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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Daenaira quickly looked around the room through the window.
“There, on the shelf. The porcelain figure of Drenna. Make it fall. Don’t lift it, just push it over. It should buy us time. I’m going to get Sagan. Promise me you’ll do this. Stay and do this, Tiana. Don’t let them hurt Henry. Cort isn’t here holding you and gagging you anymore. You let this go and it’s all on you this time. You hear me?”
Tiana nodded, her eyes spilling tears. Dae knew she would do what she was told. The girl had probably always done as she was told. It made Dae wonder just how long she and Cort had been together and just how long he had been dominating everything in her life.
But Tiana wasn’t her main concern, and she ran back into the storage room. Hitting the corridor, she realized she knew nothing about Sagan or his schedule. She had no idea where she would find him. Then she thought about the one person she trusted most in Sanctuary, and knew she would be most likely to know. Running up to her classroom, she prayed the elder handmaiden was there.
She burst in on a class, no doubt looking wild and flushed by the way Hera reacted to her entrance.
“Your pardon,” she gasped, “K’yan Hera, but would you know where I might find M’jan Sagan at this moment?”
“Most likely in the training halls. He teaches defense class at this time.”
“Thank you,” she shouted even as she ran out the door. The training halls were so distant! Frustrated with her sari, she stopped and scooped the back hem up and drew it up and forward between her legs and tucked it in at her waistband in front as she did when she was in fight training. It created makeshift pantaloons and freed her to run.
“Sagan!” she cried out, even though she wasn’t even through the doors to the hall. She didn’t care if everyone stared at her. All she cared about was the single pair of dark, deep sienna-colored eyes that belonged to the penance priest she sought. Clearly, her entrance was enough to provide clarity of need. He never hesitated, stepping over the student he had thrown to the ground just before her entrance. He hurried up to her and she was already running back down the corridor. He followed at her heels, his longer legs easily keeping pace with hers.
“What is it?” he demanded. “Is it Magnus?”
“No. It’s much worse.” She breathlessly explained the situation, and Sagan’s features darkened into a storm of deadly, dangerous rage. He pulled a key from his pocket similar to the one Magnus had used earlier and had it at the ready as she led him to the door of the tutoring room. “Gods, I ran so slow!” she gasped, bending into the stitch in her side from her exertions through corridors, stairwells, and emotions.
“Are you armed?” Sagan demanded. Dae reached for the glave snapped to his weapons belt and jerked it free. She nodded sharply. “That’s not for indoors,” he hissed.
“Then I suggest you duck when I throw,” she shot back. She flicked her wrist hard, the bladed weapon fluttering open like a butterfly blade before it caught on its grooved spine and held its shape tightly.
Sagan keyed the lock, and bracing all of his power into his legs, he crashed his shoulder against the bolt on the other side. It only took a second strike of his big body to make the wood splinter apart, but they both knew it was one strike too many. A man like Shiloh would move all too fast with a warning of even a second.
They burst into the room.
Magnus watched his best religious student in all of his years as a teacher pace in frantic upset. He had taken a seat, feeling far too relaxed and mellowed to join her in her tension of the moment, sitting loosely in one of the large chairs in her parlor. His entire body felt alien and calm, making him realize just how tensely he had been living his daily life for quite some time. He smiled to himself when he thought about how his new relaxation technique could so easily become an addictive pastime.“I don’t understand him. He’s never done anything like this before,” Malaya said fretfully, her hands twisting within one another.
“Tristan was afraid he would—”
“Not Tristan!” she interrupted him sharply, the snapping tone so rare for her, especially toward her priest. “Guin!”
“Guin,” Magnus echoed carefully. Gods, he had to pay better attention, he realized. She must have shifted topics while he had been daydreaming about Daenaira, and now he was lost. He glanced around and noticed for the first time that Killian and not Guin was standing watch over the Chancellor. “He’s left you before,” he hedged carefully.
“But not for a week! When has he ever left me for a week in fifty years?”
