Morrigans cross, p.16
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.16
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         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts

  “A high price for a bit of relief, adding that you’re part of what put me here.”

  “Why would she hurt you?” Moira continued to coat the cloth. “She needs you. We all do, like it or not.”

  “One minute,” Glenna said. “Give me one minute. I want to help you; you need to believe that. Believe me. Look at me, into my eyes. Yes, that’s right.”

  Now it came. Heat and release, heat and release. “There, that’s better. A little better. Yes?”

  She’d taken it, he realized. Some of the burn, just for an instant, into herself. He wouldn’t forget it. “Some. Yes, some. Thanks.”

  She applied more cloth, turned back to her case. “I’ll just clean the cuts and treat the bruises, then give you something to help you rest.”

  “I’m not looking for rest.”

  She shifted back, eased down on the bed intending to clean the cuts on his face. Puzzled, she laid her fingers on his cheek, turned his head. “I thought these were worse.”

  “They were. I heal quickly from most things.”

  “Good for you. How’s the vision?”

  He turned those hot blue eyes on her. “I see you well enough, Red.”

  “Could have a concussion. Can you get concussions? I imagine so,” she said before he could answer. “Are you burned anywhere else?” She started to lower the sheet, then flicked him a wicked glance. “Is it true what they say about vampires?”

  It made him laugh, then hiss as the pain rippled back. “A myth. We’re hung just as we were before the change. You’re welcome to look for yourself, but I’m not hurt in that area. It caught me full on the chest.”

  “We’ll preserve your modesty—and my illusions.” When she took his hand the amusement faded from his face. “I thought we’d killed you. So did he. Now he’s suffering.”

  “Oh, he’s suffering, is he? Maybe he’d like to switch places with me.”

  “You know he would. However you feel or don’t about him, he loves you. He can’t turn that off, and he hasn’t had all the time that you’ve had to step back from brotherhood.”

  “We stopped being brothers the night I died.”

  “No, you didn’t. And you’re deluding yourself if you believe that.” She pushed off the bed. “You’re as comfortable as I can make you. I’ll come back in an hour and work on you some more.”

  She gathered her things. Moira slipped out of the room ahead of her, and waited. “What did that to him?”

  “I’m not entirely sure.”

  “You need to be. It’s a powerful weapon against his kind. We could use it.”

  “We weren’t controlling it. I don’t know that we can.”

  “If you could,” Moira insisted.

  Glenna opened the door to her room, carried her case inside. She wasn’t ready to go back to the tower. “It controlled us, as far as I can tell. It was huge and powerful. Too powerful for either of us to handle. Even together—and we were linked as closely as I’ve been with anyone—we couldn’t harness it. It was like being inside the sun.”

  “The sun’s a weapon.”

  “If you don’t know how to use a sword, you’re just as likely to cut off your own hand as someone else’s.”

  “So you learn.”

  Glenna lowered to the bed, then held out a hand. “I’m shaky,” she said, watching it tremble. “There are places inside my body I didn’t know I had shaking like my hand is.”

  “And I’m badgering you. I’m sorry. You seemed so steady, so calm when you were treating the vampyre.”

  “He has a name. Cian. Start using it.” Moira’s head snapped back as if she’d been slapped, and her eyes widened at the whip in Glenna’s tone. “I’m sorry about your mother. Sick and sorry, but he didn’t kill her. If she’d been murdered by a blond man with blue eyes, would you go around hating all men with blond hair and blue eyes?”

  “It’s not the same, not nearly the same.”

  “Close enough, especially in our situation.”

  Sheer stubbornness hardened Moira’s face. “I fed him blood, and gave what little I could to ease him. I helped you treat his burns. It should be enough.”

  “It’s not. Wait,” Glenna ordered as Moira spun around to leave. “Just wait. I am shaking, and short-tempered with it. Just wait. If I seemed calm before it’s because that’s the way it works for me. Handle the crisis, then fall apart. This is the falling apart portion of our program. But what I said goes, Moira.

  “Just as what you said in there goes. We need him. You’re going to have to start thinking of him, and treating him like a person instead of a thing.”

  “They tore her to pieces.” Moira’s eyes filled even as the defense of defiance crumbled. “No, he wasn’t there, he had no part of it. He lifted his sword for me. I know it, but I can’t feel it.”

