Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 8
Lyssa cocked her head, picking up his thoughts.
“You like my merciless side. You respond to it quite creatively.”
He couldn’t deny it, but decided he’d save that response for a more appropriate time. The dryad made a noise, drawing Lyssa’s attention. Her body quivered in Jacob’s arms.
“It will survive now,” Lyssa assured her.
“Yes… It will thrive. For a while.” There was curiosity in the dryad’s gaze as she considered the vampire queen, but her weariness overcame her.
Within a few seconds, she was limp and oblivious in Jacob’s arms.
When they left Essie and her friends, Essie was cavorting among the flowers with her little dog, drawing the two nonplussed men into a playful circle dance with her, the woman no longer afraid of lingering here. Jacob gave them some money, hoping it would be used for food, despite the alcohol heavy on Pipe Guy’s breath.
Though the damn approaching dawn was making him more unsettled by the minute, he paused at the top of the alleys for one last glimpse of the tree. A dark, dank tunnel of death and violence, leading to light and life at the end of it. A lot of metaphors there, for certain.
It will thrive. For a while. He wondered if that would apply to more than the tree, thinking of Essie and her little dog living in her fantasy world under those sinuous strands of leaves. Jacob didn’t blame her.
In their absence, he’d ask Elijah to check on the tree and the homeless woman so childishly enchanted with it.
“I'll drive while you sit with her in the back seat.” He shook his head. “You should be with her, my lady. She was disoriented before. Waking up with a vampire in the backseat might be a bad thing.”
“Trust me, Jacob. There isn’t a female alive who’d feel fear in your arms.” Unlike the heat burning his skin, the warmth her tone held was welcome. Lyssa opened the back door for him. “No time to argue.” Just as Keldwyn had implied, what little life the dryad had was drawn from her tree. At this point it was a toss-up between what the most urgent problem was, Jacob’s reaction to dawn or the Fae’s fading life spark.
There was no packing to do. Keldwyn had said the Fae queen would not allow anything to go through other than the clothes they wore against their skin and weapons they could find in the Fae world. Jacob assumed that meant his knives would make it through but the nine-millimeter wouldn’t, so he shifted the dryad enough to pul the back holster out of his jeans, unloaded the gun and handed it up to Lyssa to store in the locked glovebox.
Keldwyn had also recommended garments of primarily natural fibers. Apparently, the Fae queen was so offended by polyester she might deliver them through the portal as naked as the Terminator.
Jacob’s normal choice of jeans and T-shirt fortunately fit the bill . Lyssa had taken care to wear an organic cotton dress, a pretty, flowing garment that enhanced the Fae look of her vibrant green eyes and pale skin. She’d brought along a blue hooded cloak that swept around her ankles when she donned it against the evening chill . With a braided belt threaded with a carrying pouch, she reminded him of a medieval lady, one who should be standing beside a white charger draped with flowers instead of a shiny Mercedes.
“Charmer. Get in before I can roast marshmallows over you.”
The car’s windows had a protective coating that would shield him from the sun’s rays if they experienced a delay. He wouldn’t go up in flames, though he would feel like he was being eaten alive by fever.
While he wasn’t far from that state now, his elevated temperature hadn’t dulled his wits. He noted a heavy car blanket folded in the shadows of the passenger floor boards. As Lyssa took a seat behind the wheel, he met her gaze in the rearview mirror. Ever since the transfer of her vampire powers to him, she’d regained a reflection. While he of course had lost his, he knew his queen would feel the weight of his regard. “With respect, my lady, make haste. If you reach the Fae doorway at dawn, it won’t stop me from following you across, even if I have to burn alive to do it.”
As a human servant, he’d experienced firsthand the innate sense of superiority vampires possessed.
It gave them complete confidence to override the free will of one in a weaker position than themselves.
He admitted to a taste of it himself now and again since he’d grown fangs. So when her eyes narrowed with that frosty look he knew well, he held his ground.
