Blood painted the walls of the luxurious suite of rooms, a dazzling spray of red on white. It soaked into the lush carpets around her feet squishing with her every step. If she looked at it sideways, it was almost beautiful in a macabre way.
Mental note to self: vampires do not like having their throats slit.
Things had gone perfectly until he had taken exception to his throat being cut. He’d run from her, his blood coating everything he came near, including her. She’d had to run after his big ass and she hated running when she didn’t have to.
She wiped her hands on her black jeans with a sigh. Damn vamps were always glad to play with blood unless it was theirs. Hypocrites.
Heaving a long-suffering sigh, she knelt next to her assignment. Her knife gleamed as she carved a small ‘S’ into his cheek with clinical detachment. Standing again, she dissolved into the shadows, slipping from his suite without being seen.
The assignment was complete. Team Shade five hundred and forty-three, Team Target zilch.
The first rays of sunlight would soon be creeping over Siberia, which meant she needed to get away. The traitor’s servants would come to check on him before dawn and when word got out, the other generals in the Eturian army would know better than to attempt a reconciliation with The Veil.
The hallway of the mansion was deeply shadowed, which made her escape easier. As one with the darkness, she darted through the maze of hallways and into the night air. She did love becoming one with the shadows. Not only was it cool as all shit, but it also protected her, which was all that really mattered.
Shivering in spite of her nearly insubstantial form, Shade cursed the assignment which had brought her to Evenkia, a district within Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, in the dead of winter. The turncoat she’d just eliminated lived in the middle of nowhere, which she supposed was a good thing since no one would be around to see her leaving.
Crisp moonlight strengthened her even though she kept to the deep darkness of the night. Swift as an arrow, she shot from shadow to shadow until she reached the thick forest south of the mansion. The vampire’s guards never suspected her presence, talking in soft Russian as they patrolled the estate.
Once she was far enough away to avoid detection, Shade manifested into her solid form, wings unfurling behind her. Taking a deep breath of the freezing night air, she continued moving in the shadows. It would do no good to be caught by humans out hunting. Silence greeted her sensitive ears. The nocturnal animals were wary of her presence which was fine by her. She wasn’t up to tangling with a tiger or bear tonight.
Once she’d put enough distance between her and the accidental bloodbath behind her, she stopped. Peering around at the circle of ancient trees, she called forth her portal. She hated traveling through the suckers, but it was quicker than flying by human transport or her own wings.
An oval of swirling mist appeared before her. Stepping through, she clenched her teeth as she was hurtled through time and space. Her hair whipped around her face and neck, stinging her skin. With a loud ‘pop’, she fell out of the wormhole of chaos and into the serenity of her conservatory.
Catching herself before she landed on her face, Shade took a moment to catch her breath. Portals were a pain, but once she caught the scent of gardenias and felt the warmth of her south Florida home, she accepted that sometimes the end justified the means.
The darkness of night settling calmed her. She sauntered through the conservatory, petite hands stroking the flowers that were her only solace. If her handler knew just how much pleasure she took in this indoor garden, he would first mock her, and then try to beat the tenderness out of her. The thought caused her fingers to curl as she removed them from the petals of a rose. Because her handler was a first class bastard who wanted all of her loving for himself.
Shade snorted at the thought. For her handler, love and hate was the same thing, which meant she gave him exactly what he wanted. She continued to the doors leading to her library. The smell of flowers was abruptly extinguished with the soft snick of the doors closing behind her. Silence greeted her as it always did.
Home. Prison, sanctuary, all rolled into one.
She ignored the dust and near emptiness of the rooms she walked through. She barely lived here as her assignments took her all over the world, so there was little need to decorate. And there was no way in the nine hells she’d actually clean. She might not be a noblewoman any longer, but a lady had to have standards. Her bedroom was on the far end of a long hallway and it was there she headed.
With precise, controlled movements, she removed the black T-shirt coated with the vampire’s blood. Heavy steel-toe boots were kicked across the room, swiftly followed by her blood-soaked black jeans.
If every assignment went the way tonight’s had, she’d have to go shopping. Again. Gods knew she hated shopping, which was why she only did it every ten years. Wearing nothing but a bra and panties, she entered the miniscule bathroom attached to the bedroom.
Turning the shower to its hottest setting, she finished stripping before she stepped under the punishing heat. She kept her mind blank while waiting for the water to warm her body. There was no use thinking about the assignment now. What was done was done. The vampire would never share his knowledge with the Veilerians and she was that much closer to furlough.
Just thinking of the short rest she was soon due to have made her knees weak. Cursing under her breath, she caught herself before she fell. Weakness was not tolerated in an assassin, had been beat out of her over a hundred years before, but she still experienced it in little bursts.
Brutally scrubbing her skin raw, she removed all marks of the vampire’s blood revealing the muted glow of her fairy skin. She never allowed her glamour to drop. It had been one condition of her terms of service; she was never allowed to reveal her true appearance. To do so would betray her heritage. And no doubt land her on a hit list in every dimension known to the Veil.
