As with the previous chapter, this is book 3 in the series, so best not to read this chapter unless you’ve read Stolen Ink and Blood & Ink!
Caiden had been sleeping on our couch (and floor) in his hound form. The first morning had been memorable, to say the least. I had completely forgotten that he was staying with us and walked out into the living room to find a huge hound looking at me from our couch. His shoulder came halfway up my ribs when he stood. He could fit my entire leg in his jaws without thinking. Of course, he’d laughed at me when he saw the expression on my face. That only made it worse, hearing that thing making a growling barking sound at me. I turned a rather interesting shade of red when he shifted back into his human form and I remembered Fein had sent him to stay with us. He’d poked fun at me for the rest of the day.
Keirn emerged from the art room just as Vyx began to shift into her human form. I spun around so as not to see her.
“Vyx! What have we said about clothing?” I asked.
Like most shifters, she couldn’t shift her clothing and so stood somewhere behind me entirely naked. I had no problems seeing the cougars, Caiden, or Keirn naked, but Vyx was different. She was like my little sister, and I had absolutely no desire to see my little sister naked.
“I really don’t see the problem. This is my natural form, and you have no interest in women so you aren’t going to have stupid sexual thoughts,” Vyx said with a melodramatic sigh.
I didn’t need to see her to know she’d rolled her eyes at me.
“I get it. It’s stupid, but can you indulge me?” I asked.
“Fine,” she muttered.
Her footsteps vanished in the direction of her room, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I peeked over my shoulder to make sure that Vyx wasn’t still there, naked. I was safe.
“Did Vyx shift in full view again?” Shadow asked with a laugh.
I shook my head.
“I get her view on nakedness, but I can’t help being how I am. Seeing her naked is just wrong,” I said.
“You owe me pizza,” Vyx said.
She stepped into the living area, fully clothed, and stood with her hands on her hips.
“You lost the bet. Fein’s letting you tattoo again,” she said triumphantly.
“How the fuck did you know that?” I asked.
She grinned at me. “You’d have been cursing up a storm and drinking the Sidhe spirits again if he hadn’t.”
She had me there. I hated that I was predictable, but it came with friendship and familiarity.
“Meat feast with extra meat and extra cheese,” she said.
“Make that four,” Luka said.
“Six,” Caiden added.
I raised an eyebrow at them, “I’m not rich…”
“Yes you are. You don’t spend a penny of what you’re paid,” Luka said, patting me on the back as he walked past me.
“Pineapple with boar for me,” Keirn added.
The evening had passed without incident. Tyn got brave and stole a piece of Keirn’s boar and pineapple pizza. Much to everyone’s horror, he seemed to enjoy it.
I was woken by some asshole banging on the cougars’ bedroom with all they had. I groaned and pulled on my boxers before I stepped into the hallway to shout at whoever it was.
Caiden was growling at the door.
“They’re very happily married, sometimes they make some noise, it’s no big deal,” I said as I leaned against my doorframe.
He shot me a glare. “They’re being harmed.”
I raised an eyebrow. “They like it a little rough, that’s their business.”
“No, Dacian, something’s fucking with their energies,” Keirn said blearily.
Caiden gave up knocking and threw his full weight against the door, breaking the latch and shouldering it open. Keirn and I followed him into the cougars’ bedroom. I hadn’t dared step foot there before. I didn’t know what I’d pictured, but it wasn’t the pristine heather-grey and sky-blue room that I walked into. The bed took up half of the room, and the cougars themselves were sprawled out in the middle of said bed. The pale grey sheets were tangled around their long limbs, but it was the look of fear on their faces that made me pause. Their breathing wasn’t the steady breathing of sleep. It was ragged and harsh.
Caiden and Keirn approached them, Caiden from the left, Keirn from the right.
“Dacian, go and get them something sweet to drink,” Caiden said.
I didn’t argue. I knew a dreamwalker attack when I saw one, and the poor bastards would be in rough shape when they woke. Vyx frowned at me as she emerged from her room.
“Why?” she asked plaintively.
“The cougars are under attack from a dreamwalker,” I said softly.
Her mouth pinched into a scowl. She brushed past me and stalked into the kitchen.
“They’ll need something sweet to help their systems recover. The honey from the wood elves and some of that mountain spring water would be good. I’ll add in that alchemical rose stuff, too, just to be extra sure,” she said, more to herself than anything.
I pulled the glasses down from the cupboard and she filled them. We returned to the cougars’ room quickly, a tense silence hanging over us. Caiden and Keirn were sitting next to the very groggy cougars, who had sat up and were leaning on each other. Vyx took the glasses from me and crawled on her knees across the bed to hand the cougars the sweet drinks. They needed a little gentle prodding from Caiden to understand, but they drank them.
“They dragged everything up, and just kept telling me to back off. ‘Fein’s sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, leave it alone.’ Again and again,” Luka said hoarsely.
Shadow wrapped his arm around his husband’s shoulders and kissed his temple.
“They did the same to me. All of my worst fears and memories, with the same message on repeat,” Shadow said.
They were both trembling, and it certainly wasn’t from the cold. Their eyes were glassy with deep wrinkles set around them. Luka worried his bottom lip, while Shadow gently stroked Luka’s hand.
“Do you have any idea who sent them?” Caiden finally asked.
“No,” Luka said in barely more than a whisper.
“I couldn’t see any identifying marks or features. I didn’t recognise the voice,” Shadow said.
“I’ll tell Fein. Dacian, put some sigils together to protect them,” the hound said.
I bristled at his tone, but I wasn’t going to stand by and bitch when there was a risk that the cougars would suffer again when they returned to sleep. Keirn and Vyx remained close to the cougars. Keirn was making small hand gestures, elegant little weaving motions.
“You all put a lot of work into being my network, that has some advantages,” he said without looking at me.
I left to retrieve paper and ink rather than disturbing him.
The ink network was slower to respond than I expected. I mentally removed my barriers and defences against it, expecting it to rush my system like an avalanche. Instead, it was quiet and cautious, small black tendrils that slipped around the edges of my mind. It remained quiet and malleable as I pushed it down into my hastily constructed sigil. The magic flowed into the broad, sweeping black lines, giving the sigil the continuous power supply to form a barrier of sorts around the cougars. It was designed to shield their minds and dream-selves from outside influence. I added in barbs to mark and harm the energies of those who tried to hurt them. I had no idea how well it would work, but I did what I could with what knowledge I had.
The ink network slipped away without my needing to push it the moment the sigil clicked into place. The energies and threads that made up the sigil all slid into their locations, forming a matrix in my mind. I smiled and placed the paper at the edge of the cougars’ room. They’d be safe for the rest of the night.
Ink Bound will go live tomorrow and be 99c until August 6th.