Authors: J. Lilley
“I know not.”
“You lie.” Brios was definite about that. The man’s dishonesty spilled out of him. “You dare to lie.”
Ruaridh Scott visibly cringed.
“Tell me.” It was crunch time. He could sense that the other Sept members were waiting with interest to see the outcome. He could also tell that they were willing to back him if they needed to; but, he wanted to do this by himself, to show them they’d chosen well. He wished his authority wasn’t being tested this way, but he couldn’t do anything about it. His dad looked ready to intercede when, suddenly, there was no need. The man’s defiance disappeared and he opened and closed his mouth like a fish.
“He, er …” Ruaridh cleared his throat. “He says there’s someone trying to infiltrate our Sept. He was going to try and stop them.”
“Why should he? He should report to his Patriarch, it is not his role to define the ways of the Sept. I ask again, where is he?”
‘You’re doing well my son.’
“Well? Do you wish to answer to all here present?” Brios knew he had to keep the pressure on.
There was no answer from the man now standing in front of him. He was shuffling his feet and looking at the floor.
“Where is he?” Brios said more loudly. “You will answer, or be responsible for any wrongdoing that is committed if you do not disclose any information you have.”
Ruaridh gulped. His face was even whiter than the simple whitewashed walls of the room. “After shifting, he went to get the girl.”
Brios felt a shudder run through him; he’d known Struan was involved. This confirmed it.
He turned to his dad. “Your permission to leave?” He knew, and his dad knew, that he would go anyway, but if he was being treated as a responsible member of the Sept he’d follow protocol—this time—and ask for a formal blessing to go and find the girls.
“Go, Our Gods go with you.”
He bowed and left the room, noting that no one doubted his ability to know instinctively where he was.
Now to find out where the girls are.
“Rach, Rach oh shit! Wake up for our God’s sake. C’mon, we need to move before whoever did this comes back to see how much damage they’ve done, and decides it wasn’t enough.”
What? Why can I hear Leira? Leira doesn’t have big hairy hands, wait … that isn’t even a hand. But, that doesn’t make sense. And okay, it isn’t really big, but it’s definitely hairy, and there aren’t any fingers—there are claws!
Rach knew she had to snap out of it and find out what was going on; tell Leira what she thought she’d heard.
‘Leira, what’s going on? Why can’t I wake up?’
‘What? Oh my God, Brios… Brios, can you hear me? We need you. Oh Rach, who did this? I’m trying to get hold of Brios, and it’s really hard. He’s saying the elders have repressed his projecting. I’m only getting little bits from him. I need to try and let him know who did this.’
Rach struggled to understand Leira. Her head felt muddled, and for a moment she couldn’t remember how she’d come to be there; and then it came back to her.
‘It was that shit Struan. He was waiting out here for me, and he caught me as I passed him. I was going to look for Brios. I heard Struan’s voice before I started to faint or whatever; I’m sure I heard his voice. But, I felt a big hairy paw. Then I think I heard him say he’d killed me, and that it would serve Brios right. Then, oh shoot …’
Rach felt sick. She needed to help Brios; she had to make Leira understand. Her head hurt. She struggled to listen for Leira.
Thank goodness, Leira could hear her.
‘He said it was Brios next; but, what did he mean? What’s it all about Leira? I mean Struan is a slimy little toad; but, wanting to get rid of me and Brios? Why?’
‘Er … no … actually he’s a leopard. He’s always resented Brios and his role as Patriarch in waiting. He feels it should be him.’
Rach knew she had to really be in la-la land now. Why was Leira talking about leopards, and what was this Patriarch thingy? Had she really felt a paw, and heard what she thought she’d heard? Maybe they hadn’t moved at all, and she’d find herself back in Northampton in bed with the flu.
‘The last time I had a weird dream dad said it was because of flu. Come to think of it, that had leopards in it as well. Big, sleek and magnificent, not horrid and scary …
leopards are proud majestic beasts, not miserable little reptiles. In fact, Brios reminds me of a leopard, all elegant and lithe and … Oh God, I really said that—or projected—or whatever didn’t I? For goodness sake, don’t tell him.’
Rach could hear Leira’s laugh.
‘No need, if he’s tuned in he’ll hear; and … um … well … talking about what you saw or felt … I’m not exactly dressed in jeans and a hoodie. I had to get here as fast as I could so I changed.’
‘Oh God—not into shorts and trainers … Are you warm enough? I’m freezing.’
She heard Leira’s quiet giggle.
‘Hold on, I’ll put a blanket over you. I brought one with me on my back; can’t carry one when I’m on all fours.’
Rach knew then that she must be suffering from a thump on the head. What on earth was Leira talking about? When was she on all fours?
‘When I changed into my leopard, of course; it’s the fastest way to move. ‘
Duh, of course. How else can you get somewhere in a hurry? What about a bike or asking your dad to take you in his car? I’m definitely hallucinating or whatever. Argh, that’s all I need. If only I could wake up and make sense of all this; no not sense, that means something different—doesn’t it?
Rach’s head was sore, and she felt decidedly out of it. She thought she might just have a wee sleep, then when she woke up hopefully her head might not ache so much.
‘Rach? Rach can you still hear me? Don’t go away; c’mon, answer me; please answer me, Rach? Rach … talk to me—sense to me!’
She tried, she really tried. But, whatever she did she couldn’t make her mind process her thoughts. All she wanted to do was float. She was nice and warm, and someone was holding her. This dark and fuzzy world was comforting; much nicer than hearing Struan telling someone she was dead and they had better leg it.
I’m not dead am I? Is this the afterworld or whatever it’s called?
Whichever, she thought she’d just stay there a while.
Where to start?
