Dead and Beyond, p.19Jayde Scott
Averting my gaze, I groaned, disgusted with myself. Aidan didn’t even seem to notice. “It’s fresh. Maybe a few days old.”
“Someone was attacked.” My voice sounded faint, alien in my ears. Aidan shot me a strange look over his shoulder and shook his head.
“In the case of a vampire attack, there’d be no blood at all. Not even a drop, unless he was a beginner. Everyone else, using a knife or any other weapon, would make a big mess. This is something else.”
“What do you mean?”
He didn’t answer my question. In one swift motion, he bit his finger until he drew blood. I peered at it, horrified. My mouth went dry, my tongue stuck to the back of my throat. Aidan squeezed the puncture until a tiny drop of blood stained the ground. I felt a growl forming in my throat so I pried my gaze away from the delicious liquid, but it didn’t help. I wanted to taste it so bad I dug my nails into my skin. My head reeled, my body felt weak, unwilling to listen to my brain’s command to stop this madness and just be normal.
“It’s not working,” Aidan said. “I thought it would open the portal, but it didn’t.” He stood up from his crouching position and peered around him, as though the answer to his dilemma would magically appear. Needless to say, it didn’t.
“I wish someone could just throw us a hint, any hint, at this point because we’re running in circles.” I didn’t want to sound whiny but the hunger inside me was killing me. My whole body began to throb with pain. I needed blood so badly I even considered running outside so I could bite myself again just to ease the craving.
A soft wind blew in through the open door, carrying with it something I couldn’t immediately pinpoint, and a tiny shiver ran through me. Even though it was quiet, I strained to listen, but it was too soft, coming from far away. “Do you hear that?” I whispered.
Aidan shook his head. I signaled him to keep quiet. There were voices—hundreds of them, speaking in languages I didn’t understand—talking to me, telling me something.
“Amber?” Aidan’s hand wrapped around my wrist. “You’re cold as ice. Are you okay?”
I opened my mouth to reply but no sound came out of my throat. All I sought was to listen because I knew the voices wanted nothing from me—they just wished for me to understand. My mind went blank. Time seemed to stand still as I dived into those voices and let their words reach me, brush over me like a lover’s gentle touch. I didn’t know how much time passed, only that it was time to let them go because they had told me everything there was to know.
Blinking, I smiled ruefully and waved ever so slowly. “Goodbye, my friends.” My whisper was so low I wasn’t sure I had even spoken.
“You’re freaking me out big time,” Aidan said. I turned to face him and grabbed his hands, squeezing tight so he, too, would understand.
“They spoke to me. And they wanted me no harm.”
He raised a brow. “Is this a necromancer thing?”
I nodded eagerly. “Yes, and it’s great. I went about it all wrong. They’re looking for people like me because they’re lonely and they want to help. There’s nothing to be afraid of because they’d never harm me.”
“Really?” I saw in Aidan’s wide eyes how freaked out he was, but I couldn’t help the euphoria I was feeling. For weeks, I had feared the dead, avoiding encounters with souls, when I should’ve worked with them, let them help me.
“Yes. Look!” I bit my finger and squeezed a drop of blood on the same spot as Aidan did, fighting the faintness and craving washing over me at the metallic taste. For a moment, nothing happened, and then the ground shook beneath our feet. And then the air grew in density and began to shift in front of our eyes, moving to and fro like a giant fata morgana in the desert. I squinted to see through the opal curtain into the alternate dimension lying beyond, but could only make out a vast space of nothingness.
“Your blood is diluted by that of hundreds of others,” a male voice said behind us. “In our world, it’s worthless, Aidan. You should know that. Her blood, however, has not been stained yet.” My head snapped back to the man standing a few feet away. I wondered where he came from, and then I realized I must’ve opened the gate to another dimension where he had been hiding.
“Gael,” Aidan whispered, answering my unspoken question. “What are you doing here?”
