Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3) (7 page)

BOOK: Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3)
9.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

It still made
Alicia’s stomach a little queasy thinking about what had happened here, and
that they were using a building with such a grim history, but she had to
concede the Iron Axe was perfect for all of their needs.

The sheer size
of the inn was its first and most obvious advantage, but it was also built up
against the outer wall of Nocka and was within a mile of the eastern gates. On
the other side of the city wall, Shadow Company had set up the facilities they
used to recruit, train, and house their soldiers. With the help of some
creative gnomish engineering, there was even a concealed passageway from the
inn to one of the camp structures, so personnel and supplies could make their
way between the two sites without anyone being the wiser.

At the moment,
the inn was still operating under its original name as the Iron Axe. No one had
yet thought of anything more appropriate. Collectively, however, the inn and
the denarae camp were known to Shadow Company and their friends by one combined
name:

Home.

- 2 -

Alicia cleaned
up and was just sitting down with her lunch when word was passed that Shadow
Company had returned Home. The general ranks of the company lived in the
training facility beyond Nocka, but the officers all had rooms within the inn.
Sure enough, only a few minutes later a dozen human and denarae men came
strolling in through the door that led to the basement and the secret
passageway. Alicia’s eyes immediately sought out Danner, and when he emerged
she released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

“You get used to
it,” Moreen murmured from beside her, “but that will never really go away.”

Alicia flashed a
grateful smile at the older woman, then hurried over to embrace Danner.

“Mmmmm,” he said
in a soft, tired voice as he hugged her to his chest, “I’ve missed you.”

A subtle tone in
his voice warned Alicia that something was wrong; something had happened on
this mission, specifically involving Danner. She was used to his occasional
lapses of melancholy ever since Trebor’s death – this was something more,
something recent.

“What’s wrong?”
she asked softly.

“Later,” he
replied, not unkindly. “Right now, I could use a bite of Home-cooked food.”

“Cook just made
a batch of thick stew, and there’s fresh bread just baked, too,” Alicia
announced loudly enough for the others to hear her.

Flasch was
nearest to her, and he gave Alicia a florid bow and an impish smile.

“Thank you, good
lady of the house,” he said grandly. “Nothing quite eases the aches and pains
of the trail like good food and beautiful company.”

“Hey, ease off
my girl and go find your own,” Danner said with a companionable smile that was
only slightly strained by his apparent weariness. Flasch winked at Alicia and
gave her another bow before he walked off.

The others gave
little sign they had heard Alicia’s announcement, but they all made for the
nearest tables and the steaming food already being placed for them by the
kitchen staff. Alicia’s brother, Marc, was too absorbed by the woman in his
arms to think about food. Alicia smiled at the sight.

When they first
met, Alicia was a bit wary of Janice, since she knew almost nothing about the
woman with whom her brother had apparently been infatuated for years. They
quickly became friends, however, and Alicia had spent many hours detailing the
most embarrassing moments of Marc’s life she could think of from their
childhood. Janice was quick-witted and very sweet, not to mention beautiful,
but she also had a very strong will and a sense of herself Alicia sometimes
envied. All in all, she heartily approved of her brother’s attachment to the
woman.

Alicia’s smile f
oman.  in his arms to think about
food.  When the first met, Alicia was a bit wary of Ja
aded when she
saw where Flasch had settled. All but hanging off one of his arms was Deeta,
whom Alicia considered little better than a trollop. She freely admitted that a
fair share of her resentment towards Deeta stemmed from the other woman’s
undisguised interest in Danner when they’d first met. Since learning that
Danner and Alicia were together, Deeta had shown no interest at all and seemed
totally consumed by Flasch, but still, Alicia couldn’t help but feel wary
whenever the voluptuous woman was around.

