I'm finally back to put you all out of your misery! Sorry it's taken so long to start book 3 – thinking of a title was one of my main hold-ups. Anyway, I hope some of you still want to read about Kiv and Keziah and their escapades, and I'm always grateful for any feedback you may have. Cheers Kelaia

p.s. happy Christmas and new year!

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The street is dark, and the alleyway even darker, hiding everything but the glowing eyes of a skeletal stray cat. The moon is almost always obscured by clouds, and on the few occasions that the silver light breaks free it barely affects the darkness below. The oppressive gloom, and the danger it brings with it, is partly the reason why no sane human would venture there after night has fallen. Members of the gangs who take delight in the dark of the city lost their sanity a long time ago. In fact, most normal citizens would rather miss out on the most lucrative business deal than face almost certain death on the streets after dark. Which is why the events unfolding on one particular street on this particular night are so unusual. Not one, but two men are braving the darkness; one because he has just attended an unavoidable meeting, and the other…he has a job to do and is taking full advantage of the surrounding blackness to fulfil it.

The first man hurries along, the collar of his thick coat pulled up to his chin as if it will afford some protection, looking furtively back over his shoulder every few paces. Although he is thickly set and obviously, by the way his hand rests inside his jacket, carrying a weapon, he is made nervous by the oppressive darkness and silence, as if not hearing a sound means that something is there…waiting. Stumbling on a rough stone, he curses coarsely, starting at the way his voice carries in the still, cold air. He looks forward with passion to reaching his house; if his business weren't so urgent he wouldn't have come out this night, and certainly not without an escort. His eyes ache with the strain of staring into to the shadows for something he isn't sure exists but fears the possibility that it does. He shakes himself suddenly; he mustn't let his nerves overcome him or the panic that he has held at bay since the start of his journey will rule his actions, and that would be foolishness at best. He takes a deep breath, and continues on his way.

The second man is having no such qualms. His breathing is silent and regular, and no sweat stands out on his brow. He is almost completely invisible in the spot he has chosen, a deeply set doorway guarded from all light by a long overhanging roof. All his clothes are black, his hair equally so, and somehow his pale face carries a different but equally shocking darkness. He stands with complete stillness, blending in with his surroundings as if was born there, and even though he is absolutely motionless there can be no doubt that this man knows how to handle himself. The darkness doesn't scare him; few things do. He takes pleasure in seeing how obviously frightened his quarry is, his sharp eyes picking out the desperation behind each of the approaching figure's uncoordinated movements. He knows he is taking a huge risk, approaching his task in this way, but he revels in danger – it is the only thing that makes him feel in any way alive these days.

Across the street a sudden noise breaks the unnatural silence, and the first man loses his carefully enforced control. Sobbing in terror, he breaks into an untidy run, dismissing all trace of dignity for a chance at survival. He knows something is there, and he knows it is coming for him. As he passes the doorway, the second man moves out of the shadows with devastating swiftness, a knife already fitted comfortably into his hand as if made to shape. The first man has time for one last strangled breath before his attacker is on him, and all hope goes out of him as he sees the complete lack of humanity in the stranger's eyes. Striking out with a desperate punch, he can only watch in abstract horror as the other man jinks to the side with unnatural grace and plunges the blade into his heart. He can only abandon himself to terror as he convulses and collapses into the all-consuming blackness of death.

The surviving man bends down over his victim, retrieves his knife in one smooth, vicious movement, and wipes the warm blood off the blade onto the dead man's coat. Then, as swiftly and silently as the murder was executed, he vanishes into the shadows as if he never existed. Officially, he doesn't.