BOOK EXCERPT: TO KILL A SHADOW by KATHERINE QUINN
Excerpted from To Kill a Shadow, by Katherine Quinn. Entangled Teen, 2023. Reprinted
I should never have picked her.
I thundered down the hallway leading to the officers’ rooms.
She hadn’t known who I was at first, but she sure as hells did now. I wondered if she’d
be so bold the next time we spoke. A part of me wished she would. Something had sparked to
life in my chest at the challenge in her piercing amber eyes, and a piece of myself I’d long ago
believed dead had taken a deep breath.
A pretty name for a lethal fighter. The second I’d seen her toss that bully over her
shoulder in Cila, I’d known she’d make a better soldier than her brother. I hadn’t witnessed such
fire, such passion, during a brawl in years, and the way she moved, like smoke on the breeze,
had my heart thundering in my ears.
I glanced over my shoulder. Isiah quickened his pace to catch up with me, a sheen of
sweat lining his brow.
“You could say that,” I grumbled, refraining from rolling my eyes. I’d known the man for
years, and he understood me better than any of the other pricks bearing the sacred emblem. He
also knew when not to push. Now was such a time.
After the swift killing of Lord Paldyn—a would-be rebel sympathizer—all I’d wanted was
to be alone and wash the shame from my body. What I hadn’t expected was to come across
her, the damned girl who had thoroughly unsettled me, her shrewd eyes digging into my skin,
judging me as if she’d known exactly what I had done but an hour before.
“Tomorrow will be fun, then.” Isiah snickered, slowing his pace before stopping at his
door and crossing his broad arms. “Better get some rest, Maddox.” He cocked a dark brow and
added, “You look like shit.”
I grunted but said nothing, and Isiah’s laughter followed me down the hall and past the
door leading into the commander’s suite.
The room was sparse and neat, just how I liked things. Orderly. Uncomplicated. My life
didn’t leave much room for anything other than cold efficiency.
But tonight… Tonight had been the first time in years I’d felt that old and familiar heat
flare in my chest, that blissful warmth. It both soothed and pissed me off.
I’d been living in a constant state of numbness since losing all of my men to the Mist last
year. After the atrocities I’d committed, after I had allowed the influence of the cursed lands to
consume me, I felt like nothing more than a fraud. And in my mind, I hardly deserved the basic
decency of feeling anything else.
I didn’t even bother undressing before flinging myself on the
bed, the hinges squeaking beneath me. Tomorrow would be far from fun. And something
told me recruiting the defiant fighter would be a mistake I’d rue for years to come.
That evening, well into my second hour of failed sleep, a sweeping rush of soothing frost, a
whisper of a breeze, weighed my lids.
A hint of mint and forest skies breathed into my lungs, the scent as familiar as it was
startling. Sleep had finally embraced me, although it wasn’t peace I found beneath the veil of
The Mist scaled the walls of my mind like tendrils of trapped smoke inside a vase. Swirls
of ash and silver lightning leaped among the bluish plumes, the current sending shivers up and
down my spine.
Why did I always have to come back to this place? I couldn’t even escape it in my
Bone-white branches rose like gnarled blooms from the ground, leaves of silver and blue
glinting in the light of the moon. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it beautiful. But I
knew the truth, had lived through the horrors concealed in the thick brush.
I ambled uncertainly ahead, and with every step forward, the burning in my chest
heightened, changing and morphing into something new. Something frightening.
Clouds of ash glided away as an ethereal silhouette loomed in the distance. I came to an
A charcoal hood draped low across her pallid face, the only visible part of her being a
pointed chin. A bone-chilling breeze picked up the ends of her cloak, revealing a golden lining
that blinded with brilliance. My feet ceased to move, the sight of the gilded cloak stealing my
breath in the most unusual of ways.
Such a shade. Such mesmerizing, golden beauty.
The woman before me, a mixture of shadows and light, tugged gently at the hood that
covered her. I ached to see her face, to regard the mysteries that lay beneath the disguise of
obscurity. My heart beat impossibly fast, and the heat I began to crave swept into my chest like
the welcome touch of a lover.
All around us, the ivory and blue wisps pirouetted and spun like fine spider silk, the
clouds flashing as lightning battled to be released. I yearned for the spark, the power I felt
coursing between us. Me and this wraith.
A warning, delivered by a voice that was everywhere and nowhere all at once, bellowed
into the dying night.
Beware the black heart. For it stings, stings, stings when kissed by a lover’s blade.
My chest rumbled, and a scream fought to be released. The cryptic warning echoed,
causing the blood in my veins to freeze.
