Consciousness came slowly. After who knew how much time had passed, Carrow woke, cataloging her new injury. Her face was still throbbing from Fegley's hit. Can't have been out that long.
She cracked open her eyes to find herself laid out on the bottom bunk in her old cell, with Ruby gazing down at her. "Crow!"
Carrow struggled to wrap her arms around the girl. "Ruby, sweetheart."
"I missed you!"
"I missed you, too."
"What happened to your face, Crow? Why aren't we leaving? Aren't we going home?"
With effort, Carrow rose to a sitting position, wincing in pain. "They lied, Ruby."
"Lied?" The girl's irises shimmered ominously.
"Doesn't mean we'll be here forever. We'll escape, I promise you." Carrow glanced over the girl's head to the bunk across from them, where two new Sorceri females sat. Carrow recognized the pair from the file the House of Witches kept, the file of evil Sorceri to be assassinated at will.
Emberine, the "ueen of Flames, and Portia, the "ueen of Stone, partners - and rumored to be lovers - for centuries.
The two were unmistakable. Portia's pale yellow hair was short with black-tipped spikes that defied gravity. Emberine's unruly mane was plaited in the wild Sorceri style, some of the thick braids a brazen titian red, some black. Her metal breastplate was engraved with an image of flames.
Without taking her gaze off them, Carrow asked Lanthe, "What are they doing in here?"
Between the two "ueens, they could manipulate fire and rock as no others on earth. It was said that Ember had the power of a hundred fire demons, could actually turn herself into a flame. Portia was rumored to be able to move mountains, literally. They used their vast powers mainly for indiscriminate, wholesale carnage.
"They've only been here two days," Lanthe answered, not seeming to like the new additions any more than Carrow did. "We're sort of filling up to capacity around here."
"Yes, we're imprisoned by mortals," Emberine said. "How mortifying." They tittered.
Portia added, "Which has given us plenty of time to bond with little Ruby. What were we talking about just yesterday? Ah, yes, how the House of Bitches can't handle your power."
Ember opened her arms. "Ruby, come sit on Auntie Ember's lap. As you often like to do."
When Carrow's fingers tightened on her shoulder, Ruby frowned up at her.
Portia pointed at Carrow's face. "Nice shiner. It goes with your skirt."
Carrow shot the two killing looks. "I've had a day. Do not screw with me." And Fegley's clubbing was merely icing on the cake she'd baked.
She'd betrayed a demon male who hadn't deserved it. The look in his eyes. Too late, he'd grasped the power of their weapons. ...
"Oh, yes, you got double-crossed by the Order," Portia said.
Ember added, "You didn't have to be an oracle to see that one coming."
Once Carrow had finally gotten Ruby to sleep and the Sorceri had turned in, Carrow and Lanthe sat with their backs against the wall - again, fitting - watching for any traffic in the ward.
"How was Ruby?" Carrow asked.
"Each night she awakens, still confused about where she is and why her mother isn't here. Each time when she remembers, she cries herself to sleep. She also cried for you."
Carrow exhaled. "I don't know how she won't be messed up after all this."
"I experienced much worse at the same age. I saw my parents' decapitated bodies, saw my sister get her throat slit. And look how wonderfully Sabine and I both turned out."
"Sabine and wonderful?" Sabine was one of the most feared Sorceri in the Lore. She was the "ueen of Illusions, could make her victims see anything she chose, could delve into a person's brain and make their nightmares appear to come to life. Her powers were legion, her vanity nearly as extensive. "Going to need a minute, or a millennium, to try to match those up."
Lanthe eyed her. "So do you want to tell me what went on out there?"
"It started with a ghoul attack," Carrow began, and went on to relate almost everything. Knowing they were being recorded, she left out a few of the intimate details, but she did find herself admitting, "Lanthe, he might have been ... the one."
"You clearly were for him. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the way he looked at you."
"After a few mishaps, he was tender and generous with me. And if anything threatened me, he'd destroy it with a viciousness you'd marvel at."
"Tender to you and vicious to others? He sounds like the perfect male."
"He was." Within that mine, Malkom had been a golden-haired virility god who was both rough and gentle, and determined to pleasure her, to please her in all ways. Outside in Oblivion, he'd been her protector, ready to sacrifice himself for her.
