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Enjoy this new episode from Cries of the Blood, a story of passion and dark secrets. I hope you savour it.
The air grew so thick that it became almost glutinous, unbreathable, as I crept after Damian and his men down spiralling stairs, keeping a safe distance. I descended fast and low into the underground, deeper and deeper past the dungeons, until the layers upon layers of earth and catacombs I’d left behind – or rather above – weighed heavy on my body. The pressure threatened to crush my bones. Moving soon became dragging as I struggled to inhale, their group advancing too far ahead of me. You’re losing them!
I forced my leg muscles forward, breathless as I peeked around a corner into a long antechamber that looked like some ancient place of worship. Like in those stills from fantasy video games. It was lined on each side with statues of hooded monks holding bawls of fire like they would an offering.
Damian and his men halted in front of a stone double door. It took a few seconds until it slid open to both sides and they passed through. I bit into my lower lip and counted to ten before I rushed after them and managed to slip between the closing doors a moment before they banged shut.
One glance around was enough to realize where I was. No underground temple, no hideout deep below the dungeons. But the forge. The Blacksmith’s forge.
My mouth dropped open. The place looked like Satan’s very own, private forge. A huge fire rustled fluidly like lava behind something that looked like the enormous fangs of a stone beast, as if it burned inside its mouth, casting ghostly shadows all around that enormous cave and drowning it in scorching heat. Going overboard even for France. Hell, even for Disney, beyond any imagination. Chains were knotted on stone beams and hung heavily to the bare, dark floor. something that sounded like a hard slap against rock made my eyes dart at Damian’s men. The one who’d carried Hector had dropped him on a metal board. I drew behind one of the trunk-like pillars that sustained the ceiling and kept my eyes on the wall, as if not seeing them would prevent them from seeing me back. Ostrich.
My heart pounded in anxiety and, for a second there, I thought they might hear it. I tried to control my breath, keeping it silent and slow. It didn’t feel as difficult as before, even the flow of blood felt smoother in my veins, as if they’d dilated. My flesh felt dense, growing denser, yet not hard. What the hell’s happening? I began to freak out, but my brain pulled out the memory – again, as it became relevant. ‘Your body’s adjusting’. The sensation was stronger than ever, I’d never been deep inside the earth’s crust before.
I heard the Cleric’s steps and the doors drum shut behind them. The Blacksmith must’ve dismissed them wordlessly. We were alone. Damian and I. And Hector. Now!
Now what? With no plan whatsoever, I emerged from concealment. Hector’s body now lay on a stone board close to the fire, the sight blurry in the heat. Racks with tools were built in the wall next to him, making the whole scene worthy of a horror movie but for the sight of Damian. My heart jumped and fluttered as my eyes rested on him, a dark shape shimmering before hell’s flames. He stripped off his Cleric jacket as if losing that deceitful, beautiful skin, revealing himself as the demon he was.
My lids became a burden. Through my eyelashes the walls seemed to fade like falling veils, replaced by wooden windows and adobe walls that assembled quickly around me piece by piece. Where am I? A cottage? A kitchen? There’s a stone oven on my left, the wooden deal creaks beneath the muddy straw carpet, though I’m not moving. I look up. He stands with his back at me. That honey-skinned back making a perfect V shape. His hair is black, spilling in waves to his broad shoulders. I want to touch it, that silky hair. Then he turns. Oh, his eyes, bright metal with green rays, glowing like no man’s could. He sees me, he recognizes me. He gives me a sly look, and a detached wink, his sculptured lips give me a triumphant smile. A smile in one corner of his mouth. He’s naked. I’ve just been his, he’s just been mine, we’ve just been one. I wanted him so badly, I still do, I still shake. I brace myself. I’m naked too. He turns his back at me again. He’s so young. My heart shrinks, guilt and shame. I know. He doesn’t want me. He never did. He did me a favour.
