Oh, wow. I can’t believe Demon Forged releases in only a few weeks. So here is a little bit (from a few chapters in, to avoid spoilers).
Their argument hadn’t gone unnoticed. Beyond the mouth of the hallway, Becca sat curled on one of the common room sofas, pretending to read. Though the novice’s nose was buried in the book, her eyes were too wide and her body too still. Listening, then. And if she’d understood their French—which was likely—perhaps she was wondering if Irena intended to kill Lilith.
But Irena doubted Becca would ask. Although the novice possessed a bold mouth with anyone aged less than one or two centuries, she became a mouse around the older Guardians.
At the end of the hall, Alejandro paused in front of one of the closed doors, turning his head as if he’d caught a scent. Irena caught up to him just as the door opened.
Dru’s brows rose when she saw them. Her body blocked Irena’s view of the room.
How is she? Alejandro signed.
The healer sighed. She squeezed out of the room, followed by her novice apprentice, Pim. They carried the odors of a human and dried blood with them—Hugh, Irena recognized, and Rosalia.
Physically, she’s fine. Mentally, we will have to wait and see. Dru rocked back and forth from the toes to the heels of her red sneakers. Usually, she bobbed; Rosalia’s condition must have been worrying her. Hugh is speaking with her now—telling her how you found her.
Soundproofing shielded the room; with the door closed, Irena couldn’t hear anything of Hugh’s and Rosalia’s conversation. Should we give her a personal account? Irena asked.
Dru shook her head. What you can give her is ten minutes with Hugh.
Irena narrowed her eyes; Dru’s never lost their friendly expression, but her voice dared Irena to argue when she shoved her hands into the pockets of her lab coat and repeated, “Ten minutes.”
The healer would fight her if she didn’t comply, Irena knew. Dru only appeared bubbly and soft, as if she was composed of smiles and laughter. But when she’d specialized with Irena almost twenty years earlier, the healer had revealed a stubborn streak comparable to a deaf ox. Every time Irena had severed one of the healer’s limbs—teaching Dru to fight through that shocking loss—Dru had simply reattached it, despite Irena’s commands to the contrary.
Dru had been one of Irena’s favorite assignments.
“Ten minutes,” she agreed.
Dru nodded. “I’ll be downstairs if I’m needed. Pim?”
The novice hurried after the healer, the expression on her round face open and awed before she caught up to Dru and began gesturing wildly, questioning Dru’s method of removing the bone shards from Rosalia’s brain and rebuilding her skull. The novice’s awe went far beyond appreciation for the healer’s skill, and Irena wondered if Dru had realized yet that Pim was in love with her.
And she wondered if she and Olek were the only two Guardians who looked outside Caelum and the vampire communities for their bed-partners. They had that in common. . . although Olek’s arrangements typically lasted much longer than hers. Years, rather than a single night.
She knew the name of his most recent lover by accident; four months ago, while visiting Drifter in Seattle, she’d overheard Jake telling young Charlie that he’d teleported into a bedroom while searching for Alejandro—and found a human in with him.
Irena had known a few Emilias. They’d all had long, curling dark hair, ripe-cherry lips, and passionate spirits.
And she’d liked each of them. His Emilia probably wouldn’t be any different—and Irena wanted to hate her for that.
She felt Olek watching her, but didn’t look up as she walked past him into the common room. The floor shivered beneath her feet. The novices practiced in the gymnasium on the first level, and the soundproofing between the floors and the thick rugs spread around the sofas didn’t completely absorb the impact vibrations. The clattering of keyboards and the murmurs of phone conversations floated up the stairs from the main offices.
Though plenty of seats were available, Irena plopped down next to Becca. The microfiber upholstery was cool and soft against her back; she put her feet up on the low table, made herself comfortable. The novice lifted her dark head and gave Irena a tight, quick smile before returning to her book.
Ah, so she tried to cover her unease with polite disinterest. Irena couldn’t allow that. She called in a billet of steel, and began working the metal with her fingers and her Gift.
Alejandro moved around the room, stopped behind the facing sofa. He rested his hands on the curving back. His gaze fell to the regal stag forming between Irena’s hands, its body caught in a mighty leap.
Becca glanced over. Then looked again, brown eyes lighting with curiosity.
Snared as easily as a hare.
Beneath Irena’s fingertips, her Gift molded the steel antlers into a wide forehead, a powerful jaw. A running wolf quickly took shape, its fur ruffled by the speed of its passing.
“You are not training with the others, Becca?” Irena asked in English, smoothing away most of her accent.
Despite that effort, the mouse almost went back into her hole. Then Becca tilted her book, showing Irena the spine. “I’m supposedly training my mind.”
Irena worked through the Chinese characters of the book’s title. She could read symbols more easily than alphabets, but she was hardly well-read. And so when she made out the name, she was surprised to recognize Lao Tzu’s work.
She hadn’t read it, but she’d heard it recited—in Caelum and on Earth—many times.
She didn’t follow any part of it.
“The Tao Te Ching?” Alejandro said. His fingers flexed against the back of the sofa with each pulse of her Gift. Irena’s breath moved to the same deep rhythm.
“Lilith recommended it. To help me find inner peace and balance.”
The wolf in Irena’s hands became a razor-edged dagger. “And has it trained your mind to obey like a dog or sharpened it?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m still trying to figure out the ‘being like water’ part.” The novice hesitated, her gaze on the spear rising out of the knife. “Do you have any suggestions?”
To be like water? “Submerge yourself in a lake with a sword, and practice with it.”
As if finally noting his response to her Gift, Alejandro straightened and clasped his hands behind his back. “Perhaps Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. It is somewhat similar to Irena’s philosophy.”
Her lip curled, and she said to him in French, “Sun Tzu too often ignores his gut in favor of his head. That is the best way to get a sword stabbed through it.”
Becca looked at Alejandro, a hint of mischief in her smile. “So it’ll teach me to fight without arms and legs? Eat hearts?” She glanced back at Irena and her shoulders hunched. “Or so I’ve heard.”
She’d never forced anyone to eat hearts. “I suppose you will find out when you specialize with me in a few decades.”
Becca’s eyes widened. “God, I hope not.”
There it was—that spark Irena had wanted to see. She grinned and reshaped the spear to resemble Mackenzie, the novice’s vampire lover. She tossed the statue to Becca.
“Oh, wow. Thanks. Holy crap, it’s just like him.” Her fingers ran over the chest, the face. She jerked her hand away, sucking in a breath. Blood welled on her thumb, and the novice stuck it between her lips.
Irena frowned. “You put blood into your mouth but balk at eating a heart?”
Becca yanked her thumb out. “Was that a lesson? Was I supposed to learn something useful?”
Learn something useful—from a statue of a skinny vampire? Yet Becca was in earnest. Irena closed her eyes and fought to remain silent. The sort of laughter she was prone to might destroy the small progress she’d made in drawing out the novice.
“Yes,” she heard Alejandro say with dry amusement. “A simple lesson: Fangs are sharp.”
“Oh. I already know that.”
“Good,” Irena said, rocking up to her feet. She didn’t know if ten minutes had passed, but it felt as if they had. “And if you do specialize with me, bring Lao Tzu’s book with you.”
She sensed they were both going to need it.