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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
It was Killian who kneeled across from her and offered her a dagger over the body of her enemy.
“K’yatsume, I am ever at your service,” he said softly. “But realize that while you spend time doing what others can do for you, you are wasting what may be very, very precious time with your mate.”
Malaya already had her hand on the weapon when Killian’s observation penetrated her fury and struck its mark in her heart. She pulled her hand back and covered her mouth as tears poured down her cheeks. She whirled back toward Guin and crawled quickly back to his side.
By this time he was starting to gasp for breath, his coloring shading with tones of blue. They fumbled together to clasp hands and Malaya held the joined weaving of their fingers tightly to her breast.
“Guin,” she said, struggling to control her emotions. “My Guin. It’s all right. It’s going to be all right.”
“I told you…” he gasped, “they wouldn’t…like it.”
“And I told you I don’t care. I’ll never care. I love you. That’s all that matters.” She turned when Tristan slammed into the doorway, starting to call her name but stopping when he saw her on her knees next to her dying bodyguard. “Tristan! Please! We need healers. Please.”
“They’ve already called for them, K’yatsume,” Killian informed them. “They’ll be here soon.”
“How in Light did this happen?” Tristan demanded of the guards around him.
“She said she needed to apologize for…” The guard stopped when he saw M’itisume’s furious eyes. “We always…Guin was with K’yatsume.”
Tristan understood what that meant. It meant they were so used to Guin protecting Malaya so well that they had not even considered she might be in any danger. They hadn’t taken Guin’s safety into account at all. And why would they? Guin had been a force of impenetrable protection for decades.
Tristan watched his twin sister bending over the prone body of her lover, her tears falling onto him as she tried to speak words of comfort to him. His heart twisted and lurched in sympathetic pain for her. He knew how much she felt for Guin. He was keenly aware of it enough to have even felt a twinge of jealousy when she had told him she was going to marry him. Whether he was jealous of her or jealous of Guin he hadn’t had time to figure out. It had been a petty emotion and not worthy of their relationship, so he had discarded it and wished her well while promising his complete support. He had known Guin would take the best of care with her and that no one would love her better.
Now he was watching their hard-won union crumble because of twisted elitist prejudice. Guin had known they would reject him, but none of them could have anticipated something like this. Certainly not this quickly. But taking notes from Julius Caesar, Angelique had done the deed swiftly and publicly, not by skulking around with assassins and plots. As if that would give the message a more powerful punch.
Except that had been a conspiracy of many and, so far, all they could see here was a criminal acting on her own bigotry. Malaya had infuriated the Senator several times over, first by banishing her known lover from the Senate in public humiliation, then by slapping her down repeatedly in front of her peers. It had also been made very clear how Angelique had felt about Guin’s placement among the royals.
Very clear, indeed.
“Oh my gods, I beg you with all that I am to save this man. Please, Drenna, do not take him from me now. Don’t punish me, M’gnone, for the vanity and self-centeredness that made me waste his precious love for me. I beg you—” Malaya sobbed in a way that Tristan felt all the way to his everlasting soul. “Please. Oh, please…”
“Don’t…my honey…” Guin managed in staccato bursts of breath. “These days…were…worth everything…to me.”
“I love you and I know you love me,” she said as she bent to kiss his forehead again and again. Like a mantra, she kept repeating the words. “I love you and I know you love me.”
“And your gods love you very much, K’yatsume.”
Malaya turned her face to the door and her body rippled with the stiffening of surprise.
“M’jan Sagan,” she breathed.
The priest was rushing with breath, having run every step from Sanctuary when he had heard of the tragedy unfolding in the Senate.
“It’s just Ajai Sagan, now,” he corrected her gently as he moved into the room. “I’m no longer a priest. And here is my reason why.”
From behind his back he drew forward a pale, prettyish little redheaded woman with Caribbean blue eyes that were wide with everything she was seeing around her.
