The hall echoed with the daemon’s gorging. They stuffed pieces of flesh and bone between twisted lips, barely pausing to grunt for more. The Keep’s survivors huddled along one wall, buried their heads into each other to keep from seeing the carnage.
Koren held a trembling child in her arms. He was so terrified he couldn’t even cry. He buried his head in her breast and wrapped his arms around her so tightly she could barely breathe. She stroked his hair and whimpered nonsense words that were supposed to comfort but sounded hollow, even to her. A part of her longed for the warm protection of the suit. She buried that thought deep within and replaced it with purpose. Her eyes scanned the hall beneath lowered lashes for the mastermind of this devastation.
From the doorway beside the fire came a hooded figure. He strode to the wall, inspecting the prisoners. Now and then, he stopped and assured muffled orders to the closest daemon. Koren dropped her eyes to the floor when he came closer.
He paused for a long moment in front of her.
A flick of his finger told the daemon following him to pry the child from her and toss him to another woman. His own hand encircled her wrist and yanked her to her feet.
“Stay with me,” was all he said as he turned to finish his inspection. At the end of the hall, he exited through the door behind the High Table. He led her through the castled to the tall central tower. Waving his hands before the wooden doors at the top made them slowly open. The room beyond had previously housed the King and Queen.
He turned to her and removed a glittering something from the folds of his clothes. He knelt and wrapped it carefully around one of her ankles, his lips moved as he whispered what could only be an incantation. He stood and gazed into her eyes, this chain will tell us everywhere you go, if you are eventually allowed out of these rooms.
He pushed her roughly into the room. She “lost” her balance and fell to her knees.
“Do not damage her,” a voice boomed.
Koren lifted her eyes slowly from the floor. Darkness beat at the windows in the room, the only light seeped from the fire far to her left. The voice came from above and in front of her. Her eyes fell upon black boots, trousers and shirt to the beautiful man towering above her. His hair matched the black of his clothes. His eyes, blue, reminded her slightly of the Prince. He was thinner than the robust royal though just as tall.
He glanced to the cloaked man still behind her. “She is the most beautiful?”
“It would seem, of those who are left.”
“She’ll do then.” He nodded and the cloaked man left.
He strode forward and opened his arms in a gesture of welcome. Between his hands, magic cracked and rushed forward to engulf her. It stole into every part of her, searching…. She filled her mind with fear and grief and a certain amount of awe.
Satisfied, his fingers twitched and the power gentled to a guiding force that picked her up and stood her on her feet. He took her hand and led her to the window.
They stood staring at the stars in silence. She felt his hand run though her hair and move it aside. His fingers clasped the back of her neck and a surge of fire burned her bare skin. “This is my mark. Those who follow me will not harm you. I, however, will deliver any punishment necessary.” He led her to his vacated chair and allowed her to sit.
“You are no doubt wondering why all this bloodshed.” He smiled down at her. “The answer is simple,” he caressed her cheek lightly, “because I can.”
“It seems the Prince has eluded me. You wouldn’t know where he has hidden himself and that petty magician, would you?”
“No one knows every secret to this fortress, my lord.” Her voice trembled with just the right amount of fear.
“Ah, no matter. I know he is within the Keep. If I do not find him, he will merely starve. Meanwhile, you are here for my amusement. I hope Justin chose you for more than a pretty face. You have some intelligence, I pray.”
“I’ve read, my lord, and have many…feminine skills.”