The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2) (12 page)

BOOK: The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2)
13.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The Songspinner

 

Sunlight beat down on Alexander’s face when he next awoke. His throat was sore and aching, forcing him to slap his dry lips together until some sort of moisture came to soothe the pain. He didn’t open his eyes for the first few moments of waking, trying to work out how he had gotten from the depths of Gifter’s cave into a place with baking sun. The sound of a gaggle of whisperers caught his attention. The more he focused past his raging headache and listened, the louder and larger the crowd became. Something important was happening and he was waking at its centre.

Alexander opened his eyes.

“Witch!” Charlotte cried.

The young shade closed his eyes again, refusing to process what he had just seen. The hard surface behind his back was one of the posts holding up the gallows. The whole town of Salem was out for blood, crowding around Alexander and pointing their accusing fingers at him. Charlotte’s single word had started a chant of ‘Witch, witch, witch’ that rang in his ears and echoed all the way down to the pit of his shaking stomach. They stamped in time to the cry, like a herd of wild beasts, their feet kicking up dust and dirt that clouded Alexander’s face and made him start to splutter.

When they heard his cough, someone took him by the shoulder and dragged him up to his feet with the help of a few other clamouring hands. The rabble held his chin up and slapped his face to rouse him. Alexander’s eyes were wet with the sting of the blows when he was forced to accept his situation once again. What had Evangeline and Gifter done to him? He was choking and dying at the last that he remembered. And now he was going to choke and die all over again at the noose. They had left him to the fate he could have run from that same morning.

“Alexander Cross has been tried and found guilty of the act of witchcraft,” came a booming voice above him.

Tried?
They had listened to Charlotte’s story whilst he was unconscious, then. That was all that passed for a trial nowadays, and the people were running so scared that anyone and everyone could become a target. Alexander was pushed and jabbed until he started walking the path up the gallows stairs, ready to meet the judge who had announced his verdict. He considered his options as the blur of angry faces continued their diatribe. Fighting his way through the entire town of Salem to escape wasn’t something his powers would stretch to, especially in his current ailing state. He could hold off the hangman’s noose to some extent with gravity, but soon the crowd would realise he was still breathing, accuse him further, and find a new way to end his life. If a dozen townsmen took it upon themselves to take off his head, then Alexander wouldn’t have much chance to dispute the act.

The harsh, dark brow and balding head of the man standing before the crowd did nothing for Alexander’s nerves. The judge was resplendent in robes of black, but the men who operated the gallows hadn’t even had time to clean the remains of their previous victims from their tunics. Alexander felt that tightness in his throat once more, reminding him of his last moments in the cave before everything darkened. It was going to happen again, minutes from now, but this time he wouldn’t be waking up afterwards.

“This accursed witch has denounced Christ Our Lord for the ways of darkness,” the judge proclaimed. “We end his life to force the demon from our midst!”

The crowd roared their approval and, for the first time, Alexander allowed himself to pick out the individual faces of the people he had come to know during his time in Salem. Until he saw his newest acquaintance in the crowd: Evangeline. She had her hair covered by a sweet white bonnet, and her head was held so low and submissive that at first he doubted those beautiful rogued lips were hers. But the sparkle in her dark gaze was unmistakeable when she met his eye. She looked as wicked and confident as she had when they’d met at the gallows that same morning. Had she planned to get rid of him? Was that her deal with Gifter, the djinn, sworn enemy to shades?

Evangeline winked, her long lashes visible even at the distance between them. She didn’t look as though she expected Alexander to die. What, then, was he supposed to do? His throat gave another twitch, a burning ache rising from his Adam’s apple and tingling all the way to the tip of his tongue. Something was different in the sensation, and the shade had only moments to work out what it was.

“Speak, demon!” the judge demanded, pulling Alexander’s face level with his own. “Make your peace with God in the hope that he may have mercy on you!”

A refusal to speak to God was a definite sign of witchcraft, but Alexander’s mind was racing too fast to have any idea what to say. It was in the midst of all his confusing thoughts that one single word invaded his mind. He marked it because the voice of the thought was not his own: it was the deep voice made of shadows. The voice of Gifter.

Sing.

Sing? It was absurd. Alexander couldn’t remember ever singing anything in his life. He had hummed a pleasant tune on a bright summer’s day with a pretty woman, but melodious words weren’t something in his usual bag of tricks.

Sing.

The voice spoke again, louder and stronger. Gifter had promised him power. Alexander stole another glance at Evangeline. She nodded, as though she knew what was happening in his mind. And so he sang.

It was a church hymn, one that Alexander had pretended to sing many times when his human disguise called on him to attend Sunday services. Somewhere along the way he had picked up the majority of the words and now they carried over the assembled crowd as he kept his eyes tightly shut. He wasn’t sure that religiosity would be enough to change their minds, but as his trembling timbre grew in strength, a change overcame his body. It felt like shademagic, only colder in his veins, turning them to ice instead of fire. As he spoke the final lines of the hymn, Alexander felt the same ice in his mouth, most particularly when the tip of his tongue touched his teeth.

