Misguided Angel Page 14

Schuyler was focusing on sending a powerful compulsion to stop the priest when she was hit by an unexpected blow that sent her crashing against the stone walls. It did not come from Ghedi, who looked momentarily confused. It came from someone or something else.

"Schuyler!" Jack's anguished cry echoed through the cavern.

I'm okay, she wanted to send, but found she could not. She could not move, she could not speak, she was paralyzed in every sense. She struggled to find a way out of her bondage--but this spell was not as easy as Iggy's. There were traces of dark magic in it, forbidden workings that made her bindings as solid as rock.

Unlike the ragtag company of farmers searching for a missing daughter, this was an ambush by a vampire with a vampire's speed and strength.

"Come quietly or your girl will make a pretty bonfire," the vampire told Jack, holding out Venator rope and motioning for Jack to tie his wrists with it. In his other hand he held a torch burning with the Black Fire.

No! Schuyler sent, finding her voice in the twilight even though she was still completely immobilized.

Why are you doing this? Do you work for the Countess?

I don't work for anybody. I'm not in any Coven. This is all for me.

So it had come to this, Schuyler realized. Mimi had placed a bounty on Jack's life, and the vampire was out to collect.

Please! No! We have money--we can pay you. Let me pay you for his life. Please!

Schuyler sent.

Sorry, missy. But I'm pretty sure you won't be able to pay as much as Mimi Force.

The bounty hunter shuffled up toward Schuyler, and she could see his feral, drawn face hovering over hers.

"I will come freely. Let her go," Jack declared in a calm, clear voice as he surrendered.

The vampire tightened the knots, drawing blood from Jack's wrists. Once Jack was secured, the vampire whispered a few words over the flame, which died down until the torch resembled nothing but a gray chunk of coal. He quickly tucked it into his back pocket.

Ghedi looked uneasily at the renegade vampire, but once he understood that the vampire had no quarrel with him, his face became set as he prepared himself for the ugly task ahead.

MariElena would die.

Jack would be taken.

There was nothing Schuyler could do but scream.

THIRTEEN

Angel Time

There was so little time to do anything out in the real world, where she had been captured and attacked. So Schuyler looked inward, into her soul and into the glom. Time did not exist in the same way in the inner universe.

She opened her eyes to the murky waters of the twilight world, and felt the heavy constriction of the dark spell that held her captive. In the glom, her bindings manifested as a coil of snakes writhing around her skin. She felt their scaly wetness wrap around her body, clutching her ever more tightly. They were all around, slithering against her waist, around her legs, slipping through her fingers. She could smell their oozy stink, and shivered to hear the rasp of their tongues.

A stasis spell worked as part of the compulsion--mind control--essentially an order to make you believe you were trapped, which was why it was one of the most difficult factors to master. You had to stop believing what was right in front of you.

Schuyler focused on the snake nearest to her head. She could feel its cold reptile body working its way around her shoulders. She turned so she could face it eye to eye. It was a fearsome king cobra, its hood spread as it reared to attack. It bared its fangs and hissed.

But before it could strike, Schuyler overcame her revulsion and reached down to grip it by its tail, and with one fluid motion, she pulled the snake away from her body and crushed its serpent head under her heel.

In a flash she was back in the real world of the cave, holding her mother's sword. "Stop!"

she commanded, her voice ringing with fury.

The priest hastened to thrust the knife through the girl's neck, but before the blade could penetrate her skin, Schuyler had parried it away, and it clattered on the rocks. MariElena fell to the ground, and Ghedi with her, felled by Schuyler's compulsion to surrender.

That was all Jack needed. With a vehement roar, he broke his bonds and transformed into the fearsome Angel of Destruction, magnificent black wings sprouting from his back, his horns curled to sharp diamond points, and his eyes a bloodcurdling crimson. He picked up the now quivering bounty hunter and crushed him against his talons.

"Jack, no. Don't kill him!" Schuyler cried. Let there be no blood spilled today.

"Listen to the girl. . . ." the bounty hunter gurgled.

Schuyler put a gentle hand on Abbadon's feathered extensions, feeling the majestic power underneath their silky weight. She had been frightened once, to see him in this light, but now that she saw his terrifying true face, she found it beautiful.

He turned to her; as Abbadon he looked at once nothing at all like Jack, and yet more like him than ever.

He was going to hurt you. Please, my love.

Then he was Jack again, ruddy-cheeked and handsome. He pulled the bounty hunter to his feet. "Go. Tell my sister that her parasite has failed. Tell her that nothing and no one can bring me back." That was all the bounty hunter needed to hear. He disappeared before taking another breath.

Schuyler collapsed into Jack's arms, and they held each other.

I thought I was going to lose you, she sent.

Never. We shall never be separated. Jack bent his head against her shoulder, and she leaned on his chest so that she could hear his heart beating a steady, ordered rhythm against hers.

Never.

The Artist's Studio

Florence, 1452

In the morning, Tomi returned to her work at the studio. The Master would not return until tomorrow, and there was still so much to do. She greeted her fellow assistants and took her place at the back of the room, where she resumed carving a relief meant for the east doors of the Baptistery. The work was painstaking and exact, but Tomi reveled in it, finding glory and beauty in the fine details. She was soon lost in thought, her hands quickly running over the marble, while her mind lingered over the events of a month before.

What did it mean that a human carried the mark of the Prince of Darkness? Had their old foe found a way back to Earth? It could not be. They had sent the devil down to hell, had locked Caligula behind an impenetrable gate. Together they had sent the Order of the Seven out to the world, to secure the paths of the Dead. The man wearing the Citadel robes had been an impostor. No one had ever seen him before. He was a stranger to their town. Andreas believed that the human had lied and that the creature was no demon, but Tomi was more given to anxiety.

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