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City of Heretics (Excerpt)

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Dante's master taught him everything: stealth, fighting, the art of the perfect kill. But his master never taught him how to cope with his mistakes, or the guilt of an innocent's death.

Fantasy / Adventure
Guennar Reyer
Age Rating:


Breathe, that was all he could do right now. It was the only thing keeping him sane. Just one ragged breath at a time. His eyes were squeezed shut and his hands covered his ears in an attempt to force the crimson soaked memories from his head. But it did him no good. No amount of physical force could purge his mind of what he saw every time his eyes closed. It was part of him now—a piece of his past, an inescapable memory, a stain on his soul.

Dante sat on the edge of his bed silently, the only noise being his labored breathing and the beat of his heart pounding in his ears. The shadows of the room shrouded him in darkness, the sole light radiating from a lone candle which sat on his desk on the opposite side. The black umbra danced and flitted around the room like ephemeral marionettes, their strings invisible but actions all too real. It had to be dark though. If there was too much light then he’d see it again. He’d see the blood.

He squeezed his eyes tighter, but the memories started. The blood, the screams, the smell, it all came back to him. They filled his nose and stung his eyes—the bitter metallic stench of iron teased his senses. His stomach turned and his eyes snapped open as he retched forward coughing and gagging on the phantom smells. When he finally stopped he glanced at his hands and froze.

Blood. It was everywhere. It ran down his arms, dripped from his fingers, and glistened in the dim light. His hazel eyes widened as a scream began to build in his chest, but a strangled whimper was the only sound to reach the outside world. The terror kept him motionless, unable to do anything but blink, and when he did it was gone.

The room started spinning, and Dante watched in a daze as the shadows flowed back and forth over his hands, one second revealing blood and the next washing it away.

“By the gods…” he whispered. “What’s happening to me?”

“What’s happening indeed,” a hoarse voice asked back.

Dante’s head snapped up, his body moving automatically as he jumped to his feet and the dagger under his pillow appeared in hand.

“Who’s there?”

A chuckle bounced off the walls in response and Dante cursed it for being so dark. Plenty of places to hide—too many places to try and watch. From the sound of the voice it was a man, but how did he even get into his room? How long had he been there?

“Yes, just how long have I been here,” the voice taunted. “The darkness certainly provides enough cover. But it’s not the darkness of the room I hide in.”

Dante remained motionless while his mind screamed at him to find the person. He needed to pinpoint the voice. “Who are you?”

“Who am I,” the voice echoed back. “That’s a good question. I don’t really know myself.”

“Enough with the games. Show yourself!”

The room fell silent and Dante held his breath. The blood in his ears slammed against the quiet veil of the room in rapid rhythmic beats, alternating between suffocating silence and deafening explosions. Sweat slid down his face as his eyes darted around the room searching for the slightest movement. Anything that might help him find the intruder.

“Very well,” the voice finally conceded, localizing in front of him and his head jerked towards it.

His body moved on instinct. Five years of harsh training kicked in the moment he saw a figure in the shadows and the wink of a blade. The dagger left his finger tips for the unknown assailant, but the sudden shock rattled him and the dagger left off-kilter.

Great job Dante. The gods forbid master ever saw this throw—you’d never hear the end of it.

Before the blade even hit Dante could tell where it would land. The gut instead of the chest where he intended. Rather than an instant death it would be a slow and painful one, but at least it gave him time to interrogate.

His thoughts were shattered along with the mirror as part of it collapsed in front of him. Black tendrils of dread snaked up his back and constricted his chest. He swore under his breath while his eyes scoured the room. He’d been had. If he walked away from this, the entire night would be taken to his grave. His master was not going to find out about this many slip-ups. Nope.

“A little skittish, aren’t we Dante?”

Dante’s eyes widened and darted back to the mirror. Through the darkness he could make out the silhouette of his reflection. His form nearly drowned in black obscurity, tense and ready for action.

