Bane (Page 21)
“There,” Kahli said staring him down like a rabid dog, unwilling to lower her hackles first, “Willow bark. I thought the other presentation was preferable, but apparently I was wrong.” Kahli’s heart raced in her chest. The pounding of her pulse rushed by in her ears, but her gaze didn’t waiver from the vampire’s. She would not turn away first. She breathed once, then twice.
Guive glared at her, the muscles in his shoulders twitched slightly revealing the tension that lined his arms. His self-control was wilting, but he would not act. Risking the Queen’s wrath was chancing a fate worse than death. She was not someone to anger no matter how much the wild girl baited him. Before turning to a row of vamps at his side, his sneer turned into a smile that was equally cold and creepy. Kahli didn’t blink.
When Guive turned to the shadows she tried to see who he was looking at. She’d been at court long enough to recognize some of their faces, their arrogant swaggers, and their individual wolf-like charms. There was a back and forth, a few pointed, near silent words, until Guive, nodded and returned to the podium with wet bark in his hand.
“It would appear that I was mistaken and the wild girl was correct.” His voice dripped with disgust, as if he could ever be wrong. It was completely transparent that he would have killed her then and there, if not for the vampire lurking in the shadows. “The branch counts. Jessica’s team has immunity from the Purging. Leave.”
Kahli expected a rush of noise, but there was none. Instead the team stood. Silence and dread mingled together so that the soft shuffle of feet was the only sound. Kahli wanted to present the flag, but she wasn’t certain how. They were clearly dismissed. She did what she needed to do to save her friend, but when her eyes slid over Missy’s team her throat tightened. Kahli couldn’t leave. Not yet.
Digging into her pocket, Kahli stopped before Guive, knowing she was pressing her luck within an inch of her life. “But what…”
She didn’t have a chance to finish. Guive’s patience were long gone. His control melted as soon as Kahli spoke. Reaching out, he grabbed her throat in his hand, twisting her quickly, and thrust her body back into the golden podium. It was so heavy that it barely budged when he smacked Kahli into it. A rush of air hissed out of her lungs as she tried to speak and failed. The vampire in the shadows did nothing.
Guive pressed his lips to her hear, hissing, “I’d spill your blood on the ice before I allowed our kind to taste a single drop.” His lips pulled into a tight smile, she could feel it as he pressed his face to her cheek, “Perhaps your fellow humans didn’t bother to tell you your place, but you will learn it. And I will teach you.”
Cole’s voice shattered the air. He did the exact thing he hated and drew attention to himself. “Wait!” His loud voice boomed through the hall. Jess’ team stopped in the doorway, Cassie’s eyes wide as dinner plates, her mouth hanging open. Cole stepped in front of Guive, his voice steady as if he had no fear, “Kahli has the flag.”
A rush of voices collided together. Suddenly everyone was talking at once. Guive’s grip on her neck loosened as he gazed at her. She managed to pull free, her skin still stinging. His hands were colder than ice, his grip made her shiver down to her core. A kind of coldness that could not be warmed settled into her in the seconds his hands were on her. It was as if death himself lingered in the air she breathed and tried to steal her soul.
Staggering back from Guive, Kahli turned. She stood in front of a room full of people, but the only eyes she noticed were Will’s. There was a shocked disbelief that poured over his face like paint. It was surprise and dread mixing together, and he made no effort to hide it. Kahli didn’t understand what she did wrong, why he’d look at her like that for capturing the flag. It must have been because of her exchange with Guive. That had to be the reason. But she felt a second set of eyes on her as well. The hairs on her arms stood on end as she slowly turned toward the vampire in the shadows. Her stomach pooled with ice.
The man in the shadows stood and walked toward the light. The speaker bowed low and backed away, but Kahli didn’t move. She stood there watching the vampire come at her with his teeth bore in an awful smile. His tall body was slender, his steps graceful, his gaze deadly—add to that unsurpassed beauty, and she couldn’t breathe. His hair was inky black, shiny like glass cropped close to his neck, but longer in front. It fell over his forehead with grace and drew attention to golden eyes. The way he looked at her made her shiver. It was as if no one else existed. Like he only saw her. Stepping toward her, he clapped once. Twice. Three times. The noise echoed through the silent stares. Chills ran down her back like sheets of ice. The King noticed her. He noticed her in every way possible. She was no longer the Queen’s present from her idiot brother. Kahli was more than that. And he intended to have her.
The King’s voice was deep with a seductive lure to it that felt odd—like she wanted to hear him speak, “May I see the flag?”
Without protest, Kahli held it up. She was hot and cold, flushed, famished, and furious at reacting to him. It was as if she had no choice but to react. Pulse pounding in her ears, Kahli’s fingers surrendered the flag and fell to her sides. No one spoke. No one moved. He took the piece of cloth in his hands, examining it.
“Your Majesty,” Guive pleaded behind him, lifting a finger as he spoke, “I thought she needed to know her place. I didn’t realize she had the flag.” This was the King—he was addressing the King. Why? And why did it matter that Guive didn’t know she had the flag? The questions flashed through Kahli’s mind like a streak of lighting across the night sky. She stood frozen, eyes shifting between the two. The tension was palpable, pricking her skin.
