The Shadow Mark

By: Mason Thomas

A Lords of Davenia Novel



Auraq Greystone, once a military officer with a promising future, exists on the fringe of society. Accused of murder, Auraq is on the run from the ax—until two fugitives crash into his solitary life. One is a young man named Kane. The glowing marks on his arm pulse with an otherworldly power, and they have made him the target of a sinister organization called the Order of the Jackal. When the old man protecting Kane dies in an ambush, Auraq swears an oath to take his place.

But the runes are far more significant than they realize. They are a message from the shadow realm, a dark memory of the past—one holding evidence of a bloody massacre and its savage architect; one that will shake the kingdom to its foundation. Risking arrest and execution, Auraq fights to get Kane to the capital city where the cryptic marking can be unlocked. And with assassins close on their trail, Auraq might never get the chance to show Kane what’s in his heart—or the way their journey together has changed him.

The Shadow Mark is an epic tale of magic, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and—for the two men tasked with unraveling the mystery—love and redemption.









For Kimberly Gabriel, who relentlessly pushed me to dig deeper and reach higher.





Acknowledgments





VERY SPECIAL thanks to Jessica Trent and Tye Radcliff for once again trudging through the early drafts and providing such astounding feedback and insight. And to my amazing husband for his unyielding support, encouragement, and patience.





Chapter 1





THE NIGHT had taken on an ill wind.

It was enough to stir Auraq Greystone from his musings. He looked up from the flames of his small campfire and scanned the tree line. The clearing was still quiet, but Spirit had lifted her head from her feedbag. The young bay’s ears perked up, and she stamped her hoof twice. She sensed it too.

Auraq focused his attention on the night sounds in the surrounding forest. The campfire bathed the clearing in warm light but didn’t reach far beyond the first circle of trees. If anything was out there, he wouldn’t see it. Nothing out of the ordinary reached his ears. He lifted his nose and drew in a few long breaths—the smell of smoke from his fire, the sweet fragrance of the scorched meat on the spit, the lush forest loam beneath him—again, nothing he wouldn’t expect.

But a deeper, more primal sense registered something else. There was a trace of malice in the air. Faint, but undeniable. He could feel it brush against his skin like a night mist moving silently through the trees.

He sat very still, waiting.

He wondered if it was just his imagination. After his earlier run-in with brigands, he was understandably jumpy. But the feeling was prickly enough that he was reluctant to ignore it. Perhaps the wiser thing after all would have been to take a room at the inn he passed some ways back, but his purse had grown too light as it was. He didn’t need to spend good hard-earned coin on a needless luxury when he could make do perfectly well on his own in the wild.

Besides, a crowded inn could carry more danger for him than a dark forest in the middle of the night. There was no risk of someone recognizing him here.

Nothing happened. The forest remained still.

With a tight frown, he returned his attention to his dinner. The plump rabbit was nearly ready. Fat dripped down to sizzle and hiss on the hot coals. He gave it another quarter turn on the spit and then sat back again to stare at the flames.

Something moved out in the dark wood.

The sound was clear and distinct. A dry twig snapping. He lifted his head and his back straightened as his hand drifted to the hilt of one of the swords on the ground beside him. It could have been an animal out foraging, but something about the sound made Auraq reject that. He waited, straining to pick up anything beyond the crackle of the fire and the sizzle of fat. Then heard it again—the sound a boot makes when snapping a twig on the leafy ground. It came from the direction of the road. Auraq curved his fingers around the grip, ready to slide the blade from the sheath.

Brigands again? Either a new band was thinking he was an easy target or the same ones from before had returned, thinking to retaliate for their bloody failure.

The warm fire and isolation from the road had persuaded him to take off his heavy leather jerkin. He wore only his undertunic. Now, he wondered if he had the time to slip the jerkin on before an ambush. Unprotected, he could be killed by a well-aimed arrow or crossbow bolt. But even with his vest on, there were no guarantees.

More sounds. He could hear breathing now, and the whisper of brush being pushed aside. Someone was approaching his camp. Perhaps two by the close proximity of the sounds. Either they were poorly trained at stealth or no longer cared about being heard. Bandits were at times overconfident in their ability to overwhelm their victims.

He caught movement. The firelight reached out just far enough and at the right angle to catch the white of a tunic sleeve.

“Ho there!” came a warm and friendly call. A leafy branch was lifted aside and a shape emerged from the darkness. “Hail and good eve, friend. You’ll not be needing that weapon for us.”

An old man stepped into the clearing. His face was a chaos of white hair, but among the mess, Auraq spotted a gentle smile peeking through. A rustle of foliage behind him announced the arrival of a second visitor. A man much younger than his companion. Twenty maybe. He stood partly in shadow behind the old man’s shoulder.