Back at the moment Sahvage’s throat was slashed, he had one, and only one thought, going through his brain: Maybe he was finally getting off this fucking train.
That’s what he was thinking as he went down on his knees and felt the warm pump of his blood breaking through his fingers and falling free to soak into his pants and pool on the concrete. As the fight crowd bolted, the scent of incoming death was loud in his nose and his brain was already slowing down- so he had some hope, some optimism that finally, after all these years—
Who knew that human had it in him.
And speak of the stupid, the skinny guy with the knife in his hand scrambled out from under and tore off like his life depended on it. Sahvage let the fucker go. The quick bastard deserved the bid for freedom given that slick move with the hidden blade. Although if that female hadn’t been such a distraction—
Before he lost consciousness, Sahvage’s brain ordered his head to turn to where she’d been standing. But things were draining rapidly, energy, awareness, cognition. So he didn’t make a lot of headway with that. Instead, the world went on a whirl, spinning around him.
The funneling sensation ended with a clapping impact, something cold and hard hitting the side of his face—and he wondered who had swung a frozen salmon at his jaw like a baseball bat. Except no, it wasn’t a pescatarian assault. It was the concrete floor he’d been standing on rushing up to grab his body and hold it down.
Wait, that didn’t make sense.
And wasn’t that great, he thought as his vision tapped out, even though his eyelids were still open.
Maybe this time, he thought with an exhausted anticipation. Maybe . . . this . . . time . . .
He was momentarily surprised as his vision got back with the program, but then he recognized that another brilliant, blinding light was calling him to attention. At first, he thought it was the Fade, but no. The source of it swung away. And then there was another. And another—
The cars that had lit the fighting area were getting out of Dodge.
And someone was standing over him.
That female . . . the one who had shouted at him. And even as he bled out, he took note of her. Which was so much better than having his life flash before his eyes.
She was tall, and dressed simply, her jeans and thick fleece out of place with the elaborate, revealing shit that the humans wore. Her hair was pulled back, so it was hard for him to tell what color it was, and her face was angular, the cheekbones high, the jaw strong, the hollows between the two suggesting she was hungry some portion of the time.
What the hell was she doing in a place like this?
As another car took off, its blue-bright headlights streamed over her and her wide, scared eyes.
“Go,” he told her as she knelt down. “Leave me.”
When she didn’t move and didn’t acknowledge his words, he wondered if he’d only spoken in his head—
Sahvage started to cough, but it was weak because there wasn’t a lot of air in his lungs. And goddamn, his mouth was full of copper.
The female looked around, and that was when he saw the ponytail she had her hair in. Dark hair, but with blond streaks. Then she was down on his level and her mouth was moving.
What the hell was she doing? She needed to take care of himself—
Herself. She needed to take care of herself.
Just as he was getting ready to stand up and push her over the side of the fucking level, she straightened to her full height and took one last, long stare at him. She seemed pained. He wanted to tell her not to bother.
Even if they’d been intimates, he wasn’t worth that. And they were strangers.
But then she disappeared into thin air, the space she had inhabited vacated, the last of the cars that had been used to light the fight, a boxy black SUV, squealing its tires and passing right through exactly where she had been standing.
The thing nearly ran him over. He wished it had finished the job for him.
As the last of the lights faded, and the sounds of the humans became silence, and the temperature of the night grew colder and colder, Sahvage smiled in the pool of his own blood.
Finally, a female who did what he’d told her when it really counted. As opposed to . . .
“You cannae save me.”
As his charge, Rahvyn, spoke the words, Sahvage was struck with a terrible temper at the female who sat before him in the meadow grass. Verily, had his first cousin laid her open palm upon him, she could not have offended him more.
“What say you,” he growled deep within his chest. “I am your ghardian. ’Tis my honor and duty to ensure you—”
“Stop.” She placed her pale hand upon the rough leather of his sleeve. “I implore you. There is no more time.”
Determined not to let loose his tongue at her, he thus looked away from where they were sitting across from one another on a bed of long grass. In the midst of the quiet meadow just awakening unto spring’s warmth, beneath the splendor of a clear, starry night with a partial moon, it was unseemly to argue. It was ever unseemly to argue with Rahvyn. Yet his nature was what it was.
And she was alive because of that.
“Sahvage, you must let me go. It serves no betterment for you to fall before—”
“It serves ev’ry betterment! Have you no sense, female—”
“Let them have me,” she whispered. “You shall survive, thereafter. I promise.”
Sahvage fell silent. And could not return his gaze unto her. He stared forth whilst seeing naught, his blood seething, his urge to fight unserved with a target, for he could never hurt her. Not by deed. Not by word. Not even by thought.
“I gave my vow unto my uncle, unto your sire, to protect you. You have already insulted my black daggers, now shall you move on to my honor?”
He glowered at the tree line and the distant cottage in which the two of them had lived ever since her side of the family had been left for dead by lessers. His sire and mahmen had already died off. Without Rahvyn, he had no other in his bloodline.
