Authors: J.D. Swinn
The Living Curse, Book One of The Living Curse series
Copyright 2012 Independent Five Books
To be released early 2013:
The Frozen Moon, Book Two of The Living Curse series
Among Ashes, Book Three of The Living Curse series
To my loving and supportive family and friends for everything they have done for me.
To Morgan and Samuel for always pushing me forward and helping to create my world.
To J. Michalko, M. Moore, and M. Sisson for teaching me more than you knew you did.
Book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.
The Living Curse
I waste my time
And the precious wilting flowers
That I do have wither.
Their sweet rot
As I pretend
The moments will
In smug disregard.
And all the white butterflies
Brush past my skin
As they laugh at my game
And its absurdity.
Chapter One: Remembrances Better Forgotten
she thought. A searing pain blazed on the heel of her foot, and climbed, spiraling up her ankle. Her head rushed with pain and strategy, but not fear. She bit her lip against the pain, trying to clear her head, until she tasted the metallic tang of blood.
She gripped her sword tighter, and it responded to her will. Glowing softly, the blade lengthened, preparing for battle. The thing was lurking in the shadows, its two silvery eyes leering at her menacingly like the surface of a deep lake in the night. The silver turned blue in a flash, then back to silver. She laughed to herself, twisting her mouth into an amused smirk.
“Your spells don’t affect me, Harpy” she said maliciously. Though she rarely ever said anything maliciously, she had bad experiences with Harpies. They were able to draw people to them with the small amounts of magic they possessed; transfixed by their eyes, they were devoured alive. Long ago, she had learned to shield herself from such magic, and she found it amusing that the beast had thought it had the advantage. Based on the pile of bones shining pure white next to its talons, it had already gotten to some of the younger Guardians. She heard the croon emitted from the creature, meant to disguise a growl. The glimmer of talons caught her eye a moment later, as the monster prepared to strike. Bracing herself for battle, she thought,
I’m going to enjoy this
In a flash, the creature was upon her, great and terrible wings beating and producing a wind. The Harpy’s wings and feathers were a striking midnight black, and its skin was the gray-silver of its eyes. She knew that Harpies could be beautiful, but in attack, they were gruesome. The creature’s mouth stretched into a hideous cry, revealing razor-like teeth, and an expression of madness could be read across its face. This close, Nameh could see that its eyes had no pupils, and seemed utterly inhuman despite its womanly appearance.
She brought the blade down just before it could reach her, making a gash down its leg where there were no feathers. Her head rushed with a thousand angers and frustrations, torn loose by the Harpy’s attack, and she unleashed their force into the sword. For a moment, she forgot herself in a fit of blind rage. Blood, black as its wings gushed from the wound and the creature cried a piercing, high-pitched shriek. They always screamed, which had often made her wonder why the expression was “screaming like a Banshee”, and not “screaming like a Harpy”. Banshees were mostly extinct, anyway.
If there had been a look of madness upon its face before, the look was now murderous. Out of her belt, Nameh pulled a dagger, and flung it with an expert hand. The gold hilt of the knife glimmered in the low light, just before piercing the creature’s heart, spilling the tar-like blood onto the pavement. The Harpy fell, now covered completely in black, to the ground, its shrieks receding. When it was still, she knelt beside it. The murder could still be seen in its eyes.
Poor, stupid creature
, she thought. She looked about the alley, making sure she was alone, and placed her hands in the air over the monster. Her eyes flicked closed, and she breathed in deeply as her fingertips twitched, drawing the magic from it. She had been starving of magic, and the new power running through her with her own heartbeat reminded her of meeting an old friend. She hadn’t realized how much she had missed it until it had returned.;
From an outside perspective, the ritual would seem fairly boring: nothing glowed, there were no flashing lights, and no one flew into the air as the magic was absorbed. After the magic had left the being, it faded out of existence like a surreal breath of wind. Her dagger clattered against the pavement, completely clean of blood as every part of the Harpy
had been absorbed. She knelt a moment longer, relishing her quickened heartbeat, the adrenaline that teemed through her system, and the burning of the mark on her heel.
A sharp voice cut through her bliss from behind her, and raised the hair on the nape of her neck. “And so goes the transfer of magic from evil to good.
Very well done, my dear.” The voice sounded amused, as if he had come there only to observe. She pulled air into her lungs and calmed herself, but said nothing. The sensation on her heel had turned into a searing pain, but her face didn’t betray it. “I told you not to run. I told you that I’d find you, and here we are.” he said in that unmistakable voice. It ebbed and flowed as the deepest of oceans, consumed the listener; enthralled the victim and cocooned them within the warmth of false trust. She had never known what made his voice so likeable, so completely trustworthy. Perhaps it was the smooth tone, with traces of intensity lying just beneath the surface.
