Note to readers: I’m rewriting scenes from The Shadow Reader novels from Aren’s POV. It’s a fun little exercise for me, and hopefully a quick, fun read for you. Below are the four snippets that make up the first chapter of The Shadow Reader from Aren’s view. For more snippets as I write them, join my email list.
Warning: Unedited writing commences below!
Aren's POV #1
The stone in the blacksmith’s hand glows blue as he drags it along my sword one last time, sharpening the blade with his magic. The metal is dark and unevenly shaded, not pure and pretty like the Court fae’s. But this is the way it should be. It will kill just as efficiently.
The blacksmith hands the weapon to me.
“Aren,” someone calls out. I recognize the voice, and I roll my shoulders, loosening my muscles before I turn. It’s Isyll, one of our palace spies.
“You’re early,” I say, keeping my voice calm and unconcerned. Isyll jogs toward me, breathing rapidly. Edarratae flash across her skin, protesting her presence in the human world. The bright blue lightning looks agitated, and the sweat beading on her forehead indicates she fissured multiple times to get here. Good. We can’t afford the Court fae learning our location.
“The king knows,” Isyll says when she reaches me. “He knows we learned the shadow-witch’s name.”
The blacksmith curses, and a murmur runs through the other fae who are near enough to hear her words. Trev, a fire-thrower who’s even more impatient than me to kill the shadow-witch, rises from the edge of the porch of the abandoned inn we’ve taken over.
“We learned her name too easily,” he says, moving to my side. “The king has set a trap for us.”
“The king has made a mistake,” I say, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Wait here.”
I open a fissure and disappear into the slash of white light before anyone says another word. The chill of the In-Between sharpens my mind, and an instant later, when I step into my room on the inn’s third level, I know exactly what we will do.
I grab a bag from a trunk in the corner and leave the room. Via the door, not a fissure. I can’t risk the In-Between stealing the contents of the bag.
Taking the stairs three at a time, I make it back to the front door within a minute of my departure.
“We go after the shadow-witch, now,” I say, striding onto the porch. I loosen the drawstring on the bag then toss it to the ground. Dozens of anchor-stones spill out. “They’re imprinted with the location of her school. We’ll take her there.”
“That’s not our plan.”
Trev and the other fae straighten when they hear Sethan’s voice. I don’t. I hop off the porch, pick up one of the anchor-stones, and toss it to my friend, the Realm’s future king. “I made a secondary plan.”
Sethan catches the stone in the air. “When-”
“Naito looked up everything about her he could find.” Which, admittedly wasn’t much. “She has a class schedule. We’re going to disrupt it.”
Sethan’s brow furrows while he weighs my words. He has more concerns than I do. More responsibilities. He has to think about the repercussions of my actions, how they’ll be interpreted by our allies, and even by our enemies. I don’t care what the others think. I have one objective: to keep this rebellion alive and thriving. To do that, I have to take out the shadow-witch. She’s tracked down and killed too many of our fae.
“No.” Sethan shakes his head. “We need her to be alone. We’ll wait at her home.”
“The king won’t let her return to her apartment,” I say.
“We’re not certain the McKenzie Lewis we’re targeting is the king’s McKenzie Lewis.”
“Naito’s looked at all the possibilities. This one is the best candidate.”
“I don’t want-”
“Sethan,” I interrupt. “We need to do this. We need to eliminate her. She almost tracked me. If she crosses paths with you, and reads your shadows, everything you’ve worked for will be lost. This rebellion will end.”
He isn’t convinced yet. It takes everything in me to stand my ground, not to push him too hard on this. He’ll come to the same conclusion I have in time. But time is the enemy. If the king knows we know the shadow-witch’s location, he’ll send his swordmaster to save her. I would relish that fight, but not today. Today, we need to cripple the Court fae.
“The nobles who support us are growing nervous,” Trev says beside me. “They’re afraid of the shadow-witch. They think she’s immortal and infallible.”
I fight to hide my smile. Perfect timing, Trev. Political pressure will bring Sethan to my view.
“This opportunity won’t come again,” I say, just one more small nudge.
Sethan closes his eyes, and my adrenaline spikes. I’ve won.
“Stay invisible,” he says. “Watch your weapons. I want no human witnesses.”
I palm an anchor-stone. Trev and ten other fae do the same. I scan their faces quickly then meet Sethan’s gaze.
“We’ll have only one human witness,” I tell him. “And she’ll be dead in a few minutes.”
Grinning, I draw my sword then open a fissure. The king will soon learn what it feels like to lose a valuable asset.
Aren's POV #2
The second the bright white light of the In-Between disappears, I know we’re almost too late. The king’s swordmaster is here, and he’s dragging a human from one of the college’s tall, brick buildings.
