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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
When he saw her crawling over the floor, he felt the world drop out from under him. He dropped to his knees as he skidded to a halt beside her, the dagger clattering to the floor as he gathered her up tightly to himself.
“Where?” he rasped, unable to catch his breath as she clung as hard to him as he did to her.
“The stairs,” she said.
Brendan was off in a flash, running through the doors behind them.
“Gods, let me look at you,” he demanded, dropping his hold a few inches so he could see her. She was burned. Her face was bright red, her hands and chest as well. “What in Light did they do to you?”
“A light. A strobe. Gods, it burned! I can’t see.” She swallowed and coughed, and he wanted to hold her tighter but feared hurting her where she was scorched. “He tried to…shit. Shit, shit, shit.”
She was going to cry like some big stupid baby. Dae did not cry. She fought. She won or she lost, but she never cried.
“Tell me you fought really, really dirty,” he commanded of her.
“Like mud in a pig’s sty,” she said with a shaking laugh that helped thwart the urge to cry. “I think I have penis under my nails.”
Magnus laughed, a hard fall of sound as he hugged her tight again despite his concerns. “See, that’s what I wanted. A fighter.”
“Okay, but please can we keep it to once a day? That was a bit of overkill.”
“Yes, baby, it was. I’m so sorry. I can’t seem to keep any promises for you today. I said no one would touch you.”
“Well, I touched harder. That counts for something.”
“Yeah, it sure does.”
Magnus looked up when Brendan came back through the doors and shook his head.
“Aw, fuck. I can’t believe he got up!” she grumbled when she realized Brendan had returned empty-handed. “I thought I had him good.”
“You blooded him well enough,” Brendan said with a grin.
“Great. Now we just have to get everyone to drop their drawers and we’ll have our man,” she said dryly.
“Okay, let’s get you back to our rooms,” Magnus said softly, rising to his feet with her.
“She should go to a healer.”
“No!” It was a single, terrible word, but it spoke volumes about Magnus’s shattered trust. Brendan wasn’t inclined to push him again.
“I found this. This guy had a damn death wish, using something this strong.” Brendan showed Magnus a battery-operated lamp with a focused beam of light before he shattered the bulb against a wall. “Where the hell does someone get something like this down here?”
Magnus and Brendan looked at each other.
“Hydroponics,” they said together.
“Yeah, that stands for ‘the place with the lights,’” Dae sighed.
“It’s a highly secure area. Very few people have access to it. This could narrow our search immensely,” Magnus told her.
“Can I have the heavy sai now?”
It was two days before she left their rooms again.If she felt like a sideshow before, the sensation was only doubled now. Her only recourse was to ignore everyone and do what she had set out to do. Her goal for that first day was mapping. She had an uncanny sense of direction, so it wouldn’t take long for her to learn the entire layout of Sanctuary. She was armed this time, not with the sai, but with wrist daggers—small knives in sheaths hidden under her sleeves. It had required a looser blouse, which she had found amusing. Magnus, however, had lost all of his sense of humor. She could understand. He wasn’t used to this sort of thing like she was.
Dae could rebound pretty quickly, though, as long as she could think of a way of retaliating. Her method of the day was to make herself familiar with every turn, step, and cubby she would have to regularly travel.
Of course, the downside to this was that she was bound to run into just about everyone she did or did not want to run into. The first encounter happened in the courtyard near a fascinating onyx fountain that depicted many of the faces of Drenna and Darkness. There was a similar one of white marble in front of Sanctuary that displayed all of the images of M’gnone and Light. Her favorite by far was the one in the temple itself that ran like a tributary along an entire wall, cut from the natural stone of the earth and into the artist’s splendid imagination of what Dreamscape was to him. There was an image of a stunning warrior, standing tall with wind whipping through the curls of his hair and a long sword in one hand, while the other reached to draw power from the sky. She wasn’t certain if it was meant to, but the carving of the face with its strong and masculine lines reminded her a great deal of Magnus.
