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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“I’m sure you undercredit them,” Elijah remarked darkly, his sarcasm blunt.
Clearly the Demon warrior was not pleased by the fact that the Queen’s resources had proven to be better than his own. He prided himself and his warriors on being the best at what they did. It sat ill on him to have been bested by, of all people, the Lycanthropes.
“So how does this investigation bring you to Kane’s doorstep?” Noah asked.
“I was present when orders were given for a group to ‘begin their assignment.’ Without knowing the nature of the assignment, I felt it would be wise to follow them. I did, and the rest is as I explained to Kane.”
“But there is something missing,” Legna spoke up suddenly. “You have seen something and have not realized its significance.”
“That is possible,” the Queen agreed, arching a brow of curiosity as she looked at Legna. This female Demon was a powerful woman. Siena could sense it quite strongly in spite of the fact that, out of the array of Demons before her, Legna appeared to be the least prone to animal instincts. “What is it you suspect?”
“Emotion. Strong emotion. This is not a random attack.”
“No. It wouldn’t be, would it?” Elijah said with sudden clarity. “Out of all of us, what is the one connection that Corrine has that no one else does?”
“Isabella. Damn,” Noah hissed. “She is our Enforcer’s sister.”
“And accessibility,” Elijah added. “If they know so much about us, it seems logical to assume they knew Corrine is in delay of gaining her Druidic powers. She is vulnerable, weak… and they knew she would be easy prey.”
“Hmm,” the Queen mused. “Perhaps this will make better sense to you, then. An agent reported to me that one of the group leaders had become incensed over the failure of the original attack. Though I did not see this myself, my Elite told me that to describe her as livid would have been too mild a terminology. She kept screaming about how they had failed to destroy the ‘Demon bastard’ and his ‘whore vessel.’”
“Obviously she meant Bella and the baby,” Noah remarked.
“I do not agree,” Legna murmured. She got the attention of the room with the statement. She got to her feet, moving past Gideon’s staying hand of protest, pacing as she forced herself to think. “The rage does not make sense. Understand, I am fully aware of the temperament fanatics such as these can reach, but psychologically speaking, rage of this manner indicates a very intimate connection.”
Legna raised a hand to her temple, rubbing it as she tried to think. Gideon was watching her closely but remained silent. He could sense she was close to something and did not want to disturb her, even out of his concern for her weary state.
“Okay, let us look at this entire picture,” she said aloud, even though it seemed she would not have even noticed if they had left the room. “The attack on Bella did not take on the nature of a random act of violence, or even an efficiently motivated one. If anyone had wanted Bella destroyed, they could have done it with a single shot from a distant hillside with a high-powered rifle. After all, humans have no trouble at all using such weaponry. Consider: What was the purpose in taking the risk of getting so close to her? Why add the variables of a stun gun that might malfunction or miss its target? If they wanted her dead, why not cut her throat and be done with it? Why the multiple wounds that would not be fatal unless untended over time? And then the brutal attack on the baby. Kicking? Punching? When, again, a single act of well-aimed violence would have sufficed?”
“Suffering,” Gideon injected suddenly.
“Exactly. Someone wanted Bella to suffer before she died,” Legna agreed. “And by doing that, they would have made Jacob suffer. They risked capture, injury, and death to do this thing. Fanatics or not, why would humans risk such personal threat? The only reason I can see is the vindictive motive of… of Jacob being the one to find Bella dead. And he would have, had I not come to visit her. I think the referral to ‘Demon bastard’ was not a referral to the baby, but a referral to Jacob. Frankly, it sounds a lot like personally motivated revenge to me. And no revenge against Jacob would have been sweeter than murdering his beloved mate and their unborn child in such a way as to make it very clear to him that they had suffered torturously the entire time. It would have destroyed him.”
“Revenge… ” Noah’s eyes lit up with disturbed awareness. “Ruth,” he hissed.
