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Wolves of Wrath: Book 4, The Gypsy Healer Series by Quinn Loftis (17)

Chapter 17

“I’ve lost track of time. The days have run together, and all I know is pain. The hours are marked by how long I may rest until the next round of anguish. But Anna and I refuse to give up. We still talk about how we can defeat our enemy. But deep, deep down, I wonder if there will still be enough of me left to fight back once this is over. I hide it well, but the darkness that now lives in my blood is gaining ground. I fear it’s only a matter of time until my light is snuffed out.” ~Jewel

Volcan flashed into the room and smiled at the two women huddled on the floor. He was eager for them to continue his plan. He knew they would now be much more compliant.

“I do believe the message has sunk in,” he said, motioning to their stomachs where his fae blade had cut into their skin. “Though perhaps there is still something missing.”

He walked over to Jewel and held his hand out. As he raised it, her body rose until she was standing with her back against the wall. He shoved her shirt up and then pressed the palm of his hand to the flesh below the word that had been carved there into her skin.

“If something ever happens to me, not that it will, but if it did, you will have me forever with you, branded on your skin.” His hand began to glow a bright red just about the same time Jewel began to scream. To her credit, she didn’t beg him to stop, or even cry. When he was done, he pulled his hand away, and she crumpled back to the ground.

Volcan turned his attention to Anna and smiled. “Your turn.”

Anna didn’t cry either, she did, however, call him many unsavory things. Volcan didn’t care. It wouldn’t be much longer and his magic will have filled every part of them, leaving no room for their own light.

When he was done, both healers had a V burned into their flesh, forever marked as his.

“Now, there is something I believe we need to address before you resume your task—the task I’ve created you for. You blamed your previous pathetic attempts on your lack of knowledge. I’ve done some research, though my own historical texts are scarce since the Great Purge. What I’ve found is that the darker the soul of the female subject, the more effective the spell. And they must give a blood sacrifice for the ritual to be complete. I have not found anything that was documented indicating anything special other than this. That said”—he paused as he narrowed his eyes on them—“You are gypsy healers. Your magic is very, very different from mine. And as we’ve discussed, Jewel, magic is driven by its wielder’s motivations. Perhaps something in your magic is altering the spell. As much as I utterly loath admitting it, I do not know what effects the mixing of our magic will cause. That’s the burden of being the pioneer in a field.”

Anna chuckled, though it sounded weary. “So you consider yourself a pioneer? In witch making?”

“No, in gypsy-witch making. It’s never been done before.”

“That you know of,” Jewel said.

Volcan didn’t rise to her bait. “It’s never been done,” he repeated coolly. “I do have other news that I shall share with you. I am sure it will be very uplifting to you both and give you much hope.”

“Then why are you telling us?” Anna asked.

Volcan’s lips turned up in a smile that probably looked as evil as he was. “Because then I get to see the renewed sense of purpose snuffed out when I remind you that you will belong to me whether I am alive or dead.”

“Fine,” Jewel said. “Give us our hope, please.”

“There are some wolves knocking at my door. They’re attempting to blow my house in by the hair of their chinny, chin, chin.”

“Did you seriously just make reference to a children’s story?” Anna asked as she pushed herself into a sitting position.

“What wolves? Where?” Jewel asked.

Volcan smiled at her. There was the hope he was wanting to see. “They’re at the veil to this realm, attempting to undo my spell. They’ve even brought a djinn with them.”

“A who?” Anna asked.

“You’re full of questions for one who has been tortured for three months,” Volcan snapped.

“THREE MONTHS!” Anna roared.

“What about the wolves!” Jewel yelled at the same time.

“Never you mind, Jewel., Dalton is not amongst the group. I’m sure by now he’s given up on you. There’s that hope snuffing I was talking about. No bond, no word from you, for all he knows, you’re dead. But it is cute that they’ve sent out a little multi-species rescue party. They could be the poster group for interspecies relations.”

