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A Hunger Like No Other


Chapter 23

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Lachlain needed to kill them all, but needed to get back to Emma more. He escaped into the sun, never so glad to see a cloudless sky. Emma knew the cost. She'd wakened, having dreamed of people pouring blood down her throat, but she couldn't hold it down. First came blood in glasses, and then everyone started shoving gashed wrists to her lips. But she drank directly from no one, unwilling to risk more memories. Annika's voice was thrumming with worry. Myst tried to calm her. "Annika, we will think of something. Go speak to the Lykae downstairs. Maybe he knows something we don't." Ten minutes later, Annika stormed into her room. Emma cracked open her eyes to see a man lurch in after her, hands shackled behind him. Following were Lucia and Regin, faces pensive, swords drawn. The man was tall with a shadow of a beard. His eyes were a burnished gold, and he'd been frozen into his immortality with rakish laugh lines fanning out from them. He looked so much like Lachlain that it pained her. Garreth. Would he despise her for her involvement with his brother? Annika pointed in Emma's direction. "Is this who Lachlain should take his vengeance out on? We've all suffered at the vampires' hands, yet that dog thinks to punish our Emma, who is nothing but innocent and kind." She uncovered Emma's leg. "Look at these gashes! They won't heal! What has he done to her? You will tell me or - " "Christ," he murmured. "That's his...no, it canna be." He strode forward, but Regin yanked on his bonds. "Let me closer," he growled over his shoulder. "Closer, or you'll get no help from me." His voice grew deadly. "Get her well." "We've tried everything!" "Why will she no' drink? Aye, Valkyrie, I hear your whispers from her room. I know what she is. What I doona know is how she is my brother's mate." "Emma will never be a 'mate' to one of you!" "It has been done," he grated. "I assure you." Emma opened her eyes, needing to explain - Annika struck him, sending him reeling back. "He's marked her," Garreth bit out. "He'll be coming for her. I'm just surprised he's no' here already." Annika raised her hand again, but Emma didn't want him hurt. "Annika, don't..." "Force blood down her throat," Garreth said. "Think you we have not tried that? She can't keep it down." "Try other blood, then. Take mine." "Why do you care?" His voice was so strong, so like Lachlain's when he said, "Because that's my queen and I'll die for her." Annika was shaking with emotion. "Never your queen," she hissed. "Goddamn it, let her drink from me!" "She won't," Annika said, suddenly sounding like she was about to cry. That had happened only once before. Emma wanted to drink. She didn't want to die, but her fangs seemed to have grown small and useless. She feared Demestriu had poisoned her with his claws, and was so weak she could barely keep her eyes open. Garreth said, "Let me talk to the vampire I scented in the house." "He wouldn't know anything - " "Let me talk to him!" he roared. Annika told Lucia to go get Myst and Wroth. Seconds later, Emma heard Wroth's deeply accented voice, and her lids flickered open. Then, as if in slow motion, Garreth shook free of Regin and lunged for him. They caught each other by the throat. "Heal her, vampire," Garreth bit out. Low, deadly, all eerie calm, this Wroth simply murmured, "Don't do that again, Lykae." He didn't use the if-then threat. As if he knew the mere idea of his displeasure would terrify others. Garreth released the man. Seconds later, Wroth let go. "Heal her." "I don't know the old ways like some. For a price, I offer to contact Kristoff and ask this boon from him." "I'll pay it - " Annika interrupted, "But then Kristoff will know of her existence." Garreth scoffed. "Surely the vampire's already told him?" Myst said, "Wroth protects our interests," but Annika and Garreth clearly appeared doubtful. Garreth turned to Annika. "If we worked together, the vampires would no' hand us our asses like the last Accession. We ally, and we keep her from them." Wroth warned in a deadly tone, "Wait till I'm out of the room before you conspire." No consequence clause. "But Kristoff has my blood and I killed Demestriu," Emma whispered. Myst crossed to the bed and stroked her hair. "I know, darling. You've said this before." Garreth asked Wroth, "What is your price?" "I want my union with Myst recognized by all." Silence. Lightning flashed outside, and Annika bowed her head. While Myst gaped at her sister, the vampire traced to just before her. He cupped his hand behind Myst's neck, and stared down into her eyes. Breathless, she gazed up at him as though with wonder, and then they were gone. On the jet, Lachlain pawed at the DVD player. Harmann had downloaded the video to this machine, and he'd explained how to use it again and again, but Lachlain's hands were shaking. He couldn't imagine what she had gone through. Even the strongest Lykae never returned from Demestriu's lair, yet she'd defeated him - something no being that had ever lived had been able to accomplish. Lachlain needed to see even as he dreaded it, needed to find out why she hadn't