Book Two of the Lilith St. Augustine series. The Slave of Heaven (which can be found on my profile) is Book One.
"O proud King of War! To Anu, Lord of Death, Father of Life, who is not faithful before the War Bearer? Who is not gladly obedient to His divine law? Come, brother, let us worship before Him. For He is not a god of Peace, but of Discord and Chaos. And He will reward our vigilance with Victory…Let us kiss the Feet of Lilith, for She will give us our Conquest."
Prayer written during the Undead-Born Vampire Wars (11th Century AD)
Sweat trickled down my spine, causing my skin to itch. I gritted my teeth in annoyance, shaking my arms to rid them of the flakes of mud and bits of grass.
Again, Wayfarer demanded, slinking around me in his lion-like shape. His azure eyes glittered with similar aggravation, his long lupine like ears pressed flat against his full mane.
A hiss escaped my clenched teeth as I dragged myself to my feet, swiping at the beads of sweat at my brow. My skin was cool from the crisp autumn air but waves of steam still rolled off my shoulders. I didn't want to try again.
Why do you hold back? Wayfarer snapped, in a beautiful shimmering mist shifting from his animal body back to the lithe humanoid shape. He shook his long blue mane back from his face, the white bone earrings clattering with the sharp movement.
"I'm not," I muttered for the hundredth time. My muscles ached and my frustration was snapping bitterly at my patience. I had long since kicked off my shoes and my toes sunk into the cold mud. The sensation gave me a unique connection to the earth that was impossible to grasp with the leather boots on.
You are! With each attempt you bitterly cling to this, and he pointed at my body, noting it with obvious scorn.
I turned away from him and glanced up at the sinking sun. "Maybe this can only be done at night."
Wayfarer snorted. The sun and moon hold no sway over the shape of a Spirit Wolf.
"Well, it has to be something."
Have I not said it? You are holding back!
I ignored him, rubbing my forehead with the back of my palm. "Fine. I'll try again."
Wayfarer's too large eyes hooded in satisfaction at my acquiescence, but it was slight and only noticeable after spending so much time with him over the past two weeks. The only problem was I was no closer to shifting into my lupine shape today than I was two weeks ago when we first started this training.
Close your eyes.
I did, already knowing exactly what he was going to tell me.
Strip back your skin and grasp the you within you.
Wayfarer's cryptic orders had become increasingly more lucid over our time together, part from his listening to the way I spoke and part from my continual demand that he better explain himself. Still, he saw things foreign and alien to my understanding, so we fluttered somewhere between arbitrary words and inferred phrases.
I sighed and envisioned myself. My sinuous frame with shapely hips, my long tawny curls tied back in a haphazard ponytail. I envisioned my face with my sharp cheekbones, full lips, and the splash of amber freckles across the bridge of my nose and over my cheeks. Thankfully in my mind's eye I wasn't covered in mud.
See yourself, Wayfarer pushed.
I dug deeper than my surface appearance, pushing past what I was use to seeing in the mirror and towards the me within myself. Amber eyes filled my vision and almost instantly I saw the wolf. I was use to this part of the session and I connected with her almost instantly. The russet she-wolf with tan markings flopped her tail at me, her ears pressed down in delight.
Call to your Wolf.
I hardly had to 'call' to her. She was already on her feet, her large paws dancing in glee. I ran fingers through her fur, ruffling the silky strands and exposing the dark brown undercoat. She responded with a pleased grunt and I felt that familiar bond, the twirling of our essences melding until I couldn't tell who had the feet and who had the paws.
I lunged, blindly jumping forward. I didn't have to see to know that beside me Wayfarer was jumping forward himself, blending into that blue-white mist before taking on the shape of his lion-wolf.
For a spit second, while my feet were off the ground, while I was weightless and unrestrained, I felt that euphoric tickle, a rapidly exhilarating warmth that spread through my limbs and hummed vibrantly through my bones. I was right there—just at the edge with my wolf trumpeting a victorious cry.
Then the image of a distorted, perverted wolf from the pages of Aislynn's books filled my vision and I balked, bright terror ringing through my head. Would I look like that? Would I be misshapen and vicious and deranged? If I took on the shape of this Wolf, what could I become?
I landed face first into the dirt, cold mud slapping against the front of my body as I hit the ground.
Wayfarer issued out an irritated scream, followed by a furious, You are holding back!
The lesser Spirits sitting amongst the branches above broke out into bright laughter, their voices mingling in an unnerving chorus that I detested. I sighed into the dirt, for a moment too aggravated to sit up. "Obviously this is never going to work!" I snapped, slapping the ground.
Wayfarer barred his fangs at the lesser Spirits, issuing a warning snarl and they reacted in delight, their animal like bodies fluttering from branch to branch as they watched my pathetic show. Wayfarer's lip curled in his own disgust and I noticed yet again that he was becoming increasingly more aggressive towards his own kind. If any lesser Spirit dared to drift too close to our practice he would viciously lunge at them, scattering them like flies from honey.
I angrily jerked to my feet while he was distracted. "We have to get going anyway," I informed him.
We are not done.
"We will never be done."
