Wild Hunt Book #9
October 14, 2019

Ember’s about to face the showdown of her life…

Things are coming to a head with the Tuathan Brotherhood, and Ember finds herself right on the front lines. The goddess Brighid calls in her favor, sending Ember on a journey through the world of Annwn. Her quest? To find an ancient weapon that can turn the tide in the war against Nuanda and the Tuathan Brotherhood.

But as Ember journeys to the Well of Tears, she must face not only the demons that inhabit the mystical forest, but her demons that haunt her blood heritage. Can she recover Brighid’s Flame and put an end to the Tuathan Brotherhood? If she succeeds, Ember must face an enemy unlike any other she’s ever battled. But, if she fails, the Brotherhood will permanently destroy the delicate balance of power between the Fae Courts and the rest of the world.

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“Damn it!” I dodged the dagger as it whistled past me, the blade coming dangerously close to slicing my nose off. How many blades were these goblins carrying? Too damn many, I thought, as another came spiraling toward me. I was near a cedar tree, so I took a chance and darted behind it, pressing flat against the trunk. As I rested, panting, I took stock of the situation.

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We were still facing six goblins, and the sub-Fae didn’t seem to be tiring. They were armed with a fuckton of daggers, and who knew what else. And they didn’t seem to care if they lost their blades, because they were sending them after us at a daunting speed. The scary part was how accurate they were. Viktor’s bicep had already been a target, and he’d had to yank the blade out from where it had lodged in the muscle. Yutani had barely avoided being skewered in the jugular. Instead, the goblin had managed to graze his throat, which wasn’t good, but it was better than a severed artery. Herne and I were uninjured so far, but I wasn’t laying odds that our luck would hold out.

As I caught my breath, I tried to figure out how best to work my way around to the back of the group. I glanced around, trying to think of a plan.

We were on the outskirts of the Carlsford Café & Cattle Ranch—an urban ranch owned by Jet and Maxine Collins. They also ran a diner and a storefront, where they sold beef, milk, and butter. The ranch was located near Crystal Lake, off Crystal Lake Road. The Collinses had retained the services of the Wild Hunt a couple of weeks before to chase down a group of sub-Fae who were scaring their cattle and stealing vegetables from the expansive garden they kept for their café. A couple of calves had also gone missing. The cows had been bewitched and were drying up, which was hurting the calves, as well as milk sales. Neither Jet nor Maxine were sure why the goblins were picking on them, but they wanted the creatures gone, as soon as we could hunt them down and dispatch them.

We had already tried twice to eradicate the goblins, with no results. Kipa and Herne had even managed to chase down one of the creatures and destroy him, but that hadn’t stopped the vermin. Goblins were like rodents. Let one loose into an area, and it was an open invitation to a dozen brothers and sisters. They took advantage of every opportunity that came their way. Not to mention, goblins—along with other sub-Fae—were supposed to stay outside of the city limits, but they never paid any attention to the rules.

I took a deep breath, a cloud of vapor coalescing in front of my mouth. We were just coming out of a two-week snowstorm, and while the snow had partially melted and we were back to rain again, there were clumps of dirty, frozen ice and compacted snow scattered around, especially in the shaded woodlands. At least it was melting, though the rain was creating a slushy mess.

Wiping my forehead, I brushed away stray beads of the water that drizzled down from the skies. Late January was a dreary time of year in the Seattle area, and February, even worse.

Letting out an exasperated sigh, I adjusted my grip on my handheld crossbow. At least we had managed to take down three of the goblins so far, but there were six left and they were determined to have their fun. Sub-Fae could be incredibly stupid.

You’d think they would back off when they realized we were stronger than they were, but it finally dawned on me that the sub-Fae just didn’t care. They didn’t reason things out logically. They were rabid little buggers—or not so little, as the case may be—and they were determined. And they were all too good with weaponry.

Both Yutani and Viktor had brushed off their wounds and were fighting on, but I hoped that we could wrap this up and get back to the agency soon. Viktor was massive, with muscles on his muscles, given he was a half-ogre, but the goblins sometimes used poison. And that could down even a half-ogre like Viktor. And Yutani, well, he was lithe, if wiry, and I was worried about the amount of blood he might be losing.

