Wiccae and Sorceri were among the physically weakest in the Lore.

"And what about the vemon?" Lanthe continued. "If you can't lure him to the portal, he could just keep you in hell as his little witch pet."

"I've had worse relationships," Carrow deadpanned.

They snickered. Gallows humor.

After they'd flipped through all the pages, Lanthe summed up Malkom Slaine: "A dangerous, devious, demon non grata." Gazing at Carrow with curiosity, she asked, "You're really going through with this?"

"I've got this down cold," she answered confidently. Carrow had always followed her instincts and landed on her feet. Sometimes she landed on her feet in County, but it always worked out in the end. "But if for some reason, I don't" - she glanced over at Ruby - "will you make sure she gets back to the House of Witches?"

Lanthe said, "I will. Just try not to let it come to that - "

A sudden bellow echoed down the ward.

"I guess he don't like the corn bread, either," Carrow "uipped.

When a fight ensued and they heard loud whooshing sounds, Lanthe shot to her feet. "A Vrekener."

Vrekeners were fierce, demonic "angels," with wings, horns, and fangs.


Shortly after, the guards dragged a limping, winged male past their cell. He stared at Lanthe, his eyes haunted, his lips drawn back from his fangs. His scarred wings had been bound. He said only one word as they passed: "Soon ..."

Lanthe shuddered.

"I take it you two know each other?" Carrow asked.

"Would you believe that Thronos and I were childhood friends?"

Carrow raised her brows. "I'd hate to see your childhood enemies."

"The bastard probably let himself get caught, just to get closer to me."

"You want to tell me what for?"

"Maybe one day. For now, let's focus on your own menacing male."

Carrow sighed, growing serious. "I might not make it back from this."

Instead of assuring her that she would, Lanthe said, "It isn't likely. ..."

Wastelands, Oblivion

Year 601, Trothan Restoration

They'll come to kill me soon, Malkom thought as he adjusted the tension on one of his spring traps.

After concealing the contraption, he climbed to a blustery vantage on his mountain, gazing out over the Forest of Bone and the vast desert beyond - the sun-scorched desert he could never cross again. His vampire nature made it impossible.

Far in the distance, in the city of Ash, sacrificial pyres burned bright. The dwellers there were making yet more offerings to their dark gods for an end to Malkom. He'd been judged a twisted murderer, a fugitive from justice, an abomination.

All true.

They would like nothing more than to sacrifice Malkom himself on a pyre. More so now than ever since they were desperate for water. And he controlled every drop.

Soon they'd come for him; their stores were nearly gone. They'd have no choice but to cross the desert that had protected them from Malkom.

Though he could travel over his dust-shrouded mountain in the hazy light of day, the desert and city were void of wind and shade. He couldn't cross that expanse and return within a single night. The sole time he'd successfully traversed it - fleeing a mob of Trothans more than three hundred years ago - he'd nearly died.

All his attempts over the centuries had failed. Each time, he'd been so weakened by the midpoint that he couldn't continue, much less contend with his powerful foes.

So he'd cut off the dwellers' water supply to draw them near, knowing they would be led by Ronath the Armorer - the demon who'd taken over after the leaderless vampires fled from this plane.

The traitor who now lived in the Viceroy's opulent fortress.

I removed all of his obstacles. Kallen and eventually the Viceroy both fell because of me.

Malkom had despised the vampires, but at least they had acted according to their nature. The armorer and his men? Malkom remembered their feigned greetings to him just before they'd attacked, just before they'd doomed their prince.

Kallen, my sole friend.

At the memory of his death, bitter-tinged grief swept over Malkom. As fresh as the day I killed him.

When the winds increased, heralding dusk, Malkom gave a low curse. They would never come in the dark.

Now a long, solitary night stretched before him. He'd endured lifetimes of them.

He turned away, heading toward his lair down in the mines - where he would wait, alone, in silence, staring at the damp walls. Time passed slowly deep in the mountain, and the isolation weighed on him.

Malkom consoled himself with the knowledge that one way or another, his miserable existence was about to end.

Chapter 4

"You can't come, sweetheart," Carrow told the irate seven-year-old seated on the bunk before her. "Oblivion's not a place for kids."

Sometime between last night and this morning, Ruby had decided she would not be separated from Carrow.

Throughout the night, Carrow had lain awake, wanting to be there if she woke missing her mother. Carrow had been exhausted and knew she needed to be strong for her mission, but putting Ruby's needs above her own affected her in ways she wasn't ready to analyze.

Once, the girl had sleepily mumbled, "Mommy?"

Tears threatening, Carrow had said, "It's okay, baby. Go back to sleep."

But since Ruby had awakened this morning, there'd been nonstop hissy. At least she hadn't passed out so far.

"Why do you have to leave this morning?" Ruby demanded.

"The sooner I leave, the sooner I can return. Now, Dr. Dixon is going to sit you until Lanthe gets back, okay?"

Ruby crossed her little arms over her chest, jutting her chin. "You'renot leaving me behind. Or I'll do a spell to make you smell like ass. Forever."

Carrow raised her brows. "Harsh, Ruby, harsh." I think I'm the one who taught her to say "smell like ass." "And you can't do spells, anyway. Remember what I said about the collar?"

From behind Carrow, Lanthe "uietly said, "You need to be firmer with the child."

Over her shoulder, Carrow muttered, "Come on, think about what she's been through." And Carrow had no way to comfort her, none of her old tricks to pull.

Before when Ruby had cried, Carrow had been able to solve all with strategic bouts of consumerism. An all-expenses paid trip to Disney World for her and her posse of friends, a monkey, a robot, a half-pipe skating ramp. Easy, peasy, lemon s"ueezy.

Lanthe scoffed. "I lost my parents when I was not much older than she is."

Funny, so did I, Carrow thought. But she shook away those memories. She didn't have the luxury of wallowing in the past. As she looked down at Ruby, it struck Carrow yet again that she now had a responsibility. Someone depending solely on her. "You're going to be good for Miss Lanthe, right?"

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