Dance of the Gods Page 70

She paused, and Blair could see she was judging the tone of the crowd, the murmurs, pacing herself.

“It is not a battle for land or wealth, not for glory or vengeance, but for life itself. I have not been your ruler, I have not been a warrior, but a student, a dutiful daughter, a proud citizen of Geall. Yet I would ask you to follow me and mine, to give your lives for me, and for all that come after. For on the night of the feast of Samhain we will face an army of these.”

The vampires were dragged onto the field. Blair knew what the people saw. They saw men in chains, murderers yes, but not demons.

There were shouts and gasps, there were calls for justice, there were even tears. But there was no true fear.

The guards fixed the chains to the iron posts, and at Moira’s nod, left the field.

“These that killed my mother, that murdered your queen have a name. It is vampire. In her world, the lady Blair has hunted them, destroyed them. She is the hunter of this demon. She will show you what they are.”

Blair let out a breath, turned briefly to Larkin. “Sorry.”

Before he could speak, she vaulted out of the box and crossed the field.

“What is this?” Larkin demanded.

“You will not interfere.” Moira gripped his arm. “This is my wish. More, this is my order. You won’t interfere. None of you.”

As Blair began to speak, Moira left the box.

“Vampires have one purpose. To kill.” Blair circled them, letting them draw her scent, the scent that would stir the terrible hunger. “They feed on human blood. They will hunt you, and drink you. If food is their only purpose you’ll die quickly. In pain, in horror, but quickly. If they want more, they’ll torture you, as they tortured the family Larkin, Cian and I found dead in the forest on the night we hunted these down.”

The larger one tried to lunge at her. His eyes were red now, and those closest to the field would see the fangs he exposed.

“Vampires aren’t born. They aren’t conceived, they don’t grow inside a womb. They’re made. Made from humans. A bite from a vampire, if not fatal, infects. Some that are infected become half-vampires, slaves to them. Others are drained almost to the point of death, the very edge of life. Then they’re fed the blood of their sire, and they die only to rise again. Not as a human, but as a vampire.”

She continued to move, circling just out of reach.

“Your child, your mother, your lover can be turned like this. They won’t be your child, your mother, your lover anymore. They’ll be a demon, like these, with the blood lust that drives them to feed, to kill, to destroy.”

She turned, and behind her the vampires strained against their chains, howling in frustration and hunger as she stood just out of range. “This is what’s coming for you. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them. This is what you have to fight. Steel won’t kill them. It hurts them.”

She whirled, sliced the tip of her sword across the chest of the larger one. “They bleed, but they heal, and a wound like this will barely slow one down. These are the weapons that destroy a vampire. Wood.”

She drew a stake, and when she feinted toward the smaller one, he cringed back, hunching to defend his chest. “Through the heart. Fire.” She grabbed a torch, and when she flourished it in the air, both of them shrieked.

“They’re night feeders because the direct light of the sun will end them. But they can lurk in the shadows, walk in the rain. Kill when the clouds block the sun. The symbol of the cross will burn them, and if you’re lucky hold them back. Holy water burns them. If a sword is used it must cut through the neck, taking their head.”

She, too, could judge the mood of the crowd, Blair thought. Excitement, confusion, those first whiffs of fear. And a great deal more disbelief. They still saw men in chains.

“These are your weapons, these are what you have along with your wits, your courage, against creatures that are stronger, faster and harder to kill than you are. If we don’t fight, if we don’t win, a little more than a month from now, they’ll devour you.”

She paused while Moira walked across the field to her. “Be sure,” Blair murmured.

“I am.” She gripped Blair’s hand briefly then turned to the crowd where voices rippled with concern, confusion.

Moira lifted her voice over it. “Morrigan is called the queen of the warrior, yet it is said she has never fought in battle. Still, I bow to her command. This is faith. I cannot, will not ask that you have the faith in me that you would in a god. I am a woman, mortal as you are. But when I ask you to follow me into battle, you will follow a warrior. Proven. Whether or not I wear a crown, I will carry a sword. I will fight beside you.”

She drew her sword, lifted it high. “Tonight, on this ground, I will destroy what took your queen and my mother. What I do here I do for her, by her blood. I do for you, for Geall, and all humankind.”

She faced Blair. “Do it. If you have any love for me,” she said when Blair hesitated. “Warrior to warrior, woman to woman.”

“It’s your show.”

She chose the smaller of the two, though she judged he still had thirty pounds on Moira. “On your knees,” she ordered, holding her sword to his throat.

“Easy for you to kill when I’m in chains.” He hissed it, but he dropped to his knees.

“Yeah, it would be. And I already regret I’m not getting a piece of you.” She held the sword against his throat as she moved behind him. Then taking the key Moira had given her, unlocked the chains.

With pride and fear, she plunged the sword into the ground beside him, and walked away.

“What have you done?” Larkin demanded when Blair took her position in front of the box.

“What she asked me to do. What I’d want her to do for me if the situation were reversed.” She looked up at him now. “If you can’t trust her, why should they?” She reached up for his hand. “If we can’t trust her, how can she trust herself?”

She released his hand, and facing the field, prayed she’d done the right thing.

“Pick up the sword,” Moira ordered.

“With a dozen arrows pointed at me?” it demanded.

“None flies unless you try to run. Are you afraid to fight a human on equal ground? Would you have run that night if my mother had held a sword?”

“She was weak, but her blood was rich.” His eyes slanted to the left, to his companion, still chained and staked too far away to be of any help. “It was meant to be you.”

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