Hidden in Smoke – Harper Wylde, Quinn Arthurs

THE FLAMES WERE SCALDİNG ME, licking along my body as I burned. I felt my muscles tensing, body convulsing as heat consumed me . A screech shattered the roaring in my ears, filling the dark night with the anguished sound, and I knew that my Phoenix was with me. This rebirth was unlike any other, and I couldn’t gather my thoughts enough to figure out what was wrong. I could scarcely think, let alone try to organize my thoughts into any semblance of order. All I could focus on was the all-consuming fire. Hiro. Damien. Ryder. Theo. Killian. Rini. Their faces flashed through my mind as I tried to push past the pain. I had to get back into my body so I could help. I’d be damned if I was going to let anything happen to them.

I couldn’t lose them. I wouldn’t. Not for anything, and certainly not because of my bastard of a father. Family. I was finally becoming part of a family, one I had chosen instead of the one I’d been born into. I latched onto images of them. Letting out a cry that was part agony and part frustration, I willed my spirit self—or whatever the hell I was in between rebirths—to fuse back with my body. Pushing with everything I had, I felt the flames burn brighter, hotter. I had never tried to force a rebirth before, and the strain wore me down instantly as black dots swam through my limited vision, which started flickering in and out of focus. Changing tactics, I worked to center my attention through the burning and bring my vision back, even as darkness crept along the edges.

I tried to see through the haze, desperate for any information I could gather as to what was happening around me. I caught a glimpse of my jacket-clad body lying on the ground below, and I used the information to anchor myself. Through blurry vision, I caught sight of a large winged creature in the distance as a roar speared through the air, rippling through me. Damien. I saw a blue glow surrounding my still form below before my vision flickered again. Ryder. The whisper of sweet words swirled through the air toward me, and my head ached as I struggled to ride out the misery and keep myself focused on the scene below. Hiro. A golden shape hovering over me, growing larger by the second. An anxious, demanding voice cut through the delirium I was drowning in.

“God, Nix, love. What the hell did he give her?” Theo. Emerald green tendrils of magic crept along the clearing, reaching out to me and I tried, desperately, to push my magic back toward Killian. Heat radiated through my body, and I was sure that someone on the mortal plane would be able to see or feel the blaze that devoured me. Lost to the searing heat, I wasn’t sure how much time had passed as I fought to keep myself from burning into nothing and disappearing into the darkness. Worry and fear clogged my mind as the thought that I may not regenerate settled heavy in my heart. I couldn’t die without knowing they were all safe. I wouldn’t die until Michael was no longer a threat. A sorrowful, anger-fueled cry that I was sure wasn’t mine rang through the clearing, giving voice to everything I was feeling. Rini.

I felt myself singeing away as my Phoenix rose. Terrified, I pushed back against her while she pushed me to let her take over. Regeneration had never been like this before, and while I had technically only regenerated once with my Phoenix, she hadn’t surged forward, wanting to shift like she was now. I was terrified of what would happen if I let go and let her take over. Without waiting any longer, she pushed forward and wrapped her wings around me as my vision faded and I lost myself to the void. And then all there was, was darkness. ONE KILLIAN THE GROUND SHOOK as Damien rushed at the bastard who hurt Nix. An inhuman roar pierced the air as his ears elongated and his fangs burst forth, giving way to his alternate form. Large leathery wings exploded behind him as he went flying, grabbing the part-blood off of Nix and sailing through the air a few hundred feet before driving the man into the ground-hard. The vibrations from the impact ran up my legs as I chased after them, knowing the rest of my brothers were taking care of Nix.

Hiro’s cry of outrage rustled the leaves on the trees and caused every blade of grass to stand at attention while the man who hurt our girl growled and fought back against Damien’s grip on his throat as they grappled. If I weren’t so enraged it would be laughable, no one could beat Damien’s alter. The rage pouring through our mental connection was thick and consuming, but none of us tried to reign back our emotions. I felt Ryder’s steely determination to save Nix, the brewing storm of Hiro’s wrath, and Theo’s seething anger and worried panic as he worked out what the asshole had done to our Nix. Nix’s cry of agony split the air, and all our creatures surged forward; ready to protect; ready to defend, ready to fucking end the piece of shit that dare lay a hand on her. She’s gone. Ryder’s words and desperation entered my mind. I couldn’t fucking save her. I healed everything I could. My Puca snarled in my head, ready to be unleashed.

