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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Elijah reached out to grab his wife's arm when she lurched toward the Vampire female with a snarl rumbling out of her chest. "Siena! I am sure Jasmine means no insult and is only relating fact," he interjected quickly and soothingly.
"Of course," Jasmine said.
"Can you track them?" Siena asked her husband, ignoring the Vampire and grasping at the sleeve of his shirt.
"I can." Siena was forced to look at the outsider because of her husband's negating thoughts in her head. He could not follow Damien. His skills were not equal to the superb abilities of the Prince. "I can follow Damien anywhere he wants me to," Jasmine continued easily. "I assure you, he has not covered his tracks behind him. He wants anyone who notices this scene to follow him and perhaps lend him aid. Your Consort and I can fly after him. You, however, cannot. You will have to remain behind."
Elijah felt his mate's frustration soaring through her with white-hot intensity. She did not like this stranger telling her what she could and could not do. Even if she was right, the Queen resented her for reminding her of it. Siena's animal form was a cougar, a land-bound creature that could not cross bodies of water without the aid of other means, mystical or technological. For instance, Elijah could take her with him.
"No," he murmured softly into her hair near her ear, reaching to cradle her shoulders in his palms. "Stay here. In case Damien returns with Syreena. At least then you can inform us of it and we can return to you more quickly." He touched her chin gently, turning her eyes up into his own. "We will bring her back to you, kitten, if it can be done."
"I know," she said, the catch in her voice tight and painful. She blinked the emotion in her eyes away, turning from them both in order to hide it. Jasmine knew it was purely for her benefit. The Demon warrior was well aware of everything his mate felt, sometimes even before she was. It was the nature of the way they were joined. Even a Vampire knew this.
Jasmine spread her slim arms to her sides, fingers and palms turned up to the sky as she lifted from the ground and into the night. The cold wind rippled through her loose shirt and hair as she hovered just above the couple's golden heads. She turned her eyes upward, her face away, so Elijah and his bride could say a brief good-bye without her obvious witness.
A moment later, the Demon was soaring up to her level, his stark green eyes penetrating the darkness as he looked at her.
"Lead," he commanded her.
"Be patient. This will be slow going, warrior," she warned him. "The trail is already several hours cold."
"I understand that," he said, glancing down at his wife in spite of himself. His worry for her was clear.
It was enough to touch even the jaded Vampire.
Damien's eyes flew open, the pupils contracting sharply in the bright light surrounding him. He shied for one breathless moment, alarmed that he had woken up in sunlight.
After a moment of adjustment, he realized there were soft hands on his back urging him to lie back into the warmth and comfort of the bed he had been resting in. He jerked around to see who was touching him, an instinctive show of fangs and a snarl behind his lips.
The young girl he sprang at yelped in terror, jumping out of her chair and knocking it over as she stumbled back out of his reach.
"Easy, Lyric," a soft, sweet voice soothed the girl as hands reached to steady her. "He will not hurt you. Will you, Damien?"
Damien hesitated when he heard his name, turning to focus on the new target. He realized immediately that he recognized her. "Windsong?"
He remained frozen in place for two beats as his mind tried to reconcile all the information it was receiving at once. It was difficult to do, not only because of his shocky state, but because Windsong's voice was a natural hypnotic. The dazing lure of a Siren's voice was half pure beauty and talent; the other half was a trick of the mind. A Vampire of his skill and age was immune to the mind manipulation, but there would always be an effect of a Mistral's voice that he could not overcome. Not so long as the Mistral's intentions were well meant.
"Sorry," he murmured to the girl he had frightened before lying back with a sigh of immeasurable relief.
Safety. At last.
He remembered it had been intentional, setting down in the woodlands near Brise Lumineuse. He had intended to seek shelter there if and only if he had to. Apparently, Windsong had known he had become unable to reach her himself.
Windsong somehow always knew those sorts of things.
"My apologies, Lyric," he said again, this time far more sincerely. He glanced at Windsong and then turned studying eyes on the compact little dark-haired girl. "Your apprentice this century, I take it?"
"Yes," Windsong said. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired," he responded automatically. Then he realized that was very much the truth of it. He could not remember the last time he had actually felt weariness like this. This was not the weakness that came from too long a time between feedings, something he experienced with much more frequency, if frequency was the appropriate term. This was a tiring like…well, like it had been when he had once depended on circulation, oxygen, and a beating heart to power himself.
Like all Vampires, however, he had ceased to need those support systems around his one hundredth year. Now any use they got was purely habitual, like blinking or breathing. It was this lack of expected function that had started the myth that Vampires were the walking dead. In truth, it was merely that, as they matured, their bodies learned a new way to conserve nutrition while at the same time magnifying the energy it produced. It was an evolutionary efficiency and it was why they had become so prevalent as a species. Their brains functioned at higher levels, allowing for higher sensory abilities, the power to influence the minds of others, and the capacity to levitate and fly by the sheer command of thought. Not to mention the quick healing that all Nightwalkers enjoyed the benefit of in one form or another.
Apparently he had survived his deadly experiment with the ingestion of Lycanthrope blood, his remarkable ability to heal himself of almost any damage being his true saving grace.
However, he would not be repeating the act anytime soon.
He could still remember the pain and knew it would haunt him for quite some time. Like a child, he did not need to touch the flame twice to learn his lesson.
He felt leaden and heavy, but there was no hunger that needed attending, so he knew that was not the reason why. His body was nowhere near finished coping with whatever damage had been done. It made him feel helpless and he hated that. What he would not give for a good Body Demon medic in that moment.
"She is resting," Windsong assured him, resting a hand on his arm to keep him lying in the bed when his instinct was to get up and see for himself. He would be responsible if anything happened to the Lycanthrope Princess, and he would rather lose his head to a dull blade than see that happen.
