Vampires mage 01 5 sha.., p.1

vampires mage 01.5 - shadow mage, page 1

 

vampires mage 01.5 - shadow mage
 


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vampires mage 01.5 - shadow mage


  SHADOW MAGE

  C.N. CRAWFORD

  Contents

  Introduction

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  INTRODUCTION

  T his is a companion short story written to be read after book one. It’s a prequel, but it contains spoilers!

  And if you have read book one, you will find in here the beginning of the story from Caine’s point of view.

  Enjoy!

  —C.N. Crawford

  CHAPTER 1

  C aine parked his motorcycle by the edge of the nature reserve. The morning sun hadn’t yet risen, and clouds hid the moon. It didn’t matter to him. As a creature of the night, he felt at home in the dark.

  He slipped between the trees, keeping his eye on the darkened valley below. Oaks and elms loomed high above him, and a vernal breeze rustled the leaves, whispering over his skin.

  There were many things he’d rather be doing than prowling a park just before dawn. Namely, he wouldn’t mind pulling Valerie into his silky bed again in Ninlil Castle. The nubile blonde vampire had been visiting his room every few nights, smelling of jasmine and dressed in increasingly revealing lingerie.

  But as the leader of Ambrose’s army, Caine didn’t always get to do what he wanted. For the past few days, he’d been staking out the demon-hunters’ headquarters. Tonight, just past three a.m., he’d spotted something unusual: a large, white van pulling away from the gates. Caine had followed the windowless vehicle all the way to Belmont in the suburbs. If a pack of Hunters lurked in its rear, as he hoped, he could gain valuable intelligence about their weaponry.

  From between a pair of oaks, he watched as the van rolled over the open field of grass. At one point, he would have ignored the Brotherhood’s Hunters, but he couldn’t dismiss them so easily anymore. They’d grown stronger, more precise. Aided by modern technology, they were no longer the bumbling witchfinders of the seventeenth century. In the past few months, they’d managed to capture fifteen vampire soldiers—Caine’s soldiers.

  Moreover, they had Malphus.

  Whatever Caine learned tonight could help him save his brother’s life. And when he’d gathered all the information he needed, he could relish the dark thrill of slaughtering the Hunters.

  The rising sun pushed higher over the eastern horizon, tinging the periwinkle sky with pale ginger; the first blush of morning illuminated the golden dandelions that stippled the grasses.

  Sunlight—such a rare sight for one of Nyxobas’s creatures. These days, there weren’t many in Ambrose’s kingdom who could walk in the light as Caine could. Most in Lilinor were vampires, and they had the unfortunate tendency to burst into flame whenever the sun rose.

  There was a time when he might have found this morning scene beautiful—long ago, before the darkness had taken hold in the hollows of his mind. But now, it failed to seduce him.

  Sometimes he thought the frenzy of battle was the only time he truly felt alive. Even Valerie’s visits to his bedroom couldn’t get his heart racing the way it had in the last assault against Emerazel’s hellhounds.

  He leaned against an oak, crossing his arms. When had he last seen Valerie, anyway? It must have been a week ago, at least. Just after he’d returned from the last battle, soaked in hellhound blood, his body electrified by the fight.

  Chinks of amber light flecked the ground by his feet, dancing among the rustling oak leaves. The sight stirred sensations from the deepest recess of his memory: sunlight bathing sea grasses, the smell of briny air, the dappled light of the hawthorn groves...

  His chest tightened. He knew better than to give in to nostalgia, to delve into human memories. Among those beautiful glimpses lurked all the things he wanted to forget. In any case, he wasn’t truly human. He was a demon of the night—an instrument of death—as the Hunters would soon learn.

  He clenched his jaw, staring at the van. Why aren’t they getting out? He had to hold himself back from running into the field, tearing the doors off the van, and slaughtering them all. The thrill of battle called to him, and he grew impatient.

  The sun climbed higher, staining the field in honeyed light, and he squinted in its glare. At last, the van’s door groaned open and the driver stepped out. Caine’s fingers twitched, ready to snatch one of the swords slung across his back.

