“Have you all seen Hawke? He was called away in the middle of the night,” I told them. Three sets of eyes settled on me, and I didn’t care what they thought. “Have any of you seen him?”
A wood board splintered as a clawed, fur-covered hand punched through. Kieran grabbed the chunk of wood, tearing it free.
“We need to go.” Phillips started for me.
I moved out of his way. “I’m not leaving until I find Hawke—”
“Did you just see what I saw?” Phillips demanded, his nostrils flaring. “You told me you understood what I was telling you. Hawke is one of them.”
“Hawke isn’t a wolven,” I argued. “He isn’t a part of that.” I pointed at the door as the wolven took out another section. “You were right about Kieran but not Hawke. Have either of you seen him?”
My head jerked toward the sound of the voice. A man stood in the shadows, and something…something inside me shrank back.
He stepped into the light. Shaggy brown hair. A trace of a beard. Pale, winter blue eyes. A flash of pure, unadulterated rage pulsed through me.
It was him.
The man who’d killed Rylan was here, and he smiled. “Told you I’d be seeing you again.”
My gaze flicked over him, and my brows rose as the three guards pointed their swords at him. “You seem to be missing a hand. I wish I had done that.”
He lifted his left arm that ended in a stump just above his wrist. “I manage.” Those eerie pale eyes flicked to me as the sounds of Kieran ceased behind us. I could only hope that was something that would put the odds of us walking out of this in our favor. “Remember my promise?”
“Bathe in my blood. Feast on my entrails,” I said. “I haven’t forgotten.”
“Good,” he rumbled, taking a step forward. “Because I’m about to make good on that promise.”
“Stay back!” Phillips demanded.
“He’s a wolven,” I warned, now knowing there were at least three at the keep.
“Smart girl,” the man said.
Phillips held his ground. “I don’t care what kind of ungodly creature you are, you take one more step, and it will be your last.”
“Ungodly?” He threw his head back and laughed, lifting his arms at his sides. “We are created in the gods’ very image. It is not us who are the ungodly ones.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself to feel better,” I replied, tightening my grip on the dagger. “The head or the heart, right, Phillips?”
“Yes.” Phillips dipped his chin. “Either will—”
Behind us, the slab splintered as the doors blew off their hinges, slamming into the sides of the barn. The horses reared, but tethered, they had no place to go. I twisted sideways, keeping my dagger pointed at the wolven as I looked, fully expecting to see Kieran tearing across the straw.
What I saw almost brought me to my knees.
“Hawke!” I cried out, too relieved to be embarrassed about how I sounded as I started toward him. “Thank the gods, you’re okay.”
“Stay back from him.” Phillips caught my arm.
I went to pull free of Phillips as I saw that Hawke carried something in his hand. It looked like a curved bow, but it was mounted to a handle of some sort, and a bolt was already nocked, somehow held in place. Whatever. It would work. “Kill him!” I shouted, slipping free of Phillips. “He was the one—”
A hulking shape appeared behind him, so huge it nearly reached Hawke’s chest. Kieran prowled toward him. My heartbeat stuttered. “Hawke, behind you!” I screamed.
Phillips caught me around the waist, dragging me back as Hawke lifted the strange bow. Kieran was almost on him, and I didn’t see any bloodstone on the bow. It wouldn’t kill him.
Hawke’s gaze met mine. “It’s okay.”
Without any warning, Phillips was torn away from me. I fell forward, landing on my knees. My braid slipped over my shoulder as I looked behind me, half expecting to see the wolven with Phillips in his grasp.
The wolven from the Queen’s Garden hadn’t moved, but Phillips…
Phillips was leaning against the pole, the sword lying on the straw. Wait. He was leaning because his feet weren’t even touching the ground, and something dark dripped onto the straw. I looked up.
I couldn’t even scream as my stomach roiled. Hawke had fired the bow. I hadn’t even seen him do it, but he had. The bolt had gone through Phillips’ mouth and through the pole, pinning him there.
Shuddering, I heard Luddie shouting. I dragged my gaze from Phillips as I turned back to Hawke.
In wolven form, Kieran stalked right past him, his large head low to the straw as he sniffed the air. Luddie charged him, but he lost his footing, falling forward.
I took a breath, but pressure squeezed it right back out of me.
Luddie hadn’t tripped.
