Kaid heard the panicked cry, but his brain could wrap around nothing but the burning pain. It cramped his leg and hip and back, making it hard to breath. He tried to open his eyes, but everything was dark, and something wet dripped down his face.
“Avon,” he whispered, not recognizing the agonized rasp of his own voice.
That was Ly’essa, Kaid thought groggily, trying to push through the agony wrapping its tentacles around his body and mind. “Here,” he croaked, trying to move, only to scream as the pain ripped through him with a sharp, white-hot rending that sent him tumbling into darkness.
There was no way to know how long unconsciousness claimed him, but when Kaid opened his eyes again, the moon had risen high in the sky. There was hard-packed dirt under his back, and he sensed someone hovering close, stroking his hair and whispering his name again and again, in a choked voice. He heard weeping nearby, and knew it was Ly’essa crying.
“A-von,” Kaid whispered, barely able to get the single word out.
Instantly, his brother’s face leaned over him. Kaid could see tear tracks streaking the dirt that covered Avon’s cheeks, and he tried to raise a hand to wipe at them, but the effort was more than he could manage.
“Mandrake!” Ly’essa hissed from somewhere close by. “They tipped the spikes with poison!”
Avon answered her. “To ensure whomever they felled with their trap, would die. One way or the other.”
“Tiggy?” Kaid asked, remembering seeing his sister’s arms flailing as the ground broke under her feet. He could still hear her scream ringing in his ears.
“Shhhh,” Avon said, leaning over him and brushing damp hair from his forehead, before cupping his cheek. “Shhhh, brother. She will be fine, as will you.” Though Avon’s voice was strong and sure, Kaid knew the words for the lies they were. He closed his eyes, trying to breathe through the horrendous pain that racked his body.
Suddenly, the night grew brighter with a soft golden glow. Kaid wondered if he’d already passed to the Great Beyond, but that couldn’t be. He could feel Avon beside him, feel his brother’s hand squeezing his. The pain was there too, as fierce and unrelenting as ever. In the next heartbeat, he heard steel scraping against steel, and recognized it as the sound of a blade being unsheathed.
“Wh-who are you?” Avon hissed, rising to his feet and positioning his body over Kaid’s.
Then a second blade was unsheathed, and Kaid heard Ly’essa’s voice. “Get back, or I swear, I will gut you both!”
Kaid tried to move, to see what his brother saw, but all that effort gained him was excruciating pain ripping through his gut. He gasped, and his hand instinctively clutched his belly, only to meet with torn flesh and sodden clothing. He didn’t have to see his hand to know it was covered in his own blood.
“Run,” he gasped out. “Go. Sa-ve your-selves.” Kaid tried to put authority into his voice, but all that came out of his mouth was a choked squeak of sound. Neither Avon nor Ly’essa heard him, or if they did, they didn’t listen to the plea, nor did they leave.
“Fear not,” came a soft melodious voice. The very sound of it eased the tension in Kaid’s body, if not the pain. “We are not here to harm you.”
“Who are you?” Avon demanded, “And what do ye want from us?”
There was a slight pause, and then a second voice spoke. It carried strength and power, and all but echoed in Kaid’s head. “You are destined to fulfill a prophecy, Avon Ian Stormcloud,” the voice said. “As is your brother, and your sisters.”
“What prophecy?” Ly’essa demanded, her tone raw fury, laced with unutterable grief. “Tiggy and Kaid are dying. Is that your fooking prophecy, then?”
Dying? They were dying? Kaid swallowed the fear that surged through him at that pronouncement. He’d known it, of course, but having it spoken with such finality still came as a blow. Using every ounce of focus and strength he had, he forced one hand up to grasp his brother’s boot.
Almost immediately, Avon was kneeling beside him, stroking his face. “Shhhh, now,” he whispered. “We’ll get ye home, I swear it by Naamah. You will be fine.”
Kaid knew his brother’s words were empty promises he could not keep. Ly’essa was right. They were dying.
“Go,” Kaid said again. “Please.” He couldn’t fight, hell, he could barely move, but he might be able to give Avon and Ly a chance to flee to safety. “Leave us. We are–past help.”
The sound of laughter filled Kaid’s head. A light, airy sound that in some ways reminded him of distant bells. Musical. “You swear by my sister’s name then do ye, lad,” one of the strange voices said.
Her sister’s name? Naamah? Kaid’s mind felt slow and sluggish as the agony in his body dulled his ability to think. Their adoptive father, Lord Barkolak, was a Vampire. As such, he worshipped the mother of Vampires, Naamah. Kaid and his siblings had learned all the rites, as befit their position in Barkolak’s household. They’d also been schooled by a Lycan elder, who’d taught them that the Lycan’s goddess was Gaeia—Naamah’s sister. Was that what this strange woman was telling them? They were the twin goddesses? No! Kaid’ brain could not accept that as truth.
Obviously, his siblings could not either. Kaid felt Avon’s body tense beside him, and he heard the puzzlement in Ly’essa’s voice as she asked, “Your…sister?”
“Who are you?” Avon said, his voice barely louder than a whisper.
The same lyrical voice that had just spoken, answered those questions. “The twin goddesses, of course. Gaeia, and Naamah.” There was a pause. No more than several rapid heartbeats, and then she continued. “But you knew that, aye?”
Kaid could hear Avon’s breath panting in and out of his lungs, and then the questions tumbled from him, spilling over one another as if he wasn’t sure which to ask first. “What…what do ye here? With us? Now? What do ye want from us?”
“Silly man,” the lyrical voice said with a soft chuckle. “We’ve come for your earthly lives, so you can be reborn. It is your destiny.”