The French Quarter, New Orleans Present day
At his brother's weak and broken words, Murdoch Wroth's eyes narrowed in anger toward the one who'd brought the proud Nikolai so low.
Myst the Coveted, a female immortal with a vicious heart.
And Nikolai's fated Bride.
"How can you tell?" Murdoch asked.
"Because I can feel her," Nikolai said.
Murdoch adjusted Nikolai's arm, which he'd slung across his shoulders to help his brother walk as they searched. The humans milling all around them merely assumed Nikolai was another drunk.
Proud Nikolai. He was exhausted from consuming too little blood, his body racked with never-ending need for a mad Valkyrie who delighted in his pain. Nikolai had lost weight, his face turning gaunt, his muscles flagging.
"Murdoch, when I find her... I want you to trace from here."
He shook his head. "I'll stay until you've secured her - "
"No. Don't want you to... see me." Nikolai's weary gaze darted away from Murdoch's. "I will lose control."
Which would shame his stalwart older brother as little else could.
Murdoch couldn't imagine how Nikolai would react when he found Myst. Five years ago, she had blooded Nikolai, as only a Bride could, bringing to life his dead vampire's body. She'd made him breathe, made his heart beat, and stoked his newly reawakened lust with no intention of slaking it.
That same night, another Valkyrie had shot him through with arrows and still another had mocked his desires. Myst had fled with the two, dooming Nikolai.
A blooded vampire could only take release for the first time while touching his Bride in some way. If she wasn't available, then he would remain in a state of constant sexual readiness, aching indefinitely.
Which she well knew.
"Promise me you'll leave," Nikolai grated.
At length, Murdoch said, "I will." If Myst was indeed here tonight, it would make sense that there'd be more Valkyrie out on these very streets. More of their deceiving, manipulative, violent kind. "But only to find another one," he added.
He could capture one and interrogate her about the Lore, the world of not-so-mythical beings he and his brother were now a part of.
Murdoch's knowledge of the Lore was as limited as that of any of the vampires in their warrior order of Forbearers. Their army consisted mostly of turned humans, and the Lore creatures kept their secrets well guarded from them.
"Don't underestimate the Valkyrie as I did," Nikolai rasped. "Else suffer as I have."
He suffered because fate had forced this blooding on Nikolai. As if Nikolai needed another burden.
The blooding process was what Murdoch detested most about being a vampire, even more than never seeing the sun again.
Though he'd once been a rake, bedding a new woman each night, Murdoch hoped it never happened to him. To be mystically tied to a single woman sounded hellish, especially to a woman he didn't choose, and one who could spurn him, as Myst had Nikolai.
The pain had rendered his brother nearly mindless in his pursuit of her. Nikolai wanted retribution, but Murdoch suspected he also simply wanted her. Even after all that she'd done to him.
"Where will you take her this night?" Murdoch asked. "The mill?" They'd secured an old renovated sugar mill outside the city, staying there instead of the Forbearer castle while they'd scoured these streets.
Nikolai shook his head.
"Then back to the castle?"
When Nikolai didn't answer, Murdoch said, "You wouldn't take her to Blachmount?" The ancient Wroth estate - where most of their family had died in a single night of sickness and murder. "Why?"
"Because that's where my Bride belongs."
Before Murdoch could question his meaning, Nikolai went still, his eyes briefly sliding shut. Then his head swung up toward a rooftop. "It's her."
Above them, a redhead stood frozen, her lips parting in shock.
Murdoch had only briefly seen her all those years before, and now he studied the details of her Valkyrie appearance. She had delicate fey features - pointed ears and high cheekbones - but he also spied the tell-tale claws and small fangs.
At the sight of her, Nikolai stood fully, no longer needing Murdoch's aid. "My Myst."
Her face paled, no doubt at the sight of Nikolai, who now looked like the monster she'd sought to make him. His irises had turned completely black, his fangs descending in his mouth, dripping from thirst.
Her horrified expression almost made Murdoch pity her, but she deserved no mercy. Which was good, because Nikolai would show her none this night.
Their pursuit of half a decade was... over. At last.
Just as Nikolai tensed to trace to her, Murdoch slapped him on the back, then teleported away as he'd promised, disappearing so quickly he went unnoticed in the morass of drunken tourists. Even if they had seen him vanish, the humans would think they'd imagined it.
Murdoch materialized in a back alley several blocks away, then walked to the Quarter's main thoroughfare, Bourbon street. As he moved among the crowds, a warm breeze tripped down the street, dissipating the swampy haze and the fumes from food vendor stands.
Warm. In February. Good hunting weather.
Yes, Nikolai would be merciless tonight, as would Murdoch. Now all he needed was to find his prey.
The hunt is on.
I'm being followed.
Daniela the Ice Maiden furtively glanced over her shoulder once more. Again she spied nothing out of the ordinary - tourists milling, witches catcalling to human males - but Danii couldn't shake the feeling that she was being stalked.
Which begged the question: what creature would be stupid enough to court a Valkyrie's wrath?
Maybe she was just spooked by Nix's cryptic remarks tonight. Nucking Futs Nix, her half sister and the Valkyrie soothsayer, often made off-the-wall predictions. But this one continued to replay in Danii's mind.
"Sad, sad Daniela, the broken doll who wants to be fixed. Tonight she might."
Because of Danii's pale, freezing skin - she was part Icere - she was often likened to a porcelain doll. Well, because of her icy skin and because of what would happen to her if she grew overheated...
But a broken doll? What did that mean? And fixed - for good, for bad? What precisely would be fixed?
She'd told Nix, "I can't imagine what you're talking about. I'm not broken" - my lonely existence makes me want to tear my hair out - "and I don't know how I could be 'fixed.'"
Perhaps by being able to finally touch another? To feel a man's skin against her own without being burned, instead of constantly fantasizing about it?
I would give anything.