Knight Moves – Snippets of James other life
Adore James? He’s my favorite character so far in the series. As promised, here are all the snippets from Embraced by Shadow, the final book in the Shadow Walkers series.
James came to life in the final book of that series.Know this, James was married to Melinda, happy with life until he was killed by a coward in 1357. The bad news, he had to endure centuries as an immortal warrior and face a hell called the in-between. But the good news? He won his freedom and went back to the exact moment he would have died and instead thwarted his enemy. James retained all memories of what happened to him yet was not allowed to tell his family or anyone else what happened to him. It’s heart-breaking and I think adds so much to this wounded knight who found his one true love.
WARNING – for those of you who want to read the Shadow Walkers…that series is quite steamy. So if you prefer a sweet read, best steer clear. For those of you who like gods, goddesses, dragons, ghosts, and hellhounds…oh, and lots of sexy times, give them a read.
James’ Other Life
Thorne ignored the questions. “Here’s the deal. You want to be one of my warriors.”
A tiny jolt of electricity made Monroe’s teeth crack.
“Find James Rivers, the red knight. He can summon the others. You will bring them back with you. Once you have brought them across the River of Lies, you’ll be back in the human world. Then I’ll make you a Shadow Walker. And you’ll help me fight in the war against my brother.”
“You mean wraiths?”
Thorne shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“No. I’d find the devil himself and bring him back if it got me what I wanted. It sounds too easy.”
“Tell James and the others that if they come with you and fight, they will either die a final death in battle or, if they win this war for me, I’ll give them a choice. To live once more as a mortal. A mortal life. Or if they are weary, I’ll send them to their final rest. It’s up to each warrior. Of course, if by some slim chance we lose, everyone turns wraith for all eternity.”
Thorne stood and dusted off his jeans. “Fail me, Monroe, and after you’ve wandered here in the in-between for a few thousand years, I’ll send you to your final rest. Or I’ll end you on the spot. ’Twill depend on my mood that day. Do we have an agreement?”
“I heard you grant one wish?”
Thorne made a “get on with it” motion.
“Can you bring back all those I couldn’t save?”
“Greedy much? No.”
“Then bring back the daughter of my friend.”
The god actually looked like he felt bad. “I wish I could, but Millie was meant to die young. I cannot bring her back. I can only bring vengeance.”
“Not even the family that handmaiden made me kill?”
“Because the fates are displeased, I can bring them back. Is this what you wish?”
“Yes. Bring them back and we have an agreement.” He didn’t tell Thorne that he would have agreed anyway. What he wanted more than anything was in his grasp. He only had to reach out and take it. “I won’t fail you.”
“I’ll be waiting. And Monroe?” Thorne waved a finger, and the chairs and wine disappeared. “We’re running out of time, so make it quick.” His new commander vanished, and the fog swirled back in to envelop him. Bollocks. It was like walking through bloody cotton balls.
How was he supposed to find this red knight and his wraith mates? He couldn’t even find anything to eat. Snap out of it, man. You find people for a living. You can find this bloke.
Monroe put one foot in front of the other. “James Rivers,” he bellowed. The fog muted his voice. It seemed to echo around him.
“Hello? Can anyone hear me?”
It was the best he could come up with.
* * *
Another scream filled the air. Sounded like it was coming from the other side of the rocks. He looked up. The animal would have to have the ability of a mountain goat to come down from the top. Eyes darting all around, he heard another scream join the first. Stones tumbled down the rocks above him and he ducked, shielding his head.
“Run, you big bloody Scot.”
One of the cats, if you could call that thing a cat, came scrabbling down the rocks with a hiss. A hand reached down. “You can’t die, but you’ll sure as hell want to. Now move!”
Monroe grasped the callused hand and found himself looking into the face of a warrior. Three long scars ran down the right side of the guy’s face, yet he still seemed to have use of the eye. He had another wicked-looking scar from the outer corner of his nostril, running through the outer edge of his mouth to jag over his chin and down his neck. What the hell kind of blade inflicted such damage?
The man turned and nimbly sprinted down the backside of the rocks. A loud hiss sent Monroe scrambling after him.
“I’ve never seen a red cat with red claws and teeth before.” Monroe huffed and puffed, trying to keep up with the man who should be a billy goat.
“Less talking, more running.”
And he was sociable too. Any further sarcastic comments left Monroe’s thoughts as his lungs and heart threatened to burst at any moment. He might have to break down and join a gym when he made it back. Did you look the same as when you died when you were made a Shadow Walker? He hoped not.
The man roughly threw him to the side, turning to battle the cat. The beast screamed, and another cat came to join in the fun. The two cats circled them while Monroe looked for some type of weapon.
A short sword was thrust into his hand. “Aim for the eye. They’ll disappear, but the beasts never die.”
The man had tied his long, dirty black hair back with a piece of string. He had a harsh face. The kind of guy Monroe would have watched if he’d seen him on the street. How long had he been trapped here? Then all thoughts vanished as a searing pain ripped his bare thigh in two.
“Bloody hell!” Monroe thrust out with the sword and missed by an ocean. The cat grew bolder, swiping and tearing. Blood ran from cuts all over his body. “Little help here.”
Harsh laughter rang out, an elbow slammed into Monroe’s back, and he grunted. Then another sword sliced through the air by his side and neatly pierced the cat’s eye. The animal let out a shriek, fell to the ground, and was still.
