My brother and Paul vanished in seconds, rushing off to round up our shotguns. Thom kissed me and murmured something about swords and staves, then disappeared in their wake. A moment later, I stood by the fire with Kellin, Jacqueline, and Greg, all four of us staring at Phelan.
He stood with eyes wide and staring at the fire, forehead pressed against the staff that abruptly seemed like it was the only thing keeping him on his feet. His eyes slid shut a moment later and his lips began to move, forming silent words I couldn’t understand.
Jacqueline swallowed and looked sidelong at me. “He’s praying, isn’t he?”
I nodded, unable to tear my eyes away from him. All the steel that had been in his spine a few minutes before was good now—he seemed as young and frightened as the rest of us.
We can’t keep doing this to him.
“Jac,” I said slowly, “I need you to do something for me.”
She shoved her hands into the pocket of her hoodie. “Tell me.”
“Get Tala and Angie and go down into the steam tunnel in front of Robinson. Have Tala bring one of the shotguns. Stay down there until we give you the all-clear.”
“One shotgun isn’t going to make the difference between us living and dying up here,” I snapped, speaking a little more harshly than I intended. “But it could make the difference for the three of you. Go.”
She looked at me, then glanced at Greg and Kellin. Kel sighed softly and jerked her head toward the tunnel. “She’s right. Go. We’ll need you in one piece when this is over and that tunnel’s our best way to ensure that.”
“What about Jay?”
I snorted. “Did you see him with that sword? We need him up here. Go.”
She glanced at Greg, making a last silent appeal, but he shook his head. Jacqueline sighed out a breath and darted off, shouting for Angie and Tala.
I looked at Greg and Kellin. “What do you think?”
“‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’” Greg said, shaking his head. “This is yards above anything I’ve researched and I missed the day in shaman school where they talked about any type of werewolf that wasn’t a roleplaying game or Native American.”
“Great,” I muttered. “Kel?”
“The same. I’m tapped out,” she said. “The wards might hold them back. They might not. Depends on the level of malevolence we’re dealing with. If it’s just some kind of natural instinct to hunt, we could be completely screwed.”
“That sounds reassuring,” Thom said as he appeared at my elbow and pressed my staff into my hands. “The wards can sense the difference between something that’s going to kill us for food and something that’s going to kill us because it wants to?”
“Something like that.” Kellin caught her lower lip between her teeth. “They’re not going to stop something natural. They won’t stop something that doesn’t mean us any harm. But they’re untested when it comes to stopping something preternatural that’s just got the instinct to hunt and kill.”
“They might hold them and buy us time to respond,” Phelan said in a mumble. He opened his eyes and straightened as he drew a deep breath. “But it’s going to depend on how old and how strong they are. The only section of the wards that’s gotten attention since the battle is the part that went down during it, aye? That’s the strong point. Are we going to gamble that they’ll hit us along the strongest part of our defenses?”
“Fuck no,” Thom said. “No one’s that dumb, but we’re not stupid either. I’ve got the others setting up a ring with the fire as the center point. Rory and Paul are up on the roofs. We’ll at least see them coming, when they come.”
“You know, I haven’t heard any howling,” Kellin said. “Not since we scattered.”
“That’s because they’re hunting,” Greg said quietly. “Wolves aren’t stupid to begin with. They’re apex predators. That means good instincts. Couple that with human intelligence…”
“And you get killing machines,” Phelan said. “He’s right. They’re getting ready to hit us. It’s a question of where.”
Rory’s voice echoed off rubble and trees. “West southwest! West southwest!”
I spun and plunged toward that section of our loose defensive circle.
West southwest was Little Mac and the ravine.
Greg ducked after me, flanked by Thom as we ran. We didn’t need to go far—a dozen yards and we were there, slipping between Drew and my brother to get a better look.
There were five wolves—gray wolves if I was any judge, though their pelts ran the gamut from gray to black to brown and red. They paused for a moment at the ward lines, as if sensing the power there. They milled around just shy of them. One gave a soft whine. Their ears were up, eyes of amber and blue open, bodies taut but two of them let their tongues loll out. Thiers were the only visible teeth.
Greg put a hand on my arm. “Something’s not right. The display’s too mixed.”
I started to snap something at him, but Phelan interrupted.
“No, he’s right. There’s something strange about all this. It doesn’t feel right.”
I couldn’t tell whether or not the situation felt right, but I could feel the pulse of power coming off of Phelan as he took up position at my shoulder, peering between Thom and I at the small pack beyond the wards.
At least one of us is ready for a fight. I knew I wasn’t, not really. Dread still coiled in my belly, uncertainty holding me captive.
What am I going to do if they come at us?
Then one of them, a brindled gray wolf, big and sleek with huge blue eyes, crossed the ward line.
And reared up on its hide legs and changed.
Someone yelled in surprise. Drew made a choked sound.
“I know him,” he said.
A slender, dark-haired man smiled at us, stark naked with the rest of the wolf pack starting to mill around him.
“Hullo, Andrew,” the man said, his Welsh accent as thick as overcooked oatmeal, “might I trouble you for a pair of pants?”
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