Ambre Rat

Ambre Rat

by

Andrew Prentis

July 1989

The girl swept her long dark hair away from her face and smiled, her lips parting to reveal white, evenly spaced teeth. Her blue eyes sparkled excitedly.

"You shouldn't have." she said, taking the long slim box from the man whom she lived with. She opened it to find a necklace of diamonds with a central stone of blue sapphire.

"The blue to go with your eyes my darling Marissa." the man, Marik Quorat, 'Ratty' to his friends lifted the necklace and moved round behind her. Gently he put it round her neck and fastened it, lifting her lustrous hair through. She gazed into the bronze mirror she was sitting before, preparing herself for the ball they were due to attend that evening.

"Its beautiful, what can I say? I'm so lucky to be with you Ratty." she kissed him, standing on tiptoe to reach him. Ratty was a tall and vigorous man, but age was catching him up, his thinning hair incontrovertible evidence to it. In his youth, he had been a mercenary but had found that there was more money to be made in trade, especially trade of a more dubious nature. It was said that every leaf of the highly addictive Ambre passed through Ratty's warehouses at some point in their journey. Nobody but Ratty knew where it came from either, which gave him a complete monopoly on the hallucinogenic and illegal leaves.

There were many stories about Ratty, his riches, his ruthlessness, his cruelty, his generosity, and most had some grain of truth buried in their core somewhere.

The authorities, namely the Order of the Black Rose, had long since despaired of ever being able to prove the host of crimes attributed to him, and now simply tried to curb the worst excesses of his smuggling empire.

"You are my beauty," Ratty held Marissa lovingly. "Am I not allowed to show off all the beauty in my possession? What would be the point in living then? You are my most treasured possession - for you I'd give away the rest."

Marissa laughed. "I don't think I would like that. I don't want to be poor again. If you did that, I'd have to find myself some other rich man to take care of me." she teased him.

"You wouldn't do that would you?" Ratty played up to her, looking at her with wide sad eyes. "As certainly as you giving away all your riches." she hugged him. "And now you must leave me in peace. A woman needs time to prepare herself for a big occasion like this. Shoo!" she pushed him away from the dressing table.

"Would you care for a leaf?" He offered her a small purple Ambre leaf as he popped another in his mouth and chewed. His body was so accustomed to the hallucinogenic leaf now that it barely had an effect on him, other than to make colours change about him and make him feel good.

"Ugh, no thank you. You know how I feel about getting addicted to them. I've seen what they can do to people, especially if they have a bad one." she shied away from the leaf.

"That is because the eat them when they are old. The juices ferment it left too long and become poisonous. I always have fresh leaves."

"Of course, you would. Now go, go on, out!" she laughed as he ducked out the door, dodging her thrown slipper. Once the door was closed, her expression changed. She glanced at the picture hiding the safe she had seen Ratty open to retrieve her present and flexed her fingers.

"Goddess!" Ratty gasped as she made her entrance at the head of the staircase in the hall of Ratty's town house. Marissa had put her hair up, holding it with a silver ring that looked like a small crown, and letting it tumble down again in a mass of dark curls. The gown she wore left her neck and shoulders bare, highlighting the necklace with its blue sapphire. The gown itself was made from yards of red silk, wrapped around her slim figure, finally draped over one arm. She had spent weeks getting it right.

"Well, how do I look?" she smiled shyly.

"Stunning. What do you think Artur?" Ratty turned to his long time friend and partner. Although he was a full head shorter than Ratty, he had the same heavy build which made him look wide and block-like.

"Truly the escort for the world's richest man!" Artur replied, his voice still with the sharp northern accent her had never allowed to soften. They had known each other ever since they joined the Swords of the Black Rose in their youth before going independent as mercenaries and then into smuggling. He was quiet, but had an air about him as though he was restraining himself continually.

"I'm hardly that Artur, but with Marissa on my arm, I will feel like it." Ratty slapped his friends shoulder. "Come my dear, we must not keep the Council of Eleven waiting. After all it isn't often they grace poor Urswell with their august presence." He offered her his arm. She smiled and took it, slipping her free arm through Artur's.

"My, what a lucky girl I am tonight, two handsome men to escort me."

