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Knight of Flame
cover art © Brad Fraunfelter



Warped by the very element he's supposed to control, Develore Quinteele, sixth Knight of Flame, must find the key to balance his fire-stoked rage and overcome a centuries-old tragedy to prevent his clandestine Order's ancient enemies from destroying all life in Tampa.

Knight of Flame by Scott Eder is the winner in the Fiction Fantasy/Contemporary category of the 2014 Global eBook Awards.



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Knight of Flame

contemporary fantasy

Scott Eder





Chapter 1

Knights don't dance. Develor Quinteele wrung the leather-wrapped steering wheel and swallowed hard. The muted roar of the rented Jag's high-performance engine and smooth-as-silk ride did nothing to dispel his apprehension. Wren could have picked anything, but she chose dancing. He jammed a finger under the rigid collar of his first modern suit and yanked it away from his skin.

Great. Just great.

Dev stretched to adjust the rear-view mirror and ripped the seam of his jacket. Armani stretch wool, my ass. A growl rumbled in his chest and he glared at Wren, but she seemed oblivious to his distress.

"How much farther?" Wren's excitement tumbled out with each word. The sun's last rays reflected off the silver sequins of her micro-dress and sparkled across the car's dark chocolate interior. She shifted position, adjusted her dress, and crossed her legs. Despite her fidgeting, her head remained still, focused on the distant horizon, straining to get her first look at Club Mastodon.

Dev smiled through his growing unease. Though somewhere in her early twenties, Wren reminded him of a small child driving up to the gates of Disney World for the first time. Her usually tense and critical Japanese features were soft, eager and innocent. Seeing her excitement helped steady his nerves…a little.

"Just a few more minutes. You know I'm missing a Three Stooges marathon for this, don't you?"

"Whatevs." Wren brushed him off.

Dev checked his mirrors, vision in constant motion, and raked the hair out of his eyes. The thin, wavy strands felt foreign to his calloused fingers. He couldn't remember the last time he had more than a dark prickly shadow on top of his head, let alone mussed brown locks.

With a careless wave of his hand, he grazed the new bruise over his left eye. Damn, forgot about that. He prodded the tender skin, trying to gauge the size of the purpling evidence. So far, he'd managed to keep his fights at work from Wren. If she found out, he'd never hear the end of it. The last time, she went on and on about him being reckless, and jeopardizing the mission. Thankfully, she hadn't reported the incident to Stillman, his commander. It had been close, though. Cost Dev a night on the town. But it wasn't that big of a sacrifice. He loved her like a little sister, and enjoyed seeing her smile.

Brushing his hair forward, Dev tried to cover the injured area, and hoped for the best.

"This place won't be crowded, will it?" he asked. "You know crowds and I don't mix."

"Mmhm." Wren's arm shot out, pointed ahead and to the right. "There it is." The rest of her words blurred together, "I can't believe you got us on the list. I mean, like, I've never been to a place like this." She turned her sparkling green eyes on Dev. "Do you think a lot of movie stars will be here?"

"Breathe, Wren." Dev took the exit off I-275 south, just in sight of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and stopped at the traffic light across from the club. When Club Mastodon first opened he'd read about the local business leaders raising an uproar over how quickly the permits, zoning and associated building minutia were pushed through. But, when the club was bank-rolled by Alexander Gray, one of the head honchos at Daegon Gray, the normal red tape-covered bullshit disappeared.

Dev tilted his head as he caught his first glimpse of their destination through a ring of palm trees lining the property.

"Really? That's it?"

Wren didn't respond. Instead, she leaned forward, hands pressed tight against the dash, mouth open wide.

"It's just a big ass tent," Dev said. "I paid 10-K in advance to go to a circus?" His stomach rolled. "Wonderful."

The light changed and he pulled onto the gravel drive. Tires crunched on loose stones as they passed through the trees and drove the half-mile to the front of the club.

"I hate clowns," he murmured, "And elephants. I hate when they make those big bastards do stupid tricks."

Dev queued for the valet behind a sleek Mercedes SLR and waited his turn. The wait gave him a chance to assess the place without being obvious.

People. Damn. So many people, so many potential ways to piss me off.

A large number of the area celebrities milled about in front of the club's huge entrance. Beyond a set of giant wooden doors rose the three tall peaks of the monstrous Club Mastodon tent. Spotlights spaced evenly around the perimeter beamed on the white walls, causing them to glow. A smaller tent hung off the rear of the main, connected via covered walkway.

He couldn't see any exits other than the big main door, not even a window. They really weren't kidding about the whole privacy thing. The club was touted as the place to relax, a soothing oasis where the local aristocracy and visiting celebs could let their guard down and be themselves. In essence, society's elite could make fools of themselves without it showing up on the internet the next day. Absolutely no cameras were allowed, not even cell phones.

"It's not too late." Dev shook his head. "We could always go somewhere else." Please…anywhere else.

"Nope, we're good." Wren sounded distracted. Her gaze darted from one car window to the next. "Hey, isn't that Marcus Albright from the Bucs?"


"You know, the cornerback for the Buccaneers. Ooh, and that's the guy from that new show on AB—."

"Dennis Carlisle." The name rolled off Dev's tongue before she finished the station's call letters.

Wren oohed and ahed over a few other names he'd never heard of. Probably famous athletes or politicians or something, but he played along for her sake.

Movement. Out the window to his left. Dev tracked it out of the corner of his eye. A pair of security guards in black blazers and slacks marched down a row of exotic cars parked in tight lanes. Their heads swiveled every few feet so as not to miss anything.

More movement. Further out this time and a couple rows over. Another pair on patrol. Rent-a-cops didn't move like that. They had to be ex-military.

I bet the bulges in their jackets are compact automatic weapons.

"Geez, they take their security seriously around here." Dev spied more guards near the back tent. "Can you say overkill?"

"What are you babbling about?" Wren asked, flipping him an annoyed glance.

"Nothing…nothing." Dev moved up in line. Rhythmic burps of deep bass rattled the windows and thrummed through the steering wheel. Within seconds, the vein at his temple throbbed in time.

A valet approached the driver's side while another opened the door for Wren. Dev got out and shrugged at the tear in his jacket then met her on the curb.

"I feel naked in this." He whispered, running his hand over his chest and the expensive suit. "Out of my element."

"I feel like a princess." Wren, five-foot three, a smidgen under five-eight in her knee-high boots, twirled. Even with the added height, she only came up to Dev's chin. "Like the boots?" She modeled the right one—slick black leather that laced to the top—turning it enough to flash a red sole. "Louboutin. Got them yesterday."

Dev shrugged. "Nice, I guess. Not very practical."

She slapped his arm. "Dork. Not everything in this world is meant to be practical. I think they're gorgeous. Now, hold still." She straightened his tie and fussed with his hair, exposing his little secret.

Her eyes narrowed. "You've been fighting again." She spun on her spiked-heels, her expression blocked by the swish of her shoulder-length, ebony bob, and wound her way through the throng of socialites and celebrities.

Dev tried to keep pace, but she melted through the crowd toward the entrance. Impressed, he admired her agile dips and whirls as she put years of his hard-core physical training to unconscious use.

On her trail, he moved left and jostled the guy on his right, "Sorry," then bumped the woman on his left. "Excuse me." Anger flared, but he forced a tight smile. The shoulder-to-shoulder press of humanity reminded him of the battlefield. He slid between a pair of athletic-looking young men, but clipped one's shoulder. "Sorry, sorry."

High on alpha-male bravado, the kid tried to shove back, but Dev caught his hand before it made contact. With a deft twist, he bent the young man's wrist back and lifted him onto his toes. Dev leaned in close and bared his teeth. Anger boiled into rage, heating his body and fueling his need to fight.

"I said, pardon me." He spoke so only the impromptu ballerina could hear. Muscles tense, he wanted to yank this punk's arm off and beat him and the rest of the crowd with it, lay waste to everything around him until nothing stood between him and the entrance except Wren.

He straightened, took a loud breath through his nose, and found her off to the side near the entrance. Safe. Arms crossed. Hip cocked. Frown in place.

Crap. He'd lost control in front of her again.

"Today's your lucky day, skippy." After a last, painful wrench on his captive's arm, Dev released him and slogged his way through the crowd to Wren's side. People reacted to his rough passage, cast annoyed glances at his broad back then quickly went back to their own lives.

Every nerve, cell and fiber of Dev's being surged inside him. It didn't take much to get him going anymore. And sitting idle in Tampa for the last two years, due to a nebulous prediction of the Gray Lord's return, was not how an elemental warrior should live.

Daily skirmishes in the shipyard got him by, but he craved more. Primed for combat, he wanted a release. He wanted, no, needed, to fight. But this wasn't the time or the place. He needed to be strong, for Wren. This was her night.

"You promised the fighting would stop." Wren said between clenched teeth. "You stationed yourself at the shipyard to watch for signs of the Gray Lord, not play around. You don't see me getting in fights at the airport, do you?"

"It was just a minor disagreement," he said. "There were eight of them, jumped me behind the scrap metal piles."


A nearby couple turned to stare at Wren. Dev took her arm and pulled her further away from the crowd.

"Look, I screwed up. They usually attack in threes. I didn't see Little Mike hiding in the garbage can. He whacked me with a crowbar." Dev looked away from her accusing stare. "It's no big deal. Won't happen again." That you'll know of.

"But you —"

"Let it go. Please."

Wren opened her mouth as if to say more when her eyes opened wide. "You're hot," she whispered, "Smoking."

Dev wiggled his eyebrows. "Why, thank you, thank you very much. You're looking pretty good yourself."

"That's not what I mean."

Dev caught a whiff of burned hair. His hand shot to the top of his head and found it still covered. As his body cooled, he found the singed stalks of the little hairs on the back of his hands. The shirt cuffs were scorched as well. That was close.

"Maybe this was a mistake." Wren's tentative, quiet voice touched him. "We should go."

