Redemption – Erica Stevens

Smoke drifted through the tavern as Jericho took a step inside and looked around. He didn’t know the man he was looking for but even so he glanced at every table within the cluttered room. There was no one sitting amongst the tables or tucked into the shady recesses of the establishment that immediately grabbed his attention. He thought that perhaps he would somehow just know the leader of the rebels by some aura of power surrounding the man, but they all appeared to be ordinary humans. But then, all humans were ordinary and rather boring to him. He snaked his way through the crowd of unshaven, unwashed and drunken men to an empty table near the back. His nose wrinkled, he’d smelled better things in the dungeons of his father’s palace. These men didn’t seem to care though, and neither did the women that were throwing themselves at them with the hope of a little extra coin or food. He’d lived amongst the humans for two years now and though he survived on their blood, and took pleasure in what their bodies had to offer, he felt no sympathy for the plight they faced. Grabbing hold of one of the rickety chairs, he pulled it out from a table. Years of too many beer mugs sat down with a heavy hand, and too many fights, had left the table surface covered with nicks and gouges. He sat down carefully, worried that the wobbly chair might not support his weight. Leaning back, he forced himself not to sneer as he surveyed the scene with his arms folded over his chest. He was supposed to be on the human’s side in their battle against the evil vampires; he couldn’t show his open disdain of them right now. He almost chuckled aloud, but managed to keep it suppressed, as a buxom brunette shimmied up to him and asked for his order with a saucy grin.

Though he wasn’t overly fond of human food, he found he had a taste for the darker ale that the taverns served, so he ordered a mug. The woman’s eyes practically stripped the clothes off of his body as she leisurely took him in. She sauntered away with a swish of her hips that would have been far more tempting if she’d possessed all of her teeth. He enjoyed women, and the pickings had been slim lately, but no matter how slim they were he still had his standards. They weren’t as high as they had been when he lived in the palace, but a full set of teeth were still mandatory. “I think Kelly likes you.” Jericho had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn’t realized the young blond man at the table next to him had tilted back in his chair to speak to him. He was so close that Jack could smell the spearmint leaf he was chewing on. Though the man was smiling at him, and seemed friendly enough, his youthful appearance was out of place in this world of prematurely aged men and women. “She doesn’t bite I assure you,” the stranger continued.

“I imagine she would have trouble doing so,” Jericho replied with a chuckle. The young man laughed as the legs of his chair plopped back down. “That she would.” “You know Kelly well?” Jericho inquired. “Not that well,” he assured him quickly. “But I’ve heard the tales.” “You seem a little young for such tales.” The stranger’s bright blue eyes twinkled with amusement as he leaned further away. “Not everything is as it seems.” “So I’ve been told.

” So he knew for a fact. “I haven’t seen you around here before.” Jericho shrugged and tossed a coin to Kelly after she returned with his ale. Money was scarce in these areas but he’d come into a windfall yesterday when he’d killed and robbed some of his father’s own men in order to continue with his subterfuge. It had been the final test that he’d had to take in order to prove his loyalty to the rebellion enough to be led to this place, and the people he was supposed to meet. If they ever showed up. It was easier than he’d anticipated, killing and taking money from vampires while pretending to be a mere human. However, he was beginning to realize that what the humans lacked in strength and speed, they made up for by being creative. They were devious little critters and he now knew why his father was having such a difficult time squashing their rebellion. He’d never seen such intricate traps designed and carried out, and though he’d had to dispatch of the two surviving troops, the other six guards had been slaughtered when hundreds of wooden stakes had exploded from the spring lever traps hidden within the trees.

The two wounded men had been impaired enough that it had been easy for him to take them out, even while having to pretend to be a mere “human.” “I’m new to the area,” Jericho informed him as he took a sip of ale; it warmed him from his throat all the way to his belly. A strand of blond hair fell into the young man’s eye as he tilted his head to the side. “We don’t get many new people around here.” Jericho shrugged and wiped the foam from his upper lip. “I needed to get away from the confinement of the palace walls and the vampires there. I’ve been doing some traveling, meeting different people, trying new things.” “I see.” The young man turned away and waved to Kelly, she came back with a tankard of the amber colored ale and set it before him. “You’ve had problems with the vampires at the palace?” “Haven’t we all?” The man raised his mug to Jericho.

“That we have stranger, that we have. What brought you to this town?” Jericho sensed something more behind the young man’s twinkling eyes as he studied him attentively. As the man leaned closer to him, Jericho sensed an acuity that went far beyond this human’s youthful years. He was struck with the realization that he’d just waded into treacherous waters and he would have to tread carefully. It had taken him years to get to this point, he couldn’t ruin it now. He didn’t know who this man across from him was, but the playfulness that he’d first exhibited was now gone. “A man they call Neil told me to stop by here,” Jericho answered. The blond took a sip of his ale. He was smiling again, but Jericho wasn’t fooled by the carefree demeanor anymore. “I’ve heard of Neil, but then I’ve heard of a few men called Neil over the years.

” “As we all have.” Jericho looked around as he realized things had begun to change in the tavern. Though conversation, drinking, and the clatter of dice and dominoes continued from the tables surrounding them, there had been a shifting amongst the crowd. Most of the attention was now focused upon them, upon him. He wasn’t afraid of anyone in this room and though it would blow his cover, if it came down to it, he could destroy each and every one of them. “Neil told me his cousin would be here.” The young man’s eyebrows furrowed as he studied the room. “Timber over there has a cousin named Neil.” Jericho didn’t have to ask who Timber was, or why they called him that; the sheer size of the man was enough to rival the sequoias that he’d once seen in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Ok, so maybe he’d have a tough time taking down that guy, Jericho thought as he turned away from the giant who was currently grinning at the woman seated in his lap.

