Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 36
“I will always be here for you, my lady.” His voice was hoarse, his body still tight, the muscles tense. It would have been a tempting display, if not for the sense of parting. “You will do it. I know you will . If anyone can do this, it’s you.”
Moving back to his side, she feathered his hair from his forehead. “I love you,” she said.
Then, steeling herself from giving him anything further, from relenting to all the things she could see fighting within him, she moved to the doorway, let herself out. She wasn’t surprised to see the herald waiting, a few discreet steps from their door. His job was to lead her to the proper portal. At least Rhoswen had given her that, though she was sure it was not a favor.
As she followed him down the winding stairs, the compulsion of a knight, the savagery of a vampire, kicked in, just as she knew it would. She heard the banging, the foot rests of the heavy bed shifting, slamming down on the stone floor as he tried to get free. The animal roar of rage and frustration came on its heels, driving her to move even faster around that winding staircase, so her heart wouldn’t break for his pain.
As she’d said, she didn’t accept that being a queen meant being lonely. However, some things a queen had to do alone. Else she wasn’t a queen at all.
The place the herald took her wasn’t far. She rode the same gentle palfrey, but when they ducked into the forest, she noticed the mare started to act nervous. This was a dark portion of the wood, and not just because of a lack of dawn light. There was a feeling of foreboding here. The tree spirits, if any were present, were watchful and still . She saw no activity by solitary Fae, not even a scattering of the insect kind. Rhoswen had described the desert as a prison for Fae offenders, and she wondered if this was like approaching a prison in the mortal world, the surrounding area tailored to discourage the idle traveler. A warning that this was not a place to linger.
The herald pul ed up before a pair of trees that formed an archway. Several paces into that archway, all became pitch blackness. Terror and horror emanated from it, such that the herald had to speak twice to snap her attention from it. “Hold out your hand for the entry seal.”
When she did, he positioned the silver pestle on the top of her hand. A burning smell warned her a moment before the excruciating agony of the brand.
The herald had tightened his grip, anticipating her withdrawal, but she steeled herself to immobility. As she held his gaze, she was mildly satisfied to see him flinch and look away. She knew Jacob had registered her pain, and did her best to send him a brief reassurance. He was staying as close as he could to her for as long as he could, and she didn’t mind that. Knowing her as he did, he was staying quiet, watchful, though the helpless rage still simmered in him at how she’d left him bound. But it was for the best, at least until she was where she needed to be. She’d deal with the repercussions later. Actually, she’d look forward to them, if she survived this.
The herald released her, nodded. “Leave the horse behind. Follow the path ahead, no matter how dark it gets. The seal will open the portal.” She held up the brand. “This tell's it I’m a prisoner of the desert world, doesn’t it?”
“It’s the only way you can gain entry. It also keeps anyone from wandering in there uninvited.”
“Once there, it’s what keeps me locked in. So how do I return?”
He shook his head. “Her Majesty did not give me those details.”
Of course she didn’t. But Rhoswen wanted that gemstone, so Lyssa expected that was her return passport. She wondered why the queen hadn’t sent someone for this long before, but perhaps, once again, it had to do with those rules. Just as Keldwyn had been blocked from being Catriona’s rescuer, maybe only one of family blood had any chance of finding and retrieving their father’s soul essence.
Perhaps Rhoswen had tried before, unsuccessfully.
She was beginning to understand what Keldwyn had said, back at Mason’s estate. Though the Fae world operated in apparent capricious chaos, there was a rhythm to it Lyssa was starting to anticipate.
She gave the herald a courteous nod. “Your escort is appreciated.”
He looked surprised, but after a hesitation, he responded, “Good luck, Lady Lyssa.”
Since she was likely to die here, he probably assumed no one would ever tell the queen he’d called her by the honorific. But she still respected his reckless abandon. Giving him a tight smile, she turned and faced that darkness.
