Excerpt – The Element of Death


Warning!  The stories in my Final Formula Series are intended to be read in order.  Reading them out of order will spoil the fun of an earlier tale.  If you haven’t had a chance to check out The Final Formula, read the first three chapters here.  Or pick up a copy anywhere ebooks are sold.


The-Element-of-Death-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalChapter 1

James pulled in a breath, unable to accept what he had read. He recognized the handwriting and the style of alchemy notes on the facing page. The journal was Addie’s. But the words…no, they couldn’t be hers.

Rowan snapped the journal closed, startling James. He looked up and realized that Neil, the necromancer behind all their recent problems, had fled, but he’d hunt him later. Now his gaze settled on the woman who knelt before them. Addie kept her head bowed, intermittent tears dropping to the glossy black tile.

“Amelia.” Rowan’s voice broke the silence and Addie cringed, curling in on herself as he continued. “The last ingredient of the Final Formula.”

She didn’t move. James began to wonder if she’d even heard when she took a quivering breath and spoke. “The blood of an Element. One drop.”

Addie whispered the words, but they hit James with the force of a punch. It was true. Addie had found the Final Formula, the Elixir of Life…and she’d damaged Era, Rowan’s sister, to accomplish her goal. Was the rest of it true?

Rowan walked over to her and James tensed, not sure what he’d do. Rowan dropped the journal and it smacked the tile. Addie flinched.

“Counter what you did to her, and I’ll spare you.” Rowan’s tone was pure, uncompromising Flame Lord.

Addie nodded, but kept her head bowed. Her hands settled in her lap, and James glimpsed the blood that slicked one palm. His blood. She might be immune to its deadly properties, but he couldn’t leave it where it might harm another.

“Rowan, the blood,” he said.

A flash of flame licked across the floor where James had lain—and danced across Addie’s palm. She gasped and fisted her hand, tucking it against her chest.

Rowan started for the door.

James hesitated. He wanted to ask her if it was true. Had she intended to give him to necromancers?

A drop of blood fell from her bleeding nose and struck the tile with a soft splash. Her nose always bled when a surge of memory broke through her magically induced amnesia. Did she remember what she’d done to Era? To him? She doubled over further, her head hanging…in shame.

James followed Rowan from the room. In a daze, he trailed along as they descended the carpeted stairs to emerge in the wide hall behind the visitation parlor. The faint scent of flowers lingered, but didn’t hide what lay beneath. It was the same with every scent in this building: floor polish, bleach, formaldehyde—nothing completely masked the odor of death. And it wasn’t the two bodies they’d left upstairs. This went deeper, into the very bones of the structure.

The lights were off, but enough ambient light reached the windowless corridor to make the passage easy to navigate. Not that James had any trouble seeing in the dark. Rowan didn’t seem to have trouble either. His expensive shoes tapped out a determined rhythm on the polished hardwood, his stride confident in the gloom. Then, too, Rowan knew the lair of the city’s most powerful necromancer. He’d been here often.

James trailed along, aware of little beyond the floor beneath his bare feet. His feet weren’t the only thing bare. He’d lost all his clothing to the whims of the woman who’d held him captive, but nudity was a minor concern to the current turmoil in his mind.

He rubbed a hand across his sternum, wondering why it still ached. He’d shifted into his hellhound form so he could heal the wound left by the pen Addie had shoved between his ribs. She’d been trying to save him, or so she said.

Animated by hellhound blood, James was technically dead and thus open to necromantic control. His considerable talents could become a weapon in the wrong hands. Now, after reading Addie’s journal, he began to doubt her motives.

He rubbed his chest harder, longing to run upstairs and beg her to tell him the truth. Had she really intended to give him to necromancers?

A bump against his chest stopped him. Rowan had thrown out an arm, blocking his progress into the parlor.

“Are we alone?”

James blinked, struggling to pull his mind back to the present. “What?”

“Your brothers. The necromancer. Are. We. Alone?”

