"I'm the horror in the closet, Sascha, the nightmare even Psy hide from." She held on tight, her face pressed to Sascha's shoulder.
"Don't be melodramatic." Sascha couldn't believe the pain contained in the fragile body she held. Sienna's emotions were so tormented the girl was close to shattering. It made no sense, not when she had to have been fully conditioned before she left the PsyNet. "You have combat-grade abilities. It's not limited to mental combat, is it?"
A shake of the head. "No."
Sascha had the sense that Sienna was hiding the whole truth, but now wasn't the time to push. "Your uncle has extremely powerful abilities - he's learned to control them. So will you." Judd's stated ability was telepathy, but Sascha had a feeling that that was a front for other, deadlier gifts. The man had been an Arrow, an assassin no one ever saw until it was too late.
"I'm not like Uncle Judd." A flat statement. "I'm worse." No more tears, no weakness in that voice, only a truth so painful no one should have to endure it. "You know it and so do I. One slip and boom, I take out the entire den."
Sascha knew that wasn't teenage grandeur at work. "Your cardinal status isn't telepathy, is it?" As with Judd, that was the skill everyone knew her to have.
A pause. The answer was less than a whisper. "No."
My God. Sascha held the girl closer, disbelieving. Cardinal Psy with furious combat abilities were beyond deadly. Sienna could possibly take out the SnowDancer den if she lost her grip on her powers. "You've been trying to manage it?"
"I shut up everything inside. Everything." Words ground out through clenched teeth. "I thought if I could hold it, just hold it, it would be fine. But it's not."
"Why?" she asked. "Why are you losing control this badly?"
The answer, when it came, broke Sascha's heart.
"Hawke." It was an almost soundless whisper.
"Oh, Sienna." She stroked her hand over the girl's hair, even as her mind worked at piercing speed. "Has it been cumulative?"
Sienna nodded. "The second I met him, everything crumbled, my shields, my conditioning, everything! And Sascha, I need that conditioning. Judd showed me how to short-circuit the pain controls but I haven't - I'm not like him, I don't think I can stop without the pain."
Sascha squeezed her eyes shut, sending Sienna soothing waves of reassurance. But she didn't brush aside the girl's words. Silence had been undertaken for a reason. It had become perverted over time, but at the start, the Protocol had been their salvation - it had saved people like Sienna, Psy who couldn't think for the virulent strength of their gifts. It was possible the girl simply couldn't exist without Silence.
And if that was so, it would send shock waves through both the Lauren family and the SnowDancers.
"The LaurenNet," she said, referring to the small psychic network that linked Sienna's entire family, "is it strong enough to survive your not being in the den?"
Sienna nodded immediately. "Marlee and Toby are settled. They won't attempt to rejoin the PsyNet. And with Brenna in our net as well, it's gained in strength. But I can't leave for long - maybe a week or two. Toby's my responsibility."
"Of course," Sascha said. "But you need a break, you know that. And we're close enough that someone can drive you up here when necessary."
"I can drive. Uncle Walker taught me." A pause, then a slight shake of her head. "But these eyes, Sascha. We can't hide them."
Sascha smiled. "Sometimes, I don't want to stick out either, so I've been working with our techs to develop a new type of contact lens. It's not perfect yet, but it's good enough - you can wear it up to a month before it needs replacing."
Hope lit Sienna's face. "I could be free. I mean, not leave or anything, but I could go out into the city, move about."
"Yes." Sascha touched her hands again. "But not until you can control yourself."
A shaky nod. "I don't know who can help me - Judd's done a lot, but there's no one else like me."
Sascha felt a flash of worry. What if . . . ? No. Cardinal X-Psy were a myth. Even midrange Xs were rare, their gift turning on them during childhood. None but the very weak survived to adulthood. "Sienna, what's your combat ability?"
"I can't tell you." Sienna's jaw set in a way most would've read as stubbornness. They would've been wrong. It was desperation. "I can't. No one can ever know."
Sascha stroked her hand over the teenager's hair again. "Don't worry - I'm not going to withdraw my offer. But I need to know this - will you be safe around my pack?"
Sienna took long moments to think about it, strengthening Sascha's faith in the girl. "I was cold in the Net, Sascha," she said at last. "Really cold - maybe even colder than Judd. It's being here, in this den, that breaks me. If you get me out of here, my conditioning should spring back."
Sascha knew precisely what Hawke would think of that, but if Silence would keep Sienna functional, then she'd fight tooth and nail for the girl. "Did the Council know about your abilities?"
"Yes." She swallowed. "Ming wanted me to join his Arrows, become his protegee. Then he found out I was stronger than him. And that's when my family got the order for rehabilitation."
"It's not on you," Sascha said firmly. "It's on the Council - they made the decision to destroy their own people."
"Sascha . . . I might have to go back."
Both of them knew exactly what Sienna was talking about - the dark skies of the PsyNet, Silent and cold, might be the girl's only hope.