Chapter Five


It wasn't quite the Third Armored Division, but after about a dozen phone calls, they did manage to get a ride.

"I'm turning on the street--nobody in sight so far," Eve's voice said from the speaker of Claire's cell phone. She'd been giving Claire a turnbyturn description of her drive, and Claire had to admit, it sounded pretty frightening. "Yeah, I can see the Day House. You're in the alley next to it?"

"We're on our way," Claire said breathlessly. She was drenched with sweat, aching all over, from the effort of helping drag Myrnin out of the lab, up the steps, and down the narrow, seemingly endless dark alley. Next door, the Founder House belonging to Katherine Day and her granddaughter--a virtual copy of the house where Claire and her friends lived--was dark and closed, but Claire saw curtains moving at the upstairs windows.

"That's my greataunt's house, GreatAunt Kathy," Hannah panted. "Everybody calls her Gramma, though. Always have, as far back as I can remember."

Claire could see how Hannah was related to the Days; partly her features, but her attitude for sure. That was a family full of tough, smart, getitdone women.

Eve's big, black car was idling at the end of the alley, and the back door kicked open as the two of them--three? Did Myrnin still count?--approached. Eve took a look at Myrnin, and the stake in his back, sent Claire a you'vegottobe kiddingme look, and reached out to drag him inside, facedown, on the backseat. "Hurry!" she said, and slammed the back door on the way to the driver's side. "Damn, he'd better not bleed all over the place. Claire, I thought you were supposed to--"

"I know," Claire said, and climbed into the middle of the big, front bench seat. Hannah crammed in on the outside. "Don't remind me. I was supposed to keep him safe."

Eve put the car in gear and did a ponderous tankheavy turn. "So, who staked him?"

"I did."

Eve blinked. "Okay, that's an interesting interpretation of safe. Weren't you with Amelie?" Eve actually did a quick check of the backseat, as if she were afraid Amelie might have magically popped in back there, seated like a barbarian queen on top of Myrnin's prone body.

"Yeah. We were," Hannah said.

"Do I have to ask? No, wait, do I want to ask?"

"We left her," Claire said, miserable. "Bishop set a trap. She was fighting when we had to go."

"What about the other guys? I thought you went with a whole entourage!"

"We left most of them. . . ." Her brain caught up with her, and she looked at Hannah, who looked back with the same thought in her expression. "Oh, crap. The other guys. They were in Myrnin's lab, but not when we came back. . . ."

"Gone," Hannah said. "Taken out."

"Super. So, we're winning, then." Eve's tone was wicked cynical, but her dark eyes looked scared. "I talked to Michael. He's okay. They're at the university. Things are quiet there so far."

"And Shane?" Claire realized, with a pure bolt of guilt, that she hadn't called him. If he'd called her, she wouldn't have known; she'd turned off the ringer, afraid of the noise when creeping around on a rescue mission.

But as she dug out her phone, she saw that she hadn't missed any calls after all.

"Yeah, he's okay," Eve said, and steered the car at semihigh speed around a corner. The town was dark, very dark, with a few houses lit up by lanterns or candles or flashlights. Most people were waiting in the dark, scared to death. "They had some vamps try to board the bus, probably looking for a snack, but it wasn't even a real fight. So far they're cruising without too much trouble. He's fine, Claire." She reached over and took Claire's hand to squeeze it. "You, not so much. You look awful."

"Thanks. I think I earned it."

Eve took back her hand to haul the big wheel of the car around for a turn. Headlights swept over a group on the sidewalk--unnaturally pale. Unnaturally still. "Oh, crap, we've got bogeys. Hang on, I'm going to floor it."

That was, Claire thought, a pretty fantastic idea, because the vampires on the curb were now in the street, and following. There was a kind of manic glee to how they pursued the car, but not even a vamp could keep up with Eve's driving for long; they fell back into the dark, one by one. The last one was the fastest, and he nearly caught hold of the back bumper before he stumbled and was left behind in a black cloud of exhaust.

"Damn freaks," Eve said, trying to sound tough but not quite making it. "Hey, Hannah. How's business?"

"Right now?" Hannah laughed softly. "Not so fantastic, but I'm not bothered about it. Let's see if we can make it to the morning. Then I'll worry about making ends meet at the shop."

"Oh, we'll make it," Eve said, with a confidence Claire personally didn't feel. "Look, it's already four a.m. Another couple of hours, and we're fine."