"No." Dev stared at his shoes. Black. Leather. Uncomfortable. "No. I'm okay. You deserve this."

Wren's face scrunched as she assessed his attitude. She nodded. "Yeah, I do. Don't screw it up."

Dev blinked….

She laughed, wrapped her arm around his, "Come on, come on," and pulled him to the entrance.

Up close, the imposing entry reminded Dev of a smaller version of the village gates on Skull Island built to keep out King Kong. A dense collection of palm fronds and exotic, big-leaf plants, surrounded a pair of giant double doors unevenly framed by thick, rough-hewn timbers. The presence of security cameras positioned within the plants did little to deter from the primordial setting.

Dev smiled and waved at the camera tracking his movements.

Another pair of guards, much bigger than those patrolling the parking lot, flanked the entrance. Clad in nothing but loincloths, with long, black hair draped over heavily muscled shoulders and square pecks, they looked like stand-ins from Conan the Barbarian. Both stared straight ahead, boulder-crushing arms rigid at their sides. If it weren't for the slight motion of their immense chests, they could be statues. A low mist crawled around their feet and billowed in front of and under the big doors. Capping off the primitive atmosphere, flames swirled and popped above their heads in a long trench dug out of the lintel.

Blessed fire. Dev focused on the flames. He felt their lure, their potential, and the fire's raw power. A taste. That's all he needed. A quick fix to steady his nerves and help him through the night. With a thought he called to his element, drew it into him. His body tingled. Invisible tendrils of heat trickled into his chest and coalesced into a fireball behind his ribcage. It churned and roiled and intensified.

"Dev." Wren's harsh whisper seemed to come from far away.

That's nice. With another thought, he capped the flow and dispersed the warmth throughout his body. It calmed his spirit, dispelled his rage.

"Dev." An elbow to the ribs punctuated her call.

Awareness rushed in as his wind rushed out. Damn, that girl knows right where to hit a guy. He wheezed, tried to refill his lungs, and ignored the curious stares of the other patrons.

* * *

Alexander Gray stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling penthouse windows and scowled at the world far below. Streetlights bathed the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Channelside shops in a sickly yellow glow. People, ants from this height, scurried through the darkness from one light post to another while a few late drivers braved the downtown Tampa streets.

His dark power surged, burrowing beneath his skin like angry wasps. With a thought he could make the shadows rise up and lay waste to those insignificant specs of life beneath him, but he reluctantly held back.

Not yet.

Out of the flat screen mounted in the corner, a local news anchor droned on about the rash of unexplained disappearances that baffled police.

Alexander smiled.

A small brown bird thumped into the window and fell dazed to the ledge. Stupid birds. Alexander crouched and tapped on the window. He knew neither the sound nor the vibration would penetrate the hurricane-proof glass, but he did it anyway.

"Hey there," he cooed, "Are you okay, little one?"

The bird got to its feet, shook his feathery head and leaned against the glass out of the wind.

"I have something for you." Alexander pressed his index finger against the thick pane and exerted a sliver of his will. A dark ribbon of inky-black energy oozed through the window and wriggled on the outside.

Startled, the bird hopped down the ledge.

"Take it." Alexander's face twitched. "Take it."

It hopped closer, its curious little head bobbing from side to side.

A little peck to taste the darkness.

The bird struck, tore off a hunk of black flesh, and bounced backward.

Alexander stopped the flow, folded his hands between his knees and studied his prey.

Its beak opened once, an unheard chirp of distress lost in the wind, and its chest expanded until hollow bone and skin could no longer contain the pressure. It exploded in a puff of gray-feathered clumps that floated away on the breeze.

Alexander stood, smoothing the imagined wrinkles from his pants, and stared at the human infestation below. If only the rest of you were so easy. A picture came to mind, one in which thousands of people writhed on the ground while their life force drained into the soil, and their skin turned the color of ash. A pleasant notion indeed.

A lightly spoken, "Sir?" accompanied a soft knock at the door. Alexander Gray, Master of Shadow, son of the last Gray Lord Bestok Molan, transformed into Alexander Gray, Regional President of Daegon Gray, philanthropist. Tight features relaxed and he coerced a false smile from his lips.


The intern from the mayor's office minced through the room reeking of Chanel and french fries.

"Yes, Miss White?" Smooth, confident, and charismatic, that's what all the local papers wrote about him. His warm, deep voice put people at ease. "How can I help you, my dear?"

"M-m-m…Mr. Gray, the reporters are st-still waiting, sir." Straight blond hair framed an attractive face. She regarded him with bright-eyed innocence tinged with a delicious helping of fear. "Are you r-r-ready to start the press conference?"

Alexander savored the uncomfortable silence when he did not answer immediately. Fresh. Young. Barely out of college. Dressed in a grown-up's business suit and conservative heels. Even in the dim lighting, he noted the slight tremble in her limbs and her delightful habit of nibbling her lower lip. Mmmm. Her life would taste sweet.

A slight buzz tickled the back of his neck, but he ignored it. Not now.

"Yes, yes. We can start." Alexander walked over, placed his hand on her lower back and escorted her to the door.

The buzz increased to a sustained tingle, urgent, insistent. I do not have time for this.

At the doorway Alexander grabbed the back of his neck as it started to burn. "I am sorry, sweetheart, but I need to make a call first. I will only be a few minutes." He pushed her out and shut the door.

Snarling, he strode to his antique mahogany desk, threw himself into the high-backed leather chair and spun to the portraits on the wall. The largest, an older gentleman in a high-collared black waistcoat and black cravat, hung in the center. Dark brown eyes, small and deep-set, stared out from narrow, emaciated features under a thin fringe of white stringy hair. Brown spots littered his pallid face like dead leaves over old snow.

Alexander took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and tried to calm his murderous thoughts, but the intensity of the pain made it more difficult than usual. He had been told his impatience would get the better of him and he didn't want to let on just how frayed he was. Frustration, anger, anticipation—feelings of any kind were considered flaws, and it would not do to show weakness in front of Bestok Molan.

Emotions masked. Breathing and heartbeat normal. Body still and relaxed. He opened his eyes and met the stare in the portrait.

"Yes, Father?"

A gnarled head pushed out from the painting, stretching the canvas into three dimensions while the background colors drained away. Bestok Molan's likeness blinked its black eyes rapidly then jerked from side to side, searching. "You are alone?" A breathy voice, like a harsh and well-articulated hiss, issued from the gaunt visage. "I hear someone."

With the contact established, Alexander's pain dissipated and he stifled a relieved moan. "That is only the television, Father." Calm, flat and deferential. No hint of emotion.

"Television." The Gray Lord spat the word out as if it were a rat hair in his porridge. "The harvest is progressing, no?"

"Yes, Father."

"Good. Good." Thin, dry lips over-enunciated every word. "Tell me."

"The club has been operational for four months and produces two hundred shadow orbs per week."

Bestok Molan's dead eyes flickered, and his upper lip twitched. "That few?"

"If we drain any more of the people's energy, they will feel it. It would not take them long, even as simple-minded as they are, to trace it back to us. With the current harvest setting, they go home feeling weak and tired, which they attribute to a hard night of revelry." He gripped the arms of his chair. "As it is, the stupid sheep have no idea we are sucking out their very life essence."

The head behind the canvas tilted. "So be it."

"Father? I wish to test the orbs on something small."


"But are we sure the death magic works? That the orbs can kill?" It galled Alexander, this asking for permission to do what should be a natural act for any Shadow Lord.

Bestok Molan pushed his bulbous head further into the room, testing the strength of the canvas, and the temperature dropped thirty degrees in less than a heartbeat.

"Do not question me again, boy." An evil grin split the Gray Lord's face. "Or have you forgotten the last time?"

"No, Father." Alexander's words puffed out in a white mist as he flexed the fingers on both hands. The painful memories of that first and only time haunted the dark recesses of his mind. Changing the subject and, hopefully, the homicidal atmosphere, he steered back to the plan. "The orbs will be ready when you need them."

"They had better be." Bestok Molan melded into the painting.

"And when is that?" Alexander knew he was pushing his luck, but could not help himself. The lack of inactivity made him reckless.

"When I am ready." Bestok Molan's head flattened out and the background colors reappeared, but the distant hiss carried one more message before fading, "Wait."

I hate that word.

The portrait was solid again, ugly.

Alexander also hated that picture, and those of his three brothers to either side.

"I am tired of waiting." Alexander got to his feet, strolled back to the window, and clasped his hands behind his back.

Another light knock sounded. His hand rose out of reflex, enwrapped in rippling gray shadow, but he stopped before he blasted the door with a bolt of dark energy. It was a close call. He needed an outlet for his frustration, or he would explode and take out Tampa in a shadowy swirl of death and destruction.

That's what he should be doing, bending the world around him to his will and that of Bestok Molan's.

But the old Gray Lord says, 'Wait.' I have waited centuries for his grand plan to take shape, bounced from one menial post to another. I had hoped this time would be different, but it does not look promising. He preaches that the world must not know of our existence until we are ready to strike. That there is no need to alert the sheep that greater powers exist, for it would give them time to prepare. It is tough enough evading the Knights' constant vigil, let alone the billions of mortals on this world.

Billions. Their numbers are too vast. Time to cull the flock.

The knock sounded again and he turned toward the door with a broad, friendly smile plastered across his face.

"Come in, Miss White."

As the door opened, he swooped to her side and took her hand. "After the press conference, how about we get a drink? I know a little pla—"

Alexander's cell phone rang.

"Excuse me, my dear. I have to take this."




Chapter 2

With Club Mastadon's back door closed behind her, Maven Triessa Gray dropped her veil. Disgust at having to put up with these lesser things, these mewling beasts, curled her lip. She was sick of hiding behind a mask of humanity.

And for what? To skim some small measure of life from these creatures?

Flawless alabaster skin tightened around her cold black eyes. We are no more than dirty beggars scratching in the filth for a copper. Maven Triessa Gray, granddaughter to the Gray Lord himself, had never felt so useless.

