Agirl of eighteen walked the midnight streets of Lafatri’s capital, AmaTho.  It was silent and lonely; noteven the animals or wind spoke.  She was nervous; it was the perfect time for prowlers, andgirls walking alone always made good targets.


Agun?  Who was blasting guns attwelve in the morning?

Bang!  Blam!  Blam!

Shewas beginning to get worried, but not about herself.  Who could these guns be aimed at?  She knew only one thing: she had to help.

Thegirl unslung her laser-bow from her shoulder and began to run.


Thegunshots were louder; she was getting closer.  She turned a corner, down the alley, another corner…she wasalmost there.  She could hear men’sshouts, soft, so as not to chance awakening the deep-sleeping city dwellers.


“Don’tlet him escape!”

“Shoothis head off!”

Herpace quickened to maximum speed; she was panting with the effort and sweat soakedher face.

Faster, she told herself.  Youmust go faster!

Sheturned another corner and found herself in an opening with a marble fountain inthe center.  Her breath caught atthe sight of the three men to her right. Two held pistols; one had a machine gun.  And they all looked angry.

“Youstupid girl!” hissed a deep male voice to her left.  She whipped her head toward him and appraised him.

Hewas much taller than she (but most were), and very well muscled.  He wore black shirt and pants, blackleather gloves, black leather boots, and a deep red cloak with a gold clasp atthe collar; the front only came to his elbows, while the back was full lengthand ragged and ripped along the hem. His hair was dark silver, in a ponytail to his waist, with two gravity-defyingstrands at the front.  He was veryhandsome, if only he’d wipe that angry scowl from his pretty face.

Hewas also armed, with a pistol in each hand.  There were two swords at his waist, so his holsters werebuckled around his upper thighs.

Move, fool!” he shouted at her. She came back to reality and hopped back out of the crossfire, but itwas too late: the other men had seen her.

“She’sseen us, kill her!” commanded the one with the machine gun, the leader.

“Eep!”she squealed, leaping a meter in the air as a man fired at her.

“Sheknows too much!  Blast her,fools!”  The leader again.

Sheheld her bow up and drew it back, aiming for the hollow at the base of theleader’s throat.  She fired thelaser-arrow straight, but it was miraculously shot from its path by a bullet.

“Damn,”she muttered, dodging another bullet.

Thena hand grabbed her waist and she was fifteen meters in the air.

“Eep!”she again squealed, whipping her head around to find the silver-haired man frombefore holding her in one hand, shooting the men straight in the jugular withthe other—blam-blam-blam!  The girl flung her arms around theman’s neck and closed her eyes tight.

“Youcan open your eyes,” his voice said a few moments later.  “We’re on solid ground again.”

Hereyes opened slowly and her feet touched the ground.  Looking around, she saw they were atop a very highbuilding.  She took a small stepback and slung her laser-bow over her shoulder again.

“Who…werethose men?  Why were they afteryou?” she asked softly, looking up at him.  His gaze was on the streets.

“Noone that I ever want to see again. I defied them.”  There was asad pause, during which tears pricked the girl’s eyes; she didn’t want him tobe sad, for some reason.

“What’syour name?” she asked him, touching his elbow gingerly, so as not to startlehim.



(Chapter One)

Ishot another laser-arrow at the inner elbow of the large demon.  I prepared for another drawback, but mybow bipped.

“Noarrows remaining,” it said robotly. I sighed and cursed.  Islung my bow over my shoulder and grasped the quartz-and-ebony moon pendantaround my neck (it changed with the moon phases and was able to enhance myMagick); my free hand outstretched toward the demon, I uttered a spell-phrase.

“Ik-nio ahtem, shik al miin ko nohi.” The words left my lips as if they were my birth language.  Which, in fact, was not far from thetruth.  I was born with the gift ofMagick, a rare thing, and the spell words were easier to learn than the locallanguage because of the gift.  Ihad certainly caused my mother plenty of stress as a child with those spells.

Thedemon’s hands flew to his face and he began to slap and punch himself and pokehis eyes harshly.  He screamed inpain at the controlling spell I’d used.

Thenthe screaming ceased and the demon fell over, dead.

Isnapped my head over to see Dante, his automatic still up.

“Dante!  What are you doing here?”  I walked up toward him.

Helooked at me, and I could see the set of his jaw as the only sign of hisanger—or any emotion at all. Oops.  “I told you not to gooff on your own, Kat.  What if Ihadn’t shown up?  You’d be deadnow.”  His voice was smooth andeven.

“Oh,but I had him!  Why’d youinterrupt?”

“You’rea fool.  He was about to overcomethat petty ‘spell’ and behead you.” Dante holstered his gun and started back toward the town.  Angry now, too, I walked quickly besidehim, for his footsteps were far bigger and quicker than mine.  I noticed again how he never seemed tomake a sound.

“Iam not incompetent, Dante!  That spell was not weak, even if it wasjust to distract him while I got out my Phurba!  Stop underestimating and belittling me, you stubborn brood!”

“Thatlittle demon-knife of yours will do little good.  You’re inexperienced, not incompetent.  You never think before you act,” he saidcalmly, but his jaw was still set.

“Well,maybe I could get some experience if you wouldn’t ruin all myopportunities!  I can’t learn bywatching you just shoot the guy’s throat out every time!”

“That’snot the point.”

“Isn’tit?”  My emerald eyes shot daggersat him.

“Youcould get hurt.  You’re too smalland easily broken.”  True.  I was only fifty and one hundredcentimeters.

“Pfft!”  I crossed my arms, knowing I had lost;Dante was a determined man who never gave up, and he always won.  Even when hedidn’t win, he won.  It must be aman thing, because my uncle was like that, too.