“Yes,” she said bitterly, not hiding her resentment, “here we are.”
“Yet, you seem so much less excited to see me than I would have hoped. Why don’t you come closer?” he said, barely able to mask his sadistic pleasure. “Or does the mark hurt too much? Didn’t they tell you what the Shask would do to you?” She saw the edge of his mouth curled upward in a malicious display out of the corner of her eye. His voice dripped with honey, as usual, but now it contained a bitterness she had never known. The combination was sickening, but the words were worse, still.
“Of course they told
me.” she said curtly as she finally turned to face the man, “They told me what it would do to me, but I didn’t care. I did it to keep you away.” Her sharp words were rewarded by what she had wanted: a flicker of hurt in his eyes, something she thought she might never see again. Maybe there was still a shred of soul within the shell of a man that stood before her.
As he took a step toward her, the faint light from the moon fell across his face. He was handsome, she thought, with almost a sense of realization. When the thought crossed her mind, it was as if she was remembering something that she had forgotten long ago, and was startled that she had ever forgotten it in the first place.
Spite makes you forget a lot of things…
she thought. His dark tan skin made the glimmer in his green eyes impossible to ignore. Ink black hair fell around his face, framing high cheekbones and delicate features. Despite the fragility of his facial features, fragile was the last word any observer would use to describe Daniel. His stance was wide and confident, his shoulders broad and powerful.
Moments passed as he studied her expression, seemed to trace her features with his mind, something that had always made her feel uncomfortable. It was as though he could look through her exterior like glass, into her soul. “Why did you leave?” the man asked, with a sincere look of confusion on his face.
She scoffed, barely able to hold eye contact with him. “Why did I leave?” she said, narrowing her eyes, “You know why I left.”
The man continued to stare at her with that searching look. There was another pause before he finally said, “We were so close, you and I. So close to the power that we both wanted.” He seemed truly at a loss for why she could have turned him down. She decided to end his confusion once and for all.
“You know that I didn’t want to get it that way. I still don’t; I would rather have no power at all than side with the Guild.” she nearly yelled, her voice full of the intensity that she felt. “And there were others, it wasn’t just you and I.” she spat.
“None of the others mattered; they were weak where you and I were strong. But, I see that you’ve turned to other forms of magic to gain
power. How many poor, defenseless, creatures did you have to kill to get where you are now? You kill all of them, don’t you? Vampires, werewolves, faeries, harpies, the occasional nymph or dryad? You’re no different from me.” he said with a smirk. He had chosen his words carefully, to irritate her.
“That’s where you’re wrong. I slay only those who have drawn human blood, only those who have overstepped the ancient laws laid by the original Guardians…only the evil. You surrender pieces of your soul to dark magic to get your power, tell me how that’s the same.” she said, her voice still as cold as the night air around her, raising goose bumps on her bare arms and legs. His reactions were disturbing at best; she strained to see even a ghost of his former self, but could not. She wanted to cry, but would not; she had shed her last tear for Daniel long ago.
His face held an expression of genuine surprise and realization when he said, “So, you turned to the Guardians. But that wasn’t enough for you,” he said with a grin, “do they know that you’re taking the magic from the rogues you’re killing? I should suppose not, because one would need a mark for that. Well, that isn’t allowed, is it?”
The way he toyed with her made her skin crawl. Of course, he was right. The Guardians disallowed all magic to their followers, a practice Nameh had never understood. True, dark magic was like a drug, giving you power, and taking your soul for payment, leaving you lusting for more. But the right magic made you stronger, faster,
; the feeling of having magic was like nothing else in the world.
“Why did you come here, Daniel?” she asked through gritted teeth. She saw the sparkle in his eyes when he responded.
“I came to tell you that I’ve done it. Everything you’ve wanted to do,
.” he sneered, and laughed. The last few words were a poisoned knife, the wound hurt, but it left more pain behind.
“You think you’re more powerful than the Guardians? Than the Vine?” she asked, and raised an eyebrow. All of his sarcastic joking subsided, the grin left his face, and he stared into her eyes with intensity.
“Do you care to test my power?” he asked darkly, all shadows of the man she had once known gone, with a challenge she couldn’t refuse. She leapt at him, brandishing her faintly glowing sword, willing all of her magic into it. It glowed brighter now, but even its light could not illuminate the darkness that swallowed her. The blackness of him consumed her, and she was falling. She was falling, and there was no one to catch her.