Authors: Mark Henwick,Lauren Sweet
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Paranormal & Urban, #Urban Fantasy
Bian’s eyes narrowed. “And why the rush, little wolf?”
“We’ll find out, but I guess it’ll be to do with the promise Amber made.”
“What promise?” Bian said.
“I don’t have authority to discuss—”
“They have a problem with a rogue,” I interrupted Alex. I was sick of the secrecy and distrust between Were and Athanate. In my unique position, as part of both, it felt completely wrong to me. “I agreed to investigate the situation for them in return for the pack’s help with Jen’s situation.” Jen bit her lip and flushed slightly. I could see she didn’t like being the cause of this argument, however indirectly. I touched her hand briefly. “Worth the price,” I said quietly.
Alex frowned and turned away.
“Not only that,” I said, “but an FBI special team has taken an interest in the case. They think it’s animal killings, but the anomalies haven’t escaped them. If they dig until they find the Were, do you think the Athanate will be far behind? Better if this is dealt with quickly, by us.”
Bian also frowned. “The Were are better at sniffing out strangers. Why would they need you? In fact, I’m about to ask
“I think we’ve done enough for you, unless you’re suggesting a quid pro quo,” Alex cut in before I could say anything.
“The pair of you, stop it,” I said.
There was a moment’s blessed silence.
I wanted time with Jen, alone. I wanted time with Alex and Bian, to try and get everything straight in my head. But what I had was this mess and I had to deal with it now.
“Bian, I’m walking a tightrope here,” I said. “I’m part Were, but I’m not part of the Denver pack. That’s causing as many issues in their community as my being an unaffiliated Athanate caused in yours. If I’d stomped in here a few weeks ago, demanding that the Athanate do this and do that, you would have squashed me like a bug. I’m not going to piss off Larimer and jeopardize any hope of a peaceful resolution with the Were just because you and Skylur can’t ask nicely for what you want. Now. What
would you like me to take to Larimer?”
She ran her hands up and down the arms of her chair, then sat back again. “That they help us track down the remainder of Matlal Athanate in Denver.”
“But we—” Alex started.
“Enough.” I held a hand up to stop him. To my surprise, he did. I didn’t want him to argue the pack’s side against Bian, either. I hadn’t worked out all the reasoning yet, but I was going with my gut feeling. “I’ll put the request to Larimer. Now, is there anything else we need to discuss before we go?”
“You’re not leaving me here,” Jen said.
“Yes, they are. It’s not safe for you anywhere else.” Bian dismissed the idea of her leaving. “And your being out there would be a hindrance to Amber.”
I felt like a firefighter leaping between fires. Every time I thought one had been put out, another came back. “She’ll be safe. I have some additional arrangements in place. If you’re concerned, you can give me David and Pia back.”
It was Bian’s turn to frown again. “What arrangements?”
“I have a friend outside who’s from the same army unit I was. She’s good and she’s a specialist in close protection. If I have David and Pia to brief her on the threats, and Victor’s team as well, then Jen’s going to be as safe back at home as she is here.”
I could see Jen’s face tighten at the mention of extra security, but she sure as hell couldn’t argue against it now. She was pale again, looking tired and upset. She needed this to be finished.
Bian hadn’t come up with an immediate objection and she was distracted when her assistant came back in with some more documents for her to sign off on.
She quickly sent the assistant on his way again. “You have to be back here on Wednesday anyway,” she said. “All of you,
.” She paused. “There’s a reception for all the Panethus Houses before they return to their countries. I need to present House Farrell,” her eyes flicked back and forth between all of us, “
kin to them. It’s vital they have the opportunity to meet you.”
“They don’t entirely believe the problem with your Blood. Oh, they sort of accept it mentally, but they need to know it in their gut. When they get a sniff of you, they’ll really understand that whatever benefit it may have to ease crusis comes with Were cross-infusion. Without that to cool them off, Skylur’s under too much pressure from people trying to bargain for a taste of you.”
I could sense she wasn’t telling me everything, but there wasn’t much hope I’d get her to be more forthcoming in front of the others.
