Home > Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(8)

Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(8)
Author: Kresley Cole

Morgana reviled all demons, still couldn't believe her best friend Eleara-Bettina's late mother-had wed one. But the sorceress might actually agree to help Cas just to thwart the vampire.

Morgana would interpret Trehan Daciano's actions with Bettina as a trick, and Sorceri were supposed to be the tricksters-not the trickees. The great queen might kill the vampire for that alone.

Cas took her shoulders again. "You can't tell anyone else about this! No one is supposed to know the Dacians even exist. Already too many know. I'd be betraying Mirceo even more."

Mirceo? "But Morgana can help-"

"Vow to me, Tina. You would put the Sorceri at risk, put yourself more at risk!"

When he looked at her like this, with his blue eyes glowing with feeling, she could deny him nothing. She mumbled, "I vow it."

"This is all fine and good," Salem said, "worrying about Caspion. But you have plenty on your plate to be worrying about. Not every female in the brothel was lucky enough to be serviced by him. I saw other competitors inside. A trio of two-headed Ajatars. Cerunnos. Even a pus demon-oh, 'scuse me, an excretorian-was there."

Ajatars had metal teeth and breathed fire. Cerunnos were snakelike humanoids. Excretorians leaked pus from every pore. She turned to Cas. "Please don't leave me to this fate. They will cancel the tournament completely if I'm not a virgin. Can't you just . . . would it be so bad . . . ?"

"Bettina," he began gravely, "there's something you should know."

Show yourself," Trehan demanded of his seemingly empty apartments. He sensed danger looming. A regular occurrence for him in Dacia.

His gaze flickered over the shadowed corners of the gilded sitting area, then up to scan the vaulted ceilings. He stole a quick glance down the two adjoining corridors. One led to his bedchamber; the other opened up into a wing with unending bookshelves.

When only silence greeted him, he returned to his task: researching.

He'd assured his newfound Bride that he had no plans to return for her. True at the time. But now . . .

The idea of never seeing her again made him crazed.

She'd asked him, "What do you want from me?" He wanted to go back in time and answer: "Everything! Everything that is mine by right!"

But he'd done the rational thing-and left her. Never had he regretted a rational decision.

Might I now?

He'd told himself he simply didn't have enough information to conclude anything about her. He needed to contemplate this in a logical fashion, gathering facts.

So he'd turned to his books, retrieving a tome on vampire physiology, the weighty Book of Lore, and a recently published history of the various demonarchies. Laying the books out on one side of his large desk, he'd set the tournament invitation on the other.

In the physiology manual, Trehan confirmed the harsh realities of his situation. Unless a vampire claimed his Bride completely, he would be filled with aggression, irrational jealousy, and uncontrollable sexual urges.

Perhaps Trehan should have agreed to her offer and taken her. Aggression? Check. Irrational jealousy? When he thought of Bettina responding with such abandon to Caspion, Trehan traced to his feet, wrestling with a murderous rage. Check.

Uncontrollable sexual urges? Upon returning home to wash and change, he'd grown achingly hard just from the evidence of his release in his pants. After all, he hadn't scented or seen it for the better part of a millennium.

The book also said that a vampire must penetrate his mate with his fangs. As the demons and Lykae did. Which we consider barbaric.

But this book had been written about vampires-in general. Dacians were different, superior to other factions like the Horde and the Forbearers. He assured himself of this, even as he recalled how badly he'd craved biting her.

Dominion . . .

With an inward shake, he turned to the demon history book, to the Abaddonae entry.

Aptly named, the Deathly Ones derived strength from every kill they made, so historically they'd been at war more often than not. Their plane was an isolated swamp realm of no consequence, with a typical off-world time variance.

Time, like life, moved more slowly in Abaddon. . . .

Princess Bettina was the first daughter born in generations, described as "elfin" in appearance. Though a halfling, she'd inherited no outward demonic traits, yet she was reputed to possess a notable-but undisclosed-Sorceri power.

Fascinating. A delicate, little sorceress born into an archaic and violent demon world.

Her paternal ancestors had fought proudly and died in various battles, most often with other demonarchies. Just a decade earlier, her father, Mathar, had gone to the aid of one of his Pravus allies, perishing on the front line.

