Sunday, June 2, 2013

Chapter 1, Salvation


CHAPTER 1

 

 

   Braith’s shoulders were heaving, his chest was tense, and his arms sore from the amount of damage he’d just rendered. His vision was blurred by a hazy cloud of red that coated his eyes and made it nearly impossible to see. He’d never experienced anything like it. When he’d lost his vision, the world around him had consisted entirely of blackness. Then Aria had come into his life and brought the illumination back, brought color back and given him the gift of vision again.

   Now the blackness had become the deep hue of blood. Instead of being completely blind this time though, shadows still moved across his field of vision and he could make out the blur of other obstacles in the clearing.

   He couldn’t see them clearly but he knew that Gideon and Ashby had retreated far from him; David, Daniel, and William were standing by something solid, perhaps a rock, maybe a tree, only Jack was brave enough to remain anywhere nearby. He didn’t know what had caused this shadowed haze, he’d never been able to keep his vision this far from her, but it had been steadily improving when he was away from her. He thought it was due to the increasing amount of her blood within him.

   She had strengthened him, and he’d let her down. He’d lost her.

   He never should have agreed to her going into that town, never should have let her go. However, there was no letting Aria do anything. One way or another she was going to go, and he’d vowed to let her have the freedom to spread her wings. He’d been trying so hard not to squash her wild and beautiful spirit with his heavy handed, overbearing manner.

    He’d been concerned about her safety, but he hadn’t actually thought that it would be overly risky for her in the town. The weather had driven most people inside, the dark servant’s cloak would cover her, and though she’d been his blood slave few people within that town had ever seen her, and even fewer would remember her. Or so he’d thought.

   He’d been an idiot.

   His entire body shuddered as he grasped hold of a small tree. His muscles rippled as he ripped it from the ground and hurled it through the air. Gideon and Ashby scrambled to get out of the way as it bounced in their direction. Braith stood, shaking as he tried to gather some semblance of control, but he was quickly spiraling toward something dark and dangerous.

   This dark spiral was worse than when he’d fed from his own kind, worse than when Aria had first left him in the palace. The only thing allowing him to hang on was the fact that he knew she was still alive, and that he could find her. Soon. Now. He spun on his heel as he stormed across the clearing toward the town.

   Jack moved to intercept him. “Braith you have to calm down, think about this rationally. We don’t know where she is…”

   “I can find her,” he grated.

   “Yes, yes you can, but if you go charging after her you’ll ruin every aspect of surprise we have. Until we know who has her, and where they have taken her, you have to stay in control, you’re our leader…”

   Jack broke off mid-sentence as Braith began to move toward him. Apparently Jack’s survival instinct was firmly intact as he held up his hands and took a couple of steps back. A muffled sound in the woods whipped Braith’s head around. He strained to make out the figure emerging from the forest, but it was nothing more than a dark shadow amidst the red. Even his heightened sense of smell seemed to be failing him, or it was buried beneath the crushing wrath and worry consuming him.

   “Max,” Gideon murmured.

   “Max,” Braith snarled. The boy had been lost in the confusion and hadn’t returned with William and Daniel.

   Max’s blurry figure staggered, he fell to his knees and attempted to get back up, but fell back again. David, William and Daniel fled the safety of whatever they had been hiding behind to reach Max’s side. They helped Max back to his feet and hoisted him between them. The cloying scent of Max’s blood hung heavily in the air, but Braith couldn’t see the extent of the damage that had been done to him.

   “How bad is he injured?” he demanded.

   “He’ll survive,” Jack assured him. 

   An extreme thirst for blood was beginning to ravage his veins as he stalked toward Max. “Where have you been?”

   “I followed them,” Max croaked out. “I had to make sure I knew where they were taking her. I broke away when they entered the gates of the palace walls.”

   Braith’s hands fisted as he fought the urge to rip everything around him to shreds in order to assuage the volatile monster looking to burst free of him. The palace, his father, it was the worst imaginable fate for her, but if he got to her soon…

   He would get there soon, now. He would tear that palace apart with his bare hands if it became necessary.

   “The soldiers will take her straight to father,” Jack muttered.

   “Not soldiers,” Max inserted. “It wasn’t soldiers that had her.”
   There was something in the boy’s voice, a tremor that briefly pierced through Braith’s cloudy haze. He nudged Jack out of the way as he struggled to focus on Max. “Who? Who has her?” he barked.

