The Shadows (Black Dagger Brotherhood #13) - J. R. Ward
TERRITORY OF THE S’HISBE, GRAND PALACE
The footprints he left on the white marble were red. Red as a Burmese ruby. Red as the core of a fire. Red as the anger in his marrow.
The blood was TrezLath’s own, but he felt no pain.
The murder weapon he’d just used, a sterling silver paring knife about as long as his hand and as narrow as his forefinger, was still in his palm. It was dripping, but that was not the source of the stain he was leaving behind. He had been injured in the fight. His hip. His thigh. Maybe his shoulder, he wasn’t sure.
The corridor was a mile long and sky-high, and he did not know what awaited him at its termination. A door, he prayed. There had to be a door of some kind—this was the way out of the palace, so there had to be … an exit. And when he came unto it? He had no idea how he was going to break out. But he’d also had no clue how to kill another living male, and he’d done that minutes ago.
Further, he had no plan for what was on the far side of the palace enclosure or how he was going to get over the Territory’s retaining walls. No clue where to go, what to do. All he knew was that he couldn’t be in that cell anymore. It was luxurious enough, with silken sheets on a feather bed, and a bath that had its own pool, and a private chef to feed him. He had books written by the Shadow Masters at his disposal, and a full team of care specialists, from healers, to bathers, to exercise commandants. As for his clothes? His now-torn vestments were studded with gems from the treasury, diamonds and emeralds and sapphires cascading down his robes.
And yet his body was regarded as far more valuable than the largesse it bore.
Trez was the sacred fatted calf, the prized breeding stallion, the male whose birth chart had proclaimed he was to sire the next generation of queens.
He had not yet been called into sexual service. That would come in time, when the Princess he was to mate had reached her astrological maturity.
Trez looked over his shoulder. No one was coming after him, but that would change as soon as the crumpled body of that guard he’d overpowered was found—and that wasn’t going to be long. There was always someone watching.
If only he could—
Up in front of him, a door that was flush with the wall slid back, and a massive figure draped in black stepped directly into his path.
s’Ex, the Queen’s executioner, had his chain-mail hooding in place, his features covered by the metal weave. But the sight of his face was unnecessary.
His voice, deep and evil, was pure menace. “You killed one of my males.”
Trez shuffled to a halt, his dragging robes stilling on the floor. Glancing down at the knife in his hand, he knew that the flimsy “weapon” was going to get him nowhere against the Shadow he now faced. The silver blade had been designed to cut pears and apples, not even tenderloin meats.
And the executioner was not like that guard.
“You are trying to leave.” s’Ex didn’t take a step forward, but seemed closer anyway. “Which is not only unacceptable from my point of view, but against the law.”
“Then kill me in punishment,” Trez said in a tired voice. “Rip my body asunder and bury me in pieces outside of the Territory like the traitor I am.”
“I would do just that. In retribution for your taking the life of my guard.” s’Ex crossed his heavy arms over his thick chest. “But the very beating of your heart and breath within your lungs is divine. So that avenue is not open to me—or you.”
Trez closed his eyes briefly. His parents had been thrilled with the news that one of their two fraternal sons had been born upon the perfect moment in time, a preordained, stars-aligned split second that would transform the family—a blessing for them, with attendant riches and social position; a curse for him that had robbed him of his life whilst ever still he lived.
“Do not even think about it,” the executioner said.
As Trez lifted his lids, he found that he had put the knife to his own throat. His hand was trembling badly, but he was pushing the blade in enough to nick the skin over his artery.
His blood, warm and smooth, caressed over his clenched fist.