Who . . . ?
But he knew. Even before she walked over and looked at him, even before he saw the feral intelligence in those ancient, haunted sapphire eyes, he knew.
Terrifying and beautiful. Human and Other. Gentle and violent. Innocent and wise.
"I am Witch," she said, a small, defiant quiver in her voice.
"I know." His voice had a seductive throb in it, a hunger he couldn't control or mask.
She looked at him curiously, then shrugged and returned to the altar. "You shattered the chalice. That's why you can't move yet."
He tried to raise his head and blacked out. By the time he could focus again, she had enough of the chalice pieced together for him to realize it wasn't the same one Tersa had shown him.
"That's not your chalice," he shouted happily, too relieved to care that he'd startled her until she bared her teeth and snarled at him.
"No, you silly stubborn male, it'syours. "
That sobered him a little, but her response sounded so much like Jaenelle the child, he didn't care about that either.
Taking it slow, he propped himself up on one elbow. "Then your chalice didn't shatter."
She selected another piece, fit it into place. Her eyes filled with desperation and her voice became too quiet. "It shattered."
Daemon lay down and closed his eyes. It took him a long moment to gather the courage to ask, "Can you repair it?"
She didn't answer.
He drifted after that. Minutes, years, what did it matter? Images swirled behind his closed eyes. Bodies of flesh and bone and blood. Webs that marked the inner boundaries. Crystal chalices that held the mind. Jewels for power. The images swirled and shifted, over and over. When they finally came to rest, they formed the Blood's four-sided triangle. Three sides—body, chalice, and Jewels—surrounding the fourth side, the Self, the spirit that binds the other three.
The images swirled again, became mist. He felt something settle into place inside him as the mist reformed into a crystal chalice, its shattered pieces carefully fitted together. Black mist filled in the cracks between each piece, as well as the places where tiny pieces were missing.
He felt brittle, fragile.
A finger tapped his chest.
A thin skin of black mist coated the chalice, inside and out, forming a delicate shield around it.
The finger tapped again. Harder.
He ignored it.
The next tap had an unsheathed nail at the end of it.
Cursing, he shot up onto his elbows. He forgot what he'd intended to say because she was straddling his thighs and he could have sworn he saw little flashes of lightning deep in her sapphire eyes.
"Snarly male," she said, tapping his chest again. "The chalice is back together, but it's very fragile. It will be strong again if you keep it protected long enough for it to mend. You must take your body to a safe place until the chalice heals."
"I'm not leaving without you."
She shook her head. "The misty place is too dark, too deep for you. You can't stay here."
Daemon bared his teeth. "I'm not leaving without you."
"I can be as stubborn and as snarly as you."
She stuck her tongue out at him.
He responded in kind.
She blinked, huffed, and then began to laugh.
That silvery, velvet-coated laugh made his heart ache and tremble.
Before, he'd seen Witch beneath the child Jaenelle. Now he saw Jaenelle beneath Witch. Now he saw the difference—and no difference.
She looked at him, her eyes full of gentle sadness. "You have to go back, Daemon."
"So do you," he said quietly.
She shook her head. "The body's dying."
"You could heal it."
She shook her head more violently. "Let it die. Let them have the body. I don't want the body. This is my place now. I can see them all when I stand in this place. All the dreams."
"The dreams in the Light. The dreams in the Darkness and the Shadow. All the dreams." She hesitated, looked confused. "You're one of the dreams in the Light. A good dream."
Daemon swallowed hard. Was that how she saw them? As dreams? She was the living myth, dreams made flesh.
"I'm not a dream, Lady. I'm real."
Her eyes flashed. "What is real?" she demanded. "I see beautiful things, I hear them, I touch them with the body's hand, and they say bad girl to make up stories, those things are not real. I see bad things, cruel things, a twisted darkness that taints the land, a darkness that isn't the Darkness, and they say bad girl to make up stories, bad girl to tell lies. The uncles say no one will believe a sick-mind girl and they laugh and hurt the body so I go away to the misty place to see the gentle ones, the beautiful ones and leave them ice that hurts them when they touch it." She hugged herself and rocked back and forth. "They don't want me. They don't wantme. They don't loveme. "
Daemon wrapped his arms around her and held her close, rocking with her as words kept tumbling out. He listened to the loneliness and confusion. He listened to the horrors of Briarwood. He listened to bits of stories about friends who seemed real but weren't real. He listened and understood what she didn't, what she couldn't.
If she didn't repair her shattered mind, if she didn't link with the body again, if she didn't re-form the four-sided triangle, she would be trapped here, becoming lost and entangled in the shards of herself until she could never find a way to reach what she loved most.
"No," he said gently when her words finally stopped, "they don't want you. They don't love you, can't love you. But Ido love you. The Priest loves you. The beautiful ones, the gentle ones—theylove you. We've waited so long for you to come. We need you with us. We need you to walk among us."
"I don't want the body," she whimpered. "It hurts."
"Not always, sweetheart. Not always. Without the body, how will you hear a bird's song? How will you feel a warm summer rain on your skin? How will you taste nut-cakes? How will you walk on a beach at sunset and feel the sand and surf under your . . . hooves?"
He felt her mood lighten before he heard the sniffled giggle. As she raised her head to look at him, her thighs shifted where they straddled him.
A fire sparked in his loins and he stirred.
She leaned back and watched him swell and rise.
He saw innocence in her face, a kitten's curiosity. He saw a female shape that, if not fully mature, was also not a child.
He clenched his teeth and swore silently when she began stroking him lightly.