Elena scanned the area, even as Brock drove up the Donovans' driveway. No signs of anyone, and it was nearly suppertime. Waiting inside? She certainly wouldn't object to a chance to get in the house and take a look around, although it was unlikely they'd leave anything lying around that she could make use of.
She had every intention of leaving here with the little renegade. And if Rory Donovan attacked her or Brock over it, that would be a pleasant bonus.
“I very much hope he goes for one of us,” Brock said, paralleling her thoughts. “Considering that display on the weekend, I think it's highly probable he will.” His tone went from anticipation to disgust. “Typical damned Donovan. Bonding that deeply to a sensitive? That's indecent. No sense of propriety at all.”
“The whole situation was just asking for it,” Elena said. “But I think it will actually work to our advantage. He put himself in a rather nicely vulnerable position, bonding to a sensitive we still have a claim on. We take her, he assaults hunters which even the thirty-days law doesn't excuse, she gets the treatment she deserves for attacking her master, he gets a trial on a charge we do have proof for, and we get grounds for a much closer look at his life.” And it would destroy Brennan, Elena knew.
Brock parked the mini-van, and they got out, leaving the sensitives where they were. They wouldn't need additional power for this.
In the quiet, voices were faintly audible from the side of the house; Elena glanced at Brock, and followed them.
That was more than four bodies. Quite a lot more.
Van himself was sitting on a blanket, his back against an ornamental boulder; the little sensitive was curled up between his legs, leaning against him, his arms around her possessively. She had a collar on, at least. Not a very original look, her skin all softly-blended water shades, her hair longer and greeny-blue, fingers webbed, dressed in a short skirt and halter that looked like washed-up seaweed and sea-foam.
Nearby, Brennan sat on another blanket, with his uppity sensitive a dryad to match, her skin shaded browns and golds, her hair leafy-green, her skirt and halter leaves and flowers. Observers she didn't want, but Brennan could be discredited as biased.
Four lawn chairs were arranged in an arc, a little behind Brennan—he could turn around and be part of the group, though on a level with the sensitives rather than the mages. Of course a Donovan wouldn't care about such niceties. Elena identified the mages in them with dawning rage: Van's mother Kerry, Shvaughn, Aiden... and Aiden's mother, the Donovan Matriarch Elspeth.
Van nodded a greeting. She thought she could see triumph in his eyes, but it didn't show in expression or voice. “Hunters.”
“You need an audience?” Brock asked, acidly.
“It's my right to have witnesses present, if I so choose.”
That was the law, and there wasn't a damned thing they could do about it. With the Donovan Matriarch and three other senior Donovans present, claiming the renegade was going to depend on her or her mage actually screwing up. And there was, Elena was dead certain, no chance of that. This whole test was a formality... no, a farce.
This isn't check-mate yet, Donovan, she snarled, inside her own mind.
“Oblique, go get two more chairs,” Brennan said. The dryad rose gracefully, and crossed the grass to the side of the house to fetch lawn chairs for the hunters. She unfolded them and set them up, as well, in a mirror arc facing Van, then returned to her mage.
The hunters sat down.
“Obviously you've been doing shapechanging with her,” Elena said, trying to keep the sour note in her voice from being too obvious. “You've been using her?” She knew that already—otherwise there was no way they'd have bonded tightly enough for Van to throw that tantrum on the weekend—but it was in the rules.
“Yes.” Very pointedly, he let go of the little renegade—laid his own hands on the ground to either side, in fact. She shifted position a little, but stayed leaning against him, maintaining contact herself. The world rippled and blurred, and they were sitting underwater, the house a decaying castle; a brilliantly-coloured fish with long trailing fins swam by. The glamour faded, and though Elena watched closely for any wavering of control, there was none. Mage senses followed the flow of power with no difficulty. He was, undeniably, drawing power through her, and with enough finesse that it was highly likely he'd been getting a lot of practice with her.
Light rippled again, this time into a simple flat cushion of the kind some mages gave their sensitives to kneel on. It went transparent, briefly, then more and more substantial. Losing contact or control during a glamour was only uncomfortable; losing it in the middle of creation was actively dangerous, to gifts and mind and life. Yet his hands remained on the ground, leaving it to the little renegade to maintain that contact. She stayed exactly where she was, her eyes low, curled up against him. A sensitive beaten and terrorized into submission, with the threat of worse from others hanging overhead if her misbehaviour brought harm to her mage, would do that. The pair of sensitives Elena and Brock shared would never have dared to break contact, even if the hunters needed both hands free. But Elena very much doubted the fear she saw in the sensitive's tension was directed at any of the Donovans.
“Anything else?” Van asked, wrapping his arms around the renegade again. “I believe you need proof of her behaviour. You saw her on Sunday, you're seeing her now. Do you have any reason to doubt that she knows and displays proper respect? Or is there anything I should do to show you again?”
Elena glanced at Brock. There had been nothing in the little renegade's behaviour, Sunday or now, that was anything other than exactly what it should be. And to claim otherwise would lead to a challenge, involving the Matriarch, which could damage their standing in this city badly.
It was infuriating. There was no way the renegade was truly broken. Yet, by the current laws, there was nothing at all they could do. Van and Brennan had done nothing that violated the letter of any law and left any proof. They flouted custom and tradition, but for Donovans, that was almost a tradition itself.
On top of that, all that resourcefulness that had kept her going for ten days of hunting, all of whatever-it-was that had left her alarmingly able to break her training and attack her master, was now virtually guaranteed to be channelled into the nonsense the Donovans were behind, undermining hunter power even more, passing idiotic laws, charity work.
We would have had him today, she thought bitterly. And made sure that, however clever she is, she could never do any harm to another mage. I wonder whose idea it was to have witnesses.
“No,” Elena said, hating every word. “Everything we've seen has been appropriate. She belongs to you.” She stood up, inclined her head. “Matriarch.”
The Matriarch nodded in return. “Hunters. Your diligence and your duty are appreciated.”
Not around here. Elena turned around and stalked back to the van, aware of her hands curling into fists, and of Brock following.
“Fucking smart-ass,” Brock snarled. “Just had to have Mommy and the rest there. Smug little son of a bitch is so sure he can do whatever he wants... god, I want his head.”
“Eventually,” Elena said. “Sooner or later, we'll have them. Just not today, it would appear. I promise, we'll have them.”
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