James fisted his hands at the condescension in Rowan’s tone. “Yes.”

“You didn’t check.”

James let the hound rise to the surface and his senses sharpened. The bright glow of Rowan’s soul flickered into view as the hound’s vision overlaid his own. No sign of his brothers or Neil. He hadn’t checked before, but he’d be damned if he would admit it.

James locked gazes with Rowan. “We’re alone.” The hound’s snarl came through in his tone.

“Don’t.” Rowan didn’t break eye contact, and a slim orange band sprang to light, encircling his pupils.

“Is that supposed to be a threat?”

A muscle ticked in Rowan’s jaw, and the orange spread a little further into his iris. He looked like he wanted to say more. Instead, he turned and walked away.

James glared at his back. “Coward.”

Rowan continued to move away from him. “I put you on your ass once.”

The words were spoken in undertone, but the hound heard, just as the hound smelled his rage. James realized that he was just as furious. He wanted to yell, scream, beat the shit out of something—or someone.

James watched his prey take a few more steps. Suddenly he stood in front of Rowan. He’d moved so fast that he had no memory of it.

If Rowan was surprised, it didn’t show on his features. “I don’t have time for this. We’re leaving.”


Rowan walked passed him, close enough that the fine wool of his sweater brushed James’s shoulder. “Meet me at the manor.”

“No.” James remained where he was. “Contrary to what you might think, I’m not yours.”

Rowan stopped on the threshold to the foyer and faced him. “You’ve already accepted my leadership.”

“I signed a piece of paper for the PIA.” Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to let Rowan register him with the Paranormal Investigation Agency, but he couldn’t change that now. “Neither you, nor they, have any power over me.”

“Who does? Your brothers?”

“No one will command me again.”

“Until you meet your first necromancer. And that is not something I can leave to chance.”

James gritted his teeth, and his upper and lower canines dug into his gums. Before today, he’d never had the hound rise so close to the surface without transforming completely, but today was a banner day for new discoveries. Why not add a few fluctuations to his power?

Rowan closed the distance between them. “The soulless holds the heart of magic in his hands.

James stared at him. “Marian told you.” He remembered well the words Rowan’s eight-year-old seer had whispered in his ear. He didn’t know what they meant, but he wasn’t happy that she’d shared them.

“I asked her to.” Rowan held his gaze without a flicker of remorse.

The rage kindled and everything else faded away. James was moving without conscious thought. The hound giving him speed. Death giving him strength.

Rowan tried to dodge him, but James knew him now. No one bound to this plane could elude him. He was as inevitable as…death.

James caught Rowan around the throat with one hand, momentarily lifting him from the floor before he slammed him against the doorframe.

Rowan gripped James’s wrist in both hands, and flames leapt through his irises, but he gave no other indication of his own emotions. The man’s control annoyed the hell out of James.

“You had no right to ask,” James said.

“It’s my job to know. Anything that might threaten magic goes through me.”

“You believe I’m a threat?”

“So you’re not trying to sever my carotid?” Rowan tried to swallow against the pressure of James’s grip.

James looked down and noticed the blood on his fingers. He realized he’d been smelling it, but that knowledge hadn’t soaked through his rage. A tendril of fear snaked up his spine. He took his hand from Rowan’s throat and stared at his blood-smeared fingers. Two-inch long black claws sprouted where his nails had been.

“Your power is still growing.” Rowan placed a hand in the center of James’s chest. “You need to learn control before you really hurt someone.” He shoved him and James stumbled back a step.

“Control,” James repeated. “Let’s see your control.” He shifted into the hellhound with liquid ease and dropped to all fours. He was massive by canine standards, his head even with Rowan’s sternum. The world snapped into focus, all of his senses so keen, it was as though he’d been underwater before. Rowan’s soul glittered before him, a tantalizing morsel bursting with life. He flexed his paws, unsheathing ebony claws to rip deep grooves in the aged hardwood beneath his feet, and growled.

