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Queen of Darkness

Roc Books, January 2000

For more information, check out www.penguin.com.

Copyright © 2000 Anne Bishop. Used with permission.




Chapter One

1 / Terreille


Dorothea SaDiablo, the High Priestess of the Territory called Hayll, slowly climbed the stairs to the large wooden platform. It was a bright morning in early autumn, and Draega, Hayll's capital, was far enough south that the days were still warm. The heavy black cloak that shrouded Dorothea's body made her sweat. Under the deep hood, her hair was damp and her neck itched. No matter. In a few minutes, she could shed the cloak.

When she reached the platform, she saw the lumpy canvas that stretched across the front, closest to the waiting crowd, and automatically began taking shallow breaths through her mouth. Foolish. She'd used every spell she knew to keep what was beneath that canvas a secret until the proper time. Forcing herself to breathe naturally, she walked across the platform, stopping a few feet behind the canvas.

Watching her, with wariness and resentment, were the Queens of all the Territories in the Realm of Terreille. She had demanded that each Territory Queen bring her two strongest Province Queens and any Warlord Princes who served her. She knew that many of the Queens, especially those from the far-western Territories, had come expecting a trap of some kind.

Well, the bitches were right. But if she presented the bait in the right way, they would throw themselves into the trap without a second thought.

Dorothea raised her arms. The crowd's rippling murmurs faded to silence. Using Craft to enhance her voice so that everyone would hear her, she began the next move in a deadly game of power.

“My Sisters and Brothers, I called you here to warn you about a terrible discovery I made recently, something that threatens every one of the Blood in the entire Realm of Terreille.

“In the past, I've done some unspeakably cruel things. I have been responsible for the destruction of Queens and some of the best males in the Realm. I have bred fear into the Blood in order to be the controlling power in Terreille. Me. A High Priestess who knows better than anyone that a Priestess can't be a substitute for a Queen, no matter how skilled or how strong she is in her Craft.

“I will shoulder the sorrow and burden of those acts for the rest of my life. But I tell you this now: I HAVE BEEN USED! A few weeks ago, while using my skills as a Black Widow to spin a tangled web of dreams and visions, I inadvertently ripped through a mental shroud that had surrounded me for all the centuries I've been the High Priestess of Hayll. I fought my way through that mental fogging and finally saw what my tangled webs had been trying to tell me for so very long.

“There is someone who wants to dominate Terreille. There is someone who wants to subjugate all the Blood in this Realm. But it isn't me. I've been the instrument of a monstrous, malevolent being who wants to crush us and consume us, who plays with us the same way a cat plays with a mouse before it strikes the killing blow. That monster has a name – a name that has been feared for thousands upon thousands of years, and with good reason. Our destroyer is the Prince of the Darkness, the High Lord of Hell.”

Uneasy murmurs rose from the crowd.

“You doubt me?” Dorothea shouted. She tore off the cloak and tossed it aside. Her wispy, white hair, which had been thick and black a few weeks ago, fell around her shoulders. Her sagging, deeply lined face twisted, and tears filled her gold eyes as the murmurs changed to shocked exclamations. “Look what happened to me when I fought to free myself from his insidious spells. Look at me. This is the price I paid so that you would be aware of the danger.”

Dorothea pressed a hand against her chest, gasping for breath.

Her Steward stepped forward and gently grasped her arm to support her. “You must stop, Priestess. This is too much for you to endure.”

“No,” Dorothea gasped, still using Craft to enhance her voice. “I must tell them everything while I can. I may not have another chance. Once he realizes I know about him...”

The crowd grew silent.

Lowering her hand, Dorothea stood as straight as she could, ignoring the ache in her spine. “I was not the High Lord's only instrument. There are those among you who have had the misfortune to have had Daemon Sadi or Lucivar Yaslana serving in your courts. May the Darkness forgive me, I sent those monsters into fragile Territories, and because of them, Queens have died. Sometimes whole courts were torn apart. I, like Prythian, Askavi's High Priestess, thought we were sending them into service in other courts by our own choice, in the hope that they could be controlled. But we were manipulated into sending them to those Territories because they are the High Lord's sons! They are that bestial creature's seeds, and they have grown up to be his tools of destruction. The control Prythian and I thought we had over them was nothing but an illusion, a blind to conceal their true purpose.

“Both of them disappeared several years ago. Most of us hoped they had died. Not so. I've learned from some brave Brothers and Sisters who are now living in the Kaeleer Territory called Little Terreille that both Yaslana and Sadi are in the Shadow Realm, where the High Lord has been living under the guise of being the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan. The viper's children have returned to the nest.

