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  • Damien(Nightwalkers #4)(9) by Jacquelyn Frank
  • Since she had a roomful of those same types of hapless people just beneath her feet, Damien had to formulate his plans in a way that would deprive her of the opportunity to sic them on him.

    He levitated from the ground, staying in the shadows as he came very near the small window that led into the room where Ruth was storing her prize. The window was inconveniently tiny, little more than the height and width of his hand.

    Clever, clever, he mused.

    Small enough to keep out everything except, say, a Wind Demon in his molecularized form. No doubt fully equipped with a bar that would snap down on his head as he tried to reach for the tidbit of cheese Syreena had become.

    Damien waited patiently for Ruth to exit the room. He was completely focused on his coming actions and on hiding his presence from her astute senses, except for the moment he took to calculate the time left until dawn. In a couple of hours, neither he nor Syreena would want to be running around unprotected. Ruth was quite capable of putting off the Demon lethargy that would try to drag her into sleep for the day. The eldest and most powerful of her kind could often circumvent that debilitation, at least for a few hours.

    He and Syreena were less lucky. She would become the equivalent of tenth-degree sunburn, and he would start to smolder like barbeque coals. After only so much of that, Syreena would die from the poisons in her blood, and he would eventually become little more than a pile of ash.

    They needed to escape, dodge the pursuit of not only the Demon, but the humans who had no shyness toward the sun whatsoever, and find shelter.

    All within a couple of very short hours.

    It took the better part of forty minutes before Damien's heat-sensing vision told him that Ruth had grown tired of her new captive and had left her alone. Whether that would last, he did not know. All he did know was that once he got hold of the Princess, he was going to have to figure out a way to keep Ruth from tracking them right back down again, just as he had done to the female Demon. He could shield himself, but he could not affect Syreena's trail.

    He took the opportunity of Ruth's absence to peer into the window.

    Damien could not see Syreena because she was tucked into the corner closest to him, out of his line of sight as he looked through the tiny window. What he could see was walls of stone that literally glowed with spells and wards.

    Damn.

    There was nothing for it. She was too tightly guarded. There was no way he would ever be able to slip beneath such powerful mystical fences unnoticed.

    Therefore, he would have to resort to the direct approach, and break right through them.

    Syreena was fading in and out of consciousness up until the moment stone seemed to explode and rain down all around her. The force was monstrous, shaking the entire room like an earthquake. The next moment was nothing but a storm of what she could only describe as hellish feedback. Power lashed all around her, some of it lancing through her. Luckily, she was too deep in shock to really even feel it.

    She felt as though a firestorm was blowing toward her, and she had nothing but the curl of her own body to protect herself with. Even in her numbed state, she tucked her head down and tried to breathe as she waited for it to burn her to cinders…or pass over her.

    Suddenly there were strong hands encircling her arms, trying to force her to her feet. She could not comply, however. Her legs simply would not work.

    She felt a change in tactic, and she was scooped from the floor. She was so heavy, as if she weighed a million tons, that she could not imagine how it was possible for anyone to lift her.

    There was a shift in position, the sound of a muttered expletive, and suddenly she was being thrown into the night air.

    Chapter 4

    Damien leapt out of the demolished room the same way he had entered, through the enormous hole he had made when he had rammed his body into it a moment ago.

    Syreena was more than just dead weight in his arms. The insanely clever Ruth had bespelled the petite, light-figured woman he held with a weighting hex, making it seemingly impossible for anyone to lift her or take her away. It was like trying to fly with a full-grown bull elephant on his chest.

    Still, he propelled them out of the prison and up toward the stars crowding the black sky. It was taxing, especially after the magical abuse he had just withstood not a minute beforehand.

    On the plus side, Ruth could not fly, so her teleportation powers were useless. She could teleport into the night sky right in front of him if she wanted to, but she would promptly plummet to the ground and very likely die a moment afterward.

    Ruth had to resort to other means. Damien could already feel her trying to pull his destination from his mind. If she won the image, she could use it to beat him there and would be lying in wait for him.