My head spun and my organs seemed to quake, making my eyes snap open. I froze, looking up at him. At Damian. He stood tall right in front of me like the statue of a god, naked to his waist, his eyes blazing. Inhumanly beautiful. The flames roaring behind him. The forge. We were in the forge. I’d just had another déjà vu. No, not a déjà vu, a vision. A vision of him.
But unlike in that vision, his gaze was now anything but detached, or sly. It was fully present and it burned with some emotion I couldn’t sense, he shielded his heart from me. The memory of our moments in the dungeon, when he’d allowed me a taste of his feelings, of his wrath, leapt to the front of my mind. His emotions had seared on my skin and nearly suffocated me, so I probably should’ve been grateful now. But against all warnings of my instinct, all I wanted was to dive into his soul. I got the goose bumps as he spoke in that deep, velvety voice that I’d replayed in my mind, in my fantasies, for over a year.
“That was a hazard. What you did.”
“What did I do?” I whispered, hypnotized by his presence, the sight of him, his scent of wood and musk and man.
“You followed us here, obviously. Why?”
Take the chance!
“Don’t kill him, Damian, please.”
His eyes flashed metal anger, his jaw rippled.
“You took the risk to save Hector Mendoza’s life? Why? Have you been sleeping with him, too, this past year?”
“For heaven’s sake, Damian, no!” I burst, repulsed by his picture of me.
He grabbed my arm and pulled me to him, crushing me against his granite body. I gasped and my cheeks caught fire as I felt those hard, ropy arms around me, his fingers splayed on my back. Desire exploded deep in my womb.
“Then why? What could possibly be your reason?”
“He’s a friend, Damian.”
He gazed deep into my eyes and I stared back, lost.
“It wasn’t easy, you know? Keeping my men distracted so they wouldn’t sniff you. I don’t normally do distracting,” he said.
“You knew I was trailing?”
“There wasn’t a second in the Hall of Titans that I didn’t know what you were doing.”
“Then why… Why didn’t you expose me?”
“Because I thought you wanted something else.”
“Something else?” I repeated, losing myself deeper in his bright, hungry eyes.
“To talk, for example. You have a whole year of explaining to do, Aurelia, a whole year of blanks to fill.”
Blanks. Reasons. A whole year. A whole year in which he hadn’t moved a finger to find me. Thorns sank into my heart.
“You think you’re entitled to explanations?” I breathed with the little air I had. He hadn’t wanted to hear any explanations in the dungeons or in the Regent’s study.
“You still bear my name, don’t you? So you’re still my wife.”
“No, Damian, I’m not. You let me go, remember?”
His jaw clenched, his grip tightened around me.
“You’ve wasted no thought on me all this time, Damian. Why do so now? Just because I happen to be standing in front of you?”
He snorted, his huge hand sinking in my hair, cupping my head.
“No thought… One insisting, stubborn…” he whispered, as if to himself, his eyes wandering over my face.
I just had to ask, I had to know.
“Why didn’t you try to find me?”
“Ah, Aurelia, it was impossible to stop…”
To stop what? He pressed me harder against him. His defenses cracked, his emotions burning through my skin. My eyelids fluttered shut, heavy. I fell soft into his arms, absorbing the feel of his body for seconds, hours, I don’t know how long, until his hands wound around my shoulders. He steadied me, ripping me away from him. My eyes flew open. I took one compulsive step toward him. He put up a stopping hand.
“Don’t.” he said.
“Don’t what? Damian, please,” I begged, wanting him, needing him.
“Don’t play that game on me! The game you played a year ago, too, on me, on the Executioner, on hell knows how many others since then.”
“Damian, it’s not like that,” I pressed forward, but his hand clenched around my neck in an instant, covering it completely. He didn’t squeeze though, his skin barely touching mine, keeping me in place like he would a slave in a steel shackle.
“Oh, I like how this looks,” he said, “This is how I should keep you forever, Queen of Hearts. Chained and hidden in the depths of my forge, away from people who could lose their souls to you.”
Like I’ve lost mine to you, Blacksmith, something cried inside of me.
