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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Nicoya was sweating, pain making her nauseous as the other woman forced her to abuse an already abused body. Daenaira kept dodging in under her drooping guard, introducing her sai hilts to her cheek, her belly, her back, and her thigh. Anywhere and everywhere she could target, she battered at her relentlessly. When she landed a critical blow in Coya’s already damaged ribs, the pain was blinding and excruciating. Moments later, Nicoya coughed up blood and began to have trouble catching her breath.
She knew she was in trouble.
He knew she was in trouble.Magnus had wanted to burst into the middle of the battle the moment he had found them; wanted to rip her out of reach of that deadly, poisonous blade, but he knew that in and of itself could get one of them cut and killed. He found himself pushing past students and their teachers who were wisely trying to keep the curious children back out of harm’s way.
“Clear this hallway!” he spat at them.
If any of those weapons went airborne, everyone was in danger. By now, after so much contact, the sai were also coated in the sickness of Nicoya’s blade. His heart choked and throttled in his chest as he watched Daenaira fight so damn close to the thing, her fearlessness scaring the hell out of him. It didn’t take him long to realize she had slipped into her third power, her berserker fighting fever totally possessing her. When Nicoya finally faltered, coughing up blood on herself and leaning into her injured side heavily, Dae’s advance was what truly terrified him. Here, now, was the ultimate danger to her, the trouble he had seen.
Easy, love, easy, he thought desperately as she caught the tip of her enemy’s blade in a sai and jerked it safely downward. She slammed her foot down on the flat of it, snapping the sword out of her opponent’s hand with a sharp crack against the floor. Then she surged forward with a snarl, both sai swirling into outfacing prongs. She plowed over the senior handmaiden, smashing her back into the floor so her head struck with a sickening crack. She straddled Nicoya’s chest with a crush of her full weight on her knees, her shins pinning the other woman’s hands and arms to the floor. She raised her sai, ready to plunge both into the target of her throat.
Easy! His mind screamed to her, so aware of his every religious tenet, all the students surrounding this drama who were going to be influenced by whatever she did next, and then, most importantly, the risks to her own peace.
Daenaira jerked slightly as Magnus’s voice roared through her mind, commanding her to think before she acted. An outpouring of things she needed to consider flooded her thoughts, crowding out the bloodlust that had possessed her so thoroughly. Angry at the intrusion of conscience and the emotions it threatened to let in, she let out a battle cry as she stabbed the sai down at her target. She pounded them into the tile on either side of her enemy’s throat, the crossed prongs barely giving Nicoya room to breathe as they held her throat under their oppressive press.
“Repent,” she ground out through her teeth with barely contained ferocity.
Magnus felt something inside of himself completely unravel when she spoke, his whole body loosening almost to the point of weakness—that was how relieved he was to hear that single word erupt from her stiff lips.
“Fuck you,” Nicoya returned on a rasp, taking the moment to spit blood in her enemy’s face. Not the wisest choice, because Magnus was certain Daenaira would not be as calm about such an obvious insult as he would have been.
But she was calm about it.
She slowly lifted the sharp points of the sai from the tile until they were prodding painfully into Nicoya’s throat on either side of her windpipe. Baring her teeth in what was a vicious little smile, she said, “I believe you are the one who is fucked, treacherous k’ypruti. Now search your black heart, before it beats its very last, and see if you cannot find the smallest speck of remorse within it so we may attempt to salvage it. Repent.”
“You have me helpless. If you kill me, you are a murderess under the law—again,” Nicoya stressed. She was purposely raising her voice. “Just like you murdered Brendan after you seduced him and rode him to exhaustion!” Her eyes lit up with triumph when she heard gasps of shock. “You are the traitor. You have no right to ask me to repent! You are no penance priest!”
“But I am.”
Magnus stepped forward, the strike of his boot a hard clipping echo in the suddenly silent corridor. Everyone wanted to see what he would make of this tangle, and Nicoya’s accusations, he could feel it in every stare that fixed on him. He didn’t much care what anyone thought about himself, in that moment, but he did have other concerns. Concerns about Daenaira. There was blood on his hands and clothes and he knew, despite the dark violet color, it would be seen and scented, and those who knew the younger priest’s scent would know it was Brendan’s.