Myanger was cooling as we reached the tavern.  I put my hand on the latch and pushed on the heavy oak door.

“Happybirthday!” a chorus of the tavern/inn-workers yelled.  I heard Dante’s head hit the doorjamb in frustration andgiggled.

Ihugged his arm tightly and squealed, “You threw me a birthday party!  Oh, thank you, Dante!”  I jumped up—literally, I jumped—andplanted a kiss on his chin, the highest point I could reach.

Iskipped inside and sat down by the hearth, Dante not far behind me.  The innkeeper set a small cake in frontof me, causing me to give the man a kiss on the cheek excitedly.

Idug my fork into the cake and bit into it.  “Oh!  This is sogood!  It’s the best cake I thinkI’ve ever had—except for maybe my mother! Thank you so much, Demetri!” My voice drooped a little at the mention of my late mother, but Ishrugged it off.  I ate it quicklyand happily and, once finished (an inn record of four minutes), sat back tocatch my breath.

“Wow,”Dante said in his usual impassive voice. “How could anyone so small have that big a stomach?”

“It’sa gift,” I giggled.  “I can’tbelieve you threw me a birthday party, Dante!”

“Itwas supposed to be just a small cake; they went way overboard.  Here’s your gift, by the way.”

Itook the small trinket in my palm and looked it over.  He’d made me a beautiful necklace with a pentagram charm ofgold.

Iput it on beside my Magickal moon-phase charm and smiled.  “This is so sweet of you!  Yay!  I’m nineteen! I’m catching up to you; watch out!”

“Youcan’t catch up, stupid.”

“Yes,I can,” I pouted.

Herolled his eyes at me.  In thatlovely, deep, brooding voice of his, he said, “I never understood the point ofbirthdays.”

“Youget older, you celebrate it by cake and gifts.  Everybody—except creepy hermits like you—likes cake andbirthdays.”

“Birthdaysare insignificant.  Who cares howold you are?”

“Thankyou, Mister Cheerful!  Do you evenknow how old you are?”

“Yes.  I just don’t care.”

“Oo!  How old are you?”

“Itdoesn’t matter.”

“Itdoes to me.”  I jutted out my lowerlip, widened my eyes and began to tear up.  No man could resist a crying girl.

Insteadof giving in, he glared at me a moment before heading upstairs to his room.

Igawked.  No one had ever resistedthat face!

Iharrumphed and followed him up.

“We’releaving tomorrow,” he said casually as I entered.  He was sitting at the small desk, tinkering with his guns.

Isat silently on the bed and reloaded my bow.  This bow was a laser-bow, meaning it shot laser-arrowsinstead of physical arrows.  Butthat’s not to say it has infinite ammunition.  To reload, you had to nock a physical arrow, let it scan,then type in a number less than four and twenty (the most its virtual quivercould hold).  The laser-bow couldalso shoot physical arrows, but I left those two-dozen back-ups in my canvasduffel.

Withmy bow loaded, I began to go around the room, collecting stray items.  I looked under the bed, under Dante’smat (he always made me sleep on the bed and took the floor for himself), in thewashroom, in all the drawers and cabinets.  I packed everything up in the appropriate bags and sat onthe bed again.

“Itwill be getting cold soon, and we’re going north,” Dante said suddenly.  “Have you winter clothes, or do youneed to buy some?”

“Ihave some, but not any warm enough for northern Lafatri, let aloneSimoth.” 

Henodded and stood.  “We’ll go to themarket now, then, before the sun sets.” With that, we were leaving the inn in search for winter clothes.


Apparently,winter can get pretty brutal.

Dantehad insisted on buying me a heavy bear-fur cloak; thick, tall, fur-lined,suede-covered boots; several pairs of gloves and mittens; thick, long-sleevedshirts; long, thick skirts and pants; and fur hats.  He’d also bought several thick, woolen blankets.

IfI had known winters were so harsh, I doubt I would ever have followed Dante toSimoth.

Thereason we were going north?  Wewere after an evil, extremely powerful wizard named Cadell.  He had once been a close advisor to theking of Lafatri, our home country. But he had poisoned the kind king, trying to gain the throne forhimself, and had been exiled to the cold, monster- and demon-filled land ofSimoth.  We had heard of Cadell’splan to overtake the world with some Magickal item I’d never hear of, and Dantehad determined to defeat Cadell. He’d left me behind in the capital of Ama Tho, but I’d followedhim.  He’d ditched me at every townhe met, but I persisted and he finally gave up.

Cadelllived now in southern Simoth, in an abandoned fief called Il Ali.  That’s where we were headed.

“Okay,all this winter shopping has made me nervous and jumpy and tired.  I’m going to bed.”

Dantenodded and waited outside the room while I changed into my nightclothes.  I let him back in soon and lay downbetween the sheets; Dante lay on his woven mat.

Iwent through my twice-daily meditation before I lay down.  I fell into a restless sleep soonenough and dreamt.


Iwas surrounded by fog.  Through it,I saw Dante, bloody, breathing heavily. He had cuts and gun wounds all over his arms, chest and legs.  He also had a lot of ash wrappingaround from his back over his arms and shoulders, as if a gun had backfiredfrom behind him and sprayed him in the powder.

Abig rat scuttled toward him.  Hescooped it up in his hands and broke its neck.

“Dante?”  My voice was weak and it cracked withunshed tears.

“Don’t…goto Simoth…Kat.  Don’t go.  You’ll die and I won’t be able to saveyou.”

Ilooked over and saw my lifeless form just behind him.  I was bloody, too. “What about you!  You’rehalf dead!  I can’t leave you tothis fate!”

“Forgetabout me.  I don’t matter.  You haveto stay in town.  Don’t come toSimoth, Kat!”

“Idon’t care what happens to me!  Ihave to tend your wounds!”

“Stayin Lafatri!”


“Justdo as I say!”


Iwoke up screaming and sweating and clasping my moon talisman.  I looked at it: it was the time of theWaning Moon.  That explained theprophetic dream.  I saw thepentagram charm from the corner of my eye; it was glowing.

“Kat?”  Dante was suddenly sitting on the bedbeside me.  “What’s wrong?”

“N…Nothing.  Just a nightmare.”  I could see in his eyes that he didn’tbelieve me.

Hegrabbed my new talisman and looked at the glowing pentagram.  “Then what’s this about?  I endowed it to glow when you have aprophecy.”

Istruggled to regain my wrist, but he was too strong.  I sighed and gave in. “Fine.”  He asked me todescribe the dream, but I shook my head furiously.

“Howcan I help if you don’t tell me?”

Isuddenly saw a way out of this. “We were in a fog.  I sawyou catch and kill a rat.”

“Andwhat does that mean?”

“Thefog means we have a coming struggle. Catching the rat means we will be successful, and killing it means wewill right a wrong.”

“Ah.”  He knew it wasn’t the whole story.  Curse him, for being sointelligent!  “Would you like totell me the rest?”

Ishook my head again.  If he knewwhat he’d told me, he’d forcibly make me listen to his warning (well, that wasa confusing thought).

“Fine,”he said, holding his palms up in surrender.  “Suffer alone. But I’ll find out sooner or later.”  He knew how bad my prophecies could get, and he was alwaysgood at reassuring me.  He was myrock.

Butthis was one dream I had to face alone. And Dante knew it had something to do with him, something big.

Hepatted my head and returned to his mat. I sighed and fell back into the pillows.


Ididn’t sleep well the rest of that night. Images of my vision kept exploding into my head.  Dante, bloody and dying.  Me, dead in his arms.  Him, begging me to stay home.

Atlast, dawn came and I got out of the bed. I changed into my clothes in the washroom: a green miniskirt, whiteblouse, black shorts, black thigh-high boots, a blue ribbon around my collar,and the talismans I never removed. Afterwards, I went back into the main room to find Dante dressed, hissleeping roll and mat put away.

“Goodmorning,” I said in my usual cheery voice as I did the finishing touches onpacking.  With our bags in tow, wewent downstairs for a quick breakfast.

“I’llgo saddle the horses while you finish up,” Dante said, leaving for the streetwith all our baggage.  I shoveled alittle more porridge into my mouth and paid the hotel tab.

Soon,we were northbound on our motorbikes.

(Chapter Two)

Wetraveled for another moon cycle, and battled several more demons, before thewinter hit.  We were, as fate wouldhave it, in the middle of the woods, nowhere near a town, as far as we knew.

Danteset up camp while I gathered firewood; then I started a fire and dinner withthe few provisions we had left while he hunted for any small game he couldfind.  While he was gone and thefood was cooking, I went into the tent and put on some of my new winterclothes.  The fur boots replaced myleather ones; wool pants and shirt replaced my usual outfit.  I had managed to get semi-fashionableclothes, in blues and greens, of course; those hues looked good on me,especially with my blue hair and emerald eyes.

Iwas pulling my hair into a leather thong as Dante came back, holding two deadrabbits and a dead fox.  I forcedback tears at seeing those innocent animals killed—I’d been getting used tothis, but that didn’t mean I liked it—and sat beside the fire pit.

 “You got lucky; you weren’t gone verylong.”

Henodded as he skinned and cleaned the animals.  I had to look away.

“I’msorry for your aversion to meat, but there is little other way for us tosurvive.”

“Iknow.”  I still looked into the fire,waiting for dinner to be ready.

“Wantto tell me about your vision?” he asked after a moment.

“No.  I wish I’d never had that vision.  I want to do what we’re doing and letthe chips fall as they will.”

Henodded.  “You can tell a person’sfuture by reading the cracks a bone makes when it’s thrown into the fire,right?”

Ilooked at him—I knew what he was up to—but I nodded anyway.  Maybe my dream wasn’t really aprophecy, only an interpretation of my fears.  The bones would confirm the horrible truth.

Dantehanded me a few fresh rabbit bones and I tossed them into the fire.  After a few moments, the cracks werereadable.

Ichoked down a sob and looked away.

“Whatis it?” Dante asked.  How could heremain so calm?  He knew thegeneral nature of my vision and the bones’ confirmation, that much was obvious,and yet, he just sat there, wearing his usual impassive face.

Ishook my head and choked out the words through my tears.  “We can’t…go…to Simoth.  Please…let’s just stay here.  I couldn’t…bear it…if I let you go.”

Ifelt his hand on my shoulder.  “Wecan’t worry about ourselves right now. The world is at stake.  Wemust try, Kateline.”  Oh no, he’dused my full name; that meant there would be no argument.

Please,” I begged, but he shook his head.  I buried my head in his chest and cried for him.  I didn’t want him to die; I wouldn’t beable to bear it!

Isaw only one solution, now: train, so that he could protect himself instead ofme.


Ihad another dream that night, much like the previous.  Dante was begging me to stay in Lafatri.  I refused and countered with commentsabout his own impending doom.  Butneither of us would give in; we were too stubborn.

Iawoke late that morning and found Dante finishing up the breakfastcooking.  He handed me a bowl andwe ate in silence for a while.

“Howdid you sleep?” he asked suddenly.


“Soscreaming is normal for you, is it?”

“Yes,”I said through clenched teeth.

“Ofcourse.  …Last night was the DarkMoon, wasn’t it?”  The Dark Moon,and the two days on either side of it, made up the Waning Moon, a strong timefor prophecies.


“Ah.”  I hated the way he seemed to be a mindreader sometimes, like right now.

