Into the Dreaming
Teaser Chapter Excerpt
Copyright 2013 Stephanie Brooks
Cy struggles up the long drive to the house guarding the entrance to the Caverns.
His body aches, the explosion and subsequent injuries taking their fiendish toll. Dawn peaks at the edges of the mountains, throwing their outlines into stark relief again the inky black sky.
Stark. That is a good word, a meaty word. It has heft and meaning. Maybe too much meaning for him at the moment.
His mind and spirit hunch in on themselves. The loss of one-who-could-be-mate is a terrible thing. That he, the greatest Ranger of his House and people had been there and unable to prevent her taking, such a thing is – or should be – unthinkable. Centuries have long passed since one not a Scion – or his brother – bested him in battle.
He’s hunted. He’s stalked. Following his query, they passed from the bustling Seattle streets to a quiet, stately building hidden like a secret pearl in the heart of a little hill strewn city on the southern tip of the Puget Sound. All this time the Danae hadn’t been in some foreign shore or far away land. No. They’d stayed a stone’s throw away, close and quiet. Always keeping a wary eyes on House Celestia, the most powerful of their enemy Houses and self-appointed watchdogs.
She hadn’t been held there, in that fortress by the water. Soon after their arrival, and his, his Other senses warned him that a doorway was opening between this world and another. All he managed was a single glimpse of where she’d been taken.
That one look sent spears of icy-barbed fear and dread shooting down his spine. If what he’d seen is true, and he is hoping that somehow he was wrong, they are royally fucked.
Gaining the dooryard, Cy staggers a bit then leans on the concealed palmplate. Rather than speaking the password which would allow him entrance, he gives a command that guarantees Healers will be on their way to him.
Alana’s going to be pissed. With this last thought he sinks into an unconscious lump on the cold ground.
Pounding at the door to his – their – rooms wakes North. He is okay with the waking up part. It is the pounding he has issues with. The scent of his mate has him aroused and ready long before waking and that goddess-be-damned pounding means there is nothing he is able to do about it. Rude. Annoyed he disentangles himself, grabbing his pants and clothing himself while stalking to the door.
Jerking the solid rock slab wide, he glares at the unfortunate messenger. Someone, Dara probably, is trying to get a Pixie killed.
Dom raises a brow at his nominal leader’s disheveled state. With his power he could feel the emanations vibrating from the room. And something else tingling at his active power. The Dreaming is off somehow. Shaking his head he saves the puzzle for later, more vital problems are running amok this dawning.
“Rough night?” He teases lightly, testing North’s control.
The wolf just growls, his rank and power rumbling in the sound made irritable from being taken from his mate’s arms.
“What is it?” Comes the sleepy question as silken arms wrap around him from behind. She feels so groggy, as if she’d barely slept. She had, she knows she had. But that strange dream bothers her. It is fading now, more impression than anything.
The half of the Hellspawn before them stares at those arms. He’d not noticed it before. The difference. But in the wake of the day it shone clear to him, more brilliant than the powerful stone hanging from the woman’s neck. You could only see it in her scars. Scars that brand her arms in intricate patterns and as she rests her head beneath the wolf’s arm, he sees others crossing her face and neck. Dom would bet a godly favor – a rare gift traded among the Scions and their Elite the only prize worth wagering after centuries sent amassing fortunes – that the wolf hadn’t truly noticed the scars, nor had Alana or Dara or any other being who should notice and recognize such things.
Another favor would go that had he not woken her from a sound – and probably enchanted sleep courtesy of her stone – even he would never have questioned them. Part of her glamour must go to concealing both her powers and her scars. Entirely unconscious on her part by now, she doesn’t even realize she appears before them without it.
“Just a nosy friend, esti.” North says, meeting her eyes. She looks delectable, all rosily flushed and sleep tousled. Heat pulses through him at the thought of truly Claiming her, finishing the nexus feminam – their version of marriage only without the option of divorce…ever. Last night had been comfort for both of them in raw physical form. Not the bond his wolf demands.
An unobtrusive sound of a voice being cleared draws them both back to the Isha. He dons a serious demeanor, looking North steadily in the eye assuring him that whatever came next is no prank.
