Kiss of a demon king, p.1

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Kiss of a Demon King

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Kiss of a Demon King
Chapter 1


  Gray Waters Lunatic Asylum, London Fall 1872

  Whenever you have a sorcerer betwixt your thighs, your powers tend to disappear," Sabine told her sister as she scanned the faces of the frenzied, caged humans. "It's merely a fact of life. "

  "Maybe in the past," Lanthe said as she dropped the unconscious guard she'd been toting by his belt. "Things are going to be different with this one. " She busily tied the man's hands behind his back-instead of breaking his arms, which had the same result and didn't waste rope. "You still haven't seen her?"

  Her-the sorceress they came to release from this place-if she agreed to convey her powers to Lanthe in exchange for her freedom.

  Sabine slinked down the darkened corridor. "I can't tell when they huddle like this. " She plucked a cell door off its hinges and tossed it away, her heels clicking as she entered the cage. Up close, she could tell the inhab­itants all looked very . . . mortal.

  Naturally, they cowered from her. Sabine knew the exotic picture she presented with her garments and face paint.

  As though she'd donned a mask, her eyes were kohled black in a swath from the sides of her nose to her temples.

  Her clothes were constructed more of strips of leather and chain metal than of cloth and thread. She wore a metal bustier and mesh gloves that ran the length of her arms, ending in forged fingertip claws. Situated among her hair's riotous braids was her elaborate headdress.

  Typical garb of the Sorceri females. In fact, if one's apparel didn't weigh more than the wearer, then one was underdressed.

  By the time Sabine was exiting the next cell down, Lanthe had finished with the knots "Any luck?"

  Sabine tore free yet another cage door, peered at pale faces, then shook her head.

  "Do I have time to check the smaller cells in the basement?" Lanthe asked.

  "If we're back at the portal in twenty minutes we should be all right. " Their portal back to their home of Rothkalina was a good ten minutes away through dank London streets.

  Lanthe blew a jet-black plait from her forehead. "Watch the guard and keep the freed inmates inside this hall quiet. "

  Sabine's gaze flitted over the unconscious male sprawled on the squalid floor, and her lip curled in dis­gust. She could read the minds of humans, even when they were blacked out, and the contents of this one's were giving even Sabine pause.

  "Very well. But hurry with the transfer," Sabine said. "Else we'll attract our foe. "

  Lanthe's blue eyes gazed upward out of habit. "They could be here at any second. " She hastened to the stair­well once more.

  Their lives had become a droning cycle: Steal a new power, flee enemies, have power stolen by a smooth-talking Sorceri male, steal a new power. . . . Sabine allowed it to continue.

  Because she'd ruined Lanthe's innate ability.

  When her sister was gone, Sabine muttered, "Look after the guard. Very well. . . "

  Lifting the man by his collar and belt, she tossed him in front of the exit doors. Some of the denizens grew wild at the violence, howling, pulling their hair. The ones who'd been eyeing the main exit scuttled back.

  Shush the humans, easy enough. She sauntered to the guard and stepped up onto his back, opening her arms wide. "Gather round, mad human persons. Gather! And I, a sorceress of dark and terrible powers, will reward you with a story. "

  Some quieted out of seeming curiosity, some in shock. "Hush now, mortals, and perhaps if you are good, quiet pets, I'll even show you a tale. " The cries and yells she'd ignited were ebbing. "So sit, sit. Yes, come sit before me. Closer. But not you-you smell like urine and porridge. You, there, sit. "

  Once they'd all gathered before her, she crouched on the guard's back. She gave them a slow smile as she readied for her story, tugging up her skirt to fiddle with her garters, then adjusting her customary choker.

  "Now, for this evening, you have two choices. You can hear the story of a mighty demon king with horns and eyes as black as obsidian. In ages past he was so honest and upstanding that he lost his crown to cun­ning evil. Or, we have the story of Sabine, an innocent young girl who was forever getting murdered. " Who would one day be that demon's bride. . . .

  "Th-the girl, please," one resident whispered. His face was indistinguishable through the curtain of his matted hair.

