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Shadow blood, p.9
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       Shadow Blood, p.9

           Jayde Scott
 
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  Kieran pushed me away and threw a table over. A vase crashed to the floor, startling me. A long growl escaped his throat. I was seeing a side of him he usually kept hidden. I knew he was once a monster, but he had changed to become a better man. That’s what Aidan told me and I admired them both for their determination to suppress their vampiric needs and tendencies. But something told me Kieran might just soon become unhinged and his old self would emerge if Aidan didn’t recover. Losing his brother could destroy him. Just as it would destroy me.

  “You don’t get it!” Kieran said. “When we were kids, I broke my ankle and Aidan carried me five long miles through the woods to a healer. He said he’d never let anything happen to me, that he’d always be there to protect me. I’m going to make sure I do the same thing for him.”

  “You’re a great brother,” I said, trying to appease him.

  Kieran kneeled by Aidan’s side and touched his arm. “When my stepfather beat me and wouldn’t feed me for days, it was Aidan who snuck me half of his bread and milk. He always helped me out.”

  “You’re survivors,” I said and squeezed Kieran’s hand softly. Aidan never talked of his troubled childhood. It hurt me down to the very core of my being that he didn’t open up to me and I had to hear about it from his brother.

  “We haven’t had a werewolf in Morganefaire in centuries,” Blake said, changing the subject.

  “Well, you’ve got one now,” I said. “And as you well know, it almost ripped my head off the last time I had a run in with it. The guy’s like a killing machine.”

  Kieran shook his head. “Brendan’s here? Crap.”

  “We’ve got to solve the puzzle,” I said. “How does he fit into all of this?”

  “How did he even get inside the city? He should’ve been killed in a heartbeat,” Kieran said. “That’s a Morganefaire rule. Instead, he seems to be hanging around like a good chum.”

  Blake nodded. “That’s what worries me as well. Somebody’s broken the rules that have been kept for centuries. I can only assume a traitor’s infiltrated the Council and started making decisions for all of us, crafting pacts here and breaking bonds there.”

  His words reflected my thoughts. “Brendan had a knife sticking out from his chest,” I said. “My first guess was that someone hurt him.”

  “Possibly—” Blake paused for effect “—except, werewolves are extremely agile and heal fast. It’s more likely he hurt himself so he wouldn’t turn. It might’ve been part of an arrangement to embed the dagger into his chest to prevent him from shredding half the city to pieces.”

  I shuddered at the thought. Given how eager Brendan had been to shed my blood, I didn’t doubt Blake’s words. The guy was probably a bigger psycho than Seth, if that’s even possible. He didn’t even flinch when he pulled the dagger out of his chest. The way he smiled when doing so, I doubted he felt any real pain when the sharp blade cut through his flesh. Being cold hearted and immune to pain is a dangerous combination in an enemy.

  “Call it intuition, but right before he attacked me I had the strange feeling he was sort of expecting me,” I said. “Like he knew I’d turn up eventually.” That part still made no sense to me. Why would he attack me knowing that I was his bonded mate’s friend? Maybe he blamed me for Angel’s disappearance.

  “You haven’t found the shard, have you?” Kieran asked. I shook my head. He groaned. “Did you see Rebecca at the gathering?”

  I shook my head again. “No, but I saw Elyssa holding up Aidan’s ring.”

  “We’ll get it back,” Blake said. “But first we need to get Aidan away from here.”

  “You bring him home to Clare and make sure she takes him to a safe place. Blake and I stay behind to devise a plan,” I said to Kieran. He opened his mouth to protest when I raised my hand to stop him. “My teleporting skills are beyond dreadful. You wouldn’t want Aidan to end up in Alaska, would you? Leave him with Clare and then come back.”

  “We’ll need all the help we can get,” Blake said. “Particularly if Council members are involved.”

  Kieran’s expression darkened. He wasn’t pleased, but he couldn’t do anything about it. Eventually he agreed. I peered at Aidan’s pale face as I whispered, “Let me talk to him one last time before you leave, okay? It won’t take long.”

  Kieran nodded grimly and pulled Blake near the window, probably to argue some more. Thankful I didn’t have to explain, I turned my back to them. Since my arrival in the paranormal world, there was one thing I learnt: fate was unpredictable. It could be the last time I got to say how much Aidan meant to me and I intended to do just that.

