Chapter Thirteen


Claire came awake feeling sick, wretched, and cold. Someone was pounding on the back of her head with a croquet mallet, or at least that was how it felt, and when she tried to move, the whole world spun around.

"Shut up and stop moaning," somebody said from a few feet away. "Don't you dare throw up or I'll make you eat it."

It sounded like Jason Rosser, Eve's crazy brother. Claire swallowed hard and squinted, trying to make out the shadow next to her. Yeah, it looked like Jason--skanky, greasy, and insane. She tried to squirm away from him, but ran into a wall at her back. It felt like wood, but she didn't think it was the Glass House attic.

He'd taken her somewhere, probably using the portal. And now none of her friends could follow, because none of them knew how.

Her hands and feet were tied. Claire blinked, trying to clear her head. That was a little unfortunate, because with clarity came the awareness of just how bad this was. Jason Rosser really was crazy. He'd stalked Eve. He'd--at least allegedly--killed girls in town. He'd definitely stabbed Shane, and he'd staked Amelie at the feast when she'd tried to help him.

And none of her friends back at the Glass House would know how to find her. To their eyes, she would have just . . . vanished.

"What do you want?" she asked. Her voice sounded rusty and scared. Jason reached out and moved hair back from her face, which creeped her out. She didn't like him touching her.

"Relax, shortcake, you're not my type," he said. "I do what I'm told, that's all. You were wanted. So I brought you."

"Wanted?"

A low, silky laugh floated on the silence, dark as smoke, and Jason looked over his shoulder as the hidden observer rose and stepped into what little light there was.

Ysandre, Bishop's pale little girlfriend. Beautiful, sure. Delicate as jasmine flowers, with big, liquid eyes and a sweetly rounded face.

She was poison in a pretty bottle.

"Well," she said, and crouched down next to Claire. "Look at what the cat dragged in. Meeow." Her sharp nail dragged over Claire's cheek, and judging from the sting, it drew blood. "Where's your pretty boyfriend, Miss Claire? I really wasn't done with him, you know. I hadn't even properly started."

Claire felt an ugly lurch of anger mix with the fear already churning her stomach. "He's probably not done with you, either," she said, and managed to smile. She hoped it was a cold kind of smile, the sort that Amelie used--or Oliver. "Maybe you should go looking. I'll bet he'd be so happy to see you."

"I'll show that boy a real good time, when we do meet up again," Ysandre purred, and put her face very close to Claire's. "Now, then, let's talk, just us girls. Won't that be fun?"

Not. Claire was struggling against the ropes, but Jason had done his job pretty well; she was hurting herself more than accomplishing anything else. Ysandre grabbed Claire's shoulder and wrenched her upright against the wooden wall, hard enough to bang Claire's injured head. For a dazed second, it looked like Ysandre's ripe, red smile floated in midair, like some undead Cheshire cat.

"Now," Ysandre said, "ain't this nice, sweetie? It's too bad we couldn't get Mr. Shane to join us, but my little helper here, he's a bit worried about tackling Shane. Bad blood and all." She laughed softly. "Well, we'll make do. Amelie likes you, I hear, and you've got on that pretty little gold bracelet. So you'll do just fine."

"For what?"

"I ain't telling you, sweetie." Ysandre's smile was truly scary. "This town's going to have a wild night, though. Real wild. And you're going to get to see the whole thing, up close. You must be all atingle."

Eve would have had a quip at the ready. Claire just glared, and wished her head would stop aching and spinning. What had he hit her with? It felt like the front end of a bus. She hadn't thought Jason could hit that hard, truthfully.

Don't try to find me, Shane. Don't. The last thing she wanted was Shane racing to the rescue and taking on a guy who'd stabbed him, and a vampire who'd led him around by a leash.

No, she had to find her own way out of this.

Step one: figure out where she was. Claire let Ysandre ramble on, describing all kinds of lurid things that Claire thought it was better not to imagine, considering they were things Ysandre was thinking of doing to her. Instead, she tried to identify her surroundings. It didn't look familiar, but that was no help; she was still relatively new to Morganville. Plenty of places she'd never been.

Wait.

Claire focused on the crate that Jason was sitting on. There was stenciling on it. It was hard to make it out in the dim light, but she thought it said BRICKS BULK COFFEE. And now that she thought about it, it smelled like coffee in here, too. A warm, morning kind of smell, floating over dust and damp wood. And she remembered Eve laughing about how Oliver bought his coffee from a place called Bricks. As in, tastes like groundup bricks, Eve had said. If you order flavored, they add in the mortar.

There were only two coffee shops in town: Oliver's place, and the University Center coffee bar. This didn't look like the UC, which wasn't that old and was mostly built of concrete, not wood.

That meant . . . she was at Common Grounds? But Common Grounds didn't make any sense; there wasn't any kind of portal leading to it.

Maybe Oliver has a warehouse. That sounded right, because the vampires seemed to own a lot of the warehouse district that bordered Founder's Square. Brandon, Oliver's secondinvampirecommand, had been found dead in a warehouse.

Maybe she was close to Founder's Square.

Ysandre's cold fingers closed around Claire's chin and jerked it up. "Are you listening, honey?"

"Truthfully, no," Claire said. "You're kind of boring."

Jason actually laughed, and turned it into a fake cough. "I'm going outside," he said. "Since this is going to get all personal now." Claire wanted to yell to him not to go, but she bit her tongue and turned it into a subsonic whine in the back of her throat as she watched him walk away. His footsteps receded into the dark, and then finally a small square of light opened a long way off.

It was a door, too far for her to reach--way too far.

"I thought he'd never leave," Ysandre said, and put her cold, cold lips on Claire's neck, then yelled in shock and pulled away, covering her mouth with one pale hand. "You bitch!"

Ysandre hadn't seen the silver chain Claire was wearing in the dim light, as whisperthin as it was. Now there were welts forming on the vampire's full lips--forming, breaking, and bleeding.

Fury sparked in Ysandre's eyes. Playtime was over.

As Claire squirmed away, the vampire followed at a lazy stroll. She wiped her burned lips and looked at the thin, leaking blood in distaste. "Tastes like silver. Disgusting. You've just ruined my good mood, little girl."

As she rolled, Claire felt something sharp dig into her leg. The knife. They'd found the stake, but she guessed their search hadn't exactly been thorough; Jason was too crazy, and Ysandre too careless and arrogant.

But the knife wasn't going to do her any good at all where it was, unless . . .

Ysandre lunged for her, a blur of white in the darkness, and Claire twisted and jammed her hip down at an awkward angle.

The knife slipped and tore through the fabric of her jeans--not much of it, just a couple of inches, but enough to slice open Ysandre's hand and arm as it reached for her, all the way to the bone.

Ysandre shrieked in real pain, and spun away. She didn't look so pretty now, and when she turned toward Claire again, from a respectful distance this time, she hissed at her with full cobra fangs extended. Her eyes were wild and bloodred, glowing like rubies.

Claire twisted, nearly yanking her elbow out of its joint, and managed to get the ropes around her wrist against the knife. She didn't have long; the shock wouldn't keep Ysandre at bay for more than a few seconds.

But getting a silver knife to cut through synthetic rope? That was going to take a while--a while she didn't have. Claire sawed desperately, and got a little bit of give on the bonds--enough to almost get her hand into her pocket.

But not.

Ysandre grabbed her by the hair. "I'm going to destroy you for that."

The pain in her head was blinding. It felt like her scalp was being ripped off, and on top of that, the massive headache roared back to a new, sickening pulse.

Claire loosened the rope enough to plunge her aching hand into her pocket and grab the handle of the knife. She yanked it out of the tangle of fabric and held it at a trembling, handicapped en garde--still tied up, but whatever, she wasn't going to stop fighting, not ever.

Ysandre shrieked and let her go, which made no sense to Claire's confused, painshocked mind. I didn't stab her yet. Did I? Not that she wanted to stab anybody, even Ysandre. She just wanted--

What was going on?

Ysandre's body slammed down hard on the wooden floor, and Claire gasped and flinched away . . . but the vampire had fallen facedown, limp, and weirdly broken.

