"You mean like this?" Riley's voice.
"What is it?" Brenna asked, still not looking. Of course she'd seen others na**d after a shift - it was normal. But these were her brothers.
"A sweatshirt," Judd told her.
"A sweatshirt that smells like leopard." Riley again. "The whole area reeks of cat."
The silence that fell after his words was ominous. DarkRiver and SnowDancer had been business allies for over a decade but their alliance had turned into a blood bond mere months ago. Trust was a dicey thing.
Hawke's face was grim as he glanced at the damning piece of evidence. "If Lucas's people had been behind this, they would have done a better job of cleaning up. I can smell another signature below the leopard markers."
The others frowned and Brenna saw several pairs of eyes widen in puzzlement as they tried to sort through the scent layers to identify the vaguely "sweaty" taint of something that shouldn't have been there.
"It was a pack of hyenas," Brenna said into the quiet.
Everyone stared. Chief among their reaction was disbelief.
"Those scavengers?" Drew said at last. "You sure?"
Scowling, she rounded on him, keeping her eyes firmly above his neck. Her brother, like most changelings, was totally comfortable nude. It was her reaction that was unnatural. She knew that. She just didn't want to examine the reason why...was scared to discover what else Enrique had mutilated inside of her. "I didn't lose my nose during the abduction, only half my mind."
Andrew winced. "Christ, you're mean when you're pissed. But can you blame me? Hyenas don't go near anything that might bite back."
"We need to talk," Judd said to Hawke.
The alpha gave a sharp nod. "I want everyone except Riley, Drew, and Indigo to start running a search perimeter. Try to pick up the hyenas' trail. I'll make a few calls - we might get lucky if the eagles were in the area."
"Eagles?" Brenna looked up as if she might see some. "How many?"
"A small flight. They're here to attend a human wedding."
Clearly they'd made sure to ask permission from Hawke before setting foot or taking wing in the area under SnowDancer control. Otherwise, they would've been labeled enemies and taken out. A harsh law, but one that allowed stability in the agressive world of predatory changelings. Without it, the carnage that had been the eighteenth century's Territorial Wars would never have ended.
Hawke looked at his soldiers. "Go."
For a stunning few seconds, the world shimmered with a thousand brilliant colors as the soldiers shifted. Then wolves dashed off in all directions, their paws flying swift and silent over the snow. Brenna's entire body went immobile as she watched them move, so strong, so beautiful. Envy was a hateful buzz in her head, one that had the power to turn her bitter and full of spite - Enrique might not have killed her, but he'd succeeded in crippling her.
You are not crippled, not now, not ever.
The memory had her looking away from the sleek forms of her packmates to Judd. He was watching her, no hint of an apology in his features. Her earlier fury reignited, but Hawke spoke before she could let her temper get the better of her.
"Tell me what you found."
Judd responded with military precision. "They were carrying high-grade laser-powered weapons. None are readily available on the general market."
"High likelihood. They're produced by Psy companies."
Riley changed position and it caught her attention - her older brother didn't make random movements. It was Andrew who was the more physically impatient.
Hawke had also noted the action. "You have something to add?"
"For a race that dislikes using weapons," Riley commented, "the Psy sure seem to have some advanced ones."
"What makes you think the Psy have an aversion to weapons?" Judd asked, so eerily calm it made her want to shiver.
Riley stared hard enough to have sent lesser men cowering. "They've never used them to take us out."
"Only because such an open move would cause too big a ripple. It might destabilize the economy if people thought a Psy-changeling war was in the making." Judd's arctic tone was akin to the baring of fangs by a wolf. "That's why they prefer quieter, less detectable methods of removing changelings from the equation."
"Like setting us against the cats. Exactly how stupid do they think we are?" Hawke pulled a sleek black phone out of his back pocket and punched in a code. "Lucas," he said a second later. "We may have a situation." A short pause and then Hawke's face went preternaturally still.
Brenna stood in tense silence as her alpha listened to whatever it was the DarkRiver alpha was telling him, blindingly aware of the unsettling quiet of Judd by her side. A Tk. One of the same breed that had tortured her, broken her.
You're being stupid and childish, a part of her mind said. No, she wasn't, replied another part, one that had been bruised and bloodied.
"How bad?" Hawke asked, his savage tone snapping her back to the present. "Do I need to pull out my people?" Another pause. "Try hyena. I'll see you as soon as you can make it." He ended the call and returned the phone to his pocket.
"They were also hit," Judd guessed.
"Someone tried to snatch three cubs from a city kindergarten."
"Cubs hurt?" Indigo finally spoke.
Hawke shook his head. "It was in Chinatown, near their HQ. Kids went cat and roared their heads off. A teacher and several nearby shopkeepers got to them in seconds, but it was long enough for the attacker to blend into the streets and lose himself in the crowd. He also found the time to leave behind a piece of his clothing."