She could see in the dark, but even this was a stretch for her mixed race abilities. As she moved into that black corridor, a cold gripped her. Deep, bone-aching, desolate cold, reminding her of the Gaoth Shee. If the desert was as scorching as deserts went, she’d be happy for the air-conditioning in a few moments. At least that was what she told herself. She steeled herself against webs brushing her face, their scuttling inhabitants passing over her hair, shoulders. Then there was a moan, a series of howls, desolate, savage.
The welcoming committee, no doubt. She gripped the pruning knife at her hip, ridiculous as a weapon though it was. She hoped her own magic would function in a world designed for banished Fae, but it wasn’t the only resource she had. Jacob, as a trained warrior, had taken over many of her combat requirements since his vampire transition. However, she’d fought in the Territory Wars and knew how to handle a variety of weapons. She was also well versed on hand-to-hand fighting techniques. Since most of them had been employed against vampires of similar strength, at least in her earlier days, she’d had to rely on skill , not superior strength, to win. That would stand her well here. She hoped.
The ground under her feet changed, became unstable. She lurched forward another step and suddenly she went from deathly blackness into startling daylight. It was like birth. A birth into Hell.
Harsh sunlight beat down upon her. Turning around, she saw no evidence of a black tunnel through a cold forest. It was all sandy, blinding desert, at every point of the compass. So eerily flat and devoid of geographic features it had to be an enchantment. The sand burned through her thin boots, telling her they wouldn’t be a sufficient protection for long. This kind of sunlight was designed to peel the skin from the body. She thanked all the gods she had dissuaded Jacob from coming, even as she realized she herself might be overcome from the heat in the end.
She couldn’t feel Jacob at all. He’d been right. The portal cut her off from his mind, from everything. It was always a disturbing feeling not to have it, when they used that connection like a sixth sense. Pushing aside that sinking feeling, she verified the pouch of Jacob’s blood had made it through. Then she reached under her tunic. She’d brought one other item besides Rhoswen’s “supplies.” She’d showed it to Jacob in her mind when they were discussing how she might find the rose bush, but she hadn’t been sure if it would make it through. She’d hoped, though, because she’d felt a strong compulsion to bring it.
Cupping it in her hand, she held the enchanted rose that Keldwyn had given her months ago, the surviving rose from her father’s rose bush. At the time, she’d believed that his offering it to her had been motivated by sentiment. Knowing what she now did of Keldwyn, she hoped there were other reasons . Now’s not the time to become inconsistent, arrogant schemer.
Closing her eyes, she held the rose in her hand and thought about that decaying rose bush, her father’s soul beneath it. Almost instantly, she felt a barely there but distinctive… pul .
Just like a Ouija board. Her lips curled over her sharp fangs.
Tearing away the hem of her thigh-length tunic, she removed her boots and stuffed the extra fabric down into the soles, standing on each folded boot in turn to protect her feet until she put them back on.
Better. Removing the wide brimmed hat from the pack, she fitted it squarely on her head. Three days.
She had three days to do this.
Tucking the rose back beneath her tunic, she felt the pulse of its magic like a tiny heartbeat, confirming it could guide her from that sheltered position. Shouldering the pack, she moved
Despite there being nothing on any horizon a moment before, three figures had appeared, not anywhere near as far away as they should have been. She could tell they were swathed in a ragtag collection of protective clothing. As the dry wind brought their scent, her eyes narrowed, her pulse quickening. They didn’t smell… alive.
Putrefaction. As someone who’d walked the earth a thousand years, she well knew the smell of rotting flesh. They began to move toward her more swiftly.
She’d also seen an enemy charge before. They wouldn’t be pausing to find out her business or seek her as an ally. These were bandits, wanting to take whatever she’d brought through for their own survival.
Reaching deep inside of her, she hoped the magic was there. It was, but there was a price to be paid. Cursing, she kicked at the hot sand, trying to get to a lower point. Even though she only saw more sand, it still put her closer to Earth. There was Earth energy here; she could feel it. Fae magic couldn’t be spun from something unnatural, no matter how unnatural the results.