“Can we please go back to the part where you said we’ve been tortured for three months,” Anna said. “Don’t you think that was a little excessive?”

“Nonsense.” He waved her off. “I left all of you intact. I didn’t turn your brain to mush. Really, you got off easy.”

“Easy?” Jewel asked in a voice so soft he had to lean closer to hear her. “You think being carved like a turkey for three months is easy?”

“Jewel, my sweet, you’re going to be a full-fledged witch before too long. The light in you is fading so fast. You’re going to have to get past a little torture. There are much bigger things going on than you, Anna, and your booboos.” Both women started to speak, but he waved his hand and their mouths snapped shut.

He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Now, it is time,” he told them. He forced them to their feet once again and then, with a flick of his hand, they were in clean clothes and looked as fresh as if they’d just showered. He couldn’t have them traipsing around looking like death warmed over, now could he. “You are to continue your task. And I expect better results.” He stepped closer to them and enjoyed how they flinched a little as he reached out his hands. Pressing a palm to each of their chests he muttered a spell and endowed them with some of his abilities.

“You will be able to flash now. I need you to be able to travel quicker. You simply think of where you want to go, and you will be transported there. Example, if you want to go to a city, think of that city and then think of a specific place like a dark alley or an empty bathroom. You don’t have to know where the alley is or the bathroom’s location. Just give the magic an idea of what you want, and it will do the rest. You don’t want to simply pop up in the middle of a busy highway.”

He grabbed their arms and flashed them from the cell and then reappeared in a corridor. “Stay right there. You cannot flash from this castle until I lift my magic. You will be taking your guards with you.” Volcan flashed into the cell that held the two warlocks.

“Wakey, wakey,” he sang as he shot a small bolt of magic at each warlock.

“Damn,” Z cursed as he jumped to his feet.

“That really isn’t necessary.” Sly growled as he too rose to his feet.

“Necessary? Maybe not. Fun? Most definitely. I think you will find that I went rather easy on you considering what my girls went through. I won’t be as forgiving on you if I have to bring you back here again. You are to protect them, you are to assist them, and you are to make sure they are successful in their task. You will remember what is at stake. If you fail to do these things, I will rip her beating heart from her chest. Your sister and your mate will die.”

The two warlocks glared at him but gave him nods of understanding. He flashed them into the corridor where Jewel and Anna waited.

“Do. Not. Fail,” he said to the two healers and then snapped his fingers just before disappearing.

Volcan reappeared at the veil to the draheim realm. He could feel his own magic holding the veil closed, but he could also feel other magic. For the past few months, his spell had held up against the magic of the most powerful djinn, along with the wolves, a pixie, and two fae. He had to admit he was impressed with their combined power but, so far, his spell was holding.

He raised his hands and ran them down the invisible web of spells, reinforcing them, and giving those on the other side a little jolt just to show them that he recognized their effort. He didn’t want the djinn to get his feelings hurt since his magic wasn’t destroying Volcan’s like it should be. But then again, Volcan had an ace up his sleeve that the djinn didn’t know about. It was quite brilliant if he did say so himself.

He laughed as he thought of something else he delighted in as much as crushing hope, making fools of his enemies. “They don’t even realize that they’re being distracted from the real threat.” They were so focused on breaking the spell that they hadn’t stopped to think about what he might be doing outside of the draheim realm. By the time they either gave up, or indeed broke his magic, it would be too late. He would have his army.

* * *

Jewel was still trying to come to terms with the fact that she’d essentially lost three months of her life. “Z, Sly, I promise I’ll get to you. Just give me a moment to process. Anna,” she said in a near whisper. “Three months, Anna. Do you know what can happen in three months? Scientists have found that it takes three months to heal a broken heart and get out of the recovery phase of a break up or loss.” Oh snap, she thought, was Dalton over her? In the three months that she’d been gone, despite the handful of phone calls, had Dalton been able to heal whatever the broken bond had hurt?

