Authors: Lacy Danes
Tags: #Dragons;Vampires;Witches;Historical;Hot Brothers;Strong females
“The theater is open,” a man’s deep baritone voice bellowed.
They all headed in the same direction as the others, but as they neared the seats, Grandmum pointed to the stairs to the left. They climbed the long hall with sweeping dark curtains pulled back by ropes along the right side. Each drawn curtain provided a glimpse of a small box of seats and a view out over the theater below. Jordan and Celeste walked in front of her, and they turned into a box that was three back from the stage.
Astrid and Marcus sat in the first row with Grandmum. The rest sat in the row behind.
Astrid stared out over the people as they took their seats. Grandmum grabbed her gloved hand. “So many firsts for you in one adventure. Your emotions and mind must be flying to the rafters.”
“Indeed. If you only knew how much has changed, and all in ways I have never imagined, but want.” She scooted to the edge of her seat and inhaled deeply, wishing for the scent of lilac.
The theater curtains closed for the first act, and Astrid turned to Marcus. “That was delightful.”
He nodded. “So it was.”
Grandmum stood, and so did Fina and Celeste. Fina placed her hand on Astrid’s shoulder. “It is warm in here. I need to step out.”
Astrid turned toward her. Fina’s cheeks were flushed a fiery red. “That is fine. I would like to stay here and watch all the people,” Astrid said.
They all left the box, and Marcus placed his hand over hers on her lap. “We should help with cooling things down in here a bit. How do you think you should go about that?”
She had done this last night, but with a twist. This should be easy. “To create a breeze. You only need air. This place is filled with air.”
“True. But when using your powers, until you know them well, after one element of a storm comes another. From your try last night, you channel a lot of light into all you do. So Vi bliver bundet til han løslader dig.”
“You said that last night.”
“Correct. It means we are bound together.”
“The last bit says until he releases me… Who is he?” She pushed to standing.
“The bind made you read with haste. I should have known.” He stood. “Luftslag. Magten kommer til os. Køl dette sted.” Walking behind her, he placed his fingers on her elbows. “Your power comes from your hands. Let me help you control them…”
“I’m not certain. You just said air battles. Power come to us. Cool this place. What are air battles?”
“Trust. It is just as important in our bond as it is in your family. Say the words.” He tightened his grip on her elbows, and the joints heated. “Say them.”
“Luftslag. Magten kommer til os. Køl dette sted.” Energy whipped through her, up to her head. Pain spiked through her temples, and light opened in the ceiling, shining on the small box.
Below, people screeched. She stared over the rail to the open space below. Hudson walked down the center aisle. Her throat closed. What was he doing with a torch in his hands?
His eyes were black, and his skin held the tone of the dead. He was possessed. Even from this distance she could see that.
The wind blew hard and circled in the small space, creating a buffer between them and the world of horror that unfolded before her.
The flame flickered in Hudson’s hands, and ember spilled onto an elderly woman’s skirts. The light in the box ceiling cracked down to her hands and formed the ball of light that her power created. Marcus’s fingernails dug into her elbows “Belysning at flame.” His body jerked.
Light spun out from the ball in threads to the theater ceiling. It disappeared into the wood and ornate plaster. Astrid screeched and struggled to pull free from Marcus’s hold. He held fast and wrapped his right leg about her thigh, pulling her body back full against him.
A loud crack came from above her, and the scent of lilacs drifted by in the wind. Ilmir. No. She had smelled that same scent earlier, and he was not here.
People ran from below.
The ceiling glowed and then expanded in a red and yellow fractured bubble, then retracted and burst into flames.
Screams came from all around. Free from Marcus’s grip, she spun, and Marcus was gone. Flames jumped and ran along the theater walls to the floor. The ornate green-and-gold wall coverings glimmered red like blood. She needed to do something. She couldn’t just let people die. She needed to create rain. “Regne.”
