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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“You have forgotten someone, K’yatsume,” he noted quietly.
“Drenna?” She laughed.
“No, love. Yourself. Don’t forget yourself.”
“Henry,” Daenaira said softly.The confused boy was sitting on the bed, knees curled to his chest and arms folded over his head. Naked as he was, there was a gangly, awkward appearance to his limbs, and he was, quite obviously, emotionally devastated. Sagan and Dae’s entrance only made matters worse for him as he tried to turn himself away from the embarrassment of his exposure.
Daenaira wanted to move toward him, but Sagan held out a hand and stayed her. She realized then that the priest was right. Henry wouldn’t want a woman to baby and mother him at such a terrible moment in his life, so she went back to the door and closed it to give them privacy.
The room was empty otherwise. Shiloh and Nicoya had made their escape, and Daenaira suspected they had used Shadowscape to get past them. Just the same, she kept careful watch around the small room. They could just as easily Unfade into the room as they had Faded out of it, and she didn’t see Shiloh’s weapons belt anywhere in sight. It meant he was well armed.
Sagan moved up to Henry and caught up the boy’s clothing on the way.
“Henry?” he spoke softly, his deep voice focused and steady, not reflecting concern or sympathy so much as it portrayed the sense of understanding and solidarity. “Did they Fade?”
Of course Sagan knew this already. That wasn’t the question he was asking as he handed the boy his clothes. Henry nodded, rushing into the tailored fabrics as quickly as he could, his face burning with his shame when he looked up at Dae. Sagan slowly looked the bed over, as well as the boy himself in spite of his speed of dress. His redwood-colored eyes hardened into the aged invulnerability of those magnificent trees, a grim set to his lips.
“Son, you know I have to ask you…to bear witness to any sins Nicoya and Shiloh have committed here today,” Sagan informed him carefully. “It takes a strong man to righteously accuse those in power above him. I understand it is a great deal to ask.”
Henry nodded, his knees drawn back to his chest now that he was dressed. Daenaira understood Sagan’s approach to the boy, giving him an option that would help him to regain his sense of his manhood as he tried to cope with what his body had been subjected to.
“They said it wasn’t a sin i-if they b-both agreed to it. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”
The sheer panic in his voice followed the way he looked at the penance priest in front of him. This, Dae realized, was how Shiloh and Nicoya had managed to victimize without ramifications. The fear of punishment, as with Tiana, kept them silent. But penance wasn’t so terrible that it was worth this type of fear, and Henry should know that at his age. It was really Shiloh he feared. Gods, when Dae thought about it, she could imagine all too easily how a penance priest like Shiloh could abuse his power to dole out punishment in order to control his victims. Now Henry was fearful and distrustful of them all, and with terrible cause.
“Henry.” She spoke up gently. “No permission, no sin. Remember that, okay? If you gave no permission, the sin is not yours. It is theirs alone.”
“But…but I wanted…she was so beautiful.” Henry looked at the wall, glaring at himself in the silvery reflective surface of the tiles. “I knew it was wrong. I fantasized about it so often.”
“Fantasies are not sinful,” Sagan reminded him. “They are normal and healthy. It is acts alone that must be judged. What did you permit, Henry?”
“She took me…i-in her mouth. It was…” He swallowed, flushing darkly. “I wanted that. I would never have done it if Shiloh hadn’t said it was okay. I swear, I wouldn’t have. But they’re my teachers, and they said it was allowed!”
“I know, Henry,” Sagan said with a nod. “And that is the sin that must be repaid. It was theirs alone, for taking advantage of you by misusing their positions in this school and by feeding you lies that led you to this pass. I am sorry you were hurt by that treachery. I promise you, though, they will pay for their sins.”