Apparently his sorceress queen, Eleara, had been killed by Vrekeners just after Bettina's birth. Those winged creatures were mortal enemies of the Sept of Sorceri, considering themselves a check on Sorceri evil.

Trehan could find no more history on Eleara's side, so he read in the Book of Lore about the Sorceri in general. Distantly related to witches, each was born with a root ability that they considered akin to a soul.

Their species was one of the weakest of all immortals-at least in matters of physical strength and healing-so they adorned their bodies with protective metals, especially gold.

They had no claws, so they wore metal ones. The masks they favored unsettled their enemies.

They were at once merry wine drinkers who worshipped gold-and fearful magicians, living in constant dread of ceding their powers to another.

What was Bettina's power? Why hadn't she used it against him when he'd been on the verge of taking her neck?

With these three books, he'd established a trio of facts.

His physical need wasn't only grueling, it was dangerous.

Though her line was partly demonic, it was proud and worthy.

The little sorceress would be under constant threat and would need him as well.

But some things couldn't be uncovered through books, and Trehan had more questions than answers regarding his Bride. He wondered what her personality was like, what her favorite color was. What were her hobbies? What made her laugh?

He considered what he did know about her.

She would bravely-if wrongly-sacrifice herself for the male she loved. She was sensual and curious about sex; no innately cold Bride for him. Yet again he recalled that shy grin as she'd bared her br**sts. She wasn't brazen by nature, but when pleasured, she grew beautifully wanton.

Judging by her book collection, she was fixated on her craft. Trehan was as obsessed with arms as any Dacian, probably more. He surveyed all his weapons displayed in gold cases and thought, She creates weapons; I wield them.

He gazed down at his injured hand. Ah, but she wielded one as well. Was that to be their initial common ground?

The wounds were fading; he found he didn't want them to. No, he hadn't sunk his fangs into her flesh, but she'd given him her own bite. When he remembered the blood welling across his palm and her flash of pride, for some reason he grew aroused once more.

Glancing from the invitation . . . to his books . . . back to the invitation-

Cold steel pressed against Trehan's neck.

Must be Viktor. He wondered if his cousin would finally land a deathblow. They'd been trying to kill each other for hundreds of years.

"You let me take you unawares?" Viktor grated. "What occupies your thoughts so completely?"

"Not completely occupied." Trehan prodded Viktor with the blade he'd managed to slip from his sword belt, the blade now pressed against Viktor's scrotum.

Viktor laughed at Trehan's ear. "I might temporarily lose my balls, old man, but you'll lose your life."

"I've been castrated before. The regeneration was such that you might find my headless fate preferable," he said, cursing his carelessness. Tonight was a night of firsts for Trehan: allowing Viktor to take him unawares, leaving a target alive, his blooding-even his rejection by a female.

Viktor hesitated, then backed away. "It won't prove amusing to end you without a fight." He loved nothing more than fighting. Not surprising-he was the last scion of the House of War, the wrath of the kingdom. "Take out your sword, Cousin."

With a weary exhalation, Trehan sheathed his short blade, then drew his sword. The weapon was one of the only belongings he truly cared about. It had been given to him by his father with the instructions: "Be an example, Son."

Ignoring the twinge in his injured hand, Trehan traced to face Viktor. Though their temperaments were directly opposed-one cold and methodical, one warlike and rash-their looks were so similar they could have been brothers.

Viktor narrowed his green eyes at Trehan. "You're even more pensive than usual. Trouble with your target?"

You have no idea, Trehan thought as he launched the first strike.

Viktor deflected it, and the clang of steel echoed in the spacious library.

"It was that new demon, right?" Viktor asked as he charged. Trehan neatly dodged his sword. Centuries of nearly constant battles between them had made them both superlative swordsmen. "Caspion the Tracker, the one all the females favored?"

All the females. Even mine.

Viktor feinted left, making a short jab to the right; Trehan arched his back, narrowly escaping the sword tip.

"Did the great Trehan actually leave a target alive? No, no, because then you wouldn't be back here." Another thrust.

