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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“But I did,” he admitted softly. “I was something very different before Malaya touched my life. She taught me to see things very differently. I’ve let go of a lot of bitterness and anger over so many things because of her.”
“She is an extraordinary woman, which makes her a target of those who are resentful of extraordinary things. Like my wife and my child. There…she’s there.”
Magnus pointed and the two men slowly approached the vortex of displaced darkness before them. It churned and twisted away from a definitive entrance. The warriors looked at each other.
“What the hell? If there was ever a night for me to die, this would be it,” Guin said blithely.
They both stepped into the rushing blackness and almost instantly were spit out into a room on the other side. As they picked themselves up, Magnus looked grimly at the created environment.
“Acadian uses Dreamscape frighteningly well. She has been practicing for some time. And to hold this even while not present takes an amazing mental fortitude. She was very careful to keep under my radar, though. I was never alerted to hunt for…”
Magnus stopped suddenly and Guin saw the deathly paralysis that washed over the priest. He followed the stare of those shocked golden eyes and saw what he saw.
“Oh my fucking gods,” Guin spat savagely, the sentiment more than enough to make up for Magnus’s speechlessness.
There was Daenaira, strung up by her feet and hanging naked and spread-eagle to the very brink of her joints’ endurances. Her wrists were lashed wide apart with strangely made cuffs and she had even been bound by her throat and her hair. The braid of black-red hair was tied to a back wall, hyperextending Dae’s neck and head back toward her spine. How the girl could even swallow was unfathomable. And finally, the most galling detail was that tied around her waist with a delicate gold ribbon was yet another sheet of blue notepaper. They could see Daenaira’s chest working like a bellows as she grew more agitated by the second. She had clearly become aware of their arrival.
“Dae!” Magnus lurched forward and slammed into Guin, who suddenly stepped in his way.
“No. Look around. Be aware,” Guin warned softly. Daenaira’s reaction had been Guin’s warning. She wanted to warn them of the danger around them and feared they would be hurt. He couldn’t immediately see where the danger lay, but he knew it was there. He always knew.
Both men turned and studied the plain, barren-looking room around them. The walls were colored like desert soil, the russet coloring plain and ordinary. They could see every corner and every object, including Dae and her bonds.
“Okay, why would you need help getting her down?” Guin muttered more to himself than to Magnus. The deadly poem had been specific and, while it was possible it was all lies, Guin couldn’t make himself believe it. He took a careful step forward, his drawn blade sweeping ahead of him, seeking invisible dangers.
“Remember, this is Dreamscape,” Magnus warned. “Anything the mind is capable of creating can happen here. The only thing is that nothing here can kill us except what weapons are brought in through Fade. But we can be hurt and hurt badly. Since we are not dreaming, wounds we take will be quite real and deadly.”
So basically it was danger just like any other, Guin thought.
He quickly changed his mind, however, when the tip of his sword suddenly touched something in the invisible air that shouldn’t have been possible. But he felt it grab his blade and try to yank it free of his grasp, wanting to disarm him. At the same time he felt weight tackling into him from behind and saw Magnus being thrown from a similar impact.
Fighting blind was nothing he wasn’t trained for. He had practiced blindfolded very often, especially after losing his sight in the war when Malaya was in the most danger. The seeming advantage was that he could see his surroundings, but considering where he was, he dismissed that assurance. Keeping to a secured mental square for his footing, he shed the tackling body with a powerful shrug and simultaneously yanked his blade free.
Trusting Magnus to take care of himself, Guin put all of his focus on his own fight. Drawing his dagger, he swept the long blade into the first target in front of him, cutting it and releasing a shrill cry. He was looking for where he’d tossed the second when a third and a fourth plowed into him, driving him down to a knee as the weight threw off his balance. He felt a sharp pain against his ribs, his flesh tearing as his bones did their job of deflecting the stabbing weapon away from vital organs, the leather of his vest no doubt helping matters greatly. He reached for the stabber with the dagger as he dropped his arm to trap the hand and blade against his body. This oriented him to the attacker, assuming he was average height and build for a male, and after slamming him to the ground with a sharp body twist he punched his dagger down into his chest.
