Spellbound – Dannika Dark

The wind howled against Gem’s bedroom windows, and a flash of lightning illuminated the darkened room. Desperate to wake Niko from the sleeping spell he was under, Gem gathered her most precious healing stones into a purse and flinched when a crack of thunder shook the mansion. After Crush and the wolves had stormed Cyrus’s home and killed all the brothers, one of the Shifters morphed to human form and carried Niko to the van. Gem didn’t ask why they were there or what they planned to do with the bodies. She didn’t even ask if Viktor had made it through his mission alive. She had simply clutched the red book of spells in her arms and followed them without question, her mind still in a state of shock. On the long ride home earlier, Gem couldn’t stop thinking about the moments leading up to her spellcasting. Everything had happened so fast, and there weren’t any other options, not with the fighting and imminent danger of Cyrus using his sword on Niko. Had she recklessly wielded an energy ball, she would have killed Niko for certain. And would it have accomplished the deaths of Cyrus’s men? Probably not. Arcadius had the ability to create a powerful shield around himself, so that left her with only one option. Had she taken extreme measures by invoking a spell from the book? What if Cyrus had only meant to dismember Niko? No, no, no. Gem would never accept that as a reason to have sat idly by and done nothing to intervene. But why, oh why, had the fates revealed that spell, of all spells, to her? Gem hurried down the hall to the opposite side of the mansion. Niko resided on the second floor, as did she, but there were so many halls and rooms between them that they rarely ran into each other outside of the common areas.

She still hadn’t let go of the red book, gripping it as if it might grow legs and scamper away. Thunder shook the mansion, the sonorous sound swinging the lanterns that hung in the hallways. As she reached his bedroom, wood snapped in the large fire blazing in the hearth across the room. Niko had a corner fireplace near the bed. He could roll on his left side and watch the flames dwindle to nothing but embers. Maybe he couldn’t see fire like everyone else could, but his Mage gift allowed him to see something. Crush, Switch, and Wyatt hovered over Niko’s bed, and all Gem could do was stand in the doorway like a statue. “Spooky, ain’t it?” Wyatt remarked. Crush tugged on his grey goatee, one arm folded around his middle. “You ever heard of something like this happening to a Mage?” Switch pivoted on his heel, and for a brief moment, she thought he might shake her and demand to know what she had done.

“I have to check on Hunter. If you need anything, let me know,” he said, leaving the room. Gem stepped inside, her feet ghosting across the wood floor. She searched Niko’s face for signs of life, but he just lay there with the most angelic look. “Who did that? Who crossed his arms over his chest like a corpse?” Wyatt shrugged. “Force of habit.” He reached down and put Niko’s arms to his sides. “Did you try giving him your healing light?” She inched up to the foot of the bed. “On the way over. It healed his injuries, but that’s all.

” Crush turned his gaze about the windowless room. “Maybe we need to put him in the sun.” Wyatt shivered and tucked his hands in his armpits. “He’s not a flower.” “No, peckerhead. But if a Mage needs light to heal, maybe he needs something stronger. Something constant, like the sun.” “It doesn’t work like that,” Gem informed him. “He has to pull the energy from sunlight. It’s a voluntary and intentional process that requires the person to be conscious.

” “Know any Relics who specialize in Mage disorders?” Gem bristled. “There’s nothing wrong with his light.” “Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.” Wyatt paced back to the fire and stoked it. “He’s afflicted in some way. I’d call that a disorder. Are you sure he didn’t just deplete his energy and zonk out?” Gem swallowed, but her throat was dry. “I don’t think so.” Maybe Wyatt was onto something.

Maybe Niko would sleep it off in a few days and wake up. That seemed more logical than the truth, and right now, Gem didn’t want to talk about what had really happened, not until she had time to think about the consequences. Crush jerked his chin at her armload of supplies. “What’s all that?” She set her purse at the foot of the bed. “Healing stones. I thought… I thought they might have a curative effect.” Wyatt set the metal poker back in the holder before turning around. “You think rocks will help? Why don’t you hit him on the head and see if he’ll wake up?” She narrowed her eyes as he tightened the drawstring on his grey sweatpants. “If you want to make jokes, go make them somewhere else, Gravewalker. I know your Breed doesn’t take death seriously, but what if he can hear you? What if he can hear everything we’re saying? Have you given that any consideration?” Wyatt bent over the bed.

“Niko,” he sang, “can you hear me? You need to fire your interior decorator.” Gem slammed the red book on the floor with so much fury that both men straightened their spines at the sound of the leather slapping against the wood. She stalked over to the fireplace, cupped her elbows, and fought back the tears. “How am I going to explain this to Viktor? How will he ever look me in the eye again? I have to fix this… I have to find a way to—” “When’s the last time you had any sleep?” Crush asked, his voice as soothing as his touch on her shoulders. “Those dark circles under your eyes were there when I dropped you off in the city, so I know you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in days. You can’t do anything running on fumes. I know there’s a lot you have to figure out, but those things can wait a few hours. You’ve been through a lot, seen things a woman shouldn’t see. Get some shut-eye, even if it doesn’t make sense or seem like the right thing to do. You’ll have a nervous breakdown if you don’t.

I’ve been to war, and it’s hell. But even in hell, you have to sleep.” Crush was right. Gem could feel her sanity dwindling, and she was having auditory hallucinations of past conversations with Niko and Cyrus. Symbols filled her head like spectral phantoms, and the world seemed to be tipping off its axis. How could she possibly help Niko while suffering sleep deprivation? “Here. I’ve got her,” Wyatt said. He put his arm around her and led her to the door. “Come on, buttercup. I didn’t mean to get you all in a tizzy.