Claire didn't say, In a couple of hours, we could all be dead, but she was thinking it. What about Amelie? What were they going to do to rescue her?

If she's even still alive.

Claire's head hurt, her eyes felt grainy from lack of sleep, and she just wanted to curl up in a warm bed, pull the pillow over her head, and not be so responsible.

Fat chance.

She wasn't paying attention to where Eve was going, and anyway, it was so dark and strange outside she wasn't sure she'd recognize things, anyway. Eve pulled to a halt at the curb, in front of a row of plate glass windows lit by candles and lanterns inside.

Just like that, they were at Common Grounds.

Eve jumped out of the driver's side, opened the back door, and grabbed Myrnin under the arms, all the while muttering, "Ick, ick, ick!" Claire slid out to join her, and Hannah grabbed Myrnin's feet when they hit the pavement, and the three of them carried him into the coffee shop.

Claire found herself shoved immediately out of the way by two vampires: Oliver and some woman she didn't know. Oliver looked grim, but then, that wasn't new, either. "Put him down," Oliver said. "No, not there, idiots, over there, on the sofa. You. Off." That last was directed at the frightened humans who were seated on the indicated couch, and they scattered like quail. Eve continued her ick mantra as she and Hannah hauled Myrnin's deadweight over and settled him facedown on the couch cushions. He was about the color of a fluorescent lightbulb now, bluewhite and cold.

Oliver crouched next to him, looking at the stake in Myrnin's back. He steepled his fingers for a moment, and then looked up at Claire. "What happened?"

She supposed he could tell, somehow, that it was her stake. Wonderful. "I didn't have a choice. He came after us." The us part might have been an exaggeration; he'd come after Hannah, really. But eventually he would have come after Claire, too; she knew that.

Oliver gave her a moment to squirm while he stared at her, and then looked back at Myrnin's still, very corpselike body. The area where the stake had gone in looked even paler than the surrounding tissue, like the edge of a whirlpool draining all the color out of him. "Do you have any of the drugs you have been giving him?" Oliver asked. Claire nodded, and fumbled in her pocket. She had some of the powder form of the drug, and some of the liquid, but she hadn't felt confident at all that she'd be able to get it into Myrnin's mouth without a fight she was bound to lose. When Myrnin was like this, you were going to lose fingers, at the very least, if you got anywhere near his mouth.

Not so much an issue now, she supposed. She handed over the vials to Oliver, who turned them over in his fingers, considering, and then handed back the powder. "The liquid absorbs into the body more quickly, I expect."

"Yes." It also had some unpredictable side effects, but this probably wasn't the time to worry about that.

"And Amelie?" Oliver continued turning the bottle over and over in his fingers.

"She's--we had to leave her. She was fighting Bishop. I don't know where she is now."

A deep silence filled the room, and Claire saw the vampires all look at one another--all except Oliver, who continued to stare down at Myrnin, no change in his expression at all. "All right, then. Helen, Karl, watch the windows and doors. I doubt Bishop's patrols will try storming the place, but they might, while I'm distracted. The rest of you"--he looked at the humans and shook his head--"try to stay out of our way."

He thumbed the top off the vial of clear liquid and held it in his right hand. "Get ready to turn him faceup," he said to Hannah and Claire. Claire took hold of Myrnin's shoulders, and Hannah his feet.

Oliver took the stake in his left hand and, in one smooth motion, pulled it out. It clattered to the floor, and he nodded sharply. "Now."

Once Myrnin was lying on his back, Oliver motioned her away and pried open Myrnin's bloodless lips. He poured the liquid into the other vampire's mouth, shut it, and placed a hand on his high forehead.

Myrnin's dark eyes were open. Wideopen. Claire shuddered, because they looked completely dead--like windows into a dark, dark room . . . and then he blinked.

He sucked in a very deep breath, and his back arched in silent agony. Oliver held his hand steady on Myrnin's forehead. His eyes were squeezed shut in concentration, and Myrnin writhed weakly, trying without much success to twist free. He collapsed limply back on the cushions, chest rising and falling. His skin still looked like polished marble, veined with cold blue, but his eyes were alive again.

And crazy. And hungry.

He swallowed, coughed, swallowed again, and gradually, the insane pilot light in his eyes went out. He looked tired and confused and in pain.

Oliver let out a long, moaning sigh, and tried to stand up. He couldn't. He made it about halfway up, then wavered and fell to his knees, one hand braced on the arm of the couch for support. His head went down, and his shoulders heaved, almost as if he were gasping or crying. Claire couldn't imagine Oliver--Oliver--doing either one of those things, really.

