Chapter Two

Claire wasn't sure if get ready meant put on her game face, brush her teeth, or pack up a lot of weapons, but she followed Shane to say goodbye to Michael first.

Michael was standing in the middle of a bunch of hardlooking types--some were vampires, and many she'd never seen before. They didn't look happy about playing defense, and they had that smellingsomethingrotten expression that meant they didn't like hanging out with the human help, either.

The nonvamps with Michael were older, postcollege--tough guys with lots of muscles. Even so, the humans mostly looked nervous.

Shane seemed almost small in comparison--not that he let it slow him down as he rushed the defensive line. He pushed a vampire out of his way as he headed for Michael; the vampire flashed fang at him, but Shane didn't even notice.

Michael did. He stepped in the way of the offended vamp as it made a move for Shane's back, and the two of them froze that way, predators facing off. Michael wasn't the one to look down first. Michael had a strange intensity about him now--something that had always been there, but being a vampire had ramped it up to about eleven, Claire thought. He still looked angelic, but there were moments when his angel was more fallen than flying. But the smile was real, and completely the Michael she knew and loved when he turned it on them.

He held out his hand for a manly kind of shake. Shane batted it aside and hugged him. There were manly backslaps, and if there was a brief flash of red in Michael's eyes, Shane didn't see it.

"You be careful, man," Shane said. "Those college chicks, they're wild. Don't let them drag you into any JellO shot parties. Stay strong."

"You too," Michael said. "Be careful."

"Driving around in a big, black, obvious lunch wagon in a town full of starving vampires? Yeah. I'll try to keep it low profile." Shane swallowed. "Seriously--"

"I know. Same here."

They nodded at each other.

Claire and Eve watched them for a moment. The two of them shrugged. "What?" Michael asked.

"That's it? That's your big goodbye?" Eve asked.

"What was wrong with it?"

Claire looked at Eve, mystified. "I think I need guy CliffsNotes."

"Guys aren't deep enough to need CliffsNotes."

"What were you waiting for, flowery poetry?" Shane snorted. "I hugged. I'm done."

Michael's grin didn't last. He looked at Shane, then Claire, and last--and longest--at Eve. "Don't let anything happen to you," he said. "I love you guys."

"Ditto," Shane said, which was, for Shane, positively gushing.

They might have had time to say more, but one of the vampires standing around, looking pissed off and impatient, tapped Michael on the shoulder. His pale lips moved near Michael's ear.

"Time to go," Michael said. He hugged Eve hard, and had to peel her off at the end. "Don't trust Oliver."

"Yeah, like you had to tell me that," Eve said. Her voice was shaking again. "Michael--"

"I love you," he said, and kissed her, fast and hard. "I'll see you soon."

He left in a blur, taking most of the vampires with him. The mayor's son, Richard Morrell--still in his police uniform, although he was looking wrinkled and smoke stained now--led the humans at a more normal pace to follow.

Eve stood there with her kisssmudged lips parted, looking stunned and astonished. When she regained the power of speech, she said, "Did he just say--?"

"Yes," Claire said, smiling. "Yes, he did."

"Whoa. Guess I'd better stay alive, then."

The crowd of people--fewer now than there had been just a few minutes before--parted around them, and Oliver strode through the gap. The secondmost badass vampire in town had shed his costume and was dressed in plain black, with a long, black leather coat. His long graying hair was tied back in a tight knot at the back of his head, and he looked like he was ready to snap the head off anyone, vampire or human, who got in the way.

"You," he snapped at Eve. "Come."

He turned on his heel and walked away. This was not the Oliver they'd known before--certainly not the friendly proprietor of the local coffee shop. Even once he'd been revealed as a vampire, he hadn't been this intense.

Clearly, he was done pretending to like people.

Eve watched him go, and the look in her eyes was boiling with resentment. She finally shrugged and took a deep breath. "Yeah," she said. "This'll be so much fun. See ya, Claire Bear."

"See you," Claire said. They hugged one last time, just for comfort, and then Eve was leaving, back straight, head high.

