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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Kane and Corrine lived in solitude, their closest neighbors all Demons themselves for the most part, and even they were a good mile away. At first it felt no different than anything else he had always sensed with ease and an almost careless ability, but the information Noah's power was giving to him made no sense. It felt as though he were standing on the edge of a city. A human city.
That was the moment his vision finally decided to cooperate and join his other senses. He hadn't even realized he'd opened his eyes until they focused on something in front of him.
A room, large and expansive, carpeted from wall to windows. Windows that looked down on an enormous metropolis. It only took him a moment to recognize enough buildings to identify it as Chicago.
When he turned his head to the right, he was still in Corrine's particularly designed sanctum. He focused down at his feet, trying to make sense of the trick of his eyes.
There, as if spliced together, was the line where two drastically different floors met and fused, polished oak and halves of pillows meeting up with plush carpets and pristine barrenness. He stood between this unlikely meshing of rooms, a foot on either side, holding Corrine to his right fully in the room he knew, and Leah on his left, fully in the room that was foreign to him.
For a moment, it felt as if he'd been frozen still in the middle of one of his sister's teleportations. When a Mind Demon teleported someone else from one point to another, those two points appeared to squeeze together, making it seem as if you could step from the origination to the destination instantaneously. However, Noah knew this wasn't the case. When the two places of a teleport met, it was in a queer distortion of shapes and sounds and visuals. Nothing was clearly definable until you stepped fully in one direction or another, and the effect of the transport washed away a moment later.
So how had these two places connected in this Escher-like fashion? Modern metropolis suite looking down on a city from on high, and peaceful country setting in rural England?
He didn't have time to contemplate it any further. The sound of voices slowly faded in around him, echoing everywhere, disjointed as he looked for the people they should have been coming from. Instinctively, the Demon King stepped toward the side of the split that he knew best, the one without apparent variables that could threaten their safety. As he did so, the foreign room seemed to flicker with a strange pattern of sunlight. He glanced toward the expansive windows. He drew in a sharp breath as he realized the clouds and the weather were changing, as well as the position of the sun.
More specifically, it all seemed to be running backward, from west to east across the sky. It only took twenty seconds for it to stop at a point that seemed to be shortly after dawn. As the light faded out to that warm half-light of a bright, promising sun and the remnants of the very last touches of a rose and violet dawn, the voices came closer and people suddenly took their positions in the room.
A woman and a man, one seated on a couch, the other standing almost a hand's reach away from Noah as she gazed appreciatively at a painting hanging on the wall. Since the painting was partially cut off by the spliced nature of the joined rooms, Noah came to understand that this effect was only being seen by those who had apparently caused it.
Which, of course, meant nothing when the woman spoke clearly for the first time, and a whole new recognition set in.
Noah's breath caught as she stepped back, turning away from her appraisal of the painting, giving him the full picture of her tall, athletic figure, the curves and shape of which he knew purely by heart, and the saucy swing of a pristine white braid of hair.
She crossed the room with refined movement, a well-practiced gait that had clearly been learned, covering up the more natural slink of her body as he watched the line of her spine and hips. Noah barely heard her conversation with the man whose nervous energy was grating over his senses. He was too astounded, realizing he was actually looking on the fully focused face and figure of the woman he had dreamed of so incessantly.
Corrine whispered the word in a mixture of fear and a truly felt sense of accomplishment. She reached out to touch the invisible barrier that marked the change of locations, but Noah stopped her with a firm hand on her wrist. It hadn't seemed dangerous when he'd straddled both sides of this strange connection from that world to this, but what if the other room suddenly disappeared, and Corrine's curious hand along with it?
Noah didn't have time to worry about that. Out of his peripheral vision, he saw Kestra swing out with her purse, clocking her companion hard in the head with it. Corrine gasped as she saw it, too, and together they watched as the blonde made an inexplicable dash across the room and flew over a counter and into the kitchen. A short while later, an all-too-distinct series of bangs went off. Noah didn't even have time to react. A second man had appeared from the hallway a short turn away, just in time to meet up with Kestra as she lurched back out of the kitchen on her hands and knees.
