Read Blood of an Ancient Online

Authors: Rinda Elliott

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban

Blood of an Ancient

Dedication

This is dedicated to my husband, Robert. His support over the years and especially during the writing of this book was priceless.

It’s also dedicated to my critique partner, Rachel Vincent, for dragging my overworked butt out for plotting lunches and for her constant belief in me.

And to my editor, Holly Atkinson, for her first awesome response to this one.

“I can see it, you know.” She spoke too softly for anyone else to hear. “The shadow that writhes inside you, the part of you that loves the feel of warm blood and tearing flesh. There is only one way for you to find balance and in this world, it does not exist.”
- Blood of an Ancient

Chapter One

Astral projection is a bitch.

Seemed the laws of dimensional travel would be an ongoing lesson for me. One minute I was soaring through the night and the next, smoke clogged my throat and violent coughs sent me careening into a wicked-ass free fall.

Tonight, the sky was nothing more than a spill of inky black, the cloud cover so thick it blocked stars and moon. The recent January freeze had finally ended so I’d taken advantage of my downtime while my wounds from the battle with the Dweller healed. With Blythe’s magic still screwed up, she hadn’t been able to help this time around. Poison from the Dweller Demon claws had invaded my body like starving parasites. The injuries still ached like crazy, two months later.

The only plus was the healing time gave me a chance to get this metaphysical travel down before I had to force my way into one of the deeper hell dimensions to retrieve Nikolos.

Instant grief threatened to strangle me. I missed the ancient Minoan warrior with an intensity that made sleep impossible. How he managed to crawl into my heart in so short a time was beyond my understanding, but he had. When I did manage to grab a few winks, my dreams were flooded with nightmare images of that last battle. I watched him dive into that yawning pit, over and over. The horror I felt in that moment stuck inside me like a jammed film reel. And it still pissed me off that he’d played me the whole time we were searching for the Dweller. He’d planned to die all along.

The Jacksonville skyline blinked light into what otherwise would be complete and utter darkness, so I barely caught the electrical wires in my peripheral vision right before my cord tangled in them. My damned physical instead of metaphysical cord.

Turns out it’s quite the conductor.

The zap sent me flying back. With loud buzzing filling my ears and annoying, tiny golden butterflies fluttering around my eyes, I weaved about and yanked on the thick thread. In all my research on astral projection, not one other person talked about a physical cord—the thin line that attached our spirit selves to our solid selves. The thing that kept the two halves from getting permanently separated. Not many talked about being able to go into astral projection while awake either.

In the past, I had to be asleep or knocked in the head to enter this dimension. But I’d discovered I had the ability to separate my two selves by accident. My one talent from birth was an ability to peel dimensional layers to see things that exist in other planes and I’d been looking for my missing spirit guide, Fred, when I glanced down to find my hand split into two full hands. It had freaked me out at first, then I realized there would be no more blinding headaches from purposely knocking myself out.

When I’d tried to explain this new ability to my friend Blythe, she’d blinked her puppy dog eyes at me, turned and puked into one of my sister’s decorative bowls. I think it was the splitting hand part…

But astral travel had its perils. At least for me.

Took a little while and a lot of cursing, but I finally wrestled my cord free of the wires. If I’d been paying better attention, I wouldn’t now stink of singed hair, wouldn’t feel the rattle of a loose tooth. Once in the air, I sped up because I had a gut feeling about the origins of the smoke that had distracted me.

As I quickly soared toward the source of smoke, I stretched my arm and looked for burns. I still had a lot to learn about the actual orientation of my spirit self. My elbow ached, but there wasn’t a mark on me. Flexing my fingers, I marveled over the differences between this world and mine. Here, I could feel the breeze on my skin, feel the muscles and tendons moving underneath, but I could see through my fingers. My body wasn’t like some vacuous thing. I had substance; in fact, it seemed stronger than my body in the earth dimension. I could pass my hands through my tummy, pass my body through a house wall, yet I felt every bone rattle if I ran into a tree. I think this had something to do with living things.

This dimension wasn’t actually separate from the human one—they were more like tangled together. The two shared the same space, only few could see into this one. The membrane-like layer that split them was just thick enough to keep most humans oblivious.

This is a very, very good thing
.

Especially when the dead don’t cross over and instead wander here, lost and confused. Some, the ones who had their lives viciously taken, were stuck—trailing after their murderers endlessly, silent and sad until either justice was served or their killer died.

The smoke suddenly grew thick.

Frantically scanning the ground below me, I knew in my gut where that fire originated, even before I saw it. I grabbed my cord and tugged hard, having learned this sent me back faster.

Before I could reach my body the normal way, pain slammed into my right cheek and I saw stars in this dimension before blinking my eyes open in the physical one. The transition was too quick and complete disorientation sent the bedroom around me spinning. My eyes were open long enough to see Phro hauling her arm back to slap me. Again, if the throbbing in my cheek was anything to go by.

Phro, short for Aphrodite, was a goddess cursed to this realm and currently acting as my spirit guide. She could be a real bitch.

“Wake. The. Fuck. Up.” The heavily punctuated yells were about an inch from my face. I winced, fully aware now.

And,
oh goddess
, with consciousness came pain. Heat scorched my face and my first breath seared, telling me I’d already taken in the polluted air far too long. I choked and the cough that quickly followed rattled my chest, scraped my raw throat and sent tears to wet my gritty eyes. The covers had tangled around my legs, so I kicked free and tumbled to the floor. My elbows and knees cracked on the hard wood.

