Dark Hunger

Page 43

He ran with her along the trail until they reached the village, which appeared deserted. When he set Alys down on her feet, she led him to the edge of the borrow pit, and looked down into it. “I can’t see the bottom.”

“I can.” He peered through the shadows and inhaled. “The ladies are not down there, but their scent tells me they were.”

“The entrance to the source of the spring is at the bottom.” She held out her arms to him. “I need one more ride.”

Beau picked her up and jumped into the pit, landing on his feet at the bottom. When he put Alys down, she went over to the stone wall, feeling along it carefully before she stepped back and pointed to a slight outcropping. “There’s a depression along the left side.”

Beau found the handhold, and used it to pull on the rock. An entire section slid out of the wall, revealing a low entrance to a tunnel. “How did you know this would be here?”

“You told me,” she said as she ducked her head and stepped inside. “You said that our mutual relative was a mason.”

Beau still didn’t understand her. “What has that to do with it?”

“Cristophe didn’t come here with the other priests to build a mission, or to convert the natives. There weren’t any natives; he simply wanted everyone to think that. The mission and the village were fakes. His version of camouflage.” She touched the stone wall of the tunnel. “So he could hide this, and the jewels he left here.”

Beau heard the sound of water, and took hold of her hand. “Lead the way.”

Alys walked with him along the narrow tunnel, which opened out into a stone cave enclosing a wide pool of water. Instead of being shrouded in darkness, the cave was illuminated by the water, which glowed an eerie green.

Alys caught her breath. “I was wrong about one thing. He didn’t take his friends with him.”

Beau followed her gaze to the row of skeletons lining the far wall of the cave. Although time had decayed their garments, he could still make out the style of their robes. “The Spanish priests. He must have used them as labor and food, and killed them to protect his secret, and the location of the emeralds.”

“I don’t think so.” Alys walked to the edge of the pool, and knelt there to look into it. “The jewels aren’t emeralds, Beau.”

“What else can they be?”

“Something much more dangerous,” she said. “They’ve killed almost every human who has come in contact with them or the metal artifacts associated with them. I think short-term exposure to them is what killed the priests who helped Cristophe build this place. If I were to run tests on their remains, we’ll find they all died the same way.” She regarded the light shimmering in the water. “But I don’t think there is any time left for that.”

“If the jewels killed the priests, then you are in danger as well.” He reached down and tugged her to her feet. “I must take you out of here.”

Alys looked past him. “We can’t leave.”

Chris came hurtling across the stone to sprawl at Beau’s feet. Behind her, Simone staggered, shoved forward by the man holding a gun to the back of her head.

“No one is going anywhere,” Robert Leeds said pleasantly.

As Beau took a step toward the traitor, Alys gripped his arm. “No. He’ll kill her before you can reach him.”

“An excellent deduction, my dear.” Robert forced Simone to her knees. “My weapon is indeed loaded with pure copper rounds. One bullet to the brain stem will put a quick end to Ms. Derien’s newfound immortality. Warrior, throw your sword to me.”

Chris braced herself on her elbows and looked up at Beau and Alys. “Hang on to the blade, big guy. He’s not planning to let us out of here alive.”

“I’d spare you if I could, Ms. Lang,” Robert assured her. “I’d very much like to know how you and your sister accomplished your transition to Kyn without employing the emeralds, and if the same could be done for Alys. I don’t see why not; she is your half sister.”

“There are three of us?” Chris gave Alys a wide-eyed look. “Holy Christ. Did Dad ever keep his pants zipped?”

“Apparently not,” Simone murmured.

“Be quiet,” Robert snapped. “As I was saying, I’d be delighted to have you as part of my new world order. But I think your loyalties and your lovers would get in my way.” To Beau, he said, “Throw your sword to me. Now.”

Beau drew his blade, placing it on the stone and sliding it over to the man.

“Pick it up,” Robert told Chris. When she did, he took it from her hand and tucked it under his belt.

“You need only me, Father Robere,” Simone said. “I am the daughter of Helada. Let the others go, and I will tell you everything you wish to know about the jewels.”

“Just as you told your brother Pájaro in France, when he stole the Scroll of Falkonera?” He prodded the back of her head. “My dear girl, you didn’t even warn him that simply touching it would kill him.”