  The Hunter sported a neatly-trimmed black beard. As the man stalked to the back of the van, another Hunter—this one blond—stepped into the light.

  Both men were large and muscled—nearly as big as Caine. But Caine was part demon. It made sense that he was huge. What were they feeding these humans?

  Besides ambrosia, that is. Even from his perch behind the tree he could smell their sickly sweet blood. They reeked of Blodrial’s sacred drink. That meant two things. First, their mission was important. The Brotherhood’s leader wanted them protected; ambrosia cost more than its weight in gold. And second, with that much of the god’s blood flooding their veins, they’d be nearly impervious to Caine’s magic, and stronger than humans should be.

  The sun blazed over the treetops, dazzling Caine’s eyes.

  The van’s rear door creaked as Blackbeard yanked it open.

  The man pulled out a metal canister. Aiming it at the sky, he depressed a button. A blast of fire erupted from the top. Now that was a useful weapon against the vampires.

  “All right, my beauties.”

  Something in the Hunter’s tone put Caine’s teeth on edge.

  As Caine waited for the Hunters to file out of the van for training, Blackbeard stepped into the back. Caine held his breath, anticipating a good look at the Brotherhood’s new crop of soldiers.

  Instead, muffled screams broke the silence, and a chill licked Caine’s spine. What the hell is going on? Silently, Caine prowled closer to the valley, and his nostrils filled with the scent of burning flesh. A deadly calm spread through his body like a phantom wind. His own thoughts quieted, and strength surged through his muscles and tendons.

  For a split second, he considered turning himself invisible but decided against it. If he was going to slaughter the humans, he wanted them to look into his face before they died. He wanted to see their expressions as they gazed into the fathomless, midnight eyes of demon of the night.

  He reached over his shoulder, pulling a sword from its scabbard. I want blood.

  In the valley below, someone rushed from the van—a man with brown hair, arms bound behind his back. A cloth gagged his mouth. Caine calculated the man’s speed: too fast for a human. The bound man’s eyes burned with terror as he looked at the rising sun.

  Vampire.

  Another followed—a woman with pale blonde hair, her gray eyes panicked like a hunted deer’s. She stared up at the sunlight, and tendrils of smoke rose from her skin, and Caine felt a shock of recognition. Valerie. She’s here?

  He broke into a sprint as Blackbeard yanked another vampire into the sunlight. He couldn’t save them all, and the desire for Hunter blood slammed into him like a tsunami.

  A wave of wrath slammed into Caine, and he headed straight for Blackbeard.

  As he thundered down the hill, the Hunter’s gaze met his. Blackbeard pulled a gun. Caine pressed on, closing the distance over the grassy field, sword ready, even as Blackbeard pulled the trigger.

  Bullets slammed into Caine’s flesh, but battle fury blazed through him, numbing the pain. His eyes remained locked on his target. At the edges of his consciousness, he was dimly aware of the vampire’s torment—their screams and burning bodies—but he blocked all that out. Only one thought burned through his skull: slay the Hunters.

  A predatory sureness filled each of his muscles,
guiding him closer to his target. As he closed in, he swung for Blackbeard. His sword sliced clean through the enemy’s neck, severing flesh and bone. Blood sprayed through the air in a high arc, and a dark thrill rushed through Caine’s body.

  Before he could swing again, pain pierced his chest. He glanced down—not bullets this time. An iron stake. His cold gaze landed on Blondie. Kill him. Caine stalked across the ground, ripping the iron stake from his chest. A few inches to the right, and he’d be dead now.

  His face blanching, the man turned to run, and the sight of his retreat triggered Caine’s most primal instincts. The Hunter only made it a few paces through the grass before Caine ran his sword through the Hunter’s ribcage. His body twitched, and Caine’s heart raced. A rivulet of crimson blood dripped from the man’s mouth.

  Caine pulled out his blade, and the Hunter crumpled to the ground.

  Caine turned to look at the field. Around him, vampires burned like torches. Most had fallen to the ground, but a few staggered around, limbs blazing. Agonized screams filled the air. It was too late for all of them.