That was fine with her. It wasn’t like she had anything to be proud of or go back to. Her parents were social climbing felons who had no problem using their only child’s fears and affections against her. Not that she felt anything but disgust for them anymore.
Right before her full transition, her parents had invited a “special guest” for a meal. In those days, Shade had been known as Noelani and she’d foolishly thought the Shadowland king, Leofric, was joining them for dinner. She’d dressed in her most stunning gown, had her hair woven with fresh ivy, and allowed her skin to glow its brightest.
Scoffing loudly at her stupidity, Shade clenched her hands into fists and squeezed her eyes shut. The demon lord who’d come to dinner had signified the beginning of the end of her life as Noelani Fayard. Her parents had left her alone with him, letting him charm her with his fawning attention and talk of the good she could accomplish. Noelani had refused his offer, not wanting to dirty her hands with work. She’d been raised a noble; work was not part of her upbringing.
Shade pressed her palms into the tiles in front of her, trying to force the memories from her mind, but they persisted, coming at her like a swarm of bees. When she’d refused the demon lord, Wikolia and Thomas Fayard had told her the Assassins Guild was offering a handsome finder’s fee for them if she went with Luther.
The remembered pain and humiliation set her teeth to grinding. That same day, she’d been packed off to the Earthly dimension to be taught death. Her parents had their money and forgot all about her. She kept tabs on them through gossip and never once had they stopped their endless partying and search for pleasure. The day after she’d left, an announcement had been made in Skado, the Shadowland that Noelani Fayard had died of moon sickness. Shade snorted loudly. Her parents were bastards just as much as her handler was.
Forcing the old hurts and her parents’ coldness down, she shut off the shower, grabbing a towel off the rack and drying herself with brisk efficiency. There was no room in her life for regrets and resentment. Sarcasm, death, blood, more sarcasm? Yup, she had those in spades.
She dressed in a loose pair of yoga pants and a tank top. Pulling a brush through her waist length hair with rough strokes, she tugged at the tangles caught in the silver strands. Her long locks were her only concession to vanity. When she’d first been given into service as an assassin, Luther had shaved her head after using it as a weapon against her, all as part of her training. It had taken more than thirty years to reach its current length, but the lesson was never forgotten.
Shade was a tool in the war against The Veil. Her only purpose was to erase key members of the Veilerian army to give the Eturians a better toehold in the human world. Countless males and females had died by her hand, her soul the only part of her that carried the stain of her deeds. Those stains were nothing when compared to what Luther would and could do to her if she defied him.
Not thinking about that…because I’d like to actually sleep at some point in the next century.
The silence surrounding her suddenly felt heavy. Pulling her hair back into a loose ponytail, she hurried through the house to the only luxury she allowed herself: a high-tech stereo system with speakers in every room.
Hitting the play button, a throbbing bass thumped through the house making the floors vibrate. A dark, growling voice began to sing and the silence was banished as if it had never existed. Her eyes closed in pleasure. She sighed.
She loathed silence almost as much as she did Luther and her parents. Silence gave her conscience a platform to taunt her, to play her sins before her, and drive home her solitude. Her hands fisted over her eyes. Regret would never make up for what she’d done in her life.
Don’t think about it, you stupid bitch! This is called downtime for a reason.
Growling softly, she turned up the music. Lying on the floor, she let the heavy metal reach into her soul to ease her. When she used to speak with her fellow assassins, she’d learned they all had some mechanism to ease them. In days long passed, she had tried every one of them, but once rock and roll emerged, she’d found it. Some human had once said rock and roll was the tool of the devil; well she was living proof of that. She thrived on the music since it was the only thing keeping her sane.
Curling on her side, she sighed in relief. Finally, peace.
Once more in complete control of herself, she set the play list before heading to the kitchen. With Mudvayne growling and screaming in her ears, she poured herself a glass of orange juice. She stood before the fridge with the door open. She’d have to venture out for more of the magic juice, she thought as she gulped it back.
Like all fairies, she couldn’t become drunk on human alcohol. Juice though, was an entirely different story. Something about fruit hit even the burliest of fairies like a punch in the stomach. Her own stomach growled loudly. She needed food, not liquor. Restraining herself from chugging the bottle of orange juice in the fridge, she instead pulled a family-size frozen lasagna from the freezer.
Like the rest of the house, the kitchen wasn’t much to look at, but it was functional which was all that mattered. As Mudvayne gave way to Sepultura, she preheated the battered gas oven and put the pan in.
Busying herself with mundane tasks, she could forget about the assignment she’d just completed. She never spoke of her targets as people. She wasn’t that cold. Yet. In another hundred years, she would be, but for now she clung to that small distinction. She found a bag of chips. Grocery shopping was definitely in her future. Standing over the stove, she ate the entire bag.
The hair suddenly stood on the back of her neck. She reached into the drawer next to her where she kept a stash of throwing knives, reflexively arming herself while putting the chips on the counter. Shade knew it was Luther. He was the only being her wards were coded to accept as a visitor. Others were fricasseed nearly a hundred yards from her dwelling.
Luther appeared in her kitchen with a soft ‘pop’, indicating he’d traveled to her via portal. Raising one eyebrow at him, she waited for him to speak.
