"Do you think I haven't thought of that?" Ghastek whispered fiercely.
"Then tell me what you know. Tell me!"
Silence answered me. A moment passed, then another.
"I have nothing to tell you," Ghastek said and the line went dead. I fought the urge to hurl the phone against the wall.
"Asking the People for information is both futile and stupid," said Nick behind me. "They wouldn't sell you a spare umbrella in a shit storm."
I turned. Nick's hair, pulled back from his face into a ponytail, looked two shades lighter. The stubble had vanished, leaving a hard but pleasant, open face. He crossed the room, moving like a mature martial artist, fully confident in his skill and no longer competing to prove himself, but still too young and too fit to grow a sensei paunch. I could tell he was both quick and trained, armed with a muscle memory that would allow him to counter a kick or a punch without pause or thought.
He stopped a respectable distance away, and I realized he smelled like Irish Spring soap. For a moment I wasn't sure if I was looking at the same man and then our gazes met. The familiar urge to step back flooded me.
"Why, you're adorable," I said, trying not to break into a nervous laugh. "All that you need is one of those little earrings in one ear."
He gave me his hard stare.
"I'm just curious," I said. "When you do that to people, do they usually start to shake and fall to the ground quivering with fear?"
"They usually just die surprised," he said.
"Must not have worked on the upir then."
He swung a large knapsack over his shoulder.
"Going somewhere?" I wondered, sitting down on the bed. My reaction time was probably close to his, and there was enough distance between us. If he tried anything, I had time to evade.
"And how are you planning on getting past the Pack sentries?"
"I'm planning on you getting me out," he said. "They took away my wolfsbane, but I know you have some."
I rubbed my face with my hands. I did have wolfsbane - I would have been an idiot to venture within the Pack's territory and not bring any. And I was probably better at using it, too. "Why would I help you escape? Do you have any idea how pissed Curran will be? I might as well slit my wrists now."
"Considering how the upir plans to use you, it might not be a bad idea."
Nick stepped to me, reached out slowly, and brushed my hand with his fingers. A sharp tingle of magic nipped at my skin and his fingers glowed with white radiance, as if he had dipped his hand in fluorescent paint.
I pulled away. "Would you stop doing that?"
His gaze probed me. "Who are you? Where do you come from?"
"I'm pretty sure I came from my mom and dad," I said. "See, when a man puts his penis inside a woman's vagina..."
"I know how to kill him," he interrupted.
I shut up.
Nick crouched next to me. "Back in Washington, I tracked him down to the Shrine of the Gorgon. He'd helped himself to the priestesses and slaughtered the priests, but before Archiereus of the shrine died, he told me how to kill him. But I need my tools. Help me make it out of here, and I'll come back with a weapon to fight him."
"Why not just tell Curran?"
He shook his head. "The Beast Lord won't listen. He's got tunnel vision: keep the Pack safe. He won't let me out."
"Tell me," I said.
"Will you help me?"
"Tell me first and I'll do what I can."
Nick leaned toward me. "Bone of prey," he whispered. "You kill him with bone."
"I'll help," I said. "But while you're out, I need you to do me a favor. Bring me a present, Nick."
CURRAN LOOKED AT ME. HE WASN'T GIVING ME A hard stare. He was just looking at me with no expression at all. "Where's the Crusader?" he asked. His voice was level.
"He needed some 'me' time," I said. "I might be wrong, but I don't think he's a team player."
There were seven of us in the room: Curran, Jim in his jaguar shape, Mahon, two lupine sentries, the stable master, and me. The sentries and the stable master looked decidedly uncomfortable. Their eyes still watered from the wolfsbane and the left sentry had a full-blown allergic reaction, complete with red rash and a running nose he probably desperately wanted to wipe. If it wasn't for Curran, he might have made a mad dash for the handkerchief, but the Beast Lord's presence kept him rooted at attention, and so he just stood there, both faucets dripping.
Curran nodded calmly, feigning understanding. He was too composed for my liking. In his place I would've exploded. I flexed my wrist lightly, feeling the edge of the leather bracer full of silver needles rub against my skin. Mahon had politely requested to hold Slayer for me while Curran and I had our little talk. Just as well. It's not like I could kill Curran now. Should. It's not like I should kill Curran now. I could always try. Later.
The Beast Lord crossed his arms on his chest. His face looked placid. Calm before the storm...
The jaguar at my feet tensed and tried to look smaller. Nick needed a bit of a distraction while he rode like a bat out of hell on the horse commandeered from the Pack stables. I'd provided that distraction by leading Jim and his posse of pissy shapechangers on a merry chase through the countryside.
"Just so we're clear," Curran said. "You did understand that I didn't wish you or the Crusader to leave Keep?"
"That's what I thought," Curran said.
He grabbed me by the throat and slammed me against the wall. My feet felt no floor. His fingers crushed my neck.
I clasped the hand that held me and jammed a long silver needle into his palmar nerve between the index finger and thumb. Curran's fingers trembled. His hand opened releasing me. I slid to the floor, dropped, and swiped at his legs. He fell. I rolled away and came to my feet. On the opposite side of the room Curran rose to a half crouch, his eyes burning gold.
The whole thing took maybe two seconds. The stunned audience never got a chance to react.
Curran reached for the needle, pulled it out, and dropped it to the floor, never taking his eyes off me.
"It's okay," I told him. "I have more."
He lunged from a half crouch into a spectacular pounce. I dashed forward, aiming to come under him and flick the needle into his stomach. And we both crashed into Mahon.
"No!" the Bear growled.
I bounced off his leg and sat onto the floor, stupidly blinking. Mahon grabbed Curran by his shoulders and struggled to keep him still. Huge muscles bulged on his shoulders and arms, splitting the seams of his sleeves.