Authors: Katie Salidas
An Immortalis Series Companion Novella
Copyright © 2013 by Katie Salidas
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Characters in this novel belong to the Immortalis Series created by Katie Salidas.
Cover Layout by Willsin Rowe
Interior Layout by Katie Salidas
Editing by Sharazade
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Special thanks to my wonderful Beta Readers: Willsin Rowe, Jenn McCoy, and Jessie Stockton. Without your help, this book would not be what it is today.
A special thanks also goes to Catrina Barton, my “Become a Character” contest winner. She helped inspire the character of Kitara. Catrina, I hope you like where your inspiration took me.
And finally, a big thank you to my awesome editor, Shar. Thanks for always being there to put the shine on my manuscript and answer my dumb questions.
“Again,” Nicholas commanded. He lowered his stance, setting his feet shoulder width apart, and glared at his opponent.
His sparring partner, Alyssa – a little redheaded vampire he’d taken under his tutelage – panted heavily, clutching a dagger in her right hand. The blade, a four-inch razor-sharp piece of steel, was the crux of Nicholas’s concerns. Alyssa had yet to deliver even a scratch with it. Even after weeks of working with it, he saw no progress. It seemed, if possible, that she was getting worse.
Alyssa crouched into a fighting stance on the black vinyl-coated mat. Soaked in sweat, she swayed where she stood, exhausted, fighting to keep herself upright. “Can’t we take a break?” she pleaded.
“No. I do not cater to weakness.” Not in training sessions or in life. Every day, Nicholas had worked both himself and his pupil Alyssa until they were too tired to move.
For Nicholas, hard training was a coping mechanism; a welcome outlet to chase away the dark thoughts that plagued his mind. The physical abuse he inflicted upon himself kept him sharp, tough, and often too exhausted to entertain the sadness that haunted him.
Even now, months later, he still felt the shame of his weakness, his inability to save his beloved Rozaline from grisly death at the hands of Aniketos. The longer he trained, the more his body burned. But that pain was only a fraction of what he truly deserved for his failure. A failure that he would never allow to happen again.
His protégé was not reaping the same benefits from their extended training sessions, a fact that frustrated Nicholas to no end. For the young red-headed vampire, these grueling sessions were more than counter-productive. Fatigue led to inattention, and inattention would most certainly lead to her death. No. He would not let that happen again, not to anyone close to him, even Alyssa. Frustrating as she was, he could not allow Rozaline’s fate to be hers as well. Not if he could impart the skills she needed to survive. They’d just have to keep going.
“You’ll come at me again and again until you can do it right.” Nicholas glared at Alyssa, baring his fangs, and snarled, “Now, attack!”
On his order, Alyssa lunged forward and took a swipe at Nicholas’s middle with the double-edged dagger.
Nicholas easily dodged her clumsy advance. He grabbed hold of her wrist and bent it, forcing her to drop the blade. Using her momentum he pulled her forward, sending her off balance and toppling over.
Alyssa tucked and rolled as she hit the ground, and came back up on the balls of her feet. She smirked at her trainer, but the sight of her dagger pinched between his thumb and forefinger sobered her up instantly.
The mood he was in, Nicholas almost threw it straight at her heart, but he didn’t trust his student’s ability to dodge it. Her fatigue, his anger...it could be fatal. Instead, he aimed for her shoulder and let the blade fly.
Alyssa barely had time to dodge the blade. The dagger lodged itself halfway to the hilt in the wall behind her.
Nicholas blew out a relieved breath, pleased that Alyssa had at least managed to do one thing right.
“I’m getting good at dodging.” Alyssa smiled hopefully. “Right?”
Her complete obliviousness sent Nicholas’s blood boiling. How could she want praise when she’d failed so utterly to defend herself? Nicholas charged forward in a flash of movement and pinned the little vampire against the wall. His hand gripped her throat, squeezing just enough to choke out her voice. “You have the reflexes of a cat,” Nicholas admitted, but there was no compliment in his voice, only cold rage. “And the morals, too. But you are not
at any of this. This isn’t a game, Alyssa. When are you going to get that through your head? There are no second chances in battle. If you are not prepared, you will die.”
