“Then he made the mistake of straying over the border into Dhemlan.” Lucivar helped himself to one of the breakfast breads. “He sees a brown-skinned child and forgets that the Dhemlan people are a long-lived race, and that child probably has lived as many years—or more— than him. That means the child is a little more mature in some ways than other children and may not be as easy to grab. Combine that with an adolescent male who had the luck to become friends with the Queen of Halaway’s son, and the bastard has more trouble than he’s prepared to meet.”
“Haeze soaked in the weapons lessons Lucivar gave the boys, and used his spending money to buy a knife,” Daemon said. “When the District Queen makes some pointed inquiries, I suspect she’ll discover more than one child has gone missing from that village before Haeze came to visit Beron.”
“He wanted to learn to protect himself,” Saetan said.
“More likely, to protect his younger brother,” Lucivar said. “Like Beron, Haeze is too old to be of interest to No Face.”
Daemon glanced at his father. The look in Saetan’s eyes was enough to confirm the age of the children who had reached Hell.
“The invitation,” Sylvia whispered. “The house party was a ruse to bring Mikal within reach. Why lure a boy who lives in a distant village instead of hunting one within reach?”
“We think No Face blames your family for his death and the inconvenience that comes with the physical death,” Daemon said. “Haeze’s younger brother was the intended prey. But when No Face attacked, Haeze rushed in and managed to land a killing blow. Not an instant kill, since the boy was knocked out by a blast of power and his brother was taken, but he changed the battleground. No Face became demon-dead.”
“People in the border villages are going to notice if a Warlord from Little Terreille no longer goes out during daylight or sits down for a meal,” Lucivar said. “Whatever face the bastard hides behind that mesh is no longer going to go unnoticed—and people will start connecting him with the missing children.”
“So his game was spoiled,” Daemon continued. “All because Haeze went to Halaway to visit Beron.”
“Why didn’t Jaenelle’s purge get rid of that monster?” Sylvia asked.
“That witch storm was over a decade ago,” Saetan said, “and it was unleashed to purge the Realms of Dorothea’s and Hekatah’s taint, not eliminate every person who is twisted in some way. If No Face comes from Little Terreille, which sounds likely, he’s from a short-lived race. He may have been young enough then to have avoided any kind of detection, or maybe his taste for this didn’t develop until maturity, when he would have the physical strength to overpower his chosen prey. Maybe he was the one who started the story of No Face to begin with—or maybe something happened to him and he told it as a story at school to hide the truth about a real predator.”
“Do we care about why he kills boys?” Lucivar asked.
“I don’t,” Daemon replied. “I just want to find him and put him in a deep grave.”
Saetan might be willing to wonder if a boy became a monster after being brutalized by one, but he had the duty to protect the people of Dhemlan. Until No Face was contained, he had no room for pity.
Sylvia set the unfinished glass of yarbarah on a side table. “He’s going to come after my sons, isn’t he?”
“We think so,” Daemon said. “It’s another reason the boys are safer where they are. After making the transition to demon-dead, No Face snatched a servant’s child. The boy was violated and mutilated, and then sent to Haeze’s family with the demand that they convince you to allow Beron and Mikal to visit. Once he had Mikal, he would return Haeze’s brother unharmed.”
“Revenge on me and mine because Haeze fought back,” she said. “Exchanging one child’s life for another’s.”
“Yes. But he didn’t count on you and Tildee—that you would fight him and Tildee would be able to take Mikal out of his reach. He didn’t count on Beron charging in to attack.” Daemon paused. “Beron ripped off the mesh and saw the enemy’s face.”
He and Lucivar suspected that was why the Healer had been destroying Beron’s ability to communicate. From what Jaenelle had told him, the bitch had a little of the Hourglass’s skills—enough to strip Beron of even psychic communication by locking him within his own mind, which she would have done if Jaenelle hadn’t intervened. A boy like that would be at the mercy of a predator.
How many of the recent cildru dyathe had arrived in Hell in the same condition?
“Do you think Haeze’s brother is still alive?” Sylvia asked.
“No,” Daemon replied. “But having seen the servant’s child and believing their own boy was still alive, they decided to sacrifice your child instead, knowing what that bastard intended to do to Mikal.”
“They didn’t have a choice,” Sylvia said.
“Yes, they did.” Daemon’s voice held a hint of ice.
“What choice?” The fire in Sylvia’s voice challenged the ice in his.
“They could have gone to the District Queen for help. Haeze’s father could have gone to the Queen’s Master of the Guard if he didn’t think the village guards would help him. Someone could have gone to the Province Queen or come to me when the first child in that village went missing. They had other choices, Sylvia, and the choice they made resulted in Beron being injured and you being killed.” He shoved out of his chair. “Save your pity for someone who deserves it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a butcher to hunt.”
He walked out of the room, walked out of the Keep, and caught the Black Winds that would take him home.
Sylvia watched Lucivar fill up a plate with breakfast foods before wandering out of the room. He made it look casual, but it wasn’t. She didn’t think Saetan had caught up with Daemon before Sadi left the Keep, but Yaslana was getting off the battlefield before the High Lord returned.
Moments after Lucivar left, Saetan came back into the room. He walked over to the table beside her wheeled chair, picked up her glass of yarbarah, and warmed it over a tongue of witchfire before handing it to her.
“Finish that,” he said.
She bristled at the disapproving chill in his voice. “I’m entitled to an opinion.”
“And we’re entitled to think you’re being a softhearted ass for having that opinion,” he snapped.