Copyright © Nikki McCoy 2018. All Rights Reserved, Totally Entwined Group Limited, T/A Pride Publishing.
Tailor checked the blades of his shuriken, running his thumb over their razor-sharp edges before tucking them back into the straps across his chest. From his car, he looked out into the dead of night lit only by sparse lamp posts. The rural neighborhood was silent, except for the lulling song of crickets in the background. The street he waited on was cloaked in shadow and hedged on one side by a row of concealing evergreens.
Here, nature had been sculpted into a tamed display of wealth and prominence. The large houses spaced for privacy boasted only greens that could be cultivated into perfect, eye-pleasing designs. Trees were trimmed and flowers were planted instead of let loose to flourish.
Tailor curled his lip in disgust. He expected as much of the humans. Theirs was a way of life that promoted superiority in all things, including nature, but the owners of the house he’d been watching for the past three weeks were Ba’Kal, children of the Goddess Miel Se Luuda, and bound to nature by the spirits tied to their souls. Like him, they’d each been given the gift of an animal soul that had bonded with theirs upon maturity, allowing them to shift into the form of their animal at will.
When the full moon rose twice each month, their spirits took dominance, making the change inevitable. It was a beautiful communion that gave worship to their Mother and allowed them to reunite with the power of creation.
Yet, the ones he watched had forsaken their bond with the Mother. They had chosen affluence over the wilds of the forests and destruction over creation. Their allegiance was to Roh Se Kahn, the brother and exact opposite of Miel Se Luuda. The two Gods were as day and night, good and evil. For all that Miel Se Luuda had done to create her children and bless them with the natural gifts of the world she had provided, Roh Se Kahn wanted to destroy them all and reign over what remained as the one true God.
Despite all that Tailor had heard and witnessed over the past year, it still amazed him that Roh Se Kahn’s followers could continue to believe the mad God would keep his promise to them. That he would give them a place at his side when he ruled over this realm as king. Then again, it wasn’t that much of a surprise. In this, they and the humans were alike. Since the dawn of man, there had always been sheep willing to follow blindly in the path of those who offered riches, and there always would be.
True power was often hidden behind the strength of pretty words.
Tailor gripped the gun at his belt as a shadow flitted across his rearview mirror. When a large form appeared outside the passenger window, he cocked the gun and aimed, only to lower it with a growl of frustration.
Cyrus’ familiar face came into view as the man entered the car and peered over at him. His long black hair was pulled back into a leather ponytail wrap and his hard features, made pronounced by pale skin, were softened in the dim light. While his physical characteristics were typical for a Vam’kir, there was a very noticeable difference about him. Piercings of every size decorated his face and parts of his body Tailor didn’t want to contemplate. They gave him a sinister look that was somewhat appealing in an unnerving kind of way.
Tailor holstered his gun and returned his gaze to the street in front of him. “What are you doing here?”
“What the hell do you think?” Cy retorted. “I’m here in case you do something stupid like get yourself killed.”
Tailor grunted. “That hasn’t stopped you from standing back and letting me do all the hard work before.”
“Hey, this is your crusade. Far be it from me to interfere with you murdering every son of a bitch that worships Roh Se Kahn for information you know they don’t have. I had a life once, you know. One that didn’t involve me babysitting a man hell-bent on revenge.”
The anger that always dwelled beneath Tailor’s cold visage rose to the surface. “I didn’t ask you to join me, and I sure as fuck don’t want you here. If you have better things to do, then get the hell—”
“Stand down, warrior,” Cy said with just as much vehemence. He pursed his lips then looked away. “You know I agree with what you’re trying to do, but the ends aren’t justifying the means. You’ve lost sight of your goal. In the past six months since I’ve been with you, not a single follower of Roh Se Kahn has had any knowledge of how to get your mate back. You’re chasing the sheep when you should be hunting the wolf.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Tailor seethed, then took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Cy wasn’t his enemy, and while he resented the man’s very presence, he had to admit he liked the guy.