“A week?” Magnus realized he was beginning to sound like a parrot. “Guin asked for a week off? Away from you? Leaving you in the care of others?”
“You see! Listen to the way you’re saying that. You know as well as I do that Light would have to strike him down before he’d abandon his post! And then what he did…”
Magnus could see the blush of heat that crept over every inch of her skin as she scrubbed a hand up over the curve of her shoulder.
“What did he do, K’yatsume?” he asked softly, tension returning to his body as he sat up onto the edge of his seat.
Malaya glanced over her shoulder at Killian, and then the door in the suite that had sealed a weary Rika away from them at his arrival. For Malaya to suddenly develop so keen a sense for privacy told him it was crucial he find out what had happened between her and Guin. Any disruptions to the natural order of their lives would only make it easier for enemies to pry them apart. The bond of Guin’s loyalty to his mistress was one Magnus had deemed unbreakable. What had changed? First Tristan had damaged their relationship, and now Guin had abandoned her to the care of others? No wonder she was so heavily upset.
“I think I’m going to go check and see how Rika’s feeling,” Killian said suddenly, intuiting the reluctance to talk he inspired. Guin would not have cared. He’d have never entertained the idea of exiting the room. Then again, Killian realized Malaya was probably safer with Magnus than she was with him, despite his own formidable skills. So he didn’t hesitate to leave her alone with him as he knocked for Rika, who bade him enter.
Malaya reached down for Magnus’s hand and led him into her own bedroom, adding another door between them and the keen hearing of their friends. Magnus leaned back against the door, folding his arms over his chest and watching as she returned to her agitated pacing. The full material of her skirts swirled like a whirlpool with every sharp turn.
“What did he do, K’yatsume?” he repeated after a moment.
She responded with a nervous laugh and that rubbing of her hand over her upper chest, shoulder, and neck. It changed his theory about it being tension when she almost seemed to be caressing herself, rather than trying to massage away tight muscles.
“He…touched me and, um…I think he threatened me.”
That she was confused and uncertain was quite obvious, and Magnus clung to that before letting a righteous temper run away with him. What she spoke of was among the worst of sins. Had she called him here to hunt? And of all people, Guin? There were very few Shadowdwellers capable of intimidating Magnus when he faced the idea of engaging them in a hunt, but Guin was by far at the top of the list. It was almost a tie between him and Sagan. Sagan might have made the art of war his entire existence, but Guin…Guin was a savage, cunning man who had that indefinable something that would always make him refuse to die even if his heart had been run clean through.
The purity of hate and evil could push a being well beyond his endurances and the physics of natural law, but what powered Guin so ruthlessly was something else entirely. Stubborn and relentless, primal and merciless, Guin was a man who would rather die than give up, and would rather die with his enemy in tow than alone. There was no compromise.
“K’yatsume,” Magnus said with very soft care, “it is very important that you explain those remarks to me with the utmost of care and precision.”
Malaya stopped pacing and looked up at him with a startled sort of surprise. Magnus took a measure of relief in that reaction. It was clear she wasn’t expecting him to punish Guin, whatever his choice ended up being. She was, of course, too attached to Guin to see the matter clearly for herself, and the punishment of those who sinned was not within her purview. Unlike the law the Senate might try to impose on her, she had no control over temple law. She could choose to refuse the edict to marry because she was, after all, an absolute ruler. She could abolish the outmoded law with her brother’s agreement and ride the tide of traditionalist disapproval. But she absolutely could not tell Magnus whom he should and should not hunt down for the penance of their sins.
She blinked and laughed, although it was a bit uneasily. “Really, M’jan, it’s nothing like that. It was…well, it was…”
Damn! How in Light could Malaya explain what she didn’t understand for herself? But she had to figure out how, because she had seen that cautious tension in her spiritual advisor before.