“It looks dead.” Monroe leaned down to get a better look. He was pulled back by a hand. The man yanked on Monroe’s tattered shirt, which ripped the rest of the way and came away in shreds in the man’s hand. He sneered and dropped it on the ground.
A moment passed. Fog crept in, covered the cat, and dissipated. The ground was bare.
“Come, before one of the many other fearsome beasts in this place shows up for a taste of flesh.”
Monroe picked up the rag, tied it around the worst wound on his thigh, and limped after his rescuer.
* * *
Finally the relentless place slowed. They came to a well-hidden cave, and the man stepped back to let Monroe go first.
“You want me to go in there? Underground?”
“Into the mountain. Move.”
Taking shallow breaths through his mouth, Monroe walked into the absence of light. He turned to see the man using a tree branch to sweep their tracks. Then he positioned it over the entrance, and the tiny bit of light vanished like a candle snuffed out.
Deep breaths. If you pass out, he’ll likely leave you here.
He’d been watching Mr. Few Words on the way. It kept his mind off his injuries and the insatiable need for food and drink. He had to duck and then walk in a mix of a crouch and duck waddle. So attractive, he was sure.
The guy moved like Colin. He had to be a dead Shadow Walker, otherwise known as a wraith, or the guy had done something to piss off somebody powerful and ended up here as punishment. Either way, the guy wasn’t from this century. Only ancient warriors moved and wielded a sword like he did. Made Monroe wish he’d swallowed his pride when Robert had offered lessons. Colin hadn’t bothered to offer, simply raising a brow and smirking when Robert suggested the idea.
The narrow entrance of the rough-hewn stone opened up, and Monroe could once again stand upright. There was a fire—the smoke spiraled up into a small hole in the ceiling of the cave. The place looked as if it had been painstakingly carved out of the mountain by hand.
A few rough tools were stacked along one wall. There was nothing else in the small space. What did he sleep on? For that matter, what did he eat or drink?
“Drink.” A smooth stone cup was thrust into his hand. Monroe drank the water, grateful for the cooling wetness down his throat. The cup looked handmade, yet it was so smooth.
“Thank you.” He tilted the cup toward Mr. Few Words. “For the water and for pulling my arse out of danger with the red cats.” Blood dripped onto the stone floor. “I’m Monroe MacDonald.”
The man turned and came back with a stone bowl of water. Monroe noticed the water coming from the far wall and trickling into a stone trough.
“Use what’s left of your shirt to clean the wounds. They’ll be healed in the morning.”
“Good. They hurt like hell.”
The man scowled. “Scratches. Nothing more.”
“So are you going to tell me your name? Or shall I just yell, ‘Hey you’?”
The man stiffened. Monroe could see muscles bunch and shift under the linen shirt. It looked soft and worn from many years of use, like his favorite t-shirt before it was blown up with the rest of his belongings. Mr. Few Words was a big sonofabitch. About six three, and built like Colin. All muscle and a less-than-personable attitude. Clear green eyes met Monroe’s.
“Wait. James Rivers. The red knight?”
The man sat against the wall and stretched out his leather-clad legs. His booted feet were about a foot from the crackling fire. It was a small cave. Tall but small. Monroe’s empty stomach lurched. Nope. Not going to think about small spaces in the earth right now.
The man had been watching him with narrowed eyes, and seemed to know Monroe didn’t like being in small spaces.
“I haven’t had use for a name in a long time. James will do.”
Despite almost getting eaten by some kind of hellcat, Monroe had managed to find the person he was looking for. Okay, the warrior found him, but same thing in his book. The hard part was over. Now he could go back and take his place amongst the brotherhood.
“I was sent here to find you. Thorne—”
The man stoked the fire. “Whatever the bastard god wants, I’m not interested.” With that, James rolled over and closed his eyes.
Guess the entertainment for the evening was complete. In the morning, he’d explain. Obviously James would want to go back. He’d be begging Monroe to take him out of here. They’d leave and he could tell Amy the good news. Work things out with her. It was good to have a plan.
* * *
Monroe woke, cold, hungry, and thirsty. He felt like he’d been drinking all night. Head pounding, he staggered out to the entrance and was poised to take care of business when a growl sounded close by. Nothing moved, but he wasn’t taking any chances and backed slowly into the cave. He didn’t think he’d taken a breath until he made it back to the room. He guessed the word for his surroundings would do.
There had to be somewhere to piss.
“Looking for something?”
Monroe jumped, angry to see the smirk on James’ face because he’d caught him unaware. “I need to take a piss.”
“No you don’t.”
Monroe leveled a look at him. “And where do we find breakfast? I’m starving.”
“It’s all in your head. You no longer require sustenance. I use water to wash and clear the dust from my throat, but I don’t need it. It’s illusion.”
If he peed on the floor to spite the red knight, he had a feeling he’d end up with his teeth in the back of his throat. Instead he looked down to see his injuries had healed and he was wearing the same shirt, minus the dirt, rips, and blood.
James sighed as if he’d been explaining to a two-year-old for the last five hours why he couldn’t have a cookie. “You heal at night. The clothes are restored.” He shrugged. “I don’t know why.”
The skin on Monroe’s leg bore a faint, jagged pink line where one of the cat’s claws had raked his skin. “Looks like an old scar. So the wounds we sustain here don’t go away? Is that what happened to your face?”