  "An excellent choice, Hirsute Mortal. " In a dramatic voice, she began, "Our tale features the intrepid hero­ine, Sabine, the Queen of Illusions-"

  "Where's Illusions?" a young woman paused in gnaw­ing her own forearm to ask.

  Excellent-these were going to be narrative inter­rupters. "It's not a place. A 'queen' is someone who is better at a particular mystickal skill than anyone else. "

  Sabine could cast chimeras that were indistinguish­able from reality, manipulating anything that could be seen, heard, or imagined. She could reach inside a being's mind and deliver scenes from their wildest dreams-or worst nightmares. No one was her equal.

  "Now the ridiculously beautiful and clever Sabine had just turned twelve, and she adored her soon-to-grow light-skirted sister, Melanthe, aged nine. Sabine had loved little Lanthe with her whole heart since the first time the girl had cried for her Ai-bee' over their own mother. The two sisters were born of the Sorceri, a dwindling and forgotten race. Not very exciting story fodder, you might think. Compared to a vampire or even a Valkyrie," she sniffed. "Ah, but listen on and see . . . "

  She raised her hand to weave an illusion, drawing from within herself and from her surroundings-the mad energy of the inmates, the lightning-strewn night beyond the asylum.

  When she blew against her opened palm, a scene was projected onto the wall beside her. Gasps sounded, a few stray whimpers.

  "The first time young Sabine died was on an eve much like this, in a decrepit structure that trembled from thunder. Only instead of a rat-infested asylum, it was an abbey, built into the peak of a mountain, high in the Alps. The dead of winter was upon the land. "

  The next scene she cast showed Sabine and Lanthe hastening down a murky stairway in their nightgowns and coats. Even as they rushed, they hunched their heads at each new batting of wings outside. Lanthe silently cried.

  "Sabine was filled with anger at herself for not listen­ing to her instinct and taking Melanthe away from their parents, from the danger they attracted with their for­bidden sorcery. But Sabine had been reluctant because the two girls-though born of immortals and both gifted with powers-were still children, which meant they could be killed and wounded as easily as mortals, their injuries as lasting. Yet now Sabine had no choice but to leave. She sensed her parents were already dead, and suspected the killers were loose somewhere in the shadowy abbey. The Vrekeners had come for them-"

  "What's a Vrekener?"

  Sabine inhaled deeply as she gazed at the ceiling. Mustn't murder audience, mustn't murder . . . "Winged avengers of old, demonic angels," she finally answered. "A dwindling race as well. But since memory, in our lit­tle corner of the Lore, they had slaughtered evil Sorceri wherever they could find them, and had been hunting Sabine's family for all of her life. For no other reason than because her parents were indeed quite evil. "

  With a flick of her hand, Sabine changed the scene, showing the two girls stumbling into their parents' room. By bolts of lightning flashing through soaring stained glass windows, they saw the bodies of their par­ents, curled together in sleep.

  The headless bodies, freshly decapitated.

  In the image, Sabine turned away and vomited. With a strangled scream, Lanthe collapsed.

  Another illusion showed Vrekeners emerging from the shadows of the chamber, led by one who wielded a scythe with a blade forged not of metal b
ut of black fire.

  Flashes of their huge ghostly wings appeared, and the double rows of horns on their heads gleamed. They were so towering that she had to crane her neck up to meet eyes across the room. All but for one. He was a mere boy, younger even than Sabine. His gaze was transfixed on little Lanthe, curled unconscious on the floor-one of the adults had to hold him back from her.

  Sabine and Lanthe's situation grew clearer to her. This band of Vrekeners hadn't stalked them only for punitive reasons.

  "The leader tried to convince Sabine to come peace­ably with them," she told her audience. "That he would

  put the sisters upon the path of goodness. But Sabine knew what the Vrekeners did to Sorceri girl children, and it was a fate worse than death. So she fought them. " Sabine began the last illusion, letting it play to the end . . .

  Her entire body shook as she began to weave her spells around her enemies. She made the Vrekener soldiers believe they were trapped in a cavern, ensnared underground where they couldn't fly-their worst fear.

