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Authors: Christina Dodd

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Into the Shadow (2 page)

BOOK: Into the Shadow
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On the border between Tibet and Nepal

e’re not normal."

"You know, Magnus, when you get drunk, that brogue of yours gets so thick I can barely understand you.’’ Warlord’s voice was as soft and smooth—and as deadly—as the single-malt Scotch they’d stolen.

‘‘Ye understand me verra well.’’ Magnus knew he would never have had the guts to make comments about Warlord, no matter how true, if it weren’t bloody damned dark out here in the middle of the Himalayas in the middle of nowhere, and if he hadn’t imbibed a wee bit o’ that fine whisky—that is to say, most of a bottle all to himself. And if he weren’t second in command of the mercenary troop, with a responsibility to point out the trouble a-brewing. ‘‘Ye’re not normal, and the men here, they know it. They whisper that ye’re a werewolf. ’’

‘‘Don’t be ridiculous.’’ Warlord sat high above the camp, silhouetted against the night sky, his arm crooked around his knee, his rifle in his hand.

‘‘That’s what I said, too. Because I’m a Scotsman. I know better. There’s no such thing as werewolves.’’ Magnus nodded wisely, and broke the seal on the second bottle. ‘‘There’s things much worse than that. Do ye know why I know?’’

Warlord said nothing.

He never said a word more than necessary. He was never kind. He was never friendly. He kept his secrets, and he was the meanest son of a bitch in a fight Magnus had ever seen. Yet while the lads were celebrating their latest plunder, he took the watch on the highest spot overlooking their hideout. For a man who excelled at stealing from rich tourists and government officials, and never caviled at killing when the occasion called for it, he was bloody decent.

Magnus continued, ‘‘I grew up on the bleakest of the Outer Hebrides islands, far to the north, where the bloody wind blows all the time, not a plant dares grow, and the old tales are repeated and repeated through the long winter nights.’’

‘‘Sounds like a good place to be
.’’ Warlord took the bottle from Magnus’s fist and tipped it down his throat.

‘‘Aye, that it is.’’ Magnus watched his leader. ‘‘Ye dunna usually drink.’’

‘‘If we’re going to reminisce, I could use something to blunt the pain.’’ Warlord was a dark blot against the stars—an unnaturally dark blot.

In the morning, Magnus knew, he’d be sorry for nattering on like this. Like every man up here, he’d been scarred by cruelty and betrayal, the only damned thing he excelled at was fighting, and if he was ever caught by any government in the world, he’d be hanged—or worse.

But whisky made Magnus gregarious, and he trusted Warlord—Warlord made the rules, and he was ruthless in enforcing them, but he was goddamned bloody fair.

‘‘Do ye miss yer home, then?’’ he asked.

‘‘I don’t think about it.’’

‘‘Ye’re right. What’s the point? We canna go back. They’ll not want us. Not with so much blood on our hands.’’


‘‘But today we washed some of the blood away.’’

Warlord lifted his hand and looked at it. ‘‘Bloodstains last forever.’’

‘‘How do ye know that?’’

‘‘My father made that quite clear. Once you take a deliberate step into evil, you’re marked for life and destined for hell.’’

‘‘Aye, my father said the same stuff, right before he took off his belt and whaled on me.’’ Magnus drooped, then perked up again. ‘‘Today those Buddhist monks were grateful, though. They showered us with blessings. That’s gotta help. Isn’t that why you freed them?’’

‘‘No. I freed them because I hate bullies, and those Chinese soldiers are assholes who think it’s funny to use holy men for target practice.’’ Warlord’s voice vibrated with rage.

‘‘You do have a thing about that. But this time we got paid in more than blessings.’’ For the raid had been profitable, bagging them firearms, ammunition, and a Chinese general who had surrendered his liquor and his gold to keep the photographs of his liaison with the local Communist chairman’s young son secret.

Magnus grinned up and toward the east, where a glow on the horizon marked the rising moon. ‘‘You and me—we’ve whored together. We’ve fought together. And I still dunna understand how ye always seem to know where the money is hidden and the liquor is stored and the scandals are richest.’’

"It’s a gift."

Magnus shook his finger at him. ‘‘Dunna distract me with yer blather! How did ye come to be such a creature?’’

