John woke up on the floor with Tohr by his side and Wrath staring down at him.
Where was the dark-haired woman? In a rush he tried to sit up, but heavy hands held him in place.
"Just chill for a little longer, my man," Tohr said.
John craned his neck around and there she was, looking anxious by the door. The moment he saw her, every neuron in his brain started to fire, and the white light came back. He began to shake, his body knocking against the floor.
"Shit, he's doing it again," Tohr muttered, bearing down to try and control the seizure.
As John felt himself getting sucked under, he threw a hand toward the dark-haired woman, trying to get to her, straining.
"What do you need, son?" Tohr's voice above him was fading in and out like a radio station with static. "We'll get it for you…"
"Go to him, leelan" Wrath said. "Take his hand."
The dark-haired woman came forward, and the instant their palms touched everything went black.
When he came to again, Tohr was talking. "… going to take him to see Havers anyway. Hey, son. You're back."
John sat up, head swimming. He put his hands to his face, as if that would help him stay conscious, and looked to the doorway. Where was she? He had to… He didn't know what he had to do. But it was something. Something involving her…
He signed frantically.
"She's gone, son," Wrath said. "We're going to keep you two apart until we have an idea of what's doing."
John looked at Tohr and signed slowly. Tohr translated, "He says he needs to take care of her."
Wrath laughed softly. "I think I've got a handle on that job, son. That's my mate, my shellan, your queen."
For some reason John relaxed at that piece of news, and gradually he recalibrated back to normal. Fifteen minutes later he got to his feet.
Wrath pegged Tohr with a hard stare. "I want to talk strategy with you, so I need you here. Phury's going to the clinic tonight, though. Why doesn't he take the boy?"
Tohr hesitated and looked at John. "That okay with you, son? My brother's a good guy. All around."
John nodded. He'd already caused enough problems by checking out on the floor like he had a case of the vapors. After that stunt, he was way into being user-friendly.
God, what had it been about that woman? Now that she was gone, he couldn't remember what the big deal was. He couldn't even recall her face. It was like he had a snapshot case of amnesia.
"Let me take you down to my brother's room."
John put his hand on Tohr's arm. When he was finished signing, he looked at Wrath.
Tohr smiled. "John said it was an honor to meet you."
"Good to meet you, too, son." The king returned to the desk and sat down. "And Tohr? When you come back, have Vishous with you."
O kicked the side of U's Taurus so hard, his boot left a dent in the quarter panel.
The damn shit box was parked at the side of the road in the sticks. On a random, nothing-special part of Route 14, twenty-five miles away from downtown.
It had taken him a good hour of sitting in front of U's computer to find the car, because the LoJack signal had been blocked for God only knew what reason. When the damn responder finally popped up on the screen, the Taurus had been moving swiftly. If O had had backup, he'd have made someone stay glued to the computer while he hit the truck and went after the sedan. But U was hunting downtown, and pulling him or anyone else off patrol would have caused a lot of attention.
And O already had trouble… trouble that was back again as his cell phone rang for the eight hundredth time. The thing had started going off about twenty minutes ago, and ever since then the calls had been nonstop. He took the Nokia out of his leather jacket. Caller ID showed the number as untraceable. Probably U, or worse, Mr. X.
Word must already be out that the center had been incinerated.
When the cell shut up, O dialed U's number. As soon as it was answered, O said, "You looking for me?"
"Christ, what happened out there? Mr. X said the place is gone!"
"I don't know what went down."
"But you were there, right? You said you were going there."
"You tell Mr. X that?"
"Yeah. And listen, you better watch yourself. The Fore-lesser is pissed off and looking for you."
O leaned against the cold body of the Taurus. Holy hell. He didn't have time for this. His wife was somewhere away from him, either breathing or being buried, and regardless of what state she was in, he needed to get her back. Then he had to go after that scarred Brother who'd stolen her and put that ugly bastard into the ground. Hard.
"O? You there?"
Goddamn it… Maybe he should have fixed it up so it looked like he'd died in the blast. He could have left the truck at the site and walked out through the woods. Yeah, but then what? He'd have no money, no vehicle, and no backup against the Brotherhood as he went after the one with the scar. He'd be an AWOL lesser, which meant that if anyone figured out his disappearing act, he'd be hunted down like a dog by the whole Society.
"I honestly don't know what happened. When I got there, it was dust."
"Mr. X thinks you torched the place."
"Of course he does. The assumption's convenient for him, even though I had no motive. Look, I'll call you later."
He clipped the phone shut and shoved it into his jacket. Then he took the thing back out and turned it off.
As he rubbed his face, he couldn't feel anything at all, and it wasn't because of the cold.
Man, he was in deep shit. Mr. X was going to need to blame someone for that ash pile, and O was going to be it. If he wasn't put to death on the spot, the punishment lined up for him was going to be severe. God knew the last time he'd been reprimanded, he'd nearly died under the Omega. Damn it… What were his options?
When the solution came to him, his body shuddered. But the tactician in him rejoiced.
The first step was getting access to the Society's scrolls before Mr. X found him. This meant he needed an Internet connection. Which meant he was going back to U's.
John left Wrath's study and walked down the hall to the left, sticking close to Tohr. There were doors every thirty feet or so running opposite the balcony, as if the place were a hotel. How many people lived here?
Tohr stopped and knocked on one of them. When there was no answer he knocked again and said, "Phury, man, you got a sec?"
"You looking for me?" came a deep voice from behind them.
