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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"And so you have, courtesy of my cold hands," he said with amusement.
She laughed, realizing how easy it would be to enjoy his company if they actually managed to spend enough time on the same side of an interest.
"However," he continued graciously, "if it makes you uncomfortable, I will leave."
"No! I mean…well, yes. What I mean is-"
"Perhaps," he interrupted her, catching up her free hand so he could place a calming kiss in her palm, "perhaps I will go for my hunt and meet you elsewhere on the other side of this threshold at a later time."
She became thoughtful and silent for a moment, and Damien was tempted to peek into her thoughts. Instead, he resisted the urge and patiently waited while she gathered them.
"Damien, why have you come here?"
"You know why," he said without hesitation. "I have come for you, Syreena."
"But…Damien, I can't…" Syreena made that characteristic sound of frustration at her uncharacteristic stammering. "I don't have the freedom you do. I am of the royal line and that means-"
"I know what that means," he said firmly.
Syreena blinked, then stared at him in momentary shock.
"That means," he continued softly, pulling her a little bit closer so he could bask in the wash of her body heat, "that I will meet you later to discuss it. For the moment, I hear footsteps in the corridors. Your brethren are awakening. Since I do not wish to trespass on any rules, I will catch up to you later at your sister's holdings. Is this acceptable?"
"Yes," she said quietly, nodding as he brushed cool, affectionate fingers along her distorted hairline. The touch was tender and almost alluring. It was as if he saw the spot as an advantageous charm, not the mutilation all others saw it to be, herself included.
He stepped back from her, and then, to her shock, he shapechanged into a raven and flew once around her before winging off into the outer passages.
"He did what?" Siena was not sure she had heard her sister right.
"He took my blood. Twice."
Siena exhaled in worried frustration as she paced across her sister's chambers for what had to be the hundredth time. "And I just saw him shapechange into a raven, Siena. I have never heard of a Vampire doing such a thing."
The sisters simultaneously looked at Elijah.
"So have you, come to think of it," he amended himself. "In human folklore, there are stories of Vampires being able to change into the shapes of animals."
"Yes, but humans also think staking a Vampire in the heart will kill them," Syreena argued.
"They are not entirely wrong," Elijah said. "A trauma of that magnitude would eventually cause a Vampire to bleed to death if he did not replenish himself. Just like it would you and me."
"That is an interesting point," Siena murmured. "But shapechanging? I have always heard that throughout Nightwalker history that was limited to us and Mistrals."
"And Demons. And Shadowdwellers, too, actually."
"Wait." Syreena held up a hand when her sister went to question her husband. "You mean that you change with your elements, and that 'Dwellers can become the shadows themselves in order to hide the substance of their bodies."
"See, she didn't go to school for a century without making progress," Elijah teased them both.
"So Vampires are the exception," Siena argued. "They are Nightwalkers who do not change form."
"And yet, in ancient human texts, there are tales of Vampires turning into bats, birds, wolves, mist, and shadow. I think there are others," Elijah said, "but I am not the scholar here, so I do not recall what they are. But I will ask our scholar what she notices about this particular list."
"They are representative of several forms from every Nightwalker species," Syreena responded instantly. Then she truly saw what path he was leading her to, and her eyes widened enormously. "If Damien took in my blood and became a bird, what would happen if he drank of a 'Dweller?"
"He could have the power of shadow?" Siena stood up and joined Syreena's pacing progress. "And one who drinks of a Demon?"
"It would depend on the Demon," Elijah speculated.
"Water. Fire, Earth, and Air…the Mind and the Body. These are all your people's elements, Elijah."
"Mist, smoke, dust, wind…teleportation and healing," he reported in turn. "I have read human fiction dating back to the dawn of humanity where they first speak of Vampires, saying they can do these things. So why are the Vampires we know now incapable of them, except for Damien?"
"Because Damien drank from me to save my life…"
"And because they believe that Nightwalkers, next to magic-users, are the ultimate taboo." Siena bit her lip and folded her arms beneath her breasts. "Damien must have fed from you to give you the benefit of the coagulants you needed when you were bleeding from your damaged hair. We all know it can be as bad as slicing an artery if we lose enough of it."
"I lost enough of it," Syreena said grimly, her hand going self-consciously to her hairline. "He went against the grain of everything he knew, risking his own life, just to save mine."
"A profound act," Siena agreed, appreciating her sister's disturbance enough to put an arm of comfort around her shoulders.
"The ramifications of which are very enlightening," Elijah mused. "I wonder if it is just Syreena."
"What is that supposed to mean?" the Princess snapped at her brother-in-law.
"It means," Elijah responded calmly, "that I wonder if it is a cumulative thing or limited to one effect per customer. Can he feed, for example, on me and then be capable of raven and wind? Or does it switch to wind and purge the raven? Or is it raven and now no other?"
"Oh." Syreena backed down sheepishly. "My apologies, brother."
She did not notice the shock on their faces. She had never referred to Elijah with such intimacy before. Though she had respected him, she had never warmed to him personally. It made her apology full of impact.
"Understandable. It was a poor choice of language," he said with unusual grace for him. He was learning a great deal about diplomacy, even in his short time in their court. It was necessary to have when in a household of people who did not trust him, save the fact that he was in the heart of their Queen.
Then again, Elijah had won over many people just by being very obvious about how deeply entrenched the Queen was in his heart. If Elijah had ever been shy about showing affection in front of others, no one in the Lycanthrope court knew about it.
"Nevertheless, it is an excellent question. One, I am willing to bet, that is riding on Damien's heels as well."
Syreena did not like the sound of that. It bothered her, for some reason, to think of him running around biting random necks as a way of accumulating power.
