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 (4 page)

BOOK: Dying Wish: A Novel of the Sentinel Wars
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Cain hesitated, but he wasn’t the first to do so. And Iain knew exactly which buttons to push to get the result he wanted. His brother’s life was worth more than the rules by which they lived.

“Think of Sibyl. She just lost her parents. What will it do to her to lose you so soon?”

Cain’s eyes slid shut and his mouth tightened in anguish. “She asked me to leave her alone. She left me behind when she went to join Lexi and Zach.”

“She didn’t ask you to die, did she?”

“There’s nothing anyone can do about that. Not even you.”

“What if you’re wrong? What harm is there in hearing me out? Worst-case scenario, you turn in your sword and go fall into a nest tonight if you don’t like what I have to say. Best-case scenario, you live long enough to see Sibyl united with one of our men, protected.”

Cain hesitated for a long moment. His gaze moved to Angus’s sword, where Gilda’s luceria was woven around it.

“Let me try to help you,” said Iain.

“No one can help me, but I’m fool enough to listen all the same.”

“Swear to me that nothing we speak of here and now will ever pass your lips.”

There was a long silence before he finally said, “I do so swear.”

The weight of Cain’s promise barreled down on Iain. He braced himself, suffering through the heaviness of his brother’s vow. It passed quickly, but the magic holding Cain to his word would not soon fade.

Iain looked right into Cain’s eyes, willing him to know that what he spoke was the truth. “There are a few of us, like you, who have come to the end of our time. Years ago, I began seeking out a way to save them. I discovered artifacts that had the power to slow the process.”

“Artifacts?”

“Magical trinkets. Gilda’s mother spoke of them once when I was a boy. She didn’t know I’d overheard. I thought they might simply be a myth, but then I found one. It worked.” For a while. Nothing could hold back the flow of time forever, and Iain’s last leaf had long since fallen, but he’d bought himself enough time to learn what he needed to do to hide his barren state. He’d learned to pretend he had a soul, to pretend he had honor. Everything he did now was a carefully choreographed set of lies meant to fool everyone around him. And it had worked.

He’d passed this knowledge on to those who allowed him to help, just as he’d passed on the artifacts he’d found.

The black ring had been the first.

“How can that be? I’ve never heard of anything like this.”

“Those who created these devices didn’t want their existence known. If what they’d done had been found out, the people they were trying to help would have been put to death.”

“How do they work?”

Iain pulled the black ring from his pocket, ignoring the frigid burn of it, and held it out in his palm. “This one slows down the rate at which your leaves fall. It won’t save you forever, but it will buy you time to find the woman who can save you.”

Perhaps Jackie. She hadn’t chosen a man yet, but she would. Cain was a good man. She might choose him.

A low swell of anger rose up inside Iain, distracting him for a moment. He didn’t understand where it had come from, but it was there, burning deep in his gut.

The urge to draw his sword and lop off Cain’s head slammed into him. In his mind’s eye, he could see his brother’s blood arcing across the wall as he fell to his knees. He wanted that. Needed that. Cain couldn’t touch Jackie if he were dead.

Iain’s fists tightened as he fought back the bloodlust. His hand ached to draw his sword.

Cain was his friend, and while he felt nothing more for the man than he did the leather armchair to his left, he had once felt something. A fondness, perhaps. It was hard to remember now, especially with anger pounding at him to act, to kill.

Pretend you have honor.

That was what he told his men. It was all he had to do now. It wasn’t that hard. He’d done it a thousand times before. He’d been a good man once. It was his duty to behave as if he were that same man now. Perhaps he’d kill Cain later, but not right now.

The thought eased him somewhat, giving him the strength to take control of himself. He shoved down the last flickering embers of his rage with a force of will, returning his focus to his brother and what had to be done.

Cain flashed him a skeptical look. “How many of you are there?”

“You don’t need to know that. Only I know, and if you agree to join our Band of the Barren, I swear I will never reveal you as a member, just as I will never reveal who the others are to you.”

Cain stared at the ring, hope plain on his face. “What do you ask for in return for saving my life?”