  Chapter 17

  The room felt heavy and oppressing, as if thousands of people had suffered and died in here—an endless ocean of sadness that threatened to drown me. For a few seconds, I just lingered near the door, watching the motionless figure on the bed, a part of me still not able to process that it was my bonded mate who was lying between the snow-white sheets. Everything felt so surreal. Just a few days ago we had been happy and in love, planning our future together, and now we were caught in a web of tragedy, unable to escape, no matter which way we turned.

  Everything I thought I had those past few days—happiness, security—was gone. Fate had taught me the lesson that everything you build can crumble and slip through your fingers when you least expect it. Morganefaire was supposed to be our sanctuary, not a place of suffering and loss. Aidan was the only one I had truly trusted with my life, and now that he was hurt, I felt I had no one I could share my burden with, no one I could gift my heart and my soul. If he died, I would too. My shattered heart wouldn’t be able to mend itself.

  Nearing his bed, I wished I could rest beside him and never leave him again, but that wasn’t an option, not with so many people wanting us dead while Aidan grew weaker and weaker. Foolish girl, I thought. If I gave up now, our enemies would win. Aidan was a fighter and about the most caring person I knew. He deserved better than that. I vowed to make him proud and become the strong and determined soul mate worthy of him.

  I leaned forward and pressed my lips against Aidan’s feverish temple. He didn’t seem to recognize me in his delirium. My body shuddered at the array of emotions inside me. “I love you with all my heart,” I whispered in the hope he might hear me. It was the first time I told him that I loved him and he didn’t say it back. Always have, always will, I wanted to add but couldn’t. It felt too final.

  My vision began to blur, giving way to that delicious haziness that always allowed me to see our bond: the silver thread shimmering and sparkling like tiny diamonds on a band—the proof that he were soul mates—as thin as a single hair, wrapped around our bodies. He was my other half. We were made to be with each other, forever and beyond. So why had Fate decided to take it all away now?

  My vision returned again and the silvery thread disappeared, but something else emerged in its wake: a golden cord, the symbol of life, thin and frail now that his body was dying. I touched his hand in the hope that somehow my life energy would pour into him and make him stronger. That’s when I thought I heard the scraping of nails behind me. The air trembled. Something moved at the corner of my eye. I turned my head sharply to regard the dark figure waiting near the wall, and sucked in a sharp breath. My first impulse was to stand up and protect Aidan against the intruder, who must’ve slipped in without our noticing. And then I noticed the similarity to the way Cass changed during her brief stint as a reaper when her bonded mate died and she was cursed to endure a relentless loop of agony, fulfillment and shame. This wasn’t an intruder; it was a reaper. A messenger of death belonging to the spiritual world. The only reason no one but I could see him was because I was a necromancer.

  His skin resembling coal seemed to swallow up the light in the room. His sharp nails were hidden behind his back, signaling he wasn’t about to cut the cord just yet. His huge wings barely fluttered as he raised his gaze to meet mine. There was pain in his eyes, an endless suffering that could only be stilled by
seeing a soul dying. And whenever a reaper appeared, death was near.

  Tears began to stream down my face. I turned back to Aidan and caressed his hand. His skin felt waxen under my fingers.

  Lifeless.

  He couldn’t go. He couldn’t leave me behind.

  A silent sob escaped my throat. I shook my head. “No, you can’t take him away,” I whispered, pleading with the reaper. “His time hasn’t come yet.”

  The reaper didn’t reply.

  “Please,” I pleaded. “Please give us more time.”

  The black, winged creature kept staring at Aidan, motionless, indifferent to the pain of the living.

  And strangely, I understood. It wasn’t in his control. The moment Aidan died, the reaper would cut his life cord. That’s just how things worked in the Otherworld, and there was nothing anyone could do about it, or so Cass said.

  “We’ve got company,” I heard Blake mutter from the window, unaware of the creature only I could see.

  A few seconds later, feet shuffled and Kieran appeared in my line of vision. “We need to hurry.”

