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 (41 page)

BOOK: Dying Wish: A Novel of the Sentinel Wars
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He was still a good man. He’d worked incredibly hard to stay that way. What right of hers was it to ruin him, just because she selfishly wanted him to stay in her life?

A warm wave of comfort swept through her, like a long, hard hug. She could almost feel Iain’s arms around her again.

He was the one going off to die and yet his thoughts were of her comfort.

She couldn’t betray that goodness in him. She couldn’t defy his wish to die. She had to let him go.

Jackie blinked away her tears, squared her shoulders, and gathered her strength. She was going to follow Iain’s example and do the honorable thing, no matter how much of her it would destroy.

Beth huddled against the wall, shivering with cold and regret.

She’d nearly been free. After years of being here, trapped and tortured, she’d nearly escaped. If only she’d been stronger, maybe she would have made it over that fence.

Your blood is the key….

She turned the words over in her head, trying to figure
out what that man had meant. It seemed like he’d been trying to help her, but if he was, it did her no good. No matter how long she spent reaching for an answer to that riddle, none came.

Beth was never going to get out of here if she couldn’t figure out what he’d meant. She was going to die in the dark, alone and afraid.

Her head pounded. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten. Days ago? Weeks? There was no way to be sure. She was too weak to think straight. Whatever reserves she might have had, she’d used them all up trying to get up that fence.

Still, she couldn’t accept her fate. Inside, she was a fighter. Sure, she was a starved, wimpy fighter, but that person she’d once been was still alive inside of her somewhere. Wasn’t it?

She didn’t want to think about that now. She needed to sleep and escape this place for a while. Maybe she’d even dream of the sky again. Daylight. Sunshine.

Beth curled up on the cold ground and tried to remember what they looked like.

Iain split his focus between comforting Jackie, the path ahead, and keeping a tight rein on his monster. The beast was roaring in defiance, pounding and beating at its cage in an effort to escape. If he let the monster out, it would fight for its life. It wouldn’t care who it had to kill to survive.

The cave seemed empty as they moved through it. Synestryn demons had left for the night to hunt and feed, returning here only once the sun forced them into hiding. They had until sunrise to find the girl and get out, or they’d have to fight their way free.

While Iain was content with dying, he wanted everyone else out safely.

Without effort, he slipped inside Jackie’s thoughts, keeping tabs on the ethereal trail she saw that led to
Autumn. That trail wasn’t of Jackie’s construction—it belonged to another. If Iain’s guess was right, Jackie was somehow seeing Andra’s magic and her ability to find lost children. He didn’t understand how it worked, but a fleeting thought made him wonder if Jackie wasn’t somehow connected to Andra. Maybe that was how she learned to wield magic with so much ease—she was learning to do so from the women who’d already figured out how.

The longer he was in her thoughts, the more sense that theory made.

He wasn’t going to be able to be with her like this for much longer, so he wanted to soak up every second of it, reveling in her inner beauty and strength. Just being connected to her like this made it easier to control his beast, as if her presence somehow soothed and quieted it.

The trail wound to the left, through a cavern filled with bones and bits of fur and refuse. As they entered, the stench of rotting meat and dung was nearly overpowering. Jackie made a gagging noise, and a second later, cool, clean air filled his nose and mouth.

“Wow,” said Cain. “That’s one hell of a trick. Thanks.”

“I don’t know how I stood that smell for so long.”

Even as she spoke, he could see the horrible memories that smell brought back. Pain and death filled her thoughts, so vivid and frightening he actually flinched away from them for a moment.

His magic was extremely limited; he couldn’t access any of the power he housed. He could only gather up what energy was around—hovering in the ground and dancing in the air—for immediate use. And that’s what he did now, collecting tiny scraps of power that he used to shove those bleak memories away, warding them off. She’d lived that horror. It wasn’t right that she should have to relive it again.

Jackie’s hand settled on his shoulder in thanks, a brief, fluttering touch that ended far too soon.

Of all the things in this world, it was her company, her touch, he’d miss the most.

