Authors: Allyson James
Stormwalker, Book 4
Copyright © 2012 by Jennifer Ashley / Allyson James
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All Rights are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Ashley / Allyson James
copyright © 2009, 2010 by Jennifer Ashley
Cover design by Kim Killion
The tinkle of a wind chime was my only warning.
I popped my eyes open, staring at the dark ceiling of my bedroom, my heart drumming in thick, slow beats. The night was silence; no wind, no noise in the vast desert beyond my window. And yet . . .
My wards hadn’t broken. No one magical had entered the little hotel I owned who shouldn’t be there. My fiancé Mick wasn’t there either, having driven off to New Mexico this morning on an errand he’d been vague about. After what had happened between us a few months ago, this worried me, but what had awakened me had nothing to do with Mick.
I lay in the middle of the bed on top of the sheets. July air from the open window touched my bare skin, but the night remained quiet.
Sleep started to overtake me. The hotel was peaceful within, the weight of the night soothing rather than frightening. Tension left my body, and my eyes drifted closed.
A grunt sounded softly in the darkness outside, followed by a twanging sound and a thump.
I was up and into my jeans and tank top before I made any conscious decision to move. I jammed on boots then forced my shaking fingers to make no noise unlocking the door outside my private rooms that led out back. I stepped in silence to the dirt and gravel outside.
The July night was heavy and humid—torpid, that was the word. No wind, no relieving rain, only heavy summer heat that hadn’t quite dispersed for the night, patches of clouds dampening the stars overhead.
In that humidity I sensed two auras. One was human. The other was black and sticky and smelled of hot blood.
The human crouched under the juniper at the edge of the dirt parking lot. The noise had come from his direction, and as I tried to focus on him, I heard it again—a snap and a deadened twang that came from a high-pressure string and a trigger. Crossbow. Son of a bitch.
Someone was trying to slay my vampire.
The bolt missed. Ansel, the Nightwalker who slept his day sleep in my basement, ducked aside with inhuman reflexes, and the little missile brushed the wind chimes hanging outside the kitchen door. The chimes glistened with tiny sound, the noise that had awakened me.
I faded against the wall of the hotel and slipped around the corner of the building, keeping to the shadows. Once out of the shooter’s line of sight, I scooted to the shelter of the squat cedars and juniper around my parking lot and used their cover to circle behind the attacker.
The night was too dark for me to make out the man’s features, but his aura came to me clearly, red streaked with white. Violence boiled beneath his surface, but in a cold, contained sort of way.
Then there was Ansel. The slayer had him pinned down for the moment, but the moment the man’s attention wavered from him, Ansel would be on him.
Ansel rarely did anything more dangerous than collect stamps and watch old movies, but I’d seen him let loose the Nightwalker inside him.
Ansel would rip off the slayer’s head, drain the man dry, and walk away, off to go on a blood-lusting, Nightwalker rampage. Then I’d have to kill Ansel, and I really didn’t want to. I liked Ansel. Sometimes it’s hell being the good guy.
I went slowly, not letting a crunch of gravel or crack of twig betray me. I, the Diné Stormwalker, born and bred of this land, descended from generations of earth magic shamans, moved like smoke toward the tree that hid the attacker, stepped silently under its branches . . .
. . . and found myself staring down a crossbow pointed at my nose.
The man had
crossbows, one trained on me, the other still on Ansel. For one heartbeat I stared at the slayer—a wiry, tight-muscled man who’d seen fighting. The scars snaking across his face, arms, and shaved head told me that, as did the hard eyes that glittered at me for the second before he turned back to Ansel.
In the next heartbeat, I brought up a spark of my mother’s brand of magic and made the bolt pointed at me implode. The man jumped, dropping the crossbow, and in that instant, Ansel struck.
Nothing moves faster than a Nightwalker. Ansel was across the lot before I could take another breath, smacking the slayer’s second crossbow aside. In the next heartbeat, he lifted the man by the throat and slammed him against the tree.
The slayer fought back and fought dirty. A silver knife flashed and cut Ansel deeply. Silver doesn’t kill Nightwalkers, but it does sting.
I tried to grab the slayer’s knife hand, but he smacked me in the face with his fist. My head rocked back, and blood streamed from my nose.
I came up again, ready to crush him with another blurt of magic, but Ansel peeled back his lips to reveal his narrow-jawed, animal-toothed, Nightwalker mouth.
“No!” I shouted. “Ansel. Stop!”
He completely ignored me. But once Nightwalkers latch on to their victims, they don’t let go. Even if you cut off the Nightwalker’s head, his dead mouth has to be peeled away from the victim’s flesh. Sometimes only the jaws remain when the Nightwalker disintegrates, but even then, those teeth hold on and have to be cut out. Ask me how I know this.
The slayer had come prepared with a wooden stake, which I batted aside while I tried to pull Ansel away from him.
