Home > The Morning Star (Katerina #3)(11)

The Morning Star (Katerina #3)(11)
Author: Robin Bridges

The passageway was narrow and winding, but we reached a door that was locked from the outside. "Now what?" I asked, beginning to panic.

The Grigori did not reply but knocked once, then two more times upon the heavy wood. Nothing happened at first; then we heard the lock give way and the door swung open inward.

Sister Mala was standing outside. "Hurry!" she said. Behind her in the alley, a black carriage waited for us. She pulled me by the arm and pushed me inside. Danilo was already waiting for me. Sister Mala stayed with the Grigori as the carriage took off. I turned around in alarm, but Danilo took my hand.

"They will be fine, love. It is you and I they are after."

"Who is after us? The grand duke?" My heart began to race. Had I just escaped from George's rescue? I tried to pull free of Danilo's grasp and look back, but the crowded city traffic already blocked my view of the hotel.

Danilo shook his head grimly. "The Order of the Black Lily. They seek the Morning Star as well."

"The French mages?" Papus and Sucre had tried to raise Konstantin from the dead by sacrificing Princess Alix. "I thought they were working with you."

"Not any longer." Danilo's grip tightened around my wrist. "They have Grigori on their side as well, Katerina. If they catch us, it will be unpleasant."

"And Papus is working with the Romanovs?" Hope surged within my chest. Perhaps I was about to be rescued.

"Papus will side with whoever pays him the most. And I do not think the Romanovs are the wealthiest players on this chessboard." Danilo stared out the window, frowning as we went speeding through Alexandria.

"If there's someone else who wants the sword, why are the French mages after us?" I asked. "Why don't they just try to find the sword before we do?"

"I'm sure they are pursuing both goals with equal determination. The Grigori are fierce, and every last one of them has been stirred by the possibility of the sword's return."

"We can't run from the French mages forever," I pointed out.

"No, but we will run toward Cairo, where the fight will be more evenly matched." He nodded toward the window. "We should be there in a few hours. More of our Grigori are there waiting for us."

"Our Grigori? How do you keep their loyalty, Danilo?"

His laugh was short, and tired, I thought. "That is not something you should worry your pretty little head over, my dear."

I leaned back and closed my eyes, thinking my family must be frantic about me by now. If not furious. What if they believed I'd run off on my own? Would George have traveled back to St. Petersburg and said nothing of his elopement plans? My mother must be hysterical. And what would the tsar and the empress think? I did not know if I'd ever be allowed to return to St. Petersburg.

We were passing through the outer streets of Alexandria on the desert road to Cairo. The green waters of the Nile River flowed alongside us, with large dark shapes floating lazily in the water. I shuddered, praying we would not see any crocodiles or snakes up close.

As we neared a dusty crossroads, the carriage stopped with a lurch. I slid forward and would have fallen to the floor if Danilo had not grabbed me.

"Merci," I said immediately, out of habit.

Danilo's face was hard. "Please allow me to do all the talking, Katerina," he said. And before I could ask what he meant, the door on my side opened. An Ottoman, swathed in white, stood pointing a rifle at us. I raised my hands slowly and tried not to make any sudden movements.

"If you would not mind, please step out of the carriage." The Ottoman spoke in perfect, crisp English.

"Let the young girl go," Danilo said, his hands raised like mine. "She knows nothing."

The Ottoman smiled and nodded at me, his white teeth gleaming in the hot sun. "She is more important to us than you, Your Majesty. But we require that both of you join us, just the same."

Such polite manners for an armed man who was kidnapping me. Danilo could take a few lessons from him. Still, I was impressed that the crown prince tried to protect me. My hands still raised cautiously in the air, I stepped out of the carriage, with Danilo following.

Another carriage stood in front of ours, driven by two Grigori. The Ottoman gestured toward the carriage with his rifle. "If you would be so kind."

I hesitated.

"Do as they ask and you will not be in any danger," Danilo murmured. "At least, not yet."

The crown prince's voice in my head startled me. I'd not heard his thoughts since we'd arrived in Egypt. "Danilo?"

"Yes, it is me, but Konstantin is never far. We are becoming one and the same person. With powers beyond my wildest dreams."