  For the leader, she held up her palms, a gesture of supplication directed to his mind. Once linked, she greedily tugged free his nightmares, which she then offered up in a display before him, forcing him to relive whatever would hurt him most.

  These scenes made him sink to his knees, and when he dropped his scythe to claw at his eyes, she snatched his weapon from him. Sabine didn't hesitate to swing it.

  Hot blood sprayed across her face as his head tumbled to her feet. Once she swiped the sleeve of her gown over her eyes, she saw that her illusions were fading, the Vrekeners able to see where they truly were once more. Lanthe had woken and screamed for Sabine ; to watch out.

  Then time . . . stopped.

  Or seemed to. Sounds dimmed, and everyone in the room slowed, all staring at Sabine, at the blood arcing from her jugular as she collapsed. One of these males had slashed her throat from behind, and all the world went red.

  "Abie?" Lanthe shrieked, charging for her, dropping to her knees beside her. "No, no, no, Abie, don't die, don't die, don't die!" The air around them heated and blurred.

  Whereas Sabine had her illusions, Lanthe's innate sorcery was called persuasion. She could order any being to do as she pleased, but she rarely gave commands- they often ended in tragedy.

  Yet when the males rounded on her, Lanthe's eyes began to glitter, sparkling like metal. The terrible power she'd feared to use she now wielded over them, without mercy. "Do not move . . . Stab yourself. . . Fight each other to the death. "

  The room was heavy with sorcery, and the abbey began groaning all around them. One of the stained glass windows shattered. Lanthe told the boy to jump through it-and not to use his wings on the way down. Eyes wild with confusion, he obeyed, the thick glass slashing over his skin. He never yelled as he plummeted to the valley floor.

  When all were killed, Lanthe knelt beside Abie again.

  "Live, Abie! Heal!" Gods, Lanthe was pushing, trying to command her. But it was too late. Sabine's heart no longer beat. Her eyes were blank with death.

  "Don't leave me!" Lanthe screamed, pushing harder, harder . . . The furniture began to shake, their parents' bed rattling. . . More shifting . . . a thud as a head rolled to the floor. Then a second one.

  The power was unimaginable. And some­how, Sabine felt her body restoring itself. She blinked open her eyes, alive and even stronger than before.

  "They ran from that place, out into the world, and never looked back," she told her enthralled audience. "All that Sabine would have from that night was the scar around her neck, a tale to tell, and the blood ven­detta of a Vrekener boy who'd somehow survived his fall. . . . "

  Lost in thought, Sabine absently realized that the guard had awakened and was squirming under her boot heels. She reached down and snapped his neck before she got so caught up with the story that she forgot to doit.

  One woman clapped her hands in glee. Another breathed, "God bless 'n keep you, miss. "

  Sabine might as well be an agent of fate for these people on this eve. Not an agent for good, nor for bad. Just serving fate-which could be either.

  After all, the next guard hired might be worse to them.

  "What about the second time she died?" a brazen female asked. Her head was shaved bald.

  "She was fighting to defend Melanthe and herself from yet another Vrekener attack. They captured Sabine, then flew her to a height, dropping her to a cobblestone street. Yet her sister was there once more to heal her broken body, to snatch her from the arms of death. "

  As if it had happened yesterday, Sabine could still recall the sound of her skull cracking. That one had been so close. . . .

  "The third time, they chased her into a raging river. The poor girl couldn't swim, and she drowned-"

  "Then take it, you bitch!" a woman shrieked from downstairs, interrupting the flow of the story once more. Ah, the Queen of Silent Tongues was yielding to


  Sabine's skin prickled as the air began to sizzle with power. The sorceress jailed downstairs was surrendering her root ability. Lanthe would be able to talk telepathi-cally to whomever she addressed, within a certain dis-tance.

  "No, don't fret," Sabine told her antsy humans. "Have you read any of the halfpenny novels, the ones with bank robberies? That's all my accomplice is doing now. Except she's stealing something equivalent"-she made her voice dramatic-"to your soul!"

