It was hard to read Shifter’s face. Cats didn’t have the same facility with facial expressions that humans did—at least not that I could see. For my family’s cat, Grunion, you only had body position, ears, and tail to work with if you wanted to understand the animal.
Shifter’s ears weren’t flat, but her tail twitched a little, almost as if she were an intelligent person capable of stifling most of it.
“This is none of your business,” Shifter barely moved, her arms loose, eyes not looking anywhere in particular—the kind of pose you might go with if you were expecting to be attacked at any moment and were trying to be aware of your peripheral vision.
Continuing, she added, “We’re not attacking the Wizard Council. We’re only fighting the Heroes’ League if they continue to act irresponsibly. Bloodmaiden will only get hurt if she follows the rest of them. Tell her to stay out of it if you want to keep her safe.”
Amothel laughed, but Vengeance said, “We’ll tell her, but she’s not going to listen. From what I’ve seen of her, she doesn’t back down from much and she’s loyal to her friends. That’s why I’m telling you that you need to get off her case and stay away from these kids. I already told you that it’s because she’s a provisional member and that’s true. The other reason is that the Council says she’s part of one of the most powerful and complex magical constructs they’ve ever seen. She doesn’t have full mastery of it yet, but when she does, you won’t have a chance.
“Even now, from what I’ve been told, she’s dangerous not only because of it but also because she’s a trained practitioner of magic nobody else in this world fully understands. What I’m trying to tell you is that yes, we’ll back her up, but if she goes all out, we don’t think we’ll have to. She’s not like the rest of these kids. Her first instinct is to put down the threat, not send it to jail.”
Shifter’s tail twitched.
Vengeance didn’t stop talking, “We chose not to have anything to do with her for years. Then she helped the rest of these kids take out a threat that could have killed everyone. You couldn’t have done anything about it. Neither could we. After that, wiser heads decided we needed her on our side. Her construct was made to protect humans from danger. We need to point her at the real threats—not become a threat. Got it?”
Shifter glanced to her left, either checking if she had backup or a clear route to escape.
Aside from parked cars and a few shops, the street was clear, but I didn’t see any backup. She turned around and Vengeance’s eyes, “You decided she was too powerful and gave up?”
“Nah,” Vengeance shook his head, “We decided that since she fights monsters, we didn’t want to do the monsters any favors by fighting her. It’s something you guys should learn.”
It was a weird day when Vengeance turned into the voice of reason. You don’t end up walking around wearing a necklace with a shriveled human ear on it by being a reasonable guy.
I could do without the way he kept on calling the League kids, but this wasn’t the time to bring it up.
“We don’t want to fight you,” I said, pretty sure I’d made that point multiple times already today.
Shifter glared at me, “Stay out of things you don’t understand.”
Giving no once a chance to respond, she jumped into the air, changing form, growing leathery wings, and flapping upward as a kind of lion/bat hybrid. I’d thought that she was limited to loosely human-shaped mammals. Whatever she was now not only added two additional limbs but wasn’t a real animal outside of mythology or maybe Dungeons and Dragons.
She disappeared over a building, drifting to her right.
I could have given chase. There was no chance that she’d be able to flap her wings faster than a rocket, but it didn’t seem worth it. I didn’t want to spend more time talking to her. If anything, I might be willing to give back some of the time I had.
“Good riddance,” Haley muttered, “I hope she isn’t trying to sneak back into here while we’re not watching. I don’t think she is, but I don’t trust her.”
I flipped the vision in my helmet to show the cameras around our downtown office. She wasn’t. Shifter had reabsorbed the wings and jumped from roof to roof before climbing down the side of a building and shifting back to a human form in an alley. Pulling out a thin, blue overcoat and covering her costume, she passed for a woman walking downtown.
The other thing that struck me immediately was that assuming she only had one human form, we’d just recorded her real face. Taking a look at her, I didn’t know her at all, but given time we had a chance to identify her. Given that she appeared to be in her forties with dark hair, light brown skin, and average height, it wouldn’t be quick. Physically, she only stood out by her broader-than-average shoulders and thick arms.
It might not be worth finding out her real identity, but setting facial recognition to identify her if she came near our building as a civilian might be worth doing. I decided to pass it on to Hal and maybe the group as a whole.
It might be rude to out her to the team, but she was attacking us.
I opened up a channel to Hal, letting him know what I’d seen. He’d be able to pull Shifter’s face from the footage himself. Over the connection, he sent me a message.
[I’ve made progress on finding Magnus’ former colleagues in leading and forming the Cabal—the ones that left.]
I asked, “How much progress?”
[Their locations and identities.]