“I can see your wheels working, Jewel,” Anna said as she reached out and took her hand. “Dalton hasn’t mended a broken heart because his heart wasn’t broken. He still has you, and you still have him.”

“But three months, Anna. In three months, the first trimester of a baby is completed. That means every essential organ is formed. A baby in the womb has been more productive than we have for three months.”

“Okay, thanks for that,” Anna said, her lips lifting in a smirk. “I’m with you on the whole three-month thing. really Jewels, I am. Inside I’m totally freaking out, while maintaining an air of calm on the outside that I don’t feel. So let’s look at things from a positive view with respect to the three months. That way, I’m able to maintain said fake calm, okay?”

“Positive.” Jewel nodded. “Got it. Okay, so in three months, something positive,” Jewel muttered under her breath. After a couple minutes, she shook her head. “I got nothing.”

“How about this,” Sly spoke up. “In three months, you survived being in the clutches of a crazy, evil fae.”

She nodded. “I guess I can work with that.”

Jewel looked at Sly and Z and gave them a small smile. It was all she could muster. “Sorry about the mini freak out. I’m sure there are more to come. By the way, did you know that brain cells cannibalize themselves as a last-ditch source of energy to ward off starvation?”

Sly smiled. “Is that your nice way of saying you understand if we’re dumber than we were three months ago?”

“No, that’s her way of coping,” Anna said dryly. “But since we’re on the topic, did Volcan starve you for three months? And if so, how are you alive?”

Z shook his head. “No, he didn’t starve us. He gave us some of that fae bread crap and water that tasted like pi

“Z,” Sly interrupted him, smacking him on the chest.

“Oh, sorry. The water tasted bad, let’s just leave it at that.”

“And Anna’s right,” Jewel said, smiling. “Random facts are my security blanket. For instance, did you know that in New York it is illegal to sell a haunted house without disclosing the fact of the haunting to the potential buyer?”

Sly laughed, and Jewel decided it was a very welcome sound after everything they’d been through. Maybe some ridiculous facts were just what they needed in order to survive.

“I hate to bring this up,” Anna spoke up, “but I feel like we should let you two know that we heard what Volcan said to you. Is that why you’re working for him?” Anna asked. “We heard him threaten to kill someone. He said your sister and your mate?”

Z looked pained as he spoke. “My sister and Sly’s mate are one in the same. And yes, Volcan has her.”

Jewel reached over and squeezed his hand. “I’m so sorry, for both you. We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to destroy him.” She whispered the last part. They nodded, but she could tell that they weren’t so sure about her declaration. But then, she wasn’t so sure anymore either.

“Do you still have the book?” Jewel asked as she remembered what her mom had said to her before she died. She made it clear that it was very important that the book was kept safe and taken to Anna’s mother.

Z nodded and motioned to the bag on his back.

“Volcan’s given us the ability to flash,” she told them. “He wants us to be able to travel faster. He didn’t give us any helpful information with respect to our task, though. He said he was a pioneer in creating gypsy-healer witches, and because of that, he didn’t know how our magic might affect the spell.”

“We’re going to New Orleans, to see my mom,” Anna added. “She’s a gypsy, but not of the healer variety. Apparently, she might be able to help us with our book. When we get there, we’ll fill you in on what happened when Volcan brought us back.”

“Where in New Orleans?” Z asked.

Anna smiled. “To the Little Shop of Horrors.” She grabbed his arm at the same time Jewel grabbed Sly’s, and they both flashed from the corridor of Volcan’s castle.

When they reappeared, Jewel looked around and saw that they were standing inside of Anna’s mother’s store. The lights were all off, and it was dark outside. So, it’s nighttime, she thought, as she tried to orient herself to being, well, not in a dungeon.

“Anyone else feeling like they don’t belong in society after being stuck in a cell for so long?” Z asked.

“Have you ever felt like a member of this society?” Anna asked. “As in the humans. And yes, I feel like I don’t belong, to answer your question.”

