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He woke to a loud clap! He flashed back into a cat snarling as he realized someone had just thrown the doors open as they slept. Two people came through them. “Stand down! The boy is mine!,” Collin warned him as he approached the bed. “You want him…You buy him…like all of the rest!” The cat hushed immediately as his words echoed his thoughts perfectly. He couldn’t pay for the boy, and he knew it. Did Collin know, too? “I realize you have been a cat for far longer than you want us to know. So I have a proposition for you,” he stated coldly, “if you will agree to it.”
De ‘Vorga tensed and gasped ‘no!’ “Work for me! It won’t be long, just a short job, but dangerous! The boy is worth far more than what I ask…I will be giving him to you far cheaper than I like to do!” Shadow trembled in indecision and fear. The slaver was offering him the thing he most wanted.
Why? What would he ask in return? Did he know…It was such a tempting offer. Did he dare to accept it? What would he ask? What could he ask? He didn’t know who he was dealing with, did he?, Shadow wondered in terror. If he agreed and the whoremaster knew what he had once been, it was over. He knew that! “You don’t want him?”
He felt Vorgas move beside him and waited for what he was about to say. “Shut up, De ‘Vorga! Let him decide…” The cat automatically read him to see what it was he wanted to say. He found himself pushed out by a barrier far stronger than he thought the boy capable of forming! He growled angry at the unexpected rejection. “Don’t blame the boy; he obeys me…as he was taught to do.” But it forced Shadow into a position where he had to decide without asking any questions. Something he was unwilling to do! “Your choice…the boy won’t help you decide it. It must be your own choice to do this! Understood? I will give you time to think it over…I will come back when you make a decision. Until then, I have things to do…”
He heard him leave with someone at his side. Kasey, no doubt. He remained silent, and didn’t change forms. “I’m so sorry, Shadow! I can’t…I’m not…allowed…to try to persuade you in…in any way! Not for…or against it.” He sighed sadly. “Please don’t be mad at me!,” he begged. “Collin is my keeper until…until that changes. It is the way things are! He owns me…” Shadow growled at his desperation. He hated this! What was he going to do about it? What choice did he have? “Please! Don’t be mad…”
Stalking through the wide-open door, he left the worried boy as alone as he had left him in this choice. Children passed him in the long hallways without reaching out to touch him as they once had. It bore down on him in sorrow. This was the prelude to the rest of his life. Noone would want to touch the maimed animal, he swore in disgust. It sent a little growl up his throat. He didn’t see the worried stares all around him.
He moved into the noise before him careful to avoid feet and anyone’s direct path. He knew from experience that noone would even see him as they passed. They would trip over him and wonder where he had come from even if he had been holding perfectly still. He let his senses flare out guiding him, warning him of obstructions and the crowd’s movement around him. It had been so very long since he had even bothered to try to do this.
He remembered leaving the jungles to follow at the first Gypsy’s side. She had begged him to follow her everywhere. Even blind, he had kept her safe. She had come to mean the world to him. And she had kept him connected in a small way to the things he had given up on long before. He had almost died the day she did, a day he mourned bitterly…as he did for each of her relatives. Children lost in time…so many until he had stopped caring. Until Bavol and Durril’s grandfather had come. Until he had mixed into their bloodstream something that would make them live as long as he did, giving him permanent friends to take care of silently.
The man had been a prophet. He knew that now. He had mobilbahis güvenilir mi ‘seen’ something in the shadowed recesses of the animal’s mind. He had known the cat was much more than he seemed. Never once had he tried to befriend him. Shadow had ignored the silent stranger. A choice he had regretted the day the stranger had died trying to save his life. Why had he done it? Because of that rash decision, Shadow had been keeping his grandson’s safe. Now, he was failing to do that! He sat among the crowd letting the noise penetrate his mind and make him think like one of his race should!
“That Reece is an evil bastard,” he heard someone hiss above him. He tensed in alarm at the unfamiliar voice.
“He is…,” someone agree softly. Assured that noone had noticed him and the men were talking to each other, he went back to his own thoughts.
“Know what I have heard this time? He has been seen at Tarkin’ton, he has!” Shadow tensed unwillingly listening further. “Everyone knows Tarkin’ton is a follower of the Dark Ones…not vampires…but Them!”
“Does it matter? The lord of the vampires is rumored to have followed them, once long ago,” the other reminded him softly.
“The Cursed One? He left him, he did! Shows that he had some sense in him. But the Dark Lord is Dane! I don’t care who says differently! That man is vile!,” he hissed in disgust. “I tell you Reece is his! I know it…He works for the man, or is his partner! He has to be…People have been selling him their souls for countless millennia! He is Evil! Tarkin’ton is Dane’s most loyal pet! He won’t trust without Dane’s explicit approval! You know that! Meaning Dane himself ordered Tarkin’ton to do what-it-is-they-are-doin’ with Reece!”
