Winter – Chapter 16 – 06

                “Why is he looking for you?”  Terézia asked, looking at her sidelong.
                Aoife shook her head.  “Open the door,” she ordered, starting to walk toward them.
                Gray just stared at her.  “With those things out there?”
                “Cariocecus likely fought them off, or is at the very least holding them at bay.  Either I’m wrong and they’re not what I thought they were, or he’s responsible for our current safety.  Either way, regardless of how I may personally feel about the bastard, he deserves to at least have me show my face—if he’s come all this way to just talk to me.”  She stared at Gray for an extra second.  “Walk out with me, stand behind my left shoulder.  Don’t ask why, just do it.”  Her gaze flicked to Wat.  “Take the other gun from Kes.  I want those shotguns holding the doorway in case anyone tries anything funny.  Don’t let anything through to the interior.”  She glanced up at the ceiling above, where Elton and the kids were sheltering on attic-like second floor.  “We have to protect what we have from what’s outside, no matter what.  Now open the damn door.”
                “I can feel you in there, m’lady!”
                Wat looked at Gray.  The bigger man just sighed and shook his head.  “Do it.”
                Aoife watched as they lifted the bench clear of the door and moved it to one side.  Wat claimed one of the shotguns as Aoife advanced on the doors and threw them open.
                She marched out into the gloom of the night like she owned the whole damn world, Gray falling into step behind her, one step over, one step back.
                Ten feet from the door stood a god of war, dressed in a black cloak edged with crimson and gold.  His amber eyes reflected the light that streamed out into the night from the open lodge doors.  He flashed a bright white smile at Aoife.
                Her stomach lurched.
                You’re stronger than him, better than him.  Hold it together and you’ll all come through this in one piece.  These people are your charges.  Don’t fail them.
                She summoned every last ounce of her control, forcing her fear and loathing to become strength fuel it.  “Cariocecus.  To what do I owe your visit and apparent protection from the shifters out here?”
                “I had wondered if you noticed that,” he said.  His voice was deceptively kind and melodious.  Aoife suppressed a shiver.
                He wants something.  I know it.  But what?  “We did,” she said, keeping her tone carefully neutral and even.  “And we’re grateful for the intervention.”
                “As well you should be.  They’re Pain and Suffering’s hounds.”
                Crap.  So they are theirs after all.  Aoife swallowed bile and shook her head.  “I can’t imagine why they’d be seeking me.”
                “I imagine they’re not, in fact,” Cariocecus said, smirking at her with something dangerous sparkling in his red-flecked golden eyes.  “Someone saw fit to renew old grudges…and paid the price.  Which, of course, made her sisters quite upset.”
                What the hell is he–  Her stomach dropped to her knees.  Phelan.  They must have picked a fight with Phelan—one of them must have, anyway—and something’s happened.  “How do you know of this?”
                Cariocecus sniffed.  “I have my own bone to pick with the Wanderer and his little tribe near the great lake.  That’s none of your concern for the moment and far from the reason I’m here.”  He took a step toward her.  “Where is Seamus?”
                “Seamus?”  Why would he be looking for Seamus?  “Dead,” Aoife said, unable to keep a tendril of surprise from her voice.  “He’s been dead since an assassin’s blade found his heart at the court of Charlemagne.”
                “Really.”  Cariocecus flipped his cloak back off his shoulders, revealing black leather armor that would not have been out of place two thousand years before—or at a modern Renaissance festival.  “Then why can we sense him in the world?”
                “We?”  Who’s “we?”  Aoife frowned and shook her head slowly.  “I’ve not the foggiest clue.  He was murdered.  Assassinated.”  That was when Uncle couldn’t take it anymore and moved beyond life into whatever comes after for people like us…the ones that haven’t given up immortality, anyway.
                The Lusitanian god took another step toward her, peering at her closely.  “I think you lie.”
                Gray eased forward, placing a hand on Aoife’s shoulder.  Her skin prickled at his touch.
                “Take a step back,” Gray suggested softly, meeting Cariocecus’s gaze without flinching.  “What interest would she have in lying to you?”
                “I know not,” he said, smiling a cold smile at Gray as he took a small step back.  “I only know what I know, and what I know is that I can sense the lord Seamus in the world even as we stand here at an impasse.”  His eyes fluttered shut and he tilted his face toward the sky as if he was thinking.  “What would your price be, m’lady?  For information on his whereabouts?”
                Her stomach twisted.  He really wants him.  But Seamus is deadWe know that he’s dead.
                Unless it was a lie.  Unless it was faked. But who would have a reason for that—who would want to?  And why would Seamus had kept his survival a secret for all these years?
                She didn’t have any answers.
                “If I knew something, what would you give me for that information?”
                Gods and monsters, Aoife.  What are you doing?  She swallowed hard and hoped her instincts were right.
                Cariocecus raised a brow.  “Are you saying you might?”
                “I could provide direction, perhaps.  I don’t believe Seamus is alive, but…I might know where to start looking in case he is.”
                Gray’s hand tightened on her shoulder.  She drew herself a bit straighter.
                “It would depend on what you have to offer, what I would be willing to give.”
                Aoife swallowed.  “My brother’s life.”
                Cariocecus crossed his arms.  “You would need to give me very good information, Lady of Sighs, to put me off the Wanderer.”
                What did you do to piss all these people off, big brother?  “Your word,” she said softly.
                He studied her for a long moment, then inclined his head.  “If your information proves beneficial, so be it.”
                Her heart beat a rapid tattoo against her breast.  “Begin with Lady Summer.  And move on to Lady Winter.  If he lives, one of them will know for certain.  He had children by both.”
                A look of surprise crossed Cariocecus’s face.  “He had children, did he?”
                “No one else was aware,” Aoife said, her voice a bare whisper.  “Just me.”
                Cariocecus smiled broadly and bowed.  “And now me.  Go back inside, m’lady, and me and mine will deal with your visitors.  It will be safe come daylight, you have my word.  Do not emerge before then.”
                Aoife swallowed hard and nodded.  “Very well.”  She turned slowly to the door, Gray watching Cariocecus for another moment before he turned to trail after her.
                “What just happened?” he whispered to her.
                “I don’t know,” she breathed.  “But I hope I just saved my brother’s life.”

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