"After a lifetime of working to defend humanity, after all the sacrifices I made, I've finally comprehended that I was protecting the weak-when I should have been championing the strong!"
"Dad, no! Why does it have to be one or the other?"
He floated to his feet with an eerie fluidity. "It's become so clear to me." His abyss eyes gleamed with an unnerving light. "They have to be destroyed!"
"Listen to what you're saying! Destroy mankind? Don't be like this, just . . . don't."
As if he hadn't heard her, he said, "There are only two people in the world that I love, and now you are both immortal. This is all meant to be!"
She was almost too afraid to ask: "Who's the other one?"
"Declan Chase, the Blademan. He's a son to me. I found him when he was just a scared teenager, knew he had Lorean blood in him." In a fond tone, he said, "I raised him to hate immortals, to battle them, but he saw the light before I did. Now he's a champion of the Lore. I'll take you to him. I want you to meet."
"Why would I ever?"
"With you by my side, he might not kill me on sight."
When she gazed blankly at him, Dad said, "Before my epiphany, I had his female . . . studied." A bloody, sheepish grin. "He was violently displeased."
"You think?" MacRieve too had been studied.
"But that was before I discovered the true path!" He was getting worked up again. He of the stiff upper lip was unraveling. "With your help, we can convince Declan to join us. To start a new Order! My daughter and my son will be my first generals."
Who are you? "I don't know what's scarier-your insane plans or the fact that you think I'll be on board with them."
"I will convince you. I must." He rubbed his hand over his mouth, smearing blood all over his chin. "The three of us will lead the charge-to purge the earth of the weak!"
Insane. As she stared at his semi-familiar face, she realized her dad had ceased to be the last night she'd seen him as a man, the night he'd given her the book.
It had been his deathbed gift.
This being was not her father, not Dustin Todd, the devoted dad who'd cheered her pattering around the yard with a miniature soccer ball. Her eyes watered. This was Commander Preston Webb.
My dad's dead.
"With these new powers, I can usher in a new era," he said with maniacal fervor. "I'll have a Lykae's senses, a vemon's strength, and a fey's speed. I'll be able to harvest nourishment from lightning like a Valkyrie. I already have a vampire's strengths. I can reap power-and a being's memories-from blood, but have no aversion to the sun. I can trace over the entire world."
"You must be very proud," she bit out, wondering how to get away from him. But first, she had to know one thing. "Did you kill my mother?"
His expression didn't change, even as he nodded. "I loved Fiore, more than anything. Yet she filled me with doubt, made me question my mission." In an absent tone, he murmured, "Guarding the monstrous ones was relatively easy. It was far more difficult to guard the innocent-faced ones, the beautiful ones. They called to our sympathy." He shook his head. "And then she tried to take you from me."
"Probably because you would've killed me if I'd tested out as a Lorean!"
"No! I wasn't ready to accept the Lore for her-but I was for you. Part of the reason that I chose to take that capsule was because I knew you were going to transition."
That hyped-up blood. Even with MacRieve's new strength, he might not be able to match Webb's. Which meant she needed to get this being out of here before MacRieve returned. "You have to go. Do you understand whose home this is?"
"It belongs to the Lykae from my prison. I drank someone with that knowledge-not to the death, of course; we're going to need all our numbers." He grinned with ravaged lips. "How do you think I found you?"
We vowed no' to tell you anything."
"What the hell?" Will snapped, wishing he could throttle Ronan over the phone. "My brother's missing?"
The boy said, "Munro heard about these warlocks who were turning humans into Lykae and enslaving them."
Will cursed. There was a reason Lykae never turned humans into their kind. Turned Lykae were violent, unthinking creatures. "The warlocks are called Those Best Forgotten, no?" He was familiar with that sect. Around each Accession, they created armies of Lykae on their home plane of Quondam.
"That's them! Some real bad dudes. They sacrifice nymphs. Talk about a waste. I mean, what are they thinking-"
"Right. Anyway, so Munro and Madadh and six others were going to raid the lair and free some new wolves. They had a nymph informant who knew of a limited-time weak spot in the Forgotten's defenses. It was the night of the full moon, so it should've been a snap. Before he left, Munro told me and Ben that you already had more on your plate than you can handle. We were no' to tell anyone of this-but especially no' you-unless they didn't return by today."