“I’ve never had a problem blending in with humans,” he answered. “And I’ve always liked coming into the human realm. So I guess, yeah, I’ve felt a part of your society.”

“Glad to know that somebody has,” Jewel muttered. She was human, and yet she’d never felt as though she belonged. But then she’d met Peri, the other healers, and Dalton, and that all changed. Now she did feel like she belonged, and she wanted to hold onto it with both hands. But every second that Volcan’s magic flowed in her veins, it drew her further from the people she’d grown to love.

“We need to charge our phones,” Anna said, pulling Jewel from her thoughts and reminding her that she’d be able to contact Dalton again.

Anna headed toward the back of the store. Jewel and the males followed. “Then I can call my mom and find out if she’s in town, or maybe she’s hired someone to watch the place while she’s off being a gypsy.”

As soon as they entered the back room, they froze.

“Anna?” The woman who spoke jumped up from the table and hurried over. She wrapped Anna in her arms and closed her eyes as she squeezed her.

“Hi, Mom,” Anna said a little hesitantly.

Jewel could tell that Anna was not used to her mom being so affectionate. That made her worried. The presence of unusually affectionate mothers almost always meant something bad was going to happen.

When her mom finally released her, Anna stepped back and then motioned to us. “These are my friends. Jewel, Sly, and Z. Guys, this is my mom, Jezebel.”

Jewel tried very hard to keep her mouth shut, but once again her need to spout off facts when nervous got the better of her. “The meaning of the name Jezebel is chaste, free from carnal connection, which is ironic considering the woman Jezebel from the Bible and history was one of the most licentious women.” Jewel’s eyes darted from person to person as she watched their eyes widen and several mouths open and close as if they weren’t sure what to say. It was Anna who rescued her from her incredibly awkward comment.

“Sorry, but you’re going to have to dumb it down for us laymen. What does licentious mean?”

“It means wicked, immoral, shameless,” Jezebel answered before Jewel could.

Jewel felt her cheeks get warm. “It is very nice to meet you, and please ignore any random or tactless thing I say from this point forward.”

Anna’s mom smiled and then pulled Jewel in for a hug. “Jewel Stone, you are a rare gem, and I don’t just say that because of your name. And those random, tactless facts just might save your life and the lives of others one day.”

Anna was trying to absorb the fact that her mom was there, right in front of her. It had been so long since she’d seen her that it was hard for her mind to grasp that they were together. And the fact that she seemed so much less flighty than she had for all those years as Anna grew up was even more disorienting.

“Mom, we have some things we need to talk with you about,” Anna said as her mom released Jewel.

Jezebel turned to look at her, and the smile she gave Anna was one of sadness. “Yes, daughter mine, we do. But I’d rather we do it upstairs where prying ears won’t hear.”

“How exactly will going up stairs help prying ears not hear?” Jewel asked.

“Because I’ve warded it. No one can hear anything that goes on in the apartment upstairs,” she called out over her shoulder as they followed her.

Anna was trying not to trip over her jaw that had dropped open. Warded? Her mother used magic?

“How were you able to ward it?” Jewel asked the words Anna was unable to get her own mouth to say.

As they reached the top of the stairs, Jezebel placed her hand on the door and turned back to the group with a sly smile. “I was able, because I’m a witch.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Anna’s mouth finally decided to work.

“Inside,” her mom said as she stepped aside so they could file in.

When Anna started to pass her mom, Jezebel grabbed her arm. “I wasn’t trying to hide things from you while you were growing up. I was trying to protect you. I hope you will come to see that.”

Anna looked into her mother’s eyes, the same eyes she’d missed seeing many lonely nights when she’d climbed into bed. “I’m not upset. And I do understand. This world, the supernatural one, it’s dangerous.”

“You are correct, Anna. It is very dangerous and only going to become more so.”

Once the apartment door was closed and they were seated in the small living room, Anna looked around and saw that nothing had changed. Everything was exactly as how she left it when Peri and her crew had come and whisked her away into the fantastical adventure in which she now found herself.