  At that one woman began crying, which pleased Sabine because it reminded her why she so rarely took humans as pets.

  "Who killed her the next time?" Brazen Mortal asked. "Vrekeners?"

  "No. It was other Sorceri bent on stealing her goddesslike power. They poisoned her. " The Sorceri so adore their poisons, she thought bitterly. But then she frowned at the memories. "It did things to the young girl's mind, this repeated dying. Like an arrowhead forged in fire, she was made sharp and deadly from con­stant pressure and blows. And she began to covet life as no other before her. Whenever she felt hers was in danger, a mindless fury swept through her, the need to lash out undeniable. "

  When some of their eyes widened, Sabine realized her pensiveness had made the cell appear to be choked with mist. She often unwittingly displayed illusions that mirrored her thoughts and emotions, even when dreaming.

  As she swiftly cleared the air, another patient said, "Good miss, wh-what happened after the poisoning?"

  "The sisters just wanted to survive, to be left alone, to amass a fortune in gold through just a bit of sorcery. Was that too much to ask?" She gave them an "hon­estly ?' look.

  "But the Vrekeners were unrelenting, tracking them by the girls' sorcery. Especially the boy. Because he hadn't reached his immortality by the time he made that leap, he didn't regenerate. He'd been broken, scarred and deformed from his injuries forever. "

  They'd since learned his name was Thronos and that he was the son of the Vrekener Sabine had beheaded all those years ago. "Without the use of sorcery, the girls wer-e starving. Sabine was now sixteen and old enough to begin doing what any girl like her would. "

  Brazen Mortal crossed her arms over her chest and knowingly said, "Prostitution. "

  "Wrong. Commercial fishing. "


  "Noooo," Sabine said. "Fortune-telling. Which promptly earned her a death sentence for being a witch. "

  She fingered the white streak in her red hair, the one she hid from others with an illusion. "They didn't always burn witches at stakes. That's a fallacy. No, sometimes a village had burned its quota, so they killed secretly, burying a group alive. " Her tone grew soft. "Can you imagine what it was like for the girl to breathe earth? To feel it compacting in her lungs?"

  She gazed over her silent audience. Their eyes had gone wide-she could hear a pin drop.

  "The humans expired quickly, but not so for Sabine," she continued. "The girl withstood the reaper's call for as long as she could, but felt herself fading. Yet then sh
e heard a ringing voice from above, commanding her to live and to rise from her grave. So Sabine mind­lessly obeyed, digging against others' dead flesh, blindly stretching, desperate for another inch closer to the surface. "

  From behind them, Lanthe's voice intoned, "At last, Sabine's hand shot up from the muddy ground, pale and clenched. Finally, Melanthe could find her sister. As she hauled Sabine out of her grave, lightning struck all around and hail pelted them-like the earth was angry to lose her catch. Since that fateful night, Sabine doesn't care about anything. "

  Sabine sighed. "It's not true that she doesn't care about anything. She cares about nothing very much. "

  Lanthe glared, her eyes shimmering a metallic blue from her recent infusion of power.

  "How amusing, Sabine," she said, laying the words directly into Sabine's mind.

  Sabine jumped. "Telepathy. Outstanding. Try to retain it. " Gods, she was relieved to see Lanthe acquire another power. Her sister's persuasion had been exhausted keep­ing Sabine alive.

  It seemed that all those deaths had made Sabine even more powerful while weakening Lanthe-in both ability and resilience.

  "That sorceress also had the power to talk to animals," Lanthe continued. "Guess what you're getting for your birthday!"

  "Oh, bully. " One of the least sought powers of all Sorceri. The problem with communicating with ani­mals was that there were rarely enough within earshot to be helpful. "I can only hope a plague of locusts is milling about when 1 need them. " To her audience, Sabine said, "We're finished here. "

  The long-haired male asked, "Wait, what happened after that burial?"

  "Things got much, much worse," Sabine said dismis-sively.

  The crying female cried harder. "H-how could it get worse than dying so much?"

