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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"What is it?"
He looked at her as if surprised by the question. "Nothing. No, that is not true. It is nothing bad. Relax, sweetheart, we are safe here."
"How do you know that?"
"Trust me. We are surrounded by Vampires, Syreena. They know I have returned. They would never let anything make it this far inside our county."
"I thought Vampires did not congregate in the same areas."
"Romania is the homeland. It is different here. The Vampires of this county have been affiliated with my bloodlines for generations. You may not think so, but even we honor certain loyalties. This is why Jasmine wanted me to come here. She knew it would protect us from all threats to surround myself with known allies."
"So then, what were you listening for?"
"To. I was listening to a telepathic message. Forgive me, I did not mean to get distracted."
"Never mind that." She waved him off. "What kind of message? Must I ask you for everything? You are so stingy with information sometimes."
"I suppose I am. I am not used to…well, never mind. It was just a greeting of sorts. A very old-fashioned one. It actually has no linguistic equivalent." He paused to think about how to best explain it. "It is our version of a call-out. An 'all's well,' so to speak. I have not heard it in so long, I almost forgot it existed. It heralds the dawn, marks the time when all should be accounted for and safe. If anyone answers, it means something is wrong. Out of habit and respect, you listen in case there is an answer."
"That is very…well, it's like a pack cry. It's very Lycanthropic."
"We are not so different as we sometimes think, our two peoples."
"I am learning that. I-"
She broke off as the room spun out from under her suddenly. She made a sickly noise and instantly lay back down over him. His hand went into her hair, the other against her cheek with concern.
"What is it?"
"Just a little dizzy," she said as lightly as she could, considering the turning of her stomach. "There you go, this is the part of you I am doomed to get. The off-balance part."
"Do not joke when you are seriously not feeling well," he scolded her gently. "I hope we have not been reckless, doing this Exchange with so little knowledge."
"We have been," she admitted, resting her cheek on his chest and trying to focus on the candle on the bedside table. Closing her eyes only seemed to make it worse. "But I knew that before we did it. I was prepared to accept the con-"
She broke off again, this time with a shudder that flowed over her entire body.
Damien sat up with her still clinging to him. There was a helplessness in her grasp that troubled him. He gingerly turned her in his hold so that he was cradling her in his lap. He braced her forehead to his chin, hoping it would help the dizziness that was clearly not getting any better.
"It will pass," she murmured, though less with conviction so much as with hopefulness.
"You know, it occurs to me you have not eaten much since you have been dwelling with those of us who do not eat. That could be why."
"Yes. You are right. Of course."
She took a breath, and then passed out cold in his arms.
Damien was trapped.
The sun was up and he was in a barren household with no assistance, no supplies, and no way of obtaining any of the above. Syreena was still breathing, but in soft, shallow bursts that were more unnerving than they were reassuring. He had laid her out on the bed, succeeding in finding a reasonably clean sheet in a nearby cedar trunk in order to cover her. He could feel she was losing body heat, but could find no explanation for it other than the one he dreaded.
He had survived his part of the Exchange, but it had been a fairly close dance with the beyond, as he recalled. Though Jasmine had told him that there was proof of it being a regular success between breeds in the past, Syreena was nothing like an ordinary Nightwalker. What if her mutations had made this a deadly choice for her? Damien did not think he could bear to live if anything happened to her because of this.
"Okay, relax," he said aloud to himself.
She was going through what could be termed a catastrophic change in her physical makeup, just as he had done. It would simply take a little time for her to recover. It had only taken him a day to overcome the same effect. Perhaps that was all he needed to do, remain patient for a gathering of hours.
The reassurance helped to keep him from panicking, but it did little to relax him.
Damien spent the remaining daylight hours keeping vigil over her, watching her very closely, to the point where he knew exactly how many breaths she would take in an hour. He recovered his pants from their discarded clothing and searched the household, but he had been right to assume nothing of any usefulness would be found there. Unsuccessful in that venture, he took to pacing the room.
About five hours into the ordeal, she began to breathe a little easier and seemed to slip more into a form of sleep than a state of unconsciousness.
This was what finally relaxed him a little, enough so that he could settle down beside her instead of circuiting the room helplessly. He gathered her up against him, cocooning her body with his in every way he could manage.
The Prince closed his eyes, but he did not sleep. He simply listened to the way she breathed.
About three hours before dusk, she began to get restless. It started with a few nervous twitches, but then her central nervous system seemed to take over. She twisted and turned as if she were having a brutal nightmare. She made low noises deep in her throat like a small wounded animal. He bore this torture for nearly an hour, cursing himself the entire time for putting her through such a terrible experience. It gave him no comfort when he recalled that she had made the choice willingly.
In the later part of that hour, he wished Jasmine had never told him about the Exchange. This was because the restlessness gave way to petite seizures, and then escalated to worse ones until he thought her delicate spine would snap in two from the arching of her body.
Nothing signifying love and bonding should be so painful, he thought with anger.
He forgot that he had not minded so much in the aftermath of his own painful process. All he could think about, all he could see, was the woman he loved suffering.
At last, an hour before dusk, she fell into a deep sleep. So deep that he could not even sense her dreaming. Her body temperature returned to normal; so did her breathing. The perspiration that had coated her and soaked the first sheet had evaporated by the time he tucked her beneath a second one.
He rested beside her again, and again he did not sleep.
Damien closed his eyes as he settled back against the headboard of the huge bed. He acted as Syreena's pillow, her back in a reclining repose against his chest and her head nestled securely beneath his chin. He could feel the soft movements of her hair against his skin as the restless ends seemed to seek a comfortable position.
