Callie’s sister Rachel and her pack held a village about ten miles from Haventon as their territory. Close enough to the town to be inside of its supernatural window but far enough away not to trigger her hyper-territorial sister and to slip under the radar of the traitors. Of all the outer circle pack leaders in the area she was the only one he actually liked. Hopefully elevating her pack to the coveted Haventon territory would give the others a lesson in the sort of behaviour he expected from his pack leaders. He doubted it though, it would more likely provoke a revolt that he would have to put down. Which would put his schedule back but Lucy was right, he did have to deal with the outer circle and sooner rather than later. He just hoped that enough would be salvageable.
Still he needed to talk to Rachel first. He knew that there was no love lost between her and her sister but that didn’t mean that she would want to challenge her. He doubt sibling loyalty would be an issue but she had always seemed happy enough with her current territory.
He went to her home first, a for more comfortable lair than Callie’s though still a little sparse by human standards. Only Rachel’s thirteen year old human son, Kevin, was there. He was watching music videos as he tidied the lounge. Maelin stepped out of the Mists behind him and cleared his throat. The teen spun around and immediately whimpered in terror before collapsing to the ground and grovelling at Maelin’s feet. It seemed that Rachel had taught her son to recognise him. Maelin didn’t sooth the child’s fear immediately. His Mistwalker side was starting to get hungry and Kevin’s terror added a spicy edge to the genuine devotion his mother had inculcated in him. Maelin drank it in for a few long moments before dropping to one knee by him and laying a hand on his head.
â€œYou don’t be afraid, young Kevin,â€ he said. â€œI am not here to claim your life.â€ He stroked the boy’s hair and waited until his reassurances calmed Kevin’s ragged breathing. â€œI’m pleased with you. You serve your mother well.â€
Kevin looked at him, eyes afire with pleasure at the praise. â€œI try, my Lord. What do you wish of me?â€
â€œI need to speak with your mother,â€ Maelin said. â€œDo you know where she is?â€
â€œShe’s at the shrine with her pack,â€ Kevin said. â€œThey captured someone and she seemed inordinately pleased about it which is unusual and she left me here because she thought t might upset me.â€
â€œFor Rachel it certainly is.â€ Maelin offered his hand to still kneeling young man. â€œSounds like this person has annoyed her. I wonder why. Show me to the shrine please.â€
Kevin took his hand and rose shakily. â€œYes, my Lord.â€
â€œWhatever you do don’t let go of my hand.â€ Maelin dragged him into the Mists. â€œIt would upset your mother if I lost you in the Mists. Lead on.â€
Kevin clung to Maelin’s hand and lead him through the streets to an abandoned farm a little beyond the village edge. Far enough away that no one would hear her occasional sacrifices screaming. Not that Rachel’s pack tormented their prey the way some of his packs did.
Inside Maelin took in the scene and raised an eyebrow. No wonder Rachel was pleased with herself. Her pack had captured a vampire, and quite an old one at that. Since it was a couple of days past full moon they were planning a belated sacrifice. He slipped a probe into her mind to get more details and was taken aback at the cold rage Rachel felt towards her prisoner â€“ apparently he has been attacking teenagers in the village with the intent of deliberately creating several revenants. Quite apart from the danger of exposure such stupidity brought with it Rachel liked her human neighbours and was pleased to put a stop to that. It seemed she was closer to what most of the outer circle would consider to be the traitor’s ideology than he’d realised, but she combined it with a breathtaking ruthlessness and passionate loyalty to him that delighted him. And her pack agreed with her. It was a very long time since he’d an entire pack so close to being worthy of the inner circle.
It was also perfect for his plans. He stepped out of the Mists in front of Rachel, pulling Kevin with him. She gave a startled cry and leapt backwards before recognising him and dropping to her knees.
â€œMy Lord! You honour us.â€ Her tone was steady if somewhat awed but he could sense herfear that he intended to demand her son’s life of her. Not surprising, really, Callie consistently accused her of heresy for not killing him at birth.
â€œDon’t worry, Rachel,â€ Maelin said. â€œKevin is only here as my guide.â€ He released the young man’s hand and smiled at her relieved gasp. â€œEven if I were inclined to hurt you that way when you serve me so well it would be churlish when you’ve got me something so much better.â€ He stalked over to the cage where the vampire was confined, pinned to the ground by silver and rowan spikes through his limbs and naval. That alone would have been enough to prevent her prisoner escaping but Rachel had left nothing to chance and the entire cage was also warded. â€œCapturing an elder vampire is no mean feat.â€ He turned to where she was still kneeling. â€œWalk with me, dear Rae. I have something to discuss with you.â€
â€œOf course, my Lord.â€ She rose and joined him.
