Here is chapter two of Shadow Walking. This story is certainly in 1st draft and isn't edited in any way. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to leave a comment on how you think it's progressing :)
The Golden Eagle appeared from nowhere. One moment Flame was tensed, trying to find the object of her unease, and the next there was a huge bird of prey sweeping from the high ceiling, amber eyes glowing with intent as it bore downwards.
The speed the bird moved told her it wasn’t a normal avian. She had barely enough time to register the dark brown wings tipped with veins of gold before she was shooting off a volley of flames and rolling through the doorway into the dining hall. It was a moment's reprieve as she heard the eagle shriek its displeasure.
Día Volar! It had to be. No other vampire would be awake at this time and there was no way in hell the vamps would have any guardians that were not of their kind. Flame was disconcerted at meeting up with what she’d previously considered a legend, but knew she didn’t have time to marvel over it. This Día Volar was intent on killing her and she’d have to use all her wits to escape the situation.
She was already mentally incanting, drawing the heat of the earth faster and a bit too deeply for comfort. Clio was always warning her about channelling too much power but she figured, in these circumstances, too much was better than not enough.
Étienne managed to avoid the ball of flame shot at him with relative ease. The Artisan hadn’t really targeted too well being more concerned about diving to safety into the dining hall. He let out an irritated shriek even as his form began to shimmer and he dove to the ground.
He landed in a crouch on booted feet, uncurling his large body in one fluid movement and rising to his full 6 foot 5 inches in an instant. Another instant was all it took for his grey eyes to track the fireball and watch it connect harmlessly against the marble tiled wall. It scorched the tile but the material wasn’t flammable so the flame extinguished quickly.
He had to stop the woman from shooting out flames and quickly. The dining hall wasn’t as flameproof with the tables being rich cedar wood and the chairs sumptuously cushioned. If a fire started in the castle it would be disastrous. He wouldn’t be able to secure the sleeping vampires to locations safe from the sunlight, which meant he had to think of another way of dealing with things.
“Witch!” He hadn’t meant it to be maligning of her species whom he knew had a fierce pride and detested the misnomer, but his hissed out word certainly achieved a reaction from the female.
“Oh, you did not just call me that!” The soft voice had a hard edge, disbelief echoing from the words. “Artisan, you ignorant blood drinker! We are Artisans!”
Flame was so incensed by the vampire’s word she paused in the gathering of her power and waited to see what his next move was going to be. She couldn’t believe he’d just called her a Witch. She’d have been less outraged if he’d called her a murderer. It was the biggest insult anyone could give her.
Her response made Étienne’s lip curl slightly. “Believe me I didn’t mean it in that connotation. Artisan,” he countered dryly, moving to stand against the wall he knew she was hiding behind. He moved so silently he was certain she wouldn’t be aware he was so close with just the wall separating them.
“Do you have any idea how expensive that marble is?” he asked, trying to keep her off-balance as he scanned the wall seeking her heat signature. With the amount of power she was holding onto to it should help him to determine exactly where she was.
Flame ignored his question, frowning as his words hit home and his voice appeared to slide over her skin like a gentle caress. It was deep and rich, and completely intoxicating the way the words rumbled from his lips. The timbre of his voice was entirely at odds with his words.
He was angry she’d shot flames at him? He’d been attacking her! Of course she was going to defend herself. If that burnt his precious castle then who was he to call people names?
Flame didn’t know why she was feeling so offended by his words. It didn’t make sense that she was experiencing such anger when she needed to have a cool head and analyse the situation to enable her to escape.
She shook her head trying to clear the unnatural thoughts from her mind. Realisation dawned and she let out a startled gasp. The sneaky bastard! He was inside her head!
Even as she thought it, the wall suddenly erupted and two strong arms wrapped around her body and heaved her through the destroyed bricks and drywall. She had time to let out a startled yelp and then she was pinned to an undamaged section of the wall, long fingers gripping her throat. She stared up into the greyest eyes she’d ever seen and knew she was looking at death.
Étienne had surprised the Artisan so much that the tingle of gathered power evaporated and he knew she’d let go of her magic. He pinned the female easily to the wall by the throat, using his lower body to keep her trapped for his perusal.
She was no beauty…well not in comparison to his women. Female vampires were artfully beautiful, classically so with no imperfections. This female was pretty enough but she had a small scar over her left eyebrow which detracted from her pale, clear skin. There was a second thin scar which ran from just behind her left ear and along her jaw line, almost reaching her chin.
