Born of Fire (Page 26)

Born of Fire (The League #2)(26)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

“I didn’t want to tell you what I was doing in case you decided not to jump.”

“That was mean.”

“You’ll get over it.”

“Only after I kill you.”

“There they are!”

They looked up in unison to see two men running toward them. Syn grabbed her by the arm and headed in the opposite direction as Vik flew toward their pursuers to slow them down. As they ran, Shahara decided she didn’t like being on this end of the chase. At all.

She much preferred being the hunter.

Syn led her down a dark alleyway. They jumped over garbage bins and homeless derelicts, and all the while, she could hear her pursuers coming ever closer while Vik insulted them and they shot at him. Her heartbeat drummed in her ears. Syn looked so calm as he ran, checking over his shoulder every now and again, that she felt like strangling him.

Suddenly, a fence cut them off. She started climbing it only to find razor wire lining the top. “What are we going to do?”

“Jump down.”

She did and he caught her against him.

Terrified, Shahara looked past him to see two men coming straight at them.

Syn pulled a hand-sized canister out of his pack, then tossed it at their pursuers. Smoke exploded.

“Hold your breath,” he said, taking out his baton. He extended it to half its length and used it to pry up the bottom of the fence. “Go.”

She crawled through the space, then looked back at him. With one graceful move he rolled under the fence, retracted the baton, and put it back inside his pack.

She heard their pursuers scrambling through the smoke and taking more shots at Vik. “How long will that hold them?”

“Not long.”

Grabbing her hand, he headed for a temple across the street.

She ran to keep up with him. “What are you doing?”

“Trust me.” He opened the door to the temple and slid inside.

Her trust wearing thin, she followed.

Inside the dark foyer, racks of unlit white candles lined the pale pink walls. Syn grabbed two and handed her one. “Just do what I do.”

He opened the intricately carved wooden door to the chapel and walked slowly down the aisle. Her legs trembling, she kept wondering if the men had seen where they’d gone.

And if they had, would they follow?

The last thing she wanted was a confrontation inside a holy place.

Realizing they were in a Kiloran temple, she looked at the intricately carved statuary of various saints that stood on pedestals every few feet. It was actually quite beautiful and serene.

With his heels clicking lightly against the hardwood floor, Syn led her past their watchful eyes to the velvet-encased altar, where an eternal oil lamp was set. He knelt before it and tapped his forehead twice before touching his heart. Then he kissed the candle and lit it from the lamp.

“Now you,” he whispered.

She duplicated his gesture. He cupped his hand around the flame and walked to a prayer bench just to the right of the altar, near a small door. Kneeling down on the bench, he placed the candle in a small holder.

She followed suit. All around the elaborate, gilded temple, she could hear people whispering their prayers.

All except Syn.

With his head sedately bowed, he said nothing as he appeared to pray. Until she noted that his eyes were open and he was discreetly searching the temple for something.

The chapel door creaked open. Shahara turned her head to see one of the men entering.

“Syn . . . they’ve found us.”

He looked to the door, then blew out his candle and took her hand. Shahara barely had time to blow out her own before he pulled her through the side door.

Her heart lodged painfully in her throat and choked her. He wasn’t actually going to lead them through the temple’s private grounds, was he?

Wasn’t that illegal or something? Or at the very least a grave sin?

The cold, dark hallway went on forever without a door. Syn pulled her down it until they came to a small alcove. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her back into the shadows with him. Wanting to protest, she held her breath as she heard the door open and heavy footsteps approach.

Then she heard the gruff sound of a man coughing. Her heart stopped. This time, they were definitely caught. There was nowhere else they could go.

CHAPTER 10

Syn held her close against his chest. So close, she heard the pounding of his heart. Felt the rigidness of his body. And even though she should be terrified of what was about to happen, she found his presence soothing.

Another door opened just ahead of them and she heard several female voices whispering in a language that sounded an awful lot like the one Syn used.

The man came to a stop.

“What are you doing here?” one of the women demanded in an angry, intimidating tone.

At first Shahara thought they were talking to them, until she heard the unknown man respond. “I saw a murderer take refuge here. I’m looking for him.”

“Not on our private grounds you’re not. Get out.”

Two priestesses walked past their hiding spot without seeing them. As a third one paused beside them, Syn reached out and touched her arm.

The priestess glanced at them, then gaped. Closing her mouth, she took a step past their alcove so that she could shield them with her own body. She cleared her throat. “See to it that this man is thrown out on the street. Make sure he never disrespects our temple again.”

Once the doors closed behind the man and the two priestesses, the remaining priestess turned back to them and smiled tenderly at Syn. “My goodness, child, trouble is definitely your handmaiden.”

Syn released Shahara and straightened up like a guilty child confronting an irate parent. He hung his head and she cocked a curious eyebrow. She’d seen Syn angry, hurt, and contrite. But shame was a new emotion and she wondered what about the priestess made him feel it now.

“I’m sorry, Mother Anne. I shouldn’t have come here while I was being pursued. It was wrong to bring them here. But I didn’t know where else to go.”

The priestess touched his cheek. “Never be sorry for needing help, child. We all do at some point.”

Still, shame burned in his dark eyes and it made Shahara want to comfort him.

She shifted her gaze to the priestess and her golden robe. It shimmered in the dim light like a vibrant candle flame and it looked as soft as a cloud. Her bearing as regal as a queen, the priestess’s gray hair was braided and then wound around the crown of her head.

Though the priestess was probably thirty or more years older than Shahara, she held the look of a vibrant teen. Only a few wrinkles creased her kind face, and those marked the woman’s years of laughter and smiles.

