Shadow Phantoms by H.P. Mallory

ONE

DUINE

“Take off your clothes.”

To her credit, the woman only hesitated a moment, before starting to undress.

“Slowly,” I instructed.

She hesitated again, this time thinking how best to please me (or so I believed). Which was good, but seduction was clearly not instinctive to her. Some women know how to strip and make a show of it, others need instructions and however closely they follow those instructions, the results are never overly impressive. There is certainly something to be said for confidence.

Still, she was not an unattractive woman, her nervousness had a naïve charm of its own, and watching her was still quite pleasing. I thought about taking a few pictures on my mobile, if only to make her more amusingly self-conscious, but sometimes it is more fun just to be in the moment. Besides, the security cameras (unmanned at present) would capture everything if ever I wanted to relive it.

And I doubted I did.

I reached for the wine glass beside me, where sat a piquant merlot. Without ever taking my eyes off the woman, I took a long sip. Her long hair tumbled free—mousey brown, but appealing enough. She turned her back so I could see her hand slowly draw down the zip of her dress. That was quite well done; she was a fast study.

I adjusted the front of my trousers, which were already starting to feel a bit constricting. Turning back around to face me, her eyes peering apprehensively through the curtain of her hair, she peeled away the top of her dress to reveal large, heavy breasts in a lacy bra. Given my choice—and as High Mage and Lord of the King’s Alliance, I was well-placed to take my choice—I liked my women in their early twenties, which this one certainly was not, but she was no more than thirty-five and her figure was full, but well-proportioned. Besides, this was not an ordinary situation and the specific circumstances brought pleasures of their own.

As she began to shimmy the dress down her hips, I raised a lazy hand and made a circling gesture with my finger, instructing her to turn—I wanted to see her ass when she removed the dress. The woman did as she was instructed and the sight did not disappoint—the front of my pants now clearly showing my approval. Enjoying the show, I took another sip of merlot and wondered if it was odd that while I didn’t know this woman’s name, I did know that of her brother.

He was called Devin, and he was currently sitting in one of my cells, awaiting judgement on the crime of Vicious Dissent. Specifically, he’d voiced dissatisfaction with my leadership of the King’s Alliance. Such dissatisfaction breeds dissent, dissent breeds revolt, and a strong leader does not tolerate revolt. Revolt must be crushed.

Thus, Devin was awaiting judgement, but everyone knew what said judgement would be; Devin would die. Which was why his sister had come here to plead her brother’s case. I had asked her what she had to offer, and now I was about to find out.

It wouldn’t make a difference of course; dissent could not be tolerated. But it would have been cruel not to allow her to believe she’d done everything she could to save this Devin. I’m certainly not an unkind man.

With the dress crumpled on the floor at her feet, she tried to coquettishly kick it away, but fumbled the attempt. So she moved onto her bra, again turning her back so I could see her undo the clip before facing me once more as she allowed her breasts to tumble free. They were round and generous, and I allowed myself a growl of approval to let her know she was doing quite well. She was now naked, except for a small pair of panties, and I thought I saw her hesitate again before removing this final barrier to my greedy eyes.

“Don’t stop.” Though I said the words softly, there was no mistaking my tone of command.

The woman (Freya? Was that her name? It would do—I certainly couldn’t keep calling her ‘the woman’) moved quickly now, anxious not to upset me for her own sake as much as that of her brother. It was good to see her keen to fulfill my wishes, but there was something clumsily hurried as she looped her thumbs into the waistband of her panties and drew them down her legs, exposing herself fully to me for the first time.

“Turn around.”

Awkward and vulnerable, Freya (probably) turned around on the spot.

“Slower.”

Again, she followed my instruction and I roasted her naked body with my gaze, taking in every curve, every crease, every inch of sublime flesh and every tiny imperfection. It was not so much that I wanted to look at her, but I enjoyed her obvious discomfort in the heat of my gaze.

“Come here.”

Still tentative, but growing more confident as she became accustomed to being naked before me, she walked to where I sat.

