I Walked with Shadows (Sightless Book 1), page 1
I Walked with Shadows
Sightless: Book One
K. C. M.
Dedicated to Richard G. Scott
You were a great instrument in the hands of God.
Although you never knew it, you changed my life.
Thank you for your service, your soothing voice, your laughter,
Your love and compassion,
But mostly, thank you for helping me return to the Lord.
“We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become.”
1. The Beginnings of Adventure
2. One Mistake Leads to Another
3. Into the Woods
4. We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes
5. Add Insult to Injury
6. Hide and Seek
8. It Takes Two to Have a Conversation
9. Swearth Wood
10. An Unexpected Alliance
11. The One That Got Away
12. Two is Better than One
About the Author
1 The Beginnings of Adventure
“Blazing fires,” Whispered Laney to Holly. “Have you ever seen such…” She trailed off, seeming not to know how to describe the three men.
Holly glanced at them briefly, her lips curved in amusement. “If Nola was here, she’d say they were sweet bread in a room full of sufferin’ scones.”
Laney pressed her hand to her mouth to smother her laugh. Nola also worked as a maid at Fisherman’s Inn. She was a middle-aged woman who was on the constant prowl for odd phrases that she would then supplement into her daily jargon. Nola had come up with “sufferin’ scones” when the inn cook had spent an entire summer making scones that were hard, salty, and anything but delicious. Holly and Laney spent a lot of time in Nola’s presence and never could stop laughing over the woman’s odd phrases. They also never lost a chance to mimic her, to the point where it was becoming habit for them to say the most ridiculous phrases.
“Do you think they’re really Masks?” Laney asked a little wistfully.
Mask was the common term for a member of the Magical Security Council. Over the last few hundred years, a war for power had raged across the continent nearly destroying all humans. Most of the humans had fled to the Bright Isles, the last known human kingdom. Holly’s town of Myre was among the few cities that still remained on the shore of the continent across the channel from Bright.
Holly shrugged. “Sir Frost is supposed to meet with the mayor tomorrow.” Sir Frost was a famous Mask leader. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they sent other Masks to protect him.”
Since Myre was on the continent’s shore, they were always under attack from the magical races. Just last week, a group of gnomes had ambushed some farmers. They’d raided the farms and left the farmers as good as dead. Food was a rare and precious commodity in war. Supposedly, Sir Frost had deemed it time to visit their town to discuss better methods of protection.
“They’re dreamy,” Laney sighed, interrupting Holly’s thoughts.
Holly laughed and turned away to finish cleaning. “Don’t get your hopes up. They’re probably married or have some fancy girl on the Isles waiting for them.”
“But one can hope,” Laney caught the eye of one of the men and smiled brightly at him.
Holly chuckled again, seeing the surprised look on the man’s face.
“Come on, let’s get back to work before you singlehandedly boggle them.”
Several hours later, Holly made her way up the stairs to the Masks’ room. She grumbled to herself as she balanced a heavy tray covered with food and tried to knock. The knock was soft and unsteady, so she called out, “I’ve the food you ordered, sirs.” There was a sound behind the door that she thought might have been a muffled reply, but the tray, which had tipped alarmingly and spilled a bit of hot tea on her, distracted her. She opened the door quickly and stepped in, holding it open with her hip as she rebalanced the tray.
“Here it…” But the words died in her mouth.
The room was in shambles. Slumped against a shattered mirror, was one of the men, covered in blood. Sticking out from behind the bed, she could see a pair of limp legs. Right in front of her, tied to a chair, was the last Mask, glaring with angry eyes, not at her, but at something to her right, behind the door. Holly started to back up, her stomach flipping unsteadily, mouth gaping. “Blazing fires…” Slipped from her lips even as an iron grip fastened on her wrist and pulled her into the room, shutting the door firmly behind her.
She recovered enough to shoot a frightened glance at the intruder, a tall man in dark clothing. She had a brief impression of a black cloth drawn over his lower face and intense green eyes above it, before panic took over. With a breathless scream, she flung the tray at him and yanked her wrist free.
There was a muffled curse behind her but she was already moving, throwing herself across the bed, scrambling towards the one exit that wasn’t blocked: the window. She knew he was following her, sensed him right behind her, even as she hurled herself towards the window. The wooden shutters were closed but they opened outwards and she knew the locks on the inn windows were weak. She turned slightly, hitting the window hard with her shoulder and tumbled out. The room was on the second story and the instant she started falling, she thought of how stupid she was being.
Her body twisted and she tried to break her fall with her hands and knees, but her right hand hit the ground predominantly. Then she was blinking, dazed and disoriented, the only clear thought was run. She tried to push herself up and sharp pain lanced through her wrist and up to her elbow. A sobbing gasp escaped and she made herself get up, shooting a terrified glance over her shoulder towards the window. One of the shutters flapped uselessly open, but there was no sign of the man.
