Authors: Victoria Danann
Brave’s thoughts went back to the day he and Lana had talked about invaders seeing themselves as victimized by the people they were attempting to displace.
“For Elementals,” Abide continued, “the biggest concern was that, once humans could travel interdimensionally, they would not only upset the natural balance of species hierarchy, but that upgraded humans would spread their DNA throughout the worlds. And there’s no need to expand on how humans disrupt wherever they go. Right?”
Brave didn’t answer the question. For one thing, he didn’t relish the idea of agreeing that humans should be characterized as disruptors. For another, he knew Abide thought his observation was rhetorical.
When he did speak, Brave’s voice came out as a shaky whisper. “You told me that I was being
by you, that my family was in danger.”
“And that was true. I never lied to you, Brave. Your family was in danger. I just didn’t tell you that they were in danger from us.”
He thought back to his defense when Lana felt betrayed.
I never lied to you, Lana.
“You’ve been holding me hostage, while leading me to believe I was a prince. That’s just… It’s just… ” He searched for the word and then it came to him. He knew if Lana was there she would say it was just wrong. “Wrong.”
“It wasn’t personal, Brave. Over time we came to love you. We’ve found you and your ideas both useful and entertaining.”
“Useful and entertaining,” Brave repeated drily. “Is my family alive? My real family?”
He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw something flicker in Abide’s eyes when he said ‘real family’. “As far as I know.”
“And all this time that I thought they were either dead, or that they’d abandoned me…” Brave tried to prioritize his questions as he fought to process in a rational way, even though he was overwhelmed emotionally. “Why do the Reinlitegen want me?”
Perry spoke for Abide who seemed to be more and more uncomfortable with the whole subject and with Brave’s accusatory tone.
“Same dance. Different song. They want to use you to coerce Roanald to use his research to exterminate us. They think you would be sufficient incentive to get Roanald to splice DNA so that all demons except Reinlitegen are born with developmental defects, or fail to procreate altogether then die off.”
“Could he do that? My, ah…” Even though Brave was stunned by the truth of the masquerade he’d been an unintentional part of, and even though he was angrier than he thought possible, he still couldn’t bring himself to look into Abide’s face and call another man, Father. “Roanald?”
Abide sat back wearily and shrugged. “I don’t know. But we’re not willing to take the chance.”
Perry spoke up from his post by the door. “Reinlitegen are even more malicious than most of us thought possible. They’ve been capturing young demon females of different subspecies, including Callii. Sources say that they plan to inject them with this theoretical splice of Roanald’s, then release them back into the population without telling anyone that the females are carrying the equivalent of a genocide bomb.”
“How have they been capturing demons?”
“Surprise when slipping dimensions,” Perry said. “They use a liquid spray with crushed farsi in it. You’ve probably never heard anything about it. Farsi dust alters our equilibrium so that we can’t find our way in the passes. As a nasty side effect, it also affects our ability to bend light. We think pechs must be mining it for them.”
“I don’t get it.” Brave looked between Abide and Perry. “Why do they want to be the only demon species left alive?”
Some sort of master race delusion. They’re caught up in it. If you tell a lie enough times, it starts to sound familiar, and who doesn’t like familiarity?”
Brave leveled his gaze at Abide. “I need Lana. I’m asking you, if you ever cared anything for me at all, you’ll get her away from them.”
Abide inhaled a big breath, slumped back into his chair, and shook his head. “If you have any ideas about how to do that, I’ll be glad to listen.”
Seeing that there was nothing else to be said, Brave stood abruptly and stalked toward the door. Peregrination earned himself a death glare by not moving out of Brave’s way quickly enough.
Back in his own quarters Brave paced the floor. He knew he could think more clearly if he could just quiet and control his emotions. The turmoil and cross-currents were definitely interfering with logic.
He tried to concentrate, but kept picturing fuzzy glimpses of the house he remembered living in before he was taken, and the garden where he’d played. He was sure he didn’t have siblings because, he reasoned, that was something he would remember.
He tried to form an image of his parents’ faces, but couldn’t quite manage it. When he pictured his mother, he had an impression of dirty blonde hair and a carefree laugh, but it wasn’t nearly clear enough to be labeled a bona fide memory. He recalled thinking that his father was a giant, but he couldn’t get a visual of either one of them that was vivid.
As he continued pacing, his mind bouncing between Lana’s captivity and his need to rescue her from the Reinlitegen, his anger at all the Callii, but especially Abide, and what he could remember about the family who was being controlled by his captivity. Suddenly that vortex of thoughts coalesced into a plan.
Brave rushed out of his quarters to find Abide. After checking Court and Abide’s personal chambers, he found him playing Caegong with some other males from the Ministry. The always watchful, Peregrination, intercepted Brave near the entrance to the games hall and wordlessly asked him to state his business.
Brave lowered his voice. “I have a plan.”
