â€œYou’ll like Keran,â€ Kate said as she drove Anna, David and Tanya towards the dojo. â€œHe’s a real sweetheart and a tremendous fighter. He’ll teach you a lot.â€
â€œThe lesson tonight is supernaturals only,â€ Tanya said. â€œBut he’s asked me to bring you both a couple of hours early so he can judge what you know already.â€ She gave a smirk. â€œBe prepared for a few bruises from that.â€
â€œI’ve already told him you’ll both be able to see past his glamour so don’t worry about pretending you can’t,â€ Kate added. â€œKeran’s cool about people being able to see him anyway.â€ She drew up outside a dilapidated building with a faded banner. â€œHere we are.â€
â€œReally?â€ David said. â€œDoes he attract many human students?â€ The sun was still up and Kate had the roof open on her convertible. David stared at his arms looking for any sign of burning but the sunblock Tanya had fetched from the chemist for him seemed to be doing the trick much to his relief.
â€œNot many but more than you’d think,â€ Kate replied. â€œHe doesn’t advertise among humans but he’s a good enough teacher that people find him by word of mouth. Come on.â€ She led them to the door and rang the bell.
â€œMy Queen!â€ Keran bowed to Kate when he opened the door. â€œI was not expecting you to come with the new students!â€
â€œGwen set the Hunt on David, so I thought it wisest. And how many times do I have to tell you to call me Kate when we’re not at Court.â€
â€œThat was probably wise, your… Kate.â€ Keran turned to where David and Anna were standing nervously behind Tanya. â€œWelcome, both of you.â€
Even though Kate had said Keran knew they could see his true form, David was still careful not to stare at him. It wasn’t easy though, he really hadn’t been expecting the guy to be part plant. He glanced at Anna and saw her doing the same thing. She caught his eye with a wry smile.
â€œYou didn’t tell them what to expect?â€ Keran asked.
â€œWe told them that you’re a woodwose,â€ Tanya said.
â€œBut not what that meant.â€ He sighed. â€œMost people these days don’t know what a woodwose is, but anyway come in, come in. I need to check your skills out.â€ He led them into the dojo. Inside it was much less tatty than the outside.
â€œIs the renegade boy coming this evening?â€ Tanya asked.
â€œColin?â€ Keran said. â€œYes, he should be. Don’t worry he’ll keep the rules.â€
â€œSo will we,â€ Anna said. â€œThough I might have to grit my teeth.â€
â€œOh?â€ He tilted his head at her.
â€œShe’s Karen’s daughter,â€ Tanya explained.
â€œAh,â€ he said. â€œThat could be interesting. Guess who’s bringing Colin to the class.â€
Tanya frowned for a moment before groaning. â€œOh, that’s going to be awkward.â€
â€œMy aunt is coming here?â€ Anna hazarded and Tanya nodded.
â€œUnless I’ve misunderstood, yes,â€ she said.
â€œYou haven’t,â€ Keran said. â€œMaelin always sends them with Lu.â€
â€œYou need to decide what you’re going to do about what Stephen told us anyway,â€ Anna said.
Tanya gave Anna a surprised look. â€œYou’re taking this calmly for someone who was feeling murderous yesterday.â€
â€œI’m calm now.â€ Anna frowned. â€œPerhaps too calm. That keeps happening. I’m not sure it’s right.â€
â€œWe’ll talk to Dan tomorrow,â€ Tanya said. â€œThough I don’t know what could cause that.â€
â€œThe Huntsman told you something?â€ Keran asked curiously. â€œMay I ask what?â€
â€œApparently David is a potential Winter Warrior,â€ Kate said.
The leaves in Keran’s hair moved in a non-existent breeze as he stared at David. â€œSo that’s why the Summer Warrior wants him dead? But what does that have to do with Lu?â€
David gave a bitter snort. â€œApparently this Maelin dude has the Winter Blade and I need it.â€
Keran gave a low whistle. â€œYes, that is a problem, because you don’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hades of taking it from him by force.â€
â€œWe’re having a pack meeting after the Wake tonight,â€ Tanya said. â€œWe’ll have to figure what to do then.â€
Keran nodded solemnly then turned back to David. â€œSo, let’s start with you then. He jerked his head towards the mat.
