There was an odor. Soon, it would be absorbed by the damp rock but for now the smell of blood was distinct. She scanned the floor, but could see no hint of stain anywhere but in the pool of light.
Whatever had happened, had happened in the spot she must cross.
Mirella would never know what propelled her forward. It might have been an imagined noise from the stairs behind her or her intense desire to get to the Queen. Whatever the reason, she was two steps into the light before she realized the deception. The light was no longer merely light, but now had substance. A sticky substance that cloyed at her feet. Mirella watched in horror as the light turned liquid moved turgidly about her feet. Slowly, it began to lap about her ankles; she felt a current prod against the sole of her foot. The liquid was attempting to guide her in the direction of the bloody prints!
With strength born of sheer panic, Mirella began to push through the currents, now stronger and no longer disguising their intent. One step, two, four . . . now seven. She would make it. The smooth gray stones were only a few steps away.
She was one step from freedom when it happened. The liquid hardened about her feet, holding her in place; she couldn’t move forward, nor could she move right or left. There was an energy beneath her, a willful presence, bent on sucking the life from her very bones. But an energy was rising in her as well, the same energy that had filled her at Spring Callings, the same energy she’d felt at the Shautu’s strange words, the same energy that had caused her to speak in the Great Throne Room. She strained forward, every muscle in her body protesting, and miraculously she broke free. Her right foot first; then her left. She stood quivering, safe now on the untouched gray stones, only the trailing hem of her gown still caught. She wretched it free and heard a repulsive sucking sound. Along the hemline was a slimy stain, like the trail a garden snail might make.
What in the name of the Sacred Tree?
The garish liquid began to undulate in slow waves. The stains lifted to the surface, spiraling in red swirls. The room was filled with the color and odor of blood. Something was in Elymas’s sanctum, some unnatural, hungry thing.
Go now, said the voice, before it fully wakes.
She fled without argument, her feet flying. Even with her cloying skirts, she managed the second set of stairs with astonishing speed. Escape was at the top in the form of a paneled door which slide open into the main corridor. Just a few feet down the hall was an iron banded door, the bedchamber of the Queen.
Mirella dug her nails into the groove of the panel and slid it open. A quick slip and she was in the hall, gasping for air. Her heart was beating so heavily the lace on her bodice shook.
She pushed her tangled hair from her eyes and realized her face was dripping with sweat. She couldn’t dwell on appearance. One nightmare was behind her and another lay ahead. She must find a way to tell Laveth, her beloved Queen, that an old man she’d never met had ferreted out her secret from a cold northern sky.