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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
When the first sting of a thorn hit him in the back of his neck, he cursed and hit the ground with all speed. Still, the back of his body burned with dozens of piercing bites as thorns the size of thick needles peppered into him. He hadn’t been listening, and it served him right for not paying attention. He heard Shiloh move, and rolled back up to his feet even though it meant stabbing the little drills farther into his skin. He was up and guarding in a heartbeat, waiting until he was certain Shiloh was at a respectful distance before yanking a thorn to inspect the tip.
“What? No poison?” he asked dryly.
“Now, now, you know nothing made of Dreamscape can kill you in Dreamscape. That’s the rules. Only the weapons we bring with us can do that. You can be hurt and hurt badly, but no one dies in their dreams. Well, not unless one of us comes to Fade with a sword and hacks their little heads off. Which reminds me—I wouldn’t let your new piece go to sleep as long as Coya and I are alive. There are ways, as you know, of damaging a dreamer without the need to kill them, and we promise to hurt her a lot the very instant she closes her eyes.” He seemed to think on it. “Of course, if I know my Nicoya, by now she’s already begun her plans to lure your Daenaira far, far away from you.”
The confidence of Shiloh’s speculation sent a bolt of burning cold down through the center of Magnus’s body. It was so cold that it numbed him completely to the needles stabbing into him. Now, suddenly, he wanted this deceitful bastard to talk his damn fool head off.
“Dae won’t go down easy,” he said, somehow managing to sound unconcerned as he casually reached to pluck a few more thorns from his body. He never lowered his weapon and never took his eyes off Shiloh.
“Shame, I was hoping she might,” he said with a salacious grin. “She certainly has your cock wrapped up tight in her fingers. Has you coming to a whole different tune now. I look forward to testing her out for myself.”
Magnus saw red.
Despite his experience and his best intentions, the very idea of Shiloh laying his perverted hands on Dae’s precious mocha skin sent infuriated adrenaline screaming through him. With a roar he attacked the other priest. Shiloh barely had time to call up a parrying blade before Magnus was beating him back with violent blows that made the air ring with the sound of scraping, clashing metal. Within minutes Shiloh was panting, stumbling, and weakening, blood loss and the agony of using full-strength overhead parries to keep Magnus off him reminding him of how deeply wounded he was. Shiloh staggered and broke away from him, retreating as quickly as he could as the savage golden eyes of his enemy bored through him. Magnus stalked him, no longer the tolerant, patient man Shiloh was used to. Shiloh had thought he had wanted this, to bait Magnus until he was out of control with temper, but he had meant to give himself advantage by it, not get himself killed by releasing a beast on himself.
“Daenaira huth a j’vec muli vu bituth amec!” Magnus spat, letting him know exactly what he thought of the likelihood of Dae ever allowing a vile creature like Shiloh within arms’ reach of her body.
“Really?” Shiloh panted, trying to back off a little quicker without falling on his ass. “The chit abandons you in battle and you still don’t get that she doesn’t want to be near you? She’s smart, that one. She won’t stay with a sinking ship. Coya’s counting on that.”
That was the second time Shiloh had referred to Nicoya as if she were playing a more specific role for him than just a sidekick and recruiter. It made Magnus’s blood slow enough to force him to think. Perhaps Nicoya was more equally partnered to Shiloh’s plans than he had been giving her credit for. Suddenly, that made her seem a lot more dangerous to him.
“Dae has no loyalties to me, you, or anyone else,” he said, his voice rasping with the tightness of his still-pumping outrage. “She is loyal to herself, and that alone will keep her on Drenna’s path.”
“Yeah. She’s real law-abiding, that one. She floors four of the city’s guards without even flinching, makes no apology to any of them, and all but throws back her head and howls in delight when she beats her opponents in practice. She lives for blood and victory. She lives for battle. That she abandoned the opportunity to fight me with you says a lot.”
“Come, Sinner, enlighten me,” Magnus growled in low threat. “Tell me what you know of my Daenaira.”
“I know she’s a natural redhead,” Shiloh sneered.
