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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“See! Clever girl,” Nicoya praised, swinging her blackened blade in the air until it sang softly for a few moments. “I’m the one who poisons my blades. I am the one who came so close to killing Magnus’s son.”
“You’re the one his son injured. I’m guessing he took you by surprise when he wounded you.”
This took some of the air out of her and Dae saw her temper flare. “Until that day, no blade had ever touched me. Mark my words, he will pay for that. Why do you think I decided to kill his father so soon afterward? But now that his bitch is with child, I think I will wait a while and let him get all sentimental and attached to them both. Then I will skewer them on posts side by side outside of his door. See if that doesn’t break him. Mother would be so pleased.”
“Mother?” Dae repeated.
Nicoya waved that off, though. She came closer still. “I can explain all of this another day. Right now, we have to talk about your future.”
“My future?” Dae was beginning to sound and feel like an echo. She figured it was the safest thing to do until she figured out how Nicoya wanted her to react to all she was telling her. She had a pretty good idea where this was going, though, and she needed to think fast.
If what Nicoya was saying was true, she was in a great deal of danger and Magnus had no idea. He thought he was dealing with the true threat in Dreamscape. If Nicoya was not exaggerating or lying, it meant Daenaira had drawn the short straw instead.
“Oh come now, don’t be modest. You know I mean for you to join us.”
Dae laughed, unable to keep the incredulousness from her tone. “Pardon the analogy, but wouldn’t that make for two roosters in one henhouse? You and I would kill each other eventually.”
“Not so. Unlike men, dominant women can live together quite easily. Did you think I was alone in Sanctuary? You give me too much credit if you think I can orchestrate that business with Henry and kill that nosey little bitch Tiana at the same time.”
The watcher in the tunnels they had unwittingly interrupted. But who could it be? There were so many women at Sanctuary, it could be any of them! Or, ironically, it could be a man pulling Nicoya’s strings after all.
“How many of you?”
“Yeah. Unlike a man, I’m not stupid enough to tell you that until after I figure out where you are going to lay your bets and loyalty. If I hadn’t seen the way you manipulated Magnus into panting after you like Karri used to pant after him, I would have already killed you. But it’s clear to me you enjoy your power over him. How artfully you played him earlier. He even let you tie him up! The great and mighty M’jan Magnus! Bound like a slave to his mistress! It was beautiful. And the way you refused to free him, jerking him off and coldly walking away to enjoy your superiority. Absolutely brilliant.”
“Thank you,” Dae said with careful neutrality, amazed at how well she succeeded at masking her furious temper. Every single moment of their assignation had been watched by this demented harpy and twisted into something ugly and mean! Granted, Dae had thrilled in her power of the moment when she had pleasured Magnus, but the key word was “pleasure.” It would have meant nothing to her if Magnus had felt no pleasure. And as far as her refusal to untie him, that had been all about fear. She had been afraid to free him and take the next step. The capitulation and tenderness that had followed had been quite acquiescent on Daenaira’s part, but Nicoya had put that down to manipulation tactics.
Again, she saw what she wanted to see.
And therein lay her only advantage. Because if Nicoya was truly at the par of a penance priest, she was too deadly a threat for Dae. She’d be the first to admit there was a big difference between fighting Friedlow or even Killian versus someone the same caliber as Magnus.
“I’m curious as to what the benefits would be to me, though. As you said, I already have the most powerful man in Sanctuary wrapped around my fingers.” She curled her fingers suggestively around the hilt of the sai and grinned. “Or should I say I have my fingers wrapped around him?”
Nicoya chuckled, her blade still swaying as she came within sword’s length of Dae. Daenaira was very aware that the other handmaiden never let the blade touch the snow. Either she was as anal as Magnus was about blade care, or she was avoiding diluting any poison that might be on it.
