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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"And yesterday she struck Vampire territory."
Damien and every dignitary in the room turned toward Jasmine when she made the damning statement. The Prince was immediately concerned. He had thought her safe at their home. He could tell by her appearance, however, that her safety had been in question.
"Jasmine, what happened?"
Damien ignored the others in the room and hurried over to her. She looked like she was ready to pass out. It was a state of weakness Damien was not used to seeing in her and it was enough to rattle him. He immediately began to search her for any other signs of damage.
"No, no, I am fine," she said, though she took his arm for support. "Merely tired, as well as being in desperate need of a hunt. Luckily I ran into Horatio outside and did not have to sneak in. I honestly do not think I would have had it in me."
"I take it you saw Ruth."
Jasmine looked up at the Demon King after he addressed her. As usual, he got right to the point. She did not blame him. Ruth was by far the most serious kind of business.
"I just spent the better part of the night in her company. She arrived around eleven and left an hour after dawn. I believe her departure time was planned so she would be assured that I could not follow her."
"Oh, my God," the Druid Isabella exclaimed. Isabella knew firsthand what five minutes in Ruth's company could do to a person. She couldn't conceive what could be done to a body when it spent as much time in threat as Jasmine had just laid claim to.
But although there were a variety of such reactions going through those who knew Ruth best, the only one that made a real impact on Jasmine was Syreena's. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that the Princess had gone pale, but other than that the Lycanthrope remained still and quiet.
If it had not been already too late, Jasmine might have had time to respect that quiet stoicism.
But it was too late.
None of them knew it, however.
At least, not yet.
"Jasmine, have a seat and explain this to us," Damien encouraged her, looking her over yet again for signs of injury. He was puzzled. How could she have met with Ruth and escaped her relatively unharmed? He was grateful that she had, but he had seen what Ruth had done to Syreena with only a few hours of time on her hands. To spend nearly eight hours with Ruth and survive untouched? It was nothing short of miraculous.
"Let me start by saying that everything you told me about Ruth is basically a lie, Damien. At least, it is now," she added when she saw his reactive expression. "She is ten times more powerful than you warned me about. She kept me imprisoned all of that time with nothing but the force of her mind. I have never felt anything like it. Everything I know, she now knows." She looked to the Lycanthrope Queen. "That includes the location of the Library, I am afraid."
"Sweet Goddess! Jinaeri! If it is as you say, she is woefully underprotected! There are only a few guards and whichever Nightwalkers are there…"
"That is why I rushed to your territory as fast as I could. You can relax, Siena," Jasmine eased her, holding up a weary hand and gesturing back to her seat. "I found Anya, the General of your Elite army, and she is handling it. She is the one who told me where to find you all." Jasmine looked up at Damien. "I do not know what happened after that. If Ruth can travel in daylight or teleport that entire distance, it is likely to be much too late."
"There is nothing any of us can do about it now." Elijah spoke up softly, his hand going to his wife's shoulder and easing her back into her seat. "Ruth had the entire day to do her damage. I believe she is more than strong enough to fight off the lethargy that affects us during daytime, but she cannot possibly resist it for long. Let's hope she waited until dusk to cause trouble. Either way, it's already over by now."
"Elijah, I cannot just sit here and-"
"Running pell-mell to the Library could very well be exactly what Ruth wants, Siena." Elijah made her sharply aware of that, trying to keep his serious tone from sounding like he was scolding her. It would not be right to chastise her in such a way before so many dignitaries. "She let Jasmine go, relatively unharmed by the look of it, for a reason. That reason could be so that she raises an alarm that sends us all into one of her traps."
"I do not understand." Malaya spoke up for the first time. It had the impact of getting everyone's immediate attention, especially Jasmine, who had not even taken note of their remarkable presence. "Forgive me," the Shadowdweller apologized in an exotic, dulcet accent. "I do not mean to interrupt this thing of great importance. However, I do not understand why a Demon renegade is attacking Vampires. Or Lycanthropes, for that matter."
Noah's sigh was the beginning of the necessary response. "Malaya…that is a long story that involves the disjointed reasoning of a madwoman."
"No, Noah, it does not." Jasmine cleared her throat. "It is a mistake to think there is no method to Ruth's madness. When she spoke to me, though there was that affectation of madness, her logic and her intellect were frighteningly intact. Maybe previously she boasted with half-empty threats, but now…now it is clear she has a plan of great depth and detail and she has been methodically carrying it out for some time."
"Jasmine is correct," Elijah added with dawning understanding. "We have been bumping into her accidentally over the past few months in the least expected places, at the least expected times, doing things we have no explanation for. However, if you put all of this together…"
"She is in search of something." Syreena sighed softly. "We knew she was looking for the Library when we found it purely by luck after finding her in Lycanthrope territory doing what looked like an archaeological excavation."
"The Black Tome. She was after that enormous black magic-user's compendium in the Library," Jasmine agreed. "She said it herself."
"Which she very likely has by now! Sweet Goddess," Syreena uttered with fear and outrage, "you were right, Noah, we should have burned it!"
"Mmm," Noah speculated, his green-gray eyes flicking over to the distraught and horrified expression on Isabella's face. She had been the one to argue against that, and no doubt she was feeling extremely guilty for it.
But Noah took immediate mercy on her. "We can do so now if we like," he said calmly. "It is downstairs."
That response and similar exclamations battered him from all around.
"In the Demon library," he clarified. "Siena and I discussed it a long time ago and decided it should be in a much safer place once the Library was going to open. Especially because Ruth was sniffing about for it. I made haste to do so as soon as possible, especially after what happened to you, Syreena."
"But I saw it there just a couple of days ago," Jasmine argued.