returned to him. To Kinevane. When he'd finally gotten far from Helvita and staggered back to Harmann, he'd had Harmann call Kinevane. She wasn't there. She'd traced to... her real home. The player finally started, the video loop beginning with her alone in the room, just before Demestriu traced inside. As Lachlain watched their conversation, his heart sank to see Emma behaving as if Demestriu's comments didn't hurt her. She might even not realize they did, but Lachlain could see something fading in her eyes each time. Underneath all her swagger, she was still the same vulnerable Emmaline. Demestriu looked as horrific and awesome as Lachlain remembered. And yet, when she'd admitted her mother had told them nothing about Demestriu, Lachlain could swear he'd looked - for the briefest moment - hurt. "That's Lachlain's ring," Emma said at one point. How did she know that? Demestriu frowned, then glanced down at his hand. Moments passed before he said, "I suppose it is." Lachlain had long imagined Demestriu continually staring at the ring, reveling in what he'd done, pleased to possess a constant reminder of Lachlain's torture. Demestriu had hardly noticed it. Then Lachlain heard the most horrifying revelation. Emma had dreamed his memories. Of the fire. That's what had happened that night when she'd woken in such pain. Looking back, he could see she'd felt the agony he had. He closed his eyes, appalled. He would rather have died than convey that horror to her. Lachlain couldn't help but watch as events continued to unfold. The fight made his muscles clench with tension, though he knew the outcome. But he had not known she'd been injured so grievously. Now his worry intensified, eating at him. When Emma toed the pool of blood as she might the cold ocean, she flinched. She held the sword over her head, but it shook wildly and tears streamed down her cheeks. How he wished he could have taken that fear and pain for her. Lachlain frowned when Demestriu's eyes changed and when the blood flowed as if he'd been lanced of a venom. He'd appeared...relieved to die. Emma's beautiful face was drawn in an anguished expression as she knelt beside him, desperate not to kill him. Lachlain saw the exact moment she'd known that she would have to. Though it went against everything she was, she'd done it. All alone, his brave Emmaline had slain her own father, then had looked to be sizing up Ivo directly after. But luckily, she'd saved him for Lachlain. Her final act - leaping into the sun... He was awed by her courage, but knew the toll this would take on her. Knew the toll he himself had taken on her. Was he selfish to go after her? What if he's my father? Malevolent, filthy parasites. Christ, no. 34 I've come for Emma," Lachlain bellowed, standing in the shadow of Emma's home, Val Hall, which looked to be the face of hell. Though the fog was cloying, lightning fired all around, sometimes corralled by the many copper rods planted all along the roof and the grounds, sometimes by the scorched oaks crowding the yard. Annika stepped out onto the porch, looking otherworldly in her rage, her eyes glittering green, then silver, and back. Wraiths flew about her hair, cackling. At that moment, he couldn't decide whether this bayou shrine to insanity or Helvita was worse. Nïx waved happily from a window. He fought not to reveal how weak he was becoming. Bowe had wrapped his wounds tight, but his limbs were still weakening. Lachlain had forbidden Bowe or anyone else in the clan to accompany him to Val Hall, fearing this would devolve into a war, but he still sensed them in the forest all around. "I'm taking Emma from this place tonight." Annika tilted her head as if to see him better. Emma did that, too. Emma had gotten it from this woman. "Never would I give my daughter to a dog." No man had in-laws like these. "Then trade me for my brother." Garreth bellowed in Gaelic from somewhere inside, "Goddamn it, Lachlain, I just got into this house." "Or take both of us. Just let me talk to her." He had to see if she was healing. "The Accession is nigh, and you want us to imprison the Lykae king and his heir?" Regin hurried to her side. She spoke in English, but with words he didn't understand, calling this a "slam dunk," admonishing Annika, "Just take it to the hoop, Shaq." Annika's voice rang out. "She made her decision when she returned to her coven. When hurt and afraid and unthinking, she chose us. Not you, Lykae." That pained him terribly, her choice. Not only had she decided to leave him, she'd decided to stay away from him. But what right did he have to her after what he'd made her suffer? He hid his pain. "Do I go in, or do we go to war?" Just to see if she's healing. She looked past him, scanning the grounds, no doubt sensing their numbers. She tilted her head again, lifted her hand to the wraiths, and his path was cleared. He limped into the darkened manor, seeing dozens of Valkyrie, curled up on chairs, hands on weapons, perched atop the stair railing. He fought not to gape at the sheer malice these fey beings exuded. For the hundredth time, he marveled that Emma had been raised among them. They didn't restrain him. Did they know he wouldn't hurt them? Or did they want him to attack so they could