Renegade

Deleted Scenes

This scene came out for pacing purposes.  Griff and Val have decided to use his tracking abilities to find witnesses who vanished mysteriously.  This came after the diner scene:

They spent the next hour in the car, Val driving while Griffin, beside her, followed some trace only he sensed.  They’d decided to start with the closest missing witness, D. W. Finnegan.

About a mile after she’d made the turn onto Georgia 107, driving through woods broken by farmland, Griffin said, “Turn left here.”

She made the turn onto a rutted, gravel road.  He shifted in his seat, frowning.  “I’m losing it,” he said. “I had a sense of him here, but it’s gone.  Stop.”

She braked beside the driveway for a trucking company.  MacBee's.  You dump it, we hall it, read a sign on the chain link fencing.  “Somebody’s spelling needs work,” she noted.

The fence enclosed an asphalt parking lot, but the gate was open.  Three large, beat-up green dump trucks stood in the lot next to a mobile home that must be the office.

Val nodded at the lot.  “Follow up?  Or not?” 

“Drive in.”  Narrow-eyed, he scanned the parking lot.  “Ask directions or something while I check it out.”

“Right.  Make the woman ask directions,” she said in a dry voice.  “Wouldn’t want to poison your Y chromosome.”

“I gave you the or something option.”  Climbing out of the car, he flashed that teasing grin again. 

She opened her door.  That little flutter in her pulse could just quit.  The man came with too much baggage.  And a tendency to be curt.  He paced, rolling his shoulders and stretching, while she stepped out of the car.

A stocky man with a dark buzz-cut emerged from the office trailer.  Standing on the narrow wooden stoop, he asked, “Something I can do for you folks?”

“We’re heading for Broxton.  I think we took a wrong turn.”  Smiling, Val walked up to the stoop.  In a lower voice, she added, “He just will not use a GPS, you know?”

“Hate the things myself.  You wanna take a left outta here, head on up to where 268 meets 107--can’t miss the intersection--and hang a left on 268.  That’ll take you straight on into Broxton.”

Val thanked him.  She and Griffin got back in the car.

“I felt a glimmer from back in those woods,” he said.  “I’m locked on it now.  Drive on down, find a place to pull off, and we’ll follow it.”

They climbed back into the car and drove away.

“Mages can translocate,” Val said.  “Why bother with the trucking company?”

“Passing through, maybe?  Jumped from there back into the woods?  I didn’t sense a trail between the two, but I wouldn’t if the translocation was more than a month ago.”

A mile or so down the road, a gravel road led into the trees.  The shoulder was wide enough for them to pull off.

Pine needles and fallen branches crunched under their feet as they walked into the trees.  Sunlight filtering through the leaves gave the light a greenish cast.  Despite the shade, the air was muggy, but Val felt cold, sick with apprehension. 

If they found a body here, as they seemed likely to, there’d been far more corruption in her department than she’d dreamed.  How could she have been so blind?  So trusting?

She slapped at a mosquito.  “Will it interfere with your trace if I shield?”

He shook his head, eyes searching the forest.  “They don’t like the taste of venom, so they leave me alone.” 

The words were matter-of-fact, almost absent-minded, but hearing them made her ache for him.  He carried enough burdens without the worry that his blood might corrupt and ultimately destroy him.  Yet he seemed to take all of it in stride.

She glanced at him.  “Can you translocate to the spot?”

“No.  Might overshoot.”  His head lifted.  “Over there.”  He pointed at a knoll a few feet to their left. 

Following him, Val took a deep breath to fight queasiness.  There was nothing over there but trees.  She’d been part of a body recovery detail once, when she’d worked for the Atlanta PD before coming back to the Collegium.  This was not going to be pleasant.  Even without the nasty implications.

He stopped, grim-faced, by a large pine.  “There’s a shovel in the car.  If you’ll go, I’ll stay so I don’t have to find the place again.”

“And when I get back, you will have dug him up magically.”  She had to give him points for control.  Only the barest flicker around his eyes gave him away. 

He was giving her an easy out, one she longed to take.  But she’d survived her parents’ deaths by focusing on what needed to be done, by doing it.  This, too, needed doing.  “We’ll handle it together.”

Griffin straightened, as though to argue.  After a moment, he nodded.  He extended a hand, and his power slid into the earth, shifting under the first inch.  This would be a delicate job.  Good thing forests provided ample energy to recharge.

He shifted his inch aside.  She took the next.

Maybe D. W.’s body being here had nothing to do with mages.  Nothing to do with the problem in her department.  She could hope.

And she did.  Until the last layer of earth slid aside, revealing a plaid shirt scorched with a slashing line.  The kind of faint, blue charring only mage energy caused.

#

This scene was later in the book and also came out for the sake of pace.  I've edited it slightly to avoid giving away a key story point, though it will be a slight spoiler for anyone who hasn't read the book:

Too late.  The rescue party would arrive too late.  Val knew it in her bones as the helicopter raced north.  A rush of agony had shattered her bond with Griffin, and then he was gone.  That’d been an hour ago, with nothing since.

“No luck?”  Stefan Harper dropped into the seat beside her.

“Not so far.”  If only she could pick up something.  Anything that would let her know he still lived. 

Stefan gripped her hand.  “We don’t know a lot about bonds such as you described to me.  They’re rare.  Spirit mages are the most likely to form them, and there are fewer with that affinity than any other.”

“He never said he was a spirit mage.”  She’d asked him about element affinity once, but he hadn’t answered.

“If he is, he may not know.  Not all mages have particular affinities--I don’t, for example--and that one doesn’t manifest clearly.  The precog ability is a sign of it but not determinative.  So’s the tracking, though air mages also can do that.”

