An Excerpt From Shadow Blade by Seressia Glass
[ Information on Shadow Blade ]
The dagger reeked of ancient magic. Kira Solomon stared down at
it, trying not to salivate with longing. The blade itself, shining spotless and
deadly, swept proudly from the ornate hilt. Swirls and symbols stood out in
sharp relief on the gold-banded handle that gleamed like old ivory. Even
shielded by her gloves, her palms itched with the urge to lift it, to hold it in
her hands, to test its weight and sharpness.
The things she
could do with such a blade.
blinked, then looked up at her client and mentor, Bernie Comstock. The professor
turned art dealer stood on the other side of her worktable, eyes shining in his
sharp, dark face. He didn't seem affected by the weapon's energy, which Kira
supposed was just as well. Being insensitive to magic made the art dealer good
at his job. Detecting magic made Kira good at hers.
thought I was done with being tested, Bernie."
"This isn't a
test, Kira," Comstock hastened to assure her. "I trust you completely."
She gestured to the blade, nestled in a customfitted gray foam core
inside an aluminum travel case. "What is this, then?"
hoping you'll tell me."
"Old man." She suppressed a sigh
mixed with exasperation and wry amusement. Even though she'd more than proven
herself over the years, he still liked to slip a ringer in every now and again.
The mentor in him would never die. As if she needed testing to stay sharp. If
she wasn't sharp, she'd be dead.
"Fine," she said at last,
deciding to go along with whatever game he was playing. "The markings on the
handle are worn, but look to be Egyptian." She hadn't attempted to scan the
blade with her extrasense yet, but she could feel magic radiating from it. The
weapon called to her with a gentle but insistent call. She wondered what would
happen when she took off her gloves and touched the dagger with her bare
"The blade itself appears to be bronze, the hilt
carved ivory with inset gold," she murmured, reaching out to drag the task lamp
closer before bending over the silvery case again. "Obviously not ceremonial,
since the blade is not gold and the wear on the handle suggests considerable
use. It's in the style of daggers from the Middle Kingdom, meaning, if this is
authentic, that the blade is roughly four thousand years old."
Thrusting her hands into her lab coat's pockets to keep from
touching the handle, Kira looked at Comstock. "Considering the pristine
condition of the blade, I'd say you have a very impressive fake."
"I thought so too, especially considering where I found it."
Comstock's expression reminded her even more of a fox. "That is real ivory and
the construction of the blade doesn't speak to modern manufacturing
Kira's hands flexed with the need to lift the
blade. She stepped back from the table instead. "This looks like something Wynne
might make, except I doubt she'd be able to keep the creation of something so
perfect a secret from me."
"Wynne Marlowe's one of the best
metalworkers in the country and not just because she doesn't use modern
technology when re-creating ancient weaponry, although that's certainly part of
the reason," the art dealer acknowledged. "But this isn't her work."
"You know this because...?" Wynne could certainly create a ritual
weapon, Kira knew, especially if her husband Zoo channeled the magic into it.
The boot daggers Wynne and Zoo had made for Kira proved that. She decided not to
point the magical element out to her former mentor. It wasn't like he needed to
know that Zoo was a real witch.
Comstock gave her a knowing
glance. "Because, as you said, Wynne couldn't keep this a secret from you. I had
a feeling that, once you'd seen it, you wouldn't let something like this out of
Kira knew he was right. The dagger was
astounding as a replica. If it were the real thing...
gaze dropped to the blade again. She felt a little like Gollum looking at his
"Precious." "You're not going to tell me how you came across this, are
"And deny you the joy of discovering it for yourself
when you touch it?" Comstock grinned, peeling years off his multiracial,
sixty-ish face. "Besides, you know I'll share all my secrets with you only if
you come to work for me."
"Come on, Bernie, you know I prefer
being freelance." Kira braced one hip against the edge of the worn oak surface,
idly fingering the heavy Zuni silver necklace at her throat. "I like being able
to set my own schedule."
"You'd still have autonomy,"
Comstock wheedled. "You'd also have fewer expenses and full access to my clients
and their collections."
Kira hesitated, tempted as always.
She worked well with Bernie. They'd clicked from the moment she'd stumbled into
him at the Petrie Museum at University College in London during one of the few
summers the Gilead Commission had allowed her a break from training to fight
Shadow. She'd consequently transferred to the school to study under him and had
then worked freelance for him when he retired from teaching, reduced his duties
at the museum, and expanded his private antiquities business. At times she
fantasized she'd even be happy working for him, surrounded by ancient artifacts
and books, far away from people and things no human should ever know
That happiness wouldn't last, though. One day Bernie
would look at her and begin to wonder. She knew the questions would start --
questions about her frequent absences, her penchant for dropping everything to
run off to every corner of the globe, returning home bruised if not bloodied.
