SONG FOR THE WILDS
The Wilds Duology: Book II
gay romance/adventure fantasy
Published Dec 24th, 2015
Available Now at Amazon for 4.99
You can read free stories and snippets here
A dogfight is rising.
Despite leaving Caliebb behind months before, De’vii can’t forget him. His pack won’t allow it. De’vii can’t forget, yet he can’t return, not without putting Caliebb at risk of being torn apart by De’vii’s world simply because of who and what he is.
But the world of dogs and houndmasters is beginning to crumble. Wilds are encroaching onto civiliazed land. War hangs in the air, ready and waiting to fall. And De’vii stands in the center: not truly civilized and not entirely wild.
Far away, Caliebb is finally discovering his own strength, because for the first time in his life he has a reason to risk everything he’s ever known. And he isn’t about to let De’vii fight alone.
There were whispers in the darkest corners of the bloodiest doghouses. Ones that started as low growls in the depths of civilized throats, then died as howls rent the air. Sand caked and clotted with blood and fur. Civilized blood. Its metallic taint permeated every crevice of the doghouse with intoxicating loveliness.
De’vii blinked slowly, missing the dive of Cha’ree’s youngest pup, but seeing her enthusiasm fall to an older, more experienced hound. The pup let out a high-pitched whine, crawling off the sands with her tail between her legs to be licked and mocked by the rest of her pack.
Wild blood will be spilt—have you heard about it rising?—I’ve bought basement rights to a place up north for my dog’s newest litter—that job gone bad near Coaistal Shores, so many dogs lost—hostel is getting pounded, turned away some of the more violent ones—wild dogs should stay where they belong!
Ast snapped and snarled down below, the only one of his dogs refusing to mingle, refusing to listen to the whispers. Her gray coat stood out among the sea of browns—auburns, mahoganies, ambers and cocoas. Colors ranging from those that could be called golden to shades so dark they could almost be mistaken for black. Almost.
He hooked one of his hands on the back of his neck, cocking his head as if that would help him hear what he wanted to hear among the gossip and whispers sifting through the doghouse underneath all the howling and shouting.
“Seen you listening a lot lately,” said a calm voice at his shoulder.
De’vii didn’t bother looking up as Ni’vaa settled himself upon the thick, dog-chewed railing and propped himself against the pole so the two men sat facing one another. One of Ni’vaa’s legs dropped over the edge to hang, the other bending at the knee as he settled back, pale green eyes fixed on De’vii rather than the fighting below them.
“Anything you’re trying to listen for specifically?”
De’vii curled his lip in a partial snarl as a youthful houndmaster he didn’t know attempted to take on a woman who looked twice his age and four times as capable. Poor pup. Stupid pup. Thinking enthusiasm was all he needed.
“I hear things, De’vii,” said Ni’vaa when De’vii didn’t respond. “A lot of things. Just like you. Don’t know how much stock to place in most of them.”
“What do you want?” asked De’vii.
Ni’vaa didn’t react to the sharpness in De’vii’s tone other than to let an amused twinkle enter his eyes. An amused twinkle that held a hint of something darker. “I went to see Sa’miil right before skyclad started. Thought you might be interested in something a little firmer than gossip.”
That got De’vii’s attention. He looked Ni’vaa over carefully, noting the sudden consideration the other houndmaster was giving the fighting down below despite the one-sidedness of the bloodshed. His long dark hair hung loose around his head, a trio of thin braids drifting against his left cheek and stretching down to his chest, each tied off with a dog-hair tie of a different shade. He was taller than De’vii. Rangier. Though he slouched with far more grace.
They’d fought once on the sands. Ni’vaa had been quick then, probably quicker now. His dogs far faster than average. De’vii had won from sheer fierceness, but he’d had to seep into the wild in order to do so and had almost lost himself completely that night. One of three times he’d almost exposed himself to the same hatred that was now worming into his ears from all corners of the doghouse.
“How was Sa’miil?” he asked.