The knight stiffened. “Any wounds you receive will leave scars, though broken bones and such heal.” Rigidly, he moved to build up the fire. The words were said so quietly that Monroe almost missed them. “The scars happened…before.”
The man looked uncomfortable with Monroe invading his space. Too bad. He had to bring James back in order to become one of the boys, so that’s what he was doing. James would just have to get over it.
“I’m going to check for predators. I’ll come back for you when it’s clear and you can be on your way.” He strode into the darkness, leaving Monroe staring after him.
Did you have to be arrogant and bossy to be a Shadow Walker? It certainly seemed like it. Glad he wasn’t like them. Then he chuckled. Or maybe he was.
Left with nothing to do but wait, Monroe prowled around James’ home. He found the cup he’d drunk from the night before, a bowl, and a rough-hewn pitcher. All handmade. There was nothing else.
The trough was carved into the stone under the trickle of water to make a small sink. How many long years had it taken to carve the passageway, the room, the trough, and other items? He’d go out of his mind with no Celtic matches, no one to talk to, no pubs. Was Mac missing him? He knew they’d take good care of him at Castle Campbell, but he missed the beast. Would Mac think he’d been abandoned again?
Monroe couldn’t tell how much time was passing. For someone who’d always scoffed at those glued to watches and smartphones, he wished he knew what time it was.
Steps echoed down the passage toward him. The knight wasn’t making any effort to be quiet, as he had this morning. When the man entered the room, Monroe could see a rip in the bloodied linen shirt and the gleam of raw muscle.
“Ran into a pack of what you’d call wolves. It will heal tonight. I need to sleep.” James pulled his shirt off. Monroe stifled the urge to gasp. He thought he’d seen it all. The warrior’s back and chest were a mass of scars. Old white lines crossed with faint pink lines, interspersed with angry red slashes. Blood ran freely down his chest and back.
Damn. Monroe was embarrassed at how little exercise he’d gotten over the past months. The pudge around his gut was making him as self-conscious as a regular lass on the beach with a load of supermodels.
The guy had more than a six-pack—not that he was counting, but damn.
James filled the bowl with water and poured it over his head, chest, and back. Over and over until the water carried no more than a faint pink tinge. Steam curled up around him, and for a minute Monroe wondered if he were lying in a hospital bed in a coma and all this was nothing but a dream.
The moment passed. James washed his shirt out in the bowl and laid it over a rock near the fire to dry.
Curiosity got the better of Monroe. “If you’ll have a new shirt in the morning, why wash it out?”
The silence stretched out, and just as Monroe thought James wouldn’t answer, he spoke.
“’Tis something I always did after a battle. A habit.”
Looked like that’s all he was getting.
“Don’t go to sleep yet. I need to tell you why I’m here.”
James frowned then took the shirt from the rock. It was already dry. He wrapped it around his midsection to hold the wound together.
“I can tell I won’t get any sleep until you say whatever is on your mind, so speak.”
“If we don’t need to eat, drink, or piss do we really need to sleep? And why is it so bloody cold?”
“As when we were Shadow Walkers, it helps speed the healing. We feel the elements. No matter how hot or cold, we won’t die. Whoever created this place must have thought it would be humorous.”
“It’s not. And I was never a Shadow Walker.”
A flicker of interest passed through James’ eyes so quickly that if Monroe hadn’t been watching closely, he’d have missed it.
“I knew a few of them.” He didn’t want to get into the history, so he got on with business. “I died in a car crash and woke up here. Thorne showed up and told me I was to find you.”
Wariness filled the red knight’s eyes, though he stayed silent. Waiting.
“You’re supposed to take me to the others like you, we bring everyone across something called the River of Lies, and presto change-o, we’re back in the human realm.”
Monroe raised his eyebrows at the cup. James nodded, so Monroe poured the water and drank it. He might not need it, but his mind hadn’t accepted the idea yet.
“What does my commander want of my brethren?”
“When you’re back he needs you to help him fight a war with Dayne. If you die in battle, it’s the final death. If Thorne loses the war, you go back to being a wraith with no chance of ever moving on. But…if we win the war, then you have a choice.”
Monroe stopped. James was watching him from under hooded eyes. Mr. Few Words could win a quiet contest with anyone.
“Right. The choice is to go on to the final rest or you get a second chance. Another chance to live as a mortal. It’s up to each warrior. So we need to leave. In the morning, when you’re healed.”
“What do you get out of this?”
“Thorne makes me a Shadow Walker.”
“It isn’t worth it. Thorne isn’t to be trusted.”
Seriously. This guy would rather stay here? “You have to come back. I’ll be trapped here forever if you and the others don’t come back with me.”
“There’s nothing left for me in the human realm. Everyone I cared for is long dead. I’m not going back.” James rolled over.
“How long have you been here?”
The only sounds were the trickle of water and the crackling of the fire. James cracked one eye open.
“I don’t know how long I’ve been in this wretched place. I was murdered in London. In 1357. All the years of fighting and I met my fate in my home at the hand of a coward.”
* * *
1357. James was old. He might look like he was in his mid-twenties, but he was ancient. The date explained his proficiency with a sword.
Since Monroe didn’t need to heal, he tossed and turned all night listening to various howls, growls, and hisses drifting down through the hole in the ceiling.
