“Who speaks?” Dom’s voice bled into the night. His voice held all of the power of the necro leader’s, but was so much more compelling. Where the necro leader’s voice made terror race down your spine, Dom’s inspired submission. Every druid around us knelt on the ground when he spoke. The few of us who weren’t druids were the only ones still on our feet. I could see that he retained his human form, but his voice had gone beast.

“I am the necro King!” the thing screamed.

“I recognize no necro King!” Dom roared back. “The necros have named no King! If you want to be king, you will fight! No King sneaks off in the dark after the fight begins. I am the druid King, and I will lead the charge! I will burn this city of abominations to the ground! Fight me now if you want to call yourself a King!”

“I think not.” The voice slithered around us again. “But you will die tonight, Arch. My people will make a banquet of your flesh!”

“Take your best shot. Coward!” Dom roared. I shivered watching him, a little awed. Power literally poured off of him in visible waves. I’d never seen him quite like this, at his full potential for power. He was like a beacon to the other druids, his power a thing to behold. I doubted another druid, alive or in the past, could touch his powerful command. Not even his Uncle, the European Arch, who had ruled for centuries, was his match.

I wondered if all the blood I’d given him was responsible for any of it. I still didn’t know the full effects of what our blood did for the drinker. Could it be responsible for a permanent increase in power? I wondered about this, not for the first time.

I had put my blood into his drink many times over the years we’d been together. I had felt an almost uncontrollable urge to feed him my blood. Lynn and I had discussed it before, this urge to give our blood to the ones we wanted to protect. Though, unlike Lynn, I had no urge to give mine to anyone but the closest of friends. So far, that had only ever been Christian, and Dom.

Dom had even caught me at it once.

I had been in the kitchen of our shared apartment. Just thinking of that place in passing made me sigh with longing and regret. I still dreamed of it, our apartment in Denver. It had been ours, the place we shared with so much freedom. It was small, a downtown pad, with only two bedrooms. But it had been perfect. Many of the best memories of my long life had happened there. I would have stayed there forever if I’d thought it was possible.

I had been fixing us drinks. Hot tea, I recalled. Dom had been waiting in bed for me. It was almost a habit to prick my finger, and place a few drops into his. As I rinsed the pairing knife in the sink, I felt his presence behind me in the modest kitchen. I turned, startled, my hand to my heart, wondering what all he’d seen.

He had watched me for a long moment, his gaze enigmatic. He strode to me, unhurried, and unruffled, it seemed. He circled my wrist softly, then brought my pricked finger to his mouth, sucking on the tiny wound until it closed, using just a touch of that wonderful magic of his. I gasped. He ignored me, reaching for his doctored drink behind me. He downed the scorching hot liquid as though the full-sized glass were a shot. He set the glass in the sink, then stepped close to me again. He cupped my cheeks, touching our foreheads, his eyes intense but unreadable. I knew, just knew, that he’d seen what I had done.

“It’s not what you think,” I had told him tremulously. I hated how guilty my strange actions made me look. What must he be thinking?

He just stared at me for an endless moment. “It doesn’t matter. If you were trying to harm me, I’d want to be harmed. Whatever it is you think your blood will do to me, I want it done. My life and my heart are in your hands, to do with as you please.”

I shook my head at him slowly, thinking he was an impossibly hopeless man. An impossibly crazy man. An impossibly wonderful man. “It’s to protect you. All I want is to protect you,” I had whispered.

Finally, he had smiled, a heartbreaking smile. It had devastated me. Even the memory of it devastated me. “Then I’ll live forever.”

Back in the present time, moments from the bloody battle, Dom raised his fist into the air, and in the dark I could see the outline of one giant bear claw, his other arm still human and gripping a flame-thrower, the weapon of choice against these creatures. I hadn’t even known it was possible to partial shift. And it wasn’t as though I hadn’t spent years among the druids. In the years we’d been together, I’d seen many, including the previous Arch, shift for battle. I made a note to ask around about this strange ability.

“Charge!” Dom’s voice boomed into the night like a gunshot. The battle was on.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Battle Dance

 The first wave of necros went directly for the Arch, since he had already charged recklessly through the opening in the fence. I watched, a little stunned, as he dispatched one after another brutally. The ones that were able to rush past the druids around him were met with his flame-thrower. The ones that avoided the flames had their heads ripped clean off. He was a wild-thing fighting, and I freely admit to being mesmerized. A wave of druids quickly separated us from him, but I caught glimpses of him fighting as I was pulled in another direction. “Quit ogling your boyfriend, JIllian. We’ve got things to do,” Christian shouted as he pulled me along by my left arm. I glared at him, but followed.

“Make that showy axe useful, girl,” Christian said as we approached a still intact section of fencing. He had Dragonsbane bare in his hand, and it was growing as I watched. He held it in one hand, but it grew massive in seconds, glowing like blue fire. It was impressive. He used both hands to bring it down on the fence.

I shook myself, drawing my axe. It wasn’t like me to get distracted so easily when there were things to kill. My familiar axe was heavy but well balanced in my hands. The double edged metal of the blade was shinning in the moonlight. It sang in my hands as I swung it at the fence. Christian was using his sword to carefully cut the links on the fence, but I hacked at it with gusto. It was just how I fought. I was controlled, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. I had cleaved the fence in front of me nearly to the ground with the force of my blow. I swung again, loving the feel of the axe even when it was still only a fence that I attacked. I couldn’t wait to kill things that bled.

Christian’s line of fence fell just moments after mine. We had cut it from top to bottom, so it fell forward with nothing left to support it. Druids around us were trying similar techniques to reach the action faster, but ours had been the most effective. Several druids saw our success, rushing in directly behind us. You might have thought we were leading a group of them, if you didn’t know a thing about druids and their disdain for other races. Oh, yeah, and that every last one of them hated my ass with an enduring passion.


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