Chapter 21, Part 2-2 (End Chapter 21)

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"Careful, now. Your sword is no defense against me. In case you are unaware, I'm in charge here, and you'll do exactly as I say." She stood mere inches from him. "Is that understood?"

Shaking with rage, he clenched his jaw.

"Is that understood?"

He dropped his gaze.

"Very well then. But have no fear. I'll give you plenty of opportunity to work out your frustrations."

She paced up and down the line of Chiranian soldiers, measuring each of them and their weapons. At one point she stopped in her review near a young man, handsome in his fierceness, a primitive look about him. His muscles bulged through his uniform. She ran her fingers down the sun-darkened skin of his hand.

He stared ahead, unmoving.

"Hmmm," she said softly, "this will be such fun." When she completed her review, she stopped before Hamm. "Send one of your men out to the rest of your troops. They are to lay down their arms and await further instructions."

He jerked his head toward one of his men who then followed the unspoken order immediately. His leathers creaked, his boots clicked on the marble floor, as he exited.

"The rest of you are to return your arms to their proper places and show your respect to the palace."

The men followed her orders without delay.

"Oh yes, and you," she said, catching the eye of one of the soldiers as she pointed at Yuri's remains, "clean up this mess. It's unsightly." Then she returned to the young man she had admired earlier.

His eyes met hers.

"What is your name?"

"Freeman."

Lilith laughed. She sounded like a schoolgirl giggling shyly, but then her words belied her true character. "Not anymore you're not."

She turned away. "Follow me," she instructed with a glance back at Hamm, then at the young soldier. She stopped to inform the captain of the palace guard to maintain control, then made her way down the hall to her office and followed the red rug to her desk.

"Well then," she said as she took her seat.

The men looked around for chairs.

"Oh, you'll not be seated today. Today you're here to take orders from me." When Hamm opened his mouth to respond, she interrupted him. "I caution you against speaking."

He closed his mouth.

"That's better." She made herself comfortable. "So Zarek couldn't be bothered to attend to me." She exhaled slowly. "I guess you'll have to do then."

Hamm nodded.

"Well, to business then." She paused, her lips pursed. "It seems we have a problem with some people trying to impose an imposter on the first family and thereby on Oosa. Specifically, they have a child they claim is a seventh seventh."

The men said nothing.

"Yes, well, I'm sure you can appreciate the difficulties this presents. So," she smiled, pleased at how easily she'd silenced the warriors, "we must find the child."

The men stood motionless.

"Would you like to know how we're going to accomplish this?" She was enjoying this new position as the bearer of Daeva's power. She could feel his presence with her, in her, even as it seemed to burn through her body and soul. "We need to get the people on our side—to get them to give the child up to us."

Hamm moved to speak, then apparently thinking better of it, closed his mouth.

Lilith watched on. "You may speak."

"With all due respect, ma'am, how do you intend to do that?"

She laughed. "Oh, I thought you'd never ask. It's easy, really. We give them good reason to want to give the child to us."

"And that reason would be?"

"We begin our mission immediately. We'll ride into the towns and villages, the havens, farms and communities all across Oosa and . . . here's the best part," she said leaning forward, sneering, "we shall kill them all."

"Kill who all?"

"Why, all the infant girls, of course!"

The men exchanged a look.

"It's genius, don't you think? When word gets out that we seek a certain child—one others would perpetrate upon us as a fraud—and that we'll take the life of any in our search until she is delivered to me, the people will do anything to save their children."

"All the children?" Hamm asked.

"Hmmmm," Lilith pondered. "Well we know the child in question is a girl, only weeks old. So let's simplify this. Since the men will be unable to tell the infant's ages, I'll direct them to kill any girl not old enough to speak. Any child that is, except for the specific one I seek. That one they must bring to me—unharmed. She'll be easy to identify by the sign of her birth, the sign of a seventh. If we move quickly and thoroughly through Oosa, we should resolve the problem in short order."

"Sign of her birth?" Hamm queried. "I thought you said the child was an imposter."

"Excuse me?" Her eyes glared.

"Ahhhh," he stammered.

"It's not yours to question. Just do as you're told."

Hamm nodded. Whether the child was a fraud or not was irrelevant to him. "And if we miss the child in question?"

"We won't miss her. It's like I said, the people will clamor to bring her to us when they learn the cost for failing to do so. We'll go house-to-house if need be. I expect we'll wrap this up in record time."

"And how will we know this child when we find her?"

"Like I said, she bears the sign of her birth. I will give a great reward for her." Lilith smiled. "I believe we'll find her with a man named Dixon, the former Oathtaker to my now deceased sister, Rowena. I also have reason to believe that another—a woman, likely an Oathtaker, accompanies the child. But that's all I know."

"Where will we begin?"

Lilith stood, then approached the window behind her desk and looked out at the palace grounds. She hadn't given much thought about where she'd begin her search. She knew only where it would end—with the death of Rowena's child. Then it came to her.

She turned back to the men. "We begin where she was last seen. We begin in Polesk."

Freeman shuffled.

She watched him, her eyes narrowed. "I suppose you're wondering what you're doing here?"

"Yes, ma'am," the young soldier spoke for the first time.

"You," she said, with a sticky sweetness to her voice, "shall accompany me."


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