The Key

Destiny is coming for the Woalds. It is demon romance novelist Alaun Woald’s path to find the key and deliver it to the goddess Kennera–before Alaun’s sisters succumb…

Joru Malickus, second prince of Relaklonos, stops the little lawbreaker just in time…but will this demon prince be strong enough to stop the Fates’ plan for her?

Part 1. 

Alaun held her older sister’s hand and prayed to the goddess that had long since abandoned her family that Ambrea would somehow live. Her sister’s face was bruised and battered, and the blood they had given her might not be enough. Even though it had come from the male who was destined for her sister. He was healthy and strong and the one for her sister. If any blood could save her, it would be his.

Adrastos blood.

She shivered. Never would she have expected her sister’s male to be of the House of Adrastos. They had spent far too long avoiding the Dardaptoan house of Warriors for that to come easily.

But Rix, the male who had pulled Ambrea from the rubble of the earthquake that had destroyed their home and so many others in the demon city of Thrun already adored her sister.

He and Ambrea hadn’t spoken even a word to one another. It was that way between Rajnis. Fated. He breathed for her sister now.

When Alaun had arrived at the healer’s hall where the head of her House, Iahanna, was keeping her sister alive, Rix had been at her sister’s side. Holding her hand and praying to the goddess.

Strong and sure, she’d seen him and his brothers on the streets before. Just another of the Adrastos who could hurt her and her family again.

But this time they hadn’t. Some demonic force had burst from the earth beneath the city, destroying all that had been built above it.

Including the small home she had recently moved into with her six sisters.

They had spent two days in the rubble before rescue had come at Rix and his brothers’ hands. Two days in which Ambrea had slowly bled next to her. Alaun had tried everything she could to get the bleeding to slow.

But Ambrea and Alleah, their youngest sister at only eight years old, had only grown worse.

Alaun didn’t know what to do now.

All they could do was pray. To a goddess who had long abandoned the Woald.

Alaun refused to pray. She needed to be up actually doing something.

She was the third of the seven sisters; Ambrea and Kellis were both older. Kulea, Riv, Jume, and Alleah younger. And other than Alleah, and Kellis, Alaun was the smallest, the most timid. The one most often overlooked.

Except for the night a demon and Adrastos youth had caught her as she’d left the well.

Their home hadn’t had running water and they’d needed the jugs she had carried.

They had beaten and attacked her and she had almost not survived. Had her cousin Iliap and the leader of their House Iahanna not heard her screams, she wouldn’t have.

It felt like she had been doing nothing of worth since that day. Just hiding. Just existing.

All faith she had ever had in her goddess had vanished that day. She had screamed out for Kennera’s help and still nothing.

She could not just sit by Ambrea and Alleah’s bedsides and pray.

Her youngest sister had awakened that morning. Her head pained her but she was in good spirits. And would make a full recovery.

None had told her that Ambrea, the sister who had raised Alleah as her own child until this point, most likely would not recover.

Alaun stood abruptly. The male at the door looked at her. They had not spoken but a few words. He had not looked away from her sister long enough to even introduce himself.

He would die if her sister did. If Ambrea did not waken, did not live, this male warrior who led his own House of Adrastos, strong and healthy, alive and vital, would simply lay down and die.

The mate bond between Rajnis was just that strong.

She never wanted to find her mate. Not if this was the cost.

For though he was one of the despised Adrastos, she would never wish the pain on his face on another male. Not over her.

He bowed to her quietly. “Little sister?”

“I can’t…I can’t just sit here. I need to breathe.”

“I will not leave her.”

“Kellis will be here soon. She was speaking with Iahanna and Barlaam.” And they were doing all they could. The bleeding had been stopped. Rix had given Ambrea his blood, and they had given her demon blood for the pain. But it was infection that terrified them all.

They had all been exposed to the strangest kind of bacteria and dust down there.

Alaun’s own throat had narrowed from it and she had yet to recover. But what did a sore throat matter, when her sister might die?

She stepped away from the bed.

Her sister’s hand shot up, her fingers wrapped around Alaun’s wrist.

“Ambrea?” Alaun knelt next to her sister’s bedside. “Can you hear me?”

“Go…”

“What?”

Ambrea’s eyes flickered. She looked right at Alaun. And she tried to smile. “Go…Alaun. Back to the house. My room. There’s a box there. With a key. You must take that key…take to the goddess. She will have the answer for you. For all of us. Go.”

“Shouldn’t Kellis?” Kellis, the next sister above her in age, was the best with a sword. With tasks such as this. Kellis was braver, stronger, faster…

“No. You only. It’s for you to do. Go. I will be here when you get back. You must take the key to the goddess. And hurry…I have seen…”

Her sister stared at her for a moment, then Ambrea looked at the male next to the bed.

Her hand loosened on Alaun. Trembled. “You are him.”

