Read Dying Wish: A Novel of the Sentinel Wars Online

Authors: Shannon K. Butcher

Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #General, #Paranormal, #Fiction

Dying Wish: A Novel of the Sentinel Wars (19 page)

BOOK: Dying Wish: A Novel of the Sentinel Wars
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She hated what she was about to force herself to say—what she was about to force herself to think about—but it was necessary. “All you have to do is catch them at the right time. When they’re unable to move.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Joseph.

“They have these giant creatures. I saw one once. It was bigger than any animal I’ve ever seen.” It was huge, pulsing with movement, like a maggot the size of a bus. “It’s the thing that gives birth to some of their demons. I heard Zillah and his lackey talking about it outside of my cell, when they thought I was unconscious.” She’d been so cold, so weak. Zillah had nearly killed her, taking so much blood her heart raced to keep her alive.

“You don’t have to talk about this,” said Iain, stroking her back with a soothing sweep of his hand. “Not if you’re not ready.”

She was never going to be ready to talk about her time in the caves, but it didn’t matter. If demons were trying to steal more children, she had to help stop them. “It takes these things a few months to produce a litter,
but when they’re near the end of that time, they can’t move. They’re too big, and too valuable to abandon. If we can find the nest during this time, then they’ll be trapped. Or at least they’ll have to leave behind that thing for us to kill.”

“How long?” asked Joseph. “Do you know any more details?”

She shook her head. “They were talking about not being able to move for another week. I don’t know how long before that they were stuck.”

“Where was this?” asked Iain.

“The second cave I was in. I was there the longest.”

“Do you remember where it was?” asked Joseph, pointing to the map. “This dot is where we found you. All of the other black dots represent known Synestryn nesting sites.”

Jackie stepped up. She tried to think back, but all she remembered was fear and cold. She hadn’t yet accepted her fate and stopped using what little strength she had to fight them. That had taken her several more months of painful lessons to learn.

She cupped her hands in a circle around an area. “In here would be my best guess. Like I said, we didn’t move far, so it has to be close.”

“That area is riddled with caves, and it’s near the Masons’ hometown. It’s possible we missed another nest. I’ll have Nicholas gather up the images we have of those sites we did catalog for you to look through. He may have a photo of something you recognize. In the meantime, the rest of you need to gear up. You’ll leave in a few hours. We need everyone focused on shutting these demon breeding grounds down.”

“We can’t go,” blurted Madoc.

Joseph turned around and looked at him. “Why not?”

Madoc ran his fingers through his hair in distress. “I’m not sure I believe it, myself.”

“Believe what?”

“You tell them, Nika.”

Nika shook her head, making her white hair sway around her shoulders. A bright smile lit her face. “Nope. You know they all think I’m crazy. They won’t believe me.”

“Can you all please hurry this up?” asked Joseph.

“Sorry,” said Madoc, looking sheepish. He cleared his throat. “We can’t go because Nika’s pregnant.”

The room exploded in surprise. Tynan glided forward toward Nika. Helen’s face split with a huge grin. Drake stood there stunned, and Iain went completely still and silent.

“How can this be?” asked Joseph, his voice filled with a healthy dose of suspicion.

“Well,” said Nika. “When a boy Theronai and a girl Theronai love each other very much—”

“You know what I mean, Nika,” snapped Joseph. “Did you cheat on Madoc?”

Madoc drew steel and started toward Joseph like he was going to kill him. Nika was faster and slipped in front of him, barring his path. “Down, boy. He didn’t mean any insult.”

“He should have thought better before calling you a cheating whore, then,” growled Madoc.

Tynan held up his hands and his voice seemed to fill the room, drowning out all else. “The serum I gave Madoc to restore his fertility must have worked.” He looked at Nika, then at Madoc. “May I?”

“May you what?” asked Madoc, his blade still out and gleaming with lethal warning.

“Confirm that it’s true.”

“Are you calling Nika a liar?” asked Madoc.

“No, of course not. This is strictly for my research.”

Madoc’s anger deflated. He looked at Nika. “He wants to touch you. Do you mind?”

Nika gave a negligent shrug. “Okay, but he won’t be able to hear her.”

“Hear her?” asked Tynan.

