Night Embrace Prologue


The roaring village fires burned high into the night, licking at the dark sky like serpents twining through black velvet. Smoke wafted through the misty darkness, pungent with the scent of death and vengeance.

The sight and smell should bring joy to Talon.

It didn't.

Nothing would ever bring joy to him again.


The bitter agony that welled inside him was crippling. Debilitating. It was more than even he could bear and that thought was almost enough to make him laugh...

Or curse.

Aye, he cursed from the excruciating weight of his pain.

One by one, he had lost every human being on earth who had ever meant anything to him.

All of them.

At age seven, he'd been orphaned and left the heavy responsibility of caring for his baby sister. With nowhere to go and unable to provide for the infant himself, he had returned to the clan that had once been led by his mother.

A clan that had banished both his parents before his birth.

His uncle had been in his first year as king when Talon had forced his way into his hall. The king had grudgingly accepted him and Ceara, but his clan never had.

Not until Talon had forced them to.

They might not have respected his parentage, but Talon had made them respect his sword arm and temper. Respect his willingness to maim or slay any and all who insulted him.

By the time he'd entered manhood, no one dared to mock his birth or impugn his mother's memory or honor.

He had risen through the ranks of warriors and learned all he could about weapons, fighting, and leadership.

In the end, he had been unanimously voted his uncle's successor by the very people who had once mocked him.

As the heir, Talon had stood by his uncle's right side, protecting him relentlessly until an enemy ambush had caught them off guard.

Wounded and in physical agony, Talon had held his uncle in his arms while Idiag died from his injuries.

"Guard my wife and Ceara, boy," his uncle had whispered before his death. "Don't make me regret taking you in."

Talon had promised. But only a few months after that, he'd found his aunt raped and murdered by their enemies. Her body desecrated and left for the animals to prey upon.

Less than a full year later, he'd cradled his precious wife, Nynia, to his chest as she, too, drew her last breath and left him all alone, forever bereft of her gentle, soothing touch.

She had been his world.

His heart.

His soul.

Without her, he had no longer wished to live.

His spirit as broken as his heart, he had placed their stillborn son into her lifeless arms and buried the two of them together by the loch where he and Nynia had played as children.

Then, he'd done as he had been taught by his mother and uncle.

He had survived to lead his clan.

Laying aside his grief as best he could, he had lived only for the clan's welfare.

As a chieftain, he had spilled enough blood to fill the raging sea and had taken countless wounds on his own flesh for his people. He had led his clan to glory against all the mainlanders and northern clans who had sought to conquer them. With most of his family dead, he had given his clan everything he had. His loyalty. His love.

He had even offered them his own life to protect them from the gods.

And in one heartbeat, his clansmen had taken the last thing on this earth he had loved.


His cherished little sister whom he had sworn to his mother, father, and uncle he would protect at any cost. Ceara with her golden hair and laughing amber eyes. So young. So kind and giving.

To satisfy one man's selfish ambition, his clan had slain her before his eyes while he lay tied down, unable to stop them.

She'd died calling out for him to help her.

Her horrified screams still rang in his ears.

After her execution, the clan had turned on him and ended his life as well. But Talon's death had brought no relief to him. He had felt only guilt. Guilt and a need to right the wrongs done to his family.

That vengeful need had transcended everything, even death itself.

"May the gods damn you all!" Talon roared at the burning village.

"The gods don't damn us, we damn ourselves by our words and deeds."

Talon turned sharply at the voice behind him to see a man clothed all in black. Cresting the small rise, this man was unlike any he'd seen before.

The night wind swirled around the figure, billowing out his finely woven cloak as he walked with a large, twisted warrior's staff held in his left hand. The dark, ancient oak wood was carved with symbols, the top decorated with feathers fastened by a leather cord.

Moonlight danced upon hair that was an unearthly jet-black which the man wore in three long braids.

His silvery, shimmering eyes seemed to swirl like phantom mists.

Those glowing eyes were eerie and haunting.

Standing to the height of a giant, Talon had never before had to look up at anyone and yet this stranger seemed the size of a mountain. It wasn't until the man drew nearer that Talon realized he was only a few inches taller and not as ancient as he'd first seemed. Indeed, his face was that of a perfect youth who stood on the precious threshold between adolescence and maturity.

Until one looked closer. There in the stranger's eyes lay the wisdom of the ages. This was no lad, but a warrior who had battled hard and seen much.

"Who are you?" Talon asked.

"I am Acheron Parthenopaeus," he said in a strange accent that spoke Talon's native Celtic tongue flawlessly. "I was sent by Artemis to train you for your new life."

Talon had been told by the Greek goddess to expect this man who had roamed the earth since time immemorial. "And what will you teach me, Sorcerer?"

"I will teach you to slay the Daimons who prey upon hapless humans. I will teach you how to hide during the day so that the rays of the sun don't kill you. I will show you how to speak without revealing your fangs to the humans, and all else you need to know to survive."

Talon laughed bitterly as blinding pain swept through him once more. He ached and he hurt so much that he could scarcely breathe. All he wanted was peace.

His family.

And they were gone.

Without them, he no longer wished to survive at all. Nay, he couldn't live with this weight in his heart.

He looked to Acheron. "Tell me, Sorcerer, is there any spell you have that can take this agony from me?"

Acheron gave him a hard stare. "Aye, Celt. I can show you how to bury that pain so deep inside you that it will prick you no more. But be warned that nothing is ever given freely and nothing lasts forever. One day something will come along to make you feel again, and with it, it will bring the pain of the ages upon you. All you have hidden will come out and it could destroy not only you, but anyone near you."

Talon ignored that last part. All he wanted for now was one day when his heart wasn't broken. One moment free of his torment. He was willing to pay any cost for it.

"Are you sure I will feel nothing?"

Acheron nodded. "I can teach it to you only if you listen."

"Then teach me well, Sorcerer. Teach me well."