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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"But the terror comes from the Vampire, Damien. The Vampire who feeds on Nightwalkers can gather their powers like a child gathers toys, adding to his inventory over and over again, taking on aspects of them all until he finally holds them all like a complete collection. Do you understand," she breathed fiercely, "what I am saying? A Vampire can become indestructible. Nothing, no power on all the earth, could ever stop him if he decided to obtain all of that power. The choice to stay away from feeding on Nightwalkers was a moral one. Our ancestors gathered together and swore to teach their children to be terrified of taking the blood of Nightwalkers. They made fables and stories and scared them out of their wits. They controlled future generations because they had seen what had happened when it was allowed to be common knowledge."
"Damn," Damien uttered hoarsely, shock clearly written over his shadowed features. She heard the striking apprehension in that single word, and knew the feeling well.
"It was a sacrifice, Damien, with ramifications. Yes, they succeeded in what they wanted, but I have come to realize that this is why we are the way we are. When they took away that special joining from us, they robbed us of the love and depth of emotion that comes with it. They bred out of us the opportunity to have what I see you now have with this woman you have chosen. This is what saddens us, Damien. This is why we cannot stay aboveground for unbearable loneliness; this is why we do not wed. We eliminated our mating pool, threw away the switches that would turn on our greatest emotions. A sacrifice made to keep us from destroying innocents and others if we decided to become monsters of power.
"This is why we have so few children. It takes great depth of love and desire to want to raise children. We have children, but we never raise them. They just…sort of grow up. We have sex, but no love. No true pleasure, though we seek it constantly with indiscriminant sensuality. We seek, we yearn, we want, but never knew what we longed for all of these centuries. We"-she swallowed painfully-"we threw away our happiness right along with our fear."
"Just like the Demons did when they destroyed the Druids," Damien murmured.
"Except they did not know what they were consigning themselves to. I think our forbearers did. I am not certain," she added when he looked at her for clarification. "There were a lot of couched euphemisms. They wrote down the history, however, with the hopes that one day we would be mature enough as a species to handle the responsibilities again. To mate without opening up the opportunity to criminal exploitation. You did this thing, the Exchange, by accident. Can you imagine if others knew what they could do on purpose?"
"Jas, do you know what you are asking me to do here?" he demanded roughly. "You are asking me to make an impossible decision!"
"I know that! Why do you think I kept this to myself for so long? I did not want to do this to you! But now that Ruth has that book, I have no choice. If she reads it…"
"If she finds a Vampire she can lure to her side," he added painfully.
"Then we will have much more to deal with than an insane Demon who uses magic. And then there is the matter of the rest of the information at stake."
"Yes, I know," he snapped bitterly. "Do I watch my people continue to walk this world suffering the trouble and pain of hearts that can feel loneliness and agony and desperate need without the relief of love and joy and satisfaction? Do I give them the freedom to know the love I have been blessed with? How can any one man be allowed the right to make that kind of choice? How can I decide the fates of so many?"
"That is your duty as Prince," Jasmine said.
"No, it is not! A government has no right to dictate the pursuit of happiness to anyone! And this is not just my people we are talking about anymore, Jasmine. The people of those leaders in that room we just left are affected as well. How many times have we heard about the loneliness and solitude of those Nightwalker species outside of our own? What if that dreadful, despairing condition is because they are deserving of Vampire mates who will not come anywhere near them?"
"Demon mates who will not come near them," she added thoughtfully, clearly thinking of Elijah and Siena.
Damien could say nothing more for a moment, just her strangled name. The ramifications of these findings were endless and extraordinary. This was not the first hint they had gotten that the separate races of the Nightwalkers had once, long ago, belonged together as one. The Library was the largest hint of all. A combined effort between clans that had been notorious for collaborating on nothing. Then he thought about the Shadowdwellers behind them, the leaders of a race that they had believed to have no political structure to speak of, sitting in representation.
"Jas…do you realize…" He paused to swallow in nervous reflex. "Do you realize this is the first time in all of my life that none of the Nightwalkers have been at war? There was always something. Someone always fighting someone else. Since Siena was crowned, the only war we could claim was a cold war between all the races and the Shadowdwellers. There has not been an overt hostile action from them that I can remember in several decades, but we all have suspected them of this and that, of covert mischief and tactics. But I look at their Chancellors and I realize that they may have been scapegoats for too many things. Too many other explanations that were too hard to figure out when so easy an explanation was available."
"Do not jump so far ahead," Jasmine scolded gently. "What is your point?"
"That maybe it is time we stopped making things Vampire business, Demon business, and Lycanthrope business, and started making things Nightwalker business." He looked at her with serious eyes. "This thing you have told me is not Vampire business, Jasmine. It is Nightwalker business. It affects all of them, as well as us."
"Damien!" she whispered harshly. "You cannot be thinking of walking in there and telling them something like this! They could see us all as a potential threat when you tell them of the part about the Exchange and the power we can get!"
"Perhaps. And perhaps they would be right to do so. Just as they have the right to see if we are hiding the hearts of desperately needed and sought-for mates, Jas. I know you couldn't care less, that you find all of this emotional stuff to be a bother and a weakness, but I promise you, it is not. It is a strength. It is a mighty power to be loved and to love."
"I see. A mighty power that makes you want to toast yourself in the sun like a Pop-Tart?" she said with bitter sarcasm.
