Carrow was still shaking from her earlier encounter with Malkom when they dragged him by, half-dead, hours later. The whites of his eyes were fully red. Blood streamed from his nose, ears, and mouth.
What had they done to him? Her tears welled once more.
He thrashed to get free, to reach her cell. His voice a weak rasp, he said, "Bound forever, wife? Is this what you wanted me for?"
Though he resisted, the guards subdued him more easily, hauling him away, back to his own cell.
As soon as they were out of sight, Ember said, "Wife? The witch is hitched!"
Naturally, Ruby had peeked out, witnessing the exchange. "Who was that?"
Ember delighted in answering, "He's your new stepdad. Or rather, your stepdemon."
Portia cried, "Felicitations!"
"Carrow?" Lanthe slanted her an arch look. "Surely you didn't ..."
Ember laughed. "Yes, do deny it, witch."
"It was one of those demon proclaiming ceremonies," Carrow hedged.
Lanthe relaxed. "So it doesn't count."
Again, Carrow recalled Malkom's expression the first time he'd called her "wife." He'd gazed down at her with such pride, as if he'd carried a treasure. ... "It counts," she said. "I don't deny it - or him." Even if Malkom was lost to her.
Ruby frowned with confusion.
Ember snickered, and a haze fell over Carrow's vision.
Malkom's torture, and Regin's as well, these last days of misery, imprisonment with these evil bitches ... all too much to take. With a strangled yell, Carrow launched herself at Ember, clocking her in the nose.
Blood spurted, but Ember rebounded, screaming thickly as she delivered a blow to the side of Carrow's head. Her ear sang. Damn, that sorceress was fast.
"Stop this, witch!" Lanthe snapped.
Too late. Carrow had already jabbed her fist against Ember's throat; at the same time, the sorceress popped Carrow in the mouth, splitting her lip.
"Portia, do something!" Lanthe said. "They're going to gas us."
"Stop!" Ruby suddenly cried. "Something's coming."
Lanthe grabbed Carrow, yanking her back. As Portia dragged Ember away, her gaze darted all around them, even above them. "The child is right. Evil flies to us on a foul wind."
"Evil flies to us?" Carrow dabbed the back of her hand over her bleeding lip. "Really? And on a foul wind, no less!"
"There's a malevolence nearing us, witch," Portia said. "You can't feel its fury? Your girl did."
Carrow did feel it then. The air around them was thrumming. But from what?
Down the corridor, the ghouls wailed their uneasiness. Gnomes hissed, and a centaur's hoofs clacked against the stone floor.
An outraged bellow sounded. Chase's? He was probably furious that Regin hadn't been destroyed completely.
Outside the storm grew fierce, rain pounding the roof and even the walls.
Ember wiped her nose, muttering, "I hate rain." She would.
Lanthe glanced from Carrow to Ruby. "Just in case ... get ready to run."
Carrow helped Ruby put on her boots, then hastily donned her own.
The lights flickered, the feel of power ratcheting up a notch.
"RIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG!" some being shrieked.
Icy fear slithered up Carrow's spine. "What the hell is it?"
Lanthe mouthed, "Don't know."
The lights wavered once more, then failed altogether. No backup electricity fired. No emergency lights alleviated the pitch-darkness.
The facility was completely without power. Which meant no gas would disburse to sedate the prisoners?
Carrow jumped when more screams sounded.
"I hear others of our kind," Lanthe said. "Some of them have their sorcery back."
"Then why aren't they escaping?" Carrow asked.
"None would have the ability to break the glass yet, even without a tor"ue," Portia said. "Unlike Ember and me. I've already felt a lovely granite monolith deep in the earth directly beneath us. I'll raise it, rupturing this facility from the inside out. Anything I can't break, Ember will burn."
Lanthe said, "Carrow, hold on to Ruby. Tight."
"Got her." She swooped the girl into her arms.
"RIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG!" Whatever it was neared them.
