Author: Boone Brux
Genre: Historical Fantasy Romance
Launch Date: December 2011
ePub ISBN: 978-1-937044-17-6
Print ISBN: 978-1-937044-33-6
Menda Abbey, Itta Territory, Inness
One Thousand Years after the Bane War
The demon’s gaze narrowed. “Let me see her.”
Beautiful and horrifying, Icarus moved toward Brother Powell with frightening grace. Sinewy muscles rippled under taut, black skin as he prowled toward the crumbled wall of the abbey. His leathery wings scraped the tree branches overhead and waves of ebony hair, banded with rings of gold, cradled two spiraling horns that jutted upward.
Powell glanced away, refusing to gaze into the mesmerizing, reptilian eyes.
The demon’s deep purr poured over him. “What troubles you, Brother? Are you not happy to see me?”
The monk ignored the question and swiped the cold rain from his eyes. He held the hissing torch higher to reveal a young woman. She stood unnaturally still, compelled by the monk’s hypnosis—a spell taught to him by the demon. Her thin shift clung to her bony frame, and her dull eyes stared ahead. Angela had been lovely once, but like so many, she hadn’t been woman enough to withstand the honor of his attentions. They never were, always crying and pleading to be left alone. Lucky for them, the Demon Bane preferred their sacrifices pure.
“This is not what I asked for.” The deadly calm of Icarus’s voice belied the danger of his statement. “Where is the other woman—the gifted one?”
“In her cell. She doesn’t trust me.” Powell stroked Angela’s limp, blonde hair. “But she’ll not be able to resist the cries of her closest friend.”
“For your sake, monk, I hope you are right.” Icarus held out his hand. “Come to me.”
The compulsion whispered past Powell, sweeping across his skin with the promise of pleasure. He slipped his hand under his robe and adjusted his erection.
The demon’s call slithered toward Angela and wrapped around her like a sensual net. Before the force could ensnare him as well, Powell released his hold and backed away. She glided forward.
He watched, immobilized with morbid fascination. Her progress faltered when she reached the holy ground’s boundaries. He leaned toward Angela, willing her to cross the invisible barrier.
“Come to me,” Icarus repeated.
Weak of mind and body, she lumbered forward through the opening in the wall and away from the protection of the abbey’s sanctified ground.
The demon stood before her and grasped her frail arm. With the smooth curve of his talon, he caressed Angela’s cheek.
She didn’t move.
Powell cringed, excited and repulsed at the same time. He ached for a taste of the power Icarus would give him one day.
“So pure,” Icarus crooned. He trailed his talon down her neck. “So sweet.”
Powell squeezed his holy medallion, its ornate embellishments biting deep into his skin. The pain kept him present and protected against the call of the Bane, a call he wanted to answer. Riveted, he held the torch higher, trying to shed more light on the black demon.
Icarus slid his claw lower, coming to rest between Angela’s breasts. His energy pulsed and reached for its prey. The compulsion grazed Powell’s mind. The medallion slipped from his grasp, the chain catching on his fingers to hang loose. Forgotten.
“Awaken, little bird, and let me see your fear,” Icarus whispered.
Like a parting veil, Angela’s deadened expression cleared. She gasped, frozen by the sight of the towering demon before her. She twisted and fought for her freedom. Bare heels dug into the soggy earth, but the slick grass provided no traction. Icarus jerked her hard, his hold unbreakable.
“No!” Her scream shattered the silence of the night, its echoes hanging in the air like a heavy mist.
He pressed his fingers against her heart and pricked her delicate skin.
She convulsed, her strangled cry dying in her throat. With whispers as soft as the lightest breeze, the silvery essence of her soul sighed and bled from her body. Gossamer threads slithered around Icarus’s hand like small, white snakes, encircling his arm and swirling along the planes of his rounded biceps in an achingly slow, erotically sublime dance. The demon tilted his head and closed his eyes. Angela’s shimmering purity crept up his neck and hovered at his lips. He inhaled and drew her in, stiffening as if in the throes of passion, absorbing every delicate wisp.
