He growled again, putting menace into it. Get out or die. They knew him, knew the warning would be carried through. It didn't matter that he was latent, unable to shift into the leopard form that was his other half. No, to these creatures, he was simply another cat. He smelled like one. He ran like one. He hunted like one.
And he killed like one.
One by one, the tufted-ear felines gave disgruntled snarls and wandered off. He waited - knives in hand - until he was certain of their surrender. Then he approached the tree where they had been savaging their prey. He stopped. The concentration of smell was wrong. Freezing, he analyzed what his senses were telling him. Almost smiled. And slipped into the deepest shadows. So fast that he would've been a blur to the eyes watching him.
Cloaking himself in the darkness, he moved as he spoke, well aware a Psy could kill with a single targeted mental blow. "I suggest you come down unless you want me to leave you here. The blood will prove an irresistible draw to the lynx."
Silence. Did she think he didn't know where she was?
"What I want to know is where did a Psy learn how to climb?" He stopped at an angle to the branch where she was perched, able to see one sneakered foot.
"A gymnasium climbing machine," came the cool answer. "I'm afraid I'll have difficulty with the return trip."
He didn't move, fighting his beast's instinctive need to protect. "Clawed?"
"Or bitten. On my calf."
He could hear movement now, knew she was attempting to make her way back down. The cat in him was chauvinistic. It liked to help women. And this woman, it wanted to bite, taste, savor. But that cat, despite its inexplicable and deeply sexual pull toward the icy Ashaya Aleine, was also a cool, calculating predator that knew one of the Silent had killed blood of its blood, heart of its heart. Forgiveness was impossible. "We're even," he said, staying in place. "The debt has been paid."
A pause. "My son is safe?"
No emotion in that. So why had she asked the question? "We keep our promises."
"I don't know who you are. Only that you're Talin McKade's friend." A burst of blood scent, followed by the sound of cloth sliding over wood.
He kept watch, ready to catch her if she fell. "How did you keep the cats from climbing up? There's blood up the trunk, along the branch. Catnip."
She didn't return his verbal volley for several seconds and he heard labored breathing. "I hit them with short bursts of Tp, enough to discourage."
His hackles rose. "Why not just smash their minds, turn their brains to jelly?" Psy had done exactly that in the past. It was why changelings had a policy of kill first, question later, with the emotionless race.
Another pause, more pained breathing. He guessed she'd reached the trunk, and was bracing herself to come down. The scent of iron had become darker, richer. She was bleeding badly. Instinct and anger collided, fought, came away scratched and torn.
"Not all Psy are born equal," she said, her voice taut with strain. "I only have enough Tp to have kept them away from me one at a time. The big burst I tried was barely enough to give me time to climb - even then, they recovered fast."
"You don't have to be a powerful telepath to kill." He was climbing the tree before he'd consciously made the decision to help her.
"No, but you need to have the ability to focus your other abilities in a lethal fashion. It's a talent in itself. One I don't have." Her voice quieted. "Why am I giving away so much information?"
He reached the top to find her with her eyes closed, her legs straddling the branch. "Because," he said, watching those eyes snap open, "you're tired and weak from blood loss." He pulled her toward him. "Shift the leg over."
She obeyed, until she was sitting with both legs on one side. "I may not have the strength to make the climb."
He put one arm under her thighs, the other at her back. And jumped. He landed on his feet, absorbing the shock of the sudden impact with the feline grace built into his genes. He confused medical personnel, had done so since childhood. Everything about him was cat, except that he couldn't become the very thing he was. He'd never run on four feet, never felt the wind rustle through his fur, never bitten down on the neck of prey, taking it down in a furious rush of adrenaline and hunger.
He glanced down at the woman in his arms but didn't speak as he lowered her body to the ground. She sat up, her hands going to her right calf. From the amount of blood, he knew she'd need stitches at the very least. Grabbing the pack the lynx had been mauling, he began to undo the closures. "Do you have a first aid kit in here?" Made of a durable material, the pack had survived relatively unscathed. If there was no kit, he could at least grab something with which to wrap her bloody leg.
"I don't know," Ashaya said.
The first thing he found was a small stunner. It didn't bother him - he was too fast to make an easy target. And, since she didn't appear to have claws of her own, having a weapon was smart. But - "Doesn't do you much good in the pack."
"Unfortunately, I appear to have forgotten to prepare for a wild animal attack."
Ice and bite. Both sparked along his nerves like wild lightning. When he met her gaze, he realized her eyes were dark. It had been night the one and only other time he'd seen her, but he was certain that wasn't her real eye color. "Your disguise is good," he commented, undoing the snap on the main section of the pack. "It'd be even better if you got rid of those braids. Psy never leave their hair out if it's the least bit uncontrollable."