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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"Now…let us keep in mind that I am a Mind Demon, and I can read your thoughts," Ruth said amiably as she settled herself into a comfortable cross-legged position on the floor just behind the Princess.
She was lying. Female Mind Demons were empaths. Only the males were telepaths.
"I am not lying," she leaned in to whisper to the misguided Princess. "Though I can see why you would think so. It is true, I was once relegated to the shortcomings of my sex. Terribly unfair, really, how the men got all the goodies in our species. However, since I broke away from that hypocritical culture, I have found the way to unlock those abilities within myself. So let us save a good deal of time here and take my word for granted, hmm?"
"Bitch," Syreena croaked.
"I can see how you would think that, too," Ruth said, still using that affable tone as she reached to turn her captive onto her back so they could see one another. "But actually, you only have your sister to blame for this. She should have never taken that heartless murderer to her bed. Royal Consort, indeed! At least she had the sense not to make him King. Can you imagine?" Ruth's disgust was obvious, as was her hatred for Elijah. "But soon they will have an heir, making you rather obsolete, Princess, so truly it is best I use you to my benefit now while you still have some value left."
Ruth paused to reach out and sift her fingers through Syreena's dual-colored hair. The strands cringed, pulling back and slithering away from between her fingers. But it was easy enough for her to grab another handful of it, twisting it once around her hand to keep it from escaping again.
"Are you and your sister psychically connected? We never could figure out if that was the case between your people. You always had an uncanny way of moving in perfect concert in battle. No? That is too bad. I had hoped she would be able to experience some of this."
Ruth fisted her hand and pulled back hard.
Syreena's hair tore out of her scalp, flinging blood in a wide spray as it traveled through the arc of Ruth's powerful ripping motion. It was as if Ruth had just amputated a hand or foot from Syreena. Certainly, the blood loss and the pain were comparable. The Princess screamed, her feet kicking against the floor as her entire body convulsed. She catapulted into motion, using all her remaining strength to scrabble across the uneven floor and into her original corner. Once there, she huddled into herself, shaking with pain and sudden terror like an abused animal. She couldn't even see Ruth because of the wash of blood pouring over her eyes and face.
Ruth contemplated the hank of gray hair in her hand with a smile.
"This is going to be fun."
Tracking someone who had seemingly winked out of existence would be impossible for the inexperienced hunter. For the experienced hunter it would be intensely difficult. For Damien, it was a matter of having lived a very long life as a hunter who chased prey every single night. It had taught him how to track just about every sort of quarry there was, provided he had encountered it at some point and was familiar with its instincts and tactics.
For the moment, he was relieved that there was a trail at all. Whether or not the Princess would be alive at the other end would be something he would worry about when the time came. Hope came with the fact that there was a certain tension to this trail, indicating that someone had dragged Syreena against her will likely the entire distance.
He did not delude himself about how Syreena had been taken captive. The scent of a Demon lay parallel to every part of her path, and there was only one who would be so crazed as to attempt such a transgression on the royal's own territory.
Psychotic Demon bitch, he thought venomously.
She and her daughter Mary had single-handedly caused more pain and death for the Demon community in the past year than he would have thought possible. Now that Mary was dead, accidentally killed by her mother's own hand as Ruth had attempted to slay Elijah, there was no telling what she had in store for Syreena. And Damien had known the notoriously peaceful Queen Siena long enough to know that even for one as strong and practical in the ways of the world as she was, she would be hard-pressed to overcome such a personal, monstrous act and be able to maintain her peaceful ethics. How that would translate to the Demons would be hard to say. Damien could only take comfort in the fact that Siena was married to one and that would go a long way toward tempering her response. However, to lose her only sister…that could unavoidably affect a powerful monarch in ways that would have long-reaching repercussions.
The trail laid out before him was one of dragging energy. Though a teleport had all the appearance of starting cleanly in one place and popping up in another, it was more like a folding of space. A touching of the starting point to the ending point left behind something of a dotted line, as the crow flies, which could be followed if one knew what to look for and how to keep the track in sight.
