The shield spell had died before the storm had. Keane practically passed out straining to keep it up, but eventually he ran out of strength and we all huddled miserably together in the soaking rain and blustering wind. Luckily, the thunder and lightning had moved on, and the wind wasn’t ripping trees apart anymore.
It was tempting to just lie there in the mud and take a nap. It had been an exhausting night, and none of us had been able to sleep under the circumstances. But we were all too wet and miserable to sleep, and we had to take advantage of the daylight to get farther away from the Sunne Palace and the Queen’s forces. The storm had actually done us a huge favor, wiping out any trail we might have left, but it wasn’t like any of us felt even remotely secure. I didn’t know how far we had traveled in the night before the storm stopped us, but I did know it wasn’t far enough.
We dragged ourselves to our feet and started moving again, trusting that Kimber was leading us in the right direction. In some ways, the going was easier because of the light, but we were all a hell of a lot more exhausted than we’d been the night before, and that made even the Fae clumsy. It didn’t help that the ground was muddy from the storm, sucking at our feet and making everything slippery.
Keane in particular was struggling, having used so much of his energy shielding us last night. Being a typical male, he was unwilling to admit it—especially in front of Ethan—but we could all see the dark circles forming under his eyes, and he was even more unsteady on his feet than I was. By the time we’d walked for a couple of hours, his eyes had glazed over and he moved with all the speed and grace of a zombie.
“We need to rest,” Kimber said suddenly, startling us all because we’d barely spoken two words since we’d gotten started this morning.
“We’re still too close to the palace,” Ethan immediately protested. “We can’t afford a rest, not when we sat there not moving for hours last night.”
Kimber was about to retort, but she fell silent, her face going pale.
“What?” I asked, looking frantically around. “What is it?”
But then the rest of us heard it too: the baying of hounds in the distance. Not anywhere near distant enough, either.
“Shite,” Ethan and Keane said together, and I didn’t have anything better to add. I doubted a mortal bloodhound would have much trouble catching our trail, and I knew that Fae hounds would be even better at tracking than mortal ones.
“Is it my imagination, or are they getting closer?” Kimber asked in a small voice.
“They’re getting closer,” Keane said. “Come on, we’ve got to run!”
It wasn’t hard to catch his sense of urgency, and we all took off running through the trees, painfully aware of the baying of the hounds growing louder. There was no way we were outrunning dogs, but we weren’t going to just sit there and wait for them to catch us.
“Would your shield spell keep the dogs from smelling us?” I panted at Keane as we ran. Not that I thought he had enough strength to cast it after last night.
He shook his head. “I wish.”
I turned to Ethan. “You got anything?”
“Nothing!” he said, grabbing my arm and urging me to run faster.
I was already stumbling from exhaustion, and I was never as graceful as the full-blooded Fae anyway. When I tried to eke a little more speed out, the tip of my shoe caught on something, and I went sprawling. Ethan was there hauling me to my feet practically before I hit the ground. I managed one more hunched-over stumble-step, and then went down again, realizing I was still tangled up in whatever I’d tripped on.
And that was when I noticed the tendril of ivy wrapped around my ankle.
“Come on!” Keane urged, he and Kimber coming back to me as Ethan tried again to yank me to my feet.
The ivy didn’t let go, and soon a sea of it flowed toward us, creeping out from behind bushes and crawling down the trunks of the trees.
I swallowed a scream as the ivy leapt into the air, tendrils raining down around us, forming a dense green wall, trapping us. Familiar, needle-sharp thorns sprung from the vines, though the Green Lady made no attempt to prick us with them.
“Be still and be silent,” a disembodied voice ordered us, and I don’t think any of us was inclined to argue. Not with all those thorns pointing our way. I slipped my hand into Ethan’s as we crouched within the shelter of the ivy. Beside us, Kimber was clutching Keane’s arm, and he was looking a little wild-eyed.
The baying of the hounds drew nearer and nearer, and I felt the vibration of hoofbeats, though I couldn’t hear the horses over the racket the dogs were making. It sounded like the dogs were right on top of us.
Suddenly there was a rustling sound and a dog gave a high-pitched yip. The baying stopped, replaced by anxious-sounding whimpers. Moments later, I finally heard the sound of hooves. The horses came to a stop, and a man’s voice shouted, “Let us pass.”
“You will pass when you have paid the toll,” the Green Lady said.
I’d assumed this was the same Green Lady who’d accepted my blood sacrifice, but her voice sounded subtly different.
The man made an impatient sound. “We have no suitable sacrifice to offer, and we are in pursuit of a fugitive from the Queen’s justice. Let us pass!”
“Come back when you have a suitable sacrifice,” the Green Lady said. “Until then, you will go no farther.”
The man said something I figured was probably a curse, though I didn’t recognize the language.