I nodded. "The cauldron belongs to Morrigan. Morfran, the ugly one, stole it from her, so he could be reborn through it. The creature with tentacles, the reeves, and the giant all serve Morfran. They are the advance party of Fomorians, the sea-demons, who are now climbing out of the cauldron. Closing the cauldron will stop more demons from being reborn. Those who are on the field will become mortal. Morrigan will gain the ownership of the cauldron again, which will be the end of Morfran and his happy Fomorian tent revival."

Curran thought about it. "The Honeycombers are moving their trailers to prevent the demons from climbing up the walls into the Honeycomb. The demons have only one way to go: southwest, along the bottom of the Gap. The Pack will block the Gap. We'll take on the brunt of the assault. Jim says there is a tunnel leading into the Gap from the Warren."

"I know of it."

"That idiot and a small party of my people can go through the tunnel into the Gap, while the demons are concentrating on us. It will put them into the Fomorian rear. With luck, the demons won't even notice him. Can he keep from throwing his hissy fit until he gets to the cauldron?"

"I don't know. You're not impressed by his warp spasm, huh?"

He grimaced. "It's abhorrent. Total loss of control. No beauty to it, no symmetry. His eye was hanging out on his cheek like some piece of snot. No, I'm not impressed."

"I can try to keep a lid on him until we get to the cauldron." I made a pun, but he wasn't in the mood to notice.

"No."

"What do you mean no?"

"No, you're not going with him."

I crossed my arms. "Who decided that?"

He put on his "I'm alpha and I'm putting my foot down" expression. "I decided."

"You don't get to decide. I'm not under your authority."

"Yes, you are. Without you the fight will happen, but without me and the Pack, it won't. I command the superior force, therefore I'm in charge. You and your army of one can put yourself under my authority or you can take a walk."

"You don't think I can do it, is that it?"

"No, I want you where I can see you."

"Why?"

His lip quivered with the beginning of a snarl. His face relaxed, as he brought himself under control. "Because that's how I want it," he said, using a slow, patient voice reserved for rowdy children and disagreeable mental patients. It drove me to the edge of reason. I really wanted to punch him.

"Just out of curiosity, how do you expect to prevent me from coming with Bran?"

"I'll hog-tie you, gag you, and have three shapeshifters sit on you for the duration of the fight."

I was about to tell him that he wouldn't, but his eyes assured me that he would. I wouldn't get my way. Not this time. Good moment for a new strategy.

"Very well. I'll be good, but on one condition. I want fifteen seconds before the fight. Just me between the Fomorian ranks and your people."

"Why?"

Because I had a crazy idea. I wanted to do something that would make my dad and Greg turn in their graves. I had nothing to lose. We might all die anyway.

I didn't answer. I just looked at him. Either he would trust me or not.

"You have them," Curran said.

Chapter 24

THE PACK HAD SHIT FOR BLADES. IT FIGURED: THEY didn't need them. I went through the weapons in their armory one by one, and found nothing. I wanted a second sword and Curran said I could borrow any one I wanted.

They did slightly better on the armor front. I found a good leather tunic studded with steel diamonds in strategic places. It was black, it fit me, and best of all, it relied on laced cords to adjust the fit. I'd have to have help putting it on and taking it off. I'd never been in a full-out battle before, but I'd survived some vicious large scale brawls and fought my way through a couple of riots. From experience, I knew I would lose myself in a fight and strip out of my armor to improve freedom of movement without ever noticing I'd done it. I needed armor that was hard to take off. Anything with Velcro was right out of the question.

I was ready to give up on the armory, and then there it was, a single-edged blade, about twenty inches in length with a profile wider than, but strikingly similar to, Slayer. Perfectly balanced, with a distal taper, the sword was crafted from a single piece of spring steel with plain wooden panels for the grip. It was simple, unadorned, functional, not a medieval replica, but a modern age, no-nonsense weapon. It was perfect.

I swung it a couple of times, getting used to the weight.

"Two swords," Bran said from the doorway.

His spasm had torn his clothes, and he had cut and rigged the remnants of his shirt and pants into a makeshift kilt, showcasing the world's greatest chest. Too bad the kilt gave me a flashback to Greg's killer. He had worn a kilt, too.

"Can you handle two swords?"

I pulled Slayer from the sheath, lunged at him, drawing a classic figure eight around his body with Slayer, and blocked his arm with the flat of the shorter blade when he tried to counter.

"Fancy. You missed," he said.

"You want something?"

"I thought since we both might die tomorrow, you'd be up for a friendly roll-in-the-hay."

"I might die. You'll be healed."

He shook his head. "I'm not immortal, dove. Do enough damage fast and I'll kick the bucket like the rest of you."

I disengaged and moved past him to the door.

His kilt fell.

"It took me forever to fix this!" He grabbed it off the floor and it fell apart in his hand. I had cut it in three places.

I walked out into the hallway and almost ran into Curran accompanied by a group of shapeshifters. Bran followed me in all his naked glory. "Hey, does this mean no sex?"

Curran's face went blank. I dodged him and kept walking.

Bran chased me, weaving through the shapeshifters. "Get out of my way, don't you see I'm trying to talk to a woman?"

I made the mistake of looking back in time to see Curran reach for Bran's neck as the Hound of Morrigan rushed by. With an effort of will that must have taken a year off his life, Curran curled his fingers into a fist and lowered his hand instead.

I chuckled to myself and kept walking. The Universe had proven Curran wrong: a person who aggravated him more than me did, in fact, exist.

Bran caught up with me on the stairs. "Where are you headed?"

"To a balcony. I want some fresh air." And maybe to doze off a bit. Although I was no longer sleepy. The magic hummed in me, eager to be released. Is this how it would be when the tech finally fell for good? I wasn't sure I could handle that much raw power. I had to hold myself back, as if I was riding a crazed horse at full gallop and the reins kept slipping through my fingers.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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