Hiram turned away from the news. Maine’s finest were still looking for the boy without luck. His mother, teary-eyed, had appeared on the television multiple times to plead for his safe return. But it was beginning to be old news. Soon they would stop playing the footage and Justin would be forgotten by all but his closest friends. Life moved on.
Hiram blinked. Watching a flickering screen for six hours straight tired his eyes. But not much. His eyesight was perfect, due to the fact they had been the first part of himself he had healed when he received the gift…when he had been initiated into the Pack.
His legs, kidney, cancer, and lungs had followed. And he had never declined after that. He was healthier than a man a sixth his age—and looked only half it.
Dr. Retland was one-hundred and twenty-six years old. Fifty had been spent in human misery. More than seventy in inhuman power.
You know to whom it is owed. Do not forget it. The voice was with him, as always. It was usually distant, but after the actions of late—the failings of late—it was closer upon him, like a suffocating blanket over his head. It was Wace-Diron—the Watcher.
Tobias Tory, his pale hair slicked back, sat to his right, his hand around a cold cup of coffee. Sarai leaned back in her chair on the left, her eyes closed. They had been sitting in the 24-hours-a-day café for twelve hours. They would wait twelve more if necessary. The Ruler had demanded it.
The doors opened. The three jerked upwards, their eyes going to the figure who had entered. They relaxed. Another patron.
They were still in Maine. Much of the snow had melted, but it was still bitterly cold. At least the café had decent heating.
The door creaked again. The patron leaving. Hiram closed his eyes…and felt a hand clamp on his shoulder.
“Sleeping. No wonder you lost him.”
Hiram almost fell backwards as his chair tipped. For an instant the man holding it almost let him. But then he forced Hiram back upright.
“Clumsy. No wonder you lost him.”
Connor Halling was an imposing sight. The man was only of modest stature, shorter than Hiram, but it didn’t matter. He was a legend. Senator, governor, mayor, and currently most prominent businessman of New York.
He was not known for his eloquence—he tended to speak in short, clipped sentences, a remnant of his stint with the army—but for getting things done. He was revered and feared as the most brutally efficient and incorruptible politician to ever set foot in Washington. He was expected to run for President next election.
Though that wasn’t Connor so much as it was the Wolf. His dark blue eyes, sharp face, and wide shoulders showed a power that seemed beyond man.
Not that any of the humans in the group knew which was which. Connor Halling was the Judge—the feeler of emotions and even thoughts—but his companion was the Ruler. Connor Halling and his companion seemed intertwined, almost one being. It was impossible to tell who was speaking at any given point, even when they communed by thought.
“You lost him. Three against one barely trained Seeker. And you lost him.” Connor did not take a seat. He stood with his arms behind his back. He wore hooded casual clothes so as to be incognito. But he looked like a fish out of water in them.
Tobias tried to explain. “She took out Sarai—and then their Prophet took over the boy. She had a whole escape plan mapped out. She even hired—”
“Excuses. Shut up. I know what happened.” Connor looked at the TV for a moment. Then his gaze moved to Hiram. “Assessment of the boy.”
“He expresses no qualities of a Ruler—” Hiram bit his tongue. He should have known better. Connor hated that word. At least when it wasn’t applied to him. “I mean of a leader. He did not seem the type to easily accept the pack. An introvert. He will not be an effective leader.”
“You stand behind that?” Connor’s blue eyes were not like clear skies. More the vacuum of a dark whirlpool.
“To the best of my ability. I am not the Judge, so my capabilities are limited.”
“Flattery.” Connor turned away for a moment. He seemed to be studying the waitress. “You. Come here.”
The woman looked up. “Sorry?”
The waitress met Connor’s eyes with defiance. Then they glazed over. “Yes…sir.”
Connor’s expression was unreadable. “What did you hear?”
“I…” She seemed transfixed by Connor’s gaze. “Nothing. Something. Your whole conversation.”
Connor’s lip twitched. “Hiram. Let us…heal her.”
He glanced at Hiram and the Healer felt himself being drawn into his own mind-world. He quickly hid it as best he could—it was better to let Connor know as little as possible if possible. It usually wasn’t.
“Wise. But a doomed attempt.”
Connor’s voice was different in the mind. A level, even genial and humorous voice, though it was still clipped.
They focused. Connor, the Judge, sensing her memories, her thoughts. The Ruler forcing his way, controlling her him. The Watcher, Hiram’s companion, hiding them. Hiram, seeing her mind, healing her eavesdropping. It was innocent. Harmless. But Connor had decided it must be purged. He began to work like a surgeon, drawing on the power of the Thin Places to take the memory from her.
When they finished, the mass of shadow that was the Ruler turned to Hiram. It slowly solidified, taking the rough shape of a wolf. For some reason, the Ruler did not like to be seen. Even the other wolves did not see him face to face.
“You all will come to New York. Separate flights—you will be secretive. Find us there.”
As Connor withdrew and his presence grew faint—he was leaving the Café, the group, and the still-transfixed waitress without a backwards glance—Hiram took a breath of relief. It could have gone a lot worse.
He mentally replied to the Ruler’s last statement, just in case he was still watching from a distance.
I hope you enjoyed this look at the other side. Next week we’ll be back with Justin for bit—but the first confrontation is coming up!