Randahl rubbed the back of his neck. "Should have I thought to ask her ourselves. She has a way about her."
Lucivar smiled wearily. "That she does." And she might! also have some idea of where the young couple might relocate. If they survived.
For a moment, he allowed himself to believe they | would survive.
Then the Jhinka returned.
10 / Kaeleer
Randahl shaded his eyes against the late afternoon sun and studied the low hills that were black with waiting Jhinka. I "They must have called up all the clans from all the tribes," I he said hoarsely. Then he sagged against the back of the community hall. "Mother Night, Yaslana, there must be five thousand of them out there."
"More like six." Lucivar widened his stance. It was the only way his tired, trembling legs would keep him upright.
Six thousand more than the hundreds he'd already killed during the past few days and that witch storm still raging around them, feeding on the shield to maintain its strength and draining him in the process. Six thousand more and no way to catch the Winds because that storm made it impossible to detect those psychic roadways.
They could shield and they could fight, but they couldn't send out a call for help and they couldn't escape. The food had run out yesterday. The well dried up that morning. And there were still six thousand Jhinka waiting for the sun to sink a little farther behind the low western hills before they attacked.
"We're not going to make it, are we?" Randahl said.
"No," Lucivar replied softly. "We're not going to make it."
In the past three days, he'd drained both Ebon-gray Jewels as well as his Red ring. The Red Jewel around his neck was now the only power reserve they had, and that wasn't going to hold much beyond the first attack. Randahl and the other three had exhausted their Jewels before he and Jaenelle had arrived. There hadn't been enough food or rest to bring any of them back up to strength.
No, the males weren't going to make it. But Jaenelle had to. She was too valuable a Queen to lose in a trap that, he was convinced, had been set to destroy him.
Satisfied that he'd lined up every argument that Protocol gave him to make this demand, Lucivar said, "Ask the Lady to join me here."
No fool, Randahl understood why the request was being made now.
Alone for a moment, Lucivar rolled his neck and stretched his shoulders, trying to ease the tense, tired muscles.
It is easier to kill than to heal. It is easier to destroy than to preserve. It is easier to tear down than to build. Those who feed on destructive emotions and ambitions and deny the responsibilities that are the price of wielding power can bring down everything you care for and would protect. Be on guard, always.
Saetan's words. Saetan's warning to the young Warlords and Warlord Princes who gathered at the Hall.
But Saetan had never mentioned the last part of that warning: sometimes it was kinder to destroy.
He wasn't strong enough to give Jaenelle a swift, clean death. But even at full strength, Randahl and the other Warlords wore lighter-rank Jewels, and landens had no ; inner defense against the Blood. Once Jaenelle and Mari were away from here, once the Jhinka started their final attack, he would make a fast descent, pull up every drop of power he had left, and unleash that force. The landens would die instantly, their minds burned away. Randahl and the others might survive for a few seconds longer, but not long enough for the Jhinka to reach them.
And the Jhinka . . . they, too, would die. Some of them. A lot of them. But not all of them. He would be left, alone, when the survivors tore him apart. He would make sure of it. He'd fought Jhinka in Terreille. He'd seen what they did to captives. When it came to cruelty, they were an ingenious people. But then, so were many of the Blood.
Lucivar turned as movement caught his eye.
Jaenelle stood a few feet away, her eyes fixed on the Jhinka.
She wore nothing but the Black Jewel around her neck.
He could understand why. Even her underclothes wouldn't have fit. All the muscle, all the feminine curves she'd gained over the past year were gone. Having no other source of fuel, her body had consumed itself in its struggle to be the receptacle for the power within. Bones pressed against pale, damp, blood-streaked skin. He could count her ribs, could see her hipbones move as she shifted her feet. Her golden hair was dark and stiff with the blood that must have been on her hands when she ran her fingers through it.
Despite that, or perhaps because of it, her face was strangely compelling. Her youth had been consumed in the healing fire, leaving her with a timeless, ageless beauty that suited her ancient, haunted sapphire eyes. It looked like an exquisite mask that would never again be touched by living concerns. •
Then the mask shattered. Her grief and rage flooded through him, sending him careening against the building.
Lucivar grabbed the corner and hung on with a desperation rapidly being consumed by overwhelming fear.
The world spun with sick speed, spun in tighter and tighter spirals, dragging at his mind, threatening to tear him away from any sane anchor. Faster and faster. Deeper and deeper.
Spirals. Saetan had told him something about spirals, but he couldn't see, couldn't breathe, couldn't think.
His shield broke, its energy sucked down into the spiral. The witch storm got pulled in, too, its psychic threads snapping as it tried to remain anchored around the building.
Faster and faster, deeper and deeper, and then the dark power rose out of the abyss, roaring past him with a speed that froze his mind.
Lucivar jerked away from the building and staggered toward Jaenelle. Down. He had to get her down on the ground, had to—
Pop pop pop pop pop.
"mother night!"Adler screamed, pointing toward the hills.
Lucivar wrenched a muscle in his neck as he snapped his head toward the sound of Jhinka bodies exploding.
Another surge of dark power flashed through what was left of the witch storm's psychic threads. They flared, blackened, disappeared.
He thought he heard a faint scream.
Pop pop pop.
It took her thirty seconds to destroy six thousand Jhinka.
She didn't look at anyone. She just turned around and started walking slowly, stiffly toward the other end of the village.
Lucivar tried to tell her to wait for him, but his voice wouldn't work. He tried to get to his feet, not sure how he'd ended up on his knees, but his legs felt like jelly.
He finally remembered what Saetan had told him about spirals.
He didn't fear her but, Hell's fire, he wanted to know what had set her off so that he had some idea of how to deal with her.