Darkest Highlander

A Dark Sword Novel

Dark Sword (Volume 6)

Donna Grant

St. Martin's Paperbacks

ONE
 
 
It was the growl, the low, menacing rumble that implied doom for her.
Sonya sucked in a ragged breath and lifted her head from the damp ground of the forest floor. Her spirit was broken, her body fading rapidly.
She raged with fever, a fever she couldn’t heal. Just as she couldn’t heal the cut that sliced open her palm. At one time, the barest of thoughts would have propelled her magic to take care of such injuries.
But that magic had failed her.
Nay, you failed.
Sonya squeezed her eyes closed to shut out the loud and persistent voice in her head. She was nothing without her magic. How could she help the others at MacLeod Castle? How could she look each of them in the eye day after day, knowing her magic was gone?
Vanished. Disappeared. Lost.
Everything she was, everything she had been, was no longer there. Her life had been defined as a Druid. Without magic she could no longer call herself a Druid.
And that tormented her far worse than her sliced palm.
Another growl, this one closer, more looming. She tried to gain her feet, but she was weak from lack of food.
Sonya had been dodging the wolf for days. Or was it weeks? She had lost track of time after her flight from MacLeod Castle. She no longer knew where she was, and even if she wanted to return to the castle, she couldn’t get there.
If you want to live, get up. Run!
Sonya wasn’t ready to die. She didn’t give up easily.
Liar. You never try for the things you want. Like Broc.
A tear slipped down Sonya’s cheek at the thought of Broc. Each time she closed her eyes, she could see the Warrior kneeling in the midst of the bloody battle at the castle, holding Anice in his arms as he bellowed for Sonya to heal her sister.
A sister who had known him. Broc, the one man Sonya had wanted for herself. The one thing she hadn’t had the courage to make her feelings known about.
Sonya shoved aside thoughts of Broc as she grabbed hold of the nearest tree with her good hand and pulled herself to her feet. She leaned against the trunk and glanced around the forest for the wolf.
Nowhere did she see the creature, but she knew he was near. The black beast was large and ravenous. It would take just one bite from its huge teeth to end her life.
Sonya cradled her wounded hand against her chest and wondered how much longer she could evade the wolf. It was a cunning animal.
The trees swayed above Sonya, reminding her of the magic that used to allow her to commune with them. How she missed their knowledge, their words. Their magic. Being among the trees had always soothed her, but no longer. Not since her own magic had abandoned her.
Sonya knew she had to move if she wanted a chance at survival. Remaining meant certain death. After a deep breath, she stepped away from the tree and turned, only to freeze in place as the wolf stood in front of her.
It growled again, lifting its lips to show large fangs that dripped with saliva. The animal crouched with its ears back against its head, its muscles tensed, ready to spring at her.
Time slowed to a standstill. With her heart pounding slow and hard, Sonya knew she had only once chance to get away. She lifted her skirts and ran to her left.
Her feet slipped on the dried leaves and pine nettles coating the forest floor, but she kept moving. Behind her, she could hear the wolf as it crashed through the trees, chasing her.
And rapidly gaining ground.
With hair tangling about her sweat-soaked face, Sonya glanced back and saw the wolf almost upon her. A scream lodged in her throat, but before the sound could be released, the ground fell from beneath her.
Suddenly the earth rose up to meet her face. Sonya grunted as her head slammed into the ground and she began to roll. She tried without success to grab hold of anything that would slow her descent. The sky fused with the ground to become a whirl of colors that spun around her as she continued her brutal tumble.
When she finally came to a grinding halt, it was with her body wrapped around the trunk of a young elm. The breath left her lungs in a whoosh, her body wracked with blinding pain. She tried to stay calm and suck in air, but the more she tried to breathe, the more her body refused to obey such a simple request.
When breath finally filled her lungs, Sonya drew it in deep and winced at the agony that exploded through her. She opened her eyes, but her world had yet to stop spinning.
And then she heard the familiar growl. Much closer than ever before.
*   *   *
Broc clenched his hands, urgency and fear filling his stomach as he flew across the sky in his search for Sonya. Not even concern about discovery by mortals could keep him to the thick rain clouds above him.
He knew in his gut Sonya was in trouble. Her leaving the castle was so unlike anything she would do, but then again, he had yelled at her, blamed her for Anice’s death.
Broc regretted his words more than Sonya could possibly know. He’d been angry at himself—was still outraged—for failing to keep Anice safe, as he had promised the girls when he found them as babies.