Jericho had a suspicious feeling that Timber was more aware of him, and the man he was talking to, than the woman though. “I don’t think that’s the guy I’m looking for,” Jericho told him. “What makes you say that?” “I only received a vague description of the man, but I imagine part of that description would have included the fact that he could rip my head off with his bare hands.” The blond chuckled and real amusement filtered back into his eyes. “Do you know the name of the man you’re looking for?” “David.” The young man nodded and gulped down his tankard of ale. “I know many a David too.” He lifted his hand in the air and gestured to Kelly with a subtle flicker of his long fingers. The tips of his fingers were streaked with black. Jericho frowned as he tried to figure out what the blackness was.

It didn’t appear to be dirt but he didn’t know what would have stained the boy’s fingers like that. Jericho watched as Kelly reappeared with another tankard for the boy and one more for him. The sound of a chair scraping out form the table drew his attention from the boy and Kelly. He turned as a man settled with ease into the chair across from him. The man’s arms folded over his chest; his face was expressionless as he studied Jericho with shrewd green eyes. His reddish brown hair was tussled but clean for someone that lived amongst this area of the woods. Out of the corner of his eye, Jericho saw that the young blond was holding the newly delivered tankard in his hand. From his vantage point, he spotted the gleam of something tucked into the boy’s sleeve. Kelly may have been eyeing him like a fresh piece of meat she wanted to devour, but she had still surreptitiously slipped the blond a knife with her last drink delivery. There was no amusement in the blond’s eyes anymore as they met and held his gaze.

Rebel, the thought blazed across his mind. The wisdom and horror of the rebel’s everyday life was now on full display in the subtle lines on the younger man’s face. The rebels wore the knowledge of those that had lost too much on their faces and in their eyes. The sand slipping rapidly through the hourglass of their lives was something that they endured every day they awoke. He’d only met a handful of the true rebels over the past couple of years, but he realized now he was nestled amongst them. He was a snake within a den of rats. “I’ve also known a David or two in my lifetime,” the older man across from him stated. He was younger than Jericho had anticipated, but he knew without having to be told that this was the man he had been searching for, the man he’d been sent to help destroy. He fought the urge to shift in his chair as his fangs pricked with anticipation. He could kill this man right now and put a nail in the coffin of the entire rebellion.

He’d been sent to infiltrate the rebel group though, to learn as much as he could about the rebellion before reporting back to his father, the vampire king. He steadied his impulse to leap across the table and break the man’s neck by taking a small sip of ale. Finally he would have a chance to prove himself to his father, a chance to show that he wasn’t simply the unnecessary, easily kicked around youngest prince. He would have a chance to prove that he was just as ruthless as his middle brother Caleb. That he could be just as determined and relentless as his oldest brother Braith. He took another sip and placed the mug down on the table. He was so close, he couldn’t ruin his chances now, but he wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed. “I see,” Jericho murmured. The man smiled at Kelly as she placed a bowl of steaming soup and a mug before him. “Thank you Kelly.

” She flashed a smile that showcased her remaining teeth and strode away with an even more inviting sway of her hips. The man shook his head, lifted his spoon, and blew on the soup. “So a man named Neil sent you here?” “Yes,” Jericho answered. “What did he tell you about this David?” Jericho was growing tired of the subterfuge and games. He’d had enough of that with his father; he wasn’t going to play those same games with this man. “He told me that you were the leader of the rebellion.” The man paused with his spoon halfway to his mouth, for a minute he remained unmoving and then a smile slipped over his face. “I see. What’s your interest in the rebellion?” “I would like to join. I’m strong, fast.

I’m a good hunter and an even better fighter. I’ll be a valuable asset.” “I’ll be the judge of that.” The man dropped the spoon and leaned back in his chair to survey Jericho with eyes that though they weren’t as callous as his own father’s, they were every bit as astute. Jericho bristled at the thought of being judged by this human; he’d been judged and found lacking by his father his entire life. He wasn’t about to be sized up by a man he could kill in the blink of an eye if he so chose. The tingling in his fangs increased as he met David’s persistent stare. It would piss his father off, and ruin everything he’d worked for over the past couple of years, but he was extremely tempted to give into the urge to rip this man’s throat out. Then the man leaned forward and thrust out his hand. “I’m David and this is my son, Daniel.

” Jericho glanced at the blond beside him who flashed him another arrogant grin. Jericho’s fingers tingled as he resisted the rising desire to take down father and son, which would rather effectively cripple the rebellion. But that would be like cutting off the head of the hydra wouldn’t it? He would take two down only to have more grow back. “And you are?” David prompted as Jericho leaned forward and took hold of the hand extended toward him. As he returned the firm handshake, he could feel the large calluses on the man’s palm and the numerous cuts that marred his skin. “Jack,” he answered without thought. He didn’t know where the name had originally come from, but it had slipped easily from his tongue the first time he’d encountered a rebel two years ago. He didn’t think the rebels had much knowledge of the royal family, and even if they did, he wasn’t the only man in the world named Jericho, but it wasn’t a name he wanted to use. Not here, not amongst these people. David smiled at him and brusquely shook his hand.

“Well then Jack, are you ready for your life to change?” He’d been ready for over nine hundred years for his life to change, but he never could have expected the amount of change that David and his family would bring to his life.

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