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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
After Syreena had left, the indignant female Vampire got to her feet in fury. She marched up to the others.
"Do you believe the nerve of that foreigner? Who does she think she is? Mate? Damien's mate? Damien would never bind himself to a non-Vampire!"
"Shut up, Oria," one of the men snapped impatiently. "What do you know of Damien? The Prince has been gone for a very long time, certainly longer than you have been alive."
"You better leave, girl, if you know what's good for you," a second worker said. "If she's telling the truth, Damien will have your head for mouthing off to her."
Outnumbered now, Oria suddenly realized she no longer had a choice in the matter. The shapechanger had won, she had lost, and there was very little she could do about it.
So with a flounce of outrage, she left the compound.
When Damien still had not returned after an hour, Syreena began to question where he might have gone to. She did not know his habits all that well, but he had not struck her as the sort to dawdle over a hunt when he had so many things to do. Jasmine had not returned, either, and that only served to treble the Princess's concerns. She left the main halls and rooms, leaving them to a measurably subdued household staff. After the incident with Oria, they were more agreeable and inclined to do as she asked, so she did not worry about leaving them to complete their tasks without cracking a whip over them every minute.
Syreena made her way to Jasmine's new quarters. Perhaps they would reveal a clue as to where they had both disappeared to.
What she found upon opening the door was a very young Vampire girl, carefully folding and hanging clothes in Jasmine's wardrobe. The small girl, just barely a woman by her looks, went wide-eyed when she saw Syreena. She sketched an immediate curtsy to the Princess, which made her smile. It was the first act of respect from any of her new staff.
"Hello, young one," Syreena greeted her gently. "Do you know where your mistress is?"
"Standing before me, miss," the girl answered instantly.
Syreena smiled at her eagerness to please and not offend.
"Perhaps. I suspect that Jasmine will expect you to be loyal to her over me, however, and I will not hold that against you if you are in conflict. What is your name?"
"Lucia, have you seen my…your Prince?"
"Yes, miss. He left with my mistress a couple of hours past."
"Do you know where he has gone?"
Now Lucia hesitated, the contest in her thoughts clear in her expression.
"Lucia, I only wish to know because…because I am concerned that they have not yet returned. If my concerns are unfounded, merely say so and I will believe you."
"I cannot say so," Lucia breathed softly. "I am not supposed to know where they have gone, but I do."
"Would you care to explain that?" Syreena asked as patiently as she could.
"I was in the hall and overheard my mistress-Jasmine, I mean, speaking in another room to the Prince. They have gone to discover the identity of a Vampire they were calling a traitor."
Syreena felt as though her heart had suddenly stopped beating. She knew instantly what Lucia was speaking of, even if the girl herself did not.
"I thank you for your directness, Lucia."
"And I thank you, miss," the girl returned quickly. "The others will never say so, but they have longed for Damien to return to the homeland. If you are the reason why that has been possible, then we all owe you thanks. I know so many who have missed his attentiveness to this region."
Syreena nodded in a combination of acknowledgment and farewell. She backed out of the room, her thoughts full of emotion and racing speculation.
Oddly enough, she focused on the more inane portion of information first. She had not realized that Damien had not been home in so long. Even though she had been faced with the layers of dust coating all the surfaces of his dwelling, it appeared that this had occurred over a much longer time than she had originally assumed. From what Lucia said, it had been long enough for Vampires to feel neglected, something that would probably take a great deal of time to occur in a species who marked time in large increments. She wondered why that was, and what had driven or kept Damien away until he'd had no real choice but to return.
And then the more serious reality and realization struck her. Damien and Jasmine had gone off to do exactly what he had promised her only hours ago that he would not do. He had claimed to understand how irrational an act it would be to risk himself in such a way, and had sworn to think about her needs and feelings before making such reckless choices ever again.
Syreena felt a sense of betrayal on top of a deeply driven fear. She wanted to believe that he and Jasmine could care for themselves, but how could she trust that when she could not even trust him to keep his word on so important a promise? How could she live the rest of her life with someone who double-talked her, then waited until her back was turned before doing exactly what he wished anyway? How could she securely believe anything he said if these were the things he would do?
It hurt to think he would do something like this. She had so wanted to believe him, had found it so easy to do so once she had made up her mind about where she belonged. Had she so misjudged his character? Had they all? Was her judgment so poor all of a sudden?
No. She had to try not to be that hard on herself and on him. Damien was passionately disturbed by the idea of a traitor amongst his people. He was used to them being somewhat untrustworthy, but only in certain matters and up to a certain point. Anything beyond that certain point, well, it was clear that he took such a betrayal very personally. Syreena knew Siena's reaction would very likely be quite similar in passion and strength had this sort of thing occurred in her court.
However, Syreena would have advised caution to her sister, and her sister would have listened to her and obeyed, trusting her wisdom on the matter, or she would have put her foot down without giving opportunity for arguments. Siena would not have made a pretense of agreeing with the Princess, and then snuck out behind her back like a naughty child dodging curfew.
Syreena would be damned if she was going to let Damien think he could be this capricious with his promises to her. She could accept his Vampiric ways, from boredom to the need for strange relationships and amusements, but she would never accept duplicitousness.
It only took her a few minutes to conclude where they would have started the kind of hunt they were on. She ran through the stone rooms until she found one with a window that opened outward into the cold night.
She leapt over the sill instantly.
Syreena winged her way toward the cavern Library with all speed. They had a good head start on her. She had no idea what she was going to do when she caught up with them, if she was even able to do so, but she was working on an impetuous flood of emotion and determination that dictated her actions. She would take this journey one leg at a time, deciding her actions on the fly.
