Published by: eXtasy Books
Author : Lark Westerly
Word Count :79250
Publication Date :2011-06-19
Series : #
Heat Level :
- Product Code: 978-1-55410-042-2
He is Kestrel Windhover… A man of the Windsinger caste of the planet Gale, Kestrel is observing Wild Moon when he is attacked by monstrous daemons. Expecting death, he screams defiance - and someone comes to his aid. Healed and enchanted, Kestrel can't wait to claim this beauty as his own. She is Artemis of the Mercies... An Amazon Mercy is sworn to remain a virgin, to protect womankind. How can she let her seducer die when he truly believed she agreed to be his love? And then she is offered the cruellest choice of all.
Artemis bent over the stranger. It was daylight on this world, and she could see he was in a pitiable state. She thought he would probably die within a few minutes. He had fought the monsters bravely, but with nothing more than a staff, he'd had no chance. And she'd had no reason to come.
She had answered the bidding of a male.
Males were the enemy from which Amazon Mercies were sworn to protect their sisters. Males were aggressors, destroyers, and the pillagers of innocence. Every day on a hundred worlds, males seized women, violated their bodies and broke their spirits. Not all males were bad, but enough were evil to keep the Mercies busy. Sworn virgins, they turned their backs on all emotion save the all-encompassing sympathy for sisters in distress. Male acquaintances, even blood-related, were barred from a Mercy's life. Males were the enemy. And Artemis had defended one from an attack he had probably deserved.
"Malediction!" she said crossly. She didn't know what to do. If the bidder had been a sister, she would have offered her immediate succor and perhaps a new location on Alida. That wouldn't do for a male. She would be reviled, and he would be put down without question as soon as his presence was discovered. To the best of Artemis' knowledge, no male had ever landed on Alida, and no boy child had ever been born there.
Artemis sighed. Perhaps he was dead already. That would be best. She bent again, touching his brow. He was crumpled and filthy, and her nose wrinkled at the stench of the open wound on his thigh. It bled sluggishly, which should have cleansed it, but there seemed to be a sickening in the blood. His brow was clammy and cold, and she jerked her hand away. He was dead, or nearly, but as she straightened, his half-closed eyelids lifted and a pair of eyes, as blue as skylilies, met hers. They were dazed with pain and weakness, but there was a remarkable strength in their depths. The eyelids dropped and his body, which had stiffened against his terrible pain, relaxed.
He was dead. Her obligation was extinguished. It had been for nothing.
Artemis turned her attention to the scattered, smoking remains of the brutes that had killed the stranger. She nudged one with the toe of her sandal, noting the rigid skin and the livid purplish red of the flesh. The heads were rimmed with bone and covered with scales, the mouths were fanged, and the hands and feet were clawed. Their huge, aggressive-looking genitals, usually coiled for safekeeping, were slack in death. They were males, of course. Daemons always were.
Daemons. She wrinkled her nose. Daemons lived to kill and steal. They tortured their victims by injecting acid into wounds, an acid that sent the most Spartan of beings into a frenzy of self-destruction. Karvallian lionfolk, the bravest of the brave, had been known to gnaw off a limb that had been touched with daemonic acid.
With a powerful punt of her foot, she tipped the nearest corpse over the lip of the cliff. The others were too far away to be treated similarly so she looked for a lever. The dead man's staff looked sturdy enough. She had to pry it loose from his grip, and as she touched his skin, she felt a pang of regret. Suddenly, his fingers moved, weakly but surely, to clutch her hand.
His flesh was icy. He should have been dead. The Daemons stank, and she had no business here.
"Hexes!" she muttered as the fingers clutching hers tightened in a spasm of agony. Not even a male deserved the pain he suffered. She must pretend he was a sister and offer him the easing of his passing.
"Mercy is thine," she said, and fumbled with one hand in her pouch for the narcotic spray. Strange how the Amazon Mercies still used the ancient formula alongside synthetic medicines. Not that they had eschewed old ways completely. During Artemis' training, Maeve had shown her alternatives to be used on the many worlds, which frowned on modern ways.
"A Mercy uses the best there is," said Maeve. "If that is unavailable, she uses the best she has."
Artemis drew forth the spray and thumbed the dial to the right. One notch eased moderate pain while two helped severe pain. Three soothed broken bones and dislocations, and four numbed advanced cancers.
Five brought a painless death.
"Mercy is thine," she said again and clicked the dial to the final notch. Her left hand was unpracticed, but her right was imprisoned in that ice-cold clasp. He was strong, even in extremity. He should have been dead already.
She brought the narcotic close. She had only to find the vein in his wrist, just below his intricate wristband. One quick touch and he would be out of his agony for good. But somehow, she couldn't bring herself to hasten his death. She thumbed the dial back two notches.
"My will is weak," she murmured and injected the dose.
It wasn't enough to bring true relief, but after a time his pain-racked body relaxed. He gave a small sigh, and Artemis tried to withdraw her hand. His clasp grew stronger and when she tugged on his hand, he opened his eyes. She found herself mesmerized by the intensity of his gaze. His long hair, the hue of bronze, fell over his shoulders, half-veiling his face. She smoothed it away with her left hand and looked into his face.
His face was broad with high and slanting cheekbones. Despite the mature lines of his body, he was probably little older than Artemis. His lips moved weakly, but she could not make out the words. Perhaps he wanted immediate death.
"I'll not refuse your need," she said gently. Her heart swelled with pity as he tried again to speak. This time, the words were audible but still incomprehensible.
This world, whatever it was called, did not use Galactic Standard speech. Artemis raised her left hand to her diadem and pressed the translator band. The dying male murmured again. He seemed to be asking a question, but the translator merely blurred and shifted the syllables. It was obviously glitzing again.
Again he asked his question. Perhaps he wanted to know if he would die.