"You know, I think I can place a tracer on this," Kaldill grinned. "It was difficult with the other, since he changes bodies so often. I had to rework the spell every three days, using the essence signature. I won't have to do that with this malady, it will give off a vibration peculiar to the sufferers."
"How long?" Lendill was almost breathless in anticipation.
"Two-three days. After that, I can track them even if they're folding from one spot to another."
"I know where Zellar will strike next." Willem had come to Lissa. "The Ra'Ak don't go with him when he gathers his victims, but he knows they'll track him if he doesn't return quickly. Lendill is correct in that he's trying to gather several and then use what power he has left to scatter them, after placing something of himself with each one. What we have to do is give him a surprise when he lands in the next spot, so he'll run back to the Ra'Ak for protection. Then, Reah and the others can be waiting."
"But I thought you weren't allowed to say things like that." Lissa blinked at Willem in surprise.
"Kaldill knows my talents. He gave permission." Willem was smiling. "Be ready tomorrow afternoon, around second bell. I will take you where you need to be."
"You got it," Lissa nodded.
"Is everybody ready?" I looked up at Norian-he was running the command center himself while the rest of us geared up for battle. Drake, Drew and Dragon were coming with us and Teeg stood at my side, a Ranos rifle slung over his shoulder as if he were used to it. My rifle was in my hand and I was checking the charge.
Gardevik had come, with Em-pah Denevik and two other High Demon males. Rylend was also there, and he gave me a heart-stopping smile from across the room. Farzi and Nenzi hadn't been willing to stay behind-they were coming as lion snakes. Lendill had asked them to bite anything that still appeared human and they'd readily agreed. Astralan and his brothers had offered to come, but Teeg asked them to stay behind with Dee, in case something happened. Dee would carry on with the newly-formed Alliance if anything happened to Teeg. I was determined that nothing would happen.
We were waiting for mindspeech from Lissa-she and Willem had some errand of their own. They'd been secretive about it; we only knew that when the signal came, we would know the right time to go. Kaldill Schaff was better than any bloodhound, I learned. He'd gotten the information for us, just as promised. Our quarry had folded to Lidrith, barely a click before Lendill had gathered all of us together. I figured that Lissa and Willem meant to interrupt Zellar in his kidnapping efforts, chasing him back to the Ra'Ak for protection. That would put them all together in a knot. Now, all we had to do was catch them in those bare blinks before they folded to another location. No problem.
Zellar, in a twenty-year-old body, stood beneath the awning at the train station on Lidrith. Since the pirates had taken over, Lidrithi went to work as before, for little or no pay. They were rationed food and utilities. Zellar saw them as rats, continuously searching through a maze for small rewards in the form of food and housing. Zellar had long ago lost anything closely resembling a conscience, not even blinking when he saw children waiting to take the train to work alongside their parents. The ones he took might even think it a blessing when their sorry lives ended abruptly.
"Zellar?" A woman stood beside him, smiling. And were those? Zellar stared at the Queen of Le-Ath Veronis, her lengthy claws extended, one lethal nail sliding beneath his chin. Zellar gulped in fear and screamed as he folded away.
Now! Lissa shouted in mindspeech.
Pandemonium. Perhaps there's a better word to describe what happened when we hit the ground inside a cavernous grotto hidden inside a mountain on Lidrith's northernmost continent, but I couldn't dredge it up in my mind, I was too focused on what we had to do. Dragon, Drake and Drew became dragons immediately, doing battle with three of the four Ra'Ak. Garde, Denevik and the other High Demons had turned and were chasing the fourth.
I wasn't sure what was keeping any of them from folding away, until I saw Lissa and Ry. Somehow, between the two of them, they'd shielded the entire cave. The enemy couldn't escape. That made me smile.
It was easy enough to see that Zellar had done a soul-shift with all the humanoids inside the cave, and Farzi and Nenzi were whipping about, biting as many of those thirty humans as they could. Lendill and Teeg were shooting with deadly aim, killing what got away from the reptanoids. But Zellar? He was wrapped inside a spell that he thought to stay safely hidden inside. He'd tapped Lidrith's core shortly before he'd gone hunting more victims, and employed that vast power to hide himself while his Ra'Ak captors died. Did he think his spell would keep him from my sight? I pulled the knife from the sheath clipped in my waistband and made my way carefully toward the other side of the cave.
