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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Damien's form unfurled from the raven's and she was immediately relieved to see him in his usual perfect health and strength.
"Are you mad?" he demanded.
"I was about to ask you the same question! What in the Goddess's name are you doing here, Damien?"
"Later," he barked sharply, silencing her with a sharp hand gesture. "You are too close to Ruth. If I can sense you, she most certainly can. You need to leave before-"
"Before I get to watch her break your idiot neck?" she cut in with a snap. "Before I really lose my temper and kill you for her?"
"This is neither the time or the place for this, Syreena!"
"Precisely my point! But if you truly agreed with me on that, you would not have come here after we purposely discussed how stupid and foolhardy it would be to go after her!"
"I am only here trying to find out who the traitor from my people is. I have no intention of getting into a battle with Ruth, but if you do not leave now I may be forced to do that very thing!"
"Don't you dare blame this on me! You made a promise to me, Damien, and now I find you breaking it! You are a liar and an inconsiderate ass!"
"Damien, shut her up or I will do it myself!"
The feminine hiss from the darkness of the trees was all too familiar to Syreena. Her face flared with heat and color as outrage roared through her. Her small hands clenched into fists and her teeth ground as she clenched her jaws together tightly. Her multicolored eyes flickered with the violence of her emotion as Damien's cool blue gaze remained on hers with dispassionate wintriness.
"I am unaccustomed to reporting my actions to someone as if I were a child, Syreena, and I am sorry if that disturbs you but, as I have said repetitively, this is neither the time or place for an argument about it."
"Very well," she said. "Go and skulk about in dangerous territory with that troublemaking woman if it pleases you to do so, but if you think to find me waiting in supplicant domestication for you when you return, you are sadly mistaken!"
Syreena moved to pass him, but he grabbed her about the upper arm and forced her back around with a whirl of her own momentum.
"Think before you threaten and act in haste, Syreena," he warned her on a heated whisper.
"Oh, you mean like you have done?" she shot back. "Do as I say and not as I do? What are you mistaking me for, Damien? A child? A puppy in need of training so you may bring me obediently to heel? You craved my independence of thought and action all this while, but now when they run counter to your own, it is undesirable? I will not be brought to heel by you or anyone else ever again!" She shook him off her arm with impressive violence of strength. "I came to you for my freedom, and you offered it to me with blessings and pretty words, on an imaginary silver platter. I will be your equal and your respected companion, honored and trusted and given nothing less than full disclosure and truth where it matters most, or I will be nothing at all to you, do you understand?"
Syreena whirled around sharply, surprising Jasmine, who had been coming up behind her. "If you touch me, Vampire, I will rip out your treacherous heart with my bare hands, I promise you!"
"If you do not shut that shrewish mouth of yours, I will be happy to test your abilities, Princess, but it will be up against Ruth and her partners that you will be forced to do so. Can you get that through your head before she pops up in the middle of all this?"
"Let her come! At least she is honest in her motivations!"
"I thank you for the compliment, Princess."
Syreena felt both Vampires jerk when Ruth spoke just off to the right of them, but she was surprisingly calm as she turned with a single step, bracing her feet apart. Her small hands curled into tight fists as her heart began to pound.
"I owe you," she whispered softly to the Demon, who was smiling at them as if they were guests at a party.
"I imagine you do. Come, girl, and get your pound of flesh if you dare."
Damien's shout and grasp were both completely useless as the Lycanthrope Princess lunged for the Demon necromancer. Syreena changed form midleap, wings and talons of human dimensions sprouting out with awesome speed. Ruth had not battled either of the Princess's Wereforms before, and seeing the harpy streaking toward her with a vengeful fury of speed was startling enough to give Syreena the advantage.
With disruption of concentration, Ruth could not teleport. However, she could still react and move like the warrior she had once been. Nonetheless, in spite of a skillful dodge, the blond Demon still caught the brunt of large talons across her left shoulder, clothing and skin ripping audibly under the rend of them.