“There's more. The High Lord has an unhealthy influence over most of the Territory Queens in Kaeleer, as well as absolute control over a young woman who is the strongest witch in all the Realms. With her strength behind him, he will overwhelm us – unless we strike first. We have no choice, my Brothers and Sisters. If we don't crush the High Lord and everyone in his service, the cruelty I have done as his instrument will seem like a child's game in comparison.”

Dorothea paused for a moment. “Many of you have friends or loved ones who have fled to Kaeleer in order to escape the violence that has been strangling Terreille. Look at what has happened to many of those who have run straight into the High Lord's seductive embrace.”

Using Craft, she whipped away the canvas covering the front of the platform. Then she clamped her hand over her mouth to keep from gagging as the flies rose from the mutilated corpses.

Screams filled the air. A piercing shriek of grief and rage rose above the other voices. Then another, and another, as the people nearest the platform recognized what was left of a face, or recognized a distinctive piece of jewelry.

Using Craft again, Dorothea gently drew the canvas over the bodies. She waited several minutes for the screams to fade to muffled sobs.

“Know this,” she said. “I will use every bit of Craft I have learned, every drop of strength that I have in me to defeat this monster. But if I stand alone, I will surely be defeated. If we stand and fight together, we have a chance to rid ourselves of the High Lord and those who serve him. Many of us won't survive this fight, but our children—” Her voice broke. It took her a moment to continue. “But our children will know the freedom we paid so dearly to give them.”

Turning around, she stumbled. Her Steward and Master of the Guard supported her across the platform and down the steps. Tears and a fierce pride filled their eyes as they gently settled her into her open carriage for the short ride back to her mansion. When they tried to go with her, she shook her head.

“Your duties are here,” she said weakly.

“But, Priestess—” the Master of the Guard started to protest.

“Please,” Dorothea said. “Your strength will serve me better if you remain here.” Calling in a folded piece of paper, she handed it to her Steward. “If these Queens ask to see me, arrange for an audience this afternoon.” She saw the protest in his eyes, but he said nothing.

Her coachman clucked softly to his horses.

Dorothea leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes to hide her glee. Well, you son of a whoring bitch, I've made the first move. And now there's nothing you can do that can't be used against you.


2 / Terreille


Alexandra Angelline shivered despite the morning sun's warmth as she waited for Philip Alexander to return from his examination of the torn bodies lying on the wooden platform. She put a warming spell on the heavy wool shawl, knowing it was useless. No outer source of heat was going to thaw the cold inside her.

It's too soon,she thought desperately. Wilhelmina had gone through the Gate yesterday morning. She can't be among...

Vania and Nyselle, the two Province Queens she'd brought with her, had already returned to the inn, along with their escorts. They hadn't offered to wait with her. A few years ago – a few weeks ago – they would have. They had still believed in her then, despite the problems in her family.

But a few weeks ago, someone had sent cryptic messages to the thirty strongest witches in Chaillot – excluding herself and her daughter, Leland – inviting them to take a tour of Briarwood and promising to solve the riddle of what had happened to the young girls in their families who had been admitted to the hospital and then disappeared without a trace. Briarwood, which had been built to heal emotionally disturbed children, had been closed for several years now, ever since that mysterious illness started consuming dozens of men from the aristo families in Beldon Mor, Chaillot's capital – an illness that had seemed linked to that place.

The witches had arrived on the specified night, and they had learned the secrets and the horrors of Briarwood. Their guide, a demon-dead girl named Rose, showed no mercy as she introduced them to the ghosts. One Priestess found her cousin, who had disappeared when they were children, bricked up inside a wall. A Province Queen recognized what was left of a friend's daughter.

They saw the gaming rooms. They saw the cubicles that contained the narrow beds. They saw the vegetable garden and the girl with one leg.

Numbed by what they saw, they followed Rose, who smiled at them and told them in precise detail how and why each child had died. She told them about the other demon-dead children who had gone to the Dark Realm to live with the rest of the cildru dyathe. She recited the list of Briarwood's “uncles,” the men who had supported and used that twisted carnal playground. And she recited a list of broken witches from aristo families who had been “cured” of their emotional instability – and stripped of their inner power – and then returned home.

One of the men Rose had named was Robert Benedict, Leland's former husband and an important member of the male council – a council already decimated by that mysterious illness.

