Authors: Annie Bellet
Tags: #Supernaturals, #UF
“That will have to wait for the details,” he said, lifting a hand to stall my protest. “Someone will be here in the morning who can better answer.”
“Who?” Alek? I hoped and also didn’t hope that he was coming here. I wasn’t sure I could face him yet. He’d be so pissed at me for leaving him like that. Justifiably pissed, heh.
“The druid, Iollan. He would not tell me who was with him and our method of communication is imprecise, but he agreed to come talk to you. He must wait for dawn, however.”
Yosemite. I felt a small weight lift from me. If he was alive and safe, there was every chance the others were as well.
. Fuck. I couldn’t let my fears for her cloud what I had to do. There was nothing I could do, not now. If she was alive, she was alive. If she were dead, she was at least beyond harm. And furball would want me focused on killing Samir, I knew that much.
One big worry down. If the druid was safe, odds were good that Alek, Rosie, and the twins were as well. Maybe even Junebug and Harper. I had to cling to hope.
“What about Samir?” I asked.
“He is still around Wylde, as far as I can confirm.” Noah’s eyes narrowed and he looked almost annoyed. “I cannot confirm what he is doing there, but he has pulled in a large force of humans and shifters. I am not fond of guessing, but I believe his plans are larger than just killing you.”
I thought about the few words Samir and I had exchanged. He’d told me, as I tried to save Max, something about magic rising, about ruling, that this wasn’t just about me. He’d sounded like a crazy person, and I’d been a little distracted by my dying friend, but his words haunted me now.
“They are,” I said. “He said something about mortals and ruling, about magic rising up again.”
“I am working on discovering what he wants. The area around Wylde is strong with latent magic, as you found out. It is worrying that he is so interested in it. Unfortunately, the Hearteater is not easy to have followed. Spies around him tend to die or disappear.” Noah shook his head, the gesture the most natural and unconscious one I’d ever seen him make.
“Hearteater? Samir has, like, a title?” Of course he did. Meh.
“He is known by many names,” Noah said.
“Well, that leaves dear old bio-dad,” I said. Knowing where Samir was didn’t help me right now. I couldn’t face him without magic. Whatever he was up to was probably really bad, and I wasn’t even going to consider giving myself over to him in hope of saving my friends. I’d had that thought a few times and looked down that road, seeing only ruin. I trusted this vampire more than I would ever trust Samir.
Noah flashed his white, sharp teeth in a smile. “That is where things get complicated.”
“Go on,” I said, resting my chin on my bent knees.
“Your father is in prison.”
“Oh, it gets better,” Noah said. “He is in a secret prison the government runs to lock away dangerous inhuman elements. They also lock up people and creatures they do not understand.”
“So to talk to him, I have to get him out of jail?” I thought about what Noah was saying. Also what he wasn’t saying. It didn’t sound like a prison that had visiting hours. “What is my father?”
“You are unlikely to believe me if I tell you. Also, that was not in our bargain.”
“Really?” I rolled my eyes at him. I knew I should have been more specific, but I was going to have questions, damnit. “This stems right from our bargain and might be relevant. I have to talk to him, but if he’s dangerous I kind of need to know that, don’t you think?”
“He is dangerous, though I doubt so to you,” Noah said. “He is also in the prison voluntarily. He is in the ‘do not understand’ category, and I am sure can leave anytime under his own power. The government could hardly stop him.”
From the Archivist’s smile, I knew there was so much context I was missing in what he was saying. It frustrated me, but punching my host and source of information seemed less than wise. Fun, but maybe not a good option. For now.
“Okay, wise guy, how do I get him out?”
“You don’t,” Noah said, that sharp smile back and wider than ever. He rose to his feet. “But I believe your assistants are pulling up as we speak. Shall we go meet them, and then we can discuss how to break in to this prison, yes?”
“I have assistants?” I said. This whole conversation had run away from me.
“You do now,” Noah said as he glided from the room, leaving the door open for me to trail behind, curious and utterly confused.
Harper squeezes her hands into damp fists at her sides, shutting down her senses as best she can. She pretends she doesn’t hear the faint scrape of a bare foot on the loft floor, the rustle of loose hay being disturbed. Max smells nervous, something he’ll have to work on.
The faintest brush against her side and then… bells tinkle and she spins, catching Max’s boney wrist in her hands.
“You lose,” she says with a snort. “Maybe you aren’t cut out to be a thief.”
“Uncle Darragh says we got Tinker blood,” Max says. His mouth puckers into a pout and freckles stand out on his cheeks like the dots on the exclamation points of his anger.
Harper almost reminds him that he’s no blood of theirs at all, much less Uncle Darragh’s kin, but she swallows those words. They’ll just hurt him and anyway, because who cares where he came from? He’s hers now; Mom said so. Her responsibility.
“Maybe,” she says with a quick shrug that sets the bells looped over her belt to chiming again. “But you need a lot more practice if we’re to run off with the travelers and steal our way across the world.”
“You make it look so easy,” Max says, not ready to abandon his grumpy mood.
“That’s cause I’m older, faster, and prettier than you,” she says and tweaks his nose, leaping back into the hay as he dives for her.
Max tumbles down on top of her and pain radiates up her sternum. Harper gasps and tries to push him away. He rises, kicking her hard in the ribs.