When Rowan’s Meraan, a personal bodyguard in the language of the Vam’kir, died a year previously, Rowan had chosen two others. Half a year ago, he’d sent one of them, Cy, to accompany Tailor on his quest to find Dhani. If not for the strong friendship between Tailor and Rowan, Tailor would’ve refused the help. At times, he still did, but he knew Rowan wouldn’t have sent anyone he didn’t trust with his own life.
After a stretch of silence, he sighed then said, “The sheep are all I have. At least until I can find the wolf.”
When Cy didn’t argue further, Tailor’s mind drifted back to the reason for his current circumstance. The beginning of it all.
It was almost hard to believe that at one point in time, his life had made sense. After nearly a century of brutality in the art of war, he had finally found happiness in the form of a mate. The other half of his soul gifted to him by the Mother. The only one who could give his life meaning and erase his loneliness and suffering.
Then, in two short weeks, his happiness had been ripped away. Dominic had been murdered before they could link their life forces together. The bond would’ve enabled Tailor to follow his mate into death with the blessing of Miel Se Luuda, but without it, his only choices had been to either forfeit his soul through suicide or go on living an empty life.
After months of pain and despair, he’d chosen life only for his friendship with Manning, heir to the king of the Ba’Kal. At the time, Manning had been close to taking over leadership from his father and had needed Tailor to help him guide their people in the war against the Vam’kir, their twin race. Though also born through the creation of Miel Se Luuda, the Vam’kir weren’t gifted with animal spirits. Instead, they sustained themselves on the life-giving blood of humans, which granted them exceptional night vision, strength and speed.
Two millennia ago, their races had originated as one, the Bassen’kir, who possessed all the traits of both kinds. However, through a violent fallout between the Bassen’kir’s princes at the time, brought about by Roh Se Kahn, they’d been divided into separate races and pitted against one another. Their war had raged on until only three years ago, when a chosen one had reunited them and given rebirth to the Bassen’kir. Only the high-borns of each race had been made Bassen’kir and given the ability to shift, as well as take blood for sustenance, with the responsibility to pass on this gift to their descendants.
For two years afterwards, Rowan, the Magnique and king of the Vam’kir, had worked alongside Manning to solidify the alliance between their races. All had gone considerably well until a new threat had made its presence known. Roh Se Kahn, banished at the start of the war to an alternate realm, had reemerged to once again complete his plans to destroy Miel Se Luuda’s children and reign over the human realm.
For three decades, he’d kept his presence hidden and sired four sons to aid in his plans. The first son had been born of his union with a highborn Ba’Kal and his next three from a simple human. The Ba’Kal hybrid, Keenan, had turned out to be more powerful than Roh Se Kahn could’ve imagined. The dark God knew that one day, the power of darkness mixed with light in Keenan might eventually lead to his demise if Keenan were ever to turn against him.
In his fear, Roh Se Kahn had made Keenan his slave, a puppet in his strategy to destroy Miel Se Luuda’s children. Keenan had escaped when he was sixteen, however, and had befriended another Ba’Kal named Dhani. Their friendship had grown strong for years, even surviving their capture by rogue Vam’kir who’d held them and many others prisoner during the war between the Vam’kir and Ba’Kal.
One year ago, Tailor had helped Manning and Rowan rescue the prisoners of war. Tailor had known instantly that Dhani was his mate. Defying logic and all the laws of nature, the draw of their souls to one another was unmistakable. Throughout the history of Miel Se Luuda’s children, there was one truth that had never changed. Each child was granted only one mate. One person to complete the others’ soul. In the span of their long lifetimes, it was rare for them to meet. Many things stood in their way, such as distance, fate or death.
Tailor had denied it at first and treated Dhani as if nothing existed between them. He couldn’t believe it was possible that he could have a second mate even when all the signs were there—his unrelenting desire for Dhani and the younger man’s unquestionable faith in him, despite the fact that they’d hardly known each other. He hadn’t wanted to open his heart to the possibility of what another mate could mean for him.
Regardless of his brusque demeanor, though, Dhani hadn’t given up. He’d waited patiently for Tailor get his head out of his ass and admit to their connection as mates. Tailor had been so close. He’d been tired of fighting logic and had been ready to follow his heart.
Then, for a second time, it had all been ripped away from him.