Nobody moved. Nobody touched him, although some of the other vampires exchanged unreadable glances.

He's sick, Claire thought. It was the disease. It made it harder and harder for them to concentrate, to do the things they'd always taken for granted, like make other vampires. Or revive them. Even Oliver, who hadn't believed anything about the sickness . . . even he was starting to fail.

And he knew it.

"Help me up," Oliver finally whispered. His voice sounded faint and tattered. Claire grabbed his arm and helped him climb slowly, painfully up; he moved as if he were a thousand years old, and felt every year of it. One of the other vampires silently provided a chair, and Claire helped him into it.

Oliver braced his elbows on his thighs and hid his pale face in his hands. When she started to speak, he said, softly, "Leave me."

It didn't seem a good idea to argue. Claire backed off and returned to where Myrnin was, on the couch.

He blinked, still staring at the ceiling. He folded his hands slowly across his stomach, but didn't otherwise move.

"Myrnin?"

"Present," he said, from what seemed like a very great distance away. He chuckled very softly, then winced. "Hurts when I laugh."

"Yeah, um--I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" A very slight frown worked its way between Myrnin's eyebrows, made a slow V, and then went on its way. "Ah. Staked me."

"I . . . uh . . . yeah." She knew what Oliver's reaction would have been, if she'd done that kind of thing to him, and the outcome wouldn't have been pretty. She wasn't sure what Myrnin might do. Just to be sure, she stayed out of easy grabbing distance.

Myrnin simply closed his eyes for a moment and nodded. He looked old now, exhausted, like Oliver. "I'm sure it was for the best," he said. "Perhaps you should have left the wood in place. Better for everyone, in the end. I would have just--faded away. It's not very painful, not comparatively."

"No!" She took a step closer, then another. He just looked so--defeated. "Myrnin, don't. We need you."

He didn't open his eyes, but there was a tiny, tired smile curving his lips. "I'm sure you think you do, but you have what you need now. I found the cure for you, Claire. Bishop's blood. It's time to let me go. It's too late for me to get better." "I don't believe that."

This time, his great dark eyes opened and studied her with cool intensity. "I see you don't," he said. "Whether or not that assumption is reasonable, that's another question entirely. Where is she?"

He was asking about Amelie. Claire glanced at Oliver, still hunched over, clearly in pain. No help. She bent closer to Myrnin. No way she wouldn't be overheard by the other vampires, though, she knew that. "She's--I don't know. We got separated.

The last I saw, she and Bishop were fighting it out."

Myrnin sat up. It wasn't the kind of smooth, controlled motion vampires usually had, as though they'd been practicing it for three or four human lifetimes; he had to pull himself up, slowly and painfully, and it hurt Claire to watch. She put her hand against his shoulder blade to brace him. His skin still felt marblecold, but not dead. It was hard to figure out what the difference was--maybe it was the muscles, underneath, tensed and alive again.

"We have to find her," he said. "Bishop will stop at nothing to get her, if he hasn't already. Once you were safely away, she'd have retreated. Amelie is a guerrilla fighter. It's not like her to fight in the open, not against her father."

"We're not going anywhere," Oliver said, without taking his head out of his hands. "And neither are you, Myrnin."

"You owe her your fealty."

"I owe nothing to the dead," Oliver said. "And until I see proof of her survival, I will not sacrifice my life, or anyone else's, in a futile attempt at rescue."

Myrnin's face twisted in contempt. "You haven't changed," he said.

"Neither have you, fool," Oliver murmured. "Now shut up. My head aches."

Eve was pulling shots behind the counter, wearing a formal black apron that went below her knees. Claire slid wearily onto a barstool on the other side. "Wow," she said. "Flashback to the good times, huh?"

Eve made a sour face as she thumped a mocha down in front of her friend.

Yeah, don't remind me," she said. "Although I have to say, I missed the Monster."

"The Monster?"

Eve patted the giant, shiny espresso machine beside her affectionately. "Monster, meet Claire. Claire, meet the Monster. He's a sweetie, really, but you have to know his moods."

Claire reached out and patted the machine, too. "Nice to meet you, Monster."

"Hey." Eve caught her wrist when she tried to pull back. "Bruises? What gives?"

Amelie's grip on her really had raised a crop of faint blue smudges on her upper arm, like a primitive tattoo. "Don't freak. I don't have any bite marks or anything."

