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“Perhaps I did, and you were too busy to notice.” He surveyed her soiled, wrinkled garments and the faint shadows under her eyes. “You did rather too much yourself, I think. You should leave the heavy work to me.”

“I’m accustomed to working alone, and you’ve taken on quite enough responsibility.” She shouldered a strange-looking silver bag and headed toward the cloister.

Beau lingered behind to switch off the generators and make one last round of the camp. The most expensive, hardest-to-replace equipment had been secured inside the church, the food supplies stored in protective containers and coolers stacked inside a large, animal-proof cage. As he walked the perimeter, he wondered how Alys was faring with the portable shower he’d rigged in the lavatory. She probably disliked it; mortals of this time were not accustomed to bathing with cold water. He should go down and see whether he could warm a ewer for her over the camp stove.

Despite his best efforts Beau could not stop thinking about how she had looked, emerging from the hotel bath, her hair spilling like dark scarlet silk over her bare shoulders, her flesh rosy from the heat of the shower. She should have looked that in his arms, after he gave her pleasure, all shivering delight, her lovely mouth whispering his name—

She doesn’t know my name, and when I had her in my arms, she fought me.

Shame crushed his desire, leaving behind only shreds of self-disgust. He would be sleeping in the same chamber with the woman for weeks; he could not seduce her and he would not allow himself to touch her. No, as oblivious to him as Alys was, he would have to think of her as Harlech had said. A girl no older than her students, a young sister, one who neither needed nor wanted anything from him but gentleness and protection.

With that mind-set he made his way downstairs, where he found Alys sitting on the end of one bed and drying her hair with a towel. She had dressed in fitted, cream-colored thermal garments that covered her from throat to ankle, and had stuffed her long feet into bright red fuzzy socks. Her clean skin smelled of some sort of light floral lotion, which didn’t completely mask the exciting zing of her scent.

The fact that she was warm enough to shed so much scent did puzzle him. “The water was not too cold, I hope.”

“It’s winter, Beau. It’s freezing.” She shook out her hair and smoothed it back. “That’s why I didn’t use your shower rig.”

He frowned. “You have found a hot springs hidden somewhere?”

“In here.” She gestured for him to follow her into the lavatory, where she had hung the silver bag she’d carried in. “This is a solar water bag. Have you ever used one?” When he shook his head, she said, “You fill it up and hang it in the sun. In two hours the solar units on the outside convert the sunlight, and that heats the water to a hundred degrees. It’s only a little warmer than body temperature, but the chill outside makes it feel hotter.”

Beau examined the strange but simple contraption, which sported a temperature gauge strip and a flexible spray-hose attachment. After all the centuries he’d spent bathing in frigid rivers and icy lakes, it seemed almost magical. “How could you make it work at night?”

“I can’t, so this morning I put it out on the hotel balcony. It’s insulated, so it keeps the water warm for a long time.” She touched the bag. “There’s enough left for you.”

“You saved some of your water, for me.” Her kindness left him bewildered.

“Why wouldn’t I? If we’re going to sleep in the same room, I’d like you to bathe regularly.” She handed him a towel and made to leave.

Beau caught her arm, tugging her to him. “You are very kind to someone you dislike. It makes me wonder what you would do for a friend.” He kissed her brow in what he hoped was a brotherly fashion. “Thank you.”

“I don’t dislike you.” She lifted her hand as if to touch her forehead, and then dropped it. “You are…I’m not…I left you some soap over there.” She made a quick gesture and quickly retreated.

After Beau had bathed, he wrapped a towel around his hips and looked out into the chamber. Alys had turned out the lights and lay huddled under the coverlet, her face turned toward the wall. Knowing it might embarrass her if he slept naked, as he did at the Realm, Beau pulled on a pair of trousers before he stretched out on the other bed.

Even underground he could feel the rising of the sun, for the day’s hours sapped the strength from him wherever he was. He stared up at the weathered stone of the ceiling, on which some priest had scratched the sign of the cross over and over. Although Beau had long ago set aside his faith, and he did not believe in ghosts, from the moment he had stepped foot inside the church, he had felt a presence here. He could not tell whether it was malignant or benevolent, only that it weighed on his senses like a heavy, unseen yoke.

He turned on his side to watch Alys sleep.

