I pictured the space on the other side of the golden doors and shifted. The world dropped away and fell silent. A moment later I felt it slide over me again like a shroud, my feet hitting the firm stone of the floor. The room was dark, so silent that I thought for a moment I was still in my space-shift. But the area smelled gamey, like…
A low growl throbbed through the silence, not more than five feet away from where I stood. Two sets of red eyes glared at me through the deep black and I squinted to see movement in the dark.
Two low-slung, densely muscled forms started toward me, their growls turning to saliva-drenched snarls as they opened enormous jaws filled with impossibly white teeth.
“Frunk me,” I murmured. “This is definitely going into the shitty day book.”
I pulled power into my palms and held it, spitting and ready. I knew from experience that Hell hounds could move with impossible speed. They could be on me in the time it took me to blink.
My only hope was to send power directly into their chests as they slammed into me. Because if I missed I’d be torn into tiny little pieces before I could try again.
The energy spitting in my palms illuminated a circle about four feet around where I stood. I waited for the hounds to step into the light, knowing it wouldn’t make my job easier if I could see them, but finding comfort in the thought none-the-less.
But the hounds stopped just outside the circle and waited, temper throbbing in their thick throats in a constant drone. When I realized they didn’t intend to come closer, I risked speaking. “Dialle?”
A soft footfall made my gaze shift in the direction of Dialle’s throne. “Are you all right?”
A gentle wash of breath, like a sigh, filtered toward me. “Dialle, talk to me.”
Light blossomed like the sun, filling the room with eye-straining illumination. I blinked, stared at the two massive black canines sitting calmly just a few feet away, their wide, snubbed snouts wet with slobber and their terrifying gazes locked on my face.
As my eyes adjusted to the light I cast my gaze toward Dialle’s throne. What I saw there was more terrifying than the two Hell hounds could ever be.
Dialle sat slumped in his throne, his head dropped to his chest, his limbs sprawled loosely as if he were unconscious. I softly repeated his name, barely more than a whisper, and his head slowly lifted. His beautiful face was a portrait in despair, the sexy black eyes completely devoid of color or passion. He looked like a man just a heartbeat from death. But he had not a single wound or injury that I could see.
His wounds were all internal.
“Oh good Him, Dialle. What have I done to you?”
He just stared at me, the black gaze dancing icy fingers down my spine. His once-beautiful hair hung limp and dull around his face and the clothes he wore draped loosely, like cast-off clothes on a farmer’s scarecrow.
How far he’d fallen in the few days since I’d left.
I took a step closer and the Hell hounds snapped, sending spittle in a wide arc around their massive heads. I jerked to a halt. “Call them off, Dialle.”
His cold gaze slid slowly toward the hounds and then back to me. “Go away, Astra. Leave me alone.”
“I’m not going anywhere without you. Come with me, Dialle. Let’s get away from this place and I can make it better. I promise.”
His black eyes suddenly spiraled with icy, hostile silver. “You’ll make it better? How? I nurture a cold, dead mating mark in my breast. No light infuses the mark. Only the oily black of Hell. My court rots around me, like my cursed soul. The very air I breathe is like poison. I no longer belong here. There is no making it better, Astra. Unless you’ve come to tell me you’ve regained your power.”
I opened my mouth to tell him exactly that, despite the fact it wasn’t strictly true. In that moment, I realized I’d do anything to save him. But the doors behind me slammed back against the wall and, startled into action, the hounds attacked.
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