Brios left the council; some sitting, some now standing watching Ruaridh; all of them waiting for his dad to take control. He walked outside the building and took a deep breath. He emptied his mind but nothing came into it; no sensing, no projecting, and no help.
He decided he’d just have to be methodical and use what help he could get.
‘Donny, do you hear me?’
Silence; he tried again.
‘Donny? Andy? I need help.’ He was man enough to admit it.
This time the antennae’s must have been working.
‘Hey, it’s Donny, what’s up? Andy is here with me. We’ve been practicing with the band.’
‘Brios? I’m still in council and your senses should be unblocked, I’ve put my Matriarchal foot down. What’s wrong?’ His mum, ever the worrier, had picked up on his projecting even though it hadn’t been to her. ‘All your senses should be back now. Dad is in control here. You concentrate on the girls.’
Right, now was the time to try double projecting to Donny and Andy so Donny didn’t have to pass all this on; it would save time.
‘Something has happened to Rach and Leira. Rach’s dad was trying to stop us from meeting, and she was coming to find me. Struan Scott has been spreading rumors that she’s from another Sept. His father said Struan was going to get her. I’m scared for them. Rach was calling for me, and then she disappeared. Now Rach is in trouble, and Leira went to help her. Leira’s been trying to project, but I lost her. Please, I need help. Dad and mum are with the council. I won’t ask them to help, they’ve got Struan’s father to sort out. If you get Lei coming through tell me please. We need to find Rach and Leira fast! I’m really worried about the girls.’
He didn’t need to sense to hear Donny’s growl. It was loud and menacing, filling the air. His mum sent a swift, ‘Keep me posted.’
‘Where are you Bri? I’m on my way. Andy’s going to check out Struan’s house.’
Donny was showing the true colors of a second in command.
‘Great! I’m at home. I’m going to run from here to Rach’s. Will you come the other way and try to get through to Leira? My worry for Rach is interfering I think.’
‘On my way.’
Brios stood and emptied his mind. He needed to gather himself, and get his head sorted.
His sense pointed west, somewhere between her house and his. The quickest way to get there was to shift. His haste was so great he hurt as his body changed, but in mere moments he was in full leopard mode. He shook himself carefully, stretched and made sure all his muscles were ready for the task ahead. The last thing he needed was an injury. Satisfied that he was as ready as he could be he moved down the drive, increasing his stride until his body was at full stretch. His fur flew as he ran faster and faster, and his spots seemed to flow together and blend into one.
He lifted his head to the wind. He tried to project to Leira again, but it was like someone had tuned a radio channel badly—a load of static, and the odd word …
‘… ater … warm … perhaps … noooo …’
The last word sent chills down his spine, but now wasn’t the time to speculate on what it all meant. He had to find them.
Brios blessed his sense of direction, and his very powerful sense of smell. He hardly knew Rach; but, he knew if she was anywhere nearby he would sense her.
A crash made him whirl around with his claws out, and teeth bared. A mocking howl was all he heard.
‘Loser. I have her, or what’s left of her and you won’t find her. She’s lost to you and to her Sept. I will win. You will be humiliated, and it serves you right!’
‘Struan, that’s a load of shit!’
‘Wait and see. She’s lost to you.’
No way would he believe that. It wasn’t worth even thinking about.
Another crash as a branch fell to the ground behind him. Something scurried across the road in front of him. If he hadn’t been so worried he would laugh as the horror-story clichés came thick and fast.
Evidently, Struan had someone helping him who could whistle up magic. He knew darned well it wasn’t Struan’s doing, he was so malevolent at some times he was hard pressed to project; at other times he couldn’t control it, Brios could tell. He had been told hatred could twist your gifts into something unnatural and different; he’d never really believed it before, but now he was starting to.
Howls seemed to come from every direction, followed by utter silence. Then, another leopard shriek and a growling laugh.
Brios wasn’t overly fazed. In a battle, he knew his superior skills would win out. However, that would have to wait; he had to concentrate on Rach and his sister.
‘Oh Brios, if you can hear this please, please hurry! She’s …’
‘She’s what? Send to me.’
Nothing! Someone was doing his or her best to interfere. It couldn’t be Struan, Brios knew for sure that the other boy’s powers were not, and never would be advanced enough to be able to do that. Could it be Struan’s dad—maybe, and if so,
dad would soon sort that out.
Time to find Rach and Leira.
‘Any luck?’ He hoped Donny or Andy would project back with good news.
The wind carried a scent to him; his nostrils flared as he lifted his head; it was Rach. About a mile away, maybe a little further. He increased his speed. A fork of lightening hit the road between his outstretched paws and he reared up before continuing at his ever-increasing speed.
What next, floods?
Predictably the rain began, and he saw the ditches at the side of the road fill rapidly with water.
Who could Struan get to help him with deeds so alien to the Shalean Creed? Perhaps someone else was controlling him for their own ends—using a Shalean to do their dirty work; the Rogues, he would bet his eyeteeth on it.
‘It is me. I am meant to rule.’
‘Ha, in your dreams!’
There was a mind splitting shriek of annoyance.
Touchy about it isn’t he?
Brios filed that gem of information away to remember in his armory for controlling Struan later.
‘She’s drowning, you’re too late, loser. It’s all mine.’
What? No way.
The water was spreading across the road and his paws splashed through it. It was flipping cold, and his fur spiked. He was too worried to be bothered by it; or by the tiny stones that the water had washed from the sides of the road, and were now sticking between his claws.
He sniffed the air again—a female Shalean. It was difficult to identify the scent in the wind as it swirled around like fallen leaves in the autumn. He was close now, very close. He slowed and began to scan the sides of the road, looking between the tufts of grass that edged the tarmac, and checking out anything that didn’t seem to fit its surroundings.