The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(20) by J.R.Ward
The face-to-face interaction, however, remained unchanged and ancient, nothing but the subject and the King, communicating in privacy, reaffirming that important bond and strengthening the fabric of the Race.
Abalone had created, and was maintaining, the new modern record-keeping procedures, and the system was proving invaluable. With the volume of requests ever increasing, however—the number had more than quadrupled in the last three months alone—he was beginning to drown in the paperwork and the scheduling.
The delays were unacceptable, a disrespect to both Wrath and the petitioners.
Accordingly, it was becoming evident that he was going to need help. He had no idea where to find it, though.
Trust was an issue. He needed someone in whom he could place absolute faith.
The trouble was, he didn’t know where to start the search—especially as the only people he knew were aristocrats and the glymera had not only been the source of the treasonous plots that had nearly taken Wrath off the throne, they were also disenfranchised from having had their political power stripped from them.
It would be folly to assume the dissenters had magically disappeared.
And that was just one of the reasons Throe’s uninvited appearance on his doorstep at dawn had been so disquieting.
Forcing himself to focus, Abalone printed out the evening’s dockets and then went into the makeshift throne room to check that all was as it should be. It was. The space that had been previously used for dining was now where audiences with Wrath were held—but, typical of the King, everything was low-key. There were no golden seats nor ermine robes nor velvet drapes nor carpets of grand majesty. Just a number of armchairs set facing each other in front of a fireplace that threw off cheerful flames in the autumn and winter, and sported fresh flowers from the garden during the spring and summer.
The logs were already set and he went over and lit them.
The true throne, the one that Wrath’s father had sat in, and his sire before that, and his sire before that, was back at the Brotherhood’s mansion. Or at least that was what Abalone had heard. He had never been to the secret compound and had no interest in knowing its location or paying the facility a visit.
Some information was too dangerous to be worth knowing.
And in the end, that was the only reason he hadn’t kicked out his cousin halfway through the day when it became obvious that the King was unreachable.
Even if Throe o’ertook Abalone? The male would learn nothing of consequence, nothing that could harm Wrath or the Brotherhood. This location was guarded by Brothers whenever Wrath was on the premises, and the Brother Vishous had insisted on installing bulletproof glass, flame-retardant siding, steel mesh around the dining room and kitchen, and other security measures that Abalone couldn’t begin to guess at.
This residence was now as fortified as Fort Knox.
He was not afraid of the Band of Bastards here. Or the Lessening Society.
Besides, Throe had merely retired to a guest room and slept as if recovering from a vital injury. As aggression went, he had been no more trouble than any other guest could have been.
As minutes continued to pass, Abalone paced around the audience room—
“You all right?”
Abalone wheeled around so fast, his Bally loafers squeaked on the polished floor. “My lord…!”
Wrath had somehow managed to make it not just into the house, but into the very room, without making a sound—and not for the first time, Abalone found himself in awe of the male. The King was nearly seven feet tall, and so broadly muscled, his warrior nature was a physical presence that made one want to put one’s hands over one’s head and submit just to get that out of the way. With his black hair falling from a widow’s peak down to his hips, and black wraparounds hiding his blind eyes from everyone but his beloved Queen, he was both aristocratically handsome and brutally overbearing. And then there were the tangible representations of his exalted station: the black diamond ring on the middle finger of his dagger hand, and the dense tattoos of his lineage that ran up his inner forearms.
The male was always a bit of a shock, no matter how many hours Abalone spent in his presence. But that seemed especially true on a night like tonight.
The King bent down and released his Seeing Eye dog, George, from his halter, and then he looked over his shoulder. “Butch? Give me a minute in here, will ya?”
“You got it.”
The Brother with the Boston accent pulled closed the sliding doors, and as the panels locked into place, Abalone could honestly say that he never thought he himself would seek an audience with his ruler.
Wrath’s nostrils flared. “You got something on your mind.”
For some reason, Abalone felt like getting down on his knees. “I attempted to reach you, my lord.”
“Yeah, I know. I was having a rare day down in Manhattan with my shellan. I didn’t get the messages until about five minutes ago. Figured whatever it was, we could do it face-to-face.”
“So what’s doing?”
Dearest Virgin Scribe, this must be what it was like to be unfaithful to a mate, Abalone thought. “I…”
“Whatever it is, you can tell me. And we’ll deal with it.”
“I, ah, I received a visit this morning just before sunrise. From a cousin of mine.”
“And that’s not good news?”
“It is … Throe.”
Instead of a recoil or a curse, the King laughed softly—rather like a great feline would purr when presented with the prospect of a meal. “Wheels within wheels. You didn’t tell me he was a relation of yours.”
“I did not know. I received a phone call from my third cousin once removed. I believe the tie is through marriage. If I had had any idea—”
“Don’t worry about it. You can’t help what’s in your family tree.” Again those nostrils flared. “Guess he wasn’t welcome at your house, was he.”
“No, my lord. I let him in only because he offered information on the Band of Bastards. He states that he has left them and is prepared to reveal their location, strategy, positions.”
The King smiled, revealing fangs as long as daggers. “Then by all means, I want to meet with him.”
Abalone gave in to his instinct, walked over and lowered himself onto the bald wooden floor. “My lord, you must know that—”
The King laid his hand on Abalone’s shoulder, and that palm was so great, it seemed to engulf Abalone’s entire torso. “Your loyalty is to me and me alone. I can smell it. I can feel it. Ditch the guilt. He at your house now?”
“Then I’ll go to him.”
“Would you not rather send an emissary?”
“I got nothing to hide, and I’m not scurred of him or Xcor’s little band of girls. They tried to kill me once, remember? Didn’t work. Tried to dethrone me? Still here. They can’t fucking touch me.”
As if Wrath could read minds, he held out the black diamond, and Abalone clasped what was offered, pressing his lips to the sacred stone that had been warmed by the great male’s flesh.
“Butch,” Wrath called out. “Call the Brotherhood. We gotta make a social call.”
The Brother hollered back on the far side of the door as the King moved his face downward as if he could look into Abalone’s eyes. “Now, First Adviser, I want you to reschedule the first two hours of my audiences.”
“Aye, my lord. Right away.”
“And then we’re going to your house.”
“Whate’er you command, my lord. Whate’er you command.”
Trez’s savior from his captivity turned out not to be a person. It wasn’t even an object, really.
His freedom, when it came, was courtesy of an unassuming vent located in the upper right corner of the vast suite he was imprisoned in.
Three nights before his eventual escape, he had been lying flat, contemplating absolutely nothing, when a flush of cool air hit the jewels on his robing and chilled his skin. Frowning, he looked up and saw the grate screwed into the smooth white wall.
First-generation security cameras watched his every move, so he knew better than to show any specific interest. But it got him thinking. Shadows could dematerialize, and they could also smoke out—which allowed you to travel vast distances, and stay invisible when you got wherever you were going.
He had tried both many times, and failed—and at first, he relegated any thought of ventilated escape to failure on that basis.
But the next night, for no particular reason, he looked down at what they had put on his body. The gems … the sparkling, precious gems that he had assumed were set in gold. The metal was silver in color. White gold, yes?
Unless … it was stainless steel. Which was the one thing vampires, even those of Shadow lineage, couldn’t dematerialize through.
He had looked across the marble room to the bathing suite. Even when he was in the bath, when his body was ritually cleansed … they kept him festooned with sapphires and diamonds, collars of the gems set upon his neck and shoulders and wrists and ankles before he got into the water. As soon as he was out? The chain mail of jewels was locked upon his flesh yet again.
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