Well we’re finally here. The last installment of my debut novella Forsaken By Shadow. If you’re just joining us, you can find links to previous episodes here.
Gage landed on his back in an echoing marble chamber. The impact jarred his shoulder and drove the breath from his lungs. The buzz of voices he’d heard on his arrival abruptly halted, as if an off switch had been flipped. The silence was heavy. Above him the domed ceiling was covered in—were those frescos?—except for a large black mark in the center where the paint was bubbled and peeling. A scorch mark, he realized. Embry.
He rolled to his feet into a fighting stance, eyes searching the room for her. Lucius was right there to strike him between the shoulders, driving him back to his knees.
“Get your hands off me, you traitor,” Embry snarled.
Twenty feet away, Matthias was trying to help her to her feet.
“Traitor. Strong language to use against one of our most faithful Shadow Walkers. Particularly from someone who defied a direct order.” The speaker was a thin man in flowing cobalt robes. A fae, judging by the slight point to his ears and the slant of his very green eyes. He stood at a podium of sorts where he had apparently been addressing the other hundred or so Mirus denizens who filled the stadium seating of the chamber. It was a freaking paranormal Congress with species and creatures he’d never seen or heard of.
“I class you a traitor too, Ephraim. You would have left my father to rot.”
“Embry.” Adan’s voice was soft but firm with rebuke.
“Your father knew the risks of his mission. We made a decision based on the well being of all Mirus peoples. We couldn’t risk the human world at large becoming aware of our existence,” he snapped. “That has always been the prime directive.”
“Then you need to update that directive to line up with reality because they had more than twenty Mirus citizens of various races as their prisoners and lab rats. Their military sure as hell knows we exist.”
A murmur spread through the room. Gage wondered how they could be so shocked, so out of touch with reality. I guess a few centuries in hiding makes you cocky.
“Adan is this true?” asked another Council member.
“It is. They’ve been . . . collecting us for quite some time. Testing, learning our weaknesses, our defenses.”
“How much did they learn?” demanded someone else.
“About me, nothing but that light would keep me bound. About others, I don’t know.”
“And these other prisoners. What happened to them?” asked a filmy creature that seemed not entirely part of the current dimension.
“Some were killed in our fight to escape. Eighteen made it out,” reported Adan.
“Where are they now?” came another voice.
“Free,” said Embry, her lips curved in the barest of satisfied smirks.
“We should round them up, debrief them. Why were these others not brought to our attention?” Ephraim glared at Matthias.
“Our orders were to bring these three in,” he said.
Scowling, the fae turned to Lucius. “Gather a team and find the survivors. We must know how compromised we are.”
The wraith gave a short bow and dematerialized.
“I destroyed their entire computer system,” said Embry. “One of Thorn’s viruses.” She reached into a pocket of her cargo pants. “Their files were encrypted, but I made a copy. I’m not sure how much is left of this hard drive, though.” The blackened square was warped and melted in places. “Thorn might be able to lift something from it.”
“Then the information was contained,” said Ephraim.
“Not necessarily. We have no way of knowing whether the data was backed up solely on the servers there. I just cut one of the heads off the hydra. I didn’t kill the beast. We have to assume there are other files, other compounds. The day is coming when we won’t be able to hide any longer.”
“We will come back to address the issue once the remaining survivors have been debriefed. In the meantime, your actions must be dealt with accordingly. You disobeyed a direct order, defied your commission in the Investigation and Enforcement Division, used your connections illegally to go against that direct order, and you brought a human into Mirus business.”
Ah, thought Gage. Now they get to me. He rose to his feet and stepped forward. “She did what she had to because your people wouldn’t.”
“Silence!” Ephraim’s voice echoed off the distant ceiling.
Gage half expected chunks of plaster to fall or lightning to strike at his feet. But the fae ignored him, turning back to Embry.
“How plead you Agent Hollister?”
She held her head high. “Unapologetically guilty.”
“I see. And the deception didn’t begin with you. This human, from what I am told, has had intimate knowledge of our world and our kind since childhood. He not only knows of our world, but was fostered in it and illegally trained in the ways of the Shadow Walkers.” Eyes blazing with fury, Ephraim turned his attention to Adan. “How answer you Adan, son of Silas?”
Like his daughter, Adan squared his shoulders. “He is my son in all but blood, your grace.”
“You know the penalty for your actions?”
“Death, my lord,” answered Adan readily.
“Yet you deliberately broke tradition, defied the law. Why?” demanded the fae.
Before Adan could respond, Matthias spoke. “The human is a sleeper, my lord.”
A what? thought Gage as another low murmur swept through the crowd.
“I beg your pardon?” Ephraim’s tone was icy.
“A sleeper, my lord. A human with distant Mirus ancestry and abilities that were not expressed until his generation.”
“I know what a sleeper is, Matthias.”
Gage thought the explanation was likely more for his benefit.
“You are suggesting that this man is not entirely human?” continued a Wylk representative nearby. She sniffed the air. “He smells human.”
“So do witches before they come into their magic,” argued Matthais. “The fact of the matter is that Gage Dempsey can control the shadows. No pure human can do that. I am suggesting that Adan saw his potential and opted to take him in and train him, lest he come into his abilities and be unprepared to handle them. He had the best interests of the races at heart, my lords.”
Everybody was staring at Matthias, including Embry, who wasn’t as good as her father at masking shock.
“Do you have any corroborating evidence of this outlandish claim?” asked Ephraim in a tone that suggested he was going to be really pissed if there was any.
