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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Brendan,” she said in strangled dismay. “He’s dying. Magnus, you have to go. Help him! I need to…I have to find Sagan.”
She needed to back up the other warrior. There was nothing she could do for Brendan. Magnus was what Brendan needed. Sagan would need a fighter.
“Dae, what in Light are you talking about?” he demanded.
“Brendan is dying! In his rooms! Please help him!” she cried in a panic, jerking away when he tried to capture her again. Then she was running down the hallway away from him, leaving him with an untenable circumstance.
Brendan was dying?
The words echoed through him with a strange sense of surreal impossibility. What did Brendan have to do with this epic battle? Why would Nicoya take the time to hurt him? Where was Nicoya now?
All these questions and more reeled through him, but he knew he had no choice. He had to let Daenaira go while he went to see if his friend needed his help. Whatever was upsetting her, she was alive and well. She could wait, even if it screamed against every fiber of his being to do it.
Magnus rushed down to Brendan’s rooms.
He didn’t bother to knock, bursting into Nan’s old chamber and cutting through the bath to find Brendan. He was halfway there when the dark tang of blood struck him.
He broached the doorway to Brendan’s chamber and instantly saw his friend sprawled back across his bed, but what he’d heard first was the tortured gasps that weakly attempted to draw air into his damaged body. Magnus had heard that sort of deathly rattle before and knew, even before he reached his friend, that he was almost out of time.
Magnus had knelt on the bed and was reaching out toward the wound killing his friend, his instinct to cover the spot where blood was bubbling in mixture with air as it escaped his chest.
But he froze.
He froze because there was the sudden, pungent aroma of sex beneath that rusty odor of blood. And he realized that he could all too easily identify at least half of the combination.
Brendan reached out, grabbing desperate hold of his sleeve, using what had to be the very last of his strength to force Magnus’s attention onto him. But the senior priest found himself all but blind with fury, hurt, and utter devastation.
This is why she didn’t want me to touch her.
“What did you do,” he heard himself snarl out as various unrealized clues filtered into him. The scent of blood and Brendan on Daenaira. The wound Brendan bore and the two smaller punctures on either side of it that marked it as caused by a sai. The sai he had made for her. Daenaira had run Brendan through, mortally wounded him, and it was clear she had done so just after some kind of sexual encounter. She had left him lying there, naked and dying, and had escaped him.
“No,” Brendan gurgled when he saw the dawning realization in his friend’s gold eyes and the contempt and rage that was bursting up behind it. “Not what you think.” Oh, he might die, Brendan thought fiercely, but he would not do so before he made his friend understand Daenaira was not to blame; that she had had no choice. He believed that with everything inside of himself. “My fault,” he gasped weakly. “This…my fault.”
“Then I assure you, it is exactly what I think,” Magnus growled in vicious threat. “And you should be very glad you are already nearly dead.”
Brendan’s mind was hazed with pain, muddled with onrushing unconsciousness, but he suddenly understood that Magnus thought he had forced himself on Daenaira. His eyes widened in horror at the very idea, and he tried to push away the feeling of hurt that rushed through him to think his best friend would think him capable of such a heinous act. It was easy enough to do, however, when he knew what he had done was just as bad. At least, it was to his mind.
He shook his head, tightening his grip on Magnus’s arm.
“It was an act…” he rasped. “Someone…”
“An act?” Magnus hissed, leaning over him and baring his teeth as he came within inches of his face. “You smell of my woman and are drenched in your own spent seed. At least one of you was not acting.”
Brendan could only nod curtly. He couldn’t deny that.
“Watching,” he finished his original thought. “Someone was watching. Dae…no choice. Don’t let her…blame herself…when I die.”
Watching. Someone was watching.
The words drilled through the black and red wall of outrage suffusing all of Magnus’s senses and thoughts. Alarms rang through him as everything he’d learned from Shiloh resurfaced to combine with his understanding that there had been no sign of Nicoya when he’d found Dae. Somehow, she had managed to free herself from the dangerous and treacherous handmaiden. But how?
