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Excerpt: Magnus
Copyright 2014 Bianca D'Arc. All Rights Reserved.

CHAPTER ONE

Hunger.

Endless hunger. And pain.

The sadistic bastard that held her captive and forced Miranda to bleed for him was keeping her on a knife's edge of existence. She'd lost track of how long she'd been locked in the cage with silver bars. Bars that burned her if she dared touch them.

And she had dared. Many times. She'd tried her hardest to get out of the cage time and time again, to no avail. She had burns all over her hands from the times she'd tried to break the bonds meant solely to hold immortals. And burns all over her body from the times she'd been too weak to move away after he'd made her bleed for his disgusting evil magic.

Miranda had never succumbed to evil. She wasn't about to start now. It stole a part of her soul that a human mage had captured her and was taking her blood to fuel his dark magic. She had decided early on in her immortal existence that she would not fall to evil, no matter what had been done to her. No matter that she now could walk only at night and had to live off the blood of other beings. No matter what. She would serve the Light. She would not turn to the dark side. Even if that's what most people thought of her and her kind. Even if that's what her maker had intended.

The bastard. He'd been almost as bad as the bastard that now held her captive. To them, she was just a plaything. A toy for their amusement. A tool to be used as they saw fit. That kind of man didn't stop to consider what she wanted. What she thought. What she believed in. And that had been her maker's downfall. Perhaps somehow, she'd still find a way to prevail over the sick bastard who held her in a cage.

A cage for Goddess' sake. As if she was some kind of animal. She'd show him an animal if he ever came close enough for her to strike. A damn dangerous animal with sharp teeth and claws.

But every time he got near, his magic held her at bay. Someday though… She lived for the day he made a mistake.

Meanwhile, she'd watch and learn. She'd keep her eyes open during her moments of lucidity. She'd already heard things. Things that made her worry about the future-if she had a future, that is.

She had to stay positive. Even when the madman who held her captive raved. She had to believe that someday, somehow, he'd make a mistake that she could exploit. Even if he did claim to have powerful friends.

Venifucus. The stuff of legend. Bad legends of dark days when the fate of all beings in this realm had been at a very dangerous tipping point. The forces of Light had won that battle, according to the ancient histories, but it seemed that time of danger was coming again. At least to hear this stinking human mage tell it. He raved about how they were actively working to bring back a creature of evil reputation-Elspeth, Destroyer of Worlds.

She'd almost achieved the chaos she wanted the last time she'd walked in this realm hundreds of years ago. Her evil had been stopped at great cost and she'd been banished to the forgotten realms where, it was hoped, she would learn the error of her ways over millennia.

But nobody had told Miranda that there were nutjobs like this guy trying to bring her back. According to her captor, agents of the Venifucus were trying to breach the barriers between realms to pull that ancient fey bitch back through to this world from her place of exile.

Never mind that the Venifucus-the group formed from the loyal followers of Elspeth so long ago-had been thought to be gone for centuries. Apparently they were back in a big way and they were trying to bring their leader back. Crazy SOB's that they were.

Miranda would have been freaking out even more if she'd had the energy. As it was, when she surfaced for rare moments of lucidity-moments that were becoming rarer all the time as her starvation and blood loss worsened-she felt something like panic set in as she thought about what kind of effect bringing the Destroyer of Worlds back to the mortal realm would have. It would be the next best thing to Armageddon. Maybe the end of the world as they knew it.

If she had just a little more energy, and an opportunity, she'd break out of her cage and warn people. Tony, the Master of this area, needed to know about this dark mage. If anyone could stop him, Tony could. She knew the Master to be a man of honor. Unlike her maker. And very unlike the bastard who had put her in a cage of silver.

She feared that one day, he would drain her dry. If he did that, she wouldn't be able to come back. Not even her so-called immortal powers could save her from the final death then. She'd learned over the years that even vampires could be killed in a couple of ways. The old stake through the heart worked. Silver and severe blood loss could do it too.

He'd already exposed her to the poisonous metal, though it would have to actually be in her blood stream in order to kill her outright. Just touching the surface of her skin, all it did was burn her. Over and over. Causing severe pain. Not pleasant-and possibly disfiguring-but not quite lethal.

The blood loss though... That could be a problem. He kept bleeding her and not feeding her, not allowing her to recover between bleeds. Eventually, he'd take her last drop and with it, her life.

She sensed he was building up to something. Each time he got a little bolder, a little more demanding, a little greedier. Each time, she slipped closer to oblivion. And sometimes - just sometimes-she almost hoped he'd go too far and end her pain for good.

She tried different things to conserve herself as much as possible. She'd learned how to shapeshift earlier than most of her kind. It was a talent she prided herself on. She could take the form of many different animals, but she hadn't yet mastered the ability to shift into mist. That would have been really helpful in her current situation, but that particular skill took centuries to perfect and she hadn't been shapeshifting long enough to turn herself into floating molecules. If she ever got out of here though, she'd work on it until she had it down pat. She wasn't going to be put in this kind of situation ever again.