Then it waved at him.

“W-What?” Dante asked gaping. His brows knitted together as his entire body started to tingle in the way it did when something was happening far beyond his control.

“I know what you’re thinking,” the mirror said in a low, gravelly, voice while shrugging. “And the answer is yes—you’re completely insane.”

“This—This can’t be happening.”

“Right, right…” The reflection nodded as it brought a hand up to its chin. “So let’s remember the training that Master Atlas drilled into you. When one sense fails us or becomes compromised what do we do?”

“Block it out and use the others.” Dante answered closing his eyes tightly. For a brief moment everything seemed fine and Dante let out a relieved breath.

Then something began to drip onto the floor boards.

At first he almost didn’t catch it. But as his breathing calmed the sound of tiny rhythmic splashes grew more prominent, and the more he focused on them the more drips he began to hear. They grew in number and intensity until he found himself disoriented by the sound. His body began to quake, and his balance started to slip. His legs weakened making it damn near impossible for him to remain standing.

“And what do we do when all of our senses become compromised?” The voice rasped.

“Instincts,” Dante yelled as his hands snapped up to his ears. The clamoring of his heart was deafening, his jaw clenched to the point he thought his teeth might crack, but it was still there. The drips becoming louder and more numerous.

“What are your instincts telling you now?” The voice asked inside his head.

Dante opened his eyes to find himself standing directly in front of the mirror, his scarred face leering back at him through the darkness. He didn’t remember moving. Hell, he could barely stand only a moment ago. But something was wrong with the mirror.

While the mirror showed his reflection, it wasn’t the reflection of his present self. It stood there, grinning insanely back at him. Hazel eyes gone, pushed to the rims by dilated pupils. Tears of red trickled down its cheeks, short black hair matted against its scalp in places with dark dried blood. Its entire torso glistened in crimson fluid that ran down its body in small streams before they drip, drip, dripped off in a steady rhythm. Its tongue slipped from its mouth catching some blood before sliding back inside with a satisfied smirk. It leaned forward, cocked its head to the side, and asked, “Well?”

Dante screamed.

Hilda stiffened outside Dante’s room when she heard him scream and glass break. She stared at the door, the only obstacle between her and the man she worried so much about, and struggled over what to do. Father had told her not to open the door. He said when Dante was ready he would come out on his own. But having just heard his screams of agony Hilda wanted nothing more than to go to him. She brushed some blonde hair from her face that managed to escape her high, tight, braid and scowled at the door. Her bright blue eyes bore into it, willing it to open on its own so she could enter.

Another strangled cry bled from the room and Hilda could feel her eyes start to burn. She hated this feeling of helplessness.

“Dante,” she whispered as she rested her head on the door and closed her eyes.

“It’s hard isn’t it,” Atlas said as he appeared from the shadows. Hilda jumped, but gave a small nod.


“I know,” Atlas said, “but you can’t go in there.”

Hilda scowled, but she could hear it in his voice. He’d never admit it. It wasn’t like him too. But it pained him having to listen to Dante’s cries as well.

“Why not,” Hilda asked turning to him. She noted even in his mansion he still carried a dagger on his hip. No place was truly safe for an assassin after all. “You hear it too. He’s in pain, he needs someone.”

“I know.”

“Then why can’t we go to him? What if it were me? Would you leave me alone?”

Atlas growled shaking his head, “Of course not.”

“Then why him?!” Hilda demanded. Tears were threatening to fall now, but she didn’t care. “Ever since we were little you treated him differently from me and Soigin!”

Atlas was silent for a moment. He shifted his dense, lean, frame back and forth slowly as he contemplated his words before finally sighing in defeat. By the gods did he hate talking—he’d never been any good at it. Especially these irritating conversations about emotions.

