Tales of the Thorns Book 2: Mask of Darkness

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Summary

When her lover is banished Malice must don her Mask of Darkness along with allying herself with pirates to save an innocent from slavers to reunite with Marena.

Genre:
Fantasy / Erotica
Author:
Mark McQuillen
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
16
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1

He would have us run and hide?” She hissed into the winds.

She couldn’t believe it. That female had been hunting her. That female, had entered the Shadowlands with means to kill her; and the moment she was within Malice’s grasp, he’d allowed her kin to whisk her away. What was worse, he’d ordered Malice and the others to Sha’vek, a cold and desolate world, deep within the Shadowlands. How was she supposed to get her answers now?

“He means only to keep us safe, my love.” Marena’s voice echoed across the snowy ledge and down into the chasm below. “The Sha’doi are the best tutors in all of the Shadowlands. The things we could learn from them.”

Oh, she was beautiful, with long, dark-chocolate locks that fell down about her shoulders, and a set of emerald greens eyes that kept Malice entranced for days on end. She was everything to Malice, her anchor in this strange new place and the voice of reason that kept her head out of the clouds. If anything were to make this adventure, bearable, it was the warmth in her touch.

“This place is like a prison.” Malice shook her head and closed her eyes. “As if he punishes us for some, unknown failure.” She added with a growl and turned away from the ledge.

“Come with me, my love. Let us find food and drink, and perhaps a few guests to keep us company tonight?” Marena smiled at her and took her by the arm.

“No amount of drunken whoring will make me forget what he has done.” Malice scowled, but followed Marena’s lead nonetheless.

“You would be surprised.” Marena laughed, leaning her head against the Valkyrie’s shoulder as they strode through the doors and down the stone steps that led to the great hall.

For three months she’d watched her love battle the torments in her mind, the questions of her past swirling like a whirlwind and driving her mad. She’d done all she could to contain the tension, but if Pathen didn’t return soon, she feared there would be nothing to return to. Sha’vek was no place for a Valkyrie. It’s cold, harsh climate kept her confined to the fortress and those inside made her life all but unbearable.

They tried to train her, but how did you train something that didn’t even know what she was? How did you instill beliefs and hope to harness the power inside, if she who was to learn, could not remember the basic fundamentals of her life?

“Shimoi?” She heard the tutor call her name, or rather, the name she’d been given upon entering the fortress. “Come.”

It meant young one, and Marena hated it; but what could she do? She was stuck here, just as Malice was. There were no portals, save the one in the courtyard and it was heavily guarded. No one was allowed in or out without the express permission of the Sha’nolah, and she had refused to speak to anyone. The Shadows were a secretive people, a proud people, but if they continued to treat Malice the way they were, they’d be a dead people soon enough.

“Shi’moi, I said, come.” The female barked again, hiding behind a blood red cloak and carrying a candle that dripped wax all over the floor. “There is much to learn.”

“Of course, Shi’val.” She replied.

“You think of your lover, do you not?” The elder chuckled.

“Always, Shi’val.” Marena smiled and bowed her head.

“Well, do not. There is nothing you can do but wait and watch, like the rest of us. She will come to her senses. They all do.”

“Malice is not just any pupil, Shi’val. She is a creature of elegance and grace. If you push her...”

Marena’s words were cut short with the sting of her tutor’s hand across her face. “She is a pupil and she will learn, or we will find someone else to be your protector.” The elder snapped, her eyes aglow beneath the blood red hood. “She is impatient, callous and rude. There is no place for such near the throne.”

The anger rose inside Marena. She wanted to reach out and slip her fingers around the heathen’s throat, squeeze until her eyes popped out of their sockets and the last hint of life was extinguished. Of course, this was not allowed and would see her removed from Sha’vek. What would Malice do then? Who would keep her sane?

“Now, you must focus...” Shi’val’s voice was a distant whisper as Marena worried about her lover, the orb in her hand turning black as night as she pooled her anger within. “I said, focus.” She shouted, slapping Marena again.

