The Warlord Wants Forever Read online
The Origin of the Valkyrie
Into the blood-splattered snow, the lone warrior fell to one knee and shuddered with weakness. Still, an arm shot out to raise a sword against the oncoming legion.
Her dented breastplate swallowed her small form.
The winds howled, whipping her hair, but she heard the twang of the bowstring unleashed. She screamed in fury; the arrow punctured the center of her armor, the blow sending her flying back.
The arrow had pierced through metal, then barely through her breastbone, just enough that her heart met the point with each beat. The beating of her own brave heart was killing her.
But her scream had woken two nearby gods sleeping together through a brutal, wintry decade. They stirred and looked down upon the maiden, seeing in her eyes courage burning bright. Bravery and will had marked her entire life, but the light ebbed with death and they mourned it.
Freya, the female god, whispered that they should take her courage and preserve it for eternity because it was so precious.
Woden agreed, and together they gave up lightning to cleave through the ether and strike the dying maiden.
The light was violent and slow to fade and made the army tremble.
When blackness cloyed once more, the healed maiden woke in a strange place. She was untouched, her human mortality unchanged. But soon an immortal daughter would be born from her - a daughter who possessed her courage, Woden's wily brilliance, and Freya's mirth and fey beauty. Though this daughter enjoyed the power of lightning for sustenance, she also inherited Woden's arrogance and Freya's acquisitiveness, which merely endeared her to them more.
The gods were content and the maiden adoring of her new baby. Yet after an age had flickered past, the gods heard another female call out for courage as she died from a battle against a dark enemy. She wasn't a human, but a Furie, one among the Lore - that strata of clever beings who have convinced humans that they exist only in imagination. Scarce moments had the creature - in the freezing night her breaths were no longer visible.
"Our halls are great, yet our family is small," Freya said, her eyes sparkling so brightly a mariner in the north was briefly blinded by the stars and almost lost his way.
Grim Woden took her hand, unable to deny her. Those surrounding the dying Furie saw lightning rent the sky once more.
And it would strike again and again in the coming years, continuing on well after female warriors - be they human, demoness, siren, changeling or any brave creature from the Lore - knew to pray for it as they died.
Thus the Valkyrie were born.
Five years ago
Mt. Oblak Castle, Russia
If the overgrown vampire didn't stop staring at her face, even his wicked talent with his sword wouldn't keep his head upon his shoulders.
The thought made Myst, an immortal known as the Coveted One, grin as she curled up in the windowsill of her cell. Leaning against the reinforced bars, she watched the two vampire armies battle below as she might a rumble from the back of bleachers.
The poor warlord with his broad shoulders and jet-black hair was about to join a legion of other males whose last sight on earth was her smiling face -
She frowned when he ducked and ran through his enemy. He was a big male, at least six and a half feet tall, but he was surprisingly fast. Tilting her head, she studied him. He was good. She knew fighting and liked his style. Dirty. He'd cut with his sword then strike out with his fist, or duck a parry then throw an elbow. It amused her to watch, but what she wouldn't give to be down there fighting. In the middle. Against both sides. Against him.
She fought dirtier.
His gaze continued to stray to her, and once he'd even killed while his eyes were still on her. She'd blown him a kiss, sincerely, choosing to see it as a tribute.
He found time to glance back even as he thundered orders and gave commands to the army of vampires around him, showing brilliance in strategy. She examined it all as though watching Decisive Battles on A&E and grudgingly noted the effectiveness of his army's acid grenades and guns.
The creatures of the Lore scorned human weapons like these. The only ones such weapons could kill were humans, which was beyond nonsporting. Yet that was the thing about bullets - aside from ruining perfectly good couture, they hurt and could immobilize an immortal for precious seconds. Long enough for a dirty fighter to take your head. Done enough times, they could help take an "untakable" castle like Ivo the Cruel's.
Myst hardly cared that Ivo, her jailer and tormentor, was about to have his ass handed to him by this warlord with his forbidden modern weapons. Her situation would not change, for these rebels, turned humans known as the Forbearers, were still vampires. A blood foe is a blood foe is a blood foe. . .
An explosion rocked the castle, and sparks and bits of debris wafted down from the roof of Myst's cell. The low creatures in the dank holds down the corridor howled with impotent fury, increasing in urgency with each successive blast, until it was. . . over. Silence. An aftershock here and there, a muted whimper. . .
The defense of this castle was no more, its inhabitants having disappeared - by tracing, as the Lore called teleporting - leaving no more than an airy draft and the burned records of their Horde.
She could hear the rebels searching the bowels of this place but could've told them they wouldn't find any of their enemies. The denizens here had not been a fight-to-the-death sort, more of a he who fights and runs away, lives to run away another day type.
Shortly after, she heard heavy boots clicking on the stone floor of the dungeon and knew it was the warlord. He crossed directly to her cell and stood before it.
From her perch, curled in the window, she examined the vampire up close. He had thick, straight black hair that hung over his face in uneven sections, no doubt from where he'd sheared it off with his blade months ago, and never thought to cut it since. Some hanks were kept from his field of vision with those small ravel plaits like the berserkers used to wear. He had scars on his hands, and his big body was powerful and cut with muscle. She wanted to purr - because apparently central casting had just sent down the consummate virile warlord.
"Come down from there and show yourself. " Deep voice. Russian accent, moneyed, aristocratic.
"Or what? You'll lock me away in a dungeon?"
"I might free you. "
She was at the bars before he'd had time to lower his gaze from the window. Had his squared jaw slackened just the smallest bit? She listened for a quickening of his heart, but found none because there was no heartbeat whatsoever. So the vampire was single? His eyes were clear of the red haze that marked bloodlust, which meant he had never drunk a being to death. But then a Forbearer eschewed taking living blood through the flesh altogether.
When he saw her face up close, the key wasn't immediately in the lock as it usually would have been, but his lips parted, exposing his fangs for her to see. Of course his would be sexy - not too prominent or even much longer than a human's canines.
When she saw the short splendid scar that passed down both of his lips, lightning struck just outside, but he didn't flinch at the bolt or even glance up - he was too busy staring back at her.
Scars, any external evidence of pain, attracted Myst. Pain forged strength. Strength begat electricity. This one could give it to her.
It was possible he was even missing an eye under a thick hank of hair.
She stifled a throaty growl as her hand shot out to brush his hair back. But he was quick, catching her wrist. She curled one finger in a beckoning gesture, and after a moment he released her, allowing her to reach forward. She brushed his hair back, revealing a hard-