Shodo bowed and scraped before his master. Lord Ilrot was not pleased, and as likely to take it out on Shodo as not. Still, there was nothing to be done but wait and hope that his master vented his temper on one truly deserving of it.

“You are sure that you know Jorath’s true plans?” Lord Ilrot demanded.

“He thought me dead, my master,” Shodo said, raising his head and gesturing toward the bruised flesh circling his neck from where his own shadow had strangled him. “It was very little effort to craft the illusion, considering how close he actually came.”

“Sybill,” the master growled, his voice echoing weirdly. “Come to me.”

They waited in silence as seconds stretched into a minute, then two. Shodo began to worry that his master would grow impatient, but Lord Ilrot sat, still as a mountain, on his throne. When the door opened and Sybill slipped inside, he didn’t look up.

She prostrated herself next to Shodo and said, “I come, my master. How may I serve you?”

“Your brother has decided he’d like to join the rest of your family. Someone needs to be sent to retrieve him.”

Sybill’s eyes glowed red with excitement. “What has he done?” she asked. There was no desire to defend her brother there. She merely wanted to know what misstep he’d made to rouse their master’s anger.

“He thinks to tamper with the seals that your ancestors placed around my heart stone. He thinks to steal it and use it as a weapon against me.”

Sybill laughed. “The idiot. There’s no way he could break those seals.”

Lord Ilrot gave her a flat stare, and her laughter died off. “Whether he could or not isn’t the issue. He moves against me, and that is enough. Find him, bring him here. Alive. He may have several companions with him, including my daughter. They are to be taken alive as well. Jorath need not be in good health, but the rest had better be.”

“Where shall I search?” Sybill asked.

“Shodo will assist you.” Lord Ilrot waved his hand in dismissal. “Now go. I’ll expect swift results.

* * *

There had been few pleasures as exquisite and turning demon hunters into demons. For all his long life, over two thousand years, that had been one of the highest moments. Ilrot still savored the expression on Sybill’s father’s face when he’d seen his daughter’s new form and she’d told her father that it had been her who’d betrayed their clan.

Of course, finding out that his heart stone was locked away behind seals that only demon hunters could break after he’d gone through the effort of exterminating or corrupting every single last one of them had more than counteracted that. He hadn’t felt such rage even when he’d lost his heart stone to begin with, not since his twin sister, Kalistra, had betrayed him in their youth and sided with their older half-siblings.

They were all dead now, by his hand, a fact that soothed him. And if he was very careful, he might just regain what the demon hunters had taken from him. Jorath had stumbled across something Ilrot had never considered, and if he could bend the girl to his will, he could regain his full powers. He wouldn’t need a brood mare anymore, not that any of them had ever produced acceptable results.

Ilrot entered the heart chamber, as he so often did. He stared at his heart stone. It just sat there, a red and black cluster of crystals that glowed softly in the dark. The seals that surrounded it were invisible, but impenetrable. Nothing he’d ever tried had allowed him to place so much as a finger tip on his heart stone.

This time, he was looking for a change. If Shodo was correct, Jorath had undone one of the seals. Surely he would be able to sense that. Perhaps even a seal undone would weaken the rest enough for him to break through. Ilrot stood there for hours, but in the end, he was forced to admit defeat, as he always did.

He needed the girl, his great-great-great-a-hundred-times-over grand-niece. For all that Kalistra’s line had ruined him, her final descendant could still put it all right again.


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