“You won’t leave me behind, my lady. Fate always puts me at your back whenever you have need of me. You should stop fighting it and save your energy for better things.”
“Like flaying you alive for your eternal insolence,” she noted in her cool tone. Turning over the engine, a soft purr, she added, “I know you as well as you like to think you know me, Sir Knight. I may have thought it, but I wasn’t going to do it. However, for clarification, what you cal Fate, I cal your pigheaded stubbornness.”
“Tomato, to-mah-to,” he said, unruffled.
She put the car in gear with a petulant jerk, and he braced his feet on the floorboards. Her anger with him was genuine, and he had no doubt at some later time she’d make him pay for it, probably by strapping him to a rack and flogging him in truth.
That, too, was part of her nature. But so was her bone-deep worry about what would happen to him when they tried to cross. Since they had to swallow the bitter pill of their conflicting desires to protect one another, they rode in silence. He did try to reassure her, though, showing her in his mind the contingency plan he’d considered.
Irish lore often suggested the Fae world was underground, the light a constant twilight or dusk.
However, if the lore was wrong and it was sunny on the Fae side, no shelter nearby, he could burrow rapidly into the earth. It wasn’t a pleasant idea, for he’d have to leave her alone for the hours until sundown. Plus, vampires had no more desire to be buried alive than humans did. But he would survive and it was a doable plan.
Unless we emerge into the Fae world on top of a mountain of solid rock.
He chose not to respond to that. For one thing, he had an unfortunate distraction. The dryad remained unconscious, but it wasn’t peaceful. As they passed through the city streets, acres of asphalt and glass buildings separating them from a direct connection with the earth, he could feel the wasting weakness of her body increasing.
“Hurry, my lady.”
They’d scoped out several area parks within distance of the downtown area they’d been canvassing. She accelerated, heading toward the closest one. While she zigzagged through the predawn traffic, Jacob fished out his cell and made a quick cal to Elijah. He told him about Essie and where they were leaving the Mercedes so he could retrieve it, hopefully because both of them would have been transported into a whole different world.
The park was silent, of course, the main gate closed.
When Lyssa opened the door, Jacob slid out of the seat, carrying the dryad. For a moment they considered one another. Despite his elevated temperature and the hammering at his temples, the pain warning him to get below ground, he leaned forward, adjusting his hold on the Fae girl to close the distance to his lady’s lips. He gauged her mood enough not to make contact. Instead, he stopped just short of her mouth, teasing her with the proximity, earning a flash out of those mesmerizing jade eyes.
“Let’s just do it, my lady. Whatever happens, I love you.”
“You are a pain in my ass. Always.” Her jaw was tight, but the dark strands of her hair fell over her forehead, framing the mysterious power of those long-lashed eyes, tempting him to close the distance.
She shut her eyes at the brush of his lips, then opened them when he drew back.
The next moment didn’t require an exchange of thoughts, a mutual decision. Their hearts were shared, after all. Putting her hand on his face, she went to her toes. Reading her emotions, he bent his stance enough that they could press their foreheads together, even as he held the dryad between them.
They both understood the need not to alarm their son, but as one, they briefly t
She straightened, held his gaze one vital second.
Then, giving him a nod, she turned. Together they walked around the main gate, which was designed only to keep cars out, and took the second walking trail identified by signs.
In her winged Fae form, Lyssa had visited many of the forested areas of Atlanta in the dark hours of night, even the more sparsely wooded ones. Now she guided him without hesitation toward a creek. It wasn’t a large body of water, probably unknown to most people who didn’t leave the walking trail. As they moved deeper into the woods, the canopy helped ease some of the scorching itch between Jacob’s shoulder blades. He wondered if the faint smell of smoke was coming from his skin. There’d been recent heavy rains, and so they heard the creek’s rushing, bubbling noise before they reached it. Jacob drew the cool smell gratefully into his nostrils.