“Yes,” Gideon agreed. “It would explain so much. Including how it is that they suddenly know so much about us.”
“Ruth… ” Noah shook his head at the painful prospect of his realization. “She’s unbearable, but a traitor?” he argued with himself.
“She blames Jacob for the pain her daughter now suffers due to the accidental loss of her Druid mate,” Gideon added. “My guess is that it was Ruth herself who entered the house after Bella was unconscious. She knew full well that pain would nullify Bella’s power absorption abilities. She attended the attack personally in order to… ”
“To batter the unborn child,” Elijah finished, “completing her revenge firsthand.”
“Ruth, as a Mind Demon, must have figured out a way to mask the link between Jacob’s and Bella’s thoughts,” Gideon put in. “I remember him saying he did not feel the trouble she was in until Legna arrived on the scene. Being familiar with that connection now, I find it is almost impossible to break, even when you want to. But Ruth could have that power.”
“Isn’t this too obvious?” Elijah complained. “Ruth is not stupid. She knows we would get to the bottom of this and begin to suspect anyone with an attitude against Bella and Jacob.”
“Exactly. She is probably hoping we will discount her for her obvious hostility, providing her an excellent defense,” Noah said. “But there is impetus for this most recent attack that would make Ruth as primary suspect make even more sense,” Noah added gravely. “She was recently voted out of the ranks of Council.”
“What? When did that happen?” Kane asked.
“The Council, sans Jacob and Isabella, voted three days ago. The vote was unanimous. We did not publicize it to spare Ruth as much embarrassment as we could. But I see now she would have even more motivation for rage and revenge against the Enforcers, if indeed it was she who orchestrated the attack.”
Siena moved to stand before Noah, aware of the fact that Elijah was bristling with distrust as she did so. It was clear he didn’t like her being so close to his monarch. The Queen ignored the brute’s continuing hostility.
“I must warn you that this most recent abduction was not the only plan about to be executed by these women,” Siena announced. “The human women are planning another course of retribution on what we must assume is your Enforcers. And this, Kane, is what leads me to believe your mate is not dead.” She glanced at the young Demon with heartening encouragement. “If they had wanted to make a statement by killing her, they would have done so right here. This blood is really incidental. I think that they have kidnapped her. With Corrine in their custody, they have an intolerable leverage over you all. I do not know what use they expect to get out of it, but it cannot be anything good.”
Siena took her turn at pacing thoughtfully before the gathering. “If we are to remove their leverage, we must rescue Corrine as soon as possible,” she mused. “There is only one course of action to be taken, as I see it. If you will allow my assistance.”
“By all means,” Noah encouraged, holding up a silencing hand to Elijah, who made a sound of protest.
“We must search the premises of these female forces and try to locate Corrine. However, the only ones who have a hope of getting past their notice are half-breed females like Anya, myself, and… Magdelegna.” She pointed to the mildly startled Mind Demon.
“Me?” Legna asked dumbly, surprised to even be considered for something that would definitely take her out of her comfort zone.
“You are a Mind Demon, yes? You can trick minds, alter perception, and toy with their heads in ways that will give us most excellent access.” Siena couldn’t help the impish urge to fling a sly look at the grumpy blond warrior, and with a wriggle of whiskers she said, “See? I know you, too.”
“In that case, why can I not just teleport into the compound and find her myself?” Legna asked. “I can take images from your mind—”
“No. The compound is a honeycomb of underground caverns. I have no idea where she might be, and we could end up teleporting into the middle of a necromancer’s tea party. I think the only way you would be able to find her is to get close enough to sense her thoughts and emotions. The only way this will happen will be through the so-called front door.”
“I would sense her thoughts and emotions,” Kane argued, looking every bit the frustrated husband.
“And you would be very obvious as the only man in the compound,” Siena said dryly. “Since Anya and I are known there, we will not be suspect as we help Magdelegna to locate your mate. Once we find her, Magdelegna can teleport us all to safety.”
