Home > Left for Undead (Crimson Moon #6)

Left for Undead (Crimson Moon #6)
Author: L.A. Banks

PROLOGUE

New Orleans.   Fall

Fae archers stood at the Sidhe wall and trained their arrows toward the tree line as a slow, unseasonable frost overtook the branches. A sudden hard chill sliced through the humid air all around them, keening their senses for a potential Unseelie onslaught.

The Captain of the Guards held up one hand, silently cautioning his archers to wait until they could tell the true direction of the enemy’s approach. Skilled eyes remained focused on the minute changes in the flora as they picked up on a telltale clue. Thicker ice was forming on the branches that faced the glamour-hidden golden path to the drawbridge. But as the captain lifted an arrow from his quiver, a regal female voice rang out.

“Friend, not foe! I beseech you—I have come to seek asylum from Sir Rodney!”

The entire garrison exchanged confused but skeptical glances. Again using hand signals, the captain sent his men into better positions, while cautioning them with his eyes to look alive and not to fall for a possible Unseelie ambush.

“Then show ye-selves!” the captain shouted around a stone pillar. “All of you!”

The stone path instantly glazed over with a thin covering of ice and Queen Cerridwen stood between two formidable-looking Gnome bodyguards. Her hands were concealed within a white mink muff and she was shrouded in a luxurious full-length hooded white mink coat that flowed out in a long train behind her. Perspiration rolled down her Gnomes’ faces from beneath their heavy Cossack-styled hats and furs. But the queen’s composure despite the Louisiana heat remained eerily cool as she simply pushed back her hood with ease, moving slowly so that the nervous captain could observe her hands. Not a platinum strand of hair was out of place as she turned her delicate face up to the captain’s and made her appeal while her intense ice blue eyes beheld him.

“We have traveled far under dangerous conditions,” she said calmly. “I need to confer with my husband on matters of national security to our Fae way of life.”

“Ex-husband,” an elderly disembodied voice stated bluntly. Within seconds Garth became visible as he joined the standoff on the fortress outer wall.

“No matter what you may think of me, dear Garth,” Queen Cerridwen cooed, “in the end, Rodney and I have a link that goes back as long as—”

“Too long,” Garth snapped, cutting her off. He pulled out a wand with crooked fingers from the sleeve of his monk habit–styled robe; it was a thinly veiled threat—one that, wisely, neither Cerridwen nor her Gnomes responded to. “There are some things that our monarch may be blind to, but that I, as his top advisor, will always see.”

Queen Cerridwen allowed a tight smile to form on her pale rosebud-shaped lips while she studied the ancient wizard. “Then see that I have come with limited guards and did not arm myself to match your rude challenge just now. My mission is much too important to be derailed at the foot of your monarch’s drawbridge.”

Garth arched an eyebrow and glanced at the Captain of the Guards, then let out a little snort of disgust. “This is not the Cerridwen I am used to. Something is clearly awry.”

“There could be more of them in the trees awaiting an ambush,” the worried captain murmured to Garth.

Garth nodded but spoke quietly: “But if we have their queen and a full garrison at our walls, then the odds that they will siege the palace are tremendously reduced.”

As though reading their minds, Queen Cerridwen stepped forward. Using a simple hand signal, as one would command well-trained hunting dogs, she bade her guards to stay where they stood.

“I need to speak to Rodney,” she said, never blinking as she fixed her gaze on Garth. “It is a matter of utmost importance.”

After a moment, the elderly Gnome gave a curt nod with his bald head, which was enough to signal the captain to lower the drawbridge.

“Only you,” Garth said, addressing the queen.

Queen Cerridwen nodded and lifted her chin as she gracefully glided forward. “As only I would expect. But I thank you for your limited hospitality, nonetheless.”

Her ice-heeled shoes clicked against the bridge, ringing out in the deafening silence as garrison archers kept their deadly arrows trained on her. The moment she was on the other side of the bridge, anxious guards quickly drew up the only access to the castle. Then, just as quickly, a phalanx of guards surrounded her.

“Your wand, Your Majesty,” Garth said in a suspicious tone, then grudgingly gave her a courtesy bow before holding out his hand.

She calmly gave her muff to the closest guard beside her and then carefully reached into her flowing left sleeve with two fingers to produce a crystalline ice wand. As he cautiously accepted the queen’s instrument of death, Garth nodded and silently dispatched a runner to alert Sir Rodney.

“I will show you to the war room,” Garth said in a dignified tone.

Queen Cerridwen tilted her head with an amused expression. “But I was so hoping you’d show me to his private bedchamber.” She released a melodramatic sigh with merriment in her eyes as the old Gnome drew back, clearly shocked. “No matter, we’ll wind up there sooner or later. You know Rodney almost as well as I do, and some of his notions of détente should be predictable by now even for you, dear Garth.”

CHAPTER 1

Elder Vlad stood by the desecrated mausoleum peering down at the charred male corpse. Blue blood slowly blackened beneath the visible pulsing veins in the paper-thin skin of Vlad’s bald head while his black irises completely overtook the whites of his eyes. The Vampires around him were quiet and still under the blue-white wash of moonlight in the cemetery, awaiting his permission to investigate. Fury threaded through his body like dark tendrils of hatred, although the ancient vampire remained stoic.

“Who did this?” His rhetorical question was uttered between his fangs with deadly calm. He already knew the culprits; his angry query was simply a command for external confirmation. Elder Vlad glanced up, holding his top hunter lieutenant’s gaze, and impatiently waited for an answer.

“We believe it had to be Unseelie Fae, Your Excellency. Just like the others.” Caleb dropped to one leather-clad knee, allowing his long spill of platinum hair to flow over his shoulders as he more closely examined the Vampire ash. The black leather coat Caleb wore dusted the ground, billowing out around him from supernatural fury.

“Undoubtedly death by daylight invasion,” Caleb said, suddenly looking up baring fangs as his rage kindled. “I suspect that Monroe Bonaventure went to ground, sleeping here in his mausoleum for fear that since the mansions of so many others had been recently overrun that his might be as well. But they found the poor bastard anyway.”

   
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