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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Adam, I have not seen you in four hundred years at least! No one has! What the devil happened to you?”
Four hundred years?
Adam chuckled; the slightly numb laugh was the only reaction he could formulate as he stared at his friend. He opened his mouth to deny the claim and even felt the urge to cuff the other Demon playfully for being so wicked.
He let his eyes drift down the sturdy form of his King, absorbing the amazing fit of machine-made clothing. Even though Noah wore breeches and Hessians, as he often did, the fashion was dated well after Adam’s time. As was the modern tailoring, and the sophisticated royal blue dye used in the silk shirt he wore with casual ease.
Though Demons aged at an infinitesimal crawl, there were signs of time on the Demon King Adam had never seen before; signs of worry and weight that had not been creased into Noah’s visage when last he had seen him. Then the Water Demon recalled his brother’s equally incredulous greeting and his strange clothing as well.
It all rolled back to not knowing what the Gypsy girl had done to him. Where had she taken him? He wasn’t home, he knew that much. Was Noah’s claim genuine? Could it possibly be four centuries in the future ... ?
“No,” he denied quickly, a black and indefinable emotion rocking him back a step. He felt dizzy and as though he could not draw a breath. “’Tis a cruel jest you play,” he accused numbly.
Noah saw the genuine distress and confusion on the other Demon’s face and he realized that even Adam had no idea how he had come to be there.
“I do not jest with you, old friend,” Noah said carefully. “I can only tell you that these past few years, I have seen things that could make almost anything possible. You are with trusted friends, Adam, who will help you sort this confusion through.”
“Where is my brother?” Adam demanded.
“Close by. He attends to his wife and daughter.”
“His wife and daughter?” Adam backpedaled another step, holding out a hand in a staying motion when Noah moved forward. “Do you mean ... do you mean that human woman? He is mated to a human and she has borne him a daughter?”
“Aye, Adam, and soon a son as well, from what I understand. Provided she comes through her injuries. I can sense her energy is very weak, her life in the balance. I want to help you, Adam, I do, but Jacob is desperately in need of our assistance as well. Can you do that? Can you help me to help Jacob and trust me to find an explanation for all of this later? Can you bear your confusion for a little while?”
Adam didn’t even take the time to think about it. Noah had said the words that had always, and would always, work like magic on his mind. He had said his little brother needed his help.
He could never refuse.
Little Leah was crying in near hysterics when Noah and Adam finally found the family in a secluded glen some distance away. She was clutching her unconscious mother’s hair, shaking her by it in an attempt to wake her. Jacob was not convinced that they were safe, regardless of his seeming distance from the immediate danger. Ruth was a wily and inexhaustible opponent. She would not give up easily, especially if she was thrown into a fury of insane temper. The female Mind Demon had once been a warrior, and had a track record of not taking defeat well.
“Well now, angel.” Noah tsked soothingly as he moved quickly to crouch behind Leah, warming her with his touch and presence. The King glanced at Jacob, who sat beside Bella as though he were only half aware of the world around him. Since Noah knew Jacob would normally never let his daughter suffer such emotional trauma under even the worst of circumstances, the King was concerned by Jacob’s distant and seemingly detached behavior. Considering the Imprinted bond the current Enforcer shared with the little Druid he loved, it would not surprise him if Jacob had been caught up in the riptide of whatever it was that had struck down Isabella. “Hush, Leah. There now. That is a good girl,” he praised her as she turned to climb into his arms and smeared her wet face and nose against his shirt, hiccupping out half-caught sobs. “It is going to be all right,” he whispered to her softly. “We are all safe now. Okay, lamb? No more crying. We cannot have Mommy hear you crying and worrying about you.”
“Why do you say this to her?” Adam demanded. “You will make her feel guilty for an understandable reaction. She is but a babe!”
“Because in this case it is the truth of the matter,” Noah informed him carefully. “Bella is a Druid, Adam. She is a hybrid of Druid and human genetics and has remarkable gifts of power and sensitivity. The distress of her child and her husband will resonate with her and will keep her from focusing her energies where they are needed.”
