The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(5) by J.R.Ward
Or even better, some kind of immaculate miracle.
Alas, no. The sire had been he who had started as a servant and gained trust, access, and, much later, the sacred act of sex. But that was all largely insignificant in their matriarchal tradition; the male was as always a secondary afterthought. The result—the infant—and the mother were the most important.
There had been a chance, when the child had come out, that as a female, she might surpass the current heir to the throne, depending on the stars.
Although that would have resulted in another death, as there could be only one heir to the throne—the sitting Princess would have had to be ritually killed.
All had waited for news. With the time and date properly recorded, the Chief Astrologer had retreated to his observatory and completed his measuring of the night sky …
s’Ex had learned the fate of his infant before the general population, but after the courtiers: The birth would not be announced. The Queen would reaffirm her current daughter. All would continue as it had been.
And that was that, the personal tragedy for him buried under court protocol and reverence for royalty and long-standing astrological traditions.
He’d known all along that this was a possibility. But either through arrogance or ignorance, he had discounted the terrible reality.
This terrible reality.
When he finally burst out into the night, he drew breaths that he released in puffs. He had never expected an intersection between his personal history and this star-determining system that ruled everything.
Rather stupid of him, really.
Bracing his hands on his knees, he bent over and vomited into the cropped, dying grass.
The expulsion seemed to clear his head a little, to the point where he almost wanted to do it again. He needed to do something, anything … he couldn’t go back into the palace—he was liable to kill the first Shadow he came to just to cleanse the pain.
His rescue, such as it was, came from duty. With this event, there was official business to be conducted, which, in his role as enforcer, he was required to discharge.
It was quite a while before he could calm his mind and emotions sufficiently to dematerialize, and when he was able to scatter his molecules, he proceeded out of the walls of the Territory with a strange sense of commiseration.
He was quite certain that the Queen was feeling nothing at this moment. As a result of that star chart, the innocent life that had been cut short had been devalued to the point of worthlessness, in spite of the fact that what had been born had come out of that royal womb.
The alignment of stars was more significant than the alignment of DNA.
That was the way it had always been. Would forever be.
In spite of the fact that it was but September, as he traveled toward downtown Caldwell, it was the coldest night he had e’er known.
The Chosen Selena entered the training center through the back of the office’s supply closet, and as she emerged, she jumped at the tremendous figure behind the desk.
Tohrment, son of Hharm, looked up from the computer. “Oh, hey, Selena. Surprise.”
As her heart rate regulated, she put her hand to her chest. “I didn’t expect to see anyone herein.”
The Brother refocused on the blue glow of the screen. “Yeah, I’m back to work. We’re going to open things up again.”
“The training center.” Tohr leaned back in the ugliest green leather chair she had ever seen. And as he spoke, he stroked the arm as if it were a precious work of art. “Back before the raids, we had a good program set up here. But then so many members of the glymera were killed during the attacks, and those who did survive left Caldwell. Now, people are returning, and God knows we need the help. The Lessening Society is ramping up like rats to a warehouse.”
“I wondered what all these facilities were for.”
“You’re going to see it firsthand.”
“Maybe,” she said. But only if they moved fast—
“Are you all right?” the Brother asked, jumping up.
With an abrupt spin, the world tilted around her, twirling her head on her spine—or was that the room itself? Either way, Tohrment caught her before she hit the floor, scooping her up in his arms.
“I’m okay, I’m all right … I’m fine,” she said.
At least, she thought she spoke those words out loud. She wasn’t sure, because Tohr’s lips were moving and his eyes were locked on hers like he was talking to her, but she couldn’t hear his voice. Her own. Anything.
Next thing she knew, she was in one of the examination rooms and Vishous’s shellan, Doc Jane, was peering down at her, all dark green eyes, short blond hair and roaring concern.
The chandelier overhead was too bright, and Selena raised her palm to cover her face. “Please—this is unnecessary—”
All of a sudden, she realized she could hear herself, and the world, once dulled and diluted, came back in sharp detail.
“Honestly, I am fine.”
Doc Jane put her hands on her hips and just stood there, as if she were a barometer making some kind of a reading.
For a moment, Selena was struck with fear. She didn’t want them to know that—
“Did you just feed someone?” the Brotherhood’s physician asked.
“About an hour ago. And I didn’t eat. I forgot to eat.” Which was not a lie.
“Do you have any medical conditions I need to know about?”
“No.” Which was a lie. “I’m perfectly healthy.”
“Here,” Tohr said, pressing something cold into her hand. “Drink this.”
She did as she was told and discovered it was Coke, in a red can that said, “Share with Buddy,” on the side.
And actually, the stuff did revive her. “This is good.”
“Your coloring is getting better.” Doc Jane crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back against one of the stainless-steel cabinets. “Keep drinking. And maybe you should consider calling someone else in for—”
“No,” she said sharply. “I will complete my duty.”
The importance of coming here, and making her vein available to the Brothers and others who were not able to feed from their mates, was the only thing keeping her going. It was the connection to normal life, the grounding of a job that was of significance, the metronome of nights and days without which she would consume herself with a bad destiny over which she had no control.
The reality was that her time was running out—and she was never sure when her last moment was going to come, when the last time she did anything was going to happen. And that made being here in service absolutely critical.
As she continued to nurse the soda, many things were said, questions asked on the physician’s part, answers given on hers. The vocabulary didn’t matter—she would utter anything, any lie, partial truth, or false construction to get free of this tiled room and continue on to her last visit of the night.
“I shall complete my duty.” She forced a casual smile onto her face. “And then I shall rest. Promise.”
After a moment, Doc Jane nodded—and the skirmish, at last, was won.
The war, however, was a different beast entirely.
“I’m just fine,” Selena said, hopping off the table. “Really and truly.”
“Come and see me if it happens again, okay?”
“Absolutely.” She smiled at the two of them. “I promise.”
As she left the exam room, she supposed that the lie should have bothered her. But she didn’t have the luxury of conscience anymore.
She was in a sprint against death, and nothing, not even the people she valued … or the male she loved … could get in her way.
For her, survival, such as it was, was a solo endeavor.
Back at shAdoWs, Trez had to take a moment to cough his larynx back into position before sitting up. One thing you could say about Vishous? The Brother did the dominating thing well.
But whatever, shit was getting a little too real over there in the corner.
Across the dim space of the sex room, Rhage was curled into a ball, eyes shut, breath going in and out of his open mouth with such a measured rhythm he was either hypnotizing himself or in a fucking coma.
“What is he doing?” Trez asked.
“Trying not to turn into a monster.”
Trez popped his eyebrows. “Literally.”
“Godzilla. Only purple.”
“Jesus … I thought that was just gossip.”
V palmed a black dagger and lifted it over his shoulder. With a vicious—ha-ha—stab, the Brother obliterated the slayer’s remains by nailing the thing in the empty chest, the second bright light of the night flaring blue-white as a blow torch before disappearing and taking the majority of the stinking remains with it. The flash didn’t take care of the grease spot, but Trez had outfitted these rooms with a drain in the center and a hose hookup discreetly mounted under the bench.
Humans could get messy, too.
“So you’ve bonded, huh,” V said as he took a load off and watched over his Brother like a pack animal guarding a fallen wolf.
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