"He can't have gotten far," Tori said. "He's cast a spell of invisibility, or of transportation. He could be anywhere within a mile, but he has to be going somewhere. It sure isn't back to the school, not with us aware of who he is and what he's done."
"He's got to be headed for his parents' estate," Sam said. "They might shelter him. He could make a case as the son of the baron that this is politically-motivated, or even fabricated. If he mentions Agnete's involvement, he could win the Masters over on that alone."
"Truth." The drow's voice was cold. "We have to stop him."
"I can find him," Belthor said. He raised his staff, and the impulse he sought now was discovery. If there was anything hidden within five hundred yards, he wanted to know about it.
His staff hit the snow. He closed his eyes, listening and feeling...
It was like a itch...seven itches. It was very strange. He frowned as he tried to pinpoint more about them...he felt footsteps running for the river, but before he could tell his companions, he felt the other itches, the other discoveries.
"Belthor?" Sam asked, as he turned on his heel. He walked six paces through the snow, staff in hand, heart pounding.
"No," he whispered. "No. This can't be."
"Belthor?" Tori demanded.
"What is it?" Agnete asked.
Belthor raised his staff. He sucked in breath, then brought the tool down with a thud!
The snow shifted. It whirled and twisted, and then vomited upward, accompanied by geysers of dirt, from six spots at once.
From before six headstones, each one with a bouquet laid before it.
Six coffins rose, each one crashing down in the snow in the same heartbeat. Belthor approached them, barely able to breathe, and lowered his staff.
"What is this?" Agnete asked, as he wrenched the lid off of one.
"No!" Yvette's voice was strained and panicked. "He will see!" She thrashed inside the coffin, in a white dress and held down by what looked like hidden steel cuffs, clutching flowers to her chest. Green ran in her veins, and flashed in and out of her eyes.
"It's me!" Belthor ran to her, jabbing at her restraints with his staff. They cracked, and he grabbed her hand to pull her out. "It's Belthor-"
"Light!" She covered her eyes. "No! No light! It will shatter me and scour us all! He will see!"
"Theron is gone," Belthor said. "You're free. Yvette-"
"There is no free!" She burst into tears, thrashing. "The dark is all! Light and fire and...and he will see! Nothing but dark." She whimpered. "Don't make me go back in the dark. Please, Owner, don't do it. Don't leave me in the dark again. I'll be good."
"I'm not going to-"
"Please!" Yvette thrashed, her voice panicked. "Not the dark!"
Belthor fell silent as he realized how far beyond reason she was. Her eyes still glowed green, her veins still pulsed, and in her movements, she had the jerky stiffness she had possessed as an Owned.
"Check the others," he managed to gasp, while he grappled with the truth of what he was seeing. "Get them out."
Tori and Sam set to with a will, and Agnete shattered a coffin's lid with her claws. They pulled the other four Owned from their prisons, and the chorus of whimpering cries only became worse. Belthor felt his breath come in great rasps as he took them in, and noted with horror that one looked exactly like Theron's sketches of his fiancée. He couldn't bear to approach her, and instead hurried for the sixth coffin. He ripped the lid off-
"I don't want to do it again!" Annette cried. "Don't make me drink it! I'll do anything!" She twisted in her bonds, green in her veins and her eyes like the others. "No more! Let me go, please!"
"Annette..." Belthor couldn't get anything else out. "Annette..."
"Don't make me drink it," she whimpered. "Please don't do it. It burns me. It hurts. It tears at me and rips me open on the inside...I can't think...please, don't force me to drink any more. No more dark...light and fire..." She started giggling, almost uncontrollably. "Light and fire in the dark and...and..." the giggles became tears. "Please stop!"
"Gods." Sam was pale like the snow, and Tori along with him. Agnete just stared, stared at all the Owned with incomprehension and shock in her eyes.
"How could anyone do this?" Tori asked, before she embraced one of the sobbing girls. "It's all right. It's all right. Breathe. You're safe."
"What the devil is-" the stranger's voice trailed off as he saw the chaos. "Oh, no." He surged forward, leaning down to sweep Yvette and Annette both up in his arms like they weighed nothing. "It's all right, girls. It's over."
Belthor said nothing. He couldn't even bring himself to comfort one of the Owned. Sam knelt with them, looking unsure of what to say but determined to try, and Agnete just stood still as a tree, and quiet as one too.
Belthor's grip tightened on his staff as the coiling beast returned.
"Hey!" Tori called as he turned and bolted for the river. "Bel, what are you-"
"Get them to safety!" he shouted over his shoulder. "Find a Master!"
"Belthor, you can't just-"
"Come back, son!" the stranger called. "Theron's too good for you to take on your own-"
Belthor shut him out. He shut Tori and Sam's calls out too, and he shut out every voice of caution in his head. The only thing that mattered was the chorus of crying and screaming, the thrashing girls lost in their own minds, locked in coffins buried in the earth...
And the man who had done it to them.