“Cy returned a few minutes ago. Alana’s with him in the Audience Chamber.” He pauses, testing his link to the wounded Ranger. “It’s bad North. Really bad.” Finished with his duty, Dom turns back the way he came knowing the Alpha, for it is the Alpha they need, will be right behind him. Already he is making plans to visit the Library. The answer to North’s Genevieve has to be there. If it is to be found anywhere. After the demonstration of her powers last night and those scars…he isn’t sure an answer exists for her. And that never bodes well. Creatures like Ember are by their nature unknowable. Never mortal humans.
Closing the door, North takes Genevieve in his arms. Giving her a quick but tender kiss, he rests his forehead on hers, looking into her eyes.
“Any regrets?” He asks quietly, guarding his expression. It will kill him if she says yes. There is no going back once he takes his mate. He is hers; an immutable force in her life now. Whether it will be as an overt presence in her life or one hidden and watching in shadow is her only choice in the matter. Knowingly or not, she’d agreed to his claim.
She studies her wolfman. She wants more answers, more information about just what she’s gotten herself into. She’d put this world of mysterious beings and magic powers long behind her and never had any intention of returning. Her father’s death without other issue changed that more drastically than being kidnapped – for her own safety or not – by Pixies and wolf shifters. Her full powers are returning – with a vengeance – the decedent’s curse dying with him. Who better to teach her what she’s forgotten than an entire stronghold filled with mystics and casters?
In that respect, no she doesn’t regret where she finds herself. On the other hand…there is last night. Her instincts are screaming there is more to sharing herself with this wolf than anyone seems inclined to tell her. Pieces of conversations between the twins and the wolf, and the cop’s avoidance of looking directly at her, none of it adds up in a way she understands or likes.
“I’m not sure yet.” She says finally. It isn’t the answer she knows he wants but it is an honest one nevertheless.
He nods, accepting that she needs more time. “I have to go.” He murmurs. “Go back to bed – in the bed this time – I’ll be fast as I can.” Seeing her hesitation and guessing the cause, North cradles her face in his hands, speaking confidently. “I’ll tell you whatever I learn about your friend. Cy will be more open without an unknown presence.”
She sighs. With that last point at least she can agree. Lord knows she tells Desi things she’d never say before another person. It is reasonable then that Cy and North will be the same, or even more so as brothers who’d been each other’s shadows for years – possibly centuries if what she knows of wolves is accurate. Glancing at the huge bed, she nods, acquiescent for the moment.
With a quick kiss and smoldering glance North leaves her to rest, striding from the room and grabbing a shirt along the way.
Alana and the audience chamber don’t speak well for his brother’s condition. That chamber resonates for all the councilmembers, amplifying their powers, even Ember’s already considerable skills whatever they actually are. For the great Healer to treat Cy there, his state isn’t just serious, it’s dire.
Entering the room he grinds to a stunned halt. Despite being mentally prepared for the worst, Cy’s condition staggers him. For thousands of years they’d fought, together and separately, and he’d never seen a more mangled body yet breathing. Pure will must sustain him, buoyed by Alana’s Scile for healing, hopefully it will be enough.
Crouching by his brother’s side, careful not to disturb him or Alana any more than necessary during this precarious time, North ignores the other councilmembers who carefully observe them. Reaching out, he touches the only undamaged spot he can find, the curve where neck and shoulder meet, where one day a wolf shifter might wear a mating mark. He gathers his power, sending it spiraling through him, coiling it and trebling it back until it is a solid length of chain. At his thought, it shoots from him: racing throughout his body it blasts down his arm finding the place he connects to his brother in a flash of heat.
Eyes opening, Cy stares at North as his brother’s gift roars through him like wildfire. It controls him, forcing his change. A new agony flogs through him as bone fissures and reshapes, sinews tightening and muscles contracting. All together it is both familiar and bizarre. Most shifters only feel pain at their first change sometime around sixteen. Feeling it now is a severe sign of how close he’d brushed with death – this time. He’d damn near felt the scissors on his life thread.
Rolling to his paws, the last lingering dregs of desolation flee as he gives himself a great canine stretch and shake.
