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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Guin turned sharply when the hard call of his name registered with a wide measure of panic. When he saw Magnus running up to him, he could just taste the wrongness of fear on the man.
“Magnus, what is it?” Malaya asked quickly, turning from their progress toward the Senate.
“I beg you to let me have use of Guin immediately,” Magnus said, the harshness of his breathing indicative of more than the run up to them. Guin could feel it. How would Magnus have such a fear of anything? The man was the most formidable penance priest in Sanctuary. He had never met an opponent who could beat him. His very existence was proof of that. And if he was asking for Guin, he was looking for a warrior’s skills. What more could he possibly need that he didn’t own for himself?
“We will both come, of course,” Malaya said, setting off Guin’s knee-jerk response.
“You are not going anywhere. Killian.” He turned to the head city guard. “Take her back to the residence. Keep her confined until I return. The Senate will just have to wait.”
“Guin!” Malaya protested. “I have to appear before them! I don’t want anyone thinking I am avoiding this issue! I want to keep control of it.”
Tristan stepped forward.
“Let Killian be at her side in the Senate. Go with Magnus. I will set more guards just to be safe. Does that satisfy you both?”
Guin was far from satisfied. He didn’t like her out in public without him. Letting Killian guard her in residence was one thing…
“Come on, Guin, who do you think took care of her those two weeks you were gone?” Killian asked him with amusement. “I’ll take good care of her.”
Guin had no choice but to nod his acceptance. He reluctantly let Malaya go to face the pit vipers on her own. However, he knew Magnus was in terrible trouble and that he was needed.
Magnus took him into Sanctuary and directly into his rooms. Guin was surprised to find guards posted directly outside, and as they entered his bedroom there was a small collection of handmaidens and priests buzzing about the bed, where Daenaira lay quiet and still.
“Leave us!” Magnus commanded the others sharply. They hurried to obey, leaving them alone. Guin moved up to Dae and looked down into her blank stare. She looked dead at first, but to his relief he saw her breathe with a gentle expansion of her chest. “I found her like this when I woke this morning,” Magnus explained, his voice shaking with repressed emotions wanting to scream free, but kept in control by his force of will alone. “Nothing wakes her. Nothing will. I found this, sealed in an envelope, resting on her stomach.”
Magnus reached into the pocket of his tunic and withdrew a piece of sky blue stationery. It was crumpled as if from the crush of a hand, but it had been smoothed out again. Guin opened it and read it.
A penance for the priest who killed my youngest one.
The price, to say the least, will be my greatest fun.
Here lies your love, like the dead, her child also as well,
If you dream her escape in your head, you’ll save her from her hell.
But bring a friend or two, I warn you, you’ll not survive alone.
If you think to ignore what I tell you, the blame is all your own.
When the Senate meets is your only minute, because after I will return.
If she’s still imprisoned there within it, in Light the bitch will burn.
But save her and your child will die, this I guarantee you and have sworn.
Leave her to die instead, and the husk of her body is yours until the brat is born.
“Well, isn’t she talented,” Guin growled in contempt. “What does this mean, Magnus? I mean, I get the threat and the choice she wants to force you to make, but where are you supposed to save her from?”
“Dreamscape,” Magnus said hoarsely as he moved to sit beside Dae on the bed. He picked up her hand and brushed a touch against her face. Guin saw how the comatose woman never even blinked in reflex to the approach of his hand. “She took her while I was asleep right beside her. She trapped her there somehow, and not gently either. The shock of it opened her eyes despite her sleeping state. I don’t know what she’s done to her, but according to the letter I only have until the Senate dismisses.”
“That gives us a couple of hours. Goddamn her, she’s playing games with you while she sits in the Senate trying to screw over Malaya at the same time! She has our misery scheduled out like it is in some kind of sadistic appointment book.”
“We better go. I couldn’t think of anyone else I trusted to bring. I know this leaves Malaya vulnerable, but…but Dae is…”
Magnus tried to speak again, but Guin rested a hand on his shoulder. He understood what Magnus couldn’t say. Daenaira was everything to him. Even as devoted to his religion and gods as this man was, it was one special woman who held his heart and who had made all the difference in the world to him. Guin knew the feeling all too well.
“I should call for Xenia. Dreamscape is a deadly place when used badly, you’ve always said as much to me.”
“No. At least one of you should be in the royal box with the twins. It occurred to me this was a way of getting one or both of you away from them so she could make an attempt on their lives.”
“It’s occurred to me, too,” Guin replied in a hot hiss. “Come, let’s get her.”
Malaya was distracted in spite of herself. She had known Magnus for as long as she had been alive and she had never seen anything shake him. The terror in his golden eyes had been cold and deep. He had looked as if he had an appointment to dance in the Light. She carefully arranged her thoughts, however, as she stepped up to the podium to address the Senate on the matter of her possible arranged marriage.
“Anai, Ajai,” she greeted the company, nodding her head in respect. “I await your proposals.”
To her surprise it was Senator Helene who stood first.
“K’yatsume, as we have researched our history for the examples you requested, we have come to realize just how integral to our culture’s development arranged marriages truly were. They often kept the peace and advanced us as a people in many ways. The attendant is handing you a booklet of examples we have created for you to review. Even those of us who agreed the law was antiquated find it difficult to argue with the results you will see there.”
Helene sat down and Jericho instantly stood in her place. Malaya glanced to see Killian taking the booklet they had prepared for her.
“My Lady,” he addressed her, “we have debated the issue of time and we agree that a span of two migrations is ample time for you to make a choice in this matter. That is…a single year. An heir is needed as soon as can be managed, Chancellor. Your monarchy is insecure with only you and your brother attending it. There are no more living members of your family. It is unlikely, anyway, that the people would accept anyone but your blood heir in any event, since this rule is so raw and young. You must provide us with this security of succession. Not only that, but you must name guardians for the child in the event there is drastic tragedy in the royal household.”
