No Rest for the Wicked Read online

Page 7


Chapter 3

  He didn't finish the sentence, because in the space of three words, she'd collected her sword, then shot behind him to tuck it menacingly between his legs. She'd moved so quickly she was a blur.

  "Yes, let you live," she hissed at his ear.

  "You are unused to this. " He traced across the room and stood, arms out, a hand on each side of the doorway. "As am I. We will find our way with this together. But you are my Bride. "

  She closed her eyes, struggling for calm. "You're not my husband. And never will be. "

  "This can't be random, Kaderin. "

  Enough. As she started for the door, she could sense apprehension building in him. They both knew the sun would protect her. All she had to do was get past him -

  Suddenly, she doubled over as sorrow for Dasha and Rika ripped through her like barbed wire dragged through her veins.

  "Kaderin?" He strode toward her. "Are you hurt?"

  Gulping air, she shoved her hand out to stop him before he reached her, and forced herself to stand. All Valkyrie were related, but she and her two sisters had been born together. Triplets. Inseparable for one thousand years, until two had died in battle. Because of Kaderin's weakness. . .

  "Kaderin, just wait - "

  She charged for the door, but he traced back to it and held his ground. She feinted left and ducked right, moving so fast she knew he couldn't make out her form. As he blinked, she swooped around him, bringing the sword handle crashing back into his chest, deciding at the last minute not to crack his sternum.

  He gave a bellow of fury when she barreled past him. She darted down a rotting landing, toward the three sets of winding stairs, running through massive cobwebs so thick he must have traced through them for centuries.

  Half staggering, half tracing, he was right behind her as she bounded down the stairs. But she pushed a hand on the railing and vaulted over to the next flight of stairs, then once again to the ground floor.

  With a hoarse yell, he leapt down behind her, lunging for her. At the last second, she shimmied out of his grasp, reaching the heavy front doors. She burst through them, wrenching them off their rusted hinges and sending splinters arcing into the air.

  Even outside under the morning sun's protective watch, she didn't slow. She raced down the valley toward the village - ragged breaths, leaves crackling beneath her boots, the warmth of the light. Don't look back.

  Tears blurred her vision as she fought not to sob. The sorrow ached as unbearably as it had when she'd collected and buried the. . . pieces of her sisters. She ran away as if to forget that last night, as if to leave that memory back at that desolate castle. Don't look back. . .

  After the burial, she'd torn at her hair and clawed at her skin, alternately shrieking with fury and grief and yearning for the oblivion of death herself. Exhaustion finally rendered her unconscious, and in that heavy sleep, an unknown power had communicated with her as a voice in her mind, promising surcease from the pain yet deadening all of her emotions.

  Then, as now, the pain was unbearable. Just as she had before, she prayed for mercy.

  But none came. Had Kaderin been forsaken? Had she angered the mysterious power? Don't look back. But she did.

  The vampire had followed her.

  4

  Val Hall Manor, New Orleans,

  Home of the tenth of the twelve Valkyrie covens

  Sometimes Nikolai Wroth really hated his in-laws.

  He exhaled wearily as he accompanied his Bride, Myst the Coveted, to the expansive front porch of her former home. They'd just made it to the front steps when the first shriek sounded.

  He wasn't surprised, having already learned that his mere vampiric presence would be enough to provoke this nest of Valkyrie.

  Though he was a Forbearer, he was often hated as much as Horde vampires - natural-born vampires, a faction that had warred with the Valkyrie since the first days of the Lore. In addition to killing his Bride's kind, Horde vampires often imprisoned them and fed nightly on their exquisite blood.

  He understood their hatred of the Horde, and as a Forbearer, he shared it, having battled against them since he'd become a vampire. But this mattered little.

  Another scream, and then more followed. Nikolai still was unused to his in-laws' shrieks. They liked to scream. Yet even if they had been silent, he would know their rage over his sensed presence, because the Valkyrie produced lightning with emotion, and right now the yard was like a minefield of exploding bolts.

  The many copper rods planted all around the grounds couldn't contain such an onslaught. The ancient oaks surrounding the manor were lashed with ribbons of lightning and gave up their smoke, thicker than the fog.

  Did anything smell as odd as burning moss?

  He shook his head to the sky but didn't see the stars above him. No, his view was blocked by the wraiths the Valkyrie had paid to circle and guard the manor. The ghostly fiends howled their amusement down at him.

  Nikolai had no patience for them. A month ago, when he'd tried to trace into Val Hall to win Myst back, they'd caught him and thrown him so far he'd entered another parish. Nothing could penetrate their guard.

  With the wraiths, the lightning, the shrieks, and the smoke, it was no wonder other Lore creatures feared Val Hall almost as much as they feared the Valkyrie themselves. The fact that his beautiful wife had hailed from this place of madness always astounded him.

  Tonight she had coaxed him to trace them here to ask Nïx - the oldest Valkyrie and a soothsayer - to help them find his two younger brothers. He secretly thought this a fool's errand. Nïx, or Nucking Futs Nïx as the coven called her, was rarely lucid and had a diabolical sense of humor. And Myst had been warned that Nïx was "in a pissy mood" this evening.

  In fact, all the Valkyrie he'd met were. . . eccentric. Even his wife, Myst, thought in ways he didn't understand. And if Nïx was unmatched in Valkyrie madness. . . ?

  But he had to try. He couldn't go on any longer wondering if Sebastian and Conrad were alive or dead. The last time he had seen his two youngest brothers, they were just about to leave Blachmount as newly turned vampires. They were both weakened and had gone half mad at the turning. Although three hundred years had passed, Nikolai did not delude himself into thinking that they had forgiven his offenses against them.

  He and Myst gained entrance past the wraiths the only way possible. She offered a lock of her hair as toll, and one swooped down for it. In exchange for the wraiths' unfailing guard, the Valkyrie proffered their hair, which the wraiths wove into a braid. Once the braid attained a certain length, they could bend all living Valkyrie to their will for a short interval.

  Once inside the darkened manor, they passed the ultramodern movie viewing room. The Valkyrie were obsessed with movies, indeed with anything modern and ever-changing, whether it was technology, slang, fashion, or video games.

  A number had grudgingly accepted him now that he and Myst were married and because he'd helped save the life of Emmaline, a member of their coven. He'd even garnered permission - through blackmail - to enter their home at will, becoming the only vampire alive who'd seen the inside of this legendary place.

  From the viewing room, they crossed to the stairs and up to the second landing. Myst had explained that Val Hall was like a violent Lore version of a sorority house, complete with catfights and clothing thefts. At least twenty Valkyrie lived here at any given time.

  She stopped at a door with a sign painted to read "Nïxie's Lair, Forget the Dog, Beware of Nïx. " Myst listened at the door, then knocked.

  "Who is it?" came a muffled reply.

  "Aren't you supposed to know that?" Myst asked, turning the knob when the door was unlocked.

  They entered the room and found it darkened as well, lit only by a computer screen. Nïx stood, her expression inscrutable as she swiftly braided her long black hair. She had on jeans and a small T-shirt that read "I play with my prey. "

  Ins