Welcome back to Assassin's Retirement. I've tried to come up with an intro to the last half of chapter twenty-eight but everything seems to give spoilers. So, go forth and find out what the shade will do!
Copyright Lexi Ander
"I see…" Cord started, his breath hitching. "sunshine and warm days. I smell gun metal and hope. I see the promise of… love… of belonging... of…" Cord twitched his fingers, desperately wanting to grasp onto the words spilling over his lips and never let them go. Zane's gaze turned to Cord, his brown eyes warming with welcome and perhaps understanding. "I see relentless courage… strength… unbreakable… a compass, as if Zane is true north. The rock I want to build my house on."
He pulled his gaze from Zane and looked to Alonzo. He was massive, now filling the entrance to the hallway as if he were an unmovable wall. " I see an odd sort of innocence… unquestioning loyalty… incorruptible… happiness… the promise of so much joy." His breath hitched again, gods above, he wanted that so much.
He wanted to be happy and not feel guilty that it wasn't the type of happiness the Valkyrie found. He was tired of not being what he was supposed to be. He wanted to be himself without fearing reprisals. He was tired of being found lacking by the very people he wanted to love him unconditionally. And now, with his dragon half on the verge of waking, he might never achieve the happiness he desired. When he became a Grendel there was a ninety percent chance he would be lost in the transition and his family would have to put him down before he hurt anyone. He hated putting the band in that position, asking them to stay with him because he was terrified of being alone. But if they stayed, they might have to do the unthinkable and kill him.
The shade's husky laugh caused Cord's body to break out in goosebumps. "The most powerful part of you is close to waking fully. And even as you change, with possible death nearing, you want Zane and Alonzo to join your house." The Shade stroked something deep within Cord and he sensed again his dragon-self shift sleepily. Cord's nose burned with the scent of hot metal and the taste of smoke clung to the back of his tongue.
"What would you do, halfling, if you could have both life and your house," the shade whispered in his ear.
What would he do? "Grab on with both and hands and not let go."
"And these Valkyrie you allow to torment you? Are you strong enough to walk away, never to return to the realm of your birth? For if you become mine, your blood will belong wholly to me and no one else."
Cord dragged his gaze from Zane and Alonzo to the side where his vision was clearing, allowing him to see the rest of the room. His mother argued with Myranda Anatha. Judging by the crackle of power in the air, the priestess's goddess was close to the surface once more. Saja didn't seem to notice or perhaps she didn't care.
"Valkyrie," Myranda snapped. "Outside!"
They didn't dare disobey even though Saja suborning remained. Cord looked at the woman who had given him life, who, against the odds, had worked tirelessly to make sure he stayed alive. He'd yearned for her approval for so long and he realized he would probably never have it. Did he really need it? No, not really. The knowledge still hurt though. He and Saja didn't have a mother-son bond and never would, despite what he sometimes wished. In her own way, she cared for him, her protectiveness was evidence of that. But he could not hold what wasn't in her nature against her, just as reaping the best warriors was not in his nature.
"Yes," Cord finally replied. "I can walk away." As he said the words, he'd realized they were true. After he left Asgard, he had built the family he had needed.
He glanced at the top of Raine's head, surprised to see Raine looking back up at him with concern. The shade had dropped down, though still wrapped around them. He cupped Raine's stubble cheek, and was rewarded with a hesitant smile that stretched under Cord's thumb. Raine, Anson, Xander, Prince, and Midnight were what Cord needed. If Zane and Alonzo joined them, would that be enough for him? For them?
"That is for the tribe to decide as whole," the shade said before billowing up in the middle of room, the outline of a four-legged animal becoming clear.
Upon seeing it, Saja attempted to draw her sword. Myranda hissed angrily, flicking her wrist and sending Saja flying backward to slam again the front door. In a daze, she slumped to the floor.
"You will obey me, Saja!" The icy calm in Myranda's command hinted at the danger lurking under her veil. "Or you will be replaced and sent back to Asgard in shame."
Saja flinched as if struck, but Myranda didn't release Saja from her unrelenting gaze until Saja nodded. Turning, Myranda inclined her head to the smoky creature. Her eyes blazed gold and Cord quickly glanced away, wary of being knocked unconscious again. "Greetings Father of the Night Sky, I am sorry you have been awakened from your slumber."
The creature sat on its hind legs, the posture regal as the shade brimmed with power. "I have been aware for many weeks, the danger to 'he who is loyal' was like a persistent gnat that would not leave me be. I have never cared about what transpires across the great ocean, but this north blood clan has caused me to consider visiting their house. They pose a danger to what belongs to me and I will not tolerate their overreaching grasp for power."
Myranda sighed in resignation. "I thought as much." She looked to where Zane was being held, Alonzo whispering urgently to him. Both of their expressions were unreadable. When Myranda looked at him, Cord was surprised the impact wasn't what he'd anticipated. Somehow the shade had shielded him. What did the shade's protection mean?
"Is there any way I can persuade you to allow me to handle House of Odin's Runes?" Myranda inquired almost as if she didn't care about the answer.
The shade-creature looked to Zane. "I will send a Tohil Guard with my patron instead of going myself." The 'for now' hung heavy between the shade and Myranda. "Also, tell your people I have claimed these men as well as the brother of my patron."
The possessiveness of the statement spurred Saja to stand on shaky legs. "You cannot have Cord, he's mine!" she practically shouted.
"He is not someone you can possess like the souls you tear from human bodies. He has never belonged to your realm regardless of how you have tried to make him fit. Your willful ignorance cripples your blood, makes you weak." The shade rose to four legs and paced, keeping Saja in its line of sight. "His talents are being wasted on the north bloods. I have no wish to change him or bend him to my will. He is perfect as he is." The shade's power crackled in the air. Cord swore he heard distant thunder.
"I will not let you steal him from me," Saja drew her blade.
A crack of lightning shook the windows and the smoke billowed, rolling over Cord and completely covering him as well as everyone around him. He felt as if he drifted in nothingness, but Raine's unbreakable embrace grounded him, letting him know he wasn't alone, helping to keep Cord's panic at bay.
"You will never be alone again," the shade promised. "You are now mine, and you will always be able to find me in the dark."
Table of Contents
Chapter Two - Normal is not supposed to be this hard
Chapter Three - Caught
Chapter Four - Crimson Comet
Chapter Five - Mountain Magic
Chapter Six, Part 1 - Harbinger of a Nightmare
Chapter Six, Part 2 -
Chapter Seven, Part 1 - Stolen Answers
Chapter Seven, Part 2 -
Chapter Eight, Part 1 - No such thing as heroes
Chapter Eight, Part 2 -
Chapter Nine, Part 1 - Dead is supposed to be... dead
Chapter Nine, Part 2 -
Chapter Ten, Part 1 - Gathering Allies
Chapter Ten, Part 2
Chapter Eleven - Combustible
Chapter Twelve - Standing His Ground
Chapter Thirteen - Choices
Chapter Fourteen, Part 1
Chapter Fourteen, Part 2
Chapter Fifteen, Part 1 - To kill, or not to kill
Chapter Fifteen, Part 2
Chapter Sixteen - Maricoxi Guardians
Chapter Seventeen - Coincidence?
Chapter Eighteen, Part One - Guns Ablazin'
Chapter Eighteen, Part Two
Chapter Nineteen, Part One - Reckoning
Chapter Nineteen, Part Two
Chapter Twenty - Mercy
Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One
Chapter Twenty-Two, Part Two
Chapter Twenty-Two, Part Three
Chapter Twenty-Five, Part 1
Chapter Twenty-Five, Part 2