The crows murder, p.11
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       The Crow’s Murder, p.11

         Part #5 of Kit Davenport series by Tate James
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  “So.” I frowned, screwing my eyes shut and trying to clear my head of the fuzz of depression and misery. “So someone wants to take over the world, and they’re riling up the shifters to what? Become an army? Enslave the humans?”

  “Something like that.” Dad grimaced. “A lot of supernaturals truly believe they are a superior species and that the humans have had this world long enough.”

  “And you? Is that what you believe, too? You must be something other than human, or else why do you know all this? Why were you trying to manipulate me into healing people’s magic?” I chewed my lip, not really wanting to hear his answer yet also anxious for the truth.

  “No.” He said the word firmly and with direct eye contact. “No, it’s not. And I am still human, of sorts. But I know that if you, Kit, have any hope of saving this world, you need your own army to fight what’s coming. That means creating one.”

  “So that’s what you’re doing? Creating an army for me? Why? What if I don’t want to save the world? I couldn’t even s-save Wesley.” Tears were rolling again, but this wasn’t the time or the place, so I dashed them away with the sleeve of Wesley’s hoodie.

  “You have to, hon.” Jonathan said it gently, but there was no room for compromise in his tone. “You’re the only one who can.”

  Clenching my jaw, I swallowed the fear and desperation and sheer hopelessness down. Here I was being told that I needed to save the fucking world, like I was some sort of Chosen One. As much as it hurt, my grief wasn’t going anywhere. I’d simply tuck it into a little box inside my mind, and later, when all was safe and I was alone, I could take it out and cry again.

  “So what are you?” I changed the subject to a question that had been burning for an answer ever since River and I overheard Jonathan discussing my magic.

  “Human,” he shrugged with a half smile. “Or, I was. Now I’m just... a relic. I should have died a long time ago, but my sister couldn’t bear to lose me so she did a spell. Trouble was, she always had great intentions but terrible execution, so instead of simply healing my tuberculosis, she made it so I couldn’t die. Not of natural causes anyway.”

  “You’re immortal, too?” I gaped, not totally sure what I’d been expecting, but it hadn’t been that.

  “No,” he chuckled. “Not like you. I don’t heal, and I have no magic. I’m totally human, except unaffected by illness, including those of aging.”

  “So your sister...” I raised my eyebrows at him in question, and he nodded.

  “Wasn’t human. Story for another day, though.” He gave me a tight smile, then nodded to the screens on his wall. “For now, you need to understand what you’re up against. Those agents who chased you in LA were employed by a man named Doctor Gunther Florsheim. He works for a less-than-legal branch of the government and has been creating some sort of serum to try and enhance their soldiers.”

  I grimaced. “That must be the weasel who took a vial of my blood in Toronto. So he’s the one behind these videos hitting the internet, too?”

  “No. Unfortunately, that’s someone else. There are three factions at play here, kiddo. The humans like this Dr. Florsheim, the remaining supernaturals, and you. Please believe me when I say you need help. I started Omega Group after a friend of mine developed a way to test for dormant supernatural DNA in humans. All of my recruits have a high percentage of that gene within them and so stand the highest chances of turning when healed.”

  “And what about them? Do they have any say in this, or is it just forced on them like guinea pigs? Do you have any comprehension of what it could do to them? To suddenly not be human anymore? You have no clue how hard it’s been for my guardians to adjust, and they were your best damn recruits.” I was getting fired up now, but he needed to answer for his actions.

  “Everyone you healed at Omega base was a willing recruit. They knew what was going to happen and volunteered for it. They want to fight for you, Kit. For the good of this world.” He spoke with such passion I knew there had to be more that he wasn’t telling me. What made him so confident that the world was doomed without my intervention?

  “I think I need a minute,” I muttered, rubbing my gritty eyes. “I’m going to take a shower or something.”

  “Probably a good idea,” Jonathan nodded. “You stink pretty bad. I’ll order some pizzas, too, so you can eat when you’re done.”

