Chapter Twelve

Darius and Viceroy followed Tin into a part of the estate he'd never been to before. There was a staircase behind a locked door in Senator Rheingold's office. Tin gave him the code for the door, but as he had been instructed to personally escort Darius to the room, he unlocked it and led him down the stairs. Another door stood in their way at the bottom of the stairs, although it wasn't locked.

On the other side of the door was what looked like an ordinary conference room. Tin sat down on one end of the table, and wanting to be as far from him as possible, Darius sat on the opposite side on the other end. Not long after he sat down, Erik walked in, sitting next to Darius and leaving the seat across the Tin vacant.

Senator Rheingold walked in, stopping and looking at those already seated with a frown. "Where's Ruslan?"

"Haven't seen him," Erik said with a shrug. "He'll probably show up soon enough."

The senator sat down at the head of the table, the side near Tin. He said nothing for several moments and then finally started to speak. He didn't even manage a full word before the door swung open and Ruslan stumbled in carrying a backpack.

"Sorry I'm late!" he shouted while walking over to the table. He stopped at the end opposite Rheingold and looked at everyone. "Aw, I don't wanna sit next to Tinny!"

Ruslan sat down across from Darius, but immediately stood up again. He pulled several plastic shot glasses out of the bag and set them on the table. Ignoring the senator's order to sit down, he continued what he was doing. He took out a bottle of a dark colored alcohol and poured several shots. He telekinetically pushed a shot glass in front of each of the others saying, "One for you, one for you, one for Tinny, and one for the senator."

"Sit down!" Rheingold shouted at Ruslan, giving him a telekinetic shove at the same time which knocked him into his seat. Ruslan grabbed the bottle and took a swig right after he fell into the chair. "Are you drunk?"

"Nope," Ruslan said with a grin. "Just drinking."

"I think I need one too," Erik said, taking the shot that Ruslan had poured for him. Darius followed his lead and drank his as well.

"If that's enough disturbances," the senator said angrily, but keeping his voice low, "we have actual business to attend to. No more drinking and no more outbursts." He looked at Ruslan as he said that last part.

"Yes, sir," Ruslan said, sounding very serious.

"I have recently received a valuable report from Alvarez," Rheingold said, referring to Fox Alvarez, one of his people, and one that Darius had specifically trained. "He's given us all locations of Anitreh strongholds."

"Let's get them," Tin said. "We can take them all out."

"Because that's not extreme at all," Erik said, rolling his eyes. "And we have the manpower to do that."

"It's our end goal anyway," Tin argued. "We should act quickly before they can react."

"Then we have to assume that it's a complete list Fox got us," Erik said. "Because if he missed a couple, that's going to put the remaining Anitreh all over us. Not to mention the fact that the other regions can step in and stop us. And we can't ensure that they'll all be there when we strike, still leaving loose ends. It's simply not possible to take them all out in a quick strike. We've got to play this smart. Like we've been doing. Take out the higher ranking ones and those that get a hint of our existence."

"You just don't want to get your hands dirty," Tin accused.

"My hands are plenty dirty."

Ruslan had raised his hand earlier during the argument, but he'd been ignored. He stood up and started waving his hand around, making him much harder to ignore.

"Yes, Ruslan?" Rheingold asked, irritation creeping in his voice.

"I was thinking that since Darius used to be an Anitreh, he's probably the best one to figure out if this would even be a good idea. He knows how they work and think better than any of us." Ruslan looked over at Darius. "Come on Dari. Enlighten us."

"I don't know," Darius said. He didn't like being put on the spot especially so suddenly and had no idea what to say. He hadn't had enough time to even think about it the situation. "I… don't think a full out attack would work well though. There's not enough of us. Even if we include Shane and Fox and the others, we'd be massively outnumbered."

"It doesn't take a lot of us," Tin said.

"Sure, but we couldn't take them out before they come after us," Erik said.

"What makes you think they'd even know who was responsible?" Tin asked.

"They already think I'm responsible," Darius said. "They'll just blame me more and might find you through me."

"And they can be efficient when they want to be," Erik said. "They'll find us no matter what if we try taking them out on a large scale. Now they're just keeping it quiet but if they all start dying in big, fiery deaths, they'll have no choice but to come at us with everything they've got."

"As much as I would like to go with your plan, Tin," Rheingold said, "Erik and Darius do have some important points. We simply don't have the numbers to go into a full out war with the Anitreh. What the locations give us, however, is the opportunity to destroy the rest of the North American leadership. We now have a better way of knowing where they're hiding."

"Are we taking out Barton?" Tin asked, sounding more excited than Darius had ever heard him.

"No," Rheingold replied. "For the moment, he's more valuable to us alive. But his captains, they can all be eliminated."

Darius really didn't like the idea. He'd killed several captains before, including some he'd known. And he knew that he shouldn't have expected his assignments to change any, but he simply didn't want to be active in North America any longer. Not after running into Niki when he rescued Viceroy. He looked at the bottle of alcohol on the table in front of Ruslan, wishing he could drink the rest of it.

"Is something wrong, Darius?" Rheingold asked.

"Uh, no," he said, prying his eyes away from the alcohol. "Just thinking."