If it hadn’t been for those scars she would have come close to matching the beauty of his kind. Her skin was flawless apart from them, her eyes a deep chocolate brown with tiny flecks of green around the pupils. Her lips were full and enticing, her cheekbones high and defined.
He surveyed her objectively, taking in her apparent youth. Artisans could conceal their years just as easily as any other race but he had a feeling this female was young. She appeared to be in her mid twenties and the ease with which he’d captured her seemed to support that.
She had to be a Shadow Walker. No ordinary Artisan would have managed to breach the borders so easily. Whilst he didn’t go out of his way to terminate other Shadow Walkers unless threatened, he had no qualms about executing this one. She had invaded the vampires’ inner sanctum. Death was the only punishment.
“Foolish little girl,” he sighed tightening his grip on her throat and applying pressure. He watched her eyes widen as she began to struggle in his grasp.
Her body rubbed against his and he felt his loins stir at the feminine contact. He blinked once, surprised that his body reacted to hers. His involuntary reaction caused the Artisan to still, her eyes widening in surprise.
She tried to say something but it came out in a choked sound. Étienne loosened his grip on her throat enough to hear what she was saying.
“Get off me, you perverted animal!”
The unexpected shriek was so not what he expected to hear that he snorted out a laugh. Seriously, the stupid female was worried about her virtue when he was about to take her head off? It was so ridiculous it was hard not to laugh.
He threw his head back and laughed loudly and then realised his mistake. The instant he did, the female’s knee connected between his legs and he let out a grunt of pain, releasing the hellion in his surprise.
His skin tingled and he threw himself into the dining room, his supernatural speed making him appear to vanish in the blink of an eye. He felt the rush of heat whoosh past him singeing the arm of his shirt an instant before he felt a burst of pain in his arm.
Flame knew it was pure luck she’d hit the vampire. She hadn’t even been aiming at him, more desperate to get away than anything else. She heard a grunt of pain but she was already incanting her spell as she streaked towards the chink in the steel shutter.
The air moved behind her and she knew he was coming back at her, using his deadly speed to trap her before she could escape. She had precious little time and she didn’t waste a second of it. Her body shimmered just as she felt the vampire’s cold breath on her neck and then she vanished into red mist, swirling through the opening and into the noon sky.
Étienne grunted in surprise when the Artisan vanished. The burn on his arm was already healing, his regenerative powers kicking in quickly. He’d had worse injuries over the years, so the minor burn hadn’t even slowed him down.
He was almost on top of her when he felt his skin tingle again and then the hellion was gone in a haze of red mist. He tracked the mist escaping through the damaged shutter. ‘So that’s how she got in!’
He made a mental note to ensure all shutters were checked and repaired as soon as darkness fell but now he was in quandary. The castle had a weakness and others could enter the same way the female had. If he chased her he would be leaving the Crown Prince unguarded and it was hours before sunset.
But if he let the witch get away she would be able to give away the location of the seat of power of the vampire nation and the Gods only knew what else she’d managed to glean from her short time in the castle. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
Étienne was pulling open the front door and securing it behind him before he’d realised he’d made a decision. He told himself it had nothing to do with his pride that he’d decided to catch the Artisan and execute her. It was simply more dangerous for her to share her knowledge than it was likely that another Artisan would enter the castle while he was away.
He secured the door and cast his grey gaze upwards. She had a head start on him but his enhanced eyesight made it easy to track her. He took off at a run, shape-shifting into his Golden Eagle form as he did, catching a thermal and spinning up high into the sky. Powerful wings beat upon the air as he quickly began to gain on the faint red mist before him.
He was behind her, she knew he was. Not only that, he was gaining fast. The huge eagle would overtake her soon and then what? He couldn’t touch her in mist form but he could get in her way keeping her from the boundary line. She’d tire soon and have to revert to her normal form and then she’d be at his mercy…or lack of mercy.
Buggeration! Why had she let curiosity get the better of her? ‘Because you think you’re invincible?’ a little voice whispered in her head. Her mama had been right. It brought little comfort now but at least she could admit it before she was ripped to pieces by a pissed-off vamp.
Flame considered trying to find somewhere to hide but knew the vampire wouldn’t give up. He’d simply wait her out and either way she’d most likely end up dead. Her only option was to keep going and hope she could stay in mist form until she reached the border separating their lands.
Étienne was on top of the mist before she got too far ahead of him. He was rather impressed with her ability though his eagle form was obviously the superior mode of travel. Still, she could get through smaller spaces in her alternate form. That would be a handy skill to have.