When he opened his eyes to the crowd, their angry faces had evaporated, leaving the entire group in tears, with only one exception. Evangeline just grinned at him. Charlotte rushed up the stairs to the gallows and flung her arms around Alexander’s chest, kissing his jaw like he was an angel, come to deliver her to the pearly gates. He couldn’t quite fathom what had happened, but there had to have been djinn magic in his words when he sang. His tongue sat cold and heavy in his mouth as Charlotte jostled him to and fro, her face streaked with tears and her cheeks flushed and rosy.

“Forgive me, my love,” she cried into his chest. “A man with such godliness in his soul could never be a demon!”

Had she forgotten the magic she had witnessed that morning? Or had she just decided to overlook it, given the new charm in Alexander’s song? Either way, nobody stopped him when he walked down from the gallows and through the admiring crowd, heading straight for Evangeline. The dark beauty turned before he got to her and started walking away, but Alexander had no intention of letting her go.

Silver Words

 

When he discovered that she had already arranged a carriage for them to leave Salem Town, Alexander was relieved to know that Evangeline had never intended for him to die. The townspeople came out in force that same evening to say goodbye to the man they had almost condemned, their faces still etched with the spellbinding purity of his song. As the carriage departed, the young shade looked out of his window at the darkening sky, letting his tongue shift around in his mouth. It felt as though it didn’t truly belong to him anymore.

“Here,” Evangeline said.

Her pale, slim hand was offering him a mirror. He let the reflective circle rise to his lips, almost afraid to see what lay within his throat. On his first inspection he was relieved, thinking nothing was amiss, but when he made to speak, Alexander found the source of his new power. The underside of his tongue had turned to shining silver: a thin, icy layer of metal that felt wrong to behold. He shut his mouth and held the mirror in his lap, swallowing a few times where his throat had run dry.

“Nobody has to know it’s djinn magic,” Evangeline crooned, “You could pass it off as a glamour.”

Alexander nodded. He wasn’t sure that anyone in his family would believe he was powerful enough to have achieved his glamour, the mark of a shade’s maximum potential, but it would be worth a try if anyone noticed his new look. He took a deep breath and leaned back against the shuddering carriage seat, looking over his new companion once more. Evangeline was every inch as beautiful and tempting as she had ever been, but something in her spirit disturbed Alexander more when he looked at her closely.

“Why me?” he asked. “Why did you choose me to get this power from the Gifter?”

She smiled, perfect teeth glittering against the growing dark outside.

“Because you’re very handsome.”

That was her first reply, but Alexander sat and waited for the rest despite his urge to join her on her side of the carriage at those words.

“You look exactly as I wish my new companion to look,” Evangeline explained, “but your powers were worse than useless. I had to improve you if you were going to come travelling with me.”

Insults from her lips once more. Alexander reasoned that he could get used to the way she spoke to him if it meant those rouged lips were his to claim. She must have been able to see the hunger growing in his eyes, for Evangeline smiled her wicked smile. Her dark eyes absorbed him for a long moment, until a whispering voice caught his ear.

Down here, boy.

Alexander looked to the mirror, still resting on his limp fingers in his lap. As he raised it he noticed its surface was shining with a bright light, through which a glass-like face began to appear. Gifter looked out of the mirror as though she could see the shade looking back. He knew that the djinn had a way with reflective things, but the thought that she could watch him from the mirror sent a shiver up his spine.

“We aren’t finished with our deal, son of shades,” Gifter said, her bright eyes glittering. Alexander felt a knot form in his chest. “In order to get something, one must give something. It is the balance of magic.”

“So what do you need?” he asked.

“I shall take your first name,” Gifter replied.

Of all the things she could have demanded, Alexander didn’t feel this was the worst. He gave the mirrored image a nod.

“Then you have it,” he replied.

“My gratitude,” Gifter answered, putting her hands together in thanks. “Alexander is the name of a hero, and we both know that isn’t really your path. I would advise you not to seek such things in the future. You might find that living up to this old name ends rather badly for you.”

She vanished from the mirror, leaving the young, nameless shade to stare at his face for a moment. Who was he to be now, if he could not be Alexander Cross? He handed the mirror back to Evangeline with a shiver, trying to put Gifter’s warning out of his mind. Evangeline came to sit beside him on his seat, her body pressed against his as she rested her head on his shoulder.

“That was a long day,” she sighed. “I think we ought to go somewhere fun for a while.”

“Where did you have in mind?” he asked, sliding his arm around her petite torso.

Evangeline gave a low chuckle. “England’s just finished being at war with everyone. It might be peaceful for a visit. Weak too, if we wanted to overtake a village or two.”

“And just who am I supposed to introduce myself as when we go there?” he asked.

The dark beauty pulled back and considered his face, then slowly planted a kiss on his thoughtful lips. Every sinew of the young shade’s body craved her, but by the time he’d gathered his senses enough to pursue his desires, she had pulled away. Evangeline licked her lips over, her eyes turning to the window as she narrowed them in thought.

