Chapter Four


They left the museum by way of a side door. It was risky to go out into the night, but since the only other way to exit the museum was to go back into the darkness, nobody argued about the choice.

"Careful," Amelie told them in a very soft voice that hardly reached past the shadows. "I have gathered my forces. My father is doing the same. There will be patrols, especially here."

The flames hadn't reached Founder's Square, which was where they came out--the heart of vamp territory. It didn't look like the calm, orderly place Claire remembered, though; the lights were all out, and the shops and restaurants that bordered it were closed and empty.

It looked afraid.

The only place she could see movement was on the marble steps of the Elders' Council building, where Bishop's welcome feast had been held. G?rard hissed a warning, and they all froze, silent and still in the dark. Hannah's grip on Claire's arm felt like an iron band.

There were three vampires standing there, scanning the area.

Lookouts.

"Go," Amelie said in a whisper so small it was like a ghost. "Move, but be careful."

They reached the edge of the shadows by the corner of the building, but just as Claire was starting to relax a little, Amelie, G?rard, and the other vampires moved in a blur, scattering in all directions.

This left Claire flatfooted for one horrible second, before Hannah tackled her facedown on the grass. Claire gasped, got a mouthful of crunchy dirt and bitter chlorophyll, and fought to get her breath. Hannah's heavy weight held her down, and the older woman braced her elbows on Claire's back.

She's firing the pistol, Claire thought, and tried to raise her head to see where Hannah was shooting.

"Head down!" Hannah snarled, and shoved Claire down with one hand while she continued to fire with the other. From the screams in the dark, she was hitting something. "Get up! Run!"

Claire wasn't quick enough to suit either the marines or the vampires, and before she knew it, she was being half pulled, half dragged at a dead run through the night. It was all a confusing blur of shadows, dark buildings, pale faces, and the surly orange glow of flames in the distance.

"What is it?" she screamed.

"Patrols." Hannah kept on firing behind them. She wasn't firing wildly, not at all; it seemed like she took a second or two between every shot, choosing her target. Most of the shots seemed to hit, from the shouts and snarls and screams. "Amelie! We need an exit, now!"

Amelie looked back at them, a pale flash of face in the dark, and nodded.

They charged up the steps of another building on Founder's Square. Claire didn't have time to get more than a vague impression of it--some kind of official building, with columns in front and big stone lions snarling on the stairs-- before their little party came to a halt at the top of the stairs, in front of a closed white door with no knob.

G?rard started to throw himself against it. Amelie stopped him with an outstretched hand. "It will do no good," she said. "It can't be opened by force. Let me."

The other vampire, facing away and down the steps, said, "Don't think we have time for sweet talk, ma'am. What you want us to do?" He had a drawling Texas accent, the first one Claire had heard from any vampire. She'd never heard him speak at all before.

He winked at her, which was even more of a shock. Until that moment, he hadn't even looked at her like a real person.

"A moment," Amelie murmured.

The Texan nodded behind them. "Don't think we've got one, ma'am."

There were shadows converging in the dark at the foot of the steps--the patrol that Hannah had been shooting at. There were at least twenty of them. In the lead was Ysandre, the beautiful vampire Claire hated maybe more than she hated any other vampire in the entire world. She was Bishop's girl through and through--Amelie's vampire sister, if they thought in those kinds of terms.

Claire hated Ysandre for Shane's sake. She was glad the vamp was here, and not attacking Shane's Bloodmobile-- one, because she wasn't so sure Shane could resist the evil witch, and two, she wanted to stake Ysandre herself.

Personally.

"No," Hannah said, when Claire took a step out from behind her. "Are you crazy? Get back!"

Hannah fired over her shoulder. It was at the outer extreme of the paintball gun's range, but the pellet hit one of the vampires--not Ysandre, Claire was disappointed to see--right in the chest. Silver dust puffed up in a lethal mist, and the close formation scattered. Ysandre might have had a few burns, but nothing that wouldn't heal.

The vampire Hannah had shot in the chest toppled over and hit the marble stairs, smoking and flailing.