“Only that you live by the code I set for all of us. Our lives depend on secrecy. If Joseph were to find out, he’d
have us sent to the Slayers for execution. We must lie well, my friend. You must act as though you are fine, as though you have honor, no matter how dark your thoughts become.”

“What’s in this for you?”

Iain wasn’t sure anymore. At first he’d simply wanted to save his brothers, but now even the satisfaction he gained from that was a distant memory. His actions were merely habits now—doing things because he’d always done them, without thought of why.

But that answer was not what the members of the Band needed to hear. They needed hope so they could hold out for a while longer, fighting back evil as they were sworn to do.

“What wouldn’t you do to save one of your brothers?” asked Iain. “We’re in this together.”

“It’s against the rules.”

“We need all the warriors we can get if we’re to have even the slightest chance to win this war, even if it means breaking a few rules.”

“You said it slows the progress?”

“Right.”

“How do you know when it’s too late? How do you keep yourselves from hurting others because you wait too long to give up the fight?”

“I keep a careful eye on everyone. If you’re too far gone, or if you do anything to jeopardize the others, I’ll kill you myself.”

So far that last resort hadn’t been necessary. Even Madoc, who had been worse off than most, had managed to find salvation in time. Only Iain had held on too long, and there wasn’t enough of the man he used to be left for him to care that he should have gone to his death long ago.

If he died, who would recruit those nearing the end of their time? Who would watch out for them? He couldn’t give that burden to someone else. He alone was strong
enough to resist his darker urges. His absolute commitment to his brothers had kept him going for years. His devotion to rules he created for himself had hidden his condition, even from the other members of the Band. None of them knew his soul was dead, only that he was nearing his end.

One day he’d go down fighting, but he refused to give up. He might not have the gentler emotions that made up what passed for a conscience, but he had his honor. He remembered what it was like to love someone so utterly that nothing else mattered.

Serena was long gone, but his brothers had filled the void, giving him a purpose to replace the hope he’d lost so long ago.

Cain nodded and held out his hand. “Okay.”

Iain extended the ring. “It burns like hell.”

“I’m used to pain.”

“When you find your woman, be sure to take it off and return it to me. You won’t be able to bond while wearing it. You may not even be able to detect compatibility.” Madoc had worn that ring and had learned that bit of information the hard way.

“I understand.”

Cain slid the ring onto one thick finger and clenched his hand into a fist. If he felt the cold burn coming off the metal, he hid it well.

“Good. Now sit down and let me tell you what you need to do—what will keep you from being sent to the Slayers.”

Chapter 3
 

T
orr stood at Grace’s side. She’d grown so thin, so pale. All the beauty and vitality that had once filled her every movement was now gone. With every passing day, she slipped further away from him.

The machine that breathed for her hissed quietly, breaking the silence of the room.

Torr held her hand, refusing to voice his anger at her actions. She’d done this to herself. She’d saved him, thinking he was more important.

She couldn’t have been more wrong. The world was full of people, but few had souls as pure and good as Grace. Her limitless kindness was now gone, and the world was a darker place for its loss.

Logan came into the room with his woman, Hope, at his side.

“What did you find out?” Torr asked.

Logan’s bleak expression said it all. Even the unearthly beauty of his kind couldn’t mask the ugly truth. “I was unable to locate help. I’m sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

“Tynan is the strongest healer among us. There are only two more in the world whose skills surpass his. One died a few days ago. The other is sleeping.”

“Then wake him up.”

“It’s not that easy, Torr. He went to sleep because he was too weak to continue.”

“I’ll give him my blood. He can have it all.” He didn’t care if he died, so long as Grace lived.

“It’s not enough. I’m sorry. You have to let her go.”

Torr’s grip on Grace had grown too tight, and he had to consciously relax his hold on her delicate fingers. “No.”

“It’s cruel to leave her hooked to these machines. She gave you a gift—one which you are squandering with your thoughtlessness.”

“I want her to live.”

“She’s human. Even if the device hadn’t paralyzed her, she would have died in a heartbeat of time.”

“A lifetime.”

