The boot falls receded, my pulse slowed, and a prickle raced over my skin.
Don’t. We don’t cower. We fight.
Silence filled my mind for a moment and then, I’m sorry I hurt the human. I wasn’t in control.
I rolled onto my back, surprised by her admission. Up until now, it had been all grrr, and we’re gonna have fun, and stop being a pussy.
But cowering won’t help. If we’re going to catch who did this to us, we need to work together.
You want to take control?
It doesn’t work that way, Fee. This world…it’s new to me. I’ve been asleep for so long, but this body, your body, is ours, and your mind is also mine.
She was a part of me.
You need to stop reading my thoughts.
I can’t help it.
So, what happens now.
Now we come to an agreement. We compromise. You let me help you, and I let you help me, and we both get to live.
What choice did I have? Okay.
The chill of fear melted as the beast filled my veins with warmth, and for the first time since meeting the darkest part of myself, I was grateful for her presence.
My cell was bathed in mid-morning sunlight when the door unlocked with a clank and a male Magiguard dressed in their uniform of maroon top and black pants stood on the threshold. He was tall and slender with a slim face and winged brows. No weapons, no cuffs, but then they didn’t need them. These guys had power at their fingertips, and this building was created to mute the abilities of creatures like me.
“Seraphina Dawn, I’m here to escort you to your preliminary hearing. Your outlier council will meet with you first, and then you’ll be escorted into the courtroom by a Magiguard.”
“Yes, you’re permitted counsel.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but then pressed his lips together. “Listen. Today you plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you’ll be asked to state your outlier affiliation, and then a date for a trial will be set.”
My affiliation…Whether I was rogue or part of a pack. My stomach trembled, but I stood tall and lifted my chin.
If I was going to get through this, I needed to be strong. “Got it.”
He led me down the corridor and passed several metal doors containing other prisoners. Other criminals.
I was a criminal whether by intent or by accident, and this place with its stone walls and metallic-coated cells was designed to hold all kinds of creatures. The smell of magic was in the air; the faint bonfire smell mingled with something sweet and pungent.
The Loup inside me was silent right now. Asleep maybe? Good. I needed to think, and I could do it better without an extra voice in my head. God, that smell was so strong now.
I coughed and rubbed my nose.
“Are you all right?” the Magiguard asked.
I nodded. “Just the smell.”
“Magic.” How was it not bothering him?
“You smell the magic?”
Why was he looking at me like that? “Don’t you?”
“Yes, but I’m a—”
A door ahead of us opened with a beep. “Hurry up, Boyd.” Ursula stood on the threshold. Her gaze flicked to me, and her mouth tightened. “I’ll take it from here.”
Boyd nodded and stepped back to let me pass through the door. The décor beyond was less metal box and more hospital corridor. Beige and cream and bright lights. The door closed behind me with a beep, and then a hiss followed as the hydraulics in the system settled. This place was serious business.
“Did Boyd explain what will happen today?” Ursula asked.
“Hopefully you won’t be coming back here after your hearing.” She stared at me. “Listen to your counsel.”
My counsel. Whoever that was. She led the way down the clinical corridor, past rooms containing office equipment and monitors, and to a set of double metal doors that looked like a lift, except they were framed by glowing arcane symbols.
“This is a port,” Ursula said. “It’s a similar way of travel to what Conah employs.”
“You know Conah?”
She smiled tightly. “He is a Dominus. The Magiguard have had dealings with the reapers for a long time.”
Of course they had.
She pressed her palm to a panel on the side of the port, and the doors slid open. “Please, step inside.”
I stepped into the four-by-four space.
“You’ll be met by a Magiguard on the other side,” Ursula said.
The doors closed on me, and then the room lit up bright white, and the world shattered. When my vision returned, I was staring at the metal doors as they opened to reveal a plush, maroon-carpeted corridor bordered by tall potted plants. Another Magiguard ushered me out and led me a little way down the corridor to a wooden door. The scent of magic was less here. Just a tinge in the air. How far had the port brought me? Where were we?
But my questions died on my lips as the door was pushed open and I caught sight of my outlier counsel.
Azazel pushed back his chair. “Fee.”