Damien and Jasmine moved to react, but were brought up short by an explosion of thick, black smoke that appeared between them and the two fighting women. The smoke billowed up in clouds with all speed, immediately revealing a figure in the center.
"Nico," Damien hissed.
"It figures," Jasmine added a little more dispassionately.
"In the flesh, so to speak," Nico agreed. He spoke a single phrase, rapid and sharp, a flick of palm and fingers gesturing toward his enemies.
Jasmine and Damien both made sounds of surprise when the forest floor suddenly came alive beneath their feet. Tree roots burst out of the soil, slapping around the Vampires' ankles and calves, effectively tying them to the spot.
Damien's solution was quick. The raven came with speed, making him small enough to slip free of the magical trap. Jasmine was less delicate and artful about it. She reached down with bare hands and a growl, grabbing at the restraints with a violent ripping motion. The flesh and pulp of the roots went flying everywhere as she tore into them like a vicious little animal on the attack.
Damien flew at Nico's head, and then purposely changed form mid-momentum. He used his clumsiness to his advantage as his full body weight plowed into the traitorous Vampire. Both men drove down into the rotting litter on the forest floor, but when they skidded to a stop, Damien was on top, his hands clutching the other Vampire's clothing across his chest as he showed fangs and snarled in his enemy's face.
"Here it is, Nico. The moment you have been waiting for. Let's see who deserves my throne."
Jasmine finally freed herself, stumbling away from the fresh uprooting of tendrils that the continuing spell sent after her as she escaped. She flew up into the air far enough to remain out of reach of the snare, and far enough to give her a rounded view of the struggles below her. Damien could handle Nicodemous for the immediate moment, and she was not worried about him. At first glance, the Princess had made her mark, having an upper hand over the Demon female as well. However, Jasmine knew that surprise had been her advantage, and from that point on the Princess was going to be seriously outgunned.
Jasmine streaked toward the battling women just as Ruth turned on Syreena with a cry of enormous fury. Syreena had struck first blood, and it seriously affected Ruth's self-image of invulnerability. Ruth screamed out a spell, fueled by the power of her rage, and the entire forest exploded with a blast of percussion that centered from the Demon's position. Syreena was struck full-on by the blast, as was Jasmine, and both women were catapulted back through the air before they slammed into trees. Too stunned to get her wings under her, Syreena plummeted to the forest floor with a mighty crash and a kickback of debris that clouded around her for a few fluttering moments.
Jasmine, however, did not need wings to keep buoyant. She recovered quickly because she had no breath to get knocked out of her. Stunning pain could be put aside for the moment, even though she was certain she had cracked a couple of ribs at impact.
Her immediate problem was how to shut Ruth up. As long as she could speak, they would never gain an upper hand. Her spells were too unfamiliar, unexpected and indefensible. But, Jasmine thought wickedly, she cannot cast spells if she gets her tongue ripped out.
Logically, she knew she would never get that close. She had to come up with an alternative.
Meanwhile, Damien and Nico had also been thrown by the magical blast, sending them rolling and skidding across the ground, each getting torn, punctured, and battered along the way. This time, Nico managed to gain the upper position over Damien. He pinned the monarch to the ground with the sheer power of his enormous weight, strong legs, and the deadly grip of his hand over the Prince's throat. He reached for his dagger now that he had a better target. But as he stabbed for Damien's heart, the Prince threw a forearm up and there was a clang as metal clashed with metal.
Nico tried to press through to Damien's flesh, through the leather of the jacket he wore, but it was as though the Prince's skin were made of steel. It was when he withdrew for a second strike, the action slicing away a strip of leather, that the gleam of the poniard up the Prince's sleeve showed itself.
"Tricky, tricky," Nico said breathlessly.
Nico realized that hand to hand was not going to give him an advantage over Damien, especially since the Prince had concealed weapons on his person.
The traitorous Vampire had not had much time to learn spells, not the way Ruth knew them, but there were some like the ensnarement spell that he had focused on because of their tactical usefulness in a fight. Since the Prince was on the ground, it made sense to use the advantage to try again. Now that Nico was on top of him, changing form would be too dangerous for the Prince.
