The crows murder, p.15
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       The Crow’s Murder, p.15

         Part #5 of Kit Davenport series by Tate James
 
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  The woman’s brows shot up, and the young girl beside her giggled into her hand.

  “You mean to tell me you don’t know you’re in Caora? Just where exactly have you come from, then?” She seemed half bewildered and half amused. Like I had lost my sanity or something…

  Oh shit, don’t tell me I’m in a mental institution and this is all inside my head.

  “Uh.” I started, running a hand through my hair nervously. “I don’t really know how I got here; the details are a bit fuzzy…” In fact, when I tried to think about anything past Kit leaving to go to the grocery store, it was all just black. “But I’m from America.” The look the woman gave me was totally blank, as if I had just spoken in tongues. “Uh… Earth?”

  Her eyes widened, and I swear her face paled a little even as the young girl grinned broadly. “You… you want to tell me you’re from the human realm?” she spluttered, and her wording triggered a memory of what I’d been studying.

  “Human realm, yes! That must mean I’m in the badbh realm?” I grinned, and she continued to watch me like I was an escaped mental patient.

  It was the little girl who responded first. “You sure are!” she enthused. “Welcome to Caora, human. I’m Briana; it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

  She stuck her hand out for me to shake, but the woman slapped it down before I could return the gesture.

  “I think you’d better come with me,” she told me in a shaking voice. “This is… unexpected, to say the least.”

  My face slammed into the ground, and I tasted the bitter copper of blood and defeat in my mouth.

  I’d failed.

  My first attempt to pass the graduation trials and gain both my Badbh ring and my freedom, and I’d failed. The rules stated I wasn’t permitted to try again for another six months, and it was this that had me punch the dirt in frustrated anger before pushing myself back to my feet.

  Across the small arena, my nemisis and tormenter, Gaelin, smirked back at me.

  “Wesley Reed,” the ancient leader of Caora intoned, commanding the attention of everyone present and breaking my glare away from Gaelin, “you have failed. Return to the place of learning and continue to seek higher knowledge.”

  I wanted to shout and argue, but I already knew it wouldn’t do me any good. Not with the Badbh. Instead, I ground my teeth together and gave a respectful dip of my head before slinking out of the ceremonial chambers, feeling very much like my tail was between my legs.

  How could I have failed?

  Actually, the answer to that question was obvious. Gaelin. I hadn’t anticipated seeing him. Not since my first arrival here, when he’d been severely reprimanded for interferring with my learning, and certainly not as my challenger in the graduation trial.

  Knowing why I failed didn’t really make it any easier to swallow though. Before the trial, I’d stood outside that chamber so totally sure I would be going home today. There hadn’t been a single question in my head about whether I’d be seeing Kit by the end of the day, and now? Now I was staring down another six months inside the walls of Caora.

  “Boy!” My tutor, Glen, yelled after me as I kicked the dirt. I wanted to ignore him and continue on to the little hut I’d been assigned to, but I knew he wouldn’t let me go.

  “What?” I snapped when he caught up to me, and I dodged his eye contact.

  “You let him get inside your head,” Glen pointed out, unnecessarily.

  I snorted a humorless laugh. “No shit, that was the point of the exercise.”

  Glen scowled. “You know full well what I mean, so you can save that sass for someone else. You let him use that woman against you, didn’t you?” His ancient eyes pinned me like a butterfly to a board, and I ground my teeth in anger. My silence was all the answer Glen needed, and he cursed, closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths as if actively seeking patience with me.

  “Kit is not a weakness,” I replied, repeating the same words for what felt like the millionth time. “I just wasn’t expecting him.”

  Glen sighed and gave me a pitying look. “She is your weakness, boy, and until you let go of her, you’re never getting out of Caora. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can graduate, but when you’re clinging to the memory of this girl…” He shook his head at me. “Kid, you could be here for a hundred more years if you stay so distracted.”