Monroe paced back and forth across the small room. It was ten steps by twenty steps. He lost count of how many times he’d paced.
“I miss the quiet.”
“I haven’t said a word.” The indignation filled Monroe’s voice. Another aristo bastard. He’d wager on it.
“I can hear you thinking.”
“You have to go back with me.” Monroe held out both hands in front of him. “Hear me out. There’s a woman.”
James froze. “A woman.”
“Her name’s Amy. We were friends. She worked for me. I was attracted to her from the first time I laid eyes on her, but one day I knew. Knew she was the one for me.” He squirmed. “We argued over something neither of us would give on, and things fell to pieces. I’d been trying to make it right ever since. Right up until the day I died. I have to get back to her. Fix things. I love her.”
“Love.” James looked ill.
And now he’d try to sweeten the deal. “Tell Thorne you’ll only fight if you can go back to your own time. To the moment you died. To your wife.”
Emotion briefly passed across the warrior’s face. He’d loved someone very much.
“Fine. But I won’t make a decision until I hear from the others. Convince them and we’ll all return with you.”
“Yes! You won’t regret it. Let’s do this.” Everything was falling into place. He’d bring everyone back, be made one of the lads, and win Amy. Dying was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
“Easy, lad. It won’t be as easy as you think. The River of Lies is the home of the red hellcats. The water is full of dangerous beasties.” Even as James spoke, he was strapping on his sword. “Catch.” He tossed the shorter sword to Monroe.
He thought he did pretty well by not cutting his fingers off. Other than knowing the pointy end was used to kill your enemies, he was clueless. When he was a Shadow Walker, he’d learn to use one. Nope. On second thought, why bother? He’d have powers. The ability to throw ice daggers and bolts of energy.
Amy would be proud of him and she’d take him back. He hadn’t had a drink since he’d been here. Though every day he felt like he’d spent the night drinking, and every morning until he went to sleep he craved a drink. Food not so much, but a dram of Ravensmore’s finest? Hell yes.
* * *
“Ouch!” Bloody hell, sword fighting was bollocks. Monroe felt the impact of Kendrick’s sword all the way down his arm.
“He’s hopeless.” Kendrick looked disgusted.
James laughed. “Wait until you see him cry like a babe when you stick him with the pointy end.”
“A babe would fight better than he.” This from a cranky-looking guy with red hair.
“I’m right here, people. I can hear you talking about me.”
“Oooh, he’s sensitive too.” Kendrick laughed.
The redhead scowled. “Why have you brought him here, James?”
“Hear him out and decide for yourselves.” James sat on a rock and gestured for him to get on with it.
Monroe took a deep breath.
* * *
“…And that’s why you should stand and fight.” He’d told them what Thorne offered. Admitted why he wanted it. Explained about Amy. All things told, the woman angle seemed to be the most compelling. How many of these Shadow Walkers turned wraith had left someone they loved behind?
Eighteen stepped forward. Two turned and left. James watched them go. “Wretched shells of the men they were. Their weary, war-torn souls can stand no more, yet they cannot rest.”
“Poor bastards.” Kendrick looked out over the desolate wasteland.
“I thought there’d be more of you.” Monroe was unsettled.
James shook his head. “The in-between is immense. Perhaps there are.”
* * *
Monroe had always considered himself the kind of guy who didn’t walk away from a fight. But wolves three times the size of a normal wolf, with huge claws and fangs? Wolves hunting them as food? He’d never been so happy to be in the middle of a group of eighteen warriors who knew how to use the pointy end of a sword.
If that made him a girl, so be it. A bloody week. That was how long it’d taken to reach the river, and every step of the way if it wasn’t wolves or one of the freakish red hellcats, some other kind of creature from a horror movie seemed to want to chew them up and spit them out. Kendrick, who was the most recently arrived, said he thought time moved differently here, though no one knew for sure.
Every night every one of them, himself included, fell asleep with more wounds than he could count.
“These scars will go away when we’re back in my world, right?” Monroe ran a finger along a nasty bite mark on his shoulder to a long, jagged scar across his side.
James shrugged. “Wouldn’t know, mate. Not like I’ve left on holiday and come back.”
Good with swords and snarky. Monroe approved.
In the morning, they came to the River of Lies. It was blood red. Monroe gaped. “What’s with the red water?”
Kendrick slapped him on the back. “Wait until you get an eyeful of the creatures in the water.”
“No lovely bridge to walk across?”
“Will the wee lassie melt?” the big redhead called out. Other equally offensive comments followed.
Monroe took it all in good humor. “I might melt, but at least I taste sweet when your mother licks me.”
* * *
Sitting on a black rock and rubbing his matching black eye, Monroe grinned. The loose tooth had been worth it to see the look of horror on the wanker’s face. He might be shite with a sword, but he wasn’t too shabby with his fists. The redheaded warrior sported a fat lip, and grudgingly nodded back at him.
The scuffle broke the tension that had been building as they made their way closer and closer to the river of no return, as he liked to think of it.
They’d found an abandoned cave high above the river and downwind from the cats. It provided shelter from the storm. “I’ll take first watch.” One of the warriors silently moved out of the cave and disappeared into the blackness.
The storm raged all night. Hail the size of golf balls rang off the rocks. Monroe glanced around. Most of the warriors slept on the stone floor, oblivious to the chill. They’d decided not to risk attention from the cats by building a fire.
