Home > No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1)(5)

No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1)(5)
Author: Miranda Honfleur

Ahead, a dark-elf bore another over his shoulder—Dhuro carrying Vlasta, a broken arrow shaft protruding from her side, buried in her gut.

No. Not one of his people. No.

She was still breathing, whimpering. Alive. A shot like that wouldn’t have killed her—at least not quickly. It was meant to end her slowly, painfully.

Goose-feather fletching. A human’s arrow. The Brotherhood.

He and Gavri caught up to Dhuro, who heaved a breath of relief as they continued to the nearest Gate—Heraza.

“The others?” he hissed to Dhuro as they ran.

“Already home,” Dhuro bit out from beneath low, drawn eyebrows, and bared his fangs.

Dhuro hadn’t agreed with Mati’s orders not to engage the Brotherhood, but he’d obeyed as a proper subject to the queen first and as a son second. A rage, however, had simmered in Dhuro from the first attack—a narrowing of his eyes, a clenching of his jaw—and now, while holding a bleeding huntress in his arms, that rage bubbled far too close to the surface.

It was a rage he knew as keenly as Dhuro did.

Just get home. Holy Ulsinael, just let us get home. Because if we meet the Brotherhood, orders or no orders, I can’t promise not to kill them. Just let us get home…

The Bloom thicket tangled ahead before Heraza Gate. He took Vlasta from Dhuro carefully, whispering to her as she groaned, as her face creased. The Bloom parted, letting them through to the locked stone door, then wove back together behind them.

Smearing wet hair from her face, Gavri frantically tapped the Nozva Rozkvetan knock on the stone door.


As she did it again, Dhuro stepped up next to her and joined her, both of their hands beating the rhythm.

No answer.

The human shouts closed in.

In his hold, Vlasta whimpered as her blood ran down his leathers, mingling with the mud while Gavri and Dhuro continued.

“We’re almost home, volodara,” he murmured to her, and she nodded weakly, raindrops rolling down her face, or tears.

The door creaked open.

They scrambled inside, and the two kuvari guarding Heraza barred the stone door after them. Danika and Kinga.

“Where were you?” Dhuro shouted as he cornered them.

Both Danika and Kinga immediately bowed. “Your Highness.”

“Dhuro,” Veron said, prodding him with an elbow, still holding Vlasta. “We need to get her to the mystics. Come on.” He headed down the tunnel toward Central Cavern with Gavri as she shook her head.

“Where were you?” Dhuro repeated, snarling the words at the kuvari. “The Brotherhood nearly caught us.”

Danika stayed bowed. “Captain Riza recalled the kuvari to reinforce Baraza, but when Your Highness and Prince Veron didn’t show up there, the Stone Singers sang it shut and we were ordered back to posts.”

“Dhuro,” Veron called over his shoulder, and Gavri took a deep breath next to him as they headed to the mystics’ lifespring with Vlasta.

Dhuro could hardly shout at Mati about his frustrations over the Brotherhood; as their queen, her word was law. But taking it out on two kuvari, especially when Riza had given the order—that wasn’t helping either. Dhuro could take it up with Riza later, who’d lay him out on the stone—with Mati’s implicit approval—if he so much as barked at her.

As they made their way, the lavender glow of the bioluminescent mushrooms high above on the stalactites lit the enormity of Central Cavern, tempered by the soft white light of the glowworms and the sprawl of flora that had always bloomed here, even without the sky realm’s sun.

Below, the blackstone dwellings spread among the interwoven pathways and shining streams high above the Darkness’s embrace. Stone Singers crowded smaller walkways, singing stalagmites into dwellings in their deepest and darkest bass tones, beseeching stone to meld together and form to their collective will.

Nozva Rozkveta was serene, even as the Brotherhood thirsted for dark-elf blood just outside the Gates.

He and Gavri had almost reached the mystics’ lifespring with Vlasta when Rút caught up to them, breathing hard, her face lined as her wide eyes fixed on Vlasta.

“No,” she breathed, reaching out to touch Vlasta’s hand, one of her claws broken. “When I heard the call, I-I tried to lead them away, so she could escape. But even then, I could feel her weakening, and—” She covered her mouth, running alongside them.

“Your claws,” Gavri said with a gasp, and Rút curled her fingers.

