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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
The inconceivable idea of a Demon uttering a spell took Adam by surprise just long enough to give the Vampire an advantage. With the speed of a striking snake, fangs struck for his exposed throat.
Again, Adam was thrown off his mark. Vampires were relentless sons of bitches, but they never went for the blood of a Nightwalker. It was utterly taboo, and they were terrified of what would happen to them if they did. It was all he could do to shove his palm into the Vampire’s path, protecting his neck just in the nick of time. The fangs struck, puncturing clear through his hand.
Ruth’s spell flew into effect at the same time. The air pressure in the room was suddenly sucked away, depriving the entire area of all oxygen. The Vampire did not require breath, but the Demons and the human did. Adam jerked around to look for his brother. He knew they were underground, and there would be no hope of replacing the lost air without Jacob’s ability to drill through earth and bedrock and all other things in order to provide a vent.
Jacob was forced to release Ruth as he reared back to do exactly that. He could not waste a single second. Bella and Leah could never survive such a complete vacuum.
Jacob leapt for the cavern ceiling, his body moving like a steel drill through the cavern limestone as if it were butter. Adam had no idea how deep they were beneath the topsoil, so he had only one choice. Grabbing the dagger at his waist with his off hand, he unsheathed it and put all of his vital power into the aim he took between the gaping jaws buried in his palm and wrist. The blade nicked through the webbing of his thumb in the process, but it also sank through the Vampire’s mouth and into the back of his throat. It crushed through the soft palate, the brain stem, and the skull in one vicious movement.
Then, without a moment’s hesitation, Adam plunged off the ground as a powerful wave of water, flushing over the human female, the child behind her he had only just noticed, and the Gypsy girl, who had been watching the entire situation with wide, frantic eyes. The moment he touched them, they turned into water at his command and they all spouted upward through the tunnel Jacob was drumming through the earth.
Jacob broke surface first, gasping for breath and moving out of the way just in time to avoid the pressured geyser at his heels. The water spouted as if released from the blowhole of a gigantic whale, spraying everywhere and landing in four separate streamers. As they hit the ground, they became Isabella, Leah, Adam, and the strange figure of a young girl Jacob had never seen before.
Jacob immediately sank his hands into earth, making the ground rock and shake until the tunnel he had created collapsed in on itself. Now full of soft soil, it was a dangerous sinkhole that could trap and kill an unsuspecting traveler, so he used a moment longer to concentrate on packing and pressurizing the soil until it was almost hard enough to replace the rock he had destroyed.
“We must move!” he shouted as soon as he was through. He plunged through thickets to grab his daughter up in his arms, and watched as if seeing a dream in action as Adam scooped up Isabella. He turned to look for the strange girl. He need not have bothered. She had already leapt for him, her arms winding around his neck and throat. For a moment, he perceived it as an attack. But before he could react, he realized he was being hugged and that she was sobbing near to hysterics. He awkwardly caught her weight and juggled his daughter at the same time, completely confounded.
The mystery deepened in the next instant.
“I love you,” she wept passionately, her arms nearly stealing his breath with their desperate strength. “I love you, Daddy.”
Speechless, Jacob looked helplessly toward an equally confusing mystery. His brother, who should be dead, yet was now standing before him. Then the constriction around his neck and ribs released, his breath rushing back in as he tried to find answers in the girl’s eyes.
All he could see, however, was the dark violet color of her irises, and the familiarity of them warmed his senses, forcing him to recognize her on a visceral level. From one heart to another. From his father’s soul to his daughter’s.
She could only nod, her fingers all over his face suddenly, mapping his features as if she were starved for them.
“Don’t be angry with me,” she begged him. “I had no choice. They had to be stopped. And I was right. I chose right.” She looked back at Adam as her whole body began to tremble. She tried to speak again, but clearly couldn’t as her trembles became quakes and then violent jerks of her body. The hands against his face suddenly lost all weight and structure, fading and passing right through him, a condition that rapidly spread through her entire body. Then he was no longer holding her, and Jacob watched as his would-be daughter dissolved away into nothingness in his hands.