The reminder of just how intimately Shiloh had invaded Dae’s privacy was as big a mistake as his previous goading. The entire ground rippled with Magnus’s resulting wrath. It rolled and bucked beneath the other priest, flinging him off his feet until he landed hard on his back, his second weapon flying free and the one in his back grinding harder and deeper into him. Next, he felt a heavily booted heel crunching into his breastbone so hard that he couldn’t breathe. Magnus leaned most of his weight forward on the rib-cracking foot and those vengeful golden eyes stabbed down at Shiloh.
“Go on,” Magnus coaxed softly as he laid the tip of his blade under Shiloh’s jaw with enough force for the edge to break his skin. “Tell me more of what you know of my Daenaira.”
My Daenaira. It was the second time he had said it in that way, with such possession and intimacy. Shiloh felt very real panic flood through his body. He had thought, knowing how gullible Magnus could be when it came to his faith, that his life would never be in any real danger so long as Magnus gave him his standard opportunity of repentance. The priest was renowned for his enduring lectures to the other penance priests that there was no soul in any of the ’scapes who was not capable of redemption, and so it must always be offered. Of course, he and Nicoya had stopped offering the stupid recourse ages ago, but he knew Magnus believed in it with all of his soul.
Only…he did not look so benevolent just then. In fact, his hard, dark features looked quite fanatically eager for Shiloh to push him just one little inch further. Shiloh began to fear and relish the idea of pushing the prudish priest beyond his values, even though it would cost him his life. No matter what Nicoya’s plans for the priest, nothing would destroy him faster than defying his own principles. It would make the victory Shiloh’s, through and through.
“I know,” he squeaked against the pressure on his lungs, “that she screams for you when she comes like a yowling bitch in heat.” The sword popped past more skin as Magnus’s rage began to make him shake. “That you made her cry when you—!”
Shiloh gagged on his words when the katana sliced over his windpipe as it switched to the opposite side of his jaw. He now had a thin cut from ear to ear, and the boot on his chest was pushing the blade in his back deeply into him until blackness tickled the edges of his vision.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you,” Magnus said with low menace as he leaned over him. “Would you like to repeat that before I shove my sword down your gullet?”
“What? No offer to repent?” he rasped in a whisper.
“Always,” Magnus assured him quietly. “Unfortunately, I may not be able to hear your reply if you have to talk around carbon steel. So, I suggest the next words out of that filthy mouth of yours be well worth a final farewell quotation.”
Shiloh smiled in the face of the doom and death promised him in the other man’s eyes.
“If you kill me, you’ll never know the truth.”
Magnus paused significantly, even easing his weight enough to allow Shiloh to breathe back the darkness covering his vision. “The truth about what?”
“Sanctuary. Temple. The Senate. Your precious fucking twins. The way your son is going to pay one day for what he’s done. For what you have done.”
Magnus dropped his foot away and all of his weight fell onto Shiloh via his bent knee as he lowered himself to kneel on his chest. He adjusted the blade against Shiloh’s throat to his new position, then reached out and touched bare fingertips to his enemy’s bare forehead. Skin-to-skin contact was all he needed. Just a touch.
“Tell me about my son,” he demanded.
“Even if you kill me and, in the unlikely instance that you kill Nicoya,” Shiloh choked out, compelled to speak the utter truth as Magnus’s third power filtered through him, “your son will be destroyed. His wife and child will be murdered sometime after the first two months of the child’s life. They will be hunted until they drop and then staked out for your son to find.”
“Who arranged this? Who will do this killing?” Magnus spat, his whole world swimming in a sea of horror and fear unlike anything he’d ever felt exposed to before.
“Nicoya arranged it. But she told me nothing else. She knew you would try to compel us if we were caught, so she sent a messenger a choice of twelve assassins’ guilds to pick from to arrange the payment. When he returned, she killed him without knowing a single detail. It cannot be recalled. It cannot be stopped. Not unless you find those twelve guilds and destroy every member of every one of them. Good luck. You have what, eight months? A year? Some of those guilds have been hidden for decades. Especially to a priest like you.”