Eventually he'd come to realize his former apprentice was using her job as an
antiquities expert as a cover for a second, deadlier career.
Not having to answer to anyone best suited her second job, a job
she preferred Comstock knew nothing about. It was one thing for Bernie to
believe in magic and her ability to detect and defuse it; it was another for him
to believe in demons and things that go bump in the night. Even if he could
accept that much, he'd still never be convinced it was her sworn duty to
eliminate the baddest of the bad: the Fallen and their Shadow Avatars. A duty
she'd been trained for since she was twelve by the Gilead Commission. He
wouldn't believe the Gilead Commission, the oldest and largest organization
dedicated to fighting Shadow, was more advanced than the U.S. military machine
and more effective than Homeland Security. He certainly wouldn't believe she'd
grown up in the Commission's headquarters on the island of Santa Costa as the
surrogate daughter of Balm, the ageless head of Gilead, or that her education
had been more about learning to kill than learning to live.
Kira was a Shadowchaser, an elite fighter in Gilead's clandestine
army. Humans with extrasensory skills and paramilitary training were used to
police low-level half-breeds and humans experimenting in Chaos magic.
Shadowchasers were sent in when upper echelon Shadow creatures attempted to
disrupt the Universal Balance and tip the world into Shadow and Chaos, usually
in ways that involved high body counts.
The fact she had yet
to encounter a Shadow Avatar made her lucky, she supposed. From her time in
Gilead she knew humans capable of being magically and physically honed into
Shadowchasers were scarce and Balm worried about the relatively small number of
Chasers worldwide. It gave Kira added pressure to be good, be ready, and be a
But someday, she liked to imagine, maybe there'd be
an end to Chasing, an end to the constant danger. Maybe there'd be a day when
she could go to London and work with Bernie, finally go on one of the digs
they'd talked about doing over the years. But, for now...
like being a renegade, Bernie," she said, giving him a brief smile. "If I worked
for you or with you, there'd eventually come a day when one of us would piss the
Comstock sighed as if he hadn't expected anything
different. "You know I have to try at least once during my visits, Kira. You're
like a daughter to me."
"I know." It was part of the reason
she kept an ocean between them. She had enemies, dangerous enemies, and they
didn't need to know how attached she was to the very human antiques
He looked about her cavernous room. "I must say, I'm
glad to see you're finally starting to settle in. I can't believe you've been in
one place two whole years -- even if it does look like you just moved in.
Atlanta agrees with you."
"I needed somewhere to put my
stuff," she muttered, hunching her shoulders at the direct hit. She glanced at
the organized clutter of her main floor. Boxes, notepads, and stacks of books
littered the floor and lined the brick walls, piled around a haphazard mix of
furniture and art that couldn't conceal the fact that her home had been a
warehouse in its former life. Since she knew where everything was and never
intended to have guests over to randomly touch anything and leave their imprints
behind, she saw no reason to improve her current filing system. Besides, the
main reason she'd picked this converted warehouse as her pied-à-terre was
because it gave her ample room to display the array of weapons and other
antiques she'd collected or confiscated from around the globe. It was also the
only reasonably priced place she could find with a couple of underground storage
areas she'd repurposed for her altar room and more dangerous collections.
"About the blade." Comstock gestured, drawing her attention to the
heavy oak worktable again. "Could its excellent condition be indicative of
"Oh, there's definitely some sort of magic tied to
it." The magical lure of the dagger was obvious to Kira and that, in and of
itself, made her hesitate in touching it. If there was some sort of curse or
impulse attached to the dagger, she didn't want to take hold of it with a
defenseless Normal in the room. "It's extremely powerful to have lasted all
these centuries, if it's authentic."
"Even if it's a replica,
I'm interested in its history. It's already valuable, but once you authenticate
it, its value will be off the charts."
She arched an eyebrow.
"And if I say it's a fake?"
"Kira." He raised a hand as if to
reach across the table and pat her gloved hand, then quickly lowered it. "Its
value goes up just by having you touch it."
"Ah-ha. Now the
truth comes out." She folded her arms across her chest, so she wouldn't be as
tempted as he was to reach out and touch. It had been years since she'd
voluntarily touched another human, gloved or not. "I think I'm going to have to
up my fee."
