"Can she do that?" Nyselle whispered.
Jaenelle's eyes flicked to the Province Queens before returning to Alexandra. "I am the Queen. My will is the law."
And no one, Alexandra realized,no one would defy that will.
"You will be taken to Cassandra's Altar and sent back through that Gate to Terreille," Jaenelle said. "High Lord, you will see to the arrangements."
"It will be my pleasure, Lady," Saetan replied solemnly.
"You're dismissed." The scepter swung until the unicorn's horn pointed right at Alexandra's breast. "Except you."
Leland made a wordless protest, but didn't argue when Philip, looking pale and sick, took her arm and led her from the room. The other members of the entourage hurried after them, followed more slowly by Saetan, Daemon, and Lucivar.
When the double doors had closed and they were the only people left in the room, Jaenelle lowered the scepter. "You should have gone when I first told you to. Now..."
It took Alexandra a minute to speak. "And now?"
Jaenelle didn't answer.
Alexandra swayed, then took a half step to catch her balance as the room began to spiral and everything went dark.
What in the name of Hell just happened?Alexandra wondered as she caught her balance. Then she looked around.
She stood alone in the center of a large stone circle. The floor was perfectly smooth. Surrounding the circle was a solid wall of sharp, jagged rock that soared high above her head. Beyond that wall ...
She felt the enormous pressure pushing against those walls, as if something was trying to break in and crush this space.
*We're deep in the abyss,* said a midnight voice.
Alexandra turned toward Jaenelle's voice—and stared at the creature who now stood a few feet away. Stared at the slender, naked human body; at the human legs that ended in delicate hooves; at the human hands that had unsheathed claws instead of fingernails; at the delicately pointed ears; at the gold mane that wasn't quite hair and wasn't quite fur; at the tiny spiral horn in the middle of its forehead; at the frozen sapphire eyes.
*What are you?* Alexandra whispered.
*I am dreams made flesh,* the other answered. *I am Witch.*
Jaenelle's voice. Jaenelle's strange eyes. But...
Alexandra backed away. No.No. *You're what's inside ... *
She couldn't say it. Revulsion choked her. This is what her daughter Leland had birthed?This?
*What did you do with my granddaughter?* Alexandra demanded.
*I did nothing to her.*
*You must have! What did you do? Devour the spirit in order to use the flesh?*
*If you mean the husk you call Jaenelle, that flesh was always mine. I was born within that skin.*
*Never!Never! You couldn't have come from Leland.*
*Why?* Witch asked.
*Because you're monstrous.*
Apainful silence. Then Witch said coldly, *I am what I am.*
*And whatever that is, it didn't come from my daughter. It didn't come from me.*
*NO! THERE IS NO PART OF ME IN YOU!*
Another long silence. Beyond the wall of rocks, it sounded like a fierce storm was gathering.
*Have you anything else to say?* Witch asked quietly.
*I will never have anything to say toyou,* Alexandra replied.
The rock walls vanished. The power in the abyss rushed in to fill the empty space—and tried to fill the vessel inside that space.
Alexandra felt that rushing flood of power start to crush her, then felt another source of dark power balance and control that flood, to keep her mind from shattering. Something inside her snapped and, for a fleeting second, she felt intense pain and agonizing grief.
And then she felt nothing at all.
Alexandra woke slowly. She was lying in a bed, covered up and comfortably warm, but it only took a moment for her to realize something was wrong. Her head had an odd stuffed-with-wool feeling, and her body ached as if she had a fever.
She opened her eyes, saw Saetan sitting in a chair near the bed, and said hoarsely, "I don't want you."
"I don't want you either," he replied dryly as he reached for a mug sitting on the bedside table. "Here. This will help clear your head."
With a grunt, she propped herself up on one elbow—and saw her Opal Jewels, the pendant and ring, lying on the table. They were empty, completely drained of the reservoir of stored power.
Instinctively, desperately, she turned inward, reaching for the depth of her Opal strength. She couldn't even reach the depth of the White. She was sealed off from the abyss, and her mind felt as if it had been encased in stone.
"You still have basic Craft," Saetan said quietly.
Alexandra stared at him in horror. "Basic Craft?"
She continued to stare as she remembered that crushing flood of power and the fleeting moment of pain. "She broke me," Alexandra whispered. "That bitchbroke me."
"Take care what you say about my Queen," Saetan snarled.
"What are you going to do?" she snapped. "Rip my tongue out?"
He didn't have to answer. She saw it in his eyes.
"Drink this," he said too quietly as he handed her the mug.
Not daring to do otherwise, she drank the brew and handed the mug back to him.
"I'm not even a witch anymore," she said as tears filled her eyes.
"A witch is still a witch, even if she's broken and can no longer wear the Jewels. A Queen is still a Queen."
Alexandra laughed bitterly. "Oh, that's so easy to say, isn't it? What kind of Queen can I be? Do you really think I can hold a court around me?"
"Other Queens have. Psychic strength is only one factor that attracts strong males and entices them to serve. You don't need that kind of strength if you have the use of theirs."
"And do you think I can hold on to a strong-enough court to remain the Queen of Chaillot?"
"No," Saetan replied quietly after a long pause. "But that has nothing to do with your ability to wear Jewels."
She choked on the insult, not daring to do anything else. "Do you realize what's going to happen to Chaillot now?"
"Your people will, in all probability, choose another Queen."
"Thereisn't another Queen strong enough to be accepted as the Territory Queen. That's why—" —Istill rule.No, she couldn't say that to him.
She pushed herself into a sitting position, then waited for her head to clear. That odd, muffled feeling would go away eventually, but the sense of lossnever would. The bitch who had masqueraded as her granddaughter had done this to her. "She's monstrous," she muttered.