A small woman dressed in gray, her pale hair falling wild around her shoulders, dropped silently from overhead and put one impeccably lovely gray pump in the center of Ysandre's back, holding her down as she tried to move.

"Claire?" The woman's face turned toward her, and Claire blinked twice before she realized whom she was looking at.

Amelie. But not Amelie. Not the cool, remote Founder--this woman had a wild, furious energy to her that Claire had never seen before. And she looked young.

"I'm okay," she said faintly, and tried to decide whether this version of Amelie was really here, or a function of her smackedaround brain. She decided it would be a good idea to get her hands and feet untied before figuring anything else out.

That took long minutes, during which Amelie (really?) dragged Ysandre, whimpering, into the corner and fastened her wrists to a massive crossbeam with chains. The chains, Claire registered, had been there all along. Lovely. This was some kind of vamp playpen/storage locker--probably Oliver's. And she felt sick again, thinking about it. Claire sawed grimly at the ropes binding her and finally parted one complete twist around her hands. As she struggled out of the loops of rope, she saw deep white imprints in her skin, and realized that her hands were red and swollen. She could still feel them, at least, and the burn of circulation returning felt as if she were holding them over an open flame.

She focused on slicing the increasingly dulled knife through the rope on her feet, but it was no use.

"Here," Amelie said, and bent down to snap the rope with one twist of her fingers. It was so frustrating, after all that hard work, to see just how easy it was for her. Claire stripped the ties away and sat for a moment breathing hard, starting to feel every cut, bump, and bruise on her body.

Amelie's cool fingers cupped Claire's chin and forced her head up, and the vampire's gray eyes searched hers. "You have a head injury," Amelie said. "I don't think it's too serious. A headache and some dizziness, perhaps." She let go. "I expected to find you. I did not expect to find you here, I confess."

Amelie looked fine. Not a prisoner. Not a scratch on her, in fact. Claire had lots more damage, and she hadn't been dragged off as Bishop's prisoner. . . .

Wait. "You--we thought Bishop might have gotten you. But he didn't, did he?" Amelie cocked an eyebrow at her. "Apparently not."

"Then where did you go?" Claire felt a completely useless urge to lash out at her, crack that extreme cool. "Why did you do this? You left us alone! And you called the vampires out of hiding--" Her voice failed her for a second as she thought about Officer O'Malley, and the others she'd heard about. "You got some of them killed."

Amelie didn't respond to that. She simply stared back, as calm as an ice sculpture--calmer, because she wasn't melting.

"Tell me why," Claire said. "Tell me why you did that."

"Because plans change," Amelie replied. "As Bishop changes his moves, I must change mine. The stakes are too high now, Claire. I've lost half the vampires of Morganville to him. He's taking away my advantage, and I needed to draw them to me, for their own safety."

"You got vampires killed, not just humans. I know humans don't mean anything to you. But I thought the whole point of this was to save your people!"

"And so it is," Amelie said. "As many as can be saved. As for the call, there is a thing in chess known as a blitz attack, you see--a distraction, to cover the movement of more important pieces. You retrieved Myrnin and set him in play again; this was most important. I need my most powerful pieces on the board."

"Like Oliver?" Claire rubbed her hands together, trying to get the annoying tingle out of them. "He's hurt, you know. Maybe dying."

"He's served his purpose." Amelie turned her attention toward Ysandre, who was starting to stir. "It's time to take Bishop's rook, I believe."

Claire clutched the silver knife hard in her fist. "Is that all I am, too? Some kind of sacrifice pawn?"

That got Amelie's attention again. "No," she said in surprise. "Not entirely. I do care, Claire. But in war, you can't care too much. It paralyzes your ability to act." Those luminous eyes turned toward Ysandre again. "It's time for you to go, because I doubt you would enjoy seeing this. You won't be able to return here. I'm closing down nodes on the network. When I'm finished, there will be only two destinations: to me, or to Bishop."

"Where is he?"

"You don't know?" Amelie raised her eyebrows again. "He is where it is most secure, of course. At City Hall. And at nightfall, I will come against him. That's why I came looking for you, Claire. I need you to tell Richard. Tell him to get all those who can't fight for me out of the building."

"But--he can't. It's a storm shelter. There are supposed to be tornadoes coming."

"Claire," Amelie said. "Listen to me. If innocents take refuge in that building, they will be killed, because I can't protect them anymore. We're at endgame now. There's no room for mercy." She looked again at Ysandre, who had gone very still, listening.

"Y'all wouldn't be saying this in front of me if I was going to walk out of here, would you?" Ysandre asked. She sounded calm now. Very still.

"No," Amelie said. "Very perceptive. I wouldn't." She took Claire by the arm and helped her to her feet. "I am relying on you, Claire. Go now. Tell Richard these are my orders."

Before Claire could utter another word, she felt the air shimmer in front of her, in the middle of the big warehouse room, and she fell . . . out over the dusty trunk in the Glass House attic, where Oliver had been. She sprawled ungracefully on top of it, then rolled off and got to her feet with a thump. When she waved her hand through the air, looking for that strange heat shimmer of an open portal, she felt nothing at all.

I'm closing the portals, Amelie had said.

She'd closed this one, for sure.

"Claire?" Shane's voice came from the far end of the attic. He shoved aside boxes and jumped over jumbled furniture to reach her. "What happened to you? Where did you go?"

"I'll tell you later," she said, and realized she was still holding the bloody silver knife. She carefully put it back in her pocket, in the makeshift holster against her leg. It was so dull she didn't think it would cut anything again, but it made her feel better. "Oliver?"

"Bad." Shane put his hands around her head and tilted it up, looking her over. "Is everything okay?"

"Define everything. No, define okay." She shook her head in frustration. "I need to get the radio. I have to talk to Richard."

Richard wasn't on the radio. "He's meeting with the mayor," said the man who answered. Sullivan, Claire thought his name was, but she hadn't really paid attention. "You got a problem there?"

"No, Officer, you've got a problem there," she said. "I need to talk to Richard. It's really important!"

"Everybody needs to talk to Richard," Sullivan said. "He'll get back to you. He's busy right now. If it's not an emergency response--"

"Yes, okay! It's an emergency!"

"Then I'll send units out to you. Glass House, right?"

"No, it's not--" Claire wanted to slam the radio down in frustration. "It's not an emergency here. Look, just tell Richard that he needs to clear everybody out of City Hall, as soon as possible."

"Can't do that," Sullivan said. "It's our center of operations. It's the main storm shelter, and we've got one heck of a storm coming tonight. You're going to have to give me a reason, miss."

"All right, it's because--"

Michael took the radio away from her and shut it off. Claire gaped, stuttered, and finally demanded, "Why?"

"Because if Amelie says Bishop's got himself installed in City Hall, somebody there has to know. We don't know who's on his team," Michael said. "I don't know Sullivan that well, but I know he never was happy with the way things ran in town. I wouldn't put it past him to be buying Bishop's crap about giving the city back to the people, home rule, all that stuff. Same goes for anybody else there, except maybe Joe Hess and Travis Lowe. We have to know who we're talking to before we say anything else."

Shane nodded. "I'm thinking that Sullivan's keeping Richard out of the loop for a reason."

They were downstairs, the four of them. Eve, Shane, and Claire were at the kitchen table, and Michael was pacing the floor and casting looks at the couch, where Oliver was. The older vampire was asleep, Claire guessed, or unconscious; they'd done what they could, washed him off and wrapped him in clean blankets. He was healing, according to Michael, but he wasn't doing it very fast.

When he'd woken up, he'd seemed distant. Confused.

Afraid.

Claire had given him one of the doses she'd gotten from Dr. Mills, and so far, it seemed to be helping, but if Oliver was sick, Myrnin's fears were becoming real.

Soon, it'd be Amelie, too. And then where would they be?

"So what do we do?" Claire asked. "Amelie said we have to tell Richard. We have to get noncombatants out of City Hall, as soon as possible."

"Problem is, you heard him giving instructions to the Civil Defense guys earlier--they're out telling everybody in town to go to City Hall if they can't make it to another shelter. Radio and TV, too. Hell, half the town is probably there already."