Change back. His brother’s voice is pure Alpha. Canine mouth opening in a yawn, Cy revels in his Other self a moment longer. He isn’t looking forward to the coming inquisition, imperative information or not. Shifting, this time the transition painless from one form to the next much like shedding a coat.
Again the Council meet in their audience chamber, still less their leader. This meeting’s atmosphere is much more in keeping with ancient traditions than is customary under Ember’s rule.
Dom and Dara sit each flanking Alana, nursing her with their natural stores of energy by way of linking hands and minds. What she’d done, keeping Cy alive and breathing until North came to force a change, is beyond most Healers. Hector watches Cy in consternation, perhaps rankled by a glimpse of some future thus far unrevealed by his inactive power. The centaur Historian hates partial fragments of visions worse than a prankish Dom mucking about his Library. North stands at the head of the table, waiting for Cy to begin with half his mind on his esti left alone in his rooms. He hopes she’s no intention of backpedaling, he won’t allow it. The feisty woman can out argue Ares himself – the war god loves argument and deals, they so quickly turn into battles. He wouldn’t put it past her to escape while he is otherwise occupied; her seeming meekness makes him that much more paranoid.
“What happened?” Hector prods, he is in no mood to let things plod along leisurely, he’d not lived the longest of anyone present by being timid in the face of a challenge.
Cy takes a breath. The excruciating injuries are healed from a combination of Alana’s power and North forcing his change, but ghosts of it remain. Ghosts that will haunt him all his days right alongside Desi’s bloodstained face lying insensate on her favorite rug.
“Danae planted a bomb spiked with wolfsbane at Desi’s apartment.” He starts, carefully organizing his thoughts.
Hector makes a motion as if saying “we know that already” but is cut off by Dom’s question.
“How did they know you’d be there?”
“They didn’t.” North says. “The dagger recovered by Rafe is a House design. We have a traitor. They prepped for a wolf…expecting me.”
“Makes sense.” His brother agrees. “From what I managed to gather they knew one of the women from the party was a possible mate.” He shrugs. “Desi appeared the more likely choice and more malleable.” A smile ghosts across his face, more shade than expression. “They don’t know her like I do and assumed she’s North’s, who would think I’d let my mate go unclaimed?”
The councilmembers avoid each other’s gazes. None can dispute his question. Cy is known for being the devil-may-care brother and alpha, not exactly the sort to obey another’s sanctions. That he had, for perhaps the first time ever, and lost his mate as a result…it doesn’t bode well for pack relations or cooperation among the council.
“It’s a clusterfuck from there.” He laughs mirthlessly. “The Danae are on our doorstep. I tracked them and Desi to a building in Olympia of all places. They’ve been here the whole fucking time. Ember’s scent was around the place but wasn’t fresh.”
“Hermes might be able to cast a trail for her from there.” Dara comments from her place beside Alana. Seeing their incredulous gazes she blushes. The men trade confused glances. She gives a haughty sniff, disregarding their looks.
“Pillow talk, sis?” Dom asks, hazarding a guess at the change. He is…concerned. Hermes runs through women the way Zeus throws lightning bolts, with typical predictability. Although legend tells of a time…but that is a true myth.
“I was feeling…amorous after the fight.” Dara retorts giving him a speaking glance and a kick to the shins.
North draws them back to the topic at hand, prickly at delving into another’s choice of bedmates, before they can descend into the day’s first screaming match.
“Did you see any Herans?”
Shuttering his eyes, Cy coils in on himself, rallying his power. As a Ranger, he often doubles as a spymaster, reporting events that are usually unpopular. One of the first things he’d learned as a pup was how to project memories. Raising his hands, a scene played out between them, similar to how Dom can reveal Dreams.
An unconscious human, presumably Desi, is carried by the Danae through a realm doorway. What realm exactly is impossible to determine by the grayish architecture of both locations. A single form however, moves into the frame, embracing the lead female Danae. Gasps rise all around from the councilmembers. None of them ever tangled with that particular Heran themselves, but his banishment to what supposedly is an empty realm is pictured in every House. With soulless yellow-white eyes and an enchanter’s smile it can be no other than Kraken, King of the Heran.
“Zeus preserve us.” Hector whispers breaking the stunned silence.
“We have another problem.” North says.