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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“There’s too many of them!” Isabella cried out after a moment wasted in catching her breath. The dark ebony cloud of her hair was flung around her head in a wide arc as she whipped it around to look at her companion: her mate and husband, the father of her daughter, not to mention their son, whose impending existence they had only found out about a week ago. He guarded her back just as she guarded his in this fight, and together they were protecting the thing most precious to them both. “Jacob!”
The female Druid was forced to turn her back on her attackers as she saw that the odds she faced were nothing compared to his. No matter how strong and skilled she had become as a fighter over her years beside him, no matter how powerful an Earth Demon he was, they would never survive against such forces. Not alone.
But Jacob would not relent.
He could not relent.
It was not only because they were the Enforcers and it was their duty to fight these foul aggressors with every last breath in their bodies. It was because their daughter, Leah, was secreted away only a few yards distant from the ground they currently defended. Jacob would sacrifice his last breath before he would see his family harmed. Isabella would do no less.
Jacob reached for her between one smooth strike at the enemy and the next. He linked his arm through hers, and like the perfectly fitting cogs of a watch, she rotated over his back, her legs windmilling in dual strikes that stunned and stumbled enemies. When her feet hit the ground, she instantly stepped back so the heel of her left foot touched the heel of his right. They braced themselves in that back-to-back position as the forces around them circled like vultures. Fortunately, both fighters knew that baser instincts would prevent these Transformed Demons from organizing themselves with intelligence, cunning, or strategy. The situation was critical enough with their bloodlust berserking; if they were to work in tandem, they would have a horrifying advantage.
Even as Bella struck a mark with a petite arm that packed far more punch than would be expected in one so small, Jacob spread his hands out parallel to the earth, his fingers curling as if they were burying into the soil that, in actuality, was a good four feet below the thick stone under their feet. Shattered quartz and rich loam spewed up toward those commanding hands, starting in one place and rapidly exploding in a circle around him and his wife until they were being swallowed by a perfect cylinder of dirt, rock, and debris.
Isabella wasn’t afraid when the ground caved in beneath her and the earth literally sealed its lips above her head and swallowed her up. She instantly dropped down into the chute of the tunnel being burrowed through the soil, her husband sliding swiftly beside her as they fell. Even though she could see and hear the rumble of clean fill collapsing above their heads almost as fast as they fell, she was not intimidated. On the contrary, she was relieved. The monsters above them could never catch them now. It was all Jacob; every grain and every pebble being manipulated around them was under her husband’s artful command. He was the most powerful Earth Demon alive. The oldest of his kind. None of the Transformed Earth Demons above them could match the speed and accuracy Jacob used to manipulate the Earth around them, or the way the soil was repacked above them tighter than nature herself had originally done. Now their enemies would have to figure out how to find their way through tremendous amounts of earth in order to find them.
Finally they passed through what was once solid limestone before bursting out of the Demon-made tunnel and into a nature-made cavern. Jacob manipulated gravity so they landed gently on their feet, even giving Isabella an extra moonwalk bounce that made her laugh briefly in spite of their dire circumstances. Then she turned sharply around to face her mate.
“Easy,” her husband reassured her. “She’s just through the caverns. I pulled her down, too. What did you think I was going to do?” He reached out and swatted her backside as she hurried in the direction he had indicated. But despite the playful gesture and her smart look over her shoulder, they were both very aware that they weren’t safe yet. Granted, most of those above could not follow them, but some ...
“I pulled Jasmine into the caverns as well, but she’s hell and gone from here,” he warned his wife. “It’s going to take some time for her to reach us.”
Bella threw up a hand of acknowledgment, even though he already knew she had heard him and understood him. Understood they were on their own.
Isabella’s speed as she ran along the twisting corridor still amazed her. It had been six years since she had evolved from a human into a Druid, or rather, a hybrid of human and Druid. The power that had come with that alteration in her genetic makeup, including her ability to run with incredible speed, had been one of many blessings in her life since then. As she rounded a corner, she saw one of her blessings indignantly dusting off the soil the other blessing in Bella’s life had caused to get on her dress.
