“What are you trying to say, Phillips?”
“I’m trying to say this is a trap. We walked right out of the city with them and right into a godsdamn trap.”
“Them?” I whispered.
“Kieran,” he answered. “Hawke.”
For a moment, all I could do was stare at him.
“I know you don’t want to hear this. You and Hawke seem…close, but I’m telling you, Maiden, something is not right about this place or about them, and—”
“Evans and Warren are missing.” He referenced the two guards while looking back at the door. “Neither Luddie nor I have seen them since about an hour after we got here. They went to their assigned rooms, and now they have disappeared. Their beds have not been touched, and there’s been no sight of them anywhere in the keep.”
That… If it was true, it was not good. But what he was suggesting was unbelievable. I didn’t know Kieran, but I knew Hawke, and if Hawke trusted Kieran, then I did, too. So, what would Phillips have to gain by saying these things?
My skin chilled when the only option formed in my mind. Phillips had to be a Descenter. Shocked, I didn’t want to believe it, but I remembered how the Descenters at the Rite had been dressed for the celebration. They had been mingling with everyone the entire time. It wasn’t impossible.
Because nothing was.
And if Phillips was a Descenter, then this…this was bad. He was exceptionally well trained. Worse yet, he knew that I was armed and trained, as well, so I didn’t have the element of surprise. I also didn’t like the idea of being in this room alone with him, especially where I didn’t know who was nearby.
I needed to be around people.
“Okay. You’ve…you’ve been at Masadonia for a long time. And Vikter…he always had nothing but good things to say about you,” I told him. As far as I could remember, Vikter had never mentioned Phillips at all, but I needed him to believe me. I opened my senses then. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Thank the gods, you’re smart. I was afraid I would have to drag you out of here.” He glanced at the door once more as his emotions filtered through me. “We need to get out of here and fast.”
“And then what?” It took a moment for me to make sense of what I felt. There was no remarkable pain, but I tasted the tang of…fear.
“Come.” He motioned me toward the door, hand still on the hilt of his sword. He cracked the slab open and checked outside, too quick for me to take advantage of him having his back turned to me. “It’s clear.” His eyes met mine. “I want to believe that you know I’m telling you the truth, but I’m not stupid. I know you’re probably armed, and I know you can use it. So, I want you to keep your hands where I can see them. I don’t want to harm you, but I will incapacitate you if that means getting you out of this place and to somewhere safe.”
Being threatened didn’t exactly make me feel safe, but he was scared.
He was frightened. I knew that much as he stepped aside, and I realized that he wanted me in front of him. My hand twitched to reach for the dagger. What was he afraid of? Getting caught?
“Luddie and Bryant are waiting for us in the stables. They’re readying the horses.”
I nodded, stepping out into the hall just as the door at the other end of the hall opened.
Kieran walked out as cold air rippled down the corridor. Without my cloak, I wouldn’t make it far. Did Phillips not realize that? Or was that not relevant? Kieran came to a stop, his brows raised. “What are you doing out here?”
Before I could answer, I heard Phillips unsheathe his sword. My heart started pounding.
“What are you doing out here?” Phillips demanded. “It’s not time to leave.”
He started forward. “I was going to my room.” His gaze moved back to me. I didn’t think he realized that Phillips had readied his sword. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
Phillips was behind me, and I knew I had to be careful. He may want to keep me alive, but I was just as effective as a message if I were dead. He’d have the sword in my back before I could get a grip on my dagger.
I stared at Kieran silently, hoping to the gods that he was able to see what I couldn’t say.
He came forward, his hand casually going to the sword at his side. “What’s going on here?”
Phillips grabbed hold of my arm, tugging me back. He was fast as he thrust his sword forward. So was Kieran. He deflected the blow, but the deadly point of the blade was only knocked off course. Instead of penetrating his chest, it sliced into his stomach and leg. I cried out as Kieran stared down at himself—
The sound that came from Kieran as he stumbled back raised every single hair on my body. I froze. It started out as a low rumble that was not even remotely a sound a mortal should make. I’d heard it before—the night Rylan had been killed in the Queen’s Garden. The Descenter had made that same sound.
The rumble rose, turning into a deep growl that stole my breath. When he lifted his head, my heart nearly stopped.
His pale blue eyes...
