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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Gideon said nothing about this! Noah, I beg you not to blame her for this. Surely you see it was unintentional. How was she supposed to know? None of us knew. And if Gideon did and is concealing it, I will kill him myself.”
“I do not think he does know. Before she came into the house, I was reading a scroll with two of the scholars that outlined the nature of a Druid in great detail. Nowhere in what I read was anything mentioned outside of what Gideon had already told us. No, Jacob, this is something different, something no one could have expected.” The King sighed deeply. “I do not blame her. But I will be honest and say that in light of this new development, I now know what it means to fear something. Someone. And I am certain you can understand when I say the idea of being under the same roof as her is a terrifying one.”
“That would mean it was not an outside source who tried to disassemble Isabella into dust.” The other two Demons looked to the side to rest eyes on the Ancient medic who had appeared in astral form without sound or warning. “It was Isabella herself. Taking power from you, Jacob, and using it to satisfy what was probably a strong desire in her mind at the moment.”
“Yes. I remember her thoughts were of wanting privacy, of wishing she had my abilities so she could be the one to sweep us away somewhere. It lasted a moment. It was awkward, clumsy, but never once did I suspect it was Isabella herself. But how? You never mentioned such an ability!”
“An aberration. Perhaps a mutation due to the crossbreeding of Druids and humans. I do not know precisely. It is an abnormality centuries in the making. I did make allowances that some things may have changed. However, I admit I had expected them to be weaknesses, a watering down of ability due to the unlikely genetic combination. I never suspected a Druid would become more powerful once mixed with the human genetic soup. I am realizing also that, if Bella is not unique in existence, these aberrations will be present in others. No two Druids will be alike. It is very likely that it will depend upon their mates what their power will be. Bella is practically a mirror for Jacob, absorbing his image, his power, and becoming his reflection. This is perhaps why they are so perfect for us, why they help to corral our power and our baser nature.”
Gideon turned his cold, mercury eyes onto Noah. “Isabella is no different than you or I were at the earliest stages of development. If I had an ounce of power for every time the young of our race had accidents from the use of their untried abilities, I would be able to heal the world with a simple snap of my fingers. What makes this so difficult for you, Noah, is that it is very humbling to be taken so unawares. Especially by the backlash of something that has been yours to command with such ease for so many centuries. These mishaps are easily controlled with practice and training. The one who will be most endangered is the one who trains her.” Gideon flicked his gaze to the Enforcer.
“I agree,” Noah said with a grave nod. “And I understand. But can she do this to all Nightwalkers? To necromancers? Do you have any idea how powerful and how dangerous this makes an individual?”
“An individual who has a hell of a hard time finding justification in swatting a fly,” Jacob reminded him harshly. “Isabella is a gentle, diplomatic soul. It will be our responsibility to see that she builds on the respect and consideration that is already heavily embedded in her morals. I remind you that she would lay down her life for any of you, that is how much she has come to care for you. It is bad enough I will have to tell her what has happened. I have to go into her room when she wakes and tell her that something she had no control over nearly cost the lives of the two Demons she has come to look on as family as well as friends. Knowing Isabella as you do, Noah, you tell me how you think she is going to feel about that.”
That said, Jacob pushed himself up onto his feet and left the other two Demons behind as he began to climb the stairs.
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
Jacob frowned, switching from his seat on a new chair to a location beside her on the bed where he could touch her, bring her into the comfort of his embrace.
“No. Don’t. I don’t want to feel better yet,” she said tightly, turning her face away from him as sharp tears stung her eyes. Jacob pulled back, respecting her request as best he could when every fiber of his being wanted to do just the opposite.
“Bella, everyone is okay now. It was an accident.”
“An accident? Honey, rear-ending a cop is an accident. This is a catastrophe.”
Jacob had never heard her sound so bitter, so defeated, and it tugged hard at his soul to feel her so wounded.
“I should’ve realized. It was my body, my thoughts. Why didn’t I make the connection? Oh God, when I think of what could’ve happened… what did happen… ”
“What has happened, for over a millennium, to every fledgling gifted with remarkable powers in this race and probably every other race of Nightwalkers. No one, not even Noah or Legna, holds you responsible for something none of us could have expected. If I could tell you how many times Noah lost his temper as a kid and set his parents’ house on fire—they were uncountable.” He shook his head. “Hell, Bella, the first time I shape-shifted it took me a week to figure out how to switch back.”
That made her release a soft, watery laugh.
“Oh, it gets better. Ask me what my first choice of animal was.”
“A pig. Not just any pig, mind you,” he said, talking over her startled laugh. “A huge, slobbery, grunting warthog. I had seen one at the zoo, and the next I knew… ” Bella was laughing against her fists, trying to smother it with her fingers. “My father loved to tell the story for years about how he had to kidnap his own son from the zoo, a son who was so upset he squealed loudly the entire time his father was trying to smuggle him out. My father was a Demon of the Body, so he had no way of transforming me into a less conspicuous form of matter. He never let me live it down. Can you imagine? Centuries of being reminded of the most ridiculous moment of my life.”
By then Bella was laughing so hard she had rolled back onto the bed, chortling up at the ceiling and clutching her cramping side.
“Stop it,” she begged, nudging him in the side with the toes of one foot. “I told you I didn’t want to feel better about this!”
“Of course, I think Legna tops this particular cake. You see, when Mind Demons teleport, they have to remember to teleport their clothes with them.”
“Oh no… ”
“Oh, yes. Noah’s coronation anniversary. There is an incredible celebration every ten years, and everyone goes, even the most solitary of us. Legna was sixteen years old, and she was running late just like any typical teenager. She exploded into the room. Mind you, the display of a teleport in someone so young is ten times what you see her cause now, so she had everyone’s attention. That youngling blushed bright red in places I never thought a woman could blush. It was a most enlightening moment.”