Roh Se Kahn had formed an army of minions to defeat the warriors of the Vam’kir and Ba’Kal. He would’ve succeeded in killing all who opposed him if it hadn’t been for Keenan. In the final battle, father and son had warred against each other and, quite literally, killed each other in the process. While only the dark God’s physical form was killed, Keenan had managed to banish his father’s soul from the human realm before he himself had died.
Dhani had been right there witnessing it all, though instead of standing by meekly, he’d delivered a spell that had brought Keenan back to life. In doing so, he’d left himself vulnerable to Roh Se Kahn’s attack and had been pulled into the alternate realm by the dark God. He had sacrificed himself so that Keenan could live, giving all that he had for the love of a friend.
In the wake of this, Tailor had fallen into a depth of self-loathing he’d never known his soul could harbor. Doubts and contempt plagued his every thought. He thrived on the revenge he wanted to take on Roh Se Kahn, but it was his hatred for himself that kept him going.
It was he who had spurned Dhani’s willingness to accept him. He who had turned away from the second chance at love Dhani had offered in the moments of secrecy they’d shared. Maybe if he had admitted his fears to Dhani… Maybe if he hadn’t cast aside what had been so obvious between them…Dhani would still be here.
In his arms.
In his life.
Tailor squeezed his eyes shut and raked a hand through his blond locks. “Is there any word from Keenan?”
Cy shook his head. “Last I heard from Rowan, the kid is exhausting himself looking through the library of texts Roh Se Kahn kept on the dark arts. He doesn’t trust anyone else to go through the material with him. Says it’s too dangerous.”
Despite his frustration, Tailor nearly smiled at the ongoing joke between Keenan and Cy. While Keenan was only twenty-seven years old to Cy’s three hundred years plus, Keenan was a demigod and likely immortal. A ‘kid’ who would outlive them all, except for Rowan, his mate. The bond between them would probably keep Rowan alive with him. No one knew for sure. Unlike Miel Se Luuda, who had created her children, Roh Se Kahn had devised a spell that had allowed him to physically sire Keenan, making him the first demigod in history.
The texts Cy was referring to were those the dark God had had in his possession the day Keenan had banished him from the human realm. Tailor knew Keenan was doing his best in searching through them to find a way to bring Dhani back, but the wait was growing unbearable. They had no idea what kind of realm Dhani had been dragged into, or even whether it could sustain life. The thought that Dhani might be dead, however, was one Tailor refused to contemplate.
“We’ll find him,” Cy said in a low voice. “Just have a little more patience.”
Tailor bit back a sharp response then straightened in his seat when he saw a black limo pull into the driveway of the house he was surveying. He checked his watch, heart rate quickening with grim satisfaction. It was exactly midnight. The same time the limo arrived every Friday night with the handful of Vam’kir who’d been meeting with the group of Ba’Kal in the house. The driver was human, although from what Tailor had observed, the man seemed to have just as much invested in the meetings as the others.
“Tell you what,” Tailor said as he pulled on a pair of leather gloves, “I’ll go in and get some information while you enjoy your patience in the safety of my car.” He stepped out before Cy could reply and shifted to the majestic form of his golden eagle. Once in the air, he flew towards the back of the large house and perched on the branch of a tree. There was no security alarm or watch dogs, though neither was typical for Ba’Kal. Normally, they lived in secluded communities in the woods where the security of valuables was not an issue.
Through the blinds covering the windows, he saw the lights come on in the downstairs study where they usually congregated. There were nine in all. Five Ba’Kal, three Vam’kir and the human. Since the start of his search, this was the most activity he’d seen among those who still served Roh Se Kahn. In the beginning, he’d only been able to find them individually or in pairs. Over the past few months, however, they’d begun meeting frequently in groups.
Something was going on, Tailor could feel it, although he hadn’t been able to glean any more information from the groups than he had the individuals. They were all privately funded to maintain their secrecy, having as little to do with outsiders as possible.
He waited just long enough for the group to get comfortable then flew to the back door and shifted to his human form. After picking the lock, he crept inside and made his way to the study. He put his ear to the closed door and listened to the muffled voices within. Only pieces of their conversation came through, but one word came out loud and clear.