I’m just a silly Gravewalker. Ignore anything I say. We’ll pick up where we left off in the morning.” She rooted her feet in place. “I’m sleeping here.” Crush and Wyatt shared a look, then Crush vacated the room. Wyatt scratched beneath his white thermal shirt and wrinkled his brow. “What happened?” “I hurt them all.” Wyatt gave her a quizzical stare. “You blew him up with an energy ball?” “You don’t understand.

I need to talk to Viktor. Has he called?” “Yep. Mission complete. I booked them a flight back, but it’ll take them another day to get to the nearest airport in West Virginia.” Wyatt glanced over his shoulder and gave Niko a long look. “Crush said the other men were piled on the floor like laundry before they even broke through the door. Is that right?” She nodded. “Holy Toledo. You did all that?” She nodded again, only this time with less vigor. “I’ll stay here and keep an eye on him.

You should get some sleep. I’ve seen freshies who look more alive than you do.” Gem stepped back, ready to chain herself to the armoire. “I’m staying here. I’m not leaving him. I’m the one who did this. Don’t you understand? I can’t leave him. I have to fix this.” “Fine, fine,” he said, tossing up his hands. “Let me see if he has any extra blankets.

” Wyatt got down on his knees and peered under the bed. “And Bingo was his name-o.” After pulling out a heavy blanket that felt like mink, he spread it in front of the fire and tossed her a spare pillow. Wyatt hovered near the bed and stared at Niko. “Seems weird to just leave him like this. Should we put a blanket on him? You think he’s cold?” The men had laid Niko down on top of his blankets, his clothing still the same beige outfit that Cyrus had forced him to wear. Slave clothes. Gem walked to the armoire and pulled out pants she’d seen Niko walking around in at night. They were loose and black with a low crotch. “Can you put these on him?” Wyatt looked at the pants she placed in his hands as if they were alien objects.

“You want me to strip him naked while he’s unconscious? I think there are consent laws against that.” Gem clenched her fists, her thoughts still on Cyrus’s abusive behavior. “When you’re done, I want you to burn what he’s wearing in the fire. Every scrap of it. If I find out that you put them in the laundry, Wyatt Blessing, I’ll post our address at the local cemetery.” “You’re a pushy dame. Fine, fine. But shoo. Give a man his privacy.” Gem took a candle and wandered into the bathroom.

She stared at her ghostly reflection in a mirror, which seemed out of place in Niko’s room. Crush was right. Dark circles around her eyes made her look sickly, and though her hair was wound up in two tight buns, it looked as if she’d stuck her head in the dryer. After splashing water onto her face, she grabbed the hand towel neatly folded over a towel ring. Niko was organized, but she guessed he had to be in order to know where everything was. Gem soaked the towel in hot water and wrung out the excess. “Are you done?” When she received no response, she peered through the doorless opening and saw it was safe to enter. Wyatt stood near the hearth, holding the tattered beige garments. “Why do you want me to burn these?” Without answering, Gem grabbed the clothes and hurled them into the flames. The fire ate them up quickly, burning away the torture and humiliation woven into the threads.

She sat on the edge of the bed and used the damp towel to wipe away the dried blood on Niko’s mouth and temple. Her light had healed his wounds, but unfortunately, it hadn’t been enough to wake him from his slumber. Gem barely noticed Wyatt grumbling about unfinished work as he left the room. She meticulously washed off the blood spattered on Niko’s face, neck, and chest. When she finished, she sat back and sighed. Her eyes traveled down to the Creator’s mark on his left pec. For some, that unique mark was a badge of honor. It linked every Mage to the one who created them, a family crest of sorts. How did Niko feel about his? All these years, he’d been associated with a tyrant who’d enslaved his Learners. And even worse, Niko had to share that mark with the most abhorrent men.

In some ways, it was a blessing that he couldn’t see it. If Gem had endured the same fate, she might have burned hers off with a hot iron and sealed the scar with liquid fire. Fortunately, her Creator had been her hero, and she couldn’t imagine what others, including Raven, had suffered. When she touched his arm to see if he was cold, Niko’s skin felt as warm as a windowpane in June. Gem got up and moved the screen in front of the fireplace so no embers could escape. Then she draped the damp hand towel over it. As much as she wanted to lie down and rest, something compelled her to open the book. Her mind wouldn’t stop turning, and sleeping felt like a betrayal. She rounded the bed and looked down at the floor. What she’d once considered a treasure was now a curse, a demon at her feet.

Gem bent over and collected the red book that Niko had spent a thousand years protecting. It somehow felt heavier in her arms than before, and the weight of that was from the knowledge of what it could do. She had vastly underestimated its power, and now the burden of that responsibility rested heavily on her shoulders. After crossing the room, she sat on the blanket Wyatt had spread out for her. The fire’s heat penetrated her camouflage leggings and black sweater, making them uncomfortably warm. After unlacing her boots, she set them out of the way and lay on her side, the book inches in front of her. How long could Niko remain catatonic without food or water? He would waste away to a pile of bones. Every Mage knew the main forms of death that could kill them, but starvation? Gem once heard a rumor about the rotted remains of a Mage who had been buried alive regenerating after someone had given him healing light. Sickened by the thought, she drew up her knees to lie in the fetal position. This was the single worst thing she’d ever done in her life.

Worse than not attending her Creator’s funeral. Worse than translating stolen documents for money. Even worse than attempting suicide. Her eyelids grew heavy as the fire’s heat enveloped her like a blanket. While she stared at the pages of the closed book, she thought about the sleeping warrior behind her. After all he’d done to protect civilization, this was his reward? “I’ll make it right,” she whispered. “I promise.”


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