Rage VII: Awakening the Lost
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2016 by Celtic Bard

“If there is one thing I absolutely love it is when some incompetent with more brains or muscle than sense decides to try to do my job,” Radovan Dzerdja growled irritably at the hulking man standing before his desk in a black trench coat, jeans, and button down shirt. Glaring up at the young man a moment longer, he waved him to one of the finely made oak chairs padded with dark leather cushions. “You don’t see me running about, waving around a battle-axe or popping off with an assault rifle, do you? Of course you don’t! Do you know why? Because it isn’t my bloody job! So what the hell possessed Angus O’Shea to allow some incompetent, multiple incompetents, if I read you contract correctly, to begin the Awakening process? How would he feel if I and my people decided to start beating up, torturing, and killing people for no apparent reason other than we felt we knew what we were doing? After all, if a Bloody Hand can do it, it can’t be that f•©king difficult!”

The man calmly taking the tongue lashing was inwardly smiling despite his expressionless mien. He stood well over six feet tall and was all bulky muscle with pale skin, light blue eyes, and wavy, shoulder-length red hair. He liked Radovan because he was such a fearless, acerbic curmudgeon.

And because Radovan knew his tirade would only amuse Hugh O’Shea, it took all of the fun out of it.

He glared at the younger man, snorting disgustedly. “You may as well smile before you hurt yourself,” he snapped, his gray eyes staring daggers at the young Bloody Hand. He combed his hands through his honey brown hair and sighed as the huge grin spreading across the desk from him dissipated his foul mood. If he didn’t know better, he would almost think young Hugh were a Psy-Blade. Nobody else managed to be able to turn aside his vituperation with a mere smile. Radovan looked down at the contract again and shook his head. “How the hell did Rory O’Shea’s son manage to become Lost? Everyone and his brother knew where he was, including the sapiens.”

Hugh sighed sadly. “Cousin Angus was sort of conceived at an inopportune period,” he replied reluctantly, not really liking the necessity of speaking about family business to an outsider. Grimacing, resigned to the need, and shrugging, he continued, “When Uncle Rory had to leave Angus Cavanaugh behind, he also had to leave Angus Michael behind as well. When he did, he made it plainly known to everyone that anyone messing with his son or his ex-lover would regret it for the rest of their short, miserable, pain-filled lives. So everyone avoided Angus FitzKiern like the plague. At least until the other day’s clusterf•©k at Exposé, that is. And so I find myself in your lovely condo at the behest of my father, at the behest of Little Angus’ father.”

Radovan frowned, flipping through the pages of the contract, scanning the pertinent facts of the job. “There is nothing in here about why Rory O’Shea is not handling this himself. For a Bloody Hand, he is a fair student of our history and has done that task for your Society in the past.”

Hugh shook his head sharply. “Bloody Hand Lords can’t stay in the same territory with each other for long without a fight, you should know that,” the young Bloody Hand said gravely. “My father and Uncle Rory negotiated for him to remain in town long enough to make sure Little Angus can go back to his life when he gets out of the care of the Aesculapians. Even after he warned about the move on my father by the Exile, Mastermind, my father still required Uncle Rory to honor the agreement as originally negotiated. Uncle Rory is The O’Neill Bloody Hand, so he understood. He showed his trust in my father by asking that we handle Awakening not only his son but also the Silken Dark that seems to have taken a liking to Little Angus. We know next to nothing about her other than she lived in Boston and originally came from Eire. That is why we ask you to look into her lineage in the contract. She will need to know when her mother’s people come calling. It is why we decided we need to get the best Loremaster in the city.”

Radovan’s brow rose at that, his lips twitching. “Flattery, and the large check that came with this contract, will get you far,” he said with a chuckle. He pulled the copy of the contract from under the original and scribed his elaborate signature on it before passing it to Hugh. “Tell your father I will take the children in hand. Has Angus FitzKiern awoken again yet?”

