"No, it's not clear, asshole," he called to be heard above the rising storm. Agony speared his brain and Kalen clutched his head, struggling to remain on his feet. Another wave hit, and another. Relentless. He yelled out in pain and anger, swaying.
Through the haze, Kalen swiped at the blood streaming from his nose, glaring at Malik with all the hatred coursing through his body. "Not long ago, you told me that you were intent on creating a breed of super-shifter soldiers. That they would help us usher in a new era where humans were basically cattle and supernatural creatures would rule. Creatures like us."
"Yes! Can't you see that this is our destiny? That it does you no good to resist?"
"There was once a man who believed he could take over the world by annihilating all of those who didn't measure up to his standards," Kalen sneered. "He believed in his sick mind that he would create a pure race, and he murdered millions while millions more bought his twisted lies. His name was Hitler, and his story didn't end so well. Neither will yours."
"You're my son, and we'll rule together! Sariel and those filthy wolves must die! And pendant or not, I'll find a way to slaughter your woman as well, like the cow she is, and take that child for my own before I'll allow you to defy me! You are mine!"
At that threat, the blackness within Kalen surged and he welcomed it-but this time to turn it on its creator.
His brothers were losing the fight. He gathered his power and saved it all for the threat to his mate and his family. May the gods give him strength.
"No!" he shouted back, summoning his Sorcerer's staff. "I'll see you in hell first, you motherfucker!"
"I'm your father. You won't kill me." He looked so damned smug.
"Oh, I will. I learned the meaning of ruthless from you, after all."
* * *
Nick, bloodied and damned near broken, crouched in the mud in the downpour and watched his vision come to pass. High on the pinnacle, the Sorcerer stood with his staff held high. And screamed his rage to the boiling heavens.
"God help us," he whispered.
But there was only the Sorcerer to save them. And that was far from a sure thing.
When the lightning struck the Sorcerer's staff, Nick witnessed a sight he'd never forget-should he live to recall it. Kalen harnessed the fury of the storm, took it into himself, and released it in an explosion that lit the sky as though it were a brilliant summer day.
All around him bodies were blown to bits. Nick scrabbled for purchase and fell.
Fell, thinking he'd never know how the story ended.
And then there was nothing.
* * *
Mac heard a powerful scream of rage and peeked out the window again. Kalen stood on the peak facing down Malik. Lightning struck his staff and he channeled the storm into a tool.
The combatants froze in awe-
And then the world was blown away.
* * *
Opening his body as a conduit for the storm, Kalen raised the staff high and screamed his rage. "Help me! Fucking help me!"
But he was alone in this. Just him and the elements. He welcomed the lightning and it didn't disappoint him, streaking from the sky as he'd summoned and striking the end of his staff with such force he was nearly blasted from his perch.
But he held firm, harnessing the white light. Because he'd heard somewhere that only light could drive out the darkness. From Sariel? Or someone else?
He used that now, his sole weapon against Malik and the masses of Sluagh below. The Unseelie was the first to realize that his doom was near and made a lunge for Kalen. He didn't make it.
The lightning shot from Kalen's body to Malik's and lit it up so that the Sorcerer could see every bone and organ inside. And then the Unseelie screeched, long and loud-the awful noise ending as he exploded into a million tiny particles to be washed away in the downpour.
A fitting end to the bastard's terrible reign.
No time to celebrate that victory. The Sluagh were next. The Sorcerer channeled the storm at the ugly minions, his own insides burning. His guts, lungs, heart. He could literally feel them starting to boil, the raw, brutal fury of the lightning taking a toll on him as well. But he kept going, long past what any normal human would have been able to withstand. Because he wasn't human.
He was Fae. A Sorcerer. A brother. A mate.
For the first time in his life, he embraced what and who he'd become. For all of his loved ones, he could do this. They were worth any price. He would die, and it would be okay. The Sluagh froze in confusion, perhaps barely gleaning the loss of their leader when they, too, began to sizzle like bacon. And they exploded, hundreds of them, with such force that his brothers and the remaining soldiers were hurled to the ground. Stunned, many injured, but all right.
It was over.
Kalen Black had finally done something truly good. He'd fought the evil and won, had severed the bond of darkness between himself and Malik. He'd protected his own, and that's all he wanted. His mate and baby were safe. Now he could let go.
His heart stuttered in his chest, the agony tearing him apart. He couldn't breathe. His knees buckled and he collapsed, falling through space, as the darkness took him.
* * *
Mac sat up, ears ringing, trying to clear her head. What had happened? The explosion!
She gazed out the SUV's window and spied the Pack guys and some soldiers struggling to sit up. Malik and the Sluagh were dead. She started to smile.
Then she saw Kalen's knees fold. Dropping the Sorcerer's staff, he collapsed, his duster fluttering around him as he tumbled from the summit.
Flinging open the door, she practically fell from it and ran. "Kalen!"
Slipping in the mud, she ran on, screaming his name again and again. She hit a slick spot and couldn't catch herself, went sprawling. Before she could get up, Nick and Sariel were there, helping her to sit up. She tried to pull away, but they held her fast.