  As Caine’s most violent instincts subsided, dread overwhelmed him. Among the flaming, blackened bodies, he couldn’t even identify Valerie.

  The sound of a muffled scream turned his head. Only one vampire remained—one who’d crawled under the van, cowering in the shadows of the wheel wells. Smoke rose from her skin, but she’d found her way into the shade. Thank the gods, Aurora is alive.

  He rushed to the van and pulled her out, shielding her with his body, then ushered her into the back of the van. Eyes trailing over the blisters that covered her arms, he yanked a dagger out of his belt and cut the gag from her mouth.

  “Gods damn it, Caine,” she said. “It would’ve been nice if you’d murdered the Hunters before they lit everyone on fire.”

  He frowned, half tempted to put the gag back on her. As if he didn’t have enough guilt weighing him down already. He spun her around and slid his blade through the rope binding her wrists. “I thought they were bringing Hunters here for training. I had no idea what they had planned until it was too late. It’s not as though I could have predicted it. They haven’t been executing people in broad daylight since the seventeenth century.”

  “They’re regressing.” Aurora rubbed her wrists where they’d been tied. “And they don’t think we’re people. We’re monsters, remember? In the future, assume they’re going to slaughter everyone around them, and act accordingly.”

  Caine loosed a breath. “You do remember that I’m your General, don’t you? You don’t give me orders.”

  Suddenly somber, she traced her fingers over her blistered arms. “They carved up my back in the Chambers with iron. They’re torturing people. I’m pretty sure they enjoy it.”

  Horror coiled through him. Malphus is still in there. His brother could withstand a bit of torture, but Caine couldn’t let him die. “Did you see my Malphus?”

  She shook her head, her large eyes glistening. “They never let me out of my cell until today. All I know is, the whole building is rigged with iron dust and stakes. They scan their eyes to get in and out of the building. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s a complete fortress.”

  Caine glanced out at the smoking corpses, and hollowness welled in his chest. Had Valerie been tortured? “I had no idea Valerie had been arrested.”

  “Valerie? How do you even know her name? She was just a foot soldier,” Aurora said.

  “We were friends.”

  “You don’t have friends.” She eyed him. “Oh, I get you. It was a euphemism. You have a lot of those kinds of friends.” She nodded at one of the piles of ash. “One less to fight over you now. Too bad you took your time before intervening.”

  If he hadn’t gone full-blown primal wrath on the two Hunters, maybe he could have saved Valerie. But even for someone with his speed and strength, there wouldn’t have been time to save all the vampires. “We need to do something about the Brotherhood. They’re out of control.”

  She gazed at him, frowning. “What we need is to talk to Ambrose.”

  CHAPTER 2

  With Aurora by his side, Caine strode through the long entrance hall of Ninlil Castle, in Lilinor. With its impossibly high arched ceilings, towering above like the ribcage of some enormous demon, the place had been designed for pure intimidation. Paintings and tapestries of leering monsters festooned blood-red walls, and bejeweled human bones adorned Ninlil’s Great Hall. If Caine’s own mind hadn’t already been poisoned by violent memories when he’d first arrived years ago, he might have found it off-putting.

  Perhaps it was precisely because of the darkness in his own soul that he’d always felt at home here.

  Even so, he wasn’t looking forward to this conversation with the Vampire Lord. Ten dead soldiers. His own failure gnawed at him. He should have saved them.

  As he walked through the hall, he tried to ignore the throbbing pain in his chest. He cast a quick glance at Aurora, her blue dress singed at the shoulders where her flesh had burned. Thank the gods she’d made it out alive, even if a network of scars now marred her back.

  At the end of the hall, Caine and Aurora climbed a few stairs to the enormous oak doors. He chanted a spell, feeling his aura rush over his skin. The doors groaned, opening into Ambrose’s Great Hall.

  He never knew how Ambrose managed it, but whenever Caine needed to speak to him, the Vampire Lord was there, seated in his silver throne. It was as though he never left this room. Today was no different, except that Ambrose sat next to his consort, Erish.