Whispers sounded among the inmates, two words repeated: "La Dorada."
When even the two evil Sorceri looked unsettled, Carrow asked, "Who's La Dorada?"
Lanthe answered, "A sorceress, the "ueen of Golds - and of ... Evil."
Which meant she could manipulate evil better than anyone.
"She walks in apocalypse," Ember said. "I hadn't thought it'd be this soon."
"I have nothing to wear," Portia "uipped, but Carrow thought it was to cover her anxiety.
Two Sorceri "ueens with their extraordinary powers feared this La Dorada?
Whispers sounded once more, another name added now. "Lothaire ..."
Lanthe said, "I think she might be here for the vampire."
For Lothaire, the Enemy of Old?
Portia said, "Before we were captured, we heard he'd stolen her ring, waking her."
"Bet he's regretting it now," Ember said. Then she frowned. "But if he had her ring, then how could he have been taken by the mortals? It's the Ring of - "
Portia slapped her hand over Ember's mouth. "She's coming down the corridor, drawing near."
Moments later, La Dorada limped past their cell. She had a human form, looking like a rotting, mummified corpse brought to life - and soaked in water? Putrid gauze swathed most of her sopping body and trailed behind her. Her face appeared eaten away, and she was missing an eye.
An incongruous gold breastplate covered her chest and a crown sat atop her misshapen head. The "ueen of Golds.
Wendigos flanked her, their fangs dripping. They seemed to be commanded by her.
Not them. Wendigos were "uick, flesh-eating zombies with long, dagger-like claws and emaciated bodies that belied their strength. The only things Carrow feared worse than ghouls were the Wendigos. Both were contagious - a single Wendigo scratch could transform even a Lorean into their kind - but whereas ghouls were nearly mindless, Wendigos were cunning.
With each step, gold flakes and pus seeped from La Dorada's body. The trailing gauze swished from side to side over the stone floor, sounding like a soaked mop.
Carrow didn't know which was more harrowing, La Dorada or the Wendigos who clearly served her.
"RIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG!" she shrieked once more.
"You want your ring?" Lothaire's deep voice sounded. "Then come and get it, you bitch!"
As La Dorada crept past, Portia's tor"ue dropped from her neck. Ember's as well. Carrow gazed into nearby cells in disbelief. Every being in the Pravus was losing its tor"ue. "What's happening, Lanthe?"
"She empowers evil, manipulates it. And those tor"ues limited the evil immortals could do."
Just like Ruby and Carrow, Lanthe retained her collar.
Portia already had her glowing palms raised, her face sinister as she controlled some unseen mountain of rock.
The floor vibrated beneath them. Just outside their cell, the ground fissured around a burgeoning stone mass.
Ember, too, prepared to unleash her power. Her eyes were alight, her irises swirling, moving like flames. Fire danced above her palms. When she blasted the glass with heat, Carrow dove for the floor, covering Ruby with her body.
The glass exploded, shards raining over them.
"Ember, damn you!"
Under the unimaginable pressure of Portia's rising rock, the steel divider walls began to crumple. The facility's entire structure shifted, more glass shattering as supports buckled.
More immortals freed...
"Crow, what's happening?" Ruby whimpered beneath her.
"Here, get to your feet." How much longer until the roof collapsed? "We might have to run for it."
When shouting guards advanced, tossing canisters of gas into their cell, Ember emitted streams of fire, popping the cans back at them.
Portia tilted her head at the men. "These mortals need to get stoned." She waved her hand, and a cement chunk from the floor went hurtling at one of them. Carrow covered Ruby's eyes just as it connected with the force of a rocket. The man's head exploded like a watermelon.
Ember said, "Portia, stop showing off! We have business to attend to." She turned to Carrow. "First off, witch, you're going to pay for striking me."
"If you hurt her," Ruby said with her eyes shimmering, "I'll hurt you worse." Carrow jerked Ruby back behind her.
Why was Ember hesitating? She could burn them all to ashes.