  The information he’d just hit me with weighed on me like a ton of bricks, so I just waved my hand in understanding and started toward the door before pausing. Not giving myself another moment to dwell on indecision, I grabbed the mug of coffee from the desk and made my way back to the room I’d been holed up in for the past few days.

  My pain and grief were safely stuffed into a little mental box, and my walls were all still firmly in place around my mind. Not that I didn’t want the guys to feel me... but I couldn’t face the idea of not feeling Wesley there. It was just better to keep the walls up for now.

  After a long shower, I dressed in clean clothes, then hunted out another one of Wesley’s pullovers. I might have been compartmentalizing my grief, but I still wanted to feel him close.

  “Pepperoni with extra cheese!” Jonathan announced as I padded into the kitchen on socked feet. Not that it needed announcing; the smell alone was making my starved stomach weep with joy.

  “Thanks,” I murmured, taking the plate loaded with slices from him and sitting down on a kitchen stool. “I’ll try and get in touch with the guys tomorrow... somehow. They need to know what’s going on, too.”

  “Agreed.” He took a bite of his own slice as he sat across the counter from me. “Then maybe you would consider speaking with some of the Omega recruits who have volunteered to be changed.”

  “Maybe.” I shrugged. “But it won’t do much good right now. I have no magic thanks to this.” I held up my wrist to show him the gold band responsible for my loss of magic. “Gift from my bio-mom.”

  “Bridget,” Jonathan spat, inspecting the band with disgust then releasing my wrist. “That bitch. I knew she’d find you sooner or later.”

  My eyebrows shot up. “You know her?”

  “We’ve met.” His mouth twisted in disgust. “Don’t fall for her bullshit, kiddo. I can just bet she pulled some sob story to have you think she was the victim, that she gave you up for your own good.” I gaped at him, nodding. “Load of shit. You want the truth, find Lachlan. He’s the only one of her guardians that escaped her binding spell when things went south between the four of them.”

  “You can’t tell me?” I frowned. “It sounds like you know.”

  He shook his head. “Not enough. It’s another story for another day anyway. You’ve had enough dumped on your plate for one night. Just don’t trust her any further than you can throw her.”

  “Noted,” I agreed. “This little gem that she gave me sort of decided that already, you know?”

  “Yeah, I can imagine. No magic, huh?” He crinkled his nose. “Want to tell me that story?”

  “Story for another day,” I teased, repeating his own crap back at him, and he grinned.

  “Touché,” he chuckled. “All right, will you be okay if I head out for a bit? International secret operative organization to run, and all that.”

  “Uh-huh.” I rolled my eyes at him. “I’ll be fine. I’m going to go to bed now anyway.”

  “All right.” He wiped his hands off on a dish towel, then dropped a quick kiss on my head. “Call if you need me.” He pulled a mobile phone from one of the drawers and placed it on the counter in front of me before he left.

  Alone in the silence, I finished up my pizza, then wandered through the house. I wasn’t actually tired yet, so instead of going to bed, I parked myself on the couch to watch TV for a bit. As I sat there mindlessly watching a rom-com chick flick that Wes would have loved, my fingers stroked my newest tattoo.

  The little depiction of Sam and Tyson tussling together was so lifelike, almost like they were glaring at me from my skin.

; “We are, dipshit,” Sam’s hiss reached the surface of my brain, and I startled. I’d been so lost in my own head that I’d completely forgotten they could talk to me even while “sleeping.”

  “Let us the fuck out so we can save your sorry ass, you mopey twit,” Sam snapped at me, his s’s elongated even more in his foul mood.

  “I don’t see how you’re going to manage that, but suit yourself.” I traced my forefinger over the tattoo, activating the spell within it and allowing both familiars to materialize. Sam just hissed at me and went to curl up on the other end of the couch while Tyson was much happier to see me and said as much in licks all over my face.

  “Hey buddy,” I chuckled, pushing him off to save myself from drowning in tiger spit. “Let’s go check the kitchen for some steaks or something.”

  Tyson eagerly bounded off the couch to follow me as Sam yelled after us, “I would also like a snack if you see a mouse on your way!”

  “Gross.” I shuddered, leading Tyson into the kitchen, then rifling through the fridge for steak. “No steak, buddy, but there are some sausages. Will that do?”