‘‘The same way you did. I killed a man, ran away, and ended up here.’’ Warlord lifted the bottle and toasted the snowcapped peaks that dominated their lives. ‘‘Here, where the only law is what I make, and I don’t have to beg forgiveness from anybody.’’

‘‘That’s not what I mean, and ye know it. Ye’ve got a bad way about ye. The shadow ye cast is too black. When ye’re angry, you sort of’’—Magnus made a wiggling motion with his fingers—‘‘shimmer around the edges. Ye have a way of appearing out of nowhere, without a sound, and ye know things ye’ve got no business knowing, like that the Chinese general was buggering that lad. The men swear ye’re not human.’’

‘‘Why would they say that?’’

‘‘Because of yer eyes . . .’’ Magnus shivered.

‘‘What’s wrong with my eyes?’’ Warlord had that smooth, deadly tone in his voice again.

‘‘Have ye looked in the mirror lately? Bloody spooky, they are. That’s why the men have followed ye. But now there’s grumblings. ’’ Magnus braced himself for a wee bit of unpleasantness.

‘‘Why would there be grumblings?’’ Warlord asked with deceptive smoothness.

‘‘The men say ye’re not paying attention to business, that ye’re distracted by yer woman.’’

‘‘By my woman.’’ Warlord’s obsidian eyes gleamed in the dark.

‘‘Did ye think no one would notice that ye disappear nights? They see you go, and they gossip.’’ Magnus tried to lighten the atmosphere. ‘‘Bunch of old women, our mercenaries. ’’

Warlord was not amused. ‘‘Are they not happy with the results of this raid?’’

‘‘Aye, but there’s more to business than merely having a good fight and stealing a glorious amount of money.’’ Magnus got down to business. ‘‘Our boys are worried about their safety. There’s rumors that the military on both sides of the border are tired of us thumbing our noses at them, and they’re bringing in enforcers. ’’

‘‘What kind of enforcers?’’

‘‘Canna get that answered, exactly. They’re being bloody secretive, they are. But they’re equal parts gleeful and, well . . .’’

Warlord leaned forward. ‘‘Gleeful and . . . ?’’

‘‘I’d say they’re scared, too. Like maybe they started something they can’t stop. I’ll be frank with ye, Warlord. I don’t like any of this. We need ye to stop fooking the girl and find out what’s going on.’’ There. Magnus had passed on the message, and Warlord hadn’t ripped his head off. Yet.

Magnus settled his back against the rock. The granite was cold. Of course. Except for the brief summer, these mountains were always cold. And in this valley, bound as it was on three sides by cliffs and on the long side by a gorge that dropped straight into a raging river, the constant wind whipped through his thinning hair and cut deep into his bones. ‘‘I hate this fooking place,’’ he muttered. ‘‘Nothin’ good ever came out of Asia except spices and gunpowder.’’

Warlord laughed, and it almost sounded as if he were amused. ‘‘You’re right about that. My family’s from Asia.’’

‘‘Pull the other one, man. Ye’re not a Chinaman.’’

‘‘A Cossack from the steppes, from what is now the Ukraine.’’

Magnus knew his geography; he’d worked that area of the world as a con man and a soldier. ‘‘The Ukraine—that’s close to Europe.’’

‘‘Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.’’ Warlord looked up at the stars. He sipped the whisky. ‘‘Have you ever heard of the Varinskis?’’

Magnus went from mellow to murderous in a few seconds. ‘‘Those bastards.’’

heard of them.’’

‘‘Eight years ago I was working the North Sea, doing a little pirating, picking up a few things, and three Varinskis caught up with me. Informed me it was their territory, said they were taking everything.’’ Magnus stuck his finger against the indentation in his cheek where he was missing that molar. ‘‘I told them not to be greedy, I had enough for everybody. And listen, I’m no stranger to beatings—my father took the belt to me every day of his life— but those guys . . . They’re why my nose is crooked. They’re why I’m missing three toes and both little fingers. They about killed me, then tossed me into the ocean to drown. Doctors said that was why I didn’t bleed to death. Hypothermia.
.’’ He spit their name like venom. ‘‘Do you know the reputation those monsters have?’’


‘‘I hate those sons a’ bitches.’’

‘‘They’re my family.’’

Cold fear trickled down Magnus’s spine. ‘‘The rumors about them are—’’

‘‘All true.’’

‘‘They canna be.’’ Magnus clutched at his rapidly evaporating liquor-induced bliss.

