Upon moving closer to Stephen, he turned out to be a good looking young man with long raven back hair and piercing blue eyes. The only obviously non-human things about him were the impressive sixteen point antlers growing from his head and the fact that his ears were slightly pointed and now he was out of the mists both of those features were shimmering in a way that told Anna he had glamoured them away. As he approached he bowed to Kate, whose scythe and crown had vanished somewhere, leaving a mostly ordinary if very striking woman in a white sundress in their place.
“My apologies, Day Queen,” he said. “It was not I who summoned the Hunt against this target. I suspected it was not justified but…” He trailed off and looked to one side.
“I understand, Stephen,” she said. “I know how the Hunt works even if I have never summoned it. Was it Gwendolen?”
“The Summer Warrior, yes.” He clenched his fists. “The Hunt is meant for punishing criminals that no other method can reach, not for political assassination. From what my predecessor told me when he was dying, this is not the first time she has done something like this.â€
â€œPolitical?â€ Kate tilted her head. â€œDo you know why?â€
â€œI didn’t until I saw him,â€ Stephen said. â€œBut now I do, it’s obvious.â€
â€œHmm?â€ She eyed David thoughtfully. â€œSo whatever court rank he could hold worries her? I’d ask if you could read the patterns but they aren’t formed fully yet.â€
â€œNo, but they don’t need to be,â€ he said. â€œThere are other ways to recognise potentials if you’re trained, and I am.â€
â€œAnd as an outsider you aren’t limited to knowledge of one court,â€ she said.
â€œIndeed.â€ He looked like he would say more but instead he frowned at David. â€œBut before we discuss this I think we should get the young man inside or at least find him some sun block. It seems he has sun-sensitivity.â€
Anna looked over at David and saw that the skin on his face and arms was indeed reddening slightly like the early stages of sunburn even though the day was quite overcast. David stared at his arms in surprise. â€œI’d noticed they were stinging slightly but what on earth? I don’t get sunburnt.â€
â€œIt looks like you do now,â€ Kate said. â€œIt’s unusual but not remarkably so. Usually it’s Night who has sun-sensitivity though.â€ She narrowed her eyes. â€œWinter court mistwalkers with leanaun relatives and sun-sensitivity does suggest something ironic.â€
Tyler’s eyes widened. â€œThat’s possible… it would fit Liam’s theory as well, but aren’t they all female like their Leanaun cousins?â€
â€œIf you mean the Baobhan Sith then no,â€ Stephen said. â€œJust mostly. Why would that be ironic though?â€
â€œHe’s a vampire hunter,â€ Kate replied.
Stephen stared at David for a moment then burst out laughing. â€œYes, that would be ironic.â€
â€œWhat a Baobhan Sith?â€ David said.
â€œIt’s a type of Winter mistwalker,â€ Stephen replied. â€œThey are one of the more visceral feeders of our kind.â€
â€œThey feed on blood, Dave,â€ Sarah said. â€œThere’s a school of thought that says there’s some connection between the first vampires and the Baobhan. But the Huntsman is right, let’s get you inside before you start to blister.â€ She ushered David back into the van as Meredith looked over at Stephen and Kate.
â€œAre you joining us?â€
He smiled and shook his head. â€œI wouldn’t fit, so I’ll ride, maam,â€ he said politely. â€œI can glamour my antlers into invisibility but I can’t make them insubstantial. I will have to follow you though, since I’m not sure where we’re going.â€
â€œAs long as you’re not chasing us again that’s fine.â€
â€œI’ll go back to my car,â€ Kate said. â€œI left it just ahead.â€ She patted David’s shoulder. He was staring straight ahead with a worryingly blank expression. â€œIt’ll be fine, kid. If you are Baobhan then it’s good, there are way worse things to be. See you at the farm then.â€
â€œBaobhan Sith?â€ Michael studied David thoughtfully as Daniel treated his inflamed skin. â€œThat actually makes a great deal of sense. Rather easy to test as well. If he is Baobhan or something similar he’ll have claws.â€
David stared at his hands â€œThey don’t hurt.â€
â€œNo, they wouldn’t,â€ Stephen said. â€œBaobhan claws are like vampire fangs, they only come out when needed.â€
“If you do have retractable claws I can show you how to bring them out,” Kate said. “And it would be pretty diagnostic. Then we just need to do the metal test and we’ll, at the worst, have more information but hopefully an answer. After which Stephen can tell us what he spotted.”
