So familiar. He didn't need the whiff of rot present in some of the psychic scents to recognize Dorothea's hand in this. He'd seen it too many times in Terreille. Those whose ambition far outstripped their ability would sell their own people for Hayll's "assistance." The fighting would eliminate the strongest males and females, the ones best able to oppose Dorothea, and the ones who were left...

This time he didn't have to be subtle. This time he didn't have to dance around the agony Dorothea would inflict on him if she suspected his interference. But being subtle had become ingrained in him. Besides, a silent predator was the most feared.

Smiling a cold, cruel smile, Daemon slipped his hands into his trouser pockets and glided between clumps of fighters—invisible, undetectable—and left devastation in his wake.

He entered Karla's mansion. The fighting must have started here and spread into the street. He stepped over corpses, homed in on the psychic scents that had a flavor he associated with Dorothea, and killed those fighters so swiftly, so cleanly their opponents froze for a moment, stunned and confused.

A Warlord Prince wearing the badge of the Master of the Guard was fighting off other males near the staircase, using the last of his Jeweled strength to shield himself against three men who were still fresh.

Three flicks of Black power. Three men fell.

As he started up the stairs, Daemon saw the sharp hunter's look in the other Warlord Prince's eyes, saw the moment the man guessed something dangerous was climbing the stairs.

A White-Jeweled Warlord rushed at the Warlord Prince, forcing him to turn toward the enemy who was attacking.

Daemon climbed the stairs. Even exhausted, the Warlord Prince would have no trouble with the Warlord, and it would keep him occupied a little while longer.

No need to hunt for Karla's room. The Ring of Honor led him unerringly, the throbbing against his organ irritating him enough to hone a temper that had already risen to the killing edge.

The door stood open. He saw a hacked-up woman lying on a blood-soaked carpet. He saw five men sending blast after blast of power against the shield surrounding another woman. Karla.

He didn't know who the men were—and didn't care.

Reaching up from the depth of the Black, he slipped under the men's inner barriers and unleashed iced rage, turning their brains into gray dust and consuming their psychic strength, finishing the kill.

He was across the room before they fell. Kneeling beside Karla, he dropped the sight shield and reached out cautiously.

The shield around her held a feral, deadly hunger.

Not sure how to get through the shield, and wondering what he might unleash if he did it incorrectly, Daemon took a deep breath and brought his hand a little closer.

A flick of power against his palm. A tasting. An acceptance.

His hand passed, unharmed, through the shield.

"Karla," he said as his hand closed on her arm."Karla." Her rasping effort to breathe told him she was still alive. But if she'd gone so deep into a healing sleep that she couldn't hear him...

"Kiss kiss," Karla rasped.

Relief washed through him. He leaned over her so that she could see him without trying to move her head. "Kiss kiss."

"Poisoned," she said. "Can't identify. Bad."

Pushing her robe aside, Daemon laid his left hand on her chest and sent out a careful psychic probe. His knowledge of healing Craft was limited, but he knew about poisons. And he recognized at least part of this one.

"Get your hand ... off my ... tit," Karla said.

"Don't be bitchy," Daemon replied mildly, probing a little more. Her body was fighting it far better than he would have thought possible, but she wouldn't survive without more help than he could give her. He hesitated. "Karla ..."

"About... three hours left. Body... can't fight more..."

Riding the Black Winds, it had taken him almost two hours to get there from Scelt. Pandar and Centauran were closer, but he didn't know Jonah or Sceron as well as he knew Khardeen, and he didn't know if the satyr or centaur Healers could deal with this poison.

Besides, Jaenelle would most likely head for Scelt. And that decided him.

"I'm getting you out of here," he said as he started to lift her. Then he realized her hand was still clamped around the bladed stick. "Sweetheart, let go of the stick."

"Have to clean... the blades. Can't... put a weapon away... without cleaning the blades. Lucivar... would skin me."

Daemon almost gave her his succinct opinion about that, but glancing over his shoulder at the hacked-up woman, he swallowed any criticism he might have had about Lucivar's training methods. "I'll clean the blades. And I promise I'll never tell Lucivar you didn't do it yourself."

Karla's lips curved in the barest of smiles. "You'd be likable if ... you weren't somale."

"My Queen likes me that way," Daemon said dryly. He vanished the bladed stick, carefully lifted Karla, and turned.

Her Master of the Guard blocked the doorway. "What are you doing with my Queen?"

"Taking her away from here," Daemon answered quietly. "She's been poisoned. She needs help."

"We have Healers."

"Would you trust them?" Daemon saw the moment's hesitation. "I have no quarrel with you, Prince. Don't force me to go through you."

The other man studied him, focused on the Black-Jeweled Ring. "You're Lady Angelline's Consort."


The man stepped aside. As Daemon passed him, he said quietly, "Please take care of her."

"I will." Daemon paused. "Have you seen Morton?"

The Master of the Guard shook his head.

There was no time to think about Morton or what might have happened to him. "If you see him, tell him I'm taking Karla to Scelt. Don't tell anyonebut Morton."

The man nodded. "Come this way. There's a Craft-powered carriage out back. It'll get you to the Winds faster."

The Master of the Guard drove the carriage while Daemon held Karla, using those precious minutes to wrap Black shields around her to protect her during the ride on the Winds. They stopped a few feet from where he had landed.

"May the Darkness embrace you, Prince," the man said.

"And you." Wrapping his arms around Karla, Daemon caught the Black Wind and rode hard toward Scelt.

He stopped once, halfway there, to send a message to Khary. *I'm on my way back with Karla. She's been poisoned. We'll need a Healer and a Black Widow. The best you have.*

*Jaenelle's on her way here,* Khary replied.

That was all he needed to know. He caught the Black Wind again and continued the journey, knowing the sand in the hourglass was trickling away far too fast.

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books