“Well, what is wrong with her? I see no obvious wounds.”
“She has absorbed all the power of those we encountered in the cavern below,” Jacob said at last. He glanced at Noah. “Nicodemous and Ruth. She did it to save us, and it worked. Adam would never have been able to get close enough to kill Nico if she had not done so.”
“Ruth and Nicodemous?” Noah repeated with horror. “Sweet Destiny. The amount of corruption and evil that must have come into her ...” Noah shook his head in clear distress as he looked down at the pale, unconscious woman. “Ruth is a Demon turned necromancer,” he supplied absently for Adam, “and Destiny only knows what else can be said to fully describe the power she has accumulated and the ways she has done so. And Nicodemous is a Vampire who feasts on the blood of Nightwalkers, which allows him to acquire an aspect of their power. Vampires like him are as black with evil as we can possibly imagine.” He looked at Jacob. “Hold on to her, Jacob,” he urged. “Only your connection with her will keep her grounded.”
“I know. I am doing all I can,” he promised as he squeezed his wife’s hand between his and stared down at her face in hard focus.
“Damn me thrice and let Destiny laugh,” Adam swore on a choke of disbelief. “They are Imprinted!”
“Yes,” Noah agreed. “They and this child are the fulfillment of a long-lost ancient prophecy. Much has changed, my old friend.” Noah paused to stare at him. “Except for you. You look exactly as I recall.”
Four hundred years. The King didn’t repeat himself, but his astonishment bled through his voice and expression. The words loomed in Adam’s thoughts as he tried to absorb everything he was experiencing around him.
“A human and a Demon. This goes against the most sacred of laws,” he said numbly. “Laws I am supposed to maintain as your Enforcer!”
“I am his Enforcer!” Jacob spat with sudden venom. “You abandoned your post and the right to call yourself that when you abandoned your people and your family! When you abandoned me! You left without a word or a hint of where you had gone! I thought ... we all thought you were dead! After all,” he mocked, “what else could possibly keep you from your appointed rounds? But here you are, alive and quite well, it seems. Think you rushing to my rescue will make me forget the past four centuries of your neglect, brother? Do you think it will make me ever forget what it felt like to take on your mantle as Enforcer and all those years of being outcast among my own people? I went from Vampire-hunting hero to Demon hierophant in the blink of an eye. I did not want it, Adam! But who else was there?
“No, Adam, you are no longer Enforcer and never will be again. It is a title I hold proudly now, with my wife fighting by my side. She and I are Noah’s Enforcers, and you are nothing! You have no place here! I do not know why you even bothered to come back! You certainly did not feel the need when Mother or Father were killed!”
“What?” Adam gasped in horror.
“Jacob!” Noah tried to warn him.
“Take him away from me!” Jacob spat. “Unlike him, I know my responsibilities, and right now I have a family to protect and care for. Give me my child and go. Just go!”
“I have never once shied from my responsibilities!” Adam roared at his brother, infuriated he would suggest otherwise and swimming in a sea of thoughts and questions and information he had no idea what to do with. “And if you were truly concerned with yours, you would not be sending away your only protection!”
“Jacob ... take a moment,” Noah encouraged him softly. “Put the pieces together in your mind. Look at him. You can see he has not spent four centuries living life in exile somewhere, having abandoned all he knows. Look at his clothes. Look at his weapons. The very things he was adorned with the day he disappeared.” Noah knew Jacob’s outlash of anger, the wild words and accusations, came from shock and grief. A part of Jacob’s mind would much rather believe what he was saying than cope with the more obvious truth. A potentially more painful truth.
“One moment I was talking to a violet-eyed Gypsy girl on Beltane night, and the next I was watching you turn your back on a Vampire threat,” Adam said.
Jacob looked up as he cradled Bella even closer, his grasp on her reflective of how vulnerable he must be feeling. His dark eyes were awash with emotion. His mind was a confusion of the distant poison his wife was processing in her own brain and body. The Imprinting between them made their heartbeats synchronize, made him weaker at this moment, even as it usually made him stronger. Any damage to her was like walking around with a critical wound in his chest. Or in this case, his mind.
