Dark Highland Fire

Page 4


Instead, eight months of silence. And all he could do was sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was intolerable.

"The Drakkyn didn't seem the type to simply lick their wounds and go home," he said flatly. "You'll forgive me if I've found it a bit hard to concentrate on much but impending annihilation."

"I thought Wolf at the Door was mostly about impending annihilation," Gideon replied, referring to his brother's scrubby yet successful pub with a faint smile. When Gabriel just glared, he cocked his head at him, looking closely. "It's called humor, Gabe. Otherwise known as your second language. Christ, you really are knotted up, aren't you? Look," he tried again, rubbing a hand through his wavy mass of hair the way he always did when he was out of sorts. "It's entirely possible that they can't come through again at all, period. They certainly can't do it right here. And it may be tens, hell, hundreds of our years before anything happens, even if they can get through somewhere. We just don't know. And as miserable a thing as that is, it's something you're going to have to accept."

Gabriel glowered and shook his head, a definitive no. "I'm not at acceptance yet. But I'll give you miserable." He shifted slightly, sliding down enough to brace his weight on one long leg, the other propped against hard stone. He knew Gideon was looking at him, trying to puzzle him out. He'd been looking at him that way with increasing frequency since the encounter in the chamber, as though he sensed there was a storm brewing beneath Gabriel's always-cheerful surface. But even that surface was full of ripples now, Gabriel knew. How to calm them was the part that he hadn't even come close to figuring out.

"Listen, Gid," Gabriel began, on the verge of simply spilling it all and seeing whether his big brother might be able to make some sense out of what didn't make a bit of sense to him. It had, after all, always been one of Gideon's particular talents. Whatever else he might have said, however, died in his throat as a strange noise rose into the night. Low at first, but rapidly increasing in both volume and urgency, it was a sound that vibrated in every fiber of Gabriel's body. At first it was almost a song.

Within seconds it was a scream.

"What the hell," he heard Gideon murmur beside him as they sat frozen, ears ringing as the shrieking escalated further. Then the ground began to tremble beneath their feet, making the branches sway on the trees, and Gabriel knew.

"It's the Stone," he whispered, his voice strangled. He'd only ever heard the relic's legendary song once, full of heart-wrenching beauty as it opened a door to another world beneath a full winter's moon. This, though ... this was the sound of someone's heart being ripped from their body, of soul-searing pain. Gabriel shot a quick look at the sky, but he already knew what was wrong. The Stone of Destiny only sang beneath the full moon, unheard and secure in the underground chamber where it had rested for centuries. But the moon was on the wane tonight. And something was forcing the precious Lia Fáil to waken anyway.

The brothers shared a grim look before racing off across the grounds, heading for the ruins of the old chapel. The MacInnes werewolves had only been charged to guard the relic, not use it. If they'd ever had the knowledge or power to do so, it had been lost to the ages long ago. But the Drakkyn had proven without a doubt that they had not forgotten. And from the little the MacInneses had seen, the dark beings who existed on the other side of the Stone had more than enough power to cause something like this.

Gabriel steeled himself for the inevitable, perhaps final, fight. He'd wanted this, he reminded himself as he saw Duncan up ahead at the ruin, speaking the words that opened the hidden door sunken into the ground. Figures he recognized as Malcolm and Carly were right behind, and he heard Gideon swear at the sight of his wife descending into the chamber.

He couldn't blame him. But Carly was one of them now. She had a right to stand alongside the rest and fight.

They reached the crumbling foundation together, Gideon taking the lead when they started down the narrow and winding stone steps that had been revealed and disappearing quickly under the earth. The noise was head-splitting now. Gabriel clapped his hands over his ears, though it was no defense against a sound that seemed to vibrate in every cell of his body. The ground was shaking violently, causing dust to rain from the ceiling and onto their heads as one by one they emerged into the low circular chamber that housed the Stone.

The torches that lined the wall were aflame, casting wildly dancing shadows on the wall while the room rocked like a ship in rough seas. The Stone of Destiny itself sat on a pedestal in the middle of the chamber, a large, rectangular block that glowed like dark fire, carved with strange etchings that burned gold. The screaming seemed to emanate from the very core of it, making the light pulse as it poured out. All at once, the torch flames turned blue and blazed higher. Gabriel looked to his father, so different from the last time they'd all been in this room. Then he had been slumped before the Stone, covered in blood.

