Shadow and Ice (Gods of War)(3)

By: Gena Showalter


His gaze snagged on the Enforcer who’d been assigned to Terra. He was known as Seven. Every Enforcer had an identification number rather than a name. One through ten. The higher the number, the more vicious the individual. There were hundreds of thousands of men and women who bore each number.

Seven wore a hooded black robe, his face obscured by darkness. Like a grim reaper of legend, he carried a scythe.

Knox sympathized with the death dealers, knew they were slaves, just like him, their pasts as fraught with violence as his, but he’d never met one willing to go against orders, even for the safety of another living being. They were brainwashed as children, and grew up to serve as the arm of the High Council, a seemingly undefeatable force that ensured every realm obeyed every edict, no matter how big or small.

Some Enforcers possessed special powers, some didn’t. You could win against one, even twenty, but overcoming the force as a whole was impossible. There were simply too many, unshakably loyal to each other and their leaders, and they couldn’t be reasoned with or swayed from a chosen task.

Six minutes, fourteen seconds.

Behind Knox, ice crunched. His muscles knotted, his body preparing to strike. Someone approached.

He used his ability to control shadows, forcing darkness to rise from the ground and surround him in thick waves, until he blended into the landscape. This particular skill had saved him over and over again.

He could even make the shadows spin, creating a vortex that flung opponents hundreds of yards away.

He was on alert... Waiting, ready...

Finally, Shiloh of Asnanthaleigh appeared.

{No malice or threat detected.}

During Knox’s second All War, he’d developed an eyaer, or hard-core battle instinct with one purpose, and one purpose only: to ensure he lived. To the eyaer, he didn’t even have to live well.

Despite the instinct’s reassurance, Knox trusted no one, ever, and kept his guard up.

Shiloh stopped at Knox’s side, radiating wariness as he studied the clearing.

Knox maintained a mental file about every combatant and constantly added details, tallied who had killed whom, who possessed what weapons and supernatural abilities, preferred climates, lovers, potential lovers, and who had formed alliances or vowed vengeance.

Different facts about the six-foot-eleven male raced through his mind. Comes from a heavily forested realm. Good with swords and daggers. Avoids battle if innocents are nearby. Sensitive to the plight of others.

For his home-weapon, the Asnanthaleighling selected special eye lenses that allowed him to see through anything, even Knox’s shadows.

I want. I take.

Patience.

“Hello, my friend.” Though Shiloh spoke a language Knox had never learned, the device surgically attached to the inside of his ear translated each word. Thanks to technological advancements gained every time a new realm was discovered, every combatant had a similar device, and it updated automatically.

“I’m not your friend,” Knox replied. “If you trust me, even for a moment, you’ll regret it.” That wasn’t a threat, but a fact.

Before the war, their kings had come to an agreement—Knox and Shiloh would work together to reach the final two. An unprecedented development. Most other-realmers despised Ivilandians, often referring to them as “gutter rats.” The insult wasn’t unearned. To evade a deadly topside environment, the citizens had flocked underground, where they’d lived ever since. They were led by Ansel, the king of gutter rats. He kept his word only when it suited him.

Just before Knox had left for Terra, Ansel had told him, Slay Shiloh as soon as you feel it’s necessary.

When the time came, Knox would strike, and he would strike hard, compelled by a force greater than himself.

But here was the kicker. No matter Ansel’s order, Knox would do anything to advance his personal agenda.

Some men had moral lines they wouldn’t cross. Knox found the concept of moral lines confusing. Not do everything possible to win? Foolish.

“Yesterday, I beheaded Ammarie,” Shiloh said, continuing on, ignoring Knox’s warning. “She attacked me. I merely defended myself but...”

Knox updated his tally. Twenty-four combatants stood between him and victory. “Guilt is pointless. You survived.” Shiloh had also gained custody of a mystical bow and arrow known as The Bloodthirsty. That arrow chased its victims like a heat-seeking missile, increasing in speed and ferocity with every kill it made.