فصل 39

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فصل 39

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39

The air bit through my thick cloak, making me withdraw from the blast of wind that threatened to split me in two. I had never experienced cold like this and wondered how anyone survived a winter in Chelm.

“There.” Baldwin pointed to a low huddle of buildings in the valley below.

“Benjamin has at least a dozen of his children with him.” Verin stood at my elbow, a pair of binoculars in her fingers. She offered them to me, in case my warmblooded eyes weren’t strong enough to see where my husband was being kept, but I refused them.

I knew exactly where Matthew was. The closer I got to him, the more agitated my power became, leaping to the surface of my skin in an attempt to escape. That, and my witch’s third eye, more than made up for any warmblooded deficiencies.

“We’ll wait until twilight to strike. That’s when a detail of Benjamin’s children go out to hunt.”

Baldwin looked grim. “They’ve been preying on Lublin, bringing back the homeless and the weak for their father to feed on.”

“Wait?” I’d done nothing but for three days. “I’m not going to wait another moment!”

“He is still alive, Diana.” Ysabeau’s response should have brought me comfort, but it only made the ice around my heart thicken at the thought of what Matthew would continue to suffer for the next six hours as we waited for darkness to fall.

“We can’t attack the compound when it’s at full strength,” Baldwin said. “We must be strategic about this, Diana—not emotional.”

Think and stay alive. Relucantly, I turned away from dreams of Matthew’s quick release to focus on the challenges before us. “Janet said Knox put wards around the main building.”

Baldwin nodded. “We were waiting for you to disarm them.”

“How will the knights get into position without Benjamin knowing?” I asked.

“Tonight the Knights of Lazarus will use the tunnels to enter Benjamin’s compound from below.”

Fernando’s expression was calculating. “Twenty, maybe thirty, should be enough.”

“Chelm is built on chalk, you see, and the ground beneath it is honeycombed with tunnels,”

Hamish explained, unrolling a small, crudely drawn map. “The Nazis destroyed some of them, but Benjamin kept these open. They connect his compound and the town and provide a way for him and his children to prey on the city without ever appearing aboveground.”

“No wonder Benjamin was so hard to track down,” Gallowglass murmured, looking at the underground maze.

“Where are the knights now?” I had yet to see the massing of troops I’d been told were in Chelm.

“Standing by,” Hamish replied.

“Fernando will decide when to send them into the tunnels. As Marcus’s marshal, the decision is his,” Baldwin said, acknowledging Fernando with a nod.

“Actually, it’s mine,” Marcus said, appearing suddenly against the snow.

“Marcus!” I pushed my hood back, terror gripping me. “What’s happened to Rebecca and Philip?

Where are they?”

“Nothing has happened. The twins are at Sept-Tours with Sarah, Phoebe, and three dozen knights— all of them handpicked for their loyalty to the de Clermonts and their dislike of Gerbert and the Congregation. Miriam and Chris are there, too.” Marcus took my hands in his. “I couldn’t sit in France waiting for news. Not when I could be helping to free my father. And Matthew might need my help after that, too.”

Marcus was right. Matthew would need a doctor—a doctor who understood vampires and how to heal them.

“And Jack?” It was all I could squeeze out, though Marcus’s words had helped my heart rate return to something approaching normal.

“He’s fine, too,” Marcus said firmly. “Jack had one bad episode last night when I told him he couldn’t come along, but Marthe turns out to be something of a hellcat when provoked. She threatened to keep Jack from seeing Philip, and that sobered him right up. He never lets the child out of his sight.

Jack says it’s his job to protect his godson, no matter what.” Marcus turned to Fernando. “Walk me through your plan.”

Fernando went over the operation in detail: where the knights would be positioned, when they would move on the compound, the roles that Gallowglass, Baldwin, Hamish, and now Marcus would play.

Even though it all sounded flawless, I was still worried.

“What is it, Diana?” Marcus asked, sensing my concern.

“So much of our strategy relies on the element of surprise,” I said. “What if Gerbert has already tipped off Knox and Benjamin? Or Domenico? Even Satu might have decided she was safer from Benjamin if she could gain Knox’s trust.”