Sagan had disappeared, had been presumed dead, after the battle with Nicoya for control of Sanctuary. The priest known for his solitary ways and his fierce love of discipline had been one of the best penance priests in Sanctuary’s history. He could dole out penance and ultimate punishment with dark efficiency and had remained ever faithful to his gods and the Shadowdweller people he protected from sin.
But history had made them leery of thinking Sagan was dead because his body had never been found. Everyone who recalled how they had once mistaken Trace to be dead, only to have him end up Acadian’s toy for so long, realized that it was a hard possibility the as-yet-unidentified creature had him in her dungeons.
Now Malaya recalled Magnus coming to them and telling them about this girl. This human girl. He had reported Sagan’s story of how Acadian’s men had kidnapped him after Nicoya had gotten through poisoning him and, on their way to wherever Acadian had instructed them to bring him, they had stopped at a cabin owned by this human girl, threatening her into defending herself with…
Magic. She was a Witch. A natural born Witch.
But to the Shadowdwellers and all other Nightwalkers, magic was one of the darkest and foulest forces on the planet. Necromancers, human magic-users as they were usually called, delighted in using the black, poisonous magic against the Nightwalker breeds to capture them, attempt to rob them of power, or simply to torture and kill them for their amusement.
And they dared to label Nightwalkers evil.
Yet Sagan would have them believe this human woman, this natural Witch, was somehow different; that she had found a way to withdraw from the evil of magic and instead use spells and power in ways that wouldn’t stain her soul.
When M’jan Magnus had relayed this news, Tristan and Malaya had been skeptical at best. Their experiences with magic-users had never ended well; every human who touched the art reeked of foul dissonance. The stain on their souls emanated an odor that warned of who and what they were to the sensitive senses of the races who wanted nothing more than to keep far away from them.
So when Malaya saw Sagan bring the redhead closer, her reaction was to bend protectively over the body of her dying mate. She had never met this girl, had no idea who or what she was, but she didn’t want her anywhere near Guin. Too much had happened to him at the hands of twisted women already.
“Sagan, now is not the time for this! Take her away from me,” she commanded.
“K’yatsume, Valera won’t hurt any of us. I brought her to you so she could help you.”
“No. Keep her away.”
Just then Magnus entered, slipping past everyone to kneel next to his devoted religious student and lay a hand on her back. The touch broke her apart, making her weep as Guin’s breaths began to hitch slower and slower.
“M’jan,” she wept, “Drenna is taking him to the Beyond. I don’t mean to be selfish, but I want him here with me! I need him so much, M’jan.”
“I know you do. I believe Drenna knows this as well, K’yatsume. I have only just met Valera, Malaya, but I can see a good soul within her. I smell no stain of malevolence on her. She swears she can help, and I believe her. But—”
“But only if he’s alive,” the redhead blurted out, daring to drop to her knee on Malaya’s left. “If he dies, the magic won’t work. Please, I want to help. You have to look at him and realize what your choices are, K’…” She floundered and Sagan whispered a soft prompt. “K’yatsume. If we do nothing, he will die within minutes…less, even. What harm is it you think I can do that’s worse than that?”
“You can stain him so the gods will not want to carry him safely to the afterlife! I would rather he die!”
Valera sat back on her heels, biting her lip anxiously as she looked to Sagan for guidance. The young human woman had only her experiences with Sagan, the man she had come to deeply love, to draw on. She needed to prove herself, but had to do it carefully. Some of the more aggressive magic made her emanate a strong blue light. A light that would burn and destroy the Shadowdwellers around her.
Suddenly she reached out and grabbed the four inches of exposed blade of the dagger in Guin’s chest. She squeezed until it cut her hand—just in time, because Malaya reached out and backhanded her across the face.
“Don’t you dare touch him!” she screeched as she loomed over the fallen girl.
“K’yatsume!” Sagan reprimanded her, kneeling to help the woman he’d brought to her with good intentions.