“Tell me, Aurelia,” he continued with a faint grin, his eyes still relishing in the sight of his hand around my neck, “How did you plan to get your… friend, Hector, out of my hands?”
“I know you can’t go against the Regent’s orders but…” my voice was fading, “I hoped we could… reason with each other,”
I had no idea myself what I meant, my head was fuzzy fron the heat and Damian’s presnece. Reason with each other.
“I don’t take orders from the Regent.”
“Then why are you here?” I breathed.
“You know the purpose of my existence, Aurelia. If the Regent identifies all demiangel Nucleuses, I’ll be able to localize them easily. And end them, before I…” he paused for just an instant, “take down the demons, the Order.”
The trust he put in me by speaking those words sent strings of delight all through my body.
“So you have your own agenda, Blacksmith. But aren’t you afraid the Regent might see through your plans? You want him to think you’ll only help him end the angels and make him weapons of their bodies, but he’s cunning.”
Damian arched an eyebrow at me and raised his chin. Amused. Dangerously so. The answer revealed itself to me, inside my mind – Damian didn’t fall short on cunning either.
“Afraid,” he said, “I’m not afraid.”
His strong, craftsman fingers slowly left my neck, wandering along to my naked shoulder, tracing the line his eyes drew. The hairs stood along my spine, electricity coursed through me.
“In this dress… red, short, satin… you look so much like what you are – a temptress.”
He bent his head, his bright eyes boring into mine.
I should’ve snapped, jolted back, but I couldn’t bear to break contact with his skin. I said nothing. Just stood there, staring at him, drinking him in. Dumb bimbo!
“You want to reason with me?” he said, his lips drawing in a bitter grin, “All right, let’s reason. I’ll let Hector live, Aurelia, but I have a price.”
“Name it,” the words shot out of my mouth before I could think.
“And what would you be willing to offer for his life?”
“Anything. I don’t negotiate life.”
“Anything… You know that one day I’ll end all of your kind anyway. And mine. I will leave none alive, eventually.”
“Eventually. But right now, I would have Hector’s heart keep beating.”
I struggled to keep stern, but my breath was heavy with desire. I can’t show it, don’t show it. I couldn’t tell Damian the truth, though I burned to do it. To tell him that he was all I wanted. I wanted him inside of me, hard with lust, at least one last time. Then I’d give my last breath by my own free will. But, like the rest of the Order, the Blacksmith was supposed to think I wanted the union with the Executioner. Otherwise Sidonia, Salma and Jarred might share Hector’s fate and there’d be no one left to follow into the forge and ‘reason’ for their lives.
“Then,” he continued as his fingers delighted my skin, “I’ll have you… all to myself.”
My knees turned to jelly and my ears began to buzz. It took moments to process those words. My heart pounded frantically, my head spun. ‘All to myself’‚I’ll have you.’ Sex was his price?
“They will… crucify me if they find out, Damian… You know that,” I muttered, baffled.
“They’ll do the same to me. You and I, Aurelia, we’re now climbing in the same boat.”
He’d take that risk? To be with me? The thought was intoxicating.
“I see you have second thoughts about that anything,” he spat through his teeth, his eyes glowing as I failed to speak.
No I don’t. I wanted his carnal lips on mine, so bad. I wanted his arms around me, I wanted to run my nose along his abdomen, between his hard pectorals, and breathe in that manly scent of his. My heart pounded hard, taking my breath away, making me unable to utter another word.
“If you refuse Aurelia, I’ll bring him back to awareness and skin him alive right before your eyes, I’ll force you to watch.” There was unbearable pressure and threat in his tone. The shield around his emotions cracked open like Pandora’s box.
“You’re a monster,” I whispered. Deep down I hoped my words would turn him from his price. They’d have him crucified!
“I am,” he nodded, “A monster that holds your friend’s life in his hands.”
He held out his palms, shaping a balance. Lowered one, lifted one, lowered one, lifted one.
“Hector lives, Hector dies. So what will it be, Aurelia?”