David considered for a moment and then nodded. “Please, I really don’t want to be one of these Baobhan, but it’s better to know than not.”
“That’s the spirit, kid.” She reached across the table and put her fingertips to his temples. “Just relax and let me do the rest.”
â€œDo you need me to take my shield down?â€ he asked.
â€œNo, it’s not your mind I’m going to be working with,â€ she said. â€œJust relax.â€
â€œOkay.â€ He took a breath and forced the tension from his body as a frown of concentration crossed her face.
“Yes,” she said. “There’s definitely something. Hold on.”
David’s fingertips started stinging and he looked down in time to see the nails on his hands shift and blur before growing unusually long and sharp, claws yes, but surprisingly elegant.
“Those look like Baobhan claws alright,” Michael said.
“Buh,” David said. “The universe hates me.”
â€œNonsense,â€ Liam said. â€œIf the universe hated you you’d have become something far worse than a blood drinker. Blood’s easy by comparison to some of the things you might have needed. And you have the right friends to help you source it ethically.â€
“I’ll put them away for you for now,” Kate said. “Then once we have time I’ll help you learn to use them yourself.” She touched his temples again and after a moment his nails returned to normal. She looked over at Liam who was scribbling notes. “I’ll leave the metal test to you.”
“In a minute,” Liam nodded absently. “I need to finish this. This is really good support for my theory that what we do in our human lives can influence what type of mistwalker we become.”
Kate rolled her eyes to the ceiling. â€œLots of things influence it, though in this case I’ll grant you that it’s not a coincidence, but family history plays more of a role. Take my family; our female mistwalkers have always been PoÅ‚udnica.â€
â€œAh! You’re Polish!â€ Michael said. â€œI could tell you were a Noon Witch but I wasn’t sure which country you were from and you don’t have an accent.â€
â€œYes, I worked very hard to lose it. I’ve been in Britain for around seventy years now and it’s hard to pretend to be your own British born grandaughter when you have an accent,â€ she said. â€œBut please don’t call me a Noon Witch; I hate that name for our kind.â€
â€œHow about Lady Midday?â€ he asked.
â€œOh, that one is okay,â€ she said. â€œBut I don’t know what’s wrong with Poludnica.â€
Michael gave a half-smile. â€œNothing at all, your majesty.â€
â€œKate,â€ she said firmly.
â€œKate, then,â€ he agreed.
â€œThey’ve been like this all morning.â€ Liam put aside his notes. â€œI think they both think it’s funny.â€ He reached into his bag and brought out a small canvas roll and began unrolling it to reveal a set of bone handled scalpels. â€œBut let’s see about this metal test.â€
David gulped nervously and eyed the shiny metal blades. â€œYou aren’t going to cut me with those are you?â€
Liam burst out laughing. â€œGoodness me, no! That would be mean even with the amount of adrenalin pens in this room. What we’ll do is this…â€ He picked up the gold scalpel by its bone handle and laid the flat of the blade against the back of his other hand for a few seconds. When he removed it there was a blistering red welt where it had been lying. â€œNot entirely pleasant but nowhere near as nasty as anaphylactic shock.â€
â€œAh, so it’s exactly like an allergy test.â€ David held out his hands. â€œLet’s do this.â€
â€œWe were thinking it should be a full spectrum test,â€ Tyler said.
â€œYou want to test him against silver,â€ Liam said. â€œOkay.â€
â€œIt would explain the wolf aspects in his aura,â€ Stephen said.
