No one had to ask what scent had been embedded in that clothing.
"Cats have to be rabid - got to be some hotheads who aren't thinking straight," Riley said. "We going on alert?"
Hawke gave a negative shake of his head. "Lucas says he has the situation under control. He's contained the spread of information, and the juveniles who know have been told it looks like a Psy setup. He has them trying to track the attacker, which should keep them out of trouble."
"Not a bad result," Judd remarked. "Even a year ago, you would've shed some blood over this."
"Maybe, maybe not." Hawke's ice-blue eyes were almost silver in the bright daylight, beautiful in a way Brenna had never before noticed. He wasn't the kind of man who invited that sort of appreciation - he was too male, too hard. Exactly like Judd.
Soldier. Assassin. Tk.
"There's one more thing we have to consider." Judd glanced at the cabin and then back, something in his expression striking her as strange. "It might not have been the Psy. Others could have gained access to those weapons, humans and changelings included."
Andrew growled. "Trying to save your race, Psy? Who else would dare intrude on SnowDancer and DarkRiver territory?"
"What happens if you set up the dominant changelings in a region against the Psy?"
Riley understood first. "We wipe each other out, leaving the region open to takeover by a new dominant pack."
"Or a human conglomerate." As his expression had, Judd's voice sounded slightly off to her senses, but she couldn't put her finger on why. "The Psy Council ignores humans. Changelings don't, but you still see them as weaker. They're not. The Human Alliance has access to a massive amount of firepower and funds."
Hawke rubbed at his jaw. "If we track the hyenas, we'll have a starting point. You get anything else?"
"They knew where they were going - they'd done their reconnaissance and done it well enough to know the cabin was supposed to be empty."
"It doesn't add up." Riley's pragmatic nature asserted itself. "If their point was to start a turf war, why take out an isolated cabin?"
"First step." Judd's voice was different. Something was minutely off-kilter and it was rubbing her fur the wrong way. "A carefully planned and controlled escalation," he continued when no one interrupted. "Sooner or later, no matter what you or Lucas do, the packs are going to start sniping at each other."
"He's making sense." Andrew's acceptance was grudging, to say the least. "Stagger a series of small episodes and the bad blood builds up until, by the time the big one hits, we're not thinking enough to talk it down."
"I want those hyenas." Hawke turned to Riley. "The search here is yours. Drew, you and Indigo escort Brenna back to the den. I have to speak to Judd."
"I don't need babysitters," Brenna said through clenched teeth, able to feel the roughness of the wolf in her throat. "I'll can get back on my own."
"No." Hawke's tone was unbending, that of an alpha who expected instant obedience. "If they touch you, war will happen. You're a tactical weakness."
A mixture of fury and impotent rage coated her tongue. "That's a load of crock! Any one of the females or pups gets taken, it'll have the exact same impact."
"I'm not going to argue with you about this." Hawke jerked his head. "Move."
Brenna looked instinctively at Judd, knowing he was strong enough to take on Hawke. He returned her stare, impassive. "Hawke is right. Because of the abduction and rescue, you occupy a different status in the pack. You should return - the pack's coherence is necessary to support my family."
The betrayal crushed her but coming on top of what he'd said earlier, it also stoked her anger. "What else did I expect from one of the Psy?" It was a bitchy thing to say but she couldn't believe he'd turned on her like that - males were supposed to stick by their females, no matter what. It finally pounded home the truth she'd gone to such great lengths to ignore. Judd was incapable of any loyalty but the one he'd already given his family.
She turned to Indigo. "Let's go."
"Shift. It'll be faster."
Vicious anger raked its claws over her heart. "No." Let them think she was being a brat. "I'm running human." Suiting action to words, she took off, leaving behind both her packmates and the cold Psy male who had given her up without pause.
Judd watched Brenna until she was swallowed up by the winter-blue trees. Then he turned to the SnowDancer alpha. Hawke was watching him in turn, an inscrutable expression on his face. For a race notorious for their emotionality, the wolf was very good at keeping his feelings under wraps.
"There's not much more I can tell you aside from the exact make and models of the weapons I saw." He rattled off the numbers, but his attention was focused on the steady countdown of the timer in his mind. Five, four, three, two...flameout.
He was psychically blind.
It felt like losing a limb, losing all sense of identity. He was a psychic being, meant to occupy two planes. Now only one was open to him.
"Might help narrow things down," Hawke said and his voice sounded flat to Judd's altered senses. "Like you said, these weapons aren't exactly available at the corner store."
It was a struggle to focus when it felt like he was breathing through mud. "Even if you locate the supplier, be careful. If it was the Psy, they had to have known the hyenas were too inexperienced to pull this off smoothly. The operation might be a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface."