Here is the opening of Shadow Walking. The setting is a few years on from the Prologue. Hope you enjoy :)
Silence enshrouded the heavily fortified castle surrounded by a fifty foot high wall. All entrances were sealed tight, the main double doors made of ten inch thick wood. Every window was hidden behind thick steel shutters allowing no means of entry to the building.
The castle was impenetrable…with the exception of one miniscule area in the window nearest the double doors.
A stray tendril of sunlight slipped through a chink in the steel shutter guarding the window. As the sun blazed high in the bright blue sky, the faint hint of a breeze blew through the courtyard and drifted towards the chink carrying with it a scarlet red mist.
The mist swirled gently and wafted inside breaching the impregnable fortress. Somewhere deep within the dark bowels of the castle something stirred in response instantly on alert.
The mist hovered for an instant and then slowly coalesced into shape, taking on the human form of a tall female with mahogany coloured hair laced liberally with dark red streaks. She stood frozen on the spot as her shape formed. The slow rise and fall of her chest the only movement she made.
Flame stood within the huge entrance hallway, allowing her dark gaze to become accustomed to the gloomy interior. There was a soft glow of light which was good because her night vision wasn’t as advanced as the inhabitants of the castle. It was better than most of her kind though, one of her special abilities.
Once her eyes adjusted she was able to view the interior quite easily. The entranceway was grand, bordering on ostentatious, but then vampires were all about beautiful possessions, or so she’d been told. They saw it as a mark of their power, their vanity so colossal it was laughable. She had expected the castle of the Crown Prince to be the most lavish just because of his status, but this really was over the top.
Her gaze travelled the marble staircase leading upwards, black steps with no balustrade to prevent a fall. They appeared to be suspended in thin air but she knew there was some type of support somewhere, she just couldn’t see it from the angle she was standing.
Just the sight of it was enough to make her stomach flip over, her vertigo kicking in with a vengeance. Flame knew it was ridiculous to be afraid of heights. Her brain told her that daily, and yet, she’d never been able to overcome the silly fear she’d had since childhood.
Dragging her gaze from the staircase she methodically continued her examination of the room, taking in the ornate chandelier hanging from the high ceiling. It had to be the hugest thing she’d ever seen, full of dangling crystals of all shapes and sizes. It took her a moment to realise she was looking at diamonds and not crystals.
Flame continued her perusal managing to hold in a snort of amusement. She didn’t expect the vampires to be awake with them being nightwalkers and it being high noon. But a few of them were day walkers, Día Volar. Or so the legends of her people said.
Flame was new to her position, barely five years into her apprenticeship as a Shadow Walker. She’d been educated regarding the other species of her world but there wasn’t really much to be told as it had been so long since they’d interacted. She was almost certain that the day walking vampires couldn't be real, but it paid to be alert none-the-less.
Letting out a short puff of air, she shifted her position infinitesimally. Her short tenure as a Shadow Walker, and suspension of belief that the Día Volar existed, was possibly why she was currently standing in the heart of the vampire stronghold. Her mother had always warned her she had far too much curiosity for her own good.
This had seemed like a good idea at the time but now Flame was reconsidering her actions. If there were Día Volar within the castle then she’d be in big trouble if they caught her invading their territory.
Still, she couldn’t bring herself to leave. The chink in the shutter had taken her months to find. With the vampires’ aversion to sunlight at paranoia level, it would quickly be repaired and this opportunity to breach their defences wouldn’t come again any time soon.
Flame was determined to gather as much information as possible to take back to her brethren.
Shifting her position again she could now make out the razor thin wires supporting each level of the staircase. Whatever material was being used must have been incredibly strong to allow passage up the steps. It was hard not to be impressed by the craftsmanship.
Feeling time was slipping past too quickly; she finished orientating herself, consigning images to her mind of the white marble walls and floor tiles, the rich vein of gold threading through them and decorating each lintel of the rooms leading off from the hallway.
‘Yup, ostentatious with a capital O. Foolish people.’
Shaking her head, Flame moved properly for the first time, silently flowing towards the nearest room so she could explore further. Her movements were unhurried, displaying an inner grace she was oblivious to.
Flame had no concept of how the world viewed her, of how her family and friends had before the Directorate had tested her and changed her life completely. She was still so new to this life that it hurt to think back on her past, of all the loved ones she’d had to sacrifice to join the Shadow Walkers.
Sometimes late at night, she’d return home, hiding in the shadows and watching her parents and siblings move on with their lives believing her dead. Those were the times she often questioned the ultimate decision she'd made. To leave her old life behind and become dead to all who’d loved her. Not that she’d really had much choice in the matter. One didn't say no to the Directorate.
But watching her mother silently weeping over the image of her 'dead' daughter was too much to bear and on those nights Flame would cry silently with her, desperate to tell her mama the truth but unable to. Those visits always broke her heart but she found herself unable to stop, desperate to cling onto the past and all she'd lost.
Clio inevitably knew when she’d visited her family. Her mentor said nothing but Flame was aware she was being granted an adjustment period and one day soon Clio would have words with her about the visits. For the moment, the other Shadow Walker appeared to understand and held her peace. Possibly Clio had had the same reaction when she was chosen to this life.
Shaking off the misery which was starting to invade her soul, Flame stood in the open doorway allowing her gaze to follow the sleek lines of the furniture in what appeared to be a dining hall of some kind. She’d barely begun her perusal when her inner radar suddenly screamed an alert and she spun around, dropping to a crouch to survey the entrance hall through narrowed eyes.
Nothing seemed untoward. The entranceway appeared exactly as it had been when she’d entered but something was warning her that she was no longer alone. Was there a Día Volar in the castle? Did they truly exist?
Magic pulse deep within her as Flame drew on the heat of the earth’s core. Fire raced within her veins, the heat coalescing in her midriff awaiting a target. The red streaks in her hair appeared brighter, her irises bleeding from dark, chocolate brown to marbled flames.
Though she couldn’t see anyone, Flame knew she was no longer alone in the room. There had to be a Día Volar present. Where they were she had no idea. He or she appeared skilled at camouflaging their presence. She remained tense, struggling not to allow fear to get the better of her.
‘Mama, you always said I’d land myself in serious trouble one day. I guess you were right about that.’
Étienne sensed the intruder the instant she entered the castle. High up within the rotten rafters of the dank dungeon, he stretched his wings out slowly, tilting his head to the side as he listened for sounds above. His brown, gold-tipped feathers barely created a sound as he poised in alert mode, tracking the intruder.
Even in his eagle form his sense of smell was acute as was his hearing. The female above was good at remaining still but he could hear her heartbeat and scent the acrid stench of fear which was roiling from her in waves. Whoever had breached their defences at least had the good sense to be afraid, even if she lacked any basic intelligence.
That was evident in her penetrating the inner sanctum of the vampire Crown Prince. Only a fool who courted death would be this stupid. And Étienne had no qualms about being the executioner. It was what he was and all he could remember ever knowing.
Flapping his wings, he launched himself from the rafter he was perched on, and flew silently towards the source of the intrusion, intrigued by this unexpected turn of events.
It was his turn to protect Crown Prince Tobiah. Nicandro; his fellow Shadow Walker, was off doing the Gods only knew what. They rotated a watch over their ruler though they bore him no real allegiance or love. He was an acceptable leader and astute enough to have surrounded himself with adjutants with the right amount of power to enrich his own. He was also adept at increasing his wealth to a level that surpassed most of their kind.
It wasn’t part of the Shadow Walkers remit to protect Tobiah, but Étienne and Nicandro chose the task to maintain the current political landscape. It was working to their benefit so it seemed prudent to maintain the status quo.
It was usually a boring, thankless task which was why this incursion sparked Étienne’s curiosity enough that he opted not to go in for the kill immediately. Instead he perched high in the shadows of the entranceway to observe the intruder.
She was tall for a female; even if some of that height was attributed to the rather fetching black boots she was wearing with wicked looking heels. They increased her height to almost six feet, which was unusual to see as Tobiah had a penchant for smaller, more delicate creatures gracing his castle.
The female before him didn’t look the least bit delicate even though she was a tad on the slim side for his personal tastes. He preferred more curves and a bit more breasts, nicely rounded hips to hold onto as he took his pleasure.
Étienne’s wandering thoughts caught him off guard and one of his wings ruffled minutely as he brought himself up short. It was an inconsequential movement and yet the female appeared to sense something, dropping down into a crouch, clearly on the defensive.
He sensed the rise in magic, being attuned to the arts though not a wielder in any way. Most of his kind had long lost any ability to use magic though some of their basic abilities were of a magical nature. His eagle eyes closed for a bare fraction of a second as a slight tingle shivered through him and he worked to overcome his surprise.
He was actually struggling to absorb that there was an Artisan in the castle. He wasn't used to being surprised, having lived so long. Not only was she a magic user she was also a very powerful one judging from his reaction to her drawing on the elements.
The last Artisan Étienne had come across had been centuries ago along one of the borders. A fellow Shadow Walker called Hunter. Étienne had been tracking a vampire who'd succumbed to bloodlust and was attacking anyone and everyone. His chase had taken him to the border and the vampire had been so lost in his hunger he'd crossed over the line.
The tall Artisan had appeared from nowhere in an instant. Without uttering a word he had taken out the vampire with what appeared to be a sword made from the sharpest and thinnest ice Étienne had ever seen. One second the vampire was running and the next his head was rolling back over the invisible boundary line.
Étienne had stayed on his side of the border, watching the Artisan warily for his next move. The man was built like a well-honed athlete with short hair cropped close to his skull in a hue so white it appeared unnatural. Pale blue eyes met his for the briefest of moments and a smile slowly curved hard lips.
"Hunter," the Artisan had said quietly and for a moment Étienne had thought he was addressing him with a title. Then he realised that the male was introducing himself, recognising they were brethren in some form by the nature of their positions.
Mildly surprised at being addressed by another species, Étienne had responded with a cool nod, his grey eyes shrewd. "Étienne." His gaze had returned to the dead vampire as he finished speaking.
"You should have run faster, Étienne. It's your own fault that we now have access to one of your kind."
It was hard to argue with the statement. If he had moved quicker the Artisans wouldn't now be able to perform experiments on vampire physiology from the remains lying on the other side of the border. Nicandro would be angry as would Tobiah.
A moment's silence passed and then Hunter stepped back moving towards the tree line close by. "Retrieve him quickly, vampire." With that the Artisan disappeared and after a second's hesitation, Étienne decided to take him at his word and used his enhanced speed to cross the boundary and take back what belonged to him.
He half expected Hunter to return and braced for the tingle to go down his spine which would warn him magic was being conjured. But the Artisan did not return and he safely retrieved the fallen vampire and made it back across the border with no interference.
That had been the last time he'd come in contact with an Artisan. Now he viewed another, only this time it was in his domain. He had always wondered at Hunter's lack of ruthlessness during their encounter. He would not have been as generous had their roles been reversed, as he was not about to be generous in this encounter.
The female Artisan had breached the inner sanctum of the vampire nation. Though the air crackled with energy and he watched chocolate eyes bleed to red marble signalling the magic in use was fire, he could sense the youth of the female and knew she was no match for one his age. No matter how strong her magic.
The penalty for an attack on the Crown Prince was instant death. Étienne had delayed too long as it was because his curiosity was piqued by the incursion. It was time to do his job, protect the Crown Prince at all costs.
He swooped from the rafters, his wings stretching to their full 7 foot span as he glided towards his target, wicked talons at the ready...