Daemon pursed his lips, then let out a frustrated sigh. Give him a house party with rooms packed with people and he could pick out his prey and make the kill while gliding through the crowd—and more often than not, no one realized what he’d done. But this kind of tracking was as frustrating to him as reading was to Lucivar. And admitting he needed help was just as humiliating. “Does the Black shield go down deep enough to block the tunnel?”

Jaenelle’s eyes had the unfocused look of someone deep in thought. “Not quite,” she finally said. “There’s enough space between the tunnel floor and the shield for someone to crawl out.”

“Then I should extend the shield.”

She gave him a sharp, feral smile. “I have a better idea. Yuli, take a look at this.”

“How did you know there’s a tunnel?” Yuli asked.

Good question,Daemon thought.

“The Arcerian cats build dens deep beneath the snow,” Jaenelle replied. “Since some of the cats are my friends, I learned to recognize the feel of a tunnel or chamber that is deep underground. That was the only way I could find their homes.”

"So you’ve been finding tunnels like this since you were a child?" Daemon asked.

"Yes." “Speaking of Arcerians…”

Jaenelle held out her hand, palm up. A moment later, a small tangled web appeared, protected by a bubble shield that rested in her hand. A moment after that…

Yuli stared at the white cat that now stood on Jaenelle’s hand.

“This is an Arcerian cat,” Jaenelle said.

“It’s so tiny.”

I wish,Daemon thought.

Jaenelle gave him a sharp look, as if she’d heard the thought—or at least suspected what he was thinking.

“This is the first stage of the illusion,” Jaenelle said. “This little cat will get as big as the real ones.” With a fingertip, she stroked the tiny white head.

The purr that came out of that little shadow was that of full-sized Kaelas when he was being petted and was a happy, happy cat—the purr that was strong enough to make Jaenelle’s spell-strengthened bed vibrate.

“You know Surreal,” Jaenelle said to the shadow cat. “You know Rainier. You know Lucivar. You will not hurt them. If someone is with them and they tell you the person is a friend, you will not harm that person.” She paused, then added too softly,

“Kill everything else that tries to leave.”

The tiny cat vanished. Because he was trying to sense it, Daemon felt the moment when the shadow cat reappeared deep in the ground beneath them.

“The shadow has slipped under your shield,” Jaenelle said.

“Now the next part of the spell will engage.”

Yes, Daemon decided as the three of them walked back to the Coach. Jaenelle’s shadow Kaelaswas better than simply extending the shields. Anyone entering that tunnel would find an eight-hundred-pound cat waiting to kill him.

Try to touch it and it would be as solid as smoke. But when the cat struck…

Nothing was going to get out of that tunnel except the people the shadow had been told to recognize.

TWENTY-ONE

“It’s solid,” Rainier said, giving the ceiling above the stairs one last whack with the poker before joining Surreal and the children. “The spell must have been designed to let us pass through the floor.”

“Damn dangerous thing to do,” Surreal said. Using Craft, the Blood could pass through solid objects—like walls and floors—but it wasn’t something that should be done carelessly. And passing flesh through a solid object without the person’s being aware of the pass could be fatal.

Of course, that wasn’t likely to be a consideration here.

Raising her arm to rub her forehead, she almost vanished the poker before remembering not to use Craft. She wasn’t used to having her hands full all the time. She tucked the poker under her other arm, since that hand was holding the candle with the witchfire flame.

"How many more times can we use Craft before we get locked into the spells in this house?" she asked Rainier as she rubbed her forehead. "Have you counted them up? Could we make the pass and go back up the stairs to reach the first floor?"

"I’m not sure I’ve remembered all of them," he replied. "I think we’re getting close to “last one, the game is over.” You and I could make the pass. If we each carried one, we could take two of the children with us. But that’s all we could do."

Which meant leaving two of the children behind, prey to whatever might be down here. Not a choice she wanted to make.

"And there’s no certainty that if we did this, we would end up where we intended," Rainier added.

“Let’s see what we can find down here,” she said.

A few steps away from the stairs, the candles guttered and went out, except for the one holding the witchfire.

“Air currents,” Rainier said, a hint of relief in his voice. “Maybe there’s an exit down here after all.”

A roar filled the cellar, both threat and warning.

“Do you think that’s really one of the cats?” Surreal asked when she could hear again.

“Whoever built this place managed to kill two Black Widows and an Eyrien warrior, as well as who knows how many others in order to have predators for this game. Why not one of the cats? You wouldn’t need one that wore Jewels, just one who was kindred and could make the transformation to demon-dead. Without Craft, it’s our physical strength against the cat’s.”

“We’d have no chance,” Surreal said grimly.

“None at all.”

“I guess that’s the direction wedon’t go in.”

“Agreed. Now let’s find a way to get back upstairs.”

Lucivar grinned as he watched the little black beetles cover the bottom of the bathtub, then swell into big black beetles—and pop.

He hoped Rainier had been the first one to walk into this bathroom, because Surreal…She still believed that particular fear was her little secret, and neither he nor Daemon had any intention of telling her otherwise. But it wouldn’t be a secret for long if she’d been the one to findthese.

Tersa’s work. Had to be.

Daemonar would love having a popping beetle. Of course, it couldn’t be a free-roaming beetle. More like a bug-in-a-box. A well-shielded box, because if the boy managed to remove the beetle and leave it someplace as a surprise for his mama…Marian wouldnever forgive him for bringing the thing home.


Tags: Anne Bishop Books The Black Jewels Series Books Science Fiction Books
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