"I should have killed you the day you were born!"
The pain, searing and hot, spiraled through his veins along with the cold iron blade that penetrated his skull.
"Yes, you should have," Lucian snarled, and tore the weapon out, "but you didn't."
He thrust Viktor down the ventilation shaft, chains tumbling around him as he hit the water with a splash. Crimson clouds surrounded him as he drifted into inky darkness, fragments of sunlight shimmering on the surface. He was stunned, incomprehensible, enraged. He would not the Lycan win, nor would he admit defeat. He knew this fortress intimately, every inch of it. The water came in from the sea, through a set of cast iron bars and narrow tunnels that eventually led to the cliffs.
Sluggish movement propelled him forward, tearing the iron bars free and passing through the yawning opening. His body was healing slowly, for he had not enough blood in his veins. Movement and shadows appeared above him, along with the dip of oars in the water. It was Tanis, intending to row through the arch to the waiting ship with the caskets of the Elders. He did not believe his lord had survived, his beady eyes intent only on his task, an illusion that led to surprise when something caught one of the oars. The resistance was so strong that he looked over the side and saw a horrific, eerie reflection swirling beneath his own: Viktor, his piercing blue gaze white from loss of blood. One sinewy hand arose from the depths and the ghastly face followed, the lips drawn into a snarl.
"My lord," Tanis gasped and assisted in pulling him into the craft, which rocked from side to side precariously. In the bottom was a bag of his beloved scrolls, documentation of their last several centuries of unchallenged domination. He was already crafting the words of this defeat in his mind, turning the sentences over on his tongue, and reveling in their sweetness. He was their historian, an invaluable asset but one Viktor did not trust to always tell the truth. Tanis was a necessary evil and in this instance, needed.
"Row," Viktor commanded.
Tanis, sweating under his companion's unwavering gaze, gripped the wooden oars and pulled them hard. The sun had not yet risen high enough to penetrate this side of the castle and their progress around the cliffs to the waiting ship remained shadowed as well as unseen.
There was a triumphant roar high above as Lucian claimed their domain. Viktor loathed the very sound of it, despised that he had not been able to defeat his adversary, sickened at what the last several days had brought about: the rebellion of the slave race, the Lycans, the discovery of his daughter's betrayal, and her execution to kill the monstrosity growing within her. Children were intended to be a blessing rather than a curse but she had brought him such anguish, such sorrow, such anger. Her mother had died bringing her into this world for nothing, for betrayal, to him and their kind.
His fingers tightened against the plank on which he sat. All of them were dead, save for Tanis and those awaiting them on the ship. The entire council had been wiped out, slaughtered by their slaves. He should have killed Lucian when he was young, but something had compelled him to allow him to live; curiosity, perhaps, or even a spark of compassion as over the years his fascination with the child had permitted him to enter a place of honor among his captors. That honor had brought about Viktor's defeat, for Lucian had betrayed him.
Tired hands closed around the rope ladder hanging over the side of the ship. There were humans as well as vampires on board, those to steer the ship in daylight as well as darkness. The ship was kept in constant readiness in case there was a revolt, and they knew when they saw his expression what had happened. No one spoke. He watched as the iron caskets bearing the other Elders were hoisted into the hold. Chains swung and men groaned under the weight, aware that the cargo was precious.
It was cold and dark below deck, soothing for the pain that still stiffened his form, his injuries knitting but leaving him weak and vulnerable. He would not sleep long, just enough to allow them to cross the waters and make for their northern stronghold. Kraven had been left in command of the north provinces and though he was not a warrior, he would be of assistance in determining what to do next.
A place of rest awaited him, open and dark, promising a reprieve from the violence of his thoughts and the depths of his remorse. Viktor passed into it and the ornate doors closed in on him, knowing Markus and Amelia slept on either side, oblivious to all that had transpired. He would have to awaken them, or at least Amelia. The coven was destroyed and he would need her assistance. But what a bitter admission it would be.