Wefinished our breakfast in silence, struck the campsite, and rode on towardSimoth again.

Aroundmidday, we saw a city on the horizon and sped up our bikes, eager for a lunchthat wasn’t dried.

Wearrived at a tavern on the southern outskirts of town.

“Whereare you headed?” asked the lady behind the desk.

“North,to see my grandfather,” I said with fake cheer; my heart was still heavy frommy visions.

“Oh!  No, don’t go north!  Someone is collecting up all the landnear Simoth.  I suspect this cityhasn’t got much time before we’re gathered up, too.  My son and I leave at the next Bright Moon.”

Danteignored her warning and handed me some bags to take upstairs.

“I’mgoing for a walk,” I told Dante as he dropped the rest of our luggage in theroom.

“Youshouldn’t be out alone, especially so close to Cadell’s territory.  You might get attacked.”

“I’llbring my bow.”  My tone wasdismissive and, for once, he let me go alone.

Iwalked toward the forest near the city, looking for a demon to fight.  I had to train and learn to battle onmy own, so that Dante wouldn’t have to protect me.

“Kisal-lammá!”I called into the forest.  It was asummoning spell for demons.

Withinten minutes, I heard the telltale sounds of a demon approaching, and a rogue atthat.

Rooar!  The beast lumberedtoward me, snapping trees in her path. I drew back my bow (inacting the automatic nocking process) and aimed atthe cornea.

Shnng!  The arrow flew from mybow and into the demoness’ eye. She screamed in pain and ripped it out, thus burning her hand on thelasers.  She charged me, talonsoutstretched, and swung her hand at me. I managed to avoid getting scratched in the face; her talons caught myarm instead.

Mycloak billowed around me as I landed far away from her and aimed my bowagain.  The arrow sped forward, butshe’d learned her lesson the first time and dodged it.  She charged me and I leapt backwards,pulling out my Phurba from its short scabbard on my thigh.  I looked at the three faces of sin onthe hilt, the twisting vines of retribution on the blade, and rushed the demonwench, knife outthrust.  I slashedacross her, shoulder to hip.  Sheignored it and slashed her claws at my head futilely.

Iran behind one of the few trees left standing and shot another arrow ather.  I’d gotten behind her, so thearrow pierced her straight in the lower back.  She arched her body in pain and fell face-first into thegrass.  Her arms thrashed, but herlegs were immobile.  I’d paralyzedher.

Iwalked closer and decapitated her with the Phurba.  I cut off her arms and legs and spread them far away fromeach other and the body.  Once thepieces were dispersed, I sat down and bandaged my arm beneath my shirt so thatDante wouldn’t see and restrict me from any independence I had left.

Istarted back toward the city and got to the inn just in time for supper.

“Howwas your walk?” Dante asked, with a glint in his eye that suggested he’d seeneverything.

“Itwas nice; very relaxing.”

“I’mglad.  You didn’t run into anyenemies, did you?  No demonesses?”

Istood quickly, causing my chair to flip back on the floor.  “I can’t believe you followed me!  I can take care of myself, Dante!”

“Inoticed.  It seems I haveunderestimated you, but that doesn’t mean I want you going off alone.  I won’t have you injuring yourselfunder my watch.  But I will let youfight more often.”

Isat back down, silently thanking him for the extended independence.  “You’re not responsible for me, youknow.  I’m nineteen—plenty oldenough to live on my own.”

“You’restill very young.”

“Notso young.  You can’t be mucholder.  I’d guess five and twenty,at most.”

Hislips twitched in an almost smile—the closest I’d ever seen him come tosmiling—which probably meant I was pretty close.  I let it slide, though, and took another bite of my dinner,signaling that I was done arguing.


Asanother moon cycled, we traveled northward, fighting off demons and freeingsmall towns.

Dantestopped his bike, suddenly, and stared forward into infinity.  “This is the border to Simoth,” he saidominously.  I gulped silently andwe revved our bikes forward again.

(Chapter Three)

Simothwas a cold country.

Ihad never been north until I began traveling with Dante.  I had grown up in the extreme south ofLafatri, then on a lake, then bartending in Ama Tho.  Then I’d met Dante, and here I was.

Iwas dressed up to the nines for winter: two pairs of pants, a skirt, twoshirts, my bear-fur cloak, a hat, the tall fur boots, and a pair of thick-linedgloves.

Therewere no more towns or settlements once we passed that first one in Simoth.  The people there had also begged us togo south again.  But we had to stopCadell’s takeover.

Ihad made significant improvement on my battle skills, with Dante’s backing offand help.  He had agreed to trainme, which I had begun to regret: he was a hard teacher who gave little slackand praises that were few and far between.

Thegood things were: I now had better aim; I was far quicker and quieter; myspells were stronger (apparently, because my body and mind were moreconditioned, it improved my spellcasting abilities); I could shoot a dozenarrows per minute.

AndDante could now watch his back instead of mine.

Wefinally came within sight of Castle Il Alri, causing my heart to speed up withanticipation.

“Thereit is,” Dante said, so quietly that I think he was speaking to himself.  Then to me, “I’ll case it out tonightand we’ll probably attack tomorrow night.”  I looked at my moon pendant and nodded my approval.  The moon tomorrow night would be theDark Moon, a good time for banishments and there would be less light for us tobe spotted in.

Wehid in deep within the evergreens and made camp.  We ate a cold dinner, then Dante prepared for hisreconnaissance mission.

“Becareful,” I warned as he began to leave the campsite.

“Youneedn’t worry; I’ve been trained in becoming part of the background.”  He left, then, and I stared after him,no less worried than before.

Aftera while, I grabbed my tarot cards from my bag.  If I’d tried to see his near future while I could still stophim, I wouldn’t let him go, I knew.