I stared at him. The more sense his words made, the deeper I went into shock. Damian, the Blacksmith, was blackmailing me for intimacy. For exclusivity.
“How… how will I keep Ivan at bay?” I babbled the question.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be heavily busy,” he said, his eyes cunning, “Just make sure you’re indisposed on the few occasions you’ll have to yourselves.”
His feelings were now loose, swirling around me, making me aware that, should I refuse, he’d kill them – the Executioner, Hector, Jarred and all males I held dear one way or another.
“How will you know that I haven’t been with Ivan? You don’t trust me, what if some day you do something reckless based on your imagination alone?”
“Oh, you may be stealthy, Queen of Hearts, but I can read the Executioner like an open book. Lucky that I dropped in on time earlier today, to keep his paws off you, huh?”
“You did that on purpose?” I babbled in surprise.
“Let’s say I used what was at hand. Instructing him about Hector’s crucifixion, rescheduling the Abbot’s visit with you to an earlier time.”
The Abbot, attending to my grooming too many hours before the reception.
“That was you?”
“Yes. I didn’t want the Executioner’s hands on what’s rightfully mine.”
He gripped my jaw in his hand, bringing those hot lips close to mine.
“I told you twice, Queen of Hearts – you and I, we’re not done.”
Harsh throat rattle reached my ears. It came from the rocky board on the far end, where Hector’s body now lay.
“He’s awake,” I breathed. I moved toward him, but Damian’s hands clenched around my shoulders.
“No, not yet.”
“Not yet what? You won’t kill him, Damian, I’ll pay any price.”
“So your answer is yes?”
He raised his chin, his eyes glowing with steel satisfaction. Anticipation. His face was yet hard, his jaw tight.
“Very well, then. Stay here,” he said, then turned and headed to Hector.
The distance he put between us with every step he took hurt into my flesh, as if it was being tugged from my bones. To ease the sensation, I walked after him like a zombie.
Blood had solidified on Hector’s body, swollen in the cuts. Close to the smoldering fire, Damian took what looked like and iron bar and held it in the beast’s mouth until it reddened. The flames burst hungrily from between the sharp stone fangs, sparkling around Damian as if they wanted to swallow him. He didn’t move, standing tall and straight and too damn close to the monstrous oven. Then, fast and with fluid dexterity, he pressed and rolled the bar onto Hector’s deepest wound, where Ivan had sliced a piece of his abdomen. My skin creased as I heard Hector’s excruciated growl.
“What are you doing?” I called at Damian. His head snapped to me, his metallic eyes flashed.
“I told you to keep away.”
“What are you doing to him, Damian?” I insisted, scared as hell.
He pressed his lips together and turned his eyes back to Hector, focused. The latter had fallen back into unconsciousness and I was pretty sure that Damian had sent him there on purpose.
“This bar is made of demidemon flesh,” Damian said. “I heated it just enough to melt Hector’s blood and slashed flesh, but its composition won’t mix with his that of body. His blood is still running, which will help the flesh rebind faster.”
He looked at me again, his hands still moving with skill that amazed me.
“Left alone, he’d regenerate anyway.”
“He would?” I whispered, staringat the way his hands moved.
“A lot slower than usual, but yes.”
I waited for an explanation that didn’t come. Damian kept his eyes on his work, his lips sealed.
“How come slower?”
“The wounds are deep. But he wouldn’t die, not from them.”
“And what would he die from? What would kill a demi?”
He grinned that dangerous grin again, eyes on Hector, his hands still moving.
“Interested in taking lives now, Queen of Hearts?”
“Let’s say I’m interested in redemption.”
Damian’s eyes flashed at me. I stared back, remembering the words he’d spoken to me in the dungeons. ‘I’m your only chance to redemption’.
Stripped of options in the face of it, eternity is just as scary a thing as mortality. Endless and void, that’s how it had stretched before me for over a year, empty of any chance of being in Damian’s arms again.
“You can’t do it to yourself,” he breathed, “Suicide is not an option, not for creatures like us. It’s not even possible.”
