"Invite me in," he told her.
"Can you stop her? My father will kill you. And there is a man with her who does her bidding, who shares in her ... debauchery. He sleeps with her as well, and they both laugh, and my father cares not."
"Invite me in."
"You will die."
"I'll take that chance," he told her dryly.
"Dear sir, whoever you are, if you can stop this ..."
He rode back with her, stopping for Wulfgar and the priest.
It was daylight. Not time for his full power. But not time for Sophia's deadly strength. Yet she knew.
She knew they were coming. She was in the great hall with the laird when they entered, and she was instantly up, calling for men at arms. "Stop him, kill him immediately!" And men rushed at him.
He was sorry for the death he wielded, for they were only fools at her command. The priest stood by his door. He and Wulfgar, back to back, met each man as they came at him.
"His head, you fools! Sever his head, wrench his heart from his body!" she raged.
Then Darian was coming toward him, Darian who never learned his lesson. But Darian had glutted on blood in the past months. Their swords began to clash like thunder across the hall. They walked the stairs, leaped from the great table, tried to cast one another into the fire. Lucian's arm was nicked; his waist was hit He cut Darian deeply in the thigh, crossed his chest with his blade. Suddenly Sophia let out a sound like the wail of a cat, a banshee, and she flew forward with a staggering power, a sword in her hand. She swung it again and again, not tiring. When Darian would have attacked him as well, Wulfgar joined the battle. Sophia was like a whirlwind. Lucian could scarcely see anything else in the room, he was so busy fighting Sophia. Her power was staggering. He wasn't assaulting; he was defending. He had cut her several times; she didn't seem to notice, to falter. She battled easily.
She still wore her pendant. Her fingers closed around it.
There was a scream, and he turned and saw that Wulfgar had fallen to his knees. "Do it! His head, take his head!" Sophia cried.
It wasn't Darian who delivered the blow. Sophia pushed forward one of the de Brus men-at-arms.
Wulfgar's head was neatly disconnected from his shoulders. The de Brus fellow was an excellent swordsman.
No hacking ...
Just a clean blow.
And Wulfgar was dead.
The priest rushed to him, praying over the body.
Sophia began to cackle. "Oh, holy Father, he is among the damned! He will rest in hell, and I will let you join him there!"
She started toward him. Lucian reached out to stop her. His fingers tangled in her hair-and into the gold chain of the pendant. It ripped from her neck with a good handful of hair. She spun on Lucian, shrieking, "Give it back, give it back!"
He looked at the power in his hand. Felt the object burning there. He looked at Sophia. She was raging at him, her fingers clawing, tearing at his cheeks. He held fast to the pendant, and struck out at Sophia with his sword. He slashed her from throat to groin. She let out a garbled sound and turned. "Darian!" she cried.
She was real; she was mist. She stumbled from the castle.
He tried to chase her.
He stumbled and fell.
He thought again that at last, he might have died. But he awoke in the castle, and they told him that they had found Sophia, and the priest had said prayers, and she had been entombed in lead, and could not arise again. He went to her crypt. The ancient laws told him that he could not rip the tomb to shreds and tear her head from her body. The de Bras men were all terrified of her. They would not do so.
The priest was satisfied that she was gone. Her coffin was lead; a huge silver cross secured the lid. She would not, could not rise.
The locket he had kept. It was gold, with a strange insignia engraved on it. The likeness of a cat was upon it; the eyes were in ebony.
The first night he slept with the locket he awoke with a raving hunger. He was still at the de Brus castle.
A maid walked by his room, and he leaped out at her, and he nearly tore into her throat with savage intent....
But he saw himself. Saw his reflection in a shield mounted on the wall. Saw the hideousness of his own reflection, the saliva dripping from his fangs.
He cast the maid aside, amazed at his own strength. He went to help her up; she was terrified of him, and started screaming.
It was the locket, he thought. It gave him greater strength, but fed upon his hungers, and his cruelty. An army of de Bras men stood before him, staring at him with horror.
"I need Sophia's body!" he raged.
The locket needed to be buried. Sophia needed to be destroyed.
