A Sword of Greed and Envy: A Nokturn Rising Novel

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Chapter 7

Ash sips a dark liquid from a crystal glass, his expression troubled. I assume it is some variation of vika, the amber liquid that would warm you from the inside out as soon as you swallowed it.

“Lark,” he begins, “I’m sorry.” His polite tone sounds forced.

I shake my head, “For what? Saving me, again? I should be apologizing for interrupting your life so inconveniently,” I tell him, “And frequently.”

I say the words with sarcasm, but there is some truth to them. I can feel him watching me but he doesn’t speak.

“I know I’m not your ideal choice. I get that I don’t have the warmest qualities and people, both humans and Nokturns, in general, shy away from Reapers,” he says with a shrug, feigning indifference.

“I’m human, choices aren’t really something I have. No matter who I would’ve gone to, my fate is sealed, right?” I say, not really needing an answer.

“Oh,” he says, sounding surprised, “So, you aren’t disappointed because it’s me, because I’m a Reaper?” he asks, and I note, for the first time, some sort of vulnerability in him.

I shake my head, “No, but that doesn’t make the endgame any different.”

“You’re human,” he says with a shrug, “Nokturns like to play with their food and you would be no different from any other meal.”

“Do you realize how insulting and rude you are?” I ask, disbelieving that he would be so openly callous, “You should lay off of the vika,” I say, pointing to the burning liquid he is always gulping down.

I can see his demeanor shift, reverting back to his arrogant self and I’m surprised that he cared about confronting me at all.

Run.” The scratchy whisper returns in my head, a loud screech that refuses to be ignored, causing my eyes to water.

Run. Run. Run. RUN!”

“Let me out,” I say fiercely, lunging for the carriage door.

Ash tries to catch me at my waist but I am quicker than he realizes. I am out the door and tumbling across the gravel road and down a steep embankment. I feel the sharp pain in my leg followed by a burning sensation, but I ignore it. I force myself up and I keep moving.

“Lark!” Ash roars somewhere behind me, the sound of his anger making gooseflesh rise to the surface of my skin.

He is pissed and if there is one thing I don’t want to go toe to toe with, it’s an angry Reaper.

I don’t answer. There are caves that run all through the mountainous terrain of Arcanum and I see one just up ahead. I limp forward and do my best to climb up the jagged rocks leading up. My blood drips along the way. My leg must’ve caught a sharp rock on the tumble down from the road.

I crawl into the damp, dark cave and lean back against the cool stone, taking heaving breaths. I rip a strip of cloth from my shirt, leaving one arm bare. The scars of my childhood are exposed, but I don’t care right now. I tie the material firmly above the deep gash in an attempt to slow the bleeding. I hear a scraping sound coming from deeper in the cave. It is too dark for me to see, so I don’t know to be frightened until the danger is already upon me.

A Vampire steps out of the shadows. He is not a royal or of any notoriety, but a rogue. That doesn’t make him any less dangerous to someone like me, if anything, it makes him more deadly. I mentally kick myself for having run away from Ash now. The Vampire licks his lips, revealing his elongated canine teeth.

“What a delicious snack,” he says, prowling a little closer, “It has been far too long since I’ve had a decent meal.”

“Lark,” Ash says from the mouth of the cave, sounding a little relieved.

“Ash,” I say, looking at him with terrified eyes.

He notices the Vampire and understanding dawns on him.

“This human belongs to me, Vamp,” Ash says, sounding every bit the Royal that he is, “You’ll bring no harm to her.”

“She’s intruded into MY home, Reaper,” the Vampire counters.

Vampires move faster than Reapers and he is on me in a flash, holding me in front of himself as a shield. He sniffs the air around me, scenting my blood.

“She smells mouthwatering,” he says, running his tongue along my neck where my veins run just beneath my skin. I cringe and Ash looks murderous.

“Do not test my patience,” Ash warns.

“I just want one little bite,” the vamp says.

“If you bite her, I will reap your soul and end your existence,” Ash says.

“And before you can, I’ll burn her!” the Vampire shouts, flames bursting from his free hand, dancing along his fingertips. If I wasn’t in this current predicament, I would probably be fascinated by what he can do with fire.

But now, I feel like there’s been enough talking. Though I am injured, I am still not helpless. The Vampire’s hand is covering my mouth, I open my lips carefully before clamping down hard on the immortal creature. He lets out a howl of pain before biting down on my neck, ripping flesh from my body and shoving me forward. I hit the ground hard and Ash moves forward with purpose. He takes hold of the Vampire around his throat and lifts him from the ground as if he weighs nothing. His body morphs into a black mist, his true Reaper form, and he begins to leech the soul from the bloodsucker’s body. I have to turn away, not wanting the image burning into my memory.

I lay on the cold stone floor of the cave, my vision blurring from the blood loss. I can taste the sweet, metallic liquid of Vampire blood on my lips from where I bit him. I hear the terrified cries of the Vampire before I completely black out.

When I wake, I find myself staring up at Ash. My head is rested in his lap and his gaze is trained out the window. I take the moment to observe him. His brow is furrowed in concentration. I feel a wave of comfort flow over me as I look at him and I don’t want it to end. So, why did I run? Because of that damn voice in my head. Every time I hear it, I feel as if something terrible happens to me or those around me. In the moment, I think it is a warning, guiding me away from danger, but afterwards, I have to wonder if the voice is trying to get me killed. I feel so safe in Ash’s presence and safety is something fleeting in this world for me. I close my eyes and bury my head against his muscled stomach. He tenses at first, but relaxes, petting my hair with his hand. He is so gentle with every touch, so caring and tender.

I suddenly have an overwhelming sense of not wanting him to let go of me. There is some sort of connection between us that I cannot explain. Being human, I may be the only one who feels it, but either way, I know it is there. I drift back to sleep for a bit longer.

When I wake the second time, it is as I am being lifted out of the carriage. Ash carries me in his arms as if I’m a feather. I wrap my arms around his neck and cling to him. He is my only anchor in this unknown world. I am surrounded by monsters now and he is the only one that I can turn to, a monster himself. He grips me a little tighter as he walks into a small building. It looks and smells like a pub, but Ash passes by all the patrons and takes me up the stairs to the second floor.

“You must rest,” he says, lying me on the large bed in a small room.

I nod, curling myself in a ball, wincing at the pain in my leg.

“I’ll get someone come tend to that,” he says, regret in his eyes.

“Don’t leave!” I cry out, suddenly terrified of being alone in this strange place.

His eyes widen at my outburst, and he quickly opens the door and whispers something to one of his guards before returning to me. A human woman arrives a few minutes later, carrying bandages, needles and thread, and various other items. She dips a cloth into a bucket of water and cleans the wound on my leg. I don’t miss the accusing look she gives Ash, but his focus is on me. I close my eyes tight as she begins to stitch up the gash. She then bandages my neck before retreating from the room.

Ash’s cool fingers touch my brow, stroking as if he’s trying to smooth out my troubled expression. I blink up at him, realizing how in over my head I am.

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