The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(8) by J.R.Ward
As she prayed there was a solution for the two brothers, another wave of exhaustion, the bigger brother of the one that had swept her off-kilter in front of Tohrment, shambled through her body, making her throw out a hand to the wall lest she fall down.
Panic o’ertook her, her heart beating wildly in her chest, her head flooding with do this, do that, run away. What if this was an attack? What if this was her final—
“Hey, are you all right?”
Training her wild eyes toward the sound, she found that Tohrment was coming out of the exam room.
All at once, the whirling sensation receded unexpectedly, as if she had been approached by a mugger who, having been confronted by the Brother, had reconsidered his attack.
Beneath her robing, she lifted one leg and then the other, finding none of the deadly resistance she was so terrified of.
“Selena?” he said as he strode toward her.
Leaning back against the wall, she went to brush over her chignon, and discovered that her forehead was damp with sweat.
“I believe I shall tender myself up to the Sanctuary.” She blew out her breath. “I shall refresh myself there. It is needed.”
“That is a great idea. But are you sure you’ll be able to—”
“I’m just fine.”
Closing her eyes, Selena concentrated and …
… with a twirl of the world and a spin of her molecules that her brain, rather than something in her body, initiated, she was relocated up to the Scribe Virgin’s sacred, peaceful place.
Instantly, sure as if she had taken a vein, her body was both eased and strengthened, but her mind did not follow suit—in spite of the lovely greens of the tree leaves and the blades of grass, the pastel colors of the tulips that were perpetually in bloom, the resplendent white marble of the dormitory, the Treasury, the Temple of the Sequestered Scribes, the Reflecting Pool, she felt pursued even though she was in arguable safety.
Then again, having a mortal disease of indeterminate duration made it difficult to tell the difference between symptoms that were on the “normal” spectrum, and ones that had greater portent.
She stayed where she arrived for quite some time, fearing that if she moved, she might trigger the expression of her disease. But eventually, she went upon a wander. The temperature of the still air was perfect, neither too hot nor too cold, and the sky overhead glowed a blue that was the color of a cornflower sapphire, and the baths gleamed under the strange ambient light … and she felt as though she were alone in a dark alley in downtown Caldwell.
How much time? she wondered. How many more promenades did she have left?
Shivering, she pulled her robing closer to her body as a familiar sense of sadness and impotence barged into her, crushing her chest, making it difficult to breathe. But she did not give in to tears. She had cried them all out some time ago, the why-me’s, what-if’s, and need-more-time’s over now—proof that even boiling water could be gotten used to if you stayed within it long enough.
She had come to terms with the reality that not only had she not been granted a full life, she had not really lived much a’tall—and so, yes, of course she must tender a good-bye to Trez. He was the closest she had gotten to something that was hers, something private rather than prescribed, attained, for however briefly, rather than assigned.
In saying farewell to him, she was acknowledging that part of her life that had been her own.
She would approach him on the morrow.
To hell with pride …
After a while, she discovered that her feet had taken her to the cemetery, and given the direction of her thoughts, she was not surprised.
Chosen were essentially immortal, brought into existence long ago as part of the Scribe Virgin’s breeding program where the strongest males were mated to the most intelligent females to ensure the survival of the species. In the beginning, the female breeding stock were quarantined up here, with the Primale serving as the sole male for insemination. As millennia passed, however, the role of the Chosen evolved such that they served the Scribe Virgin spiritually as well, recording the history of the Race as it unfolded upon the Earth, worshiping the Mother of the species, and serving as blood sources for unmated members of the Brotherhood—for whom some broke rank, and accepted mortality in exchange for love, freedom, the chance to bear young who would not be condemned to rigid roles.
And then the current Primale had come along and relaxed even further the roles.
Selena looked in through the graveyard’s arched trellis; the marble statues of her sisters managed to loom o’er her in spite of the fact that they were quite some distance away and sequestered within their verdant bordering.
For all the good the ancient breeding program had done, there had been one treacherous result from it, one prison that, however modern-thinking this Primale was, he could not exempt Selena and her sisters from.
Deep in the cells of the Chosen, there lay dormant a critical weakness, a defect that came about precisely because of the limited pool of breeding that was supposed to make vampires invincible.
A sacrifice to the intention of strength. Proof that the Mother of the Race could, and would, be curtailed by Mother Nature.
The statues beyond filled her with terror. The elegant figures within the encircled acre were not actually made of stone—not in the sense that they had been carved from blocks. They were the frozen bodies of those who suffered from the same disease she had.
These were dead bodies of her sisters who had walked the path her own feet trod upon, frozen in poses that they had chosen, sealed in a fine mineral plaster that, coupled with the strange atmospheric properties of the Sanctuary, preserved them for eternity.
The trembling came over her anew as a wave—
—and once again, the quaking did not last.
This time, however, the cessation did not usher in a return to normalcy.
As if the sight of those frozen in the final stage had been some kind of inspiration for what ailed her, the large joints in her lower body locked tight, and then so did her spine, her elbows, her neck, her wrists. She became utterly fixed in place, immobile whilst fully aware, her heart continuing to beat, her eyes undimmed, her panicked mind hyper-aware.
With a shout, she attempted to shake herself free of it all, tried to pull her legs up, fought to move her feet, her arms, anything.
There was but a slight give on the left side, and that rendered her off balance. Upon a pitch and spin, she landed face-first on the ground, the fine filaments of grass getting into her nose, her mouth, her eyes.
Knowing she was in danger of suffocating, she put all the strength she had into wrenching her head to the side so that her air passages were clear.
And that would prove to be the last move she made.
From her vantage point, she was a camera overturned, the odd-angle view of the Sanctuary like something projected upon a screen: blades of grass close-up and big as trees, with the Reflecting Pool’s temple far in the distance, nothing but the roof showing.
“Help…” she called out. “Help…”
Straining against her bones, she tried to remember the last time she’d seen any of her sisters up here. It had been …
Too many nights ago. And even then, no one came this far into the landscape, the cemetery being rarely visited at its peripheral site save for sacred remembrance rituals—that were not due to occur for months.
With a colossal pull, she fought against her body. But all that transpired was a twitch of her hand, the fingers dragging against the lawn.
That was it.
Tears flooded her eyes and her heart hammered and she wished absurdly that she had not e’er asked for an expiration date …
From out of the depths of her emotions, an image of Trez’s face—his almond-shaped black eyes, his cropped black hair, his dark skin—came to the forefront of her mind.
She should have said her good-bye sooner.
“Trez…” she moaned against the grass.
As her consciousness receded, it was a door that shut softly, but solidly, blocking out the world around her …
… such that she was unaware, sometime later, when a small, silent figure approached her from behind, floating above the grass, a brilliant light spilling out from beneath flowing black robes.
SALVATORE’S RESTAURANT, OUTSIDE OF LITTLE ITALY, CALDWELL
With a curse, iAm ended the call that had just come through on his cell phone and braced his upper body on the counter in front of him. After a moment of arrhythmia, he yanked on his wool peacoat, the black one with the forty in a hidden pocket on the left side and an eight-inch hunting knife stitched into the lining on the right.
He might need the weapons.
“Chef? You okay?”
He glanced across the industrial kitchen at Antonio diSenza, his executive chef. “Sorry. Yeah. I gotta go—and I already started the mise en place.” He picked his cell phone back up. “You can finish it tomorrow.”
Antonio took off his toque and leaned a hip against the massive twelve-burner stovetop. All the equipment used for dinner service was cleaned up, the lingering steam from the dishwashers making the forty-by-twenty-foot kitchen seem like something out of the Amazon rain forest.
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