For a moment, Nicoya registered fear, but then triumphant glee glowed in her eyes as she saw the tension in his, the blood of his friend on his clothes, and no weapon drawn.
“Daenaira,” he said, his voice hoarse with angry emotion, “is my handmaiden and she will always have the power to ask repentance in my name.”
Nicoya’s victory melted away from her expression, and she began to panic. “You blind fool! Can’t you smell it on her?” she screeched. “The seed of another man? She’s covered in it! I saw her do it! Then I saw her stab one of these sai into him and kill him!”
Magnus moved forward slowly, feeling the way Dae quivered with emotion but noting how she would not look up at him. She remained fully focused on her prey. Slowly, he stepped behind her and knelt over their traitor as well, pressing his chest to Daenaira’s back. She stiffened when he ran gentle palms down her upper arms in what was meant as a reassuring caress, and he felt her panic. He felt how wrong and soiled she felt, the guilt of what she had done making her want to wrench away from him. She didn’t want him to touch her while she was stained with her sins.
He ignored that, pushed away all the signs and scents that marked her as murderous and deceitful, trusting that overwhelming sensation of guilt and remorse inside her to tell him who she truly was.
“Tell me the truth,” he said in a ringing resonant tone as he touched his fingers to her throat. He felt her swallow against his touch. “Answer one question, before all these witnesses, with my power compelling you, Daenaira.” Her eyes finally left Nicoya and swept with alarm to those watching her. He felt her pulse storm beneath his fingertips. Then, he asked very specifically, “Did you have intercourse with M’jan Brendan?”
Her chest heaved with her breath and she tried to see him, but he kept her facing her enemy and said softly, “Yes or no?”
“No,” she replied hoarsely.
“She lies!” Nicoya hissed.
“She cannot lie,” Magnus bit out harshly, “while I compel her.”
“It’s a trick!”
“Very well, then,” he hissed at the woman beneath him, grabbing her hand where Dae’s leg held it pressed to the floor. “Are you or are you not a traitor to this Sanctuary? Did you, or did you not, conspire to kill me and other priests while seducing innocent students into acts of degradation and humiliation?”
He could feel her shaking with fury, her mind racing to find a truth that would mask her fault and blame, but he had been too specific. She was doomed, and it showed in the black rage and trepidation in her eyes.
“Yes! I did all of that!” she blurted out.
“Is there anyone else in this sacred house that follows your scheming, sinful plans to do this and worse?”
She regurgitated three names, fighting his will with every single one, her eyes darting to the crowd watching her with repugnant fascination and growing hostility.
“Where is your mother?”
“In the Senate,” she hissed.
“Who is your mother?”
Here she smiled. “Acadian.”
It was, after all, the truth. Despite the shock of those around him, he had known this already. He wanted something else.
“Who is she pretending to be?”
The reply baffled him. It made no sense. “She is wearing a guise, Nicoya, what is it?”
“None. No guise. None.”
Her confident sneer told him that they had somehow prepared for this. He sighed, realizing he wasn’t going to get his answers this way. He would have to be satisfied that he had routed out the last of the traitors within his own house. He would have to leave the Senate and the deceptive Acadian to the twins. He already had his hands full in Sanctuary, repairing damage and faith, restoring penance and priests, and most importantly, Daenaira.
“Do you, honestly in your heart, repent any and all sins you have committed as is seen by the laws of this church and this government?” He asked this with grim resignation, his fingers tightening on the woman’s wrist.
“No! Never! I will never grovel to you! None of you! You are all—”
“Kill her,” he said flatly to Daenaira before finally rising to his feet.
Dae didn’t hesitate. She skewered the handmaiden through her throat, crossing through her windpipe and cutting off any more foul speech or mad words. She ran them through until the sharper small prongs punctured as well, and then twisted hard to gouge open the major neck arteries. Then she withdrew from the bucking, thrashing body, backing up right into Magnus. She flinched when he touched her, so he lowered his hands.
