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a different shade of winter

Note: This is Chapter 21 in SILVER DUST, retold from Winter’s POV.

The uneasy feeling of discord hung in the air as I approached Luna’s apartment. Kirsi followed close behind as we climbed the stairs.

​Luna’s door had been half kicked-in, her wards dismantled. Necromantic smoke oozed into my nose, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.

​I raised my hand, letting it absorb the reverberations. My fingers stung. Pressure mounted at the base of my neck. This was not ordinary magic. It was ancient and carried the etheric dissonance of a first-class dark sorcerer.​

A spark escaped my palm. The battered door swung wide open.​

We were greeted by overturned furniture, punctured walls, shredded curtains and a mutilated carpet still smoking in spots.

The unmistakable slide of metal on leather reached my ears as Kirsi freed her sword for action.

“What’s happened?” she said.

The fight felt like a blur. I couldn’t quite recreate what had taken place in any significant detail. “They’ve taken Luna,” I said. The realization pressed down on my lungs like a ton of bricks.

“When?” Kirsi asked.

I closed my eyes, forcing myself to target the unpleasant essence of sinister magic. The echoes of the lingering energy dug into me like a hundred scavenging buzzards. “Two, maybe three hours ago,” I said.

“Then we can catch them?” There was an uncertain question mark at the end of her sentence.

The air smelled of necromancy but of something else as well, something quite different—Shadow essence.

Chaos. Of course, it had to be him.​

The meddlesome assling.

I had confronted the most sinister entities imaginable in all the realms, yet the unexpected mingling of those foul powers there in that tiny apartment made my skin crawl.

I needed to quell emotion and rack my brain to remember every last possible safehouse Chaos might have kept in the area. He would not teleport over long distances with Luna. The drastic etheric transference was too great a risk for her. Even Chaos lost a sliver of his essence every time he jumped over huge chunks of space. No, he’d either use basic transportation, or he’d space-jump nearby.

Assuming he is the one who has her.

A sharp pain twisted in my gut. It had to be Chaos. The alternatives were unthinkable.

Kirsi fixed her eyes on me. “Well?”

“Eucalyptus Hills,” I said, becoming confident. “Chaos has her.”

We arrived in the early evening. The house sat alone on a hillside overlooking a small hamlet. I parked the car in the trees at a safe distance. Kirsi and I cloaked our essences. Not a creature stirred or made a sound as we climbed.

I crept toward the house and leapt over the picket fence, Kirsi at my heels.

The house was aglow with a shimmering vapor that only Shadow eyes could discern. It meant the wards protecting it had come straight from the almanac of the Umbra Apocryphal Practices and Rituals.​

It also meant Luna didn’t stand a chance breaking them—or anyone else for that matter. Only a Shadow as powerful as Chaos could.

My etheric sensors pierced through the wall of wards. Luna was inside. Her etheric essence bubbled with hostility.

Chaos best guard his throat. My girl was good and pissed.

“She’s here,” Kirsi said. “You’re smiling.”

“Yeah and she’s in a violent mood.”

“What else would she be? She’s with Chaos,” Kirsi said, almost proud. “How exactly do we get past this clusterfuck of wards?”

The Valkyrie hated relying on mortal and immortal men alike.

I fixed my eyes on the door to engage the wards. Raising my hands above my head, I chanted one of the Umbra’s ritualistic releasing spells.

Makira asera manata madar

Querana manissa tamata micar

The wards hissed, their spirits deflating, before blowing up with a thunderous pop, knocking down the door.

“That’s a nice trick,” Kirsi said.

I agreed. “It’s Shadow magic.”

Kirsi darted through the door and crouched like a cat. I followed her, trying to keep my rage under check.

Chaos stood in the middle of the room, his Damascus steel blade up resting against his shoulder. “Oh look. It’s Lord Beefcake and his murderous maiden Kirsi,” he said.

I resisted the urge to unscrew his neck.

Kirsi pounced. Chaos met her blade with his.

“Put that sword away,” Kirsi said. “Or I will sheath it in your ass.”

That was less than cordial.

Chaos giggled like a fool, then charged. Their blades clanged.