Maelin smiled at Kevin again before walking outside with Rachel, as he did he saw the rest of Rachel’s pack descend on Kevin gabbling questions at him.
Once they were a little way from the building he stopped again and turned to her.
â€œDo you think you could sacrifice the vampire using the full rites rather than the abbreviated one?â€ he asked.
â€œI would imagine so.â€ Rachel tilted her head curiously at him. â€œIt’ll take another couple of days to arrange everything but we should be able to get it together in time to still do it as a belaated sacrifice and if not we can wait until next full… Oh wait that’s an eclipse moon. Would the eclipse rites do?â€
He shook his head. â€œNo, and I’d rather not wait two moons.â€
â€œI’ll make sure we get everything ready in time, then,â€ she said. â€œSo what do you want me to ask or? At least I assume that’s why you want the full forms.â€
â€œOther than the fact that he deserves it?â€ Maelin said. â€œSacrificing an elder vampire would be impressive enough that I’d happily give you permission to â€“ oh I don’t know â€“ challenge your sister for the Haventon territory if you happened to askk.â€
Rachel’s mouth dropped open and she blinked multiple times clearly stunned by what he was saying. â€œYou want us to challenge Callie?â€ She ventured finally. â€œI have considered it but I never thought you’d give me permission. Sometimes I even wonder why you tolerate me â€“ you have to know that I’m a heretic.â€
Maelin couldn’t stop himself shouting with laughter at that. â€œOh, Rachel, you are not a heretic. You are so far from heresy that your thinking that you are just shows how deep the problem goes.â€ He forced himself to sober. â€œCallie calls you that for not killing Kevin, doesn’t she?â€
Rachel nodded. â€œShe tried to kill me when he was born and I bested her but she still needles me about it.â€
â€œNot to mention that you killed half of your pack to protect him as well,â€ he said. â€œAnd yet if I had demanded his death just now you would have killed him there and then even though it would have broken your heart. If your sister had a human child and I forbade her to kill them what do you think would happen?â€
â€œOh she’d turn on you,â€ Rachel said. â€œKill the baby and then get herself killed trying to kill you…â€ she hesitated. â€œI’m glad you came. I was hoping to get your attention. I wanted to tell you something. I think she’s planning to turn on you anyway. Most of the other local packs as well.â€
â€œWhat!â€ he stared at her. â€œAre you sure?â€
â€œNot entirely, but Art called me. He was upset,â€ she said. â€œHe said Callie was telling people you were an imposter. That you’d taken Colin into your service even though she warned you he was a human lover and the fact you tolerate me proves it.â€
â€œArthur told you?â€ Maelin scowled. He didn’t like Arthur like he did Rachel but he was the only other vaguely tolerable pack leader in the area.
â€œYes, he thinks she’s being ridiculous but he thinks the others are listening. He’s to scared to tell you and asked me to try.â€
â€œShe thinks I’m an impostor but she calls you a heretic?â€ he snarled. â€œRachel, if you can’t get the ritual ready do it anyway and I’ll pardon you afterwards.â€
â€œYes, my Lord.â€ She bowed her head. â€œYou know I’m devoted to you, don’t you.â€
â€œOf course I do,â€ he said softly. â€œThough you no more worship me than Callie does.â€ He smiled at her sharp gasp. â€œI’m part fairy remember. I can taste the difference between worship and other types of devotion. You respect me and are passionately loyal but you don’t think I’m a god. You’re right of course.â€
â€œWait, so we’re food as well as cannon fodder,â€ she asked. â€œI mean I realised we were cannon fodder a long time ago but I thought the sacrifices were for you to feed on their pain and fear, but if you can taste devotion that means it’s what you eat.â€ She tilted her head at him and added plaintively. â€œIf you don’t need them can I stop, please?â€
â€œOnce it’s safe for you to, yes,â€ he said. â€œMy followers used to only do sacrifices when I requested them or the found something like that vampire. Things rather got out of hand while I was unconscious after my last fight with Sabren. I guess people thought I’d stopped answering because they weren’t doing enough. Lu is right I should have dealt with what the outer circle had become as soon as I woke up. But you, you and your pack delight me, Rachel. Will you help me?â€
â€œMy Lord, we would race into certain death for you. Of course we will.â€
â€œAre you sure, Rachel? You don’t even know what I want in the long run.â€
Rachel tilted her head again. â€œI’ve always assumed it was to undo the results of the great betrayal and stop us being bound to the vortices and especially to Haventon. You might wantrevenge on humanity for binding us as well, but after so long it seems pointless. That’s why I don’t mind being Cannon Fodder. I’ll happily sacrifice my life to free our people, even the traitors.â€ She gave a sad snort. â€œActually they may be more deserving of freedom than we are.â€
It was hid turn to be rocked back in surprise and she looked down to hide her smirk.
