deny you what you truly deserve, you will show them their folly. Anyone comes to this village, looking for anyone who doesn’t want to be found …” He trailed off.

She could not open her eyes now. “Yes?”

“You will be their savior,” he whispered in her ear. “Tell me you don’t want that?”

“I …” Farideh faltered. “I do.”

“Free. Free to do as you please. Free to find whatever life you want.” He pulled her close, very close. “Free to stop those who would hurt the innocent. Hurt your friends. Hurt Havilar.” His breath burned against her skin. “You want that, don’t you?”


“You want me to give you that power?”


“You want to be mine?”

“Yes,” she said, and with that her thoughts seemed to clear: He’s out of the circle.

Farideh looked up in horror at the cambion, whose arms held her like an iron band. “No!” she cried.

“Too late, darling.” He whispered in her ear, “It wouldn’t have held the imp either.”

Then everything caught fire.

Farideh woke to someone calling her name. There was a smell of burned wood and a chill breeze blowing over her skin. She opened her eyes to a heavy black snow swirling through the sky.

Not snow, she thought. Ashes. Fat black ashes. Like burnt paper.

She started to sit up and someone grabbed her arm. Havilar. She looked up at her sister, whose cheeks were streaked and spotted with a slurry of tears and clinging cinders. Beyond, the village-the whole village of Arush Vayem-stood, watching from a distance of a good twenty feet. Between the twins and the villagers, the ground was a flat stretch, cleared and charred as if something had exploded, burning away the grass and snow and … what else had been there? Mehen stood in the middle, his falchion out and ready. But he was facing the villagers.

They’re angry, Farideh thought muzzily. Something …

She remembered the stone barn and the cambion. Her breath sped up. Her nerves rattled with fear and pain and she realized her shoulder was screaming, and her dress had been torn open on that side.

From her collar to her elbow her golden skin had been branded with an elaborate design. She stared at it a moment and the lines seemed to form a flail. A flail and a smattering of lines that looked like a whirlwind. She touched it gingerly-it burned like a fever.

“Oh Fari,” Havilar whispered. “What have you done?”

The time between waking in the wreckage of her home and finding herself sitting in the dark beside a campfire, somewhere in the foothills of the Smoking Mountains passed in a blur. She remembered shoving half-burnt things into a haversack. She remembered Mehen cursing the villagers in a string of Common and Draconic, blowing out a fork of lightning breath when the blacksmith’s apprentice got too near. Criella shouting. Everyone shouting. Farideh had to leave. If Farideh was leaving then so was Havilar, if Havilar and Farideh were leaving, then so was Mehen, and damn them all and karshoji Tiamat come down on them. She remembered Havilar clinging to her arm with one hand and her glaive with the other, as if the two were all that could anchor her in the world. Mehen leading them up a mountain trail, muttering to himself in Draconic-they could not go to Tymanther, but where else could they go? The Black Ash Plain lay to the south, riddled with giants and their kin. The great Underchasm split Faerun to the west. To the north lay Chessenta … and if Farideh’s burn meant what he thought …

The lines that laced her shoulder were red and oozing. They ached. They itched. Worse, they pulled, as if the burn were a tether and something was holding the other end.

Mehen settled a blanket over her shoulders. “You should go to sleep,” he said gently. Havilar was already fast asleep, sprawled facedown with her horns curling back from the ground.

“I’m not tired,” she said, hardly above a whisper. Her throat ached from the effort of not crying. She couldn’t-not after all she’d done.

He was silent for a moment. “We’ll be all right.”

Farideh nodded, though she couldn’t see how.

“Farideh,” Mehen said. She looked up. “Trust me. I’ve done this before.”

“And so we can’t go to Tymanther,” she said dully.

Mehen snorted. “There’s a lot more world than Arush Vayem and Tymanther. We’ll make our way, take bounties or serve as guards. We’ll find someone to help you get rid of that pact, and we can come back.”

Farideh pulled the blanket close. “You know we can’t.” She squeezed her eyes shut. The cambion had been right. One mistake, and she was as good as dead.

Fine-if that was how the world was going to treat her, perhaps she’d just keep whatever the cambion offered, and to the Hells with them all. If they all thought her damned, better to damn herself right.

The thought frightened her, but there it was.

Mehen was watching her. “If you’re not going to sleep, keep watch. Wake me when you’re tired. Or if you hear anything.”

Farideh doubted she would ever be tired again. Once Mehen had gone to his own bedroll and dropped off to sleep, she let herself weep quietly into her hands.

“What on all the planes are you crying for?” a voice said. “You’re much better off now than you were.”

She froze like a rabbit before a wolf, looking up at Lorcan silhouetted in the firelight. He was still ferociously handsome, still unspeakably fiendish, and this time there was no circle-not even a broken, haphazard one-to separate them. Havilar and Mehen slept on.

“Are you here to take my soul then?” she said quietly.

Lorcan burst into laughter. “Oh, Glasya skin me, that’s adorable. No, I’m not here to harvest you. We have an agreement, and I’m here to see to that.”

“Oh.” She wondered what exactly it was she had bargained away in the heat of the moment and the tangle of his pretty words. “But you will? Is that what this is?”

“Dear girl,” he said, “the king of the Hells’ own blood runs in your veins. A soul was never a certainty for you. I’d suggest you stop worrying about it.”

“So I am doomed,” she said. “And you are here to take me.”

“There you are again,” he said, with a shake of his head, “being melodramatic. I’m merely giving you some perspective. That isn’t the sort of deal we’ve made at all.”

“You’re talking in circles again,” she said.

“My darling, I already told you: If all I wanted was a petty little soul, there were dozens I could have snapped up quicker and neater than yours.”

She pulled the blanket closer around her shoulders. “Then what do you want?”

“A warlock.” He stepped closer. “You, in particular, as my warlock.”

She shook her head. “I don’t … I don’t know what you mean.”

He gave her a dark look, as if she were being deliberately obtuse, but she could only shake her head again. Lorcan sighed. “It means you’re bound to me. For the pleasure, I grant you powers. Powers you seemed to dearly want, before.”

“Spells?” she asked. “What … what do I have to do?”

“Nothing. You’ll find it’s much simpler than other sorts of spell-casting. Now,” he said, his eyes gleaming in the firelight, “do you want a taste of what you’ve purchased?”

She shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know that I do.” And he wasn’t telling her what she’d purchased those powers with, she couldn’t help but notice. “Why me?”

He shrugged. “Call it a whimsy of my character. I have certain preferences for my warlocks.”

“Warlocks?” she said, emphasizing the plural.

“You aren’t exactly my first,” he said with a chuckle.

Farideh started to ask him who the others were-whether they, too, were caught in the net of their own fears and wants, whether they were afraid of him, whether they were pretty-and stopped herself. She didn’t want to

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