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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"Speak," he said hoarsely. Then a violent roar. "Quickly!"
Even as he made the command he sought for Kestra, suddenly realizing she had left him. How could he not have noticed? Had his thirst for vengeance so blinded him to her? Had she called for his help, his volatile need to satisfy his rages suffocating the breath of her cries for him?
"My brother infiltrates your castle even as I infiltrated Damien's. He sought you, great King. A worthy adversary. He did not expect you to come to Damien's aid yourself."
"Fool!" Noah spat the word, unsure who he aimed it at. "It was what was intended all along! You fool!"
The woodland exploded in outraged flame.
Jacob hit the deck, barely in time to cover the Princess as a wave of flame roiled out of the tree line just far enough above their heads to keep his hair mostly unsinged. He had felt that one coming, and after it passed he flung his head up to try to see why such a display had occurred. Sweat flew from his hair as he rose onto his knees, straddling the Princess protectively. His hand still plugged her wounds, though Noah had almost cauterized the bloody thing just a moment ago. The Earth Demon could see nothing, feel nothing except the earth as he absorbed the screams of the natural life all around him. Noah's abuse had caused great damage to flora and fauna alike, and Jacob was impacted enough to feel a fury toward Noah he had never felt before.
He whipped his head around, sending another spray of perspiration arcing out like a liquid halo as he searched amongst the lightly toasted scrub for what he wanted. His black eyes fastened on a promising plant and Jacob called it to himself instantly, forcing it to ride a rippling wave of earth so he did not have to leave his position.
The natural coagulants in the roots of the plant would help save Syreena's life. He shoved several in his mouth, chewing the dirty bulbs until the juice broke free of the roots. He spat the dubious salve into his hand, then spat again to rid his mouth of the foul taste that remained even as he smeared the concoction over the gaping flesh of Syreena's throat. How she would survive such a wound was beyond his comprehension. Even now he was watching her eyes slip closed with increasing frequency.
"Syreena, do not close your eyes. If you succumb, Damien will never survive. Come!" He slapped her face, making her jerk back to consciousness. She tried to speak, but could not, her damaged throat refusing to work. But by the fire in her eyes, he guessed she would have cursed him pretty efficiently had she the voice. Over the centuries of the war between their peoples, some pretty fine epithets had arisen from the lips of Lycanthropes in regard to Demons, and the reverse was also true. "Yes, yes, I know," he sighed, "I am the foul son of a hunchbacked Demon whore."
His self-deprecating humor made her laugh, another step toward consciousness despite being little more than a wheezing breath and a sparkle in her eyes.
"Strange, I was just about to say the same thing," a deep voice mused. "Enforcer, would you mind telling me why you are lying over my naked wife?"
Jacob and Syreena both twisted to see behind Jacob, whose body was blocking Damien from seeing the state Syreena was in. Damien caught the painful relief in the Demon's eyes, and then the flat-out pain in his wife's. Jacob went flying as Vampire strength shoved him out of the way without heed for anything save Syreena. Damien grabbed her up, a hoarse sound of fury gurgling from his throat when he saw his wife's wounds up close.
"Sweetling," he whispered. "Oh, love, what have you done to yourself?"
It was a rhetorical question. He was already in her mind, mining her memories, learning the truth. Her eyes went wider, and she knew it took a monumental effort for him to tamp down the need to vocalize and act on the outrage that would have blinded him to everything else…had she not needed him so badly.
She brushed weak fingers against the least damaged side of her throat, her eyes speaking where her voice could not.
"No, Princess, I cannot. You are too damaged." But even as he held her he was watching precious rivers of blood run down her naked skin, pooling and soaking into the soil. Jacob's actions had eased the flow, but there was massive arterial damage. He was afraid the spurting had stopped only because there was no longer any blood to power the force of it.