In fact, it bothered her thinking of him biting necks, period.
Female necks especially.
She had seen enough even in her sheltered lifetime to know there was a difference for him between males and females. Their own intimacies aside, she had always had a sense that there was a pleasure involved when Vampires took the blood of the opposite sex, no matter what species. And Vampires were certainly not above dallying with humans. To be fair, neither were Lycanthropes. That was how half-breeds had come to be. Anya, Siena's General, was a half-breed. She was clearly of vulpine descent, a vixen had she been full bred. Instead of shapechanging, however, Anya was a permanent mixture of human and Lycanthrope. She had all the looks of a human, but the skills, claws, and features of a vixen.
Syreena wondered briefly if there was possibly a Vampiric equivalent to a half-breed. She had never heard of one, and to her knowledge neither had anyone else, but they were fast learning that even for an ancient species, new and different things were always possible.
"I would be interested to see if there is anything about this in the Library," Siena said.
Syreena, however, was not paying attention. Instead, she was overwhelmed with the desire to find Damien, to have him at her side. She tried to push the impulse away, realizing it was a ridiculous jealousy she had no right or claim to.
She was unsuccessful, however.
Without another word to her family, she transformed into the peregrine, her empty dress fluttering to the floor before their startled eyes as she soared free of the neckline.
Syreena reeled, dipping an apologetic wing, and soared into the cavern corridors.
Damien eased his sleepy prey to the chilled ground.
The canine sitting patiently just behind him, its tail wagging against the concrete, was looking up at him expectantly when Damien stepped back from his need of the animal's master.
"Good boy," the Prince praised the animal gently. "Now, I expect a few licks on your friend's face after I am gone will rouse him. I do not recommend letting him sit in the cold long. These humans do not have your fur to warm them."
Damien knew the dog understood him. An animal mind was very different from a human one, but with skill could be just as easily touched. Besides, the dog understood the circle of nature and the predator and prey who revolved within it. So long as Damien caused the man no harm, the beast was not inclined to harm him in return.
The Vampire stepped away from the guard and his dog, falling back into the shadows of the building they were protecting. With a hard, pushing thought, he produced an altered perception onto the man he had fed from. It was designed to blur reality, allowing the man and all others who looked at him to perceive nothing marking his neck during the time it would take him to heal. Damien did a last sensory check of the area to assure himself that both man and beast would remain in safety for some time after he had gone.
To his surprise, he was aware of Syreena approaching him.
The speed she used was a marvel to him. Perhaps, with practice, he would attain such grace and swiftness in the raven form. It was easy to become the bird, but less easy to be a bird. For instance, cold Russian nights and wings not agreeing well with one another was an important detail that would not have occurred to him normally.
Syreena changed form midair, but landed on the balls of her feet with amazing grace and balance just the same. She swung back the hair that had peeled from her body after changing back from its feathered state.
She was quite a sight to behold, the Vampire thought, feeling a little light-headed as he did indeed behold her. She was standing on the icy ground in her bare feet. In fact, her entire body was bare. Bare and obviously chilled, he thought, a slightly naughty smile toying at his mouth.
"A bit cold to be flying about," he noted, drawing her attention to the place of his concealment. Given time, she would learn how to divine him from the background of darkness he wore so well. For the moment, he joined her in the light of the nearby streetlamp.
"Funny that you should know that," she countered.
He would not bother to pretend that he was ignorant of her reference to the raven form she had so recently seen him take. It must have been quite a shock, yet she seemed level and matter-of-fact enough.
"Ah, yes. Noticed that, did you?"
"I'd have to be as dumb as a post you weren't roosting on to miss it. I can imagine the theory behind this development. I should like to hear about it."
"A discussion we can have in more comfortable surroundings than this." He took her elbow in hand, drawing her close to the very warm flush of his recently fed body. "You look like you will freeze to death in another ten seconds. Your lips are blue."
He reached up to rub a knuckle over her bottom lip. He dropped his hand back to his side, but on the way, she felt his very warm fingers stroke down over her neck, collarbone, breast, and tightly thrusting nipple. Even though she managed to repress any obvious sounds of the effect the intimacy had on her, there was no concealing the rush of her breath on the cold air. It clouded instantly, betraying her as it ebbed against him.
Damien was terribly intrigued, and suddenly found himself with an appetite that had nothing to do with predator and prey. Then again, he sometimes was overwhelmed with the feeling that she could provide a sweet sustenance for him in ways far beyond the nutrition of blood.
"Come, let us find shelter."
Damien went to sweep her up into his arms, but she stepped back out of reach. With a shake of her head and body, she was quickly covered in feathers. This time, however, she maintained her feminine form. Large wings expanded from the joints of her shoulders and she drew herself up into the air, turning a dark avian eye down to him briefly before she soared off into the cloud cover.
Damien maintained his usual form and followed her.
It did not take them long to reach the mountain range that housed the caverns of the royal holdings. Syreena led him through a back entrance that he suspected only she knew about. By the time they reached the true beginnings of the underground castle, they had been traveling underground a good twenty minutes.
Syreena settled into a semiprivate alcove with a pool of steaming water in its center. She shook form, and, without a word for him, she dove into the clear pool head first.
He moved to the edge of the rock rimming the small but deep lagoon. It was clearly a hot spring, and an ingenious way of warming up after standing in the cold.
Damien waited for her to surface, well aware that though she could not change into her second form of the dolphin at present, she could still hold her breath for as long as she needed or wanted to. She took to water like she took to the air. It meant that if she had to, Syreena could travel the earth, the air, and through water. It was an excellent ability to have. It meant she always had alternatives for speedy travel and that very little could stand in her way, save perhaps solid rock.