“No, it’s okay,” Val said, sniffing as her nose began to bleed. She got back to her knees and thrust her hand out, bloody with the cut of the blade, so Malaya could see.
“Inomous acante mious medico halti agonus!”
Valera’s hand began to heal, the gashes she’d subjected herself to knitting together before the eyes of all her witnesses. When it was done, there wasn’t even a drop of blood from her nose left on her anywhere. For a suspicious moment, Malaya sniffed the air, searching for that stench she knew so well and that terrorized her people.
When it didn’t come, her eyes went wide with realization and understanding.
“Yes…yes! Yes, please…” She grabbed the human by her extended hand and dragged her closer to Guin. Valera paused a moment and then cautiously laid her hands on the big chest of the man in need.
“Magnus, I need to start my chant first, but when I repeat the phrase for the second time, someone has to pull out the blade.”
“I will do it,” Magnus agreed.
“It has to be as clean as possible, sir,” she said softly. “One pull, straight up.”
Valera closed her eyes, took a breath, and prayed her magic was up to the task. She began to chant quietly and firmly, and as promised, Magnus grabbed the blade and removed it with a powerful jerk. Guin was barely alive and hardly reacted to the pain. Malaya was terrified to see that and the fixed, glassy stare coming into his eyes.
Magnus reached out to close Guin’s eyes and with his free hand took the arm of the Chancellor in his grasp. She was barely holding herself together, and Magnus prayed for Valera’s sake that it wasn’t too late already. Malaya would blame the Witch if she failed, and it would ruin the fragile trust they desperately needed to build. Valera’s existence proved that good magic could exist in the world, and that meant other Nightwalkers must be warned to have a care. They could no longer just assume they could kill all magic-users. And since Valera had recovered from her accidental foray into black magics, the stuff staining her and overtaking her like an addiction at the time, it proved that natural witches turned necromancers might actually be saved from the sickness they had chosen.
Sagan saw Valera was trembling, and he knew it was both with her efforts and her fear. She was a brave girl, tough when she needed to be, but he knew she couldn’t stand to see people hurt. After watching necromancers hurt other Nightwalkers, all Valera wanted to do was make amends. She was afraid she would fail at it; afraid she would fail Sagan. His third power of telepathy fed all of this to him as he knelt behind her and reached to caress her back in support. The touch seemed to strengthen her, and her posture grew firm, as did her voice as she demanded her magic work good work.
After sixty seconds of rapid spellcasting, Guin took a smooth, visible breath. Malaya was holding hers, unable to believe but hoping all the same. His breathing went very quiet, but he was breathing, and Malaya clung to that knowledge as she stared at the gentle rise and fall of his chest.
A minute later, he opened his eyes.
“Hello, my honey,” he said softly as he looked at her.
“Oh gods! Oh gods!” she cried, wanting to reach to touch him but afraid she would disturb the working Witch.
“Go ahead,” Valera said with a smile, “you can smooch on him. It won’t disturb me and it won’t hurt him unless you knock my hands away.”
Magnus withdrew from Malaya’s right so she could hover over Guin’s head, her hair a curling black shield as she bent to kiss his lips. She was shaking so hard, tears still persistently falling, that she almost missed her target and hit his nose instead. He laughed softly and reached to steady her with his left hand on her neck.
“Easy, love,” he whispered to her. “Be easy now.”
“I can’t,” she wept. “Not until you can hold me again.”
“Well, I don’t see how that’s going to be a problem in another minute,” Val informed them between chants.
True to the Witch’s word, Guin was completely healed in another sixty seconds. Val drew away, leaning back into Sagan’s arms. He wrapped her up tight and suddenly everything just felt better. She still couldn’t believe sometimes that this man belonged to her. He had given up his status of priest, a role he had known for over two centuries, just so he could freely love her. She worried he would miss it, worried he wouldn’t be happy, but she would do everything she could to see that he would find contentment in a new life with her.