“Nicoya arranged it,” Magnus echoed, every word Shiloh spoke like a new coat of ice on his soul. “You had your lackey do your dirty work in case of…this?” Magnus shook his head, confused. Shiloh, he realized, had gone down far too easily for a warrior of his fame. He had barely tried to manipulate the environs around himself, though he ought to be an expert at it by this point in his career. “What am I missing here?”
“Everything.” Shiloh chuckled weakly, his lashes lowering briefly. Magnus realized then how pale he was becoming, and that the blood of his body was pooling wider beneath him. The glave had nicked or severed an artery. He was bleeding out.
“Specifically, Shiloh, what am I missing here?” he barked.
“Nicoya isn’t the lackey,” he whispered. “I am.”
Magnus felt a wave of numbing paralysis washing up over him, locking and stiffening every joint in his body until he knew he couldn’t move. His heart thundered in frantic attempt to revitalize him while also trying to manage the tide of emotions flooding through him.
All of it. Everything important to him was in threat and in danger, and he had been looking in the wrong place at the most crucial moment.
“Who else?” Magnus stammered as he remembered he had to be specific to compel the truth. “W-who else is behind all of this plotting?”
“Coya. Cadia,” he replied weakly. He was losing consciousness, and Magnus slapped him hard with the back of his hand to rouse him.
“Who the fuck is Cadia?” he shouted down at him.
“Acadian!” came the rasped reply. “Coya’s mother, you dumb bastard! Yeah, that’s right. The woman who tortured your son for eleven months is Coya’s mother. And you know what? She’s been right under your nose all of this time.”
“Where? Where is she? Tell me!”
“Right now? I wouldn’t know.”
It was the truth, of course. Shiloh had been well trained to give the truth against his power without giving any real information. He was buying precious time.
Time to die.
Shiloh’s eyes slid closed and Magnus roared with pain and outrage. He grabbed at Shiloh, and straddling his body, he shook the bastard hard. “Wake up! Wake up! You will not escape me this easily, you fucking prick! Wake!”
But it was too late. Shiloh lost his Fade at the moment of unconsciousness, and slipped out of Dreamscape. Magnus’s mind was reeling, and Dreamscape right along with it. He had to waste several crucial moments calming himself enough to Unfade from Dreamscape and back into Shadowscape. He appeared knee deep in snow, the frigidity of the Alaskan winter biting into him shockingly hard. There, lying in the snow, was Shiloh’s dead body. Unlike Dreamscape, once you died in Shadowscape, you stayed in Shadowscape. There would be no more Unfading for him.
Lost for a moment, blinded by his own distress, Magnus raked wild eyes over the terrain around him.
And he saw two sets of footprints walking away, side by side.
“If I know my Nicoya, by now she’s already begun her plans to lure your Daenaira far, far away from you…”
“Oh gods,” he choked out, his voice echoing hollowly in the open night air. Nicoya. The real danger had been Nicoya all along! No. Worse than that. It had been the sadistic woman known as Acadian. Faceless, formless, and unidentifiable even to his son, who had been her captive for nearly a year, except, perhaps, by the nature of her voice. She could be anyone. Anyone. But Trace’s torture had taken place some twelve years earlier. In all of that time, wouldn’t he have come up against that voice he swore he knew so well that he would remember it until the day he died?
But even Trace was susceptible to the flaws of memory and the damage done to the mind when torture of such a brutal nature was involved. Trauma could blind his mind to knowing the voice when he heard it. Distortion of memory would be enough on its own. As much as he wanted to believe his son would know her from a single word, he knew the mind did not obey the will that well.
But they had thought Acadian was dead.
They would never have suffered her to live unhunted and his son unavenged had they thought for a minute otherwise. When Trace had been rescued from the stronghold of the clan who had hired her for her skills, the place had burned down around their enemies’ ears and no one had escaped Tristan’s vigilant army. Or so it had seemed. There must have been another escape route.
Magnus sheathed his weapon and began to run after the prints in the snow.