“You’re been invited?” I guessed.
“Do they know you hate hunts?”
“I might have neglected to mention it.” Curran turned the wheel to the right, avoiding a pothole the size of a tire filled with luminescent purple goo of unknown origin. “He wants the panacea.”
I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent of Curran’s diplomatic scheming until I watched him work with panacea. The first thing he did upon arriving home from that trip was to pass a law that no shapeshifter at risk of loupism would be denied panacea within the Pack’s territory. As a result, shapeshifter families from all over the country began settling on the border of the Pack’s territory, forming a buffer between us and the outside world. Some waited for formal admission to the Pack. Some simply wanted a short trip across the border if their child began showing signs of loupism. If trouble came, they would fight for the Pack, because we were their only hope. Meanwhile Curran used panacea as both a club and a carrot, plotting, bribing, and dealing to stabilize the Pack and strengthen our defenses. A war was coming and we were doing all we could to prepare.
Thinking about the panacea and the war made me think of my father. I stomped on that thought before it ruined my evening. “So Gene wants the panacea. What do you want?”
“I want him to be choosier about the buyers for his silver. He’s been trading with the Midwest.”
“Roland?” My father’s name rolled off my tongue. So much for not thinking about the bastard.
Silver was poison to shapeshifters. If my father started buying it in large quantities, he was coming our way and he wouldn’t be bearing gifts. He viewed shapeshifters as a threat. Me, he hated. He’d tried to kill me in the womb, but my mother ran away and sacrificed herself so I could live. My stepfather hid me and over the years honed me into a weapon against my father. I was raised for one purpose: to murder Roland. Unfortunately, my father was a living legend and killing him would be difficult. I’d need a few armored divisions and nuclear support.
Curran grimaced. “Gene won’t like me dictating his business. But I know for a fact that two of his grandchildren went loup at birth, so he will want to deal. That’s what the invitation is about.”
He had to go. Anything that weakened Roland was good for us. Still, I felt uneasy. Ever since the overseas trip, I’d been acutely aware that we’d been living on borrowed time. We didn’t know if Hugh d’Ambray was dead or alive. Personally, dead worked for me, but either way my days of hiding in plain sight were over. Roland would come to investigate who nuked his warlord, sooner rather than later. Every day without him was a gift.
“How long will you be gone?” I asked.
“A day to get there, two days for the hunt, and a day back. I’ll be back by Friday.”
I did some quick calculations. Besides the Pack, Atlanta housed several supernatural factions, of which the People were the most dangerous to us. The People answered to Roland, which was why I’d been doing my best to avoid them. In the past, the Pack and the People nearly drowned Atlanta in a supernatural war over a misunderstanding. Now we met every month at a local restaurant to resolve our conflicts before they spiraled out of control, a meeting imaginatively titled “the Conclave.” Because simply calling it a “monthly get-together” didn’t make everybody feel special enough.
“Leaving tomorrow and coming back on Friday means you’ll be missing the Conclave this Wednesday.” And that meant as the Beast Lord’s Consort, I’d have to lead the Pack’s side of the discussion. I’d rather stab myself with a rusty fork.
He looked at me. “Really? Is the Conclave this week? That’s crazy how it worked out.”
I rolled my eyes.
Curran grinned. He liked sitting through the Conclave meetings about as much as I did.
“It’s been quiet,” he said.
He was right. Today was December third. This was the time the individual clans of the Pack had their year-end meetings. The hunting season was still in full swing and most of the younger, excitable shapeshifters were out of the city chasing after deer and feral hogs and having fun rather than picking fights with the People’s journeymen.
“Jim says over a third of our people are out,” I said. “It’s making him paranoid.”
Curran looked at me. “Making?”
“More than usual.”
Jim was always paranoid, but on our trip to get the panacea, Hugh d’Ambray let it slip that he had a mole on the Pack’s Council. Since that moment Jim’s paranoia level had shot into the stratosphere. He swept the entire Keep for bugs. His people sniffed every square inch of the Council room. He interviewed everyone over and over, until the alphas threatened violence to get it to stop, and when he couldn’t interview them anymore, he tried to have them followed. We almost had a riot. Each individual clan had its own meeting place, and Jim would’ve liked nothing more than to turn them inside out, but nobody would let him in. It was almost Christmas and we still had no idea who was feeding Hugh d’Ambray information. Jim took it personally and it was driving him up the wall.
“When everyone goes hunting, Jim complains about reduced strength,” Curran said. “When everyone comes back for Christmas dinner, he’ll complain that there are too many people and he has to have extra manpower to keep track of them.”
Curran shrugged. “The holidays are coming. Nobody wants to fight before Christmas. The People will bitch and moan at us about some minor stuff, then we will bitch and moan at them about some minor stuff, then everybody will eat, drink, and go home. Just don’t kick any of the Masters of the Dead in the face and we’ll be fine.”
“Don’t worry, Your Furriness. I can hold the fort until Friday.”
He paused. A serious note slipped into his voice. “Just stay safe.”
“What could happen to me? With you gone, Jim will go into overdrive, which means I’ll be surrounded by trigger-happy spree killers and guarded like the Hope Diamond. You’re the one leaving to go into the woods with some people we barely know. Are you taking anyone with you?”
“Mahon, Raphael, and Colin Mather,” Curran said.
Alphas of Clan Heavy, Clan Bouda, and Clan Jackal. Nice.
“I’ll be back before you know it.”
With that backup, he could wipe out a small army. “Give my best to Gene. And please let him know that if you don’t come back to me safe and sound, I have no problems mobilizing our shapeshifter horde and invading North Carolina.” And if Gene did anything to hurt him, he would live just long enough to deeply regret it.