Illusion Of Night
Click on image to enlarge.
by C.J. Black
Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Romance
Description: A spectral war has torn the veils that separate life and death into pieces. Beings of the darkness slip through these rifts as armies of man wage a losing battle against the corporeal invaders. Dane Tanderes was once a mortal man condemned to an unjust death, cursed to live as a fiend until such time as the gods decree him worthy of forgiveness. Now that he has escaped back to the world of the living he is determined to never again live in darkness. Dane is instrumental in the war against those he once called brethren, fighting to give his people a chance return to the light. Vanlyn Sarn is the second son of a cruel lord. He lives a life of one of misery and degradation, despised by his brother and father for reasons known only to them. He is tasked by his father to journey deep into enemy territory and escort troops to aid in the fighting. However, Vanlyn knows the true nature of this mission. He is not expected to return. When Dane takes Vanlyn prisoner, he plans to use the young prince as a pawn to seduce Vanlyn into betraying his kingdom and his people. But passion ignites red hot and Dane is torn between his burgeoning feelings for the young prince and doing what his honor demands. Which decision will lead him to what he desires most?
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [587 KB]
Reading time: 377-529 min.
Vanlyn Sarn, prince of Toryn, reached out with his power and touched upon the horse as it galloped toward the manor. Despite the distance, Vanlyn sensed the fear surrounding the fleeing beast. It caused a taste of hot metal to fill his mouth. The horse was terrified beyond reasoning.
"I need to act. I can't just stand here." He could only bridge the vast expanse separating him from the beast and silently urge it to quicken its stride. However, he could do little from his position on the balcony. Vanlyn watched as the rider thundered toward the main gates of the manor in a desperate attempt to escape the group of winged beasts that pursued him.
Fiends--oh gods, if he's caught, he's dead. How could the man be so foolish as to ride alone? Fiends were a blending of man and other worldly being that killed without thought or reason. Vanlyn ached to command some other conjurers' art. An elemental could call down lightning or bring a wall of flame to life. Better yet, a necromancer could banish the fiends to their dark world beyond the veils. But Vanlyn had neither power, and he hated the feeling of helplessness.
He turned his attention back to the rider. Vanlyn reached out again, this time touching the man himself. His brow furrowed at the impression he received. Normally, Vanlyn would have experienced a mild sense of the feral inherent in all humanity. However, this man exuded an aura that was predatory in nature.
"Gods, who are you?" Vanlyn muttered. He turned and slipped inside the manor. His steps were hurried, but he avoided breaking into a run. How unseemly for a prince, even a second son, to be doing such, Vanlyn silently mused.
Servants filled the halls as they went about their duties, their drab homespun in contrast to the colorful garb of members of various noble entourages as they strolled about. They appeared unaware that their country was at war.
Vanlyn made his way down to the first level of the manor but wisely avoided the main entrance, instead choosing a side door used by the servants. Vanlyn was relieved to find the rider had made it to safety. His father's soldiers struggled to close the massive iron gates. As he watched, Vanlyn's fear lay bitter on his tongue. Would the fiends be bold enough to attack the manor?
Apparently not, for the fiends were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, Vanlyn surmised, that the archers lining the wall proved to be enough of a deterrent. The lead archer was signaling for the other bowmen to lower their weapons, and Vanlyn released a sigh of relief.
Vanlyn turned his attention back to the rider and observed for a moment as he dismounted and was given scant time to gather his belongings before being hastily escorted into the manor. Vanlyn retraced his steps, and this time went straight for the entrance hall.
The elderly steward to the Sarn household was speaking to him. Forgoing any formal greeting, the man said, "I need to see the High Lord right away." He removed his cloak and draped it over his arm in one fluid motion.
Even from his position at the far end of the hall, Vanlyn could still see the aura surrounding the rider in swirling eddies. He was a conjurer that was certain, although Vanlyn couldn't tell what practice.
Something awful must have happened, Vanlyn thought. Why else would the man immediately ask for Vanlyn's father? Aelden Sarn had led the armies of the king since the threat had first appeared in Toryn. It had fallen to the High Lord and their nearest neighbors to keep the enemy from Great Ordwyn and the seat of power.
"Prince Argent has ordered you be brought to him immediately." The steward bowed slightly.
"I've no interest in--" The man turned, and he caught sight of Vanlyn. Vanlyn drew in a sharp breath and took an involuntary step back, caught in that gaze.
Dark eyes rested on him in mild assessment, then increasing interest. A ghost of a smile played across the man's lips, and Vanlyn suddenly felt exposed, vulnerable as though the man had stripped him bare.
