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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
The damn spring.
Steam exploded violently around him when the water doused his body. The wave continued, following him as he tried to roll free. He could not catch his breath, and no matter which way he struggled to move, the water followed. He realized he was in real danger of drowning under the onslaught if he did not focus. He rolled onto his hands and knees, tucking his head down as the crashing force of the water intensified. He sought outside himself for energy, and a half dozen sources flared into his awareness. He knew one of them was Kestra. He even had a fair idea which one it was because she resonated so differently from the others. If he cast a wide net and sucked in energy without discretion, Kestra would fall into the zone. She was still too young to bear the brunt of a full power drain, especially the one he would have to use to overcome such powerful adversaries. Also, if there were others lying in wait at a distance, he would be leaving her totally defenseless and himself to face further threats alone. Instinct told him that the forethought behind this attack would make that an unwise course of action.
Noah staggered, falling face-first into the drowned forest floor that was fast becoming a swamp. He needed to breathe. He needed oxygen. He felt something strike his back, and his face crashed into the deep water as his head was forced under. The fall of the water continued as his hands were stepped on to hold them in place. Again, waist and legs followed. Now he was at a distinct disadvantage. Vampires didn't need to breathe. He, unfortunately, very much needed oxygen. The Vampires were wickedly strong, and four against one were impossible odds without the use of his element. Well, part of his element. But he didn't need fire to gain advantage. Noah went for the nearest and most critical target. He focused on the Vampire holding his head beneath the water.
Kestra whipped her legs around her attacker, ignoring which end was up and settling for winding up on top by the time they finished skidding across the forest floor. The Vampire was slim and slippery as hell. He was also extremely strong. She barely had time to savor her dominant position before she was hurled off and away. She landed in the underbrush with a curse. Then he was on her again, his hand going for her throat and his knees crashing down painfully on her thighs. His other hand was only able to catch one of hers, but still he now effectively pinned her to the forest floor. He flashed a vicious pair of fangs and began to crush her throat beneath the clutch of a single formidable hand.
Kestra flashed phosphorescent green. Surprised, the Vampire blinked against the sudden flare of energy. It seemed almost as if he was fascinated for a moment. A moment that gave her an advantage. Her free hand curled into a circle and a small sphere the size of a Ping-Pong ball gained shape in her palm. Meanwhile, the Vampire realized he was about to face an unknown power and he took steps. His force against on her neck increased and he freed his hand from hers. She only had a second to think when he yanked his arm back and she saw gleaming in the moonlight. It was the worst thing to do when being choked, but she yanked her chin all the way up as those gleaming fingertips whipped across her shoulder, neck, and face, sharp razorlike nails scoring deep into her skin. Kestra's head jerked to the side with the force of the slices. She initially felt nothing save the nick of one against her cheekbone because the nails were so sharp. Pain would come later. But she had protected herself using the method she had described to Noah when he had teased her for her morbid choices on conversational topics.
While her pain was delayed, however, there would be no such luck for her attacker. Turning her face back up as his strangling hand forced blood to well swiftly out of her new injuries and tucking her chin back down to open a small portion of her airway, Kestra met the avaricious eyes of her assailant. He was leaning closer, clearly looking to taste her blood. Hands still free, Kestra reached out and jerked the Vampire by his belt.
He reared up, perplexed when he felt her thrust her hand down the front of his pants. His grip on her throat loosened with his shock and he looked down into the icy glitter of her eyes as she smiled at him.
Then she mouthed a word to him since she couldn't speak.
The little ball had left her hand several seconds before that, of course, so by the time comprehension dawned, it was far too late for the Vampire. Still, he reacted as expected. He surged off her with a shriek of terror, grasping at his endangered crotch. Kestra was only aware of one thing. The Vampire was about to become debris and she needed to get the heck out of Dodge.
She took a hoarse, scraping breath and rolled back into the hot spring.
