Blood Trinity (Page 23)

Blood Trinity (Belador #1)(23)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Pele’s eyes turned to acid. “Evalle has been allowed to remain free all this time based on your recommendations in the past. But this situation is different.”

“How so, Goddess?” Brina’s voice flowed as easy as an undisturbed stream.

But then it wasn’t her neck at risk here. Evalle held her hands in front of her to keep from fidgeting or running.

Pele glanced at Loki and Ares with a look of are-you-through-posturing?

When neither god spoke up, she answered Brina’s question on how this attack was different. “The Alterant that changed into a beast this time was a female. She killed three innocent people and had to be destroyed, but not before VIPER agents learned that she was pregnant. That child died with her. Until now, Evalle was allowed her freedom based on her unique position. Now that a female Alterant has proven capable of shifting and being impregnated, we see two potential problems with her continuing to live among humans.”

On the one hand, she was grateful they still didn’t know about the mutilated body.

On the other, this was worse. She wasn’t being accused of something they thought she’d done. She was being condemned for the actions of someone she’d never even met.

The injustice of that burned deep inside her and made her seethe. How dare they judge her?

She released her hands to grip the front of her thighs, fighting against the pressure that closed in around her.

They were going to lock her away. Now.

Had she known what this was about, she’d have fought Sen with everything she had.

Sweat ran down the insides of her arms. “Brina, please.”

“Silence!” Brina didn’t even look her way.

Evalle sent a telepathic plea. Tzader, I need help.

Silence! Brina’s shout was even louder in Evalle’s head.

“I understand your joint concerns.” Brina addressed the Tribunal in a much calmer voice. “As Evalle has proven to be an exemplary follower of our beliefs and valued VIPER agent, I would ask the Tribunal to provide her the opportunity to produce evidence that she is not a risk to the humans, that she is different from all the other Alterants.”

The three entities exchanged glances, then turned their backs to Evalle and Brina as they conferred quietly among themselves.

Evalle couldn’t believe Brina had actually stepped up and spoken for her, just as Tzader had said she would. He was right about showing trust in return.

Brina was doing her best to buy her time. Goddess be praised.

Evalle rubbed her damp palms on her jeans, cheered at the possibility of putting all suspicion about her to rest. Even with Tzader and Quinn’s help, she expected that rounding up the evidence needed to cement her case would take a while.

But surely Brina would petition VIPER to allow her a leave of absence so that she could focus on this. Would Brina finally share information on the caged Alterants?

Evalle would be willing to give the Tribunal updates every few weeks. Whatever they needed to make this work.

“We have come to a decision,” the goddess said as she and the other two faced them again. “Your request is acceptable to us—”

Hallelujah! Evalle almost staggered in relief.

Until Pele spoke again. “—with the caveat that Evalle remains loyal to VIPER and does not associate with another Alterant while collecting her evidence.”

I haven’t even seen one in eight years, and if I had, it would probably have killed me. Evalle pulled a calming breath into her chest, preparing to thank the Tribunal for this chance.

Brina nodded. “Agreed.”

Ares cleared his throat. “She may have until the first hour of Thursday to prove there is no danger in her remaining among humans. If her status changes at any moment between now and then, she’ll be teleported to a secure location immediately.”

Evalle’s stomach hit the floor. Three days?

Three flippin’ days.

Were they out of their divine minds?

Surely these weren’t the same three days she had to spend hunting the Ngak Stone or she’d appear disloyal to VIPER?

Oh dear goddess …

No matter what she did, she was screwed. If she proved her innocence, she was disloyal, and if she was loyal, she’d never be able to prove her innocence.

Finally Sen would have his wish and she would be caged.

In only three days.

SIXTEEN

AMAZON JUNGLE, SOUTH AMERICA

Vyan stared at his warlord, who was about to march all of them straight to their deaths. He wanted to call the man a lunatic, but his intelligence and desire to live kept that word out of his vocabulary. Instead he used a moderate tone that flew in the face of his true nature. “I would warn you one last time, my lord, to rethink this plan with so few men.”

After passing through the portal that’d been opened by the witch, Batuk had been driving the men relentlessly to invade the city.

“Ten is all we need,” Batuk finally said. “We have waited long enough. I have a duty to my men, to our men.” With one cut, he sliced his sword through a tree the size of Vyan’s arm. “Every hour we waste my people spend another day in immortal misery beneath Mount Meru. Can you not understand that?”

“Me not understand? I stepped through the portal two years ago for the chance to free our people.” Vyan slashed a path through thick undergrowth of this jungle called Amazon, so different from the streets of Atlanta, where he’d been living.

“Has your time in this new realm softened your hatred of the Beladors?” Batuk asked without looking back at him.

“How can you say that? The Beladors killed my wife. I only question how much we risk by facing a monster with less than a legion of warriors.”

“We have something the beast will want. This beast will be our shield against the Beladors. How fitting that one of their own will aid us.” Batuk chuckled to himself.

Vyan saved his breath. Monkeys raced across branches above his head, screeching to one another. He eyed a fat one that would make a fine meal if he were allowed to stop long enough to hunt. His warlord had less patience than a dog on the heels of a bitch in heat.

“Batuk!” one of the men called out, and raced forward. When Vyan and the warlord turned, Nhivoli plowed through the jungle, past the men marching in line, and stopped, breathless. “I have your peace offering.”

Batuk’s face split with a satisfied smile. “Excellent. Keep it at the back of the line until I call you.” He dismissed Nhivoli, who trotted away and disappeared behind the string of men hidden by vegetation.

Batuk planned to sacrifice an animal to the monster.

That reminded Vyan of the witch’s serum he carried to feed the animal. “Are you not curious what animal Nhivoli captured?”

