We made it to Dae’lin’s office and I knocked politely on the door, but there was no answer. I peeked in the side window and saw she wasn’t there. “No Dae’lin.”
Walker started looking and pointed, “She’s in the fish bowl with your dragon lady.”
“This should be fun.” I said.
Walker and I went into the glass walled conference room. Dae’lin didn’t turn to look at us but Naomi’s orange eyes looked up and she gave me a half smile before turning her attentions back on Dae’lin.
The raven haired Venatori was short in stature but she didn’t become head of the field hunters by being soft and small. Her personality made up for her height. “Sit down gentleman.”
Walker did as she asked and took a seat next to her. I didn’t I walked around the table examining what was really going on in her. The dragon had been hurt, possibly tortured. Dae’lin was holding her in loose bonds of air. I frowned, “Let her go. She’s not going anywhere.”
Dae’lin turned her brown eyes up at me and stared at my defiance. “Let her go.” I demanded.
Dae’lin shook her head. “It’s safer this way.”
“Let her go. Dae’lin.” I was probably over stepping my bounds and Dae’lin thought so too as she stood up and stepped into me.
I smiled down at her. She had scared me once upon a time. Now she was only my boss, she couldn’t do much more than write me up. Firing me meant I went down a level and possibly couldn’t hunt. That would be a bad thing, but really how do you fire a man when there are only so many hunters in the organization.
I sat down ignoring Dae’lin’s display of authority. “Let her go. It’s the last time I ask.”
Dae’lin’s voice was quiet and red hot with anger. “You never asked.”
I turned to Naomi and wove a razor sharp line of air and snaked it between the dragon and her bonds. I pulled and the weaves Dae’lin were holding sliced in half leaving a vacuum and there was a small pop as the weave broke completely. “I said let her go.”
Dae’lin stared at me in raw fury. “She will attack.”
“She will not attack. She had not attacked any of you who were not provoking her. I can go look at the tapes Dae’lin. I guarantee you she was on her best behavior until someone taunted her. I don’t even have to be here to know it’s true.”
Walker looked a little guilty and I frowned. “She’s a person just like you are. Treat them as such and they won’t fight you so bad. She knows she’s dead. At least let her die with some dignity.”
I turned back to Naomi, “Your son slept well last night. He enjoyed the cake my friend brought me. I hope he won’t be disappointed when cake isn’t for dinner every night.”
She smiled at me and I continued, “What is Dae’lin asking you about?”
Naomi slid the paper across the table. I recognized the handwriting and the times and dates and the bits of information were familiar even though I hadn’t read it all. I knew they were asking about the Dragon’s plans.
“I see your name and number here. Valentino contacted you we know this. Do you recognize any of the other numbers?”
She shook her head. “No, but they already have the names the phones belong to. I don’t know any of them.”
“So why are we in here?” I asked.
“Because they don’t believe me. All dragons must know all other dragons.”
I laughed. “Most Venatori know most venatori. But dragons are solitary creatures – rarely taking mates out of fear for their hoards. I believe you.”
“What’s the problem here Dae’lin?” I turned to look at the woman who was glaring daggers at me.
“She can’t know nothing about them.”
“Why not? Do you know anything about Glen Hill?” I asked.
“I know he’s the father of your best-friend.”
“Do you know Robert Hill?” I asked.
Dae’lin looked at me like I was asking her a trick question. “Robert Hill is my best friend’s great-grandfather. I met him once when I was six. He passed away the year after that. Did you know that?”
Dae’lin frowned. “No. I did not.”
“Do you know every human in New York City? Do you even know one human in New York City who doesn’t work in this building?”
Dae’lin shook her head. “So it’s possible she doesn’t know these people. Drop it Dae’lin. Put her back in her cell and let her wait her trial and pay for her crimes in peace.”
I stood up and took the piece of paper with me. Walker followed me out. I turned to see Dae’lin stalking out of the fish bowl and shutting the door behind me. She grabbed me by the arm and attempted to drag me to her office like the child I had once been. Old habits died hard, but I wasn’t going to put up with it. I dug my heels in and she turned around with a huff. “If you want to do it here. Fine with me.” She didn’t stand on her tip toes but her she puffed out her chest and made her stance known. “You will never do that again. Are we clear?”
