Nightshade Page 52

“Dax is Ren’s beta, like Bryn is to me,” I said. “Dax, Sabine, and Fey are just reacting to you the same way Ren is. You aren’t afraid to challenge their alpha. It makes them instantly defensive. Not to mention that in a human, that kind of behavior is unheard of. The pack pretty much thinks you’re crazy. Don’t be surprised if they’re making bets about how long it will be before Ren rips your throat out.”

“Well, I don’t exactly fit in with the other humans anymore,” he said. “Not that I ever did.”

He looked away. “That’s the real reason I asked to start having lunch with you.”

My chest contracted as I thought about how lonely Shay’s life must be, probably more so now than ever.

“You can still sit with us. The pack is supposed to watch out for you anyway. Just watch yourself. If you don’t provoke Ren, he won’t strike back at you, like he did today.”

“You know, you talk all the time about how strong you are—the Guardians, I mean,” Shay mused. “I don’t understand why you don’t just fight back.”

“Fight back?” I frowned at him. “Against who?”

“The Keepers. I don’t know what happened that made you want to read this book, but you said you got orders you don’t like. Why do you even follow orders in the first place?”

“It’s our duty. The work we do is sacred.” I tucked my legs beneath me. “And we’re rewarded. The Keepers provide for our every comfort. Houses, cars, money, education. Anything we ask for, we’re given.”

“Except your freedom,” Shay muttered, and I shot an angry glance at him. “So what would happen if you refused to follow an order?”

“That never happens,” I replied. “Like I said, our duty is sacred. Why would we refuse?”

“In theory?” He gazed at me steadily. “I mean, it sounds like you’re stronger than the Keepers.”

“Physically stronger, yes.” My voice trailed off as icy fingers crawled over my skin.

“Shay, when you said that you thought shadows followed you around at Rowan Estate,” I said. “Did you mean that literally?”

“How could a shadow follow me literally?” He pointed at a medieval history text and I slid it over to him. “I mean, other than my own.”

“Have you seen shadows, dark shapes that don’t seem to be attached to regular objects in the house, moving around—above you, alongside you?” I tried to keep my voice steady.

“No. It’s just a really old, creepy manor.” He opened the book. “Why are you asking me this?”

“We can’t fight the Keepers because they wouldn’t fight us alone,” I said.

He looked up. “What?”

“The Keepers have other allies, not just Guardians,” I said. “We serve as their soldiers, and we protect the sacred sites. But the witches rely on wraiths to act as their personal guards.”

“Wraiths?” I could see the fear abruptly born in his eyes.

I nodded. “Shadow guards. They aren’t of this world. The Keepers can summon them at will. Nothing can fight a wraith, and they can be controlled only by Keepers. If, in theory, a Guardian disobeyed an order . . .” My voice quaked. “Or if they knew that I was here with you and this book, a wraith would be dispatched to deal with the situation.”

“I see,” he said slowly. “And you thought there might be wraiths in my uncle’s house?”

“I thought it was possible that Bosque had summoned them to guard you while he was away. But it would be risky; without a Keeper there the wraiths could act unpredictably. You’d be in danger. I was worried.” I twisted my fingers together nervously.

“All right.” He shook his shoulders as if to brush away unpleasant thoughts. “If you’re risking your life, we might as well be sure it’s worth it. Let’s get back to work.”

I threw him a grateful smile. “Deal.”

“I think I may have come across something interesting.” He pulled the Keeper’s text in front of him, flipping to its early pages.

I leaned forward but then stiffened and sat up. My eyes flickered to the tall bookcases that surrounded us.

“What’s wrong?” Shay asked.

I waited and listened. Nothing.

“I thought I heard someone in the stacks.” I shook my head. “Never mind. What did you find?”

“According to the history you’ve learned, when did the Witches’ War begin?”

I frowned. “Before people even recorded history. Like I said, the Keepers are both earthly and divine, much older than the world we know.”

“Not according to the book.” He ran his finger over a passage.

“What?” I straightened.

“According to this text the first battle of the Witches’ War took place in the late Middle Ages, around 1400,” he said.

“That can’t be right,” I said.

“Do you want me to read it?”

I nodded.

He smoothed the page of notes in front of him. “‘Anno Domini 1400: With the Rise of the Harbinger and the quickening of our power began the great schism and trials of our people.’” He paused. “Any of this familiar?”

“Not at all.”

“That’s too bad,” he said, letting the book’s cover fall shut. “I was hoping the Rise of the Harbinger would ring a bell. Sounds intriguing.”

“I have no idea what a harbinger is,” I said. “Or the quickening of power.”

“I’d guess it means the Keepers got their magic in 1400.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” I turned his notes toward me. “The Keepers didn’t get magic; they’ve always held great power.”

“Unless . . .” He scooted his chair back an inch.

I eyed him warily. “Unless what?”

“Unless the story they told you isn’t true.”

“Why would they make up their own origin story?” I asked.

He looked relieved I hadn’t pounced on him. “I don’t know. You tell me.”

“I have no idea,” I said. “The story I told you is the only one I’ve ever known—that any of us know.”

“I guess there isn’t much to go on from here, then.” He sighed.

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