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Splintered: The Society Book 3 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 28503

Updated: 2019-06-11 13:10


Chapter 1

The fire was blazing in the forge. Ivy could feel it against her face as she worked, like a comforting presence. She smiled as she pulled the long hollow metal rod from the fire. On the end was a blob of semi-molten glass. It pulsed red from the heat and looked as though it wanted to drip from the end. Ivy pulled it from the fire and tilted the rod so that it was vertical, the melted glass at the end. The shift in positioning encouraged the glass blob to droop towards the floor.

She used gravity as her assistant and, while the blob was elongated, it did not slide completely from the rod. Ivy shifted the rod again, laying part of the metal against a thick pad so the blob of glass was horizontal to the floor. Gravity once again started to drag the mass down, but she moved quickly, rolling the rod along the padded surface, spinning the blob into a disk shape. On the end without the glass, Ivy blew air into the hollow rod, expanding the glass disk on the other end into a bubble. The glass was starting to cool, so Ivy returned it to the fire, heating it once again to make it malleable.

The process was continued as Ivy moved in a loop, her actions repeating as she worked the glass into the shape she desired. When she was satisfied and the glass was starting to cool for a final time, she pressed the base of the rounded end onto a flat surface so that it would stand steadily. She freed the glass from the metal turning rod and set the rod aside, leaving the newly formed glass bottle to cool completely.

As Ivy turned to set the rod aside she caught sight of her husband, Russell standing in the doorway watching her. She smiled. Standing at a broad six foot four inches, he filled the door frame. The heat from her workroom was already starting to turn his naturally curly blond hair into the sort of ringlets a china doll would envy. Her smile widened slightly as she realized the edges of his beard were starting to curl as well, giving him a well-deserved impish air.

She heard a short, sharp bark and looked down. The bottom half of the doorway was blocked with a gate. While the gate started out as a regular store bought gate designed to keep small children from falling down stairs, this one was expanded. Bugsy, their half English Staffordshire, half god only knew what else, dog, treated the initial gate as though it was there specifically for his equestrian style practice. As soon as it was installed he leapt over the gate, waggled proudly at his accomplishment and repeated the performance.

Since the gate's sole reason for existence was to keep him out of Ivy's workroom, his paws safe from shards and slivers, his nose safely out of the molten glass she worked with, his performance was not appreciated, despite its athletic grace. Ivy's brother, Alex, built an extension on the gate, lifting it higher, trial and effort finally establishing the proper height to end the leaping Bugsy.

Currently, the dog was standing, his front paws placed on top of the gate as he peered into the forbidden workroom. He barked at her again and as Ivy walked over she could see his stub of a tail moving back and forth so fast it was a blur.

"You only want to get into the workroom because I told you that you couldn't, " she told him giving his head a rub.

"And because he liked the heat almost as much as a fire mage, " Russell told her. He leaned into the room and gave her a quick kiss hello that managed to tingle all the way to her toes.

"No one likes heat as much as a fire mage, " Ivy reminded him.

As a fire mage, working with her element settled her inside, comforting her in a way that was hard to explain. With Winston, a former short order cook from the Starlight Diner, taking over most of the cooking responsibilities for the household, Ivy now spent more time here than in the kitchen, or at least the main part of the kitchen. The secondary kitchen, where she concocted mostly non-edible items, was beginning to feel her presence more and more as the greenhouse plants became large enough for her to start harvesting components.

"Although as he is a dog who runs with wolves, we know Bugsy has a few glitches, " Ivy added.

As Ivy and her siblings were mages, Russell and his family were Shifters. Their particular type was wolf, one of the largest sections of the Shifter community. Normally, dogs feared and avoided them. Bugsy thought of them as his pack.

"It just shows he has taste, " Russell said, rubbing Bugsy behind his ears. The dog glanced at him once and then returned to surveying the forbidden domain of Ivy's workshop. "Are you at a stopping point?" Russell asked, not taking Bugsy's snub personally.

