Chapter 23. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

It felt as though just about everyone in the camp had told KT to rest. Sure, she was exhausted and every inch of her hurt, but how could anyone expect her to sleep when the next day would be the most important of her life. The very air around her was charged with anticipation and fear.

Her first port of call was food. Elizabeth had offered her soup but the growling in her stomach demanded something more substantial. She could smell roasted meat, so with Kai hovering nervously around her, she made her way through the tents to an open fire where men and women were sitting around eating and drinking.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Kai asked. “No offense, but you look like hell.”

“Cheers. I feel like I’ve gone twelve rounds in a boxing ring with a gorilla. It’s okay though. I remember something that Déaþscúa told me on the night he saved us from the succubus. He said ‘always remember, it’s when we don’t feel pain that we’re most vulnerable to death’. I’m hurt but I’m still alive. I intend to keep it that way.”

 “It’s just, I was scared, you know. More scared than I’ve ever been in my life. I thought I’d lost you and I had no idea how to cope with that.”

KT offered him a smile. “Since when have you ever been sentimental? I’m touched you think so highly of me.”

“Hey, don’t make fun of me. It’s hard for a pillar of blazing masculinity such as myself to express all this emotional crap. Just don’t do it again, you hear.”

“It’s not on my list of experiences to relive. I can’t make any promises though.”

She grabbed a plate and began to eat. Between mouthfuls she craned her neck to look around in every direction.

“Look at us, Kai. We’re sat surrounded by warriors and magic and nobody is trying to send us away. We’ve fought against the odds and come through the other side still breathing. Maybe this is who we are.”

“And maybe they just have more pressing issues on their minds than some nobody teenagers. I’m happy that you feel useful but don’t forget we’re here to save dad.”

“Yeah, don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten. We’ll save dad and Susan, beat Annis, and get revenge on that over-dressed swordsman.”

“Susan is dead.”

The words cut through KT, taking the wind from her sails. She placed her plate on the floor by her feet, her appetite suddenly gone. 

Kai stared at the stars above. “Annis killed her as me and dad stood by helpless. She killed her as though it was nothing. She’s stronger than before.”

A new voice made KT jump.

“Black Annis is powerful but you must have faith in your own strength, Mordekai Redthorn.” The voice belonged to the dark skinned lycan, Arteeru. He turned to KT. “You must be Mordekai’s sister. I have heard much about you both.

“Did you decide to stay and fight with us?” Kai asked the older man.

“As I said, our objectives align. The blood lycan will partake in the battle so I shall too. He is too dangerous to be left to kill those around us.” 

KT felt like she was missing something. “What is your objective? If you don’t mind me asking? Are you here just to kill that red furred lycan?”

“Yes. Members of my clan seek to erase the sins of our curse. Perhaps you should think of me as a policeman for lycans across the world. Policeman and carer. Our curse is a violent one. It takes time to control the beast inside. We try to find newly turned lycan to protect them from their own actions, and to kill those that choose violence once they have gained control.”

“What is it like, being a wolf?” she asked.

Arteeru struggled for words. “It is hard to explain. There is an all consuming bloodlust and a heightened sense of everything. Most don’t even have memories of the wolf form until the human mind can conquer the beast. This is why we try not to judge lycan on their initial actions. Too often they judge themselves for this. Many lycan are burdened with causing the death of loved ones.”

“That’s terrible,” said KT. The lycan smiled at her sadly.

“That is life. It is why those like myself seek redemption. We try to give back when we have taken so much.” As he spoke, his fingers ran along a deep scar on his throat.

KT turned at the sound of approaching footsteps. Déaþscúa joined them, collapsing into the seat beside her. He looked worn down. Pretending to act strong and confident for the others when he should have been healing was taking its toll on him.

“Jeez, I feel how you look. Utter shit.”

“Thanks,” KT muttered.

Arteeru stood and bowed his head to them respectfully. “Forgive me but I must go. Good luck for tomorrow. You will need it if you have dealings with the fairies.” He left quickly.

Déaþscúa laughed softly. “The damn fool needs to lighten up. He still can’t bare to look at me.”

“You know Arteeru?” Kai asked. “He’s a bit formal but seems a cool enough dude.”

“We had a run-in a few years back. I gave him that scar on his neck. Not a bad feat against one of his kind. He’s top tier lycan. I mean, he literally tore out my liver, but I’d say it was a fair tradeoff.”

