Mika stared at the mansion that had been in her family for so long it was considered a historic landmark thanks to the master architect who’d designed it, but the previous matriarchs had always shut that down.
Having humans interested in their property was never a good idea when the Council’s very existence was created to keep paranormals from exposing them to humans.
“Are you sure this is going to be all right?” she asked Corbin, gnawing on her lip in worry. “This is a lot of outsiders.”
“The ravens have sworn themselves to you, or will,” Corbin said, arms crossed over his chest as he studied the ridiculously massive house just as intently as she.
Mika had thought she could just up and leave the university and head straight for the eyrie, but she’d sworn an unbreakable oath to a goddess of war and death to protect what was hers.
The people who kept her property running fell under that jurisdiction. Callie, Mrs. Jenkinson, and Chuck all had to come with her. Mika couldn’t protect them from an eyrie and after what had happened to the Kavanagh’s ancestral mansion last year…
She wasn’t taking any risks.
Lucien came out with armfuls of bags, Mrs. Jenkinson right behind him. The kitchen witch looked nervous, but her daughter was safe. No one left alive knew Molly was related to her thanks to them not sharing the same last name and Chuck’s family was far enough away he wasn’t worried about it.
Callie though had argued every step of the way.
“This is too much stuff,” Mika muttered.
It wasn’t even all of it, and Mika felt her chest constrict as she considered her greenhouse and all those plants she had to leave behind. Hundreds of years of collecting and curating for her to sacrifice it all like it was nothing.
She understood Callie’s protests, but how they felt about it didn’t change the reality of the situation. Mika had to sacrifice what she could until things leveled out.
Ethan was just as vocal as Callie though.
When he practically burst from the house with as many plants as he could carry, she grimaced, knowing that if they kept asking, she was going to cave.
“We can’t leave so many,” he said for the thousandth time. “There are plants so rare they’re priceless, and that doesn’t even cover the ones that have gone extinct. Mika, that greenhouse is worth more than this entire house.”
Her infamous poison garden was among those she had to leave – most of the plants in that one area were among the priceless and irreplaceable.
“We have space,” Corbin murmured. “I’m sure I could convince the Administration of the Collective to take them in.”
“You can’t transport most of these,” Ethan snapped, clearly more distressed about this than he was about leaving Morgana. “Mika, I don’t know what to do.”
This was supposed to be her tactical retreat – hunkering down to gather her allies and prepare for the potential war with the Council while waiting to see what Azrael would do.
Mika hadn’t exactly been gentle either when she’d declared her position as Head Witch still covered in the blood of the previous one.
“Mika,” Ethan pressed. She turned to watch as Callie came up to them with her arms full of just as many plants as Ethan if not more. “They will die without someone to watch them and care for them.”
Still, Mika didn’t say anything. She ignored the sideways look from Corbin as Lucien went back in to get more bags, Malachi passing by him.
If this was going to be a war, then she couldn’t bring her entire life with her. Warriors couldn’t carry everything with them everywhere they went, as Morgana had told her. They carried what they could and made sure they were still able to defend.
Her home base had been taken and she was officially on the run, Aine had warned. They couldn’t afford to be so sentimental with things.
Did the others realize that yet?
Mika knew they were with her every step of the way and she’d given them so many opportunities to opt out they told her never to bring it up again. But she didn’t think any of them were prepared for what that choice really meant except maybe Malachi and Corbin.
It twisted her heart to give up the babies she’d taken from seed to glorious blooming pieces of art, but this was what it meant to be a warrior sometimes.
“I can stay here,” Callie offered. “If these plants die because of neglect, I could never live with myself.”
Mika narrowed her eyes and focused on the green witch. “These plants aren’t worth your life.”
“I’m pretty sure my life is worth whatever I say it is,” Callie snapped. “You can’t stop me.”
Corbin’s laughter turned into a choke when she glared at him.
Being a leader wasn’t something she was used to, and Mika was starting to feel the weight of her supposed crown more and more with every passing hour. Technically she had the rank to stop Callie, but Mika knew better than most just how irksome it could be when others tried to dictate your worth.
“Like I said, we have the room,” Corbin said gently. “We have our own greenhouses not to mention the gardens on the ground we share with the coyotes.”