Beside me, Trev lets out a hiss. He wants Taltrayn and the shadow-witch dead as much as I do, but he heard Sethan’s command: no human witnesses. Taking the girl without every other person here seeing something unusual will be almost impossible.
“We’re doing this,” I say to Trev and the other fae who fissured with us to the rooftop.
“I know what he said,” I cut him off, scanning the paved courtyard and nearby buildings. There’s only one place that might be unoccupied, a structure to the north that’s in the process of being built. It will be difficult to lure her there, but it’s our best chance.
“Force her that way.” I point to the building. It’s surrounded by a metal fence, piles of dirt and lumber, and a few inactive construction vehicles, but there’s no movement I can see. It’s late here, almost dark. Human workers travel home in the evenings. It should be empty.
“How do you expect us to do that undetected?” Trev demands.
I move to the left, following the progress of Taltrayn and the shadow-witch. “No magic. No misses with your arrows. And when you kill, make sure any dropped weapons go to the In-Between.”
“Kill them.” I fissure out before Trev can protest again. Bright light and piercing cold overwhelm my sensations for an instant, then I reappear on the ground below.
And almost get my head taken off.
Sidhe, the swordmaster is quick. I deflect his attack, but my counter is weak.
I disappear out of Taltrayn’s path, step back into the world half a foot away, just behind the shadow-witch. She has long, dark hair. I could reach out and grab a handful of it, but she’d scream. She’d draw too much attention.
I curse again. Surprise should have been on our side, but Taltrayn was ready for us, and he has reinforcements. They’re fissuring in around us as quickly as my rebels can notch and release their arrows.
A fae’s sword whistles by my head. I face my new opponent, dodge another attack.
The Court fae’s mouth is twisted into a snarl. He knows who I am. Good.
Holding his gaze, I open a path to the In-Between, step into the light, then step out at the same point. The enemy expected me to move. He’s already spinning, making it easy to lop his arm off. It drops to the ground.
No time to watch it disappear. Multiple fissures cut through the atmosphere behind me, their loud shrrips far too close. I spin, and my sword slices just below the nearest Court fae’sjaedric cuirass. Blood arcs from the gut wound, splattering on the concrete.
My boot pounds the chest of my next opponent, giving me time to defend another’s attack. I counter and kill, but another fae replaces him then another.
I have no choice but to fissure out of the way, away from Taltrayn and the shadow-witch. It doesn’t matter, though. My fae are doing exactly as I ordered, attacking hard and heavy, leaving the construction site the only potential escape path.
But Taltrayn is still at her side. That has to change.
“Cut them off,” I order as I disappear into another strip of light. Six of us emerge in front of Taltrayn and the human. She’s not a threat; he is. We let her slip past and close in on our secondary prey.
I adjust my two-handed grip on my sword and meet the swordmaster’s gaze. His expression doesn’t change. He looks at us all as if we’re deranged tor’um, unimportant and unthreatening. The arrogance fits him like his well-oiled jaedric armor and that gilded, glistening sword. Noble traem.
“Attack,” I command. My fae are getting better at working as a team. They close in on Taltrayn, giving him no choice but to disappear. Instinct tells me where he’ll emerge and I vanish, too.
I step from the In-Between swinging, and almost get the kill. But my instinct was slightly off. My sword slices through Taltrayn’s side, but it’s only a deep flesh wound.
He doesn’t give me time to hurt him again. He rounds on me with a speed and strength that’s staggering. There’s a reason he’s considered the best swordsman in the Realm. I almost forgot that in my reckless pursuit of the shadow-witch.
I reel backward. His sword passes through the air where my head was, so close I can almost feel the slice of his blade across my throat.
He’s swinging again. My heel comes down on my other foot. I try lifting my sword to block his attack, but I’m not quick enough.
He’s going to kill me.
Shock paralyzes me for the briefest instant, then I hear the sharp shrrip of my fissure opening behind me.
Taltrayn’s blade advances faster than I fall, and when a cold, piercing light sucks me out of the human world, I don’t know whether I’m entering the In-Between or the eternal Ether.
Aren's POV #3
Falling into a fissure without a plan is never a good idea. It’s even worse when the deadliest shadow-reader in the Realm is nearby. The shock of the In-Between makes it impossible to arrange a strategic exit. Fae instinctively open gateways to personal places, places that feel like home.
In my case, that’s my latest encampment.
Sethan, the fae I’m supposed to be protecting so he can take the throne, stares down at me.
“She didn’t see me,” I grind out, climbing to my feet.
“You’re sure?” he asks. His tone points out that mistakes like mine are why so many of our friends and swordsmen have been killed.