"Yeah, " Ivy said. She turned to look at her row of completed glassware.

With Petra soon to arrive to look over the sample products for inclusion in her spa's offerings, Ivy spent the past few weeks getting pieces suitable for display together. Admittedly, there were far more bottles than she needed for the meeting. If she was honest, the deadline wasn't the only reason she was spending so much time in the work room. She needed the extra comfort of working with fire. Ivy ran a hand over the still fading marks on her wrist and deliberately pushed the thoughts away.

"That was the last of the bottles for display. I think when Petra arrives we should be in good shape."

Russell nodded and even though she knew he saw her thoughts shift to the still healing wounds, he didn't bring it up and kept his tone light. "Good, because you have company."

"Company?" Ivy repeated.

She frowned. At the moment they weren't expecting anyone and their home, Wildwood, was located far enough away from everyone that generally company that didn't arrive on four paws involved planning.

'With some exceptions, ' Ivy reminded herself thinking of Irina and Nick and their sudden arrival on her doorstep. "Problematic company, " she asked.

"Not sure, " he said.

Ivy nodded. "Let me shut down for the day and I'll join you. Are you in the kitchen?"

"No, the breakable room, " he replied. "Hamilton is the visitor. Well, one of them. He has someone named Carlson with him."

"Carlson?" Ivy frowned, this time in thought. "Sounds familiar, but I can't place him."

"He's the clan leader for the Seers, " Russell said.

"Oh, " Ivy said, blinking rapidly in surprise. "That's… unexpected."

"You mean since he disappeared without a backward glance last time, " Russell said. He frowned and Ivy could feel the annoyance radiating from him. She honestly couldn't fault him for it.

"That would be why he is unexpected, " Ivy said. "Still he might be useful."

Russell lifted an eyebrow at her and she shrugged. "At least it couldn't hurt to hear him out. Maybe he is here to apologize." Her husband's look of incredulity grew more pronounced and again Ivy shrugged. "Although with Hamilton here it is probably more political than anything else."

Ivy sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "We probably better at least offer coffee."

"Winston is sending a tray up, " Russell told her. "We've been ordered not to steal the cookies. Any of the cookies, in case they want seconds."

Ivy smiled at the slight note of resentment. While she knew Shifters expended more energy and in general ate more food than normal to refuel, the fact that each of them also possessed a rather large sweet tooth came as quite a surprise. "All right, I'll finish up here quickly, then Winston can stop guarding the cookie jar. Can you let them know I'm on my way?"

"Sure, " Russell told her. "Come on Bugsy."

He called the dog as he turned away from the door. For a moment it looked as though Bugsy wanted to stay, possibly suspecting he might be able to sneak past Ivy and into the room when she tried to leave, as working the modified gate diverted her attention. He looked between Ivy and Russell and then snorted, fell back on all fours and trotted after Russell. Ivy heard his nails clicking on the wooden floor boards.

Ivy crossed the stone tiles of her workroom to her forge and began the process of shutting everything down completely. As her hands worked on the familiar tasks, Ivy let her mind wonder about her visitors. The last time she saw either Hamilton Bridges or Howard Carlson was when all of them were kidnapped by Ron Corwin and the other members of The Brotherhood, a fanatical organization bent on purifying humanity by eliminating all of the Hidden Clans of The Society, whether Mage, Shifter, Seer, Vampire or Fae.

"Or would that be abducted since technically none of us are children?" Ivy mused as she made certain there was nothing that could catch fire and do damage once she left. "I'm pretty sure it's abducted once you are over eighteen, " she decided as she moved towards the door.

Ivy checked the hallway to make certain Bugsy wasn't lurking and then unlatched the gate. Once through, she pulled the room's door shut. With the extra fire protection and thick walls, the doorway enclosure was deep enough that the gate did not have to be removed for the door to close. Even with the door closed, Ivy latched the gate just to keep it from swinging. Satisfied her workroom was safe from four pawed invaders, she continued down the hallway.