“Especially Shiloh,” the boy hissed suddenly. “Especially him! I didn’t give him permission. I didn’t!” Tears welled in the student’s eyes and he scrubbed them away, frustrated when they came faster than he could erase them. “He waited until I wasn’t paying attention. Let Nicoya distract me. Th-then he grabbed me from behind and forced me on the bed…and Nicoya helped hold me! I couldn’t get them off me!” he ground out angrily. “Gods, it hurt! It was so much pain. B-but…”
Henry stopped, heavy sobs ripping from his chest now. Now, Dae knew, it was time for mothering. Sagan slid aside and made room for her when he realized the same thing. She went to the boy and wrapped warm arms around him, hushing him gently as she stroked his hair. Soon he turned into her softness and comfort, gripping her so hard she could barely breathe. He was a strong boy and he must have fought with everything in his body. She looked up at the intact statue of Drenna, and for a furious moment wanted to know why Tiana had failed to help buy precious time. One crash of porcelain and Henry would have seen Shiloh behind him. Perhaps in time to understand and make some kind of escape or protest.
But she knew it was an unlikely prospect just the same. Magnus had proved to her earlier how hard it was to escape a lesson in those rooms. She understood the principles, and they worked with those who were perfectly trustworthy, but Magnus had to realize that there was no trust in Sanctuary any longer. Not until he methodically removed the deception where it had taken root. If the top of the tree—like Nicoya and Shiloh and Cort—was rotten, you could bet it went down deep through the ranks all the way to the roots.
What Sanctuary needed was Magnus at his most powerful. It needed truth as only he could find it. He could no longer afford to believe in blind trust because of their shared faith and callings. Not when lives like Henry’s were at stake. If not for Tiana guiding her to that hidden chamber, they could have killed the boy and made him disappear without a second thought.
“I didn’t want it,” Henry kept saying fiercely as he clung to her. “I didn’t like it! I didn’t!”
“No, Henry, you didn’t,” Sagan assured him, his fist clenching tightly in his anger as he repressed it for later. “Nicoya brought you to the edge, and what happened with Shiloh was a matter of physiology alone. Do not be ashamed for coming to climax. It’s almost impossible for a male to maintain control when the prostate gland is stimulated in that way. Physiology, Henry. Nothing more.”
Daenaira blinked quickly to hold back sympathetic tears. Thank the gods Sagan understood what had happened. Her sexual ignorance couldn’t help poor Henry, and she felt stupid and inadequate for that. It made her more determined than ever to learn everything she could. Next time someone needed her, she wanted to know how to help them.
“K’yan,” Sagan said quietly. “I will stay with Henry. I need you to go find Magnus.”
Dae looked at Sagan in surprise. She understood instantly that he meant to give up the opportunity to hunt Shiloh and Nicoya to Magnus, in order to stay and comfort a boy in desperate need of a man’s reassurances. It was a sacrifice she wouldn’t have expected from a man who seemed to eat, sleep, and breathe the art of battle. It reminded her that Sagan was, after all, a priest as well as a dealer of penance. In that moment, she saw what Magnus must have seen in the quiet, stoic minister. She saw why he trusted the other male, even if it was only subconsciously.
Daenaira stood up and left Henry after giving him a reassuring squeeze of his hand. He looked like he had been burning in Light for an hour, but she had faith that Sagan would be able to help him. She left the room, and though she knew time was of the essence, she also knew Magnus would hunt his criminals down just as efficiently now as five minutes from now. She wanted to check on Tiana. She didn’t understand why the handmaiden hadn’t done something to help Henry. Had she simply stood there and watched the boy be violated? Dae quickly entered the hidden tunnel and worked her way cautiously, expecting the worst because she wanted to believe her friend was better than that. She came around to the room with Sagan and Henry in it, but Tiana was gone. She could see Sagan talking softly to Henry, the boy nodding with vehemence. He was clearly reiterating all of the things he had said to assure the boy that he was the victim and not the criminal in this situation.
She was so disappointed in Tiana that she surprised herself. Since when, she wondered, had she started expecting better things of people? After only ten days in Sanctuary, was she so quickly willing to forget what she knew of human nature? It made no sense. She knew better than this.
That was when she looked down and saw the brown stain on the stone by her feet. Daenaira cautiously kept her eyes on the tunnels as she knelt to touch the spot. It was still wet, and when she turned her finger over, the brown became redder and the scent of blood reached out to tickle her keen sense of smell.
“Oh gods,” she whispered.
