Anya Bast: Witch Heart

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Anya Bast Witch Heart
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Anya Bast

Witch Heart

Elemental Witches — 3

For my mom,

thanks for your support in everything I do.

I love you more than I can say.


Twenty-three years as the handmaiden: of a daaeman had prepared Claire for many things, but not this. Nothing could have prepared her for this.

She huddled back against a brick wall, the cold seeping through her thin dress, and watched the inky shadows grow on the building opposite her. Discarded paper disturbed by the wind rustled over the pavement and a sudden bloom of voices and laughter came from the mouth of the alley and gradually faded away.

Still the shadows grew.

Claire glanced at the street beyond the pocket of shadows in which she'd secreted herself, where pale yellow light from street lamps pooled on the sidewalk. She didn't think she could make it. She didn't think she could outrun them.

There were few people in the world — any of the worlds — who could outrun a determined daaeman, especially an Atrika.

The alien earth sighed and shuddered far beyond the concrete beneath her feet, reacting to her dulled and confused magick. This place, this Earth, was nothing like she remembered. The place she barely recalled was green, soft, and redolent with fragrant, growing things. This place was hard and chilly. Too loud. It hurt her eyes with sharp edges and bright lights.

Part of her had longed to return to this place, even while most of her had feared it. Claire knew now she'd been right to fear.

Pass me by. Please, pass by.

The odd dry tang of Rue's magick still flavored the back of her mouth. The hot rush of it had faded to something bitter. It tingled through her body, giving her the shakes from time to time as her body struggled to contain this thing that was so much bigger than her. She wasn't meant to hold this power. She wasn't made for it. It wasn't hers. The elium, the most powerful weapon of the Ytrayi. Or at least, that's what she suspected it was. Whatever it was, the Atrika wanted it and that could only mean her death.

The only question was whether it would come slow or fast.

She squeezed her eyes shut, remembering. It had only happened yesterday, but it seemed like years had passed. When the Atrika had breached the palace defenses, Rue had taken her to the portal room with the intention of destroying the interdimensional doorway that bridged Earth and Eudae with her help.

But when the Atrika had broken into the chamber, Rue had blasted her with a ball of magick so strong it had momentarily taken her sense of sight, smell, and hearing. As he'd meant it to, the blast had catapulted her backward, into the doorway. Rue had meant to destroy the portal after she'd fallen through, and undoubtedly he had, but not before two Atrika had lunged in after her.

On the Earth side of the portal, she'd taken one single moment to orient herself and then had lurched forward into a run for her life, knowing the Atrika would be fast behind her. Even though her stomach had been heaving with the aftermath of her fall through the doorway, even though her head had been ready to split like a too ripe melon, she'd run.

But not fast enough. Not far enough. And she certainly hadn't hidden well enough.

Last night she'd climbed a set of metal stairs and curled up on the top of a building to sleep with the sounds of a city she almost remembered, but not quite, below her. In the morning, forced to find food, she'd climbed down and had done her level best to avoid the two Atrika she'd known were hunting her.

In all her years on Eudae she'd never even seen an Atrika up close. Rue, the Cae, leader of the Ytrayi daaeman breed, had treated her as a pampered pet. He'd protected her from anything that might hurt her… until now. With Rue, she'd wanted for nothing, never gone without food. This, all of this, was utterly foreign to her.

She needed to find Thomas Monahan and the aeamon, half-breed daaeman humans, who resided on this planet. They called themselves elemental witches here. They were the only ones who would understand what had happened. They were the only ones who could help her now.

Claire knew little of them, didn't know where to find them, or how they functioned in this world. She couldn't even use her magick, not with Rue's gift fluttering inside her. She had no idea how her power would react. If it was elium Rue had imbued her with, accidentally tapping it could mean utter destruction. The inability to use her power was perhaps the worst thing about her current condition.

Worse than the cold. Worse than the hunger or the fatigue or the fear.

In every way imaginable, she was hobbled.

Claire had never been so cold. In all the demonic winters she'd spent on Eudae, where the temperatures ranged into the bone-shattering range for an aeamon, she'd never been this miserable. The wound she'd sustained on her foot the first day as she'd run from the Atrika hadn't so much healed up as it had frozen up. Hunger constantly distracted her and made her weak. By now she was so bedraggled, people on the street gave her a wide berth and pitying glances.

Never had she been so humiliated.

Today she'd walked down streets, not knowing where she was headed. She'd only known she had to keep moving since the Atrika might be able to track her magickally.

People had pressed paper and coins, which she recognized as money, into her palm once in a while. However, when she'd inquired where she could find the elemental witches, they'd only given her strange looks and hurried away. Inquiries as to how to protect herself against demons — the human's pronunciation of daaeman—had met with a similar response, so Claire had stopped asking. These random acts of generosity were few and far between, but they'd already helped her buy a little food, a transaction she'd stumbled though badly. And the resulting piece of meat wrapped in soggy bread had been horrid.

She'd managed to evade the Atrika for a while, but then she'd turned a corner and there they'd been. Claire had whirled and tried to go in the other direction before they spotted her, but it had been too late. So she'd run to this alley and endeavored to hide.

Now they were searching for her. She could smell them. Daaeman magick had a peculiar sharp scent and these Atrika weren't masking their true nature at the moment. Likely they were trying to spook her.

It was working.

Claire opened her eyes just for a moment and glanced up into the dark sky with its odd absence of stars. Nothing but concrete here. Concrete and square shapes. Black, cold sky. On Eudae, in the capital city of Ai, the buildings were made of lavender and rose marble, sometimes black or gray. They all shone and glittered under the sun. Structures built in columns, gentle slopes, and arches. The palace, called Yrystrayi, was majestic in its architecture.

Daaeman were brutal regardless of breed. Even the Syari, the scholar class, were more prone to killing before asking questions. The warrior class, the Atrika, were the worst. Unlike the rest of the breeds, they dined on rotting flesh, loved to drink blood, and became aroused by torture and pain.

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