Tonight, that will change.

She stormed to the security alcove in the adjacent tent. A flick of her wrist and the door slammed open on a blast of frigid air. She blew in after it and stalled before the bank of monitors. The largest one in the center, the only one with a color screen, displayed a stationary view of the storage bank below the main tent's grated floor. It was the same scene every night—a growing mass of black globes lit by erratic green and blue streaks. The live feed was hazy, distorted by the life force sucked from the unsuspecting patrons on the dance floor above.

Triessa scrutinized each screen. She spared a quick glance at the shadow orbs before searching for her opportunity. At the farthest end of the small room, the head of security shivered from the intense cold that radiated out from her dead body.

"Where?" Her voice was hard and brittle.

The security officer pointed a trembling finger to the monitor on the far right. "There, Maven Triessa." A large, muscular man waved to the camera.


"Yes, Maven Triessa. The report from the Yukon outpost names him Develor Quinteele, the sixth Knight of Flame of the Knights Elementalis."

Triessa's face cracked into a jagged smile, shadow-fueled eyes riveted on Dev.

The officer continued. "Headquarters has been notified and Alexander Gray is on his way. ETA twenty minutes. Orders are not to move on the Knight until the Master arrives."

She turned her head. Long, fine white hair fell over half her face. She captured his attention with one eye and noted his sharp spike of wonderful fear. She could smell it, almost taste it, and felt his temperature rise as blood zoomed through his veins. In the cold silence of the room, she heard the desperate beating of his heart.

Slowly, deliberately, she reached out and placed her fingers on the naked skin of his neck. He flinched at her subzero touch, icy fingertips searing into unprotected flesh.

"You shouldn't have made that call. The Knight is mine."

The terrified officer's life throbbed beneath her fingers. She wanted it. She stole it. With less effort than it took to blink her eyes, she drew out his life force and bolstered her already formidable power.

The head of security slumped to the floor, skin gray and lifeless.

Triessa Gray, Maven of Shadow, granddaughter to the Gray Lord Bestok Molan, gazed back at the oaf grinning at her through the camera.

I'm coming for you, elemental warrior.

* * *

Club Mastodon's wooden doors burst open and a gaggle of Tampa's young elite, decked out in their silk suits, barely-there dresses and killer heels, staggered out to the techno barrage of Rammstein. Dev watched them lurch toward the valet podium. Exotic, citrusy scents trailed in their wake. The girls' short skirts flipped up with each awkward step. He tried to look away, but stood mesmerized by the brief glimpses of bare, tanned flesh and alluring curves until they disappeared into the back of a limo.

"You finished drooling now?" Wren asked.

"Hold on." Dev watched them drive away. "Now I'm done."

Wren sighed.

Two couples waited in line ahead of them to get in. A short, wiry man with greasy blond hair bounced around the first couple. He waved a security wand in his right hand and passed it over the gentleman first. When he ran it over the woman's purse, it buzzed. With a triumphant smile, the little man yanked the bag off her arm and tossed it into the bin behind him.

"No phones. You pick up later, lady."

The next couple stepped forward.

"Dev," Wren spoke out of the side of her mouth. "They have metal detectors."

"Yep. Hey, doesn't that little guy look like a monkey holding a banana?"

"You didn't bring the…" Wren flicked a glance toward his back, "…you know."

"Yep. Never leave home without it."

"What the—are you crazy?" Her eyes bulged.

"Relax. It's diamond. No worries." He hoped his nonchalance would calm her down, but she looked jumpier than ever.

The next couple passed without incident and the monkey man called Dev forward. Up close, the man with the wand scanner smelled like old cheese and freshly turned dirt.

"Name?" he asked.

"Rock. Party of two," Dev said.

The man nodded once and ran the wand over Dev first. No reaction. He scanned Wren, traced the wand slowly over her breasts in an electronic caress that clearly violated her personal space and broke several ethical codes.

"Watch it, monkey boy." Dev loomed over the little man. The dirt-ball backed off and waved them through with a last slimy leer at Wren. She took it all in stride, too focused on the imposing doors ahead.

"Almost there." Wren bobbed up and down and clasped Dev's hand in both of hers.

The huge doors opened to a wall of sound, smoke and light. No sooner had they cleared the entrance than the doors slammed shut behind them.

"Annnd, we're in. Great," Dev said.

"Hush." Wren dragged a reluctant Dev up the metal stairs and into the club proper. "This place is amazing." She twirled in place, taking everything in. "Look at that bar."

Dev had to admit the interior impressed him. Far bigger than he expected, the vast open space belied the tent's external dimensions. Lit only by fire light, the back end was lost in shadows. An enormous bonfire roared in the center, encircled by a black granite shelf that served as the bar. Smoke drifted up and escaped through a hole cut into the roof.

This is my kind of place.

More Conan extras, at least twenty of them, mixed and served drinks poured from assorted neon-colored bottles.

"Is that real?" Wren gaped at the mastodon skeleton. "What's holding him up, do you think?" Hind legs mounted on the bar, it reared up to the top of the tent some twenty five feet high. She stared straight up through the massive ribcage to the back of the beast's skull. "I don't see any wires."

Dev examined the skull. Just the head of the beast seemed larger than his whole body. Two long curved tusks stretched to the ceiling, forming one of the tent's three peaks. He spied two other skeletons mounted in similar positions cutting the bar into three equal sections.

"Maybe, but I didn't think mastodons grew much bigger than an elephant. This thing must be at least three times that size. Still, it's impressive. Must weigh a ton. They probably laced rods or wires through the bones to keep it up." He gave her an I-told-you-so grin.


"I knew there would be elephants."

She punched him in the arm.

"Time for a drink." Dev waved the bartender over.

"I don't think that's a good idea." Wren said.

"Just one, to toast the evening."


"Have you ever even had a drink?"

"Of cour—, oh alright, just one."

"Thatta girl. What'll you have?"

The bartender waited patiently, his long Conan wig brushing the top of the bar. The left side of his mouth twitched, and his eyes sparkled at their exchange.

Wren leaned over and raised her voice to be heard above the pulsing beat of the house music. "What's the specialty of the house?"

"We call it, Primal Fire." The bartender said.

Dev perked up at the name.

"Ooh. Sounds exotic." Wren said. "What's in it?"

"I'm not allowed to tell you the exact ingredients, but it's a complex recipe combining the perfect blend of ten top-shelf liquors. I serve it on fire. When mixed correctly, the flame burns a pure white."

Dev scoffed. "A pure flame is a myth. It's impossible."

"Sir, I can—"

"Sounds too strong for me." Wren interrupted. "I'll have a lemon drop."

"A lemon drop? Isn't that some kind of candy?" Dev asked. "Order a real drink, something that'll put hair on your chest."

Wren crinkled her nose. "No, thanks. I'll stick with the lemon drop."

The bartender looked expectantly at Dev.


"Any specific brand, sir?"

"Dalmore. Selene."

The bartender punched a few keys on the wait station to his left. "Fine, sir, but I'll have to get it from the back."

Dev nodded and turned his back on the retreating bartender, leaned against the bar and watched the tide of people surge with the music. Club Mastodon was an odd place. He'd expected a cheesy disco ball, lasers, colored lights, a cordoned off dance floor and an obnoxious DJ, but there were none of those circa-nineteen eighties trappings here.

Open. Effective. Mysterious. The central pyre and large torches placed atop columns set around the perimeter walls and throughout the open spaces provided the only light. Shadows danced at the edges of the flickering firelight and distorted the patron's faces, adding to the atmosphere of anonymity.

Nice. Dev recognized the lure of a place like this for those in the public eye. It's the perfect escape.

He shielded a yawn.

While loud and driving, the music didn't come off as strident or painful. He expected to have a splitting headache within the first two minutes, but found himself tapping his foot and nodding to the beat.

With a half embarrassed grin, Wren excused herself, dancing her way through the throng in the direction of the ladies' room.

Dev heard the footsteps behind him and turned as the waiter delivered their drinks. Closing his eyes, he swirled the glass and savored the unique scent of fine scotch. It jumped up and tickled the hair in his nose.

"A votre santé!" He inclined his head to the server and sipped. The first taste of the amber liquid burned, but tasted so good. He took another swallow to chase the napalm trail down his throat.

"Another, sir?"

"Hit me."

The bartender produced the bottle from under the table and poured a double. Dev nodded and started in.

He felt warm. No, hot. He felt hot, delightfully so, and fuzzy. Yeah, hot and fuzzy. The liquid heat seeped into his bones. Hey, where's, um, where's…Wren? Yeah, Wren.

The second glass went down quicker than the first. Within seconds he found it full again, but a single gulp solved that problem.

I feel good.

He hadn't had more than one drink in years and knew he should stop, but by some strange alcoholic magic, his octagonal glass never emptied.

A sign. He sucked back another. People and objects around him fuzzed into blobs of muted, swirling color. The music distorted, attacked his equilibrium until the room spun, and he grabbed hold of the bar to keep from falling over.

Where is that girl?

He was alone, as usual. Has to be that way. She's not safe with me. No one is. Had he known the price of becoming an elemental warrior, he might have chosen differently. Perhaps death would have been better than living through the centuries without….

He took another drink, but the miracle glass had run dry. Rage erupted. At the empty glass, at the bartender, at the club, at the world.

That's when the flame called to him.

He heard a pop followed by a long drawn out hiss. He jerked his head up, away from his baleful stare at the offending glass, to the central fire. It crackled and whispered in his ears, singing its siren song to his troubled spirit.

Yes, my old friend, I hear you.

Fire. To combat the memories and the infernal beast deep inside him, he needed warmth. He called to the flames. They flickered in response, leaned toward him. Nothing else existed for Dev, only he and the element that was as much a part of him as his own flesh.

He drew it into him, pulled a trickle from the inferno and absorbed it into his chest.


The trickle grew to a steady flow.