Will had known something was wrong with Munro after there'd been no response to his last message: Munro, I need to speak with you. Where the hell are you? I went to the bluidy Ubus Realm! No shite, can you believe it? Chloe has relatives there. They've honor, and they're strong. Ach, brother, you'll no' believe the things I've seen and learned. Call me back.
"Then this was a set-up." To what end? Why risk an eight-Lykae raid?
Ronan said, "Lachlain, Garreth, and Bowen are all meeting here at midnight to organize a full-scale assault. No' less than a hundred. Happy Accession, you know what I mean?"
"Tell Lachlain and the others that I'll be there tonight."
"You bringing Chloe?" Ronan asked.
"If I can help it, she'll never leave my side."
"Good man! See you later."
Will hung up the phone and bellowed, "Lass, we need to leave. Now! Munro's in a spot!"
He inhaled for her scent, past the fragrance of the sera tree and the damp of the old stone-
Caught it. Wait, that canna be right. Will smelled myriad beings: Lykae, vampire, demon, even Valkyrie.
He took off in a sprint, barreling headlong for his mate.
Now, beast. Now we earn our keep.
Chloe gave a cry when the double doors to the courtyard blasted open, flying off their hinges.
MacRieve charged out, fangs bared, claws flared. An awing sight.
With a deafening roar, he lunged through the air at Webb. Impact! MacRieve tackled him so hard that the two males crashed over the cobblestones, plowing them like a tiller.
Stone rained in all directions.
Webb might be coming into his strength, but MacRieve was protecting his mate. He pinned Webb, one hand crushing his windpipe, his other hand raised.
Webb dug his claws into MacRieve's arm, flailing, unable to budge a Lykae's hold.
Just as MacRieve was about to swipe his glinting black claws through his prey, Chloe cried, "It's him, MacRieve! It's . . . Webb."
MacRieve stayed his hand midstrike. With a hard shake of his head, he began caging his beast before her eyes. Voice rough, he said, "I doona understand this."
She answered, "He's turned himself into a mix of creatures."
"Tell me what you want me to do. It'll be done."
He'd said he would give up his quest for retribution against Webb, but to see him shake off his hatred and ferocity like this for her . . .
Chloe's eyes watered once more. MacRieve was giving her the choice.
Though she'd accepted her dad's death and knew this wasn't her father, she didn't want MacRieve to ever regret killing her "sire."
"Let him go."
With a shove, MacRieve released him, then hastened to stand in front of her, shielding her.
Webb rose with that creepy grace, rubbing his throat.
"He's leaving, for good," she said. "Isn't that right, Webb?"
He narrowed his eyes at MacRieve. "Mercy from a Lykae? And after everything I had done to you? I remember you were one of Dixon's favorites. She loved to talk about your experiments over biscotti and coffee."
Not my dad, not my dad.
MacRieve tensed even more, but his tone was steady when he said, "Aye. A small price to pay. If no' for my time in prison, I would no' have found Chloe."
She moved beside MacRieve, taking his hand.
"You think you're good enough for my daughter?" Webb asked.
"I think she's chosen me. Now, get the fuck off our lands."
Webb offered his hand to Chloe. "Come with me, daughter. We can start our own kingdom."
With a growl, MacRieve clutched her closer, pressing her against his side.
"I'm staying here," she said. "Where I belong. And if you ever cared about me at all, you'll leave and never come back."
As if she hadn't spoken, Webb said, "I can trace, Lykae. Do you think you can stop me from snatching her away if I want to?"
"She can stop you, old man. You underestimate your daughter at your peril."
At that, Webb told her, "I'll go. But know that you'll always have me, daughter. I'll forever be in the shadows watching over you." He smiled a macabre grin. "In time, you'll change your mind. It might take a hundred years or two, but you will."
"You keep to those shadows, Webb," MacRieve grated. "Emerge from them, and I vow to the Lore I'll take your goddamned head."
"Good-bye for now, Chloe," Webb murmured, just before he vanished into thin air.