“It’s a formal occasion,” she went on, eyeing my clothes. I’d borrowed sweats rather than walk around in the blood-soaked clothes I’d been wearing at the Assembly, but I was a still a scruffy mess. “Dress up pretty. Please.”
“If we’re going back to Manassah,” Alex cleared his throat. “What are we going to tell the police and everyone else?”
Jen looked up.
“You were kidnapped Friday night, people were killed, police were all over your house,” Alex said. “Then we’re going to return you unharmed on Monday. Meanwhile a whole factory has exploded and there are bodies all over it.”
Bian nodded to acknowledge his point. “The cleanup team was at work on the factory site almost as soon as we left. The bodies outside were cleared away. They had to leave the ones inside, but the explosion and fire were…thorough.” Her eyes passed over me. Tullah, my assistant and an emerging Adept, and her dragon spirit Kaothos had been responsible for the explosion. Mostly Kaothos. Bian had to suspect Tullah was a very powerful Adept, and she’d made her thoughts on the matter plain: either I took Tullah into House Farrell, or Bian would be after her for House Altau.
Best of luck getting past her mother.
Mary was not a woman to cross, even discounting her Adept powers, and she thought Athanate and Adepts should stay far away from one another.
“It’s not ideal,” Bian continued, “but we can get away with another gangland battle. The last members of ZK kidnap Jennifer, a group from a Mexican drug cartel try and snatch her. In the confusion, Amber gets Jennifer out of the building. The explosion is caused by a stockpile of weapons that ZK had.”
Alex scratched his head. “Jen got knocked on the head, suffered a concussion, which is why she can’t give much detail. She didn’t want to go to a hospital, but I insisted she stay in bed before letting her return home. We decided not to talk to anyone until she was well enough to answer questions.”
Jen looked coolly at him.
“Are we saying I did it alone,” I said, “or should we keep closer to the truth and say Alex helped?”
I wanted Jen to understand that Alex had been there to rescue her as well as treat her afterwards.
“We could say Alex drove the car you used,” Bian suggested. “Not quite the same image as him shape-shifting on the stairs and biting people’s heads off, but it’ll have to do.” A smile lurked at the edges of Bian’s mouth, as if she knew what I was doing.
Jen nodded, hiding a shudder and looking around her. She was surrounded by monsters.
Bian pulled a comms device out and spoke rapidly in Athanate.
“You’re being brought another change of clothes and a scrub to remove any gunshot residue or other evidence. After you’ve all cleaned up, you can head off. I’ll communicate back to Larimer and explain the delay. He’ll understand.” She got up. “Amber, I need a word with you separately.”
She led me out, ignoring my protest. Outside, she waved all the others into the room to join Jen and Alex, and closed the door behind them.
“I’m sorry,” she said immediately, taking the wind out of my sails. “I didn’t handle that well. It’s a serious matter to have issues between your kin.”
“Alex knew, Jen didn’t,” I said. “That probably makes it even worse for her.”
“I know. But it’ll work out,” Bian said. “She
kin. Adept Emerson confirmed it, and even I can tell.”
I shook my head, that wasn’t the point.
“You didn’t want to talk to me about that,” I said.
“Well, not that alone. First off, I’ll need you to report back tomorrow on how it goes with our furry friend Larimer.”
“I can predict that right now. Not well.”
“Then it’s going to be up to you to do something to change that, Amber. You’re going to be in a unique position here. You’ll have to take over the role of being a liaison with the Were. And this hunting down their rogue is a godsend. Skylur wants them obligated.”
“I’ll be a liaison, fine. But I won’t try and force them to do things. And since I’m not hunting down the rogue for them on behalf of the Athanate, there’s no obligation involved.”
“But your primary allegiance—”
“Is to what’s right for all of us, not Altau getting the Denver pack to work for them.”
We had a staring contest, but no one beats me at those.
“Amber, I already knew things would be interesting around you, but you’ve got to understand, we’re on a war footing here. We don’t have time to debate, we don’t have time to wonder who we can trust.”
“And when have I given you reason to distrust me?”