"Can you use these powers to keep us safe?" I climbed into the carriage, afraid I would find someone inside with a rifle as well. But the carriage was empty.

I sat down with Danilo sitting next to me.

"Only with your help, necromancer. I will need your blood and your shadow spells to defeat our meddlesome friends."

"Who are these men working for?" I asked.

"They are working for me," a new but familiar French voice said as the door to the other side of the carriage opened. A man in a gray linen suit and a darker gray bowler hat joined us. The mage Papus sat down across from us with a sinister smile. "As will the rest of the Grigori, when I find the Morning Star."

"You betrayed the Koldun and the Order of St. John," I said. "You betrayed the tsar."

Papus did not move a muscle, and yet I felt something cold close around my throat.

Danilo's voice was in my head again, sighing. "That was not wise, Duchess."

I struggled to breathe and remain conscious, even as I saw spots in front of my eyes as the crushing feeling continued to tighten. I grasped for unseen hands, but there was nothing there.

"Leave her be," Danilo said in a bored voice. "You have proven your point. You have become very powerful since we last met."

The French mage rolled his eyes, and the pain vanished. I slumped against Danilo and tried to catch my breath. "Hold on to your cold light, Katerina," the crown prince warned. "He will steal it from you and use it against you again if you let your guard down."

"How can he do such a thing?" I murmured. Papus was not a necromancer. My head was pounding and I just wanted to lie down and sleep. But I concentrated and pulled my cold light as close to me as possible. The white tendrils floating around me began to curl inward.

"Dear, dear," said Papus. "We cannot have you in suspense, Duchess. But all will be revealed to you soon. For now, sleep."

With the slightest movement of his fingers, I fell into a black oblivion. But not before I felt a tug as Danilo grasped my hand.

Chapter Twenty

Instead of sleeping, I found myself in the Graylands, the realm of pure cold light. Danilo stood beside me, his cold light so bright it hurt to look at him. "What are we doing here?" I asked.

"We are bound, Duchess. I did not want you getting lost."

"How did you know I was going here?"

"This is where Papus sent you. He intended to follow you himself. Papus can only travel these lands with the aid of a necromancer or by using a Grigori portal." Danilo gave me a wicked grin. "But alas, he could not follow you since I held your hand instead."

I pulled my hand out of his grasp. "How do we get back?" I'd used the Throne of Constantinople the last time I'd been in the Graylands. But the throne had been destroyed by the tsar's men. On my insistence. This place was dangerous.

"We will leave when I say it is time to leave," Danilo said, the raspy voice of Konstantin breaking through. "We have a sword to find."

"I thought we would find the sword in Cairo." I'd half expected to be participating in a necromancy-laced ritual in a dark and dusty pyramid. Instead, I'd been kidnapped, again, and dragged here.

"Or perhaps it is hidden here after all," Danilo said. "I know for a fact there are clues to the sword in the Graylands. Only those who walk with cold light can see them." Konstantin had spent decades trapped in the Graylands, waiting for Princess Cantacuzene to return him to life. He'd had plenty of time to explore this place. "Follow me, Duchess." He walked into the bluish-white mist and disappeared.

Having no other way to leave the Graylands than with him, I too plunged into the mist. Danilo was not far ahead of me. Through the swirls of mist, I could just see the top of his black hair. He called back to me frequently but would not slow down. He knew exactly where he was going in this limbo place.

After what seemed like an hour, he finally stopped. "Here," Danilo said as I caught up with him. He waved his hands and suddenly an arched golden door appeared. He opened it slowly. There was no mist inside the small room, only a basket of papyrus scrolls and a dark-skinned, elderly man in Egyptian dress. He looked up at Danilo, his black eyes filled with hatred.

"Why do you return?" the man said with a scowl. "Have you not tormented me enough, Konstantin Pavlovich?"

Danilo pulled me forward. "I bring you a gift, Ankh-al-Sekhem. Another necromancer. You will be able to share her cold light."

"What?" I asked, dragging myself away from Danilo in alarm.

