A/N: My original novel is now published. There is a "Bonus Chapter" beyond what is available in the Amazon preview below for all of you that have followed me here. It is called "The Mage Council" by Amber A Draper and is exclusively published on Amazon. It is $2.99 USD and free to download for anyone with Amazon Prime. To get the first part of the preview you have to go to my Amazon page and "Look Inside". "The Mage Council" is published under Amber A Draper on Amazon and you can like "The Mage Council" page on Facebook for sneak peaks/updates on when the next book is coming out. The URL is also in my author profile.
Anika approached the hole Leon's body formed in the wall, cautious of the spreading fire and toxic smoke with the beast primed and ready for attack. As expected, he lay unmoving on the dark lawn. For a moment Anika felt a stab of guilt at seeing his broken body but rage and fear overpowered it. 'I have to get out of here. I have to get back to Brie and Charlie before Duane does.'
The flight from the burning hall to the lawn passed in a blur. She stopped a few times to help fallen slaves to their feet, boys and girls abandoned by their masters and too defeated to move on without assistance. 'They don't deserve to be punished for their master's mistakes.' A few were trampled in the frenzy to escape the burning mansion and their glassy, lifeless eyes weighed heavily on her damaged soul.
Flickers from the fire on the upper floors illuminated the night along with a waning moon. Men and women scattered across the lawn and gravel drive, some of them trying to escape and others trying to capture their fleeing merchandise. Sirens echoed in the distance, no doubt able to see the pillars of smoke billowing from the broken windows.
Anika barely comprehended her surroundings, her eyes locked on a sleek BMW flying across the gravel. "DUANE!" she screeched, reaching out for the vehicle as it raced away. The beast roared to life and snagged the car's metal chassis. The engine revved in response and struggled to pull away under the invisible weight. 'I will not let you go home to Brie and Charlie, you son of a bitch!'
The engine whined and screeched until the hood burst open and smashed against the windshield. The car swerved, Duane no longer able to see the road in front of him, and the beast released its hold. It accelerated wildly, narrowly missing men and women fleeing the grounds until finally crashing into the brick wall separating the chateau from the main road. The horn blared and the engine smoked but the driver-side door didn't open. For a brief moment Anika hoped the impact killed her tormenter, that he wasn't wearing his seatbelt and had shattered his skull on the windshield or that the sudden stop broke his neck. In the next moment she felt a rush of shame. "Mom wouldn't want me to be a killer," she whispered.
A grunt of pain to Anika's left drew her attention and to her great surprise Leon was conscious. He screamed, setting his broken arm with an inhumanly strong tug and then he was on his feet. He favored his leg but the lacerations on his head and arm knitted together as if they'd never been there. She was tempted to attack him again, to make sure he would not follow her but the urge to get back to Brie and Charlie was stronger. For the first time in her memory she had the opportunity to escape.
Mindful of the sharp rocks making up the driveway she sprinted down the soft lawn toward the wrecked BMW. Duane still hadn't emerged. 'He is either unconscious or dead.' Anika did not care which so long as she got a head start.
Dozens of vehicles lined the driveway, all belonging to masters attending the party. Lexus, Porsche, and Mercedes… all brands she learned to associate with the rich slavers she detested. The first vehicle she reached, a dark Audi sedan, roared to life, the door already open and waiting for her. An inexperienced driver, she forced the vehicle into gear and peeled onto the lawn before circling back to the gravel drive.
On the main road she could see more men and women running, a few of them being chased and a smaller few already captured. The raging beast was almost under her control now that she wasn't fighting it and it only took a little push here and there for the slavers to go down with broken bones, giving the slaves time and space to get away.
Fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers passed her as she sped away from the scene. There was some comfort knowing that the various slaves might have a chance to be free. 'The word of one or two doesn't mean much against a master with a good attorney or highly placed friend but the word of dozens? Probably enough to get the ring shut down if that many of them are brave enough to talk.'
In minutes the main road became the highway and the car weaved itself through traffic with inhuman precision, ignorant of the objections from other motorists. The burn of power abated and Anika felt the beast calm for the first time in months, maybe years. Senses dulled by the rage returned, bringing with them the smell of smoke, screams and dead faces. Anika vomited on the passenger floor. 'What did I do? The beast has been destructive before but not like that. The Mage Council…'
Shattering hundreds of crystal pieces fell beyond anything she ever knew she could do; something that the Mage Council would sense. One councilman had been at the chateau, either by chance or by picking up on her power fluctuations during the last several hours. 'Mom always said the magi are unnaturally aware of each other,' Anika thought, furious with herself for blowing her cover. There was no telling how many more councilmen sensed her presence, or how many they would send after her.