“What happened?” KT said.

Déaþscúa shrugged. “It’s not my place to say. Put it this way, we all have dark moments in life. Arteeru reached a crossroad and needed reminding that he was free to choose which path he took.”

“Christ. Is there anybody here that you haven’t tried to kill?” Kai asked.

Déaþscúa frowned and looked around the camp. He was silent for a moment. “Do you two count?”

KT started laughing. Here they were on the eve of battle, with the entire world potentially in the balance, yet she was enjoying herself. It was surreal. Tomorrow’s problems were for tomorrow. This last week had taught her that life needed to be lived in the moment because you never knew when it would be gone. She was in pain and was terrified but the laughter cut through it all. She laughed until tears streamed down her cheeks with Kai and Déaþscúa looking on in concern.

***

Ailia stood at the edge of the camp, her back against a tree that was thicker than she was. The night was a vampire’s ally, but it was also a lonely place, a place where quiet contemplation came all too easily. 

She ran her tongue along the scarred gum where her fangs had been. It had become a habit lately. She’d expected them to have grown back by now. The cuts on her body were still visible too. Whatever Golman had done to her hadn’t been overwritten by her powers yet.

As a child, this prospect was upsetting. She was hurt and the wounds weren’t going away. As a vampire it was an insult to her dignity. What was a vampire without fangs? She was like a declawed cat. As an intellectual though, the whole situation interested her. How had he done it?

She turned and slammed her hand into the tree. The wood split and groaned as it collapsed to the ground. She looked at her hand. No damage.

“We have a global warming crisis on our hands, you know? Hardly the time to be killing trees. Not that you should be killing something centuries old because you want to throw a tantrum.”

“That’s rich coming from someone who flies everywhere in a house sized helicopter. You’ve never been one for nature.”

Glory stepped out from the light of the camp to stand beside Ailia. She grabbed her chin and looked her up and down.

“Man, they did a real number on you.” Her tone was light but her eyes looked concerned.

Ailia batted her hand away. “It’s nothing. Why are you here anyway?”

“Lotsa reasons. Annis needs to be stopped and Déaþscúa offered me a fair price. That and I may be wanted by the Moot for breaking into the Heart. I needed to see some things for myself.”

“Fair enough. That’s not what I meant though. Why are you here talking to me?”

“That? No reason. Just wanted to see how you were. You put on your childish persona and most people accept that as who you are. I know better though.”

“You think you know me better? I’m over three hundred years old. You’ve known me fifteen years. Ten of which we’ve barely spoken in. You are nothing to me.”

“Maybe,” Glory said softly. “I’ve grown up but that doesn’t mean I won’t fight to protect you.”

“Protect me? I’m a motherfucking vampire! I could kill half this camp before anyone even noticed. I don’t need protection from someone like you. In another hundred years when you are dust, I’ll still be alive and just as strong as ever.”

“Yup. You’ll still be a three foot tall vampire without fangs, friends or family. Makes the cold embrace of death seem kinda comforting, don’t it?”

Ailia reached up to rip the woman’s throat out but stopped herself. She lowered her hand and turned away.

“Just leave me alone.”

“Fine. You’re no fun to taunt when you’re like this. Just know that I’m here for you. I might not be that same girl but you’re still important to me. Got that?”

She walked away, leaving Ailia alone with her thoughts. Ailia stayed there awhile until she finally reached into her pocket and took out a small case. Inside was a set of fanged dentures. She stared at them for a moment then fixed them into her mouth.

It was only something simple she’d put together in her free time while others had been planning. She had felt naked without her fangs but acknowledging that she wasn’t coping without them felt nearly just as bad. She practiced smiling a few times. They weren’t very strong but hopefully they would do.

She tried to cast the negative thoughts from her mind and focus on tomorrow’s bloodshed. This improved her mood no end. Death always made her happy. It was what had drawn her to Déaþscúa. They were both cold-blooded killers who hid behind playful veneers. 

Yes. That was why she fought. Because she enjoyed it. Plain and simple. What side she was on didn’t really matter, so long as she could kill. 

She smiled a genuine smile this time. The night was still young. She might as well enjoy it. She shadow-stepped away, her twisted giggles rising through the cold night air.

Previous – Chapter 22.

Next – Chapter 24.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 23. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

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