With him no longer pushing Nuriya’s head down, she spluttered and fought to pull herself out of the pool, even as she cried in agony, as if the venom burned her skin.
Cyrus took me in, his dark eyes narrowing. “Fae?” he breathed.
Before I could react, a chorus of mighty roars blasted overhead, so loud they seemed to shake the very foundations of the palace. The roar of dragons. They had arrived to distract the rest of the jinn.
Cyrus scowled, then lunged for me with supernatural speed. I managed to vanish myself just in time, forced to drop my sword in the process.
“Come out, come out wherever you are.” Cyrus' voice echoed eerily around the dungeon.
I backed into one corner, looking toward the stairwell where I glimpsed Horatio hiding behind the door. An idea occurring to me, I resumed my solid state and shot toward the exit. As Cyrus followed through the door, I had to hope that Horatio would be courageous enough to strike him as he passed by in my wake.
Horatio did attempt it, holding a sword in the air, but he only became another victim of Cyrus' uncanny sense of awareness.
Cyrus discovered him behind the door too soon. He stood gaping at his son, stunned… and hurt.
“Horatio?” he said, his voice hoarse.
Horatio’s gaze was steely as he looked back at his formidable father. His mouth grim, his expression resolute, Horatio said, “I’ve had enough.”
Cyrus just stared, as though he simply could not accept that his son had sided with a fae in a plot against him. Then anger lined his face. His arms shot out and although Horatio tried to dodge, Cyrus grabbed his throat as easily as a child would a doll. Cyrus slammed him against the wall, his hold around his neck tightening.
As much as I wanted to help Horatio, I couldn’t. Taking advantage of Cyrus' shock and devastation over his son, I thinned myself and soared back into the dungeon. To my horror, Nuriya was no longer trembling or spluttering. She lay still. Quite still. Don’t be dead, Nuriya. Don’t be dead. Could the venom really have killed her already? She’d only been held under for a few seconds. I checked her pulse. She was still alive. For how long, there was no saying.
Another round of roars rumbled through the palace, followed by what must have been floods of fire.
Neema snapped her pincers, agitated. Uncurling her legs, she began to creep forward. I really don’t need to deal with that too…
I hurried to scoop up Nuriya in my arms, even as the venom she was coated with stung my own skin. Cyrus yelled his son’s name. I turned to see Horatio speeding into the room, having somehow slipped from his father’s grasp. Not for long. Cyrus came zooming into the room and made a beeline for him. But then, on noticing me, he stopped midway.
I was forced to thin myself again, leaving Nuriya on the ground, as he lunged for me. I hurried over to Horatio’s end as Cyrus crossed the room and rolled Nuriya back into the pool.
She’s unconscious. If the venom doesn’t finish her off first, won’t she drown?
Despite her “superior bloodline”, she wasn’t showing any signs of being able to handle the poison any better than Cyrus’ previous wives. I wondered what made Cyrus think that she would still turn, or perhaps he didn’t and was just happy to let her die.
“We should try to damage both of them,” Horatio mouthed, sensing my approach. “Both of their stingers.”
I didn’t need to ask the question. It was clear that he did not know how, any more than I knew, or he would have clarified. To make matters worse, Cyrus had just vanished his lower half and replaced it with his usual trail of reddish mist.
Oh, God. We’ve missed our chance.
We’d spent so much time waiting for him to revert to his scorpion form. All of it now wasted.
How are we ever going to pull this off?
Before I could sink into a state of mind the oracle would greatly disapprove of, I instead focused my thoughts on action.
My eyes shot to Cyrus as he lunged forward, approaching Horatio again. Taking advantage of the distraction, I swept across the chamber toward one of the swords Horatio had dropped. Forced to solidify in order to scoop it up, I wrapped my fingers around the hilt before darting into the second chamber. I wanted to dive into the pool and collect Nuriya, but I could only pick one objective. Trying to fish Nuriya out would attract Cyrus' attention again, and he would only dump her back into the pool… but if I could damage his scorpion pet…
I soared over and passed the pool, arriving a few feet from the scorpion.
As I maneuvered around the animal, I saw that she was chained to the wall. I was about to attempt to leap up onto her back to get closer to her stinger when a powerful force collided with my back, winding me and knocking the blade from my hands. Weakened, I fell to the ground, almost in the reach of the scorpion’s pincers.
Cyrus loomed over me. I could not see where Horatio was. If he was even still alive. Cyrus’ hand shot down and gripped my head, his powerful fingers raking into my hair, and he forced my neck to the side in such a violent motion I was surprised that it did not snap. I had to remind myself that I was not a vampire anymore. Fae, when in their physical state, could be damaged just like humans could. I struggled to thin myself, but couldn’t. I could only assume it was because Cyrus was already holding me.
Firelight glistened in Cyrus’ gold-plated teeth as a sinister smile split his face.
“You wanted to get a closer look at her, did you?”
He dragged me closer to the scorpion. His hands felt like iron as he gripped my shoulders and turned me to face his pet. The beast was thoroughly agitated by now, pulling against her restraints and snapping her sharp pincers.