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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
And then there had been the inexplicable need to touch her constantly, as if to make quite certain she was real and not some figment of a sexually starved imagination. He had provoked her temper, just to see the flash of her eyes and to hear her acerbic retort, taking such pleasure in it that he had smiled and given himself away for baiting her. Her hard street philosophy complemented his sometimes overly idealistic one. She was grounding him. As things around him shook on increasingly rocky ground, he realized just how important that was going to be if he were going to regain control over his flailing house. The temple was Drenna’s and M’gnone’s, but Sanctuary was his. He would be thrice damned to Light before he would allow it to be torn apart without a vicious fight to regain its glory.
Magnus stopped still suddenly as a cavern breeze swept the frigid cold of the winter outside over him. More importantly, it brought him a gift of a scent of sweet cream and fresh strawberry shampoo.
Magnus felt cold sink like lead into his soul as he jerkily swept his eyes over the passersby in the street. When he saw her hurrying toward him, he had a ridiculous urge to crumble to his knees with relief so he could pray his thanks to his gods for seeing her brought safely to him. However, the urge was swept away by another wash of dread when he saw the raw distress in her expression and the blood staining her sari and her hands.
“What?” he demanded, grabbing hold of her the instant they came together. “Are you harmed? Did someone hurt you?” She wasn’t speaking fast enough, damn it!
“No! Tiana is dead. And Henry—oh, Magnus, I think Shiloh raped Henry. With Nicoya’s help. I could tell you for certain if I wasn’t so stupid about these things,” she said with fierce frustration sparking hard tears in her eyes. “Sagan is with Henry, but the priest and handmaiden have escaped. I saw for myself what they were planning to do to him. I should have stayed and done something! Now Tiana is dead and Henry is devastated! I could have done something!”
Daenaira so rarely cried. She might feel the urge, but she had only ever done so once that he knew of, though she’d more than had cause on several occasions. So for her to spill tears where others could see her told him just how distraught and guilty she felt in that moment. He realized she was too upset to help him understand clearly what had happened, but she had made the important things known to him.
There were Sinners on the loose. Tiana was dead. One of his students had been violated.
It was the end of it all for him. The end of all further denial. The end of inaction and trying to play by the proper rules. It was the end of playing games of trust, and by the gods, it was the very end of his patience.
“Come with me, K’yindara. It is time we struck a match to your kindling.”
Daenaira was puzzled by the reference as he took her elbow in his hand and tucked her tightly to his side. It felt protective and safe, feelings she wasn’t used to at all, never mind finding them from an outside source. But she was too upset to lecture herself against depending on others to shield her from the harms of the world, and she simply allowed it to happen. It was likely he might fail her one day in some way, but she was willing to bet a little of her sanity that today would not be that day. As they walked quickly back to Sanctuary, she calmed down enough to explain in great detail everything that had happened since he had left her.
“Well, I think this gives a whole new perspective to phrases like ‘I can’t leave you alone for two seconds,’ hmm?”
“I suppose so,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself in a hug and drawing his attention to her blooded hands.
“Is that from Tiana?”
“Yes. Whoever did it, they were brutal. And they waited for me to leave.”
“Thank the gods,” he muttered. She gave him a sharp look but he was unapologetic. “I’m sorry. I know she was your friend, but it would have done no good if you had been there, Dae. Whoever this is, they are cunning and deadly, and given a choice I would not wish you alone face-to-face with them. If that makes me selfish, then so be it. I am tired of watching the people I care about get destroyed by this poison, and I am going to put a stop to it once and for all.”
Daenaira could hear and feel how utterly furious he truly was, but it was in such contradiction to the softness of his fingers against the side of her face that she didn’t know what to think in that moment. She remained quiet and uneasy. She didn’t know exactly why, but considering all she’d been through in a single night, she was entitled to a little unease.
