Now I know why NaNoWriMo recommends you start a brand new project for NaNoWriMo, instead of trying to finish an existing work. It’s damn hard keeping momentum up after you hit “the end!” Worse: I’ve hit the end not once but twice.
I’m going to see if I can hit the third.
After several days of struggling with the new projects, I was getting desperate. I decided to Call for help.
If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know allllll about Gregar, my wicked Shadowed Blood. Of course I went to him for help. I should have finished his prequel a long time ago anyway.
NaNoWriMo count: only 29,561 but it’s more than I had before.
“ALREADY, SHE DREAMS OF YOU.”
Her eyes flew open, startling blue even in the night, and she gazed not at the other Death Rider, but at me. Her eyes flared.
As though she recognizes me.
Her dream morphed and she stood clad in metal, a short sword held cocked over her shoulder. “Come and get me, you son of a bitch.”
With a low grunt of acceptance, my mark saluted with his rahke and stepped into her dream, wrapping himself in Shadow. She wouldn’t be able to see him. Despite her bravado, she would die. She must die, against a Death Rider.
My stomach felt heavy and sick, but I, too, stepped into her dream. Behind me, I heard a low chuckle and the hair crawled on my scalp. Somehow, I felt as though I had done exactly what the Blackest Heart of Darkness wanted most of all.
My gift of Shadow had never felt so dangerous. My skin felt like ice, my palm damp on my rahke as though I faced my first elimination in Vulkar’s name once more. Outlander hallways of stone had been replaced by more familiar rolling hills, and night had become a clear and perfect summer day. How could this woman know of our Plains, which we aggressively protected from her kind?
My nostrils flared at the first hint of her scent. A spicy, rich flower that I had never smelled before, thick and sweet in the heat of a summer night. I couldn’t not follow that scent. It pulled me onward, whispering as seductively as a warm, willing woman’s musk of desire.
This woman wasn’t willing and she wasn’t mine. My mark—the man I’d come to kill—would be hunting her. I had to kill him first.
The clash of steel sent me running down the hill and up the next with all my speed. No one would last long against a Death Rider, let alone a woman. A sword wouldn’t help her, even if she were a blademaster.
Which she might be, I admitted. She fought well. For an outlander.
My mark had abandoned his gift and fought fully visible, his short rahke effortlessly slipping in and out of her defenses. But she managed to whirl away each time. Neither were unscathed, but the Death Rider hadn’t been able to land a killing blow.
Lightening my steps to make no sound, I raced past their battle as silently as a cloud in a summer sky. My rahke dipped, severing his spine at the base of his skull. He dropped like a stone and I crouched in the tall grass, silent and invisible.
At first glance, I’d thought her beautiful. Up close, she was magnificent. Panting, sweaty, bloody, she stood with her head high and sword comfortable in her hand. “I know you’re still here.”
It took all my years of experience to keep from twitching with surprise. No one saw through a Death Rider’s gift. No one.
I drew my gift tighter, silently urging her to look away. Don’t see me. Don’t see the flicker of darkness upon the grass, the waver of nothing where light should be. I am Shadow. I am Death.
“I didn’t need your help, you know.” She smiled wryly, keeping her tone conversational, but I noted that she kept the sword firm and ready in her grip, which earned an approving grin from me. “I would have eventually finished him off. As I’ll finish you.”
I bit my tongue, fighting back all the lewd jokes that immediately burned in my mind. Aye, I had a foolish, raw sense of humor. Either she was extremely stupid—which arguably, all outlanders were—or she was baiting me.
Me. The most skilled Death Rider with more kills than any other living assassin to roam the Plains.
It was enough to make me laugh. Out loud.
Eyes narrowed, she pinned my hiding spot and shifted slightly to face my attack.
“Put your sword away, woman. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Somehow I don’t believe you.” Her voice frosted, hard, cutting ice, telling me that many had come to kill her. For whatever reason, the Endless Night wanted her dead. He must have been sending his filthy murderers after her a very long time indeed. “Reveal yourself, shadow man. Or will you cower in darkness against a woman?”
I stood and peeled back my cloak of darkness just enough for her to see that I was a formidable warrior, leaving shadows to wreath my face. Shadow man indeed. Meeting her gaze, I gave her my most cocky smirk—though whether she caught it through my disguise I could not say—and sheathed my rahke. “I came to kill him. Not you. If I had come to kill you, you would already be dead.”
Despite the lack of any threat from me, she narrowed her gaze as though she sought to pierce the shadows hiding my face and took a step closer. Steel hovered mere inches from my bare stomach. “I think not.”
“Try me.” I winked at her suggestively. “I would love for you to finish me.”
Silent and swift, she struck, jabbing forward to impale me on her weapon. I simply blurred sideways. Her sword struck nothing but air and she stumbled off balance. Her shoulder brushed mine. A heavy braid hung down her back, inviting me to jerk her head backwards and curve her throat for my rahke. That perfect skin would split easily beneath my blade. Her blood would be hot, sweet, unlike anything I’d ever tasted before.