slaughter him? He'd bet the latter. Within two minutes of his entrance, he was shown to the cage in the damp half-basement that housed his brother Garreth. He didn't resist even when the door clanged shut behind him. Garreth stared at him as though seeing a ghost, then ran a hand over his face. "Do my eyes betray me?" Lachlain's happiness at seeing his brother was overshadowed by worry. "No, it's me." Garreth rushed to him, grin in place, and whaled slaps on his back. "Well, brother, what have you gotten us into now?" "Aye, it's good to see you as well." "I thought you were...When they said you'd taken Emma, I thought they were mad. Until I saw her, saw you'd marked her." He frowned. "Marked her hard, no?" He shook his head. "Ach, anyway, it's good to have you back. Under any circumstances. I've so many questions, but that can wait. You need news about her?" At his nod, Garreth said, "She's injured, Lachlain. She has gashes down her side, and she could no' drink though she was...she was about to die in just the first couple of hours." Lachlain flinched. Claws into his palms, he rasped, "What saved her?" "An i.v." At Lachlain's frown, he explained, "They gave her blood through a tube that fed it straight to her veins. They think she's stabilized, but the gashes will no' heal. I suspect whatever got her had poisoned claws. Maybe a ghoul, but I doona know." "I do." Lachlain ran his hand through his hair. "Demestriu did this to her. I saw it all." "I doona understand - " Garreth broke off. He shot to his feet, then his entire frame grew still and tense. "Lucia?" Lachlain glanced up, saw her descending the stairs. She tilted her head so her hair covered her face. The moment they saw she'd been crying, Garreth's face grew grave, his eyes riveted to the archer. "She's no' better?" Garreth asked. She shook her head. Lachlain clutched the bars. "She heals when she drinks from me." Garreth raised his eyebrows at that. "You let her...?" To Lucia, he said, "Then let Lachlain go to her." "Annika forbids it. He's not to go near her. Emma sees things that aren't there, mumbles nonsense as though she's gone mad. Annika puts the blame squarely on his shoulders." She was right to. While Lachlain struggled with his guilt, Garreth asked, "What does she see?" "Emma says that Demestriu was her father, and he put her in the fire, so she killed him." "She - did." Both of them swung their heads toward him. What if he's my father? "She did. She killed him." Lucia shook her head. "Sweet Emma? Kill the most powerful and deadly vampire ever to live?" "Aye. He hurt her. Do none of you believe her?" Garreth gave him an incredulous expression. "Demestriu's finally dead? Because of that wee thing? She's as fragile as eggshell." Lucia added, "Lachlain, when she finds a moth inside and tries to free it - well, if she accidentally dusts its wings, she's distraught for an entire night. I just don't see her killing this fiend on his home ground when Cara and Kaderin have failed to do so on a field of battle. And Furie, the strongest of us? If Demestriu could be killed by a Valkyrie, then surely she'd have done it." "You doona know her as I do. No' anymore - " "Then what does she mean when she says Furie is alive but shouldn't be?" "She's been imprisoned by the Horde. Demestriu never expected her to live this long." Lucia swayed, barely perceptibly. In a smaller voice, she asked, "And when she says Kristoff has her blood?" "They're first cousins." Her lips parted in surprise. "Furie lives..." she murmured. "If you doona believe me, there's a video of the entire fight. I left it with Bowen, a member of our clan." Garreth stopped gaping at Lachlain and turned to Lucia. "Go get it. For Annika to see." She raised her eyebrows. "You want me to go to the clan?" Garreth said, "Tell them I sent you, and they will no' hurt you. I vow it." Her chin went up. "I know they won't succeed in hurting me. But you're sending me, who'll be carrying a bow, among your people. They will not thank you for it." Lachlain saw that his brother's eyes held much feeling for the archer, but Garreth still snapped, "I would do it myself. But I canna since I've been put in a cage after coming to your rescue." She flushed as though with guilt, then finally said, "I will retrieve it and review it. Then give it to Annika, if it is as you say." Lachlain strained against the bars. "Damn it, that will take too long. Can you no' just take my blood for her to drink?" "Annika forbids it. I am...sorry." When she left, Garreth continued to stare at the door. "Lucia will be quick about it." "How long have you known she's yours?" "A month now." "I wondered why you were so eager to remain." Lachlain surveyed the cage, eyeing it for weaknesses. He'd escaped far worse to get to Emma - he wouldn't be stopped now. "You've no' told her?" "Lucia's tricky. And I suspect she's a runner. Tell her something she does no' want to hear and she'll disappear. And she feels no love for me. She's the reason I'm here in the first place. She suffers agonizing pain when she misses her target - that's why she's so bloody good. Annika set a trap, baited it with Lucia missing and screaming in pain, and I ran headlong. I should have known there was no way she'd miss again. You've