"You make me crazy," he told me.
"Look who's talking."
* * *
Five minutes later, rewashed and tired, we left the shower. Curran sprawled on the bed. I forced myself to dress-we could end up jumping out of bed straight into a fight-and collapsed next to him. Above us the absurd purple canopy shifted gently in the night breeze. The cool wind felt nice on my skin.
He leaned over on his side, held me, and whispered in my ear, so quietly I thought I imagined it. "I meant it. One word and you'll never see his face again. In the morning, this castle will be a bonfire and we'll sail home."
I'd have to word this carefully. People were listening to us. I whispered back to him. "If we sail down the coast southwest, we'll pass by the ruins of Troy. Do you remember the story of Paris and Helen?"
"Yes," he said.
Troy's favorite son and badass archer, Paris, had sailed to Sparta. He came under a banner of truce. The Spartan king treated him as an honored guest, and then Paris stole the king's wife, Helen, and emptied his treasury. Nobody really knew if he kidnapped Helen or if she went with him. Her husband could've loved her or beaten her every day. But the whole of Greece united against Paris. At the end, Troy was a smoking ruin.
I kissed his jaw. "The bow and arrow was never your thing."
He locked his teeth, making his jaw muscles bulge.
We promised to be impartial. We came in peace. If we broke that peace and started a bloodbath, we'd get a bloodbath in return. Nobody would see it as an act of a man trying to save the woman he loved from her father's warlord. The European packs would spin it as an act of betrayal from a man who couldn't handle being insulted.
Attacking Hugh would be an act of war. Not to mention that I wasn't one hundred percent sure that even if both of us fought him, we'd survive that confrontation. Whatever the outcome, Roland would have an excuse to burn the Keep to the ground. He already viewed the Atlanta Pack as a threat, and this would be the tasty icing on his massacre cake. By the time we got home, people we knew and cared about would be dead.
"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I'm so sorry."
"It's because of me." I was the reason we were all trapped here. I didn't cause it, but I was the reason for it.
He pulled me to him and squeezed me. "You're worth the fight," he said in my ear.
He had no idea how much I loved him.
"We all volunteered," he whispered. "And without you, we wouldn't have a shot at the panacea. We need it desperately."
We fell silent. For a long moment I simply enjoyed being next to him. If only this could last . . .
"He hasn't attacked me on sight," I whispered. "That means he'll want to talk to me."
"No," Curran said. "Not alone."
"Sooner or later this conversation has to happen. If he planned on killing me, why go through all this trouble? He knew where I was. He could've just put a sniper on the roof across the street from Cutting Edge and put a bullet through my head as I unlocked the office."
Curran exhaled his frustration. "I'll do everything I can to keep you safe."
"I know," I whispered. "And I'll do the same for you."
We shouldn't have come here. I closed my eyes. I had to sleep. Tomorrow would be another day, another fight. Tomorrow Hugh would approach me and I had to be sharp. Once I figured out what his angle was, things would become a lot simpler.
I opened my eyes. The magic was down and Curran was gone. The clock said ten past seven. Plenty of time to get dressed and make it to Doolittle's quarters in time for the meeting.
A plate waited for me on the table, covered with a piece of paper. The paper said in Curran's rough scrawl, Went to talk to Mahon. Packs want to meet to "discuss issues." Don't forget to eat.
Under the paper, the plate contained two eggs and a lion-sized piece of ham. I ate a third of it, brushed my teeth, put on my jeans, and strapped on my sword. New day, new battle.
Our bags had been brought in from the ship. I dug through them and pulled out my beat-up copy of the Almanac of Mythological Creatures. I'd read it cover to cover so many times that I had memorized entire pages, but sometimes looking at it helped me connect the dots.
I've never heard of shapeshifters turning into winged cats, but since Lyc-V was present in the blood, most likely the mechanism of the transformation was the same: the virus infected some creature and then infected a human. The first step was to figure out what the creature was.
Winged cats weren't the most common motif in mythology, but they did occur. Freja, a Norse goddess, had a chariot that was pulled across the sky by two giant cats, Brygun and Trejgun, who probably had wings. They were blue and not orange and didn't change shape. The Sphinx was a feline with wings and a serpent's tail, but also a female face. It had the power of speech, and again, no scales. Griffins had eagle heads, so I could rule them out. I've seen a manticore, and that was not one.
I dug through the bags, looking for more books. The Heraldic Bestiary informed me that a winged lion was a symbol of Saint Mark and Venice. That didn't exactly help, unless Lorelei was from Venice and had brought over a posse of winged predatory cats to kill all of us and kidnap Curran.
Boy, she really managed to get under my skin.
No, most likely Saint Mark's lion was a reference to the four prophets from Ezekiel. Matthew was portrayed as a human, Mark as a lion, Luke as a bull, and John as an eagle. I could check Revelation; it was always good for all sorts of strange beasts . . .
Something nagged at me. I concentrated on it. Revelation. To really understand Revelation, one had to read the book of Daniel. At some point I must've come across something in the book of Daniel that was relevant to this, because my brain was telling me to go and look at it.
Let's see: Qur'an, Mythology of Caucasus People . . . I had to have packed a Bible. I know I did.
I flipped the bag upside down. Books scattered on the floor. A small green edition of the Bible flopped down. Got you.
I sat down on the floor and flipped the pages. I was concentrating so hard that when I finally found it, I just stared at it for a few seconds to make sure it was really there. It was in chapter seven, where Daniel described seeing magic beasts in one of his prophetic dreams.
The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up.
A shapeshifter. A feline shapeshifter with wings, who had the ability to transform into a man.