  Caine stalked into the hall, casting an appreciative glance at the queen. Ambrose’s lover never failed to catch Caine’s eye, even if her toxic presence poisoned everything around her.

  In any case, she was stunning. Her deep brown hair draped over a sheer black gown, its hem slit up to her thigh. She crossed her long, golden legs, eying Caine hungrily. The sight of the succubus was almost enough to tear his mind away from what had happened this morning, but even her beauty couldn’t lift his mood.

  The Vampire Lord’s features were cold and still as marble. “Caine. I take it you have something important to tell me.”

  Caine straightened. Might as well get to the point. “Ten of our soldiers were slaughtered by the Brotherhood this morning. I didn’t get to them in time.” The words tasted like poison in his mouth. “They were dragged into the daylight to burn. Aurora was the only survivor.”

  Ambrose’s features clouded, and he glanced at Aurora. “Tell me what happened.”

  “The Brotherhood have a dungeon near Harvard,” she said. “There’s at least a mile of cells underground. They kept us each in our own cell.”

  Ambrose leaned forward, his green eyes burning with intensity. “Did they torture you?”

  Aurora turned, displaying the top of her mangled back. “Yes. But I didn’t tell them anything helpful. They had no idea if I was telling the truth or not, so I didn’t see the point of helping them.”

  Ambrose stood, and within a fraction of a second he was inches from Caine. Crossing the room that fast was just one of his deeply unnerving habits. Ambrose’s green eyes bored into Caine. “They killed ten of our soldiers this morning?”

  “Yes,” said Caine. “They forced them into the sunlight. I slaughtered both Hunters, but it was too late. The sun had already touched the vampires’ skin.”

  Within the next second, Erish was by their side. Coral tinged her cheeks, and Caine could feel the hot fury burning off her body. “Why have we allowed the Brotherhood to survive?” She gripped Caine’s collar, pulling him close.

  Her intoxicating scent of anise and myrrh momentarily distracted him.

  Her eyes burned with ferocity. “They murdered one of my sisters in the fifteenth century. Human mages killed the other two. We should have enslaved their species long ago.”

  Caine plucked her hands from his clothes. “The Brotherhood have been weak for the past four centuries—until the mage Rawhed lure
d them out of the woodwork. We haven’t needed to act until now.”

  “Erish,” said Ambrose, his tone clipped. “Please return to our chambers. This will only upset you.”

  Fury scorched her eyes, and she glared at the Vampire Lord. Before leaving, she tossed her dark hair over her shoulder. Her heels echoed over the flagstones as she strode from the room.

  Ambrose arched an eyebrow. “She gets so emotional about these things. She’d destroy the entire human race if she didn’t depend on them for sustenance. I think she resents that she needs them.”

  At the thought of feeding, Caine ran a hand over his chest where he’d been staked. The wound still burned, and he’d need the touch of a human woman to heal. “It’s hard not to feel wrath when the Brotherhood come for your family. Even if she’s wrong about humans, she’s right about the Brotherhood. We must crush them.” They had Malphus, his brother. That fact alone made him want to tear their skin from their muscles.

  Ambrose stroked his chin. “Most of our army is vulnerable to bursting into flames every time the sun rises. It’s a bit of a problem.”

  One you can’t do anything about. “So we’ll attack them at night.”

  Ambrose stared off into the distance. “We must find a way to get stronger, to overcome our natural weakness. The other kingdoms of night are richer with incubi who can walk in the light, but our numbers are fewer.”

  Aurora frowned. “We’re only weak in the daylight.”

  “Exactly,” said Ambrose. “I would like to remedy that.”

  Caine shook his head. What is he talking about? “That’s never been possible.”

  Ambrose splayed his fingers. “My scholars have located a spell, once held in the ancient library of Alexandria. The legends say any army of vampires roamed the light nearly two thousand years ago. King Cranaus of Athens created such an army to serve him. He used a very powerful spell and a triumvirate of three legendary mages. His vampire army outlived him by over a thousand years, until they were slaughtered by a legion of Persian hellhounds.”

 
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