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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“This is not a wise battle for a Shadowdweller,” Jasmine noted. “The light that emanates from Ruth’s magic will burn you to a crisp.”
“I have a protective spell for that,” Valera countered proudly, her hand drifting to rest on Sagan’s powerful forearm. “It covers him in shadow, a personal bubble of darkness. Don’t worry about us, Jasmine. It’s Ruth you need to worry about. She’s going to sense us here soon and we’ll lose all advantage, if we haven’t already. The spell affecting him”—she nodded to Adam—“probably has an alarm tethered to it.”
Valera stepped up to Adam and reached out a hand to touch him. To her surprise, Jasmine suddenly hissed at her and body-blocked her. The women looked at each other, and it was hard to tell who was more surprised.
“I was only going to ease the pain he’s feeling,” Valera reassured the possessive Vampire.
“So it is true,” Damien noted with a grave measure of surprise as he stared at Jasmine and Adam. “He is your mate.”
Damien sounded as flabbergasted as Jasmine was feeling.
“Some joke, right?” she remarked in return. “But not what’s important at present,” she brushed on. Neither was her curiosity over how he’d come to be there. No doubt he had intercepted their trail at some point, and Damien’s familiarity with her scent had allowed him to track her twice as fast as she had been tracking Ruth.
“Dawn comes. The fighting force will be devastated by its arrival,” Adam noted. “Is an hour enough to do this thing?”
“We will make it enough,” Sagan said grimly. “Damien says this is our last chance to bring her to heel. Let us go.”
It was true. It was time. All the other hashing of questions and details could wait until it was over.
Windsong had slowly been coming conscious over the last half hour. Conscious, aware, and yet unable to move because she was tightly trussed to a hard, flat surface. A table about three feet up from the floor. When she looked to the left she could see a bed with a Vampire in it.
A dead Vampire.
She could tell he was dead because death held him in the shocked, gripping position he had no doubt died in, and she knew he was a Vampire because that position included a gape-jawed extension of his fangs. It was hard to tell if the smell of him was decomposition or the same malodorous stuff that sloughed off the other occupant in the room.
Infamous Ruth. Evil-to-the-core Ruth. And now Windsong was her prisoner, for whatever reason. Windsong had realized she had the dubious luck of being held captive by a gloater and a sadist. Whatever Ruth’s motives, Windsong had no doubt she would reveal them soon enough.
“How good to see you awake,” Ruth greeted her as she worked busily at a mortar and pestle. “Do not bother trying to speak. You are gagged for the time being. But do not fret. We will want your voice soon enough.” Then she shouted toward her workroom door. “Girl! Get in here!” To herself she muttered, “What is her name? I can never seem to remember it.”
The door opened and in walked the girl who had tranquilized Windsong.
“Yes?” She bowed her head respectfully as she shut the door.
“Help me with these last components,” Ruth ordered her. “Grind them together.”
“Of course.” The girl hid behind the loosened fall of her hair. She looked as though she’d been in a fight and had hastily put herself back together. She had a wicked-looking cut down her face from the corner of one of those disturbing eyes of hers. She moved to the table, taking over the mortar and pestle for her mistress, but sparing a glance at the tied-down Mistral. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get the Druid for you,” she said carefully.
“You were ambushed by a pack of Demons,” Ruth said dismissively. “What were you going to do? You were fortunate to make it out alive. The others did not.”
Windsong was astounded. In spite of not having telepathy or any great special senses, Mistrals could sense quite easily when someone was lying to them. Windsong’s senses told her that this girl was telling a massive lie to her mistress.
Strange. Ruth was a Mind Demon. Couldn’t she read her subordinate’s thoughts and discover the same thing? And surely the Demon girl knew a Mistral would catch her lying, so why bring up the topic at all in front of her? Windsong sensed it was not a detail she should dismiss, but neither should she think any more about it. Ruth most certainly could read her mind at whim while her voice was out of commission.
Luckily, Ruth was distracted by the obviously huge project she was embroiled in.