The trees thinned, and there it was.
When Lyssa glanced at him, he saw her note his soaked T-shirt clinging to his body. The dryad’s body pressed against his chest was an abrasive friction.
Dawn was perhaps five minutes away. A vampire didn’t have to breathe, but he was doing so, and the sound of it was labored. The dryad stirred, making an uncertain noise as if picking up on the disturbing changes happening to her cradle. Lyssa’s brow creased, her lips thinning. Jacob shook his head, setting his teeth.
“Focus on the doorway, my lady.”
If he couldn’t cross over, he’d barely make it back to the car using vampire speed. Or he’d dig himself underground, as he’d indicated. There was no time for her to consider alternate possibilities. The fact that he was right didn’t make her any happier about any of it. She set her jaw.
“Give her to me. If you don’t cross over, I need to be the one holding her.”
He gave her a look, but that same time constraint prevented any more discussion. As he shifted his burden, the dryad’s gray-green eyes opened briefly.
“We’re taking you home, lass,” he murmured. “Hang in there another couple minutes.”
“You have great faith in my ability to open this portal,” Lyssa said, worry making her tone sharp.
Jacob settled the Fae in his lady’s arms. Lyssa held her capably even though it looked incongruous, the two females of like size. In fact, the dryad was slightly taller. Since he was already in trouble with his queen, her arms were occupied, and he might be dead or at least in excruciating pain in the next few moments, Jacob gave his lady a healthy pinch on her delectable ass, adding a squeeze that he couldn’t help but make a caress. Her freezing glance became something else as she picked up on his shift in emotion. “You did say I was a pain in the ass, my lady. And I have total faith in you. Always.” It was the right combination, for it jabbed at her royal temper, even as it reassured. She stepped to the bank of the creek. Jacob stopped at her side.
Closing her eyes, Lyssa breathed in, tuning everything out, the dryad’s fading life spark, the fact Jacob could be incinerated in the next few moments.
She made it all go still, reaching out for whatever it was her Fae blood could sense. It was close to the dividing line of night and dawn and they stood at a body of moving water in a park that had been here for many years. It had to work.
Jacob stayed still beside her, trying to hold his breath, trying not to sway on his feet as the flames of hell began to lick at the soles of his feet, sweeping upward. He wasn’t bursting into flames, but he could feel it coming, any moment.
“Put your arms around both of us, Sir Vagabond,” she said, in a frustrated tone. “I have no idea how this is going to go, but I can feel—Now. Put your arms around me now.”
At the snap of the sudden command, he wrapped his arms around her. Their combined weight slid them off the bank, and she staggered, having to hold on to the dryad rather than use her arms to balance.
The creek rocks stabbed through the thin slippers she wore. Jacob wore boots, but the rush of water soaking his jeans was bliss. He tightened his grip on both women, bracing himself to hold them steady.
But he could only hold them steady against the things he knew.
He felt it then, too, what Lyssa had sensed. An energy rushing down upon them. And music. The melody was familiar, tugging at him like a mother’s lullaby, calling him… somewhere. The doorway and the music were in that energy rush, forming a bill owing mist as it rolled toward them.
It wasn’t coming fast enough. Raising his head, Jacob saw the dawn light pierce through the trees, sucked in a breath as sunlight stabbed through his chest like a stake. Then that sunlight expanded outward, blinding him, and the water rushing over his feet became diamond shards, slashing his skin.
Once, when working at the Ren Faire, he’d been thrown from a horse. His foot had caught in the stirrup and the mare had panicked. As she bucked and twisted, her hooves hit him in the head and other far more tender parts. She’d dragged him a good pace before they’d been able to calm her and get him free. That was a fond memory next to this. The slam into hard ground, like a giant had picked him up and hurled him against a brick wall, made the rocky pasture ground he’d bounced across seem like a feather bed in comparison.