Alys walked through the old sanctuary, her feet bare and burning as they crossed the cold planks. Every breath she took seemed to solidify in her lungs, and as she approached the altar, lacy snowflakes drifted down around her. The instant they touched her, they glowed with a strange, intense green light.

She had done this before in her dreams, too many times to count. This time, however, she could see and smell tallow candles burning. The uncertain light flickered over a long row of men in black robes, all on their knees with their hands clasped in prayer. She shifted her gaze to the simple wooden cross suspended from the ceiling, and felt the coldness of its shadow against her face.

“This is silly,” she muttered. “I’m not religious. I’ve never attended church. I don’t believe in God. I’m a scientist. I should be dreaming of labs and lecture halls and charcoal-tempered pottery.”

“You are not dreaming, daughter.”

A tall, broad-shouldered figure came out of the dark, sending a whirlwind of ice crystals around her.

Alys regarded him. His hooded brown robe concealed his features, but his crudely stitched leggings and worn leather boots were embroidered with gold. Heavy leather gloves encased his hands, and brassy golden hair hung long and loose over his shoulders. While the snow was beginning to encrust her shoulders and arms, not a speck touched him or his clothing.

She didn’t remember him, but she felt sure she’d seen him before in her dreams. She’d definitely heard his voice before now. “Do I know you?”

“I was the maker of the scroll, and the keeper of the cross, and the savior of the jewels.” The priest’s voice rasped as if he had a bad case of laryngitis. “It was I who washed them in my blood. You and your mortal family were my army, my guardians, each sworn to protect the secrets of eternity. Now you are last. You will not fail me as your sisters did.”

The other priests rose from their prayers and walked in two rows past her, each carrying a smoldering metal sphere. The unpleasant smell of incense and charred metal made Alys feel slightly nauseated, as did the sight of the priests’ faces, which were covered in open sores. “You’ve made an error. My parents are dead, but I was their child. Not yours.”

“You have the wisdom to protect the mortal world from eternal damnation,” the big priest said. “But do you have the heart to do what needs be done? Will you die for love?”

Alys looked down at the blade that appeared in his left hand. Beneath the bloody slush dripping from it she recognized carved bone.

She would not fear a figment of her imagination, not when it spoke with the same voice that had saved her during her childhood. Of course she’d given him that voice, just as she had designed every other part of him.

“You are not real,” she told him. “My subconscious has constructed you out of childhood memories and recent encounters to serve as a surreptitious emotional outlet. You represent someone in my waking life, perhaps the chairman of the Hylord Foundation, with whom I have unresolved conflicts. Your questions are therefore irrelevant. I want to wake up now.”

“This is your dream, child.” The snow grew thicker, changing from a drift to a steady fall as he slipped the bone blade in a sheath on his hip. “You used it to capture me. I could not have made it through on my own. My body no longer remains part of this world for long.”

“If you’re a ghost,” she countered, “how could I capture you? Aside from that fact, I know I’m sleeping. In an unconscious state I’m paralyzed and incapable of any action.”

“You are capable of a great deal.” He touched her cheek, and his hand felt colder than the snow. “And you have my curse. You never truly sleep, do you, Alys?”

A blizzard roared soundlessly around her, nearly knocking her off her feet. “I’m sorry, but continuing to talk with you is pointless. I’m just talking to myself.”

“I will try to help you and the boy if I can,” the priest said. “You must watch for my hand.”

Knee-deep in a white drift, Alys turned to watch him. “The boy? What boy?”

His form began to change shape, shedding his robe as his chest narrowed and his hair darkened. The ice storm vanished into a curtain of darkness that shrouded Alys.

Go to him, the priest’s voice whispered in her ears. Be with him. He will protect you.

Alys shuffled toward the bed, where she pulled back the edge of the covers and climbed under them. She smelled something cool and sweet as heavy arms enclosed her, and Beau drew her against his chest. His breath wasn’t coming out in white puffs like hers, and his face was dry of the freezing tears streaming down her cheeks. She was shivering so much she could hear her teeth chattering.

She burrowed against him, trying to warm herself, but the frost glazing her skin wouldn’t melt.

“Pr-priest,” she heard herself stammer. “H-h-el-p-p m-me.…”

The big man’s eyes opened, and she saw her cold, pinched face reflected in the dark mirrors there.

I will give him to you, the priest murmured in her mind. His heart can be yours for all eternity. Open your arms to him, my child. Love him as I could not. Give him your blood.

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