Binding Ties
Page 1

 Shannon K. Butcher

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Chapter 1
November 30
“That woman needs to be restrained or someone is going to get hurt.”
Joseph did his best to stay focused on what the concerned human parents were saying, rather than on just how much the idea of restraining Lyka Phelan appealed to him. “I’m sure she’s being careful with her lessons.”
“Our son broke his arm,” said the mother, Joann, her lips tight with irritation.
“I’ll see to it that one of the Sanguinar heals him.”
“Lyka already took care of that, but that brings us to the next issue,” said the father, Darren.
“Which is?” asked Joseph, bracing himself for yet another problem added onto the already impressive pile he had on his plate today.
His patience had worn thin. His head throbbed and his chest ached with the strain of the magic growing inside him. Unlike the men under his command, who were free to roam, he was usually trapped behind a desk, unable to enjoy the physical exertion of battle. Without even that small outlet, the power he stored within his body continued to build, causing the kind of pain he could have only imagined a few years ago. The one thing that would ease this ache was to find a woman who could wield that power, channel it out of him and free him from it.
And he sure as hell wasn’t going to find her sitting behind a desk inside a fortified compound, deep in the rural Midwest.
The human woman sitting across from him tightened her lips until they were bloodless with irritation. “Lyka didn’t even ask us if we wanted one of the Sanguinar treating our son. She had no right to let one of those leeches touch him.”
Joseph bit back the harsh reprimand that surged behind his teeth at the woman’s use of the derogatory term for the Sanguinar. “When we found your son hovering at death’s door, you didn’t seem to mind the Sanguinar healing him.”
“That was before we found out what one of them did,” said Darren. “We always knew they were a shady lot, but stealing children? It’s unthinkable.”
Since word had gotten out that one of the Sanguinar had turned traitor and stolen a human woman and her child to use their lives as a bargaining chip with the enemy, everyone inside the walls of Dabyr had become suspicious of them.
Every day fewer and fewer humans offered the Sanguinar their blood to help fuel their efforts to heal the sick and injured. And every day the Sanguinar grew weaker.
“We found the traitor,” said Joseph, with as much patience as he could muster. “He’s dead. He can’t hurt anyone ever again.”
“You found one traitor,” said the man. “For all you know, there could be more of them waiting for an opportunity to strike. They can read minds, you know. Twist your thoughts and make you believe they’re telling the truth.”
Joseph pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Pain stabbed behind his eyes, and the lighting in his office felt as if it were slicing his retinas. “I understand your concern, but I assure you that Tynan has used all his massive mind-reading ability to ensure that none of his people were working with the traitor.”
“And you believe him? Our son can’t leave this place. If he does, Synestryn demons will find him and he’ll be as good as dead. This is the only place he’ll ever be safe. That’s what you promised us when we agreed to live here.”
“Your son is safe here,” said Joseph. “The Sanguinar aren’t going to hurt him.” He’d had this conversation or one just like it a hundred times in the past week. At least that’s how it seemed.
All he wanted to do was get back to his job. Lead the Theronai in the war against the demons. Keep the humans under his care safe and sound. Calming worried parents was not in his job description, but it was all he seemed to be doing lately.
“Our son broke his arm,” said the woman slowly, as if Joseph were a small, stupid child. “That’s hardly safe.”
Most of the nearly five hundred people Joseph housed at Dabyr were reasonable folks. They were grateful for the safety the magically enhanced walls around the compound provided. Unfortunately, these two people had forgotten the hysterical terror they’d faced three years earlier, when their son had been stolen by demons and rescued before he’d been exsanguinated for the traces of magical blood flowing through his veins. They’d forgotten how desperate they’d been at the time, and how willing they’d been to do whatever it took to keep their baby safe.
But Joseph hadn’t forgotten. He knew what they would face outside these walls, and the fate that awaited their son if Joseph wasn’t able to appease them.
Synestryn demons wouldn’t care what the boy’s parents thought or felt. All they cared about was draining as much blood as possible from their son before tossing his remains to their beasts to pick his bones clean.
It took considerable effort, but Joseph managed not to growl at them when he said, “Perhaps you’d be happier if your son didn’t attend Lyka’s class. It’s not required, you know.”
“But he loves it,” said Darren. “The only way he’ll stop whining at us is if you shut the class down altogether.”
“Surely the other parents have complained,” added the mother.
“There aren’t a whole lot of parents here,” Joseph felt the need to remind them. “Most of them died trying to protect their children. You are among the lucky ones.”
The way her mouth turned down made it clear she didn’t see herself as lucky right now. “It’s teaching violence. The kids are too young to learn such horrible methods.”
“I’m sure it’s not all that bad,” said Joseph. “A little self-defense training is a good idea.”
The parents shared a meaningful look before the father spoke up. “A little self-defense? That’s what she told you she was teaching?”
“It is.”
“Have you watched her lessons?” asked the mother. “At all?”
Joseph shook his head. “No, but I have a feeling that’s next on my list of things to do.” The list was already a mile long, but the lure of seeing Lyka again was one he couldn’t resist.
He dismissed the parents and went to the outdoor play area that had been set up for the kids. By the time he made it through the twisting halls of Dabyr, he’d been stopped three times and told about new issues that demanded his attention.