Rogue Night

They took her daughter. Now, she’s hunting them.

They kidnapped her baby and vanished without a trace, leaving Robin no other choice. She must ask the Rangers of Mount Eredren to join her quest to save her baby. But they have a secret they’ll kill to keep, and that secret is the teenage mage she’s been looking for. Only he can help Robin find the supernatural killers who kidnapped her baby. But the Rangers aren’t the only ones who want Sarn to stay right where he is.

Sarn is bound to a supernatural entity, and it will bring the mountain down on the ten thousand souls who dwell beneath it if he leaves. For Robin, failure is not an option. She’ll call forth magic she doesn’t understand and strike a bargain that will change not just her future, but the future of a nation to save her daughter.

They’re all bound now, by a witch’s decree. Get Rogue Night now!

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Chapter 1

“My baby.” As those two words echoed through the tunnel, they attenuated until they filled the darkness, leaving no room for anything else, not even the breath Robin struggled to take as fear and loss constricted her chest. But she put one snowy boot in front of the other because she had to. This was the only path open to her now, and Robin would damn well make it work.

Each step was an effort because it took her away from her daughter. Robin felt that keenly now, and a small voice kept screaming at her to turn around and find those wolves. Their collars were the key. They held the only clue she’d found to her daughter’s kidnappers.

If only she could get her hands on one. But those wolves were gone just like her daughter. Damn her for not being fast enough to grab one by the scruff of his neck. Robin swayed as that event replayed, but she still didn’t know what she could have done differently.

***

[Earlier]

Robin landed on the gravel path leading up to the doors of Mount Eredren and braced herself for a fight. When it didn’t come, she sat up and met the wolf’s glowing green eyes. In his eyes, she saw that gloating Huntress in all her half-naked, furry glory, confirming her guess. That baby-stealing bitch had sent those wolves after her. Her hunch had been right, but it was a hollow victory.

“Thank you.” Robin reached out to ruffle the wolf’s sable fur then thought better of it and let her hand drop onto her lap. He was an alpha, not a pet.

The alpha nodded and whined in pain as a flash parted his glowing green collar. It fell off and vanished before it hit the ground leaving a luminous green thread behind. He backed away from it and growled at Robin when that thread crawled toward her.

She crab-walked away from it, but it launched itself and wrapped around her ankle, adding to her collection of glowing things. Robin tensed and waited for something to happen, but nothing did. There wasn’t even a tug from the leash it had been part of. Damn it.

The leash was gone, and so was her only clue to the whereabouts of the Wild Hunt. That new thread just glowed around her ankle. Robin dropped her head into her hands. She’d been so close to finding the answer she’d sought.

***

[Now]

Robin blinked as the tunnel came back into focus, not that there was much to see other than rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Was the tunnel spinning, or was she? She leaned on her bow case and felt lightheaded and alone. There was no one else in the tunnel.

The chunk of white lumir crystal dangling from a button on her red coat had grown a fuzzy halo. That couldn’t be good. It was the only light in a tunnel that must be part of a maze because each twist and turn only presented her with another intersection, and it looked exactly like the last one.

Three identical pathways led into the darkness on three separate paths. Which one led to the mage she sought and the help she needed?

“They took my baby,” a woman said, but her voice seemed to come from everywhere at once.

“They took mine too,” Robin said too softly to interrupt those heart-wrenching sobs. Which tunnel would take her closer to that woman? Oh Lord, she was so lost. Robin had no idea which way to go. Which would take her to the woman who was living her personal nightmare?

A green glow reached out of her coat and into the darkness, stretching its spherical nimbus into an ellipse whose narrower end pointed to the left-hand tunnel. Robin ran a finger along the green-glowing links of her necklace and wondered again about the mage whose power had combined to make it. What would he be like?

Robin regarded the tunnel the remnants of his magic pointed at. He must be down that way. But could that woman also be down there? She needed to find both, but his power just pointed unerringly to the left, so she went that way because gaining his help was paramount. Robin couldn’t find her baby, or that other woman’s child if the same people had kidnapped them both, without that mage’s help. “But will he help me?”

