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Venin assassin 03 blac.., p.2
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       venin assassin 03 - black shadow, p.2

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  Rider shrugged. “I guess I’m not ready to let Rave in just yet.”

  That’s interesting. “Let her in where, your home?” The mansion was massive and stately, but it was still just a house.

  Wearing a lopsided grin, he said, “Into my heart.”

  That made more sense.

  I sat straighter. “I see.”

  I couldn’t argue. I’d learned over the months of being Rider’s queen that he was skittish of anything having to do with intimacy. He’d had a rough life with Sterling, the former Night Queen, and was callously used for only two purposes: sex and fighting. That was the harsh reality for all four of my hounds, but Rider seemed to suffer from the repercussions of such a brutal existence much harder than the other three.

  “A lot of men… hell, even women, have problems letting their guard down.” I stood, walked over to him, and placed my hand on his leather-clad shoulder. “Take your time with her, and if she is deserving of you, she won’t go anywhere.”

  He tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear. “Yeah, you’re right.”

  I nodded once. “I know.”

  I leaned in and gave him a quick hug. His hand moved to my lower back, and he held me there making it a long one—his way of showing his appreciation and trust, a sentiment I would never take for granted.

  I gave his lower back a quick pat. “I have to get over to the library. Game night starts in ten and I still need to power up my proxy.”

  With his arms still around me, he leaned half his body back and raised a brow at that. “So we’ll be playing Malice & Magic tonight?”

  I shook my head, the precious stones I used to charge Rayne, my game piece, tinkling around my neck. “We will be playing Malice & Magic tonight. You have to get over to Strange Brew before Rave’s shift ends. And hurry, women don’t like to be kept waiting.”

  He released me and took a step back. “You’re seriously gonna let me skip game night?” He sounded like he didn’t quite believe me.

  I understood his shock; it was probably because the only command I’d ever issued to my hounds as their queen was you must attend game night every Thursday at seven sharp. And even that command was a loose one, only put into play because Edge was riding my ass to act more like their queen and less like a roommate. I figured a game night would be fun. And issuing the command for everyone to attend seemed to satisfy Edge’s alpha beast.

  I smiled convincingly at him. “I’m sure. Go have some fun with your new lady.”

  Chapter Two

  I didn’t let my anxiety show. Queens were supposed to be confident, imposing, and above all else, fearless.

  I steadied my hand as I commanded my proxy with a wave of my fingers to move three spaces across the marble game board situated in the middle of Blaze, Rue, Syn, Edge, and I. I could have easily taken a safer route, like through the Emerald Lagoon or the Elixir Falls, but the Cavern of Runes is where I could pick up some much-needed magic boosts for my game proxy: Rayne the Elven Warrior. So with a pounding heart, I decided to take a chance.

  My eyes never wavered from her movements as Rayne’s tiny body shivered with a flexing magic that kept her form thriving with artificial life. After a warrior’s yell that sent chills of adrenaline down my spine, she took three long leaps into the cave. Suddenly, the game board rumbled, and in response, the other players’ proxies came to life just long enough to steady themselves.

  I lifted my chin. “Will anyone oppose me?”

  Rue locked eyes with me. “I do.”

  I closed my eyes and gripped the stones around my neck. Rue did the same with hers. Then I said, “Prepare to fight!”

  Usually when the proxy-mind-meld hit, I was given a clear, real-life image of the game board as it would be if it actually existed, and as though I were experiencing it as my proxy. This time was no different. All of this was possible because of a little fact I’d learned not too long ago: I was the daughter of the Essence of Fairy, a creator of worlds. So it was with little effort and a concentrated dose of magic that I had created my own game, Malice & Magic. The gaming world didn’t thrive with natural life, but it sure felt like it during the times I became one with Rayne.

  The smell of sulfur and minerals filled the air, as real as the sweet and calming scent of vanilla and lavender candles burning in the room with my physical body. I opened Rayne’s—now my—eyes and had clear knowledge of where I was. An arrangement of intricate symbols glowed bright, a strong indicator that I was standing within the Cavern of Runes. In the whole cave, save for the runes on the wall, nothing seemed magical or extraordinary. It was just as I had envisioned it to be. The soft sound of rushing water was nearby, as was my sworn enemy, Rue’s proxy, Nix, a beautiful, extremely dangerous water nymph.