She was probably crying, Claire thought. Eve cried at times like these. Claire didn't seem to be able to cry when it counted, like now. It felt like pieces of her were being pulled off, and she felt cold and empty inside. No tears.

And now it was her heart being ripped out, because Shane was being summoned impatiently by yet another hard looking bunch of vampires and humans near the door. He nodded to them, took her hands, and looked into her eyes.

Say it, she thought.

But he didn't. He just kissed her hands, turned, and walked away, dragging her red, bleeding heart with him-- metaphorically, anyway.

"I love you," she whispered. She'd said it before, but he'd hung up the phone before she'd gotten it out. Then she'd said it in the hospital, but he'd been doped up on painkillers. And he didn't hear her now, as he walked away from her.

But at least she had the guts to try.

He waved to her from the door, and then he was gone, and she suddenly felt very alone in the world--and very . . . young. Those who were left in the Glass House had jobs of their own, and she was in the way. She found a chair-- Michael's armchair, as it turned out--and pulled her feet up under her as humans and vampires moved around, fortifying windows and doors, distributing weapons, talking in low tones.

She might have become a ghost, for all the attention they paid her.

She didn't have to wait long. In just a few minutes, Amelie came sweeping down the stairs. She had a whole scary bunch of vampires behind her, and a few humans, including two in police uniforms.

They were all armed--knives, clubs, swords. Some had stakes, including the policemen; they had them, instead of riot batons, hanging from their utility belts. Standardissue equipment for Morganville, Claire thought, and had to suppress a manic giggle. Maybe instead of pepper spray, they have garlic spray.

Amelie handed Claire two things: a thin, silver knife, and a wooden stake. "A wooden stake in the heart will put one of us down," she said. "You must use the silver knife to kill us. No steel, unless you plan to take our heads off with it. The stake alone will not do it, unless you're very lucky or sunlight catches us helpless, and even then, we are slower to die the older we are. Do you understand?"

Claire nodded numbly. I'm sixteen, she wanted to say. I'm not ready for this.

But she kind of had to be, now. Amelie's fierce, cold expression seemed to soften, just a touch. "I can't entrust Myrnin to anyone else. When we find him, it will be your responsibility to manage him. He may be--" Amelie paused, as if searching for the right word. "Difficult." That probably wasn't it. "I don't want you to fight, but I need you with us."

Claire lifted the stake and the knife. "Then why did you give me these?"

"Because you might need to defend yourself, or him. If you do, I don't want you to hesitate, child. Defend yourself and Myrnin at all costs. Some of those who come against us may be those you know. Don't let that stop you. We are in this to survive now."

Claire nodded numbly. She'd been pretending that all this was some kind of action/adventure video game, like the zombiefighting one Shane enjoyed so much, but with every one of her friends leaving, she'd lost some of that distance. Now it was right here in front of her: reality. People were dying.

She might be one of them.

"I'll stay close," she said. Amelie's cold fingers touched her chin, very lightly.

"Do that." Amelie turned her attention to the others around them. "Watch for my father, but don't be drawn off to face him. It's what he wants. He will have his own reinforcements, and will be gathering more. Stay together, and watch each other closely. Protect me, and protect the child."

"Um--could you stop calling me that?" Claire asked. Amelie's icy eyes fixed on her in almosthuman puzzlement. "Child, I mean? I'm not a child."

It felt like time stopped for about a hundred years while Amelie stared at her. It probably had been at least a hundred years since the last time anybody had dared correct Amelie like that in public.

Amelie's lips curved, very slightly. "No," she agreed. "You are not a child, and in any case, by your age, I was a bride and ruled a kingdom. I should know better."

Claire felt heat build in her face. Great, she was blushing, as everybody's attention focused on her. Amelie's smile widened.

"I stand corrected," she said to the rest of them. "Protect this young woman."

She really didn't feel like that, either, but Claire wasn't going to push her luck on that one. The other vampires looked mostly annoyed with the distinction, and the humans looked nervous.

