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Walking Shadow: The Darkworld Series Book 2 (Ebook)

Walking Shadow: The Darkworld Series Book 2 (Ebook)

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Book 2 of 5: The Darkworld Series


Ashlyn has found a new home in Blackstone, but when a flood of mysterious grave robberies hits the town, the local sorcerers are convinced it signals a new sign of demonic activity. As a rogue sorceress with no idea where her magic came from, Ash is a prime target for suspicion.

The trouble is, what Ash does know might just get her killed.

When Leo's guardian is murdered in suspicious circumstances, all signs point to a connection with the recent grave robberies.  Ash determines to help him find out the truth, but it isn't long before events are spiralling out of control. The dead are rising from their graves, and the barriers around Blackstone are threatened by a demon which looks exactly like Ash herself. With the magic police on her tail, it's up to Ash to stop the demon before her own dark magic condemns her to death for crimes she never committed.

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The moon glared down at us from between the black spires of the cathedral, its cold light giving the gravestones an unearthly glow. I couldn’t help but imagine what Cara, my superstitious best friend, would say if she could see us, sitting by the entrance to the cemetery on a night like this.

“It’s a full moon! You’re just asking for it!”

But despite everything that had happened over the past few months, I still didn’t believe the dead could rise under the light of the full moon and walk amongst the living. Nor was I concerned that any of us were going to transform into hideous monsters at any moment.

Besides, we waited for a vampire, not a werewolf.

I hadn’t believed Leo when he’d first told me that a vampire wanted to meet us in confidence. He’d given me no reason to believe he would lie, but it sounded so outlandish I was convinced he was playing a joke on me. 

It was during the first meeting of the new term. Well, we called them “meetings,” even though they were more of a casual gathering of magic-users who, for one reason or other, refused to join with the Venantium, the organisation that policed other sorcerers. Only Leo and I had shown up early, and he’d wasted no time in commandeering the sofa in the Games Room. He lay back with his head over the arm, waiting for the Xbox to load, looking at me upside-down with his wavy dark hair practically vertical. Today his t-shirt proclaimed Armageddon was nigh.

“A vampire wants to meet with us tomorrow night,” he said.

“Uh, what?” I said, looking up from the book on demons I’d just picked up, one of the ones Claudia left lying around. “Is that a joke?”

“Nope, really. There’s a vampire asking for our help.”

“And I have a werewolf on speed-dial.”

He flipped the right way up. “Honestly, Ash, vampires do exist,” he said with all sincerity, though given that he was about to start shooting down a battalion of zombies on an Xbox game, I wasn’t entirely convinced. 

“Pull the other one,” I said. “I thought we dealt with demons, not Dracula.”

“Not that kind of vampire,” said Leo. “They don’t drink blood, they drain the life energy out of people.” 

“What, just like demons?”  I said, sceptically. Demons were, as Claudia put it when she’d first told me, magical parasites that could possess anyone and drain his or her life energy in the blink of an eye. They were spirits, creatures that resembled formless black smoke, apart from their violet eyes. “Or… or human-demons?”

I fought to keep my voice even, to suppress the shiver of hope that began to stir inside me, like a bird awakening from slumber.

“No, nothing like that,” said Leo, killing that metaphorical bird stone dead. “It’s a magical condition, it affects about one in ten magic-users. Basically, they can’t function without magic energy, so they have to take it from others. So a bit like demons, yes. Except they’re fully human. It’s like a genetic thing.”

Told you so, a voice in my head chided the part of me that dared hope, for a second, there were other people like me out there. Human-demons. Freaks of nature.

“Okay,” I said. “So what does the vampire want to speak to us about?”

“He’s asked us for help,” said Leo, “because seven vampires have been killed in the area in the last month. He wants our protection.”

Our protection?” This didn’t quite add up with the image I had of vampires in my head. “I thought vampires were crazy-strong and super-fast. Why would he need our help?”

“Vampires aren’t any different from other magic-users,” said Leo. “Except they can’t function without draining someone else’s magical energy. The Venantium have them labelled as monsters, even though most never intentionally harm people. So they generally lead a solitary existence.”

“I can imagine,” I said. “So how are they being killed? I take it they aren’t allergic to sunlight or anything?”

“Nope. You’d think staking them through the heart would be more ironic, but the way they were killed… well, it’s bizarre. All seven of them had their throats cut, but the actual cause of death was from their life energy being drained out of them. Which, as far as I know, can only be done by another vampire. And two of the victims were students.”

