“The shock. The pain,” Saetan said. “You don’t know what it feels like to hear those words.”

“It’s a stupid law,” Daemon said.

Saetan shook his head. “No, it’s not. Considering the nature of Blood males, there are good reasons for that law. That was true when that irrevocable custom began, and it’s still true. That law protects more than it harms. But it still . . . hurts.”

“What happened to the Warlord?” Daemon asked.

“He backed away. He saw the shock on the faces of friends and family—people who had been aware of the reconciliation. He didn’t know what happened, but he knew something had gone very wrong.

“So he backed away, but when he turned, she was standing there. And she laughed at him. That’s all she needed to do. She laughed at him, laughed at his pain and his loss—and something inside him broke.

“He didn’t remember what happened after that. She laughed, something inside him broke, and the next thing he remembered was standing in the middle of a slaughter. The witch, the young actress who had been hired to wear an enemy’s face as a prank, was dead. So was the Warlord’s closest friend, two of his cousins . . . and his daughter.

“When he saw his little girl . . . In that moment when he wondered, he dropped his shields, deliberately, and the blasts of power from other males fighting to defend friends and family ripped into his body and killed him.”

“Mother Night,” Daemon whispered. A terrible story, but he had the feeling that it was the crust holding back something even more terrible.

“Insane rage—and no memory of who had fallen by his hand,” Saetan said. “And the feeling, the fear, that he had killed his little girl.”

“Did he?”

Saetan finally looked up, finally looked him in the eyes. “Yes.” He smiled—and the insane rage within that gentle smile was a living thing. “She had been trying to reach him, had been trying to protect him with her newly acquired Jewel.”

Daemon felt tears sting his eyes and blinked them away.

“His blast of power took half her face. Part of her shoulder,” Saetan said too gently. “He made the transition to demon-dead, and when he reached the Dark Realm, he begged for an audience. Then he begged me to finish the kill.”

“Did you give him mercy?”

“Yes, I finished the kill, and he became nothing more than a whisper in the Darkness.”

Daemon’s stomach rolled as another thought occurred to him. “The little girl became cildru dyathe, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did. But she didn’t stay long. When I found her, I told her that her father loved her, and that he was very sorry she had gotten hurt, and if he could take that moment back and do it over, he would have walked away. For her sake. To keep her safe from what was inside him.”

“Father . . .”

“It could have been you, Daemon. She could have been you.”

He looked at those gold eyes glazed with madness and took a step back.

Pain. Shock. A moment to make a choice before insane rage eclipsed all ability to think.

Manny’s words, when she finally told him about his father.

So he left. Went to that house you keep visiting, the house you and your mother lived in, and destroyed the study. Tore the books apart, shredded the curtains, broke every piece of furniture in the room. He couldn’t get the rage out. When I finally dared open the door, he was kneeling in the middle of the room, his chest heaving, trying to get some air, a crazy look in his eyes.

When Dorothea betrayed Saetan at Daemon’s Birthright Ceremony, the High Lord had walked away. Because he had known the depth of his rage. Because the boy, like the girl centuries later, would have tried to reach the father, would have gotten caught in the fight.

Would have died.

Saetan’s eyes filled with tears. “It . . . could have . . . been you.”

Here it is, Daemon thought. Here is the cascade of memories that sent a strong man tumbling into the Twisted Kingdom—and almost ignited a cataclysmic rage.

He didn’t think. Didn’t have to think. He threw his arms around his father and held on as Saetan broke down and wept.

“I’m here, Father. I’m here. I’m safe. I’m well. You protected me that day. You walked away and kept me safe.” And please, sweet Darkness, please don’t let him think about what that boy’s life had been like after that day. Not now. “I’m here, Father. I’ve got you. I’m here.”

Choices. And taking chances.

While Saetan wept, Daemon quietly descended until he stood in the abyss at the level of the Black.

I am my father’s son. Not much to distinguish between their psychic scents or their power. He was counting on that as he carefully created a link between Saetan’s Black power and his own—and began using his power to absorb Saetan’s, draining them both in the process. Quietly. Carefully. It would leave them both vulnerable, but if he couldn’t bring his father out of the Twisted Kingdom, Saetan wouldn’t have a reserve of Black power, so he would end up tapping into his Birthright Red. Lucivar would be the dominant power coming into that fight—and Lucivar would do whatever needed to be done.

Thinking of his own Birthright Ceremony and the moment of that betrayal, Daemon wondered how much strength and courage a man needed to take that kind of emotional gutting and walk away in order to protect what was held dear.

“I’m here, Father. I’m safe. You kept me safe that day.”

Running out of time. Draining the power faster and faster, hoping he could drain enough.

Another shock as a flick of temper sizzled along that link.

Saetan had been aware of being drained. Had been aware all along—and had let him drain the power instead of fighting.

Now the High Lord pushed back, shutting off his ability to drain the Black without turning the effort into a fight. Saetan also pulled away from his embrace, turning toward the door.

He and Saetan were still linked, mind to mind, but it wasn’t an intrusive connection, more an emotional awareness now. Enough to tell him that his father was still on the wrong side of the boundary between the Twisted Kingdom and sanity. Enough for Daemon to feel bristling temper being added to an already messy emotional stew.

As he wondered what had changed, Lucivar dropped the sight shield and spread his wings slowly, giving him an intimidating physical presence.

How long had Lucivar been standing there? He hadn’t sensed his brother. He’d been too focused on his father. But Saetan had responded and had turned to face an adversary.

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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