The civic reception was being held in the Grand Palace Ballroom, a banqueting hall attached to Urswell's Royal Palace, a reminder of a time when Urswell had its own nobility, before the Order of the Black Rose united most of south Mardona. The town was now run by a council of seventeen, supposed democratically elected representatives of the people of Urswell. In practice, of course, it was made up of the representatives of the richest men or organisations in Urswell. Artur was Ratty's councillor.

The carriages bringing the guests to the ball passed along a marble carriage- way, lined with blazing torches. At the end of the carriage-way, liveried attendants assisted the guests from their carriages and directed them up the marble steps carpeted in vermilion, to the entrance. Here, the Master of Ceremonies would announce them to the other guests.

Ratty had timed his arrival so that most of the guests had already arrived so that he could make a grand entrance with his 'Princess'.

The ballroom was entered via a short staircase, allowing the arrivals a regal entrance to the dance floor. The Master of Ceremonies announced Artur and his wife, whom they had collected on their way, but held Ratty and Marissa back until they had descended to the ballroom. His voice penetrating and forceful, took on a more regal tone as he introduced the man who had paid for much of the evening.

"Honoured Guests,Ladies and Gentlemen, My Lord Marik Quorat and his Lady Marissa." he announced.

"'Lord' indeed!" a subdued voice could be heard through the stillness that descended as the couple appeared at the head of the stairs.

Marissa felt as though all the eyes in the room were on her as Ratty guided her down the stairs. Indeed, most were on the raven-haired beauty - the men admiring her beauty, the woman gazing with jealousy and envy. The hush dissipated as they reached the dance floor.

An orchestra was playing quietly in one corner and the thirteen members of the Council of Eleven, the ruling council of the Order of the Black Rose were gathered at the far end, along with most of the Urswell Council.

"Phew." Marissa breathed. "That was exciting, but frightening!"

"What have you got to fear - you are the most beautiful woman here." Ratty kissed her forehead.

"Hardly. But if it were true, that's exactly what I've got to be frightened about. Did you see some of the looks from those women? Ugh!" she hugged his arm.

"Ah, Marik, so glad you came." They were intercepted by a tall man dressed in grey.

"Triad, good to see you." Ratty shook the newcomer's hand. "I don't think you've met the jewel of my life. Marissa, meet Triad Gaull, the third head in our empire." "How do you do Lady. I must say, that was quite an entrance." Triad kissed her hand. She flushed and took this as her opportunity to lower her head, escaping Triad's penetrating gaze. His grey eyes seemed to bore into her.

"Why thank you Master Triad. You are too kind."

"It is strange, you remind me of someone, but I can't place whom." Triad stroked his chin.

"Em, well there may be an explanation. You see my father was of a rather - er - generous nature and it seems I have brothers and sisters all over Mardona. It has been said that I take after him." she still demurely avoided his gaze.

"Ah, I see. I understand your embarrassment. I am sorry I mentioned it." Triad nodded and dismissed her from his attention, talking in hushed tones with Ratty.

"Hold a moment, Triad." Ratty held up his hand. "Why don't you mingle my dear, I'll catch up with you soon." With a sigh of relief, she moved off, picking a glass of champagne off a tray carried by a smartly dressed waiter.

"Lady Marissa was it?" she found herself being addressed by an attractive red- haired girl in a simple white dress, albeit cut to the navel.

"Yes, although the 'Lady' was a little presumptuous of the Master of Ceremonies. I'm sorry, I don't know..."

"Suzannah, squire to Sir Arron, Lord Knight of the Black Rose." she replied, her eyes sparkling as she pointed out the tall ruggedly-handsome figure, dressed in gleaming black armour standing with the members of the Council of Eleven.

"Squire? I always thought squires were men - boys rather." Marissa raised an eyebrow.

"Oh no, not anymore. My Lord says it was nothing more than a tradition. There is nothing legal to stop girls from becoming squires, although I could not go on to become a Knight like most squires would."

"Oh, doesn't that defeat the object?"

"Not really. I don't want to be a Knight. All I want is to be with my Lord Arron." Again, her eyes gleamed with love for Her Knight as she spoke His name. Marissa smiled and touched her arm. She looked round for Ratty. He was staring at her, frowning, whilst Triad spoke to him, an urgent look on his grey face. Marissa looked away quickly.

"I was asked to bring you over to meet some of the council." Suzannah said. Marissa agreed and followed her through the crowd. She was impressed with the way Suzannah cleared their path through the throng and found the girl's grip on her hand very firm indeed. This was a strong lady!

When they finally broke through the crowd, Suzannah brought her to meet a slim man, dressed in blue, holding a rune-encrusted staff. His eyes were very dark and the wisdom that seemed to reside in there defied his looks. He appeared about thirty, but his manner and those eyes gave the impression that he was much older.

"Let me introduce Deldus, High Mage of the Black Rose. This is Lady Marissa." Suzannah introduced them.

"Delightful." the Mage kissed her hand smiling.

"My Lord." she curtsied. She glanced at Suzannah who was turning away to speak to Sir Arron. "Help!" she whispered urgently.

"What's the matter?" he replied, his voice low, smiling for the benefit of the others.

"I think Triad knows who I am." Marissa's grimace was hidden from everyone but the Mage. "And it doesn't help with you summoning me over!"

"But surely I would wish to speak with the most beautiful woman here?"

"You never said that when you were teaching me. Anyway, I always thought you preferred blondes."

"My dear Kallisti, when you are blonde, your beauty is like that of the sun breaking through the storm clouds. But when you are dark, you are like the beauty of the night - dark and sensual."

Kallisti could not stop herself laughing at Deldus' outrageous flattery. "Will you be serious for once." she said, still smiling.

"Your disguise is excellent. The hair dye is still perfect and the spell to stop it growing should last another week."

"I must be the only girl in the world who has ever had to worry about light roots! If Triad thinks he recognises me, that'll make Ratty suspicious. I think I'll have to make my move tonight. Is everything ready?"

"We've got half a dozen knights in town for this ball, plus a boat in the harbour ready for you at any time. Here, take this though, in case of emergencies." he slipped a plain copper ring into her palm.

"What is it?"

"A Mage guide. Use it if you need help."

"Ratty, I don't feel very well." Marissa leaned heavily on her escort. Her face was very pale.

"What's wrong my jewel?" he took her hands.

"I feel faint, I think my funny days are coming up. I don't think I can last the night out - I think I'd better go home." she was wilting even as she spoke.

"I'll take you home." he put his arm round her.

"No, I'll be alright - I don't want to spoil the party for you after all the work you put in to it. Stay here, the servant's can take care of me."

"If you're sure?" Ratty held her chin gently. She smiled weakly and kissed him.

The town house was lit up but quiet as Kallisti, still in the guise of Marissa, slowly made her way up to the master bedroom, looking frail and weak. As soon as she was behind the closed bedroom door, though, the pallor and lassitude vanished. She went straight to the french windows leading to the balcony and unbarred them to let the cool evening air into the stuffy bedroom.

Next she went to the picture which hid Ratty's safe. The lock was a complex series of levers and bolts which could only be worked in a certain order. She had watched Ratty do it earlier in the evening when he took the necklace out. She had since tried it herself and found the evidence she had been searching for ever since she had been taken in by Ratty six months before. It had taken a long time for her identity to be built up, helped by Deldus and the other mages, but mostly through her own acting and disguise skills. She had posed as a traveller from Oruidon, a port to the north of Urswell, a single girl looking for an eligible man to marry, and as such had been easily accepted into Urswell society. Tonight, though, had been the first time she had met Triad, something which had been worrying her for a long time. If anyone could see through her disguise, he could. Fortunately, he did not tend to socialise much, so she had avoided him thus far.

Now, sure that he had, she had no time to waste. Following precisely the same moves as before, she opened the safe and took out the three leather-bound ledgers which contained details of most of Ratty's dealings, especially concerning Ambre, and would be invaluable to the Order of the Black Rose. She put them in a small backpack she took from the bottom of a chest by the bed. She then paused, looking at all the gifts Ratty had given her over the months, all the clothes and jewels. She could not leave ALL those behind. Taking the jewellery case, she emptied it into her pack and rolled up some of the dresses, not caring it they creased - that could be righted later.

"And what do we have here? A thief?" the door opened suddenly. Damn! She should have locked it! Standing in the doorway, his face red with rage, Ratty glared at her.

"I'm sorry Ratty, but duty called." she stepped back, onto the balcony.

"Duty? You call this duty? Betrayal I call it. You have deceived me all this time. I loved you, gave you all these things, but all the time you were lying. Worse - now you try to steal from me!"

