“Prince Samuel the Limp-wristed?” Seraphina straightened, gaping.
“Lady Cat! My love! I’ve come to – OOF!” The prince face planted into the barrier and rebounded, stumbling backward, velvet-clad arms flailing. His tarnished silver circlet bounced from his head to land in the dust.
The prince finger-combed his blond locks out of his handsome face, then picked up his circlet, and dusted it with a frayed sleeve. He frowned at the group. “I say. There seems to be a deceptively invisible wall keeping me from my lady love. I’d be most obliged to you magical types if one of you would let me in? So I may rescue my lovely Cat? Forthwith?”
“Sammy,” Cat hissed, “not now!”
Every gaze in the bar slid to her. Cat felt the fur on her tail bristle as she glared back. “What?”
“What’s a werecat thief like you doing with a third rate royal like him?” Elietan demanded in an arch tone.
“I say! No need to be insulting,” Prince Samuel protested. “But his point is well made, Cat, my love. The game is up. I want no jewels for my crown if I can have you.”
Dru turned away from the door and made gagging motions.
“Cat stole the jewels for the prince of a third rate backwater?” Boris rumbled, disbelief dripping from his voice.
“I did not!”
“Turn out your belt pouch,” Dru ordered, spinning on Cat with her dagger in hand.
Metha grunted. As one, he, Dru, and Boris advanced on the hissing werecat.
She snarled and pounced on Metha, shrieking a battle cry.
Boris dove into the fray.
Fur, spittle, and shouts flew.
“Woo hoo!” Dru crowed. She sprinted into the middle of the brawl, blade flashing. A table splintered. Chunks of wood flew.
Trihalo darted behind the bar.
“Never fear, I’ll save you, Lady Cat! Somehow,” the prince cried from outside the barrier and began pounding on the barrier with the hilt of his rusty sword, which made the invisible wall ring like a bell.
“For the love of my aching head, SHUT UP!” Serafina commanded, flinging a spell like a net across the room.
The fighters hung suspended in the grip of magic: Cat, her teeth bared in a diabolical grin that held an enormous, course tuft of brown-black fur. Blood gleamed on her claws. Boris, arms thrown wide to catch him as he fell – a patch of pale, bald skin showing on one shoulder. Mentha had made a grab for Cat. The whites of his eyes showed and the air seemed to quiver around him. He’d snared Dru – and her dagger - in his scratched, bleeding arms.
Seraphina glared at the prince and growled, “One more blow and I will gut you like a carp.”
Prince Samuel opened his mouth, and then closed it with an audible snap. He lowered his sword arm.
Elietan slid another restorative across the bar.
“Thank you,” Seraphina said.
The spell collapsed.
Boris hit the floor. The room shuddered in sympathy.
Dru sliced Metha’s leather jerkin clean through.
Metha’s bellow of rage ended in a squeak of girlish protest that sounded remarkably like his sister’s softer, higher-pitched voice.
Cat’s ears, flattened to her skull twitched at the sound as she gyrated in midair to make sure she landed square on Boris’s ribcage. Claws. Out.
The bear wheezed.
Cat spun to stare at Metha and spat out the fur in her teeth.
Dru ducked out of Metha’s grasp and backpedaled. “What the hell was that?”
“Not at all sporting you know,” Prince Samuel cast into the taut silence, “a bear wading into a ladies’ disagreement.”
Metha’s fists clenched. The shimmer in the air around him intensified.
“WHAT?” Elietan demanded of the prince. “Wait. What do you see?”
“Why, not one, not two, but three lovely ladies and a supine bear,” Prince Samuel replied, then chortled.
Trihalo swore and lunged across the bar. The diminutive twin tackled Seraphina, dragging her from her stool, arm clamped around the sorceress’s throat.
“Seraphina!” Dru cried.
Cat launched at Metha, except she was pretty sure it wasn’t Metha.
Boris caught her by the tail, yanking her back.
Sharp, agonizing pain shot up her spine. She shrieked and lashed out with tooth and claw.
“Stop it,” he ordered. “If this is Trihalo magicked to look like Metha, you and I can’t fight her. We have to outsmart her before Elietan murders her also magicked brother.”
“So you slept in a closet with Metha and a bottle of port?” Cat spat. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer pair of guys.”
Boris grunted as if pained. “Look! She – I mean he – I mean . . . I hate magic.”
“Get away from her!” Trihalo snapped. “Or I break Seraphina’s neck.”
“Metha is really Trihalo and Trihalo is really Metha? Which one has the magic?” Dru asked.
“This one,” Boris and Cat pointed in unison at the scratched and bleeding twin in their midst.