Ispoke a small prayer over the cards for Dante’s good fortune, shuffled, anddealt.

Iread the cards carefully and let out the relieved breath I hadn’t known I washolding.  Dante would be all righttonight; he would be unnoticed and safe.


Afterabout two hours, Dante returned. I’d been getting a little anxious and had trouble restraining myselffrom reading the cards again, in case I’d been wrong.

ButI hadn’t.  Dante was, as expected,in perfect health.  He sat besideme and I pressed him for information.

“He’sgot a lot of human troops, most of whom are stationed on the inside and nearhis quarters.  He’s got these hairydog-like beasts called Am-Heh on the outside, and there’s dozens of Balban—”demons of delusion.  Great.  “—which will make it a bit harder toget in.”

“Whatdo Balban look like?”

“It’shard to say, because they cast illusions on everything, includingthemselves.  But when I saw them atthe castle, they looked angelic.”


“Butbe careful; they’ll create illusions of horror or heaven for you.  You’ll have to trust in me completelyand believe me if I tell you something is not real.”

“Itrust you with my life.  But canyou trust me?”

Thatstartled him a moment, but he recovered and said “I trust you” in a voice thatmade my heart flutter.  I lookedaway so he wouldn’t see the blush on my cheeks.

“We’llplan tomorrow.  For now, just getsome sleep.”  I nodded and curledup inside my cloak.  After a littlewhile, I fell into a light sleep (it was hard to get any deep sleep when youhad no roof or fire to keep you warm).

Aroundone, I woke up suddenly.  I shooksome snow from my hair and looked around. A few feet away, blocking the way to the path, was Dante, asleep in hisscanty cloak, with the thinnest of our blankets covering him.  I was wondering why he didn’t have moreblankets when I noticed the extra weight on my legs.  I looked down to see the other three blankets coveringme.  A tear stung my eye at hiscompassion.  I brushed it away,stood and put one of the blankets on him—he looked so cold.  He had changed to heavier shirt andpants, but that made little difference this far north.  He was even shivering!

Oncethe blanket was arranged and Dante’s shivering stopped, I curled up beside himand spread one blanket over the both of us, leaving the third one formyself.  After all, my cloak washeavy, fur lined and far warmer than Dante’s.

Ifell back to sleep almost immediately, feeling warmer and safer than before.


Nextmorning, I woke up to see Dante completely engrossed in his charts and maps andpapers, planning our invasion.  Ihopped up, the blankets scattering around me, and saw Dante’s food sittinguntouched beside him.

Iput away two of the blankets and brought the other two with me to where hesat.  I wrapped the thicker onearound him, completely ignored, and the thinner one around myself.  I finished preparing breakfast for himand he plunged even deeper into his plotting.

Ihanded him a bowl and began eating in silence.  When he came back to reality somewhat to eat, I said:

“Thankyou…for the blankets last night.”

Hiseyes glanced at me, and I thought I saw fleeting embarrassment at theacknowledgement of his kindness. “You’re welcome….  Did yousleep well?”

Inodded and we fell into comfortable silence for the rest of our meal.

Iused snow to wash the bowls, put them away, and sat beside Dante again.

“So…what’sthe battleplan?”

“You’llbe staying here, and I’ll be taking down Cadell,” he said bluntly.

What?  No way, I’m comingwith you.”

“It’stoo dangerous.  You’re stayinghere.”

“Fine.  I’ll just go in recklessly and find youand yell, at the top of my lungs, ‘Dante! There you are!  I can’tbelieve you were going to try and kill Cadell on your own!’  I’m coming, whether you like it ornot.”

“Andif I tie you to a tree?”

Icrossed my arms and glared at him. “Dante.  I have to go.  I…I can’t letyou die.”  The last part waswhispered, and I didn’t mean for him to hear it, but he did, of course.

“Sothat’s what those visions and this sudden desperate desire to be stronger wereabout.”  His voice was soft, as thoughhe were soothing a frightened child.

Inodded my head once and looked away, staring at the snow, as if some solutionwould come from it.

“It’llbe all right.”  I suddenly felt hisstrong arms around me, pulling me to his hard muscled chest, comforting andprotecting me.

“Whydo you always treat me like a child?”

Hewas silent for a very long time, and I began to think he wouldn’t answer, but,at last, his voice came as a whisper in my ear.

“Ilove you too much to risk losing you.”

Myeyes widened and I pulled away a little to look at him, to see if he wasserious.  He was.

“Really?”  I wasn’t sure I had even made thesound, but he nodded, that flash of embarrassment coming back into his eyes.

Iflung my arms around his neck and kissed his cheek excitedly; his face wasforced into the crook of my neck. “Oh Dante!  I love youtoo!  I love you with all my heart!  That’s why the dream scared me somuch—I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you!  That’s why I had to get stronger, so you wouldn’t have toworry about me!”

Therewas a sudden warmth and tingle on my neck—he’d kissed me, I realized.  I blushed and began to pull back, buthis hands grabbed my waist and pulled me forward, forcing our lips together.

Hislips were soft and passionate, but oh so gentle.  It felt amazing to be there, in his arms, kissing him forthe first time.

Webroke away all too soon for that horrid thing called air, both of us nearlypanting.

Icleared my throat, suddenly, and backed away several feet, so as not to attackhim then and there.  “Ahm…weshould…we should probably get planning.”

“Right,”he said, nearly unaffected.  He wasso fluid—he could go from blank to emotion to blank again in five seconds!


Aftertwo hours of extensive and completely focused (Dante was focused; me, not somuch) planning and practicing, we finally took a break.

“Howin the seven hells did he get those Balban on his side?” I asked, reloading myvirtual quiver.