"There's no 'trying' in it. I have stolen from you. Goodbye Ratty." and with that she toppled backward over the edge of the balcony. Her dress, the end of which she had tied to the balcony rail whilst talking, unwound as she fell, her free hand controlling her descent. Reaching the ground smoothly, she discarded the rest of the silk, pausing only to regain her balance before running down the street.

She was now only wearing the slippers from the ball. They were not designed for running. Behind, she could hear Ratty roaring for his guards to chase her. He normally had enough men around him to make a small army.

Kallisti ducked into a darkened alley and quickly opened a side pocket of the pack to remove a black full-length leotard and a pair of canvas shoes. Kicking off the dancing shoes, she quickly dressed. Noises behind her started her running again, her pursuers catching up. She knew this area of Urswell well - she had grown up only a few streets away. The network of streets and alleys led in all directions, but all were familiar to her. The problem was there seemed to be Ratty's guards everywhere.

She came to a small courtyard at the junction of three streets. A fountain trickled water next to an old, gnarled tree growing through the cobbles. She remembered that tree from her childhood, she used to jump - or fall into the fountain from the branches overhanging it. As she paused deciding where to go next, guards appeared at the ends of each street, all heading her way!

"Damn, I wish I'd brought a rope." she glanced up at the roof-tops, tantalizingly close, but just a little too far without a grappling hook and rope. She was trapped it seemed. There were only a few seconds left before the guard would be on her.

When the guards reached the courtyard, they were faced with a figure in black wielding two long daggers, crouched and ready to to fight. Two guards rushed her from behind, and as she spun, she saw the net they had thrown. She dived sideways, but was too late. It was an unfair trick. Kallisti struggled to free herself from the mesh, but her daggers were tangled up in the netting. The savage kick to her head dropped her into the dark pit of unconsciousness.

The icy cold water hit her in the face, the shock making her cry out. The world swam before her, her eyes not focussing. She was aware, however, of the pain in her arms and shoulders and in her wrists where the rope binding her to the ring in the ceiling cut into the flesh. If she stretched her legs and stood on tiptoe, she could just about reach the floor and relieve some of the discomfort.

"Welcome back my dear Marissa - or should I call you Kallisti?" Ratty sat in the chair before her, watching her with cold dead eyes. He was still in the rich clothes he had worn for the ball. "Triad has been telling me lots of interesting things about you. It seems he taught you well, but not well enough." He stood up and moved closer. "There was one thing he didn't tell you, though." he hit her hard, sending her swinging back and forth by her wrists. "NOBODY steals from me!" he snarled.

Kallisti could taste the blood from the split lip. Her head still hurt from the earlier kick and her arms felt like they were being slowly ripped from their sockets.

"Now, I want you to tell me where you put the books." he moved back to the table beside the chair. Scattered over it were the contents of her pack. "All this is irrelevant, I'm not interested in it." He took the necklace he had given her earlier that evening and dropped it on the floor. Casually, he ground it underfoot, crushing the delicate creation into a mess of diamonds, gold and sapphire. Kallisti shook her head.

"I don't know what you're talking about." she croaked, her throat dry.

"Oh dear, it's going to be like that is it?" Ratty shook his head. "Let me put it this way, I doubt if you will be leaving this room alive. Now, we could make it a quick, reasonably painless death, or we could keep you here for months doing all sorts of unspeakable things to you - but keeping you alive, just. I've got some new plants and drugs I'd like to try on someone. Or I'm sure my guards will be able to find some interesting things to do with a pretty thing like you - assuming you remain pretty that is." his smile was like a shark, cold and evil.

Artur appeared at Ratty's elbow. He too was still dressed in his fine clothes, but he held a cruel-looking whip. His eyes glowed with the inner light of a sadist.

"First, though, I want to change out of these clothes - totally inappropriate for what is to come don't you think?" he gestured negligently at his clothes. "In the meantime, Artur here will keep you entertained." He stepped up to her again, grabbed a handful of her leotard and tore it fiercely, ripping the front off. Kallisti gasped as she swung on her wrists again.

"Enjoy yourself." Ratty patted Artur's shoulder as he left. Artur grinned.

"Please..." she whimpered as the door slammed shut. Artur's smile widened. His arm swung back...

"My, my, what was all that fuss about?" Ratty returned a while later, dressed in plain clothes and nibbling at a chicken leg. Artur threw a bucket of water over Kallisti, bringing her out of her faint. Artur was sweating heavily and Kallisti's naked body was criss-crossed by angry red welts, some dark with blood and bruising. Her head lolled weakly on her arm. "I didn't realise my little jewel could scream so loud or so prettily." he sneered.

