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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“We must enforce ourselves more strictly as the time approaches. In the age of the rebellion of the Earth and Sky, when Fire and Water break like havoc upon all the lands, the Eldest of the old will return, will take his mate, and the first child of the element of Space will be born, playmate to the first child of Time, born to the Enforcers… ”
—The Lost Demon Prophecy
The Vampire eyed the Demon before him with a lengthy, contemplative gaze of midnight blue. The black centers of his eyes were slightly oval in shape, the contour just enough of an oddity to incite one’s curiosity, beckoning one to lean in closer, to gaze and study them just a little deeper, to stumble into them like a well-spun web. Since such temptations could not lure the Demon, the Vampire’s only intention of close study was strictly for scrutiny as he tried to decipher the silent figure’s purpose.
With uncharacteristic patience and largesse, the Vampire leaned back in his chair and casually hooked an ankle over one knee as he did so. As usual, the Demon was biding his time before he began to speak about whatever it was that was on his mind, whatever it was that had brought the Ancient to the Vampire’s lair. It was always good that he put so much care of thought into his speech, the Vampire mused to himself, because when this Demon spoke it was often to lay brutal truths at the feet of whomever he was conversing with. As admirable a trait as that was, it was not so refreshing as one might expect it to be, particularly when it heralded pivotal occurrences in the lives of the Nightwalker races.
Since time had begun, ages before the mortals had spread across this earth like an intemperate pandemic, there had been the Nightwalkers. The Dark Cultures. Those who basked in the moon for their daylight, and slept or hid from the sun when its acidic rays would try to touch their susceptible skins or minds. The clans had run with the wild beasts of Nature, their special gifts rooted in Her ways, keeping them connected to the soil, the free creatures, and the pulsing, magmatic center of Her heart. And though in the modern age the mortals were the dominant population by a dramatic percentage, the Nightwalkers yet lived. The Dark Cultures were preserved, each with its separate ways and traditions, and each had carved out niches in those places that remained isolative and usually too inhospitable for humans. Some had adapted and now lived on the fringes of human societies, emulating or enjoying mortal ways… or a careful facsimile. Almost every clan had carefully laid laws and beliefs about how far its members could go when it came to dealings with human beings.
Time had not cut the Nightwalkers’ links with either moon or sun. Errors and enemies had severely thinned out the ranks of all of the different clans in one way or another, and yet they survived—quiet, unknown to mortals for the most part, and searching for ways to find harmony in a rapidly changing world. But the world had changed before, and would change again, and there would always be the Nightwalkers to dance beneath the moon and sleep behind the sun.
“You have not come to visit in a great while, Gideon,” the Vampire observed in the capricious way of his people, no longer wishing to wait for the Demon to come around on his own time. “I had not expected to see you.”
Gideon lifted his cool, silver eyes from the delicacy of the rare zebra’s milk he had been swirling idly in his glass. The exotic milk, and others like it, was a Demon’s alcohol. It was proof that though Nightwalkers greatly resembled humans, usually very handsome and appreciable ones, there were distinct differences in their chemistries and physiologies. These distinctive differences would set them apart as supernatural beings to the common eye, should they decide to flaunt them.
But the Nightwalkers used great care here. Human beings could become overzealous at even the smallest hint of myth or mystery. It was in their nature to fear that which was more powerful than themselves, a failing that would not change until they matured as a species.
Regardless of the fact that he himself boasted unusually riveting features, the Vampire was struck, as he always was, with the drilling effect of the Demon’s molten mercury eyes. Gideon’s facial appearance, agelessly aristocratic, showed nothing of his having existed for a more than a millennium, but those eyes most certainly did. Since Demons also tended toward a swarthy complexion, looking perpetually tanned, it magnified the startling effect of Gideon’s gaze.
