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Griffin eases Brown Horse even closer to Panotii, and the two horses move like they’re one.

Swallowing hard, I rub my thumbs over the handles of my knives, warming the metal. Mother thinks she’s above everyone. She confuses might with right. Strike that—all she cares about is might. And like the strongest, most vicious animal around, she plays with her prey, wanting to see it cower and sweat.

“I doubt they’ll attack unless we make a move. At least not yet. She’s just toying with us for now and gathering information, which some creature or other has probably been doing for days,” I add bitterly, clenching my knives until my hands hurt. “We didn’t hide my blood. What we did that morning Daphne stabbed me—none of it was enough.” I almost died trying to dilute the evidence of my heritage in the bathhouse pool. I poured lemon juice all over a gaping wound, and Andromeda still found me. Talk about a failure of epic proportions. She knows I’m alive. She knows where I am. She knows where I came from, and there’s a very good chance she knows who I’m with. Everything I didn’t want.

Carver unsheathes his sword and lays it across his lap. “We were on an open road for days. Nothing followed us from home. We would have known.”

“Something followed, probably from the air. This is the second wave, and I’ll bet they came from the opposite direction.” From the Ice Plains above Fisa, where Mother latched on to them like a leech and then sent them to do her bidding.

“You’re a threat to her. To her throne. Why is she so Gods damned bent on getting you back?” Griffin asks in a low growl.

I shrug, the casual movement belying the sharp twisting in my gut. “I don’t know. It’s an obsession I can’t even begin to understand. All I know is that if she gets her hands on me, she’ll drag me back to Fisa for fifty years of fun and torture. She’s evil and insane.”

“I won’t let her touch you,” Griffin says.

He sounds so sure. I look at him, and my heart starts to ache, the pain physical and overwhelming. This is exactly what I didn’t want, what terrified me and drove me to push Griffin away for as long as I could—Mother going through him to get to me.

“Is this like with the She-Dragon?” Flynn asks softly. “Some kind of long-distance compulsion?”

I nod, answering in equally quiet tones, despite the harsh drumming of my pulse. “Alpha Fisa gets a relayed impression of what the creatures see—five riders, the woods, our general location. Words are more direct. She can hear through them just like with Sybaris, and speak through them if they’re capable of speech. To try to control three creatures at once is risky, especially ones this powerful and malevolent. My read on their magic is that they’re incredibly sentient, yet at the same time…empty.” I shake my head. “I don’t understand exactly. It’s like there’s something missing.”

Griffin pulls a long, straight dagger from his boot and holds it in the same hand as his reins. His other hand carries his sword. “Can you break her hold?”

“I couldn’t with Sybaris. And I can’t handle three. If I somehow break her hold and then can’t control them myself, they’ll attack on their own anyway.”

I glance back. I’ll always refuse to use compulsion on humans, but I really need to gain some control over creatures if Mother is going to keep throwing them at us.

The wolf-like things are closer now, weaving between the trees with no thought to keeping hidden anymore. The yellow glow of their eyes intensifies with each loping step.

I shiver. I don’t know what they are. “We can’t let them keep following us and hearing half of what we say. We should make a stand.”

Griffin nods in agreement just as we emerge into a large clearing, seeing our first direct sunlight in hours. A field ripples before us, mostly flat. No cover—for us or them.

“Don’t forget that nothing is ever what it seems this close to the Ice Plains,” I remind everyone. Then I turn to Griffin, a bad feeling kicking around inside of me. “I love you.”

Griffin scowls. He looks like I just punched him in the gut. “Fight. You fight. You can tell me you love me when it’s over.”

I nod. “When it’s over.” A heartbeat later, I slip my feet from my stirrups, swing my right leg over Panotii’s neck, and then slide to the ground. I land facing the creatures, leaving my horse to continue on.

The monsters stop. And they really are monstrous. A menacing frill of gray-black fur rises along each of their spines from the base of their oversized necks to the tips of their curving, whiplike tails. I don’t like the look of this. Knowing Mother is behind it makes it even worse.

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