The intimate union between predator and prey mesmerized Powell. He crept forward, forgetting the danger. The seductive and deadly act held a perverse beauty. Powell stroked himself, dragging the rough material of his robe over his erection, losing himself in The Taking. Time had no place; the tap, tap of rain on the leaves the only disruption brave enough to break through the reticence of the night.
When the sparkling vapor faded around her heart, Icarus retracted his talons and released his hold. Angela’s body slumped to the ground, dead. He stretched and smiled, his fangs glimmering in the torchlight. “That’s better.”
Powell’s heavy breathing punctuated the quiet. His body quivered from the demon’s feral presence. As the pleasurable effect began to fade, he opened his senses and scrambled to ingest the lingering scraps of Bane essence. Its pure power raced through his body and filled his veins with an intoxicating fire.
Icarus bent and scooped up Angela’s body. Four powerful strides brought him to the abbey’s border. He heaved his burden at Powell. The monk shrieked and jumped back, his euphoric haze evaporating. Bones snapped as the body landed in a crumpled heap at his feet. Bile rose in his throat. For a fraction of a second, remorse pawed at him, but, just as quickly, the sentiment disappeared.
“Bring me the other—now.” Icarus’s wings unfurled and stretched behind him. “Do not fail me, monk.” He crouched and pinned Powell with a yellow stare. “Or I won’t be as kind to you as I was to the girl.”
Powell glanced at the broken body at his feet and swallowed hard. Meeting the demon’s stare, he nodded.
With a powerful leap, Icarus launched into the sky and was instantly swallowed by the darkness.
…Ravyn jolted upright in bed. She pushed her mass of black curls out of her face and looked around. Had somebody screamed, or was it only her nightmares?
Darkness blanketed her cell, and rain pounded a steady beat against the ledge of her narrow window. Shivers crawled down her spine like a dozen tiny spiders. The abbey, the wind, and the rain had a natural rhythm she had come to know. Like an off-key note, she heard the wrongness of the night’s cadence.
She closed her eyes and released her awareness. It flowed down the dark corridors of the ancient abbey, seeping into the corners and rooms, making its way toward the chapel. Malevolence strummed along the mental threads of Ravyn’s consciousness as it ghosted across the chapel door. Heat skittered along her arms, awakening the protective fire within her. She flexed her fingers and relaxed into the sensation. Always the awareness was bittersweet. The same power that made her an outcast with the Sisters now rallied to protect her from the evil housed inside the supposed holy space.
She yanked her senses back and pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes, trying to steady herself against the draining presence. Only one evil dwelled within the abbey: Brother Powell.
Ravyn threw off the worn blanket and crammed her feet into the only pair of slippers she owned. She stood and tiptoed across her room. The cell’s heavy oak door loomed before her. Pulling on the iron handle, she prayed the hinges remained quiet for once. A soft squeak of protest pierced the silence and she flinched. Hopefully, the other girls were sound asleep. She poked her head into the corridor. Empty. Good. Their safety was one less problem to worry about.
Two sparsely placed torches threw small circles of light around themselves but did little to illuminate the passage. Ravyn darted from her room and blended with the shadows. To most, the dark passages appeared empty, but for her, people and memories of the past whispered around her, longing to tell their tales. Despite the Sisters’ efforts to beat this evilness out of her, knowing and listening had always felt right.
The spirit of a young woman materialized in front of her. Dressed in The Order’s habit, she was immediately recognizable to Ravyn as Sister Amalee. She smiled, but the ghost did not smile back. Instead, Amalee stood close, wringing her hands and shaking her head. Ravyn stepped around the spirit, not wanting to experience the staggering punch of emotion she felt when passing through the dead.
Blackness pulsated around the edges of the chapel door as Ravyn approached. The sensation of a thousand biting needles abraded her skin. She rubbed her arms, trying to scrub away the sting. The assault was all too familiar.
Powell waited inside.
She shook her arms. Tonight, his presence felt more caustic than usual. He was a venomous snake coiled within the delicate flowers of a garden.
Amalee slid forward and blocked Ravyn’s path.
