Vampire queen 8 bound.., p.37
Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 37
Lyssa had left the curtain drawn, but inevitably a line of sunlight escaped from the sides, depending on the time of day. When he’d landed at the foot of the bed after that last repulsion, he’d been right beside that stray sunbeam.
“You bastard.” Striding to the window, he tore back the curtain. As the sunlight streamed in, he flinched, but it was psychological, not physical. The sun poured over his body, giving him nothing more than that mild warmth.
It had been well over a year since he’d felt the touch of the sun, been able to stand fully in its track like this. But that was a fleeting impression, because at the moment, other things were taking precedence.
“I expected an Irishman to remember that all the stories of the Fae suggest their world is underground, such that any sense of the sun or moon would be magically filtered.” Keldwyn spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. “However, while the Fae sun here won’t hurt you, the desert sun may be an entirely different matter. Fae enchantments can be organic, thinking things. Cruelly duplicitous. Even if it doesn’t burn you right away, you could find her, only to have your immunity to the sun vanish, making her witness your disintegration to ash before her.”
“Great.” Jacob stepped toward him. “So it’s like any other normal fucking day. I might die; I might live.
Why the hell didn’t you tell me about the sunlight?” Keldwyn looked mildly surprised. The Fae lord never managed to look anything less than diabolically sincere. “You never asked. And my loyalty, my interests, such that they are, are toward Lyssa, not toward her vampire servant.”
“Horseshit. If you have any loyalty to her, wouldn’t it make sense to give her the benefit of all the resources at her disposal? Like me.”
“Lyssa needs to accomplish this quest on her own.
Queen Rhoswen decreed I could give her no help to go through the desert, though she made a concession on my small offering of a container for your blood. The Fae queen wants that gemstone.” Keldwyn considered the window, the view beyond it.
“However, Her Majesty did not prohibit me from helping you. Particularly if you are going in separately, well after Lyssa is on her way.”
“Rhoswen really needs to retain a lawyer to deal with you. But thank the gods she doesn’t have one right now. Fine. How can you help me?”
“I can get you to the portal, and tell you where to find her. I can also give you weapons to help you get to her side more quickly. However, I can’t help you get past Cayden. You must do that yourself. I will meet you at the stables.”
Picking up the sleeping girl, Keldwyn moved out of the room, gone before Jacob could even retort.
Quickly, he donned the protective clothing Keldwyn had brought. He tucked the long hooded robe into the additional pack, which contained a couple flasks of water.
He’d almost forgotten about Cayden, until he headed across the courtyard and found the captain of the Queen’s Guard at the gatehouse. He sat with deceptive casualness on a stone bench, sharpening his sword. At Jacob’s appearance, his eyes got as sharp as the blade and he rose.
Jacob knew Cayden was a soldier, with no patience for Keldwyn’s silver-tongued cleverness.
Rhoswen didn’t want Lyssa helped in any way. That was the intention he’d uphold, no preamble or pretending otherwise.
As Cayden moved into a confrontational position, Jacob strode forward. He came to a halt several feet away from the male, just out of range of his weapon.
“Go back to your room,” Cayden said. “Or sit out here and enjoy the rare taste of sunlight, vampire.
But you’re not leaving.”
“You saw the spear go through her chest. She’s not your queen’s enemy. I’m going to go help her.” When Cayden leveled the sword, Jacob’s eyes narrowed. “Centuries ago, the Tuatha de Danaan were defeated by Gaelic warriors, despite all their fancy, enchanted weapons. If you need a reminder of that”—he took a matching stance, armed with nothing but determination and a brace of knives
—“this Irishman is prepared to do it all over again.”
“She may not be an enemy, but there are many gradations left between enemy and friend. As for you, we have no magical spear to destroy annoyances, so I will have to handle pest control with normal steel.”
Jacob sighed, straightened. “Fine.” Then he swung the pack at Cayden’s sword.
The straps tangled it. Before Cayden could lever upward, cutting through them, Jacob ripped the grip from his hand, sending the blade clattering over the cobblestones. He plowed into him head first, knocking him back against the wall. Cayden struck his back with locked fists, breaking free, but Jacob got in a hard punch to the solar plexus as he went down.
He’d hoped for and counted on Cayden being pissed off enough to make this a soldier’s fight, not a magical one, and so far he was getting his wish. But the guy was a seriously good soldier. Jacob landed in the dirt, blood exploding in his mouth, and barely had enough time to roll over and get his legs up to shove Cayden back as he charged in on him.
Leaping to his feet, he jumped on the man’s back, tumbling them both into the dirt. They rolled and punched, an out-and-out street fight. He wondered where Cayden’s men were. Maybe most were part of the ceremonial guard watching over Tabor and Rhoswen. Or perhaps Cayden wanted this to be just between them, which gave Jacob another idea, a faint hope.
He put everything into his next strike, a solid blow to the face that resulted in a payback crunching sound in Cayden’s nose, staggering him back. The man bared bloody teeth and roared, charging forward again. Jacob took the attack and fell back with it, going over with him in the dirt. He suffered a few face punches himself but then got in another solid body blow. He put his vampire strength behind it, knocking the wind out of Cayden.
