"See-when the guard hit Marzi's hand, the shot went wide," Lendill was stopping and starting the vid image. They all watched in horrified fascination as the projectile flew directly toward Corolan's head, only Reah, moving faster than the camera could capture the image, whirled in front of the laser bullet and blood flew as it pierced her neck. "Now, here's where the Larentii comes-do any of you recognize him?" Lendill asked as the Larentii appeared, almost from beneath Reah a blink after she was hit, and he staunched the blood flow with large blue fingers. He settled Reah carefully into Tory's arms before disappearing as quickly as he'd appeared.
"Mom says that his name is Nefrigar," Tory sighed. "He's like the Larentii librarian or something."
"Do we know why he came?"
"No. Not yet, anyway. I don't know how he knew to come." Gavril said. He was angry, although Marzi and the others were likely to be sent to Evensun. In his estimation, Reah had been exposed to too many attempts on her life. Karzac was concerned, just as he was.
"It doesn't matter; he came and she's still alive." Wylend had almost thrown a spell at Marzi Desh; one that could end her life. Erland and Rylend had held him back.
"Karzac says that Reah will be down at least two weeks, with his supervision. Longer without it," Lendill said. He wanted to go to Reah's bedroom and crawl under the covers with her. Whisper that he'd keep her safe. And perhaps he could. While he had guards posted around the house and nobody was allowed in or out without his knowledge or permission. Lok was in charge of perimeter security at the moment-Lendill had seen the anger and grim determination on the Falchani's face-he pitied anyone who might argue with Lok over Reah's safety.
"How many bedrooms do we need to prepare?" Gavril stood and stretched. "I'm staying-Dee will handle things on Campiaa until tomorrow or the day after."
"I want to stay in Reah's room," Corolan muttered. She'd risked her life for his, when it should have been the other way around.
"Farzi and Nenzi are in bed with her-as lion snakes," Gavril said. "Probably not a good idea to get too close."
"Is there a room nearby?"
"I have the one on Reah's left, Lendill has the one on the right, and Tory is across the hall," Gavril loosened the top button of his dress shirt. He hadn't taken time to change, he'd settled for removing the formal jacket he'd worn to the funeral. Tory had been the one to change clothes immediately-Reah's blood had transferred from her clothing to his. "You can take the room on Tory's left and if Wylend wishes to stay, he can have the suite on the right."
"Wylend and I will stay together," Corolan frowned, rubbing a spot between his eyes that insisted on throbbing painfully.
"Suit yourself. Let me know if you need anything." Corolan nodded at Gavril's words and he and Wylend disappeared together.
"We should be spending the night with Reah." Wylend fumed as he tossed his jacket across the borrowed bedroom with an angry spell.
"My King, you are overwrought. Do not distress yourself, I beg you," Corolan sighed.
"Admit it-you want her just as much or more than I."
"I cannot deny it, my love, but we are not on Karathia at this moment. We cannot dictate who she should be with on an Alliance world."
"That makes no difference." Wylend's shirt shot across the room, following the path his jacket had taken. "I am King of Karathia, and I have been usurped by my upstart great-grandchild in everything. He dictates where Reah goes. He dictates Karathia's movements. From the moment we joined the Campiaan Alliance, it has been thus."
"My King, we will have Reah again with us, do not fear. Karathia is being treated no differently than any other world in the Campiaan Alliance." Corolan was beginning to worry about Wylend's reaction. Was this about Reah, or something far deeper? Wylend was prone to fits of anger now and then, and this one came on the heels of an attempt on their lives.
"Corolan, I wish to be alone for a while."
Corolan jerked his head up at Wylend's statement. "Of course, my King." Corolan bowed and folded to an empty bedroom down the hall.
"Reah, sweetheart, would you like a drink of water?" Teeg always had the ability to wake me or put me to sleep, just as Karzac did. I sometimes wondered how he'd come by it.
"I am thirsty," I said, realizing it was an understatement. Dry as a desert was closer to the mark, and as I'd been in a few deserts, firsthand knowledge of how dry that could be was an apt comparison. Farzi and Nenzi, still in snake form, had scooted over to give Teeg plenty of room. He held a glass of water to my lips while I drank. I wanted to sit up for a little while, but Teeg settled me down on the bed again.
"Karzac says we'll get the IV out tomorrow, and we'll feed you." I'd gotten broth earlier-I was coming to hate the stuff. I said it aloud, too. "You said stuff," Teeg teased gently.
