PART I: The Slave: Chapter 1
It feels like her world is falling apart.
Not just the world around her, but the world she had pictured with him . . . together.
Telling him her lineage was something she couldn’t avoid, but she had wanted to tell him in her own time, in her own words, in her own example.
Not when she’s standing amongst her coven, the world a discordance of screams and roars, the piercing ring of armor, and the crumbling of buildings.
Her killing calm immediately ceased to be, like a plume of dust just gone when she saw Douglas standing there. Even if he was covered in blood, he was fighting; he is alive.
He is alive, and fighting . . . for her. To help her.
Only now he has sunk to the bloodied ground, his eyes wide, but distant as she stands in front of him, adjusting her belts of daggers and her bow and quiver along her back.
Keelie pleads through her eyes for him to stay, to listen. Not to run away screaming like everyone else. She wills him to be patient as she finishes adjusting her belt and hurries over to him.
She makes it to him in three strides, her bloodied, iron-clawed hands gripping his hard biceps. She gently shakes him, as though he is made of sand, saying his name even more tentatively. “Douglas. Douglas please, I’m sorry. But we need to go. We need to get out of here.”
Slowly, too slowly, he turns his head to her. Her chest aches at the distant shock in his beautiful blue eyes, even the ring of gold around the pupil seems to have lost its luster.
It pains her heart in ways she can’t describe. She can’t stop the tears welling in her eyes, the quiver in her lip.
“Please,” she whimpers as she withdraws her claws to touch his chin with bloodied fingertips. “please Douglas, I need you to focus. I need you to fight. Please.”
After a few heavy breaths, his eyes blinking as if remembering where he is, he mumbles, “All this time . . .”
Behind them both, Luke mounts his dragon and joins Ira and the coven in the slaughter.
“I promise, I will explain everything to you after, but right now, we need to get out.”
She can’t wait for him to answer. She stands and slides her hand under his armpits to lift him. She almost yelps as he harshly yanks his arm away from her and stands. She takes a couple steps back, her heart aching as it pounds against her ribs.
It’s barely quelled when he says with cold understanding. “Later.”
Fine. That’s how it’ll be until they’re safe. Until he’s safe.
Keelie whirls and begins to walk back to her dragon. Her Wind Riders continue to wreak havoc on the panicking citizens, guards and Hunters. Ira barks commands high above them, her twelve witches breaking the enemy lines with fierce, clever determination.
She gives Ira a sharp whistle the next time she passes overhead, rallying her Riders again. Her Second whistles back in confirmation. Ira leads three other witches ahead to secure their exit of the city.
Douglas still hasn’t moved from his spot as she readies to mount. Shoving aside her fear and hurt, she barks at him, “Get moving! You’re not going to do much here. Let’s go!”
He turns to her, and the hatred in his eyes nearly cracks her heart. But she doesn’t dare show it. She extends out her hand, and he carefully approaches, keeping an eye on Ammerith. He looks around at the carnage and chaos.
Gregory has since long fled when Luke bit his hand off. Keelie snarls, her iron teeth poking out from her gums. She would’ve loved to make that bastard suffer. Slowly. But now she has other things to worry about.
Most of the fray is centered in the garden: Eartha, Agony, Vitrina and Arabella circle above, their arrows flying straight and true to anyone who dares get within ten feet of her. Ira and three other Riders are securing their exit, and Luke is slaughtering with the rest of her coven.
Douglas’ eyes widen and he turns to her. “My family! My friends! I can’t leave them!”
He’s about to turn and run back into the castle, but now with immortal strength coursing through her veins, she has her hand around his arm in a second. “You don’t have to.” She responds. He looks to her hand, and then to her. Some life is reviving back into those eyes, but she can see it is rage. “Raven is gathering them. The most important thing is that we get you out of here. Now.”
“They’ll never trust her.”
“Then she’ll drag them. They’re going to live, Douglas, one way or another. I’m making sure of that. Just like I’m going to make sure you live. So stop being stupid!”
In one smooth motion, she yanks Douglas into the saddle and climbs up behind him. She spares another sharp whistle to her Riders, of whom funnel up and away from the garden. Wrapping her arms around him, she digs her heels into Ammerith’s side. “Fly!” She roars.
With a powerful push of her wings, Ammerith leaps into the air, soaring up and out, four of her sentries immediately swarming her, wings beating hard, beating wildly.
The garden explodes.