"Maybe she won't do it," Eve said. "I mean, she wouldn't kill everybody in there, would she? Not even if she thinks they're working for Bishop."

"I think it's gone past that," Claire said. "I don't know if she has any choice."

"There's always a choice."

"Not in chess," Claire replied. "Unless your choice is to lie down and die."

In the end, the only way to be sure they got to the right person was to get in the car and drive there. Claire was a little shocked at the color of the sky outside--a solid gray, with clouds moving so fast it was like timelapse on the Weather Channel. The edges looked faintly green, and in this part of the country, that was never a good sign.

The only good thing about it was that Michael didn't have to worry about getting scorched by sunlight. He brought a hoodie and a blanket to throw over his head, just in case, but it was dark outside, and getting darker fast. Premature sunset.

Drops of rain were smacking the sidewalk, the size of halfdollars. Where they hit Claire's skin, they felt like paintball pellets. As she looked up at the clouds, a horizontal flash of lightning peeled the sky in half, and thunder rumbled so loudly she felt it through the soles of her shoes.

"Come on!" Eve yelled, and started the car. Claire ran to open the backseat door and piled in beside Shane. Eve was already accelerating before she could fasten her seat belt. "Michael, get the radio."

He turned it on. Static. As he scanned stations, they got ghosts of signals from other towns, but nothing came through clearly in Morganville--probably because the vampires jammed it.

Then one came in, loud and clear, broadcasting on a loop.

Attention Morganville residents: this is an urgent public service announcement. The National Weather Service has identified an extremely dangerous storm tracking toward Morganville, which will reach our borders at six twenty seven this evening at its present speed. This storm has already been responsible for devastation in several areas in its path, and there has been significant loss of life due to tornadic activity. Morganville and the surrounding areas are on tornado watch through ten p.m. this evening. If you hear an alert siren, go immediately to a designated Safe Shelter location, or to the safest area of your home if you cannot reach a Safe Shelter. Attention Morganville residents--

Michael clicked it off. There was no point in listening to the repeat; it wasn't going to get any better. "How many Safe Shelters are there?" Shane asked. "University dorms have them, the UC--"

"Founder's Square has two," Michael said, "but nobody can get to them right now. They're locked up."

"Library."

"And the church. Father Joe would open up the basements, so that'll fit a couple of hundred people."

Everybody else would head to City Hall, if they didn't stay in their houses.

The rain started to fall in earnest, slapping the windshield at first, and then pounding it in fierce waves. The ancient windshield wipers really weren't up to it, even at high speed. Claire was glad she wasn't trying to drive. Even in clear visibility she wasn't very good, and she had no idea how Eve was seeing a thing.

If she was, of course. Maybe this was faithbased driving.

Other cars were on the road, and most of them were heading the same way they were. Claire looked at the clock on her cell phone.

Five thirty p.m.

The storm was less than an hour away.

"Uhoh," Eve said, and braked as they turned the last corner. It was a sea of red taillights. Over the roll of thunder and pounding rain, Claire heard horns honking. Traffic moved, but slowly, one car at a time inching forward. "They're checking cars at the barricade. I can't believe--"

Something happened up there, and the brake lights began flicking off in steady rows. Cars moved. Eve fell into line, and the big, black sedan rolled past two police cars still flashing their lights. In the red/blue/red glow, Claire saw that they'd moved the barricades aside and were just waving everyone through.

"This is crazy," she said. "We can't get people out. Not fast enough! We'd have to stop everybody from coming in first, and then give them somewhere to go. . . ."

"I'm getting out of the car here," Michael said. "I can run faster than you can drive in this. I'll get to Richard. They won't dare stop me."

That was probably true, but Eve still said, "Michael, don't--"

Not that it stopped him from bailing out into the rain. A flash of lightning streaked by overhead and showed him splashing through thick puddles, weaving around cars.

He was right; he was faster.

Eve muttered something about "Stupid, stubborn, bloodsucking boyfriends," and followed the traffic toward City Hall.

Out of nowhere, a truck pulled out in front of them from a side street and stopped directly in their path. Eve yelled and hit the brakes, but they were mushy and wet, and not great at the best of times, and Claire felt the car slip and then slide, gathering speed as it went.

Glad I put on my seat belt, she thought, which was a weird thing to think, as Eve's car hydroplaned right into the truck. Shane stretched out his arm to hold her in place, anyway--instinct, Claire guessed--and then they all got thrown forward hard as physics took over.

Physics hurt. Claire rested her aching head against the cool window--it was cracked, but still intact--and tried to shake it off. Shane was unhooking himself from the seat belt and asking her if she was okay. She made some kind of gesture and mumbled something, which she hoped would be good enough. She wasn't up to real reassurances at the moment.

Eve's door opened, and she got dragged out of the car.

"Hey!" Shane yelled, and threw himself out his own door. Claire fumbled at the latch, but hers seemed stuck; she navigated the push button on her seat belt and opted for Shane's side of the car instead.

As she stumbled out into the shockingly warm rain, she knew they were really in trouble now, because the man holding a knife to Eve's throat was Frank Collins, Shane's father and allaround badass, crazy vampire hater. He looked exactly like she remembered--tough, bikerhard, dressed in leather and tattoos.

He was yelling something at Eve, something Claire couldn't hear over the crash of thunder. Shane threw himself into a slide over the trunk of the car and grabbed at his dad's knife hand.

Dad elbowed him in the face and sent him staggering. Claire grabbed for the silver knife in her jeans, but it was gone--she'd dropped it somewhere. Before she could look for it, Shane was back in the fight, struggling with his dad. He moved the knife enough that Eve slid free and ran to grab on to Claire.

Frank shoved his son down on the hood of the car and raised the knife. He froze there, with rain pouring from his chin like a thin silver beard, and off the point of the knife.

"No!" Claire screamed, "No, don't hurt him!"

"Where's the vampire?" Frank yelled back. "Where is Michael Glass?"

"Gone," Shane said. He coughed away pounding rain. "Dad, he's gone. He's not here. Dad."

Frank seemed to focus on his son for the first time. "Shane?"

"Yeah, Dad, it's me. Let me up, okay?" Shane was careful to keep his hands up, palms out in surrender. "Peace."

It worked. Frank stepped back and lowered the knife. "Good," he said. "I've been looking for you, boy." And then he hugged him. Shane still had his hands up, and froze in place without touching his father. Claire shivered at the look on his face.

"Yeah, good to see you, too," he said. "Back off, man. We're not close, in case you forgot."

"You're still my son. Blood is blood." Frank pushed him toward the truck, only lightly crushed where Eve's car had smacked it. "Get in."

"Why?"

"Because I said so!" Frank shouted. Shane just looked at him. "Dammit, boy, for once in your life, do what I tell you!"

"I spent most of my life doing what you told me," Shane said. "Including selling out my friends. Not happening anymore."

Frank's lips parted, temporarily amazed. He laughed.

"Done drunk the suicide cola, didn't you?" When he shook his head, drops flew in all directions, and were immediately lost in the silver downpour. "Just get in. I'm trying to save your life. You don't want to be where you're trying to go."

Strangely enough, Frank Collins was making sense. Probably for all the wrong reasons, though.

"We have to get through," Claire shouted over the pounding rain. She was shivering, soaked through every layer of clothing. "It's important. People could die if we don't!"

"People are going to die," Collins agreed. "Omelets and eggs. You know the old saying."

Or chess, Claire thought. Though she didn't know whose side Frank Collins was playing on, or even if he knew he was being manipulated at all.

"There's a plan," Frank was saying to his son. "In all this crap, nobody's checking faces. Metal detectors are off. We seize control of the building and make things right. We shuffle these bastards off, once and for all. We can do it!"

"Dad," Shane said, "everybody in that building tonight is going to be killed. We have to get people out, not get them in. If you care anything about those idiots who buy your revolutionary crap, you'll call this off."