“Kneel.”

Freya knelt down in front before me, delightfully subservient. I quite felt like the English kings of yore, whose subjects showed them proper deference.

There was no need for words now, I simply let my eyes travel down to the increasingly prominent bulge in the front of my pants.

Freya’s hands trembled slightly as she undid first my belt, then the buttons of my fly. Negotiating my boxer-briefs, she reached in and drew my aroused weapon out, her fingers feeling cool against my enflamed skin. Without needing to be told, she leaned forward to kiss then lick at me fervently, as if worshipping at some unholy altar.

I sighed in pleasure; she might only be here at the behest of her brother, but she was certainly throwing herself into the task. As she took me into her mouth, engulfing my cock in its wet heat, I took another sip of wine, stretching back in my seat to luxuriate in self-indulgent pleasure.

I had been with younger girls, prettier girls, firmer girls, but a more experienced woman brings sublime compensations. I stroked her hair and arched my hips forward to meet her. She tried to back off a little, but I took a handful of hair and drew her in, pressing more of my eager length into her luscious mouth. She struggled slightly at first, but managed to adjust herself, and even began to drag my boxers and pants down my legs, affording her more access to my body, her busy hands soon pleasing me in other ways.

I pride myself on being a strong man with a certain sexual stamina, and I was content for a longish while to simply lie back and enjoy this unexpectedly talented woman. But I was sure she had more to offer, and this would likely be my only chance to find out, since I was having her brother killed tomorrow.

I gave her a sharp tap on the top of the head. “Up.”

Freya (the more I used it, the less I thought it was actually her name, but no matter) pulled back, her eyes wide and nervously expectant.

“On the bed.”

She got up and went to sit on my bed.

“On all fours,” I instructed. I stood, pulling off my shirt as I went, and had to admit my legs felt a bit rubbery—the woman knew what she was doing.

By the time I reached the bed, I was as naked as she was. I took a moment to admire the glorious, broad cheeks of her ass, like a full moon before me, trembling slightly which only made them more appealing. She jumped slightly as I stroked my hand across the smooth flesh.

“Don’t be frightened.”

I had briefly considered the tight, wrinkled entrance of her anus, but she had treated me very well and, again, I was killing her brother the following day; why not be kind?

Kneeling on the bed behind her, I angled my sturdy member down to its target and thrust forward.

“Oh!” Hard to say if the word was born of shock or pleasure on her part, but I didn’t care much.

After the long, slow build, I was ready for action and rutted away vigorously, my hips smacking against her plump backside. Sliding my hands along her body, I filled my hands with her bountiful breasts, enjoying their weight as they bounced in time with the pounding I was giving her.

Her breaths came short and fast, as if they were knocked out of her, accompanied by irregular squeaks as I hit a particularly sensitive spot. Pulling back to hold onto her waist, I admired her ass, bounding and rippling as I thrust away. The sight was too much for me to resist and Freya yelped as I spanked her right cheek. My eyes shifted to my discarded belt nearby—now that would really make her yelp. But the red handprint emblazoned on her right cheek was more aesthetically pleasing. Freya yelped again as I walloped her left cheek, leaving a matching print burning red on her flesh.

I increased my tempo. This was turning into an unexpectedly enjoyable encounter, and the night was still young.

It was possible that I was just too caught up in what I was doing to hear the sound of the closet door behind me. Or perhaps the noise of my hips slapping against Freya’s ass, her rising squeals and my rhythmic grunting was enough to mask the noise.

Whatever the case, I had no idea of the assassin’s presence until he was right behind me. Even then, I got very lucky indeed; the brief moving shadow across Freya’s undulating back made me turn just as he was raising his blade.

As the knife fell, I threw myself to one side, pulling unceremoniously out of Freya and rolling across the bed. The knife stabbed into my silk sheets and the mattress below. Freya shrieked—which in other circumstances might have alerted my personal guards, but they did not respond to such noises when I was entertaining female guests. Rather, they quite expected them.

