Still Marieke continued to hunt among Echo's friends for someone who would help her exact vengeance upon Arthur and Daeus; still her searches proved vain. Yet as time passed the deepest soreness of her heart began to heal, for she knew there was hope that in time her sister would be returned to her.

There came an evening when Marie entered the Inn looking much like her usual self again, walking with her accustomed sensual grace, a smile and a warm greeting to her friends upon her lips. But all in an instant her world was plunged once again into a waking nightmare when Charles Paden bluntly told her: "NbKiller is dead, Marie. Died tonight."

And he smiled.

Pierced heartMarieke stopped dead in her tracks, turning whiter than white. Then she swayed. In a voice that sounded like someonce else entirely, she said, "H-how did he die? Who killed him?"

Lydia and Lelayna Vlad (who was voiceless from laryngitis) hurried to Marie's side, each holding on to her to keep her from falling. Charles answered, "Why, Linke did. There is a notice posted about it at the Hall, go read it, dear." And once more he smiled.

Why do you keep smiling while you tell me the only man I ever loved is dead? she thought, starting to walk toward him slowly and shakily, like a marionette with slightly tangled strings.

JadeAssassin looked at Charles, her eyes narrowing. "I really wish you would have told her better than that. That was so damn cold."

But Charles only smiled again. "Is there any good way to break the news about someone's death?"

Marieke balled her mutilated hands into fists and began to strike him, again and again, in the stomach, in the chest, in the face, over and over and over, like a machine. Charles stood still, accepting her pain. Lellie grabbed her by the shoulders from behind, but Marie kept hitting him, like an automaton. Tears came to Lydia's eyes as she watched, and Lellie spun Marie around, taking tight hold of her wrists trying to restrain her. Marie seemed not even to notice she had been turned, but tried now to punch at Lellie.

Jade told Charles, "I am sure if I found out you were dead like that, I would have killed the person who told me ... or died trying."

Charles exclaimed, "ENOUGH!" He opened his eyes and whispered softly. An ethereal hand appeared around Marie's throat and lifted her into the air. "I did not kill him," he said. "Find the man that did." His eyes glowed as he moved his hand in an arc. Marie was flung through air and crashed into a chair, breaking it and going limp. Charles turned and walked away. A large wall mirror shattered as he extended his will, trying to control his anger.

Lellie ran to where Marieke lay and slid down behind her, lifting the unconscious girl's head onto her lap, then shaking Marie's shoulders, trying to revive her.

Charles leaned upon the bar, his hands glowing as they melted into the wood, leaving his prints in it. Then he turned and looked to what he had done. "By the gods," he whispered, "I meant it not ... it was not me ... I mean it was ... but I ... I ... It was not me ... it was ... me ..."

He vanished into the shadows.

Marie's eyes opened, tear-filled, yet somehow they did not glisten: they were opaque and empty, as if there was nothing behind them. As Lelayna still held her, she whispered, "I cannot ... even ... say ... goodbye ..." Then she lay limply in Lellie's arms, suddenly looking old and broken.

Static had just come into the Inn; now he turned his head in mock disgust seeing Marieke, saying, "I think I may be ill." As Lellie tried to raise Marie to her feet, Static went on, "How can you touch such trash, Lellie dawling?" Lellie glanced at him as struggling to lift Marie, who was still too shocked to realize what was happening. RavenBlood quickly moved to help, and now Marie allowed herself to be moved, like a stuffed animal. Static continued taunting, "Ooh, I see Marie has gained some weight."

As Lellie and Raven moved Marie toward a chair, Marie spoke again, still in the voice that sounded nothing like her own. "Who is ... Linke?"

Lellie could only shake her head. RavenBlood asked, "What happened, sweetie?"

Marie told him, "Charles said ... Linke killed Nb ... who is Linke?"

Finally settling Marie in a chair, Lelayna reached for the paper and pen she was carrying with her while her voice was gone. Vigorously she wrote, "Nb attacked Linke. Linke defended. I only know that." Marieke stared at the paper but could not read it, blinded by tears.

Static took several strides toward Lelayna and Marieke, then stopped suddenly, sinking his hands into the pockets of his bloodstained lab jacket and chuckling softly. Marie simply slouched in the chair, her face still blank and empty, her eyes still lifeless. Static lowered his gaze to her, his eyes taking on a faint green glow. "And what happened to her?" he asked.

Lellie wrote quickly and handed the paper to him. "Charles threw her across the room when she freaked out about Nb's death and started hitting him."