He kicks her again, his face red and distorted through her tears, hardly looking like Max at all. Again, and again, and again. Harper curls up, trying to dodge the blows. Her body won’t do more than that, her limbs leaden. Then Max is on top of her, his nails biting into her throat.
“You let me die,” he hisses, his little boy’s face melting away into a man’s as flames ignite in his eyes. “You were supposed to protect me and you let me die.”
“Max.” Harper tries to choke out his name. “Max.”
Consciousness brought only more pain to Harper. Someone all too alive and real, unlike Max, kicked her ribs one last time before standing back as she gasped and choked awake. She peeled one eye open, the other too swollen to obey. Her nose already told her at least two men were in the room, and one of them was her brother’s killer. No forgetting his scent. Not ever.
“Samir,” she said through cracked and bleeding lips.
The floor under her face was old oak boards, rough and splintered from years of use and hard cleaning. It told her only that she could be in one of a hundred old houses or cabins strewn across the edges of the Frank. The air still smelled like her familiar woods underneath the stink of men. Her arms were numb and chained behind her, but she wiggled her toes and felt them respond. Nothing was too broken. A tight collar squeezed her neck and she guessed it was chained too. No shifting into a fox for her, not right now. Chains were too tight and fox legs didn’t bend the same way. What was painful as a human could seriously damage a fox’s joints. She didn’t see much immediate chance for escape.
Not that there was much to hope for in general. She was alone, hurt, and abandoned.
But not dead yet. In her position, Harper figured she’d take what she could get.
“Harper, my dear,” Samir said. “What will I do with you?”
“Come closer,” she said, baring her teeth. Her blurred vision gave her a clear view of his boot. Maybe if he came closer she could gnaw him to death. Brilliant plan.
His boots moved across the floor toward her. Samir crouched down by Harper’s shoulder and she forced her head to turn as much as it could. Nausea and pain put dancing red dots in her vision but she wanted to look Max’s killer in the eye.
He looked clean and composed, dressed in a thick sweater and dark trousers. A small ruby-colored crystalline vial hung from a heavy gold chain, his only jewelry, looking like a cosplayer’s necklace and totally out of place against his mundane clothing. A knife, like something out of a survival catalog, rested loosely in his grip. For a moment, Harper’s brain froze, fear washing through her and shoving back the pain. Knife. Death. This was the end of the line.
Then sense kicked in. He’d brought her here, wherever here was, tied her up tightly so she couldn’t shift, and was talking to her. Whatever his stupid and totally evil plan was, her death wasn’t in the cards yet. He wanted something from her or thought he could use her.
That thought filled her with a different kind of fear. Jade and the others had left her, but Harper wasn’t crazy or dumb enough to believe they’d meant to. She’d seen the horror on Jade’s face. Some plan had gone wrong.
Harper half chuckled, half gagged on her own spit and blood at that thought. Everything had gone wrong.
“Something funny?” Samir said. His eyes narrowed into piss-colored slits. Harper refused to think about him in flattering terms like handsome or golden-eyed. He wasn’t getting an inch of her brain space that way. Not a bit.
“You,” Harper said. “How you still think you can win.”
“I’ve already won,” Samir said. He gave a slight shake of his head and his lips twisted into a smirk. “It was never a contest. I thought you’d have noticed that by now.”
“If you’ve won, why am I still alive?” She spat the woods out with as much venom, and actual blood, as she could muster, trying to spatter some on his knees. That would show the bastard.
“You like games, yes? Think of it like chess. The pieces are still on the board, but checkmate will not occur for a few more turns. There is nothing you or anyone else can do about it, but you are all too stubborn or stupid to see the end, so the game must be played out.”
Samir grabbed Harper’s bloody tee-shirt in one hand and started cutting it off her. She tried to crawl away from his touch, but there was nowhere to go. Her arms and legs were hogtied, her neck cranked cruelly back as well. She was able to squirm an inch before the strain nearly caused her to black out.
“You going to rape me?” she asked. “How fucking stereotypical.”
“Rape you? No. I don’t fuck animals.” Samir gathered the bloody pieces of her shirt into his hand and wiped them over a gash in her stomach. White-hot pain lanced up her belly, and Harper was almost glad she couldn’t see her own body very well.
He rose to his feet, and Harper heard what sounded like her shirt remains being put into a plastic bag.
“That should be enough for a trail,” Samir said.
“We will backtrack from where we took that one,” the other man said. His voice had an accent that sounded similar to Alek’s. “We make it look good, they will follow.”
“See it done. Be ready. No mistakes this time. No one escapes. There’s no more time to waste,” Samir said, dismissing the man.
Harper forced her fogged brain into gear. Samir was going to use her bloody shirt to lead the others to her, from the sounds of it. She could draw some assumptions from that, she figured. Her friends were still alive and not being held somewhere else. They also potentially didn’t know that she was alive, and they definitely didn’t know where she was, though it seemed she was the cheese in Samir’s mousetrap.
Good thing none of my friends are mice
, Harper thought. They would come for her. She knew that in the marrow of her own tired bones. They hadn’t abandoned her.
“You think they’ll fall for such an obvious trap?” she asked, fighting to turn her head and shoulders enough to see Samir again. No dice.
His boots moved away and the sharp citrus and medical smell of cleaning agents wafted through the air. Then he returned, kindly crouching down again and sitting on his heels so she could see his smug-ugly face.
Smugly face, yeah
. He stared down at her, rubbing her blood off his hands fastidiously with a baby wipe.