He grabbed Noah's mate by her braid and promptly shot her in the head.
"No!" the Demon King bellowed in shock and the sudden collision of despair as the next few seconds played out in a horrific display of blood and undeniable loss of life.
He lurched forward, unthinking of those he guarded.
But it was too late.
That strange distortion of sight suddenly overwhelmed the Demon King once more. Everything faded and twisted, and that rending sensation of being picked apart one cell at a time bolted through him. In all the times he'd adjusted his form on a molecular level, he had never experienced such agony and such a lack of control. He tried to breathe, but had no lungs with which to do so. Not in that moment.
The next instant he could, and the deep reflexive breath that followed carried the overwhelming scent of burning herbs and candles. He lost track of those he held for a moment, but soon was aware of all three of them crashing down hard onto the velvety pillows that covered the floor of Corrine's sanctum.
Corrine was coughing harshly, and then he felt her grasping at the sleeve of his shirt, clearly just as blind as he was once more.
"What the hell just happened?" she managed to say hoarsely.
That told Noah that this was far from the response Corrine had been expecting, though he'd already assumed as much. He finally found Leah, cradling her close to his chest again as her little body was racked with coughing. He rubbed violently at his eyes, trying to force himself to see. It did little good, so he was compelled to take a seat, with Leah on his lap and Corrine leaning heavily against him, and wait his eyesight out.
Just then a sharp distortion of air blew into them, followed by the unmistakable odor of sulfur and smoke that cut through the aroma of burning herbs.
"Kane!" Corrine cried out her husband's name, recognizing his arrival even though she couldn't see him.
"Corr! Noah! What the hell happened?"
Noah felt Corrine's presence and warmth being drawn away from him. He blinked in the direction of her energy signature and the copper red of her hair suddenly came into blurry focus. He immediately turned his attention to Leah, continuing to blink away the weakness of his eyes as he tried to examine the child for injury.
"Kane, are they injured?" he demanded of the younger Demon.
"No," Kane assured him as he kneeled to inspect Leah. "Covered in soot, but otherwise no worse for the wear. Are you okay?"
Noah had no idea how he could possibly answer that question. Relieved of his urgent worry over Leah and Corrine, the full implication of what had happened, of what he had just witnessed, weighed on him with a sudden and bright devastation he could remember feeling only at the worst moments in his long life. And yet this was somehow much keener. It sliced through flesh and bone and straight into the depths of his soul.
He let Kane draw Leah from his hold, and then stumbled through the blur of pillows and candlelight until he could touch a wall. He pressed his fingers into the lush velvet covering the wood paneling. The thick pile crushed beneath the onslaught of his clenching fist.
He felt Corrine's hands on his back, her empathy all too apparent in the tenderness of her touch. Noah couldn't bear the comfort. He didn't want to be comforted. He shrugged her off hard enough to make her stumble backward away from him.
"She is dead," he said, his voice far rougher with emotion than he would have liked. He ran cold fingers down his soiled face, focusing straight ahead until the detail of the fabric before him came into clarity. The truth of his words was devastating to him, and on so many levels. He laughed mirthlessly at the capricious nature of fate. "Now I know why I have not dreamed of her in a week. Those dreams are…" He swallowed hard, trying to tamp down emotion far too violent to express in front of gentle friends. "They were a connection that needed both sides to be completed. And now I just stood here and let it happen again!" He turned sharply to look down at the redheaded Druid. "You were right. I was so stupid. I wasted six months. If I had come to you when this started, she would have been safe under my protection when she needed me most!"
Corrine closed her eyes, fighting back her sympathetic tears.
