"You've come full circle now, Slaine," Ronath said from outside Malkom's cell, the same one in which he'd been imprisoned with Kallen all those years ago. "And still after all these centuries, you are nothing."
Narrowing his bloodied and swollen eyes, Malkom gripped the cell bars, the wrath inside him burning for release. Earlier, the armorer had ordered his guards to beat him but refused to face Malkom alone - even though Ronath could now trace. "And still you are a coward, one who has always feared me."
When Ronath shrugged, his elaborate armor clanked with the movement. "Your taunts mean nothing to me because we both know that I've won. And you, Scarba, will always lose. It might take hundreds of years, but you will always fail."
Never had Malkom needed to kill as he did now. Because everything Ronath said was true.
I wanted to live with Carrow. That was all.
Though the idea of being kept from his female made him crazed - he'd sworn he would never be separated from her - he had one consolation. Ronath wouldn't find her. So I win. By the time the armorer and his men had finished torturing Malkom and returned to the mountain to begin mining, she would be long gone.
Malkom had made her so furious that there was no chance she'd try to follow him. As if there'd been a chance before the bite. She would make her own way to the portal and leave without him this night. With the power she'd demonstrated this morning, she should be safe.
I would have liked to see her world. To have her show it to me.
Would she wonder what had become of him?
It didn't matter. He would die here, and she would be safe from these demons.
Ronath ran the tip of his bone spear under a claw. "Surely even you can recognize that you were born just to be punished. What I do not understand is why you haven't simply ended yourself. Seems you are more coward than I."
Kallen had once asked him about his will to live, marveling at it, especially in light of Malkom's earlier hardships. This morning, when Malkom had been brought into the city, memories of his imprisonment and his childhood overwhelmed him, until even he had begun to marvel at what he'd survived.
The torture and pain, the unending loneliness.
In this very cell, he'd been trapped with the body of his best friend for days. The brother he'd murdered...
Never had he regretted anything so badly. Even before he'd been released, Malkom had realized that Kallen's actions hadn't been the betrayal he thought; the prince had merely decided on a rational course of action.
The better male lives, the lesser sacrifices.
In four hundred years, Malkom had accomplished nothing. Kallen could have achieved so much more.
Yet now Malkom realized that if he hadn't had the will to live that night, he never would have known his witch, wouldn't have been here to save her life.
He pictured Carrow smiling up at him from under a jet-black curl. Malkom had somehow endured long enough to protect the most ex"uisite woman born, to pleasure her. I savored her cries in my ear and safeguarded her to the end.
Gods, how much more easily he would have been able to withstand his past if he'd known she'd be in his future, for even this short a time.
On that night so long ago, Malkom hadn't been willing to die for Kallen, but for the witch...
I do it gladly.
Malkom shoved his shoulders back. "You know nothing of my life, Ronath," he said, his tone smug.
"I know it's about to end," Ronath replied, turning to call for the guards. "It's time."
Time to begin the dwellers' grueling ritual. With me as the sacrifice. Yet even now, Malkom had only one regret.
He'd broken his vow to Carrow.
She'd been enraged with him. And he hadn't had the words to tell her that he'd bitten her because he was ceding his heart to her. Little by little, 'twas becoming hers to claim.
He'd wanted something of her in return.
Carrow surveyed the demons' city with disgust.
No wind stirred down on this plateau, which should have been a good thing, but the air smelled rank. And without the billowing dust, the sun beat down. Bleached bones and behorned skulls littered the streets.
Most of the buildings had decayed into ruins, their bricks crumbling and wood splintering.
Even with the full force of Carrow's remaining magic, crossing that hateful desert had taken her agonizing hours. And with each one, she'd become more convinced that the demons had captured Malkom to execute him.
I'll never forgive myself if I'm too late.
Down a main thoroughfare, she saw a crowd gathered in the distance. With the last of her power, she wove a glamour over herself so she'd appear to have a fine cloak covering her body and hair. Beneath it, she would be bedecked in a rich silk gown, gold jewelry, and even a crown.
If she had to interact with demons from a class-stratified society, then she'd look like money and be "uick to give orders.