Holly frantically glanced around, but there was no one in the courtyard. It was a chilly afternoon. Everyone was probably inside trying to stay warm. She was about to run to the door of the inn, intending to shout for help, when it swung open.
She gaped. How had he gotten down the stairs so fast? How had he known which door to exit? In that brief moment, her vision sharpened and she could see his features perfectly. Black, windswept hair tumbled across his forehead and around his face. She’d been right before about a black cloth hiding the lower half of his face, leaving only his eyes and high forehead open to view. Her eyes were riveted by his emerald gaze, which was sharp as a knife and filled her with terror.
The terror sent her into motion. She whirled and sprinted for the stables, mind scrambling with a quickly forming plan. No one would be in the stables, but the stables were once used for smuggling goods and people to the Bright Isles. All the servants knew where the hiding holes were.
She was nearly to the barn when her legs were knocked out from under her. She went down with a scream. Immediately, a hand grabbed her hair and yanked her up, before slapping her across the face, sending her spinning and effectively silencing her.
Holly blinked up at the man, her cheek and jaw stinging, tasting blood in her mouth. He towered over her with a silver knife in his hand. Numbly, she realized that the tip of the blade was posed toward her throat.
“Make another sound and it will be your last.” His voice was quiet and cold, smoothly slicing through the air to her ears. She shuddered and thought it must be the voice of Death himself.
He didn’t continue and after several moments with both of them frozen and unmoving, her brain beg
The fight drained out of her as she realized there was no hope of escape. He was far too strong and she couldn’t even struggle in his grasp. So, she went limp in his hold, letting him tow her past the rows of stalls, thinking that perhaps in a few moments he might relax and she’d be able to struggle free then. He must have sheathed his knife, because he used both hands to hold her. She hoped that meant he wasn’t going to kill her after all.
Suddenly, she was pushed down and she gasped in pain as bits of rock, dirt, and wood bit her palms and kneecaps. A second later a cloth was pressed to her face, covering her nose and mouth. Her last impression was of his green eyes, so brilliant that she could have sworn they were glowing in the darkness of the barn.
Connor slipped from the inn in a foul mood. He’d left the girl tied up and hidden away in one of the barn’s many smuggling holes. He honestly wasn’t sure she’d ever be found…or that she’d ever get lose from the ropes. Perhaps that was why he felt so angry. She may very well suffer death needlessly, and it wouldn’t be a pretty death, tied up and alone in the dark…slowly starving and freezing to death.
But it wasn’t really any of his concern. He could hear a voice from the past condemning him, declaring him weak and easily manipulated by his emotions. There was no reason for him to feel any sort of attachment to the maid. If she died, it was because she was weak and incapable of survival.
But it wasn’t likely she’d die. She had jumped out a window in the name of survival! He hadn’t tied her too horribly tight. Besides, the servants used the smuggling holes for romantic trysts sometimes. She’d probably be found within a few days even if she couldn’t get out on her own.
Unhappy and torn, he did what he always had done in these situations, and pushed the emotions away, sliding into the familiar role of an unfeeling assassin.
Connor made his way to the street. After he’d finished with the girl, he’d hurried back to the inn to set things straight with the remaining Mask. That hadn’t improved his mood, either. Though on the bright side, the Mask had given Connor all the information he needed.
Most of the vending stalls were closed up against the afternoon chill, which meant the street was mostly deserted. It also meant that he stood out as a stranger, wandering about. He needed somewhere to hide for a few hours, but he couldn’t return to the inn, now. Not that anyone would know he was there. There were certainly no living Masks left to notice him. But, the serving girl had screamed and if anyone did stop by, they’d surely notice a stranger. There was a reason he didn’t like to spend too much time in one place.
He ducked down another street, weaving his way through the endless rows of buildings. There were three abandoned shops nearby that he could hide out in. There was an apothecary that hadn’t been touched since the previous owner died, a burned house that had yet to be demolished and rebuilt, and another house with a collapsed roof.
Seeing as he didn’t much like the sun’s bright cold light, he headed for the apothecary. He might find something useful in the old remedies. One never could be too prepared and he’d just used a portion of his Black Nightshade powder to render the serving girl unconscious. Perhaps, he’d find a replacement at the apothecary and restock his supplies. Besides, the apothecary was sure to have glass windows, while the houses…you never knew with human peasants.
It was well after dark when Connor left the apothecary. He raised his cowl and let the shadows cloak him as he slid through the night crowds of Myre. Not one of the humans gave him a second glance, not that he had expected them to. Humans were blind creatures, rarely ever opening their eyes to see the world around them.