"I don't understand any of this myself, Noah. You can't be sure-"
"I am damn sure, Corr. Did you look out the windows? The sky went from noon to dawn, moving time backward to the moment this thing occurred. Backward to what I am guessing was a week ago, to the day I ceased to dream of her. And do not tell me there was nothing I could do to change it. I felt that carpet beneath my foot! I could have-I should have done something! I could smell the difference between this room and that one. I felt the energy of an entire city beyond it. For that moment, that place in time was as real as this place is right now."
The monarch finally took a good look at the tall redhead who, in spite of a layer of grime, seemed to emanate power. She had done a potent and amazing thing, a feat beyond all expectations of her abilities, and the aftermath showed in overbright green eyes and an aura that glowed like a Christmas tree.
"Consider," he said, this time more gently. "How would Kane suffer if Isabella had found you too late, Corrine? I have a right to grieve this loss!" The declaration promptly ended any discussion. The room vibrated with pain and tension, the silent noise punctuated with the occasional cough of Corrine's niece.
"Yuck," the child declared. She licked her hand and rubbed it on her clothes in an attempt to clean the soiled palm. Leah was fastidious about cleanliness, though clearly not as much so about germs.
Wordlessly, Noah crossed to Kane and plucked his charge out of her blood uncle's hands, carrying her across the room. He held the child to his chest with one massive hand, and she instantly hooked her small, skinny legs around his waist, her head dropping onto his shoulder with contentment and the security that her uncle Noah would help her. The way he held her, however, grabbed at Corrine's heart. Leah was hooked around him as if she were some sort of bulletproof vest, protecting his all-too-vulnerable heart.
Kane moved to hold his distraught wife when her thoughts and emotions impacted against him like a train wreck. He followed her gaze, which was affixed on the door to the room as if Noah were standing on its threshold instead of having already passed through it.
"Shh, sweetness," he soothed softly, leaning to kiss a dirt-streaked cheek sympathetically. "You'll see. He'll be fine in time. Like any death, this will be grieved and then it will be put aside."
"I wish I could believe that," Corrine whispered to him on a fast, nervous breath. "The last time someone learned of the death of her potential Druid mate, she went mad."
"Mary? Ruth drove Mary mad, Corrine. From the minute that child was born she was spoiled, sheltered, and held much further above her station by Ruth than was warranted. The mother was to blame for her daughter's actions because of her carelessness in Mary's upbringing. That can never happen to Noah. Noah comes from an upbringing that defies explanation and a place I couldn't even begin to put in plain words for you." Kane shook his head when he felt her puzzled expression. "Not a physical place. A metaphysical one. Noah was born with something none of the rest of us could ever lay claim to. It's why he, above all others, is King."
"That's why he, above all others, deserved a complementary Queen," Corrine replied.
Noah knew on some level that the child he was now watching play contentedly before his hearth was responsible for what had happened.
The Prophecy had been clear and unmistakable. The Enforcers would give life to the child who would be the very first of his or her kind to have the power to manipulate the element of Time. Though she was only a little over two years old, Leah clearly had shown the first evidence of her ability, an astounding event even had it been a well-known element like Water or Wind. Even his remarkable power had not come to him at such a young age.
Of course, she had no idea what she had done or the significance of the part she had played. Suddenly certain things began to make sense to him. He spent enormous amounts of time with this special child. Though she'd had no conscious control of what she was doing, somehow Leah had formed that conduit through time for him. Perhaps it was simply a child's desire to please that had triggered the subconscious ability. Leah loved her uncle Noah with incredible devotion. She strived to do things that would please him. Combine this with the power of his and Corrine's wills, their need to be successful in their hunt, and it had made the perfect catalyst for a child with an untried power who wanted nothing more but to give him what he wanted. What he needed.
And for a terrible moment, Noah wanted to use her for exactly that reason. The King was a scholar, so he knew full well the implications of altering time, and a person's presence in time. However, he couldn't bring himself to care for that long second of self-indulgent thought.