She was wearing the same stormy shroud as the other members of the Wild Hunt. In spite of that, she was impossible to mistake. I mean, seriously, I’d spent how long around her now? Two years or so, maybe? I knew her pretty well, is what I’m saying. Well enough to see her identity in the lines of her body, the color and pattern of her fur where it was exposed by the shifting, swirling storm clouds.
Of course, the eyes helped. In particular the fact that where the right one should have been there was only a network of horrific scars and a hollow, staring pit filed with lightning. She wasn’t wearing an eyepatch now, and as a result looked more than slightly creepy, even to me.
Oddly enough, I could feel her presence in my mind just like always, though it was a heck of a lot more muddled and confusing than usual—that’s why I hadn’t noticed before, I expect. The Snowflake I knew and loved was there, and I could feel a horror from her that was nothing less than heartrending. But overwriting that was the wolf bound, on a very deep level, to her psyche. Usually he was a hardly-detectable presence even to me. He might converse with Snowflake—I don’t pry into that relationship, because it’s freaky even by my standards—but otherwise he was just an observer. Except for tonight, apparently; his presence, dominating Snowflake’s, was about an even mixture between the thrill of the hunt and, like Snowflake, a horror at the fact that I was the quarry of it. The wolf is, if anything, more dedicated to me than she is. He thinks of me as his savior.
Both of them, though, were subsumed by the film of the Hunt itself. It was what was directing her movements, clouding her mind with thoughts of blood and death until she was helpless to keep from attacking—in much the same way, I realized suddenly, as my own more remorselessly predatory nature had been directing me, until the sight of her shocked me out of it.
She charged at me where I crouched near the back of the pocket. I could hear a high, heartbroken keening in my mind, but her body just panted eagerly. I knew then that there was nothing, but nothing, she could do to stop herself from killing me.
That’s the horrible part about magical compulsion—which, I felt quite sure, was what I was looking at now. It isn’t a case of talking to the real person, who you know is buried in there somewhere, and them fighting their way free. I wished it was that pleasant, but it quite simply wasn’t. True, for-real compulsion was coming back to yourself after you’ve killed your best friend, and realizing that they not only made you do it, they made you enjoy it.
There’s nothing you can do when somebody vastly more powerful gets you in a lock like that. Nothing.
I had no choice. Running was out of the question—my planned escape route was still an option, but it would take far too long, and I knew perfectly well how high she could jump.
I tensed my muscles, my mouth dropping open, Snowflake’s voice rising inside my mind to a scream that exceeded auditory comparisons and dissolved into pure raw emotion as she got ready to leap and I got ready to intercept her and—
—and stopped, wrestling my psycho-killer-wolf aspect back into a subordinate position.
Because the truth is, whatever they might try and tell you, you always have a choice. Always. Oh, I suppose there are cases where you truly don’t, but let’s face it, if you find yourself in a situation where you literally don’t have even a single choice, you’re not you anymore. You’re a puppet without a mind—because, of course, even beliefs and emotions are a sort of a choice.
I could kill Snowflake—my dog, my best friend, who trusted me implicitly, who had sacrificed more for me than I could even imagine. I could do it. It would be easy. She was more than a husky, but I was more than a werewolf, and the full moon was in the sky. Besides, she wasn’t performing at her peak—someone who hates what they’re doing almost never does.
I could kill her, and save my life by doing so.
But in that moment, I finally realized something. There were no words attached, just a single concept coalescing all at once in an instant.
Caller had asked me what I wanted. And in that moment the answer wasn’t money, or fame, or power, or even survival. Not at that cost.
It had been half my life since I looked in the mirror and didn’t see a monster looking back. And in that time, what had I done? Fallen pretty damn far, hadn’t I? I mean, a while ago a man who used to be my friend straight up told me that I’d gone so far to the dark side that he thought the jury was still out on whether I was actually a monster that stole the original Winter’s face. More disturbingly yet, I couldn’t really argue all that much.
And now I was getting ready to do something that would relegate me to a whole new category of evil by betraying the one person who, out of all the world, trusted me without reservation.
That wasn’t what I wanted. I never wanted that.
I suppose that’s the simplest way to phrase it, really. I wanted to be able to look at my hands without seeing the blood on them. Just once, I wanted to be the person who did the right thing instead of the necessary one.
So no. I wasn’t going to kill Snowflake. Because you had to draw the line at some point.
