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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Magnus watched as she left herself in her blouse and underskirt. Her skin across her belly shone warm and golden, the sheerness of her skirt showing the full outline of her body. He watched her lift a foot, jerking up her skirt as she strapped the sheaths onto her bare calves one at a time. Watching her arm herself with the weapons he had made for her was somehow sensual and intimate all at once. At the same time, he struggled with a sudden knot of apprehension as he began to doubt the wisdom of bringing her with him. He was tempted to say she wasn’t ready, but her third power made her naturally ready, and he hadn’t been lying when he had told her he needed her to keep Nicoya busy.
Besides, there was no one else he trusted enough to depend on them keeping up their end of the battle without being afraid he’d have to watch his back at the same time. If Dae’s suspicions about Tiana’s killer were correct, there was a third killer in the mix. All he knew was that he had reached his threshold for what was happening in Sanctuary a long time ago, and now he was going to do something about it or die trying.
Even if it meant he had to sacrifice Daenaira along the way.
The thought was cold and dreadful, but he had to make himself face it, just as he faced the potential deaths of any of the penance priests he sent out to hunt down Sinners for the sake of their victims. In truth, he couldn’t afford to lose her or any other good soul. He would need them all to rebuild Sanctuary into the institution he had intended it to be; that he believed it had once been. Also…
Magnus pushed away all of those extraneous thoughts, feeling a suffocating sensation closing in around him. He couldn’t allow himself to fear. He couldn’t let those visions of violence that had shared space with his passion for her to interfere with what he needed to do now. Drenna had shown one clearly, and the other in intelligible flashes and blurs. Just because their powerful passions had come to life, it didn’t mean the images of death and danger he felt surrounding him since he had begun to dream of her were just as accurate. If he believed they were, he would only paralyze them both.
Daenaira looked up at him as she fingered the back sheath and debated taking the lighter set of sai with her as well. She would need practice before it was practical to bring them, so she thought it best to leave them behind. She did keep the glave hanging at her waistband, however. Dae went still when she saw quite clearly that Magnus was struggling with heavy thoughts, the darkness of his frown and the fierceness of his eyes giving her a liquid sensation of dread through the center of her belly.
“Don’t,” she begged him suddenly, barely knowing why as she moved forward to lean her warmth and weight along the length of his rigid body. “Don’t doubt. Not me, not you.”
“How can I not?” he asked on a soft rasp. “Everything I believed was just a delusion. I endangered everyone because I let myself get so wrapped up in politics and things outside of the purview of Sanctuary…and then when I saw the first signs of trouble here, I stuck my head in the sands of denial. And I don’t doubt you,” he added, reaching up to sweep a gentle touch beneath the amber of her eye. “You are the only thing I don’t doubt. I even question Drenna for her wisdom in letting me lead her children into this mess, but I don’t question you.” He reached to cradle her face between both of his strong hands. “I fear for you, but I don’t doubt you.”
“I’ve survived much more difficult things than you, M’jan Magnus,” she said softly to him, cuddling warmly against him as she nuzzled a kiss against his cheek where he was starting to grow rough from the shadow of his whiskers.
“I know, K’yindara. But I don’t want to be one of those things you need to survive,” he told her on an intimate whisper against her throat. “I tried my hand at that already, and I didn’t like it. I’ll not repeat the mistake, Dae.”
“That’s good to know,” she said, her throat trying to work past the tightness suddenly stuck within it. She hadn’t ever thought simple words could have such an impact on her, but his did. The words and the depth of sincerity she could feel behind them told her she would not be a fool to believe him this time. She had not had anyone care anything about what happened to her since her mother had died, and she had forgotten how powerful it could feel to trust that feeling and believe in it. She’d been alone so long—was it stupid of her to want to enjoy him so much? Was she just feeling this way because she was so naïve about so many things when it came to him? She’d never had sex before, and he had gently led her into that world of incredible bliss. She’d never been given a gift before, and here he had painstakingly created her beautiful sai in a way that told her he actually gave a damn about what happened to her. She’d never been asked to fight with someone instead of being expected to fight against them, and that, more than anything, affected her.
“Come, wildfire. It’s time to hunt these pretenders down,” he said, reluctantly moving from the enticing warmth of her. “I haven’t had time to tell you much, so I will explain this and nothing else. I will offer repentance to all Sinners if it is in my power to do so, but do not hesitate to destroy them in their sin if your life is in the balance. Also, there is a good chance they are no longer in Shadowscape.”
“Yes. And Shiloh at least is a master of that ’scape just as I am. Nicoya…I can only assume he has trained her just as fully, since she often fought with him on his quests to bring others to penance.” He frowned, worrying again. “Remember, anything is possible in Dreamscape, Daenaira. It is the power of your belief that draws from the energy there. Unlike when you are asleep, though, when you Fade into Dreamscape, you have total control over your environment unless someone else manipulates it and you within it. Your will is strong. You have very few fears.”
Dae could see he wasn’t comforted by his own reasoning. On the one hand, he had faith in her strength, but he was trying to reconcile that with his shaken faith in those he had once thought just as confidently of. Suddenly, it was very important to her to prove to him he was right about her, if nothing else. He was a good and wise man, and the evils of others shouldn’t be allowed to undermine him like this.
“Don’t worry,” she said with her usual sly cheek. “You haven’t begun to see the shit my brain can come up with. Let’s go.”
Magnus smiled at that, letting her take his hand and lead him from the heat of the forge.
Dreamscape.Gods, he didn’t want to be here. Or rather, he didn’t want to have Daenaira here. It was too soon and she was too raw. He must have been mad to bring her. He could have left her with Henry and brought Sagan…
He wasn’t about to turn his back on her again. When he thought of Tiana and how very close Dae had come to meeting her fate, his stomach clenched into brutal knots. He needed her here where he could keep a close eye on her.
