He shook his head once.
"They gave you away from the beginning, simply by how hard they fought to not speak of you," the warlock said, announcing his arrival in a silky, sly tone that made me cringe.
I twisted on the floor, holding onto Con, shielding him from the man's gaze.
The warlock was tall, handsome in a plain sort of way, broad-shouldered and square-chested with thick, golden-blond locks of hair swept back. I don't know why, but I'd imagined him as elderly or thin or with dark hair, anything but this. Here was a young, strapping gentleman, so very human.
But those blue eyes were cruel, and his smirk made me want to launch myself at him, claw him with my fingernails.
He stepped closer, and I drew in a sharp breath at the quick movement. The air around the warlock was stale, dusty, and smelling slightly of rot.
Oh. No, he wasn't young at all, I realized. Just feeding off Constantine to appear so.
"Over a century together, and not once had this demon ever fought me with such stunning insistence," the warlock said.
Con's hand was on my waist, holding me to his chest, and I didn't know if it was because he wanted me close, or if the warlock had a plan for me and Con would be forced to play his part.
"You know, I think the fool might be in love with you," the man said.
I covered the back of Con's hand with mine, stroked the smooth skin there, ignored the flare of pain that echoed up the bones of my arm.
The warlock huffed and rolled his neck on his shoulders, an uncomfortable melody of cracks and snaps sounding. Behind him, at the far exterior wall of the room, thin roots slithered through stone.
"You're very dull," the warlock moaned, cracking his hands in front of him next, the sound horrifyingly loud. Was this man really a bundle of tinder ready to go up in a blaze underneath all that sorcery? "I was hoping we might have some fun before I have the demon strangle you to death."
Under my palm, fine threads of an eager rowan tree tickled my skin.
"I'm going to kill you," I said softly.
The warlock snorted and nodded at Con. "He won't let you."
I brushed my other hand over Con's again, holding the warlock's gaze. "Lie down, darling."
The warlock smirked as Con lay down on the floor again at my order, arms and legs extended. "You'll have to do better than that, little halfling," the warlock hissed. "He does my bidding. Con—"
Now, I begged the trees. Trap him, but don't hurt him, please.
And before the warlock could get another word out, dark roots burst forth from the ground, tangling around Con's blue body like corrupted veins.
I launched myself at the warlock, tackling him to the floor. This…this I did not have a plan for. I hadn't even expected to find Con. And the walls were groaning, growls and howls rising from the other cells, the sounds drifting through the open door. Jude and Ronan would be panicking for me.
The warlock managed to roll us, my back hitting the floor and breath whooshing out of me. Con's leg strained for freedom out of the corner of my eye. There was a candlestick on the floor, just out of reach, and I stretched, grunting as the warlock's heavy forearm landed on my throat, stealing all my breath. My fingers clutched around warm brass, and the candle went toppling to the floor, sputtering out against the stone. I struck with the makeshift weapon, and the warlock bellowed as I hit him over the head, but he only shook himself, pressing harder against my throat.
Beside us, Con fought the roots, snaps sounding and whimpers of pain echoing in my head to match as my demon strained against his binding, tearing one arm free. Would he come to my aid or the warlock's?
Help, I gasped, striking hard against the man's head again. This time his weight lessened as he jerked away, swaying slightly. I couldn't catch my breath, couldn't quite see clearly, but I swung again, knocking him to his back. The illusion of him wavered, and what was there was a withered figure, those blue eyes fogged with magic.
We're hungry, the trees hinted, wicked vined voices in my head.
Yes,I offered eagerly. Yes, take him.
They did so with vigor, roots bursting from the floor again, tangling the bewildered figure of the warlock, twisting around him. He growled, illusion restored, and bursts of small flame ate at the roots that tried to manacle him to the floor. One thick root burrowed up directly through his thigh as he screamed, but with a wave of his free hand, it withered.
I was hurting Con. Hurting the roots that tried to help me.
They tore at the warlock's clothes, strangled his throat and limbs, but he punished each one with flame and rot. I tried to scramble up to my feet when Con reached me, yanked on my ankle, and dropped me to my knees between them. And as I fell, a flicker of gold caught my eye.
A bright medallion on a thin chain, peeking through the torn collar of the warlocks's shirt. Con dragged me back an inch, and I clawed my way forward again, kicking back at him, crying out in pain and apology. I ignored the warlock's purpling face, ignored the flames and the cries of the roots, and stared at that mark of gold.
A talisman. A talisman forms the tie.
I glanced at Con, and his eyes flicked on that little round of gold, silver round and wide, desperate. He reached for me, still under his master's bidding, but I scrambled forward. I reached through the fire, around the rot, and wrapped my fist around that bright, hot coin. Scorching fists took hold of my wrist, a howl of fire singing loose strands of my face, but the talisman was in my possession now.
I pulled the chain from the summoner's neck with a brutal yank and fell back as the little flames became a roaring blaze, licking up my ankles toward my thin skirt.
Free Con, please, free him!
The warlock was rising up from the floor, looming over me, but so too was my demon. I flinched as Con lunged, tackling the man down, but I couldn't deny the swell of pride at the sound of the warlock's agonized screams.
I stamped the flames out, soothed my hands over the dry and withered roots. Con's back was broad and whole, and by the howls and the writhing motion of the body under him, I knew his power was restored. The roots had broken through the marks of the circle that bound him, and I was holding the talisman.
Constantine was free. Con was free and—