"I'll freak if I wanna. As long as Michael isn't here, I'm kind of--"

"What, my mom?" Claire snapped, and was instantly sorry. And guilty, for an entirely different reason. "I didn't mean--" Eve waved it away. "Hey, if you can't spark a 'tude on a day like this, when can you? Your mother's okay, by the way, because I know that's your next question. So far, Bishop's freaks haven't managed to shut down the cell network, so I've been keeping in touch, since nothing's happening here except for some serious caffeine production. Landlines are dead, though. So is the Internet. Radio and TV are both off the air, too."

Claire looked at the clock. Five a.m. Two hours until dawn, more or less--probably less. It felt like an eternity.

"What are we going to do in the morning?" she asked.

"Good question." Eve wiped down the counter. Claire sipped the sweet, chocolatey comfort of the mocha. "When you think of something, let us know, because right now, I don't think anybody's got a clue."

"You'd be wrong, thankfully," Oliver said. He seemed to come out of nowhere--God, didn't Claire hate that!--as he settled on the stool next to her. He seemed almost back to normal now, but very tired. There was a shadow in his eyes that Claire didn't remember seeing before. "There is a plan in place. Amelie's removal from the field of battle is a blow, but not a defeat. We continue as she would want."

"Yeah? You want to tell us?" Eve asked. That earned her a cool stare. "Yeah, I didn't think so. Vampires really aren't all about the sharing, unless it benefits them first."

"I will tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it," Oliver said. "Get me one of the bags from the walkin refrigerator."

Eve looked down at the top of her apron. "Oh, I'm sorry, where does it say servant on here? Because I'm so very not."

For a second, Claire held her breath, because the expression on Oliver's face was murderous, and she saw a red light, like the embers of a banked fire, glowing in the back of his eyes.

Then he blinked and said, simply, "Please, Eve."

Eve hadn't been expecting that. She blinked, stared back at him for a second, then silently nodded and walked away, behind a curtained doorway.

"You're wondering if that hurt," Oliver said, not looking at Claire at all, but staring after Eve. "It did, most assuredly."

"Good," she said. "I hear suffering's good for the soul, or something."

"Then we shall all be right with our God by morning." Oliver swiveled on the stool to look her full in the face. "I should kill you for what you did."

"Staking Myrnin?" She sighed. "I know. I didn't think I had a choice. He'd have bitten my hand off if I'd tried to give him the medicine, and by the time it took effect, me and Hannah would have been dog food, anyway. It seemed like the quickest, quietest way to get him out."

"Even so," Oliver said, his voice low in his throat, "as an Elder, I have the power to sentence you, right now, to death, for attempted murder of a vampire. You do understand?"

Claire held up her hand and pointed to the gold bracelet on her wrist--the symbol of the Founder. Amelie's symbol. "What about this?"

"I would pay reparations," he said. "I imagine I could afford it. Amelie would be tolerably upset with me, for a while, always assuming she is still alive. We'd reach an accommodation. We always do."

Claire didn't say anything else in her defense, just waited. And after a moment, he nodded. "All right," he said. "You were right to take the action you did. You have been right about a good deal that I was unwilling to admit, including the fact that some of us are"--he cast a quick look around, and dropped his voice so low she could make out the word only from the shape his lips gave it--"unwell."

Unwell. Yeah, that was one way to put it. She resisted an urge to roll her eyes. How about dying? Ever heard the word pandemic?

Oliver continued without waiting for her response. "Myrnin's mind was . . . very disordered," he said. "I didn't think I could get him back. I wouldn't have, without that dose of medication."

"Does that mean you believe us now?" She meant, about the vampire disease, but she couldn't say that out loud. Even the roundabout way they were speaking was dangerous; too many vampire ears with too little to do, and once they knew about the sickness, there was no predicting what they might do. Run, probably. Go off to rampage through the human world, sicken, and die alone, very slowly. It'd take years, maybe decades, but eventually, they'd all fall, one by one. Oliver's case was less advanced than many of the others, but age seemed to slow down the disease's progress; he might last for a long time, losing himself slowly.

Becoming nothing more than a hungry shell.

Oliver said, "It means what it means," and he said it with an impatient edge to it, but Claire wondered if he really did know. "I am talking about Myrnin. Your drugs may not be enough to hold him for long, and that means we will need to take precautions."

