Chapter 8

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Saint-Chely-du-Tarn, France

MAIEL BREATHED IN THE COOL AIR and watched the gloaming creep in. Water flowed far below one of the bridge's arches where she sat, as she dangled her feet and leaned against the stones. An old tunnel spilled runoff into the Tarn River with a sound once deafening to her ears. The wind on her skin and through her hair smelled of earth and the road. The last time she was there, it was without her acute senses. Colors were more saturated and sounds more perceptible. Scents overwhelmed and the feel of the rock against her body was coarser than she ever recalled. Birds sang from roosts in the masonry. Cars sped overhead and the soft whispers of human conversations persisted beneath it all. Her memory flooded with cherished moments from a lifetime long ago. Among it all, the shadow persisted.

Maiel wrapped her arms about her waist. She felt cold and sleepy. With wings sagging, she tried to focus on regaining her energy. The water should have helped. It didn't, however. Tears filled her eyes and her thoughts wandered to home. Would she ever see her husband and children again? She missed her friends and family, even their meddling. She should've asked the watchers for help, or accepted Dominic's offer before she ran. The council might have granted a unit to put things right. Her interference only helped the shadowalkers to cast their evil webs, but with more forces, she would need no more than a day to put things as they were intended. Callidora could assist her and Primus Bade would be more than happy to dispatch the units needed. She just needed to ask, though she hated to admit she could not do this alone.

A glimmer twinkled over the eastern horizon. Her thoughts wandered to another place where the sun had already set. Turning her face in that direction, the point of light disappeared behind her closed lids. Such a strong presence whispered of hope. Someone powerful, of her kind, was closer than the border of Astral. She pressed her mind toward the glimmer. The closer she drew, the more of a mystery it became. The light belonged to an earthbound human atman. She sighed and returned to her vigil, resting her head against the stone. A human could offer no protection.

"Thinking of jumping?" A voice filled the arch.

In one swift and fluid motion, Maiel faced the intruder and pointed her blade at him in warning. Her wings curled threateningly around her shoulders, ready to carry her to safety. He stood at the other end of the opening, eyeing her like a prize horse. His rage had ebbed, but he was no less threatening. In an instant, his shadowy strength could fell her like a dead tree. He chuckled to himself, amused at his own jest and unaffected by the potential threat she posed. He adjusted his gloves, flexing his fists. They were an improvement over the putrid flesh they hid, although composed of the hind of a marditavya that dared step out of line.

"It'd make things faster. But you already know that."

"Fast? You'll know the meaning when I make short work of you, just like your useless atrins," Maiel warned.

"I'm sure you'd like to believe that, but we both know you won't. You need me. I have information."

"Ha!" Maiel bellowed. "I can gather my own intelligence. I'm no youngling, baron. There's nothing in all of Trailokya that you can offer me which I can't obtain alone."

"Mere paltry things—a husband and family, not true succor. The anger of your want fills you—it blots out Adonai's light. You feel Belial's lure already. He can promise you great things. No more responsibility for those who fail you—no putting yourself and yours last, no saving the little apes from their fate. No guilt for condemning your children to be ardhodita."

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