Sorcerer's Feud

The Runemaster, Book One. Old Secrets Wake.

Sorcerer's Feud

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Release Date : August 12, 2014

ISBN Number : 978-1-61138-429-1

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The Runemaster, Book Two

Old Secrets Wake.

Art student Maya Cantescu has always had secrets to keep — her mysterious disease that has turned her into something like a vampire, her father’s obsession with ritual magic, her own talents for the occult. Now, however, she has a secret far more dangerous than those: in self-defense, she killed a man with magic.

Can her lover, the wealthy, powerful runemaster Tor Thorlaksson, protect her from the consequences? He has dangers of his own to face, because his family’s evil past haunts him. A powerful spirit from the mists of time is hunting Tor down, in hopes of taking him away from Maya and making him her own — forever.

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Chapter 1

Late afternoon sun spilled across the living room carpet, a promise of warmth and fresh air. I turned off the hyperactive air conditioning in our second-story flat and opened the windows to let in the breeze. It carried with it the scent of our neighbor’s roses mingled with the dry grass of early fall. My laptop and a cup of coffee waited for me on the coffee table. I sat down on the leather couch and managed to control my shaking hands enough to boot up the laptop and hit the Internet. The coffee sloshed in my mug when I picked it up. I held it in both hands and tried a cautious sip.

“Sweetheart?” Tor said. “What are you doing?”

I set the coffee down and turned to look at him. He was standing just behind me and staring over my shoulder at the screen.

“Hunting for news,” I said. “Like you probably knew already.”

“Maya!” He walked around the couch and sat down next to me. “It’s been two weeks. The police have no idea that you—“

“I know that. It’s not the police thing that bothers me. I just can’t forget what happened as easily as you can.”

Tor sighed and turned sideways so he could look at me. I waited for him to go on, but he stayed silent and considered me with a little frown.

Two weeks earlier, at the beginning of September, I’d killed a man by draining him of his élan vital, his life force, his chi—different names but the same mysterious energy. I have a disease that you could call vampirism, not that I’m undead like the vampires in the movies. I just can’t regenerate my élan like normal people do, so as a child I learned how to steal it from others, just a little bit here and there, not enough to harm anyone. But I used it to kill when Tor’s uncle, Nils Halvarsson, attacked me.

“Look,” Tor said. “It was self-defense.”

“I know, but—”

“There isn’t any but. He put your brother in the hospital. He was trying to kill me. He would have killed you, too, if he’d dragged you off somewhere.” His voice dropped to a growl of rage. “And shit, who knows what he would have done to you first?”

Revulsion rose in my throat with the taste of vomit. “I know all that! But I killed someone, Tor. After I swore to God and my father that I never would.”

For a moment he blinked at me. “Okay,” he said at last. “Breaking an oath, that’s hard.”

I felt like screaming at him, but anger only wastes élan. I’d learned that lesson, too, how to keep every shred of it inside. The guilt, though, lay beyond my control. At times it made me tremble. Tor said nothing further, just watched me surf the Net until curiosity got the better of him.

“Find anything?” he said.

“What about this? You’ve got a cousin you didn’t know you had, and he’s out here now, dealing with his dad’s death.”

That revelation made Tor wince.

“He totally looks like you,” I pointed at the photo on the webpage.

Tor studied the image of another tall, lean guy with sandy brown hair and brown eyes. They shared the same strong jaw and broad hands.

“Joel Halvarsson,” Tor said. “I guess his family decided against naming him the old way. He should be Nilsson, and Joel isn’t a Nordic name.”

“You would think of that.” I tried to smile.

Tor reached over, took my hand, and kissed my fingers before he went on. “Look, brooding about it is only going to make it worse.”

“If I could stop, I would.” I let my voice trail away, because I’d spotted an important point in the web article. “I guess Joel’s not all torn up over this. Thank god for that!”

