Her nose didn’t bleed now, the pressure easing in her frontal lobe. This, this was what she was meant to be doing, the act as natural and as simple as breathing. And she understood why the post-Silence Council had wanted to eliminate empaths from the gene pool. Not simply because they were the personification of emotion, but because an E could strip power from Councilor and beggar alike.

• • •

IVY sat with nerves raw and teeth gritted in the back of an ambulance and listened to the fighting while an M-Psy told her that a blood vessel in her brain was critically close to rupture. “Whatever you were doing, stop it,” he said. “Or the next time, yours will be one of the corpses we body bag off the streets.”

Leaving her with those blunt words, as well as an order that she utilize pain-control mechanisms to ameliorate the agony in her skull, he went to deal with other injuries. Her psychic strain would heal on its own—all it would take was time. Time the world didn’t have, she thought, edging out of the ambulance . . . to see Vasic disable a man who’d been beating another to death with a broken chair leg.

Her throat filled with a raging scream she couldn’t allow herself to utter. He was so strong, so honorable, and he deserved happiness and peace, not this endless ugliness. Enough, she wanted to cry, he’s done enough! Let this gladiator rest. If only she could figure out the cure—

“You! This is your fault!”

Jerking around at the vituperative cry, she found herself facing a young woman on the other side of the secondary Enforcement barricade. She wore ordinary clothes but had a black band around her wrist. As did the man next to her . . . and the man beside him.

All three were staring at her.

A vicious telepathic punch.

Agony searing down her spine, she reacted in pure self-defense to suck out the cold rage that drove them. It poured into her, but she knew it wasn’t hers, that she could filter it to inertness. And though her vision was blurred from the assault, she nonetheless saw her attackers look at one another in confusion before melting into the crowd.

Worried they’d done further damage to her already traumatized brain, she went to find a medic when her mind shut down with icy finality.

• • •

THREE hours after the outbreak began and ten minutes after the street was stabilized, Vasic placed an unconscious Ivy in her bed. An M-Psy had confirmed she’d suffered no permanent injury, and Vasic had no intention of permitting that to change. “Stay with her, Rabbit.”

He petted the worried dog, then tugging a blanket over pet and mistress both, stepped out into the living area to speak to the others. “She isn’t going to do any more.” If he had to teleport her to a desert during the next attack, he would, regardless of her fury. “This is killing her.”

Sascha nodded where she sat on the sofa with her mate beside her. The DarkRiver alpha pair had both showered and were now eating. Sascha had expended so much psychic energy that she’d lost physical weight, her cheekbones slicing against her skin, while Lucas Hunter had fought with hot changeling energy side by side with Vasic.

Alice Eldridge lay curled up asleep on the other sofa. The scientist’s physical stamina was still low as a result of her time in stasis, but no one could say she hadn’t pulled her weight today.

Vasic grabbed a chair and sat down. He had no desire to eat, but he consumed nutrition bar after nutrition bar with methodical precision—he’d be useless to Ivy otherwise.

“I thought I’d discovered a solution to the pressure on the brain,” Sascha said, face drawn, “but the method I use to create a terminal field doesn’t work to encourage calm.” She thrust a hand through her hair. “There’s so much we just don’t know, don’t understand.” Eating the bite of pizza her mate held up to her lips, she chewed and swallowed. “I’ll stay, help. I couldn’t bear to go home knowing—”

“No,” Vasic interrupted. “You need to return to your territory.”

Scowling at his mate when she parted her lips to speak, Lucas Hunter put a nutrition drink in her hand and waited until she’d started drinking before turning to Vasic. “You want Sascha to train other cardinals?”

“Yes.” He finished off his fourth nutrition bar. “We need cardinals ready and able to effect the terminal field, and we need them now. Everything else can come later.”

Sascha put down the empty glass. “You’re talking about cardinals who’ve been told they’re flawed and of no use their entire lives,” she said with such passionate force, Vasic knew she’d been told the same. “It’ll take time for them to come to grips with the betrayal of it all.”

“Ivy almost killed herself today,” he pointed out, his jaw tense. “You’ve lost a fifth of your body weight, and Jaya is still at the hospital.”

Lucas completed Vasic’s train of thought, the DarkRiver alpha’s eyes nightglow in the muted living room light. “An empath’s instincts will always win out.”

Of that Vasic had no doubt. “Will you do it?”

“Of course.” Sascha closed her hand over Lucas’s thigh, her eyes bruised from the anguish and terror that no doubt blanketed the city. “But that’ll leave you with only Jaya, and she’s a medical empath. Ivy risks brain damage or death if she goes out.”

Vasic couldn’t trust himself to even think about losing Ivy. “We have to think long-term. If you die here, your knowledge dies with you.” He had to be ruthless, consider not the hundreds Sascha might save in the city, but the hundreds of thousands who’d die across the world. “I’m guessing using the terminal field will require a foundation of basic skills. No one else is qualified to assess and teach that.”

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