Ivy decided not to change, figuring that changing would also involve a shower and keep everyone waiting longer than necessary.

"If they are going to arrive unannounced they can take me as they find me, " she decided. "They all know how a phone works. Besides I'm not too bad." Ivy sniffed her shirt. While she could detect a slight smoky air, she wasn't terribly stinky as the clothes were clean when she put them on after her morning shower. They were just older, rather worn, and featured a few small burn marks. She shrugged off her less than fashion plate appearance.

After the abduction, Hamilton was taken to the hospital to have his many stab wounds treated. While she wasn't always thrilled with her clan leader and his decisions, in Ron Corwin's dungeon he drew attention to himself not only so her escape from the chains would go unnoticed, but so that her sister Rose would take less injury. For that, he earned Ivy's gratitude and a measure of respect. Carlson on the other hand slipped off with the other Seers as soon as possible without a word to anyone.

"They didn't have to say thank you, " Ivy reminded herself. "But staying to help the injured would have been nice."

While paramedics helped the wounded and the Shifters, both wolf and feline, dealt with the members of The Brotherhood still on site, the Seers left. Ivy rubbed the still healing marks on her wrists as she walked. Her injuries were sustained when she melted the shackles binding her wrists. While fire couldn't burn her, molten metal splashing on her skin could. In time, the cream she used would fade the marks away completely, leaving no scars behind.

The memory of leaping onto Corwin's back as soon as she pulled free of the wall and using her fire to burn him would remain. It didn't matter that he escaped the cell and was hunted down and killed by the wolves. Ivy knew there was little chance he would have survived the burns she inflicted on him. Even though she knew she had no other choice, that her actions saved not only her life, but the lives of the others imprisoned with her, his screams still haunted her nightmares.

Ivy tried to shake the thoughts away as she left the corridor and entered the main lobby of the building. Wildwood was originally designed as a resort, sort of a high end hunting lodge. Guests could stay in the luxurious building while enjoying the excellent fishing and hunting nearby. Or at least that was the initial intention. The money ran out and the property owner died, leaving his son with a half completed building and no way to complete it. When looking for a property, the half-finished shell turned out to be exactly what Ivy needed. Now instead of a resort hotel, the building served as a home to her and her siblings as well as a hub for the Isliton Pack.

The lobby served as a semi-public gathering spot away from the more private personal spaces the family claimed. While no front desk for check-ins was ever installed, the lobby still had the look of a high end ski lodge.

"Except for the closet, " Ivy reminded herself.

While she was certain ski lodges had large closets, possibly even in their main lobby area, she doubted they were quite the same as Wildwood's. When shifters altered their forms from human to animal, the clothes did not go with them. As most of the shifters arrived wearing their wolf skins, when they shifted back to human they were naked. The front closet contained a variety of clothing, some claimed by specific individuals, others available for any shifter needing something to put on. Getting them to remember to put the clothes on was sometimes a challenge, but the clothes were there.

"Banning naked people from the kitchen helped, " Ivy reminded herself.

It was one of Winston's first commandments when taking over the kitchen. He didn't mind feeding a horde of ravenous shifters, but he wasn't going to have them naked in his kitchen while he did so. He declared it unhygienic and refused to budge from that decision. The shifters were unable to find a reasonable argument to mount against it and the rule remained.

As she crossed the large space, Ivy saw that several of the shifters were having a discussion in the seating area all of them were wearing some form of clothing, even if they looked like they raided the nearest charity shop and weren't too particular about the fit of what they grabbed. While the discussion was boisterous and the heavy couches were shoved around a bit, no one seemed angry.

'Even in human form they are like a pack of over active puppies, ' she thought, careful not to make the comparison out loud, as when they were truly angry they fully became the wolf pack they were named for. The comparison was part of her personal scale. A snarling wolf was cause for immediate intervention; rambunctious puppies could be left alone. Seeing no snarls, she dismissed them from her

attention.

'Which is why we have the breakables room, ' Ivy thought, a smile teasing her lips.