“Shit.” He didn’t use the word often, but the moment seemed to require it. He tried to move and none of his limbs responded. Panic sliced through him. Surely he hadn’t arrived in the Fae world injured and unable to protect Lyssa, a complete liability to her. Of course, knowing his lady, she’d get tremendous female satisfaction from winning the coveted I-told-you-so laurel.
If you are able to be a wiseass, I’d say you are fine.
He’d located his lady in the first second, but was relieved to find the mind-to-mind connection was intact. In the next breath, he realized she was right.
He was hurting too much to be paralyzed, an ironic relief. A shudder racked him down to his bones, making him bite down another heartfelt curse. He felt like throwing up, but managed to push that back as well.
Now she knelt, sliding his head into her lap. Her hair brushed his face before she gathered it up, pul ed it away, though he liked the silk of it against his flesh. It distracted him from the fact he felt like ten pins scattered across a lane by a truck-sized bowling ball.
“Give yourself time, my love. Look at it all. Just look at it.”
Hearing the solemn wonder and rarely used endearment, he took the time to do just that.
He pried open his eyes. She’d straightened so he was staring right up into the sky. He’d viewed many beautiful night skies, that tremendous expanse that made the soul feel inexplicably small and yet treasured at once, as if he were gazing into something far deeper than his eyes could see. This was as if that screen had been pul ed back, so he could see why his soul felt that way. A carpet of stars spread out in random swirls against the deep purple expanse. The large yellow moon hung among them, tiny wisps of dark clouds making it look as if it was drifting, a ship at full sail. He wondered if Van Gogh had ever visited the Fae world in his madness.
Three shooting stars burned a path below the moon. Then he realized they weren’t shooting stars at all.
Fireflies danced in the air above him, so bright they blended with the stars, except instead of clean white light, there was a touch of red flame in their afterburn. When one came in range, he was staring at a tiny fairy, no bigger than one of Lyssa’s fingernails. A naked male with long silver hair and tiny black antennae protruding from it, just above his ears. He studied Jacob with insectlike green eyes.
Instead of almond-shaped, they were perfect, pupil-less circles. The wings of the firefly Fae were like a hummingbird’s, moving so fast they were invisible except for a tell tale blur of motion. His skin abruptly glowed bright with that reddish light, then he zoomed back up to his fell ows again.
With the pain receding enough for his nerves to register something other than agony, Jacob realized he was on a soft bed of green grass, his elbows tickled by nodd
She paid no attention to him. Her gaze was on the skies as well, the fireflies specifically. Though she was still obviously weak, she was standing on her own. The way she was breathing—deep, from the soles of her feet—it was obvious she was pulling in energy, holding herself up with it. When she reached up, the tiny creatures landed on her slender fingers.
At the contact, her mouth tightened, making her thin face even more painfully drawn. Her gray-green eyes, like the bark of an ancient tree, overflowed with tears.
Lyssa laid her hand on Jacob’s chest. He closed his fingers over hers.
Still holding the tiny creatures, the dryad shifted her attention from the skies to the green field that spread out to her right, populated by white flowers that glowed silver and gold in the moonlight. Jacob followed her gaze to the edge of the meadow. A thick forest marked the boundary, but beyond the forest there were four hill's, so substantive they looked like the overlapping domes of four planets on the horizon. Even in the darkness, it wasn’t hard to see their shape, because of their size and what was perched on the top of each one.
Four castles. Just like the stories he’d heard, each one represented an element. The Castle of Air looked like it was made of crystal, the moonlight making the facets glitter silver. It shimmered at its foundation, as if instead of a moat it was circled by a twisting, cycling wind.
The Castle of Water shone as well, but the gleam of its walls was obviously a complicated series of waterfalls, shaped and directed by the castle’s angles and channel points. Even at this distance, the cascades reflected silver and blue. The top of the hill was a body of water, and the castle sat on it, instead of a land mass.