   “It was your brother.”

   Braith felt as if he’d been kicked in the gut, Jack let out a low curse. “Caleb?” Braith managed to choke out.

   “Yes.”

   This time it wasn’t rage that overtook Braith, but a fear so intense that it left him momentarily immobile. Caleb would destroy her; Caleb would break the spirit that Braith had been trying to keep free. In that moment he didn’t know who he hated more, himself or his brother. Red suffused his vision once more as a bellow of anguish ripped from him.

   Broken. He felt broken, but nowhere near as broken as Aria would be when Caleb was done with her. Even if he could reach her right now, it may already be too late for her.

  

***

 

   Daniel spread the papers out before him; his nimble fingers ran over the lines of the street and homes that he’d hastily sketched into the plans. Jack kept one eye on the drawings and the other warily focused on Braith. His brother was wound to the point of breaking, his arms folded firmly over his chest, and his jaw locked as he kept his head bowed. This silent, seething Braith was even more frightening than the one that had ripped trees from the ground and snapped them in half with a flick of his wrist. This Braith was a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode.

   If they didn’t get into that palace soon, Jack was worried that Braith would turn on them in order to get to her. He prayed that Braith’s reason, and ability to lead, would win out over his determination to get to Aria, and the unraveling Jack could sense slithering beneath his brother’s still exterior. He’d been hoping and planning that Braith would be able to keep it together without Aria, but he sure hadn’t expected this to happen.

   The worst thing he ever could have imagined happening to Aria was Caleb getting his hands on her. It made him sick to think of what his father and brother would do to her, made him feel like heedlessly rushing into the palace to get her back. She didn’t deserve such a hideous fate.

   “We can split up through the streets,” Daniel stated. The drawing wasn’t Daniel’s best, but then he hadn’t exactly had the time to put the detail into it that he normally would have. The other group they had planned to send into the town to survey it, had become more of a rescue team when they stumbled across Daniel and William trying to escape the king’s soldiers.

   Daniel’s fingers trembled as he pointed to the two main roads that split through the town. His left eye was nearly swollen shut, and his cheek bore a nasty bruise that Jack suspected shaded a broken or at least a fractured, bone. William was pale beside him, his face nearly as bruised. His lip had been split open, and dark stitches had been required to repair it. Max had fared slightly better than the brothers, but his focus had been on staying with Aria, instead of trying to fight through the soldiers that had been with Caleb. If it hadn’t been for Daniel’s sensibility, Jack was certain that William wouldn’t have returned at all.

   “The town won’t divide us as much as we had thought. The roads are big enough for us to move through in large groups that won’t be easily taken down by the people, and whatever vampires remain there. Though, I suspect that after today the king will increase his forces within the town.”

   “Or he’ll pull them all behind the palace walls and into the palace town in order to strengthen his forces there,” David murmured. “We know he cares little for human life, it is the palace he’ll look to protect the most.”

   “David’s right.” Braith’s voice was strained but he didn’t lift his head to look at them as he remained focused on the ground. “The king may even send some troops into the woods to search for me, but from here on out the full force of his might will be concentrated within the walls surrounding the palace.”

   “How will he know you’re here?” David inquired. “Just because Aria was discovered it doesn’t mean he knows that you’re here, that any of us are here.”

   Braith’s jaw grated back and forth, his hands clenched on his biceps. “He may suspect that there is a militia within these woods, but he will know that I am here because he will smell my blood in her.”

   Jack was motionless as he awaited David’s reaction to Braith’s blunt statement. David blinked once, twice, and then his mouth parted. “I see.”    

   Daniel’s fingers tapped on the drawing as his focus turned to Braith. “I also believe the town should be razed as we move through it.”

   Jack did a double take at Daniel’s words. Braith’s head slowly turned toward him; even behind the thick glasses Jack could see the burning ruby coals of his eyes. A chill crept down his back, he wasn’t entirely certain it was even Braith standing over there anymore, or if it was something far more hazardous and feral.

   “There are humans in that town,” Braith reminded him.

