A week of love and terror has passed. The love between Echo and Blood Demon deepens with each passing day, and all who saw him heal her after the ordeal she suffered through on Friday must surely now believe his feelings for her are genuine ...

It was skull-masked Kurdt ... Kurdt whom she had once healed of serious injuries, Kurdt whom she considered a casual friend ... who abducted Echo's son Tommy, holding the young boy in captivity for many days (while she thought he was safely visiting friends), then kidnapped Echo herself. Kurdt severed her right foot with his sword so she could not possibly run, and while Viper and Tauron tried desperately to find her, Kurdt struck her in the head again and again, finally knocking her senseless and carrying her, unconscious, to a remote location. Only the magic medicinal bite of Echo's healing partner, the snake Aelu, who stayed well-hidden from Kurdt, kept her from bleeding to death.

"Why?" she kept asking, and all Kurdt would tell her was that this was something he had to do, to kill a random innocent in order to free himself from some curse or bondage. Her pleas for her life, or at least for the life of her child, went unheeded, it seemed, until the very moment when Kurdt's sword swung toward her neck and stopped so close to her skin that she felt its coldness ...

Then - who knows why? - Kurdt suddenly stopped, dropping the sword, and took her back to the dungeon where Tommy was held, releasing the terrified boy to his mother and then setting both free. She struggled into the Inn, where Starr and James healed her as best they could, and other friends cared for Tommy.

Blood Demon, when he entered, swore to hunt Kurdt and all his friends and family unto death, even while he filled himself with the blood of a nearby fool and then used it to complete the healing of Echo, regenerating the missing foot quickly.

The next day she rested until late in the afternoon before leaving her house ... only to find NbKiller and Nazareth preparing to fight to the death. There she learned that Nazareth held, in an artificial womb, an embryo created from his seed and her own. Nazareth returned to her at last what he had taken from her long ago, just before the battle began.

Perhaps it was the necklace she wears that gave her thoughts new power, but suddenly there in her mind was Marieke, watching the battle through Echo's eyes. Marieke saw Catz come in and leave quickly, and clearly Echo heard Marie's thought: "I would never have left!" Both Echo and Marie watched as the hours passed and the two demon vampires fought each other mercilessly, until both were close to death ... and at last Nazareth's blows drove Nb into unconsciousness.

Then, as Marieke wept and Echo prayed to her gods, something of a miracle occurred. Given ultimate power over Nb's life or death, Nazareth chose to sacrifice his own life in order to allow Nb to live.

Echo and James raced from the spectators' area down to the arena floor, where Echo dredged the depths of her being to heal Nb's brain and nervous system while James exerted his powers on the major wounds. Nb was far too badly hurt for even the two healers together to be able to restore him to full health, but they brought him to the point where his own vampiric nature could allow him to heal once he was fed and rested. Nazareth's spirit once more begged Nb to adopt the unborn son, and Nb, who had refused before the battle, now swore to take the boy as his own.

And Marie, before withdrawing from Echo's mind, at last forgave her sister-in-soul for the terrible wrong Echo had done her, even as she thanked Echo tearfully for helping to save the life of her lost love.

After several more hours rest, Echo returned to the Inn, where she found Black Arthur and asked of him the favor of doing surgery to restore to her body the ovaries Nazareth had stolen so long ago and now finally given back to her. Surgery went well, and Echo, whole again save for her damaged heart, went to sleep with thanks to Arthur on her lips and Blood Demon in her heart.

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Sword and Skulls graphics: THe SKuLL