He leaned against the wall and folded his arms as he carefully chose his words. “When I found you and Soigin in that back-water shit-hole of a village, I treated you like tools instead of children. Hell, if it weren’t for Soigin I wouldn’t have even taken you in the first place. I had no need for useless baggage. But he told me if I didn’t take you too then he wouldn’t come. So I agreed. His untapped potential outweighed the burden of you. I fed, trained, and clothed you, but I didn’t take on any responsibilities as a parent figure. Do you understand? You two were nothing more than a means to an end. A way to help me achieve my goals.”

Another sigh escaped Atlas’ lips and echoed through the corridor, reverberating off the stone walls and oak floor. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Then Dante came into the picture. I didn’t want him either, but I owed a favor. And I’ve always stood by favors—it’s the only thing I could ever count on. I was told to keep him alive, safe, and above all train him to fight. So I did. Or at least tried. You remember what he was like, a hopeless bag of flesh and bones.

“But then that night happened,” Atlas said and looked at Hilda. He could see the memory replaying before her eyes.

“I still don’t understand what happened that night,” Hilda said quietly. “It was like something snapped in Dante…I’d never seen him move like that, let alone fight like...”

“Like a demon,” Atlas nodded. “It’s because on that night, when you and Soigin were about to be killed by those bandits, Dante awakened the ability of his former family. You saw it didn’t you? The dilated pupils expanding so far it looked like a soulless monster was gazing back at you. A side effect of when his body enters a special state. And it’s this special state that made me realize just how valuable Dante truly was to my goals.”

“If he’s so precious then why do you distance him so much?” Hilda asked. “After that night something changed in all of us, not just Dante. We became closer. A family. It didn’t matter that none of us were related and came from different parts of the world—we had nothing and that’s what brought us together. A rag-tag family of mercenaries who fought by and for each other. But Dante continued to be distant from us, and it always seemed like you were the reason!”

“It was his choice, not mine.” Atlas said with a shrug. “He came to me later after the incident and asked me to train him so he’d never have to see you two suffer again.”

“That doesn’t explain anything!”

“Shadow Walk,” Atlas said and Hilda visibly flinched. “You understand don’t you? This is his initiation.”

Hilda turned back to Dante’s room in a daze. Shakily, she reached her hand out and lightly rested it against the door.

Shadow Walk—the tests one must endure to become a Shade, the world’s most elite form of assassins. A life shrouded in darkness, solitude, and death. Nothing but high risk jobs that call for the best, the pay for just one job enough to buy a fully furnished mansion in the rich district of any city.

“The contract he did tonight,” Hilda murmured. “It wasn’t a normal one was it?”

Atlas shook his head despite her back facing him.

“What did you do?”

Atlas said nothing, but a scowl began to form.

“What did you do!?” Hilda’s voice strained as she whirled around.

Atlas looked away and his face tightened, “I rigged it.”


“I rigged the job. His target was throwing a party in the seedier part of town. All he had to do was sneak in through the rafters, eliminate the target, and leave.”

“What happened?”

“I sneaked in before the party and weakened one of the crossbeams,” Atlas said. “After he killed his target he fell.”

“The amount of blood covering him when he came back…” Hilda said quietly as tears began to roll down her cheeks. “He’s never killed an innocent before.”

“You know the rules,” Atlas said. “No second chances, no mistakes, no witnesses.”

Dante pulled his bloodied hand away from the mirror as the last remnants fell to the floor. Gasping for breath he stepped back and looked around the room. The voice was gone. No sign of that…thing. And that godforsaken dripping had finally disappeared. Dante slumped against his desk with a sigh and wiped the sweat away from his face with his clammy good hand. He was too tired for this.

“Nice try,” the ragged words taunted causing Dante to stumble around. He found the creature lying across his bed no longer covered in blood and propped up on an elbow grinning at him. Its black eyes shimmered in the low light like a cat that had finally cornered its prey. “But you’ll have to try harder than that to get rid of me.”

The desk was the only thing holding Dante up. If not for that then he would’ve definitely toppled to the floor by now. “Y-You’re not real.”

