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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Ruth screamed at him. Rage at its purest.
She tried to funnel that rage into her next feat of magic, flinging a torrential spell at him, only to realize he was no longer there. Adam deconstructed himself into mist, rolling low past her feet and coming up behind her. He ringed an arm around her neck, the powerful muscles yanking her back off her feet and into his body. He did not have mercy because she was a woman. He had never had a problem discarding the polite gentleman in himself when in battle. There was a time for everything, and politeness had little place in battle of any kind, whether with male or female adversaries. After spending time in his mate’s memories of this creature, he could think of no one less deserving of niceties.
“Evil. Through and through,” he ground out in her ear as he cut off her oxygen and her voice. “Worthy of nothing but destruction. And yet, it is too slight a punishment for the likes of you.”
But before he could jerk his arm aside and break her neck, she suddenly wasn’t there.
Impressive, he thought as he quickly turned around. She could keep her cool enough to teleport even when unable to breathe. Most would simply panic.
She was notorious for teleporting behind her victim and backstabbing them. Too notorious. It was the first thing he had been warned about. So as Ruth materialized behind him, she found herself face-to-face with Adam. She spoke a brief spell and a cloud of black arrowed into her hand, resolving itself into a double-pointed weapon, foot-long spearing tips sprouting out of a center handle. The handle, made of some kind of wood, protected the wielder from the shafts of iron.
Iron. The one element of the earth that could hurt or kill a Demon.
She wasted no time before trying to imbed the vicious metal in his flesh. Not expecting to fight a Demon wielding what amounted to poison for both of them, Adam stumbled back.
“The time of the law-abiding, simpering, weak Demon is over,” Ruth hissed at him as she thrust again with impressive strength, forcing him to swing his sword up to block her, and locking them together too close for his liking. He countered with his dagger, and again it deflected off her as though she were completely wrapped in protective armor.
Sweet Destiny, how was he going to get to the bitch if he couldn’t make a killing blow?
He was going to have to resort to hand-to-hand. But she could teleport away so easily. It was like fighting an opponent covered in animal fat. As soon as he got a grip on her, she’d slip away.
Adam realized the truth of the matter.
There was no way he could kill her on his own.
Luckily, he wasn’t on his own.
Adam went to disarm her of her latest weapon, wanting to take it out of play, even though it was very likely she could just conjure another. However, magic took energy and power to perform. He had no doubt that she was very powerful and had a great store of energy, but she couldn’t keep up her tricks forever. She would eventually wear down. He made the unexpected move of grabbing the thing by one of its necks with the haft of his dagger and his bare hand, ignoring the vicious burn in his palm as he came into contact with the poisonous metal. He yanked at the thing with all his significant strength, while at the same time flipping his sword so the blade faced her gripping hand. He sent the honed edge toward her hand, hoping her fingers weren’t as protected as her body seemed to be, loving the idea of removing a few of her digits.
Unfortunately, the moment the idea entered his mind; she was able to anticipate him. She let go, teleporting again, allowing him to throw away the iron weapon but giving him no satisfaction or opportunity to wound her.
He stepped around again, watching his back. He glanced upward when a black raven squalled in the trees, flapping its large wings. And just like that Ruth reappeared. With her very next breath she cast again, throwing her hands forward.
She wasn’t taking any chances by getting too close to him anymore, acknowledging that he was the stronger Demon and perhaps even a cleverer fighter than she was when it came to hand-to-hand and close-in fighting.
As she threw her hands forward, a collection of iron nails appeared in motion, as if they had been shot out of a cannon toward him. He barely had enough time to alter form, shifting to water and falling to the ground in a rushing puddle.
As he reformed into flesh on his knees he felt fire and agony in his arm and upper chest. He’d been hit by a couple of those projectiles, and though the iron itself now lay harmlessly on the ground, the wounds the nails had caused burned with the shavings of metal left behind.
There was nothing he could do about that. And nothing he could do about the free-flowing blood that began to saturate his shirt.
