‘I saved your life. They would have hung you.’ Mal’s voice went dead of emotion. Something in him had switched off. Or was about to switch on. ‘Yet this is how you repay me.’
‘I spared you, didn’t I?’ She bore down on the sword. It slashed deeper through the leather and had to have pierced Mal’s skin. He didn’t flinch. ‘I could have had you killed, but I left you in that dungeon instead. Along with another of Mikkel’s special spells.’ She grinned widely. ‘He supplied the magic, but the blood that made it work was mine. The voices were my idea too. How long did it take you to figure out your new victims turned into spirits?’ She looked past him as though she expected to see a crowd of ghosts hovering around him.
Chrysabelle wanted to cut her. How dare Tatiana pretend that leaving Mal in those ruins to rot was somehow kinder than slitting his throat! And to be proud of that curse. Chrysabelle’s sacre hummed in her hand, the vibration of her anger sung back to her by the sword’s blood magic. How could Mal have ever loved this woman?
‘You didn’t kill me because killing me would have made you anathema too.’ Still he didn’t move. Didn’t raise his voice.
‘I should have killed you. I’m sure the council would have forgiven me. But leaving you alive kept my hands clean. Besides, letting you live with your demons seemed a great punishment for what you did to Sofia.’
‘I saved her from this nightmare.’
Madness invaded Tatiana’s eyes and she jerked. ‘You killed my child.’
A strong, spicy metallic scent drifted past Chrysabelle. Blood. Tatiana’s sword had bitten through to Mal’s flesh. He’d not reacted one bit. She studied the skin visible above his jacket collar. The first tendrils of black script unfurled like deadly ribbons. She almost shuddered, remembering the last time the names had possessed him. Did Tatiana have any idea what she’d done to Mal when she and Mikkel had cursed him? Any idea of the beast she’d created? Chrysabelle guessed not.
Wouldn’t Tatiana be surprised? Chrysabelle snorted a soft puff of air through her nostrils, unwittingly attracting Tatiana’s attention.
The vampire studied Chrysabelle, disdain clear in her eyes. She turned back to Mal. ‘I might spare your life again for bringing the blood whore to me. You could be useful for my future plans, but her I’m just going to kill. I already have the sacrifice I need, and justice must be met for her patron’s death.’
‘Death,’ Mal muttered, but the word sounded like it had been spoken by a ravening crowd. The beast was coming awake.
The doors burst open behind them and a cadre of fringe guards spilled into the room.
Tatiana’s smug face spoke volumes. She backed away, tearing the sword free and slicing through Mal’s jacket. ‘Seize these—’
With a clang, the ring hit the wood floor and bounced once, spinning to a stop with a soft whirr.
‘Aha!’ Tatiana snatched the ring up triumphantly, lifting it above her head with an unsettling smile.
‘No,’ Chrysabelle whispered. The sword must have cut his pocket open.
‘Yes,’ Tatiana crowed. ‘Hold them,’ she directed the guards as she retreated toward Maris. ‘I want them to watch while I usher in the new age of vampires.’
Hands grabbed at Chrysabelle, only to be yanked away at the sting of her body armor. One foolish guard tried to take her sacre. His hand burst into flames. They resorted to simply surrounding her and Mal with a ring of swords and crossbows. Doc was hauled off Mikkel and put into shackles.
Chrysabelle trembled with rage. ‘I know what you mean to do, Tatiana. You won’t succeed.’
‘Won’t I?’ She shook salt out from a clay pot on the table and into a circle around herself and Maris.
‘Nothing you do matters,’ Mal growled with the cadence of a thousand voices speaking together. The seams of his jacket split as the beast took over his body, his face contorting into something out of a nightmare.
Tatiana faltered, dropping the soil she was adding to the salt circle. ‘What the—’
The inky names spread like a stain until blackness covered him entirely. The beast laughed with its chorus of voices. ‘This is what you made me.’
‘Stay back.’ She shook her head, looking unsure for the first time. ‘I have work to do, and I will not be stopped.’
‘Please, Mal, do something,’ Chrysabelle begged.
The beast looked at her, his eyes two deep pits of unrelenting black. ‘We will not kill her. She brought about our curse, she may be the key to its undoing.’
‘I am the key to its undoing.’ Maybe Chrysabelle was, maybe she wasn’t. But she needed him – them – to be on her side, not Tatiana’s.
The beast scowled, baring wicked fangs. ‘You are the key to our demise.’
So much for that. She had no idea why his voices thought she was such a threat, but she was about to press her sacre’s silver blade against Mal’s skin to see if she could shock him back into control. A hissing sound stopped her.
A shadow spun up behind Tatiana. Smoky wisps of darkness spiraled out of the ground and converged into a weak shape.
True terror suffused Chrysabelle for the first time since they’d entered the estate. The mass crystallized, revealing an unholy evil she’d never dreamed she’d come face to face with. One of the ancients. A Castus. The drawings didn’t come close to the horror of the creature in person. Nothing in her years of training had prepared her for this. Mal – or rather, the beast he’d become – seemed unfazed.