â€œWe’ll start with iron as that’s the one you’re most likely to respond to as a Baobhan.â€ Liam touched one of the scalpels to the back of David’s hand. It felt cool and didn’t sting so David was unsurprised when there was no blister when it was removed.
â€œThat’s a relief,â€ he said. â€œIron would have messed with my job.â€
â€œHe’s a mechanic,â€ Sarah added.
â€œWhoo! You’re going to make a killing,â€ Penny said. â€œDo you know how few Mistwalker mechanics there are because so many of us are sensitive to iron?â€
Even while they were speaking Liam was holding the gold blade against his skin, again there was no response.
â€œSo it’s looking like it is silver,â€ David said.
â€œPossibly, or it could be more obscure,â€ Liam said. â€œAll supernaturals have a sensitivity to one of the seven alchemical metals but which one varies.â€ He caught David’s look and grinned. â€œGold, silver, iron, copper, tin, lead and quicksilver â€“ and if it’s that last one I will curse you for being so lucky. No one is likely to accidentally end up with mercury in their boodstream unless they have fillings while still human.â€ He gave a slight smile. â€œSilver is the next most likely so we’ll try that next.â€
Almost as soon as he laid the silver scalpel against his skin David felt an intense burning itch that made him hiss.
â€œAnd we have a winner!â€ Liam removed the scalpel to reveal the forming blister. I’ll check the others just in case you have a multiple sensitivity but I doubt it.â€ He did indeed lay each remaining blade against David’s hand in turn with no response.
â€œIsn’t quicksilver liquid?â€ Anna asked as Liam was trying the last blade.
â€œIt’s mercury amalgam,â€ he said. â€œHigh enough in mercury to trigger sensitivity but solid.â€
â€œAh!â€ she said. â€œWe need to do one of those for me.â€
â€œIt’s a bit early to do one for you,â€ Liam said. â€œAssuming werewolves work like other shifters.â€
â€œWe do,â€ Daniel said. â€œBut we’re worried she might be precocious, plus her mother was iron rather than silver sensitive so we will need to do a full test.â€
â€œAh!â€ Liam nodded. â€œOkay, she probably isn’t precocious as you put it but we’ll check. Can I have your hand please?â€
Anna held it out and he tried each metal in turn with no response.
â€œSee, I told you,â€ he said. â€œBut a full metal test after full moon is called for.â€
â€œOne less thing to worry about for a month at least,â€ she said. â€œDo all werecritters shift at full moon?â€
Liam shook his head. â€œThe Reynardine and the werecats are bound to dark moon instead; the weredogs are about fifty percent either way.â€
â€œWhich I’m told makes pack meetings for them awkward,â€ Philip added before looking at Stephen. â€œSo you said you knew what court rank David could potentially take.â€
â€œOh yes, I would have thought it was obvious,â€ he said.
â€œWell, he’s not the Herald or Castellan,â€ Penny said. â€œGwen would leap at the chance to replace either of them. It’d damage the rebel court severely, but what that leaves I don’t like.â€
â€œNo she wouldn’t,â€ Tyler said. â€œBecause it would prove she’s lying about no new court potentials being born since the last Summer King died.â€
â€œOkay, she wouldn’t like it but I still think she’d use it,â€ Penny said.
â€œThe Night Herald is right, he’s not he Winter Herald or Castellan.â€ Stephen chewed on his lip and looked at Philip thoughtfully. â€œYou aren’t going to like what this means.â€
â€œHmm?â€ Philip said.
â€œThe only way he’s going to survive having Lady Gwendolen after him is to obtain his hallow and seal his rank.â€
â€œSo? You’re worried he’ll have to kill someone.â€
â€œThat’s not it.â€ Stephen sighed. â€œI mean he might, but not to take his rank â€“ it’s empty. He’s potentially the Winter Warrior.â€
â€œSo?â€ Philip repeated.
â€œAh, you don’t know… The Winter Blade is in the guardianship of the Lord of the Wolves and if he wants it he’ll have to deal with him.â€