Ravensblood – Now Available on Amazon!
In a life of impossible choices when sometimes death magic is the lesser of the evils, can a dark mage save the world and his own soul?
Corwyn Ravenscroft. Raven. The last heir of an ancient family of dark mages, he holds the secret to recreating the Ravensblood, a legendary magical artifact of immense power.
Cassandra Greensdowne is a Guardian. Magical law enforcement for the elected council— and Raven’s former apprentice and lover. She is trying to live down her past. And then her past comes to the door, asking for her help.
As a youth, Raven wanted to be a Guardian but was rejected because of his ancestry. In his pride and his anger, he had turned to William, the darkest and most powerful mage of their time. William wants a return to the old ways, where the most powerful mage was ruler absolute. But William would not be a True King from the fairy tales. He would reign in blood and terror and darkest magic.
Raven discovers that he does have a conscience. It’s rather inconvenient.
He becomes a spy for the council that William wants to overthrow, with Cassandra as his contact.
Cass and Raven have a plan to trap William outside his warded sanctuary. But William is one step ahead of the game, with Raven’s life, his soul, and the Ravensblood all in danger.
What readers are saying…
Couldn’t put it down. . . Once I was able to read this, I couldn’t put it down. The writing style reminded me of early Andre Norton (my all time favorite author) and Andre’s books had the same effect – one becomes engaged in the plot and characters, and the settings have enough color so that your mind can picture the scenes. Hoping for a sequel! Or several…
Unique and engaging. . . This story had the tone of the later Harry Potter books but with obvious differences. It takes place in the U.S. and all societies, muggle and magic alike, coexist aware of one another. Of course, we don’t use muggle here. . .they are merely Mundane. The book starts in a gripping fashion only taking breaks for back story and character development, meaning you neither miss nor misunderstand the action. If you know the quirks of Portland, it even seems plausible. Scenery is excellent. Fantasy, warriors and mages with modern realism. I loved this novel.
I am eagerly awaiting a sequel. . . After hearing Shawna was writing an urban fantasy set in my hometown of Portland Oregon, I was all behind that! Having loved “We Don’t Serve Your Kind” I really looked forward to what she could do with a darker tale. I love urban fantasy and this tale of striving for redemption, of trying to find ones way back into society does not disappoint.
Awesome read. . . Just finished and wish it was not over, I don’t typically read this type of book but found myself unable to put it down. It had everything, suspense, love, excitement, anticipation and it brought me to tears. Incredibly awesome.
Ravensblood. . . Excellent read! It calls to you when you have to put it down, like the magic inside. . . .well written and with unsuspected turns. The characters are deep and the world is thought through. A very good ending. I can’t wait to read the sequel!
And here are some sample chapters:
Cass raised her glass defiantly to her absent mentor, the man who had taught her the difference between single-malt and blended whiskey, who had taught her to appreciate fine port, the same man who had taught her more dark magic than any Guardian should ever know.
The air was heavy with the warmth of too many people and the clashing scents of perfumes and colognes. She settled further back into the faux red leather of the booth, angling for a better view of the door.
Crossroads’ self-conscious trendiness tried to appeal to all three Communities— Art, Craft and Mundane. The décor was almost enough to distract her from the task at hand. The black-and-white harlequin diamond pattern on the wall border repeated on the dance floor to her right where college students and art-school drop-outs milled, waiting for the band to finish its break. The gilded sunburst mirror stood out dramatically against the deep red walls. Garish, but fun.
She sipped again at her neat scotch and welcomed the burn on her tongue. Raven had also taught her the little charm she’d used to limit her absorption of the alcohol. As a young apprentice fresh out of General Academy, she had been a lightweight in every sense of the word. The charm had helped her adapt to his elegant and alcohol-soaked world of cocktail parties, balls, and late dinners after evenings at the symphony. She used it now so that she could drink enough not to arouse attention and stay sober on the job.
With her history, she had to be twice as sharp and work twice as hard just to be given half a chance. Her eyes slipped over the crowd, taking in the scene. Picking up guys at bars wasn’t her thing, and there was more at stake than a night’s hook-up. Then again, she was here to pick up a guy. Just not in the normal sense of the phrase. Most of the crowd wore the short, economical jackets and jeans, durable, practical, inelegant denim, cotton and leather favored by Mundanes and by much of her generation in both Art and Craft. Here and there she spotted the sweep of more drapy, old-fashioned clothing and bits of velvet and lace.
Her own garb this night was a compromise chosen to blend in, a silky hip-length tunic bought in a store on the Art side of town, but batiked in purple-and-blue in a fashion that would have pleased a younger member of the Craft or even a more bohemian Mundane. Her snug denim jeans were pure Mundane, though, as were her kicky purple boots, low-heeled and comfortable for dancing.
The rain-streaked glass door swung open. She came alert. Four or five young people bounced through, jostling one another like a pack of tumbling puppies. More college students, by the Reed sweatshirt the short one wore. Not so much younger than her in years, maybe, but with an innocence she would never have again. Mundanes. She could tell even from this distance. No tell-tale thrum to resonate against her own power. Clearly not their target. Cass relaxed.
Probably the one in the school sweatshirt was a freshman, as an upperclass Reedie wouldn’t be rah-rah enough to wear a school shirt, but underage drinking was none of her concern.
The solitary young man who arrived moments later was not a Mundane. She focused, reading his energy, the feel of him. A warmer, softer feel, like sunwarmed earth. Not a mage. Wiccan or shamanic maybe, she couldn’t tell, but clearly Craft and not Art.