“Move,” Ravyn whispered.
The ghost shook her head and held her hands out in a silent plea.
“I have to go in.”
Amalee threw her slightly transparent arms across the opening.
“You can’t stop me.” The spirit’s attempt to protect her was touching, but she needed to get inside the chapel. “Please move.”
Amalee bowed her head and folded her hands in front of her chest. Her mouth moved with a silent tirade of prayers. Without looking up, she floated forward and passed through Ravyn.
Waves of distress flowed from the center of Ravyn’s body and out toward her limbs, unbalancing her. She bit her lower lip and silently cursed, trying to calm the spirit’s tumultuous essence. After a few seconds, she shook her head and opened her eyes. She was alone.
Blackness bled around the edges of the door, reaching for her.
The Sisters sealed the chapel after evening prayers and, not surprisingly, as she shoved against it, the door yielded to her push. She’d learned long ago evil had a way of unlocking what should be locked, and unbinding what should be bound.
The groan of the old hinges announced her entry and echoed through the chapel. She grimaced, knowing now she was exposed to whoever waited. The prickling sensation on her arms increased.
Torches burned in their sconces. She swallowed hard and stepped inside. This hallowed chamber had never felt welcoming. She glanced up at the altar. The carved and still faces of The Sainted Ones scowled down at her.
“Good evening, gentlemen.”
Their sightless eyes seemed to judge her, finding her unworthy to enter such a holy place. Their condemnatory glares followed her, but like always, she ignored them and drifted deeper into the chapel.
She scanned the shadows. Madness and the taint of evil seethed at the edges of the light. Her search tracked along the darkness, coming to rest on a crumpled body between the benches.
She gasped. “Angela.”
Sweet, naïve, and ready to believe in the good of others—that was Angela. Ravyn caught up her skirt and ran, the need to protect her friend blotting out the danger.
“Angela.” She dropped to her hands and knees and gathered her friend’s soiled and drenched body in her arms. “Angela!”
At first touch, a crushing blackness crashed into Ravyn. Unable to hold on, she released the body. Her stomach twisted in tight coils of pain. She clutched her throat, trying to tear through the feeling of drowning. The blackness choked and smothered her. She clawed at the stones of the floor.
Air. She needed air.
Heat spread through her body, her defensive fire once again flaring to life. It pushed against the dense darkness fighting to consume her. The evil’s grip loosened. A brutal hand seized her hair and yanked. She tipped backward, sharp knees driving deep into her spine. Wetness spattered her face. Please don’t let that be blood. Her hands pawed her cheeks and frantically brushed the droplets from her face.
Brother Powell towered above her, hair dripping with rain and lips twisted in a contemptuous smile. Before she could scream, he jerked her head at a painful angle and wrapped his hand around her throat.
“Well, well, well. Look who’s come to save the day. I’m afraid you’re too late. And just to let you know,” he whispered in her ear, “Angela died an incredibly painful death.”
Shadows darkened the edges of Ravyn’s vision. The foul stench of his breath assaulted her. He shouldn’t be this close. He should never be this close.
She struck out with her elbow and landed a blow to his stomach. A grunt huffed behind her and the pressure on her head eased. She scrambled across the stone floor, trying to regain her footing, but the dense blackness sucked at her strength.
Curses and footsteps echoed from behind. Her desperate grab hooked the back of a pew, but weakness caused her fingertips to slip from the wood and she collapsed to the floor. Her lungs ached. Darkness crept through her body. She shoved against it, fighting to keep its invasion at bay, refusing to give in so easily.
Powell’s boot pressed into her behind, and with a hard thrust, he sent her sprawling across the aisle. Bent on deflecting his attack, she rolled to her back and kicked at him. His hand wrapped around her ankle. With a yank, she tried to break his hold, the feel of his fingers against her flesh making her skin crawl. His mouth stretched into a wicked grin as he dropped her foot and straddled her. He fisted two handfuls of hair and jerked her to her feet. She slapped at him, hoping for a solid hit, but her hands sliced through empty air.
