Authors: Eve Silver
Tags: #Romance, #Adult, #Mystery, #Fantasy, #Paranormal Romance, #Modern
“Your job as all-powerful, world-saving sorcerer,” she said.
“Yeah.” He smiled, a bitter twist of his lips. “And I can’t seem to make myself do the sensible thing and stay the hell away from you.”
Closing his hand around her arm, he dragged her up against him, his expression savage; and then his mouth was on hers, hot and hard and hungry. She came alive in a heartbeat, electricity ramping through her, every nerve animated, throbbing.
His magic wove through her, and she felt a flare of panic. She couldn’t stop its flow, didn’t know how to temper the greedy pull.
Her body was hot and screaming for him, her soul aching for his.
“Eve Silver makes magic in this novel about sorcerers, demons, and dangerous desires.”
To my wonderful editor, Michele Bidelspach, and to my incomparable agent, Sha-Shana Crichton, who planted the seed. With nurturing and care, and a little conjuring, out sprang sorcerers and demons.
To Nancy Frost and Brenda Hammond, who always work their magic.
And to Dylan, my light; Sheridan, my joy; and Henning, my forever love.
Half-on, half-off the road was a car, crushed nearly flat, one side ripped open as though the metal were mere paper, the edges curled and blackened by fire. Embers yet cast their glow to the night sky, though the hours had dulled the flames, leaving them weak and small. Of a second vehicle there was no sign, and the rumpled metal remains of the station wagon were too far from any tree for one to have served as the source of impact.
But the sorcerer knew what had done the damage: something not of this world. His lip curled in disgust, and his gaze raked the shadows.
Fear. Horror. These emotions he sensed, so primal and raw they congealed in the air, a glutinous mass leaking from the two dead mortals who lay in the road. Pale and bloody, the woman sprawled on the ground, her long limbs set at unnatural angles. The man was torn in half, his blood a glistening pool that stained the fine gravel.
The air shimmered about the bodies as their souls floated aimlessly, hovering, confused, torn from their vessels before the proper time. They looked at Ciarran, hopefully, desperately, and he turned away, though his gut twisted at his inability to heal them. For a millennium he had lived, acting as guardian of the wall between dimensions, the wall between the world of man and the demon realm, and in that time he had yet to master his empathy.
Ridiculous, really. After all he had seen, century after century of suffering and death, he should have found a way to stop caring. His compatriots in the Compact of Sorcerers—a brotherhood of magical beings who maintained the balance between the supernatural and the natural—would have called him a fool had they known of his weakness. What were two dead mortals?
Still, a part of him wanted to push the humans’ souls back into their bodies, heal them with the power of his magic, give them a chance for the life that had been ripped away so brutally.
But to heal them would mean breaking the
the eternal agreement that governed the actions of all those with magical bent, an agreement so old it predated all human measure of time.
So he turned away, moved quickly to the wall that held back the demon horde, a wall invisible to human sight but so very clear to him. The barrier was damaged, breached by a great, gaping hole. Sending forth fine glittering strands from his fingertips, he brushed them lightly over the frayed edges of the void. Even now the fissure belched curling tendrils of smoke and the stink of brimstone and sulfur. He lifted what information he could, sensing the distinct trail of the demon, a fetid rot.
Ciarran was aware that one had come through from beyond, an ancient terror, antediluvian and strong, a terrible dark thing unleashed on the world of man. He felt the awful strength and, woven through that, the weak scent of minor demons, far down in the hierarchy.
had failed to come through. A small solace.
He made short work of closing the breach. This was his task, his highest duty. To hold back the demons. To protect mankind, for all they were, for all they might someday become. The wall shifted, bent to his will and the great magic of his hands.
His work sealed the hole. There was a small sound, a gasp, and only then did he become aware of the child.
Ten paces, and he found her sprawled in a ditch, her breathing ragged and shallow. She was slashed open, her intestines spilling out of her to lie in curled loops on her bloody belly and on the grass. Her left arm was shattered, her leg nearly completely severed. A slick puddle of blood surrounded her small body. He wondered that she yet lived, then he thought perhaps it was by strength of will alone. Such tragic waste.
A quick assessment of what little remained of her life force told the tale. Too much blood lost. Too much damage. The child would die. There was nothing human medicine could do for her now.
“Mommy,” she whispered. “S-s-s-o-o-o-o dark.”
His gut wrenched.
“Mommy,” she said again, the words barely audible. “Tummy . . . hurts.”
Healing her, and thereby interfering in the thread of mortal life, was forbidden by the
but he could offer her some palliative comfort, ease her misery. Ciarran called his power, wrapped the child in magic, offered her what he could. He took her pain, wanting only to let her find the hereafter without the agony she suffered.
She blinked, turned her head, and he had only a second to understand that she
his aura and his power, his magic, though such should not have been possible for he had chosen to refract light and veil himself from human sight.
With an overwhelming incredulity, he froze as the child’s fingers twitched. She caught a strand of the undulating current of his power in her fist, pulled the glowing ribbon close, and rested it across her belly. Jerking back, he reined in his magic, but she held fast, leaching away his power, healing herself, a human child marked for death.
Her actions broke all laws of the
but there was nothing he could do to stop her.
She pulled his magic. She healed.
This human girl was an anomaly he had never before encountered, and for an instant he focused wholly on her.
