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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Nicoya chuckled, looking her over thoroughly. “By all means. Be my guest. I’d love to see him betray his old friend by taking Magnus’s precious handmaiden before he dies. How sweet, when he realizes he will burn in Light for eternity as he dies with such a sin on him.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Daenaira murmured.
“You see, I knew I liked you.” Nicoya laughed.
Nicoya disappeared, closing the secret portal tight behind her. Daenaira sighed in soft, silent relief. If Nicoya stayed where she was, at least she wouldn’t be out in Dreamscape helping Shiloh fight Magnus or attempting to kill Sagan. The gambit of seducing Brendan would buy her time and, hopefully, the opportunity to make him aware something was very wrong. It made her nervous, knowing Magnus distrusted him even a little, even if it might well have been irrational jealousy. Did he have cause to suspect Brendan of breaking temple law in the past? Honestly, though, this had to be the least of her worries.
Licking her lips, she entered Brendan’s rooms, and only after she closed the door and locked it tightly behind herself did she sheathe her sai. She walked through the empty bedroom that had once belonged to Nan, the handmaiden who had died of Crush, Hera had told her, nearly a year ago. The room was connected to the bathroom and then to the priest’s bedroom, just like the setup in her and Magnus’s suite, only not nearly on the same scale of size. Instead of the spring-fed tub, a simple modern Jacuzzi tub of impressive size had been sunk into the stone floor.
She reached the priest’s bedroom and took a moment to look around. In Shadowscape, everything was exactly as it was in Realscape. Objects all remained the same, and anything she did would eventually reflect itself in Realscape as well. If she moved his brush in Shadowscape, it was likely he would pick it up and move it exactly the same way in Realscape eventually. Or a cleaning girl would, or any number of scenarios. The end result would be that both objects would end up in the same place.
But that couldn’t help her now. Nicoya was no doubt watching her, and time discrepancy between ’scapes would make anything she did unpredictable or obsolete. All she could do was hope her ingenuity in Realscape would be enough to help her do this.
Daenaira Unfaded and materialized in Brendan’s bedroom.
He was singing.
The understanding, as well as the surprising beauty of his rich baritone, made her smile. She realized she was hearing him in the acoustically tiled bath she’d just come through, and she contemplated whether to wait for him or confront him in his bath. She shook out her wet skirt, hiding her sai as best she could, and slowly walked into the doorway of the bath.
She hadn’t even noticed the shower. Piped in straight against the wall and drained directly into the floor, it had no doors or curtains or anything like them. Why would there be? Privacy between a priest and his handmaiden was really a moot issue. So she got a fine view of tall, beautifully proportioned male standing under the spray of hot water as soap wound down over the muscles and dark skin of his body.
Also, she never would have thought Nicoya would understate matters, since she seemed a bit of a drama queen, but as Brendan turned and gave her a full frontal view, she couldn’t help but wonder what Sagan must be like in order to have Brendan coming in second in Nicoya’s estimation.
Of course, nice as all of Brendan was, it only reminded her of the vital, breathtaking man she was trying to save. I want us both to live long enough to make love again, she thought fiercely. What they had shared that afternoon had been nowhere near enough.
Daenaira kept that in mind as she began to cross the bathroom and prepared to seduce her lover’s friend.
Magnus curled his hand into a fist, trying to capture the warmth of Dae’s body even as she ripped away from him to exit her Fade and the dangers of Dreamscape. He understood why she had done it, and he hoped her gambit paid off. He knew, though, that if Nicoya wasn’t lured away by Dae’s trick, his handmaiden would return quickly to aid him in another way.Battle.
He took a slow, deep breath, his body loosening up now that Dae was relatively out of danger. He was still concerned that Nicoya was much older and was, no doubt, far better trained and tempered than his wildfire Daenaira was, but Dae had her third power and her naturally dogged viciousness and stubbornness when it came to refusing to lose a fight. That would go very far for her, and it would be easy for Nicoya to underestimate that.
