Home > Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4)(3)

Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4)(3)
Author: Ilona Andrews

Will somebody really come for us?

“Yes,” she said. “If your aunt or uncle get our message, they will come for us and they will take us away from here.”

“To a different place?” Helen asked.

“Yes.”

“With flowers and water?”

Maud swallow the hot clump that wedged itself in her throat. “Yes, my flower. With all the beautiful flowers and water you can imagine.

Maud drank her mint tea. Next to her Helen nibbled on a dry cookie and flipped the digital pages of a book. The book, Weird and Amazing Planets, a paper-thin single use tablet, showed photographs of landscapes from different planets. It had cost Maud a month’s worth of water, but Helen had found it at a trader’s stall and hugged it to her, and Maud couldn’t say no. There were almost a thousand photographs and by now Helen knew every one by heart.

The Lodge was full tonight. First, two convoy guard teams, each consisting of a dozen vampires, came in one after another; then, to make things interesting, a group of fourteen raiders. The two convoy guards, the traders, and the lone travelers had taken the tables along the perimeter of the Lodge, near the walls, and the raiders were left with a chunk in the middle, exposed and surrounded. The convoy guards and the raiders were eyeing each other, but so far nobody had gotten drunk enough to start any trouble. If a brawl broke out, she’d grab Helen and head upstairs.

The door of the Lodge slid open, and three travelers made their way inside. The first was tall and broad, his cloak stretched over his wide shoulders in the familiar way it did when the fabric rested on vampire armor. The man right behind him wore dark pants and a windbreaker, his movements graceful and liquid. He didn’t move, he glided. Or rather, he stalked in, ready to fend off an attack.

The windbreaker looked Earth-made.

Human.

Her heart sped up. The man pulled back the hood of his windbreaker. Maud scrutinized his features: scarred face, russet-brown hair, clean shaven…

The human inhaled, scanned the room with his gaze. His irises caught the light, reflecting it with an amber glow for a split second.

Disappointment slammed into her. Not a human. A werewolf, a refugee from a dead planet.

The towering cloaked figure headed for the bar. The werewolf followed. A third person trailed them, wearing a tattered gray robe. The cut of the robe was achingly familiar. It looked like an innkeeper robe.

You’re imagining things, Maud told herself. It’s a gray robe. There were millions of them in the galaxy. It was the simplest and most common garment, second only to a cloak. In the end, all colors faded to gray.

The robed traveler took a seat at the bar. The bartender took the order and came back with two cups. The larger man half-turned to watch the room, blocking Maud’s view of the robed traveler.

Move, you oaf.

He leaned his elbow on the bar. The armor on his arms was jet-black. A new victim added to the never-ending trickle of exiles? No, he didn’t hold himself like an exile. She’d seen enough of the new arrivals over the years. They broke into two categories: the first thought they would own the planet in two weeks and the second were desperate and broken. Both held themselves tight, ready for an attack to come at any moment. If this vampire got any more relaxed, he’d start stripping his armor off.

A few moments passed. The raiders sized up the newcomers. Much easier prey than either of the convoy guard teams. If the raiders got into it with the guards, the other team would likely jump in, but nobody cared about three strangers. The guards would sit back and watch.

Anticipation hummed through the room like a low-voltage current.

The raider leader rose and casually moved back, giving himself room for a charge, resting his hand on the big blood hammer at his waist. Almost simultaneously, the largest raider, his face ruined by a deep scar, got to his feet and lumbered toward the bar.

“Stay close to me,” Maud whispered, and squeezed Helen’s hand.

Helen squeezed back.

The huge raider made it to his destination and stopped in front of the cloaked figure. The raider had a bit of height on the newcomer, but not much. His armor, an ugly mess of gray and black, looked like it had gone through a car crusher and was then somehow muscled back into some semblance of the right shape.

“You’re not from around here,” the raider declared.

The Lodge went quiet in anticipation of a good show.

“Such keen powers of observation,” the cloaked man answered, his voice deep.

An old House. Crap.

The accent was unmistakable, cultured and still carrying traces of the original home world, the planet that gave life to the vampire species. Everybody in the room recognized this. Her husband’s family did their best to imitate it, going so far as to hire voice coaches for the children. Maud pulled her dagger and her sword out under the table. Things were about to get ugly.

