Chapter 28

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CROUCHING IN THE SHADOW of an old stone table, Lena watched Morgentus arrogantly strut before Maiel's readied sword. In full form, he broke his way into the church through the unused back door. One of the green panels swung open and closed in a violent breeze. The captain who'd watched over her during her illness, without a glimmer of weakness, stood before the exit, disillusioned. A feather slipped to the floor, joining several others. The red feathers scattered as the door opened again. Lena made herself as small as possible, afraid of the change overcoming her friend. Her brilliance had faded and, with it, her comforting serenity. Tears slipped from Lena's enlarged eyes. Then her attention slipped to the wolves holding Morgentus's henchman at bay, snapping their jaws and drawing their black blood if challenged.

"At last she puts down her claws." Morgentus smiled.

The dark atrin paced, suggestively eyeing his prisoner. His mere presence blocked Maiel from escape. Lena sensed that a hesitance to abandon a friend also held her to that building; she needed to take his atman from the hands of their enemy.

Lena shut her eyes, calling to the others from her heart. Dominic was trapped in the hall behind. The brothers, who could have swept in and done away with the refuse, dealt with a frighteningly larger  problem. As for anyone else, there simply was no one beyond the room who could help. When the doors had closed her in there, an unsettling fear overtook her. She knew. She knew the others weren't coming. Not for Maiel. Not for her. Maiel would face her fate alone, and she would be witness to the captain's fall. Desperate to help her friend, she defied her orders to leave the moment she'd gotten the church door open for Dominic. She'd found her very being wouldn't allow such cowardice. However, if the demons found her crouching beside the table, it would mean her end as well. Maiel couldn't save her this time.

Wrapping her arms around the table leg, Lena drew on the strength of the stone. Her large eyes glistened in the candle glow as she watched Maiel hold the baron at bay with no more than a threat. She wondered why Maiel didn't jump through the broken door and try to find freedom. This was unlike any soldier she knew. What did she plan?

"They're not coming for you," Morgentus said, when Maiel refused to acknowledge him.

Maiel watched him. Her face flickered with understanding. She never thought they would, until he said it. Her shoulders drew up and she lifted her chin. Peering down her nose at her tormentor, her eyes narrowed with loathing. Lena blinked, clearing the tears. She saw the change flicker in the erela's eyes.

"Think on it, Maiel! What's he given you? This human—countless, thankless brats. Weak ardhodita," Morgentus shouted, losing his composure.

The danava spun around, throwing his hands up. Maiel used his distracted flamboyance to see her escape. She sheathed her blade and ran to the doors at the opposite end of the room. The panels were bolted tight. She desperately struggled to open them. They shivered in the jam, but wouldn't relent. Morgentus recovered from his diatribe. His expression turned black and he hastily joined her. Pressing his twisted form against her, he brought her efforts to a stop, displaying a small, lucent, violet crystal.

"Such games you play. I could chase you for eons in the labyrinth. There are rooms there—where I could take my time, no one would find us for years. Come with me and I'll let my atrin go," Morgentus breathed in her ear.

Maiel grimaced, refusing to speak and give him further words to warp for his amusement, especially to betray her affection for his akha. The monster managed enough without her prompting. Maiel turned, grasping him by his collar. The Labyrinth Lord's guard fell, thinking she actually warmed to him. Maiel's mouth curled in anticipated delight. That, too, was taken the wrong way. Forcing Morgentus to the floor with her foot on his stomach, she flipped him, throwing his rancid sattva like a toy. He lost his grasp of the atman, which slid across the floor, stopping at the door to the outside. He went in the opposite direction.

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