“Whoknows?  He probably set a spell onthem.  We’ll have to beparticularly careful with them, as they could have any number of reactions oncewe’ve finished Cadell.”

“Mm-hm….”  I was imagining it now: we finishedCadell off and the Balban began running in frenzied circles before killing us.

Ishuddered and said, “Should I cast the bones?  Or read the tarot cards?”  Dante nodded and I went to retrieve them.

“Butno fire,” he said.  We can’t riskdetection.”  I nodded and got outmy tarot cards, just like the night before.  I shuffled and dealt and looked them over.

“Tonightwill end how Nature wants it to,” I said softly, an ominous tone in my voice.

“Whichmeans?”  Dante seemed a littleaggravated by my vague answer.

“Ican’t really say.  All I know is,Fate is running this show.”  Ishook my head to clear the thoughts of impending doom.  I put my cards away and offered Dantesome lunch.

AsI was washing the bowls, I felt a pair of strong hands on my hips.  A tingle ran up my spine and my cheeksreddened.  His warm breath in myear whispered, “You’re cute when you’re doing housework.”  My face grew even redder, somehow.  His lips brushed along my jaw line.


Wecurled up together in the crook of a tree, reasonably protected from the snow,keeping each other warm.  My headwas nestled into his neck when I asked:



“Whathappened to you before we met?”

Hewas silent for a while, as if it brought back bad memories.  Then, “The night you found me, I wasescaping from…the government’s assassination company.”  I sat still, waiting for him tocontinue.  That certainly explaineda lot, though. 

“Igrew up near the northern coast. My father beat my mother and me when I was a child, and beat her half todeath when I was eleven.  I wastaking her to the healer when a man on a killing spree shot her.  That and my father’s heartlessnesspushed me over the limit, and I killed the man who spawned me.  I had to escape, then, and I lived onthe streets of Ama Tho, vowing for the death of that stranger, until I wasfourteen, when an assassin caught me picking pockets.  I was very good at it—no one ever saw me—so he brought me inand they made me one of them.  ButI couldn’t stand it, killing people—most of whom were wholly innocent—so Iescaped.  That’s when I metyou.”  He kissed the top of myhead.

“I’msorry,” I said, for lack of anything else.  “That must have been very hard on you.”

Ifelt him nod.  “So, what aboutyou?  Anything interesting?”

“Well…myfather died in battle before I was born. My mother and I lived in the mountains, until she died when I wasfifteen.  Then I lived with myuncle on the Sharaes-Ki Lake until I was seventeen, when I went out on myown.  I was coming home from my jobas bartender when I heared the men shooting at you.”

“Thatexplains why you were out so late. You shouldn’t have been walking alone; you could’ve gotten hurt—you werenearly killed.”

“Butyou were there to save me, like always.”

Hesighed.  “I will be saving youuntil the day I die, won’t I?”  Igiggled and poked him in the ribs.

(Chapter Four)

Alittle before dusk, we began to prepare for our invasion.  I made sure my virtual quiver was full;my physical quiver was full and hanging on my back; my Phurba strapped to mythigh; my meditation completed (a rather hard feat at this point, as Dante wastrying—and succeeding—at distracting me); my miniature spellbook strapped to mywaist; my hair tied back; and any loose clothing or necklaces removed or pinneddown.  Dante was ready with bothpistols on his thighs; his hair tied back, as always; his knives on his waist,beside his longsword; his poisons and strange weapons I’d never seen in a smallpack.

Ascliché as it sounds, we were ready to save the world.

Itook a big, steadying breath and asked, “When do we go in?”

“Alittle under an hour.  That’s whenthe watch changes.”  I nodded andgrabbed a piece of bread, nibbling at it nervously.

Dante’shand covered mine.  “Calmdown.  It will all be fine.”

Iswallowed hard and nodded, looking through the trees, trying to spot thecastle.

“Weshould start walking now.  Thecastle is a fair distance away.” He took my hand and led me through the now knee-deep snow.

Wereached the castle shortly before the change of watch.  Dante hid me behind some rubble whilehe killed the Am-Heh in the surrounding area.  I, of course, didn’t stay helpless and instead killed allthe Am-Heh I could see and get an arrow through.  When Dante returned for me, he found me drawing my bowagain.

“Kat!”he hissed.  I spun around andnearly shot his eye out.

“Don’tdo that!”  Our voices were barelyaudible, even to ourselves, but I still felt as though we could be heard byall.

“Comeon; the coast is clear.”  I creptbehind him into the door he’d liberated, and we were inside the castle whereCadell conducted his evils and plotted his world domination.

Wemoved silently along, killing anyone within eyesight.  Dante had one gun that was totally silent, and another thathad more power, but also made the telltale blam.  Needless, to say, he was using thesilenced one.

Wewere gaining on the main quarters when it happened.

“Hey!  Who are you!  What are you doing here!”  It was a guard. Crap.

Dantegrabbed my wrist and slung me over his back while he was running at an amazing speed.  He turned his head over his shoulder and shot the guy in hisopen mouth—wow, Dante’s aim and timing were scary—but it was too late; he’dbeen heard and more guards were running to see what the commotion was.

Danteslid me off his back and tried to force me into a closet to avoid detection,but I was adamant: “Dante, if you try and hide me again, I swear—”  But my threat was cut short by theguards finding us.  I aimed my bowand shot three men in the head.  Iheard the blam! blam! blam! of Dante’s gun;there was no point trying to be silent now.

Oneguy managed to get a shot in, but he didn’t have great aim; he nicked Dante’scloak, but had obviously been aiming for the heart.

Theaimless guard didn’t have the chance to fire again: there was a bullet throughhis skull before he’d even known the gun was raised.

“Comeon.”  Dante was pulling me along ata jog, trying to hurry and get to Cadell so we could get out of there.  He didn’t want to waste bullets,understandably.

