Pacing through the trees, I was surprised at how much I could notice the difference from adding the werewolves to the Wild Hunt. I felt stronger, but the difference wasn’t that serious in comparison to the power that was already there.
The real difference was in the sensory input I was getting. I could sense everything in a dozen miles, or at least it felt like it. The combined senses of a dozen werewolves, most of them in fur, were enough that very little could escape them. The scents and sounds flooding into my mind were so overwhelming that I felt like they should have incapacitated me, and they probably would have if not for the mediating influence of the Wild Hunt.
But with that influence, I could process and understand all of this input without even having to think about it. I could map everything in my mind, so that I knew where all of us were, and where every notable feature that we could see, hear, or smell was. I knew it all.
I also knew a couple of things that were a little more immediately important. First, I knew that my “side” of the Hunt was growing. More of the Hunters were wrapped in my ice storm rather than thunderclouds, and generally they were winning when the two came into conflict.
And I knew where Blind Keith was. He was still on his horse, but they were going barely above a normal running pace. There was enough frost and ice on the ground—enough people spreading the frost—that there weren’t many places where the animal could go much faster without running the risk of a potentially catastrophic fall. Apparently he didn’t think it was worth the risk.
That was all on the basic, instinctive level of awareness. That was going on in the part of my mind that was more animal, more predatory.
The rest of me was still occupied with being terrified out of my freaking mind. It was weaker now that Blind Keith was further away, and I thought that the weakening of his influence over the Hunt might matter too, limiting the influence he could exert on me through that medium.
So I was still conscious. I could function and observe, even process most of the information I was getting normally. I could think and make decisions other than just to gibber at myself or attempt to run away at maximum speed.
It was just very, very hard.
I could feel him getting closer, in spite of everything, and gathered myself to face him. I could feel the support of the others behind me, although very few were anywhere close to me in a geographic sense. The werewolves of the pack were the closest, both physically and in a more abstract sense, but I could also feel a few of the Sidhe, some goblins, quite a few hounds of various kinds. There were stranger things in the mix as well, creatures that I understood on a fundamental level through the Hunt but couldn’t have named.
It was a powerful force, almost terrifyingly so, especially with the magic of the Wild Hunt tying them all together. Hopefully it would be enough. It should be enough.
Against Blind Keith, when he was backed by his own contingent of the Hunt? It was anyone’s guess, really.
I saw him with my own eyes a moment later, riding up. His horse hadn’t struck me as obviously unnatural earlier, but now it was taller than it had any right to be, thin to the point of being skeletal, with dark fired burning in its empty eye sockets.
But it paled beside its master. Absolutely and completely paled.
Blind Keith was shrouded in his thunderstorm, but I could see through it as easily as I knew he could look through the fog and frost shrouding us. I could see him clearly, a tall, gaunt figure that seemed to loom out of the darkness, more a presence than a person. He still had that blindfold wrapped around his eyes, but now it didn’t seem a handicap. Rather, it contributed even more to the unnerving, disturbing nature of the sight. The dissonance there—a man who should by all rights be blind, coupled with behavior that was very much not—drove home how fundamentally wrong the scene was.
The werewolves whined and cringed, even those who weren’t in fur, and several of them took a step or two back. Edward was the only exception, but then that made a certain degree of sense. He was the Alpha. It was in his nature to stand when others ran.
“I really didn’t intend for things to go this far,” Keith said casually. His voice was quiet, almost silent; I could hear him more because of the Hunt communicating his meaning to me than because I could actually hear him. “I only meant to push you.”
Consider me pushed, I thought, as sarcastically as I could. The rational side of me didn’t have enough control or interaction with my own body just at the moment to express an idea that abstract, but I was confident he would hear me thinking it. He would get the idea, anyway.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said out loud. My words were as hard to understand as his, but for very different reasons. Blind Keith spoke so softly that a human couldn’t have heard from two feet away. I spoke in a snarl, more animal than human, the voice of someone who only vaguely understood how speech works.
“I suppose you’re right,” Blind Keith said, though which statement he was responding to was unclear. “What’s done is done. It falls to us to deal with the consequences.”
