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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Acadian knew it simply wasn’t in him to ignore any threat to Malaya, no matter how likely or unlikely its apparent success. Guin took a breath and pushed aside the fear for her that threatened to do to him what seeing Dae like this was doing to Magnus. Once he was settled in his mind, he moved as carefully as he could, trying not to swing Daenaira or put his significant weight anywhere that would break a bone or tear her apart. Regardless of his care, he knew well enough how much he weighed. Dae was crying out in pain behind her gag, but there was no other choice. It was the only way.
Guin reached into his back pocket, the black leather packet he always kept there exactly what was needed. He hadn’t been an assassin for many decades, but he’d never stopped carrying the tools of the trade. Even his blades were still dusted black as night to hide their presence in the shadows. But these tools were crucial, despite not being deadly. The lock picks had gotten him into every lock that had ever stood in his way, and the locks on the chains would be no different. It was a trick getting to them like this, but a trick he could easily pull off if he took his time and concentrated. It was like riding a bike. He never forgot.
The cuffs on her ankles were not hurish, so he wasn’t afraid to disconnect them. Just before he felt that final click against the pick, he shifted his weight and grabbed hold of her opposite leg. Just the same, when the chain released, her whole body twisted with the freedom and he could see blood start to run up her leg from the stress of their weight on the point of the ankle cuff. She had stopped screaming out, and he wasn’t certain if she was still conscious. Her hair and neck pinned to the wall had to be strangling her. He wasted no time grabbing the remaining ankle chain and using it to bear his weight as he reached for her left wrist. It was awkward and difficult, but he would make it work whatever it took. The order that he did this in was crucial. Releasing both feet would break her neck as she was hung from her hair and throat. Both wrists would give him no foothold for reaching her ankles. After this wrist she would be supported by her right wrist, her left ankle, and her neck. He would then unfasten her neck collar and cut her hair free. Releasing the last wrist would send them both swinging hard and fast into the far wall, but she would still be off the floor. It would give him the time he needed to examine the hurish and disengage them.
He was relieved to see the hurish were independent of the chains that bound her. He had suspected as much when he’d seen them from his position below her earlier. He carefully went through the order of locks, pulling his dagger and slicing off her long braid. Luckily her hair would be intact when she awoke. Had she been in Fade instead of dreaming, it would have been another matter.
When they went flying toward the wall, Guin did his best to turn his body to bear the brunt of the impact. Physics said it was unfeasible to protect her completely, though. He kept a handhold on the chain, letting it take all his weight as he reached for her hand and pulled her up from her inverted position. She grabbed the chain and held on, in spite of cruelly damaged wrists that made him feel guilty even though he knew she wouldn’t be hurt by anything but the memory of this in Realscape. He held her against him, his strength a good support as he examined the collar that bound her.
“Just hold on to me, K’yan,” he said softly to her, laying her shorn head against his chest so he could see the back of her neck and the lock on the collar. He was actually glad for her cut-away hair. This whole episode had been a cruel form of acrobatics, and though she was built strong and sturdy as all their women were, he knew his weight had punished her fiercely. Now that she could rest her weight on him, he was glad to take it and didn’t want anything to make it any harder on either of them.
Unfortunately, he had been stabbed in his off side. That meant holding them to the chain by his injured side as he worked the collar with his dominant hand. He could feel blood saturating his clothing as the wound was torn open more and more by their situated weight.
“Magnus, you need to catch these in something as I drop them or I’m betting they will conduct through the floor. They should be made inert by disconnecting them, but I’m not willing to take the chance.”
Magnus nodded and wasted no time in stripping off his tunic, making a sack out of it quickly.
“Okay, Dae,” Guin muttered softly, “I think I see it. Just hang on to me and cross your fingers.”
She met his eyes and nodded once firmly. He realized she was letting him know that she was prepared for either outcome. She knew that if they were shocked, it was very likely he would drop her and once she hit the floor she would be completely fried, along with Magnus…and Guin himself, if he didn’t hold on.
