They attacked by day.
He thinned their ranks at night. He was not alone. Among the many northern European nationalities of men were a few of his own number. He had come to recognize them instantly; indeed, he had come to know where they were in the world at large. He could see and command, and was proud of his power.
But even as their hungers managed to decimate the barbaric attacking army, and he said his good-byes to the Ard-Ri they had served, he felt a new disturbance in the darkness of what was once his soul.
He knew fear as he could not remember, fear, terror, anguish. In that fear he closed his eyes; in that fear, he willed himself to the Isle of the Dead, though the ship sailed hard and fast behind him.
He came to the fisherman's cottage, and the great carved chairs, and she was not there, and he ran to the shore.
The people were gathered around something on the beach. They saw him, and their eyes were filled with the deepest sorrow, and they gave way.
He walked across the sand. And there, on the shore, he thought at first that he saw a beached dolphin, for he saw the sleek and shimmering silver tail. Perhaps he blinked, for when he looked again, there was a woman's body, impaled through the heart with a fishing spear.
Not just a woman's body. Igrainia's body.
He fell to his knees beside her. Her hand touched his face. Her eyes, her sea green eyes, touched his, and her fingers just brushed his cheeks. "My love ..."
Her fingers fell. Her eyes closed. Her sweeping thick lashes forever shadowed the aqua beauty that had been his world.
And when he looked up, in his agony, and his rage, he saw Sophia, saw her standing before Darian, and they were both so defiant.
"We were merely ... fishing!" Sophia said.
She had underestimated the monster she herself had created. He threw himself at her, mind and body.
He tore into her, flinging her to the earth, falling upon her, raking, pummeling, hating, hating....
Darian was at him. He brought his sword down, doing his best to sever Lucian's head from his body.
But an islander was there, a dwarf cast from his own society, valued here for his ability to read the runes and to spin a fine tale. Small and short and huffing and puffing, he brought a sword from the fisherman's cottage, and when Lucian was down, caught between the two, he dared the wrath of them both to bring the weapon to Lucian. He parried Darian's blows, even as Sophia leaped upon him, tearing hair from his head, flesh from his shoulders.
Darian nearly lost his arm as Lucian dealt a furious blow. Catching the dangling limb, Darian shouted to Sophia and leaped away.
Lucian caught Sophia from behind him with both hands; he gripped her with the strength of his maddened wrath, wrenched her up and over-and threw her from him. She landed on the beach, stunned and partially in the water. Suddenly she began to scream. And it smelled like burned flesh. And he realized that he had thrown her into the salt water...
Darian was there, sweeping her up. And though the unspoken law of the damned forbade him to destroy his own kind, Lucian walked toward them, ready to deliver the death blows, and ready to the himself.
Destroying Sophia had been his sole reason for existence....
But Darian reached her first. And even as she screamed in her agony, he was lifting her from the water and whispering and pleading. And they both turned to mist even as the fog from the sea began to roll in....
He didn't die. Or cease to exist.
He stood by the sea and fell to his knees and let out a scream. It was the haunted, lonely cry of the wolf at night, howling to the moon; it was the shriek of the damned, of a man lost, even what had been the remnants of his soul now taken.
His cry was bloodcurdling.
It danced upon the wind and rode the waves, and the heart of it was a shriek within a storm, and carried from coast to coast across the seas. The Irish crossed themselves, and said that the banshees rode with a vengeance that night. Even Norse kings, still certain they would sleep in Valhalla, cast up prayers to their ancestors and to their gods.
But by then, his ships of misfits and the mighty had come upon the Isle of the Dead. And when he might have cast himself to the sea salt as well, they overpowered him.
Daylight. He was exhausted. Tired beyond death, so far beyond.
Igrainia's body was bathed, adorned in silk and jewels and fur. She was set upon a bier, and with all the ritual due the greatest royalty, she was set aflame and cast back to the sea that had claimed her.
He slept, and Wulfgar convinced him that he must live. Sophia was crushed, and there was a world of madness that must be ruled. Aye, and he was part of that madness! For many years to come, he killed with far less compunction, and far less judgment Indeed, he was a warrior, nothing more.
Aye, more, Wulfgar insisted. King of the undead. There must be sanity and reason. The farther they drifted forward through time, the more important it became that they keep their balance with the world around them.
