I didn't know what to say.

"One day you will have to decide where you stand," he said. "I have hope for you, so I tell you the same thing I told your father. If you come to these mountains with open hands, I will welcome you, but if you come holding a sword, you will die by it."

"What did her father decide?" Curran asked.

"He chose not to come at all, which is an answer in itself. There are ancients in the world, like him and me. They are waking up. Your father, he will want to use you. Soon you might have to make a stand."

"Do you think I can win?" I asked.

"Against your father? No, not now." Astamur said. "Perhaps in time. A smart warrior chooses the time of battle."

"I will remember that."

The donkey clopped, his hoofbeats really loud. Salty wind bathed my face. I realized we were on the pier.

"The ship has pulled away but there is a boat coming back. They are planning on rescuing you from the castle," Astamur said. "It's nice to have friends."

I raised my head and saw Andrea and Raphael in the boat.

Ten minutes later we were hauled onto the deck of the Rush. Andrea sat me down gently by the cabin. I leaned against the wall. Curran lay down next to me. His legs didn't look right. They would have to be rebroken. My bones hurt just thinking about it.

Derek rested on his stomach, his back covered with burns. Keira was bloody. Eduardo's whole body was covered with soot and burns. Mahon cradled George, tears in his eyes. Her arm was missing. Shit.

"It will be fine, Dad," she told him.

"What will I tell your mother . . ."

"You will tell her that I saved a woman during childbirth." George glanced to the length of sailing canvas where Desandra curled with two naked babies.

Barabas asked me quietly, "What about Desandra?"

"What about her? Unless she wants us to drop her off somewhere, we're taking her with us. Where else is she going to go?"

Everyone was bloody, beat up, and grieving.

"Finally," Saiman said. "We can be under way."

Christopher came to stand by me and smiled.

The Rush turned, picked up speed, and slid out of the harbor. The mountains receded.

I looked at the gathering of metal drums that sat near the nose of the ship, secured by ropes. At least we had done it. At least we got the panacea. Maddie wouldn't have to die. Aunt B would never see her grandchildren, but at least, if Raphael and Andrea had any babies, they wouldn't-

"Look!" Raphael called, pointing north.

A fleet of ships anchored behind the curve of the harbor. Six large vessels, the biggest longer than the Rush. They flew the Iron Dog banner.

"Hold your breath," Saiman murmured next to me.

The Rush glided across the sea.

A minute passed. Another. The air grew thick with tension.

We turned again and sped across the blue waves. Hugh's fleet disappeared from view. They'd let us go. They must not have known what happened.

Doolittle rolled into view. He sat in an old wheelchair. Did Saiman actually get it for him? How unlike him.

Doolittle cleared his throat. "Someone tampered with the drums."

Curran set up. "What?"

"Someone tampered with the panacea drums," Doolittle said. "The seals are broken."

Barabas jerked the lid off the nearest drum, thrust his hand in, and recoiled. "Powdered silver."

"And arsenic," Doolittle said.

"All of it?" Curran asked.

Doolittle's eyes were ashen. "Every barrel."

God damn it, Hugh.

"How?" Andrea asked. "How did they get on board? I thought you had checked the barrels after they were loaded."

"I did," Doolittle said. "And I had personally sealed each one. Saiman had posted guards."

Saiman. Of course.

Curran surged to his feet, grabbed Saiman by the throat, and jerked him up. Saiman's feet left the deck.

"You!" Curran snarled. "You let d'Ambray poison it."

Saiman made no move to resist.

Curran hurled him across the deck. Saiman hit the cabin with his back and stood up. "Rage all you want," he said. "I didn't have a choice. The contract we signed obligates me to do everything in my power to maintain your safety. It was made abundantly clear to me that sacrificing the panacea was the only way to ensure your survival. Those ships would've never let us go. I did what I had to do so we could all go home."

Curran swayed on his feet, his eyes pure gold.

"Let it go," I said. "Let it go, honey. It's over."

Curran closed his eyes and lay back down. He didn't bother with threats and promises. They would do no good now.

"So it's all for nothing?" Andrea said, her voice too high. "Aunt B died for nothing?"

Raphael smashed his fist into the drum, denting it. Eduardo swore. Keira screamed, a sound of pure frustration.

I couldn't take it. I covered my face.

All for nothing. Aunt B would never see her grandchildren for nothing. Doolittle's paralysis, George's arm, Curran's legs, all for nothing.

Tears wet my fingers. I realized I finally was crying.

"Mistress?" Cold fingers touched my hands, gently. "Mistress?"

I forced my hands from my face. I couldn't even talk.

Christopher was looking at me, his face concerned. "Please don't cry. Please."

I couldn't help it. The tears just kept rolling.

"Please don't cry. Here." He pulled the chalk from my spare belt hugging his waist and began drawing a complicated glyph on the deck. "I will make more. I will make more panacea right now." He started pulling herbs out of the pouches. "I will make as much as you want. Just please don't cry."

Two hours later we had our first batch of panacea. Doolittle tested it and said it was the strongest he had ever seen.



The October night was warm, but the balcony from our living room at the top floor of the Keep was high enough for a nice cool breeze. I hid on the balcony. It'd been a long day. The new greenhouse was finally finished, and I'd spent the day digging in the dirt and planting the herbs required for panacea. It was cheaper than trying to buy them in large quantities. Learning to make it had proved to be a lot harder than expected. I had finally managed some passable results, but the two medmages Christopher was training had a hard time. We would get it. It just took time and practice.

We still didn't know exactly what Christopher had done for Hugh or how he'd ended up there. He maintained that he took care of Hugh's books, but I'd seen him in a lab, and the way he handled herbs and equipment telegraphed years of practice. If he wasn't in the lab, he was somewhere outside, usually high up. We finally persuaded him that he couldn't fly, but he loved sitting on the walls in some sunny, hidden spot, reading a book.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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