Hearts of Magic
Kay Doherty © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Theran watched as the sorcerer flexed his fingers and twisted his wrists. His fingertips turned black, tendrils of darkness snaking up his arm in a sinister web as he focused all his magic into his hands. When he opened his eyes to focus on Theran, the orbs were solid black. The color bled through the man’s long brown hair in streaks. Theran had never met a sorcerer, let alone seen one in action. He had hoped to never witness a sorcerer’s power firsthand, but here he was, facing off with one. For the sorcerer, the timing was impeccable. For Theran, it couldn’t have been worse.
He’d been caught away from the pack. Theran had decided on a walk along the riverbank, enjoying the temperate weather, lost in thought and unaware of how far he’d wandered. When he turned to head back to the rest of the pack, he saw a man standing behind him. The man was young and handsome. Dark hair hung down his back in soft waves, and intelligent caramel-colored eyes had taken in every inch of Theran in a warm caress before going cold. A tiny bell of alarm had rung in the back of Theran’s mind, but he’d ignored the warning. It wasn’t unusual to run into humans in the forest, albeit a joyfully rare occurrence. He’d thought this man was human at first glance.
Now, as Theran watched the sorcerer gather his power for an attack, that small bell of alarm became a blaring howl of fear inside his head. He struggled to wrap his mind around the fact someone so small and gorgeous could become something so terrifying in a matter of seconds. A gray mist formed in the sorcerer’s palms, and Theran took a step back. The mist coalesced to become dark swirling clouds of magic, holding Theran’s attention as he crouched lower to the ground. The sorcerer widened his stance, and Theran’s eyes shot to the man’s face.
“Don’t—” Theran yelled and then shifted.
The transformation destroyed the clothing he’d been wearing and pulled on still-aching bones, but he couldn’t be concerned with that right now. He lunged at the sorcerer in hopes of catching him off guard before he could make those clouds do whatever horribly painful thing they were meant to do. Theran’s bulk collided with the sorcerer’s shoulder, knocking him off-balance and sending those clouds of magic into a nearby tree rather than Theran’s body. The spell nearly cut the tree in half, trunk splintering in all directions.
Theran had intended the hit to knock the smaller man to the ground, but in one fluid motion, the sorcerer spun into a crouch and stopped his momentum with both hands on the ground. He flipped his hair over his shoulder with a toss of his head and once again leveled his coal-black gaze onto Theran. If anyone asked him what he witnessed in that split second, he’d be hard-pressed to explain, the change was so swift. The sorcerer looked at Theran in confusion, and between one blink and the next, his eyes returned to their original caramel color before becoming oily black again. The slight interruption in magic rippled over the sorcerer’s body like the aura from a heat wave. In that brief moment, Theran made a run for it.
The rest of the pack was downriver about a half mile, but in wolf form, he’d be able to close the distance swiftly, though not without some pain. Theran still felt the effects of being slammed into a tree by a vampire a couple of weeks ago—generally when exerting himself excessively. Despite the discomfort, he didn’t slow his pace or look back to see if the sorcerer followed. He didn’t know if magic would allow the man to catch up to him, but Theran truly hoped he could outrun anything the sorcerer might throw his way. He was intelligent enough to know he didn’t stand a chance against a sorcerer alone, but there was strength in numbers. And when Tanner felt the need, the pack became a force to be reckoned with in its own right.
Laughter and conversation could faintly be heard over the thundering of his heart, and he skidded to a halt in the dirt and gravel lining the riverbank. This particular stand of rocks had become the pack’s unofficial gathering point for hunts or simply enjoying the outdoors while meeting. Theran’s sudden and frenzied entrance drew everyone’s attention. Once his momentum ceased, he shifted. When seeking solitude, all the pack members would block the bond so no one else could intrude on his alone time. It hadn’t occurred to Theran in those few short moments, while confronting the sorcerer, to drop the block. None of his pack members knew yet what he’d encountered; what could be coming for them if the sorcerer followed him. Theran rolled his neck and shoulders in an attempt to release some of the tension as he faced Tanner.
“Just got attacked by a sorcerer,” he said between gulping breaths. His heart beat hard and fast, and not solely because of his run for safety. Something else tickled at his subconscious, making him uncomfortable. The sorcerer had looked vaguely familiar, but Theran couldn’t place where he might have seen him before.