Their trail led west, thickening as it went. They were getting close. He could hear noises now—the skittering of claws over stone, the low, gurgling, wet sounds of demons feeding on whatever prey they’d found.

He hoped that the fact that the trail was still there, hovering in the air, meant that Autumn was still alive, and that the demons were feeding on something else.

Iain held up his hand, silently calling a halt. Without even thinking about what he was doing, he whispered directly to Jackie’s mind that he was going to scout ahead. She should stay here. He felt her agreement and slid forward, moving quietly over the loose debris on the ground.

The pathway widened into an alcove about the size of a large living room. The ceiling here sloped upward, and rock formations draped down in limestone curtains. Water dripped from the tips, making the air damp and thick.

On the farthest side of the area, he could see bars set into the stone. Between him and those bars were more than a dozen demons feeding on human remains. One of the bigger Synestryn crouched over a severed human arm, growling at anything that got close. Its skin was black, slick, and hairless, looking like it was coated in some kind of oil. The smaller demons were covered in fur, with oversized heads and jaws filled with serrated teeth. Their limbs were heavily muscled, all tipped in thick, black claws. Their eyes flared a bright green as they fed, ripping meat from other human bones.

A white shoe bobbed on the end of a man’s severed leg, splattered with red blood. Two demons fought over the prize, snarling and hissing at each other as they tried to drag it in opposite directions.

Iain’s first thought was that he didn’t want Jackie to see this. It was too horrific, and would serve only to remind her of what she’d suffered. His second thought was
of the girl and the trail leading directly through the writhing mass of demons toward those bars.

They were going to have to cut their way through the group. There was no way around that he could see.

He went back to the others and told them what he’d found.

“I don’t like it,” said Cain, “but we don’t have a choice.”

“I’ll go in first,” said Iain. “Jackie, you hang back and lend a hand from a distance.”

She nodded, but her skin had gone pale, her pupils constricted to tiny dots, and a line of sweat had broken out across her forehead. He hated seeing her afraid. He hated that the last time he was going to spend with her would be filled with fear and death.

Iain felt her gather her courage and watched as she squared her shoulders. A rush of power funneled out of him, and her game face was firmly in place beneath the clear face shield.

He gave her an admiring nod and moved in.

They stayed silent until the last second, before Cain and Iain charged the closest demons. The smaller ones were in front, and they hissed in surprise before springing to attack. Iain cut down two with one heavy blow. Their furry bodies hit the wall, where other demons scurried to consume them.

Ignoring those for now, Iain waded deeper into combat, fending off one attack after another, moving on animal instinct and centuries of practice.

Cain held his own beside Iain, protecting his flank and mopping up the wounded demons as they fell from Iain’s blade.

A distant vibration of power rumbled through him. He could feel something building, but didn’t dare pay it any attention right now. One single distraction and he could go down before they’d found the girl. He didn’t doubt for one second that Jackie would charge ahead,
with or without him, if he failed to complete their mission.

He heard a whisper in his mind, urging him to move left. It was Jackie’s voice, her presence within him, so he obeyed, shifting his body a bit more with every step forward.

Seconds later, a wash of golden fire spilled out past his right side, so close it singed his sleeve. Every creature in its path was consumed by flames, screaming in agony as their hair and skin burned away.

The big demon in back jumped out of the line of fire, finally abandoning its meal. The thing was easily eight feet tall, even hunched over like it was. It lumbered forward, heedless of the creatures it crushed under its wide paws.

Its jaws dropped open, revealing chunks of bloody skin and ragged swatches of blue jeans between its teeth. A huge, hot roar blasted out of its cavernous mouth—large enough to swallow Iain in two bites. Spittle sprayed out, splattering against Iain’s face shield.

Cain shifted, his blade cutting through a smaller demon that was only inches from Iain’s shin.

He could feel Jackie pulling on his power, drawing it into herself for another attack. All he had to do was buy her some time—a few precious seconds.

Iain showed her what he was going to do, thrusting the image through their link even as he propelled his body forward. He shoved his blade deep into the thing’s thick arm and used that to vault himself onto its back.

It screamed in pain and reared up, trying to knock Iain off.

