Warning This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. Loose Id® e-books are for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers. * * * * * This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable.
Shadow Hunt L. M. Prieto & Jayson Taylor This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Published by Loose Id LLC 1802 N Carson Street, Suite 212-2924 Carson City NV 89701-1215 www.loose-id.com Copyright © May 2007 by L. M. Prieto & Jayson Taylor All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e-book may be reproduced or shared in any form, including, but not limited to printing, photocopying, faxing, or emailing without prior written permission from Loose Id LLC. ISBN 978-1-59632-475-6 Available in Adobe PDF, HTML, MobiPocket, and MS Reader Printed in the United States of America Editor: Raven McKnight Cover Artist: Anne Cain .
Chapter One Winter stepped over the body of the royal bastard he’d just killed and fed another log onto the fire. Red-orange flames licked at the alder wood. Warmth snaked out of the stone hearth, teasing him. At another time, there would be no cooling body behind him. No conniving human witch waiting for him, no human world wrapped tightly around him. It would just be Winter, the cool air in the north, and the flames whispering secrets. For demons, they told tales. In the fireplace, flames rose and twined, creating a map of the city. Winter lowered himself to the ground and studied the map of flames. His master, Kenth, had allowed him to taste his blood, but the binding spells around Winter were too strong. He could use the sanguine taste to hunt, but not hurt the man. His lips drew back, exposing a hint of sharp teeth. Vile, brilliant witch. Winter might not be able to kill Kenth for this insult, but that didn’t mean he’d forget. By tonight, all of his master’s kin would be dead, and when the spells holding Winter were gone, Kenth would join them. .
2 L. M. Prieto & Jayson Taylor Buildings and streets flickered in the flames. They shifted, the forms as brief as human life, and then returned, creating familiar locations. There. Near the edge of the Delvore Commons. Winter smiled. He reached past the noble’s body and plucked his feathered black mask off the floor. Rising, he slipped the cool shape over his face and headed for the door. Voices rustled near the entrance, a quiet reminder that this shadowed place was a respite and that the human world waited outside. As much as he relished the quiet and the fire, his master had plans. Winter opened the door. Bright summer light stabbed his eyes. Frowning, he stepped into the crowd. Ahead, a harlequin and a blue jay passed each other near the glassblower’s stall and bowed. Today the Delvore Commons flowed with brightly costumed and masked people buying jewelry and spiced cakes, expensive silks and small animals. The summer market drew people from all over the kingdom in Delvore. They paid their respects to their king, thankful for the bounty his reign created, and celebrated. It was the best and worst that humans had to offer one another, spread out over three days. For his part, Winter wore a costume composed entirely of black feathers and pieces of silk in shades of black, blue, and silver. The mask hid his eyes, and the rich fabric allowed him to pass through the crowd without question. A shoulder smacked into his. Winter turned and found a peasant, dressed in something that looked like it had been dug out of an onion patch, scowling at him. “Watch yourself.” Winter raised a gloved hand. His claws were sheathed in the soft black leather, but they could easily tear through the fabric binding them. A quick flick across the human’s throat – .
Shadow Hunt 3 Would attract attention. Snarling softly, Winter pushed past the man. Demonkind had attacked this land once, forty years before. They’d been driven back, but Winter knew they’d one day return. When they did, he would peel the flesh away from that man. A sigh crept through the air, sharpening into a scream. Winter stilled. He knew where it came from and what it meant better than anyone in the city. He looked toward the keep, toward the center of Delvore. The scream spilled into the streets and rose like a wave. Winter watched people stop and lift masked faces to the sky. The wretched sound tore off on the edge of a sob, and the city paused for a moment. People held their breath and looked at each other. They searched for confirmation in the eyes of those around them. That was the banshee, wasn’t it? The spirit that howled the death of the monarch? Yes. And even as the people stood there, Winter knew the spirit was appearing before the king’s heir. Despite his feelings towards Delvore, Winter found the banshee’s tale fascinating. She had been a young maid in the days before the ruling family had come to power and Delvore was a loose alliance of farming families. Where the keep now stood had been fields of poppy flowers, untended for years until a family of winemakers bought the land and began to supply poppy milk to distant cities. Wine and poppies, on those were the fortunes of the king’s family built. And on death as well, a death in the meadow upon which the keep itself had eventually been built. .
4 L. M. Prieto & Jayson Taylor The eldest son of that merchant family had fallen in love with a miller’s daughter. She was a witch, and in her love she’d given him a gift, a strength that would adapt with his heirs to help them succeed. Her status was far below his, though. Fearing a secret marriage, the boy’s father ordered her hanged. Soon she stood at the gallows with the noose around her neck, the sea of poppies nodding in the breeze. Too late she realized that her lover would not raise a hand against his father. Furious, she cursed the family, and to this day she heralded the deaths of her killer’s descendants. And, bitter irony, continued to give her dead lover’s heirs a gift. The newly deceased king had sired several bastards before coming into power, so the banshee made his new bride infertile so that there would be fewer children fighting for the throne. His father before him enjoyed card games, so she gave him luck, ensuring that no one would ever play with him more than once. Winter smiled. Clever witch. She had the soul of a demon. In the demon lands of the north, Winter had heard many tales about the banshee and wondered why the people of Delvore allowed themselves to be ruled by a ghost-tainted line. Then the demons attacked and they learned that, as unpleasant as the curse was, the blessing that went with it was worth it. The late king’s father might not have found many joyful card players, but his enemies had also regretted going against him. He always won, whether gambling or fighting demons. The late king could not sire an official heir, but the bastards he had were given extraordinary health. No sickness would touch them, no poison wound them. Why, it was joked, nothing less than a demon could hurt them. The tower bells at the end of the street tolled, breaking the silence that had settled over the summer market. .
Shadow Hunt 5 Nearby, guards fell to their knees. It began with the commander, almost as though his legs had given out. The rest of the contingent followed in a fan of movement as man after man lowered himself, head bowed. Winter shrugged and continued on his way. His master had killed the king, of course. Just as one betrayal led to death, Kenth was quietly avenging his past. Magic would hide the blood, and neither the banshee nor Winter would ever tell. * * * * * An evening breeze whispered along the oaks lining the narrow cobblestone road as Peregrine ushered out his last client of the day. It had been a fairly easy reading for the innkeeper’s wife, a spread of five cards, with his fingertips whispering over the paper, learning their secrets. At the corner, the wife turned, offered him a smile, and then disappeared around a gray stone building. Peregrine returned to his tower. The reading had gone well until the banshee’s scream traveled the city and broke his concentration. Grief coiled inside him. The king was dead. Peregrine would never see his father again. Despite the early hour, this first night of festival would be quiet. The creature waiting in the shadows behind the reading table had seen to that. “Thank you for waiting,” he said, closing the door behind him. Peregrine had sensed the spirit gathering shape behind him and had whispered an incantation to cloak it in his client’s presence. The creature was older than he, and anger gave her power. Legend said that she would appear before only one person, and if there were others present, they would die. If she wanted, she could have broken his spell and taken the wife. A sigh stirred the shadows in the corner. The sound grew louder, forming words. .