Amelie slammed her palm flat against the door and closed her eyes, and deep inside the barrier something groaned and shifted with a scrape of metal. "Inside," Amelie murmured, still wicked controlled, and Claire spun and followed the three vampires across the threshold. Hannah backed in after, grabbed the door, and slammed it shut.

"No locks," she said.

Amelie reached over and pushed Hannah's gun hand into an atrest position at her side. "None necessary. They won't get in." She sounded sure of it, but from the look Hannah continued to give the door--as if she wished she could weld it shut with the force of her stare--she wasn't so certain. "This way. We'll take the stairs."

It was a library, full of books. Some--on this floor--were new, or at least newish, with colorful spines and crisp titles that Claire could read even in the low light. She slowed down a little, blinking. "You guys have vampire stories in here?" None of the vampires answered. Amelie veered to the right, through the twostorytall shelves, and headed for a set of sweeping marble steps at the end. The books got older, the paper more yellow. Claire caught sight of a sign that read FOLKLORE, CA. 18701945, ENGLISH, and then another that identified a German section. Then French. Then script that might have been Chinese.

So many books, and from what she could tell, every single one of them had to do in some way with vampires. Was it history or fiction to them?

Claire didn't really have time to work it out. They were taking the stairs, moving around the curve up to the second level. Claire's legs burned all along the calf muscles, and her breathing was getting raspy from the constant movement and adrenaline. Hannah flashed her a quick, sympathetic smile. "Yeah," she said. "Consider it basic training. Can you keep up?"

Claire gave her a gasping nod.

More books here, old and crumbling, and the air tasted like dry leather and ancient paper. Toward the back of the room, there were things that looked like wine racks, the fancy Xshaped kind people put in cellars, only these held rolls of paper, each neatly tied with ribbon. They were scrolls, probably very old ones. Claire hoped they'd go that direction, but no, Amelie was turning them down another book aisle, toward a blank white wall.

No, not quite blank. It had a small painting on the wall, in a fussy gilt frame. Some blandlooking nature scene . . . and then, as Amelie stared at it, the painting changed.

It grew darker, as though clouds had come across the meadow and the drowsy sheep in the picture.

And then it was dark, just a dark canvas, then some pinpricks of light, like candle flames through smoke. . . .

And then Claire saw Myrnin.

He was in chains, silvercolored chains, kneeling on the floor, and his head was down. He was still wearing the blousy white pantaloons of his Pierrot costume, but no shirt. The wet points of his damp hair clung to his face and his marblepale shoulders.

Amelie nodded sharply, and put a hand against the wall to the left of the picture, pressing what looked like a nail, and part of the wall swung out silently on oiled hinges.

Hidden doors: vampires sure seemed to love them.

There was darkness on the other side. "Oh, hell no," Claire heard Hannah mutter. "Not again."

Amelie sent her a glance, and there was a whisper of amusement in the look. "It's a different darkness," she said. "And the dangers are very different, from this point on. Things may change quickly. You will have to adapt."

Then she stepped through, and the vampires followed, and it was just Claire and Hannah.

Claire held out her hand. Hannah took it, still shaking her head, and the dark closed around them like a damp velvet curtain.

There was the hiss of a match dragging, and a flare of light from the corner. Amelie, her face turned ivory by the licking flame, set the match to a candle and left the light burning as she flicked on a small flashlight and played it around the room. Boxes. It was some kind of storeroom, dusty and disused. "All right," she said. "G?rard, if you please."

He swung another door open a crack, nodded, and widened it enough to slip through.

Another hallway. Claire was getting tired of hallways, and they were all starting to look the same. Where were they now, anyway? It looked like some kind of hotel, with polished heavy doors marked with brass plates, only instead of numbers, each door had one of the vampire markings, like the symbol on Claire's bracelet. Each vampire had one; at least she thought they did. So these would be--what? Rooms? Vaults? Claire thought she heard something behind one of the doors--muffled sounds, thumping, scratching. They didn't stop, though--and she wasn't sure she wanted to know, really.