“Her?”
shouted Madoc, swaying like he might actually faint.

“She’s little. No heartbeat yet.”

“That’s okay,” said Tynan. “I may still be able to sense her.”

Nika shrugged again and pulled up the front of her shirt. Loose jeans bagged around her narrow waist, hanging on her hips. Tynan slid his hand over her belly, the barest tips of his fingers sinking beneath her waistband.

Madoc growled.

“Hush,” said Nika. “Let him do this. It’s the only way the others will believe.”

Tynan’s mouth lifted in a smile of pure joy. “She’s right. She’s pregnant.”

Madoc’s big body started tilting sideways, and Drake grabbed his arm with both hands. “Sit down before you fall over.”

Everyone converged on Nika and Madoc, offering them congratulations and plenty of surprise.

Iain had said that all the men had been sterilized by Synestryn, but apparently that had changed. Tynan’s serum must have cured whatever was causing the problem.

Jackie stood back, watching everyone fuss over Nika. She didn’t know these people well enough to gush, but she didn’t want to destroy what was clearly such a momentous event for them.

She slumped into a chair, trying to fight off the fatigue draining her.

They were so happy, especially Helen, who beamed up at Drake with a look of hope. He gave her a wicked smile and a blush spread down her neck. They hadn’t said a word aloud, but the connection they shared was palpable and unwavering.

Jackie envied her sister for that.

Her gaze slid to Iain. He looked up and stared at her for a long time. His expression was blank, but emotion seethed in his dark eyes. Curious what he was thinking, she reached out, trying to feel him through their connection the way Helen had talked about.

She felt nothing, which left her feeling bereft somehow.

He came to her side and held out his hand. “You’re tired. We should go.”

“Just another minute,” said Joseph. “Nika, Madoc, you two are to stay here and out of harm’s way.”

“But I can help,” said Nika. “It’s not going to hurt the baby.”

“We’re not going to take any fucking chances,” said Madoc. “If I have to, I’ll tie you up.”

Nika grinned as if reliving a fond memory. “I think that’s what got us into this condition.”

Madoc looked at Joseph. “If we stay and listen, she’ll want to help, so we’re leaving now.” He didn’t wait for permission, simply gathered Nika under his arm and marched her out through the door.

Joseph’s game face was firmly back in place. “Nika was instrumental in the last rescue, and no one can do what she does, so we’re going to have to rethink our strategy.”

“What does she do?” asked Jackie, wondering if she could fill Nika’s shoes from a distance.

“She gets into the minds of demons, takes control of their bodies, and then makes their brains explode.”

Yeah. Jackie wasn’t going to be doing that. Not in this lifetime.

“We’re spread thin with Zach and Lexi still working in Africa, and Gilda and Angus…” Grief tightened his mouth before he continued. “Everyone is going to have to do their part.” He looked at Jackie. “You, too.”

“She’s not ready. She doesn’t even know what she can do yet,” said Iain.

“Apparently, she has a fair amount of skill with poison,” said Helen, pride chiming in her voice. “She saved Iain’s life.”

“That will come in handy,” said Joseph, looking at Jackie. “I won’t make you go in the caves, but we need your help in whatever way you can give it. While we’re working on details, you need to see what else you can do, but we can’t wait long, so learn fast. By the lake, just in case proficiency with fire runs in the family.”

“Let’s go,” said Iain. “We don’t have much time.” He looked at Tynan. “Can you come with us and check me out? I’m still not feeling like myself.”

“Certainly,” said Tynan.

“Did I miss some of the poison?” Jackie was horrified by the idea that she hadn’t done a good job, and that he’d been suffering for the last couple of hours.

“You did fine,” he reassured her.

The three of them left, shutting the door behind them. Iain led the way, walking swiftly down the winding halls.

“There weren’t many people left in there to help plan the mission,” said Jackie.

Iain glanced over his shoulder. “They’ll make it work. What we’re doing is just as important.”

“What exactly are we doing?” she asked.

“I’m taking you to your suite so you can get some sleep. While you do that, Tynan here is going to make sure there’s no poison left.”

“And then?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about that part yet. One step at a time.” He said it like there was some other meaning there—one she couldn’t figure out.

