Mentored in Fire – K. F. Breene

OUT OF BREATH, bone-weary, and above all things determined, Penny staggered up to the lone door in an unassuming mound of earth, the entrance to the vampire lair. Darius had better be in its depths. Reagan was being held by the elves. The shifters and warrior fae who’d vowed to protect her had been forced to retreat from the elf castle to regroup, and Darius was their only hope for getting her back. Penny just hoped Reagan would be alive long enough to rescue. “This is it?” she asked, chest heaving, trying to catch her breath. Emery stopped beside her and wobbled a little, bracing his hands on his hips. “Yeah,” he panted, only still going because Penny had pushed him. She was the better runner, able for longer distances. He was hardier, though, experienced in pushing past his limits and ignoring pain. He was the absolute best guy to have in a pinch, something he’d proven again and again as he led them at a breakneck pace through the Realm, taking the absolute fastest route to the lair. Penny brushed her sweat-soaked hair from her face and nodded, pushing forward. “Okay then.” Not great at kicking in doors, she used her magic instead, fashioning a sort of explosion. It ignited and then concussed, bursting through the doorway and billowing into the space beyond.

The door ripped off its hinges and clattered to the ground with the burst. This wasn’t a time for skulking, and magic wouldn’t hide them from the older vampires. They’d sense someone in their midst even if they couldn’t see or hear her and Emery sneaking around. No, it was time to embody Reagan’s swagger. For Penny to show her power and make vampires think twice before attacking the strangers in their midst. At least until they found Darius. He had better be in there! “Grab those sticks, Emery,” she said, straightening to her full height as she pushed her shoulders back and strutted forward like Reagan would. “Torches,” Emery murmured, pulling his backpack around. “Right, torches, yeah.” Emery had grabbed them off some goblins who had tried to ambush them and steal their stuff. They’d gotten their bodies sliced in half for their efforts. It was Emery who’d insisted on rifling through their things and taking anything of value. There were no heroes in the dangerous parts of the Realm. A sucking darkness enveloped them as they entered the vampire lair, the narrow hallway opening up into a huge sort of hall. A path ran between a series of large stone pillars, the darkness shrouding what lay at the end.

Light flared from behind her, and Emery handed forth a torch, the flame licking the chilled air. Rough-hewn stone tried to catch her toes as she made downward progress into the lair’s depths. “They will be all around us in moments, if they aren’t already,” Emery said softly. He needn’t have bothered to explain. Penny could feel the vampires’ predatory magic curling around her, flirting with hers. She could sense the bleating warning of a breached territory crowding the air. She could sense the presences drifting closer, hostile, hungry, and playful. These types weren’t interested in a quick meal. Penny didn’t say a word as she continued along, mostly because Emery didn’t. He was right behind her, the glow of their fire sticks—torches—creating a halo around them. A woman’s sultry voice slithered out of the darkness. “What, no magic from our illustrious natural mages?” “I’m not here to fight, but I will,” Penny said in a strong, sure voice that she did not have to work at. Apparently, blind fear for her friend had brought out some heretofore hidden well of inner strength. Reagan wasn’t the only one she was embodying on this journey—she’d been acting a lot like her mother, who took nonsense from nobody, and she wasn’t even sorry for it. “We’re looking for Darius.

” “They know why we’re here,” Emery murmured, and Penny could feel the placating spell being woven behind her. He didn’t intend to kill any of these critters if he could help it. She had no such reservations. “If they know, why aren’t they leading us to him?” Penny said through clenched teeth. A body appeared up the way. The vampire was in what Reagan referred to as its monster form—swampy green with lank black hair framing a long, drawn, and, well, monstrous face. Long white fangs dropped down from black gums, and its claws clicked together as it wiggled its fingers. It hissed, and stringy drool dripped from its mouth. “Rumpelstiltskin’s foreskin, what is it trying to do, scare us?” Penny wove elements together at a blinding speed. “No, no, wait—” Emery’s hand on her shoulder was too late. She let her magic slam into the swampy monster. The spell burrowed between its ribs, making it jerk back, before igniting. Guts and grime flew everywhere, slapping off Emery’s hastily erected shield, something Penny had forgotten about. Getting slimed with that stuff would’ve been gross. The remainder of the body dropped to the floor.

Other vampires in monster form pushed away from the path, and a couple of creatures, unseen in the deep darkness, hissed. “That might…cause a problem,” Emery murmured. “We should try to remain peaceful.” Penny marched on, uncaring, the image of Reagan fighting a crowd of enemies, alone, seared into her mind. She’d done that so Penny and Emery and the others could get away. She’d sacrificed herself to a terrible fate so they could run like cowards. “Fuck ’em,” Penny said with lead in her stomach. This situation was worth that real swear. She’d never get that image out of her head. Never. And if something happened to Reagan before Penny could get there—if Reagan was killed—Penny would never, ever forgive herself. They needed to hurry, and no swampy monster trying to intimidate them would get in her way. A female form appeared on the path down the way, hips swinging exaggeratedly, legs ending in long, spiked heels. A bustier hiked up her ample bosom and a leather duster billowed around her. Her plump lips pulled up into a sarcastic sort of smile before she came to a stop.

“Hello,” she said in a velvety voice, her gaze skimming Penny and then lingering over her shoulder, clearly on Emery. “You are trespassing.” “You are in the way.” Penny kept her pace even though she recognized the vampire as Vlad’s right-hand woman. His assistant, if vampires could be said to have them. His protégée, maybe. They’d met in Ireland, at the meeting that had been held prior to the storming of the Mages’ Guild. “She’s right…” This time Penny did slow as a second female form appeared beside the first. Shorter, dressed in a chic white dress that draped around her shapely calves, Marie was no less beautiful. Her smile was equally condescending, but it was not directed at Penny. “My oh my,” Marie said, taking a step past the first vampire. “You are sure making a habit of choosing the wrong side.” Marie held out her hand for Penny, the large ruby on her middle finger glittering in the firelight. “Come, Penny. Darius is waiting for you.

” Penny heaved a sigh of relief and let her guard slip a little. Unfortunately, that also prompted her magic, which had been on high alert since the scene at the castle, to let loose. “No, no, wait—” Vlad’s assistant’s face never changed, haughty and arrogant. But suddenly she was airborne, caught up in a blast of wind and magic, turned end over end as she was propelled backward. She landed out of sight, the repeated thuds echoing around the vast space. Penny didn’t even know where she’d picked up that spell, but she was pretty sure the vampire would tumbleweed for a while before she could break free. She’d come out bloody, but she wouldn’t die. Marie laughed in delight. “And that was just a mere fraction of what she is capable of. Imagine.” Penny was well aware that Marie was pandering to the crowd. She and Darius needed to get vampires on their side—and away from Vlad—in preparation for the war that was surely coming.


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Updated: 21 October 2021 — 05:34

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