Amelie brought them to a halt at the Tintersection of the hall. It was deserted in every direction, and disorienting, too; Claire couldn't tell one hallway from another. Maybe we should drop crumbs, she thought. Or M&M's. Or blood.

"Myrnin is in a room on this hall," Amelie said. "It is quite obviously a trap, and quite obviously meant for me. I will stay behind and ensure your escape route. Claire." Her pale eyes fixed on Claire with merciless intensity. "Whatever else happens, you must bring Myrnin out safely. Do you understand? Do not let Bishop have him."

She meant, Everybody else is expendable. That made Claire feel sick, and she couldn't help but look at Hannah, and even at the two vampires. G?rard shrugged, so slightly she thought it might have been her imagination.

"We are soldiers," G?rard said. "Yes?" Hannah smiled. "Damn straight."

"Excellent. You will follow my orders."

Hannah saluted him, with just a little trace of irony. "Yes sir, squad leader, sir."

G?rard turned his attention to Claire. "You will stay behind us. Do you understand?"

She nodded. She felt cold and hot at the same time, and a little sick, and the wooden stake in her hand didn't seem like a heck of a lot, considering. But she didn't have any time for second thoughts, because G?rard had turned and was already heading down the hall, his wing man flanking him, and Hannah was beckoning Claire to follow.

Amelie's cool fingers brushed her shoulder. "Careful."

Claire nodded and went to rescue a crazy vampire from an evil one.

The door shattered under G?rard's kick. That wasn't an exaggeration; except for the wood around the door hinges, the rest of it broke into handsized pieces and splinters. Before that rain of wreckage hit the floor, G?rard was inside, moving to the left while his colleague went right. Hannah stepped in and swept the room from one side to the other, holding her air pistol ready to fire, then nodded sharply to Claire.

Myrnin was just as she'd seen him in the picture--kneeling in the center of the room, anchored by tightstretched silvery chains. The chains were doublestrength, and threaded through massive steel bolts on the stone floor.

He was shaking all over, and where the chains touched him, he had welts and burns.

G?rard swore softly under his breath and fiercely kicked the eyebolts in the floor. They bent, but didn't break.

Myrnin finally raised his head, and beneath the mass of sweaty dark hair, Claire saw wild dark eyes, and a smile that made her stomach twist.

"I knew you'd come," he whispered. "You fools. Where is she? Where's Amelie?"

"Behind us," Claire said.

"Fools."

"Nice way to talk to your rescuers," Hannah said. She was nervous, Claire could see it, though the woman controlled it very well. "G?rard? I don't like this. It's too easy."

"I know." He crouched down and looked at the chains. "Silver coated. I can't break them."

"What about the bolts in the floor?" Claire asked. In answer, G?rard grabbed the edge of the metal plate and twisted. The steel bent like aluminum foil, and, with a ripping shriek, tore free of the stones. Myrnin wavered as part of his restraints fell loose, and G?rard waved his partner to work on the other two plates while he focused on the second in front.

"Too easy, too easy," Hannah kept on muttering. "What's the point of doing this if Bishop is just going to let him go?"

The eyebolts were all ripped loose, and G?rard grabbed Myrnin's arm and helped him to his feet.

Myrnin's eyes sheeted over with blazing ruby, and he shook G?rard off and went straight for Hannah.

Hannah saw him coming and put the gun between them, but before she could fire, G?rard's partner knocked her hand out of line, and the shot went wild, impacting on the stone at the other side of the room. Silver flakes drifted on the air, igniting tiny burns where they landed on the vampires' skin. The two bodyguards backed off.

Myrnin grabbed Hannah by the neck.

"No!" Claire screamed, and ducked under G?rard's restraining hand. She raised her wooden stake.

Myrnin turned his head and grinned at her with wicked vampire fangs flashing.

"I thought you were here to save me, Claire, not kill me," he purred, and whipped back toward his prey. Hannah was fumbling with her gun, trying to get it back into position. He stripped it away from her with contemptuous ease.