The Ancient Demon also had hair of incredibly pristine silver, long enough to touch his collarbone and tied back with a thin strip of tanned leather. In humans, this coloring would be a sign of age, but the Vampire knew Gideon had been born with his hair color, and, in spite of it, would never look a day over the age of thirty-five. Perhaps a little closer to forty when one took those aged eyes into account.
“If you have felt slighted in any way, Damien, I extend my apologies,” the Demon said with distant manners, his rich voice filling the echoing places of the large room.
Damien dismissed the idea with a click of his tongue and the brushing wave of an elegant, long-fingered hand.
“We are creatures of the ages, Gideon. We have long since learned to not feel slighted when one or the other of us goes into seclusion for whatever reason.” Damien’s indigo eyes narrowed on the Demon seated across from him. “But I admit that I am curious as to the motivation for your visit after all this time.”
“I am afraid it is not as social as I might have wished it to be,” Gideon said. “I am here to serve you warning.”
“Warn me?” Damien cocked a gracefully arched brow at the Demon.
“Yes. As the most Ancient of my race, to the most Ancient of yours.”
Damien acknowledged the reverence of Gideon’s distinction with a graceful inclination of his head.
“Despite the vast differences in our races, Gideon, you and I have always found much in common with one another.”
“And it is a commonality that brings me to your door now. A common enemy.”
This revelation made the Vampire’s spine straighten with sudden tension.
“Necromancers.” It wasn’t a question. They had both been alive too long not to know what was of import to one another. “Damn,” Damien hissed, suddenly standing and pacing the floor of his cavernous parlor. “I should have known. I should have sensed something was amiss!”
“How do you see that?” Gideon asked, one brow lifting inquisitively.
“Gerard has gone missing. I had thought he might have just gone to ground, as my people do from time to time, but Gerard had just roused from a century-long sleep, so I thought it odd he would return so quickly.”
“It is still possible that is all that has happened.”
“Possible,” the Vampire agreed, “but he is not the only one to go missing, and you know as well as I do that it is unlikely to be coincidence. Have you any idea how many we are to contend with this time?” The ancient Vampire stilled his stride, his hands curling into fists and his fierce eyes flaring with his obvious contempt for the odious human magic-users who had plagued the Nightwalker races for centuries. “How foolish I was to hope that, since there had been no necromancers for this last century, we had seen the last of them. It is embarrassing to my intelligence to speak of it even now.”
“You have been no more or less foolish than the rest of us,” Gideon said darkly. “I am the most ridiculous of them all.”
The Demon was silent for a long heartbeat, and Damien’s supernatural senses hummed sharply with subconscious awareness of the Demon’s disturbed thoughts. Out of respect, however, Damien would never think of scanning Gideon in order to obtain those thoughts.
“Along with the return of these necromancers,” Gideon continued, his perfectly pitched voice as even and unaffected by emotions as ever, “we have discovered that Druids are yet in existence.”
Now that truly surprised Damien. There had been no Druids for the space of an entire millennium. Their reemergence would have been thought a thousand times less likely than this distressing news of necromancers. Damien was well aware that the Demons and the Druids had once, long ago, been engaged in a terrible war, with history recording that the Demons had eradicated the entire Druid race.
“How do you come by this information?” Damien asked curiously.
“I have met them. They are hybrids, partially of Druidic descent, partially human. Apparently Druids hid themselves among humans all those centuries ago, in order to escape their Demon hunters.”
“And bred with them,” Damien added in sudden understanding. “And they are pure enough to have Druidic abilities, even after all this time?”
“Purity… ” Gideon’s lips twisted with the sensation of irony that flooded him. “Apparently, purity is less powerful than this particular fusion of races. There are only two active Druids at this time, both of whom are under Demon protection, and they are greatly coveted.” The Demon inclined his head slightly. “For the most part.”
“I have yet to find a culture of perfect uniformity in any matter. It is to be expected. At least they are not met with hostility.”
“The war is long forgotten. The oldest of us who might hold grudges are all perished, save myself, and I have grown well beyond such childish impulses.”
“No doubt,” Damien agreed without wit.