Hugh laughed, shaking his head. “He all but sprinted out of the warehouse the Grandmaster acquired to use as the Aesculapians’ workshop. From what the nurse said, the cabbie looked horrified to be picking up an escapee from an ICU ward in front of a warehouse,” the young Bloody Hand replied with amusement, clearly envisioning his cousin in a hospital gown in the warehouse district, looking like death warmed over. He laughed again. “The Grandmaster’s people say the Silken Dark did much the same when they spoke to her in Little Angus’ apartment the other day. The Grandmaster asked us to apologize for stepping on your Society’s toes but his historian was on another assignment and both children were asking questions, as the Lost are wont to do. They felt it would be wrong not to give some answers, even if they were answers that they would not be able to accept yet.”

The Loremaster grimaced in disgust. “Trust a Grandmaster to craft an apology that would take all of the fun out of continuing my snit,” he snapped in mock irritation. Radovan looked up at the vaulted ceiling of the study in thought before his gray eyes once more narrowed as they pierced Hugh. “Did your father or Rory O’Shea have a preference as to how I proceed with the Awakening? Separately or together? Location? Soft or hard?”

The young Bloody Hand shook his head. “They said to leave that up to you,” Hugh replied solemnly. “I was to let you know Little Angus was at home and would be for the next week or so. The address is in the contract info. His boss told him not to come back to work until he is healthy. The Aesculapians will be sending people to give him a check-up and make sure everything is healing correctly.” His tone suggested he wasn’t sure why they would. And given Bloody Hands pretty much heal whatever does not kill them or involve dismemberment, Radovan could see why he was confused by the healers’ solicitude.

“As for the Silken Dark, she works at Exposé, as is in the info we provided,” he continued briskly. He shook his head again, grinning. “I imagine she will stop by Little Angus’ place in the next day or so to see if he has returned and once she sees the shape he is in he won’t be able to get rid of her. As the info says, she has it bad for him but hasn’t worked up the courage to do anything about it. In his current state, he won’t be able to fight her off any longer. Especially when she figures out how to use her abilities.”

Radovan thought about that and nodded, smiling. “Probably not,” he agreed with shared amusement. He straightened in his chair and inhaled deeply. “All right, then. I will put people on both of them and wait until she heads to his apartment. He isn’t very mobile and a Silken Dark with a mating fixture will not abandon him. Once they are together, I will go Awaken them. Properly.”

Hugh smiled at his severe tone on the last word. Rising, he folded the signed copy of the contract up, putting it in his coat pocket. He held out a large, calloused hand with a grin. “Enjoy this one. I am sure there will be quite a bit of amusement with it,” he said, shaking Radovan’s hand as the Loremaster rose. A twinkle in his light blue eyes warned the older man a parting quip was coming. “At least once you get through the bloody-minded stubbornness it will.”

“Sir, she is here. As far as we have seen, he hasn’t left in two days,” Samovir Tvarsk informed him over a phone connection barely intelligible. “The only other visitors have been the Aesculapian nurse and two grocery delivery boys. You want us to go up and keep them in place?”

“No. What I would really like is for you to explain why I can barely understand you,” Radovan snapped back, glaring at the bookshelf opposite his desk as if it were a recalcitrant minion. “I supplied you and your Ronin with cell phones that should get better reception than this.”

The Loremaster heard his Ronin guard clear his throat, barely. “There is so much signal interference around this building that I can only assume multiple someones are keeping an eye, and many ears, on your subject. We are lucky to get a single bar within two blocks of that place. I am on the closest pay phone.”

Radovan scowled. “How do you know the Silken Dark is still there?”

He could hear the slight smile in the man’s tone as he replied with, “Ronin do not depend on technology to be reliable. Thusly, we are always prepared with contingencies, even if they are a little obsolete to today’s tech-driven world.”

“Fine, keep your secrets,” he replied sourly, wondering what they could possibly be using that would be considered low tech. He rose from his chair and put on his jacket. “I am on my way. Call my cell if anything changes.”

“Yes, sir.”

Radovan jabbed a finger on the End button on the desk phone, grabbed his satchel, and headed out. Two more Ronin in the hall took up station behind him and called down to his driver, an unreliable-looking young man belonging to the Society known as The House of Newton’s Bastards.

