Shield of winter, p.1
Shield of Winter,
Part #13 of Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
Berkley titles by Nalini Singh
SLAVE TO SENSATION
VISIONS OF HEAT
CARESSED BY ICE
MINE TO POSSESS
HOSTAGE TO PLEASURE
BRANDED BY FIRE
BLAZE OF MEMORY
BONDS OF JUSTICE
PLAY OF PASSION
KISS OF SNOW
TANGLE OF NEED
HEART OF OBSIDIAN
SHIELD OF WINTER
Guild Hunter Series
AN ENCHANTED SEASON
(with Maggie Shayne, Erin McCarthy, and Jean Johnson)
THE MAGICAL CHRISTMAS CAT
(with Lora Leigh, Erin McCarthy, and Linda Winstead Jones)
MUST LOVE HELLHOUNDS
(with Charlaine Harris, Ilona Andrews, and Meljean Brook)
(with Angela Knight, Virginia Kantra, and Meljean Brook)
ANGELS OF DARKNESS
(with Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook, and Sharon Shinn)
TEXTURE OF INTIMACY
DECLARATION OF COURTSHIP
WHISPER OF SIN
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Copyright (c) 2014 by Nalini Singh.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-10160520-2
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Singh, Nalini, (date-) Shield of winter / by Nalini Singh.--First edition.
FIRST EDITION: June 2014
Cover hand lettering by Ron Zinn.
Cover design by George Long.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Berkley titles by Nalini Singh
Cast of Characters
CAST OF CHARACTERS
In Alphabetical Order by First Name
Key: SD = SnowDancer Wolves; DR = DarkRiver Leopards
Abbot Arrow, teleport-capable telekinetic (Tk) Aden Arrow, telepath (Tp)
Alice Eldridge Human scientist, placed in forced cryonic suspension for over a century, now living with SD
Amara Aleine Psy member of DR, former Council scientist, twin of Ashaya, mentally unstable Anthony Kyriakus Member of the Ruling Coalition, former Psy Councilor, father of Faith Ashaya Aleine Psy member of DR, former Council scientist, mated to Dorian, mother of Keenan, twin of Amara Ben SD pup
Brigitte Empath (E), home base: Amsterdam Carter Hirsch Father of Ivy
Chang Cardinal empath (E), home base: research station in Kenya Concetta Empath (E), home base: Paraguay Council (or Psy Council) The former ruling Council of the Psy race, no longer extant Cristabel Rodriguez Arrow, sharpshooter
DarkMind Neosentient psychic entity and dark twin of NetMind Dechen Empath, home base: Tibet
Devraj Santos Leader of the Forgotten (Psy who defected from the PsyNet at the dawn of Silence and intermingled with the human and changeling populations), married to Katya Haas Dorian Christensen DR Sentinel, mated to Ashaya Faith NightStar Psy member of DR, gift of Foresight (F), mated to Vaughn, daughter of Anthony, cousin to Sahara Gwen Jane Mother of Ivy
Hawke Snow SD Alpha, mated to Sienna
Indigo Riviere SD Lieutenant
Isaiah Empath (E), home base: Niue
Ivy Jane Empath (E), daughter of Gwen Jane and Carter Hirsch Jaya Empath (E), home base: Maldives
Judd Lauren Psy member of SD, Lieutenant, mated to Brenna, uncle of Sienna, Toby, and Marlee Julian/Jules DR cub, son of Tamsyn, twin of Roman Kaleb Krychek Cardinal Tk, leader of the Ruling Coalition, former Psy Councilor, psychically bonded to Sahara Kyriakus Keenan Aleine Psy member of DR, child, son of Ashaya Kit DR Soldier
Lianne Empath (E), home base: Kuala Lumpur Lucas Hunter DR Alpha, mated to Sascha, father of Naya Marlee Lauren Psy member of SD, child, daughter of Walker Lauren, niece of Judd Lauren Mercy Smith DR Sentinel, mated to Riley
Ming LeBon Former Psy Councilor, military mastermind, cardinal telepath (Tp) Naya Hunter DR cub, daughter of Sascha and Lucas NetMind Neosentient psychic entity said to be the guardian and librarian of the PsyNet, twin of the DarkMind Nikita Duncan Former Psy Councilor, part of Ruling Coalition, mother of Sascha Patton (deceased), Arrow, teleporter (Tk-V), trained Vasic Penn Empath (E), home base: Scotland
Pure Psy Fanatical and violent pro-Silence group Riley Kincaid SD Lieutenant, mated to Mercy Roman/Rome DR cub, son of Tamsyn, twin of Julian Ruling Coalition Formed after the fall of Silence and of the Psy Council. Composed
Tatiana Rika-Smythe Former Psy Councilor Teri Empath (E), home base: Houston
Vasic Arrow, teleporter (Tk-V)
Walker Lauren Psy member of SD, telepath (Tp), father of Marlee, brother of Judd Zaira Arrow, in charge of the covert Arrow compound in Venice Zie Zen Psy elder, telepath (Tp)
THE SILENCE PROTOCOL has been the defining aspect of the Psy race for over a hundred years. Conditioned not to feel emotion from childhood, they are known for their icy practicality, acute mental abilities, and adherence to strict codes of behavior. It is all they know and all they've been since the inception of the Protocol . . . until now.
