Broken Bonds by Keri Arthur

Chapter One

The second full moon of the month rode high in the sky, filling the night with her light and her energy. For many, a blue moon was either a symbol of good luck or bad, depending on which part of the globe they came from and what superstitions they believed in.

For witches, it was a symbol of great power. A prime time in which to perform rituals of prophecy and protection.

It was also a symbol of great change.

And change was coming.

To this reservation, and to my life.

I shivered and wrapped the old woolen sweater tighter around my body. It filled my nostrils with a musky, smoky scent and made me wish it was the arms of the man to whom it belonged.

But tonight was the one night that couldn’t happen.

Aiden O’Connor—the man I’d fallen in love with, the man I shared my life with—was a werewolf. While a full moon didn’t force them to shift shape, or even become monsters, as so many old myths would have everyone believe, they nevertheless gravitated to their home compounds in order to run wild with their pack, enjoying the freedom and the power of the moon.

As a witch, I could never participate in that part of his life. I would never be invited onto pack grounds except in cases of emergency. And I would certainly never be welcomed into his family as his partner. Hell, his mother was having a hard enough time accepting me as his lover.

And she was the reason my life—and Aiden’s—was on the cusp of change. The bitch had invited Mia—the werewolf he’d once asked to be his wife—to return.

She wasn’t here yet, but she was close, maybe only a day or so away. It wasn’t only the moonlit threads of destiny that whispered of her arrival, but also my precognitive senses and dreams.

Of course, I’d gone into this relationship knowing full well this day would come. Knowing he’d take my heart and then tear it into a million pieces. I’d nevertheless hoped for a few more years rather than just a few more days.

I sighed, closed my eyes against the sting of tears, and raised my face to the moon. Her caress was cold, and her power flooded my senses, expanding and strengthening them.

That’s when I felt it.

Not the presence of the woman who’d shatter the current perfection of my life, but rather, evil.

It swirled through the chilled darkness, intent on bloody revenge.

My eyes snapped open and I scanned the inky waters of the lake directly opposite the balcony on which I stood. Moonlight glinted off the gentle waves that lapped at the shore, and the wind stirred through the trees, making the leaves whisper and moan. Neither held any sort of threat and yet … and yet, I was certain trees played a part in whatever I sensed.

Which wasn’t overly helpful when parks, forests, and bush covered a good proportion of the Faelan Werewolf Reservation.

There was only one way I’d have any hope of uncovering what was going on—without actually jumping in the car and driving around in the vague hope that proximity would strengthen the signal—and that was to use my psychic powers.

I sat down, crossed my legs, and then tugged the sweater over my knees in an effort to keep warm. After a deep breath to center my energy, I closed my eyes and reached down to that place deep inside where my psychometry and second sight lay leashed and waiting. When I provided psychic tracking services for clients, I generally used either touch or something personal to locate whatever it was they’d lost, but that was no longer really necessary. Thanks to the wild magic that infused my soul, my psychic talents had started mutating—a development that should have been impossible. Wild magic was an energy that came from deep within the earth’s core and was not something that could safely be used, as it was possible for it to be forever stained by darkness. The reason all manner of dark entities continued to flood the Faelan Reservation was the fact that—for too damn long—the council had willfully ignored the necessity for the larger of the two wellsprings to be protected. That had been rectified quite a few months ago now, but the echoes of her power still washed across the distant shores of darkness and remained a siren call to all the things that lived and breathed evil.

Of course, an unprotected wellspring was also the reason I could now use wild magic in ways no one had ever thought possible. My mother had unknowingly been pregnant with me when she’d been sent to restrain and protect an emerging wellspring, and the energy that had almost killed her should certainly have killed me. Instead, it had fused to my DNA, giving me a deep connection to the wilder forces of this world, though absolutely no one—including me—had been aware of that until I’d come into this reservation almost a year ago.

Where the connection would ultimately lead was anyone’s guess, but it continued to make changes to both my physical and psychic senses. If I was being at all honest, it scared the hell out of me.

I took another breath and tried to concentrate, but for too many minutes, nothing happened. The wind stirred around me, chilling my neck and toes, but there was no sense of the tenuous thread I’d sensed earlier.

Perhaps more power was required … the thought had barely crossed my mind when the inner wild magic responded. It burned through every fiber, every muscle, sharpening not only my psychic senses but also my physical. It allowed me to hear the distant, joyous howls of wolves as they ran through the trees, let me feel the flickering pulse of the two very different wellsprings—a heartbeat of power that briefly matched my own—and tugged the heady scent of earth and forest and distant rain into my nose.