"Call it off?" Frank repeated, as uncomprehending as if Shane were speaking another language. "When we're this close? When we can win? Dammit, Shane, you used to believe in this. You used to--"

"Yeah. Used to. Look it up!" Shane shoved his father away from him, and walked over to Eve and Claire. "I've warned you, Dad. Don't do this. Not today. I won't turn you in, but I'm telling you, if you don't back off, you're dead."

"I don't take threats," Frank said. "Not from you."

"You're an idiot," Shane said. "And I tried."

He got back in the car, on the passengerside front seat where Michael had been. Eve scrambled behind the wheel, and Claire in the back.

Eve reversed.

Frank stepped out into the road ahead of them, a scarylooking man in black leather with his straggling hair plastered around his face. Add in the big hunting knife, and cue the scary music.

Eve let up on the gas. "No," Shane said, and moved his left foot over to jam it on top of hers. "Go. He wants you to stop."

"Don't! I can't miss him, no--"

But it was too late. Frank was staring into the headlights, squarely in the center of the hood, and he was getting closer and closer.

Frank Collins threw himself out of the way at the last possible second, Eve swerved wildly in the opposite direction to miss him, and somehow, they didn't kill Shane's dad.

"What the hell are you doing?" Eve yelled at Shane. She was shaking all over. So was Shane. "You want to run him over, do it on your own time! God!"

"Look behind you," Shane whispered.

There were people coming after them. A lot of people. They'd been hiding in the alley, Claire guessed. They had guns, and now they opened fire. The car shuddered, and the back window exploded into cracks, then fell with a crash all over Claire's neck.

"Get up here!" Shane said, and grabbed her hands to haul her into the front seat. "Keep your head down!"

Eve had sunk down on the driver's side, barely keeping her eyes above the dashboard. She was panting hoarsely, panicked, and more gunshots were rattling the back of the car. Something hit the front window, too, adding more cracks and a round, backward splash of a hole.

"Faster!" Shane yelled. Eve hit the gas hard, and whipped around a slowermoving van. The firing ceased, at least for now. "You see why I didn't want you to stop?"

"Okay, your father is officially off my Christmas list!" Eve yelled. "Oh my God, look at my car!"

Shane barked out a laugh. "Yeah," he agreed. "That's what's important."

"It's better than thinking about what would have happened," Eve said. "If Michael had been with us--"

Claire thought about the mobs Richard had talked about, and the dead vampires, and felt sick. "They'd have dragged him off," she said. "They'd have killed him."

Michael had been right about Shane's dad, but then, Claire had never really doubted it. Neither had Shane, from the sick certainty on his face. He wiped his eyes with his forearm, which really didn't help much; they were all dripping wet, from head to toe.

"Let's just get to the building," Shane said. "We can't do much until we find Richard."

Only it wasn't that simple, even getting in. The underground parking was crammed full of cars, parked haphazardly at every angle. As Eve inched through the shadows, looking for any place to go, she shook her head. "If we do manage to get people to leave, they won't be able to take their cars. Everybody's blocked in," she said. "This is massively screwed up." Claire, for her part, thought some of it seemed deliberate, not just panic. "Okay, I'm going to pull it against the wall and hope we can get out if we need to."

The elevator was already locked down, the doors open but the lights off and buttons unresponsive. They took the stairs at a run.

The firstfloor door seemed to be locked, until Shane pushed on it harder, and then it creaked open against a flood of protests.

The vestibule was full of people.

Morganville's City Hall wasn't all that large, at least not here in the lobby area.

There was a big, sweeping staircase leading up, all grand marble and polished wood, and glass display cases taking up part of one wall. The License Bureau was off to the right: six oldtime bank windows, with bars, all closed. Next to each window was a brass plaque that read what the windows were supposed to deliver: RESIDENTIAL LICENSING, CAR REGISTRATION, ZONING CHANGE REQUESTS, SPECIAL PERMITS, TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS, FINE PAYMENTS, TAXES, CITY SERVICES.

But not today.

The lobby was jammed with people. Families, mostly--mothers and fathers with kids, some as young as infants. Claire didn't see a single vampire in the crowd, not even Michael. At the far end, a yellow Civil Defense sign indicated that the door led to a Safe Shelter, with a tornado graphic next to it. A policeman with a bullhorn was yelling for order, not that he was getting any; people were pushing, shoving, and shouting at one another. "The shelter is now at maximum capacity! Please be calm!"

"Not good," Shane said. There was no sign of Richard, although there were at least ten uniformed police officers trying to manage the crowd. "Upstairs?"

"Upstairs," Eve agreed, and they squeezed back into the fire stairs and ran up to the next level. The sign in the stairwell said that this floor contained the mayor's office, sheriff's office, city council chambers, and something called, vaguely, Records.

The door was locked. Shane rattled it and banged for entrance, but nobody came to the rescue.

"Guess we go up," he said.

The third floor had no signs in the stairwell at all, but there was a symbol--the Founder's glyph, like the one on Claire's bracelet. Shane turned the knob, but again, the door didn't open. "I didn't think they could do that to fire stairs," Eve said.

"Yeah, call a cop." Shane looked up the steps. "One more floor, and then it's just the roof, and I'm thinking that's not a good idea, the roof."

"Wait." Claire studied the Founder's glyph for a few seconds, then shrugged and reached out to turn the knob.

Something clicked, and it turned. The door opened.

"How did you . . . ?"

Claire held up her wrist, and the gold bracelet. "It was worth a shot. I thought, maybe with a gold bracelet--"

"Genius. Go on, get inside," Shane said, and hustled them in. The door clicked shut behind them, and locked with a snap of metal. The hallway seemed dark, after the fluorescent lights in the stairs, and that was because the lights were dimmed way down, the carpet was dark, and so was the wood paneling.

It reminded Claire eerily of the hallway where they'd rescued Myrnin, only there weren't as many doors opening off it. Shane took the lead--of course--but the doors they could open were just simple offices, nothing fancy about them at all.

And then there was a door at the end of the hall with the Founder's Symbol etched on the polished brass doorknob. Shane tried it, shook his head, and motioned for Claire.

It opened easily at her touch.

Inside were--apartments. Chambers? Claire didn't know what else to call them; there was an entire complex of rooms leading from one central area.

It was like stepping into a whole different world, and Claire could tell that it had once been beautiful: a fairytale room, of rich satin on the walls, Persian rugs, delicate white and gold furniture.

"Michael? Mayor Morrell? Richard?"

It was a queen's room, and somebody had completely wrecked it. Most of the furniture was overturned, some kicked to pieces. Mirrors smashed. Fabrics ripped.

Claire froze.

Lying on the remaining long, delicate sofa was Fran?ois, Bishop's other loyal vampire buddy, who'd come to Morganville along with Ysandre as his entourage. The vampire looked completely at ease--legs crossed at the ankles, head propped on a plump satin pillow. A big crystal glass of something in dark red rested on his chest.

He giggled and saluted them with the blood. "Hello, little friends," he said. "We weren't expecting you, but you'll do. We're almost out of refreshments."

"Out," Shane said, and shoved Eve toward the door.

It slammed shut before she could reach it, and there stood Mr. Bishop, still dressed in his long purple cassock from the feast. It was still torn on the side, where Myrnin had slashed at him with the knife.

There was something so ancient about him, so completely uncaring, that Claire felt her mouth go dry. "Where is she?" Bishop asked. "I know you've seen my daughter. I can smell her on you."

"Ewww," Eve said, very faintly. "So much more than I needed to know."

Bishop didn't look away from Claire's face, just pointed at Eve. "Silence, or be silenced. When I want to know your opinion, I'll consult your entrails."

Eve shut up. Fran?ois swung his legs over the edge of the sofa and sat up in one smooth motion. He downed the rest of his glass of blood and let the glass fall, shedding crimson drops all over the pale carpet. He'd gotten some on his fingers. He licked them, then smeared the rest all over the satin wall.

"Please," he said, and batted his longlashed eyes at Eve. "Please, say something. I love entrails."

She shrank back against the wall. Even Shane stayed quiet, though Claire could tell he was itching to pull her to safety. You can't protect me, she thought fiercely. Don't try.