She had no water. No oil. She had no way to make it rain. Panic closed off her throat, and she gulped for air. Where were Celeste and Jordan?
“Jordan! Jordan! Jordan!” she screamed. They were water.
He was nowhere, and the smoke grew thick. Her eyes burned, as did her throat. She coughed and coughed more. She needed to leave. If she could find Jordan outside, she could change this.
She turned and ran out of the box. People pushed and shoved in the small hall and all the way down the steps. Coughing and screams, mixed with the snapping of wood breaking, consumed the theater. She made her way to the entrance hall. An eerie roar came from above. She stared up at the ceiling. Pieces of the wood and plaster crumbled, tumbling to the polished black floor. She stood frozen. She’d caused this. How…?
People ran past and out of the theater until she stood alone.
More pieces crashed to the floor around her.
The shine on the floor reflected the glow from the ceiling above, and in the reflection, a ghost of a skeleton drifted in the smoke. The jaw opened and closed. “Thank you. Without you, several promises that were broken would have gone unfulfilled. Now I have avenged those words.”
“What do you mean?” she screamed into the smoke. Her lungs burned, and a fit of coughs racked her chest. She bent over at the waist and coughed up black mucus and blood. She glanced back up at the ceiling as another section fell, completely blocking the door.
Panic seized her muscles, and she darted for the small sliver of the door that still stood open. She pushed herself through, snagging her arm on a jagged piece wood.
Once outside, the smoke eased, but chaos surrounded her. The well-dressed ladies and gentlemen whom she had watched from the box screamed and punched, trying to get into carriages that were not their own. A hand wrapped about her elbow, gripping into the cut she’d just received. “Ouch.” She spun about.
“Where is Madoc?” Fina stood before her, her eyes huge with panic. She did not let up on her arm as she stared back at the fire. “He went in. Fire does not harm us, but he wouldn’t let me… Did you see him?”
“No. If I could find Jordan or Celeste… The theater needs water. I could create rain if I had water.”
“You would need the sea to put that out.” Celeste’s voice came from the other side of her.
“Oh, you are here. I need water. I need to put this out. My power started this, I cannot…”
“I cannot create water, Astrid. I can control it but not create it. “
“What about the river? Could you bring the river here?”
“No.” She shook her head. “Think of the flooding and damage, the other possible deaths that would happen from that. We need to leave. Grandmum is in our coach three streets down. The men will be fine. We must think of our own safety.” Celeste pulled on Astrid’s other arm. “Come. Come.”
Fina’s grip tightened on her arm. “Madoc will be fine… Madoc will be fine.” She moved forward but continued to stare back at the building engulfed in flames.
They made their way back to the city house, where they all collapsed in the library. The butler brought tea and water, and herbs for the cuts and scrapes that each of them had.
Grandmum sat quietly, not saying a word.
Fina paced from the fireplace to the table. “If we had not gone out for air, we would have been trapped inside. Madoc will be fine.”
Astrid wished she would stop saying that, but the same wish filled her, that all of them would come home well.
Celeste finished bandaging the cut on Astrid’s arm. “What actually happened?”
“You left, and Marcus suggested we try to help with the heat in the space by creating a breeze. I-I thought nothing of it. I wanted to try to help.” Her throat dried, and she swallowed hard. Tears threatened, but she would not let them fall. “He gripped my elbows and took control of the elements. We created a breeze, but below Hudson carried a torch, and the breeze blew embers onto people in the seats. And then… Then my lightning came forth and jumped up through to the ceiling. All those people…” She gulped for air that her lungs would not take. She coughed and spit up more black and red.
“It was a blessing that this happened at the intermission. Others had decided to go out for air as we had, but there were still people inside. We won’t know how many did not make their way out.”
The library room door burst open, and Madoc staggered into the room, carrying someone. The clothes of the person cradled in Madoc’s arms were charred, and blood shown from gashes on their body. Madoc dropped to his knees. They all rushed to his side. The person in his hands was a barely recognizable…Ilmir.