But underneath those scents ran something far more intense and abrasive, a blast that was rose and geranium mixed with something suspiciously overripe or rotten.

It was coming from the north, though I doubted it was anywhere near Castle Rock. Which meant I’d have to jump into the car after all if I wanted to track this thing down.

I swore, pushed upright, and walked back into the bedroom. The king-sized bed was a mess, a legacy of the hours I’d spent tossing and turning before I’d gotten up. I’d undoubtedly regret doing so in the morning, given Saturday was usually one of the busiest days at the café I co-owned and ran with Belle—who was not only my best friend and fellow witch, but also my familiar—but there was nothing I could really do about that. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’d gone in there looking the worse for wear. In the early days of my relationship with Aiden, it had become something of a running joke with many of our customers.

I hurriedly dressed, then grabbed my coat and a thick woolly hat and ran down the stairs. After making a cup of coffee to take with me, I grabbed my keys and headed out to my car. It was a cheery yellow-and-black Suzuki Swift that I mainly used to travel to and from the café. While the council had replaced yet another of our vehicles—evil seemed to have a penchant for blowing them up—the SUV cost an arm and a leg to run, so we used it mainly for business purposes. Me having the Suzi also meant Belle had wheels if she needed them. Not that she did all that much these days, given the amount of time she was now spending with Monty, who was not only the reservation’s resident witch but also my cousin. They tended to use his old Mustang to get around in.

Of course, these days Monty was also my boss, as I worked on a part-time basis as his assistant. By rights I should have contacted him about the brush of evil, but he and Belle had gone down to Melbourne to see the latest incarnation of Oklahoma. And that said a lot about how serious he was about his relationship with Belle, given he absolutely hated that particular musical.

But even if I had wanted to call him, it’d take them at least an hour and a half to get to Argyle—where Aiden and I lived—and by that time, whatever I was sensing might have disappeared. Though in truth, past experience with the various evil entities who’d found their way into this place suggested that was unlikely.

I did—for all of one second—think about ringing the ranger station. Despite the full moon, there would be someone assigned to hold the fort and take emergency calls. Aiden had done more than his fair share in recent months, preferring to be with me rather than his pack—or rather, his interfering fucking mother—but tonight the moon’s pull had been too fierce for him to ignore.

Because destiny waits in the moon’s cold light. The soft reply echoed lightly through my mind. Even a wolf with a will of iron cannot ignore her forever. His choice lies before him.

The voice belonged to Katie, Aiden’s deceased sister. Her soul—and the ghost of her witch husband, Gabe—now inhabited and protected the reservation’s second wellspring. As my connection with the wild magic had grown and strengthened, so too had my connection to her. Up until recently, it had taken a luminous thread of wild magic wrapped around my wrist for the two of us to converse. That was no longer the case—the wild magic just had to be in the area. Which it was—the moonlit, ethereal threads were floating across the dark waters of the lake.

Does that mean Mia is already here?

It does not.

There was something in her soft answer that stirred trepidation. If she’s not here already, why is he being given a choice tonight?

You shall see soon enough.

Katie …

I cannot give answers to what I cannot see.

That’s avoidance, and we both know it.

Her laughter washed through my mind, warm and oddly encouraging. You, of all people, should know how restricted second sight can be and just how damn frustrating that is.

Does that mean when you do know something more, you’ll tell me?

Perhaps, she replied, her voice growing distant as the threads moved away. And perhaps not.

Annoyance rose, but I tamped it down. I might be her voice and her weapon in this reservation, but Aiden was her brother. It was natural her loyalties would in the end be with him, even if she didn’t always approve of his choices in life.

Thankfully, she did approve of me. It would have been awkward if she hadn’t.

I jumped into the Suzi and slowly drove past the other five houses in the lakeside complex. Once on the main road, I flattened my foot and headed out of town. The moonlight silvered the landscape and, though storm clouds occasionally dimmed her light, it was currently so bright the headlights really only became necessary whenever the highway swept through a forest.

I slowed once I reached the outskirts of Guildford, then wound down the window and stuck out my hand. The moon’s cold energy caressed my fingers even as the inner wild magic stirred. The tug of evil came from the right, from deep within the hills that made up part of the state forest, and an area that contained lots of old mines and diggings—something I knew from experience, having fallen down one of them. Thankfully, Aiden had been with me that time, and had saved both our lives by not only finding something to latch onto as we’d both dropped but also by one-handedly catching me.

