Chapter 22

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With reckless abandon, the witch thrust her hand through the vulnerable spot in the barrier, dropped the moon, grabbed the Rune and tried to pull her hand free. But the barrier would not release her. Streaks of lightning viscously attacked her hand as the barrier drained the black robe of her energy. Her screams were agonized and she was beginning to lose consciousness when the image of Satarsmyt came unbidden into her mind. She received a tremendous energy transfusion that would have killed her had she not been close to making her transition. Instead, it enabled her to extract her hand from the barrier.

The black robe staggered back, dazed from her near encounter with death. So clouded was her mind that she did not notice the throbbing in her hand for several moments. When it finally drew her attention, the witch looked down absently to her hand and beheld the glowing Rune of Destruction.

The Rune was alive in some inanimate way. Flashes of hidden pasts darted through the witch's mind. The remains of civilizations, images of destruction and glimpses of?of what? She was unsure. The visions passed too quickly for her to be certain. But she knew that the knowledge concealed within the Rune for thousands of years was accessible to her. There was a price to pay to attain such knowledge, however. The Rune was wearing away at her very being, consuming what was left of the black robe's life. The burden of the visions became too heavy and she was overcome with vertigo. She felt herself falling into a deep black hole when suddenly there was a shimmering and she was gone.

§

"Give it to me," the demon ordered.

The witch glanced around, disoriented. At first, she could discern nothing through the heavy scarlet eddies that swirled about her. Then she saw the demon sitting in its familiar red throne and knew herself to be in the black citadel. "No! Never!" She clutched the Rune of Destruction tightly, holding it to her breast.

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