Chapter Sixty-Five

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The door slammed open, nearly torn from its hinges by the force behind the blow. Lorn wheeled around, and beheld a storm in a man's skin.

For a terrifying, disorienting moment, Lorn was reminded of his own father--but that resemblance was fleeting, and vanished in an instant.

This was no man. This was a monster. He filled the doorway--a mountain, a towering wall of thick, fleshy muscle. It looked as if he had been in a brawl, and lost badly. Greasy hanks of dark hair framed a pulpy, bruised face. Blood had dried almost black around his nose and mouth. Split knuckles hung clenched at his sides, and his deep, close-set eyes glittered with malevolent rage.

Metallic bile rose in Lorn's throat and bled across his tongue as the man lumbered forward. He tried to place himself between the giant and the two females, but it made no difference. The man's gimlet stare went right through him, scanning the room until he found Abby. When his eyes lit on the child, they seemed to blaze with renewed fury.

Still crouched on the floor in a trembling heap, Abby had clamped both hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut. Guin stood in front of her, boots firmly planted on the toy-strewn floor, glaring up at the man. She held the thin, battered book close against her chest with one hand, while the other rested on the hilt of her dagger.

"Lorn," she said, voice low and urgent, "we gotta get her out of here."

Lorn nodded, and drew his sword.

Heedless of two strangers in his home, the man strode forward. His movements were unsteady, erratic. By the smell of him, he had drunk more ale than was necessary. "Abby," he growled. "C'mere."

Abby let out a low, pitiful whine. She sounded more like a wounded animal than a child.

Lorn clasped the hilt of his sword in both hands and held it up, shifting his feet to match the stance. "Stay back," he warned. "You're not laying a hand on this child, or any one of us. Stand aside and let us leave peacefu--"

With a snarl, the man lunged.

Lorn swung. The blade sliced a glittering arc through the air--and passed straight through the man's bulk. He heard Guin shout, and Abby scream--the meaty sound of a hand striking flesh--a sharp, yet somehow liquid sounding snap--

And all at once the world seemed to warp, to bend inward and outward, as if Lorn was seeing it all through a misshapen mirror. He felt a strange, almost painful sensation of infirmity--of slow, indifferent destruction as the room disassembled and put itself back together--only it wasn't the same now, not a room but a field, a field of short, frost-burned grass overhung by a leaden sky...

Overtaken by gut-clenching nausea, Lorn fell to his knees. The sword slipped from his fingers. He gripped handfuls of brittle grass, clinging to the earth, to the solidness of it, taking long, deep, winter-chilled breathes that burned his lungs.

He felt a thump as Guin collapsed beside him. She was gasping, tears streaming down her cheeks. "He hit her." She ran a hand across her face, angrily wiping away tears. "He hit her and I couldn't--"

Lorn let go of the grass and reached out with one hand. Guin grabbed it and held fast with cold, clammy fingers. Her other hand still held the book pressed against her chest. "Lorn, he went right through me, like I wasn't there. I don't even think he saw us..." Guin gulped, swallowed. Her shoulders continued to shake, words tumbling out of her mouth between gasping breathes, "After he hit her, she wasn't moving. I only saw them for a second before--before everything went sideways, but she wasn't moving and--and--" She trailed off and closed her eyes, squeezing them shut against the tears. "What if he killed her?"

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