  “I’m coming,” I said, my eyes still focused on the reaper, my gaze begging him not to take Aidan. He didn’t inch closer, but he also didn’t show any sign of preparing to leave either. I closed my eyes to calm my racing heart and kissed Aidan goodbye, dragging out the moment, my lips lingering on his until Kieran touched my shoulder impatiently. Summoning every ounce of willpower I possessed, I stepped aside to make room for Kieran.

  “Go now,” Blake said to Kieran. “Once Aidan’s safe with Clare, get Logan and the rest of our brethren, and meet us in front of the Council court.”

  Kieran nodded and lifted Aidan’s unmoving shape. An instant later, they were gone, followed by the reaper. My heart bleeding, I peered at the empty space on the bed as I fought the sudden urge to run after them. Staying behind felt wrong and I certainly had never felt so devastated.

  “I know this is hard for you,” Blake said. Judging from his sympathetic glance, I probably looked like a mess, but I didn’t care.

  “You’ve no idea.” My eyes and throat were burning from the need to cry, and yet I couldn’t let myself shed another tear because I knew if I did I might not be able to stop and focus on the task at hand. Aidan was alive, and as long as he lived, I could still rescue him.

  “Let’s get this over and done with so you can return to him,” Blake said.

  “The sooner, the better.” I bit the inside of my lip hard until I drew blood in the hope the physical pain might just let me forget the emotional one for a moment. It didn’t work. I took several deep breaths in the hope to clear my mind. That didn’t work either. I had to find something to keep my mind occupied and figured working out the next step might just help me stay focused. So I turned to Blake and whispered, “We need to find out what to do next. Tell me everything you know, everything about you, about this place, and start from the beginning.”

  “Not here.” Blake grabbed my hand and teleported. When I opened my eyes, I was standing in the very last place I expected: the Council dungeon.

  Chapter 18

  The large, cave-like space hidden inside the Council basement was empty now. Apart from the altar still set up in the middle of the room and a faint scent of blown-out candles, there was no sign of anyone having been here barely an hour ago: no people, no candles, no wax marks on the smooth floor. Even the bones were gone. I blinked in succession because I couldn’t believe just how pristine the room appeared.

  “Why are we here?” I whispered in case someone heard us. I fought the urge to spin in a circle and scan the area in case someone hid in the dark corners, ready to attack me.

  “It’s the only place they wouldn’t expect us to return to. Let’s wait until Aidan’s safe and Kieran’s back. Until then, we can talk.” Blake retrieved a dagger from a sheath hidden beneath his shirt. All muscles in my body tensed. I took a step back as Seth’s words ran through my head. He didn’t trust Blake, but why? Did he know something I didn’t? What if everything had been staged? Gain my trust, then attack. Blake’s brows furrowed at my startled expression. If he found my reaction strange, he didn’t say so. Instead, he pointed the dagger at his left hand. I nodded, signaling I understood, which was a lie. All I knew was that I was in a dungeon, alone with the guy who tried to kill me a few weeks ago, then saved me, and now he was holding a knife. My mind kicked into motion, eager to go through the various destinations I knew so I could teleport the moment Blake so much as pointed the blade at me. Truth was, ever since my arrival in the paranormal world, mistrust had been my constant companion. Hell, I didn’t even trust my own shadow any more, and certainly not my mind to make the right decisions.

  With a single flick of Blake’s wrist, the dagger tore down his palm, and several drops of blood trickled onto the altar. I swallowed hard to get rid of the sudden pang of hunger torturing me, but didn’t avert my gaze in case he decided to attack me after all. Blake spoke a few words in a foreign language and then let his blood stain the ground beneath our feet in a wide circle. A moment later, a few flames, thick as a campfire, sprang to life where his blood seeped into the stone and built a circle around us, bathing the room in a bright golden glow. The flames shimmered like golden dust. It was nothing I had seen before.

  “Wow,” I said admiringly. “Magic.” All because of his blood. The blood Aidan needed to survive.

  Shadows flickered across Blake’s skin as he nodded. “One of the perks of being a warlock.” Even though we had no time to waste, a million questions raced through my mind. For once, I felt I needed a few answers. The closer I got to the truth about the paranormal world, the bigger my chance to save Aidan. With Kieran not back yet, this was my opportunity to find out more about the feud that had been raging for centuries.