The only time I ever met Gael was right before he almost killed Sofia in the ritual in the woods. I remembered him as tall, but shorter than Aidan, with light-brownish hair and prominent features, not memorable, and certainly not above average. Of course, at that time I also thought he was just a guy trying to steal a voodoo priestess’s powers. Seeing him up-close, something felt definitely different about him. It was as if he had morphed into a powerful being.
“I noticed you looking for me the past few days,” Gael said to Aidan, inching closer, a dangerous smile playing on his lips. “I’ve got to admit, I’m not pleased you joined Layla’s side.” I could feel Aidan’s heart hammering in his chest, his eyes narrowing, confusion clearly etched on his face. Gael broke out in laughter, startling me. “What? You didn’t realize I’m Seth?”
With new knowledge about what he really was, a shiver ran down my spine. How could I ever believe the guy was ordinary? There was nothing average about him. His eyes were too hard, too predatory like those of a watching eagle. His mouth, now curved into a fake smile, signaled the personality of someone who wouldn’t hesitate to stab his own family in the back to get what he wanted. And then his eyes, brown with a yellow hue to them, reminding me of Layla. Why didn’t Thrain or Sofia notice?
“Your sister, Layla, has a proposition for you,” Aidan said.
“Proposition?” Gael laughed. “Big sis wants to kill me, so don’t give me that crap about a proposition. But you don’t care about my life or anyone else’s.
All you care about is saving your brethren.”
Gael was only a few years older than I was. I wondered why he didn’t just use the word ‘friends’ like any normal person in our century. Brethren sounded so old-fashioned. So paranormal. I peered at Aidan, waiting for him to assure Gael it wasn’t so, but Aidan didn’t even blink.
“What brethren?” I asked.
“The one he’s been hiding from you, raising for centuries so he can win the war,” Gael said. “Layla can’t blame me for doing the same, which is why I have my own proposition for you. Let’s join forces and win this war that is about to start.”
“Is that true, Aidan?” My voice quivered. My mind was still processing Gael’s claims. Was Aidan really trying to raise an army of undead to win the paranormal war? I shook my head in disbelief.
Aidan’s gaze didn’t leave Gael as he answered. “Don’t listen to him. That was Rebecca’s plan. Why were you hiding, Gael, and where’s Angel?”
“I wasn’t hiding, I was here all this time, right in front of you. You just couldn’t see me. It’s a rare ability. You could definitely use someone like me. And as for the girl, she never turned up to our agreed meeting so I don’t know where she is.”
for the girl, she never turned up to our agreed meeting so I don’t know where she is.”
“You’re lying,” I spat, not believing a word that came out of his mouth. He had to have her. After bringing shame to the Shadows by trying to kill Sofia, the Shadows had banished him forever. He stood no chance of finding a master there, so he had to kidnap Angel to teach him how to use his Shadow powers. I knew my theory was right and yet something told me he was telling the truth because Angel was only seventeen. She couldn’t teach him anything. “I saw her in my vision. Someone was following her. If it wasn’t you, then who was it?”
Tension settled between us. A vein began to throb across Gael’s forehead. “You think I’m lying?”
The guy had a short temper and was capable of anything. Up until now I thought we were stronger. Finding out he was a demi-god, I no longer did. My mind switched off as I tried to step in front of Aidan to protect him. Unfortunately, Aidan seemed to have the same id
“I’m not a liar but the future ruler of the Lore court,” Gael hissed. “Pledge your alliance before it’s too late.”
Not only was he dangerous, he was also a nutcase. I wanted to shout, if he were the future ruler his mother wouldn’t have made Layla her successor. Come to think of it, Layla had a few screws loose as well.
“You still haven’t told us where Angel is,” I said, eager to get back to the topic that really mattered.
“I told you, I don’t have her,” Gael said through gritted teeth. “Someone beat me to it.”
I opened my mouth to speak when Aidan squeezed my hand, signaling me to keep quiet. “Why should we trust your word?”
“You don’t have to,” Gael said.