Adam moved toward his brother, knelt in front of him, and reached to grip him by the back of the neck.
“I would never abandon you, Jake,” he said fiercely.
“But you did,” Jacob said softly, meeting his brother’s eyes, although this time with less malice and perhaps less conviction. “Yet you did not,” he realized. “It was my child. My girl.” He reached out a hand toward the child in Noah’s arms. “She was not a Gypsy, but a Demon girl. My daughter. The first Demon and Druid/human hybrid offspring and the first child of ... of Time.”
“You mean this child was that same girl of near sixteen I met?” Adam asked with disbelief and comprehension warring in his overloaded mind. “Time? There is a new element? Is that what you mean? That this girl brought me through time?”
“Actually,” Noah said gingerly, “there are two new elements since the time of your disappearance. Leah is the first of Time. And my baby sister and her mate Gideon have the first child of Space. We barely know what Leah is capable of, as you see, and know nothing of Space. Seth is only three and not yet in power.”
“I am sorry, but did you say Gideon?” Adam was clearly gaping at Noah. “You cannot mean our Siddah!”
“The very same,” Noah assured him.
“Damn me. I do not think I can take much more of this,” Adam swore, his head reeling. But then he took a breath, smiled half a smile, and shot Noah a look. “So what you are saying is ... we are all being manipulated by ... children. Your babe of Time has moved me like a chess piece for her own purposes. Your babe of a sister—and did I hear you say younger?—captured the stoic Gideon to mate. And somewhere there is another babe who has powers we have no concept of as yet?”
Noah chuckled. “So it would seem.”
“I need a bloody drink.”
“Now there’s a phrase I haven’t heard in that tone in a very long time.”
Adam looked up at the familiar voice and found himself captured by the warm familiarity of green eyes set in Elijah’s face. But here again there was change. The white-blond hair was gone, replaced by a golden hue as close to the beaten metal as Adam had ever seen.
“Elijah!” And though he’d only seen him, from his perspective, hours earlier, he reached to hug the warrior as if it had been four centuries—because apparently it had been exactly that. And the long absence was evident in Elijah’s return embrace.
“Adam. Sweet Destiny, I never thought ...” Elijah stopped speaking as emotion overwhelmed him. He had lost so many good friends through the ages of his lifetime. But losing Adam had been one of those losses that had hit him particularly hard. “How is this possible?”
Adam laughed a little wildly.
“Ask her,” he said, pointing to the little girl Noah still held.
A perplexed look ghosted over Elijah’s face, but it was quickly chased away by an expression of cautious understanding.
“Let us wait until later to sort out details,” Noah suggested as Siena and Gideon moved onto the field. “Will you protect and care for Jacob and his family? I think it best if I take Adam away with me for a little while. Though I suspect no sure answers will ever come, perhaps I can help him sort through some information, help him acclimate a little. One thing I know, regardless. We’d best not tarry here with Ruth around. Adam has killed Nicodemous, and we all know very well how Ruth reacts to losing someone close to her.”
“Nicodemous is dead? Hot damn!” Elijah hugged Adam again, even harder and more enthusiastically. “You have no idea what you’ve done!”
“You would be right about that,” Adam said.
“We’ve been hunting them for years,” Elijah told him. “It was getting so that no one was safe to walk this world by themselves. I promise you I don’t exaggerate when I tell you you have saved a great many lives in that single act, Adam.”
“And let us not risk any others,” Noah encouraged the group. “Take Jacob and Bella to safety,” he instructed Elijah and Siena. “Gideon, I think it best if you take Leah for now. Perhaps some playtime with Seth will help calm her after all she has experienced today.”
“We will all be at my court. Close together,” Siena said softly when Leah made a sound of whimpering protest. “We will all be able to rest and get well,” she continued to soothe the girl as she picked her up into her arms. “And you can see your mama and daddy as soon as we have all had a bit of a nap.”