The heat intensified and roiled inside him. He had gone too long without the intimate kiss of the flame and he yearned for more. There was no pain, never any pain within his element, only…completion, fulfillment, but he still wanted more.

With a simple act of will, he opened himself fully to the conflagration. An invisible torrent of molten fire bored into him, melded his spirit with the pure essence of the flame and ignited his blood. It raged and screamed through his system.


Dev held something in his hand. The glass. Oh, yes, the empty glass. He dipped his head, lips parted in a grimace. He channeled the heat and energy into his hands, to his fingertips. At first, the hard surface maintained its shape, but soon wavered under the blistering onslaught. The double-thick walls folded in on themselves in a smoking heap.

"You're going to pay for that." An icy voice blew apart his fiery solitude.




Chapter 3

Rush hour ended hours ago, but the traffic on I-275 crawled. Cassidy Sinclair drove home on autopilot while her brain rehashed the last few wasted hours of her life. After a big yawn, she blew an errant strand of auburn hair out of her face and noticed a new billboard on the side of the road that announced the grand opening of the Daegon Gray wing at St. Matthew's hospital. The date posted on the sign fell exactly one week from today.

Are you kidding me?

Four hours. She'd stood for four hours on a marble tile floor in three inch heels with those damn pointy toes. And for what? To hear the President of Daegon Gray announce the opening of the new hospital wing.

I could have saved my poor feet and read the sign. She scrunched her toes against the floor mat and winced as they cracked and throbbed.

Four hours of listening to a lobby full of overpaid, surgically enhanced, bimbette news anchors cluck about Alexander Gray. Oh, he was so dreamy. Oh, he was so rich. Oh, he was so…give me a break.

The worst part about the evening was that the press conference never happened. Every thirty minutes that blond chippy from the Mayor's office popped her head out of Gray's butt long enough to announce that the meeting would start in a few minutes. Then, at around nine o'clock, she came out to say that Mr. Gray received an urgent call and had to leave.


Cassidy took a deep breath. And then another. Ran slender fingers through shoulder-length hair. A nice long soak in the pool, that's what she needed. That, and a glass of red wine.

Yeah. And my imaginary pool boy Carlos, with the washboard abs, wide shoulders and magical hands, will start at my feet and rub his way to the top.

She rolled her head. Tight muscles stretched, joints popped.

St. Matthew's. She'd blocked that place out of her mind, but this assignment dragged it back. An older hospital, it prided itself on the care of its patients. The doctors rallied around the belief that they didn't treat patients, they treated people. During her previous life as an EMT, Cassidy saw many of the St. Matthew's doctors and nurses go far beyond what the insurance companies would approve of in order to treat a person. They didn't have the latest technology or whiz-bang medical gadgets, but they had years of experience and a truck load of compassion.

If it were up to her, she would have traded that compassion for an up-to-date burn unit.

Don't go there.

She laid on the horn. "Come on, move it."

Let it go.

Now an entry-level reporter for a local rag, she wrote fluff pieces for minimum wage. The money wasn't important. Her parents had left her a few million and a nice house on Anna Maria Island that backed up to Tampa Bay. While being a reporter had never been part of her life's plan, it got her out of bed in the morning and forced her to mingle with the living again.

Cassidy slammed on the breaks and missed the car in front of her by inches. A long line of brake lights snaked out ahead of her.

Really? Tonight this happens to me? She wanted to cry. God, I just want to get home.

She smacked the steering wheel. Tears built up behind the dam of her closed eyelids.


Cassidy jumped as the first notes of ACDC's Hells Bells burst from her cell and scared away the traitorous leakage.

Saved by the bells.

The adrenaline surge sent her arm scrabbling for the phone hiding near her bag and briefcase on the passenger seat. By the second bong she flipped the top and snapped at the caller.

"Yeah, yeah. Hello?"

"Sinclair." Eric Rancor, Cassidy's editor, had a high-pitched, edgy voice that colored every conversation with a sense of impending doom. "I heard about the press conference; or, should I say, lack thereof."

Great. "And?"

"We've got nothing to run and I need a Daegon Gray story. Club Mastodon is on your way home."

"Yeah, but I'm not feeling very we—"

"Good. Head on over and see what's doin'." Eric paused, probably trying to figure out how to grease her up. "I need your take on the club atmosphere."

"They won't let me in. You know, no press."

"Talk to some of the people outside. See what they have to say. Maybe we'll get lucky. You got this." Click.

When Eric was done, he was done. No, "Goodbye." No, "See you later." He was all click-you-very-much, now do what I told you to do.

I just want to go home.

Like a good reporter, she sucked it up and checked the exits to see how far she was from the club.




Chapter 4

Wren leaned her fists on the sink and stared at her reflection in a restroom mirror shaped like a banana leaf. The owners had carried the primordial motif into the bathroom with bamboo stalls, large ferns and more flickering torches.

Coming here was a mistake. I'm supposed to keep him out of trouble, not drag him into it.

"Great," she said to herself, "Now I have another incident to report. That makes like, what, a hundred in as many days. Stillman must be getting tired of hearing about Dev's extracurricular activities."

Wren thought it weird that, when it came to official Knights Elementalis concerns, her brain referred to him as Stillman, Precept of the Knights Elementalis. For the personal stuff, though, or when they were alone, he went by the more exalted title of Father.

She frowned at her reflection.

Ugh. I never could get this make-up thing right.

She snatched a linen towel from the stack on the counter and dabbed at her blotchy mascara. The little black blobs smeared into dark smudges under her eyes. It made her look tired and old.

Oh, what was I thinking? She wet the towel and scrubbed her eyes. That he's finally going to notice me because I get all dolled up for one night? Silly, girl.

Fresh and clean, Wren tossed the towel in the bin and paused for one last inspection.

"Much better."

A big man slammed into the restroom door, knocking it off its hinges. He caromed off the wall-mounted vending machine and crashed into the open stall.

Wren crouched and reached for the knife she kept strapped to her hip, but came up empty. She'd left it back in the condo. Duh.

Her heart thumped, shaking her ribcage. It filled the silence left by the missing beat of the music that had died at some point in the past few minutes. Grunts, groans and curses sounded outside the bathroom door.

What in the world?

"Hey, man…," she looked into the stall, "You okay?"

Eyes wild, skin pale, he pulled himself up and rushed out the door without a word.

When the screams started, Wren bolted from the restroom and dove into a stampede of terrified revelers surging toward the main doors.

Can't leave that man alone for five minutes. The human tide swept her away from Dev until she ducked low and found a seam. Fighting against the press, she rolled off chests, bounced off hips, and shoved her way through. The pungent air, a fruity perfume mixed with sweat and desperation, made it hard to breathe.

Above the immediate roar, she heard Dev's bellow, urging everyone out.

She spun around a mountain of a man wearing a wrestler's luchador mask. Hey, that was El Jefe. I saw him on TV las—. A random punch to the gut set her back and she lost precious ground. Stupid, girl. Focus.

With a final twist and heave, she broke through into the clear and got her first glimpse of the situation. Dev pushed the last of the crowd toward the exit and faced off against an older woman in tight white leather. Curls of fluffy white smoke drifted up from his clothing.

This is so not good.

Four bodies littered the ground, limbs sprawled, skin gray as ash. The woman held a beautiful young starlet in a slinky black dress by the back of her neck. The girl flailed her arms and kicked wildly, but couldn't break free.

"Let her go!" Dev charged, but didn't get five feet before he bounced off a wall of shadow that sprang up from the pools of darkness at his feet.

Stunned, Wren watched Dev juke and shift in his attempt to get around the wall, but nothing worked. Shadow blocked his every move.

Wren dove through the opening in the bar to her right and crawled around to a spot about five feet from Dev. She had never seen anything stop him before. Once he charged, he won. Period. Although, she'd never seen him in an actual fight before, only sparring matches against the other Knights.

From the nearby bar prep station, Wren grabbed two small paring knives. Not much of an arsenal, but it would have to do. What she wouldn't give for her throwing knives.

With her back against the outer curve of black marble, she peeked over the rim.

The woman sneered at Dev over the starlet's shoulder as the girl's movements became sluggish and stopped. The color bled from her skin like the unfortunates already on the floor. With a nonchalant flick of her wrist, the woman dropped the body and stepped over the ungainly heap to face Dev.

With the girl's death, he prowled behind the wall like a caged tiger. Wren saw the signs of his mounting rage—tight jaw, hard eyes, hands alternately clenching and unclenching.

He's losing it. With a glance toward the front door, she verified that the last of the guests had made it out. Good. No audience.

"How does it feel, Knight of Flame, to know you let these people die?" The woman spoke, her voice a sultry purr.

He would never just let people die.

Dev responded with a murderous stare. He tested the shadow wall with a punch, found it strong, unyielding. Smoke billowed out of his suit jacket.

This close, the woman seemed much younger than Wren originally thought. Long white hair framed beautiful, pale features. The skimpy white leather skirt and vest accentuated her glamorous curves. She could be a porcelain goddess of lust, until you found her jet black eyes.

Wren shivered at the hate that emanated from those twin onyx orbs.

"You are mine, Fire Knight." The woman raised her hands, palms out, fingers up. Hundreds of misty, translucent forms slithered from the shadows all around. Within their first seconds of quasi-life, they solidified into long, gray snakes.

Wren clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle her scream, grateful for the two feet of rock bar separating her from the summoned serpents. Deep-rooted fear froze her limbs.

Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?

A multitude of forked tongues flicked in an out, searching for the scent of their prey. They converged on Dev. He continued pacing as the reptile army drew near, paying them no notice, eyes riveted to the woman.

Within striking distance, the first of the attackers reared back—mouths open, dark fangs bared.

Wren couldn't turn away. She wanted to scream at Dev, urge him to do something, but the words locked in her throat.

Dev frowned and stopped pacing. A wave of orange flame rolled out from his feet and over the snakes. They writhed in the conflagration, flipping and coiling back on themselves until the fire burned them down to crisp black husks.