A flurry of deep, soul-sucking coughs racked my body and I blinked rapidly, trying to produce more tears to alleviate the burn. The fire roared outside my bedroom door, loud and furious. I squinted to try and see Phro. She hovered a foot off the floor, agitation jerking her limbs as she frantically pointed toward the window.

“Where’s my sister?” My yell tore at my throat and I gasped, sinking until my stomach touched the still-cool floor. “And Castor?” I managed to warble out.

Black swirled around the edges of my vision before Phro’s dark Greek features came close and filled it. “They’re outside! They’ll come back in when they realize you aren’t out there with them so you have to get off your ass and out the window. Don’t open the door. The fire is right out there.”

I’d been pressing my palms against the floor, so I used them as leverage. Lungs bursting, I held my breath, jerked to my feet and grabbed the wrist sheaths I’d had made for my knives. I set them, along with my knives and the ancient spell book, on the bed. Then I hefted the bedside table. A lamp and coffee mug crashed to the floor as I swung the table into the window. Glass shattered and I used the table legs to swipe the edges of standing shards. I was getting cut up, no matter what though, so I picked up the book and used my other hand to grab the top of the window. Someone on the outside instantly took hold of me and hauled.

By the strength of the pull, I knew it was my brother, Castor. He dragged me away from the house and broken glass on the ground, ripped the book away and dropped it, before tugging me close for a bone-crushing hug. I had a second to feel his heart frantically beating against mine before racking coughs sent me pushing away to fall on my knees.

Elsa hit the grass beside me, her hand on my back. She rubbed and I realized I was only wearing a T-shirt and underwear.
Great.
Elsa had bought me the top. It read,
Pull My Cord
. It was secretly my favorite shirt.

“It was deliberately set, Beri.” Elsa leaned close so she could whisper. She pulled my hair back from my face and held it behind my neck. “The perp didn’t even bother to make it look like an accident. Left the damn gas can on the front porch.”

“I’m so sorry about your house.” The words sounded more like croaks as I looked up at her.

Lips tight, she managed a shrug that didn’t in the least look casual. “It’s just stuff. I’m glad you’re okay.”

Lifting my face higher to let the cool breeze brush over my tortured skin, I tried to blink the sting from my eyes so I could see the house. The blaze rose, tall and livid, lighting that black sky, creating waving, ominous shadows in the smoke. All her antiques, her personal things—the photos of her parents who had died not so long ago. All gone. I choked on the grief. Grief for her. “One gas can didn’t do all that,” I muttered before stupidly trying to clear my throat. Took effort not to whimper. Felt like lumps of cotton had been glued inside. On top of claw marks.

“You’re right.” Blythe had joined us. She wore a pink, fluffy robe, open over yellow baby doll pajamas. As usual, there was a man following—this one a fireman. A hot fireman. He flushed when I met his eyes. Maybe because he was in full uniform but not battling the fire?

Or, crap…it could be my preferred nightwear
.

“How’d you get here so fast?” I croaked at Blythe, doing my best to cover the tiny underwear with my hands, and hoping my blush still looked like a flush from the fire. The long, slow-healing wounds from the dweller demons were stark red against the skin of my arm and leg, paler than usual in the moonlight.

“My house burned too.”

It was then I took in her puffy red eyes and the tear streaks on her cheeks. “Oh, Blythe.”

She nodded and threw a tremulous smile over her shoulder. “Luckily, he was with me.”

“Kind of convenient, don’t you think?” Giving up on the hand shields, I wiped my tears and took a better look at Blythe’s friend. That looked more like a costume. “Were you playing fireman and damsel in distress, Blythe? Wait, don’t answer that.”

She leaned close. Her hair smelled like lavender, which I hated, but it was a hell of a lot better than smoke. “Don’t be silly. He had the clothes in his car. I thought it would be a good idea to date someone who’s good at putting out fires. You know, with my current
problem
.” She whispered the last word.

Like the problem was current. The fires were worse now, but they’d always been present. Blythe had been accidentally setting things ablaze while doing spells her entire life. “Since when? You never mentioned him.”

She grinned. “Oh, I met him yesterday.”

“Slut,” Phro muttered.

I sent her a glare because, really. The goddess Aphrodite calling another woman a slut?

Blythe scowled at her, but didn’t respond. She pulled a small bag of wet wipes from her robe pocket—why she had them, I didn’t want to know—and proceeded to gently clean my face. I didn’t complain. The cool, wet towelette felt heavenly on my skin.

“Beri,” she whispered. “One gas can didn’t cause that. Magic was the fuel. The gas was only a starter.” She dabbed at my nose. “I think it was a message too.”

“Ya think?” I closed my eyes. They felt better shut.

When new hands landed on me, my eyes flew open. Paramedics had taken over and two of them helped pull me to my feet. One, a young brunette, patted my arm as she walked me toward the ambulance. She kept glancing at the knives and sheaths I held clutched together in one hand. Murmurs from Elsa’s gathering neighbors caused an undercurrent of humming, like soft chanting, in my still-fuzzy ears.

“I don’t need to go to the hospital.” I looked over my shoulder at my brother. “Castor, the book!”

I watched him heft it off the ground and brush grass off the purple cloth we kept it wrapped in. The ancient spell book was too valuable and too desired a commodity to let out of our sight. A nasty ghoul had tried to steal it a few times and I was sure there were others just as interested.

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