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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"Again, for you and the poets, not for me." She paused a beat before relenting. "At least, not soon. I have an enormous task ahead of me, if you recall. I have to help Stephan set up a police force, and I have to coordinate efforts with our ambassadors. Then I have to help advise you on ambassadors for the Shadowdwellers court, as I know you are thinking of sending one. That will leave us with choosing someone to live among the Mistrals. Someone mentally strong enough to overcome the charm of their voices, perhaps musical so they will enjoy their post, but quiet and demure. Well-behaved and shy. Someone who says little, but when they speak has much to say."
"I am glad I am getting a domestic security in place. I think someone is vying for my throne," he teased her, reaching up to chuck her under the chin. "Does this mean you will stay with us, Jas?"
"I will stay at a court," she corrected. "I think you should seat yourself in Romania, Damien. Our homeland. Your holdings there are more than large enough to expand your household in the way you must, and yet has enough distant wings to afford privacy to yourself, me, and any guests you might have. Besides, it is closer to your future bride's homeland. She could fly home for a visit very often that way."
Damien laughed at her sly smile when she made it clear that the more often Syreena flew off, the better it would suit her.
"Promise me one thing?"
"That depends," she responded in true Vampire fashion.
"That if Syreena should prove herself to be adequate to sit by my throne, you will afford her the respect she deserves?"
Jasmine thought about it for only a short moment.
"I will promise you this much. In public, I will always treat her as you wish me to. In my own head, however, I will very likely continue to think of her as a twiggy little twit. It is the best I can do."
"Very well." He chuckled.
"And I have never been shy about arguing my opinion, whether anyone liked it or not."
"I would expect you to continue to do so. An advisor is no good to me if she cannot contradict me."
"Or your Princess. But I will contradict her with great respect," she said with magnanimous charm and a flourishing bow.
Damien laughed at her, then opened an arm and gestured her forward with the flick of two beckoning fingers. Jasmine submitted to the show of affection he wished to give her, and stepped into his hug. She sighed with great relief in spite of herself when she felt him stroke his fingers through her hair just as he always had, as if nothing between them had changed, as if nothing ever would.
It was two hours before dawn when they finally received word of what had happened at the Library. The time passed with unbearable sluggishness for Siena, in spite of the fact that they had been sharing an overwhelming influx of information and ideas thanks to Damien's revelations about the Vampires' history and possible future. Siena did not know if she would have been so readily forthcoming about her domestic problems, but she was quickly understanding why Damien had felt it necessary. The Vampires had always been the first to break ground in issues of peace; at least, once Damien had decided war simply bored him to death. Offering an ambassador for the Shadowdweller court was an astounding risk, but what was more astounding was that they accepted. Siena was just beginning to realize that Malaya and Tristan would be a very interesting pair to get to know, when the airborne messenger from Anya arrived.
Her name was Nita, and Siena recognized her instantly as she transformed from her form of an owl to the pretty, rounded figure of Anya's most favored lieutenant.
She sketched a courteous bow to her Queen, and then again to all the other dignitaries, never once blinking an eye at the remarkable nature of the collection of Nightwalkers before her.
"My Queen," she began immediately, "I have news of the Library."
"You may tell it now." Siena gave leave impatiently, though grateful Nita had given her the opportunity to choose whether she would have preferred to hear it in private.
"By the time we arrived, it had been completely ransacked. Jinaeri reports that-"
"Jinaeri lives?" Siena asked abruptly. She had been tormenting herself for hours for putting such a close friend in such terrible danger.
"She was the lone survivor," Nita admitted regretfully. "It was her form of the lemur that saved her. She could climb to a safe place where she hid herself. She is not a fighter, as you know, so it made sense for her to stay out of the way. The Monks, however, and the others were not so lucky."
"Kelsey?" Damien asked sharply.
"Dead. I am sorry," Nita said softly. "There were four guards, three Monks, and a Mistral besides. I am so sorry for you all."
She waited for several moments as the silence of grief fell over the room.
"Jinaeri tells us that Ruth was not alone. There was a-"
"A male," Jasmine interjected bitterly.
"A Vampire male," Nita corrected.
"A what?" Damien exploded, his calm vanishing completely as he lurched to his feet. "How does she know?"
"Because he overcame the Mistral and tore open her throat, leaving her to bleed to death. Only a powerful Vampire could overcome the Mistral's song and then display fangs in such a usage. They teleported in, attacked, and then ransacked the Library. There was no trail we could follow. That is all we know."
"I can follow her. I am going to kill that-"
"No, Damien. You could not stand up to Ruth alone, never mind Ruth and a Vampire. It is as you said just a few hours ago," Noah argued, "this is something we must handle in a joint effort."
"Ruth and a Vampire is a deadly combination," Jasmine reminded them all. "The more time they have, the worse it will be."
"It is a risk we have to take," Noah said grimly. "This knowledge is too new for any of us to use against her. We have no preparations or skills in place. If we go forward without taking the time we need, we will only be consigning more of us to death. I will sacrifice no more of my people on that psychotic woman. And it is my people who will be in danger from this Vampire the most, if what you say is true. Yes, we are all at risk, but Demons hold the variety of powers the Vampire would desire. The further away we stay, for now, the better. Our time is better spent getting the warning out to each and every member of all our societies. We are so disparate and so dispersed that it will be like lambs to the slaughter to leave them out there with no warning."
"Agreed," Siena said quietly. "My people are easier to contact because we live in groups in dens and packs, but not until hibernation is ended."
"'Dwellers still tend to live in clans as well, but they also love to bicker and it will take some time to get them to agree on actions," Tristan said.
"Common danger has a way of bringing such people together," Jasmine noted.