“I think he made a pass at me,” she confessed, that hot wash of sensory memory flooding over her again. Her breast still smoldered with the fire his coarse flirtation over her nipple had started. Just the idea of Guin—Guin, of all people—arousing her! That he had even wanted to touch her in the first place…But he had only been bullying her as usual, that was all. It was just another one of those tactics he loved to use to throw her off-kilter. After fifty years, he was still able to mess with her mind completely. It was infuriating. “I’m sure he did it just to get under my skin, the rotten bastard,” she muttered to her priest. “Do you know what he said? He said that if I didn’t give him permission to leave, he was going to stay ‘really, really close’ to me. You weren’t there, but it was clear what he was implying! Can you imagine? Guin actually threatened me with…with…”
“Sex,” Magnus supplied, his frown deepening as he tried to figure out what in Light Guin had been thinking. “Malaya, why didn’t he just ask you for a leave of absence without playing games?”
“Oh, well…uh…he did, actually,” she said uneasily.
“And you refused him?” Magnus lifted a brow in surprise. “Guin has never once asked for time, and when he finally does—and I remind you how often you have told him he could do so—you refused him?”
“I thought he was going to go on a witch hunt! He asked me right after Tristan dropped that awful bomb on me. I wasn’t thinking straight. And he always has this way of tying me up into knots of temper, the way he harps at me. He doesn’t make sense sometimes. And he suffocates me! He’s all pissed off about the Senate dictating my life, and I think that’s because he resents anyone poaching on what he thinks is his territory. Drenna forbid anyone but Guin should have the right to tell me what to do!”
“Malaya, the point is you pushed him to assert himself. He always accedes to you when you are in the right. He deeply respects you. When you are wrong, that is when he fights you tooth and nail. Granted, it’s his perception of right and wrong, but Guin does choose his battles carefully. I am not happy with him for putting unwelcome hands on you, however. That is absolutely unacceptable.”
“Oh…well, Magnus, like you said, he was pushed to make his point.” Though it had been a very bizarre ultimatum to hand down to her. Why, what if she’d said yes to his offer of…?
Malaya felt her whole body shudder at the thought, pure unadulterated heat pluming through her every blood vessel like a fast-rising cloud of toxins.
She licked a quick tongue over her lower lip and met her confessor’s gaze.
“And I don’t think you could call it unwelcome,” she said softly.
Magnus stood silently stunned for a moment, but quickly recovered, his expression as neutral as always.
“Like last time?” he asked her.
She nodded, exhaling as if she felt enormous relief for admitting it to him. “Last time” had been a good many years ago. Over a decade. She had been just as confused and uncertain about Guin’s intent then as she was now. Neither of them doubted his loyalty, nor did they doubt his dedication in seeing her happy and healthy. Sometimes, though, he behaved in such wild, irrational ways that it left them both a bit baffled.
But…now that Magnus had his relationship with Daenaira as a reflection, he considered that all of the hot temper and cold clinical extremes might be hiding something beyond the obvious. Regardless, though, it wasn’t necessarily his place to spell these things out for the monarch.
“You know my advice already,” he said gently to her. “Meditate. Pray to Drenna for clarity, Malaya. Let Her guide your mind. Try not to shut yourself off with prejudice, and make certain you consider all aspects.” He paused, a small frown tugging at his lips. “Don’t let fear write the course of your actions. I have done this myself, and I regret the pain it has caused.”
“Fear? You?” she asked, incredulous.
“Yes, K’yatsume. When we have no trust, the vacant space that is left becomes filled with fear. Karri gutted me of my trust, and I glutted myself on the resulting dread. I am still in a war with faith and doubt even as we speak. But it is my war. The wrong of it came when it spilled out and hurt someone who didn’t deserve it. Whatever decisions you come to, be certain it isn’t fear guiding you. Despite his brute armor and monolithic strength, Guin can be hurt just the same as anyone else. Have a care.”
“Magnus, you worry too much,” she said lightly, though there was a hint of unease in her tone. “I couldn’t hurt Guin. I need him far too much. I will find a way to please everyone the best I can, as always. The Senate, my brother, and Guin.”