I yanked my hand out of Aidan’s iron grip and took a step forward. “Give us something so we know you’re telling the truth. Why did you want Angel?”
“Because she’s my sister.”
Aidan shook his head. “She’s not your sister. Layla would never have let Angel live if she were. If you want us to trust you, you really need to tell us the truth.”
The shed fell silent. I could see Gael’s mind working, weighing up pros and cons, as he bit his lip, smirking. “And then we work together?”
Aidan’s muscles tensed. He was a born and bred Scot. Lying wasn’t in his nature. If he made a pact, you could be sure he’d stick to his word.
“Are you going against Layla?” Aidan asked. Gael nodded. “You understand if we join your side, you will never touch or harm my brethren?” I frowned at his second use of the word ‘brethren’ but didn’t comment.
Gael nodded again. “Deal.”
“What?” I hissed, gaping at him. “You can’t be serious. Did something fry your brain?”
Aidan ignored me as he shook Gael’s hand.
“Angel is Queen Deidre’s intended vessel,” Gael said. “She’s been since her birth. They’re just waiting for the right moment to do the ritual, which is a month from now, at Blue Moon. Without Angel’s body, Deidre will die. I tried to kidnap Angel so the Shadows’ queen would perish. Without their queen, there’s no successor to the throne and their civilization will split up into smaller, weaker groups that will be easily slayed.”
“Is that true?” I blinked several times as I realized the magnitude of the situation. Without Deidre, the Shadows would lose the battle and the vampires would win. No doubt Aidan would jump at this opportunity. I swallowed hard. The bad guy had just saved the girl’s life, except that—“Gael—Seth.” I hesitated.
“Seth,” he said. “It’s the name my mother gave me. The name by which I shall forever be known and feared.”
I nodded. “You didn’t kidnap Angel, did you? Someone else did.”
He bobbed his head in agreement. His lips curled into that irritating grin from before. “Told you. The questions you should ask yourself is who did it and why.”
I peered out the shed’s window into the dense woods as the rising moon cast a silver light over the forest. Aidan and Gael slash Seth were standing near the south wall, next to the open portal, engrossed in solving the mystery that seemed to surround Angel’s disappearance. After the trick he pulled on my friend, Sofia, I vowed to double-check every word that came out of Seth’s mouth, but Aidan didn’t seem particularly fazed.
I pulled Aidan aside and whispered as low as I could, “I don’t like this.”
“What choice do we have?” he mouthed back.
“In case you’ve forgotten, he tricked Kieran into finding the Blade of Sorrow for him so he could kill Sofia.”
For a second, Aidan’s expression clouded, as though he only now remembered what happened just a few weeks ago. And then his face hardened. “Look, I know Sofia’s a friend, but I’ve got to think of you, my brother and the others first.” I opened my mouth to ask who the others were when he cut me off. “If I had to choose between her life and yours—and I really hope I’ll never have to make that choice—I wouldn’t hesitate to protect my mate. You understand that, right?” I nodded, wide-eyed. The thought terrified me almost as much as the determination in his eyes. I had never seen Aidan like this, so hard, so unwavering, so cold. It scared the hell out of me because it made me realize the stories about him were true. There was a different side to him, the one that people feared, and I wasn’t sure how to react to that side in case I ever got to see it.
He stroked my cheek gently. “Why don’t you wait outside while I finish up here? I’ll be with you in a second.”
I nodded and headed out the shed’s door into the night. The moment I closed the door behind me, I sensed something was different. Nothing stirred except for a gentle breeze and the swaying tops of the dark forest trees. The air smelled of wood and oncoming night, and—Blood.
It was just the tiniest hint of metal, but enough to make my stomach growl and my hunger kick in. My tongue flicked over my sharp fangs as I sniffed the air, my heart pounding wildly.
Where was it coming from? I had to find the source, if only to take a tiny sip.
I shook my head, forcing my body to obey my brain’s command. No drinking. No more losing control of myself.
“Aidan?” I called.