He needed to stop the bleeding, but he could not bring himself to strike her on the neck where she had been so savaged already. Aware of the Enforcer looking on with wary, ready eyes, Damien chose the nearest access to the largest artery in her body. Laying her back down along the ground with infinite tenderness, he slid back to cup her knee in his hand, raising her leg as he bent to press a brief apologetic kiss on her kneecap. His fingers slowly pressed up along her soft flesh, the stroke having an intimacy to it that made Jacob turn his head and eyes to the side. Damien appreciated the gesture as he was compelled to lift Syreena's calf to his shoulder, bending until her knee hooked onto his collarbone. He glanced briefly into her beautifully trusting eyes, their multicolored flecks glistening with tears for him because she knew he was afraid of hurting her.
Then he struck for the femoral artery in her thigh.
His canines flashed in and out of her flesh after a deeply bruising hit to the crucial blood pathway. Instantly she was bleeding, and he had no choice but to seal his lips to her skin and let the sweet warmth of her blood fill his mouth. What he sought to do was to trigger the age-old instincts of the workings of his body. Only by striking and feeding sufficiently would his body produce the urge to strike again. When he felt himself reach that point, this was exactly what he did. A second strike, just as sure and deep, only this time a flood of coagulants and the antibodies of numberless diseases he had been exposed to pumped out of his teeth like venom from a snake. They would enter her bloodstream, rushing to all sites of torn tissue, and cause the immediate clotting and sealing of all wounds so that no more blood could be lost.
Jacob only looked back at the couple when his peripheral vision caught the Prince leaning over his wife so he could give her a kiss on her extremely pale lips.
"She needs blood and a healer," Damien said, the command inoffensive because Jacob was used to both the majesty of the Prince's position and his overriding demand to care for his mate. He knew that feeling all too well.
"Where can I find your best healer?" Jacob offered.
"We have none. Vampires heal themselves. Damn me, I should have considered this!" Damien cursed himself again, desperately trying to keep Syreena awake with the sweep of his hand over her hair. "She needs a Monk of The Pride. She needs a healer from her sister's court."
Kestra kept her eyes averted from the Vampire approaching her. She waited, wanting him to come closer before she allowed him to look into her eyes. She heard the soft compulsion in his voice, trying to soothe and lull her. It was layer and underlayer, the obvious and the subversive. This was something she had experience in. She'd always had a sense of the seditious. Sands had been an example, though a poor example, because she'd ignored her instincts that day.
So as the Vampire spoke and attempted to charm her like a cobra in a basket, she allowed herself to relax. She wasn't touched by his hypnotic coercion. This, she realized, was a strength. Druid or human, it didn't matter. It was an advantage and she'd use it to its fullest. The whys and wherefores were thoughts best left to later. Although she had to wonder. It seemed that this was the second power he'd used on her that, as soon as she was made aware of it, had become increasingly difficult for him to use against her. When he'd first arrived, he had read her mind in a snap. As soon as she'd realized he was doing so, it had become difficult for him to utilize the skill. Even now she could see the curl of his brow as he warred to hear all the thoughts he wanted access to so badly.
Yes. Of course. It was like setting charges. You find the supports first, and then go for the bang. Once you know what holds everything in place, it becomes an easy target for destruction. It suddenly made sense that some innate part of her would destroy all the advantages he'd have in an attack, one by one, weakening his position of power. If she kept blowing out his supports, eventually his advantage would collapse.
He was coming within reach. She tried to reconcile this handsome face of deception with human Vampire lore, though she didn't want to rely on anything she didn't know to be fact. She suspected he was capable of speed beyond her own, but he was moving leisurely as if he expected the Demon King to never come home. The thought sent an inexplicable wave of panic through her and she had the impulse to reach for Noah, to see if he was alive and safe. She tamped down the urge with all her might, focusing once more, telling herself it was ridiculous to worry about a being of such vast aptitude as Noah.
The Vampire closed in, and she could smell him, something foul, like he had rolled in sour trash. She tried not to wrinkle her nose in distaste. She appeared relaxed, and she knew that if she calmed her mind she would have as fair a chance against him as she could manage.
"What manner of man, I wonder, allows so pretty a lady to be here all alone, unguarded?" He asked this conversationally, as if the question itself weren't a threat.