“That’s enough, James.” A command, but under it, James sensed something else. Not fear. Uncertainty. And that pissed him off. He wanted fear.

James reached out with his mind and ripped open a portal into the dimension the hellhound called home—directly behind Rowan.

“James?” Yes, Rowan was definitely uncertain.

James raised his upper lip, exposing his teeth in what could be interpreted as a smile. Then he sprang.

Rowan stumbled back, holding out his hands. The air around them erupted in flames, but the heat only whispered against James’s midnight fur. Did Rowan think he could stop him? Hellhounds were immune to fire.

James leapt through the flames and slammed into Rowan’s chest. The impact knocked him through the portal.  James followed, his body shifting into a werewolf-like mixture of human and hellhound as he jumped into that dimension. He came down on top of Rowan, smashing him against the soft ground. The portal closed and darkness swallowed them—or swallowed Rowan. James could see fine in the dim, reddish glow.

Hello, little brother. Gavin’s dark voice rasped in his mind, his accent like something out of a Charles Dickens movie. He’d been waiting for him. Gavin was always waiting for him.

James snarled in response and lashed out with one clawed hand when Gavin drew too close. But it was a half-hearted attempt that failed to connect.

Gavin didn’t step back. Over seven feet tall, his form was a fearsome mesh of hellhound and human—like James’s current form. Here it was the only form they could take. And with no human body to return to, it was the only place Gavin could be.

Gavin had been the grim before James. Born in a day when magic was feared—or hoarded, Gavin had been locked away, slowly going mad with each passing year. Two decades ago, a necromancer had found him and released him. Gavin became death incarnate under his new master’s control. A family of European Elements had paid the price.

“Get off me.” Rowan pushed against James’s chest.

James relented and settled on his haunches.

Rowan sprang up into a crouch, his glowing eyes shifting from James to Gavin and back again.

Lunch? Gavin sounded amused though his fearsome visage didn’t change.

Back off. James kept his attention on Rowan. Still in control?

Rowan pushed himself to his feet. “Take me back.”

James stood with a snarl. I’m not yours to command. He spread his arms, three-inch claws curling at his fingertips. You’re in my world now.

For the moment. Gavin finished with a snort that sounded more vicious than cynical.

James whirled on his predecessor. Gavin was taller, seven and a half feet to James’s seven, but he was rail thin. For the first time in their eighteen-year acquaintance, James wondered if he could take him.

I can smell the life force leaking out of him. Gavin sniffed the air, seeming unconcerned that James was sizing him up. Can you smell it, little brother?

What? James snapped his attention back to Rowan. He stood with his chin up, facing them, but the slump of his shoulders hinted at fatigue—and the glow had left his eyes.

Unlike your friend, only a powerful necromancer can spend any amount of time in the land of the dead.

He’s been here before.

As I recall, you held the portal open for him. A lifeline to the world of the living.

Worry crept in beneath the rage. He’s an Element. He’s immortal.

Gavin snorted. Elements die as quickly as the common man.

A soft thump and James turned to find Rowan on one knee.


Though he has lasted longer than I expected, Gavin said, his tone conversational.

Rowan slumped over, his arms braced wide to hold himself up. His skin had taken on a translucent glow as if his soul had risen to the surface, seeking escape.

Shit. James sprang forward, grabbing Rowan beneath one arm and pulling him to his feet. Rowan grunted as James’s claws bit through his sweater. Not being too particular, James found the nearest weak spot and ripped a hole into the mortal plane.

Gavin snarled as light spilled into their world.

James hurled Rowan through the opening and jumped out after him.


Chapter 2

James landed on four paws, scattering the leaf litter that covered an overgrown cobble drive.

Rowan stumbled a few steps then dropped to his knees.

Shifting human, James hurried over and knelt beside him. “Rowan?”