“You sure about that?”


“Hmm, I don’t know,” the entity said sitting up. “’Cause you don’t sound very convincing when you t-talk l-like thi-s.” It gave low gravelly laugh and hopped off the bed making its way towards him.

Dante instinctively stepped back. Rather, he tried. His legs failed and he careened backwards crashing into the wall. Legs trembling so violently he wasn’t sure how he was still standing, he tried to put as much distance between him and whatever he was looking at. His eyes searched the room for something, anything he could use as a weapon.

His reflection clicked its teeth chidingly as it strolled after him with its hands behind its back. Its raspy voice grated across Dante’s ears as it spoke. “You should know that sort of thing won’t work on me.”

“Get out of my head,” Dante said as he pushed along the wall. “Get out of my head!”

“I’m not in your head though.”

“Yes you are! You’re not real—just a part of my imagination! Something I created because of…because of—”

“Because of what Dante?!” The creature asked snarling and lunging forward. Dante blindly leaned back and crashed onto his bed. His eyes widened, and he struggled for breath as images began to flash before him. His hands came up and covered his face and he began to rock. A feral sound escaped from the creature as it leaned in, “Because. Of. What?”

“Because of…”

“Because of them!” His reflection said flinging a hand out behind itself.

Dante’s eyes followed and then made a guttural noise. The entire room was filled with them. Standing. Kneeling. Lying everywhere. Coagulating blood oozed from gaping slashes that covered their ashen skin, the stark contrast between bleached bodies and splattered ribbons of crimson attacking him. Empty sockets glared at him in silent accusation.

“N-No,” Dante said crawling backwards on his bed. He pressed against the wall and willed himself to move through it. “No! Go away!”

“I’m not going anywhere, Dante! There’s no way I’d ever go back!” Even the dead seemed to shrink away from his doppelganger’s rage. “Do you know what kind of hell I’ve lived in? Watching you year after year as you slowly buried the past. Chose to ignore what those bastards ripped away! Did you forget what they did?!

“And the people you’re with now,” the reflection grimaced as if the very thought of them tasted acidic. “They’ve changed you. The real you, the one who used to stand for something, isn’t even there anymore. You act as if everything is perfect, like the ones before them never mattered. Like nothing ever happened!

“But you can’t truly forget can you.” The entity grinned, and the deep scars on its face pulled the flesh tight in odd ways. “When the lights go out and sleep takes hold you’re reminded. I know the fear that devours your dreams. I know the hate that rages in your soul. Every night it gnaws at the bars of its cage howling for release. What will you do when it happens again, Dante? What happens when they try to kill the people you cherish? Will you be able to protect them, or will you fail just like last time?”

“What do you want,” Dante asked in a low voice trying to fight the memories.

The creature bared its teeth and reached forward gripping Dante’s forehead. A bizarre tingling sensation vibrated through his head and he jerked away. The reflection withdrew its hand and stared at it with a frown.

“I want you, Dante.” It said turning its black gaze to him. “You’re weak. You’ve always been weak. It’s disgusting, and I hate it. I want your body so I’ll never feel weak again. Unlike you, I won’t forget. Unlike you, I won’t ignore what happened. I’ll be the one to erase this weakness from us.”

Dante’s head jerked, “U-Us?!”

“That’s right,” the creature said grinning. “I’m a part of you Dante. I’ve been with you since the very beginning.”

“No…” Dante muttered, his mind trying to make sense of what he was hearing. “There’s nothing like you inside me.”

“Deny my existence all you want, it won’t change anything.” The reflection said smiling but it quickly changed to a scowl. “But what you can’t deny is them, and what you did!”

The reflection vanished and movement caught Dante’s eye. A deep cold infected his limbs deadening them as he realized the people he’d killed only hours before were moving. Slowly. Ever so slowly they began to limp, crawl, drag themselves towards him. Creaking joints and stretching sinews of lifeless flesh echoed through the room, a tune of death created for the parading corpses while they closed in on their murderer. And Dante could only sit there as fear and guilt battled inside, one screaming at him to move while the other demanded he face them.