The twilight of 2081 will be forever remembered as the time when Silence fell in a crash of violence brutally leashed by the furious abilities of the most powerful Psy in the Net. With the fall comes a hush across the world, as the Psy race seeks to understand who they are in this new reality where emotion isn't a crime punishable by a vicious psychic brainwipe, and the heart is no longer an organ simply used to pump blood. For though Silence was a deeply flawed construct, it existed for a reason.
Insanity, blood-soaked death, murderous aggression, this is who the Psy were before Silence. No other race, it is said, bred more vicious, more intelligent, or more sadistic serial killers. But worse was the clawing madness that destroyed so many of them, saints and sinners alike, until it became known as the flip side to their incredible psychic gifts.
Is the past their future?
Will the Psy race once more devolve into endless nightmare?
No one can answer that question. Not yet.
To be an Arrow is to be an island, devoid of attachments that create vulnerability.
First Code of Arrows
THERE WAS NOTHING left of the man he'd been.
Vasic stared through the glass wall in front of him as the computronic gauntlet biologically fused to his left forearm hummed near silently in the diagnostic mode he'd initiated. Sleek black, the new invention remained relatively unstable, despite the constant and ongoing refinement by the medics and techs, but Vasic wasn't concerned about his life.
He hadn't been concerned about anything for a long time. At first it had been his conditioning under Silence that kept him cold, his emotions on ice. Now, as the world navigated the first days of a new year, he was beyond Silence and into a numbness so vast, it was an endless grayness.
The only reason he kept waking up in the morning was for the others, the ones in the squad who still had some hope of a normal life. It was far too late for him, his hands permanently stained with blood from the countless lives he'd taken in pursuit of a mandate that had proven false in a very ugly way.
"What is it?" he said to the man clad in a black combat uniform who'd just entered the common area of Arrow Central Command. None of them were sociable, yet they maintained this space, having learned through bitter experience that even an Arrow couldn't always walk alone.
Today the room was empty except for the two of them.
"Krychek has a theory." Aden came to stand beside Vasic, his dark eyes on the vista beyond the glass. It wasn't of the outside world--the Arrows were creatures of shadow, and so they lived in the shadows, their headquarters buried deep underground in a location inaccessible to anyone who didn't know the correct routes and codes.
Even a teleporter needed a visual lock, and there were no images of Arrow Central Command anywhere in the world, not in any database, not on the PsyNet, nowhere. Which made it all the more notable that Kaleb Krychek had demonstrated the ability to 'port into the HQ when the squad first contacted him. However, despite the subterranean nature of the squad's base of operations, on the other side of the glass lay a sprawling green space full of trees, ferns, even a natural-seeming pool, the area bathed in simulated sunlight that would change to moonlight as the day turned.
It had been difficult to acquire that technology without tipping their hand--the SnowDancer wolves were very proprietary of their tech, usually installed it themselves. But the squad had managed, because that light was as necessary to their sanity and their physical health as the captured piece of the outside world on which it shone.
"Krychek's theory--it's about the disease in the Net," Vasic guessed, aware that the broken remnants of fanatical Pure Psy and the sporadic new outbreaks of violence notwithstanding, that was the most dangerous threat facing their race.
"You've seen the reports."
"Yes." The disease, the infection, was spreading at a phenomenal pace no one could've predicted. Rooted in the psychic fabric that connected every Psy on the planet but for the renegades, it had the potential to devastate their race . . . because to be Psy was to need the biofeedback provided by a psychic network. Now that same link could well be pumping poison directly into their brains.
There were some who whispered that the fall of Silence a month prior was behind the acceleration, but Vasic didn't believe that to be the truth--the decay was too deeply integrated in the PsyNet. It had had over a century to grow, feeding on the suppressed psychic energy of all the dark, twisted emotions their race sought to stifle. "Krychek's theory?"
