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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“We are called Demons. We are a race of elementals, immortal and gifted with nature-oriented powers. We are a highly civilized species with a strict code of honor, morals, and beliefs. We desire to peacefully coexist with your species, to protect our human friends from whatever baser sides there are to our natures. That was why Elijah drove me away from you, Bella. It is forbidden for a Demon to harm a human and, therefore, it is taboo for a Demon to… to try and mate with a human. It has always been that way.”
“But… ” Isabella shook her head, trying to clear it of a rush of implications and confusions. “Is that what that thing was in the warehouse? One of you? A… Demon?”
“Yes and no. Demons, for the most part, look as you see us now. We behave as civilized as you see us behaving now, the exception being occasional moments of primitive behavior which we try to monitor very closely. Saul, the creature you destroyed, was a perverted, corrupted Demon. It takes a very specific set of circumstances for that extreme transformation to happen, and it has not happened in over a century. Until tonight.”
“What’s more,” Legna spoke up, drawing Isabella’s attention, “tonight has been the first time that we know of that a human has been able to kill one of our kind. Attempted, yes. Succeeded, never.”
“Also, on this night of firsts,” Noah added, “is the first time Jacob, one of the most controlled and disciplined among us, has ever lost control with a human female. You may not see it, but that has a tremendous significance to us.”
“Believe me, it was tremendously significant to me as well,” she said dryly. “So you mean to tell me that you all can’t be killed? Is that what you mean by immortal? Because if that’s the case, that was one pretty dead immortal in that warehouse.”
“We can be killed. By one another, by other powerful Nightwalkers, and… magic-users,” Noah edited gingerly. “Immortal means that we are long lived, many of us centuries old.”
“Centuries?” Isabella swallowed visibly. “How many centuries?” she asked Jacob.
“A little over six.”
“Six hundred years?” Isabella found herself suppressing another one of those hysterical giggles she was prone to since meeting Jacob. “Talk about your older man. Oh, wait, you aren’t even a man.” Isabella’s eyes grew huge as the implications of that particular realization hit her. “What… um… what would have happened if… I mean… if… uh… you know… ”
This time everyone in the room shifted uncomfortably.
“Actually, we do not really know,” Noah said. “It has never happened before. At least, not with uncorrupted Demons. The Transformed… well, there have been tragic instances where women and men have been found… ”
“Torn apart,” Jacob said bluntly. He had seen the stark reality of this. They were vicious and brutal fatalities. This was what compelled his vigilance and drove him to make no mistakes. His failures simply took too expensive a toll.
“However,” Legna continued quickly, her compassionate eyes on Jacob’s face, “we have always felt that such a mating would be too much for a human to survive, even with an uncorrupted Demon.”
Isabella could believe that. Jacob’s primal dominance had been consuming. She didn’t want to think about what would have happened if Elijah and Noah had not shown up when they had. It was clear by the expression on Jacob’s face that he was having a similar thought.
“I never wanted to hurt you. You must believe me, Bella,” he said quietly.
“Jacob is telling you the truth. Something happens to our people at this time of year that makes our instinctive urge to mate very difficult to control,” Noah explained. “We police ourselves strictly, but sometimes it gets the better of us.”
“Wait. Wait a minute.” Isabella threw up staying hands, shaking her head as everything she was learning tumbled around inside of it. “This is a very imaginative story, but how am I supposed to believe any of it? I mean… you all look so normal. Disgustingly good-looking, but normal.”
Jacob felt his lips twitch. This woman constantly made him want to laugh out loud. At himself, at their habitual solemnity, at everything he felt he had been taking far too seriously for far too long. Instead, he reached down and took both of her little hands in his, enjoying the way she curled her fingertips between his fingers, trusting him regardless of all she had learned.
“Do not be afraid,” he murmured.