“Daddy, I’m dirty,” the five-year-old complained, the hands on her tiny hips and the jut of her lips all too reminiscent of her mother’s infamous gestures of pique. She completely disregarded the fact that she’d been in any danger.
“Sorry, angel,” Jacob apologized halfheartedly as he looked up toward the cavern ceiling, sensing the danger looming above them. “We have to make haste,” he said softly as he leaned in toward Bella’s ear.
Isabella was already scooping up her daughter as her husband’s hand fell into the small of her back to guide and hurry her.
“Mommy, I can walk,” Leah reminded her with her trademark stubborn independence, just as she always did when Isabella tried to carry her.
Of course, Leah let her father truck her around everywhere from dusk to dawn if that was his wish, and she never complained then, Isabella thought.
“Mommy is faster than you are, sweetheart, and we have to run,” Bella explained as she began to do just that.
She didn’t lose patience with her daughter’s distorted priorities. It wasn’t that Leah didn’t understand that there was peril around them, because she did. However, Leah had grown up watching her parents run into battle at the slightest threat to their home and homeland, their friends and family, or their monarch’s people. She was speaking like a child who wasn’t worried in the least about her safety because she knew her parents to be a mighty force, an undefeatable army of two that would never fail to protect her for as long as she lived.
There was a bursting change in the cavern’s air pressure, one that all three of them recognized; although in Leah’s experience, the force that created that sinus-snapping aftermath was always friendly.
This one was not.
Isabella skidded to a halt, shoving her daughter behind herself so suddenly that Leah’s dress hit the dirt once more.
Bella and Jacob squared off to face the traitorous Demon Ruth, who had become a powerful enemy as she’d added potent necromancer magic to her already vast repertoire of ability as an Elder Mind Demon. It was she who had betrayed and Summoned the Transformed Demons Jacob and Isabella had left up above them, layers of earth and rock away.
Worse yet was the presence of the Vampire named Nicodemous, who now shared her power, just as he seemed to share her black magic abilities. Ruth had caused devastating death and destruction when she had defected, first with her daughter, and then, upon her daughter’s death, on her own. Now, mated to a Vampire of such age and avaricious might, she was an unfathomable force of evil.
They both were.
The only small thing in the Enforcers’ favor was that Ruth’s Transformed minions couldn’t immediately come to her aid. That wouldn’t last long, however. Ruth only needed a moment of concentration before she could begin teleporting them down to her side a bucketful at a time.
Isabella refused to give her the advantage. The Druid released the tight rein she always kept on her ability to dampen the power of any Nightwalker. This was by far her most powerful ability, and it was also the most unpredictable and dangerous to her personally. She even forced herself to acknowledge the unknown damage it could do to the delicate fetus she carried. But she didn’t see that she had a choice with the lives of the rest of her family at stake. Even with Jasmine on her way to back them up, the female Vampire was only one person, and it would take an army to defeat these two evil creatures if their powers remained intact. They had learned much about how to use them over these past few years. And it was only going to get worse. Bella and Jacob had to strike now, while they had a chance.
And besides, the traitorous bitch was coming after her child. Bella would see to it Ruth paid for even daring to think about touching Leah. Damn the painful consequences she might suffer. If Bella didn’t do something, they all would die anyway.
Clearly Jacob felt the same, or he would have volubly protested her impending actions through the telepathic link they shared with one another. He knew what potential harm there was to his wife, but while he’d argued against it in the past on many occasions, there was no time to argue now.