The unnatural calmness still had Anna in its grip as she finished her sparring with Keran. While she was pretty certain that it was there to stop her doing something stupid when her aunt and the renegade boy arrived but it had the side-effect of dampening her mortification at the ease with which Keran has tossed her around the mat. She’d thought her training with the Order had given her a good grounding in hand to hand combat but Keran was something else. The fact that he’d tossed David around with equal ease was only mild consolation.
She pulled herself to her knees, still gasping from where the last throw had winded her and let Keran help her up.
â€œAre you both vampire hunters?â€ he asked as she sat on one of the benches.
Surprise broke through the icy calm for a moment. No one had mentioned that to Keran.
â€œHow?â€ David sounded as shocked as she felt.
â€œI’ve encountered enough Order members in my life to recognise both the fighting style and the subtleties that say you were trained by the Vampire section.â€ He fetched a couple of cans of orange juice from his office. â€œYou two both did well. I have a fair idea how to train you now to make the best advantage of your claws and fill in the gaps.â€
â€œYou’d better teach David sword play as well,â€ Kate said. â€œHe’ll need it.â€
â€œPresuming the Winter Blade manifests as a sword for him and not, for example, as a whopping great axe like the Night Blade does for Tyler.â€
Kate snorted at that. â€œWell, yes, Tyler always has to be different. It’s usually a sword and you know it.â€
â€œBut there’s no knoowing what type of sword. I’ll have to teach him a variety of sword–â€ Keran stopped as the bell rang. â€œThat will be Lu and Colin. I’ll let them in.â€
Anna took a shaky breath as he went to open the door. Even with the strange calm she knew she was going to struggle not to verbally lash out her aunt and her charge.
No shouting at Lu, petal. It was her mother’s voice again, this time Anna had no doubt it was real but she still couldn’t see any ghosts. That’s because I’m not out there, dear.
Anna was about to ask what that meant when Keran returned with Lucy and Colin. She immediately realised that she would have known Lucy for a relative anywhere. She looked like a taller, more elegant version of how her mother looked in photos. As she studied her Lucy’s eyes fixed on her and she gave a slight gasp.
â€œAnna?â€ She covered the floor between them even as she spoke. â€œI should have realised, who else is the right age to be newly changed?â€ She sounded so sad. â€œMy God, you look so much like Karen.â€
Anna opened her mouth to snap at her Aunt about working for the person who had had her mother killed but something in her mind jerked her back.
Don’t. You’ll regret it later.
Anna tried to figure out what had just happened and noticed that Lucy’s eyes had widened.
â€œOh, Karen,â€ she whispered. â€œWhat have you done? You–â€ She shook her head and turned to look at Tanya. â€œSlightly diverting but has no one noticed that my niece is possessed?â€
â€œWhat?!â€ Tanya said.
â€œIt’s mild and you know Karen wouldn’t harm her but I thought you should know.â€ She turned to look at David. â€œMy goodness you’ve grown, David. I was sorry to hear about your father. He was my favourite cousin.â€
Anna’s mind was racing as she tried to process what Lucy had said but she couldn’t help noticing the intensity of the gaze her aunt had turned on David. She was clearly looking for something. He apparently noticed as well because he folded his arms and looked at her steadily.
â€œWas there something?â€
Lucy gave a half smile. â€œYes, apparently he was right about you. Interesting.â€ She turned to Kate and inclined her head. â€œYour majesty, I wasn’t expecting to see you here. The Lord of the Wolves asked me to pass a message on to you. He wishes me to reassure you that he won’t attack you if you say no. He says coercion is a poor basis for a negotiation.â€
â€œLike he cares about that,â€ Tara muttered.
Lucy just gave her a calm look before turning back to Kate. â€œHe means it, your majesty.â€
â€œWe’ll bear that in mind,â€ Kate said.
Lucy looked like she might say more but then she suddenly stiffened and gave Kate a sharp look, bent a little closer and clearly sniffed the air before giving a worried scowl.
â€œIs something wrong?â€ Kate asked.
Lucy said nothing she just turned and went and sat on the benches on the other side of the room.
â€œSomething is definitely wrong.â€ Tanya started across the room but then the bell rang again indicating that the other students were arriving.