Matthias reached into his coat pocket. “Indeed, my lord. I have lineage charts indicating that a maternal relative about eight generations back was of the Llewellyn line.”
Gage sifted through his memories of Mirus history. Llewellyn. A branch of some of the more powerful European witches back in the day. Was Matthias totally pulling this out of his ass or was there something to this?
Judging by the shade of magenta that crept up Ephraim’s face from the collar of his robes, apparently the paperwork looked legit. “I see.”
“Given that Mr. Dempsey is not, in fact, your run of the mill human and does have a place in our world, however unconventional, I propose that the charges against each of the Hollisters be dropped. Which leaves only Agent Hollister’s insubordination. I am recommending, given the new intelligence that her crimes have brought to light, that the penalty for her actions be lowered to a month-long suspension. Additionally, I am recommending the immediate inclusion of Gage Dempsey as an operative on my squad of Shadow Walkers for future actions as pertain to the developing situation regarding the status of the veil. Pending medical treatment of his injuries, of course.”
Gage had to admire the fae’s control. Despite his obvious fury, he managed to contain whatever powers he commanded. It took him almost a full minute before he could speak.
“Your years of service have earned you some latitude in this forum, Matthias, but take care.” Ephraim took a deep, controlled breath. “We shall put it to a Council vote. Regarding the human involvement charges, all who believe the charges should be dropped, say aye.” The majority present spoke, hands raised.
Would you look at that? Gage took in the assembly. Even the paranormals use Robert’s rules of order.
Each charged was raised. Each was voted on. Matthias got his way.
“With respect, your graces, I wish to get my people to medical care. They’ve had a rough night,” he said.
After a few more formalities, they were escorted out of the Council chamber. No one spoke as they limped through the labyrinthine halls, but Gage reached out to stroke a hand down Embry’s back. She was shaking.
Outside the infirmary, Matthias stopped and faced them. “Nothing I can say or do will change the last ten years. I did what I thought was right. I’m still doing what I think is right. Don’t make me regret it.”
Adan nodded once in acknowledgement. Matthias started to go, but Embry’s hand shot out and caught his.
“You didn’t have to give him back to me. Thank you.” Her voice was thick with emotion.
Matthias made his own nod, then turned to Gage. “You think a two week furlough’s long enough to heal up?” He glanced at Embry. “Might be time for a quick vacation.”
Lips twitching, Gage took his hand. “Yes, sir.”
Then Matthias was gone.
“So . . . do you think any of that was actually true?” asked Gage.
“It would explain some things,” said Adan. “I never checked your ancestry once I brought you home. I should have.”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” said Embry. “I’m not going to question a miracle.”
“It does seem like we’ve had more than our fair share tonight. You both took an awful risk coming after me. It was ill-conceived, insane, and you’re lucky we made it out alive. That having been said, thank you for not giving up on me.” He embraced them each in turn. “It’s good to have you back, son.” With a glance at his daughter, Adan twisted the knob on the infirmary door. “I’m just gonna . . . ” Then he slipped inside, leaving them alone in the hall.
Gage turned to her, but she was looking down at the remains of her shirt, tied together across her chest. Blood was still seeping slowly from the wound in her shoulder. “Damn, I’m filthy. I wonder where the nearest shower is.”
“Embry.” He took a step closer.
“I mean surely I should be clean before they stitch me up in there.”
“Embry,” he repeated, lifting a hand to cradle her cheek and force her gaze to his. “You’re rambling.”
She moved in, pressing her face into his shoulder. Her voice was muffled, “I know I am. It’s just. . . ” she drew in a breath but it was shaky, “not real for me yet.”
“What’s not real? That it’s over?”
“This. You. You’re here. Legally. I never even considered that as a possibility. I can never repay him for that.”
“Oh I think it puts you almost even for what he did to you.” Gage intended to even things a little more the next time he got Matthias in the sparring ring.
“But no matter how I feel about it, you weren’t given a choice. You’ve never been given any kind of choice about this world. From the time my father took you to the Council’s decision just now. We’ve pulled you along all your life saying ‘Here, do this.’ You have a whole other life that you built, and nobody’s ever stopped to ask you if you’re okay with this.”
She tried to step back, but Gage didn’t release her. “You really need me to say it out loud? Okay then. I love you. I’ve always loved you. Even when I didn’t know who you were, couldn’t remember your face, I remembered that I loved you. And I’ve been walking around for a decade with this big, empty hole in my chest.
“I made a good life for myself. I’m not gonna deny that I moved on enough to do that. And I did my best to fill the space with new friends, new memories, and even some really good fights. But nothing could—nothing can, ever take your place in my heart. Matthias and his bullshit machinations just saved my life—again—and gave me a place in yours. And yeah, no matter what strings may be attached, I’m okay with that.”
“Yeah.” Embry sniffed, blinking against the sheen of tears. “Okay, good.”
Gage smiled at her then, mentally shaking his head. God, how he loved this woman. Even when the crisis was over, when it was just the two of them and any normal woman would throw herself into his arms and start wailing like a banshee—and hey, now he actually knew just what that sounded like—Embry still had to have her pride.
Because she was his match, in every way.
“Come on,” he said, slipping an arm around her waist, “I think you could use a few stitches, and then we’ve got two weeks to figure out how to fill. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get my Happily Ever After on.”
I hope you enjoyed Forsaken By Shadow. If you’d like a copy for your very own, it is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Sony, Scribd, SpringBrook Digital, Kobo, Diesel, and Amazon UK. Audio purchase links are available on the main FBS page.
If you’re looking for more Mirus adventure, my next release Devil’s Eye is available for your pleasure.