Ni’vaa shrugged. “Still wishing for his own pack. Wanting to be free of the hostel. Hopefully not pining after you.”
“Hopefully,” agreed De’vii. Mott stirred then. Not physically. Physically, she was sprawled out on a cushion of her own, two pups nuzzled in at her side. She was the reason he hadn’t gone south yet to check the rumors for himself. But when those pups were just a little bigger…
Mentally, she drew his mind back to the man he did hope pined for him. Those gentle hazel eyes, always hooded and careful. Those lean lines of smooth muscle. Those thin lips, forever so worried and sore that De’vii wished he could lick them clean and tease them between his teeth. The smell of him filled De’vii’s nostrils, reminding him of when they’d writhed together.
He blinked and forced himself back to the present when he became aware of his cock swelling. His arousal sifted into the stench of it already thick in the doghouse and he gave a cursory glance across the place, only half-heartedly looking for a bedmate and not finding anyone he wanted even a tenth as much as the man who wasn’t here.
A man who didn’t belong here.
“The rumors about the wilds are true though,” said Ni’vaa.
“Which ones?” asked De’vii roughly, dragging all thoughts of Caliebb back into the past where they belonged.
“They’re breaking the treaty. Crossing the Braken.”
“Lovely,” muttered De’vii. So much for hoping things had been over-exaggerated.
“There’s been bloodshed in the Ay’ril Woods. Wild dogs thinking they can take up new residence. Our kind not liking to share.” Ni’vaa put a strange stress on “our.”
De’vii snarled slightly, wondering how much Sa’miil had told Ni’vaa. That pup would know things. Would know how often De’vii disappeared through the Braken to visit the wilds. And while De’vii was pretty sure he had Sa’miil’s trust to not blurt things out, for some strange reason Ni’vaa was never considered a break in that confidence.
“Could be a single family responsible, maybe they were run out of the wilds—”
De’vii looked at him sharply. “How could you possibly know that?” De’vii might have been able to tell. He knew a lot of the people within the wilds. But Ni’vaa… Ni’vaa had never set foot within the Braken since it had fallen to the haunt, much less the wilds beyond.
“Too many,” said Ni’vaa. “Far, far too many. Ay’ril hadn’t broken into a dogfight yet before I left, but it was getting there. Enough so I tried to convince Sa’miil to leave.”
“Did he?” asked De’vii, knowing the answer before Ni’vaa spoke.
“No. Tu’la’im seems to be neutral ground. Thankfully.”
“But I don’t know how long that will last. With more and more of the wilds crossing the Braken and breaking the treaty, it’s only a matter of time before things implode. Anything without a side will be forced to choose. Anyone who refuses to take a side will end up torn to shreds.”
De’vii held Ni’vaa’s gaze, refusing to let the man see that his warning had hit home. “And you’re telling me this…why?” He lifted an eyebrow.
Ni’vaa smiled softly. “Because I know you, De’vii. You’ll have a better chance at convincing Sa’miil to leave because you know what is coming.”
Oh, yes, he knew what was coming. Another bloody war that would cause the rest of Nebrae to laugh deeply when the houndmasters were finished tearing each other apart. One of these times they would succeed at destroying themselves completely, leaving only the men, women and dogs in the deepest of the wilds to survive.
“You should have fucked him years ago,” said De’vii with a snort, needing to get the subject away from his torn parentage and hovering allegiances.
Ni’vaa’s eyes hardened. “When I’m finally with him, it won’t be fucking.” He swung his leg around and slid off the railing gracefully, running a hand through hair that fell halfway down his back. “Wa’ol would probably be more than willing to take care of Mott and the pups. Why not leave them here?”
“You’re that desperate?” De’vii laughed. He let the laugh die naturally despite the stricken look on Ni’vaa’s face. “Sa’miil isn’t my priority,” he said. “If you’re that worried about him, you should be down there yourself. Shouldn’t have left.”
