millstone around their neck, some revel in it.” He tilted his head again, scrutinizing her, with that wicked glint in his eyes. “You fight it, don’t you? Like a little wildcat, I wager. Every little jab and comment just sharpens your claws.”

“I …” Farideh realized she was doing exactly what she had sworn not to do, and took hold of the book, crossing over to the shelves on the opposite side of the barn. So he was right-as he said, it wasn’t hard to guess. She slid the tome onto the shelf.

“Who could blame you?” the cambion went on. “Who wants to be held responsible for something they can’t control? Turned away because of something their foremothers and forefathers did to gain a little power?”

She was trying, but gods, he was prodding her in sore spots. “What do you know about my foremothers and forefathers?” she said. She kept her eyes on the spines of the books. “Maybe it was power that made them cross with devils, or maybe they didn’t have much choice. Maybe it was for some … greater good. Maybe it was love.”

The cambion broke into raucous laughter, and she felt herself flush.

“Ah! Is that what they tell you?”

“They … It just might have been that way, that’s all.” She looked back over her shoulder. “You weren’t there.”

A smile twisted the cambion’s lips, and Farideh blushed again. She’d been staring at his mouth. “Of course. All those mortal women swooning over gallant pit fiends. All those golden-hearted succubi blushing as men kiss their burning hands. My darling, let me tell you a secret: devils don’t love.”

Farideh looked at the door. Havilar would be back any minute, and with her, Mehen. Mehen would tell Havilar what a stupid thing it was to call a devil and make her send him back. Or maybe he’d just pull out his falchion and slice the cambion in half.

When she looked back, the devil had taken a few steps closer to her, still toeing the edge of the circle of runes. She was still a good eight feet away, but there was nothing between them, and she was very aware of those eight empty feet.

“You’re a half-devil,” she said. “So if it’s all about power, who wanted it there?”

His smile twitched, and for a moment she wondered if he had sore spots of his own. “Nobody. Least of all my father.”

“Is he the devil?”

“No, that would be my mother,” he said. “Invadiah, the fiercest erinyes of the Lady of Malbolge.” There was a sour note to the way he said it.

Farideh didn’t know what an erinyes was, but she suspected Criella would tell Mehen to keep a tighter rein on her if she did. Malbolge was the name of one of the Nine Hells. Her sense of dread deepened, though she pushed it aside. He was a devil-of course he came out of the Hells. He was still trapped in a circle Havilar made.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Farideh,” she said.

The cambion clucked his tongue. “Anyone ever tell you, Farideh, that there’s power in names?”

“You told me your mother’s name pretty easily,” she replied.

“True enough,” he said. “And I’ll even tell you mine, since I know you want to hear it. It’s Lorcan.”

“Well met,” she said, and instantly felt foolish.

“Better than you think,” he said. “We’re even now. You can see I’m not like the others.”

“What others?”

“Why, the ones who judge you,” he said, with a wide gesture at the world beyond. “The ones who wait for you to fail.”

“There’s no one like that here,” she said, even though that wasn’t true. Criella. The dairyman, the blacksmith’s apprentice, the tinkers, and others. They thought they were hiding it, but they watched her when they thought she wouldn’t notice, gauging her, waiting for her true nature to burst forth like a bud coming to poisonous bloom.

“So is that what this is?” Farideh said, hotly. “You’re going to try and convince me to … to … what? Kill my neighbors? Corrupt them? I’m not going to-”

“Heavens to Hells, you’re an excitable one,” Lorcan said. “How old are you? Sixteen?”


“All but grown,” he said. “Regardless, you’re smart enough to know better than to do something just because I said it, I’d wager. I would have had an easier time snatching up your sister if I were that sort of fiend. I’m only here to help.”

“I thought you were here because Havilar called you.”

“And I came,” he said, “because I wanted to help.”

“You can’t help me.”

“Oh? It doesn’t take a seer to work out how your life will go.”

Farideh shook her head again, as if she could stop listening to him. Leave, she told herself, leave now. She started toward the door.

“You’ll live in this village for all of your life,” Lorcan said, keeping pace with her along the border of the circle. “You’ll spend every day trying your hardest to be what they want, and you’ll never meet their expectations, because you were not made for this. You will always be their burden, the creature that turned up at the gates in swaddling.”

Farideh stopped. “How do you know that?”

He smiled. “Your sister told me. They love her, don’t they? But only so long as you keep after her, cleaning her messes and making sure no one realizes that she’s causing so much trouble.”

“Havi’s not trouble.”

“No,” Lorcan said, with a chuckle. “She’d never do something foolish like summoning a devil because she thought it would be fun.” Farideh bit her lip. “If you’re lucky you’ll succeed and she’ll be safe. If you aren’t-and darling, no one’s that lucky-one day you’ll slip, you’ll miss, and she’ll undo everything you’ve worked your entire life to protect. They’ll throw you out of this village and into the real world. She’ll never see it coming because Havilar believes that people are good and they’ll always love her and there’s nothing wrong with playing along the lines of their expectations. Whoever finds her first will take her head if she’s lucky. At least that way’s quick.”

As he spoke, Farideh saw the village, angry and afraid. A garrote, a chopping block, or an angry mob. Soldiers from somewhere else. Warrior-priests on horseback. Gods, it could come a thousand different ways. She’d heard it a thousand different ways from the villagers. Her blood would melt the snow …

“I wouldn’t let that happen,” she said. Tears choked her voice.

“Doesn’t matter,” Lorcan said. “It’s an unhallowed grave, unmourned and alone for the both of you. There’s no escaping that, no matter how perfect you are.”

There isn’t, Farideh thought-she’d always known that, hadn’t she? Hard as she tried to be good, no one trusted her.

“I can help you, you know,” Lorcan’s crooning voice slid through her worries. “Simple as it comes. No one will ever hurt you. No one will ever hurt her either.”

“No,” Farideh said, though her thoughts felt slippery and loose. She covered her eyes and ducked her head. “No. Go away.” Stay, she thought. Tell me.

“It’s a simple thing,” he said again. Lorcan set his hand, hot as an iron, on the bare spot between her shoulder blades, his fingers sliding just under the edge of her collar. “Not like what they tell you. Just say you’re mine. That’s all it takes.”

“No.” She couldn’t. It would be everything she wasn’t supposed to …

“You’ll have the power to do as you please. You’ll have the power to stop them. I’ll give you everything and all you have to do is take it. Take the power. Say you’re mine.”

“No,” she said, though her voice was growing fainter and her head was spinning. Why would she say no? She would be safe.

“No one touches a burning coal-and that’s what you’ll be, my darling, something so hot and bright and dangerous they dare not lay a hand on you. Someone tries to harm Havilar and you will stop them. Someone tries to

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