She touched her necklace again and got nothing from it, no promise of aid, no reassurance, just a not-so-gentle nudge toward the left-hand tunnel.

Robin leaned on her bow case as she pushed on, using it in place of a walking stick. The case she kept her bow in was big enough to stand in for a walking stick. At six feet dead even, it was a hollow tube made of a light but tough woody vine.

Her unstrung bow fit snugly into it, but the case was still thicker than a traditional walking stick and heavier too. But it was still quite effective at propelling her forward over the uneven ground. It was the perfect probe too. It had revealed several deadly drops and quite a few large holes in time for her to avoid them.

The metal capping her bow case’s base glinted in the lumir light, and Robin froze as a feeling of déjà vu swept over her. But she couldn’t have done this before because today was the first time she’d ever visited Mount Eredren. But that feeling only intensified as she probed the darkness with her bow case for any more traps.

She hoped Strella had better luck finding help for Cat, but Robin sincerely doubted that. Strella was probably around here somewhere and likely getting just as frustrated when yet another bend revealed either another intersection or worse, a blank wall.

There had to be people around here somewhere. Robin had sensed them during that strange moment when she’d connected with the mage whose power had created her necklace, and she still needed an explanation about that. How had she connected to him?

If Robin could figure that out, she’d be one step closer to finding him. She tapped her finger against the green-glowing links on the chain around her neck but got nothing from it except light. There was still no sign this place was even inhabited. It felt abandoned, but that was impossible.

Rumor had it this place was packed with people. Where were they? Robin had seen no one since parting with Strella. That goodbye had punched a small hole in her heart. Strella had become a good friend, and the events of that day had made it clear Robin needed all the help she could get. She just had to find some.

Robin touched the necklace glowing a vibrant green one last time then strode down the left-hand tunnel. Robin swayed, and the tunnel seemed to revolve around her. That wasn’t good.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten, or if she even had any food in the rucksack slung over her shoulder. But that was a moot point now. Those echoes grew louder and clearer. Robin sped up, hoping she’d at last found another human being in this oppressive darkness.

Robin turned two more bends and saw them finally—people! She almost wept with joy. Her shoulders slumped in relief. She wasn’t alone anymore. Help was within her grasp. Then Robin looked around her, and unease coiled in her gut again.

This tunnel looked like the last one right down to the placement of the stalagmites and their drippy, ceiling-bound friends. Either her tired mind was making all the tunnels look identical, or the Litherians had crafted that illusion on purpose. They were a race of stone mages, so it was possible they could have carved several identical tunnels just to mess with visitors.

After all, they were famously antisocial, but they’d vanished from the world centuries ago. Shouldn’t the current inhabitants of this place have done something to differentiate one tunnel from another? Robin wondered how many visitors got lost in this maze each day. Did anyone ever look for them?

Someone must since this place traded extensively with other strongholds. Then again, there were all those traps down here. Robin rubbed the back of her neck. It ached from all the looking down she’d had to do on the march here to ensure she didn’t step on something that couldn’t hold her weight. It was a relief to have solid ground under her feet again, but that relief was short-lived since the argument in front of her was heating up.

A man and a woman faced another man. The first man wore furs, not uncommon in this weather except they looked kind of like wolf pelts, and Robin felt uncomfortable about that. The man’s furs looked a lot like the pelt of the alpha she’d freed, but that was impossible, wasn’t it?

There weren’t any wolf shifters anymore. The races of the Magic Kind had all died out long ago, leaving the world’s stage to mankind. Robin backed up, but it was no use hiding when she frigging glowed and not just her necklace or the lumir crystal attached to her coat either. Two white threads glowed around her wrist, and there was a green one wrapped around her ankle over her knee-high boot. Hiding was out of the question.

Besides, Robin needed answers. It was just hunger making her edgy. She had nothing to fear here except failing to find help, and that wouldn’t happen. The Rangers always helped their own, and she was a Ranger herself, or she would still be employed as one if she’d stayed home. Dad had held a space for her.