Three Ra'Ak dusted while I edged around the others, avoiding Ranos shots and humanoids dying of lion snake poison. One man dropped at my feet and stared helplessly up at me as he quivered and died on the dusty cave floor. I felt a brief moment of pity for him, but he was dead anyway-Zellar's soul-shifting had seen to that. This was a quicker and more merciful death-lion snake poison paralyzes everything. You feel no pain at the last.
I stopped not far from Zellar, who was invisible to all except perhaps Lissa and me-the other High Demons were attempting to help three dragons wrestle the last Ra'Ak. Zellar had been hiding for a very long time, and now that I'd stopped moving, seemingly embroiled in watching the last Ra'Ak fight off the others, he turned his attention to that as well.
He never saw me change. My smaller Thifilatha would do just fine for this. Faster than Zellar could see, my arm snaked out and grasped him by the throat. I held back the ability to burn him-I wanted to watch his eyes as he died. Zellar gurgled and struggled in my grip, even as the last Ra'Ak died behind me, some of his chunks pounding me in the back. I barely felt it. Here was the one I wanted. The one Teeg had been sure he'd gotten before. I knew it was Zellar, and he knew that I knew.
"Shall I do this, daughter?" Kifirin had come from somewhere, and he glared at my prisoner, who was still struggling in my hand. I held him tight enough that he couldn't escape, but not so tight that he'd die. At least not yet. The others, their work finished, gathered around us.
"No, Father, I will do this," I said. Zellar whined, poised to beg for mercy when I drew my knife across his throat, relieving him of his head.
"I was asked to deliver this to you, my King." Corolan settled the box on Wylend's desk.
"Do you know what it is?"
"You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"It's better if you discover it for yourself."
Wylend used power to open the box, folding the top and sides down, much as a flower might open to the sun. Inside was the perfectly preserved head of a young man. Stuffed in the mouth was a note. Cautiously Wylend removed the note and opened it to read.
Wylend Giraldus Arden, King of Karathia, I give you the final head of Zellar the warlock, to keep with his first inside your treasury. I hope you find it a comfort as you rule Karathia. I would also like to take this opportunity to renounce the citizenship you gave back to me. I have no further need of it-Reah Desh Nilvas Silver Montegue.
Kifirin sat on the edge of Baetrah, satisfied that few bothered to come to the volcano nowadays unless it was a High Demon, prepared to end his life. Only a few female High Demons remained, and those few were watched carefully, not just by their mates, but by the race as a whole. If those females were lost, there truly would be no future for the race.
He worried, too, about a long-dead race that had somehow resurfaced. The race looked to be subtly influencing events, much as it had in the past before it was destroyed. As it was a dark race, his promise not to interfere hampered him. Rumblings of anomalies in the GodRealm had also come to him, but nothing overt had come to light.
Rumors of an old, outlawed practice had also come to his ears, but he couldn't imagine why any of the powerful might employ a mindcloud. There were other ways to influence things, and if the one or ones placing the mindcloud were too obvious in their efforts, retribution would surely come swiftly. He held not the power to do anything about it, anyway. Kifirin had to shove those thoughts aside and focus on a more pressing issue instead.
A curl of smoke was coaxed away from his nostrils by a gentle surge of heat from the volcano below. He'd made a promise to Jaydevik, to save the High Demon race. At the time, he was depending upon a promise made to him by the one who'd created him in the beginning. Reah represented that promise, and he'd made plans around her after she appeared-plans that included her High Demon mate, Torevik Rath.
Reah's and Tory's relationship had fractured, due to unforeseen influences and events. Kifirin had pushed his rule of noninterference to the limit in the past, and now faced that dilemma again. It would involve isolating Reah, and that would bring her more pain. Kifirin closed his eyes, regretful of the path her life would take.
"I must," he spoke absently to himself. Rising, his shook his Thifilathi and unfurled black wings that might encompass the Dark Realm.
"What might I do about any of this? I have never had direct dealings with any of the created races," Hanlekidus Frebell, a member of the Koh'Ahmari and only lesser in power than the One and the Three, stared at the Shining Messenger before him.
"Then it is time you made your acquaintance. Your help will be required in the future; therefore, I suggest you travel back in time to become familiar with them-dark and light. We have an assignment for you, and we know you may be trusted."
"This is not my desire," Hanlekidus pointed out.
"Yet you will have great reward, should you do as we bid."
"I will do this because you ask, and not for any reward."
"We know this about you. That is why the reward will be great indeed, should you accomplish these things for us."