The first to reach him was a woman, her face forcing him to relive her memory. She was holding a man—her husband maybe—who had been stabbed through the chest, crying and begging for mercy as he stood before her. The slash across her neck had been his answer.

She stared at him through black voids, standing patiently as she waited for something.

“I’m sorry.” Dante whispered hoarsely.

The woman opened her mouth and a low wail slipped out. It grew louder and louder until it was clawing at his ears, a perfect meld of anger, sorrow, rage, and misery. It froze his breath, crushed his body, tore into his soul with spiteful fury, and forced her death scene to play over and over again. And when he thought he couldn’t take it any longer, the others joined. They surrounded him serenading him with their own versions of death. He shut his eyes and covered his ears in a futile attempt to drown out the disturbing noises, but it was useless. He lived each memory. Felt every life ripped away by his sword. Heard their souls curse his very existence. But he couldn’t stop the songs of the damned. He couldn’t do anything.

So Dante opened his mouth and screamed.

Hilda flinched as another scream from Dante escaped the room. She was holding herself and crying, aware Atlas could see her and thankful he didn’t say anything. Through his training he insisted on them schooling their emotions, and became angry whenever they showed ones he consider weak. It made sense in their line of work, but it seemed tonight she wouldn’t have to worry about it. Atlas wasn’t even listening to his rules. Brows knitted together in a permanent scowl while his eyes narrowed every time he heard a cry. It was more emotion than the usually stoic assassin ever showed. He might as well have been pacing the hallway biting his nails.

“What’s happening to him,” Hilda asked when the silence finally became too much.

“Hard to say,” Atlas shrugged. “He could be seeing anything in there.”

“What do you mean,” she asked. From the way he spoke it sounded like her father was the cause of everything.

“After Soigin and I got him back and cleaned him up I slipped him a hallucinogen,” Atlas said. “He’s in his own hell right now.”

“Why would you do that?” Hilda asked quietly. Her mind reeled at the idea of her father doing such a monstrous thing.

“Tradition? Ritual? Custom?” Atlas shrugged again. “Call it whatever you want, it’s just the way things are done when someone is initiated as a Shade. Put the prospect in a traumatic situation and then drug them afterwards.”

“That’s terrible.”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t.”

They fell silent again, the only noises being the echoing whimpers of Dante leaking from underneath the door. A small amount of relief eased Hilda’s mind knowing Atlas only drugged Dante as part of an initiation, but she still felt a little anger at the fact that he did. After a moment though, curiosity took hold and she looked at her father, “What did you see?”

Atlas closed his eyes and shivered. Him! The assassin feared across the world that wouldn’t even blink at taking a child’s life.

“Some memories are better left buried.”

Hilda’s eyes returned to the door and felt restlessness slowly overcome her mind. “Was it bad for him?”

Atlas paused for a moment as the fresh memory came back. He’d seen the whole thing from his hiding spot. The target he’d assigned Dante lived in Ronin. The city once thrived as the trade center of the north between Canich and Ilinoh, but it in the last few days of the Great War it had become the epicenter of conflict between the two great countries. Thousands had lost their lives, and in the end the city was nearly reduced to rubble along with the greatness it once held.

And from the rubble a new Ronin was built, but never to return to its former glory. Once the trade king of the north, it was now a cesspool for the wicked and condemned. Murderers, thieves, drug lords—they flocked to the rebuilding city in hordes and took over. The government became corrupt. A façade of order created to maintain the city’s autonomous rule granted by the two countries it sat between. It was in the capital of anarchy where Dante had to begin his search.

