Home > The Savior (Black Dagger Brotherhood #17)

The Savior (Black Dagger Brotherhood #17)
Author: J.R. Ward

Eliahu Rathboone House

Sharing Cross, South Carolina

I’m going to kill it, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Rick Springfield—no, not the singer, and could his parents have done a little better on that one?—got up on the queen-size bed and rolled this month’s Vanity Fair into a weapon. Good thing the Internet was sucking up ads and magazines were shrinking in size because he got a tight roll on the anemic pages.

“Can’t we just let the bat out a window?”

The helpful suggestion was posited by the “Jessie’s Girl” he wanted to impress—her name was Amy Hongkao—and so far the weekend away had been good. They’d left Philly Friday at noon, both of them cutting the work day in half, and traffic hadn’t been bad. They’d arrived at the Eliahu Rathboone B&B around eight, collapsed into this bed he was currently trying to balance on, and had sex three times the following morning.

Now it was Sunday night and they were leaving tomorrow early afternoon, barring any snowstorms up the coast—

The bat came gunning for his head, and it flew in the manner of a moth, all discombobulated flapping with the flight path of a drunk. Pulling up memories from Pee Wee baseball, Rick got his stance set, hauled back on the Vanity Fair slugger, and gave a good swing.

The goddamn bat bobbed out of the way, but his arms kept going, all aim, no target, throwing him into a lurch that was right out of the Concussion Handbook.


Amy caught him by bracing against his outer thigh and pushing, and he threw out a hand for the first steady thing in his vicinity—her head. As her hair twisted up under his sweaty palm, there was cursing. From him and her.

The bat came back and dive-bombed them, all how-you-like-me-now-douchebag. And in a fit of manliness, Rick shrieked, recoiled, knocked a lamp over. When it crashed, they lost nearly all the light in the room, only a glow at the base of the door offering any frame of retina reference.

Talk about going to ground fast. He hit that bed like a duvet, falling flat and dragging Amy with him. Wrapped in each other’s arms, they panted hard, even though there was nothing romantic about the contact.

Nope. This was an aerobic workout to that old school “I Will Survive” song.

“It must have come down the chimney and out of the fireplace,” he said. “Don’t they carry rabies?”

Overhead, the scourge of room 214 did the rounds at what Rick hoped was, and stayed at, the ten-thousand-feet molding level. And all the flapping and squeaking was surprisingly ominous, considering the damn thing probably didn’t weigh more than a slice of bread. The darkness, however, added a threat of death that was primordial: Even though the manly side of him wanted to solve the problem and be a hero—so he looked better than he actually was to a woman he’d just started dating—his fear demanded that he outsource this catastrophe.

Before their first weekend away together became a viral story about how you needed to watch out for bats or you ended up with a fourteen-day course of shots.

“This is ridiculous.” Amy’s breath was Colgate-minty and close to his face, and her body felt good against his own even though they were in dire bat-stakes. “Let’s just make a run for the door and go downstairs to the front desk. This can’t be the first time this has happened, and it’s not like that’s Dracula—”

Their door swung open.

No knock. No sound at all from the hinges. No clear indication how it had become unlatched because there was no one on the other side.

The light from the hall plunged in like a hand of safety to the drowning, but relief was short lived. A shape materialized from out of thin air to block the illumination. One moment there was nothing between the jambs, the next, an enormous silhouette of a long-haired male figure appeared, the shoulders powerful as a heavyweight boxer’s, the arms long and muscled, the legs planted like steel beams. With the light coming from behind, there was no seeing the face, and Rick was glad for that.

Because everything about the arrival and the size and that scent in the air—cologne, but not fake, not out of a bottle—suggested this was a dream.

Or a nightmare.

The figure brought up a hand to his mouth—or seemed to. Maybe he was taking a dagger out of a chest holster?

There was a pause. Then he held his forefinger forward.

Against all odds and logic, the bat came to him as if called to a master, and as the winged creature landed like a bird, a voice, deep and accented, entered Rick’s brain as if pushed into his skull not through his ears, but via his frontal lobe.

I don’t like things killed on my property, and he is more welcome than you are.

Something dropped from that finger. Something red and frightening. Blood.

The figure disappeared in the same manner it arrived, with the abrupt speed of a quick-stepping, panicked heart. And with the light from the hall no longer invaded by the figure, the path of happy-place yellow illumination pulled out from the darkness the guest room’s patterned rug, and their messy, open suitcases, and the antique dresser Amy had admired so much when they’d first arrived.