Brody, the driver, always made Radovan want to scowl. Despite being dressed in a fine black linen shirt and slacks with shined leather shoes, the Newton’s Bastard always seemed to exude a sense of dishevelment and general slovenliness. His tanned face was boyishly handsome in a surfer dude sort of way. Dyed canary yellow hair was cut long on top and wavy with the sides cut short and combed back straight. Faint hints of a honey brown mustache and beard graced his face, framing a mouth usually flashing an impish smile. Contrary to that overall impression, the youth moved with predatory grace, his leanly muscled body seeming to flow through the world as if to music only he could hear.

An ironic bow greeted Radovan at the front door of the Dakota, the back passenger side door opened for him. “Where to, sir?”

Pushing aside his irritation, the Loremaster growled, “Hell’s Kitchen. Ustorimoto has the address.”

One of the Ronin, the black-skinned female Indéla Tsu’tsambe, slid in back with the boss while the other, the solidly built and very Japanese Ustorimoto, got in the front passenger seat with Brody. Radovan sat watching the fall evening, traffic beginning to slow with rush hour’s urgency and the sky already dark. Winter was coming and the air already smelled of the snows to come. The air also still had the reek of trouble. Rory O’Shea may have tortured the human gangsters’ leaders back into terror of his very name and destroyed Mastermind, the Bloody Hand Outcast, but there was still something missing from this equation. Something that smelled of trouble. Few among Homo esoterica were stupid enough to tangle with a single Bloody Hand. None were stupid enough to tangle with Bloody Hand Lords backed by their clans save, maybe, another Bloody Hand Lord similarly supported.

Mastermind was no Lord and mundane human gangsters were no match for a clan of Bloody Hands. The idiot didn’t even have any Exile support.

“Uh ... I think we’re here, sir,” Brody said hesitantly from the front seat.

Looking out the window at the battered façade of what used to be a warehouse but had been semi-gentrified into a residential, Radovan had to agree with the hesitancy. This was not the best neighborhood, especially rolling up in a Mercedes. Then again, Lost or Awakened, Angus FitzKiern was the scion of one of the best bloodlines of the Bloody Hand Society. More O’Neill Clan Bloody Hands were Lords of their own territory than the next ten clans combined. That included Angus O’Shea of New York. Angus FitzKiern could live in the middle of Mogadishu and not have a problem.

At least, normally.

“Bloody Hands live where Bloody Hands will,” he said philosophically, opening the door of the car. His people got out and he sent an admonishing look to Brody. “You stay with the car. Just because the denizens of this neighborhood know not to screw with FitzKiern doesn’t mean they will restrain themselves from us and I do not feel like sharing a cab with you three when I am finished here.”

Brody grumbled half-heartedly, having wanted a chance to at least ogle the Silken Dark. “How rough can I get with any persistent admirers of the car?” he asked with a put-upon sigh.

Radovan looked around and saw some of the admirers gathering in whispering clumps, dark eyes assessing with greedy gazes. “Try to keep it short of death,” he snorted, somewhat aggravated to have to worry about interacting with sapiens. “I do not feel like trying to disappear bodies or coming up with stories for the NYPD.” With that he nodded to Indéla, who led the way inside.

Despite the exterior squalor and run-down neighborhood, the effort to revive the building as a gentrified residence had succeeded. The stairway was clean and solidly constructed. The doors into each apartment were stout and the varnish unfaded. Brass numbers and functional knockers showed the gentrification had been done with upper middle class residents in mind. The stairwell was kept clean and the walls and railings looked to have been painted within the last year or two. Judging from the smells and types of music strumming the senses as they climbed the stairs, upper middle class was a very good description of the tenants, the neighborhood notwithstanding.

Samovir Tvarsk, swathed in a black trench coat, white silk shirt, black slacks, and black leather boots with flat soles, stood on the second floor landing. The pommel of a longsword could be seen over his shoulder and a telltale bulge under each arm announced he also carried firearms. The pale-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Ronin stood over six feet with a medium build that was well-disguised by his choice of wardrobe. His prominent cheekbones and jaw gave him a fierce visage and was made all the more so by an eagle’s beak of a nose that had been broken at least once. He ran a large, scarred hand through carelessly combed, silky hair and grinned as they came up the stairs.