And so she opened herself to the dangerous unknown and drew it into her vulnerable mind and body. Bella had absorbed the power of a female Mind Demon before, but nothing like this blackness of soul. It was sucked harshly into her like acrid ammonia. She had taken the power of a corrupted Vampire before. He had stolen the lives of other Nightwalkers, gathering their power into himself through the drinking of their blood. But she knew instantly that this Vampire was tainted well beyond that, the stain of necromancer magic on his soul as well. It was like imbibing a double dose of pure, liquid evil. She felt the cloying blackness of dual channels of power from the twin sources; they seeped into her like thick oil and tar. The evil twisted together inside her, suffocating her from the inside out. Her eyes, normally a beautiful violet color, blacked over and she looked down at herself to see pitch liquid oozing out of her skin. She did not realize the vision was only in her own mind.
Jacob felt his mate scream in horror long before she actually found the voice for it. He saw what she saw, just as he knew her every waking thought every moment of the day. He knew she was seeing a hallucination, and he couldn’t help the instinct that had him leaping into her mind to convince her of what was real and what was not. He whirled around to catch her in a single strong arm as she lurched in a back-arching seizure.
Leah watched with wide, frightened eyes as her mother was flung backward by an unseen force. Her young heart leapt into her throat as her father spun to catch her mother, the long brown-black tail of his hair whipping like that of an agitated horse. She felt her heart seize fitfully with incomprehension as she watched him quickly ease his beloved wife to the ground as gently as he could, considering the violent contortions of her body.
That was all the time it took for the enemy behind him to strike.
It was the Vampire that moved. Leah watched, paralyzed with shock and fear as he reached with blinding speed into his long, dark coat, grabbing for something that looked sharp and deadly. Even Leah’s immature Demon senses could smell the sudden tang of rusted iron, the poisonous metal that was deadly to Demons. A moment later the Vampire leapt onto her father’s turned back and drove the iron spike between rear ribs and shoulder blade.
Leah watched as if through someone else’s eyes as the spike burst through her father’s chest, spearing him straight through the heart. The inconceivable sight of her sire’s blood exploding out of his chest was nothing compared to seeing him fall to his knees in total shock, his face full of outrage and a clear frustration that only those who loved him would understand. Jacob looked up into his little girl’s violet eyes, so like her mother’s, and felt his failure to protect his family so sharply that the last sound to leave him was a keening cry of utter remorse.
Then he fell forward onto her mother, the last exhale of his breath echoing in the suddenly silent cavern.
Leah screamed for her father as the Vampire reached to yank him off her mother, baring his fangs. He hissed and then threw Jacob away so violently that Leah heard her father hit the near wall with a sickening smack.
“Dead.” A dead Demon with no heartbeat to pump his blood was of no use to a power-hungry Vampire, who could not feed from Jacob to gain one of his many powers. Nicodemous’s frustration was keen because of just how powerful a Demon Jacob had been. But he quickly turned his attention to Leah’s mother.
Leah had been frozen in terror, but seeing those pale, bony fingers reaching for her mother galvanized her into headlong action. She flung herself between those hands and her twitching, seizing mother, throwing her small body protectively over her, not quite realizing yet that her parents’ symbiotic relationship meant her mother’s death knell had already begun at the moment of her sire’s passing.
The Vampire grabbed her by the neck of her dress, ignoring her scream and easily overcoming the mighty grip she had on her mama’s clothing. He plucked her up like a fragile little flower and inspected her with a jaundiced eye.
“It’s too small to have any power. I’d much rather feast on the Druid.” He cast her aside onto her dead father’s chest, the iron spike jutting from his chest stabbing into her, skewering her through a thigh left bare and vulnerable as the skirt of her dress flew up. The iron lodged in her flesh, burning her half-Demon tissue and blood with excruciating pain. Between that and the horror of lying on the rapidly cooling remains of her father, Leah dissolved into screams.
“You idiot! We came here for the little girl! There’s nothing like her in the world!” Ruth hissed, reaching for the squalling child, who immediately shut up and found the unprecedented strength to pull herself off the spike that had speared her and scrambled away from the Demon coming after her.