[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]
Matt swore quietly, starting to move faster toward the shadow. Thordin stayed on his heels, axe in hand, though the crackling of energy around the other man had abated—at least a little, at least for now.
Keep it together.
The edges of the shadow grew clearer, more distinct—a woman in a cloak, kneeling amidst the grass. Matt’s heart seized, leaping up into his throat. His voice came as a croak. “Persephone?”
Her head snapped up, eyes luminous in her hood. “No,” she breathed. “No, no, please, run.”
Matt blinked, struck by the urgency in her voice, the panic that welled up. “But–”
“It’s a trap.”
He wheeled. Thordin had already turned, gone a step, and stopped in his tracks, facing a man at least twice his size. Matt’s heart lodged in his throat as he stared up at the figure, a dark-bearded, dark-eyed hulk of a man in a coal-dark cloak.
The man’s lips twisted into a smile. “Ah,” he said. “You.” His dark-eyed gaze slid toward Thordin for a moment and the smile grew a little wider. “And the Odinson. Isn’t this a lovely surprise?”
Matt swallowed bile. Orcus. He couldn’t say how he knew, only that he did. This was the fear that had been named—the fear that Seamus had predicted would come.
His mind raced. Is he really here? Is this our chance? What about his armies? Is there an army? He risked a glance back toward Persephone. Is she really here?
“I want the witch,” Orcus rumbled, and Matt’s gaze snapped back to the huge man. “I need the witch.”
“She has a name,” Matt snapped, instantly regretting the words. Bile slicked the back of his throat, sour on the back of his tongue.
Orcus leaned down, eyes narrowing. The temperature dropped a few degrees. Matt suppressed a shiver.
Next to him, Thordin’s hand tightened around the haft of his weapon.
“The Hecate,” Orcus said, his voice quiet, deadly with a razored edge. “I want her. You will relinquish her into my custody.”
“No,” Matt said, his voice steady, firm. “She is neither mine to give, nor yours to take. You will not have her, no matter what you want. Your desire is irrelevant.”
“Is it, now?” Orcus smiled, straightening. It was a cold smile.
He snapped his fingers. Behind them, Persephone gave an anguished cry and Matt spun, looking at where she’d been. There was nothing but swirling fog.
“Where did she go?” Thordin demanded, lifting his hammer. “What did you do with her?”
“She is where she has been for weeks,” Orcus said. “With me. If you wish to see her alive again, you will deliver the witch-queen Hecate to me within three days. Ten miles northwest, near the shore.”
“No,” Matt said again. Orcus held up a hand.
“If you don’t,” Orcus continued, “I will simply have to come and take her from you with my army. Three days, Druid. You have my word.” That smile returned and ice sluiced down Matt’s spine. He stepped back into the swirling fog and vanished from sight, though his words echoed back to them through it, cold and heavy with promise. “And unlike many, I always keep my word.”