  Sabine dryly answered, "They met Omort the Death­less. He was a sorcerer who could never know death's

  kiss, and so he was instantly smitten with the girl so well acquainted with it. "

  Lanthe met her eyes. "He'll be wondering where we are. "

  "But he knows we'll always return. " Omort had controls in place for the sisters. Sabine gave a bitter laugh. Had they actually once thought they'd be safe with him?

  Just then, Sabine heard the sound of wings outside.

  "They've come. " Lanthe's eyes darted to the cham­ber's high window. "We run, run for the tunnels beneath the city, and try to find our portal above. "

  "I'm not in the mood to run. " The building began to rock-or it appeared to-with Sabine's anger.

  "When are you ever? But we have to. "

  Though Sabine and Lanthe were nearly as fast as the fey and were notoriously dirty fighters, the Vrekeners' sheer numbers were unstoppable. And the sisters pos­sessed no battle sorcery.

  Lanthe's gaze swept over the room, searching for escape. "They'll catch us even if you make us invisible. "

  With a flick of her hand, Sabine wove an illusion. Suddenly she and Lanthe both looked like patients. "We'll create a stampede of humans and run out into the night with them. "

  Lanthe shook her head. "The Vrekeners will scent us. "

  Sabine blinked at her. "Lanthe, have you not smelled my humans?"


  Present day

  The Tongue and Groove Strip Club, Southern Louisiana

  A lap dance for the sexy demon?"

  With a firm shake of his head, Rydstrom Woede turned down the half-clad female.

  "With a lap like yours, I'll make myself at home," another told him. "For free. " She cupped one of her breasts upward and dipped her tongue to her nipple.

  That got him to raise an eyebrow, but still he said, "Not interested. "

  This was one of the low points of his life, surrounded by strippers in a neon-lit Lore club. He was on edge in this ridiculous place, feeling like the worst hypocrite. If his ne'er-do-well brother found out where he'd been, he would never hear the end of it.

  But Rydstrom's contact had insisted on meeting here.

  When a pretty nymph sidled up behind him to mas-

  sage his shoulders, he picked up her hands and faced her. "I said no. "

  The females here left him cold, which confounded him-since he needed a woman beneath him so badly. His eyes must have darkened, because the nymph quickly backed away. About to lose my temper with a nymph? Getting angered at one of her kind for touching him was like scolding a dog for tail wagging at the sight

  of a bone.

  Lately, Rydstrom had been a constant hair trigger's turn from succumbing to rage. The fallen king known for his coolheaded reason, for his patience with others, felt like a bomb about to explode.

  He'd been experiencing an inexplicable anticipa-tion-a sense of building, a sense that something big was going to happen soon.

  But because this urgency had no discernible source or alleviation, frustration welled in him. He didn't eat, couldn't sleep a night through.

  For the last couple of weeks, he'd awakened to find himself thrusting against the pillow or the mattress or even into his own fist, desperate for a soft female below him to ease the strangling frustration he felt. Gods, I need a woman.

  Yet he had no time to woo a decent one. Just another conflict battling within him.

  The kingdom's needs always come before the king's.

  So much was at stake in the fight to reclaim his crown-from Omort the Deathless, a foe who could never be killed.

  Rydstrom had once faced him and knew from bit-ter experience that the sorcerer was undestroyable. Though he'd beheaded Omort, it was Rydstrom who'd barely escaped their confrontation nine hundred years before.

  Now Rydstrom searched for a way to truly kill Omort forever. Backed by his brother Cadeon and Cadeon's gang of mercenaries, Rydstrom doggedly tracked down one lead after another.

  The emissary he was to meet tonight-a seven-foot-tall pus demon named Pogerth-would be able to help them.

  He'd been sent by a sorcerer named Groot the Metal­lurgist, Omort's half brother, a man who wanted Omort dead almost as much as Rydstrom did. Groot was little better than Omort, but an enemy of my enemy . . .

  Just then, a demoness dressed in black leather with cheap makeup on her horns gave Rydstrom a measuring look as she passed, but he turned away.

  He was . . . curious about wicked females, always had been, but they weren't his type-no matter what Cadeon occasionally threw in his face when they fought.

