Home > Evermore (Darkyn #5)(14)

Evermore (Darkyn #5)(14)
Author: Lynn Viehl

Not the flat, endless sand, Sahara variety of desert; this place was hilly and ugly and had rocks and scraggly little weeds growing here and there. Nothing moved, and she couldn't see anyone around her. The only light came from the crescent moon overhead, and stars so bright and cold that Alex wondered for a second if she had been kicked off Earth and had landed on someone else's planet.

No alien monsters lurking out here. She squinted, making out the silhouette of something small, long-eared, and covered with spines creeping across the dirt. The animal flattened itself and disappeared under a rock. Wherever here is.

It would help if she could remember more than being terrified out of her mind, and running from whatever had done that. Her memory felt like a pillow that had been beaten out of shape.

Did I come here on my own? Did I run?

Something seemed to pull her in the direction of one of the bigger hills, and, having nothing better to do, she walked to it. A very earthy-looking snake slithered out from a clump of weeds, froze when it saw her, and coiled back on itself, finally going limp and still.

Great, Alex thought. I make snakes keel over.

She had to climb all the way to the top of the hill before she saw what lay below, and then she sat down quickly and hid herself in a patch of weeds.

The valley beneath the hill stretched for miles, and tents filled up half of it. Big tents and little tents—more than a thousand, more than she'd ever seen. They weren't the Boy Scout kind, or the weekend camper variety. These were the rough, primitive, something-got-skinned homemade jobbers. Except they weren't all pretty and decorated like the ones in movies about Native Americans. Whoever had entrenched here didn't have much beyond some sacks and what looked like skinny pumpkins dangling from at least one of each tent's poles.

Why would I want to come here? Alex rubbed her cold arms and tried to think of whom she had been with before waking up. A tiny dragonfly with glowing purple-blue wings hovered next to her face, making her swat at it. Maybe I got a helpful push down the rabbit's hole.

Annoyed, she concentrated, trying to reshape the chaotic images in the back of her mind.

Names were a problem, but she could see the face of one guy with gorgeous turquoise eyes. Very tall, very cute. Another one, scarier and not so cute, but whose yellow-brown eyes made her feel safe. She couldn't quite place either one, but they felt important. She flashed on a third, a red-haired giant with scrolled blue tattoos all over his face…

If they'd dumped her here like this, with her brain a muddle, no supplies, and no way to defend herself, how could they be friends?

A sense that she'd been here before, more than once, made her wonder if she could blame anyone but herself.

She knew this place. Somehow.

The most logical thing would be to climb downhill and see who occupied the tents; they might shed some light on what had happened. As Alex thought of doing just that, an invisible icy finger traced a slow path down her spine. Suddenly, acutely aware of the sweat that soaked her and her clothes, Alex sat back on her heels and hugged her knees. The little dragonfly brought a friend, and both buzzed around her face.

Don't move from here, something inside her warned. Not an inch.

She knew she couldn't sit here all night; she had to get some indication of where she was. The tents had been put up in circles around little campfires, most of which had burned down to glowing coals. A temporary corral set off to one side of the encampment held about three hundred horses and twice as many camels.

Camels?

All right, there were camels. Maybe it was one of those wacky wilderness preserves with emus and ostriches and such. Or maybe she was in Iraq. Whatever the case, there weren't enough animals in the corral. If there was one guy in every tent, two-thirds must have come here on foot. Or maybe they drove, and the parking lot was at the other end of the valley.

Three dragonflies flew in lazy circles in front of her, glowing like purple-blue night-lights.

Alex had a feeling that if she hiked through the hills, she wouldn't see any signs of modern life. No RVs, trailers, cars, or motorcycles. Not a single battery-operated radio, lantern, or camp stove. Whoever was here was here, and didn't have much. If there really was anyone here. Other than the animals and the dragonflies, there were no signs of life, not even guards patrolling the perimeter.

Why would I expect guards? I'm not in the middle of a war zone.

Yet the instant Alex thought that, everything seemed different. During her time in the Peace Corps, she'd seen plenty of tribal and government troops who bivouacked in the rough. They'd kept their encampments just as sparse and tidy as this one so that they could be broken down, packed up, and moved at a moment's notice.

On foot. In a desert. In a place with weird bugs, no electric lights, no parking lots, and stars she didn't recognize.

Alex froze as someone spoke from behind her in a language she didn't understand. She turned her head to see two figures in heavy armor hurrying toward her. One of them was tall, the other blocky, and both were running silent and fast. More dragonflies came, bathing her in their purple-blue light. At the same time, the smell of vanilla pound cake baking filled her head.

