The hardest lessons are taught in blood..
The power unleashed during the Ascendance, lingers.
After defeating the Revenant, Monty realizes Simon’s blood has been poisoned—tainted.
Simon is slowly transforming. His body is harnessing dark magic in ways thought unimaginable.
Now, Monty is faced with the hardest choice.
Let the poison run its course, transforming Simon into a dark immortal, increasing his power, but drawing the attention of those who would want him dead, or allow Simon to take the blood lessons, risking his friend’s life? Can Monty help Simon before he’s too far gone or will Simon become an unstoppable threat?
Monty must act fast, before the power poisoning Simon’s blood becomes too powerful to stop and eliminates them all.
Release date: October 15, 2022
Publisher: Bitten Peaches Publishing
Print pages: 265
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Orlando A. Sanchez
Night descended on the city like a warm cloud.
I gazed out of the window into the coming night and winced as the pain in my body made its presence clear. I rolled up my sleeves and looked down at the veins in my arms in the dimming light. The deep violet-black lattice of power pulsed in rhythm with my heart, running up and down my forearms. The sight unnerving enough to guarantee that I wore long-sleeve shirts at all times.
I had been poisoned, and the poison was coursing through my body.
I felt it.
An odd presence that flowed through me: something alien, something other, something powerful and primal. I usually kept my eyes closed in the darkened room—partially to help me focus on dealing with the pain, mostly to keep from scaring the nurses into an early retirement.
Thanks to the ascendancy cast and my runic poisoning, along with whatever Orethe did to Ebonsoul, my eyes were now constantly glowing a deep red. I had my very own imitation of my hellhound’s baleful glare, minus the beams shooting out of my eyes.
Despite my personal appreciation, my glowing eyes scared most of the staff attending me. You’d think that working in Haven, they’d be used to seeing glowing eyes.
Sunglasses didn’t help; every pair I tried would eventually—usually in a matter of hours—disintegrate into its component parts. Outside of bandaging my eyes, there was no way of getting around the glow.
For some reason I couldn’t explain, Roxanne had decided I needed to be in the normal wing of Haven, where glowing eyes and massive hellhounds were not the norm.
It explained the private room and reaction from the staff. All of them were reluctant to interact with me, except for the Head Nurse, Nan, who I guessed was part troll and all battle-axe.
Nan—short for Hanna I later learned, a name no one ever used on pain of being twisted into a human pretzel—was as pleasant as a crowbar to the face. Her usual dark mood caused the other nurses and doctors to avoid her when she was on the floor making her rounds.
She spoke in a series of disapproving grunts and nods, never saying more than one or two sentences in our brief interactions.
Nan reminded me of the old-style Soviet power-lifters, who bench-pressed trucks as a warm-up exercise. She towered over all of the nurses, male and female. An air of menace, like an impending natural disaster, announced her presence on the floor at least five minutes before she materialized.
By the time she actually arrived, every other nurse and most of the doctors had mysteriously discovered emergencies in other parts of Haven that needed their immediate attention, leaving Nan and her unlucky patient alone.
These days. one of those unlucky patients was me.
Tall and broad, she always wore her graying hair in a severe bun. My senses didn’t pick up anything extra-normal about her, and to my knowledge she didn’t carry any weapons, but I didn’t dismiss the possibility.
Stranger things had happened in my life.
Monty carried his wailing blades in some kind of pocket dimension. It wasn’t too farfetched that Nan would carry some type of weapon. Although, being in proximity to her, I realized her fists—which were nearly the size of my head—would make excellent weapons on their own.
We’d gotten into a routine. At the start of each evening she’d come in, take my vitals, make some notes on the chart, and act as if glowing red eyes and massive hellhounds were par for the course.
She was brave enough to pet Peaches on his massive head a few times, while tutting at me about the rules, and how dogs that big were not allowed on the hospital premises, even if I was friends with Director DeMarco.
Rules were rules.
Her daily interactions with Peaches were the only time a smile dared to cross her lips, vanishing immediately the moment she looked up at me. I seriously wondered who she had threatened to allow her to become a nurse; she seemed far better suited for a profession where pain was to be inflicted, not treated.
Even though she was sour enough to make lemons appear sweet, Peaches liked her, which meant she wasn’t all bad. He was an excellent judge of character…unless meat was involved.
I glanced down at my chain-sawing hound as he napped and smiled.
No matter what they tried, there was no way they could remove him from my bedside. I was impressed when he refused to let himself be bribed by sausage. I thought for sure that would convince him, but all he did was eat the sausage and blink back into the room. After a few days of this, they gave up trying to remove him from my presence.
Pain lanced through my body, a hot poker of agony shoved in my chest, drawing my attention inward. I braced myself and focused my breathing, reaching internally for my weapon, Ebonsoul.