The Vampire exploded. His ribs became projectiles that tore through the forest until they embedded into tree trunks with hearty thunks. The rest of him rained back down in a wide circumference. As far as debris went, it was mostly an issue of grossness as opposed to danger. Kestra surfaced, relatively blood and guts free for her trouble, gasping madly for breath.
Kestra had barely begun to breathe for herself when she felt Noah's distress. Her body and brain were pounding with the screaming need to breathe, even though she was sucking in oxygen by the ton. She fought to drag herself out of the water, still coughing and gagging as her swollen throat swelled shut. She swept back her wet hair, which had come undone, trying to free her field of vision so she could find Noah. How could he be in danger? Her mind could not conceive of it. He was too strong and far too clever.
As she swept back her hair, the motion drew apart the edges of the deep furrows the Vampire had sliced into her skin and blood streamed out, a reflection of the horrific pain that finally struck. The agony didn't even wait until her adrenaline high wore off. It burned like a vicious, raking brand. Blood blinded her in one eye and she tried to wipe it away as she trudged around the edge of the pool to find Noah.
Noah had to push aside the alarm bell of Kestra's sudden pain as it rang through his brain. Darkness was encroaching, and if he lost consciousness he would leave her to the mercy of these monsters. He would leave all Nightwalkers to the mercy of Vampires who would have drunk the blood of a male Fire Demon.
None of those options were acceptable, and Noah felt rage and indignation flare to violent life. He reached for his first target, using all of his focus to show him what real vampirism was all about. He sucked the energy out of the Vampire sitting on his head with such savagery that the creature hardly had the strength to blink in reflex as it took a header into the flooded forest floor. Noah tried to break the water's surface, but lying on his face with his hands and waist still secured made it impossible in the time it took for a knee in his back and a hand on his head to replace the fallen Vampire's.
Turn to smoke! He heard Kestra's frantic cry, felt her rushing to help him. He feared for her safety, knowing she wouldn't think about herself.
I cannot. The water…
Kestra hadn't known this about him. She had never scanned him for power and weaknesses. Somehow they had never gotten around to it. But now she knew that he couldn't turn to smoke or flame under a deluge of water. It went against the laws of the elements. She should've known that and kicked herself for not thinking logically about it sooner.
She came around the curve, splashing through the flood rushing down the small slope as the water overflowed the rim of the hollow Noah was pinned down in. She saw them, four Vampires. One was facedown in the water, clearly a casualty of their fight to control the Demon King. One was literally sitting on him at legs and waist, another standing on his hands, the third had a knee on his spine and a hand on his head holding him away from desperately needed air. A spout of water was bursting out of the hot spring and arcing to crash down on their prisoner.
Kestra's spirit screamed as she felt the darkness overcoming Noah, felt his fear of leaving her behind to deal with these creatures on her own. Her frantic eyes shifted to a fifth Vampire. Clearly the leader, he was set apart from the danger of dealing directly with the Fire Demon they had captured. He stood on a boulder a short distance away, watching the entire incident.
No. There was more. Kestra's eyes narrowed as she used every new sense she owned to understand how to act. Here was the source of the water. That Vampire, she realized, was controlling it while the others worked. Kestra felt infused with fury all of a sudden, caging her hands together to form a ball the size of a grapefruit as she let the feeling overwhelm her. She knew the frustration and impotence backing the power of her anger was partly Noah's, but she used it all the same, and she packed it into the orb.
Just as the Vampire looked over and saw her, Kestra pitched the ball to him. Then she ran through the shin-deep water toward Noah. Aiming for the lightest-built Vampire, a female standing on her mate's hands, she plowed into her, flinging her off with the power of her momentum. They landed with a splash. Kes grabbed her, and taking another breath, she rolled the Vampire on top of herself.
The orb exploded.
Half submerged, Kestra felt a series of jarring thunks striking the body of the Vampire she held over herself like a shield. When the splashes around her stopped, she shoved the body off. The Vampire had taken a tree branch right through her head, so she was satisfactorily dead. She knew the same was true for the Vampire on the boulder because he had been at ground zero.
