Home > Shadow Rising (Dark Dynasties #3)

Shadow Rising (Dark Dynasties #3)
Author: Kendra Leigh Castle

Chapter One

ARIANE.”

She stood at the floor-length window, staring out at the rolling ocean of sand that had been her home since before her memories began. Not a breath of wind moved the gossamer curtains that she’d drawn back, though she had opened the window wide in hopes that some air might clear her head.

No such luck. All she’d found was the crescent moon hanging above the same beautiful and barren landscape that she looked upon every night. Nothing changed here. Nothing except her. Not that the implications of what she was about to do didn’t make her heart ache. But she had no choice.

Life eternal notwithstanding, this place would kill her, or at least the best part of her, if she stayed much longer.

“Ariane, please look at me.”

With a soft sigh, Ariane turned away from the window and looked at the man who had entered the shadowed room. She had lit but a single candle, not wanting the harshness of the light, and it played over his concerned face, over features that were as hard and beautiful as chiseled stone.

Sariel. There was a time when she would have been honored by a visit from him. And to her chamber, no less. He had been the leader of her dynasty since it began, or so she understood, and his word among the Grigori was law. Ariane respected him, deeply. But Sariel was content with all the things that made her restless. He could accept that her dearest friend had vanished without a trace, where her every waking moment had become a nightmare of worry and dark imaginings. And she knew that while he cared, while some effort was being put into finding the missing Grigori, he didn’t remotely understand what a loss Sam was to her.

“I appreciate your concern, Sariel. But I’m fine. I didn’t expect to be chosen,” Ariane said, hoping that she was concealing her bitterness well. To have been passed over was bad enough. But to have been pushed aside for Oren, to have seen the blaze of vicious triumph on her rival’s face… it hurt in a way no wound ever had. And in her training, she’d been cut plenty.

Sariel approached, shutting the door behind him. To anyone else, even their own kind, Ariane knew he would have been incredibly intimidating. The men of the Grigori dynasty of vampires, particularly the ancient ones, all stood nearly seven feet tall, broad-chested and well muscled, with skin like pale marble. But in the dim light, he looked so like Sam that she could feel nothing but the same dull ache she had felt for a month now, ever since they’d all realized Sam was not simply traveling, but gone.

Sariel’s face belonged on a statue carved by a Renaissance master, but his beauty, like all Grigoris’ beauty, was cold. His white hair, the same shade as all ancient ones had, was an oddly attractive contrast to a youthful face. It fell to his shoulders with nary a wave to mar the gleam of it. His eyes glowed a deep and striking violet, a shade they all shared, in the dim light.

“I know you had your hopes up, Ariane,” he said, his normally sonorous voice soft. “You don’t have to pretend you didn’t. If it helps, you were strongly considered. But the others felt that, ultimately, Oren was the better choice.” He paused. “If Sammael can be found, he will be. I realize he is important to you, as he is to us all.”

The better choice. Simply because she had not been handpicked by the elders, because the circumstances of her turning had been borne of emotion instead of reason. No matter how hard she worked, how lethal she became, she would be seen as a mistake. The weakest among them. And Oren, above all, had orchestrated her being shunned for it.

The Grigori were taught that hate was a wasted emotion. But for Oren, who excelled at the art of subtle humiliation, Ariane feared she felt something very close to it. And now he had bested her again, finally taking from her something she desperately wanted.

“Yes, Sam is important to all of us,” Ariane said, trying to choose her words carefully as she turned back toward the window, the beckoning night. “But of everyone here, I am closest to him, Sariel. I think you know that. I don’t understand why we’re sending only one of our own to search for him when he could be hurt out there. He could be dead.”

It was her greatest fear, and Sariel was as dismissive as she’d expected him to be. He simply didn’t give in to his emotions. She didn’t really expect a vampire like Sariel to understand how much a simple friendship meant to her. He seemed above such things, beyond them. He was strong, unlike her; she was weakened by her attachments and her most private dreams. In those dreams, which she had never shared with a soul, she was happy, fulfilled, even loved—and far away from here.

A palace, however opulent, could still be a prison.

“Ariane,” Sariel said, affecting the air of a parent lecturing a willful child, “your concern is admirable, but if Sammael is still alive, he shouldn’t be difficult to find. We are adept at seeking as well as watching, as you know.” He paused. “Tell me, little one, is this about my brother? Or is it about your desire to get beyond these walls?”