Now Duncan stood with his massive chest thrown out, fists clenched, appearing decades younger than his sixty years . He was Pack Alpha, Guardian of the Stone ... and he was visibly ready to be just that. Gabriel caught his father's eye and gave a slight nod. Ready, he thought, because here they come.

The same blue light tore from the top of the Stone in a violent rush as the room rocked harder, and a deafening crack bent the air. Gabriel felt his claws lengthening, his muscles bunching as his body sought the form it could best protect itself in. The last time they had fought the Drakkyn, he had felt almost supercharged in his Wolf form, fighting with a power he had never felt before and hadn't since. Gideon had admitted afterward that he'd felt the same. Gabriel prayed that strength would see fit to return to aid them now, whatever it had been.

From the looks of things, they would need all they could get.

The Stone gave one final deafening roar, and Gabriel felt a trickle of blood begin to leak from his nose. Still, he held his ground, caught between Wolf and man and ready to do his part for whatever the situation required. Two figures shot from the light, one ripping out of the glowing doorway at a run as it carried the other. Their features were indistinguishable as they emerged, surrounded in a nimbus of shimmering fire. Then, as quickly as it had begun, the terrible sound stopped, though it continued to echo away into the night. The blazing spear of blue collapsed into what looked like thousands of tiny fireflies before vanishing completely.

The sudden silence was jarring.

An imposing Nordic god with ice-blue eyes and short, spiky pale blond hair regarded them warily. In his arms he held a woman either unconscious or dead, her long fall of hair like a wave of blood.

For a long moment no one spoke. No one moved. Then, in a soft rasp, the man addressed them. His accent was mostly American, but with a flavor that was unidentifiably exotic, Gabriel noted. And while his words weren't specifically threatening, they did little to shake the feeling of dread that had settled over the chamber.

"Shifters," he said softly, and not without a hint of surprise. "Am I still on Earth?"

"Bloody well right you're still on Earth," snapped Duncan, teeth bared. "In fact, you're also on my land. Which is to say that if you even think about changing into some horrid beastie or spitting fire at us, one of us will be happy to tear you limb from limb and set your head on a pike out front. We've dealt with your lot before." Gabriel's mouth twitched despite his pounding heart. Whatever happened, he had to give the old man points for style. Duncan curled his lips into a sneer.

"Next question?"

To Gabriel's shock, the man grinned with delight. "By the Goddess ... arukhin shifters! I had never thought to see your kind, not in this lifetime at any rate." He laughed with obvious relief, and Gabriel suddenly saw the strain written all over his deceptively cool features. It was quickly becoming apparent that this was not going to be the battle they'd thought, and fear and anger were rapidly being replaced by complete confusion. Gideon caught his eye and raised his eyebrows. Gabriel shrugged lightly and gave a barely perceptible shake of his head. No matter how happy this man appeared to be to see them, it was not yet prudent to stand down.

"I don't know what the hell an arukhin is," Duncan said flatly. "But the last creature that called us that went back through the Stone with a hole in his neck. You'll go the same way if you don't explain yourself."

Gabriel saw the puzzlement in the man's eyes as they swept across their stony faces. Duncan was right, however. Mordred Andrakkar, the dark being who had come through with the intention of making himself a new little kingdom on Earth, had referred to the MacInneses with the same strange word. The difference was in how it was said. This man had seemed pleased. Mordred had spat it at them and implied that an arukhin was an incredibly vile thing to be. It was a mark in their current company's favor, if a small one.

"Forgive me. I didn't realize ... a stone, you said?" He paused, finally seeming to notice his surroundings. His strange eyes seemed to miss nothing as they darted from face to face, floor to ceiling. Then they widened as they lit on the Stone of Destiny itself. He exhaled softly, reverently, before raising his gaze to Duncan's.

"You are keepers of a Na'an Taleth, a gateway stone," he murmured. "I had no idea there were any on your Earth. No wonder I was drawn here."

"Enough of this nonsense. What do you want with us?" Duncan's voice was little more than a growl, his eyes ablaze with the instinct to fight, to defend his territory.

The man's eyes finally narrowed at the hostility in Duncan's tone, but he kept his own voice even when he replied. "I am Bastian an Morgaine. This is my sister, Rowan. I've come to ask for your help, noble arukhin. To beg, if need be. The ties between our kinds were strong once. I hope you will honor that, though I can see you have lost the memory of it."

Malcolm, Duncan's second in command and trusted adviser, had stood thoughtful and silent until now. At this, however, he spoke up. "You're Drakkyn, aren't you?"


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