Other Worldly Ways (Anthology 1) (5 page)

BOOK: Other Worldly Ways (Anthology 1)
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"If he says so, Warlord," I nodded nervously.

"Pheran plays an excellent game of Irzu," the General observed. I didn't know how to respond to that, so I remained silent.

"At least she isn't babbling," the Warlord looked at the General.

"Pheran said that she did not," the General replied. Both ignored me while I wondered what my punishment might be for alerting them to my presence. I decided not to risk it.

"LaFranza is here, Warlord," a guard entered the room, followed by an older man in a long robe. He carried a large, intricately carved wooden box with him. He bowed to the Warlord and the General, then pulled one of the low tables over and set the box on it.

"Sit," the Warlord commanded. I blinked stupidly for a moment before sitting as gracefully as I could on the rug before the Warlord.

 "Bring water and tea," the General commanded. A cup of tea was in my hands quickly, and water nearby, should I require it. LaFranza began pulling out needles and small jars of colored inks.

"Take off your vest," LaFranza commanded.

With shaking fingers, I began unlacing my white leather vest. The air was warm but I still wanted to shiver as I bared my breasts to the Warlord and General. Crane might die when I got home. I intended to make him suffer for this, in ways he couldn't begin to imagine.

"What do you wish, Warlord?" LaFranza asked, after he'd gotten his tools set up.

"Do this," the Warlord rose and handed a large gold medallion to LaFranza. It held the full frontal image of a dragon, its head turned to the left, wings outspread, its tail hanging down and curling around the tip. Two blades were gripped in its foreclaws. "Do it in red, with black edges," the Warlord instructed. LaFranza nodded.

"Do it here," the Warlord touched my back on the left side, over my left shoulder blade. "From here to here," he indicated a length of about eight inches, tip to tail. "Have the guards call me when it is finished," he added, and he and the General left the room. I shuddered then—I'd held back until now.

"I have never worked on such pale skin before," LaFranza said, opening his red and black inks. My skin was carefully cleaned first, and I bit my lip as the first tap of the needle was made.

* * *

"Warlord, LaFranza is finished," the guard stuck his head inside the Warlord's private chamber. The General had been sent on a private errand and had not returned. The Warlord rose and followed the guard to the receiving area. The girl was still there, cross-legged on the floor, her head bowed as LaFranza cleaned his needles.

The dragon tattoo was beautiful—red with black edges on the wing tips, gold eyes and talons, and ivory teeth. The hint of scales had been outlined in gold and ivory. It was a work of art.

"Excellent, as usual," the Warlord informed LaFranza, who finished packing up his equipment. "Pheran will pay you on the way out," the Warlord added. LaFranza bowed to the Warlord and backed from the room.

* * *

I didn't know what to do next. Was I expected to thank the Warlord for putting me through an inking that lasted six hours? I was exhausted. Was I supposed to put on my clothes and go? I was miserable, too—I knew that much.

My head was still bowed. I watched as the Warlord's bare feet move in front of me. Then I saw his knees as he knelt down.

"Here, now. What's this about?" He lifted my chin with gentle fingers. I blinked at him, struggling to hold back tears. He sighed.

"At any other time," he told me, his eyes dark with concern, "I would be asking to unbraid your hair. I would be looking forward to waking up with you, sharing meals with you, going to battle with you. But my General tells me that this would be a distraction, and he is correct. We are at a critical point in our war, and I can ill-afford distractions."

The Warlord dropped his hand from my chin and stood, walking away from me. I watched him as he picked up the medallion LaFranza used as a model to create my tattoo. It was hung on a wide, red silk band. "This is yours," he handed the medallion to me. "It is your due, for winning at the Trials," he added.

"I ride out before sunrise," the Warlord went on, "and you must return to your duties. But first," he walked over to the side and picked up a square of silk from a table, "This will keep your clothing from sticking to my mark." The fabric had been coated with salve, and he placed it over the tattoo, which still burned my skin.

"The inks cause the burning sensation," he said. "It will pass in a few days. Do not hide from me, Devin of the Mountain Hawk. When this war is over, I will be looking for you. Now, get dressed and go before I change my mind and have a huge argument with my General." The Warlord walked from the room.

I pulled my leather vest on carefully so I wouldn't disturb the square of silk—already it was soothing my skin. With shaking fingers, I laced up the vest, then lifted my blades and sheath from the floor before rising.