But it didn’t surprise him when the collar clicked open without so much as a spark. He’d gotten through much tougher secured objects than this. He pulled the open collar off and dropped it to Magnus. The wristlets followed quickly after, and as soon as his tools were away he stripped off Daenaira’s gag and held on to her tightly as he measured the distance to the floor with a critical eye.
“She came to me as Helene,” Dae rasped softly in his ear, “then Angelique…and then Malaya. I don’t know who she really is. I couldn’t see what was real!”
“I know,” he soothed her, his mind racing as he fast-forwarded Malaya’s schedule to after the Senate session closed. Gods, Malaya had a meeting with Helene and the kids’ committee right after session. Wasn’t Angelique on that committee? Or no? How many female Senators would there be there, and which of them bore the dagger of threat? Would Killian be alert enough? Would he protect Malaya?
This was a trick to punish Magnus and Dae, but also to keep both men busy while Acadian was finding ways to meet in private with the Chancellor and get close enough to do her harm.
“She knew Magnus would choose me to help him,” he uttered. “Bituth amec, I’ll kill the bitch ten times over if she touches Malaya.”
Now he had to hurry.
Ignoring the damage it would do to his hand, he released his grip on the chain and slid them rapidly to the end of it, as close to the floor as he could manage. It tore up and blistered his hand to do it, but he didn’t care. He dropped Daenaira into Magnus’s waiting arms, then hit the floor himself. Grabbing his weapons, he hurried to the vortex with the others.
“Give me that,” Guin demanded of Magnus. As they stepped through the vortex, Guin threw the hurish behind them onto the floor. If the connection activated them, then maybe Acadian would step into her own trap. But he knew she wouldn’t really be coming there after the session. She would be on her way to toy with Malaya. If she had lied about that, and he hoped it was a lie, perhaps when they returned they would find she had lied about other things as well.
Magnus took his emptied tunic and dropped it over Dae. She clung to him in a way that was unfamiliar to her personality, the ordeal she’d suffered leaving her badly injured and weak. Magnus knew it was just her dream self, and now that she was freed she would be able to awaken, but they were both afraid of the same thing as he clasped Daenaira tightly.
What would they find when they returned to Realscape?
Magnus reluctantly let her go and he and Guin Unfaded into Shadowscape, then next into Realscape. They ended up in Temple in Sanctuary, their sudden appearance and dishevelment causing a stir among those who were there in prayer. They ignored the questions and attention and ran for Magnus’s rooms.
The priest rushed into his room and he could tell instantly that something was very wrong. Healers and servants were everywhere, twice as many as when he had left.
“What? What has happened?” he burst out, his fear and dread heavy and tangible as he pushed his way to his mate’s side.
There was no describing the painful horror that diced into him when he saw Dae lying, eyes closed and body limp, in a bloodied bed. The vital fluid drenched the sheets between her legs, the clarity of its meaning making his head hum with nausea and grief. Ignoring servants who were trying to strip the bed and healers looking for access to her, Magnus climbed in next to Daenaira and gathered her close and tight to his chest. His grip stirred her, and she reached for him in silence.
“I’m so sorry,” he rasped against her ear, his voice choked with obvious tears. “I had to choose you. I had to.”
“It was the only choice,” she said. “There was no choice. Acadian said either way she would take the baby. I prayed she was lying to frighten me. I’m sorry I let her get to me so easily.” Dae choked on a sob. “I should have fought. I’m supposed to be able to fight! What good is my power if I can’t use it to save our baby?”
Guin turned and walked away from the tableau of anguish Acadian had painted. As he strode out of Sanctuary he went faster and faster until he was running through the city.
Malaya hugged Senator Helene in greeting. The Senator was so sweet, her temperament so well suited to the pretty and youthful innocence of her round and pert features.
“Helene, how good to see you.”