It wasn’t her fault. She hadn’t meant to let the orb go, nor had she intended to see her thoughts brought to life; but the last thing she heard was the sound of the doors slamming open and she felt the hands take hold of her arms.

“Release me.” She hissed, but there was no one to reply, the Shi’val, her tutor, lay burnt to a crisp at her feet and those guards were not going to let her go.

The guard stood at the edge of her bed, his spear at the ready should she try to escape. It would only have been attempt number two-hundred and forty-seven, but who was counting?

She was a prisoner in this place. Unable to move about as she please, unable to see Marena. It was hell, being able to smell her and not touch her. Malice hungered for the sound of her voice, ached for a glimpse of her smile. She meant everything to Malice, and she was being held in another wing of this blasted fortress in hopes if she was out of sight, she’d be out of mind. This, was far from the case.

Three months. That’s how long it had been since they’d first arrived in this fortress built of ice and stone. Three months, since she’d walked the Shadowlands and tasted the freedom it harbored. Three months, since she’d felt the hands of love caress her body and erase the horrors deep within.

“Get up!” The voice barked at her as the female entered the room.

A little shorter than Malice was, but carrying a warrior’s attitude and the skills to boot, Malice’s Shi’val was a feisty little creature and she aimed to make Malice behave.

“You could try being a little nicer.” Malice replied, pulling herself from her bed. “What are we doing today, more balancing acts with chairs?”

“No.” Her Shi’val let out. “No more balancing acts.”

“Then, perhaps we could try riding? It has been so long since I have ridden a...”

“No.” Her Shi’val growled. “No riding, no orbs, no lessons on etiquette.”

“Then what are we doing?” Malice inquired.

“We have been summoned by the Shi’nolah. You must hurry and dress.” The Shi’val announced, throwing a gown of silver and gold her way.

Malice knew that name. She knew it meant business. The Shi’nolah was like their Queen, the handed down all the orders and oversaw the dealings within Sha’vek. She was old and wise, carrying with her the knowledge of all the Shi’nolah’s before her. She also hated everyone and spent most of her time in seclusion; so, why had she summoned Malice?

“Hurry now, we must not keep her waiting.”

What they had done to Marena could have been considered treason in some circles, but deep within the bowels of Sha’vek it was a lesson. There had been many fights to get Malice to cooperate, but this..

“This is not right, Shi’nolah. There will be bloodshed.” Wa’linh warned the female as she gazed down upon Marena in the great hall below. “You were to train them, not see them to starting a war you cannot think to win.”

Marena struggled against her bonds, her skin covered in bruises and filth; and Wa’linh shook her head as the Shi’nolah laughed. “It is what was asked of us, child.”

“This, is not what was asked.”

“In your opinion, which is why you were not consulted on the matter.” She laughed again, still hidden in the shadows of her private balcony.

“I am Shak’Morikai, it is my duty to protect them both.” Wa’linh glared at the Shi’nolah. “You know as well as I that the Shi’val provoked Marena...”

“And now, Marena will provoke Malice and we shall see how deep her loyalties lie.”

“She will kill for her.” Wa’linh laughed. “And I fear, you will be among the dead.”

“We shall see, but Malice will have to use what she has learned, if, she has learned anything at all.” The Shi’nolah glared at her. “And you, are forbidden to interfere.”

“Excuse you?”

“It is what was asked. She must do this on her own.”

“If she does not?” Wa’linh inquired with a furrowed brow.

“Then we will have to find someone better suited to the task of protector. It is my right, as Shi’nolah, to ask for such. It is my duty to ensure the heir is properly prepared and I have my doubts about the Valkyrie.”

“I, do not.” Wa’linh growled, her patience wearing thin. “Just remember, Koryn, who put that crown upon your head.”

“Had you concern for the crown, you should have put it upon your own when you banished your mother from the throne.” The female hissed back. “But no, none of the five wanted to give up their freedoms.” She added, making her way for the balcony doors. “You had your chance to see this through. Now it is up to me, and I believe Malice must suffer before she can truly learn from her lessons.”

“This will not end well.”

