Shadow Bound Page 0,1

of Twilight was nigh unobstructed.

What harm could come of it, really? If he could not keep her long in Twilight, perhaps he might steal a moment here. Now.

Rending a thin layer of veil, the last remaining before her crossing, he stepped out of Twilight and into the half shadows of her room. Scents of the mortal world crowded around him, too many to discern individually. Except for her. She filled him with a single breath.

Her gaze darted to him. The brush fell to the floor. Her skin, already pale, washed white. Her eyes blinked like butterfly wings, blue-ringed indigo and fringed with curling black.

“Hush,” he said, reaching out a down-turned hand to calm the sudden shock and surprise that stopped her breath.

Her eyes filled with tears as she took in his presence, her mind working its mortal power to shape his form according to her soul’s deepest conception of what he would be. It did not change his essence; now and forever he would be the Final Courier. The Ultimate Host. Captain of the small boat that would carry her from the mortal world, across the waters of Twilight, and release her on the shore beyond.

But the form he took—that was in her keeping. If mortals only knew the power they wielded, they could reshape the three worlds with a thought. Perhaps one day they would.

What did she see when she looked at him at last? A nightmare concocted of fear, aged beyond reckoning and grotesque? It happened like that quite often. Those whose dread of the dark passage created a terror out of the ether, shaping him with their minds into a being bent on horror.

No. She did not fear time or Death. She did not tremble as he advanced closer to her. As he stepped forward to view her painting.

She’d gotten some things wrong: The black forest was darker, dark as pitch, and as inky as abject fear. She’d missed, too, the pillar of smoke that rose in the center from the fire of rage. But he was there, crouched in the foreground, a figure wrapped in gray wind. Storm wind. The kind that harries or hinders, a force unto itself. She’d caught that exactly, but she did not depict his face.

What did she see? The question pricked him.

“Is it a good likeness?” Anxiety pitched her voice high.

He shifted his gaze to her. “Yes.”

She inhaled deeply, tamping down her emotion. “What is beyond the sea?”

He contemplated that often himself. “I don’t know. I can’t go there.”

“But I will.”

It wasn’t a question, but he nodded a confirmation anyway.

She brushed her tears away with a wrist. Then she held a slightly trembling hand to him. “I’m Kathleen O’Brien. Nice to finally meet you in person.”

Ah, a friend, then. A companion. That was good. He did not know if he could bear it if she feared him. If she saw him as a monster.

He knew the custom, had witnessed it for a millennia or more, but still he wondered as he reached out his own hand and grasped hers in a slow slide of Twilight and mortal skin. She was warm, soft, and for all her frailty, as strong as the tide. Her heartbeat reached to the end of her fingertips and stirred something alien in him. Curious.

She drew a careful breath. “And what’s yours?”

He’d been called many things over the years, but all those he rejected. He would not have those names formed by her lips. “I don’t have one.”

“Everyone has a name.”

“Then I’ve forgotten it. Pick another for me. I swear I won’t forget again.” He laid himself open to her, waiting for the word that would name his soul, the sound of her claim on him.

A slow smile bloomed across her face, delight washing away the last of her unease. For that alone, trespassing the boundary had been worth it, come what may.

“I’ve been calling you Shadowman for, well…forever.”

“Then I am Shadowman forever.”

She kept his hand. He did not release hers. They were anchored together yet adrift. Kindred spirits from different worlds.

The light in her spirit darkened. “Is it time?”

“No. Not now.” He skimmed his mind along the shimmering veil. The membrane was thin, but still impenetrable for a mortal. “Not today, I think.”

Creases formed between her brows as she frowned. “I’m not sure that I am ready to go, but I am tired of waiting.”

He smiled slightly. Impatience was a universal trait for mortals. For them everything had a beginning and an end, like fixed points in