The door closed behind me, shutting us in together, but that barely registered because Azazel was here.
I took a step into the room, devouring his huge frame with my gaze. Dark smudges sat under his eyes, and he was paler than usual, so the scar that ran diagonally across his face stood out starkly. His shirt was rumpled, and two empty Styrofoam cups sat on the table in front of him.
He held out his arms. “Come here.”
My throat pinched, tears pricked my vision, and then I was bridging the distance between us right into his waiting arms. He held me tight to his chest, his cheek pressed to the top of my head as I breathed him in, absorbed his heat and allowed it to soothe the ice that had settled in my veins ever since last night.
The Loup inside me stirred. Interested, but I ignored her.
I gripped the soft material of his shirt and closed my eyes. “You came for me.”
He pressed his lips to the top of my head. “I’m sorry I couldn’t see you sooner. The Magiguard have their own laws. But I’m here now. I’m here, and we’re going to get you out of this place.”
I pulled away and looked up at his stubbled jaw. “What’s going to happen to me, Azazel?”
He looked down at me, his silver eyes bright in his face. “I won’t let anything bad happen to you, Fee.” He ran his thumb over my bottom lip, and my stomach flipped. “I won’t let anything hurt you.”
I believed him.
“Now, tell me everything that happened when I left you that night.” His jaw flexed. “I should never have left you.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
He turned his head to the side, looking disgusted with himself. “Yes. It was. I’m meant to protect you.”
I cupped his cheek and forced him to look at me. “You’re here now.”
He sighed and conceded with a nod. “We have an hour before the hearing. Let’s go over the events of that night.”
He pulled out a chair for me. “Sit. I’ll get you some coffee.”
I grabbed his hand as he made to leave. “No. Don’t go. Just stay with me.”
I felt the Loup’s irritation at my show of weakness, but she didn’t say anything.
Azazel crouched so he was eye level with me. He placed his huge hands on my thighs and locked gazes with me. “Do you trust me?”
He’d been the most distant, the most inaccessible of the guys. He’d been the closed-off one, but out of the guys, he was the one I felt safest with, the one I trusted the most, be it the soulmate thing or not.
I nodded. “Course I do. Go get coffee.”
He looked like he needed it.
The door closed softly behind him, and I slumped in my seat.
You’re connected to him…We are connected to him.
He’s my soulmate…Our soulmate, I guess.
The beast was silent.
He makes us feel safe.
She was processing this.
It’s all right to be vulnerable with him, she decided.
I couldn’t help but smile.
The door opened, and Azazel returned with two Styrofoam cups. He set one in front of me and then pulled up a chair next to mine.
“Tell me what happened, Fee?”
And so I did.
Azazel listened, never once interrupting me, and when I was done, he sat back in his seat. “We find Lucas’s soul, and we find a way out of this. In the meantime, you must accept Grayson’s claw. Cora explained this?”
“You have Judge Flora. She’s fae and a fair woman. I filed a statement about the hooded figures, the dagger, and Peiter’s death. Uri filed a witness statement about the figures. There is no doubt they exist, but—”
“You need evidence they were there the night I killed Lucas.” Saying it out loud made my chest ache. “We need Lucas to tell them what happened.”
“Where do you think he is?”
“Spirits who die violently get disoriented. He’s probably just drifting. But Conah and Mal are searching for him. We will find him. I promise you.”
Azazel looked at his comm with a frown.
“What is it?”
“Grayson should be here by now.”
There was a knock at the door, and a Magiguard popped his head around. “Five minutes.”
“Thank you, Ren,” Azazel said.
Oh, God. It was about to happen. “What if they don’t grant me bail?”
His jaw ticked. “Then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
I couldn’t stay here another day. I couldn’t be locked up again.
The beast inside growled in agreement.
The knock came again.
Azazel pushed back his chair and held his hand out to me. “It’s time.”
The courtroom was an imposing chamber with tinted windows. I’d seen courtroom dramas, but I hadn’t expected the outlier court to adhere so closely to the human courtroom layout. The décor was a calm beige and brown, and there was a raised platform behind which a woman with sharp, intelligent features sat.