Softening his grip, he smoothed the silken mass. "It took a long time for my parents to buckle under." But by the end of it, his mother hadn't been able to look at him without seeing sin and his father had stopped hearing anything Skye had to say. "When they put us in the car and told us we weren't coming back, we were so happy." He could remember every glittering facet of the hope that had gripped his ten-year-old heart. Because despite everything, he'd still been a child.
"Instead, they took us deep into the forest and left us there." That was when they'd spouted the evil they'd been indoctrinated with. Skye had cried and tried to run after them, but they'd been full-grown jaguars and she'd been a baby. Following, Vaughn had waited until she was too exhausted to run anymore and then he'd found them a place to hide.
"She died in my arms five days later." His heart had broken so completely that day he hadn't been sure it would ever recover. "I buried her in a cave." Where it would never rain and she'd never be cold again. "Afterward, I decided to keep walking. I wanted to get to my parents so I could kill them."
"How did you get out?" Her voice was soft, passing no judgment on his need for retribution.
"I didn't. I collapsed two days later." But even exhausted, broken, and lost, he'd been caught in the claws of the most vicious kind of anger. "What I didn't know was that I'd inadvertently walked into DarkRiver territory." If only their parents had left them a little less deep in the forest, Skye, too, would've survived.
"A sentinel found me within hours. Once I could talk, they asked me what had happened and were ready to go for blood on my behalf. But it wasn't necessary. My parents were dead by then."
He felt Faith's shock in the sudden jerk of her head. "What?"
"My mother tried to come back for us." Knowing that gave him some sense of peace, some sense of there being a better God. "My father was determined to stop her. Two adult jaguars fighting in animal form can do a lot of damage - he killed her, then committed suicide."
Faith stood and his hand dropped from her hair. "I'm sorry." Inching closer, she touched his cheek in a caress that lasted a mere second.
However, he knew exactly how much it had to have cost her after her earlier meltdown. "It was better that way. If they'd lived, I would've been the one to kill them." And that might've destroyed him beyond any hope of redemption. "DarkRiver tipped off Enforcement about the cult, and it was raided and shut down. Because the victims included humans who opposed death, they were incarcerated rather than subjected to changeling law." Blood for blood, flesh for flesh, life for life. The judgment had left him with nothing on which to focus his anger, his rage.
He could've gone very bad, but DarkRiver hadn't let him.
"How did you survive?" Faith asked, hugging her arms around herself. "How? That much pain? How, Vaughn? How can you be so strong?"
"Sometimes rage can be a good thing. It keeps you going when nothing else remains." He met those night-sky eyes, so eerie, so beautiful. "Be angry, Faith. Use the need for vengeance as your shield against the darkness while you hunt it down."
"What if I don't have that in me? What if I'm too weak?"
"What if you do?" he countered. "What if you only have to open the door?"
Faith made it back to the compound in the nick of time. The comm console chimed as she exited her room early the next morning. It was Anthony again.
"Faith, I have some information for you."
"I understand." She turned off the screen and returned to her room. Locking herself in, she leaned against the wall, closed her eyes, and opened a door on the psychic plane. Anthony's roaming consciousness was waiting for her as she stepped out. Like her, he preferred to travel incognito, his true strength masked by patterns of ordinariness.
They were behind the walls of a NightStar vault less than a minute later in real time. Most people who wanted privacy in the Net tended to use a simple room that could be created instantaneously. Of course, the security status of that room depended on the strength of the Psy involved in its creation.
In contrast, the NightStar clan could afford to maintain a number of permanent vaults on the Net, sustaining them with a constant trickle of power from most of its members. All the vaults were impenetrable as far as hacking was concerned, but Faith wondered if the NetMind was able to enter them at will. And if it could, did the Council then have a way to retrieve the data it collected?
"I have allies in the Council ranks," Anthony told her. "People close to the Councilors."
"What have you learned?"
"You're one of the favored candidates for replacing Councilor Enrique."
"Who are the others?" Faith kept her mental self calm. She couldn't afford to let her physical mind's disrupted state bleed over to this roaming self. Her father was far too strong a Psy not to detect the anomaly.
"It appears that the name of an M-Psy was also put forward, but the Council is concentrating on you and a Tk named Kaleb Krychek."
"I've heard his name mentioned in relation to several events within the Council."
"Correct. Kaleb has climbed extremely high in the ranks at a very young age - he's about to turn twenty-seven. He's highly competent at reading and initiating power plays."
"While I have no experience with such strategic games."
"You have an advantage he lacks."
"I'm an F-Psy." And the Council enjoyed being in a position of power. Her skills would increase that power by several magnitudes.