When a Healer in the group had asked about the illness, Rose had smiled again, and said, “Briarwood is the pretty poison. There is no cure for Briarwood.”

Alexandra clutched her shawl and kept shivering.

The rage that had swept through Chaillot had torn it apart. Beldon Mor became a battleground. The members of the male council who had not yet died from the illness were viciously executed. After several men from aristo families died of poison, many others fled to inns or one of their clubs because they were terrified to eat or drink anything that might have passed through the hands of the women in their families.

And after the first wave of rage had passed, the witches had turned their fury on her. They didn't blame her for Briarwood, since it had been built before she had become Queen of Chaillot, but they did blame her, bitterly, for her blindness. She had been so intent on keeping Hayll's influence out of Chaillot and trying to retain some power in the face of the male council that she hadn't seen the danger that already existed. They said it was like arguing with a man about groping your breast when he already had his cock sheathed between your legs.

They blamed her because Robert Benedict had lived in her house for all those years and had bedded her daughter. If she couldn't recognize the danger when it sat across from her day after day, how could she protect her people against any other kind of threat?

They blamed her for Robert Benedict and for all the young witches who had died or were broken in Briarwood.

She blamed herself for what happened to Jaenelle, her younger granddaughter. She had allowed that strange, difficult child to be locked away in that place. She hadn't known Briarwood's secrets, but if she hadn't dismissed Jaenelle's fanciful stories, if she had accepted them as a child's plea for attention instead of an annoying social problem, Jaenelle never would have been sent to Briarwood. And if she hadn't dismissed the girl's hatred for Dr. Carvay, would she have learned the truth sooner?

She didn't know. And it was too late to find the answers.

Now she had another family problem. Eleven years ago, Wilhelmina Benedict, Robert's daughter by his first marriage, had run away after claiming that Robert had made a sexual advance. Philip Alexander, Robert's bastard half brother, had found his niece, but he had refused to say where she was. At the time, Alexandra had been furious with him for keeping Wilhelmina's location a secret from her. Lately, she had wondered if Philip had had some inkling about what lay beneath Briarwood's solicitous veneer, especially when it had been his vehemence that had been the final push to close the place.

A couple of days ago, she had received a letter from Wilhelmina, informing her that the girl was going to Kaeleer, the Shadow Realm. No – Wilhelmina was twenty-seven now, no longer a girl. That didn't matter. She was still family. Still her granddaughter.

Alexandra shook her head to break the pattern of her thoughts and noticed Philip walking toward her. Holding her breath, she searched his gray eyes.

“She's not among them,” Philip said quietly.

Alexandra released her breath in a sigh. “Thank the Darkness.” But she understood what hadn't been said: not yet.

Philip offered his arm. She accepted, grateful for the support. He was a good man, the opposite of his half brother. She had been pleased when he and Leland had decided to handfast, and had been even more pleased when they chose to marry after the handfast year was done.

Alexandra looked back at the platform where Dorothea SaDiablo had made her horrifying speech. “Do you believe her?” she asked softly.

Philip guided her through clusters of people who were still too shocked to do more than huddle together while they gathered the courage to look at the mutilated bodies. “I don't know. If even half of what she said is true...if Sadi...” He choked.

She still had nightmares about Daemon Sadi. So did Philip, for different reasons. Sadi had threatened her when Jaenelle had been put in Briarwood for the last time, had given her a taste of the grave. When he unleashed his dark power in order to break the Ring of Obedience, he had destroyed half the Jeweled Blood in Beldon Mor. Caught in that explosive unleashing, Philip's strength had been broken back to the Green Jewel that was his birthright.

“We can get a Coach this evening,” Philip said. “If we buy passage on one that rides the darker Winds, we'll be home by tomorrow.”

“Not yet. I'd like you to talk to Dorothea's Steward. See if you can set up an audience for me.”

“You're a Queen,” Philip snapped. “You shouldn't have to beg an audience from a Priestess, no matter who—”

“Philip.” She squeezed his arm. “I'm thankful for your loyalty, but right now we are beggars. I can't afford any more assumptions. I'm not convinced that Dorothea isn't the monster she's always appeared to be, but I am convinced that the High Lord is a greater threat.” She shuddered. “We have to go to Kaeleer to find Wilhelmina. We can't afford to go there without having as much knowledge of the enemy as we can gain, no matter what the source.”

“All right,” Philip said. “What about Vania and Nyselle? Will they go with us?”

“They'll stay or go as they choose. They certainly won't care what I do.” She sighed. “Who would have thought, even a month ago, that I would have to entertain the idea of Dorothea being an ally?”


