A trio of demons wades out of the waters of the craterous lake. The largest demon’s physique bulges of rocks. His giant frame is hardpacked and rigid as a mountain. His mouth is a slash, a grimace, and his eye sockets are crevices of nothing, like caverns. The demon lumbers closer, the ground trembling with each step.
He peeks out from behind his blurry fingers. His haunting voice roughens. Kalinda, I still love you—I hurl a heatwave at him. His hazy shape shatters into a thousand oblivions that shower down, hit the floor, and disappear.
Light. I need light. Shaking all over, I rush around, lighting every lamp until the chamber is aglow. I slump down onto the bed.I rap my fists against my head to bang out his voice. Leave me alone. Just leave me alone. In the abrupt silence that follows, my clarity sharpens to an unbearable point. I hate you, I whisper to him, wherever he may be. But my abhorrence is irrelevant. To the gods, our marital bond ties my soul to his. I will be Tarek’s wife for eternity.Someone touches my shoulder. I whirl around with my dagger, and Ashwin lurches out of striking distance. It’s me.
I drop my blade. You snuck up on me.I knocked before I came in. Are you all right? You’re shivering.
I . . . Not knowing where to begin, I start to cry. Ashwin enfolds me in his arms. I clutch him close and rest my cheek against the hollow of his neck. A steady current of heat flows off him and into me. You’re so warm, I push out from between chattering teeth.
What happened?How many are here? I ask.
Last count was five thousand. Ashwin’s guttural whisper teems with condemnation. Sultan Kuval said he was caring for our people. But this . . . this is inexcusable.I swallow the bitter tang of regret. Ashwin understands now why he cannot trust the well-being of his people to anyone else.
He pushes away from the tree, his movements jerky from anger. Brother Shaan said the second encampment is north of here.We stick to the underbrush to avoid the guards and skirt the camp. The encampment goes on and on, endless tents and people. Ashwin pauses to frown at two lookout towers stationed at the south side. The people are locked inside the camp with no defense. What threat do they pose? We move on to the end of the camp. Across from the main entrance, a dirt wall encircles a second smaller compound.