  No, Rydstrom wanted his queen, his own fated female, a virtuous demoness to stand by his side and grace his bed.

  For a demon, sex with one's female was supposed to be mind-blowing compared to the random tup. After fifteen centuries, he'd waited bloody long enough to experience the difference.

  He exhaled. But now was not the time for her. So much at stake. He knew that if he didn't defeat his enemy this time, his kingdom and his castle would be forever lost.

  My home lost. His hands clenched, his short black claws digging into his palms. Omort and his followers had desecrated Castle Tornin. The sorcerer had set himself up as king and welcomed Rydstrom's enemies, granting them asylum. His guards were revenants, walk­ing corpses, the dead raised to life, who could only be destroyed once their master died.

  Tales of orgies, sacrifices, and incest in Tornin's once-hallowed halls were legion.

  Rydstrom would die before he lost his ancestral castle to beings so depraved, so warped he considered them the most revolting beings ever to walk the earth.

  Gods help anyone who crosses me this eve. A ticking bomb-

  At last, Pogerth arrived, teleporting inside the bar. The pus demon's skin looked like melted wax and smelled of decay. The gauze he wore under his clothes peeked out at the collar and cuffs of his shirt. He wore rubber boots that he would empty outside in regular intervals, as was polite.

  When he sat at Rydstrom's table, it was to a squish­ing sound. "My lord and master seeks a prize so rare it's almost fabled," he began witho
ut preamble. "In return for it, he'll deliver something just as fantastical. " Switching to the demon tongue, he asked, "What would you be willing to do for a weapon guaranteed to kill the Deathless One?"

  Castle Tornin The Kingdom ofRothkalina

  When a severed head bounced wetly down the steps from Omort's throne dais onto the black runner, Sabine casually sidestepped, continuing past it.

  The head belonged to Oracle Three Fifty-Six-as in the number of soothsayers that had been in office since Sabine had come to Tornin.

  The scent of blood cloyed as revenants mindlessly cleaned up the matching body.

  And Omort, her half brother and king of the plane of Rothkalina, was wiping off his bloody hands-which meant he'd torn the oracle's head from her neck in a fit of rage, piqued no doubt by whatever she'd foretold.

  Standing tall and proud in front of his ornate gold throne, he wore a raised armor guard over his left shoul­der and a dashing cape on the right. A sword scabbard flanked his hip. Atop his pale hair sat the intricate head-wear that served as both a crown and an armor helmet.

  He looked suave and sophisticated, and utterly inca­pable of yanking a woman's head off her body.

  Omort had stolen so many powers-pyrokinesis, levitation, teleporting-all seized from his other half siblings before he killed them. Yet he couldn't see the future. The lack often enraged him. "Something to comment about this, Sabine? Growing soft?"

  She was the only one who dared defy him in any way, and the creatures at court quieted. Lining the halls were members of many of the factions who allied with the Pravus, Omort's new army.

  Among them were the centaurs, the Invidia-female embodiments of discord-ogres, rogue phantoms, fallen vampires, fire demons with their palms aglow . . . more beings than could be named.

  Almost all of them would love to see her dead.

  "So hard to find good help these days," she sighed. Sabine could scarcely be expected to feel sympathy for another. For far too many times she'd dragged herself up from a pool of her own blood. "Which is a shame, brother, because without her we are as good as blind. "

  "Worry not, I will find another seer directly. "

  "I wish you all the best with that. " Soothsayers didn't grow on trees, and already they were wading deep into the recruiting pool. "Is this beheading why you summoned me?" Sabine's tone was bored as she gazed around her. She studiously avoided the mysterious Well of Souls in the center of the court, taking in other details of the opulent throne room.

  Her brother had drastically changed it since the rule of the mighty Rydstrom. He'd replaced the demon's austere throne with one made of blazingly bright gold. Tonight, blood lay splattered over the gleaming metal- from the oracle's squirting jugular.

  Been there. . . .