Pheran waited for me outside the tent, and walked beside me as I made my way across the deserted grounds toward my tent, on the longest day in the Falchani year.

"Do as he says," Pheran cautioned as he left me outside my tent. "He will look for you."

"I know," I replied. "And someday, he'll find me."

* * *

Gathering my things while my mind went numb, I folded time and space to get home. Yes, I should have contacted Veykan in mindspeech. He was likely waiting for my call. I didn't want to see him. Or any of them.

Crane and Dragon sat at the kitchen island, drinking tea when I arrived. Carefully I laid the gold medallion on the granite counter in front of Dragon before walking away.

"Devin." It was Dragon instead of Crane who stopped me in my tracks. I'd intended to go to my bedroom and cry for a week.

"My love." His breath fanned my cheek—he'd folded to my side instead of walking. It's just as well, I didn't want to wait for him and he probably knew that. I wanted to cry and he probably knew that, too.

"Shhh," he soothed as his fingers began to unlace my vest. "Let's have a look," he murmured against my neck as he pulled the white leather from my skin. Peeling the silk away from the fresh ink, he blew gently on the rawness of it.

"Incredible," Crane sighed as he came to stand next to his brother.

"Brother, I'd like to be alone with our girl," Dragon said. Crane disappeared.

"My love, you got the short end of the stick," Dragon said, coming around to stand in front of me. "Normally there's a huge celebration in honor of the winner. The year you won, we were so deep in war there wasn't time. I'm sorry for that. I'm going to pick you up, now, but I don't want to disturb the tattoo. Put your arms around my neck, beloved, I don't want to hurt you."

At first I didn't know what he meant to do. A few seconds passed before my arms went around Dragon's neck.

"That's my girl," he breathed against my collarbone before placing both hands beneath my bottom and lifting me that way. "Wrap your legs around my waist; I'll carry you like that."

"What about Pheran Tiger?" I asked as Dragon made his way toward the island, carrying me as carefully as he could.

"Won the Trials the following year," Dragon said, setting me on a barstool.

"Did he get the party?"

"And then some."

"Good. I liked him."

"As did Crane and I," Dragon said, reaching out to cup one of my breasts. My nipple went hard beneath his fingers. He thumbed it carefully before leaning down to place his mouth on it. "I almost went crazy, searching for my little red-haired warrior," he said, emotion glittering in the depths of his eyes when he lifted his head.

"Pheran told me of her last words to him—that I would find her again one day. That day came seventeen months ago, my love. I was terrified we wouldn't have a M'Fiyah. But we do, don't we?" He drew his hands away from my breasts and reached for the leather thong that held my braid in place.

"I'm unbraiding your hair, love. If you don't want this, tell me now," he breathed as he loosened the thin strip of leather.

"Dragon," I sighed, pulling his face into my hands and staring into his eyes. "You were the first one I wanted, and the last I thought I could have."

"If we don't fold to the bedroom now, I'll have you on this island, and it's not the most comfortable thing in the world," Dragon said roughly. I allowed him to fold us to the bedroom, and he was kissing me before I was settled onto cool sheets. The rest of my clothing disappeared, closely followed by his, and he was inside me, stroking into me.

I moaned in pleasure against his mouth as we kissed, and then I dug my nails into his back as he brought me to climax. I fell asleep or fainted after, I can't recall. What I do remember is this—waking later in darkness, disoriented for a moment.

"Shhh," Dragon stroked my hair. "Sleep, little warrior. Sleep in your Warlord's arms."





September—C.E. 9. That's when I left my human life behind. Teutoburg Forest will remain forever burned in my memory, as we were surrounded by Arminius' troops and slaughtered. As a centurion for the Nineteenth Roman legion, under the leadership of Publius Quintilius Varus, we were led straight into Arminius' trap. All of us died in some manner that day. The battle is often called the
Clades Variana
—the defeat of the Roman General Varus.

Varus committed suicide after the defeat and I, being the sole survivor of that battle, still hold some anger against Varus. I still think him a fool, too, for his treatment of the people and for his blind trust in Arminius.

I and one other stood at the last, until Nepos fell beside me, hacked across the throat by an enemy blade. I had the choice, then, of falling on my knees and accepting the beheading. I refused, eventually taking a sword through the gut. They walked away, then, leaving me to die a painful death.