It proved to him yet again that anyone who got close to him died. His grandmother had called it a curse. And it had followed him into his immortality.
For a while he had thought the curse was gone, but then Anice died. But he wouldn’t allow anything to happen to Sonya. Even if it took him leaving her life forever, he’d do it just to keep her safe. And alive.
He flew faster, his wings beating loudly in his ears. As a Warrior, a Highlander with a primeval god bound inside him, he had special abilities. Each god had a power, and his was the capability to find anyone, anywhere.
It was just one of the reasons he had gone in search of Sonya. Even if his god hadn’t given him the power to find her, he’d still have looked for her. Because he had been connected to her since the moment he lifted her in his arms so many years ago.
Broc was close to her. He could feel it.
A smile pulled at his lips, but it died almost immediately as lightning lit the sky and it began to rain.
“Shite,” he murmured and tucked his wings to fly above the canopy of trees.
Broc’s claws scraped the leaves atop an ancient oak as the rain dripped down his face and into his eyes. He adjusted the satchel strap that lay on his back between his wings and over one shoulder.
The strap chafed against his wings, but inside he carried food, coin, and clothing for both him and Sonya. The pain was a minor inconvenience as long as he found her.
Inside Broc, Poraxus, the god of manipulation, roared with anticipation. It was a signal they were very close to Sonya. Every time Broc hunted someone, he could feel them when he neared. Their heartbeat, the flow of blood in their veins. Their life essence.
It was no different now. Except this was Sonya. He had saved her as an infant, watched over her as she grew. He would not fail her now.
Broc clutched his chest as he felt fear spike through Sonya. The closer he came to his target, the more he felt it. If the terror now coursing through him was any indication, he was too late.
Just thinking she might be in danger sent rage flowing through his veins. His god roared again—this time for blood. And vengeance.
Broc reined in his god. Sonya might need him, and he couldn’t allow himself to reach the edge and his god to gain any control. The more he fought against Poraxus, the more his god struggled to take over.
It was because his god knew how much Sonya meant to him. Even if Broc refused to admit it to himself.
Broc peered through the dense canopy of trees to try to see her, but it was near impossible, even with his superior sight. Broc then maneuvered between two trees. He hated flying in forests. He wasn’t able to spread his wings as he needed to in order to fly or glide.
So he rode the air currents with his wings stretched as far as he could get them. Several times the wings scraped against a tree and its branches, tearing the leathery wings. Thanks to his immortality, he began to heal almost immediately.
And then he saw her.
Not even the rain could hamper his enhanced vision. Broc tucked his wings and dove for Sonya, who lay unmoving on the ground, curled around a tree.
Dread spurred Broc to her side. He knew she wasn’t dead. He could still feel Sonya’s heartbeat, though now that he had found her, it was fading from his senses.
His gaze scanned the area for whatever caused her fear and spotted the lone wolf approaching. Broc spread his wings and landed on his feet between Sonya and the wolf.
The wolf snarled, its anger palpable. Broc peeled back his lips to show his own set of fangs and growled. He didn’t want to kill the wolf, but he would if it continued to threaten Sonya.
After several tense moments, the wolf sensed it was beaten and reluctantly backed away. Broc stayed where he was, listening long after the wolf was out of sight to make sure the creature didn’t circle around to attack again.
Once Broc was certain the wolf had departed, he turned to Sonya. He was so unprepared for what he saw that, for a moment, he couldn’t move. For one heartbeat, then two, he could only stare at the woman who was the one thing he wanted above all else.
Sonya’s vibrant red hair, which was always secured in a single thick plait, was now wild and free in a tangle of curls about her. Her dark green gown was coated in dirt and drenched from the rain. One sleeve was torn at the shoulder, and she had another tear at her hem.
But what made Broc’s stomach plummet to his feet was the wound he saw on her palm. She had wrapped a portion of her chemise around it, but the thin material had already fallen away, leaving the ragged injury exposed.
Broc fell to his knees beside her. He was afraid to touch her, but he needed to feel her at the same time. He spread a wing to shield her from the rain and leaned close. Only then did he realize she was unconscious.
Careful that his claws didn’t cut her delicate skin, he gently caressed a finger from her temple down her cheek to her jaw. He longed to have her open her eyes so he could look into their amber depths.