“Unlike others I know, I’ve taken a side.” Ni’vaa’s voice implied he was referring directly to De’vii and De’vii had to thank him silently for not saying it out loud in the middle of the doghouse where everyone could hear that he might belong to the wilds. “I’m not up here to play. I’m up here to rally the forces. You’re the only one I know who might be able to warn him out before things heat up beyond ability to control.” Ni’vaa paused. He stared down into the sands for a moment before adding quietly. “You’re the only one I know who might be able to stop things from escalating.”
De’vii leaned back and stretched his legs out, feigning a casualness he didn’t feel. “Don’t you want the blood? The high? Wouldn’t all of us prefer it?” He made a gesture with his hand to include the entire doghouse and the stained sands below.
Ni’vaa shifted his weight. “Depends upon whose blood.” An obvious reference to Sa’miil.
“Love is such a painful burden.” De’vii smirked to cover up the curdling in his stomach, Mott taunting him with his own decisions made solely to keep Caliebb from harm.
But Ni’vaa didn’t rise to the bait. “At times, yes. Perhaps you could give my regards to your dam and sire when you visit Sa’miil.”
He walked away then, his leisurely gait not altering, not even when De’vii muttered, “They didn’t know you and wouldn’t have liked you if they had.”
“Who wouldn’t have liked who?” asked Mi’saa as she strode up. She settled against the railing, her eyebrows quirking in such a way that made De’vii suspect she’d heard more of the conversation than she let on.
“I might be heading down south soon,” he said. “Care to join if I do?”
Mi’saa sighed. “Think I’ll find myself a nice long job that will take me away until this dogshit is over.”
Mi’saa stiffened, her eyes flashing, then she gave him a wicked grin. “Aww, love, you’re just baiting me. Want me on the sands badly, do you?”
De’vii shrugged. “Did it work?”
“Of course,” she snapped. She jumped onto the railing, gave his leg a light push, then dropped into the lower level, ignoring the dirty looks she got from the houndmasters already on the sands. “Get your cowardly ass down here, De’vii, before all of Crafton thinks you’re a pup.”
Ast leapt from the crowd and slid to a stop in front of Mi’saa, already growling and raring to go. Mott whined a little at the sudden high that went through his pack and the rest sped from all corners of the doghouse to join Ast and Mi’saa’s pack upon the sands.
De’vii swung both his legs over the edge. “Aww, love,” he mimicked her earlier mocking tone. “You honestly think you can beat us just because Sou is no longer with us. How sweet, love. How motherfucking sweet.” To his pack, “Let’s give the ancestral bitch a show, shall we?”
Mi’saa’s smile widened as he dropped down next to her and she didn’t allow him even the space of a breath to catch his balance before she was on him, giving him the fight he needed, the blood he craved, the high his pack growled for so he could make sense of the frustrating emotions trying to tear up his insides.
* * *
Winter in Neit Valley was one of those experiences Caliebb thought he might later claim wasn’t as bad as it seemed. He and Epsie were treated amazingly well despite the irritation running in an undercurrent through the city. He was never drained to his dredges again. Never sent out in the field, though Epsie was once. And he never had to wander around in the dark, partly because the world began to lighten during the months they lingered there.
And if the lightening of the Haze meant he thought less and less of a certain houndmaster, well, that was good, right? Not that he was dwelling on a man he would never see again. So he told Epsie. Who didn’t believe him and continued to tease him mercilessly for, as she put it, “getting ridden by a slobbering dog.”
It snowed more often than not, though that didn’t seem to touch inside most of Neit Valley. The protection blankets were expanded and patched until Caliebb felt as if he were walking under an invisible bubble and if that meant the Nabian government—or the Buoreinz House—was making plans to reopen a passage into Moir, well, it just wasn’t any of his business.
In fact, winter went by alarmingly fast. Maybe it was because he could sleep. Maybe it was because when he wasn’t being drained or spending time with Epsie or trying not to let his eyes glaze when Hahl practiced his swordsmanship with one of the guards, he was locked tight in his room playing his bone flute for hours on end.