Each time he came to her now, she shapeshifted into something else. Something with claws that could hurt him. She dreamed of making him bleed. Except for the first time, he never got close enough, and after she'd slashed him that once, he was always careful to shield himself with sinister magic she could not pierce.

A new strategy came to her almost by accident. She shapeshifted into something smaller than her real size and the sorcerer was very angry. In the smaller body, she had less blood for him to drain. She kept trying to go smaller and smaller each time he came to her after that, and his anger knew no bounds.

Good. She loved the tiny bit of rebellion, and kept trying to go smaller until she'd finally hit upon the form of a baby bear. It was as small as she could go in her present state, and the claws gave her some advantage, even if she was kind of puny.

Then one night, he came for her again and she knew this would be the last time. He had that evil chalice with him. He'd been working on the thing for a long time. She had a feeling that when he finished torturing cats and other animals, he would come for her and put the last of her blood into his despicable vessel. What he planned to do with that kind of power she had no idea, but she knew it couldn't be anything good. Not this man. Not with blood magic.

When he came to her cage, she steeled herself, shifting shape into the baby bear form he hated so much. At least in this form, he wouldn't be getting that much blood, even if he killed her this time. And her death would be faster. A mercy, she thought, after so long in captivity at this lunatic's hands.

He forced her into the energy circle he'd laid out on the floor of his workroom. Once inside, she was unable to move, to hear or smell anything outside the evil circle. She was trapped within. Unable to reach forward and claw his eyes out or sink her teeth into his carotid artery and end his evil while feeding her blazing hunger. He'd starved her for so long to keep her as docile as possible. She was about to lose her mind with the hunger that rode her.

And then the pain began. With magical strokes of his evil blade, he cut her from a few feet away. He never got close enough for her to strike, and he kept her within a tight circle of his power, controlling her. She bled while he directed the chalice under her, catching her life's essence into the tainted vessel.

She felt herself fading and almost welcomed oblivion. She'd suffered for a long time at this bastard's hands. She craved vengeance, but she didn't think she was going to get it in this lifetime.

And then there was a strange man looking at her from outside the circle. A man, and a woman too. He had the looks of a shifter, but his eyes glowed with magic. A mage then. Or something she had never met before. The woman with him was different too. She looked human, but carried herself like a magic user. She pulled the tools of the sorcerer from her bag and began placing ritual objects around the perimeter of the circle that trapped Miranda.

More magic? Miranda felt rage pulse through her. They were talking, but she couldn't hear them. Her senses couldn't penetrate the evil power of the circle in which she was trapped. And the mage who had held her captive for so very long was not in the room. When had that happened? Where had he gone? And who were these new people?

The couple looked at her and seemed to be debating something. Her captor was still nowhere to be seen. Had these two broken in to steal from him? Were they after her? Did they want to use her blood for their own purposes?

Miranda was fuzzy at best after being held captive so long, but she vowed she would not go quietly. She would fight them in whatever way she could. She would do her utmost to get free and take down as many of the bad guys as she could on her way out. This might be her only chance.

Hope bubbled within her tired heart. Hope and lust for vengeance...and blood. She needed blood. Needed it so bad. Like a junkie needing a fix. Worse than a junkie. She needed it to live. To be strong enough to get away and hide before the sun rose.

She would take any blood she could get at this point. Animal, human, whatever. She was so depleted, she was almost insane with the pounding thirst that drove her. She knew she was not rational, but she didn't care. If the opportunity arose, she would feed, and if she killed, so be it. She owed the bastard who'd captured her as much mayhem as she could deliver. And if he wasn't available, she'd have to exact her vengeance on his friends. Surely, these were some of his people, whom he'd let in. Venifucus agents. Friends of her captor. Enemies. How else could they have penetrated to the heart of his lair?

She crouched in her baby bear form. They seemed cautious of her. Well, they should be. The moment they made a mistake, she'd make her move.

Miranda watched as the female finished placing her crystals at the four cardinal points around the circle. They conferred over something in the woman's hand and then the man came closer, right up to the edge of the circle that held her. He dropped some kind of pinkish crystal grains straight across the circle's barrier. She felt it fall, and then she made her move.

Using the last of her energy, fueled by hunger and rage, she shifted shape as she launched herself at the man with the glowing blue eyes. She took her human form, but left her hands tipped with claws, scratching deep gouges in the man's hide as she took him by surprise.

He was fast though, and had good reflexes. And she was weak with hunger and on the verge of losing her mind. She felt fury rise along with the thirst. She needed his blood and that gave her strength. She positioned her fangs over his pulse and was about to strike.

"Miranda, no!"

The voice made her pause. Something in her recognized that voice, even through her blood haze and fury. The voice made her heart weep. A voice from her past she never thought to hear again.