Was it still available? Could she go home? Just thinking about Larkspur made Robin miss it even more. But Ison might look there for her. He knew where her home was. But now wasn’t the time to think about the man she’d left without a word. That punch to the face while she was nine months pregnant had ended any responsibility she had to him. Robin tucked all those questions away for later when Rosalie was safe. But they stayed in her wounded heart, nurturing the tiny flame of hope she held tightly to as the woman she’d heard crying out for her child turned to face her.

She too wore furs, but other than her cloak, which also looked like the pelt of a wolf, she was missing some key pieces of clothing like trousers and shoes. So was her male companion. He’d been silently backing her up throughout the argument with a man in Guardsmen’s blue. The trio occupied the right fork of the intersection ahead.

Beyond them, a bunch of creepy statues complete with glowing eyes brandished their weapons. They looked so life-like, Robin dropped her gloves and patted down her pockets for a weapon. Then she saw they were made of marble. When Robin glanced at them again, the statues’ eyes were unblinking crystals, and she cursed herself for being a fool.

Mount Eredren sure did have some strange décor. But what had she expected? A race of misanthropic stone mages had created it, and no one had updated things since then.

Pull it together, girl. Rosalie needs you to be strong and coherent, Robin reminded herself.

Before she could say anything to the trio, that woman pointed at her. There was something wrong with her eyes. They weren’t brown. Robin couldn’t tell what color they were because the light shining on the woman came from a mosaic made of lumir crystals, and it only covered the part of the ceiling that was over those creepy statues. Nor was it bright enough to properly light this tunnel.

“She took my baby,” the half-naked, fur-clad woman said again.

Robin’s mouth dropped open in shock. Surely, she’d heard that wrong. That Wolf Girl hadn’t just accused her of kidnapping, right? “There must be some mistake. I didn’t take anyone. I only just met you. I’ve never seen you before.” Robin backed away while all three of them glared at her. But she didn’t back into a wall. Instead, she’d backed into a cave, and it was filled with heaps of junk.

“She took my baby,” the woman Robin had mentally dubbed ‘Wolf Girl’ shouted again as she pointed a shaking finger at Robin.

“I didn’t take anyone, but someone took my baby,” Robin shot back. She set her bow case down and leaned on it. Robin needed the support while she convinced the Guard heading toward her that Wolf Girl was insane. If she didn’t, he might arrest her then who would save her baby? 

No one. Robin had to lead that search and to do that, she had to stay out of jail. She couldn’t convince the Rangers to help her if she was sitting in a cell awaiting a court date. Robin shuddered at the thought.

The Guard was already looking at her with the wrong kind of interest. He saw her squared shoulders, her travel-stained clothes, and her bow case and deduced she was a warrior of some kind. Well, she was. Robin just didn’t feel up to a fight with anything other than words right now, and words had never been her forte. Well, that had to change right now.

“Listen to me,” Robin shouted over Wolf Girl. The half-naked woman wasn’t as hysterical as she should be if she’d just lost her baby.

Could she be lying about that? No, when that woman had said the word ‘baby,’ it was the only word that had rung true. Wolf Girl had a baby, but was that baby missing? If so, could the Wild Hunt have taken Wolf Girl’s baby too?

Before yesterday, Robin never would have believed them capable of such a crime. But she remembered the knife the womanish creature who led the Wild Hunt had held to her throat all too well. If that Huntress had taken Wolf Girl’s child, that woman would know it. The Huntress was too distinctive and looked too much like a deer to pass for anything other than what she was—a murderous hind. There was no way Robin could be mistaken for that creature.

“I don’t know who took your baby, but she wasn’t me. I only just arrived. You can ask the Ranger who helped my friend and I carry our wounded comrade up that windy trail out there.” Robin gestured in the direction she thought the doors were then realized she’d never gotten that Ranger’s name before he’d vanished into the mountain. Damn it.

Names hadn’t seemed important then. But now he was gone, and Robin had no way of finding him again. Great, that was one more thing that wasn’t going her way.

But the Guard latched onto her explanation with a desperation that surprised Robin. “What was his name? Tell me, so I can verify your story, and we can get this sorted.” He pulled out a little bound book and a graphite stick from a pocket on the utility belt cinching the waist of his dark blue tunic and trousers. The insignia of the Fraternal Order of the Guards of Shayari was stitched on the youngish man’s right pec: two black spears crossed over a white barbute. He held his pad up and prepared to write down what she said. So, she’d better say something. The Guard had such earnest brown eyes. Robin couldn’t look away from them.

