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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Moments later, Kane found himself looking into the golden eyes of a woman. Nude but for her collar, she rose to her natural height, which was quite significant. The drift of her hair hid most of her nudity, but the Lycanthrope female was uncaring of that. Her entire focus was on the startled Demon before her.
“I am Siena, Queen of the Lycanthropes,” she introduced herself softly, keeping her rich voice warm and compelling as she spoke. He was a Mind Demon, resistant to her suggestive abilities, but it wouldn’t hurt to soothe him just the same. “I will let you into my mind and you will see, Demon, that I am not the one responsible for this.”
The Lycanthrope Queen? In his house? Kane almost laughed aloud at the absurdity of such a claim. But he knew that collar well enough. Imitation it might be, but he had heard of the complexity of it, seen drawings of it. It was supposed to be so unique that it could not be counterfeited. But how was he to know the difference between even a bad counterfeit and the true necklace?
She had, however, given him the perfect solution. Despite his ingrained distrust of the Lycanthropic species, he narrowed his eyes and ventured into her mind. She put up no barriers, allowing him freedom that could be very threatening to a woman who ruled an entire species. Had he wanted to, he could have had access to any number of secrets. But he respected her offer to him and stayed on the path of her short-term memory.
Siena had found this scene just as he had. Being a male Mind Demon, he could have known instantly if it was a fabrication, but it was not. She was telling the truth, the evidence in her thoughts.
“What brings you to my home, Highness?” he asked with automatic politeness, an impressive courtesy, considering his emotional upset. “What do you know of what has happened here?”
The golden-haired Queen reached to pull an afghan off the chair closest to her, wrapping it around herself as she moved to sit down in a nonaggressive pose.
“I was tracking a group of necromancers. I had no idea this was a Demon dwelling until I entered it, apparently too late, and for that I apologize. Had I known they were going to attack a member of your household, I would not have remained in the tree line.” Siena crossed her legs, sitting as if she were clad in a gown of gold and a crown instead of a well-worn afghan Kane’s mother had made long ago. “As it was, I saw about four of them, all women, gathering around outside. None of them entered, but they waited for several minutes. I see now they were keeping guard while someone else entered the dwelling. How they did so without my knowledge can have a multitude of explanations. What I do know is that no one with black magic entered this dwelling.”
“Then how… ?” Kane ran a troubled hand through his hair. “Hunters? They don’t use magic, and Corrine is not strong for a Druid, so it would have been easy to overcome her.”
“Ah! A Druid! This makes more sense now. I could not recognize her scent. I have never known the scent of a Druid. I do detect the strong thread of human scent; however, it is clearly mutated. I suppose this means your Druid is half human, is she not?”
“Yes. And you weren’t able to recognize what she is?”
“My apologies. The combination is too new to me. However, I would venture a guess that your intruders are not in the dark about who and what she is.”
“I have to go. I have to find my brother,” Kane said anxiously, moving back a step as he tried to shed his overwhelming fear and concern for his adored mate. Siena felt his distress keenly, her empathy with animals allowing her a peek into the animal instincts that Demons blended with their veneer of civilization.
“I will remain here and see what more I can discover,” she assured him, the soothing spell of her voice helping him center himself. “No one else will pass this way without answering to me.”
Her reassurance helped him. Settled with determination, Kane teleported to Noah’s home.
Noah and Gideon appeared moments before Kane reappeared in his living room. They had just enough time to focus on the room’s only occupant before Legna and Elijah also appeared. Gideon quickly moved to his mate, supporting her weakened frame by holding her snugly to the length of his body, his fingertips gently worrying against her face. She had teleported him and Noah, had gone and fetched Elijah, and then had teleported them both to Kane’s as well. Even with her growing power, it was still much for her to do in such a rapid-fire manner. Gideon helped her to be seated, picking up one of her hands as it trembled with fatigue and folding it between his own as they all looked at the Lycanthrope Queen.
She was in her third form. The Wereform. In this form she was the figure of her womanly self, coated in the silky, golden fur of the cat, with whiskers, pointed ears high on her golden head, oval pupils, claws, and twitching tail. She sat in her chair with her legs crossed, the afghan that was no longer needed folded back where it had been, her tail curled silkily around her calf.
She stood up when she saw Noah, however, giving him a respectful inclination of her head. Her golden eyes flicked to the others. She first studied Gideon’s mate for a long, interested moment. She then moved on to the massive form of the blond giant standing very close to the King. She knew this one, she realized. She had never met him face-to-face, but he was legendary among her people. Elijah, the Demon King’s Warrior Captain. To her people, Elijah the Butcher.
There was no mistaking the description. Tall, muscular, and blond, as if he were an incarnation of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun. There was also no mistaking the shrewd green eyes of a well-seasoned fighter. But it was the palpable mistrust he sent lancing in her direction that confirmed his identity to her. It was the exact feeling she would expect from a man who had spent centuries killing her kind in order to protect his own.
However, Siena’s focus belonged on Noah, and she turned it there quickly.
“Noah, it is an honor to finally meet you.”
“Siena.” Noah bowed slightly, his eyes roaming her figure with minute note of every detail. He was clearly sizing up the woman who had single-handedly ended the war between their peoples. “I have long desired meeting you as well.”
“Then we have been remiss, each waiting for the other to make the first invitation. I regret that this meeting comes under such tragic circumstances.”
Noah nodded in appreciation for her sympathies. Elijah, meanwhile, had moved to the area where the attack had taken place. The warrior touched the drying stain of blood, scenting it to affirm to himself that it belonged to Corrine.
“We can’t tell Bella. This could kill her,” he remarked tightly. “Not until we know for sure in either direction what has become of Corrine.”