A grimace twisted the raider’s face. “Your armor is clean. Pretty. Do you know what we do to pretty boys like you here?”

The tall vampire sighed. “Is there a script? Do you give this speech to all who enter here, because if so, I suggest we skip the talking.”

The raider roared. His mistake.

The cloaked man waited until the sound died. “A challenge. I love challenges.”

The raider grabbed his sword. The cloaked man punched him in the jaw. The blow swept the larger vampire off his feet. He went airborne and landed into a booth.

Okay then.

The raider scrambled up and swung his blade. The cloaked man ducked under the strike and smashed his fist against the raider’s ribs. The shoddy armor split with a dry burst. The edge of the breastplate popped free. The cloaked vampire grasped the broken breastplate and yanked it upward. The entire armor collapsed with a deafening crunch, locking the vampire into a rigid straitjacket.

Every vampire in the Lodge winced. Maud did too.

“Nice,” the werewolf said.

“If one is going to wear armor, one must properly maintain it.”

The raider tried to rise. The armor on his left arm fell off completely, the one on the right twisted his limb so far back, his shoulder had to be dislocated. He managed to stagger halfway up. The cloaked vampire kneed him in the face. The raider collapsed, his face bloody. The other vampire kicked him. The raider went still, drool and blood dripping from his open mouth onto the floor.

He wasn’t just a random knight. This one had a lot of martial training. If he headed for the doors now, he and his friends could walk out. Vampires respected strength. Even this lot would acknowledge his victory. If he stayed…

The cloaked man surveyed the room. “Anyone else?”

He did not just say that.

Seven raiders stood up.

The werewolf muttered something under his breath and pulled a large knife from a sheath on his waist. The blade shone with emerald green.

“Might as well get it over with.” The vampire tore off his cloak and hurled it aside.

State-of-the-art armor. House Krahr crest, as old of a bloodline as you could get. The sigil on the shoulder was blurred, something higher-ranking vampires did when they weren’t acting in official capacity. Stunning face and a mane of blond hair.

Oh dear universe. What the hell was a high-ranking knight of Krahr doing brawling on Karhari? She knew almost nothing about House Krahr except that it was large, aggressive, and one of the original Houses. Had one of Krahr’s knights visited House Ervan, her husband’s family would’ve treated him as an honored guest. Back before the exile, they probably would’ve paraded her in front of the visitors and had her recite one of the ancient sagas in a dialect nobody had used for three hundred years. Look at our pet human doing cute tricks. The thought brought bile to her throat. Why did she let it go on for so long?

The Krahr knight stepped forward, and she finally got a look at the person behind him. The figure in the gray robe slid off the stool. The hood had fallen back, revealing a familiar face framed by blond hair.

The hair on the back of Maud’s arms rose. She looked again, terrified she was mistaken.

“Mommy,” Helen whispered, “who is that lady?”

Somehow Maud’s lips moved. “That’s your aunt.”

Half of the room was now standing. The vampires roared in unison, bellowing a challenge.

Too many. Because of that idiot’s hubris, the werewolf and her sister would have to cut their way to her through at least thirty pissed-off vampires. She had to act, or they would never make it.

“Helen, get down low and head for the door.”

Helen slid her book into her little backpack, shouldered it, and slipped under the table.

Dina’s gaze connected with Maud’s. Her sister grinned.

Maud jumped onto the table and sprinted to the raider leader. He was focused on the Krahr knight. He never saw her coming. She primed her blood sword a moment before she reached him. The weapon whined as the bloodred high-tech liquid surged through it, rendering it nearly indestructible. The raider leader turned, reacting to the telltale noise, and she beheaded him in a single smooth stroke.

Blood splashed on the tables. Vampires roared and attacked.

She sliced someone’s arm in half, the blood sword cleaving through the subpar armor like it was baking foil, spun away from a female vampire’s outstretched hand trying to grab her, and kicked another female raider in the face.

Around her the Lodge was chaos, vampires shouting, tables flying, and blood weapons screeching as they were primed. She registered it all with adrenaline-saturated detachment. Nothing mattered except killing until they reached the door or there was nobody left to kill.

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