I met her eyes with mine—one blue, one stormy. I let out my breath in a sigh. And, for maybe the first time in two years, I felt, not happy, but…at peace. It wasn’t how I’d wanted to go out—if nothing else, I hated how much it would hurt Snowflake to do it—but there are worse things than dying.
And right then is when some bastard seized me by the scruff of the neck and turned the world into a goddamn Tilt-a-Whirl. Because obviously that couldn’t have happened before the disturbing psychological revelations.
It was impossible to keep track of what happened. Perspective shifted and spun too fast—every time I blinked I seemed to be looking at something different, and no single view lasted long enough to make sense of. I was falling, running, jumping, and swimming all at once.
After maybe twenty repetitions, everything stopped and, naturally, my head started spinning instead. I took two steps before puking. It was pretty much exactly as unpleasant as I had anticipated.
“Hurry it up,” Carraig said, sounding tense and jittery. “They’ll be on us soon. Five minutes tops.”
I heaved myself to my feet and looked out over the valley. I’d never been here before, but I nevertheless had no difficulty figuring out where we were. I’d seen the broad, low, rock-strewn hilltop overlooking the valley from a reasonable distance a dozen times or so.
I stared. Five minutes? To bring thirty horses up game trails, with at least a thousand feet elevation gain in a few miles?
Carraig smiled thinly. “You’ve no idea how fast they can be when they want to.” He stared out over the expanse. “Start changing,” he said abruptly.
I wasn’t sure why he thought that would be a good idea—but, hey, my attempt hadn’t exactly gone to plan, and it wasn’t like I had a whole heck of a lot to lose. Besides, full moon or not, I didn’t think for a moment that I would live if he decided to kill me. It was hard—the wolf was fighting me for control, urging me to go out and resume the hunt, any hunt, encouraged by the moon—but I initiated the change back to my more normal form.
Carraig nodded approvingly. “The Hunt can draw you in,” he said by way of explanation. “You were getting pretty close towards the end there. Much further, you might not have made it out.”
I shivered slightly—not recommended in the middle of shifting, by the way—and pressured my body to change faster. It was hard, terribly hard beneath the staring eye of the full moon, but I had a lot of practice at focusing my will.
This was getting to be a little much, though. I mean, I could see the first one, that was a pretty obvious call, but the second? What, was he capable of reading my mind?
“Only a little,” he assured me, staring off into the middle distance. “And that’s more than usual.” He hissed softly. “We’re going to have to bolt for it. Sorry about that.” He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck again, paying no attention to my gurgled sound of pain, and there was another round of whirlwind transitions. It was, if anything, a lot less fun than the last. On the bright side, I didn’t throw up this time.
The dim side was, of course, that this was primarily because my esophagus wasn’t in working order. But hey, there was a silver lining involved.
After that, I had plenty of motivation to finish the change as fast as inhumanly possible. Strangely enough the prospect of being yanked around by the neck while in the middle of rearranging my bodily structures was enough to convince me. I guess I’m easy that way.
“I don’t understand,” I panted a minute or two later, blinking away tears. That had been a very unpleasant change. “I thought you wanted me dead.”
On the other hand, the instant I was human again the Second Sight cut off like a faucet. That was more than a minor relief. I was just glad that the universe had been merciful enough not to show me Carraig—or, even worse, Snowflake—through that particular lens. A primal force of the grim side of nature was one thing, but looking at people was infinitely more unsettling.
He gave me a perplexed look. “Dead? What gave you that idea?”
I stared. Then I held up one hand and pointed at the wrist—where, I might add, the crucifixion scars were still quite visible. Fenris had done me a real favor there, but they hadn’t healed significantly since that point, leaving an easily noticeable whitish indentation.
“That wouldn’t have killed you,” he said, sounding aggrieved. “It was just supposed to keep you out of the game for a while. Didn’t expect the dog to find you.” He squinted out at the valley—we were relatively high on the side of the hill looking out over it, by the way. “Guess she’s paying it back sooner than she expected.”
He glanced at me. “You saw her. You didn’t think the Wild Hunt just took random dogs off the street, did you?”
Wow. I hadn’t even thought about it, but he was telling the truth. Practically the first lesson they teach you about the fae (right after “stay the hell away from the fae”) was that it’s always about bargains, giving one thing up in exchange for another. “Are you saying—” I began.
“Later,” he said, cutting me off effortlessly. “The Wild Hunt isn’t going to put up with this much longer. We need to get out of here.”