Radovan quirked an eyebrow and looked quizzically up at the Ronin. “What has you so amused?”

“Have you seen the subjects?” he asked, a suppressed laugh plain in his lowered voice. He put his hand up to his heart, palm down and continued, “The Silken Dark is about this tall,” he told them. Then he raised his hand over his head as far as his arm would reach and said, “The Bloody Hand is about this tall. I’ve spent the odd minute or two trying to figure out how the bedroom mechanics between the two would work if the Silken Dark gets her way.”

Indéla and Ustorimoto chuckled, Indéla looking far more interested than she should. The Loremaster cleared his throat and waved his hand upward, sending the Ronin back into motion.

“Ah dinae care, yae bloody stubborn arse!” a lilting Irish voice said from behind the door on which Radovan was about to knock. “Yae cannae even walk from yaer bed t’ the loo without staggerin’ abou’!”

A low, subterraneanly deep voice replied, eliciting the scathing retort of, “Me lily white arse yae can. This is nae a debate, me lad. Set yaer hulking self on the couch and hush. Ah’m goin’ t’ call Sal an’ tell him t’ find someone t’ cover me sets t’night an’ t’morrow whilst Ah make sure the blockheaded idiot he has as a bouncer does nae kill himself tryin’ t’ use the shower.”

Radovan knocked, cutting off the deep-voiced response. Swift, angry footsteps approached the door and it was unwisely yanked open. A five-foot nothing, large-breasted, narrow-waisted, red-haired woman in her early twenties glared out at them, her full lips tightening and her pony tail still twitching like an irritated cat’s tail. “Wonderful! More crazy people! Angus, you have company,” she said, her accent suddenly all Boston, the Irish lilt completely gone. Glaring at each in turn, she waved the Loremaster and the three Ronin into the studio apartment.

They trooped through the door and over to the area that served the open space as a living room. When the door shut, they glanced over and then did a double take as they found themselves being covered by a 9mm Beretta and a suddenly all business Silken Dark. The Ronin tensed but kept their hands at their sides away from their bodies. Radovan sighed, silently cursing Grandmaster Schwansteiger and his idiot minions for complicating an already complicated job.

Relaxed, Radovan walked over to one of the chairs and sat down, crossing his legs with a sigh. He fished in his breast pocket and came out with a small rectangle of metal that he put on the small coffee table between the chairs. A small light indicated that the device was on.

“I see my employers were not overstating how wound up and confused you two would be,” he told them with an understanding smile. He looked up at Samovir and nodded to the other chair. When the Ronin captain sat, the others took up station flanking the chairs in a relaxed pose. Across from him reclined a very wan, very heavily bandaged and casted Mr. Angus Michael FitzKiern wearing nothing but a pair of gray cotton shorts and a blanket around his shoulders. He sat in the corner of the couch facing the door, pillows propping him up and his casted leg stretched out. Radovan motioned to Ms. Siofra Kilpatrick. “Please, miss, sit. This will take a while and you may as well be comfortable for it.”

The Beretta, held steadily on them despite the size mismatch between its wielder’s hand and the weapon, never wavered as the girl sidled to the couch and lowered herself gingerly next to the casted foot of her would-be lover. Even as frail as the hulk next to her looked, he made her appear even more diminutive than she actually was. It made Samovir’s earlier amusement more understandable.

Looking at his Lost subjects made him want to punch Hugh O’Shea in the face. FitzKiern was probably in no condition to even try to understand what Radovan had to tell him. The man looked like he wanted nothing more than to scoot down a little more on the sofa and go to sleep. Kilpatrick, on the other hand, looked to be in full-on Silken Dark mating frenzy, a condition that made members of that Society very territorial and protective of the focus of their lust/love. In other words, all she really wanted was to get FitzKiern alone and work her magic on him. How he resisted her to this point, Radovan couldn’t fathom. Silken Dark empathic abilities could be potent. But then again, so were Bloody Hand glandular systems.

