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Eclipse: The Mark of the Predator

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Over seven years ago


The sound of her name in his voice electrified her. Tassha dropped her bow on Genevieve, who yelped, and grabbed for her hearthstone. "Yes, Sinaku?"

"I have something for you. Prove yourself worthy of it by finding me."

The communication ceased. Her heart pounding, Tassha put the hearthstone away and scooped up her bow from where it had fallen beside the black worg. Genevieve looked up at her mistress with too-trusting eyes. "Hunt, Gen," Tassha said.

She started off through the mist-wreathed trees and hills of the Ghostlands. Somewhere in them, Sinaku was waiting for her.

The Rangers of the Dark Sun each made camp alone. Singly, the half-dozen of them could disappear in the murky woods. Jazziks and the would-be heroes she had charmed into helping her had yet to find any of them despite repeated attempts. Tassha smirked to herself as she headed toward the last place she had seen Sinaku, sure she could do what they could not. Genevieve trotted ahead, her ears perked forward.

However, the truth was that Jazziks could have found Sinaku anytime that she really wanted to. She was an excellent ranger, twice as good as Tassha had ever been. But Tassha ignored that and told herself otherwise.

After all, she knew Sinaku better than anyone else. She had seen the darkness in him before the Eclipse had ever shadowed his soul. Jazziks had denied it, and then rejected it, and look at all the trouble she had caused.

She knelt down beside a faint track and examined it. It was too blurred to identify what sort of beast had left it. Genevieve snuffled around, but didn't seem to come up with anything. Knowing what was coming, the worg lay down and whined. "Stupid animal," Tassha snarled, and kicked her before moving on.

Dusk approached by the time she found the trail. Sinaku had been careless, it seemed, leaving a humanoid track next to the unmistakable one of his own pet worg. Fell's prints were unmatched in size by any other creature that inhabited the Ghostlands, but usually Sinaku stayed on rockier terrain, or otherwise did a better job of covering his trail. Tassha told herself he was just careless because he could afford to be, and refused to think about the fact that he had probably left the clue for her on purpose after she had taken so long to find him.

The trail from there was easy to follow. It led up through the hills, behind a troll village, and into the territory of the Amani. Tassha wrinkled her nose at the smell, but paused when the path narrowed and approached a waterfall. The creek flowed over mossy carved blocks and spattered noisily into a pool below. Tassha moved to the side to where there was cover, and sent Gen on ahead. The worg whined, but obeyed.

Her caution proved well-placed when the beast leapt down from above.

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It was Fell. The massive beast's pounce took Genevieve to the ground with a wince-inducing thud; at least, wince-inducing for anyone empathetic. Tassha was well able to comprehend the emotions and feelings of others, including animals, but she didn't feel the need to subject herself to their pain or discomfort, so the fact that the force of the attack was strong enough to nearly break Genevieve's spine didn't bother her in the slightest. The worg yelped in pain, limbs flailing, but soon found herself pinned by jaws at her neck, and went still, willingly showing her belly in prostration.

"Weak," Tassha snorted. She raised her bow, took a black-and-white feathered arrow in hand, and fired at the top of the waterfall. The arrow arced gracefully and vanished over the edge. One with identical fletchings came sailing back in return, and she grinned, moving out from cover into the open.

Sinaku stepped into sight at the top of the cliff, trees and twilit sky behind him. Her heart skipped a beat to see him looking down at her. He was dressed in all black leather, as always, his bow in hand; and the new eyepatch covered his right eye. He stood with a deadly, languid ease, something that was possibly amusement, possibly approval, in his expression. Tassha saluted, fist to heart, fiercely.

"Well done," he said. He turned away, and Tassha hastened up the path around the hill that led to the top of the waterfall. Fell let Genevieve go, and her pet worg slunk after her with tail between legs. Fell remained below, standing guard.

At the top, Sinaku stood before a low stone wall beside the creek. On it rested some candles, and the black book. Her gaze was drawn to the tome immediately even with Sinaku there; it radiated power, and with it an unnatural shadow. The darkness of it matched the darkness in Sinaku's voice when he spoke.

"Are you loyal to me, Tassha?"

Anything he said tended to sound like a threat, with those undertones of predation in his voice, and this was certainly no exception. Tassha immediately dropped to her knees, bowing her head. It didn't cross her mind that this was no different than what she had just scoffed at Genevieve for doing.

"Yes... I am yours to command." She swallowed. "Ask me anything, and I will do it for you."

She didn't see the satisfied flicker in his eyes. But she could sense his interest in her wane as he turned away. It was as it always was; she did not interest him. He spoke. "I know you bear no love for my sister, Tassha."

Anger flared in her heart. "She betrayed you. You do everything for her... and she rejects you."

Sinaku moved with stunning speed; she barely had time to register that he had turned before his backhanded blow knocked her sprawling. "Don't profane my sister with such words," he snarled. "Jazziks adores me. She is only misled."

He withdrew, and Tassha cautiously got back to her knees. Her lip was split, and she licked at the salty blood. "I only fear for you," she said. "That she will hurt you. – Unintentionally, of course. She doesn't know what she's doing."

His gaze flicked back to her. "No, she doesn't," he said after a moment. "But you do."

She licked her split lip again. His attention was making her tremble, and she desperately wanted to say, wanted to be, whatever would keep it. "Yes," she said. "You would watch the world burn under Accalia's paws so long as those you hated burned with it."

"And you?" he said. "You would stand at my side and help me light the fire?"

"Yes," she whispered. "Anything."

"And would you protect Jazziks if I told you to do so?"

She looked up at him. His gaze glowed amber, not blue like it once had. "I would die for her if you commanded it," she said, hating herself for the fact it was true.

He nodded slightly, and picked up the book.

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She loved the way he moved. Just the way he walked, she could watch for hours, and had when she'd had the opportunity. There was a grace, and an economy, and a promise in his every movement. The last was what made her tremble as he walked up to her with the black book. She knew what was coming.

When he had struck her before, it had been with the back of his bracer, not with his hand. He hadn't wanted to touch her, not yet. Now he said, looking down at her with his amber gaze, "Give me your hand, Tassha."

She raised her right hand. Shadows, more shadows, were coalescing around the book. A rune glowed on its cover between his fingers, an ancient Shen'dralar symbol. For so long she had waited for this, and the day had finally come.

"For your loyalty," he said, "I reward you with the strongest mark of any of my hunters."

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He touched her hand, and the mark of the Eclipse burst into life. It was somehow more shocking than she had been expecting it to be, causing her to take a sharply indrawn breath as the power surged through her. For a moment she was afraid, unsure if this was what she had wanted; but Sinaku was still looking at her, and she throttled down those fears into a part of her herself she could ignore and willed herself to accept this new power. It was difficult, but she told herself it wasn't until it wasn't anymore.

He smiled at her, dropping his hand, and she smiled back. Around her, the world was coming into sharper focus, the outside of every leaf visible, the rustle of each breeze distinct to her ears. She tilted her head back, smelling the loamy earth and fresh water of the creek and musky troll village nearby, and laughed in delight. When she rose, she felt lighter on her feet, swifter, and stronger. She could have tracked Sinaku down in a fraction of the time with senses and abilities like these.

"Where shall I hunt?" she said recklessly. "Who do I hunt for you?"


She blinked, because Sinaku hadn't spoken then. He was still only looking at her, a faint curve of amusement on his lips. He closed the book and lowered it to his side. He said, "You will need to begin marking your Prey, and soon. The alpha's share is always passed upward. Don't forget that."

The threat in his tone made her meek again. She bowed her head. "Of course," she said.

"Go," he said.

She went to Silvermoon.

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