If I gave up now, Roland would claim Atlanta. I couldn’t let that happen. He would not take this city. People I knew, people I loved, wouldn’t bow and kneel to him as long as I stood.
“Amehe,” I whispered to my blade. “Amehe. Amehe.” Obey. Obey. Obey.
My bones cried out. In my head my muscles began to unravel, fiber by fiber, frayed nerves shaking in the raging wind. But I would not move.
I would not move.
“This is my city. These are my people.”
I tasted the sharp bite of my magic on my lips. My nose was bleeding. Tiny red drops rose from my cheeks and floated to join the blood coating Sarrat. My eyes were bleeding, too.
My arms shook. My feet slid back half an inch. Another half an inch.
A muscular arm wrapped around my stomach. Another closed over my chest. A deafening lion roar, proud and furious, thundered over my shoulders. Curran braced me. His magic mixed with mine.
My feet stopped moving.
My father pushed and we pushed back.
Thin, painfully bright cracks appeared in the spear where it met my blade.
The strain was ripping my body apart. I poured even more of my magic into the force of my strike. I thought I had given it all I could, but it kept coming and coming, fountaining from inside me.
The cracks widened.
Just a little more . . .
The spear shattered.
I tried to pull back, but I couldn’t. The magic continued to rush out of me, as unstoppable as a flood, more, more, more . . . I struggled to contain it, but it refused to stop. It ripped me out of Curran’s arms and jerked me off my feet into the air. My blood armor crumbled into dust. Words appeared on my hands and arms, strange words written in dark ink. The air around me turned red. The ceiling above me exploded. My body bent back, my arms opened wide, my back arched. The building swayed, shaking. Below me, people crouched by the walls, trying to hide from my power.
The magic inside me erupted. My voice rolled like the sound of an enormous bell.
A pulse of pure red shot out of me, spreading in a ring over Atlanta. The blast wave rolled with a sound like thunder. I felt it slide over the city all the way past the outskirts, past the Keep until finally it dissipated. The magic soaked into the ground and it responded, sending a surge of magic back to me.
I had claimed the city. I had marked Atlanta as my dominion.
My father smiled and disappeared.
I plunged down and landed on the hard floor in front of Curran, still in his warrior form. The two of us looked at each other. Chunks of something that probably used to be the roof rained down around us.
Curran unhinged his monstrous jaws. I braced myself.
I just stared at him. My brain couldn’t string any words together.
He grinned at me. “Come on, baby. We’re going home.”
• • •
WALKING DOWN TO the bottom floor of Lakeside and then to the Pack Jeep was a lot harder than anticipated. Someone had already started the enchanted water engine for us. I got in on the passenger side. I was so numb. I just kept moving forward on autopilot. I should’ve felt something. Relief, fear, some sort of human emotion, but there was nothing there. Only cold detachment.
Curran pulled a spare set of sweats from the back of the Jeep Wrangler, shifted into human form, put them on, and slid into the driver’s seat. He shifted the Jeep out of park and steered it onto the street. A caravan of Pack Jeeps joined us.
The storm clouds had long since dissipated. The sunset had burned itself out, leaving a mere smudge of red in the sky, a distant memory of its dying. The sky above us turned a deep purple.
My mouth finally moved. “Don’t.”
Curran looked at me.
“Don’t take me back to the Keep. They’ll want an explanation. I can’t do it right now.”
Curran made a sharp right turn into a snowed-in lot between an office building and a ruin. The car screeched to a stop.
Behind us the caravan of vehicles stopped. The leading vehicle’s door opened and Jim trotted out and to our car. Curran rolled down the window, letting the earsplitting noise of the enchanted water engine into the vehicle.
“What’s the problem?” Jim yelled over the noise of the motor.
“No problem,” Curran yelled back. “Go ahead without us.”
“Go ahead without us!”
“Because I want to spend some time with my wife in peace!” Curran roared.
Jim nodded, gave us a thumbs-up, and went back to his Jeep.
Curran rolled the window up. “It’s like living in a fucking fishbowl.”
The Pack vehicles passed us. Curran turned the Jeep and drove in the opposite direction, southwest.
“Where are we going?”
The city slid by the window, the dark silhouettes of buildings, some crumbling, some sturdy and new, highlighted by the blue glow of feylanterns. It was my city now. Truly mine. I’d claimed it and now I was responsible for it.
“I claimed the city,” I told Curran.
“Would you like me to build you an office?”
What? I stared at him.
“You could have a little plaque with your name on it. Kate Daniels, City Owner.”
“It’s not funny.”
“We can get you one of those bank line setups with stanchions and velvet rope and a little pillow in the front, so people can form a line and kneel before you in humble supplication . . .”
“Will you stop?”
“We can get Derek one of those dark suits and aviator shades. He can look menacing and give out numbers. ‘You are seventh in line to bow before Kate Daniels.’”
“I’m going to punch you in the arm,” I growled.
“We can get you a throne with snakes. I’ll stand next to you and roar at anybody who fails to grovel. Fear Kate Daniels. She is a mighty and terrible ruler. Grendel can anoint the petitioners with his vomit. It’ll be great . . .”
Oh God. I put my hands over my face.
“Come on, baby,” he said. “I’m just trying to cheer you up.”
“I claimed territory that my father wanted. He’ll lose his shit completely now. Not only that, but every ambitious idiot with a drop of magical power will know that this area is claimed and will look for whoever claimed it. Not to mention that right now the Witch Oracle, the neo-pagans, and the People are all having a fit of apoplexy. I was supposed to prevent the claiming, not take the city. The Pack Council will be having kittens.”