Anna watched as her mom surveyed their group. On the outside, to the untrained eye, they probably didn’t look too bad, but her mom could obviously see beneath the surface.

“You have had a rough time for a while,” Jezebel said. “There is much I need to tell you, but I also need to know you are thinking clearly. Right now, my guess is that you’re all so tired that your thoughts are sluggish.”

“We’ve been under Volcan’s thumb,” Sly offered. “You know who Volcan is, right?”

Jezebel nodded, her face growing tight. “Yes, I am very familiar with him.”

Anna wanted to ask a million questions, but her mom was right. She was tired. Too tired to be able to be able to think clearly.

“I can only imagine what horror that man has put you through. That said, I will feed you and then you will sleep. First thing in the morning, we will begin to plan our subtle retaliation against the evil fae.”

“Subtle retaliation,” Anna said with a smile. “Sounds intriguing.”

Jezebel laughed. “It will be that and more. Now, for food. Sit tight.” She left them in the living room while she prepared something to eat.

Jewel looked at Anna. “How are you doing with all of this?” She motioned toward the direction her mom had just disappeared.

Anna shrugged, it seemed to be her consistent response. “I always knew there was something different about my mom. I just didn’t know how different.”

Jewel nodded. “It seems like our parents lived whole other lives while we were growing up. Even though I knew my mom was a true seer, I had no clue about all the other stuff she knew.”

Anna could see the pain in Jewel’s eyes at the mention of her mother. She could only imagine how much it must hurt her. Anna, though she’d not been super close to her mom, would be devastated if she lost her. She was the only person who’d ever loved Anna. The only person who thought Anna was of any value. Though she hadn’t been bullied in school, neither had she really been accepted into a tight-knit group of friends.

“Not the only person, Criña, not anymore.” Gustavo’s voice filled her mind.

Anna quickly locked down any thoughts about her location. It wasn’t that she didn’t want Gustavo to come for her, but she needed to find out exactly what they were dealing with before he came charging in. She didn’t want him to be collateral damage if things went to hell in a handbasket.

“Anna?” She hated the worry in his voice and knowing she was the reason it was there.

“I’m okay, Gustavo. Just tired.”

“Has Volcan hurt you anymore?” His voice was tight with the rage she knew he kept barely under control.

She thought about the V that the dark fae had placed on her stomach, and bile rose in her throat. It was one more mark that didn’t belong to her mate.

“I don’t care about the marks, mi amõr. I care about you. We are working on finding you and Jewel. I know Jewel thinks you have to do this on your own, but Dalton and I will not accept that. You both need to get that through your beautiful heads.”

She grabbed onto the distraction he’d just given her. “So you think Jewel has a beautiful head?” She was teasing him and not jealous in the least, but making him squirm sounded like a better idea than getting into the fact that Volcan had released them.

“She is beautiful, but I notice it like I would notice a beautiful flower or butterfly. I see it, acknowledge it, and then the thought is gone. You, however, your beauty is not something I see in the same manner as those things. When I see your beauty, I see the inside as well. And that beauty is what captivates me and holds me to you. It magnifies your outer beauty and stirs desires in me that no other female ever could.”

Anna’s heart was pounding in her chest and it was on the tip of her tongue to tell him where they were and to come get her, but she knew that wouldn’t be safe for him. So she swallowed the desire and said, “Nice save,” making sure he only felt her humor, although some of her weariness slipped through as well.

“You need rest. Please remember that you are not alone anymore, Ann. You have a place and it is by my side, building a life with me.”

“I’ll remember,” she told him before picturing the wall in her mind that would keep him from her thoughts but still allow him to feel her presence. She didn’t understand how she was able to control the connection they had with their minds, but it just seemed to come second nature to her.

“Eat up.” Her mom’s voice pulled her attention back to the rest of the group. Jewel caught her eye, and a knowing look passed between them. Jewel had noticed the way Anna had blanked out while she’d been internally conversing with Gustavo.

