Home > Dark Harmony (The Bargainer #3)(2)

Dark Harmony (The Bargainer #3)(2)
Author: Laura Thalassa

I step away from his touch. The night shrouds us on all sides, but even in the darkness I can make out the twisted oaks that surround me.

My stomach drops. I’m back in Mara Verdana’s sacred oak forest.

Could’ve sworn I’d left this place.

Off in the distance, I can hear the faint notes of a fiddle and the snap and crackle of a bonfire. The smell of wood smoke carries on the breeze. There’s something under the smell, a scent that’s somewhat sweet. If only I could place it …

The Thief of Souls walks over to a tree, his boot scuffing a root. “This, I believe, is where you fucked the Night King.”

I feel bile rise up my throat.

Jesus. Had he watched us?

His gaze meets mine. “How do I know that?” He glances at the tree trunk again. The normally rough bark is coated in a slick substance. “I have eyes everywhere.”

As I watch, the Thief presses a hand to the glistening bark. Within seconds, whatever coats the tree trunk now spills onto the Thief’s hand, the dark rivulets snaking between his fingers and down his wrist.

And now I place that strange scent.

Blood.

It drips from the tree the Thief touches, and now it’s smeared across his hand.

The Thief gives me a small smile, his eyes glinting in the darkness.

I begin to hear the slow patter of rain. Only—I’m not sure it’s rain that’s dripping from the trees’ boughs.

As I watch, the oak in front of me starts to groan and tremble.

The Thief eyes me up and down. “Fae magic suits you well, enchantress. I confess that I’m eager to see how it interacts with my own.”

Around me, the trees crack and splinter, making wet, popping noises.

One by one, the trunks peel open like banana skins. Nestled inside each is a sleeping soldier, all of them still as death. Blood oozes down their skin and drips from their tattered clothes.

The oak next to the Thief ruptures, revealing a bronze-skinned fairy. The Thief touches the soldier’s cheek, and for an instant, his face morphs into that of the sleeping man. Then the illusion is gone, and he’s himself once more.

I shudder.

“I’ve been waiting awhile for this day to come,” he says distractedly, still staring at the soldier. He drops his hand and turns his full attention to me. “Tell me, enchantress, can you make a man—any man—fall in love with you? Not just enchant them for a time, but truly conquer their hearts?”

My skin’s pricking.

The Thief leaves the soldier’s side, pacing towards me. Around us, the sound of wood splintering and blood dripping swells until I feel l might go mad.

All at once, the woods fall eerily silent.

Without warning, my siren flares to life, triggered by some pressing, unknown fear. My skin brightens, illuminating the Thief’s face in the dark night.

His eyes take on a fascinated sheen. “Yes,” he says, almost to himself, “I bet you could.” He closes the distance between us. “I do miss the days when I thought you a simple slave. Perhaps when you are mine, I’ll pretend you still are one.” He catches one of my wrists. “You’ll wear metal cuffs and a collar like the slaves of old. And then you’ll be my enslaved enchantress, and together we’ll see just how close you can come to making someone like me feel affection.”

He dares to threaten us? Never again will we fall under his yoke.

“I hope you can manage it,” he continues, “more for your sake than mine. I’m not known for being gentle with my playthings. Just ask Mara.”

I stare at him for a long moment, my claws sharpening, barely staying my siren’s violent tendencies. Then, all at once, I release my hold on her.

My free hand moves almost without my noticing it. I strike, swiping at his face. My claw tips tear open the skin of his cheek in four evenly spaced lines.

Almost immediately, blood begins to drip from the wounds.

The Thief looks amused.

I don’t get any warning before he throws me against the tree he’d been toeing only minutes before.

I let out an angry shout as I hit the bloody trunk, my chest pressed up against the sleeping soldier, my eyes staring at the man’s bloody face. Behind me, the Thief pins me in.

“Normally I like my women docile,” he whispers against my ear, “but you—you I’ll enjoy fighting. Breaking.”

His words are decidedly sexual, and I remember all those female soldiers and the children he’d forced upon them.

I grit my teeth, my nails digging into the tree trunk.

Never, my siren vows. We will kill him first, and we will relish it.

I hear a moan on the wind, and the trees shiver, their leaves beginning to fall from the branches like tears.

In front of me, the soldier’s eyes snap open.

Oh, shit.

The Thief leans into my ear again, his lips brushing the sensitive skin there. “Enjoy the carnage. I do hope you survive it …”

The screams rip me from sleep.

I jerk up in bed, wide awake in an instant, my breath coming in startled gasps.

Not in the queen’s oak forest. Not pinned to a rotting tree.

Not in the Thief’s clutches.

The dim lamps hanging above me illuminate the Bargainer’s Otherworld chambers.

I’m safe. For now.

The screams filter back through my awareness.

Then again …

Des stands at the foot of the bed, his talon-tipped wings spread out, looking like one of hell’s angels as he stares at a point above my head. I follow his gaze, but there’s nothing there.

My eyes meet his as more shrieks vibrate through the bones of the castle. There’s something about the sound … like it’s one voice coming through many mouths.

I remember my dream, the male soldier’s eyes opening. Something cold skitters up my spine.

There are no sleeping men here in the Night Kingdom, I try to reassure myself. And it’s true, there are no sleeping men here in Somnia. But a thousand feet beneath us an army’s worth of women lay sleeping.

The screams filter in through my thoughts.

At least, the women were sleeping.

I’m pretty goddamn sure they’re now awake.

Chapter 3

All at once the screams cut off, and the silence that follows is somehow even more ominous.

What in all the worlds … ?

Des and I are still staring at each other. One second passes, then two, three, four. It’s so terribly quiet.

Perhaps I imagined it all.

But then a wave of shrieks start up, trickling in like the beginnings of a storm. First it’s a single alarmed shout, then another, and then it’s several. They sound so very far away.

The Bargainer closes his eyes for several seconds, as though the sound pains him deep. “What are the chances I could persuade you to hide somewhere safe?” he asks, opening his eyes, his voice silken.

Hide somewhere safe? What exactly does he think is going to happen?

I kick my sheets off, swinging my legs out of bed.

“Zero,” I say.

His throat works. “I can’t lose you, cherub.” For a moment, the crafty Bargainer’s pain is transparent. “Not again.”

I can still see his face as I slipped into that final darkness.

You are not leaving me, Callie.

It’s still so fresh.

Des shutters his expression, the softness dissipating from it as though it never was.

Black battle leathers materialize next to me. I stare at them, my mind racing to catch up with the situation.

“You remember your training?” Des’s voice doesn’t sound quite right. It’s not mocking or teasing. He sounds far too serious.

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