The only thing was, it would take Damien a hundred times the amount of time to track it, and anything could happen in that time. So he flew through the air with all the speed he could muster, the wind burning over his skin and whipping through his clothing at hurricane force.
He barely noticed it, his entire concentration on his path.
As strong as she was, Ruth had her limitations. He did not figure her to be beyond the European continent. He had never heard of a female Mind Demon who could teleport more than a thousand miles' distance. Ruth, however, was the first and eldest of her kind. There was truly no telling what she was capable of doing.
Especially with the black arts to aid her.
It took Jasmine a full hour before she truly took note of Damien's extended absence.
Vampires were not in the practice of monitoring one another, but this was certainly an unusual circumstance. She was in another species' territory, surrounded by Nightwalker strangers, set to a task that Damien had said he would accompany her on for at least this initial visit, just to make certain everything was reasonably safe and calm before leaving her to her own devices.
Not that she needed protecting. It was simply that Damien had mentored her for most of her life, elevating her to the level of a personal favorite that no one else could lay a close claim to, and since then had always taken it upon himself to act as her guardian and protector. Much in the way an elder brother would protect a younger sister.
So for him to break promised plans without even so much as a word to her, was enough to stimulate a measure of curiosity, if not concern. Far be it for Jasmine to play guardian to a Vampire twice her age and power.
Jasmine walked out of the Library, looking into the cavernous tunnels all around her, even though she knew by sense that Damien was nowhere close enough for visual acquisition. It was habit, she supposed, to look just the same. He was strong enough to block his presence from anyone should he choose to. She just did not understand why he would want to do so.
As she paid closer attention to her surroundings, however, she began to pick up his trail.
So he was not hiding for any purposeful reason.
The track was mostly cold, telling her his passage had taken place long before.
She debated the wisdom of tailing him.
It could very well be the Vampire Prince had found something…or someone…to amuse himself with, and an interruption would not be welcome. A Vampire's attention could always be easily swayed in these ways. A race of pure sensualists, they rarely passed up a delight if it piqued their interest.
Although it had been some time since anything of that sort had been unique enough to win the attention of the Vampire who had lived long enough to see it all.
Jasmine had spent the better part of five hundred years at Damien's side; she had seen the multitude of females he had gone through in that time alone, never mind the four hundred fifty years he had lived before she had even been born. While he still had appetites, he was no longer easily intrigued. It would not be like him, for all his Vampire nature, to suddenly see something that would distract him from a duty he held important. Especially when the duty involved a certain measure of political sensitivity and Jasmine's exposure to it.
Jasmine made up her mind, proceeding cautiously in his footsteps.
Damien landed at last, estimating himself to be somewhere just outside of Paris.
That struck a chord within him immediately.
From Lycanthrope territory to Mistral lands? Ruth had been evicted from Russia a little over a month ago, chased away from excavating the land just above where the rest of the allied Nightwalkers had made the monumental discovery of the Library. Now she was here, again in alien Nightwalker territory.
What was she doing there? Why had she dragged Syreena all this way? Damien realized that she must have taxed herself enormously, first with the initial travel to Russia, and now by returning herself and a passenger who was fighting her tooth and nail the entire way. Nevertheless, Damien realized that he should not give too much credit to that advantage. Ruth was no doubt well surrounded by hunters who would just as soon stake him out in the next dawn for a slow and painful conflagration, and magic-users who would want to do worse.
She was crazy, not stupid.
Damien moved into the shadows, blending into them with a fluid motion he had always taken to so naturally. He was on a cobblestone path, village buildings on either side of him. It was a vintage city, exactly the type of setting where one would find Mistrals. However, it was too densely populated. Mistrals lived in close-knit groups, but usually in a country setting and with few more than twenty to a location.
This was a town of well over four or five hundred.
