Behind him, Marin swore, too before she took two steps after him. Thordin held up a hand to stop her.
“Stay there and cover me,” he growled. “Cover all of us and make sure those damned wards hold.” He continued forward, leaving the Seer behind in the gap where someday gates would be.
Phelan glanced at him and put up a hand to try to forestall him but all Thordin did was shake his head.
Not this time, my friend.
Phelan snarled slightly and turned back to the Hecate, his expression schooled back into something close to impassivity by the time he faced her again. “You can’t have any of them, hag. I thought we established this. You don’t get to make demands of us when it comes to all of that. You don’t get to choose.”
The witch-goddess smiled a thin, cruel smile more befitting a hag than the maiden she appeared to be. “You don’t get to tell me what I am and am not allowed to do, Wandering One. I’ve told you once, twice—a dozen times. I’ve told your haggard prince the same. Curse his lady for her cleverness. The rest of you, though—you’ll not be so lucky if I’ve a thing to say or do about it.”
“You’re not welcome here,” Phelan said, his voice a little stronger, though there was the barest hint of desperation in his voice.
Don’t show her weakness, old friend. I’ve no idea what you’ve gone toe-to-toe with lately, but you shouldn’t have any thoughts of pending knee to this bitch. It’s not worth your life or your soul and you know it.
“And when have I ever cared where you and yours welcomed me, Wandering One?” The Hecate spat his name like an insult, eyes narrowing slightly. Her gaze shifted toward Cameron, blood-red lips curling back in a smile. “The Dragon,” she said, her tone somehow softer. “You have no idea how long I’ve sought you, child. Down a hundred generations, all I’ve searched for is you.”
Phelan’s eyes narrowed as he aimed a baleful glare at the Hecate. “Ask her why, Cam. Ask her why she’s been searching for the Dragon for a hundred generations and more.”
Cameron shook his head, one hand clamped over the rent in his side. “I don’t need to as. It’s because of the goddamned sw—”
“Shut your mouth, Dragon,” Thordin rumbled as he watched the gleam of curiosity leak into the Hecate’s eyes. She doesn’t know about that sword, does she? No, it’s something else.
After shooting Thordin a strange look, Cameron looked back toward the Hecate, confusion marking his expression. “Why have you been looking for me?”
She took another step forward. Thordin swung his axe into her path, stopping the honed edge a hairsbreadth from her throat.
“Not another step closer, Lady,” he growled.
The Hecate favored him with an almost amused glance. “Do you presume to stop me, mortal?”
“I still have a few tricks up my sleeve,” Thordin said evenly, his voice pitched low. “You should know better than to underestimate any one of us.”
She snorted humorlessly as her gaze flicked back toward Cameron, who stood stoically, the hand not catching blood gripping the hilt of Caliburn in an iron grip.
We’d better hope she doesn’t recognize that blade. Otherwise our hand will be tipped and we’ll be screwed in ways we can’t begin to fathom. “Tell him,” Thordin said. “Tell him why you’ve been looking for him, Hag-Queen, or you’ll feel what tempered cold iron feels like against your throat.”
The Hecate barked a laugh and stared at Cameron. “It’s your blood, Dragon,” she said softly. “It’s your blood that pleases, that I’ve sought for so, so long. It holds the key to so, so much.” Her voice dropped to a bare whisper and she seemed to lean forward through she hadn’t moved an inch. “I have been looking for the blood of Seamus the Black since the day I learned he spawned.”
Phelan sucked in a sharp breath and rocked back against his heels. The Hecate glanced at him and her smile widened.
“You didn’t know.”
“I knew,” Phelan said, his voice low. “I just didn’t know it was common knowledge.”
Cameron glared at both of them, his jaw tightening. “What do you want from me?”
“I thought I was perfectly clear,” the Hecate said. “I want you.”
“I’m not on the block,” Cameron said, lifting Caliburn almost menacingly. “And I’m getting a little tired of getting hunted.”
“And no one should blame you for that,” a voice said, smooth as velvet as a figure emerged from the darkness.
A muscle in Thordin’s jaw twitched. Where did he come from?
Thom swore. “What are you doing here?”
“Taking care of a little problem for you,” Cariocecus said with a strange measure of pleasure in his voice. He emerged from the shadows beyond the light surrounding the Hecate. As he passed one of her Dirae come to heel, he casually reached out and took it by the throat. His hand convulsed and the creature’s neck snapped with a sickening crack.
Cameron swallowed visibly.
“You’re poaching on my patch, Hecate,” Cariocecus purred as he circled her like a predator. “I have a standing engagement with the men and women here and an agreement that I am violating by my sheer presence. They weren’t supposed to see me for days yet.” He smiled a thin, dangerous smile at Phelan and Thom. “I hope you don’t mind, gentlemen.”
“Oh by all means,” Thom said, voice dripping with sarcasm and barely controlled anger, “eliminate the fucking poacher.”
“With pleasure.” Cariocecus trailed a sharp-nailed fingertip along the back of the Hecate’s neck, winning an angry snarl from her. “They’re mine, Witch. Not that you’d ever have a prayer of violating the wards they’ve set. I had to get a cat’s paw so I could get in.”
“Fuck off, you third-rate warhound,” the Hecate snarled. “I’ve been looking for them far longer than you have.”
“Have you?” His smile was thin. “Is that truly an argument you want to have with me, Hecate? In front of an audience, no less? Have you no idea who they are?”
“I don’t care who the rest of them are,” she said, eyeing Cameron even as she spoke to Cariocecus. “I’m only here for one of them.”
“Not tonight,” Cariocecus said, tone almost light.
Then he wrapped an arm around the Hecate’s neck and vanished in a burst of shadows and fog, taking her and the Dirae with him.
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