  I lifted one hand and placed my palm flat against a fire-rune, then covered the air-rune with the other. I chose these symbols because I knew that when fighting a water nymph, it was always best to attack using elemental magic. In other words, I’d fight water with fire.

  The wall blazed hot underneath my flesh. There was a split second where I almost pulled my hands away for the pain of it. But instead, I pressed against the searing stone even harder. When the transfer was finished, so was the pain. I turned my hands face-up. Dead center of both my palms, the runes glowed bright. Now, all I had to do was defeat Nix in the upcoming battle, and I’d be able to keep my newly acquired magic.

  After a running start, I leapt out of the cavern, landing just a few feet from the edge of Emerald Lagoon. Slowly, I dragged my eyes over the shimmering pool, my awareness on guard. I noticed a ripple crease the smooth green-blue surface. Anticipation of battle flushed my face, and I raised my head before taking several steps back. I gazed up, searching the sky, and watched as storm clouds formed. Lightning danced in the pillows of gray, and thunder broke through the heart of them like Cupid’s arrow. A grin curved my lips, a smile that felt more like a challenge than anything else.

  “Cut the shit, Nix. Your theatrics are pointless.”

  Thunder cracked so loud it was as though Nix had broken the world’s backbone in two with it. My brow rose. Admittedly, her show of power was a bit intimidating.

  Keep it together, Rayne. The battle will be over soon and you will rise as the victor! A pep talk couldn’t hurt in such a dire circumstance.

  “Show yourself,” I demanded.

  Cautiously, I watched as ballet slipper-pink hair emerged from the lagoon, followed by a set of large, oval shaped, gray eyes. Seconds later, her round face was in full view, along with her slim neck and bare breasts.

  Nix gave a small laugh, then asked, “Who, me?”

  I angled myself into a stance more befitting a fight and nodded.

  The water nymph surged upward, her long, pink, silver, and gray fin treading water. Her entire demeanor changed; the look inside her stormy eyes pivoted from me to the sky.

  A lightning bolt hurled through the air. I lunged to the side before it could hit me. The near miss fueled my adrenaline. I surged back to my feet, swung my arm, and let loose a stream of fire.

  Nix shot into the air, then dove down into the water. But not before the wild arc of fire magic singed the tip of her tail. It was a small hit, but a hit nonetheless. My own magic was bolstered from it, twenty hit points worth, in fact, and without wasting a second of the advantage I’d gained, I brought my other hand up, sending a typhoon of air plunging into the lagoon. The tether of magic under my control quivered. A moment later, it almost yanked my arm off. I smiled: I’d hooked a mighty big fish. Then, with all my strength, I jerked my arm back. With the motion, a wounded water nymph was sent sailing through the air, jetting in my direction.

  I stepped to the side.

  Thud!

  She landed hard at my feet.

  Flop-flop-flop.

  Her body jerked once, tail twice, and then her entire aquatic form went motionless.

  I glanced down at my opponent. “Any last words, tadpole?”

  She groaned.
r />   Nix’s mermaid tail shivered with glittering magic, and I watched as it changed into two humanoid legs.

  She looked up at me, the knowledge of her defeat a tangible thing in her eyes. “Well played, Rayne.”

  I nodded, knelt, and placed a hand on her stomach, syphoning her magic, until she ultimately turned back into a game piece.

  Seconds later, I opened my eyes, uncurled my fingers from the activation-stones dangling from my neck, and grinned at Rue. “That was fun.”

  Her eyes snapped open, pupils narrowed horizontally. “I can’t believe you took all of them.”

  Those terrifying eyes of hers only went serpent-like when she was perturbed. I’d drained her of all her magical boosts.

  Hell, I’d be pissed off, too, if I lost all my proxy’s juice. Not knowing what to say, I shrugged.

  “Come on, Cassis. Cut her some slack. At least give her the tail back.” Blaze slowly shook his head and took a swig of whiskey from a highball glass. When he was finished, a drop of liquid formed and slipped down the side of the glass to pool at the squared bottom. “What’s an Elven Warrior need with a mermaid’s tail anyways?”