"If you did, I'd happily pay every penny, as
would anyone who knows what your word is worth. It just so happens that those
who know are also the ones with the money." He settled back in his chair. "I
think I've revealed enough secrets for today. How long do you think you'll need
with the blade?"
"What, you're not going to ask to stay and
"After what happened the last time I tried to watch
you work?" He visibly shuddered. "Thanks, but I've learned my lesson. I thought
my eyebrows would never grow back."
"Be glad it was just your
eyebrows, old man. It will probably take me longer than usual to scan the blade.
There's a heck of a lot of magic surrounding it, so I want to be extra
"You're always careful, even when bumbling old art
dealers burst into the room."
"You rarely bumble, Bernie, and
I've always suspected you weren't -- "
The art dealer cut her
"Hmm?" She frowned at the odd note in his
voice. "What's wrong?"
"I, well, I just wanted to say that
I'm proud of you, Kira. Despite your circumstances, you've become a gifted and
talented young woman. I feel a fatherly pride for all you've
"Bernie." She didn't know what to say.
Especially since the stories she'd told him of her past were just that, stories.
Believable fictions that were nowhere close to the unbelievable truth.
He cleared his throat as he climbed to his feet. "Never mind the
maudlin thoughts of an old man. Do you think you'll be able to get free for
dinner? We really should catch up."
"Of course. Are you
staying at the usual place?"
"Georgian Terrace, room
"Got it." Kira straightened to her full height,
topping Comstock's five-seven frame by a couple of inches. She smiled, unable to
resist another dig. "Shall I pick you up?"
again. "Do you still have the death trap?"
"That death trap
is a hundred-grand worth of prime street muscle." The Buell motorcycle was her
baby and the money for its purchase and unique customization was well spent. Its
speed and concealed weapons cache had saved her life on more than one
"I think I'll pass on the ride," Comstock said. "I
did a little research and found a restaurant I'd like to try. It's on Peachtree,
just a short walk from the hotel. I can meet you there instead."
"What's it called?"
"Dogwood. It actually has a
"A grits bar? Can't we just go to a Waffle House
instead? There's almost one on every corner and they have all the grits you can
He gave her a reproachful look. "I'm a gourmand,
Kira. You know I don't eat anywhere that requires a tetanus shot or a
If he'd ever been out at three in the morning and
exhausted from policing hybrids and Shadow Adepts, he'd appreciate the
always-open chain and its kick-youin-the-ass coffee. "All right. Dogwood it
After escorting the art dealer out, Kira returned to her
worktable. The dagger lay as they'd left it, nestled in its specially fitted
briefcase. She pondered taking it downstairs to her double-shielded office, then
decided against it.
"Okay," she muttered, "time to see what
you're made of."
Bracing her gloved hands on the worktable,
she leaned over and focused her attention on the dagger. Exhaling slowly, she
muted the input of her Normal senses, allowing her extrasense to dominate her
mind. As always, she felt a slight resistance as the ordinary and extra-ordinary
slid against each other, battling for dominance. Then her extrasense assumed
control, reaching through Logic's Veil to touch the current of magic.
The dagger glowed in response, a sheen having little to do with the
ivory and gold shaping its hilt. Oh yes, someone or something had imbued the
dagger with a great deal of magic. What she didn't know was whether it was
Shadow magic or not.
She frowned, allowing the Veil to
thicken again. Shadow magic was always tricky to handle, based as it was on
Chaos. She hadn't been surprised in a while. Then again, she hadn't come across
a four-thousandyear-old magical knife before, either.
Concentrating, she thinned the Veil again, her extrasense cocooning
the dagger. The ancient magic didn't react. Encouraging. Still, Kira took her
time. The last thing she wanted was to be thrown across the room by a pissed-off
She straightened, peeling off the thin surgical
gloves. "Time to tell me your secrets."
Kira spread her hands
above the dagger. It neither welcomed nor rejected her. She supposed this was a
good thing. But it seemed to be waiting for her touch, somehow expecting it --
and that, she supposed, was not a good thing.
"I'm not going
to harm you," she said softly. "I just want to know more about you." It wouldn't
hurt to talk to the blade, give it plenty of time to decide whether she was
friendly or not. That whole throwing-oneacross-the-room thing was definitely to
be avoided, even if it took some extra time.
touched the dagger, she wouldn't know if it would give up its secrets. She'd
have to touch it to determine if the dagger's magic stemmed from its
composition, a powerful spell, or a spirit inhabiting the blade. A spirit-bound
weapon wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it was bad, it was very bad
After taking a moment to steady herself, she slipped
her fingers beneath the blade, wrapping them around the ivory and gold handle.
