Chapter Fifteen

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There was a boy, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, standing in front of her. He was skinny, with close-cropped dark hair and pale, wide-set eyes. He wore a tatty gray sweater and frayed brown pants. His wrists and ankles stuck out of his clothes, further emphasizing his lankiness.

Guin stood up. Or, rather, her spirit stood up. The rest of her, presumably, was still slumped on the floor of her fancy prison.

"Who are you?" she asked. It seemed the obvious question.

The boy grinned. His teeth were crooked and yellow. Then, in a swirl of mist, he was gone.

Guin woke with a start. The room was dark—and she wasn't alone.

There was a half-naked man crouched on the floor. He too was grinning—only his teeth weren't crooked or yellow. They were long, and sharp, and white as bone.

He sat hunched like a toad, knees bent and knuckles dragging on the floor, maybe six feet from Guin. Behind him the door stood slightly ajar, allowing light from the hallway to slant into the shadowy room. It was this light which allowed Guin to see the fresh blood spattered across his bare chest and arms.

She sat, breathless and frozen to the spot, and stared into his maniacally grinning face. Neither one of them moved. He just sat, and watched, and grinned.

Guin's frantic pulse pounded a painful drumbeat inside her already throbbing skull. She felt like her heart was trying to escape by clawing its way up her throat.

The man's eyes were dark and shiny, like black marbles.

How did he get in? How? The door was locked!

Guin swallowed convulsively. Her tongue was sandpaper, rough and dry.

Okay, so. There's a shirtless nutter in my room. Obviously a nutter. And he has blood on him. So. Probably a very dangerous shirtless nutter.

She swallowed again. It hurt.

If I scream, will anyone come? And do I even want them to?

They continued to stare at each other. The only discernible movement in the room was their breathing.

As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, Guin saw that the man would almost have been as pretty as Thesul if it weren't for the empty, idiot grin and flecks of froth clinging to his lower lip.

Every inch of Guin wanted to run, to leap to her feet and bolt for the open door—but then she remembered how fast Thesul had moved in the dining hall. She also remembered how he'd pulled the bloody knife out of his own chest like he was dusting lint off his lapel.

Was everyone in Alavard a psychotic, indestructible underwear model?

Moving slowly, hoping not to provoke an attack, Guin began to ease herself into a crouch. It wasn't easy—after hours spent slumped like a sack of potatoes on a merciless marble floor, her bottom was numb, her hips and knees were beyond stiff and she couldn't even feel her ankles. If she had to run for it, she was doomed.

There was a decorative bronze statuette standing on her bedside table. Guin decided it would make a decent enough weapon, if only she could get to it—

She'd barely gained her feet when the man let out a shrill, gibbering shriek that was half giggle, half blood curdling scream. He sprang at Guin like some heinous Jack in the Box, arms extended, hands reaching, mouth wide, as if to bite—

Guin yelped and lurched to the side, narrowly avoiding the man's flailing body as he barreled past and crashed into the bedframe. In her haste she became tangled in the strips of silk sheet she'd arranged on the floor and ended up sprawled on her stomach, but managed through sheer force of terror to get onto her hands and knees and scuttle away from the lunatic before he could recover himself enough to grab her.

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