“So you think there’s an evil vampire on the loose?” I shivered at the mention of the recent student deaths, which had been all over the news. The Venantium worked hard to cover up any demon-related incident, by any means possible, but I guessed even they wouldn’t be able to hide those gruesome deaths. For smaller incidents, they used Influence—meddling with people’s memories, even removing them entirely. As the organisation responsible for protecting the public from demons, they strived to ensure no non-magic-users ever became aware of it. This was supposedly out of fear demons would take advantage and, I guessed, find a way to manipulate non-sorcerers through the Darkworld. Anyone with a slight awareness of the Darkworld was vulnerable to demon interference—and magic-users, or sorcerers, were most vulnerable of all.

“That’s what the Venantium seem to think. But whatever they might say, vampires aren’t usually a threat to us. I mean, they can be dangerous when in a frenzy, but they can’t help what they are, any more than we can help having a connection to the Darkworld.”

Or than I can help being part demon, I thought. But I didn’t feel ready to share that yet. Unlike most magic-users, my parents weren’t sorcerers themselves. I was one of the few who developed magical powers—and the ability to see demons—independently. Seeing shadowy, purple-eyed demons everywhere I went had led me to conclude I was losing my mind, and it was only when I’d met Claudia and the others that I’d learned the truth about the Darkworld.

I’d originally decided to come study in Blackstone because it was a demon-free zone, not that I’d known why. It turned out to be because we were right on the doorstep of the Venantium. The Barrier they maintained kept the demons from escaping from the Darkworld into our world. Out of fear of discovery, and my determination to find out why the demons seemed to be interested in me, I’d reluctantly joined up with a small band of magic-users at the university who wanted nothing to do with the Venantium. 

But neither I, nor anyone else I knew, could have guessed the reason for my connection to the Darkworld was because I was descended from a higher demon, and I’d vowed never to tell a soul. Who would believe me if I said that the family’s depository of magical energy was currently sitting around my neck in the form of an amethyst pendant, given to me by the woman I’d believed to be my aunt? It had nearly got me killed once already, when one of my flatmates, secretly a magic-user, had tried to claim its power and use it to control a demon. But the demon had turned on its summoner, killing him and acknowledging me as its superior. 

I knew I was lucky to be alive, as much as I detested the idea of owing my life to a horrible secret I could never tell anyone about. The descendants of the so-called Seven Princes, the higher demons who could apparently take on human form, had been hunted by the Venantium in the past, and I had no intention of finding out whether things had changed. Even the rest of the group had no idea what really happened that night. Only Aunt Eve—whoever she really was—and I knew the full truth.

And I was positive there was more she wasn’t telling me.

* * *

In the end, curiosity won me over, and so I joined my fellow magic-users Leo, Claudia, Cyrus, Howard, and Berenice, in Blackstone Cemetery, where, for whatever reason, the vampire had requested we meet.

I wasn’t fond of the place, and not for the obvious reasons. Last time I’d been here, when we’d sneaked into the Venantium’s library, I’d been attacked by a harpy, one of the creatures the Venantium used to carry messages and to intercept intruders. I’d dreamt of the place too often, my morbid imagination conjuring up images of the dead suddenly bursting from the ground with a spray of earth and grass, dragging their decaying limbs through the village of Blackstone, or of me plunging to my death off the cliffs that overhung the ocean, a five minute walk away. 

“Why a graveyard?” I asked Claudia.

“I think he might be coming through one of the tunnels,” she said.

I blinked, surprised. I knew there were tunnels underneath the village, including the one that led to the Venantium’s library, but I’d assumed they were generally out of use.

“No, everything’s underground,” said Claudia, when I mentioned this. “Where do you think the Venantium have their headquarters? It’s not easy to hide a huge building.”

I looked down at the grass under my feet in amazement. “What, it’s under here?”

“Sure is. Well, not here. If you dig up this ground all you’ll find is a bunch of coffins. But it’s deep under the village, yeah.”

“Wow. What would the Venantium do if someone did try to dig it up?” I said, remembering something I’d seen on the news the other day, about grave robberies.

“It’s too deeply buried. Even below the catacombs. Did you see that news report about the Ghouls, by any chance?”

“Yeah,” I said. “What kind of a name is that for a gang of grave-robbers?”

“Who knows?” said Claudia.

The graves that were dug up had also been spray-painted with obscure graffiti. There were rumours that they were some kind of cult.

