With her senses wide open, Evalle picked up on each of the “boys” as they moved toward her, like reading incoming enemy blips on a radar screen. Her empathic ability had been inconsistent at times, evolving, but right now it kicked into high gear. She detected three emotions—one cold as a dead fish, one trying to hide his terror and one excited, lusting for a kill.
“Gotta make sure we got the right one before we hand her over,” the same guy said, the one she’d figured out had the cold soul. Must be the leader. He added, “If she’s the one, we’re set for life.”
Evalle needed the blades hidden around the soles of her boots, but she’d have to cover the noise of releasing them when she stomped her feet. She taunted her kidnappers with, “Only a coward would be unwilling to fight me fair and—”
A boot slammed her in the stomach.
She sucked air for a moment, but grunting and stepping back to keep her balance gave her the perfect cover for stomping her boots against the pavement.
Two men chuckled. One smelled of tobacco and breathed like a winded racehorse.
The web sack hugged her body to her thighs. Did they think they could contain her in a bag?
Although, technically, they had.
“Okay, boys,” the leader said. “Let’s get her out of here and collect.”
Anger fed the rippling across her arms and up her neck.
No one touched her. No one.
They’d trapped her like an animal, but none of them had the jewels to get close to her. She should just stay still and force them to move.
Crud. The Tribunal. She didn’t have time for this. She tried to call out to Tzader telepathically. The minute she sent, Tzader, I’m caught … her head ached with sharp stabs of pain. Her eyes watered.
Blasted Noirre majik was jamming her telepathy.
“Go get her, Tagot,” the cold one ordered.
Bunch of mercenaries without a kinetic ability among them or they wouldn’t risk coming near her.
Tagot must be the one lusting to kill her, because that’s what she picked up moving toward her with deadly intent.
Evalle focused on the movement. When he got within a couple of feet, she stepped forward quickly, then threw herself backwards, kicking her booted feet in his direction. The drag of a blade through flesh and a howl of pain told her she’d made contact. She fell all the way back and landed with her shoulders against the pavement.
Chaos broke loose with all three men yelling at each other.
She took advantage of that and used her momentum to flip on over backwards.
Landing on her feet in a crouched position, she got her hand on the dagger in her boot. This dagger came with a little extra mojo because Tzader had gotten a friend to have the blade made especially for her. It wasn’t sentient, like the two blades he carried, but this one was wicked enough to cut through a Noirre-infested sack.
Grasping the edge, she sliced the front open, snatched it off and slung the slimy thing away. The wad of rotten-smelling goo smacked a wall.
She used her kinetics to kill all lights in the area.
As her night vision took over, colors muted into shades of blue in total darkness. The three men had bright hair, maybe red, and wore dusters. Even the one screaming and writhing in pain as he tried to stop the blood from gushing out of his thigh.
She’d hit a femoral artery? Sweet.
But she still had to get that woman to safety.
With no humans present and conscious, the gloves were off. She raised her hands and shoved a kinetic blast at the men.
They stumbled back several steps, but not as far as she’d expected. The stone-cold leader with spiked hair and tats across one side of his face whipped out an evil-looking machete that sizzled with majik.
Where on earth had these mercs gotten all these majikal toys?
She should be able to reach Tzader now, but before she could send a telepathic message his voice yelled in her head, Get your butt over here, Evalle! What are you doing?
Got caught in an ambush. Need help. I’m over on—
Machete guy swung the blade back and forth as fast as an airplane prop. Maybe he wasn’t a stupid merc after all.
She shut off her telepathy and sent all her energy into raising an invisible shield at the moment her attacker swung a high arc.
He brought the sparking blade down fast to cut her in half.
The strike hit her force field so hard that it jarred her teeth.
She spared a glance at the other goon to make sure he wasn’t coming after her with a weapon, too. He pulled an oversized handkerchief out of his coat pocket and dropped it over the bleeding guy, who howled one time and glowed like a stoked coal in a fire, then turned to ash.
What kind of hanky was that?
Tattoo face swung again.
Her shoulders took the brunt of the constant attack from the machete. She braced one foot behind her and pushed forward, but she was losing ground.
Could he cut through her wall of power?
Tzader shouted, Can you run?
No. He’ll kill me if I drop my defense.
Where are you? Tzader said in a voice charged with fury.
Still under the parking deck at—Another barrage of blade attacks beat her backwards several feet.
Was she out of time? Would the Tribunal understand if Tzader reached Brina before the meeting and explained?
Tattoo face kept coming at her with the machete. Evalle strained to give everything she had to hold her protective wall, but he’d break through soon.
That blade had serious juice.
Power surged through the air and shocked her skin.
Light exploded, flashing against the walls of the dark buildings.
Her attacker and his buddy took one look, turned and fled.
Evalle lowered her arms, now aching from the pounding they’d taken. She drew a long, hard breath, pulling her body back into its normal form. Pain shot through her chest and legs. She had no idea how Z had found her or gotten here so quickly or what he’d done to scare off that bunch, but she was ready to hug him when she turned around.
Ah, crud. Could her night get any worse?
Sen stood with arms crossed and a look of disgust on his face that rivaled his usual hate-filled welcome for her.
His being here explained how someone had shown up so fast. Sen had the ability to teleport anywhere he wanted. He must have been in the park when Tzader had called to her.
She couldn’t believe she had Sen to thank for getting her out of that fix.
Standing much taller than her and twice as wide, he was dressed in gray T-shirt and black jeans. He wore his hair skinned short today, but it could be down to his waist tomorrow. Would be nice to know what he was or where he’d come from with those diamond blue, almond-shaped eyes. Or who had the power to force him to be the liaison between VIPER and the preternatural beings that were agents for the VIPER coalition.