“Don’t worry, Auntie,” Gallowglass assured me, his blue eyes taking on a stormy cast. “Gerbert, Domenico, and Satu are all sitting on Isola della Stella. The Knights of Lazarus have them surrounded.

There’s no way for them to get off the island.”

Gallowglass’s words did little to lessen my concern. The only thing that could help was freeing Matthew and putting an end to Benjamin’s machinations—for good.

“Ready to examine the wards?” Baldwin asked, knowing that giving me something to do would help keep my anxiety in check.

After swapping my highly visible black cloak for a pale gray parka that blended into the snow, Baldwin and Gallowglass took me within shouting distance of Benjamin’s compound. In silence I took stock of the wards that protected the place. There were a few alarm spells, a trigger spell that I suspected would unleash some kind of elemental conflagration or storm, and a handful of diversions that were designed to do nothing more than delay an attacker until a proper defense could be mounted. Knox had used spells that were complicated, but they were old and worn, too. It wouldn’t take much to pick apart the knots and leave the place unguarded.

“I’ll need two hours and Janet,” I whispered to Baldwin as we withdrew.

Together Janet and I freed the compound from its invisible barbed-wire perimeter. There was one alarm spell we had to leave in place, however. It was linked directly back to Knox, and I feared that even tinkering with the knots would alert him to our presence.

“He’s a clever bugger,” Janet said, wiping a tired hand across her eyes.

“Too clever for his own good. His spells were lazy,” I said. “Too many crossings, not enough threads.”

“When this is all over, we are going to have several evenings by the fireside where you explain what you just said,” Janet warned.

“When this is over, and Matthew is home, I’ll happily sit by the fireside for the rest of my life,” I replied.

Gallowglass’s hovering presence reminded me that time was passing.

“Time to go,” I said briskly, nodding toward the silent Gael.

Gallowglass insisted we eat something and took us to a café in Chelm. There I managed to swallow down some tea and two bites of hot-milk cake while the warmth from the clanging radiator thawed my extremities.

As the minutes ticked by, the regular metallic sounds from the café’s heating system began to sound like warning bells. Finally Gallowglass announced that the hour had come when we were to meet up with Marcus’s army.

He took us to a prewar house on the outskirts of town. Its owner had been happy to hand over the keys and head to warmer climes in exchange for a hefty cash vacation fund and the promise that his leaking roof would be fixed when he returned. The vampire knights who were assembled in the cellar were mostly unfamiliar to me, though I did recognize a few faces from the twins’ christening. As I looked at them, rugged of line and quietly ready for whatever awaited them below, I was struck by the fact that these were warriors who had fought in modern world wars and revolutions, as well as medieval Crusades. They were some of the finest soldiers who had ever lived, and like all soldiers they were prepared to sacrifice their lives for something greater than themselves.

Fernando gave his final orders while Gallowglass opened a makeshift door. Beyond it was a small ledge and a rickety ladder that led down into darkness.

“Godspeed,” Gallowglass whispered as the first of the vampires dropped out of sight and landed silently on the ground below.

We waited while the knights chosen to destroy Benjamin’s hunting party did their work. Still nervous that someone might alert him to our presence and that he might respond by taking Matthew’s life, I stared fixedly at the earth between my feet.

It was excruciating. There was no way to receive any progress reports. For all we knew, Marcus’s knights could have met with unexpected resistance. Benjamin might have sent out more of his children to hunt. He might have sent out none.

“This is the hell of war,” said Gallowglass. “It’s not the fighting or even the dying that destroys you. It’s the wondering.”

No more than an hour later—though it felt like days—Giles pushed open the door. His shirt was stained with gore. There was no way to determine how much of it belonged to him and what might be traces of Benjamin’s now-dead children. He beckoned us forward.

“Clear,” he told Gallowglass. “But be careful. The tunnels echo, so watch your step.”

Gallowglass handed Janet down and then me, making no use of the waiting ladder with its rusted metal treads that might give us away. It was so dark in the tunnel that I couldn’t see the faces of the vampires who caught us, but I could smell the battle on them. We hurried along the tunnel with as much speed as our need for silence allowed. Given the darkness, I was glad to have a vampire on each arm to steer me around the bends and would have fallen several times without the assistance of their keen eyes and quick reflexes.