David ignored the arriving students as he was too busy staring at Lucy, who seemed to have recovered over whatever had distressed her fairly quickly and was fussing over Colin, trying to work out if she’d figured out that he was potentially the Winter Warrior or had meant something else. He was so distracted that he didn’t sense the newcomer who’d come up behind him until she spoke.
â€œYou must be David.â€
He turned to find a young woman with pointed ears, solid blue eyes, pure white hair and skin that was nearly as pale and distinctly blue. Not just veins showing through the skin but genuinely blue. At least she looked young but he was fairly sure that meant very little with mistwalkers. She smiled at him revealing unnaturally sharp teeth and extended her hand.
â€œI’m Beth,â€ she said. â€œI’m a snow maiden, a winter fairy of the so-called rebel court. I hear Gwendolen is after you.â€
David just nodded as he shook her hand as two other Mistwalkers joined them. Both of them were obviously summer mistwalkers, another young woman whose leaf green hair had roses and thorns growing in it. She introduced herself as Nina and said she was a rose daemon and the other was an older man whose tanned skin and gold hair seemed to sparkle like the sun on raindrops but otherwise looked human and who introduced himself as Jerry but didn’t specify what he was. From the way all three attached themselves to him for the rest of the lesson David was certain they’d been assigned to guard him by someone, though all three just laughed when he asked them to confirm it.
Colin watched Lucy worriedly as she drove them back from the lesson. She looked stressed and tired.
â€œAre you okay?â€ he asked.
She gave a heavy sigh. â€œThings just got a lot more complicated.â€ She pulled over and rested her head against the steering wheel. â€œHe’s not going to like this.â€
â€œIs this about that guy, your cousin’s son?â€
â€œDavid? Oh no, he was right about Dave,â€ she said. â€œThis is about someone else he’s interested in. I caught her scent on the Day Queen.â€ She straightened up and started driving again. â€œBetter get this over with.â€
Maelin was talking with Rachel when they got back to the house. The two of them had been plotting how to deal with Callie since he and Lucy had fetched her the evening before. Both of them looked up at them. Maelin took one look at Lucy and hurried over.
â€œWhat’s wrong, Lu?â€ he asked.
â€œBefore we get into that there’s two other things,â€ she said. â€œOne, David was there and you’re right about him.â€
â€œI knew it!â€ he said triumphantly. â€œMother’s grasp is weakening. I wonder if your family know yet.â€
â€œWon’t that piss them off,â€ Lucy said.
â€œIndeed. What was the second thing?â€
â€œThe Day Queen was with him and I passed your message on, which brings us to the problem. While I was speaking with her I caught a scent about her. It was unnaturally faint but she’d been around that Laurel girl sometime in the last few hours.â€
He stiffened. â€œYou’re sure?â€
She nodded. â€œIt was a bit off from last time I picked up her scent but it was her.â€
â€œGiven that the Day Queen is around your family that complicates things,â€ he said. â€œHow is her scent different?â€
â€œShe didn’t smell quite human anymore. It was too faint to tell how she’d changed but she definitely had. Are you certain that your mother’s grasp couldn’t have slipped enough that she emerged without hollowing?â€
â€œNot a chance,â€ he said. â€œBut given that the girl kept company with vampires and her husband insisted that he’d killed her I can think of one possibility, not that it makes much of a difference. She’s still got to die before my mother finds her and hollows her to power the spell keeping the Winter King alive. She’s only got to fail a couple more times and her entire spell comes tumbling down. Indeed given David’s emergence the spell is already weakening so maybe this time will be the charm.â€
â€œI wish there was some other way,â€ Lucy said.
Maelin looked downcast as he nodded. â€œI do too,â€ he said. â€œBut I tried for centuries and every time they died screaming in spite of my best efforts. But if Queen Katarzyna came into contact with the child on a more than casual basis then it’s going to make things difficult especially if your family are involved with Laurel as well.â€ He tapped his tongue against his teeth. â€œWould you mind missing your cousin’s wake tonight? The cats owe us a favour and they’re sneakier than us. See if you can get them to send one of the clowder to track her movements and figure out where she crossed paths with the girl.â€
â€œI’d still like to go but Tanya noticed that something was wrong so it’s likely wisest if I don’t,â€ Lucy said. â€œI’ll go and talk to Mia but she likes my family and won’t want to get on the wrong side of them.â€