He released her and took a step back, hoping his demonstration would have the desired effect. No amount of
s would save her ass in a fight.
The little redheaded vampire’s shoulders slumped in resignation.
She’d tried – Nicholas recognized that – but it was nothing more than weakness to praise mediocrity. She would need to land a hit on him to prove herself worthy to face the Saints. The prospect of eternal death was far more important than her little feelings. Those were always too close to the surface as it was.
“I am taking this seriously.” She sounded close to tears but thankfully none dripped down her face. “But we’ve been at this for hours. I’m tired, and I need to feed.”
“Go, then.” Nicholas sent her away with a wave of his hand. As frustrated as he was with her, Nicholas would rather train by himself anyway. It was the only way to guarantee a worthy opponent.
“There’s training, and then there’s killing yourself.” Alyssa grabbed her jacket and headed up the stairs. “Do you even know which one you’re doing?”
“If you don’t train, you might as well kill yourself… or let the Saints do it for you.” He spoke in barely a whisper. There was no point in shouting it. The young vampire was too headstrong.
What did she know of real training anyway? She had Lysander to protect her. Nicholas had nobody. Not anymore.
The utter loneliness of his existence had Nicholas filling every waking moment with training. Or torture, as the too-young Alyssa would have it. When the light left his mate Rozaline’s eyes, it took his will to live with it. But fate had denied him the chance to follow her. Now nothing more than an empty shell, Nicholas struggled to find meaning, find any reason to keep fighting the good fight. Only the protection of his clan gave him reason to rise each evening: The threat of the Acta Sanctorum still remained.
Hoping for the chance to wage war with them again, Nicholas honed every muscle, practiced with every weapon; he ensured that time had not worn down the lethal edge he’d had even as a human before he’d been turned. Some days he missed the rigors of a soldier’s life.
It was a simple if brutal existence. Kill until there was no-one left to kill. Die if the Gods willed it. And in the Roman army, there had never been any shortage of chances to do both.
Now more than ever he wished for that asceticism.
“Care for another sparring partner?” the familiar voice of Lysander called from the top of the stairs. The leader of their small clan of vampires and Nicholas’s oldest and dearest friend, his was a welcome presence. They had spent centuries together traveling the world. Bonded by blood, honor, and friendship, they had always been as close as brothers. No other but Lysander had the experience or depth to understand Nicholas’s pain.
“I hope you’ll do better than my last partner.”
“Try me.” Lysander replied as he stripped off his shirt and shoes, leaving only a pair of dark sweatpants on. He stood about six inches taller than Nicholas, but size was never an issue where Nicholas was concerned. He never let that get in the way of a good sparring match. He was lethal, trained in the deadly art of combat from a tender age and sent into battle when he was little more than a boy. Fighting was in his blood.
Lysander stretched and rotated his shoulders. He twisted his head left, then right, popping his neck and loosening himself up before he squared up on the mat, ready to begin.
While tall and lean, Lysander wasn’t overly muscular and looked no more than twenty years of age, but Nicholas knew the truth. The old vampire had strength beyond his unassuming appearance. He’d seen many battles and was a highly skilled fighter – unlike his mate, Alyssa.
“Let’s see what you got, old man,” Nicholas taunted.
“Old?” Lysander chuckled at the word. “I could send Alyssa back if you feel I am not up to your speed.”
“You know what the problem with young vampires is?” Nicholas asked as he set himself, watching his opponent’s body movements, looking for the right time to strike.
friend,” Lysander replied, his tone calm and conversational.
“They’re young. They’re foolish. They think they know everything.”
“I take it your training session did not go well? What was Alyssa’s trouble this time?” Putting all of his supernatural speed into action, Lysander began with a roundhouse kick.
Nicholas side stepped, caught Lysander’s foot, and spun him backwards. The taller man’s agility allowed him to land square again without any apparent effort.
“It’s not what she does. It’s her manner.” Lysander’s young mate had always been trouble, but she wasn’t really the root of his problem, and Nicholas knew it. She was just an easy target; a scapegoat for him to vent his frustrations on.