“What the hell is going on?” Jacob demanded to know, his heart hurting in his chest though he barely understood the reasons why. He couldn’t escape the notion, however, that he had somehow just lost his daughter. And even looking at the more familiar, five-year-old living version of her couldn’t shake off the pain of it.
“Later, little brother. I sense company coming.”
Adam watched as Jacob turned and closed his eyes for a moment, clearly reaching to feel what it was Adam had sensed. Again, this was different. He had always known Jacob had inherited that special sense that those few of their family acquired, but he had never seen him use it so readily and with such clear ease of familiarity.
The Enforcers, both of the past and of the present, were sensing the coming of the small army of the Transformed that Bella and Jacob had initially gone underground to escape from. Adam lived in a time of readily used black magic, so he was quite grimly familiar with his duty to destroy these unfortunate souls. They had once been Demons, as good and moral as he himself was, but not now. Not after a necromancer had discovered their true power names and had used them in a Summoning spell. Trapped in that controlling magician’s pentagram, it only took a short time before those Demon victims would begin to physically and mentally mutate into nearly mindless monsters, fanged and winged and viciously amoral. It was these poisoned creatures that had inspired the popular image of what Demons were within the human population.
Adam was short a weapon, his dagger still imbedded in the Vampire necromancer’s skull somewhere below them, but that didn’t bother him anywhere near as much as realizing his brother didn’t even carry so much as a knife on his person. He had never known Jacob to go unarmed anywhere. For that matter, the mode of Jacob’s dress completely baffled his elder brother. Minutes ago they had both been similarly dressed in a doublet and hose. Now Jacob was ... Adam had no idea what it was he was wearing. And the woman he was protecting was dressed as a boy! If not for her hair ...
There was no time to consider confusing fashions. Adam could feel the approach of the Transformed. It shocked him to realize how many there were. Everything, it seemed, was shocking and confusing. There was the wicked presence of black magic everywhere. Whoever that Gypsy girl was, she was gone. Had her magic gone with her, or was this all some kind of horrid illusion?
Still, Jacob seemed real enough, for all the change Adam saw within him at a glance.
Adam sought a source of water, another way of arming himself for the coming battle. The landscape was completely alien, he realized, nothing where it ought to be. Rivers, streams, and lakes were skewed and disproportionate to his mental mapping of where things should be. Finding himself too distant from a real water source, he reached for the water above him, seeding the clouds until it began to rain in a violent torrent.
“Get the innocents to safety!” he yelled to his brother. “I will handle these pitiful creatures myself!”
“You cannot possibly! Not on your own!” Jacob shouted back to him.
“Do you think the woman and child will help me, then?” Adam spat back. “You certainly cannot while you are distracted by them. Go! Make them safe. I will do this!”
It had been so long since Jacob had heard that obnoxious arrogance, but if he had had any doubts as to whether this man was truly his elder brother, they instantly disappeared upon hearing the unmitigated confidence in his declaration. Jacob took Bella’s drenched body from his brother, even while holding his daughter. Together they flew upward into the storming clouds, leaving Adam to his duty.
Surrounded by his element as it streamed down, Adam was aware of its blinding power. But for him it was merely a matter of senses. He felt every molecule of water on its path from sky to earth. He felt the topography of the land around him blossom into three dimensions as each drop of water hit a solid object. He could close his eyes and sense everything, stationary or moving, as the falling water shaped it in his mind’s eye. He could see it all without even looking.
The rainfall confused the Transformed. Those that were Water Demons took pleasure in it, not realizing that a powerful member of their former brethren was a part of its appearance. Each former Demon had his powers all intact, but the focus and understanding to use them to optimum advantage was gone. It was enough to leave them floundering and distracted in the rain. They saw no threat, so they did not act in defense. The master who could have guided their actions was not close enough or focused enough to maintain control under such conditions.