Those fucking coyotes.
Mika tried to ignore the panic that was starting to set in. Soon, she would be meeting with his entire eyrie and entering a world she could not possibly understand or comprehend. There was no way to anticipate exactly how things were going to go down.
No onewent into an eyrie and came out alive unless they were a raven.
Mika clenched her hands into fists, nails pricking her skin hard enough to draw blood if she wasn’t careful. “I’m bringing eight outsiders plus everything they hold dear. If the Heads agree, we can come back.”
Ethan sighed, looking down at the plants in his arms.
“I’ll stay here until then,” Callie promised. “I’ve worked my whole life to get into that greenhouse. I’m not going to abandon it now when it needs me the most.”
Mika eyed the witch and summoned one of her rubies. “I’m giving you hazard pay and if you don’t allow these to protect you, I’ll fire you for your own good.” Five blood beasts manifested before her and she pointed at Callie. “Protect, and guard.” Then she whispered the old language, weaving the instructions into a simple blood spell.
Callie flinched as one rubbed against her leg.
“If you can’t stand them, you can’t stay here,” Mika told her with a shrug.
“I’ll be fine,” Callie promised. “What plants will you need with you?”
“Only another cutting of the blackthorn which I already have. Thank you.” And Mika meant it.
She watched Callie head back into the mansion with the armful of plants, a look of relief on the green witch’s face.
Mika hoped she wasn’t leaving her here just to end up dead by nightfall.
“It’s only been a few hours,” Corbin murmured. “There is no way any of those assholes on the Council have the ability to move on you so quickly.”
“I’m not necessarily worried about them,” Mika admitted.
“Death wouldn’t come here.” Ethan shook his head, the hair falling into his eyes. He still wore the Morrigan’s armor – they all did. Mika really liked how it looked on him. “You aren’t his endgame. If Callie is staying, I’ll take these plants back.”
He kissed her cheek then and Mika nodded, feeling like she was already losing control of this circus.
“We don’t know what his endgame is,” Malachi reminded Ethan, tossing a bag into the pile. “That should be the last of it.”
Too much stuff.
“I want to leave all this here until the Commander tells me to my face that we can bring it,” Mika told them. “I’ll go first with Corbin and Dagon. Then he’ll come get everyone else.”
Dagon came out just then with her hell-forged armoire stocked full of rubies. He carried it like it weighed nothing.
“I can’t believe you got approval so quickly,” Audrey was saying as she practically ran to keep up with the hellhound. “They just let you go?”
“Jessica released me and sent another to Morgana in my place,” Dagon said again, just as patiently as he had the first three times.
Jessicahad released him.
Mika didn’t know what that meant exactly, but she didn’t want to ask. Hell wasn’t her domain and she had enough to worry about as it was.
The armoire with an army in it was set before her like some kind of prize. The way Dagon smiled – he was certainly pleased with himself.
And Mika still didn’t know how to deal with him. She barely knew Dagon, but there was definitely something between them. He’d saved her life more than once, but how the hell was he going to fit into her world?
Mika shoved all that back and considered everyone before her.
Mrs. Jenkinson’s jaw was set in worry as she stood next to Chuck. The squirrel shifter had a frown on his face. Before she could think too much about what that meant, Callie came back.
Mika cleared her throat and fixed her eyes on the green witch. “Callie, since you’re staying here, I’m going to make sure there are wards as well as the blood beasts. Order rats to keep them fed and only feed them at dusk. You have my cell. But I need you to know, there is nothing in that greenhouse I consider worth your life. If you have to, leave it. Here’s my demon father’s summoning sigil. Only use it if something comes after you.”
“I’m going to stay with her,” Chuck stated. His tone brooked no room for argument. “I’m fast and trained.” By the void, Kenzie.
If it had been anyone else…
“Fine,” Mika snapped, uncrossing her arms to plant them on her hips. “But if either of you die, I’ll find you in hell myself.”
Callie’s face drained of all color, but Chuck gave Mika a determined nod.
The blood beasts slunk off onto the property when Mika flicked her fingers in dismissal, and she watched as their size changed to little more than a housecat before disappearing completely.
Was this what it was going to be like?