“She knows it all. She’s impossible some days. I swear she has a death wish, she’s so cavalier about her training.”
Lysander righted himself just in time to block Nicholas as he threw a few punches in quick succession. “You of all people would recognize that,” he said as he stepped forward, crowding the smaller vampire, forcing him to step backwards. “At least she is willing to train with you. I can hardly stand to spar with you myself these days. You’re working yourself and everyone else too hard.”
Nicholas ducked and swiped Lysander’s legs, but the larger vampire caught himself before he fell. Taking advantage of his brother’s momentary weakness, Nicholas delivered a few bone-crunching blows to his opponent’s ribs.
Lysander dropped to the mat and rolled away quickly, breathing deeply and clutching his chest.
Nicholas waited for his partner to stand again. “You’d do well to change your attitude, too. The Saints are still around, brother.”
Lysander stood, cracked his back and then moved right back into a fighter’s stance. “And we will be ready for them,
. For now, take it easy on Alyssa. She has already survived more than most vampires her age. She is young, certainly, but we were young once, too. Remember that. Let her enjoy some of her immortality.”
“We were never that young. And her
is the cause of nearly everything she has endured. You of all people should recognize that.”
Lysander delivered a series of kicks that seemed intended more to distract than to wound. Nicholas recognized the tactic; he knew the old vampire was searching for a weakness, and changed his approach. He calmly blocked all but the last one, which caught him in the lower back.
Nicholas spun with the impact, narrowly avoiding the next kick that whizzed so close to his face he could smell it. “It’s the softness of her human life that weakens her. She began her vampire life as a victim, and she seems intent on retaining that status. I never had a choice. It was defend myself or die.” Nicholas pivoted and threw an uppercut. “By her age, I had known many wars. I’d killed men and commanded soldiers.”
Lysander blocked one punch, then two. Like a deadly ballet, the two men moved in ruthless harmony. “Those times were different. And as I recall, you were quite the hot head back then. It was for that reason Kallisto allowed me to turn you.”
The mention of her name brought back so many distant memories. Kallisto had found him recovering from battle wounds, eager to return to the front lines. She’d tempted him with lavish parties and the promise of eternity in exchange for service as her and Lysander’s royal guard.
Lysander threw a wild punch, aimed low at Nicholas’s gut. “Remember the parties Kallisto threw?”
Nicholas pivoted out of the way and a real smile blossomed across his face. “The women, the blood, the moonlight orgies.” He chuckled to himself. “Oh yes, I do remember. Fun times.”
Lysander took advantage of his brother’s momentary inattention and elbowed Nicholas in the gut.
Nicholas doubled over in pain, cursing himself for being caught unawares. He glared up at Lysander who simply smiled. “As I recall, you were quite the ladies’ man then.”
Nicholas caught his breath and stood. “It was nothing then to take a different woman to your bed each day.”
“It was rare that you would take only one, as I recall.”
Memories long forgotten came flooding back. Faces of random women: blondes, brunettes, redheads, girls with skin like caramel and silk, all of them half-naked, drunk, dancing and begging for Nicholas to take them. He’d had his pick of them all and savored every last one. “Those were heady days, when immortality was new to both of us.”
“Yes, and we felt we owned the night. Just as my Alyssa feels now.” Lysander dropped back into his fighting stance. “Are you ready, or it is time to call it a night?”
“I’m always ready, brother.” A scowl furrowed Nicholas’s dark brow. “Are you?” Without warning, he unleashed another fusillade of punches. Lysander was fast but unable to block them all.
Nicholas forced the larger vampire back off the mats as he continued his relentless assault. He punctuated the blows with angry outbursts. “We may have owned the night then, but now we are nothing, we have nothing, and those joyful days are gone.”
Backed up against the wall, Lysander shouted. “Enough!”
The sheer power behind his voice snapped Nicholas from his rage.
Lysander glared down at Nicholas. The pale blue eyes said more with their silence than harsh words ever could.
Lysander may have been beaten in this sparring match, but Nicholas was the loser here, and he knew it. “Sorry.”