Adam was careful to remind himself that there were sure to be necromancers close by, and he would have to watch his back for them. In the meantime, he faded into the drowning fall of his element, drawing his sword for use. Each beast became isolated from the rest by the weather, and Adam darted in and out with little more than the flash of a blade and the subsequent rolling of a decapitated head to mark his presence. He dashed away, leaving the corpse to self-destruct in an explosive burst of flame.
Now that could be seen despite the deluge, and after the first four or five flares to warn them, the remaining Transformed realized their lives were threatened. This triggered a base instinct for survival, and Adam began to encounter significant resistance. He managed most of it with deadly precision, until he came up on one who turned to meet his approach through the rain as if fully expecting him. They began to fight, a sword against savage claws and fangs, not to mention powerful wings. The creature seemed able to anticipate his every move, and Adam caught a chest full of talons, the claws ripping him through clothing and flesh alike.
But the true shock came when he was finally set to make a death blow, and the cunning monster suddenly disappeared in a roiling cloud of smoke that reeked of sulfur. Adam had only seen this trick twice before. Mind Demons, he lectured himself quickly. It was a new element, the skills and abilities barely eighty years old. However, he knew enough for his special Enforcer’s senses to ring warning of a Transformed presence appearing suddenly at his back. Smoke and sulfur clouded everywhere as the tainted Demon leapt for the Enforcer and found his blade instead.
Not only from the falling corpse of Adam’s latest kill, but exploding in bursts all around him. It sent jets of steam off in the air as it mixed with his rain. Dread filled his soul as he was forced to contemplate the worst. That one of the Transformed was a Demon of Fire.
He looked up and saw an un-Transformed Demon. The face was instantly recognizable, and Adam couldn’t help the rush of relief that ran through him.
“Noah,” he rasped.
“Yes. And this would be much easier if you turned off the waterworks, friend,” a very familiar voice full of smoke and authority declared loudly.
Adam responded instantly, all of his instincts drawing the storm to a close just as swiftly as it had started. The last sheets of water fell away to reveal what remained of the Transformed and the Demon standing several yards away.
Noah raised his hands, fire immolating them before he resumed throwing molten balls of flame at the enemy, killing them off twice as quickly as Adam had done. Not to be outdone, even if it was by the Demon King, Adam went back to his work as well. Between the two of them, it took less than ten minutes to finish clearing the field. After the last one fell, Adam couldn’t help a victorious laugh as he jogged up to Noah with his free hand extended.
“Damn me, Noah, you make that look too easy! You will have others believing my job to be nothing at all!”
Noah had seen some pretty amazing things in his lifetime, but nothing ever so stunningly unexpected and inconceivable as watching Jacob’s long-lost brother walking up to him. The King automatically took the hand offered to him, wholly expecting the entire experience to be proved as nothing more than an apparition or illusion. Perhaps some magical trickery.
But the flesh of the hand engulfing his was firm and familiar, despite all the centuries that lay between handshakes, right down to the cracked, rough thickness of his calluses. Back in Adam’s time, animal fat and strange home liniments were as close to lotions as anyone got, not that he’d cared much about the smoothness of his hands. The Adam Noah had known had been proud of every hard-worked callus he’d owned.
Despite his shock, Noah had the presence of mind to inspect the inside wrist of the hand he held. Fang punctures and current wounds aside, sure enough, a deep and ugly scar was angrily furrowed up Adam’s arm from the seat of his palm to the inside of his elbow. It was more distinctive than fingerprints to Noah. The King had been by his side the day Adam had suffered the injury by iron that had caused it. Despite the skills of a Body Demon medic and his own rapid ability to heal, Adam had taken a long time by Demon standards to recover the full use of his hand after that singular attack.
“Sweet Destiny. Adam?”
Noah’s amazement certainly came through. Enough so to make Adam frown darkly.
“Yes, my friend. It has not been that long since we last saw each other. Or is this your way of harassing me to come visit your family more often?”
Noah laughed incredulously.