"You don't know where Amelie is?" Claire asked Bishop directly. "How's that master plan going, then?"

"Oh, it's going just fine," Bishop said. "Oliver is dead by now. Myrnin--well, we both know that Myrnin is insane, at best, and homicidal at his even better. I'm rather hoping he'll come charging to your rescue and forget who you are once he arrives. That would be amusing, and very typical of him, I'm afraid." Bishop's eyes bored into hers, and Claire felt the net closing around her. "Where is Amelie?"

"Where you'll never find her."

"Fine. Let her lurk in the shadows with her creations, until hunger or the humans destroy them. This doesn't have to be a battle, you know. It can be a war of attrition just as easily. I have the high ground." He gestured around the ruined apartment with one lazy hand. "And of course, I have everyone here, whether they know it or not."

She didn't hear him move, but flinched as Fran?ois trailed cold fingers across the back of her neck, then gripped her tightly.

"Just like that," Bishop said. "Just precisely like that." He nodded to Fran?ois.

"If you want her, take her. I'm no longer interested in Amelie's pets. Take these others, too, unless you wish to save them for later."

Claire heard Shane whisper, "No," and heard the complete despair in his voice just as Bishop's follower wrenched her head over to the side, baring her neck.

She felt his lips touch her skin. They burned like ice.

"Ah!" Fran?ois jerked his head back. "You little peasant." He used a fold of her shirt to take hold of the silver chain around her neck, and broke it with a sharp twist.

Claire caught the cross in her hand as it fell.

"May it comfort you," Bishop said, and smiled. "My child."

And then Fran?ois bit her.

"Claire?" Somewhere, a long way off, Eve was crying. "Oh my God, Claire? Can you hear me? Come on, please, please come back. Are you sure she's got a pulse?"

"Yes, she's got a pulse." Claire knew that voice. Richard Morrell. But why was he here? Who called the police? She remembered the accident with the truck--no, that was before.

Bishop.

Claire slowly opened her eyes. The world felt very far away, and safely muffled for the moment. She heard Eve let out a gasp and a flood of words, but Claire didn't try to identify the meaning.

I have a pulse.

That seemed important.

My neck hurts.

Because a vampire had bitten her.

Claire raised her left hand slowly to touch her neck, and found a huge wad of what felt like somebody's shirt pressed against her neck.

"No," Richard said, and forced her hand back down. "Don't touch it. It's still closing up. You shouldn't move for another hour or so. Let the wounds close."

"Bit," Claire murmured. "He bit me." That came in a blinding flash, like a red knife cutting through the fog. "Don't let me turn into one."

"You won't," Eve said. She was upside down--no, Claire's head was in her lap, and Eve was leaning over her. Claire felt the warm drip of Eve's tears on her face. "Oh, sweetie. You're going to be okay. Right?" Even upside down, Eve's look was panicked as she appealed to Richard, who sat on her right.

"You'll be all right," he said. He didn't look much better than Claire felt. "I have to see to my father. Here." He moved out of the way, and someone else sat in his place.

Shane. His warm fingers closed over hers, and she shivered when she realized how cold she felt. Eve tucked an expensive velvet blanket over and around her, fussing nervously.

Shane didn't say anything. He was so quiet.

My cross," Claire said. It had been in her hand. She didn't know where it was now. "He broke the chain. I'm sorry--"

Shane opened her fingers and tipped the cross and chain into her hand. "I picked it up," he said. "Figured you might want it." There was something he wasn't saying. Claire looked at Eve to find out what it was, but she wasn't talking, for a change. "Anyway, you're going to be okay. We're lucky this time. Fran?ois wasn't that hungry." He closed her fingers around the cross and held on.

His hands were shaking. "Shane?"

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I couldn't move. I just stood there."

"No, he didn't," Eve said. "He knocked Franny clear across the room and he would have staked him with a chair leg, except Bishop stepped in."

That sounded like Shane. "You're not hurt?" Claire asked.

"Not much." Eve frowned. "Well--" "Not much," Shane repeated.

"I'm okay, Claire."

She kind of had to take that at face value, at least right now. "What time--"

"Six fifteen," Richard said, from the far corner of the small room. This, Claire guessed, had been some kind of dressing area for Amelie. She saw a long closet to the side. Most of the clothes were shredded and scattered in piles on the floor. The dressing table was a ruin, and every mirror was broken.

Fran?ois had had his fun in here, too.

"The storm's heading for us," Eve said. "Michael never got to Richard, but he got to Joe Hess, apparently. They evacuated the shelters. Bishop was pretty mad about that. He wanted a lot of hostages between him and Amelie."

"So all that's left is us?"

"Us. And Bishop's people, who didn't leave. And Fabulous Frank Collins and his Wild Bunch, who rolled into the lobby and now think they've won some kind of battle or something." Eve rolled her eyes, and for an instant was back to her old self. "Just us and the bad guys."

Did that make Richard--no. Claire couldn't believe that. If anyone in Morganville had honestly tried to do the right thing, it was Richard Morrell.

Eve followed Claire's look. "Oh. Yeah, his dad got hurt trying to stop Bishop from taking over downstairs. Richard's been trying to take care of him, and his mom. We were right about Sullivan, by the way. Total backstabber. Yay for premonitions. Wish I had one right now that could help get us out of this."

"No way out," Claire said.

"Not even a window," Eve said. "We're locked in here. No idea where Bishop and his little sock monkey got off to. Looking for Amelie, I guess. I wish they'd just kill each other already."

Eve didn't mean it, not really, but Claire understood how she felt. Distantly. In a detached, shocked kind of way.

"What's happening outside?"

"Not a clue. No radios in here. They took our cell phones. We're"--the lights blinked and failed, putting the room into pitch darkness--"screwed," Eve finished. "Oh man, I should not have said that, should I?"

"Power's gone out to the building, I think," Richard said. "It's probably the storm."

Or the vampires screwing with them, just because they could. Claire didn't say it out loud, but she thought it pretty hard.

Shane's hand kept holding hers. "Shane?"

"Right here," he said. "Stay still."

"I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry."

"What for?"

"I shouldn't have gotten angry with you, before, about your dad. . . ."

"Not important," he said very softly. "It's okay, Claire. Just rest." Rest? She couldn't rest. Reality was pushing back in, reminding her of pain, of fear, and most important, of time.

There was an eerie, ghostly sound now, wailing, and getting louder.

"What is that?" Eve asked, and then, before anybody could answer, did so herself. "Tornado sirens. There's one on the roof."

The rising, falling wail got louder, but with it came something else--a sound like water rushing, or--

"We need to get to cover," Richard said. A flashlight snapped on, and played over Eve's pallid face, then Shane's and Claire's. "You guys, get her over here. This is the strongest interior corner. That side faces out toward the street."

Claire tried to get up, but Shane scooped her in his arms and carried her. He set her down with her back against a wall, then got under the blanket next to her with Eve on his other side. The flashlight turned away from them, and in its sweep, Claire caught sight of Mayor Morrell. He was a fat man, with a politician's smooth face and smile, but he didn't look anything like she remembered now. He seemed older, shrunken inside his suit, and very ill.

"What's wrong with him?" Claire whispered.

Shane's answer stirred the damp hair around her face. "Heart attack," he said. "At least, that's Richard's best guess. Looks bad."

It really did. The mayor was propped against the wall a few feet from them, and he was gasping for breath as his wife (Claire had never seen her before, except in pictures) patted his arm and murmured in his ear. His face was ash gray, his lips turning blue, and there was real panic in his eyes.

Richard returned, dragging another thick blanket and some pillows. "Everybody cover up," he said. "Keep your heads down." He covered his mother and father and crouched next to them as he wrapped himself in another blanket.

The wind outside was building to a howl. Claire could hear things hitting the walls--dull thudding sounds, like baseballs. It got louder. "Debris," Richard said. He focused the light on the carpet between their small group. "Maybe hail. Could be anything."

The siren cut off abruptly, but that didn't mean the noise subsided; if anything, it got louder, ratcheting up from a howl to a scream--and then it took on a deeper tone.

"Sounds like a train," Eve said shakily. "Damn, I was really hoping that wasn't true, the train thing--"

"Heads down!" Richard yelled, as the whole building started to shake. Claire could feel the boards vibrating underneath her. She could see the walls bending, and cracks forming in the bricks.

And then the noise rose to a constant, deafening scream, and the whole outside wall sagged, dissolved into bricks and broken wood, and disappeared. The ripped, torn fabric around the room took flight like startled birds, whipping wildly through the air and getting shredded into eversmaller sections by the wind and debris.

The storm was screaming as if it had gone insane. Broken furniture and shards of mirrors flew around, smashing into the walls, hitting the blankets.

Claire heard a heavy groan even over the shrieking wind, and looked up to see the roof sagging overhead. Dust and plaster cascaded down, and she grabbed Shane hard.

The roof came down on top of them.

Claire didn't know how long it lasted. It seemed like forever, really--the screaming, the shaking, the pressure of things on top of her.

And then, very gradually, it stopped, and the rain began to hammer down again, drenching the pile of dust and wood. Some of it trickled down to drip on her cheek, which was how she knew.

Shane's hand moved on her shoulder, more of a twitch than a conscious motion, and then he let go of Claire to heave up with both hands. Debris slid and rattled. They'd been lucky, Claire realized--a heavy wooden beam had collapsed in over their heads at a slant, and it had held the worst of the stuff off them.

"Eve?" Claire reached across Shane and grabbed her friend's hands. Eve's eyes were closed, and there was blood trickling down one side of her face. Her face was even whiter than usual--plaster dust, Claire realized.

Eve coughed, and her eyelids fluttered up. "Mom?" The uncertainty in her voice made Claire want to cry. "Oh God, what happened? Claire?"

"We're alive," Shane said. He sounded kind of surprised. He brushed fallen chunks of wood and plaster off Claire's head, and she coughed, too. The rain pounded in at an angle, soaking the blanket that covered them. "Richard?"

"Over here," Richard said. "Dad? Dad--"

The flashlight was gone, rolled off or buried or just plain taken away by the wind. Lightning flashed, bright as day, and Claire saw the tornado that had hit them still moving through Morganville, crashing through buildings, spraying debris a hundred feet into the air.

It didn't even look real.

Shane helped move a beam off Eve's legs--thankfully, they were just bruised, not broken--and crawled across the slipping wreckage toward Richard, who was lifting things off his mother. She looked okay, but she was crying and dazed.

His father, though . . .

"No," Richard said, and dragged his father flat. He started administering CPR. There were bloody cuts on his face, but he didn't seem to care about his own problems at all. "Shane! Breathe for him!"

After a hesitation, Shane tilted the mayor's head back. "Like this?"

"Let me," Eve said. "I've had CPR training." She crawled over and took in a deep breath, bent, and blew it into the mayor's mouth, watching for his chest to rise. It seemed to take a lot of effort. So did what Richard was doing, pumping on his dad's chest, over and over. Eve counted slowly, then breathed again--and again.

"I'll get help," Claire said. She wasn't sure there was any help, really, but she had to do something. When she stood up, though, she felt dizzy and weak, and remembered what Richard had said--she had holes in her neck, and she'd lost a lot of blood. "I'll go slow."

"I'll go with you," Shane said, but Richard grabbed him and pulled him down.

"No! I need you to take over here." He showed Shane how to place his hands, and got him started. He pulled the walkietalkie from his belt and tossed it to Claire. "Go. We need paramedics."

And then Richard collapsed, and Claire realized that he had a huge piece of metal in his side. She stood there, frozen in horror, and then punched in the code for the walkietalkie. "Hello? Hello, is anybody there?"

Static. If there was anybody, she couldn't hear it over the interference and the roaring rain.

"I have to go!" she shouted at Shane. He looked up.

"No!" But he couldn't stop her, not without letting the mayor die, and after one helpless, furious look at her, he went back to work.

Claire slid over the pile of debris and scrambled out the broken door, into the main apartment.

There was no sign of Fran?ois or Bishop. If the place had been wrecked before, it was unrecognizable now. Most of this part of the building was gone, just--gone. She felt the floor groan underneath her, and moved fast, heading for the apartment's front door. It was still on its hinges, but as she pulled on it, part of the frame came out of the wall.

Outside, the hallway seemed eerily unmarked, except that the roof overhead--and, Claire presumed, all of the next floor above--was missing. It was a hallway open to the storm. She hurried along it, glad now for the flashes of lightning that lit her way.

The fire stairs at the end seemed intact. She passed some people huddled there, clearly terrified. "We need help!" she said. "There are people hurt upstairs--somebody?"

And then the screaming started, somewhere about a floor down, lots of people screaming at the same time. Those who were sitting on the stairs jumped to their feet and ran up, toward Claire. "No!" she yelled. "No, you can't!"

But she was shoved out of the way, and about fifty people trampled past her, heading up. She had no idea where they'd go.

Worse, she was afraid their combined weight would collapse that part of the building, including the place where Eve, Shane, and the Morrells were.

"Claire?" Michael. He came out of the firstfloor door, and leaped two flights of stairs in about two jumps to reach her. Before she could protest, he'd grabbed her in his arms like an invalid. "Come on. I have to get you out of here."

"No! No, go up. Shane, they need help. Go up; leave me here!"

"I can't." He looked down, and so did she.

Vampires poured into the stairwell below. Some of them were fighting, ripping at one another. Any human who got between them went down screaming.

"Right. Up it is," he said, and she felt them leave the ground in one powerful leap, hitting the thirdfloor landing with catlike grace.

"What's happening?" Claire twisted to try to look down, but it didn't make any sense to her. It was just a mob, fighting one another. No telling who was on which side, or even why they were fighting so furiously.

"Amelie's down there," Michael said. "Bishop's trying to get to her, but he's losing followers fast. She took him by surprise, during the storm."

"What about the people--I mean, the humans? Shane's dad, and the ones who wanted to take over?"

Michael kicked open the door to the thirdfloor roofless hallway. The people who'd run past Claire were milling around in it, frightened and babbling. Michael brought down his fangs and snarled at them, and they scattered into whatever shelter they could reach--interior offices, mostly, that had sustained little damage except for rain.

He shoved past those who had nowhere to go, and down to the end of the hall. "In here?" He let Claire slide down to her feet, and his gaze focused on her neck. "Someone bit you."

"It's not so bad." Claire put her hand over the wound, trying to cover it up. The wound's edges felt ragged, and they were still leaking blood, she thought, although that could have just been the rain. "I'm okay."

"No, you're not." A gust of wind blew his collar back, and she saw the white outlines of marks on his own neck. "Michael! Did you get bitten, too?"

"Like you said, it's nothing. Look, we can talk about that later. Let's get to our friends. First aid later."

Claire opened the door and stepped through . . . and the floor collapsed underneath her.

She must have screamed, but all she heard was the tremendous cracking sound of more of the building falling apart underneath and around her. She turned toward Michael, who was frozen in the doorway, illuminated in stark white by a nearby lightning strike.

He reached out and grabbed her arm as she flung it toward him, and then she was suspended in midair, wind and dust rushing up around her, as the floor underneath fell away. Michael pulled, and she almost flew, weightless, into his arms.

"Oh," she whispered faintly. "Thanks."

He held on to her for a minute without speaking, then said, "Is there another way in?"

"I don't know."

They backed up and found the next office to the left, which had suspiciouslooking cracks in its walls. Claire thought the floor felt a little unsteady. Michael pushed her back behind him and said, "Cover your eyes."

Then he began ripping away the wall between the office and Amelie's apartments. When he hit solid red brick, he punched it, breaking it into dust.

"This isn't helping keep things together!" Claire yelled.

"I know, but we need to get them out!"

He ripped a hole in the wall big enough to step through, and braced himself in it as the whole building seemed to shudder, as if shifting its weight. "The floor's all right here," he said. "You stay. I'll go."

"Through that door, to the left!" Claire called. Michael disappeared, moving fast and gracefully.

She wondered, all of a sudden, why he wasn't downstairs. Why he wasn't fighting, like all the others of Amelie's blood.