“I wasn’t thinking of suicide.”
“What were you thinking of, then?”
“How do you kill?” The words came out as mere whispers from my mouth. My Damian, my husband, a killer. He kills. Compelled by his devilish Core, by his purpose. It’s like a freaking job, a calling.
He replied moments later, the words reluctant to leave those perfectly sculptured lips of his.
“Piercing their hearts, beheading. Slitting their throats. Anything that stops their vital functions as good as on the spot. So you know what to go for in case you find yourself in danger and…” he wanted to say something else, I’m sure, but he left the sentence unfinished.
A lump formed in my throat. Slitting the jugular. The way he’d killed the demiangel from Nathaniel’s Guard in the dungeon, after I’d begged him to help. I couldn’t keep the question from flying out of my mouth.
“Why did you kill that man, Damian? The one I begged you to free.”
His lips tightened and his face hardened, but he didn’t look at me. He only spoke after further moments of silence, only the clay in which the flesh and blood around Hector’s wounds had turned into lapping under his mending touch.
“I did free him, Aurelia. If I hadn’t killed him, they would’ve kept torturing him.”
I tried to swallow down the growing lump, sick at the next thought.
“Do you ever torture your victims?”
“Never,” he snapped.
‘I’m no torturer’ he’d stated before the whole Order in the Hall of Titans, defying the Regent and his orders. ‘I don’t take orders from the Regent’. The nausea ceded, soon disappearing completely.
I stood there, watching him too hungrily. His body glistened like dark honey in the flames, those muscles snaking under his skin as his expert hands mended Hector’s body. Each wound one by one, reshaping and smoothing the flesh with his fingers when it became moldable, like a sculptor would his art. It was astounding, both the wonders that Hector’s body worked to heal itself and Damian’s craft. A craft that revived and reconstructed. The Damian I knew.
The board Hector was on started to rise, as if pushed by a wide rocky shaft that ascended from the ground. I realized the socle on which it lay was a pillar and followed it with an open mouth as it capped into the high ceiling with a damped bang, blending in with the dozens other columns. As my astounded eyes rested on the Blacksmith again, I saw that his foot was now on some kind of stone lever at the pillar’s base.
“Where did that go?”
“Up to the dungeons. The torturers put bodies on the boards and lower them here. To me.” So matter-of-fact, so… He’s a monster, that voice inside of me warned. The torturers. The hooded monks.
“Who are they? Those monks?”
“Demidemons serving the Order. Are you all right?” he asked, inspecting my face. I’d probably gone all pale. I might not have been entirely humany anymore, but I still felt like one.
The almost familiar atmosphere between Damian and me was gone. That familiarity which reminded me there had been a time when the Blacksmith and I were comfortable with each other in a worn out relationship as base humans. The tension returned, so thick that a knife could have cut right through it. I searched for my voice.
“Won’t they… find him there? And realize what you’ve done?”
“They’re in the Hall, with everybody else. I’ll go to the dungeons and take care of Hector after,” his bass voice vibrated against the walls, as if the forge itself was speaking.
My heart jumped, yet it was at the promise that lurked in his tone.
“After we’ve settled this,” he said, his gaze intense. An intensity that seemed to reach to his very Core.
To be continued…
Copyright by Ana Calin, Berlin, 2013
Hope you enjoyed this episode from Cries of the Blood and stay tuned for episode 9, coming up on Tuesday. Please keep in mind that Cries of the Blood is a sequel to The Blacksmith and the episodes posted on this blog are censured to avoid spoilers. As soon as the book is edited it’ll be up for publishing and no longer available on this blog, so take advantage of these following months.
Don’t miss episode 9, coming up on Tuesday. IT, TOO, WILL BE VERY SPECIAL!
For those of you who are in for a dangerous love story and an electrifying thriller, The Blacksmith is available in digital format at:
Check out The Blacksmith Novel – Extended Trailer, posted previously on this blog at The Blacksmith Extended Trailer
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