A man with a whole lot of nice-looking hair was coming down the corridor. The stuff on his head was all kinds of different colors, falling down his back in waves. He smiled at John, then looked at Tohr.
"Hey, my brother," Tohr said. The two of them switched over to the Old Language as the guy opened the door.
John looked into the bedroom. There was a huge, antique canopied bed with pillows lined up on a carved headboard. Lots of fancy decorator stuff. Place smelled like a Starbucks.
The man with the hair switched to English and looked down with a smile. "John, I'm Phury. Guess we're both going to the doc's tonight."
Tohr put his hand on John's shoulder. "So I'll see you later, okay? You have my cell phone number. You just text-message me if you need something."
John nodded and watched Tohr stride off. Seeing those broad shoulders recede made him feel very alone.
At least until Phury said quietly, "Don't worry. He's never far, and I'll take good care of you."
John glanced up into warm yellow eyes. Wow… the things were the color of goldfinches. As he found himself relaxing, he connected the name. Phury… This was the guy who was going to be doing some of the teaching.
Good, John thought.
"Come on in. I just got back from a little errand."
As John breached the doorway, the smoky, coffee smell grew heavier.
"You ever been to Havers's before?"
John shook his head and spotted an armchair by a window. He went over and sat in the thing.
"Well, don't worry about it. We'll make sure you're treated right. So I guess they're going to try to get a bead on your bloodline?"
John nodded. Tohr had said that he was getting blood drawn and having a physical. Both of which were probably a good idea, given the stop, drop, and shiver he'd just pulled in Wrath's office.
He took out his pad and wrote, Why are you going to the doctor's?
Phury came over and looked at the scribbles. With an easy shift of his big body, he propped one huge shitkicker on the edge of the chair. John leaned away as the man pulled up his leathers a little.
Oh, my God… His lower leg was made up of a series of rods and bolts.
John reached out to feel the shiny metal, then looked up. He didn't realize he was touching his own throat until Phury smiled.
"Yeah, I know all about what it's like to be missing a part."
John glanced back at the artificial limb and cocked his head.
"How'd it happen?" When John nodded, Phury hesitated and then said, "I shot it off."
The door flew open and a hard male voice cut through the room. "I need to know—"
John shifted his eyes as the words died off. Then he cringed back in the chair.
The man in the doorway was scarred, his face distorted by a slash that ran right down the middle of it. But that wasn't what made John want to shrink out of sight. The black eyes in that ruined visage were like the shadows of a deserted house, full of things that probably would hurt you.
And to top it all off, the guy had fresh blood on his pant leg and left shitkicker.
That vicious gaze narrowed and hit John's face like a blast of cold air. "What are you looking at?"
Phury lowered his leg. "Z—"
"I asked you a question, boy."
John fumbled with his pad. He wrote fast and flashed the page to the other man, but somehow that just made the situation worse.
That misshapen upper lip pulled up, revealing tremendous fangs. "Yeah, whatever, kid."
"Back off, Z," Phury cut in. "He has no voice. He can't talk." Phury tilted the pad his way. "He apologizes."
John resisted the urge to hide behind the chair as he got raked over visually. But then the aggression radiating from the guy eased up.
"You can't talk at all?"
John shook his head.
"Well, I can't read. So we're SOL, you and me."
John worked his Bic quickly. As he showed the pad to Phury, the male with the black stare frowned. "What did the kid write?"
"He says that's okay. He's a good listener. You can do the talking."
Those soulless eyes shifted away. "Got nothing to say. Now what the hell do I set a thermostat at?"
"Ah, seventy degrees." Phury went across the room. "The dial should be here. See?"
"I didn't turn it up enough."
"And you've got to make sure this switch on the bottom of the unit is all the way over to the right. Otherwise, no matter what the dial is on, the heat won't kick in."
"Yeah… okay. And can you tell me what this says?"
Phury looked down at a square piece of paper. "It's the dosage information for the shot."
"No shit. So what do I do?"
"Is she uncomfortable?"
"Not right now, but I want you to fill this up for me and tell me what to do. I need one dose ready to go in case Havers can't get here fast enough."
Phury took the vial and unwrapped the needle. "Okay."
"Do it right." When Phury was finished with the syringe, he recapped it and the two spoke for a while in the Old Language. Then the scary guy asked, "How long will you be gone?"
"Maybe an hour."
"Do me a favor first, then. Lose that sedan I brought her back in."
"I already did."
The scarred man nodded and left, the door closing with a clap.
Phury put his hands on his hips and stared at the floor.
Then he went over to a mahogany box on a bureau and took out what looked like a blunt. Holding the hand-rolled between his thumb and forefinger, he lit it and breathed in deep, keeping the inhale down, closing his eyes. When he exhaled, the smoke smelled like roasting coffee beans and hot chocolate combined. Delicious.
As John's muscles relaxed, he wondered what the stuff was. Not marijuana, certainly. But it wasn't just a cigarette.
Who is he? John wrote, and showed the pad.
"Zsadist. My twin." Phury laughed a little when John's mouth went slack. "Yeah, I know, we don't look much alike. At least, not anymore. Listen, he's a little touchy, so you might want to give him some space."
No shit, John thought.
Phury slipped on a shoulder holster and popped a gun in on one side and a black-bladed dagger on the other. He went into a closet and came back wearing a black leather peacoat.
He put the joint or whatever it was out in a silver ashtray next to the bed. "All right, let's go."