ill.
There were a few communities of drough who banded together. Deirdre’s was one of the last. Their little group was mostly family and extended family, but the struggle for power went on daily.
In her eighteenth year Deirdre offered her blood in the ritual to become a drough. When her blood seeped from the cuts on her wrists, an excruciating pain sliced through her. In that instant she saw her future as the black magic and evil invaded her soul and claimed her for their own.
The very next day she began to hunt for the scrolls she knew her aunt kept hidden. She’d heard the elders whisper about them some nights, as if the very mention of the scrolls would have the mie descending upon them.
Once she found the scrolls taken from the mie she knew why the elders whispered, their gazes searching furtively around for listeners. Inside the rolled parchments were spells that were supposed to have been destroyed. Deirdre smiled as she tucked one particular scroll up her sleeve and turned to leave.
“How dare you!” her aunt screamed as she stared at Deirdre from the doorway.
Deirdre smiled to hide her surprise. She had expected to get caught, just not by her aunt. But any person would do for her purpose. “I dare many things, Aunt.”
“You’ll pay for snooping where you don’t belong, you little viper,” her aunt said, spittle flying from her thin lips. “You always did like to slink into belongings that weren’t yours.”
“And what do you think to do about it?”
Her aunt raised her hand to send a blast of magic. Deirdre flicked her wrist and her aunt slammed back against her cottage door, her eyes wide with dawning recognition of just how powerful Deirdre was.
Without hesitation Deirdre unsheathed the dagger she kept at her waist and plunged it into her aunt’s heart.
It was the first time she had killed. But it wouldn’t be the last.
Deirdre left the cottage and turned to stare at her mountain. That’s when she felt her sister’s eyes upon her once more. She turned to her twin, Laria. Both shared the blonde hair and sky-blue eyes of their mother, but that’s where their similarities ended.
As her twin, Laria often knew when Deirdre had been into some mischief. Deirdre didn’t expect to have an ally in her sister. In fact, Deirdre knew she would have to kill Laria.
“What have you done?” Laria asked calmly, but her shrewd eyes saw everything.
Deirdre looked into pale blue eyes that matched her own. She felt for her sister’s magic, but just as always, there was nothing. Still, Laria was her twin. “The start of something wonderful, sister. Won’t you join me?”
“You know I won’t.”
“A pity,” Deirdre said and raised the dagger.
Laria glanced at the weapon as if it were a flower instead of a weapon with blood dripping from the end. “Will you kill us all?”
Deirdre began to laugh as a thought took root. She let loose a scream that had everyone running toward her. With her sister watching, Deirdre put on the performance of her life.
“Aunt has gained power,” Deirdre shouted as she faked her tears and stumbled around. “She tried to kill me. She said she and Uncle would rule over all of us.”
Just as Deirdre expected, chaos erupted. She watched as everyone turned on everyone else as accusations flew. A slaughter ensued. Deirdre backed away even though she couldn’t take her eyes from the blood and death. The sight before her was gruesome . . . and awesome, feeding the evil inside her.
“Come to me.”
The mountain. It called to her relentlessly, and she would no longer ignore it. Deirdre turned her back on her tribe and looked at the mountain that was hers. It was time for her to embrace her destiny.
“You will pay for what you have done, Deirdre.”
She looked over her shoulder at her twin. Blood dripped from a deep cut on Laria’s arm and her lip was busted. “Do you think you can stop me? We both know I’m the one who received all the magic. Be glad I’m not slitting your throat, sister.”
Deirdre had turned and walked to her mountain. There, in the cool stones, she found the first contentment of her life. Nothing else mattered but the mountain and the stones’ call to her.
And she learned she had power over them. She could make the stones move and shift. It was how she created her palace within the huge mountain. The only real home she had ever known.
Sharp nails slid through her hair and brought her back to the present. Deirdre opened her eyes and looked down to find a wyrran staring up at her with its large yellow eyes as it reverently stroked her hair.
How long had she been lost in the past? How long had the stones pulled her under this time?
Deirdre petted the wyrran’s smooth head. The wyrran was of her own making. She had used her black magic and created the creatures that served only her. They were her pets, though she heard some of the Warriors call them her children.
She glanced at William. His gaze was always on her, the desire in his eyes hard to miss. The royal-blueskinned Warrior had shared her bed for a short time. Until he’d captured Quinn MacLeod.
Quinn. Finally, I have you for my own.
Once Quinn had healed from his injuries sustained in his capture, Deirdre had expected him to be grateful. She should have known he would be insolent, but that’s why she wanted him so desperately.
The MacLeods had been the first Warriors she created. After centuries of the gods being bound, she had released them into Fallon, Lucan, and Quinn. Unfortunately, the MacLeod brothers had escaped before she could carry out her plans. A mistake she had made sure not to make again.
For three hundred years she had sought to have all three brothers back under her control. She had Quinn to start, and for now that was enough.
She regretted her hasty decision to have him thrown into the Pit, but he had to learn she was in control. She was his mistress, and he would obey her in all things.
For the last few weeks she had made herself stay away from him. She wanted him desperately in her bed, to give her the child that it had been foretold would rise—an evil unlike none other from Hell.
In order to have Quinn she had to break him. He held out hope of his brothers coming for him, but before they did, Deirdre had to force the god inside Quinn to take over completely. Only then could he be hers.
And once he was hers, his brothers would soon fall.
Deirdre thought of Fallon and Lucan MacLeod and the women they had claimed. Lucan had found a Druid, a Druid with drough blood in her veins thanks to her parents. The Druid would have given Deirdre much power, but the brothers had fought and won that skirmish.
