"You think he cannot shift his form because he cleaves too strongly to his memories," Michel said. "I am sending him because he cannot shift; he must face the people he has left behind without disguise, without lies."
"It is an irresponsible decision. You will expose us—"
"Transforming him was a mistake," Michael said. "And if I do not send him to Earth now, the damage will be irreversible. He cannot be a Guardian."
Hugh could not hide his shock. "Do you send him to his death, then?"
"I did not realize you thought so little of your own skills and 'tour mentorship. If he has not learned enough to keep himself alive…" Michael's smile chilled the room. "Do you wish to have another go in your place, then? Do you refuse your part in this?"
"No," Hugh said, regarding the other man intently. "What has happened between his transformation and now? What have you learned?"
To his surprise, Michael looked away. "Your Gift may force me to answer truthfully," he said. "But if I do not answer, there is neither truth nor lie."
Hugh withdrew his hands from his sleeves. "If Anthony dies—"
"You will Fall?" Michael anticipated him again and laughed with genuine humor. "No. You'd not leave the corps for this. I'm disappointed in you, Hugh; whether he lives or dies, you should have more faith that everything will be as it should." He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, turned toward the display of weapons, and selected a long, curving Saracen blade. "Now, go. If Anthony's impatience and anger still burns as hotly as when he left, he might not wait for you and go through the Gate alone."
Hugh couldn't take the time to respond; though it annoyed him, Michael was right: Anthony was completely unprepared to experience Earth as a Guardian.
A Guardian's Gift will come to him when he is ready for it; the Gift is a reflection of a Guardian's human life, but not always a welcome one.
— The Doyen Scrolls
"We have never spoken of that night."
Colin flicked Emily a meaningful glance so she could not mistake which night he spoke of, then turned his attention back to the horses. The steady clip-clop tempo of their hooves increased after a murmur from him. Emily tucked her lap blanket tighter around her hips, thankful that the pink in her cheeks could be blamed on the cold—if Colin could see the color at all. Night had fallen quickly, and they had only just turned into the long drive leading to the house.
"Why would you wish to speak of it now?" She folded her hands in her lap and stared at the lines of buttons at the wrists of her gloves. "I can hardly think you would want to relive the experience, Going home to find our father, our brother, and his wife have perished in a fire does not make for easy conversation."
"No. Earlier that night at the hotel, Emily. Where, by the slimmest chance, I happened to see you with a—"
The phaeton lurched forward as one of the horses shied, breaking its smooth gait. Colin's fingers tightened on the reins, and he spoke a few soothing words before looking back at Emily.
"What could have possessed you to behave so recklessly?" Guilt shadowed his eyes, as if he blamed himself for her actions, and that shamed her more than his disappointment or censure could have.
She was saved from an immediate reply as the horses whinnied and tossed their heads, the metal in the harness jingling discordantly. Colin frowned, his gaze skimming along the trees lining the drive.
A shiver of uneasiness ran up Emily's spine, but it wasn't caused by the darkness. Her recklessness had not brought ruin to her family, but it may have had just as damaging an effect.
"I told Anthony he was unsuitable," she admitted.
"Anthony?" Colin pulled on the reins, bringing the team to a vicious halt. He turned in his seat to stare at her, anger lining his mouth with white. A muscle in his jaw flexed. "You rejected Ramsdell and then went to a whore?"
"No." She swallowed past the constriction in her throat. "He was first, and then I sent him to his death thinking that I considered him unworthy of further attention."
The horses shifted restlessly. Colin turned away from her, clicked his tongue, and they practically leapt forward in their eagerness to go. Emily watched his profile, wondering if she could ever repair her status in his eyes, if he could ever forgive her for courting ruin and insulting their friend.
She started in surprise as a laugh broke from him, and he gathered the reins in one hand and wrapped his other arm around her shoulders and hugged her close. "Em," he said with a wry smile. "Ramsdell was likely the happiest man in the world when he died. If you had to ruin yourself, I suppose I should be glad you gave my friend the one thing he'd dreamed of in the process."
She tilted her face into his chest and couldn't stop the giggle that rose in her throat. "That is a shocking and inappropriate response for a brother to have."
"You're my sister," he said, as if it were that simple. "Your reputation has remained intact, so the only person to whom you will have to explain yourself will be the husband you select. You have obviously tortured yourself over the past—I would never add to it. I would as soon remove my arm as hurt you." He glanced down. "Are you weeping all over my new greatcoat? I should really hate to see it ruined with tears."
Emily grinned. "No, I—"
The horses screamed, and then Emily was screaming as the white, naked creature lifted Colin up, and then the blood was spurting from her brother's neck. And then it came for her, and she felt its teeth rending, ripping—
Emily woke, her hand automatically flying to her throat, but smooth skin met her fingers instead of torn flesh and blood.
Nightmare, she realized, but her relief did little to ease the racing of her heart. The dreams had come frequently in the last month, but she'd rarely been able to wake from them. She wasn't certain if that was a blessing or not; the sudden awareness was almost as terrifying as being trapped within them until the end.
In the grate, coals shifted and tumbled. She rolled onto her side, pillowing her head against the arm of the chaise, and watched the shadows cast by the embers' glow. Exhaustion settled over her like a blanket, but she didn't want to sleep again. She wanted to rise from the makeshift bed, turn around, and find Colin whole and healthy.
Because that hope faded day by day, she let her eyes drift closed. Some nightmares were preferable to reality, and it had been a long time since she'd believed in fairy-tale endings or miracles.
Even as she scolded herself for her silliness, she sat up, made a wish, and looked over at Colin's bed.
Colin's empty bed.
Oh, God. The chains lay serpentine across the sheets, the manacles gaping. She blinked, but nothing changed, and she didn't wake up.
How had he unlocked the chains? Had he escaped the room, or was he hiding in the dark? Should she call for him, or try to run? Would running attract his attention?
Her heartbeat drummed slow and thick in her ears, and she fought the panic that darkened the edges of her vision. She resisted the urge to look behind her, toward the fireplace and dressing room. He hadn't been there moments ago, and he wasn't there now, waiting for her to turn around before he grabbed her.