Anika briefly considered letting the beast guide her and taking I-95 as far as she could go to disappear into another city. 'A lot of people in a condensed area make it hard to pick up on a single person…' She dismissed the idea. If Duane survived the crash then her timeframe for escaping with Brie and Charlie would be narrow and Anika knew exactly what fate awaited her siblings if she left them behind. The Asian tween on the arm of Delany came to mind, again with Brie's face. The image generated an entire new wave of fury and steeled Anika's resolve: tonight all three of them would be free.
No guns, drugs or slaves were stored at House Black, which meant the only security would be the fence and a few locked doors. Hannah, Duane's personal slave, was left in charge of the children. As a contract slave Hannah would not be as keen to escape as Anika but if it came to a physical fight there was no question who would win.
'Where will we go? Mom told me to find her sister, but what if she has moved away?' The idea caused another wave of nausea to roll through Anika's stomach but her options were limited. The woman lived in Florida, only a few hours south. With funds restricted to whatever Anika could find in the house, a nearby safe-haven would be their best bet but would leave all three of them within Duane's grasp. She entertained going to the police but again dismissed the idea. 'It didn't work last time so why would now be any different?'
The Audi glided off the highway to a main road in Richmond Hill. She felt relief and an overwhelming sense of fatigue as she approached Duane's home. Pavement turned into dirt road, jarring the car and stirring up road dust. The vehicle was not designed for rough terrain at a moderate speed but it pushed on anyway.
Stone pillars held a wrought-iron gate in place, protecting House Black from intruders. Anika knew the gate was electrified to preventing unwanted visitors, or escapees, from climbing it. She pressed the gas petal to the floor and rammed the gate. It collapsed on top of the car, denting the hood and cracking the windshield before breaking off and allowing her entrance to the paved driveway. House Black came into view and the imposing three-story redbrick caused anxiety to stir in her belly. 'The sooner we are free of this place, the better.'
Anika parked the Audi in Duane's five-car garage to hide the damaged vehicle from anyone coming to investigate the downed fence. Inside, only two motorcycles and a black Escalade occupied the space. "Escalade it is," Anika muttered, slamming the side door of the garage closed behind her. 'Duane keeps the keys locked in his safe. Sounds like a good place to visit before we leave.'
Again lifting the skirt of the dress so she didn't trip, Anika dashed across the lawn to the main doors of the house. 'I have to change,' she thought, knowing a torn and stained designer dress would draw unwanted attention. The beast was calm but responded to her need by removing the main doors from their hinges. Her bare feet made no noise as she crossed from the marble foyer to the kitchen cellar, where Hannah, Brie and Charlie had been locked up when Duane dragged her away.
Again, the door blew off its hinges. 'Something feels… off.' Anika expected a shout of surprise from the bang of the door breaking but no sound echoed in the cellar. "Brie!" Anika whispered, pausing at the top of the stairs. No one answered and a new panic seized the young woman. 'Duane did something to them!' She managed only one step down the stairs when something sharp pierced her skin and every muscle in her body seized. Her balance shifted forward and she turned as she fell. The first impact against the wooden stairs forced the air from her lungs. The second filled her vision with tiny white stars. The third blackened her vision completely.
'I can't see! I can't breathe!' Anika felt strange, like her arms and legs were hundreds of pounds heavier than they should be. Her vision cleared a little as she gulped air and gave her a perfect view of the cellar's ceiling. She wanted to look around, to figure out how she ended up at the bottom of the stairs but her body refused, heavy and worn out from channeling the beast.
On the verge of unconsciousness, she was dragged back to reality by a hot, sweaty hand yanking her off the ground. She screamed, white-hot pain shooting through her chest and into her skull. She willed the beast to roar to life. It barely stirred, governed by the same drugged-exhaustion weighing down her muscles. A shoulder dug into her damaged ribs and the lack of air made her head spin. She watched as the cellar steps passed by with only one thought: 'Duane is going to kill me.'