"Now, let us get down to serious business. Where did you put the books? We've searched the courtyard and there's no sign of them, so you must have hidden them before. Where?" her gripped her chin harshly.

Kallisti gathered all the spittle she could muster and spat into his face. Ratty's punch hit her right over her kidneys, guaranteed to give her problems for weeks to come - if she lived.

"That was not nice. I'm trying to help you. Artur has only just begun. He's cruel - you wouldn't believe what I've seen him to do people who get in his way. He once tuned a whore inside out when she insulted him. Have you ever seen someone wearing their skin on the inside? It doesn't work, things just flop about and bleed everywhere. I wouldn't like to see that happen to you, not after all the enjoyable times we had together."

Kallisti struggled to focus her eyes on Ratty's face, trying vainly to ignore the pain. She could barely keep her head upright - every inch of her body burned. Every time she breathed, daggers seemed to stab her chest. Artur had been very careful with the whip, like an artist, concentrating on the most sensitive areas of her body.

Ratty produced a small packet. "You made a serious mistake my dear." he spoke while unwrapping the packet. "You were always so horrified at the thought of Ambre. The idea of being addicted frightened you. I remember you saying as much this very evening. What a silly thing to admit to one's future torturer." he grinned, holding up the contents of the packet. "This is dried Ambre. I have it specially prepared for me because it concentrates the drug. It is the only way I can get any real effects from it nowadays. It is also instantly addictive. Here, try some." he held a dried leaf up to her mouth. She turned her face away, clamping her lips shut.

Ratty savagely twisted her nipple. As she gasped, he pushed the leaf into her mouth and held her jaw shut as her saliva acted on the leaf, releasing the drug. It was absorbed in seconds. The effect was terrifying. Suddenly the world began twisting and distorting, parts of the room shrinking to pinpoints, other parts growing enormously so that she could see the individual grains of sand in the mortar. The sound of her breathing became a shape endlessly shrinking and expanding.

"Now you know how it feels." Ratty's works appeared as coloured clouds twisting and swirling around the room. "Just imagine what would happen if we were to have you raped in this state." The words suddenly became sharp edged knives, transforming into ugly demons, swimming round her just out of reach, waiting to bury themselves in her defenceless body. The whole room was nightmarish - she screamed once, but the sound tore into her body, battering her just like the whip had slashed her. She cried, tears of blood running down her cheeks to burn into the welts on her body. Her hands! She had lost her hands - they were gone! Had they chopped them off? Time was distorting now, sometimes running fast so that Ratty and Artur moved like puppets, other times running slow so that they barely seemed to move, their words slipping out inch by inch.

Her hands! She forced her head back, the world swimming past her eyes as she did. She barely had any control over her muscles, so the effort to lift her head was herculean. There, she could see her hands. They were red from the restricted circulation, but were still on her wrists. The ring - on her little finger, the copper ring Deldus gave her.

Her mind sent out the commands to move her fingers - she could see the signals pass up her arms, but the ropes were stopping them reaching her hands. The world was screaming at her in blood red and ice blue as she tried again - her thumb moved although she could not feel it. The nail caught under the ring, digging into her skin and drawing blood. She could not feel that either, but the sight of the blood brought forth a whole swirling legion of blood-sucking demons to taunt her. Slowly she eased the ring up her finger.

Before she could get hold of it between her fingers, it slipped off and bounced off the bridge of her nose to hit the floor near Ratty. The arc of its flight remained etched in her vision.

"What's this? A ring?" Ratty picked it up. As his fingers gripped it, the two weak spots broke and it collapsed in on itself, releasing a magical discharge. Kallisti in her altered state of mind saw and heard the invisible charge shoot upwards leaving a thread connecting it to the remains of the ring, an invisible pointer for anyone who could see the magic.

"A silly trick. What is it supposed to achieve?" Ratty tossed the remains of the ring away. "Where did you put the books - THE BOOKS!" he shouted at her. The words echoed and re-echoed around her skull, battering her like tiny hammers.

"Books..." she whimpered. "Tree..." she could her her heart thundering, she knew she could no longer keep it to herself, it was trying to force its way out of her skull, she had to release it. "The - the..." Their faces were worried. The thundering was getting louder. Suddenly there came a tremendous crash followed by shouting and the clash of weapons.