Now others noticed Vanlyn's presence. Despite the sudden urge to run back the way he had come, Vanlyn forced his feet to move forward. The man's eyes never left Vanlyn's as he approached. When he was within arm's reach, Vanlyn caught the scent of leather and horseflesh. "Sir, welcome to House Sarn. I am Vanlyn, second prince of Toryn and son to High Lord Aelden Sarn."
"I know who you are, Highness." The smile never left his lips. "I am Minister Dane Tanderes of the Isle of Penryn."
Not High Lord Tanderes. The seven lords and ladies who led the other provinces were already gathered at the manor, and they all used the traditional titles. Vanlyn was curious as to why Tanderes didn't bear the title that was his right. He'd heard rumors about some unpleasantness with another branch of the Tanderes family who claimed the title should be theirs. Yet, Dane Tanderes was still Penryn's leader.
"Sir, what has happened?" Vanlyn said. "You were expected several days ago--"
Tanderes' jaw stiffened. "I need to speak with your father immediately. I bear grave news. My island has been decimated by the fiends."
"Oh gods," Vanlyn said. "Yes, of course, I'll--"
"What is this?" A man approached surrounded by retainers and bodyguards, and drew the attention of the group. Vanlyn's older brother, Argent, possessed an almost feminine beauty. He remained in the midst of his entourage, keeping his distance from Tanderes. His fine-boned nose wrinkled in disgust. "Minister Tanderes? Gods man, you're a mess. Is this the way you present yourself in my house?"
"As I was saying to your royal brother," Tanderes' brow knit and his eyes narrowed, "Penryn was attacked by the fiends, and I was ambushed as I journeyed here. I barely made it with my life."
Argent's lips thinned tightly. "Matters of the provinces are to be discussed with myself or my father, not with Vanlyn." His brother leveled a warning look on him; as always, Vanlyn shrank back from it. He hated the effect his brother's ire had on him, reducing him to a child again. Argent barely tolerated his presence. It had been easier to bear when his mother and sister were alive.
"The War Council will begin soon," Argent went on. "You may speak with my father then. I hope you'll take what time you have to make yourself presentable."
"Of course." Tanderes forced out the words. Argent's cruelty and lack of concern for the minister's plight came as no surprise to Vanlyn. Without further comment, his brother turned and strode away, his followers practically stepping on his heels. Minister Tanderes' eyes tracked Argent with open hate in their depths. If Argent hadn't turned, he would have seen how dangerously close he was to injury. It was a few tense moments before Tanderes started in Argent's wake.
Vanlyn thought himself forgotten until Tanderes glanced at him briefly in passing. A sensation brushed across Vanlyn's skin like an unseen caress. The feeling departed with Tanderes.
"Who are you?" Vanlyn asked after him.
Vanlyn stood at stiff formality within the council chambers. As the second son, he wasn't permitted to speak during a war council unless Argent was incapacitated, and in the decade Vanlyn attended the councils, that had never occurred. The only reason he was present was part tradition, part necessity for he was to receive his task.
Vanlyn was well aware of his duties. Earlier that morning, Argent had taken great pleasure in informing him of such. The announcement during Council was merely for the benefit of the other lords and ladies present. Vanlyn was to lead his own regiment in battle. He was to fight--and perhaps to die--for Ordwyn. It would surprise him, considering the ill treatment he endured, that Argent and his father hoped for the latter.
Vanlyn tried in vain not to dwell on the horrors that awaited him--the blood he would spill, the lives he would take or seen ripped away. Fiends never took hostages. Despite his fear, Vanlyn knew he would not shirk his duties. His mother taught him those who observed were the most capable and intelligent, and Vanlyn determined to use those traits to his advantage.
"Vanlyn," his father's voice broke into his musings. "Come here." He beckoned to him, absently waving his hand. The gesture irritated Vanlyn to no end. He detested being treated like one of his father's hounds. But showing his annoyance would earn him a stern reprimand.
As Vanlyn approached the table, he examined the map of Toryn. Tiny carved figurines placed there represented the positions of their regiments and the others. It was a struggle not to allow his eyes to fall on the one man whose very presence commanded Vanlyn's attention.
Minister Tanderes had spoken very little as the meeting progressed. Vanlyn learned Tanderes' discussion with his father was brief and moments before the council convened. Vanlyn spent a great deal of time trying not to meet that dark gaze, although he was eerily aware of Tanderes' attention on him.
"It is time for you to prove your worth." Lord Sarn didn't look at his younger son but kept his eyes on the map. "You have examined the latest intelligence reports, I gather?"
"Then you are aware of the armies attempting to break our gauntlet at Ciarri?"
Aelden gave him a warning look. His father insisted on Vanlyn addressing him with the proper honorific during official functions. "You will take your contingent and act as decoy. I have had our spies disclose information that we have assistance from Inys--that their king has agreed to lend us troops, and they are waiting for us at the bay, a thousand strong."