He released her hair and backhanded her across the face. Pain shot through her jaw as her head snapped sideways. Her body crashed into a wooden bench and tumbled over the top. Tangled in her gray wool dress, she lay on the floor, unmoving.
Powell’s words penetrated her muddled haze. “Oh yes. Icarus will reward me well for you.”
She slowly rolled over and sat up. Bursts of heat sparked in her veins. She shivered at the commands of her powers as they pushed against her barrier. She wanted to give the fire its freedom but clamped down the urge. The coppery tang of blood coated her tongue and she swiped the trickle at the corner of her mouth. “What’s wrong, Brother? Are you tired of tormenting me?”
“That’s a pleasure I’ll never weary of. Unfortunately for you, somebody has made me an offer I cannot refuse.”
He was on her in five short strides, latching onto a handful of hair to drag her across the chapel floor. She’d not cry out and give him the satisfaction of knowing he hurt her.
Fire surged through her body. She shuddered against the force of the inferno, struggling to keep it restrained. Unlike him, she was no murderer.
Blindly, she grappled with both hands for Powell’s arm and found his wrist. She twisted, digging her heels into the uneven stones and pulling her and the monk to a stop.
She leapt to her feet, knocking the monk off balance. He released her hair and pivoted to face her but Ravyn held tight to his arm.
He glanced at his wrist and back to her face. “Is that your attempt at escape?” He yanked on his arm but she didn’t release him. “Really, Lady Ravyn, is that the best you can do?”
The power within her billowed, demanding its freedom. She captured his gaze.
His milky gray eyes widened. Tears. Torment. Wickedness.
Her rudimentary connection to him opened a torrent of suffering. His debauchery swallowed her. She sensed the fear of his victims, and she touched…nothing. Like a sucking void, a dense aura surrounded the monk.
Her anger swelled. She gripped his wrist tighter, determined to give him a taste of what roiled inside of her. Maybe in some small way she could avenge Angela’s death. What sweet ecstasy to burn this abomination of a man.
She concentrated her energy on his arm and forced her heat into him. The power rolled through her body. He fought to pull free but she squeezed harder, her heat increasing.
“Let go!” He tried to shake her free, but she remained unmoving and locked. Fire danced up his arm. He clawed at her fingers. “Let go!”
“See what awaits you beyond this life, Brother?” Emotions slipped away as the trance overtook her. “The fires of The Abyss burn without mercy.”
He screamed and dropped to his knees, the fire engulfing his hand. “You are Bane!”
His words leeched through the fiery spell holding her and took coherent form in her mind. He had called her a Bane. The slur struck close to the fears she kept buried about her powers. “It would serve you right if I killed you where you kneel.”
His face paled.
But this isn’t right, is it? Ravyn blinked and tried to clear her head. She walked a thin line, she knew. Her decision to do what was right—not what felt good—was what kept her in the light.
She watched the monk’s wrist begin to smolder. The smell of charred flesh fouled the air. The fury of her power intoxicated her with its heady domination. His cries echoed off the stone walls, and she peered at him through a haze of euphoria. How easy it would be to submit to the inferno’s demand for freedom.
She stopped and stared at the sight of his burned flesh. A mixture of repulsion and giddiness washed through her. Had she really done that? Her mind clawed its way back from the edge of insanity, an edgy, irrepressible laugh slipping free.
Powell was corrupt and evil. He deserved to die. But was she the one to take his life? She inhaled. No. This wasn’t her right. She pulled her heat back and slowly loosened one finger at a time and dropped his arm.
He crumpled and cradled his blistered wrist to his chest. Careful to keep her distance, she shuffled around him, her need to get away paramount. One more minute and she would’ve lit him up like a stack of dry wood. With unsteady steps, she retreated toward the door.
Her feet tangled in the folds of her skirt. She stumbled and grabbed a pew for balance. Rage and madness warred with her rational mind. She righted herself and continued her backward steps, widening the space between them.
“Look what you’ve done! Look what you’ve done to me!” He struggled to his knees. “If not for Icarus, you’d feel my retaliation. And trust me, my lady, I wouldn’t grant you the kindness of death.”