“I think Salem suits you,” she decided.

PIKETON, the present day

 

Dead Ends

 

When the door to the small sitting room opened again, Salem was about ready to barricade it shut with one of the sofas. He sat resolute at the window, determined not to acknowledge the presence of whatever annoying creature had decided to disturb his solitude once more. He had been a good boy and eaten the broth Lily had brought him, so there was nothing more that anyone could ask of him for the rest of the day. The familiar clearing of the throat made the older shade’s skin prickle.

“You have a visitor, Father,” Novel said.

Salem heard the exchanging of footsteps, but before he could turn his body in the chair, Novel had gone, leaving the door half-open. Through it stepped a gargantuan figure, who had to bow his head to pass through the doorway, and all six-foot-ten of him was covered in a travelling cloak that was much too warm for the current weather. It looked as though he had travelled a long way in a short space of time to see Salem Cross. The man had eyes so dark that in most kinds of light they turned black, glittering at Salem like two onyx stones whilst he broke into a grin filled with chipped, sharp teeth. He sported a long, grey beard that touched his chest where a silver bullet hung on a long chain. Salem stared at the bullet for a long moment, his mouth running dry.

“Wohlgamuth,” Salem said eventually, his expression fading back to slackness, “I wonder what brings you here.”

“I would have preferred to come by moonlight, but I thought you might object to midnight meetings now, given the circumstances.”

Salem cringed at the way the man said ‘circumstances’. He knew about the sacrifice then, knew that Salem was no longer the powerful trickster he had once been. The shade wished for the briefest of moments that Novel had stayed, in case there was going to be trouble. But then he rejected the idea, repulsed by the thought that he needed his son to protect him now. Word was spreading too quickly, and soon the whole supernatural community would know that Salem Cross was weak.

“What is it you want, Fen?” Salem demanded in his best imitation of a powerful tone. “You’re a little late to pay your respects to Eno. He’s been dead a few months now.”

Fen Wohlgamuth took a seat on one of the sofas, letting his long, strong legs spread out. He stroked his beard thoughtfully with one hand, waving the other about as he spoke.

“The Rolin clan were never much affiliated with my lot,” he explained, “As you well know, Salem, we werewolves like to keep our packs tight and strong.”

Wohlgamuth’s stomach gave a great growl, and Salem surmised that the senior werewolf clearly had a while to go yet before the next full moon. Salem had the urge to squirm in his seat but he resisted it, waiting patiently for the news he knew was coming.

“I’m afraid we can’t use you any more, old boy,” the werewolf said. “I’m here to terminate your contract.”

Salem just nodded, letting his eyes drop from Wohlgamuth’s dark gaze. One more avenue had been closed. There were so few opportunities for him now in the outside world. To Salem, at least, it seemed a sensible option to stay exactly where he was, and hope against hope that more visitors weren’t on their way to remind him of all that he had lost.

“Well, you’ve said what you wanted to say,” Salem replied, hearing his own voice crack at the end of his words. The heat of shame rose under his chin, creeping up his cheeks with a tightness that made him regret eating the broth Lily had delivered.

“Don’t be like that,” Wohlgamuth said with a lazy smile. “This is an important moment for me. We’ve been working together a long time, you and I. I shall miss you.”

None of it sounded sincere, but then Fen’s voice had always been dripping with sarcasm, so much so that Salem could hardly tell when they were having a serious conversation. If he meant the words he said, then the situation was all the more pathetic. Salem felt as though he’d died from some withering condition and now all his friends were gathered to pity him, except they got to pity him to his face. The shade realised he had sunk into his chair, round-shouldered and defensive like some poor baby animal. He pushed out his broad chest and leaned forward, still keeping his eyes fixed on a point beyond the werewolf, across the room.

“My powers aren’t gone, you know,” Salem mused. “They do come back, in time, after an event like this.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Fen replied, “but I shan’t live to see it. You shades have a got long time in this world to get things done. And a long time to regret the things you can’t do any more.”

With that the wolf rose, looking every inch the powerful clan leader that he was. Fen Wohlgamuth gathered his cloak around him and gave Salem another of his insincere smiles, saying nothing more as he exited the room. The delivery of the message left a heavy weight in Salem’s chest, and every moment he had lived on since the removal of his powers made him realise, more and more, exactly what he had lost by trying to play the hero. He turned back to the window, hardly even noticing Novel as he re-entered the room.

“How long have you been working for werewolves?” his son asked, apparently outraged.

Salem didn’t answer, because it didn’t matter now. He wasn’t working for anyone any more.

BOOK: The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2)
13.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Die of Shame by Mark Billingham
By Right of Arms by Robyn Carr
First Temptation by Joan Swan
Cat's Paw (Veritas Book 1) by Chandler Steele
42 Filthy Fucking Stories by Lexi Maxxwell
Animal Appetite by Susan Conant