"I believe there were guards aplenty posted outside."
"Those who are not at the Samhain festival, you mean? Well, one had a fairly eager girl on her knees behind a distant bush. They might be done soon, though. She seemed somewhat relentless." He leered in what she supposed was a further attempt at charm. "The rest are easily misled by shadows and the like. Besides, Vampires are not Demon enemies. We have shared the holidays before."
"I wouldn't know much about that," she said, hefting out a sigh. "Frankly, I find the whole thing boring. And I can tell you I don't appreciate being left behind like some…some mistress who sits around waiting for her lord and master's urges to fall on him. Somebody around here is living in the Dark Ages." She gestured pointedly to the castle.
The Vampire chuckled, a deep, pretty sound, also full of that coaxing compulsion to relax.
He came closer and she began to raise her eyes, saying all kinds of intense little prayers to herself.
Their eyes clashed, the brilliant glitter of her pupils searing the unsuspecting Vampire to the quick, rendering him into shocked immobility. It was at just that moment that Kestra felt Noah flare to furious life in her mind. She ignored him, afraid of accidentally breaking off the tenuous paralysis she had over her target. It had worked, just as it had worked on the medic. Instantly his aura flared into her vision, and then his powers independently revealed themselves to her. She didn't understand all the hows and small details of this power she was wielding, and she knew it was dangerous to wield weapons without experience, but she had no choice. She didn't even fully understand the Vampire's abilities as they jumped onto her mental chart, but she wasn't actually interested in those details at the moment. It was the paralysis in and of itself that would serve her.
She knew from her lone experience with Gideon that next would come the Vampire's flaws, the weaknesses and back doors to circumvent each of his skills. Then she'd feel the urge to map down each power with the precision of the best cartographers. This was what had quickly exhausted her before, and she didn't want that to happen. She would need all of her strength, every ounce of it. She'd need to act, to quickly reseat herself into her own mind and body, and take action before he came around from his paralysis.
Weaknesses. She'd been armed with human mythology just as anyone who had seen a half dozen Vampire movies would have been, but there was no instant death from a stake in the heart for his kind. Even the sun didn't kill them all in a rush. It burned and smoldered them, like a low-temperature kiln, taking hours before it finally reduced them to ashes.
But Vampires could be forced into a torpor. It required a massive blood loss in a short period of time. If a Vampire lost too much blood too quickly, he would have to crawl beneath the safety of the ground in order to restore health, a forced death-like sleep that allowed him time to heal from mortal wounds.
Also, decapitation and cutting out the heart would suffice to kill a Vampire. But since she didn't see herself finding a butcher knife any time soon, she doubted she was going to find either of those routes to be plausible. She believed she'd have only a single shot, while he was unaware and in this stupor. She knew on some level that once pain became involved, the Vampire would break away from her captivity. She felt Noah, a small but powerful presence, waiting and watching, following her thoughts and holding his breath.
Kestra leapt off the desk and plowed into the Vampire in a single movement, dragging the dazed Nightwalker to the marble floor. His head cracked into the tiles with a sickening thud. He barely had an inkling of what was going to happen when he saw the firelight gleam off the silver-plated letter opener she raised sharply into the air. He thought, somewhat stupidly, that silver was a Lycanthrope weakness. Unless…
Unless the sharp object was thrust with unerring accuracy and shocking strength into his soft belly and used to bisect the aorta running down the center of his body. This was a most effective maneuver. He would not bleed to death within a minute or two like a normal human, because there was no heartbeat in him at his age to speed the process along, but he would eventually bleed out.
The trick for Kestra would be to remain safe until then.
The Vampire didn't scream until she'd already scrambled off his body, the deadly damage done. She ran as if the hounds of hell were after her, exploding out of the castle and into the gardens, feeling suddenly disoriented.
Go right, straight, to the left…now straight.
The instructions were crisp and commanding, a little breathless in reflection of Noah's fear, she thought. She didn't blame him. She was scared to death, too.