The dog sounded panicked. *Khollie? What’s wrong?* By the time Ranon turned away from the counter and took the first step, Lizzie had passed through the door and charged down the street.
More than panic now. All he heard was terror.
Ranon burst out of Heartbeat and headed down the street, not quite running as he shaped a tight, double layer of Opal shields around himself—the kind of shielding a Warlord Prince used on a killing field.
Not quite running toward the commotion near Elders’ Park, but aware of everything around him. Aware of confused feelings edging toward anger that created a psychic buzz so thick and harsh it was almost a sound. Aware of Wynne and Kharr herding the children who had come for story time into a tight flock that could be defended. Aware of Vae, Darcy, and Lizzie snapping and snarling as they circled around something that kept trying to move away from Elders’ Park and all the people.
*Ranon?* Archerr called. *What in the name of Hell is going on?*
*I don’t know.* Ranon slowed down as he scanned the street. *The Scelties are all acting strange. Maybe a piglet or chicken got loose and they’re making a game of herding it.* But he’d see or hear an animal if it was caught between the three dogs. And that didn’t explain Wynne and Kharr’s behavior—or why he couldn’t spot Khollie.
Then Vae charged the empty space within the Sceltie triangle and hitsomething with a blast of Purple Dusk power.
A sight shield broke, revealing an unknown Warlord.
Ranon froze for just a moment as he remembered the day the Scelties arrived in Eyota and how one of them had located Archerr by scent, despite the Warlord Prince being sight shielded.
They had known he was there. He’d slipped past us, but they had . . .
That was when he saw the rest, and a cold rage burned through him as he strode down the street.
The bastard had a hand around Khollie’s neck, holding the dog off the ground that way. Not by the scruff,by the neck.
The Scelties looked at him and hesitated a moment, then resumed their attack, hitting the defensive shields the stranger threw around himself.
At first Ranon wondered why Vae and the others were throwing themselves against the stranger’s shields. That tactic was draining the Scelties’ power as well as the Warlord’s, and Ranon thought it a waste of their strength until he realized the brilliance of their fight. The dumb, two-legged sheep was caught in a snapping triangle, unable to run away—and too harried to notice the enraged Warlord Princes closing in on him.
As he moved toward the fight, Ranon’s eyes flicked from one side of the street to the other. Kharr and Wynne had the children and elders well shielded. Shaddo and Archerr were coming up the street to flank the bastard. Vae, Darcy, and Lizzie continued their relentless attack, wearing down the Warlord’s power and shields.
And Khollie . . .
Khollie hung limp and unmoving in the bastard’s grasp.
Ranon called in his fighting knife and used Craft to create a flash of light on the blade, deliberately forcing the Warlord’s attention on himself now.
“Let him go,” Ranon snarled.
The Warlord shifted his arm to use Khollie’s hanging body as a shield. “You’ve got plenty of them.” He sounding desperate. “We only want one. We’ll take this one. He’s already damaged.”
“How dare you?” Ranon’s voice sounded barely human. “Let my little brother go!”
No way for the man to catch the Winds from this part of the street. No way for the Warlord to get away, not with the three Scelties keeping him pinned. No chance of the bastard winning a fight, not with three Warlord Princes standing on this killing field ready to rip him apart.
Then Darkmist charged up the street, heading straight for the Warlord.
Perfect. If Darkmist hit the Warlord in the back, that would be the distraction Ranon needed to strike without endangering Khollie.
*Vae,* Ranon said. *As soon as I break that bastard’s shields, you grab Khollie and run.*
*We will catch Khollie,* she replied, continuing to keep the Warlord in position for the best strike.
He kept his eyes on the stranger, but he couldfeel Darkmist and knew the moment he needed to unleash a punch of Opal power and break the man’s shields so the dog could strike.
A second after the shields broke, Darkmist leaped . . . andmissed. The man’s open coat flapped as the dog sailed past.
An odd look flashed over the Warlord’s face as he staggered a step and dropped Khollie. At the same time, Vae leaped, grabbed one of Khollie’s front legs, and kept going, running on air and pulling Khollie with her as Darcy and Lizzie scattered.
Then Ranon noticed the blood on Darkmist’s muzzle. Saw the thing in Darkmist’s jaws beat once, twice. And once more before those jaws closed on a still-beating heart.
Darkmist whirled to face the Warlord. Ranon felt the punch of furious Opal power—and saw the man’s head puff for a moment before he fell to the ground.
The dog hadn’t missed. Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful. The dog hadn’t missed. He’dpassed through the man’s body and snatched the heart right out of the man’s chest.
The thought of the skill and training it took to do something like that knocked Ranon back from the killing edge.
Vanishing the knife, he rushed over to the spot where Vae guarded Khollie. He dropped to his knees and reached for the little dog—and snatched his hand back in time to keep from losing a finger as Mist, still riding the killing edge, dropped the heart and snapped at him.
“Let me help him, Mist,” Ranon said. “He’s your brother, but he’s my friend. Step back now.Step back. ”
There were sounds all around him now, people all around now, but the only thing that mattered was the other Opal-Jeweled Warlord Prince.
Mist took a step back. His eyes were still glazed and he still growled. Probably wasn’t even aware of it.
Watching Mist, Ranon placed a hand on Khollie. “Khollie?” He felt the dog’s heart beat, felt the lungs rise and fall with each breath. “Khollie?” He began a careful exploration, hesitating when he got to the neck. Was it damaged?
The dark eyes, usually filled with joy, were closed.
“Hell’s fire, Ranon,” Shaddo said, approaching carefully since there were two Opal Warlord Princes whose tempers were unpredictable right now. “Is he all right?”
“I don’t know.” Ranon stripped off his shirt and wrapped Khollie in it before he stood up and looked around. “I need to get him to Shira, but I . . . we . . . walked over.”