“I am him,” Rix said so solemnly Alaun’s eyes filled. She rose to her feet and took a step back. He leaned over her sister. “How do you feel, my love?”

“Weak.” Ambrea closed her eyes. “But you are an Adrastos. His son. I do not wish to be mated to an Adrastos. It is not safe…Alaun, go. You must hurry.”

“I will have my brothers go with her,” Rix brushed the hair off her sister’s forehead. Alaun had braided Ambrea’s hair herself. “She will be protected. Never again will you or your sisters feel fear.”

“No! An Adrastos cannot be trusted with this. Only a Woald. Only Alaun. Go, Alaun, before they stop you.”

“I—”

“Go!” Ambrea coughed. So hard her entire body shook. Alaun cried out and stepped toward her. Ambrea held up her hand. When the coughing stopped her eyes met Alaun’s. “Go, little sister. Go. Please, just go.”

Alaun went.

***

Joru Malickus surveyed the damage done to the once demon city of Thrun and he fought back the anger. The ire. Since the arrival of the much weaker Dardaptoan vampires from another world, the city had taken hit and hit after hit.

And he was tasked by his king to protect this once great city. For the very ones helping to destroy it.

He was Incubi and Beskre Warrior. Half brother to the king. He and the king had been playmates as spawn so many thousands of years ago.

Thrun had sat empty for most of those years; until the Rhacshas demons had taken over it more than three thousand years ago.

Now the city was that of the Dardaptoans from Gaia.

And he had to protect them.

Joru had been tasked with many jobs in his service to his brother, but only the knowledge that the great war was coming had him near to these Dardaptoans at all.

His own full brother had been killed by a Pradatoi, a Dardaptoan demon hunter, centuries ago. That would never make this task before him any easier.

Joru and his warriors, tasked by his half brother Renakletos, were patrolling the streets of the city, keeping all the fool Dardaptoans in their homes and out of harm.

Creatures of great power had spewed forth from the ground of the city and the fear was that more of such power would rise again. And soon.

Joru held the sword of his forefathers as he traversed the now ruins of the center section of the once great demon city.

There had been two epicenters of the destruction. One just smelled more evil than the other. And that was where he was drawn.

He stood guard himself until almost dawn.

Over the house where seven vampire sisters had almost died. Proof again that these creatures did not belong in the world of his Kind.

He had just turned to the sun as it rose, when a sound behind him had him turning, sword in hand.

***

She’d changed out of the white vestis and pardus her cousin Cayri had loaned her and into a dark gray one she had asked a servant for.

She was not used to servants; Woald had always served. The other female had been a friend of hers for years and had believed her when she’d told her that she felt far too awkward in the garments of royalty when she was used to far so different.

She had bound her hair and bound her breasts, even with the bra she wore. With the dark clothes, her dark hair, and the dark cloak Alaun hoped she blended in enough.

There were demons, Incubi, who fed on females. They did all they could to get the females of her Kind alone where they could pray upon them.

She had almost been one of those females.

Alaun would always have that fear of the demons now.

It took her longer than she thought to make her way through the city toward the block where her family had lived for less than two weeks.

Before they were moved, the entire House of Woald had lived near the Black and Adrastos Houses. Two more vile and depraved Houses, or clans, she had never seen.

The Woald had been forced to live in the slums of Thrun, with constant threats of starvation or attacks from their neighbors.

Then Iahanna had been mated to one of the Adrastos sons, Rix’s brother, and her entire House had been relocated to a supposedly better area of the city, in Iahanna’s mate’s neighborhoods.

Alaun had been afraid of the new neighborhood. There were far too many Adrastos around them. But Iahanna had explained that they were not of the same House that had attacked the Woald. It had not felt like much of a difference.

The males who had attacked her had worn that same turquoise hasha. He and his demon gang had enjoyed striking her and threatening to feed from her. She would never feel safe among the Adrastos—or the demons.

Especially the Incubi.

She made it to the home where her sisters had almost died. It looked even worse in the early light of dawn.

Alaun slid around the back. Where the stones had been removed days ago and rescuers had pulled them all out.

She had thought she was going to die in that basement, beneath their home.

But worse, she had thought her sisters, those she loved more than anything, had been going to be lost.

***

Joru caught the small shadow as it darted around the rubble. At first he thought it a mere youth, a looter out to steal what did not belong to him.

Demon or Dardaptoan, it mattered little. A criminal was still a criminal. And would face punishment under Relaklonian law. As it should be.

The leader of this city, a damned Laquazzeana, had ordered a marshal law and curfew. None should be out this morn who had not been assigned by him.

He crept around the corner, just as the intruder darted into one of the condemned buildings.

And that was when he smelled her.

A female, then. His fangs lengthened when the sweetness of her scent reached him.

He was an Incubi, born to an Incubi father and a half Succubi/half Beskre Warrior mother. He was warrior, but he was Incubi first.