“Damn,” he said, giving the torn fabric a little tug. “I rather liked this thing.” He looked at Ruth and gave her a smile that had no humor in it. “Send more iron,” he beckoned her. “Prove to me how truly corrupted you are. It only makes me want to put you down all the harder. And I will find the way, I promise you.”
“Find your way around this, Water Demon.”
This time she conjured fire, as though she were Noah himself, a great ball of it forming between her hands before she threw it at him with all the strength of the magic in her body.
The ball exploded against the tree behind where Adam had been. As he reformed a few feet away, he laughed at her.
“Please,” he taunted her. “I grew up with the Demon King as a playmate, and he wielded Fire a thousand times better than that. You are going to have to do much better.”
“Very well then, I will!”
She began to speak a spell. And as she did, the black raven speared down out of the tree and tackled the blond Demon to the ground as it changed on the fly into the massive physical form of the Vampire Prince.
Jasmine smiled as she faced off against her enemies.
“Looks like we’re having Vampire for dinner,” one of the Vamps remarked blithely.
Jasmine snorted out a laugh.
“I’m going to string your fangs on a chain and wear them for jewelry,” she promised him.
“We’re not afraid of you,” another said.
“You should be,” she countered before leaping toward them.
She crashed into the first one so hard that the sound of their skeletons smacking together echoed into the woods. She sent him sprawling into the bracken, the leaves alleviating friction in such a way that he slid a good distance before stopping. Dazed, he shook his head, trying to resuscitate his brainpan.
Meanwhile, Jasmine turned to face her three remaining adversaries, smiling at them through the blood dripping down her face from the gash in her forehead. Then she held up her hand, showing them something long and white, covered with blood.
The Vampire on the ground began to scream as Jasmine proudly displayed his fang to the others.
“Next?” she invited.
The remaining Vampire suddenly didn’t look too sure of himself. The Demons, however, were not as intimidated. After all, they had no fangs to lose. Plus, they had magic on their side. They considered that a great advantage. To prove it, they began to cast. The ground beneath Jasmine’s feet turned to quicksand. But she was faster and she levitated several inches above the affected area. Jasmine didn’t take any time to be astounded by the sight of other Vampires and Demons working magic in service to Ruth. Frankly, when it came to that demented Demon, nothing surprised her any longer. But she did recognize that had it truly been only herself and Adam confronting this small but powerful army, there was little chance they would have come out the victors.
While her enemies were focused on her, a creature blending perfectly with the shadows behind them grabbed one by the scruff of the neck, leaving the throat open to the quick, deadly slash of a khukuri blade. One Demon crumpled to the ground before the second even had time to register the Shadowdweller’s presence.
Sagan’s attack was enough to startle the Demon necromancer, throwing off his focus and concentration, destroying his spell. He was too young and too unskilled in his new craft to recover immediately. It opened his mind and nerves to the scream of the falcon that swooped in from above him. That scream had the power to strike fear in the hearts of those who heard it. By the time the falcon landed in the running form of Damien’s wife and Jasmine’s frequent adversary in life, Jasmine had taken advantage of the opening Syreena had created for her and leapt on the Demon’s shoulders, using the powerful strength of her legs around his neck to snap it in two. Perhaps even three, given the violence she used to wrench it around nearly 180 degrees.
Jasmine landed on her feet and found herself facing Syreena. She met the Lycanthrope’s charcoal and wild-colored streaked eyes. She smoothed back her hair with one hand and shrugged her opposite shoulder.
“Thanks,” she said.
She didn’t have time to appreciate the expression of surprise Syreena gave her. Although in the back of her mind she acknowledged exactly why Syreena would find even the smallest of common courtesies from her surprising. She had probably never given her one before. Certainly not with any sincerity.
Perhaps that had been wrong of her.
Jasmine didn’t have time for much in the way of soul-searching. When she had taken flight early on, she had separated the forces Ruth had sent against her. Now the rest of them had caught up to her, Syreena, and the remaining enemy Vampire, who had slunk aside and tried to move away unnoticed. Somewhere in the shadows was Sagan. He would not move forward until needed.
