I wondered if he had gotten his interior-decorating ideas from visiting a vimana. The People's association with rakshasas must have gone pretty far back.

Just beyond me, the Wolf Diamond shone on a narrow metal pedestal. The two trophies of the rakshasas' might: me and the gem. Where is your curse now, you dumb rock?

A steady hum underscored my thoughts. The propellers of the vimana. I had lost consciousness during the flight. When I came to, we had landed on the balcony of the flying palace sitting aground in the lush jungle, and Mart had tossed me into the cage. Now I lay there, neither alive nor dead, suspended three feet above the floor in a cage like some sort of canary.

Mart sat among the pillows below. He'd traded his cat burglar suit for a turquoise flowing garment that left his shoulders and arms bare. Three women fluttered over him, like brightly colored hummingbirds. One washed his feet. One brushed his hair. One held his drink. Other rakshasas sat along the wall, a respectable distance from him, a motley crew of monstrous and human bodies in jewel-toned cloth. Some came and others went through the arched entrances puncturing the walls.

Mart stared at me, his blue eyes two merciless gem-stones, pushed the women aside, and strode to the cage. I stopped chanting and just lay there, like a rag doll. I had enough strength left for one lunge. The second he opened that door, I'd break his neck. His finger twitched and Livie came into my view. Her face was a pale smudge next to the amber of Mart's skin.

Mart spoke, lilting words interspersed with harsh sounds.

"He says that if you live, you'll serve him. If you die, they will eat the meat off your bones."

If they ate me, they would become more powerful. I had no idea how I could prevent it.

Here's wishing for a power word of spontaneous combustion . . .

Mart spoke again, his gaze boring into me.

"He wants to know if you understand what he said."

I had to survive now. He left me no choice.

"Do you understand?"

Arrogant asshole. A tiny ripple pulsed through the puddle of my blood. Neither of them noticed it.

My voice was a raspy whisper. That was all I could manage. "First I'll kill Cesare. Then I'll kill him."

Livie hesitated.

"Tell him."

A single sharp word snapped from Mart's lips. Livie jerked, as if whipped, and translated.

Mart smiled, baring perfect teeth, and strode back to his place.

I lay still, inhaling the vapors rising from my blood. My vision blurred, clearing for a few moments, then dissolved back into a foggy mess. The only reality that remained was the steady pain in my stomach, the blood spread out before me, and my silent chants.

A hulking shape appeared on the edge of the room and grew as it approached. Cesare. Still in his human shape. The snakes rose from his body, hissing, tangling with one another. He carried a golden goblet.

He paused by my bars and said something to Mart.

He was going to drink my blood. It would make him stronger. My blood would nourish the creature who had tried to murder Derek. I don't think so.

Cesare thrust his hand through the bars, and scooped my blood into the goblet. Bastard. Anger built inside me, straining. My fingers trembled.

A thin line of magic stretched between me and the blood in the cup. I still felt it. The blood was still a part of me.

He tipped the goblet to his lips.

No. Mine.

Rage snapped inside me, and I sank it into the blood, commanding it to move as if it were a limb. It obeyed.

Cesare's eyes bulged. He clawed at the gush of red that had suddenly become solid in his mouth, moaning like his tongue had been cut out. That's right, you fucking sonovabitch. I shot more power into the blood. It hurt, but I didn't care.

Sharp red needles burst out of Cesare's face, puncturing his left eye, his lips, his nose, and his throat. He screamed, his ruined eye draining in a gush.

Payback for Derek. Enjoy, zaraza .

I liquefied the blood. One more time. The needles withdrew and then burst out from his face again. Cesare writhed, howling, ripping chunks from his face. Rakshasas ran; someone screamed. I hated to cut this short. I wanted to make it last like what he had done to Derek, but they wouldn't let me keep it up. I liquefied the blood again, spiked it, twisted it in sharp bursts, melted it again, and finally hammered magic into it. A blade of blood shot out of Cesare's throat. It turned, neatly painting a crimson collar around his neck. I let the blood go and it turned to black dust, its magic exhausted.

Roland had the power to solidify and control his blood. Now I had learned it, too. I didn't know if it was the boost of having his blood sword dissolve inside me or if it was my anger, but I had the talent now and had spent every iota of it making Cesare suffer.

Cesare's head rolled off his shoulders. A small gush of blood gurgled at the base of his spinal column. His body toppled back. He fell with a thunderous crash and behind him I saw Mart.

He said something to Livie and laughed. She licked her lips and translated. "He says you've proven useful already."

TIME DRIPPED BY, SLOWLY, SO VERY SLOWLY. RAKSHASAS drifted through the room. I silently chanted, encouraging my body to heal, my chapped, bloody lips whispering the words over and over, but the strong current of magic inside me had shrunk to a mere trickle. It sat there weak and useless like a soggy tissue and refused to respond. Still, I tried.

Cold fingers touched my hand. I focused and saw Livie, her eyes huge as she bent to me.

Tears wet her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry I got all of you into this."

"Don't be. It's not your fault."

A grimace skewed her face. She slid a small piece of metal into my palm.

Someone snarled. Livie dashed from the cage. I looked at the metal she'd given me. A knife.

She was trying to help me. When I did go, I wouldn't be completely alone.

DARKNESS ENCROACHED ON THE EDGE OF MY VISION. It grew slowly but steadily from the corners. The pain had receded behind a wall of numbness. Still there, still present, but no longer murderously sharp. I was dying.

I waited for my life to flash before my eyes, but it didn't. I just stared at the cavernous chamber, gleaming with metallic luster, and watched the fire flare and fracture within the depths of the Wolf Diamond. My lips moved softly, still shaping regeneration chants. By all rights, I should have been dead already. My stubbornness and Roland's blood had kept me alive this long. But eventually my will would fade and I would fade with it.

I always thought my life would end in a battle or maybe with a chance strike on some dark street. But not like this. Not in a gold cage to be served as a meal to a bunch of monsters.

But Curran would live and so would Derek, and Andrea, and Jim . . . Given a choice, I would change nothing. I just wished . . . I wished I had more time.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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