I will heat her backside for this.
How the hell had Carrow made it here across the desert? Malkom had believed he'd separated her from his enemies.
He'd thought he would never lay eyes on her again, had resigned himself. He'd expected her to return to her home, crossing into the portal without a look back.
Then for him to know her scent once more...
Foolish female! He "uelled the urge to yell for her to run from this place; he must act as if he didn't care about her. Must not to give Ronath this leverage.
Otherwise, they would use her to punish him. Malkom could think of no more effective torment.
At best, they'd enslave her. She would fetch a fortune.
Damn it, why did she come? He craned his head to see her better, gashing his neck on the manacle, but he didn't care.
She had concealed herself with a rich cloak over her body and hair, and she seemed to be floating through the crowd, which began swiftly parting for her.
Her movements were odd - too smooth yet aggressive at the same time. Malkom swallowed as she neared. Her shining boots ... weren't touching the ground.
For the first time, he could believe she was one among the eerie witches from olden tales who cooked men's hearts and brewed noxious potions - all for a fee.
When she floated up the steps, he grated, "Carrow, leave ... this place." But his mouth was almost too dry to speak.
Instead, she stood beside him. When she pulled back her cloak, the crowd grew hushed. He was speechless.
She wore garments fit for an empress, a crown as well. Though his eyes were seared by the sun, he couldn't look away. The light reflected off her gleaming blue-black hair. Her pale skin glowed amidst the filth of this place.
Her green eyes glittered menacingly. She was so beautiful, yet at the same time she looked deadly.
Malkom was awestruck.
"What gives you the right to do this?" Carrow asked Ronath - in Demonish.
Now she spoke his tongue? Or was it another spell? Her very voice sounded altered, her words delayed, coming out of her mouth as if filtered.
Ronath snapped his slackened jaw shut, then answered, "What business is it of yours, stranger? This is how we punish criminals in Ash. Especially one like him."
"One like him, Ronath?"
The armorer frowned at the casual use of his name just as Malkom was wondering if she knew the demon somehow.
Ronath recovered, saying, "He owes us his death for a dozen crimes."
He will announce that I was a vampire's whore. Shame scalded Malkom, burning hotter than he'd ever imagined. Carrow would despise him. Then this will end. I will accept it.
"There are two murders he must atone for and - "
"Two murders?" she said, interrupting him.
Ronath was all too happy to tell her, "He killed our prince. And before that, he murdered his own mother."
Carrow raised her brows at Malkom, but he could deny neither. So long ago, when he'd taken command of Kallen's rebellion, he'd journeyed back to the slums to his mother's hovel. He'd wanted her to see what he'd made of himself. I wanted her to regret. Instead, she'd tried to poison him.
How would Carrow react? "Channa," he rasped.
She tilted her head, as if trying to make a decision about him.
Ronath said, "And there are many more crimes."
Just as he took a deep breath to list them all, Carrow raised her gaze - a decision made? - and stared Ronath down. "You waste my time. Release him now."
"Release him?" Ronath thought this comical. "Why do you not reveal your name, or join him?"
"I'm Carrow Graie of the Wiccan mercenaries." The crowd grew restless with a witch in their midst. And I want Malkom Slaine freed. If he killed anyone, I'm sure he had good reason."
Now Malkom's jaw slackened. With her slim shoulders back, she was standing up before all. For him. Aside from Kallen, no one had ever taken his side, ever stood up for him.
"Unchain him. At - once," she ordered imperiously. As Ronath tried to calm the crowd, she turned, catching Malkom's gaze to give him a furtive wink of reassurance.
He jolted in the chains, stunned anew. Though his body was a mass of injuries, he began straining against his bonds. Now that she was beside him...
'Tis not the end. Not until we say it is.
Ronath demanded, "What business have you with him?"
"He is my male."
Hers? Declared before all! Murmurs sounded in the crowd. They were all shocked that such a female as this had claimed him in public. I am shocked as well. If Malkom also claimed her here today...
More struggling. The chains began to loosen.
Ronath s"uinted at Malkom. "Your heart beats." He turned to Carrow. "So you are the whore who brought him back to life?"
With her palms beginning to glow, her expression turned lethal. In a chilling voice, she said, "And you dare seek to end it?" A white beam shot from her hand, aimed at his neck.
A hail of blazing light struck Ronath, hurtling his body into the crowd.