Isabella opened her mouth to ask him why she should be afraid, but a sudden sensation of lightness washed over her and took her breath away. She watched his strange eyes as her feet lifted effortlessly from the floor, her body following his lead as he drew them up into the air together. She threw her arms around his neck, her heart pounding with disquiet and adrenaline as they went higher. He felt her entire body tremble, like the quick flicks of a cat’s tail.
“Destiny has made me of the Earth, Bella,” he whispered softly in her ear. “I can manipulate gravity, communicate with all living things, and move tectonic plates against one another if I so choose. I can grow a seed to maturity with a thought and cause it to wither and die with another. I am able to feel the life forces of every living thing born of the Earth. I can hunt anything that travels the paths of this world with all the heightened senses of the most accomplished predators. I am Nature, and She is me.”
Isabella exhaled a soft “Oh,” watching now as they climbed higher away from the others who watched them, until they reached the rafters. It wasn’t until she was looking down on everything that she realized they must be in a castle. It was the only thing they could be in that would match the walls, floors, and ceilings of the enormous room they were in.
After a moment, Jacob slowly lowered them back to the marble flooring, holding her protectively against himself as their bodies grew weighty once more. She saw worry in his eyes and his urge to be her protector. Even more, she felt it. She realized that she was developing an attunement with Jacob’s emotions and thoughts. She didn’t know how it was happening, but how could she ask that in the face of the fact that she had just flown around the room in his arms?
As she tested this newfound ability, she felt something telling her that his desire for her was merely curbed and controlled, not gone as she had begun to suspect. For some reason it gave her a sense of relief. Reckless though it might be, there was a very powerful part of her that did not want to be just a passing primal urge to him.
She stepped out of the circle of his arms and looked at Elijah.
“The wind?” she asked.
“Destiny has chosen me for the Wind,” he said in resonant tones as he swept out his hands in a showman’s gesture, even while he winked at her. “Atmospheres, temperature, air, these are mine to beckon.” And he did, sweeping a breeze through the room just strong enough to make Legna’s gown ruffle. Suddenly, without even a flash of light or warning, Elijah’s form dissipated into thin air, becoming the air. His voice swirled all around her as he playfully lifted her hair up from her shoulders, drawing it into a banner that fluttered high above her head, making her laugh. “The weather sways to my will, the tempests and pressures of it mine to manipulate. I can infuse a place with life-giving oxygen or remove it completely. The Wind is the breath of life, and She breathes through me.”
“Elijah,” Jacob snapped out, a dark glare of disapproval tinged by a perceptible gravitational shift meant to add to his warning. He didn’t like Elijah playing with her, and he was making it very clear.
“Destiny has chosen Fire for me,” Noah injected as Elijah’s form faded back in and the breeze died down, shifting focus back to the disclosures. The way they spoke, with such pride and reverence—Isabella was thrilled by the energy of it. She gasped when Noah’s powerful body turned hazy and then swirled into a column of smoke. He lingered in this form for a moment before becoming solid once more. “I am the lava that pulses deep in the Earth’s core, the conflagration that burns away the old so that the new might be born in its wake. I am that which boils and seethes and is volatile and explosive. I am the warmth of the sun, the manipulator of all energies. Fire burns in me and for me, and She is all that I am.”
“Fire and Earth Demons are among the rarest of our breed, the most powerful of our kind,” Jacob said. “Noah is King. Our leader.”
“But fire cannot live without air,” Elijah remarked, an impudent gleam in his green eyes.
“Air cannot be purified without the Earth,” Jacob countered.
“Gentlemen, please.” Legna spoke up, sighing in exasperation. “Shall Bella and I leave the room so you can measure each other on the tabletop?”
Isabella laughed outrageously. Legna had dared to say such a thing to these men of phenomenal power! Then it occurred to her that males of the species might not be the only ones with abilities of such magnitude.
“What about you, Legna?”