Jericho took his seat looking smug and content as the Senate joined in a noisy agreement. The bastards were not only trying to breed her like a prize animal, but they were already plotting who would control her child if she should die while he was too young to keep the throne. If any of them thought to be named, they were all sorely mistaken.
Malaya was unsurprised when Angelique quickly popped up.
“Here, madame, is the list of candidates we have carefully compiled for your pleasure. We concluded that only this body, your Senate, could choose what determined a worthy mate. These men are all of good blood and the finest character. Any of them are more than worthy of your marriage bed.”
She meant sperm donor, Malaya thought dryly. She fought off a shiver of disgust at how they couched it all so prettily and properly in royal protocol. The shiver faded quickly, however, as she thought of what Guin would say to all of this. The blue vocabulary that ran through her head in his voice made her smile a little smile.
“I thank you all for all your hard work and research. I will give all of this the consideration it deserves and will approach you with my resolution when we meet again on Monday. I would have you know, however, that I have considered the matter of modernizing the law and have drafted a proposal of my own. This, again, is by no means a foregone conclusion. I am simply presenting it to you for opinion and commentary out of respect for hearing your desires. The attendants are handing you each a copy of this draft. As you see, very little has actually been changed in the law…except that the sex of the monarch has been neutralized. In this instance I may accept the chauvinism of the old law, but in trade I believe that if you are going to place so much importance on the value of an heir, the monarch, male or female, should be required to fulfill the need. I have indicated that an age of no less than sixty is an appropriate time to impress this law if the monarch has not already chosen for themselves. Also, unlike you, I believe that while suggestions and propositions like these are always welcome”—she held up her list of candidates—“it is the royal household alone that should have final say in the matter, as it is with all laws, rules, and decisions.”
This was the part she knew they would not like. They were trying to earn some power for themselves, and she would not give it away. They would fight back by arousing discontent with the people, but she and Tristan had decided on a totalitarian rule between them in order to mesh their society once and for all, and they were not going to relinquish that power until they had been one entity long enough to be trusted with more democratic powers. With each to hold the other in check, they did not fear either of them doing anything to harm their people. Unfortunately, others did not feel so reassured. They had learned the twins were master tacticians in war, but they were still wary of their skills in governing. Malaya did not blame them for their distrust. It was never wise to blankly turn over your way of life to just anyone who gave a smile and a promise. They needed to prove themselves.
“If you accept this law as it is rewritten, granting my brother immunity from it, I will marry within the year and produce the heir you desire as quickly as possible. Whether I choose from this list remains to be seen. Since we all have much to debate and think about, I will open the floor to all arguments.”
Darkness followed them into Dreamscape, protecting them as if they were safely asleep and dreaming. Guin was in unfamiliar territory here, but he was confident in Magnus’s ability to navigate the strangely surreal landscape around them.
“You realize if she’s telling the truth, rescuing Dae from this trap could kill the baby,” he said almost harshly, making certain Magnus was confident in his course. Had it been himself, he would rather save the woman than the unformed babe, but he realized it would be a horrible choice either way. He dismissed the images of Malaya he used to fill in the blanks of that scenario, only after using them to put himself in the shoes of a man who loved a woman so deeply he would do anything for her. But there were those who he supposed would decide otherwise. How would Magnus know what Daenaira’s wishes would be? Would he have the opportunity to ask her? Would he even bother? Guin’s personality would be to take command and make the choice he wanted, especially when he thought of…
“I realize that. But I’ll not save a child and show it a mother who cannot move or acknowledge it so it can feel guilty for her state all its life. And I will not let Daenaira go. She wouldn’t want me to. She’d want to fight back and get her hands on the woman who is doing this.” Magnus stopped, his hand gripping the handle of his katana so tightly that his knuckles showed white. “I’ll not give that k’ypruti the satisfaction of my pain.”
“Not for annoyance, but how does she benefit from your pain like this?” Guin frowned as he thought about it. “She’s hands-on from all I have heard of her, but this she is plotting in absentia. How does that satisfy the bloodthirsty bitch?”
“I don’t know. How does it satisfy her from a distance as she watches Trace twist into knots over the contract on his family? As a Senator she gets to see some of the struggle the twins are dealing with as they wrestle with this arranged marriage business, but the real hardness of it takes place behind closed doors in the palace—seeing Tristan hurt for his sister, or any of us worry about her fate. Yet what she did to Trace was bloody and vicious and all by her own hand.”
“Maybe she is like a serial killer. She builds over time, tries to satisfy herself with these small vents of causing pain emotionally to others, but then it’s no longer enough and she snaps and has to be up very close and personal. Once she’s satisfied, the cycle starts over again for next time.”
“That is eerily plausible, Guin. It would explain how she is able to live undetected among us. She’s perfectly normal until she needs that vent. Or at least can emulate normalcy. And if Dae has taught me anything, it’s that there are things happening in our city that we aren’t even aware of. Acadian could have been hurting people for all these years since the war, and all the while plotting with Nicoya to control our world.”
“This city lives and thrives in darkness, but it has an underbelly of societal darkness to it that cares very little for our laws. Street law is all that matters to them. Guild law, too.”
“Assassins,” Magnus spat. “People say they see it in you, Guin, but I never could. Yes, you’re a killer when needed and I have seen you do so with utter savagery, wielding death coldly and professionally, but no man who can see K’yatsume with the devotion that you do could kill with ruthless, indiscriminate ease.”