“Neema does not get visitors very often,” Cyrus said, looking at her affectionately. “Sweet thing. Look at how excited she is.”

He lowered me until my body was a foot away from her pincers and jaws that looked like a meat grinder. Forcing me closer still, Cyrus laughed as the scorpion clamped her pincers around my arms, their sharp edges digging painfully into my flesh. I moved to kick her, but all that did was infuriate her further.

No. I did not go through all of this to end up as scorpion food.

“Stop!” a voice roared. Horatio’s voice.

His form whizzed past me and hurtled into his father, causing Cyrus to stagger back, and in the process, pulling me away with him. I grunted as the pincers ripped through my skin.

Cyrus sent Horatio crashing against the wall, sending a bracket of burning torches crashing to the floor. Then he dragged me to Neema again.

“We couldn’t deprive Neema of her meal now,” Cyrus drawled. “That would be terribly unfair.”

As he lowered me again, I caught sight of one of the torches that had rolled just nearby. In a burst of desperation, I lunged for it and managed to reach out with my arm and grab the torch. I swung it up toward Cyrus’ face. He released his grip in shock. Then I swiped the torch against the scorpion, who screeched and scuttled backward.

This torch had only bought me a few seconds. I had two choices: flee, or try to finish off what Horatio and I had started. But fleeing wasn’t an option for me. Fleeing the jinn only to be thrust back into The Underworld.

I was on the verge of shooting to the other side of the chamber, where more swords lay, when a spark of fire fell from my torch to my feet. In all the commotion, the tip of the torch had loosened.

I was expecting to feel an intense burning, and my skin to singe. Instead my feet caught on fire. Then the flames spread within seconds to the rest of my body, licking up my torso as though I was doused in gasoline, until there wasn’t an inch of me that wasn’t covered in flames. Still, I felt no pain. Just a warm, even comfortable, tingling sensation.

Was I just in too much pain for my brain to even register it? What is happening to me? As bewildered as I was, I didn’t hesitate a second longer. Taking advantage of Cyrus’ surprise, I lunged for the sword again and swept over the scorpion’s back with all the supernatural speed I could muster. I wrapped my burning limbs around the stinger. My fire seared her body. A split second later, I’d hacked off the bulbous tip of the stinger. As it fell to the floor, I darted down with it and drove the blade through it, twisting and turning the weapon as the poison leaked out. The scorpion’s screams were deafening, and so were Cyrus’. The intensity of their cries matched one another, as though it had been Cyrus’ tail I’d chopped. The scorpion thrashed wildly as blood and venom leaked from her end. To my surprise, Cyrus’ own lower body revealed itself, as though it was triggered by the pain. Though unlike Neema’s, his stinger was still intact.

Fury shone in his eyes, brighter than the flames engulfing my body. He shot toward me and I tried to thin myself, but I couldn’t. This fire is keeping me in my physical state. I gazed around the room for Horatio. Where he had been slumped on the floor was now an empty space. He was gone. Where is he? Did he just abandon me? And Nuriya! I thought with a wave of panic. She was still in the pool. God, I’d forgotten.

Before Cyrus grabbed me again, I reached out for another torch and swung it in Cyrus' direction. He didn’t even bother to dodge this time. He whacked it out of my hands, sending it tumbling to the ground. He dragged me over to the pool and then, withdrawing a dagger from his belt, held it up against my neck.

His face twitched maniacally. “You will pay for this, fae.”

As he brought the knife driving toward my chest, a wave of heat rolled through the chamber. Cyrus paused midair and twisted his head. A mass of fire—perhaps shot from a dragon?—was heading toward us with such speed, Cyrus didn’t even have a chance to react as it slammed against him, forcing him to drop the knife and me. He fell to the floor, allowing me to rise to my feet, and as I did I found myself face to face with Lucas. Also fathered by fire… His whole body blazed, just like mine. He had been the flaming cannonball.

My eyes traveled past him quickly and I glimpsed Horatio and Aisha, holding more swords. Horatio left me to get help. As Cyrus scrambled to his feet—or legs—Horatio, Aisha and Lucas lunged at once, all three piling onto him.

Let’s finish this once and for all…

Sweeping up my sword, I leapt onto Cyrus’ back and struck just beneath his stinger’s bulb, the same thin area where I’d struck Neema’s body. Cyrus roared so loudly it felt like my ear drums would split. I twisted the knife deeper into the bright red bulb as it detached, mashing it up into a pulp. Poison oozed from it as though it were a seething boil.

It was a disgusting sight to behold, both the mother scorpion and her mutant writhing together on the ground.

“I-I think we’ve done enough damage,” Horatio said, even as he looked petrified at what we’d just done. “Under this pain, I can’t imagine he’s strong enough to hold up the bond…”

“Let’s go,” Lucas said.

“No!” Aisha roared, before we could even consider leaving the dungeon. The next thing I knew, she’d wrapped her legs around Cyrus' waist and plunged her dagger right through his throat.

He choked, blood spurting everywhere. Aisha’s sweaty face twisted with rage even as tears welled behind her eyes. “This is for my family.” She jerked the knife lower down his throat, creating a sickeningly wide gash and causing more blood to pool. “For my brothers.” She tore sideways. “My fathers.” She withdrew the knife and made a puncture in the side of his throat. “And my uncles.”

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