I cautiously peeked around the edge of the tree. There, directly in my line of sight, skulked one of the goblins. He was focused on Yutani, trying to track him. The creature might be small, but he was tough. What he and his ilk wanted with the vegetables was a mystery. Goblins were mostly carnivorous, and they loved human flesh most of all. But beggars can’t be choosers, as the old saying went, and anything that either was—or had been—alive was considered fair game.

I tried to pinpoint the remaining Nobs, as we called them, but they were good at cloaking their presence. Squinting, I tried to pick out anything that might remotely be considered a part of goblin anatomy. Nobs had scattered patches of hair on their heads—rough like steel wool—and their faces were lined and wrinkled, even when they were babies. With wide-set, beady eyes, and sharp yellow teeth, they were ugly suckers and they always made me queasy because they stank to high heaven. But there weren’t any others in sight, not that I could see.

I slowly brought my pistol grip crossbow up, aiming as I did my best to move as smoothly as possible. No sudden jerks, no sudden moves. I squinted, staring through the night vision scope attached to my bow, and let out my breath, squeezing the trigger as I steeled myself for the recoil. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want anything throwing off my aim.

The arrow sailed through the air and I held my breath, listening, trying to figure out whether or not I hit the goblin. There was a moment’s silence, but then I saw the shaft sticking out of the goblin’s heart. He went down with a shriek.

I couldn’t take a chance on running over to see if he was dissolving into the earth, but I crossed my fingers that my one arrow was all it would take.

Some of the sub-Fae didn’t last long once they were killed. In fact, some of them—goblins being a good example—decayed with an alarming rapidity, bubbling into primordial ooze within minutes. They vanished as though they’d never existed, leaving the ground around them enriched thanks to the goo that had been their body.

I waited for another moment, but saw no movement. My aim had been true. The goblin was dead. Pulling back, I glanced around to see where the others were.

Herne was flat on top of a tree branch about twenty yards away. He was eyeing something in the distance and, as I watched, he paused, then brought up his crossbow, aiming carefully. The arrow silently flew through the air, and a few seconds later another shriek echoed through the forest. Herne glanced down, catching sight of me, and blew me a kiss, then gave me a thumbs-up. He was in his element, deep in the forest, on the hunt.

I caught his kiss and blew one back, then slipped around the trunk of the cedar, creeping through the underbrush, trying to make certain I wasn’t making myself a target.

Viktor was standing near Yutani, and when he saw me, he motioned for me to join them.

I darted over, leaping over stone and root, landing softly on a patch of decaying leaves and moss. It occurred to me that I was so much more nimble than I had been less than a year ago. There were several reasons for this, but most of all, the shift came when I went through the Cruharach, transitioning into full adulthood. Both bloodlines had come to the surface and they both brought their skills into play. While I was still cautious, I was slowly beginning to accept my new abilities. The ramifications of what I could become continued to haunt me, but there was no going back. I could never again return to the Ember I had been, and I wasn’t sure I’d want to.

I reached Viktor’s side, and he nodded to Yutani. The coyote shifter was grimacing as he leaned against a tree. The collar of his leather jacket had been ripped through by the blade—which meant it had been incredibly sharp, and I could smell the blood on him.

“You need to stay out of sight,” I said, keeping my voice low. “You don’t need to play hero over a group of goblins. I killed one, and Herne took one out, so there are only four left.” I turned to Viktor. “What about you? You’re hurt, too.”

“Not so bad. It sliced into me, but then bounced off. I’m good to go.” He paused, looking up into the trees. “Look,” he whispered, pointing.

I glanced up. Herne was slithering through the treetops. He glanced down and saw us. Pointing to me, he crooked his finger.

I gave him a nod. “Okay, Viktor, keep an eye on us and take your cue from what we do. Yutani, stay out of sight. Don’t play hero. I’m going up.” I eyed the fir. It stood at least eighty feet high, and while the branches on the lower trunk were a little sparse, there were enough beyond about the ten-foot mark to use for climbing. “Viktor, can you give me a boost?”

“Sure thing.” He held out his hands, fingers interlocked. I stepped on his hands and he boosted me up. The half-ogre was six-five, and when he lifted me up, I was able to grab hold of one of the lower branches and swing my way up into the tree.

As I did my best to climb toward Herne, I stayed near the trunk, trying to avoid making too much noise. A few moments later and I was sitting on the branch below his. He swung his legs around, so he was facing me.

