Chapter Forty-Two

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Thesul got to his feet in a series of stiff, unnatural movements. When he was standing once more, he shook himself, let out a long, shuddering moan, and rolled his neck, making the vertebrae crackle loudly.

He heard screams echoing from within the palace. Female screams, high and shrill and savage. The Sleepers must have woken up after all.

Thesul smiled, then turned to face the soldiers clustered in the courtyard behind him. General Istenra's second in command, Lieutenant Perlem, strode forward and saluted. "M'Lord, we came as soon as--"

Thesul waved him into silence and nodded sharply toward the palace. "Never mind, never mind. We'll discuss your tardiness at a later date, Perlem. Right now, there appear to be a few straggling witches remaining in my home. If you can, take some alive, hmm? I would dearly like to play with them for a few hours after dinner." He waved an impatient hand. "Run along, now. Before the Sleepers spoil all of them."

Lieutenant Perlem blinked and looked unsettled at the mention of the Sleepers, but knew better than to stand about asking stupid questions when in receipt of a direct order. He was nowhere near as sharp as Istenra, but at least the oaf was reasonably obedient.

Thesul stood back and allowed the soldiers to troop past, up the palace steps and into the grand hall. He could still hear screaming, but it seemed fainter now, less insistent. Well, the Sleepers did like to take their time. He only hoped that there would be one or two of the bitches left over for him. It felt like ages since he'd had one of Shel's sisters at his mercy. The spy he'd killed too quickly to properly enjoy.

If Perlem and his soldiers managed to salvage one, he'd make her last as long as possible.

Thesul licked his lips, gave his neck another crackling roll, and turned away from the courtyard. The Sisters were under control. Now he could focus his attention on what really mattered.

"Oh Gui-uin," he murmured in a low, velvety sing-song. "I'm coming now, my dear..."


"Incoming!" Guin said, pointing at the thin stretch of sky visible from their alleyway hiding place.

Talon's bird form soared into view, dipped and descended rapidly. Her landing was clumsily. When she skinshifted back into a woman, she staggered and nearly fell over.

Clutching her abdomen and leaning heavily against the wall, she said, "We're close. The way is clear, as far as I can see. Civilians are mostly hiding indoors. If we take back streets and alleyways, we may go unnoticed. The wall is guarded, but it appears a significant number of soldiers have left their posts--I'm guessing to go to Thesul's aid in the palace. Lookout on the wall is sparse, especially on the eastern end, but those who are there will see us approach." She took a deep breath, grimaced, and continued, "I can create a distraction on the wall. Engage them in combat. Then we may have a chance."

"Captain, are you unwell?" Lorn asked, from his slumped position on the ground. He had his back against a wall and both hands on his leg. "I don't want you attempting anything that will get you killed. If we escape, I'd like to make sure we all do. Preferably alive."

Talon's scowl deepened, and she made an effort to stand up straighter. "I'm perfectly able to perform my duties, sir."

"You don't look it," Zolga said, peering sharply at Talon with her single eye.

The captain glared. "Do I have a choice?"

She bent to retrieve Lorn, but he held up a hand to stop her and said, "Captain, you haven't eaten in days. I'm guessing you haven't drunk anything, either..."

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