A death so slow, lips so sweet. One taste, and a thousand deaths you shall receive.
“Maddox.” My name sounded from somewhere in the smog, a muffled echo. “Wake up,
The woman’s hands trembled as she began to lower her hood, the ominous voice still
ringing in my ears. I held my breath, eager to see her face—
My eyes shot open.
Isiah hovered over my bed, watching me in that knowing way of his.
His steel-colored eyes creased at the sides, and I could swear the man saw into my soul
and to the darkness that lay beneath.
He never shied away though, not in all the years we’d been together, not even when I
snapped at him. He’d merely grunt and leave me to sulk, and then show up the next day with
coffee and freshly baked goods from the palace kitchens. I suspected the sweets were more for
“The recruits are ready,” he said. “I told Harlow you’d arrive shortly, but he seems
impatient today. Impatient and grumpy.”
“He’s always impatient, and he’s rarely not grumpy,” I replied, rising from bed and
shaking off my nightmare and the cloaked woman whose face I’d been denied. I yanked my old
shirt off and snatched a fresh one, going about dressing. “Harlow smiles less than I do.”
This earned me a laugh, and I almost smiled.
“Gods, you’re both insufferable.” Isiah ruffled my hair like he did when I was younger,
and I glowered. He was about a decade older than I, and he often acted as if I were his pesky
little brother instead of Asidia’s most illustrious assassin.
“Well, hurry up, then, and try not to frighten off too many recruits today,” he added over
his shoulder, leaving the room.
I’d argue I did no such thing, but then I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror above
my dresser. Sighing, I ran a hand through my disorderly hair.
She wasn’t afraid of you.
The thought came unbidden, and against my will, I returned to the bathing suite, to the
girl who’d stared at my face in wonder, not in fear, and…smiled. That had been the most
Shoving away from the dresser with another scowl, I grabbed my boots and yanked
them on before heading out the door.
Today, Harlow would line the recruits up in the ring and get a feel for their strengths. I’d
watch from afar, noting who stood out and who might be qualified to join our ranks. The
lieutenant was unrelenting, worse than I, but he would prepare them for what was to come.
When I reached the outskirts of the ring, I leaned against the walls of the corridor, hiding
myself in the shadows.
I always did like this room the best.
The massive chandelier dangling from the ceiling illuminated every inch of the space in
an incandescent glow. The finely crafted weapons bracketed to the walls beckoned me closer,
but I held my ground and crossed my arms against my chest.
There had to be around thirty bows and over a hundred various designs of daggers and
swords. Some shone with jewels embedded in the hilts; others were leaner and deadly. I never
wasted time on the ornamental blades, drawn more to the austere steel that could slice through
bone without useless baubles.
Boots pounded as Harlow entered the ring, the subtle red in his hair shining like a halo of
fire. I tore my attention from the weapons with reluctance and focused on the huddling boys
watching the lieutenant with fear in their eyes.
Good. They should be afraid.
“Recruits!” Harlow barked, stopping in the very center of the ring. “I hope you’re all
rested, for today begins your training.”
A lull fell over the crowd of boys, about forty in number.
“Every week,” Harlow began, clasping his hands behind his back as he strode leisurely
around the trembling trainees, “your number will diminish.”
A flash of red caught my eye. Kiara. Her vibrant hair had her standing out from the rest,
and I was unable to look anywhere else. At her side, a tall, freckled boy pushed closer,
whispering something in her ear. Her lips quirked at whatever he said, and I noted how her eyes
traveled to the wall of weapons.
That damned heat I’d felt last night resurfaced.
Harlow continued. “Only the best will serve the Knights of the Eternal Star, and those we
deem unworthy will be sent to work in the Guard.” One corner of his mouth curled in sick delight.
Kiara’s face fell. Maybe she’d thought dismissal meant a return ticket home. The Guard
boasted nothing but long, grueling days and certain death. The king had far too many enemies
for soldiers to live a long life in his ranks. Not that the Knights offered much safety, either.
“Everyone. Backs to the walls,” Harlow ordered, the recruits hastening to follow his
Harlow strolled about the room, scrutinizing the boys he passed with disdain. When he
made it to Kiara, he wavered, thin lips twitching into an acrid smirk.
My breath caught, but he continued, passing her. I exhaled my disappointment. I’d
selfishly wanted to see her fight again, to showcase the impressive skill that had captivated me.
A memory that had yet to release me from its punishing and hypnotizing hold.
“You.” Harlow pointed to a muscled lad with cropped black hair and rich brown skin. “In
The boy stumbled hesitantly into the middle, his face a blank mask. Harlow pointed to a
blond boy who reminded me of a cat. He had beady eyes the color of unpolished emeralds and
a sly smile that contorted his already severe features.
