I opened my mouth, and the only thing I could say was, “Is your son with you now?”
“The Ascended will never get their hands on Tobias,” he vowed. “We will not lose another to them.”
Rattled as my gift came alive, I was barely able to pay attention to what Delano said. “And you would betray the Prince, who aided your family in escape? Who made sure that your child could grow and thrive?”
Mr. Tulis didn’t take his eyes off me. “I would do anything to feel the blood of the Ascended flowing on my hands.”
“I’m not an Ascended,” I whispered.
“No,” he sneered, brandishing a knife. “You’re just their whole future.”
I wanted to tell him that I planned to go to the Queen on their behalf, but I didn’t get the chance. Not that it would’ve made a difference. Not with that kind of loathing radiating out from him.
“Don’t do this,” Delano warned, unsheathing his sword.
“He’ll get over it,” Jericho said. “And if we have to kill you two to make sure he never finds out, then so be it. It’s your grave. Not mine.”
Everything happened so fast.
Rolf pushed Mr. Tulis back as Naill struck like a coiled viper, grabbing the larger man by the chest. Naill sank his teeth into his neck, tearing, ripping—
A man crashed into Naill, pulling him free from Rolf, who stumbled into the bars. Blood poured, and the man laughed. “You bit me.” He threw his arms out as his back bowed, cracked. “You actually bit me,” he said, the last of his words turning to gravel as his knees bent. He snarled, going down on all fours.
Naill kicked the man off, baring his fangs in a hiss that sounded so cat-like that I thought of the predator I’d seen in the cage all those years ago.
The cave cat that Hawke always reminded me of.
Naill flew at the man, taking him to the ground as Delano turned to me. “Kill any of them that get close to you.” He threw his sword at me, and I caught it in surprise as he turned back to those gathering at the cell door.
Delano shifted, splitting his shirt up his back as he fell forward, his lengthening hands smacking against the ground as white fur sprouted in a blinding flash over his mammoth form.
In a heartbeat, a massive wolven stood beside me just as others appeared in the hall.
“It’s a party,” Jericho said, and whatever hope I had that they were going to help ended right there. He winked at me. “You’re popular.”
“And I have two hands,” I retorted.
The smirk faded from his face.
Rolf came into the enclosure, and Delano crashed into him. They rolled across the cell, a ball of brown and white fur. Delano gained the upper hand, snapping his teeth inches from Rolf’s.
Naill snatched up one of the men in a run. He turned, slamming the man into the bars with such force that it cracked the iron. That man went down, and he didn’t get back up.
The Atlantian turned, reaching for one of the others who’d slipped past into the cell. One quick glance at the eyes—neither ice-blue nor golden amber—told me that I was squaring off with a mortal. The one who’d spoken first.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I said.
“That’s okay,” he said, holding a wicked sickle-shaped sword. “But I want to hurt you.”
He charged forward with a cry, and it was all too easy to step aside. I spun, bringing the hilt of the sword down on the back of his head, knocking him out. Maybe doing a little more damage. I didn’t want to acknowledge that his words had affected me so greatly that I hadn’t delivered a purposely fatal blow.
What came through next wasn’t mortal. It was a large, brindle-colored wolven. Lips peeled back, vibrating with its snarl as it bared huge teeth.
“Fuck,” I whispered.
The wolven launched itself at me. I jumped back, swinging out. The edge of the sword nicked the side of the creature as he hit the wall and immediately jumped off. I spun in a panic, arcing out with the sword. It caught the massive beast in the stomach this time. Yanking on the sword, it wouldn’t budge as the wolven yipped and swiped out. I let go of the sword, but I wasn’t quick enough. Claws caught the front of my tunic, just below the neck. Cloth tore, and a sharp, stinging pain shot down my entire front.
Staggering back, I looked down to see half my shirt gaping open, and red dotting my exposed skin.
Naill rushed forward. “The sickle sword!” he yelled. “Get the—”
A man brought some kind of club down on the back of his head. Naill’s entire body spasmed as his eyes rolled back. He went down as I dove for the sickle sword.
There was a yelp as I rose. It was Delano. Blood matted his white fur, and I prayed it was Rolf’s.
Delano staggered to the side, and I knew then that it was not. It was Delano’s. One of his legs collapsed under him, and he went down as Rolf prowled toward him, shaking his large head.
I didn’t know why I did what I did next. I needed to focus on the others who were determined to murder me, but I shot forward, swinging the sickle sword down along the back of the wolven’s neck. The blade was so sharp that it sliced through sinew and bone like a knife through butter.