More searing pain bloomed throughout my body and mind, stealing my breath and making me gasp. Sweat formed on my brow as the pain clamped around the muscles in my midsection and squeezed unmercifully.
It had been a week since I had been admitted to Haven. The room I was in didn’t compare to the palatial prison Roxanne had kept Monty in, not that I was complaining. Aside from being on the top floor of the normal wing and the privacy I’d been afforded, it looked like any other ordinary hospital room.
I shifted in the bed with a grunt of discomfort.
I could barely move, and the poison, along with the excruciating pain, had shown no signs of diminishing. I was beginning to wonder if Kali’s curse had lost its ability to deal with the damage to my body.
Orethe’s words came back to me: It’s only pain, Simon. You should be intimately acquainted with it by now.
“Oh, we’re acquainted, trust me,” I grumbled under my breath after a few more gasps. “We’re practically best friends by now.”
“You’re trying too hard,” a voice said in the darkness. “You need to embrace the pain, work past it. Make the pain work for you.”
This was his second visit since my poisoning.
“Thanks for dropping by,” I said, before clenching my teeth against the agony. “Just make the pain work for me, you say? Sounds easy enough. It’s only mind-numbing, debilitating pain.”
“Exactly,” he replied. “Now you’re beginning to understand.”
I opened my eyes and fixed him with a glare.
“Why isn’t my curse working against this pain?”
“What makes you think it isn’t?”
That answer froze my thoughts.
“What?” I asked, confused. “You’re saying…?”
“Your curse has arrested the poison, and is the only thing keeping you alive at this moment,” he said calmly. “It’s doing its job admirably.”
If my curse was working—and I had no reason to believe it wasn’t, aside from my constant agony—it meant that this pain had the potential to be much, much worse.
“How do I stop it?” I asked. “The pain. I need it to stop, at the very least, I needed it lessened or redirected.”
“I told you,” he said with a sigh. “You need to embrace it. Surrender to the pain. Pain is like any other sensation: cold, hot, tired, energized. It’s merely a sensation your body is transmitting as a reaction to stimuli. In your case, the stimuli is internal.”
“That, and the runic poison, which is obstructing your access.”
“The poison is blocking my access?” I asked, looking down at my arms. “That makes sense.”
He nodded and pointed at me. It seemed that one of the perks of having a version of the baleful glare was excellent night vision. I saw him clearly as he reclined and stared at me.
“Materialize your weapon.”
“I’m getting off the agony express for today,” I said, laying my head back in my pillow. “It doesn’t want—”
“Figure of speech,” I said, raising a hand quickly. “No, it’s not sentient or speaking to me. It’s just not forming when I want it to. I keep trying, but it’s like trying to grab smoke.”
“You don’t want that blade to become sentient,” he said. “I don’t want that blade to become sentient, especially not now, after Orethe’s…improvements. did. In fact, to be on the safe side, make sure you and the Night Warden avoid being close to each other until you have your weapon under your control.”
“What happens if I get too close to his weapon?” I asked. “Do we explode?”
Hades fixed me with a glare, then looked to the side before answering.
“At least you have maintained your special brand of humor,” he said. “You should be concerned. This is the worst case of runic poisoning I’ve ever seen while the subject was still alive.”
“Now I feel special,” I said, staring at him. “You don’t know how to fix this?”
“Outside of ending your life?”
“I’m a big fan of the ‘continuing to live’ club, thanks. Yes, without erasing me from existence.”
“Not really, but I am interested in how this will play out,” he said. “Evidently, you’re in no danger of dying, or you’d be a corpse by now. This is unexplored territory.”
“Great, I’m the Magellan of poisoning,” I answered with a scowl. “Isn’t Grey the one person I should be speaking to? Doesn’t he have a similar condition too?”
“He would have no insight for you,” Hades said, his voice dark. “His condition stems from a cast that exceeded his capacity at the time. His body rebelled, and the backlash should have killed him—it was killing him, until he bonded with the sword.”
“Sounds sort of like what happened to me.”
“His condition differs from yours considerably,” Hades said with a small shake of his head. “He’s not being kept alive by a curse. He is in a symbiotic relationship with a voracious, powerful, and bloodthirsty goddess who resides in his sword.”
“That’s why you want me to keep Ebonsoul away from him?”
“The two weapons are a set,” he said. “I thought you knew how much or if any of her essence was placed within your weapon. For now, your weapon seems to be dormant.”
“You think getting close will wake up Ebonsoul?”
“I don’t know,” Hades said, pensively. “Right now, I don’t wish to find out, and neither do you. Now, stop stalling and form your blade.”
I sat up again and focused.
“I’m not stalling,” I said. “I’m just not in the mood for the wonderful side effect sensation of the pickaxe being forced into my ear repeatedly. That’s all.”
