Shades of Dark

The Hidden Magic Chronicles Book 2

Snippet 2

By Justin Sloan and Michael Anderle


Alastar laid on his back and closed his eyes for a moment, reveling in the speckled evening sunlight that made its way through the leaves above to warm his nude body.

Just yesterday he had been a paladin, chaste and pure. He would never have thought about lying with a clanswoman; he had considered all members of the clans his enemy.

But tonight, Estair was lying beside him, breasts exposed to the evening air, and he felt like he was the luckiest man in the world.

She opened her eyes with a moan, then turned to her side. She propped her head on one hand, moving the other to caress his chest.

She giggled. “You have dirt on your cheek.”

“I’m sure I have it in worse places than that,” he said with amusement.

She hit him playfully. “Don’t be dirty.”

He laughed out loud. “That’s a tough one, out here.”

For a moment he just laid there, enjoying the way her fingers played across his skin. When she stopped, he noticed the distant look in her eyes. “What is it?”

“You mean aside from us being about to ride off to our potential deaths?”

He smiled. “Aye, aside from that.”

“Isn’t that enough to worry you?”

“No,” he replied. “Because I’ve seen what we’re capable of when we all work together. You kicked butt back there, and my sister’s magic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen; anything any of us have seen.”

“And to think you used to be one of the people who would chop off a person’s head for using magic.”

He frowned, pushing himself to a sitting position and rearranging his robes to cover himself. “That’s not fair. While I was a paladin, and still am, maybe… I don’t know. But I never once beheaded anyone.”

“So you weren’t a very good paladin. Is that what you’re saying?”

“You honestly believe that’s our sole mission in life? To kill magic users?”

She sat up too, but didn’t seem to feel the need to cover herself. He appreciated that, though it made him feel strange about his own modesty.

After a moment, she continued, “What I see is a group of men who believe they’re better than the rest of the world. They dole out their version of justice while putting magic users down. For that matter, why aren’t there any female paladins? Explain that, if you’re going to defend the order.”

He frowned. “It…it’s not perfect.”

“Yeah, no shite,” she said with a scoff.

“And that’s why we’re changing the world together,” he offered, placing a hand on her leg.

“Speaking of which…” She glanced at the horizon, orange with sunset. “One day of our rest is almost over.”

“Do you feel rested?” he asked.

“You have no idea.” She scooted over to lean into him, and he wrapped his arms around her. “For a man who claims never to have been with a woman, I’d have to say… Actually, I’d have to say you are lying.”

“Ha. Lying is also against the rules of the Order of Rodrick.”

“But if you were a liar, you’d be fine with lying about lying.”

“You have a point.”

She looked into his eyes. “Are you worried about what we’re riding into?”


“Is Rhona really your sister?”


She paused, then asked, “Am I the best lover you’ve ever had?”

“Trick question. You’re the only lover I’ve ever had.” He paused, noting the way her eyes narrowed, and then laughed as he added. “But definitely the best.”

“You pass. I can see you’re telling the truth.”

He kissed her, then froze as he heard someone clearing their throat. When he looked up, Rhona was standing ten feet away, hands over her eyes.

“Please, get dressed you two,” she said. “And brother, you’ve changed.”

“I’ve seen the light, and I like the warmth,” he replied as he stood up, faced away from her, and began to dress.

“It’s only natural,” Estair told her, standing but not bothering to reach for her clothes. “Don’t tell me you’re a prude like your brother here?”

“Don’t say anything,” Alastar warned. “I really don’t know if I want to hear the answer.”

Rhona removed her hands, then, seeing Estair, covered her eyes again. “Aye, well… Let’s just say I’m focused on the mission right now, and if this continues when we’re on the road, I’m going to kill somebody.”

Alastar shared a concerned glance with Estair as he realized he hadn’t really thought about that. They’d be filthy out there, for one. The idea of going days without bathing and then being naked with a woman didn’t sit right.