  She slapped a hand on her heart. “I can’t feel it. They didn’t let me grieve. They didn’t give me time to mourn my own mother. And now, now that I’m here it’s all grief and all rage. All blood and death. I don’t want this burden. Away from my people, from everything I know. Why are we here? Why are we charged with this? Why are there no answers?”

  “I don’t know, which is another nonanswer. I’m sorry, so horribly sorry about your mother, Moira. But you’re not the only one with grief and rage. Not the only one asking questions and wishing they were back in the life they knew.”

  “One day you will go back. I never can.” She yanked open the door and fled.

  “Perfect. Just perfect.” Glenna dropped her head into her hands.

  In the tower room, Hoyt laid each cross on a cloth of white linen. They were cool to the touch, and though the metal had dimmed somewhat, its light was bright enough to glare into his eyes.

  He picked up Glenna’s cauldron. It was scorched black. He doubted it could ever be used again—wondered if it was meant to be. The candles she’d scribed and lit were no more than puddles of wax on the floor now. It would need to be cleaned. The entire room should be cleansed before any other magic was done here.

  The circle was etched into the floor now, a thin ring of pure white. And his brother’s blood stained the floor and walls outside the door.

  Sacrifice, he thought. There was always payment for power. His gift of his mother’s candlestand, Glenna’s of her grandmother’s ring hadn’t been enough.

  The light had burned so fierce and bright, so violently hot. Yet it hadn’t scorched his skin. He held his hand up, examined it. Unmarked. Unsteady yet, he could admit. But unmarked.

  The light had filled him, all but consumed him. It had twined him so truly with Glenna it had been almost as if they’d been one person, one power.

  That power had been heady and fantastic.

  And it had whirled out like the wrath of the gods at his brother. Struck down the other half of him while the sorcerer had ridden the lightning.

  Now he was empty, hollowed out. What power that remained in him was like lead, heavy and cold, and the lead was coated thick with guilt.

  Nothing to be done now, nothing to do but put order back into the room. He busied himself, calmed himself, with the basic tasks. When King rushed into the room, he stood still, arms at his sides, and took the blow he saw coming full in the face.

  He had a moment to think it was like being hit by a battering ram as he was launched back against the wall. Then simply slid bonelessly to the floor.

  “Get up. Get up, you son of a bitch.”

  Hoyt spat out blood. His vision wavered so he saw several black giants standing over him with ham-sized fists bunched. He braced a hand on the wall, dragged himself to his feet.

  The battering ram struck again. This time his vision went red, black, shimmered sickly to gray. King’s voice went tinny in his ears, but he struggled to follow the command to get back up.

  There was a flash of color through the gray, a stream of heat through the iced pain.

  Glenna flew into the tower. She didn’t bother to shove at King, but rammed her elbow viciousl
y into his midsection, then all but fell on Hoyt to shield him.

  “Stop it! Get away from him. Stupid bastard. Oh Hoyt, your face.”

  “Get away.” He could barely mumble the words, and his stomach pitched violently as he pushed at her and tried to rise again.

  “Go ahead and throw one. Come on.” King spread his arms, then tapped his chin. “I’ll give you a free shot. Hell, I’ll give you a couple of them, you miserable son of a bitch. It’s more than you gave Cian.”

  “He’s gone then. Get away from me.” Hoyt shoved at Glenna. “Go ahead,” he told King. “Finish it.”

  Though his fists remained bunched, King lowered them a fraction. The man was barely standing, and blood ran from his nose, his mouth. One eye was already swelling shut. And he just swayed there, waiting to take another hit.

  “Is he stupid, or just crazy?”

  “He’s neither,” Glenna snapped. “He thinks he’s killed his brother so he’ll stand here and let you beat him to death because he blames himself as much as you blame him. And you’re both wrong. Cian’s not dead. Hoyt, he’s going to be fine. He’s resting, that’s all. He’s resting.”

  “Not gone?”

  “You didn’t pull it off, and you won’t get a second chance.”

  “Oh, for God’s sake!” Glenna whirled to King. “Nobody tried to kill anyone.”

  “Just step away, Red.” King jerked a thumb. “I’m not looking to hurt you.”

  “Why not? If he’s responsible, so am I. We were working together. We were doing what we came here to do, damn it. Cian came in at the wrong time, it’s as simple and as tragic as that. If Hoyt could, and would, hurt Cian like that purposely, do you think you’d be standing there? He’d cut you down with a thought. And I’d help him.”