It occurred to her that someone had to have trained Nicoya to fight. Probably Shiloh at first, and then Cort once she’d grown beyond Shiloh. Then she had propped up her priest as a way to get in under Magnus…but really she had covered her bases by owning Cort as well, or so it appeared. All she’d had to do was wait for the right time to strike Magnus down and maneuver herself into a position no female in history had ever attained. And since the Chancellors had no purview in Sanctuary or the Temple, she would have been an absolute ruler in her own little world. It was a deadly clever plan.
But who else was a part of it? Was Nicoya really this clever? Dae didn’t know her well enough to be certain there wasn’t someone else even deeper beyond the obviously twisted and damaged mind of this woman.
“I like you,” Nicoya said happily. “I know others have their doubts about you; they think you’re a wild card or, at the very least, a maniac, but I like you.”
“So if you like me, what’s with the blade?” Daenaira flipped her sai, banging the prong of the weapon against the last four inches of the blacked blade, metal sliding against metal before she pulled back. Nicoya’s eyes widened, but when Daenaira backed off casually and began to toy with her sai again almost as if she were bored, Nicoya laughed again.
“Can’t blame me for being cautious. Magnus has this way of rubbing off goodness onto everyone. It’s very difficult to sway people closest to him away from him. Honestly, when my friends in the Senate thought it would be amusing to lure Trace away from Magnus’s teachings and the Chancellors, I knew they were wasting their time. He’s cut right from his father’s ass, for all they aren’t true blood.”
“I do believe he hates my guts,” Dae mused, having been well aware of Trace’s animosity from the moment they’d met after her encounter with Killian.
“Of course he does, dearest. Have you met his bitch? Simpering little submissive thing. Drenna, she turns my stomach. If that’s the way he likes them, then women like you and I must make his prick shrivel up tight in fear. And you do know how attached they are to their pricks.”
“All right then, say I buy into this whole scheme of yours. Isn’t it over now? I mean, Sagan knows. Magnus knows. It’s all unraveling.”
“Ah. Well, what are two bodies in the grand scheme? Here’s the beauty of it. I can take on Sagan and win, but only if you take out Magnus if Shiloh fails to do so. And I must admit that I doubt he’ll succeed. But he could get lucky, in which case, you won’t have to bother. However, when he fails, there is only one resource I have left that can keep him off my back and get close enough under his guard to get to him, and that’s you.”
“Seems a waste,” Dae lamented softly. “He’s rather…” She smiled slyly. Genuinely. “Gifted.”
“Now, dearest,” she scolded lightheartedly. “There’s good cock to be found all around you. You only need to look.”
Dae arched a brow.
“Brendan,” Nicoya offered with a grin. “That man is hung like a prize thoroughbred. Sagan…but he’s going to die,” she recalled with a momentary frown. “You’re right, it is a shame. But there’s a nut you can’t crack anyway. Sagan is rigidly into the whole temple monogamy. Although a few more months without a handmaiden, and a stud like him will find it very hard to resist the right woman. He was made for sex. He just channels it all into his fighting and practice at the moment. Knowing how good he is in the lists, you can imagine how well it would be to redirect his energies to where they belong.”
“And the boys, of course?” Dae asked.
“Mmm. Buckets of them. Ripe for the plucking. They are bursting to experience a woman. Quite literally.” She giggled. “But as I said, the fun is in the training. We could potentially train a Sanctuary full of future priests completely submissive to the handmaidens.”
“Okay,” she said carefully, drawing in a breath.
“Okay?” Nicoya prompted cautiously.
“Boys do not interest me, but Brendan does. A few others. I find I am not a one-man woman. And Brendan, I’ve already noticed, could be so easily controlled by the right female.”
“You think so?” Nicoya asked with amusement. “And that would be you?”
“That would be a goal worth risking my ass for, among others. Freedom. True freedom.” She took a deep breath. “That is what I really crave. I’ve been a slave to men for long enough.”
“Excellent!” Nicoya stopped pacing through the snow and turned a darkly sinister smile on Dae. “But I’m going to need a reason to trust you before I take your word for it.”
Now here, she knew, was the danger. Nicoya would not be easily swayed, and the price she would demand would be very high.