Magnus had to shed his concerns for her and focus on the here and now. This was too volatile a situation in too unpredictable an environment.
He needed focus.
He took a deep breath and threw.
The glave had hung from the back band of Daenaira’s skirt, and he had just closed his hand around it when she had distracted anyone watching with her irate performance of betrayal. It only took the flick of a wrist to extend the palmed weapon into rigidity and he sent it flying in a whipping, singing swirl of sharp curves that flew like a boomerang through the Dreamscape air. Even as he followed through for maximum power into the throw, he was drawing his katana and making ready for both retaliation and the return of the glave.
There was a kind of art form to distinguishing truth of locus in Dreamscape, and Magnus had studied it as deeply as he could both during and outside of hunts. He still didn’t know exactly where Shiloh was, but he had determined which general direction and almost how distant he really was despite the naked landscape toward the horizons. This was how he forced Shiloh to dive to the ground, his invisibility instantly nullified by the cloud of dust the impact kicked up. The other priest swore vehemently as he found himself victim to a savage Magnus, who bore down on him with all of his strength and fury packed into his first blow.
The clash of sword on sword resonated through the endless air, muscles and bone vibrating with the impact before Magnus grabbed his foe by his collar and yanked him hard from the ground, whirling him a foot and a half to his left. The air whistled sharply right before the glave returned to its master…stopping only when Shiloh’s upper back provided a sudden obstacle. Catching it hard in his lower shoulder, Shiloh grunted as the impact made him lurch awkwardly against Magnus.
“Oh, you fucking bastard,” Shiloh groaned, grinding his feet into the ground and lurching all of his weight against Magnus’s center of gravity. Magnus didn’t want to be within biting distance of any of his blades, so he roughly rolled Shiloh’s weight off himself and backed off. Sweeping the katana artfully around the other man’s blade, he caught it in its decorative hilt, and with a hard fling of sharp steel, he ripped Shiloh’s sword out of his hand and sent it soaring.
Shiloh knelt crookedly on the ground, ready to rise to his feet, and he chuckled. “Do you know what the best part of all of this is? Hmm?” He stood up, holding out visibly weaponless hands, but this was Dreamscape and they both knew it. Anything was possible if you had the right control, experience, and imagination. “It’s getting to watch and learn how really fucking stupid you are. I mean, all your idealistic bullshit. What a joke. Now”—he grinned—“I admit you had me there in the beginning. Light and Dark, Drenna and M’gnone, the cosmic balance of power and action versus apathy and sin. But then”—he shook a scolding finger at Magnus—“you sent me little Nicoya, and everything changed.”
Magnus frowned at that, wondering what in Light Nicoya had to do with his sin and madness, other than his having coaxed her into sin along with him. He let the other man talk, however. Shiloh, he believed, didn’t realize just how deep the glave had gone into his back, and he was surely bleeding rapidly. The more time he wasted talking, the weaker he would get.
“Now, keep in mind I know you can compel the truth from me,” he mentioned as they slowly started to circle each other, “if you get your hands on me.”
“Regardless, it was not I who sent you Nicoya. She came to you through the blessings of Drenna. You were the one who decided to destroy that gift by corrupting her.”
Shiloh chuckled at that. “Yeah. You see, that’s the part I like. If Drenna sent her to me, then that means anything that happened between us was Drenna’s will, right?”
“M’gnone lives in the temple as well. We do not speak His name, but we know his influence challenges us every day. It is up to us whether we want to live in Darkness or Light. You are a priest and you know this. Do not stand there like a child and play bargaining games to excuse your wrongdoing. You are an adult with the free will to make your own choices. We allow Drenna or M’gnone into us and let them guide us as they will. M’gnone will give me the ferocity, cunning, and savagery I need to destroy you and your sins; Drenna will give me the strength to offer you repentance and pity and whatever else it takes to save both of our souls. I am the one who chooses which will give me impetus and when.”