The passion of the thought surprised him for a moment, so much so that he actually laughed aloud. It was out of place to the two women near his bed as well. He could tell because they exchanged curious glances. "Will she live?"
"Thanks to you," Windsong said, letting him know she was aware of what he had done to attempt to save her.
"Thanks to luck," he corrected her with a long, heartfelt sigh. "A lot of luck."
"Then we shall have to give thanks for your luck in our prayers before we sleep this morning," Windsong said.
"How long until dawn?" he asked. Normally, his body clock warned him when it was close to dawn, but he was not surprised to realize he was a bit dulled to some of his usual internal sensitivities.
"It is past dawn," the little apprentice said, her surprise that he did not know that all too evident in her sweet little voice.
"Thank you, sweetling," he said, his eyes drifting closed for a long minute. He did not see her blush at the intimacy of the endearment. "Right now, I think I would be mid-suntan before I realized that."
Lyric burst out in a surprised laugh, covering her mouth in shock at herself as she drew his attention back to her. He gave her a charismatic grin as he casually tucked one hand beneath his dark head.
"So you are studying to be a healer?" he asked. "You will be learning from the best. The woman you saved today would not have lived into adulthood if not for Windsong."
Lyric's eyes widened at that piece of information. "We mostly do herbal medicines together. Windsong will not take me to more serious cases."
"Because you are a long way off from learning those skills. One day at a time," the elder Siren lectured firmly, her large blue eyes sparing a knowing twinkle for Damien alone. "Is it not amazing how eager the young are to get themselves into hot water?"
Damien laughed and nodded. He had known far more than enough precocious Vampires with that very same trait. Jasmine had been one of them.
"Now, Lyric, resume your seat and your mending song," Windsong instructed her pupil, using her hands to guide the awestruck girl into her chair. "Lyric has an exceptional voice, Damien. I expect she will help you to sleep in no time."
"I do not doubt it in the least," Damien said.
He relaxed as much as he could in the bed, closing his eyes and trying to ignore the residual echoes of extraordinary pain that still lived in his memory and the nerves of his body.
As promised, Lyric began to sing to him. After a few unsure quavers, she fell into the familiarity of the mending song she had practiced over and over and over again; always waiting and hoping for the time she would first use it. She was amazed and honored that her first serious patient was the very powerful Prince of the Vampires. She could hardly wait to tell Thrush about the wild experience of the entire night. He would never believe her! She hardly believed it herself.
Lyric's voice flowed over Damien like a breeze that first rushed, and then lingered. The song itself was filled with soothing imagery, of fields and fresh air and moonlight that shone down on the wings of the moths flitting by. He allowed himself the luxury of being cocooned by this special form of magic. So long as Windsong was there, they would remain safe.
Damien drifted into a contented sleep with that thought.
When next he woke, it was to the bright sound of song coming from a distant room.
He recognized the raw talent of Lyric's as yet untempered voice. Give her a few decades of intense study at her mentor's hand, he thought, and she would sound as easy in skill and as devastatingly beautiful as the voice that chimed in suddenly in chorus.
He lay quietly listening for long minutes. In spite of himself, they easily drew him into that half-hypnotic state that soothed even the harshest of souls. There was even a music in the way they carried out their tasks, which he came to understand was cooking their first evening meal. The heat of the kitchen and all its rich scents drifted on the notes their voices stroked and toyed with. Windsong's coloratura was a masterpiece in sound, Lyric's gentle soprano like the sweet crystalline tinkling of bells.
Damien sat up, running his fingers through his hair, trying to absently smooth it into a semblance of order as his eyes drifted over to the second bed in the room, situated perpendicular and to the right of his own. He assumed the beds were Lyric's and Windsong's own, surrendered for the well-being of their patients.
The word did not sit well on a man like Damien, and he moved to get out of bed. He hesitated when he realized his bloody clothing had been stripped from his body, leaving him nude beneath the covers. Mistrals were not at all like his race, being far more conservative and reserved in all things except goodness and song. While Windsong was several centuries old, he was certain that Lyric was not used to such things.
He smiled to himself, even laughing under his breath. It had been a while since he had needed to think like a gentleman. He found it refreshing all over again.
He pulled a sheet with him as he rose to his feet. He was a little hungry, which was a good sign, and feeling incredibly light of heart. He realized, as he wrapped the linen fabric around his hips, that it was probably an effect of the song being tossed about with merriment in the distant room.
The Vampire Prince moved to Syreena's bed, leaning over her and touching gentle fingers to the bandages swathing her hairline. He sensed the strong and steady rhythm of her pulse, smelled the herbs that had been used to treat and bathe her. She smelled strongly of lavender, strangely enough a favorite of his. It compelled him to sit beside her on the bed, taking the time for a closer inspection.
She was bruised darkly across her face, but mostly on her throat. Her blood loss was retarding her normally quick healing or they would have been mostly gone by now, just as most of his damage had seemed to have healed over the daytime.
He noticed her hands were heavily bandaged and it surprised him. He lifted one from the handmade quilt she was bundled under, and unwrapped the gauze and strips of cloth in order to find out why. What wound had he missed there?
He made a soft, angry sound deep against his vocal cords as he realized she had several wounds penetrating through and through her hands.
Bad enough the sick bitch had plucked the unfortunate Princess's feathers, but she had effectively clipped her wings as well, although the wounds would probably not last a tenth as long as the memory of their acquisition would.
Damien laid her palm gingerly onto his own upturned one, his fingertips of his opposite hand moving softly and gently over the wounds on the back of her hand. He heard her heartbeat alter and he looked up to her face quickly.
Her calico eyes were open, regarding him through half-raised lids and puffy, swollen flesh.
"Welcome back," he greeted her quietly.