Rolf didn’t even yelp. There’d been no time for that.
And there had been no time to avoid the blow that landed in the middle of my back, knocking me to the ground. My back burned, but I held onto the sword, breathing through the fire that seemed to have ignited—
I screamed. Sharp daggers dug into my shoulder, roughly flipping me onto my back. Not daggers. Claws. I swung the sickle blade, and it sliced into the side of the wolven. Snarling, it scrambled off me, and I rolled, vision seeming to blur for a second as I pushed to my knee.
I never saw the boot coming.
Pain exploded along my ribs as the air punched out of my lungs. I fell to my side as fiery pain erupted along my left arm. I scuttled backward as I looked up.
Jericho prowled forward. “What did I promise?”
“Bathe in my blood.” I wheezed, thinking my ribs were definitely broken. “Feast on my entrails.”
“Yes.” He knelt down. “Yes, I—”
I swiped out with the sword. Jericho jerked back quickly, falling on his ass. He shouted, his body contorting and straightening.
“You bitch,” he spat, lifting his face. The sickle had split open his cheek and his forehead.
“I’m going to rip you in two.”
“Will that help you grow back that hand?” I asked, rising to my feet. It hurt. “Or the eye?” I shuffled around him, giving him a wide berth as I turned—
I saw Mr. Tulis, and the strangest thing happened when my eyes met his. The next breath I took seemed to be swept away in an explosion of pain that came from my stomach. My entire body spasmed, and I dropped the sword.
Confused, I looked down. Something was in my stomach. A dagger. A dagger’s blade. I lifted my head. “I…I was…relieved when I didn’t see you and your son at the Rite.”
Mr. Tulis’s eyes widened as I reached down, pulling the dagger free, tearing a scream from my throat. I stepped back, trying to catch my breath as the blood ran down my legs. I turned, hearing Jericho climbing to his feet. His right hand…it didn’t look human anymore, and when it snapped out, I couldn’t even move fast enough. His claws sliced through the cloth and flesh, and my foot slipped on the floor now slick with blood—my blood.
My left leg gave way, and I went down. I tried to throw my arms out to catch myself, but they wouldn’t respond to the orders my brain was demanding. I fell, barely feeling the impact.
I tried. I still held the dagger. I could feel it against my palm.
There...were cheers. I heard a cheer from someone.
I shuddered at the gathering metallic taste in the back of my throat. I knew what that meant. I knew what being unable to move my arms or to stay on my feet meant.
Jericho’s bleeding face appeared above me, his shaggy hair matted with blood. “You know which part I’m going to start with? Your hand.” He picked up my arm. “I think I’ll keep it as a souvenir.” The glint of a blade appeared. “I know exactly how I’ll make use of it, too. What do you all think?” he asked.
Laughter greeted him, and someone suggested other parts to keep. Parts that brought forth more laughter.
I was dying.
All I could do was hope that it was fast, that I wouldn’t stay conscious through what was about to come.
“Better get started!” Jericho laughed as he swung the blade down.
The blow never landed.
At first, I thought it was simply because I’d gone numb, but then I realized Jericho was no longer standing above me. There were sounds—shouts and growls. High-pitched yelps, and then I felt a warm puff of breath against the top of my head, over my cheek. I turned my head and saw pale blue eyes and fur as white as snow. The wolven nudged my cheek with its damp nose, and then it lifted its head and howled.
I blinked, and suddenly there was a shadow falling over me. Above me, Kieran loomed. “Shit,” he said. “Get the Prince. Get him now.”
Gentle arms lifted me from the dirt floor. Kieran. His face blurred, and there was buzzing in my ears. Everything around me faded out until there was nothing, and I felt no pain. I stayed there until I heard him calling for me. Hawke.
“Open your eyes, Poppy. Come on,” he urged, and I felt fingers prying the dagger from my hand. It thunked off the floor next to me. His hand curved along my chin. “I need you to open your eyes. Please.”
I’d never heard him say the word please like that. My sluggish heart rate picked up as awareness returned, bringing with it burning, sweeping pain. I forced my eyes open.
“There you are.” A smile appeared, but it was all wrong and forced. There were no deep dimples, no warmth or laughing light to his golden eyes.
Out of lack of willpower or stupidity, I did what I hadn’t since I discovered the truth about him. I reached out with my weakening senses and felt the hum of anguish from him. It ran deeper than before, no longer feeling like chips of ice against my skin but like daggers.