She also began to get the feeling that his familiar way of holding her wasn’t necessarily something that was expected to be seen. People kept staring at them and then halting to whisper and sometimes shake their heads in obvious disapproval. Not that she ever gave a damn what people thought of her, but it disturbed her to think of what influence her presence could have on Magnus’s reputation. It made her feel a little soiled and a little inadequate in his shadow, and the sensation made her throat ache. As his handmaiden, she was supposed to help and support him, make his job and his existence easier in the world so he could do the most good as often as possible. If she cast a poor light on him in some way, would it scald his effectiveness?
Daenaira would have shrugged out of his hold had they not reached Sanctuary just then. Once inside the building, Magnus took her hand and the lead, hurrying her forward and down the next levels until they entered the forge. Black fire burned hot at the many pits where metal smiths and blacksmiths were working their trades. There was one forge where black fire smoldered, the chemically treated combustibles used to make the lightless fire giving off black and clear flames that burned longer and stronger than human fire did. It did not, however, burn as hot, and so it made metalwork very difficult. It made tempering steel and the like into a careful art form consisting of perfect timing and flawless molds. She admired the jewelry makers for their patience, but it was weapons smiths like Magnus who truly earned her awe and her respect. Of course, she recognized that she was biased. Jewelry couldn’t hold a candle to a beautifully crafted blade.
The forge he led her to was his own. No one but Magnus used it, and it was kept ready for use at all times unless he ordered it cold. Walking past so much burning heat, she was perspiring by the time they stopped. Magnus went to a small rack and drew back the tarp thrown over it.
Daenaira gasped so loudly, she could be heard over the roar of the other forges and the banging and sizzling of metal.
“Magnus!” she all but squealed.
Sai. Beautiful, unbelievable, breathtaking sai. Two pairs of them! She covered her mouth with both hands, moving only a step closer and bending to peer at the gorgeous metallic creations. It was instantly obvious the kind of time and effort that had gone into them. The most amazing detail. The smooth matte of utter blackness. These were no ordinary sai. The sai in his room were steel, the metal gleaming to a silvered shine. But these—these were pure black. Assassins’ weapons, meant to keep a killer hidden in her natural habitat of the shadows without the flash of metal to give her away. The advantage was critical and thoughtful, and something she hadn’t even considered for herself. In the seat of the pommels were onyx gems, the facets cut perfectly around the only bit of color he had allowed on the entire project. Etched in the stones, with pearlized midnight blue paint to fill it in, was her initial. Along the length of the long center prongs of all four sai, he had etched flames rushing from hilt to tip. K’yindara. Wildfire.
Unique to these sai, though, was the right-handed twist to the smaller prongs, which were also thicker than seemed right for the balance of the weapon. Daenaira felt his fingertips touch her upper arm closest to him, rubbing her gently through her blouse.
“Pick one up,” he encouraged her for what she did not realize was the third time. She was so shocked and so enthralled it made him ridiculously pleased and proud. That he had made her so obviously happy seemed to mean everything to him in that moment. Magnus watched her reach out for a sai with shaking hands, and her reverence was painfully beautiful. She had tears in her eyes again, though he couldn’t fathom why. She had known he was making them for her. Why was she so blown away by the gift, as if it were completely unexpected?
“I didn’t think you would really make them,” she answered him as if she had heard his query. “I’m sorry, but I guess I thought…”
“You thought I was shining you on.”
“Yes,” she breathed. “Or that you wouldn’t do it because I wouldn’t…because I was being so cold to you.”
Magnus tried not to be insulted by what she had truly meant by that. She had thought that he wouldn’t keep his promise so long as she refused his advances physically or as a friend. But that was the life she knew from before, and he had to remember it was up to him to show her a new life. He was glad their fight had actually allowed him the extra time and energy he had needed to craft these for her. His frustration and even his temper had been a strong impetus to working them so quickly and going to the extreme of his skills in creating the lovely weapons. After all, they were going to be protecting her life. He couldn’t afford to give her second best, and that was why he had refused to allow her to carry the heavier sai. Yes, she could handle the damn things frighteningly well, but they were not designed for a woman, and that made for executable flaws and weaknesses. He didn’t want her depending on imperfect weapons.