Damien did not notice that the gray stubble that fuzzed over her altered hairline was growing, at quite a rapid pace. The cool gray hair darkened as it lengthened, the living strands spilling over Syreena's cheek. Then, with every delicate pulsation of blood that circuited through her hair, the brown side deepened in color as well. For the first time since recovering from her illness as a young girl, her hair came as close to having a uniform color as it had ever had. In the end, however, it was all a marvelous charcoal color, not quite the pitch black of Damien's hair, but nearly so. The distinction that remained, however, was the clear streaks of dark gray, dark brown, and pure black, that plumed back from her hairline just above her forehead, then fountained in three separate directions down the full length of her hair.
When Syreena opened her eyes at last, it was with the overwhelming sense that it was past dusk. All Nightwalkers could sense that on one level or another, but it seemed somehow sharper to her than usual. She did not feel well rested, but neither did she feel the exhaustion she probably should have. She took a moment, resting contentedly against Damien, ridiculously happy to find herself waking with his arms around her.
All traces of the dizziness that had plagued her earlier were gone, and it was a relief. The soreness had faded with her healing time, though she suspected once she moved she would find a few tender spots that would still be under reconstruction.
She had no idea how accurate her metaphor would turn out to be.
Damien felt her busy thoughts bumping around his extrasensory awareness before she even moved, opening his eyes quickly to look down at her. The change and growth in her hair was dramatic, and it took him several beats to absorb the impact of it. He was barely recovered from it enough to tell her about it when she looked up at him, exposing her eyes.
Her eyes. Eyes which had become the uniform color of charcoal, peppered with gray, brown, and deeper blackness. It was like looking down into intricate Italian marble.
It was, for a moment, like looking into the eyes of a stranger.
But then she smiled up at him, and she was instantly all Syreena. Changes notwithstanding, she was the same sharp, beautiful, tenacious woman he had fallen in love with.
And she was smiling.
He did not realize what a relief it was until he actually exhaled in release.
"I think I might have an idea of what you are going to get from me," he told her wryly.
"Oh? Care to share?"
He thought for a moment, and then lifted her with himself as he leaned to the side and looked over the edge of the bed. She snickered as he tilted her to reach for something. When he came back to an upright position, it was with the poniard in his hand. He held the knife up for her, turning the flat of the blade toward her face. She gave him a puzzled look.
"Look into the blade."
She did, and saw her slightly distorted reflection.
Syreena gasped, grasping his wrist to better angle the makeshift mirror. She could see the darkness of her hair in patches and pieces, but her eyes were quite clear.
It was a very childlike exclamation of clear delight, and he was more than a little bemused by it. He had thought she might be disturbed to see herself further altered. It had not occurred to him that the new uniformity of color might be pleasing to her. As he thought about it, however, he realized why it would be. Though it was all still very unique in coloring, there was nothing about it that marked her as a stand-apart being, not like the harlequin looks she had sported most of her life had done.
She kept tilting and retilting the knife, thrusting the inadequate mirror into all sorts of positions so she could see various parts of her new look.
"I wonder what it means," she said softly.
"What it means?"
"The black, Damien. Remember? Lycanthrope hair colors to signify the form they take."
"Unlikely. I gave that to you. Seems a hard chance that you could give it back." She sat up away from him further, scrambling for the edge of the bed, her feet hitting the dusty floor for only a second before his hand closed around her upper arm and pulled her back into the bed with him.
"You have just gone through a radical physical transformation that kept me up all day terrified for your health and safety, and you think I am going to let you trot around like nothing happened?"
"Damien, I am not the type to lie in bed all weak and moaning. I feel fine, and I want to…"
She broke off, reaching for the splint and bandages on her arm. After an all too brief touch test for pain, she tore the restriction away, throwing the shreds down onto the floor. She flexed her fingers and her arm, turning a brilliant smile on him.
"I want to fly!"
But she had escaped his grasp and was rushing across the suite, entering their private sitting room and running to the window, which she immediately levered open. Damien flew off the bed after her.
"Syreena! What if you have lost the falcon for some reason?"
"I haven't. I would know."
For a terrifying, breathless second, she ran at the window and dove out of it in human form. They were many stories up, so Damien's heart seemed to leap out of his chest after her. He ran to the window, gripping the frame, almost afraid to look. But he had not gotten where he was in life by being cowed by new and dangerous things, so he looked after her immediately.
Her streamlined body sprang outward in an arc, passing the top of it as she formed an arrow out of herself. She began to plummet toward the ground, diving toward it as if it were water and not mountainous rock, her long, marblized hair fluttered in sheeted snaps as she finally spread her arms wide.
It took only a blink of time before she flashed into the form that resembled a harpy, although the way she caught wind in her dark wings and buoyant feathers made her swoop elegantly from her death dive in a graceful sweep that was reminiscent of an angel instead of that mythical creature of hostility. She reeled, climbing upward now, using the powerful draw of her wings to skim back up the stone of the wall she had leapt from. Damien had to jerk back sharply to avoid cracking heads with her as she speared past the window.
Moonlight glinted off sleek, gray-black feathers as she whipped past. He grinned widely as he leaned back into the window frame to watch her take to the night sky. Her fly-by not withstanding, she clearly took to the air as naturally as she breathed. He envied her that ease for a moment, then tossed aside the sense of limitation and snapped himself into the form of the raven so he could join her.
Just as the raven cleared the building, his partner changed form once again, into the falcon that was so familiar to her. Only instead of the multifeathered brown they were used to seeing, she was the colors of her new hair tinting. Her back was striped black, her underbelly a soft, dark gray, and all the rest of her that dusty charcoal color.