He got the overwhelming feeling he needed to think faster, that he was being slow and dumb at the worst possible moment. Grinding his teeth together, he reached and sealed a harsh hand over the wound in Brendan’s chest. The other man groaned at the agony, but his next breath came a little bit easier, though it still rattled with fluid.
“The truth,” Magnus growled in demand, his contact more than enough to compel the other man. “Did you force her?”
“No. An act. I swear.” Brendan’s eyes reflected his desperation that Magnus believe him. “I…lost control. Not her fault. Not her fault.” He sucked for waning breath. “This sin is mine. I beg you…” Another weak breath. “Forgive. Absolve.”
Magnus stared down at him hard. He knew Brendan spoke with truth and sincerity. The other priest knew he was dying and wanted absolution for the sin he’d committed against his mentor. He wanted to be forgiven by the ones he had offended with…
Was it lust? Dishonor? Betrayal? All of those? What in Light had happened between him and Daenaira? Clearly, whatever it was had shamed her because she had forced herself away from his touch. And yet, she had desperately begged him to help save the life of a man she had apparently tried to kill. It made no sense! The only one besides Daenaira who could make sense of it was Brendan, who could barely speak. Magnus reconciled to being left in the dark for the time being. No matter what, Brendan was seeking repentance, and that could not be ignored. It was true, sincere, and everything he knew Brendan to be…
He couldn’t have imagined how hard it would be to push down the choking territorial wrath that barked and snarled in his head in response to the scent of his woman all over this man, but he managed it somehow and reached for the handset of the telephone without letting go of Brendan’s wound. It wasn’t until he had finished calling for medical assistance that he remembered one crucial detail.
“Why is she looking for Sagan?” he asked aloud, not even intending to include Brendan in his thoughts.
He looked down on Brendan with doubt. He made it sound as if Dae were following some kind of hit list. No. He didn’t know what had happened here to cause this mess, but he would never believe she was going around picking off priests like ducks in a shooting gallery.
No. Not her.
“Oh fuck! Fuck me!” He exploded in movement, as if he wanted to run away, but his hand was glued to the chest of a dying man. That little fool! She had discarded him and sent him to be nursemaid while she went and fought against a threat which she had no real concept of! He’d been so mottled up with emotions that he’d just been relieved to see her alive and unharmed. Damn her!
Brendan made a sound.
Magnus glared at him when he realized it was a weak little chuckle. Brendan’s eyes spoke volumes of amusement as he watched Magnus twist in the wind over this insane, stupid little girl who was going to get herself killed.
“I’m glad you find this so amusing,” Magnus barked down at him. “She’s going to get herself killed! Nicoya was the one probably watching you both, by the way, and it turns out she has been the one doing all of the penance assignments I was giving to Shiloh! She has turned herself into a warrior and given him the credit for it. Now Daenaira is off chasing her down, thinking she can keep her from causing any more damage!”
Now Brendan’s eyes cleared of amusement and rounded with worry. He grabbed Magnus’s hand with limp fingers and tried to push him off his chest.
“Go,” he croaked.
Magnus frowned. He shook his head when his brain cried out in opposition.
“You’ll die if I leave you now, and I know Dae didn’t want that,” he said. He swallowed thickly. “They’ll be here for you soon. She’s okay. She’s—”
He stopped speaking because suddenly he couldn’t breathe. He had never known such overwhelming emotion in all of his life. He felt as if it were too much, that he was on an overload he just couldn’t handle. The feeling of utter helplessness and devastation was so alien and so unwanted. How? How had this happened to him? Why had this happened to him? What in the names of both his gods were they trying to tell him? To teach him? What purpose could all of this serve? All of this…fear?
He was numb and on autopilot by the time help arrived for Brendan. He simply dropped his hand from his peer and turned and walked out without a single word to answer the questions the healers were flinging at him. He had no time for them. For anything. Time, he realized, had run out the moment she had left him in Dreamscape. He should never have let her go. And once he found her, he never would again.
