with you. I am of use to you still. Without me you would have not been apprised of the Sovereignty’s growth. Or what they have down in that Chasm.”

Again Lorcan’s senses stopped, as if something at the core of his being had been snuffed out. This, he thought, must be what the dead feel. When the sensation of Malbolge returned around him, he nearly swooned.

“My lord father is quite wise,” Glasya said, her voice now slightly rattled, “and very generous. We shall of course cede the battle to you and your blessed followers.”

As you should.

As she has wished all along, Lorcan thought, and wished he did not think.

“Since you grace our court, my lord, would you like to pass judgment as well? The traitor succubus is lost, for now, but I have a flock of erinyes, some cultists, my dear Invadiah, and her cambion son. My lord surely knows, wise as he is, what has occurred: who is to be punished for this failure?”

If Lorcan could have done anything he would have wept, shivered, fallen to the ground-the terror that gripped his very core at Glasya’s disdain, at her father’s consideration was more than he could bear, and yet he was forced to bear it. No demotion for cambions. He was going to die.

The erinyes, Asmodeus said. Invadiah is demoted.

“Of course,” the archduchess said lightly. If Asmodeus had thought to crush her by ordering the demotion of her most exalted erinyes, he was not satisfied, and the air burned hotter still. “For it is, after all, the parent who shapes the children and plants the seed of their success or failure. A wise decision.”

Invadiah’s screams drowned the sound of the scourge and the sound of the splintering bones and splattering blood. They rivaled the terrible drone of Asmodeus’s presence.

An ear-splitting crescendo, and both Invadiah’s screams and Asmodeus’s presence ended, clearing Lorcan’s vision. The god of evil was gone.

Lorcan looked to his mother. Huddled in the torn red flesh of her former body, a shivering creature with long black hair and pale, cool skin with a pair of batlike wings curled around her stiff and bloodied form, glared down at the talons of her hands, still pressed flat against the oozing floor. Invadiah, the succubus. For his mother, it might be worse than dying.

“As further punishment, Invadiah’s holdings shall pass to her children. But”-Glasya snapped the scourge against the throne once more-“because the lot of you have failed me in spectacular ways, I place control over all her holdings and offspring in the hands of the only one who has shown any promise.”

For a horrible moment, Lorcan did not dare look up, afraid to see which of his cruel erinyes sisters was being given such power. Or worse-Glasya pointing the scourge at him.

“Your highness is most kind,” he heard Sairche say. She kneeled before the dais, her head lowered and a smirk tugging at her mouth. “I shall endeavor to serve you better than my predecessor.”

“See that you keep your troops in line,” Glasya said. “You shall be too easy to kill, Sairche.”

“Of course, your highness. I would request one thing?” Sairche glanced back at him. “I do not think Lorcan has learned his lesson in this. I should like him confined to the apartments of the third tower until his messes are sorted out.”

Glasya’s regard fell fully on Lorcan, and once more he made a point of keeping his eyes locked on the floor, his mind racing. Imprisoned was temporary. Imprisoned was changeable.

But if Sairche wanted him imprisoned, she wanted him out of the way-and there was only one thing Sairche wanted that she could not take with him in her path: his Kakistos heir.

“Acceptable,” Glasya said.

From the edges of the courtroom, a chain shot out, wrapped around his chest, and jerked Lorcan from his stasis, the shrapnel of the spell ripping across his nerves and leaving him breathless as the devilish jailor, itself wrapped in the heavy, spiked chains, dragged Lorcan from the court of Osseia.

As he was marched along, the sensation of a hand toying with his hair played along his scalp, and Lorcan froze. The chained devil stopped a moment, as if waiting for the presence. Lorcan held his breath.

Don’t think I’m not grateful, Glasya’s horrible voice crooned in his ear. Your sister may be persuasive, but you and I know your warlock kept things in check. Do be careful, little Lorcan. I may have need of you and her in the future.

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