The junior medic called it therapy. Hahl Buoreinz called it insanity. Stev Iroa called it anti-social idiocy. Epsie called it heart-broken obsession. They all could have been correct.
Caliebb simply called it practice, not mentioning, at least out loud, what he was practicing or who he was searching for when he tested mental muscles he’d long been neglecting.
Two months and some change later the practice finally paid off in the form of a frail shadow. A very welcome shadow that followed their squat open-to-the-still-too-cold-weather carriage as they started down the road—now promised to be completely clear of ghouls, though not of snow—away from Neit Valley. No one else noticed it at first, but as the shadow slowly began to darken and linger longer over their little company (Muroy Buoreinz had freely given some of his own as an escort for Founteinn’s people—though free could have been a relative term) Stev furrowed his brow and twisted in his seat to look into the cloudy sky.
“Well, I guess that solves one mystery,” he muttered to himself before turning and calling out to the closest guard, who happened to be astride a horse keeping pace with them, snow crunching under his horse’s hooves. “You see that thing?”
The man lifted his gaze and shrugged before looking back down at the line of brittle, icy trees they were heading under, breath coming out in a small fog of moisture.
“Aren’t you going to kill it?” asked Stev.
Caliebb caught his breath before he could say anything stupid. Epsie swung a glance his way, her gaze feeling as if it were piercing straight through his flesh.
“No,” said the man simply, his accent strong, somehow making the single syllable stretch into three. Caliebb caught sight of a sliver of a tattoo poking up above the man’s shirt as he struggled to relax back into his seat, mind already reaching out, seeking Yaiwa’s resounding echoes that he had missed more than he thought possible.
“Why not?” demanded Stev.
The guard shifted in his saddle, looking both uncomfortable and annoyed at the same time. He turned his head and motioned to someone else trailing the carriage. A moment later, the thinner, blue-haired man, who had a mouth like a filthy lagaar wasp, rode up.
“What the fuck now?” he snapped.
The first man rattled something off in another language, motioning both to Stev and into the sky, then looked at the blue-haired man expectantly. The blue-haired man gave an exasperated sigh and turned to Stev.
“For fuck’s sake. We’re not taking on a drake, even a little one. Especially when the thing hasn’t even attacked us.”
“But it could,” insisted Stev.
“It’s probably the same one that saved us back in Neit Valley,” interjected Caliebb, hoping his voice carried over the squeaking of the carriage wheels.
“All the more reason to take it out. That thing is dangerous.”
Caliebb sighed inwardly. “I’d rather have it stay on our side.”
“Yeah,” agreed the blue-haired man. “What he said. Exactly what the fuck he said.”
The first man rattled off another sentence that had the blue-haired man cussing under his breath and slowing his horse so he could drop back.
“Wait!” Stev stood up partially, one hand against the carriage’s side as he scowled at the retreating man, but the man just waved a hand dismissively before giving a glower that encompassed all of them, including the man still keeping abreast of the carriage. Stev slammed back into his seat. “Where does Muroy get some of these people?”
Caliebb hid another sigh and returned his gaze to the sky to watch Yaiwa’s progress. She looked good. She wasn’t favoring any of her legs and her wings beat strong and sure. Silent though, which was worrisome. He reached for her, feeling the graze of her mind on his as she twisted her neck. No, she hadn’t hurt her throat so badly she’d lost vocals, she just didn’t want to scare anyone.
Nerves flickered through their connection. Fear of losing Caliebb. Again.
Caliebb felt the corners of his mouth twitch and sent a wave of reassurance to the drake. Telling her she was welcome to find his mind whenever she needed. In response, she started singing one of the songs he’d played hundreds of times in his room this winter, adding her own flares and whistles where she saw fit. The song echoed in his mind, over the squeaking of the carriage wheels, the sloshing of the muddy snow and the voices speaking harshly in the quiet morning, easing him into a false sense of complacency, but true comfort.