A strong male hand, tanned and slightly freckled, fell on her shoulder. Cass startled.
“Buy you a drink, luv?”
Cass relaxed at the unmistakably Aussie accent and turned to smile up at Zack, her fellow Guardian and assigned partner.
Zack slid into the seat across from hers and leaned across the table as though flirting. “Bet you a bottle of Glenfiddich that the tip is a dud and we’re wasting our time here.”
His voice was low enough not to be heard beyond their table.
Cass shook her head. “Why take a bet I’m sure to lose?”
Zack reached over and took her hands, playing the part of a barfly trying to get lucky. His normally sandy hair glowed with an odd red-and-blue miasma from the Mundane colored lights. The slowly changing patterns of lights were supposed to create a mood, though what mood she couldn’t say. She would have preferred the honest soft-white glow of charmed light globes.
Zack was the kind of handsome that the advertising agencies used to sell SUV’s and camping equipment. His accent was charming but she kept the admiration strictly to herself, along with any appreciation of the way his sandy-blond bangs swept his forehead or the way his hazel-green eyes squinted just a little when he laughed.
Guardian brass frowned on romantic relationships between partners, although they didn’t strictly forbid them the way Mundane law enforcement did. No sense risking her working relationship with the only partner she’d kept for more than a week in the three years she’d been a Guardian.
Zack knew her past, of course. But he hadn’t been in the country when the scandal had been all over the media. Maybe that was why he could accept her for what she was now.
“So, tell me why you think we’re pissing in the wind.” Zack’s voice was a sultry whisper.
“Probably the same reasons you do. Crossroads hardly seems the sort of place that William’s followers would frequent, for one. And we don’t exactly have a history of getting good information on anything William’s up to, not until the blood is spilt and the bodies are cold.”
Since the end of the Mage Wars, the Three Communities had lived with the same uneasy detente. William, with much of his power locked into a symbiotic link with his own wards, dared not leave them. But lately, William’s followers had been more active. Random, gruesome violence was meant to keep the Three Communities on edge, meant to destabilize the elected government that he abhorred.
Fear crept through the Northwest with the rumor that William had a plan to overturn the Joint Council in favor of a return to the old ways when the most powerful mage was ruler absolute, and the rest of the world watched with trepidation.
“The captain wouldn’t have assigned us to the mission if he thought there was any hope of success,” Zack said.
Diplomatic of him, that ‘us’. The captain didn’t have a problem with Zack.
Still there was a chance, always a chance they’d show here, and they couldn’t afford to ignore it. Their snitch hadn’t even told them which of William’s followers they were looking for. Please, let it not be Raven.
The perky red-headed waitress came by, put a hand on Zack’s shoulder, and cooed an offer to get him a drink. Zack asked for a Kaliber. The waitress rolled her eyes a bit at the non-alcoholic beer.
“Love Guinness, you see.” He gave her a winning smile. “But I pulled a muscle playing rugby, and with the pain meds. . .”
Cass thought for a horrible moment the waitress was going to offer to kiss it and make it better, but she settled for a murmur of sympathy before leaving to get his pint.
A skirl of bagpipes and the answering whine of electric guitar drew her attention to the stage. Magical Blend, a loud, spirited celtic-folk/punk/pop fusion band held court on stage. They were like nothing she’d ever heard before. She kind of liked them.
The dance styles of Magical Blend’s fans were as varied as the band’s musical influences. There were a few scattered step-dancers, some quite talented, and about a dozen or so twenty-somethings flailing about in joyous and unstructured abandon. A good half-dozen danced a creative mix of the two styles.
Her first boyfriend, a Mundane she’d dated while she was in General Academy, had taught her how to get down to classic rock. Raven had taught her how to waltz, to foxtrot, even to tango (and she couldn’t quite suppress a small thrill at that memory). He’d taught her every ballroom dance she might need for any formal occasion. None of which would help her dance to what currently blasted from the Crossroads’ sound system. She’d give it a try, anyway. Someday. Maybe even tonight, if the band was still playing after their lieutenant had given up and called off the operation.
At the bar, Lieutenant Gray was trying to get the attention of the bartender, a slender blonde who looked barely legal. She seemed more interested in the scruffy, bohemian young man on the stool to his left. The lieutenant had his share of success with the ladies, Mundane or no, but Cass was betting on the bohemian tonight.
Gray really didn’t have his full attention on the blonde, anyway. From where he stood at the corner of the bar, he had a perfect view of the door, and he was watching each new arrival.
The waitress arrived with Zack’s pint and earnestly asked if she could get him anything else before sashaying on her way. Zack took a sip of his pint, and grimaced.
“I’d rather be drinking Bushmill’s.” He took another cautious sip. “But I’ve never been able to stomach olive oil.”
Olive oil did keep you from getting drunk, but it had certain unpleasant side effects even if you could keep it down. Cass hid a smile. She couldn’t share the sobriety charm without facing questions about its origin. But Zack had never thrown her past in her face. Perhaps she could someday teach the charm to him in private.
Two tables away, another of her colleagues sat with her own partner. Jackie looked a bit green under her expertly applied foundation. Using the olive oil technique, no doubt.
Jackie noticed her gaze, and gave her the plastic smile of a runway model. Her lips were painted the red of a fresh-fed vampire’s in a Mundane’s late-night horror flick. Jackie had been one of her first partners when Cass had joined the Guardians. The partnership had lasted less than a week.
Jackie leaned in to whisper something to her current partner. Cass caught the words “Raven’s whore.”
Cass did not feel the least bit guilty about not sharing Raven’s charm with her.