  Blake inspected the walls and the altar, then sat down on the naked floor. His hand patted the space next to him. I accepted his invitation, keeping a few inches between us.

  “Someone did a good cleanup job here,” I said. “How did you know they’d be gone?”

  He shrugged and turned to face me, the flames playing in his dark, shimmering eyes. “It was a lucky guess. If the majority of the Council members were involved, they would’ve stayed, figuring they had nothing to fear. But they’re gone.”

  I nodded. “Meaning not everyone’s involved so we might have an ally or two within the Council. Logan and Riley for one.”

  “Maybe,” Blake said, unconvinced. His voice came so low I had to focus to catch his words.

  “What are you saying?” I thought back to the way Logan and Riley greeted us. Logan had been charming while Riley had displayed no signs of hostility.

  “It’s complicated,” Blake said. When he noticed my confused expression, he went on to explain. “Aidan probably told you no one in Morganefaire knows I’m a vampire. If the council finds out, we might lose everyone’s support. Morganefaire wants to stay out of the upcoming war because there’s too much at stake: people’s freedom, their lives if they side with the wrong court.”

  “When a war’s raging you can’t just bury your head in the sand and hope people might forget about you. Even Morganefaire will have to take a side eventually.”

  He nodded slowly. “So true, but which side is the right one to pick? We’re the underdogs—too little in number. Everyone else belongs to a court and they’re not to be trusted.” He took a deep breath as he considered his words. “You wanted to know more about this world. I was born a long time ago when Rebecca’s maker, Flavius, still ruled the paranormal world and Morganefaire’s inhabitants traded their blood and magic for monetary gain. Rebecca was never one to pay willingly, so she sent word for a witch to join the vampire court for one year, not in servitude but in friendship and collaboration.” He shook his head grimly and snorted. “The Council sent me. After a year of experiencing her interpretation of friendship, she tired of me because I saw her for the viper she was. I refused to pretend she was this wonderful saint she t
ried to portray to my people. She feared I’d report back to the Council, and she was right. I even kept a journal of her crimes.”

  “I can only imagine the terror you felt the second she came at you.” I clicked my tongue. “Something like that is etched into your mind forever.” I shot him a sideway look.

  He caught on quickly. “I’m a hypocrite. Amber, I’m sorry. It’s a flimsy excuse, but we did it for entirely different reasons. Rebecca tried to kill me to save herself while I was trying to save an entire race. Your name’s clearly stated in the Prophecy of Morganefaire.”

  “Water under the bridge.” I swallowed hard, not quite able to shake off my mistrust toward him. Did he still think by killing me he could save everyone? Was it true? Could my death get rid of all of our problems? I shuddered at the thought. “Back to Rebecca. What happened?” I asked, changing the subject.

  “During the time I spent with her, Aidan and I had become friends. When she killed me, he was the one who saved my life by turning me even though it meant going against her and Morganefaire’s rules. After my turning, I couldn’t return to live among my people. For one, I had no idea how to control my blood lust and hide the fact that I needed to keep away from the sun. And then there was also the problem that, even though they live longer than mortals, witches and warlocks die eventually. Someone was bound to start asking questions.”

  “The boy who outlived them all, disappearing for centuries only to return once the old generation was dead,” I said, thinking back to Julie’s story and what Logan had said. “You were the one to change Morganefaire’s rules on witches selling their blood and magic.”

  Blake laughed briefly. “Among other things.”

  “Rebecca never came after you?” That somehow didn’t sound like her at all.

  “Aidan killed her before she got a chance,” Blake said. “Right after my turning, the Shadows imprisoned Flavius, which couldn’t come at a better time for me. The feud between the Shadows and the vampires had been going on for centuries, though it wasn’t as bad as now. Flavius and Rebecca were killing mortals and immortals, setting out to win the war. They had this grand plan to raise a legion and destroy every immortal who wasn’t on their side. Of course, people weren’t stupid. They messed up because they were making enemies every day. But Flavius didn’t care, nor did Rebecca. They thought they were invincible. When Flavius was captured, Rebecca swore revenge and attacked the Shadows’ queen, Deidre, leaving her for dead, which made everything for us worse and brought everyone against us. Aidan had no choice but to buy some peace by killing Rebecca.”

 
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