Laughing at the sly feline humor, she got out of the vehicle, her telepathic senses alerting her to the fact they were being watched the en-tire way to the den. Another show of strength, a quiet reminder that SnowDancer had its lethal reputation for a reason. Lara met them at the entrance, her corkscrew curls in a ponytail, the pale lemon yellow of her shirt skimming the curves of her body. “It’s good to see you.” The healer embraced Sascha with a warmth that was genuine.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it earlier.” An issue had arisen with a juvenile, something she’d had to handle in her position as mate to the alpha. “The spike in Alice’s level of consciousness?”
“Slight but holding.” Stepping back, Lara smiled at Vaughn, the fox brown of her gaze warm in the way of healers—of all the people in a pack, they were the only ones who had no trouble interacting with, or being welcomed by, other packs, even those who might otherwise be the enemy. “Hello, Vaughn. How’s Faith?”
“She wanted me to thank you for the photos you sent.”
Lara waved away his words. “She saved the lives of those pups with her prediction—she’s got a claim on them now.”
A quiet nod from Vaughn.
“Do you want to come with us, or head out to catch up with the soldiers?”
Nodding, Lara led them to the infirmary, updating Sascha on Alice’s most recent readings as she did so. “The single bit of good news,” she said as they walked into the infirmary, “is that minor shift in her level of consciousness, but it is so small we have to accept it could be a natural fluctuation.” She gestured to the open door of a patient room. “Alice’s.”
“I’ll wait here,” Vaughn said, taking a watchful position outside the door.
Leaving the jaguar to his post, Sascha followed Lara inside. As always, Alice lay silent, her body covered by a soft sheet, her skull by a fine computronic skullcap that monitored her cerebral functions, while a number of other thin tubes ran out of her body. However, she was breathing on her own, her chest rising and falling in so gentle a rhythm, it would’ve been easy to miss had the rest of her not been so very motionless.
Sascha’s attention locked on the fine bones of Alice’s face. Marked by faint lines of tension, that face wasn’t peaceful in repose, as if Alice was fighting from within, struggling to get out. “I can sense her. The emotional resonance is faint, but it is there.” Sascha intended to strengthen it even further, having been mentally honing her ability to amplify, after reading about the technique in the groundbreaking book Alice had written more than a hundred years ago.
One of the strongest and most unique gifts of a cardinal empath is the ability to dampen emotions. This study has briefly mentioned how that ability can be—and has been—utilized to control riots, but the same skill can be used in reverse to heighten emotions. However, the latter usage has the effect of draining the E, and even cardinals can only actively maintain it for a span of minutes, ranging from three to seven.
Alice hadn’t described how E abilities worked on the psychic level, the thrust of her thesis more an anthropological study on empaths as a designation. As a result, Sascha had been left with tantalizing clues but no practical guidance. When she had first tried to control a volunteer “crowd,” she’d exhausted herself in minutes.
Only later had she realized she’d actually been attempting to force emotion into the crowd rather than dampening their own. It had been a start. While she still hadn’t cracked how to dampen emotions, she did think she could heighten them. “I wish I had a teacher instead of stumbling about in the dark.” It frustrated her at times like this, the power within her that she had no idea how to shape.
“You already know more than any other E-Psy on the planet—give yourself a little more time.” Squeezing Sascha’s arm, Lara moved to the control panel at the end of the bed. “The readings don’t show any problems. You can start whenever you’re ready.”
Exhaling quietly to center herself, Sascha took one of Alice’s thin, pallid hands in her own and closed her eyes. However, before she could begin, she had to identify the other emotions that lingered in the vicinity so she could establish a baseline: Lara’s intense focus, her concern; Vaughn’s alert watchfulness and curiosity; the tenor of a deep friendship emanating from two changelings in another patient room.
Baseline laid, she narrowed her attention to Alice.
Clean, clear but so faint she had to strain to sense it. Isolating the emotion with meticulous care, Sascha began to do what she’d theorized. Instead of bluntly pushing emotion into Alice, she instead “hummed” an emotional note that resonated with Alice’s frustration.
If it worked as she thought it should, it would change the depth of Alice’s frustration, bring it to the surface of her consciousness. Once there, it should continue to resonate at the higher frequency, stimulating Alice’s mind until the human woman had the strength to break free. Sascha didn’t know how long she’d been humming the note, changing the psychic range to find the perfect pitch, when something “clicked.”
“I’m seeing a blip.” Lara’s quietly excited voice came from a distance. “I think it’s working.”
TWO days after their return from Venice, and Adria had no idea what she was doing about to walk into the Delgado house in San Diego. Riaz had caught her around four that afternoon, just after she’d completed her second session with a unit of Indigo’s novices who wanted to learn the style of martial arts at which Adria was proficient. Sienna Lauren, who’d been the first to sign up, was turning out to be well suited to the discipline.