The only trouble with fighting blind was he couldn’t be more precise with his target, so the dagger stuck hard in place and he had no choice but to disarm himself of it for the moment. With the long blade still in hand and a strong bare hand besides, he grabbed for the other that was on him, keeping aware that the first and second attackers were still at large. He couldn’t assume he’d injured the first severely enough. The fourth was dispatched within seconds, though, his neck snapping hard as his head was wrenched counter to what was natural.
As Guin fought on, he was aware that there could be a limitless supply of these minions that attacked them. But after he hamstrung the second attacker, he saw Magnus reach for the power of the ’scape around them, slamming the room with a hard impact of force.
“Now the room is sealed off. Nothing new can generate,” the priest called as he turned to gut another foe.
“Can’t you just dissolve all of this?” Guin demanded. “Just free her and—”
“If it were that easy, would I need you?” the other man barked.
Guin didn’t hold it against him. He’d be more than a little testy if their roles were reversed.
Within a few minutes they were fairly certain they’d found the last of the invisible fighters. Now they were twice as cautious as they advanced to Dae. When they reached her without any further fighting, Guin wasn’t so sure he could be relieved. Magnus hurried to touch her, his hand reaching to make contact with her face. Pinned as tightly as she was, Guin still saw the minute shake of her head. He shot out a hand to stop Magnus from touching her, winning himself a backlash of temper as the priest angrily jerked free of his grasp.
“What?” Magnus demanded.
“Don’t touch her. She’s a trap and she knows it. Not just the room but Dae herself.”
“This isn’t right! Dae is asleep. Dreamscape can’t really hurt her unless she is in Fade. Any pain she suffers here will disappear once she wakes up! To her it’s all a damn dream!”
“But it isn’t a dream to us, and you know as well as I do that she can be hurt here. Maybe not her physical body, but in her mind she can carry pain into her waking world. Aren’t you the one who recently hunted that dream rapist, the one who attacked women here in the ’scape so brutally that it left them nearly comatose with shock in Realscape after they awoke?”
“Yes,” Magnus affirmed hoarsely.
Guin knew it was fear for Daenaira that made Magnus careless. So did Magnus, for that matter. The bodyguard could see the frustration written all over the priest because they both realized that he knew better and they both knew that Guin’s knowledge of Dreamscape was rudimentary to a man like Magnus.
Together the men closely examined Dae’s rigging without touching it or her. It was Magnus who recognized the hurish technology in the cuffs binding her wrists and the collar at her throat. The hurish was a method for controlling animals. It gave off an electrical charge that normally just warned a creature away from what it was doing. Both men realized that these would not give off gentle shocks. And if the shock were fierce enough or gave off light of any kind, Daenaira could be permanently gutted of her dreaming self as she burned away and her body in Realscape would be forever in the state it was now in. Not dead, but definitely damaged beyond healing as her mind was destroyed.
“How do we get these off her?”
“They’re real, not dream created. Acadian must have brought them over into Fade. They will do her real harm. We need to figure out how to cut the charge without hurting her. Hey,” Magnus said softly as he tipped his head back to see Daenaira’s wide and furious eyes. “I’m here now, baby. We’ll get you out of this.”
Dae was gagged, but Magnus did not need to hear her voice to know her desires. Their minds could speak to each other in Realscape, but here they were limited by being in two different physical and spiritual states. Still, just seeing the look in her eyes made him smile up at her. He knew she was incredibly pissed off and that Acadian was asking for a beat-down once this was all over and Daenaira got her hands on her. But outside of that he could see the fear in her eyes, and it choked his heart to see it. Dae was one of the most fearless women he knew, and to see her so terrified for their safety tore him apart.
“Maybe if we ground her?” Guin suggested.
“I’ve tried cutting these off her before. It’s how they control slaves sometimes and…Acadian probably took the idea from Daenaira’s dream imagery. Dae was kept in hurish for years. When I cut them off her, the feedback shot through us both. I can’t think of another way to do this.”
“And we’re running out of time. You should have said something to Malaya. She would have stretched out the Senate session as long as she could.”