“It’s not what you’ve done or not done, it’s where you are. In your head.”
Someone arrived with a bundle of clothes and gels. Bian opened the door for them and we moved further away.
“What do you mean?”
“The reaction you’ve just had! You’d take sides with the pack against Altau.” She overrode me as I tried to argue. “Right or wrong isn’t the point. It’s your instinct for a human-centric view of what’s fair and right. You make decisions without any idea of what they entail.” She grabbed me. “This is important. Like what happened with David. You want that again? Am I getting through to you?”
David had nearly died because of decisions I’d made without realizing consequences. Yeah, she was getting through to me.
“Okay. But I didn’t ask for this and no one told me the rules. In fact, since you say I’m unique, I’d say there are no rules. I’m caught between you and the pack, and I won’t act against either of you.”
“Wonderful, but there’s no time to explain everything, and there won’t be while this crisis is running. You need to trust us. You
to trust us.” She banged a hand against the wall in frustration.
trust you, on the big issues. But I gave my word to Larimer, and even if I hadn’t, the Were and Athanate need to work together. That’s
the same as Skylur telling the pack what to do. Or vice versa.”
“And your army friend, what’s the situation with her?” She waved at the room.
“Julie? What do you mean?”
“You’ve claimed her as part of your House, but she isn’t bound.”
“I trust her.”
“Yeah, and we have to trust you. If she leaves, she’s going to have to have memories erased. You aren’t trained to do that. With Diana away, I’d be the one that has to take over that responsibility. Of course I’ll do it, but I warn you, I’m not as skilled as Diana. It’s not a pleasant experience.”
My stomach tensed.
What had I done to Jen?
“You still don’t know where Diana is or when she’ll be back?” I asked.
I looked sideways at her. “You say you’re on a war footing. Diana’s second in command here and you simply don’t know where she is?”
“Uh huh. Skylur, as president of the Assembly, is always going to have to be able to answer questions with Adepts listening and checking he’s telling the truth. Diana must be doing something that she wants Skylur to be able to deny at the moment. It isn’t the first time.”
I suspected she was more worried than she sounded. And she picked up on the reason my thoughts had gone straight from Jen to Diana.
She leaned closer, using exactly the same technique as I’d used on Julie, and getting the same reaction from me.
“It’s important for Diana to be back for Jen, isn’t it?”
She looked aside, her face hardening. “Amber, I know what happened to Jen. I saw the way she’d been beaten and raped by Hoben and his gang. Your healing her was extraordinary. Your link to her must be very strong.” She paused. “But, there’s something wrong. She knows what happened, but she’s acting as if it were nothing. You did something to her memories, and you’re afraid you’ve damaged her.”
My throat was tight. I nodded. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. You were just telling me to heal her. Alex was yelling that her heart was failing.” I shivered, reliving the blind panic of the moment. “Jen and I, we’d had this strange sensation before, like I could feel her heart beating, I could sense what she was feeling. Something to do with auras, I guess.”
,” Bian said. “The space and reach of the mind. The home of the soul.”
“Our Athanate telergy acts through the eukori. You can think of it as a sort of aura if you must, but instead of just shining out around you, it’s a path into your body and mind.” Her voice dropped. “With the closest of kin and lovers, they say it’s the place where the souls touch.”
She was staring at me, her eyes glittering as if she was thirsting for Blood, but her fangs remained hidden.
I cleared my throat. “Well, I was using it to keep her heart beating and to feel where she needed healing…” I stopped. How to explain it?
“I could feel what she felt, everything, that day. All the awful things.” I shuddered. “And everything that happened to her was because of me.”
Bian’s eyes darkened. “So you took it. You reached through the eukori and you took the emotions away from her. Into yourself. Left her with nothing but the dry knowledge.”
I nodded, my stomach churning with a nightmare of unconnected sensation and emotion, called up by Bian’s questions. I forced it back down, suddenly aware that I was trembling.
Get a grip!
She watched me and waited.
“I have a place for this stuff.”
A jumble of images. Dad, sitting beside me, explaining that our cat had been run over.