The army of Vissorouy swarmed the manor.
“The last time I laid eyes on her, she was a bevy of crumbling pillars. Now look at her—dark wood glossed over with an ivory sheen; the same die masked over.” Lord Vangley gazed at the white towers before him. “A dollhouse she is, the restoration nearly complete.”
Laurent climbed down from a tree, and rejoined the group. “She is inside, father.”
Firelight flickered in the windows, and then steadied.
“What do you think, counsel?” Vangley asked.
“The forest is too quiet. In truth, I am not sure what to make of it.” Lawson scanned over the trees. “I cannot believe the woods are free of her cruel spells.”
“Which is why we must force her hand, and end her swiftly.” The elder stabbed his cane in the ground.
“Tread carefully, my lord, or we will stumble into another trap,” the hunter cautioned.
“The longer we wait, the more insurmountable the task.”
“Remember Red Wind. Had Carmella held her ground, and slowly bombarded the fortress, the enemy would have yielded,” said Lawson.
“Circumstances dictate otherwise.” Vangley brushed aside the comment.
“Even so, why take the risk? Shell her from a distance until she reveals herself. Then behead the snake.”
“Had I listened to you, we would still be gazing at the forest, too frightened to venture inside. Are you waiting for courage or cobwebs, Lawson? There is no better time than now. Catapults await my decree. We will throw everything we have at her, and scatter her ashes before dawn approaches.”
Lawson shook his head. “My lord, we still do not know what happened to the scythes.”
The partriarch froze, the keen edge of truth finally pricking him. He scratched the stubble on his chin, and took a deep breath. “You are right, Lawson. More often than I care to admit. Moments like these are the reason why I brought you to Vissorouy. Even after five hundred short years, an old man can still learn to heed a voice other than his own.” The elder smiled. “I shall honor your request.”
“What is it, Laurent?”
The young vampire hesitated. “Something approaches from the south. I sensed it as we entered the forest. It is in the trees above, here with us now. It may be a trick to expose our flank.”
“Thank you, my son.” He patted him on the shoulder, and brushed his dark locks aside. “You have been patient and honorable, everything I had hoped for. Tell the lines to draw back, and stay vigilant.”
“My lord, there is a complication.” Lawson raised his eyes to the manor.
Talmot lowered himself from a branch, touching down gently on the rooftop.
Lord Vangley clenched his jaw. “Get him down from there.”
Laurent whistled, but the Mujihadeen heard none of it. Quietly he crept over the shingles, spying rose and lavender hues through cracks in the unfinished roof. As he crossed over, a pair of familiar hands pulled him aside.
The roof exploded, balls of fire shooting out and scorching the treetops. The manor splintered in half, a giant flower rising from it.
“Looking for the easy way out, are you, Muslim?” Essinger grinned.