He wanted her to depend on these. He knew they were as close to flawless as was possible. His added touches, too, would only solidify that. She still hadn’t touched them, so he reached out to pick one up where it lay next to its sheath. He turned it nimbly so the hilt faced her fingers and touched it encouragingly into the seat of her palm. She closed her fingers around it and he smiled when her eyes went wide with surprise and delight. The weight, he knew, was perfect for her. He had paid close attention in their classes, even taking note of the way she tended to hold the sai at a quarter turn inward so the steel and her forearm aligned to make a more powerful brace against the strike of an opponent who was stronger and heavier than she was. The twist on the lower tines allowed for a better purchase when she hooked an enemy weapon. She used the trick often, and he had seen her snap two blades this week alone. Not his blades, of course, but nothing too shabby either.
He moved back and let the warrior in her take over. It always happened that way, like a possession, when fighter met weapon for the first time and made a perfect match. She whipped the long end around, pressing it to her forearm as her fingers wrapped snugly around the fork and hilt.
“The stone is black fire onyx,” he informed softly as he walked around behind her. “Second in strength only to a diamond, K’yindara. You can use the butt of the weapon to hit anything and it won’t shatter. I had it set by Caidywynn, our foremost jeweler in the city. There are no gaps, no air, nothing but the steel at its back, which makes it as good as a steel post, only prettier.” He reached out to stroke a knuckle down the side of her face. “Call me a chauvinist, but you deserve pretty. Anyone who looks as beautiful as you do in battle deserves equal beauty in her weapons.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, reaching to take up a second sai. It was one from the other set, and he was not surprised she had noticed there was a difference between the pairs.
“These are balanced. Streamlined. So you can—”
“Throw them,” she breathed. “Throwing sai!”
“Only women should use throwing sai. That is why they are rarely used as such. Only a woman can use steel this light with optimum efficacy in a battle. Throwing the heavier sai is clumsy and risky. You are basically giving up your only weapon, so it had best count for something. The throwing sai are in the boot sheaths. The standard ones are the leg sheaths. I also had another made for your back, for when the sari is not in your way.”
Daenaira dropped the weapons on the table with a clang of metal, turned, and threw herself into his body. Her arms wrapped around his neck so tightly she almost choked him, and all Magnus could do was return the savage little hug with equal measure.
“Thank you,” she whispered against his ear. Then again, even more fiercely so he would understand her perfectly, “Thank you, M’jan.”
Magnus held her firmly, “Now, my spitfire, it’s time you earned your keep.” She stiffened in his embrace and he chuckled. “My K’yindara, always expecting the worst. What will I ask of you that you haven’t already freely given me? I only mean that it’s time you come into battle with me. Nicoya is a well-trained fighter, and Shiloh a penance priest. I cannot wisely face them both alone. You are just the edge I need to handle her while I seek him.”
“Oh,” she said sheepishly, “I’m sorry.”
“No. Not at all. It will take time for you to understand what I do and do not want from you, Dae. Although,” he said, lowering his voice and lips against her ear, “you should expect me to demand a more physical thank-you later. And in exchange, I would love to attend any…adrenaline rushes you have.”
Daenaira laughed at the tease, pinching his arm smartly for his blithe reference to her naïveté. She turned and nipped her teeth at the line of his jaw, a free hand gliding down his rock-hard belly in a brief, promising tease.
“Come on,” she invited softly, “Let’s get to hunting. I owe that bitch for Henry in a big, big way. And if either of them so much as touched Tiana, I’m going to make them pay.” As she spoke, her skin was flushed with temper and the ambient heat of the forge. She reached up to strip away her sari, shedding the outer wrap and throwing it into a discard bin nearby.