    This was why he had purposely acted on the moment and had made no plans as to what actions he would have to take to thwart her. What he did not know for himself, she could not successfully take from him.

    Magic-users could levitate, so he was not entirely safe in the air, either. He could sense and smell them leaping up after him. They were fresh, uninjured, and unburdened, so they would catch up to him very quickly.

    This, however, was where he could shoot two birds with a single bullet. He hesitated in his fast upward flight, glancing down at his targets. He cast out a blanket of insurmountable dread and fear. He threw terror down at them as if it were a nuclear pulse.

    The mayhem that followed their shattered concentration was instantaneous. In addition, even as bodies began to plummet back to the earth, he felt Ruth's drag on his mind faltering. She was trying to hold on to him and negate the effects his powerful hypnotic suggestion on her minions at the same time.

    As formidable as she was, she would still fail.

    The full power of Damien's mental ability flared into dominance, shutting the floundering intruder out with a painful backlash much like getting one's fingers trapped in the heavy closing of a car door.

    He did not stick around to hear the echo of Ruth's scream of pain and outrage.

    The effect of the weighting hex decreased the farther they got from the casting source. It took only ten minutes of fiercely fast flight before Syreena seemed to weigh little more than a feather in his arms, in spite of the fact that she was cold and dead limp.

    She seemed so fragile, he thought as he took a moment to glance at her pallid, bloodstained features. It was not a term he would have ever thought to use when describing her until just that very moment. The sparkle of her vitality, he realized, had added an astounding potency to her presence. Now, as she lay limp and lifeless, he was overcome with the irrational fear that he might somehow break her to pieces just with the force of his necessary hold.

    From the powerful aroma of blood lifting off her, he could tell she had been brutalized in ways in addition to the obvious, ways he could not immediately spy. It enraged him, the feeling intensifying as the call of the scent of it still managed to ferret out a hunger from within him. Nightwalker blood was full of the mysticism and power they all manipulated. To the Vampire, the bouquet of it was like the smell of an imminent gourmet meal cooking on the stove of a starving man.

    Damien had never before had cause to be ashamed of that instinct, not in all of his long life, but he felt that burning and censuring emotion now. The last thing that he should be thinking of was what a delicacy she could be to his palate. A deadly delicacy, but a unique confection just the same. Unfortunately, he was overwhelmed by the pervading scent of her, made a little dizzy by it, and began shivering like a junkie being taunted with heroin while he was in withdrawal.

    He had not hunted before escorting Jasmine to the Library that evening. They had arrived in the Russian province the night before, and out of respect for Siena's territory, had put off the need to seek prey until they had the opportunity to ask her official permission to hunt in her province. She would not deny them, of course, because they never harmed those they borrowed life from, but it was a political courtesy. Had it been a Lycanthrope staying in his territories, he would have expected as much and been insulted by less. Not that it was a matter that would lead to war or even an altercation; it was simply a demanded courtesy of their cultures.

    So now, his hunger and draining energy was the price to be paid for his civilized behavior. This was what made him vulnerable to the lure of the blood spoor that was spread over them both, more so than he normally would have been. The exotic nature of that spoor made the blade cut all the sharper and deeper.

    It also told him that she was bleeding profusely. As strong as they were, even Nightwalkers could not heal fast enough to replenish blood supply at the rate the Lycanthrope was clearly losing it. He needed to find a way to provide aid for her. He had to find a safe haven, and he had to do it fast.

    "Lyric, please bring me my sewing basket."

    The small, slight-figured young woman looked up from her book of poetry to meet the large blue eyes that were the dominating feature in her companion's delicately shaped face.

    "But it is Wednesday," Lyric said with confusion.

    "Yes, Lyric, I realize that," Windsong said with a patient smile.

    "You only sew on Thursdays," Lyric added.

    "It is not a law that I do so," the older woman teased the adolescent Mistral. "We will be having guests soon, and I will need to repair that tear in my blue dress."