But,no!  That would have been tooeasy!  Of course, all sorts ofguards showed up, trying to shoot our brains out!  I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Dantewas peeved by now, to say the least, and he fired with both pistols and killeda dozen men in a couple seconds.  Icouldn’t describe how glad I was that I was Dante’s ally.

Idrew back my bowstring and fired, slicing open a trachea.

Zing!  Zing!  Blam-blam-blam!

Therewere more guards coming by the second. “Dante,” I said, growing panicked, “what do we do?”

“Thisis getting extremely irksome,” he muttered to himself, reaching in his pack andpulling out a sphere with a pin in its top.

“Whatis—?” I started, but he interrupted with:

“Coveryour ears and close your eyes.”  Hepulled out the pin and tossed the sphere to the mob, then spun around andcovered my body with his, back to the mob.  I heard a dull BOOM! and aslight shaking in the ground. After a long moment, Dante stood and helped me up.

“Whatwas that?” I asked, incredulous.

“Abomb,” he said, checking me for injuries. “It’s like a gigantic gunshot or canon.  How’s your hearing?”


“Bombscan damage your sight and hearing, even if you aren’t in the blast orwreckage.”

Hecontinued looking me over, trying to nurse me unnecessarily, so I pushed himback and said, “Dante, I’m fine. You received more hits than me.” I spun him around to inspect his back, but gasped.  His back was blackened, just like he’dbeen in my vision.  The bomb hadcaused this change in appearance. Did this mean the rest of the vision would come true also?

“Kat?  What is it?”  I cleared my face and thoughts and said:

“Nothing.  I just…didn’t expect all this powder onyour cloak.  You’re all right?”

“Ofcourse.  Now, we’d best be headingon before more henchmen come.”  Inodded and began jogging behind him.

Aftera couple of turned corners, I saw something strange, and frightening: an almostidentical picture to that of my vision. There was Dante, bloody and hard-pressed for oxygen.  His clothes and skin were torn.  He was kneeling on the floor, lackingthe strength to stand.  His hairwas disheveled and unbound.

Igasped and choked on air and tears, fear and worry.  I ran and knelt beside him.  “Dante!  Dante,are you all right!  Whathappened?”  My voice was franticwith worry and cracked from fear.

“Backaway from him!” a musical voice warned from close behind me.  I whirled and found myself face-to-facewith what I assumed was a Balban. Or a god.

Itwas a gorgeous creature.  He hadthe face of an angel: hard and square, but very gentle.  His hair was honey-gold and wavy andfell in his crystalline eyes.  Hisskin was pale, but healthy, and he had the body of an athlete.  His smile was perfect and showed offhis snow-white teeth.

“Whyshould I?  You hurt him!  Dante is dying, because of you!”

“It’snot what you think.  He’s trickingyou, Kat.  Come here.”  His voice was soft and soothing, asthough I were a child throwing a tantrum. This made me even angrier.

“Youhurt him!  I’ll kill you!  I’ll kill you!”  I knew Dante was dying, and I couldn’tlet this beautiful demon win.

Iunsheathed my Phurba and crouched for attack.  The Balban held up his hands and said:

“Calmdown.  I’m not going to hurtyou.  I’m Dante, Kat.  This isn’t real.”

“Don’tlie to me!”  My voice was shrillwith anger.  I charged him andslashed my knife at his throat, but he dodged as if it were second nature.  His hands were down by his sides,relaxation hiding the tension I saw. I fought like never before, making attacks that would have killed anormal man very quickly.  But notthis man, this lovely demon, this murderer.  No, he dodged nearly all my attacks—I only cut him maybefour times, and not as deeply as I wanted—and he stayed far from me to avoidclose contact.  He didn’t fightback, though, just dodged.  Somepart of my brain found that strange—obviously the Balban would want to killus—but common sense was overshadowed by vengeance.

He’strying to tire you, warned Logic, but Vengeanceshot back:

Aslong as he’s dead, it doesn’t matter.

Butwe can’t kill him if we’re tired.

I’llprovide plentiful adrenaline for his death.

Logicsighed and went with a new tactic. Why is he just dodging?

Hedoesn’t want to be cut, maybe? Vengeance respondedsarcastically.

Buthe’s not attacking.

Allthe easier for us to slit his murdering throat.


Idecided to lock away both of them inside my brain and fought with pure instinctand rage.  I knew nothing but thedesire for his death, heard nothing but my blood pounding quickly in my ears,saw nothing but his eyes, felt nothing but—wait.  His eyes. Something was wrong with them. They looked…sad.  As if thewhole world had been lost to their owner.

Logicwas breaking through.  I slowed andappraised him, but didn’t cease attacking.  Was that a tear rolling down his cheek?

“Whyare you crying?” I shouted, partially worried, partially curious, mostlytaunting.

“OhKat…please stop this.  Stop attackingme, my love.”

“I’mnot your love!  I don’t even knowyou!”  Anger was back to shadowingLogic.

Suddenly,the Balban was beside me.  How hadhe gotten there so quickly?

Hegrabbed the hand with the Phurba and ripped it from my grasp, sheathing it and grabbingmy free hand quickly.  He pulled mywrists behind my back and held fast while I thrashed and bucked, tryingfruitlessly to escape.

“Releaseme, demon!” I shouted up at him, kicking around.  “Let me g—!”

Ididn’t get to finish my sentence, for he crushed his lips against mine.  I fought at first, but then mysubconscious recognized the feel of those lips and stopped the fight Anger andVengeance had started.  His griploosened some—not totally, in case I began thrashing again—but enough.

Dante.  This was Dante.

Myeyes popped open and I flew back in surprise and horror: I had tried to killDante.