“I will never do what again?” I asked. I had done a few things she would be pissed at. I wanted clarification on it.
“All of it. Nox. You may not be a boy anymore but if you ever countermand me in front of anyone ever again I will hang you out to dry.”
“So you want me to let you treat people with disrespect and hatred because you think you are better than them?” I asked. “You want me to go pull up the footage outside the conference room? From the look on Walker’s face a moment ago he and a few others were taunting our dragon friend. It’s no fucking wonder they hate us. We think we are better than them. We preach harmony but we don’t practice it. You tie her up in bonds of air because you fucking can. Did she attack you Dae’lin, or just some dumb fuck who was treating her like a dog they think she is?”
“You will not talk back to me.” Her anger rose up and I could see fire brimming around her just waiting to pop.
“I am not five any longer Dae’lin. I will not be treated like a child. I’d rather be demoted than be treated like you treat me. I’m no longer your student. You cannot manhandle me.”
Tiny ribbons of translucent fire threaded itself around Dae’lin and I frowned. She was losing control. She only ever lost control around me, that was how often I made her angry. “I wouldn’t have to manhandle you if you obeyed me.”
“If you had asked me to come to your office or even ordered it I might have followed you. Instead you choose to grab me by the arm like some stubborn child. You treat me like a child you will get childish reactions from me, you damn well know this.”
The fire grew larger but only those who could see the patterns even knew the impending danger of the anger seething from the leader of the field hunters – which meant I was the only one who noticed. Her anger grew and the heat from the threads was making her sweat – small beads trickled down her forehead and she absently wiped it away. Walker had started fanning himself several feet away from where we stood. I could have said something. I probably should have, but I knew telling her to calm down would only make it worse. So I let it build up to dangerous levels. Instead I spoke calmly and with a cool voice, “I am asking you for a reassignment – officially. Give me and my problem self to some other low level administrator and let me be their problem.”
Dae’lin stared up at me like I was asking for something completely strange and extraordinary – people transferred all the time. “Why would you ask that?”
I sighed, “Because apparently you and I don’t work well together.” I gestured to the air around her and she looked around noticing for the first time the flames that were threaded around her. In that moment of realization Dae’lin regained her control and stared at me open mouthed. “I won’t give you to someone else. They will try to make you be someone you aren’t.”
“I’d like to see them try, Dae’lin.” I said defiantly.
“Nox. Don’t ask that of me.”
I frowned. “Then stop treating me like I’m still your student. I’m equal to everyone here. And you tried to drag me off like some petulant child. I don’t have a problem with you yelling at me in public. But I will not let you treat me like I’m five.”
Dae’lin turned around and headed to her office. “My office. Now!”
I sighed but I followed her to her office. Walker followed in my wake but he hung back. He didn’t want to get yelled at. I smiled at him as I closed the door to Dae’lin’s office. She was already sitting behind her desk staring at her computer screen. I stood by the door waiting her instructions.
“I’m sorry, Nox. I have no excuse for my behavior. You make me so angry.” The anger was still present, but so was the remorse and the sorrow for times long since gone.
“I won’t apologize for what I did in there Dae’lin. You didn’t need to keep her tied up. You know what they do to those I bring back. What did you expect her to do when people taunt her and kick her like a dog?”
“I know. And I know you feel every ounce of pain they feel while they are here. I am always surprised empathy was not one of your tested abilities.”
“It doesn’t take a magical ability to feel for others, Dae’lin. I know what it’s like to be treated like shit. To be on the receiving end of the bullies here in the Venatori. They have rights. The Clandestine Providence doesn’t say we are better than they are. We are the police. We have to obey the laws too.”
Dae’lin sighed. “That is why you can’t be under someone else. You’d be slapped a desk job every time you spouted your views until you rode that desk permanently. Every kill you failed on would be a mark against you. I know it seems that way now, but they listen now. They’ve actually let a few go with probation. I was surprised when Il Cane took a fledgling in personally.”
