A Shift in Shadows

Prologue

I reached for the knife I kept tucked under my pillow. Breathing in, I focused on the feel of the handle. Slowly the panic faded away. I was free. No ties held me down. This was my room, not theirs. I let out a long breath and released the knife before rolling onto my back. It’d been almost a year since Magos had rescued me. The panic attacks and nightmares were getting better. At least I wasn’t losing control of my magic when I had them anymore. Usually anyway.

A glance outside the large windows in the room told me it was early. The sky was starting to lighten but the sun hadn’t risen yet. I sighed. Whatever nightmare I’d been having had come close to making me lose control of my magic. That hadn’t happened in a while. At least he hadn’t come to visit me in my dreams though. That was something.

I was still tired but I knew there was no going back to sleep at this point. A quick glance at the digital clock next to my bed told me it was 5am. I had been asleep for a whopping two hours. Ugh.

It was more of a roll than a hop that got me out of bed. I walked over to my dresser and pulled on a pair of stretchy black pants and dark grey tank top. The large bedroom was pretty sparsely furnished. It only contained my bed and a modern looking dresser with two matching nightstands. Really the only personal effect I had was a housewarming present from my best friend that rested on the dresser. The plant somewhat resembled the ferns that grew in the forests around here but unlike those ferns this one had flowers of an intense electric blue that weren’t found anywhere in nature. At least not in this realm. Each flower was the size of my fist and had five petals with a deep orange center. The flowers had picked up on me waking and were now swaying back and forth slowly at a mesmerizing pace. It was letting me know it was hungry. When was the last time I fed it? Two days ago? Maybe it was last week? I made a mental note to thaw out some ground beef for it later.

The flowers turned and followed me as I left the room. As soon as I stepped foot in the hallway I heard the coffee grinder start up in the kitchen. Vampire or not, my roommate was simply the best.

Some probably would have found it odd that I had a vampire for a roommate given my history with them. But my list of friends was pretty short and he won a lot of points for getting me out of that house where the other vampires had held me. After Magos had rescued me I expected him to leave. I’d saved his life once and I figured the debt was repaid. But instead he’d stayed with me afterwards and helped me piece myself back together. His unshakeable calm had become my anchor and I didn’t know what I’d do without him.

The first few months had been rough but once I got my magic under control a close friend offered me this apartment. Pele had recently been stationed in the daemon run town Emerald Bay on the Washington coast. Emerald Bay was used as neutral meeting ground for those in the magical community and Pele had a lot of political power because of her father so she was often involved in high stakes negotiations and treaties. Not to mention she was one of the most powerful fire daemons in existence so she could keep some of the more hotheaded individuals in line. She had a small apartment in town in addition to her main house in the daemon realm. But she’d also bought this old mill and renovated the three apartments in it. She claimed she’d done so with the intention of using it for visiting friends and family, but this apartment had been furnished to my tastes and it overlooked the rocky coastline. She’d even gotten me a motorcycle to ride and claimed that it, “Came with the apartment”.  I had no doubt she’d done all this for me when she’d learned that I was alive and free. She’d wanted me to have a safe place to stay. Pele was never one to talk about her feelings, particularly mushy feelings, but she always showed them with her actions.

She had not been thrilled about me bringing Magos along for the ride but let it slide. Vampires were not well liked in the magical community for a whole host of reasons. After learning that vampires had worked with Sebastian to capture me, Pele’s dislike of vampires grew immensely. The fact that she let a vampire move into one of her apartments and adjusted the wards for him spoke to just how worried she was about me.

I walked up to the bar in the kitchen and slumped onto one of the stools. My hand flopped out onto the countertop and my fingers made a “gimme” motion. Magos’s eyebrows rose slightly but he handed me a mug. I took a sip. Perfect.

“Did you work as a barista at some point in your life? Is that how you’ve been occupying yourself the last few centuries? Seems like that’d be difficult with the whole vampire thing. Or did you manage to find a coffee shop that was open only at night?” I squinted my eyes at him.

Magos seldom smiled but I saw the corners of his mouth twitch as he strolled out of the kitchen. I sighed and settled in to enjoying my coffee. Despite living together for almost a year now I barely knew anything about him. Figuring out his past had become a bit of a game between us, a game which I was sorely losing.

With his dark skin, short cropped hair, and strange copper colored eyes, Magos was jaw droppingly gorgeous. At just over six feet with broad shoulders and strong chest, he drew attention anytime we left the house. He pretended not to notice but I was always entertained by all the stares he got from women and men. Granted humans are pulled towards vampires regardless of their looks to a certain degree, the older the vampire the stronger the pull. Technically any beings with power tended to draw the attention of humans. But most of us didn’t flaunt it like the vamps. Magos claimed they couldn’t help it. I remained unconvinced.

I enjoyed my coffee in silence as I stared out the window. We could sit in silence for hours and be perfectly comfortable in each other’s company. We were both wounded souls. I just wish I knew what had caused his wounds.

Similar to my bedroom, the rest of the apartment was sparsely furnished. This apartment and the others had open layouts. The main living area was one big space that consisted of the kitchen, living room, and in our case a workout area. The living room part held a couch and a few chairs that faced a large tv. The rest of the space was dedicated to sparring and weapons storage.