“I agree…Reece is following a bad crowd. He always has, but he deals with the good when one of them has something they need. I have need of him! That is all he cares about! In the end, he will do as I ask because I wall give him whatever he asks to do this for me! So shut up!,” his friend snarled heatedly. “I have made my choice! I will see Reece. I will do this. Nothing you say will change that!” He sighed. “It doesn’t mean anything. Reece will do the job. No matter who asks him.” This man sounded like the very devil, Shadow sat thinking hating that he cared.
“He won’t save her! He hasn’t a reason! He hates womenfolk of any kind…Everyone knows that, you fool! You have to pay dearly to make him work with women! He rarely accepts jobs that deal with them…”
“He will save her. I would give my life to hear she was alive and free again.
“It wouldn’t matter if you did, or not. She is at Tarkin’ton!” Shadow flinched. “You know what that means, as well as I do!,” his friend whispered sounded concerned as he stated the painful truth of it. “She is lost to all of us, now. Reece won’t take the job. If he is doing business with that creature, he won’t risk angering him for a girl. Not even if you gave him everything! Let’s go home…,” he begged sadly.
“No!,” the other one stated. “I can’t. I have to see him. I’ll wait for a month if I must! I have to at least ask him!”
“Your daughter is dead, man…Get over it!” His friend stood up pushing his chair back loudly and left, leaving angry voices behind as he shoved past.
“I cannot,” he heard the remaining one whisper. “I know what he will do to her,” he stated out loud. Shadow shook all over. He couldn’t stand to listen.
He hardened his heart and moved on. He tried to think about his own problems, but the man’s pain-filled words kept repeating in his ears. He stopped again too distracted to feel the flow of traffic. While he stood there, he heard more people talking above. “There! See that kid…I have been here for months seeing him. I want that boy!” Someone laughed at his words. “I will have him before I leave here today!”
“You are insane! He isn’t worth it…The ‘keeper of the keys’ has too steep a price for that. He cares mobilbahis where they go, how they are treated, and pays close attention to the people he sells them to. You don’t want that creature keeping tabs on you! I warn you…He’s a vindictive sort.” He heard a snort. “Besides, the kid would likely run away after you paid so highly for the use of his delicate flesh. Where would you be then, hmm? They fear noone, but Reece!”
There was that name again. Who was Reece? Collin Brice owned these slaves. He passed the men as traffic before him slowed enough to pass. “Look!,” someone hissed in warning. He tensed and turned just by the fear in the man’s voice. “That is him! I know it is…” Who? Reece?, he wondered curiously.
“That boy? He is a gorgeous one, isn’t he? But you are sadly mistaken,” a woman replied sourly. “Watch the way he acts. See it, there! He is so much less than these other boys. He is a frightened waif! He can’t be the one you speak of…Why he trembles in Brice’s shadow! Can you imagine how much he fears when he isn’t plastered to the man’s side? A wind would cause him to die out of sheer fright!” She laughed. “No, the one who did what you say isn’t him.” Shadow paused curiously. Kasey? Someone who looks like him…
“It has to be him! It looked identical…”
“Listen! I will tell this to you only once. That boy…has a twin!” A gasp of surprise came from the man. “You do not want to accuse either of them of doing this! They are Reece’s favorites! Do you hear me?”
“But one of them did do this!,” the man protested angrily.
“No! Do you want me to explain why?” Silence. “That is too scared and weak. The other is a light-bearer. He seeks harmony in all things! It wasn’t them,” she swore firmly. “I have seen others of their family. They all look similar! Perhaps it was another, older, family member?,” she suggested cautiously. “But not these two! They are Antonie’s bloodline!” Shadow tensed in surprise. “How Brice keeps them without fear of his wrath, I cannot know, but you do not wish to challenge him for those boys! If Brice gave them to you, and I know he won’t,” she told him adamantly. “Antonie would destroy you for harming them! Understand?” Silence.
“The kid I saw was powerful,” the man whispered. “Fearless and terrifying to look upon! He destroyed the entire city in seconds! I didn’t see what stopped him; I was fleeing for my life…”
“It couldn’t have been Kasey. Look at him! Besides,” she sighed reluctantly. “Reece only has him for half of a human yearly cycle.” Both Shadow and the man perked up in interest. “Dane keeps him for the rest.”
The silence was deafening. “Are you telling me…That boy! He is with Dane for that long and you don’t think he is the one doing these things! You damn fool,” he growled bitterly. “Dane would make him do it! No matter what anyone else wanted. I have found my murderer…”
“Are you so sure? He is young. How could he be so strong?”