Alexandra.

A voice inside her mind. Well, what else? At least it was definitely someone she knew, could almost see in her head, although she couldn't think of his name. Someone had taken an eraser to the name portion of her memory for sure; she barely knew her own. Whoever the speaker was, his scent told her that he wasn't far away. She'd go to him. He'd protect her. Somehow she knew that was his job. Somehow she knew him.

The dragonflies, some twenty of them now, formed a straight line that pointed toward the encampment.

I've been waiting for you.

The words sounded gentle and tender, an invitation, not a threat. Whatever he wanted, it was bound to be nicer than whatever the two coming after her intended. She forced herself to her feet and followed the dragonflies as they flew down the hill, almost falling on her face several times before she skidded to a stop at the bottom. She could smell the animals along with his scent now, and saw that the pumpkins hanging from the tent poles were actually decapitated heads. A few were still dripping blood from the raw ends of their severed necks.

All of the heads belonged to women.

Don't look at them. They're not real. The voice came from the biggest tent at the very center of the encampment, one that glowed purple-blue like the dragonflies' wings. Walk to the light. I am here.

Alex glanced back over her shoulder. The guys in armor had made it over the hill and were sliding down it. The polished metal of the armor matched the glitter of the long broadswords they carried.

Damned if you do, decapitated if you don't?

Weaving between the smaller tents, Alex made her way through the camp. The dragonflies flanked her like an official escort. The closer she came to the center tent, the brighter it glowed. By the time she reached it the dark light radiating from it had grown so intense that it almost fried her eyes. Then she saw why.

A million dragonflies covered the tent, their wings still but pulsing with the strange light.

She reached for the tent flap, but a big hand reached out and pulled her through without opening it. The tent was not a tent at all, and for a split second her skin screamed as she passed through a thin layer of scalding, sticky fluid. Before it could burn her alive, she was standing on the other side, inside the tent, shaking all over and staring up at a stern-looking, blond-haired man.

She didn't know him, but he was huge—more than twice her size—and he looked upset.

"Hi." Alex nibbed her arms with her hands. "Uh, nice tent. This a bad time for you? I can come back."

"You stay." He tacked a smile onto the end of that, relaxing the harsh lines of his face and showcasing his snow-white teeth. A face, Alex decided, that would make any woman's insides assume the consistency of pudding. "You came."

"Yeah, I did." It would be great if she knew why, and who he was, but she'd start with the immediate problem. "Where are we?"

"Don't you know?"

Alex glanced around. "Far as I know, I'm with you, inside a tent, in a camp in the desert. Hopefully not a desert outside Baghdad. I left all my rocket launchers and hand grenades at home."

"You're dreaming," he told her, taking a step closer.

"Not really." She felt bemused by the fact that he was built like a professional wrestler but spoke with the elegant English accent of a Cambridge professor. "You would not believe what you can buy off eBay these days."

"I meant that this is a dream. One which we are sharing." He opened his arms to her, and then seemed taken aback when she didn't accept his invitation to a hug. "Why are you afraid of me?"

"Knights in shining armor chased me into a camp of headless chicks. Your tent is made out of acid Jell-O. I don't know any British men who could be headliners on RAW." She lifted her shoulders. "Makes a girl a little careful about getting into full-body contact."

"You were in danger. I felt your terror. Then you summoned me. I came at once. As I always have." He gestured around them. "This is our sanctuary."

"Uh-huh." Hid friendliness made her want to jump on him and give him a big, sloppy kiss. Alex didn't often kiss people she liked, much less strangers, so she killed that idea immediately. "How could I call you? I don't have a mobile with me. I don't know who you are."

"I understand. Other things have made you not wish to remember. It is the same every time." His hands settled on her shoulders. "I would not rush you, but God curse me, my patience is not endless."

His touch made a lot of the bad feelings take a hike. Alex wondered why she'd want to forget someone like him. He didn't have turquoise eyes, but who cared? "Waiting is no fun."

"Aye, my lady, and I no better than a lovesick squire since you left." He uttered a short, self-deprecating laugh. "I have not rested since you went away. I begin to wonder if I ever will."

"You're saying that we were together. You and me. In the past." Alex inspected him, but she couldn't recall ever being with an erudite wrestler. Surely she wouldn't have forgotten someone with such a lousy neck tattoo, made to resemble a blurry garrote of green thorns. But the only thing that rang any bells was his scent, like velvety-soft warm vanilla pound cake. "You don't have me mixed up with another lady doctor, do you?"

   
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