“I’m waiting,” she offered.
“I want you to kill Brendan,” she said with a shrug.
Dae raised a brow. “Brendan?” she echoed.
“Yes. You just admitted you want him. He has value to you. Lure him to Shadowscape and kill him while I watch and I will know you mean to do as you are told. There would be no going back for you after murdering a priest. Magnus would then only be a further chain in the link. Consider it a rite of passage.”
“Just like that? Has he offended you in some way, or was this an arbitrary choice because I mentioned his name?”
“He is Magnus’s best friend in all of Sanctuary. And as I said, you want him. There is nothing arbitrary about it.” Dae watched as she closed her eyes briefly, turning attention into herself. After a moment she said, “Good. He is in Realscape in his rooms, which will guarantee he is alone.” She smiled and explained. “My third power. I can locate any specific person I think of across ’scapes. It’s how Shiloh and I can find those we hunt. It’s how we found you and Magnus just now.”
“Very handy,” Dae said, suitably impressed. “Then let’s go find him. Realscape, Shadowscape…If he’s alone, what does it matter where I do this?” She began to walk through the snow, glad for the movement because her legs were nearly frozen from the knees down. Their breed could tolerate cold very well, but she needed to see about getting some boots! The banal thought made her laugh on a soft breath. What she really needed to do was to figure out how to kill Brendan without hurting him. She had to admit, she had not expected Nicoya to take time out to recruit her. But she had to try and stretch this as far as she could if there was any hope of glimpsing who else might be behind this. That Nicoya had mentioned the Senate had unnerved Dae. Just how far did this go? Where was all this plotting really going to stop? She had heard Tristan’s implications of traitors and such, but at the time she had thought it was mostly dramatic upset. Now she was forced to take him quite literally.
But she couldn’t worry about the Senate. She would leave that to the Chancellors. Her focus needed to remain on Magnus and Sanctuary. Despite Nicoya’s derision, she knew that Shiloh would not be an easy mark for Magnus. If Magnus was wounded or wearied by the time he faced Nicoya…
Daenaira tried not to think she was a coward for not challenging Nicoya here and now and getting it done with. She had to be smart about this. She couldn’t afford to get herself in trouble this time. Lives like Henry’s were at stake in so many more ways than just the mortal.
They were in the city shelter again rather quickly, and Nicoya showed the way to Brendan’s rooms. She kept a keen eye on Dae and never gave her the advantage to attack under her guard. Daenaira kept hoping something would show itself to her advantage, but it never did. Her mind worked overtime to figure out how to pull this off. She was beginning to fear it might come down to deciding between Brendan’s life and the lives of so many others. Did she have the strength, the right, to make a choice like that?
But she kept seeing and feeling Henry’s ravaged features and destroyed confidence and she knew she had to do whatever it took to protect the children of the future from Nicoya and her mystery companions. Magnus might never forgive her for it, but she had to place his life above that of his young friend. Magnus was the backbone of Sanctuary, despite all its troubles, and if he died it would sever the cord of nerves that kept it upright and functioning to the best of its ability.
He needed to live so his ideals could survive long enough to be realized. She believed that. It was a faith all on its own.
“There are tunnels behind these rooms,” Nicoya informed her, stopping at an alcove in the hall meant to provide a place to sit and study or converse in semiseclusion. Daenaira closed her eyes briefly when she realized the bench seat and the entire back wall could be triggered to swing away, allowing entrance into the tunnels that no doubt ran alongside many of the private rooms. “I will watch you from here. It will also keep me hidden from sight in case anyone is alerted to search for me as yet. If you falter or try to warn him in any way, I will march myself to the closest student I can find, whatever their age, and sacrifice them in his place. Do you understand? I will not tolerate deception. If you try and make a fool of me, others will die.”
“Relax,” Dae said dryly. “No need for drama. One question, though.” She continued at Nicoya’s nod, smiling wolfishly. “Are you in any particular hurry? Seems such a waste not to get a ride off him after the way you described him.”