Now was the time he wished he’d worn pants his last day alive. The kilt was great in warmer weather, but when it was bloody cold and rainy…how did the Highlanders of old do it? Yes, he was getting soft in his old age. Almost thirty-five, with forty gaining in the rearview…
The morning brought sunlight and warmth. There didn’t seem to be any set season here. One day warm, the next freezing cold. Whoever or whatever had created this place had a wicked sense of humor.
On this side of the river, the red hellcats seemed to be everywhere: lazing on gray and black rocks in the sun, eating creatures Monroe had never seen before and hoped to never see again, and prowling the river. Guarding it.
“How are we going to get by the beasts and cross the river?” Monroe shot a skeptical look toward his companions. The other side of the riverbank looked inviting. Lush green grass, flowers, normal-colored rocks, and not a bloody cat in sight.
Thinking of cats made him miss Mac. He hoped Anna and the others at the castle weren’t giving the dog too many biscuits, or he’d get pudgy round the middle, like Monroe. He prodded said middle and startled. He wasn’t squishy anymore. Guess not eating and all the running away from scary things made a difference. Every moment of every day he wished for a drink, with not a drop to be found. And somehow he hadn’t gone into any sort of withdrawal. Would he find he no longer needed to drink when he got back?
Somehow it didn’t seem that easy.
Movement caught his eye. “What the bloody hell is that in the water?” A huge red tentacle came up out of the water and snatched some kind of odd-looking buffalo from the edge. The animal was deposited into a yawning mouth full of jagged teeth. Poor buffalo. He’d risked the cats to get a drink of water and ended up breakfast for some kind of prehistoric sea monster.
A couple of the warriors looked a bit shaken. James let out a hearty laugh. “Come on now, it can’t be easy or we’d have left this beautiful place ages ago.”
Kendrick looked grim. “I told you there were things in the water.” He looked up and down the churning red water. “Once it’s fed, the monster usually moves to a different part of the river.” Curious looks were directed his way. “I spent countless days and nights hidden in the trees watching the river and the cats.”
A Roman with short black hair scowled. “Will you enlighten us?”
“Well?” demanded another.
“Around midday, the cats nap and the creature is in another part of the river. It’s the best time to cross.” Kendrick fingered his sword. “The water is deep, the current swift. We need something to tie ourselves together.”
The woad-covered Celt eyed the landscape. “Vines.” He pointed to the trees in the distance. “I’ll take three others with me to gather enough. They will be strong.” The vines up for discussion hung from twisted green trees and were thick as a man’s arm.
Monroe eyed the group. “Can everyone swim?”
Several shook their heads.
“Whoever cannot will lash themselves to one who can.” James turned to Kendrick. “How long do we have to cross?”
“An hour at most. Then the sea monster returns and the cats wake to hunt.”
James eyed the cats and, following his gaze, Monroe counted at least thirty of the beasts. More than enough to tear them to pieces. “Is there someplace where the water isn’t deep? Where we can wade across?”
The Roman stood at the entrance to the cave. “I’ll go with the Celt. We cross tomorrow.”
Bossy Romans. Didn’t the guy realize Rome was no longer the supreme ruler of the world? Monroe snorted. If he said anything, the warrior would most likely run him through with his sword. And he had enough scars, thank you very much.
* * *
Fog drifted in, wrapping the landscape in thick mounds of cotton. Monroe was grateful they’d decided to risk a fire, being downwind from the cats and concealed by the fog.
The smoke from the blaze seeped out the rocks above their head. The warriors were quiet, preparing for the next day. Many were busy fashioning rope out of the vines the Roman, the Celt, and the redheaded bastard brought back.
The scent of green things mixed with seafood, of all things, filled the air. “I would offer one of those bloody cats a bite of my arse for a bottle of whisky and a table full of shrimp.”
“Wine, cheese, bread, and fruit,” the Roman called out. “And a nice, tasty wench.”
Groans filled the small space.
“Pizza,” Kendrick called out.
The big blond Viking’s voice rumbled across the room. “A whole roast pig and mead.”
“A bowl of porridge,” the Celt said.
“Seriously! Of all the food and drink from your time, you miss porridge the most?” James looked incredulous.
The Celt shrugged. “A bowl of porridge would mean I am come home again.”
The wraiths nodded. Conversation ceased. Each lost in thoughts of home.
James spoke quietly, to himself. “At night they come for me—the men I’ve killed. They say, ‘Come, brother, sit by the fire and stay with us.’”
“I wake in the middle of the night and see the faces of all the ones I couldn’t save. Their faces fill the room. To make them leave, I drink.”
“Many in my time drank, Monroe. We all use the tools we are given.” James turned his back to the fire and pretended to sleep.
Monroe understood the need to be alone with the ghosts of your past. When he got back, he wanted to sit down with Hamish over a drink and talk about this place. He’d overheard the Highlander say he thought it different for each one of them. Had the Highlander met the same warriors? The red hellcats? Or had he experienced something altogether different?
In the morning, a sense of excitement filled the air. The hours passed quickly as warriors checked and rechecked swords. The vines placed out in the sun to dry that morning were ready to be used.
The Celt pulled on the thick green stalk. “Should hold. If the sea monster grabs one of us, be ready to cut yourself loose, or we all end up in the stomach of the beast.”