The black bolt had caught him in the back. Stepping out from behind one of the horses was the guard who’d greeted us at the door the day before. Delano. He had those pale eyes, too. Eyes that I now knew belonged to the wolven. He lowered the bow.
Spinning around, he made a run for it, but he didn’t make it far. Kieran crouched and then launched into the air. As sleek and as fast as any arrow—and just as accurate. He landed on Bryant’s back, taking him to the straw. The guard didn’t even have a chance to scream. The wolven bared his teeth and lunged—
I cranked my head away at the wet crunch that echoed through the barn.
Then there was silence.
I saw the man who’d killed Rylan stride forward, his long-legged pace loose and relaxed. He smirked down at me. “I’m so glad I’m here to witness this moment.”
“Shut up, Jericho,” Hawke replied, tone flat.
Slowly, I looked at Hawke. He stood where he’d stopped, the wind lifting and tossing those dark strands of hair back from his striking face. He appeared as he had when he left the room in the middle of the night, like he had hours before that when he’d kissed me, touched me, and held me in his arms.
But he stood there with a bloodied wolven standing next to him.
“Hawke?” I whispered, my free hand grasping at the damp straw under me.
He stared at me, and my gift came alive. The invisible cord reached out, forming a connection, and I felt…I felt nothing from him. No pain. No sadness. Nothing.
I drew back, my chest rising and falling. Something had to be wrong with my gift. Only the Ascended lacked emotions. Not mortals. Not Hawke. But it was like the connection had hit a brick wall as thick as the Rise.
As formidable as the wall I built around myself when I tried to keep my gift locked inside. Was he…was he blocking me? Was that even possible?
“Please tell me I can kill her,” Jericho said. “I know exactly what pieces I want to cut up and send back.”
“Touch her, and you’ll lose more than a hand this time.” The coldness in Hawke’s tone chilled me to my very soul. “We need her.” His gaze never left me. “Alive.”
On my knees, I stared up at Hawke, hearing his words and seeing what was happening, but it was like my brain couldn’t process any of it.
Or my brain was processing it and my heart…my heart was denying it.
We need her.
“You’re no fun,” Jericho muttered. “Have I told you that before?”
“A time or a dozen,” Hawke answered, and I flinched. My entire body recoiled. His jaw tightened, and he looked away, scanning the barn. “This mess needs to be cleaned up.”
Beside him, the wolven shook itself, a lot like a dog after coming in from the rain. And then it rose on its hind legs and shifted, fur curling inward to reveal skin that was thickening. Legs straightened, and fingers returned to their normal sizes. The jaw snapped back into place. Shirt lost somewhere, Kieran stood in torn breeches, the wound in his stomach from Phillips’ sword nothing more than a pink mark.
I sat back.
Kieran twisted his neck from left to right, cracking it. “This isn’t the only mess that needs to be cleaned up.”
A muscle flexed in Hawke’s jaw as he looked at me. “You and I need to talk.”
“Talk?” A laugh escaped me, and it sounded all wrong.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” he replied, and I heard a shade of the teasing tone I was familiar with.
It caused me to flinch again. “Where…where are the other two guards?”
“Dead,” he answered without an ounce of hesitation as he rested the bow on his shoulder. “It was an unfortunate necessity.”
“I’m good at what I do.”
“And what is that?”
I knew without a doubt that when he’d left the room, that was what he’d done. There was a buzzing in my ears as I became aware of others gathering behind him in the yard, their bodies still in the filtered morning sun.
He took a step toward me. “Let’s—”
“No.” I popped to my feet, surprisingly steady. “Tell me what’s going on here.”
Hawke stopped. When he spoke, his voice had softened just a fraction. “You know what’s going on here.”
The next breath I took scorched my throat and lungs because I realized that I did. Oh, gods, I did know what was going on here. The buzzing increased as I saw Elijah standing outside, arms folded across his barrel chest. I saw Magda, one hand protectively cradling her baby bump as she stared into the barn, her face pinched with…with sympathy and pity.
You deserve so much more than what awaits you.
That’s what he’d said to me last night. And me, stupid, naive me, thought he’d meant my Ascension. No. He’d meant this.
Magda turned, brushing past Elijah as she walked back to the keep.
“Phillips was right,” I said, my voice trembling as I said it, as I gave life to what I already knew.