Who would have thought there could be a female Warrior? Yet that’s exactly what Larena Monroe was. And Fallon had claimed her as his woman.
Deirdre rubbed her hands along the stones. When the brothers fell, their women would too. Everything Deirdre wanted was slowly coming to fruition. She just needed patience. It wasn’t a virtue she had ever practiced before, but for her plans, she would do whatever she needed to see everything come together.
There was scuffling and a woman’s angry hiss behind her. Deirdre turned and looked at the dark-haired, petite Druid being held between two Warriors. The Druid had sent her men on a wild chase through Scotland, but they had eventually caught her.
Deirdre studied her long nails a moment before she said, “It’s a good thing it’s buried deep in your mind, Marcail.”
“It” was the spell to bind the gods in the Warriors. After all Deirdre had been through, after everything she had done, there was no way she would allow one little Druid to ruin everything.
The spell was supposed to have been destroyed when the gods were bound in the original Warriors who battled Rome for control of Britain. Just as with the enchantment to release the gods, the spell had been kept hidden. Until now.
It was by pure chance alone that Deirdre had come across the information about Marcail and her family history.
“How I wish it wasn’t,” the Druid said, her voice laced with repugnance. “I would bind all the gods in an instant if I could.”
Deirdre grinned and looked over Marcail with new eyes. She liked a show of spirit. Most Druids cowered in fear or begged her to spare them. But not this particular mie. Nay, Marcail had fought from the moment she was taken.
Maybe it had something to do with her family. Marcail was descended from some of the strongest Druids that hadn’t survived centuries for nothing. Even if Deirdre didn’t know Marcail’s family, the fact the Druid wore the braids of a Holder told Deirdre everything.
“Ah, but if the spell wasn’t hidden, I would kill everyone you had ever spoken with. Instead of just you. But . . . I might do it anyway just to be sure no one knows the spell. I cannot have you destroying my perfectly laid plans, now can I?”
Marcail’s turquoise eyes blazed with hatred. She shook with anger, causing the gold bands that bound the tiny braids atop her head to bang together. “You will pay for your sins, Deirdre.”
Deirdre stared at the Druid. Marcail had a classic beauty with her oval face and high cheekbones. Her curves obviously caught the attention of men by the looks of the Warriors watching Marcail.
But it was Marcail’s magic that truly made her shine. It was one of the reasons Deirdre hated mie so. All that goodness just made her ill.
“You poor little mie with your thoughts of a reckoning. What you don’t realize is that I’ll be a goddess soon. There is no one who can defeat me now, and once I take over the world, no one will think of going against me.”
Instead of whimpering, Marcail chuckled. “Such grand delusions you have. I may not be here to see you brought low, drough, but you will be destroyed.”
For an instant, Deirdre knew real fear. Druids possessed powerful magic, and some could see into the future with alarming accuracy. She pushed the apprehension aside and raised a brow. Deirdre hadn’t gained her power by giving into threads of panic. “Is that so, mie? And who might this savior of yours be?”
“The MacLeods, of course.”
“The MacLeods?” Deirdre repeated. “Are you sure of that, little Marcail?”
Marcail nodded her head of wavy sable locks, rows upon rows of small braids falling around her face and over her shoulders and mixing with her hair. “It’s spreading like wildfire across the Highlands. It’s only a matter of time.”
Deirdre looked at the Warriors holding Marcail and smiled. The Warriors began to laugh, their large muscular bodies shaking with mirth.
Deirdre turned to the crowd below her and raised her hand to gain their attention. “My prisoner says her saviors are the MacLeods.”
Laughter erupted and filled the great cavern. She waited until it had quieted before she turned back to the Druid who had the potential to ruin everything.
“Do you not think the MacLeods have the power to best you?” Marcail asked, her unusual eyes narrowed on Deirdre.
Deirdre shrugged. “I have no idea. Why don’t you ask one yourself?”
Marcail’s eyes grew large as the Warriors hauled her down the stairs to the entrance of the Pit. Deirdre smiled and rubbed her hands together. She loved shocking people. Marcail had been too easy, though.
Deirdre leaned her hands on the rocks that lined the railing of her balcony and looked at the creatures below. “Behold,” she said and swept her arm toward Marcail and the Warriors leading her to the Pit.
The wyrran and the other Warriors parted to let them through. Marcail continued to struggle, even kicking the Warriors when she was able. She was a fighter to be sure. If Deirdre thought for a moment she could turn the mie to her side she would do it.
But what Marcail held in the darkest recess of her mind could undo everything Deirdre had put into place and then some. Deirdre couldn’t even take the chance of killing the Druid herself, much as she wanted to.
Marcail came from a powerful line of Druids and there were enchantments and curses placed all around Marcail as well as in her blood. Whoever killed her was in for quite a surprise.
“We’ve captured another Druid,” Deirdre continued. “A mie who would dare to defy me.”
The Warriors throughout the cavern began to stomp their feet, banging them like a drum against the stones. Marcail raised her eyes to Deirdre as the two guards stopped in the middle of the cave.
There was a hint of fear in Marcail’s gaze, but not the usual terror that Deirdre was used to. Marcail could be a problem, which is why she was being thrown into the Pit. Few Warriors survived in the shadows. There was no way a mie would last a day. Whether the Warriors raped Marcail or killed her, all that mattered was that the Druid would be dead—of course, those same Warriors would die for harming Marcail, but Deirdre didn’t care. She wanted to focus on other things. Like Quinn.
With a nod, Deirdre bade the trapdoor open. Marcail screamed as the floor shifted and titled beneath her. The Druid’s feet slid out from underneath her. She clawed at the stones, looking for a way to keep herself from falling into the gaping darkness below her.