As a reminder, I don't own anyone or anything you recognize from anywhere else.
Chapter 2: Lions of Various Sorts
Consciousness came about slowly. First, he became aware of the hardness of the surface he was laying on—it wasn't his bed, whatever it was. Perhaps he and Jay had had too many drinks and passed out somewhere? Wouldn't have been the first time.
Next came scent—the smells all together foreign, warm-spicy, a little sweet, a distant acridity of burning metal. Urban areas smelled like this, like people and buildings and metal rubbing metal. The smell brought phantom memories or screeching train wheels and working on his bike in the car pool.
As he swam closer to waking, memories started to trickle in with the scents. The VTOL, yes, and then something happened, there was a fire! His surge of adrenaline was expertly disabled by a polite, if unknown mind. Just the short, expert switch of a lever in his brain, and the panic was forestalled, the stranger then politely retreating to the other side of his shields. A healer, then, like himself.
He opened his eyes, meeting the concerned gaze of the man leaning over his head. Everything beyond was blurry—there must have been eye damage, but things would sharpen as he awoke more.
Sorry about that. Didn't want you to panic and then undo all the work I've done.
It was a standard practice that most healers learned when taught by a modern military—if your patient was wounded in battle, they'd likely wake up disoriented, which could then cause them to harm themselves. Controlling another's panic responses was one of the first things he'd learned after he'd graduated boot camp. He took a deep breath, nodding with careful understanding.
The man lifted his hand in a see-saw motion. I healed the contusions and lacerations, and the burns. Mostly second and third degree. You've been out for about 18 hours, assuming you were awake right before the crash. Raw data filtered through under the words, images and medical terms that gave him the understanding that he'd been quite messed up. There was no sign of concussion, but I've only been monitoring brain function loosely. Enough to fix the most obvious, keep you alive. Alpha said the keep myself out of your brain as much as possible. Do you consent to my assistance?
There was an odd, ironic twist to that last thought. He'd examine it later—full status update came first. Yes. That he'd asked was a good sign. With his blurry vision and spotty memories, he'd accept the help- for now. The others?
Hesitation. Only one other was alive when we got to you. I've done the basics but for . . . well, rather obvious reasons, I thought it best to let you do any deep work that might need doing.
He felt the other healer ready to blunt his emotions again, as he struggled to sit up. You are?
The man nodded as limp pillows were stuffed behind his back. Fallon, Pack Healer for the Lions, Clan of the Silver Spring. And you are Edward McArdrie, son of Geoffrey, late Duke of Claibourne.
Edward felt a distant, blunted clenching of his heart, glad that things were muffled for the moment. He looked at Fallon, noting the sparkling, flickering jewel set into his upper left arm, the eye of a golden lion tattoo on a deep red oval. Footsteps from beyond his still somewhat blurry vision gained his attention. A woman with strange, spidery tattoos on her upper chest and a lion on her arm knelt down.
"I'm very sorry for your loss," she murmured lowly, holding out a small, red bag. Shakily, Edward accepted it. Inside was his father's seal and, beside it. . .
"Javan?" he asked, eyes locked on the glittering rubies before him.
A small gesture hand him turning to see his best friend laying peacefully beside him. He reached out, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. He turned back, the woman's green eyes wide with caution.
"It was not just your craft that went down last night. . . " she stopped, eyes wary and still. "You need to know that we have received word that most of the Gwyneddi Parliament was arrested last night. . ."
He faintly felt Fallon's control tighten. "And?"
"And we have seen raw video. . ." she looked very unsure of what she was about to say next, but Fallon nodded to her, their arm-jewels flickering quickly.
She sighed, looking down to the ground before meeting his eyes again. "And the entirely of the Royal Family was killed in four different attacks across the country. Only he remains."
Edward was grateful for Fallon's blunting of his emotions. It allowed him to gain and keep focus. He lifted the rings. "Where did you get these?"
She sat back on her heels, maintaining eye-contact. "Your father was dead when we reached him. He was holding that little bag with the red ring. We were not able to recover the body in time, but I was able to get the ring on his finger. I don't know why he had the other."
He knew his face showed his skepticism.
"Read it from me, if you doubt."
"Alpha!" Fallon whispered. "No man may touch your mind who isn't Pack!"
It was then that it really hit Fallon what he was dealing with. He'd heard rumors, of course, of what had happened when Mericia fell, of the remains of that once-proud nation that refused to accept their new rulers, who ran the streets of the cities in half-feral packs.