Her only concerns now were Noah and the other two Vampires. She had left Noah unprotected from the blast, but she'd had very little choice. She had been forced to use a wide-range blast in the hopes it would even the odds. Shaking water and blood out of her eyes, she sat up and looked for the Vampires.
She saw three more bodies floating in the suddenly still water.
She ignored everything except the body floating facedown in his fine formalwear. She scrabbled over to him, grabbing him and calling to him as she turned his heavy weight over and onto her kneeling thighs to keep his head abovewater. His complexion was gray, his natural tan lost under the water and mud streaked over his face and surrounding his nose and mouth where his body had finally forced him to breathe in the silt.
Kestra shuddered in horror, feeling the suddenly cold absence of his presence in her body and mind. His thoughts had gone utterly silent.
Her spirit had been left hollow and alone.
She acted with the speed of desperation, falling back on her rather ancient first aid skills, trying to clear mud and filth out of his mouth to free his airway. The results were pitifully inadequate and she knew she had no choice but to keep trying. There was no way she was going to allow a pack of greedy bloodsuckers to deprive a grand race of their beautiful leader. She screeched in a breath past her partially closed-off throat, placed her mouth on his, and exhaled to fill his lungs, praying she was doing it right, that her breaths were full and deep enough.
She couldn't lose him. Not when she was just getting to know him. He was the first person to love her since her parents. She'd accepted that. She'd delighted in it. He knew how exceptional it was for him to make her comfortable with his extraordinary love. As Kestra breathed for him again, she knew she'd held back from him for just this reason. She couldn't bear to love someone and lose them. To be the reason they died.
Kestra began to cry, tears only because she had no breath to spare on sobs. She was surrounded by water, propping him on her knees. She should have him on flat ground, but she dared not waste time trying to haul him over to it. She breathed for him again, cursing Vampires and Nightwalkers and greed and everything else she could think of. He had cheated death for her; why couldn't she do the same for him? She had to. There was no choice. She must make him breathe and live. There were so many who needed him. The Enforcers, their little one, and so many others. Sisters. Oh God, his sisters.
Yes, she thought with a ripping pain through her soul. She needed him. She needed to tell him how much he had changed her. Changed her life. And how much she actually appreciated it. She needed to tell him how much joy he had given to her in just these short weeks. He couldn't leave not knowing that. She'd been so guarded, trying to protect herself, selfishly nursing old fears and wounds when he had needed to hear how she felt!
With the next breath, water spewed from Noah's mouth, but he still didn't breathe on his own. What she wouldn't give to be able to call for help like a telepath! Surely the others would be close enough to hear. Even Damien! Anybody who could get a medic for him.
"Baby," she prayed against his lips as she drew breath for him. "Please."
She pushed in a deep breath, and more water and silt came up. She cleared his mouth and pressed on.
Please, she implored in her thoughts as she repeated the cycle again, please don't leave me. I couldn't bear it. I know I'm selfish as hell, but I need you to stay with me for a few more centuries. Please…
Oh God, he won't breathe! Kestra shook him in her frustration, shivering as she felt his warmth ebbing away second by second.
"Stop it!" she yelled, though it came out as a croak. "You can't leave me! You bastard! You can't make me love you and then just leave!"
Kestra sobbed hard but refused to give up, fury fueling her determination. She dragged them both upward, her arms circling his chest under his arms, and she hauled him away from the water, searching for flat ground.
As soon as she found it, she threw him back on it and wasted no time in straddling his waist so she could lean in to listen for his heartbeat. She then added chest compressions to her first aid, putting her full concentration on them as she counted and traded off with pushing breath into his stubborn lungs. She cursed him, her face heating up as she put everything she had into her actions and thoughts. Kestra was frantic, scanning her brain, trying to figure out what else she could possibly do.
Suddenly she stopped.
A wild thought occurred to her. What could it hurt? she reasoned. He was dead if she didn't try something.
"Okay, Kikilio, let's make history," she murmured to him.