That only meant that Ruth had taken holdings less conspicuous than, say, trying to stay amongst Mistral villagers with the entourage that likely traveled with her. Ruth would stick out like a sore thumb in true Mistral settings.
Syreena's trail was growing more apparent the closer he got to her. The gentle night breeze blew her unique scent to him in faint traces that only a select echelon of stalkers would have been able to identify as hers. He, Siena, and Jacob, the Demon Enforcer, were part of that minimally select example.
Syreena was close.
He was approaching the situation almost blind. Only his knowledge of his enemy was girding him for this potential battle. The ideal choice would be to find a way to recover Syreena, moving in and out of the danger as undetected as was vampirically possible. The first thing he had to do was determine if she was even alive. If she was, then he must act on the moment. If she was not, he could take the time to regroup and bring in others who would help even the odds at retrieving her body and punishing those who had harmed her.
The thought was logical and practical, but Damien found it did not sit well with him. A sliver of chill bitterness walked his backbone at the idea of harm coming to one so special. The Princess was a one-of-a-kind creature. Her death would be a heart-wrenching tragedy, even to one such as himself who had grown used to seeing death and its many faces.
It was an intolerable idea, he thought to himself as he edged closer to a large stone storehouse that his trail was leading him directly to. He might be guilty of his passing frivolities, but he abhorred waste of any kind.
Therefore, even though there was a great potential that he was walking into a trap set for whomever Ruth would expect to hunt after Syreena-Siena and Elijah, for example-he would do everything in his power to see if the Princess could be saved.
As Damien came close enough to the building to touch the wall, warning bells screamed across his senses and instincts. The place reeked of magic, probably warning, repelling wards that would shoot first and ask questions an hour or so later.
Magic could be circumvented, given time and knowledge, but Damien was feeling an instinctive pressure that told him he was already riding low on time. He could shield his approach from Ruth for only so long. She was a master at the manipulations of the mind, and just as he had done, she would soon discover she was being misled and toyed with by an outside mental influence. Frankly, even with his mental power, he could never go toe to toe with a Mind Demon. His ability to sway the thoughts of others was strictly a hunting tool. It chased away ambitious predators so he would not waste time in power struggles, it baited and lured potential prey into well-crafted traps, and it even altered memory and perception so he could feed or come and go without arousing questions and suspicions.
Damien walked slowly around the perimeter of the wards, testing their power as unobtrusively and delicately as a member of a bomb squad would study an explosive.
He could only hope this all would not suddenly click to zero and blow up in his face.
Ruth was growing wiser over time, it seemed. This time her wards were layered to accommodate all Nightwalkers, rather than just Demons or whomever she would expect to encounter. She had learned her lessons well after the Nightwalkers had joined in collaborations against her.
She was not simply a loose renegade from her own people. She was a threat and a terrible danger to them all. Every encounter with her only supported that understanding more and more.
Damien flicked sensitive membranes in his eyes and immediately was blinded by the glare of heat from all the bodies tucked tightly into the central room of the building. There were back rooms, upper stories as well, and they had a scattering of bodies exuding heat within them as well.
However, it was the incredibly hot flare of a Lycanthrope he was looking for, and it was that burn that he quickly found. Rolled into a ball in the corner of an upstairs room she lay, the cool-toned body of her captor standing over her.
Oh, what I wouldn't give to have her heart beating in my hand, Damien thought angrily of Ruth. If for no other reason than to put an end to the havoc and the pain she wreaked so willingly. So ably. It seemed ridiculous that so hunted a creature could so easily elude the best hunting species on the planet.
The trouble was, she knew them and their abilities too well, from an insider's perspective. She used that knowledge in combination with her mental trickery until they were literally chasing themselves into circles. When they did run her to ground, as they had done once already, the fact that she was willing to sacrifice any number of humans to save herself had thwarted their capture of her. She was constantly throwing the misguided mortals into battle so they could distract her pursuers while she beat a hasty retreat.