“I have a feeling Bella is going to find out on her own soon enough,” Noah remarked, his concern etched deeply across his brow. “These visions of hers… ”
“I will return when we are finished here and induce sleep,” Gideon said. “She will not be aware of anything in that state. Also, it will allow her to heal so that if we must deliver bad news to her, she will be stronger.”
“We are not delivering bad news to anyone,” Kane barked suddenly, his hands curled into vicious fists. “Corrine will be found and brought back to me if I have to search every corner of this planet myself. And Destiny had better help those who took her from me.”
“In time,” Noah agreed soothingly, a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “We all will see to that. But we must start with the basics. I should like to begin with an explanation for your presence here, Siena.”
“Of course.” Siena stood up, moving with pantherish grace to circle the scene of the crime. “If you would introduce me to your people, Noah, I would be happy to share my knowledge with them all.”
“My apologies, Siena,” Noah said. “You have met Kane, I imagine. This is my Warrior Captain, Elijah. You are already acquainted with Gideon, our medic, and his mate, my sister, Magdelegna.”
“A Princess for your mate, then, Gideon? You did not mention that,” the Queen noted, looking amused by the thought.
“No, Siena. Our royal house does not work in the same fashion as yours. Council chooses our royal leaders and only their offspring become Princes,” Gideon explained. “But it is a title of respect only. There is no birthright to our throne.”
“I see. A wise custom. I know many a fool sitting on a throne because of their inbred rights to it.” Siena linked her hands behind her back, removing her gaze from the openly disturbed stare the warrior was giving her. “I will start at the beginning.”
Siena spent a moment looking over the menacing presence of the blond behemoth to her left, then moved closer to the more receptive Demons gathered around. Her fearlessness unwittingly impressed itself on the warrior. He knew she was very aware of his hostility, and yet she made no outside sign of it affecting her in the least.
“After Gideon visited me,” Siena began, “I personally arranged for my Elite personnel to assist in the investigation into this unpardonable crime against your Enforcer female. Several reported running into your very adept and thorough warrior.” She extended an elegant hand in Elijah’s direction. “However, as I explained to Gideon, we who are more frequently the prey of a human hunt have a more advanced intelligence of this self-serving network of mortals.”
“Your assistance is generous,” Noah remarked, “considering we sent Gideon to you with only our suspicions in tow.”
“No matter,” the Queen said, waving it off. “I would have made a similar choice, considering our history.” The Queen’s gold eyes flicked back to Elijah for a moment before returning to Noah’s expectant expression. “My Elite returned a few days ago with reports so intriguing that I felt I needed to seek the truth of the matter with my own eyes. What I encountered was a militant group of unique collaboration. It consisted of both powerless and empowered humans.”
“Wait a minute… you mean necromancers and hunters working together?” The idea was shocking to them all. How would two such diverse groups even find each other? What did it take to get two such prejudiced and vindictive factions to collaborate?
“To be more specific,” Siena continued, “sorceresses and female hunters.”
“Women?” Elijah demanded.
“Women,” she confirmed. “Exclusively women.”
“Exclusively… ” Noah shook his head in confusion. “I do not understand that. I did not think gender would matter.”
“Yet somehow it does,” the Queen countered. “When my Elite General began to hear rumors about this group, she infiltrated it as quickly as she could. She has since come to realize it is a highly powerful and more complexly organized party than one would expect for such a recent insurgence of empowered magic-users. My own investigation has convinced me that they have been gathering since long before you first became aware of the return of magic-users. But I believe the specificity and coalescence of this female group only began recently. There still seemed to be a sense of newness to it. Not too new, but just young enough to keep expectations very high. Something occurred to bring these women together, something very specific.
“The magic of the necromancers is powerful. Let me assure you of that straight away. These are no amateurs. Though I always have to question just how expert any of them can be, considering their mortality. Still, my Elite related stories of power and spells the likes of which I had never before heard of. I believe it is only because my Elite General chose half-breed spies that they were lucky enough to go undetected amongst them.”
“Half-breed?” Kane asked. As the youngest of them he was the least experienced in these details.
“Half pure Lycanthrope, half human,” Elijah explained with quiet solemnity.
“I’m not sure I understand the difference.”
“A half-bred Lycanthrope cannot change into Lycanthropic or animal form. Instead, they exist in the constant form of a human. They look human, smell human, and have an ease living between the human and Lycanthrope worlds that we full-blooded Lycanthropes are not easily capable of. The distinction is that a half-breed acquires all the senses and abilities of the animal form they would have been able to take had they been fully bred. For instance, a feline’s ability to see in dim light, its sense of smell, retractable claws, and so on,” Siena explained.
“This ride on the fence between races allows them to go easily undetected. Even to magic,” Elijah said.
The Queen’s eyes went back to the warrior with interest.
“You know much about us.” The Queen studied Elijah for a long minute more, the roam of her eyes slow and meticulous as they both understood what his detailed knowledge had once been used for. “The female half-breeds,” she continued at last, “infiltrated the group under the guise of hunters. I promise you, this was no small feat, considering the overpowering stench such a throng of magic-users produces. But my General, Anya, quickly began to hear reports of an attack perpetrated against a female human who had lain with a Demon, although these women referred to them as a ‘male succubus and his human whore.’ They were clearly aware that the human woman was impregnated with its ‘spawn.’
“It was easy to assume this was your Enforcer’s mate they discussed. I risked possible detection and accompanied Anya to the next meeting. All I can say is that they are eerily well informed. They knew specifics about your people that even my father’s spies and assassins were never able to discover over all our centuries of war. I assure you, the Elite spies are quite adept in their fields, but never have they known such intimate details as I heard from these women.”