Perry’s chin jerked up like he hadn’t been expecting that. With all the grace one expects from an athletic demon, Perry moved behind Abide and leaned to whisper in his ear.
“Your son has a plan.”
Abide’s eyes slid to Brave. His expression gave nothing away. He said something to Perry and began the process of extricating himself from the game, which was very much like Backgammon. Very few people know that Backgammon was created by demons. But it was.
Perry rejoined Brave. “He will join us in his private conference room.”
Brave nodded, glanced at Abide, and left with Perry.
They hadn’t waited long before the regent appeared. Abide sat in his chair heavily and turned the weight of his attention, which was considerable, on Brave.
“I’m listening,” was all he said.
Brave began to shape his proposal in the form of a deal, knowing that deals are the one thing demons can’t refuse to consider. And, since deals are sacred to demons, once the contract is struck it won’t be broken.
“It’s complicated. As the humans say, it has a lot of moving parts. But I know it will work.
“If you will get Lana back and agree to let me go, by that I mean return me to my human family, I will reunite with them and convince my father to trick the Reinlitegen with a fake serum. Since Callii only ovulate once every hundred years or so, both Roanald and I will be dead long before the Reinlitegen realize they’ve been duped.”
“It’s not a contract if it’s a fake serum, Brave. You understand demon law.”
“I do, but I’m not a demon.”
Brave let that statement hang in the air for a moment with only the sound of the fire, while they absorbed his meaning.
“You’re saying that you can make a deal with the Reinlitegen that involves a fake serum because you’re human. They have to keep their end because they’re demons, but you… don’t.”
Brave’s eyes shone with defiance as he demonstrated to his father that he was more human, including the dark side of humanity, than demon.
“As insurance, you can send invisible escorts to observe my interactions with Roanald. That way you will know that my plan is legitimate and that you are not being tricked. The only thing you have to lose is allowing a few insignificant humans access to the passes and that has got to be preferable to watching a Callii genocide.
“If the Reinlitegen believe their plan has been implemented, they won’t be seeking out another scientist. It may not be a long term solution, in light of an average demon lifespan, but it would buy time to come up with another strategy.”
Perry looked at Abide and said, “Devious.”
“Indeed,” said Abide. “What’s the risk to us?”
Perry pursed his lips and shook his head. “I don’t see any.”
“Neither do I.” Abide turned to Brave. “A brilliant plan, my son.” Brave’s jaw clenched noticeably when Abide said ‘my son’. “But we’re still left without a plan for retrieving your female. What do you propose?”
“You said you can’t get into the cell because it’s been warded.” Perry nodded. “I’d place a bet that it’s been warded against demons.”
Abide and Perry waited. Finally, Perry said, “And…”
“Again. I’m not demon.”
Perry studied Brave. “Lay it out.”
“If you can get me close enough to get the keys to the cell, I can bring her outside the warded area. They probably just left the keys on the hook that we’d installed for that purpose because, as we all know, Reinlitegen are not known for being inventive.
“We’ll hide while we send a scout to determine when the hallway outside her cell is clear. When we get the signal, we go in and get her.”
Abide looked at Perry, who shrugged. “Could work.”
While waiting for Abide’s response, Brave must have been holding his breath because, when Abide gave a nod, he inhaled like a man who’d been dunked under water after falling from a broken slat bridge.
“When?” Brave asked.
“Well…” Perry began.
“Now,” Brave said. “I don’t know how she’s being treated and humans are fragile.”
Abide looked at Brave, then Perry, and again gave a nod.
Brave knew he had to nail down the particulars. He looked Abide in the eye and didn’t blink. “So we have a deal?”
After a few seconds, Abide said, “We have a deal, Bruce the Brave.”
A few minutes later, Brave had been injected with the demon blood Lana called magic juice. He insisted that they would keep it simple. Just Perry, himself, and Dart.
When Dart arrived, Brave regarded him coolly. “Did you know?”
“Know what?” asked Dart.
“No. He didn’t know, Brave. The truth about your presence as foster child of the Regent was on a need to know basis and, certainly,” Perry looked down his nose at Dart, “
Dart turned to Brave. “Know. What?”
Brave shook his head. “It’s a mess of complication. Right now, just help me get my girl back.”
The three came to rest in one of the dark subterranean passages that Lana and Brave had first used to exit the fortress. Dart was assigned scout duty and would determine when it was safe to deliver Brave to the cell.
“I’ll be back.” Dart left with a bad impression of the famous Terminator line leaving Brave to wonder when and where Dart might have been watching human movies.
It was almost an hour before Dart returned and whispered that no one was present on the dungeon level. Brave materialized right in front of the keys hanging on their hook, just as he’d predicted.
It was at that moment, when Brave had grabbed the keys, that Litha arrived for the check-in visit she’d promised Lana. Litha took form in the exact spot where she’d left Brave and Lana.
“Litha,” Brave said off-handedly.
“Hi Brave. Where’s Lana?”