That would require more pondering, Radovan thought to himself with amusement. Bloody Hands might be immune to Silken Dark charms.

Mentally shaking off that thought, he looked at the Lost children and nodded to the gun. “I assure you, Ms. Kilpatrick, the pistol is not needed. We have been retained by parties who have your safety fully in mind.”

The Silken Dark snorted and opened her mouth with what would no doubt have been a scornful retort, but the Bloody Hand made a quelling gesture. With several winces that had the girl looking on with worry, the large man squirmed until he was more comfortably looking at Radovan. Deep, dark blue eyes flicked assessing glances at the two standing Ronin and Samovir before resting on the Loremaster.

“You’ve the look of someone handed a job fixing someone else’s mess,” the throbbingly deep voice said softly, thrumming on the bones of the listeners’ inner ears. There was exhaustion plain in his voice, but also curiosity. “Someone who knows the ham-handed jackasses before made a real clusterf•©k of it.”

Radovan inhaled deeply, relieved. If one of them planned to be reasonable then perhaps Schwansteiger, his lieutenant, and Ms. Mullins didn’t screw this situation up as badly as he feared. The process of Awakening the Lost was delicate and those who were not handled properly could sometimes remain Lost, rejecting the truth that is thrust upon them. More often than not they wound up dead through their own folly. Killed either by humans afraid of what they were (even if they did not know anything more than that the Lost child was “different“) or by the Black Guard.

“I understand Mr. Schwansteiger and his minions already tried to give you a basic idea of what you and I are, correct?” the Loremaster said, not really asking. At their skeptical nods, he grimaced. “Schwansteiger is a very good Grandmaster, one of the best. That being said, he should have known better than to try doing a Loremaster’s or Society Elder’s job. From Ms. Mullins’ account, he did a spectacular job of completely confusing you and screwing up a process that is very delicate as it is.

“The two of you are what we Homo esoterica call ‘Lost children.’ Before you say anything, Lost children are called that no matter at what age they are found. Until you go through a process we call ‘Awakening, ‘ you are as ignorant of your true selves as the youngest of us. Awakening is nothing more or less than providing you with the most basic knowledge of our people as a whole, and your birth Society in particular, as we can in a manner that allows you to adapt to the changing worldview were are thrusting upon you,” he explained in a gentle, soothing voice. He smiled inwardly as both of them relaxed a little more. The Silken Dark even allowed the Beretta to rest on her thigh, though her finger was still on the trigger and the Ronin would not relax until the barrel was pointed elsewhere.

Radovan shook his head and sighed. “I am sure Schwansteiger made it seem as if we were some inevitable master race, a superior genetic strain that separated itself from humanity,” he told them, his voice thick with derision at that description. “What we really are is an accident of human culture, history, and our own folly. The term ‘Homo esoterica‘ is almost a misnomer since many of our Societies have distinct, dominant traits that breed true. Look at yourselves. The two of you could not be more different barring minor differences in trivial things like skin, hair, and eye color. Ms. Kilpatrick, you are most obviously a child of the Silken Dark, a Society that tends to produce petite, rather curvy females or sleekly muscled males; very sexually attractive members who have the ability to amplify feelings of lust in both humans and Homo esoterica.” The Silken Dark blushed and her eyes darted towards her lustful obsession.

The Loremaster, too, turned his gaze upon FitzKiern and smiled wryly. “Well, most Homo esoterica. I think that your lineage, Mr. FitzKiern, that of a Society known as The Bloody Hands, and its legacy of increased metabolism and enhanced adrenal system, has given you at least partial immunity to Ms. Kilpatrick’s charms,” he told the big man, amused to see a slight blush that indicated that he did feel something for the little Silken Dark. “You have been told about your father. Your lineage is a well-known one amongst us since your father is a Bloody Hand Lord who controls New England, usually out of Boston.