“These jewels are much more lethal than the scroll or the cross,” Alys warned him. “If you try to remove them, you won’t live long enough to die of exposure. You’ll also kill everyone within a fifty-mile radius of this place.”

Leeds chuckled. “You can’t believe in that ridiculous curse. For pity’s sake, Alys, you’re a scientist.”

“That’s why you have to listen to me, Robert.” Alys nodded toward the glowing water. “That light is being emitted by the energy source contained in the gems. Over the centuries they’ve been gradually destabilizing, and right now the only thing keeping them safe is the spring itself. If you remove the jewels from the water, and put them together, they will cause an explosion. One that will be equal to dropping a very large and powerful nuclear bomb on this spot.”

Leeds looked amused. “You know, you’re completely wasted on the academic community. With that imagination, you should be writing novels.” He removed a coil of copper cable from his pocket and a pair of wire cutters, and tossed them at her feet. “Bind their wrists and ankles. Tightly, if you please.”

Alys looked up at Beau as she looped the cable around his wrists. “I don’t know if I was any good at it, but I liked being your wife,” she murmured.

“You are my heart.” He touched his brow to hers. “This will not separate us, love. Nothing will.”

Alys helped Chris up and brought her to sit next to Beau. “Not the greatest end to a vacation. You probably didn’t even get to visit Epcot.”

“No, damn it, and I wanted to spend a day in Japan.” Her half sister closed her eyes. “Jamys is still at the Realm. If this explosion happens the way you say it will, will he…?”

Alys considered lying to her, but knew in her place she would want to know the truth. “If I’m right, it will vaporize everything within a ten-mile radius, and kill every human within a hundred miles.”

Chris glanced past her shoulder before her dark eyes shifted to Alys’s. “You can’t let him do this, Doc. There are over two million people living in the city. God knows how many visitors—”

“Dr. Stuart,” Robert called out. “Come here.”

Alys took one last look at Beau before she stood and walked to Simone. After binding her wrists and ankles, she dropped the cable and faced her former guardian.

He plucked the wire cutters out of her hand. “What are you waiting for?” He gestured toward the water. “Go in and get the emeralds.”

She didn’t move. “No.”

He came around Simone and pressed the gun to her forehead. “Not afraid to die, are you?” He moved his hand to one side and fired. As Beau swore viciously, Robert smiled. “That was just a little flesh wound to the arm. Next time, I’ll aim for his face.” When she tried to rush to Beau, Robert caught her by the arm and hurled her into the spring.

The water streamed hot and cold around her, and Alys let it close over her head as she sank to the bottom. Beneath her she made out the large caches, each radiating light from the cracks in the stone. She swam to the first, pushing away the one piece of the capping slate and reaching it.

The jewel should have been hot, but it felt icy in her fingers. She swam up with it, surfacing and holding it up so that Leeds could see it.

He rushed to the edge and stretched out his arm. “Give it to me.”

Alys held it just out of his reach. “Cut Simone’s ankles loose, release her, and then I’ll give it to you.” When he swiveled with the gun, she added, “You’re right. I lied about what will happen. There won’t be any explosion.”

Robert’s nostrils flared. “Why did you lie?”

“Because the legends are true.” She met his gaze. “Once you have all three gems, nothing can ever harm you again. Not even the Darkyn.”

He moved back, keeping his eyes on her as he reached for the wire cutters. When he’d sliced through the cable around Simone’s ankles, he shoved her toward the entrance to the cave.

“Alys.” Simone gave her a desperate look.

“It’s all right. Go,” she urged before she dove down again. When Simone hurried away, Alys placed the diamond on the stone ledge, and dove back down.

Robert released Christian for the second gem, but when Alys brought up the third, he pulled her from the water.

“Alys.” Beau fought his bonds, blood streaming over his hands and feet. “Get your hands off her.”

“I’m afraid your little whore has run out of bargaining chips.” Robert dragged Alys over, holding her clamped to his side as he kicked Beau over onto his back. After wrestling the last gem from her hand, he threw her down beside Beau. “The other two bitches shouldn’t be difficult to track down once I’ve changed.” He cradled the three gems, their eerie green light casting a sickly glow over his harsh features, before he placed them in a pouch, which he hung around his neck.

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