I stared. “What do you mean? You can’t just run away from the Wild Hunt.”
“No,” he said testily. “But you can put enough distance between you and them that they get bored and go after someone else.” He held his hand out toward me.
I stared for a moment, then sighed. I hate it when, right after you’ve made up your mind to do the noble self-sacrificing thing, after much agonizing, somebody comes along and offers you a fresh new deal with the devil. It’s like getting gut-punched at the end of an exhalation. “No,” I said, feeling very tired.
He stood, hand still outstretched, something that I suppose you could call a smile on his face. “No?”
“No,” I said. “I’m not leaving without Snowflake.”
“I can’t carry both of you through shadow,” he said testily.
I shrugged. “Get her, then.”
“That’s not a high-value move for me,” he said. “Especially considering the danger involved in snatching someone away from the Wild Hunt.”
I thought for a moment. “I’ll give you the Gáe Bolg in return,” I said.
“You have it?” he asked. I did not miss the sudden note of avarice in his voice.
“No,” I said, which was technically true in the immediate sense—I got the distinct impression that answering yes to that question could be highly hazardous to my health. “But I know just where it is, and no one else does. Get Snowflake out of here, without inflicting upon her physically or mentally anything that I or she would regard as harm, and it’s yours.”
“I get the spear first,” he said.
“Your word on it.”
“I give you my word,” he said, his voice more heavily accented than usual and quite serious, “that upon obtaining the Gáe Bolg I will find the being known as Snowflake, and will remove her from the sphere of the Wild Hunt, without harming her as per your conditions.”
“And return her,” I said, “to me, or in the event of my death or imprisonment, to the city of Colorado Springs.”
He nodded. “Aye, even so.”
His eyes glinted and I got the distinct impression that he was not happy about even that much of an aspersion, but he didn’t protest. “I swear,” he said in an even if somewhat hungry tone, “upon my honor, to rescue your companion as we have just outlined. May Scáthach strike me down if I lie.”
Well, that settled that. For anyone in the supernatural world to break a sworn oath was highly unusual. For someone associated with the fae to do so would be unprecedented. For Carraig to break an oath sworn on his patron goddess’s name would be…a highly entertaining way to commit suicide.
Entertaining for Scáthach, I mean. For Carraig, well, not so much. The Sidhe, like most divine and quasi-divine beings, are noted for both creativity and a total lack of proportion when it comes to the revenging, and they take their rep seriously.
I nodded and took his hand. “Fair enough,” I said.
Getting to where I’d hidden the spear was a bit of fun, given that I didn’t understand Carraig’s mode of transport well enough to give him really specific directions. It didn’t help that I hadn’t been there at night in several years. Shadow-walking was fast enough, though, that it still took only a few minutes to get there.
I felt a certain satisfaction when Carraig didn’t see the spear on his own. Granted my precautions hadn’t been as necessary as I anticipated, but it was good to know that they would have worked.
Fortunately, I’d memorized where to look. I fished around in the crack for a moment, then pulled my cloak out. Underneath, I saw something incredible.
The Gáe Bolg was…still there. I mean, I’d more than slightly expected that someone had already stolen it and left the cloak to mock me. I was even ready for Carraig to get seriously pissed at me for leading him on, kill me in a slow and unpleasant way, and leave Snowflake to her fate. But no, the long steel shaft was still there.
Carraig, moving faster than I’d thought possible for flesh-and-blood entities, darted over and snatched it up. A beatific smile spread across his face, and he cradled the ancient weapon to his chest. If he felt the same numbing effect I had, he didn’t show it at all. Not surprising, really; his was, if I understood things correctly, the role which traditionally used the damn thing.
“I’ll be going, then,” he said.
“Wait,” I said frantically.
Shockingly, he actually did. Wow, this was just my lucky night. “What is it?”
“I don’t suppose you could drop me off where I stashed my stuff on the way?” I asked. Now that my more rational, planning-oriented side was back in charge, I could actually remember what the original intent of said plan had been.
He shrugged. “Don’t see why not. Come on.”
Back where I’d dumped my stuff, I hurriedly started digging through my pack. I knew, on an instinctive level that I didn’t bother questioning, that the Wild Hunt was done playing cat-and-mouse—and they had been playing, I knew that too, or else I would have died in the first ten seconds of the hunt—and this was the final stretch of the chase.