He and Javan were in a Den. From where he reclined, he could see light streaming in the windows on one wall, high ceilings with a loft on the far wall. The floor was cement, covered in tattered rugs and cushions. Walls of painted cinder block enclosed the rest, the dreary gray shade broken by various papers and other things hung for display. A few shoji screens sectioned off parts of the room, and distant murmurs told him there was more to this pack than the Alpha and the Healer.
He sighed, once again glad for the emotional blunting. "I was reading you as you spoke. It's an odd tale, is all . . . why did you rescue us?"
"Didn't know it was you, at first." She shifted until she was sitting on the concrete, legs stretched out before here. "Firsties had been quiet all night, so I went prying into things I legally wasn't allowed to pry into. Found they were planning on dropping a plane out the sky. Figured anyone they wanted dead we wanted alive. So we made sure the hit wasn't direct, and saved what else we could."
His vision still improving, Edward now noticed the metal running through and under most of her left flank, the dancing lights under some parts of her skin. Only the one on the shoulder was a jewel, and he could now see that it was a shiral, flickering randomly in her shadow.
He turned to Fallon. "Some water and food, and I should be ready to see to His . . . Highness . . ."
Javan sat wearily on a fraying cushion, numbly holding a mug of instant coffee. It was rotten coffee, watery and bitter, but it was warm and it kept his hands busy. To be honest, he'd had worse, but he'd thought his days of camp camel-piss were over. Apparently not.
Eddy had broken the news to him when he woke, and his stuttered attempts at denial were met with video feeds hacked out of the web, bloody, gruesome, and uncompromising in their horrible, personal detail. They were real, there was no doubt, because he'd seen the locket he'd given his little cousin Rafaela on her tenth birthday, the tattoo on his older sister Jenny's bum that even Mum and Da hadn't known about. She'd gotten it when at Corwyn University on a drunken bet and had sworn him to silence when he'd inquired why she was having trouble sitting. And he'd seen the scar little Al had gotten when trying to free a fox from bear trap- he'd been all of six years old at the time.
And then a terrible, horrible thought hit him so forcefully that he couldn't muffle the chuckles before they erupted.
"He okay?" The question from the huge, burly bald man named Solomon, his dark eyes radiating caution and concern, though Javan was sure those feelings were not on his behalf.
Eddy's face came into view. "Jay?"
He gave a shrug, his face twisted in gallows humor. "I just realize I was following a long, well-treasured family tradition of being the Last Haldane." He might have laughed, then. Or maybe sobbed. He couldn't really tell.
"That's right. . ." The Alpha, Michaela, stepped into his vision and lowered herself to a cushion facing him. "Yeah, it's started with Aidan, back in . . . what was it . . . eight eighty-two AD? That was the one St. Camber hauled ol' King Cinhil back from. Then, in sixteen forty nine, it was Urien the Forth, who 'scaped the plague 'cause he was out discovering Nippon at the time. And then, of course, the failed Parliamentary Revolution of the seventeen seventies, when the Haldanes were narrowed down to an old guy, a baby, and a queen who took up a rifle and brought the revolution to a swift, bloody end. Lost yourselves a few colonies before it was sorted out, though."
She quirked a smile. "Daddy named me after her. Said all the daughters of Michael were steel-spined amazons."
Javan shifted the mug in his hands. "You seem to know quite a bit for a, well, not-Gwyneddian . . ."
"Grandpa Dylan, who founded this pack, was a Doctor of Gwyneddi history before the Fall of the Republic. The knowledge of every pack member is passed down through the generations through our shiral-amber interfaces. Mosta what he knew, we know. He designed our seal-" she turned, pointing to the crimson and gold tattoo her shoulder "-to look like one of the traditional Royal Regalia thingys that the Haldanes tend to wear to important functions."
He leaned forward. "Yes, the Crimson Lion. Why that?"
She shrugged. "That's one thing he didn't pass on. I know he was acquainted with some historians and archivists over in Rhemuth, one of them your late Great- Aunt Harriet. All he would ever tell anyone, after the Fall, was that it was something only those who really knew the Gwyneddi roots of Merician culture would get."
"Ah, yes." Javan felt another chuckle fighting to the surface. "Defiance and rebellion, even when caged. The unending fight for freedom, even when beaten into the dust."
Grins spread through the pack. "Really?" Rai asked. "Sugoi yo! We all kinda figured Old Man Dylan was bein' hisself, trying to make conspiracy theories out of nothin' . . ."
"How did it get that meaning?" it was soft-voiced Susanita, inky serpents—taipans, perhaps?- winding up her neck under her skin. He thought these women had rather morbid tastes in ink. He drew his attention back to her question, grateful for the distraction from his grief.
