Now a chuckle from the top bunk.

"Rudderless?" So true. "Maybe so. But I'm not going to be anymore." How's it feel to be a rudder, kiddo?

"Will you hold my hand until I fall asleep? And stay here till I wake up?"

"You got it." Maybe the reason she'd never done well with responsibilities in her personal life was that she'd never had any practice? Carrow had led armies - but she'd never had another depend solely on her.

In minutes, Ruby was out, her countenance relaxing, her brow smoothing. Carrow waited a little while, then eased from the bed to recheck her pack and begin studying the dossier.

When Lanthe slunk down from her bunk, Carrow noted yet again that the sorceress looked flawless, displaying no signs of a week's worth of stress, discomposure, or even wrinkles. But then Lanthe wore typical Sorceri garb: a metal bustier and a mesh skirt, held together with bits of leather.

Her dark hair was a mass of braids in the wild Sorceri style. The only things missing were her metal gloves - with built-in claws - and the half mask that would normally adorn her face.

Carrow found it interesting that the mortals left their prisoners in their own street wear for the most part. She herself still wore her jewelry and club duds.

"They're going to double-cross you," Lanthe said.

Did Carrow suspect Chase would go back on his word? Of course. But she also knew she had to operate under the assumption that he would release her and Ruby. What were two witches to them? And more importantly, what other choice did Carrow have? "I don't know that for certain," she said as she began rooting through the pack Dixon had offered her earlier.

At once, Carrow had demanded to go to the facility's PX store for her own supplies. While the Order might have a dandy assault pack for soldiers to make an incursion, they didn't have an all-purpose Carrow pack for witches bent on seduction.


So after a few hygienic tweaks to her gear - and her first shower in a week while her clothes were dry-cleaned - she was ready.

"In any event, witch, I think you waste your time."

"Look, I might not trust that they'll keep their word about releasing us," Carrow said. "But I trust one hundred percent that they'll keep it about killing her."

Lanthe sighed, gazing over at Ruby. "Well, then, let's see this dossier."

They sat on the floor with their backs against the wall. Fitting. Carrow opened the folder to the first page, a summary of her destination and its peoples.

"I still can't believe they're sending you to Oblivion." Lanthe shivered.

"Come on, it's the only place you can get fresh vemons this time of year."

Oblivion was one of the hell planes, a place of such limited resources that only the harshest demons could survive. In this case, water was scarce. No rain fell, and the few collections of water were underground.

According to the dossier, the Trothan culture was a chaotic mix of slavery, violence, and cruelty - its members brutal. Yet they had a deeply entrenched class system in their society.

Carrow's lips thinned. She wasn't a big fan of classes in any form - educational or social. She herself hailed from a "noble" family, but had buried that little tidbit about herself. And it's not like my folks will out me.

When Carrow turned the page to the summary of Malkom Slaine, her "target," Lanthe said, "A vemon, the most dangerous of all Lore creatures, was created out of a Trothan, one of the most barbaric species of immortal?"

Though Carrow knew demons who were civil, engaging, and hot, she'd never met a Trothan.

"And you're going into hell to get him? This is like Escape from New York, except you're bringing out the baddie."

"Snake Plissken, at your service," Carrow said as she began perusing Slaine's information, organized in handy bullet points.

Description: Light blue eyes. Defined musculature. Over six and a half feet tall. Black horns, curving back from just above his ears. Identifying marks: A large, winding tattoo on his right flank, typical demon piercings.

Background: Born more than four hundred years ago to a prostitute demon mother. Father unknown.

Carrow felt a flare of pity for him. Living in Oblivion was bad enough, and he hadn't exactly gotten a great start.

Led rebellion against vampire invaders until his capture. Transformed into a Scarba -  a vampiric demon. Before escaping the vampire stronghold, he beheaded Kallen the Just, the Trothans' demon prince, as well as the Viceroy, the vampires' emissary.

Carrow frowned. "Why would Slaine have assassinated the two potential leaders, then not taken control of the demonarchy?"

Lanthe said, "Sounds to me like a failure to capitalize."

Fugitive from Trothans for over three centuries. No known associates. Unwed. Most current activities: Defending his territories, the water mines of Oblivion. Special skills: Battle-trained, survival, military command experience.

"Unwed?" Carrow said. "Their kind marries?" Many demon breeds didn't, especially if their species had one fated mate.

"At least you won't have to worry about competition."

"Unless he's got a demon harem in those mines. A little honey or two holed up underground?" Carrow said, raising a brow at the next bullet point.

Language: Demonish, some Latin. There had been an isolated report of his speaking English, but it couldn't be confirmed.

"How am I supposed to communicate with him?" Carrow's Demonish was sparse. She knew mostly curses and how to order li"uor.

"The language of love?" Lanthe suggested.

"Check out his psych profile." Easily enraged, reacts with a marked ferocity. Violent and territorial...

"Psych profile? Isn't that what they do with serial killers?"

Carrow nodded. "Dixon said he was the Trothan version of the bogeyman."

"Well, then. Tell me they'll deactivate your tor"ue for this mission."

"They will." A lot of good it'll do me if the folks in hell aren't happy. Whereas Mariketa's magic was based on adrenaline, Carrow's own was fueled by emotions, specifically happiness. The raucous revelry of a crowd was like an ex"uisite feast for her powers.

"Then you can just do a love spell on him," Lanthe said.

"It doesn't work for me." Many people knew Carrow sold love spells for a living - they just didn't know she sold them for folks to use on themselves. Like when a guy knew he had a good woman but was tempted to stray, he'd order a Carrow Graie special. "I probably won't have much power to do magic anyway."

"Cruising Oblivion with no magic, witch? I suppose you'll just use your brute strength to defend yourself?"

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