Questions linger in Christine's mind, questions that involve the dragon shifter whom she's come to love. Tristan's fate is shrouded in shadows, and she begins to suspect that her own future is tied to his.
Those questions have to wait, however, when Tristan's well-guarded estate is infiltrated by the mysterious woman Christine has seen only from afar. A tome is stolen, but more than that is a curse placed upon Christine, one that threatens her very soul.
Now to save herself and free Tristan from his dark fate, Christine must face one final test against the foe who has lurked in the shadows ever since her adventure began. Their lives, and the future of her new world, hang in the balance, and one small slip will mean the end for all of them.
The evening was perfect. I sat atop a comfortable bench among the beautiful gardens of Tristan's estate. Not a breeze stirred the blooming flowers nor did a cloud mar the sky that was soon to twinkle with countless stars.
But the evening was marred, and by the small book that lay in my lap. The journal of Lord Archibald Blisse.
I opened the pages to that most important of pages and read over the details:
"I am called Shadow by some, and Dark Twilight by others," he told me.
That title, too, was familiar to me, and I found myself shuddering. Shall I relate it to you, journal? That long ago, as a student who sought to learn magic as well as alchemy, I learned of a creature born of the darkness that would cast a shadow over the world. That shadow would engulf the light and leave nothing but misery.
"Shadow. . ." I whispered.
"You rang?" a voice piped up, and Gwyll popped out of nowhere in front of me with a Cheshire grin on his face.
I slammed the book shut and shook my head. "I-it's nothing."
His eyes flickered between the book and my face. "That's a lot of red cheeks for nothing."
I bowed my head and bit my lower lip. "It's. . .it's just-"
"Tristan," he finished for me as he floated around me. "Even after all you've been through you're still a bad liar."
I frowned up at him. "I wasn't trying to lie. I just-"
"Then what?" he persisted.
I brushed my hand over the cover. "Do you. . .do you know anything about Tristan from a long time ago? When he was born?"
Gwyll scoffed. "A dierth isn't born, they just start existing."
"But something must have happened to make Tristan exist," I insisted. "Something that brought him to life, and maybe-" I balled my hands into fists atop the cover. "Maybe gave him some purpose."
Gwyll floated down and took a seat beside me. "Something happened at the city that you're not telling us? Something besides Tristan turning into his dark self."
I raised my eyes to him and searched his shadowy face. "Do you think that's what he is? Some shadowy creature that only does harm?"
"Do you think that's what he is?" Gwyll countered.
I looked away and shook my head. "No. I can't believe it. He's too kind."
"Maybe that's hiding the unkindness," Gwyll pointed out.
I grasped the top edges of the old book and frowned at the cover. "I know I don't know him as well as anyone else, but I just can't believe it."
"Good." I looked up and found Gwyll smiling at me.
"You think it's true, too?" I asked him.
He floated up and crossed his legs beneath him. "Let's just say I want to believe the same thing you do, and who knows." He shrugged. "A few of us believing it may be enough to-" He froze and whipped his head behind us.
"What is it?" I asked him as I followed his gaze.
My heart caught in my throat when I saw what was headed from the road toward the estate line. It was a huge monstrosity of a creature, like a minotaur but with the head of an eagle and a tail like a scorpion. The creature lumbered toward us, uprooting any tree or bush that barred its way.
"What in all the hells?" I heard Gwyll snap before he flew toward the border.
I untied my magicum from my hip and hurried after him.
The creature reached the fence that surrounded the property and smashed its giant fist downward onto the boards. The wood splintered like pretzel sticks and flew in all directions. I flung up my arms to block the bits of sharp wood, but a wall of shadows flew up in front of me. I looked in awe and relief at the wall as Tristan came up to my side. His eyes were ever on the monstrous beast that continued to pound the fence to sawdust.
"What is it?" I asked him.
"A chimera of a most horrible kind that lurks only in the deepest pits of the world," he told me.
Gwyll floated back in line with us and shook his head. "I haven't seen something this ugly since Chloe knit that sweater for you."
"What's it doing here?" I asked them.
Gwyll rolled up his nonexistent sleeves. "I don't know, but I say we send it back."
He clapped his hands and sharp vines sprang up from the ground beneath the beast. They wrapped around the monster's arms and legs, and pinned it in place. The creature screeched like a bird and thrashed in the hold of the vines. The plants snapped and the chimera stumbled forward before it fell onto the flower beds.
Tristan raised his ringed hand and stretched out his palm. The earth trembled and a crack formed beneath the creature. Dark tendrils reached out and grabbed the struggling creature. With one last screech it was dragged down into the abyss and the hole snapped shut.
Gwyll wrinkled his nose. "That was easy."
"Too easy for such a creature," Tristan added.
Gwyll folded his arms and grinned. "Maybe we're just that-" He froze again and his eyes widened. "There's someone in the house!" He whipped his head to Tristan. "In the library!"
Tristan spun around and hurried toward the house. Gwyll followed and I stumbled after them. They reached the doors before me and flung them open. The door to the library stood ajar and Chloe's crumpled form lay in the center of the hall.
"Chloe!" Gwyll shouted as he floated over to her side.
My eyes settled on a dark, furry shape closer to the library doors. "Alex!" I yelled as I hurried over to his still form. I set my hands on his body and started back when they came away covered in warm, sticky blood. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the side.
He lifted his head and nodded at the doors. "She's. . .she's in there. Hurry." He grimaced and dropped his head back to the floor.
"Don't worry, Alex, you'll be fine," I assured him.
The tension was broken by Tristan's firm steps as he strode over to the doors. He flung them open and revealed the large library. A figure stood in front of a window opposite the entrance. The last light of the setting sun shone on them and cast them in shadow, but the next moment the light vanished and revealed their true form.
My eyes widened as I beheld the woman I'd seen twice before. "You!"
She held an large, open tome on one hand and casually flipped the pages with the other. At my exclamation she looked up and smiled. "Good evening. My, this is an interesting book."
Tristan settled his gaze on the tome and his eyes widened before they narrowed at our intruder. "The chimera was a distraction."
The woman laughed and shut the tome. "A very poor distraction. I thought to be gone before you finished it off."
"Hand over the tome and explain yourself," Tristan demanded.
The woman put her finger to her lower lip and lifted her chin in thought. "Hand over the tome? Explain myself?" She dropped her hand and laughed. "I think not, Lord Dierth. I would much rather have fun with this-" She held up the tome.
Tristan threw out his ringed hand and a dozen shadow tendrils flew out at the woman. She raised her own hand and created a round shield of darkness that deflected the tendrils. As she lowered her shield she revealed a pair of soft, golden eyes that glowed in the dim light.
"That isn't very nice of you," she cooed as those terrible eyes fell on me. She drew her arm back and smiled. "I think I'll just test out one of these spells and see how well they work."
She threw her arm forward and something shot out from her hand. Tristan leapt in front of me, but the tiny object flew past him and struck me in the arm. I gasped and looked down. A small dart stuck out of my arm. The feathery end was covered in a strange dark mist. I grabbed the dart and yanked it out, but it left a large hole that was surrounded by a blotchy black spot of flesh.
She wiggled her fingers at us. "Have fun with that." A mist of shadows floated up from her feet and engulfed her body. The next moment the darkness lifted, and she was gone.
A sharp pain ran up my arm. I gasped and grabbed my limb as Tristan came up to me and knelt beside me. He studied the mark for a moment before he looked into my eyes.
"Is it bad?" I asked him.
"You have been marked for death."