Suddenly, Ciarran stiffened. He knew he was too slow as he spun, calling the vast stores of his magic. Sly, furtive, a demon coming at his back.
It was too late.
And then there was only pain.
Or maybe he just had a strong inclination to suffer, to atone for his immeasurable sins.
Turning up the collar of his leather jacket, he strode along the street, a couple of paces behind two women who huddled together under a large umbrella. They cast frequent glances at him over their shoulders and, at one point, the shorter woman called a bold invitation for him to step under the umbrella right along with them.
The taller one, a blonde, had a hip-swaying walk that grabbed a man’s attention and held it, even if the man wasn’t interested in the invitation. No, not quite accurate. He was interested but wise enough to turn her down.
She wanted to take a man home to her bed. But he doubted she wanted to wake up next to a monster.
With a shake of his head and a smile that promised sin, he slowed his pace and let them walk on. The blonde cast him one last look over her shoulder. Foolish.
Just up ahead was his destination, a run-down bar with a reputation. It was the kind of place Darqun favored. Ciarran’s lip curled in foul humor. It was the kind of place
preferred to avoid.
of sound caught his attention, and in the same instant the current of energy that formed the
shimmered with the faintest spark, a wrongness in the weave of dimensions. Again. More and more of late, the line of magical force had wavered, had carried darkness and a warning. There was a hint of brimstone, a whisper of malice. Pausing, he turned to face the alley on his right.
In the shadows, four bulky figures huddled around a supine form, a human male, battered and bruised from a beating.
Half-human, half-demon minions of the Solitary. A malevolent demon of immeasurable power and equal malice, the Solitary was the greatest threat to the wall between dimensions. Trapped beyond the wall, the Solitary waited and plotted his escape.
Unless summoned, demons could not walk in the world of man, and once called, they were bound to the summoner, a situation they found both irksome and abhorrent. Hence, the advent of
foolish mortals faced with death who had chosen to allow demon will to overtake their souls.
were able to walk the earth, doing the bidding of their masters. But the demons rarely made full disclosure. They never warned that, while
could live a long, long while, their existence would be consumed by pain. Endless, daily pain, relieved only by death. Ciarran had found more than one such creature grateful for release. But therein lay the dark lure, the horrible enticement to release them all and to find enjoyment in it.
Sensing Ciarran’s presence, they turned their heads, eyes glinting in the darkness, lips peeled back from long, sharp teeth. They meant to feed on the flesh of the man at their feet, after they beat him bloody. They had a predilection for tenderized meat.
Rage built inside him. They were in
territory, stalking a mortal under
Ciarran focused on the steady drum of the rain, the splash of tires on the wet road at his back, the panting breath of the
Seeking his center, he tethered his fury and waited until he was certain they knew what he was, until they turned fully toward him.
With a groan, their prey rolled to his side and lurched to his feet. The man stumbled, righted himself, then weaved unsteadily forward, one hand dragging along the graffiti-stained brick wall for support. The pungent scents of alcohol and old sweat stained the air as he shuffled past. The
let him go, intent now on bigger game.
Ciarran smiled. Four to one. He liked the odds.
Stepping into the alley, Ciarran flexed his left hand, feeling the deep ache of torn sinew and mangled bone, healed some two decades past into a semblance of normal. Normal if one didn’t look too closely, didn’t peel back the leather glove to reveal a warded and bespelled alloy prison designed to contain the rot that threatened to spread and steal all that he was.
The shadows shifted and moved, and the four
circled him warily. One of them held a long knife with a serrated blade. Another carried a wooden club. Mortal weapons, of paltry value in a battle against a sorcerer.
Ciarran shifted to one side, giving them a chance, though every cell in his body screamed for the fight. He offered them the opportunity to flee, to find a hole to tunnel into and hide. He had accomplished his goal, saved the human. His scruples, the fact that he did not simply slaughter the
despite the hard pounding of his rage and bloodlust, marked the difference between sorcerer and demon.
The ache in his gloved hand intensified, reminding him that there were days when he wondered how much longer he would recognize that distinction.
“Go,” he said, making a sweeping gesture to emphasize his offer of reprieve.
with the club grunted, smacking the wood against his open palm as he stepped closer. There was a shimmer of movement. The creature’s gaze flicked to Ciarran’s left, and he snarled at one of his companions. “All at once, idiot.”
Idiot, indeed. Ciarran didn’t even bother to turn, sensing the assault, tasting his attacker’s bloodlust. He uncurled the fingers of his right hand and sent razor-sharp shards of light spinning from his fingertips to dance across the wet pavement. His magic, nourished by the
the dragon current, the eternal river of elemental energy that sustained all mortal and immortal realms. Light and dark in perfect balance.
Ciarran sidestepped the attack, but the
spun and lunged again. A flare of light, and the
’s knife clattered to the ground still clutched in a freshly severed fist. The creature screamed, a high, sharp sound of pain and rage.
“Go,” Ciarran said again, and the
with the club took the offer, lumbering from the alley, leaving the others to the fate they chose.
They lunged as one, a tactic they should have employed in the first place. With a defined twist of his wrist, Ciarran cast another lethal filament, wove it tight about the nearest
’s neck. Its head followed its hand, tumbling end over end through the air before landing on the wet ground with a dull
A gray mist rose; then the remains disintegrated in a hissing, bubbling mass.