Her skin was smooth and luminous. She had a high forehead where finely arched eyebrows, the same vivid red as her hair, curved above her eyes. Her nose was aristocratic and her chin stubborn. Her lips, however, were those of a siren—wide and full.
And tempting as sin.
Tenderly, Broc lifted her hand in his to inspect the wound. The cut went from her index finger across her palm to end at her wrist. The slice was deep, and the skin around the wound was blackening.
The dark yellow pus that oozed from the gash propelled Broc. He gathered Sonya in his arms and spread his wings, ready to jump into the air and fly to MacLeod Castle.
It was the lightning bolts that forked across the sky in a vivid and dramatic display of power that halted him. If he flew, there was a chance he could be hit by the lightning. Though it would pain him, he would survive.
Sonya wouldn’t be so lucky.
He couldn’t put her in that kind of danger. Reluctantly, Broc set her down long enough to remove the satchel and search through it for a cloak.
Once he found one and had secured it around Sonya, Broc tamped down his god. He watched the indigo skin of his Warrior form, along with his claws, fade from sight. Nothing showed of his wings or his fangs. When he wasn’t in his Warrior form, no one could tell him apart from a mortal man.
It was a small blessing having an ancient god inside him. And it had all begun with the invasion of Rome on Britain’s shores. The Celts had battled the Romans for years before going to the Druids for help.
The mies, Druids with pure magic, could offer only guidance. However, the droughs, Druids with their black magic, had an answer—call up primeval gods from Hell to inhabit the strongest warriors.
And it worked. The men became Warriors and soon drove Rome from Britain. Yet, their need for blood and death didn’t end, and soon they were killing any who crossed their paths.
It took both the mies and the droughs combining their magic to end the Warriors. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t make the gods return to Hell. Instead, they bound them inside the men.
But the gods took their revenge by passing through the bloodline to the next strongest warrior of that family. They were unable to get free until a drough, Deirdre, found an ancient scroll that told her how to unbind the gods.
Ever since, Deirdre had been relentless in finding the gods and unbinding them. Broc was one of several at MacLeod Castle intent on putting an end to Deirdre for good.
Broc jerked on a tunic before he slung the strap of the satchel over his head. Once more he took Sonya into his arms and stood. There was a village several leagues away. There he could get Sonya out of the weather and tend to her hand.
Then he would beg her forgiveness for driving her away and hopefully convince her to return to MacLeod Castle. Everyone needed her there. No one more so than him.
He cradled her gently, but securely, against his chest, shielding her face from as much of the rain as he could. He rested his chin on her forehead and felt her skin blazing with fever.
Broc looked down into her oval face, a face that had haunted his dreams and every waking moment of his life since she had come into womanhood and he had been tempted beyond his control.
“Live, Sonya. I refuse to let you die.”
Why hadn’t she healed herself, as he knew she could? She was a Druid with powerful healing magic. The Druids at MacLeod Castle had put an incredible amount of strain on Sonya for her healing, but as a mie nothing should have restricted that magic.
Even Quinn MacLeod, another Warrior, once had need of Sonya’s healing because of Deirdre’s magic.
Broc growled just thinking about his enemy. All droughs gave their blood and their lives to Satan in exchange for black magic, but Deirdre had gone beyond that. She worked in league with the Devil. Deirdre had lived nearly a thousand years, and during that time she had destroyed many lives.
Broc cursed Deirdre with every step he took, but he cursed himself even more. From the day he had delivered Sonya and Anice to the Druids, he had sworn to protect them.
He had failed Anice, and if he didn’t get Sonya to cover quickly, he would fail her as well.
The thunder had become almost a constant boom, it sounded so close together. The storm was right over them, as was evident by the lightning striking closer and the wind howling around them.
One lightning bolt landed on a tree just in front of them and caused the pine to burst into flames and split in half. Broc turned away before being crushed as part of the tree fell and landed in front of him.
He lifted his face to the sky and roared his anger. His rage fed his god, and it was all Broc could do to keep him tamped down. It had taken too many of his two hundred and seventy-five years learning to restrain Poraxus for Broc to lose control now.
But when it came to Sonya, his emotions always ran high.
Broc had to get out of the storm. He took a deep breath and leapt the burning tree. He held Sonya tight and ran, using the incredible speed his god gave him.
He didn’t slow until he spotted the village.


 
Copyright © 2012 by Donna Grant