Spell Bound – Kelley Armstrong

He watched the girl stumble from the motel office, room key glinting under the harsh lights of the parking lot. Lightning flashed, illuminating her figure. Tall and slender, barely more than a teen, too young to be out alone in a place like this, on a night like this. Thunder rumbled and crashed. The parking lot lights flickered and buzzed. Sheets of ice-cold rain battered the girl. She kept walking, oblivious, as her long hair whipped against her face. She paid no attention to the storm. No attention to the dark. No attention to him, standing across the road, watching. So young. So confident. So foolish. The girl stopped at her room and jammed the key into the lock. When it didn’t work the first time, she cast an unlock spell.

The door swung open. She staggered inside. So young. So powerful. And, at this moment, so broken. Perhaps he could use that. The girl had just solved the murders of three young women in a nearby town. On the surface, the deaths were unremarkable. Humans killed one another all the time. As it turned out, the first two fit the usual pattern—pointless deaths, tragic for a few, meaningless to everyone else.

The third was different. She’d been killed by a half-demon spirit, escaped from her hell dimension. A mere shade should not be able to do such a thing. But the half-demon had help, powerful help, and her escape was yet another sign that what he’d foreseen was inevitable. For years, mortal supernaturals had whispered about signs and portents. The impossible becoming possible. Humans learning magic. New races evolving within a generation. Bitten werewolves passing their genes to their offspring. A clairvoyant of unsurpassed power, born from a dead mother.

As one who had observed for millennia, he knew these were not new occurrences. Merely rare. Yet with so many in quick succession, even the demonic and the celestial had taken note. Some believed. Others did not, but saw opportunity in the growing unrest. Now mortal supernaturals who believed the signs were coalescing under one man. A man with a dream that could change the world. Or destroy it. The demonic and the celestial took note of that, too. They whispered.

They conspired. They chose a side. The girl in the motel room knew nothing of this. She’d sent the half-demon shade back to her hell and considered the matter closed, except for the details that obsessed her now, ones that had nothing to do with the gathering storm. Before the half-demon shade was banished from the living world, she’d exacted revenge by telling the authorities who’d killed the first two young women—the mother of one. It had been accidental. A struggle, the gun goes off. It concerned him not at all. But it did concern the girl in the motel room. She’d been the one who learned the truth.

The half-demon shade simply acted on her findings. Now the girl couldn’t stop thinking about the woman she’d inadvertently sent to prison. Couldn’t stop thinking about the child, alone now, mother dead, grandmother accused of her murder. It mattered not a whit in the larger scheme of things. In a few days, the girl in the motel room would be swept into the maelstrom brewing in the supernatural world. She would play a role. A critical role. A dangerous role. Now inside the room, the girl flicked on the light, only to have it go out again as the power failed. She cast a light ball.

Thank God for my spells, he heard her think. She paused then and images flickered through her mind. Images of the accused woman and the orphaned child. Of the girl’s own mother and father, whose long-ago deaths she felt responsible for. Of a man she’d begun to care for, killed by the half-demon shade. Guilt. Anguish. Despair. Then a clear thought. If I could fix even one thing, and give Kayla back her grandmother, I’d gladly give up my powers.

He smiled. Yes, he could definitely use that. one Sitting cross-legged on my motel bed in the dark, I cast my light ball spell for the twentieth time. As I recited the incantation, I waited for the mental click that told me it had worked. When that didn’t come, I opened my eyes, still expecting to see the glowing ball floating over my fingers. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen it the first nineteen times. It was a damned light ball spell, so simple I usually didn’t even need to finish the incantation before it worked. The room stayed dark. On a chair by the bed, Adam mumbled and shifted in his sleep. Adam Vasic, Exustio half-demon, the guy I’d been in love with since I was twelve, now my best friend.

He’d followed me when I took off in a tantrum of guilt and grief, snuck into my motel room, and quietly fell asleep. He was close to waking now, and even my whispered incantations had him fussing. He needed sleep, not more of my angst, so I slid from the room. I stepped outside. It was a wet spring night, the earlier storm gone, whipping winds and a bonechilling cold left behind. I walked over to Adam’s Jeep, parked beside my vintage Triumph motorcycle. I peered through the back of his vehicle, in case I’d left a sweater there. All I could see was his duffel bag, and I didn’t want to break in and go through his stuff, which was proof that I really wasn’t myself tonight. A soda machine glowed across the motel lot. I wasn’t thirsty, but I had change in my pocket and it gave me a destination.

After sloshing through one puddle in the dark, I didn’t bother trying to avoid the rest, just trudged along, icy water soaking my sneakers. When gravel crackled to my left, I spun and spotted a shape darting behind the motel. Which reminded me . besides losing my spells, I was also the target of a witch-hunter. Apparently she’d found me again. I glanced toward my room. I should get Adam. Without my powers, I was— Powerless? Hardly. I was six feet tall and in great shape. The witch-hunter was a scrawny mouse of a girl, barely an adult, barely five-foot-five, with no apparent supernatural powers.

I took another step, careful now, and instinctively started whispering a sensing spell under my breath. Then I stopped. Do it the old-fashioned way. Look and listen. I did, but couldn’t hear anything. Peering around the corner didn’t help. Then gravel crunched overhead. On the roof. A trick she’d pulled before. I should have been prepared.

I looked around. There had to be a fire escape or trash bins I could climb— A loud noise sent me spinning, back to the wall, hands lifted for a spell. Tires squealed as a car roared past the motel. I looked down at my fingers, still outstretched, ready to cast. I inhaled sharply and clenched my fists. What if she did have a gun? Sure, I knew some martial arts, but I was no black belt. I’d learned grudgingly, knowing my spells were better than any roundhouse kick. I’d love to bring this kid down on my own, but the important thing was to stop her before she targeted another witch. Time to get backup. I was two doors from my room when a hand clamped on my shoulder.

I spun, fingers flying up in a useless knockback spell. It was a man, a huge guy, at least three hundred pounds and a few inches taller than me. Beard stubble covered his fleshy face. He smelled like he’d showered in Jack Daniel’s. “You got a dollar?” he said. “I’m hungry.” He pointed at the vending machine. “I don’t got a dollar.” “Neither do I,” I said. He grabbed my arm and yanked me, his other arm going around my waist as he pulled me against him.

I froze. Just froze, my brain stuttering through all the spells I couldn’t cast, refusing to offer any alternatives. “Let her go,” said a familiar voice. Adam walked over, hands at his sides, fingers glowing faintly, gaze fixed on the man. I snapped to my senses and elbow-jabbed the guy, who fell back, whining, “I just wanted a dollar.” Adam is my height and well built, but he’s no muscle-bound bruiser. Still the guy shrunk, then slithered off to his room. “Well, that was humiliating,” I said. “Tell you what, I’ll buy that new top for your Jeep if you promise never to tell anyone you rescued me from a drunk asking for spare change.” He didn’t smile.

Just studied me, then said, “Let’s get inside.” “Can’t. My little witch-hunter has returned. She’s up on the roof. I was just coming in to get you for backup.” That gave him pause, but he only nodded, then peered up at the dark rooftop. “I’ll go around the rear and climb up. You cover the front.” I should have warned him that I was spell-free. I really should have.

I didn’t. A few minutes later, gravel crunched on the roof again and I tensed, but it was only Adam. He walked to the front, hunkered down, and motioned me over. “No sign of her,” he whispered. “But I can’t see shit. Can you toss up a light ball?” “Is there a flashlight in the Jeep?” I asked. “That’d be easier.” “Sure.” He dropped the keys into my hand. “Glove box.

.

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