"I haven't gotten to do this in ages," Teeg slipped dark glasses over his nose and grinned at me. It was at times like this that I felt Aurelius might be right-that Gavril the boy was somewhere deep inside Teeg the man. Gavril might come out to play now and then.
"No, you go, I want to see all of you go down first," I said, shooing Farzi toward the edge. They went, in twos and threes, and it was a pleasure to watch them move so expertly. Surely, it had to do with their supple muscles and bone structure. Teeg grinned at me and followed the reptanoids. I, still a bit unsure and with two skis strapped to my feet, went over the edge after them. I shrieked several times, trying to convince my feet to go in the proper direction. Fell twice, too, but didn't hurt myself. When I made it to the bottom, Teeg and the others were laughing and dusting snow off my jumpsuit. We wore ourselves out, broke for lunch at an expensive restaurant, went back out again and stopped before the sun hung too low in the sky.
"That wonderful," Nenzi sighed, pressing against my right side. The left was leaning against Teeg. Farzi sat across the aisle from us, with the others scattered behind.
"Have a good time, sweetheart?" Teeg murmured in my ear.
"Yes. Can we do it again next month?"
"I'll make sure we have a day," his mouth was warm against my temple, as he nuzzled and kissed his way to my jaw.
Teeg took me out to dinner at the San Gerxon. Guarded by Astralan and Stellan, people whispered as we passed. They were all saying Teeg's name and speculating as to who I might be. Teeg heard every word-he had vampire hearing, after all. He smiled over most of it and put his hand on the back of my neck-there'd been a beautiful dress and a hairdresser waiting when we arrived at the palace. Now, dressed formally and my hair piled on my head, we walked toward the best restaurant in the San Gerxon.
Almost the moment we were seated at a private table, Kiasz was out of the kitchen and in raptures, hugging me carefully so as not to ruin my outfit. The dress was a spring green, almost the color of my eyes and Teeg had likely paid a fortune for it. My Tiralian crystal ring came out of a jewelry box I hadn't recognized and Teeg placed it on my finger before we left the palace. No wonder everybody was whispering. I think a few unauthorized photographs were taken as well.
"Tell me what you want to eat and it will appear," Kiasz was still grinning.
"Right now, I'm so hungry I could eat a moose," I said. "We went skiing today."
"A steak then? Prime rib? Seafood?" Kiasz was ticking down a mental list.
"What do you want, honey?" I looked at Teeg. He drew in a sharp breath for a moment, then gave me a lazy smile, his eyes half-closing in pleasure.
"Prime rib," he replied.
"There. We'll have prime rib," I said. "And can I get some of those sliced potatoes with Vharis cheese crusted over them?" I gestured with my hands.
"Lady, I think you can get anything you want." Kiasz cut his eyes toward Teeg, bowed smartly and went toward the kitchen.
"Reah, I feel like the luckiest person alive right now," Teeg said, sipping the wine Kiasz sent out. The vintage was good. A bottle of a darker red would come with the meal, but this was good with the plates of appetizers we'd been served. Kiasz was choosing everything except the main course and the potatoes for us.
"Going to get me drunk and then have your way with me?" I snuggled into his arms.
"Sweetheart, that is the finest thing imaginable."
"Sometimes, one of ours surprises us," Ferrigar, Head of the Larentii Council sat at Kiarra's kitchen island. He, Pheligar, Renegar and Lenigar had come, setting a chunk of Ra'Ak dust on the granite surface. Kiarra, with her mates Adam and Merrill, all Enforcers for the Saa Thalarr, stared at the chunk. They were more than familiar with what Ra'Ak dust looked like.
"Which one, and how did he surprise you?" Kiarra asked. Pheligar, also her mate and Archivist for the Saa Thalarr, took up the explanation.
"You have never met Nefrigar. He is our chief librarian, you might say. He guards the Larentii Archives with the help of six Larentii-the equivalent of Protectors for the Wise Ones."
"I've heard of the Archives, but I thought that was where all information gathered by Larentii went to die," Kiarra sat beside Pheligar and patted his back-she was teasing him.
"It does not do that," Ferrigar said, holding back a rare smile. "In fact, Nefrigar usually absorbs what is sent. If the Archives were lost, Nefrigar could reconstruct most of it from memory."
"Wow. A living Archive." Kiarra leaned her cheek against Pheligar's arm. He pulled her against him-he liked having his mate close.
"Nefrigar is my older brother," Pheligar smiled down at Kiarra.
"What?" she sputtered, staring at him in surprise. "After all this time, you're only now telling me you have a brother?"