Ripping off her boots, she plunged her feet into the hole she’d made, gritting her teeth as the sand that poured back on them burned her flesh.
She saw the gleam of sharpened objects carried by the oncoming attackers, perhaps the Fae form of prison shivs, things taken from previous arrivals. She could also now see the source of the smell. The clothes they were wearing, the layers, had come from the skins of other victims, improperly tanned and leathered. It didn’t matter to the wearers, because she was seeing faces that had long ago peeled away into cancerous, tumescent terrain.
Blackened lips, swollen places on the throat and around the eyes. The tips of the pointed ears pushed through lank, filthy hair, all of it framing eyes sun-poisoned mad.
She could fight this group off, but how many more like this would she encounter? She’d only gone twenty steps before she’d been discovered. How far would she have to go to get to that rose bush?
“Father, help me,” she muttered. Bracing herself for the attack, she reached down through her scorching feet to summon the magic to repel them.
With berserker rage fueled by bloodlust, Jacob managed to crack several of the branches by midday. The effort left his arms bloody. He’d given his lady a large amount of blood, so it only depleted his strength further. It didn’t make sense, but at times a vampire nature was very much an animal one, particular when goaded by fury or fear. He was smarter than this, but feeling that darkness close around her, the way her mind simply winked out of existence, no longer accessible to him, was more than he could tolerate. He understood her logic, knew he couldn’t follow her into the sunlight, but that meant nothing. He was supposed to be with her. His gut was fair screaming it.
Jacob had gotten his upper body free when Keldwyn arrived. He came with one of the serving girls, a wide-eyed waif who’d apparently heard his struggles and gone for help. Jacob had to wonder if he’d paid her to come to him at any signs of trouble, because he didn’t figure Keldwyn had been lounging around the castle grounds with nothing better to do.
Plus it looked like he’d ridden hard to be there.
At the sight of him, Keldwyn wisely pushed the girl behind him and told her to stay at the door. Moving toward the bed, he lifted his hand and the branches remaining on Jacob’s lower body loosened, fell away. As he shoved out of them, he leaped from the bed and charged for the door, not giving a damn about why Keldwyn was here.
He hit a wall. It knocked him to the floor, made him see spots. Keldwyn completed the shield chant, lowered his hand. “If you try again, it will stop you again. You cannot help her, Jacob. The desert world is on a different time scale from this one, anyhow. It has been a few hours here, whereas there it has been two days.”
He took deep breaths he didn’t need, trying to steady himself. Jesus, his brain was scrambled. And his lady needed him calm. He would have thanked Keldwyn for that sharp blow the floor had delivered to his head, as bracing as a slap, but he wasn’t feeling particularly grateful. “So she essentially has more time than she realizes,” he managed in a hoarse voice. “Three days here, according to Rhoswen’s specifications, could be a week or more there.”
“Yes, and no. You are correct about the time, but the conditions in that world… it is unlikely she will survive three days, even in that world’s time.” Jacob hit the floor the same way again. The girl made a small noise behind Keldwyn. “Send her out of here,” Jacob snarled.
“I will not. Once you calm down, you will need human blood.”
“I’m not taking it from an unwilling host.”
“An utterly irrational response, just like the way you’re acting now. But she is not unwilling.” Keldwyn extended his hand. “Sellya?”
Sellya was a blond-haired, blue-eyed human delicate enough to pass as Fae. Though she looked pale and a bit nervous, there was a strength to her elfin features. A firm hold to her chin told him Keldwyn was telling the truth.
“It would be my honor, sir.” She bobbed a curtsy.
“I’m not a sir,” Jacob grumbled, but he slid to his backside, bracing himself against the bed. Pulling his knees up, he used them to hold his elbows as he rubbed his face. Having enough blood would help him think through this, figure it out. He took another deep breath, met her gaze.