3 / Terreille


Kartane SaDiablo wandered through the formal gardens, trying hard to ignore the speculative or pitying glances of the few people who hadn't retreated indoors.

He had waited until Dorothea's carriage was out of sight before walking away from the platform. The mutilated bodies that had been left for grisly inspection didn't bother him. Hell's fire, Dorothea had done that much – or worse – to people when she was feeling playful. But no one seemed to remember that. Or, perhaps, most of the fools here had never witnessed one of the High Priestess's moods.

But the Steward and the Master of the Guard... Ball-withered idiots. They had actually had tears in their eyes when they helped her into the carriage. How could they believe she'd been under a spell for all these centuries, that she hadn't reveled in her victims' pain?

Oh, she had certainly sounded sincere and remorseful. He didn't believe it for a moment. Any man who had ever had to pleasure Dorothea in a bed wouldn't have believed it. Daemon wouldn't have, that's for sure.

Daemon. The High Lord's son. That explained a great deal about his “cousin.” All those years, when Daemon had been raised as a bastard in Dorothea's court, had she known? She must have. Which meant that the High Lord of Hell would have no love for the High Priestess of Hayll.

Which circled back to his own concerns.

The mysterious illness that had started almost thirteen years ago was consuming him. All the other men who had enjoyed Briarwood's secret little playground were already in the grave. Because he was Hayllian, one of the long-lived races, and because he had never gone back to Chaillot, he was the only one left. And he could feel that he was running out of time.

After the connection between the illness and Briarwood had been revealed a few weeks ago, he had started thinking – when his mind wasn't so consumed in nightmares that he could think – and he always came to the same conclusion: the only Healers who might be powerful enough to cure this illness before it destroyed him, and the only ones who would be ignorant of the cause, were in Kaeleer. They would probably be serving in the courts of the Territory Queens, who, if Dorothea hadn't been lying about that, were under the High Lord's control. Which meant he had to find something that would buy the High Lord's assistance. Thanks to Dorothea's little speech, he now had information he thought the Prince of the Darkness would find very interesting.

Pleased with his decision, Kartane smiled. He would spend a few more days sniffing out information and then pay a little visit to the Shadow Realm.


4 / Terreille


Alexandra Angelline gingerly settled into a chair, relieved that Dorothea had chosen a private receiving room instead of a formal audience room. This meeting was going to be difficult enough without enduring a court full of sneering Hayllians.

But being alone with Dorothea also had disadvantages. She'd heard that Hayll's High Priestess had been a handsome woman. Oh, the ghost of that loveliness was still there, but there was a definite stoop to Dorothea's shoulders, a twistiness to her spine. Age spots dotted the backs of her brown hands, and the face and hair...

It happens to all of us, eventually,Alexandra thought as she watched Dorothea pour tea into delicate cups. But what would it feel like to go to bed one night a woman in her prime and wake the next morning as a crone?

“I'm...grateful...you granted me an audience,” Alexandra said, trying not to choke on the words.

Dorothea's lips curled in a slight smile as she handed Alexandra a cup of tea. “I'm surprised you asked for one.” The smile faded. “We haven't seen eye to eye in the past. And considering what happened to your family, you have good reason to hate me.” She hesitated, took a sip of tea, and continued softly, “It wasn't my idea to send Sadi to Chaillot, but I can't remember who suggested it or why I agreed. There's a veil over those memories that I still can't pierce.”

Alexandra lifted her cup toward her lips, but put it down again without drinking. “You think the High Lord arranged it?”

“Yes, I do. Sadi is a beautiful, vicious weapon, and his father knows how to use him well. And they did achieve their goal.”

“What goal?” Alexandra said angrily. “Sadi tore my family apart and killed my younger granddaughter. What was achieved by that?”

Dorothea sat back, took a sip of tea, and said quietly, “You forget, Sister. The girl's body was never found.”

Something about the expectant way Dorothea was looking at her made Alexandra shiver. “That doesn't mean anything. He's a very discreet gravedigger.” She put the cup and saucer on the table, the tea untouched. “I didn't come here to talk about the past. Just how dangerous is the High Lord?”

“Daemon Sadi is his father's son. Does that answer your question?”

Alexandra tried but couldn't suppress a shudder. “And you really think he wants to destroy the Blood in Terreille?”

“I'm sure of it.” Dorothea touched her white hair. “I paid a heavy price to be sure of it.”

“My other granddaughter, Wilhelmina Benedict, recently went to Kaeleer,” Alexandra said softly.