“You all right, luv?” Zack asked.
Cass shook her head to clear the dark thoughts, and smiled. “Fine.”
Once the mere thought of Raven would have been a knife twisting in her gut. Now it felt more like an old wound, poorly healed and still tender.
Zack nodded and leaned back in the chair to watch the band, but she caught him studying her out of the corner of his eye.
Over at the bar, the lieutenant was still trying his luck with the blonde bartender. Suddenly, he stiffened like a sight hound spotting a deer. She followed his gaze to two new arrivals standing by the door and caught her breath. Two mages, dressed almost identically, with long gray frock coats trimmed in velvet, gray slacks, white shirts with lace at the throat.
She recognized the older of the two men. Eric Blanchard, William’s cousin, wore his chestnut hair in long, loose curls down to his shoulders. He had a soft, full, sensual mouth, a poet’s mouth, but the hard, black ice of his eyes gave lie to that romantic promise.
Cass shifted in her seat, using Zack’s broad shoulders to block Eric’s line-of-sight. It had been three years at least, and probably more, since she had danced with the man in the ballroom of Raven’s manor. And it had been nearly that long since her face had graced the front pages of tabloids. He might not recognize her. She might not have known him, if she hadn’t seen his face on a recent wanted bulletin.
“Is that who I think it is?” Zack asked in an undertone.
“Yes,” Cass whispered. “And there’s a chance he could recognize me.”
“I danced with him once,” she confessed.
Zack just raised an eyebrow. “That’s a story I’ve got to hear someday.”
If Eric did recognize her, he would be on alert. And if things went poorly they would have a bigger problem than just the missed opportunity to apprehend a dark mage.
Cass remembered that one dance she’d had with the man. She hadn’t known then what he truly was, any more than she had known Raven’s true agenda, and still something about him made her want to shudder at his touch. After she read his file, she felt the urge to scrub herself raw in a hot shower any time she thought of that waltz.
William was fond of mayhem and carnage. Raven would not shy from the same if it served his purposes. But for Eric, bloody violence was a religion and he was a most ecstatic celebrant.
If they tried to capture him here, in a public place, they risked a blood bath. If they did nothing, they missed a chance they might not get again. And everybody would know that Bloody Eric could walk boldly through the streets of Portland and the Guardians could do nothing to stop him.
Not to mention, whatever brought Eric to Crossroads, it was not likely a desire to take in the music or the atmosphere.
She caught the lieutenant’s eye. He nodded. The operation was still a go.
Eric and his protégé sauntered further into the room. Zack slipped out of their booth and headed toward the door. Cass followed, digging through her purse as though looking for cigarettes. The action gave a plausible reason for their movement toward the door, and an excuse for her to keep her head down.
They reached the exit just as Jackie cast an anti-teleportation ward over the room to keep the dark mages from escaping. Cass and Zack turned as one, and stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking the door.
Gray stepped away from the bar, toward the dark mages. Eric smiled, raised his hand, and sent magefire streaking, not toward the lieutenant, but toward the unshielded Mundane bartender.
Civilians screamed, ran, ducked under tables as the lieutenant dived to protect the bartender, taking the hit on his personal shields. He landed hard, tangled in toppled barstools. The protégé’s magefire struck before he had time to recover and defend.
Confuse-misdirect, attack! Cass’ reaction was swift, instinctual, and effective. Something to draw him away from the lieutenant and from the Mundane bartender. Attack while he was still off-balance.
Zack’s magefire joined hers a half-second later, strengthening the attack. Eric staggered back, singed even through his powerful shields.
Magic and adrenaline twined in her soul, heady and exhilarating. She struck again, and Eric fell back against a table with the impact.
Jackie would be out of the fight— the anti-teleport ward was her specialty, but it was an exhausting magic. Her partner’s spell-lightning flashed against the protégé’s shields, once and twice. The lieutenant got to his feet and hit Eric with an impressive volley of magefire.
Clearly hurting, Eric looked frantically from Guardian to Guardian. He couldn’t have planned on finding himself outnumbered two-to-one when he stepped out for an evening of mayhem. He would need only a moment’s clear focus to rid himself of the confuse-misdirect. They weren’t about to give him that moment.
Zack’s magefire joined hers again, blistering Eric though his weakened shields.
“Bryan, the ward!” Eric shouted.
Eric’s protégé closed his eyes in concentration. Cass felt the teleportation ward shudder and give way. Eric faded out and was gone. The ward snapped back into place, and Bryan stood alone among the Guardians, panting with exertion, eyes wild with fear.
Cass regarded the young man with some amount of reluctant admiration. Raven had taught her how to open a hole in a teleportation ward, but it was not a common skill, nor one easily mastered. And Bryan had willingly stranded himself to win Eric’s freedom.
Blivy’s Paradox said that one could not simultaneously hold open a teleportation ward and teleport oneself.
The loyal little idiot held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.
The lieutenant nodded to Jackie. She and her partner stepped up, one on either side of the protégé, and grabbed the man by his arms. Bryan stiffened and paled. He had to have expected the magic-dampening charm effected by their touch, but no mage could truly prepare for the terrifying and disorienting reality of being cut off from magic.
Jackie let the teleportation ward drop. She and her partner teleported away with their prisoner. Safer to teleport than to invite a rescue attempt in the time it took to use another mode of transport, and all Guardians had enough familiarity with Guardian Central to make such a short-distance transport easily, especially with two Guardians to share the burden of the prisoner.