Baldwin and Fernando were waiting for us at the intersection of three tunnels. Two blood-spattered mounds covered with tarps and a powdery white substance that gave off a faint glow marked where Benjamin’s children had met their death.

“We covered the heads and bodies with quicklime to mask the scent,” Fernando said. “It won’t eliminate it completely, but it should buy us some time.”

“How many?” Gallowglass asked.

“Nine,” Baldwin replied. One of his hands was completely clean and bore a sword, the other was caked with substances I preferred not to identify. The contrast made my stomach heave.

“How many are still inside?” Janet murmured.

“At least another nine, probably more.” Baldwin didn’t look worried at the prospect. “If they’re anything like this lot, you can expect them to be cocksure and clever.”

“Dirty fighters, too,” Fernando said.

“As expected,” Gallowglass said, his tone easy and relaxed. “We’ll be waiting for your signal to move into the compound. Good luck, Auntie.”

Baldwin whisked me away before I could say a word of farewell to Gallowglass and Fernando.

Perhaps it was better that way, since the single glance I cast over my shoulder captured faces that were etched with exhaustion.

The tunnel that Baldwin took us through led to the gates outside the compound where Ysabeau and Hamish were waiting. With all the wards down save the one on the gate that led directly to Knox, the only risk was that a vampire’s keen eyes would spot us.

Janet reduced that possibility with an all-encompassing disguising spell that concealed not only me but everybody within twenty feet. “Where’s Marcus?” I had expected to see him here.

Hamish pointed.

Marcus was already inside the perimeter, propped in the crook of a tree, a rifle aimed at a window.

He must have breached the compound’s stone walls by swinging from tree limb to tree limb. With no wards to worry about, provided he didn’t use the gate, Marcus had taken advantage of the pause in the action and would now provide cover for us as we went through the gate and entered the front door.

“Sharpshooter,” commented Baldwin.

“Marcus learned to handle a gun as a warmblood. He hunted squirrels when he was a child,” added Ysabeau. “Smaller and faster than vampires, I’m told.”

Marcus never acknowledged our presence, but he knew we were there. Janet and I set to work on the final knots that bound the alarm spell to Knox. She cast an anchoring spell, the kind witches used to shore up the foundations of their houses and keep their children from wandering away, and as I unbound the ward, I redirected its energy toward her. Our hope was that the spell wouldn’t even notice that the heavy object it now guarded was a granite boulder and not a massive iron gate.

It worked.

We would have been inside the house in moments if not for the inconvenient interruption of one of Benjamin’s sons, who came out to catch a cigarette only to discover the front gate standing open. His eyes widened.

A small hole appeared in his forehead.

One eye disappeared. Then another.

Benjamin’s son clutched at his throat. Blood welled between his fingers, and he emitted a strange whistling sound.

“Hello, salaud. I’m your grandmother.” Ysabeau thrust a dagger into the man’s heart.

The simultaneous loss of blood from so many places made it easy for Baldwin to grab the man’s head and twist it, breaking his neck and killing the vampire instantly. With another wrench his head came off his shoulders.

It had taken about forty-five seconds from the time Marcus fired his first shot to the moment Baldwin put the vampire’s head facedown in the snow.

Then the dogs started to bark.

“Merde,” Ysabeau whispered.

“Now. Go.” Baldwin took my arm, and Ysabeau took charge of Janet. Marcus tossed his rifle to Hamish, who caught it easily. He let forth a piercing whistle.

“Shoot anything that comes out of that door,” Marcus ordered. “I’m going after the dogs.”

Unsure whether the whistle was meant to call the fierce-sounding canines or the waiting Knights of Lazarus, I hurried along into the compound’s main building. It was no warmer inside than out. An emaciated rat scurried down the hall, which was lined with identical doors.

“Knox knows we’re here,” I said. There was no need for quiet or a disguising spell now.

“So does Benjamin,” Ysabeau said grimly.

As planned, we parted ways. Ysabeau went in search of Matthew. Baldwin, Janet, and I were after Benjamin and Knox. With luck we would find them all in the same place and converge upon them, supported by the Knights of Lazarus once they breached the lower levels of the compound and made their way upstairs.

A soft cry drew us to one of the closed doors. Baldwin flung it open.