I might as well have tried to move a loaded semi with my bare hands. What I needed was Mick, my six-foot-six biker boyfriend with the blue eyes and dragon tattoos, who could shoot fire from his hands. So, of course, he wasn’t here.
I could kill the slayer. I could gather a ball of Beneath magic and grind the man to atoms. If he’d been a demon or a skinwalker, I’d have done it already, end of problem.
But the slayer was human, and that changed the game. I had rules, I had scruples, not to mention gods to answer to if I killed innocent humans with the magic I’d inherited from my crazy, evil-goddess mother.
This particular innocent human was busy punching my face at the same time he tried to shove the stake between Ansel’s ribs.
I tackled the slayer. My small body couldn’t bring his down, but I at least deflected the pointed wood from Ansel.
The slayer tossed all five-foot-four of me aside and went for Ansel again. Ansel’s mouth opened wide, the spittle that ran from his fangs glistening in the starlight. That mouth came down, forcing my choice. I gathered a ball of Beneath magic and threw it between them.
The magic exploded with the intensity of a small grenade, flinging Ansel and the attacker apart. Ansel landed on his back halfway to the hotel, and the attacker rolled through thorny grasses between the parking lot and raised railroad bed twenty yards away.
Ansel sprang to his feet. His eyes burned red in the darkness, his blood frenzy erasing every vestige of Ansel my antique-loving boarder.
I ran at him. “Go back inside! Back to the basement. Now!”
Might as well scream at a rabid dog.
Down, Killer. Bad boy!
Far gone in the frenzy, Ansel sprinted around me faster than I could see and went for the slayer.
The slayer had already leapt to his feet and was sprinting for the abandoned railroad bed that led south into town. He scrambled up the bank, Ansel right behind him.
I scrambled after them, slipping and sliding in the gravel until I reached the hard-packed top where railroad tracks used to be. I ran down the bed, arms and legs pumping.
The slayer easily outpaced me, and Ansel, being a Nightwalker, was faster still, his lean, runner’s body and long limbs closing the distance. I was too far away. I’d never stop Ansel, and the slayer still had his wooden stake.
I smacked Ansel with a snake of Beneath magic. The rope of it jerked his feet out from under him, and Ansel fell on his face. The attacker kept running.
Ansel was up and after him again in an instant. The all-powerful magical woman behind them panted and wheezed as she struggled to keep up.
My Beneath magic, mostly good for blowing things up or the direct kill, couldn’t do subtle things, like make Nightwalkers sit down and be quiet, or stop humans from trying to stake my friends. If I could have used my storm magic, I might have done better, but I can’t conjure storms—a Stormwalker can only use what nature provides, and tonight, nature was providing a warm, calm, starlit night. Mick had taught me some witch magic—protection spells, healing spells, defensive spells—but I needed sage or incense plus time to work the incantation, and I was fresh out of all those at the moment.
If I killed the human with Beneath magic, Coyote and other gods would make me answer for it. They’d made it clear in the past that fighting for my life and that of a friend was no excuse for taking human life.
So I smacked Ansel instead. Nightwalkers are hard to kill, and I’d apologize to him later.
Ansel stumbled and went down, tripped by my next snake of Beneath magic, but damned if he didn’t spring immediately to his feet. I hit him again, and Ansel howled. The human slayer took advantage and ran like hell down the railroad bed, disappearing into the night.
I finally reached Ansel. He looked up at me with blood-crazed eyes, his mouth opening as he gauged the best angle of attack.
“Ansel! It’s Janet.
He couldn’t care less who I was—he smelled my blood, and he wanted it. Fresh, tasty, human blood, right from the vein.
“Come on, Ansel,” I said, putting on my friendly voice. “Let’s go in. You can show me that new stamp you found, the one from Belgium, was it? Please, Ansel. I don’t want to have to kill you.”
Even talking about his beloved stamp collection didn’t help. Ansel snarled and leapt for me, and I sadly gathered my magic to dissolve him into dust.
A dragon burst out of the sky. Black and huge, it dove for us with the precision of a fighter plane, a line of fire streaming from his mouth in a tight, efficient burst. I leapt backward as a ring of fire bloomed around Ansel, and then the dragon took down the Nightwalker by the simple, effective method of running into him.
Ansel crashed down the side of the empty railroad bed, landing flat on his face in the dust and dried grasses of the desert floor. He lay unmoving, clawed hands still. The fire disappeared, and the dragon took to the sky, the hot draft from his wings stirring my hair.
The dragon touched to earth again some way away. The giant beast dissolved into darkness, and from that darkness walked a tall man with black hair, his arms covered with dragon tattoos.
He was naked but didn’t seem to notice. I noticed plenty as he strode toward me on long, strong legs, his tight body shining with sweat in the hot night.
When he reached me he looked down at me with eyes of brilliant blue and flashed me the warm grin I liked so well.
“Hey, baby,” he said. “Miss me?”
*** *** ***
Mick carried Ansel over his shoulder back to the hotel, down the stairs to the basement, and to the room that Mick and my plumber Fremont had built this spring.