I opened my mouth to yell for the guard, but the assassin recovered quickly and was on me in an instant, clapping a gloved hand over my mouth and knocking the wind out of me with a knee pressed to my gut. Thusly unable to speak, I could not invoke any of the spells of protection I always had at the ready.

Desperately, I struck back at my attacker with my hands, but he lashed out with his knife, cutting me across the palm. As I recoiled from the pain, the assassin took advantage, twisting me onto my front with his knee in the small of my back, yanking both my hands behind me and kneeling on them as well. I struggled as hard as I could, but the man was strong and a skilled fighter, while I was naked and had been taken completely by surprise.

But, alas, it couldn’t end like this.

This could not be the last chapter for Duine, the meaning of which was: the Dark One. It was an apt title and had been given to me by my followers. I cannot quite remember when. It seemed quite a part of me now.

Regardless, after all I had done, I could not die like this. Naked and unarmed.

The assassin grabbed a handful of my hair and dragged my head back, baring my throat to his blade. I tried to yell for help, but with my neck at this painful angle, only a strangled cry emerged.

The blade descended and I felt the cold metal at my jugular. I grit my teeth, determined to die with as much dignity as a naked man caught in the act can muster.

But before the blade bit, there was a crash and a cry from behind me. The knife fell, the grip on my hair loosened and the weight on my back shifted enough that I could struggle free, gasping and scrabbling off the bed. Turning about, I saw my attacker sprawled on the bed, struggling to get back up, moaning in pain. Behind him stood the woman whose name might have been (but probably wasn’t) Freya, still holding the broken remnants of the chair she had smashed across the assassin’s back.

“Guards!” I yelled.

The assassin struggled to get back up, but this time I had my voice which meant I had the advantage. Speaking words of power, I sent him flying back against the wall, above the bed where he remained pinned by my magic. The man had gone about things right by attacking me at my most vulnerable time, when he knew no one outside would question sounds of a struggle; by covering my mouth and slashing my hands to prevent me from using my magic. That is how you attack a powerful mage and it had damn near worked. He could hardly have predicted how Freya would react—I doubted she could have predicted it, herself.

My personal guards charged in and were understandably taken aback by the scene they found. An assassin dead, Freya and I as naked as the day we were born, and me bleeding.

“Take him.” I indicated the assassin who was now writhing on the wall. I released him from the bonds of my magic so he fell to the bed. “Find out who he is working for and how the hell he got into my closet.”

Two of the guards grabbed the assassin and dragged him out, while the third addressed me.

“You are hurt, my lord High Mage.”

It was then I remembered my bleeding hand.

“It’s nothing.”

“Can I get you a doctor? Bandages?” He swallowed uncomfortably. “Perhaps a robe?”

“Nothing. You may go. And say nothing of this to anyone.”

The assassin must have had help getting into my room. Yes, my power increased every day, but that just meant more people trying to take me down. How many traitors were there in my growing army? I would find out and root them all out. And each one of them would die.

The guard bowed and left me alone with Freya.

Bending down, I picked up her discarded panties from the floor and wrapped them around my hand. It was not a deep cut and I murmured a few words that would aid my healing.

I looked up to where the woman stood, shivering, still wide-eyed and terrified at what she’d seen and still not quite believing what she’d done.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Geraldine.”

I hadn’t even been close.

“You saved my life, Geraldine.”

She didn’t know how to accept my gratitude, but her head bobbed in a little nod.

“Now,” my eyes turned to the bed, “let’s not let this spoil our evening. Where were we?”

Geraldine looked almost stupefied. But at least now she knew what was expected of her. I wouldn’t tell her until morning, but I’d decided to release her brother unharmed (or at least no more harmed than he had already been). Yes, the man was a dissenter (and we would continue to keep a close eye on him) but fair was fair; she had saved my life.

###

Strolling through my command center the following morning, I felt invigorated. It had been a long night but, after a rocky start, it ended up being a very pleasurable one. Geraldine had already been escorted out. She probably hadn’t enjoyed the night quite as much as I had, but her brother was waiting for her outside, so I doubt she had any complaints. And if she did, then she was not stupid enough to voice them. All in all, a good night, and I was looking forward to a productive morning.