A job he obviously loathed.
Tzader had warned her to play nice, so she said, “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I’m glad to see you.”
A muscle in Sen’s jaw flexed in and out. “You waste good oxygen just by being alive. Don’t think this little theatrical act fooled me.”
“Act?” Couldn’t he smell the Noirre majik? She sniffed and looked around. Where was that sack? Nothing smelled like Noirre majik now, but she couldn’t back down. “I was tricked into an ambush. They attacked—”
“Yeah, right. Tell it to the Tribunal.” He waved a hand.
She wrapped her arms around her stomach as it tightened from the first stage of teleporting. Couldn’t he at least say Ready? before doing that? There was no way to reach Tzader once Sen had her in transport.
Had those three men been trying to trap anyone with powers, or her specifically? What had the leader meant when he’d said they had to make sure they had the right one?
The right Belador? The right Alterant? The right VIPER agent?
Or the right something else?
She had to tell Brina about the attack if she was allowed a moment before the Tribunal meeting started. Much as Evalle detested Sen on every level, at least he’d come looking for her rather than waiting at the park.
Not because he gave two hoots about her being late, so he must have had orders to deliver her on time. Whatever the reason, she was glad for it right now.
Sen’s superior tone ghosted through the swirl of colors and spinning sensation, but she couldn’t see him. “One more thing, Alterant.”
“What?” she said nicely, or at least she tried. Hard to be civil when her insides were coming apart.
“I was at the park on time,” he said, then paused to let his point settle in. “Once you were late, I had no choice but to pick you up. You’re a minute late according to time among the humans, but in the Tribunal’s world time flexes. You’re already forty-five minutes late.”
Once the vertigo from teleporting ended and her next breath tasted ancient and dangerous, Evalle knew exactly where she was—the Nether Realm. She held her head in her hands, fighting nausea. Screw Sen. She would not give him the pleasure of watching her barf in front of the Tribunal.
She opened one eye to peek.
When she’d last visited the Nether Realm, she’d stood on grass that had covered a circular plane the size of a city block. This time, her feet had landed on a rocky surface that glistened lavender and silver. She looked up further to locate the dais in search of the two gods and one goddess who would preside over this meeting.
The Tribunal was indeed in progress, and no one was happy to see her, not even Brina.
Especially Brina, whose holographic image, with her waist-length flaming red hair and vibrant green gown, sung with tense energy.
Silence hung like a guillotine awaiting a neck.
The trio on the dais glared at her. Pele, the Polynesian goddess, wore a swoop of deep pink and purple flowers across her br**sts. More flowers wrapped her lower body as a floor-length skirt. She stood between Ares, the Greek god of war, decked out in his battle attire, and Loki, the Norse god of devilment, who showed off his massive nak*d chest by wearing only blue silk harem pants.
Stars crowded the black sky stretching from one side of the Nether Realm to the other, the perfect backdrop for glowing entities.
Pele’s exotic eyes studied Evalle with the same consideration an exotic bird might ponder the merits of a slug. She spoke in a voice crafted of honey and gold. “You have delayed this Tribunal, Alterant. Why?”
Evalle made the mistake of taking a second to decide how best to answer, which allowed Sen to speak first.
“She has no excuse, Goddess.”
“Wait a minute,” Evalle snapped, spinning on Sen. “She asked me.”
Sen lifted a negligent shoulder. “You won’t like what happens if you lie during a Tribunal meeting.”
Loki had been spinning a ball of power between his hands. The sphere rumbled and flashed with a kaleidoscope of colors inside. He paused to interject, “The body of one who tells an untruth here will glow red.”
Evalle hadn’t planned on lying now or any other time in a Tribunal meeting because she figured they’d just know if she told a lie.
But this was the first she’d heard about glowing red.
Ares leaned forward, squinting. “Was not your aura silver the last time you were here, Alterant?”
Everyone gawked at Evalle.
Brina’s lips parted in surprise.
Evalle considered his odd question. He hadn’t said anything about her aura being brighter. She answered truthfully. “As far as I know, yes.”
Ares scowled at her. “Then why did you change it to gold?”
Gold? Storm changed her aura to gold?
Evalle would kill him if she survived this. How was she supposed to answer that and not tell this bunch about Storm using his majik on her? What had he done to her? “I didn’t change my aura. I can’t see auras and don’t even know how to change one.”
That didn’t soften Ares one bit.
Evalle added, “I’m around a lot of different beings, and one of those must have affected mine somehow.”
Her skin didn’t light up red, so tiptoeing around the truth seemed to work. She let out a strained breath.
Loki juggled two balls of power and sighed loudly, clearly feeling put upon to be here. “Gold, silver, whatever. This is not why we are here.”
Evalle took that cue to change the topic back to smoothing things over. Submissive had never been part of her makeup, but she gave humble her best shot when she spoke.
“I have the greatest respect for the Tribunal members and Brina.” Yes, she’d intentionally left Sen out of that lineup. “I apologize for arriving late, but while going to the aid of a human in danger I was ambushed by three men wielding Noirre majik and was fighting for my life when Sen arrived to escort me. As a member of VIPER, I swore an oath to protect humans first even at the risk of my own safety.”
Evalle caught Sen looking at her with a curious expression. Surprised I didn’t light up like Rudolf’s nose?
She gave a quick check of Brina, who stood ahead of Evalle and to the right, between her and the dais. Brina hadn’t been happy at first, but now her eyes registered … pride?