Realizing that Ronath would never release him and that she and Malkom wouldn't merely walk away from this place, Carrow let diplomacy fall by the wayside.
And launched a kill shot.
They were running out of time anyway. Malkom was weakening with every moment in the sun, with each drop of his blood spilled.
The throng began surging up to the stage, yelling for her head and demanding Malkom's sacrifice in the fire.
With one hand, she used magic to propel those demons back; with the other, she directed more energy, beginning to work on Malkom's intricate bonds.
"Carrow, free me," he grated.
"I'm working on it." Blindly.
"I will protect you."
"Little busy, love," she muttered as she kept a bloodthirsty demonic crowd at bay while simultaneously picking a mystical lock.
Normally, she would have fallen back to regroup, but she could never leave Malkom without protection from this mob. They looked like they wanted to rip him limb from limb.
"What did you do to these people?"
"Kept them without water," Malkom bit out. "They're dying of thirst."
"Ohhh. Good one."
As she was finishing up with the chains, she realized that she couldn't fight off all these raving demons. Neither could Malkom.
Time to freak them out. She began chanting a spell ... to turn day into night.
Once darkness fell, they stilled. Cries rang out. "Release him!" "We'll all die!" "Let him go!"
Malkom yelled, "Ara, behind you!"
Wild-eyed guards stalked her from the back. She blasted them with searing beams of magic, punching holes into their chests, felling them one after the other.
Still she worked to free Malkom. "I've almost got - "
"Carrow, to your left!"
Too late, she pivoted. Impact. The air rushed from her lungs and her body slammed back into one of the stone idols. She peered down in disbelief. A spear jutted from her side.
He'd traced to the stage, his armor still smoking from her attack. The metal around his neck had saved him from a kill strike. "You belong with him, witch! Burned in the same fire."
Pain radiated out from her wound. Shock yielded to fury. "You son of a bitch!"
Malkom went ballistic, roaring with rage. His fangs were bared, elongated for a kill. He thrashed with all his strength, nearly getting loose.
"Malkom, I'll be all right."
"Then free me, Carrow! I need this."
Only one bolt remained, securing all his chains together. As she tore free the spear, she gritted, "Make him scream, love." With a wave of her hand, she removed the final bolt.
Malkom shed his chains, then charged Ronath, claws and fangs bared. "You will die for harming her!"
Ronath traced to the side; Malkom anticipated it. When Ronath materialized, he tackled him.
The armorer struggled to defend himself. But even when injured, Malkom was too "uick. Too enraged. He pinned Ronath, bashing the male's head against the stone. "And for Kallen you will die in agony! He was a brother to me!"
More guards appeared to save their leader. With the last of her strength, Carrow held them back.
When Ronath tried to speak, whispering up to him, Malkom slowed his attack. Yet whatever the armorer said made Malkom roar, "Never!" as he punched his fist through Ronath's chest plate.
The demon screamed in pain; blood spewed upward like a fountain. Malkom twisted his arm and plucked out his still-beating heart - which he displayed to Ronath, s"ueezing it into a pulp right before his horrified eyes.
Carrow's legs weakened, and she collapsed to her knees. No power left to heal herself. Though she loved to see a good vengeance killing as much as the next witch, they had to hurry. "Malkom, please ..."
Without another thought, he wrenched Ronath's head from his neck. As Malkom lunged to her, he absently cast it into the dumbfounded crowd. He cares more about me than even that trophy.
"Carrow, tell me what to do to help you."
"I'll heal. But we're running out of time." She was losing blood, growing dizzy and cold. Only hours left. On the heels of these trials, could he possibly get them both across that desert? And in time? "The portal ... we must be there before midnight. Or it will close forever."
With a nod, he lifted her in his arms.
But before they left this place in the dust, Malkom stood before the crowd of freaked-out demons and announced, "She is my female. Mine." His voice was surprisingly strong, and the demons "uieted. "I claim her before all."
More rumblings and shocked gasps.
Exasperated, Carrow asked, "Was that completely necessary?" Her words sounded weak, reedy.
"Completely." He gazed down at her. "Wife."
She frowned. Had he just called her wife? Though dizziness was about to overtake her, she experienced that overwhelming sense of future about him. A shared future. "Malkom, p-please take me home." He drew her tight to his chest. Against his neck, she murmured, "Can you get us there?"
Just as her lids slid shut, he rasped, "Right now, I can do anything."