Magnus tried to breathe, tried to focus on his hunt for his prey. He had never been so unfocused preparing for a battle in all of his life. Daenaira, he realized, had become the very distraction he had always feared a woman could become to a man if he let her get too close to him. And yet, he would damn himself to Light before he would regret a single second of it. He wouldn’t give his enemies that satisfaction. He had listened to her gloss over the discovery of the room they had shared, but he had felt the knowledge that they had potentially been watched during such private moments like a kick in the groin, and he knew it had to be even worse for a young woman with such little exposure to things like voyeurism. He dreaded what could happen to the trust and sanctity of Sanctuary once knowledge of these tunnels became known. Decades of youth would be violated. How in the name of the gods had these things been built? He had entertained the idea of something similar only once, briefly, when he and Tristan had designed Sanctuary’s new halls together. It had occurred to him that there should be a checks-and-balances system so he could make certain none of the students were ever abused by their teachers, but he had dismissed it as an act of faithlessness in his peers.
Had Tristan gone ahead with the tunnels anyway and not told him? Perhaps designing it as a “just in case” scenario in the event that he changed his mind later on? Now it so happened that was exactly what he was doing. The tunnels would be locked, and only he would be allowed to enter and observe to make certain what had happened to Henry would never happen again. The question was whether he would make it general knowledge the check system existed, or if he would be more covert about it. Just how many people in Sanctuary knew they existed, anyway? And were those tunnels limited to just the tutoring rooms? He needed to consult with Tristan as soon as he got the opportunity.
“You’re miles away,” a soft, sensual voice whispered in his ear. Dae’s remark brought him face-to-face with her amber eyes, the glow of them so brightly enhanced by Dreamscape. The mellifluousness of her voice had always cut sharply into his libido, but equally enriched by the magic of this ’scape, it distracted his entire body, pulling him to her like a divining rod toward water. He’d experienced a similar effect those times when he had visited her as she had slept, in order to gain her consent to join his life in Sanctuary. That all seemed so long ago now. So much had come and gone between them.
She was right. He was miles away, and it wasn’t improving. He had to get his head in the game before they both ended up dead. He gave her a nod of acknowledgment and redoubled his attempts to focus. He needed to pick up Shiloh’s trail before the other hunter picked up theirs.
He watched out of the corner of his eye, though, as Daenaira held a hand over her eyes and bravely dared to look toward the distant light. Sunlight. But darkness followed them as they walked the surreal landscapes around them. All light remained on the fringes of what was safe for their breed, moving always out of reach of them. Dreamscape was not, after all, meant to harm those who spent time there. There were nightmares, of course, but overall it was meant to be a place of rest, safety, and fantasy. Whether in Fade or in sleep, it wouldn’t cause them harm unless someone else made the magic around them malevolent.
“Careful. It will still blind you temporarily, and you can’t afford any hindrances.”
“I know. I just never saw sunlight before. I’ve always been so afraid of going out in the fresh world. I grew up in the tavern in the Clan Gerranic caves not far from here, and my mother never let me go outside. Then eight years with my relatives.”
“You’re Clan Gerranic?” he asked, surprised.
“There are no clans,” she returned smugly.
“Not anymore,” he agreed with a chuckle. “Not officially. But no one will ever forget their clan. Rather like how American humans never forget their European ancestry. But Clan Gerranic is a bit notorious for growing the best assassins money can buy. It explains your third power. You speak of your mother, but never your father.”
“Mmm. I don’t believe she knew who he was.” She shrugged at his arching eyebrow. “Someone lied to her about being on birth control. Like most of our women, she couldn’t tolerate methods for herself, and it is so rare to find a male who won’t take a simple herb. All you guys have to do is drink tea once every couple of weeks and it totally screws up your fertility. Women, however…”
“I am aware of that.” He chuckled.
“Right. Sex education.” She sighed. “Anyway, Mom had it tough. As a society we aren’t kind to single parents. And to be frank, it’s never the man who gets stuck with the living, breathing stigma to remind everyone they screwed up. All too often they’ve already hit the road by then. Or they did, before the city. Maybe it’s different now that we are more insular and less clannish.”
Magnus didn’t respond. He was recalling how hard he had been on his son for getting Ashla pregnant out of joining. He had known it was a fluke. Trace was too responsible to have let it happen cavalierly, but none of the normal laws of their world had applied at the time of conception. However, they were hard on those who conceived accidentally because it was usually so easily prevented and there were few excuses in such a highly sexually educated society. They never blamed the child, of course, but he had never taken into consideration how the suffering of a stigmatized parent would translate onto the children.
“I suppose we have a very long way to go before we can consider ourselves on par with a Nightwalker society like the Demons.”
“All Nightwalkers have their flaws. Mistrals are xenophobes. Vampires are cavalier in general, bordering on lawless if not for Prince Damien.”
“More than you know. Things have changed for that race. Vampires recently discovered they can acquire the powers of other Nightwalkers by drinking their blood. It released a whole new breed of criminals we all have to fear. We’ve already lost a few ’Dwellers to them.”
“I didn’t know that,” she said quietly, her expression grim. “I guess my mother was right to be afraid to let me go outside.”
“Perhaps. But she did you an injustice by—” Magnus stopped short and turned to her in surprise. “Are you telling me that the first time you ever went out of doors was when you followed me and killed Cort?”
“Well, I suppose I was transported to the city somehow, so I guess I was outside then, but they made sure I was out cold. Can’t have a secret slave if she starts screaming or something.” She frowned. “I wish…”
“What do you wish?” he prompted her, still a bit floored at how courageous an act it must have been to step outside for the first time in twenty years just to face down a trained killer. She would never cease to amaze him.