Astrid’s throat closed off on a sob. He was burned over his entire body. “What happened to him?”
Jordan entered next, carrying another. He gently placed Hudson on the floor. Madoc cleared his throat. “Ilmir is alive, but he was in air form when the fire rushed through the theater. Fire needs air. Fire eats air.”
“He needs blood,” Astrid stated to no one and everyone.
“What do you mean?” Grandmum walked over and stood above them.
“He told me that when he has human blood, he can heal himself.”
“As do I. One of you will need to go to Madam Olga’s and bring a sacrifice back.”
Hudson opened his mouth and whispered, “It should be me.”
Celeste pulled the bell. A moment later, the butler arrived.
“We need help moving Ilmir and Hudson to the parlor settee.” She looked to the other Zir brothers. “Will one of you go get him what he needs?”
Grandmum stood up. “I shall go. I too feed on blood. I know what they need.”
Madoc stepped forward. “I will go with you.”
Astrid stood over Ilmir, his beautiful pale complexion now a crisp black and red. His white hair that used to hang down into his eyes was burnt in uneven lengths. Nothing about him shimmered or glowed.
His words came back to her. “I am not going to make excuses or tell lies to make you or anyone feel better. I am what I am. Not you, me or all the lies in the world will change that. All of us are killers. You will soon see that, as you too are part of this world now.”
She was a killer too. He was right. She rubbed her forehead with her fingers and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. All those people’s lives. Her power had helped to start that fire. Her chest ached, and her throat burned raw. When would they return?
Ilmir’s breath staggered, and he exhaled sharply. No. No. He could not die. He was one of the last of his kind. He was her family. He’d taught her. She could teach him that family was the most important thing too.
She gripped his hand. No matter her new ability, she was Astrid. The girl who loved this family more than anything in the world. She would do the proper thing here. The only thing.
She grasped the bandage that Celeste had so lovingly wrapped about her arm. She leaned in and pressed her lips to his.
The rough dry ash clung to her skin.
So different from their first kiss, but it might be their last.
She pulled back and wet her lips with her tongue. Charred burnt flesh met her taste buds.
A dying Ilmir. Tears stung her eyes, and her tongue grew thick and dry in her mouth.
She gently lifted his shoulders and sat behind him on the settee. His head and shoulders rested in her lap. He had brought her to this home. She owed him, and there was a chance…
A small one…
But still, a chance he would survive. He had said he loved her. Maybe that meant more than she gave score for.
His mouth was level with the cut on her arm. She reached forward. Her wound had stopped bleeding, but she could reopen the reminder of her folly. She forced her lungs to breathe. This would hurt more than the tear had originally. With the fingers of her other hand, she tore into her flesh. Pain ripped through her arm, and her head grew light. She forced her eyes to stay open, but darkness haloed the edges of her sight. She pressed the open cut to his lips.
He did not move to drink. She rubbed her arm back and forth, smearing sticky warm red across his cheeks, chin and lips.
A sigh escaped his lips. “More” was spoken on his breath.
She pressed her arm to him again. He bit down.
Sharp knives dug deep into her flesh. She clamped her teeth together to hold in a scream. She did not want anyone to come in. This was between them. For all the family. She would save him.
His tongue flicked weakly against her skin, and then he sucked. A pulling sensation jabbed up her arm. Her breath puffed out in shallow bursts, her body trembled, and sweat pricked her skin. Euphoria rushed through her. Her vision flashed and darkened. She sighed and relaxed, her blood flowing freely into him.
He moaned and grunted.
She lay limp behind him, her arm his feast. A growl came from deep in his chest, and his jaw jittered against her torn raw flesh. Burning pressure built in her forearm and then released; her arm burned with heat and ice. The sensation rushed up her shoulder, her neck and to her head. Her scalp tingled. She wrapped her other arm around his torso. If she died, she wanted him to know she cared. She had done this without asking him.