It felt like no one really understood the ramifications of their choices, but she couldn’t wrap them all in bubble wrap and hide them away until this was done. No matter how much it terrified her that they all wanted to put themselves in danger—for her.
Both Selene and Kenzie would ward her house on top of Mika’s own. Maybe she could get Jessica to ward it too, or Eisheth if she was busy. No doubt she and Lucifer were using every waking minute searching for Azrael.
“Lucien, your pack will take us in if the ravens decide this won’t work?” Mika asked for the thousandth time.
And of course, Lucien rolled his eyes at her. “The entire flock showed up to the Council meeting a few hours ago. They’re not going to deny you.”
Mika knew he was right, but she was still so nervous.
She didn’t like people looking at her, waiting and expecting—anything, let alone something this big. But now she was a fucking queen, and this was her fucking life.
She had to get used to it. There was no other option.
“It’ll be fine, Mika,” Ethan reassured her, voice low and soothing. “We’re going to be waiting for you, right here.”
Rolling her shoulders back, Mika eyed all their shit, and then the mansion behind them with the early morning light behind it.
Everything that was valuable was in this pile. Everything else would be sent off to where it could be better protected.
Mika snapped her fingers and a note appeared. She handed it over to Chuck and then nodded once to herself. She’d done everything she could.
“After we’ve all gone, make sure you take care of that list. I don’t want anything left here for them to take.”
Chuck nodded and slipped the note in his pocket.
Mika didn’t deserve any of them.
Dagon held out his hand for her, and Corbin placed his on the hellhound’s shoulder.
Taking a deep breath, she avoided rubbing her hands over her face. Her skin was still covered in Cassandra’s blood as well as the Morrigan’s warpaint and she desperately needed a shower.
Mika held Ethan’s gaze as she placed her hand in Dagon’s. “I’ll see you soon,” she promised, turning to Lucien just as that blackness overtook everything.
Her entire world was gone and, in its place, a new one she had to learn how to navigate. Mika didn’t even have the luxury of knowing her own body anymore. Thanks to the goddess’s gifts she had to figure out how to exist all over again.
When the darkness dissolved, Mika looked up at the open sky.
November in the Pacific Northwest was cold and rainy, and today wasn’t any different.
Mika breathed the clean, cold air in as deeply as she could and then looked forward. She released Dagon and studied the six individuals before her.
Thanks to the shitshow that was her life, Corbin hadn’t really explained too much about the eyrie and how it worked. And Mika had done everything in her power to ignore the fact that she was not really an outsider, that him telling her didn’t violate any of the raven’s careful rules.
Because if she had done that, she would have had to admit that she was what they saw her as.
The ravens were kindred, and they had a place on their administration for those like her.
If Mika were honest with herself though, she hadn’t been ready to hear anything Corbin would have told her about his eyrie, and her place in it.
Everything was different now.
Armad landed on the space between her and those six individuals. No one looked at him as he went to stand next to Corbin…
With her, not with them.
Lines were already being drawn and Mika shoved down the panic that kept trying to get out. The next few days would determine her future – her life, and the future of so many it was hard not to freak out.
But she took a step forward, taking in every detail of where she was.
Dagon had taken them before a massive stone gate with what looked like hell-forged iron doors. They were twice as high as Corbin, and Mika noted the runes carved into them.
There was nothing else around.
Only an edge that dropped off into what felt like a grey abyss with the way the rain poured down. What was beyond those gates, she didn’t know, but this platform felt ominous somehow – both a place of joy and of…terror. She could feel it on the air.
Then her eyes slid to one of the females. She was ancient and based on the feel of her power—a witch. The younger female behind her wasn’t a raven or a witch though. Mika narrowed her eyes and then felt them widen as she realized—she was a banshee.
Mavis wasn’t alone.
Corbin hadn’t explained who these people were exactly. All she knew was that ravens called this place an eyrie, that it wasn’t just a flock but a Collective. There were those in charge of various important tasks, and then these six ruled their Collective.
Much like a coven.
An older male walked out to meet her, and Mika held her ground, focusing her gaze on him.
Would he kick her out?
Corbin had gathered ravens for the Council meeting, but how many of them had been comrades who owed him a favor? Or had they been given permission?