Trehan parried. "I didn't engage him," he answered, half-tempted to tell his cousin everything. If not Viktor, then whom could he confide in?

No one.

Their relationship was complicated, to say the least. As the last members of their respective houses, they'd been trying to kill each other for most of their lives, yet there was no one Trehan would rather have at his back if they fought a mutual enemy. Viktor also kept his cousin's secrets, refusing to sully himself and Trehan with court politics, preferring to settle their grievances by combat.

Trehan swung; Viktor blocked. Their swords connected, quaking in their hands.

"You're strong tonight," Viktor observed with approval. He venerated strength and relished violence.

Viktor was perpetually disappointed that their hidden kingdom afforded no chance for open conflict. As he'd once said while in his cups, "I'm the general of the world's proudest and most perfect army-one that will never go to battle."

Strike; swift parry. Slash; deflect.

"What is this I hear?" Viktor suddenly exclaimed. "Ah, Trehan, your heart beats! That's where this new strength hails from."

A vampire derived strength from age, Dacian blood, drinking straight from the flesh-and his blooding. "So it does." He didn't know if Viktor was blooded. His cousin utilized an old witch's spell to camouflage whether he had a heartbeat or not.

Trehan had a theory about that. . . .

"Where is your new Bride?" Viktor risked a glance past Trehan. "Why were you reading when I stole upon you?" A look of confusion followed. "Why are you not rutting her even now? Perhaps I'll find her sprawled across your bed with a soothing pack of ice between her legs?"

"You're crass." Another flash of his sword. "That's my Bride you speak of!"

Another parry. "Then where is she?"

"There were challenges inherent with her." He traced away from Viktor's charge, appearing feet away; the blade sliced the air where Trehan had just been.

"Tell all, Cousin!"

"It doesn't matter. She wouldn't be suitable for me." Bettina had her own realm to rule. She could scarcely be expected to live in this underworld with him.

She's in love with another.

"Did you claim her?" Viktor asked.

A sharp shake of his head. "And it's just as well. Once I take the throne-"

Chapter 9

"So certain you'll be king?" Slash.

Dodge. "Unfortunately, yes. You know I'm the logical choice."

He was the most qualified to rule, but in fairness, each of the contenders had strengths. Trehan had cultivated an order of trained assassins. Viktor controlled the military. Their cousin Stelian governed who entered or exited Dacia. The youngest male cousin, Mirceo, was the most beloved by the people and had a loyal ally in his little sister, Kosmina.

However, Trehan was the most "Dacian" of the royals, believing in this kingdom, like a religion.

"Ah, that vaunted Dacian logic," Viktor sneered, feinting a trace to the right, then striking to the left. With a well-timed block, Trehan deflected, but Viktor's leg shot up, booting Trehan in the stomach.

If Viktor wanted to fight dirty . . .

Between breaths, Trehan grated, "Perhaps you wouldn't resent that trait in others . . . if you weren't the most illogical of the family?" Like a blur, he swept down, kicking Viktor's legs out from under him.

Just before Viktor's back met the floor, he traced to his feet. "King Trehan? Never while I live."

They faced off once more. "You're too hostile and rash," Trehan said. "Mirceo's too self-absorbed and hedonistic, not to mention young. And Stelian is nearly too drunken to handle his responsibilities as gatekeeper."

"And you are too emotionless."

I haven't been tonight. Gazing down at Bettina's eyes, watching them glitter with need, Trehan had been filled with emotion. He hadn't been emotionless when he'd come in his Bride's soft hand. . . .

Distracted once more, he barely dodged Viktor's next strike.

"The people would wither under your stifling rule, Trehan. You are the sword of the kingdom, a cold, unfeeling blade."

"This is a debate for another night."

"So be it. Back to your missing Bride . . ." He trailed off, his gaze landing on Trehan's desk-on the invitation. Before Trehan could reach the parchment, Viktor had snatched it up, swiftly perusing the writing. "Abaddon? I've been there! Used to go watch the fights. The mist blends with that fog so seamlessly, you know. Wait, this is her, isn't it? 'Challenges inherent'? I should say so. She's a godsdamned tourney prize!"

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