McLeish cleared his throat, drawing Tobe’s eyes up to him. He was leaning against an antique side table, his eyebrows drawn together. If Tobe hadn’t known any better she’d say her Councilman looked… concerned? “I um… I just wanted to say, Cameron, that I understand why you’re mad at me. I know you blame me for your mother’s crimes and subsequently her punishment, but I’m just trying to protect you.”
The apology seemed to come out of nowhere and Tobe glanced back to check Cam’s reaction. He looked confused and a little panicked, as if he was trying to think how he should respond rather than feel. Tobe sighed and looked back at McLeish. “Wrong time to apologize, Councilman.” Tobe jerked a thumb over her shoulder at Cam. “He could care less right now and you’re just making him feel uncomfortable trying to think up the right words in response. Wait until he gets his soul back eh?”
McLeish frowned and eyed Cameron carefully. He did that weird throat clearing thing again before nodding hesitantly. “Of course.”
“Cheers,” Cam’s whispered appreciation made her long for her boyfriend to get back to normal. She waved her fingers in acknowledgement but didn’t look back at him. She didn’t want to. It was his eyes. They bothered her. Cam’s eyes had always sparked with mischief and flirtatiousness. Tobe had fallen in love with those eyes. She couldn’t bear to look into the blank ones they’d been replaced with.
“You know, October,” McLeish said quietly, contemplatively. “You’ve handled all of these hardships over the last few months with aplomb. I’m very proud of your strength, young lady.”
Tobe gazed back at him wide-eyed and then whacked her ear. When McLeish frowned at her, she stuck a finger in it and then shook her head, as if trying to shake something out.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking my hearing. I could have sworn you gave me a compliment, but that can’t be right.”
The Councilman glowered at her wide-eyed, innocent mocking. “Questionable maturity notwithstanding, I did offer you a compliment. You’ve done well. That is… despite dragging my nephew across an ocean for help rather than walking two doors down the street and knocking on mine.”
“Trust has to be earned, Councilman McLeish.” She smiled sweetly.
“I think I’ve done enough to earn it now.”
Tobe thought of his efforts. He’d turned to Cyrus when he thought Romany was trying to hurt Eden. He’d then aided Romany in helping the rebel. He’d flown across country to be with Tobe and Cameron and to help get her parents back. And now he’d given Tobe permission to help rescue her parents, her first ever assignment. She nodded. “I suppose you have.”
The sound of voices filtering towards them from the hall that led into the garage had Tobe springing up from her seat on the stairs. Eden was the first one into the foyer, Val walking protectively at her side. At the sight of Eden’s hollow eyes, Tobe felt a rush of feelings pour over her. Relief that Eden was here in front of her, a sudden awareness of how much she’d come to mean to Tobe, and concern… at the depth of emotion roiling in Eden’s gaze.
“Eden.” Tobe stopped in front of her, reaching out to squeeze her shoulder, her eyes searching her for signs of injury, physical or otherwise. “You OK?”
Eden blinked up at her, her tip-tilted blue-green eyes softening when she realized it was Tobe in front of her. “I’m just a li – oof!” She stumbled towards Tobe as Darius slapped Eden hard on the back.
“Eden’s just traumatized and terrified by me.” Darius winked at Tobe before striding determinedly towards the weapons’ closet.
Tobe stared after him. She could practically hear her Nana asking her if she planned on catching flies with her mouth hanging open like that. This was the second time she’d been in a room with Darius and it was no less unnerving than the first. This strange pulsing energy throbbed in his vicinity and those eyes of his were the darkest, shuttered windows Tobe had ever gazed into. No wonder Eden was terrified of him. She whipped back around to question Eden and found her looking a little green.
“You sure you’re OK?”
Eden shivered but nodded determinedly. “Rough night.” She lifted her hands, gesturing to her swollen wrists. “Had my wrists broken. They’re healing but I feel a little sick with it.”
Tobe sucked in a breath. “That crazy bitch do that?”
Frowning, Eden shook her head. “No. This was a soul eater. Cosmina… I don’t think in the end she was going to kill me.”
“Eden,” Val admonished. “She would have killed you. Make no mistake.”
