The Last Rider, Chapter One
“Impossible,” I told Winter. “There’s no chance I can extract drinking water from my own cell energy. That’s not a thing. Stop messing.”
He pulled my back against his chest as we lay in bed. “It most certainly is a thing,” he insisted. “And I promise I’m not messing with you. You only need to have a little faith.”
He took my hands. “Good,” he said. “Keep your hands sealed, just like this, and let your core latch onto the humidity in the air.”
I squeezed my hands together. Nothing. I sighed. “You’re not funny.”
He turned my head to peer into my eyes. “The trick is to bypass the outward energy burst, then force moisture to your skin. Mix that with a hyper fluid elemental source and… Shazam! You’ll have water. It will literally flow from your fingers.”
“Have you ever done this?”
Darkness crept up his face. “It’s a mist rider thing.”
“So, if I’m getting this right, if I am ever stuck in a desert, I’ll just be able to suck my thumb, like this, and I’ll never go thirsty.”
“Stop that,” he said, swallowing hard. “You’ll need some elemental source, even if it is only a few drops of morning dew, or the last drops of water in a flask, but basically, in theory, yes.”
I laughed. “Sometimes you’re all theories and no fun.”
He reached under the sheets to attack my midsection with his fingers.
“Stop,” I protested as I squirmed away. “You know I hate tickling.”
“Then don’t be a brat.”
Uh, no. It’s too fun being a brat.
We kissed. I never wanted this simple, sensual state of happiness to end. And I never wanted to put clothes on again. For three days, we’d stayed in bed, ordering food delivery, catnapping and making love.
“How much longer do we have?” I said.
Winter shrugged. “Not long. I can try to prolong my mortality if that’s what you want.”
Yes, please! Mortal Winter was the most fun.
“I’ll take as much as you can give,” I said, hopeful.
A mischievous light played in his eyes.
“All men have the same mind,” I said, maybe blushing a little.
He squeezed my hands again, pushing my palms flush together. Water sprayed from my fingers like a tiny fountain, then stopped abruptly.
The doorbell rang.
Winter furrowed his brow. “Kirsi.”
I slipped into loose shorts and a t-shirt and headed for the door. Kirsi’s grim expression warned of bad news.
She looked over my apartment. “It’s great that you guys are getting it on like rabbits, but maybe check your phones every now and again.”
My eyes darted to my phone on the floor. Dead. I’d figured the world could take a backseat for once.
“What manner of mayhem do you bring to us?” Winter said, pulling on an Aztec t-shirt I bought him at the bookstore.
“The Society of Immortal Sisterhood is under attack,” she said. “Our central enclave was ransacked last night. We fear our coffeehouses could be next.”
The sisterhood ran several bookstore coffeehouses around the world.
Winter raised an eyebrow. “Who? And for what possible reason?”
Kirsi hesitated. “It’s just a hunch, but we think maybe it’s a necromantic sect coming after the Seventh Council Seal.”
Necromancers? If Horror was behind this, I swear, I’d skin him alive.
Kirsi was the official guard of the seal, but she didn’t exactly carry it in her purse. Last time I checked, the seal was safely tucked away in the magistrate court vaults along with other potentially hazardous magical artifacts.
“Why would they think the seal would be with the Sisterhood?”
Winter looked away. He knew something and hadn’t bothered to share it with me. What else is new?
Kirsi exhaled noisily. “Düsternis asked me to hide the seal.”
“Wait, the Grand Magistrate asked you to remove the seal from the court? There’s no way that’s allowed. It makes no sense.”
The magic of the seal was instrumental in safeguarding the council from supernatural intruders and augmenting the council’s access to powerful ley line energy. Removing it from the grounds would make the magistrates more vulnerable. Every council and every order in the magic realm had at least one seal bonded to them, some more powerful than others. The Seventh Council Seal was one of the most powerful.
Kirsi struggled to get the next words out. “Düsternis added cyphers written in the Eternal language to the script at the core of the seal. When spoken, they can banish Eternals.”
Wow. I had no words. “Again, that can’t be sanctioned.”
