CERISE raised her head and squinted at the morning sky. It was a beautiful, intense shade of turquoise that promised a gorgeous day. Except today, the family rode out to kill and die, and she was at the head of the column.Behind her two dozen Mars rode on horseback. She had already sent the kids out to scout the road ahead. She'd glanced over her shoulder. Everyone was here. Richard, Kaldar, Erian, Aunt Murid, Uncle Ben . . . Her gaze snagged on William riding at the edge of the column on the left, next to Adriana. He scowled at her. Yes, yes, I see you scowling, Lord Bill the Jealous.If something happened to her today, Richard would assume command of the family and Aunt Pete would take care of Lark. Cerise's heart lurched. Lark wouldn't do well with Aunt Pete, but she didn't know where else to turn.Grandma Az would help, but Grandmother and Gaston had their own fight to fight. The Sheerile family was a hydra: the two brothers would be at Sene, but the clan wouldn't die until Kaitlin, their mother, breathed her last. Grandmother had decided today was the day for it, and none of them were stupid enough to stand in her way.They rounded the bend in the road. It would've been so much easier if Grandpa's house sat somewhere off a main road. They'd ram it with a truck, throw a stinker into it, and sit back and shoot whatever came out. But no, the manor perched deep in the swamp. No truck would make it through the narrow, half-flooded trails. That meant they would have to lay siege to the house. Even with the Sheeriles alone, the odds wouldn't be good. But with the Sheeriles and the Hand together . . . Who knew what sort of insane monsters the Hand would stuff into it?Whichever way you looked at it, they'd have to get the stinker into the house somehow. They had to get the Sheeriles out of the house with the least damage, or they risked destroying whatever clues the manor held.It had been sixteen days since her parents were taken. Cerise stared straight ahead. Tearing up in front of the whole family wouldn't do. Sixteen days since the Hand took her mom and dad, and just about eighty years to the day since the feud between the family and the Sheeriles had started. A hell of a day.A bolt sliced past her shoulder and thudded into the bark of a tree ahead. A squirrel writhed, pierced by the shaft.William rode up to the tree and sliced with his knife, cutting the small furry body in two. A swirling mass of tentacles spilled out and fell into the dirt with a wet plop. She'd seen these tentacles before, inside the bat guided by the Hand's necromancer."A deader?" Cerise asked.William nodded. "You don't have to worry about the Hand today.""Why not?" Erian asked from the back.William glanced at him. "If Spider had his people helping the Sheeriles, he wouldn't need a scout to keep an eye on things. He must have cut the Sheeriles off, but he still wants a report from the fight."That meant Lagar and Arig were on their own. Just the two brothers and whatever hired muscle they brought with them. Cerise raised her eyes to the sky. "Thank you.""I can kill the necromancer," William said."How many people do you need?"He grinned, flashing white teeth, his face feral. "None.""I'll see you at the house, then. Happy hunting."William hopped off his horse and vanished into the brush.She turned her horse. "The Sheeriles are alone. Let's go pry them out of that damn house."A ragged chorus answered her. Worry stabbed her, and she crushed it before it had a chance to show on her face.WILLIAM pulled himself up onto the pine branch at the edge of the clearing and surveyed the scene. The soles of his boots were slick with the Scout Master's blood, and he took an extra second to climb.The old house sat on a very gentle incline. The Sheeriles must've gotten ahold of a lawnmower, because the grass around the house was freshly mowed. A sixty-yard stretch of rocky ground, dotted with stumps of severed weeds, separated the house from the trees. The Mars lay at the perimeter in a ragged line. They were looking at the house.He looked, too. It was a two-story dilapidated-looking place, the kind he saw often in the Broken. Everything was peeling, sagging, or rotting, except for the iron grates on the windows. Those looked brand new. The gaps between the bars bristled with rifles. The place was a damn fortress. If it was him, he'd set it on fire and pick the enemy off as they jumped out.At the tree line Richard saw him and touched Cerise's shoulder. She turned to look in his direction. William raised the Scout Master's head by the hair and dangled it for her. The Hand's necromancer had died with an ugly grimace on his face. Maybe bringing the head wasn't the best idea, but then how would she know he killed the man?Cerise gave him a