Luna stared at the dueling Immortals, completely still.

That’s right, wee witch, they’re self-indulgent lunatics.

“Kirsi, fun’s over,” I called out. My command reached her in mid-flight. She twisted, landing with her back to Chaos, pivoted away and began cursing in Old Norse.

I put a hand on her shoulder. “Find your peace.”

Kirsi lowered her sword and spat.

Chaos kicked a chair at me. I ducked just in time. The chair crashed against a wall and shattered into pieces.

The whiny barbarian had all the charm of a hand grenade.​

He threw a lethal glare at me. “How did you find us?”

Really, am I not a man with resources?

“If you’re chief magistrate of an immortal council,” I said, “you best know the location of every safehouse of every friend and every foe.”

It was getting dark. I clapped my hands. The light came on. Luna locked her eyes on mine. A needful ache shot through me. I closed the distance between us and pulled her face to my chest. I set my chin on top of her head and let her heartbeat enter me through my ribs.

I wanted more, I wanted to kiss her until I was breathless.

“The day has been a long one,” I said, fighting back my desires. “I arrived at your apartment and found it wrecked. It smelled of dark, ancient magic and…” I motioned Chaos. “Him.”

“I’m sorry,” Luna said, clutching me tight. “I made stupid choices. I should have waited for you. I confronted Cerber and then he found a way into our world. Cerber came to my apartment. He wanted to offer me up to Horror.”

She confronted Cerber? What did she mean?

An animalistic snarl ripped from Chaos’s throat. He lunged forward and tossed me up against the wall, his forearm pressing on my throat.

He spat out a string of expletives. “You ball sucking, son of a Nordic whore, fucking goddamned thick-skulled, naïve rube!”

A surge of concentrated power spilled out of my hands and blasted Chaos off his feet, crashing him back into a tall bookcase. The entire Encyclopedia Britannica crashed onto his head. Blood spurted from a deep cut above his eyebrow. Now we’re having fun.

Chaos scrambled onto his feet and charged, tackling me. I recovered, fighting to keep my surging energy from detonating.

An energy blast overtook us both, enclosing us in a shimmering dome made of translucent energy.​

Luna Mae is not in the mood.

“You only get out if you behave,” Luna said, her eyes shining.

Kirsi laughed.

Luna retrieved her energy, releasing us.

Chaos exhaled hard through his nostrils. “You bedded the girl after I forbade it. I should disembowel you and make a necklace with your guts!”

Kirsi’s jaw dropped.

I should have known he’d see right through me. Even so, I had no regrets.

“You’re losing your powers old man,” Luna told Chaos. “Maybe you have dementia or something. I’d rather sleep with a dust monster.”

I did my best not to chuckle.

Chaos shook his head. “I don’t need powers for this. It’s written all over both your faces. I see it and so does the Valkyrie.”

Kirsi crunched up her face and nodded.

Not helpful, ardent Valkyrie.

“And what is that to you?” Luna snapped. “You slept with my friend’s mom. I can sleep with whoever I damn well please.”

“Maybe your dipshit Romeo should have informed you about the dangers of consorting with a Shadow Warrior.”

“Give it a rest. I knew enough and for your information that private moment was the only thing that saved us when Cerber trapped us both in an inverse energy reactor. We had no magic, just each other.”

“If we’re keeping score, I saved your life first when you were a baby,” Chaos said.

Kirsi looked perplexed. “You did what?”

Chaos huffed. “Now killer Kirsi has curious questions.”

Kirsi snarled.

I remained silent, the only virtuous choice. If I loosened my lips, secrets I’d carried for centuries would assuredly spill out.

“I thought your libido had been fed when you visited your wolf lover in his lair last week,” Chaos told Luna, rolling his eyes. “And I’m called the sex glutton.”

It was my old friend’s favorite ruse. Stir up a hornet’s nest with a stick and see what flies out. I resisted, peering down at the Persian rug and rubbing my brow. It was all bullshit. Sophie Collinsworth wasn’t the kind of girl to hop from bed to bed even if her life was at stake.

“Enough with the fucking stalking,” Luna said. “Get the fuck out of my head, Chaos, and out of my blood, too!”