She trailed them, an ever-present shadow that disturbed Stev and excited Caliebb. He would lay his head down at night with her whistling soft in his mental ears, her presence heavy in his mind, and a vision of her tail curled around him like a shield. He only wished her physical body was wrapped as tightly about his own.
When they reached civilization again, picking up Founteinn’s own escort, including his and Epsie’s travel manager, Zene Washle, and losing the blood lien members that the Buoreinz House had sent with them, Yaiwa had to become scarce. Her shadow didn’t stretch over their heads as often, if at all, during the day. At night, Caliebb could feel her settling on a rooftop or on a hillock just outside of whatever town they’d stopped in, her mind never once separating completely from his.
It was during the night that his memories realigned themselves. Thoughts that had once stemmed from his unwanted connections to all the people who had drained from his mage spring now faded into the background, becoming shadows in their own right. As long as Caliebb didn’t stare at those old shadows too hard, he couldn’t tell what form was beyond the dark shapes, leaving him able to sift through his own memories more clearly. Finding the ones Yaiwa had taken part in, letting her strengthen them.
Yet, Yaiwa did more than strengthen the memories, she added color and sound. She filled in his mother’s face and let him hear his father’s voice. She echoed memories of the countless nights he’d slept with her body protectively holding his own tiny one, her leathery hide gliding roughly over his skin with her every breath, pungent lake water lapping just under the sound of his mother’s quiet playing.
Zene fawned over them, far to the point where whatever independence Caliebb and Epsie had found blinked out of existence. Not that it was Zene’s fault. He had his orders, most of them given straight from Founteinn’s president herself, and he was a stickler for making sure mage springs were comfortable. Outwardly, he claimed it was because mage springs were the bread and butter of Founteinn. Privately, meaning to Caliebb alone, Zene’s bright smile diminished and he’d mutter about how mage springs were being treated less like humans and more like property.
“Wouldn’t be surprised if the laws were altered to read that mage springs only have a third of the rights of a normal person,” he muttered over dinner one night.
He and Caliebb were sitting somewhat alone in a booth against the wall of the inn, while most of the others, Epsie included, sat at the tables surrounding the boisterous dart games. The darts had been spelled such that their feathers would do crazy things in flight making them almost impossible to aim.
Caliebb pushed his plate away and leaned back. “Wouldn’t that lead to an exodus of mage springs from Nabia?”
Zene laughed bitterly and flicked a finger against his mug, nail clicking. “I doubt it. Founteinn has too much of a reputation now. But you’re right that they wouldn’t put it in writing. They have a good system already, why change it?”
Caliebb looked closer at the shorter man, frowning slightly at the apparent distress he saw there. “What happened?” he asked quietly.
Zene sighed and regarded the rest of Founteinn’s people who were laughing at Stev’s attempt to wrangle the darts into working properly. Seemingly satisfied no one was paying them any heed, he looked back. “There was an accident while you and Epsie were gone. A woman you used to be stationed with in Matna ended up getting killed.”
Caliebb thought for moment. “Ci? Ci’s dead?”
A single curt nod answered him.
“They claim she put herself in harm’s way.”
“They. Now ask me who ‘they’ are?”
“All right. Who are they?”
“I’d give my specially ordered, shipped in from Alivir, nion-scaled coat to find out.”
Caliebb narrowed his eyes.
“No. Seriously, Cal. I was the travel manager for her too, you know that. Went with her. I knew, in a round-about way sure, what her contract entailed. It was supposed to be a simple one from what I can gather. She was to be drained by these weather people, mages, charlatans, whatever you want to call them. I don’t think they were very good.
“Regardless, it was still simple. Then bam, she ends up dead. Body blackened like she’d been struck by lightening or something. The stench was so sickening a lot of us had trouble eating most of the trip back.”
“So, these obviously not very good weather manipulators ended up killing her and having to pay death rites to Founteinn?”
