“What the hell was that?” Gideon’s amazed whisper was close by his ear.
Braith was seething, his hands fisted as he watched Aria leap from one building to another. “I’m going to kill her myself.”
“Well let’s worry about getting to her, in order to kill her first,” Gideon muttered.
“You’re all of an hour older than me.”
“But it was a glorious hour of solitude,” he quipped.
“What is that?”
“A Chevrolet,” Braith informed her.
She blinked in surprise; her blue eyes were bright even though she squinted from the bright sun. “What?”
“It was an automobile.”
“A what?” the twins asked simultaneously.
“An automobile,” Braith explained. “At one time humans used them to get around.”
Aria frowned at him; she looked completely confused as she glanced back at the hulking bucket of rust. “Why didn’t they just walk?”
In her world he could understand that question, but a hundred years ago… Well, it had simply been different. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “They were fun though. I had one of these, and a Mustang.”
“So, I had a mustang once too,” William informed him.
Ashby guffawed loudly and even Braith nearly burst out laughing. He managed to keep it contained as both Aria and William shot Ashby disgruntled looks. “A Mustang was a different kind of automobile.”
Aria’s attention returned to the car, her head tilted to the side as she studied it inquisitively. “It doesn’t look like it would get far, walking would be a lot quicker.”
Ashby spun away and walked briskly to the corner of the building. Aria and William couldn’t see him anymore but Braith clearly could. Ashby’s shoulders shook with laughter as he covered his mouth in order to stifle the noise. “It didn’t always look like this,” Braith assured her.
“What did it look like?” William wondered.
“It was pretty, and it was fast. Very fast.”
“Faster than a real mustang?” William inquired.
Ashby was laughing harder now and Braith wanted to throttle him. “Yes,” Braith answered.
They both looked even more confused. Aria shook her head; her hair tumbled around her shoulders and down her back. For a moment he was captivated by the dark red color that flashed with strands of brilliant gold in the bright sun. “Weird,” she muttered.
His jaw clenched and unclenched as he studied her. “How are you so accepting of all of this, of me? I hurt you.”
She tilted her head to study him. “You didn’t hurt me.”
He pushed himself up, launching to his feet as he stalked across the room. She watched him, sensing something more beneath the tension radiating from him. “Not just today Aria, but the first time I took your blood, in the woods, the fact that I was previously engaged. The other blood slaves.”
She recoiled at the reminder of all of those things. She felt the blood drain from her face but somehow managed to keep her chin up as she glared at him. “And I left you in that palace Braith. My pride wounded us both when I left with Jack. I didn’t believe in you, and because of that I drove you to those slaves; I drove you to your lowest depths of depravation. How do you forgive me for that?”
“You didn’t almost kill me.”
“I shot an arrow at you!” she snapped.
His head tilted to the side, his dark hair spilled across his forehead. “That hardly counts.”
Irritation flared through her, she clasped the towel to her as she knelt on the bed to face him. “Then give me another one and this time I’ll make it count!” His grin infuriated her. Huffing a little she clutched the towel as she shimmied her way inelegantly off the bed.
He grasped hold of her arm before she disappeared into the bathroom; he held it tenderly as she glared angrily up at him. “Aria…”
He watched her as she placed her bow and arrows by the bed; he was disturbed by how thin she had become again.
“Oh, a shower!”
With those excited words, she was gone, vanishing through the doorway in a flash. He couldn’t help but smile as the sound of running water filled the room. He admired the delight she found in things that he had taken for granted. He remained by the door as she moved around the bathroom gathering soaps and shampoos in her arms with an eagerness that caused him to laugh softly.
His laughter vanished in an instant as she shed the bindings from her arms and dropped them to the floor. The smell of her blood assaulted him. She disappeared from sight again, the water flow changed as she stepped beneath the shower head. He hurt.
“You can see,” Gideon said in amazement. Braith remained silent, he wasn’t going to respond to him, wasn’t going to relax until Gideon moved away from them. “And it’s because of her.”
“Gideon,” Ashby cautioned.
“You did not feed from my gift.”
“We are not here to discuss this,” Braith informed him.
“Have you lost your mind!?” Gideon exploded. “She’s a human Braith.”
“We are not here to discuss this!” Braith roared trying to control his rising temper as Gideon focused on Aria again. “This topic is off limits, for now,”
For a brief moment tears shimmered in her eyes before she blinked them back, thrust out her chin and nodded firmly. “I do.”
“He cannot know about this.”
Gideon was silent for a long moment. “The bond cannot be completed.”
She winced as a flash of grief struck her like lightening. For just a moment her composure seemed to crumple. “It won’t,” she whispered.
Gideon didn’t know what to say, he hadn’t known what to expect from her or how she would react to what Jack and Ashby had to say to her. He realized now that he should have known this was the path she would take, that she would not shy away from this. She turned away from him, but her step wasn’t so sure, or as silent, as she made her way to the door.
“You know what this may mean for you?” he inquired before she could escape.
She stopped in the doorway, her head turned back to him as she studied him over her shoulder. She swallowed heavily as she managed another stiff nod. “If we are unable to dilute his blood in me my death may be the only solution to separating us for good.”
He was immobile, struck by the fact that this young girl was able to see what the others refused to. “And you accept this?”
“It’s what I came to you for,” she breathed.
That answer didn’t surprise him either, he was the only one she could turn to in order to ensure such a thing was carried out. “No one else can know about this.”
“They won’t,” she vowed. He realized he’d just made a deal with the devil as she slid the hood back over her head and slipped from the room.
The Barrens. The place where horror stories were born, cautionary tales were exchanged and people were frightened by the mere thought of entering them. They were desolate, somehow cold, even with the sun relentlessly pounding the earth around them. There were few people that hade entered The Barrens and ever come back. The ones that did often ranted of strange creatures, monsters that hunted within the sand, appeared out of nowhere, and were even more vicious than the vampires. Few believed the extent of the stories, but even fewer wandered into The Barrens after hearing them.
And now they were here, preparing to jump head first, straight into hell. They had traveled hundreds of miles through her forest to this godforsaken land of sun and sand. The supposed new home of the vampires that had at one time been some of the most spoiled aristocrats. They were the aristocrats that had stood against the king during the war, and fled the palace when it became clear that they were not going to win and their lives would be forfeit.
Aristocrats that Braith now sought to gain support from for this upcoming battle. That was, if they could ever find these mysterious vampires amongst the vast expanse of emptiness that unraveled beyond this last border town. The town was frightening enough, the lands beyond were overwhelming. Aria wasn't used to such emptiness, not after being surrounded by trees and caves for most of her life.
Ansiety twisted within her belly. Sweat trickled down her back as she kept her head bowed and the hood pulled low over her brow. She could feel the curious stares burning through the dull gray cloak of the servant's class covering her. Breath was stiff beside her, his shoulders squared as his body thrummed with tension. She didn't know what to do with her hands as they walked silently down the street. She ached to reach out and touch him, to somehow connect with him but it was a move she knew she couldn't make.
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