“A brief, human lifetime. Your suffering is inevitable. The sooner you let her go, the sooner her pain can end and your healing can begin.”

Torr was never going to get over what he’d let Grace do to herself. Even if she survived, he’d live with his guilt until his last breath. It was his job to protect humans. He’d taken a vow, and yet she’d been the one to risk her life to save
him
.

Torr barely kept control over his anger, keeping it out of his voice in deference to Grace. “You sound like Iain. You act as though she’s a thing I can easily toss away. You’re wrong. If I lose her, I won’t survive it.”

Logan’s mouth bowed with pity. “You will. You can’t see clearly now, but I’ve seen it before. This is the nature of things.”

Torr sprang up, balling his hands into fists to keep from wrapping them around Logan’s pretty neck. He stared at the new woman. “I’ve heard you can see auras—that you can read people.”

“I can,” said Hope.

“Is she in pain?”

Hope’s gaze moved past him to where Grace lay on the bed. “She’s confused. Sad.”

“So she is still in there?”

Hope nodded, making her blond ponytail sway. “Barely. She’s weak.”

“She’s a fighter. She’ll make it through this. We just have to find someone strong enough to heal her.”

Logan sighed. “What if there is no one? How long will you force her to stay here, tethered to this place?”

Determination rose up inside him, like a fortified wall no one could tear down. He gave Logan a hard stare, warning the leech to back off. “As long as it takes.”

As soon as the door shut behind Logan, Hope pulled him to a stop. The sorrow haunting her eyes was nearly too much for Logan to bear. He wanted to wipe it away, to make her smile again. He wasn’t quite ready to reveal his surprise for her, but perhaps it was better to tell her sooner rather than later. Anything to see her happy.

“You mustn’t do this to yourself,” he told her. “Promise me you won’t come back here and witness Torr’s suffering.”

“I want to help. I
need
to help.”

“There’s nothing anyone can do. We’ll console Torr when Grace has passed. He’s going to need us.”

She shook her head. “It’s just so sad, you know? So unfair.”

Logan pulled her into his arms and held her tight. Seeing Torr reminded him of how lucky he was, how precious Hope was to him. If anything ever happened to her…

He couldn’t even think about such things. They made dark, evil feelings swirl deep inside of him, threatening to break free. Hope was fine. She was his. All was well.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” she said. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Torr, but I think I might have an idea.”

Logan pulled back enough to peer down into her lovely face. So sweet, his Hope. He’d never tire of looking at her. “What do you mean?”

“My memories of Temprocia have continued to come back.”

Temprocia, the world where she’d been born and raised. Her memories of the place had been removed for her protection, but they’d been returning slowly ever since she’d taken his blood.

“How does that help Grace?” he asked.

Her blond brows drew together in concentration. “I don’t remember everything, but I remember a woman, a healer. I can’t recall her name, but I can see her face. She had no wrinkles, but there was a wisdom there—a kind of timeless intellect, as if she knew all the secrets of the world. I remember looking at her and
knowing
she could do anything. What if she can help Grace?”

Warnings sounded in Logan’s head. Hope had proved she was more than willing to put herself in harm’s way to save another. He didn’t want her anywhere near danger ever again. “Perhaps she could, but since there’s no way of reaching her, it’s best if we don’t mention this in front of Torr.”

Hope pulled her gaze away from his and stared at the floor. “What if there is a way?”

“The fact that you won’t look me in the eye when you say that tells me that it’s far too dangerous to even consider. Grace is dying. We have to accept that and move on.”

“I can’t. I have so much. My life is full and happy. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t try to give that chance for happiness to someone else?”

That was just one more reason why he loved her.

Despite the fact that he knew he’d regret asking, he did anyway. “What were you thinking?”

“I came here through the Sentinel Stone in the Tyler building.”

“The one I had relocated here, just in case any more women like you come through.” He desperately hoped that they would, too. His fellow Sanguinar were starving, and there was something special about Hope’s blood that took away that hunger. At least it had for him.

BOOK: Dying Wish: A Novel of the Sentinel Wars
4.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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