Untouchable. Ghost. Assassin. Mad. Fen Jacin-rei is all these and none. His mind is host to the spirits of long-dead magicians, and Fen’s fate should be one of madness and ignoble death. So how is it Fen lives, carrying out shadowy vengeance for his subjugated people and protecting the family he loves?
Kamen Malick means to find out. When Malick and his own small band of assassins ambush Fen in an alley, Malick offers Fen a choice: Join us or die.
Determined to decode the intrigue that surrounds Fen, Malick sets to unraveling the mysteries of Fen’s past. As Fen’s secrets slowly unfold, Malick finds irony a bitter thing when he discovers the one he wants is already hopelessly entangled with the one he hunts.
It was pure chance that Malick looked up when he did. Pure chance that he’d been growing bored and a little edgy, and a child’s song about Wolf and Raven and Bear had flitted through his head. Pure chance that he’d peered up to check which phases they happened to be in. Pure chance that Wolf was gibbous tonight, and backlit the creeping figure on the second floor’s terrace roof as though it had been limned in silver.
“Oh,” was all Malick managed as he stood there and watched the figure swirl down two stories from the sagging eaves, gliding to the ground only steps away from him with an ease he wouldn’t have credited had he not seen it himself. Long knives left smeary trails behind Malick’s retinas as they glittered in the moonlight, almost forming a tangled orbit about the Ghost as he advanced like a silent, twisting storm, the ropy length of braid trailing and fluttering behind him. Not graceful—it was too economical for that. Not a single unnecessary move, not a breath wasted. A perfect, spiraling tempest of ice and fire.
Malick hissed out a tight breath, very nearly sighed like a woman. “Well, would you lookit that,” he breathed.
Oh, yeah. He wanted this one.
Instinct had taken Malick’s hands to the belts crisscrossed over his hips, one drawing his dagger and the other drawing a short sword. He’d already shifted into a defensive stance. Now, he flicked his wrist, watched the man’s eyes narrow as the blade of the short sword swirled down and around Malick’s forearm, came back up to rest at an angle between them. Out of the corner of his eye, Malick noted the slim figure of Yori hugging the shadowed brick of the building, at least a dozen paces behind the man and to his left, her bow nocked and drawn. Shig must be about here somewhere too, then. Malick didn’t have to tell them—they’d wait for his signal. If he chose to give them one.
“You don’t have to do this,” Malick told the man evenly. “You’re safer with us. Think about it. You’re wanted. They’re looking for you.”
“They’re looking for a phantom,” was all the man said, voice as flat and cold as the steel in his hands.
“And look at this—I’ve gone and found one.” Malick shook his head. “You’re good, but you’re not invincible. How long d’you think it’ll be before they hunt you down?”
“You didn’t find anything—your ‘patron’ did. He won’t find me again. I don’t need a pimp.”
Frosty and contemptuous. Clearly unwilling to hear reason, let alone see it. There was no point in arguing. Malick had known that from the moment he’d stepped into the baths. The Ghost wanted a fight—Malick would have to give him one. He’d rather tender another way to work out aggressions, but it seemed the stony little prick was also an uncooperative stony little prick. Who clearly didn’t recognize a good offer when he saw one—witness his repeated failure to succumb to awe.
Footsteps pounded down from the kitchen stair behind Malick, a heavy tread that could only belong to Samin; the man was not known for his stealth. Malick stopped him with a short whistle.
“Stay back,” he ordered. “I’ve got this.” Gray eyes narrowed to slits; Malick couldn’t help the smile. “All right, Ghost.” He firmed his stance. “C’mon, love, at least give us your name, then. We’ll want to know who we’re burning incense for.”
The man sneered, twirled a knife in his long, nimble fingers, then flipped it up by the tip and caught it neatly in his gloved hand by its wire-bound hilt. “Fuck you.”
Malick parried when the first strike drew sparks from steel.
Then he grinned.
Carole Cummings lives with her husband and family in Pennsylvania, USA, where she spends her time trying to find time to write. Author of the Aisling and Wolf’s-own series, Carole is an avid reader of just about anything that’s written well and has good characters. She is a lifelong writer of the “movies” that run constantly in her head. Surprisingly, she does manage sleep in there somewhere, and though she is rumored to live on coffee and Pixy Stix™, no one has as yet suggested she might be more comfortable in a padded room. Well, not to her face.
Free shorts, sneak peeks at WIPs, and other miscellany can be found at http://www.carolecummings.com.