“Said the girl who went to great trouble to summon me.”

That I did not expect. “You were summoned?” I asked Chaos.

“Your soulmate didn’t tell you, boyo? She lured me to help her face off with Cerber in the Dark Realm. She entered alone through the round.”

It was now clear the mist rider was getting fiercer and increasingly self-reliant. I felt a pang of confidence that she’d be ready in time for her destiny and also a certain tinge of pride. That was the plan. I didn’t have to like the way in which it was accomplished.

“How do I block you? How do I hit unfollow?” Luna told Chaos, seething. “I thought the third-eye vision was supposed to be used sparingly, how come you use it all the time like a porn addict when it comes to me? I am not living my life with you constantly watching. I’m not.”

He smacked his lips together. “Are you done? Okay? You can relax, it’s not as clear cut as that. I can sense where you are in the world, but I can’t see you. Think of a radar map. I feel the radar blip, I can find you, but I can’t see you. I won’t know whether it’s wolf season in your bed or Shadow season or guy you met at the bar after two Margaritas season.”

“Dude, you suck,” Kirsi said.

I punched my fist through the wall. My patience had limits even for this charade. “Enough! This is a classic can’t see the forest for the trees scenario,” I said. “We need to look at the damn forest. Horror has recovered enough of his power to allow Cerber passage to the basic world. They are the architects of the silver dust assaults, and what’s next? They are going to breach the gates of the magic world. Our personal squabbles are meaningless. They’re trees. We need to stop Cerber. We need to stop Horror. Every second that passes makes that harder.”

That finally shut them all up.

I locked my eyes on Chaos. “When the Deep Down falls and Horror has absorbed all their magic, he will be coming for you next.”

Chaos muttered something in the Umbrian language that sounded very much like ‘sacrifice the sheep to save the wolf’.

“Yes, you got me, old chum, I don’t want to go out like a fucking tree,” he said.

I nodded and he nodded back, getting it at last.

“Was that a friendly nod?” Luna said. “You two hate each other.”

Chaos considered her with distaste. “Quite the opposite. Immortals have complicated relationships. They’ve been going on a while.”

Kirsi sheathed her sword. “Works the same with the sisterhood. A lively sparring session speaks louder than words. It’s honest.”

I fixed my gaze on Luna. “With Cerber on the loose, you’ll be safer in the Deep Down. I’ll drive you to a portal.”

She nodded. She wasn’t going to put up a fight. She either trusted me or felt guilty. I intended to discover which.

I turned to Chaos. “You know what has to happen. Locate Cerber.”

Chaos pulled a pale mask over his face. “The third eye cannot reach through the fog of the dark realm.”

“The third eye will have to work twice as hard then,” I said. “If for nothing else, to save your own skin.”

I took Luna’s hand. We stepped out into the evening. I pulled her close and rested my forehead on hers. My spirit entwined with her life force and everything in me asked for more.

We walked to the car in silence. I opened her passenger door.

She sat. “What Chaos said about the enchanted rotunda…”

I banged the door shut. I walked around the car, trying to find a calm spot inside me as I opened my door and sat in the driver’s seat.

“Understand,” I told her. “I won’t let Chaos get under my skin. I can’t. Horror is the most lethal threat the living have ever faced. Cerber is his Grim Reaper.” I sighed. “I’m not your keeper, Luna. Your life is yours. Yeah, I wish you would have come to me with the truth, but it’s your truth.”

She kept quiet.

“Right now,” I said, “I’m just your driver.”

My words relaxed her etheric essence. She breathed easier.

As I drove off, I exhaled as if I had held my breath all evening.

Longing and a deeper, more primal impulse burned inside me like a wildfire racing across a dry ridge. Horror would be unleashed into the world sooner than any of us could have predicted. I knew of no magic and no alliance that could stand in his way once he reclaimed his powers.

Luna and I wouldn’t walk off into the sunset. I always knew that. And for as much as I knew, sometimes when I was with her, I felt like I knew nothing more than anyone else. I felt like I had been born yesterday, in fact, and the dark of that night in the car felt menacing and new.


Copyright Stella Fitzsimons, 2020. All Rights Reserved.


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