She feared that what he wasn’t telling her was far worse than anything she might imagine.

Chapter 12
 

I
ain followed Tynan to his suite in silence. It was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other without stopping to pound his fists into the walls, or draw his sword and start hacking.

As soon as the door shut behind Tynan, he let his facade slip.

Tynan reeled back, his hand straying to his hip.

“You’ve started carrying a sword?” asked Iain in angry disbelief.

“Having one’s neck snapped has that sort of an effect on a man.”

“I’m not going to hurt you. But before we go any further, I need your promise that you will never tell anyone what I’m about to reveal to you.”

“Of course,” said Tynan. “Secrets are no problem for me.”

Sneaky bastard. Then again, that was one of the reasons Iain felt Tynan was the only one he could even consider trusting. “Say it.”

“I promise not to speak of what you tell me here and now.”

The weight of the man’s vow hit Iain hard, making him snarl. It didn’t matter that he’d asked for the promise. Logic was not playing a role in the stage of Iain’s mind right now. He was all frantic rage and chaotic anger.
Keeping his monster in check during that meeting had taken every ounce of his self-control.

“I don’t know how long it will be until Jackie wakes, so I’ll make this quick.” He also wasn’t sure how long he could keep from slamming his fist into Tynan’s too-pretty face. “Jackie bonded with me against my will.”

“That’s not possible.”

“It is when you’re delirious from poison.”

“You seem upset by the union. I would have thought you’d be pleased, or at least relieved.”

He wasn’t either. He was pissed, and that anger was growing fast with every second he was away from Jackie. Her presence seemed to still his monster enough for him to keep it caged, but now that she was gone, his control was slipping fast. “I want you to help me find a way to undo it.”

“What vow did she offer?”

Iain stared out the window at the lighted landscaping. “To stay with me until I was as good as new.”

“Ah. So you want me to finish healing you to complete the promise and free you. But why? Don’t you want to be with her?”

He did. He wanted to soak up her spirit and selflessness. He wanted to revel in her beauty and be the kind of man who could offer her the pristine future she deserved. But none of that was possible. “Other men are in greater need than I am. She should be with one of them.”

“She chose you.”

“She chose wrong!”

Tynan held up his hands, his long, elegant fingers warding away some of Iain’s anger. “I’ll do what you ask, but there will be a price. I want blood in return for healing you.”

“You still don’t get it. There’s nothing you can do to fix me. I’ll never be as good as new. What I need from you is to find a way to sever the bond.”

Tynan shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you. And even if I could, I wouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Nika’s pregnancy. That changes things. For both of us.”

Iain still hadn’t digested the news that Tynan’s cure had worked. The implications of that were huge.

He could have a child.

While one corner of his mind swelled with joy at the thought, another snickered in derision. A soulless father. Is that what he wanted to offer a child?

“There are dozens of other men who can knock Jackie up. You don’t need me for that.”

“She picked you for a reason.”

“Because she knew it could never work between us. All she wants to do is leave here and go live a normal life. She hasn’t yet accepted that that is not an option.”

“Then change her mind.” Tynan said it like it was easy, like just willing Jackie to do something was going to make it happen. If that were the case, then his luceria would have already fallen from her neck.

Frustration grew inside of him, feeding off his rage. “I can’t. I’m barely holding myself together. I’m afraid I’ll hurt her.”

“Madoc felt the same way with Nika. It worked out fine. Better than.”

“I’m not Madoc,” growled Iain.

“You could be. You could be united to a woman you love with a child on the way. What does he have that makes him more deserving of such a gift?”

“A soul,” Iain spat out before he could stop himself. He hadn’t wanted to admit it—not to anyone. He’d spent so many years protecting his secret, and now that Tynan knew, it was only a matter of time before others did as well. Vow of silence or not.

If he stayed tied to Jackie, eventually she would see the truth of it, bleak and festering inside of him.

Tynan’s icy blue eyes went wide and he backed away,
drawing his sword with a quiet ring of steel. “You’ve turned?”

“I’m fine. I misspoke.”

Tynan tilted his head. “No, you didn’t. I can see it now. The empty hollowness within you. It’s been there for a while. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.”

BOOK: Dying Wish: A Novel of the Sentinel Wars
12.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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