"If the deer had all died," Hawke said, a low growl in his tone, "no one would've been left to point fingers at the Psy. It would've been on us."
"Changing your reputation from powerful but fair, to that of indiscriminate killers." Judd glanced at the sentinels who stood behind Lucas. "Did you tag any of the Psy?"
Mercy looked at her alpha and answered only after his nod. "We saw them leaving but made the choice to help the injured rather than give chase. They hid their trail like experts and the deer are too traumatized to be of much help in terms of descriptions - they're schoolteachers and accountants, not soldiers."
"What about Faith, did she see anything?" Judd asked, knowing Faith's reputation as the strongest foreseer in or out of the Net.
Sascha shook her head. "She's taking this hard - she saw it after it began. Said she saw the consequences, not the act...saw a glimpse of a future drenched in bloodred."
There was an instant of total silence, then Dorian spoke, his rage more evident than the others'. "One of the kids thinks he saw an insignia on the left shoulder of their uniforms. Snakes. Kid's terrified of snakes, so he remembered."
"Now he's going to be phobic about them," Sascha said. Her tone was soft but her expression was full of anger.
Lucas turned to brush his lips over her hair. "Sascha wanted to stay with the survivors, but I figured we'd need a Psy perspective. Didn't know he'd be here." He nodded toward Judd and the act wasn't friendly. "Any ideas?"
"Some. Give me a minute." Death was his only talent after all. "I do know that the snake emblem belongs to Ming LeBon, but that simply confirms the Council link."
A fine-boned feminine hand slipped into his and he felt it in every cell of his body. He glanced down to find Brenna looking up and giving a small shake of her head. In that moment, time seemed to stop and he knew she was telling him that death was not all he was. He almost believed her. Except even at that second, he was aware of the monstrous thing inside of him. One moment of carelessness and it would crawl out to rain indiscriminate death on those around him. Men. Children. Women.
Hand remaining clasped to his, Brenna turned away, breaking the odd moment. "I'd like to help." Her words were directed at Sascha.
"I think you'd be very good with the young ones."
Because, Judd thought, Brenna knew what it was like to be helpless and breakable. He had vowed to ensure she'd never again suffer as she'd suffered in Enrique's hands, but the scars were already there and they had changed who she was.
"Judd?" Sascha's cardinal eyes turned to him. "I - "
"Yes," he said, before she could ask the question.
"I knew that. But I was going to ask how many hours you think you could give me."
When had Sascha gone from being uneasy around him to believing him "good"? "As many as you need." He couldn't heal traumatized minds as she could, but he could feed her extra power, a talent rare among Psy but which seemed to be paired with his little speciality. Some Psy abilities were like that - they came in sets.
"If Bren's going in, we need to ensure protection. There's already been one attempt to target her," Riley said.
"What are you talking about?" Brenna frowned.
Judd looked at the other man. "He's thinking we were wrong, that maybe the hyenas knew you were at the cabin."
"How could they?" Brenna's brow furrowed.
Riley ignored her. "Judd can't help Sascha and keep an eye on security, too."
It was the first time either of Brenna's brothers had even obliquely acknowledged his skill at keeping Brenna safe. But Judd didn't take it at face value. Riley was a strategist, a man with cool focus, one who thought disturbingly like a Psy.
"She'll be fine - I've got the deer inside our perimeter, soldiers with them twenty-four/seven." Lucas shook his head. "But my gut says the Psy won't attack the same target twice."
Judd agreed. "They're using a scattergun approach to divide your resources and weaken you in specific areas, with a focus on eliminating those civilian or nonpredatory groups who might support you. It was a tactic used successfully by the Korean army during the Japan-Korea war."
Lucas narrowed his eyes. "Any idea what they might do next?"
"There have to have been more pieces. The deer hit is too large an escalation otherwise."
"If they've been taking out lone nonpredatory changelings," Hawke said, expression grim, "and laying the blame on us, we might not hear about it. The families of the victims would be too scared to confront us."
"Brewing resentment." Brenna's husky voice, changed forever by the nightmare. As if she had screamed so hard, something in her vocal cords had broken irreparably. "There's one thing I don't get, though," she continued. "I know I'm not a soldier, but we've all heard the Council's dead bodies stay buried."
"So why the half-assed job this time?" Lucas completed. "Two options. One, Faith was a wild card they didn't factor in."
"Or two," Judd said, "they've overstretched themselves by reaching into territory where they're the neophytes."
"What's your take?" Riley asked, still appearing calm in spite of what had taken place the last time they'd spoken.
Every one of Judd's guards snapped up - Riley was the kind of hunter who'd stalk before striking. "If I had to guess, I'd say they didn't forget Faith and likely chose the exact target without much prior planning."
"Why?" Dorian asked.
"Because if they had planned it down to the name of the group to be attacked, there would've been a higher chance of a foreseer picking it up."