Gathering her strength and her rage, she channeled it into her inner barriers.
Hekatah pounded against them as she fed, pounded and pounded, trying to blast them open to finish the kill. But Luthvian hung on, letting rage form the bridge between life and death as she poured her strength into her inner barriers. Poured and poured until there was nothing left. Nothing.
At some point, the pounding stopped, and Luthvian felt a grim satisfaction that the bitch hadn't been able to break through.
Far, far away, she felt Hekatah roll off her. Somewhere in the vague, misty distance she saw sharp nails descending toward her face.
The hand stopped before the nails touched her eyes.
"No," Hekatah said. "If you manage to make the transition to demon-dead, I want you to see what I do to your boy."
Movement. The bedroom door closed. Silence.
Luthvian felt herself fading. With effort, she flexed her fingers—just a little.
Her rage had burned through the transition without her being aware of it, without Hekatah being able to sense it. She was demon-dead, but she didn't have the strength to hold on. Her Self would soon become a whisper in the Darkness. Perhaps, someday, when it had rested and regained some strength, the Self would leave the Darkness and return to the living Realms. Perhaps.
How many times had Lucivar told her to set up warning shields around the house? And every time he'd tried, she had dismissed it with a sneer. But she'd been secretly pleased that he had tried.
It had been a test, but she had been the only one who had known that. Every time he had mentioned the shields again after she had dismissed the idea, every time he had endured her sharp tongue while he helped her in some way had been a test to prove that he cared about her.
Oh, there were times when, seeing the tightness in his face and the coolness in his eyes, she had told herself it would be the last time, the last test. The next time he mentioned the shields, she would do what he wanted so that he would know she cared about him, too.
Then the next time would come and she would want, wouldneed, just one more test. One more. And one more. Always one more.
Now there would be no more tests, but her son, her fine Eyrien Warlord Prince, would never know she had loved him.
All she would have needed was an hour as one of the demon-dead. An hour to tell him. She couldn't even leave him a message. Nothing.
No. Wait. Maybe shecould say the most important thing, the thing that had been chewing at her ever since Surreal had lashed out at her.
She gathered everything that was left of her strength, shaped it into a bubble to hold one thought, then pushed it upward, upward, upward until it rested just outside her inner barriers.
Lucivar would find it. She knew he would.
No anchor. Nothing to hold on to. Filled with regrets tempered by one bubble of acknowledged love, she faded away and returned to the Darkness.
10 / Kaeleer
Palanar knocked reluctantly on the kitchen door. He supposed being asked to escort Lady Luthvian to the Keep was an honor, but she had made it very clear that she didn't like Eyrien males. So he wasn't really sure if this was Hallevar's way of showing confidence in him or a subtle punishment for something he'd done.
He opened the door and cautiously poked his head into the kitchen. "Lady Luthvian?"
She was there, standing near the table, staring at him. Then she smiled and said, "No balls, little warrior?"
Stung, he stepped into the kitchen. "Are you ready?" he asked, striving to put the same arrogance into his voice that Falonar or Lucivar would have had.
She looked at the traveling bag next to her, then at him.
Since when did Luthvian expect a male to carry anything? The last time he'd tried, she'd almost dented his head. Hallevar had been right when he'd said, "Best resign yourself to the fact that a female can change her mind faster than you can fart."
He took a couple of steps toward her, then stopped again.
"What's wrong?" she asked suspiciously.
She stank. That's what was wrong. Reallystank. But he wasn't about to saythat. Then he noticed she looked a little... strange.
"What's wrong?" she asked again, taking a step toward him.
He took two steps back.
Her face shifted, wavered. For a moment, he thought he saw someone else. Someone he didn't know—and didn'twant to know.
And he remembered something else Hallevar had told him: sometimes running was the smartest thing an inexperienced warrior could do.
He ran for the door.
He didn't reach it. Power blasted through his inner barriers. Needles stabbed into his mind, grew hooks and dug deeper, tore out little bits of his Self. His body vibrated from the fierce tug-of-war as he tried to get out the door while she drew him back into the room.
Helpless, he felt himself turn around—and saw the witch who held him captive. He screamed.
"You will go exactly where I tell you to go," she said. "Say exactly what I tell you to say."
Gold eyes glittered in her decayed face, and pain seared him.
"It's a small task, puppy. And when it's done, I'll set you free."
She held out a small crystal. It floated through the air. His left hand reached out and took it.
She told him exactly where to go, exactly what to say, exactly what to do with the spell in the crystal. Then he was turned around again, like a marionette with knotted strings. He walked out the door.
A warrior would not do this, no matter the price. A warrior would not do this.
He tried to bring his right hand up to reach his knife. He could cut his throat, cut his wrists, dosomething to get away from her.
His hand closed on the hilt.
*Dying won't save you, little warrior,* the witch said. *I am the Dark Priestess. You can't escape me that way.*
His hand dropped to his side, empty.
Palanar spread his wings and flew as fast as he could to do what a warrior would not do.
It wasn't the wind in his face that made him weep.
11 / Kaeleer
Lucivar landed at his eyrie, and shouted, "Marian!" Where in the name of Hell was the woman? he thought as he strode toward the door. She should have arrived at the Keep hours ago.
He walked through the door, saw the neat pile of traveling bags. His heart stopped for a moment. By the time he felt it beat again, he had risen to the killing edge."Marian!"
The eyrie was a big place, but it didn't take him long to give it a thorough search. Marian and Daemonar weren't there. But she had packed, so what had prevented her from leaving? Maybe Daemonar was ill? Had she taken him over to Nurian's eyrie to have the Healer look at him?
As the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih, his eyrie was set a little apart from the other eyries nestled in the mountain, but it was only a couple of minutes before he landed in front of Nurian's home. Before his feet touched the ground, he knew they weren't there.