Nepali: सातौं गीतको घर – Sātauṁ gītakō ghara
“Xanthus,” I growled. “The Satyr. That fucking pervert.”
Evander nodded and kept walking.
“No!” I hissed. “No, you can’t just say that bastard is here and then carry on like everything is going to be fine.”
“Stefan, you said you’d keep it down,” Leila reminded me.
I looked down at the hand she’d placed on my forearm and the pleading look in her eyes. Part of me wanted to do as she asked; another part screamed at me to not let this go. “He knew when he said that freak’s name how I’d react. Yet we’re stuck in here?! What good is a secret passage whe– “
“When you won’t keep your voice down?” he finished for me.
“I was going to say, when you won’t let me put an end to the people going after Leila.”
“You were to one who insisted on coming with us,” Evander told me in a low voice.
“You should have told me from the start that the satyr had come here with werewolves and vampires. Let me get my axes and I’ll make sure they never bother us again.”
Evander shook his head. “Every time we open one of the secret doors, we risk being found.” he led us up a set of narrow stairs.
“But they’re all outside, right?”
Evander gave me a narrow-eyed look.
“They haven’t gotten in…” I breathed nervously.
“Last time it was just werewolves, and we fought them off easily enough,” Evander explained. “But they were after Sleipnir, not Leila. Now there a lot more forces, and Xanthus said that he wouldn’t leave without her.”
“What– why would they want to take me?!” Leila asked, struggling to keep her voice down. “And where?”
“There’s no reason they could give that would be remotely acceptable,” Evander stated flatly.
“There’s something we can agree on. If they want her that badly, I need my axes. I can defend her– the others are helping, so it’s not like I’d be alone out there.”
“No. We need to get to the safe room.” And he went down another hall.
“What the hell kind of good can a safe room do?!”
“Keep quiet,” Evander whispered.
There was thumping on the other side of the wall, followed by heavy footsteps. Then I heard the tapping of claws on the wooden floor.
“Where in the house are we?” I kept my voice as soft as possible.
He looked from me to some of the symbols painted on the inner walls. He remained silent, listening to the muffled shouting coming from the other side. His little faun ears folded back, not unlike a deer’s or a cat’s. He pursed his lips and hurried us further away.
“That’s one of the main hallways on the second floor,” he explained.
“So they did get in,” I muttered. “Would they know that the manor house has secret passages?”
He shook his head. “Not unless they’ve somehow been told by someone who knows– and very few are fully aware of it. Still there are probably those among them who will be able to guess it if we make too much noise.”
Soon there was muffled snarling, which started to draw closer.
“Can you get me somewhere close to my room?” I asked. “Hell, even some sort of armory?”
Evander gave me a weary look. “Why did you ask to come with us if you wanted to fight?”
I could have hit him just then. I didn’t care that he had a point; I was furious that he wasn’t letting me do what I thought was best for Leila.
“You panicked, didn’t you?” he asked. “You did the first thing that came to mind and stayed at her side.
“Don’t condescend me,” I growled. “If you hadn’t been so secretive–“
There was another loud thump, right against the wall we were near, and Evander signaled for quiet, then led us away again.
“You should have trusted us better,” he said when we found somewhere quieter. “Leila and I would have been safe in here while You helped Brom and the others. Instead, you decided to stay by her side. You cannot protect her and fight, Stefan.”
The way he spoke infuriated me. “Fine, just get me out of here!”
Evander looked to Leila, glanced down a couple of the branching hallways, then back to her. “Milady, I can do as he requests, but I can only open the door long enough to let him slip out; I will not be able to let him back in.”
Leila nodded, then gave me a concerned look. “Stefan, they’re werewolves…”
“If I don’t help get rid of them, they’re going to find us eventually, right? I doubt they’d believe we left without them noticing, and they’re not going to leave unless they’re certain you went elsewhere–”
“Or if they have her,” Evander added.
I glared at him.
“Stefan,” Leila whispered, “Brom has Jean-Marc, Nikolai, Tobias, and Aubré with him. There are also several guards; I’m sure they can handle it.”
“Heh… and what about Maël? He’s already weakened– dammit, Larsa and Killian are out there, too!” I grabbed Evander’s collar. “Let me get my weapons!”
Evander gave Leila a worried look, and she nodded to him. “Let him do what he wants,” she sighed. Then she pulled me into her arms. “Be careful out there, Stefan.”
I let go of Evander in favor of Leila’s embrace. “I’ll make sure those monsters don’t get to you,” I promised her. “And I’ll protect our friends, too.”
Evander had Leila wait in a shadowy alcove while he led me around several corners. I could just barely make out the barred door in the wall. He paused and looked over the symbols, then took a deep breath.
“This is your room,” he whispered. He leaned in close to it. “It’s quiet, but it probably won’t be for long.”
“I have to lock the door once you’re out,” he went on. “I cannot wait for you to come back in. You mustn’t knock or try finding any other way in.”
“Fine,” I grumbled. “But when this is over, you’re going to show me how you got in if all the doors are locked from the inside.”