The flames didn't reach her, but the scorching temperature of Dev's pest control washed over Wren, melting her fear and freeing her to move.

The woman in white pulled more darkness from the shadows, gathering it into her hands.

Dev ripped off his smoking jacket and tossed it to the side. His eyes remained glued to the figure before him. Wisps of smoke rose from his shoulders. Most of his shirt had burned away and a dagger hilt, angled down, stuck out of the worn chain harness strapped to his back. His pants smoldered. Patches of Armani wool burst into flame. Charred ends of fabric disintegrated, opening a window to the pink skin underneath.

The heat he gave off was oppressive. Between the bonfire behind her and Dev in front of her, Wren felt like a rotisserie chicken. Sweat rolled down her arms and between her breasts. Despite the swelter, she inched closer, and looked for an opening.

Knees bent, weight on the balls of his feet, Dev twisted his right arm behind his back and grasped the hilt of Cinder, his elemental dagger. As his fingers closed around the ancient weapon, the amber crystal at the base of the blade sparked to life.

The woman unleashed a smile—frigid and fierce. The shadow wall dropped.

Dev ripped Cinder from its sheath and leaped forward, halving the distance in a blur.

The roiling shadow in her hands surged forward, knocked Dev back, and wrapped his arms and legs in murky restraints.

"Dev." Wren blurted, concern overriding her caution, then ducked back behind the bar.

"Ah, there you are little one." The statuesque woman spoke, voice calm, untroubled. "I was wondering when you'd come out to play."

"Run, Wren." Dev whispered. He strained against the bands that circled his arms and legs. "Get the car. Pick me up out front."

"But I can help you."

"By all means, Develore Quinteele, let her stay." The woman gazed at Wren. "I don't know your name, child."

"Never mind her. Just go." Dev urged. "I'll handle this."

All that was left of his pants were a few fast-burning threads that clung to the curve of his butt. Wren couldn't help but stare at the ripple and play of taut muscles that strained against his constraints. Then she imagined the view from the evil albino witch's perspective.

That bitch.

Even though Dev was wrapped in shadowy ropes of energy that, for all she knew, would squeeze him into sushi, all she could think about was how that nasty slut had a prime view of her Knight in all his glory.

Wren growled and pinched the tip of the paring knife in her right hand. If I distract her, Dev can get free. Heart thumping, she exploded up, over the edge of the bar. Line of vision clear, she sighted on her target, aimed and threw. Despite the improvised weapon's awkward balance, the blade speared the corpse-like flesh of the woman's forehead.

She didn't even flinch.

In her peripheral vision, Wren caught Dev's horrified expression.

"What the hell are you doing?" He spat the question out of the side of his mouth.

"Um," Wren's eyes grew big, "Rescu—ing you."

"Nice job." Dev frowned. "Well done."

Casually, the woman grabbed the knife stuck in her forehead and drew it out. A tiny spurt of gray dust puffed from the wound, but no blood.

"Gogogo." Dev urged.


"Now, child," the woman's patronizing tone a sharp slap to Wren's ego, "that was not very nice." With one arm holding the shadow bands tight around Dev, the other clenched into a fist. She punched the air, striking out toward Wren.

The air crackled as it solidified into a large round mass that streaked across the room, gathering size and dark density from the pools of shadow in its path.

"Move!" Dev ordered. A single cut with his diamond-bladed dagger dissolved the shackles. Freed of his bonds, he leaped to intercept the attack, Cinder held before him like a talisman.

Wren ducked behind the bar, scrambled around to the opening she originally came through, and peered around the corner as the shadow struck. It smashed into Dev with the strength and speed of a semi-truck. His brow drew down and in a flash his eyes blazed from dark gray to the deep red of burning coals as he rocked back with the impact. Wisps of steam escaped from his nostrils. Cinder gripped tight, his bloodless knuckles stood out against the rest of his pink skin.

Wren felt the clash, heard him grunt under the strain, and watched the give and take as he struggled against the woman's will. Body rigid, arms outstretched, eyes focused on her opponent, she stood between Wren and the entrance.

Wren wanted to help, but Dev ordered her to get the car and she wasn't going to let him down. If anything happened to her Knight, she didn't know what she would do. Stomach in knots, she ghosted through the shadows, keeping one eye on her path and one eye on her Knight. After every few steps, she reminded herself to breathe.

She circled the combatants and got behind the woman, whose attention focused on the battle. Escape through the main doors lay mere feet away, but she couldn't bring herself to leave.

He told me to get the car. Wren's heart fluttered. But I can stop her. I can help him.

Shouts sounded from outside.

Wren whipped around to the door. Two sets of footsteps pounded on the pavement outside. She rushed to the side of the entrance, out of sight, and waited. The first guard burst through, gun immediately centering on Dev.

Wren tripped the second guard, rode him to the ground and rammed his head against the grated floor. She caught Dev's eye and he nodded, once, reinforcing his order to leave.

"ENOUGH." Dev roared.

From her perch atop the guard, Wren wiped stinging sweat from her eyes as a thick rope of fire snapped loose from the bonfire and struck Dev in the back.

Knight joined with element in a brilliant flash that incinerated the shadow magic and burned dark spots behind Wren's eyelids. When her vision cleared, Dev stood unfettered. Corded arms hung ponderous at his side. His chest heaved with each breath. A bright yellow flame flickered and danced over his skin, leaving his head untouched. He glared at his opponent with eyes transformed to the color of the sun.

Magnificent. Powerful. And gloriously naked.

"You, witch, demon, or…whatever," Dev's breath washed over the room like a scorched desert wind. "By my honor, I am forced to give you one chance to repent. However, if you refuse this offer, and I hope you do…you're toast."

Wren watched the hatred play out in the woman's features. Prominent ridges appeared across her cheeks with tightened jaw muscles and her eyes scrunched up, small and harsh. The guard at her side trembled, the tip of his semi-automatic pistol wavering like a pennant in the breeze.

Dev stepped onto the oily stain left behind when he obliterated the shadow magic.

"We'll see." She raised both arms over her head. "Awake and destroy." Gray ash gushed from her open mouth, covering the ground and bodies near her in a dense, low-hanging cloud. The corpses twitched and rose gracefully to their feet. They turned, dead eyes clamping onto Dev. As one, they sprang.

Dev's flame flared and enveloped his head in a blazing helm. His wavy brown hair burned away, filling the air with an acrid aroma.

Wren's heart threatened to beat out of her chest as she hopped up and sprinted for the door. She had to get the car, had to be ready.

She paused at the wooden doorframe and poked her head out. No guards. Maybe fifty yards to the parking lot.

A surprising number of cars remained in the lot considering the frenzied exodus that emptied the club a short time ago. Their owners clustered in groups, talking and laughing as if the insanity inside had never happened.

Are they crazy?

After a finger-rake through her hair and a dress adjustment, Wren stepped out into a too-bright night. She cursed with each sedate step as the moon shone down on her like a spotlight.

Nothing to see here.

She found the guards interspersed with the criminally stupid patrons in the parking lot.

Are they looking for me? Her eyes darted from side to side and she sipped her breath in tiny morsels as she maintained her slow, maddening pace.

Some…thing flew past overhead, blocking out the moon's glow for the span of two heartbeats. Goose bumps broke out along her arms and legs and a palpable dread buckled her knees. The sensation vanished quickly, but she couldn't shake the fear.

Screw this.

Head down, she sprinted to the car.

* * *

A hungry smile stretched across Dev's face and his fire-laced spirit soared as Wren disappeared through the doorway.

She's safe. Game on, zombies.

Gray-skinned shapes leaped and charged. To his fire-enhanced perception, their movements seemed slow and ponderous. He dashed between the bodies, stabbed Cinder hilt-deep into the chest of one and caved in the face of another with his burning fist.

The guard opened fire as the rest of the animated corpses pounced. Dev channeled his element, boosting his temperature to the extreme. Waves of blistering heat radiated from his skin and melted the oncoming bullets into tiny bits of slag that bounced harmlessly off his bare chest.

Two zombies, flashy clothes smoldering, charged high and attacked with fingers twisted into claws. The third lunged at Dev's legs. He slashed Cinder up and across in a sweeping arc, scoring a deep wound across one attacker's chest and severing the other's hand. The third he met with a straight-arm to the chest. The fiery contact ignited the shadow-man's clothes.

Some deep-seated fear of fire must have remained in that decaying brain for, as the flames spread, the attacker flailed, trying to put himself out.

Dev drove Cinder through him, severing his spine, to finish him off.

With the last reanimated corpse down, Dev grinned a promise of sharp edges and crippling pain at the guard. The guard bolted, clearing the doorway before his spent, semi-automatic clattered to the floor.

Dev spun, expecting another attack, but none came. The woman stood frozen in the same position in which she cast her spell. Cautiously, Cinder poised and ready, he closed the distance. Four feet…three feet. No reaction. Her arms stayed above her head and her eyes remained closed. If Dev hadn't seen her before, he might have mistaken her for a classic sculpture. But he knew better.

Dev cocked his arm back to deliver the coup de grace, but a sense of familiarity stayed his hand. He studied her face.

Where have I seen you before?

A high-pitched wail pierced the night. Dev jerked around and searched for the source of the tortured sound. It came from outside. He thought of Wren, hoped she made it to the car. Another noise, low and faint, whooshed, moving the walls of the tent in and out, like the lungs of a great beast.

"He comes, Knight." The woman's cruel lips barely moved to form the words.

"Who co—"

A second wail, like the sound of an air raid siren, cut his question short. Dev estimated its location just above the rear of the tent. Below that, the ceiling bowed until the leather split. Green sparks flared along the rift. The edges curled back and dissolved, expanding the opening until a large section of the roof had been eaten away.

Moonlight sneaked in…so did something else. Cloaked in a dense pocket of midnight, it defied the moon's pale light and touched down across the club.

