Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(14)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(14)
Author: J.R. Ward

As he had waited with his pet, he had taken comfort in the presence beside him, one born from his blood and shadow as directed by a ritual his Book had provided him. This was to have been the big test as up until now, the tasks he had ordered the handful he’d brought into being had been of far lesser challenge.

The murder of his dead lover’s ancient and decrepit hellren, for example, had hardly been a difficulty.

No, his primary goal in making this army was not the eradication of the Lessening Society, which had plagued the species for millennia. Rather, he wanted the heads of the Brotherhood and the Bastards on stakes and Wrath the Blind King’s body to be set afire before the wide-eyed citizens of the race, who would then be motivated to gather behind a true leader.

Himself.

Throe massaged his chest. He had been so sure of his success, but now he wondered. Mere bullets had driven his entity back from its target until it had been destroyed—

He looked down with a frown. The strange pain had come unto him exactly when the shadow had been blown apart. Was it possible…

As he tried to breathe long and slow, he found the agony was unfading, and knew he had to depart with alacrity. The Brothers were casting off whatever injury the shadow had caused them and reemerging from behind the picked-clean remnants of a car.

They were focusing on the alley where he stood.

Did they know he was here?

Stumbling into a retreat, Throe bid his legs to make good time, but the ringing discomfort in his sternum and a lack of oxygen hindered him. As he proceeded through the filthy snow and slush, he tried to will himself to dematerialize to safety, but his sensory input was too high and the spike of adrenaline that came with being too exposed made things worse.

Faster. He tried to go faster.

At least they would never know it had been him. Yes, his ambitions had been well-expressed, but who could guess he was receiving help from such an unknown, unknowable source?

His Book was not the Omega. Or at least it had not revealed itself as such.

Indeed, it was a beautiful mystery to him—

Frowning, he slowed. Why had he never wondered what the Book’s origins were…Book’s…origins…were…

Like an engine stuttering to a halt without gas, his thoughts stopped, no further cognition occurring.

Abruptly, Throe looked over his shoulder and cursed at the fact that he had allowed his enemy to close some of the distance: The Brothers were breaching the mouth of the alley, and though the one known as Vishous, the taller and goatee’d of the two, seemed to be limping, neither of them appeared to be overly compromised.

If they caught up with him, they were going to kill him.

TEN

As Ehric sat at the counter in the kitchen of Assail’s glass house, his mood had scrummed down into vile territory. He had been so sure that his cousin’s woman would respond favorably to an entreaty on his behalf.

But instead, he found himself here on this stool, continuing to stare out at the lit drive, watching all of the absolutely-no-cars coming up to the back of the mansion.

“Would you care for aught?”

He shifted his focus away from that which had proven so persistently disappointing. Markcus, the freed blood slave, was standing by the sink, his thin body strung with tension, his youthful face and ancient, haunted eyes cast in shades of worry and concern.

In reply, Ehric wanted to bite the male’s head off. But not only was that unfair, it was cruel. Markcus was not like the others in the household, to war bred and trained. On the contrary, he was but an orphan in this world, and as he had only recently been freed by Assail, the male required the sort of kindness and patience that debauched mercenaries were typically unfamiliar with.

Ehric passed his eyes over the black slave band that had been tattooed around the male’s throat.

“No, Markcus,” he said roughly. “I am well in hand, thank you—”

The cell phone next to him went off with a vibration that sent the unit on a wander across the granite. When he saw who it was, he cursed, but answered.

“Healer,” he intoned.

Doc Jane, as she was known, hesitated. “Ehric, how are you?”

“I am well, thank you.” He had never understood the wasted time of pleasantries. But he did not wish to offend the female who had tried so hard and for so long with his cousin. “And you?”

“I’m good.” There was a pause. “Listen, I wanted to follow up on our meeting of the night before last about Assail. I left you a message yesterday?”

“I did not receive it.” And by that, he meant that he had not listened to what she had recorded. “Forgive me.”

“That’s all right. I, ah, I don’t want to pressure you in any way, but I would just like to clarify where you and Evale are with respect to your cousin? I’m afraid I wasn’t clear on whether or not you had made a decision.”

Unable to stay still, Ehric got up and walked out into the open seating area that faced the river, the vast space populated with furniture that his cousin had purchased with the home. As no lights were on, the sofas and chairs, tables and lamps, were nothing but shapes and shadows in a palette of blacks and grays, the decor doing nothing to improve his utter lack of optimism.

Verily, Assail’s condition had been weighing on him for weeks now, and he did not relish being the decider of the male’s fate. Yet he could not bear the suffering.

“Hello?” the healer prompted. “Have I lost you?”

Stopping up at the great glass expanse, he stared out at the snow-covered lawn that terminated at the shore of the Hudson River. Across the sluggish waterway, the city of Caldwell’s dense urban core was an uneven pattern of vertical lights that were static and horizontal ones that moved.

“No,” he muttered. “You have not lost me.”

“Would you prefer to take no action at this time? There is no rush.”

“Other than the hell he is in.” Ehric paused and reminded himself that males did not express weakness—except then his mouth moved anyway. “I hate the prison he is in. He is the last who would wish to be immobile, trapped in a body he cannot control. You say he has no brain waves…but what of his soul?”

The healer sighed with regret. “No, you’re right. He has been suffering, and his quality of life is…poor to say the least.”

“I thought perhaps I had come up with a solution. Alas, I fear that is not true.”

“What kind of solution?”

“It matters not.” As he fell silent, he waited for another idea to come unto him. “We are at the end of things, aren’t we.”

“You have as much time as you and your brother need.”

“If I were in that condition, I wouldnae favor indecision.”

“He doesn’t appear to be in pain.”

“Do you know that or just assume that?” When she didn’t immediately answer, he nodded even though she couldn’t see him. “So you are not sure.”

“His scans lead us to believe that—”

“It is time. Enough with this. Evale and I will leave now and come unto you. We will do what must needs be done, and be there when he…” As his voice cracked, he cleared his throat. “We will not desert him in his last moments.”

“I can appreciate how hard this is for you,” the healer said grimly, “and I’m glad—well, not that any of you are in this situation, but that you clearly appreciate its gravity as you do. I have been struggling myself with his case.”

Indeed, the sorrow in her voice was something that comforted him—as it suggested he and his brother were not alone in their grief.

The female continued. “While you arrange to come in, I’ll get everything ready—”

“Wait.” He closed his eyes. “What does…what happens at the end?”

“We are going to give him morphine to ensure he feels no discomfort. And then I am going to stop his heart from beating.”

“He won’t feel anything?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“In this, I am absolutely sure.”

As Ehric reopened his lids, he saw that his twin had entered the room behind him. In the glass, Evale’s reflection was still as a mountain, the light from the kitchen turning his body into a looming shadow.

   
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