He didn’t respond to that directly, and I was more interested in getting out of there then anything else at that moment. He lifted the bar and pushed the door open slightly. I hurried through the narrow gap, and he pulled the hidden door shut immediately– practically on my heels. I glanced back to see that the wall was now sealed shut and gave no clue that there might be a hidden door.
“At least they made it right,” I muttered to myself.
I turned to the armchair where I’d left the bandolier of throwing axes and immediately strapped it across my chest. Nikolai had also found a battle axe for me; it was a little crude, but it would get the job done.
Once I was armed, I crept over to the door to the hallway and peered out into the hall. Empty. I stepped out and headed to the end of the hall. I started to hear shouting and growling. Then a canine whine. I looked slowly around the corner, and as nobody was looking my way, I walked further down. There was an alcove is could hide in while I took in more of the situation.
At the end of the hall, I noticed a sort of shimmer or flutter, which I soon realize was the fae musician, Tobias. He wielded a spear in both hands, ready to use it should anyone try to get past him. Lasra was crouched near him, holding a leather pouch I’d never seen before. I had no way of knowing where Killian or the others were.
“Larsa,” I said, soft enough that he’d be the only one hearing me.
He turned around, eyes wide at seeing me approach. “I thought you were with… with her,” he whispered in Swedish.
I nodded and knelt beside him. “Well, I heard the satyr was here,” I replied, also in Swedish. “I’m not missing out on this.”
Tobias took a couple steps back, further out of sight of the intersecting hallway, and glanced down at me. Then he frowned.
“Vad?” I asked. Then remembered that he probably didn’t know any Swedish. “What’s the problem.”
“Aubré was right about you having a wild spirit,” Tobias told mew in a soft voice.
“I’m not letting Xanthus touch her ever again,” I replied.
Tobias gave me a long look; I think he was drawing his own conclusions and making his own assumptions about what had happened while I was in the secret passages with Evander. He didn’t look pleased– I may even have upset whatever plan or strategy they had in place– but we both knew he couldn’t yell at me.
“You’re not going to like what he’s trying to do, then.”
My eyes widened, and I rose up to stare into his. “Tell me.”
“Don’t treat me like your enemy,” he whispered.
“No. I’ll be ripping his horns off soon enough. What is he doing?”
Larsa stood up, too, and clutched my arm. “Calm down, Stefan,” he said in Swedish. “They’re doing their best to keep him out of her room.”
“Her room?!” I growled; I felt like I was seeing red.
In an instant, I was in the next hall. Tobias tried to stop me. So did Larsa. They couldn’t, of course; I was determined to keep that bastard of a satyr away from anything that Leila had so much as looked at, and I didn’t care what I had to do in order to keep her safe.
My battle axe felled the first werewolf that tried to block my path. It roared and me, and I roared back. The axe cut through its skin like butter. Once it collapsed, its blood pooling around it, the other werewolves nearby backed away and snarled at me. I hefted one of the throwing axes.
“If it’s a death wish you have, I’d be happy to grant it.”
One of them started to approach me; I had an axe in its shoulder in seconds.
“Don’t get up,” I commanded it. I could feel my chest heaving as I looked up at the others. “Out of my way!”
The other werewolves backed away even further; a couple turned tail and fled. Some growled, others whimpered. I never stopped glaring. I moved towards the stairs. I turned to gaze up the stairwell and heard more shouting.
“Oh, Jean-Marc, why don’t I get any of your hospitality?” A slithering, arrogant voice. “You invited so many others into your home, I was hoping that I could dine with you, sleep in one of your beds– ooh, maybe even–“
“Shut your filthy mouth!” I roared as I launched myself up the stairs. I axed another werewolf, shoving it downwards in the same motion, and kept on running.
The satyr looked down at me. “Oh, it’s you,” he said in a tone of mock disinterest. Then he gestured to one of the men nearby. “Keep him out of my way.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. Just beyond them was Jean-Marc, one man gripping each arm in what seemed like a vice grip. He was covered in blood, his clothes ripped, his hair mussed. I couldn’t tell if he had several wounds or one massive one; either way, he looked utterly defeated.
Jean-Marc watched helplessly as the man Xanthus had commanded charged down the stairs towards me. I ran up, determined to knock him aside. He was fast– much faster than anyone should have been. When his body collided with mine, it knocked the air from my lungs. We were both propelled backwards and down. My back hit the landing full-force, but I didn’t even have the air to shout. The man who’d pounced me kept me pinned down as he straddled my waist.
When I caught my breath and tried looking past him and up the stairs, I couldn’t see Xanthus anymore. I struggled to get out from under the man, but none of the methods I knew for getting free worked. He hissed and pinned my wrists on either side of me head.
“You smell delicious he sneered, his red eyes staring down into mine. “Your heart is pounding, your body is hot. Your blood would simply gush out of you no matter where I bit.”
Dammit– a vampire. So the stories about enhance strength and speed weren’t entirely exaggerated. It was going to be a lot harder than I first thought to protect Leila and get these unwelcome guests out of Jean-Marc’s house.