“I didn’t ask his name. My friend was seriously injured when my daughter was kidnapped. Getting her help was more important than getting the name of that Ranger. Besides, I got the feeling he didn’t want to share that with us.” Robin paused to moisten her lips. They were dry and cracked from the cold, and she had no ointment to fix that, not where she could easily grab it anyway. Nor did she have anything else to add.

The Guard frowned as he picked over her words, searching for the truth, which was what she’d given him. Why didn’t he recognize that? Robin rocked on her heels as she waited for him to reply. If only she’d brought Strella with her. At least then she’d have some backup.

“Can you describe this Ranger?” the Guard asked. He was a youngish fellow who was out of his depth with this.

Robin suppressed a sigh, and the Guard took down what little she could recall. “He had brown hair, brown eyes, and a bad attitude. He wore winter whites instead of the usual Rangers’ uniform of variegated greens. That’s it.” Robin couldn’t remember if he had any facial hair, jewelry, or identifying marks, but neither had she really looked. That Ranger had been surly and thoroughly unhelpful, so she’d taken little notice of him after their disastrous meeting.

Now, Robin wished she’d paid more attention to that annoying man’s physical attributes and less to his conduct. But she hadn’t, so she was stuck until someone cross-checked the schedule and made a list of likely candidates. This Guard would do that, right?

Maybe Robin shouldn’t assume he would. He looked awfully green. He might even be a new recruit. That would explain why he was in this desolate place. “I’m sure if you check the schedule, you’ll find him. Or you could go to the infirmary and ask for Strella. She can confirm my story too. I traveled with her. She might have gotten his name since she spoke to him more than I did. He was rather curt with us.”

Robin fiddled with the lumir crystal hanging from the second button down on her red coat while she waited. She wouldn’t go to jail. There was only one Guard. Robin would get past him. Would the silent wall of fur and muscle backing Wolf Girl up try to stop her?

Probably. He looked strong too. Damn. That guy was a big man with a broad chest and not much under the fur he wore as a cloak except a skimpy loincloth of the same fur.

That short furry loincloth seemed to be growing out of his more intimate parts, but at least they were covered. Shayari was home to some of the strangest people, but that’s what made her country so great and so trying at times.

Robin averted her gaze, but her cheeks were flushed. Hopefully, everyone would chalk that up to windburn, not embarrassment for accidentally ogling that man’s private parts. But Robin set her mind to her goal again—get to the Rangers and get help to track her daughter down, and her blush faded.

“You can’t possibly believe her.” Wolf Girl speared Robin with a glare, and there was something in her eyes. Not anger, or grief, or any of the emotions that should be there. Was that woman smug about this?

What the hell was Wolf Girl playing at? Robin took another involuntary step backward as she felt a tug on her necklace. She’d stuffed it under her coat and buttoned it up to her chin to hide its glow before walking into this trap. But it was pulling her deeper into the cave behind her. Was that because the mage whose power had created it was in there?

What was he doing in a storeroom that couldn’t possibly belong to anyone other than the Rangers? Robin saw their castoffs everywhere her eyes landed. Did the mage she was looking for work with them?

Wolf Girl shouted more accusations, and her fur-clad accomplice glared at Robin, but Robin just turned on her heel and fled deeper into the cave and ignored them. If that mage was here, she would find him. But a hand landed on her arm and dragged Robin back out into the tunnel before she could search for that mage.

Robin came face-to-chest with the man in the wolf pelt, and he crushed her upper arms in his powerful hands. Oh my God, the backs of his hands were furry, and were those claws peeking out of his fingertips?

“Let go of me!” Robin was glad she was still wearing her red brigandine under her equally red coat. Both were fashioned from tough leathery hides, but only her coat was lined with down to keep her warm. Her brigandine was meant to keep sharp things like his claws from puncturing her delicate pink skin, and it was doing a damned good job of that. But oh my God, he had claws like some wild beast.

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