“If we climb another fifteen feet, we should have an ideal place to aim at the others. We’ll have to be quick, though, before they scatter.” Herne turned to look at me, a feral spark lighting his eyes. He was Lord of the Forest, and he belonged to the woodland as much as any of the trees or wildlife. Herne the Hunter was not only a demi-god, but he was my boss and my lover. And he was gorgeous. His shoulder-length wheat-colored hair was gathered back in a plaited weave, bound by a leather thong, and he was wearing a camo-sweatshirt, black jeans, and a black leather jacket. He was covered in pitch and dirt, and he stared at me with a wild, intense stare.

“Can you climb farther?”

I nodded. “I can. Lead the way.”

As he began to shimmy up the tree trunk, I grabbed hold of the next branch and swung my way up on it, following him as he ascended the tree. As we reached another large crotch in the tree, Herne gestured and I looked in the direction he was pointing. I could barely make out the movement of a couple creatures in the snow below. I looked at Herne.

“Goblins,” he mouthed, raising his bow. He could see in the dark a lot better than I could, but when I slid on a pair of night-vision goggles, I could see them. There were three of them, and one a little farther away. I took my cue from Herne, watching which one he was going after, and then raised my bow to focus on one of the others. We’d have to be quick to get the others, but Herne could move like lightning and he seldom if ever missed with a bow.

He took aim, and I waited. I’d shoot the moment his arrow went winging toward the enemy. And when the arrow was halfway to the goblins, I would loose my own. Herne’s struck true without fail, piercing the heart of the goblin. Mine missed by a fraction, but still tore into the goblin’s arm. By that time, Herne had nocked another arrow and let it fly, and the third goblin was down. I scrambled down out of the tree as Viktor raced forward toward the fray. He was ahead of me and by the time I got there, he had killed off the goblin I’d injured. With Herne’s two kills, that left one more.

“Where the hell did it go?” I glanced around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the last goblin. And then, before I realized what he was doing, Herne raced toward me, grabbing me and sending me flying to the ground. I landed in a pile of snow and immediately rolled to the side, hunching low as I realized what must have happened.

I tried to catch sight of the goblin, who had sent a dagger winging my way. The blade had lodged in the tree that I’d been next to, and Herne had managed to keep me from getting skewered. But before I could find him, Herne sent an arrow winging in the direction the blade had come from, and there was another shriek.

“He’s toast?” I asked, standing up.

“Buttered and ready for breakfast,” Herne said. “That takes care of all of them.”

Viktor and Yutani joined us, both looking tired and ragged. Yutani had managed to stanch the flow of blood drizzling out of his neck, though he looked queasy.

“How can we be sure they’re all gone? That we’ve found the entire gang?” I chewed on my inner cheek, hoping that we hadn’t missed any. We had been out here at the ranch several times over the past two weeks, and each time only managed to catch glimpses of the goblins before they got away.

“The owner told me he caught sight of nine goblins this afternoon. With the one that Kipa and I caught the other day, that would make ten in the raiding party. That’s a standard size for Nobs. There’s no way to know for sure, except to wait and see if any other incidents happen on the ranch. But I’m fairly certain we took care of them.” Herne wrapped his arm around me, hugging me to him. “I’m going to call this a wrap. Good work, guys. Let’s head up to the café and tell Jet and Maxine the good news.”

It was a long walk back to the café, but we’d left our cars there, so we had to make the trek anyway. By the time we reached the diner, it was ten p.m. Shivering, I pushed through the doors, grateful for the warmth that enveloped me. The café was open until eleven, and I tapped Herne on the arm.

“I’m going to order something to go. We need to stop at urgent care for Yutani and Viktor, but I’m hungry.”

“Make it quick,” Herne said. “I don’t want to wait too long before we get their wounds attended to. Goblins are notorious for using poison, and I don’t want to take any chances.”

Jet came over, smiling as he saw us. He and his wife were human, but they were friendly with most of the SubCult, and their diner was frequented by shifters and Fae alike.

“You guys look roughed up. Can I take that as a good sign?” He folded his towel and threw it over his shoulder, straightening his apron.

“We dispatched nine goblins tonight. I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t have any more trouble, although if you do, just give me a call and we’ll come out and take a look again. But I think your problem’s taken care of.” Herne shook the man’s hand, giving him a friendly nod.

“How much do I owe you?” Jet asked, pulling out his checkbook.

“We’ll bill you. Give it a couple days, and then if you haven’t had any more trouble from the goblins, let us know and Angel will send you out an invoice. I want to make sure we’ve done the job right.” Herne went above and beyond for some clients, especially those who were quick to pay, and easy to work for.