I turned right at the pub and drove on. When I reached a T-intersection, I stopped and studied my options while I waited for the psychic tug to kick in again.

It sent me right, but it was so faint now it was little more than a flicker. I didn’t know whether that meant evil was moving away or if it had done whatever it had come here to do. At least I wasn’t getting anything to suggest the latter was a definite possibility; it would certainly be a rather nice change if one of these excursions didn’t end in the discovery of death.

The road gently climbed for several kilometers and then swept through a number of gullies and past an old cemetery. I was rather relieved that the tug of evil didn’t have me stopping at the latter. While cemeteries didn’t as a rule scare me, there were many tales of the dead coming to life under the light and power of a blue moon. However unlikely it was that that’s what was happening here, I had no desire to tempt fate and find myself confronted by a vengeful ghost or even a zombie. Been there, done that, and—particularly in the case of the zombie—had no desire to ever repeat the experience.

I drove through a small hamlet of houses, all of them dark and showing little sign of life. No surprise, given it was close to one by now and any sensible person would be tucked up in bed.

The road continued on, and the trees grew thicker, cutting out the moon’s wash of power. I neared another intersection high up near the ridge and slowed, looking left before turning right. I continued on to the top and then down into a valley that was scrub on one side and moon-washed farmland on the other.

Then, without warning, that wisp of evil sharpened.

I hit the brakes so hard the tires squealed. As the sound echoed across the silent night, my gaze was drawn to the left. In amongst the trees were a number of caravans. One had a lean-to attached, suggesting it might be in use, but the others looked empty. That impression might not be accurate, of course, given the hour.

At the very edge of the camping area, off to the right of the old dirt road that led into it, was a small brick building with a water tank attached. Toilet and washing facilities, no doubt.

I scanned the area one more time and then turned in. The headlights pierced the shadows and, just for an instant, I saw something white moving through the trees.

My heart began to beat a lot faster. I had no idea what that flash was—it had moved out of sight far too quickly—but I had no doubt it was the thing I’d been sensing.

I parked close to the building, then picked up my phone and climbed out. It was starting to drizzle, and the moonlight wasn’t piercing the thick foliage of the surrounding trees, leaving much of the immediate surroundings layered in darkness. There was no hint of evil teasing the air, so perhaps the flash had been nothing more than the breeze stirring a plastic bag to life … but the psychic part of my soul simply said no.

I hastily shoved on my coat and hat, and then grabbed the backpack—which not only contained my silver knife but an assortment of potions, as well as holy water—from the back seat and slung it over my shoulder. Then, after a quick look around the nearby camping area, I switched on the phone’s flashlight and headed off. While the light would give away my position to anyone watching, I wasn’t about to go traipsing through the dark in an area well known for its many mineshafts. My eyesight had certainly sharpened over the last few weeks, but I felt more comfortable relying on a good old-fashioned light.

I trudged on for a good fifteen minutes, following a very faint path in the forest, before I spotted something in the mud between a rock and a wave of leaf litter. I squatted down and moved the light closer. It was a footprint, human rather than animal, and almost skeletal in appearance.

Goose bumps shivered across my skin, though I wasn’t entirely sure why when it was likely the maker of this print simply had skinny feet. Of course, he or she was walking around barefoot, which did imply a certain amount of … well, not insanity but at least eccentricity. I mean, it was damnably cold and wet out here.

The other possibility was the print belonged to a werewolf. They did tend to run lean, and everything I’d heard about moon runs said they generally stripped off first. It might explain not only why this person was running around barefoot but also why I’d seen a flash of white. The O’Connors’ compound was the closest to this spot, and they were silver wolves who ran the color gamut from an almost bleached blond to a muddy, brownish silver.

Of course, this print might not have anything to do with the flash of white I’d seen, even if it did look reasonably fresh.

I carefully touched the edge of the footprint. There was no response from the psychic part of my soul, which was a relief, even if it didn’t really mean that much. Said senses had shown no inclination so far to provide any concrete information about whatever it was I’d been led up here to find.

I swept the light around the immediate area. The very faint path I’d been following petered out a dozen or so steps ahead, and there were several tailing mounds off to the left, suggesting I was about to enter an area that had been mined. It really wasn’t wise to keep on going—not by myself, at any rate, and certainly not when there were no more footprints, human or wolf, to be seen anywhere in the immediate area.