I smiled. “Il Cane didn’t take him in. Ant did. He killed Casey’s master for making children vampires. Ant felt responsible for the death of that middle school teacher and his family at Casey’s hand. Casey is a good barista at the Starbucks in the Night Life building. Armand says he might even promote him to night shift assistant manager.”
“Nox. Teach Walker well. He’s a good hunter. He’s not like you, but he could be.” Dae’lin looked up at me and frowned.
“Why did you pair me with him Dae’lin?” I asked.
Dae’lin picked up her phone and sent a text before she answered me. “Walker was in Nebraska. He was hunting a rogue wolf. The wolf turned out to be a 15 year old girl who was bitten by what authorities called a rabid dog. No one suspected she’d turn. The wolf in question skipped town months before she turned. She ravaged her birthday party guests killing one and infecting three others.” Dae’lin sighed, “He killed her without hesitation. A bullet in the chest. It was a clean kill if she’d been human, but she wasn’t. He watched the girl suffer. She’d been in wolf form and when she shifted back to a girl Walker lost it. His handler said he almost put a gun to his head. He needs to see there is more than one way to do this. Tell me what you would have done with this girl?”
Halfway through the story I heard the door behind me open and I could smell Walker’s cologne before he shut the door behind him. Dae’lin had continued uninterrupted, and as she finished the story I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I knew how Walker felt. Hell, I’d been there myself on my first hunt. “Did she attack him?”
Dae’lin shook her head. “No, they had trapped her, she was cowering in a corner when he shot her.”
“I’d have calmed her down. Talked to her humanity and brought her out of it. At the very least I would have kept her there until she shifted back. I’d have given her to the local pack, told the alpha the story and seen that she got the help she needed. I’d have given him the three names of the infected as well. He’d be in charge of them too. She’ll always remember that first kill, but she didn’t have to do it again.”
Dae’lin asked, “Would you have done it with Michaela there egging you on?”
“You are asking me if I would have killed her because Michaela was ordering it?” I asked.
I said. “I don’t know. Michaela never made me do anything I didn’t want to do. She said if I failed, it was on me, not her.”
Dae’lin acknowledged the man behind her, “Walker do you want to ask anything?”
“No ma’am.” He stepped into my peripheral vision and was looking down at the ground. I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed then it my hand fall back to my side.
I looked at Dae’lin, “Do you have anything else? Walker and I have some work to do.”
Dae’lin shook her head. “No. Let me know what you find out.”
I turned and opened the door and headed towards the elevator. I hoped Walker followed and he did. I didn’t hear the door shut behind us. I pressed the elevator button to go down and we waited in silence. If Walker wanted to talk I’d listen, if he didn’t I was good with that too. But it was his mission. His problems. I wasn’t going to push. I knew from personal experience that was the best way to make someone shut up about it.
The elevator doors slide open and everyone disembarked. We got on and I pressed the button for the ground floor. Walker asked, “Where we going?”
“Address #1 on the list. I know it.”
The first few floors we rode in silence. Walker broke it with a whispered question, “You aren’t going to even ask about it?”
I shrugged. “If you want to talk about it, talk. If you don’t that’s okay to. I’ll listen either way when you are ready.”
“I didn’t know she was 15 when I shot her. Hell I didn’t even know she was a she until she shifted.” Walker confided.
I didn’t mention the fact that wolves usually have visible genitals, that wouldn’t really help matters, but the age thing was completely not his fault. “No one could have known she was only 15 from looking at her.” I reassured Walker. “Shit happens. From what I get from the story and the questions Dae’lin asked, your handler was pushing you to shoot first and ask questions later. It’s not your fault.”
Walker shook his head. “It was. I pulled the trigger. Would she have had a good life? Could she have had?” Walker sound generally concerned over the idea that he hadn’t done the right thing.
“She could have. Most victims who survive the change, which she obviously did lead full and normal lives except for three days out of every month. It’s rough at first, sometimes they have to cage the fledglings, but most of the time an alpha can control them so they don’t attack humans.”
Walker sighed as the door to the lobby opened and we stepped out. He was lost in thought as we headed into the afternoon air. It was bright and I wished I’d had my sunglasses with me.