An image of Sascha's bloodied body flashed into Lucas's mind. His hand squeezed the phone. "We might be able to find your packmate in time."
"How sure are you?"
"The probability is low but there is a chance. If you move now, we'll lose the opportunity and large numbers of both our packs." The SnowDancers were merciless killers but so were the Psy. Both sides would suffer massive casualties.
A pause that hummed with anger. "I won't be able to control my people once the body is found."
"I wouldn't want you to." Lucas had barely managed to restrain DarkRiver after Kylie's murder. The only reason they'd listened to him was that three of their females had recently birthed cubs. No one had wanted to leave the babies vulnerable. Because once the alphas and soldiers were gone, the cubs and their mothers would simply be exterminated. The Psy had no sense of mercy.
"If you go to war, we'll go with you." It was a promise that Lucas had made to his pack. In the months since burying Kylie, they'd made arrangements to hide the cubs with other packs, packs which had seeded from DarkRiver and would raise the children as their own if everything went to hell.
A short silence. The SnowDancers didn't play well with others but Lucas hoped that Hawke would listen to the voice of reason, that he'd trust in the strength of their alliance. The alternative was carnage on a scale the world hadn't seen in centuries.
"You're asking me to wait while Brenna dies."
"Seven days, Hawke. Time enough to track her." He trusted his gut. Sascha wouldn't betray them... betray him. "You know I'm right. Once the Psy realize we're hunting them, she will die. They'll do anything to cover their trail."
Hawke spit out a curse. "You'd better be right, cat. Seven days. Find my female alive and you'll never have to worry about territorial threats again. If her body turns up, we go for blood."
Sascha woke to the chime of the communication console. She was collapsed in the entry of her apartment, slumped against the closed door with her legs spread out in front of her. She had no memory of anything after exiting the elevator that had brought her to this floor.
Forcing herself to her feet, she clutched the door and walls for support as she somehow made her way to the console. Nikita's name flashed up. Too exhausted to do anything but stand there, she let her mother leave a message and then glanced at her watch.
It was ten at night. That meant she'd lost in excess of seven hours to unconsciousness. Frantic, she checked her shields. They'd held. Her relief made her aware of something else - the pain of the grief and rage that had been crushing her was gone. She couldn't remember how she'd defused it and she didn't want to think about it either. Didn't want to think about anything.
A long shower took her mind off matters for a few minutes. She followed that by sitting still and trying to meditate herself into a trancelike state, unwilling to face up to what she'd learned that day. It had been one straw too many. Her brain was in danger of overloading. She did mental callisthenic after mental callisthenic.
By the time she made herself return Nikita's call, she'd achieved a measure of outward calm. Her mother's face flashed up on the screen. "Sascha. You got my message."
"I'm sorry I was out of touch, Mother." She didn't explain where she'd been. As an adult Psy, she had the right to her own life.
"I wanted an update on the changeling situation."
"I have nothing to report but I'm sure that'll change." Right now she was hanging on to her sanity by a thread and didn't know what to believe.
"Don't let me down, Sascha." Nikita's brown eyes probed her face. "Enrique isn't happy with you - we need to give him something."
"Why do we need to give him anything?"
Nikita paused and then nodded as if she'd decided something. "Come up to my suite."
* * *
Ten minutes later, Sascha found herself standing beside her mother, looking out at the glimmering darkness of a city going to sleep.
"What does it remind you of?" Nikita asked.
"The PsyNet." It was a very crude approximation.
"Weak lights. Strong lights. Flickering lights. Dead lights." Nikita linked her hands loosely in front of her.
"Yes." Sascha felt a slight pounding at the back of her neck, more irritating than painful. A leftover from whatever had happened this afternoon? If anything had happened. What if she'd imagined the entire psychic scenario? Perhaps it was a sign of her accelerating insanity. What proof did she have that she'd done anything other than collapse? Nothing.
The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that she'd constructed the entire episode in an attempt to explain the fragmentation of her psyche. There was no other viable explanation. What she'd imagined doing was like no psychic power she'd ever heard of.
"Enrique is a very bright light."
She forced herself to pay attention. "So are you. You're both Council." Just like Enrique, Nikita was dangerous, the poison of her mind as lethal as the deadliest biological virus.
"Several other Councilors would gladly see me dead."
"More than Councilors alone."
"Yes. There are always aspirants." Nikita continued to stare out at the night. "Allies are necessary."
"Enrique is yours?"
"In a way. He has his own agenda but he watches my back and I watch his."
"So we can't afford to alienate him?"
"It would make things difficult."
Sascha read between the lines. If Enrique didn't get what he wanted, Nikita's life might well be forfeit. "I'll find some information for him. But tell him if I push, we might get nothing."