    "Guests?" The young Siren actually choked on the word.

    They never had guests.

    They lived in a small French village-a tiny cluster of cottages, really-called Brise Lumineuse, with a total population of fifteen, not including the small children.

    In all her nineteen years of life, no outsider had ever visited the little hamlet. In her ten years as Windsong's apprentice, they had only had two recurring visitors from the fifteen others who lived at the end of the long lane that distanced Windsong's chalet from the others. One was Thrush, Lyric's childhood friend. The other was Harrier, a handsome and sweet Bard who was to the elder Siren what Thrush was to her.

    However, Thrush was in bed with a terrible flu and Harrier was currently traveling. So neither of them would be visiting anytime soon.

    "Who will be visiting?" she asked her mentor as she tried to keep her hands from shaking by pulling them beneath the table and clasping them in her lap.

    She had been there long enough to know it was a waste of time to wonder how it was that Windsong came by her knowledge.

    "Lyric, do not ask me questions. Just fetch the basket."

    Damien landed hard and with little grace.

    He skidded to a stop on both knees, laying Syreena down on the damp ground. She was growing too cold too fast, and her breath was beginning to falter. He could not travel with her another moment without potentially killing her, and yet he was fully aware of the fact that their enemies had regrouped and were hot on his trail.

    A lot of enemies.

    "Syreena?"

    He reached to touch her face, which was colder than even his wind-chilled hands. He did not have to touch her pulse to count it; he could do that by sheer ethereal senses alone. She was dying.

    Rapidly.

    He touched her scalp near her hairline, the most immediate site of free-flowing blood. Her hair had been torn away there, as if in methodical snatches. No doubt it had been a part of Ruth's delighted torture. Knowing her victim's weaknesses as well as she did, the former warrior had exploited them. It was clear Ruth had wanted to kill the Princess; Damien could tell that just by looking at Syreena. She had just preferred to do it slowly, with as much visible horror as possible. No doubt so she could find a perverse satisfaction or revenge, then return the corpse to the Russian territory as mutilated as possible, sending her message of vengeance loud and clear once the body was discovered.

    Luckily, Ruth had not counted on someone of his strength being on her trail so quickly. That did not mean part of her plan would not succeed, he thought worriedly as he further assessed the Princess. Damien looked to his left and right, almost as if seeking help from the empty woods around him.

    He truly did feel helpless. There were protocols to consider, superstitions between cultures that were hard to overcome. If he did what his instincts cried out for him to do…

    Were she a Vampire, there would not be a moment's hesitation. But she was an alien Nightwalker. A Lycanthrope. And that made all the difference in the world.

    Out of all the Nightwalker species, however, Vampires and Lycanthropes were probably the closest in ability, thinking, culture, and instinct than any of the others. If there could be any acceptable meshing of what he was contemplating, it could well be one of her breed that would make it even remotely possible.

    It was written in their histories exactly what was and what was not acceptable for a Vampire palate. For instance, the blood of a being who partook of black arts and magics was utter poison. It was a powerful enough venom to kill a Vampire who partook of it within hours. Within minutes if the Vampire was young or weak.

    Human blood was the mainstay in dietary needs.

    Despite popular mythos, a Vampire did not kill with its bite. It was physically impossible to take in more than half a human's blood volume, and even that much was considered gluttony, so long as the Vampire was not wounded and losing blood as quickly as he was replacing it. So while weakness was inevitable, a human would recover from a state of prey quite easily. At the most, they would suffer from a mild to serious anemia.

    Vampires were not stupid, however. Why harm their own supply of sustenance, when they could take from more than one vessel and have the humans barely miss a beat in their lives? That way their prey could live and provide sustenance another day.

    As with all things in nature, it was instinct for Vampires to provide and take in balance. He had always believed that this was why they were equipped with coagulant systems to keep prey from bleeding to death, not to mention the notable side benefit of an antibody transference that could cure ill humans of a majority of illnesses.

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