“Ah, sweetness, we’re just beginning to have fun.” Fiona Bodwrda caressed the terrified teenager’s check, enjoying the softness of peach fuzz. Humans grew too fast, and this one was deliciously ripe. She gave an idle thought to whether he’d survive their encounter, a thought quickly dissipating. His survival was irrelevant. He was just a Human.
He struggled to pull away from Manuel, but Fiona’s protege held firm, arms like iron bands pinning the boy’s arms back. The boy was tall, just coming into a growth spurt. His superior height didn’t help him.
”Isn’t this what you had in mind when you approached dear Cora?” Fiona paused, bringing her hand to to her chin in a parody of deep thought. “Though I suppose ‘approached’ is too mild a word for your actions. Perhaps ‘accosted’ suits better?” She touched him again, drew a sharp fingernail across his skin, drifting below his chin and along the tender flesh of his throat. Unsheathing her teeth, she watched his color fade from the ruddiness of exertion to a death pall. “I assure you, you’ve picked the wrong woman to assault.”
An aura of amber and steel swelled around her, seemingly coming from nowhere yet seeping into the very air she breathed. The sensation interrupted her forward lunge. Instead, she pulled away from her prey with a hiss, her eyes darting into the darkness filling the abandoned industrial area around them. Her eyes took in the available light, seeing all there was to see but not cutting through the blackest of corners. Manuel felt the sensation as well, tightening his grip enough that the Human in his grip yelped aloud. Behind Fiona, Cora and Bronwyn had dropped into defensive crouches, teeth bared as they searched for the danger.
A man’s voice came out of the blackness, a musical voice rich with mocking sarcasm. “Really? Playing with children? You may as well hunt rats for all the challenge this provides.”
Fiona whirled toward the sound, focusing on a shadow moving within the shadows. “Who are you? What do you want?” She reached out with her mind, seeking to link with the others of her pack. There was power in numbers, and this usurper appeared to be alone. She met a steel wall of amber, cutting her off from her people. Glancing at Cora’s and Bronwyn’s expressions of concentration, she realized they had been just as effectively cut off. The strength of this man’s presence indicated he was an elder. The knowledge didn’t ease her trepidation. Elders meant trouble for younglings such as themselves out on their own without adult supervision.
The stranger tsked under his breath as he emerged from hiding. “Dearest Fiona, let’s not begin our relationship as adversaries. I have no intention of hurting you or your adorable little gang of thugs.” He emerged into the light, his garish appearance increasing Fiona’s fear. Tall and thin, his skin was as white as alabaster, his face gaunt. The lines there indicated he was in his early thirties. Her heart stuttered. That made him much older than she had hoped, much stronger than the lot of them combined even if they could overtake him. He wore his black hair in three mohawks, one centered and one at each temple, spiking up to add another six inches to his already tall frame. His leather trench coat and pants creaked as he gave Fiona a courtly bow. “Reynard Dorst, at your service.”
The name was familiar. Still stunned by his total control over her contrasting his polite self-introduction, Fiona took a few precious moments to place the name. When she did, a wave of sickness rolled through her. “Sanur Gasum Dorst?” Sulum, I’m dead!
Dorst appeared delighted at the recognition. His grin was broad as he stood to his full height. “One and the same.” Gesturing to Manuel, he added, “Release the boy.”
Manuel stared, still holding the terrified teenager. Dorst raised a hairless brow, his smile fading. Giving a sudden squawk, Manuel let the Human go as if his hands had caught fire. The boy didn’t think twice. He scrambled away, giving Cora and Bronwyn wide berth as he ran into the night. Manuel narrowed his eyes, his dark skin flushing though he said nothing.
Once again pleasant, Dorst turned to Fiona, a smile adorning his face. “Quite good. Now perhaps we can go about our business.” He breezed closer, towering over the younger Sanguire.
Fiona swallowed, looking up at him. He was actually somewhat handsome if one was attracted to the emaciated goth look. Even without his essence blocking her from attacking, he carried an attractive aura of confidence and power. She tilted her head to one side, indicating she yielded to his strength. “What sort of business?” What does he want with me?
“If I recall, Gasan Fiona, your family was a strong supporter of the old ways.”
She blinked, feeling a frown crease her brow. “The old ways?” Her mind cast back into her family history, wondering when her parents and grandparents had been involved with this man. “You mean…before the Purge?”
He clapped his hands in joy as he laughed, contrasting his dangerous reputation. “Exactly! I knew coming to you would be ideal.”
Dorst here in Seattle. The Bodrwa clan’s connection to him before the Purge. The sickness in the pit of her stomach faded as she latched onto the potential. It could only mean one thing. “Why are you here?”
He gave Fiona a sly grin, his eyes sparkling. “Because you’re refreshingly intelligent if a bit too self-serving. I believe we have common enough ground to work together. Should things go as I hope, your family will once more gain power, and you will be praised above all others.”
Fiona didn’t accept his words at face value. Still, if he wanted her to do something, he could easily compel her. No one had heard or seen of him since the Purge, and that was in the early seventeenth century. Providing this is even him. “How do I know you are who you say you are?”
“You don’t. Nor do you have the luxury of turning me down at the moment, do you?”
She pursed her lips. He had her there. He could decimate the lot of them without sweating. “Again, why are you here?”
Dorst smiled. “I’m searching for someone, and I think you’ll have a better chance of finding her than I. Your youth and knowledge of the area will assist you.” He placed a hand on his chest. “I am but a babe in these American woods and unversed in the local customs and traditions.”
‘…Finding her…’ There was only one reason Reynhard Dorst would be searching for any woman. A wash of excitement drove away the last vestiges of fear. When she spoke, her voice was a breathless whisper. “Mahar’s Prophecy?” Behind her, she heard one of the others gasp and Bronwyn’s snort.
“Did I not say you are refreshingly intelligent?” He tucked his thumbs into his thick leather belt and regarded her. “I want you to look for her. She’s here in Seattle. I’ve been told her appearance is strikingly similar to our dear Ninsumgal.”
Mahar’s Prophecy coming to light here? This was a gift from the gods! She could single-handedly bring her family out of the shameful ashes they’d wallowed in since the Purge. “Are you certain it’s her?”
“Not yet.” He reached into the inner pocket of his coat, pulling out an old leather-bound Book. “Find her. Give this to her. Arrange a meeting for me. That’s all I ask.”
“What if we can’t find her?”
He sighed, his face twisting into solemn concern. “Then you shall bide the rest of your days in obscurity and ignominy.”
Which meant he wouldn’t kill her. She almost chewed her lip in thought, but refrained from the nervous habit. If she found the next ninsumgal, she would be elevated above all others. Dorst’s words suggested this person was merely a child, the Book an indication she hadn’t even begun her walk along the Strange Path. A lot can be done to keep a child under one’s thumb. It wouldn’t hurt to have the great Dorst beholden to her, either.
Fiona reached for the Book. “I’ll find her for you.”