  Logically, I understood what he was saying. The whole basis for our magic was born out of rational thinking, not emotions. We were like Vulcans that way… if aliens were real. So yeah, I understood why Glen was telling me this. But it didn’t mean he was right.

  “Glen, I respect you, and I don’t mean for this to come off the wrong way.” I ran a hand through my hair and met his eyes. “But go fuck yourself. Nothing and no one can ever make me forget Kit, so you are wasting your breath trying.”

  My mentor glared back at me for a long moment, then shook his head again. “You’re a damn fool, kid.” He didn’t bother saying anything else, just gave me a disappointed look and walked back toward the Elder’s Chambers. No doubt he would have to answer for my failure too, as he had endorsed me to attempt the graduation trial.

  Heading back to my hut, I rubbed the bridge of my nose. How strange it was not to need my glasses or contact lenses. Not long after arriving in Caora, one of the medics had applied a balm to my eyelids. That next day, and every day since then, my vision has been perfect. The wonders of magic.

  I ran my fingers through my hair again in a nervous gesture I’d had since I was a kid. My hair was longer now and in bad need of a cut. Not that anyone in this realm understood that. They all had long hair, even the men. I guess I should have been thankful they didn’t all have beards, too, because my face itched something awful after any more than a few days of growth.

  “Are you ready?” the young girl beside me asked, and I glanced over at her with a grin.

  “Is anyone ever ready for one of these?” I replied with half amusement, half nervous anticipation. This was it. This was the day I’d been waiting for, the day I could return to my world. To Kit...

  Not that I hadn’t stood in the exact same spot before, thinking the exact same thing. But this time I truly believed I’d succeed. This time, I’d earn my ring and be free to leave the place of learning.

  “No, I guess not,” she answered my rhetorical question. “I know I’m not.”

  She was chewing nervously on the edge of her thumbnail, and I tapped it out of her mouth. She was young, the badbh equivalent of a twelve-year-old human—about the same age as my brother, Grant. Regardless of the gap in our ages, we’d been paired together in the learning space based on ability, and now hopefully we’d be graduating together.

  “Don’t chew your nails, Briana,” I scolded her. “It’s a bad habit.”

  “Sorry, Wes,” she sighed, twisting her plain dress between her fingers instead. “I don’t know why they have to keep us waiting so damn long.”

  I chuckled. “Yes, you do. They’re building suspense. It’s a psychological game to put you on edge and make it harder to concentrate when you get in there. Just... don’t let them into your head. You got this.”

  Briana sucked in a deep breath, but before she could say any more, the door creaked open and an ancient-looking man poked his head out.

  “Briana Lightbearer, you’re first.” He didn’t bother to wait for her reply, simply disappeared back inside and expected her to follow.

  “You got this,” I repeated again, and she gave me a nervous smile as she scurried after the man.

  Once the door had closed again, I was left alone with nothing but my thoughts for company. Again, I ran my hand through my hair nervously and tugged at the bits that brushed my collar. First thing I needed to do when I got back to the human world... get a damn haircut.

  Scratch that. There were plenty of more important things, and all of them involved Kit. The majority of them involved nudity in some form, too. Ugh. It had been a long damn time since that last morning in Ir
eland. I couldn’t count the number of times I’d gone over it all in my head and cursed myself for being so eager to get to Seamus’s house and study his book, when I should have accepted her damn offer of staying in bed.

  Kit... she was on my mind constantly. Not a minute passed where I wasn’t thinking about her, something my tutor claimed was holding me back from progressing. The Badbh had been gone from the human realm for so long that most of them had lost their humanity completely. They were a cold, calculating, and unemotional race of beings. When I’d first arrived, they hadn’t known what the hell to do with me and all my feelings.

  It hadn’t been all too hard to fit in though. These people appealed to my analytical mind, and I appreciated their logic in everything they did. Or... mostly everything. They weren’t totally incapable of emotion, as I’d come to learn about Gaelin.