“Nonetheless, it will be done, and you and your sisters will stay far, far away from them until it is over.”

Sure, the bitch wore the crown and sat on the throne, but playing with fire would still get you burned. “Very well!” Wa’linh replied through gritted teeth.

She had been ordered not to interfere, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t send someone else.

She knew what she had done was wrong, but she’d never expected to be bound and stripped of her abilities for it. This was beyond insanity, and what was worse, she had no idea what would happen next. Her Shi’val was dead, killed by her own hand and the whole of Sha’doi stood waiting for her punishment to be handed down. It was a nightmare, except there were no Dragons, no lands burning before her eyes..

The doors opened across the great hall and a commotion ensued. Marena could see or hear what was happening, but she could smell Malice; and the anger that surrounded her. Why was she here? Was she to witness Marena’s judgment? As if being bound wasn’t bad enough, and Marena hung her head.

“Marena?” Malice called out but she was far too embarrassed to look up. “Marena, what have they done?”

“Look upon your mistakes and know that this is your punishment!” The Shi’nolah appeared behind the throne, her royal court assembling on the steps below her.

“Wait, what?” Marena choked out as Malice was brought forward in a gown of gold and silver, her long , blonde locks hanging in curls about her face.

“Do you see, Malice, what your insolence has done?” The Shi’nolah went on. “Do you see how your ways have corrupted the innocent?”

“Corrupted the innocent?” Marena shouted out in protest. “She has done nothing.”

The crowd gasped as the light left the Shi’nolah’s hand and surrounded Marena, creating a wall that silenced her cries. “Even now, she speaks out against those who would protect the realm of Shadows.”

Malice looked on in horror as Marena fought to dispel the orb she’d been trapped in, but her efforts proved useless. She shouted, but none heard her. She rapped against the energy shield but for all the light it let off with each hit, it did not break. She was forced to watch and listen to what came next, powerless to stop any of it.

“Let her go.” Malice hissed, her eyes glowing as Marwolaeth took hold. “You will release her, or face the steel of our blade.”

She was quick, but the guard behind her was quicker, emerging from the shadows with a blade of his own, one he held at Malice’s throat while the Shi’nolah continued. “Your spirit is fierce, but have you learned all that you need to save her?”

“What do you mean, save her?” Malice sneered, pinned against the male’s chest as Marena looked on in fear from within the orb. “If you touch her, I will end you.”

“So you say, but have you learned enough to do so?”

Malice was clearly confused, wrestling with her captor and the blade. “You will pay for this once she is free.”

“One must find a thing, before it can free it.” The Shi’nolah laughed and raised her hand, lifting Marena and the orb into the air.

“What are you doing?” Malice shouted, and Marena watched as Malice fought harder, but it was too late; for a moment later Marena found herself in a darkened room, her hands in chains behind her back and her eye covered in dark cloth.

“Hello?” She called out, but there came no reply. “Hello?” She called again into the darkness and this time heard the horse voice speaking back.

“Welcome, pretty lady.” It chuckled, then disappeared, leaving Marena alone and scared in her new prison.

“What have you done with her?” Malice shouted, still fighting in her captor’s grasp.

“What was asked of us, and had you cooperated, we would not be here, now.” The Shi’nolah growled. “This, is your punishment and it will only end when you have proven your worth.”

“Tell me where she is.” Malice hissed.

“You will have to use what you have learned if you wish to find her, but I must warn you, for this is a quest you must take on your own. None will help you, and some would do so only to see you suffer more. Be careful, Malice, for this is your only chance.”

They had sent Marena somewhere and it was taking everything in her not to decapitate them all where they stood. Had she done so, she’d risk losing Marena forever and that was not an option. Instead, she stood still, calming herself best she could,

“There, that is better!” The Shi’nolah smiled. “It seems you did learn something, now go, and show us more.”

Malice did her best to bow, now released from her captor’s grasp, but she was so very close to leaping up those stone steps and digging her blade deep into the bitch’s chest. How dare she think to entrap Malice like this? How dare she toy with Marena’s well being?