“Damn you.” Rowan came off the ground, slamming into James’s chest and sprawling him on his back. Rowan’s knee rammed into his gut, expelling the air from his lungs. James didn’t even see the punch coming until it connected with his chin. His jaws snapped together, driving his nonhuman teeth into his gums.

Rowan pulled back for another punch, but James caught his fist against his palm, the smack of flesh on flesh loud. With Rowan’s eyes on full glow, James wasn’t surprised when the world ignited around them. What did surprise him was the way the dried leaves caught fire. Rowan didn’t catch things on fire; he vaporized them.

When James failed to let go of his fist, Rowan took a swing with the other arm. James caught that hand, too.

Rowan snarled in frustration, blood dripping from one nostril and a sheen of sweat coating his face. He struggled to pull free, panting with the effort.

“Rowan, stop.” James tightened his grip. Flames licked around his bare shoulders, but did no damage. Even in human form, the hellhound blood protected him.

But it didn’t protect Rowan. The sleeve of his sweater caught fire, flames crawling up his arm. James shoved him back, but couldn’t toss him aside. The open area around them burned for several feet to either side.

Rowan continued to struggle, unaware of his burning sleeve. It seemed James had gotten his wish: Rowan had lost all semblance of control.

“Would you quit?!” James released him and Rowan immediately took another swing. James ducked the uncoordinated move and caught him around the waist. Slinging him over his shoulder, he ran through the flames, escaping the fire.

James set Rowan on his feet then caught the hem of his sweater, pulling the garment off and tossing it away.

The sudden move threw Rowan off balance, and he staggered to the side before falling to one knee. The joint smacked the cobbles hard enough to bruise. He slumped forward, catching himself on quivering arms. The white T-shirt he wore bore no singe marks, though a line of blistered flesh marred his right forearm.

James knelt beside him, alert for any sudden moves. “What were you saying about control?”

“When I get my breath back, I’m going to kick your ass.”

“Fair enough.” James settled to the ground and watched Rowan a moment to make sure he wouldn’t collapse—or attack him again—then lifted his head to look around. The leaves still burned, but with the lack of wind and diminishing fuel supply, it didn’t look like the fire would spread. The old cobbled drive led to an equally decayed building a dozen yards away. The stone exterior had a Greco-Roman flavor with the columned entryway and peaked roof. James thought the two-story structure a school, then he noticed the smokestack rising another two stories above the building.

Mature forest encroached from every side, giving the impression that the building had been dropped in the woods. No overhead power lines, no trappings of modern civilization. Just the scent of fallen leaves, damp earth, and crumbling stone. He didn’t even hear any cars in the distance.

“Where are we?” Rowan asked, head hanging.

“I don’t know.”

Rowan lifted his head to look at him. A sheen of sweat coated his face and dampened the edges of his auburn hair. “How could you not know? You brought us here.”

“I found a thin spot.”


“A thin place between the mortal plane and the next.”

Rowan wrinkled his brow.

Uncertain what the expression meant, James hurried on. “I panicked, okay? It takes less time if I use a preexisting portal.”

“A natural phenomena?”

“No. More like a heavy traffic area. A lot of people died here.”


James waved at the building.

Rowan followed the gesture and grunted. “We’re near Cleves.”

“You’ve been here.” Thank God. Maybe they weren’t that far from the manor.

“No, I read the words on the portico.”

Portico? James looked closer at the front of the building, his eyes settling on the decorative porch over the open front door. The weathered letters carved into the stone facing were barely legible. Winters Crematorium.

“There are urban legends about this old crematorium up on Buffalo Ridge,” Rowan said. “Some crazy doctor by the name of Winters owned the place. Rumor has it that he was convicted of abuse of a corpse, and the place closed down.”

Disturbing. “Buffalo Ridge? Are we still in Cincinnati?” James wasn’t a native to the area, but Rowan was.

“West of the city.”

James frowned, eyeing the building. “But why is the veil so thin here? You take the dead to a crematorium, you don’t use one to make them dead.”

“You tell me. Death is your element.”


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