A couple of tense minutes passed, as she stared through the hole; nothing seemed to be happening. She couldn't hear Michael, or Shane, or anything else.

And then she heard screaming behind her, in the hall. Vampires, she thought, and quickly opened the door to look.

Someone fell against the wood, knocking her backward. It was Fran?ois. Claire tried to shut the door, but a bloodstained white hand wormed through the opening and grabbed the edge, shoving it wider.

Fran?ois didn't look even remotely human anymore, but he did look absolutely desperate, willing to do anything to survive, and very, very angry.

Claire backed up, slowly, until she was standing with her back against the far wall. There wasn't much in here to help her--a desk, some pens and pencils in a cup.

Fran?ois laughed, and then he growled. "You think you're winning," he said. "You're not."

"I think you're the one who has to worry," Michael said from the hole in the wall. He stepped through, carrying Mayor Morrell in his arms. Shane and Eve were with him, supporting Richard's sagging body between them. Mrs. Morrell brought up the rear. "Back off. I won't come after you if you run."

Fran?ois' eyes turned ruby, and he threw himself at Michael, who was burdened with the mayor.

Claire grabbed a pencil from the cup and plunged it into Fran?ois' back.

He whirled, looking stunned . . . and then he slowly collapsed to the carpet.

"That won't kill him," Michael said.

"I don't care," Eve said. "Because that was fierce."

Claire grabbed the vampire's arms and dragged him out of the way, careful not to dislodge the pencil; she wasn't really sure how deep it had gone, and if it slipped out of his heart, they were all in big trouble. Michael edged around him and opened the door to check the corridor. "Clear," he said. "For the moment. Come on."

Their little refugee group hurried into the rainy hall, squishing through soggy carpet. There were people hiding in the offices, or just pressed against the walls and hoping not to be noticed. "Come on," Eve said to them. "Get up. We're getting out of here before this whole thing comes down!"

The fighting in the stairwell was still going on--snarling, screams, bangs, and thuds. Claire didn't dare look over the railing. Michael led them down to the locked secondfloor entrance. He pulled hard on it, and the knob popped off-- but the door stayed locked.

"Hey, Mike?" Shane had edged to the end of the landing to look over the railing. "Can't go that way."

"I know!"

"Also, time is--"

"I know, Shane!" Michael started kicking the door, but it was reinforced, stronger than the other doors Claire had seen. It bent, but didn't open.

And then it did open . . . from the inside.

There, in his fancy but battered black velvet, stood Myrnin.

"In," he said. "This way. Hurry."

a portal, but she didn't have time to tell anybody else, so when they stepped through into Myrnin's lab, it was probably kind of a shock. Michael didn't pause; he pushed a bunch of broken glassware from a lab table and put Mr. Morrell down on it, then touched pale fingers to the man's throat. When he found nothing, he started CPR again. Eve hurried over to breathe for him.

Myrnin didn't move as the refugees streamed in past him. He was standing with his arms folded, a frown grooved between his brows. "Who are all these people?" he asked. "I am not an innkeeper, you know."

"Shut up," Claire said. She didn't have any patience with Myrnin right now. "Is he okay?" She was talking to Shane, who was easing Richard onto a threadbare rug near the far wall.

"You mean, except for the big piece of metal in him? Look, I don't know. He's breathing, at least."

The rest of the refugees clustered together, filtering slowly through the portal. Most of them had no idea what had just happened, which was good. If they'd been part of Frank's group, intending to take over Morganville, that ambition was long gone. Now they were just people, and they were just scared. "Up the stairs," Claire told them. "You can get out that way."

Most of them rushed for the exit. She hoped they'd make it home, or at least to some kind of safe place.

She hoped they had homes to go back to.

Myrnin glared at her. "You do realize that this was a secret laboratory, don't you? And now half of Morganville knows where it is?"

"Hey, I didn't open the door; you did." She reached over and put her hand on his arm, looking up into his face. "Thank you. You saved our lives." He blinked slowly.

"Did I?"

"I know why you weren't fighting," Claire said. "The drugs kept you from having to. But . . . Michael?"

Myrnin followed her gaze to where Eve and Michael remained bent over the mayor's still form. "Amelie let him go," he said. "For now. She could claim him again at any time, but I think she knew you needed help." He uncrossed his arms and walked over to Michael to touch his shoulder. "It's no use," he said. "I can smell death on him. So can you, if you try. You won't bring him back."

"No!" Mrs. Morrell screamed, and threw herself over her husband's body. "No, you have to try!"

"They did," Myrnin said, and retreated to lean against a convenient wall. "Which is more than I would have." He nodded toward Richard. "He might live, but to remove that metal will require a chirurgeon."

"You mean, a doctor?" Claire asked.

"Yes, of course, a doctor," Myrnin snapped, and his eyes flared red. "I know you want me to feel some sympathy for them, but that is not who I am. I care only about those I know, and even then, not all that deeply. Strangers get nothing from me."

He was slipping, and the anger was coming back. Next it would be confusion. Claire silently dug in her pockets. She'd put a single glass vial in, and miraculously, it was still unbroken.

He slapped it out of her hand impatiently. "I don't need it!"

Claire watched it clatter to the floor, heart in her mouth, and said, "You do. You know you do. Please, Myrnin. I don't need your crap right now. Just take your medicine."

She didn't think he would, not at first, but then he snorted, bent down, and picked up the vial. He broke the cap off and dumped the liquid into his mouth. "There," he said. "Satisfied?" He shattered the glass in his fingers, and the red glow in his eyes intensified. "Are you, little Claire? Do you enjoy giving me orders?"

"Myrnin."

His hand went around her throat, choking off whatever she was going to say.

She didn't move.

His hand didn't tighten.

The red glow slowly faded away, replaced by a look of shame. He let go of her and backed away a full step, head down.

"I don't know where to get a doctor," Claire said, as if nothing had happened. "The hospital, maybe, or--" "No," Myrnin murmured. "I will bring help. Don't let anyone go through my things. And watch Michael, in case."

She nodded. Myrnin opened the portal doorway in the wall and stepped through it, heading--where? She had no idea. Amelie had, Claire thought, shut down all the nodes. But if that was true, how had they gotten here?

Myrnin could open and close them at will. But he was probably the only one who could.

Michael and Eve moved away from Mayor Morrell's body, as his wife stood over him and cried.

"What can we do?" Shane asked. He sounded miserable. In all the confusion, he'd missed her confrontation with Myrnin. She was dimly glad about that.

"Nothing," Michael said. "Nothing but wait."

When the portal opened again, Myrnin stepped through, then helped someone else over the step.

It was Theo Goldman, carrying an antique doctor's bag. He looked around the lab, nodding to Claire in particular, and then moved to where Richard was lying on the carpet, with his head in his mother's lap. "Move back, please," he told her, and knelt down to open his bag. "Myrnin. Take her in the other room. A mother shouldn't see this."

He was setting out instruments, unrolling them in a clean white towel. As Claire watched, Myrnin led Mrs. Morrell away and seated her in a chair in the corner, where he normally sat to read. She seemed dazed now, probably in shock. The chair was intact. It was just about the only thing in the lab that was--the scientific instruments were smashed, lab tables overturned, candles and lamps broken.

Books were piled in the corners and burned, reduced to scraps of leather and curling black ash. The whole place smelled sharply of chemicals and fire.

"What can we do?" Michael asked, crouching down on Richard's other side. Theo took out several pairs of latex gloves and passed one set to Michael. He donned one himself.

"You can act as my nurse, my friend," he said. "I would have brought my wife--she has many years of training in this--but I don't want to leave my children on their own. They're already very frightened."

"But they're safe?" Eve asked. "Nobody's bothered you?"

"No one has so much as knocked on the door," he said. "It's a very good hiding place. Thank you."

"I think you're paying us back," Eve said. "Please. Can you save him?"

"It's in God's hands, not mine." Still, Theo's eyes were bright as he looked at the twisted metal plate embedded in Richard's side. "It's good that he's unconscious, but he might wake during the procedure. There is chloroform in the bag. It's Michael, yes? Michael, please put some on a cloth and be ready when I tell you to cover his mouth and nose."