  Fucking Gaelin. He’d been assigned to teach me but had let his own petty issues with the council cloud his judgement. In my time here, I’d learned that Gaelin had been one of the few badbh who had been on Earth before the plague and had been petitioning to be allowed to return ever since. His requests were always denied, but it explained why he was so damn sour with me.

  “Wesley Reed.” The same elderly man stuck his head out, and I looked up in surprise. “You’re next.”

  “Where’s Briana?” I asked as I followed him through the door. “That was really fast. Is she okay?”

  “She failed. Good luck.” That was all he said as he opened another door and gestured for me to enter. I knew the drill already; I’d attempted and failed this myself many times. That was Bri’s first fail, though, and she must be heartbroken. The worst part was if I succeeded here, I wouldn’t see her again to comfort her.

  Stepping into the testing chamber, I sucked in a deep breath and prepared myself for what was to come. The fear, the pain... all of it. I would not fail this time.

  Kit, sweetheart... I’m coming home. Please be okay when I get there.

  18

  KIT

  I lay on that kitchen floor for an indeterminate amount of time. All I knew was that when Vali finally lifted me into his arms, my limbs were numb and cold and my joints felt stiff.

  “Where are you taking me?” I whispered into his chest, not really caring but feeling like I needed to say something.

  “To bed,” he replied in a soft rumble. “It’s getting late, and that hard floor was making my ass fall asleep.”

  Sighing, I turned my face into his chest and squeezed my eyes tight shut. I just wanted to go to sleep. Maybe when I woke up, this would all have been a horrible nightmare.

  Vali placed me gently down on my huge, pastel purple bed and then tugged the blankets over me. My hands clutched at his shirt desperately, and I tugged him back down when he made to get up.

  “Please don’t leave me,” I begged, my voice cracking into a sob.

  Vali shushed me softly, peeling my fingers off of his clothing. “I’m not leaving, regina mea. Just taking my shoes off. I hate when people put shoes on the bed, don’t you?”

  It didn’t seem like the sort of question that needed a response, so I just sucked in a shaking breath and watched through slitted eyelids as he removed his boots, then slid back under the blankets with me.

  Once inside with me, he wrapped his huge arms around me and pulled me in close. There was something stupidly primal about how it felt to be encased in his arms at that moment. When my whole world was falling to shit around me, when I was more vulnerable than I’d ever been. Simply being wrapped in Vali’s huge hug brought me a certain sense of peace and safety.

  We lay like that for ages. I had no tears left, but couldn’t force myself to sleep, no matter how badly I wished for it. Eventually, I knew I would need to talk about what had just happened.

  “Regina?” Vali said in a soft voice while his fingers stroked through my hair, “I know how you must be feeling right now. To lose a parent, it’s unlike any other pain.” I sniffled into his chest but said nothing. He did know what it felt like, more so than anyone. “And I don’t know what you discussed with Austin today that had you coming back out of that shell you’d retreated into, but I need to say this now before things become worse. Before you let this break you.”

  He paused again, his fingers trailing through my hair and down my back, then repeating. “So, I may not be the fluffy blanket you want right now, but maybe I’m what you need. You’ve had a rough run lately, Regina; I’m not disputing that at all. It fucking sucks. It sucks about Wesley. I might have only known the kid a few months, but fuck if I wasn’t already attached to that little nerd. More than that, it sucks about Jonathan. No one is ever going to try and tell you otherwise.” Fresh tears that I didn’t realize I was capable of pooled in my eyes and spilled down my face onto Vali’s shirt. “But here’s the hardest, shittiest part of all of it. You aren’t allowed the time to grieve like a normal person might. You don’t have the luxury to hide under your blankets and cry yourself to sleep for weeks on end, praying for the pain to go away. Not when you have people depending on you. Not when you have a world to save.”

  No, it was what I needed to hear. Pain sucked balls—and not even in a nice way. I’d spent years being grateful to Jonathon. Then months bewildered and almost hating him. No, fuck that. I had hated him. Not telling me the truth was the worst damn decision he’d made.