“She was scared and running, no pen or paper in hand.” I’m trying to convince myself, not him, that my words are true. This location should be safe, but the reason we’re going pursuing the shadow-witch is because she’s skilled enough to map old shadows.
I let out a sigh. Better to be cautious than to visit the Ether early. “Leave. I’ll meet you at the inn.”
Tightening my grip on my sword, I open a fissure. The In-Between holds me for a fraction of a moment then I’m back in the humans’ world.
In the twenty seconds I was away from the fight, our fortune changed. We’re losing. The king is sending every fae he has to save his precious shadow-witch, and my swordsmen are bleeding and fleeing.
Clenching my teeth, I look for my target. She’s there, running toward a fence with the sword-master at her side. While I watch, an arrow plunges into Taltrayn’s side.
He yanks it free. A smart fae would fissure to a healer, but he stays with the shadow-witch. They move together. She presses forward despite the arrows flying through the air. She has complete faith in his ability to protect her, and they’re in sync. More in sync than I’ve ever seen a shadow-reader and a fae. They know each other well. She trusts him with her life.
What might he trust her with?
The question wedges itself in my mind, but I signal to my nearest swordsmen as the shadow reader climbs the fence that surrounds the construction site. She crashes down on the other side. Gets up. Runs.
My fae occupy Taltrayn and the other Court fae. I catch Trev’s attention then, when the human disappears into the building, we fissure to its entrance.
Three more fae join us. We need line of sight to appear in unfamiliar places, so I take a step forward and peer inside.
As soon as I spot the shadow-witch sprinting across the cement floor, I enter the In-Between and exit in front of her, cutting off her escape.
She slides to a stop.
“McKenzie,” I say. Finally, we have the shadow-witch.
Her eyes go wide as she stares at me and my swordsmen, who’ve appeared on either side of me.
“McKenzie Lewis.” When I say her name this time, the panic in her posture disappears. She presses her lips into a thin, determined line then glances over her shoulder.
A slant of moonlight illuminates her face.
My first thought is that it would be a waste to kill her. She’s human and different, pretty in a foreign, innocent way, but she has fight in her eyes. Fear and hatred, too. She must believe every rumor about me that’s ever been spread. Some of them are true. The important ones are not.
Then my earlier question weaves its way through my mind again. She’s Taltrayn’s pet. She’s spoken with the king. She knows almost every high-level fae in the palace. If we could turn her…
She takes a step back, and the light that was shining on her face moves to her stomach. Her shirt is dark with blood.
“Are you hurt?” I battle down a surprisingly strong desire to step forward and heal her wounds. This human is the shadow-witch, I remind myself. She deserves to die for the fae deaths she’s called. I shouldn’t be concerned if she bleeds out.
She stares down at her shirt as if she’s never seen blood before.
Impossible. She’s seen violence – she’s responsible for most of it – but her expression hits me hard enough to fray my mental armor.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I say. “I’d like to talk to you.”
Trev’s gaze jerks toward me. I ignore him, and my plan solidifies in my mind. Yes. Much better to use her than to end her. If even half of the innocence in her eyes is real, I can make this work.
“Look.” I sheath my sword and hold my hands out. I’m not going to kill her. I’m going to convert her.
Aren's POV #4
The fear in the shadow-witch’s eyes disappears. At first, I think it’s because she’s going to trust me, but then I notice the set of her jaw, the stubborn lift of her chin. Hate radiates from her. It’s as sizzling hot as the In-Between is bitingly cold. Her expression hides nothing, and for a brief moment, I wonder what other emotions would look like on her smooth, exotic face.
I wonder what trust would look like.
I take a step toward her–
–and she lunges for the staircase.
Trev slashes his hand through the air, opening a fissure. I grab his shoulder before he can step into the light. Instinct has taken hold of me. Instinct and an idea.
Trev glares. “She’s running.”.
“If you call that a run.” I could walk up the stairs backward and still catch her. “I’ll take care of the shadow-witch. Find Naito. Have him bring transportation.”
I nod then jog after the nalkin-shom. Her footsteps pound up the stairs. My pace is leisurely, but I’m overtaking her. She stops on the fourth floor then scrambles across the cement, undoubtedly looking for a place to hide.
“You’re making this more difficult than it needs to be.” I survey the floor, the shadows cast by the machines and lumber and the orange, webbed fence blocking an opening to the edge of the building. Moonlight outlines a tall arm of a crane outside.
I take a quiet step forward and the nalkin-shom leaps from behind a piece of machinery. I’m certain she’s going to turn toward me, to attack me with that determination and hate I saw in her eyes below, but then I see what her gaze has locked on.