  Syn sent beseeching glances my way, always the bleeding heart.

  I took a moment to inhale, filling my lungs with the scent of vanilla, lavender, and the sweet taste of victory. It was becoming the familiar fragrance of home, and I liked it.

  I gave Blaze an unapologetic look. “Nope, not gonna happen. I earned her boosts fair and square.” My gaze then swung to Rue. “Maybe next time you’ll think twice before battling Rayne. She’s one badass bitch,” I said proudly.

  Rue’s eyes flashed white, and she hissed her frustration at me. But other than folding her arms and pouting, the snake venin didn’t make another sound.

  “Seriously, Cassis,” Edge said on a chuckle, “one boost won’t make a difference to your arsenal.”

  Curling my lips, I showed the alpha hellhound my fangs. “Not a chance. She’ll earn them back next time she plays. Until then, she needs to learn how to lose gracefully.”

  Edge shrugged and pulled a cigarette from a pack lying next to his glass of whiskey. He tapped the brown butt against the cardboard before slipping it between his lips to light it. “I tried, Rue, but as you already know, there’s no rescuing anything from that stingy spider’s web.”

  I leaned forward, my fingers settling over the game board. “Ha, ha, ha… you slay me, Edge.”

  Edge pushed away from the table and stood. “Somebody needs to put you in your place every now and again.”

  I raised a brow at that. “And you believe you are that somebody?”

  “I’m as good a somebody as any.”

  The rest of my hounds fell silent. That is until I laughed.

  Man, it was nights like these that made being a hellhound, and the Night Queen, worth it. My gaze fell in awe to the game board I’d created out of thin air and a shit-load of imagination. Rayne was standing victorious over her felled victim with a muscled arm extended in the air with pride. The other game pieces stood in their respective spots, waiting for their handlers to roll the dice and see what mischief would ensue. I took a deep breath amongst the chatter in the room, reclined in my seat, and absently thought with a smirk, It would be awesome if I could somehow keep all the powers I’ve won from these yahoos over the last couple weeks.

  Sighing wistfully over something that could never be, I went to pull my fingers from the board’s smooth surface… but they were stuck.

  Suddenly, the board began to tremble. My hands shook, and strings of light poured from my palms, releasing magic into the board.

  “What the hell?” I muttered, trying again to pull my hands back but couldn’t. My fingers were well and truly stuck, frozen in place.

  “Huh? What are you muttering about over there?” Rue asked.

  Voice rising, I said, “Something really freakin’ weird is happening, guys.”

  The board continued to shiver, making all the pieces scatter; Rue’s proxy fell off the table entirely, landing on the floor. My eyes moved to Rayne as she began to glow a light blue.

  Something crazy was about to happen.

  I evened my breathing and watched apprehensively as Rayne’s body activated without the use of her signature stones. She began to walk the game board, stopping when she reached Blaze’s proxy, Valgar, the Soul Singer, a rare species of troll that could sing its victim into doing anything he wanted. Valgar’s form was taller and more muscled than Rayne’s. His long black hair hung motionless to his waist, the muscles beneath his light green plastic flesh useless against an animated proxy. Rayne lifted her fingers, the tips glowing with bright light.

  “Is she about to do what I think she is?” Blaze questioned, his brows screwed together with confusion. His hand shot out toward his proxy only to be sent reeling back by an invisible force. He shook the appendage as though he’d been stung. “Motherfucker!”

  As we all watched, Rayne’s fingers brushed across Valgar’s leather-strapped chest, and with the motion, the troll began to glow as bright as a Christmas ornament; then after a few seconds, he flickered until the light dimmed and he fell over.

  Holy crap… My jaw dropped. Rayne had just stolen Valgar’s boosts—Blaze’s boosts. And she wasn’t about to stop there. Continuing to move around the board, she systematically stole every single proxy’s boosts, and there wasn’t a damn thing anybody sitting at the table could do about it.

  When Rayne finally came to a stop, Edge smirked. “That was unexpected.”

  Putting my game face on, I shrugged. “There must be a glitch in the system.”

  “But didn’t you create the system?” Rue asked.

  Good question.

  “Yeah, but I didn’t invoke my stones.”

