Excerpt from Immortals: The Crossing
An Immortals Novel
, Book 6
(October 01, 2008)
Immortal Celtic demigod Manannán mac Lir rides to the rescue of a fairie village attacked by a mysterious death magic spell…
A gaggle of skinny-arsed fangirls, accompanied by the tall, pasty-faced photog, were camped on the beachhead across the channel from Kalen's island. How the hell had they tracked him from Inverness? Gritting his teeth, Mac glamoured his way around them and extracted the Norton from its hiding place. He hit the road with a squeal of rubber. Enhancing the cycle's excellent motor with a high-speed charm, he arrived in the vicinity of Gilraen Ar-Finiel's village in under an hour.
The little man lay in wait at the edge of a meadow, at a point where the human road ran closest to his village. The instant Mac braked, the faerie darted out from behind a clump of moorgrass, waving his hat frantically.
Mac hopped off the cycle and listened to Gilraen's impassioned recount of the death magic attack on his village.
"You had no warning?" Mac asked when Gilraen came up for air. "None at all?"
Gilraen twisted his leaf hat in his hands, his gossamer wings drooping down his back. The faerie's green coat was rumpled, the tip of his short beard had lost its point, and his normally rosy skin had gone several shades toward sallow.
"I swear on sweet Annwyn, Mac Lir, there were nothing. No hint of trouble at all. No scent of death magic. And then..." He swallowed visibly, his Adam's apple bulging. "The clan started falling ill. 'Twas slight at first...small pains in the head, minor cramps of the stomach. Then came dizziness, gloom, anger. Elders started fighting; the young ones wouldna stop wailing. But little Tamika--she was too weak even to cry. That's when we knew 'twas a death spell. Thank the gods ye were close by."
"About that," Mac said. "How did you know where I was?"
"Why, your fan blog, of course. MacTracker. Updates daily, it does. Sometimes twice in a day."
Mac blinked at him. "Your village is online?"
"Aye. We got a satellite uplink last spring, so we could follow your world tour. Yesterday's post said you'd gone to Kalen's after that last show in Inverness. Gave road directions and all."
Bloody hell. That certainly explained the fans camped on the beach. But how had the blogger known?
"I emailed Kalen, of course," Gilraen went on, "but I know the man never checks his account. So I sent a falcon as well."
"Smart of you." Shoving aside the acute annoyance his unrelenting fans engendered, Mac refocused on Gilraen. "How are the young ones doing now? Tamika, especially. Your healer is attending them, I assume."
"Aye, so she is. The older bairns are recovering, 'tis true. But the wee one..." The leaf hat crumpled, and a single tear tracked down Gilraen's leathery cheek. "She's verra bad off, Mac Lir. I fear...I fear she's dying."
Mac's gut clenched. "No. I'll take her to Annwyn, at once. She'll heal there."
Gilraen shook his head. "We'd have brought her to the gates already, if 'twere possible. 'Tis not. Her heart flutters like hummingbird wings, and her breath is the faintest whisper. She canna be moved."
"Why didn't you bring her immediately? As soon as you realized what had happened?"
"By then 'twas already too late. The spell struck that quickly, and caught us unaware. We thought this type of evil finished with, we did. The clan's seen nary a demon or ogre in over a year." The lines bracketing Gilraen's mouth deepened. "Ye assured us it was safe to leave the protection of the city, Mac Lir. We returned to the countryside with high hopes."
The reproach hit home with a painful strike that made Mac feel like the lowest of worms. He'd spent the last year roaming the world--performing, brooding, grabbing stale pleasures. If he'd been home in the Highlands, alert and looking after his responsibilities, he might have neutralized this threat before it occurred.
The spellcaster had left no trail, Gilraen had said. And yet...Mac frowned, concentrating. Faeries were highly sensitive to magic, but Mac's senses were infinitely sharper. He inhaled deeply. There was a whiff of spent death magic in the air. The barest trace.
It was a sour stench, like milk left out in the sun. Such rankness was only to be expected, where death magic was concerned. But what took Mac by surprise was the accompanying undercurrent of...sweetness. Like lilacs in springtime. Like laughter. Like life magic.
Now that was exceedingly odd.
For the first time in months, Mac's curiosity stirred.
"What it is, Mac Lir?" Gilraen's wings lifted and buzzed. "What do ye sense? Demons? Unseelies?"
"Neither. There's a residue of death magic, yes, but there are traces of a life magic spell, as well."