The elevator doors hissed as they opened at the lowest level of the command center. Though the traditional stone walls and flaming torches had been replaced by easy to clean metallic surfaces and halogen lights, this floor was still referred to as the ‘Dungeon’, and I liked the name.

“High Mage.” The guards snapped to attention as I passed them to enter the interrogation room.

In the middle of the room, tied to a chair was my would-be assassin, now looking somewhat the worse for wear after several hours in the company of my guards.

“Good morning,” I said.

The man looked up, and I was impressed to see there was still defiance in his eyes.

“Anything?” I asked the guards.

They shrugged. “Not much. He told us who sent him.”

“Pagan,” I said, dismissively. I already knew who sent him. It was the only person who would have sent him. I faced the assassin with a smirk. “Why did you give that up so easily?”

The assassin gave an awkward shrug. “You already knew who sent me.”

I nodded. “Fair enough. You know what I want to know then?”

The man nodded painfully. “Where Pagan is and how I got into your room.”

“More specifically, who allowed you into my room,” I clarified. “Let us not pretend you managed it without help.”

The assassin smiled, which looked like it hurt. “As I’ve been trying to tell your men; I had help, but not from anyone here. At least not in the way you mean. You don’t have a traitor, Duine, just a lot of incompetent men. And Pagan has powerful magic on his side.”

That was not impossible, but it was also what you’d say if you were trying to protect someone. Infuriating really.

“Very well,” I took a little circuit around the man. “I’m going to offer you a generous deal; just answer one of my questions and no more torture for you.”

“I already answered one of them.”

“Not the one I want an answer to.”

“Then what is your question?”

I took the steps that separated us and got right into the man’s face. “Tell me where I can find Pagan.” I knelt down beside him, my face inches from his.

“I can’t do that.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Tell me where I can find him and perhaps I will let you live.”

The man met my gaze through blood-tinged eyes. “Do you know what I am, Duine?” I think it pleased him to call me that rather than ‘High Mage’; to call me the name others had given me rather than the title I had awarded myself.

“I know what you call yourself.”

“I am a warlock of the Templar. Death holds no fear for me. Death is but a door to another realm.”

I punched him in his gut and was pleased to see him gasp. “There are no warlocks. You are a mage and that makes you subject to me.”

“I am a warlo…” Another punch, this time to his face, cut him off.

“There are no warlocks,” I repeated. “And no witches either. Just the Mages of the King’s Alliance, trying to keep order in a disordered world. And threats to that order—threats such as you and your friend—will be terminated without prejudice.”

The man said nothing.

I sighed. “You say that you have no fear of death and I believe you. But I don’t actually want you dead. Why? Because dead men don’t talk. Except in a few very specific circumstances. We can keep you alive a long time and, to you, it will seem like a whole lot longer. But, in the end, you will talk. In the end, everyone talks.”

He was tough. But just for a split second, I saw a flicker of doubt. He knew I was right. Perhaps he’d even been on the other side of a conversation such as this one. Regardless, he knew as well as I did that in the end, everyone talked.

“Try looking at it this way,” I suggested, kindly. “How sure are you that I’m in the wrong?”

“What do you mean?”

I shrugged. “The Underworld is gone. Those old alliances are broken. The vampires and werewolves as well as the other lycanthropes, the Fae and witches, all those who lived in peace together under…” I paused. Who had they lived in peace under? The question brought a frustrating blank, but I moved on. “… who lived together in peace, have all gone their separate ways. I can’t bring that peace back and nor can your Templars. I’m just trying to make the best of a bad situation.” I took a breath. “The King’s Alliance is the closest we have to organization now, and only in organization can we regain any type of peace. If people fight against me then… well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking the eggs.” I shrugged. “Someone must rule or there will be chaos, and neither of us wants chaos. So the choice is yours; peace and rest, or chaos and pain.”