"Come," Amelie said, and turned to face the blank far wall of the living room. It shimmered like an asphalt road in the summer, and Claire felt the connection snap open.

Amelie stepped through what looked like blank wall. After a second or two of surprise, the vampires started to follow her.

"Man, I can't believe we're doing this," one of the policemen behind Claire whispered to the other.

"I can," the other whispered back. "My kids are out there. What else is there to do?"

She gripped the wooden stake tight and stepped through the portal, following Amelie.

Myrnin's lab wasn't any more of a wreck than usual. Claire was kind of surprised by that; somehow she'd expected Mr. Bishop to tear through here with torches and clubs, but so far, he'd found better targets. Or maybe--just maybe--he hadn't been able to get in. Yet.

Claire anxiously surveyed the room, which was lit by just a few flickering lamps, both oil and electric. She'd tried cleaning it up a few times, but Myrnin had snapped at her that he liked things the way they were, so she'd left the stacks of leaning books, the piles of glassware on counters, the disordered piles of curling paper. There was a broken iron cage in the corner--broken because Myrnin had decided to escape from it once, and they'd never gotten around to having it repaired once he'd regained his senses.

The vampires were whispering to one another, in sibilant little hisses that didn't carry even a hint of meaning to Claire's ears. They were nervous, too.

Amelie, by contrast, seemed as casual and selfassured as ever. She snapped her fingers, and two of the vampires-- big, strong, strapping men--stepped up, towering over her. She glanced up.

"You will guard the stairs," she said. "You two." She pointed to the uniformed policemen. "I want you here as well. Guard the interior doors. I doubt anything will come through them, but Mr. Bishop has already surprised us. I won't have him surprising us again."

That cut their forces in half. Claire swallowed hard and looked at the two vampires and one human who remained with her and Amelie--she knew the two vampires slightly. They were Amelie's personal bodyguards, and one of them, at least, had treated her kind of decently before.

The remaining human was a toughlooking African American woman with a scar across her face, from her left temple across her nose, and down her right cheek. She saw Claire watching her, and gave her a smile. "Hey," she said, and stuck out a big hand. "Hannah Moses. Moses Garage."

"Hey," Claire said, and shook hands awkwardly. The woman had muscles--not quite Shanequality biceps, but definitely bigger than most women would have found useful. "You're a mechanic?"

"I'm an everything," Hannah said. "Mechanic included. But I used to be a marine."

"Oh." Claire blinked.

"The garage was my dad's before he passed. I just got back from a couple of tours in Afghanistan--thought I'd take up the quiet life for a while." She shrugged. "Guess trouble's in my blood. Look, if this comes to a fight, stay with me, okay? I'll watch your back."

That was so much of a relief that Claire felt weak enough to melt. "Thanks."

"No problem. You're what, about fifteen?"

"Almost seventeen." Claire thought she needed a Tshirt that said it for her; it would be a great timesaver--that, or some kind of button.

"Huh. So you're about my kid brother's age. His name's Leo. I'll have to introduce you sometime."

Hannah, Claire realized, was talking without really thinking about what she was saying; her eyes were focused on Amelie, who had made her way around piles of books to the doorway on the far wall.

Hannah didn't seem to miss anything.

"Claire," Amelie said. Claire dodged piles of books and came to her side. "Did you lock this door when you left before?"

"No. I thought I'd be coming back this way."

"Interesting. Because someone has locked it."


Amelie shook her head. "Bishop has him. He has not returned this way."

Claire decided not to ask how she knew that. "Who else--" And then she knew. "Jason." Eve's brother had known about the doorways that led to different destinations in town--maybe not about how they worked (and Claire wasn't sure she did, either), but he definitely had figured out how to use them. Apart from Claire, Myrnin, and Amelie, only Oliver had the knowledge, and she knew where he'd been since her encounter with Mr. Bishop.

"Yes," Amelie agreed. "The boy is becoming a problem."

