Stone raced to the globe. "What are we waiting for? Dial up the castle! We have to warn them...!"

"I suspect that they already know" Baird said quietly. "Or at least Rowan does. I wondered why she kept standing there, staring at the box the book was in. I thought, at first, she could hear the cries of the souls imprisoned in there..."

"But now?" Jenkins asked, tensely.

"Now I think maybe she could hear that demon buried in the depths of the Soul Cage as it called out to her, made her an offer..." Baird sighed. "She can hear the remnants of the demon whose name is carved on her Queen's sword - why would a demon in a cage like that Book of Shadows be any different?"

"I'm not worried then" Jones called out with a smile. "She treats her sword like it's one of her foot soldiers no matter what it whispers too her. Why should this slime be any different? What the bloody hell could some dust covered, moldy old demon offer her that a Duke of Hell couldn't"
"I wonder what it was offering Arthur before we dropped that faded book into its crystal coffin" Stone said, casting a quick glance at Jenkins.

"Whatever it was - it wasn't enough to tempt him to let it merge with his fire spirit animal" Jenkins replied tensly. "Arthur would never allow ANYTHING to take control of him in that way - no matter what it offered in return."

"What if it offers Khan something?" Cassandra said, a tremor in her voice. "Could he ignore it like she does her sword?"

"I doubt he'd even notice it" Stone admitted. "If he gets a chance to get into his "zone" the only thing he's going to be hearing is his brother's voice telling him what the next step in the battle will be."

"Which means that Arthur and Rowan are still targets for that creature's blandishments" Flynn said somberly. "Arthur's father didn't think there was anything that the power of the Book could offer him that would lead him to hurt his sister..."

"I'm not terribly worried about Arthur hurting Rowan" Baird replied with a shrug. "First off - I think Vlad's right when it comes to how much he loves her - and his little brother. And on top of that there is shit load of Death avatars jumping into this fight - and some of them are very, very fond of the young Queen. So even if he does lose it..."

"The Morrigan or one of the other angels of Death will knock him sideways to keep him off her." Flynn pulled out a chair and absently started to read through some of the notes Cassandra had been making, adding his own observations to her list.

"You know - what we COULD be doing while we wait for this all to get cleaned up is maybe track down what happened to the other two women that were kidnapped along with these three birds." Jones waved a hand in the direction of the sleeping woman, his smile never wavering. "Didn't someone say there wasn't any blood in that basement torture chamber to account for their disappearance?"

Flynn squinted at an observation on Cassandra's note pad with a frown. "Yes - and the servants of the Countess were not practiced in magic arts even if the Book gave them the power to use them. So how did they get that spell right - the one that replaced Candice with the Countess? Unless..." He lunged across the table and started opening books and scrolls, frantically scanning them as quickly as he could.

"Unless what?" Baird asked, a sick feeling in her stomach.

"Unless they had already practiced."

back at the Castle

Arthur stood, back to the wall, and watched as the various representations of Death took up positions around the tub. He had spent a moment talking to his sister after the departure of their father and the Librarians. "You were very interested in that book" he said quietly, watching as their brother made the rounds, talking to the various avatars. "Did it have anything to say to you?"

Rowan shrugged. "There is something in there from the Hell region - something that has kept the book relatively powerful through the years of famine. It's hungry for souls - and since I carry a sword named after a Duke of Hell..."

"It thought it had found a way to bond with you" Arthur sighed. "What did it offer you?"

She sighed. "So unimaginative. Said it would give me power to protect my family, make me Queen of Hell so that I could prevent Heaven from ever putting you all in harms way again. Really - how stupid does it think I am? A Queen on a throne tied to a creature of Darkness is no Queen at all but a slave . And that is NOT me. Not ever." She looked up at her handsome consort. "What did it offer you?"

Arthur smiled thinly. "Pretty much the same thing. Power. I think that's all it knows to offer." He glanced over at their brother, who had made his way over to Samedi who hadpulled a bottle of run from somewhere and was happily sharing it with the young Abbot. "Did it try to reach him, do you think?"

"Probably not" she laughed. "He's so chill it wouldn't know where to begin to try to lure him into sin." She patted her brother's arm reassuringly. "Stop worring about us, my love. We're a united front and with a little help from our friends this part of our advanture should be over soon. Then I can start making calls to my friends..."

Arthur groaned. "God! You and your "friends". Sometimes I think you have been secretly ruling the world all this time and just never bothered to tell Father or I about it."

Rowan smiled and motioned to Khan to join her to move the only other remaining humans in the room other than Candice. Together they hoisted the two terrified women on their feet and pushed them in the direction of their mistress.

Arthur's eyes narrowed as he watched his siblings drag Cindy and Dorothy into the claw-foot tub with the Countess/Candice. "Careful you two. We need to keep them alive - at least until we release the prisoners from the Soul Cage."

"Does it really matter that much?" Rowan drawled, shoving Cindy down into the tub. "We're pretty sure the meat suit the Countess is wearing is already dead and as for these two..."

"They have a snowball's chance in Hell of surviving this anyway" her towering middle brother snarked. "Might be more humane to kill them now." He grinned, all teeth and no warmth. "Might even be fun."

"Human - and easier on our associates" Rowan agreed, looking around as the various representations of Death began to morph into their traditional forms. "All they would have to do then is drop what passes for a soul in these two bitches into the nearest slide down into Hell."

Arthur sighed. He had suspected his brother had developed an affection for the old Warlord who had become something of a father figure for him. But as much as he agreed with the sentiment - the actions would only complicate things. "No little brother. If they die - then they die but it won't be at our hands. At least not yet."

Morrigan smiled. "My little battle crow" she whispered to Azrael - the "official" Angel of Death who had taken a stand beside her. "She is as vicious and cold-blooded as I knew she would be. I told that old dog he should let me foster her - she could be a Goddess of War, ruling over trembling mortals with her sword."

Azrael rolled her eyes. "Whatever" she muttered. "Let's get this show on the road shall we?"

Arthur motioned his brother take his place to the left of him and his sister to the right. "Ready whenever you are."