Shades of Light

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In the darkest moments come the brightest light. From the darkest people come the most vibrant deeds. There are always Shades of Light. Nothing in Ardae is ever as it seems. And I am no exception. My beginning started off with an attack and where it will end I don’t yet know. But it’s littered with magic, shapeshifters, power and curses. With my closest friend, my brother, I was sent to hunt for the woman. The villagers call her the Crystal Child. I have to persuade her to return to Igonox, my home. To see if she can expel the demon residing in my sweet sister. A sister I’d do anything to save. People think I’m dark, terrifying. People know nothing about me. Where I go, people die. And nobody believes I’m not the one killing them. I have a secret. But to tell the world would mean to endanger my mother, my bodyguard, and my little sister. So, I’m silent. Bound by my suffering and guilt. The Crystal Child is a creature nearly as strange as I. She’s gripped by curses to countless to name. She must spend her nights resting on cold, watery surfaces. As alone as I feel. Her troupe follow her like a great savior. Men, beasts, and the most dangerous, the women in the trees. She mesmerizes me. And my brother doesn’t like it. So my interest in her has quickly become a dangerous game. But not this time. I won’t let it happen this time…

Manda May
Age Rating:

A Brutal Beginning

Outside River City, Igonox

Something watched her.

Tonight was so dark even fields of wheat seemed black. Alisa stood at her window. Breath tight in her chest. She wore her lip thin as she squinted into the dark. The starless night refused to allow even moonlight to illuminate the meadow separating her cottage from the woods. Scents were carried to her on the same wind tossing black tresses from her face. Crushed alfalfa, wild clover and wet grass. Same as any other night.

But this night is different. Dangerous. Alisa saw visions of spilled blood tarnishing trees and grass. A portent of what came for her.

Eyes followed her every move. All over her like a repugnant touch. Feeling the same as it had all day. Making her skin crawl.

Sensing she was followed from the market she’d rushed straight home. Looking over her shoulder several times yielded only the barren dirt path.

But something was there. Lurking on huge paws. Padding quietly over her footprints. And crushing her tracks in the earth. Now it closed in. Step by step, it stayed just beyond the light. Shielded by the cover of descending night. Each hour brought it closer to her front door.

Swallowing hard she fought the terrible fear clawing through her. Sensitive to such things she felt this creature’s energy. It’s hungry. Starved for violence and excited for the darkest part of night. Vibrations rose off it. Too fast to be human.

Behind her the fireplace spit slightly. The crackling of the thick log making her jump. The fire’s glow illuminated her silhouette at the window.

Beautiful and slender, Alisa descended from a long line of Dreads, witches. Her delicate shoulders traced into a slim waist. Vibrant yellow and blue skirts framed her hips in gentle waves. A leather bodice made her breasts strain against the rough fabric of her chemise. Black hair was a shining curtain down her back. Nervously reaching around she fisted it and tugged it over her shoulder where it draped to her thighs. She worriedly rang it in her fists. Her gaze riveted on the dark creeping over the meadow.

Though she’d never harmed a soul, the people of Igonox still believed her a Dark Dread. Years ago, they’d driven her from the kingdom’s protective walls. Offering her no choice but to seek sanctuary in the fields beyond the moat.

Well aware no one would house her, shelter her, she’d faced that she was alone. I’ve nowhere to run.

I’ll not hide in the dark.

So, she’d gathered her strength, forced herself to rise from where she cowered, and shove open the shutters. Deciding to face what hunted her. Refusing to return to quaking like a child. Waiting for it to come for me. Hands gripping the coarse shutters clenched so tightly they shook. Her silver gaze studying the sloping field. Watching the outline of trees. Carefully searching for movement. Branches danced against the lazy backdrop of clouds crossing the sky. It’s too dark. Impossible to separate what’s alive from what’s shadow.

Magic coursed through her, thicker than her own blood. Her abilities to move wind and wield energy were things grown through decades of strengthening her aura like a muscle to be flexed. Power inherited from my ancestors.

But it won’t be enough. She already knew she’d be no match for what waited.

Its intruding magic bombarded her. Unnatural and so powerful it stole her breath. Fine hairs on her neck went erect, those on her head tingling with awareness.

Sending her aura in smoky tendrils, she made a last effort to see if she could find what was out there and somehow prepare, protect, herself. A projection of her spirit emerged in a burst of energy. An image of herself floating on light, feet running beneath a willowy skirt across a moonlit field as she followed the remnants of the intruder’s energy like footprints. Trailing it, she entered the foggy forest.

