Redemption (The Alexa Montgomery Saga) (21 page)

BOOK: Redemption (The Alexa Montgomery Saga)
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Out of the corner of my eye, I
saw Arrol stiffen beside me, and I wondered for a moment which side he would
fight on if this came down to that, but decided at once that it didn’t really
matter. In front of me, the Fae Queen’s smile did not falter. “Well,” she said,
“you must know that you cannot just pass through this land without some sort of
display of worth. What kind of example would I be setting if I allowed that? I
have a kingdom to rule, you know. I must maintain the respect of my people.”

“Okay,” I said, instead of
get
to the damn point already.

“Okay!” she said, and clapped her
hands like a child receiving a coveted birthday present. “Let us begin then,
Sun Warrior! Let us begin! You have a choice. What do you choose? A test of the
mind, or a test of the body?”

“Uh, body, I guess.”

More gleeful clapping.
“Wonderful! Wonderful! Tell me then, who among you is your greatest fighter?
Who will be the one to prove your worth?”

That’s us, Warrior! That’s us!
Oooo pick me pick me pick me!

“Alright, already, shut up.
You sound as stupid as she does. Who else would I pick?”

“That’d be me,” I said, getting a
hard look from Kayden that told me he would much rather I let him fight this
battle for me. I had no doubt that he could do it, but there were over two
thousand people watching who had followed me here and named me their leader,
and I was not the type of leader that sent my men into battle for me. Like the
Fae Queen, I also had an example to set. I could handle this.

I hoped.

The Fae Queen took to her wings,
shooting up into the air and flying around in a circle, clapping her hands and
brandishing that terrible smile. “Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!” she sang,
and lighted on the branch of a nearby tree. Her feet hooked into it like
talons, and she crouched down and regarded me seriously for the first time
since I’d seen her. “Then choose a number, Sun Warrior. How many can you handle
at one time? How many of my best fighters do you think you can dispatch all by
yourself?”

I thought for a moment,
understanding now what Arrol had meant when he’d told me to choose a high
number. The answer that fell out of my mouth probably qualified for the
stupidest thing I’ve ever said. And that’s saying something.

“As many as you can stand to
lose, your Majesty.”

Uh, shit, Warrior. Even
I
wouldn’t
have said
that.

I expected for this to make her
angry, even cringed a little inside as my Monster expressed its reservations,
but instead, that childlike laughter rang from the Fae Queen’s mouth and now she
was bouncing on her haunches with her joy, making her perch swish and sway and
shed leaves that drifted down like painted dandelion seeds. Clap! Clap! Clap!
“Oh! I’ll choose, then! I will choose! How wonderful and exciting! What shall
it be? What shall it be? Hmm…Oh! I got it! I got it! Thirty will do! Thirty is
good number! A great number! Don’t you agree, Sun Warrior? Will you accept the
test? Will you stand against thirty of my own and prove your worth and secure
passage through my land for your people?”

Like I had a choice. My mouth had
gotten me into a lot of trouble in my day, but this bit took the cake. “Yes,
your Majesty,” I said. “If you are prepared to watch thirty of them die.”

The tree branch swayed and
bounced. “So brave! So brave! Let us begin! I cannot wait a moment longer! Step
out into the clearing, Sun Warrior! I simply cannot wait a moment longer!” 

I slid the cloak off of my
shoulders and handed it to Kayden, who was looking at me like he wanted to
choke me. I gave him a sheepish smile that I hoped didn’t give up my nerves. I
could do this. It would be the stupidest ending in the world for me to die
right now, just when I was so close to reaching the King. I could do this. I
had to. And if I kept telling myself that, maybe it would be true.

Thirty is a huge number,
Warrior.

“No shit. I hope you’re
hungry.”

Oh, I’m
starved.

A smile pulled up my lips, and I
knew that it belonged to my Monster, which was just fine with me. I was going
to need its help. I walked out into the large clearing in the trees that the
Fae Queen had indicated, my Gladius clutched tightly in my hand, tingling cool
with its knowledge that danger was afoot. When I made it to the center of the
clearing, my opponents began drifting down from the trees on all sides of me, puffs
of pink clouds scattering away from their bare feet. I could feel the eyes of
my comrades weighing on me, and shut them out of my mind. It was time to focus
on the task at hand, time to do what I did best. It was time to kill.