"Kind of an understatement, considering he, you know . . ." Claire mimed stabbing with the stake, but not in Amelie's direction--that would be like pointing a loaded gun at Superman. Somebody would get hurt, and it wouldn't be Superman. "Um--I meant to ask, are you--?"

Amelie looked away from her, toward the door. "Am I what?"

"Okay?" Because she'd had a stake in her chest not all that long ago, and besides that, all the vampires in Morganville had a disadvantage, whether they knew it or not: they were sick--really sick--with something Claire could only think of as vampire Alzheimer's.

And it was ultimately fatal.

Most of the town didn't have a clue about that, because Amelie was rightly afraid of what might happen if they did-- vampires and humans alike. Amelie had symptoms, but so far they were mild. It took years to progress, so they were safe for a while.

At least, Claire hoped it took years.

"No, I doubt I am all right. Still, this is hardly the time to be coddling myself." Amelie focused on the door. "We will need the key to open it."

That was a problem, because the key wasn't where it was supposed to be. The key ring was gone from where Claire kept it, in a battered, sagging drawer, and the more Claire pawed through debris looking for it, the more alarmed she became. Myrnin kept the weirdest stuff. . . . Books, sure, she loved books; small, deformed dead things in alcohol, not so much. He also kept jars of dirt--at least, she hoped it was dirt. Some of it looked red and flaky, and she was really afraid it might be blood.

The keys were missing. So were a few other things--significant things.

With a sinking feeling, Claire pulled open the halfbroken drawer where she'd kept the bag with all the tranquilizer stuff, and Myrnin's drug supplies.

Gone. Only a scrape in the dust to indicate where it had been.

That meant that if--when--Myrnin turned violent, she wouldn't have her trusty dart gun to help her. Nor would she have even her trusty injectable pen, so cool, that she'd loaded up for emergencies, because it had been in the bag with the drugs. She'd lost the other supplies she'd had with her.

But even worse, she didn't have any medicine for him, other than the couple of small vials she had with her in her pockets.

In summary: so very screwed.

"Enough," Amelie said, and turned to her bodyguard. "I know this isn't easy, but if you would?" He gave her a polite sort of nod, stepped forward, and took the lock in his hand.

His hand burst into flame.

"Oh my God!" Claire blurted, and clapped her hands over her mouth, because the vampire guy wasn't letting go. His face was contorted with pain, but he held on, somehow, and jerked and twisted the silverplated lock until, with a scream of metal, it ripped loose. The hasp came with it, right off the door.

He dropped it to the floor. His hand kept burning. Claire grabbed the first thing that came to hand--some kind of ratty old shirt Myrnin had left thrown on the floor--and patted out the fire. The smell of burned flesh made her dry heave, and so did the sight of what was left of his hand. He didn't scream. She almost did it for him.

"A trap," Amelie said. "From my father. G?rard, are you able to continue?"

He nodded as he wrapped the shirt around the ruin of his hand. He was sweating fine pink beads--blood, Claire realized, as a trickle of it ran down his pale face. She realized that as she was standing there right in front of him, frozen in place, and his eyes flashed red.

"Move," he growled at her. "Stay behind us." And then, after a brief pause, he said, "Thank you."

Hannah took her by the arm and pulled her to the spot in the back, out of vampiregrabbing range. "He needs feeding," she said in an undertone. "G?rard's not a bad guy, but you don't want to make yourself too available for snack attacks. Remember, we're vending machines with legs."

Claire nodded. Amelie put her fingers in the hole left by the broken lock and pulled the door open . . . on darkness.

Hannah said nothing. She didn't let go of Claire's arm.

For a long moment, nothing happened, and then the darkness flickered. Shifted. Things came and went in the shadows, and Claire knew that Amelie was shuffling destinations, trying to find the one she wanted. It seemed to take a very long time, and then Amelie took a sudden step back. "Now," she said, and her two bodyguards charged forward into what looked like complete darkness and were gone. Amelie glanced back at Hannah and Claire, and her black pupils were expanding fast, covering all the gray iris of her eyes, preparing for the dark.

"Don't leave my side," she said. "This will be dangerous."