Leaping up, he backed off, wiping the blood off his own face as Cayden staggered to his feet and began circling again. He didn’t charge right back in, however, telling Jacob he needed a minute. Good.
So did he.
“The only way you’re going to keep me from going after her is to kill me. So if you’re not prepared to do that, save yourself the beating and step aside.” The captain of the guard gave him a sardonic look. “I am not as thickheaded as you believe me to be, vampire. If you die, so does she. So you will not let me kill you.”
Jacob nodded. “I was planning to kick your ass anyway, beat you to unconsciousness, so it’s a moot point. But on the slim chance you get the upper hand, to stop me you'll have to take it as close to that point as you dare.”
Dropping his arms and offensive stance, Jacob came to a stop. Cayden did as well, eyeing him warily. “You think I don’t know what it’s like to love a moody she-bitch from hell ?” Jacob demanded.
“What would you do for her, your queen, if you knew her life was in danger and you weren’t with her?
She’s your heart, your soul, your reason for being alive.”
“I serve my queen,” Cayden gritted.
“Yeah. And that means sometimes you have to serve her in ways she doesn’t even know she needs, but you do. Damn it.” Jacob spat out the impatient curse, took three steps forward, coming toe-to-toe with Cayden. “If you want to serve her to the best of your ability, then throw out the fucking etiquette manual and use your heart, your soul, your gut, your cock. Do what they tell you to do. That’s the only way she'll learn to trust you. Stop doing every fucking thing she says, especially the things you know are wrong. Start loving her. That’s how you serve a queen.”
Cayden stared at him a long moment. The two men were of an equal height. Jacob was aware the man had a backup knife at his belt and his hand was on the hilt. It wouldn’t kill him, but Cayden could temporarily incapacitate him, if he didn’t move away fast enough, and Cayden was more than capable of moving faster than a vampire.
Cayden let out a sigh, lip curling in frustration. He dropped his hand from the knife hilt. “Go.”
“Do you want me to knock you out so it looks less guilty?”
“Are you sure? I’d be happy to punch you in the face until you’re unconscious.”
Cayden showed his teeth. “Go, before I change my mind about stabbing you in the chest.” Jacob was already moving. However, when he paused at the dividing wall between main and lower bailey, he looked back. Cayden was staring into space, his face a picture of abject misery. Damn, damn, fuck.
Muttering a curse, Jacob took two swift strides back toward him, gaining his attention. “Your queen lost her father,” he said quietly. “A thousand years ago or not, in her mind, he abandoned her, turned his back on her mother, though he never promised her anything, except love for the child they’d made.
But Magwel rejected that, made that choice for Rhoswen. So in your lady’s mind, he turned his back on her for another daughter, another woman. She’s afraid of trusting any man, which means you have to teach her to trust. You have to stop playing the game all her way. Instead of following, take the fucking lead.”
That was the best he could do for the guy, but something in his gut had said it needed saying, just in case. He took off at a swift jog, headed for the stables. Once he turned the corner, though, the urgency gripped him even harder, such that he accelerated his pace.
He arrived with a gust of wind from his passage, leaving skid marks in the soil near the open double doors. Keldwyn controlled the startled reactions of the horses he held. Taking the reins of the nearest one, Jacob swung up onto the bare back in one lithe move. “I can’t touch her mind, but she’s in trouble, I can feel it. We need to hurry.”
LYSSA crouched on the sand, getting her breath back. Despite her chest being slick with sweat and blood, the rose still pulsed against it, telling her she was getting closer. If anyone was following her, she’d left an interesting trail of bread crumbs. She’d turned the first three Fae into cacti, and the next group into a small handful of scorpions. They’d chased her until she outran them. After that, she went for inanimate earth forms. Rocks, dried sticks. The flow of earth magic here was stingy at best, most of it wrapped up into holding the protections and forms of the prison.
As her energy and that shifting supply of magic dwindled, like a well spring drying up, the ways she could fight the inhabitants became more and more macabre.
She stared at the last set of cacti, which were not fully cacti at all. They were half Fae, half plant, and the Fae were still hideously, torturously alive, their screams of agony now down to rasping pants, and moans. She was sorry for that. Under normal circumstances, she would have tried to end their pain with a quick throat slitting.
However, the cold and ruthless truth was that the terrifying image of those mangled, half alive bodies, cactus spikes protruding from their bloody torn skin, was keeping the next wave of pursuers at a wary distance. Even so, the newest group had swelled from five to ten members, the largest contingent yet.
She’d wondered how any of them had survived to become these desperate packs, if they were so quick to attack newcomers. When she’d fought in close quarters with them, their damaged bodies and dead eyes told her why. Newcomers weren’t killed, not outright. Everything of value was taken from the weak… repeatedly. From their crawling, avaricious gazes, she also knew why she’d not seen any women. A woman wouldn’t survive here long because her primary value was quickly used up by males starved for sexual contact. They were wild, savage beasts with no reason or logic, all of that long ago burned away by the sun.
She was having a hard time believing Rhoswen had ever come here and tried the quest she was attempting now. The fact this place existed was a blight of shame on both monarchs. While the most brutal crime might deserve this kind of judgment, it would taint the judges’ souls to give it. A quick execution would be better.
She thought of what Tabor had intimated, that the Fae had experienced a dark period when there was little trust among them, as well as between themselves and humans. Conflict, war between factions. It sounded much like the vampires’ Territory Wars and the brutality that had happened then. For all that she was being constantly pursued, there was not a large populace. How long had it been since anyone was sentenced to this? Did those in the Fae world realize any of the condemned still survived?
Though survival was a loose term. Any immortal who figured out how to exist here sentenced themselves to unimaginable hell.
She wished she could tell how far she was from her goal. While the rose’s pulse was getting stronger, she had no measure for what that meant.
She’d gone through most of Jacob’s blood in the pouch Keldwyn had provided, but her body was quivering with exhaustion, because her opponents had gotten in their strikes as well. During one harrowing moment when they’d pinned her, she’d cracked open the earth, a minor quake that threw all of them, including her, fifty feet into the air. When she landed, she’d been fortunate to be the only one not momentarily disoriented, expecting the effect. That had been her first set of mutant cacti, her body too depleted to do the full job, the supply of magical energy too thin.
Those ten were starting to move forward. They’d noticed the trembling, her blood forming a larger stain under her feet. She started moving again.
Perhaps they’d trail her for a while before finding the courage to attack her once more. Every step was a possibility she might reach her father’s soul before her own departed the world.
Then she realized the shuddering beneath her was not coming from her own body. Whirling, braced for a charge, she saw the ten retreating at a full , stumbling run, dispersing like rats scrabbling on a flat table surface. Realizing the shudder was from the ground beneath her, she started to follow them, to get beyond the point where the desert was violently shifting, the sand rolling away and ground heaving much like it had done when she called up the percussion force. Only this time, an actual something was coming up from beneath the earth.
It blasted forth with a loud noise somewhere between a hawk’s cry, an enraged lion’s roar and a dragon’s screech. The explosion knocked her on her ass, but she stopped moving, letting the sand shower over her as a long serpentine neck reared up above. The head that topped it was skeletal looking, with six red eyes and three rows of teeth. This was not a prisoner. This being was indigenous to this place, one of the things put here to ensure nothing survived long. Perhaps the judges’ ironic form of mercy.
Her explosion had likely drawn its attention, which meant that movement attracted it. Since its multiple gazes were on the fleeing men, she stayed still, not breathing, not moving. She was close to it, such that it would have to tuck in its chin and look directly down to see her.
Letting out another shrill scream, it took several running steps and launched itself on wings that seemed merely a frame of bones connected by a thin membrane run through by blood vessels. The wings were too thin for this sun, but that might be why it could burrow and travel underground. It might even be immune to the sun.
Unfortunately, those three running steps took him directly over her. She couldn’t risk moving, but there was also no time to move away. It pushed into flight off her thigh. The give of the sand beneath her saved the bone from breaking, but the barbed talon tore open her thigh, a long gash that went to the bone.
Biting down on a scream, she rolled face-first, pressing her thigh and the resulting geyser of blood into the sand. Hopefully by the time the creature reached and mangled the other victims, it would assume the blood on the talon belonged to them. But she was sure it would be back.
Tearing another strip off the hem of her tunic, she tied it around her thigh to staunch the blood flow. Her neck and ears, any part of her not under the hat or her clothes, was already blistered. She tasted small rivulets of blood from her cracked lips. She’d taken her hair down despite the heat, because it provided some covering for her neck and face.
As she staggered to her feet, moved forward once again, she
The sand serpent unfortunately hadn’t left a tunnel in its wake. The sand was too soft. When it emerged, the sand had closed in behind it, so following the path it had taken underground was not possible. It was too risky anyhow, not knowing where the next surface break would appear.
She’d held on to one of the Fae she’d turned into a stick and now used it to hobble forward, ignoring the fact she was dizzy and her breath was labored.
She’d fought through much worse pain than this to achieve her goals. This would be no different. Of course, when she’d had more vampire strength than Fae, she’d been more certain of what could or couldn’t kill her. The wound in her leg, combined with the sun’s heat and however many other battles she faced, might end her.
She made it another hundred yards before she heard the serpent’s shrieking cry again. It had reversed course. She made a dive for the gully its tail had created and burrowed deep, though she suspected it had already seen her.
As it swooped, she knew that was the case. Even if not, at this range, there was no way it couldn’t smell the blood, coating her leg with slick grit. Giving a snarl of pure frustration and exhaustion, she shoved herself out of the gully and took a defensive position.
As she did, she reached deep into the ground beneath her. Nothing, no magic left there. The well was dry.
But there was the creature itself, a being of life and earth, no matter how rare or aberrant. As her mind raced over the thought, weighing possibilities, she braced herself, watching it arrow down toward her.
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