He stabbed the thing at the base of the neck, but all he hit was a heavy lump of fat.

The demon staggered back, racing toward the cave wall. Iain didn’t have time to move. He was going to be crushed. If he dropped off, the huge paws would smash him just as dead.

That couldn’t happen yet. The girl was still trapped.

Iain’s mind raced to find a solution as he scrambled up the slippery body, reaching to cling to the thing’s head. The demon slammed backward. It was too late. Iain hadn’t moved enough. He held his breath, bracing himself for the pain.

Blue sparks spewed out from the wall, but there was no pain. Not even the chill of the stone touched him.

Jackie. She’d protected him.

Not that it would do much good. The burning sting of poison began sinking into his hands where he’d come in contact with the demon’s oily skin secretions.

Let go!
he heard Jackie shout in his head. Trusting her, he did as she asked, releasing his grip.

She caught his body, and he swore he could feel the warmth of her hands lowering him to the ground. Not that that was possible, since she was across the room.

His body rolled in the bottom of a faintly glowing bubble. He didn’t try to fight his way free, because he could already feel her drawing in more power for another task.

Golden fire spilled from her fingertips, lashing out at the giant demon. The licks of flame wrapped around its body, setting its oily skin ablaze. It hissed in pain and fury.

Iain hit the ground hard, rolling over bones and filth to break his fall. His hands burned, and the tips of his fingers had started to go numb. He landed at Jackie’s feet, and his world hadn’t even had time to stop spinning before she locked her hand around his wrist and began pouring power into his arm.

Hot, tingling lightning erupted over his skin, burning away all traces of the poison. He felt something wet seep out of his palms, and then saw smoke rising as it evaporated.

The poison. It was gone, along with the burning, numbing effects.

There was no time for words, but he let his thanks
slide into her, along with the next pulsing glow of energy she was pulling from him.

She hadn’t stopped slinging magic around since combat had broken out. He didn’t know how much more she could do, but it was already more than he’d ever expected for such a short burst of time.

Cain was holding his own, keeping the demons off both of them, herding them toward the flames consuming the hulk they’d taken down.

Iain ripped off his shirt and wrapped it around his hand. The hilt of his sword protruded from the burning demon, and he made a quick grab to recover it. His shirt smoked, but none of the heat met his skin, so he shoved his way up to Cain’s side, cutting a path through the few remaining demons scurrying about.

When the last one had fallen, he turned to find Jackie. She was slumped against a wall, breathing hard. A bright, pink flush covered her cheeks, and her bloodshot eyes glowed with a sense of accomplishment.

“Autumn,” she panted. “Over there.”

Iain wasn’t letting her get more than a few steps away, so he wrapped his arm around her waist, taking her weight, and urged her forward.

Smoke wafted through the room, obscuring their vision. Jackie waved her hand, and the smoke parted from their path. Lying on the floor, on the other side of the bars, unmoving, was a young, scrawny girl.

“Autumn?” said Jackie, as if she found it hard to believe.

The metal bars were rusty, but not flimsy. Each one went into the surrounding stone at top and bottom. Iain grabbed one to test it and found it sturdy.

He was strong, but there was no way he was breaking those without some tools.

“I’ll do it,” said Jackie, weaving on her feet.

“Just unlock it,” said Cain. “Save your strength to cover our exit.”

She nodded and put her hand on the lock. Her eyes closed for a moment, and then he heard a faint metallic squeak. The door slipped open a scant inch.

“I’ll get her,” said Cain.

Iain turned to watch their backs, peering through the thick smoke. Smoldering demons lay scattered across the floor. The big one still twitched occasionally, its skin blistered and cracking.

Jackie’s jolt of panic was his first sign that something was wrong. His head spun around to find the threat, his sword rising to destroy it.

Before, all that had been on the other side of the bars was a rock wall, but that had changed. Whatever illusion or veil had covered what really stood there, it was gone now, revealing a larger room stuffed full of eerily human guards. Each one was armed with a sword, and there were at least thirty of them, maybe more.

BOOK: Dying Wish: A Novel of the Sentinel Wars
2.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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