I took a couple of photos of the print I’d found, on the off chance the drizzle got bad enough to wash it away, then pushed upright and made my way back down to the camping area. If there was one thing I had learned over the last few months, it was not to push my luck too far.

Unless, of course, it was absolutely necessary.

The camping area remained silent. I briefly eyed the nearest caravan, then walked over to the brick building. Both toilets were empty, but in the washroom, someone had strung a simple rope line between two hooks and hung several shirts and a pair of shorts over it. All items belonged to a male and were still damp to the touch. Obviously, at least one of the caravans was occupied.

I tossed the backpack into the Suzi and then walked through the trees to the first caravan. After a quick walk around the outside to see if there was anything that looked suspicious or odd, I walked up the steps and tried the door. Unsurprisingly, it was locked. I rose up on my toes and peered in. It was too dark to see anything, so I reluctantly shone the flashlight in. There was nothing in either the small kitchen or dining area to suggest it had been in use recently and no twinges from my psychic senses.

I jumped down and headed across to the next one. It was one of those old, almost bubble-like vans painted in a fading yellow, and wouldn’t have had much room for anything more than a bed. It too was empty.

Which meant the guy who owned the clothes was either using the caravan with the attached lean-to, or was off camping somewhere in the bush and just coming back here whenever necessary.

I walked over, the stones crunching softly underfoot. The sound echoed, and somewhere out there in the distant darkness, expectation stirred. I paused and scanned the area, but I couldn’t see or feel a threat.

I frowned and shone the light into the small lean-to. No threat and no spells, and yet there was magic here somewhere. It was a faint caress that skimmed the outer reaches of my senses. I had no idea of the spell’s intent, no idea if it had been cast by the owner of the van, or the evil that had drawn me here, but the stirring unease nevertheless grew stronger. Past experience suggested if I was sensing magic in the same area as evil, it was a pretty safe bet one belonged to the other.

I took a deep breath and stepped into the lean-to. It housed a small portable gas stove, a larder that contained mainly tinned food, an Esky, and a couple of chairs. I unlatched the Esky and looked inside. There was an assortment of beer cans, a carton of milk and, rather weirdly, a selection of cheese. The ice meant to keep it cold had melted long ago, but maybe the guy living here saw no point in replacing it, given how damn cold it’d been over the last few days. It wasn’t like any of the Esky’s contents would go off overly fast in this weather.

I lowered the lid and walked over to the van’s steps. The door was locked and the curtains had been pulled across the small window. While the place was utterly silent, the wisp of magic was stronger.

Until I could see the spell’s threads, I really couldn’t say what its intent was. But it didn’t feel like any sort of protection spell. In fact, it really didn’t feel like any spell I was familiar with at all.

I jumped down the steps, then ducked out of the lean-to and slowly walked around the rest of the caravan. The spell sharpened at the hitch end and faded again as I moved around to the other side. I’d have to go in to uncover what was going on, but I wasn’t about to do that until I’d checked the entire thing.

At the rear, a large window stretched the full width of the van, but it was up too high for me to peer through. I looked around, saw the sawn-off ends of an old tree someone had obviously been cutting up for firewood, and went over to grab one. Once I’d rolled it into position and stood it up on its end, I carefully stepped up.

And saw the emaciated skull of a man whose mouth had been permanently locked in a silent scream—a scream that I could see rather than hear. I’d always been able to feel the emotions of others through either touch or the color of auras, but this was the first time emotion and sound had become visible.

It was just more evidence that the mutations continued within.

I pushed that concern aside and tried to concentrate on the dead man rather than the dark wave of fear and horror that filled his final moments. There was no sign of putrefaction and no obvious sign of trauma. His features were so gaunt, it was impossible to tell how old he was, and there were no identifying marks or tattoos on the skin that sagged across his arms and chest … my gaze halted at his groin and widened in surprise. The damn man had an erection. Did that mean he’d been with a partner when death had found him? Or had he simply been masturbating?

And how the hell was it still erect in death?

If he had been with someone, was she—or he—still in the van somewhere? Or was his lover also his murderer, and possibly the flash of white I’d seen fleeing through the forest?

I shone the light deeper into the van. There was no indication of another body, nor did anything seem out of place or odd. There was also no sign of the magic I could sense. The spell, whatever its intent, had been hidden, and that couldn’t be a good thing.