Jet smiled. “That’s why I come to you when I have problems, Herne.”

“Do you have anything quick to fix that we can get to go?” I asked. “We have to get these two over to urgent care, but I’m starving.” My stomach rumbled, punctuating my remark. I rolled my eyes, blushing.

“If you can give me ten minutes, I’ll have burgers, fries, and doughnuts all around. Shakes, too. Will that work?”

Herne nodded, glancing toward Yutani, who just shrugged. “That would be great.”

“What flavor of shakes?” Jet asked, pulling out his pad. “And what do you want on your burgers?”

“I want chocolate,” I said. “Ketchup and cheese, no onions, mayo, or mustard.”

Herne and the others put in their orders and we settled into one of the back booths to wait. Less than ten minutes later, Jet carried over four large bags.

“Here you go. Burgers, fries, doughnuts, and shakes. They’re on the house. I’ll call you in a day or two and let you know if it looks like the goblins are back. I have no idea why they picked us to bother, but it was putting a dent in our business, that’s for sure.”

“Goblins don’t care who they go after. If you have something they want, and they think they can get it, you’re going to be a target. Luck—or ill-luck—of the draw,” Herne said.

We waved good-bye and tired, grubby, and hungry, we headed toward Herne’s Expedition.

When we returned to the office, we stopped in at the urgent care clinic that took up the entire first floor of the building. It was open till one a.m., a good thing considering how many streeps—the street people—were living on the streets.

While Yutani and Viktor got themselves taken care of, Herne and I took the elevator to the fourth floor, to the Wild Hunt Agency, which Herne owned and ran. Talia and Angel had gone home for the night, but Charlie looked up as we entered, a startled expression on his face.

“You surprised me. I didn’t expect to see you this late. You take care of the goblins?” Charlie was a vampire, and he was in school, learning accounting so he could take over the books for us when he graduated. In the meantime, he came in at night and helped with data entry and anything else we might need him for, especially when we were overwhelmed with work. And lately, overwhelmed was an understatement.

“I think so,” Herne said. He turned to me. “I’ll meet you in the break room. I need to take a leak first.”

“Okay.” I gave Charlie a tired wave and headed to the break room, where I slumped into one of the chairs. It’d been one hell of a night, and all I wanted to do was eat my food, take a shower, and fall into bed. I pulled out my burger, gratified to see not just one, but two cheeseburgers in the sack. The fries were large, and the shake was also large. Jet and Maxine didn’t skimp when it came to portions, or gratitude.

Herne entered the room as I took a bite of my food. The yeast scent of the buns and the smell of grilled ground beef were making me ravenous. He dropped into the chair next to me, reaching out to take my free hand. He brought it to his lips and kissed my fingers.

“You were almost a shish kebab,” he said, leaning back and stretching out his legs.

“Thank you, by the way. You saved my life, yet again.” I set down my burger and took a long sip of the shake. The frozen chocolate slid down my throat and I closed my eyes, grateful that we were done for the night.

“Hey, it’s what we do. We watch each other’s backs. All of us.” But he had a worried look on his face.

“What are you thinking about? Yutani? I’m sure he’ll be okay. Viktor, too. They were hurt but their injuries weren’t terrible.”

“No. I know they’ll be okay, even if the blades were poisoned. The urgent care clinic downstairs is good at what they do. No, I’m just…mulling over something else, to be honest.” He glanced up at me, the blue of his eyes mirroring the first light of dawn.

I leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “So, what is it?”

“The growing unrest because of the Tuathan Brotherhood. The Fae aren’t going to sit around and accept the role of scapegoat much longer. When the United Coalition shut them out, it stirred up very deep, very bad blood. And the hate groups against the Fae are getting worse. I’ve heard of no less than four vigilante groups starting up in the past few days. Pretty soon, things are going to blow sky high. Boom! Powder keg time. And I’m not sure what to do about it. We aren’t making much progress.”

I stared at my cheeseburger, trying to think of something to say that would make him feel better, but came up with zilch. Herne was right. The situation was volatile—a true powder keg. If we didn’t find an answer soon there would be rioting in the streets, and a lot of innocent people would end up hurt, caught in the crossfire. Collateral damage wasn’t just a theoretical term.

