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Chapter 1
Gray Waters Lunatic Asylum, London Fall 1872
Whenever you have a sorcerer betwixt your thighs, your powers tend to disappear,' Sabine told her sister as she scanned the faces of the frenzied, caged humans. 'It's merely a fact of life. '
'Maybe in the past,' Lanthe said as she dropped the unconscious guard she'd been toting by his belt. 'Things are going to be different with this one. ' She busily tied the man's hands behind his back-instead of breaking his arms, which had the same result and didn't waste rope. 'You still haven't seen her?'
Her-the sorceress they came to release from this place-if she agreed to convey her powers to Lanthe in exchange for her freedom.
Sabine slinked down the darkened corridor. 'I can't tell when they huddle like this. ' She plucked a cell door off its hinges and tossed it away, her heels clicking as she entered the cage. Up close, she could tell the inhab­itants all looked very . . . mortal.
Naturally, they cowered from her. Sabine knew the exotic picture she presented with her garments and face paint.
As though she'd donned a mask, her eyes were kohled black in a swath from the sides of her nose to her temples.
Her clothes were constructed more of strips of leather and chain metal than of cloth and thread. She wore a metal bustier and mesh gloves that ran the length of her arms, ending in forged fingertip claws. Situated among her hair's riotous braids was her elaborate headdress.
Typical garb of the Sorceri females. In fact, if one's apparel didn't weigh more than the wearer, then one was underdressed.
By the time Sabine was exiting the next cell down, Lanthe had finished with the knots 'Any luck?'
Sabine tore free yet another cage door, peered at pale faces, then shook her head.
'Do I have time to check the smaller cells in the basement?' Lanthe asked.
'If we're back at the portal in twenty minutes we should be all right. ' Their portal back to their home of Rothkalina was a good ten minutes away through dank London streets.
Lanthe blew a jet-black plait from her forehead. 'Watch the guard and keep the freed inmates inside this hall quiet. '
Sabine's gaze flitted over the unconscious male sprawled on the squalid floor, and her lip curled in dis­gust. She could read the minds of humans, even when they were blacked out, and the contents of this one's were giving even Sabine pause.
'Very well. But hurry with the transfer,' Sabine said. 'Else we'll attract our foe. '
Lanthe's blue eyes gazed upward out of habit. 'They could be here at any second. ' She hastened to the stair­well once more.
Their lives had become a droning cycle: Steal a new power, flee enemies, have power stolen by a smooth-talking Sorceri male, steal a new power. . . . Sabine allowed it to continue.
Because she'd ruined Lanthe's innate ability.
When her sister was gone, Sabine muttered, 'Look after the guard. Very well. . . '
Lifting the man by his collar and belt, she tossed him in front of the exit doors. Some of the denizens grew wild at the violence, howling, pulling their hair. The ones who'd been eyeing the main exit scuttled back.
Shush the humans, easy enough. She sauntered to the guard and stepped up onto his back, opening her arms wide. 'Gather round, mad human persons. Gather! And I, a sorceress of dark and terrible powers, will reward you with a story. '
Some quieted out of seeming curiosity, some in shock. 'Hush now, mortals, and perhaps if you are good, quiet pets, I'll even show you a tale. ' The cries and yells she'd ignited were ebbing. 'So sit, sit. Yes, come sit before me. Closer. But not you-you smell like urine and porridge. You, there, sit. '
Once they'd all gathered before her, she crouched on the guard's back. She gave them a slow smile as she readied for her story, tugging up her skirt to fiddle with her garters, then adjusting her customary choker.
'Now, for this evening, you have two choices. You can hear the story of a mighty demon king with horns and eyes as black as obsidian. In ages past he was so honest and upstanding that he lost his crown to cun­ning evil. Or, we have the story of Sabine, an innocent young girl who was forever getting murdered. ' Who would one day be that demon's bride. . . .
'Th-the girl, please,' one resident whispered. His face was indistinguishable through the curtain of his matted hair.
'An excellent choice, Hirsute Mortal. ' In a dramatic voice, she began, 'Our tale features the intrepid hero­ine, Sabine, the Queen of Illusions-'
'Where's Illusions?' a young woman paused in gnaw­ing her own forearm to ask.
Excellent-these were going to be narrative inter­rupters. 'It's not a place. A 'queen' is someone who is better at a particular mystickal skill than anyone else. '
Sabine could cast chimeras that were indistinguish­able from reality, manipulating anything that could be seen, heard, or imagined. She could reach inside a being's mind and deliver scenes from their wildest dreams-or worst nightmares. No one was her equal.
'Now the ridiculously beautiful and clever Sabine had just turned twelve, and she adored her soon-to-grow light-skirted sister, Melanthe, aged nine. Sabine had loved little Lanthe with her whole heart since the first time the girl had cried for her Ai-bee' over their own mother. The two sisters were born of the Sorceri, a dwindling and forgotten race. Not very exciting story fodder, you might think. Compared to a vampire or even a Valkyrie,' she sniffed. 'Ah, but listen on and see . . . '
She raised her hand to weave an illusion, drawing from within herself and from her surroundings-the mad energy of the inmates, the lightning-strewn night beyond the asylum.
When she blew against her opened palm, a scene was projected onto the wall beside her. Gasps sounded, a few stray whimpers.
'The first time young Sabine died was on an eve much like this, in a decrepit structure that trembled from thunder. Only instead of a rat-infested asylum, it was an abbey, built into the peak of a mountain, high in the Alps. The dead of winter was upon the land. '
The next scene she cast showed Sabine and Lanthe hastening down a murky stairway in their nightgowns and coats. Even as they rushed, they hunched their heads at each new batting of wings outside. Lanthe silently cried.
'Sabine was filled with anger at herself for not listen­ing to her instinct and taking Melanthe away from their parents, from the danger they attracted with their for­bidden sorcery. But Sabine had been reluctant because the two girls-though born of immortals and both gifted with powers-were still children, which meant they could be killed and wounded as easily as mortals, their injuries as lasting. Yet now Sabine had no choice but to leave. She sensed her parents were already dead, and suspected the killers were loose somewhere in the shadowy abbey. The Vrekeners had come for them-'
'What's a Vrekener?'
Sabine inhaled deeply as she gazed at the ceiling. Mustn't murder audience, mustn't murder . . . 'Winged avengers of old, demonic angels,' she finally answered. 'A dwindling race as well. But since memory, in our lit­tle corner of the Lore, they had slaughtered evil Sorceri wherever they could find them, and had been hunting Sabine's family for all of her life. For no other reason than because her parents were indeed quite evil. '
With a flick of her hand, Sabine changed the scene, showing the two girls stumbling into their parents' room. By bolts of lightning flashing through soaring stained glass windows, they saw the bodies of their par­ents, curled together in sleep.
The headless bodies, freshly decapitated.
In the image, Sabine turned away and vomited. With a strangled scream, Lanthe collapsed.
Another illusion showed Vrekeners emerging from the shadows of the chamber, led by one who wielded a scythe with a blade forged not

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