"I am here to save you," Claire said, and before she could think what she was doing, she buried the stake in Myrnin's back, on the left side, right where she thought his heart would be.

He made a surprised sound, like a cough, and pitched forward into Hannah. His hand slid away from her throat, clutching blindly at her clothes, and then he fell limply to the floor.

Dead, apparently.

G?rard and his partner looked at Claire as if they'd never seen her before, and then G?rard roared, "What do you think you're--"

"Pick him up," Claire said. "We can take the stake out later. He's old. He'll survive."

That sounded cold, and scary, and she hoped it was true. Amelie had survived, after all, and she knew Myrnin was as old, or maybe even older. From the look he gave her, G?rard was reassessing everything he'd thought about the cute, fragile little human he'd been nursemaiding. Too bad. Claire thought one of her strengths was that everybody always underestimated her.

She was cool on the outside, shaking on the inside, because although it was the only way to keep Myrnin calm right now without tranquilizers, or without letting him rip Hannah's throat out, she'd just killed her boss.

That didn't seem like a really good career move.

Amelie will help, she thought a bit desperately, and G?rard slung Myrnin over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, and then they were running, moving fast again back down the hall to where Amelie had stayed to secure their escape.

G?rard came to a fast halt, and Hannah and Claire almost skidded into him. "What?" Hannah whispered, and looked past the two vampires in the lead.

Amelie was at the corner ahead of them, but ten feet past her was Mr. Bishop.

They were standing motionless, facing each other. Amelie looked fragile and delicate, compared to her father in his bishop's robes. He looked ancient and angry, and the fire in his eyes was like something out of the story of Joan of Arc.

Neither of them moved. There was some struggle going on, but Claire couldn't tell what it was, or what it meant.

G?rard reached out and grabbed her arm, and Hannah's, and held them in place. "No," he said sharply. "Don't go near them."

"Problem, sir, that's the way out," Hannah said. "And the dude's alone."

G?rard and the Texan sent her a wild look, almost identical in their disbelief. "You think so?" the Texan said. "Humans."

Amelie took a step backward, just a small one, but a shudder went through her body, and Claire knew--just knew-- it was a bad sign. Really bad.

Whatever confrontation had been going on, it broke.

Amelie whirled to them and screamed, "Go!" There was fury and fear in her voice, and G?rard let go of both girls and dumped Myrnin off his shoulder, into their arms, and he and the Texan pelted not for the exit, but to Amelie's side.

They got there just in time to stop Bishop from ripping out her throat. They slammed the old man up against the wall, but then there were others coming out into the hall. Bishop's troops, Claire guessed.

There were a lot of them.

Amelie intercepted the first of Bishop's vampires to run in her direction. Claire recognized him, vaguely--one of the Morganville vamps, but he'd obviously switched sides, and he came for Amelie, fangs out.

She put him down on the floor with one twisting move, fast as a snake, and looked back at Hannah and Claire, with Myrnin's body sagging between them. "Get him out!" she shouted. "I'll hold the way!"

"Come on," Hannah said, and shouldered the bulk of Myrnin's limp weight. "We're leaving."

Myrnin felt cold and heavy, like the dead man he was, and Claire swallowed a surge of nausea as she struggled to support his limp weight. Claire gritted her teeth and helped Hannah half carry, half drag Myrnin's staked body down the corridor. Behind them, the sounds of fighting continued--mainly bodies hitting the floor. No screaming, no shouting.

Vampires fought in silence.

"Right," Hannah gasped. "We're on our own."

That really wasn't good news--two humans stuck God knew where, with a crazy vampire with a stake in his heart in the middle of a war zone.

"Let's get back to the door," Claire said.

"How are we going to get through it?"

"I can do it."

Hannah threw her a look. "You?"

It was no time to get annoyed; hadn't she just been thinking that being underestimated was a gift? Yeah, not so much, sometimes. "Yes, really. I can do it. But we'd better hurry." The odds weren't in Amelie's favor. She might be able to hang on and cover their retreat, but Claire didn't think she could win.