"Leave them," Portia said. "The skirmishes are moving outside, and I'm not attending without my mask and claws. We search for them now."
Ember shot Carrow a look of promised pain, then snapped her fingers at Lanthe. "Come."
When Lanthe remained at Carrow's side, Portia glared over her shoulder. "Melanthe, you traitor. May you rot in heaven." She gazed down the corridor. "With your angel. He'll be coming for you."
Once they'd disappeared, Lanthe said, "There went any power we might have hidden behind. And they're right. Thronos will come after me. As will your, er, spouse, once he recovers enough."
Ruby's eyes darted. "I'm scared, Crow."
Carrow lifted the girl back up in her arms. "I know, but I'm not going to let anything happen to you." When Ruby sniffled, Carrow held her gaze. "Look at me. I will get you out of here - I swear it."
Pandemonium reigned in the ward. Ember's flames burned everywhere as she released her trapped Pravus allies. Male immortals carted off flailing females.
Mere feet away, Uilleam the Lykae attacked four of the guards. Though he still wore his tor"ue and couldn't fully turn werewolf, he easily ended the four, biting free one's throat while slashing the others'.
Volos, the leader of the centaurs, trampled anyone in his path, leaving behind pulped corpses. Succubae dragged down mortal guards, raping them in a frenzy. Carrow kept a hand over Ruby's eyes, but their moans rang out as they fed for the first time in weeks.
Lanthe said, "You know, as soon as we step out of this cell, we're in the shit."
"If we can get your tor"ue off, could you do another portal?"
Lanthe had told her she needed to recharge every time she created one. Her expression lit up. "We could walk right out of this place."
"Then we've got to find Fegley." And his thumb. "I think I know where he might be." When the warden had carried Ruby in all those nights ago, he'd entered from a side chamber attached to Chase's office. He could be hidden there now.
"You ready?" Carrow asked.
Lanthe nodded, and they eased out into the maelstrom.
"I told you we'd escape soon," Lothaire grated.
When the building began to shift, Malkom somehow made it to a sitting position, his body in agony. Chase had been right; Malkom had learned much about pain. But he'd endured Chase's tortures, laughing up at him with bloody fangs.
"One way or another, this ends tonight," the vampire said. Whatever being had invaded this place was after the Enemy of Old. In turn, the vampire was pacing, ready for battle - and taunting the being. "I am ready to have done, Dorada! Face me, crone!"
Malkom staggered to his feet as the ground "uaked beneath him. The metal walls began to warp. The glass of his cell couldn't take much more of this pressure. Escape is nigh. He was already envisioning all the ways he'd punish the witch -
His collar abruptly dropped to the ground.
He gazed up. A female of great power was passing his cell. She looked like a walking corpse, surrounded by a pack of Wendigos. She's rid me of the collar?
Without warning, another female, a dark-haired sorceress, appeared outside his cell, raising her flaming palms at him. What the hell -
She shot fire at the glass, shattering it to free him. Before she disappeared with a speed approaching his own, she said, "Go find your wife, demon."
"I - will."
Finally, Malkom would have his revenge on Carrow Graie. One foot in front of the other, half-crazed from his torture, he limped outside.
Chaos. The heat from the fires singed his skin. The groan of twisting metal rang in his ears.
The moaning succubae mating with abandon and the bloody clashes only increased Malkom's madness.
At the sound of a deep bellow, he swung his head back toward the vampire's cell. Directly outside, that dead female stood, commanding her Wendigos to launch themselves at Lothaire. Her grisly face was creased into a smile.
The Enemy of Old was somehow defending himself, tossing the rabid creatures out of his cell again and again. But Lothaire fought a losing battle. "Slaine?" he bit out. "A hand here."
The female swung her head at Malkom, her sole eye riveted to his face. "RIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG?"
Malkom shook his head slowly, then turned toward the witch's cell, calling over his shoulder, "Where's your allegiance now, vampire?"