Brican had
settled down with his wife, a denarae woman just starting to swell with
pregnancy. Caeesha was radiant naturally, but her pregnancy seemed only to add
to her glow, and the sense of contentment that surrounded her made Alicia’s
heart ache. Brican had proudly announced to them all a few weeks ago that
Caeesha was pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl. He claimed he could already
sense some of their thoughts from inside her womb, even though other denarae
repeatedly told him that it would be several more weeks before they would begin
to form coherent thoughts. Even then, they would be undecipherable for several
weeks until the unborn children began to pick up thought and language patterns
from their mother and the people around them, assuming they had any kything
talents of their own. That was a likely bet, of course, given their father’s
strong abilities.

Guilian Marta
was, predictably enough, off by himself at a table quietly mulling over the
food that had been brought to him. Alicia kept meaning to ask if anyone knew
why he was so withdrawn, but the question always slipped her mind before she
could ask. One of the denarae serving women leaned close to speak to him, but
he waved her off wordlessly.

Michael was the
only other officer sitting without some sort of female attention. Alicia sighed
as she saw him looking so lonely. It was a poorly kept secret that Michael had fallen
for one of the dancers at Aunt Delia’s, the gentleman’s club where Marc and
Flasch had both met their girlfriends. She hadn’t been seen since the end of
the Barrier War, and no one could even say for sure if she had survived.

Garnet was, as
always, surrounded by a cloud of waitresses and housekeeping women, and Alicia
was surprised to see that this time not all of them were human. Two young
denarae women were also hanging around the Shadow Company commander, making
eyes at him even though he seemed totally oblivious to all the attention.
Alicia, Moreen, and Janice were determined to set Garnet up with a woman to
suit him – just as soon as they found one who passed their inspection, of
course. And since none of the women currently flocking around Garnet fit that
bill, they were quickly scattered and scolded back to their respective work by
a towel-wielding Moreen, who shooed them all off and then sat next to Garnet
and made pleasant conversation. Her presence effectively curtailed the flirting
of the other women, who were all a little in awe of the striking older woman.

Moreen’s history
was, by now, a well-known story that had been passed around the women of Shadow
Company a dozen times over. How she had fallen for the paladin Birch
de’Valderat, Danner’s uncle, and sat patiently by while he pursued the calling
of his life in the Prism. Women still sighed when they thought of her sitting
alone in her inn, waiting patiently for a full decade for Birch to return from
his compulsive journey into Hell.
[10]

“Come on,
Alicia,” Danner said, guiding her toward a pair of vacant seats separate from
the others, but not obviously so. It was as if he didn’t want to seem to be
avoiding them, but neither did he really want to sit with any of his friends.

A waitress set a
bowl down in front of Danner and gave Alicia a fresh bowl of her own, her
previous bowl of stew long since cold and forgotten on another table. A small
loaf of hot bread was set on the table between them with a cup of creamy butter
next to it. Alicia waited until Danner had taken his first few mouthfuls of
stew before she tried to speak to him.

“So are you
going to tell me what happened?” she asked in a low voice.

Danner sighed.
“I used my angelic heritage during the fight against the demons after Garnet
told me not to, and now he thinks I was defying his orders.”

 “Were
you?”

“No,” Danner
said sharply, then scowled at his own abrupt reaction. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean
to snap.” He smiled and put a hand over hers. “I mean, I wasn’t
really
defying him. He told me not to use it unless absolutely necessary, and at the
time, I felt it was necessary. I was outnumbered and outflanked by a trio of
blood-charged
[11]
demons, and I didn’t see any other paladins nearby who could help me.”

“What about one
of the denarae?” Alicia asked. “Even if they couldn’t destroy one, someone
could have come to help you.”

Danner
hesitated, then he sighed again and rested his forehead on his free hand.

“I probably could
have,” he admitted reluctantly, “I just didn’t think of it at the time.”

“No one really
thinks well in the heat of battle,” Alicia offered, trying to be supportive.

“I suppose I
could use that excuse if I wanted, but I should know better… I should
be
better than that,” Danner said, and Alicia could hear the frustration in his
voice. “I’ve never lost my common-sense in battle, not unless I’m already
asolved and under the influence of my angelic side, at any rate. I just… I just
feel like I let him down; like I let them all down.”

Danner
hesitated, then added softly, “I think they’re worried I’m becoming addicted to
the power it gives me. No, I
know
they are.”