And found the beast hunkered behind shrubs, a huge black feline with silver stripes. Following its gaze, she found it was in direct line with the cottage. Staring at her body posed between the shutters.

Moving its paws restlessly, made sleek muscles ripple. Yellow eyes flicked to her. Staring at the puff of energy standing next to it, the tiger gave a snarl and leapt toward her hazy projection.

She lunged back in terror. How’d it see me?

Energy dissipating, she rushed back to her flesh in an attempt to protect it from what stampeded across the meadow now. Her spirit lodged back inside her. Blinking rapidly, she attempted to focus. Seeing the reflective yellow gaze floating over the field, despite all her thoughts of courage, she was unable to resist her instinctive response. Slamming the shutters closed, she slapped the bolt in place. Fleeing to hide next to her bed. Crouching as close to the frame as she could she hunkered down to hide.

A wave of her hands built a protective barrier around her bed and fireplace. Magic shimmering in waves. Survival behind these walls will be possible for a few days perhaps...As long as I can hold it. But once I weaken, it’ll weaken. Tightening her fingers around an imaginary ball made the fireplace react. Spitting steam as it bloomed to full life.

Let it fear the fire. She prayed fervently.

A heap of poached furs were piled on her cot. Her covers. Leaning just high enough to peer over them she saw the shutters, still as they were.

Everything was horrifically silent. Even night birds ceased chirping. Fear touched everything. Hoping something had drawn its violence was impossible. The feel of evil had not waned. Pulsing with life, it surrounded the cottage and crawled over her flesh like fondling hands.

Swallowing hard she barely breathed. Her fears were realized when the shutters splintered in an explosion of wood, sending the bolt spinning toward her. An involuntary scream erupted from her throat. Metal clanged against the wall above her bed and plopped to the furs.

Leaping through the window the beast landed gracefully. Trailing through the room on soundless paws. Lip curling when it rumbled. Yellow eyes flicking over her hiding place intently.

Slouching further against the wall she clenched the frame. Eying the gap between the cot and floor she knew she wouldn’t fit beneath it. Even as she prayed the bed would keep her hidden, she was aware how pathetic a hope it was. Closing her eyes tightly she held her breath and concentrated on holding her magic barrier.

It’s all that may save me now. Blinking her eyes open she saw the thing just outside her manifested wall. Near the foot of her bed it stared at her hungrily. Claws scraping the floor as it moved toward her. Head lowered, the tiger stepped purposefully toward her.

Alisa watched in horror as the barrier vibrated and gave. Parting like curtains to make way for the beast.

The tiger never blinked, never looked away. Eyes shining with evil as it crept steadily closer, dropping to crawl closer, nearly on its belly. Saliva frothed around razor teeth and glistened on the fur of its jaw. The low growl tore across her frayed nerves making her jerk in terror.

Wincing she drew a shaky breath. Reaching next to her she gripped the cot trying to prepare herself for death.

When it lunged, she instinctively crossed her arms over her face. Instead of tearing her apart it landed only close enough to catch her skirt. Gripping enough fabric to drag her along the floor it yanked her from the wall.

Hands flying out she tried to hold on to something. The only thing near was the wooden frame of the cot next to her.

It’s not enough. Splinters broke loose and embedded in her palms, tearing one open. Knowing crying out would be useless didn’t keep her from trying. No one is close enough to hear.

Even if they did, who’d help me? A niggling voice tormented her mind. Whimpering, she tried a barrage of magic that did little more than blow back his fur.

It’s too powerful!

Why are you after me?

On massive black paws it crept over her. Each step slow and excruciating as it straddled her. Face lower to hers as it growled from deep in its chest.

Alisa tried to push it back but was too small. And it’s too heavy. Preparing to be slaughtered she forced herself to stare into the eyes of the thing that’d take her life.

Some strange light in its eyes and its long study, made her turn her head to meet its virulent stare.

It didn’t come to kill me. And that thought was even more horrifying.

“What do you want?” She cried.

Its eyes began to change. From reflective yellow to rich blue.

Human eyes…

The straight brow bones curved, and a human face began to form. Lowering its lumbering weight on her it pinned her to the ground. Struggling to breathe she tried to wriggle from under it.

It’s impossible. He’s too heavy!

She screamed for help.