A church had been the location of his target, when Dante finally found him. Ironic, but the hallowed building was being used for activities far from its original purpose. Around it, a red light district had taken root and sprung up. Signs, posters, and call girls on every corner and outside every tavern attempted to solicit anyone willing to take the risk of catching a disease, or getting their throat slit and robbed. The church stood in the center of it all, a holy relic from the old world reflected into the present as a beacon of sin.

Dante had tailed his squat bearded target there. But he wasn’t the only one who’d been following. Atlas had tagged along as well—neither the target nor his apprentice aware of his presence. When they arrived, Atlas had slipped in through the cellar and quickly made his way to the second floor balcony overlooking the party, settling in the shadows and waiting.

It had been hot, loud, and reeked of drugs, sweat, and sex—the perfect cover for Dante when he entered through a stained glass window on the second floor. Atlas remembered as his apprentice had crept through the rafters, stalking his prey through the crowd and waiting for the perfect time to make his kill. It hadn’t taken long, the crowd too distracted with their drugs and shameless orgies to concern themselves with the shrouded rafters above.

The target turned his back and Dante had blown a poison dart, the thin toxic needle sinking into a vein on the man’s neck and blending in with his hair. He hadn’t even felt the prick, already high from a hit of skag. He’d made a lewd comment to a woman and groped her ass before laughing and wandering off, making it a few feet before wobbling and then collapsing. The people around him had laughed thinking his tolerance was too low for his own good. By the time they began to realize something was wrong, Dante had nearly made it to the trap door leading to the roof. And just when he was about to reach the door he’d stepped on the cross beam Atlas had prepared.

Dante had crashed to the ground eliciting a few screams from the crowd. While the dust settled everything stilled. The music stopped, and they had stared at him with hazy eyes and mouths agape. And as Dante slowly stood, Atlas had practically heard his thoughts running through the checklist he’d beaten into his student’s head.

Dispose of the threats. Find the exit. Leave no witnesses.

Dante stiffened. The last item was subjective, depending on whether or not his identity had been compromised. Tonight it was. Atlas had specifically ordered him to forego anything that would cover his face. It was while he was coming to grips with that realization someone had started screaming about Dante’s target not breathing.

Then Atlas had spoke, his voice boomed through the rotting church and reverberated off the crumbling walls. “You’ve failed your mission Dante Heart. They now know your face and your name. You know the rules. Leave none alive.”

For one fragile moment, a dangerous calm had fallen across the church. The crowd had gawked at Dante while he stood transfixed and hyperventilating. Then it was shattered as a portly man cried out and charged Dante with an ornate dagger quivering in his hand. He’d made it three steps before he fell choking on his own blood, a slash running from hip to shoulder. No one had even seen Dante draw his sword. It was just suddenly out and dripping blood. Another man had tried to come at Dante from behind, but flicking his hand out a knife launched from his fingers and drove into the man’s throat. After that the room had descended into chaos, one filled with a myriad of blood, screams, and death.

And for Dante it had all happened in slow motion, his pupils dilated and tracking every movement, acting and reacting with minimum effort. For him, it was like taking a stroll through a meat locker.

Atlas shook his head as the memory faded and realized Hilda was still waiting for an answer.

“It was probably one of the most beautiful displays of violence I’ve ever seen,” he said. Then tilted his head and shrugged, “Not since the war at least.”

Turning to the window, he watched the moon slowly recede from the night sky and disappear behind the trees lining the property of their estate—the faint moonlight causing the white tree blossoms to glow and cover the lawn in a silvery ambiance. Gauging the time Atlas turned back to the door saying, “Not too much longer.”

How long had he been in this hell? An hour? Day? Week? He couldn’t tell anymore but it felt like an eternity. The wailing. The ceaseless wailing seeped down and reverberated within his very bones. When would it stop? When would he finally be granted some god damn silence? A raw whine bled from his lips in a pathetic attempt to drown out the shrieks threatening to suffocate him.

“I could make it stop.” The grainy voice whispered, somehow making itself heard above the screams. “I could make this all stop.”

“Go away,” Dante mumbled.

