Authors: Cari Z
Tags: #Erotic Romance Fiction
Shadows and Light
ISBN # 978-1-78651-386-1
©Copyright Cari Z 2016
Cover Art by Posh Gosh ©Copyright February 2016
Edited by Ann Leveille
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Pride Publishing.
Applications should be addressed in the first instance, in writing, to Pride Publishing. Unauthorised or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.
The author and illustrator have asserted their respective rights under the Copyright Designs and Patents Acts 1988 (as amended) to be identified as the author of this book and illustrator of the artwork.
Published in 2016 by Pride Publishing,
Newland House, The Point, Weaver Road, Lincoln, LN6 3QN
Pride Publishing is a subsidiary of Totally Entwined Group Limited.
SHADOWS AND LIGHT
A fight to the death against his former master turns into a chance for Rafael, an assassin denied the immortality he lived to achieve, to learn the shocking truth about the fate he was spared.
Rafael wanted nothing more than to serve his immortal master, Xian, a High One of Clare, who taught him from an early age how to be an assassin. But after failing the final test, Rafael was turned out into the Lower City, abandoned by the one person he thought he could count on.
Years of hatred and thoughts of revenge have fueled Rafael’s quest for vengeance, but when the time comes to strike at Xian, he hesitates and is taken prisoner. Rafael expects to die, either at Xian’s hand or at the hand of Myrtea, his sadistic mistress.
Instead Xian heals him, spares him a brutal interrogation and tells him the dark truth driving the ruthlessness of the High Ones—the source of their immortality is spent. Soon the city will devolve into chaos as High Ones battle one another and the rebelling denizens of the Lower City for power and resources. Xian wants to spare Rafael that pain, just as he spared him the pain of becoming a High One a decade earlier.
Their only chance for survival is to escape Clare before civil war breaks out. Even if they make it out of the city, though, there’s no guarantee that Xian will live through the agonizing process of becoming human again. The only ones they can rely on are each other…if Rafael can bring himself to once again trust his former master, the only man he’s ever loved.
To everyone who stuck with me from the early days, thanks for coming along for the next big steps.
Rafael stalked the High One through the misted streets of Clare, the Bright City, though not so bright now as night laid claim to her. He had been watching this High One for two weeks, following him and learning his ways. The creature was skilled and confident, otherwise he wouldn’t have come into the Lower Half without a cadre of guards. He was too confident for his own good. Rafael felt nothing inside himself except savage satisfaction when he considered what he was about to do. The murder of a High One was a serious undertaking and, of all the assassins of the Lower Half, he was the only one to have succeeded. Time and again he had succeeded. Tonight would be no different.
They left the last of the inns behind, heading toward the wharves on the outskirts of the vast island city. Going to check the shipments of whatever elder he served, Rafael knew. This one was a warrior, a challenge. He moved with ease and carried the rapier at his side with the air of a practiced killer. Rafael had watched him fight, watched him kill. A decided challenge, but he relished it. The streets leading to the wharves would be inhabited with nothing but drunks and whores at this time of night, and they knew better than to interfere in business beyond their concern, which this was about to become. Rafael moved noiselessly along the rooftops, closing on his target. Closer, closer… He judged the distance and leaped suddenly, no flash of shadow or flare of light to give him away. Yet somehow the High One still sensed him.
It was the last possible moment the man could have dodged the savage kick, and he didn’t get away completely. Rafael’s foot caught his shoulder but not his spine and the High One spun to the side, favoring the injury but drawing his sword lightning fast as he turned back to his attacker. Rafael was impressed. A blow to the spine would have incapacitated the creature long enough for him to pierce his heart or remove his head, but the shoulder would only distract him for as long as it took to heal. Rafael moved fast to keep up his offensive, his slender sabers slicing through the long metallic cloak that hid the upper half of his target’s visage. He had intended to cut the High One’s face, perhaps blind him, but the creature truly was talented, or lucky. Rafael’s blades grazed one cheek and severed the leather thong holding the cloak back. It fell shimmering to the ground, exposing his target’s face.
It was the same as all the other High Ones’ faces. The change the magic wrought on them gave them invulnerability to the ravages of time but leached the uniqueness out of their flesh, rendering them all the same sickly pale color, incandescent in the dim orange flare of torchlight. His face was slender, as so many were, and unremarkable in its beautiful normalcy. His eyes were nearly white, pupils the only break in the viscera’s pallor, and his hair was the same glittering silver as the cape that lay crumpled at his feet.
