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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Windsong found it compelling that Izri had volunteered to be a guinea pig. She would allow the Mistrals to learn how to hurt her and her kind, trusting they would not kill her in the process.
As she watched the petite blonde goof off with Lyric in the nighttime meadow, it was like watching two young high school girls, rather than two women centuries apart in age and experience. Their heads were bent together, one fair and one dark, and they were trading whispers as they watched the carpenter Bard and his apprentice work on the cabin. Others in the village usually came to help, more than likely to hurry the process along so everyone could go back to where they belonged, but also out of gratitude. The village of Brise Lumineuse owed Windsong a great deal. She was the oldest and most powerful of her kind. She had always protected them. She had always led them wisely.
But tonight no others had come yet, so it was just the Bard and his apprentice.
Windsong suspected Izri had something of a crush on Baritone. She found the thought amusing. In the past, she wouldn’t have taken such a thing seriously or given it any worry, but much had changed in just a few years. The Vampires had learned that the only way they could ever hope to know feelings like love was through the blood of other Nightwalkers. It was an attractive cookie to dangle before such sensualist children. Who wouldn’t want to feel love for the first time? Why wouldn’t Izri be curious about such things?
But Windsong suspected Baritone might not be similarly inclined.
“You had best speak to her.”
Windsong looked up from her position in the grass. It was an unseasonably warm night so close to Samhain. She and the girls had decided to picnic in the meadow beside the cabin, to get fresh air while they still could before the winter set its claw into them and forced them inside. Luckily for Baritone and Dove, they were almost done with the exterior work on the cabin, and all that was left was the interior. When all was said and done there would be three bedrooms, a spacious great room, and two baths. It seemed like so much house, but since she had rarely been without a student these past centuries, it made sense. It would just be a little bit of an adjustment. And to be honest, it would be nice to have some privacy back, a place to go where she could close the door and be alone.
She hadn’t realized she missed her privacy until it was on the verge of being restored to her.
“Good evening, Harrier,” she finally greeted her childhood friend who had appeared at her back. There was only one other Mistral as long-lived as she was. Harrier. At one time their mothers had had high hopes that they would cultivate a great romance between them. Perhaps that was exactly the reason why it had never happened. The idea of making love with Harrier was as ridiculous to her as making love to her brother might be. They were the best of friends, but seriously lacked the chemistry needed for anything like a romance. “I disagree. Izri is a mature Vampire female, and she is very aware of the potential consequences of her infatuation. She has lived among us long enough to know it is very likely any advance she made would be heartily rebuffed.”
“You are speaking as a woman of logic. You forget what it is like to be smitten. One does not always think so logically when one’s heart is involved.”
His observation made Windsong smile a little. “This coming from the most confirmed bachelor in all of history,” she said.
“I was not always a bachelor,” Harrier reminded her gently.
She didn’t need the reminder. No more than he did. It had been centuries since he had been wed, since he had fathered his children—and since he had suffered the unimaginable horror and pain of their deaths. But she knew for him it might as well have been yesterday. He would not let himself forget, even after all this time. And how could he? He had blended it into every component of every song he knew. It was part of what gave his songs such incredible power. It was what made him an incomparable Bard.
Windsong studied him a moment, his tall, well-made physique, his closely cropped hair the color of a new penny, and the aristocratic lines of his features. He was incredibly handsome, what any woman would find alluring, perhaps even in spite of the torch he carried for a family long made into dust. His most startling physical characteristic was the vivid purple heather color of his eyes. But even that was outgunned the moment Harrier uttered a single word. His voice was deep, rich, and hypnotic when he spoke. When he sang, it was positively spellbinding.
“That is true. I suppose that makes me the most confirmed bachelor of our kind.”
“A mystery to me,” he assured her. “You never lacked for suitors in the first half of your millennium. And they are sparse now only because you intimidate them. That and you remain cubbied away here where no one can find you.”
“Or they suspect you and I are lovers and do not wish to tread between us.”
He chuckled. “I never understood that,” he said as he lowered himself beside her. “We both have apprentices and we both lived, until your recent renovations, in close quarters with them. Just when did they suspect we were finding the opportunity for lovemaking?”
Windsong shrugged. “I doubt they are thinking it through that far.”
“Perhaps. Which returns me to my earlier warnings. I do not think your Vampire guest is thinking things through very far at all.”
“So what if she is or is not?” Windsong looked directly into his eyes. “Life is nothing if not a learning experience. And who are you and I to assume only the negative could come of this? Have you spoken to Baritone? Did he ask you to have me warn her off?”
“No. Nothing of the kind. I only meant ...” He shrugged a shoulder. “We keep very much to ourselves. We do not like to entertain the idea of outsiders even walking through our village. What makes you think he would welcome one in his bed?”
“Two years ago, would you ever have imagined this village welcoming a Vampire as a member of our family? Granted, it has taken some time, but people have grown quite used to her. I would even dare to say they are fond of her.”
“I think they were perhaps blinded by that hair of hers. Or maybe it was the clothes.”
Windsong smiled. She looked over and gave serious thought to Izri’s lemon yellow and chartreuse streaks of hair, half of which reached her chin on the left side and the other half of which reached the middle of her back.
“I hardly think they would be fazed by exterior appearances. That is not what our people fear, after all. We fear our vulnerability. We do not have the physical strength of other breeds, nor their uncanny speed and senses. We have our voices and our ability to shift into birds.”
“And then there is the sun.”
“Yes. The sun.” They were not as sensitive to the sun as the other Nightwalkers were. They did not burn or become poisoned. They did not feel lethargy or die.
But they lost their only defensive ability.
They lost their voices.