My mouth watered.
Shuddering, I pulled my disguise tighter, backing away. My head swam with her sultry scent, made even more enticing by the blood she’d spilled in her first fight. I felt dizzy, my head stuffed with cotton, my throat dry and tight even while my mouth flooded with saliva at the thought of tasting her. My stomach pitched uneasily. My ears roared, my heartbeat thundering in my head like a thousand stampeding horses.
Great Vulkar, what is wrong with me?
Steel cut sharply into my side and I loved her for it. Here was a woman more than capable of killing to protect herself. She hadn’t waited for me to recover from whatever malady attacked me. She’d seen an opening and she’d taken the opportunity to sink her sword into me.
Her only mistake: she hadn’t gone for a killing blow.
As a Death Rider, I was already mostly dead, but I was even stranger than most assassins riding the Plains. Blood and pain were mere endearments and kisses for one like me. The more she hurt me, the more I would like it. The more I bled, the more I would want her.
And the more I wanted her to bleed in turn.
A dangerous proposition to be sure.
“You won’t find me an easy kill, shadow man, even if I can’t see you.”
I jerked back with a grunt as steel slid out of me. “You have very good aim for one who supposedly cannot see her target.”
“I don’t have to see you when I can smell you.”
“Ah.” I laughed wickedly, dodging another strike. To test her senses, I circled her, soundlessly, yet she kept her body turned to face me. “And how do I smell, lovely one?”
“Vile.” She made her voice a weapon, flat, hard and cold. It made me smile again, and evidently, I loosened my concealing shadows, because her mouth went tight and flat with determination. “None of the others have smelled like you.”
She meant it as an insult, but I heard the ring of truth in her voice, and my spine sheeted with ice. “You have a great many Death Riders walking your dreams?”
“Every single night someone tries to assassinate me.”
I snatched her right wrist and jerked her closer, ignoring her blade entirely. “Do they come in your dreams?”
“Like this?” She whispered, dropping her gaze to my mouth.
A waterfall of fire poured over me, stealing my breath. She had no right to do this to me. No one had claim on my heart. Fury made me tighten my fingers on her wrist, digging into her skin. I’d rather cut my own hand off than harm a woman, but in that moment, I was too furious to care. I kill for Vulkar and my heart is mine alone.
“If I take your heart, I’ll cut it out of your ribcage.”
I didn’t realize I’d spoken aloud. I shoved her backward away from me. “Return to your dream and leave me in peace.”
Laughing softly, she turned, that long dark braid swinging down her back to her hips. I’d never noticed what she wore until now. A short emerald green cloth wrapped about her hips, a memshai in the manner of the Sha’Kae al’Dan. Jealousy twisted vicious talons in my gut, for that color meant she belonged to someone else. If she were mine, she’d wear my blue and nothing else.
Insane. This dream had made me lose my mind.
“You’re the one who invaded my dream, remember? Leave me to my usual nightmares and never return, or I’ll kill you now and save myself the trouble tomorrow night.”
She whirled, that braid whipping in an arc, stinging my face. She slammed the blade through my heart, shoving hard, again, until we stood face to face.
“So?” I finished on a groan. Blood pulsed from the wound with every beat of my heart, and I saw the heat flare in her eyes. She felt it. She felt the fire of Vulkar in my blood, the very heartfires of the earth.
“I know so,” she whispered against my lips. I reached for her, intent on pulling her closer, but my hands grasped only air.
I jerked awake in my tent. A cold sweat chilled my skin. Lying there in the darkness, I calmed my breathing, but I couldn’t still my mind. A dream. Only a dream.
But I had killed my mark in that dream. She’d killed me—so why wasn’t I dead as well? Vulkar forbid, what if I had indulged in her challenge? If we’d fought, and bled, and…
I could do nothing less than love her.
Kae’Shaman’s words thundered in my head. You will hold that precious heart beneath the weight of your rahke. May Vulkar guide you in your darkest hour, when the Endless Night will lure you to ravage and destroy the last light of the world.
A woman stalked in her dreams by Death Riders. My woman. Vulkar help me.
My hand trembled on the hilt of my rahke. When had I unsheathed it? Horror bubbled up my throat. I had to roll on my side and vomit else choke on my shame. That dream had been shadowed from the very first moment. I’d know it, yet onward I’d gone, too determined in my pride as the most honored Death Rider to turn back.
I could not return to the Dream. Not if I wanted her to live.
Surely hours later, I finally calmed enough to close my eyes. As I drifted off to sleep, I finally realized what had been bothering me about that dream.
She’d been wearing Sha’Kae al’Dan clothing, perfect down to the last detail. Not outlander clothes.
The dream had been mine.