Utterly confused, Tobe watched the interaction between mentor and mentee and promised to get the details of that little mysterious exchange from Eden as soon as she had her parents back. Speaking of…
The sounds of everyone else murmuring and bustling about drew Tobe’s gaze. Alain and Emma were strapping up, as were Cyrus, Darius, McLeish and Cameron. Noah stood waiting, his eyes trained on Eden. Cyrus tapped him on the shoulder and he absentmindedly reached for the kaskara the Princeps was holding out to him, his gaze never wavering from his girlfriend. Tobe smirked. The guy was a total goner. Tobe nudged Eden as Val walked away to ready herself. When Eden glanced up, Tobe grinned and nodded at Noah. She turned to follow Tobe’s gaze and stiffened slightly at the sight of him. They shared such a long and intense look that Tobe began to squirm, feeling as if she were intruding upon something private. Whatever the two Ankh had going on it was epic and passionate and completely exhausting. Tobe was suddenly glad for the easiness between her and Cam - you know when they weren’t misunderstanding one another and of course when Cameron was soul-full.
“I take it you’re not coming?” Tobe asked Eden quietly, smiling as dead-eyes Cameron handed her a katana like Eden’s. She felt the power of the blade in her hand as she belted it on, all heavy and exciting in its red lacquered scabbard.
“Hmm?” Eden frowned, finally breaking her gaze from Noah’s. “What?”
“We’re heading out. To get Mum and Dad back. To kill Rice and free Cam’s soul.”
“Oh.” Eden shook her head. “I didn’t realize. Let me just get my katana.”
Everyone turned at that deep, unyielding ‘no’. Cyrus. He had two kopis swords strapped criss-cross over his back. Tobe wouldn’t want to argue with him right then. OK, who was she kidding? Ever.
“No?” Eden arched an eyebrow, somehow still appearing cool and untouchable despite the dark circles under her eyes.
“You have just been through hell and your wrists are still healing. You will stay at the mansion.”
Eden huffed. “Yeah, right. You actually expect me to stay at home while you’re all out there doing something to bring the Douglas’ back. I don’t think so.”
“Eden.” They all turned to Noah now. His expression was carefully blank. “If you come with us I’ll just worry about you and that’ll distract me.” His unspoken words, I could get hurt, were heard by everyone. Including Eden.
After a few tense seconds she gave him a brittle nod. “OK. Be safe.”
Noah seemed to exhale in relief, as did the room, and Eden rolled her eyes at them, turning back to Tobe.
“You ready for this?” she asked, eyeing the katana Tobe now wore. “You’ll be OK?”
Tobe grunted at the concern. “Hey, I kicked your ass.”
Eden chuckled wearily. “Yeah, you did.”
When her eyes shifted over Tobe’s head and her smile slipped into a frozen, ugly sneer, Tobe didn’t even have to turn around to know who’d entered the foyer. She did anyway. Romany nodded at her, avoiding Eden’s gaze. She had her own katana belted around her hips, her scabbard in a black lacquer
Tobe curled her lip in a semi-growl, hating the girl for everything she represented, all the crap she was putting Eden through. Turning back to her cousin, Tobe smacked her playfully on the upper arm. “Don’t worry. I’ll take over making her feel uncomfortable while we’re gone.”
That almost got a smile out of Eden and quite unexpectedly Tobe was yanked into a tight, quick hug. “Be careful,” she whispered. When she pulled back, she glanced around at them all, before letting her gaze fall on Noah. Tobe felt a little envious at the piercing hotness of his returned look. “All of you.” He nodded at Eden and Tobe got the feeling he wanted to say more. Tobe shook her head. Those two would be fine once they got their heads out of their asses.
With a militant nod, Eden left without saying another word.
Everyone turned to Cyrus, and Tobe felt the butterflies explode to life in her belly. “Let’s go.”
They had been warned that entrance into the building her parents were being kept in would be fast, no time to stop and take in the scenery or anything. Not that Tobe wanted to. Cyrus had explained that the building seemed to be some kind of old rec center, that it was situated in its own clearing of woodland off one of the main roads in Stow. Because the land was private the soul eaters would detect their arrival almost immediately, so they had to get out of the cars fast and into the building.
That’s exactly how it went down.
Tobe had only a vague impression of an off-white, square-edged building with boarded up windows and ugly stone chipping - the dark of the woods encroaching on it from every side - before she was following in the rest of her companions’ wake, weapon drawn. Battle cries and the sound of steel hitting steel, grunt echoing grunt, flesh pounding flesh, met Tobe’s ears before she was even inside. Her stomach flipped at the thought of battle. She’d faced off more soul eaters these last ten days than she ever had. Her eyes widened at the sight of Ankh and Neith battling soul eaters in trim black suits, so much blood already painting the cold, grey surroundings with violence and chaos and life/death.