Not right now, though, on a weekday night with the steady rain churning dense humidity.
She turned toward the creek where the Ngak Stone had been lost two years ago. To the right of the footbridge crossing the creek was another stretch of open space that butted up to Tenth Street. Not a soul in sight, human or otherwise.
A dog barked.
Evalle stopped and searched through the drizzle where the streetlights couldn’t reach.
A young woman in a poncho was squatted next to the footbridge, searching the bank of the creek for something. She stood up and gave a little tug on the leash for her mutt, who danced around her feet. “I see you, Brutus, yes, I do.”
Human. Not a concern.
Evalle had decided to ignore the young woman when a flush of energy swept the air around her face. She searched the night and found the culprit.
Vyan, the Kujoo, emerged out of the blackness and approached the woman. He asked, “May I speak to you?”
The young woman froze with one hand clenching her dog’s tether and the other hand stuffed in the pocket of her parka—holding pepper spray? “No. Please don’t come any closer.”
Evalle kept her power leashed to prevent Vyan from sensing her presence. She could understand how Vyan saw in this darkness, since he’d have some form of preternatural sight, but how was that human woman getting around without a flashlight?
“I mean you no harm,” Vyan said.
“What do you want?” the woman asked.
“I want to warn you. Someone is coming who is a danger to you.”
Evalle studied the woman closer this time. Nothing radiated from her body that would indicate anything other than human, so this might have nothing to do with the Ngak Stone.
Was Vyan trolling for bodies again like he’d been doing outside the Iron Casket the other night? Was someone forcing him to do that against his will so he tried to warn people in advance?
The possibility loomed in Evalle’s thoughts, but she couldn’t let him hurt a human, intentionally or otherwise.
And this might be a lead on the Ngak Stone.
“Who are you? I’ve never met you.” The woman pulled her free hand out of her pocket when her dog ran around her legs. She reached down to grab his collar and missed twice.
Was she blind? That would account for no flashlight.
“I am a stranger. My name is Vyan, but I do not want you harmed.”
“Then we’re on the same page, Skippy.” The woman managed to untangle her dog from her legs and straighten up.
“You must leave this park now.”
“Are you threatening me?”
Vyan continued in a nonthreatening tone. “No, that’s what I’m trying to explain. You have to—”
A whip of bold energy raced across the park, slapping Evalle’s exposed skin. She swung toward Tenth Street, easily locating the source. Striding toward the woman and Vyan was a statuesque man with a gorgeous face and light hair. He wore jeans and a button-down shirt.
Who was this guy?
He also wore a pair of sunshades, hiding something about his eyes. The air literally buzzed as he approached.
Considering how her luck had been rolling in the crapper lately, Evalle figured that would be demon-red eyes hiding behind his sunglasses.
Vyan stepped between the woman and the new guy. “Do not come closer, Tristan.”
“Get out of my way, Kujoo.”
Ah, crud. These two knew each other. Evalle blew out a breath and started toward them from the side. They were not harming a human on her watch.
Tristan whipped a hand at Vyan and a blue strike of power lashed across Vyan’s shoulder. He yelled in pain.
The girl shrieked. Her dog barked wildly, then she turned mute. Fear would do that.
Vyan recovered his footing and drew a wicked sword from inside his coat. “You’ll have to kill me to get to her.”
“As I’m a generous man, I’ll grant your wish,” the one called Tristan answered, chuckling.
What was this all about? Evalle shoved a wall of power at this Tristan guy and he stumbled sideways.
Then he jerked his head around at Evalle.
Vyan noticed her then, too. “See what you’ve done?” he told Tristan.
“What’s going on, Vyan?” Evalle asked.
“Get out of here, Belador,” Vyan said. “I have no quarrel with you.”
“Belador?” Tristan said the word as if he’d found something he’d been looking for a long time. Something he wanted to mount the head of.
Evalle opened her channel to the Beladors. Trey, Tzader, Quinn, get to Piedmont Park. Now. To Tristan she said, “Stand down or I’ll have to hurt you.”
The bastard laughed as if he hadn’t heard anything that funny in decades. “First I get to kill Vyan then I get play time with you? And here I thought it was going to be a boring night.” He ignored her and switched his attention to Vyan. “Move or die. Now.”
Vyan turned to the woman, who stood shell-shocked still, and told her, “Run and get rid of that rock.”
The woman didn’t move.
Tristan sent another blast at Vyan that knocked him back into the woman.
Evalle rushed forward and stepped in front of Vyan, blocking Tristan’s next attack with a wall of energy. She turned to see the woman pull a glowing stone from her coat pocket.
The Ngak Stone. Holy crud.
Vyan had fallen at the woman’s feet and across her dog’s leash, pinning them to the spot. He moaned. Blood ran from his shoulder and his leg.
Tristan roared and slammed Evalle’s power field with another shot of hot energy, rocking her backward. If she let her guard down he’d get to Vyan, her and the woman. Had to get that woman and the rock out of here right now.
She could only hope Storm was heading back this way and would intercept the woman if Evalle sent her to him. Evalle told the woman, “Put the rock down and run toward the steps over there.”
The woman looked at her with bright eyes that weren’t blind. She mumbled, “I just want to go home.”
Poof. No woman. No Vyan. No stone.
That just left Evalle with one pissed-off Tristan thing.
Evalle couldn’t believe what had just happened. She was positive that woman standing in this park a minute ago with the Ngak Stone was human.
How could that be?
The roar of fury coming at her meant someone else was just as surprised and didn’t like surprises.
