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The force of the blow shot me out of the circle. My body crashed into the concrete wall, three ribs broken this time. Blood trickled down the back of my neck, tickling my skin, my head wound closing quickly. Instead of standing, I leaned back and rested my shoulders against the cool wall. My patience had evaporated a long time ago.
It had been five days and I’d had enough.
“Get up and do it again,” a commanding voice ordered me for the tenth time that morning.
I spread my arms wide. “What’s the point? I already told you I don’t care if the circle holds me. All I need to do is get down there and back. I don’t see why this is still an issue.”
“And I’ve already told you that the circle is the only protection you’re going to have in the Underworld.” Tally’s neatly clipped nails drummed along her hips. Her long frosty-blonde hair was tied back in a low ponytail, a military fatigue cap pulled tightly down around her eyes. She was clad in black, right down to her Nike cross-trainers. How could someone so small still look tough in yoga pants and tennis shoes? “When you get yourself into trouble—which by the way is a for sure rather than a maybe—the circle will be the only safe place you’ll have in Hell. And in case you’ve already forgotten, we’re going to be working our asses off up here to keep the magic running while you’re down there. So the very least you can do is act like you care. Now get up and do it again.”
I stood immediately. “Of course I care,” I retorted, barely resisting the urge to stamp my foot in frustration. “But this is taking too long and you know it.” I paced toward her. “The Underworld operates on its own timetable, which you’ve already mentioned more than a dozen times. A week here could mean a year there and vice versa.” Anger welled in my throat and I swallowed hard, trying to get past the knot that formed every time I thought about my brother being held prisoner in the Underworld. “Waiting around is killing me, and it’s literally killing Tyler. I don’t want to waste another moment. I’m willing to go now and I’m prepared to take my chances once I get there.”
My twin brother had been kidnapped and taken to the Underworld by none other than the Prince of Hell himself. No one needed to tell me Tyler was in serious danger. The demons would torture him for any information he had and toss him away like garbage once they were done. And they would be merciless about it.
My brother was in agony and I was trying to stay inside a witch circle.
Tally strode over with purpose, stopping directly inside my personal space. She had to tilt her head up to address me, which gave me some brief personal satisfaction. My wolf growled at the intrusion, but I stilled her. I wanted to hear what Tally had to say.
“You’re not going to be worth anything to him dead,” she declared. “Which I know you’re smart enough to figure out on your own. It’s very simple. If you can’t hold the circle, you die. It’s the only lifeline you’ll have in a very dark, very dangerous place. If the demons knock you out of the perimeter, you lose, which means you don’t come back. And neither does your brother.” Her irises sparked deeply, her emotions right at the forefront. Seeing her feelings so close to the surface surprised me, since originally she had refused to help us.
Once we had all returned from New Orleans, banged and bruised from a fight on multiple fronts, she’d informed us the witches were out. She wasn’t willing to risk putting her Coven in jeopardy by helping me go up against the demons, who were the witches’ natural enemies. But a few days later something had changed her mind.
I glanced to my right at the rosy-cheeked child playing in the corner with her dolls. Maggie immediately glanced up at me and smiled. My best guess was that Maggie had told her mother something important, and that information had ultimately changed Tally’s mind. When I’d prodded Tally about it later, she’d refused to divulge the reason she’d had a change of heart, but whatever it was, Tally had agreed to help my team get to the Underworld, and I was trying hard to be patient.
It wasn’t exactly working.
I sighed as I ran a hand through my hair, turning in a full circle, frustrated. “Listen, I understand what you’re telling me, but since the day we arrived on your doorstep none of this has gone according to plan.” I faced her again, hands braced on my hips. “I can’t stay in the circle, none of your spells have changed my signature, I can’t bring any real weapons with me, and your organic ones disintegrate before I have a chance to use them. Your witches haven’t been able to create anything strong enough to stun the Prince of Hell anyway—so what are we really doing here? We’re wasting precious time that could be better used saving my brother.”
“This is hardly a waste of time.” Without taking her eyes off mine she yelled, “Reaper, get in the circle!”
“Fine,” Ray grumbled from the sidelines. “But I’m leaning toward Hannon on this one. We’ve been at this for days and none of us can hold the circle, including the Vamp Queen. We aren’t witches, and the power you’re hitting us with feels strange. It’s slippery and it comes on too fast.” Eudoxia, the Vampire Queen, had taken the morning off. Being in a house full of cranky witches who had balked at the vampire intrusion was beginning to take a toll on everyone.
The Vamp Queen had actually arrived a few days ago. The promise of my blood and a step toward godhood had finally been enough to sway her, but she wasn’t happy about it. She’d brought several of her minions, and keeping the witches and the vamps from killing each other was proving to be a full-time job for everyone. The house was so tense you couldn’t sneeze without someone cocking their weapon or snapping down their fangs.
“All you have to do is pay attention and do what I tell you,” Tally said to Ray, who now stood at attention in the middle of the circle. We were situated in a room deep under the Coven. The circle to the Underworld was a permanent fixture here. Nothing like having a gateway to Hell in your basement. But I didn’t have to live here so I couldn’t really complain. It was just a ten on the creep-o-meter, if anyone had bothered to ask me. A thick line about six inches wide and a foot deep was etched into the raw earth. The circle was about ten feet in diameter and it’d been filled with a white powdery substance that I assumed was chalk from the smell. One of the witches had told me it made the connection to the Underworld super strong. I hadn’t doubted it for a moment. Heavy magic swirled around the room and made my chest thump like I was too close to an amp at a rock concert. Whatever was meant to happen in this room was intense. I’d also been told the walls were over five feet thick and the door was made of several inches of steel with a silver core.