Veiled Threat(Rylee Adamson #7)(3) by Shannon Mayer
He nodded and I pointed to the dark on the other side. “You first.”
He obliged and Liam let out a growl. “Go, I’m right behind you.”
I didn’t argue, took a torch from the wall and stepped through the doorway. Liam followed, shutting the barrier hard behind him. We crossed the veil, a tingle of awareness crawling over my skin, and then we were through to the other side, back home in North Dakota.
The air in the cave was cool and still.
“Where’d he go?” I swept the torch high, but saw no one beyond the cusp.
Liam pointed and I followed the scuffled footsteps to see the man leaning against one of the walls.
“Who are you?”
He lifted his eyes to mine. His face was familiar, but I couldn’t place him, couldn’t remember where I’d seen him. There were flecks of green and gold in his eyes, and he watched me carefully. He ignored my question, staring intently at my face. “You have the coloring of your mother mostly, but those eyes … they might as well be my brother’s staring back at me. At least in color, if not design.” He smiled and I just looked at him, unable to move, his words tumbling inside my head. The implication stunned me to the core. No, he wasn’t saying what I thought he was. He couldn’t be.
Before I said anything the doorway behind us flew open and the leader of the red caps stepped through.
Funny enough, he didn’t look all that happy.
Liam reacted first, shoving me away and putting himself between me and the red cap. What shocked me though was the man—the one who was implying he was my uncle—pulled a sword from his back, one that looked suspiciously like my own. He put his other hand on my shoulder, tugging me with him, away from the doorway. His hand shook a little, a tremor running through him and into me.
“We don’t want you too close to that.”
I had to agree; in theory, being close to a red cap was not good for one’s health. Still, taking a backseat wasn’t my style. I pulled my own sword then shrugged off his hand, stepping up and stopping only when Liam put his arm out to block me.
The red cap’s lips curled up, showing his pointed teeth, blood dripping down into his mouth. “While I’d love to take your challenge, I am forbidden from drawing blood outside the castle walls.”
I pushed my way past Liam’s arm, forcing him to let me by. “Then what do you want?”
The red cap folded his arms over his barrel chest, armor creaking with the flex of muscles. “You saw the doorways, broken beyond repair?”
“I figured a little duct tape and wood filler would put them back together.” I mimicked him, folding my arms over my chest, though I doubted I looked as intimidating.
His lips twitched downward. “We will slaughter any who come into the castle. There are only three doorways left, and they will be protected. This is the only warning you will get, Tracker. Do not cross this threshold if you value your life.”
Three doorways. We’d only found two; I made a note in the back of my mind.
“We wiped your little red caps out once.” Okay, Pamela and Liam did, but that wasn’t the point. Liam made a choking sound. Maybe it wasn’t so smart to remind the red cap we’d killed a bunch of his boys.
He leaned forward, blood dripping in a steady stream down his forehead and off the tip of his nose. “Those red caps were children sent to test themselves. Those who guard the doorways have been trained and battle hardened. And they like little humans who scream as their bodies are pillaged for intestines and blood.”
I clenched my jaw tightly and leaned toward him, my eyes barely above his folded arms. “Go back to your castle and hide, red cap.”
He snarled and the blood flowed faster between us. I reached up and ran a finger through the stream of red, rubbed it between my two fingers.
The red cap stood straight and stepped back, his eyes narrowing. “You are warned. That is more than most get. A warning will not happen a second time.” He strode through the doorway, his shoulders brushing each side, and the frame rattling as he slammed the door behind him.
Liam stared at the closed door. “Does it ever occur to you not to piss off the big ones?”
The shadowed man behind us let out a laugh, even went so far as to slap his thighs several times—almost like he was trying too hard. “Gods, I feel like I’ve stepped back in time. Rylee, where’d you find this one?”
I frowned at him. “You talk to me like you know me. Who the hell are you? And why would it matter where I found Liam?”
His laughter faded and he let out a slow breath. “My name is Erik. I’m your father’s brother.”
I didn’t give the words time to really sink in, I couldn’t. Three steps and I was next to him, close enough that in the flickering light I clearly saw his face. The angles of his jaw, the color of his eyes, the shape of his face. All hints of myself buried in his skin, but that could be said of thousands of people. I’d never tried Tracking someone related to me, using that as a marker. But that would be a way to be sure. If it was possible.
Tentatively, I sent out a Tracking thread, focusing on the qualities and traits I had, and got—nothing back. Stupid, of course, it wasn’t like my family would be their own species. I stepped back. “There’s no way to prove you are any relation to me, nor any reason to think you aren’t here just to mess with me.”
The creak of Liam loosening his holsters turned Erik toward him. “Is Blaz still with you?”
My eyebrows climbed into my hairline and I would have answered except the door behind us opened again. Damn that red cap.
“What the fuck do you want now?” I snarled as I turned, confusion making me less than charitable.
The doorway had been flung open but what spilled through was not a red cap. Or at least not a whole red cap. An arm, a thigh, a piece of a head sliced down the middle. Yup, our time of respite was most definitely done.
Both my swords were free from their sheaths before I took my next breath, my legs braced for what crawled through the doorway.
Hoarfrost demons. Three of them, their bodies arching upward, part ant part scorpion, all badass destroyers of worlds. The black snowflake in the middle of my chest sang with a sudden, sharp cold that reminded me how very bad these particular demons were. An apocalyptic winter was not something I was keen on dealing with.