"Seriously," I continued. The dialogue came easily-too easily. The Winter mantle was talking to a part of me that did not have much in the way of restraint. "That hot little ass? I mean, gosh, just thinking about it . . . If you could see me now, I'd be a little embarrassed."
"Shut up," he said again.
"Come on, bros before hos, man. That Summer mantle got a herd instinct going? 'Cause for something as sweet as that, I'm thinking we could share i-"
If my intellectus hadn't been focused on him, to let me see what was coming, I'd have been burned alive. I flung myself to one side as he turned and hurled another bolt of fire at me. I had to gather more Winter around myself to protect my vulnerable hide, thickening the mists even more-and Fix seemed to key on the surge of cold. He pivoted toward me, took two steps, and leapt with his sword held in both hands.
Thirty-seven feet. That was how far he jumped, and it had come effortlessly-he could have done more. I knew exactly how much force he pressed the ground with when he left it, exactly what angle he'd jumped at. My intellectus could track the air and the mist he was displacing as he leapt through it.
I took two steps away just as he leapt.
I felt sick, like I was fighting a blind man.
Fix landed exactly two feet short of where I'd been, and his sword came down through the space where I'd been standing. If I'd still been there, he would have split me into two gruesome halves.
But I wasn't. I was standing behind him, within inches of his back, and before he could rise, I struck. A moment before, I'd used my intellectus to locate an old nail on the ground, about four inches long, partly coated in rust. Thomas or I must have dropped it while walking to or from the cottage, back when we'd been beginning repairs on it and building the Whatsup Dock. The nail had lain out through several seasons, only lightly touched by them.
I put my thumb behind its head, used the strength of the Winter mantle, and drove it straight through mail that had never been designed to stop such a small point, and two inches into the muscle of Fix's shoulder blade.
Fix let out a scream of shock and pain and swung his sword at me-but with cold steel piercing his skin, and his access to the Summer mantle disrupted, he had only his own reflexes, strength, and skill to rely on. He hadn't trained in them without the power of the Summer Knight to back them up, and he hadn't learned in the brutal school of hard knocks that Mab had put me through. The sword's slash was slowed and clumsy, and I struck him twice-once on the wrist, breaking it with a clear snap, sending the sword tumbling away, and once on the jaw, not quite as hard, sending Fix to the ground in a senseless heap.
"Knight takes Knight," I called into the cloudy night air. "Check."
The struggle between the Queens and Demonreach had already been a silent one, but now the air abruptly went still. I couldn't see them, but I knew that Lily had turned her body partly away from Demonreach, toward me, breaking her connection with one of the two Sidhe supporting her. Demonreach, for its part, had altered its facing to square off against Maeve. I could sense that the little bits of its body that had been eroding away were now moving in the opposite direction, reaccruing to its main mass.
"Fix?" the Summer Lady called, her voice vaguely confused. Then it was touched by sudden, cold fear. "Fix!"
"What are you doing?" Maeve snarled. "You stupid cow! I cannot defeat the guardian alone!"
Lily ignored her. I sensed her move her hand, an almost absent gesture.
And a sudden wind brushed the fog Fix and I had created from the hilltop as easily as a young mother sweeping fallen Cheerios from a toddler's tray.
I knew the Ladies were powerful, but I hadn't realized what that meant in practical terms. Making that much air move that precisely and that suddenly is hard, and it would take a serious investment of energy to make it happen. I could have done it, but it would have been enough heavy lifting to make me want a cold beer and a nice sit-down when I was finished. If I'd had to do it two or three times in a row, I'd have been too tired to lift the beer.
Lily had done it with a comparative flick of her fingers.
And there I was, standing naked on the hilltop over the unmoving form of Fix. I still had my veil up, but it was so rudimentary as to be useless against someone as savvy as the Sidhe. I shouldn't have bothered to hold on to it at all, but some irrational instinct made me condense it instead to a small field of blurry energy around my hips.
"He's alive, Lily," I said, quickly. "We need to talk."
The whites showed all the way around Lily's eyes. "What?" she demanded, fury swelling in her tone. "What did you say to me?"
Whoa. On my worst diplomatic day, I still shouldn't have garnered a reaction like that from what I'd said. "Lily, calm down. Fix is alive. But I think you're still you over there, and I don't think you've been given the whole truth. Let's talk before things happen that everyone regrets."
"How dare you!" she snarled, her rage turning incandescent. Literally. Fire burst from her hands and wreathed her forearms. "How dare you!"
I held up my own hands in front of me, empty. I was pretty sure I looked confused. "Hell's bells, Lily, what the hell? I do not want a fight here!"
Lily screamed, and Summer fire engulfed her, causing her courtiers to leap away. Gold and green and starlight silver, the fire danced around her, mesmerizing-and swelling. Suddenly I saw the same rage that I'd seen in Titania's eyes, but that had been the smoldering coals left over after the passing of years, after mourning and grief had eased. The power Lily held on to now came from the same kind of passion-but it was fresh and white-hot, and it wasn't going to cool anytime soon.
Then I realized what was going on. Maeve had extended her other hand toward me, and her fingers were dancing merrily. She gave me the briefest flash of a look, and it was poisonously amused. I reached into the air in front of me and felt it there, an elegant little glamour, simple enough that Maeve could have done it in her sleep, complex enough to slip by anyone not looking for it, even one of the Sidhe. I'd been talking, but it hadn't been my words getting to Lily. Maeve had chosen my words for me.
I don't know what she'd said, but she'd picked something exactly right to drive her Summer counterpart mad with rage. Lily's gentler, more compassionate nature had been used against her. Maeve had employed her simple little glamour with exquisite timing, at the one instant when there was no way the relatively inexperienced Lily would have expected it-when she was full of concern for the fallen Fix. With a sinking feeling I realized that the passionate young Lady of Summer was no Titania. She had all the heat, but none of the restraint, the balance, and there was no way in hell that she was going to be able to think, to reason, to hold back her fury.