   Or perhaps Jack was wrong; his interest was piqued as he studied his brother. He was showing signs of concern and reasoning beyond Aria again. Was it possible that Braith was actually going to keep it together? Was it possible that Aria and Braith could be separated? He felt no hope at the realization. If Aria survived this, the worst thing Jack would ever do in his lengthy life was take her away from Braith again. They had all done things they didn’t want to do though, and they would all do far more before this war was over. 

   Daniel was paler than normal, but his eyes were unwavering. “That town is a death trap. If the king doesn’t pull all of his soldiers from the town, and they somehow get the chance to come up behind us, there will be nowhere for us to retreat to if it becomes necessary. There are far too many homes and places for them to hide and wait for us. It should be burned as we move through so they can’t be given the chance to set a trap for us.”

   Jack was taken aback by the ferocity behind Daniel’s words. Gideon quirked an eyebrow as he nodded approvingly. Xavier’s head cocked a little, a small smile played across his lips as he studied Daniel, William, and David with that same strange look he’d been studying Aria with ever since he’d met her. Jack found it bizarre, even for Xavier.

   Daniel’s gaze darted to his father. David was just as pale as his son, his lips were pressed firmly together as he stared at the hastily scrawled plans. “There are innocent casualties in every war and it needs to be done,” David confirmed.

   “They aren’t that innocent,” William growled. He tugged at his hair as he strolled around the table and continued on toward the edge of the woods. “Burn it then. Burn it all, and I’ll make sure we burn that bitch with it.”

   “William,” David’s tone of voice was low and warning. “This is not for revenge, no matter how badly we want it to be, that is not what we are about. We will limit the amount of innocent blood that is shed.”

   William shot him a dark look; his busted lip curled in a sneer, but for once he held his tongue. David stared at Braith for some sort of confirmation, but when none was forthcoming, Jack responded. “We will.”

   David didn’t look overly relieved but he didn’t press the issue. Jack anxiously watched Braith as he approached the table and plans. The other aristocrats stood behind him as they awaited his decision. Jack knew they sensed something off in Braith, but for now they seemed to be willing to trust his judgment. Jack didn’t know what would happen if Braith refused to see reason and put them all in peril, didn’t know what would happen if Braith turned on them to vent his wrath.

   “If we set the town on fire it will also provide an effective distraction for you to slip into the tunnel you spoke of,” Daniel continued.

   “We’ll take what weapons we can from the town, and level it as we go,” Braith declared as he settled his glowing eyes on William. “I will have the girl that recognized Aria though, she is mine.”

   William’s jaw clenched and unclenched, a muscle jumped furiously in his cheek. Please stay quiet, Jack pleaded silently. It wasn’t William that spoke though. “If you mean the girl that grabbed Aria, she’s not in the town anymore,” Max informed him.

   Braith’s nostrils flared. “She grabbed Arianna?”

   Jack swallowed heavily, he stepped forward, but he had no idea what he was going to do if Braith lost control again. He didn’t even know who Braith would go after first if he did go berserk. He certainly couldn’t stop him, and he would likely be killed in the process if he tried. Max nodded. “Yes, she seemed to know Aria from the palace. I don’t know how…”

   Max broke off as Braith rested his hands on the table and leaned forward. The muscles in his forearms and biceps rippled beneath the simple, short brown tunic of the rebel people that he had taken to wearing in the woods. “Was she a blond?” he growled.

   Max glanced anxiously at Jack, he nodded in response to Max’s unspoken question. Unfortunately, lying to Braith wasn’t going to help in this situation. “Yes.”

   Jack felt a crack, a sizzle of power that shot through the air like a lightning bolt. He’d never experienced anything like it, not even when his father was at his deadliest had he radiated a destructive force as strong as the one that radiated from within Braith. Even the aristocrats took a step back as the hair on Jack’s arms stood on end. He’d known that Braith could destroy their father if it became necessary, but he realized now that he wasn’t entirely certain Braith would survive it. Jack wasn’t sure if Braith would be able to return from the depths he would delve into if he completely lost it and allowed the monster within him to rule.

   Jack was completely immobile as Braith became as still as stone. He could feel the impending unraveling in the air but Braith somehow managed to keep himself restrained. Though, Jack suspected that a few more trees would be destroyed when this meeting was over. 

   “Lauren.” Jack had no idea who that was, but the name appeared to leave a bad taste in Braith’s mouth. “Where is she?”

