“Shaddo, Archerr, and I will hold the Queen’s square. Once Talon rises . . .”

Hours yet. It would be hours yet. And all any of them could do was wait.

Talon pressed two fingers against the deceased Warlord’s head, then took a step back, shuddering.

Felt like pebbles in a bag of mush. It would have been less disturbing if the head had exploded from the blast of power. They’d all done that on a killing field at one time or other. But having the ability to explode bone and brains and still leave the skin intact indicated a frightening level of skill in the use of Craft and power.

More than frightening since that level of skill belonged to a dog who wore Birthright Opal and was still growing into his full strength.

“Have you seen anything like this, Talon?” Archerr asked.

The First Circle—and Gray—had gathered at the Healing House to look at this corpse. Talon scanned their faces. Wasn’t one of them who wasn’t sickly pale. Not that he blamed them for that. He was demon-dead, and even he was finding it hard to be in this room.

“No, I haven’t,” Talon replied. “Passing flesh through flesh is dangerous to the point of stupidity. Healers do it, sinking their hands into a person to heal injuries inside the body, but that’s a controlled, steady movement, and they spend years training to do it so they don’t lose parts of themselves within the other flesh.”

“This was fast,” Ranon said, his voice oddly hushed. “So damn fast. I thought he missed. Until I saw the blood on Darkmist’s muzzle and the heart, I thought he missed the bastard.”

“Shaddo and I were behind this one,” Archerr said, tipping his head to indicate the corpse. “Damned queer feeling, seeing the dog disappear like that. We weren’t even sure what we’d seen.”

“No hesitation,” Shaddo said. “The Scelties. Before we had time to figure out something was wrong, they’d decided who among them was fighting and who was defending. Fast. Hell’s fire, they were fast.”

“Wasn’t just the Scelties on the street either,” Spere said. “Duffy knew. He told Moore there was an attack in the village, then left Moore to defend the people working in the landen community while he went out for the shepherds and livestock. And Keely herded every child in the Queen’s square who was playing outside into the nearest house.”

Talon listened to them all. Strong men. Good men. And every one of them, himself included, hadn’t really understood what lived inside those small furry bodies. Despite being around Vae, they really hadn’t understood that these dogs were Blood who had been given exceptional training in Craft—and in fighting.

Once things calmed down, he was going to find out exactly what the Scelties could do.

“They weren’t waiting for me,” Ranon said quietly. “Vae could have taken that bastard. She wears Purple Dusk. He wore Summer-sky. She and Lizzie and Darcy were holding him in place, keeping him pinned, but she could have broken his defensive shields and attacked. I thought she was waiting for me to reach the fight.” He shook his head. “They were waiting for Darkmist.”

That bruises you, doesn’t it?Talon thought.It hurts your heart some to realize they weren’t sure they could count on you to defend one of them. Now you all know the answer.

Powell cleared his throat. “How did this man manage to get his hands on Khollie in the first place?”

“Snatched him,” Shaddo said. “According to Darcy, the three of them heard a man’s voice calling to them. Vae didn’t like something about the voice and stayed put, but it sounded friendly, and Khollie had no reason to think anyone in the village would hurt him, so he moved toward it. So did Darcy, but from another direction. That’s why he picked up the scent and realized the voice was coming from someone who was sight shielded. That made him wary, and he stopped. But Khollie was already close enough to grab. The moment he disappeared, Darcy and Vae warned the other Scelties and launched their attack. You know the rest.”

Talon didn’t know nearly enough, but he knew what had to be done next. “Archerr, Spere, and Haele are coming with me. Ranon—”

“I’m going with you.”

Talon shook his head. Ranon’s eyes were too bright, and he couldn’t tell if the Shaladoran’s temper was leaning toward hot or cold. Which meant Ranon was too unpredictable for this assignment.

“I’ll hold my tongue and my temper,” Ranon said. “You have my word on it. But if you’re taking this back to the mansion, I want to stand as witness. For Khollie’s sake.”

“I’m coming too,” Gray said.

“No, you’re not.” He’d give in for Ranon, but not for Gray. “You’re needed here, Gray. Cassie’s parents are home in Dharo. Even if we sent a message now, they couldn’t get back to Eyota until tomorrow. That means Cassie needs you to be here with her. Your duty is to your Queen, Prince.”

He watched Gray absorb the words—and felt relieved when Gray nodded.

“The rest of you split up. I want the landing webs, north and east, guarded at all times. Anyone can drop from the Winds anywhere along the thread, but from now on, we consider anyone a potential enemy who doesn’t arrive in the village at the landing webs or refuses to tell the guard on duty his business in our village.” Talon flipped the blanket over the corpse, glad to hide that head. “Let’s get this done.”

And may the Darkness have mercy on me if Theran knew about this.

Gray found Cassidy in the garden, leaning against one of the big trees.

“Cassie.” He drew her against him, back to chest, and wrapped his arms around her.

“What am I supposed to tell Jaenelle?” Cassidy asked, her voice breaking. “She trusted me to look after the kindred. She wouldn’t have allowed them to come here otherwise. What am I supposed to tell her?”

He pressed his lips against her temple. “Nothing. Tonight, there is nothing to say. We’ll know more in the morning.”

She turned in his arms and held on to him while she wept.

He held on too and hoped with everything in him that Khollie would wake up because, better than Cassie ever could, he understood the seductive lure of going away from fear and pain and never coming back. Even if that meant dying.

Julien opened the parlor door and said, “Prince Grayhaven, Prince Talon needs to speak with you. It is urgent.”

Theran glanced at Kermilla as he set aside his book and rose. She’d become more and more agitated throughout the afternoon, although she’d refused to tell him why. Even Jhorma couldn’t get an answer from her. Now, hearing Talon’s name, she looked frightened.

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