"She is gone, she is gone, she is buried, she will not rise again!" Lady Gwendolyn, the daughter of the castle, told him. Unafraid, she came to him. "We will bury her evil talisman." The strangely decaying remains of Wulfgar awaited him. He took his dear old friend to the sea, and a bier was built for him, set afire, and cast to the waves.
Before he did so he slipped the locket into what remained of Wulfgar's hands.
It should have burned, melted. . . .
And fallen to the bottom of the sea.
Lucian finished his story and looked around the room. They were all dead silent, as if spellbound.
Then Renate cleared her throat.
"What happened to the priest's sister?"
"She was found. She had been kept with other girls in a cell below the great hall."
He hesitated. "Alive. Tainted, changed. She went to live with nuns at Reims."
"Very," Lucian agreed. He leaned forward. "But I should warn you as well-everything in my own existence has not always been exemplary."
Renate chose to ignore that. "What of the Lady Gwendolyn?"
"A happier ending. A few years later she went on to marry into the family of Andrew de Moray."
"A few years later," Jade murmured, watching him.
"Yes, a few years later," he replied.
"But now," Matt said gravely, "you think Sophia has the locket again?" Lucian shrugged. "She came from a lead tomb, and she's had the strength to kill across the globe. I'd say she had some help."
"Obviously he is with her."
"Is she wearing the locket?" Jade asked suddenly.
He shook his head. "I don't know."
"There are things that we can do," Renate insisted. "Sketch the locket for us. We'll find it."
"Progress and technology!" Renate said happily.
"She means we're going to search the Internet," Matt told him.
"And we've got to head for the hospital," Jade said.
Lucian looked slowly from Matt to Jade, and nodded. "To the hospital." From her father, who seemed very confused, Jade learned that Mike Astin had been spelled on guard duty at Liz's door by Sean Canady. Liz was doing much better, but they'd probably keep her another few days for observation-she had been that close to death.
He had met Maggie Canady, who had come with Sean. He'd seen Shanna for a only a few moments, because she had decided to go get the twins and bring them back to Canady's house, and watch them there with the Canadys' little boy, Brent.
"So Shanna has the boys?"
"Maggie Canady says that they're welcome to stay at their house; apparently it's huge."
"And she's well equipped for little boys."
"But she's here, and Shanna is at their house?"
"Where is Maggie?"
"At the moment I'm not sure. Sean Canady came and let Mike Astin go, and he's been out there at Liz's door ever since. I don't know why Canady feels he has to stand guard like that," her father said, shaking his head with wary concern.
"Well, Dad, it never hurts," she tried to say casually.
Lucian was talking to Liz. Her father was staring at him suspiciously.
"She's doing really well, but she still doesn't really remember what happened. Something about the cable man, but-" he broke off, shaking his head again, at a loss.
"But what, Dad?"
"They didn't send anyone out that day. I guess her fever was just raging, I don't know, but it is upsetting. I should have been home. I've spent my life trying not to let work take over. When your mom was so sick, I learned that time and people were precious and fleeting. I should have been home. I wasn't."
"Dad, you don't work too much; you were a great parent to us; you're a good husband to Liz, and a good father to the twins. Liz is doing well."
"You know what I can't figure out?"
"Who called 911?"
"Must have been ... one of the neighbors."
"In my house?" he said skeptically.
"Dad, really, what does it matter? Someone called, and help came, and Liz is going to be all right."
"Do you think she imagined a cable man? Maybe someone broke in; maybe she was in real danger-"
"Dad, she's here."
He nodded; she kissed his cheek. "I'm going to run up and see how Rick is doing."
"Jade," he said, stopping her.
"You know how much you mean to me, don't you? I love you and your sister. You can't imagine how much."
"Dad, we know."
He hesitated. He seemed very tired, and very worried, and as if he knew that something was going on.
And that he was powerless to stop the forces around him.
"Dad, Shanna and I are both delighted that you found Liz, and that you have the twins. And we love you, too, with all our heart." His eyes were still on hers, as if he waited for answers she couldn't begin to give him. "It's going to be all right," she said. There was a lot of force to her voice, and that was strange-she was feeling very lame.