While the pack in general lounged on the couches and invaded the kitchen, they had a separate meeting room for actual business. Likewise, there was a pleasantly appointed room set aside for mage conversations. As their talks generally involved more plotting and scheming rather than any form of physical altercations, it tended to be furnished with more breakable items. Instead of the heavy restaurant grade ceramic coffee mugs, the silver and china coffee and tea sets were present. The furniture was designed for comfort and style rather than its ability to survive a wrestling match. As such, the mage meeting room was dubbed the breakable room and generally avoided by the shifters.

'Although I think it's the politics they mind more than the china, ' Ivy thought as she reached the doorway.

The door was closed and no sound escaped the confines of the room. As most of the rooms in Wildwood contained heavy duty soundproofing, she wasn't surprised. Ivy turned the knob and pushed the door open. There was still no sound. Ivy opened the door fully and stepped inside. Winston arrived first and the tea trolley was loaded with both the china teapot, silver coffee pot and the accompanying extras for each. In addition, there was a plate of cookies and another of custard tarts.

'No wonder Russell was anxious, ' Ivy thought. While the cookie jar was generally kept stocked, special items like the tarts tended to disappear within an hour of exiting the oven.

The thought of salivating shifters waiting in the wings brought a smile, which she turned on the room's two occupants. As this was the small meeting room, four chairs were grouped around a low coffee table. The larger room was set up with a conference table and looked more businesslike. Ivy was pleased that thus far, it saw little use. Hamilton and Carlson were seated on opposite sides of the table. Carlson was sipping tea from a bone china cup, while Hamilton was provided with coffee in a green art deco era coffee cup. Neither looked pleased.

'Hopefully, it's just with each other and not me they are upset with, ' she thought.

"I see Winston provided for you both, my apologies for the delay, " Ivy said aloud. She kept her voice politely neutral. Retaining her neutrality, Ivy poured coffee into one of the tea cups and took a seat equidistant between the two men, the three of them now forming a triangle.

"I'm afraid we must apologize for the intrusion, " Hamilton said. "Unfortunately, there was not time for notification."

"Oh, " Ivy replied, noting the sour look he shot to Carlson. She took a sip of coffee, unsure how else to respond.

"You may or may not remember Howard Carlson, the Clan leader for the Seers, " Hamilton continued. "I believe he was present when you accepted the commission for Wildwood. He was also present during our recent bout of unpleasantness with UniFra, although you might not have gotten a chance to see him at that juncture. He wasn't there long."

Ivy took another sip of coffee and glanced towards Carlson. He looked as though he was sucking on a lemon.

"I needed to see my people to safety, " Carlson said. His tones were clipped and peevish.

"They weren't the ones injured, " Hamilton retorted.

Ivy began wondering about the wisdom of allowing breakables in the room, but after a few tense moments, both men settled back, returning to their beverages.

"I'm pleased to officially make your acquaintance Mr. Carlson. Mr. Bridges I am glad to see your injuries appear to be healing well." Somehow her grandmother's lessons in dealing with the Shadow Council felt inadequate to the situation.

'The lessons in tea party decorum aren't much help either, ' Ivy added. She doubted a discussion of neutrally pleasant topics was eminent.

"Slowly, " Hamilton replied, looking pleased she asked about his health. "The doctors told me to avoid heavy lifting and running for a while." He shook his head. "As I routinely try to avoid both activities, it is not a hardship."

"I'm pleased to hear it, " Ivy replied. She wondered if it would be considered polite to ask why they were actually here or if she was supposed to wait until someone bothered to mention it. She suspected Hamilton would need at least a few more weeks of bedrest before being up and about and had no clue why Carlson would ever come to see her.

"And your arms?" Hamilton asked.

Ivy glanced down at her still healing wrists. "Doing very well, " she replied. "They should heal with little to no scarring."

"That is good news, " Hamilton said. He smiled paternalistically at her and she wondered if bringing up the injuries was deliberate.

"Yes, " Carlson said. "It is good you are well. I have come to discuss your companions."