Hell, I had my own scars to prove that. I was still scarred from some of the lacerations I had received in the blast that had taken out the Associated Shifters Credit Union. I had been in the way of a glass door that had shattered, turning me into a pincushion for hundreds of glass shards.

“I know,” I said. “I know.”

We sat there for a moment, staring at each other, and finally I picked up my cheeseburger again. There was nothing we could do at this moment to solve the crisis, and that was another fact we knew.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

A.J. Roach: Devil May Dance
Air: Napalm Love
Alice Cooper: Go to Hell; I’m the Coolest; Didn’t We Meet; Some Folks; Poison; Welcome to My Nightmare
Alice In Chains: Man in the Box; I Can’t Remember; Sunshine
Android Lust: Here and Now; Saint Over; Dragonfly
Arch Leaves: Nowhere to Go
AWOLNATION: Sail
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
The Black Angels: Currency; Don’t Play With Guns; Love Me Forever; Young Men Dead; Always Maybe; Death March; Comanche Moon; Manipulation
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Buffalo Springfield: For What It’s Worth
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Celtic Woman: The Butterfly; The Voice; Scarborough Fair
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Damh the Bard: The Cauldron Born; Tomb of the King; Obsession; Cloak of Feathers; Taliesin’s Song; The Wheel
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
Dragon Ritual Drummers: Black Queen; The Fall; Dance of the Roma
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eivør: Trøllbundin
Everlast: Black Jesus; I Can’t Move; Ends; What It’s Like; One, Two
Faun: Hymn to Pan; Iduna; Oyneng yar; The Market Song; Punagra; Cernunnos; Rad; Sieben
Garbage: Queer; #1 Crush; Push It; I Think I’m Paranoid
Gary Numan: Cars (Remix); Ghost Nation; My Name is Ruin; Hybrid; Petals; I Am Dust; Here in the Black; When the Sky Bleeds, He Will Follow; Angel Wars; My Name is Ruin; The Sleeproom
Godsmack: Voodoo
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls; Kids With Guns; Hongkongaton; Rockit; Clint Eastwood; Stylo
The Gospel Whisky Runners: Muddy Waters
Hedningarna: Ukkonen; Fulvalsen; Juolle Joutunut
The Hu: Wolf Totem; Yuve Yuve Yu
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
John Fogerty: The Old Man Down the Road
The Kills: Nail in My Coffin; You Don’t Own The Road; Sour Cherry; Dead Road 7
LadyTron: Paco!; Ghosts; I’m Not Scared
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low and tomandandy: Half Light
Marilyn Manson: Personal Jesus; Tainted Love
Matt Corby: Breathe
Nirvana: Heart Shaped Box; Come As You Are; Something in the Way; Plateau; Lake of Fire
No Doubt: Hella Good; Hey Baby; Trapped in a Box
Opeth: Windowpane; Death Whispered A Lullaby; To Rid the Disease
Orgy: Social Enemies; Blue Monday
A Pale Horse Named Death: Devil In the Closet; Meet the Wolf
Pati Yang: All That Is Thirst
Pearl Jam: Even Flow; Black; Jeremy; Garden
Ringo Starr: It Don’t Come Easy
Rob Zombie: Living Dead Girl; American Witch; Never Gonna Stop; Feel So Numb; Mars Needs Women; Dragula
Robin Schulz: Sugar
S.J. Tucker: Hymn to Herne
Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
Scorpions: The Zoo
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; Uncle Anesthesia; Dime Western; Shadow of the Season; Alice Said; Gospel Plow
Seether: Never Leave; Remedy; The Gift
Sharon Knight: Ravaged Ruins; Mother of the World; Bewitched; Berrywood Grove; 13 Knots; Let the Waters Rise; Siren Moon
Shriekback: The Shining Path; Underwaterboys; Dust and a Shadow; This Big Hush; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree; And The Rain; Church of the Louder Light; Wriggle and Drone
Simple Minds: Don’t You
Steeleye Span: The Fox; Blackleg Miner; Cam Ye O’er Frae France
Stone Temple Pilots: Sour Girl; Atlanta
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Transplants: Down in Oakland; Diamonds and Guns
Tuatha Dea: Tuatha De Danaan; The Hum and the Shiver; Wisp of a Thing (Part 1); Long Black Curl
Warchild: Ash
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow; The Circle Song; Elemental Chant; The Wolf Sky
Wumpscut: The March of the Dead
Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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A Sacred Magic