"Wait!" Sariel ordered. "I need to check and see if you are all right."
"No! Kalen needs me!"
"The baby needs you too. Hold still."
That got her to cooperate long enough for Sariel to pronounce her and the baby safe. "Okay, help me find him! I saw him fall over there somewhere."
"We'll look together," Nick said. He shared a grim look with the prince.
Mac's pulse jumped, and her lungs seized. She had to find him. They picked their way through the debris-strewn field, the men holding her on each side. Others were up on their feet now, ignoring their own injuries to help in the search. Calling for Kalen.
She spotted him and cried out, jerking from their grasp, and ran. Her mate was lying on his back, unmoving. The rain had trailed off to a soft patter, and steam was rising from his battered and scorched leather duster, from his limbs and black hair. His eyes were closed, his face still and white.
Terrified, she dropped to her knees by his side and searched for a pulse. The beat was erratic, thready. Getting weaker by the second. "Kalen? It's me. Please, hang on," she begged. "It's over and we're all here. We're going to get you back to the compound and it's going to be all right."
But under her palm, his heartbeat slowed. And stopped.
Her world shattered. "No! Kalen!"
Sobbing, she started CPR while Nick tilted his head back, gave him breaths. One minute. Two. Agonizing minutes ticked by with no response. His lips were turning blue. She was losing him. She couldn't lose him!
"Mac, move over."
She found herself shoved aside by Zan. She barely registered that his ears were bleeding and his voice sounded odd. Her entire focus was on her mate lying there not breathing. "Help him, please."
She wasn't sure whether the Healer heard. He didn't answer, but seemed to talk to himself as he placed both palms on Kalen's chest.
"Burned himself out," Zan slurred, his voice odd and garbled. "Don't know if this will be enough."
A green glow began around Zan's palms and spread to encompass Kalen's whole body. For too long, the Healer's efforts didn't seem to be working. When at last her mate sucked in a breath, there was a collective cheer from the men. But their relief was short-lived.
"Lots of damage," Zan managed, swaying. "Maybe too much."
Then he slumped to the side, unconscious. The Pack jumped into action. Jax and Ryon grabbed Zander while Aric and Nick took Kalen. It wasn't until they started for one of the SUVs with her mate that she remembered her dad. She looked around frantically, calling for him, and he squeezed her hand.
"I'm right here, baby girl. Come on. Let's see to that man of yours."
She rode in the back of one of the SUVs with Kalen, and they had to pry her loose when Melina and Noah rushed out to take over. She tried to follow them into the ER, but Nick blocked her path.
"Let Melina and Noah do their jobs. You need to see to Zan."
"That man just saved Kalen's life and now he needs your attention." His voice softened. "Go. Seeing to him will take your mind off your mate for a while."
He was right. All through Zan's examination, she worried for the Healer as well as her mate. By the time she concluded her tests and got him settled in a room, her heart was heavy with the knowledge of the personal mountain Zan now had to climb.
He was going to be all right-but it was going to take a long, long time to get him there.
Once Kalen was settled into a room, no one could pry her from his side. He looked dead, so still and pale, his chest barely rising and falling. He'd given everything to save them all, and there was a possibility he'd never open his eyes.
Taking one of his hands in hers, she stroked his skin as the tears fell. "Listen to me, please. You can't leave us," she whispered. "The baby and I need you. Please stay."
Laying her head next to him, she wept. And began the long wait.
* * *
Kalen was at the bottom of a deep, dark ocean.
No matter how he tried, he couldn't swim to the surface. Couldn't breathe. So he let go and floated, rested a while and tried again.
Sometimes he heard quiet conversation. He wasn't sure why or where he was. It scared him a little, not knowing. The longer he floated, the more aware he became that he needed to get to the surface soon, or he never would. Something dear to him waited for him up there, and he had to fight.
So he did, and the voice began to solidify into one that he recognized. Mackenzie. His mate, his love. She told him stories all the time, begged him to wake up, and he wanted so badly to respond. To tell her that he loved her and wasn't giving up.
Then one day he broke the surface. He heard a machine beeping nearby. The rustle of someone in a chair, flipping pages, reading something. Stuff made sense and he knew he was back. But how? It didn't matter. He just had to get his lids to cooperate.
Finally he blinked them open to find that everything was fuzzy. But he could make out his mate's figure sitting close to him, bent over something. A magazine? Yeah. She was reading, and he liked waking up to find her there.
"Baby?" he croaked.
The magazine plopped to the floor and her blue eyes widened. "Oh my God! You're awake!"
Happy kisses peppered his face and he smiled, or thought he did. "I think so. Unless I'm dead and you're an angel."
Sitting back, she stroked his face, touching him everywhere she could reach. When his eyes focused more, he saw that there were tears glistening in hers. He wanted to brush them away but didn't have the strength to raise his arm.
"Hey, none of that. I'm okay, right?"
"You are now." She sniffled.
"You and the baby?" he asked in sudden alarm.
"Relax before you strain something," she said softly. "The baby is fine and so am I. Do you remember what happened?"
He stared at her, thinking. Which was hard since it seemed he was dosed on good drugs. "I forgot."