“Can we not talk about that here?” said Berenice.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one feeling uneasy. Berenice hovered near Howard, who seemed more interested in joining Leo in creating fireballs in his hand and shooting at the harpies that circled above the city. When either of them hit one, it exploded in a storm of feathers which swiftly turned to smoke and dissipated.

Cyrus turned to his younger brother and scolded him. “Stop that, Leo. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.”

“Sorry,” said Leo, still grinning. “Never gets old, this.”

I was with Cyrus. I’d felt the pain of a harpy’s talons once before and had no desire to repeat the experience.

Only Cyrus and Claudia showed any signs of disquiet. Claudia paced back and forth between two rows of crumbling tombstones, her dark red hair the only splash of colour in the gloomy night. Cyrus sat on the wall, but looked alert, uneasy. Leo lounged beside him, now making a small flame dance between his hands.

Howard was entirely at ease, his large frame sprawled on top of a grave. Cyrus had said it would serve him right if the grave’s occupant came out and attacked him, but Howard responded that if they did, he’d “beat the shit out of the venator scumbag.” Almost all of the people buried there were Venantium members. Howard reserved a special hatred for them, apparently even the dead ones.

Berenice leaned on the grave for support, her elbows resting atop the head of a gargoyle. She was one of those nauseatingly pretty girls who always seem to look flawless, the type who woke up in the morning with salon-perfect hair. She was also a complete bitch. I’d have pitied her attempts to gain Howard’s affections if she hadn’t hated me without reason from the moment we first met. Whilst at the end of a night out, the two of them inevitably ended up at Howard’s place. He was completely oblivious to the fact that Berenice might want more than casual sex.

That was us. The “Circle of Sinners,” as Leo had named us, based on the rumoured belief of some of the Venantium: that all magic-users were Hell-bound devil-worshippers.. The original idea of Hell had apparently come from the Darkworld, and I could see why. It was a black pit, devoid of life, warmth or light, the realm of spirits in which demons dominated. Apparently it was possible, through the use of a certain spell, to separate from one’s body and to travel to the Darkworld, but there was no guarantee of returning to the physical world at all. Some sorcerers had tried it to gain power, but it never ended well. The Darkworld was place of pure magical energy, the reason we could use magic. And that made magic-users irresistible to demons.

Knowing I couldn’t be possessed like everyone else could didn’t make me any less scared of them. Even though I’d killed one myself―well, sent it back to the Darkworld, since demons couldn’t really die. 

It was kind of funny that I didn’t expect to see demons in a place like this. The creatures tended to gather wherever a lot of people were, but the Venantium’s barriers kept them away from Blackstone. The only shadow-creatures here were the harpies, which constantly swooped overhead, looking misleadingly like large black birds. In fact, up close they resembled old crones crossed with eagles, and were as hideous as they were vicious.

Berenice said, through chattering teeth, “How long is this guy gonna keep us waiting? I’m freezing my ass off here.”

It figured she’d be the first to complain.

“You didn’t have to come,” said Leo, shooting down two harpies at once. “Beat that,” he added, to Howard.

Berenice shrugged. “What if he attacks us?” she said.

Howard shot a couple of harpies out of the air, too. 

“He won’t. Vampires aren’t savages,” said Leo. “They’re people, like us.”

“They bite people.” Berenice shuddered theatrically.

“They can’t help it. It’s an instinct they can’t control.” Leo threw another fireball, igniting three harpies at once.

“Whatever. I’m not getting too close to it, anyway. I hear they live like animals.”

“That’s bullshit,” said Leo, with so much venom that Berenice looked at him in surprise. 

“Don’t tell me you’re a vampire’s advocate now, Leo?” she said.

Leo glared at her. “I just don’t believe in prejudice.” I was surprised too. He’d never reacted to Berenice’s barbed comments like that before.

An uneasy silence fell all the same; whatever he said, maybe there was the possibility of an attack. Almost unconsciously, the way we were arranged covered all directions, in case anyone sneaked up on us. I found myself seeing shadowy figures behind every grave. Why had the vampire insisted we meet here?

As this thought crossed my mind, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and a figure came out from behind one of the large tombstones. He walked towards us at a slight crouch, as if unwilling to draw attention to himself, his head bent. The air seemed to tighten as he approached, and my own breathing sounded unnaturally loud. I tried to make out his features, but beneath the towering graves, I could only discern his white-blond hair.

When he stood a few feet away from us, he hesitated. At that moment the moonlight fell on his face, and with a sinking heart, I recognised him.

Oh, God, I thought. Not him.

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