"Death and life magic, cast together? It makes no sense!"
"You're right. It doesn't," Mac murmured. "But both kinds of magic were cast here. And I'm certain there was only one spellcaster."
"A human, most likely. Very few races other than humans can handle both death and life magic." But none, to his knowledge, did so simultaneously.
Gilraen gave his beleaguered hat another half-twist. A stray leaf fluttered to the ground. "What human would harm a faerie child? Faeries are good luck for humanfolk."
True enough. Which only made the situation that much more bizarre. Mac scrubbed a hand over his face, momentarily startled by the scratch of whiskers. Six months earlier, after seven hundred years of not needing a razor, his beard had come in with a vengeance. He still couldn't get used to it. He felt like a bloody werewolf under the full moon.
The rage bubbling inside him was certainly worthy of a werewolf. What scum of a human would dare harm a faerie infant? He itched to start tracking the villain, but right now, the sick child was his first priority.
"Take me to Tamika, Gilraen. Gods willing, I'll be able to heal her."
Gilraen's wings buzzed. "I hope so, Mac Lir. I hope so."
Dear Goddess. She'd gone too far this time. Too, too far.
And now an infant lay dying.
Artemis Black gripped her moonstone pendant, her clenched fist pressing into the hollow at the base of her throat, and held herself very, very still. Bile burned in her throat; the Cadbury chocolate-and-hazelnut bar she'd gulped in lieu of breakfast churned in her stomach. The faerie clan's life essence, trapped inside the pendant, burned her palm.
Her senses were raw; she could feel every nuance of the energy bound to the stone. The panic and fear of the young ones, the grief and anger of the elders. But those sensations were new, and faint. Far more vivid was the life of the faeries before she'd cast her spell: fellowship and feasting, dances under the moon, the exhilaration of flight.
It was all hers now. Stolen in the most underhanded, shameful way.
Her grip on the stone tightened. Pain sliced through her palm. She did not let go.
She deserved to be hurt. Deserved contempt and loathing. What she was doing was wrong, but she'd never meant it to go this far. Normally, she excluded the young ones from her spells, but today she'd decided to cast her net a little wider. Time was running out, and she'd wanted this to be the last village.
It hadn't seemed so bad when she started. Faerie life essence was so strong--an embarrassment of magical riches, really. She took so little from each village, relatively speaking. Until now, the effects of her theft had been negligible. A headache here, a pain there. Vague anxiety, soon forgotten. With each magical heist, the moonstone glowed a little brighter--and what, really, had been the cost to the faeries? Nothing. The last six villages hadn't even known they'd been robbed.
But none of those villages had had an infant.
It hadn't even occurred to her to look for a baby in this one. Faerie births were extremely rare. The youngest children she'd encountered so far had appeared eight or nine years old; in reality, they had to be fifty human years or more. Never in a million years had she expected this village to have had so recent a birth.
She'd been wrong.
Gods. She'd made a ton of mistakes since she'd come to Scotland, but this one? This one was off the charts.
She could fix it.
But if she did that, she'd need to siphon an equal amount of life essence from another faerie village, very quickly. There was so little time. Just over a day. And faerie settlements were notoriously difficult to find. Clueless American that she was, Artemis hadn't realized just how difficult until she'd arrived in the Highlands four months ago and started hunting. Sure, she'd been able to map out Scotland's major ley lines easily enough, but what she hadn't realized was that faeries preferred to nestle their villages on tributaries of the main power channels, on magical paths as faint and delicate as spider's silk. Hard to see, easily broken. She'd had to execute some fiendishly complex spellwork in order to reveal them.
It had taken three weeks to locate this last village. She didn't have three weeks--or three even days--to find another. Tomorrow was Samhain. She had to be ready by sunset. If the next twenty-six precious hours passed and she wasn't ready...
Her chest squeezed so tightly, she couldn't breathe. The stone in her fingers burned. Stars danced before her eyes. She stared through the streaked windshield of her rented Vauxhall Corsa, fighting back tears of pure panic.
Would she do even this to attain her goal? Let a baby die? What had she become?
She pried open her fingers. The moonstone glittered, luminous with life. Artemis's hand began to shake. Breath hissed painfully from her lungs, like air from a tire pierced by a small, sharp blade.
Everything depended on the life essence contained in the moonstone. Everything. But how could she sacrifice an innocent life for her cause?
How could she not?