Katie's Hope (Chapter Three, page 2 of 18)

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"I'll come back," Rhyn promised, rising.

"Rhyn," Gabriel said quietly. "I don't think our friendship will survive what comes."

"We are both bound to our destinies, Gabriel, something you taught me. Whatever that brings, you've been my only brother and friend," Rhyn replied in the same tone.

When the assassin turned away, Rhyn stepped into the living forest. He opened the portal and stepped into the shadow world, envisioning the place Gabriel had passed to him. One of the portals glowed in response, and he strode through it, stepping into a world as sunny as

Gabriel's was dark. He smelled the ocean and stood on a beach of red sand edged with small shrubs. He walked up the beach and into the shrubs, finding a path that led to a small village of red cottages. Far across the sea, he saw the black walls of Hell stretching from water to sky.

The healers' village consisted of several dozen cottages around a central square, in which many of the village's people gathered and talked or cooked meals over red flames. They grew silent when he appeared, and those nearest him scattered. He'd thought Lankha skittish when he met the healer but soon found all the healers quaking and hiding.

"Lankha!" he belted, unable to distinguish one healer from the other. They all had Lankha's flat face, no nose, bug eyes, and scrawny little bodies with feathery hands. The healers scattered like roaches in daylight. Rhyn snagged the clothing of one, and the healer yelped. "Come out, Lankha, or I eat everyone in your village, starting with this one!"

He heard whispers traded behind doors and cottages and waited. "I'll count to three. One!"

"I'm heeeeere," one timid voice said. "What bringsss a demon to my hoooooome?" He recognized the healer by the amount of bands winding around his arm. Each one represented a millennium, and this creature had been around longer than Rhyn's deceased brother, Andre. He released the healer whose arm he held.

"Come with me," Rhyn ordered, opening a portal. Lankha hesitated but moved forward with a look over his shoulder at the village. Rhyn waited until the healer passed him and then stepped into the shadow world behind him.

Lankha's head hung, as if he walked to his death. He trailed as Rhyn led him toward the brightest portal, and Rhyn took the healer's arm to hurry him along. They stepped into the snowy yard outside the castle. He all but dragged the healer to Kris's room, found it empty, then went to Katie's chamber. He flung the door open and shoved the healer into the room, ignoring the two surprised occupants of the chamber as he closed the door without entering.

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