She and Hannah dragged Myrnin past the symbolmarked doorways. Hannah counted off, and nodded to the one where they'd entered.

Not too surprisingly, it was marked with the Founder's Symbol, the same one Claire wore on the bracelet on her wrist.

Hannah tried to open it. "Dammit! Locked."

Not when Claire tried the knob. It opened at a twist, and the single candle in the corner illuminated very little. Claire caught her breath and rested her trembling muscles for a few seconds as Hannah checked the room and pronounced it safe before they entered.

Claire let Myrnin slide in a heap to the floor. "I'm sorry," she whispered to him. "It was the only way. I hope it doesn't hurt too much."

She had no idea if he could hear her when he was like this. She wanted to grab the stake and pull it out, but she remembered that with Amelie, and with Sam, it had been the other vampires who'd done it. Maybe they knew things she didn't. Besides, the disease weakened them--even Myrnin.

She couldn't take the risk. And besides, having him wake up wounded and crazy would be even worse, now that they didn't have any vampires who could help control him.

Hannah returned to her side. "So," she said, as she checked the clip on her paintball gun, frowned, and exchanged it for a new one, "how do we do this? We got to go back to that museum first, right?"

Did they? Claire wasn't sure. She stepped up to the door, which currently featured nothing but darkness, and concentrated hard on Myrnin's lab, with all its clutter and debris. Light swam, flickered, shivered, and snapped into focus.

No problem at all.

"Guess it's only roundabout getting here," Claire said. "Maybe that's on purpose, to keep people out who shouldn't be here. But it makes sense that once Amelie got here, she'd want to take the express out." She turned back. "Shouldn't we wait?"

Hannah opened the door and looked out into the hall. Whatever she saw, it couldn't have been good news. She shook her head. "We bug out, right now."

With a grunt of effort, Hannah braced Myrnin's deadweight on one side and dragged him forward. Claire took his other arm.

"Did he just twitch?" Hannah asked. " 'Cause if he twitches, I'm going to shoot him."

"No! No, he didn't; he's fine," Claire said, practically tripping over the words. "Ready? One, two . . ."

And three, they were in Myrnin's lab. Claire twisted out from under Myrnin's cold body, slammed the door shut, and stared wildly at the broken lock. "I need to fix that," she said. But what about Amelie? No, she'd know all the exits. She didn't have to come here.

"Girl, you need to get us the hell out of here, is what you need to do," Hannah said. "You dial up the nearest Fort Knox or something on that thing. Damn, how'd you learn this, anyway?"

"I had a good teacher." Claire didn't look at Myrnin. She couldn't. For all intents and purposes, she'd just killed him, after all. "This way."

There were two ways out of Myrnin's lab, besides the usuallysecured dimensional doorway: steps leading up to street level, which were probably the absolute worst idea ever right now, and a second, an even more hidden dimensional portal in a small room off to the side. That was the one Amelie had used to get them in.

But the problem was, Claire couldn't get it to work. She had the memories clear in her head--the Glass House, the portal to the university, the hospital, even the museum they'd visited on the way here. But nothing worked.

It just felt . . . dead, as if the whole system had been cut off.

They were lucky to have made it this far.

Amelie's trapped, Claire realized. Back there. With Bishop. And she's outnumbered.

Claire doublechecked the other door, too, the one she'd blocked.

Nothing. It wasn't just a malfunctioning portal; the whole network was down.

"Well?" Hannah asked.

Claire couldn't worry about Amelie right now. She had a job to do--get Myrnin to safety. And that meant getting him to the only vampire she knew offhand who could help him: Oliver. "I think we're walking," she said.

"The hell we are," Hannah said. "I'm not hauling a dead vampire through the streets of Morganville. We'll get ourselves killed by just about everybody."

"We can't leave him!"

"We can't take him, either!"

Claire felt her jaw lock into stubborn position. "Well, fine, you go ahead. Because I'm not leaving him. I can't."

She could tell that Hannah wanted to grab her by the hair and yank her out of there, but finally, the older woman nodded and stepped back. "Third option," she said. "Call in the cavalry."

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