Claire's nerve failed around the time that Theo took hold of the piece of steel, and she turned away. Eve already had, to take a blanket to Mrs. Morrell and put it around her shoulders.

"Where's my daughter?" the mayor's wife asked. "Monica should be here. I don't want her out there alone."

Eve raised her eyebrows at Claire, clearly wondering where Monica was.

"The last time I saw her, she was at school," Claire said. "But that was before I got the call to come home, so I don't know. Maybe she's in shelter in the dorm?" She checked her cell phone. No bars. Reception was usually spotty down here in the lab, but she could usually see something, even if it was only a flicker. "I think the cell towers are down."

"Yeah, likely," Eve agreed. She reached over to tuck the blanket around Mrs. Morrell, who leaned her head back and closed her eyes, as if the strength was just leaking right out of her. "You think this is the right thing to do? I mean, do we even know this guy or anything?"

Claire didn't, really, but she still wanted to like Theo, in much the same way as she liked Myrnin--against her better sense. "I think he's okay. And it's not like anybody's making house calls right now."

The operation--and it was an operation, with suturing and everything--took a couple of hours before Theo sat back, stripped off the gloves, and sighed in quiet satisfaction. "There," he said. Claire and Eve got up to walk over as Michael rose to his feet. Shane had been hanging on the edges, watching in what Claire thought looked like queasy fascination. "His pulse is steady. He's lost some blood, but I believe he will be all right, provided no infection sets in. Still, this century has those wonderful antibiotics, yes? So that is not so bad." Theo was almost beaming. "I must say, I haven't used my surgical skills in years. It's very exciting. Although it makes me hungry."

Claire was pretty sure Richard wouldn't want to know that. She knew she wouldn't have, in his place.

"Thank you," Mrs. Morrell said. She got up from the chair, folded the blanket and put it aside, then walked over to shake Theo's hand with simple, dignified gratitude. "I'll see that my husband compensates you for your kindness."

They all exchanged looks. Michael started to speak, but Theo shook his head. "That's quite all right, dear lady. I am delighted to help. I recently lost a son myself. I know the weight of grief."

"Oh," Mrs. Morrell said, "I'm so sorry for your loss, sir." She said it as if she didn't know her husband was lying across the room, dead.

Tears sparkled in his eyes, Claire saw, but then he blinked them away and smiled. He patted her hand gently. "You are very generous to an old man," he said. "We have always liked living in Morganville, you know. The people are so kind."

Shane said, "Some of those same people killed your son."

Theo looked at him with calm, unflinching eyes. "And without forgiveness, there is never any peace. I tell you this from the distance of many centuries. My son gave his life. I won't reply to his gift with anger, not even for those who took him from me. Those same poor, sad people will wake up tomorrow grieving their own losses, I think, if they survive at all. How can hating them heal me?"

Myrnin, who hadn't spoken at all, murmured, "You shame me, Theo."

"I don't mean to do so," he said, and shrugged. "Well. I should get back to my family now. I wish you all well."

Myrnin got up from his chair and walked with Theo to the portal. They all watched him go. Mrs. Morrell was staring after him with a bright, odd look in her eyes.

"How very strange," she said. "I wish Mr. Morrell had been available to meet him."

She spoke as if he were in a meeting downtown instead of under a sheet on the other side of the room. Claire shuddered.

"Come on, let's go see Richard," Eve said, and led her away.

Shane let out his breath in a slow hiss. "I wish it were as simple as Theo thinks it is, to stop hating." He swallowed, watching Mrs. Morrell. "I wish I could, I really do."

"At least you want to," Michael said. "It's a start."

They stayed the night in the lab, mainly because the storm continued outside until the wee hours of the morning-- rain, mostly, with some hail. There didn't seem to be much point running out in it. Claire kept checking her phone, Eve found a portable radio buried in piles of junk at the back of the room, and they checked for news at regular intervals.

Around three a.m. they got some. It was on the radio's emergency alert frequency.

All Morganville residents and surrounding areas: we remain under severe thunderstorm warnings, with high winds and possible flooding, until seven a.m. today. Rescue efforts are under way at City Hall, which was partially destroyed by a tornado that also leveled several warehouses and abandoned buildings, as well as one building in Founder's Square. There are numerous reports of injuries coming in.

Please remain calm. Emergency teams are working their way through town now, looking for anyone who may be in need of assistance. Stay where you are. Please do not attempt to go out into the streets at this time.

It started to repeat. Eve frowned and looked up at Myrnin, who had listened as well. "What aren't they saying?" she asked.

"If I had to guess, their urgent desire that people stay within shelter would tell me there are other things to worry about." His dark eyes grew distant for a moment, then snapped back into focus. "Ibid nothing."

"What?" Eve seemed to think she'd misheard.

"Ibid nothing carlo. I don't justice."

Myrnin was making word salad again--a precursor to the drugs wearing off--more quickly than Claire had expected, actually, and that was worrying.

Eve sent Claire a look of alarm. "Okay, I didn't really understand that at all--"

Claire put a hand on her arm to silence her. "Why don't you go see Mrs. Morrell? You too, Shane."

He didn't like it, but he went. As he did, he jerked his head at Michael, who rose from where he was sitting with Richard and strolled over.

Casually.

"Myrnin," Claire said. "You need to listen to me, okay? I think your drugs are wearing off again."

"I'm fine." His excitement level was rising; she could see it--a very light flush in his face, his eyes starting to glitter. "You worry over notebook."

There was no point in trying to explain the signs; he never could identify them. "We should check on the prison," she said. "See if everything's still okay there."

Myrnin smiled. "You're trying to trick me." His eyes were getting darker, endlessly dark, and that smile had edges to it. "Oh, little girl, you don't know. You don't know what it's like, having all these guests here, and all this"--he breathed in deeply--"all this blood." His eyes focused on her throat, with its ragged bite mark hidden under a bandage Theo had given her. "I know it's there. Your mark. Tell me, did Fran?ois--"

"Stop. Stop it." Claire dug her fingers into her palms. Myrnin took a step toward her, and she forced herself not to flinch. She knew him, knew what he was trying to do. "You won't hurt me. You need me."

"Do I?" He breathed deeply again. "Yes, I do. Bright, so bright. I can feel your energy. I know how it will feel when I . . ." He blinked, and horror sheeted across his face, fast as lightning. "What was I saying? Claire? What did I just say?"

She couldn't repeat it. "Nothing. Don't worry. But I think we'd better get you to the cell, okay? Please?"

He looked devastated. This was the worst part of it, she thought, the mood swings. He'd tried so hard, and he'd helped, he really had--but he wasn't going to be able to hold together much longer. She was seeing him fall apart in slow motion.

Again.

Michael steered him toward the portal. "Let's go," he said. "Claire, can you do this?"

"If he doesn't fight me," she said nervously. She remembered one afternoon when his paranoia had taken over, and every time she'd tried to establish the portal, he'd snapped the connection, sure something was waiting on the other side to destroy him. "I wish we had a tranquilizer."

"Well, you don't," Myrnin said. "And I don't like being stuck with your needles, you know that. I'll behave myself." He laughed softly. "Mostly."

Claire opened the door, but instead of the connection snapping clear to the prison, she felt it shift, pulled out of focus. "Myrnin, stop it!"

He spread his hands theatrically. "I didn't do anything."

She tried again. The connection bent, and before she could bring it back where she wanted it, an alternate destination came into focus.

Theo Goldman fell out of the door.

"Theo!" Myrnin caught him, surprised out of his petulance, at least for the moment. He eased the other vampire down to a sitting position against the wall. "Are you injured?"

"No, no, no--" Theo was gasping, though Claire knew he didn't need air, not the way humans did. This was emotion, not exertion. "Please, you have to help, I beg you. Help us, help my family, please--"

Myrnin crouched down to put their eyes on a level. "What's happened?"

Theo's eyes filled with tears that flowed over his lined, kind face. "Bishop," he said. "Bishop has my family. He says he wants Amelie and the book, or he will kill them all."

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