It was Nicoya who cornered her by the fountain. M’jan Shiloh’s handmaiden walked with her hands folded neatly together in front of herself, but rather than the impression of faith and serenity one might expect, it had Daenaira thinking she did it because it made her arms press to the sides of her breasts, plumping and pronouncing them above the neckline of her very snug blouse.
“Well, if it isn’t our new shy mouse,” she greeted, a sly smile making it hard to read whether that was a sarcastic remark or not. Dae decided to be neutral for a moment or two. Or at least until she inevitably pissed her off. She could smell impending trouble on the entire situation.
“Good night to you, K’yan Nicoya.”
“Good night. How are you feeling, dear? I heard what happened. Imagine, such a thing in these very halls. It seems as though Sanctuary is falling apart. First that whole mess with Karri—well, you do know about Magnus’s previous handmaiden, don’t you?”
Not in specific, but she figured she knew enough just from that one remark Magnus had made. Nicoya’s inference only solidified it.
“I heard a little about it, yes,” she replied honestly, her subtle instinct to imitate the way Nicoya was holding her arms bringing her hands closer to the concealed weapons she carried.
“Such a tragic and terrible happening,” Nicoya confided in a whisper as she leaned forward slightly. “So treacherous. It makes you wonder what it was about M’jan Magnus that would drive a woman to attempted murder.”
Murder! Karri had tried to kill Magnus? She had thought betrayal or something serious, but to have the gall to murder her own priest? And such a priest! To know that if you failed, you would face the wrath of the most renowned penance priest in all of their history? Nicoya was right. It begged the question why.
“Well, I suppose if anyone will find out, it will be me,” Dae observed carefully. “Frankly, I did not ask to be here and I did not wish to be here. But there is food, shelter, and more freedom than my previous position, so I can cope while I find out more details.”
“You didn’t…? Really?” Nicoya seemed very interested in that as she hid a smile behind affected concern. “Poor thing. Most of us are so eager to come to Sanctuary. We never consider those who are Chosen without wishing to be.”
“Does that happen often?”
“I suppose once is one time too often,” the other maiden said philosophically. Dae couldn’t help but think that this was a very good point. But after two nights of Magnus’s concerned attendance on her as she had healed in her bed, the weight of his unexpressed guilt for her attack had told her much about him. He had spoken of demanding trust and loyalty, but it was clear that he was just as willing to dedicate his interest to her as she was supposed to dedicate hers to him. There was a measure of equality to that, despite the seeming subservience of a handmaiden’s position. “And then for him to fail to protect you! I must say, it did not instill confidence in those here who were already beginning to question him. Not that I think that way. Magnus will always be Magnus. Shiloh is his most dedicated advocate, and I follow wherever my priest leads me.” She touched a spread hand over her heart and bowed slightly. It was a beautiful sentiment affected just as beautifully.
“Magnus must feel great relief knowing that. In fact, I will have to tell him as much.”
“Oh no,” she demurred. “I would hope he already knows. Now, about you, dearest. Are you coping well enough? There are so many rumors, it’s hard to know the truth. Were you…” She made a moue of sympathy. “Of course you don’t have to talk about it if it troubles you, but were you tainted by this beast who attacked you? Were you raped?”
The audacity of asking such a question really surprised Daenaira, though it probably shouldn’t have. Nicoya liked to hurt others. It was clear as crystal in her jasper black eyes. What better way to undermine and wound an already wounded victim than to quickly remind her of her rape and to refer to it as a “taint,” as if she were now ruined forever by the act.
“I would rather not talk about that,” Dae said quietly, lowering her face and eyes. She didn’t know why she was continuing this farce of submissiveness, but as always she went with her instincts.
“It’s okay, dearest.” Nicoya went to pat her hands and Dae jolted back away from her.