"Or drink poison in the family crypt, or betray the King of Camelot, or trade feet for fins and watch your love marry another. Yes, Jasmine, all of those terrible things and more. But when it works, when it is given the chance to be completed, you get the Imprinting, you get the Bonding, and you get marriages that last from one life to the next. Partnership, friendship, laughter and tickling and lovemaking." He had reached for her hand with the passion of his speech. "You get to stay above the ground, Jasmine, and learn something new each and every day so that it never gets boring. You are able to protect and care for something so much more than yourself, and so much more worthy, too. Would you never want to know what that is like?"
"I would never again want to know the pain I have experienced this past week when I knew I was losing you, Damien! Can you imagine if I had to suffer being in love and going through that? I cannot bear the thought!"
But there was something about the way he spoke about his newfound love, the passion and the truth and the confidence he exuded, that made her long to know what he was speaking of. She suddenly wished to know what it was that she was missing.
Always. Every day of her life she had known something was missing. She more than others, more sensitive than so many others, falling into that dark despair over and over again and never knowing why.
What if this was why? She had said so earlier, but she had not truly considered what it would mean. She had not realized what could be gained. She had been too afraid of it as she had watched Damien move away from her.
What was more, she had been jealous of it.
"Damn you, Damien," she whispered, throwing off his hand and moving away.
The Prince watched her back for a moment, knowing what her conflicts were. He had run that gauntlet himself several times this past week. There was only one truth to all of this, as far as he was concerned, one thing that it all came down to.
He would go to the ends of the earth to see Jasmine as happy as he was now.
He would risk everything for that.
"I would risk Syreena if it meant you would be happy," he said softly.
Jasmine turned quickly at that, her arms folding defensively beneath her breasts as she faced him. "No, you would not. You would die before seeing anything happen to her."
"It would not be the risk you are talking about, Jasmine. I meant, I would risk going public with her. I would dare to set her on my throne beside me for everyone to see, making an example of her, taking on every threat in our world and others, if it meant giving you and the others I am responsible for the happiness that I now know. I mean that there is no choice here, Jasmine. I was right the first time. I have no right to choose for others. All I can do is speak the truth and let others decide for themselves what will happen next." He took a breath. "My responsibility will be to check those who would do evil with this knowledge. I will have to set the precedent among us that the Demons have set for themselves. I will have to select someone to enforce those who would abuse the privilege of the Exchange."
"Damien, that is an impossible task!"
"Not for the right person," he argued. "Not for someone with the right senses, the proper skills."
"Jacob and Isabella were born with the senses needed to constantly monitor their own. We have no one like that."
"We all have that. We have the skill to sense those of us who have power," he countered.
"Hunting after the fact. After an Exchange has already taken place? That is deadly work."
"I never said it would be easy. Between that, however, and education, perhaps this will be conceivable."
"It is madness," she muttered, "but…"
"But?" he encouraged.
"Perhaps," she said thoughtfully, "if it was not just one of us. Not an Enforcer per se. There should be a leader; however, it should be like…like Stephan," she said suddenly, the idea forming quickly. "Damien, Stephan has an entire army of us at his disposal. Since we are no longer at war with anyone, perhaps we should give them a new purpose. Or a dual purpose."
"We cannot leave ourselves without an army, just in case this peace thing you are so gung-ho over does not work out. However, since peace has prevailed, they have languished with nothing but training on their schedules for decades. For centuries, really. Frankly, I think they have gotten lazy. Giving them domestic duties might just give them something to do. Something that will also keep more of them out of trouble. You know the best Vampire is an occupied Vampire. Stephan has always chosen his soldiers very carefully. Dedicated, honest, excellent fighters. If we spread them out over selected territories, Vampire, Nightwalker, and human, it would be like…like…"
"A sensor net," he supplied for her. "A monitoring system spread out to catch unlawful Vampires before they go too far."
"Better than that. Unlawful Nightwalkers in general. Of course, we would not want to harm foreigners, but we could alert their homeland government."
"You see? This is what I am talking about. If all six Nightwalker species brainstormed like this, together, we could easily protect ourselves and each other from the Ruths of our worlds. Frankly, there is probably a version of Ruth, or several of them, from each one of our societies. The one who always manages to stay out of range of our usual policing methods."
"Like Nico. You were fortunate, Damien, that he was the one killed in that fight." She smiled slowly, her eyes lighting softly in the moonlight. "Keeping these warriors around you domestically might not be such a bad idea, either. I realize you have always been capable of taking care of yourself, and that it is not our way to keep an official court, but perhaps it is overdue. This game of King of the Mountain we play for your throne is due for a change. Maybe you should keep a court, with all the appropriate protections, discouraging those who would harm you…and Syreena, for that matter. They will use her to get to you."
"I know. They will be in for a surprise, because she does not lie down easily. But I would prefer to eliminate exposing her to that kind of grief. Especially if…" He broke off and looked at the ground, kicking at a stone as he smiled sheepishly. "Especially if we wish to start the family I know she longs for." He looked up at Jasmine, his pleasure and gratitude very clear in his eyes. "Which I now believe is possible, thanks to you, Jasmine. I would hardly think weddings outside of the species would have been as acceptable as you claim they were if children were not possible."
"That had not occurred to me," she admitted, a smile of her own appearing. "But then again, I do not have the motivation you do to consider these things. You surprise me, Damien. You have never had children."
"Neither have you," he pointed out.
"We were not the parental type. I still am not."
"So long as you allow the opportunity for that to change, Jasmine."
"Pregnancy?" Jasmine shuddered theatrically. "Perish the thought. Save it for yourself. Or rather, her who will play dam to your sire."
"And what of falling in love?"