It was the room we’d seen on the video feed: the grimy tiles, drain in the floor, windows overlooking the snow, numbers written with a grease pencil on the walls, even the chair with a tweed coat lying over the back.

Matthew was sitting in another chair, his eyes black and his mouth open in a soundless scream. His ribs had been spread open with a metal device, exposing his slow-beating heart, the regular sound of which had brought me such comfort whenever he drew me close.

“Fuck.” Baldwin rushed toward him. “It’s not Matthew,” I said.

Ysabeau’s shriek in the distance told me she had stumbled onto a similar scene.

“It’s not Matthew,” I repeated, louder this time. I went to the next door and twisted the knob.

There was Matthew, sitting in the same chair. His hands—his beautiful, strong hands that touched me with such love and tenderness—had been severed at the wrists and were sitting in a surgical basin in his lap.

No matter which door we opened, we found Matthew in some horrific tableau of pain and torment.

And every illusory scene had been staged especially for me.

After my hopes had been raised and dashed a dozen times, I blew all the doors in the house off their hinges with a single word. I didn’t bother looking inside any of the open rooms. Apparitions could be quite convincing, and Knox’s were very good indeed. But they were not flesh and blood. They were not my Matthew, and I was not deceived by them even though those I had seen would remain with me forever.

“Matthew will be with Benjamin. Find him.” I walked away without waiting for Baldwin or Janet to agree. “Where are you, Mr. Knox?”

“Dr. Bishop.” Knox was waiting for me when I rounded the corner. “Come. Have a drink with me.

You won’t be leaving this place, and it may be your last chance to enjoy the comforts of a warm room— until you conceive Benjamin’s child, that is.”

Behind me I slammed down an impenetrable wall of fire and water so that no one could follow.

Then I threw up another behind Knox, boxing us into a small section of the corridor.

“Nicely done. Your spell-casting talents have emerged, I see,” said Knox.

“You will find me . . . altered,” I said, using Gallowglass’s phrase. The magic was waiting inside me, begging to fly. But I kept it under control, and the power obeyed me. I felt it there, still and watchful.

“Where have you been?” Knox asked. “Lots of places. London. Prague. France.” I felt the tingle of magic in my fingertips. “You’ve been to France, too.”

“I went looking for your husband and his son. I found a letter, you see. In Prague.” Knox’s eyes gleamed. “Imagine my surprise, stumbling upon Emily Mather—never a terribly impressive witch— binding your mother’s spirit inside a stone circle.”

Knox was trying to distract me.

“It reminded me of the stone circle I cast in Nigeria to bind your parents. Perhaps that was Emily’s intention.”

Words crawled beneath my skin, answering the silent questions his words engendered.

“I should never have let Satu do the honors where you were concerned, my dear. I’ve always suspected that you were different,” Knox said. “Had I opened you up last October, as I did your mother and father all those years ago, you could have been spared so much heartache.”

But there had been more in the past fourteen months than heartache. There had been unexpected joy, too. I clung to that now, anchoring myself to it as firmly as if Janet were working her magic.

“You’re very quiet, Dr. Bishop. Have you nothing to say?”

“Not really. I prefer actions to words these days. They save time.”

At last I released the magic spooled tightly within me. The net I’d made to capture Knox was black and purple, woven through with strands of white, silver, and gold. It spread out in wings from my shoulder blades, reminding me of the absent Corra, whose power, as she promised, was still mine.

“With knot of one, the spell’s begun.” My netlike wings spread wider.

“Very impressive bit of illusory work, Dr. Bishop.” Knox’s tone was patronizing. “A simple banishing spell will—”

“With knot of two, the spell be true.” The silver and gold threads in my net gleamed bright, balancing the dark and light powers that marked the crossroads of the higher magics.

“It’s too bad Emily didn’t have your skill,” Knox said. “She might have gotten more out of your mother’s bound spirit than the gibberish I found when I stole her thoughts at Sept-Tours.”

“With knot of three, the spell is free.” The giant wings beat once, sending a soft eddy of air through the magical box I’d constructed. They gently separated from my body, rising higher until they hovered over Knox. He cast a look upward, then resumed.

“Your mother babbled to Emily about chaos and creativity and repeated the words of that charlatan Ursula Shipton’s prophecy: Old worlds die and new be born. That’s all I got out of Rebecca in Nigeria, too. Being with your father weakened her abilities. She needed a husband who could challenge her.”