Damn it. That was no affectation! She just refused to be touched without permission anymore. She didn’t excuse herself for the reaction either, as Magnus had done in the dining hall. Dae had a right to her personal space and she was going to keep it!
“Well, I understand,” Nicoya clucked sympathetically. “I have a class starting soon, so I really must get going, but please feel free to confide in me anytime you need someone to talk to.”
“I will. Thank you.” Not likely.
Nicoya left looking far too satisfied with herself.
The next encounter of Daenaira’s night was in the laundry rooms, ironically enough. The large machines were kept running by a handful of maidens and servants who managed constantly flowing and enormous piles of garments and sheets in beautiful dark violets and midnight blues. However, it was the unexpected brilliance of goldenrod, scarlet, and lavender that had attracted her into the busy place. She hadn’t seen these colors anywhere before in Sanctuary. She was still looking around, of course, but such brilliance was not common to their culture. They wore dark colors to help them blend into shadow at a moment’s notice. They only wore jewelry when in the depths of the city, lest its gleam give them away, which was significant since gold and precious gems and metals like it were a much-treasured fashion for the men and even the women.
She followed the colorful sheeting into the folding room, where she hoped to touch it for herself if she offered to help with the task. She found Greta there and knew instantly that wasn’t going to happen. Greta narrowed cold, mean eyes on her immediately, the murky gray color chilling in its viciousness.
“Why are you here?” she demanded. “Come to rub my nose in it?”
“In what?” Dae asked, raising a brow as she glanced wistfully at the lavender silk Greta yanked out of the pile for folding.
“Oh, please. Your shy act doesn’t fool me. I heard how nasty you were when they brought you into his rooms. Both of those guards spent two nights in penance thanks to you and your lies. I can’t believe no one questions the convenience of you being ‘nearly raped’ twice in the same day. What bullshit.”
“Excuse me? I hardly think being attacked was my fault.”
“I think you probably asked for it and then tried to cover your tracks. I’m sure Magnus is already regretting choosing a little whore like you for his handmaiden. I must say you worked quickly.”
Daenaira had been called so many names in her lifetime that she didn’t even blink at the inference. “Did I?” she asked.
“I don’t know how you did it!” Greta burst out suddenly, slamming down the fabric in a wrinkling mess. “Ever since M’jan Figano died, leaving me free, I knew in my soul that Magnus and I were destined to be paired together. But with Karri in the way, I thought I was out of my mind. Then suddenly she was dead and I just knew! I knew if I was patient enough, Magnus would come to me and choose me to be his next! I’ve seen him looking at me, you know. He envied Figano. He didn’t fuck Karri once in all those years, and he won’t touch you either,” she spat nastily. “But he wanted me. Oh, yes. I know he wanted me.”
The dark-haired girl was flushed with her conviction as she leaned into Dae’s face and sneered. “He took me once. In Temple. He broke all of his vows and all of his rules, bent me over in the rectory and fucked me within an inch of my life. He covered my eyes and kept behind me, thinking I wouldn’t know, but he wears a distinctive scent and everyone knows the marks of his weapons! I found one of his shurikens at my feet afterward with his emblem etched into it, and that’s my proof. But I knew even before that. I knew because a woman knows the feel of the cock of the man she dreams of.” Her look turned dreamy. “All of that savage power hidden under so much civility. He fucked me and fucked me. He came twice inside me before he was finally satisfied.” Greta’s eyes shot back to Daenaira and turned venomous. “But instead of choosing me when he has the chance, he chooses you! I can smell the lowest of classes on you. You’re filth and don’t deserve to touch him! I should be the one dressing and undressing him, giving him ritual baths after battle, sating his body of his carnal needs!”
Daenaira smiled just a little, always a dangerous thing.
“I imagine if that were true, you’d be on your knees right now doing just that. However, it was me he chose. It was my bed he was in last night.” Okay, so maybe he had been sitting on it bathing her burned face, but this nasty cow didn’t need to know that. “And he seems to like all my low-class talents.”