Home > Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(11)

Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(11)
Author: K.F. Breene

In addition, some of the travel ways were magically enhanced to speed up travel within the Realm. You walked along as normal, but the towns and cities whipped by like you were in a train or fast car. It didn’t take me long to realize I was on one of the special paths. As I walked, turning occasionally, patches of wilds whipped by, shaggy and forlorn. The effect was mind-boggling. I didn’t see any gates leading back into the Brink, which was probably why it was a fast track, but it was still crazy. And though it felt like it took all night, light did not illuminate the horizon. Nor did either of the two moons shift in the sky.

No, I did not go to the Realm often. It freaked me out a little.

Nearing the end of the directions the captain had sent me, which had apparently been posted with the bounty notice by a vampire named Darius, I wound around a bend and found two things. The first was that the cobblestone path ended abruptly—as did the lovely flowers on the sides. Clearly the magical path was finished. I was on my own.

The second item of interest was the massive cluster of rocks directly in front of me. Large and jagged, the smallest could crush a skull, and the larger ones loomed over me.

“’Scuze mer!”

The deep, booming voice made me jump. I whirled around and was confronted by a stone crotch. There was no definition or dangling bits—just an apex between huge stone legs. Looking upward, I gaped at the face of a giant man made of stone.

“How do you reproduce?” I blurted.

Of all the questions I could’ve asked.

A big hand swung down, swatting at me.

I dodged, whipping out my sword. “Good gracious, what’s your problem?”

“Move!” He swatted at me again.

“How about a please?” I stepped to the side, ready to dodge a kick.

“What you here from?”

“Your grasp of the English language is excellent. Tell me, who’s your teacher?”

“Who brought you from?” He bent at the waist to survey me, creating a crack in his stomach instead of a crease.

“Your questions are bending my brain, man. My turn for a question: is that crack going to heal?”

“Who brought you here from?” He picked up a rock in a huge hand and threw it. It smashed into others without a sound. Shards flew into the sky.

I kicked a rock next to me. It made the expected thud. I hadn’t heard the rock-man coming, though. With his size and weight, that should’ve been impossible.

“I do not understand this place,” I muttered, eager to get back to the Brink, where things made sense. “I’m going to see a vampire called Darius. He requested my presence. I came from the Brink.” I hesitated for a moment. “Did any of those statements answer your question?”

The rock-man swung a big foot and kicked a rock next to him. It silently bounced off a boulder and came rolling toward me. I dove out of the way. Still no sound other than what I was making.

I jumped to my feet, ready for action and dreading it at the same time.

The rock man stalked forward. As he did so, he constantly kicked out, reconfiguring the rocks violently. They smashed into each other, all plenty big enough to squish me if I were in the way. Silence reigned.

“I do not like this place at all.” I worried my teeth against my bottom lip.

Now or never.

I hurriedly picked my way through, paying attention to my direction and keeping an eye out for movement. My goal was not to end up between two huge rocks.

When I made it out, thankfully unscathed, I turned back to see if any other giants were on my heels. There weren’t any, but I realized my jaunt through the silent rock garden had been planned. It cropped up in the middle of mostly desolate land with the main path right through. Other, smaller paths went around.

A test.

Well, I would definitely take those on the way back.

Continuing on at a normal pace, which I no longer fancied that much, I finally saw the end point. An enormous wrought-iron gate with decorative scrolls. Beyond it, a mound. In the mound, a door.

Nothing else.

A gate, a mound, and a door.

As expected, the vampires’ lair was entirely below surface, and while it probably only had a couple other exits, they’d be equally as minimal. I was about to be trapped inside a hole with hundreds, if not thousands, of vampires.

Chapter Five

I approached the door slowly and tucked my directions into my leather pouch. I moved my palm over the heavy metal door. No spells to keep out intruders, not like that was a surprise. I tried the handle. It shook, but didn’t open. Locked.

A lock was plenty. Who in their right mind would be stupid enough to force their way in?

This was one of those times that I was a fool.

I jump-kicked, putting all my power behind it. My foot banged into the door. Metal squealed and the side of the door bent inward. I kicked it again, busting it and sending it swinging.

“Knock, knock,” I said, strolling in.

My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness.

My directions had ended at knock, so I waited a moment to see if anyone would come for me. Given how quickly some of those buggers ran, I didn’t wait long. The absence of a greeting party meant I was on my own.

No problem. I was used to wandering around dead people’s houses.

I walked forward, eyeing the huge, finely worked stone walls with intricate detailing. If this were Middle Earth, I’d be in a dwarf stronghold.

The main path sloped downward gradually. Other, smaller paths, which I might even call trails, led away every so often on either side. I kept to the larger path in case I had to fight. I was, quite possibly, the only thing in this whole place that could serve as food. I didn’t want to end up in that position, no matter how pleasurable it might be.

One foot in front of the other, further down I went, my footfalls silent, matching my surroundings. An intruder was in their midst, and no one had come out to check on me. That was suspicious.

Another ten feet down, I felt eyes digging into my back. Not much further and the press of bodies surrounding me grew until it was almost a palpable pressure. I couldn’t see anyone, though. Columns climbed up the walls to either side, with empty spaces between. The paths led away, bare. But it felt as though the place was packed.

Nervousness crawled up my spine and then skittered across my skin. Adrenaline pumped into my bloodstream. A move had to be made, I felt it.

Trusting my instincts, I grabbed a throwing knife from the harness around my leg, spun, and threw. It flew high and straight, up into the stone platform between the columns. A flicker of movement gave someone away, a hand shooting out of nothing and vanishing just as quickly.

The sound of my knife hitting a hard surface never came.

“Caught you peeking.” I tsked. “That’s not nice, you know. Guests should be welcomed, not stared at by lurkers.”

I felt more than heard shifting. Knew without proof that my watchers were uneasy with my complete lack of fear. Villains were all the same after a while.

“Can I have my knife back, please?” I asked, starting forward again.

The flicker of movement came from the same area. The knife flew through the air, end over end, in my direction. The throw was a little short. I had to jog forward to snatch it out of the air, a feat I probably wouldn’t have been able to duplicate a second time. Luck be a lady.

“Thanks.” I saluted with it before putting it away, extremely uncomfortable that I couldn’t see the watchers, though they could clearly see me. “Say, you guys wouldn’t happen to know where Darius is, would you?”

Silence answered my question, eerie in such a grand space packed with bodies I couldn’t see.

I kept moving as the pathway narrowed. The columns lining it pushed in closer, and with them, invisible vampires who could pluck a knife out of the air. I’d put some heat on that throw, too. It didn’t bode well for my odds of dominating in a fight.

Flickers of movement came from the left. I glanced over in time to see an arm disappear to the side. The scrape of feet on rock hinted that the vampire I’d spied wasn’t as old and graceful as the one that had invited me.

Pace even and body language unaffected, I continued acting as though I were out for a Sunday stroll.

“I can hear you breathing,” someone taunted from above in a raspy voice.

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