Daylight gradually withdrew from the Lair’s decaying shell, sweeping out from the many rooms and passages, leaving darkness and the ever-present scent of death.
A deep silence fell upon the old house. Yawning broadly, Meng lay down to sleep, his matted blond head cradled upon his arm, and his blue eyes closing as he slowly slipped into slumber…
A sound rang out, echoing through the stillness of the house—the high trill of a song bird. A tone at once sublimely beautiful and terribly haunting. The demigod woke with a start.
Light had returned. A million tiny motes twinkled in the upper reaches of the room.
Staggering to his feet, Meng reached out, and as his fingers touched the nearest mote the particles began to swirl. Bewildered, the demigod watched as the swirling light coalesced, forming the shape of a small, radiant white bird, hovering in the dark air above him.
The ephemeral bird called out once before soaring down.
Its tiny claws alighted on Meng’s hand. The demigod stumbled, as he remembered…
...A door closes in an emerald green room. A woman softly croons. Her long white-gold hair hangs down, tickling his face. Her blue eyes are warm and loving. Her breasts are ripe and full. His teeth sink into the flesh of her nipple and his mouth fills with her milky goodness…
Meng whimpered as the memories flooded through him.
The booted feet thud upon the cold white stone... Blood of the White men upon his lips, and the overwhelming light... Then the brittle vines break, and they tumble from the warm nest and into the world below. A world in which they do not belong...
With lucent wings outstretched the bird rose into the air.
It called out a final time, a pure and perfect note, then the bird exploded in a blaze of light, luminous motes of sparkling rain showering the demigod, burning his face, stinging his eyes, blinding him.
Meng sank to his knees. As his vision slowly returned, he saw the last of the glowing motes falling to the floor, winking out one by one. In that strange transient luminance he looked around him as if for the first time, seeing the corpses, the filth strewn floor, the bleached white bones and bloodied remains…
The inn’s patrons made their unsteady way into the greyness of the new day, staggering, shuffling, pale and hollow eyed, some bent double, others stopping to retch upon the threshold.
Lilith watched them go with a thoughtful air, taking note to adjust the ratio of ingredients next time she had need of the powder.
She turned her attention back to the stable boy as he saddled up her horse: a fiery black stallion—no doubt not considered the traditional ladies mount—but tradition be damned. The imp appeared to be happy with his form for once, for the ‘stallion’ was snorting and pawing his hoof, clearly eager to be off.
Lilith regarded it with narrowed eyes, but her silent warning was ignored. There was a risk in giving the imp such a strong body, but need demanded. She resolved to be ready for the battle ahead. She tipped the stableboy a copper coin but waved off his attempts to fawn. She gave a final, sharp tug on the girth, and adjusted it accordingly, as the stallion let out his breath. The imp turned its head to watch her, the expression in its eye making Lilith pause for thought.
‘Boy. Bring me a whip.’ Lilith smiled smugly as she saw the imp-stallion flinch. It paid to keep one step ahead.
The stableboy returned a moment later and handed Lilith a long, black ridding crop. He backed away, his expression admiring as he watched Lilith climb astride the side-saddle and arrange her full red skirts. Lilith flipped him another copper for his troubles and the boy hurried to retrieve it.
‘Papnor Vnchi,’ she quietly intoned. ‘Ipuran.’
Climbing to his feet again, the stableboy looked around him in a vague, puzzled way. He glanced at the coin in his hand, frowned, pocketed it, then headed off into the back of the stables, whistling as he went.
Lilith rode out into the courtyard. Stragglers were still leaving the inn, but there had been no sign of the Anghard heir and his party. She watched as another patron walked out the door, this one looking strangely none the worse for the night’s adventure, his footfall sure and his stride bold. He wore a cloak of rough fur. A blanket and a full pack were slung over his shoulder.
The man stopped, and turned to look at her.
As Lilith cried out in surprise and struggled to compose herself, the imp stallion took advantage of her brief loss of control, rearing up and tugging on the reins to free its head.
Bringing the crop down hard upon the creature’s flank, Lilith fought it, mouthing curses as she did. When she had finally mastered her familiar, she looked up to see that the minstrel had gone. She swore heatedly. The minstrel had clearly seen her, despite her spell of cloaking.
Morgan’s arrival here could be no coincidence. Lilith couldn’t remember seeing him in the inn last night. When had he arrived? How much did he know, or guess, of her plans? And most importantly, had he managed to convey his suspicions to the Prince?
The possibility that Morgan might hinder her sorely vexed Lilith. She hadn’t forgotten that he had refused to aid her in the past, nor his endless moralising…