Damaged claws meant weakness, and the weak were seen as a disgrace to their families. But to mention that now? Really? He scowled at her.

Gavri cleared her throat. “She’ll be all right,” she offered to Rút. “And Queen Zara won’t let this go. You’ll see.”

Rút and Vlasta had made the Offering to each other and had been lifebonded for eight years; they shared anima. If one weakened, the other would strengthen her, and if one died, so would the other…

“We’re almost there.” He plunged through the dark entryway and into the mystics’ lifespring, where Xira—the oldest dark-elf among them at nearly four thousand years—ran to meet them, her dark-purple robe trailing, and apprentices huddling around her.

“Take her to the waters, Highness.” Her long white hair shimmering beneath the lavender glow, Xira led them to a brightly lit pool, and he climbed the shallow stairs to gently lay Vlasta inside while Xira checked her and removed the arrow, eliciting a pained cry from Vlasta. “She’s still breathing. Good.” Xira cocked her head to Rút. “You, too. In with her. You’ll both need the strength of the lifespring to fortify you.”

Because if Rút’s anima wouldn’t be enough, Vlasta would die. And if Vlasta died, so would Rút. Such was the danger of the lifebond.

Chewing her lip, Rút nodded several times as she held Vlasta close in the lifespring waters, stroking her short, wet hair and whispering words of comfort. Here, seated on a large Vein of anima, Nozva Rozkveta’s life was stronger than any other queendom’s, and the lifesprings were concentrated with anima, places they’d used for recovery since before recorded history.

This would work. It had to.

He braced on the warm, smooth stone while Gavri patted his back. Vlasta and Rút would survive—both of them. A lifebond was an act of absolute love, rare in its complete and utter devotion because with one death, it could claim two lives instead of one. Queens and their most valued kuvari among the Quorum elite royal guards rarely lifebonded, as their loss would leave a queendom weakened.

It was, in a way, fortunate that his own father, Ata, hadn’t been lifebonded to Mati when he’d betrayed his family and gone to his death. Gone with a kind, placating grin that haunted Veron’s memories as Ata had secretly left them for the last time, given his life away.

Veron lowered his gaze to the stone. He’d never weaken Nozva Rozkveta that way. Ever. At twenty-seven, he hadn’t even contemplated making the Offering to anyone, let alone the death sentence that was lifebonding.

Heavy footsteps echoed into the lifespring’s cave.

“Will she be all right?” Dhuro asked, half growl and half whine. “I swear by Deep and Darkness, if—”

“She will recover, Your Highness,” Xira said, meeting Dhuro face to face as he dripped rainwater and mud onto the gleaming blackstone. “But”—she turned back to Veron and Gavri—“they’ll need to have something substantial to eat to recover their strength.”

Something more than the individual rations of small game, cave fish, shellfish, and wild bits of edible flora.

The humans had the entire bounty of the sky realm while his people had to scrape and scrounge for the smallest of meals to share—and they couldn’t even hunt in peace.

“They can have my rations,” he said.

“Your Highness,” Rút breathed, sitting up, but he held up a hand.

“It’s done, Rút.” He’d just redouble his efforts hunting in the coming days.

“Mine, too,” Dhuro said, thumping a fist to his chest. “The Brotherhood will pay for this. They have to.”

Xira rested a gentle hand on Veron’s shoulder and directed a fleeting glance in Dhuro’s direction. “I’m certain Her Majesty will be relieved to know Vlasta and Rút are safe.”

In other words, Get this raging prince out of my lifespring.

He nodded. “Come, Brother. Mati will want to know what happened.”

“I’ll report to Captain Riza,” Gavri said, her eyes soft as she parted ways. After having loved his oldest brother Zoran for eight years before he’d left, she knew exactly how Dhuro could get.

Heaving a sigh, Dhuro left the lifespring with him, and they headed toward the black crystal spires of the palace in the heart of Central Cavern.

“The volodari of other queendoms are dropping like flies to the Brotherhood.” Dhuro forced a breath out of his nose and shook his head. “It won’t be long before they focus more of their attention on us.”

“Mati said she’s handling it. It is not our place to question.” A queen spoke and her subjects obeyed. Every last one. And Mati had said she would resolve the crisis, and to trust her.

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