But there was something about the buzzy-buzz whispering between Dayle and Ginger that annoyed her. And the mumbles and snickers coming from Kester and Trist made her edgy.

Were the buzzy-buzz and the snickers something all children did, or just landens? She didn’t know, wasn’t sure how to ask. When she’d worked in the Red Moon houses as a whore, she’d refused to work in any house that used younger girls, and as an assassin, she had never accepted a contract to kill a child. So she’d had no reason to be around children and plenty of reasons to avoid them. If she’d had friends her own age when she was very young, she didn’t remember them—and by the time she was Ginger’s age, she’d been whoring on the streets in order to survive and had already killed her first man.

She turned away from the children and tipped her head toward the back window, a signal for Rainier to meet her there.

“I didn’t feel anything when I passed that door,” Rainier said quietly.

“I know that,” Surreal replied. “You would have said something if you had.” She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned her head.

Trist was drifting toward the closed door. He stopped when he realized she was watching him. She waited until he retreated a couple of steps and began another whispered conversation with Kester before she turned her attention back to Rainier.

“Maybe the distaff gender is more sensitive to this spell than the spear gender. Or maybe I do have a bit more feel for what’s here because my mother was a Black Widow. Either way…”

She glanced at the children in time to see Trist grab the knob of the closed door. He gave her a defiant smirk, then turned the knob and pulled the door open.

Disbelief froze her for a moment. Then she and Rainier leaped forward.

The girls screamed. Trist stared at whatever had been waiting in the cupboard. Then hands covered with burned, blackened skin grabbed the boy and yanked him inside.

The door slammed shut.

Trist screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

Rainier reached the door a step ahead of her. He grabbed the knob and tried to open the door, but it was locked, sealed from inside.

“Do it!” she yelled.

Using Craft, Rainier ripped the door off the hinges and threw it aside at the same moment Surreal dropped the poker and leaped into the cupboard, calling in her stiletto since that was a better weapon for close fighting.

No one else inside the small space. Just shelves of old dishes.

But she could still hear the boy screaming and then she heard…

She knew those sounds. She’d made enough kills to know what those sounds—and the sudden lack of screams—meant.

Rainier lobbed the ball of witchlight through the doorway.

She saw the wet spot growing on the wall between a tureen and another serving dish. Pushing them aside, she touched two fingers against the spot, then withdrew her hand and held it so Rainier could see the fresh blood.

A plopping sound. Movement on the shelf had her jolting back a step.

Then something small rolled off the shelf and landed on the floor between her and the door.

She stared at it—and felt that stillness inside her grow sharper and more deadly.

As she stepped over the freshly plucked eye, something inside her snapped. Rainier saw it, recognized it—and moved aside.

Kester, on the other hand, moved toward her when she walked out of the storage cupboard. His fists were clenched, and his expression was a blend of fear and fury.

“You bitch!” he yelled. “You’re supposed to protect us!”

There was something about that blend of fear and fury….

Knowing she was too close to using it on the boy, she dropped the stiletto. Then she grabbed Kester by the shirt, swung him around, and slammed his back against the narrow piece of wall between the cupboard and the passageway.

“Listen to me, you little piece of shit,” she snarled. “You were told there is danger, you were told someone is trying to hurt all of us, and you were told to stay away from that door. But you had to play ‘Who’s got the biggest balls?’ and you dared your friend to open the door. And now he’s dead. So listen up, sugar. That little fool shouldn’t have disobeyed me. Have you got that? If he had done what I’d told him to do, he would not have died. Not here. Not like that.”

She let go of Kester and stepped back. “I hope he’s dead. I really do. But if the rules of this house hold true, you’ll see him again because now he’ll be one of the things that will be trying to killyou .”

She spun around, grabbed the lamp off the table, then strode down the passageway.

His hand shook so much with excitement, he had to force himself to slow down. No point taking notes if he couldn’t decipher them, and this particular dialogue was too good to waste.

Oh, yes. This exchange wasexcellent.

But one thing did worry him.

Seeing how easily she handled a knife, he began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the Surreal bitch hadn’t been lying when she’d told the children she used to be an assassin.

Surreal passed the back stairs and ended up in the kitchen. She set the lamp down on the worktable and looked around—and wondered if whoever had prepared this house had been foolish enough to leave any knives she could use.

On the other hand, she’d walked into a strange room, alone, with only a lamp. She’d dropped the poker when she’d leaped into the cupboard. And she’d dropped the stiletto too. So who was the real fool?

Stupid boy. Stupid,stupid boy to die that way.

Her eyes filled. Her throat closed.

No.No. No tears. No grief. Not here. Not yet. But…

The boy had disobeyed. He’d defied a straight order. What in the name of Hell had he been thinking? That this was a game? Well, it was that. A bloody, vicious game. The rest of them knew that now, didn’t they?

That won’t save them from getting killed,she thought.Won’t save Rainier and me either.

She looked around the kitchen and said too softly, “I’ll find you, you son of a whoring bitch. I may not still be among the living when it happens, but I will find you. And when I do, I will rip you into small pieces and feed you to whatever you’ve put into this house.”

She laughed, barely making a sound. “You don’t think I can do it? Sugar, I skinned my own father and fed him to the Hell Hounds. If I can do it to him, I can do it to you.”

THIRTEEN

Lucivar stared at the messenger and didn’t laugh. Didn’t even grin. The effort hurt his muscles, but he kept a straight face as he accepted the shielded message from the heavily shielded young Warlord.


Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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