I had never felt him so angry before, and while I may be a fucking rabbit in my alternate form, I had no doubts that he would tear shit up if I let him loose. The thought was tempting—the need to destroy aching bone deep. I could feel Damien slipping, losing control. I knew the Gargoyle was, first and foremost, a protector, even if he wanted nothing more than to end the villain in his hands. I knew he might resent himself later if he took things too far and actually killed the guy. I couldn’t say I would feel the least bit sorrowful if he did. My Puca and I had no such qualms. We protected what was ours, and we had already claimed Nix as our own, no matter whether that meant as friends or more. The years of torture and pain he put Nix through… no, I couldn’t say I would be sorry in the fucking least. Damien.

Let me. I pushed that thought as hard as I could through the fog of anger clouding his mind. I might not be able to mind read the way Damien could, but he was projecting loudly, all his attention focused on the fight and not on his mental barriers. Close to losing his control, Damien roared in the part-blood’s face before easing off of him, letting me take his place. Faster than either of us imagined, the bastard took advantage of our distraction as we switched places and used the opportunity to scramble to his feet, throwing himself at me in a series of punches and kicks. He landed a few hits to my jaw as I took him down, but I couldn’t even feel the hits through my outrage. He deserved to be on the ground. Fuck, he deserved to be six fucking feet under. Straddling Michael’s abdomen, I punched him as he bucked, trying to unseat me and free himself. He was stronger than I would have imagined for a part-blood and I filed that information away for later.

Now was not the time to allow my thoughts stray. I let my anger fuel my hits, and my knuckles peeled open as I pounded my fists into the asshole’s body. It felt so good to make the ugly bastard bleed. He hurt my Nix. He would never get to touch her again. Damien stood sentry over where I dolled out my punishment, returning the favor and making sure I didn’t take things too far, as well as providing me with backup should I need it. I knew he wanted this bastard to suffer as much as I did. We all felt the same way. The abuse that Nix had suffered at his hand, not only tonight but her entire life… I couldn’t even think about it without my vision going red around the edges. “Killian.

” The deep, ragged voice of Damien’s Gargoyle called out to me, full of warning as he heard my thoughts, pulling me back from the edge of control I was teetering on. Keeping the fucker pinned, I breathed deeply, using the surroundings to pull me back from the darkness that was overtaking me. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed while I was lost in the red haze, but I could hear Hiro, Ryder, and Theo murmuring to a still Nix behind me. “It’s alright, Nix. We’re right here.” Hiro’s voice was soft and choked. “God, Nix, love. What the hell did he give her? She should be regenerating.” Theo’s voice was shaky as he knelt next to her, inspecting the bottle that had fallen to the ground when Damien had flung Michael across the clearing. “I need to figure out what he gave her.

This is taking way too bloody long. I don’t know why she’s not waking up!” Theo was trying hard not to lose his mind as he analyzed the scene, but I could see that the leash he kept his beast on was slipping. His human form had noticeably bulked up as he fought his shift. Theo always had control over his monster, and seeing him so unhinged now shook me. The bloodied part-blood shifter beneath me had the audacity to let out a sick, garbled laugh, and I fucking lost it. Pulling my arm back, I let my fist fly directly into his face, effectively knocking him out. Whirling, I growled at Theo. “Of course she’ll wake up! She’s a fucking Phoenix!” Theo stood, glaring at me. “Killian. Her regeneration is taking longer than it did when she was shot.

If I can figure out what he gave her, maybe I can figure out a way to speed up the healing! Who knows if what he gave her could prevent her from regenerating at all!” His voice brokered no arguments, and, damn it, he was right. Reigning in my anger, I stood reluctantly. Michael was still unconscious, anyway. Damien took a step closer, staying nearby in case he needed to help restrain him. “If we can wake him up, we can let Damien dig through his head. I don’t trust a word this fucker says. He’d tell us the wrong thing just to fuck with us.” My voice was raw and harsh as I sputtered the words. Theo nodded in approval. “Ryder.