It’s hard to put on and take off armor solo. They never seem to mention that in the stories, but it’s true. I mean, it’s bad enough under ordinary circumstances. In the middle of the night, when you’re in such a panicky rush that your fingers are shaking a little and you’re still struggling the whole time to keep mental and physical control because you’re a werewolf and it’s the full moon and all your instincts are screaming that this is the time to cast off your humanity and hunt, it’s significantly harder.
I managed, though. It helped a lot that, because whatever cousin Aiko had contracted the armor from put efficiency over tradition, all the fastenings were fiercely modern in nature. Stiff leather and medieval-style buckles would have been impossible.
By the time I had the breastplate, greaves, and associated parts on, I could hear the hounds again. I hurriedly tugged on the boots—not armored, exactly, but heavy-duty leather made to match the armor—and stuffed my hands into the gauntlets. Because wearing rings under gauntlets is not a fun experience, I was still wearing the bracelet with rings attached around my neck, although I ‘d had to wrap it around a couple of times so it was snug enough to not fall off.
I summoned Tyrfing and clipped it onto the belt I’d packed (and that was tons of fun, let me tell you; the armor was designed to stack together in the smallest possible space, but it still took up a lot of room in the pack), then swung my cloak over my shoulders, leaving it open in the front except for one spot at the neck to hold it in place. It looked scarier, having the armor exposed. I grabbed the helmet, artfully designed in the shape of a snarling wolf’s head, and jammed it onto my head. I’d seldom worn it, because it was extremely conspicuous and it got really hot inside what was essentially a glorified tin can lined with Kevlar (I suppose part of it is also because I just plain hate it that every single thing I own seems to contribute to the impression that I have an unhealthy obsession with wolves, when it’s really just a whole bunch of unfortunate coincidences). Tonight, though, I wanted both maximum intimidation factor and the most protection possible, and either of those was sufficient motivation for wearing the thing.
I took a deep breath, and tossed the pack aside. The hounds had fallen silent, and it wasn’t hard to guess why. I could see eyes, burning with the light of the storm, in a loose semicircle around me, though the shroud of darkness kept everything else hidden in the night. The rock was at my back, but everywhere else was filled with the sparks, lightning in miniature sparking and fading only to flash again. The riders wouldn’t be far behind them.
“Pier!” I shouted. “Are you coming? Or are you too much the coward to face me yourself?
There was a sudden, absolute stillness, as though the whole world were waiting with bated breath. A moment later, the glowing eyes began to fall back, a gap forming within the semicircle. Pier rode through it, huge and grim in the dark, wreathed in storm and lightning. His horse, which looked even bigger and scarier through human eyes, set each foot slowly, deliberately, with a sound somewhere between thunder and falling trees. Up close they smelled—in addition to everything that Pier himself smelled like—of ozone and storm winds and terror and fresh-spilled blood.
My blood, specifically. It was a rather distinct and depressingly familiar aroma.
“Coward?” he boomed mockingly. “You’re the one that ran.”
I grinned fiercely behind my helmet (incidentally, do you have any idea how hard it is to really project from inside a helmet? If I kept this up I might have to find, like, an opera coach or something). “That’s funny,” I said, carefully mocking. “I seem to remember there being a couple more of you a few minutes ago.” I waved cheerily to the Cu Sith with the fresh, livid scars across its face. It growled in response, sounding distinctly unfriendly.
But I saw, behind Pier’s back, that it also dipped its head in a sort of bow, and there was respect in its eerily intelligent eyes.
My heart lifted at the sight. Until then I hadn’t known, not really known, whether this would work, but when I saw how the hound reacted I was sure.
I first got the idea from what Fenris had said. He’d compared the Wild Hunt to a werewolf pack, and I’m sure that was no mistake—if nothing else, the presence of werewolves in the Hunt’s retinue suggested some relationship. And besides, it just makes sense. They were both primal magics, powers of the hunt and the hunter. It wouldn’t make sense for them to have nothing in common. And that brings us to my plan.
You see, a werewolf pack is an interesting dynamic, socially speaking. Dominance is a huge part of werewolf psychology, more so even than humans. But, as Ryan had implied, dominance—in the sense of the psychological traits that make a person unwilling to submit—was nothing without the authority and the respect to back it up. That was why, for example, Kyra was having discipline problems—part of it was that she wasn’t really Alpha-level dominant, just closer than anyone else nearby. But more was because her experiences with Roland had left her too psychologically scarred to instill that sense of authority in a way that werewolves could understand, subconsciously.