They glowed iridescent in the dim light.
“You really shouldn’t have done that.” The voice that came out of him was garbled and all wrong as if his throat were full of gravel. “At all.”
Kieran tossed his sword aside, and it clattered off the wooden floorboards. I couldn’t understand why he’d throw down his weapon, but then I saw why.
His skin seemed to thin and darken. His jaw popped up, elongating along with his nose. Bones cracked and reformed as fawn-colored fur sprouted from every inch of skin I could see. The tunic he wore split across his chest. His breeches tore as his knees bent. He pitched forward, fingers growing, claws replacing nails. Ears lengthened as he opened his mouth in a cold, violent snarl. Fangs punched out from his jaw as his hands—his paws—smacked down on the floor.
It took seconds—only seconds—and a man no longer stood before us. A huge creature stood on all fours, nearly as tall as Phillips in a solid mass of muscle and sleek fur. What I saw was impossible, what I saw was something that had been extinct for centuries, killed off during the War of Two Kings.
But I knew what Kieran was.
Oh, my gods.
Kieran was a wolven.
“Run!” Phillips shouted, grabbing hold of my arm.
I didn’t need to be told twice.
Phillips was utterly wrong about Hawke, but he wasn’t when it came to Kieran. There was obviously something incredibly not right about him.
Kieran’s claws scraped across wood as he lurched toward us, sweeping out and narrowly missing Phillips’ cloak. I ran faster than I’d ever run in my entire life. I looked over my shoulder as Phillips yanked open the door. Every instinct inside screamed for me not to, but I couldn’t stop myself. I looked.
The wolven leapt, twisting in midair. He landed on the wall. Claws dug into the stone, and then he launched himself off, landing halfway in the hall.
“Go!” Phillips tugged me into the stairwell in front of him.
The space was dark with only the faintest light to lead the way. My boots slipped over the stone. I grabbed the railing as I swung onto the landing, nearly falling. But I didn’t stop.
We blew through the final set of stairs and burst out the door, my brain finally spewing out something helpful, reminding me that I had a weapon. Bloodstone. It could kill a wolven if the heart or head were struck, just like a Craven.
My feet pounded off the frozen ground as I yanked the dagger free.
“The stables.” Phillips ran, his cloak billowing out behind him like waves of black water.
Had Kieran done something to Hawke? My heart lurched—
The howl from above shattered the early morning silence, jerking up my head just as the wolven came over the railing.
He landed on the ground behind us, letting out another spine-tingling howl.
From the woods or from the keep, I heard an answer. A roar that sent a bolt of cold terror through me.
There was more than one.
“Gods.” I gasped, pushing harder than I’d ever pushed before. There was no way I was leaving here without Hawke, but I needed to get as far away from that thing as possible. That was all I could focus on because if I slowed down for even half a second, he would be on me.
We rounded the corner, Phillips slipping but regaining his balance as we rushed toward the stables, not a single guard in sight, and that wasn’t right. There should be guards out at this time.
I saw Luddie and the other guard.
“Shut the doors!” Phillips shouted as we exploded into the stables, startling the saddled horses. “Shut the godsdamn doors!”
The two men turned as I skidded to a stop, whipping around. I knew the moment they saw the wolven.
“Holy shit,” Bryant whispered, the blood draining from his face.
Kieran was gaining on us.
I shot forward to one side of the doors just as Luddie and Bryant snapped out of their shock. Grasping one side along with Luddie, we swung it closed a second before Bryant and Phillips closed their side.
“Bar it!” yelled Luddie, and the other two turned, grabbing the heavy wooden support. They brought it down, and the wood groaned into place.
Panting, I backed up—I kept backing up until I walked into one of the poles. The hilt of the dagger pressed into my palm. I looked down at it, at the wolven bone—
I jumped as the large, double doors shuddered as the wolven crashed into them.
“Is that what I think it is?” someone asked. I think it was Bryant. “A wolven?”
“Unless you know of another large wolf-like creature, then yes.” Phillips turned as Kieran hit the door again, shaking the wooden slab. “That door isn’t going to last. Is there another way out?”
“There’s a back door.” Luddie came forward. “But the horses won’t fit through it.”
“Fuck the horses.” Bryant picked up his sword. “We get out of here, first and foremost.”