“Who are you?” he repeated.

“Excuse the restraints,” the woman replied, ignoring his question. “I’ve never accurately predicted the reactions of the frightened or stupid, and you appear to be both. And please don’t scream. I’m sensitive to noise.”

Elymas tried to protest, but a cold pressure applied to each side of his throat took his breath away. He managed a guttural assent. The pressure eased.

“The shadow mists will be gone in a moment,” she continued. “I don’t allow anyone to see me come or go. By the way, you’re free to move now.”

She whispered something under her breath, and the remaining link was gone. He slumped forward in his chair like a used wine bladder.

“You are beautiful,” he muttered. A strange response, but still the foremost in his head. “What is your name?”

“I am many people and have many personalities to go with them. At least one of them you’ve seen before. The present one is my favorite for traveling and closest to my natural self.” She was sitting on the edge of the dais, legs crossed, wide eyed as a child. Abruptly, the childlike demeanor vanished and she narrowed her eyes. “You asked my name? Ask for the moon. My real name is no concern to you. I am called Rizla the Red Witch. Perhaps you have heard of me?”

He thought the question vain.

“Your name is not unknown.” Elymas tried but couldn’t suppress his amusement. He threw back his head and laughed at the girl pretending to be one of the most powerful denizens of the underworld. She was good, very good, and suddenly he ached to break her. Her resistance would be sweet, the spillage from her body leaking treasures. Could courage be found in such blood?

If so, he would drink it.

“You are incredible.” He flung out the compliment without meeting her eyes, nor did he dwell on the lines of her body. Truly, he had no more time to waste. It was growing late, and although the work on the homunculus wasn’t extensive, it must be exact. “Before I go, I must know. What is the name of the third knot?”

“Sorry.” Her teeth flashed a smile. “The third link is one of my own making and can’t be revealed.”

The woman calling herself Rizla said this without the slightest trace of apology or fear. Elymas felt his amusement flee. She really didn’t intend to tell him what he’d asked.

“Enough playacting,” he said, sternly. “You cannot be Rizla.”

“Why not?”

“Because I am Elymas!” He flung out his arms in exasperation. “And I would know!”

“Very well. Watch this.”

Instantly, the room was plunged into darkness. Not a shadow remained; Elymas couldn’t see a finger before his face. The next moment the rushes were blazing with a light that, even in the huge room, hurt his eyes. A few more minutes of this, and the room was as before.

“I could do that,” Elymas retorted, unimpressed.