He swooped down, barring the forward motion of the mist and screeching his satisfaction as she had to shift direction to try and go around him. He quickly outflanked her, getting in her way once more.
There was something rather exhilarating about sparring with the Artisan. Étienne found he was enjoying blocking her path and imagining how frustrated she was getting at being balked at reaching her goal.
He knew if she crossed the boundary he’d have to let her go. He didn’t intend to lose this one though. She was his and nothing she could do would prevent him from detaching her pretty little head from her body.
His eagle relished the hunt as did his vampiric nature. There was nothing quite like tracking prey and closing in for the kill. The harder…the better. It made for great sport and he was up for great sport.
Maybe he would have a little taste of the Artisan before he killed her? Just the thought of tasting her blood made his hunger grow sharply. It had been almost a week since his last good meal. He’d only snacked the last few days at the closest Farm. He preferred his food not to be dripping in fear.
Étienne detested the Farms though he conceded the need for them. With so many of his kind refusing to feed others because of the power they had to share, Farming was the only way to keep his people in the supply of blood they needed to survive.
And it made the Adjutants very wealthy, not to mention the Crown Prince. Farming served a dual purpose for the Vampire Nation and his disgust at the shivering wretches in them was negated by that need.
The Artisan changed course abruptly and dived downwards towards some trees. He watched the red mist vanish into a crack in a large trunk and hovered above waiting to see where she would appear next.
Flame was tiring and needed to rest. She was close to the border but not close enough. Sighting a hiding place, she slithered into the crack of a large tree trunk and took a moment to gather her thoughts. She knew the vampire was above waiting for her to come back out. The question was could she find some way of exiting without being seen?
Pretty soon she was going to have to release her spell. She’d used up too much of her strength, first crossing into the vampires’ lair, and now escaping. Usually she could hold mist form for as long as required but that was without an enormous eagle forcing her to change direction every two seconds.
Drifting slowly within the trunk, she spied what she thought could be an escape route. It was low to the ground and under the canopy of the branches. If she could sneak through, and stay low, then she should be able to make a fair distance before the vampire realised she’d slipped the net.
Praying to all the Gods she could think of, Flame slipped through the crack in the bark and skimmed the forest floor trying to stay beneath the branches. She listened for sounds of pursuit but the air above her was silent.
Finally something was going her way! She would have laughed if she had the capability in her alternate state. As it was, all she could do was keep putting distance between herself and the stupid Día Volar waiting for her to appear miles away.
Her strength was waning and she knew she was going to have to revert to human form soon. The invisible border was now less than a mile away. She could run fast but not as fast as a vampire could move. Would she make it in time?
The air shimmered and Flame rose to her full height. She raced from the cover of the trees, hearing the shriek of the eagle as it sighted her and took up pursuit. The final mile looked like it was a hundred miles. The thunder of swooping wings crashed on the afternoon air as she sprinted for the border.
She wasn’t going to make it! The air burned in her lungs as her strength waned further and the noise of wings grew louder. What a screw-up she was as a Shadow Walker. Killed by a bloody vampire because she had more courage than sense!
Flame ran knowing she was out of luck, tensing as she did, and waiting for the razor sharp claws of the eagle to shred her to pieces.
Étienne sighted the Artisan the instant she appeared from the trees. For a fraction of a second he was startled that she’d eluded him so easily and then he soared after her. He could see she was tired and had no hope of making the boundary line. Success was in his grasp and his hunting instincts kicked in granting him more speed. Not that he needed more but the urge to sink his fangs into the woman fleeing him was dominating his thoughts.
From the moment he’d considered feeding from her, the urge had become a rampant need that surged through him like a wildfire. He wanted her blood and he’d have it. There was no escape for her.
Something glinted in his peripheral vision and he had but a moment to swerve before a thin lance of ice whistled past where he’d been. Surprised by this new turn of events, his large wings banked to the left and he saw the shape of a man standing within the tree line across the border.
He should have expected he’d cross paths with the other Shadow Walker one day but he was still surprised to see him. Shrieking his irritation, Étienne shifted shape as he swooped to the ground, coming to land just on his side of the invisible boundary line.
The Artisan was lying panting on the grass, not three feet away from him, her chest heaving with the strain of her escape. She was so close and yet a million miles away.
“Well met, Étienne,” the tall, white-haired Shadow Walker called as he walked towards the woman. He stared down at her for a moment and then rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Thank you for escorting this child home.”