Dorothea stiffened. “How recently?”

“She went through the Gate yesterday.”

“Mother Night,” Dorothea said, collapsing in her chair. “I'm so sorry, Alexandra. So very, very sorry.”

“Prince Philip Alexander and I intend to go to Kaeleer as soon as that 'service fair' is over and visitors are permitted again. Hopefully, we'll be able to find her, and convince whatever Queen she's signed a contract with to release her.”

“She's in far more danger than that,” Dorothea said worriedly.

“There's no reason for her to draw anyone's attention,” Alexandra said, fear making her voice sharp. “There's no reason for her to accept a contract outside of Little Terreille.”

“There are two reasons: the High Lord and the witch he controls. If you don't find her quickly, Wilhelmina will end up in his dark embrace, and there will be no hope for her then.”

Despite the warm room, a chill ran down Alexandra's spine.

Dorothea just looked at her for a long moment. “I told you – Sadi and the High Lord achieved their goal. No one hunts very long for a corpse when the living need care. And your granddaughter's body was never found.”

Alexandra stared at Dorothea. “You think Jaenelle is this powerful witch under the High Lord's control? Jaenelle?” She laughed bitterly. “Hell's fire, Dorothea, Jaenelle couldn't even do basic Craft.”

“If you know how to read between the lines of some of the...less available...records of the Blood's history, you'll find that there have been a few women – very few, thank the Darkness – who had enormous reservoirs of power that they were unable to tap by themselves. They required an...emotional...bond with someone who had the skill to channel the power in order to use it. But they didn't always have the choice about how it was used.” Dorothea paused. “The gossip that has recently filtered in from Little Terreille about the High Lord's pet describes her as 'eccentric,' 'somewhat emotionally disturbed.' Does that sound familiar?”

Alexandra couldn't catch her breath. There wasn't enough air in the room. Why wasn't there enough air?

“If you'll take it, I'll give you whatever help I can.” Dorothea looked at her sadly. “You can't ignore this, Alexandra. No matter what you want to think or what you want to believe, you can't ignore the fact that the High Lord's pet witch, the witch Daemon Sadi helped him acquire, goes by the name Jaenelle Angelline.”


5 / Terreille


Dorothea pulled aside the dark, heavy curtains and stared out at the night-shrouded garden. She felt drained, physically and emotionally. Oh, how she had wanted to dig her nails in and scratch out the pathetically hopeful look in the eyes of the males in her First Circle. They wanted to grasp at any excuse for her behavior over the past centuries. They wanted to believe that a male had made her cruel, a male had manipulated her and controlled her thoughts, a male had been behind her rise to power and the viciousness afterward that had made it possible to soften and harvest most of the other Territories in Terreille.

They didn't want to give her any credit at all. They wanted her to be a victim so that they wouldn't feel ashamed of serving her, so that they could pretend they served out of a sense of honor instead of avarice and fear.

Well, once Kaeleer fell, she would make a few changes in her court. Maybe she would even arrange for the fools to die in battle, choking on their bloody honor.

“You did well today, Sister,” said a harsh but still girlish voice. “I couldn't have done better myself.”

Dorothea didn't turn around. Looking at Hekatah, the demon-dead Dark Priestess and self-proclaimed High Priestess of Hell, always turned her stomach. “They were your words, not mine, so it's not surprising that you're pleased.”

“You still need me,” Hekatah snarled as she shuffled to a chair near the fire. “Don't forget that.”

“I never forget that,” Dorothea replied softly, keeping her eyes focused on the garden.

It had been Hekatah who had seen her potential when she was a young witch still learning a Priestess's duties as well as the Black Widows' Craft. It had been Hekatah who had nurtured her ambitions and dreams of power, who had pointed out the possible rivals who could interfere with those dreams. And it had been Hekatah who had helped eliminate those rivals. The Dark Priestess had been there, every step of the way, guiding, advising.

She couldn't remember just when she realized that Hekatah needed her just as much as she needed Hekatah. That need made them despise each other, but they were bound together by the common dream of ruling an entire Realm.

“Do you really think, after all we've done to gain control of Terreille, those Queens will believe it was all the High Lord's fault?”

“If you cast the persuasion spells correctly, there's no reason they won't believe it,” Hekatah said with sweet venom.

“There's nothing wrong with my Craft skills, Priestess,” Dorothea replied with equal venom, turning to face the other woman.

“Your skills didn't help you elude the spell Sadi wrapped around you, did they?”