Tailor tensed at the mention of the name. Vane was Keenan’s half-brother, another demigod who had escaped during the battle waged to rid Roh Se Kahn from their realm. Where Keenan had the power of Miel Se Luuda’s light in him inherited from his Ba’Kal mother, Vane had been birthed from a human woman. The darkness in him eclipsed whatever good might have come from his mother, making him pure evil.
Tailor knew with Roh Se Kahn gone, it would only be a matter of time before Vane gathered his father’s followers to his side and made another attempt to take control over the races. Vane had nearly succeeded once in overthrowing Rowan’s crown and reigning over the Vam’kir in his place. Whatever his plans were now, death and chaos were sure to come with them.
He screwed a silencer onto his revolver, palmed a knife then kicked in the door. The looks of alarm on the faces of the men as they jumped up were priceless, and lasted for only a second. Tailor focused himself in that moment then sprang into action.
There was no fear, no guilt or hesitation. The rage that always burned inside him was masked behind a layer of detachment. Not even the lust for blood fueled him as it did so many warriors who faced battle. All the emotions that came with the deliverance of death had been beaten out of him years ago. With a weapon in his hands, he was no more than a machine trained to kill.
He sank his knife into the gut of the nearest man and yanked upwards, splitting the man from belly to sternum. With a vicious kick, he shattered the kneecap of a second man then put a bullet between the eyes of a third. Three more men charged him at once and he took the form of his eagle, hooking his talons into the eyes of one of them. The man went down with a howling screech that rose above the angry shouts.
Instinct alerted Tailor to the immediate threat at the other end of the room. The Ba’Kal in charge was standing behind his desk with a gun pointed at him. Tailor shifted back and let loose one of his shuriken before his boots touched the ground. Blood spurted from around the blades in the Ba’Kal’s throat as he dropped to the ground in a lifeless heap.
Tailor ducked the left hook of a Vam’kir coming at him, then twisted the man’s arm behind him. He used the man as a shield to block the attack of a second Vam’kir who lunged forward with a small dagger. When the attacker paused in shock at his mistake, his dagger buried hilt deep in the man Tailor held, Tailor shoved them both out of the way.
A strong punch caught him in the ribs from the side and he turned to face his newest opponent. He slammed his knuckles into the man’s nose three times, then brought up his gun and fired two rounds into the man’s skull. He spun around to aim his gun at the man still writhing on the floor from his gouged eyes and put an end to his screams.
Movement at the door made him pivot and put a hole in the back of the head of the human who was trying to flee. Behind him, the loud shot of a pistol rang out, but the bullet ricocheted off a cast-iron end table three feet away. Not even close. He turned around and sneered at the Ba’Kal who had inadvertently killed his own associate, more out of annoyance than any kind of emotion. The first lesson he’d learned in his warrior training was to never draw a weapon unless you were sure of the kill.
He holstered his own gun then kicked the one from the trembling hands of the Ba’Kal. The man flinched away as Tailor yanked him up by his shirt and brought their faces to within inches of each other. “Where is Vane?” he growled.
The man only shook his head vigorously.
“Where is he?” Tailor yelled. “Does he have Dhani?”
“H-h-he’ll kill me if I tell you,” the man stuttered.
“I’ll cut off parts of you that’ll make you wish for death before I kill you if you don’t.”
With a pathetic whimper, the man shook his head again. “I d-don’t know where Vane is. He’s only contacted us by phone and told us to gather our forces. I’ve never heard of a Dhani.”
Tailor bared his teeth in a feral snarl and paused for a moment, feeling out the man’s energy to sense if he was lying, but there was only truth. He took another knife from his belt and slit the man’s throat. Eight down. One left.
He stalked the last Ba’Kal still lying on the floor from his shattered knee. The man’s eyes widened with fear then narrowed to slits in false bravery. Tailor could smell the nauseating stench of panic on him. He knelt down, fisted the man’s hair in one hand then brought the edge of his blade to the man’s throat with his other. “Same question. Where are Vane and Dhani?”
The man thinned his lips in a look of mockery. “He will come, and he will surpass his father and take his rightful place as ruler. Nothing you do will stop that.”
