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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"But," Kestra said for him politely, arching a knowing brow at the other couple, making them chuckle.
"But," he agreed with a light laugh, "her ability to handle her own power is new yet. If she decides to do this, I would recommend you let Jasmine fill the position temporarily, giving Kestra several months to learn the ins and outs of her power and how to apply it to the military skills she already possesses. She learns damn fast, so I would say by Beltane."
"Five months. Hmm," Damien said speculatively. "Jas can still live in the citadel, an important detail, I assure you. With Stephan gone, her presence here is essential."
"I gather," Noah agreed with grim understanding. "If you do not wish to split her attention, I could-"
"No." Damien held up a hand. "Jasmine will be an excellent choice. We are secure here so long as we keep loyal Vampires heavily staffed, which I am already doing. If she works her command from here, it will be no different than what she does now. I think a project like this will be good for her. Kestra, if you accept the role as marshal over the net, when you are not training your power, you can be choosing your new soldiers. Familiarize yourself with the Vampires already cast out in the net. Choose your commanders from the hunters you meet. That would mean spending time in foreign courts like Siena's and Tristan and Malaya's as you gather the hunters they will offer."
"Better they come to my court, where she is protected and secure."
Kestra barely had time to bristle before his hand slid up to massage the nape of her neck. It made her second-guess her ire, as he knew it would. She realized this was a gentle reminder that, while her power was still young, she would be restricted in how far and how long she could travel from him.
"If she accepts," Syreena noted.
She felt their eyes turn to her, all but Noah's because he would always know before anyone else what her decisions would be.
"I am curious why you would choose someone so green and so landlocked. You should at least choose someone who can fly or travel with speed."
Syreena laughed as if Kestra had made a joke.
"Travel from the Demon court? With all those Mind Demons at your fingertips? Or you can choose an assistant of any element who can travel with speed."
"As for green," Noah spoke up with a sidelong look at her, "Druids power up really fast. They master their broader skills with incredible speed. Your secondary skills-militia, command, battle strategy, and evaluation of power and ability-you have been practicing those for a great deal of your life already. You will simply be building as you go. I would pit your mercenary tactics against a hyped-up Vampire any day. And I have."
Noah looked directly at her as he reminded her they had been together the moment she had bested a supernatural creature so much more powerful than she had been. Together in her thoughts. She gave him a slow, cocky smile before turning to Damien.
"Well, when he puts it that way, how can a girl refuse?" She laughed when they did. "Baby, you are such a romantic," she purred teasingly.
"Ah yes, they are so sexy when they appreciate our power," Syreena said loftily.
"I make it a point to never underestimate your power, love," Damien said, his grin easing the tension bracketing his features. Kestra could feel him relaxing at last.
"Mmm, well, I'm still pretty pissed that bastard got the drop on me," Syreena muttered, sighing her consternation.
"Sweet, you were understandably exhausted," Damien reminded her, placing a soothing kiss against her brow.
"That's no excuse," she said.
"All that matters," Noah interjected, "is that you are well and he is dead." He lowered his voice so only the four of them would be privy to his next remarks. "Besides, if I am not mistaken, the energy burn left behind in that room was indicative of one hell of a heat cycle, Syreena." The Demon King's eyes flashed with emerald amusement. "Damien is right, you were understandably exhausted."
Kestra snickered midsip of her champagne, sending bubbles up into her sinuses. Her coughing laughter eased their hostess's blush and they all joined her.
"Why do you think we had to wait two weeks to throw this party?" Damien said dryly. He had thoughtfully reached out to prevent Kestra from taking another sip of her champagne until after his remark.
It turned out to be a huge consideration. Kestra lost all composure, her laughter turning heads and sprouting grins among their friends.
"A toast," Noah said, raising his glass suddenly to the hosting couple. "To…to the fruits of our labors."
"Hear! Hear!" the entire room chorused, though their interpretation of Noah's implication was far different.
"I will definitely drink to that," Syreena said passionately.
Damien just grinned and touched his glass to the Demon King's.
Kestra needed to get used to a great many things as she adapted to Demon culture, but nothing was as much fun as mode of travel. Though they had used the aid of a Mind Demon to teleport to Damien's holdings, they did not leave by the same method. The longer foray home would take place in the form of smoke, a form utilized and guided by Noah. But to Kestra's ongoing delight, that form meant nothing to her senses. She was able to see, feel, hear, and experience everything as if she were flying like a fictional superhero. And because Noah was directing their travel, she didn't have to think about where she was going or how to get there. It was glorious, and a perfect thrill for her daredevil tendencies.
Noah, of course, could feel every moment of her delight, and it was as if he were seeing the experience afresh for himself. He wouldn't have thought such a thing possible for someone who had been traveling in such ways for centuries, but her enthusiasm drew him in. He found it a strange bittersweet experience, the way she so easily embraced the experiences of her new life. Yes, he wanted her to enjoy and even revel in his world; it would make everything so much easier for her.
But the more she rejoiced in everything else, the longer a shadow it cast on the one thing she held in reserve.
Not in their lovemaking. No, he had no complaints about that. And in her way he supposed she used that physical connection as a method of reassurance, expressing what she refused to acknowledge even to herself. She used it to coddle him so he didn't feel upset because he loved her so very deeply, and yet she turned away from all self-examination of her feelings. Never mind an honest verbalization. It stood to reason that he resented this at times. He would rather she just be natural and not try to effect what she thought he expected. If not for their connection of thought, he might have misread her confusion of signals long ago.
It was something he needed to discuss with her. He had allowed it to go on for too long. It was frankly uncomfortable for them both when she wasn't acting out of honest compulsion. He didn't want that. She didn't want that. Noah had no idea why she'd gotten the idea in her head in the first place. Although, if he had to make a strong guess, he would say it had come from spending a great deal of time with so many Imprinted couples of late. This party at the citadel had been only the latest gathering.