“Destiny gifted me with the Mind,” she admitted quietly. “I am illusion, that which is created and real only in the Mind. I am the embodiment of empathy, logic and reason, impulse and desire. I desire to be somewhere, and there I will appear.” She gave an example of that by exploding into a cloud of smoke heavily scented with sulfur. A second explosion brought her reappearance behind a gasping Bella. Unable to help herself, Isabella laughed and applauded the feat. “I am seduction, charisma, and pacification,” Magdelegna finished. “These are the true powers of the Mind, and She shares them with me.”
“Wait a minute, Fire, Earth, Wind, and… Mind? What happened to Water?”
“Not in this room, but I shall call for a Water Demon if you desire,” Noah offered graciously.
“So that means there are five different kinds of Demons? One for each element? Although the Mind element is new to me.”
“Actually”—Jacob smiled kindly—“it is true, humans only believe there are four elements. Currently we have six. Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, Mind, and Body.”
“You never know what the future holds. Mind Demons only appeared about four hundred years ago. It is evolutionary.”
“I see.” She glanced at Legna, her brow knitting in thought.
“You are curious about something?” Legna prompted.
“Yes. I’m sorry, but it seems like they can come into a room and blast things away, but what you have is more… benign?”
“Female Demons are very different than their male counterparts. Our abilities tend toward, shall we say, the more insidious nature of our elements. Those parts of all elements that have potent effect but are not noticed outright until it is too late. For instance, a female Fire Demon. She can manipulate temperature to a small degree when held in comparison to a male like Noah, but temperament is where her true Fire is found. Fire burns in all of us, in our rages, our passions, our jealousies, and so forth. Imagine the ability to manipulate such things. Passion alone has changed the face of the world.”
“Luckily, we only have three Fire Demons in existence,” Elijah joked, elbowing Noah in the ribs in amusement.
“One of which is Noah and Legna’s sister, Hannah,” Jacob explained sotto voce.
“Also,” Legna continued, clearly warmed to her topic, “there are shared abilities, ones that cross not only sexes but elements as well. For instance, Elijah can become the fog, a weather condition, but so can a Water Demon, because that is what fog is. Both male and female Mind Demons can teleport, but only males are telepaths and only females are empaths.”
“I get it.”
And she did. Somehow, it all made sense. To have such power at one’s fingertips, she thought, was a daunting prospect. It had the potential to corrupt so absolutely, as the saying went. Yet not this proud, self-censuring race. There was comfort for her in that, because she needed something to counteract the unnerving understanding that things like werewolves and vampires were actually real. She also saw very clearly why they kept themselves a secret from her race. If humans ever found a means to entrap Demons, they could be used and perverted in the extreme.
That was when the last piece of the puzzle fell into place.
“What happened to Saul? You said he was Transformed. How? You were hunting him,” she added, turning to look at Jacob. “That’s why you asked me if I had seen anything. And when we found him, that bluish light… the other man… tell me, Jacob. What happened?”
“He was captured. We call it Summoning. There are certain humans, known to us as necromancers, who long ago learned a secret method of Summoning a Demon, entrapping him, and bringing his powers under their domination for a period of time.” Jacob’s jaw tightened grimly. “With every command the magic-user makes, a transformation begins, advances, and eventually, a Demon becomes what you saw—a mindless creature without control or a sense of right and wrong. It is our worst nightmare.”
“Oh my God.” Isabella brought a hand to her mouth, her eyes expressing her horror. “You mean that could happen to any of you?”
They all nodded in grim unison and Isabella felt her stomach turn over in protest. These beautiful creatures? Their grace, vigor, and determined sense of right and wrong, destroyed? Perverted into one of those drooling, mindless gargoyles?
“Why are you telling me this? Aren’t you afraid I’ll somehow endanger you? Why do you trust me? I mean, for heaven’s sake, I’ve killed one of you. Oh!” She gasped in horror. “I didn’t mean to! I swear!” Tears leapt into her large violet eyes and Jacob could not resist the urge to enfold her in his arms. He drew her to his chest, cradling her head in one large hand, soothing her with soft sounds as she shuddered in revulsion.