I wasn’t sure what he was going to do next. There was something about his attitude that said it was going to be big, and violent, and probably something I would regret deeply, but I couldn’t guess what it would be specifically. I mean, this was Blind Keith. Everything I’d heard about him said that there were so many things he could to that I couldn’t begin to guess at what he’d choose.
Before we could find out, Edward drew his gun and fired. He’d been practicing his quick draw for a couple hundred years now, and he was very, very good at it. It couldn’t have been more than half a second between when he decided to act and when the third bullet hit its target.
I’d been expecting him to shoot at Blind Keith, and apparently the fae lord had been expecting that too, because he didn’t do a thing to stop Edward, and I knew he could. He just didn’t need to. Bullets meant basically nothing to someone on that level.
But Edward was a canny old wolf, and he knew that as well as I did. So he didn’t shoot Blind Keith.
He shot the horse.
The bullets were precisely, perfectly aimed. The first two hit the creature in either eye, putting out the flames that smoldered there, and the third slammed home dead center in its throat. The horse staggered to the side and began to fall, and before it had moved six inches another two bullets hit it, aiming for the heart this time. Edward put one more round into it, in the side of the head, and then returned the revolver to its holster. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel his satisfied smile.
It was a perfect opportunity, and I capitalized on it, running forward and drawing Tyrfing. The power of the Hunt ran through me, carrying with it the speed of a werewolf and the grace of the Sidhe, and I was moving so fast that my thoughts and reactions wouldn’t normally have been able to keep up with my movements. But here, now, that wasn’t a problem.
At the same time, the more disconnected part of me was acting as well, reaching out through the bonds of the Hunt to the werewolves. They were tied together by pack bonds as well as the connection of the Wild Hunt, and once I got into those bonds it was easy to feel what was happening to them. They were scared, and while that was entirely reasonable, I could feel the external influence pushing them in that direction, making that fear just a little more compelling.
If it really got established in them, the pack bonds would become a detriment, amplifying the effect until they were incapable of doing anything other than running mindlessly away from Blind Keith.
But I could feel the magic affecting them, and through the Wild Hunt I could do something about it. First I thinned the connection between my mind and my body, as far as I’d ever gone, until there were almost two completely different people, the me that existed in a physical form and the me that didn’t.
Then I reached out to that fear that was threatening to destroy my allies, and did the same thing I’d done before. I couldn’t stop Blind Keith’s magic, couldn’t overpower it, but I could redirect it.
The power of the emotion crushed me. Absolutely crushed me. There was enough left to maintain the magic redirecting it away from more vulnerable allies. But that was about it.
Physically, though, I’d reached Blind Keith, and started swinging. He’d fallen from the horse when it toppled, and though he’d done it as gracefully as only one of the fae could, it still left him briefly vulnerable. I followed up on that vulnerability, pressing forward, swinging again and again. He dodged most of the attacks, but on the rare occasions that I did manage to hit him, it mattered. He was powerful on a scale that matched Twilight Princes and demigods, but I was using Tyrfing. The sword cut through storm, cloth, flesh and bone without any difficulty.
Other members of the Hunt were charging in now, trying to interrupt, but the werewolves kept them off me, giving me room to fight. Another creature was beside them now, something that looked like a wolf but walked on two legs.
I really ought to learn his name, I thought absently, before going back to being crushed by the fear.
For a moment, I almost thought I would win. Blind Keith was on the defensive, and I was keeping him there, unable to fight back for fear of taking a serious hit from Tyrfing. The rest of the Wild Hunt was either on my side or kept at bay by those who were, and my strength in that realm was growing by the second, as more and more of the Hunters defected. It was the nature of the Wild Hunt to respect competence, and as I continued to hold my own against an enemy that should have destroyed me easily, more and more Hunters found themselves thinking that I was a more worthy leader than they’d anticipated.
And then I slipped.
It was a small mistake. One foot placed ever so slightly wrong, at the same time as a particularly intense surge of fear leaked through from the other side of me, leaving my muscles shaky just when I needed them to be strong.
A small mistake, but it meant that for a second—just one second—Blind Keith could act freely.
He reached up and pulled his blindfold away.