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Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows, Chapter 15

cover-dark-lords-1(This work is copyrighted by T. Masters-Heinrichs, enjoy!)

 

Chapter Fifteen

On the Way to Miller’s Road

Castle Cor, Planet Albion, Realm

 

 

Dani was walking down the south hall, trying to avoid being seen by anyone. Who could she talk to? Who could she trust?

She wanted to trust Madeline, yet each time she thought to tell her personal secretary a sense of panic like a trapped rat would scurry through her thoughts. Dani knew, just knew they would all be destroyed. The outrage, the shame…her parents would hate her! How could they not?

Gulping down sudden sobs, Dani headed into the second floor of the library. No one came up here, especially now. They were all too busy with the Summit and Symposium. Along the far wall, under each window were deep window seats.

They all had their special places. For Johanna it had always been the conservatory, for Abby the main barn, in point the loft. Her father had his lab and the garage, and her mother had the Henge up on the north plain behind the end of the gardens. For Dani, her place to escape had always been the library. Particularly, the middle window seat that overlooked the gardens. She headed there now to try and think. There had to be a way…

Movement froze her. Silently Dani crept around the bookshelves. Alex was stretching his shoulders, swinging his arms and bending. He was touching his toes, knees slightly bent, stretching the backs of his legs. Slowly standing up to stretch his back. He moved slowly down the corridor between bookshelves, rolling one shoulder then the other.

Why was he here?

Alex stopped, head tilted, he was reading the titles. He moved down the shelf a couple of steps and stopped again. He wiped his hands on his pants and with great reverence picked up a book. Engrossed, he opened the volume.

Dani stepped back behind the end of the bookshelf. Leaning against the wood she looked up at the painted ceiling. Dragons, of every colour and type flew through the colourful fantastic rendition of the systems of the Realm Worlds. Beyond the dragons, near the west were creatures out of nightmare. For the west was where the Shedu A Lakash Empire still thrived. There be monsters.

They are not the only monsters. Hot tears again threatened but she forced them back. She focused on calming herself. Closing her eyes she listened to the sounds of the library. As her ears became more attuned she could hear Alex’s movements.

Dani suddenly remembered. She had completely forgotten. How? Why was she so selfish? This had been Alex’s big day, no doubt he was filled with good news. She walked toward the back wall. The windows showed a rippling world of dark grey as rain beat against the castle.

She watched Alex sit cross legged on the window seat. He wiped his long fingers on his pants before turning the page. He handled the book like it was brittle or some delicate treasure that would turn to dust with one wrong touch.

Dani stepped closer. Alex’s head was bent forward. She could see the curve of his neck. Below his ear, his pulse beat a strong steady rhythm. Dani stepped closer, he was still unaware of her. She was tempted just to watch him read. She reached out a hand, but pulled it back and cleared her throat.

Alex startled and looked up and around. Seeing her, he smiled. Above his collar bone, she could see his pulse now beating rapidly.

“Hi, Dani.”

“How did your meeting go?”

“They are not interested.” He turned back to the book and shrugged as he spoke. Before he turned, a shadow seemed to pass over his features, but maybe it was her imagination.

“Father is hoping you will consider investing with Knight Industries.” Dani moved to sit across from Alex. “What are you reading?”

“Third edition of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I saw his name on a read list when I did my degree. I couldn’t get access.” Alex held up the book to show her the cover.

“Its made from dura-paper. You can not smudge it.”

“Oh,” Alex said. “It feels like real paper.”

“The paper ones turned to dust before my great-great-grand-parents were born.” Dani leaned forward. “See that tree symbol?”

“Yes.”

“That book was created on old Earth.”

Alex’s eyes went wide. “This book is almost ten thousand years old?”

“Older, actually. Most of the books up here are the old ones.” She smiled. “The new books are downstairs. I really like Stephenson.”

Alex had closed the book and set it down reverently onto the seat.

“They are meant to be read, Alex.” She picked it up and put it in his hands. “We did not save them to leave them on a shelf.”

She closed his fingers over the volume. His hands were warm and this close she could smell he had recently showered. Alex looked from her to the book, he seemed about to say something but then did not.

