I had turned into some big scaly thing. There was a rather big problem with this picture. I mean, really? What kind of drugs had the guys who abducted me shot me up with? I had to be higher than the Empire State Building and hallucinating. That made a lot more sense than me, the mouse, having an inner apex predator — because, seriously, anything that big with claws or talons or what ever you call them that were freaking like six inches of slice and dice hardware had to be an apex predator.
So, I was deep in hallucinations. No one here was real, which kind of sucked, actually. Did that make them all reflections of my inner voices? I didn’t think I had an inner voice as bad assed as Jakat, let alone Aiden. So maybe some of this was stuff that was happening to me, and I was reinterpreting it through the fog of my hallucinations. That wasn’t much better, but it still made more sense than people who turned into animals.
Lyrgrul got upset when I said as much, so I just shut up and let her and then Jakat and Bhrett snuggle me. I lost track of time, but at some point, they hauled me out of the cuddle pile and made me eat, and with food in me, it seemed less likely that I was hallucinating. That only brought on a wee bit of a panic attack, and had Jakat pulling me into her chest and crooning at me, with Bhrett saying something snappy. I grabbed hold of Bhrett’s hand. I was starting to catch on that she thought if I wasn’t reaching for someone that I needed space, and, like I said, touch is powerful. When the shaking died down — again — I looked Lyrgrul in the eye and asked, “I really did turn into a scaly thing, didn’t I?”
Lyrgrul gave me back a cautious nod.
A voice from outside the door called out something, and Lyrgrul replied, getting up and walking to the door. It opened, and something was exchanged between her and the guards, and the door closed again.
When she turned I saw more of the leather clothing. I blinked and looked for the clothes I had fallen asleep in, and didn’t see them, or the vomit. “What happened to the clothes I was wearing? Did someone come in and clean up?”
Lyrgrul handed the clothes to me and said, “Change … break clothes. We comfort and we clean. Is good. Is … one change. Happen on one change.”
I blinked. “One …? First change? What happened is typical of someone’s first change?”
Lyrgrul nodded. “Ayup. Typ-ee-kal. You … you good talk man? Talk with man?”
“As long as they’re clothed and not flashing the family jewels, I guess,” I said.
That earned a confused look from Lyrgrul. “Family I know. Jewels?”
I said, “Family jewels is a euphemism, a polite way of talking about a man’s groin.” To further clarify, I made a circling motion with my finger above my lap.
A look of amused enlightenment took over her face and she said, “Family jewels.” Then she added something in their language which made the two women on either side of me laugh. I just blushed and shrugged. Bhrett patted my hair and said something.
Lyrgrul asked, “You … head. Change color. Why?”
I snagged a hank of my hair and pulled it forward. It was no longer the nice walnut color I had died it; nope, it was back to my natural “ginger”. I wrinkled my nose. “Well, that sucks. I liked the dye job.”
“Die?” she asked me.
I said, “Hair color, you color things with dyes, not like life and death, but the words sound the same.”
“Ah,” she said and then added something in that other language. Then to me, “Why color you hair?”
“It makes me blend in better with everyone else. I don’t stand out as much. I’m already very short, and I didn’t like the attention red heads get. Guys, men, seem to think red hair means a woman wants sex all the time, and I didn’t want to deal with it.”
“Sex is the …?” Lyrgrul asked, making a graphic swivel of her hips that would have put any of the ladies of Ladies Night to shame. I nodded. She said something back to Bhrett.
Then to me, she asked, “You no happy with sex?”
I blushed and dropped my gaze. “I’ve only tried it with one person, and I don’t think Tank is typical. He, well, yeah, I was very happy with the sex with Tank.”
Lyrgrul practically hooted with laughter. After she calmed down enough to explain it to the other women, they joined in, but it was an inclusive amusement, much as I was embarrassed by the topic, not a shaming. I put the clothes on with mock dignity, which only made the laughter roll longer.
After the laughter fell off, Lyrgrul said, “Man, Vyk, he talk good good. He talk you, with you, ayup?”
“Ayup,” I said.
Lyrgrul went back to the door, and then beckoned me forward. “Vyk with Montang. We go.”
The guards led us, with Jakat and Bhrett trailing, Lyrgrul walking arm in arm with me, back to the great hall. Again, the guards peeled off at the door, and this time Jakat and Bhrett did as well. The doors closed behind them. Only two people were in the room, Aiden and another man. There were three chairs on the platform this time, Aiden’s huge one, the brown and oak smaller one, currently unoccupied, and something more like a stool with a back in which sat a roman kilted man, bronze skin like just about everyone else around here, but with black hair and blue-brown eyes almost the same color as Tank’s.
Lyrgrul made the bow-like movement, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to give Aiden any ideas about me actually liking what he told me to do, or that I would do what he told me to do without question. He was scary, and this was not my natural “go with the flow” attitude, but given what my last day had been like, let alone the month leading up to it, well, excuse me if I was feeling like an ornery ass.
Aiden did not seem offended, and said something to the man.
The man, at first stiffly formal, said with a slight southern drawl, “The Montang of the vradin bids you to be seated, young lady.”
“That’s very nice, but how much faster will it get me home? My family will be freaking out already,” I asked, not budging.
Vyk (at least I was assuming that was who the man was) translated.
Aiden did a hand wave thing, and Lyrgrul gave me a quick hug then left, tapping at the door to be let out.
When the doors were closed again, Aiden said, through Vyk, “The sooner we have this discussion, which will be a lengthy one, the sooner I can determine if it will be safe, not just for you, but for your family, too, for you to return. I meant it when I said that when you can open the Door I will not prevent you from going home, but if you have the strength and lack the control to do so, then you are too dangerous to let be.”