“No more than your skills protected you, or have helped you reverse the damage.”

Hekatah hissed angrily, and Dorothea turned back to the window, feeling a brief satisfaction at the well-aimed barb.

Seven years ago, Hekatah had tried to gain control of Jaenelle Angelline and eliminate Lucivar Yaslana. Something had gone wrong with her scheme, and the backlash of that confrontation had stripped away her ability to pass as one of the living, had made her look like a decaying, desiccated corpse. For the first couple of years, she had insisted that all she needed was to consume large quantities of fresh blood in order to restore her body. But the demon-dead were, in a sense, spirits that still had too much psychic power to return to the Darkness and were now housed in dead flesh. While the power lasted and could be renewed, the body could be maintained by consuming blood. But nothing was going to restore Hekatah's looks. The juice had been wrung out of her dead flesh, and the past seven years had been a slow decay of a body that had died 50,000 years ago.

“They'll believe the High Lord has been responsible for all the perversion in Terreille,” Hekatah said, coming up behind Dorothea close enough for her reflection to be visible in the window's night-darkened glass. “They want to believe it. He's a myth, a terrifying story that has been whispered for thousands of years. And anyone who has doubts about him will have no doubts at all about Yaslana and Sadi. The thought of the three of them coming together and having the use of a strong witch as their tool will be enough to unite Terreille against Kaeleer. In the end, it doesn't matter why they join the fight, only that they fight.”

“We've gained one reluctant ally this afternoon – Alexandra Angelline, the Queen of Chaillot.” Dorothea's lips curled in a vicious smile. “She was shocked to discover that her younger granddaughter has been under the High Lord's thumb for all these years, thanks to Daemon Sadi.”

Hekatah frowned. “She's a fool, but she isn't stupid. If she convinces Jaenelle to help her maintain control of Chaillot...”

Dorothea shook her head. “She doesn't believe Jaenelle has any power. I could see it in her eyes. I spun her a little story about women who are reservoirs of raw power – she didn't believe that either. She can accept that Sadi and the High Lord might have wanted Jaenelle for their own twisted reasons, but she'll continue to believe what she wants to believe about Jaenelle Angelline. Once she gets to Little Terreille, Lord Jorval will be waiting to offer his assistance. He'll never mention that Jaenelle is the Queen of Ebon Askavi. And I doubt Alexandra will believe anything anyone at the Hall tells her.”

Hekatah laughed gleefully.

“And I imagine that once she actually meets Prince Saetan Daemon SaDiablo, the High Lord of Hell, she'll be more than happy to send along any information she thinks will be useful to us.”

“And if he discovers her deceit...” Hekatah shrugged. “Well, we would have had to get rid of her after the war anyway.”

Dorothea stared at their reflections in the glass. They had been lovely women once. Now Hekatah looked like a corpse that the worms had been feasting on, and she..

Sadi had created some kind of spell to age and twist her body, but he hadn't done anything to diminish her sexual appetite. The Blood called him the Sadist, but she hadn't really appreciated the depths of his cruelty. He had known her appetites – how could he not since he'd had to satisfy them when he was young? He had also known the humiliation she would feel when she saw revulsion in the eyes of the males she rode instead of that exciting combination of lust and fear. Now, after her tearful confession, she wouldn't even be able to indulge in that much.

“You've informed your pet Queens that they'll have to abstain from their more – imaginative – pleasures for the time being?” Hekatah asked.

“I've told them,” Dorothea replied irritably. “Whether they will restrain themselves is difficult to say.”

“Any who indulge will have to be eliminated.”

“And how do we explain that?”

Hekatah made an impatient sound. “Obviously they, too, have been under the High Lord's spell. Your gallant struggle to free yourself from his power also freed a number of your Sisters, but, unfortunately, not all of them. All it will take is one or two of them being killed for the others to understand the message and behave properly.”

“And after we've won?”

“After we've won, we can do whatever we damn well please. We'll rule the Realms, Dorothea. Not just Terreille, but all of them – Terreille, Kaeleer, and Hell.”

Wanting to savor that possibility, Dorothea didn't say anything for several minutes. Then finally, reluctantly, she asked, “Do you really think that fear of the High Lord will be enough to start a war? Do you really think this will work?”

What was left of Hekatah's lips pulled back in a terrible smile. “It worked the last time.”


6 / Kaeleer


The Queen of Arachna settled next to the shoulder of the weary, golden-haired woman who leaned against a flat-sided boulder.

*Is bad?* the large golden spider asked in her soft voice.