Dev felt the vibration as it landed, tried to see through the dark veil, but failed. Something watched him. He could feel it in his bones. If he had any hair left on the back of his neck, it would be at full attention.

Jackpot. The suit of flame coating his body flared. Oh yeah, baby. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back, adjusting his grip on his elemental blade. Bring it.

From out of the lightless void appeared a man. Dressed in a sharp black business suit, he strolled across the floor to the far side of the bar and rested his hand on the massive bone foot of the mastodon. A shifting patch of shadow shrouded his face.

"Welcome to my club, Knight of Flame." A powerful voice carried across the distance as if he were no more than two paces away. "I see you have met my daughter, Triessa."

Dev looked back at the frozen figure. Her limbs trembled.

Is that fear? What could frighten her here?

"You have disappointed me again, my dear." An overly dramatic sigh leaked from his pursed lips. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

Triessa dropped to the floor as if someone had cut her strings. She struggled to her hands and knees and glared at her father. Her lips parted. Before she got the first word out, a translucent tentacle, big around as Dev, whipped out from the darkness and smashed her to the floor in a cloud of dust.

He killed his own daughter?

The Knight of Flame reeled from the charnel stench of that arm. Old death and rot clogged his nostrils. Breathing through his mouth seemed little better since the desiccated air tasted stale and musty, like it had recently blown through a crypt. That nervous flutter in his gut returned. Glancing to either side, Dev assessed his options. The exit was close, but that tentacle struck like a viper.

Having dispatched his daughter with as much ceremony as ordering take-out, the man turned to Dev and shook his head, "Children. A crippling source of disappointment." He brushed non-existent lint from his crisp lapel. "Do you have any children, Knight?"

Dev sensed a low hum, below the range of hearing. It would have escaped his notice if he hadn't been in the full embrace of his element. The undercurrent of subsonic vibration thrummed through the air and assaulted Dev's equilibrium, leaving him queasy and unsteady.

"Nothing to say? So be it." He slapped the huge bone leg and shouted, "Shreetok," in a deep, guttural rumble.

Dark magic washed through the room and over Dev, coating his skin with a noxious film. The filth turned his stomach and blurred his vision. He wanted to attack, to rip this guy to shreds, but for the first time his instincts screamed that he was in over his head.

Above him, bone scraped on bone with nails-against-a-chalkboard intensity.

Dev looked up. You have got to be kidding me.

The enormous mastodon lowered its head. One of the tent peaks came down with its tusks, but snagged on a granite pillar before it fell more than a couple of feet. The creature touched down, shaking the ground with its impact.

Dev gaped at the new obstacle standing between him and freedom. What kind of power did it take to reanimate a dead creature the size and age of this behemoth? He'd dealt with zombies and other flavors of undead, but this was different, colossal, and required power on a scale he'd never faced before.

"Beautiful, isn't she?" The smug tone jerked Dev back to reality. "And much stronger than when she was alive. Oh, yes. So much stronger." A thin smile flitted across the man's predatory features. "But I'll let you be the judge of that."

The dead beast's eye sockets flared green and fixed on Dev. The ground trembled under the weight of its first ponderous step in his direction.

Oh, sure, 'bring it on'. Dumb ass, now what are you going to do? If he ran for it, either the undead heap of bones or the tentacle would take him out.

In a sudden burst, Dev sprinted for the entrance. A second tentacle struck from the shadows, met him halfway. It swept him up and threw him across the tent where he bounced off the far wall and crashed to the floor.

Unfazed, he popped to his feet, sucking air back into his deflated body.

Nothing broken, a couple of bruises. I'm the Knight of bloody Flame, not the Knight of freakin' Air.

The short flight landed him closer to the back of the tent, and his well-dressed assailant. The same sense of familiarity he experienced with the daughter tugged at his brain.

On tree trunk-thick legs, the mastodon advanced, blocking Dev's escape route.

Wait a minute…what am I doing?

Dev called the fire from the closest torches. The flames already licking across the surface of his body intensified, changing from yellow to a deep azure blue. He backed against the leather wall and melted open a new door. The singed edge of the opening expanded quickly as the fire ate the oiled skin.

Once outside, he didn't have more than a second to check his position and get moving. He had a good idea of where he burned through and, more importantly, where he hoped Wren waited with the car. Heedless of the low scrub and brush snagging his feet, he tore around the curve of the tent. The parking lot and a cluster of clueless lingerers appeared on his right and he cursed Wren again for forcing him to wear that suit instead of his usual Quinsteele-lined leathers.

Being naked wasn't a problem. Being on fire wasn't a problem. However, being naked and on fire and running from a giant monster in front of a crowd of people wasn't his idea of a good night. To top it off, small fires erupted wherever he set his feet and blazed a clear trail for anyone or anything to follow.

The mastodon crunched into the dry brush in pursuit. Its heavy footfalls picked up the pace behind him.

Dev felt the tremors through the soles of his bare feet. He had a big speed advantage. If Wren waited out front with the car, they'd make it. If not...

She'll be there. By his reckoning, she should be coming into view any second.

Another few yards brought Dev around front. His arrival generated a few catcalls and much finger pointing from the peanut gallery in the parking lot.

"Run!" Dev yelled and waved his arms. "Get out of here."

A few people in the crowd waved back.

Dev shook his head and hoped the beast followed him, ignoring the clueless crowd.

Wren waited at the curb with the rental. Her anxious eyes lit up and she bounced in her seat to urge him on. When her eyes grew big and terrified screams erupted from the crowd, he knew the beast turned the corner.

The man in the suit emerged from the Club's entrance, crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. Two tentacles burst out of the doorway in a hail of splintered wood. One swiped at the running Knight while the other streaked toward the idling car.

Dev put on an extra burst of speed. Flame-coated legs churned. A blue tinged comet-trail thinned in his wake. The tentacle swept in low, but he hurtled it easily.

The Jag's front tires spun, kicking up a cloud of dirt and loose gravel, until they bit and the car accelerated backwards. Wren avoided the onrushing limb by inches, but barreled straight for Dev.

He narrowly avoided the Jaguar-shaped bullet and glimpsed Wren's terror-masked face as she raced by. He'd help her if he could, but he had his hands full.

The mastodon rammed the back of the car. Aluminum crumpled against bone. The trunk caved in and the car's momentum stopped dead.

Dev spared a glance for Wren and saw her struggling with the gear shift.

She's got this.

He dodged to the left as a tentacle hurtled by, but the second one, having abandoned the attack on the car, slammed into his calves and flipped him onto his back. A quick roll to the right took him out of danger as the first tentacle smashed down.

As the tentacles passed close, he scored a few deep gashes with Cinder, but the wounds closed immediately. His effort earned him a few cheers from the audience. Instead of fleeing like they should have, the left-overs watched what they thought was a staged show.

The tentacles attacked mercilessly, chasing Dev every which way. He lost track of Wren and the car. He knew he couldn't keep this up forever, needed to get to the man controlling these things.

Dev feigned right then jumped left and sprinted for the front of the tent, to the man pulling the strings. Faster. He channeled the dwindling elemental power at his command and boosted his speed.


A tentacle hammered into his waist, doubled him over. He coughed and dropped to his knees. His lungs burned with each breath. It had been a long time since he'd pushed himself like this. The life giving energy and rage of his fire sputtered.

He got to his feet in time to duck another swipe. The wind from its passing whipped the flames on his head.

Where's the oth—

It drove into his side. Ribs shattered. Flames died.

The massive blow knocked him across the gravel drive. He slid through the stones and came to rest face down in a smoking heap. Blood, road dust and small rocks filled his mouth. He groaned, tried to lift his head out of the dirt and stones, but it weighed a ton.

Get up…get up. Can't stay in one place. MOVE.

His spirit growled and spit and cursed and yelled until the body finally listened. He rolled from stomach to back as a tentacle blasted into the earth where he'd lain, clipping him in the shoulder. His left arm went numb and the side of his body felt like it had been flattened by a steamroller.

Dev closed his eyes against the pain and took a second to catch his breath.

The harsh screech of tortured metal parted the clouds over his brain and his eyes sprang open. He jerked up into a sitting position. The pain of his tortured shoulder and broken ribs made breathing excruciating, but he couldn't give up, had to keep fighting.

Cinder lay just out of reach. He knew the crushing weight of the next attack would nail him at any second and had to be ready. He dug his right hand into the gravel and pushed. Body screaming in protest, a tidal wave of nausea threatening to drown him, he fought through it, grabbed Cinder, and surged to his feet.

An odd whistle sounded off to his right. Twin midnight missiles streaked toward him.

"I'm sorry, Wren." Dev braced himself for this final impact.

Gravel popped as the car slid to a halt in front of him and the passenger door flew open.

It took him a second to realize what happened, that Wren was in front of him with what was left of the car and that it sputtered in a heap between him and the tentacles. Hope gave his rubbery legs the strength to propel him into the seat.

Wren punched it. The tentacles slammed into the driver's side, smashed the back window and lifted the car up onto two wheels. With a curse she eased off on the gas and tweaked the steering wheel to keep them from flipping over.

Once all four wheels touched down, she gunned it. The engine revved like a racecar, but the battered vehicle only limped away to the sound of grinding steel and the smell of burned rubber, carrying them barely far enough to take them out of immediate danger.

Applause and whoops of encouragement from the onlookers turned to howls of terror and pain. Gunshots rang out. Dev glanced in his side-view mirror and watched the guards open fire on the witnesses. He wanted to turn back and help, but he knew there was nothing he could do. Feeling sick and useless he sank into his seat.




Chapter 5

An angry, black cloud loomed in the near distance off the interstate just beyond Cassidy's exit. If she were lucky, Club Mastodon had been destroyed in a fire. She'd write a quick story about how sad it was to lose the club, but how wonderful it was that no one was hurt and then be off to bed.

Yeah. Right. It better not rain.