  “He made mistakes. He is a man,” Vali continued even when I said nothing in response. “I don’t forgive him for causing you any pain, regina mea; that is not for me. He was a man. He made his own decisions.”

  And then some. He owned his shit. Tasha. The name tickled the back of my mind, the way he’d said it. I was like her. Well, that was better than being like Bridget, right?

  Vali rubbed his chin against my hair. “Are you asleep?”

  “No,” I answered, and it took real effort to push the word out. “Talk to me some more.” Then, even if I didn’t need to, I said, “Please.”

  “Then I shall not lie to you and tell you this pain will ever be easy to bear; it will be a scar.”

  I had scars.

  “Scars are the tale of the road we have traveled.”

  And the loves we’d lost. Yeah, not where I wanted to go, but I made myself listen. Safe in his arms, I let myself feel.

  Even if it sucked.

  I splashed ice cold water onto my face again, and the sounds of the guys returning filtered up from downstairs. Quickly I grabbed a hand towel to dry off my face. I’d splashed cold water over my face about ten times already in an attempt to wake my brain up and reduce the blotchy puffiness of crying.

  Not that I cared if the guys saw me looking less than my best; I think I’d earned the right. But simply because it helped me to feel more human if I didn’t look like such a mess.

  Eager to hear what had happened on Omega base, I yanked on a clean T-shirt and hurried through my bedroom. It was vacant already, so Vali must have heard them and headed downstairs too.

  “Kitten.” River met me halfway up the stairs, and I froze, noticing the smear of blood on his white shirt. “Come with me; we have something to show you.”

  His voice was grim, and my breathing sped up with anticipation. What could he possibly have to show me, unless they’d arrived in time to deliver Simon’s head on a platter? A girl could hope, huh?

  Following River out onto our back porch, I saw my ex-friend zip-tied and looking revolting. Way more so than last time I’d seen him, it looked like the flesh was almost peeling off his face in patches. Not to mention the smell. “Simon!” I exclaimed.

  “We wanted to finish him off when we found him,” Cole told me, scowling at the reanimated corpse of Simon like he was a giant pile of steaming shit. “But River suggested you should get final say on his fate.”

  I glanced sharply between my guys and noted the resolute agreement on all of their faces. It was actually weirdly touching that they’d thought to allow me this act of closure.

  “What am I supposed
to do?” I asked quietly, at a loss for what to say. “Just... declare he should die and then, what? Shoot him in the head? He’s already survived an avalanche; how do we know he won’t survive that?”

  “Whatever you decide,” River told me in a calm voice, “we will ensure is done properly.”

  Done properly sounded so ominous coming from him, but I knew what he meant. There would be no space for doubt if I chose to end Simon’s existence right then and there.

  “Can’t we just... lock him up somewhere? Surely there must be some sort of prison designed for supernaturals?” And holy crap, shouldn’t that be the sort of thing I should know? Every day my lack of knowledge about the world I lived in was becoming more and more apparent.

  “There is,” Austin nodded. “But there is one more problem.”

  I raised my brows at him, but it was Caleb who replied.

  “We needed to dispose of the mages who had been working with Simon,” he informed me, looking a bit pale. “You remember the necromancer who spoke out at the town hall?” I nodded. “He was fronting a group that was assisting Simon, providing golems for extra backup and magical assistance as required. We disabled some fifteen-odd spells from Omega HQ tonight.”

  “Shit,” I breathed, eyeing up my former foster brother, who had yet to speak. “So how does that complicate this?” I waved my hand at Simon. “And where is his usual poisonous snark?”

  “Well, that’s all part of the same thing. When we, er, dealt with the mages involved, we killed the necro who had reanimated Simon in the first place. Without that tether to a life magic, Simon physically can’t continue. He will slowly, as you can see, decompose. His ability to speak is already gone.” Caleb shrugged and didn’t look all that upset about it. “So, yeah. Locking him up is totally an option, but he will be dead by the end of the week anyway.”

 
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