Her knees gave out, but MacRieve caught her, pulling her to his chest.
"I'm so sorry, lass. I know how much this must hurt."
She rubbed her watering eyes. "It does, but I don't consider that man my dad. That was Webb. Dustin Todd died two months ago."
"Ach, mo chridhe, please doona cry."
MacRieve had told her how he'd felt to see her tears, so she tried to stem them. "It's going to take a while for me to come to terms with this."
He pressed a kiss against her hair. "I'll help you. I'll be there for you."
"I know you will. But I can sort out my feelings later. Did I hear you yelling that Munro is in trouble?"
"Aye. Can I tell you while you pack a bag?"
When she nodded, he took her elbow to squire her inside.
As she stuffed clothes into her new carry-on, he explained everything Ronan had told him, a tale of warlocks, and raids, and sacrificial nymphs. . . .
He finished by telling her, "Munro was most likely captured."
"How are you handling this?" she asked. His eyes were golden. No beast raging?
"I'd know if he'd died," MacRieve said simply. "My beast would be in a howling frenzy for its brother wolf. Which means Munro's likely in a warlock dungeon, spitting mad. Or . . ."
"Chloe, they enslave our kind, building armies of Lykae, as mindless as revenants or ghouls. The warlocks call them vassals. We doona know how they control born Lykae. Now turned Lykae? That I can understand."
"Why? How are they turned?" She zipped up her bag.
"A human must be bitten by a Lykae whose beast is fully risen. With the bite, the Lykae transfers part of his beast into the mortal."
She blinked at him. "Different from a claiming bite?"
"Aye. And more, the catalyst for the change is death."
Her eyes narrowed. "So all those turned humans had to die first?"
"And few will rise. There's no guarantee. All we know is that in turned Lykae, the former mortal has zero control over the beast that's been shoved inside him."
Like MacRieve had once had little control. This must be hitting him hard.
"It takes years of work to get them even into the realm of civilized. Munro, being Munro, would have been ready to adopt a legion of noob Lykae. I'm no' surprised whatsoever that he led that raid."
Bag in hand, she started for the door. "We have to go break him out."
"We?" He followed, collecting the bag from her. "You think you're ready to tussle with warlocks?"
At the top of the stairs, she said, "I've been preparing for this all my life-I just didn't know it. I won't cower from a charge, won't panic under pressure. If eleven of them bear down on me, I can run circles around them. Think about it, Will, I'd make a helluva wingman."
"I'll scout the field of play"-he brushed his knuckles over her face-"but T-Rex's spot on first string is looking solid. I pity unsuspecting warlocks."
She tilted her head. "I thought you'd react differently." But then, she'd thought she would react differently to seeing her father.
"Expecting me to lose my shite? I've got my mate, and she's healthy and hale. My brother's in trouble, but he will no' be for much longer. You could say I'm as close to Zen as a werewolf can get."
And his calm fueled her own. Connected.
"This is no' the first time a battle's been needed. And it will no' be the last. Chloe, I'm hankering for this."
Then so was she. Excitement began filling her, anticipation. "Hotter's eager to go free Hot?"
His lips curled. "Now you've got the idea. Of course, we'll have to recharge on the flight over."
"If we do that, then we're gonna win ugly against these warlocks."
"Is my fierce female directing me to lower the boom?"
"Oh, yeah." She grinned up at her new mate, and he was already grinning at her.
Because they were about to pull off a coup. . . .
Dungeon of the Disremembered Quondam, Realm of Those Best Forgotten
Madadh's bloodied fist slammed into Munro's face, the sound of cracked bone echoing in the dank cell.
Munro had long since stopped trying to reach his mindless friend. The man had been vassaled; Madadh's beast was fully risen, his eyes ghostly blue-and vacant.
Since Munro's right eye refused to open, he narrowed his left one at the warlock controlling Madadh. Had other Forgotten called this tormenter Jels?
Jels had ordered Madadh to torture Munro nigh continuously-neither Lykae had slept for days, with scant lulls in the violence. Madadh's fingers were broken from raining blows, the skin over his knuckles raked clean to the bone from Munro's teeth. But the Lykae seemed to feel nothing.