The sandwiches her mom had made were simple, yet tasted divine considering all that they’d been given to eat, like the two warlocks, had been the fae bread. The fae food wasn’t bad, but three months of nothing but one type of food pretty much ends the appeal of anything.

Only a little while later, Anna found herself in her room, tucked into the bed she’d slept in all her life. Jewel had refused the bed and was on a pallet she’d made in the floor. She was a stubborn mule when she wanted to be.

“Anna, did you know that when you are tired your decision-making, reaction time, situational awareness, memory, and communication decrease by twenty to fifty percent?” Jewel asked, accompanied by a yawn.

“I didn’t know that. But I did know this. I’m a bear when I don’t get enough sleep.”

Jewel chuckled. “I think we all are.”

“Sweet dreams, Jewels.”

“You, too, Anna.”

* * *

She should have called Dalton. From the minute they’d appeared in Jezebel’s shop, her mind was screaming at her to call him, but she didn’t. Now as she lay there with no distractions, she was able to dissect the reason behind her actions.

She knew if she called him he might figure out just how not okay she really was. She was able to fake it in front of the others, even Anna, but with him, she wouldn’t. He had the ability to rip her open because she longed for that connection with him. She wanted the intimacy of knowing his deepest thoughts and fears and of him knowing hers. But she couldn’t tell him this. She couldn’t tell him the darkness inside of her far outweighed what little light was left.

As the night wore on and sleep continued to evade her, Jewel fought the whispers in her mind. She knew it was Volcan’s magic. She knew the magic spouted lies, or at least she hoped they were lies. Maybe they weren’t. Maybe if she did go out and do what the magic was put inside of her to do—make witches—she would find some relief from the relentless onslaught of darkness. She felt as though the sun had been turned off. One second it was there, and the next a switch had been flipped, and suddenly she found herself surrounded by the absence of light. Some might call it darkness but, honestly, the absence of light was more than just darkness. It was also the loss of one’s way. The absence of light removed the path that had been in front of her, and she only knew up from down because her feet were on the ground. Everything else was lost.

Without really making a conscious decision, which wasn’t odd considering that ninety percent of a person’s decisions are made by the subconscious mind, she sat up and turned to check that Anna was asleep.

“Anna?” she whispered and then said it a little louder. When her friend didn’t stir, she stood up, slipped her shoes on, and flashed from the room.

She pictured in her mind an alley and specified that it needed to be in New Orleans. When her feet were again on solid ground, she opened her eyes and looked around. It was definitely an alley based on the less-than-appealing smells and large dumpsters pushed up against the buildings. With the magic driving her, she moved quickly to the street and found what she was looking for. There were several bars along the strip. Jewel headed toward them with one goal in mind, to make witches.

She walked into the first establishment she came to, and her eyes landed on a woman sitting at the far end of the bar. Jewel made eye contact with the woman and smiled. Her feet moved of their own accord as she held the woman’s stare. She was sure that Volcan’s magic was at work, though she wasn’t sure what it was doing. Jewel let it continue to take over, guiding her actions and even her words.

“What if I told you I could give you power beyond your imagining?” Jewel whispered near the woman’s ear. “Any problems you might have now can be gone in the blink of an eye because you will have the power to fix them. If you’re interested, follow me.” She turned and headed toward the back of the bar, assuming there would be a rear entrance.

Jewel could feel the woman’s stare on her back and knew the lady was right behind her. When she stepped out into the back of yet another alley, she immediately turned and watched as the woman shut the door behind them.

“Are you talking about some kind of new drug?” the woman asked.

Jewel laughed, and she noticed that it didn’t sound like her normal voice. The laugh was sultry and wicked. “Better than any drug. Your name?”

Connie.”

Connie what?”

“Connie Jones.”