“Please, enjoy the book.” He nodded and again started reading. Dani sat back against the cushions. She watched the rain wash down the window. Watched the light turn from dark grey to red as the sun slid down the sky and behind the mountains. The only sound for the next forty minutes was Alex’s breathing and slowly flipping pages. Sitting there, she felt…right. No pressure, no fear.

Then a faint gong sounded through the Castle’s PA system. It was time to prepare for supper.

* * *

Dale was laying out clothes when Alex entered his room. Black ‘trousers,’ men apparently do not wear pants and a blue silk shirt. Though the socks and trousers were black, Dale had included bright red suspenders.

“Ah, so you know I’m going out.” Of course Dale knew, valets knew everything.

“Yes, sir, Miller’s Road. And sir,” Dale took his jacket, “good match.”

Alex smiled. Dale definitely had a spring to his step and a slight smile played on the edges of his mouth. Slipping off his shoes, Alex took off his shirt.

“Sir?” Dale’s voice was filled with concern as he looked pointedly at Alex’s arm. The bruise, from Durand’s hand was coming up purple with bits of yellow. Alex had forgotten about Durand. He reached for the blue silk shirt.

“Its nothing, Dale. From earlier.” But Alex was sure Dale already knew that, too. “They passed.”

“Ah, yes, sir. If you will permit me to say, sir,” Dale spoke as he slipped Alex’s jacket on, “their loss is our gain.”

“Thank you, Dale.” If it works, Alex sighed. He thought of William’s argument, a discussion he had never been meant to overhear. His brother-in-law had said what everyone had thought and for that, Alex, couldn’t blame him. After all, if his idea was so great, why hadn’t someone more advanced thought of it? 

Dinner was in the small dining hall. Alex had learned the rules from watching others and a few prudent question to Dale or Dani and they had so easily become second nature. He entered through the double doors into a room larger than his bedroom upstairs. There were two fireplaces and they were ablaze. The three chandeliers had been dimmed and the dark wood and real wool rug lent a warmth that synth form furniture just couldn’t match. George motioned him over to sit by him.

“I understand Mr. Williams will not be signing you?”

“That’s correct, Sir. He passed.” Alex nodded a greeting to Lord Morgan.

“I saw the vid of your match, Alex,” Lord John Morgan said. “I hope we get the chance on the mat, young man.”

“What match?” Dani asked. She was the last of the ladies to arrive and took the seat next to Alex.

The men all stood, Alex pushed in Dani’s chair, then sat back down.

“Mr. Hunter fenced with Brendan today. It is all over VidAll.” Keith said, talking mostly to Abby, who was sitting next to him.

“I saw it.” Abby smiled.

“Well, I will have to give it a view.” George had thought John was joking. He needed to explain to the man that Alex was not enhanced in any way, but a win against Brendan? How?

“I did a search on Inigo Montoya and Westley.” Keith had a huge smile on his face.

Alex felt his face go hot.

“You were fencing today?” Dani sat forward.

“Marcus took me to the New Oxford Royal Sports Club.” Alex wasn’t sure how to continue.

“Perhaps I could see your presentation this evening?” George asked.

Johanna who had taken a sip of her blood, put down her glass with a choke.

“Sorry, father,” Johanna said. “He has already promised to join some friends and I for an evening out.”

“Tomorrow then?” George asked.

“Yes, sir.” Alex nodded. “I hope you won’t be disappointed.”

The three course dinner featured a main of roasted chicken and a dessert of apple crisp. Alex wasn’t sure if it would be the company or the food he’d miss the most.

* * *

After the kids had left, George was sitting in the den. John was sipping a bit of scotch and the ladies, Claudette and June, were drinking Martinis and as usual were discussing trade. Thomas came in and informed them that Alex would be giving his presentation at one the next afternoon, but he had given Thomas full access to his work, ‘in case George wants to look it over.’

George felt deep relief. He had been poring over the designs since Alex’s second night. He had questions and ideas and had been biting his tongue around the boy, not daring to ask anything least he give away the truth. He would hate to break Alex’s heart, but if Daniella found out, there would never be peace in the house as long as he lived. Feeling a weight lift he poured himself a second scotch.

