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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
These were the classic forms humans referred to as werewolves. But what most humans did not realize was that Lycanthropes were not just limited to the form of the wolf. In fact, there was hardly an animal that was not represented amongst the Lycanthrope populace.
Gideon could alter his body chemistry to blend in with the scents around him, a glamour that only the most powerful Lycanthropes would be able to see through. He did so as his boots slid down the steep path leading into the narrow valley that housed the village. It was deceptively quaint. Gideon could see that there was method to its placement and its sturdy construction. It was made to withstand the inhospitable weather of a Russian winter, but it also would withstand any form of attack if necessary.
As a rule, Lycanthropes were never far from a variety of armory. Lycanthropes were not chemically adverse to technology, as Demons were. Demons were also not the focus of self-appointed human werewolf hunters. If there was a Nightwalker more well-known to human mythology than Vampires, it was the Lycanthropes. As a result, both races were plagued by those who were overzealous in their attempts to prove the myth was real and to kill the mythical monsters as if it would make them heroes of equally mythic proportions.
Though Lycanthrope natural attacks were formidable on their own, when dealing with overzealous hunters and the like, it was always wise to fight firearm with firearm, so to speak. The Lycanthropes were wise enough not to bring a pair of claws to face an enemy with a gun. They would not have survived long as a species in this era of high technological weaponry had they not understood that basic fact.
Gideon walked around the edges of Siena’s village until he was approaching her residence, which consisted of a remarkably camouflaged cave. As he passed the guards, he greeted them coolly. As far as they realized, he carried the scent of Lycanthropy and therefore belonged there.
Siena’s residence was a cavern more than it was a cave. More so, it wasn’t even simple enough to be called an ordinary cavern. It had been carved out of the center of a mountain and shaped into a breathtaking edifice made completely over into the grandeur of a castle, allowing for an enormity and artistry that included multiple levels and conveniences like light and plumbing. It was all carved out of a reddish brown stone, a massive task that must have taken decades to complete. It was a flawless design, just as Gideon remembered it. The only obvious access to the Queen’s castle was by way of that one demure entrance. It could be blocked and guarded off in a heartbeat, protecting the entire village and the Queen’s household if necessary. There were outer houses around the castle bailey, just as if it were under a sky instead of a mountain, like any other castle from history. It only lacked the unnecessary moat and portcullis to protect it. It was enough of a fortress and did not need those things to help it.
Gideon walked on, entering the castle common room with confidence and a familiarity that came rushing back to him as he remembered the mapping of rooms and the graceful carvings so painstakingly ground into the stone walls around him. Even the common room was decorated lushly, reflecting Siena’s wealth and penchant for the finer things in life. It was a great improvement from the last time he had attended this court. Tapestries, artwork, rich carpeting, and elegant touches of the like that had not been there thirteen years before… before Siena had ascended to the throne. The reception area was twice as large as Noah’s Great Hall, but it no longer echoed so easily against its own walls as people moved through it as he was doing.
It had been easy to gain entry to the immediate common room, but it would be a different matter completely to get closer to Siena, Gideon understood. The Lycanthrope Queen was no fool. She would not have the access points that led closer to her guarded by anyone less than older, highly skilled Lycanthropes capable of seeing through simple Demon glamours with the mere sniff of a keen nose. Luckily, he was no simple Demon. This, of course, was what Elijah had realized, and had been counting on, when he had chosen Gideon for this dangerous task. No one else would be able to do what he was about to accomplish.
What will you do now?
Just watch. And be very quiet. Lycanthropes have a great variety of abilities, some of which would surprise you. The less you give away, the better.
After what happened with Damien, I believe you, she whispered before falling silent.
He was aware that she did not back away in any other manner, though. She was tense, ready for any possibility, determined to protect him however she could if it came to that. It turned his spirit into a tight spiral of pleasure to feel it, to feel her powerful instinct to protect him. It meant that she was coming to care for him, whether she was ready to admit to that or not. The idea delighted him, far more than he had expected it to.