In a deceptively relaxed pose, the seven-foot demon gave her an appraising look. She knew what he saw, what others saw. At barely five feet tall, Shade was extremely short for a fairy, her height and petite bone structure giving her the deceptive appearance of frailty. It didn’t take them long to discover she was stronger and more lethal than she looked. Shade had once thought about using her glamour to make herself appear larger, more frightening, but had discarded the idea. Instead, she used her innocent looks and small size to her advantage against assignments and anyone who dared try to hurt her. Because nothing said scary like a pygmy fairy who kicked ass.
“Shade,” Luther said in greeting, his deep voice rumbling over the raucous guitars. He glared up at the speakers above his head. “How do you stay sane listening to such noise?” he asked, snapping his fingers.
The music shut off mid-riff and her ears rang with the absence of sound. Panic clawed at her, but she ignored it. “Who said I was sane?” she asked softly.
Leaning against the wall near the stove, Luther allowed his gaze to travel over his underling. In his nearly five hundred years of existence, he’d never seen such a spuriously innocent female. In her early years, he’d used every means available to him to break this little fairy and he’d enjoyed each one. His body remembered her softness but once she stopped caring about what he did to her, all lust he felt for her died. He almost mourned her loss of warmth even while he acknowledged his success in turning a pampered fairy into a perfect killer.
She stood with her hands at her sides. Her solid green eyes betrayed no emotion, no intent, although Luther knew if he made any sudden moves, she’d disappear in a heartbeat, but not to attack. She couldn’t. He patted the vial of blood hanging from a leather cord around his neck with a smile.
The beautiful mane of silver hair he’d once used to hold her still as he slaked his lust was pulled back, exposing the face that reminded him of what she had once been. Innocent and charmingly naive. Shade wasn’t classically beautiful, her features too angular for true beauty. It was her large green eyes and full lips that made males lust for her. He knew her real skin was the soft, glowing grey of a dove’s breast. Her glamour hid it, dulled the glow, making her pale.
“Was there a purpose to your visit?” she asked him when he continued staring at her, because it was just creepy the way he watched her.
Abruptly Luther straightened. Her body relaxed in preparation of his attack. “I have an assignment for you,” he said instead of coming at her.
She tried to judge his mood. He seemed on edge and frightened. The only one who scared Luther was his master. She’d never met the Eturian Overlord, but she’d seen Luther when he came back from visiting the fire elemental and the damage done to the demon had been extensive.
“I just came off assignment,” she told him blandly instead of asking him what their master wanted. She wasn’t in the mood for a fight.
He scowled at her, his scarlet skin darkening as his anger began to boil. “You will do as you’re told, Shade,” he informed her, his black eyes gleaming with malice.
His words flowed over and around her. Shade she had become and Shade she would always be. Once, she’d had affection for the demon in front of her, but his cruelty and ambition had ground all tender emotion to dust. He knew, as she did, that the only reason she obeyed him was the vial containing her blood suspended around his neck. Otherwise, she would love to carve her whole name in his skin and cut off some very sensitive bits of his anatomy beginning with his tongue.
“This will be your final assignment,” Luther finally said as silence stretched between them. He paused as though waiting for her to express her relief or some other emotion.
He raked a massive hand through his short black hair. Objectively, Shade knew he was a prime demon male. She’d once lusted after him, catered to his every whim, loved him. Hadn’t she heard a human say love could quickly turn to hate? They were correct. If she could express her hatred for him without fearing for her life, she would. She would literally ooze the emotion.
Frustration settled on his handsome face and he snarled, “Well?”
Shrugging, she leaned back against the counter behind her. “Details.”
“Malachi Cromwell, demon/vampire Halfling, roughly four hundred years old. Lives somewhere in South Louisiana. You are to erase him in the bloodiest manner possible. He is a traitor to the Overlord. If you fail, you will be tortured,” he finished with relish.
Shade raised an eyebrow at him. “So?”
He leaned forward until he was hovering over her. His hot breath bathed her face, the familiar scent turning her stomach. Black eyes studied her closely and something burned within them she didn’t recognize. It was almost affection, but it was quickly swallowed by hate.
“You won’t be tortured and released like the other times,” he whispered softly. “The Chief would do the deed himself.”
In spite of her nerves of steel, she almost shivered in fear. She held it back, raising her chin at her former lover. “And?”
He chuckled darkly, grazing her cheek with one black claw. “My beautiful Shade, what we did together would look like love when he was finished with you.” He stood, curling the hand he’d touched her with. “If you succeed, you’ll go into direct service of the master. It is an honor to serve him. Do not fail,” he ordered, backing away from her slowly.
“How long do I have?”
He paused, tilting his head to the side, studying her with those fathomless eyes. “Not long.” Luther snapped his fingers again and the music came back on. He gave her a smile that was beautiful and horrific. “Drown your conscience, sweet Shade. Otherwise you will suffer as no other has suffered before.”
She slumped against the counter when he was gone, hands shaking with primal fear. The sensation of a trap closing in on her made her throat close. She was going to die. Succeed or fail, her life was over and she knew it.