‘‘You said the men claim I’m not human.’’

Magnus dismissed that with as much bombast as he could summon. ‘‘The men are a bunch of ignorant savages.’’

‘‘But I
human. A human with special gifts . . . the most marvelous, pleasurable, enticing gifts.’’ Warlord’s voice wove a spell around them.

‘‘No need to tell me. I’m all for a man keeping his secrets.’’ Magnus struggled to stand.

Warlord’s hand clamped around his arm and jerked him down with a thump. ‘‘Don’t leave, Magnus. You wanted to know.’’

‘‘Dinna want to know that bad,’’ Magnus muttered.

‘‘You wanted reassurance. I’m giving it to you.’’ Warlord handed Magnus the bottle. Handed it to him as if he would need it. ‘‘A thousand years ago my ancestor, Konstantine Varinski, made a deal with the devil.’’

‘‘Fook.’’ Magnus had always hated stories like this. Hated them because he believed them.

He wished that the moon could wipe out the shadows, but it was barely half, and the bleak white light poked at the shadows but could not vanish them. He wished for some more of the men to keep him company, but the fools were in the valley, gambling, drinking, playing their stupid video games, and puking. Nobody knew he sat up here, unearthing secrets better left buried, and now in fear of his life.

‘‘Konstantine had a reputation on the steppes. He delighted in killing, in torture, in extortion, and it was whispered that his cruelty rivaled the devil’s.’’ Warlord’s voice warmed with humor. ‘‘Satan didn’t like those stories— I’d guess he’s a little vain—and he sought out Konstantine with the intention of removing him from the competition.’’

‘‘Dunna tell me Konstantine defeated the evil one,’’ Magnus said incredulously.

‘‘No, he offered himself as Satan’s best servant. In return for the ability to hunt down his enemies and kill them, Konstantine promised his soul, and the souls of all his descendants, to the devil.’’

Magnus peered at Warlord, trying to see him, but as always the shadows around his leader were thick, dense, impenetrable. ‘‘You’re his descendant?’’

‘‘One of many. A son of the current Konstantine. ’’ Warlord’s strange eyes gleamed in the dark.

‘‘I told ye. Long winter nights, and all the old tales told to frighten the children.’’

‘‘The children should be frightened.’’ Warlord lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘‘They should shiver in their beds to know creatures such as me are abroad in this world.’’

Magnus knew what evil was. His father had preached to him every day while he tried to beat the rebellion out of him. That was why, now . . . Magnus could almost feel the flames of hell scorch his flesh. ‘‘That’s a fantastic tale.’’ He cleared his throat. ‘‘In a thousand years, I imagine it’s gathered some frills. Some story-teller spiced it up to make it more exciting in the telling . . . don’t ye suppose?’’

A low growl rumbled out of Warlord’s hidden form. ‘‘Why else do you think men seek me out when they want their enemies tracked down? Why do you think they hire me? I can find anyone, anywhere. Do you want to know how?’’

Magnus shook his head. He did
want to know.

But it was too late.

‘‘To Konstantine Varinski and to each Varinski since, the devil bequeathed the ability to change at will into a hunting animal.’’

‘‘Change . . .’’ The light of the moon had reached them now, and Magnus stared at Warlord. Stared because he was afraid to take his gaze away. ‘‘So ye
a werewolf?’’

‘‘No, we Varinskis are not stupid beasts ruled by the phases of the moon. We are ruled by nothing but our own wills. We change when we wish, when we need to change. We live long lives, breed only sons, and nothing less than another demon can kill us. We leave a trail of blood, fire, and death wherever we go.’’ Warlord laughed, a throaty purr. ‘‘We are the Darkness.’’

‘‘Aye, that you are.’’ Magnus saw the darkness every time he looked into Warlord’s eyes. Still he argued, because he didn’t want it to be true. ‘‘But ye’re not Russian. Ye’re from the US.’’

‘‘My parents ran away, got married, moved to Washington state, changed their last name to something that sounds good, solid, and all-American, and raised my two brothers and my sister and me. They don’t approve, especially not my dad, of that Varinski blood-fire-and-death thing. He said we had to control ourselves. ’’ Warlord’s bitterness was thick and angry. ‘‘I suck at control. I like the blood, fire, and death. I can’t fight my real nature.’’

BOOK: Into the Shadow
10.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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