  The big cat bobbed his head and conveyed a resounding yes through our bond, so I grabbed the plate and headed back to the TV room to place it on the coffee table. As I sat back down, Sam gave a loud, fake cough, which just sounded straight-up odd coming from a giant snake.

  “What?” I asked him, and he flickered his tongue at me.

  “Mouse?” he prompted, and I narrowed my eyes at him.

  “Hunt your own mouse, you lazy ass,” I snapped back. “Why did you want out so badly anyway?”

  “Because the not-so-stupid Ink Mage added a tracking device into your familiar tattoo,” Sam explained. “But it only works if we’re active. By letting us out to watch TV with you, you’ve alerted the rest of your fools that you’re no longer in Ireland. They’ll be worried that you haven’t been answering your phone and, ergo, will come to investigate.” He paused, glaring at me with his slitted eyes. “Am I honestly the only one who uses my brain anymore? I’m not even a real snake, for fuck’s sake.”

  “Oh,” I said, feeling sufficiently stupid. That was actually a smart idea of Austin to do that. It was only my own self-pity that had stopped it from working sooner.

  “‘Oh’ is right, you moron,” Sam grunted, slithering off his seat. “I’m going to find my own snacks. Yell for me when the Mages turn up.”

  “Asshole,” I murmured, watching his green-and-black tail disappear out the door. Tyson huffed his agreement as he munched happily on his sausages.

  He’d barely finished licking his plate when my ears popped with the unmistakable pressure of a portal opening nearby. I didn’t move from the couch as I heard Caleb calling out my name from the back garden, then the heavy tread of men’s footsteps coming inside.

  “Kitty Kat!” he exclaimed, coming into the media room with Austin close behind, and rushing towards me. “Thank fuck you’re okay! We’ve been looking for you for freaking days; do you know how worried you had us?”

  His arms wrapped tight around me, and he shifted to lift me into his lap so he could hug me tighter. For my part... I did nothing. I couldn’t hug him back; it just felt wrong. The last person I’d hugged was Wes. And now he was dead.

  “Kitty Kat?” Caleb asked, his voice full of concern as he pulled back to look at my face with a frown. “Are you okay?”

  My lips pulled up in a tight smile, almost like they were making an independent action, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words he wanted to hear—that yes, I was okay because I was here and not a burned out skeleton in some morgue in Ireland. Because I wasn’t okay. My soul felt like it had been smashed into a million little pieces, then swept up into a shoebox.

  “Give her to me,” Austin ordered his twin, placing his strong hands on my waist and lifting me from Caleb’s lap to stand in front of him. Once my feet were on the ground, he tilted my chin up so that he could peer into my eyes. Whatever he saw there made him grunt and tighten his lips.

  “Come on,” Austin said to his brother. He then snapped his fingers to Tyson, who rubbed his big head against his hand affectionately. “Let’s get her back to the house and call the others.”

  “No,” I said in a small voice, shaking my head. “I can’t just disappear on Jonathan.”

  Austin’s jaw tightened and his nostrils flared with anger, so I knew I needed to explain quickly. “He didn’t set us up in LA. That was someone else. He really is trying to do the right thing; he’s just been going about it the wrong way.”

  Caleb trailed a gentle hand down my hair, even as Austin narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, but neither of them spoke to contradict me.

  “Kitty Kat, you’re... acting a bit odd,” Caleb said after a tense silence. “I mean, given the circumstances...” He trailed off, and I turned to look at him closer. His eyes were bloodshot, and there were dark circles under them, same as Austin’s. Both of them were scruffy, like they hadn’t bothered to shave in a few days, and their clothes were rumpled.

  “You know about—” I broke off as a lump blocked my throat, and I swallowed past it. Avoiding my emotions or not, I wasn’t ready to say Wesley’s name. “You know what happened, then,” I whispered, and he gave me a tiny nod.

  “She’s compartmentalized,” Sam explained for me, slithering back into the room with a noticeable bulge in his... neck? Did snakes even have necks? “She’s shoved all those nasty feelings under the rug so she doesn’t have to feel them. Nifty trick, I reckon. Even if she is still a dipshit for taking this long to activate the tracker.”

