Enough of her face was left for him to see that she had been pretty. Enough of her psychic scent was left, despite the layers of rage, for him to tell that she hadn’t been a bitch when she walked among the living. In fact…
Hearth witch. She had been a hearth witch, and someone had burned her. Not a fast fire meant to kill, but a slow burning to torture the body and break the mind.
Her face blurred. Became Marian’s.
She was on him before he could regain his emotional balance and evade her.
His heart went numb. Instinct and training took over. He caught her by the back of the neck and threw her against the wall. Before she could recover, he followed, pressing her head between his hand and the wall. Then he let temper and memories be the whip driving him as his hand smashed through bone and brains.
He kept his hand pressed against the wall, capturing bits of skull and brain while her body slumped to the floor.
Still there. Her Self was still there, chained to a demon-dead body that no longer functioned.
He shook the gore off his hand, then wiped off the rest on her dress.
As he crouched there, too close to the sight of her, the smell of her, memory took him back to the camp in Terreille and the nightmare that still haunted his sleep some nights.
Two naked…things…floated out of the hut into the light. An hour ago, they had been a woman and a small boy. Now…
Marian’s fingers and feet were gone. So was the long, lovely hair. Daemonar’s eyes were gone, as well as his hands and feet. Their wings were so crisped, the slight movement of floating made pieces break off. And their skin…
Smiling that cold, cruel smile, the Sadist released his hold on Marian and Daemonar. The little boy hit the ground with a thump and began screaming. Marian landed on the stumps of her legs and fell. When she landed, her skin split, and…
The Sadist hadn’t just burned them; he had cooked them—and they were still alive. Not even demon-dead. Alive.
“Lucivar,” Marian whispered hoarsely as she tried to crawl toward her husband. “Lucivar.”
Lucivar stood up, backed away from the witch’s body.
Daemon had tortured him with nothing but elaborate shadows, knowing that his response would convince Dorothea and Hekatah that the Sadist had actually cooked his brother’s wife and son. That game had provided Daemon with the breathing space needed to get Marian and Daemonar away from the camp and keep them safe.
He and Daemon had both paid a high price for Marian and Daemonar’s safety. He reminded himself of that often on the nights when he woke up in a cold sweat, certain there was a lingering odor of burned hair and cooked flesh in the bedroom.
But he also never forgot that, with the right provocation, the Sadist was capable of playing out that kind of game for real.
He studied the hearth witch. Was that why she had been killed this way? Had Jenkell been trying to kindle that memory, maybe turn him and Daemon against each other so they would focus thoughts and tempers on each other instead of this house? Who could have told Jenkell what happened in that camp?
Or had the little bastard killed the witch that way just for the fun of it?
“I don’t know the answer, and I don’t care,” Lucivar said quietly. “Even if you pay for nothing else, you will pay for this witch’s death. I’ll make sure of it.”
Picking up his pack, he headed down the passageway to the kitchen.
“The last time we used the back stairs, you got lost,” Rainier said.
“I didn’t get lost,” Surreal replied, feeling testy. “I just didn’t end up in the same place as you did.”And discovered those damn beetles because of it.
“However it happened, we came up the front stairs and everyone is here. I say we go back down the same way.”
But Lucivar is on the first floor.That couldn’t matter. They hadn’t found anything in their hurried exploration of the second floor. No clue that might indicate an exit. No trap that might indicate an exit.
They could pick a room and wait for something to come after them, or they could try to find a way out before someone else got killed.
Which meant going down.
“All right,” she said. “We’ll use the main staircase.”
They went down in a tight little pack. Rainier led, taking it slow, testing each step just as he’d done on the way up. Henn held on to Rainier’s jacket and Dayle’s hand. Trout held on to Henn’s jacket and Sage’s hand. And Surreal held on to Trout.
Constant contact and a continuous roll call so they would know immediately if anyone suddenly disappeared.
How many times can you repeat six names?Surreal wondered.It’s not a big staircase. But it felt like they had been going down those stairsforever.
She finally took the last step—and daylight vanished. The only light came from the witchfire on the candle Rainier held.
“Mother Night!” Surreal said. “Where are we now?”
Rainier looked over his shoulder at her. “I think we’re in the cellar.”
Lucivar took a mouthful of water, then corked the jug and dug an apple out of the pack.
The mice’s heads floating in the jar of peaches was a bitch-mean trick. But the spiders…
Damn things gave him a jolt when they came pouring out of the drawer like that, big and hairy andfast. Of course, their scariness was greatly diminished by the fact that they giggled like a herd of little children who were playing “chase me.”
“Not bad, Tersa,” he said as he munched on the apple.
It had the feel of her, and it was what he’d expect from her efforts to build scary surprises for children. Strange? Yes. Creepy? Definitely. But benign.
He tossed the apple core in the sink and picked up the pack and war blade he’d set on the table. The doors that seemed to lead outside didn’t interest him, so he considered the other door.
Cellar door? Probably. Even without the warning of a chair braced under the knob, he didn’t need to get any closer to know something malevolent was on the other side of that door. Since they were trying to get out, Surreal and Rainier wouldn’t head belowground. They’d stick to the parts of the house where they could make use of a door or window. So that left him heading upstairs.
Whatever was in the cellar held no interest for him.
Lucivar was destroying the predators! He was going to ruineverything !
At least the special one in the cellar hadn’t been discovered yet. He wantedthat one to survive for the story’s climax.
“There’s a tunnel here,” Jaenelle said, pointing at the ground. “It’s deep, so it must start in the cellar—maybe even in a chamber below the main cellar—and runs to there.” Her finger traced a line that led to the stables behind the house.