"Queen Michaela gave the Lion to Rhys the First on the occasion of Prince Owain's birth. Much later, it was learned that at the time, the royal family had been under complete control of the Council. Family stories say she gave it to him as a token of their resistance, a reminder of all they had to fight for- the same stories say that King Javan had been killed by this council, and Rhys drugged for years into compliance after. In time, it became part of the Coronation Rites. I don't know where it is, now. . ."
A heavy silence fell, then.
"Well, not to interrupt the jollity-" the healer, Fallon, wandered over, a human skull clutched in his hand, Caine behind him, likewise bearing a skull. "But we've finished the decoys." He hefted his skull.
"And I thought the tattoos on the ladies were morbid. . ." Javan breathed.
Caine grinned, folding himself down next to Ed. "Here, tell me who's brain box this is."
Ed gingerly took the bones, extending his senses. He pulled back with a start. "It's Jay's! But-?"
The pack nano-specialist took the skull back. "Actually, it's my cousin Shay's. The one Fallon has is Michaela's little brother but, should anyone scan it with mind or machine, it'll register as you. Humans and Deryni can do fascinating things when working together."
Ed leaned forward. "How? I've studied with the best healers in the Eleven Kindoms and beyond, and I've never heard of anything that could do this . . ."
"We mighta used your DNA. . ." Fallon had the grace to look at least a little ashamed. "We certainly had plenty to work with, the way you two were bleedin' when we found ya. As for the rest. . . healers can't do it. Humans can't do it. But, a healer working with the right humans . . . we can fake quite a bit."
Javan shrugged. "Alright, then why dig up dead relatives and replicate our genetic patterns in their skulls?"
The pack looked at him as though surprised he'd have to ask. "Look, I've just been through some major physical trauma, and I'm dealing with major psychological upheaval at the moment, so let's just assume my brain has been shocked into periodic over-load. Why the bones?"
"Because you are dead," it was the priest, this time. Or, well, almost-priest. Priest-in-a-few-days. "Or rather, you are supposed to be. The Firsties have started to ask Derrin's Boys for the remains that should have been with the crash. If they don't get something, a seed of suspicion will be planted, which is something none of us can afford. We let these be found, then there's no doubt you're dead, which means no one will get the idea to look for you."
"Ah." Javan resettled the blanked around his shoulders. "And after the 'Firsties' are satisfied, what then? If we're dead . . . what do we do from there?"
Shirals flickered, as the pack turned as one to their Alpha. The light show extended a few moments, before Rai stood, grabbing Caine's hand before dragging him out the one door in the loft. Solomon and Susanita followed, going down the hall in a different direction. leaving just Michaela, Kenmaru, and Fallon with them.
"What happens next," the Alpha started. "Is up to you. You can stay in Mericia, try to find a new life here, or you can try to find your way back to Gwynedd, maybe free your nation from the Caliphate." She shrugged.
Ed looked at Jay. If they were supposed to be dead, getting outside the Den would be problematic, much less getting home.
Javan sat up straighter, assuming what Ed sometimes teasingly called his "Price Face".
"You saved us from death," He spoke. "And we are indebted to you for that. But to leave this place for any destination is impossible for us. There is no way we could blend in. Were we to stay, become Merician, or leave to Gwynedd, we wouldn't make it a mile before being discovered. Moreover, our discovery could lead to difficulties for yourself and your pack."
Michaela idly let her finger trace swirling patterns on the floor. "So it would. What do you suggest we do, now that we have you in our care?" Her eyes met his in a challenge, clearly focused on some end.
Javan thought furiously. They were clearly in negotiations, but he had little to bargain with, much less of an idea of what he needed from them, but the look in her eye suggested she knew exactly where this was headed. But wouldn't tell him. So, something he had to figure out on his own. He could demand she get to the point, but he didn't think it would work. Best to puzzle it out as she clearly wished him to do.
"I have no way of paying you for any assistance-"
She held up a hand, needle-like claws glinting in the fading sunlight. "Among the packs and clans, we have made a currency of favors. If we do a thing for you, then you give us a token which, in the future, we can cash in for a return favor. The greater the favor, the greater the number of tokens."
Javan chewed on that a moment, setting his mug down on the floor. "So, I already owe you a debt for our lives. If I were to ask the assistance of you and your pack in, say, helping us return to Rhemuth, then the favor we would owe in return would be of like greatness?"
She nodded, a pleased spark in her eyes. "That is exactly how it would work."
He shifted on the cushion. "So tell me about the Fall of the Republic, and the packs. How do things work, these days?"