"One can hope," Elijah said. "Noah is right, we have so many personal upheavals within our own species to handle on top of this threat. And the Mistrals are the most vulnerable. Windsong, your people depend on the stun of your voices to protect you, but this is a Mind Demon and a Vampire, and they are both able to defeat that protection."
"Depending on the skill of the Mistral, yes." Siena spoke up for Windsong, knowing that was what she would wish to get across if she could speak without stunning most of the room into a daze. In the future, they would have to set up a telepathic interpreter for the Bard and the Siren so they could communicate better without risking putting everyone into limbo. "There are very few of us who can defeat the charm of someone of Windsong's skill. Damien…maybe Jasmine, though I do not know her skill level as a telepath."
Damien began to pace the room in uncharacteristic impatience as they spoke, drawing Syreena's worried gaze along with him over his repetitive path around the backs of their chairs.
"I cannot tolerate inaction for the amount of time you are speaking of," Damien said suddenly. "It would be unconscionable to let this opportunity slip away when she can be traced, now…today."
"Traced and then what? Battle her immeasurable power as well as that of an unknown Vampire? A power that just murdered seven Nightwalkers in one sitting, four of whom we know were excellent fighters?" Siena made a sound of equal impatience. "I feel as you do, Damien, but I have lost too many good people to this sick bitch just as Noah has, and I am learning quickly that chasing after her on impulse never gets us anywhere."
"It got rid of Mary last time," Syreena said.
"Almost at the cost of your life not a week ago, Syreena," her sister retorted. "Personally, my vote is for Damien's original idea. Cast out a well-trained net of people. She is not a subtle creature. She will trip over us eventually."
"Hopefully before she gains enough power to slaughter us by the hundreds," Damien said sarcastically. "Or a larger following. My idea was meant for future occurrences, not for ignoring the present." He stopped suddenly, a single brow lifting in sudden thought. "But let us say for a moment that we wish this sort of collaboration to work in the future. What better way to prove it to our followers than if we, all in this room and those who are most powerful that we know, go now to take care of Ruth once and for all?"
"And risk the one group of leaders in several millennia to manage to find peace with one another? If any one of us dies, Damien, the ramifications will ripple back through an entire people, and I hate to say so, but this calm is too young, too immature to survive that right now."
Damien looked at Syreena with cold eyes as the sound argument came past her lips. It had been a knee-jerk reaction for her to say what she was thinking no matter how it might be received. She had gotten into the habit of speaking her mind against even Siena's authority. It wasn't until she was on the receiving end of his displeasure that she realized how he might take such a thing from someone he hoped to get support from. But she could not bring herself to rescind any part of the remark, not even for love of him. There was too much at stake, and she had faith that even he would know that eventually.
At some future time when he was not feeling the death of Kelsey and the defection of another so keenly.
"Meanwhile," she continued more gently, "we should take the other actions we discussed, as well as a few others. The Library must be relocated, what is left of it. It is a trove in which there is sure to be treasures we still do not know anything about. Ruth was looking for only one book, but in her usual shortsightedness left thousands of others behind that may mean just as much, if not more. That is how we must protect ourselves right now. We must guard that knowledge for the sake of our future generations who may one day have as great a need for it as we are learning we have."
"So we have an agenda," Malaya said firmly. "A very large one. First, we must all learn to perfectly police our own to the best of our ability. I speak, of course, for the Vampires and us 'Dwellers mostly. We are the ones who fall short there."
"Second," Tristan picked up, "a full ambassadorial exchange in all courts so we learn about one another. The truth. Not speculation or prejudice."
"Third, the protection of the Library," Syreena said. "A communal place, so it will be a location where it can be shared with ease and peace, but one that is a hundred times better protected by all of us."
"Fourth," Damien said at last, his resignation all too evident as he conceded to the majority, "the alert of all our members to the threats we face, and the formation of the multicultural net based on Jasmine's idea of domestic Vampire policing. A Nightwalker version of the United Nations, I suppose you could call it."
"Policing, preparation, protection, and peacefulness," Syreena alliterated with a small smile.
"Let us add 'propaganda' to that," Noah suggested. "A regular gathering of this very kind every month, in the open, well publicized, so that those who follow us understand what our goals are. This time, I intend to do everything I can to see that Nightwalkers remain on speaking terms all around."
"Agreed," Siena said quickly.
"Agreed," Tristan and Malaya echoed.
All the others agreed at exactly the same time, and it was vibrated into them by the musical pitches of the Mistrals' voices.
Syreena walked slowly down the empty hallway of the old Romanian compound. Damien's homeland holdings were enormous, by aboveground standards. There were catacombs as well, which only added to the maze of stone, both natural and built up, rather reminiscent of Siena's holdings in their turning and twisting confusion of pathways.
Jasmine had gone back to the California manse and would return the next night. Damien had left to hunt quickly before dawn arrived. He had first guided Syreena to this place and told her to wait within the walls, that she would be safe there.
She was, unless she could be threatened by cobwebs, of which there were plenty. The main house, a cross between a castle and some kind of institutional rectangle of endless rooms, was not in any disrepair. It was clear that Damien did not neglect his property, even when he spent decades away from it. Still, it had not had a two-legged visitor for quite some time, by the look of it. If not for her still-healing arm, she would have turned into the falcon and flown the centers of the looping hallways, under and over the webbing that seemed to reach out and cling to her from everywhere at once.
The arm would be perfectly healed in another day or so, and a few cobwebs were not going to hurt her. Besides, she would never admit that the things just gave her the willies.
She had an image to uphold, after all.
"Oh yuck," she complained as she ran face first into one of the silken traps. She pulled it from her face and hair, frantically trying to shake it from her fingers.