“Not until I have what I want.”

Dante felt the tug on his mind again. He was being pulled into an internal darkness that was trying to consume him. He tried to resist, but he was exhausted. The endless wailing taxed his strength until it finally slipped and his will caved.

Everything stopped and Dante slowly opened his eyes. The corpses were gone, but standing before him was his reflection again. It leaned forward and grasped either side of his head. Black subhuman eyes peered demandingly into Dante’s hazel ones.

“Give me control,” it rasped out. Dante felt a painful pressure building up inside his skull, and his vision began to darken around the edges. “Give up!”

“No,” Dante said weakly, but his vision continued to fade. The world slipped away with every second as the pain increased. Searing pain drove into his mind like nails building a fiery pressure in his head that left his mouth hanging open in a silent scream until finally only darkness remained.

Then pain receded, nearly bringing him to tears from the cool relief that washed through his mind as it became nothing more than a tickle. His body felt suspended, hanging in a colorless void. No dimly lit room. No cold stone walls. No sensations. Just nothing.

“No,” he said again and this time a tear escaped. He couldn’t disappear. Not now. Not after everything they had been through—Black Bog, the Ruins of Ithreal, the battle with the river leviathan, Atlas finally acknowledging they were something more than his apprentices—that they were a family. His family. His small, dysfunctional, crazy family. And he was letting them down by losing to an imaginary figure that didn’t even exist!

He wanted to train with Atlas even if the man pushed him past his limits. He wanted to talk with Hilda even if most of it was boring. Hell, he wanted to spar with Gin again even if the prick beat him every time! But that was the point. They were a family, and the thought of never seeing them again pissed him off to no end.

“No!” Dante said pushing against the void like it was some kind of barrier.

“It’s too late,” his copy laughed. “I’m in control now!”

Dante grit his teeth and pushed with everything he had against the overwhelming presence. An irritated fury took hold and burned through his entire body as he felt his mind finally clearing. “Get. Out!”

“The drug should be wearing off,” Atlas said watching the sun rise from the window. “When it does everything his sees in there will vanish.”

“Will he be okay,” Hilda asked.

Atlas was quite for a moment before he turned to her, “There’s something you need to understand. No matter what happens, the Dante who walks out this door will not be the same as before.”


“Because there are three types of people created from this: a broken shell of one’s former self, an emotionless killer, and someone who’s learned to carry the consequences of their actions.” Atlas folded his arms saying, “There’s only one type who can be trained in the ways of a Shade.”

The lock to Dante’s door clicked and their heads jerked to the sound. Slowly, it creaked open and Dante stood in the doorway—sweaty, haggard, and dark rings under blood shot eyes. He leaned against the door frame trying to get his breath back, barely registering the two people standing before him.

“Dante,” Hilda called taking a cautious step forward. “Are you okay?”

His glazed eyes wandered slowly up to hers and stared vacantly. His eyebrows came together like he was trying to remember the name of a familiar face. Then he gasped, slumping forward as life returned to him and Hilda thankfully managed to catch him before he could hit the floor. He shook his head grinning weakly at Atlas, his usually hoarse voice sounding even more so. “That’s the last time I ever drink anything you offer me.”

Atlas clicked his teeth and shook his head. “Cheeky brat. Hungry?”

“And exhausted,” Dante added.

“Let’s grab something to eat then,” Atlas said and began walking down the hall with Hilda slowly trailing.

Dante hesitated, glancing over his shoulder one last time before following. As he left, laughter echoed from the bedroom, down the hall, and through his mind.

“I’ve waited this long.” The entity said, lying on Dante’s bed with its hands behind its head. Black eyes danced in the morning light as a grin slowly pulled the thick scars tight across its face, “I can wait a little longer.”

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marilyn: It's awesome to hear about all these shifters finding their fated mates. I can't wait to hear more about them. I also want to hear about the cubs. And for Daryl to find his mate.

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