“Your lineage, Ms. Kilpatrick, is as yet a mystery,” Radovan told her, noting a slight disappointment at hearing it. “This is not uncommon with Silken Dark. It is a Society that tends towards individualists or, at most, very small, clans. Yours is a Society for which my own, Loremasters, is often employed since it is not uncommon for a Silken Dark to produce a child without knowing or to not be around to inform that child of their heritage. Part of my contract to Awaken you both is to also research your lineage, Ms. Kilpatrick. Before I am through, I am sure my people will know from which Silken Dark line you descend. Suffice it to say that it is not surprising to find you doing well in the line of work you are currently employed. In ages past, Silken Dark have been the great courtesans and concubines of history.”

He looked over at the dark glare FitzKiern was throwing his way and shuddered, thankful the man was so injured. He made an apologetic gesture. “Calm yourself, Mr. FitzKiern. I meant no disrespect. You will understand more when the clan head of the Silken Dark located here in New York approaches her. I know full well how modestly she has used, or not used, her talents at her place of employment,” he quickly added. He nodded to the big man. “Just as I know you could have put your impressive physique to uses other than guarding over the women employed by your boss. In ages past, your people were the warriors and heroes of legend. Those who carved their place in history with blood and pain. As your father found, there is little call for such skills in this modern, overcivilized world. The amazing thing isn’t that he has used his abilities as he has but that you have been able to follow a less brutal and lawless path. You are both to be commended for your virtue and honor. It couldn’t have been easy.”

The Loremaster cast an assessing eye over them and decided they were almost through for this initial contact. “You look like you need some more rest, Mr. FitzKiern, and so I won’t go into history or too much into rules. I will merely warn you that you will be hearing from some of the Societies who are not specifically bred for but recruit from other Societies. There are many minor regional Societies but only a couple dozen major Societies who have global presences. You can expect to hear from the Bloody Hands within days. They are insular and do not like leaving Lost children wandering alone in the world. They are your cousins, Mr. FitzKiern, and are the O’Neill Clan of the Bloody Hand Society. Specifically, Angus O’Shea, after whom you were named, I believe.

“You, Ms. Kilpatrick, will be hearing from the Silken Dark. There is usually at least one Silken Dark in any decent-sized city. In New York, the Silken Dark are represented by the Amourite Clan, specifically Monique l’Amour. She runs a high-end escort service and tends to collect lovers, so be warned. Both of you.

“The three Societies most likely to approach a newly discovered Lost child are Grandmasters, Homerians, and Anarchists, also known as Exiles or Outcasts. Unless you are militantly against joining any other group and have more criminal tendencies than your past indicates, I would avoid the Anarchists,” he told them gravely. Snorting, he shook his head. “You may not even hear from them. They are a Society made up of exiles from other Societies and those who refuse to join a Society upon reaching the age of majority at twenty-one. Your recent troubles with the mafia were courtesy of a former Bloody Hand member of the Anarchists who went by the name Mastermind. He was trying to get back at your cousin Angus O’Shea.

“Given your intelligence and demonstrated abilities, Mr. FitzKiern, you may very well hear from the Grandmasters,” he continued. “They are tacticians and strategists. They hire themselves out to other Societies (and even some few sapiens) as planners, managers, cleaners, or negotiators/proxies. Grandmasters are usually individualists, having hired minions from other Societies and maybe an apprentice Grandmaster to help do their work. That is who the man you met in this apartment was, Ms. Kilpatrick. Mr. Schwansteiger’s apprentice.”

Radovan smiled at her with a quirked brow. “The last Society that recruits may find you interesting, Ms. Kilpatrick. The Homerians are artists. Mostly authors, playwrights, poets, and such, but they also have amongst them artists, ballet and ballroom dancers, a few actors (though the Venutian Society usually snap up Lost children with acting ability), and singers/musicians,” he told her with a smile. “Homerians, like Grandmasters, tend to be individualists. Homerians, however, use their gifts within the artistic world of the sapiens.