“No. I have no doubt he followed my precise orders, as every soldier should.” Batuk scratched his grizzly black beard. “I expect my first in command to show the same commitment and loyalty.”

Vyan wished for the millionth time that as a young man he’d sought another way to acquire the land he and his wife had intended to farm. Taking up a sword to follow Batuk upon the promise of his own tract of land had made sense at one time. A foolish decision observed clearly in hindsight. Just another way he’d failed his wife. Time had stolen her face from him, but not the sense of failure to protect her.

Vyan blinked away the hot sting in his eyes and swallowed to wet his dry throat. His saliva tasted bitter with salt and remorse.

A sizzle of energy washed across his skin in a cloak of warning.

“Stop.” Vyan raised his hand to enforce his order. Hair pricked along his arms. He sniffed the air for a hint of danger. The breath he inhaled burned his throat, indicating the threat was near and powerful. They’d entered the monster’s invisible cage. Vyan’s hearing sharpened with the possibility of facing a creature in battle. Thin twigs snapped beneath his feet, loud as a tree being axed.

He and his men moved to circle their warlord.

Batuk shook his head and lifted a single finger to indicate all of his men should remain behind him except his first in command. An arrogant move when facing an unknown enemy.

Resigned to his fate, Vyan fell into step with his warlord, who pushed into a clearing.

The entire jungle stilled. Nothing scuttled across the ground or swooped through the air between the webbed branches overhead. A foul odor assaulted Vyan’s nose and throat.

He caught a sound, a deep, rasping noise coming from a large animal. He gained Batuk’s attention before pointing across the opening to where a palm frond shot fifteen feet above the ground and trembled in sync with each ragged breath from whatever hid there.

Batuk took another step into the opening.

A strong vibration tripped through the air, followed by a low, keening howl filled with menace, as if the animal warned them they had trespassed in his domain and there was no way out.

Vyan’s blood pumped hard in his body. He touched his sword, which hung in the leather sheath at his hip, but had to take care. The witch who’d freed their small number had warned that any use of majik in the monster’s spellbound cage would backfire against them.

A snarl bellowed in the dense forest in front of them. Trees swayed and the ground trembled.

The animal raised its head.

Vyan had never seen anything so repulsive. How could something alive smell of swamp rot? Most of the body was covered in sores and scabs. The small parts that weren’t were a hideous patchwork of filthy hair and scales. Batuk believed they sought some form of a man, but this thing stood ten feet tall and could be nothing other than a monster.

Vyan drew his weapon, heartened at the shirring sound of eight more swords drawn behind him.

“No!” Batuk ordered. “Sheathe your weapons. Now!”

So we die like slaughtered lambs? Vyan held his frustration in a firm grasp. He did as ordered and stood beside the warlord he’d sworn fealty to many centuries ago.

The animal drew its cracked lips into a snarl, fully exposing uneven saber teeth. He tipped his head back and bellowed, the sound neither human nor animal but clearly a message that they had wasted the head start the beast had given them. In its haste to get to them, it uprooted trees as thick around as Vyan’s waist and bounded forward in heavy steps, shaking the ground.

When the beast entered the clearing, it was half human. At least, the barrel chest, two long legs and two dangling arms were humanlike in structure. It wore threadbare jeans but no shirt over the hair on its chest, which was matted with blood. Scales wrapped its abdomen and ran across its hunched shoulders. Each three-toed foot was twice the length of Vyan’s.

Black eyes peered from beneath a jutting forehead.

“By all the saints, what is that?” Vyan whispered, but he never got an answer.

The animal raised its bulging forearms with four thick fingers dangling from each hand. It pointed jagged fingernails at Batuk.

“I am here to offer you a deal,” Batuk said, raising his hand in a silent order for the animal to stop.

Instead, the beast took another step and clenched its stubby fingers into fists that cut his palms. A warning, but the monster was curious, or it would have slain them all by now.

The men mumbled in harsh whispers, clearly questioning the sanity behind this march. Even Vyan wondered if his warlord had lost his mind while traveling through the portal.

The animal sniffed the air, grunted, then peered past Vyan and Batuk. On its next sniff, it growled, as if preparing to attack.

Batuk called out over his shoulder. “Bring the woman.”

Woman? Vyan went cold at that one word. He caught the scent of innocence before Nhivoli and another soldier marched forward with a young female bound and gagged, hanging by her hands and feet from a narrow tree limb supported across their shoulders. She appeared to be unconscious at first, but the animal’s growl roused her. The poor girl took in the scene with wide eyes, then jerked back and forth, bleeding where the ropes cut into her soft skin.

Fury screamed through Vyan’s brain and threatened to explode. He stopped the men from entering the clearing and spoke to Batuk. “You cannot do this.”

“Do not argue with me.” Batuk’s hand moved to his sword. His face gnarled with rage. “This is the only way to free our people. Without the beast’s help, we have no chance against the Beladors once they learn of our escape from Mount Meru. Do you not care for your people? Have you forgotten all you have lost to them?”

Drawing a sword on Vyan would have been less of an insult.

The animal snarled and growled, pawing the ground.

“Wait, I have an offering.” Batuk waved the men into the clearing.

The reminder of all Vyan had lost in a bloody war with the invading Beladors crashed through him. Pain forged an alliance with his anger to tear a fresh gash through the heart that had withered in his chest over time. He’d spent centuries dreaming of revenge, willing to do practically anything to make the Beladors pay, but using this woman stirred something inside Vyan he’d been sure had died along with his wife eight hundred years ago.

His conscience.

First the men slid the ropes holding the woman’s hands and feet from the pole then they backed away quickly.