She smacked the turn signal when it refused to shut off and slammed on the brakes at the light across from the club. Eight point two miles in forty-five minutes. Are you kidding me? I should be home by now. She'd ask the first person she met two quick questions and get the hell out of Dodge.

Stopped at the streetlight across from the club entrance, she checked her makeup in the rearview. An orange glow peeked from around the mirror's edge.

Holy sh— Club Mastodon really is on fire. The sight of the fire clued in the rest of her tired senses. Smoke hung in the air and the scent of old, charred meat filtered through her open vents.

A mangled Jaguar rolled to a stop, sputtered and died next to the club's drive. A car door slammed.

Eyes focused on the bright flicker through the trees, she drove onto Mastodon property.

A shiny blur ran in front of the car. Cassidy swerved and tensed in anticipation of the thunk, but thank goodness, it never came. Pulse throbbing, she opened the window. Where'd it go? She checked out the front and leaned to the other side. Nothing.

Craaaap. Must have hit it. She opened her door. With one foot in the air, a shimmer hurtled from behind the wrecked Jag and shoved her over to the passenger seat.

"Move it."

Oh hell no. Cassidy swung her left arm with all the strength she could muster. A girl in a sequined dress dipped and returned a punch of her own that split Cassidy's lip. Blood filled her mouth and dribbled down her chin.

Cassidy screamed and launched a two handed barrage of slaps, scratches and hair grabs that would have made her self-defense instructor cringe—two years of martial arts and judo classes out the window. Her haphazard flailing continued until the tiny, sparkling girl captured her hands.

"Quit it." Sparkles said. Great. I named her like she was a new kitty.

Her grip was like iron. Cassidy pulled and twisted, but couldn't break free.

A warm tingle of honor, desperation, and fear flowed into Cassidy as she sensed the girl's emotional state through their skin-on-skin contact.

Empathy. Cassidy's grandmother had smiled at her in that private, knowing way whenever she talked about her 'gift.' Curse, more like. It had done far more harm than good through the years, and she didn't want any part of it. She'd much rather take people at face value and know them by their actions than to get a true sense of how they felt from a simple touch. Sparkle's actions should have sentenced her to a car ride of desperate fighting and escape attempts. Instead, she'd get a big dose of wait and see.

The back door opened. A heavy weight flopped into the car, shifted around amidst a chorus of groans, and closed the door.

Now what? She twisted around, caught a glimpse of a bald, dirt-streaked head, but Sparkles yanked her back before she got a better look.

"Who is…?" Cassidy asked.

"Get out." Sparkles nudged Cassidy toward the door.

A raspy male voice spoke from the back seat. "No."


Sparkles ignored the croak and shoved Cassidy toward the door. "Out."

"No, too, dangerous. Drive." The voice from the back countermanded Sparkle's insistent shoving.

"Too dangerous? What, the fire?" Cassidy asked, her curiosity getting the best of her. Her grandmother had warned her about that too.

Is he afraid I'm going to ID the girl?

Sparkles rolled her eyes. "I got this," she shot over her shoulder then turned to Cassidy, her demeanor dripping in syrupy sweetness. "The Club is on fire and the bad guys are coming. We need to leave. Right now. I can't drive if you fight me." She batted her eyelashes. "So please sit there and be quiet. When it's safe, you can go."

Please? "Look, Sparkles—"



"My name is Wren." Her eyes shifted to the front then back again. "Tick tock. What's it gonna be?

"What bad guys?"

"Wren…" The voice from the back cracked, sounded like he was in pain.

"We don't have time for this." Wren released Cassidy's arms and turned the car around.

Cassidy lunged for her door handle and cranked it down. The door swung free and nobody stopped her.

"I wouldn't do that." Wren said.

"Why?" Cassidy asked, one foot already out the door when the car shook. "What was that?"

"In or out?"

It rumbled again. Cassidy's head whipped around to Wren. "What is that?"

Wren pushed gently on the accelerator while Cassidy dangled on her decision point. "Last chance. In or out?"

Cassidy pulled her foot inside and shut the door. The shiny woman intrigued her and she was dying to know who was in her back seat. Plus, she liked this car and didn't want to hand it over to a carjacker, no matter how polite they were.

Wren took the ramp for the interstate and merged into traffic heading south towards the Sunshine Skyway. Within three car lengths, their progress ground to a halt.

"Oh, yeah. By the way…" Cassidy deadpanned, "Traffic is all backed up."

Wren closed her eyes, took a deep breath and lowered her head.

"But it'll clear up at the bridge, at the end of the construction zone." Cassidy pointed up ahead. "Yeah, see, we're almost out of it." She nudged Wren's arm. "Hey, we're moving."

Wren opened her eyes, checked the mirrors and drifted the few feet to catch up. "You, uhh, you probably won't believe this, but I'm sorry. I don't normally do this kind of thing." She dragged shaking fingers through disheveled black hair.

And an "I'm sorry?" I didn't realize they made carjackers this polite. That blows the whole image for me.

Cassidy buckled up and decided to play along for now. Who knew? This could turn into a great story.

Detached reporter mode engaged. She tried to mentally capture everything as if she were watching the events unfold in a movie. Spark—Wren obviously came from the club, based on her fancy dress, but she was coated in dirt and blood. Also, her eyes contained a wildness, a desperation that you normally didn't see after a fun night out with your boyfriend. Cassidy had covered enough police calls to recognize the look of someone who had been in a fight, a bad one by the looks of it, and this girl reeked of fear and shock and danger.

Dang it. My recorder's in the back seat.

Wren looked in the rearview way too often, like she was expecting someone to be following. Cassidy checked the mirror too and saw a long line of traffic, but nothing out of the ordinary. Something blocked out the stars up ahead for a split second then disappeared. The hairs on the back of her neck danced as a chill shook her body. She looked for it again, but failed and chalked it up to her imagination.

"Who are you looking for?" Cassidy asked. Since she was given the choice to come along, she'd make the best of the situation. When she was in Wren's grip she felt her integrity and honor. For the first time, her empathy worked in her favor. Whatever happened, she believed that Wren meant what she said about letting her go when it was safe.

The car rocked as the mystery-mister in the back moved around with a lot of grunting and groaning.

Ooh, forgot about him.

Cassidy sneaked a glimpse while Wren checked the mirrors for the thousandth time. When she saw him, her eyes flashed to Wren, then back to the guy, then back to Wren.

"Wren." Cassidy fought to keep her voice neutral and gripped her knees to steady her hands. "There's a naked man writhing in my backseat." Forget the warm fuzzies she got from Wren a few minutes ago, this new development kicked the credibility of her gift in the teeth.

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

"That's Dev."

A muffled, pained, "Hi," drifted into the front. "Kick up the heat, please."

Wren fumbled with the knobs on the strange console. The cool air came on. She turned the dial. It got cooler.

"Fakku!" Wren pushed another button and the airflow stopped. She punched the console and shouted, "Turn on the damn heat."

Cassidy jammed her finger onto the correct button and whipped the dial to red. Hot air blew out of the vents, increasing the heat in the already warm car.

"Thanks," Dev whispered.

Cassidy twisted in her seat to get a better look at her suffering passenger. Dev lay on his side in the fetal position facing toward the trunk with half his naked body hanging off the seat. Covered in dirt and blood, he took quick, shallow breaths. His skin was pink, except for his left shoulder and torso, which showed mottled grays and brown. The gigantic knife strapped to his back threw her for a second, but the EMT side of her discarded that as less important than assessing the damage to her patient.

No, not a patient, just a passenger. Get the story. Get the car. Get the heck out.

But she couldn't help herself, and assessed the injured man.

Right side of his torso caved in, indicating severe trauma with probable internal injuries. A dislocated shoulder with possible bone and muscle damage. She couldn't be sure without x-rays and an MRI, but that's what it looked like. The guy was a mess.

"He needs a hospital." Cassidy touched Dev's arm, but recoiled as if burned. "He's burning up."

"He'll be alright." Wren paused, hand raised for silence. "Did you feel that?"

Wren's nonchalance about her boyfriend's injuries bothered Cassidy. She opened her mouth to tell her so when she felt it.

Boom. The tremor was back.

Looking away from Dev, Cassidy was shocked to see the other cars obscured by fog or smoke. When did that happen? She could barely make out the tail lights of the car ahead of them. The wind must have changed and blew the smoke from the burning club over the highway.

It shouldn't be this thick.

When the traffic jam cleared, the vehicle ahead of them zoomed forward, disappearing into the gloom.


"What is that?" Cassidy asked again.


"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Wren checked the mirror even though there was no way she could see anything. "Dev, it's getting closer."

They'd made it to the bridge. Cassidy couldn't see it, the tall yellow spires and thick suspension cables having been eaten by the fog, but could tell by the change in the car's pitch as they started the climb.


The vibration rattled the windows.


"Dev?" Wren's tone raised an octave.

The roadway rumbled and shook. The frequency of the vibrations increased until it was a constant thrum through Cassidy's bones.

Boom. Boom. Crash.

Something exploded behind them and faint, disembodied screams floated on the fog.

"Keep going, but slow down when you get to the top." Dev's voice sounded stronger.

Boom. Boom.

Cassidy stared straight ahead, fingers crimped against the dash. She jumped, smacking her head into the roof, as the back end of a yellow VW Beetle crashed down in front of them. Wren yipped and jerked the wheel. Parts scattered, smoke rose from the overturned engine block and the bumper bounced over the bridge's guardrail.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.

At any moment she knew it was going to get them. Maybe she should have gotten out of the car when she had the chance. But what if this thing came from the club? What if it started the fire down there? Cassidy's brain sang through a what-if medley while with every muscle tense and hard, she waited for the crash, the collision that would destroy them. Even though she expected it, it took her by surprise.

The back end of Cassidy's sedan lifted and crashed down with a jarring bounce. A second impact hammered into the back of the car and spun it round one hundred eighty degrees. She caught a glimpse of a giant, bone head with glowing red eyes before the mist swallowed it up.