“With knot of four, the power is stored.” A dark, potent spiral slowly unwound at the spot where the two wings met.

“Shall we open you up and see if you are more like your mother or your father?” Knox’s hand made a lazy gesture, and I felt his magic cut a searing path across my chest.

“With knot of five, this spell will thrive.” The purple threads in the net tightened around the spiral.

“With knot of six, this spell I fix.” The gold threads gleamed. A casual brush of my hand sealed the wound in my chest.

“Benjamin was quite interested in what I told him about your mother and father. He has plans for you, Diana. You will carry Benjamin’s children, and they will become like the witches of old: powerful, wise, long-lived. There will be no more hiding in the shadows for us then. We will rule over the other warmbloods, as we should.”

“With knot of seven, the spell will waken.” A low keening filled the air, reminiscent of the sound the Book of Life made in the Bodleian. Then it had been a cry of terror and pain. Now it sounded like a call for vengeance.

For the first time, Knox looked worried.

“You cannot escape from Benjamin, any more than Emily could escape from me at Sept-Tours. She tried, of course, but I prevailed. All I wanted was the witch’s spell book. Benjamin said Matthew once had it.” Knox’s eyes took on a fevered glint. “When I possess it, I will have the upper hand over the vampires, too. Even Gerbert will bow to me then.”

“With knot of eight, the spell will wait.” I pulled the net into the twisted shape that signified infinity. As I manipulated the threads, my father’s shadowy form appeared.

“Stephen.” Knox licked his lips. “This is an illusion, too.”

My father ignored him, crossing his arms and looking at me sharply. “You ready to finish this, peanut?”

“I am, Dad.”

“You don’t have the power to finish me,” Knox snarled. “Emily discovered that when she tried to keep me from having knowledge of the lost book of spells. I took her thoughts and stopped her heart.

Had she only cooperated—”

“With knot of nine, the spell is mine.”

The keening rose into a shriek as all the chaos contained in the Book of Life and all the creative energy that bound the creatures together in one place burst from the web I’d made and engulfed Peter Knox. My father’s hands were among those that reached out of the dark void to grasp him while he struggled, keeping him in a whirling vortex of power that would eat him alive.

Knox cried out in terror as the spell drained his life away. He unraveled before my eyes as the spirits of all the weavers who had come before me, including my father, deliberately unpicked the threads that made up this damaged creature, reducing Knox to a lifeless shell.

I knew that one day I would pay a price for what I’d done to a fellow witch. But I had avenged Emily, whose life had been taken for no other reason than a dream of power.

I had avenged my mother and father, who loved their daughter enough to die for her.

I drew the goddess’s arrow from my spine. A bow crafted from rowan and trimmed with silver and gold appeared in my left hand.

Vengeance had been mine. Now it was time for the goddess’s justice.

I turned to my father, a question in my eyes. “He’s upstairs. Third floor. Sixth door on the left.” My father smiled. “Whatever price the goddess exacted from you, Matthew is worth it. Just as you were.”

“He’s worth everything,” I said, lowering the magical walls I’d built and leaving the dead behind so I could find the living.

Magic, like any resource, is not infinite in its supply. The spell I’d used to eliminate Knox had drained me of a significant amount of power. But I’d taken the risk knowing that without Knox, Benjamin had only physical strength and cruelty in his arsenal.

I had love and nothing more to lose.

Even without the goddess’s arrow, we were evenly matched.

The house had far fewer rooms in it now that Knox’s illusions were gone. Instead of an unending array of identical doors, the house now showed its true character: filthy, rife with the scents of death and fear, a place of horror.

My feet raced up the stairs. I couldn’t spare an ounce of magic now. I had no idea where any of the others were. But I did know where to find Matthew. I pushed open the door.

“There you are. We’ve been expecting you.” Benjamin was standing behind a chair.

This time the creature in it was undeniably the man I loved. His eyes were black and filled with blood rage and pain, but they flickered in recognition.

“Queen’s Gambit complete,” I said.

Relieved, Matthew’s eyes drifted closed.

“I hope you know better than to shoot that arrow,” Benjamin said. “In case you’re not as well versed in anatomy as you are in chemistry, I’ve made sure that Matthew will die instantly if my hand isn’t here to support this.”

