The men were naturally fanned out as they approached us, as though they planned to flank us. The dragon stalked behind them, a slight distance back, it’s wings outstretched. It was colossal in size, far larger than Villi had been. But then again, I didn’t suppose this dragon had been beaten with a god’s lightning hammer before it shifted.

I shot Sloan a look. She was a silent presence beside and just behind me. “You should run.” I pointed toward the highway, out of sight now. “They might not chase you. It’s us they want.”

She just curled her lip. “Fuck that. I have never run from a fight. Dragon-kin don’t scare me.”

I sighed, selfishly relieved. She was such a reassuring presence at my back. And now it was almost certainly going to get her killed. But I knew better than to waste time arguing with someone as immovable as Sloan at a time like this.

I turned my attention back to the task at hand.

Seeing the Chinese there had surprised me enough that at first I didn’t see our brother, Sven, among the three viking draak. Of all the people they could have sent after us, he seemed the unlikeliest choice. He was flanked by two of our nastier cousins. Those two I had expected, but seeing Sven felt like yet another betrayal.

Sven was a strong telepath, the only dragon-kin that I knew of with that particular skill. He was not much older than I, born sometime between Lynn and I. Growing up, he’d always been a kind brother, a stark contrast to the treatment I received from the other men of the clan. He was the only one, besides my be-spelled mother, who I had regretted leaving behind. And he had even helped us escape, in his own way.

He had known our plans. I’d seen it in his eyes, the night we planned to leave. He had picked them cleanly from my mind. I had been trembling in terror that he would be our undoing as I gazed at him across the long trestle table where the family was sharing the nightly feast.

The feasting hall had been as loud and boisterous as always, with both laughter and casual violence. If one of the human serving girls committed the grave offense of dropping a tankard or tray, she was almost certainly raped and beaten. If the offended party was in a particularly foul mood, one of the always present axes or swords the men carried would thoughtlessly hack her to pieces. It would usually draw a round of laughter from the bloodthirsty men.

But Sven’s look at that dinner so long ago had been quiet and intense. It had confused me enough to abate my terror through that never-ending feast. When I’d been excused from the table, I had walked quickly from the hall. Sven had caught up to me as I left the hall. Silently, he had hugged me, and given me a soft kiss on the forehead. He was much taller than I at the time, though still not fully grown. He’d had to bend down far to whisper in my ear, “Be careful, little sister. Godspeed,” and walked away.

I had treasured that memory over the years. Whenever I had felt betrayed, as I had many times, I’d thought back to Sven and thought, See, there is someone out there who loves me and wishes me well. It had hovered in my consciousness like some kind of beacon of hope, when there was little. Now, it only made this latest betrayal all the more acute. This was the bitter pill of immortality. Living long enough to see every happy memory you’ve ever had turn to ashes.

He gave me a tentative smile when our eyes met. I glared back. “What are you doing here, brother?” I asked him bluntly.

He raised his hands, palm up, saying, “They thought I was the one most likely to get you to come with us peaceably. Any chance of that?”

“Any chance you’re all gonna turn around and leave us alone?”

He shook his head, that kind smile still on his face. “Afraid not, little sister. But we have no wish to harm you. And you have to see that fighting us at this point is futile.”

“Come a little closer and say that to me,” I told him, drawing the axe, and bringing it to front of my body in a defensive stance.

“You would raise a weapon against me, sister?” he asked sadly, his irises so pale, and his pupils so small, that his eyes looked almost completely white.

Before I could answer, a gunshot went off from behind me. It didn’t hit anyone, but it wasn’t a bad shot for someone who couldn’t see a thing. “Does that answer your question, brother?” Lynn called out unsteadily. “If you were wondering, I was aiming at you.” I smiled in spite of myself.

“Just tell her,” a cousin said quietly to Sven. “It’s obvious she doesn’t know. If she knew, she’d be much less hesitant to hurt herself.”

“Shut your mouth,” Sven told him, in the most murderous tone I’d ever heard come out of my kindest brother’s mouth. “If she knew, she’d fight us twice as hard, you imbecile.”

“I can hear everything you’re saying, you knuckleheads. What are you talking about?”

Sven met my eyes, his panicked now. “Please, dear sister. Please just come with us. Don’t get yourself harmed more than necessary.”

“Why are you helping them take us in? If you don’t want me harmed, then just walk away. The elders have gone insane. I know you know that. Villi was demented-”

His mouth tightened as he interrupted. “Was?”

I smiled, savoring the moment. “Oh, did I ruin the surprise? We took his head and heart not long ago. And left him to the tender mercy of a slayer.” Sven shut his eyes at the revelation. The rest of them just stared at me, shocked.

“And the hammer? What have you done with the hammer?” Sven asked.

I shrugged. “I musta lost it. Oh well.”

Sven sighed heavily. “That was very unwise.”

“Why are the Chinese dragons here? What do they have to do with this?” I asked him.

He sent them a quick look. “We’ve…temporarily allied ourselves with them. They helped us to find you.” Lynn started cursing at them, aiming her gun wildly. They looked more comfortable than they should have, with a blind woman pointing a gun at them. Bullets still hurt like hell, even if they couldn’t kill us.

I sent Drake a scathing look. He met me with a blank stare. I mouthed a few choice words at him. Still no reaction.

One of the men with Drake spoke to him in chinese. He just nodded, starting towards Lynn. I stepped up beside her, smoothly sheathing my axe as I moved. “I’m going to try something. Don’t shoot me, k?” I said in a whisper. I started moving before she could answer, picking her up, and running. I grabbed a silent Sloan by the hand as I passed. I closed my eyes, concentrating hard. I never would have tried it on purpose if it hadn’t happened by accident just a day before. Still, I was shocked when it worked a second time. I hovered above the earth with little more than a thought. Transforming was usually a long and arduous process, but apparently I’d found a loophole. My wings of flame beat up torrents of wind as I fought hard to lift far off the ground. The extra weight of two bodies didn’t help.

Tags: R.K. Lilley Heretic Daughters Vampires