You defeat yourself before each attempt.
Which I think was his way of saying I failed before I even tried. The thought didn't sit well with me and I savagely brushed the mud from my feet before pulling on my socks and boots. I slipped into my coat, head down. I didn't have to tell Wayfarer yet again that I had no real desire to shift—to become a thing that wasn't…me. He, in return, would just reiterate that it was for my own protection, and that I was useless as a Wolf if I couldn't shift.
Why did everything about me always come back to being useless?
I tromped out of the clearing, easily lopping through the forest and towards the white walls of Pamola. This was one thing I was good at. I had learned to move with a lupine quickness and I used the silence of the wind and the beat of my pounding heart drown out my fears and anxieties.
We will try again tomorrow, Wayfarer demanded once we came to the towering walls of the Nephilim city.
"Maybe," I said in return, not really looking at him as he anxiously paced along the side of the wall. He needed a moment to ready himself before he could commit to the cage at my wrist. It hadn't occurred to me how much he must hate the little glass bracelet until I notice it took him longer and longer to return to it.
"Okay, we can come back tomorrow," I promised, just to wash that anxious look off his sharp features. I hated that he was forced to remain at my side. But it seems the other Spirits wanted nothing to do with him. They wouldn't accept him back—or at least that was the impression I was getting. The Breathing Tree had been nothing to me but a cold tomb of a tree since the night I fought the Lilu, Ghost Moon.
It seems the Spirits knew I had quite a few demanding questions for them, and they clearly weren't willing to answer.
Wayfarer curled back into the jewelry with only a few grumbles, and I patted the warm glass afterwards in an attempt to console him.
I crawled through the hole in the city's wall, noting with surprise at the wards that sputtered in their usual hum. The dangerous wards were no fear to me, but this was a new development—they flickered desperately whenever I passed through now, as if they were temporarily losing their will to glow. But if I stopped to think about every unusual thing that was happening to me lately my head would probably explode.
I pulled a brown bherq across my shoulders and over my head. I didn't like slipping through the outskirts of the city by day but at the very least it improved my skills in hiding and evading.
I couldn't shake the emotional cocktail of failure and unease, even as I scaled the vine lattice to the third story terrace of my father's estate. Once I had been able to climb a beautiful oak tree into my room, but that was once and now both my room and tree were nothing but a smoldering pile of wood and marble. Now I had a new room, one the felt foreign and cold and awkward.
I hopped over the balcony rail with a sigh. I missed my old room. I missed my old life.
The wards around the window practically screamed with their intensity. Father had every known ward of protection on the windows and doors now. Not that it mattered when it came to me. I passed through without the ward so much as blinking. It would never see me. I might as well be invisible.
I stripped off my clothes, throwing the muddy attire into the bottom of my hamper. I padded to the bathroom, ignoring the cold. I had become oddly more immune. Not that the cold terribly bothered Nephilim, but it seemed I was handling it better than most. Something else to ignore, something else to shove to the back of my mind while I ran the water. I perched on the stool in the shower room, holding the showerhead over my hair. The hot water ran brown, swirling at my feet as I scrubbed my skin and under my nails. As long as I was clean by the time the servants came, there would be no unfortunate questions to answer.
Speaking of which…With my new acute hearing, I distinctly heard the door to my bedroom open. I pulled the showerhead away from my face, watching the bathroom door. Sure enough it promptly opened and Mother stood at the double doors, a look of confusion across her beautiful face.
"Lilith? When did you get home from your study group?" She stepped into the bathroom and swung the doors shut.
"Not too long ago." I put the water back to my head just to make sure the last of the mud was gone.
"How did you get past the servants unseen?"
Mother didn't find my self-deprecating humor amusing. "You should not be coming home alone. What would your father say?"
What indeed. Father has always been protective, but since I had been kidnapped and nearly killed by a Lilu Vampire over two weeks ago, Father has been increasingly on edge. There was a slight awkwardness between us now. For a moment on the night Father rescued me, he had allowed me a glimpse of him as a more emotional and caring man. And for that my punishment was brief words and stiff greetings.
Mother held up a thick robe, pulling me from my musings. "Come, daughter. We have to prepare for tonight."
If Father was more standoffish, Mother had gone in the complete opposite direction, becoming almost suffocating. She doted, as mothers often do, but I found this excessive affection stifling and burdensome. I kept my annoyed sigh to myself as she wrapped me in the robe, ushering me out of the bathroom, into the hall, and down to the bottom floor to the main bath and sauna. I actually preferred a private bath, just as I preferred fewer servants and a more private setting in my bedroom. I had been like this as a child, but the need for privacy has only increased as the heavy scent of others grated on my nerves and the continual sounds of footsteps, heartbeats, and jingling jewelry worsened my incessant headache.
But preparations for the Sacred Marriage had little concern for my preferences and I entered into the heavy steam of the marble baths. I waved one hand in front of my face, crinkling my nose at the sickly sweet fragrances of oils and creams.
"Oh, look who decided to join us," Candace commented, reclining in the deep bath, her white arms resting on the vibrant blue tiles of the top bath step. Her breasts were bare in typical Candace immodesty.