Before the meeting could continue or someone could question what had Darius so distracted, an explosion rocked the room. Everyone immediately jumped to their feet and headed out the same door they had come in.

"Where was that?" Erik asked.

"It was nearby, maybe on the other side of the estate," Tin replied as he led the way up the stairs. He stopped when they made it to the door at the top. "Senator, maybe you should wait here while we check it out."

"Like hell I'm waiting," Rheingold growled. "Keep moving."

Tin didn't argue and continued. He broke into a run once out of the stairs, heading outside. Everyone else followed him, allowing him to take the lead, even though Darius knew he could have overtaken him if he so desired. But if there was still danger about, Darius would be glad to see Tin get the worst of it.

They soon found the source of the explosion when they saw what was left of a storage structure that had been on the property. Rheingold started issuing orders immediately. Being the only one with their fylgja present, Darius and Viceroy were given the task of smelling for any tracks. Unlike those with a mind-affinity, Darius didn't have perfect telepathy with his fylgja and that made it more difficult for him and Viceroy to communicate specific information.

"We've got nothing from the air," Rheingold said after a while. Darius looked up and saw the black and white plumage of the senator's rarely seen fylgja, some kind of vulture. Whether the bird was male or female or what its name was, Darius had no idea. He'd only seen the bird a handful of times.

"Viceroy's not picking up any strange scents," Darius said, almost positive on that. He wasn't entirely sure, but he thought she had picked up both Ruslan and Erik's scents, but he wasn't quite sure. Whatever scents she did find, they were familiar to her.

Tin had been in the middle of the wreckage putting out the flames. While fire-based abilities were normally seen as being useful offensively, they were probably more useful for fire suppression than anything else. Erik had been helping him, probably by concentrating moisture in the area around the flames. That skill was normally only associated with water affinities, but ice affinities could do the same thing, with the only difference being that ice affinities would bring the water to a solid state. When fighting a fire, it didn't really matter.

"Can't find any strange presences," Ruslan said.

"Someone must have rigged this building to explode a while ago," Tin concluded, stepping away from the smoking heap. "But why would someone blow this up building? We don't even use it, do we?"

"No," Rheingold confirmed. "It's more like someone wanted to get our attention but not hurt anyone. Which still doesn't make any sense."

A jackal ran over, coming out of a stand of trees not too far away. When he saw her, Ruslan ran over and picked her up. "Kazumi!" he cried. "She must have been near the explosion!"

"Is she okay?" Erik asked.

"She's scared and smells like explosive, but she's not hurt." Ruslan set her down on the ground and started petting her. "Poor girl."

The jackal wasn't the only fylgja in the area. A lynx followed Kazumi's path. When she saw the smaller feline, Viceroy ran over.

"Viceroy! Get back here!" Darius chased after her, worried that she'd hurt the lynx. He was just about to reach out with telekinesis when Viceroy and the lynx met. Instead of greeting with teeth and claws like Darius thought, Viceroy nuzzled the lynx and the lynx returned the affection, jumping on the snow leopard. Darius was surprised to see the two acting like friends, especially because he knew they had never met before.

"Looks like they're friends," Erik said to Darius. "That's nice. Sunna usually isn't friendly."

"Why are your fylgjas here?" Rheingold demanded to know. "You know you're not supposed to bring them here!"

"Darius brings Viceroy all the time," Ruslan said. "Why can't ours hang out here too?"

"Because I told you not to!" Rheingold shouted. "The three of you, get out of here! I'll call you when I want to see you again!"

Darius didn't know what he did to anger the senator, but he didn't want to give him a good reason to be angry, so he left without complaint. He was almost to his car up front when Erik stopped him.

"I told you he doesn't want you to know anything about me," Erik said.

"He's probably just pissed at having the shed blown up," Darius replied. "This proves nothing."

"He didn't get mad when he saw Kazumi," Erik said. "It was Sunna he was upset about. Specifically, he didn't like the way Viceroy and Sunna reacted to each other."

"He doesn't want our fylgja to be friends?" Darius asked. "That makes no sense."

He opened the back door of his car for Viceroy and then got in himself and sped off. He really wanted to go home and unwind. The day had been far too busy already. First all the business about the Anitreh, then the explosion, and now he also had to consider what Erik was talking about. He did have to admit that Viceroy's reaction was odd. He couldn't think of any reason for her to be friendly instantly.

"I really wish you could talk," he said to her.

Of course, she said nothing. When Darius looked back at her, she looked like she was taking a nap. She wasn't even listening to him. Not that it mattered. Darius usually spoke to the snow leopard no matter whether she was awake or asleep.

The drive home was uneventful, and Darius looked forward to taking a long nap. Wynter would still be at work, so he wouldn't have anything else to do. He walked into the building and up the stairs, Viceroy bounding ahead of him, handling the stairs like they weren't even there. She paused at the top and stared down the hallway. By the time Darius made it to the bottom of the last set of stairs, Viceroy took off running down the hall.

At first, Darius thought the cat was still acting weird and walked up at his normal pace. After two stairs, he decided he'd better get up there just in case something actually was wrong. When he made it to the top, he saw that there was indeed something wrong.

In the hallway, he saw a familiar figure laying on top of a large gray wolf.

"Niki?"