Nico went to speak the spell that would trap Damien helplessly beneath him and his ready blade.
Syreena could not breathe for a long moment. Her lungs simply would not work as she knelt on her hands and knees on the forest floor. Finally she coughed and inhaled, her lungs expanding against bruised and battered ribs. She struggled to gain her feet, whipping around to try and seek her enemy even before she could straighten up completely.
What she could see was Jasmine. The Vampire was streaking toward a target. From her position, Syreena could not see what it was. On impact, she had reverted to human form. She hesitated as she tried to decide which winged creature would be best for the moment, when a loud clang of metal rang from just behind the grove of trees she had crashed into. She whirled and leaned around the nearest tree trunk. She saw Nico's blade gleam in the moonlight as he withdrew for a second attempt at her mate's heart. Then he thought better of it and she heard him utter a singular phrase in a language foreign even to her.
Roots sprang up from the ground around Damien, whipping out to lash him about the legs and throat, pinning and strangling him at once. Syreena felt immediate rage flood over her, and Ruth was completely forgotten. She flew with all speed from her hiding place as Nico reached back to plunge his dagger into her mate's exposed breast.
Damien felt her coming, a speedball of charcoal hair and violent protective instinct. She struck his enemy with the force of her full weight. It was enough to move even a mountain of a man such as Nico. She tackled him clean off Damien's body, and the two went tumbling off into leaf litter and underbrush. Damien immediately began to strain against his bonds of nature, using all of his strength as roots began to snap under the stress, one by one. Flat to the ground as he was, he felt like Gulliver, tied fast by thousands of Lilliputian ropes. When enough snapped loose to free a limb, the spell immediately revived and lashed him back down again. The trees around him began to list dangerously in his direction as their root system was torn away, altered and pulled out from under them.
Meanwhile, Nico was learning the true definition of a well-trained Monk of The Pride. As she had struck him, Syreena had reached for his blade and neatly disarmed him as her surprise strike tumbled them away from Damien. Without preamble, the moment they slid to a stop with Syreena pressing a knee into the Vampire's throat on one side and groin on the other, she reached with both hands to commit to her strike.
The Vampire's dagger sank into his flesh, cracked explosively through bone and through his heart.
Nico roared with pain and outrage as she once again stabbed him through that vital organ. The Vampire could not believe she had gotten him a second time. This time, however, it was much worse. She was able to withdraw the blade, unplugging the hole she had made, her updrawn arc spraying his blood across her thighs, breasts, and face. Before he could react, she was plunging into him again. Her eyes were wide and wild, her lips curled into a feminine snarl of wrath, and her hair swung in a dark gray cloud with her movements. She withdrew again, coming away with even more blood this time as the force of her weight, strike, and his contortions sent it spurting up over her.
It was all Nico could do to finally stop the chopping descent of her hands before she struck him yet again. She slammed into the catch of his hands instead of his chest, and it seemed to only infuriate her further. She struggled against his strength, which, in spite of his deadly injuries, was still quite enough to overpower her. He threw her off him with a powerful pivot of his body, sending her tumbling over. He tried to seal the gushing wounds on his chest with his palm as he scrambled to his knees and lunged after her. She had rolled up onto her feet, the bloody dagger still clutched in her small but clearly capable hand.
Jasmine diverted away from Ruth, perplexing the Demon for a moment. Then the Mind Demon realized that Jasmine's nature was far too much like her own for Damien's good. As long as Ruth did not threaten her directly, the Vampire would not be likely to risk her own neck for any purpose that was not solely her own. It was clear how much Jasmine hated Damien's new mate. Why would she come to the Princess's rescue?
Ruth teleported, appearing by Damien's side. Seeing that the struggling Prince was no threat at the moment, and not wanting to risk Jasmine's focus, she popped out and in again, this time appearing beside her injured partner and the Lycanthrope who had seriously wounded him.