"The Mer King has sent us a messenger." Layel stroked his jaw and arched his brows as he awaited Marina's reaction.

The demon queen lounged across her makeshift bed of furs, her arms folded behind her neck. Instead of armor, she wore a soft, gauzy gown that barely covered her dry, green skin.

They were in the forest, just outside the Inner City, planning to make war with the dragons, and she looked ready for bedding. Never had Layel encountered a more vain, repulsive creature. Her army was just as bad. They knew the fundamentals of war, but were even now busy gorging on animal flesh, everything else forgotten.

"So?" she finally said, at last acknowledging his presence. Sighing, she eased to her stomach, exposing small horns. "What did he say?"

"The Mer King found the human who destroyed your palace and absconded with your favorite pet."

Marina jerked up and twisted to face him, her evil features fairly sparkling with excitement. "Where are they?"

"On their way into the city."

Within seconds, she was on her feet and closing the distance between them. "We cannot allow the Mers to find them. She belongs to me, and he will die by my hand."

Overwhelmed by the cloying scent of sulfur that always surrounded the queen, Layel glided back one step. Two. Across the entire city would not be far enough, really.

This woman he faced and pretended to hold in some regard was partially responsible for the death of his beloved. She hadn't struck the deathblow, no. The dragons held that sin. But Marina had watched those fire-breathing bastards roast Susan alive and had done nothing except laugh.

She would pay mightily for that laughter.

Layel had no other purpose in life than to destroy those who played a part in Susan's death. She had been - and still was - everything to him. She'd been human, one of the rare humans cursed here by the gods to be food for the city's inhabitants.

"The man possesses Dunamis. Do you really think the Mers will catch him?" Layel drawled. "That's why the king sent a messenger. He requests our help in the man's capture because he knows he cannot battle the owner of Dunamis on his own." Layel ran an elegant hand over the black shirt he wore, a shirt that covered a fire-resistant breast-plate. "I doubt we can capture him, to be honest."

Her sharp teeth ground together. "We have our armies at our disposal. Of course we can capture him."

"Why waste our time and energy even trying? Together we can defeat the dragons, and that is all that matters to me." He loved taunting her.

Her lizardlike tongue flicked out in a hiss. "Our victory will be assured if we capture the jewel."

While Layel himself would love to own the powerful jewel again, he did not want the damn thing close to Marina. The queen had owned it over a year, and was the only reason Layel had never acted against her. Now, he could use her - and betray her - and she would never suspect. Until it was too late.

"I will not be able to fight the dragons to my best ability without it," she simpered. "I will be too distraught."

He had to force his expression to remain neutral, instead of grinning at her obvious try at manipulation. "Then, of course, it is my pleasure to attempt to capture it for you."

"I'll send my men through the city, as well. I wouldn't want you to forget to tell me you've acquired it." As she smiled with satisfaction, Layel glided from her tent. Demons were everywhere. They spilled from the circular glen, their laughter and noxious scent making his muscles tense.

He stalked to the cliff at the edge of camp. Full light greeted him, stinging his skin. Some of his people could not tolerate the light. The older ones, like himself, could walk in the day, but not comfortably. He and Susan had lazed days like today away, staying in bed and making love hour after hour.

Gods, he missed her. The music of her laughter, the softness of her touch. The love in her forest-green eyes. Her sweet innocent blood. His lids slitted and he sent his gaze below, into the city. His vampires were strategically placed atop buildings and hidden along the streets.

They were warriors, his men. And they were hungry for demon blood. Soon. He grinned. Soon.