Croat roared as he threw the chair one-handed across the room. He was halfway to the door when Amrin grabbed him by his good arm to stop him.
"You can’t help her!"
"I have to! I must!" Pulling the man’s hand away, Croat bared his teeth in fury. "They’re torturing her, don’t you understand?"
Worton stood to block his way. "Stop and think, Croat! If you go blindly charging in, you won’t be doing neither yourself or Tora any good! Stop, Croat! Get a grip on yourself, and let’s plan on a strategy."
The group of men circled their leader, who panted heavily from his recent exertions. And from the anguish roiling inside him.
"Croat..." Kreegah moved closer, his hands held out in a silent offer of help. "Croat, are you sure that what you’re feeling is—"
"Damn it, man! My hands are burning!" Croat growled. He held out his clawed hands which appeared normal and unaffected. Yet the grimace of pain on his face was undeniable.
"What’s she done to you?" Osanis whispered in shock.
"She’s done nothing to him," a calm voice spoke from the doorway. Everyone glanced over to where Deelaht stood like an ancient sentinel, framed in the bright sunlight. Eyeing every man inside the cabin, she then turned to her grandson. "Croat, take deep breaths. Free your mind, or else anything you decide to do at this point will do more harm than good."
She entered the cabin. Croat’s men parted to allow her inside the circle. But before she reached their leader, Croat dropped into a nearby chair. "Preataruth came to tell me. What do you feel, Croat?" Deelaht asked him.
"I hear her screaming in my head," he gasped, fighting the terror and agony he was receiving from her. "I can feel my hands, like they’ve been covered in fire." Looking up at the elderly woman, Croat said, "For a moment there, I was free of her. I think she was unconscious, but it was like whatever cord was running between us had been cut. I was finally free of her, and it was a feeling I discovered I never want to feel again."
Deelaht smiled gently. "Do you still believe she’s put a hex on you?"
Croat shook his head. "I don’t know what to believe anymore. But I do know one thing. Someone has captured her, and they’re torturing her, and I must stop it."
"How?" Kreegah asked. As one, the men had moved in closer now, no longer worried that Croat might go charging off. Not with Deelaht there.
"You’re still healing," Worton pointed out. "You can’t hope to take them all on by yourself."
"No." He bowed his head and paused to think. Weighing his options. When a pair of legs walked into his range of vision, he glanced up to see Gesset’s worried stare.
"If you need someone to go after her, I’ll go."
Croat opened his mouth to answer, but before he could say anything, Worton also volunteered, "And me."
Seconds later, all seven men had sworn their aid. Croat slowly rose to his feet. He was cold again. His connection with Tora was gone. Permanently gone this time. Disappeared as though it had been a single, thin thread, severed by the distance between them. He couldn’t feel her any longer. There was no sense of her, of her happiness, nor of her worry. Not even her pain. There was absolutely nothing.
Within the span of a single heartbeat, he was left totally alone.
"Our connection is permanent. It doesn’t matter how long or how far apart we are, it will never be severed. Not until death."
"Not until the day I die?"
"Or the day I do."
Oh, gods! Please, no!
"We must leave now. We go as Lupan, but in our clothes, in case we need to change to avoid detection."
Gesset interrupted. "We’ll go. You need to stay here."
"I’m not staying," Croat growled.
"You’re not yet healed," Worton added.
Croat suddenly lunged toward his lieutenant with a roar of anger that shocked everyone. Ears lowered, Croat bared his fangs with deadly intent, and spat, "I’m going. Those are my orders."
As one, all the men turned to look at the elderly woman who had retreated to the far side of the room. But she refused to acknowledge their stares, keeping her head bowed in deference to her grandson.
It was Amrin who broke the silence. "We’re wasting time standing around, arguing. Let’s go."