When she did not say aught, he had to look upon her once more. Her hair, as black as the wings of her namesake, curled outside of the hood she had drawn up upon her head, and her pale face gleamed in the moonlight. Her eyes, black and mysterious, refused to lift unto his own as she twisted her hands in her lap, her preternatural concentration upon the nervous, uncomplicated movements stiffened his spine.
“What have you foreseen?” he demanded.
In response, there was only a silence that braced his resolve even as it threatened to break his heart.
“Rahvyn, you must tell me.”
Her stare finally rose to meet his own. Tears, luminous and tragic, trembled on her lower lashes.
“It will be easier for us both if you leave. The now.”
“The time of my rebirth is nigh. The trial I must go through is prepared for me. To find my true power, there is no other way.”
He reached out and wiped the one tear that fell. “What madness do you speak.”
“The flesh must suffer so that the final barrier may burn away.”
A chill went through Savage. “No.”
Off in the distance, there came a clamor of hooves upon the packed dirt road that skirted the open field. Torches, held high and much agitated by the driven gaits of powerful horses, came ’round at a war-like speed.
It was a guard bearing Zxysis the Elder’s colors.
“No!” Sahvage jumped to his feet, outing his black daggers and facing the attack. “Save yourself- I shall hold them!”
The count of the males upon those steeds was a dozen. Perhaps more. And behind them? A horse drawn cage of steel.
“Rahvyn,” he barked. “You must go!”
When she said nothing, he glanced over his shoulder—
Sahvage lost all track of thought. A glow had coalesced around his cousin, and as his eyes adjusted, he was confused, for he saw that stars had eschewed their placement above for an orbit about her as their sun. How was this possible—
No, not stars. They were fireflies. Except . . . ’twas the wrong season for them, was it not?
Sitting in their midst, in her black hooded cloak, her pale face lifted unto the moonlight, she was a living virtue, purity vested within mortal confines.
“No…” Sahvage’s voice cracked. “Do not let them take you.”
“It is the only way.”
“You do not need power.”
“Thereafter I shall be responsible for myself. Indeed, I may then take care of you-”
Sahvage reached through the glow, grabbed hold of her arm and dragged her up. “Leave! Now!”
Her eyes met his own. And she shook her head. “This is the way it must be-”
“No!” He checked the horsemen who had cut off from the road and were barreling o’er the long grass, tracking the light that gathered ‘round her. “There is no more time—dematerialize!”
Rahvyn shook her head slowly, and as he closed his eyes, his chest burned.
“They will tear you asunder,” he choked out.
“I know. It is the way it must be, cousin. Now, go, and allow me my destiny.”
“Rahvyn, blooded daughter of Rylan,” came the shout. “You are bound by Zxysis the Elder’s authority upon this land!”
As broadswords were unholstered and raised high, Sahvage forced his cousin behind him and prepared to engage. He had killed more than this lot, and by himself, as well. For his cousin, he would see their blood run as a river ‘cross the meadow.
“Why must you be so stubborn!” he barked at his charge.
Before he could look back at her again, the first of the arrows whistled by his ear. The second went between his braced legs. The third? Hit him in the shoulder.
And they came not from those setting upon him with those broadswords.
’Twere from the east. From . . . behind the trees that offered stout protection. The archers had stayed hidden and waited for their assistance to arrive upon those thundering hooves and with those frothing torches.
The arrow that killed him was the fourth that was sent his way, its steel tip and honed shaft penetrating his heart, the leather layers meant to protect him in the event of a knife or punch offering no resistance to the deadly rush of the sleek projectile. And even after that mortal strike, brethren of his conqueror continued to strike through his torso, the muscles of his legs, his back.
There had to be more than one archer, for the bows were reloaded too fast for merely a singleton.
“Go!” he cried as he fell to his knees. “You must take care of yourself!”
As Sahvage fell upon his side, his vision departed him, although his wits stayed live—and provided him with the recollection that he had often thought about his own death. In truth, he had always prayed unto the Scribe Virgin that he would be taken in battle, a cloak of honor and bravery the funereal draping that covered his body as it grew gray and cold.
He did not want to go like this. Failing in his service unto his charge, knowing that they would set no arrows upon her, for she would be taken alive unto Zxysis and given over to him.
For pain. Degradation. The pits of fire from which she believed she would surface, a phoenix rising out of suffering unto a seat of power.
“Do not hurt him!” Rahvyn screamed from up above, as if she were shielding him with her body. “You mustn’t kill him!”
As her voice registered in his ears, pure terror nearly animated him. But his failing heart was too far gone, and the resurgence in power and awareness lasted not nearly long enough.
Goddamn it, she was still with him . . .
That was the last mortal thought that came upon him prior to Sahvage finding himself in a vast white landscape, the door unto the Fade rushing up to him, as if he’d had an assignation with it that was long, long overdue.
No, there was one other cognition for him.
Lo, his heart was done. And not merely in the mortal sense. For that was going to be done to his beloved cousin… he was broken as he died.