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I for one don’t want to find out how long it takes to heal and come back from being shat out by a bloody sea monster.” Kendrick made a rude gesture toward the water.
Just like cats at home. Sleeping in a patch of sunshine. Monroe’s ex-girlfriend, Alice, had a cat. He’d sworn the beast would have eaten him if he thought he could get away with it. Her cat was mean enough to have ended up here. Wouldn’t it be a laugh if that nasty tomcat ended up here and was now one of the red hellcats roaming the riverbank? “You might get your chance to eat me yet, you bastard.”
Kendrick quirked a brow and Monroe shrugged, a smile on his face.
Every one of the eighteen warriors moved without making a sound, which was good considering Monroe made enough noise for all of them. As they made their way over the rocks, they came out downstream, where they hoped the river only reached their shoulders. The Viking had been the one to volunteer to test the depth. He moved silently a third of the way out before a look of horror crossed his face. He’d made it back his leg punctured from ankle to thigh with tiny bite marks.
The Roman elbowed Monroe to be quiet, and he snarled back, “Can’t help it I wasn’t a bloody ghost turned wraith. I’m doing my best, so bugger off.”
His response was met with a punch to the gut. With a whoosh of breath, Monroe wheezed until he could breathe again. Guess everyone was a bit on edge.
Sunlight hit the red coats of the hellcats, turning them from scarlet to bright red, to burnished copper. From a purely aesthetic perspective, they were beautiful creatures. One cat opened a slitted eye before rolling over with a purr.
James’ voice was low as he addressed them. “I’ll take the lead. Monroe in the middle and Kendrick the rear. Everyone else file in. Those who can’t swim, make sure you’re tied to one who can. Let’s cross and get this done with. I don’t know about you, but I want to go home.”
They were almost halfway across when all hell broke loose. A splash sounded as one cat after another crouched and sprang into the water from a ledge sticking out over the river. The hellcats’ tails stuck straight out like rudders, and they paddled with strong strokes, quickly eating up the distance.
“Move!” Daggers came out to cut the vines loose. Warriors turned to fight. The water was up to their chests.
Kendrick yelled out, “If you can’t swim, stay together and keep going—we’ll hold them off.”
The blood-red water churned as wraith met cat. He might be good against two men at once, but Monroe knew his limitations.
“I’ll lead those who can’t swim.” He took the vine as Kendrick cut himself loose and pulled. “Step where I step.” The rocks were smooth and slippery. He lost his footing and went down. The water tasted of whisky. Not just any whisky, but one of the special bottles of Ravensmore that Colin had hidden away. He drank deeply.
To his left, the Spaniard crouched in the water. “Come, Diablo, jump. We ride to battle.” He seemed to be talking to a horse. All around him, his companions slipped and went down into the water and had similar experiences. The few who hadn’t gone under were embracing shapes in the air. And the cats continued to come.
A scream rang out; the redhead went under and came up again caught in the grip of the monster. Others hacked away, trying to free him while dodging other grasping tentacles.
A piercing whistle broke through the chaos. “To me!” James waved his arm, calling the warriors. “Close your mouth. Don’t drink any of the water.” He pulled the Roman to him. “Come, friend.”
The redhead wraith disappeared into the maw of the monster. Two more went down, torn to bits or drowned by the cats.
James stood knee deep in the water, pulling each one to him and up onto the shore.
Gripped by the arm, Monroe struggled. “Not yet. One more drink.” He was bodily thrown over a big shoulder. The Viking hauled him to shore.
Warriors wept. Some railed to the heavens while others sat without moving as water lapped at their boots. James pulled each one out of the water’s grip.
“The water. It gave you what you thought you wanted most. But it was illusion.” James looked into Monroe’s face.
Monroe shook his head to clear the fog. “It was so real. Let me go back.”
James restrained him. “No. The feeling will wear off in time.”
They’d started to cross with eighteen, nineteen counting himself. Monroe counted. Now they were thirteen.
As the afternoon passed, the effects of the red river wore off. “Kendrick, Monroe, get them to their feet.”
“Up ahead. The shimmer in the trees, do you see it?” Kendrick’s voice was full of excitement. It spread to the others, and they picked up the pace.
The woods loomed ahead. The air was still, waiting. The shimmer beckoned.
James stood staring into the ripples. “Thorne said cross the river, nothing else?”
“Nothing else. I thought we’d have been poofed home as soon as we crossed.” Monroe scratched his chin.
The English knight shrugged. “Only one way to find out.” He stepped into the shimmer and vanished.
Kendrick was second.
Monroe wasn’t afraid. Not really. He took a deep breath and went third. He stepped forward. The membrane made a sucking sound then pulled him in. He was drowning.
* * *
Monroe came to coughing. He retched up red water, as did the others lying on the floor. After wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he rolled over and sat up. They were in some kind of throne room with black floors inlaid with what looked like diamonds outlining the constellations.
“This isn’t Castle Campbell. Where are we?”
Thirteen had made it back. They’d lost six. Two to the sea monster, three to the red hellcats, and one to the portal. Had the Greek made it through or had something stopped him from crossing over?
“We’re in the realm of Shadow.” Kendrick sounded furious.
James scowled. “I knew we shouldn’t have trusted the sneaky bastard.”