Her vision blurred, and pain ripped her from her skull down to her toes. She jerked and then faded into the blackness.
She was above her body, which was pinned behind Ilmir. How or why she did not know, but she was not dead. Or was she? She pushed her arms and fluttered higher. She flew to the window and out into the night sky.
In dim light and clouds, she stared down on the city. She could not be dead. She was alive. Chills raced across her skin, and she laughed. Exhilarating. She ended up in the night sky, but her body was warm beneath Ilmir. Her body slept. She looked up. The beautiful stars, fog, and crisp air. This was what Ilmir experienced when he flew.
There was a clatter on the drive below.
Madoc and Grandmum returned.
Madoc exited the coach first.
A middle-aged man dressed in a long white nightdress exited next.
Grandmum followed with a smile on her face like none Astrid had ever seen. She tipped her face up to the sky. Her eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open. A wink came next, and then she smiled. Grandmum walked up the steps and into the house.
Grandmum saw her. Astrid’s heart lightened in her chest, and she concentrated all her energy on floating down and back into the house. She needed to be there when they questioned Ilmir. And there would be questions.
The fog thickened about her and grabbed at her with bony iced hands. A chill made her heart heavy in her chest, and her lungs locked. She pushed away in a swimming motion, but the fingers dug deep and pulled her with a jerk into the fog. The same black skeleton she had heard speak in the theater smothered her in his arms.
“I will not let go, air. I know where to put you,” he whispered in a satisfied tone in her ear.
She struggled against him to no avail.
“Help me.” A weak woman’s voice rang in her ears.
Astrid squeezed her eyes shut.
“You will rot in hell with Carmen, just like all the dragons should.” He arched his body, her ghost self still anchored to him. “Mørke guder af min ungdom tager dette der er til hvor ingen levende ting går. Trælbind hende til mig og min. Trælbinde hende i mørkehelvedet der bemyndigede alt kvinder hører til. Tag hende til lavahulerne.”
She tried to translate his words, but she did not understand their meaning. “Dark gods of my youth, take this being to where no living thing goes. Enslave her to me and mine. Enslave her in the dark hell that all empowered women belong. Take her to the lava caves.”
He spun and spun in a roll like a barrel that pitched down a hill. Her head grew light, and her stomach heaved. If she was going to expel her dinner, she damn well would make sure the cast-up landed on him. Her stomach heaved once more, and she turned her head to expel on him, but missed.
He laughed, a sinister deep cackle. “Be gone with her.” Her body lightened, and the black surrounded her. She tossed her hands out as she hit hot dry earth. She struggled up to sitting. “Where am I?”
A slithering sound came from over her left shoulder.
She shied away, and pinpricks tapped up her neck. If only she could see in the dark.
Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. Came from her right. “Blood.”
Astrid covered the wound on her arm. “Who is there?”
“Who are you?” The weak voice bounced around her.
“No. That cannot be.” The voice came closer.
“You did not answer me.” She wanted to back up, but she had no idea where she was.
“I am Carmen. The one who created what you call Zir and whom Havanis hunts. If you are here…” She growled. “That cannot happen.”
“I don’t know if I am here. I floated up, but my body still remains behind with Ilmir, on the settee.”
“Your soul is here, and so Havanis has you.”
“Am I dead?”
“No, but until you leave here, you will remain asleep in their world.” Shuffling came from the direction of Carmen’s voice. A hand touched her shoulder. “I am dying. I need blood.” Cold breath puffed against her face. “Nothing has come here for months now.” Her body pressed to Astrid’s. Nothing but bones jabbed at her. “If you let me drink from you, I can contact the others and let them know you are here.”
“Who is Havanis?”
Carmen slid down to her knees on the floor. “Long ago, he was my lover. I betrayed him to protect the dragons. The Zir are here because of that. Because of us…” A light thud came from beside her as Carmen’s arms gave out and she lay on the floor. “I need blood.”
“All my blood is on the settee with Ilmir.”