"My lord," Vanlyn said. "Surely the fiends will have their own intelligence network?"
"Do not be an ass," Argent, as always, looked at him with loathing. "Fiends are savage creatures of darkness. They have no organization. We've seen enough of their methods to know that. The information itself will be enough to deceive them."
The cruel grin on his brother's face brought heat to Vanlyn's cheeks before he averted his eyes. The insult was like a dagger twisting painfully in his chest.
"I beg to differ, Your Highness."
All eyes turned to Dane Tanderes.
"The fiends have shown quite a propensity for intelligent thought." Tanderes scrutinized Argent. His jaw tightened, and his eyes were cold blue stones, glittering in silent challenge at Argent's words.
Argent's voice grew soft. "Surely you can't believe that." His hands fumbled aimlessly with a few of the scattered figurines. Something in his brother's suddenly flustered behavior made Vanlyn completely forget his humiliation. It wasn't uncommon to see Argent flustered, but still it seemed odd that Tanderes would have such a chastening effect on him.
"I seem to recall the skirmish at that little village near the Bay of Haissa. The fiends buried themselves in the ground and caught your men unawares."
Argent flushed an angry red. "I see no reason to make mention of that."
"I believe we were discussing the reason."
"Minister Tanderes," Aelden growled. "You will show my son the proper respect."
"With all due respect, my lord, how have I disrespected him by speaking the truth?"
"Tanderes," Sarn deliberately omitted his title, a clear insult, "you are a guest in my home, and while we appreciate your concern regarding the decimation of Penryn. I'll ask you not to distract us with wild speculation."
The measuring gaze fell on his father for a brief moment. "As you wish." It didn't escape Vanlyn's attention that the man had returned the insult by not addressing Aelden as "my lord".
Vanlyn looked from Tanderes to his father and brother. Aelden would have had anyone else horse whipped for such an insult, yet now he dismissed it as nothing. And Tanderes merely acquiescing to Aelden's demands was an even greater puzzle.
What by gods and fiends was going on here?
Vanlyn felt as though he were an intruder, a babe in a room full of men speaking of adult things and his presence there was merely for show. As his father addressed him again, and Argent looked upon him with cold eyes, Vanlyn was aware without looking, without truly knowing, that Tanderes watched him again.
Vanlyn decided to eat dinner alone as he preferred. His chambers were small, yet richly furnished though his hand had decorated none of it. Vanlyn found the dark polished wood and red velvet cushions distasteful, but he wasn't interested enough to order a change. The one room that he was responsible for--and was his alone as far as he was concerned--was the library. Vanlyn loved books. They lined the walls and were stacked on the floor in neat piles. The majority of them were gifts from his mother and sister, and he planned to read them all.
When he did seek companionship, Vanlyn preferred the company of his servants to his own family, especially since his mother's passing. She had been the voice of reason in his chaotic life--the wall between his father and brother. When the fiends began their bloody war, his father sent his mother and sister away to Great Ordwyn. Less than a fortnight later, they had received the message. His mother's fine wool coat, covered in old blood, came wrapped in a crude burlap cloth.
There were never hostages or prisoners with fiends.
Vanlyn set up his dinner table on the small balcony outside the library so he could look out onto the land. Despite the war, it was still verdant and green, bursting with the new life of early spring. Sparrows had built a nest in the tree outside his window and one of them now bobbed across the table searching for crumbs. The tiny bird accepted a piece of bread from him without fear. Vanlyn had come into his power as a Naturalist at an early age, his gift that of communication with animal kind. To "speak" with them in a special voice and sense their emotions. To Vanlyn, their speech sounded clear. They looked upon him as one of their own, and they honored him with their trust.
He was supposed to have gone to school to gain further knowledge of his craft, but his father made it clear he had no use for the arcane arts. Aelden didn't even keep his own spell-caster, which Vanlyn always thought the height of idiocy. His mother and sister were healer-empaths, so it wasn't as though Aelden had no experience with the arcane.
Argent never missed an opportunity to remind Vanlyn how useless his power was, but Vanlyn always had a sense that his brother was jealous of his ability. Vanlyn couldn't understand why. Worse, Vanlyn agreed with Argent regarding his power. As much as Vanlyn enjoyed their company, what good was talking to animals in battle?
As the hour passed, Vanlyn's brow furrowed as his thoughts drifted down a darker path. How fortunate they were that Toryn still flourished. Vanlyn knew not all lands were unscathed. Places touched by the war found their crops decimated, their people brutalized.