“I’m hungry and not entirely stable, Sellya. I need to ask the impossible. I need you not to be afraid. You can’t let me smell your fear, you understand?”
“I can entrance her, so she has no fear,” Keldwyn noted. However, Sellya surprised Jacob by meeting Keldwyn’s lifted hand with her own. Putting her small palm against his larger one, she blocked the entrancement magic before it happened.
“If it’s all the same to you, my lord,” she said, “I think I can do what he says without that.”
“You’ve fed a vampire before.” Jacob recognized it when her gaze turned back to him.
She nodded. “A few years ago, he helped me get away from a… bad situation in my world. He doesn’t know this is where I ended up, because he had a sorcerer help me, and that was one of the sorcerer’s and Lady Rhoswen’s conditions, that he not know where I was, just that I was safe, and happy. But while I was staying with Lord Mason, I fed him once or twice.”
Son of a bitch. It almost made Jacob smile.
Mason and his female projects. “Are you happy, Sellya?”
She nodded. “Getting there, sir. I’ve a better chance of it here than there.”
Moving forward, she knelt carefully between his splayed and bent knees. With girlish charm, she put one hand on each of them. “How do you want me, sir?” she asked.
On a sandwich, with ketchup and a side of chips, came his eager brain, his nostrils already flaring at her sweet scent. He had too little control, and he couldn’t spare anything for finesse. So he simply slid his arm around her waist, brought her fast and hard against his chest so she tumbled against him. Her arms fell around his shoulders, but then gripped as he took hold of her hair, turned her face into his shoulder and sank his fangs into her throat.
He didn’t look at Keldwyn, didn’t want to see what look of distaste the tight-assed Fae might have on his face. He needed strength for Lyssa. She won’t survive three days. What wouldn’t she survive? The conditions of the desert? What dangers existed there?
He’d been sensible enough to release pheromones into Sellya’s blood, the vampire way of easing the pain and calming panic. True to her promise, though, she had a handle on her fear, though no mortal could have helped a racing heartbeat after that rude yank and taking. The pheromones calmed it, so it didn’t provoke his predator instinct.
Of course the pheromones came with another problem. Her hands were kneading his shoulders, and her generous breasts, loose under her servant’s dress, pressed into his chest, the nipples hard and needy. She was straddling one of his thighs because of the way he’d pul ed her down, and now she was mindlessly rubbing he
As Sellya got more aggressive, he made a low growl, startling her enough to tone down some of her reaction. After he’d fed enough, he eased her away, nodding at
Fae understood, bringing her back to her feet and steadying her as she swayed into him. Her dazed eyes were upon Jacob, her breath fast and shallow.
Lifting her, Keldwyn took her to the settee near the bed. He laid her down with a soothing stroke of her forehead. “Sleep,” he said. “Dream of your true love.” Her eyes closed, even though that sexy little body quivered with residual lust as she slid off into the place he’d suggested. Jacob turned his eyes away, wiping the back of his mouth with his hand.
“You could have done that at the first.”
“She said she didn’t want an enchantment. She’s given her heart to a Fae, I think. Humans. Always fascinated with others not of their own kind.” Keldwyn snorted.
“Well, since she was allowed to live here, I think some of that fascination goes both ways.” Jacob gave him a look. “Can I get up now without being knocked back down?”
Keldwyn nodded. “You seem much calmer.” As Jacob began to rise, he glanced down at the floor. Froze. A sunbeam from the window lay across his palm. And all he felt was the mild warmth of the autumnal sun.
From the beginning, he’d noticed he didn’t have the same sense of sunrise and sunset here that he had in the mortal world. He’d attributed it to the differences between the two worlds, some kind of Fae jetlag. But a vampire’s survival was based on an awareness of when the sun would rise. If survival wasn’t a factor, then his sense of it would be like the human one, based on sleep patterns or the clock or looking out the window.