The madness in the man’s eyes was enough to make Tailor recoil within. He knew most of Roh Se Kahn’s followers had been bought with promises of riches and grandeur, but this was one of the few who offered his devotion freely. Despite the fact that he was obviously no warrior, it made him twice as dangerous.
In one last effort, Tailor pressed the tip of the blade into the man’s jugular, piercing the skin. “Tell me how to get Dhani out of Roh Se Kahn’s realm and I’ll let you live.”
Before the man could respond, another knife was thrown from somewhere on Tailor’s left and embedded itself deep into the side of the man’s neck. A gurgling sound passed the Ba’Kal’s lips as he slumped to the ground in death. For the first time since entering the study, emotion flooded into Tailor. Fury filled him, swift and fierce. He jumped to his feet and aimed his gun at the person who’d thrown the knife.
It had come from a woman who met his rage with a calm expression. Tailor instantly felt the presence of a spirit in her, letting him know she was a shifter as well. She was petite, yet held the build and carriage of an experienced warrior. Her pants and vest overlaying a black top were brown, supple leather that fit snugly on her pronounced curves. Tailor was momentarily caught off-guard by the striking angles of her face. They were stunning and vaguely familiar. Creamy skin lent the perfect contrast to her shaded, hazel eyes and dark red hair pulled back into a ponytail.
She was exactly the kind of woman Tailor would’ve have gone for if he hadn’t met Dhani. Beautiful and independent. His tastes had leaned toward men when he was younger. And when he’d found his first mate, it had come as no surprise that his mate was male. Then, after his world had shattered with Dominic’s death, he hadn’t been able to bring himself to touch another man. They had all reminded him of the one he’d lost.
Since then, there had been only women. Endless scores of women who could never affect him the way his first mate had. They had been a safe escape from the desolation of his soul.
With Dhani’s appearance, though, his need to fill that empty space inside him with the warmth of women had fled. Dhani had consumed him, in spite of his efforts to push the younger man away out of his own insecurities.
Yet, there was something compelling about this woman—who had just killed his target.
He shook off the odd sense of familiarity and cocked his gun. “Who are you?”
She raised her hands in a gesture of submission and tilted her head to the side. “I’ve never seen anyone fight like you do. I didn’t think it was possible, but the rumors were true. You hold no equal.”
Cy seemed to materialize from the shadows on her right and put the muzzle of his gun to her temple. “He asked you a question.”
The woman stiffened, then flexed her jaw with a piqued expression. “We don’t have time for this. The gunshot from that Ba’Kal was loud enough to alert his neighbors. The police will be here soon. We need to go.”
Tailor approached her menacingly and touched the muzzle of his silencer to her forehead. Familiar or not, she was an unknown, and therefore a threat. “Why did you kill the guy I was interrogating? Who. Are. You?” he asked, punctuating each word with his anger. If there was even the slightest chance he’d lost out on information from the Ba’Kal regarding Dhani, this would be the first time he’d felt the urge to kill an unarmed woman.
Precious seconds ticked by as she bit her lip in deliberation. Finally, she lowered her hands and took a deep breath. “My name is Layzani. You can call me Laya. I’ve been tracking Roh Se Kahn’s followers for years. I was at the battle when he was cast out of this realm. Since then, I haven’t been able to find any information on their whereabouts until I heard of a man who was seeking them out and killing them. A blond warrior who looked like he should be holding a surf board instead of a gun.”
Cy lowered his gun and let out a bark of laughter, then sobered when Tailor shot him an ominous glare. He shrugged, not at all intimidated. “You do look like a surfer.”
“I heard of a man searching for a Ba’Kal named Dhani,” she continued, “who had been pulled into an alternate realm by Roh Se Kahn. I also have a vested interest in finding Dhani. I’ve been tracking you for the past four months, or rather, the trail of blood you’ve left behind. I had to find out if you were trying to find Dhani for the right reasons. I had to know…” Her voice faltered, then she cleared her throat. “I had to know whether I could trust you.”
“Trust me for what? What is Dhani to you?”
More seconds ticked by before she exhaled, as if in resolve. “He’s my son.