“The first Druid is the mate of our Enforcer, the other the mate of the Enforcer’s youngest brother. The first female… She is powerful in unexpected ways. Ways that I am not at liberty to discuss at this time. Her sibling is awakening to her abilities much more slowly, but I have reason to expect that she will be just as unique. It is also clear they are only the beginning.”
Damien returned to his seat, sitting down very slowly, taking the time to brush his dark, stylish clothes into place so he could think on Gideon’s information. He always listened very carefully to the way others spoke, to the way they worded phrases. Gideon had confessed already that he was intentionally withholding information, but the Vampire Prince sensed other depths to the story that promised to be fascinating and dangerous.
“I trust that you are guiding these… hybrids? I do not relish the idea of unregulated beings of power in our world. The misguidance of necromancers is sinister enough, not to mention the less seemly Nightwalkers amongst us already.”
“I find it odd that you would voice such an unnecessary question,” Gideon remarked serenely, sipping his beverage and rolling the bouquet of it over his tongue for a moment.
“At times I find comfort in voicing a concern just to hear the verbal assurance. I know you will do what you can and must do. More so, I suspect, considering the history you share with the Druids.” Damien lifted his own glass, inspecting the ruby liquid within for a thoughtful moment. “I had always thought the eradication of the Druids was an ill-decided action, Gideon. But that was a time, as I recall, when we Vampires were avaricious enough to enjoy the idea of Demons and Druids eliminating one another, leaving us to become more powerful. Even though I was young then, I do remember that the popular way of thinking at the time was that it was no more our place to interfere in the actions of your race than it was yours to interfere in the actions of ours.”
“Perhaps if there had been such an intervention in this instance, we might have saved a great many beings a tremendous amount of grief,” Gideon speculated.
The Ancient Demon spoke matter-of-factly, but Damien was too old and too wise not to know the weight those words carried on the Ancient’s soul.
“War rests heavy on everyone’s memory, Gideon,” the Vampire said quietly. “I myself, in my youthful boredom and impulsiveness, warred my people against yours those four centuries ago.”
“I appreciate your attempts at my absolution, Damien; however, your energy is best spent in other ways.” The Demon placed his glass on the table at his elbow, the sound of the crystal contacting the ornate glass a resonating warning that Gideon was not feeling so detached and level as he projected to others around him. “I am highly aware of my part in the atrocities of our war with the Druids, and cognizant of the price Demons have paid for it. It may be that a small part of my absolution rests in the hands of the others who will come in the footsteps of the two female Druids, but my sins are far too great to be so easily forgiven.”
“No sin that weighs on a soul for a thousand years is too great for forgiveness, Gideon.” His indigo eyes darkened a fraction more. “At least, that is my own personal hope.”
Gideon did not rebuke the Vampire again. They both held a fair share of sin on their shoulders, and neither could bring himself to dash even the slightest part of the other’s hope. Strange, that after so long, they held any hope at all. Gideon had always suspected, though, that it was some sort of defense mechanism, this thing called hope. He was a cynical creature, from tip to toe, and no one who knew him in any degree would argue that, but they would perhaps be a little shocked to know that there might be a part of the Demon that still held out for a glimmer of absolution. Gideon was not a man used to giving explanation or apologies for his actions. He was the oldest and most powerful of his kind, and with that distinction came the privilege of doing pretty much whatever suited him. In order to reach such an advanced age, he was considered to have learned enough to know best.
A prime example would be his presence in the lair of the Vampire Prince who was seated across from him. Within his own race, Damien was the mirror of Gideon’s position and power. Though the Vampires and the Demons were not enemies, they were not great friends either. There were those on both sides of their races who held little tolerance for the other, and others still who actively sought to antagonize one another. But this had been true between differing societies since time was time. There was no such thing as a perfect peace so long as there was free will and obstinate ignorance in the world, even in races so long lived, so powerful, and so renowned for great intelligence and sophisticated reasoning.