Shadow's Curse Online - Alexa Egan

1

LONDON, MAY 1817

The man stood over his victim, knife flashing in the dim light of Silmith’s round yellow moon. The scent of blood and urine hung on the stale breeze, and the clink of a money pouch echoed in the quiet of the alley. David hung back in the shadows, awaiting his moment. The thief would have to pass by him to reach the street and disappear into the warren of dockside wharves and warehouses. When he did, David would pursue. It was a tactic he’d perfected over the course of the past year.

Not once had he allowed his prey to escape his particular brand of justice. Not once had he been caught or even seen except as a ghostly shape, an enormous dark shadow with glowing gray eyes. Some called him a demon or a monster—the newspapers who prospered from his exploits and those who worked the darkness for their own gains. But those who’d been saved by his intervention labeled him a guardian angel, a mysterious hero.

He was neither. Merely bored.

And angry.

Very, very angry.

If any member of the five clans of shape-shifting Imnada were to discover he spent the time between sundown and sunrise saving the lives of humans, they’d deem him mad. Not that he cared what they thought. He was emnil, dead to his clan. An outcast and an outlaw.

And while he was no longer condemned to pass his nights in his clan aspect of the wolf, having escaped the clutch of a curse that forced him and his friends to shift, these short, vicious hours had become a solace; these cluttered, squalid alleys and dark, twisted lanes his personal hunting ground. If he couldn’t spend his rage upon those who’d banished him to this tormented existence, he’d turn it on the villainous cutthroats and slimy pimps who prowled the stews in search of victims. Not that he cared overmuch about the men and women he assisted, but few questioned the deaths of thugs or mourned the loss of murderers. Only the Fey-bloods might realize the truth behind the monstrous beast prowling London’s stews, but that only added to the knife-edge thrill he craved like an addict—an existence he knew all too much about these days.

The clouds passed over the full moon, the breeze kicking up in starts to ruffle the fur along his back, the bristly ridge at his neck. He lifted his face to it, felt it curl over his muzzle, bringing with it the salty tar-laden stench of the Limehouse docks. Just then the victim moaned and stirred as he regained consciousness. His hand groped feebly for the knot at the back of his head. Shoving the money pouch in his coat pocket, the assailant lifted his knife with deadly intent. Theft soon to become murder.

Thought fell to instinct, and, with fangs bared in a vicious snarl, David sprang.

* * *

Callista rubbed a cloth over the last silver bell before returning it to its case alongside the other two. Closing the lid, she secured the lock with a roll of her thumb over the circular tumblers. But instead of tucking the mahogany box upon the high shelf beside her bed, she remained at her desk, the box in front of her. Her finger followed the familiar loops and swirls decorating the lid. Her mother’s box. Her grandmother’s. Her great-grandmother’s.

Necromancers, all.

The power to journey into the realm of the dead and speak to those who walked its paths had been gifted to the women of her house, stretching back beyond anyone’s memory. At least that’s what Mother had claimed. Callista couldn’t know for certain. She’d never met any of the women of her house except Mother to ask them.

Now she couldn’t even ask Mother.

Callista slid open the top desk drawer, removing a bundle of yellowed letters wrapped in a frayed ribbon. The wax was dried and crumbling, the writing smudged and faded. Mother had kept them all, every single missive she’d sent to her family that had been returned unopened. The prominent Armstrong family of Killedge Hall never forgot or forgave the shame of their daughter’s elopement.

Callista pulled free the top letter, reading the words, though she knew them by heart. A cheerful letter, despite the anguish and the dread prompting this last desperate attempt to reconcile. Mother had died a month later.

Mother’s letter had been returned a week after the funeral.

Every time Callista walked into death, the urge to summon her mother’s spirit almost overcame her. And yet, she held back. Refused to trace