"Why am I not surprised that you're already here," I replied, clutching my robe even as I stepped down the bath steps and into the warm young ass milk.
"Beauty is a long, torturous affair," she purred, humming in delight as a maid kneaded her long blond hair with oil.
I had to give up the robe and quickly plopped down into the milk until it covered my breasts, clutching my frame self-consciously. Candace lifted one of the cucumbers from her eyes, noting with haughty amusement my awkward shuffle. Her superior temperament annoyed me. "And what do you need beauty for, sister, if you have no taste for marriage."
Candace's full lips curled in wicked delight. "Why, for lovers, my dear sister. What else is there of worth in this world if not lovers?"
Her audacity astounded me and I tried to reply, but Mother was quicker. "Enough!" She hissed, throwing her own silks off her perfectly formed frame. She lightly stepped into the large bath, eyeing Candace with open annoyance. "Have you no sense to tame that tongue of yours?" And her bright green eyes jumped to select maids within the bathhouse as if knowing exactly which ones owed Father their complete alliance. I too should've made note of which servants were Father's ever-faithful spies, but I couldn't trust any of them, be they my father's spies or my mother's. My nefarious activities were for my eyes only.
Candace shrugged. And of course she could. Father reigned in his headstrong daughter rarely and only gently.
I rubbed my nose as I lay back in the milk, my neck pressed against the cool tile lip. The scent of the milk was pleasant enough, but the oils were causing my headache to worsen. A maid lightly dribbled milk over my face before applying a liberal coat of local honey over the skin. I sighed, trying to immerse myself in the sensation of the warm milk and the gentle pull of hands expertly oiling my long hair, but peace was impossible to find. I cracked one eye open, watching both Mother and Candace enjoy the spa treatment.
"Will my husband-to-be attend tonight's ceremony?" I asked, for no other reason but to set them in the unpleasant mood I was already drowning in. I hated myself instantly for doing it. Had I become so miserable that I needed to hurt those around me?
Mother opened her eyes, staring sadly up at the tiled motif on the ceiling. "I imagine so," she said in a soft voice.
"And you still won't tell us who he is?" Candace snapped, slapping the milk so that the thick fluid splattered around her, catching several of the servants who fussed over her skin and hair.
Mother sat up suddenly, her brilliant red hair darkened by the oils. Even at two hundred and seventy three she was impossibly beautiful. It seemed age had no effect on her porcelain white skin and divinely crafted features. "Do you think I would not tell my own daughter if I knew?" She stood, milk running down her body and blending seamlessly with the color of her skin. She stepped from the bath, silently demanding a silk wrap. It was only here, in the domestic sphere of the house that I saw how decisively Mother ruled her servants. "Tend to them," she said in a firm voice that was always absent before my father, or any other man for that matter. And she left the bath house without another word, never so much as looking over her shoulder at us.
Yet I could just make out the fine tremor in her shoulders and in the one hand that hung by her side. Her emotion was scarcely contained—a bitter sadness and despair that overpowered the perfumed oils. She was living my fate. She understood the reality of a forced marriage at so young an age. To me it was still some looming doom far in the future—a truth I couldn't quite yet grasp. Her stark despondency prodded me and reminded me of what was to come.
I glanced over to Candace who also watched after Mother in silent shock. When she noticed my accusatory glare she quickly said, "You started it."
I sighed guiltily. "I guess I did."
Candace put her head back down, pulling off her other cucumber slice and lightly biting into it. The sight made me queasy. I didn't eat much of vegetables anymore. I preferred a steady diet of meat. "You need to stop being such a Debbie Downer."
"A what?" I snapped, unfamiliar with the Human pop culture reference.
"Seriously. We're going to find you a hot slab of Nephilim male and get you a decent lover. You're about that age now."
"About that age…? Never mind, I'm not even going to ask." I cut off the idea with a dramatic slice of my hand. "I have enough on my plate." Which instantly conjured the dangerous image of the silver-eyed Lucien Mesonger.
Candace sat up slightly, her interest peaked. "A lover?"
"Certainly not!" I replied too loudly.
And instead of taking the hint, Candace gave an all-knowing smirk, sinking back down into the milk. "The lady doth protest. You're blush is a dead giveaway, Lily."
I went to cover my cheeks with one hand and only ended in coating my palm with the sticky honey. "You don't know what you're talking about," I grumbled. Lucien was not my lover. Not even close. The Vampire wasn't even on my radar.
"Hmmm," was Candace's disbelieving reply, and there were no amount of words that could convince her otherwise.
So I might add a prologue later on, but for now I wanted to start with a first chapter. I really wanted to write the next chapter before posting because I know my books ALWAYS start a bit slow (I'm sorry!). But I figured it couldn't hurt to get the first chapter up for those who may want to read it. This week I hope to have at least another two chapters done--which should include an early Lucien appearance. I promise this book will have more action, more culture, and a deeper glimpse into the Vampire society (both Born and Undead). And dragons. We mustn't forget dragons. :) Still, like my first book, its a rough draft, so I'm sure it will have its bumps and holes.
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and I can't wait to post the next chapter!