“Where do I start?” Malice inquired, her head low and her fists clenched.

“As I said, none will help you, not even me.” She replied and raised her hand again, this time encasing Malice in an orb. “Good luck!” She added and with that, Malice found herself on a deserted beach, with green waters lapping at the shores.

“I will kill you, mark my words!” She called into the air and looked out over the water, “I will kill you!”

She was beyond the point of caring, having watched the Shi’nolah carry out her plan. Both Malice and Marena were gone and there hadn’t been anything she could do about it; well, nothing that would leave her living at least.

‘She has to do this on her own, Wa’linh, as was asked of us.’ Koryn’s words dug deep, but she wished her blade had dug deeper.

Half-assed excuse for a priestess, she was probably still sore about losing her own freedom to keep watch over Sha’vek; a job bestowed upon her by Wa’linh herself.

“What troubles you, sister?” Ge’nah approached, sensing her sister’s anger.

“They are gone.” Wa’linh growled. “She has sent them away to who knows where.”

“Who knows where?” Ge’nah laughed, toying with a blade. “This is the question, is it not?”

“This is no time for games, Ge’nah. We have been forbidden to help her.”

“That is your problem, sister dear, your wrath clouds your judgment.” Ge’nah grinned and held out her hand. “Whereas, my greed allows me to see the rules of the game at hand, and bend them to suit my own needs.”

“Speak what you mean, or speak not at all.” Wa’linh hissed as others entered the room.

“We each have our own talents, yours just masks all else and makes it hard for you to see the truth in matters.” Another of her sisters spoke up from the darkened doorway.

“Yes, because a good fuck is what I need right now, Lo’rell.” Wa’linh shook her head. “Not every problem can be solved by a cock.”

“Really?” Her sister laughed, “Then I guess, the whispers of a love sick guard are of no interest to you?”

“What could he possibly have to say?” Wa’linh growled, annoyed beyond belief and unwilling to waste any more time. “This is insane. What Koryn has done...”

“Is exactly what Pathen asked her to do.” Pi’lara cut in, appearing behind Lo’rell. “You know as well as we do that the Valkyrie is ruled by her emotions, her anger above all others.”

“If anything, the Shi’nolah has done Malice a favor, sparking a flame she will surely need to find her Marena.” En’vala added as she too, came in from the hall.

Wa’linh had not thought about that, in fact, she hadn’t thought much past packing a satchel and mounting a horse. They couldn’t have sent Malice that far, could they?

“What did he say?” Wa’linh inquired.

“Who?” Pilara replied.

“The guard with the magical cock.” Wa’linh rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Well?”

“Seems there was a call for double the guards at two of the five off-world outposts.” Lo’rell smiled. “One of which, is located deep within Insidian space.”

“And the other?”

“Vekor.” Lo’rell sighed, “But they would not send either of them there. Too close to Vash and the Forbidden Zones.”

“So, Malice is on Insidia?” Wa’linh asked with a raised brow.

’My guess is Marena, and they wait for Malice to find her.” En’vala grinned. “What? It is what I would do.”

“We have to find Malice.”

“We, have been forbidden to do anything, remember?” Pi’lara groaned. “The Shi’vals have eyes everywhere.”

“They are not the only ones.” Wa’linh smiled, eyeing Ge’nah. “Are they?”

Of all the backwater planets they could have sent her to, this had to be one of the worst. Insidia Prime, sister planet to Indari, though you wouldn’t know it just by looking at them. Indari was covered in vast purple oceans and lush, emerald green forests.

Insidia, on the other hand, was nothing more than a scorched wasteland, barren in most places and incredibly hot and humid. Nothing could withstand the heat, or the sandstorms that ripped across the planet’s surface; which is why those that called Insidia home, lived deep beneath the chaos above.

Tunnels and caverns, stone steps and rickety old bridges, lit by lanterns that hung on posts in the eerie shadows of the deep. It made you wonder what sort of people lived in such vile conditions, but then, she already knew who, or rather, what lived here. It frightened her to think that she would be stuck here, in a maze she could never hope to navigate, with the Insid.