A spell, Windsong realized.
“Almost complete. The last and most powerful component comes during the casting,” Ruth said, pausing to look at Windsong and smile. “The death screams of a powerful Mistral. The older and more powerful the Mistral, the more powerful the spell. So you can see why I needed you. Nothing but the best for Noah’s Queen.”
“What does this spell do again, exactly?” the assistant asked.
“It is simple,” Ruth said impatiently, clearly having explained it before. “It will carry her screams to the center of Kestra’s mind. Softly at first. But then the sound will grow until it is loud and incessant. Kestra will go quite insane from it. I imagine she will break at some point and take her own life. Noah will follow quickly after, if he does not also go mad, since their precious little Imprinting makes them share thoughts.”
Ruth was so delighted by the idea she danced a little bit on the tips of her toes. Her airy dress floated around her as she moved, looking something like a demented ballerina. But she quickly recovered her decorum, running her hands back over her smooth blond hair and smiling like the cat that had swallowed the canary.
“Vengeance is so beautiful. Is it not, dearest? And once this is done, I can fully focus on your resurrection. Even now our children are researching the Egyptian—”
She broke off awkwardly, her head jerking and tilting as if someone had smacked her in the back of her head.
“No! Damn you, not now!” Ruth growled out a curse angrily, picked something up and threw it against a wall, the clay container shattering into dust from the power of her anger and strength. She stormed over to a table and began searching frantically for something; then with a shout of triumph she found it, thrusting the bejeweled dagger into the air. “Ha! Very well then, come if you must. I will make you choke on the very dagger you used to kill my mate. You!” She turned to her assistant. “What is your name? Damn it. I have no time for such trivialities! You come with me.”
The female with the black and gray hair laid down her pestle and closed her eyes a fraction of a moment, taking a breath as her hands curled into fists.
“Yes, Ruth. I very much wish to be by your side in this battle.”
And that, Windsong could see, was the complete truth.
Ruth appeared in the thick of the woods with a tide of Vampires and Demons at her back. It was a small contingent, but in it was packed a great deal of power. More than enough, she thought, to overwhelm the Enforcer.
He was there, leaning back against a tree, sword in hand, the tip of which he was tapping against the heel of his shoe. He looked bored, impatient, as if he had been waiting a long time for her to get there.
“Waiting for me, Enforcer?” she asked him archly.
“All of my life,” he said, straightening from the tree to make her a flourishing bow. “Many have told me you are the consummate enemy. That I would die, should I be foolish enough to take you on by myself.”
“Mmm, and yet here you are. Did you not believe them?”
“If I did not believe them, I would not have come.”
“So you have a death wish,” she observed.
He laughed at that. At her. It made her prickle from head to toe with fury.
“Your logic is flawed, you traitorous bitch. Your assumption is that I am foolish. Foolish enough to come alone.”
Jasmine stepped out from behind the tree.
“But you are not foolish,” she observed with a tsk.
“Not at all,” he agreed.
Ruth felt a flash of irritation at herself. She had not taken the precaution of scanning for other minds. She did so then and felt only Adam’s strong thoughts. But it was like hearing an echo. She heard them twice over. It was an effect she was used to when she confronted Imprinted couples. But this was a Demon and a Vampire. A Vampire whose thoughts she had once mined quite easily. But Jasmine had grown quite a bit stronger since their last encounter. She could barely make out her presence. The Enforcer was schooling his thoughts very well. Impressively well. But that was a skill even his brother had shown. It seemed to be something innate in their hunting strength.
“So how do you find the future, Enforcer?” she baited him, knowing it would be a point of disturbance for him. No one could leap through centuries and adapt perfectly in a matter of hours.
“I find it very much the same. Demons in need of hunting and clearly in need of punishment.”
“I dare you!” She laughed. “You are a fool after all!”
“Does your dead Vampire mate think so, too?” he asked.