The burnt-match smell of magefire and the thunderstorm scent of spell lightning filled the room. The lieutenant slumped back against the bar, pain writ clear on his face. The V of his unbuttoned collar revealed blistered and reddened skin where the heat of magefire had made it through his shields. When the adrenalin wore off, he’d be in a world of hurt.
Cass went to his side. “Sir, are you all right?”
“Mostly,” he replied. “And mostly thanks to you. Brilliant bit of creative spellwork today. What gave you the idea to piggy-back a confusion spell with a misdirection?”
Raven had taught her. It was his own invention.
Cass shrugged. “I improvised.”
She held her breath, waiting for his reaction. Nothing she’d done today had been dark, but nothing that wasn’t time-honored could quite be trusted in her world. Small wonder they’d had so little success in combating William.
“Good job, Greensdowne.”
It was the first time she’d gotten a compliment from a superior officer. “Thank you, sir.”
“Care to improvise some healing, here?” Gray gave her a faint smile. “I hear you’re fairly good at it.”
Cass, in fact, had been top of her class on the Healer’s Aptitude test as well as the Guardian’s Aptitude Test and could have gone to either academy. But that had been years ago. Her only formal training, apart from some basic field healing and some tricks Raven had shown her, ended with General Academy. She felt her shoulders straighten. “Sir, shouldn’t you be going to the hospital?”
“Later. Just patch me up enough that I can make nice with the Mundanes and the Craft.”
She finally noticed the frightened, murmuring crowd huddled at the far end of the dance floor. A siren wailed in the distance. Someone had called the Mundane cops.
At least they hadn’t gotten there before the situation was under control. The Guardians would have to cross-file reports anyway, since the incident involved Mundanes and Craft as well, at least as witnesses. But every now and then cops forgot that guns and magic didn’t mix, bystanders got shot, the Art got blamed, and the Joint Council got unhappy.
Even though Eric had escaped, they had got off lightly. Eric had been startled and unprepared. The evening could have turned out way, way worse than it had. Now they only had to convince the press and the Mundane cops of that.
Cass closed her eyes, took a few deep, centering breaths, and found the gentle, sweet light of healing magic deep within her core. So different from the blazing bright fire of battle magic, yet intoxicating in its own way, it calmed the last of the fight-or-flight rush in her blood.
She laid her hands gently over the lieutenant’s injuries, and let the healing flow into him, easing the pain of his injuries and starting the healing process.
“Good enough, for now,” the lieutenant said after a moment.
She loved the after-effects of healing. It left her tired, yes, but it was a good tired, a peaceful tired. She might need that calmness when their Mundane colleagues arrived.
Sure enough, the Mundane police burst in with guns drawn.
Gray took charge. “It’s all right, stand down. We got it under control, dark mage’s in custody. Your department will be getting the full report in the morning.”
“Gray.” One of the uniformed men saluted briefly. “Stand down, guys.” He raised a hand and turned back to the lieutenant. “Care to explain what’s going on here?”
The band, gods bless them, followed the ancient law of musiciandom— music continued as contracted so long as there was no imminent threat of bodily harm. They started into a soft, soothing ballad that helped calm and distract the crowd.
“Listen, Stone,” Gray said. “Maybe we should take this somewhere more private?”
The blonde bartender was only too glad to let them continue their discussion in the Crossroads’ business office. By the way she now looked at Gray, Cass suspected her lieutenant might be getting lucky after all.
Zack and the other Mundane cop were assigned to get statements from the crowd, which left Cass to follow Gray.
In the brighter lighting of the office, Stone finally recognized her.
“Good god, is that really Corwyn Ravenscroft’s— apprentice?” The way he said ‘apprentice’ implied another word entirely. “You expect me to talk in front of her?”
“Cassandra Greensdown was Raven’s apprentice, yes.” Gray nodded grimly. “She’s also the one who gave us the information to finally put out a warrant on the bastard.”
The lieutenant was defending her? Gratitude surged through her. Gray’d probably get hell for it later. The captain agreed with the Mundane police.
“Little good it did you.” Stone’s lip curled. “Three years and he’s still snug and safe with William. You haven’t touched him yet, either.”
“If your people think you can do a better job bringing them in, be my guest.” Gray gave Stone a cool look. “The attacks on Mundane civilians are meant to destabilize the Three Communities. Arguing among ourselves is just playing into William’s plan.”
“And your little Guardian would know about William’s plan, wouldn’t she?” Stone’s lip curled. “Tell me, is she screwing you like she screwed Raven?”
Cass grabbed her lieutenant before he could go after Stone. Too bad she couldn’t let him hit the bastard but it would make the situation even worse. Was Gray offended for her sake or his own? Best not ask questions she didn’t want answered.
Stone was just scared, she told herself as Gray stood beside her, breathing hard. William’s plan was working all too well. Mundanes knew his agenda, knew they would be effectively disenfranchised under it, and it made some of them wary of all mages. William was determined to show everyone that nobody could protect the Three Communities from him, should his right to rule not be acknowledged. If she had to swallow her pride to defeat him, so be it. “Sir, if it makes things easier, I can go help Zack.”
Gray nodded. “Go then.”
“Your aunt may be a hero of the last Mage Wars,” Stone said to her back. “But you will never be anything more than a dark mage’s flavor-of-the-week. Doesn’t matter that your aunt got the rest of the Joint Council to intervene on your behalf. You’ll never be trusted here, Greensdowne.”
“What happened?” Zack asked her when she joined him.
“The usual. I’m so damned sick of—”
The nearest civilians looked over. She hadn’t realized she’d been that loud.