“That’s just it,” said Zene. “Things didn’t get handled like I’d expected them to. We’re usually all in the know and in this case we—”
“Zene! Come see if you can make these things work.”
They turned as one, Caliebb noting that Zene’s face went from distressed to cheerful in zero seconds flat. Caliebb waved at Epsie as Zene stood.
“I’ll tell you the rest later,” mumbled Zene without breaking the smile, right before he spread his arms, the decorative clasps on his sleeves clicking loudly, and walked away. “You are all doing it wrong! You can’t force it, you’ve got to coddle the little things.” And he proceeded to throw one that somehow managed to bounce off the metal lining at the edge of the dartboard and ricochet against Stev’s mug, spilling his drink across the table.
Caliebb smiled at the sight, then took advantage of everyone’s preoccupation to slip from the inn unnoticed. Outside, he stared into the sky to watch Yaiwa in flight, her wings reflecting a gibbous moon when the clouds finally shifted. The wind blew lightly tonight, but when it crossed his cheeks and tugged his hair into his face it bit with a piercing chill that poured cold all the way through to his heart.
He knew what Zene had been trying to say. Wasn’t sure what to do about it though. Yes, Founteinn played by its own rules. Yes, the mage springs were severely lacking in rights, rights that even the Nabian government wouldn’t always back up because of their need to rely on Founteinn to keep the Merandin Empire at bay. Caliebb knew this already. Certainly didn’t need to know particulars of Ci’s death to understand how precarious his position was. How quickly Founteinn could sell him or use him for things he’d rather not do. Jobs he wouldn’t have any choice but to complete.
All their rules, all their clauses and guards and layers upon layers of legal jargon claimed to be there for their safety. And at times, that’s exactly how it felt. Safe. Easy. But with so little freedom. And after this last job, after discovering what it felt like to feel almost free, he felt it could be worth it.
Could be. No guarantees. So much risk. Risks could pay off though. Sometimes. They had with De’vii. They had with getting his spigot removed…just barely. A ripple of fear shuddered down his spine at the memory of that blankness of death.
He watched as Yaiwa dipped and spun, an echoing whistle pulsing in his ears. A happy whistle. One he hadn’t realized he’d longed for until he finally found her again. She would be with him. He’d never be alone. He could trust her to protect him.
By the time the night chill had seeped into his bones, he’d almost convinced himself he should just start walking, leave with Yaiwa tonight and never look back. Grab a hold of that freedom she treasured and discover just how sweet and hard it might be.
Shivering, teeth chattering and his balls drawing up tightly into his body, Caliebb returned to the boisterous company of Founteinn’s people, warmed by their laughter.
Less than a month later, he regretted the decision that had him warm and safe in the inn’s bed that night. The decision that had him warm and safe in his bed back in Nampta. Because safe truly was a relative term and it wasn’t until he was warm that he realized just how much safer the cold of that night would have been had he been brave enough to tough it out.
* * *
He wrapped Rid’s flank, cleaning out the matted hair as best he was able with the dog constantly shifting in the small room he’d rented at a nearby inn. De’vii snapped at him more than once, both out loud and mentally, which only served to cause more stress. Wress had to force him away bodily, nudging Rid toward the fire himself to lay curled on his side next to Mott and her pups.
Two pups. One female. One male. Barely six weeks old. Both as black as Mott, though the female had eyes the color of a shadowed forest and the male had streaks of dark gray fur around three of his paws.
De’vii gingerly tugged the bandage on his own wound—one of Mi’saa’s dogs had bitten him lightly below his shoulder blade—and watched as those pups suckled at Mott. He stroked her between her eyes as Wit nuzzled her from behind.
“You haven’t told me who they belong to yet, love. Want to go into the wilds to give them up? Someone down there got your fancy and approval?”
Mott ignored him, her black eyes blinking leisurely as she shoved one of the pups away from her teat with her nose.