They became completely mute in sunlight. No matter how young or old, how much they struggled, the touch of the sun robbed them of their voices. It made them, for want of a better term, completely human. They had no defenses, no strengths, and no preternatural senses. All of it disappeared. And if they lived regularly in sunlight, they would begin to age as a normal mortal might.
Windsong shuddered. Who would ever want to live in sunlight? Who would ever choose to be mortal? She had lived through so many incredible ages, seen so many extraordinary things. She had great respect for humans and their inventiveness, the ways they strove to better themselves and the things around them, but she also found them sad and tragic. They were destroying the very world that sustained them. The same world that sustained the Nightwalkers. Windsong was very well aware that one day the Nightwalkers might have to choose sides against the humans or risk their own ability to live. It was a frightening thought because Nightwalkers like the Vampires could not survive without their human food sources, and now the Demons were finding their mates in humans who had Druid blood. It could be a tricky little house of cards. But the human trend was moving toward more awareness of the world they lived in. Hopefully it would continue.
“When is the last time you saw the sun?” Harrier asked her.
She gave him a little smile. She didn’t even have to think about it.
“It was only a short while ago. A few years back. I saw a sunrise. I confess it is a beautiful thing, for all it hurts my eyes to see it.”
“There are many things that are both beautiful and deadly. It has been much longer for me. I have no desire to feel the touch of the sun or to see its questionable beauty. I find it difficult to see loveliness in something that renders me helpless.” He looked up at the nearly full moon. “I am very content with this silvery bright splendor.”
“Have you come to help the carpenters today?” Windsong asked.
“I find their songs fascinating,” he confessed. “The construction songs make such incredibly secure joints. It brings out such beauty in the woods they use.”
“I find them very similar to healing songs. In a sense they are repairing injury they have caused by cutting through the wood.”
“I had not looked at it like that. But it is no wonder that we Mistrals make homes last so very long and need so little repair to their frames, roofs, and foundations. Human structures are so shoddy in comparison.”
“They do what they can.” Windsong drew herself up from the grasses, standing over her friend as she shook out the folds of her skirt. “I am glad you are here. I wish to gather some wild herbs today and I do not like to leave Lyric and Izri alone these days.”
“You are not taking them with you?” He frowned. “You should not go alone.”
“I have worked them very hard this week with lessons. They should have some time to relax. Lyric tends to get overwhelmed if she does not get a break every few days. She remembers lyrics and pitches far better when she does not feel weighted down with work.”
Windsong reached down to pick up her deep willow basket. She would be able to gather hours’ worth of roots and herbs and not have to continually come back to the house to empty her basket and make room for more. This would very likely be her last chance to harvest before the snow fell and kept the ground covered for months. She hated trying to dig for roots in the snow.
“You did not address my concerns about you,” Harrier pressed her as she began to walk away from him. She gave him a smile and raised her brow.
“Did I not? Well, we shall talk about it when I return.”
Harrier huffed out a breath in frustration. Talking to her back would be no more effective than talking to her stubborn face.
Windsong was actually not very far from the cabin, as the crow flies. A half mile at most. But it was enough to isolate her from anyone else. She was kneeling, uncovering a rare and generously shaped truffle when she felt she was no longer alone. She felt the malevolence creeping up on her well before the stranger came within striking distance. One of the main characteristics that had always made her stand out from all other Mistrals, however, was that she was not easily frightened. She left her basket on the ground, tucking it behind some scrub to be retrieved later and, dusting the dirt from her hands, she moved carefully toward her cabin. She did not change into her alter ego of the mourning dove, recognizing that it was perhaps a far more vulnerable form than the one she was in at present.
The first Vampire appeared right in her path in a sudden, roiling cloud of smoke, the smell of sulfur indicative of a Mind Demon’s ability to teleport. It told Windsong that this Vampire had drunk the blood of that type of Nightwalker and gained this aspect from it. Very likely the Mind Demon had died in the process. Rogue Vampires were not known for being merciful when it came to their victims.
“Hello, little dove. Leaving so quickly?” the Vampire asked, his dark eyes almost indiscernible from the night around him. Almost as if he were part shadow, lengths of his body could not be separated from the darkness they stood in. The heavy shadows of the trees interfered with the bright moon, blocking its light.
The second Vampire appeared at her back, almost close enough to touch her. Windsong moved quickly out of reach. She would not allow them the opportunity to drink from her, if that was what they wished to do. But she also needed to bide her time a little. She needed something all the Nightwalkers needed.
Most rogues acted individually, or perhaps in small groups of two or three, but lately there had been larger bands, and they had seemed very well organized. Her last meeting with the other Nightwalker leaders had addressed this issue. They had told everyone to warn their people to be careful. Jasmine had requested they forward any intelligence on to her so she could rout out the source and destroy the nest once and for all.
“How clever you are to catch me alone,” she said to them.
And her speaking voice, the most powerful of her kind, instantly lulled the pair of them. They both relaxed, the shadowy Vampire becoming suddenly solid, his lean and handsome features going suddenly soft with a smile.
“We planned it that way,” he said proudly. “But we’re not going to hurt you right off.”
“No? How kind you are,” she said, meaning it. Sarcasm would spoil the spell she was weaving. She had to be sincere. And she did feel sincere. She found their misguided actions to be so unfortunate. So sad. So many people had died so unnecessarily. She wondered if perhaps it was like black magic, or like drugs, an addiction that, once started, became nearly impossible to break. Yes, selfishness and hunger for power might have compelled them in the beginning, but what if they became addicted to the high they got from victimizing others and could not keep themselves from chasing that feeling again and again, whether they wanted the power any longer or not?