“Tippy-tap,” Tersa said. She pressed her lips together and made a popping sound. Then she said, “The Mikal boy knows. He’ll tell the boy about the surprises.”

She looked crushed, defeated. Even if Jenkell did no other harm, he was going after that son of a whoring bitch for the pain he’d just caused Tersa.

“Thank you, darling.” Daemon kissed her hands and rose.

“Thank you.”

As he left the cottage and headed for the Queen of Halaway’s home, he wondered just how much damage he’d caused.

“Here, Tersa,” Allista said as she guided her Sister into a chair at the kitchen table. “Sit down and we’ll have our dinner. Manny made a lovely soup for us this evening and a chicken casserole. Sit down, and I’ll fetch the soup.”

No response. Just silent tears. Tersa hadn’t saidanything since Prince Sadi left.

He was usually so careful with Tersa, so understanding about the fragile nature of sanity once a mind was shattered. So it was doubly cruel of him to rip Tersa up like this.

She would mention this in her weekly report to the Hourglass Coven, since caring for Tersa was part of her training, but what could they do? Daemon Sadi was the Warlord Prince of Dhemlanand a Black Widow. Who could reprimand someone like Sadi? Well, his father could. But she wasn’t feeling quite brave enough to send a complaint to the High Priest of the Hourglass about his own son. Maybe…

“He spoiled the surprise,” Tersa whispered sadly. “There won’t be any surprises for the boy.”

The surprises. Tersa had been working on these “surprises” for weeks.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Allista said. She put a bowl in front of Tersa. “Here, darling. Eat your soup.”

Tersa didn’t reply—and Allista watched a chilling lucidity fill the other woman’s eyes.

“He wanted to hurt the boy,” Tersa said softly. “The Langston man. He tried to use me to hurt the boy.”

The moment came and went. But as they ate the evening meal, Allista was sure there was a storm brewing behind Tersa’s quiet stillness.

Puffing from the effort to go up a few stairs, Surreal stood in the dark upstairs hallway and swore. This back hallway didn’t feel big enough to hold six other people, let alone keep her from running into them. And a single lamp or candle should blaze in this dark.

“Rainier?”

No answer. No sound of body or breath. No sense of his presence.

"Rainier?" she called again, switching to a psychic thread.

"Surreal! Where in the name of Hell are you?"

"I’m standing in the upstairs hallway."

"No, you are not."

Shit. He really sounded pissy about it.

On the other hand, he might be right. She couldn’t actuallysee where she was, and the stairshad seemed to go on too long and in a peculiar direction. "The candle went out, and I don’t have any matches. I’m going to have to use Craft to light it." And close another exit when she did. She wanted his agreement, since she wouldn’t be closing another exit just for herself.

"Put a tongue of witchfire on the candle," Rainier said. "Give it enough power when you make it to burn for several hours. You can light other candles with it when you find them, but at least you’ll know nothing can snuff it out."

"Nothing but getting doused with more power than I give it," Surreal replied. But he had a valid point. Witchfire was created with power and didn’t need fuel or air. A draft wouldn’t put it out. Neither would water. In fact, Marian sometimes shaped witchfire into a flower and floated it inside a glass vase filled with water. It was beautiful—and a little eerie—to see fire floating in the middle of water.

"All right," she said. "I’ll—"

Something there. A soft scuffle and a new, faint scent competing with the hallway’s musty air.

She sidestepped to her right, away from the sound—and away from the possibility of someone shoving her down the stairs.

"Something’s here," she said.

"What is it?"

"Don’t know. Haven’t made the witchfire yet."

She raised the poker like a shield in front of her, took another step to the side, and banged her hip on a table. She pivoted to bring herself around the table, extending her left arm to set the candle down. In that moment she felt the rush of air as something lunged at her, felt the swipe of knife or claws aiming for her exposed left side.

And she hesitated a moment too long before she created a protective shield tight enough to be a second skin.

A double slice through shirt and skin in that moment before the shield formed around her. A shiver along nerves that were uncertain if they should send a message of pleasure or pain. Then…pain.

She swung the poker, a backhanded blow that connected with someone hard enough to send the person slamming into the opposite wall.

A ball of witchlight floated above the table before she consciously decided to make one. But she saw her adversary—and silently swore when the light glinted off the hourglass that hung from a tarnished silver chain around the witch’s neck.

A Black Widow who was very much one of the demon-dead, judging by how badly misshapen the head and face were from the blows that must have killed her. And not the same Black Widow who had attacked her downstairs.

“You want to tangle with me, you come ahead,” Surreal said.

“I’m in the mood to kill something.”

The Black Widow laughed. “You think you cankill me? Look again.”

“All right, maybe I’m too late to kill you, and maybe I won’t even be able to finish the kill. But if you don’t back off, Ican arrange for you to become a permanent resident of a part of Hell that will make this place look like a high-class indulgence.”

“Even when you become demon-dead you won’t have that much power.”

“Actually, sugar, since my uncle is the High Lord, I’ll be able to send you anywhere I damn well please. He’ll make sure of it.”

The Black Widow hesitated, then smiled as much as her misshapen face allowed. “You won’t be going anywhere, not even to Hell. I can wait to finish you, bitch.” She passed through the wall and vanished.

“Shit,” Surreal muttered. “Guess there’s no penalty for using Craft once you’re dead.” Or part of the spells woven into the house.

She huffed out a breath and winced. First she needed to take care of the wound, figure out how bad it was—and whether she’d just been poisoned. Then she would deal with whatever came next. Right now she was certain of two things: she was in the upstairs back hallway and Rainier wasn’t.


Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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