“You should ask the captain for reassignment,” she continued in a lowered voice. “You’re never going to get to work on anything of worth so long as you’re partnered with me.”
Zack shook his head. “Why would I want another partner? I’ve already got one of the most talented mages of our generation. Easy on the eyes, too.”
She felt herself flush. “It’s not my talent that’s in question.”
“I know.” Zack took a sip from his beer. “It’ll get better.”
Cass nodded, too grateful for his sympathy to argue despite her doubts of his optimistic assessment.
It was nearly two in the morning before they were done taking statements and soothing the ruffled nerves of the bar owner who arrived shortly after the police. Zack offered to walk her home.
“And who will walk you home?” She arched an eyebrow at him.
Zack conceded the point. In terms of magic she was the stronger of the two of them, and they both knew it.
She stepped out of the noisy, too-warm bar and into the cool autumn night. Soft, warm rain misted her face, welcome on her flushed skin. White-trimmed brick houses lined the street, bouncing echoes from each step of her boots. A slight breeze rustled the leaves scattered along the sidewalk. Cass breathed deep, filling her lungs with the wild, sweet scent of fall. She could hear the hum of the Mundanes’ cars on the distant highway.
It was only a block to her flat, too close to waste the energy of teleporting after the night she’d had.
It was late to be a woman walking alone through an empty street, but she lived in a good neighborhood. And as she told Zack, she could take care of herself.
She had been more cautious the first year after she left Raven, afraid William would target her. Or that Raven would, although she could not quite make herself believe he’d do that, even then. But they had not come after her.
She didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.
She reached the Victorian façade of her own building and turned down the narrow alley to the side door that led to her flat. She dug in her purse for the keys to the exterior security door.
“Cassandra.” The black velvet voice came out of the shadows; for a moment she thought that it had come from her memory.
What was that old story they’d told each other as girls to scare each other at slumber parties? The one about the demon that appeared when you spoke his name? Except she hadn’t said it out loud.
Corwyn Ravenscroft. Raven.
He glided forward. She stood, frozen in place. He looked much the same as he had when she’d last seen him, collar-length hair framing his face in long, black waves, a face that might have seemed too delicate were not the high, fragile cheekbones set off by a long, raptor’s nose and onyx eyes. He stood close enough now that she could catch the scent on his fine-cut black clothes, the long wool coat, unbuttoned, that would swirl if he turned sharply, the loosely pleated poet’s shirt that might look feminine on another man.
The scent was familiar: smoky-musky and spicy-sweet with hints of sandalwood and myrrh, the scent of the incense they had used as a focus when they worked together. Her breath caught in her throat. She had forgotten how elegant he was, how handsome. She hated him now for her body’s visceral reaction to his voice, his presence.
“A moment of your time, if I may.”
Polite, Raven was always polite, but then so was William, his master. Chillingly polite.
“I gave you three years of my life,” she said. “I would think that was more than enough.”
She stepped closer to the door, but she still did not have her keys to hand, and she would not take her eyes off him to look for them. Not that she really feared him, but she knew that she should.
Her heart pounded wildly but not in fear. She could not put a name to the stomach-churning whirl of confused adrenalin that gripped her, but it wasn’t fear.
“You are bitter, my Firecat. You have every reason to be.”
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped. “You have no right.”
A better Guardian might have attempted an arrest, but she knew too well their relative strengths. At the least, she should leave.
She had fought for three years to live down her past. If she were seen with Raven, any headway she’d made would be destroyed.
The wind gusted, and now that she was no longer walking, the rain felt less pleasant. She shivered.
Though she was exhausted, teleportation was a simple enough magic if one was as familiar with the end point as she was her flat. And he’d never been there, so he would not be able to follow unless she willingly let him use her as an anchor.
Still she stayed, held by his eyes, his voice, her memories.
“I’ve wronged you.” He took a deep breath. “And I’ve done worse to so many, in William’s name.”
Ye gods. She could count on one hand the number of times he’d ever admitted he was wrong about something— one hand, with fingers left over.
“I want out, Cassandra,” he continued. “I need your help.”
The tension of the moment combined with the ridiculousness of hearing these words from Corwyn Ravenscroft. Laughter bubbled up from her chest, and escaped her pressed lips.
Clearly, this was not the reaction he expected. His shoulders stiffened, and he drew himself up.
“I’m sorry,” she choked out. “I don’t mean to laugh at you. But really,” she continued, trying to keep her voice steady. “Was this William’s idea, or yours? Because I honestly thought you had at least some respect for my intelligence.”
He frowned. “You don’t believe me.”
“Did you expect me to?”
She glanced down the alley. Still empty, except for mist, and two dumpsters, one for garbage, one for recycling, fresh-painted and neatly labeled by the building super. In the quiet night she would have heard anyone approaching, but she still had to check. Cass couldn’t say what she was checking for. A trap from his side? Someone from her side, to see her talking to Raven? Either would be dangerous in different ways.
“If you were telling the truth— and I don’t for a minute think you are— why come to me?”
He took a step toward her. “Because you are the only Guardian whose integrity I trust. And because you were the only one who believed that I could be other than my father’s son.”
“The more fool I.” Her aunt had believed, too, but Cass would not impugn Ana by mentioning it.
Raven held out a hand, like a drowning man begging for a lifeline. “You believed in me once. I need you to believe in me again.”
“I need to forget I ever met you. Looks like neither of us is going to get what we need.”
“Cassandra, you are the only chance I have. Please, I have something to help your side, if you will but speak for me.”