This was a large iron spike Benjamin had driven into Matthew’s neck.

“You remember when Ysabeau poked her finger into me at the Bodleian? It created a seal. That’s what I’ve done here.” Benjamin wiggled the spike a bit, and Matthew howled. A few drops of blood appeared. “My father doesn’t have much blood left in him. I’ve fed him nothing but shards of glass for two days and he’s been slowly bleeding out internally.”

It was then I noticed the pile of dead children in the corner.

“Earlier meals,” Benjamin said in response to my glance. “It was a challenge to come up with ways to torment Matthew, since I wanted to make sure he still had eyes to see me take you, and ears to hear your screams. But I found a way.”

“You are a monster, Benjamin.”

“Matthew made me one. Now, don’t waste any more of your energy. Ysabeau and Baldwin are bound to be here soon. This is the very room where I kept Philippe, and I left a trail of bread crumbs to make sure my grandmother finds it. Baldwin will be so surprised to hear who it was that killed his father, don’t you think? I saw it all in Matthew’s thoughts. As for you . . . well, you cannot imagine the things Matthew would like to do to you in the privacy of his bed. Some of them made me blush, and I’m not exactly prudish.”

I felt Ysabeau’s presence behind me. A rain of photographs fell upon the floor. Pictures of Philippe.

Here. In agony. I shot a look of fury at Benjamin.

“I would like nothing more than to shred you to pieces with my bare hands, but I would not deprive Philippe’s daughter of the pleasure.” Ysabeau’s voice was cold and serrated. It rasped against my ears almost painfully.

“Oh, she’ll have pleasure with me, Ysabeau. I assure you of that.” Benjamin whispered something in Matthew’s ear, and I saw Matthew’s hand twitch as if he wanted to strike his son but his broken bones and shredded muscles made that impossible. “Here’s Baldwin. It’s been a long time, Uncle. I have something to tell you—a secret Matthew has been keeping. He keeps so many, I know, but this is a juicy one, I promise.” Benjamin paused for effect. “Philippe did not die because of me. It was Matthew who killed him.”

Baldwin stared at him impassively. “Do you want to take a shot at him before my children send you to hell to see your father?”

Benjamin asked.

“Your children won’t be sending me anywhere. And if you think I am surprised by this supposed secret, you are even more delusional than I feared,” Baldwin said. “I know Matthew’s work when I see it. He’s almost too good at what he does.”

“Drop that.” Benjamin’s voice cracked like a whip as his cold, unfathomable eyes settled on my left hand.

While the two of them were having their discussion, I’d taken the opportunity to lift the bow.

“Drop it now or he dies.” Benjamin withdrew the spike slightly, and the blood flowed.

I dropped the bow with a clatter.

“Smart girl,” he said, thrusting the spike home again. Matthew moaned. “I liked you even before I learned you were a weaver. So that’s what makes you special? Matthew has been shamefully reluctant to determine the limits of your power, but never fear. I’ll make sure we know exactly how far your abilities extend.”

Yes, I was a smart girl. Smarter than Benjamin knew. And I understood the limits of my power better than anyone else ever would. As for the goddess’s bow, I didn’t need it. What I needed in order to destroy Benjamin was still in my other hand.

I lifted my pinkie slightly so that it brushed Ysabeau’s thigh in warning.

“With knot of ten, it begins again.”

My words came out like a breath, insubstantial and easy to ignore, just as the tenth knot was a seemingly a simple loop. As they traveled into the room, my spell took on the weight and power of a living thing. I extended my left arm straight as though it still held the goddess’s bow. My left index finger burned a bright purple.

My right hand drew back in a lightning-quick move, fingers curled loosely around the white fletchings on the golden arrow’s shaft. I stood squarely at the crossroads between life and death. And I did not hesitate.

“Justice,” I said, and unfurled my fingers.

Benjamin’s eyes widened.

The arrow sprang from my hand through the center of the spell, picking up momentum as it flew. It hit Benjamin’s chest with audible force, cleaving him wide open and bursting his heart. A blinding wave of power engulfed the room. Silver and gold threads shot everywhere, accompanied by strands of purple and green. The sun king. The moon queen. Justice. The goddess.