“Whatever affinity he has or doesn’t isn’t helping much now.  Please don’t tell me he could be hidden behind a ward.  I know how that feels, and this is different.”

Stefan pinched the bridge of his nose.  “I’m also worried about his blood venom levels.  He hasn’t recharged in three days.  In that time, he’s been energy-blasted twice and put to ritual questioning.  Shackled, he can’t even benefit from the subconscious recharge we all do constantly.”

“I know.”  Damning the ones who’d done those things wouldn’t help now, either.  “Yet another possible strike against him.  At least Will convinced Griffin’s dad to stay home.”

“Arena combat is nothing like a real fight.  Not that I’ve had much experience with those lately, but I figure you’ll need me when you find him.” 

He paused, waiting until she looked at him.  “When, Val, not if.”

It had to be when.  She couldn’t think about the alternative. 

He continued, “I’ve been working on a vaccine for ghoul venom.”

“A vaccine?  Then you can cure him.“  That would lift such a heavy burden from his shoulders.

“It may not work.  I haven’t had a chance to test it.  If we’re desperate, though . . . well.”

If Griffin was about to turn ghoul, he meant.  Val nodded acknowledgment.  “Better than nothing.”

“Understand, though, the possible reactions range from extremely beneficial to nothing to it kills him.  It’s meant to protect mages, not revert one who has fallen, become ghoul.”

“It’s still better than nothing.”  She leaned back in the seat, staring out the window at the night.  The time was just past one a.m.  Dark rites took place at midnight.  Was he even still alive?  “He has a tendency to beat the odds.  Just the fact he’s still alive shows that.”

“True enough.”

Of course, everyone’s luck had a limit.

“Ten minutes out,” Dan Jacobs announced from the pilot’s seat.

Val glanced forward at him.  “I hope we’re doing the right thing, trusting him.”  They’d told everyone else in the Collegium they were headed for Milledgeville, that they had a tip Griffin had been taken there.

Unfortunately, the best they’d been able to get from the Council was house arrest for their suspect.  Hearsay, Val’s conversation with Griffin through the bond, was not enough proof to arrest such a highly placed individual.

Val’s lips tightened.  That excuse echoed the crap Griffin had faced when he accused Althor eight years ago.

“I touched Dan,” Stefan said, “and honesty came through.  He’s appalled by what Mitch has done.  Blames himself, I think.  He’s also relieved to have Corin’s faith in Griff, as well as his own, vindicated.”

“If only Corin hadn’t tried to bring Griffin in, make him confront--Oh, well.  It’s all long past now.”  If Griffin had done as she’d suggested, sought a hearing, they would likely have the same problems they did now.  She’d been wrong on that.

Stefan nodded.  “You know, we’ve been lucky in our Shire Reeves.  Even though Dan retired early, came back only to fill in after Corin died, he gave it the same dedication you and Griff did.”  After a moment, he added, “I think he’s really doing this for Corin.”

Before she could reply, Will came forward to perch on the  seat opposite her.  “Val, Griff would want you safe.”

She was really, seriously tired of hearing that.  “I’m going in.  Don’t bother arguing otherwise.” 

The only relief for the pain clawing at her heart was violence.  Breaking heads.  Vengeance.

He gave her a weary smile.  “I figured, but I don’t want you in the first line.  Maybe you can find him with your bond, maybe not.  Don’t charge off on your own to look.”  He glanced over the chopper’s other occupants--Lorelei, the big, ex-footballer named Chuck, several other guys and a woman. 

Val couldn’t remember their names.  Weird.  She was usually good with names. 

“We’ll take out the mages who betrayed him,” Will said, “if they’re still there.  You and Chuck focus on finding him.”

“I’m with her,” Stefan said.  “He’s likely to be in rough shape when she finds him.  The sooner I reach him, the better.”

Will’s eyebrows rose.  “Remind me when you last had combat experience.”

“Aren’t you due for a prostate exam?”

“Threats just piss me off,” Will said, but without heat. 

“Griffin will need him.”  She hoped.  “We’ll be fine.  But about that first wave.  I’m thinking I not only should be in it, I should be it, just me.”

“Suicide,” Will said slowly, “won’t help Griff.”

“Exactly, and that’s what a group this size is doing if we charge a ghoul nest with too few people.  Bigger teams than this couldn’t penetrate nests with fewer ghouls.  And what if there are still mages here?”

“It’ll help,” Will said, “if our disinformation about Milledgeville succeeded and no one knows we’re headed here.  If we meet traitor mages, though, we take them out first.”  He shrugged as though that were obvious.

“If we can reach them.  I have a sneakier idea, a sort of Trojan horse.  Ghoul nest defenses are usually much weaker if you hit them from the inside, and I can get in.  I’ll invoke our traitor's name.  Before they do anything to me, they’ll call him, check with him.”

“That’ll tip our hand,” Will said.  “He’ll know Griff can nail him, that you can.  He’ll run.”

“Better that than letting Griffin die here.” 

Stefan frowned.  “You’re betting your life Griff’s right about the traitor.  Betting his, too.  The first thing they’ll do is shoot you up with venom to keep you from making trouble.”

Been there, done that, and her stomach churned at the memory.  Val swallowed hard.  “Yeah, well.  This whole thing is a gamble.  As for the venom, don’t you have something for that?” 

“Such as it is.”  He looked steadily back at her, reminding her of his warning. 

Val shrugged.  “While they’re checking, I’ll find Griffin.  He and I will take out the gate for you.  By the way, remember to watch out for land mines.”

Will looked at Stefan, then at her.  “I hate it,” Will said at last.  “Hate it in my bones.  But it makes sense.”

“In that case,” Stefan told Val, “you’d better try the vaccine.  And hope it doesn’t kill you.”