He opened the door and peered out. “What’s wrong?”
“I smell blood.”
His nostrils flared as he sniffed, then frowned. “I don’t smell it. Are you okay?”
“You don’t smell it?” I inhaled deeply, realizing the sweet, metallic scent was gone. Obviously, I had been imagining things.
“Maybe you should come back inside,” Aidan said.
“No.” I shot him a bright, fake smile. “I need some fresh air. Just don’t take too long.” He hesitated so I waved him off. He disappeared inside again but left the door ajar.
Something was seriously wrong with me, and the sooner I talked to someone the better. I knew I’d have to tell Aidan eventually, and I vowed to do so before sunrise, but right now I needed to confide in someone who wouldn’t freak out immediately. I fished my phone out of my pocket and called Kieran. The line barely rang twice when a metallic whiff wafted past again, this time stronger than before. My stomach growled in response. A pang of pain ran through my body, cutting off my air supply for a brief second. Baring my fangs, I dropped my phone and crouched to the ground, scanning the area. The forest remained unnaturally quiet. Even the birds seemed to have deserted this place.
From the corner of my eye, I thought I caught something red swaying in the wind about two hundred feet to my right. I knew instantly the delicious smell was coming from that direction. My brain switched off a moment before my vampire instincts took over. Crazed by hunger, I dashed through the trees until I reached the spot, and stopped in mid-stride.
The red stain was a bloody handprint smeared across a tree trunk. My fingers brushed over the still fresh blood, and I licked them clean. What should’ve soothed the hunger inside me only managed to craze me more. I needed to feed. Desperately. My vision was already blurry and my body felt weak.
The leaves rustled behind me. My head snapped in that direction and a growl escaped my throat. A shapeless, black smudge appeared in the distance, taking shape as it inched closer. A pale woman floating a few inches over the ground, her beautiful red hair spread around her face like a halo, her thin dress unmoving in the strong breeze. After she appeared in Aidan’s mansion and I got a good glimpse at her, I’d recognize that face anywhere.
I squinted and crouched again as I listened for a heartbeat. There was none. She was definitely still dead. Either that or I was hallucinating, which I doubted.
Only a few hours ago I would’ve been scared out of my mind, but not after the encounter with the spirits inside the shed, who helped me find Seth.
You should run.
Her voice sounded crystal clear, as though she had spoken the words out loud rather tha
“I’m not afraid of you,” I hissed through gritted teeth. When another pang of hunger hit me somewhere in the pit of my stomach, my legs buckled under me and I dropped to my knees, clutching my stomach in pain.
Not of me, Rebecca said, pointing behind me. Of him!
A steady beat, like that of a drum, echoed in my ears. I shot a glance over my shoulder at the hooded figure I hadn’t noticed before. Just like Rebecca, he was standing near the trees, watching me, but his face was veiled. He reached under his robe and retrieved a dagger with a blade as wide as three of my fingers, then raised the hand holding a dagger and pressed it against his other palm until a thin, dark red rivulet trickled down his arm to the ground. In that instant, a gust of wind blew in my direction, carrying the scent of blood.
I had to feed.
Any reasoning switched off as my vampire instincts took over. A deep growl escaped my throat.
Forgetting Rebecca, I leapt up from my crouching position and took off in his direction, jumping over the dense bushes and fallen twigs like a blood-crazed animal on the hunt. The hooded figure disappeared behind the trees, out of my vision, but I was determined to give chase. I dashed through the trees, away from Aidan and the safety of the shed. Low-hanging branches scratched my arms and legs. My heart beat so fast I thought my chest might just explode. The farther I went, the more the cool air lifted the fog inside my head. Eventually I slowed down to sniff the air. Without the scent of blood, reasoning returned. I peered behind me at the impenetrable woods, wondering how I could’ve possibly let my guard down like that and move away from the shed without telling Aidan.
Dead and Beyond by Jayde Scott / Mystery & Detective / Romance & Love / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes