Dark Hunger


Page 27



“Rebecca.”


The chatelaine looked back at her and smiled. “Reese. You have returned.” She glanced at the stairs. “Did you see Sylas go down here?”


“Yes, I did,” she lied. “Just a minute ago.”


“He is playing hide-and-seek with the strangers.” She put a hand to her own shoulder. “I think I will scold him for that. I never liked that game.” She started down the stairs.


Reese felt beads of sweat break out on her brow and upper lip as she followed, but when she wiped them away they made a red streak on her fingers. Rebecca wouldn’t hurt her, but she had lost control of her talent. Reese knew she would have only one chance to get to her.


The chatelaine limped through the basements until she stopped in front of an empty holding cell. “Sylas was here last.” She frowned as she peered inside. “Why is he not here now?”


Reese ran, throwing herself at Rebecca and knocking them both to the floor. As blood stung her eyes and poured from her nose, she jammed the pressure cartridge into Rebecca’s neck and emptied it.


Some of the madness cleared from Rebecca’s eyes. “Reese. You must kill me. Please. Before I hurt anyone else.”


“You won’t,” she said as she used a blade to cut into Rebecca’s wrist. Before the wound closed, she brought it to her mouth. As soon as Rebecca’s blood touched her lips, her body began to shift. The blood cleared from her eyes, and long golden brown hair fell in a curtain around her face.


Rebecca’s eyes went wide. “What are you?”


“I’m your friend,” Reese said in Rebecca’s voice. “And I’m going to put an end to this.” She groped for her bag, removed another cartridge, and infused Rebecca with a second dose of the drug. “Sleep now.”


Heavy eyelids closed over confused eyes, and the chatelaine went limp.


Reese lifted Rebecca over her shoulder and carried her into the cell, placing her gently on the straw-stuffed mattress before she locked her inside. Then she turned and went back to the stairwell.


Along with Rebecca’s appearance, Reese discovered too late that she had also taken on her paralyzed leg, which hampered her pace. She had nearly made it to the top of the stairs when one of the cavalieri appeared above her. She felt Rebecca’s talent writhing inside her, demanding to be released, but clamped down on the power.


“You witch.” The Italian drew his dagger, but his hand shook and the blade jittered in his grasp. “You brought this curse upon us.”


“If you do not wish me to bleed you, traitor,” she told the Italian as she slowly mounted the last of the steps, “then you had better run. Now.”


Terrified, he dropped the dagger and fled.


Reese encountered two more of the Italians on her way to the main hall. Both brandished bloody swords, but froze at the sight of her. It took only a smile to send them in the opposite direction.


She had expected to find the hall barricaded, but one of the doors stood open. As she limped into the great room, she saw Saetta and the last remnants of his guards surrounding a table, upon which lay the unmoving body of Sylas of Daven. The other men backed away as soon as she came into sight, but the maréchal only drew his sword and held it poised above Sylas’s throat.


“Stay where you are,” he told her, “or I will take his head.”


“I’m not here for you.” She turned until she found the deepest well of shadows in the room, and hobbled over to it. “Sylas.”


The darkness swelled, taking on the indistinct shape of the shadow warrior.


“Rebecca.” The featureless head turned. “You are in danger. Leave this place.”


Abruptly all the shadows in the room began to grow.


“No, my love. I am here with you. I am safe.” She hated deceiving him, but if she didn’t convince him to return to his body this siege might never end. “The battle is over. You can come home now.”


A thin, black tendril drifted out and wrapped around her body, moving as lightly and softly as smoke. “I love you, wife.”


Tears spilled from Rebecca’s eyes as she told her final lie. “And I you, husband.”


The air became electric, and the shadow slowly separated itself from the wall. Although it remained mostly a shapeless cloud, Reese could see the faint shape of a man’s legs moving and his arms swinging.


“Remove your blade,” she told Saetta as the dark mass approached him. “Let him come back to us now.”


“You are insane.” The maréchal glared at her. “That thing will eat him, like the others.”


“Maréchal, that thing is him.”


The drifting shadow rose from the floor and hovered over Sylas’s motionless form. It shrank into itself, becoming a dark twin of the unconscious male, before it drifted down and enveloped his body.


“God in heaven,” she heard Saetta murmur as the darkness began to sink into Sylas’s body. “It is true. He is a demon incarnate.”


“No,” she said. “He is the master of shadows.”


The darkness vanished, and all around the room the shadows thinned until they were once more the places where the light did not reach. Reese went over to Sylas and looked down at his still face. If he didn’t wake now, Rebecca would be lost forever.


“Sylas.” She put her hand over his. “Open your eyes. Tell me I wasn’t too late.”


“I will tell you anything you wish, my lady,” he said, turning his head and looking at her, “if you will tell me where my wife is.”


“This is your wife, man,” Saetta said.


“She has my wife’s form, and her voice, and her scent.” Sylas sat up, holding on to Reese’s hand when she would have moved away. “But not her touch.”


“She came for you,” Reese said. “She was lost in the madness. I had to stop her.”


Sylas’s grip turned brutal. “What have you done?”


“Rebecca lives,” she said quickly, wincing as he eased his hold. “I drugged her and locked her in a cell downstairs.”


Sylas pushed himself off the table. “Take me to her.” He stopped suddenly, and Reese glanced back to see Saetta holding the tip of his sword against Sylas’s neck.


“You can kill his body,” Reese said, “but he won’t die. He’ll only go back into the shadows. Then, when Rebecca wakes up, you can explain it to her. If there’s anything left of you.”


Her lie made Sylas give her a sideways look. “You should listen to the lady, maréchal.”


Slowly Saetta withdrew his sword. “She stays here with me.”


Reese handed Sylas the keys to the cells. “Hurry. I don’t know how much longer the drugs will keep her unconscious.”


Once the castellan had left them, Reese turned to face Saetta. “The besiegers will be coming through that door any moment.”


“I know that,” he said. “But I have you.”


“I am no prize, maréchal.” Reese wearily took the last vial from her pocket, drank it, and resumed the appearance of Will’s mortal lover. She had to brace herself against the edge of the table to keep from collapsing. “I suggest you put down your weapons and recall whatever men you have left.”


He looked up as they heard the sound of men running toward the hall. “Perhaps you are right.”


Reese moved over to the fire and sat on the edge of the hearth. The stone had been warmed by the flames, but she felt so cold she could barely feel it. She had saved Rebecca, but for what? In a few days they would all be dead.


Someone lifted her up, and she opened her eyes to see Will’s face. “You can leave me here.”


“No, sweetheart,” he said as he carried her out of the room. “I’m never doing that again.”


They must have worked him over for hours, Sylas thought, putting a hand to his ribs as he felt them slowly knitting. He could barely walk, and had to take the stairs one step at a time, but he could smell her now, her sweet scent all around him.


When he reached the holding cell, Sylas saw her inside. She looked so pale, so helpless. He had long known about her talent, but she had never set it loose upon the world. This angelic creature, his wife, commanded the power of an army.


He opened the door and stepped inside, feeling the relief of being with her again with every step. Carefully he lowered himself beside her, putting his arm over her and resting his cheek against hers.


“Sylas.” Her eyes fluttered. “’Tis you.”


“Aye, my lady.” He kissed her. “I am here.”


“I was looking for you, I think, and then…” She frowned as she tried to focus, and her expression changed. “Why are we in the dungeon?”


“It is a long story.” He climbed onto the mattress with her, and held her against his chest.


She cuddled against him and sighed with sleepy contentment. “Is the siege over?”


“Yes, my lady. You are home.”


CHAPTER FOURTEEN


It took the rest of the night to carry out the dead, and part of the next day to bury them. The survivors of the siege were removed to the dungeons, and held in the same cell where they had imprisoned the garrison. The men of Rosethorn buried their friends along with their enemies, and while there was talk of justice, no one spoke of revenge.


Will Scarlet held council with his men before he assembled them outside the main hall and sent guards to bring the survivors before him for judgment.


Rebecca’s attack had wiped out two-thirds of the contessa’s forces, but Saetta still led the small group of cavalieri. He came forward slowly, his movements hampered by the copper chains and manacles binding his hands and feet. Someone had torn open his shirt, revealing the old burn scars on his chest.


“You attacked this stronghold without provocation,” Will said. “We offered you sanctuary, and you used that against us. You violated our trust and betrayed your duty, and among our kind, there is no greater offense. The last time it happened, an entire jardin was put to the blade.” He paused and looked into the war master’s eyes. “I know. I was there.”



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