Copyright © 2015
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Kneeling, the prayer that whispered past her lips was as natural as breathing. The words sent Heavenward were more for her comfort than the girl whose cold hand rested in her own. Sydney’s soul was long departed and already embraced by lost loved ones or tortured in the fiery bowels of the Devil’s domain. It had always bothered Maeve that she was never quite certain she had reached this one, and now she realized she’d been tragically wrong to assume there was plenty of time to do so.
The girl had once been human, and as such, had a soul that needed a path. Transitioning to an immortal state did not change that significant part of a human’s make-up… it was the reason Maeve had always watched over the transitioned more diligently than the true immortals. These Vampire, in her mind, remained under the same directive of protection as the humans. Their beautifully conceived souls were precious to God, and it devastated Maeve that the girl had met an untimely demise before she was able to be certain of the girl’s path in the afterlife.
In less than two hours the sun would breach the horizon and the city street running crossways at the end of the alley that was now barren would be teeming with human traffic. If one of Gideon’s patrols had not been drawn in, scenting immortal blood, Sydney’s strategically placed corpse would have been burnt to ash by the morning sun, leaving no trace of her gruesome demise. The Coven would have never known to mourn her loss.
That same scent bathed Maeve’s senses, along with the overwhelming stench of death. Congealed gore painted the alcove between the high rise buildings. Syd’s heart no longer resided in her chest… carved out, only a gaping cavern remained. The extraction had been performed while the young female was alive.
An inordinate amount of strength was required for that type of maneuvering, even on a younger member of the breed. Discarded to the side of the body, the organ had been crushed beneath the boot of her killer. Chalky pallor haunted the small brunette’s skin; Sydney had been drained in a tediously slow manner. Puddles of blood pooled beneath wrists that were torn open, and the jagged edges of the gashes told that the flesh had been repeatedly torn each time her Vampiric healing began to knit the wounds closed. Ragged skin also marred her torso, similar dissections riddled that flesh, allowing her viscera to spill over her sides with the blood.
Maeve hung her head-anger and damnation held equally tenacious tenterhooks in her soul. She had lost another charge, and reacted as though the tally physically burned into her flesh. Knowing her spirit was likely as blemished as the corpse on the ground, the guilt was an acidic shard jabbing into a heart that was so damaged it was a wonder to her that she could find the energy to care for anyone any longer.
Inhaling deeply, an exercise to bury the pain deep, Maeve could garner the presence of no Vampire except Gideon. Having been so lost in herself, she had failed to notice his arrival. He and Grace continued in a hushed exchange of words until interrupted by the voice of a male that Maeve did not recognize. The trio journeyed to her location, and Gideon’s footfalls paused at her side where she crouched over Sydney. The sounds of his movement told her that he had lowered to kneel next to her, and his quick assessment followed. “There is no sign of resistance… that requires a damned lot of skill.”
Maeve did not acknowledge his statement-there was no need. Gideon’s expertise in this area was unmatched. Decades ago, she recalled telling him that his supernatural sleuthing made him something of a Sherlock Holmes. Having recently spent more time with him and those under his command, she’d now liken him more to something of a cross Holmes and an X-men… with fangs… supersized.
She fully expected that he would inspect the body more thoroughly and was startled when his hand gripped her chin to swivel her head in his direction. Jerking back, her eyes flared before flashing black and zeroing in on his. The unexpected contact was not well received, and her reaction told him the answer before he ever tossed out the question. “You okay?”
Rather than stare into those probing eyes that always saw too much, Maeve turned her gaze back to the corpse. “I am not the one that was gutted.” There wasn’t an ounce of sarcasm in the retort, only Maeve’s stoic matter-of-factness.
Shaking his head, Gideon’s sigh told Maeve he would love to psychoanalyze her. Instead of pressing Maeve to reveal her inner turmoil, he slipped a hand beneath Sydney’s head. A quick probe along the length of her spine confirmed his suspicions. “Her neck is broken… she was incapable of movement, but not dead until just a short time ago.”
Rolling the body to assess for other unseen wounds, a twinkle of metal beneath her torso caught his eye the same time as Maeve’s. She was quicker. Gold flashed in the hazy pre-dawn light, the speed of Maeve’s retrieval causing the heavy chain attached to the disc to whip around her wrist. Narrowing her focus in study of the piece, she palmed the medallion when Gideon would have grabbed it for inspection. Her eyes washed in a veil of black as she rocketed to her feet with a growl. “That son of a bitch…”
There were very few who incited Maeve to any level of emotion, but only one could cause her to be consumed by it. Gideon had seen enough to know the medallion was of Ancient origin-her reaction told him the rest. “It is impossible that Broderick could have tracked you, much less identified one of your Coven.”
His words were wasted-Maeve had already paced to the narrow opening between the two buildings on either side. Hurrying after her, Gideon needed to calm the Dark Queen, center her thoughts, before she did something foolish. He heard her murmured words, and knew they were not directed to anyone in her present company. “He has made his decision.”
Certain the grief he had witnessed in her earlier was amped up substantially more in that utterance, Gideon wasn’t about to hold his question. “What decision?”
“He has done this before…” Though Maeve’s eyes were clear when they met his, her words spoke mysteries and her voice had gone distant to another time… a faraway place. Gideon had known the Dark Queen long enough to understand that there were secrets wrapped up in her that were best left unexplored.
“What has he done?” When she stopped at the edge of the walk and glanced upwards Gideon believed he might have a chance to force Maeve to reconsider the bent towards murder that had been plainly etched in her visage. Something had caught her attention and she looked skyward for long moments, cocking her head as though listening. The expression she returned to him hinted that she wasn’t pleased by whatever she’d thought she might have heard.
Instead of answer directly, Maeve flipped the medallion in her palm. “This wasn’t left here by accident, Gideon. Broderick is too seasoned a warrior to make such a mistaken.” Her gaze returned to it as her finger explored the patterns engraved in the piece. “This is an invitation…”
Gideon rounded the corner to pursue Maeve further down the walk, but he wasn’t certain she was aware that she was moving. The Dark Queen’s eyes had turned white and the power emanating from her would have been enough to halt his progression if his Ancient strength hadn’t made it possible for him to push through the force. “An invitation to what?”
“War.” The word hung between them for only a second before Maeve disappeared.