Enter the hawk.
As she stepped through Dev’s portal, Nica closed her eyes against the sudden light. Compared to the dim corridors of Ariella’s nest, the roof of Asylum was disconcerting. Slowly she adjusted to the view, then indulged the urge to simply stare when the sun was no longer a shock to her vision.
It was much like she had left it. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, but somehow it was. She had always loved the rooftop gardens – the wards kept it pleasantly warm and the lush greenery always lent tranquility to her mind. Perhaps it was the reminder of the gardens she’d grown up with that made this such a special space to her. The reason hardly mattered in the end. It soothed the tumult in her heart, and she breathed deeply, enjoying the moment. Nica smiled when she saw that Kain had added a few more blackberry bushes to the berry garden and she thought she spied the elderberry bushes he’d been talking about adding before she’d left. Up here, two years only seemed to mean everything was a little fuller and lusher with the additional time to grow.
That smile faded slightly when the idyllic view was disrupted by a scowling demon. Nica forced the smile for another moment or two, then dropped it altogether. “Dev.”
The lanky demon stepped forward, arms folded across her chest. “Nica.”
When the demon offered no other comment, Nica sighed. “It’s a joy to see you too. I’ve really missed our heart to hearts.”
Dev snorted, shaking her head as she turned away, letting her gaze fall on a small patch of white flowers. At least Nica could be reassured that Dev was as uncomfortable with this reunion as she was. “Believe me, it wasn’t my first choice.”
“I know.” Just those two words held how tired she felt. So many emotions still ricocheted through her from Dev’s call. The relief of hearing everyone was fine and that they had a new serpent dancer had quickly given way to the excitement of returning home. And just as quickly, had turned to worry over the threat of Dev’s old master coming to call. They’d handled a demon together before, but… She’d pushed her doubts aside all that day, settling her affairs in Ariella’s nest. Now, stepping from sunset in one part of the world to sunrise in another, her doubts and excitement had mingled into a fine mire. She’d been gone for two years – what had changed? What hadn’t changed? Would the same dancers be there or would there be more than one new face? Would they welcome her back or resent her for leaving in the first place?
So many questions… And the answers waited downstairs. For the first time she could recall, she felt uncertainty at rejoining her nest. Was it even right to still think of it as hers?
Part of her wanted to leave now – to just have Dev reopen the portal and send her back. They could handle a new dancer, a new serpent without her… They’d handled the loss of one without her already.
Just the thought brought a sharp pang of guilt low in her chest.
It was mirrored by a twisting knot low in her stomach that reminded her of the real reason Dev had called her. Azriel.
She and Dev had handled one of his minions years ago when Asylum had still been just an idea developing. It had not been an easy fight, but they had managed it. The idea of Azriel himself showing up… It would take everything they had to protect the nest if even half of Dev’s stories were true.
Her shoulders straightened, her determination to keep the nest safe building on the rock in her stomach. She’d kept the Pack and the Den fights, the vampires and the human gangs away from her nest, she would do the same if Azriel came calling.
Nica turned when she realized she was staring at the garden, ignoring Dev for her own thoughts. “So you really think Azriel…”
She was alone on the rooftop. Apparently Dev had taken her silence for the end of their conversation. Something else that hadn’t changed. The familiar graze of annoyance was a comfort in itself.
Her gaze took in the gardens again, but her thoughts had ruined the tranquility. With a deep breath, she started downstairs.