Jaenelle Angelline brushed her hair away from her face and sighed. Her haunted sapphire eyes narrowed a little against the early-morning sunlight as she once again studied the delicate strands of the tangled web that she'd woven during the night. “Yes, it's bad. A war is coming. A war between the Realms.”

*Can stop?*

Jaenelle shook her head slowly. “No. No one can stop it.”

The spider shifted uneasily. The air around the woman tasted of sadness – and a growing, cold rage. *The two-legs have fought before. Is more bad this time?*

“You may look.”

Accepting the formal invitation, the Arachnian Queen opened her mind to the dreams and visions in the large tangled web Jaenelle had spun between a boulder and a nearby tree.

So much death. So much pain and sorrow. And a creeping taint that soiled the ones remaining.

Pulling back from the dreams and visions, she studied the web itself and noticed two odd things. One was the delicate silver ring set with an Ebony Jewel that had been placed in the center of the web. A Jewel chip was rarely woven into a tangled web because the magic that shaped those webs was powerful – and dangerous – enough, and this particular Jewel belonged to Jaenelle, who was Witch, the living myth, dreams made flesh. The other odd thing was the triangle. Many threads were connected to that ring, but overlaying them were three threads that formed a triangle around it.

Intrigued, the spider continued to study the web. She had seen that triangle before. Strength, passion, courage. Loyalty, honor, love. She could almost taste the male tang in those threads.

“If Kaeleer accepts Terreille's challenge and goes to war,” Jaenelle said softly, “it will destroy the Blood in both Realms. All the Blood. Even the kindred.”

*Some will live. It is always so.*

“Not this time. Oh, there will be some who will physically survive the war, but...” Jaenelle's voice broke. She took a deep breath. “All of my Sisters, all of my friends will be gone. All of the Queens will be gone. All of the Warlord Princes.”

*All?*

“There will be no Queens left to heal the land, no Queens left to hold the Blood together. The slaughter will continue until there's no one left to slaughter. The witches will be as barren as the land. The gift of power that had been given to us so long ago will be the final weapon that destroys us. If Kaeleer goes to war with Terreille.”

*Must fight,* the spider said. *Must stop creeping taint.*

Jaenelle smiled bitterly. “War won't stop it. I know who nurtured the seeds, and if eliminating Dorothea and Hekatah would stop this from coming, I'd destroy them right now. But it wouldn't stop anything, not anymore. It would only delay it, and that would be worse. This is the right place and the right time to cleanse that taint out of the Blood.”

*You speak paths that go no place,* the spider scolded. *You say can't fight but must fight. You confused? Maybe you read web wrong.*

Jaenelle turned her head toward the spider, a dryly amused look on her face. “And where did I learn to weave a tangled web? If I'm not reading it right, maybe I wasn't taught correctly.”

The spider used Craft to make a harsh, buzzing sound that indicated severe disapproval. *Not fault of teaching spider if little spider pay more attention to catching fly than doing lesson.*

Jaenelle's silvery, velvet-coated laugh filled the air. “I never once tried to catch a fly. And I did pay attention to the teaching spider. After all, she was the Dream Weavers' Queen at the time.”

The Arachnian Queen resettled herself, somewhat mollified.

Jaenelle's humor faded as she turned her sapphire eyes back to the web. “Terreille will go to war.”

*Then Kaeleer will war.*

“This web shows two paths,” Jaenelle said very quietly.

*No,* the spider replied firmly. *One web, one vision. That is the way.*

“Two paths,” Jaenelle insisted. “Following the second path, Kaeleer doesn't go to war with Terreille, and the Queens and Warlord Princes survive to heal and protect the Shadow Realm.”

*Then who war with Terreille?*

Jaenelle hesitated. “The Queen of the Darkness.”

*But you are Queen!*

Jaenelle exhaled sharply. “A war that cleanses the Realms, calls in the debts, takes back the gift of power that was given. There's a way. There must be a way, but the web can't show me yet because of that.” Her finger pointed to the triangle. “That's not the Queen's triangle.” Her finger traced the left side of the triangle. “That thread is the High Lord.” She traced the bottom thread. “And that thread is Lucivar.” Her finger hesitated at the triangle's right side. “But that thread isn't Andulvar. It should be, since he's the Master of the Guard, but it's someone else. Someone who isn't here yet, someone who can guide me to the answers I need to walk that other path.”

*The thread not tell you its name?*

“It says the mirror is coming. What kind of answer is—” Tensing, Jaenelle scrambled to her knees. “Daemon,” she whispered. “Daemon.”

