I steel myself against what I know will come, and change.
The just re-injured tissues in my right foreleg-arm-elbow don’t respond to my wishes. They twist and shear, stretch and grate, across bone, across ligaments, against tendons. White lightning that doesn’t flash, that grows only brighter, louder, angrier. I clamp my jaw shut to keep from screaming out, driving my teeth together, and drag myself through.
Into screaming, blazing agony—the pain of swelling, abused; cold, sharp glass, driven deep, twisted about.
The promise of something that
Desperately, I grab for it. Please! I beg. But its solace is closed to me now. We aren’t friends. We never were. It smacks me away with a curse and kicks at me on the ground. I grind my teeth and squeeze shut my eyes, as it shrieks through me, around me, over me, hateful and unequivocal.
But the reason for it all yells at me, too, through the violence.
I drag my focus away, back to the real world, back to bigger problems. Back to him.
I force my eyes open. He’s waiting, jaws still open. Ready.
“Please, Sir,” I gasp, and blink away tears. I meet his yellow gaze, and refuse to flinch. “I am Tiergan. My cousin is Brennan. We are here to arrange, passage.”
His jaws spread, a growl, rumbling deep.
“Please, Sir,” I plead. “We come from Aiden. He was supposed to call . . . .”
The pain pulses outward, inward. Pins and needles roll up my fingers and into my wrist. I hear my breathing—ragged, and uneven.
I want to clench my fist, to react to it, to tense at it.
But that would be a grave mistake.
The rumble in his chest softens, and his jaws close. He stalks forward, slowly, eyes never leaving me.
I cringe as he moves his nose in, towards my arm, but he stops short. He sniffs at it then steps back and changes.
He’s older than I thought. And built like a tank.
“You are not one of Aiden’s,” he spits.
I shake at the force of it. “No, Sir. I’m one of Faolan’s.”
“I don’t know any Faolan. You said Aiden.” His voice drops, gravel becoming flint. “I would not lie to me, boy.”
Hasn’t Aiden called?
I shake my head and plead again. “Aiden’s our neighbour, Sir. We are travelling to Carrigan’s. We have Aiden’s leave. We came to ask yours. He was to call ahead.”
Oh, shit, no.
“Sir, please, I promise you, we have his leave.”
He eyes me again.
“You smell familiar, boy. Who is this Faolan?”
“He’s my brother, sir.”
“You are from the east?”
“No, Sir,” I reply and shake my head. “The city.”
“You are trying my patience, boy. Why are you here? Carrigan is north of you.”
“With Rian between, Sir. That path is now closed to us.”
His eyes widen. “Between Rian and Aiden? You are one of Kael’s!”
“Sir? Kael was my father.”
He throws his head back and laughs, a deep, cavernous laugh. He waves his hand and instantly his pack backs away. Brennan releases an audible sigh of relief, but doesn’t quite relax. Dugan looks back down to me.
“Sir?” I ask.
“What have you done to your arm, son?”
Huh? What the fuck just happened? “Sir?” I plead again, and pull slightly away from him.
He smiles at me. “I knew Kael. You have his scent. You may cross my lands.
“Now, what have you done to your arm?”