Static stared at Marieke, then started to laugh ... and laugh loud. "Ha ha ha ha ha!!! I'll have to send Charles a fruit basket." He laughed down at her. "That's what you get, you silly wench."

Lellie put a hand over his mouth, and he raised an eyebrow. She did not like Marie, but had no wish to increase her pain.

RavenBlood now placed a hand upon Marie's cheek and gazed into her eyes, his own beginning to glow a dark shade of amber. Gently he sought to reach the shattered girl through her shock, seeking to bring her far enough out of this dangerous state so that she could safely be taken home. Static, ever cruel, tossed a candy at Marieke, striking her in the forehead; watchers laughed as her head rocked slightly, though she did not seem to realize anything had hit her. Tears continued to fill her eyes and spill ... like the tears of a doll.

Lelayna had seen enough of callousness. She interrupted RavenBlood's efforts to ease Marie's mind to lift the shaken girl to her feet and lead her out of the Inn, taking her to her own home.

Later Marie would remember Lellie's kindness, and know how she had misjudged Lelayna in the past; later, too, she would recall Static's taunts, and the laughter of those around her. But for now, she could only grieve ... and once away from the eyes of others, lying on the sofa in Lellie's sitting room, she began to cry in earnest. "It's t-true, isn't it ... he's d-dead ..."

Lelayna managed to conjure up a whisper. "Marieke, this thing you have heard of your love, is true. I saw the beginning of the fight with my own eyes."

Marie nodded a little and whispered, "Th-thank you, Lellie ... I am s-sorry I tried to hit you ..." "It was understandable," Lellie croaked.

Marie said softly, "Echo c-could have healed your ... th-throat ... if she were alive ..." As Lelayna gently pressed a cool damp cloth to Marie's tearstained face, Marie went on, "Lellie, I'm s-sorry ... for the things I have s-said ... you are g-good ..."

With a sad smile, Lellie whispered, "Do not think of it, Marie. I --" she coughed, "I know the pain for the loss of a lover. I am sorry for yours."

Marie let her head rest back against the pillows, feeling the coolness of the cloth on her hot face. "S-strange," she said, "I lost him s-so long ago ... I t-tried to stop loving him ..."

"That does not work, does it," Lellie said softly. Drained and exhausted now, she began to drift off.

"N-no," said Marie.

Lellie rang for a manservant, who came and, at his mistress's orders, lifted Marie to carry her to one of the guest chambers. Lelayna led the way out into the hall and up the large marble steps, dimly lit by dying candles; they reached the landing, and she lifted her skirts to lead them to the family quarters. She moved with soft steps down the hall, looking over her shoulder at Marie and the manservant as they moved past the children's nursery and bedchambers. At the end of the hall they reached a large door with a strange dragon seal on it, but instead of entering there, Lelayna took a candle from a table nearby and opened another door. She watched her servant carry the delicate glass doll of a woman into the darkness, knowing the room well enough that he did not wait while Lellie lit the candle holder by the door. The room slowly filled with a little light as he carefully placed Marieke on the large bed.

As he bowed and retreated, a young female servant entered bringing in a light silk sleeping gown. The servant carefully removed Marie's shoes and gown, while Lelayna turned down the comforter and warm sheets on the bed. Then the two together eased Marie gently underneath the covers, nestling her head down onto a feather pillow.

Marie murmured, "What? What?" in her sleep, then relaxed as the covers engulfed her like a womb. The maidservant lit a smaller candle near the bed, then turned to make up a fire to keep their guest warm for the night. Lellie disappeared into her own adjoining bedroom and returned with a pair of slippers and a warm robe, which she set upon a chair near the bed for Marieke's use in the morning.

While the maid quietly pulled the curtains closed around the large windows, swallowing the moonlight into darkness, Lelayna quickly wrote a note: "Marieke, you are a guest in my home for as long as you need. Please feel free to ring the bell at any time, and a servant will come to wait on you. Vezhan is in the nursery down the hall if you wish to see him when you awaken. My room is connected to yours, if you need to talk to someone, just knock. I will check in on you later this evening before I go to to bed." She trailed off the page with her signature, then placed the note next to the bed where Marie would see it when she awakened. Walking to the maidservant's side, she managed to whisper, "I want the fire kept all evening, and fresh flowers placed throughout the room. Whatever my guest desires, it is your responsibility. If she wakes and wishes to see me, I will be downstairs." The servant curtseyed and nodded; Lelayna glanced at Marie one last time and closed the door.

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