No one is coming for me. That small voice inside her was so very cruel. Feeling helpless she clawed at the attacker.

Black fur fell from his body in chunks. Shape reducing as his body thinned into the smooth hairless skin of a young man.

“Wh-what are you doing?” Over and over she cried it.

He wouldn’t answer. Adjusting his weight to yank her skirts out of the way made it clear.

Not that.

“No!” She tossed her head side to side. Grip on the wood frame next to her tightening and fingernails breaking off as she clung to it. “Please don’t!”

Anything else. Do anything else! When it became apparent all the pleading, wailing and screaming in the world wouldn’t stop him she went silent. Still as the dead.

Waiting for the agonizing moment to end. Refusing to acknowledge she was taken on the floor of her cottage by a half-human, she memorized a point on the wall.

Finishing, he rose. Glimpsing his profile in-front as he moved beyond the fireplace, she made a small sound in her throat.

Ignoring her he went to the window. Staring out silently.

Yanking her skirts down she drug herself onto the bed. Clutching her thighs as she tried to ignore the pain. “I know who you are.” She shout sideways at him. “My King.” Her eyes burned with hatred.

His back stiffened.

“You’ll have to kill me now.” Rage forced her words through gritted teeth. “I won’t be your woman!”

Glancing over his shoulder revealed his eyes had reverted to reflective yellow. Lip curling in a sneer. “You’re already serving your purpose now. No need to kill you.” Enunciating each word, he exuded as much passion as if he’d just thrown a rock. His gaze wandering to her stomach.

Reflexively her hand went to her abdomen. “No.” Softer this time then the times before she repeated it fervently. Filled with horror, she began rocking herself. “I don’t want it!” Tears streamed her face.

“It’s too late.” Without a word more, he turned back to the window.

She stared at the floor so long. Tears falling to the dirt floor that she didn’t know when he’d gone.

Glancing up she found she was alone again. “I will be no vessel for your offspring!” She raged.

She heard cold laughter echoing over the meadow.

Still shaking her head side to side, she gave a sob and put a hand over her mouth. Curling into a ball on her side she withdrew into herself. Weeping throughout the night. Her broken mind only finding footing when a new sun began to rise.

As though I was never shattered last night.

All prospects of a love, a family, stolen from me. Now she was done. No more tears for last night’s suffering. She vowed.

Going to the lake she scrubbed herself until sores formed from the rough linen. Refusing to succumb to the urge to weep again she stepped from the water and dried her body with scraps of fabric.

The first flickering of energy emerged inside her.

The monster was right.

His evil had taken root in a body powerful enough to bring it to fruition.

Teeth grinding, she rubbed her flat stomach. The walls of her cottage quaked in her fury sending dust pouring in through the ceiling.

Trying to will the child to inexistence had proven ineffective. An hour later with arms crossed she watched her clothing burning in the fireplace. The reflection of the dancing flames shined in hollow silver eyes.

All things must have balance! She began to form the first shimmers of her plan.

She’d made a decision. What I do now is more important then my pain.

What he did to me will have lasting consequences in Igonox. Alisa was going to birth true evil. Evil that will be unleashed in the realm if I let it. She bit her lip until it bled, clawing at her stomach restlessly. But the tiny creature in her was too powerful to be expelled.

Her spell book thumped heavily onto the little round table. Sending up a cloud of dust that filled the corner of the room. Oblivious she crossed her arms over her stomach as her dark eyes narrowed on the pages. They flipped faster and faster until her hand shot out and slapped one open. Leaning over she read it attentively. Teeth gnashing.

Straightening she turned to pace. Sliding off the table, the book floated before her as she walked back and forth. Her eyes lifted to the wall thoughtfully. The book promptly thunked to the floorboards, crinkling the fur covering the floor.

I found it. The spell she’d been looking for. Soon after, she located the second. One for summoning. One of transformation.

Now she only needed a moon. Fat and round. To bring her plotting to full light.

Wielding her energy, she wrapped time around her fetus. Sealing her aura around it. Effectively suspending the life growing inside her. It will keep it from aging beyond this moment. But the spell was temporary at best.

Perhaps, only perhaps, it’d get her by until the Full Moon.

An agonizing sevennight passed before it came. When it did, she was prepared. She waited, standing barefoot in the forest with a purple gown draped loosely over her supple curves. Shivering nervously and briskly rubbing her upper arms against the chill.

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