I glanced back at the emaciated form. While I guess anorexia couldn’t be ruled out, this was more than simply muscle and fat wastage. There was actually no indication of muscle or internal organs at all. It was as if everything had simply melted away.

Or been drained.

Goose bumps skittered across my skin, and I fervently hoped we weren’t dealing with some distant and deadly variation of the vampire. We’d already had more than our fair share of blood suckers here—hell, one of them even ran a popular nightclub, though she’d been missing ever since my ex had foolishly decided to bomb the place and she’d exacted bloody revenge.

I guess if there was a silver lining on the whole vampire possibility, it was the fact they were relatively easy to deal with—at least when compared to some of the other demons and ghouls we’d confronted recently.

I jumped from the log and returned to the lean-to. But as I stepped up to the door, I hesitated. I really should ring the ranger station. I needed to report the death anyway, and doing so now at least meant someone would know where I was if things went belly up. And aside from the fact it was better to be safe than sorry, it’d also save me from having to deal with Aiden’s annoyance. Like all alpha wolves, he tended to be a little overprotective when it came to those he cared about.

I dragged out my phone and made the call. It rang on rather than switching over to voicemail as it usually did, and I was just about to hang up when a breathless but familiar voice said, “Ranger station, Jaz Marin speaking.”

“Hey Jaz, it’s Lizzie—”

Her loud groan cut me off. “Don’t tell me you’ve found a body. Not tonight.”

“Technically, it’s more bones than body, and I have no idea if he was murdered or died naturally, but—”

“Your instincts are twitching, which likely means the former rather than the later,” she finished heavily.

“Yeah. Sorry.”

She blew out a frustrated breath. “Where are you?”

I gave her the directions and then added, “There’s a spell of some kind inside the van, so I’ll have to go in—”

“No,” she said firmly. “Not until we get there.”


“Is Belle with you?”

“Well, no—”

“Then you’ve no one to take a record of events should things go ass up—and let’s be honest here, they quite often do in this sort of situation.”

“I’ve been recording everything I’ve discovered so far,” I said, “I’ve got this feeling that if I don’t go in, we’ll lose evidence of what happened in there.”

She swore. “Fine. Just be careful, and try not to disturb anything.”

“I’m not a newbie at this sort of stuff, Jaz. Not these days.”

“I know, and I’d be offering the same damn warning to Monty had he been on the other end of this call.” She drew in a breath and released it slowly, the sound vibrating with frustration. “It’ll take me twenty minutes to get out there. You want me to bring you out a coffee or hot chocolate?”

“Chocolate would be good.” I paused. “Sorry to ruin your night.”

“It’s fine. Levi will just have to finish off matters by himself. See you soon.”

She hung up on my laugh. After quickly returning to the rear of the van to make good my lie and record what I’d seen, I tugged a sleeve over my fingers then pressed them lightly against the door and murmured a quick incantation. Magic spun around the lock and, a heartbeat later, the door clicked open.

I stepped back to fully open it, but didn’t immediately enter. Instead, I carefully scanned the darkness, all senses on high alert.

The soft pulse of magic was coming from the left. I shone the light that way, spotlighting a small galley kitchen on one side and a seating area on the other. There was a closed door at the far end and, though I wasn’t entirely sure whether it led to the bathroom or something else, that’s where the spell was located.

I shifted positions and swept the light through the rest of the van. Nothing appeared out of place, and the air was free of the scent of death—which I supposed wasn’t that much of an oddity considering the state of the body and the fact it was winter.

I hit record again, then stepped into the van and slowly panned the phone, making sure I recorded absolutely everything.

Everything except the floating fragments of fear and horror that had filled this man’s last moments.

I shivered and did my best to both ignore and avoid them as I walked toward the double bed under the window. That was when I caught the faintest whiff of sweat and sex; he definitely hadn’t been masturbating. Someone had been here with him.

I slowly panned the camera down his body, then hit pause and returned to the front of the van, pressing sleeve-covered fingers against the door. Not to open it this time, but rather to gain some sense of what lay beyond. My psychic senses remained mute, but the pulse of magic was now a whole lot stronger than it had been.

There were no threads of magic on the door or the handle so, after a brief hesitation, I opened it. The room beyond was so small that there were only a few inches between the door and the wall. There was a toilet to my left and a washbasin directly in front. The pulse of magic was coming from the right.