Aden, his hands clasped loosely behind his back, said, "He believes the empaths are the key."
An unexpected idea from Kaleb Krychek, whom many considered the epitome of Silence . . . but that was a false truth, as the entire Net had learned when he had lowered the shield around the adamantine bond that linked him to Sahara Kyriakus. Of course, it was a false truth only when it came to Sahara Kyriakus. That was a fact Vasic didn't think everyone understood, and it was a critical one.
Kaleb Krychek remained a lethal threat.
"Krychek," Aden continued, "theorizes that the fact the empaths are so prevalent in the population speaks to their necessity in subtle ways we've never grasped. Stifling their abilities has thus had a dangerous flow-on effect."
Vasic saw the logic--empaths might've been publicly erased from the Net, but every Arrow knew the E designation had never been rare. Except once. Their emotion-linked abilities contrary to the very foundations of the Protocol, the Es had been systematically eliminated from the gene pool in the years after Silence was first implemented, only for the ruling Council to realize almost too late that it was attempting to excise a vital organ.
No one truly understood why the Net needed the Es, but it was incontrovertible that it did. The Council that had first come face-to-face with that truth had named it the Correlation Concept--the lower the number of E-Psy in the population, the higher the incidents of psychopathy and insanity. However, while the current generation of Es might've been allowed to be born, they'd never been allowed to be, conditioned to suppress their abilities since birth. "Has Krychek considered the fact that it might not be a case of merely awakening the Es?"
"Yes. You see the critical problem."
It was inescapable--if the empaths had to do something active to negate the infection, then the Psy race might well disintegrate to ash, because there was no one left to teach the Es what to do. By the time the ruling Council of the time had accepted their mistake in attempting to cull the Es from the gene pool, all the old ones were dead and information about their abilities had been erased from every known archive.
"How many?" Vasic asked, knowing they couldn't simply begin to nudge the empaths awake on a wholesale level. Their deaths had almost collapsed the PsyNet. No one knew what would happen if they woke all at once, disoriented and unable to control their abilities.
"A test group of ten." Aden telepathed him the list.
Scanning it, Vasic s
"You don't have to retrieve them all. Just one."
"No," Vasic said again. "If Krychek wishes to abduct empaths, he's capable of doing so himself." Vasic was no longer on anyone's leash but his own.
Aden's response was quiet. "Do you think I'd bring you such a request?"
Turning at last, Vasic met the eyes of the telepath who was the one individual in the world he considered a friend, their lives intertwined since childhood--when they'd been paired up to do exercises designed to turn Vasic into a stone-cold killer. To their trainers, Aden had simply been a useful telepathic sparring partner, a well-behaved complement to Vasic's erratic temperament at the time, an Arrow trainee only because his parents were both Arrows who'd worked to hone his skills since the cradle.
As such, Aden had been put into classes that eventually qualified him as a field medic. He'd been given the same harsh training all inductees were given, but was never deemed worthy of any extra interest--except when it came to punishments designed to "harden" a boy who'd been small for his age. Always, the ones who would use the Arrows had underestimated Aden, and in so doing, they'd given the squad a leader who'd saved countless lives and who they would follow into any hell.
"No," Vasic conceded. "You wouldn't." Aden knew exactly how close Vasic was to the edge, that the destruction of, or damage to one more innocent life could snap the razor-fine thread that bound him to the world.
"Krychek," Aden continued into the quiet between them, "doesn't think his proposed experiment as to the impact of the empaths on the infection will work if the Es are forced to participate." A pause. "I'm not certain if that's his personal view, or if it's Sahara's, but whatever the case, each of the Es must volunteer."
Vasic agreed with Aden that the compassion was likely to emanate from the woman who had appeared out of nowhere to forge an unbreakable bond with the otherwise cold-blooded dual cardinal, and who, their investigations told them, was in no way Silent. "Where does Krychek intend to run his experiment?"
Very few things had the capacity to surprise Vasic, on any level. This, however, was unexpected. "The SnowDancer wolves have a tendency to shoot intruders on sight"--"shoot first and ask questions of the corpses" was their rumored motto--"and the leopards aren't much friendlier."
"I've told Krychek the same, yet I can see his point as to the area's suitability."
"An isolated location, no other PsyNet connected minds for miles in any direction." As a result, that part of the Net, too, would be quiet, giving Krychek a clean canvas on which to run his experiment.
Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh / Romance & Love / Fantasy have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on37 votes