And he had not fed in weeks. Not fully.

He would catch this female intruder, and feed from her as his due. It would not harm her, and he would not lay hands upon her unless she specifically wished it. But he would know what her secret longings were.

And he would fulfill them in her dreams tonight.

Dreams she would have while within the dungeon where he would take her.

She would answer his questions first.

***

She had a light, a small glowing pink rock she’d been given weeks ago by her little sister Alleah. Alleah had said it would bring her good luck and Alaun had treasured the present.

Her sister had such a bright personality the little rock had reminded her of Alleah. But she’d discovered by accident that if she left it on her window in the light it would glow all night.

She had clung to that rock in the hellhole their home had become. As she had held Alleah’s unconscious body in her arms, and rocked her. Begged her to open her eyes. And stared at Ambrea as Kellis and the others tried to help her.

The rock was rather like her talisman at the moment. A connection to the sisters who were probably worried about her right now, when they needed to be focused on Ambrea and Alleah.

The opening was still there. She shined the rock toward it. A large red X had been drawn over what had once been the front of the home.

She could still fit through the opening. She’d fall once inside—they’d been in the basement when the attack had happened—but that couldn’t be helped. As long as she didn’t cut herself, she would live.

Alaun slipped inside.

The house they’d been assigned had been a smaller one. Too small for seven. But they had been determined to make do. They’d shared rooms. She and Kellis, Ambrea and Alleah, and the other three sisters had taken the large attic above.

Ambrea’s room had been in the basement.

Alaun was going to have to go down there again.

In the dark. With just a small rock to light her way.

She didn’t know if she could do this.

But Ambrea had never been wrong before. Her sister had some of the blood of an ancestor in her. She saw things sometimes.

Alaun had learned early on to listen.

She slipped over a pile of rock that had once been the stairs to their basement. And kept going.

***

She made it too easy. All he had to do was follow the little glow. He recognized the glow for what it was. The little rocks held residual magic from the time they were formed. They fed from the sun, and would glow if used correctly. If charged by those with the right blood.

Apparently this little Gaian vampire had that right blood somehow.

Only demons were said to possess it.

But this girl was not demon. He would bet his sword on that. No, all he sensed from her was young, female, and Dardaptoan.

His blood heated as he probed through his senses to see what he could learn about her.

Joru slammed hard against a barrier of some sort, sending him reeling to the side for a moment.

This girl was guarded in a way he had never seen.

It intrigued him.

He tried again.

With similar results.

Joru smiled. To find a female of any Kind who was able to resist the touch of an Incubi prince was very, very rare indeed.

He slipped into the cellar behind her.

When she lifted the little glow stone to light her way, he reached out and snagged it from her hand.

He tucked it into his tunic, sending them both into total darkness.

**

She screamed. Alaun turned and tried to run back the way she had come, but he had her.

“I do not think so, little bloodsucker. You have been caught. Now you will explain yourself.”

The voice was all the more frightening for the softness of its tone. The demon—she would recognize demons everywhere just by scent alone—yanked her hard against his naked chest.

A whimper escaped. This was just like the last time she had been attacked. Only, if she screamed now it would be other demons to hear. She bit her lip, hard, thinking of the key and what her sister had asked of her.

Ambrea had rarely asked anything of her. And if this was the last request from her sister before Ambrea died, Alaun was going to succeed at it. No matter the cost.

“Let me go!” She struggled.

He merely laughed. “You are trespassing, little one.”

“No! It’s my house.”

“Is that so? I take it you stepped out for a moment? This house has been condemned. It is destroyed. And the evil still settles.”

“I need our things. My sisters. Mine. Please! Just let me go.” She wasn’t above begging. She just had to get the little box she’d found back to her sister. “My sister asked me to bring her something and she’s dying. Just let me go. I won’t…Please.”

His arms just tightened around her and he dragged her toward the street above.

Alaun couldn’t fight him; he was a demon and she sensed he was a strong one, an old one. One who could kill her and just walk away without looking back.

Or consume her.

She had been threatened by the Incubi so many times, threatened that they would consume her, feed from her, force her to do as they wished. As their slave.

But other than that one time, none had gotten her alone like this.

She bit back tears. The small wooden box Ambrea had sent her to fetch jabbed her in the side when he turned her. He had one arm around her waist and he used his hold to carry her. She could see just a small bit of moonlight coming through that opening.

Tremors ran through her, and not just from the demon world’s colder night air. She did not realize she was begging him until he ordered her to stop.

Alaun ceased begging.

She had to find a way to escape and get back to her sisters.

His other hand caressed her mouth, then his arm crossed over her shoulder.

She bent down and did the only thing she could.

Alaun sank her fangs deep into the flesh of his arm.

At the taste of his blood in her mouth she pulled back and screamed.

No!

Part 2.