Hamilton frowned at Carlson, his political mask falling into lines of annoyance.

"My companions?" Ivy asked.

"In the dungeon, " Carlson clarified.

"The dungeon, " Ivy repeated.

"Yes, " Carlson said.

"There were several people with me at the time, " Ivy said. "Do you want to discuss anyone specifically?"

"The older woman and the dark haired man, about your age, who was with her."

"I see, " Ivy said.

She took a sip of her coffee. Carlson clearly meant Irina and Nikos, or Nick as he was now called. Irina was born a Seer and when she married a Shifter, the Seers disowned her. From what Ivy gathered, Irina disowned them right back. Until a few weeks ago, Nick never knew any of them existed. She wasn't certain if Carlson knew their names and wasn't about to give them away. As far as she was concerned, they were entitled to their privacy.

The silence stretched out and Ivy decided not to break it. She long ago learned others had more problems with silence than she did, so she sipped her coffee and waited. Sure enough, Carlson broke first.

"Well?" he demanded.

"You haven't said what you wished to discuss, " Ivy replied.

A smile twitched briefly on Hamilton's lips before being hidden by his coffee cup. Ivy noticed him sitting a little stiffly and wondered how much his wounds still pained him despite his casualness regarding them. The memory of the sound of Ron Corwin's knife sliding into his flesh skittered across her mind and she resolutely pushed it into a dark corner, hoping it would be forgotten in the shadows.

"I want them brought to me, " Carlson said.

"That's hardly a discussion."

"They are Seers."

Ivy suspected Seers could identify each other in the same way Mages could identify one another without being told. The fact meant denying the truth would be pointless. "She was exiled long before I was born, " Ivy said. She hoped vague terminology would help prevent identification. "He has never been a part of the Seer clan."

"You have no right to hide them from us, " Carlson said, ignoring her statement.

He placed his tea cup down on the coffee table, the china clicking loudly against the polished wood. Ivy wondered where the saucer ended up and if his not taking it with the cup was a deliberate act meant to convey something to her or if he simply didn't realize the saucer went with the tea cup.

"Hiding?" she asked.

"It is clear that a mage is shielding them." Carlson stood and began pacing.

Ivy hid her surprise behind her cup as she took another sip. While she placed a shield around Irina and Nick's home, it was not the Seers she was hiding them from as at the time she didn't know of the association. She also didn't know that she could block a Seer's sight when they were searching for one of their own.

"We've only caught glimmers of them and then they disappear before we can identify their location, " Carlson complained as he continued to pace. He gestured wildly in the air. "Clearly a mage at work. A very clever one." He scowled at her.

'That must be from the trackers I placed in the concrete, ' Ivy thought. She wondered if Carlson meant clever as an insult.

In order to keep people from noticing exactly where they lost sight of those she was shielding, Ivy developed the habit of dropping blockers in various places around the city, usually places under construction. Sidewalks were a particular favorite of hers, although she occasionally contributed a blocker to various foundations over the years, making certain random buildings look protected. It helped blur the lines and prevent blocked locations from being pinpointed with any accuracy. She kept a map marking the location and date of each tracker in case it became necessary to know at some point. She also kept the map well hidden.

'At least that was the theory, ' Ivy said. 'I guess it works.'

"A mage has no right to shield a Seer from their Clan, " Carlson said. "It's against Council law."

Finished with his declaration, he dropped back into his chair.

"Actually, that point is somewhat debatable, " Hamilton said. He set his coffee cup down on the table in its saucer, with considerably less force than Carlson, and laced his fingers together in front of him.

"It is not debatable, " Carlson said. "It is clearly outlined. Generally in section four, paragraphs six through eight, with the attached addendum eighty-six-B, Seer and Mage Clans Associations going into specifics."