  I scowled at Sam. “You never told me about the tracker, you shithead, and what the fuck did you just eat? That is not a mouse.”

  “Trash panda,” he replied with a happy tongue flicker. “Found him in the garbage cans, all juicy and fat. Delicious.” The way he stressed the s sound in “delicious” was equal parts revolting and amusing, so I just settled for bopping him lightly on the head.

  “Raccoons are cute, Sam. Don’t eat any more of them.” I gave him a stern look to convey that I wasn’t teasing, and he flickered his tongue in that distinctive, middle-finger sort of way he had.

  “Come on, we need to get back. Can we leave Jonathan a note?” Austin asked me as Caleb held out his arm for Sam to return into his familiar tattoo. How he fit back into the ink while still digesting a fucking racoon, I had no idea. Magic, I guess.

  “I’ll call him,” I murmured, wandering back into the kitchen to grab the phone my adoptive father had left out for me. Propping my butt on a barstool, I pressed his contact and waited for him to pick up.

  “Kiddo!” he answered on the third ring. “Are you okay?”

  “Yup, all good. Just, the twins are here and want me to leave with them. I didn’t want to up and disappear on you.” I picked up a pen and idly started doodling on the back on an envelope. “You said you wanted to show me what you’ve been doing...”

  “Hon,” Jonathan replied, and I could hear the warmth in his voice. “Go with the boys. You need to be with them right now. This can all wait a few days. Goddess knows it’s waited four centuries already, so yeah a few days won’t matter.”

  It wasn’t the first time Jonathan had referred to the Goddess, but it was the first time it triggered a little curiosity in me. Was that a carry-over from whatever time he was born into? Or some other knowledge he had of this world that I wasn’t privy to?

  “I don’t know,” I murmured, my voice uncertain and just... not me. “Maybe I should stay. You said there is a war coming, so surely I need to know everything you do.”

  “Kit,” he sighed. “Avoiding your bonded guardians won’t make the pain go away. They’re the only ones who can help you through this tough time. Go with them; let them take care of you. The world won’t end tomorrow just because you took some time to grieve.”

  I said nothing for a long time as everything I tried to say got stuck in my throat. Eventually I just landed on, “Okay.”

sp; “Okay,” he repeated softly. “Take that phone with you so we can stay it touch, all right, kiddo? I’ve missed you.”

  “All right,” I repeated, not really sure what else to say.

  Voices sounded in the background, and Jonathan murmured something back to them. “Hey kiddo, I have to go. Take the phone, but go with the twins. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

  “Uh-huh,” I whispered, feeling a fat tear roll down my face, and quickly disconnected before he could say anything else. My little emotion compartment was weak at best and couldn’t have withstood much more.

  I sat there for a moment longer, picking at the edges of the phone with my fingernail, before Austin cleared his throat and made me jump.

  “Shit,” I breathed, feeling my heart gallop. “I didn’t notice you there.”

  He narrowed his eyes at me. “Evidently not. Cal’s gone to grab your bag. Are you ready to go?”

  “Yeah,” I nodded, sliding off my stool and shoving the phone into my pocket. “Yeah, let’s go.”

  As I moved to pass him in the doorway, he slipped a hand onto my lower back and left it there as we headed through the house to the backyard. Don’t ask me why we always went outside to portal. It wasn’t like we couldn’t do it inside. It just felt... rude, I guess.

  Caleb was already waiting on the grass, holding my suitcase, but my step faltered as I tried to walk toward him. It was taking all the frayed self-control I possessed just to keep it together around the twins. What was it going to be like with Cole, Vali, and River as well?

  “You got this, baby girl,” Austin murmured softly in my ear, his hand warm on my back. “One step at a time. I’m here to catch you.”

  My teeth clenched my lower lip hard enough to draw blood, but I took that next step and the one after that, and soon I was touching distance from Caleb. He didn’t waste time asking stupid questions; instead he flicked out the droplet of blood that called up his rune circle.

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