“Wait,” Towers said.
Diana shot forward, bringing her saber up for a thrust. It was a good thrust, well aimed and fast. Hugh met her halfway. His gladius slipped into her side almost on its own. He spun her about, clamped her to him, her back against his chest, and held the blade covered with her blood to her throat. It took less than a second.
Argh. I grabbed the bars. Magic burned me and I let go.
“Tell me, Kate,” he said, his voice casual. “When Lennart is on top of you and you’re waiting for him to finish, do you ever think of me? Just to spice things up.”
Diana rasped, gasping for breath. Her side bled as her body pumped her lifeblood out of the wound.
“No,” I ground through my teeth. “But when I feel down, I picture killing you and it cheers me right up. It makes me giggle.”
Hugh laughed and jerked Diana up, her temple pressed against his cheek. “See that woman you put in the cage?”
Diana’s breath came out in hoarse gasps.
“Ask her for your life,” Hugh said.
“You fucking bastard.” When I got out of here, I would cut pieces off him until he stopped moving.
“Ask her nice,” Hugh repeated. “If she gives you your life back, I’ll let you go.”
“You made your point. I don’t want her to die,” I said.
“Ask her,” Hugh said.
Diana’s lips moved. “Fuck you.”
“Wrong answer.” Hugh sliced her throat and stepped back. The female knight froze, upright, eyes opened wide. Dark blood gushed from her throat. Her eyes rolled up and she stumbled and fell. Her blood spread in a wide puddle on the floor.
Nick’s eyes were empty. He looked at the blood, seemingly untroubled by it. He might as well have been dead.
“A waste.” Hugh flicked the blood off his sword.
Towers moved forward, cautious. He moved like a spooked cat, light on his toes and jumpy.
Had everyone gone crazy today? “What are you doing? Just shoot this asshole! He can’t keep using power words. He’ll run out of juice before you run out of crossbow bolts.”
“Swordsman, huh.” Hugh put the gladius on the examination table behind him. “Look, Ma, no sword.”
Towers darted at him and thrust, lightning-fast. Hugh leaned out of the way just enough for the blade to miss, grabbed Towers’s wrist, leaned back, and hammered a side kick into the knight’s ribs, just above his right hip. The kick didn’t just land, it exploded. Towers stumbled back, bending over his injured side.
Hugh smiled and motioned him over. “Come on.”
Towers darted in and slashed left to right, aiming for Hugh’s throat. Too slow; I’d lean back.
Hugh leaned back and the blade grazed his left shoulder.
Towers reversed his swing and tried to smash the pommel of the sword into Hugh’s face, leaving his midsection wide open. You could drive a bloody cart through that opening.
Hugh dodged, grabbed his gladius from the exam table, and cut at Towers. The first blow opened the knight’s stomach. Before he had a chance to reel, Hugh sank a sharp precise thrust to the knight’s side, right between the ribs into the liver.
Towers dropped to his knees, cradling his guts. Hugh grabbed his hair. “Ask her for your life.”
“I want him to live,” I ground out.
“He has to ask,” Hugh told me.
Towers jerked a knife from his belt and buried it in Hugh’s thigh.
“I guess we’ve got ourselves a no.” Hugh stabbed his gladius into the knight’s chest.
Towers gurgled and sagged to the floor.
I spun in the cage, helpless. He kept killing them and they kept dying and I could only watch. Rage boiled inside me. “Why are you doing this?”
Hugh flicked the blood off his sword. “You wanted me to show you something.”
“Well, so far all I’ve seen is you killing the Order’s second-best. Pick on someone your own size.”
“All in good time.” Hugh smiled at me, his eyes cold.
Where the hell were the PAD and the National Guard? How long did it take them to mobilize?
“Like it or not,” he said, “you’re still his daughter. Run from it, spit on it, that’s your choice. Those of the blood can insult the blood. Nobody else. I won’t allow it.”
I finally understood. This wasn’t just about me; this was about the Order dragging my name through the mud after I left and then caging me here now. This wasn’t just elimination. This was punishment. He would kill every knight in the chapter but not before he made all of them submit to me and beg me for their lives.
I had to do something.
The ward between the bars of the cage wasn’t solid. It hurt like hell when I thrust my hand through it, but I could thrust it. I turned my back to Hugh and clawed the cut on my left forearm. Pain lanced me. Crimson washed my skin, the magic in it alive and ready. I pulled it, shaping it with my will into a five-inch-long spike. It was long and sharp and an eye was such a soft target, with the brain right behind it. I just had to get him close to the cage.
“You’re going to want to see this next part,” Hugh said. “I’m just getting started. Or is it too much for you?”
I turned to Hugh. “I keep thinking about the fire that destroyed your castle. Nobody could’ve lived through that. What if you aren’t even you?”
Hugh stepped closer to the cage.
“What if my father has a closet full of Hughs, and every time Curran and I break one, he just pulls another copy out?”
Hugh stepped over Towers’s body and slowly, deliberately walked over to the bars. Just out of striking range. All I needed was another two or three inches.
“I once watched a movie where a man made clones of himself,” I told him. “Each clone was dumber than the previous one. I think that actually might be true. You’ve attacked the Order. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve seen you do yet.”
Hugh leaned forward. His blue eyes fixed on me, hard and predatory. That’s right, show me how big and bad you are. Come on. Tell me all about it. Come closer. Closer.
“Tell me, what’s your number, clone-Hugh?”
“You want to know how I survived? He stole a phoenix egg and put me inside it. For two months I soaked in it, growing new skin and a new spine, and thought of what I would do to Lennart and you when I got out.” Hugh leaned closer. Another inch and we’d be in business. “And let me tell you, the look on your face when you watch them die makes it all worth it.”