The stuff oozing out from beneath the door looked like chicken fat and was so acrid it stung her eyes and made her nose run.

“Hell’s fire,” Surreal said, taking a step back. “What is that?”And does anyone else see it but me?

“Do you think it’s one of Tersa’s spells?” Rainier asked.

It did look as if what had oozed onto the kitchen floor was reshaping itself into arms and a bulby head.

“No,” Surreal said. “It feels malignant. It feels like if it touches you…” Taking another step back, she put a hand over her mouth and nose.

“Shielded or not, I don’t want to get near it,” Rainier said.

“Since it seems to be guarding the back door, I guess we try to go out the front.”

She pressed her arm against her side. The flesh around the wound felt pulpy, pus-filled, not good. Didn’t matter at this point if it was infection or poison or something else the Black Widow had dipped her nails in.

“Don’t count on me to watch your back,” Surreal said as Rainier guided her and the children to the front hallway. “I can’t trust what I see, and you shouldn’t trust me to stand with you.”

If you need to, leave me behind.That’s what she was telling him. Not that he would listen. He was a Warlord Prince who was her escort. He would fight to protect her with his last breath and beyond.

“I’ll try the front door,” Rainier said. He pointed at the children. “You four. Stand on the stairs. If something happens, you’ll have more chance of getting away by going up. You too, Surreal.”

She didn’t argue with him. Couldn’t. Not when the floor turned swishy again and beetles started oozing out of the walls.

She shook her head, hoping to clear it. Instead, the room seemed to melt around the edges—until the front door slammed open and her heart jumped.

No smoke and red-eyed illusions this time, but it was the same Eyrien Warlord who had killed Kester. He stepped into the hallway, looked at Rainier, and said, “Time for you to join the rest of us.”

Lucivar wiped off the Eyrien war blade on his enemy’s ragged trousers.

The man hadn’t seen the killing blow, had died so fast there had been no moment of realization, no moment of fear. He’d never understood Lucivar was doing little more than sparring with him. He’d fought with more grace than expected, and it was clear that he was used to fighting in a confined space and used his size and reach to advantage.

He didn’t have any chance against an Ebon-gray Warlord Prince, but he’d fought with a little boy’s glee.

And now he was dead.

Lucivar returned to the stairs and looked up. He was riding the killing edge now, and he wasn’t stepping away from it until he walked out of this house.

Lucivar raised his right hand and released a blast of Ebon-gray power from his ring. The hallway floor rained down around him, wood and tile reduced to the size of small hailstones.

He shook his arms and opened his wings to clear most of the debris off his shields. Then he looked at the hole no illusion spell could hide—and he bared his teeth in a savage smile.

It was a fool’s battle. Surreal knew it. So did Rainier. A man with a poker and a few years of training was no match for an Eyrien warrior and a war blade. Especially when the warrior was already demon-dead. It didn’t matter that the Eyrien wasn’t shielded, because a killing blow wouldn’t kill him.

Might not even slow the bastard down.

She held her position at the foot of the stairs, mostly because she was afraid she’d get in Rainier’s way. So far his Opal shield was holding—probably because the Eyrien wanted to stretch out the fight—but every blow the Warlord landed drained Rainier’s shield a little more. Soon there would be one blow too many.

Rainier wouldn’t use Craft to save himself. Not anymore. Whatever Craft could be used would be reserved for her.

Then something flew toward Rainier’s head from the sitting room doorway. A momentary distraction. He barely flinched, despite the instinct to duck.

But barely was still too much. The Eyrien swung the war blade—and Rainier’s shield finally broke. It held long enough to prevent the blade from going all the way through Rainier’s left leg, but the wound still cut deep.

Rainier slapped his left leg, and the gong sounded as a tight shield encased his thigh. He retreated, struggling to stay on his feet as the Eyrien raised the war blade again.

“No!” Surreal drew the stiletto out of the boot sheath and threw it, a motion she had practiced for weeks until it was a single smooth move.

The stiletto pierced the Eyrien’s neck. Should have been a killing blow. All it did was piss him off—and buy Rainier the few seconds he needed to reach the stairs.

“Up,” she said. “All of you, go up.”

“Surreal,” Rainier began.

“Hop, crawl, I don’t care. Get up those stairs. I’m still shielded. You’re not.”

Using the poker as a cane, he hobbled up the stairs as fast as he could.

The Eyrien Warlord pulled out her stiletto and dropped it on the floor. The three-fingered witch came out of the sitting room. And half a witch floated out of the door on her right.

“Surreal,” Rainier said. “Come on.”

The three of them moved toward her, sure they’d have her, one way or another.

She was sure too—until a blast of power shook the house.

It was so damn frustrating, Daemon thought as he watched the spooky house. When it came to communicating with someone using a psychic thread, the Black gave him a long reach, and he and Lucivar were usually able to contact each other over fairly long distances. Now the tangled webs around that house separated them.

Be patient, old son. He’ll get out. Lucivar has stood on worse killing fields and walked away. He’ll walk away from this one too.

Then he felt the blast of Ebon-gray power. Even the spells around the house weren’t strong enough to completely muffle the temper behind that punch.

“Lucivar,” Daemon whispered.

“Daemon,” Jaenelle said, rushing from the Coach to join him.

He touched her shoulder. “You check the point where he intended to come out. I’ll circle around the house in case he needed to choose another exit.”

She trotted toward the far side of the house. He went in the other direction.

And he tried not to think of what he’d tell Saetan if Lucivardidn’t come out of that house.

Lucivar stood in what was left of the front hallway and listened. Waited. Then he frowned.

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