Chapter Fifty-Three

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Lorn sat very still while the world around him shattered. Or perhaps the cracks were forming inside of him, jagged edges and piercing shards, jostled and disjointed pain.

He was very aware of his own breathing. Of the hairs on his neck and arms rising. Of how metallic and cold the air tasted.

I had your precious queen's brains blown clean out the back of her stubborn little skull.

"You're lying," he said, and marveled at how calm and far off his own words sounded. "You're lying. She's not dead. She's not."

"Poor little boy," Thesul said, shaking his head in mock pity. "Poor lost lamb. Whatever shall you do without her skirts to cling too, hm? Although--" A sly grin slid across his features. "Perhaps you should thank me. This development places you on the throne, after all. You're High King now, little boy. That is, for as long as I allow you to live. Perhaps we could come to some arrangement..."

Lorn hadn't realized he was biting his own tongue until he tasted blood. "Liar," he whispered.

"What reason have I to lie?" Thesul asked. "What could I gain?"

"You have every damn reason in the world," Guin retorted. "And even if you didn't, you would lie anyway, just to be cruel!"

Lorn started at the sound of her voice. He'd forgotten she was there--and everyone else, for that matter. His world had shrunk in an instant to contain only himself and the gore-streaked man who claimed to be his sister's murderer.

Thesul's eyes darted to Guin, and his grin widened. "Want to have a look, my dear? I notice you've acquired the skill of seeing into the minds of others. It's been ever so long since I had a woman inside my head. Though I warn you, some of what you find there may shock you..."

"I'm not going within twenty miles of your dirty little gutter mind," Guin snapped, taking a quick step backward. "I might catch something."

Lorn's fingers twitched. He took a long breath, in, and out. "You can't prove anything. You're lying."

Thesul sighed sadly. "Ah but my dear, dear boy, I truly am not." He leaned forward, engulfing Lorn in the stench of decaying blood. "You've the gift of soultouch, have you not?" he breathed. "Though I am no longer burdened with such a superfluous trinket, I believe you can use that little knack to tell easily enough if I am lying."

With that last word, Thesul lunged forward and pressed his lips over Lorn's mouth. Their teeth knocked together, splitting open Lorn's lip. Thesul's breath was cold. It wasn't a kiss, it was a blow--an attack. If Thesul had chosen, he could have eaten away most of Lorn's face before the others were able to pry him loose.

For the briefest shard of time, Lorn found himself consumed by the reek and taste of death--then, a flash of white hot rage and giddy, exhilarating pain stabbed through his skull. It was bright--blinding--and it hurt, it hurt more than anything he'd ever felt in his life--

And in it, he saw the truth, the shape of Thesul's words lying on the ground like slaughtered children.

They were not lies.

Lorn thought he heard Guin screaming. The wire cocoon holding Thesul came alive, seething and slithering, and covered his face again in the blink of an eye. Thesul let out a savage cry of rage, thrashing within his bindings, but it was no use--he was once again contained.

"Should I crush him?" Guin panted. Her eyes were wide and dark in her pale face. "Should I see how tight I can make them before he turns to jelly?"

Lorn didn't reply. He couldn't. His throat had closed like a fist. Blood oozed form his split lip. He spat, and his saliva was red.

"Lorn?" Guin asked. Her voice had lost its edge, become a hesitant whisper--as if she feared one misplaced word might wound him.

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