19.2 | A Brewing Storm

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Nika was too busy forming an escape route to answer.

"Speak."

It was a command, and as the red-haired demon-witch spoke it, the serpentine medallion around her neck began to glow. Violent pulses of red light—or perhaps magic—spilled out of the jewel. Nika felt as though it was reaching for her, pulling her.

A bewitchment.

Nika raised her mental shield, a wall of impenetrable diamond. The pendant stopped glowing, and the tug on her mind vanished.

Tatiana blinked in surprise.

"Impossible," Mizelle murmured.

Nika didn't know what she'd done that was so impressive—all Nefili could conjure mental shields—but sweet triumph swept through her veins anyway.

Heart beating like a hummingbird's wings, Nika whirled on Mizelle Mitra. Before the hedgewitch could react, she grabbed the Hekatolith ring.

Tapping into her inherent supernatural speed, Nika clutched the trinket in a fist and blurred past Tatiana. She was two strides away from the door when she felt a sharp yank on her hoodie.

Nika catapulted backward and sideways, crashing into a shelf of herb jars. Her arms instinctively shielded her face as glass exploded everywhere.

When the noise faded, Nika shifted from her position, groaning in pain. She ignored the sting of fresh cuts and bruises while rising off the shelf.

Tatiana and Mizelle were gone, and so was the moonstone ring.

Nika swore. She must have dropped it. She knelt down, peering beneath the fallen shelf in search of it.

Then the bell above the door jingled. Heavy footsteps approached. Closer and closer.

Nika almost dove for cover, but a strong arm curled around her waist and ripped her off the floor, dragging her back, back, back. A hand slapped over her mouth. Then she found herself pinned into a dark corner, concealed by the thick curtains of the fortune-telling booth.

Faint light illuminated the stranger's face. Nika sagged with relief. Not a stranger. Ren.

She'd never been more grateful for his infuriating dedication to the job.

After determining the room was clear of ears, he hissed, "What the hell is going on?"

Nika pried his hand away from her mouth. "The red-haired woman who took Lu. And a hedgewitch."

Ren made to run back among the wrecked aisles, but Nika stopped him.

"The hedgewitch is neutral. Has information."

"We should leave while we still can," Ren said, monitoring the path to the exit.

Nika stepped around him. "I need to get something..."

"What?" he exclaimed. She just continued walking to where the scuffle had taken place. "Nika."

She glared over a shoulder. "Shhh. Cover me."

They moved forward, and out of the corner of her eye, Nika saw Ren lifting a handgun, assessing and surveying all that was around him. Later, she would snarl at him for following her, but for now, she couldn't deny that his presence was a comfort. And also a looming thunderhead.

She halted, spun around. He towered above her.

"What are you doing?"

Ren frowned. "Covering you."

"Not with your shadow."

He muttered something in Russian, then took a large step back. As Nika went on, he stayed there, and she scoured the aisles until she found the Hekatolith ring on the ground, buried beneath shards of glass.

"Got it." She plucked it off the ground and stood up. "Let's go."

Smiling at the prize, she walked toward the entrance until she was right in front of Ren. She gazed at him, confused that he wasn't moving.

He stared at someplace over her head, and the darkness in his eyes had changed. They were...glowing. And crimson.

"Ren?"

He slowly looked at her, and...Ren was gone. And something demonic had replaced him.

Icy fear slipped into Nika's blood. She whirled around, preparing to run, when she saw Tatiana at the other end of the shop. Grinning. And the snake necklace was gleaming like it had been before.

No.

Nika glanced at Ren again. His face was mangled with monstrous rage. Then he lifted the gun and pointed its barrel right at Nika's head.

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