 My Monster’s voice was filled
with hungry anticipation in my head.
Let’s add some ornaments to our silver
vine, Warrior. Let’s add thirty of them.

“Right. What’s thirty more
deaths on my hands? Nothing. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell as it is.”

Get your mind right, Warrior.

I sighed and stepped back to let
the darkness in me take control, and was immediately filled with the same sense
of anticipation that carried on my Monster’s words. Red seemed to ring my
vision, and I pushed my tongue out over my lips, wetting them the way a fat man
will when a large steak is placed in front of him. I was going to enjoy this.
It would fill my belly up and make my headache go away and I would feel better.
Much better. All I had to do was not die. And kill. Same shit, different day.

The first of them moved in
without word or warning, charging forward with harsh flicks of their wings,
muscles bulging as they raised their swords and came at me from every side.
They were all men, all thirty of them, and as big in size as my biggest
Warrior, and I saw what my advantage would be here. They were incredibly quick
for their size, but they would not be quick enough.

My blade danced and arched and
swept through the air. The first swing went straight through the midsections of
two Fae as easily as an eraser will swipe chalk from a blackboard. Sprays of
scarlet sprung out into the open air, and landed warm and wet on my hands, my
shirt, my face. The smell of their sweet blood intoxicated me to the point of
euphoria. I moved then on pure instinct and need, the feel of their lives
leaving them capturing me totally.

Three more, having taken to their
wings, shooting toward me with blades outstretched like people-sized arrows. I
spun and swung and never once closed my eyes, watching my blade land home and
perfect with every stroke. Now the smell of their lives spilling out grew
stronger, and the hunger in my soul grew greater with it.

Some of them cried out, their
voices deep and yanked and filled with pain as I cut them down one by one, much
like an explorer chopping through annoying brush with a machete. Slice. Slice.
Slice. and the sound of silver parting the air right along with muscle and bone
and body. The whole world had slowed to a crawl. Every move that they made
revealing their next, and I slid and spun and sailed around them, through them,
under them.

A few of them managed to land
superficial cuts on the skin of my arms and legs, one near my ribcage and
another on my lower back, but there was too much blood now to even know which
of it was mine, and too little left of me that even cared either way. If the
wounds hurt, I couldn’t feel it. There was no room for me to feel it. Bloodlust
had taken complete control. Red. The whole world had gone Red.

It seemed to last a lifetime, and
yet it could not last long enough. I felt very much like a junkie indulging in
my wildest fantasies, enjoying an endless amount of my preferred drug, drunk
with it and in a wonderful stupor. I drank in the death the way that I imagined
a reaper would, making sure to savor every slurp, every final beat and last
breath. There was nothing in this world—not even Kayden, though I would never
admit it to him—that could make me feel the way that death did. Death was my
niche. Death was what I
dealt
in.  

And I was good at it.

The dials attached to my senses
were cranked to their highest notches. I heard heartbeats and whispered things
and the swishes of blades slicing through the air. I smelled the tangy,
unpleasant aroma of the blood, underscored by perspiration and fear and that
horrible sweetness that carried on the pink fog, which seem to skip away from
me as if the very air in this land was not fond of me. The taste of blood was
also in my mouth, as some of it had gotten in with seemingly every scarlet
shower that my blade drew from the air. Only when there was one left, did I
pause for a moment.

My eyes settled on him, standing
ten feet away from me and as covered in gore as I myself must have been, still
brandishing his sword and prepared to fight like a brave soldier. Like a very
brave, stupid soldier. I could see that in his eyes, silver like Arrol’s, that
he was seeing Death in mine. I felt a smile touch my lips, crooked and toothy,
like that of a drunken jester, I gripped the handle of my sword tighter,
feeling thick wetness bubbling up between the cracks in my fingers, red and
slick and nearly gone cold.

Just one more. I was oddly
disappointed. I would need to savor it.

