Home > Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4)(9)

Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4)(9)
Author: Ilona Andrews

To the right, about twenty-five yards away, Arland stopped to speak to three vampires. He’d taken Helen off his shoulders—thank you, universe—and she gaped at the spaceport.

Maud looked around and stopped to gape, too. She stood in a cavernous rectangular chamber. Daylight flooded it through long, narrow rectangular windows cut in the gray stone walls twenty feet above. She turned slowly, trying to take it all in.

To her left, the summoning gate glowed, about to release another traveler into the spaceport. To her right, small craft, sleek fighters and a few light civilian vessels, perched on the floor, and beyond them enormous hangar doors stood wide open, filled with blue sky. Above the hangar doors, a stone relief depicted a snarling krahr. The massive predator, its wide head a cross between a bear and a tiger, roared at the visitors, its maw gaping open, its sabretooth fangs a fatal promise. A thin crack down the krahr’s left side had chipped a bit of stone fur from its jaw. Nobody had fixed it.

It hit her. House Krahr was an old House.

Melizard’s House, House Ervan, was much younger. Noceen was a prosperous planet, with a gentle climate, colonized only two hundred years ago, and House Ervan had emerged as one of the prominent vampire clans due mostly to sheer luck. They had arrived with the first wave of settlers and the land they’d claimed happened to contain rich mineral deposits. Their wealth bought them weapons, equipment, and infrastructure. Everything on Noceen had been of the highest quality, modern and slick, especially the spaceport, where the traditional vampire stone was a veneer and the wood had been artificially distressed. She’d thought it rather grand when she first saw it. But this…This was the real thing.

All vampire spaceports were castles. Easily defended to allow for evacuation to orbit, easily contained if a threat were to arrive via the summoning gate. The spaceport of House Krahr had been built hundreds of years ago. The weathered stones under her feet, the massive wooden beams above, darkened by time, the thick stone walls, all of it emanated age. This was a stronghold, raised when strongholds had a purpose. Here and there modernization showed, but its touch was subtle and light: upgraded windows of transparent plastisteel, sensors high in the walls, and the massive blast-proof hangar gates. But the stronghold itself breathed an overwhelming sense of ancientness. It spoke to the visitors without uttering a word.

We’ve built this. It’s endured for centuries. Countless generations of us have walked across its threshold and still we own it, for no one is strong enough to take it away from us.

It wasn’t about money. It was a statement of power, harsh and brutal. It demanded respect, especially from a vampire, to whom tradition and family meant everything. It commanded awe and took it as its due.

She was so in over her head, it wasn’t even funny.

Arland strode to her, Helen at his side. “My lady.”

Clipped, formal words. The easy familiarity she’d become accustomed to was gone. She had expected as much.

“My lord.”

“I must apologize. A matter requires my urgent attention.” He leaned closer to her. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“As you wish, my lord.”

“I mean it,” he said. “Ten minutes.”

He seemed genuinely worried she would disappear. “Helen and I will wait for you.”

He nodded and marched away. The three vampire knights fell in behind him.

To the right, two vampire women followed him with their gazes. Both wore armor with the crest of House Kozor, a horned beast on blue. One was lean and tall, with a waterfall of chestnut hair framed by elaborate braids. The other, curvier, her armor more ornate, left her corn-silk blond mane free. It fell all the way to her butt in shiny waves, and by the way she tossed her head, she was quite proud of it.

Interesting. “Would you like to see the shuttles?”

“Yes,” Helen said.

“Let’s go look at them.”

They drifted closer to the shiny shuttles and to the two vampire women. Helen went to look at the elegant pure white fighter, and Maud watched her, keeping the two women on the very edge of her vision.

“…not the time to satiate your appetites,” the taller woman said.