Eve emerged from the curtain carrying a plastic blood bag, filled with dark cherry syrup. That was what Claire told herself, anyway. Dark cherry syrup. Eve looked shaken, and she dumped the bag on the counter in front of Oliver like a dead rat. "You've been planning this," she said. "Planning for a siege."

Oliver smiled slowly. "Have I?"

"You've got enough blood in there to feed half the vampires in town for a month, and enough of those heatandeat meals campers use to feed the rest of us even longer. Medicines, too. Pretty much anything we'd need to hold out here, including generators, batteries, bottled water. . . ."

"Let's say I am cautious," he said. "It's a trait many of us have picked up during our travels." He took the blood bag and motioned for a cup; when Eve set it in front of him, he punctured the bag with a fingernail, very neatly, and squeezed part of the contents into the cup. "Save the rest," he said, and handed it back to Eve, who looked even queasier than before. "Don't look so disgusted. Blood in bags means none taken unwillingly from your veins, after all."

Eve held it at arm's length, opened the smaller refrigerator behind the bar, and put it in an empty spot on the door rack inside. "Ugh," she said. "Why am I behind the bar again?"

"Because you put on the apron."

"Oh, you're just loving this, aren't you?"

"Guys," Claire said, drawing both of their stares. "Myrnin. Where are we going to put him?"

Before Oliver could answer, Myrnin pushed through the crowd in the tableandchairs area of Common Grounds and walked toward them. He seemed normal again, or as normal as Myrnin ever got, anyway. He'd begged, borrowed, or outright stolen a long, black velvet coat, and under it he was still wearing the poofy white Pierrot pants from his costume, dark boots, and no shirt. Long, black, glossy hair and decadently shining eyes.

Oliver took in the outfit, and raised a brow. "You look like you escaped from a Victorian brothel," he said. "One that . . . specialized."

In answer, Myrnin skinned up the sleeves of the coat. The wound in his back might have healed--or might be healing, anyway--but the burns on his wrists and hands were still livid red, with an unhealthy silver tint to them. "Not the sort of brothel I'd normally frequent, by choice," he said, "though of course you might be more adventurous, Oliver." Their gazes locked, and Claire resisted the urge to take a step back. She thought, just for a second, that they were going to bare fangs at each other . . . and then Myrnin smiled. "I suppose I should say thank you."

"It would be customary," Oliver agreed.

Myrnin turned to Claire. "Thank you."

Somehow, she guessed that wasn't what Oliver had expected; she certainly hadn't. It was the kind of snub that got most people hurt in Morganville, but then again, she guessed Myrnin wasn't most people, even to Oliver.

Oliver didn't react. If there was a small red glow in the depths of his eyes, it could have been a reflection from the lights.

"Um--for what?" Claire asked.

"I remember what you did." Myrnin shrugged. "It was the right choice at the moment. I couldn't control myself. The pain . . . the pain was extremely difficult to contain."

She cast a nervous glance at his wrists. "How is it now?"

"Tolerable." His tone dismissed any further discussion. "We need to get to a portal and locate Amelie. The closest is at the university. We will need a car, I suppose, and a driver. Some sturdy escorts wouldn't go amiss." Myrnin sounded casual, but utterly certain that his slightest wish would be obeyed, and again, she felt that flare of tension between him and Oliver.

"Perhaps you've missed the announcement," Oliver said. "You're no longer a king, or a prince, or whatever you were before you disappeared into your filthy hole. You're Amelie's exotic pet alchemist, and you don't give me orders. Not in my town."

"Your town," Myrnin repeated, staring at him intently. His face had set into pleasant, rigid lines, but those eyes--not pleasant at all. Claire moved herself prudently out of the way. "What a surprise! I thought it was the Founder's town."

Oliver looked around. "Oddly, she seems unavailable, and that makes it my town, little man. So go and sit down. You're not going anywhere. If she's in trouble--which I do not yet believe--and if there's rescuing to be done, we will consider all the risks."

"And the benefits of not acting at all?" Myrnin asked. His voice was wound as tight as a clock spring. "Tell me, Old Ironsides, how you plan to win this campaign. I do hope you don't plan to reenact Drogheda."

Claire had no idea what that meant, but it meant something to Oliver, something bitter and deep, and his whole face twisted for a moment.

"We're not fighting the Irish campaigns, and whatever errors I made once, I'll not be making them again," Oliver said. "And I don't need advice from a bluefaced hedge witch."

"There's the old Puritan spirit!"

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