She looked up and met the golden gaze of the man her heart had never forgotten. The man her soul cried out for. The man she could never have for her own.

"Miranda!" he called her name once more.

Mag. Oh, dear Goddess. Mag was here.

Either that, or she was hallucinating. She tilted her head, wondering if she had finally snapped over the line of insanity or if this was some kind of cruel hoax being perpetrated by her captor. Or worse…if it was real.

Sweet Mother of All.

She let go of the blue eyed man as Mag approached her cautiously. She didn't even notice as the man slumped and moved away, helped by the woman he'd been with. She only had eyes for Magnus Redstone. She tried to move toward him, but she was so weak. She couldn't walk much.

"Careful, Mag!" Another male voice called from the doorway. She heard it, but she couldn't look away from Magnus. Her One. The lover from her past she could never reclaim. He'd broken her heart though he'd never meant to do so.

"It's okay. This is Miranda. She's a friend of mine." He spoke to the others in the room with them, though his gaze never left hers. "Sweetheart, what have they done to you?" His voice dropped low and she could hear his dismay in the way his voice broke.

Then he held out his arms and she couldn't deny the impulse. She wanted to feel his touch, his arms around her…one last time before she left this realm.

"Magnus?" He felt so good. So solid. If this was a dream, she never wanted to wake up.

She was so weak, she couldn't really regulate what was left of her power. She knew her voice held the vampire magic that had come to her after her turning. Usually, she could control it. She wouldn't use that power over Mag. But she had no strength. And very little blood left. She was as close to leaving this realm as she'd ever been.

"I'm here, sweetheart. I've got you." His arms tightened around her and she trembled as he held her tight against his hard body. She rested her head in the crook of his shoulder. So close to temptation...but she'd never hurt Mag. She'd die before she hurt him.

"She needs to feed," the woman's whisper came from behind her. She sounded so afraid. Didn't she realize Miranda would never harm her One?

"I know." Mag's deep voice rumbled against her and Miranda loved the sensation. His broad hand cupped the back of her head and she felt so safe. Safer than she had in so long. She'd been held in a cage for so very long...

He guided her head, pushing her lips toward his throat, her fangs toward the source of his pounding pulse. Oh, no.

She couldn't help herself. She was so hungry. And she'd missed Mag so much. She nuzzled her lips against his skin, letting her tongue out to taste the unforgettable salt of his skin.

Her fangs needed to sink into him. She needed to taste his essence. She knew she was starved, but she didn't just want to drink to slake her thirst. She wanted that forbidden taste of Mag. Her Mag. The One who'd got away. The One she had pushed away for his own good.

They could never be together. She would have to console herself with the few short memories she had of him for the rest of her days.

But Miranda knew she was still bleeding out. These moments might very well be her last. If that was the way it was going to be, she wanted one last taste of Mag's essence-his amazingly wild shifter blood. She'd only tasted it once and it had ruined her for all others. But that was okay. Fate hadn't ever been kind to Miranda. Not since the day she'd been turned and had to leave all she knew behind. All because of one man's greed.

Not this man. Not the man who held her with all the gentleness in him. Never Mag. No, Mag was the one bright spot in her immortal existence. And the cruelest temptation that could ever be devised by man or nature.

She bit into his flesh, taking the most delicate care not to hurt him. She would never hurt him. Not on purpose.

The flavor of his blood filled her with longing she knew could never be fulfilled. He tasted like her mate. Her One and only. But he also tasted of shifter - the wild flavor of the woodlands and desert. And the incredible magic that filled his being. It brought on a sense of euphoria as his power filled the empty places in her. Not to overflowing. She was too blood-starved. It would take a lot more than the gentle sips of his essence that she allowed herself.

But she wouldn't - couldn't - do that to him. She would never take so much as to hurt him. All she wanted was one last drink of him to take with her into the next realm. One last happy thought. One last magical moment with the only man she would ever love.

She lifted her fangs out of his neck and sealed the little punctures as best she could in her weakened condition. She heard the people in the room around them moving and talking, though she let their words flow around her without really listening. All that mattered to her was the man who held her with such gentleness. Who gave her his blood so freely and with such selflessness when she was so starved for it-and for him-though he'd never know how much it had hurt her to leave him.

"I've missed you, Miranda," he whispered so that only she could hear him. The emotion in his eyes when he moved back far enough to look down at her mirrored her own feelings.

She knew her vampiric magic was affecting him. His eyes held a bit of that glazed euphoria her bite usually brought to her human prey. She almost regretted that, but she was glad she'd left him with good feelings, not bad. That was important to her.

He didn't give her a chance to say anything before he scooped her weak body up into his arms and strode out of the room past everyone. He didn't stop to talk. He didn't even glance at the people they passed. He just walked, single-mindedly, out into the night with her in his arms.