“Could we see Alex’s match?” asked Claudette.

“Of course, my Lady.” Thomas pulled out the remote and the picture over the fireplace lifted. The large screen came to life. The frozen scene was of a mat. They watched a man and a woman with rapiers. The man won on points. Then Brendan challenged him. The man upped the challenge by moving it to the arena.

The room was silent as Brendan’s voice announced the start. Then the blades were moving. For several minutes Brendan and the man sparred. The touches rarely earning flags indicating points from the two judges. Brendan tried to get around the man’s defence but he was no fool. He kept the larger, faster man on point.

Both were moving, their feet dancing. Brendan was getting frustrated. He began pushing the other man, not allowing him time to breath, to drop his guard in any way. The man refused to let Brendan get close, he knew that if the Vampyre got within the strike, it was over.

They could see sweat under the man’s arms, could see drops of sweat dripping from the bottom of his face guard, but his blades did not waver. Their eyes showed them the man’s body was overheating.

Then the man made a mistake and Brendan lunged. All jumped at the sound of the buzzer.

“I have him!” Brendan’s voice filled the den. But all in the room saw the smaller man’s blade.

“You are dead, Sir.” The judge said. Brendan looked down confused by the blade against the Kevlar-spider weave of his chest guard.

Then the smaller man collapsed onto the mat and threw off his face guard. There was a gasp of surprise.

“I know—” George started. He turned but it was to see Daniella, standing in the doorway, still staring at the flat screen. “Daniella, why did you not go with the others?”

Claudette turned. “Dani? Why are you not with Johanna and Alex?”

“I … how did he do that?”

“He is tweaked—” John started.

“He is not.” Claudette cut in. “Dr. Kincaid did a complete check.”

“There is not a tweaked gene in his body, John, June.” George said with a sigh. “He is flat. Completely.”

“But … how is that possible?” June looked from George to John.

“How did he do that?” Dani asked again. “Lord Ector is at least three times stronger and faster. How did Alex win?”

All of them looked at the screen. It was frozen on Alex getting back slapped as he left the ring, clearly exhausted.

“By holding back nothing.” Thomas’ words turned all their heads.

Yes, thought George, by holding back nothing and thinking! Alex planned to win and he did it.

* * *

They had stood in line for a large bus. As they boarded, a man scanned the back of everyone’s right hand. Alex was shocked to see a bar code appear on the man’s scanner. He hoped it would be removed when he left the following Friday. No, he realized, he got to stay an extra week. That would be tight, but he would still make the Jules.

His next surprise was Marcus, he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He came on board to a loud whoop from a bunch of men, several Alex recognized from the Yard Staff, all sitting at the back of the bus. He plopped down in the seat behind Alex.

Looking around, Alex realized everyone was dressed to party. From shimmering metallic net dresses on the women to some pretty flashy suits on a couple of the guys. But the thing that stood out most, was that everyone on the bus was talking, laughing.

The second thing that really stood out, even though the clothing was similar to party clothes one saw everywhere, not one single woman had extra breasts. Looking carefully as the bus finished loading staff from the castle, he realized not a single female had a build that required titanium reinforcement of her spine. When was the last time he’d seen anyone with scales, oversized eyes or feathers instead of hair, or breasts bigger than their heads? Not one of the men had the double muscle build, nor bulges so large they needed special stretch pants and had to do the ‘crotch’ walk.

There was a lot of skin showing and all of it was, well, skin. No stripes, no spots, no moving tattoos, no scales or bio-satin. A couple of the cooks were the last to board. Both stopped at the front of the bus as everyone cheered. The younger man began a striptease. Alex couldn’t help but smile as the bus driver told him to save it for the bars.

Alex looked down at his muted clothes… and kept smiling. Dale knew him better than most of his own family. Dale’s inclusion of the suspenders was the perfect touch.

Johanna, looking like she was going to come out of what little of the metallic blue clothing she was wearing, plopped onto the seat next to him.

“Ready to party?” Johanna asked.

