Sneak Peek at Scarred (Book 2 Elm Stone Saga by Shayla Morgansen)

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The landing was perfectly timed and executed. Jackson and his eight men each stepped out of the wormholes they had used to travel here, to this quiet street in Italy, and Jackson sealed off their exit points with magic. Normally he wouldn’t have bothered but tonight’s raid was Lisandro’s brainchild and this cautiousness was a direct request of his. And what Lisandro requested was what came to be, inevitably, so here Jackson was, carrying out Lisandro’s carefully laid-out plans.

The men he’d been assigned were brutes; scum and low-lives the upstanding villain Lisandro preferred not to associate himself with, but who were too strong and efficient to simply not have on board. Jackson was glad to have them. This team was his, and they were so starkly different from the team he’d been part of when he was a councillor for the White Elm. This team respected him and what he had to offer. This team got stuff done, without spending weeks or months in talks, deliberating the ethical, socio-political and whatever other ramifications of action. This team was a force to be reckoned with, and best of all, this team listened to Jackson.

The White Elm had never done much of that. If they had, he might not now be a fugitive and outcast from their ranks, and he might not now be on his way to attack the home of one of the council’s newest members.

‘Suit up,’ Jackson hissed at them, jerking his head at the furthest of his men to gesture him closer. Cloaking spells were most effective over a small area, so the closer the nine stayed together the more powerful the spell would be. As the most powerful sorcerer present – and they knew it, he thought smugly – Jackson was the one to cast the cloak over them. An invisible blanket of magic settled over the group. For them, wearing the cloak spell was almost unnoticed. They couldn’t feel it; it didn’t affect their vision, their hearing or their extended magical senses; it didn’t slow their motions or impede them in any way. However, for anyone outside of the cloak, such as a nosy neighbour peeking out their window into the street, where moments ago there stood a bunch of strange men, there was now nothing to be seen except empty air. For any sorcerer nearby, accustomed to being able to sense the presence of approaching living things, where moments ago there was the distinct sense of life, of energy, of emotion, of intention and thought, there was now only void. The cloak redirected the senses around those hidden beneath it, and that was exactly the cover Jackson and his team required.

The target was not a large or stately home, but it was the address the informant had provided, and inside the small, tidy cottage near the top of the street Jackson could feel several powerful magical presences. The one he was most interested in, he couldn’t feel, but that did not mean she wasn’t there. He grinned at the thought. He didn’t like for anyone to be better at things than he was, but there was no denying that Emmanuelle Saint Clair of the White Elm was the best at wards and cloaking spells.

The nine drew knives as they approached the home as a group. Knives for sorcerers were more than tools for cutting the physical; pointed and precise, often they could be more useful than wands for directing magic. Jackson paused ahead of the group and extended a hand slowly. Invisible, almost undetectable, a delicate web of protective energy lay over this house. To pass through it would trigger a mental alert in the mind of the spell’s creator. The people inside were strong and of unknown competence – the less warning they received of Jackson’s arrival, the better.

Beneath Jackson’s hand, a silvery strand of energy, as thin and indistinct as a spider’s web, quivered into visibility: a very basic ward. Blade glowing with his own power and intent, Jackson drew his knife across the strand. It resisted destruction, as all things do, but soon gave. The knife went through, severing it cleanly. The taut line of magic snapped and pinged apart with a spark of pale light, but the remainder of the net remained intact. The group waited in tense silence – would the inhabitants notice? How in-tune was the young councillor to her spells? – but there was no energetic shift inside the house to denote an increase in activity or anxiety.

‘Keep outside this radius,’ Jackson instructed his team in a low voice. He pointed his knife at the perimeter of the spell’s reach – at his will, dozens of the same silvery strands lit up faintly, stretching up into a dome over the cottage’s roof. ‘No rushing. No mistakes. Anyone who screws this up is staying behind to answer to the council when their real warriors show up.’

Because though Jackson liked to sneer at the mere mention of his former brotherhood, the fact remained that their collective and individual might was both impressive and formidable. The White Elm allowed onto their council only the best and brightest thirteen of the world’s sorcerers: Seers who knew too much of the future, Displacers who could teleport through space on a whim, Healers who could mend most any wound, Crafters who could twist and manipulate the very essence of magic, Telepaths who could hear the thoughts of those around them, scriers (too busy being stubborn and self-righteous to allocate themselves a capital letter) who could see what was happening anywhere in the world… It was probable that right now, the White Elm’s duo of scriers, Qasim and Renatus, were becoming aware of this very event, and it was only a matter of time before they arrived.

Jackson would prefer not to cross paths with either of them, if possible. He’d woven wards into his cloaking spell that would postpone the moment when these events were brought to the scriers’ attention, but Fate, unfortunately, worked for scriers, not for Crafters like Jackson. Sooner rather than later that ward would break and the countdown to confrontation with the White Elm would begin.

Jackson wanted to be gone, with the prizes he was sent for, by that time.

The team moved slowly but efficiently around the cottage, stepping carefully over rows of vegetables in the garden and low fences separating properties. Each strand was cut with care, but as more came away, the quicker the process became. The remaining strands glowed much more brightly, forced to carry more power than when other parts of the net had been in place to share the load of protecting the house, and became much easier to spot and sever.

Jackson’s men gathered at the front of the house around the final strand. Its light was so bright it made Jackson squint. Nico, a stocky Austrian wanted by the mortal law in several European nations for violent assaults in bars and nightclubs, carved his silver-bright blade back and forth across the strand of magic while the others held their breath in apprehension and excitement.

‘Only one to go and they haven’t even noticed?’ Saul breathed, eyes manic. Jackson looked at him sidelong and said nothing. Bad eggs occurred in all types, both magical and mortal. Saul had come into Lisandro’s employ – and subsequently shifted into Jackson’s taskforce almost immediately – when his human trafficking enterprise had been uncovered and dismantled by Interpol, and the White Elm had rejected his pleas for sanctuary. The government of the magical world took a similar stance on human rights as did the governments of mortal society, and had attempted to apprehend Saul, with the intention of either providing him, gift-wrapped and powerless, to the police, or of imprisoning him themselves in their prison in Valero. With nowhere left to turn, Saul had sought out Lisandro, a former authority within the White Elm and a political revolutionary, and taken refuge among the ranks of Magnus Moira, Lisandro’s new but quickly growing movement against the White Elm council’s leadership.

Jackson really didn’t care what Saul or the others had done before they came to work under him, but Lisandro had made his opinions on Saul’s history very clear to Jackson. ‘If it happens that you lose one, or need to leave one behind,’ he’d said, ‘don’t stress too much if it’s him.’

A spell is a near-living thing, almost sentient – it wants to endure. As Nico drew his knife carefully across the strand of magic defending the cottage, the spell shuddered and grew brighter, strengthening its now-weak point of attack.

‘Why is it taking so long?’ someone hissed, bouncing on the balls of his feet in excitement. Jackson irritably caught him across the chest with one of his gloved hands, stilling his annoying motion.

‘If they haven’t noticed yet, rushing will only tip them off,’ he whispered back. He looked back at the trembling strand of magic, felt the rise in energy all around him as the spell prepared to break and his men prepared to take the house. ‘Look alive, boys.’

A bright spark signalled the end of the ward; the spell gave under the pressure of Nico’s knife and power, and the nine grinned. There was nothing more to be said. They rushed at the cottage. Nico traded his knife for the wand in his coat pocket, and blasted the door open.

They had a weapon to steal and a war to ignite.

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Published in: on February 21, 2015 at 2:14 am  Comments (2)