So normal, so regular.

Except the door closed on its own.

As if it had been willed back into place.

“Rick?” Amy said in a small voice. “What was that? Am I dreaming?”

Overhead, footsteps, heavy and slow, crossed the floorboards of the attic. Which should have been empty.

Another memory from childhood now, and not of the city park and its Little League diamond and the striped mini–Yankees uniforms he’d worn with pride. This one was of his grandmother’s farmhouse, with the creaking stairs, and the second-story hall that made the hair on the nape of his neck stand to attention … because it led to the back bedroom where the girl had died from consumption.

Wheezing. Labored breath. Whispered weeping.

He had woken up to those sounds every night at 2:39. And each time, although he had been roused by the ghostly gasping, although the struggle for air was in his ears and his mind, he was aware upon his sit-up-fast of only silence, a dense, black-hole silence that consumed the echoes of the past and threatened, with its gravitational pull, to swallow him as well, no trace of his younger self left behind, just an empty twin bed with a warm spot where his living body had once lain.

Rick had always known, with the razor-sharp surety of a child’s self-preservation, that the silence, the horrible quiet, was the moment of death for the ghost of the little girl, the culmination of an endless, tortured cycle she re-experienced every night at precisely the moment she’d passed, her will losing the battle as her body’s functions failed, her long slide into the grave over, her end arriving not even with a whimper, but with a dreadful absence of sound, absence of life.

Scary stuff for the nine-year-old he had been.

He had never expected to feel anything close to that confusion and terror as an adult. But life had a way of special delivering packages that ticked to your emotional address, and there was no refusing the service, no way to not sign and accept them.

The past was permanent in the same way the future was always just a hypothetical, two ends of a spectrum where one was concrete and the other air, and the instantaneous now, the single real moment, was the fixed point from which the weight of life hung and swung.

“Is this a dream?” Amy said again.

When he found his voice, Rick whispered, “I’d rather not know for sure.”

Upstairs in the attic of the old mansion, Murhder re-formed and walked over to one of the dormers. As a vampire, he supposed his rescue of the bat, who was lapping up the welling blood on his forefinger and incapable of comprehending the breadth of salvation just rendered upon him, could be termed a professional courtesy.

Assuming you went by human mythology.

In reality, there was not much in common to be had. Vampires needed the blood of a member of their opposite sex to be at optimal strength and health—a nourishment he had not had for many years, and a requirement that he had been forced to forage for from lesser sources. Most bats, on the other hand, lived off of insects, although clearly, there was an exception to be made for what he had offered this present mammal. The two species were as separate as dogs and cats, although Homo sapiens had linked them through all manner of books, movies, TV, and the like.

Opening one-half of the arch-topped window, he extended his arm and shook the bat free, the creature winging out into the night, crossing over the shining face of the risen moon.

When he had purchased the Eliahu Rathboone B&B from its original owner, some century and a half prior, he had intended to live in it alone during his dotage. Not how things had ended up. Twenty years ago, as a result of his breakdown, he had been in the prime of life yet the throes of insanity, burned out and very much crazy, ready to wander empty rooms in the hope his mind followed the example and moved out the soul-destroying images that were cluttering up his memory banks.

No such luck. On the alone front, that was. The house had come with staff who needed jobs, and returning guests who wanted the same room for their anniversary every year, and bookings for weddings that had been made months in advance.

In an earlier incarnation of himself, he would have fucked all of it off. With everything that had happened, however, he hadn’t known who he was anymore. His personality, his character, his soul, had been through a trial of fire and failed the test. As a result, his superstructure had been collapsing, his building coming down, his once strong and resolute construction of character turning to rubble.

So he had let the humans continue to come and work and sleep and eat and argue and make love and live around him. It was the kind of move someone who was lost in the world made, a Hail Mary that was uncharacteristic and desperate, a maybe-this-will-keep-me-on-the-planet from a person in whom gravity was no longer all that interested.

Dearest Virgin Scribe, it was a horrible lightness to be insane. To feel like a balloon on a string, no ground under your feet, only a thin tether tying you to a reality you were imminently going to slip free of.

He closed the window and walked over to the trestle table he spent so many hours at. No computer on its old, chipped surface, no telephone or cell phone, no iPad or flat screen TV. Just a candleholder with a lit length of beeswax … and three letters … and a flat envelope marked FedEx.

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