If Alicia didn’t
already know Danner was right, she might have wondered if he was becoming
overly paranoid and suspicious of his friends. But she had been there, two
months ago at the end of the war, when they had all discussed the strange
changes in Danner’s power and its addictive nature, and she had heard the topic
come up since then, usually when Danner wasn’t around. While Alicia might
privately share their suspicions, she knew that, more than anything, Danner
needed someone to be on his side without question. That, at least, Alicia could
do for him.

Of course, that
layer of protective concern also prevented her from speaking to Danner about
some things that desperately needed to be said. Danner needed to know… needed
to hear it from her, but how could she add this burden to him in the midst of
all this? Instead, Alicia resigned herself to remain silent a little while
longer until things had settled down enough to approach Danner directly.

Danner’s sigh
brought Alicia’s concentration back from her private concerns.

“I’m sorry,
Alicia,” he said. “Here it’s my first few minutes back and all I can do is complain
about my problems. How have things been around here since we left, love?”

Alicia forced a
smile to her face and proceeded to tell Danner all about the renovations at the
inn and the new people who had joined them in the past few weeks. Gradually her
smile became genuine as her own worries faded into the background of her
thoughts.

- 3 -

Garnet
maintained an expressionless face as he ate. Moreen had long-since left, called
away to help with one of a dozen minor emergencies that cropped up on a daily
basis. This time it was one of the maids, who was apparently about to give
birth to her first child. Fortunately, none of the young women around the inn
had yet noticed Garnet’s solitude, or else some of them might have made an
excuse to come sit with him again.

Not that Garnet
minded the attention of women, and some of them
were
very attractive,
but none of the women around him now even managed to hold his attention for a
moment. They were too… well,
girly
for his liking. Garnet had grown up
with his mother, a house full of brothers, and a younger sister whom he had
barely been able to tolerate because of her girlish and – to his mind, at least
– silly habits. Like his sister, the women here just seemed too immature for
him, or that’s the way he saw them. Alicia, Janice, Caeesha, and especially
Moreen were definitely an improvement over the others, but even if he found a
woman exactly like one of them, he knew she wouldn’t be right for him.

As for Deeta,
Garnet couldn’t understand what Flasch saw in her. Well, he could – she
was
beautiful, after all – but as far as a potential life mate, Garnet cringed
whenever he so much as thought of the soft-bodied woman.

“I hate to
intrude on such a fascinating turn of your thoughts, Garnet,”
Brican kythed
suddenly in his head,
“but I thought you’d like to know the results of my
deep kythe with Danner.”

Garnet shifted
his thoughts away from women gratefully and even declined to offer a retort to
Brican’s brash comment.

“Go for it,”
Garnet replied mentally.
“What did you find?”

“Not much,
I’m afraid,”
Brican admitted.
“Danner’s resistance to kything has grown
along with his strength and power, and too much of his mind is closed off for
me to get a decent kythe without tipping him off. I can tell you this much,
though: Danner
was
telling the truth about the situation he was in.
Three of the stronger demons had him surrounded, and even he might have been
hard-pressed to overcome them, fortified as they were by fresh sacrifices.”

Garnet felt relief
wash over him. That doubt, at least, had been laid to rest. It still left the
question as to whether Danner actually
needed
to use his immortal
heritage, but at least Garnet knew for sure that his friend hadn’t been lying
to him. It was the first time Garnet had ever really doubted one of his
friends, and the thought of it left a sour taste in his mouth.

“Don’t get
too relieved just yet,”
Brican cautioned him.
“I debated whether or not
to bring this up until I was sure, but I think I’d better.”

BOOK: Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3)
9.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

RedBone by Styles, T.
The Chastity Collection by Daniels, Daiza
Daring the Duke by Anne Mallory
A Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton
The Twilight Lord by Bertrice Small
It'll Come Back... by Richardson, Lisa
The Four of Us by Margaret Pemberton
Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital
Big Superhero Action by Embrack, Raymond
Fair Border Bride by Jen Black