Realization dawned. "Oh, no," she whispered, her tongue heavy in her mouth.
The demon brew had just caught up with her.
She shook her head against its effects, needing to think. I've been so despairing about Cas's safety . . . that I forgot my mission to seduce him failed.
One of two outcomes. Tomorrow, I am doomed.
She rocked on her feet as more dizziness followed. Light-headed, she blundered into her bedroom, crawling past the curtains of her canopy bed. Falling back atop the silken sheets, she closed her eyes as the room spun.
Perhaps Cas might come back this night. If she could just get one more shot at him, she wouldn't let him out of her clutches so easily. Bettina wasn't exactly known as a fiery fighter. But desperate times . . .
She would strike fast and hard.
Her last thought before she passed out: Please come back to me, Caspion.
So this is where the demon hides. . . .
Sword at his hip, cloaked in a mist of his own making, Trehan surveyed an imposing castle and surrounding town. Both had been built on a plateau inundated with fog. On three sides lay swampy jungle with small rivers forking out. Gargantuan trees twenty feet in diameter soared from murky waters.
Though Trehan had never seen such a jungle, he turned without interest, crossing an ancient-looking drawbridge into the town. A weathered sign read: Welcome to Rune, Royal Seat of Abaddon. Might Maketh Right. The words had been carved between two dragon heads.
Abaddon. He vaguely remembered hearing of it, knew it to be a demonic, backwater plane, closed off from most of the Lore. Yet Rune was bustling this eve. Merchants hawked their wares along winding cobblestone streets. Banners hung in shop windows. Many in the crowd peered around with the open curiosity of tourists.
As Trehan moved unseen through the throngs, he heard snippets of conversations, gleaning that a tournament was beginning tomorrow night for the hand of this demonarchy's orphaned princess. The throne of this plane was up for grabs as well.
Already competitors of various species were encamping near a large iron combat ring.
A change in regime? Despite his interest in politics, Trehan ignored his spark of curiosity, concentrating on the task at hand.
The Prince of Shadow had a sanctioned kill to make.
Just moments ago, he'd used his scry talisman-a priceless crystal passed down through his house for generations-to locate his target here.
He normally wore it on a leather tie around his neck, but now held it aloft; the four-faceted crystal emitted a red light, casting a flare to indicate the location of this night's prey: Caspion the Tracker.
That demon had broken the laws of Dacia and was now marked for death.
The crystal's flare appeared directly above what sounded like a brothel, filled with boisterous laughter and tinny music. Not surprising-Caspion was a wastrel with a penchant for drinking and whoring. He'd done plenty of that in Dacia.
A public place was not a favorable hunting ground for Trehan. He had to remain unseen, as was the Dacian way.
Deciding to lie in wait in the alley alongside the tavern, he retied the crystal's leather around his neck. Knowing Caspion's predilections, I fear I'm in for a long delay.
There'd be no reading before the fire in his lonely rooms this eve. No polishing the weapons in his meticulous collection. Resigned, he started toward the alley.
He scanned his surroundings, not to admire or explore-but to be prepared for any threat. Dacians were a breed of observers, watchers from the mist. Forever to observe, never to engage.
Though Trehan had traced to hundreds of different Lorean planes, each with its own attractions and wonders, he'd never enjoyed them.
Trehan rarely enjoyed anything. He drank blood, but didn't taste it. If he slept, he woke unrefreshed. He performed his duties for Dacia, but the satisfaction he'd once derived from his job had . . . ebbed.
One of Trehan's cousins, Viktor, had recently told him, "You must've been punished by the gods to live the most stupefyingly boring existence imaginable-with the added curse that you can't even recognize how onerous and aimless it is."
"I live a life of service," Trehan had corrected him. "And I have pastimes I enjoy. I read by the fire-"
"Because your only alternative is to stare mindlessly at the flames."
I do that as well. Trehan had heard the whispers about him. Some Dacians likened him to a ghost, calling him a shade-a play on his Shadow title-because his life consisted of nothing but silent, grinding toil, devoid of goals or plans. They conjectured that he had no desires-secret or otherwise.
He'd been taught early not to desire, and certainly not to aspire to more than service to his kingdom.
Yet three months ago, an old longing had resurfaced, one he'd thought he'd been rid of after all this time-
Trehan halted, his senses on alert. He peered around through the mist. He spied no threat, yet his inexplicable tension did not ease.
Then his gaze was drawn up far above him to one of the half dozen spires in the castle, the highest one, well beyond the fog's reach. In a swampy region like this, an elevated floor probably contained royal apartments.
One window in particular held his attention. A lone lantern glimmered inside, like a beacon. For some reason, he felt nigh compelled to investigate it. Which didn't make sense. No rational Dacian would court unnecessary exposure.
Focus on the mission. A target roamed free; Dacia was at risk so long as Caspion lived. Because the demon knew the way back to Trehan's kingdom.
Though the Dacians had mystically hidden their realm, no cloaking was foolproof forever. As an added security measure, they'd outlawed anyone from leaving without a special exemption. Disobey-and die.