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Blood Spells

 Nightkeepers 5

by

Jessica Andersen

To family

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My heartfelt thanks go to Deidre Knight, Kerry Donovan, Claire Zion, and Kara Welsh for helping me take these books from a dream to a reality; to J. R. Ward for her unswerving support; to my many other e-friends for always being there for a laugh or cyberhug; and to Sally for keeping me sane.

The card readings used in this story were adapted from The Mayan Oracle: Return Path to the Stars, written by Ariel Spilsbury and Michael Bryner. The stuff I got right is thanks to them. . . . The rest is on me!

Legend Mayan lore and modern science warn that 12/21/2012 could bring a global cataclysm . . . a threat that is far more real than we imagine. Dark forces stand poised to overrun the earth and crush humanity beneath a vicious rule of terror and blood sacrifice. Our only hope rests with a group of saviors living in secret among us: modern magic-wielding warriors called the Nightkeepers. Now, in the last years before the 2012 doomsday, these magi must find and win their destined mates in order to defend the barrier of psi energy that protects humanity against an ancient and powerful enemy. . . .

CHAPTER ONE

December 16 Five days until the solstice-eclipse Far south of the U.S. border As the robed Nightkeepers formed a circle around the ancient stone sarcophagus, deep underground, Patience wanted to yell, Cancel the ceremony. The omens suck!

She didn’t, though, because the others didn’t give a crap about the omens or the Mayan astronomy she’d gotten into lately. Besides, when the prophecies said, “On this day, you will jump,” the magi freaking jumped. And when they said the Nightkeepers had to enact the Triad spell at the First Father’s tomb on the Day of Ancestors— aka today—well, it wasn’t like they could put it off, sucky omens or not.

This was now-or-never, do-or-die time . . . or potentially “do and die” given that the spell had a two-thirds attrition rate: The Triad had been formed only once before in the history of the Nightkeepers, and of the three magi chosen back then, only one had survived unscathed. Of the other two, one had gone nuts and the other had died instantly.

Patience suppressed a shiver. The air in the tomb was cool and faintly damp, and the flickering torchlight made the carvings on the walls seem to move in the shadows, morphing from Egyptian to Mayan and back again as though echoing the Nightkeepers’ evolution.

Sweat prickled down her back beneath the lightweight black-on-black combat gear that, along with the black, tattoolike glyph on her inner wrist, identified her as a warrior-mage. She was heavily armed —the Nightkeepers all were—even though it was questionable whether jade-tipped bullets and ceremonial knives would be any use today. The magi weren’t going up against a physical enemy; they were asking the sun god, Kinich Ahau, to choose three of them to receive the Triad powers.

At least that was the theory.

Problem was, theory also said that the entire pantheon was supposed to choose the Triad . . . but at the moment, all the other gods were locked up in the sky, barred from the earth by the Nightkeepers’ enemies. Which meant . . . well, nobody knew what that meant for the Triad spell, amping the “not good” vibe that had taken root in Patience’s stomach early that morning when she’d charted the day’s sun, sacred numbers, and light pulses, and gotten what amounted to a cosmic suggestion that she should stay the hell in bed with the covers pulled over her head until tomorrow.

Not that anybody wanted to hear that right now. The ceremony was starting.

Across the circle, Strike—wearing royal red robes and a scowl of fierce concentration beneath his dark jawline beard—ritually invited the gods and ancestors to listen up. He was speaking ancient Mayan, having memorized the spell phonetically. Beside him, Jade joined in to smooth over his occasional fumbled syllable; she was the only one there who knew the old tongue. Her human mate, Lucius, was fluent, but this was a Nightkeepers-only ceremony . . . which was why the circle consisted of a whopping ten magi when the legends said there should be hundreds, even thousands, for the gods to choose from when it came to the Triad spell.

Yeah. Not so much.

Beside Jade was blond, good-looking Sven, face pale and serious beneath his winter-bleached tan.

On Strike’s other side were the king’s younger sister, Sasha, and her mate, Michael, who stood with a hunter’s sharp-eyed stillness. Alexis was next in the circle—blond and Amazonian, a warrior to her core. She was nearly as tall as her lean, dark-eyed shape-shifter mate, Nate, who stood beside her, their fingers brushing.

That was where the alternating male-female thing broke down, though, because next to Nate stood interruption personified in the form of their youngest member, Rabbit. But although the sharp-

featured young man’s veins ran with a dangerous mixture of Nightkeeper and Xibalban blood and he pretty much embodied Murphy’s Law, Rabbit had earned his place on the team.

When he glanced over at Patience, seeming to feel her eyes on him, she mouthed, Good luck. Their early close friendship might have faded over the past two years, but that didn’t mean she’d stopped caring. She couldn’t turn her emotions on and off at will . . . unlike the big man who stood next to her, completing the circle.

She was all too aware of him standing beside her, perfectly balanced and poised to move, as if they were headed into a battle rather than a spell. The black-on-black combat gear and flickering torchlight darkened his hair to sable and robbed his brown eyes of the shimmers of gold that brought them to life. His attention was locked on Strike and Jade as they recited the first layer of spell casting; he didn’t react to Patience and Rabbit’s brief exchange, and his thumbs were hooked into his weapons belt, his fingers not anywhere near brushing hers.

Oh, Brandt, she whispered inwardly. They wore the jun tan marks of a mated mage pair and the wedding bands from their six-year marriage . . . but just now he seemed a million miles away, locked behind the detachment that came with his warrior’s mark. Untouchable. Unreachable.

Part of her wished she could hide beneath the magic like that. But although her warrior’s talent had given her increased speed, reflexes, and magic, and blunted the terror of battle so she could fight through her fear, she still felt the fear and everything that came with it. Brandt, on the other hand, didn’t seem to feel anything when he was in warrior mode.

This isn’t about us. It’s about the war, she reminded herself. Focus.

It was a familiar refrain.

As Strike and Jade finished the first of three repetitions of the spell, a faint hum touched the air.

Magic. It began at the very edges of Patience’s hearing and gained depth, swirling around the magi in waves that resonated as both noise and energy. It was more than just the usual Nightkeeper power, she realized with an uneasy shiver. The red-gold sparkle of magic was laced through with a white-light crackle that smelled faintly of ozone, warning that this wasn’t like any other spell the team had cast before.

Her pulse thudded in her ears as the fear broke through, reminding her of what they were doing, the havoc it could cause. If the chosen magi survived the Triad spell, they would gain the powers of all their most powerful

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