Empire of Darkness Chapter 1

The handle to the reinforced door of the trove rattles sending a mixture of excitement and fear through me. Seems our guests have finally arrived, and what a welcome they’ll receive.

You go, Pell, my inner minion cheers me on. Suckers ain’t got nothing on Secrets.

If the situation weren’t so alarming, I might laugh because she’s feisty tonight.

Harpoc shifts beside me while Nuria remains still as a statue on his other side, just as she has for the last hour since we, along with Idris and a dozen troops, squirreled ourselves away inside this secret trove. 

From what I’ve been able to make out in the dim, the space is roughly the size of the café downstairs from Harpoc’s—I mean our—apartments. But instead of the amazing aroma of coffee, stale air fills my nose.

My back aches and the cramp in my leg is only getting worse from squatting in my stiff black leathers, behind this bookcase that stretches to the ceiling. I have to say, leathers may provide protection, but they’re nothing like my comfortable sweats.

I’d be happy to help ease your pain once we’re done here. Harpoc oozes seduction through our bond and I can’t help but snicker. Nuria may be barely visible in the dim, but I don’t miss her scowl.

This particular trove happens to house the sealed confidences recorded and sealed by Lieutenant Grisha under Nuria’s command, of the ordinary citizens of Zeta, a planet in the Omega galaxy. While Harpoc seals the secrets of the most powerful, Nuria oversees the sealing of millions of secrets of ordinary beings by an army of lieutenants across the universe, Grisha being one of them.

Aura, with her gift of omnipresence, heard whisperings that Glass soldiers would attempt to breach this trove tonight—yet another of many in the past week since Veritas swore to stop leaking secrets, the lying bastard—so we’ve set ourselves in readiness to hopefully extract information from them.

Harpoc aims to interrogate the lot before they can either kill us, or kill themselves after being captured. Seems Glass has developed some sort of device that neutralizes secret magic because Glass soldiers killed our troops in five of the locations they attacked over the past week before making off with a good number of records.

Two loud bangs—sounds like a boot connecting with the door—echo about the chamber, then the door flies open, crashing against the shelves behind it.

There’s silence for several seconds before the beam of a flashlight kisses the walls on either side of the bookcase we’re behind. I lean in, to my mate, to ensure I’m not spotted.

“All clear,” a male calls, and the sounds of more boots shuffling on the rough floor, entering the space, along with several whistles ensue.

“The prince will be pleased.” Another low voice.

The prince? Not Veritas?

I look over at Nuria. She peeks around the bookcase. Her straight, white hair which is pulled back in a single ponytail, falls to the side.

“Five minutes. Grab everything you can.” It’s the first male.

Nuria nods sharply.

I’m guessing she’s deployed secret magic over our visitors because a series of explicative’s echo as we emerge from hiding. I keep my focus on the one enemy I can make out at the end of the rows of bookcases. He’s surrounded by swirling inky shadows from his waist down.

“They’re here!” The cry goes up from one of the intruders, then he’s waving his arms and the swirls fall away.

Damn, how’d he do that? It seems the reports were true; they have figured out how to neutralize secret magic, somehow.

The soldier throws something.

“Fall back!” It’s Idris. He and his troops hid throughout the middle and back of the space, and were closing in, but I hear them jump back as several explosions rock the trove. Pained cries sound along with it, seconds later.

I cower, covering my head from the dust and debris that’s falling as I grab for the end of the bookcase I just emerged from behind. I pray the lot of shelving doesn’t fall like dominos with us crushed between them.

Don’t think that, Pell. 

I ignore my inner minion as Harpoc moves past me, striding down the aisle between shelves. The trove’s heavy metal door slams shut making the only Glass troop I can see spin around and grab for the handle.

Good luck with that, Buddy.

“Capture—” Idris’s command is cut off as the sounds of knives being drawn from holsters, fists pounding flesh, and more cries erupt. In the dim, it’s hard to tell whose winning.

I pray it’s our side.

I grab a knife from my leathers—in the past week, Idris has only just begun to teach me how to defend myself, but clutching a knife I barely know how to wield beats being unarmed. My grip tightens on the handle and I steel my nerves as I follow my mate toward the continued commotion.