I stepped in and closed the door. The spell sat in the base of the small shower and was a revolving, twisting mess of dark purplish threads—a color I’d not seen before and one that suggested evil even if it wasn’t radiating darkness in any way. I hit record again and softly described what I was seeing, as the orb wouldn’t show up on the video. With that done, I moved closer.

The spell’s pulsing jumped several notches, and so did my heart rate. While I’d yet to pinpoint its intent, I had a bad feeling it was something other than a protection spell.

And that meant it was far too dangerous to leave it active. I had to dismantle it if I could.

I squatted down and, through narrowed eyes, studied the thing. In many ways, spell creation was similar to weaving—each magical thread was a combination of words and energy that were spun together to make a whole. And, just like in weaving, its success often depended on the skill of the weaver.

The person behind this spell was very skilled indeed.

I shuffled closer and propped my phone against the shower’s frame so the light shone on the spell. Its magic crawled across my skin, feeling vaguely like midges that bit and stung. It was decidedly unpleasant, and I had to fight the desire to back away—which might well have been the intention.

There were, as far as I could see, eight layers within the spell. Its purpose wasn’t immediately obvious, which no doubt meant one of the layers was a concealment spell of some kind. I carefully reached out and untwined the first layer of the spell from its brethren. As I did, the charm at my neck sprang to life, its warm pulse telling me there was indeed a dark intent behind this spell, even if I couldn’t immediately see it. Tension wound through me as I deactivated the opening line; nothing untoward happened, but that didn’t ease the tension levels in any way. I repeated the process with the next four, but as each thread came free, the spell’s hum increased and the biting sensation got stronger. It felt like I’d stepped into the middle of a swarming bull ant nest, and that was the opposite of what was supposed to be happening.

It also meant that the main event spell-wise actually lay within the three remaining threads.

I dismantled another thread, leaving two. The bottom one—which was also the final line of the incantation—definitely looked “heavier” than it should have. Most closure lines were nothing more than a list of limitations and exemptions, but this definitely held a whole lot more than that.

It also wasn’t the first time I’d come across something like this.

My very first “case” in this reservation had been helping to track down a magic-capable vampire hell-bent on revenge, and the explosion spell he’d set to blow me up had a very similar feel to this.

Fear gathered, but I tried to ignore it and studied the penultimate line. It was, as far as I could see, the concealment portion of the spell and was almost too easy to deactivate.

One thread to go.

It hovered in the air, dark, heavy, and extremely unhealthy in its feel. Just like the vampire’s final spell line, this one consisted of three heavily entwined spells. One of them was certainly the limitations and closure line, but the other two felt unclean and dangerous.

The urge to leave the thing alone and get the hell out of there hit, and it was all I could do to remain in place. While Monty might not be within range to help out, he and I weren’t the only witches in the reservation now. But neither Ashworth nor his partner Eli would get here in time. This spell, whatever the hell it was, was working up to something.

I just hoped it wasn’t another damn explosion.

I pushed the fear back down once again and forced myself to concentrate. Despite the chill in the air, sweat trickled down the side of my face. I swiped at it with the back of my hand, then carefully pulled the closing thread away and murmured a spell to isolate it without breaking its connection to the other two.

I had no idea which of them I should tackle next, and very much suspected it might not matter.

Before I could decide, the spell came to life.

A dark wave of its energy hit so hard, it threw me back. I crashed into the toilet bowl with bruising force, and my breath left in a huge whoosh of air. The remaining threads of the spell were twisting—growing—washing waves of fierce power and heat through the air, making it sparkle and burn. I swore and scrambled upright, ignoring protesting back muscles as I grabbed my phone and then wrenched open the door. The whole van was now shaking. Cupboard doors flapped wildly back and forth, spilling their contents out onto the floor, the cans of baked beans bruising my feet even as they impeded my progress to the main door. The heat was now so fierce, the painted paneling was beginning to bubble and, on the bed, the mounds of skin barely hanging from white bones burned.

The whole van was on the verge of destruction.

I stumbled toward the door and reached for the handle. A heartbeat before my fingers clasped it, I felt the heat and jerked my hand away. The whole handle glowed.

I stepped back and kicked the door with every ounce of panic and strength I had. It didn’t immediately open. I swore at the thing and kicked it again and again, until the damn thing tore off its hinges and went tumbling into the lean-to.

The spell’s buzzing was so loud it was all I could hear, all I could feel. I leapt out and ran.

I was barely four meters away when the whole damn caravan exploded.