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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
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The naga were sprung from a nightmare. Covered in dark scales and nothing more, they were a horrendous combination of serpentine features and male humanoid bodies whose powerful arms ended in polished black, flesh-shredding talons.
Here were the creatures of the blood-filled legends, the ones that slipped through the wall to torment and slaughter mortals. The ones I would have been glad to kill that day in the snowy woods. Their huge, almond-shaped eyes greedily took in the Suriel and me.
The four of them paused across the clearing, the Suriel between us, and I trained my arrow toward the one in the center.
The creature smiled, a row of razor-sharp teeth greeting me as a silvery forked tongue darted out.
“The Dark Mother has sent us a gift today, brothers,” he said, gazing at the Suriel, who was clawing at the snare now. The naga’s amber eyes shifted toward me again. “And a meal.” “Not much to eat,” another one said, flexing its claws.
I began backing away—toward the stream, toward the manor below, keeping my arrow pointed at them. One scream from me would notify Lucien—but my breath was thin. And he might not come at all, if he’d sent me here. I kept every sense fixed on my retreating steps.
“Human,” the Suriel begged.
I had ten arrows—nine, once I fired the one nocked in my bow. None of them ash, but maybe they’d keep the naga down long enough for me to flee.
I backed away another step. The four naga crept closer, as if savoring the slowness of the hunt, as if they already knew how I tasted.
I had three heartbeats to make up my mind. Three heartbeats to execute my plan.
I drew my bowstring back farther, my arm trembling.
And then I screamed. Sharp and loud and with every bit of air in my too-tight lungs.
With the naga now focused entirely on me, I fired at the tether holding the Suriel in place.
The snare shattered. Like a shadow on the wind, the Suriel was off, a blast of dark that set the four naga staggering back.
The one closest to me surged toward the Suriel, the strong column of its scaly neck stretching out. No chance of my movements being considered an unprovoked attack anymore—not now that they’d seen my aim. They still wanted to kill me.
So I let my arrow fly.
The tip glittered like a shooting star through the gloom of the forest. I had all of a blink before it struck home and blood sprayed.
The naga toppled back just as the remaining three whirled to me. I didn’t know if it was a killing shot. I was already gone.
I raced for the stream using the path I’d calculated earlier, not daring to look back. Lucien had said he’d be nearby—but I was deep in the woods, too far from the manor and help.
Branches and twigs snapped behind me—too close—and snarls that sounded like nothing I’d heard from Tamlin or Lucien or the wolf or any animal filled the still woods.
My only hope of getting away alive lay in outrunning them long enough to reach Lucien, and then only if he was there as he’d promised to be. I didn’t let myself think of all the hills I would have to climb once I cleared the forest itself. Or what I would do if Lucien had changed his mind.
The crashing through the brush became louder, closer, and I veered to the right, leaping over the stream. Running water might have stopped the Suriel, but a hiss and a thud close behind told me it did nothing to hold the naga at bay.
I careened through a thicket, and thorns ripped at my cheeks. I barely felt their stinging kisses or the warm blood sliding down my face. I didn’t even have time to wince, not as two dark figures flanked me, closing in to cut me off.
My knees groaned as I pushed myself harder, focusing on the growing brightness of the woods’ end. But the naga to my right rushed at me, so fast that I could only leap aside to avoid the slashing talons.
I stumbled but stayed upright just as the naga on my left pounced.
I hurled myself into a stop, swinging my bow up in a wide arc. I nearly lost my grip as it connected with that serpentine face, and bone crunched with a horrific screech. I hurdled over his enormous fallen body, not pausing to look for the others.
I made it three feet before the third naga stepped in front of me.
I swung my bow at his head. He dodged it. The other two hissed as they came up behind me, and I gripped the bow harder.
I turned in a slow circle, bow ready to strike.
One of them sniffed at me, those slitted nostrils flaring. “Scrawny human thing,” he spat to the others, whose smiles grew sharper. “Do you know what you’ve cost us?” I wouldn’t go down without a fight, without taking some of them with me. “Go to Hell,” I said, but it came out in a gasp.
They laughed, stepping nearer. I swung the bow at the closest. He dodged it, chuckling. “We’ll have our sport—though you might not find it as amusing.” I gritted my teeth as I swung again. I would not be hunted down like a deer among wolves. I would find a way out of this; I would— A black-clawed hand closed around the shaft of my bow, and a resounding snap echoed through the too-silent woods.
The air left my chest in a whoosh, and I only had time to half turn before one of them grabbed me by the throat and hurled me to the ground. He pounded my arm so hard against the earth that my bones groaned and my fingers splayed, dropping the remnants of my bow.
“When we’re done ripping off your skin, you’ll wish you hadn’t crossed into Prythian,” he breathed into my face, the reek of carrion shoving down my throat. I gagged. “We’ll cut you up so fine there won’t be much for the crows to pick at.” A white-hot flame went through me. Rage or terror or wild instinct, I don’t know. I didn’t think. I grabbed the knife in my boot and slammed it into his leathery neck.
Blood rained down onto my face, into my mouth as I bellowed my fury, my terror.
The naga slumped back. I scrambled up before the remaining two could pin me, but something rock hard hit my face. I tasted blood and soil and grass as I hit the earth. Stars danced in my vision, and I stumbled to my feet again out of instinct, grabbing for Lucien’s hunting knife.
Not like this, not like this, not like this.