Apparently Estair was having similar thoughts. She looked away, and then started dressing without even making a joke on the subject. That’s how he knew she was concerned; usually she would make some crass comment, even when she was slightly uncomfortable. It seemed to be her way of dealing with touchy situations. But when she was to the point of not being able to joke about something?

He realized with a gulp that he wasn’t getting any for a bit. Good thing he’d made this time count. And the time just after waking up, and the two times early that morning that had put them to sleep.

Alastar knew he had been making up for lost time, but if he’d known he was making up for time he wasn’t going to get, he might have doubled up.

“Wow, I didn’t mean to cast a blanket of gloom on this party,” Rhona said, hands now at her sides since both Alastar and Estair were mostly dressed. “But that’s more like it.”

“You prefer it when I’m not smiling, sister?” Alastar asked.

“I prefer it when your mind is focused on killing bad guys and finding the Sword of Light,” she replied. “Can you honestly say the last few hours have been spent in rest and preparation?”

He thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. “If this is your long-winded way of saying we’re ready to ride, then let’s get to it. But the last thing I need—ever—is my little sister telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing about my needs.”

“And the last thing I ever want to discuss again is your needs, so…” She gestured toward the village. “Shall we?”

“This is going to be a hoot,” Estair remarked, walking past Rhona.

“It’s not supposed to be fun!” Rhona called after her. “We’re fighting to save lives!”

Estair paused and turned back to say, “I’ve been fighting to save lives most of my life. If you don’t find a way to make it fun, you die of depression. The sooner you learn that, the better.”

And that was one of many reasons Alastar liked her. He smiled as he watched her walk off, then saw his sister glaring at him with hands on her hips.

“I think I prefer the old prudish you,” she told him. “So, the paladin oath… All that is out the window now?”

He considered it. “I think it’s safe to say that the old way of being a paladin wasn’t working. It’s time I changed things up a bit.”

“Fine, just do it where I can’t see or hear.” She turned to walk back to the village as well.

He followed, weirdly wishing Donnon didn’t have to stay behind. He didn’t like the idea of his sister with someone any more than he imagined Rhona enjoyed finding him in the state she had. But if it would shut her up, he’d be happy to turn the other way and pretend nothing was happening.

For now, though, he decided both women were right. He needed to focus on the mission ahead, while trying to find any way possible to ensure he kept it fun. Luckily, Estair would likely do plenty of the work in that regard for him.

But whenever she couldn’t step up, he was committed to working on becoming a new man and a new kind of paladin. One who fought for the freedom and even the lives of those who couldn’t fight for themselves, and didn’t give a damn about the silly things the High Paladin had told him mattered.

All that mattered was the survival of the land and its people, as far as he was concerned.

He was trailing behind the two women, just passing the village gate, when he spotted Leila nearby. Her eyes were black, hands moving in a circle as a ball of water rose out of the river and swirled around her, then turned into a small fairy that danced along her arm.

It was a simple act, but one he found endearing. He walked over to her instead of continuing, careful to stand where she could see him.

“I was under the impression that they only showed themselves as spirits or other beings to children,” he said, when it was clear she had noticed his arrival.

Leila smiled and let the fairy dance away, plunging back into the water from whence she came.

“That’s right,” she replied.

“Then what was that?”

Her kind eyes returned to their normal deep blue, smile lines heavy around them. “A woman can remember her friends, even if they never truly existed.”

“Never truly…” He shook off the thought, then held out a hand, and as his eyes glowed gold, the light fairy appeared. She hovered before him, wings of moonlight-pure sparkling light fluttering, and then she flew around his head once before vanishing in a coruscating display that left light falling like sparks of a fire. “I don’t know. They act on their own, right? I mean, did you tell that spirit to make every move she did? Every flutter of her watery wings, was that you?”

“You’d like to believe that light fairy isn’t simply your imagination, I see.” Leila stood and tilted her head as if talking to a child. “My dear Alastar, it’s a matter of your subconscious.”

“My subconscious controls the spirit?”

“When you aren’t specifically focused on it, yes,” Leila replied.