She had never heard this tone of entreaty from him. Could she believe his voice, his words? She tightened her jaw. This was too close to her long-forgotten dreams of reconciliation to be real. He knew her too well, was all. He knew how to play her like he knew how to play the baby grand that stood in the sitting room of his manor.
“Speak for you?” Old pain sharpened her words. “I am not the starry-eyed fool that you seduced fresh from General Academy.”
“I regret that I hurt you. I regret a lot of things.” His lips twisted briefly. “I have discovered, too late, that I do actually have a conscience. It’s rather hard to live with.”
“Cassandra, please.” He laid a hand on her shoulder, slid it down her arm in a familiar caress.
It took everything she had to step away from his touch. “If you mean what you say, then turn yourself in to the Guardians.”
He shook his head. “I will not subject myself to that. Quite aside from my distaste for the Guardians and their self-righteous arrogance—”
“You wanted to be a Guardian, once.”
His lips ghosted that brief half-smile she once loved. “The folly of youth. And I believe you know how well that turned out.”
“You can’t blame the Guardians—”
“Can’t I?” She got a full smile this time, one that challenged an apprentice’s ill-considered assumptions.
She glanced down to study the wet pavement, the toes of her boots.
“Do you know what happened to the last dark mage who tried to turn evidence against William?” Raven asked.
She only wished she could forget. “I saw the photos. Of the scene. Where the. . .where what was left of the body was found.”
“I watched him die,” he said. “It took more than two days. William was most creative. He has agents everywhere. How do you think poor Davide was found out? Are you truly naive enough to believe that your precious Guardians have not been infiltrated?”
There had been rumors, suspicions. Raven, as a member of William’s inner circle, would know the truth of it, might even know who the turncoats were.
But she could not trust a word that he said.
“No one has ever succeeded in leaving William’s fold,” Raven said. “Not even the lowliest apprentice who gets scared and decides he doesn’t want to be a dark mage, after all.”
Cass raised her chin proudly. “I left.”
“But you were never sworn to William. We never let you know what the real agenda was, or you would have never apprenticed to me. For those who have knelt before him and taken an oath, those who are close enough to him that the external wards are keyed to allow their entry, not one has left him and survived. William goes mad at the slightest hint of betrayal. The Guardians have only found the bodies he wanted them to find.”
The thought of countless murders gone undiscovered horrified Cass’s Guardian soul.
“I have been keeping something from William, something that would make him more dangerous than he already is,” Raven said. “Something that could help defeat him.”
Oh, he was still good. She held his dark stare. He knew exactly how to bait the trap. She hated the man he served, the man for whose interests he had betrayed her. Hated the man who threatened the peace her parents had died for.
“He doesn’t suspect me.” Raven frowned now. “At least, not any more than he suspects anyone. But when he finds out I’ve defected, he’s going to wonder what else I’ve been hiding. As a prisoner, I’d have no escape when his interrogator comes. And I am sure you know how effective William’s agents can be.”
Her mind flooded with pictures of the interrogators’ work, mutilated bodies, disemboweled, flayed, and her imagination put Raven’s face to each of them. No matter what he’d done to her and to others, she could not wish that fate on him.
He stared past her into the mist and darkness. “I will, if I must, accept death as a just consequence of the mistakes I’ve made, but I will not subject myself to a slow, painful death.” He gave her the dark, ironic smile she’d seen on a hundred tabloid covers. “Even if it would please you no end.”
Still lost in past horrors she shook her head. Realized too late she’d given herself away.
“No?” His eyes flickered. “I am sure there are many who would. But much as I hate to disappoint them, even if I had no . . .personal aversion to such a fate, I would not risk it.”
From anyone else, this calm discourse on his own potential death-by-torture would seem too studied, but she knew Raven too well to be surprised.
“I have seen brave men, strong men, betray all they held sacred.” His lips curved in a sour smile. “I am not quite arrogant enough to believe that I, who hold nothing sacred, could stand firm where they could not.”
Something crashed in the alley.
She jumped and turned, letting out a most un-Guardian yelp. Then she saw the culprit— her neighbor’s fluffy white cat, skittering out of the alley and away into the darkness, having no doubt executed its normal dive from the second-floor balcony to the lid of the garbage dumpster and from the dumpster to the smaller recycling bin, and then to the ground.
Her heart beat wildly for a few more moments, until her body accepted the all-clear from her brain. The startle had broken through the old, familiar spell of his presence, and she remembered all the reasons she shouldn’t trust him, didn’t dare trust him.
“You shouldn’t be here.” She pitched her voice low, warning. “And I shouldn’t be here listening to you. Find yourself another stupid young apprentice. This one grew up a long time ago.”
“I see.” He stepped back into the shadows; his shoulders slumped, and he seemed to diminish. “I will not trouble you again.”
Raven never loved life so much as the moment he held the blade to his wrist. The hundred-year-old brandy that burned in his veins took the edge from his fear and would kill the pain.
He sat in the cool, dim light of a single globe, sat on the floor to spare the antique couch from the blood that would otherwise soak through the dust cover and ruin the velvet. Just who was he saving the furniture for? Best not go there. His blood would do the imported Persian rug no favors, but that couldn’t be helped. He refused to die on the cold kitchen tile like some rodent a cat dragged in.
The cottage was silent. Centuries-old spells to insulate from the Mariner State cold kept out even the sound of the rain that lashed against the windows. Outside there was nothing for miles but the tall, proud trees, mostly spruce and redwood that had been full-grown already when the Mariner had landed. Once this cottage had been a haven he shared with Cassandra, alive with the scents of hearthfire and of the perfumed candles she loved, and of the incense they used when working. It had stood empty since she left him, the air stale with the dust of neglect and abandonment. The hearth was dark and held only cold ashes.