thumbs-up. Ha!He set the head in the bend of the branch and glanced back at the Mars. At the far end, Lark sat in a tree, hidden from the house by the bark. She waved at him. He waved back.A woman rose from a crouch at the tree line, clutching a familiar bronze-colored ball in her hand. A stinker grenade, the Weird military's favorite nonlethal weapon of crowd control. Throw one of those into an enclosed space and watch people trample each other trying to get out. That must've cost Cerise an arm and a leg. How were they going to get it past the bars? He glanced at the house. Ah, there. A rectangular window, a foot long, six inches wide, too small to bother barring.The woman took a deep breath. A flash of pale green flared from her in a short burst. A defensive flasher. Not very strong either. Chances were, she couldn't keep it up for long.She ran into the open, her magic flaring like a glowing wall around her. Bullets whistled and bounced off, deflected by the green flash. She didn't have a lot of juice, just enough to bounce off a bullet.The woman sprinted, in a straight line, shuddering under the hail of bullets. Good plan. Go, William cheered her on. Go, go!Thirty yards to the house. Twenty-five, twenty-two . . .The ground under her left foot gave. Metal teeth flashed. The woman screamed, her foot caught in a huge metal trap. Her flash faltered and vanished.The first bullet took her in the chest as she was falling. It tore a chunk of flesh from her back in a crimson spray. The second, third, and fourth punched her stomach. The bronze ball rolled from her fingers and fell into the green grass.A small body burst from the brush and dashed across the clearing, dark hair flying. Lark.At the tree line Cerise screamed.The kid zigged and zagged like a scared rabbit. Bullets tore the turf on both sides of her. A bolt screeched through the air and sprouted from her chest. It caught the girl in mid-leap, and for a moment Lark flew, weightless, eyes opened wide, mouth opened in a horrified O, face chalk pale, just like the child in a meadow full of dandelions years ago . . .The wild screamed and raked at him from the inside with its claws. He dropped off the branch and dashed to her. The grass and rocks blurred. He rushed through the world, governed only by the speed of his own heartbeat as only a wolf could run. Bullets grazed him like searing furious bees, shredding his shadow, biting through his tracks. He scooped Lark off the ground and kept running, faster and faster, too fast, to the safety of the trees.Erian charged past him to the house. Faces jerked into his view, barring his way. William leaped over them, bouncing off the nearest trunk deep into the woods, over the fallen tree, past the bushes to the stand of cypresses, half-sunken in the water.He realized they were far enough and landed on a dry spot. His heart hammered in his chest. His ears felt full of blood.Lark stared at him with terrified eyes like a mouse before a cat. He jerked her up. The bolt had punched just above her clavicle, not in her chest. A flesh wound. Only a flesh wound."Why?" William snarled, his voice barely human. She said nothing and he shook her once. "Why?""I had to help. Nobody will miss a monster," she whispered."Never again," he growled in her face. "You hear me? Never again."She nodded, shaking.He whipped around. People were coming through the brush. He lowered Lark to the ground. The knife was already in his hand. He smelled their breath, he heard their pulse. Their fear flooded him, filling him with a predatory glee. He bit the air. They backed away from him."William!" Cerise's voice cut through his rage. "William!"She pushed through them and splashed through the water. Her scent sent his senses into overdrive. Cerise grabbed at him, her eyes luminescent. Her lips grazed his and he tasted her for half a second. "Thank you!" she breathed and then she was gone, swiping Lark off the ground and carrying her away, and William had to shake himself, because the excitement strained his body, begging to split it open and let the wild out.People backed away and followed her, until only one remained. William stared at the familiar face. Wild hair, earring, dark eyes . . . It took him a second. Kaldar."Hey, there," the man said.William growled."Easy now. Easy. Put the crazy away. The fight is that way." Kaldar pointed back, over his own shoulder. "That's where the bad guys are.""I know." William stalked past him."Talking is good." Kaldar followed him. "Coherent complete sentences are even better. You're very fast, blueblood."William pushed through the brush. The fury boiled through him. He needed blood. He needed to rip into warm flesh.At the house Erian, pressed flat against the wall between two windows, ripped a bolt