That, really, was the key I was counting on. The pack is implicitly loyal to the Alpha—right up until the moment the Alpha does something to suggest that he’s too weak to lead, in which case the best they can hope for is to be deposed. Worst case—and much more common—that deposition is lethal. In Kyra’s case, even though her wolves recognized that she was no coward (and that intelligent decision-making was more important in a leader than fondness of violence), her reluctance to physically keep them in line told their instincts that she was unfit.
By fighting back instead of running blindly—and, more importantly, by fighting successfully, at least in some small measure—I told the predators in the Wild Hunt that I was one of them, not prey. Prey you can hunt and kill at will, but a predator demands respect, especially from the literal embodiment of the hunt. If I could capitalize on that respect, well, this might not be quite over yet after all.
“The one you slew was the weakest of us,” Pier boomed, his own voice also mocking. “Hardly a feat to boast of.”
“Why’d you send him instead of coming yourself then?” I wondered aloud. “Surely a champion of the Daylight isn’t too cowardly to deal with little old me himself.” That, too, was a calculated tactic. The Wild Hunt might disdain such things as courts and politics, but the fact remained that it was a force of darkness, and not fond of the Seelie Court. By reminding them that Pier was a representative of Day, I hoped to drive just another spike between them.
“I don’t know, though,” I continued, voice disingenuously thoughtful. “I mean, you did feel the need for this whole Hunt so you didn’t have to face me alone. Maybe your balls really are that small.”
There was a reaction—just the barest indrawn breath, the slightest pause, but my senses were working overtime right now—at that. Good; I’d worried the insult wouldn’t carry the same meaning for the fae, but it looked to have done the job.
Between the cloud, the lightning, and the helmet, it was impossible to see Pier’s face. But I could feel his frustration, somehow, in his gaze on me. He was silent for a moment, and I got the distinct impression he was trying to think of a way out of it. Unfortunately for him, at this point there wasn’t one—even if he tried to turn this back into a regular hunt, the Wild Hunt following him would inevitably wonder if he really was afraid of me.
Showing fear in front of the biggest, baddest collection of hunters in the world is not a good way to go about securing a long and happy life.
He really shouldn’t have stopped to gloat.
And then I noticed something. The noise had stopped. Oh, it had been quiet before, but this was different. The wind, the gentle rustling of branches, even the barely-detectable sounds of breathing ceased. Silence was absolute. Stillness was absolute. The hounds were still watching me, eyes bright with lightning, but I could feel that their attention was elsewhere.
I didn’t shudder, but I wanted to. Something big was coming.
I was not disappointed. Through the clouds rode another Hunter, one I hadn’t seen before. I would have noticed, if I had.
She rode a pure white stallion, with lightning woven through his mane. (Don’t give me that line about no white horses, either. If you can say that with a straight face, I promise you it’s because you’ve never seen a faerie horse.) The horse itself was something majestic, shaming even the other Hunters’. But it paled in comparison to the rider.
I have trouble describing just what made her so remarkable. She was tall and slender and beautiful, but not so tall as other Sidhe I’d seen, nor any more beautiful. She carried in her right hand a spear that looked as though a beam of moonlight had fallen to the earth and been trapped in her grasp, but it was no more beautiful or terrifying than Tyrfing.
She was simply more than the other Sidhe. She was terribly awesome and awesomely terrible and to look at her was to see the beauty and the terror of the Night. The mantle of the Wild Hunt hung over her like a cloak, and in that moment I’d never seen anything quite so unearthly.
I bowed my head slightly, when she entered the ring, and I saw that Pier did as well. We had no choice. For all that I was a werewolf and born of Fenris’s line, for all that he was a champion of the Sidhe himself, we could not help but acknowledge that she was so much more. She took it as her due, not even looking at us.
“Master Pier,” she said in a voice like harps and thunder. “This one calls thee coward. He says thou art no hunter at all, but prey. How will thou answer?”
He raised his head, and though his face was hidden behind the helmet and the mask of shadow it was still quite clear he was looking straight at me. “In blood, lady, as is only fit.”
“Come then, brethren,” she said with the air of someone who’d already known what form the conversation would take. A ritual, then. No surprise there. “Let us witness this proving.”
Moving with slow deliberation, Pier dismounted and slapped his horse on the flank. It obligingly turned and cantered off. The shroud of the Hunt had drawn back to form a low, loose ring around us, and within seconds the beast had vanished into it. The others rode, although the specter on the white stallion was the only one I could see clearly.