“Hmm. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he can fight and give sermons, too.” Shiloh chuckled. “Is that why you chose to neglect poor Karri for so long? I admit, in the beginning I thought you were like me—”
“I am nothing like you,” Magnus hissed sharply, his katana slicing out in sharp warning at the insult, nearly nicking Shiloh’s face, but the other priest was strong and quick. He was back out of reach in an instant. Magnus grinned without satisfaction as he stalked after him.
“I thought,” his enemy persisted as he continued to back away, “that you were into boys or men. That was Coya’s theory for the longest time. Karri thought that could be it, although she liked to convince herself you were physically impotent. After all, even I was in denial for the longest time. I didn’t even want to do another man the first time it came up, so to speak.” His grin was lascivious. “But you know, it grows on you really, really fast. The dominance. The power of taking someone over so completely that they feel pleasure even though it’s the last thing in the universe they want. The look on their face, such a pure mixture of passionate horror and guilty ecstasy. It’s better than any drug.”
“I hope you are saying all of this because you plan to repent these sins,” Magnus spat, his disgust for the other man raw and bone deep. How could there ever be repentance for someone who had purposely used his position to manipulate and emotionally ravage the innocent youth he had been entrusted to guide and protect? What penance could there possibly be for such brutal sin?
If there was one, Magnus would be the one to find it and administer it.
Magnus carefully watched where they were stepping. In Dreamscape, Shiloh’s weaponless state was no advantage. He could eventually replace the blade, if he focused well enough. But he seemed to be more intent on talking Magnus to death first. It was always like this. The guilty always talked, either to coax, convince, or, as with Shiloh, to crow. It was his one true advantage because it split the other man’s concentration from where it ought to be. Or so it appeared. He took nothing for granted. He simply wanted to put an end to this so he could back up Daenaira.
“Not in the least,” Shiloh said with an unrepentant shrug. There was a flash of bright light and a metallic weapon grew from it and seated itself in the priest’s hand. It was a heavy battle-axe. Something slow and unwieldy. But as powerful as Magnus’s weaponry was, it would never stand up against something so huge in a parry. “Trouble with those light blades,” Shiloh noted dispassionately, “is that they’re light.”
“Only if you depend on them completely. Which I do not. Also, I was curious as to how often you will be able to swing that thing with a hunk of metal grinding around in your shoulder.”
There was some advantage to talking after all, Magnus mused as he saw the lash of fury that crossed Shiloh’s features. Realizing Magnus was correct, Shiloh sent the thing away as quickly as he had made it. The light flash, while it did not burn the men, did blind them both temporarily, which meant only one thing…
“So,” Shiloh prattled on, “as Cort and I were fucking your former bitch in every hole she had, it occurred to us that after two hundred years, even a gay man would have found the interest to slake his lust at least once. You know, Karri thought the same thing. Honestly, you should have seen her face the day we showed her the tunnels behind the priest suites on your level. There we were, looking into your rooms, and damn if you weren’t having a go at yourself. She watched for an hour, making these little whimpering sounds of abject misery every time you came.” He mocked the sounds and Karri’s weeping expression. “By the way, excellent recovery time you have there.”
“Thank you,” Magnus said just as conversationally, in no way revealing the red-hot fury of rage boiling through him. Not because his privacy had been breached, but for the unfortunate woman he had honestly loved in all of her years with him. No, he had not felt passion for her, but he had loved her, and a twisted, sick bituth amec like Shiloh had taken her and warped and destroyed a good woman, using her unexpressed loneliness and the needs of her physical body as a way of training her to their heels. But worst was knowing he could count himself as one of those evils that had had a hand in her downfall.
He also did not enjoy the reminder that he had been so remote in his personal interactions with her that he had never intuited her needs. Nor had he ever made it clear to her how much he cared and how grateful he had been to have her by his side all those years. It made him fear. It terrified him to think he would make the very same mistakes with Daenaira. She was so willful and had such a hot nature that she wouldn’t put up with him treating her neglectfully. She had already proven that much. On the one hand, he was grateful for it, because she would never let him be dense about it like he had been with Karri. On the other, he was shocked at how terrifying a prospect it was to him that she might leave him for it.