“Only one?” Luca asked from his perch on top of the rocks. “That’s unusual.”
“Is it?” Theran asked.
Deacon’s nod drew his attention. Theran took one slow, deep breath in an attempt to bring his heart and lungs back to a normal rhythm.
“Sorcerers don’t typically attack alone. They move in droves,” Deacon said. Ross rubbed up against his mate’s thigh in wolf form. Deacon lovingly smoothed his palm over Ross’s dirty white head and ears. He must have been rolling in the dirt.
Theran shrugged. “Maybe because I was alone? He thought he had the upper hand?”
“No,” Luca said. He rose to his feet and sniffed the air. “More likely he was a scout you stumbled upon, which is concerning. The Enclave hasn’t had a known presence here in over fifty years.”
“Scout or not, just one? Doesn’t make sense,” Deacon said. “One sorcerer might be a match for an ordinary pack of wolves, but this pack? Hell, the wolves aside, you or I alone could annihilate him.”
“Yet, one sorcerer is lethal to a vampire.”
Sakima appeared beside Luca on the rocks. The entire pack twitched in surprise, except for Vance who chuckled. Sakima and Vance had mated, but Sakima had yet to bond with the rest of the pack, so Vance was the only one who always knew where the vampire was. The pair certainly seemed to enjoy the vampire sneaking up on everyone. They all turned annoyed glares on Sakima, who offered only a fanged smile in response. As Sakima’s words sank in, Vance’s smile disappeared.
“You said lethal?” Vance asked, his amusement changing to distress.
Sakima gazed down at his wolf mate with affection. “Yes, lethal. Their magic, when inhaled by a vampire, attaches to the mutated DNA that makes us what we are and destroys it. The result is death.” Vance’s face lost all color. Within the blink of an eye, Sakima appeared at his side. Vance held on to his mate with a fierce grip while Sakima kissed his temple. “Shh, my pet. I will take precautions.”
The wolves instinctively drew closer together in support and protection of their Omega.
“How does one inhale magic?” Tanner asked Sakima.
“They make clouds of it,” Theran, remembering the misty stuff the sorcerer had conjured, answered before Sakima.
“Clouds?” Tanner, Ean, and Vance asked at once.
“Yes. He did this—” Theran mimicked the hand motions he’d seen the sorcerer make. “—and made clouds in his palms. He threw them at me but hit a tree instead. Blew it apart.”
“Great,” Ean said. “Exploding clouds of poisonous magic. Just what we need.”
Ean picked up a rock near his feet and launched it across the river. His moods had grown increasingly dark over the past months, and he was quick to anger. By all appearances, Ean’s decline had started when Matthias showed up at the pack house and only grew worse the longer the centuries-old dragon stuck around. The two were at each other’s throats when they chose to speak to one another at all.
“Everyone back to the house. We need to be someplace defensible while we regroup, and the human neighbors will keep all paranormals on a level field. Luca, Sakima, Deacon, and I will meet with Matthias to figure out the best plan of action with this new development,” Tanner said.
A blur of motion drew Theran’s attention to where Sakima and Vance had been standing, but he only saw empty space. The vampire had a habit of whisking Vance away without notice. The rest of the pack began the hike up the trailhead to where the vehicles were parked. Luca held Tanner’s hand as they walked side by side up the hill. Deacon fisted the white scruff of Ross’s neck as he led him up the trail behind Tanner, leaving Theran and Ean to bring up the rear.
Ean took his time approaching Theran, heralding his reluctance to return to the house. He’d confessed to Theran once that he was uncomfortable in the pack house, which was the exact opposite of how it should be. Theran felt his friend’s discomfort as if it were his own, but he had no idea what to do about it, especially when he didn’t know exactly what caused it. He took comfort in the fact Ean at least hadn’t talked about leaving the pack. He’d become Tanner’s Beta recently and was flourishing in his role. Ean was a natural leader and, in any other pack, may have one day become Alpha.
“You should shift,” Ean said as he finally joined Theran, and they started up the trail together. “Don’t want to shock the little old lady across the street with your lily-white ass.”
“You mean old lady McKinzey?” Theran scoffed. “She’s more likely to snap a picture or cop a feel than be shocked.”
Ean gave a slight smile at Theran’s exaggerated shudder. He continued up the hill as Theran stopped to shift and then ran to catch up to his pack mate.