That male was gone, replaced by a seething Scarba who'd looked like he wanted her heart on a platter.
And who might have murdered his own mother. That tidbit hadn't been in the dossier. And still Carrow thought, If he did it, then the demoness must've had it coming.
Lanthe studied her face. "If he was perfect for you before, he no longer is now. You have to get him out of your head, have to move on. You heard him, he wants to kill you. I know this well - there are some things males can't forgive, even of their mates."
Lanthe shrugged. "Even if you got a chance to tell the demon why you did it, he might just punish Ruby as well, including her in his revenge. He is still a Trothan demon at heart, after all."
"You're right." Carrow hadn't thought about that. "He can't know about her."
"Why did you let yourself come to care for the demon when you knew how this would end?"
"It just happened." She'd already been teetering on the brink when he'd gazed down at her and called her "wife." The pride in his expression had pushed her over the edge. Carrow was a woman not accustomed to being cherished, and he'd made her feel that way, every minute of the day.
"The Order must have known you'd be his," Lanthe said. "I'm becoming more and more convinced they have an immortal informant, a soothsayer able to direct them."
"I'd thought the same."
"There are too many connected Loreans here for it to be coincidence. They use mates and loved ones as leverage to force us to do their bidding. Even to capture our own. That's part of the reason they've been able to fill up so "uickly around here."
"What do you think they're doing with Malkom?" Carrow asked.
"They won't kill him. No matter how much Chase will want to."
"What did Fegley mean by Chase and the cookie jar?"
"He tortures Regin repeatedly," Lanthe said. "There's some kind of sick interest going on there. And he's losing favor - inmate whispers say that Chase argues constantly with his superior, some nameless, faceless man who wants to study us. Whereas Chase only wants to exterminate us."
Carrow pinched her forehead, beset with worry for Malkom.
Lanthe patted her shoulder. "Look, what's done is done. You need to focus on keeping Ruby safe and healthy. And, of course, on escaping so you can slay Fegley."
Carrow vowed, "It's going to be bloody - "
Malkom's sudden roar echoed down the ward; she gave a cry. "He's being held here, in this very corridor!"
Malkom had awakened to the thundering of his own heart, finding himself in some bizarre cell, his body riddled with injuries. When he'd comprehended that he was not in his world, not with his woman, a roar of anguish had been wrenched from his chest.
Betrayed yet again. Not by her, not my female, too. But now he gazed down and saw that a collar like hers ringed his neck. A slave collar. He gripped it in two fists, yanking with all his strength. Nothing. It budged not one inch.
She'd turned him into a slave once more....
"I will kill you, witch!" he bellowed. Could she hear him? Was she near? He sensed that she was, just as he had that first night in Oblivion when she'd concealed herself from him.
It didn't matter where she was; he would pursue her to the ends of this world and any others.
He rose unsteadily on his injured legs, barely able to limp to the wall of glass that kept him jailed. Other creatures from a number of factions were imprisoned behind similar transparent walls, eyeing him warily.
When he pounded the glass with his fists, a male murmured from a distance, "One more hit against that wall, vemon, and you'll be breathing poisoned air." He sounded amused, his accent reminding Malkom of the vampires'. "The mortals diffuse it from the ceiling."
The mortals - the same order of soldiers that had come to his world repeatedly.
What did they want from him? Why had they sent Carrow to Oblivion to lure him out?
Their trap had worked so well. Malkom had wanted what she'd offered so damned badly. Everything between him and the witch over the last week - the best of his life - had been part of yet another betrayal.
At the portal opening, she'd behaved as if she regretted deceiving him, but nothing she said or did could be trusted. She'd also told him they'd be bound forever. And he'd stupidly believed her. When would he learn? If you believe, then you invite misery.
Malkom had been born just to be punished.
Just not by her. He roared to the ceiling again, his eyes going wet with loss. I would relive all those treacheries to take this one back.
On the heels of that gut-wrenching feeling of loss, fury set in, a wrath demanding to be appeased. He was born to be the punisher as well. Malkom had meted out retribution to anyone who'd betrayed him.
Carrow would fare no differently. He would determine a way to get free, then hunt her down.
Malkom had turned on Kallen, whom he'd loved as a brother. The witch would pay a thousand times over.
Those who betray me do it only once.