Heart of ObsidianBy: Nalini Singh
KALEB KRYCHEK, CARDINAL telekinetic and a man no one wanted to meet alone on a dark night, had been searching for his quarry for seven years, three weeks, and two days. Even while he slept, his mind had continued to hunt through the sprawling psychic network that was the heartbeat and the cage of the Psy race. Not for a day, not for a second, had he forgotten his search, forgotten what they’d taken from him.
Everyone involved would pay. He’d make certain of it.
Right now, however, he had different priorities, his search complete, his target huddled in a corner of a small, windowless room in his isolated home on the outskirts of Moscow. Crouching down in front of her, he held out a glass of water. “Drink.”
Her response was to crush herself impossibly further into the corner and tighten her arms around the knees she hugged to her chest. She’d spent the hour since he’d retrieved her from her prison rocking to and fro in brittle silence. Her hair was a tangled rats’ nest around her face, her upper arms bearing both fresh scratches and marks of older gouges.
She was still a bare five feet, two inches . . . or so he judged. She’d been in a huddled position pre-teleport, had only curled further into her shell in the past sixty minutes. Her eyes—a blue so deep they were midnight—refused to meet his, skittering away if he entered her line of sight.
Now she ducked her head, the matted waist-length strands that should’ve been a rich black interwoven with unexpected strands of red-gold, dull and greasy around her down-bent face. That face was all bone under pallid skin of palest brown, the nails on her hands gnawed to the quick yet embedded with dried blood that said she’d used the stubs to viciously scratch either her own skin or another’s, perhaps both.
At last, he understood why the NetMind and DarkMind, the twin entities that knew every corner of the vast psychic network that connected all Psy on the planet but for the renegades, had been unable to find her—regardless of how many times he’d made the request or how much information he’d given them in an effort to narrow the scope of the search. Kaleb had been inside her mind during retrieval, had needed to be to complete the teleport, and even then, he wouldn’t have known it was her if he hadn’t had incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. The person she’d been was gone.
Whether what remained was anything more than a broken shell was yet an unanswered question.
“Drink or I’ll leave you to wallow in your filth.”
He used words that would’ve once caused her to react—but he didn’t know if that part of her existed any longer. The file he’d so meticulously put together over the years, the file he’d studied until he could recite the contents in his sleep, was going to be useless. She was no longer that girl with her hair brushed straight and shiny, and midnight eyes that seemed to see far beyond the skin.
“Perhaps you enjoy smelling like something from the garbage.”
The rocking increased.
Logic said he needed to get a Psy-Med specialist in here as fast as possible. But Kaleb knew he wasn’t going to do that. He trusted very, very few people, and he trusted no one when it came to her. Since his current approach wasn’t bearing the results he wanted, he shifted focus with the ease of a man who had no emotional attachment to a decision.
“Your lips are cracked and it’s clear you haven’t had enough fluids for at least twenty-four hours.” In the split second that he’d teleported into the white-on-white room where she’d been held, the overhead light cutting in its torturous brightness, he’d seen the bottles thrown at the wall, the liquid soaked into the floor.
His initial assumption had been that the painful brightness was a normal part of her existence, but it may have been a punishment, her captors attempting to break her will. That it wasn’t already broken. . . yes, it said something about the woman who refused to interact with him on any level.
“If you wanted to kill yourself,” he said, watching for even the most minor response to the brutal words, “there are easier ways than dying of thirst. Or aren’t you intelligent enough to work that out?”
The rocking accelerated further.
“I can as easily pin you to the wall and force the water down your throat. I won’t even need to touch you.”
She hissed at him, dark blue orbs glinting behind the tangled mass of her hair.
He didn’t move, didn’t betray any reaction to the fact that she’d responded in some fashion at last, even if it was nonverbal. “Drink it. I won’t ask again.”
Still she resisted. Unexpected. Her mind might be broken, but it wasn’t—had never been—unintelligent. No, her intellect was so piercing, her teachers had struggled to keep up with her. She had to be aware that refusing him wasn’t an option. The power of a cardinal telekinetic was vast. He could crack every bone in her body with a fleeting thought, crush those bones into dust if he so chose. Even if she no longer understood that, she’d experienced his strength when he teleported her from her cell and to his home; she had to comprehend her precarious situation.
Her eyes flicked to the glass in his hand, teeth biting down on her badly cracked lower lip. Yet she didn’t reach for the water she so patently needed. Why?