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Atop the judgment dais, Euriel Idundaughter Kergatha struggled to break free before Hecate's priests dragged away her seven-summer old daughter. Little blonde Liandra kicked and screamed as the baldheaded men in red tunics towed the child across the audience chamber floor. Each shriek stabbed into Euriel's heart as they echoed off the vaulted marble ceilings and rattled the stained glass mosaics.
"Mother!" Liandra implored, hands thrust toward her, blue eyes wide with panic.
Euriel twisted her arms against the stone that had encased them. She wouldn't let them take her children. Cosmodarus was a city of peace, neutral and outside the boundaries tread by the avatars. They had no right to be here; no right to take anyone away.
Especially not her daughter.
The click of hard boots climbing the dais steps echoed through the chamber. Euriel felt a prickly-cold sensation hum through her body as someone stepped close. The air filled with a stifling musky-sweet odor; the smell of dying flowers.
Euriel tore her gaze away from daughter and glared at the avatar. Only a creature corrupted with the magic of a dark pantheon lord could make her flesh crawl like this. Recognizing the night hag Mishaka, she spat at the evil creature's feet.
Hecate's avatar was a pale knife of a woman dressed in spike heeled riding boots and layers of white silk. Her perfect face with its moon-gray eyes and broad blood-red mouth would have been attractive were not the rest of her so black and twisted.
Mishaka glanced at the spittle on the floor, brushed back her translucent hair and sneered. She clacked forward and gripped Euriel'sface, long nails biting into her cheeks. She spoke in a breathy tenor that made the stones tremble. "Surrender Euriel, don't waste your time trying to break my bindings."
Growling, Euriel jerked her face back from the woman's loathsome touch. She focused all her attention on the two pillars of rock pinning her arms. Mishaka had taken her by surprise. If she'd sensed her coming, this situation would be different indeed.
Her heart pounded. She stole a glance toward Liandra. Her little girl was only visible as a darkened shape dwindling down the hall. She had to get to her.
She concentrated all of her will on her right arm. She was Idun's daughter. The blood of the Aesir flowed through her veins. I must be free.
A red haze filled Euriel's vision and heat surged through her. My children. My husband. My kingdom. She increased the pressure on the material gripping her arm. Euriel focused until she saw each granule of the irregular surface trembling under the force of her love and determination.
Mishaka's icy voice threatened to break her concentration. "This display is foolish."
Like a prayer answered, she felt Odin's gift sing through her. "I--think--not!"
Her right arm came free in a rumble of shattering stone. Mishaka's eyes went wide and her mouth opened in a scream. She didn't get out a sound before Euriel's hand clamped around her throat.
Fury driving her, Euriel yanked the despicable woman forward and shoved her hard into the pillar still gripping her other arm. Mishaka's head impacted the surface with a thud.
She pulled back and slammed her again. "Feel--your--folly!" She punctuated each word with a hammer blow into the rock.
Euriel pulled the dazed and bloody avatar close. Sparks crackled and snapped around her fingers as she clamped down with all her will, forcing her nails deep into the avatar's resilient flesh. "Tell me again how you plan to succorund my children! How you will tear out their minds and make them hosts for Hecate." Blue fire sizzled around her hand as she brought all her magical birthright to bear, smashing the frameworks of demi-urge that linked this vile puppet to her mistress. Teeth gritted, hand shuddering with the strain, she pressed harder as Mishaka, still conscious, clawed at her wrist. Black blood welled around Euriel's burning fingers. "Speak, avatar bitch, I hear not your boasting!"
Mishaka only groaned and twitched. She would pay for the indignities and torture, for her gloating and overconfidence. The avatar's eyes rolled up, and blood bubbled from her lips.
Justice served. A few moments longer and this evil spawn would be back in the abyss where she belonged.
Pain exploded in the back of Euriel's skull. Lights spun in her vision. The shock broke her grip on Mishaka. The avatar toppled to the floor, flopping and jerking. Before Euriel could orient, another impact drove her to her knees. The world grew fuzzy.
"Dear Mishaka," a male voice said from behind. "You really must learn not to underestimate these people. After all, they are the children of gods. You have to expect more from the mother of two Savants; much much more."
Euriel tried to guard herself. She only caught a glimpse of black-black eyes and a broken yellow-toothed grimace before he brought the mace in his hand crashing down for the third time...