“This child is mine to punish,” Étienne ground out through clenched teeth. He was furious at being thwarted, his hunger gnawing at him. His eyes glowed red, his fangs beginning to sharpen and elongate as his gaze remained riveted on the woman before him.
“Such a harsh punishment you have in mind for one so young and impetuous,” Hunter countered quietly, pale blue eyes watching alertly for any sign of movement from the vampire. “Has the blood lust overcome you, old adversary?”
To be accused of succumbing to blood lust stung Étienne as nothing else could. Only immature vampires lost control in such a manner. The other Shadow Walker’s words had the desired effect, snapping him out of the haze of need engulfing him and he took a deep breath, retracting his fangs and pushing back his hunger.
“She trespassed on the Crown Prince’s castle, Hunter. The penalty is death, no matter how young and impetuous she may be!”
“Come and get me, Étienne,” Flame goaded, rolling over onto her stomach before pushing herself up to her knees. She was amazed she’d made it to safety and was feeling confident now there was another of her kind beside her.
“Hush, child, before I decide to let him have you.”
She looked up at the ice man and scowled. She had no idea who this Hunter was but it was evident that he was an Artisan and a Shadow Walker. Why he would side with a vampire she had no idea.
Hunter turned to look back at Étienne, his expression serene. “The last time we met I returned what belonged to you. This time I keep what belongs to me. A fair trade, don’t you agree?”
Frustrated, Étienne glared at the woman. He couldn’t cross the border or he’d break one of their oldest treaties. And he couldn’t deny that Hunter had allowed him to retrieve his vampire all those years ago. But that paled in comparison to the fact this witch had been inside Tobiah’s castle.
For the second time that day he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. And all because of the woman staring up at him with smug laughter in her eyes. How he wished he could slit her throat and watch as that laughter turned to stunned shock as the life slowly bled from her body.
With a frustrated hiss he bared his fangs at her, the ends of his fingers curling into talons. He let his transformation take over his features, knowing it was probably the first time she’d seen a vampire convert. From the surprise in her eyes and the way she scooted backwards, he took some small satisfaction that the view of his ridged brow and dripping fangs frightened her.
Étienne pointed one gnarled finger at the woman, his eyes glowing red with menace. “The next time we meet I will disembowel you, witch. I will do it slowly ensuring I keep you alive for the maximum amount of time. I will rip you open with my teeth and feast on your insides as you scream for mercy.”
Flame swallowed hard, both repulsed and fascinated by the creature in front of her. In full vampiric state, Étienne wasn’t as attractive to look at, in fact, he was downright ugly. She wondered idly if he mated while in full vampire mode. Imagine waking up next to that!
“Charming,” she quipped back, rising to her feet. “Does that usually work on girls because quite frankly it’s leaving me a bit cold?”
She didn’t know what she expected his response to be but when he threw his head back and laughed she took another step back. There was clearly something not wholly right about this vampire’s mind. Maybe Día Volar were all insane and that was a trade-off for being able to walk in sunlight?
Étienne’s gaze turned to Hunter as he let go of his vampiric side and reverted to normal. “Take good care of your, child, Shadow Walker. She has been marked for death and is stupid enough to feel brave because she eluded me once. She will not do so again. Heed my words well.”
He spun and shimmered in the air, soaring high in his eagle form, before swooping back towards the castle.
Hunter watched him go for a moment, and then turned to peruse the woman at his side. He groaned inwardly at the exultant expression on her face. So this was what the Shadow Walkers were coming to? Children who had more bravery than sense?
“Who holds your leash, child?”
Flame bristled, shooting a dirty look in his direction. “No one holds my leash and I am not a child! Who are you anyway? And why are you friends with a vampire?” Her tone was suspicious as her expression changed to mirror it.
Hunter rolled his eyes again and leaned forward casting a quick incantation. He straightened and turned back towards the surrounding forest.
“Run home to Clio, child, and ensure you recount everything that’s happened today. I will be sure to ask when I see her next. Should she be oblivious to today’s events you will wish for the Día Volar’s tender mercies over mine.”
Flame gaped at him as he vanished. He’d just threatened her! She was a Shadow Walker just as he. He had no right to threaten her! Standing there on her own she tried to imagine what Clio would have to say about the current events. Her mentor wouldn’t be very happy and an unhappy Clio meant hours of lecturing.
Maybe she could…no the look in Hunter’s eyes had made it clear he would ask Clio the next time he met with her. There was no escaping the fact she’d have to relate the day’s events to her mentor.
Sighing, Flame turned in the direction of home knowing the next few days were going to be very trying indeed.