Politics and mending relationships and training schedules had made the castle a tizzy of Imprinted traffic. Gideon and Legna, Jacob and Isabella, Corrine and Kane-even Elijah and Siena had shown up regularly as Elijah was forced to pay greater attention to Demon matters than to his wife's abroad. Noah was coming to realize that Elijah would be forced to resign soon. He had been hanging on valiantly in the face of so many new foreign threats, as it was his forte and he knew Noah needed him badly, but the King and the Warrior Captain had both come to the grim conclusion that had Elijah been there, the guard would never have failed to protect Kestra from the Vampire attack.
But Elijah's interests were split now, and it was showing. Not that Noah begrudged him his happiness in the least. But the business of protecting his people must take precedence. He needed a suitable solution, because Elijah would not be an easy man to replace. They would be putting their heads together a great deal over the next few months, Noah thought. Meanwhile, until Elijah helped him choose his successor, things would be status quo. Noah's only regret, his only concern, actually, was that Elijah would come to visit even less than he already did when this came to pass. He sorely missed the Captain's irreverence, which kept them all from taking things too seriously.
Then again, Kestra was a pretty little replacement package. She reminded him of Elijah. The wit, the deadly turn her mood could take, her skills, and her outright enthusiasm for destruction. For battle. Yet their peaceful ways settled well on her. She would just rather be out on the front lines fighting to preserve that peace than letting others do it for her. He respected that. It would make for a sound monarchy, he realized, as he thought about Damien's proposal and her role in it. Like a chessboard. The King settled back and protected, bearing the political brunt and the regular office work required of him, while the aggressive Queen directed the methods of protection and faced down threats.
He rather liked the idea.
He didn't have egomaniacal ideals. He was powerful and could fight, but that wasn't the kind of King he wished to be. He only interceded, as he did in the instance of the threat to Syreena, when the political ramifications called for it. He had always been satisfied to surround himself with advisers who were one hundred percent focused on their roles and tasks when it came to altercations. Elijah. Jacob. Bella. And now Kestra. He only grew richer for it. In so many ways.
They were about to exit the borders of Romania when a shimmer of sensation echoed over Kestra and Noah. Fear of inexplicable origins struck them. Not expecting this, Kestra panicked. Noah's experience served him a little bit better.
Easy. It is just a trick, Kes. He spoke softly in her racing mind. Someone is trying to draw us out.
The single sentence made all the difference in the world. Noah hesitated for a moment because she was with him. Would it be better to hit the ground and face the enemy? They would only chase after them if they tried to run. Was the area below them a geographical advantage for the enemy? Or was it merely opportunity?
Opportunity. They must have followed us. They had no way of knowing we would pass this way.
Bless her little strategic heart, Noah thought with delight. She was right.
Okay, baby. Get ready. As soon as I land and solidify us, you need to power up.
I'm already there, Kikilio.
A heartbeat later they landed square on their feet on the ground. As directed, Noah shuddered with immolation as it covered his arms. With her back so close to him that their hips were touching, Kestra's body flared with luminescent green. She committed herself, however, instantly forming a grenade-sized bomb in her hand. Both turned their full attention to the forest around them, seeking their threat.
"Kikilio?" he questioned in an amused whisper. "You have been spending time with Bella."
"You didn't think I was going to live in an environment where others could talk over my head in a language I don't understand, did you?"
"So I finally know what Kikilia means," she added.
"I did not realize it was an issue," he mused, his sharp eyes watching shadows.
Before she could respond, the first attack exploded around them.
Or rather beneath them.
The ground suddenly gave way under their feet, collapsing even as water sprang up in a geyser between them, forcing them apart, severing their protective stance. Before they could draw breath they were plunged into a rapidly growing hot spring.
Kes didn't waste a single second. She surfaced and kept her eyes on the tree line as she swam furiously for the still-expanding shore. She didn't have to look behind her to see Noah was doing the same in the opposite direction.
She was relieved that one of the lessons she'd already mastered was the reabsorption of the energy she used to make her bombs. She was grateful Noah had insisted on it. Otherwise the energy grenade would've been abandoned in the water so she could swim and they would have been racing the explosion as well as the imminent danger around them. They'd learned that her bombs didn't start to count down until she actually let go of them, separating them from the energy aura she built them from. Rather like pulling a pin or lighting a fuse.
Kes, it is Vampires. The remaining rogues, no doubt. Be prepared for anything and everything. There is a pack of them.
They're going after you. They don't know who I am, so you must be the target. Kestra's heart was pounding so hard she could hear it in her ears as she surged out of the water.
The first thing she did was reach for the delicate silk of her gown. It was in her way and she had to shed it and her sandals ASAP. She tore the skirt clean away up to her thighs as she crouched low to the ground. In that flash of time, a shadow leapt out at her. It was the long shape of a sturdy pine one second; the next, it was surging up over her skin and plowing her down to the ground. She rolled with it, instantly realizing that there was a solid form to this supposed shadow, and that meant infliction of pain was highly possible.
On the opposite side of the water, Noah was in a similar predicament, only this shadow struck before he even had proper footing on the shore, split into three, and overwhelmed him within a matter of seconds. Noah's head crashed into the ground, stars bursting brilliantly inside his eyelids. He felt his assaulters getting a fast grip on him. They were choreographed as to timing and placement as they pinned him to the ground by his hands, waist, and legs, indicating that this was far better planned than a random assault.
Still, planning would do them little good. The Demon King tried not to laugh as he sent a sheet of immolating fire down the entire length of his body. As flame rippled down over his skin, popping and hissing as water evaporated, his assailants scrabbled for distance, crying out. And then Noah felt the crash of a wave of water.