The man Vyan had called Tristan strode arrogantly across the open stretch of turf toward her, splashing puddles of water. He flung strikes of blue hot energy up against the field of power she struggled to hold in place against his onslaught.
What was this guy? And why did she feel a buzz in the air? If he was a sorcerer, he’d have dealt with Vyan and pulled the woman to him, so this Tristan had no majik ability.
Maybe. No absolutes in her world, not when the being was unidentified.
Evalle stood a better chance in battling this guy one-to-one rather than just holding up a field of energy. With the rain now coming down in sheets across the park she might have an advantage with her speed and agility.
She shoved a wall of power at Tristan that knocked him backward and gave her a chance to come around into a fighting stance. “Just what is a Tristan?”
“The last thing you’ll see alive,” he told her in a voice promising pain as a prequel to death. Then he attacked, rushing at her with arms raised to slam her.
She kinetically hooked her hands around him and fell backward, using his momentum to toss him over her head, high into the air and crashing down onto the end of the footbridge.
Sen would have to deal with the wrecked bridge.
Tristan rolled to his feet, unfazed. He called out, “Get over here.”
“Does that work with other women?” Evalle quipped. “Not so much with me.”
“Wasn’t talking to you.” He lifted his chin, and she realized he was talking to someone else when he said, “Get her.”
Evalle swung around just as two hideous half-human-half-ghoul forms flew at her. Things that looked like the demented ghoulish thing Storm had followed.
She slammed her boot heel against the ground, and blades shot out from the sides. Waiting until the ghouls were close enough to catch, she swept her arm wide from side to side. The wave of kinetic energy she dragged across the ghouls knocked one into the other, tumbling them into a pile of writhing arms and legs.
A part of her registered that these had to be old Nightstalkers she’d probably spoken with in the past, so she didn’t use her blades to cut their throats. Once she’d dealt with this Tristan character she’d have to call Sen before these two ghouls revived.
Facing Tristan again, she found him sitting casually on the edge of the footbridge railing, one foot propped on a crossbeam, as if waiting on someone to hand him a beer. “What have you been doing to Nightstalkers?”
He didn’t say a word.
She took a step toward him and a spike of pain shot into the back of her calf. Evalle fell to her knees. She looked over her shoulder to see one of the ghouls dragging himself toward her with a long fingernail sticking from his finger like a sharpened blade.
Her sympathy for the insanely half-dead flew out the window.
“You shouldn’t have done that.” She shoved up to her feet, took two steps and cut his head off with a kick of her boots. Turning to the second one, she warned, “Move and I’ll quarter you.”
The other poor thing quivered and backed up into a ball of fear, huddling against the downpour.
When she wheeled around to Tristan this time, she wanted blood. “You’re mine.”
“I’ve never been one to disappoint a lady.” He jumped down from his perch, gripped his hands as if he had an invisible bat and swung at her.
Her leg throbbed, but she waited until the last minute to dive sideways and roll.
His blast of power disintegrated the remaining ghoul into tiny microscopic pieces the rain dispersed. That had probably been his true target for his first time at bat.
She raced at him from the side before he got to take a second swing.
He spun, using his kinetics to block, but she wasn’t a standard-model Belador he could take down with the usual kinetics. At least, not when she was one hundred percent. She’d make him pay for the ghoul cutting her leg.
When she was close to him, she swung around on her good leg and used the bad one to punch through his wall of power.
She bounced back as if hitting a wall of stone, landing on her injured leg.
What in the heck was this guy? Evalle sucked in a breath and raised her head to get back up.
His body slammed her back into the mud and held her there. He didn’t tower over her, but he did have her by four inches and more muscle.
She was on her back, staring up at him. A scream buried deep in her mind came roaring up. She clenched her teeth to keep from letting it out. The memory of being held down and brutalized raced forward with the burgeoning scream, threatening to blind her with panic.
The bastard on top of her was at least winded, chest heaving with a labored breath. “Now we can talk.”
“Get. Off. Now.” She could only speak in short bursts or the terror would break free.
Never show an enemy a weakness.
Never let a man hurt her again.
Never let one live who did.
This one weighed as much as her couch, but she’d shifted and terrorized the one who had raped her at fifteen and could do worse now.
She shook with the need to shift into a stronger being and protect herself. Blood slammed against the walls of her skin. Her brain tried to warn her to calm down, but the fifteen-year-old who’d screamed in pain burst from the black hole she’d been hiding in all these years.
“Last. Chance,” she panted, scrambling for each breath.
“What you going to do?” He shoved his h*ps against her and she lost all conscious thought.
“This, you bastard!” Cartilage broke free in her arms. Her neck snapped with the first sign of shifting. She let a roar out and kinetically tossed him up and backward fifty feet. He hit the footbridge for the second time tonight, taking down another chunk of it.
Tristan gained his feet and shook his head. His shoulders bunched when he yanked his neck, popping a few muscles of his own. “What the f**k are you?”
That broke through the haze of adrenaline spike and wave of terror to make her look at her hands, where her wrists had split the cuffs of her jacket. Oh, God, oh, God. She had to get her beast under control.
All of a sudden, her sunglasses flew off her face.
Evalle looked up and flicked her hand at him without a second thought, slapping the glasses off his face.
Glowing green eyes swirled like molten stones.
Green eyes unlike anything she’d ever seen before … except in her bathroom mirror.
“Alterant?” He said the word with disbelief packed full of deadly suspicion.
“Alterant?” Evalle echoed back at the man called Tristan, just as much in shock.
Here was a man with the unusual physical strength and luminous green eyes of an Alterant.