Juno Books

An Excerpt From Shadow Blade by Seressia Glass

[ Information on Shadow Blade ]

Chapter One

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.


Kira 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.

"I 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?"

"I'm 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 hands.

"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 technology."

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 your sight."

Kira knew he was right. The dagger was astounding as a replica. If it were the real thing...

Her 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 you?"

"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 existed.

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 survivor.

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...

"I 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 other off."

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 dealer.

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 magic?"

"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 watch?"

"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 careful."

"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 off. "Kira..."

"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 accomplished."

"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 six-forty."

"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?"

Comstock shuddered 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 occasion.

"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 grits bar!"

"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 stand."

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 hangover."

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 is."

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 blade.

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.

Until Kira 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 indeed.

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.

Finally they 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.

Moving 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 stepped forward.

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...

Kira realized 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 blood...

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, many times.

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.

That knowledge 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 still...somehow...alive.

And looking for his blade.

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Copyright © 2010, Seressia Glass. All Rights Reserved.

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