“Kindness? As if you know what that word means. Let me assure you, Brother, I’d rather be burned alive than endure any more of your kindness.”
“I’ll see you suffer. Listen to you scream as Icarus drains you.”
Fire pulled at her restraints. She held his gaze and slowly allowed the blaze to take control. There would be no talking her way out of this situation. The monk was mad. Her senses screamed a second before he lunged, but she’d already found her focus.
Powell’s movements slowed, his attack becoming exaggerated and predictable, like he struggled through viscous liquid. A blanket of silence cloaked her, dampening the angry cry he spewed. One…two…three. She counted her slowing heartbeat and concentrated on the center of his chest, sinking into a trance.
The fire took command, wielding her body as a weapon.
Her vision altered, and Powell ceased to be solid. Blues and greens swirled where his body had been. A black, snakelike entity slithered unheeded within the colors, and a ruby orb pulsed where the monk’s heart should have been.
Flame and light raced down her arm, gathering in her hand. She launched the energy toward the beating orb. The ball struck dead center and the black snake writhed as threads of lightning coursed through the colors.
Powell catapulted backward and bounced when he hit the stone floor. The swirling colors reverted to solid. He lay sprawled and unmoving.
Her heavy release of breath echoed through the chapel. Control gave way to rational thought, and her body began to shake. No line had existed between her and the fire. Never before had the power demanded her submission and compelled her to do its bidding.
Nausea washed over her. “Holy Mother. What should I do?”
The sight of Powell’s still form pulled at her and she crept forward, her muscles tense. She nudged him with her toe but he didn’t stir. Her question remained unanswered, but The Sainted Ones’ silence held all the condemnation she could bear. She rubbed her hands over her face.
Few knew of Brother Powell’s depraved character, but her strange ways and evil nature were well-known within the abbey. They would turn their accusations toward her first and his murder would be all the proof The Order needed for one of its sanctified demon hunts.
Until now, the abuse from Powell had been worth the food in her stomach and a roof over her head. Her life hadn’t been happy, but it was better than scrounging for survival in a world she knew nothing about. Inside the abbey, she was safe and she had the girls.
The girls. Who would protect them?
She hauled back and kicked him in the ribs. “Bastard.” She glanced at Angela. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.”
She gathered her heavy skirt and fled the chapel, racing down the dark corridors of the abbey. When she reached the wide staircase, she took the steps three at a time, her ascent resonating off the walls.
Blood pounded in her ears. She rushed into her cell and looked around. There wasn’t much to pack. The few items she owned were shoved into a bag and within seconds, she was ready.
An ancient tome lay open to the page she’d been examining before falling asleep. She slammed the cover closed and dumped the book into her sack. The minor theft of abbey property seemed insignificant at this point.
As a last thought, she grabbed her cloak and rushed toward the outer stairs that led away from the chapel. The steps blurred before her as she spiraled down and around the stone staircase. Panic beat against her, but she tamped down the alarm and locked away her fear.
She was fleeing the only home she’d ever known.
At the bottom of the stairs, she flung open the heavy door. The night and rain hit her like a physical assailant, threatening her bravery. She slipped into the shadows and plastered her body against the abbey wall. Her breathing came in short puffs. Keep my head. I must keep my head.
Foot by foot, she edged along the back of the building, mustering her courage for her final flight. A stray curl fell across her eyes and she pushed it away with a trembling hand. The chill air ruffled against her skin, pulling the heat from beneath her cloak. She gripped its edges and tugged the folds tighter around her, squinting at her destination.
She tucked the bag under her arm and took a deep breath. Hundreds of frantic butterflies beat inside her stomach and up into her throat. Everything familiar…gone. Ahead of her was the unknown, a faceless future…
It’s now or never.
Before doubt could rob her of her courage, she pushed away from the wall and sprinted for the gate. Cold mud splattered her legs. Her hood fell back and needles of icy rain pelted her face. Her frantic breathing swelled and mixed with the driving wind.
The thump of the chapel door echoed across the courtyard. The irritating bite reengaged, chewing and gnawing her arms. She kept running.