Iflung my arms around his neck and tears slid silently down my cheeks.  “Oh Dante!  I’m so sorry! Can you ever forgive me?”

“Thereis nothing to forgive, my love.” He pushed me back a few inches and wiped away my tears.  “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must gokill the bastards that made you cry.” He turned to face the Balban, who were laughing at my manipulation,cursing the fact that Dante had broken through the illusion before I could killhim, and gagging because of our loving reunion.

Dante’sguns were out and pointed at two different Balban’s heads.  Blam-blam!  More bullets wentflying, and soon the Balban all were dead.

Wemoved on without incident until we made it to the central spire of thecastle.  I stood just outside theheavy oak door, staring up.  Thiswell may be the moment my prophecy proves true.  The thought hit me and I forced backtears at the memory of Dante in my dream.

“Don’tworry, Kat,” Dante reassured me, reading my expression.  We ran inside and up the winding spiralstairs.  We heard angry yelling atthe top of the stairs, soon enough.

“Howcould you let them get away!”  Thisvoice was furious.

“Theyshot down the soldiers, broke the illusion and killed my brethren.  They’re no minor thieves.  They’re after your life.”  The second voice was beautifullysmooth, but icy; a Balban’s voice.

“Getout of my sight!”

Asthe door opened for the exiting Balban, I shot him through the throat, so thathe couldn’t scream out and alert Cadell, or whoever was at the top of thestairs.

Hedied instantly and we raced to the door, hearts pounding.

(Chapter Five)

Weentered a large, grandiose study with tapestries on the walls and floor andpapers scattered across the desk. Behind the desk chair stood a portly man in a red tunic and blackpants.  His hair was inky black andfell in thick waves freely to his shoulders.  He looked fearful and picked up his bronze mirror, still nothaving seen or heard us.  In thereflection, I saw his bloodred eyes find us in the doorway and shift fromanxiety to anger.

“You!”  He whipped around and pointed a thickfinger at us—well, Dante.  Iimagine that I didn’t look much like a threat, being a woman, and a small one atthat.  Whereas Dante…he was stiffand tall, but not quite as tall as Cadell, with an angry fire in his pitiless,endless-void black eyes.  The twopistols on his thighs and the longsword at his hip showed him to be awarrior.  My bow showed I wasnothing more than a yeoman.

“Greetings,”said Dante amiably, but the fire hadn’t left his eyes.  “You are Cadell, yes?”


“Myname is Dante.  You killed mymother.  I’m here to avenge her.”

He’sthe stranger who killed your mother?” I askedincredulously.  He simply noddedand unsheathed his sword in one slow, menacing movement.  He crouched and nodded to Cadell.

“Willyou be drawing your sword, sir?” Dante asked politely, but there was infinitetaunting and menace behind the words.

Cadelllooked cross, but went to his desk and picked up his own sword.  The two men stood at the ready, eyesablaze; they bowed, walked forward and crossed swords.

Thenthe duel began.

Dantemade a quick thrust, then slashed at Cadell’s right barrel.  The first strike had been made.

“Youlittle whelp!”  Cadell said,realizing at last that Dante was a real threat.

Cadelltook a step back, then rushed Dante. I held my breath in anticipation. I had never seen a sword fight, nor had I seen Dante use a weapon otherthan his guns, and so I had no inkling to the possible outcome of this feud.

Dantestood completely still as Cadell came ever closer.  My heart was pounding —why wasn’t he moving?

Andthen, just as Cadell was about to slice off Dante’s head, the younger man wasseveral feet away.  He’d used hisuncanny ability to leap dozens of meters in a single bound to dodge the strikejust as Cadell’s balance was off.

Cadellwas confused a moment, lying on the floor, then he got up and charged, morecarefully this time.

Danteparried, now, and the true volley began.

Theclang of steel echoed throughout the room.  For thirty minutes, the men cut and slashed and parried,both receiving minor wounds.  Allthe while, I wanted to simply nock my bow and send an arrow through Cadell’s skull,but I knew this was not the time for efficiency.  This was a battle between men, for honour, to thedeath.  If Dante—no; I couldn’teven think the words.  If thingsdidn’t go as planned, I would kill Cadell quickly and do what I could for mylove.

Bothmen were, miraculously, still moving at an impossible speed, but Cadell lookedjust a fraction slower, slower than Dante and slower than when he’d begun.  Dante had speed and youth and frequentpracticing—I knew he was practicing, for he was sharpening his blade each mornwhen I awoke—but Cadell had years of experience.

Icould only pray for Dante’s success at this point.

“Grah!”  The sound of Cadell’s gruff voice brokemy reverie.  I looked over and sawthe man’s arm gushing blood through his tunic.  My heart lightened a fraction at Dante’s new advantage.

Anotherclang, sharper than the others, sent Cadell’sbroadsword skidding across the floor. I retrieved it, just in case Cadell could somehow get away.

Cadellwent down on his knees in front of Dante, knowing it was over.

“Forten years, Cadell, I’ve trained and tracked you.  Now, my mother’s soul will be appeased.”  And with that, Cadell’s head rolled tomy feet.  I jumped and held backvomit, dropping the broadsword.

“Mydebt is repaid,” Dante said softly, full of bitter emotion.  I went over to him and grasped hishand.  “Where to now?”

“Whereverthe wind blows.  I just hope it’sblowing south,” I joked.  Hechuckled and we left.

Werode our bikes into the coming dawn, the only sounds being that of our engines.

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Dante and Kat meet under strange circumstances and Kat follows Dante on his quest to kill a wannabe-dictator, who has a strange relation to Dante's mysterious past? Read and see what happens!
A Word from the Writer
I wrote this for a school project that was supposed to be 5 pages's almost forty...eheh ^^" I hope you enjoy this!