FROM THE CORNER OF MY EYE, I saw a woman, her face in the shadow of a white ermine-lined hood. She raised a hand, and even though I knew all modern languages and many ancient ones, she said one word I couldn’t understand. “Sloviant.”
When she dropped her hand, Windiamond flew from my grip, and the knife that was sailing for my head dropped in my lap. Two seconds later, I jerked forward, blinking as though an unseen hand had released me. Bequia stumbled forward, catching herself on the edge of my bed. Quickly righting herself, she started for the knife on my lap, but seeing my hand closer to it, paused, clenched her fist, and released her rage. “Soulinga, keep out of this.”
“Maybe you should go with Donar.” Soulinga’s voice was calm, like a languorous brook.
“I am not going with Donar.” Bequia sought out the knife behind her and Windiamond’s fiery glow at Saba’s feet. “You cheated.”
I let slip a nervous chuckle. “You gave me no choice.” I scanned her black bodysuit and saw at least two other weapons available to her. The knife on my lap lay five inches from my hand, but I didn’t think she’d attack again with this Soulinga in the room.
I reclined on my pillows with hands behind head. “Your games tire me.” I waved a gesture kings make to dismiss a servant. Maybe I exhibited too much arrogance, but I had to act confident; I couldn’t let her know how vulnerable I felt without legs.
A LOUD CRACK BROUGHT ME BACK. Suddenly I found myself in my present reality of helplessness, sprawled on the floor near an unconscious Soulinga. My gaze searched for the sound and found a deeper break near Saba’s hand. He’s trying to break free! I crawled on my stomach, dragging my useless limbs toward Soulinga to check her pulse. Eying the ice crack again, I said, “Yes, Saba, yes. Break free. Help me.”
I made my way to the wheelchair, hoisted myself, and struggled into it. Croix had made a footrest, and as I placed my feet there, I heard another faint crack. My slow smile spread. “That’s right, Saba. You know you want to.” I knew he heard me; his lashes fluttered.
Just then, Yukiko was at the door, or shield, or whatever it was, and pounded on it, making it vibrate. “Soulinga let me in,” she cried while Hotah’s spirit easily passed through the shield and became the mouse on the clock.
CROIX HOPPED THE BACK of my wheelchair and soared us out of the infirmary, down an empty hall, and into a great room, with Hotah as the ghost mouse leading the way. We’d passed no one on the way. If not for wails from distant recesses, I would’ve thought the castle vacant.
At one end of the great room, elevated by a three-step dais, sat an enormous silver throne—Saba’s throne. Hotah scampered to it and sat in the form of a cat. I’d refused to be a dictator over my people, but apparently, Saba had ruled Nightstealers like a king. Croix spun my chair to face him as he motioned Hotah aside and sat upon the throne. With eyes shut, he caressed its rippling liquid-silver arms, nestled into its white velvet seat, and purred against the silver-gilded back. “Fits me, don’t you think?”
“Croix!” Yukiko admonished with a harsh whisper as she glanced around the empty hall. “Get off his throne!”
“Why? He’s as good as dead.” The boy said to me, “Have you seen this chair before?”
“I don’t remember it,” I said cautiously, for the boy’s face within the throne had grown as lifeless as wood. “But I could guess it doesn’t belong to you.”