Several balls of light ignite as I stop between Harpoc and Nuria and my stomach clenches, taking exception to the scene before us.

Two Glass soldiers jerk and tug, determination etched on their faces, as our soldiers’ hold their arms behind their backs. Another three Glass troops lay unmoving, blood oozing from various parts of their anatomy—one’s wound looks to have been self inflicted judging by the angle of the blade protruding from his neck, the other two, or what’s left of them, look like they got caught in one of the blasts.

The tang of spilled blood hits my nose and I swallow hard.

Nuria doesn’t so much as move. No doubt she’s seen worse over the eons. Somehow I don’t know if I could ever get used to anything close to this. I’m an unemployed archeologist. Old, dead bones possess none of this gore.

I survey the rest of the scene. Four of our troops lay unmoving, suffering dismemberment from the blasts and bile rises in my throat.

Particles from the shredded pages of records lining the blast zone have fallen like snow across the floor. The bookcases themselves that were near the door are largely splintered with what remains collapsed against their neighbors.

I don’t want to think about the bits of flesh that hit the plethora of records that were in the line of fire from the blasts, but I do and I only barely swallow down my stomach’s growing need to purge itself.

You okay, love? Gentleness fillsHarpoc’s question through our bond even though his fierce expression as well as his strong posture, hands behind his back, offer no hint of weakness to anyone looking at him.

We need to get to the bottom of things. I add determination to my response as I clutch my knife, pep talking myself into snapping out of my horror.

Thankfully, my inner minion is silent. Good because I can’t deal with her right now.

“Remove their leathers,” Idris commands two of his troops. “I don’t want them having any opportunity to kill themselves with something hidden.”

I’ve never seen the general in action close up, but despite his quieter demeanor, there’s no mistaking he’s in charge. His gray eyes that are usually warm and kind are intense and focused. One of the bobbing lights casts shadows that highlight the scars on his right cheek reminding me that he’s probably seen and experienced far worse than this.

The pair of captives offer more resistance but their struggles are in vain and they soon stand in nothing more than bare feet and underwear, skin pimpled with gooseflesh, our troops again holding their arms behind their backs.

The captive on the right is blond-haired and taller than most males. The one on the left has chestnut hair and a tattoo on his bicep that reads, truth reveals all. Like everyone in Glass, they’re both beautiful males, without physical flaws but I feel no affinity for either of them despite me being a citizen of Glass. My allegiance is to my mate and Secrets and these soldiers tried to further undermine this empire. I don’t care that they’re following orders.

I stow my knife back in my leathers as Harpoc nods and our soldiers wrestle the captives until they are a good ten feet apart. Swirling shadows erupt and soon surround both of their torsos, keeping them immobile despite their continued straining to move.

It’s curious that neither of them are able to extinguish secret magic this time.

I notice the blond haired soldier’s Adam’s apple bobs as he jerks his shoulders. He’s got to be feeling the invasiveness of secret magic brushing against his skin. If his experience is like mine the first time, it feels like bugs crawling over every inch of his body. Good, hopefully it’ll make his lips looser.

Veritas—I refuse to call him “my father” because he’s acted anything but—promised to stop leaking Secrets’ sealed confidences a week ago when I threatened to broadcast the truth about his illicit affair to the whole of Glass if he didn’t agree. So why has he persisted? He’s pompous as all get out, but he’s not stupid.

“Search their leathers for anything they used to neutralize secret magic,” Idris instructs.

So I’m not the only one who noticed our prisoners’ current inability to neutralize their swirling bonds.

“General.” One of our troops shows Idris several weapons a minute later. “There’s nothing here that would extinguish secret magic, sir.”

The tattooed Glass soldier gives another good jerk to his shoulders to no effect.

Get used to it buddy, because we’ve only just begun.

“Commander. General.” Harpoc nods toward the blond captive, and Nuria and Idris amble over to him, taking their sweet time, becoming as intimidating as possible, as a veil of silence blankets Harpoc, I, and the tattooed one.

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