Chapter 20 - Minion
“Minion,” Alena confirmed Rowan’s suspicions and Marcus nodded in agreement. They were both hungry, and the small head wound, which killed the human, also made it impossible to ignore their urges. Marcus shrugged and motioned for Alena to go first.
They needed their strength, and there was no sense in passing up a free meal, despite the rank smell of his person and that other scent that clung to his clothes. Rowan ignored them, her body language betraying that she would not take blood from a dead man.
Alena frowned, somehow growing to understand Rowan was worse than hating her. Marcus would have spoken, but Alena took his arm in a firm grip to attract his attention and shook her head. He saw the strange emotions in her cool eyes and nodded.
It was almost dusk before they packed their gear and Rowan came to her feet. She avoided looking at them, and the corpse they discarded a few paces away.
“I will check outside,” neither of them moved to stop Rowan. If she wanted to leave, it was her choice, and they couldn’t do anything about it. Alena scowled when she realized she would miss Rowan and owed Marcus her gratitude for giving her the opportunity to meet her sister.
She heard a sharp, unusual sound just as finished packing. It came from near the entrance, and an odd sensation came over her.
Marcus saw her stiffen and when she moved forward, he followed right behind her. They found Rowan lying motionless at the mouth of the cave with blood pouring from several wounds.
Alena knelt in the dirt and picked out tracks from at least three separate creatures in the powdered sand. Marcus moved past them with his sword drawn.
“Rowan?” Alena prodded, and Rowan’s eyes drifted open. She tried to speak but failed. They never heard the creatures approach, and this time there was no scent. How was it possible for anything to move with such stealth?
Alena saw something stick out of an open wound and she examined the injuries with gentle hands. She realized the hard object had to be part of a claw, but it wasn’t the only one; several of the gaping holes contained embedded shards.
“Poison,” Marcus warned when he returned moments later, and she didn’t have to look at him. They had seen this before. Rowan became weaker with every passing moment but remained clear-minded, and she fought for her life with the perseverance of someone used to fighting the odds.
Marcus handed Alena his knife, and without hesitation, she cut her wrist wide open. She held the wound within Rowan's reach, but Rowan tried to turn her head away, which prompted something in Alena to snap.
“Don’t be so damn stubborn and self-righteous,” Alena sniped, and Rowan stared at her as she tried to move, already too weak to lift her head. Alena's gut clenched as she watched her sister slip away. She helped Rowan sit more upright and didn’t even notice how their blood mixed on the ground before the sand absorbed it. Marcus saw it happen, and a strange shudder ran down his spine.
His mother had the sight, and she would have called it a warning of something to come. Rowan fed, but it barely changed anything. The poison in the wounds soaked into her veins and made her fade fast. Alena’s pure vampire blood kept Rowan from dying, but it wasn’t enough.
Marcus and Alena both resisted the certainty that they had to move. They weren’t safe here. Rowan was dying, and she would be a liability to them, but neither of them wanted to leave her behind.
They didn’t have to speak. Marcus brought the horses, and striker followed him, despite acting in much the same manner as he did the night before when the creatures attacked the castle.
They tied her to her Striker who kept pawing the ground and trying to nuzzle her. He sniffed at one wound and shuddered. The sound that came out of him sounded more like a growl than any sound a horse should make. Alena patted his nose, but his eyes never left Rowan.
Striker allowed Alena to saddle him and stood motionless when they tied Rowan to his saddle. When their horses moved into the night, he followed. He moved with great care as if he didn’t want to jostle Rowan, but she was unconscious.
Neither of them expected Rowan to make it through the night. From the moment they left the safety of the cave, they kept hearing noises in the night. The creatures kept pace with them, but never approached within visual range. At some point, Marcus increased their pace after more and more noises came from the night.
Near midnight they realized the creatures were herding them in a specific direction. Marcus chose a different route, and the night came alive with screeches, chirps, shrill shrieks, and the pounding of many feet. It spooked Striker, and he took off. They had to chase him down, but by the time they found him, their attackers had given up the chase, and Alena half expected to find Rowan lying beside the road, but their ropes held.
Unexpectedly exposed in unfamiliar territory, they didn’t have time to check on Rowan. The main worry was if they could find shelter before dawn, or they would all be dead. They made their way into the nearby mountains hoping to find a cave of some sort. Nothing disturbed the night, but the sound of the horses’ hooves, and the sounds of leather creaking, the tack shifting, their breathing, and the crickets, but both of them had the distinct sense of being observed.
They found a cave just before dawn. When they lifted Rowan down from Striker, she convulsed, and it was clear the poison had reached her brain. Alena couldn’t lie to herself anymore, and she didn’t want to lose Rowan when they just met, but earlier in the month they lost three soldiers like this.