Syreena's sister was the huntress of the family, and as such was the more skilled tracker. The Princess's forms were more for speed and visual acuity needed once a target was already achieved. Syreena was debating whether to recruit her sister into this venture even as she alit outside of the entrance to the Library.
She immediately became aware of the silence and the mess scattered from the interior room into the outer caverns. The Library was lit by little more than a single smoldering torch, and from what she could see, it had been hastily excavated of all the rest of its inventory, the furnishings as well. What had once been ancient orderliness and craftsmanship marred only by touches of must and mildew was now torn and tattered chaos.
She could smell blood, all kinds, all of it bearing great power even in its spillage. She hesitated on the threshold of that place now that it had seen such violent death. It was not because she was squeamish, but because it felt as though it should be treated with respect. There was a feeling like the place had been raided, a tomb pilfered by grave robbers.
Of course, that was not truly the case. It was little more than her imagination and the remnants of the battle that had stolen precious lives.
Outside of the taint of the dead and the awesome amount of variety left by the Lycanthropes that had plundered the Library, there was the fresh scent of Vampires.
One of whose aroma was as familiar to her senses now as her own was.
She had almost been hoping Lucia had been mistaken, hoping she would not find any trace of them having been there, but of course it had been a foolish pipe dream to think so. Damien was passionate about his people, apparently even more than he was passionate about her.
She pushed aside her disappointment and crouched down in the darkness to seek out his path.
She was not looking for anything with actual use of her eyes; it was more like a visualization of a trail made by the collection of small pieces of data through her varied senses. Syreena discarded the extraneous information, including Jasmine's notable trail, and focused on her mate.
They had walked out of the caverns together.
That was all well and good, but would she be able to track them in flight?
It was the strength of Damien's trail that made her believe that she could. Either he was making absolutely no effort to conceal his actions, or she was developing a knack for sensing where he had been. Add that to her natural affinity for detecting things while airborne, and she might very well be in luck.
She quickly set out after him.
It turned out that tracing Damien and Jasmine was far easier than she would have ever expected it to be. Of course, they really had no reason to hide their trail even if Ruth or one of her cohorts decided to backtrack them for some reason. But then Syreena realized that if Ruth backtracked them, it would mean she was the victor in whatever contest was taking place, and it was quickly an unbearable thought. It made her fly all the faster after him.
Syreena's advantage was that she was following a fresh trail, unlike Damien and Jasmine, who were tracking one nearly twenty-four hours old. It made her able to travel much faster than they had. She prayed it was enough to get her to them before they got themselves into any trouble.
Her heart began to pound with anxiety as she realized they were once again heading toward France and Mistral territories. It was understandable that she was apprehensive, she reasoned with herself, because she had experienced so much pain and trauma the last time she had been in the area. However, her self-psychoanalysis did little to soothe her frantic heart or her mind. The idea of Damien exposing himself to the dangers of that psychotic woman was near devastating.
Syreena watched more carefully now, flying low to the ground, skimming over and under treetops in whatever manner would keep her best concealed. She knew she was nearing Brise Lumineuse. She also realized the trail would end very soon. Ruth had a recent motivation, whatever it was, for skulking around in Mistral lands, and it was very likely she was still there in pursuit of her purposes.
That is, provided the information in the text she had stolen from Jasmine had not redirected her passions. Ruth had already recruited a Vampire and been to Vampire territory. What was to say that she would not end up there again, quite soon, pressing for more Nightwalkers as followers?
Syreena was making herself sick and a little bit light-headed with such thoughts. She lighted onto a branch for a moment, nervously shaking out feathers and rearranging them while she gathered a couple of breaths and some new fortitude.
She was close now, she could tell that. Very close.
Syreena was suddenly afraid to move any closer to the two she tracked. She was not stupid, after all. Jasmine and Damien had mental abilities that would protect them from Ruth's detection. If she flew into that situation and the Vampires were hiding or using stealth for some reason, she would give them away by her thoughts alone.
She realized then that she was just as guilty as Damien was for not thinking this through. It served to make her even angrier with him. If he needed assistance, how would she know? How would she be of any help to him like this? If they made it out of this situation in one piece, she would kill him herself.
She closed her eyes and tried to calm her thoughts and her breathing. If she kept on as she was, she would broadcast her presence to anyone skilled enough to sense her. Of course, as the falcon she was impossible to discern from other animals, unless anyone got close enough to see the collar around her neck that was half hidden in feathers.
When she was quite a bit calmer, she was able to use logic and her own refined senses to make the most of her vantage point. She peered through the darkness in the direction of the Vampire duo's paths. She took off from one branch and glided through the shadows and leaves until her talons caught another. The change in position was perfectly noiseless, and the bare branch of her roost was hardly disturbed by her careful landing.
Her silence of movement was what allowed her to hear the unmistakable sound of wings pushing through air. The little heart in the falcon's breast picked up in tempo immediately and she used her sharp sight to pick through the trees, branches, and night sky. The glide of black wings in relief against the glow of the moon was perhaps one of the most valuable sights she could ever remember seeing.
The raven spiked down from the sky, diving toward her with impressive speed and markedly increased accuracy. One day soon he would attain a level of skill that would make him indiscernible from Lycanthropes or Mistrals who were partly birds for all of their lives. However, the slight wobble to his glide as he aimed for the same roost she sat upon told her that there was no mistaking the inexperienced Vampire.
He buzzed her, wing tips flapping over her beak and eyes in clear pique and admonishment. She jumped off the branch, winging down to the forest floor, half-human by the time her feet touched the ground, and fully so before he had even alit beside her.