"I said stuff," I agreed amiably, lying back and closing my eyes. "Teeg?"
"What, love?" He busied himself with pulling the covers up to my chin, the soft fabric rustling as he resettled it over my body.
"Why am I still alive?"
"What are you talking about?"
"This time-and the time before that. Teeg, nobody survives a Ranos rocket. Even if they are in full Thifilatha. And it doesn't take genius material to know that bitch Marzi hit my carotid when I jumped in front of Corolan. A laser bullet will explode on impact-so that means my throat was likely torn apart. I would have bled out in a very short time. Why am I still alive, Teeg?"
"A Larentii showed up this time. Several showed up last time." Teeg was holding something back, I figured, but if he didn't want to tell me, there wasn't any way to pry it out of him. He could do vampire with the very best of them. "Reah?" he said instead.
"I wish you'd call me Gavril. Or Chash. At least when we're alone. That would make the past fifty-odd years of life without you bearable, I think."
"Teeg," I slapped a hand helplessly across my forehead. I was still weak and the hand shook, even while it rested on my forehead.
"Baby, I hope someday you trust me enough to believe I was that boy you loved. And all that time I never stopped loving you. I'll admit that I was hardened over the years, becoming secretive and self-reliant because I was forced to. I know it's difficult for you that I don't discuss everything with you like we did before. Dee taught me that trust is a commodity we can ill-afford most of the time. I know it's the same for you, sweetheart. How many people do you trust? Completely?"
I blinked at him for a few moments while I sorted through the people I knew. Who among them did I trust? "Three," I said with a heavy sigh. "Three."
"Are you going to tell me who they are? I'm not naive enough to believe I'm one of those three."
"You're right, and it isn't my intention to hurt you with that information," I said. "I trust Farzi, Nenzi and Aurelius."
"Good choices," Teeg nodded his head. Perhaps he didn't mean to betray himself, but there was disappointment in his voice. Farzi and Nenzi, listening in on yet another private conversation between Teeg and me, shifted slightly on my other side. I reached out a hand, allowing my fingers to slide down smooth scales.
"Be honest, Teeg," I added, "you don't trust me either. Not completely. I think Dee hears all your secrets. Does your mother even get that nowadays? Or your father?"
"Reah, you're right-up to a point. The thing I can trust about you is that you'll do the right thing every time, even if we bully you into it when we shouldn't," he admitted with a slight frown. "You didn't have to show up on Campiaa when the Strands attacked, but you did. Tossed me out of the way and took that Ranos rocket blast instead of allowing it to hit me. And today, you were the intended target, but the guard knocked Marzi's hand aside. That laser bullet would have hit Corolan, and there you were, flinging yourself in front of him, taking the hit. I'm terrified that the next time you do that, we won't be able to save you. That you'll sacrifice yourself for someone else who isn't nearly as important."
"Are you saying that you're not important?" I huffed angrily. "Or that Corolan's life is worthless?"
"No, baby, that's not what I meant." Teeg raked fingers through his wealth of dark hair, ruffling it and aggravating the slight curl. I liked that part of him-the not so polished part. "It's just," he was searching for words, unsuccessfully.
"You know how High Demons choose to end their lives, if they tire of living?" I asked. I know he knew the answer; he just shrugged at me instead. I answered for Farzi and Nenzi's benefit. "They have to throw themselves into Baetrah, the volcano on Kifirin, in their humanoid form. That will kill them. If they jump in while Thifilathi or Thifilatha, the heat and fire have no effect-they climb right back out again. The point I'm trying to make, Teeg, is their lives are their decision. When I tossed you aside, or jumped in front of Corolan, those were decisions I was willing to make, without a moment's thought. Other people tend to decide after the fact whether it was a good or bad idea. As if they can decide for you, in that tiny bit of time you have to make such a decision. People react differently to situations, Teeg. I jumped in front of Corolan yesterday, while somebody else might have dropped to the floor. I'd attended one funeral, I wasn't so keen on attending another, and this one would have been for someone I truly cared for."
"Did you have any feelings at all for Addah?"
"Teeg, I can't really answer that. I think what I have mostly is regret. Regret that I couldn't sit down and talk with him. Try to find out why things were the way they were with him. He didn't trust any of his children. Or his wives, more than likely. And he treated me as someone unworthy of his time. Aurelius and I had a long conversation about that-about missed opportunity on both sides. That if Addah had just relented for a short time, we might have made a connection, as fragile as that might have been. Instead, we have nothing, my grandfather and I."