Wren slammed the car into reverse and accelerated.

The skeleton charged. Ethereal streamers peeled away from bone as it broke cover.

With her first full glimpse of the beast, the rational side of Cassidy's conscious thought switched off. This couldn't be happening, but the horror show bearing down on them looked real, felt real, and generated such a palpable feeling of evil that she wanted to scrape it off her eyeballs. She couldn't help but cringe deeper into the seat, brace herself against the dash and hold her breath.

Wren's poise astounded her. Cassidy didn't know how she managed to keep moving, to keep just out of reach of that killing machine, but was damn glad she did.

At the apex of the tall bridge, they broke free of the mist. The sudden clearing took them by surprise.

"Let me out." Dev commanded. "It's me it wants." His voice sounded stronger.

"Are you crazy?" Both girls cried in unison.

"Certifiable." Dev grabbed the door handle. "But it's what I do. After I'm gone, get out of here. That's an order."

The thing pounded after them, its curved tusks shredding the mist as it broke into the clear not ten feet in front of them.

Wren slowed. The beast gained.

The back door opened and Cassidy heard a rustling from the back seat. He's serious? He's going to jump out of a moving car to do…what? Fall over in front of that monster? She refused to look. If she didn't see his face, didn't look into his eyes, she could maintain her distance and keep this impersonal. His would be just another corpse some poor schmuck had to scrape off the pavement.

Who am I kidding?

It had become personal the moment she let her guard down and put on her old EMT hat. While she assessed his wounds, she felt that old rush, the adrenaline spike that made her feel alive and kept her going through the worst of the carnage and destruction she'd balanced on a daily basis. But that was a lifetime ago.

Cassidy heard him jump, heard his body hit the pavement with a dull thud, and heard the air gush out of his lungs.

Once Dev was clear, Wren backed into the fog down the other side of the bridge. However, instead of following the road down, she stopped inside the concealing bank and shifted into Park.

"What are you doing?" Cassidy asked.

Tears streamed down Wren's cheeks. Cassidy nodded. Whatever happened, they would wait and watch. Either way, Dev would need a ride home.

* * *

As the car slowed, Dev flopped out and rolled across the lane. A nice soft landing was out of the question, but the brutal joining of soft knight with hard roadway left him dazed. Though the ride had only lasted a few minutes, it was long enough to restore some of his energy. He'd absorbed the heat from the warm air and the hot engine to kick-start the healing process; but the harsh landing jarred his shattered ribs and injured left shoulder.

He gasped from the pain and struggled to one knee. Hand braced on his leg, he found his balance and rose to his feet. Jaw set in agony and building rage, Dev glared at his undead attacker charging across the clearing. The outcome of the battle was a foregone conclusion given the battered state of his body and dwindling elemental power. He only hoped to delay the beast long enough for the girls to get away.

The monster followed the car, unaware that its prey had thrown itself out of its hard shell.

Dev whipped Cinder from its sheath, squeezed her hilt and roared a challenge. The giant beast's hooves skidded on the smooth surface as it scrabbled to turn around.

Heat shimmered all around him—in the air, in the concrete of the bridge, in the wreckage that littered the interstate along the mastodon's wake. The Knight of Flame drew in his element.

Stripped of its warmth, the temperature of the roadway plummeted. Cracks fissured out from where he stood, jagged streaks cut across the concrete and asphalt mix. The air turned crisp and cold and the wind whipped across his face.

Blessed energy rushed into him, but his damaged body could only retain a small amount. The excess drained away like water through a sieve.

Not enough.

He called his inner flame to clothe himself and provide some measure of protection, but it wouldn't ignite. Too weak to support a sustained burn, he would have to fight unprotected. The fire-laced adrenaline that pulsed through his veins would allow him to move and put up a short fight, but no more.

The beast charged. Sharp tusks speared the air.

Before the sweeping weapons could impale him, Dev spun to his right and slashed his elemental blade at the base of one thick tusk. To his surprise, the dagger sheared through and the heavy bone clattered to the street. He smiled grimly. A shred of hope sparked in his soul.

Dev waited for the beast's charge again. His heartbeat hammered against his broken ribs, and his shoulder throbbed with each ragged breath.

It charged and swung its remaining tusk like a scythe.

Dev twisted away, but the creature still grazed him with its ribcage, knocking him off his feet. Agony jolted from his injured shoulder, but he fought off the black net of unconsciousness.

Heavy thuds drew closer. He rolled out of the way of those thundering hooves and saw the bone structure from a new perspective.

A sudden idea burned new life into his limbs. Painfully, he struggled to his feet.

This is ridiculous. When was the last time I ended up on my ass this many times?

With Cinder held in front of him at the ready and his legs flexed, Dev once again waited for death to charge. The massive skeleton slowed and made a ponderous turn amidst the wreckage.

Thank goodness that thing has the same turning radius as a freight train.

Head and torso finally aligned, the mastodon charged.

As the beast closed, Dev leaned to his left and swung his dislocated arm like a pendulum to build up momentum. The pain was incredible, but he stuck to the plan.

Spear-like tusks leveled on his midsection. Dev spun to the left as one grazed his hip, jammed his injured arm between the ribs of the beast and grabbed a fistful of bone.

The creature continued its charge, jerking Dev from his feet, but he held on despite the excruciating pain. He hacked through several giant ribs while the beast bucked and kicked until he had carved an opening large enough to crawl through then climbed into the belly of the beast.

The mastodon reared. Dev swung from one arm inside its chest cavity like a gorilla until the beast landed. Feet planted against the bottom curve of its ribs, he wedged the tip of his diamond blade between two of the shadow beast's vertebrae. The dagger slid through the mineralized connective tissue and severed the creature's spine.

Dev jumped free as the monster's skeletal structure snapped, folded in on itself, and collapsed in a heap of brown bone.

Left arm twisted behind his back, Dev lay on the roadway and stared into the nighttime sky. He'd won. He'd defeated the undead spawn, but damn he hurt. He didn't want to move, didn't want to breath. But he had to, had to get out of there before the police or medics or whoever else showed up.

He'd ordered Wren to drive away. Despite the searing agony, he laughed as he imagined himself, a naked, wounded man wielding a big knife and lying next to a mound of old bones hailing a cab at the top of the Sunshine Skyway.

I bet they don't see that every day.

A slow applause drifted out of the fog. He didn't turn to the noise, didn't move at all while he tried to place its exact location.

"That was quite impressive, Knight of Flame." The deep voice oozed condescension.

Aw crap.

Dev rolled onto his good shoulder and leveraged himself to his feet. The melody of distant sirens rose out of the haze and reminded him of his quickly shrinking escape window.

Got to make this quick. Where is he?

"I didn't expect you to defeat my pet."

The voice had moved. It sounded like he was over the water, but that wasn't possible.

"Show yourself, coward," Dev said.

A jet-black reptilian visage from out of the darkest fairy-tale rose thirty feet in front of him. Large, coal-hued eyes regarded him with a lethal cunning. It hovered over the dead space between the north and south bound lanes of the bridge. The man from the tent sat comfortably on its back.

An engine revved inside the covering fog.

Dev wearily held Cinder before him like a shield to absorb whatever foulness this new creature would hurl at him.

The nightmarish face split, revealing rows of long, saber-length teeth, and sucked in a large breath.

A blue sedan ripped through the mist and skidded to a halt between Dev and the guardrail. Dev ran for the car.

The dragon roared—hatred and hunger given voice in an earsplitting cacophony.

The shockwave smashed into Dev's back, flipping him up onto the car. Desperate to halt his momentum before he flew off the side of the bridge, he plunged his dagger into the hood. The elemental knife punched through the thin metal like it was soft cheese and sliced a long groove across the surface until the blade bit and held firm.

Dev lay spread-eagle across the hood, legs dangling over empty air, and turned to the driver. Wren. He shifted to the passenger.

Two glacial blue eyes gazed at him.

He was lost as soon as he met that stare. A beautiful stillness claimed his soul. He stopped breathing. His limbs went numb. His rage evaporated and contentment filled him like nothing ever had before.

The dragon breathed an oily black cloud that engulfed Dev and the car. The gale force tore Dev's grip loose, sent him over the rail. His skin bubbled, split, and began to dissolve.

As he plummeted, the Knight of Flame's soul swelled with an emotion vastly different from his usual anger or rage. His vision swam with the image of those two miraculous blue eyes until the warm water closed over his head and stole his senses.





Author Bio

Since he was a kid, Scott Eder wanted to be an author and explored many genres through high school and college. Fantasy, though, captivated his soul. Tales of knights and magic, dragons and elves filled his dreams. After greasing the gears of the corporate machine for many years, he escaped the Information Technology vortex to focus full-time on writing. The stories he'd envisioned years ago—of nobility and strife, honor and chaos—demanded they be brought to life.

Student of David Farland and apprentice to James A. Owen, Scott lives with his wife, two children, and a giant Chihuahua on the west coast of Florida.

TTB title: Knight of Flame

Author web site.




Knight of Flame Copyright © 2014. Scott Eder. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.


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  Author News

Knight of Flame by Scott Eder is the winner in the Fiction Fantasy/Contemporary category of the 2014 Global eBook Awards.



"In Knight of Flame Scott re-imagines traditional fantasy and forges something new from old metal--a fast-paced thriller that delivers a healthy dose of wonder. As enjoyable as it is engrossing."
~ David Farland, International Best-Selling Author

"...provides a fresh take on knights and "holy" orders in a tale that provides plenty of action, both magical and physical. The author's characters shine, and he is a rising talent to watch."
~ Library Journal

"... Just like Live Free or Die Hard, Knight of Flame has all the classic action-isms: certifiable badass main character, plenty of action and explosions, great humorous moments, and a modern, American feel. I think you could catch John McClane reading Knights of Flame on a beach in Florida somewhere. Because I don't know anything more American than John McClane and crazy things happening in Florida."
Urban Fantasy Magazine




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