“Shiloh is also dead,” he informed the others around them. “He was part of her treachery. These others mentioned will be found, and they will either be repentant or they will die for their sins.”
“M’jan Sagan is dead,” Daenaira whispered to him. “She said she defeated him.”
“We will find his body to be certain,” Magnus assured her. “K’yan Tiana, also a victim in this, must be taken to rest as well.” He assigned these tasks to those nearest him, dismissing the students sternly and with the help of their instructors. Magnus held Dae’s arm in a firm grip all the while, keeping her closely secured to his body when all she wanted to do was run to find a bath or a hole or anywhere far from him.
It had been wrong, her mind thought in racing circles. It had all been wrong. The wrong choices. The wrong acts. The wrong man.
She was wrong.
He was good, powerful, and honorable, and now he had tied himself to her, a woman who would do such dire things and make such terrible decisions. He had known the truth of what she had done to Brendan. She had realized that when he had been so careful to specifically word his query. But why had he spared her reputation in such a way when she had betrayed him and destroyed his friend? Or was he just trying to save himself from another scandal?
It was quite some time before Magnus was able to leave the area, dragging a reluctant Daenaira with him. She couldn’t understand him, couldn’t figure out what he wanted. Did he mean to hurt her or punish her? Would she be forced to suffer excruciating penance? Like the Sinner Brendan had spoken of?
Just thinking about the younger priest made her heart ache and her eyes sting, but she refused to show any emotion he might mistake for fear or weakness. Whatever he planned to dish out, he wasn’t going to find her a willing target. Wrong or right, she had done her best, and she wasn’t going to stand and be beaten like a criminal.
Magnus drew her into their rooms, forcing her to pick up her feet to keep from falling on her face. He slammed her door shut and turned the bolt tightly. Without further pause, he urged her into the bathroom. He finally let go of her once they were beside the tub. Then he crossed to the long mirror that had once been so innocuous. Picking up a jar of the cream she liked to use, he dunked his hand in and proceeded to smear and paint the mirror until it was completely obscured to the view from the other side. She blinked as she watched him, wrapping arms around herself as she felt chill in spite of the damp heat from the bath.
He turned to her, his golden eyes fierce and faceted with strong emotions she didn’t understand, but it was as though she could feel them battering at her just the same. Many of them slapped like stinging blows, others confused, and still others made her heart race with hope.
These, she thought bitterly, are very likely from my imagination.
The others she had no trouble believing at all. She felt all of her chances at making a better life, a useful life, crumbling around her. She was supposed to serve as his partner and mate, the truest soul for his trust, and to remain pure only to him, and she hadn’t.
She watched as he reached to divest himself of his weapons belt. Post battle as they were, it was her duty to do this for him, but she didn’t think he wanted her to touch him. He stripped off his bloodied tunic next, baring the wide expanse of his chest and the breathtaking landscape of nut brown skin over muscle that never ended. Dae didn’t know why, but seeing him made her entire face sting with the urge to cry. She stepped backward away from him, but he caught her quickly.
“Take off your clothes.”
“I don’t want to,” she whispered.
“Your entire psyche is screaming for the cleansing heat of that water,” he said, nodding his head at the bath. “Do I need to compel that truth from you?”
“I’ll bathe later. When you’re done.”
She saw a muscle jump in his jaw. It was the only warning she had before he grabbed hold of her hard and flung her right off her feet and into the water. Plunged unexpectedly into such extreme heat, she surfaced spluttering obscenities. By the time she had stood up and shoved her hair out of her eyes, Magnus was naked and dropping into the water near her. She made an effort to go for the stairs, but he had hold of her again and pinned her between his body and the far wall. Magnus grabbed the wet velvet of her shirt and stripped it almost violently over her head. Then he squeezed his grip tightly around her arms, gliding his hands down after a moment to work free the knives secured at her wrists. Never once did he allow her to look away from the volatile emotions within his eyes. It was so clear he was feeling so much, but she was too upset and too panicked to figure out what those emotions were.