"Nefrigar is much older than I," Pheligar said haughtily, before smiling at Kiarra. "He and I only speak now and then, and usually it is mindspeech. We are busy with our own concerns, Lara'Kayan. Each of us can contact the other easily if there is need."
"Unbelievable," Kiarra rubbed her forehead.
"I would have told you if you'd asked," Pheligar kissed the top of her head gently. "You didn't ask."
"But what does that have to do with this?" Merrill tapped the granite island where the Ra'Ak chunk sat, bringing everyone back to the relevant topic.
"We have Ra'Ak dust in the Archives," Ferrigar replied. "Pheligar supplied some of it, from his earliest days with the Saa Thalarr. When Nefrigar compared some of those chunks with the one taken from Tulgalan two days ago, he found-discrepancies."
"Discrepancies? I don't follow," Kiarra said.
"We find it puzzling as well. Nefrigar brought this to our attention and at first, we thought it irrelevant. Now, we are not sure that was the correct conclusion."
"What did he find?" Adam asked. Normally he was content to listen and observe, but even his curiosity was roused.
"This," Ferrigar Pulled in what appeared to be an identical chunk of Ra'Ak dust, "was collected ten turns ago, from another Ra'Ak dusting. This Ra'Ak would be considered normal-healthy." He set it down beside the other chunk. "This one from Tulgalan," Ferrigar hesitated a moment, "to the best of our knowledge, we have determined it to be diseased."
"Diseased? That's next to impossible," Kiarra said, trying to stand. Pheligar pulled her onto his lap and rubbed her shoulders.
"We have gathered additional information, at Nefrigar's insistence. Even the Wise Ones are in agreement. The Ra'Ak who still live, who have been consuming these young ones after they have been subjected to what the Karathians refer to as a soul-shift?"
"What about them." Kiarra asked.
"We have determined that they are, in your own words, mentally ill."
"You're saying that eating children that have gone through a soul-shift makes the Ra'Ak crazy?" Kiarra managed to struggle out of Pheligar's lap.
"Yes. Somehow, this forbidden spell work-a misuse of power, as it is, would destroy the child's mind, if their body did not die so quickly. By consuming this tainted flesh, the Ra'Ak despoils its mental capacity."
"Holy crap," Kiarra muttered. "What are we supposed to do?"
"We believe that this is the reason the Ra'Ak attempted an attack on a passenger bus. This one did not bother to jam the camera signal. If Reah had not killed the creature, and had Norian not confiscated the vid images afterward, Tulgalan's population would even now be screaming and running for every available exit."
"This isn't good. Honey, have you contacted Belen?" Kiarra looked up at Pheligar.
"Yes. He is very concerned, and he and the others of his kind are attempting to come to an agreement regarding appropriate action," Pheligar sighed. "He will let us know soon."
"How did Nefrigar know to pick up this chunk?" Merrill asked.
"We do not question the Archivist-he searches for his own data upon occasion. We as a race are often enriched with his findings. He is not bound by the Archives, or restricted by the Council where knowledge is concerned, as long as the laws are followed."
"So, you don't lock him up in a dusty library?" Kiarra's dimple showed.
"Our Archives are pristine," Pheligar pulled Kiarra onto his lap again. "Nefrigar sees to that, with his Protectors. He is nearly as old as Ferrigar, you know."
"Reah, wake up, sweetheart."
How did my men always wake before me? How? I opened my eyes to find Teeg's concerned face over mine. "What's wrong?" I asked, right away.
"Several things, but you need to get up and get dressed, love. Some of the news can wait a little."
Farzi and Nenzi came to help me in the shower. I was glad-my fingers shook and I was having trouble holding onto a washcloth. Something was wrong, and that frightened me. I was ushered into Teeg's private study-he was already there with all four warlocks and a man I'd never seen before.
"Reah, this is Dee-Dormas, my assistant." Teeg introduced the man I'd heard of but never met. He took my hand and kissed it gently. I nodded to him. Dee had brown hair, gray eyes and an unlined face that still bore the weight of the world in it. He'd seen a lot of life, this one.
"Reah, last night, someone died on Tulgalan." Teeg pushed a comp-vid across the desk toward me. I sat on one of his guest chairs and lifted the device in my hands, terrified, somehow. I was relieved at some level, horrified on another. Relieved that it wasn't Lok or Edan or Ilvan. Horrified at whom it actually was. Addah Desh, my grandfather, had died from multiple stab wounds. Fes, who'd been with him, was in critical condition at a hospital. I watched the vid as Aldah and Rane, Fes' brothers, stood by their weeping mother as she'd been interviewed. Some of the other wives and sons were in the background.