“I’m sorry,” Magnus said softly, speaking up to his wife. “I wasn’t thinking.”
Dae’s eyes changed, gentling in expression as they gleamed with unshed tears. She shook her head in that slight negation again, trying to absolve him of any blame.
“Wait…” Guin moved around so he could see Dae’s face. “K’yan,” he addressed her formally, “close your eyes for yes and leave them open for no, okay?”
She purposefully closed her eyes.
“If we touch you it will set off the hurish, correct?”
“But you don’t feel it now?”
Guin turned to Magnus. “How does technology know the difference between her and us? She moves, has weight and warmth, and the tech isn’t very smart. I mean, it’s not complicated. It needs a…a mechanism to set it off.” He struggled to think for a moment, studying her rigging carefully. “Us. Damn it, we’re the mechanism. As long as we are standing on the floor, we’ll create a closed circuit between the hurish and its trigger if we connect to the rigging. We have to get off the floor in order to free her.”
“How are we supposed to do that?” Magnus asked with a dark frown.
“How secure do these chains look to you?”
“Secure enough to make this take too long!” Magnus was losing control of his patience, fear winning him over slowly.
“Enough to hold my weight?”
“But we can’t—”
Guin wasn’t going to argue with Magnus about it. There was a significant chance he would hurt Dae, but a few moments of pain were better than the alternative. Guin reached to drop off his weapons belt, the sword sheath promising to get in his way. As it fell away from him he kicked off the floor in a strong standing leap, his feet leaving the ground as his hands caught hard onto the chain binding her left wrist. Dae immediately began to scream behind her gag as his added weight pulled her hard in a swing to one side.
“Drenna, Guin, you’re hurting her!”
“But we’re not being shocked,” he noted as he drew his legs up to cling to the chain and stopped moving for a moment to settle some of the swinging pull on Dae. But not for long, because he was aware that a lot of his weight was pulling on her shoulder joint and it wouldn’t take much to rip her arm out. He quickly shinnied up the chain until he reached the ring it was fed through. There was a small outcropping on the wall and he balanced on it as he examined the ring. If he unlocked each chain, they would fall to the floor and complete the circuit to the hurish. Guin was now convinced that such a shock was likely designed to be strong enough to kill Dae. It would suit Acadian’s twisted sense of torture to make Magnus realize that he had been the mechanism for killing his love.
He looked at Dae and suddenly had an idea. Hooking back on to the chain, he slid down it in the opposite direction, heading directly for the strung-up handmaiden and wincing as his slowly increasing weight was taken off the wall connection and transferred to her wrist and shoulder joints.
“Hang on, Dae. I know it hurts, but I can get you out of here.”
When he finally reached her, he quickly moved to climb her bare body. She was in a sweat from pain and strain, making her a bit slippery to hold on to, but eventually he was standing against her, his boots braced in her underarms and the weight of his torso against her leg as he reached and pulled the note bound around her waist off with a single tug. He wanted to ignore the damned thing, but if it held a riddle that warned him of the caution he should take, it would be imprudent to disregard it cavalierly when it could cost Dae her life. Pulling the ribbon free with his teeth, he quickly flipped open the card and read it with haste.
Oh, do come save her, this maiden in such perilous distress;
But ask yourself this, steady savior, who now watches over your mistress?
When Senate ends so close I’ll be, and you without any but this clue;
So waste your time setting this one free, whilst my dagger runs Malaya through.
Guin didn’t have the luxury to react to the obvious meaning in the notice, but his thoughts were reeling in search of grounding as he reached for the chain around Daenaira’s ankle. It was clear Acadian had known exactly who Magnus would turn to for help. Who else was there, really? The aged penance priest? Or maybe the newly trained whelp? No. And Magnus would never risk Trace or Tristan against this fiend. He would not take Killian when Guin was there to be had. If faced between Xenia and Guin for choices, Magnus would naturally choose the warrior he was most familiar with and had fought with in the past. Acadian knew them well enough to know all of this, and so had designed a punishment for Dae and Magnus while working in a way to torment Guin as well.