“No,”
a voice whispered in
my head. It was not the voice of my Monster, and it wasn’t mine either, but
somehow, it was
both. “A quick death. The warrior deserves a quick death.”

That sounded like no fun, no fun
at all, and I almost ignored the silly suggestion altogether. But as I moved in
on the last of the Fae Queen’s fighters, staring into his determined and loyal,
but defeated eyes, I changed my mind and made the move before it decided to
change itself again.

Sending my blade through his
heart, a roar ripped up my throat that could have cowed a lion, so filled it
was with hunger and anger and pleasure and agony. And I gave him his quick
death.

As I stood over him, over all
thirty of them, panting and painted in red, a sense of peacefulness filled me,
and though the beauty I had seen it the act a moment ago was already gone, the
sense of euphoria fading like an old memory, I did feel better than I could
remember feeling in a very long time. I didn’t even try to send myself on a
guilt trip over it; ask myself questions about whether I could have acted
otherwise or made a different decision. I just accepted it for what it was, an
exhibition of death.

When the Fae Queen’s laughter cut
through the silence, a flash of anger struck through my peaceful haze and the
bloodlust flooded back into me as though it had never left. If a hard hand had
not fallen on my shoulder then, I may have charged her where she still sat
perched on her branch. If the hand had not been Kayden’s, I would have torn it
right off of its wrist.

Kayden spoke low in my ear, his
voice tight. “That’s enough, Warrior. No more.”

With these words, my right mind
settled back over me slowly, reluctantly. No one but Kayden and Nelly could
give me such a command and expect me to obey, so it was a good thing that I had
one of them with me, even if I didn’t get to have them both.

Now my mind felt tired, exhausted
even, though my body was still ramped up on adrenaline. Slowly, I began to
really take in the scene that lay before me, and then I just felt sick. I
averted my eyes after only one glance at the bodies and the blood and the
death. It was all I could do to look up at the Fae Queen and stand straight. I
felt very much like clutching my knees and retching up the meager contents of
my stomach.

I clenched my teeth together and
swallowed back the bile that was rising in my throat. “Satisfied?” I asked.

The Fae Queen fluttered down from
her branch and walked slowly among the bodies of her fallen soldiers, not even
sparing them a single glance. Her wide-spaced eyes were only for me. “Oh,
very!” she said. “Oh, am I! Very satisfied! Very pleased! What an enormous display
of worth, Sun Warrior! That was simply lovely!”

This bitch has lost her damn
mind, Warrior.

“Yeah, well, look who’s
talking.”

My Gladius was still clutched in
my red right hand, but I loosened my hold on it a little and the blade slid
back into its hiding place. “Are we free to go now?” I said, doing my best to
keep the anger at her reaction to such terrible violence—even though I was well
aware that it was an incredibly hypocritical feeling—at bay. At the moment,
Kayden’s hand on my shoulder was the only thing that was keeping me in place.

“Of course!” said the Fae Queen.
“You and your army have until sundown, as was promised, to cross my land and
travel into your Silver City. Mind you, it would be best to make haste in your
travels. All bets are off after the moon and stars rise over the lands.”

With that, Tristell the Fae Queen
took to her wings and disappeared into the canopies of the trees, and once
again, it was just me and my small army. And Arrol. Which reminded me…

I strode over to Arrol and punched
him hard in the face before he had time to protest or even widen his eyes. My
fist connected with his jaw hard, making a cracking sound that unhinged it and
sent his head whipping back on his neck like a plucked car antennae. My nails
bit into my fists and a little spittle flew from my lips when I said, “Goddamn
it, Arrol. A little warning would have been nice.”

The Fae rubbed his jaw, and I saw
that my fist had left a smear of red there, and it was not his blood that made
it. “I am sorry, Warrior,” he said. “I would have told you had I been able to,
but I was forbidden to do so. The Queen loves surprises and dramatic displays,
as I’m sure you noticed, and she expressly told me that I was not to tell you
of the test.” His long fingers rubbed at the spot where I had hit him. “I guess
I deserved that.”

BOOK: Redemption (The Alexa Montgomery Saga)
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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