Hearts of black the shad.., p.1
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       Hearts of Black: The Shadow Woman, p.1

           Jeremy Jexter
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Hearts of Black: The Shadow Woman
f Black

  The Shadow Woman


  Jeremy Jexter

  Contact the author: jeremyjexter@gmail.com

  Heart of Ice

  Her kiss was surreal. It had been a long time since he experienced it last—it was electrifying and warm to the touch. He felt her arms coiling around his neck, pulling him in closer—the ecstasy of the embrace flooding his awareness like a wave. He found himself caught up in a whirlwind of emotions—surprise, wonderment and then…

  He leaped back as fast as he could, shaking his head and looking at his hands as though they were foreign to him.

  She clucked her tongue and advanced upon him. “What is the matter, Dante?” she asked, appraising him with large, hazel eyes. She smirked and stepped closer, reinitiating the embrace.

  “Can a mage knight captain such as yourself not handle a kiss?”

  “This is wrong and you know it,” Dante replied in a hoarse whisper, having no choice but to inhale the sweet fragrance of her perfume as their closeness commanded.

  “I just provided you with so much information, why not take a break?” she asked, inching towards him. “If it were wrong, you would have done something about it months ago.” She leaned in close for another kiss.

  “Everything has changed now,” Dante replied, shifting his head to the side, effectively avoiding her lips. He gazed out of the window of her bedroom. The expanse of forest beyond was accentuated by the moonlight which cascaded upon the canopies like an omnipresent goddess. Even more majestic were the Eastern Black Rose Fields—one of four groups of pastures filled with black roses, which only grew in certain areas of the Town of Tarien in the human Kingdom of Nyaria. The entirety of the eastern fields could be discerned beyond the forest’s peripheries. A grand sight to behold.

  “I only came on account of the letter you sent about the Shadow Woman, Amelia,” Dante said, watching the moonlight illuminate the sleeve of the long, red cloak he wore. “You need to tell me everything you know—” His words were silenced as Amelia placed a palm under his chin and turned his head to her, stealing a kiss. “Umph!” Dante pulled her arms from around his neck and locked them to the sides of her long, dark dress. He stared at her sternly. “Amel—Viscountess… I am here on official business at the behest of His Majesty.”

  “Viscountess? Oh come now, why so formal? Do not act as though we are strangers,” she said, grinning broadly. “No one is watching after all, we can be as open as we like… just as before.”

  “My conscience is watching,” Dante replied, maintaining his strong grip on her arms. “I have a job to do and I intend to see it through.”

  She knocked away his hands with ease, as though they were mere, weightless curtains in her way. “If you are going to be so serious why not just kill me? It is part of your job too after all, is it not?” she glanced at the sword semi-clandestinely hidden by his cloak and strapped to his side.

  “I have many jobs, none of which are easy.” He looked around the dark room, seemingly absent-mindedly. His attention however, was far from absent as she took two steps back and unbuttoned the top of her dress—just enough to expose the top of her bare chest.

  He watched the rise and fall of her half-covered breasts. She brushed her long, dark hair from one shoulder, letting it fall gracefully behind her back—parting the unbuttoned space wider with her small hands.

  “Well then,” she said softly, “impale me.”

  Dante stared at the exposed area of her chest for some time, his breathing deepening involuntarily. “Do you know what you’re saying?”

  “I do,” she replied, taking a step forward. Her gaze fell to the sword lingering at his waist. “Impale me. With that. I would allow it, if that’s what you wanted.”

  Dante removed his gaze from her chest and took a deep breath in. He looked at a portrait of her set upon the wall, over—in his opinion—her much too large bed. Even depicted in paint, he found himself captivated, though he felt no canvas could do her beauty proper justice. These thoughts he kept to himself.

  Dante shook his head and looked to the window, as a solitary howl of a wolf resounded somewhere beyond the forest’s boundaries. He wondered if it were a werewolf on the prowl, which would not have been surprising given their regular appearances since the war came to a stalemate. On the window’s ledge were rows of potted, black roses. He eyed them unblinkingly before replying, “If I wanted to ki—If I wanted to harm you, I would have done so when I found out what I did.”

