"Fuck calm, Nikolai!"
"So this is Conrad Wroth," Kristoff said from behind him, surrounded by his personal guards.
Without turning, Conrad sneered, "The bloody Russian. What do you want?"
Kristoff seemed amused by this. "I'd known the Wroths were genetically incapable of fawning to a king, but a modicum of respect..." His demeanor was self-satisfied, almost like he'd planned this all along.
Conrad faced the natural-born vampire.
"You've taken out my entire castle guard," Kristoff said in a casual tone. "Something a Horde battalion couldn't do. My informants didn't tell me you were this strong." His pale eyes were expressionless, yet Murdoch knew he was calculating. "But then, you've been blooded."
"I don't have time for this!" Conrad snapped. "I'll kill you just to keep you from speaking."
The guards tensed, hands at their sword hilts.
"Kill me? You wouldn't know your Bride if not for me, if not for your brothers. You'd have been dead three hundred years ago."
"I've put that together!"
To Nikolai, Kristoff said, "He took out the guards without killing a single one - almost as if he was making a point. You were right. Conrad isn't lost." He cast Conrad a quizzical glance. "He's... quite a few things, but he's not irredeemable. And I can concede when I have made a mistake. Though you should have come to me instead of willfully breaking our laws."
Nikolai exhaled. "I couldn't take the risk that you would say no. He's my brother," he said simply.
Kristoff turned back to Conrad. "Swear fealty to me, and all of you leave today as allies. Otherwise we fight."
Conrad gritted his teeth, eyes darting, but eventually he grated, "I'll vow... that I'll never engage you or your army."
After an appraising look, Kristoff said, "It will do. For now." To the other three brothers, he added, "Take a week off. And do get your Brides to cease plotting my downfall."
When the king and his men disappeared, Nikolai said, "Conrad, you must tell me what's happened for me to help you. Who is your Bride?"
Conrad hastily said, "Neomi, this beautiful little dancer. Love her. So much it pains me. Have to find her."
We're free. I can go to Daniela at last, Murdoch thought, barely hearing what Conrad told them, something about cemeteries and resurrections - needing to listen for his Bride's heartbeats?
Sebastian said, "The ghost thing again," just as Murdoch muttered, "Con's thoroughly lost it."
Conrad snapped his fangs at them, his red eyes glowing. "This happened!"
"I don't know what outcome I'm hoping for," Sebastian began. "Either Conrad's irretrievably mad, or his Bride is a spirit from beyond whose corpse is lost. This seems like a lose-lose."
"He always did things differently," Murdoch said absently, scarcely believing the fact that Conrad had gotten loose - and been blooded - and that Murdoch and his other brothers were freed. All was right with Kristoff.
I can possibly win Daniela. And keep her. But first he had to find her. Murdoch dared a slap on Conrad's back, saying, "I would like to stay, but I have an emergency that's weeks overdue. Good luck, Con." With that, he traced from the castle.
He could think of only one person who'd know how to reach Daniela.
In the past, he'd gone by Val Hall to see where she had lived for the last seventy years - it was a haunting place protected by flying, spectral wraiths.
Now Murdoch returned there, ready to do battle with them in order to see Nix the Ever-Knowing. The soothsayer had been helping everyone else.
Why not me?
"Because you bit her," Nix told him before he'd spoken a word.
While he'd been wasting precious time determining how to evade the cloud of wraiths and storm Val Hall, they'd suddenly parted for Nix as she'd casually strolled from the manor.
"That's why I won't tell you where it is," she continued. She was chewing gum and wore a pink T-shirt that read: Jedi Kitty.
Taken aback, he said, "Nix, I'm Murdoch Wroth. You've been working with my brother Nikolai, and I need - "
"I know who you are. And what you've done to poor Daniela. You've driven her straight into the arms of that hot-on-a-stick Jadian."
No, Daniela wasn't lost yet. She couldn't be. "Tell me how to get to her."
"Why should I?" the soothsayer asked in a mulish tone. "I like her with Jadian. He doesn't, oh, burn her cold skin as he drains her blood."
"Maybe you should do the selfless thing and let her go," Nix said. "What if she can be happier there?"
"Maybe I should give her all the information she doesn't have yet, information she'll need to make this decision."
"What doesn't she know?"
"That I'm in love with her, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to be with her." His father's words arose in his mind: Son, you've never cared about anything enough to fight for it - or to fear losing it. Though this might have been true then, now Murdoch was making up for three centuries of not caring.
"I never told her these things." Murdoch closed in on Nix. "Valkyrie, I won't rest until I get the chance to."
She cast him an appraising glance, squinting as if he were a book she was trying to read in dim light.
He ran his palm over his face. "Look, I know you helped the Lykae Bowen several times. You've even assisted Nikolai. But you won't help me? Why, damn it?"
She blinked up at him. "Because I play favorites?"
He scowled. "Tell me anything. Anything at all."
"Anything? Okay - a lot of people have some serious money on the fact that you're a cad."
"No longer," he bit out. "Can't you see the future and know that I'm going to be good to her?"
She narrowed her eyes. After long moments, she said, "Huh. You remain eternally faithful to her. I did not see that one coming."
Irritation flared. Like he needed her to tell him that.
She shrugged. "I still won't help you find her. Even if I was moved to deus ex your machina, I refuse to portend for every Tom, Murdoch, and Harry. It cheapens the experience, and before long I'll have a reputation as a sooth-whore." She fogged her claws, then buffed them on her T-shirt. "Besides, you already know how to reach Daniela."
"How? Tell me!" From the memories?
The moment began to feel surreal, as if all of his life had been leading up to this. The world seemed to spin. He pictured Daniela carving tirelessly; he strained his memory to see precisely what she'd wrought -