I was left in a swampy, forested area. I would have died there, too, had night not fallen. My heartbeat, faint as it was, drew him. My sire. My maker. Had he known at the time what he was making, he may have turned away. Nevertheless, he has expressed his gratitude on more than one occasion that he did not know when he offered his blood and a chance at immortality.

"My name is Aniketos," he breathed, leaning over me. As full dark had fallen and there was no moon, I could not make out his features. He spoke fluent Latin, but with an accent. As I was dying and in too much pain, I failed to notice or attempt to unravel its origins. Instead, I expected him to deliver a deathblow. I would have welcomed it, as an escape from my suffering.

"Do you wish to live?" he asked. I must have blinked in weary astonishment, as he repeated the question. "Do you wish to live?"

"Not in pain," I whispered. My throat was dry as dust and my lips were cracking—hours had passed since I'd been left to breathe my last.

"There will be no pain, my child," he whispered, before bending his head to my throat.





"Griffin?" Merrill should be used to Griffin's sudden appearances by now—he just wasn't. They'd known one another for more than eight hundred years and Griffin often brought wine to Merrill, some of a quality Merrill couldn't hope to get elsewhere.

He'd given up, too, on attempting to read labels affixed to strange bottles. Griffin explained often enough that the worlds they came from were so far away the suns couldn't be seen from Earth, but Merrill just shook his head. He understood that Earth had catching up to do—it was far behind what Griffin referred to as other star systems.

"Case of wine," Griffin grinned and produced a crate of bottles from nothing, handing it to Merrill.

"Is this?" Merrill examined the bottles—he recognized the labels, although the language evaded him. This was his favorite of all the wines Griffin brought.

"Glish, from Refizan," Griffin nodded.

"A midwinter gift?" Merrill lifted an eyebrow at his friend.

"Start calling it a Christmas gift, brother," Griffin smiled crookedly.

Merrill snorted. "Never let it be said that humans were accurate in their keeping of the time or the seasons."

"A fallacy common to many worlds, not just this one," Griffin slapped Merrill on the back. "Where are your wine cups and your manners?"

* * *

"You know," Griffin waved his sixth cup of wine later, "I have a better gift for you. But you have to come with me."

"Come where?" Merrill lifted an eyebrow—he didn't often see Griffin in a near-drunken state.

"Oh, it's a private planet. It belongs to someone I know. Don't worry, I'll shield us. The owner will never know we're there," Griffin said.

"Are you sure?" Merrill had consumed three cups to Griffin's six, and watched his friend skeptically. They sat before a warm fire in Merrill's study, inside his expansive Italian villa. Griffin had helped in the construction of the villa, and many envied it and copied its spires and vaulted entry. Merrill seldom allowed anyone inside, however, preferring to send them away with compulsion to never return.

"A private planet?" Merrill sipped more wine. This was an excellent vintage and he raised his glass to Griffin.

"A small planet, with only one inhabitant. We'll pay a brief visit and come back quickly."

"I fail to see the point in this, brother," Merrill observed.

"Just bear with me. Come on, get off your posterior and come with me."

"Are you sure you should be folding space in your condition?" Merrill had his doubts they'd arrive where Griffin intended. Or, once there, they'd get back again.

"Come on, where's that adventurous vampire spirit?"

"I've never had that. Neither has my sire."

"Your sire wouldn't recognize adventure if it bit him on the ass," Griffin chuckled.

"Come now, he turned Radomir on a whim," Merrill defended Wlodek.

"A very good decision on Wlodek's part," Griffin admitted, pouring more wine. "Even if he did complain that the cottage smelled like fish when he walked into it."

"I wouldn't mention that to him, if you ever have the opportunity," Merrill offered dryly. "Come. If we don't leave soon, I have my doubts you'll land us where you intend."

"Oh, yes. We'll go," Griffin downed his wine in only a few swallows, forcing Merrill to shake his head. In a blink they were gone.

"I knew this would happen," Griffin slurred his last two words. Merrill had taken one look at the woman and fallen to his knees, a stunned expression on his face.

"Who is she?" Merrill was breathless and still staring. She was everything. His world, his desires. He would give everything for her; there was no doubt.

"Kiarra," Griffin whispered. "Someday, she will be yours, brother. But there is much time and distance between you."

"I will wait forever," Merrill vowed.

"It may seem that long," Griffin replied and before Merrill could protest, he'd folded Merrill home.

BOOK: Other Worldly Ways (Anthology 1)
5.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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