And so he lived. Or remained undead
And it would be more than a hundred years before he would sense Sophia wreaking havoc in the world of the living once again....
* * *
His eyes flew open. He felt the darkness around him, the comfort of his lair. But against that shelter, he found what he needed.
He sensed the disturbance in the universe.
Liz MacGregor busied herself in the kitchen while the nice young man worked with the cable. She could hear the twins laughing as he worked on the box in the downstairs playroom.
She glanced at the clock. It was growing late. She wasn't used to Peter being this late, but he had called to let her know that they were dragging out all kinds of research, going back through the archives.
She was worried, thinking about Jade. She loved both her stepdaughters. The morning with Shanna had made her aware that they were all very lucky. Things weren't perfect, but they really were something of a family.
And she had heard in Peter's voice that he was worried about Jade.
Well, no matter how late he got home, they'd talk about it. She'd gotten up really early with Petey and his fever and ear infection, but that didn't matter. She'd be awake when her husband got home. She was just so thankful that Petey, who had seemed so sick, had sprung back so well.
She could hear his laughter now. It was late for the cable man to still be working. He must like his job-and be pleased to be getting overtime, or something. He had worked a long time-and kept the kids happy and laughing.
Glad of their enjoyment, she dried her hands on a dish towel and walked out to see what was going on.
Petey and Jamie were both silent then, just staring at the television set as if they didn't know what was going on.
Frowning, she walked around the young cable man to look.
A gasp of horror escaped her.
There was porno on her television. Rough, brutal porno. People with straps of leather covering many different places-but not the places that should have been covered. Men with masks and whips. Women
... doing what they were commanded. Sex organs exposed everywhere... people having everything imaginable done to them.
"How dare you!" she charged the cable man furiously, turning on him.
But there was something about him then. Something about the way he looked at her. She wanted to move. Her limbs were frozen. She wanted to scream. No sound would issue from her throat.
"Liz, Liz, what's the matter, Liz? You know, you are a pretty woman. And young still. Just a bit over forty. Peaking sexually at your age, that's what some people say. Let's have a better look, Liz. I think you'll enjoy it if you give it half a chance."
He set his hand on her shoulders, drawing her in front of him. She felt his hands at her neck. She still wanted to scream; she was in horror, but...
His hands ...
On her neck. They felt good. His fingers were busy along her blouse. Undoing buttons. It seemed oddly okay.
He had her facing the television.
She suddenly felt...
Swollen. All over. Watching ...
She wanted to be touched like that. And he was going to do it.
The twins were crying. She didn't care in the least.
Annoying little rugrats . . .
Rug, rug, rug. . .
She was lying on the carpet.
"Want me to get rid of the brats?" he whispered to her. Then he laughed. "For now .. . I'll just throw the little darlings in their cribs."
He was gone. But she couldn't move. She could only stare at the television. There was a reason she shouldn't be doing this. She couldn't begin to imagine what it might be. She struggled. It seemed she could see something far away. There was a man in her life. A husband. A good one. She could see his face, fine green eyes, dark hair with dignified gray at the temples. A man she loved . ..
He was so far away.
Mist settled over her. Deliciously sensuous ...
She had no control over this. The cable guy was there, smiling through the mist. It was all right. He needed ... something.
She heard moaning.
She was doing it. There was a sharp pain ... somewhere. It added to the sensation. Sticky, she was sticky with .. . something. Something red ...
But he licked it all away.
Later the television went to static.
Liz lay limp on the rug.
From their upstairs bedroom, the twins cried and cried.
A doctor had touched her hand, awakening her. Jade jumped. She jerked her neck. There was a sharp pain in it. She'd been sleeping over the bed in a twisted position. She was sore all over.
But she saw the doctor and straightened immediately. This was a different man from the one she'd seen earlier.
He was older, with long, wispy white hair, a mustache, and kindly blue eyes. He was smiling.
"You're the fiancée!"
"I ... yes."
He offered her a hand. "Dr. Wainwright I specialize in rare diseases."
"Jade MacGregor, Dr. Wainwright. How is-"
"Your young man is much better. Miss Jade MacGregor. You've been the magic touch. He's doing incredibly well."
"He is? Really?" She barely dared to believe it.