Cursed By Destiny Page 83

Shayna slipped from beneath the dash when the engine roared to life. Her blush and grin told me more than I needed to know. “I’ll tell you later, cutie.”

We jumped into the Range Rover that we’d, er, procured at the entrance to the crater. Tye had wanted to drive. Much to Emme’s displeasure, I insisted Shayna take the wheel. I hated to admit it, but, as crazy as she drove, her reflexes and speed were unmatched.

I tried to focus on the scenery in order to avoid screaming like poor Emme. We sped through jungles and open plains prowling with leopards, through swamps busting with black rhinos and warthogs. But when we encountered a herd of elephants, I knew I’d found the perfect weapon. “Shayna, pull over.” I leapt from the vehicle before she finished skidding to a smooth stop.

Tye chased after me. “Celia, what the hell are you doing?”

I ignored him and crouched down a few yards from the majestic beasts. Slowly I crept, closing in on them as much as I dared. “Damn it, this is no time for sightseeing,” Tye growled.

My eyes never left the herd. “I’m hoping this will come in handy.”

“What?”

I shifted underground and surfaced behind the largest male. My fingertips gently touched his wrinkled belly. He flicked his tail but otherwise didn’t respond. I concentrated on absorbing his essence, just as Misha had taught me. Something triggered inside me, similar to the feeling I’d had when I first connected to the eagle. I sighed with relief. Thank you, big guy.

I withdrew my hand, feeling pretty pleased with myself, until the elephant noticed me. Turns out pachyderms aren’t the most forgiving of creatures. He swung his massive trunk at me and just missed crushing me with his mammoth feet. I changed and took off running.

Tye’s eyes shot out of his face when he saw us barreling toward him. “Oh, shit!” He kept his human form as he hauled ass and dove into the car.

My four-hundred-pound self couldn’t fit inside a crammed Range Rover so I changed as I leapt through the moving car window. Shayna floored it and—surprise, surprise—I landed naked on top of Tye. Everyone urged Shayna to hurry while Chang hung out the window snapping pictures with his iPhone.

Emme’s head whipped back toward the charging beast. “Oh, my goodness. Celia, I hope that was worth it.”

Tye grinned as I scrambled to pull on a shirt. “Yes, yes, it was.”

• • •

Danny whipped through his notes and directed us to the crater. Even with Shayna driving, it took almost two hours to reach the base. When we finally reached our destination, we shot out of the SUV as if it had caught fire. Danny ran ahead and searched the high walls after another glance at his notes. “We need to find a small cave about twenty meters up—it’s shaped like a dragon’s mouth. The stone is supposedly tucked in a ridge, close to the cave’s entrance.”

Bren scratched his scruffy beard as he took in the enormous crater. “I know we should have probably asked a long time ago, but what the hell does the stone look like?”

Danny stuffed his notes into the back pocket of his worn jeans. “According to the scripts, it’s green in color and we’ll recognize it by its splendor when we see it. Come on, this way.”

We jogged around the perimeter for about half an hour until Tye spotted the cave. I expected it to look like a narrow protruding snout, but instead it resembled an open serpent mouth with jagged teeth. The roar of a small aircraft halted our climb. We ducked into the brush as it passed over us. We didn’t move until the engine faded in the distance.

Tye emerged from the dense vegetation with Emme in tow. “It might just be park rangers checking on things, but let’s not wait around to find out.” He stripped and threw his clothes on the ground. “Celia, you and I will go up. The rest of you keep watch.” He changed and climbed swiftly along the crumbling crater wall. I kicked off my sneakers and protruded my front and back claws. He did a double take when I caught up to him with ease, returning my grin with that of his beast. I laughed. Even his lion had a dimple.

A short distance away we heard the plane return. And land. We exchanged quick glances and scaled the wall faster. The cave was in reach when someone fired a shotgun. Tye threw back his head and snarled, his light blue eyes firing with agony. A cursed gold bullet had struck his hind leg. Smoke billowed where it had burned through his flesh. We scrambled the last few feet as the fight between our side and Tribesmen erupted below us.

I fought my way through a nest of spiderwebs and almost cracked my head on the jagged ceiling. Danny wasn’t kidding; the ridge was only ten feet from the entrance. I swept my fingers along the edge. Something with lots of little legs scurried over my hand. I jerked my hand back and shook it violently. Lara Croft I wasn’t. I took a breath and tried again. This time, my fingertips slipped over something large, cool, and smooth. I grabbed it in both hands, ill prepared for what I saw. An emerald the size of two softballs lay in my palms. I hurried out and presented it to Tye. His huge maw fell open, but then he veered toward the edge of the cave and growled.

Four bloodlust-infected vampires scurried toward us at high velocity, their bodies shuddering with the need to feast. At the base our group huddled against the crater, fighting off the Tribesmen who’d cornered them.

Tye panted from pain yet crouched and prepared to attack the bloodlusters that were almost upon us. I yanked at his mane. “Tye, listen to me. Close your eyes and hold your breath.” He snarled when I shoved the stone in his mouth. I hung tight to his fur and winked. “Trust me, Mufasa.”

The first bloodluster smacked his clawed hand in front of us as I shifted. Our bodies broke down into minute particles, allowing us to pass down and through the crater with ease. I surfaced at the bottom as an elephant. A very hungry, sleep-deprived, and cranky elephant. My massive trunk slammed a bloodlust vampire into the wall, hard enough to splatter the putrid green fluid bulging her muscles. I lifted on my hind legs and crushed a cluster of Tribesmen with my front. The element of surprise helped me do some damage, but we were seriously outnumbered and needed to get the hell out of Tanzania. My legs trampled and my trunk walloped, giving Team Celia time to jump on me. I shifted us out, emerging a good distance away and momentarily confusing the Tribesmen.

My elephant form disappeared as soon as I resurfaced. It was strange, but I knew I’d never possess it again. It was either too strong or too large for my spirit to maintain. Yet there was no time to grieve the loss.

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