“The last Society I kept separate from the others because there is a warning that comes with them,” Radovan said with dreadful seriousness, making hard eye contact with both of them before proceeding. “We have few general laws that transcend Societies. Only two, actually. Rule One: No running for public office or setting yourself up as the power behind someone who is in public office. Rule Two: No monopolizing economies or using economic power for political purposes. To enforce those rules, and to police the Anarchists and rare inter-Society strife, the Black Guard Society was created over a millennium ago. They also recruit from other Societies and I can’t imagine them not contacting you, Mr. FitzKiern, given your public history for heroics. The members of the Black Guard tend to be anonymous and ruthless in dealing with those who either flout the laws or stir up trouble with sapiens or between Societies.”

The Loremaster let silence fill the apartment for a long minute before smiling. “Do you have any questions?”

Both still looked skeptical and the Silken Dark still looked like all she wanted was extended alone time with her mate, but at least they had not outright rejected anything he had told them.

The Bloody Hand slowly nodded. “I was under the impression, given the way you went through things, that you have more to go over with us,” he said slowly, resignedly, pain predominant in his voice. “I take it we will be seeing you again beyond today’s little briefing.”

Radovan grinned at the tone. “Unfortunately. I will, however, call before coming next time,” he replied sympathetically. “For the rest of these sessions we can do them together, as I did today, or we can do them individually, if you prefer. I am flexible, but I have found that it is easier to accept if you have someone to be there supporting you. The few instances of multiple Lost being Awakened at the same time that I have been party to seemed to go better than those who do so alone. Don’t answer now. Talk about it amongst yourselves and let me know. I can be reached at this number.” He pulled out two business cards with very plain block letters on white: Radovan Dzerdja (212)555-1111.

“If you have any questions between now and when I see you next,” he told them as he rose, Samovir rising and heading towards the door, “just call. I will call to schedule the next session sometime later this week. With that, I will leave you alone to rest. Oh, that little device blocks the listening devices various interested parties have planted around your abode. I will leave it with you so you may discuss this without the sapien authorities recording your insanity. The off button is on the bottom. Do switch it off for long periods of time or they will merely think you have disabled their devices and are hiding something. Short spells with it. Rest and I will see you soon.”

Radovan led his Ronin into the stairwell, chuckling as he suddenly felt aroused for no reason, the feeling decreasing as they descended the stairs.

“Wow! She is going to be a strong one,” Samovir murmured. “I can’t believe he has resisted her this long.”

“I had a thought on that,” Radovan replied as they headed back down to the car. “Given Bloody Hand metabolic and glandular systems, I am thinking Bloody Hands might actually be at least partly immune to Silken Dark charms.”

“Only partially?” Indéla inquired skeptically.

Radovan smiled knowingly. “I imagine if what the Silken Dark did was pheromonal, they would likely be completely immune,” he replied thoughtfully. “However, their abilities are empathic and amp up their target’s lust and/or attraction. Ms. Kilpatrick’s effect on us shows her lack of training since I doubt she is interested in anyone but Mr. FitzKiern. Rumor is that her audience enjoys her shows at Exposé much more when Mr. FitzKiern is in the room and she has some very ardent fans. Mr. FitzKiern, however, is her target and I think his weakened state will mean the end of his resistance.”

Their chuckles cut off as they exited the building to find a dozen broken and bleeding bodies dressed in rough clothing that did little to hide the numerous tattoos and scars. All around them were shell casings and malformed bullets. Brody sat on the trunk, smiling vacantly as he whistled a jaunty little tune, his feet thumping on the bumper next to one of several bullet holes in the car. He sprang spritely off the trunk when he saw them exit, smiling smugly and stepping over the bodies to open the back door of the Mercedes.

Radovan scowled at him. “I thought I said no bodies.”

The smile turned into an impish grin. “They are all alive. No dead bodies, just concussions, bruises, and broken bones.”

The Loremaster sighed resignedly. “Remind me to bring Avalanche to keep you company when we come next time.”

Brody grimaced. “I don’t need that Exile thug to babysit me!”

Radovan pointedly looked around at the fallen street thugs and then looked at his driver. “Apparently, you do,” he snapped before getting in the car. “Let’s go. I have work to do before my next appointment with Ms. Kilpatrick and Mr. FitzKiern.”

Appendix »