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Page 10

The small cats eyed her in suspicion and kept snarling.

"Let us test the blade on them, shall we?" Kieran said.

Alanna rose to her feet. "You said it wasn’t a killing blade."

"No, but it will likely do some damage--they are small, and I imagine their souls will be--cute."

Alanna reached to stop Kieran, and at the same time, a huge Fae-cat tore through the clearing and leapt at them both.

Niall . . .

He’d followed her. Alanna watched in panic as the men at arms and attendants attacked him. Niall fought hard, but there were ten Fae to one Shifter, and they quickly overwhelmed him. The men at arms bound him in a net, but Niall went insane, fighting and clawing the ropes, foam and blood flecking his mouth.

Kieran ran at Niall, rage on his face. "I’ll test the blade on its maker instead."

Alanna froze in fear, but Niall raged and fought so hard through the net that Kieran couldn’t get near him. The men at arms advised their prince to abandon the attempt.

"Tell him to shift back," Kieran shouted at Alanna. "He shifts back or I kill his cubs."

Alanna folded her arms, still striving to pretend she supported him. "Why would he listen to me? I’m Fae. I hope you’re happy. He was foul as foul can be the whole time. Shifters disgust me."

Niall roared, the sound booming through the clearing. His children fought and yowled, encouraged by their father’s wrath.

"I’ll shoot the bastard, instead," Kieran snarled. "Good target practice."

Alanna touched her brother's arm, trying to keep her tone cool. "Why don’t you show the Shifter smith what the sword was made for?"

Kieran stopped, and a feral smile creased his face. "Sister, you will make a fine Fae yet. Watch, Shifter. Let me show you how I can reach into the past and hurt you in the present."

The prince flicked back his cloak as he strode to the closest mound. He lifted the gleaming silver sword above his head and drove it, point down, straight through the mound.

Light flashed up the length of the sword, and a shower of dirt shot from the grave. A swirl of smoke erupted from the hole in the grave and coalesced into the misty shape of a Fae-wolf.

Kieran laughed. He went to the next mound, and the next, releasing the essences of the Fae-wolves, who formed then floated insubstantially over the places where their bones were buried.

Kieran flourished the sword. "Behold the souls of those who slew my grandfather." He turned to them and opened his arms. "You will surrender to me, and do what I bid. You will kill the Shifter Feline and his cubs."

The figures swirled around him, mist trailing behind them like rags. Alanna held her breath, fingers at her mouth.

This was not what she’d expected to happen. She'd changed the spells as she'd slid them into the sword, repurposing Kieran's magic with her own. She was a good enough mage to do it, to trick him, and she knew it. She'd changed the spells to that a thrust of the sword would release the souls, not enslave them. The wolves should have dispersed, their souls free for all eternity.

Instead the ethereal Lupines lingered, like wolves gathering around prey.

Prey . . .

"Kieran!" Alanna shouted. "Drop the sword. Run!"

Kieran ignored her. He swept the sword blade through the ghostlike creatures. "Obey, wraiths. Now you are mine."

The wolves circled him, their eyes glowing yellow through the mist. As one, they attacked. Kieran cried out as the pack swept down on him in wild glee, and then he began to scream.

Chapter Seven

Niall shifted to human form, watching in amazement as the ghostly wolves ripped into Kieran. They were mist and smoke--they shouldn’t be able to touch him--and yet the wolves tore at him. Kieran's pristine white cloak turned scarlet. His men at arms and attendants, instead of rushing to protect their master, turned in terror and fled.

The sword flew from Kieran’s hand, as though it propelled itself, and landed at Niall’s feet. Kieran screamed again.

The wolves ripped the prince's body apart, snarls feral as they used teeth and claws to kill. Alanna hugged her arms to her chest, her eyes wide, as her brother slowly died. His screams turned to pleas for mercy, but the wolves did not care.

One wolf finally wrenched out his throat. The Lupine stood back, muzzle covered with blood, triumph in his eyes. At the wolf's feet, Kieran's bloody body folded in on itself and crumpled to dust.

The wolves padded in a circle around the prince’s remains, then they lifted their heads and howled. It was a faint whisper of a howl, eerie and hollow, but it held a note of triumph.

The wolves shifted into a dozen men with broad shoulders and flowing hair, with the light blue eyes common to Lupines. They gave Niall and Alanna a collective look of acknowledgment, shifted back into wolves, and vanished. Wisps of smoke spun high into the sky and faded away.

Alanna ran to the fallen sword, caught it up, and rushed to Niall and his cubs. The sword sliced swiftly through the net binding Niall, and then Alanna moved to cut the ropes binding Piers and Marcus.

Both wildcat cubs shifted into boys and ran to Niall, throwing their arms around him. Tears wet Niall’s face as he knelt and gathered them in.

He looked over their heads at Alanna, who stood behind them, sword clenched in her hand, her dark eyes wild.

"Alanna," Niall said, trying to stop his voice from shaking. "What happened? What did you do?"

Alanna lifted her chin. "Kieran commanded me to make a soul-stealer, but I spelled the sword to be a soul releaser. Instead of binding the souls of those Shifters, driving it through their remains set them free." She drew shuddering a breath, looking white and sick. "At least, that’s all I meant to do. I did not realize the Shifters would decide to take their vengeance on Kieran like that. I did not know they could."

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