“Stop being so dramatic,” Hades replied. “You’re bonded to a hellhound, while being the cursed immortal—Marked of Kali, and the Aspis to a Mage Montague—no small thing, I might add. You’re also the wielder of Ebonsoul, in no small part due to your bond with a certain ancient vampire, a seraph, and now necromantic weapon, thanks to Orethe. I would think the small price of a little agony comes with the territory, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t think it should come with the territory,” I snapped. “Actually, I’d prefer an agony-free life, thank you very much. This isn’t even remotely fair. I’d at least like the option of sharing my agony with others.”
He gave me a small smile as he shook his head.
“It’s too late for that, Strong,” he said. “I never said any of this was fair. Life isn’t fair. Anyone who says differently is selling you something, or trying to exploit you.”
“Tell me about it. I didn’t ask for any of this.”
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” Hades said. “I would say you fall squarely into the latter category.”
“Did you just Bard me?”
“I did,” Hades replied, growing serious. “How long have you been here? In Haven?”
“About a week, why?”
He nodded his head slowly.
“That tracks,” he said, “especially with the heightened Verity activity.”
“What heightened Verity activity?”
“You need to understand that machinations are being formed as you squander your time here,” he said, waving a hand. “Instead of doing what’s necessary, you dwell on the trifling matter of a little pain and discomfort. What you are experiencing now will pale in comparison to what is headed your way if you don’t, as you say, suck it up and get it done.”
“Excuse me?” I said. “What are you talking about?”
“Even now, as we speak, Verity is assembling a task force to destroy you, Tristan, and your hellhound,” he explained. “How long do you think it will be before they breach the robust defenses of Haven?”
That was why Roxanne had me in the normal wing. She was hiding me in plain sight. Even as strong as the defenses were at Haven, they couldn’t hold out indefinitely. Having me here was putting everyone at risk.
“Not long enough,” I said. “I seem to recall Verity having no consideration for collateral damage.”
“Can you imagine how many will die because you failed to grasp the severity of your situation and chose to wallow in your pain?” he asked. “I’m sure they will accept your apology for being too weak to face what you can’t escape, as they perish by the hundreds.”
“You’re laying it on a little thick there,” I said, annoyed. “I get it. I need to get off my ass and start these blood lessons, whatever they are.”
“You do,” he agreed. “You start by forming your blade.”
“Shit. Somehow I knew you were going to say that.”
“Do you need motivation? I’m sure I could summon a creature to threaten the patients here, which would force you into action.”
“No help needed, thanks,” I said, heavily. “I have plenty of motivation.”
“It doesn’t appear to be the case,” he said. “I’d like to see you prove me wrong.”
“You can be a cold bastard.”
“The absolute coldest,” he said, tapping the top of his wrist with a finger. “Tempus fugit.”
I closed my eyes and focused again. The pain was there, but washing over it was the anger and frustration. The unfairness of being put in this position, the anger at being targeted by more enemies than I cared to count at the moment; the barely controlled rage at being a pawn to beings more powerful than I could ever hope to be, moving along a plan at their whim, without control or agency.
“I really hate gods and their games,” I said, seething. “Present company semi-included.”
“I know,” Hades said. “If you want to stop us from playing with you, stop us from using you as a pawn, then you need to grow stronger—stronger than you are now, stronger than you can imagine. Strong enough to make us respect you and perceive you as a threat. This is the first step. Form. Your. Blade.”
I reached inside for Ebonsoul. It burned as I wrapped my mind and intention around it. Through the fiery sensation that suddenly engulfed me, I materialized the silver mist. It was still mainly silver, but had violet streaks and sections of yellow swirling throughout.
The pain nearly blinded me.
I didn’t stop to give it much thought as I willed my blade into a solid form. It materialized in my hand, a heavy weight of power and death. The black blade gleamed with power as the runes pulsed red, violet and gold.
“There,” I said, holding up Ebonsoul. “Happy?”
“Ecstatic,” Hades said, fading away. “Imagine how overjoyed the Verity agents approaching this floor will be when they see that weapon in your hand as they come through that door.”
“You’re not serious,” I said, jumping out of bed and reabsorbing Ebonsoul with little discomfort. “They’re inside Haven? Where’s Roxanne? Monty?”
“Otherwise occupied, I’m afraid,” he said. “The safety of all these lives depend on you and your hound. I have full faith in your abilities. Nan will buy you time to compose yourself and help you exit. Get dressed and get moving.”
“Nan will what?” I asked, confused. “What are you talking about?”
Hades had disappeared.
I heard the shouts in the distance, followed by screams of terror.
Nan stepped into my room wearing combat armor, locking the door behind her and holding a large, double-bladed axe that looked nearly as scary as Nemain.
One covered in dark energy.
She had also grown at least a foot since I last saw her earlier in the day. She gazed down at me, giving me a curt nod.
“You make one comment about me and Stormchaser here, and you won’t have to worry about the Verity agents headed this way,” she said, giving me a once over. “Get dressed. We don’t have much time.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...