When Echo entered the hall she saw the flippant sign Static had hung on the door: "New Boots for Doc," and she nearly turned and ran. But in her head came the voice of Blood Demon, ordering her to enter, ordering her to do as he bid her. Helpless, she took a single step forward, feeling the eyes of the spectators on her as if each gaze were a blow, and crumpled to her knees.

Aelu, the small snake who was Echo's healing partner, and who normally lived in her braid, slipped from her healer's pack and slid up her arm to her neck. Quickly he sank his fangs into her, and by his unique magic sent a dose of a tranquilizer into her bloodstream. Then he vanished again into the pack.

The medicine took effect quickly, and Echo rose again, her eyes a bit glassy, and walked to the center, where Static had shackled Blood Demon to a table, his back upward. Blood's face, turned to one side, was cold and defiant. In her mind Echo begged him again: Please! Don't make me do this! But the answer was another curt order: Do it. Now.

It passed through Echo's mind to kill herself then and there, rather than do this hideous thing. Beside Static stood the child she had tried so desperately to recover: Vezhan, her son, Blood's son, smiling and holding Static's hand, looking as if he were already five years old, his once reddish-fair skin darkened to almost black by Static's witchery. The gods alone knew what Static had done to the child's mind ... was his mind now as dark as his skin?

As if hearing her thoughts, Blood spoke to her mind again, anger in the tone of his thoughts: DO it!

She stepped to the table.

Static offered her a jagged razor, smirking. "Do you want tatters?" Echo asked acidly. Then, her hand steadied only by the tranquilizer, she took from her pack one of the high-tech instruments given to her by Rak but rarely used, too foreign to her training to be comfortable. Her hope was to minimize blood loss by using this futuristic scalpel, and if possible, to ease Blood's pain without Static knowing it, since anaesthetics had been forbidden.

An image flashed through her mind ... a loving moment ... she closed her eyes ...

And Blood's thought melded with hers. I love you, Echo. I know you love me. But this must be done.

All around her, they watched: The hated Static, her stranger son Vezhan, her dear friend James; Demon Moon, Judas, Lelayna Vlad; Tristan and Tzigany; Phoenix Lord Josh, Jaim Tashima, Necrocide and Gauge of Neo City; and many others she barely knew or had never even met, all come to see her do something she would much rather die than do.

Echo opened her eyes and began the first incision.

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