“Yes.” Alex nodded, but his one big question lingered. How could he ask them? What if they answered, what if they said what he’d always been told?

“You do not sound so sure.” Johanna smiled as she leaned in close. “So what can I tell you? First, I am the only full blood on the bus.”

“Full blood?”

“Vampyre.” Marcus said from his seat. “Me, Kelvin, Todd, Arthur and Lucy are halves.”

“But not have nots!” Yelled someone from the back to a round of laughter.

“I will have some!” Someone else yelled to chorus of cheers.

“Yeah, yeah,” Marcus said, ignoring the laughing. “Technically Arthur is not half, he is almost full, but he is a spare. And Kelvin is technically full, but he is also a spare.”

Johanna rolled her eyes. “Gregor, our Armorum is Kelvin’s father.”

“Sire, more like it,” muttered Marcus.

From behind someone started playing a guitar and everyone took up singing a rather naughty song.

“Come on, Alex, you must be boiling over with questions?” Johanna leaned in close. Her eyes reflected green in the lights of passing vehicles. “My, my, Alex you are blushing and your heart is just racing. Pray tell?”

Alex noticed Johanna’s fangs. “Your fangs, they seem to come and go?”

“They retract, a little, gives the illusion.” Johanna leaned in close and as the bus swung around a corner she slipped against him. Her voice dropped to a throaty whisper, “I will let you in on the big secret. They are not for killing, Alex, they are for sex.”

Alex blinked. Fangs were for sex?

Then the bus swung back and Johanna’s body was a safe distance away.

“Why isn’t Dani here?”

Johanna immediately lost her edge. Alex could describe it no other way. Johanna took a deep breath and leaned back, this time the bus’ movements didn’t seem to affect her. “Two years ago she was visiting… a friend, something happened. She will not talk about it… I wish you could have met her then, Alex. There was no doubt then that she would be the next Lord De La Roche, a Dark Lord upon the council… none.”

Dani was to be the next Dark Lord? What happened two years ago? Alex’s mind picked up on something about two years ago… something to do with the uni courses…

“Why are you called Dark Lords?”

“Why what?” Marcus asked.

“He wants to know why we are called Dark Lords.” Johanna said a little too loudly. The whole bus went quiet as the still half naked sous chef began shushing people, then he just whistled loudly.

“Hey, our guest wants to know why our Lords are called Dark Lords.”

“Jeff, easy man,” Marcus snapped. “He is just asking.”

Jeff came around and leaned over the seat in front of them, clearly ticking off the two maids Alex recognized, who were already sitting there.

“Listen, long ago, Alexandria brought all our ancestors form old Earth to this corner of the verse. Now, I take great offence to the shit I have seen in movies and vids, especially those so called history vids! Fuck that show on the free channels out there in the H-F-Shit for brains—”

“Take it easy, Jeff,” snapped Johanna. “It is just a question.”

“Fine. But I have been hearing it all bloody week and I am sick and tired of it.” Jeff turned to Alex. “No religion. Okay? The Lords of Light, have religion, the Dark Lords do not. They called Alexandria and our ancestors The Unenlightened. Get it? Dark, because they refused the light of religion.”

“Do not forget the science thing!” A woman called from the back.

“I am getting there, Lorna.” Jeff yelled back. Alex flinched from Jeff’s loud voice.

“Alexandria, was not anti-science.” Johanna cut in. “She and her followers just were not impressed with what had happened when science and finance—”

“An unholy matrimony of greed and—”

“Jeff, please. We are sitting right here.” Johanna glared at the man. Jeff frowned, rolled his eyes and crossed his arms.

“As I was saying,” Johanna turned back to Alex, “they created the rules. No more scientific experiments based on profits and anything remotely bio-tech is done off world in enclosed environments. The same with new materials.”

“With a clear separation of finance and state.” Jeff added. “Hey, Caroline, what say you and me and Diane here find a room?”

“Sod off!” both women yelled together and Jeff found himself on the floor of the isle. The guitar was once again being played.

“Any other quest—we are here!” Johanna stood up. “Hey, Alex, welcome to Miller’s Road. The best place to play on the continent.”

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