The only difference with this High One was his competency with the blade. Even as he dodged Rafael’s sabers, his own rapier flicked out, almost invisible in the faint light, seeking to impale. Rafael rolled forward, unable to stop his momentum but wanting to continue to press, and barely missed the wickedly fast point as he flew beneath it. He levered a cut at the High One’s legs but the creature leaped into the air and slightly back, recovering his space and avoiding the cut at the same time. Rafael’s eyes narrowed. Challenging indeed. He struck again, pressing the High One back. It took all his skill to keep his two blades in play. The High One was smart and switched his target from Rafael’s body to his hands, trying to disarm him.
This was taking too long. Soon the creature’s shoulder would recover and he’d be on the receiving end. Rafael was fast and very skilled, but High Ones had advantages of magically enhanced strength and speed and the weight of lifetimes of practice. Surprise had to be on his side for the fight to end fast, and his endurance wouldn’t keep him up forever. He’d have to take some chances. Thrusting his right blade at the High One’s face, he dropped his guard on the left side. The rapier came out, pricking, seeking him, but too slow. He had distracted the creature with his first strike and now swept his saber across the man’s thigh, biting easily into flesh and muscle.
It was a pyrrhic victory. The High One recovered and rerouted his own blade down. The point plunged deeply into Rafael’s left hand, sliding between thumb and forefinger. He gasped and jerked it back, losing his second saber as he did so. The pain was excruciating but he had been trained to deal with that, even without the healing magic of a High One flowing through his blood. He dropped back and pulled his heavy-bladed athame from his belt.
They stood still for a moment, each surveying the other. Rafael grimaced internally—he could barely grip the athame. The High One was bleeding but, if he could continue to draw this fight out, he’d surely win. Rafael could outrun him, but he’d never run from a fight. There was no honor in abandoning his purpose. He existed to kill their kind. If he had to die trying, that was better than living with the memory of failure.
The High One flicked his eyes toward the knife. They narrowed minutely, and he looked back at Rafael with grim curiosity. “How does a low-born cur such as you handle the athame of a master?”
Rafael smiled despite himself. “Perhaps I took it from one of your friends.”
The High One snorted derisively. “The athame burns in the hands of one not meant to wield it. Not even a man as clearly insane as you could withstand the pain that long.” He took a half step closer, his gaze darting between the knife and Rafael’s face. Suddenly his eyes widened with dawning comprehension. “The prodigal child.” A savage smile split his face in two. “The apprentice whom our master turned away. He will enjoy hearing of your death firsthand.”
The High One lunged suddenly, his sword a dazzling arrow of light. In the heat of the moment, he had forgotten his wound, and placing all of his weight upon the injured leg caused it to buckle slightly. It was all the opening Rafael needed. He parried the rapier with his saber and brought his knife upward in an underhand swing. The blade passed through his target’s body, lodging beneath ribs and almost close enough to tickle the heart. The High One gaped in shock, his lungs suddenly unable to draw breath. He fell to his knees, grasping at the knife even as his pale, magic-filled blood gushed out over his fingers.
Rafael shoved the creature face down onto the ground. Straddling the still-gasping corpse, he pulled the High One’s personal athame from his own belt. It did burn his hand, but Rafael welcomed the pain. He briefly checked the insignia on the hilt. It was true. They had shared the same master. The pain that blossomed in his heart was far worse than what he felt in his hand, and Rafael forcefully drove the blade through the back of his target, penetrating his heart and punching through the chest wall to scrape against the cobblestones. The High One shuddered violently, once, then truly died.
Rafael released the hilt of the athame, wincing at the crackling of his blackened palm, and retrieved his own blade from the front of the body. He took a moment to bathe his injured hands in the creature’s blood, still incredibly potent with healing magic, then wiped his blade clean and replaced it in its sheath. He stood up and put his sabers away, then looked for a long moment at the body of his enemy. The creature had known of him. They had shared the same master. If things had gone differently for him five years ago, they might have―
! Using his own blood, Rafael laid a ward around the body to keep others from desecrating it for its latent powers. He was a killer, but he killed for himself, not for the magic-hungry vultures that flocked to his targets. If they wanted blood magic, they could do the killing and spilling themselves. Soon the High One would be found. News like this spread quickly, and it was time he was away. Drawing his own short, dark cloak up and over his face, Rafael melted away into the mist, wanting distance from his latest kill and all the painful emotions it had stirred within him.