Maud’s implant remained silent, but she understood regardless. Ancestor Vampiric. It was an older language, with dozens of regional dialects and variations. A lot of vampires could barely comprehend it, especially if it was spoken by a vampire from a different home world. Speech implants failed to interpret it, and outsiders didn’t speak it, but then she wasn’t an outsider. A lot of the great epics had been written in Ancestor Vampiric and reciting them in the original dialect had been a point of pride for members of House Ervan. She had tried so hard to be the best wife for Melizard. She was fluent in twelve main dialects and could understand others enough to get by. This particular one was odd, an offshoot of the Third Planet Coastal. They blended their vowels left and right but if she concentrated, she could make do.

“You have to admit, he’s a prime specimen,” the blond said.

“He’s preoccupied with his human toy. That’s her over there.”

“Toys can be broken,” the blond said.

Anytime you want to try.

“That is a beautiful child,” the blond said.

“A halfer,” the brunette sneered.

“Still, a cute little mongrel. Do you think she’s his?”

“No. The woman is an exile from some no-name House. One of the nouveau riche from the frontier. She was married to their Marshal’s son. He betrayed his House.”

“Interesting.” The blond stretched the word.

“Apparently Arland found her on Karhari.”

“The Marshal gets around.” The blond smiled. “You should let me play with him. It really is a shame to lose—”

“Be silent,” the chestnut snapped.

“Fine,” the blond sighed.

“I mean it. Mind your tongue, Seveline. Too many people have done too much work for you to ruin it with your blabbering. The future of our House is riding on this.”

“I said, ‘fine’.” Seveline’s voice turned sharper.

Short fuse, that one. She could use that later.

Helen moved on to the next shuttle and Maud strolled past the two women.

“My lady,” the blond said in Common Vampiric. “Pleasant day to you and your beautiful daughter.”

Maud inclined her head a neutral couple of inches. “Greetings, my lady.”

“I’m Seveline of the House of Kozor. This is my friend, Lady Onda, also of House Kozor.”

They treated her like she was an idiot who couldn’t identify crests. Perfect.

“I’m honored,” Maud said.

The two women smiled, showing the very edges of their teeth.

“Is this your first time enjoying the hospitality of House Krahr?” Onda asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re in for a treat,” Seveline said. “Their festivities are legendary. Once you are settled, do find me. I see us becoming the best of friends.”

“Indeed,” Onda said.

Two-faced bitches.

“I’ll do my best,” Maud promised.

Arland was marching toward her with a grim look on his face.

“I must beg your forgiveness,” Maud said. “The Marshal requires my presence.”

“We wouldn’t presume to keep you,” Onda said.

“You are beyond gracious. Come on, my flower.”

Maud took Helen by the hand and headed toward Arland. They met halfway.

“Sorry,” he murmured.

“Trouble?”

“Inconvenience. Are you ready to depart?”

“Yes.”

He led her to a small silver shuttle, a six-seater.

“Am I flying with you in your personal craft?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Is that wise?”

“I thought we established that I don’t care about being wise.”

Flying in his personal shuttle meant she’d face scrutiny at the point of landing, but it also meant she could speak to Arland in privacy.

Maud settled Helen into a soft blue seat and hopped into the passenger spot next to Arland. He touched the controls and the shuttle streaked through the hangar into the sky.

Arland was an excellent pilot. The take-off was so smooth, she barely felt the acceleration. He didn’t bother with autopilot.

The landscape rolled under them, a thick forest growth, the massive trees stretching their ancient branches to the sun. A moment, and the dense canopy abruptly fell away. They’d cleared the mesa. Far below, a verdant grassland stretched, rolling to the horizon, like a sea with islands of white mesas that dripped turquoise forests. A wide river wound through it, unrestrained by any dams.

“Do you like Daesyn?” Arland asked.

“It’s beautiful,” she said honestly.

“It’s home,” he said.

It could be your home, his glance added.

Too early for that.

He looked straight ahead, his face calm, and she found herself staring at the hard line of his jaw. Imagined running her fingers down its length…

Stop it, she told herself.

“Does it strike you as odd, my lord, that Kozor and Serak decided to bury the hatchet?”

“Alliances are broken and created all the time,” he said. His voice held no enthusiasm. He didn’t like it either. Her instincts rarely failed her, but it was nice to have confirmation.

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