He ripped his hand away suddenly. “She speaks the truth, a voice led her to the necro circle. It does sound like a small child’s voice, but that must be some kind of illusion. The one that spoke to her was an unbelievably strong telepath. There’s no way to know where it was contacting her from, or how it knew what was going on. Logic tells me it must have been someone from within the compound, but with that kind of telepathic power, it could have been picking up the circle’s intent from god only knows what kind of distance.”

“So I’m cleared then?” I asked.

Dom shrugged. “To some extent. Sloan will be escorting you around for awhile, just to be safe.”

I felt my temper finally start to simmer. “You gotta be kidding me-”

“It’s not negotiable,” he said shortly.

“That’s bull-” I felt a sharp pain pierce my abdomen, then my temples. “Shit, not again,” I muttered, as my vision started to swim. Vaguely, I felt Dom grab both of my arms as I started to collapse. He called my name sharply. I blacked out.

CHAPTER THIRTY

The Grove

 I came to again in the hotel section of the druid casino. A lobby of some sort, I thought groggily. I was lying on a plush, deep red couch facing a set of elevators. There were hallways on both sides of me. I immediately noticed the strange earrings I was wearing. I fingered them. They felt like large black pearls, but I knew instantly what they actually were. Dom had placed tracking devices disguised as jewelry into my ears as I slept. Typical Dom behavior. And did it even matter at this point? I was already found.

I sat up straighter and realized that I badly needed a restroom.

I picked a hallway, walking until I found a rather swank public restroom. The bathrooms in Vegas could be fancier than most people’s living rooms. When I came back out I was all turned around again.

I headed back the way I thought I had come from, but something felt off. Nothing was quite the same. The wallpaper was upside down. That couldn’t be right… It was such a silly detail. It was nondescript wallpaper to begin with, some aesthetically pleasing pattern that didn’t mean anything. How would it do that, and why had I even noticed such a thing?

I shook my head dismissively, and continued walking. The carpet began to squish wetly under my shoes. I quickened my speed. The whole place was really starting to creep me out.

I passed a large open space that I hadn’t noticed on my way to the bathroom. It was lovely. A pine oasis amidst the usual casino decor. We must have been on the top floor of the building, because the ceiling of the indoor forest was completely glass and streamed in sunlight, which was weird, since I had thought it was still dark out… I walked into the atrium, fascinated by this druid mark on their casino.

I hadn’t taken more than a few steps into the room before I froze where I stood. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and my hands itched to reach for weapons that weren’t there. Where the f**k were my weapons? I had woken up stripped of them, and promptly walked into a trap. The impressive but harmless forest scene I’d thought I’d seen was a figment of my imagination. Or rather, it was an illusion imagined by someone and planted into my own mind.

Even down to the smell, it had fooled me briefly. No fresh pine scent here. The space was saturated in the sickening sweet smell of earthy decay. And blood. It was as though a switch had been flipped, and I caught the real picture. The trees were suddenly darker, the deep brown bark of the trunks almost black, almost every hint of green in the foliage gone to darker shadows.

The pleasant brook had no hint of blue now, but a deep, crimson red. The reddish brown earth was suddenly dotted with stark white objects. The white dots near the water were bigger, and I swallowed hard as I realized that they were human bones.

The druids had turned their backs on a violent past, where their greatest powers were earned through human sacrifice. Or so I had thought. This was a place of power earned through blood, and it was apparently still in use.

A white object bobbed near the surface of the water. I assumed at first that it was a skull, like the many spread among the dirt throughout the grove. But a gasping sound pierced the air as it reached the surface. I didn’t realize at first what I was seeing. The creature was palest white and hairless. It’s every movement was slow and..wrong, but it moved towards me unerringly. It had no eyes or nose, not even dents or bumps where they should have been. It’s mouth was a wide, toothless black hole, much too big for that strange white head. Wrong was the best word to describe everything about it. It’s body was vaguely human, but again, it was all…wrong. It’s body was emaciated and sexless, but I could see no bones moving beneath the slimy white skin of the too thin figure. It had ten fingers and ten toes, but all the digits were too long, and they were shaped with too many joints.

As I was studying the abomination I hadn’t moved, and it was in arm’s reach far too soon, considering how slowly it was moving. I wanted badly to back away, or better yet, turn and run, but I was literally frozen in place. It spoke, and it’s voice was gasping, like it was sucking the words in rather than letting them out. “First-born,” it said to me.

I didn’t respond. I couldn’t. Apparently dragons weren’t the only ones that called us the first-born. That was a revelation to me.

“First-born, I thirst,” it said, lifting one of it’s awful hands to me. I tried to shake my head, but to no avail.

“Speak,” it said, and I finally could.

“I can’t move.” Was all I could think to say.

“This place is a prison, and you our new prisoner. If you want to leave, you must pay us blood-price.” The way it said this seemed almost obscene.

I cringed away. “What is blood-price?”

“I drink my fill of your blood. If you can walk away after I am done, you may.”

I really did not like the sound of that. But I was frozen in place, and no other options were presenting themselves. Still, I needed to be clear about the limitations. “You may have blood, but only what you can take in one feeding. Then you must take this enchantment from me, and allow me to leave.”

It gave me a grotesque parody of a smile. I flinched. “The first-born has spirit, yes. But not many choices here. Who are you to make terms, when you cannot even move?”

“Those are the terms. Obviously, you need my permission to take my blood, or you would have already done it.” I was bluffing, and mentally crossing my fingers. “So, that is how you can acquire it.”


Tags: R.K. Lilley Heretic Daughters Vampires
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