One of them lunged for me, and I dodged aside. His talons caught in my cloak and yanked, ripping it into ribbons just as his companion threw me to the ground, my arms tearing beneath those claws.
“You’ll bleed,” one of them panted, laughing under his breath at the knife I lifted. “We’ll bleed you nice and slow.” He wiggled his talons—perfect for deep, brutal cutting. He opened his mouth again, and a bone-shattering roar sounded through the clearing.
Only it hadn’t come from the creature’s throat.
The noise hadn’t finished echoing before the naga went flying off me, crashing into a tree so hard that the wood cracked. I made out the gleaming gold of his mask and hair and the long, deadly claws before Tamlin tore into the creature.
The naga holding me shrieked and released his grip, leaping to his feet as Tamlin’s claws shredded through his companion’s neck. Flesh and blood ripped away.
I kept low to the ground, knife at the ready, waiting.
Tamlin let out another roar that made the marrow of my bones go cold and revealed those lengthened canines.
The remaining creature darted for the woods.
He got only a few steps away before Tamlin tackled him, pinning him to the earth. And disemboweled the naga in one deep, long swipe.
I remained where I lay, my face half buried in leaves and twigs and moss. I didn’t try to raise myself. I was shaking so badly that I thought I would fall apart at the seams. It was all I could do to keep holding the knife.
Tamlin got to his feet, wrenching his claws out of the creature’s abdomen. Blood and gore dripped from them, staining the deep green moss.
High Lord. High Lord. High Lord.
Feral rage still smoldered in his gaze, and I flinched as he knelt beside me. He reached for me again, but I jerked back, away from the bloody claws that were still out. I raised myself into a sitting position before the shaking resumed. I knew I couldn’t get to my feet.
“Feyre,” he said. The wrath faded from his eyes, and the claws slipped back under his skin, but the roar still sounded in my ears. There had been nothing in that sound but primal fury.
“How?” It was all I could manage to say, but he understood me.
“I was tracking a pack of them—these four escaped, and must have followed your scent through the woods. I heard you scream.” So he didn’t know about the Suriel. And he—he’d come to help me.
He reached a hand toward me, and I shuddered as he ran cool, wet fingers down my stinging, aching cheek. Blood—that was blood on them. And from the stickiness on my face, I knew there was already enough blood splattered on me that it wouldn’t make a difference.
The pain in my face and my arm faded, then vanished. His eyes darkened a bit at the bruise I knew was already blossoming on my cheekbone, but the throbbing quickly lessened. The metallic scent of magic wrapped around me, then floated away on a light breeze.
“I found one dead half a mile away,” he went on, his hands leaving my face as he unbuckled his baldric, then shucked off his tunic and handed it to me. The front of my own had been ripped and torn by the talons of the naga. “I saw one of my arrows in his throat, so I followed their tracks here.” I pulled on Tamlin’s tunic over my own, ignoring how easily I could see the cut of his muscles beneath his white shirt, the way the blood soaking it made them stand out even more. A purebred predator, honed to kill without a second thought, without remorse. I shivered again and savored the warmth that leaked from the cloth. High Lord. I should have known, should have guessed. Maybe I hadn’t wanted to—maybe I’d been afraid.
“Here,” he said, rising to his feet and offering me a bloodstained hand. I didn’t dare look at the slaughtered naga as I gripped his extended hand and he pulled me to my feet. My knees buckled, but I stayed upright.
I stared at our linked hands, both coated in blood that wasn’t our own.
No, he hadn’t been the only one to spill blood just now. And it wasn’t just my blood that still coated my tongue. Perhaps that made me as much of a beast as him. But he’d saved me. Killed for me. I spat onto the grass, wishing I hadn’t lost my canteen.
“Do I want to know what you were doing out here?” he asked.
No. Definitely not. Not after he’d warned me plenty of times already. “I thought I wasn’t confined to the house and garden. I didn’t realize I’d come so far.” He dropped my hand. “On the days that I’m called away to deal with … trouble, stay close to the house.” I nodded a bit numbly. “Thank you,” I mumbled, fighting past the shaking racking my body, my mind. The naga’s blood on me became nearly unbearable. I spat again. “Not—not just for this. For saving my life, I mean.” I wanted to tell him how much that meant—that the High Lord of the Spring Court thought I was worth saving—but couldn’t find the words.
His fangs vanished. “It was … the least I could do. They shouldn’t have gotten this far onto my lands.” He shook his head, more at himself, his shoulders slumping. “Let’s go home,” he said, sparing me the effort of explaining why I’d been out here in the first place. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that the manor wasn’t my home—that I might not even have a home at all anymore.
We walked back in silence, both of us blood-drenched and pale. I could still sense the carnage we’d left behind—the blood-soaked ground and trees. The pieces of the naga.
Well, I’d learned something from the Suriel, at least. Even if it wasn’t entirely what I’d wanted to hear—or know.
Stay with the High Lord. Fine—easy enough. But as for the history lesson it had been in the middle of giving me, about wicked kings and their commanders and however they tied into the High Lord at my side and the blight … I still didn’t have enough specifics to be able to thoroughly warn my family. But the Suriel had told me not to go looking for further answers.
I had a feeling I would surely be a fool to ignore his advice. My family would have to make do with the bare bones of my knowledge, then. Hopefully it would be enough.
I didn’t ask Tamlin anything more about the naga—about how many he’d killed before those four slipped away—didn’t ask him anything at all, because I didn’t detect a trace of triumph in him, but rather a deep, unending sort of shame and defeat.
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