And that, he realized with a strange sense of calm creeping over him, was the lesson he was supposed to learn.
Leaving Henry with others to care for him turned out to be one of the most difficult things Sagan had ever had to do. The traumatized boy had been terrified to leave his protection, but he had covered it well with some of his usual cheekiness and a man’s bravado meant to fool the healers into believing nothing was wrong with him. Mostly, he had been trying to convince himself.Now Sagan needed to find his peers and help them. The hunt for Shiloh and Nicoya must be made general knowledge, and then he needed to join that hunt more than anything. After spending all of this time trying to help hold together a fragile child, he needed to spill a little blood to avenge the wrong done to him.
“Death is too kind for that pair of—”
“Uh, uh, uh—be nice,” a female voice warned teasingly.
Sagan drew to a sharp halt. Without hesitation, he reached for his khukuri, the softly swept recurve blade he was famous for carrying and handling with merciless power and precision. Though only fifteen inches long, comparatively small in length to swords like Magnus’s katana or the sojourn Nicoya held idly before herself, the khukuri was balanced forward in a way that allowed for brutal momentum. As he drew the blade, he was forced to wonder why she had announced herself. The element of surprise was so essential in battle, especially when you knew you were outclassed in weight, size, and skill. Nicoya had always been a proud, vain bitch, but she hadn’t struck him as particularly stupid.
“Nicoya,” he drawled, guarding as he mentally measured the width of the corridor and glanced around for bystanders. “Something I can do for you?”
“I think dying would work. Wouldn’t want to throw yourself on your sword, would you?”
“Didn’t think so.”
Her free hand shot out sharply, flinging a saw-star at his head that a swift duck and parry with the khukuri sent reeling off with a spark, but the second star she winged out caught him off guard and buzzed sharply through his shirt and nipped just through the skin of his shoulder.
Nicoya smiled in satisfaction, her blade whipping up readily, her stance beautifully aggressive and not in the least lacking in confidence or, he noted, skill. He shrugged his injured shoulder and narrowed his eyes on her when she smiled with smug contentment, as if she knew something he didn’t. He didn’t like that feeling, the sensation sitting ill in his mind. Why, he asked himself, would he ever be concerned over the skill of a handmaiden? He was never concerned over anyone’s skill when it came to an out-and-out fight. Not even Magnus. But there was a reason for this worry, and he knew it was his third power that caused it. It niggled at him like this when it was crucial to use it.
Sagan opened his mind to the woman across from him even as they began to circle one another. He rarely spoke of his third power, never caring to share it or anything else about himself with others. He hardly cared to use it most of the time, except he refused to leave any skill unpracticed that could help him in battle. Within moments, his telepathic ability had flooded through her mind, and he was astounded by what he began to learn. For the past few months, he had been wrestling with himself over the thought of slowly beginning to scan his coworkers for traitorous thoughts, but there had seemed something invasive and dishonorable to the idea. If there were only three individuals who were evil, but he had to invade the sanctity of eighty minds to find them, then to him it just wasn’t worth it. Firstly, he had no desire to know any of his peers with such intimacy. When he opened like this, he mined thoughts utterly, like strip mining left the land naked and fallow. No one should be raped of all their secrets in such a manner, and he despised the ability for what it did.
He grimly glanced down at his wound. It stung like any other, but now he knew he had been poisoned by the treacherous woman before him. Just as he now knew who and what she really was. Just as he knew she had coaxed so many others to do her bidding. And he knew who her mother was.
“So, you think to become a queen, do you?” he asked her, turning his grip aggressively as he advanced on her.
There was something familiar to the sound of colliding metal and the accompanying vibration that shuddered through the bones and muscles of the body that gave him comfort. Her poison would take time. Just enough time for him to dice her conniving little ass up into tiny pieces. He outmuscled and outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds, his height and reach both superior to hers, but when it came to Shadowdweller women, their speed and equally remarkable strength made them near matches for some of their advanced fighters when they were this well trained.