â€œI’m right, aren’t I, my Lord?â€
â€œMostly, but there’s a bit more to it than that. I’ll explain once Callie is dealt with. But it seems you arenâ€™t cannon fodder. My friends use my name, Rachel, in private anyway.â€
Her head jerked up and she stared at him. â€œY-you consider me a friend?â€
â€œAfter this conservation I do,â€ he said. â€œI don’t know about the rest of your pack yet, though they are certainly close.â€
â€œSo maintain the formalities around them?â€ she asked.
â€œFor now.â€ He reached out and took her hand. â€œWelcome to my inner circle, Rae.â€ He looked up at gibbous moon wryly. â€œLu is going to be mad about this.â€ He paused and frowned towards the farmhouse. â€œNow tell me more about this vampire and what he was doing.â€
Lucy and Colin had returned by the time Maelin got back to his lair. Colin was a little battered and bruised from his assessment and Lucy was treating his injuries while he ate another meal.
â€œIt looks like Keran pushed you really hard, Colin,â€ Maelin said.
â€œHe seemed quite pleased with me.â€ Colin smiled at the memory. â€œSaid that he was pleased to see that I knew more than just scrapping with my claws, and he was gentler than my mother. How was Aunt Rae?â€
â€œYour Aunt had captured an elder vampire, and an especially nasty one at that. She was going to do a belated sacrifice tonight but I asked her to wait a couple of days and use the full forms.â€
Lucy snorted at that. â€œYes, I suppose that no one would be surprised if that impressed you enough to give her permission for a challenge, but why the charade?â€
â€œI don’t want Callie to know I’m on to her.â€
â€œOn to her?â€ Lucy asked sharply.
â€œYes, apparently, she and most of the other local leaders think I’m an impostor,â€ he said. â€œThey’re planning a revolt.â€
Lucy shook her head. â€œRachel warned you?â€
He nodded. â€œThough she only knew because Arthur warned her.â€ He described the conversation and waited while Lucy absorbed it.
â€œWow, you inducted her I take it?â€ Lucy said.
He nodded. â€œI thought you’d be mad at me.â€
Lucy gave a wry smile. â€œWell I’m not entirely happy about it but I can see why and I do trust your judgement for the most part.â€ She tilted her head. â€œBut really she thought the sacrifices were to feed you? I wonder how widespread that misconception is among the more tolerable outer circle packs.â€
â€œOnce this mess is sorted out I intend to find out,â€ he said. â€œI wonder if Sabren realises how counter productive knocking me into that coma was?â€
“How would I know,” Lucy said. â€œShe’s your sister. But this is going to be a mess, yo know. How do you think Callie will react when Rachel challenges her?â€
â€œBadly,â€ Colin said. â€œMy mother is terrified of Aunt Rae. She has been since Aunt Rae nearly killed her in that fight after Kevin was born. Mother still has the scars. I think Aunt Rae considered killing her after that but she didn’t have permission.â€
â€œMaelin would have forgiven her in the circumstances and you’d have been better off.â€ Lucy snorted again, â€œWell, the vampire sounds like he deserves it and his modus operandi sounds awfully familiar.â€
â€œI don’t think it’s coincidence, Lu,â€ Maelin said. â€œI just wish there was some way to use it. More importantly did Keran speak to his Queen?â€
Lucy nodded. â€œShe’s going to talk to the Night King and get back to us but Keran thinks my former pack will hear of this. In the circumstances he’s probably right and you know what they’ll have to say.â€
â€œOh yes.â€ He scowled. â€œWhich means the Court of Hours will fear attack if they say no. Tsk. That’s no basis for a negotiation. Can you ask Keran to reassure them that I won’t attack the Court of Hours if they say no?â€
â€œI can try,â€ she said. â€œBut it may not work. I’ll see if I can talk to my family at Morna’s tomorrow. At least I don’t think they’ll be as inclined to yell at me there. They probably still won’t listen.â€
â€œTalk to Morna as well,â€ Maelin said. â€œShe knows I wouldn’t do such a thing and she’s well liked.â€
â€œWhat’s happening tomorrow?â€ Colin asked.
â€œI’m going to a Wake,â€ Lucy said. â€œIt’s going to be awkward but no way am I staying away, especially not since I found out why they’re tangled up with the Court of Hours.â€
â€œAnd it’s related somehow?â€ Maelin asked.