Without warning, the king turned, rounding on Guive. His gloved hand held a small silver dagger that streaked through the air in a flash of light. It wasn’t until it was buried deep in Guive’s chest that Kahli saw what it was. Guive didn’t see it until then either. The vampire fell to the floor, black blood oozing from the wound, his body stiffening as his eyes rolled back in his head. Within seconds black veins spidered out from the silver dagger, covering his pristine porcelain skin with thin black lines. Each line splintered and shot ten more tendrils in various directions turning the skin beneath to ash. Guive’s skin caved in as his body deteriorated, becoming nothing but a pile of black cinders.
“He should have realized,” the King sighed and lifted his gaze to Kahli, “that you succeeded. There were many bets placed on how the events of the day would turn out.” No one moved. The vampires seemed to sit with their backs straighter, their bodies tense. Reaching for a piece of Kahli’s hair that lay on her shoulder, the King brushed it back.
Do not react, she chanted over and over again in her mind. When his fingers swept the hair back every fiber of her being wanted to take the dagger and run him through. But she remained rigid and perfectly still. There would be other times. Today, right now, she meant to save more than herself. That was the point of getting the flag.
He cocked his head back, looking down his nose at her as if studying an unusual animal, “But no one predicted this—you succeeded in getting the entire list and the flag.” He watched her, waiting for a response that she didn’t give. Kahli bit her tongue. “There are those who are afraid of a strong human. They say she can bring nothing good to our court,” he began to circle her, his fingers rubbing his chin while his other hand clutched the flag. It fluttered next to his leg as he tapped it against his thigh. Slowly he moved behind her, his eyes sliding over her narrow waist, drifting down to the curve of her hips, before stopping in front of her. His face was inches from hers. His voice dropped to a whisper, “But I saw otherwise.” His golden eyes were flecked with light, gazing into hers, not moving, just simply staring.
Someone behind them spoke up. It was Will, “Forgive me, Your Highness.” The King continued to stare at Kahli as Will spoke, “The Queen requested a report. What should I tell her? What was the outcome of this evenings games and who will be taken to the Purging?” Speaking up like that was insane, but Will didn’t like what was happening.
Kahli’s jaw was locked, her mouth had gone dry. She wanted to see the expression on Will’s face. She wanted to know if the sensation creeping over her flesh was imaginary or if there was good reason for it. His eyes would tell her, but she didn’t dare look away.
The King blinked once and turned toward Will, “Tell her that her newest trinket won on both accounts and that Alice was purged today.” A think brunette standing next to Missy blanched. Her lower lip began to tremble, but no one comforted her. No one offered her an embrace, or defended her. Wide-eyed she looked at Kahli, terrified. The king continued, ignoring Alice’s horror, “I think feasting is in order. And my prize to the girl is anything she wants.” He turned back toward Kahli, “Anything.”
Kahli arched a brow at him, “Anything?”
The king placed his hands behind his back, smiling a smirk that was utterly attractive. “You’ll find that most monarchs will never make such a generous offer, but…” he looked up at her emerald eyes, “I’m curious as to what you’ll choose. Will it be your freedom? Will it be the location of a loved one?” He spoke as if he knew, as if there were information about her Mother. His words felt like a lash across her face. How did he know about her mother? Her lips parted, shocked. Surely he was lying. Kahli didn’t think that she would be permitted to just walk out either, so that meant he was lying about her mother as well.
As if the King could read her thoughts, he said, “My other half is not so gracious and I would think she’d be rather annoyed with me for releasing you, but if that is what you chose, that is what you will have. I will deal with the consequences and the Queen. Now,” he stood perfectly straight, his eyes cutting between the vampires next to him and Kahli. “What do you ask?”
There were many things she never expected, many things that came to pass that weren’t part of the plan. But this. His offer made her speechless. Kahli’s jaw moved, but no sound came out.
The thought lifted a cloud that had been smothering her since her arrival. All the things she’d lost would be hers again. But could she ever truly be free after living here? Would this time haunt her for the rest of her life, even if she evaded the Trackers for eternity? Somehow, she didn’t think so. Freedom would be tainted now. She owed Cole and didn’t want to leave Cassie. That was something tied to the other end of her freedom. No, she didn’t think she would ever be free again, not with the people she grew to care about still confined at the palace. Her stomach twisted when she realized Will was among those people.
His other offer was equally tempting—she could find out where her mother was—if she was still alive. It’d been over ten years since her mother’s hand forced her into the frozen thicket and Kahli had to move onto the next safe house alone. She spent a decade thinking she was an orphan, but the king spoke like she wasn’t. Could it be true? Was she alive? It was every hope and fear colliding together. The selfish part of Kahli wanted her mother to be alive, but that meant she’d spent a decade in captivity, being drained by bloodsucking leeches like the king. And if she wasn’t in the palace, they weren’t as kind. Kind, she almost laughed at the thought. It was considered kindness to kill your prey slowly here. Other places in this frozen Hell didn’t provide that luxury. They struck and humans died. There was no waiting, no slowly succumbing to death. If her mother had been alive for a decade in some vamp farm, she would have been miserable the entire time. Kahli’s stomach clenched. If she knew where her mother was, she could free her. She could ask for her release. But was it too risky? What if the king was lying and knew nothing of her mother? What if it was a trick to expose Kahli’s weakness?