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Page 9

Alanna found her brother hunting, which wasn’t unusual. Kieran spent most of his time hunting, or rather, having his men chase animals to him so that he could shoot them.

Kieran was every inch a Fae prince as he stood in the fog-soaked clearing wearing a white kid tunic, soft boots, and a fur-trimmed cloak. His white-blond hair was held back by a diamond diadem. Two men at arms flanked him, one carrying his bow; the other, his quiver of arrows.

As Alanna approached, Kieran took the bow and nocked an arrow, sighting into the woods opposite her. A few seconds later a wolf charged out of the fog, streaking for the heavy undergrowth on Alanna’s side of the clearing. The wolf was larger than most, and its blue-white eyes held intelligence.

The wolf saw Alanna and veered at the last minute. Kieran’s arrow, which had left the bow, bounced off a boulder where the wolf had been a second before.

Kieran shoved his bow back at his armsman and growled. "Damn you, Alanna. I’ve been tracking that wolf all night."

More likely his trackers had found the wolf for him while Kieran had drunk wine and slept in his luxurious bed. "That wasn’t a natural wolf," Alanna said. "It was a Fae-wolf. A Shifter."

"He's a bloody animal. And any Shifter in my realm is fair game."

That was true. No Shifter would venture here on purpose, which meant the Lupine had been captured or lured in somehow. She didn’t know enough about Shifters to tell whether the Lupine was male or female, and she wondered if Kieran had stolen its cubs too. She hoped it found its way back to the standing stones and out.

Kieran’s hungry gaze went to the sword, the Lupine forgotten. He snapped his fingers at her. Alanna walked to him, handing over the sword and giving him a little curtsy.

"Lovely." Kieran hefted the blade, testing its balance. "This is perfect."

"What is it for?" Alanna asked him.

"Simple, dear sister. To defeat Shifters."

Niall had accused Alanna of knowing what Kieran’s spells were for, and she did, but she hadn't understood exactly what Kieran had meant to do with them.

"Defeat them?" she asked. "It’s not a good weapon for killing, the Shifter said. Not sturdy enough, even with the spells."

Kieran kept his gaze on the etched blade. "You know that I am named for our grandfather, who was killed by a horde of Lupine Shifters, don't you? Demons in animal skins. I am the legacy of that ancient king called Kieran. With this sword, I shall avenge him."

Alanna felt cold. "How can you? The Shifters who killed him died long ago. Shifters are short-lived, you know; they last only three or four centuries at most. It would be complicated to find their descendants. Shifters have scattered over the human world by now."

Kieran gave her a pitying look. "You are simplistic, my sister. I don’t need to find the descendents, I have the Shifters themselves. I have their bones."

He waved his hand and mists lifted from the other side of the clearing. Low mounds, a dozen of them, lay side by side, overgrown with green.

Alanna’s eyes widened. "Where did those come from?"

"My loyal men tracked down the graves of the Lupines who slaughtered our grandfather. I had their remains brought here and reburied. I’ve been collecting them for a long time."

Alanna stared at him in shock. "Why?"

"For this day." Kieran raised the sword again. "Did you not understand the spells I gave you? You are a fine mage, my dear, the only one who wasn’t afraid to go to the human world and find the Shifter sword maker. Surely you will have worked it out."

Alanna swallowed. "You wanted to make a soul-stealer."

"Ah, so you have not lost every bit of your intelligence after all. No, I cannot kill the Shifters who murdered our grandfather. But, if I capture their souls and make them do my bidding, they will be miserable for eternity."

Alanna studied the mounds, which looked vulnerable and sad. "But the Shifters have been dead so long. Their souls will be gone--won’t they?"

"Not these Shifters. As he killed them, our grandfather cursed their souls to cleave to their dead bones. No going to the happy Summerland to chase rabbits for them."

Alanna hid her revulsion. Even Fae had souls that dissolved when they reached the end of their long lives. The Fae then drifted, content, free of the constrains of the body, which also dissolved. To tie a soul to a cold, dark grave seemed to her the height of barbarity.

"Aren’t they miserable already then?" she asked.

"Perhaps, perhaps not. But if I have their souls, then they will do my bidding, and they will become aware of their suffering. I will make certain of it."

Alanna shrugged, pretending not to care, even as she shivered deep inside herself. She had to make Kieran believe she sided with him, at least long enough for her purpose. He would kill her afterward, but her task would be complete.

"Well, whatever you intend do with the dogs’ souls, the sword maker kept his end of the bargain," she said. "I will take his sons back to the human world."

"I don’t bargain with Shifters." Kieran snapped his fingers. "You. Bring the Shifter’s get."

Two attendants disappeared and returned holding the squirming cubs, wrapped in nets, in their wildcat forms. Both attendants were cursing as they dropped the bundles to the ground.

"They refuse to shift to human form, Your Highness," one attendant said, breathing hard.

Alanna knelt next to the net-wrapped cubs, keeping herself out of reach of their flailing claws. "Your father sends his love," she whispered. "He says to tell you he’s proud of you."

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