Chapter Ten

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Guin hung back, keeping as much distance between herself and the young man as possible. He strolled gently on ahead, glancing back every now and then to smile at her. His bloodied shirtfront was turning burgundy as the stain dried.

He's a flippin' vampire. Or a zombie. Edward Cullen meets Creep Show. I need to get the hell out of here before he eats me.

But she couldn't get out, not without the Fellowship of the Book. Besides, she suspected that any attempt to run would prove futile so long as Mr. Sexy Deathpants was still mobile. Hitting him over the head with a vase was obviously not an option. If she wanted to take this sleazy blighter down, she'd needed to chop of his head and stuff it with garlic and jalapenos, most likely.

Also, though she didn't like to admit it, his words kept echoing around her skull like a mocking mantra: Why, the key to saving your beloved sister's life, Guin...

They walked on through vaulted hallways with muraled ceilings held aloft by rows of wide, gilded pillars. Floor-length windows flooded sunlight into the palace at every turn, giving a view of luxuriant gardens, tidy courtyards, and even, at one point, a vast and glittering rectangle of marble-edged blue water Guin guessed was a swimming pool.

So, this was Alavard. It looked like paradise. The sort of place people would give an arm and a leg and their life savings to live in. But no matter how much gorgeous luxury and dazzling scenery Guin saw, she couldn't forget the blood-soaked bed in that upstairs bedroom. She suspected she'd been meant to see it.

If this place was paradise, it had a rotten heart.

"Do keep up," Thesul called.

Guin glared at him, but refused to walk any faster. She was still shaken from his display of invulnerability and inhuman speed in the dining hall, not to mention the rest of his behavior, and had no desire to get any closer than she had to.

Thesul sighed in mild exasperation and continued his languid stroll. After about fifteen more minutes, they came upon a large set of white and gold doors. Thesul came to a full stop and turned dramatically on his heel.

"Behind this door, Guin, lies the answer, not only to your wants, but all of your deepest desires and wildest dreams."

Guin crossed her arms and stuck out her chin. "Try me."

Thesul smiled, then turned and took hold of the twin door handles. With a mighty heave, he threw the doors wide and strode into the chamber beyond.

Guin took a step forward, still maintaining as much distance as possible. This room was much like the others she'd seen—white marble, gold accents, mosaic floor, vaulted ceilings. The only difference was that this one was dark, windowless and completely unfurnished, which gave the space an almost cavernous feel.

The sole illumination came from a circular hole in the floor. It looked like a sort of indented well—roughly seven feet across, perfectly round, and filled almost to the brim with gently undulating, faintly glowing water.

Thesul came to a halt at its edge. The well's nebulous blue glow cast rippling shadows across his pale skin. "Come closer, Guin. Come and see."

Guin hesitated. Every fiber of her being wanted to turn and bolt, but her brain wouldn't let her body act on that impulse. The result was that she remained frozen on the threshold of the cave-like room, unable to turn back and unwilling to go any further.

"Guin." Thesul gave her a smile that would have been charming if his chest hadn't still been caked in his own blood. "Don't be afraid. It's perfectly safe. In fact, this may be the safest place you've ever been. You must see what I have to show you, Guin. I won't take no for an answer." He held out his hand and beckoned. "Come."

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