“And you all are so sure…how?”

She frowned, then chuckled. “I suppose we just are. If you want to believe it’s a separate being, go right ahead. Some still do, even as adults. Others, such as myself, have come to see the light. But if you were to ask a mystic to look into your head and find an answer, I can assure you, it wouldn’t be the one you seem to want.”

“Thank you. For that, and for your hospitality.”

“You’ll be back with the horses,” she replied, then pointed at his chest as she added, “I will have my horses returned to me, whether you all survive this or not.”

“We’ll succeed in our quest, and you’ll have your horses,” he replied, then nodded his farewell and left to find the others. As soon as he turned, he came face-to-face with one of the horses, currently ridden by the water mage Gordon.

“This is how it’s going to be?” Gordon asked. “The rest of us waiting on you?”

“I’m trying to better grasp my magic.”

“Better try grasping a leadership position on this mission of ours. You’re the only one who has a chance of finding this magic sword, so what do you say we get moving?”

Leila tried not to smile, but Alastar noticed.

“Do I need to remind everyone that I was instrumental in taking down the sorcerers?” Alastar asked. “Why do I feel like I’m being chastised for enjoying my one day between battles?”

“Maybe it’s about who you enjoyed it with,” Leila remarked wisely, but when he asked her what she meant by that, she smiled, nodded to Gordon, and walked off. “Do be safe,” she called over her shoulder, before ducking into a doorway of a friend’s house.

Alastar sighed and turned to Gordon. “Do I want to ask what that was about?”

“No,” Gordon replied, and then pulled his horse around. “Get saddled up.”

“If I didn’t know how to heal myself, I’d say there was no way I could even walk after riding yesterday.”

“Too bad your ability to heal doesn’t make you a better rider.”

“I’d like to heal your lips together.” Alastar, not meaning it to come out so harsh, instantly regretted saying it.

Gordon looked at him with surprise, then nudged the horse on. Alastar kicked at a mound of dirt, then followed him. On this journey to save the land, he was going to be accompanied by a guy he was on rocky footing with, a sister who didn’t seem particularly happy with him, and a lover he was not supposed to be loving while they were out.

They were riding out to meet remnant and sorcerers in battle, but that didn’t seem to be the worrisome part here. At least he knew how to kill those.

At the stables, he found Rhona and Estair atop their horses. Kia and Donnon were there to wish them luck.

“Remember, anyone gives you trouble, you send them to me to deal with,” Kia ordered. She was still young, but Alastar felt sorry for anyone who crossed her.

“Will do.” He smiled at her and gave Donnon a hearty handshake. “And you, big guy. Be sure to stay close to your daughter. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

“Aye, she’d be the one to protect me, not any of you lot,” he agreed with a chuckle. He adjusted his kilt, then stood with his thumbs tucked into its waist. “And you watch your sister. She comes back with a single scratch, I’m holding you responsible.”

“You and me both,” Alastar confirmed.

He mounted his horse with the man’s help. Just moving around in his armor was tough, and it was nearly impossible to mount a horse by himself.

“The four horsemen,” Donnon pronounced with a chuckle. Alastar only got the reference because of old stained glass they had found in some churches, though he was curious what Donnon knew about them.

“Well, two,” Kia corrected. “Two horsemen, and two horsewomen.”

Rhona smiled and said, “How odd that you hadn’t noticed,” to Donnon, who blushed and made some comment about him having plenty of time to notice such things when she returned. Alastar did his best to block that part out.

“Gross, Dad!” Kia groaned, then waved at Alastar as he rode off.

“Yeah, gross,” Alastar agreed with a chuckle, then looked back at his companions. “You coming or what?”

Gordon couldn’t help but smile in spite of the annoyed look in his eyes, and Estair laughed.

“You just focus on staying on your horse,” she cautioned. “We’ll focus on keeping you alive long enough to find this sword.”

“Deal.” He spurred the horse on, already hating the shooting pain each bump sent through his legs.

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