Jasmine didn’t care what Valera said about magic users being redeemable, about addictions and withdrawal and all of that touchy-feely nonsense. The equation was simple for her. If they threatened her life, she would respond in kind. They had made a free choice to immerse themselves in this wickedness long before it had tainted them with addiction. As far as Jasmine was concerned, that act of free will made them fully responsible and fully deserving of the death she would deliver.
She turned to face the newcomers, Syreena stepping up to her side.
“I’ll take the two on the left, you take the two on the right?”
“Yeah, right.” Jasmine laughed. “Give me a sec and I’ll be able to help you with your two.”
Together the women launched themselves forward.
Ruth mentally and magically regrouped.
She had been blindsided by Damien’s sudden appearance and attack. But she had been a warrior serving under the Demon Elijah for over two centuries, battling her way through Vampires and Lycanthropes when the Demons had warred with each in turn. She had learned to shake things off quickly. She teleported out of Damien’s reach, out of all their reach, and took a breath to scan the scope of the battlefield in front of her. It was clear Adam had not come alone. He and Jasmine had somehow snuck others in under her guard. How? Had she not scanned mentally for others? She was the most powerful Mind Demon alive. No one could shield their thoughts from her. Yet now Jasmine had somehow managed to do so, and these others as well? Damien she could understand. He was an ancient Vampire, his mental powers certainly above all others. But his Lycanthrope trollop? She was as weak as they came. Her only claim to power was her ability to shift into two forms. Ruth had once kidnapped her and tortured her with ridiculous ease, and she would have killed her, too, had Damien not interfered. However, that, too, had played in her favor. Damien’s rescuing Syreena had set off a chain of events allowing Ruth to find Nicodemous and an alliance that had doubled her power.
If only she had had time to resurrect him!
Just the same, she had confidence that she was powerful enough to take on an entire army of Vampires and Demons. There was nothing any of them had that she had not seen before and had not learned how to defeat.
It was time to stop toying with them and get to the serious business of eradicating the pests once and for all.
The locking spell ...
Ruth was a master of thoughts and the Mind. Enough to recognize when a thought was not her own. Most female Mind Demons were only empaths, unable to read the thoughts of others, but she had grown beyond that limitation and, she believed, in the short time since then had learned how to surpass even her male counterparts who were proficient telepaths.
The thought felt strange, but she had been inside the mind before. Enough to recognize it. She glanced to the right and saw her latest protégée, the black-and-gray-haired girl whose name she could never remember. She met her eyes and spoke the thought again in her mind.
The locking spell.
So simple. So perfect! However, it took some time to lay the groundwork for the spell, and she was in the thick of battle.
Begin the spell. I will take over once you near completion.
The girl nodded assent and began to cast, blue light swirling from her hands, wrapping around her, spreading over the ground in a small circle until she was completely enveloped in a cylinder of blue electricity.
Ruth focused on her enemies with more aggressive spells. Quicker spells. The power snapped out of her like lightning, feeding her even as it drained her. Savage bolts leapt from Ruth’s hands, striking the Vampire Prince and the Enforcer. There was nothing either of them could do to escape the attack. It would ravage the Enforcer no matter what form he shifted into; and no matter how strong and ancient he was, no matter what animal he was now able to shift into thanks to feeding off his Lycanthrope bride, the Vampire would be equally unable to avoid her attack.
Both men were struck, flung back like a couple of boneless dolls being tossed from the jaws of a playful dog. Then the maw of that dog caught them up again, power compressing them with an unbearable strength. A strength they could not escape. Had she been fresh into the spell, she would not have needed the locking spell. She would simply crush them until they popped like overcooked peas under a treading foot.
But she was tiring, and the spell took a great deal of raw personal power. Power she had initially wasted while Adam toyed with her. She realized now that had been his plan all along. To trick her into tiring herself out by dangling himself before her like bait while the Prince held himself in reserve.