She attempts a suicidal leap toward the crane. My fingertips catch a strap on her backpack, enough to save her life and swing her down against the wall of the building. Her hands tangle in the orange safety fence, and she screams.
She keeps screaming.
My heart knocks again my chest. The shadow-witch is alive and dangling below, but Sidhe, that was close.
I let out a nervous laugh. “I can’t believe you held on.”
Those angry eyes glare up at me again. She kicks. The plastic fence stretches.
“Woah, easy, there. Easy.” Why am I trying to comfort her? I should let her fall. My original mission was to kill her. I shouldn’t waste my time and energy on saving her, especially not when the human police or Court fae could stumble upon us at any moment.
“Back off.” Her voice cracks. She’s still kicking. The fence is still stretching. If I want her to live, I have to calm her.
“Sure,” I say, grinning down. “No problem, but how about you give me your hand first. There’s no need for you to fall.”
“I won’t help you.”
“I’m not asking for your help.” Not yet at least. “Just give me your h–”
The plastic fence rips free from the wall. The sudden force of her weight drags me over the edge. Instead of letting go, I hold tighter to the plastic and grab the wood beam beside the opening.
McKenzie kicks and screams below.
“McKenzie. Hey, look up here, McKenzie. I’ve got you.”
Wide, frightened eyes stare up at me with an innocence and vulnerability that nearly makes me lose my grip on the window frame. My earlier instinct feels even more right.
“Stop kicking.” I make my tone soft, but demanding.
She stops. She’s listening. She knows she needs me.
“Good. Now, you’re going to have to grab my legs. I think the fence will rip if I try to pull you up. Can you do that?”
I look at the orange fence again. The plastic is stretching, in some places so much that it’s almost translucent. There’s no way the plastic will last.
Her gaze drops toward the ground.
“No, don’t look down, McKenzie. Look up here. Look at me.”
Her eyes find mine again. They’re a deep shade of brown flecked with moonlight. I’m used to the silver eyes of fae. Her eyes are darker than her hair.
“Pull yourself up.”
She manages to reach up and grab my dangling legs. As soon as I feel her arms tighten around me, I release the fence then use both hands to drag myself back up over the ledge.
“Are you okay?” I ask after I pull her up. She’s lying face down on the cement and breathing hard.
She doesn’t answer. She just lurches to her feet.
With a short laugh, I casually rise too. Three sets of fae footsteps are coming up the stairs. She’s not going anywhere.
“The police are coming,” Trev says, running into the room.
I translate his words for McKenzie, who slides to a stop. She takes a tiny step to the side. Brave little thing. Even with three fae blocking her path and me at her back, she’s thinking about running. I can see it in the way she tenses.
Grabbing her arm before she does something stupid, I guide her to the shadows along the back wall. “The police can’t help you.”
Her eyes are angry again, and something sparks through me. Chaos lusters. The blue lightning on my skin zig-zags down my arm and into McKenzie. I should be prepared for its impact, but the heat from our touch hits me in a way that no human’s ever has before.
The shock of the sensation almost makes me release her, then I see her expression. I see just how much she doesn’t like my touch.
A smile curves my lips. If I hold her hand, maybe she’ll confess all her secrets.
“Let go!” she snarls.
My smile falters. Heavy human footsteps pound up the stairs. If the police spot McKenzie, I’ll have to let her go. We don’t want normal humans to learn about our existence.
Leaning toward her ear, I whisper, “Be quiet. Be still.”
She struggles harder, opens her mouth to scream.
I silence her with my palm–
–and she bites it.
It takes everything in me not to shout or jerk free. The police wouldn’t hear me, but they’d hear McKenzie when she started to scream again.
Gritting my teeth against the pain in my hand, I say, “Sorry about this.”
I draw my dagger from my belt and slam it into her temple.
Her knees buckle, but only for an instant. She’s still conscious.
Reminding myself she’s an enemy, I fight an uncomfortable, hesitant feeling in my gut and I hit her again. This time, she goes limp.
Slowly, quietly, I lower her to the ground and press my hand against her head.
“Very sorry about that,” I whisper. Then I send my magic into her. The two red, swelling lumps on her head disappear. I keep my hand there, but cut off the magic. She’ll have a headache when she wakes up, but she won’t know I healed her.
The sound of the policemen’s footsteps fade. They’re returning downstairs, falling for a distraction my fae created. I wait several more seconds, watching the sparks of blue light on my hand. In the dark of the night and the glow of the chaos lusters, McKenzie doesn’t look like a heartless pawn of the Court fae. She looks like a spirit with her own kind of magic. This plan of mine might be more dangerous than I thought.