* * *
Welcome back.” Thorne appeared in front of the weary group. The god shot a glance toward Monroe. “You did it.”
“Don’t sound so surprised.” A bolt of lightning sent him crashing into the wall. One of the wraiths snickered.
Thorne rubbed his hands together like a child faced with sending his toy soldiers into a battle they couldn’t possibly win. “You know why you are here.”
Kendrick bowed. “We should discuss the terms of our release.”
“There will be time to talk of terms later. Now go, eat, drink, be merry, and bed wenches.” Thorne waved a hand. “Follow Cain—he’ll show you to your rooms. You shall be my guests.”
“The better to keep an eye on us,” James muttered.
“In three days, we fight. End this war once and for all.” Their commander smiled. “It is good to have each of you back.”
Kendrick leaned over and whispered in Monroe’s ear, “Better get your deal written in blood. He hasn’t made you one of us yet.”
Maybe he’d better not tease Fury about naming Mac after him. Monroe might need the hellhound’s help with his bargain.
* * *
Thorne kept his word. Brought back the family who’d died in the accident. They had no memory—to them the accident had never happened.
Monroe watched them for a day. They were all so happy together. A proper family. They loved each other. He’d chosen well.
Instead of making merry for three days like James and the others, Monroe had spent the first day watching the family he’d saved, and the rest of his time he spent cleaning up trash. He’d gone through cases where the suspect was guilty but they didn’t have enough evidence to proceed, and, well, let’s just say he took care of business. He needed a catchy superhero name. From now on, Edinburgh would be safe again. Kids could play outside in the streets after dark. No matter if the villain was human or inhuman, he’d be there to protect the citizens.
It was good to have power.
* * *
Inverleith House. It would be remembered in the new history as the birthplace of Thorne’s reign. He turned from the windows, hearing the whoosh of air signifying the arrival of his soldiers.
Ah. They’d arrived together. Colin, Robert, and the others were displeased. No doubt after hearing tales of the in-between from James and Kendrick.
There’d been time earlier to make it clear to the wraiths the bargain they were entering into. Instead Thorne had let them have time with their brethren, choosing to wait until an hour before the battle.
“Did you know there’s a dragon in the other room? He’s arguing with a hellhound. Something about sauce.” James looked shocked.
Kendrick laughed. “That’s Draken and Fury. You’ll be glad they’re on our side when the fighting begins.” The English knight clapped James on the shoulder. “They drizzle sauce over what or whoever they’re eating. Apparently goblins leave a nasty aftertaste.”
“James. A word.” Thorne waved his warrior over.
James Rivers, the renowned red knight, stiffly stepped forward. Kendrick and the others followed.
Thorne stood in front of them. “You and your warriors have had three days of carousing. You know the deal. Will you agree to fight for me?”
Kendrick spoke up: “We want it signed in blood.”
“And Fury to witness,” James interjected.
“Did someone call me?” Fury ambled over, licking a drop of sauce off his fur.
The hellhound spotted Monroe. “Heard you got a dog. Named him Fury.”
Fury showed his teeth, all three impressive sets. “Funny.”
Monroe put a hand to his heart, willing it to slow to normal.
Thorne rolled his eyes. “Let’s get on with it. You want the agreement signed in blood? How very dramatic.”
“Smart. It will be binding.” Fury sat down near a large table in the room. “Proceed.”
Thorne manifested a document stating the agreement. “It’s all there. We lose, you all turn wraith. Die in battle, go to the final death. And when we win, a choice. Go on to your final rest or live a mortal life. A second chance.”
“No loyalty required to you. And those who want to be Shadow Walkers again are granted the honor.” One of the wraiths looked over Kendrick’s shoulder.
Kendrick rubbed his chin.
James added, “If we choose to live a mortal life. Add that we can choose to stay in the present or go back to our own time. The very moment we would have died. With no interference from you.”
Thorne had rather hoped they wouldn’t make the addition. With the warriors back under his command, it would have benefitted him to have them continue to serve. The fae would need policing. They were currently in another room plotting.
All three heads on Fury smiled. “Nice.”
“Fine.” Thorne brought the dagger out, scored his finger, and signed in blood. He stepped back to allow the others to do the same.
Fury blew on the document. “I’ll just send this to the nether realm for safekeeping. Back in a minute. Don’t start the war without me.”
“Will the other hounds fight?” Kendrick looked hopeful.
Thorne let the annoyance seep into his voice. “No. Fury is the only one who chose sides. The rest will not choose.”
“As is right, for the hellhounds are the keepers of justice.” Draken peered over James’ shoulder to stare at him.
Thorne ignored the dragon.
* * *
From his vantage point looking out the back of the house over the grounds, Thorne had a view of what might be coming. He’d spotted two goblins lying in wait in the trees closest to the house. They were vicious but stupid.
He’d let the fae take them out. His Shadow Walkers talked with their wraith brethren. The wraiths looked semi-transparent. The fae kept to themselves. Monroe stood next to James, pride rolling off so strongly that Thorne thought he could smell it from where he stood.
How different would his life had been if he’d never chased after Luna? Would he still be standing here today? He’d never know. There was no more room for regrets. It was time.
* * *
Dayne made the first move, sending the dark flying creatures toward Thorne and his men as they took the field of battle. Then all the seven hells broke loose.