Like Penryn Isle. The moment the thought invaded his mind, the image of those dark eyes, fierce and passionate, filled his vision. It caused a chill to run over his skin. Vanlyn drew his arms across his chest. What was it about Tanderes that caused such a reaction? A part of him pitied the minister and the pain he must be living with, his home destroyed because of a sorcerous conflict that started beyond their shores. Penryn Isle was located off the southern coast, between Ordwyn and its sister country of Inys.
Inys had fought a bloody civil war with the foulest of magic, which had torn the very realm asunder, and the poison was slowly infecting Ordwyn.
The leaders of Inys, caught up in the aftermath of their conflict, had made it clear that they would offer no help to their neighbors across the great Walk's River.
Vanlyn released a frustrated breath. Pushing back from the table, he walked in his stocking feet, rolling his shoulders forward to relieve the tension. In three days, he would leave Ordyni and lead his men to the city of Ciarri.
"And there," Vanlyn said aloud, "you will be a lure for the fiends."
And, in all likelihood, you won't return.
His troubled mind led him to the chapel.
He knew he would be alone there. The chapel was only for the High Lord and his family. A shrine was set up for his mother and sister with a trinket or two of theirs on a low table, surrounded by candles. The room was bare of any other adornments. Vanlyn sat and stretched his long legs in front of him.
"Mother," he said quietly, "I don't know what to do." The words wouldn't come. How could he express what he was feeling? "Soon I go to battle, well, not battle exactly, but most assuredly to my death.
"I suppose I should be terrified but...I feel nothing." Vanlyn swallowed thickly, "Then again I haven't felt anything since you and Eselda..."
He felt it then--the ache of loss. His mother and sister had been the two greatest influences in his life. Vanlyn had so wanted to be like them. Perhaps it wasn't good he wanted to define himself by other people, but the Sarn women made you want to follow their example.
The sound of a footfall outside the chapel door interrupted his musings. Vanlyn frowned. The servants knew better than to be skulking around, especially here. Vanlyn pulled himself up sharply and stretched the kinks out of his legs before stepping outside.
The hall was empty. Vanlyn started a few paces to his left. Everything was as it should have been. Had he imagined the sound? He turned back and drew in a sharp breath as he came to face Minister Tanderes.
"Gods and fiends, man!"
Tanderes merely studied him briefly. "Did I frighten you, Your Highness?"
"You didn't frighten me." Vanlyn moistened suddenly dry lips. There was an air of dark sensuality about him. It was nothing like the power that exuded from his father and brother. It moved over Vanlyn like a caress, and he shuddered against it. "You merely surprised me. You'd make the perfect spy, Minister Tanderes."
"Would I?" His full lips quirked in a sardonic smile.
Vanlyn wasn't certain if the minister's question required a response. He wasn't certain which to give, at any rate. Tanderes spoke again. "Why do your father and brother show you so little respect?"
Vanlyn couldn't reply. The words lodged in his throat. Tanderes invaded his personal space.
"Are you not a prince of the realm? Are you not of pure lineage?" The words, though spoken softly, demanded a response. They seemed to imply he should fight for what was his, but he had no fight left in him. Vanlyn wanted his father and brother's approval, but years of failure had sapped his willingness to try.
"Your father and brother are both blind fools."
Vanlyn was uncertain how, but he found himself pinned against the wall. Honor dictated that he defend his father and brother against insult, but Tanderes was so close that the sensuous heat overwhelmed Vanlyn. He turned his face aside when Dane casually laid his arm against the wall above Vanlyn's head. "I was witness to how they dismissed your logic, if you recall, but so were others."
Vanlyn closed his eyes. His breath came rapidly, and a shiver raced across his body. Tanderes leaned his face close, his breath caressing Vanlyn's ear. "You should know there is much dissatisfaction among the other nobles."
Vanlyn couldn't move. Despite the fact that Tanderes was slightly taller than he was, Vanlyn could have easily pushed the man aside, but he was bound in place, as if by an unseen force.
"I cannot deal with fools and cowards." The minister straightened away from him abruptly. His retreat left Vanlyn with a strange sense of having been in flames and abruptly doused by icy water.
His brother rounded the corner and halted, seeing them there.
"Minister," Argent approached and didn't even acknowledge Vanlyn's presence. "We've been searching all over for you. My father needs to speak with you."
"Very well," the minister answered though his gaze remained on Vanlyn. "I'll be there shortly."
Argent's brow furrowed. "Now, if you please."
Tanderes turned towards Argent and a very different aura surrounded him--one of dangerous intent. "I will follow you."
Argent hesitated a moment then spun on his heel and strode back the way he had come.
Vanlyn, still caught in the minister's snare, could only gape. To have such power...
The dark gaze was on him again, searching--assessing.
"What do you want from me?" Vanlyn spoke in a quiet voice.
Tanderes brushed gentle fingers down Vanlyn's jaw. The touch burned a trail of heat across his skin. "I'll consider."