All right. Maybe itwas scary for some people. Just not for the expected reasons.

Rainier turned his back to deal with a sudden fit of coughing.

Sylvia turned in a circle, and in the course of that turn changed from wild-eyed woman to flame-eyed mother. “Where is Mikal? Hell’s fire, if that boy has tried to make off with one of those giggling spiders, I will kill him flatter than dead.”

Surreal watched the Queen of Halaway plow through a knot of stunned landens.

"They don’t know if she’s part of the entertainment or a real mother," Rainier said.

"Kill him flatter than dead?" Surreal said. "What does that mean?"

"No idea. But said in that tone of voice, it sure sounds impressive. And I think the landen mothers are committing that phrase to memory."

Surreal snorted.

They had seen most of the spooky house. Since they were family, they hadn’t been required to follow a ghostly guide—and hadn’t been herded back into a group by the shadow Scelties. It had been amusing to watch the other guests view the surprises, and she’d been entertained by watching rowdy landen boys come face-to-face with Lucivar. Even more amusing was watching the adolescent girls watch Daemon as he glided through the house. Unlike Lucivar, who had dealt with the boys by threatening to rip off all their poking little fingers and shove those fingers down their throats, Daemon had put a fading spell over a sight shield, so he simply faded away as he walked down a hallway, leaving all those girls wondering if he was real or illusion.

“So,” Rainier said. “We’ve seen the woman in the cobwebs and the giggling spiders. We’ve heard the snarl in the cellar and—”

“The damn laughing staircase.” She’d almost wet herself when she stepped on a stair and that voice rolled up from beneath her feet.

Rainier grinned but wisely said nothing. “And the eyes in the attic.”

They had skipped the bathroom with the popping beetles. Thank the Darkness.

“That’s the only room left to view.”

They approached the door as a group of landens, led by their ghostly guide, also came to that part of the tour.

“This is the scariest room in the house,” the ghost said.

The ghost stepped aside. The door opened without a creak or a squeak.

Surreal and Rainier entered the room and stood to one side. They would be able to stay and view the “surprise” in the room as many times as they wanted, so it seemed fair to let the “guests” have the better view.

"Any ideas?" Rainier asked.

She shook her head.

A beautifully decorated sitting room. Something she would expect in an aristo town house in Amdarh—or any of the sitting rooms at SaDiablo Hall.

Seconds passed. Nothing happened.

Then she heard the music. Faint at first, but growing stronger. And with the music, the dancers slowly formed out of mist until they became almost solid, almost real.

Jaenelle and Daemon, dancing. Just watching them, she could feel the heat of their love, could see their happiness at being together.

“Please tell me that gown is an illusion,” Rainier whispered. “Jaenelle doesn’t really own something like that, does she?”

“I’d heard she had to make the gown in the illusion more opaque,” Surreal teased. “The real thing is even more sheer. But it’s only to be worn for very private dinners.”

“Thank the Darkness. If she wore that at a public gathering, Sadi would kill every male in the room just for looking at her.”

The truth of that shivered through her bones.

She pursed her lips and looked around the room. What was…?

“What’s so scary aboutthis room?” a boy asked.

The dancers stopped suddenly. Their bodies were still pressed together, but their heads turned toward the voice and they looked straight at the people in the room.

Mother Night,Surreal thought. She felt Rainier stiffen beside her. She felt the stillness ripple through the guests as each one recognized the danger. And she watched a feral quality add bite to Jaenelle’s sapphire eyes while Daemon’s gold eyes turned glazed and sleepy.

She’d known, had used that gauge for temper all her life. But because it was a constant part of her life, she’d never thought about it, had never seen it so clearly.

It’s in the eyes. That’s what changes the face from person to predator. That’s the key to the truth about the Blood. The eyes say, “We aren’t like you. We come from the same races. We laugh and love and grieve and cry. We have hopes and dreams and regrets and bitter disappointments. We feel the same things you feel. But we aren’t like you. We are the guardians of the Realms. We are power. We are the Blood. Walk softly when you walk among us.”

No one spoke. No one moved. No one even breathed until the dancers turned and simply disappeared as they walked away.

Then there was a collective sigh—and Surreal had no doubt that every landen in the room now had a gut-level understanding of the Blood.

The ghost had been right. Itwas the scariest room in the house.

She watched the landens file out, then heard nervous laughter as they walked out the front door.

“They set up refreshment tents,” Rainier said. “Hot cider, ale, wine. A healthy dose of brandy to put some bone back in your legs.”

“My legs are shaking,” Surreal said. “I have lived in the same house as that man, and my legs are shaking.”

“And that surprises you? Only a fool would play with that temper, and you’re no fool. And while that temper is in everything that he is, it’s not all that he is. Or any of us, for that matter. We saw a truth about us as well as him—and her.”

“I know.” She took a deep breath and blew it out in a gusty sigh. “Brandy. Then back to Amdarh for a late supper?”


As they crossed the threshold, Surreal looked back.

Daemon leaned against the fireplace mantel, smiling at her with warm amusement. Then the door closed.

"Surreal," Rainier said.

A small table had been positioned near the door, its top covered by a woven basket full of wood shavings. Sitting in the basket was a skeleton mouse waving bye-bye to the guests.

That explained the nervous laughter. Jaenelle, Marian, and Tersa had provided a last bit of whimsy to soften the frightening truth that danced in that beautiful sitting room.

"Hell’s fire," Surreal muttered.

Two boys were reaching for the skeleton mouse, and something about their expressions and the way they stood indicated an intention to damage the illusion in some way.

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books