Had she left Tiana to be hurt, afraid, and alone? Where was she? Dae hadn’t taken the time to explore the rest of the tunnels, having assumed it ran the entire length of the tutoring rooms, almost the entire corridor on both sides. She hurried into the as-yet unplumbed depths of the tunnel, drawing her wrist blade from the left sheath. The glave, collapsed and left hanging from her waistband like a pair of handcuffs, wouldn’t work in such narrow confines. She needed something for close quarters. She wished to Drenna that she had those sai Magnus had promised her. She was good with the small dagger, but against a man like Shiloh it would take a precision hit to do any damage to him.
She eased carefully into each alcove, her stomach sickened as she interrupted privacy in some and met with empty rooms in others. Worse still, she found more brown droplets on the ground, the increase in amount and grouping mystifying and disturbing.
Then, as she rounded the bend to the other side of the corridor of rooms, the droplets suddenly became a foot-wide smeared path that led her eyes in a direct track to the slumped body of her unfortunate friend in the next alcove.
“Ti!” she cried softly, watching her back as she hurriedly knelt to check Tiana’s pulse. To her horror, her fingers sank into the sliced-open flesh that was still dripping blood in spite of there no longer being any heartbeat to propel what remained inside her into the outside world. Tiana was dead, bled out like an animal in a slaughterhouse. And for what? Daenaira wanted to know with anger. What had she ever done to hurt anyone? Someone must have seen them enter the tunnels…or they had been there with them the entire time when they’d entered and they’d never realized it! Gods! Maybe if she hadn’t left, she’d have been able to defend her friend. But clearly whoever it was had purposely waited until Tiana was most vulnerable. It also meant that with Shiloh and Nicoya occupied with Henry at the time, yet another suspect was on the loose. This didn’t surprise her, though. It made no sense that Shiloh and his handmaiden would openly expose themselves if they had known they could be watched, unless it was part of the thrill for them. In fact, it made a great deal of sense that they might orchestrate Henry’s manipulation for an audience.
That meant the watcher had been there when she and Tiana had arrived, hiding when they’d entered and then…waiting. Daenaira felt sick all over again, as well as sensing how much danger she was now in. She wanted out of the enclosed tunnel more than anything, desperate to find Magnus and begin to search for vengeance for the victims of these cold, heartless betrayers of trust and faith. It enraged her to even think of it. She had lived a life without either one; and here, where trust and faith were supposed to be safe, cultivated, and enriched, they were being abused and destroyed.
Worse, she could already feel the pain this was going to cause one proud priest in particular, and it only incited her fury further.
Dae hurried away from the body of her friend and broke free of the tunnels, running to find her priest.
Magnus was stopped in the streets frequently as he moved through the city and back toward Sanctuary. He remained patient and dutiful to all who required something from him, but there was no denying the urgent need growing inside him at the thought of returning to Daenaira’s soft and heated embrace. He could still smell her on himself, and he had to carefully avoid thinking about that lest he end up physically reacting to the memory of her while in public. Hunger was all well and good, and certainly to be expected in his case of famished lifestyle, but it couldn’t interfere with his daily routines as a priest for the people who needed him.Still, even Drenna had to cut him some slack. After all, She was the one who had designed this whole situation to be as powerful and humbling to him as it had been. Admittedly, he had needed it. He could already sense how it would affect his work in the future. His goddess had realized how out of touch he was with certain elements of the condition of relationships, and She had forced resolution on him. It was a penance he accepted happily.
He had to remind himself to slow down a little as his heart began to race in anticipation of potentially getting to see Dae before his scheduled lectures began. She had shed virgin blood for him only hours earlier. He had to have a care that he didn’t hurt her in any way. At least, no more than he’d already been forced to do to get her past that point. He’d already shown a remarkable lack of control when it came to her, and he realized it wasn’t just about sex and sexual deprivation. There were certain cravings that overcame him that had nothing to do with satiating his body—at least, not in that way. While he had craved the feel of holding her warm skin against his as they lay replete the second time around in the tutoring room, it had been satisfying a completely different kind of need. The need for contentment, the scent of himself on her body beneath his nose, the scent of her on his; all possessive and territorial urges, all very out of character for him.