â€œOh yes,â€ she said. â€œIt seems my late cousin’s youngest is a Mistwalker with a late transformation and your mother wants him dead.â€
â€œOh!â€ Maelin fell silent for a long moment. â€œNow that is interesting. If that means what I suspect it does then never mind the Court of Hours, your family are going to have to talk to me if they want to keep him alive. And of course even if it doesn’t mean that mother wanting him dead is an excellent reason to keep him alive. Yes, do check him out tomorrow. See if you can confirm what I’m thinking.â€
â€œI will,â€ she said. â€œThough it would help if I knew what I was looking for.â€
Maelin just smiled. â€œIf I’m right you’ll see it and I don’t want to contaminate the test.â€
â€œIs going to a Traitor’s wake safe?â€ Colin asked.
Lucy gave him a reassuring smile. â€œIt’s fine, Colin. They won’t hurt me. The worst they’ll do is try and kidnap me and I doubt they’d even try that at the Wake. Morna would go berserk. They think I’m being held against my will or that I have Stockholm Syndrome or something.â€
â€œYes, well, I’m not too sure about the latter,â€ Maelin said. â€œI never expected you to stay once I released you given the lengths I had to go to get you to come with me and I still wonder why you did. You certainly weren’t listening to me when I tried to explain.â€
â€œWell, of course I wasn’t.â€ She smiled wryly. â€œYou have a terrible reputation for lying, and the evidence was against you as far as far as I was concerned. But it’s a lot harder to lie with actions and I couldn’t deny the use you were putting my skills to. It might not have been enough but then I got independent verification of what you were telling me.â€
â€œYou’ve told me that before,â€ he said. â€œBut you won’t say who could possibly have backed me up that you would believe.â€
â€œThey asked me not to,â€ she said. â€œThough they said to tell you next time you asked last time we spoke.â€
â€œSo tell me because I’m asking.â€
â€œI really don’t know how you haven’t worked it out by now,â€ she said. â€œWhat was the thing I pointed out that you’d forgotten when I first agreed to join you.â€
â€œThat I needed to put up…â€ he trailed off and stared at her. â€œYou had me put up ghost wards because even in the Mists ghosts can conceal themselves if they try… Your sister? Your independent source was Karen? You’re right I should have realised. There’s no one else you would have believed.â€
â€œI just wish she’d figured out who her attackers really were while she was alive,â€ Lucy said. â€œIt would have helped.â€
â€œShe was getting close,â€ he said. â€œThat’s why they killed her.â€ He looked around as Jacob came in. â€œSo have Callie’s pack located that girl yet.â€
â€œNo, they’re not happy because Aran has her scent but trail is leading them around in circles.â€
â€œThat’s odd,â€ Maelin said. â€œNot many people can conceal someone from a werewolf who has their scent. Certainly not my mother fortunately.â€
â€œWhich brings me to the big problem,â€ Jacob said. â€œIt’s not really on your behalf that they are looking for her.â€ He dropped his mobile phone into Maelin’s hand. â€œI don’t think the rest of the pack know but Callie and Aran are keeping very bad company indeed.â€
Maelin cocked an eyebrow and looked at the phone, thumbing through the images with a deeping scowl before hurling the phone away and swearing violently.
â€œMaelin, what?â€ Lucy caught the phone before it smashed in to the wall and looked at it. Almost immediately she also started swearing. Colin leaned across and saw his mother and Aran talking to a short yet wiry woman with firey hair cut in a short angled bob and vivid green eyes. â€œShe’s not a werewolf but mother’s body language is downright submissive… who is she?â€
â€œThatâ€ Lucy said. â€œIs Gwendolen daughter of Madden, more commonly known as Gwen. The Summer Warrior, regent to the empty throne, Protector of the Winter King,â€ Her lips twisted into a bitter smile. â€œAnd murderer of the Summer King.â€
â€œIn other words, she’s my mother.â€ Maelin paced the room angrily. â€œWhat the hell are they doing dealing with her?â€
â€œCallie’s a sadist with nothing but disdain for humans,â€ Lucy said. â€œIf your mother offered her more chance to torment humans she’d jump at it. Aran… well he’s probably scared of Callie.â€
Maelin stopped pacing and looked at her. â€œYou’re right unfortunately. Okay, we’ll have to deal with this now. Jacob go and keep an eye on them some more. Contact me immediately if they make a move. My mother absolutely must not get her hands on that girl. Lu, go and fetch Rachel for me. We can’t wait now. So we’ll have to do it the other way.â€
â€œSure!â€ She held out a hand to Colin. â€œWant to come and get your aunt with me? I get the feeling you’ll be glad to see her again.â€