Day Walkers and goblins swarmed from the trees surrounding them. The fae and Shadow Walkers formed a circle and fought outward.
Gold and silver energy bolts flashed through the air. Dayne’s goblins swarmed one of his warriors; a blade found its mark and he was gone in a shower of silver dust.
Thorne’s attention was diverted from his brother for a moment when he heard arguing over to his left.
“See, I told you mixing the chili sauce with the plum mixture would be delicious.” Each of Fury’s heads ate a goblin in one bite.
Draken blew flame on a group of goblins and poured sauce on them; the aroma of plums and honey filled the air as he threw them in the air one by one, catching them with a crunch. “It’s good, but extra honey masks the aftertaste better.”
The fae fought valiantly against the Day Walkers, but their powers were weak. Thorne focused them instead on the goblins. Beauty fighting ugliness. He’d laugh if so much wasn’t at stake.
Colin slashed out with a sword in each hand and took down two Day Walkers with a single blow. He was immediately surrounded by three more.
On and on, the fighting seemed to never end. Thorne and Dayne were evenly matched, neither one gaining the upper hand. Dayne would hit him with a bolt, searing a wound down his arm, and Thorne would retaliate with a blow to the torso. Then Dayne would drop back, and still the battle raged on.
James, Kendrick, and the other wraiths swarmed through the army, taking out all the dark, creepy-crawly creatures. Some had multiple heads and lots of eyes. There were creatures who flew, those who walked, and those who crawled. All had razor-sharp teeth full of venom that paralyzed their prey for a moment, long enough to eat them. The venomous creatures vanquished, the goblins and Day Walkers continued to come at them. Thorne snorted. Dayne had been busy creating his army. Unease slipped down his back as the first worry that he would lose filled his mind.
“Hey, Mr. Bossypants, over here.” Fury grabbed Dayne in his jaws and threw him at Thorne’s feet.
The dragon called out to Fury, “Aren’t you full yet?”
“Been full. Now I just spit them out.”
“That was a close call. Dayne almost killed Thorne. Let’s end this before the realms fall.” Draken took to the air, flapping huge black wings. The sky changed from a brilliant blue to an angry red. He called out, “Colin, pull your warriors back now.”
Thorne would not lose. Dayne turned his head to watch Draken take flight. A second, nothing more. It was his undoing. Thorne pulled his brother into an embrace and pulled the shadows around them, blocking them from everyone’s view.
The wind swirled around them, blocking out all sound. Thorne pressed his lips to Dayne’s forehead and inhaled. His brother struggled as Thorne held him tighter. Summoning all his power, Thorne breathed in deeply and felt his brother’s god force pull loose.
Dayne stabbed him in the side and back with a dagger, to no avail. The inhalation deepened and his brother’s god force flowed into Thorne.
It was too much. He kept taking the essence into himself, feeling their two souls vying for dominance. This time Dayne would fall. Thorne pulled harder, taking every drop.
Every memory his brother ever had filled Thorne’s mind, mixed with his own. He saw them as children. Saw Dayne trying to save him from Luna. Watched the hatred blossom and grow between them both. Small, petty slights took root, grew into thick vines, choking everything they came in contact with. Dayne’s body was there one instant and gone the next. Gold dust blew all around Thorne. With a gasp he fell to the ground, clutching his head, his brother’s voice screaming inside him.
* * *
The wraiths, fae, and Shadow Walkers retreated, and the enemy whooped and yelled, thinking they were winning. Small groups of goblins and Day Walkers sensed something was wrong and fled. Draken heard the words in his mind, the collective knowledge of his ancestors there for him to use. He said the words, and a sonic boom swept across the park, leveling everything in sight.
Warriors on the battlefield fell like corn under the blade of a combine harvester. Not a single enemy stood. Gold and gray dust filled the air, blocking out the sun.
The air cleared and Thorne rolled to his feet, swaying unsteadily. “It is done. Dayne is no more.”
“Well, that was anticlimatic.” Fury yawned.
Draken snorted. “Everyone’s a critic.”
* * *
“Hear me.” Colin raised his voice to be heard above the arguments. “We are a brotherhood. We took an oath to protect humanity, to protect the weak. I for one will not stand down. I will not become human again. I will use my power to fight. The remaining goblins are venturing out of their realm to prey upon the humans, and now the fae king and queen have reinstated the old ways. Humans are endangered. If we do not act, they will be extinct.”
“We must remain vigilant,” Kendrick said. “We live in shadow. We protect humans from the fear of night; we protect them from the nightmares—only we, the Shadow Walkers, can keep the darkness at bay.” He held his fist in the air. “We cannot abandon humanity when they need us most.”
Colin linked arms with Kendrick. “It’s always darkest before the dawn. Step forward, spill your life force, and declare your intent. Who will stand with me?”
James stepped forward first. “My brothers. I cannot stand with you.” James took his dagger, scored his palm, and let three drops of energy flow into the air. “I choose to go back to my wife. To be mortal and live a mortal life with her. I wish each of you well, brothers.” The energy shimmered with a silver and red light, hovering above everyone’s head in the center of the room. A tiny, brightly lit ball. It was done. He vanished with a small pop of air.
Two others chose to be mortal again and vanished. Not a single one chose to go to the final rest. The rest stepped forward one by one to declare their intent.
The cheer rose: “To Colin!”
“To the brotherhood!”