  King’s bicolored eyes narrowed, his mouth went grim. But his fists stayed at his side. “Why don’t you?”

  “It’s against everything we are. You couldn’t possibly understand. But unless you’re brick stupid you should understand that whatever affection and loyalty you feel for Cian, Hoyt feels it, too. And he’s felt it since the day he was born. Now get out of here. Just go.”

  King unbunched his fists, rubbed them on his pants. “Maybe I was wrong.”

  “A lot of good that does.”

  “I’m going to check on Cian. If I’m not satisfied, I’m going to finish this.”

  Ignoring him as he strode out, Glenna turned to try to take some of Hoyt’s weight. “Here now, you need to sit down.”

  “Would you get away from me?”

  “No, I won’t.”

  In response, Hoyt merely lowered to the floor.

  Resigned, Glenna went for more cloth, poured water from a pitcher into a bowl. “It looks like I’m going to spend the evening mopping up blood.”

  She knelt beside him, dampening cloth, then gently cleaning blood from his face. “I lied. You are stupid, stupid to stand there and let him pound on you. Stupid to feel guilty. And cowardly, too.”

  His eyes, bloodied and swollen, shifted to hers. “Have a care.”

  “Cowardly,” she repeated, her voice sharp because there were tears welling at the base of her throat. “To stay up here wallowing instead of coming down to help. Instead of coming down to see what shape your brother was in. Which isn’t that much worse than you at this point.”

  “I’m not in the mood to have you jab at me with words, or flutter about me.” He waved her hands away.

  “Fine. Just fine.” She tossed the cloth back in the bowl so water spewed up and lapped over onto the floor. “Tend to yourself then. I’m tired of every single one of you. Brooding, self-pitying, useless. If you ask me, your Morrigan screwed up royally picking this group.”

  “Brooding, self-pitying, useless. You forgot your part of the whole. Shrew.”

  She inclined her head. “That’s a weak and old-fashioned term. Today, we just go with bitch.”

  “Your world, your word.”

  “That’s right. While you’re up here wallowing, you might take just a minute to consider this. We did something amazing here tonight.” She gestured toward the silver crosses on the table. “Something beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. The fact that we did, that we could, should, in some way, bring this ridiculous group together. But instead we’re all whining in our separate corners. So I guess the magic, and the moment, was wasted.”

  She stormed out just as Larkin jogged up the steps. “Cian’s getting up. He says we’ve wasted enough time and we’ll be training an extra hour tonight.”

  “You can tell him to kiss my ass.”

  Larkin blinked, then craned his head around the curve of the stairs to watch her stride down. “Sure it’s a fine one,” he said, but very quietly.

  He peeked into the tower room, saw Hoyt sitting on the floor, bleeding.

  “Mother of Christ, did she do that?”

  Hoyt scowled at him and decided his punishment for the night wasn’t quite done. “No. For God’s sake, do I look like I could be beaten by a woman?”

  “She strikes me as formidable.” Though he would have preferred keeping clear of magic areas, he could hardly leave the man sprawled there. So Larkin walked over to Hoyt, crouched. “Well, that’s a mess, isn’t it? You’re coming up a pair of black eyes.”

  “Bollocks. Give me a hand up, will you?”

  Agreeably, Larkin helped him up, gave him a shoulder to lean on. “I don’t know what the bleeding hell’s going on, but Glenna’s steaming, and Moira’s locked in her room. Cian looks like the wrath of all the gods, but he’s out of bed and saying we’re training. King’s opened some whiskey and I’m thinking about joining him.”

  Hoyt touched fingers gingerly to his cheekbone, hissed as the pain radiated to his face. “Not shattered, there’s some fine luck. She might’ve done a bit more to help instead of pounding a lecture on my head.”

  “Words are a woman’s sharpest weapon. From the looks of you, you could use some of that whiskey.”

  “I could.” Hoyt braced a hand on the table, prayed he’d regain his balance in a moment. “Do what you can, would you, Larkin, to get the lot of them together in the training area. I’ll be along.”

  “Taking my life in my hands, I’m thinking. But all right. I’ll try sweetness and charm with the ladies. They’ll either fall for it, or kick me in the balls.”

  They didn’t kick him, but they didn’t come happily. Moira sat cross-legged on a table, eyes, swollen from weeping, downcast. Glenna stood in a corner, sulking into a glass of wine. King stood in his own corner, rattling ice in a short glass of whiskey.