For a moment she felt only the smooth, cool surface of the hilt...
Then a rushing sound filled her head and the warehouse walls
shimmered to translucency, then disappeared altogether. Turquoise spilled across
the pipes and suspended lighting fixtures of her ceiling, a vivid sky brightened
by the heat of the searing sun. Hot sand replaced the floor and old Persian rug
under her battered worktable -- except there was no table, nor were there books,
chairs, artifacts...Rocky, sandy hills stretched away in the distance before
her, but to one side were trees and green fields, the glint of what could only
be water. A gleaming white pyramid cut into the sky.
Disorientation swept over Kira
as she felt herself being lifted, carried...No, not her. It was not Kira being
held and lifted, it was the dagger, but she was the dagger and it was
being taken on a gilded tray along a promenade of sweeping stone columns.
Stately movement, tinkling instruments, the murmur of voices. A processional of
some sort, moving from bright heat to a cooler interior. They moved along a
grand corridor, every surface brilliantly decorated with colorful images of
Egyptian gods, hieroglyphs, flora and fauna.
stopped. Silence filled the grand audience hall and yet she could feel a thrum
of excitement, of anticipation, coming from the dagger. At last the reason for
its existence had come. Someone worthy had come.
again, the tray was offered up. A pair of golden brown hands cradled her.
Disappointment. Not the one.
She balanced on a pair of hands,
heard a voice -- deep, masculine, melodious -- saying words she did not
understand but sounded formal to her ears. As she was lowered, Kira saw the
uraeus first -- a rearing golden cobra with its hood flared -- then the
nemes, the striped head cloth even those who knew nothing about ancient
Egypt associated with pharaohs. Beneath the royal regalia, kohl-lined dark eyes
and a broad but angular nose were set in a bronze face with full lips and a
strong chin. Sun glinted off a broad gold and jeweled collar worn over a
gleaming white linen tunic.
Another voice spoke; Kira sensed
it asked a question. The pharaoh replied in what sounded like the negative, then
She was being offered to someone. A man,
darker skinned than the pharaoh, prostrated himself on the woven mat that
protected the god-king's feet from the stone floor of what Kira thought must be
a palace, no...a temple terrace. Light scars marred the dark satin of the man's
broad, muscular back, scars -- reminders of battles fought, not lashes given.
Thick ropes of black hair covered his head and trailed across the mat.
This was the one.
The pharaoh spoke again and
the dark-skinned warrior rose until he sat on his haunches with his arms lifted,
palms raised upward. But he did not look directly at the living god. To do so
was forbidden. Who could look upon the face of a god and survive?
The dagger shifted, passing from the pharaoh to the warrior's
raised hands. The ruler spoke again, sounding pleased, then molded the warrior's
fingers around the blade. For a moment the god-king's hands warmed the
warrior's, together on the ivory hilt. The kneeling man pressed the flat of the
blade to his lips, then touched his forehead to the stone again, speaking
ceremonial words in a rich baritone that made Kira shiver.
Everything blurred, became dark...
the dagger now dripped blood, as it was created to do. The acrid stench of
something burning, something more than vegetation, filled her nostrils. Bodies
littered the dusty ground, blood staining the dirt blackish red. She heard
tears, screams, cries of pain. Above it all rose another sound, a darker tone,
somehow more terrifying than the others. Laughter. The warrior laughed as he
moved through the carnage; it was a cold laughter with an edge of madness to it.
The blade swung in his fist, ringing like a clarion, thirsting for
More images, more death, more blood. Not only in
Egypt, not only in Africa. Not only four thousand years ago. Chariots, cavalry,
arrows, guns, bombs, armored vehicles, grenades...many weapons, many places,
The rushing sound returned to Kira's brain,
separating her awareness from the dagger. She opened her eyes with a gasp,
finding herself sprawled on her oriental carpet, the dagger inches from her
outstretched hand. She scrambled away from it, away from the emotion and
sensation that threatened to drag her back through the Veil.
"Ma'at protect me," she whispered, drawing a shaky hand across her
lips. By the Light, the dagger really was four thousand years old, and possessed
of so much magic that it was almost sentient.
wasn't the cause of the sudden cold in the pit of her stomach.
The dagger's owner, the dark warrior with the baritone voice, was
And looking for his blade.
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Copyright © 2010, Seressia Glass.
All Rights Reserved.