Jewel’s brow quirked. “How utterly plain,” she said. “Lucky for you I’m about to make you anything but plain.” Jewel took Connie’s hand. Using one of the sharp fingernails that instantly appeared on her own, she sliced the woman’s hand open, then did the same to herself.

“What the hell,” Connie said and started to pull her hand back.

Jewel held on tight and shushed her. “Trust me.” The words held a hint of magic that seemed to calm the woman. Jewel pressed their hands together and then began to speak.

“Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire,

Hear my voice, obey my desire.

Welcome us with open arms.

Teach us of power and of charms.

The craft has called to us.

Fate has chosen us.

Now we come, embrace us.

Here we stand, protect us.

Fire, Earth, Water, and Wind,

Pour your power deep within.

Teach us now so we may share.

Help us draw more into your care.

Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire,

Hear my voice, obey my desire.

Connie Jones heeds your command.

And I, Jewel, with her stand.”

As she chanted the spell, the wind picked up, and she could smell the coming rain. The once clear sky was now covered in huge thunderclouds as the elements responded to her power. Within a matter of seconds, Jewel began to see images of Connie’s life. She felt herself connect to the woman’s soul. It still felt so invasive and cruel to see everything, all of her thoughts, memories, and feelings laid bare. Jewel tried her best to direct the magic, to use it to create rather than destroy. But once the connection was made, Volcan’s magic took over, and there was nothing she could do. A minute later, Connie Jones slumped to the ground.

Jewel’s breathing was hard, and her heart felt as though it was going to beat right out of her chest. Her mind was filled with chaos as she tried to process, once again, taking another woman’s life. As the sounds around her began to break through the focus she’d had on Connie, she realized that she didn’t have time to process it. Everything was riding on her ability to make witches. Her life, Anna’s life, the warlocks lives and their loved one. Volcan would rip them all apart if he didn’t get what he wanted or if he didn’t at least see some progress. She had to keep trying.

She knelt down and brushed the woman’s hair to the side and gently closed her blank eyes. “An apology would almost be cruel, but I am sorry.”

She flashed from the alley, leaving yet another life taken by her hands. Jewel reappeared at another bar and entered just as she had before. She scoped the place, letting her eyes scan over the females that occupied it. She was looking for someone who wouldn’t be missed, someone who needed something that they could never quite put their finger on.

Target found, she began her walk of shame, because that’s what it felt like to walk toward a person you would most likely kill in a matter of moments.

Introductions made, Jewel had to talk to Shelly for a little longer before the woman finally decided to follow her. It wasn’t until Jewel started talking about having the ability to do anything, take anything you wanted, that the woman really got interested.

She went through the now familiar process. The brief storm from earlier had died down, but now it once again began to electrify because of her magic. As Jewel connected with Shelly, she felt something different than she had with the others. Jewel felt an oily film of evil leaking from the woman’s soul. The things in Shelly’s mind were not ones Jewel wanted to know. The woman who’d seemed so good-natured was revealing to Jewel—thought not of her own accord—just how twisted she was. The magic seemed to dance with Shelly’s soul and, for a moment, Jewel thought that the spell was going to work this time. Then, with a huge jolt, the magic pulled back, and Shelly Ash’s life was snuffed out as quickly as a candle’s flame.

Another dead body at her feet and another failed attempt. She looked down at the woman and took a step back. Jewel couldn’t bring herself to care that this victim hadn’t made it. She’d been a predator, someone who sought out the weak to extort them with no remorse. The world wasn’t losing anything precious when Shelly left it.

Jewel flashed again in search of her next attempt. She refused to think of them as victims because that made them people, and she couldn’t think of them as people. Not anymore. They were a means to an end. With that thought, she felt another part of herself be taken over by the darkness. The compassion that once filled her so readily was fading into indifference.

She continued her pursuit, hopping from seedy bar to seedy voodoo shops and even to a seedy strip club. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, after all. One woman after another dropped at her feet like dead worshippers of a deity that they hadn’t realized cared nothing for them. Her focus was single minded, and nothing was going to stand in her way.

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