"Of course you did. It would not be wise to tell frequent visitors to the Library what had happened to it, just in case Ruth found the place and started scanning their minds. I know my enemy, Jasmine. I replaced it with a black compendium exactly like it, except that one is full of"-he lifted one corner of his mouth in a grin-"I believe I will call them Demon limericks."
Jasmine's mouth fell open in surprise, Isabella gasped and choked on a laugh of relief, but most of all, the Shadowdwellers began to chuckle in earnest. Syreena looked at them, saw their dark eyes sparkling in ready delight and their white smiles flashing wildly. It was clear they were perfectly delighted by Noah's mischief against his enemy. It was worthy of even their admiration.
"Well played. Well played indeed," the male pronounced, his deep voice projecting his humor around the entire Great Hall. "So this Ruth has likely stolen a volume of naughty rhymes instead of the powerful book she intended."
"I only hope she realizes it after she has absconded with it, and not before," Noah said, his smile fading. "I would hate to think of her becoming angry and taking it out on those she might have left alive otherwise."
"Elijah is right, Noah, you cannot change what Ruth has done or be responsible for what she will do from now until the time we find the way to stop her," Damien said. "It is a waste of time and a destruction of very necessary morale to dwell on what we do not have the power to stop just now."
"Meanwhile, the important thing is your actions managed to keep the cursed volume out of her hands," Jasmine said thoughtfully. "She believes the use of it by herself and other Nightwalkers is the way it should be, that magic destroyed humans or faltered in their hands because they were too weak to manage it. She thinks Nightwalkers can manage it without losing control of it, without becoming evil."
"Bullshit," Elijah barked shortly. "Has she taken a whiff of herself lately? She smells like a garbage scow. That is the way all evil persons smell to us, especially those tainted by magic."
"She is one of them now, so she does not notice it as we do," Siena said.
"There is more," Jasmine interjected quietly. "There is someone else."
"Someone else?" Noah asked sharply, his head turning with a snap to look at her. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It means that she told me, when she offered me a place in her growing party of mayhem makers, that she already has 'a right-hand man'. It was clear what she meant. She has turned another Nightwalker to her perspective. I do not know who or how, but it sounded like a very serious development."
"I should think so! Damn her straight to hell!" Elijah growled ferociously. "Two of them! And if she turns one, then she will be looking for others."
"She will," Jasmine agreed. "She realizes humans are too weak to defeat you, that she needs Nightwalkers on her side. Nightwalkers using magic that makes them more powerful. That is why she let me go, Damien. She wanted me to tell you this. She wanted you all to know you were no longer going to succeed at defeating her followers with such ease."
"It's a mental ploy," Noah agreed with a grim nod. "She is trying to make us afraid. Fear will undermine our strength."
"It's working," Isabella said with a shudder.
The discussion continued, but Jasmine turned to tug Damien closer and whispered into his ear. The Prince excused himself momentarily and led Jasmine away by her arm. Syreena watched them go and tried not to feel slighted by the clearly secretive manner of their departure. She had told herself she would not do things like that, that she would allow him to carry out his friendship with Jasmine in any way he saw fit, save the small conditions she had already discussed with him.
She kept telling herself that as she watched them walk out into the garden.
Damien led Jasmine out of doors where they could be assured of a private discussion, which Jasmine had requested.
"Damien, I have a terrible confession to make to you, one that may make you very angry with me, and justly so. But I have to tell you because there is so much at stake now."
"Very well," he agreed, sitting halfway on a stone wall that lined the courtyard they had entered.
"Ruth took the compendium I was reading with her when she left."
"I see. But she will have just as much access to all the others in the Library, if Anya does not stop her beforehand."
"The difference is, I am ignorant of their importance. I have been aware of the importance of this volume for quite some time now and I cannot ignore the damage it can cause."
"Explain," he encouraged her quietly.
"You set me to the task of finding a precedent for your relationship with that-with Syreena," she corrected herself in time, smiling sheepishly when he lifted a brow at the obvious self-omission. "Well, I found it within the pages of that book."
"How long ago?" he asked, his tone still level, and thereby far more unnerving than anger might have been.
"Days. Since Jinaeri became librarian. But you had already reconciled with the-with Syreena." Jasmine exhaled in frustration. "I told myself you no longer needed the information, but it was wrong of me no matter how you look at it. There are things, terrible and wonderful both, that you should know."
"Let us get to the heart of them, then, shall we?" he said directly.
"Very well. There is precedent for this relationship. In fact, there are ceremonies within this book strictly for the marriage of Vampires to foreign Nightwalkers. Apparently, thousands of years ago, it was a commonplace occurrence. As you suspected, this is where those myths of Vampires changing into different forms originate, because they are the truth. If a Vampire and, for immediate example, a Lycanthrope are attracted to one another and are compatible in their souls, they can engage in a practice called the Exchange. The Exchange is the first step in a ceremony called the Bonding. A wedding, in other words. The Exchange is exactly that. The Vampire feeds from his intended mate. By doing so, he absorbs an aspect of that mate into his makeup forever."
"The raven, in my case."
"Yes. But there is more to it than that. It is a full circle. She must drink of you to complete it. Once that circle is complete, she absorbs an aspect of you. I do not know which one, but it is something that our ancestors were impressed by enough to be more than a little nervous about it." She waved her thoughts off. "I get ahead of myself. I also found out that there is a very good reasoning behind the taboos we have inherited over the ages. While there can only be one Bonding between a Vampire and Nightwalker, there can be a dozen Exchanges. Thousands of them. Do you understand? Your heart will be Bonded to this woman for all eternity once you let her feed from you. Nothing, no force on the earth can change that, save death. The same is reciprocated for her. She is Bonded to you, till death.