“Mika Marshall,” he said, clasping his arms behind his back as he studied her. “The last witch queen.”
“Can’t be the last until I die,” she told him, not feeling any better about this.
He smiled slightly at that. “Death is merciful.”
Corbin had told her that once.
Mika tilted her head slightly as she used her new senses to get a reading on him. “I’ve seen death,” she murmured. “And I’m not afraid.”
That smile widened. “You certainly proved that at the Council building.”
So, he’d been there. Interesting.
“I am this Collective’s Commander,” he told her then. “My decision is final and cannot be overruled.”
His pause made her stomach twist.
“Except by you.” When the Commander bowed slightly that twisting grew worse, not better.
“What does that mean exactly?” she asked, feeling Corbin and Dagon at her back. The hellhound practically crackled with energy behind her.
“It means this eyrie and our flock are commanded by you as well as me,” he said, straightening. “We have much to discuss.”
Mika studied the ravens behind him including a witch and a fucking banshee.
And the witches thought they were so powerful in the paranormal world, selling magic – gifting it to those they favored. All the while the ravens and the coyotes and the foxes had an entire world that existed on its own.
With their own witches.
“I have people who need to stay here with me,” Mika told him. “I have…things.”
“Our eyrie is yours.”
Her eyes snapped to the Commander’s. “Just like that?”
He shrugged and never once looked at Corbin. His unwavering gaze was intense. “It may seem simple but it’s not. To you it’s ‘just like that,’ but to us this is our way of life and has been since the Morrigan created us. To serve you is why we exist.”
That twisting grew worse until she thought she was going to throw up.
Mika didn’t want this strange sense of servitude. It was one thing to hold onto their old ways, and another completely to blindly follow.
She’d deal with that later. Right now, she needed to get her people into the eyrie.
Mika glanced back at Dagon and he nodded before disappearing.
“What exactly do you expect from me?” Mika asked, glancing at the others behind the Commander again. What did they think of all this?
“We can discuss everything and answer all your questions,” the Commander promised. “But first you should settle in, get cleaned up, and rest.”
All six of those administrators studied her from head to toe. Mika knew they saw Corbin’s feathers in her hair, the trinkets left by the goddess, the blood on her face from both the Morrigan and Cassandra, as well as the armor that matched Corbin’s.
Mika wouldn’t be able to sleep, but she could do everything else.
Then she pierced her finger with her thumbnail as she knelt, drawing a blood rune into the stone.
A single word as she stood and everything that had been in the circle at her mansion manifested in front of her. Mika walked around it as Dagon reappeared with Lucien and Ethan. “Show me where my people and I are supposed to go.”
The Commander gave her a tiny smile before falling in step beside her. “We are your people now, Morrigan.”
The name felt like a slap and Mika stopped to stare at him, feeling the eyes of all the other ravens on her back. She ignored them and focused on the Commander. “Maybe we should discuss that before everything else.”
He glanced at one of the females and she was gone before Mika could ask anything. Then the Commander gave her his full attention once more. “Corbin has explained that you don’t know much about being a blood witch.”
She could practically feel Corbin’s wince.
Mika clenched her teeth together as she tried to process. All she wanted was to find her footing but every moment something new tripped her up.
Dagon was back with Malachi and Audrey before disappearing just as quickly as he’d appeared. Lucien’s eyes gleamed and he grinned before punching Corbin in the arm. “This is fucking cool.”
It snapped Mika out of it, and she couldn’t help the small smile.
“Let me take you to your quarters,” the Commander said gently. “Get settled and I will send someone so we may converse on the matters at hand. I will answer any questions you may have then.”
More ravens descended upon her stuff and started bringing it into the eyrie before she could respond to the Commander.
Just like that.
Mika took a moment to absorb how easily the ravens had taken this transition. Her thoughts felt slow and sluggish and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept.
Maybe she did need a nap.
Audrey cleared her throat. “Mrs. Jenkinson insisted on staying with Chuck and Callie. She’s, um, scarier than she looks.”
Dagon shrugged awkwardly and Mika almost laughed.
She most definitely needed a nap.
“It’s okay, now let’s go check out our new home.”