“Dane can infuse his power through an infant! No, Karen! He is the one…”
Kasey, Shadow thought in horror. How could the boy be one of Dane’s puppets? He seemed so gentle and quiet. Sad, he realized. The boy always seemed so sad. Could it be true? He moved on not wanting to hear what they decided about the topic. This place was a hotbed of political intrigue! He shuddered, knowing his worst fears would come to pass if he stayed here for long. He couldn’t afford to have that happen! It would break him this time. He dodged into a corner of the loud pub smelling beer and sex. What was he going to do about De ‘Vorga? He needed an answer so he could leave here!
“Tarkin’ton,” he heard tensing in distress, “has a new slave,” a man drawled snidely. Why was everyone whispering his name? What had he been doing that he was as talked about as Dane and Reece?, he thought angrily. He didn’t care! He didn’t want to know…He started to leave, but the words stopped him in his tracks. Frozen in unwilling witness mobilbahis giriş to the horror about to come! “He has taken Hannibal’s older brother. I don’t know why that fool would allow it! I loved going to see that boy! We all did…Now, half of the fun is gone.” An evil laugh followed his oily words.
“Damn! Tarkin’ton will kill him! What was the phis’tdna thinking?”
“Easy…Antonie has been visiting his fine establishment. He has seen Han. Not Ashra. One vampiric, boy slave can be explained away, but two…both abused severely. No. As mush as I hate losing Ashra, it would be worse for the Guardian to find out about all of us. Han won’t talk, but Ash would have sung our praises in his ear!,” he cautioned sarcastically. “Han is afraid of us.”
“Then, maybe…,” his friend laughed coldly. “I should send Tarkin’ton a gift for killing our, little troublemaker promptly.” They both laughed at this.
Shadow moved away feeling sick. Vampires? Damn, damn, damn. Why would he have to hear that? He closed his useless eyes and fled toward the sound of children and the smell of food. He wanted someone to guide him back to his room to hide! He never should have left it! He knew this was going to happen…He stumbled and fell beneath a boy’s feet. The kid hit the floor hard, spilling the contents of the tray he was carrying. Silence met his ears and he held still in shock and wondered what they would do. Then, noise erupted as the other boys rushed to help the child to his feet, and clean the mess, and remake the order for him swiftly.
Shadow backed away trying to avoid the sudden confusion! He heard dozens of languages being spoken all at once as they converged and united to save the boy from trouble. Some passed so close he felt the air move before his face. He stumbled back away afraid to get beneath the feet of someone else. Both of his back legs dropped out from under him. He squeaked in fright as he fell back into open air! He hit and rolled down the long flight of stairs hearing the boys scream as they finally noticed him.
He wasn’t too sure when he reached the ground. He lay there in the damp soil wondering how long he had been out. He could feel the new damage he had done. Maybe a broken rib. It hurt to breath. Hopefully, just bruises. Someone gathered him into their arms. He hadn’t heard anyone come in, but that didn’t surprise him. He was shaking from shock. “Shade,” a sweet voice said softly surprise to recognize him. The face was buried beside his ear in his thick fur, and he seemed so familiar. Why couldn’t he place… “Shade…” He shook in renewed shock. Was he dead that he was hearing this voice? Dios. Had he slipped into the abyss? “Are you hurt, Shade? Talk to me…”
He changed forms unwilling to believe just his ears. Had he damaged them? Or just his mind? The arms wrapping around him was too familiar. He closed his eyes nearly crying at the messages his mind was sending. “Wha…” It couldn’t be him…He was dead!
“Shade…What happened to your lovely, lavender eyes?” He felt a fond hand brush across his face from temple to cheekbone. “Your beautiful face…Oh, Gods! Shade! What has he done to you?,” the voice wept at the sight of the scars he found caressing his hair. Both of them tensed in alarm. Someone was coming down the stairs!
“Shadow?,” a voice called descending slowly listening for sounds. He felt the man holding him pull away silently. There was a gentle breeze that swirled around the enclosed room and he knew that he had whisked away with it. There was slight feel of energy to that wind. He changed back into a cat hiding the energy flux with his own. Collin was just turning into the last set. He spoke when he saw him. “Shadow? Are you alive?” He had to have felt the change. Was he wondering if something else had caused the flicker of power?
The cat blinked and shook his head. Was he alive? He had just been held by a ghost from his past…Didn’t that mean he was dead, too? Yet he felt his body around him. He felt Collin touch the blood seeping from his nose. “You get into more trouble than anyone I know. The boys were too scared to come down here. It is forbidden to them…” He trailed off distracted. Dios! Was the ghost still here? Haunting him! He shivered in fearful alarm…
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