The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(76) by J.R.Ward
Again, Assail showed no reaction at all. “If I am, what’s the issue?”
“You’re funneling money into their pockets.”
“Don’t be fucking naive. How the fuck do you think they’re going to spend it.”
“Last night,” Rhage said, “we got caught in some cross fire between the Band of Bastards and some slayers. Guess what the undead were squeezing off? AK-forty-sevens. It’s the first major gun power we’ve seen in this city since the raids.”
Assail shrugged and put up his palms. “How does this have anything to do with me? I’m a businessman—”
Wrath jacked forward in the chair. “Your business is making it more dangerous for my boys. And that fucking cranks my shit, asshole. So your business is now mine.”
“You have no right to stop me.”
“If the three of you don’t make it out of here alive, I think that’ll be game-over, don’t you.”
On a oner, every single brother in the room outted a dagger.
Rhage braced himself for an explosion of some sort, but Assail remained cool as a cucumber. He didn’t fidget, didn’t blink, didn’t hem and haw.
Maybe the motherfucker had no central nervous system.
“What did you think was going to happen,” Wrath said, “when I found out. Did you think I was just going to let this really big fucking conflict of interest ride?”
There was a long period of silence.
Finally, Assail bowed his head. “Fine. I’ll stop selling to them.”
Wrath’s nostrils flared as he tested the male’s scent. A moment later, he said, “Good, now get the fuck out of here. But know if I find any of that shit on even one slayer, I’m going to come after you and not for the conversation.”
Rhage frowned, but as Wrath nodded to the exit, he opened the door and watched from the jamb as the three of them walked out, went for their potpourri of pistols and knives, and rectified their collective iron deficiency. Then they were out the door, and on the way off the property.
“He lied,” Wrath said grimly.
“Knew it was too easy,” Rhage muttered. “Why’d you let him go?”
“I want you to follow him.” Wrath nodded to Rhage and V. “The pair of you. If we kill Assail now, we can’t find his supplier and make sure that the Lessening Society loses all access to product. Follow that motherfucker, find out where he gets his shit, and then make it so the enemy doesn’t have anything else to sell in Caldwell.” The King shifted forward in his armchair. “And then put a bullet through the chest of each one of those three.”
“No problem, my lord.” Rhage glanced over at V, who nodded back. “Consider it done.”
Moving quickly, but not too quickly, maichen whispered along the empty hallways of the palace, heading for the Queen’s ritual chamber. From time to time, she passed guards, other maids, even a Prime or two. None paid any attention to her.
Because she was hiding in the guise of her humble alter ego.
If any had known who was beneath the pale blue robing, a great commotion would have ensued.
Instead, when she came upon her destination, the guards standing to the left and right barely looked at her. They were exhausted at the end of their shifts, and that was why this was such very good timing.
“Clean-up for the Queen,” she said with a dutiful bow.
They opened the door for her, and she slipped inside.
The sacred space was all black marble from floor to ceiling, and there was nothing to diminish the mind-bending effects of being surrounded by all that glossy noir: no rugs, no furniture, only a few inset cabinets in the corner where food was stashed and replenished. Illumination came from lamps that had open flames on wicks, the special oils being consumed giving off a whitish-green flicker.
She didn’t look around. She had long since learned not to.
There was something terrifying about the room, especially if you spent any appreciable time in it. The longer you sat within its confines, the more you began to lose your sense of orientation, until you weren’t sure whether the four walls and everything below and above had disappeared and placed you in the midst of the great night sky, suspended without gravity, in another dimension that you were not sure would ever release you.
She hated the room.
But she’d been compelled to come here.
Her mother, the Queen, sat in the center of it all, facing the north, black robes that had a sheen to them falling to the floor all around her, falling from her covered head, falling to become one with the marble.
Until it seemed as if the stone had gone liquid and was seeking to consume her.
Her mother was stock-still, not even breathing.
She was in the thick of the mourning meditation.
This was good news.
maichen padded over to the corner and opened the hatch on the cabinet without making a sound. None of the food that had been left there earlier had been touched. Another positive sign.
In less than an hour, at midnight, the high priest, AnsLai, would come filing in along with the Chief Astrologer and rituals would be performed, fragments of meteorites being crushed and consumed in sacred teas as a way to commune with the stars that determined everything for the Shadows. Then there would be a bloodletting and ritual sex. After which the Queen would be left again to drift away from the earth and find solace from her grief.
Or “grief” was more apt.
It was difficult to believe that female actually felt anything for those she birthed.
Now assured that the ritual was in fact still progressing, maichen backed toward the door. Before she passed through it, she glanced at her mother. She had seen the female only at formal occasions all her life, when maichen had been brought out at court in full noble robing, rather as one would tease the display of a prized vase or work of art. Save for those viewings, which were for the benefit of the Territory, she lived in sacred quarters that were surrounded by guards.
She had never been visited by the female who, immediately after birthing her, had given her into the care of specially trained staff in that suite of rooms that was a prison.
Such was the life of the Princess of the s’Hisbe.
She had found a way out, however.
And had been drifting around the palace under the guise of a maid, a low priest, even an astrologer, ever since.
maichen slipped out and briskly walked away.
Nothing like discovering s’Ex, her mother’s favorite lover, having a tryst with two human females, whom he had evidently smuggled in—likely through the rear entrance. maichen hadn’t meant to find out his secret, but she had discovered that there was a grate up high on the wall, and learned that, if she dematerialized into it, she could travel along the system of heating and air-conditioning ducts.
For quite some time, it had been nothing but a game with which to pass the time, and she had learned nothing of note from her spying. That had changed one night, however, as she had, in her Shadow form, looked down through one of the slats, and gotten her first and only sight of the mating act.
Although … well, there had been a lot of body parts.
So she wasn’t sure what she had seen exactly.
She must have made a sound or something, because s’Ex had frozen and looked up, meeting her eyes even while the humans kept moving and grinding against him …
s’Ex had come to her cell immediately thereafter, and they had struck their little deal. In exchange for keeping what she had seen private and no longer using the venting system, she was allowed to leave her quarters provided she stayed within the palace and kept herself duly camouflaged.
s’Ex’s indiscretion could well have been the death of him: Shadows believed that mating was a sacred act. And the Queen would have been infuriated to know that certain body parts of hers had essentially been … exposed … to the body parts of humans by virtue of s’Ex’s exploits.
That male was supposed to be hers and hers alone. Everyone knew this.
And those human women? He might as well have had sheep in that bed of his.
As maichen padded along, moving through the corridors, her stomach began doing flip-flops. As she had gained age, she had been granted some privacy, such that she could send all attendants away from her quarters—and she had exercised that privilege once again this evening: Before going to check that her mother was, in fact, in full mourning, she had told her servants to depart from her quarters, as she was exhausted from stress and desirous of some privacy as she exercised the rituals required of her.
None had questioned her. And no one would be back until after dawn.
It would be easy to use the grate system and escape out into the world.
Meet up with her betrothed’s brother.
Well, she didn’t know what.
Stars above, was she really going to do this? She wasn’t even exactly sure where the cabin he had spoken of was.
No, this was foolhardy. Stupid. Reckless—
An image of iAm standing naked before her cut off all thought.
As her body began to warm from the inside out, she realized that, in spite of all her mind might be telling her, her flesh was going to drive her to him.
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