In this master/slave world, perhaps she should even act as if she owned Malkom. Didn't the owner get to mete punishment to her property? She might be able to demand his release under her recognizance.
So says the chick who weekends in Parish Correctional.
Once cloaked, she hastened toward the crowd. The demons were gathered around a bloodstained stage made of stone. In the center of it stood what looked like a pyre platform, except this had manacles attached. In the background, colossal statues of horned figures loomed, likely representing the demons' gods.
Piles of blackened bones lay at the foot of the pyre, and charred hands and feet rotted in the manacles. The hands were clenched in fists, the feet curling downward.
The Trothans burned victims alive. Did they plan that fate for Malkom? Over my dead body.
The denizens attending this sacrifice had the same shifty eyes as Asmodel, and she perceived in them a sick happiness at the prospect of the upcoming execution.
And these were the demons she'd once hoped to find, to unite with? No way could she trust her and Ruby's futures to these dicks.
She felt dirty drawing power from them, from their sadistic glee. But she forced herself to, allowing the crowd to begin fueling her.
When she spotted half a dozen swordsmen leading Malkom toward the stage, relief sailed through her to find him still alive.
On the heels of that, her fury at the demons returned tenfold. Malkom had been beaten, and they were hauling him directly out into the sun. The light here still wasn't strong enough to outright kill Malkom, but he was unmistakably exhausted, his skin blistering.
She began pushing through the crowd toward him. But the Trothans were huge, immovable.
The six swordsmen dragged him through a gauntlet of deranged demons who stabbed him with spears fashioned from bones. And at the end of this, they would expect him to be burned alive?
Malkom must have known this was the fate awaiting him, and still he'd surrendered to Ronath.
To protect me.
The swordsmen maneuvered him to the front of the stage, where a chopping block stood. Forcing him to kneel before it, they shackled him to bolts in the stone, securing the ends together with an anti"ue-looking padlock.
She put out a probe. Naturally, Malkom's bonds were mystically enforced. She could open them, but it'd take time.
There was acceptance in Malkom's expression, even when the swordsmen shoved his head to the block and one of them raised an ax.
"What the hell is this?" she demanded of the group of demons closest to her. They scowled down at her, uncomprehending. She needed a new spell, the translation spell, but it re"uired so much power....
The ax came down before she could react. They'd cut off one of his horns.
Though Malkom didn't make a sound, his magnificent body shuddered in the chains, his blue eyes resigned.
The guards swiftly forced his head back to the block. Her stomach churned when they chopped off the second. She knew the horns would grow back, but to lose one - much less two - was supposed to be excruciating.
This torture filled the demons with joy. She gritted her teeth as dirty power coursed through her.
Malkom continued to stare straight ahead, an innate pride lingering in his expression. She perceived no shame from him. Which meant either he'd done nothing wrong - or he was a hardened killer.
Carrow wished she could believe the latter, since it would make her mission easier. But she couldn't. She gazed at him up there, chained, his body covered with gashes.
He was so much better than these people. Malkom is noble.
If he'd killed their prince, then the guy'd had it coming.
Malkom must have scented her then, because he stiffened, rattling his chains. Then she got hit with a bolt of something like utter joy.
She swayed and moaned, "Whoaaa." Yet he instantly followed that emotion with a helpless kind of rage.
No takesie-backsies, demon. She'd just scored a spike of uncut, pharmaceutical-grade vemon joy. Delectable power surged inside her. This would be enough for several simultaneous spells, and she'd need them all - protection, language, her continued glamour. As she was hurriedly spellcasting, the demon who'd led Malkom's capture climbed to the stage, dressed in full armor from feet to chin, everything but the helmet.
This Ronath had an air of deviousness mixed with conceit. And she didn't think he could possibly ever have been happier than he was right now. I'll take a shot of that - and then I'll defeat you with your own delight.
After "uieting the crowd's frenetic cheers, Ronath addressed them: "Blah blah blah MALKOM SLAINE blah blah."
Though she didn't understand Ronath - yet - she knew that whatever he was saying was the wrong thing.
She couldn't remember the last time she'd been so infuriated. Word to the wise, Ronath. Never piss off a hungover witch.
Or she'll have your head for it.