Blackbird Broken (The Witch King's Crown #2) - Keri Arthur Page 0,1

frowned. “How will that help? He has the damn sword—he can simply blast both your wall and the gateway open.”

“Not if I build it strong enough. Not without some effort on his part, anyway.”

“Hate to say this, but he hasn’t exactly had too much trouble unpicking your magic up until this point.”

“That, my dear Gwen, is because no one fully understood what we were dealing with—”

“A murderous, bloodthirsty would-be king intent on destroying his rivals, the monarchy, and anyone else who stands in his way, you mean?”

I kept my voice deliberately light, but heartache nevertheless slipped through me. Two of the people he’d destroyed were my cousins, and both had suffered utterly brutal deaths.

“Yes.” Just for an instant, something shone in Mo’s blue eyes. Something that spoke of heartache and great sadness.

It was a stark reminder that she’d lost far more than me—not just over the last few weeks, but also during the long centuries of her life. She’d buried children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and who knew how many others, all because none of them had inherited the so-called god gene that extended her life. In all likelihood, she’d bury both my brother, Max, and me just as she’d buried our parents. Unless, of course, her genes suddenly kicked in and extended our lifespans—and given I hadn’t even inherited the De Montfort ability to heal, that was looking ever more unlikely.

“However,” she continued softly, “now that we do know, we can react accordingly.”

“So, what are we going to do?”

She cast a smile over her shoulder, her eyes shining with power. I’d always known she was capable of far more magic than her De Montfort heritage should have allowed, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I discovered why. Mo was a mage, and one of only three still alive. Mages differed from witches in that not only did they have a mega-long lifespan, but they were capable of performing a vast range of spells and had the capacity to harness the power of the earth and the skies. Four other witch houses—there were seven in all—were capable of harnessing an element, be it earth, air, or darkness and light, but the dilution of bloodlines over the centuries now meant there were varying degrees of control. The Aquitaine line of kings could technically manipulate fire, but their main skill set was the ability to syphon energy from all elements—though it was only via the king’s sword that it became a usable weapon against Darkside.

“I’ll create the wall; you deal with any demons or dark elves that might approach before I’m finished. It should be quite simple, really.”

I couldn’t help a wry smile. “Yeah, because everything up until now has been absolutely simple.”

“Well, the law of averages does say we have to strike it lucky sooner or later. Ready?”

No. I took a deep breath and then nodded.

“Then let’s get back down there.”

I frowned. “There’s not a lot of room for fighting at the base of the Gill. Wouldn’t it be better if I remained up here—at least I’ve got more chance of spotting an approach—”

“Except if they send another warrior demon. You won’t spot them until they’re almost on you.”

“True, but how likely is—” I cut the sentence off. In truth, getting hit by one of the red-winged bastards was far more likely than being attacked by either foot soldiers or dark elves, as they could get here far faster than the other two. “I’ll follow you down.”

She shifted shape and disappeared into the Gill’s darkness once again. I studied the surrounding area one more time, then flew down after her.

Despite the fact that the last few days had been mild by English standards, it was still winter, and the water at the base of the Gill was not only running high, but also damnably cold. It meant the few perching options that existed in summer were currently underwater, leaving me with little choice but to get wet feet. I strapped on my daggers, then waded to the opposite side of the canyon. From there, I could see both upstream and down, while keeping an eye on what Mo was doing. I could also see past her to the far end of the cutaway, where the gateway was situated. I might not be able to actually see it, but I’d feel any disruption to its protective magic and see the shift of shadows if something or someone attacked from that area. When it came to Mo’s safety, I wasn’t about to