Chapter 89 - Dispatched
Few of the enemy remained, but Rowan felt nothing as she helped dispatch them. She mourned the people they once were, but not what they became.
She understood that humans experienced the same disgust and horror when confronted with her kind, that she did for these foul and terrible creatures.
Vampires hunted for food if they had to kill, but these beasts murdered for sport. They had an insatiable lust for death, and she loathed them. Some vampires had the same trait, but not in this mindless, animal fashion. When vampires killed, they made a choice.
Rowan executed many of those who preyed upon humans, and she always wondered how they became as they were. What happened to them to make them killers? These things had no choice. They obeyed their instincts to terrify and to torture when even animals had a code of conduct. Only the captain or master, the one she fought, would be strong enough to make.
Those he made became the creatures under him, lesser, weak, with little humanity. The Watchers believed that this captain was the only one in each grouping created by the Dark One, or Belvare as Helena called him; the thing they hunted and that hunted them.
The moon rose, and Rowan’s eye caught one of the Devarin, those just above the Valerie in rank, escaping and she knew that if he did, and told Belvare of their presence, they would have no advantage. Alena made to follow Rowan when she pursued the Devarin, but Marcus stopped her.
“Let her go,” Marcus ordered just as Sarah and Jack returned. The humans helped pile the bodies together and emptied the pockets of the dead in search of clues.
These horses were evil-tempered beasts they had to dispatch, and when they finished up, they mounted and rode off. Rowan had yet to return, but Marcus knew she would find them.
After what he saw Rowan do, he had no doubt she could look after herself despite the presence of the creatures. She had come into her own, and she no longer needed coddling.
When the first light of dawn forced them to seek refuge in a cave, Rowan still hadn’t returned, and Alena kept glancing at Marcus with recrimination in her eyes.
He ignored her, even though he questioned his own judgment. This close to the coast, there were plenty of hiding places for Rowan, and if she hadn’t encountered something unforeseen, she should be safe, Marcus reasoned. The humans were tired, and they stayed to rest.
All of them slept despite their concern, and as soon as darkness settled in, they moved on. They expected Rowan to join them early in the evening, but the night wore on as the moon rose and set again.
“I want to go look for Rowan,” Alena suggested when she could keep her tongue no longer, and Marcus considered her words.
“Can you sense that she’s in danger?” Marcus asked, and Alena frowned. Alena would know if Rowan came to harm, even before Marcus would. Her bond to Rowan remained steady, strong, and calm.
“No,” Alena admitted, and Marcus stared her down.
“Then we will continue until she joins us,” he decided, and despite her reluctance, Alena spurred her horse to follow him.
The night just gave way to predawn darkness when Rowan appeared in the path ahead of them, startling both horses and riders. Marcus’s relief didn’t show on his face, but it was immense.
“Alena was ready to go looking for you,” Marcus teased to hide his feelings, and Rowan smirked. She’d known of Alena’s proximity for a while, which meant Alena was just as aware of her.
“Never. Do that again!” Marcus barked with that stern air of command and Rowan bowed gracefully as Alena taught her. She sensed his worry and relief.
“Yes, master,” Rowan realized how seriously he felt about this, but both Alena and Marcus detected the mildest touch of loving mockery in her tone.
“Mount, we will have to find shelter,” Marcus bade gruffly, and Rowan obeyed.
“There’s a shallow cave near here,” Rowan informed them, and Marcus nodded. He would never have forgiven himself if anything happened to her, and he’d left her alone, but she wasn’t a child anymore. Sometimes he would have to allow her to make her own way, and he hated the thought.
Marcus missed Rowan like he would miss a limb. She’d become part of him in a way no other person ever had. He never even dreamed he would find a love like theirs, and he would do anything not to lose her.
Marcus saw her strength grow under his tutelage, and he sensed the way she began to chafe under his hand. Rowan was used to being alone and being her own master. She struggled to adapt to not being her own master and never being alone. She’d needed some time to herself, and he had to learn to trust her judgment along with his training.
Rowan returned of her own accord, she seemed relaxed and self-confident in a whole new way, she came to no harm, and he felt ridiculously like spurring his horse and whooping as it thundered along.
That was out of the question; the others would think he lost his mind. Instead, he wondered how two people could so drastically alter the entire course and meaning of his life. Four people, if he had to put the fine print to it. He still couldn’t believe he would be a dad. It still felt so unreal. He resolved a long time ago that he would never be a father or have a family; loving people hurt too much, and yet here he was.
They reached the cave just as Marcus concluded that he didn’t regret a moment of the last few months. His life was empty before Victor’s inheritance left him with two stalwart strangers that the threat of Belvare’s presence brought together most unexpectedly.
The shallow cave made for an uncomfortable wait, and even the humans avoided the glare of the winter sun in these harsh climates.
“You did well,” Marcus acknowledged when they awoke, keeping his voice low so only Rowan and Alena heard.
“You did more than well,” Alena complimented Rowan, and Rowan grinned. Marcus noticed how happy the comment made Rowan.
“So did you,” Rowan said, and Alena never thought it would mean so much to hear those words from Rowan. She wanted to hear them from Victor all her life, but they meant more coming from her sister. They were also more precious because Rowan genuinely meant them.
They barely waited for the sun to set before they continued on their journey, and by the time they saw the ship gently swaying on the lead-colored sea, they were all a little bit jumpy.
They drew too much of the wrong kind of attention to themselves by engaging the enemy, but it was just as well. They couldn’t hide forever, and they didn’t intend to hide any longer. Overhead a real storm brewed as if to accentuate their inner turmoils.
The wind started blowing, and soon it whipped up sand from between the rocks. The clouds piled high, the darkness became nearly complete, and the vampires had to lead the humans, along with the horses.
When they reached the beach, the rain pelted down in icy torrents. They expected to have to find shelter until the rain stopped, but as if he waited for them to arrive, the rowboat appeared on the stormy waters with Byron at the helm. They had never been happier to see him.
Rowan glanced back the way they came, lightning lit up the night, and for a second, she thought she saw a dark figure watching them, but as the next bolt struck the high cliffs to the north, there was nothing there.