"What the..." Ratty was moving toward the door, but before he could open it, one word rang through the building like a bell:

"Burst!" The wall in front of Kallisti shattered, debris flying to the left and right. There, surrounded by a glowing blue aura stood Deldus. He looked angrier than she had ever seen him. "Quorat, you are evil, you shall die!" he raised his hand and a flare of red energy swirled around Ratty. He screamed in agony, sending shock waves of light through Kallisti's brain.

"No Deldus, he must stand trial!" A black-armoured figure appeared beside Deldus - Sir Arron. A dagger slashed through the air toward Deldus, but a shield knocked it from the air. Suzannah stood, dressed now in the leathers of a fighter, a shield on one arm a bloody rapier in the other hand. The rapier flashed out and speared Artur's hand as it reached for another dagger. Arron leapt past his faithful squire, lifted Artur up and smashed him against the wall, pinning him there with a mailed forearm across his chest.

"It would give me a great deal of pleasure to kill you, scum, but you shall stand trial like the common criminal you are." Arron said, his voice emotionless. Deldus moved to Kallisti's side. At his command, the ropes fell apart, letting her collapsed into his arms.

"Deldus..." she sobbed, throwing her agonised arms limply round his neck.

"I'm here, you're safe." he held her.

"Help me..." she cried, her mind still in the thrall of the the Ambre.

"Oh my Kallisti." he held her close and carried her away, leaving Ratty contorted in pain on the floor.

The came out of the torture chamber into the ruins of a courtyard. Most of he ground floor of the town house was a disaster area, half a dozen black-armoured knights were sweeping through the house, picking up those guards and servants who had not run off after the first dramatic entrance of the knights led by Deldus, who had blown one side of the house to smithereens with just a gesture.

The Knights of the Black Rose, the Order's shock troops had struck, and few would have wished to be in their path. There were signs that even their warhorses had taken part in the carnage - the trampled bodies of some of the guards testament to their ferocity. "Is she alright?" One of the knights asked Deldus.

"She had better be, Tallanabhrob, she had better be." he replied coldly.

The light shining in her eyes hurt so she tried to turn her head away.

"Are you feeling any better" a voice intruded into her nightmare.

"Aww, no please... take the light away." she whimpered.

"Its alright Kallisti, I'm here." Deldus' face swam up out of the distorted images her mind created.

"What's happened?" she clung to his arms.

"You're safe now." he said, a smile in his voice. She slowly sat up - her body was a mass of bruises and welts, every movement bringing back the pain. She had been lying with her head on Deldus' lap, in a garden on a hill overlooking Urswell.

"Where are we?" she said, looking around. The garden was attached to a villa, white marble gleaming in the afternoon sun. The garden itself was immaculate.

"We are in the villa owned by the Knights. You are obviously getting better - this is the first time you've taken an interest in your surroundings for days."

"Days? How long has it been?" she looked at him sharply. A huge smile broke his serious face.

"Ten days since we rescued you from Quorat. You haven't been well."

"Ambre, they gave me Ambre!" she put her hand to her mouth. Deldus nodded sadly.

"You've been suffering withdrawal symptoms of the past nine days. You've been very ill."

"Oh no..." there were tears in her eyes. "Please Deldus," she clung to him, "I don't want to die." she started to cry.

"You won't my love, you won't." he hugged her. "We'll beat this, you and I. It won't be easy, but we'll beat it."

"The books!" she suddenly sat up. "I hid the books - they're in the hollow tree by the fountain."

"What?"

"I knew they were going to catch me so I had to hide them. I used to climb that tree when I was little. Half way up the trunk there's a hole under a branch. I used to hide all my secret things in there. Nobody ever knew it was there it was so well hidden."

"That is excellent news." Arron arrived while she spoke. "That and the fact that you are well enough to remember it. Those books will not only put an end to Marik Quorat, but also enable us to take control of his smuggling empire." he smiled and crouched beside them. Suzannah, as ever, was close behind him.

"How do you feel?" she said. Her green eyes were full of concern.

"Bad." Kallisti sighed. "But at least I now have someone to care for me." she turned to Deldus and kissed him. "For the first time in my life, I can tell the truth when I say I love you."

Deldus smiled. "I always have loved you, my dearest Kallisti."


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