“I’ll bet!” Isabella giggled, her skin flushing in sympathetic embarrassment. “The poor thing!”
“Well, Noah responded very fast, so I assure you she only had time for a quick blush before he covered her in smoke, blocking her from a multitude of very astonished eyes. We do not tease her about it, however. Noah actually passed a law saying we could not. It was the only way he could get her to go out in public again. I am risking my peace of mind by telling you this. One chuckle in front of her, little flower, and you will doom me. So please… ”
“Of course I won’t,” she giggled, sitting up once more and resting her cheek on the back crest of his shoulder. “Jacob,” she sighed softly, nuzzling her nose against him. “What did I do to deserve you?”
“No doubt it was something very, very bad,” he teased, turning to take her under his arm and draw her close to his chest.
She followed his urging quite willingly, straddling his thighs as she faced him, sitting back on her heels and letting her bright violet eyes scan every detail of his handsome face. He looked tired and a little mussed from what was no doubt the intensely repetitive act of running his hands through his hair. She reached out thoughtfully, taking a long dark ribbon of his hair between her fingers, fondling the consistency affectionately.
“No doubt,” she agreed softly. “I find it funny, though, how good you are at keeping me from feeling overly guilty about something so terrible, and yet you can’t do the same for yourself.”
“Well,” he said softly, reaching to mimic her caress of his hair with a finger coiling around a raven lock, “I suppose that is why I am lucky to have you. You are quite successful at distracting me from such things.”
“I’ll have you well trained in no time,” she assured him.
“Yes, little flower. And we also will have you trained just as quickly. It will mean a great deal of hard work, a lot of experimentation, and no doubt a few more accidents, but you have always struck me as a very eager study. A quick one as well. You are less than a decade beyond the age of Fostering, so you have lost little ground as a fledgling and your power has already grown beyond that of most young Demons.”
Bella sighed, her eyes taking a trip towards heaven.
“Okay, you lost me again. Fostering? And just what is the difference between fledgling and adult and Elder?”
“The Fostering is a very important tradition in our culture. When a child’s power maturates to the point where they begin to have… accidents”—he lifted a pointed brow at her—“usually anywhere from early adolescence to about twenty years of age, the child is fostered out to their Siddah. Umm”—he searched for the comparative a moment—“godparents? Yes? Two chosen at birth to apprentice and discipline the child.”
“You give your children away?” Bella looked as horrified as she sounded.
“Shh,” he soothed quickly, his hands slipping deep into her hair and massaging the back of her scalp to calm her. “You would consider them adults in your society by the time the majority do this. It is more like college.”
“What of the early starters? The early adolescents?”
Jacob sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to respond well.
“It is the same as for humans. As early as nine, sometimes eight… though all before sixteen are extremely rare,” he added quickly.
“Why can’t you train your own children? I don’t understand! How horrible it must be to be packed up and thrown out of their parents’ house!”
“First of all,” Jacob said firmly, forcing her to look into his eyes, though seeing her purple eyes swimming with tears was more than he could stand, “first of all, children are never allowed to feel abandoned. Weekends are reserved for rest and birth family, and Siddah love their fosterlings like their own. They are a part of the child’s life from the moment it is born and named. They are family, just another branch.”
“Let me finish,” he scolded softly. “Parents do not raise their own children past a certain point for one reason. It is often problematic for a parent to exert the stoicism and the influence necessary to control a child of power. Demons tend to love and cherish their child to the point of… well, if too much love is poor parenting, then so be it. So, a long time ago it was found that discipline was far easier for aunts, uncles, and family friends. I know this is true in human society too. Children will listen to others, behave for others, and perform for others far easier than they will for their parents. This is why the Fostering came about. Children grow up quicker this way, with a better sense of control, knowledge, and structure. We give them morals, Bella, the Siddah give them focus, and both give love and patience. My Fostering was one of my favorite memories of growing up. Share my mind, little love, and my memories. You will see that I loved my Siddah very much, and that my love for my parents never diminished because of it. I know your fears. It will not happen.”
“How old were you?” she asked, even as she reached for the offered memories.
“I was almost twelve.”
“Eleven! Eleven years old?”
“Bella, you forget… I am an Earth Demon. We, like Fire Demons, are both rare and powerful. You have seen what happens when we make love, Bella, and I am an Elder with control, training, and centuries of life experience to draw on. The same way I was not prepared for you is the same way a burgeoning power in an adolescent feels. Too much power, too many hormones,” he said more pointedly, “and not the first clue as to how to control either. My male Siddah was the first and only person I talked to about things like sex. I could never have talked to my mother. She would have run screaming and crying from the room. ‘My baby! My baby!’” He imitated her in voice pitch and a wild mock of pulling out his hair.
“Okay, okay… but surely your dad—”
“I loved my father, but I did not see much of him on a daily basis. Of course, there was a war at the time… ”
“Another war?” She sighed. “Wait. Don’t go on ’til my heart gets over the shock,” she said with dry sarcasm.
“Nightwalkers are aggressive species,” he relented. “Lycanthropes are the worst of them. They truly are mostly animal and they are extremely territorial. We warred steadily with them for the past three hundred years.”
“Three hundred!” she was aghast.
“A long story with a very sick man at its center,” he said dismissively. “His daughter is Queen now, and she has demanded peace these fifteen years. We were relieved to comply. Now. Back to the second part of your question. Fledglings are puberty to one hundred years, adults one hundred years to three hundred, Elders three hundred to seven hundred, and Ancients are the subsequent years.”