Harlow whirled to them both, excitement lining his cunning eyes. “I’m sure most of you
are familiar with the rumors. The legends of the Mist. Of what lies beyond it, inside of it. One
thing the Knights pride themselves on is their honor.”
Honor. I almost laughed. If only they knew the man who presided over the Knights. The
king was far from honorable.
Harlow focused back on the two recruits. “We pride
ourselves on chivalry, honor, the old code. But”—he trailed off, meeting the stares of
many a fearful boy—“we also know that to overcome what lies beyond, we must be relentless.”
Kiara shifted in place, but her stare turned cold. Deadly.
I smiled, unexpected pride filling me.
“That being said”—Harlow jerked his head at both the smirking lad and his muscled
opponent—“sometimes you will not be evenly paired. And there are no rules in the realm
beyond our kingdom. You do whatever must be done.”
No one spoke. Not even the asshole Kiara had beaten to a pulp back in her village. He’d
been tossed on a wagon and brought here with the others.
Inside, I seethed. I would’ve sent him straight for the Guard, hells, probably even to the lower
ranks of the Patrol, but the lieutenant had argued that we needed as many able-bodied recruits
Harlow motioned to the two in the center. “Face off. Do whatever you must do. There are no
rules here in the ring.” He gave them his back, retreating to the far side of the room, where he
leaned against the stone like a king observing his subjects.
Judging by the way his attention darted back and forth, calculating where best to strike, I was
sure that the boy with the feline smirk would make the initial move. But it was the muscled giant
whose fist connected first.
It wasn’t a hard hit, more like a testing one, and the aggressor appeared almost
regretful. His eyes were gentle, the type that looked out of place among such rippling brawn and
power. His opponent, whose name—Alec—was shouted above the crowd, didn’t stay down for
Alec was quick to rise, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he lifted his arms to shield his
face. Making no move to attack, he waited until his opponent lunged, a roar ripping from his
There were chants of “Sam”—the larger boy’s name—as well as whoops of
encouragement from the recruits watching, the arena pulsating with a bloodthirsty energy.
Sam, clearly so sure he would take Alec down, never saw the smaller boy’s feet. With a
near-graceful sweep of his lean legs, Alec skillfully made Sam fall to the floor with a resounding
I grimaced. His tailbone would be sore for the rest of the day.
Alec didn’t slow as he jumped on Sam’s torso, straddling him and delivering a rapid set of
punches to his handsome face. The boy at Kiara’s side averted his eyes, glancing down at his
boots, and she sidled closer, almost as if in comfort.
Only when Sam called out in surrender did Alec cease his assault. Quick as the feline I’d
likened him to, he jumped to his feet, twisting to face an unsmiling Harlow.
The foreboding lieutenant merely jerked his head and ordered the pair to remove
themselves from the ring, compelling a friend of Sam’s to rush in and help him stumble back into
place. Alec leaned against the wall, a victorious smirk struggling to make an appearance,
though he seemed to purposely avoid staring at the boy he’d decorated with bruises.
Once the ring cleared, Harlow resumed his unnerving saunter about the room, looking
for his next pair of victims. Kiara’s eyes lit up when he slowed near her, and her gloved hands
formed into fists as a smile curved her mouth.
She wanted to fight. Not that it should’ve surprised me.
But then Harlow’s focus landed on her companion, and all of her excitement dissipated.
Her mouth fell open in protest, but the boy shoved his way forward, taking his spot with a
kind of bravery that I knew he didn’t feel.
Harlow’s astute gaze missed nothing. Certainly not the subtle concern causing Kiara’s
brow to wrinkle.
“And you.” He raised his lean finger inches from her heart. “Join your fellow recruit in the
I cursed silently. This wasn’t what I’d hoped for when wishing to see Kiara fight again.
She was obviously more skilled than her opponent. It didn’t take a trained eye to see the
Genuine panic clouded the freckled boy’s eyes, and his hands twitched nervously at his
sides as he curled them into loose fists.
“Any day now, recruit,” Harlow snapped.
Kiara took a step forward, directing a venomous gaze to him. I found myself taking a
step as well, an inexplicable fear worming its way into my chest and weighing down my breaths.
Floating to the center of the ring, Kiara assumed the fluid stance belonging to the
notorious warriors of the north, her feet spread slightly apart, her hands lightly held before her in
loose fists. Her knowledge of their fighting style surprised me, and I wondered how she’d
learned it trapped within the small village of Cila.
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