He made his way to the docks and slipped into the water. It was cold and his body tensed and revolted against the wet chill. A single deep breath and his body relaxed. He swam with strong strokes towards the ship that held Sir Frost, the official representative for the Magical Security Council. The ship was unremarkable. He wouldn’t have picked it out for carrying a human official. Humans craved to be noticed, particularly the higher class. Luckily, the Mask he’d questioned earlier hadn’t been one for keeping secrets when properly pressured. He’d let slip that the ship was named Belle Royal.
The ship was docked, the gangplank lowered already, and there were several groups of men, most of them likely Masks, loitering about. The men were careful to seem as if they were having a jolly time, just part of the usual rowdy crowd, but Connor noted the watchful gazes they cast about. Connor swam a slow, wide half circle around the ship, evaluating and plotting. He could scale the side of the ship easily enough. He already knew that Frost would be staying in the captain’s cabin, which was located at the back of the stern. Even if he were to climb on board, he’d have to pass unnoticed over the deck and then through the officer’s quarters to reach Frost. Which was why Connor wasn’t planning on going on board. He finished the half circle and turned, retreating towards the back of the ship.
He paused, drifting in the water, at the sound of raised voices. His sharp eyes gazed back towards the gangplank.
A smile, if it could be called that under these circumstances, split his lips.
He drifted closer.
“Be gone with you miss! We don’t take beggars and harlots here.” One of the Masks made a rude motion with his hand, dismissing the disheveled girl.
“You don’t understand—”
“I said be gone!” The man thundered.
Connor was pleased to see the maid from the inn show a little spunk. She straightened her spine and fixed a look of pure spite at the man blocking the gangplank. “Sir Frost is in danger!” She declared, matching the Mask in volume.
Which caught everyone’s attention. Because no one was supposed to know where Sir Frost was and here was a little nobody who not only knew, but who was declaring him in danger?
Connor took off, swimming fast for the back of the ship. It really was the perfect distraction. He couldn’t have planned it better himself. There was no way the Masks would take the girl seriously. Humans were foolish that way. They didn’t believe their lower classes held much intelligence, didn’t ever give them a chance to show value. But Connor was willing to bet the girl would try very hard to not be dismissed so easily. After all, she’d thrown herself from a window earlier that day. Not many people would be willing to do that, even when threatened.
He reached the stern and climbed nimbly up, his fingers finding nooks and crannies in the wood, occasionally finding a rope he could grasp. And then he was at the window to the captain’s cabin. It really wasn’t much of a window. But then, it wasn’t much of a cabin. That was the problem with ships. They were so very small. The cabin had room for a narrow bed and a small trunk crammed next to it. The window was the height of Connor’s hand, with a longer width, perhaps spanning almost two feet.
With the darkness wrapped around him and inside him, Connor blended with the night. He peered in undetected, easily picking out the figure of Sir Frost. Connor didn’t look at him too close. It was better not to look too close. This really wouldn’t be so different from when he killed the dwarf seer. That thought made him hesitate. The seer had done something to him. He’d made a mistake with her, taken a chance he shouldn’t have, and now he paid the price for it.
Connor shook himself. Sir Frost was different from the seer. Frost was a hard man who was determined not just to shield humans, but to drive up the anti-magic antagonism. Frost was trying to convince the humans to go to war. Even in his personal matters, Frost was not a kind man. He had mistresses and illegitimate children whom he ignored, though perhaps that was a kindness considering how harsh Frost was to his legit
The seer had been a good person.
This man before Connor was another matter.
You’re going soft, the old voice whispered.
Connor cleared his mind, of the voice and his thoughts. It was now or never.
He wrapped the darkness further around him, slipping free the sharp glass shard that he’d broken off one of the windows at the apothecary. In two smooth, focused moves, Connor stole the man’s life. The first move was an elbow that broke the glass of the window, spraying it all over the cabin. The second was to throw the shard in his hand. It hit exactly where he intended, the throbbing vein in the man’s throat.
Connor turned and dove off the side of the ship, slipping almost soundlessly into the water.
He disappeared into the night quickly, though in reality he probably didn’t need to. His sharp ears could still hear the Masks arguing with the serving girl.
2 One Mistake Leads to Another
Holly was piping hot mad. First, she’d woken up dazed and sick, trussed up like a pig, hidden away in one of the hiding holes in the barn. She’d lain there hours, trying to fight off the effects of the drug. She’d finally gathered enough sense to roll and wiggle her way towards the door. She’d had to bang her aching head against it repeatedly, hoping someone would eventually hear. She didn’t even want to know what Jonas, the little stable boy, thought of her after he’d found her.