Red hot flame erupts, taking out stone and metal, racing higher and higher. Looking over her shoulder, she finds Eartha and Agony burning the gardens, but sparing the castle upon her request. While she was wandering through the dungeons, ripping apart whatever Hunters she found, she had whispered a spell to be carried on the wind to her Riders.
As usual they arrive with perfect timing and dramatic effects.
People shout and run, guards escorting citizens to safety as Vitrina and Arabella continuously circle around to act as an intimidating distraction. As they fly past turrets, guards and Hunters aim their bows. No mechanical harpoons or crossbows, because they never expected witches to fly into their city. What fools.
Ammerith screeches, shifting and soaring into the wind and Keelie curls her body around Douglas to make sure he doesn’t fall. He isn’t screaming, he’s not thrashing. She fears he’s going into shock.
Pressing her thighs against his, a feeble attempt to keep him in place, she draws her bow and readies an arrow. Her sentries are guarding her from every angle, above, below and her sides. It makes her an obvious target, but none of their shots will ever hit. Any arrows simple ricochets off of their dragons’ armor, and her sentries deflect any one that’s aimed for her.
Hers, however . . . Uncaring whether Douglas is paying attention or not, she fires her arrows as they pass the towers. She draws one after another, unfaltering as she aims. Douglas has enough sense to duck, barely glimpsing over his shoulder at her.
She can see Ira and her three remaining Riders perched atop the city wall. The arch for where the gates had once been now sits in crumbled, charred shambles. Ira sees them too, for she leans down in her saddle, saying something to her beast. Then all of the Rider’s dragons spread their massive wings and leap into the air. Each beat of their wings sends out a hollowed-out, booming gust of wind.
They flap higher, riding the shifting wind until they circle around and bring up the rear. Keith and Eartha part to allow Luke and Ira to flank her sides. Once they pass the over the city wall, they rise higher into the sky. The shambled kingdom below them passes by in a blur.
Securing her bow to the saddle, she blinks and her muscles pull down the clear film to shield her eyes from the wind. Now Douglas is shivering in her arms. She leans over him, pouring her magic into heating her skin for the both of them. He still doesn’t say anything. It isn’t until he gasps does she understand he’s crying.
Her arm twitches to stroke his head, but she refrains from doing so, fearing he’ll deny her touch now.
She looks over her shoulder and shouts, “Everyone accounted for?” Her red cape is sputtering in the wind, near straight from the sheer force of the wind. It it’s pulling her cape like this . . .
With only a hand signal, she reels Ammerith back, her massive black wings stretching wide to catch the wind and slow herself down. When they reach a comfortable level, once the sounds of the screaming people and the smell of the heavy smoke wanders off into crisp fresh air, Keelie looks over her shoulder to assess her coven.
They’re bloodied, but alive. Hell, some are even smiling, chattering amongst each other about the battle.
She’s not proud of it. Not when Douglas still hasn’t said anything.
She takes a head count, and sighs with relief when she sees Raven flying behind Hunter. Keelie whistles, nodding to Raven whom flies forward. Gently, she nudges Douglas with her knee. At first, he doesn’t react, but she gives it a second attempt as Raven levels with her.
“Are they with you?” Keelie shouts over the wind.
Raven nods, her ebony black hair streaming behind her. The look of triumph in her gold eyes is enough to make Keelie smile, just a little. “But uh, slight problem . . .”
Keelie tries to ignore how Douglas stirs at her voice. Keelie angles her head as Raven jabs a thumb over her shoulder and it is then she notices the many burlap sacks strapped securely to her saddle, and part of her mount as if she were a mule.
Keelie has to fold in her lips to suppress her laugh. Instead, she hears Douglas chuckle, and she looks to find him staring at Raven, at the sacks as they wriggle and muffled shouts of terror emanate from them. All the more reason why they have to land. She’s worried Douglas can’t handle this kind of flying yet.
A part of her wants to say something to him to badly, just to clear the tension, but it’s not best to bring up such a topic when they’re ten thousand feet in the air. And he may suffer from sickness.
They can make a stop in Dead Man’s Pass. There they can figure everything else out. She can explain to him then.
Immediately her stomach drops, and it’s not from the altitude. Blinking back tears, she carefully tilts her head down to press her lips to his hair. He lets her.
She can’t help but laugh at herself, internally.
Out of everything she has faced in her immortal life, facing Douglas, it seems, will be her hardest confrontation yet.