The reporter quoted him as saying, “My father was an odd, distant man. I didn’t know him well at all. He divorced my mother when I was just a kid, and I only saw him a couple of times a year.” When the interviewer asked why he was handling his father’s estate, Joel answered, “I’m the oldest son.” Nothing more.

“Oldest son, huh?” Tor said. “He must have brothers, then.”

“Nils was married a couple of times at least. Maybe he had kids in each marriage.”

“That’s a possibility, sure.”

“Do you think Joel knows that his father was a vitki? Or that you are?”

“I’m more interested in whether he’s a sorcerer himself. Run that video, will you? Maybe I can pick up something about him.”

I clicked on the arrow in the video window. Joel and the reporter basically repeated the interchange in the text. Joel spoke crisply, a little fast, but you could tell that he’d planned out every word. He ended the interview with a firm statement, “I’ve got an appointment with my father’s lawyer in an hour. That’s all I’m gong to say at this time.” I stopped the video.

“The talent’s skipped him,” Tor said. “I’m pretty sure of it, anyway. That’s a relief.”

“Why?”

“I’m hoping he won’t carry on his father’s feud with me. Joel’s going to send us something. What he sends should tell me what’s going on with him.”

“What? When did he say that?”

Tor grinned at me. Sorcery. I don’t know why I bothered to ask.

For the rest of the evening, I managed to put the killing out of my mind, but it caught up with me again. I’d been sleeping badly ever since it happened, and that night I kept waking up from pieces of bad dreams. I finally dragged myself out of bed at eight in the morning. I set up the laptop on the breakfast bar that separated our living room from the kitchen. While I ate some yogurt, I surfed for news.

Tor came yawning into the kitchen a few minutes later.

“You look tired,” he said. “Do you need élan?”

“Yeah, maybe that will help.”

“Help what? You’re not still beating yourself up over Nils, are you?” Tor caught my hand between both of his. “Sweetheart,” he said, “you really didn’t have any choice.”

I wanted to believe it, for his sake as well as mine. “Okay. You’ll have to help me forget it.”

“I’ll do everything I can. You should know that by now.”

I leaned over and kissed him. “I do know. I love you.”

“I love you too.” He took another kiss. “That’s better. You—”

The front door, downstairs at street level, buzzed as loudly as a snarling animal. The laptop screen flashed and switched automatically to the security system. I saw a grayscale shot of a FedEx man with one of their cardboard document envelopes tucked under one arm.

“I’ll go get it,” Tor said.

The documents in the envelope turned out be from Joel Halvarsson. Tor read through the cover letter, then handed it to me while he looked over some legal size papers. The letter was addressed to Torvald E. Thorlaksson, Tor’s full name.

“In a recent codicil to his will my father requested that you receive a box of various notebooks and papers, which are, as far as I can tell, written in Icelandic. I have no idea what they are, but the instructions implied that you’re capable of reading them. The docs accompanying this letter list them. He also wanted you to have a portrait of our mutual grandfather, Halvar Svansson. I’ve deposited this material at the lawyer’s office, where you can sign for it. His address and phone number is on the copies of the legal listings. You’ll need to show a picture ID. There’s been an incident. Yours, Joel Halvarsson.”

“Cold,” I said.

“He probably didn’t know I existed until he read the will.” Tor laid the papers down on the breakfast bar. “What do you say to a cousin you’ve never met?”

“And what do you think means by incident?”

“No idea!” He shrugged. “Nils hated me. Why’s he leaving me family papers?”

“Do you think they’re poisoned?”

“No.” He grinned at me. “Cursed, more like it. I’ll do a banishing over the box before I bring it into the house, don’t worry.”

“Can’t we just burn it?”

“I’m too curious.” He tapped the list with one finger. “Some of these papers come from Grandfather Halvar. His journals. A magical record. I’ve got to see them.”

I felt dread, an icy cold twist in the pit of my stomach. “It’s dangerous. Something’s wrong with the stuff at the lawyer’s. I can feel it.”

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