  Amelia chortled and placed a soft palm on his cheek. “Like you could even do so without me allowing it. I am far more than you could handle with your magic,” she said playfully, before walking over to the window. She buttoned the top of her dress and he could see her playful smile fade within the window’s reflection. “I was surprised last month when you came here alone,” she said. “After what you found out about me, I thought you would have brought every mage knight along to arrest me.”

  “Well, I did not,” Dante said bluntly, “though I must say I was surprised last year to learn of your...”—he paused and looked her up and down—“origins.” At his words, she immediately locked eyes with him from through the reflection in the window pane, staring unblinkingly for several moments.


  “So, that is why you had not visited me for an entire year, ignored my previous letters and now, refuse to kiss me,” she said knowingly.

  “As I said, everything has changed now. Not least of which is the fact that you are now married,” he replied. “Married to that unscrupulous man no less.”

  “What other choice did I have? He offered me protection when others would not,” she said, locking eyes with him once more. “He’s not as unscrupulous as some might think then, is he?”

  Silence fell yet again.

  “I… if I knew… if I knew that you were a—”

  “Fret not, there was nothing you could do to ensure my safety in this world,” she noted, before the window closed seemingly of its own accord. She turned around and smiled. “You never told me how you did find out, however.”

  “I found out from someone who is privy to such things. A close friend.”

  “You mean Naro Verillian, no doubt.”

  Dante said nothing.

  “I met him several times before, while attending royal banquets. It’s not surprising he would have found out my secret, seeing as how he is no different than I am”—she shrugged—“how lucky for him to not have to mask his identity, it must be refreshing.”

  “He proved himself trustworthy, amongst us humans.”

  “He betrayed his own kind, what makes you think he would not betray you as well?”

  “If he were to betray us he would have done so long ago, given the important position he had.”

  “Well, hopefully my letter proved to you that I am trustworthy, Captain Legothe.” Her tone masked no degree of seriousness. She walked over to a table in the corner of the room and pouring herself a glass of liquor.

  “What you wrote was similar to that of the townsfolk. All the reports I heard from them of a woman, the ‘Shadow Woman’ they call her”—he walked towards her steadily—“who would appear in the dead of night, wearing a dark dress… then suddenly, someone would have been found to have committed suicide. A single black rose lying next to their body. I pieced it all together. Those people were all connected in one way or another to families who lived long ago. Families who were responsible for the deaths of… your ilk.”

  “You are quite the detective,” she said with an approving nod, sipping the liquor slowly. “No wonder you were knighted at such a young age and now made the official mage knight captain.”

  “I make i
t a point to cover all my assignments thoroughly,” he said, now standing in front of her once again. “Those innocent people who were murdered—”

  “Murdered? Did they not commit suicide? The poor souls.” The sarcasm floated on her words like an anchored vessel at sea. She took another sip.

  Dante paused and frowned, looking at the windowsill where the black roses seemed to absorb the moonlight beaming upon them from through the window. “I know better. I sensed a certain type of magic at work when I examined the corpses. Magic used to control and hypnotize.”

  “Is that so?” she asked, pouring the liquor into another glass and extending it to him.

  He refused.

  “I saw you perform such magic last month to make your servant, Zinnia, feel better about her father’s death at the hands of the Shadow Woman. Also, before, when we kissed… I felt it too, a hypnotic, bewitching force—”

  “I did not try to hypnotize you with magic, Dante,” she said with a chuckle. His skeptical look was enough for her to continue. “What can I say? when I get excited it becomes difficult to control my magic, or myself.” She put the glass to her full lips, observing him from over its brim—he found her gaze bewitching, otherworldly and hard to divert from. Everything about her was hypnotic—it had always been that way.

  “Could that lack of control also lead to wayward emotions? Pent up feelings you might have towards… certain people?”

  “Ah, I see what this is all about. You want to know if I
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