free of his shoulder with a grimace. The Mars kept up the covering fire, their bolts and bullets clattered against the bars guarding the windows above him, mere feet away from Erian's head. Cerise's cousin crouched and crept to the right, his back glued to the wall. He reached the small window, shattered the glass with his fist, and tossed the stinker inside.A wave of guttural howls echoed through the tree line.The wind brought a whiff of an acidic stench, putrid and oily and sour, like decomposing vomit. Bile rose in William's throat. He spat to the side. Too much. Too much excitement, too much adrenaline. He felt the familiar ice slide down his skin, raising every hair on his body. The first precursor of the rending, the battle frenzy that struck his kind when the pressure became too much.William ground his teeth and tried to hold it back. He would need it later. He would need it for Spider. Not now, fuck it. Not now."Bet you a dollar I'll kill more than Richard," Kaldar yelled, his fingers clenching a wide-bladed sword."That's a losing bet," Richard said.Inside William, the wild's jaws had opened a crack. He caught a glimpse of its fangs, shining and white like the surface of a glacier. He was losing. The rending was coming.Erian jerked a short, curved knife from the sheath on his belt. A moment stretched into an eternity. Another . . .The wild opened its mouth. Bottomless blackness gaped in its maw, guarded by icy fangs. He stared straight into it.The wild bit at him. The fangs pierced his mind. The wild swallowed. Darkness engulfed him.The world slowed to a crawl. William walked into the field.Behind him Kaldar screamed. William paid him no mind.Another kick rocked the bars and the whole grate came loose and clattered to the ground. A dark-haired woman leaped out of the window. She took two steps and crashed down as a bolt sprouted from her throat.The Sheerile mercenaries fled from the house, spilling from the window and doors, charging across the clearing. William snarled and lunged at them.A man hurled himself at him, knife raised. Too slow. William swayed away from the glittering metal arc of the striking blade, sliced the man's armpit, jerked him to the side, cut his throat, and kept moving. A woman lunged from the left. William disemboweled her with a precise slash, stepped over her body, and kept moving. He killed again and again, knowing that nothing short of shedding his skin and biting into living flesh would satisfy him. He had to settle for what he had. Steel rang around him, punctured by isolated shots. He glided through the air thick with metallic blood stench on soft wolf paws, removing obstacles in his path.The world dissolved into blackness and blood.CERISE saw William sprint across the field. Her mind took a second to comprehend it, and by the time she understood what was happening, he'd swung his knife, quicker than the eye could see. Arterial spray wet the ground, bright, vivid red. The Sheeriles' man fell to his knees, but William had already gone on to his next victim.He killed the woman in an instant, didn't even pause, and when he turned to strike at the next man in his path, she saw his eyes, hot like two chunks of molten amber."Stay back!" she barked. "Stay away from him."He cut and sliced, raging across the field like a demon, killing with brutal, precise savagery. As if a mad tiger had got loose amid a herd of helpless prey. Fast, tireless, deadly.A shot rang out. William jerked. Her heart skipped a beat.William swiped a knife from a fallen opponent, whipped about, and hurled it. The blade sliced through the narrow space between the bars on the second-floor window. A woman sagged against the bars and tumbled down, a knife in her throat.William grinned, baring his teeth, and kept killing.Chill bumps marked her arms.Around her, people stood up to get a better look. Nobody said a word. The family just stood and watched in horrified silence.So that was what he kept chained inside."He's insane," Richard said next to her."I know," she told him. "He held it in all this time. He's unbelievable, isn't he?"Richard stared at her for a long moment and raised his eyes to the sky. "What are all of you doing up there? You've lost your minds.""WILLIAM?"The girl. Her voice, floating into his mind. Her scent swirling about him, filtering through the scents of hot bloodCerise. Calling him.William clawed through the blood-soaked fog.Her hand touched him. He grabbed her and pulled her to him. His vision snapped into crystal clarity, and he saw her and his hands, gripping her shoulders. His fingers were covered with blood.Cerise smiled at him. "Hey.""Hey."Her fingers stroked his cheek. "Are you back with us?""I never left."He noticed her family now. They had surrounded him in