“Not gonna happen.” Prosper looked like he wanted to throttle her.
Babet had expected him to give her grief about volunteering, but she didn’t expect everyone to.
Hatchet shook his head. “Nope, I’m the one who’ll be bait.”
She raised an eyebrow. “And how will you protect yourself when she blows fire?”
“I’ll call for wind to blow It away.”
“You’d have to have winds so strong, they’d blow most of us away, too. I can put up a protective shield.”
Dimitri interrupted. “My fire burned her. Hers doesn’t bother me.” True, she’d watched the fire demon walk into a blazing building, unscathed. He could light up like a torch when he wanted to, surrounding himself with a halo of flames. “And when she digs a hole under your feet?”
“You’d be somewhere close to stamp your foot.”
Prosper jumped on that. “And you can give me some kind of magicked shield, something I can hide behind when she blows hot.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Did you see a spare shield in Hatchet’s trunk? Or any of my potions? I keep them in my trunk.” Besides, she wouldn’t give him a shield anyway. He’d try to attack Maw while she was trying to cook him.
“I can call for lightning,” Hatchet argued.
What was wrong with them? Did they think she was defenseless because she was a girl? “Yup, you can, and I can zap her with energy. Wanna see?” She aimed at a nearby tree and blasted a ball of energy at it. It blew up. Fang and Red jumped. They obviously hadn’t seen really powerful witches before. Her patience had reached its limit. She looked at all of them. “Which one of you thinks he’s stronger than I am? Because I’m ready to settle this now.”
Fang and Red stared at her, shaking their heads.
Hatchet and Dimitri glanced at each other. Prosper bristled, upset. “We don’t want you to get hurt.”
“And I don’t want you to become a dragon snack. How would you fight Maw?”
He bunched heavy muscles. “I’d rip her damn jaw off.” He could probably do it, too.
“Before or after she turns you into a crisp?”
His scowl could scare most people. Not her. Not his friends either. They knew him too well. She spoke slowly and clearly. “I’m the best candidate, and all of you know it. I might not be able to kill Maw, but I can survive her. And while she focuses on me, you three can make your move.”
She might as well have told them there was no Santa. Not one of them liked the idea, but they had no other options. Morgana banged her head on the window of Hatchet’s car. She wasn’t happy either.
Babet opened the door to shake her finger at her snake. “I’m not arguing about this, and you’re not helping us fight Maw. You have no protection against fire.”
Morgana lowered her head, pouting. She looked so sad, Babet stroked her scales. “I’d rather you sat this one out so that you’ll be there to save my ass another day in another battle.”
Somewhat mollified, Morgana rubbed her cheek against Babet’s arm. Babet sighed. She hadn’t earned any brownie points with her idea, but she really was the best candidate. Her friends just didn’t want to admit it.
Fang didn’t seem to like the idea either. “Are you staying at Cole’s until this thing with Maw is over?”
“Good, then we can sit around his kitchen table tomorrow and try to come up with some more ideas. Can bullets and spears hurt Maw? What happens if we drop dynamite down her hole when it opens? What about flame throwers?”
Prosper’s shoulders relaxed. “Good, we have more options.”
“We’ll talk about them tomorrow.” Hatchet started around his car to the driver’s door. “No one’s had any sleep tonight. Let’s get some rest and start fresh tomorrow.”
Fang and Red got in his pickup and led the way back to Cole’s place. When they reached it, they made sure to step out onto his cement parking area. It would take a while before the ground felt safe again. The motion light over the garage lit the back door, then dissolved into shadows. The night was so quiet, Babet rubbed her arms. In River City, there was always activity, people walking up and down the sidewalks, jazz spilling from nightclubs. This silence didn’t feel natural.
Fang gave a quick knock, then walked inside. Cole was up, manning the phone, when they reached his office.
“The dragon’s still alive?” he asked.
“She was heading for the bog when we left the trailer park,” Red told him.
Cole glanced out the window at the woods in the distance. The sun tinged the horizon with pink. “She can’t do any damage there. Do you have a game plan?”
Fang yawned and reached under his sweatpants to scratch his butt. A typical wolf move. “We’re working on it. We’ve come up with some ideas.”
“Good.” Cole’s eyes were smudged with fatigue, too. He stood and started turning off lights, leading them to the addition on the back of the house. A large room on the left held a dozen beds. A bathroom was on the right, followed by a TV room with lots of chairs. “Make yourselves comfortable. I don’t have any guest suites, but this works for our pack.”
When he noticed Morgana slither close to Babet, he raised his eyebrows.
“She’ll sleep on the floor between Prosper and me. She’s protective,” Babet said.
“I wouldn’t want to mess with her.” Cole gave them a short salute. “See you sometime tomorrow. Sleep as long as you want.”
Fang and Red dropped onto beds on the far side of the room. Dimitri, Hatchet, Prosper, and Babet took beds on the other side. Morgana settled herself halfway between all of them, determined to protect them.
Babet had trouble getting comfortable and falling asleep. It had been a long time since she and Prosper didn’t share a bed. It felt funny to stretch out a hand and not touch him. The night was too black. No street lights seeped through the blinds. Something chirped outside. Crickets? Eventually, the adrenaline and worries left her and she faded into a series of restless dreams.