No wonder Syn trusted her. It would be hard not to trust someone with such kind eyes.

Mother Anne’s sharp gaze fastened on her. “And whom have you brought with you?”

“Shahara,” she answered.

Mother Anne smiled a smile that lit up every corner of her face. “You are as beautiful as any angel. Never let anyone tell you differently.”

Turning back to Syn, she gave him a reproachful stare. “I wish you’d come under better circumstances. For years I’ve wanted to show you what we do with all the money you donate.”

Syn looked embarrassed. “I have no need to check on you, Mother. I knew you’d do good with it.”

Ushering them out of the alcove, she tucked her hands into her shimmering sleeves and led them the rest of the way down the hall back toward the temple. Syn opened the thick wooden doors that led to a wondrous courtyard.

Shahara stared at the quiet garden. Flowers bloomed everywhere with a bright colorful bounty that stunned her. Birds sang sweetly while chimes swayed in the wind, making a lilting sound that whispered serenity. Even Vik sat silently, sparkling on a branch, as he eyed them with a cocked head.

A fountain, with bubbling waves, marked the center of the yard and, just a few feet away, she saw a huge maze made of hedges that took up much of the left side of the garden.

Mother Anne led them toward it. “You know, Sheridan, we have just opened another home with your last donation, on Kildara this time. And we now have over three hundred homeless children living here in the Talia Wade Memorial Home.”

Shahara started at her words. Just how much money had he given to them that they could provide for so many?

Syn said nothing.

Mother Anne smiled at him. “Every night we have them offer a prayer for you, child.”

Syn shook his head and some strange emotion hovered in his eyes. “Not for me, Mother. My soul was lost a long time ago. Just have them pray for Talia.”

Mother Anne pursed her lips and Shahara could tell she longed to argue, but knew better. So they walked past the fountain and to the maze made of bright green shrubs.

“Anne?” an angry voice snapped.

Syn moved quickly and pulled Shahara behind a tall shrub. He placed a finger to his lips to warn her to silence.

“Yes, High Mother,” Mother Anne answered.

“Please send Omera to the infirmary. There is a patient there in need of her special talents.”

“Yes, High Mother. I will see to it right away.” Mother Anne stepped to their hiding place.

Syn shook his head. “I can’t believe she’s still alive.”

Mother Anne pursed her lips together. “Yes, and extreme old age hasn’t mellowed her in the least. If she catches you in our sanctuary this time, she will demand your blood.”

“I’m sure of that.” He looked at Shahara. “We need to get to the catacombs.”

Shahara gaped as a wave of apprehension went through her. She could just imagine a crypt of stacked bones and decaying bodies. “Catacombs? As in where dead people are buried, catacombs?”

He rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me a fierce tracer, a sworn seax no less, is scared of a little tomb. Good go . . .” He looked to Mother Anne and blushed. “Gracious,” he corrected himself. “Is there anything you’re not afraid of?”

“You for one,” she snapped. “And I’m not afraid of the tomb. I . . . just don’t want to go there.”

The look on his face told her his thoughts. Me or the Rits. Well, at the moment, she was definitely leaning toward the Rits.

Mother Anne smiled reassuringly. “You’ll be all right, child. Sheridan knows his way around them better than anyone.”

That was supposed to be comforting?

And she noticed that Syn didn’t correct the Mother from using his real name.

Very interesting . . .

Mother Anne stepped around Shahara and placed a gentle kiss on Syn’s forehead. “Walk with the gods, child. Remember they will always be with you.”

Syn nodded. “Thank you, Mother Anne. For everything.”

He motioned for Vik to follow them. Then, taking her by the hand, he led Shahara through the maze.

With every step they took through the winding, green bushes, apprehension swelled more and more in her chest.

“Syn . . . I really don’t like being around the dead. I’ve buried too many members of my family. I really don’t think I can do this.”

Syn paused just outside the marble entrance as he heard the note in her voice. He turned to her with a curse scalding his throat but, as he faced her, it died. Stark terror flickered in the golden depths brighter than the eternal flames that burned on either side of the catacomb’s door.

“Aren’t you afraid?” she asked, her voicing sounding much like a little girl’s.

He shook his head. “The dead won’t hurt you, Shahara. Only the living can do that.”

“But Syn . . .”

He let go of her hand and brushed a stray strand of hair off her cheek. “Listen to me, I swear there’s nothing in there to be afraid of. I used to live in the catacombs and they’re the safest place to be found on this planet.”

His words shocked her so much that she forgot her fear. “You did what?”

“He lived here as a kid,” Vik said as he joined them and flew into the entrance. Opening his mouth, he shined a light for them to see into darkness.

Syn held his hand out to her. “It’ll be all right. I promise.”

Gathering her courage, she took his hand and allowed him to lead her into a waking nightmare.

Once inside, she decided he was right. It wasn’t so bad. As far as the light carried, all she could see were bronze plaques placed on the black-veined marble walls. It simply looked like an endless government corridor, not a cryptic tomb.

Thank goodness. She just hated the thought of what happened to people when they died. Most of all, she hated the thought of it being her family.

Silence buzzed in her ears, broken only by an occasional mournful cry of the wind and the sounds of their boots clicking against the ceramic floor and the metallic whisper of Vik’s wings.

To her eternal relief, no bodies or bones could be seen. And other than the coldness, it bore no resemblance to a burial shrine at all.

Syn squeezed her hand comfortingly. “I told you there was nothing to fear.”

Not willing to admit aloud that he was right, she asked, “Where are we going?”