Circle of Desire

Damask Circle 03


 Keri Arthur

Chapter One

Air hissed through the silence. Tendrils of smoke began to curl past the window seams, its colour sickly, luminous. Katherine Tanner tugged free one of the two white ash stakes strapped to her jeans and clenched it tight. On the opposite side of the room, a little girl slept on, oblivious to the smoky slivers of evil beginning to slip past the window. Kat hoped she remained unaware.

Remained asleep and alive.

But if Gwen's premonition was right — and her grandmother's premonitions usually were — this child would be the next to go missing. They'd done everything they could to prevent that. They'd nailed the windows shut, had cops patrolling close by, and warding stones had been placed around the child's bed to prevent any form of magic coming close.

But these wards weren't designed to stop evil itself — and that's what was seeping into this room tonight.

Her stomach began to churn. Though she'd spent the last ten years hunting the rogue elements of the supernatural community who preyed on humans, she'd never come across anything that went after kids the way this thing did.

Had never met anything that did to them what this thing did.

She closed her eyes, fighting tears, trying not to relive the moment two nights before when they'd stepped into that old factory and found the body of the second missing four-year-old. Daniel had been unmarked except for two small puncture wounds on his neck. Though he'd been drained of blood, this was not what had caused his death.

Only those gifted with psychic sight would ever see that.

Something had stolen his soul — had ripped it from his body between the beats of his heart. He'd died quickly but in pain. Terrible, terrible pain.

She didn't want to face the thing that could do something like that. No one in their right mind would. But she had no choice, simply because right now the Damask Circle 's resources were stretched to the limits and there was no one else free to make the trip to Oregon .

She gripped the stake tighter and watched the smoke draw together. Find shape. Somehow become a scantily clad, extremely beautiful woman.

Evil came in all shapes and sizes, but for some reason Kat hadn't expected it to find the form of such Oriental perfection. And maybe it was just her own maternal instincts coming to the fore, but she just couldn't understand how any woman could harm a child so young.

But this was the thing snatching the kids. It had the same sense of deeply entrenched corruption that she'd felt in the other bedrooms.

The woman stepped toward the child. Kat tensed but fought the urge to move, sensing the show wasn't over yet. Her fingers ached with the force of her grip on the stake. She had no idea whether it would actually kill the soul sucker or not, but at the very least it would do some serious damage and give her time to yell for reinforcements.

A cold smile touched the woman's bloodless lips, then she turned and tried to open the window. It didn't budge, held steady by the nails placed there earlier. The woman stepped back, and energy surged, crawling like fire across Kat's skin. The nails slithered from the wood and dropped softly to the floor. The woman lifted the window and leaned out.

A gaunt, dark-haired figure appeared, and the sensation of evil increased tenfold. The vampire's dead gaze scanned the room, stopping when it reached the shadows in which Kat stood. Though she was certain he couldn't see past her grandmother's wards, he really didn't need to.

Not with the frantic pace of her heart.

He snarled softly, revealing stained canines. The soul sucker spun, and the malevolence in her dark eyes overwhelmed any lingering impression of beauty. With an inhuman growl, she leapt for the sleeping child. Kat raised her hand, thrusting a lance of kinetic energy at the soul sucker, flinging her away from the bed. The woman hit the wall with enough force to dent the plaster and shatter the nearby window. As glass fell to the floor, the child woke, her shriek almost ear-piercing. Hurried footsteps began to echo down the hallway, but it was doubtful the cops would even get here fast enough to see this thing, let alone catch it.

As the child's screams continued, the woman's gaze met Kat's. In the dark depths of the creatures eyes she saw the promise of retribution. A chill chased through her soul and she shivered.

Then the woman's form disintegrated, becoming little more than mist that eddied out the open window. Kat cursed and ran across the room. The woman had regained shape near the back fence and though the vampire was nowhere in sight, the scent of his evil stung the night.

The bedroom door burst open and police poured in. They called to her to stop, but their voices were almost lost to the child's continuing screams. She ignored them and climbed out, simply because she had no other choice. By the time she stopped to explain what had happened, the soul sucker and the vamp would have disappeared.

Besides, she doubted the cops would believe her anyway.

The only person who would understand would probably be scrying right now, staring into her crystal ball in an effort to track the creatures and perhaps discover their daytime hideaway.

Smoke swirled up the wooden fence and disappeared over the top. Kat scrambled after it and sprinted down the alley, her footsteps a lone echo in the night. Ahead, streetlights shimmered and traffic rolled, but it was a bright world they'd never reach. The creature she chased wanted seclusion and darkness — at least for the moment.

It turned left into another small alley. She followed, leaping the rubbish and battered trash cans strewn across her path. She was tempted to shift shape and hit the night sky in her raven form, but she didn't dare risk it with the stakes she carried. And she wasn't about to leave them behind — not when the vampire still lurked.

They ran past one of the gates leading into the old factory. Metal creaked, as if stirred by a wind that didn't exist. Another chill ran down her spine. The vampire was out there, pacing her. Watching her.

If he was the soul sucker's partner, why didn't he attack?

The smudge of vapour continued on, moving toward a squat looking building at the end of the alley. Kat slowed and half wished she'd brought a flashlight. The moon above was almost full, yet its light struggled to touch the shadows lining the small alley. Though her night sight was generally better than a human's, even she would struggle to see through the pitch blackness inside that warehouse.

The soul sucker wrapped itself around a window and disappeared. Kat stopped and scanned the outside of the building. It was a two story brick construction, though the colour of the bricks had long been lost to thick layers of dirt and graffiti. Most of the windows on the lower floor had been boarded up, and the upper ones were all smashed. There was a small door to her right. The thick chains that had locked it were shattered.

An invitation, if ever she saw one. But an invitation to what? Was she walking into a trap, or had she merely found the most recent hiding spot of these two?

The pounding of boots against concrete reached across the night — probably the cops coming after her. But as much as it would have felt safer having them accompany her into the warehouse, she didn't dare take the risk. The vampire could take out a dozen cops in the blink of an eye. Even she was no certainty against him, despite her experience and psychic senses. Especially with that other thing wandering around.

She flipped the stake in her hand then walked across to the entrance. Raising her fingers, she sent a sliver of kinetic energy at the door and pushed it open. It didn't creak. Didn't make any sound at all, not even the chains that swung gently back and forth.

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