never seen a creature shoot as she - " "I have a good idea," Lachlain said dryly, pulling his shirt aside to show him the healing wound on his shoulder. Garreth clearly didn't know how to react to that. His brother shot by his mate. "I harbor no anger toward her." Lachlain strained to stretch the bars apart, unnerved when they didn't budge. How had he gotten this weak? Yes, he was riddled with injuries, but he'd never found a cage that could hold him. Unless..."They've reinforced these?" "Aye." Garreth rose and grasped the same bar Lachlain was struggling to bend. "These creatures ally with the witches. Annika told me nothing physical can bend these." When they both couldn't budge the steel, Lachlain dropped his hands to pace, examining the cage for any alternative, desperate to get to her. He crossed to the one cement wall and pounded his fist against it. Too thick to dig through. "I canna believe she shot you," Garreth grated. "When we get out of here, I'll - " "No, I doona care. Especially since you seem to accept that my mate's a vampire." He gave Lachlain an exasperated expression. "I would no' give a damn if she was a Fury, as long as you are content with her. And it's clear you are." "Aye, but I have to get to her," Lachlain said, testing the cement floor. "At least we're no' chained," Garreth offered. "When they open this door, we can attack." Lachlain stabbed his fingers through his hair. "I'd prefer to be only chained. I'd take off my hands before I let Emma suffer any longer." Garreth eyed him, and Lachlain knew he'd said the words without the slightest reservation. "Trust me, Garreth, it is no' so bad as this feeling - " Emma whimpered in pain, and he could hear the sound as clearly as if she'd shrieked. He growled in answering pain and lunged into the bars. The bars were protected, the wall and floor solid cement... He slowly lifted his head, eyes focused on the ceiling. "I can dig through." "Lachlain, I doona think that's wise. This house is centuries old and gets battered as you would no' believe." "Doona care." "You might care that all three stories are tongue-and-groove construction - one piece falls, it'll be like a domino effect. War, hurricanes, and constant lightning have made it unsound. I doona think Val Hall can take a Lykae biting through the first floor." "Support it while I'm gone." "Hold the floor? If I canna, you could be hurting both our mates. This place could come crashing down." Lachlain slapped him on the shoulder. "Be sure that you doona drop it." Time was running out. He let the beast have its way with the ceiling, slashing through the wood, digging with its claws, and pulled himself up into the cool house. On his knees on the floor, Lachlain shook himself, struggling for control. Looking back down, he said, "You can handle this?" "Just doona be too long," Garreth gritted out. "Oh, and Lachlain?" He was already straining. "Doona kill Wroth, a big black-haired vampire, if you see him about. He's the one who helped Emma with the idea of the blood straight to her veins. One of Kristoff's Forbearers. We owe him for Emma's life." Lachlain snapped, "What's Kristoff's goddamned interest in her?" Garreth shook his head. "No. I think this Wroth did it to have his union with Myst recognized." A Valkyrie unified with a vampire? "He seemed a lot saner than they usually do. Now, go!" Lachlain leapt to his feet. He followed Emma's scent easily, moving through the expansive mansion, and stalked straight to her floor. A red-headed Valkyrie was just leaving Emma's room with a towering male. A vampire. Lachlain's first instinct was to attack him, but he stifled it. That had to be Wroth, the one who'd helped Emma, and her aunt Myst. Wroth comforted Myst, brushing tears from her face. A vampire comforting another? Suddenly Wroth's head jerked up; Lachlain flattened himself against the wall. Wroth scanned the area with narrowed eyes then clasped Myst to him to trace them away. As soon as they'd disappeared, Lachlain raced to Emma's room. Inside, her bed was empty. Of course, she must be under it. He fell to his knees, jerked up the bedding. Not under it. When he glanced around, he saw Nïx standing in the adjoining sitting room with Emma in her arms. "Nïx, bring her to me. I can heal her." She stroked Emma's hair. "But your blood comes with a price. One so young as this dreams of wars she's never seen, feels injuries that would have killed her ten times over." He shook his head, not wanting to believe. "She dreams of fire." Nïx sighed. "Forever, forever fire." Emma appeared frail, her skin and lips pale as snow. Her cheekbones stood out sharply. One look at her, and he was sweating with fear for her. Nïx leaned down to rub her nose against Emma's. "Emma of the three. And you don't know it yet. Emma of the three hacked him in three. What do you have in your little hand? Darling girl. He's supposed to get you a ring." With effort, Nïx pried the ring from her hand and tossed it to him. He slipped it on without interest. Why the bloody hell wouldn't she give him Emma as easily? "You gave her the Instinct. It shines like a star in her, radiating. She can see where you marked her as yours." Impossible...
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