"True, " Hamilton conceded. "However, you may recall, the Shadow Council was disbanded a few months ago. Which means, of course, in the absence of a Shadow Council, the Law has reverted to the pre Council edicts. In those edicts, it is perfectly legal for the head of a Mage Household to grant protection to those they have drawn into an alliance. It is clear that these two people have an alliance with this house as they stayed when the rest of the Seers left during the …confrontation."

"There were extenuating circumstances, " Carlson declared.

"Still, " Hamilton continued. "You identified them as being born of the Seers, yet you did not take them with you when you left. As Ms. Chambers stated, they were exiled from your Clan, making them free to join whatever alliances they wished."

"Those are the Old Laws, " Carlson said.

"And without The Shadow Council rule, they are what we are left to deal with, " Hamilton replied. He shook his head. "In the days before the Shadow Council, a Mage House often contained those from other Clans. In order to accept the Council rule, the Seer Clan asked for the removal of Seers from Mage Houses and forbid us from, as you term it, hiding Seers from you."

Ivy swallowed hard hoping no one realized the shielding was more than ten years old. 'Although I knew it was illegal when I put it up, ' Ivy reminded herself. She thought Nick and Irina were norms, and shielding norms was illegal under Council law. She took great pains to hide the shielding. As she spent no time among Seers, she didn't really pay attention to the laws regarding them.

Carlson huffed, but looked as though he couldn't find an argument.

"I could pass a message to them if you'd like, " Ivy volunteered. "I can't guarantee the response or if there will even be a response." Ivy knew Irina held no love for the Seer clan, but wasn't certain how deep the animosity went.

"Tell them we wish to discuss their rightful place, " Carlson told her.

His hand slipped into his jacket pocket and Ivy tensed, expecting a weapon. She felt her fingers grow warm as her defenses automatically raised. Instead of a weapon, he pulled out a business card and held it out to Ivy. Hamilton relaxed slightly as he lowered his defenses and Ivy was glad she was not the only one who was jumpy. Ivy pulled heat from her fingers, but a wisp of smoke curled up from the edge of the paper as Ivy took the card from him. Both men pretended not to notice.

"I will expect their call, " Carlson said.

"I'll pass the message, but I don't know if they will call, " Ivy replied.

Carlson nodded stiffly, lips once again pursed as though sucking on a lemon. He stood up and Ivy hastily set her cup down as she scrambled to her feet.

"I know my way to the door and I'm sure you still have things you need to discuss, " Carlson said.

Ivy glanced to Hamilton. He hadn't moved. Carlson stalked towards the door. Ivy felt torn between hostess duties and not wanting Carlson to wander around alone.

"I will wait until you have seen him out, " Hamilton said with a wave. "It will give me a chance to be a glutton in private." He leaned forward and picked up a custard tart. Ivy saw him wince with pain, although he was quick to hide it.

"I won't be long, " she assured him. She followed Carlson from the room.

Carlson seemed determined to prove he didn't need an escort and strode forward down the hall, Ivy's much shorter legs moving fast to keep up with him and not look as though she was running. She was slightly out of breath when the corridor joined up with the main lobby. As they stepped into the wider area, heads swiveled in their direction and conversations fell silent. Stares were directed towards the unfamiliar face of Carlson. When she came into view, eyes darted towards her then switched back to him. Ivy wondered if her agitation and annoyance showed.

'Even if it didn't Russell would know, ' she thought. She spotted her husband among those settled on the couch. She caught concern emanating from him as he stood and moved to intercept them. Behind him, she could see the others rising from their seats as well. There was no trace of playful puppy remaining in the group.

"Russell, " Ivy said plastering a smile on her face and trying to tamp down her own annoyance. "Could you escort Mr. Carlson to his vehicle and see that he leaves safely? I need to return to my meeting with Mr. Bridges."

Ivy felt Russell's concern dim and the tension level in the pack members followed suit. They were still curious, but no longer ready to circle and pounce.

"Of course, " Russell replied. With his longer legs he easily kept pace with Carlson as they headed towards the door. With Carlson covered, Ivy turned and retraced her steps, not at all certain she wanted to hear what Hamilton wanted to say.

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