“It’s so good to be here with you as well,” Helene said warmly and with a smile. “It’s so rare to have such a golden opportunity…to use the benefit of your infinite patience and wisdom.”
“Is the entire committee here?”
“Everyone who is important,” Helene replied as they walked toward one of the larger meeting rooms in the palace. Malaya had seen to it the gathering would be well catered, everyone made happy and richly content by palace hospitality. She had even chosen some handsome young men and women to attend as hosts to keep the atmosphere entertaining and very friendly. She had found that details like this appealed to those known for being difficult to deal with, making them far more tractable.
Helene slid her arm through Malaya’s, hugging her close and leaning in to whisper, “How is your love life, K’yatsume? Do you already have someone you can toss in the faces of us old nosy bodies and say ‘Love conquers all!’ It would make me endlessly happy to know that you did. I would keep the secret to myself, but I assure you I would revel in the knowledge of what was to come. There’s nothing I love more than to see people get what’s coming to them.”
“Helene,” Malaya scolded. “I never knew you could be so wicked.” The Chancellor laughed as she covered for the blush that tinged her cheeks when Helene’s query made her think of Guin. She wasn’t in love with him, of course, but he was the sum total of her love life at present. A suddenly heated and voracious love life. She couldn’t wait until morning broke and she could be locked away with him in his arms again. Her body ached all over with the desire for more of him, almost like a fevered illness, one she didn’t want to be cured of anytime soon.
“You do have someone!” Helene hissed in accusation. “I see you blushing and thinking naughty thoughts.”
“Tell me. Or shall I guess?”
“Stop it.” Malaya laughed, covering her tattling cheeks. “You are a devil. And it is nothing more than a physical affair, so don’t get all romantic about it.”
“I’m going to start guessing,” Helene warned.
“Be my guest. I’m not telling.”
Malaya tossed her hair playfully at the Senator, who laughed in her wake. They entered the meeting room and found the atmosphere just as amiable as Malaya had desired it to be.
“Anai, Ajai,” she greeted them all as a throng quickly encircled her. Malaya felt Killian at her back and immediately missed Guin’s imposing, heated presence. The circled couches, just like those in the room she had danced in, allowed the group to sit close and with intimacy. It helped in warming the environment and she steadily moved toward them. Everyone seemed in good spirits, which was rare for a group not always known for its pliability. She spent some time exchanging pleasantries, focusing her energy where she felt it would do the most good as far as progress in the meeting would be concerned. While a difficult committee to work with, this was one of her favorite causes. Young children under twelve, those too young for school at Sanctuary, were desperately in need of diversion in these dark winter months when they spent little time in fresh air because of the hostile weather. It was different when they migrated to New Zealand, where they lived aboveground and the winters were not like those in Alaska.
“Shall we get started?” she asked of them after a minute, moving to take her seat.
Just then the door to the room crashed open, startling almost the entire company. Standing there, breathing hard and looking as furious as a bull, was Guin.
“Killian, stand attentive!”
Killian was very familiar with the order to put himself between the Chancellor and as much potential threat as possible. He did so instantly, reaching to hold Malaya to his back and placing her toward an unoccupied corner of the room. Malaya fought him only enough so she could see around him, watching in disbelief as Guin strode into the room like a storm, the snap of his step sharp as he beelined for Senator Helene. With an audible smack he grabbed the Senator by her throat and slammed her back down on the couch where she sat. He raised a knee and braced it against her ribs as he leaned his weight completely on her throat. Helene gagged, her fingers reaching to rake at Guin’s arm and chest.
“Is it you? Is this the mask you wear, bitch? Come, unsheathe those claws of yours and show me the true face of evil,” he snarled down at her.
“Guin!” Malaya pushed by Killian and reached to grab Guin by the arm, trying to pull him off Helene. “What are you doing!?”
“Killian, attend to your charge, goddammit!” Guin growled as he shrugged her off.
“His charge has a name, you incredible ass! And she is your queen! You will stop this right now and you will explain yourself!” Malaya spat.