“And I can mask our presence and our escape,” Legna added.
“From Ruth?” Noah was shaking his head. “Legna, she practically invented what it means to be a female Mind Demon. She was the first, and she is the strongest.”
“But Legna is no longer a typical female Mind Demon,” Gideon spoke up. “She is developing uncommon power and abilities. You have seen this for yourself.”
“Developing being the key word,” Noah argued, his worry for Legna paramount in his mind. “If any of them are detected, we will not only lose any advantage we have, but we may potentially lose these other women as well.”
“I doubt that,” Gideon remarked. “True, these are powerful enemies, and not to be underestimated, but I have never known a necromancer able to prevent a teleport when the Demon was not controlled by a pentagram. Even Ruth is not capable of that.”
“Then it is settled,” Legna said. “We will seek Corrine in their stronghold. Once she is rescued, we can worry about the next attack they are planning.”
“And if she is not being kept in that place?” Kane asked tensely.
“Why wouldn’t she be?” Siena countered. “They have no reason to suspect we are on to them and their locale. And should that be the case, where better to find the information?”
“Then it is settled,” Gideon agreed firmly. He was not pleased by the idea of Legna going into danger, but he was going to make sure he and several others were going to be close by should any of them need assistance. And he would be in her mind the entire time.
“Hardly. Legna is not exactly a low-profile member of our society,” Noah pointed out. “Ruth would recognize her in a heartbeat, mental blocks or no. Every Councillor knows the face and form of the King’s sister.”
“I will alter her appearance sufficiently,” Gideon said. “It is within my power.”
“Excellent. How much time do you need to prepare?” Siena asked Gideon.
“But I need time to rest,” Legna pointed out. “I have taxed myself.”
“We can’t afford that kind of time,” Kane argued anxiously. He felt Corrine’s absence keenly. His mind felt so hollow, but it was nothing compared to the fear of the unknown. What, he wondered, was happening to her? He couldn’t bear the thoughts that began to race into his head and claw through his hollowed-out heart.
“He is right,” Legna agreed. “Give me two hours. Some energy supply from Noah, a little healing from Gideon, and some meditation should refocus me sufficiently.”
“Very well. I will be prepared as well.” The Queen turned to Noah. “When you are finished aiding your sister, I should like a moment with you.”
“By all means,” Noah agreed, much to the displeasure of his Warrior Captain.
“I offer my help in this venture not only as a gesture of goodwill, but because I feel this feminine force is dangerous enough to warrant my personal scrutiny,” Siena was explaining to Noah half an hour later. “What you do with the information about the Demon traitor is at your discretion, Noah. I know you have your own justice system. But I will warn you now that if in the future you plan to send further spies into this stronghold for yourself, we must keep each other well notified of our actions.
“I will have my Lycanthropes picking this group apart with brutal efficiency the moment we are able, and I would hate to see any Demon warrior accidentally injured because they were gathering intelligence for you and a miscommunication left us unaware of their innocent presence. There is a great need for us to exchange ambassadors. My court will welcome any Demon of your choosing.”
Noah leaned back in his seat, absently turning the signet ring on his middle finger as he considered the offer for a long moment. It was not usual for Noah to show signs of perturbation, but it was clear he was more than a little worn out by all the attacks against those he loved.
“I have only one Demon I could entrust with such a task, but you will have to give Magdelegna time to decide before I can make that a definite promise to you,” the King said quietly.
“An excellent choice,” the Queen said after a long minute. “I do not know why I did not consider it myself. Especially since her mate is already quite a familiar face to my court. As for my part, I have a very special female in mind. She is named Myriad. She would be an excellent ambassador for your court not only because she is remarkably open-minded, fearless, and strong, but because she is not the sort who would come crying to me with easily bruised feelings. She, too, is a half-breed, which may help others become comfortable with her more quickly than perhaps a purebred could achieve.”