I made no bones about studying Aiden throughout this translated speech, and my gut told me he was being sincere, but not telling me everything. He was holding something back, and I was pretty sure it would be a doozy. Not like getting told I might be a danger to my family wasn’t a pretty big smack upside the head, but there was something more.
“Drop the other shoe,” I said.
Aiden grinned. “Be seated, and let’s talk.”
I weighed my options for a moment, then with as much real dignity as I had — not the pompous feigned dignity that had made my cuddle buddies laugh — I took the seat left open for me. “Talk,” I said.
Aiden openly laughed, and then there was a short exchange between the men that made Vyk blink and look at me with a touch of respect. “What do you know of the vradin?”
“Uhm, weell, you just called him the Montang of them,” I answered.
“Let’s start there, because you are one of us. We are men who are bound to a guardian spirit, only the people we originally guarded turned on us, so now we guard each other. The vradinnaar were the original guardian spirits, and they are closer to different animal aspects, which they figured out how to make manifest in us after the binding. You, for instance, are bound to a vradinnaar drake.”
I held up a hand. “How did that happen? I mean, I didn’t exactly get bitten by a giant assed were-drake that I remember, so how did I end up bound to this spirit thing?”
Vyk sighed. “I was hoping you could tell us that, because if you can’t that only leaves inheriting the vradinnaar from your mother.”
Vyk and Aiden had another exchange before Vyk said, “If a woman of the vradin has a child before she first changes, then the vradinnaar that she was born bonded to passes on to her child. In Dimeter, there isn’t enough magical mojo to trigger a first change, which means at some point a vradin drake woman went into Dimeter, had a daughter child, who had an unbroken line of first born women children that culminated in you. And every one of those women children would have been as mortal as the men they had their daughters with.”
I blinked, a long slow blink, more my “I’m thinking” look than anything else. “That would be one explanation, okay. I’m not saying I believe you, mind, but that’s one explanation.”
Vyk gave me a wry look back. “You don’t have to believe anything, but we would like to know just where you learned about ulfgarts.”
“I heard the word and wondered what it meant. Lyrgrul said an ulfgart is a leader of men.” I wasn’t going to give them anything that could be used to hide the trail back to Tank, if such a trail existed.
“Ma’am, I should tell you, you are a Luna vradin, and just about everyone else here is Sol. You’re a projective empath, essentially, and we’re all keyed to receive your wave length. Your tension, worry, confusion, that all came through like hammering on a gong when I said ‘ulfgart’. Why not cut the bull and tell us?”
I drew upon my “peace in, stress out” mantra, just in case they were reading my body language. I mean, it’s not like he was right and I was projecting my emotions all over them. I would just have to not react, was all. Small order, right? While working at the serenity, I gave Vyk a haughty look, trying my best to pull off Momma Lu when I was trying to pull a fast one on her.
Vyk and Aiden both blinked and looked at me like I just grew a new head, but Vyk tried again. “An ulfgart isn’t just a leader of men. He is a leader of vradin wolves, a pack master, I guess you could call it. He won’t be the highest rank in his clan; that would be an ulftang. We trade with a pack that lives close to the Dimeter Door. They’re called the Grithwarld pack, the Gray Tooths in English.”
I was kind of expecting that, and I don’t think I jumped that much when they said the name of my lover with their vradin accents. Both men, however, must have been looking for anything, because Aiden rumbled something to Vyk, both men getting grim faces.
There was another exchange, interrupted by a knocking on the great doors, which afterward opened to admit a lean, hawkish looking man. He did the bow thing as soon as he got to the base of the platform. Once Aiden acknowledged him, the man said something long with a kind of staccato rhythm to his words that reminded me of old shows with telegram messages. Flow of words. Stop. More words. Stop.
Vyk must have been watching my face, because he said to me, “It seems we will be having guests soon, and our conversation will have to continue after that.” Then he waited for a break in the conversation between Aiden and the hawkish man to ask Aiden something.
I could practically feel his surprise at Aiden’s reply. After a moment, he said, “Ayup, Montang,” and left the room.
Aiden and the hawkish man exchanged a few more words and then the hawkish man also said, “Ayup, Montang,” and left.
I started to rise, but Aiden put a hand on my arm and gestured for me to sit back down. He looked past me, and made a cooing sound, and a pretty ball of light fluttered down to land on the palm of his hand.
“Ghreeshee,” he called it, or maybe “Grishi,” but either way it turned out to be an adorable winged insect glowing a soft lavender in the middle of his hand. I knew he was distracting me, but I followed my gut instinct and allowed the distraction. He handed the insect to me, and when it touched my skin, it’s glow dimmed, just a little, then it flew up and made a circle around me, making a sound that was both melodious and buzzing, as if some one had figured out how to make bee song sound like a human song. It came to rest on the side of my chair, its song taking on a harmony as it was joined by two more little glowing insects, one that gave off a pale powder blue illumination and another soft lavender. I took care not to touch the trio, enjoying the song.
The trio bolted for the ceiling as the door swung open, allowing a very naked Tank flanked by an equally naked Carl and two waist-tall wolves to stride into the hall.
Tank’s face was cast in grim lines, his attention focused on Aiden, but Carl’s step faltered, just a half hitch, and Tank swept his gaze around, spotting me.
The look of relief and joy that filled him up as soon as he recognized me threw out every doubt I had had about him being responsible for my being here, and I was throwing myself into his arms before I even thought about it.