  Syn shrugged. “She couldn’t have gotten much from Fang. I had the least powers out of all of you high rollers.”

  Fang, Syn’s proxy, was a vampire/werewolf hybrid. And he was right. Fang only had two boosts in his arsenal: super speed and strength.

  I scanned the room. Everyone seemed amused, except Blaze, who was scowling; he was ramped up about his proxy’s powers being decimated. “I don’t know what to tell all of you, hiccups happen. Malice & Magic is my first world creation after all.”

  A sizzling pop and a flash of blue light cut me off.

  Edge bolted out of his chair and ran to my side. With ease and gentleness, he plucked me out of my seat. “What the hell is that?” he asked, setting me down several feet from the table next to him.

  I blinked rapidly. “I don’t know,” I answered, happy that my hands were no longer frozen to the board.

  The rest of the group stood and took several steps away from the table where the light was still glowing.

  Syn shook his head. “It’s turning into something.”

  The “it” Syn was referring to was a black blob of goo that looked as though it was shaping itself into an object.

  “Damn,” Rue said, crossing her arms, “never a dull moment at the Dark mansion.”

  Nothing that happened within my court stood out as nonsensical, probably because everything about this place was magical… all the way down to the different species in the room. I was curious, however, as to what kind of mystical mischief was afoot at the moment, and if it was friend or foe.

  Blaze was closest to the table, and after another few seconds, he leaned over the object and remarked, “Well, I’ll be damned, it’s a fucking gun.”

  “What?” I stammered, advancing toward the table. Edge’s hand shot forward to stop me; I sidestepped out of reach. “I’ve had about enough coddling for one night, thank you.”

  With a cold expression, he dropped his arm. “I’ve made you uncomfortable.”

  “No, I just need to save myself sometimes.”

  That seemed to confuse him. But he gave a little bow from the neck. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

  Across the room Rue asked, “Why a gun?”

  I crept closer to it.
“I don’t know…” The gun’s surface was what appeared to be polished obsidian. Curiously, it had the same mystical runes from the game board’s cave etched into its handle. Suddenly, the weapon vibrated, sending a melodic pulse to my ears. “But I think it’s calling to me.”

  The sound still rang in my ear when the runes began to glow, drawing my hand toward it. I followed its gentle nudge and picked it up. Edge lifted his brow in a way that suggested he didn’t like me touching the gun. Looking none too pleased themselves, Syn and Blaze moved from their places on the opposite side of the table, stopping to stand on either side of their alpha. Rue stayed put, eyes alight in wonder.

  Part of me wanted to toss the gun back on the table, but another part wanted to take aim and see what this puppy could do. And then, mystically, it told me what it was made of and its purpose through the melody it sent into my very core: I had created this weapon upon a single wish—more on a whim really, when I’d coveted Rayne’s powers. And I knew that with each shot, a boost created solely for the proxy’s use in the game, would now be at my disposal. I blinked past that sudden awareness, curled my fingers tight around the grip, and took in the weight and feel of the magically forged weapon in my hand.

  The runes turned warm against my skin, and at the same time, the hourglass marking at the back of my neck gave a small twinge, a jolt of pain that reminded me that I wasn’t only the Night Queen, I was a Black Widow descendent, and veninblood loved their weapons. I lifted the gun, aimed it at a spot on the far wall, thought about ice, and pulled the trigger. Before the bullet discharged, a band of runes circled the smoking muzzle. Then, on the wall before us, the casing exploded, leaving a web of ice to spread until it was several feet in diameter across the wall’s surface.

  I let my arm fall slowly to my side, my head full of amazement. “Damn.”

  “Holy shit,” Syn mumbled.

  “Put that thing down, Cassis,” Edge added, bending over my shoulder to get a better look at it.

  I ignored everyone while my thumb released the clip and it dropped into my hand. I laid the gun down on the table, extracted a bullet, and pinched it between my fingers to inspect it. The bullet looked normal enough—standard 9mm cartridge, gold with a copper tip. It felt cool to the touch and resonated with a magical charge that sank deep into my bones. Obviously, these were no ordinary bullets. I reloaded the bullet, picked up the gun, and slid the clip home.

 
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