“Well, don’t you have any opinions on where we’re going?” Whether we would leave you behind?
Mott snarled at him and snapped her jaw. She forced her way into the forefront of the entire pack’s consciousness and gave a detailed picture of a burning sun and the dirty-blond haired man who had been monopolizing all of De’vii’s dreams. De’vii’s hand froze and his heart gave a hiccup.
“No, love. We are not going to Virdaemn. Don’t you think we should be going to the Braken? There’ll be fighting. More than there should be.”
She snarled at him again, jerking her head so violently Wit yipped and stood, then pattered away in confusion. The wild yanked at her. Tied her into knots. Made her think she shouldn’t have to listen to the pack’s consciousness. That only her own opinion mattered. It angered De’vii, that anger fueled by Mott’s inability to pull away from Caliebb despite the months they’d had.
“This isn’t up for discussion,” snapped De’vii, suddenly making a decision, wanting Mott even further from the possibility of Virdaemn. “We have to go south. The wilds are encroaching and I don’t want to see them dead. Do you? Do you, Mott? Your friends, my dam’s friends, probably even the sire of these pups of yours. Don’t you want to help them?”
Mott whined and a melody echoed throughout their consciousness. A melody that had De’vii instantly touching the remembrance choker around his neck, fingering the edges of Sou’s sharp canines.
His expression turned soft. “Love, love, you know he’d be killed. It doesn’t matter if he could help or not.”
Her black eyes turned to steel and the growl that rumbled from her gut was echoed by the entire pack. The anger they’d held had long since faded as the days, weeks and months slipped by, replaced by a longing that threatened to suffocate him worse than Sou’s choker. And the ancestral bitch be damned, they weren’t going to hear of anyone harming him.
“Not fair,” he said, cutting off a whine of desire.
He stood and stalked away from her, snapping at them fiercely in his mind when his wound gave a pulse, telling them Caliebb was far from here, not in any danger. The wild houndmasters who had been stupid enough to cross the Braken were the ones in danger of being hunted down. What could have possibly possessed them? What could have made them break the treaty now? Why, when they’d been more than content to remain in the wilds they loved every time De’vii had visited?
Mott pushed again, reminding him of a promise he’d made without thinking. About taking her wherever she wished to give her pups away.
Spinning, he turned a glare on her and growled out, “He’s not a houndmaster, you dumb bitch.”
Flashes of memory. Dogs and drakes. Infant pups still gestating, yet reaching out and finding a presence, coercing a mind back into his body before he could fade completely.
De’vii jerked, lips snapping back over his teeth. “That was them?” he asked in shock. The pups had saved Caliebb when he’d been cold and wet, heart stuttered to an empty, godsawful stop?
Mott let out an agreeing snort as if De’vii was too stupid for words for not realizing earlier.
“Still, we can’t—”
She barked, the sound piercing his mind, and her growl echoed through the collective consciousness like wild incarnate. Demanding.
He shook his head again. “No,” he growled back, no less fierce. “No. We’re going south. Virdaemn be screwed.”
He hadn’t meant to make the decision now. Had meant to think more. To consider running away with Mi’saa so he could pretend the blackness overwhelming the Braken didn’t concern him.
Through the window, the stars of skyclad glittered on either side of the gaslights. The old shutter swung in the light breeze, creaking and smacking gently against the side of the building. De’vii stopped it with a hand as he leaned out the window to glare up at the gaslights, too angry to deal with Mott head-on any longer. The colors blurred and danced. Hiccupped as if solar winds ravished them, letting the constellation of the royal hound blink into existence for a moment, its teeth sharp and glinting, legs outstretched on the hunt as it chased the child shepherd across the sky.
Then the gaslights stretched out again, flickering as they always did during their season. Caliebb would have loved them.
De’vii scowled, caught the shutter and slammed it shut on the night. He couldn’t wait until skyward. Couldn’t wait until the gaslights disappeared, taking with them the only flicker of light in the sky above Nebrae.