a ragged circle, clutching crossbows and rifles. The field was strewn with corpses. He'd run out of people to kill.The pressure inside him had eased. He needed more, more blood, more enemies to drain the heated strain in his muscles, but Cerise needed him and what he had done would have to be enough for now."I'm going to fight Lagar now," she told him. "Will you watch?"He let her go and nodded.Cerise walked to the porch. The sun glinted from the sword in her hand.William sat in the grass.Richard sat on one side of him, Kaldar landed on the other."Murid has her rifle trained on your head. If you interfere, she'll splatter your brains right on these nice weeds over here," Kaldar said. "Just thought you should know.""It's good to know," William said. His body cooled slowly. Fatigue mugged him. They were fools. It was her fight. If he interfered, she would never forgive him.If Cerise faltered, he would end up watching her die. The thought made the wild inside him howl, but one didn't stand between a wolf and her prey."How often can you do that?" Richard indicated the corpses with a sweep of his hand."Not often.""It's over, Lagar," Cerise called. "Come out. Let's finish this."A quiet descended on the clearing.The screen door banged. A man stepped out into the sunshine. He wore a blue robe that reached to his knees. The left sleeve hung in tatters. Lagar shrugged off the other sleeve, letting the robe hang at his waist. He swung his sword. Cords of muscle rolled on his bare chest and arms.What did she see in him? He was tall, well-built. Handsome enough. Pale hair, blue eyes. They were enemies, but he got Cerise to dance with him. Was he charming? Did he know the right things to say?They paced from side to side, stretching, keeping their distance. Lagar flexed. Veins bulged on his arms. "How come we never got together, Cerise?"She looked small compared to him. That made for a smaller target, and she was fast, but Lagar was stronger. He'd muscle her and she didn't have the weight to counter. "I don't know, Lagar. Killing my relatives and kidnapping my parents might have something to do with it."Lagar stopped. Cerise stopped also.His flash burst from Lagar's eyes in a torrent of brilliant white. It ran down his hand onto his sword.Shit."Too bad it turned out this way," Lagar said.Cerise's magic slid along her sword. "We both knew it would," she replied.Lagar charged, fast like a changeling. Cerise parried, her movements flowing as if her joints were liquid. The two blades crashed against each other, sparking with magic. They danced across the clearing, flashing and thrusting. Steel rang, magic shone.Cerise pulled back and so did Lagar. For a long breath they stood still, poised like two cats before a fight, and then Lagar moved, stalking Cerise across the grass, his sword pointing straight up. Cerise followed, her blade loose in her fingers, stepping on her toes.Lagar ran. She matched him. He leapt and struck from above in an overhead blow, banking on his superior strength. They clashed in a blinding burst of magic and broke apart, facing each other.The scent of blood lashed William's nostrils.A long cut sliced through Cerise's shirt, swelling with red across her shoulder over her breast. A narrow smile bent Lagar's lips.If Lagar won, William would kill him.The Sheerile took a step forward and fell, as if his legs were cut out from under him. Slowly Cerise slumped next to him in the grass. Lagar gasped, sucking in the air in small shallow bites.A dark stain, deep red, almost black, spread through Lagar's robe. Liver blood, tainted with the stench of bile."Gods, it hurts," Lagar whispered.Cerise picked up his hand and held it. She touched him. William choked back a snarl.Lagar's gut distended, growing like an inflating water balloon. A cut to the aorta or an iliac vessel. Lagar's stomach was filling with his own blood."We . . . would've been good ..." Lagar coughed out blood.Cerise rubbed his hand. "In another time in another life maybe. You hated my father more than you could ever love me.""Lucky for you," Lagar said softly. A convulsion rocked him and he clenched her hand."You should've left," she told him. "You always wanted to.""False diamonds," Lagar whispered. "Like swamp lights."Another convulsion shook him. He screamed. His eyes rolled back in his skull. Blood poured from his mouth.His pulse stopped.Cerise untangled her hand from his. Her face turned flat and cold. "String him up.""You're bleeding," Richard said. "And grandmother isn't here to help you.""She's right," Ignata walked up to them. "Tomorrow will be too late. String him up, Richard."He shook his head and walked off."What's going on?" William glanced at Kaldar.Kaldar grimaced and spat into the grass. "Magic. Old swamp magic."