“Up for some sparring?” I asked and moved towards the large sparring mat without waiting for his response.

There was no art hanging on the bare brick walls. Only weapons. Lots and lots of weapons. My main swords hung next to the front door but my collection of throwing knives and just-in-case-the-shit-really-hits-the-fan swords hung on the brick wall behind the sparring mat. I walked past all the blades and instead grabbed my favorite fighting staff and twirled it in my right hand.

In addition to being a clean roommate who served as my personal barista, Magos was also my sparring buddy. Shapeshifter healing is a wonderful thing. It’d only taken me a few days to fully recover after escaping the vampires. At least physically. We’d started sparring shortly after that. I had been training with my swords since I could hold them as a child. And after my parents death I had thrown myself into training even more. It was rare for me to encounter anyone who had the skills to go toe to toe with me in a fight. Except for Magos. It didn’t matter what we chose, short swords, long swords, staffs, freaking nunchucks…the end result was the same. I grumbled a bunch of swear words in as many languages as I knew while Magos helped me back to my feet. I hadn’t beaten him yet but the last couple months I’d made him work a lot harder to get me down.

Magos nodded and walked across the mat and grabbed two short fighting staffs off the wall. He made no comment on me being up again so soon after going to bed. He had probably heard me screaming before waking up. Nor did he comment on me wanting to spar again after he’d given me quite the beating earlier in the night. He knew that both the coffee and the sparring helped me settle myself. Neither of us were good about talking about our past but we were good at helping each other in other ways.

“Just going to stand there then? Afraid I’ll mar that beautiful face of yours?” I crooned. As usual he didn’t move. He simply stood in the middle of the mat as I circled around him.

“My apologies. I thought you wanted to exorcise your body not your mouth. You can assault me verbally just as well if I’m seated can you not?” He said dryly. Still not moving even though I was now behind him. Before I could get my clever retort out he spun around and slammed one of his batons on my staff. I pushed back only to receive a blow to my ribs with his other staff. I bit back a cry and jumped out of his range.

We continued to circle each other, looking for openings. “Plans for the day?” He asked. Then quickly closed the distance between us and I blocked the blow to my right side and immediately spun out of range of the follow-up I knew was coming to my left side. Not quick enough though. I figured he’d go for the ribs but it was my shoulder that got clipped as I backed away.

“Going to check in with Kaysea this morning. She was planning on doing some meditating to see if she could trigger a vision. If she’s foreseen anything I’d like to know. Might check in with Pele as well. And I need to convince Andrei to spend my birthday here.” I said keeping my tone steady even though the mention of my birthday quickened my pulse.

I moved quickly to the left and stabbed with my staff, he easily blocked it as I knew he would. I spun behind him gave two more quick thrusts. Also blocked. I danced out of reach before Magos launched a counter offensive. Copper eyes studied me as I moved around him, “There are no signs that Sebastian knows where we are. It’s unlikely that anything will happen on your birthday.”

“I know,” I said quickly and made a faint towards Magos’s left. He didn’t fall for it. I made a face at him and he just rolled his eyes. “I just don’t want to be caught unprepared. He might not know where we are but we also don’t know why he worked with those vampires to kidnap me. He’s been content for decades to torment me all by himself. Something must have changed. And since we don’t know what, I want to err on the side of caution. Kaysea will be safe in the fae realm. Pele likewise will be safe if she remains in her bar. Andrei is the obvious target and the weak link. He’ll be safer here with us.”

“Very well.” Then he moved. One moment we were circling around each other and the next I was blocking his blows as fast as I could. My staff shook every time it blocked a blow and despite pushing myself as fast as I could, I knew I only had a few more seconds before his blows made it past my defense. Just once I would like to get him on the mat. Winning was out of the question. Unless I used my magic. But I never used my magic when we sparred. Which was why I always lost.

Magos’s technique was perfect. Every move was as graceful as it was deadly. He spent just enough energy for each strike and nothing more. Magos fought with perfect control whereas I fought like a wildcat that’d just escaped its cage. Which wasn’t exactly far off.

I lunged towards him and jabbed with my staff. He easily knocked it aside and I let it go as he swept me off my feet just like I knew he would. But I didn’t land on my back like he expected. Instead I arched my back and reached out with my hands, as soon as they hit the ground I pushed myself back and landed on my feet in a crouched position. Feline shapeshifter agility for the win! Launching myself forward immediately I pulled an absolutely stupid move that only worked in the movies. I crashed into Magos’s knees and we both ended up on the mat.

I reached for my staff but before I could move he switched our positions and was straddling me and pushing the wood baton against my throat. Game over.

Laughter erupted out of his throat as he looked at me with amusement dancing in his eyes. I rarely got to see him smile let alone laugh so freely. I may have lost the match but I still felt like I won.

“Satisfied? Can I return to my chair and coffee now?” He asked, still smiling.

“Sure. I’m going to lie here for another minute and enjoy my moment.” I may not have beaten him but I still got his ass on the ground. Of course in doing so I lost the match. Lost. Just like I’d lost the fight when the vampires had jumped me years ago. My smile faded.

I closed my eyes and fought off yet another panic attack. Something told me today was not going to be fun.