Gideon tucked it all aside for later examination, though. He needed to stay completely focused on what he was doing. Lycanthrope territory was still, for many intents and purposes, a hostile territory. The war had ended only thirteen years hence, after three hundred years of squabbling and outright attacks led by Siena’s father. The previous King had been a warlord, satisfied only when he was battling for property, wealth, or position. But his type was never satisfied. When Demons had proved unbeatable after he had spent years antagonizing them, he had satisfied himself with being a constant burr in Noah’s side. Kidnappings, marauding, all forms of torture and hassle, until Noah realized that centuries had gone by and there was not a Lycanthrope alive who had not been tainted by the propaganda against Demons. There would never be peace, not even after the warlord died, if there was no intervention.
And so he had sent Gideon into the King’s prisons.
As for tonight, it was clearly a night of justice for the Lycanthrope Queen. By the volume of people coursing in and out of the frontmost throne room, and the line of patient subjects leading into it, it was clear she was very busy dispensing whatever form of law it was that tended to the disputes of her people. Noah held similar days of access once a month. It was required that all members of the Council take part in these days of dispensing law. Each Councillor had their own area of expertise. It was what made the Council so well balanced, as a rule, the troublesome temper of Councillor Ruth notwithstanding. But even she held a useful position. Her constant challenges of their ideas and choices always kept them on their toes. If anyone laid anything before the Council without the proper preparation required to argue their point for the obstinate Ruth, they would most likely fail under her scrutiny. As a result, the laws and actions the Great Council created would perhaps not be so very well thought out as they were.
Gideon was finished observing the movements of those in the nearby rooms. He watched as one group of spectators left the throne room and another began to form. As the guards allowed the group to gain entry, Gideon joined them. He was aware of the guards lifting their heads, reaching out to scent something that was not quite right, but before they could fixate on a target, Gideon was well into the room and mingling with the crowd. That did not mean he could not be spotted at any moment, so rather than wait for someone to grow wise to him, he rapidly strode onto the rich purple carpet that led up to the throne where Siena sat listening to one side of an argument, the other party to the complaint under debate waiting with some impatience to her left.
Siena noted his approach almost instantly, her head coming up suddenly as she fixed her golden eyes on him.
The Queen was in her human form, that of a magnificently beautiful woman with golden hair so pure in color it resembled the color of virgin gold filament. Her hair was almost as long as Legna’s, but unlike Legna’s silky, wavy fall, Siena’s was naturally curled, the large coils about fist thick in circumference as they twisted around and around down the length of her back and torso. She had the features of a cat, full of sly points and curves that made her exotic and lovely. This included ears that came up to delicate, elfin points, the only part of her that did not look quite human, but these could be easily overlooked by anyone not searching for the distinction.
Siena stood up when recognition set in, a soft sound from her alerting her guards, who, without delay, stood between the Queen and the intruder, imposing halberds clutched in their hands. The guards were Minotaurs, enormous and powerful creatures with the look and strength of ten bulls, a height that towered over Gideon’s own significant stature, and a warrior prowess that would challenge even Elijah’s skills.
Gideon halted his approach, one foot on the first step leading to the throne.
He folded his hands across the top of his thigh and bowed to Siena with respect, remaining with his head lowered until she decided how to proceed with him. His seeming subservience appeared to put her at ease. She relaxed, sitting down slowly before turning her attention to a nearby servant.
“Jinaeri, clear the court,” she instructed to one of her female aides. To the petitioners in midhearing, she smiled comfortingly. “Gentlemen, you will be my guests for the next twenty-four hours, during which we will continue this discussion.”
It was clear the solution was more than generous enough to keep them content. They both bowed, all smiles and excited pulses. Siena was famous for her lavish court. It was an honor for commoners to be allowed access to it.
Gideon continued to wait, his head remaining bent as the room was cleared. Though he looked vulnerable, both he and Legna were quite aware of their surroundings. Gideon did become aware of the fact that a great deal of Legna’s suspicion and tension was directed toward the lovely Queen seated a mere ten feet away from him.