It was a Ravenscroft property. Fitting that the last Ravenscroft should die here. More importantly, he would not be disturbed until it was done.
He closed his eyes and bid farewell to all that he was leaving behind. The ecstasy of magic. The ecstasy of orgasm. The beauty of the moon silvering the lake just outside the cottage door. The green, loamy scent of the forest on a summer’s night.
Another, darker memory crowded in.
The window nearest Daniel’s table was open just a few inches, just enough to let in the fresh air blowing off the Pacific. Even on the coldest nights, Daniel would let the ocean breeze in if he was working alone. Or if they were working together and Raven indulged him.
Daniel lay slumped over his work table. Not unusual— Raven often had to wake his apprentice and send him off to bed, mumbling sleepy protests more appropriate to a young child than a dark mage just turned twenty.
Any anger remaining from their earlier argument vanished at the sight. Smiling, he put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder to shake him awake.
His apprentice’s body was cold under his hand, the muscles slack and lifeless. Something fell from Daniel’s hand, thunked against the floor, and rolled. He picked it up. A stone the size of an egg, with the color and clarity of garnet, with the warm glow of a garnet set in a backing of gold. No natural stone had the sense of life, the feel of great power that thrummed against Raven’s mage senses at the touch.
Daniel had completed the last step in the process, the one he’d balked at earlier, the one they’d argued over. The Ravensblood was active. And Daniel was dead.
Raven had accused Daniel of not being devoted to the magic or to him, when in reality his dedication was far greater than Raven had deserved. If he’d not made that accusation, if he’d not stormed out earlier that evening, slamming the door behind him, Daniel would have surely waited for him. There might have been a chance to save Daniel’s life, if not his powers.
Only Daniel would have preferred death to a life without his magic. It was why he had come to the dark and to Raven— to avoid restrictions on the spells he could learn, the areas of research he could pursue. So very easy to exploit that eagerness, that quick mind.
Raven had known the risk— no, the likelihood— of this end. Daniel’s was not the first death he’d caused for William’s sake. But he had owed to Daniel the duty of a master to an apprentice, and he’d betrayed that, paid trust and loyalty with manipulation and treachery.
Daniel’s death had brought another to mind.
Raven was not quite six years old. He came running to his mother’s room to show her the interesting insect he’d just found.
His mother lay on her back, one leg bent beneath her body at an awkward angle. He called to her. She didn’t respond. He moved closer. Her skin was white, whiter than human skin should be. Her eyes were open and staring. In the dim light, it took a moment for him to identify the dark liquid pooling beneath her body. A few more moments passed before his mind grasped the reality of the gaping wound at her throat.
Young as he was, he could feel the dark magic lingering in the room. He knew who had done this.
It had been the height of the Mage Wars, and Bredon Ravenscroft had been untouchable. The little boy he had been had vowed to revenge his mother when he grew up, but Guardians killed his father before he ever had the chance. He vowed, too, to forsake the heritage of his name. To never repay love and loyalty with pain and betrayal and death. To never become his father.
Another vow broken. But then, dark mages were not known for keeping their vows.
William had pushed for the Ravensblood’s completion. He would want it for himself. The stone augmented the power of a mage in proportion to the mage’s innate power. With it, William, already the most powerful mage of their time, would be invincible.
William’s fear of vulnerability, his need to be in absolute control of his circumstances, was both his strength and his weakness. But if he could leave his sanctuary, his unparalleled power inconceivably augmented, the Three Communities would have no hope of opposing him.
William would realize his dream of a return to the old ways. But William would not be some beneficent True King from the fairy tales. He would reign in blood and terror and darkest magic. Daniel’s death would be as a candle to that firestorm. When that happened, Raven would not just become his father. He would far surpass him.
For the sake of those he once sought to serve, and for the tattered remains of his own soul, Raven could not continue to serve William. He could not let William Blanchard have the Ravensblood.
Taking his own life was the most logical of a handful of bad options. He should have known there was only one way to escape the fate his name and his blood laid on him, but he hadn’t been ready to give up without one last try to atone with his life instead of his death. Cassandra’s condemnation had set his sentence.
With the substantial Ravenscroft holdings frozen, he had precious few resources of his own to rely on if he tried to leave the country and disappear. If the Guardians didn’t find him, William would. Even with money, he was not brave enough, not stupid enough, to leave William without the help of someone he trusted on the other side. The deaths he’d witnessed were an abject lesson in why not to try it.
He had thought about challenging William directly. Thought about it a lot, sitting alone in his workroom, staring at the desk that had been Daniel’s. But William’s magic was unimaginably strong. Even with the Ravensblood, Raven wouldn’t be able to take him down.
He wasn’t entirely certain what help he had expected from Cassandra. But she was a Guardian, and her aunt Ana was on Council. He had hoped for. . .something. Meaningful protection in exchange for information? A way to help bring down William before there were any more Daniels? Maybe safe passage to some obscure location when it was over.
He’d been a dark mage all of his adult life, ever since his youthful dreams of becoming a Guardian were crushed by a world that could not see past his family name. He didn’t know how to be anything else. The only time he’d made an effort was playacting for Cassandra. But she’d believed it, and there were times when he was with her when he almost believed himself.
Now even Cassandra could not see hope for him.
He’d cringed at leaving a last message— it was nearly impossible to draft such a thing without sounding maudlin and over-dramatic. He hadn’t wanted to send it, but if the book and the Ravensblood fell into William’s hands, then his death would be meaningless.