Ruth’s temper exploded, as did she. She leapt with her bare hands reaching for him, crooked into claws. She sent mental commands to her fighters, and they, too, moved forward. But in her rage and in her vain need for personal vengeance, she directed them toward the Vampire, keeping the Enforcer for herself. She couldn’t care less about Jasmine, even though she did owe her a little payback as well. That could come later. Right now she wanted this archaic Enforcer. She knew he was a duck out of water, for all his bravado. He had never fought a full-strength Elder Mind Demon before. She and Lucas had not yet been fledged back then, and they had been the first of their kind. Elder Mind Demons, male or female, had not existed during his time, much less Elder Mind Demon necromancers.
She began to cast as she closed the distance between them.
Jasmine felt a beautiful sort of power come over her as she watched Ruth lose control of her temper and leap for her mate. She had shared with him that the traitoress’s madness was her one true weakness. Ruth did not like to lose, but personal loss was an even sorer point for her. And her mad rages kept her from thinking clearly. Weakened her. Adam had played Ruth like a cheap instrument, his powerful calm and awesome mental self-control an impressive side of him Jasmine had not yet had the opportunity to see. All of her dealings with him had been so volatile, so influenced by the uncontrollable urges the Imprinting impressed upon him.
But now he was as placid as a pool. Even Ruth’s attempts to toy with his insecurities about his future had failed. He had compartmentalized that far away from himself. And he had used thoughts of Jasmine to do it.
So long as I have you, my mate, I have found my place.
Jasmine moved away from Adam, leaping into the sky and forcing her enemy to follow. She felt so empowered by Adam’s calm in the center of her mind and deep within her soul. It should have been disconcerting for her, but again it played like the most perfect music. She began to appreciate why the Imprinted couples she had become acquainted with were so very strong.
She landed a little distance away, ready to do some damage.
She faced a foursome, two Vampires and two Demons. One Demon was of the Wind, the other of the Earth. Easy enough to determine because each had shifted into his respective element in order to follow her, not realizing that was part of her strategy. They had given away crucial information about their abilities without even realizing it. It was an old trick she’d used often whenever she’d been forced into a head-to-head during the Vampire/Demon wars.
“Suckers,” she said, smirking before launching her attack.
Adam didn’t blink when Ruth lunged for him; he didn’t so much as twitch when his own dagger appeared in her hand the second before she made contact with him.
As he brought up his sword to bring her wild stab at his heart to a metal-clashing halt, it was almost absently and automatically done. He had been told she’d been one of the finest Demon warriors at one time, trained by Elijah himself. He gave that history the respect it was due, the attention it was due, but there was a part of his brain calculating the four-to-one odds Jasmine was facing and not liking them very much at all. But he reminded himself he had to have faith that he wasn’t the only significant warrior on the field. A distraction, however small it might be, would be just what Ruth needed to earn an advantage.
So with his full attention on the Demon traitor, he grabbed the dagger by its tail, forcing the blade upward and rotating it against the fixed point in Ruth’s wrist. She had to either let go or her wrist would snap. Let go she did, and with a practiced move, the weighted hilt jumped into his palm and he stabbed it hard and true into the juncture of her neck and shoulder.
But instead of sinking into her flesh, the metal was deflected off her skin just as it would have had she worn the heavy metal armor breastplates of his time. And it was deflected even though the maneuver he had made was designed to get through the weak spots of such armor.
“Did you really think it was going to be that easy?” she hissed in his face.
Then she clapped her hands together, speaking a Word. The thunderous force of it sent him exploding backward, slamming him into the tree behind him. The impact knocked all the breath out of him, sent pain bursting through his entire body. But when he dropped down, he landed hard on his feet, shook the pain off, and glared at his adversary.
“I would have wept if it were,” he told her, forcing the words to come steadily despite the good bruising his lungs had just taken. It was worth it. The steel of his voice and the way he shook off her attack seemed to give her an instant’s pause. But he wouldn’t give her that instant. It was time she would use to think, to center herself, to let logic come in where anger might be instead. “Your lover was enough of a disappointment for one night.”