  Cian sat, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. His face was white as bone, and the burns the loose white shirt didn’t cover, livid.

  “Music might be nice,” Larkin said into the silence. “The sort you hear at funeral pyres and the like.”

  “We’ll work on form and agility.” Cian cast his glance around the room. “I haven’t seen a great deal of that in any of you so far.”

  “Is there a point to you being insulting?” Moira asked wearily. “A point to any of this? Slapping swords and trading punches? You were burned worse than anyone I’ve ever seen, and here you are, an hour after, up again. If magic such as that can’t take you down, keep you down, what will?”

  “I take it you’d be happier if I’d gone to ash. I’m happy to disappoint you.”

  “That’s not what she meant.” Glenna shoved irritably at her hair.

  “And you interpret for her now?”

  “I don’t need anyone to speak for me,” Moira snapped right back. “And I don’t need to be told what to do every bleeding hour of every bleeding day. I know what kills them, I’ve read the books.”

  “Oh, well then, you’ve read the books.” Cian gestured toward the doors. “Then be my guest. Go right on out and take out a few vamps.”

  “It’d be better than tumbling about on the floor in here, like a circus,” she shot back.

  “I’m with Moira on this.
Larkin rested a hand on the hilt of his knife. “We should hunt them down, take the offense. We haven’t so much as posted a guard or sent out a scout.”

  “This isn’t that kind of war, boy.”

  Larkin’s eyes glittered. “I’m not a boy, and from what I can see it’s no kind of war.”

  “You don’t know what you’re up against,” Glenna put in.

  “Don’t I? I fought them, killed three with my own hands.”

  “Weak ones, young ones. She didn’t waste her best on you.” Cian rose. He moved stiffly and with obvious effort. “Added to that, you had help and were lucky. But if you came across one with some seasoning, with some skill, you’d be meat.”

  “I can hold my own.”

  “Hold it with me. Come at me.”

  “You’re hurt. It wouldn’t be fair.”

  “Fair is for women. If you take me down, I’ll go out with you.” Cian gestured toward the door. “We’ll hunt tonight.”

  Interest brightened Larkin’s eyes. “Your word on it?”

  “My word. Take me down.”

  “All right then.”

  Larkin came in fast, then spun out of reach. He jabbed, feinted, spun again. Cian merely reached out, gripped Larkin around the throat and lifted him off his feet. “You don’t want to dance with a vampire,” he said and tossed Larkin halfway across the room.

  “Bastard.” Moira scrambled up, raced to her cousin’s side. “You’ve half strangled him.”

  “The half ’s what counts.”

  “Was that really necessary?” Glenna got to her feet, moved to Larkin to lay her hands on his throat.

  “Kid asked for it,” King commented, and had her whipping her head around.

  “You’re nothing but a bully. The pair of you.”

  “I’m all right, I’m all right.” Larkin coughed, cleared his throat. “It was a good move,” he said to Cian. “I never saw it coming.”

  “Until you can, and do, you don’t hunt.” He eased back, lowered carefully into the chair. “Time to work.”

  “I’d ask you to wait.” Hoyt came into the room.

  Cian didn’t bother to look at him. “We’ve waited long enough.”

  “A bit more. I have things to say. First to you. I was careless, but so were you. I should have barred the door, but you shouldn’t have opened it.”

  “This is my house now. It hasn’t been yours for centuries.”

  “That may be. But courtesy and caution should approach a closed door, particularly when magic is being done. Cian.” He waited until his brother’s eyes shifted to him. “I would not have had you hurt. That’s for you to believe or not. But I would not have had you hurt.”

  “I don’t know if I can say the same.” Cian gestured with his chin toward Hoyt’s face. “Did your magic do that?”

  “It’s another result of it.”

  “Looks painful.”

  “So it is.”

  “Well then, that balances the scales somewhat.”

  “And this is what we’ve come to, checks and balances.” Hoyt turned to face the room, and the others. “Arguments and resentments. You were right,” he said to Glenna. “A great deal of what you said was right, though I swear you talk too much.”

  “Oh, really?”

  “We aren’t united, and until we are, we’re hopeless. We could be training and preparing every hour of every day of the time we have left, and never win. Because—this is what you said—we have a common enemy, but not a common purpose.”

  “The purpose is to fight them,” Larkin interrupted. “To fight them, and kill them. Kill them all.”

 
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