   “She went to the palace with your brother.”

   The strange stiffness overtook Braith once more. “We’ll move on the palace tonight.”

   “Not tonight,” Jack inserted quickly, half frightened he was going to have his head ripped off. “We require more time to plan, more time to maneuver Braith. Not all of the humans have weapons yet, we’re still working on carving the stones for arrowheads, and we have to gather supplies in order to be better prepared, and trained. Not all of the vampire’s we recruited from the outer villages have arrived. If we go in before we’re fully prepared we’ll lose.”

   Jack was trying to ignore the crimson eyes glaring at him from behind those lenses. It was a disconcerting, awful spectacle that left him a little rattled. For the first time he truly realized the cruelty Braith was willing to unleash and inflict for her. Braith was holding onto control because he knew where she was, knew that she was still alive. Although they all suspected what might be happening to her, it wasn’t confirmed, and Braith was certain that he would get her back. If something were to happen to her before then…

   There would be no control, and there would be many deaths before Braith was stopped.

   Jack realized that he’d been completely wrong; his plan with Aria and Gideon never would have worked. Braith would hunt her to the ends of the earth and back, they never would have been able to get far enough away from the rampage Braith would go on. And when he found her, Jack shuddered at the thought. It wasn’t a side of Braith he ever wanted to encounter. Braith hadn’t killed him when he’d taken Aria before; he wasn’t fool enough to believe he would be so lucky a second time.

   That was a problem for another time though. For now they had to keep Braith calm enough to see reason, to wait and organize, and to get them successfully into the palace. To get Aria back from Caleb.

   “She’s my daughter.” Though David spoke, Braith’s gaze lingered on Jack before he turned away. To David’s credit he didn’t flinch when those glowing red orbs turned on him, but his eyes did widen slightly. “I want her back as much as you do. I can’t bear to think about what she’s going through, I’ve already imagined every horror known to man when she was in that palace before, and she was lucky that time. From the way you talk about this Caleb…”

   He broke off as his voice hitched, his throat worked furiously as he fought back his tears. “She is my daughter, I created her, the circumstances of her life and her family have formed her, and one thing she understands and accepts is sacrifice. She knows that we won’t be coming for her, at least not right away, and she will forgive us for that. She won’t forgive us if we fail because of her.”

   “You don’t know Caleb,” Braith grated.

   “I don’t, but I know my daughter and she will put the greater good above herself.” Jack glanced at Gideon as he shifted nervously and lowered his head. “She would never forgive us if we rushed in and ruined everything. I want her back as badly as you do, but we will fail if we aren’t prepared. If we lose because we’re careless, what will they do to her after…?” It took a moment for him to regain his composure again. “I know you understand her; it’s why you let her go into that town in the first place. She won’t be caged, and she can’t be broken, no matter what they do to her. We must be organized, and fully equipped, if we’re going to have any hope of getting her back alive.”

   Braith remained still for a moment, then faster than the human eye could see he picked up the table and heaved it. The heavy slab of oak flew through the air before shattering against a tree across the clearing. Daniel and William jumped back as papers and debris scattered about their feet. David closed his eyes as his head bowed. He had stated his opinion, but he’d still hoped that Braith might choose the course of action they all knew to be wrong.

   “Get the supplies and make sure those vampires are here soon!” Braith snarled before he disappeared into the woods.

 

13 comments:

  1. omg omg omg omg... the 8th can't get here sooner. I have been waiting forever...... omg.... amazing

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  2. THis is sooooooo deeeeep!!! I love it and can't wait. Can't wait til' Saturday. THanks for this awesome sneak peek. You Rock!!!!

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  3. 8th is a saturday...PERFECT!!!! won´t stop until the end. might read the whole serie again before to get every details!!

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  4. I'm so excited! I'm so glad it ill be released on a Saturday because I know once I pick it up I won't be able to put it down! I'm on edge wondering what's gonna happen! Yay :-)

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    1. Hopefully you don't mind a Tuesday, I released it early and it's live now :)

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  5. Just read the first chapter 1!!! can't wait to read the book on saturday!!! thank you thank you thank you!

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    1. It was released early :) It's now available!

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  6. Lord - when is this launching? Saturday morning at 12am? Please?!?

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  7. Thank you, your writing is amazing. I cannot wait to read this book.

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