With an otherworldly cry of frustrated anguish, Benjamin loosened his fingers, and the blood covered spike began to slip.

Working quickly, I twisted the threads surrounding Matthew into a single rope that caught the end of the spike. I pulled it taut, keeping it in place as Benjamin’s blood poured forth and he dropped heavily to the floor.

The few bare lightbulbs in the room flickered, then went out. I’d had to draw on every bit of energy in the place to kill Knox and then Benjamin. All that was left now was the power of the goddess: the shimmering rope hanging in the middle of the room, the words moving underneath my skin, the power snapping at the ends of my fingers.

It was over.

Benjamin was dead and could no longer torment anyone.

And Matthew, though broken, was alive.

After Benjamin fell, everything seemed to happen at once. Ysabeau pulled the vampire’s dead body away. Baldwin was at Matthew’s side, calling for Marcus and checking on his injuries. Verin and Gallowglass and Hamish burst into the room. Fernando followed soon thereafter.

I stood in front of Matthew and cradled his head against my heart, sheltering him from further harm. With one hand I held up the iron implement that was keeping him alive. “We need to move him, Diana.” Marcus’s calm voice couldn’t disguise his urgency. He put his hand around the spike, ready to take my place.

“Don’t let her see me,” Matthew’s voice was raw and guttural. His skeletal hand twitched on the arm of the chair in protest, but it was not able to do more. “I beg you. Not like this.”

With nearly every inch of Matthew’s body injured, there were precious few places I could touch him that wouldn’t compound his pain. I located a few centimeters of undamaged flesh gleaming in the glow cast by the Book of Life and dropped a kiss as soft as down on the tip of his nose.

Unsure if he could hear me, and knowing that his eyes were swollen shut, I let my breath wash over him, bathing him in my scent. Matthew’s nostrils flared a fraction, signaling that he had registered my proximity. Even that little movement made him wince, and I had to steel myself not to cry out at what Benjamin had done to him.

“You can’t hide from me, my love,” I said instead, praying to the goddess that my words reached him. “I see you, Matthew. And you will always be perfect in my eyes.”

His breath came out in a ragged gasp, his lungs unable to expand fully because of the pressure from broken ribs. With a herculean effort, Matthew cracked one eye open. It was filmed over with blood, the pupil shot wide and enormous from blood rage and trauma.

“It’s dark.” Matthew’s voice took on a frantic edge, as though he feared that the darkness signaled his death. “Why is it so dark?”

“It’s all right. Look.” I blew on my fingertip, and a blue-gold star appeared on the tip of my finger.

“See. This will light our way.”

It was a risk, and I knew it. He might not be able to see the small ball of fire, and then his panic would only increase. Matthew peered at my finger and flinched slightly as the light came into focus. His pupil tightened a tiny amount in response, which I took as a good sign.

His next breath was less ragged as his anxiety subsided.

“He needs blood,” Baldwin said, keeping his voice level and low. I tried to push my sleeve up without lowering my gleaming finger, which Matthew was staring at fixedly.

“Not yours,” Ysabeau said, stilling my efforts. “Mine.”

Matthew’s agitation rose again. It was like watching Jack struggle to rein in his emotions.

“Not here,” he said. “Not with Diana watching.”

“Not here,” Gallowglass agreed, giving my husband back some small measure of control.

“Let his brothers take care of him, Diana.” Baldwin lowered my hand.

And so I let Gallowglass, Fernando, Baldwin, and Hamish lace their arms together into a sling while Marcus held the iron spike in place.

“My blood is strong, Diana,” Ysabeau promised, gripping my hand tightly. “It will heal him.”

I nodded. But I had told Matthew the truth earlier: In my eyes he would always be perfect. His outward wounds didn’t matter to me. It was the wounds to his heart, mind, and soul that had me worried, for no amount of vampire blood could heal those.

“Love and time,” I murmured, as though trying to figure out the components of a spell, watching from a distance as the men settled an unconscious Matthew into the cargo hold of one of the cars that were waiting for us. “That’s what he needs.”

Janet came up and put a comforting hand on my shoulder.

“Matthew Clairmont is an ancient vampire,” she observed, “and he has you. So I’m thinking love and time will do the trick.”

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