The spider shifted uneasily. Witch had flavored the air with intense pleasure when she had whispered that name – but underneath the pleasure there was a little taste of fear.

“I have to go,” Jaenelle said hurriedly as she leaped to her feet. “I still need to stop at a couple of kindred Territories before I return to the Hall.” She hesitated, glanced at the spider. “With your permission, I'd like to keep this one for a while.”

*Your webs be welcome among the Weavers of Dreams.*

Raising her hand, Jaenelle used Craft to put a protective shield on the tangled web's threads. She looked back at the spider. “May the Darkness embrace you, Sister.”

*And you, Sister Queen,* the spider replied formally.

The Arachnian Queen waited until Jaenelle caught one of the Winds, those psychic pathways through the Darkness, before she used Craft to float gently toward the tangled web.

One web, one vision. That was the way. But when Witch spun a web...

Using instinct and all of her training, the spider cautiously brushed a leg against a small thread that floated loose from the Ebony ring. The tangled web showed her the second path.

The spider quickly backed away. *No!* she called, sending out her psychic communication thread as far as it would reach. *No! Not a second path. Not an answer! You not walk this path!*

No answer. Not even a flicker from Witch's powerful mind to indicate that she had heard.

*You not walk this path,* the spider said again sadly, seeing clearly where that path would end.

Perhaps not. Witch could weave a tangled web better than any other Black Widow, but even Witch couldn't always sense all the flavors in the threads.

The Arachnian Queen turned back to the web and felt a mild tug. Walking on air, she followed the tug to a thread near the tree-anchored side of the web. Cautiously, she brushed a leg against the thread.

Dog. The brown-and-white dog she had seen in the first web she had spun after the cold season had passed. She had asked Witch to bring the dog, Ladvarian, to the Weavers' island. She had wanted to see this Warlord – and she had wanted him to see her.

She plucked the Ladvarian thread and felt its vibration run through the web. Many of the threads connected to the Ebony ring – the kindred threads – began to shine brightly. The human threads shone, too, but not so bright, not so sure. She must remember that. And that triangle...

With her leg still resting on the Ladvarian thread, the spider let her mind sail to the secret cave, the sacred cave in the center of the island. There the Arachnian Queens had gone time after time to listen to dreams – and to weave, thread by thread, the very special webs that bound dreams to flesh, that were the first tangible step in creating Witch.

Small webs. Larger webs. Sometimes only one race, only one kind of dreamer, had dreamed Witch into being. Other times the dreamers had come from different places with different needs that somehow had fit together to become one dream.

When that dream's time in the flesh was done and it no longer walked the Realms, the Arachnian Queen would respectfully cut the anchor threads that held the web to the cave walls, roll the spidersilk into a ball, deposit it in a niche, and then use Craft to coax crystals to grow over the opening. There were many closed niches, more than the human Blood realized. But then, the kindred had always been far more faithful dreamers.

There was one web in the cave that had been started long, long ago. Generation after generation after generation, the Arachnian Queens had brushed one of the anchor threads of that web, had listened to the dreams, and then had added more strands. So many dreamers in this web, so many dreams that had fit together to become one. Twenty-five years ago, by human reckoning, that dream had finally become flesh.

In the center of that special web was a triangle. Three strong dreamers. Three threads that had been reinforced so many times they were now thick and very powerful.

And each Queen, as she consumed the freely offered flesh of the one who had come before her, had been told the same thing: Remember this web. Know this web. Know every thread.

The spider pulled her mind back to the new web.

Dreams made flesh. A spirit nurtured in the Darkness, shaped by dreams. And a tangled web, equally nurtured and hidden in a cave full of ancient power, that guided that spirit to the right kind of flesh.

There had been times, when the spider had seen terrible things in her webs of dreams and visions, when she had wondered if that particular spirit had, in fact, found the right flesh; had wondered if, perhaps, some of the threads had been too old. No, there had been a reason why this one had been shaped into this flesh. The pain and the wounds had not been the fault of the dreaming – or the dreamers.

The spider drew silk out of her body and carefully attached it to the Ladvarian thread.

So. Witch would choose the second path, blind to the fact that, while she would save Kaeleer and those she loved, she would also destroy Kaeleer's Heart.

There had to be a way to save Kaeleer's Heart.

Spinning out an anchor thread between the tree trunk and a sturdy branch, the Arachnian Queen began to weave her own tangled web.





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Updated Monday March 01 2010