The fear of death, that he could handle. Worse was the fear that his death would be a meaningless act of self-pity rather than a decisive act of redemption, that he would be a failure in darkness and in light.
Cass would come once he was dead. He was sure of it. She would come for the book and the stone. Perhaps, these gifts to the light might redeem her in the eyes of the Three Communities, might undo some of the damage he’d done her.
Most of those he’d hurt were beyond such repayment.
He took another swallow of brandy against the memories of betrayal and carnage and the too-recent memory of finding Daniel slumped over the work table like a wind-up toy with a worn-out spring.
They were both sworn to William, but Raven knew whom Daniel truly followed. Whom he worshipped. Whom he had died for.
He’d killed Daniel, and for what? William’s overweening ego and boundless ambition. Oh, William was all talk of the glory days before the Council, when the rule of the New World, as in the Old, had belonged to the most powerful mage for the betterment of the commonweal. Except that that idea had worked about as well in the Old World as it had in the New, and that was why it had been done away with on both continents generations ago.
And Raven knew, far too late, that it wasn’t worth it, that pride and promises and petty revenge weren’t worth the final destruction of the light.
Hidden in the shadows of the mantel, the clock that had been his great-great-grandfather’s chimed the quarter-hour. His message had promised Cassandra that he would be dead when she arrived, and for once in their relationship he intended to keep his word to her.
He couldn’t blame her for not trusting him last night. Had she been a little less strong-willed, she would have been the one dead in his workroom. Should he have told her that the Ravensblood was finished, and had been activated? He shook his head. She would have known instantly what that meant. For her the value of the Ravensblood as a weapon would never outweigh the knowledge of its cost. A fully active Ravensblood would not have been a bargaining chip but the last sin that finally damned him.
She would have the Ravensblood anyway, and the book, and he would have his escape from William.
He drew a deep breath, and with his shaking right hand he slashed the blade into his left arm, wrist to elbow, quick and deep. It hurt, but he’d endured worse. He switched the blade to his left hand already slick with blood and— now, before you are too weak— performed the same deft slice on the right wrist.
He trembled, and his stomach churned at the sight of his own blood running so freely. Oh, for gods’ sakes quit being such a bloody coward. His lips quirked at the unintended pun. Bloody, he certainly was. Coward? He hoped not, tried not to be.
It took all his resolve in those first moments not to apply pressure, apply magic, save himself. This was why he hadn’t tried suicide by magic. Too hard to focus the will. The subconscious mind always wanted to live. Few mages ever tried it, and those attempts ended in messy, lingering failures.
You promised Cassandra, in your message. For once in your misbegotten life, do the right thing.
Cassandra, his beautiful, bright Cassandra. She’d loved him once. It wasn’t for her beauty that he had come as close to loving her as he ever would any person in this world. Rather, he had been struck by her brilliant mind, her ready smile, and the open-hearted fairness that he had adored even as he ruthlessly exploited it.
Still, Cassandra was beautiful. Her coffee-and-cream complexion had been a gift from some distant Eastern ancestor; her green eyes came from her red-haired, green-eyed mother. Cassandra’s hair, long, soft corkscrew curls, shone nearly black, except when certain hours and angles of sunlight struck a coppery highlight.
Yes, Cassandra was beautiful, though she’d never believe it. What a modeling agent would have termed ‘exotic’ some distant, cruel, jealous classmates of hers had labeled ‘freakish’. He knew that label had stuck in some tiny, denied corner of her mind where her suitors’ sincere compliments could not penetrate.
Cassandra. He had hated those distant classmates on her behalf, even as he had hurt her far worse than they ever could. Too much to hope that his death would win her forgiveness. Not even his death plus the means to defeat William would repay that debt.
Perhaps William would still triumph, would lay waste to the world in the name of ruling it. At least Raven would no longer be party to the destruction.
Sentimental fool, his father would have said. Weak, sentimental fool.
Perhaps. But not a slave to the dark, no matter what history would name him.
Curse my name, then, Father. You cannot touch me now. The Light will have the Ravensblood, Mother will be avenged, and I’ll laugh in your face when I see you in hell.
Defiance gave way to a curious lassitude. The pain lessened, and he felt detached from the blood now flowing more sluggishly from his wrists. He had read that bleeding to death was a peaceful means of suicide, at least at the end. Research always paid off.
Another voice spoke in his memory, soft and gentle, praising his studiousness. Ana, it must have been. She was the only of his teachers with a kind word for Bredon Ravenscroft’s son.
Maybe Cassandra would tell her aunt of his sacrifice. Maybe she would think well of him again.
He reached up to the table, brought down the glass and the bottle. The action hurt, yes, but there was enough alcohol in his system already to dull the pain. He filled the glass with the last of the brandy. The bottle was still dusty from his father’s cellars. He wondered, belatedly, what would happen to the remaining bottles once he was dead. Would anyone drink liquor from a dark mage’s cellars? It seemed a shame for it to go to waste.
Cassandra appreciated fine brandy. But she was unlikely to accept anything from him now, unless it gave advantage to the light. Ana might have taken it, had he the foresight to will it to her.
He wondered if Ana drank brandy.
His mind was drifting. He approached, then, the end of his final hour to plague this world. Raven brought the glass to his lips, hands trembling with weakness now, not adrenalin. He sipped at the liquor. It would bring the soft darkness sooner, and he would die with sweet fire on his tongue.
The room spun now, and silence roared in his ears. The part of him that cleaved to life made one last desperate bid for consciousness, and then he sank into the gentle black sea.