Towering over her with skin in varying shades of green and gray, and hair that was braided back to hang down behind them, they were a warrior race known for their barbarian ways. Savages. Heathens. Monsters. They carried many different names, but Marena knew them for what they really were, pawns in Pathen’s game. He’d often spoken of their brute force and lack of intellect, the perfect soldier to help their cause. They were loyal to a fault, hitting first and asking questions later. It mattered not so long as the battle was won.

This was to be her prison. For how long, she knew not. There was no telling what the Shi’nolah had planned, or Pathen for that matter, but her fate was not what stirred the anxiety inside her. Where was Malice? What had happened after Marena had been banished from Sha’vek? What would happen now?

Watching out the little window, dug from the soil and rigged with bars to stop her escape, she counted the lanterns that sway in the darkness. Anything, to keep her mind from going mad with worry.

“Malice will come for me. Just wait.” She whispered and closed her eyes, before starting again with the counting.

She’d been walking for most of the day, and now with the moon high overhead, she’d finally come to the end of the beach. With no sign of life, save the creatures in the trees, she worried that she’d never find her way off this rock; wherever this rock happened to be. They’d banished her from Sha’vek and sent Marena who knows where. The power that female had held in her hand both excited and frightened her. She wanted it bad, if only to use it against the bitch from ripping her love away from her.

Shaking her head, she eyed a small cave, hidden by bushes and fallen branches. It was clear that someone had purposely tried to hide it, for the branches were of a different wood, from a tree unlike those that grew nearby; that, and the drag marks in the sand that had yet to disappear in the coming waves. If there were people here, there would be a settlement, and perhaps, even a boat. She’d kill for a ship, but she wasn’t about to jinx it, and instead thought about rowing down the coast until she could find something better.

Coming up on a tunnel at the back of the cave, one that led deeper still and opened into an underground lagoon, a smile crossed her face. In the distance she spotted the flames, and then the male who tended the fire on the beach. He looked Human, but she’d have to get closer to tell for sure. It was then she caught the lights swaying in the darkness, no, not swaying, bobbing, as if...

It was a ship, and those lights were swinging back and forth as the waves rocked the hull. A ship, she couldn’t believe it. It looked old in the dim light but it was floating. That was generally a good indication that it could sail, and sail it would, right to the nearest portal once she located one. How she was going to locate one with no ability to blink or summon help? That would come later, she just hoped they’d left her with the gift of change, for she would need her illusions to get aboard.

What did one wear to commandeer a ship?

“Amos?” She heard the voice, young and sweet and so very close.

Whoever Amos was, he wasn’t here, but if she could subdue this female and take her place...

She had to try, no matter what it took, she had to get out of here and find Marena.


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Further Recommendations

Bureche: Lovely story as always.The ending is a bit abrupt and somehow rushed. Otherwise, the story development up until the later chapters was wonderful.Still, a good dose of a cute ever after.

Katie: The female lead takes a very long time to grow up. There is sooo much drama. Would appreciate a bit more character development for characters added later. And more sexy scenes! There was better detail earlier on, then it became just a passing mention of passion that happened.

mariegiggles79: I like it all and would recommend it to all my friends

Christina: I loved this book. I'll be reading the entire series.

RogueWolf : ITS GOOD SOO FAR I DO LIKE IT ... WOULD LOVE TO CONTINUE READING IT AND FINISHING THE STORY.. sooner than later.. But love it so far ... all goods

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Cindi47: What a interesting plot I can't imagine living by myself in the woods😳 Bit the Inter twist has me wanting more with a wonderful ending...mmmm wo der what will happen☺

By Terri: Enjoyed the story but there are several missing parts, like what did he do to her that she sent her kids away from them? What ever happened with King Jason? Lots of spelling and grammar errors but was a good read.

suchana: I felt this story incomplete and was in a hurry to finish it

Sarah J: Omg yet another brilliant one. So so so looking forward to reading the next one

Cindy Ferris Damron: I need more. Great story❣️❣️❣️

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