  On the walls, Omort had hung his colors and his banners emblazoned with his talisman animal: an ouro-boros, a snake swallowing its own tail, to represent his deathlessness. Anything simple, he'd made lavish. And yet, this place still didn't suit the outwardly sophisti­cated Omort.

  According to legend, the premedieval Castle Tornin had been created by a divine hand to protect the well, with six bold towers encircling it, and the central court. Though the stones that made up the fortress were rug­ged, they'd been placed flawlessly. Tornin was perfectly imperfect.

  As rough-hewn as its former king was reputed to be.

  Omort drew back his cape before sitting. "I sum­moned you half an hour ago. "

  "Ah, just so. I recall that now. " She and Lanthe had been watching DVDs in Lanthe's solar-powered room. The sisters probably logged seven hours a day watching movies. Alas, cable wasn't forthcoming.

  As she passed the Viceroy centaur, Sabine peeked down and asked him, "How's it hanging? Low and to the left, I see. Your left, my right. " Though his fury was undisguised, he would never challenge her. She had far too much power here.

  She gave him a wink to remind him of just that, then continued to Omort, "I was going to be here on time. But I had something very urgent to take care of. "

  "Did you really?"

  "No. " And that was all she'd say on the matter.

  Omort stared at her in fascination, his yellow irises glowing. But when she removed her own cape, he seemed to shake himself, casting a disapproving look at her garments-a scanty bandeau top of gold weave, a leather micro-skirt, claw-tipped gauntlets on her hands, and thigh-high boots.

  After raking his gaze over her body, Omort settled on her face. She'd drawn her bold scarlet eye paint in the shape of wings that spread out from her lashes up over her brows all the way to her hairline.

  In ages past, Omort had wanted to make it law that females of value were to obscure their faces with a tradi-tional silk Sorceri mask instead of mere paint mimick­ing one, and to cover their bodies entirely.

  He'd swiftly learned how Sabine felt about that idea.

  "Actually, Omort, I just came to drink my medicine"

  "You'll get your dose later," Omort replied, waving a

  negligent hand.

  How easy it was for him to dismiss. He wasn't the one who needed it to keep from dying a horrific death.

  "For now, we have something more important to


  Hettiah, Omort's half sister and Sabine's arch-nemesis, arrived then, hastening up the dais steps to stand beside Omort's throne-her rightful place, since she was his concubine as well as his relation. She must have run here as soon as she'd heard Sabine was at court, frantic to make sure Sabine didn't steal Omort from her.

  Hettiah was woefully confused on two points: Omort was Sabine's for the taking, and she would never be


  Omort ignored Hettiah utterly, keeping his eyes on


  "Important to discuss . . . ?" she prompted.

  "My spies have long been searching for Groot the Metallurgist and monitoring the activities of his most trusted followers. "

  Groot lived in hiding from Omort, and was one of only two half siblings outside Tornin who still survived.

  "I've just learned that he sent an emissary to meet with none other than Rydstrom Woede. "

  At last, an intrigue! "Rydstrom and Groot, our two most dangerous enemies allying. This is bad news. "

  "Something must be done. One of the spies heard the emissary promising a sword forged to kill me. "

  Everyone at court stilled-including Sabine.

  Omort exhaled wearily. "It won't, though. It can't. " He almost sounded regretful. "Do you know how many bombs, spells, spears, daggers, and poisons were sup­posed to have ended me ?"

  Indeed, Sabine had seen Omort stabbed through the heart, beheaded, and burned to cold ash. And always he rose from a dirty mist like a phoenix, stronger even than before. His very name meant without death.

  "But Rydstrom must believe it will work," he said. "The infamously coolheaded demon was seen storm­ing from the meeting, and heard calling his brother Cadeon as he got into his car to speed away toward New Orleans. "

  "Rydstrom must be on his way to meet him. " Cadeon the Kingmaker, a ruthless mercenary. He was rumored to be able to put any king on a throne-except his brother. For centuries, the two had worked together to reclaim Tornin.

  Which was now her home. Get over it, demons. Not moving.

  Hettiah cleared her throat. "My liege, if the sword can't kill you, then why worry about it?"

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