The sound of the throne room doors closing with a clang was the final indication that they were relatively in private. That was, excluding the two dozen guards standing stiffly at all exits and around the throne itself. Gideon raised his head and met the Queen’s speculative gaze, letting the curious gold eyes pick him apart slowly, as if trying to discover his intentions by sheer force of will.
“Disarm him,” the Queen commanded sharply.
Instantly, the two throne guards flew at Gideon.
The medic, however, was no longer where he had been. He was, instead, rolling across the floor and out of range of the wicked reach of the Minotaur weaponry.
Gaining his feet with sleek agility, Gideon feinted a lunge at the guard to his left, forcing the Minotaur to anticipate and swing his weapon. The halberd had an impressive momentum to it due to its top-heavy weight. Once the Minotaur committed to the swing, he was virtually defenseless until it was completed and recovered. It was plenty of time for Gideon’s enhanced reflexes to give him the advantage.
The next thing the guard knew, he had a Demon flying at him, using his own halberd as a sort of step to propel himself into the air and above the guard’s horns. It was a daring maneuver—the horns themselves a dangerous weapon, capable of goring a victim with a single thrust and a twist of the Minotaur’s powerful neck muscles. But Gideon was well out of reach, even if the guard hadn’t been so startled by the unconventional maneuver. By the time the Minotaur had gathered his thoughts, he was bowled over by a powerful kick to the center of his back. Of course, “bowled over” for a creature of that size meant being driven down onto his knee. Still, it was an impressive feat, even for a Demon.
Gideon turned to face his other opponent, catching the shaft of the other halberd hard in the ribs. The blow literally lifted the Ancient off his feet, and Legna was not the only one to hear his ribs snap in response. However, the injury was nothing to a healer of his remarkable power and skill. The ribs were halfway healed by the time the medic finished rolling with the momentum of the strike.
Gideon was back on his feet, facing off with one guard, eyeing the second, and cocking his head to listen to the soft whisper of his mate as it slid through his thoughts. The Ancient Demon smiled, a rare but impressive show of fangs flickering in the light of the throne room’s gas lanterns. It was Legna’s strategy he followed as he grabbed one of his thigh blades with incredible speed, sending it flying as he sleekly dodged a halberd swing. He drew the second knife and froze himself into a throwing posture.
The guards hesitated as the Demon and the Queen shouted the command in tandem. The startled Minotaurs turned perplexed looks to their Queen, each snorting with shock at the sight that greeted them.
The Lycanthrope Queen was sitting back in her throne, her chest rising and falling with her own shock and outright panic as she turned wide eyes onto the haft of the blade that almost touched her temple as it held her pinned by her hair to the back of her throne.
Gideon smiled wider, taunting his opponents with a flip of the blade in his hand.
“And I meant to miss,” he said darkly, his eyes gleaming with silver warning.
The throne room was utterly silent except for Siena’s breath sounds. Suddenly, she laughed, a short, sultry sound that drew everyone’s attention.
“Gideon, you bastard, there’s silver in that blade!”
“In both,” the Demon corrected, relaxing his stance and returning the second blade to its sheath with a flip his mate was realizing was as characteristic as it was a skilled one-motion maneuver.
The Demon moved to the steps leading to the throne, approaching the Queen in order to do the one thing no one else in the entire castle or village could do. He grasped the handle of the knife and, with a powerful pull, withdrew it from its deep embedding in the wood of her throne. The knife was snugly put away in the following second while Gideon made a respectful retreat back down the stairs. He spared a glance to the guards behind him, watching carefully with senses other than his eyes as one Minotaur extended a hand to help the other back to its feet.
“It has been some time, Gideon, since you have graced Our court,” Siena noted, her strong voice ringing echoes throughout the cavernous room as she regained her composure with a sly grin and a shake of her hair. Gideon’s keen eyes carefully measured the amount of blood that fell in droplets from the tips of the strands of hair his blade had severed. The injury to the tensile, living hair was incidental because Gideon had never meant her any harm. The small wounds, no more or less painful than about a half dozen paper cuts for the Queen, would heal quickly. Had he meant to harm her, severing a large chunk of the gold filament strands could have easily been the equivalent of cutting off her arm when measured in trauma.