” Ryder snapped from his position on the ground, cradling a bleeding Nix. “No fucking way, dude. I don’t want to heal that bastard.” Theo sighed, pressing his fingers against his eyes. “I don’t want to heal him either, but we need to be smart about this! Something’s wrong. We all feel it and until I can figure out what, we can only wait! If something is interfering with her ability, I want to help her! I won’t lose her, so get your ass over here, now!” He was nearly roaring as he finished speaking, emotion lacing his words. Ryder sighed and brushed a soft kiss across Nix’s head, before passing her into Hiro’s waiting arms. I was glad one of us had her. We would never let her go through this alone. I was kicking myself for allowing her to leave earlier this evening and wished with every fiber of my being that we had insisted she stay with us.

I should have never agreed to let her go back to the dorms. Fuck! My Puca and I should have been able to see this coming. Rage seethed through my body and out into my limbs, making me clench my hands into fists again. The hatred I felt toward myself for not being able to see this, for failing her, was eating me alive. For once, my Puca stayed silent, in complete agreement with my human half. Her body was completely still; no breath nor magic had yet returned. “Phoenix can’t die. Phoenix can’t fucking die…” kept playing on repeat in my head. Damien cleared his throat and winced a little. “Kill, shields up.

You’re screaming that at me. It’s starting to hurt.” I growled, trying to bring my shields back into place. I wanted them down; wanted to let my Puca help sense any change around us, so we would know when her rebirth started. Before I sealed them in place, I felt my Puca push his magic out across the clearing, searching and reaching for Nix’s, hoping to lure it out of her and bring her back to us. When the tendrils continued across the clearing and crawled up the spelled barrier, I sighed and forced my Puca back, mentally barring my thoughts from Damien. Ryder crouched next to Michael and swore. I saw his fist clenched as he battled with himself over his desire to hurt rather than to heal. “Bloody Hell.” He eyed me, and I caught the dark glint in his eyes.

“I’ll heal him, but when we get what we need, I want you to knock him the fuck out again.” I smirked as I thought about that silver lining. It was a dark thought for Ryder, but my Puca growled his approval. Watching Ryder heal the fucker was going to be cruel and unusual punishment for us; hopefully, it wouldn’t be pleasant for the scumbag either. Ryder’s hand hovered over the fucker, and his hand gave off the typical blue glow that signified his healing touch. Clenching my jaw, I watched him stir slightly on the ground and had to take a few steps backward to prevent myself from jumping him again. Besides, it wasn’t my turn. Theo hadn’t had a chance to deal with the devil yet, and I just knew his Kraken was waiting in the wings for his turn at satisfaction. Michael grunted and groaned as Ryder healed his concussion and patched him up enough to bring him back to consciousness. If this guy was smart, he’d be shitting his pants right about now: four mythologicals, rigid as stone, pissed as hell, looming above his place in the dirt ready to reign justice down on his head.

Theo leaned over Michael, his blue eyes hard and cold as ice. “What was in the vial? A drug? A poison?” His voice was full of authority and command, and I saw Michael flinch under the weight. Coughing and spitting blood between his broken teeth, he tried to sneer at us through his swollen eyes. “That bitch got what she deserved. May as well bury her now.” My Puca lunged, trying to gain the upper hand. Theo merely cocked his head, somehow staying in control. This was one of the many reasons why he was the leader of our group. “You’re an abusive asshole, but you’re still a shifter. You obviously were using her for something.

You wouldn’t have tracked her here just to kill her; it doesn’t make sense. While you’re not intelligent, there should still be a semblance of logic behind your actions.” His electric blue eyes narrowed and flashed with dangerous intent as he continued, “You’re obviously not her father, which means you’ve been harboring a minor for a reason. You can either cooperate and tell us what we want to know, or I can let my companion here…” he inclined his head towards Damien, “… dig through your head. I can assure you he won’t leave it in the same condition he finds it, although your sanity is already questionable.”

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