I paced slowly, steadily out from the rocks. I didn’t want to start this with an obstacle at my back, after all. Pier moved with me, not turning his back to me. I noticed, with an idle part of my mind, that the Hunt’s magic had stopped smelling like my blood in particular and gone back to more generic hunting smells. I wasn’t the sole focus of this hunt anymore, although I had no doubt that if I lost—or worse, ran—they’d be on me faster than you could say “Psych!”
We moved out, pacing each other, through the ranks of hunters, all of which silently parted before us. Up close, I could see them much more closely, as the fog swirled around them—even without the moon, their own attendant storm would have provided enough light to see.
I wasn’t particularly happy about this fact. Some of the riders were Sidhe, and not unlike those of that race I’d seen before—which is to say unnaturally beautiful, slender figures that moved with inhuman grace. They tended to be the ones carrying the elegant, lovely weapons—intricately carved longbows, slender swords made of crystal or some metal that gleamed like silver in the moonlight, and long spears that were both beautiful and terrible in their simplicity.
Others were…equally terrifying, but less humanoid. I saw several short, musclebound figures that were hideously ugly, and couldn’t have been mistaken for men by a blind dog who’d never even encountered a human being. Their exact features varied a lot, but none of them were pleasant. Some had tusks, or jagged teeth that could have been transplanted from a shark’s mouth, or four-inch-long claws. Most of them seemed to disdain all but the most cursory of armor. They carried weapons, though, crude things that made no effort to look like anything other than brutal instruments of destruction—war axes, flanged maces, and short, heavy bows seemed to be the norm.
They did have one thing in common, to be fair. All of them were grinning wide, bloodthirsty grins below mad, wild eyes. I wasn’t sure whether they wanted me to win or die. I wasn’t entirely sure they cared, so long as blood was spilled.
There were other, stranger things among that terrible hunting party as well, many of which I fully expected to haunt my nightmares if I made it out of here. I saw something that vaguely resembled a wolf walking upright, which disdained the use of horse and weapon and armor—no wonder that I’d mistaken it for another of the hounds at a distance. Alone of all the Wild Hunt, it saluted me as I walked past. Smaller things rode several of the hounds, carrying appropriately scaled weaponry. I didn’t make the mistake of thinking that made them less dangerous than their human-sized counterparts.
After the first few seconds, I stopped looking. It wasn’t as severe without the Second Sight, but the Wild Hunt was still not comfortable to be around. I smelled a dozen kinds of magic as I passed through them, and most of those smells had blood in them.
After we’d moved out a ways, Pier and I were surrounded in a sea of storm, bright eyes and dimly seen figures moving in a loose ring around us. The hounds had started to make noise again, growls and snarls rather than the baying of the hunt, and I thought that I heard a sort of indecipherable susurrus from the storm cloud as well. It was just on the threshold of hearing, and I was tempted to stop for a moment to hear it more clearly. I resisted, of course. I’d heard the stories, and nothing good ever happened to people who made a mistake that glaring.
We were moving pretty slowly, so it was almost a minute of walking, although it felt much longer at the time. My nerves were getting seriously jittery, and I half-wished they’d just kill me and get it over with.
On the other hand, I didn’t see or hear or feel Snowflake in the Hunt anymore. Some victory, at least, and good to know that Carraig had kept his word.
Once we were out on flat, level ground, Pier stopped. I stopped as well, perhaps ten feet away. The rest of the Wild Hunt were invisible in the cloud, but I had no doubt that they were there.
It helped that the hounds and not-hounds, visible only in the form of lightning-eyes in the darkness, formed a distinct ring around us, perhaps thirty feet across. The implication was clear: the arena had been defined, and whosoever broke it could expect no mercy.
This was the Wild Hunt, after all, and mercy had no part in that.
The Sidhe on the white horse had faded into the cloud, but I had no doubt that it was her voice I heard. It had eerie overtones of thunder, and of baying hounds, which reminded me oddly of Fenris. “Let us see, brethren,” she said, the voice coming from everywhere and nowhere, lost in the storm, “which of those before us is the greater hunter, and the hounds feed upon the unworthy.” A stroke of lightning fell in the dead center of the circle, evenly between myself and Pier, and the boom of thunder following it seemed almost to hold the sound of hunting horns within it.