"All those years I spent waiting for Johanna were not wasted. I learned how to manipulate cold light." The green eyes of the lich tsar glittered as he stared at me. "I learned how to become the most powerful necromancer ever. And yet I could not raise anyone from the dead on my own. Not in this realm where the dead already walk. Their cold lights illuminate the mist. I needed flesh to make my rituals work. I needed a body of my own." He placed his hand on his chest. "I needed a beating heart.

"The knowledge I gained came at a great cost. I studied with the Egyptians and also with the Greek necromancers. I promised a tithe to Ankh-al-Sekhem, the oldest and most powerful necromancer of the ancient world," he went on, nodding toward the Egyptian, seated on a plain pallet on the floor. "I promised that I would return his greatest treasure to him, the Talisman of Isis. But I need the Morning Star before I will do so."

"What does that have to do with me?" I asked. Ankh-al-Sekhem did not look as if he believed Danilo was here to fulfill his promise.

"This Egyptian's apprentice stole the Morning Star from his pharaoh's tomb. He hid it somewhere and was killed by the Grigori before he had a chance to use it or to reveal where he'd hidden it. But his master knows where the apprentice is buried and how we can make his spirit talk to us."

"Give me the talisman, necromancer," the elderly man said, "and I will tell you everything."

"Do you still think us fools, old man?" Danilo sneered. "Tell us where to find your apprentice and then we shall bring you the talisman."

"What can he do with the Talisman of Isis here?" I asked, alarmed. I felt the amulet underneath my clothes, warm against my skin. I prayed the Egyptian necromancer could not sense its presence.

"Nothing," Ankh-al-Sekhem said. "I desire it merely for sentimental reasons."

I didn't trust him, and I knew Danilo did not either. Ankh-al-Sekhem was dangerous, even if he looked frail huddled on the floor.

"What are in these scrolls?" I asked.

"Knowledge, Duchess," he said, grinning a brilliant smile. "Which you are forever seeking. What price would you pay for this knowledge?"

I hesitated. There was only one thing I wanted to know: how to cure George from the magical wound the crown prince had given him. But I did not want Danilo to know he'd hurt the tsar's son so badly. "What price do you ask?"

"Enough of this," Danilo said. "We are not here for dirty scrolls. I have already read every one of these parchments of paper. There is nothing worth sacrificing your cold light over, Duchess."

"Is that even possible?" I asked. "How can a necromancer use the cold light of another?"

"They cannot steal your cold light. It must be given freely. To receive another's light makes the recipient much stronger." Danilo put his hand on the small of my back. It was not a comforting gesture. It felt possessive. I shuddered with revulsion. I would never give my cold light to anyone willingly.

"We must have the sword, Ankh-al-Sekhem," the crown prince said. "Once it's in our possession, you will have all the cold light you desire. And the Talisman of Isis."

"Perhaps I should come with you," the ancient necromancer said as he rose to his feet.

"You must be mad," Danilo said, laughing. "You have been dead for thousands of years."

"She is very powerful," the Egyptian said, nodding toward me, a sly grin on his face. "Powerful enough to bring me back."

"But you would be a monster," I said, horrified at the idea.

"Duchess, I am a monster now." His grin was terrible. "Go to the temple pyramid in the desert where I am buried. Go and call me back. Or you will never get your precious sword."

"No." It was Konstantin's cold, hard voice speaking through Danilo again. "You are a foolish man for thinking we would fall for your tricks. Tell us where your apprentice is buried, and we shall invoke his spirit. Once he tells us where the sword is, I will return to give you the talisman."

"Perhaps I will keep your pretty necromancer here with me until you do?"

The crown prince rolled his eyes. "You know I would not allow that."

I tried to hide my relief.

Ankh-al-Sekhem sighed heavily, as if he had known all along he would not get what he wanted. "The apprentice's tomb lies outside of Cairo, near the pyramid of my lord Ramses. You can use the Graylands to reach it. Use this scarab to show you the way." He held a small black stone carved in the shape of a beetle. He whispered words over it, so low that neither Danilo nor I could make them out. Suddenly the stone scarab spread out wings and took flight. "You must make haste," the necromancer said, cackling. "It won't slow down for you."

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