“Of course not,” Kirsi said. “The council thought it a necessary contingency to put in place in case Horror came for us. But if the Eternals were to find out their archaic symbology was being used as a weapon by the council, the consequences would be dire.”
Yeah, Eternals would see this as a provocation. No doubt about that. They were a faction of hyper charged sourpusses who hated sharing. A rift between Eternals and the Seventh Council would lay waste to half the magic world.
I struggled to comprehend. “So, the seal is with the Sisterhood?”
Winter sneered. “She won’t tell you. She can’t. She must guard that secret with her life.”
I glared at him. “You better shut it. I can see you’re clearly keeping a closet full of secrets from me yourself. I’ll deal with you later.”
Kirsi was amused until she received my glare.
“Are you entirely sure the seal is safe wherever you’ve hidden it?” I said.
“It is, but all bets are off if an Eternal goes after it.”
Shit. “And what if it’s Horror himself?”
Their silence confirmed what I already knew in my gut. Horror was suspect number one. So much for stepping back and giving me space.
What are you up to now, Daddy from hell?
I asked the obvious. “And we think he’ll use it to banish any Eternal who might wish to stand in his way?”
Kirsi shrugged. “Who knows what’s in a maniac’s mind? He might want access to the exact combination of the banishing symbols, or he might want to protect himself from Düsternis, or use the seal for some still darker purpose. There’s no way to know what shade of crazy he desires.”
“Either way, we’re fucked.”
They both regarded me with blank expressions.
“Sneaky bastard,” I said. “It explains why I couldn’t connect to his essence or locate him when I tried the other day. He’s locked me out.”
“The only thing we can do now is defend the Sisters and our coffeehouses,” Kirsi said. “It won’t be easy.”
“Count us in,” Winter said.
Kirsi arched an eyebrow. “In your condition? I don’t think so.”
“Kirsi, I might not be a magistrate anymore, but I’m still your friend.”
“Yeah, an all too mortal friend.”
“Mortal or not, I have access to a significant amount of power, not to mention I can still kick ass with my good old bare hands.”
Kirsi hardened. “I will not be responsible for your death.”
She was right. He was the strongest man I knew, but being mortal made him forever vulnerable. All mortals hung by a thread, but most of them didn’t have deathless gods as enemies. Powerful entities were lined up to vanquish him. Everything was fine and dandy as long as we hid out in our little love nest, but the moment he stepped outside it, he’d be in perpetual peril. Hell, he could even die in a car crash or slip on wet pavement.
I cupped his shoulder. “Switch back. Reboot your immortality.”
“That’s not how it works. My core isn’t there yet.”
“That settles it,” Kirsi said.
Winter looked pissed. “Does it?”
“Yes, you thick-brained man,” she said. “You’re sitting this one out.”
Winter’s eyes flashed with frustration, but he said nothing.
“Are you going back to the coffee shop?” I asked Kirsi.
“No, I’m off to alert Herja.”
Herja was co-founder of the Sisterhood, along with Sigrún, and she was among the high order of Valkyries who possessed the rarest supernatural powers. The Sisters trusted her, even deferred to her. When Ölrún died in the Nightwood battle against Horror’s necromantic forces, Herja had blamed herself. Soon afterwards, she retreated to her land in the old Valkyrie realm to cleanse her aura and mourn the passing of a beloved friend.
“I thought maybe you’d go with me, Luna,” Kirsi continued. “Herja is unreachable by design. We’ll need all the magic we can muster to penetrate her wards and subdue her pets.”
Uh… pets? What now?
Winter stood with a pained grimace.
Kirsi blinked. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I am her shadow and therefore am forever by her side,” he said.
“You may be her shadow, but you’re not now a Shadow Warrior.”
“Come on, Kirs,” I said, “at least give it up for his play on words. If we’re just going to Herja’s fortified dwelling, there’s no harm in bringing along a little arm candy.”
Kirsi hissed. “Okay, that’s gross. The only lovesick dove I want to see is one roasting on the tip of my spear. And if you think no harm can come from breaking into Herja’s retreat, you still have much to learn, mist rider.”
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