Anger roiled deep within her at his suggestion. Of course she wanted to get beyond these walls! But her own needs paled in comparison to Sam’s… wherever he was.

Finally, she managed to speak, her voice steady only through the strongest effort.

“Sariel, I swear that I’m only concerned about Sam. But since you brought it up, you’re obviously aware of how stifling my situation is. In all these hundreds of years, I’ve been out exactly once. Once, when I have worked harder than anyone to show my worth. Do you know how that feels?” She waved her hand before he could answer. “No, of course you don’t. If you want to go out into the world, you go. But I…” She trailed off, wanting to make him understand how she felt about her life. “I can only sit here. Wander the grounds. Try to enjoy the little bits of life that the humans who are brought here carry with them before they’re taken back.”

“The palace is huge, as are the grounds,” Sariel pointed out. “Everything you could want to do is here or could be brought here. We’re not beholden to the same rules as the others. It’s why this place is hidden, why we are hidden. You know that. The vampires accept us as their own, and it’s important that they continue to do so. The less they know about us, the better.”

“But we are vampires,” Ariane snapped, exasperated by the same old conversation. “Aren’t we? We don’t walk in the day. We drink the blood of humans to survive. We are the same!”

“Yes and no,” Sariel replied, his expression guarded. “We carry a responsibility the others do not. We are the oldest by far, though that, too, must stay hidden. Especially now, when things have begun to shift. We are watchers, d’akara. We do not interfere. Sammael understood this. The others understand this. But you…”

He trailed off, letting Ariane finish the thought herself. And how could she not? She’d heard the words enough times, even when she wasn’t supposed to.

You’re not ready. You’ll never be ready. You’re different.

“I may not have been chosen,” Ariane said, trying to keep all anger from her voice, her face, “but that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of carrying out our duties. The duties I have trained for alongside everyone else. I’m ready, Sariel.”

She’d promised herself she wouldn’t beg. And yet here she was again. Sariel’s indulgent smile made her want to scream.

“Of course you are. One day soon, perhaps. Though, it isn’t just up to me. Given the circumstances of your turning, there is concern about your ability to refrain from intervening.”

“That was hundreds of years ago,” Ariane interjected, a snap in her voice she couldn’t cover. “I’m being punished because I was upset when I was turned?”

Sariel’s eyes darkened. “Upset is the wrong word, as you well remember. A traumatic siring will linger, Ariane, sometimes forever. Do you really think you could stand by and watch what happened to you and your family? Even your sire could not and succumbed to weakness.”

“My sire—”

Sariel held up a hand to stop her. “You already know I will not tell you who he is. He asked that the shame remain his own. It’s best for both of you. For all of us.”

Ariane stiffened, even as her stomach twisted into knots the way it always did when she had a conversation like this… and there had been many. She remembered so little of her siring, and only flashes of what had come before. Those brief glimpses of horror were bad enough. There had been blood, smoke, hideous laughter… beloved voices raised in tormented screams. Then strong arms, a hushed voice. Darkness.

Most of her mortal life remained a mystery to her. Her memories began in earnest at the weeks she’d spent confined to her chambers, weeping so long and hard that the tears had turned to blood. Weeping without truly knowing why. And there was no one to give her even a piece of her mortal past. Only the ancient ones knew who her sire was, and they kept their silence on the matter.

Sometimes she wondered if they’d killed him for what he’d done.

“We have all felt it, the desire to shape things to our will instead of watching events unfold,” Sariel lectured her, his tone soft and condescending in the way only an ancient one could manage. “But that is not our place. We must detach from instinct, leave our humanity behind us. Living as we do and trying to exist any other way is madness. Yet even now, Ariane, all these years later, I still see you struggle with what you were.”

“But Sam said—”

“His name is Sammael, d’akara. Show his name the respect it deserves.”

Ariane’s mouth snapped shut at the steely command. It was worthless to argue with him, and she should have known better. He demanded respect, but he called her d’akara, “little one,” as though she were a child. She was fast and strong. She could speak a multitude of languages, debate music and philosophy and art. She could fight more nimbly than most of her blood sisters and brothers. And she had learned these things for… what? To sit here and rot because she had feelings?

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