Conan Doyle's house loomed above Louisburg Square that afternoon. The day had dawned beautifully, but by mid-afternoon the sky had darkened and now seemed to threaten rain.

Julia Ferrick stood on the sidewalk in front of the old brownstone and stared up at the imposing facade of the house. Most days it seemed unassuming in spite of the obvious wealth of the neighborhood. That was the way its owner wanted it. The last thing Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to do was draw attention to himself.

Yet today the place exuded a strange air of desolation, like an abandoned house or a mausoleum. Nothing stirred behind the windows. Just looking at it, Julia got a sense of emptiness from the brownstone. As she walked up the steps and took out her keys, her certainty that no one was at home only grew.

As did her worry for her son. If no one was here, not even Squire or Dr. Graves, they were likely off doing something dangerous. No matter how adept Danny had become in taking care of himself, no matter how tough he was or thought he was, she remained his mother.

The key turned smoothly in the lock and the door, perhaps slightly off center, swung inward. Julia pocketed the keys.

In her entire life, she'd never imagined owning a key to the house of a man she wasn't sleeping with. But, then, how could she ever have conceived of the relationship she had developed with Mr. Doyle and his friends? Her son lived here, now, with others who could understand what he was going through.

As she entered and closed the door behind her, she felt like an intruder. No matter how welcome they claimed she was, Julia was an ordinary woman, and that made her an outsider in the house where her son now lived.

"Hello?" she ventured, stepping into the house.

The plastic bag in her hand crinkled as she shifted it from one hand to the other. It contained a copy of Killbillies, a new video game Danny had been talking about. She did not really approve of him playing such things, especially when he had seen enough horror with his own eyes to last an eternity. But her son had seemed tense and distant of late, and she wanted to surprise him with something that would put a smile on his face, even if just holding the hideous thing made her want to shudder.

Julia set her pocketbook on a small table beneath the mirror in the foyer and moved deeper into the house.

"Hello?" she called. "Anyone home?"

The house swallowed her voice without echo. Julia shivered and glanced around, wary of the shadows. She tried to tell herself how foolish she was being, like some little girl afraid of the thing in the closet or the monster under the bed. But in this house, there was no telling what lurked in the shadows. Being frightened wasn't childish, it was smart.

Still, she'd come to bring the game to Danny, and she would feel ridiculous if she left without giving it to him.

The stairs creaked underfoot, and the house shifted and popped with the usual noises of a structure as old as Conan Doyle's brownstone. Julia made her way up to the top floor and down the hall to Danny's room. She rapped on the closed door, not expecting an answer.

None came.

The plastic bag crackled in her hand as she tightened her grip. She turned the knob and pushed the door open, stepping inside.

The room stank of teenaged boy sweat and sulfur and another smell, equally unpleasant, that made her think of coffee grounds and meat just beginning to go bad. To call it a mess would have been far too complimentary. Julia winced as she crossed the threshold, forcing herself not to give in to the temptation to pick the place up.

Danny lived here, now. It wasn't her house, or her room. If this squalor was the way he wanted to live - pizza boxes on the floor, filthy clothes, pyramids of soda cans, towels that looked so dirty they might well stand up on their own - that was between her son and Mr. Doyle.

A noise escaped her with a shudder of disgust. No longer afraid, but wanting more than ever to leave the house, she went to Danny's bed and dropped the plastic bag with the video game onto the twisted sheets and spread.

Something caught her eye, and her mouth pursed in revulsion and concern. Dark stains dotted the sheet; blood and something else that she knew seeped from her son's flesh whenever his molting skin drove him to scratch too hard, pulling off the dry, scaly stuff before it would have fallen off on its own.

Julia tried very hard to focus on Danny as her son and not on the thing he was becoming. When she saw things like this, she could not escape the terrible thoughts that crossed her mind or the dread that touched her heart.

A sound came from outside the window. Julia flinched, pulse quickening, and turned to see a dark figure crouched like a gargoyle outside the glass, silhouetted by the stormy skies. The rain had begun to fall, and it spattered the glass.

She stared in horror at the thing, thinking that Doyle's house was under attack by monsters yet again. Only as she opened her mouth to scream did she realize that the creature that had frightened her so was her son.

Danny slid the window open and came inside, dropping to the floor in a crouch. Slick from the rain, his skin took on a cinnamon hue. He might have frowned as he looked up at her, but in the gloom, and him with no eyebrows, it was hard to tell. All she could see was the pinpoint red gleam in his eyes and the sharpness of his horns. She could not be certain, but it seemed to her that the horns had grown slightly, just in the past few days.

"Mom," he said, his tone curt. "What are you doing here?"

Julia could have simply told him about the game, tried to make small talk, been the mother she always tried to be with Danny. But the edge in his voice, in the way he held himself, troubled her.

"My son lives here. Do I need another reason?"

Danny rested a hand on the windowsill and looked out at the storm. His body was rigid, muscles taut, as though he were about to spring back through the open window, or scream . . . or as though he wanted nothing more than to run away, and keep running.

"What is it, Danny? What's happened?"

She expected him to snap at her, to cut her with the typical thoughtlessness of teenaged boys. Instead he took a deep breath and turned slowly to look at her again, and she saw that this was not the belligerence and sullenness natural to boys his age. Of course it wasn't. Julia made that mistake constantly, but only because she wished so desperately that her son were ordinary, that he was anything at all like other kids.

He wasn't being a wise guy. He was just shut down, distant, and hard, as though something had gotten under his skin and made him afraid, and he didn't want her to see his fear.

"Danny, what's -"

"Nothing," he said, more firmly this time. The red gleam in his eyes grew wider, and he glared at her. "Nothing is wrong, Mom. In fact, the last few days have been pretty fantastic. Look, it's . . . I'm glad you came by, but I can't stick around. Mister Doyle's got something he wants us all to help with."

Julia nodded. "I figured as much. The house is empty."

"Not really. Everyone's just busy. Gathering things to hunt the . . ."

His eyes flashed darkly, as if she'd caught him at something. Julia wasn't sure what it was.

"To hunt what?"

He sighed. "I know you worry, Mom. I'm fine. I will be fine."

"You don't seem -"

Her son snarled at her and leaped across the room. He grabbed her arm hard enough to hurt, and Julia cried out in shock and pain as he pulled her close to him. The brimstone stink of him was in her nose, and she stared into his eyes and for the first time she was not afraid for her son, but of him.

"I told you, it's nothing!" he snapped, and he released her.

Julia withdrew, rubbing her arm where he'd clutched her. Where he'd bruised her.

"I've got to go. The others will be waiting. We've got a demon to kill."

From the open door came the sound of a man clearing his throat. Danny and Julia both turned, and she felt a wave of relief wash over her as she saw Mr. Doyle standing in the hall outside the door. His expression was stern and unrelenting.

"Julia, are you all right?"

She stopped rubbing her arm, though it throbbed painfully. "Yes, of course. I'm . . . we're fine."

The irony of the hollow sound of her lying voice was not lost on her.

"Perhaps you are," Mr. Doyle said, studying Danny gravely. "And perhaps not. Regardless, it's clear to me that something is indeed troubling young Daniel. That makes my decision much simpler. I need someone to remain behind and keep watch over the house in case someone should use our absence to try to attack -"

"Oh, bullshit!" Danny snapped. "Don't you start, too!"

"Hey," Julia said. "You don't talk to -"

"I'll talk to anyone any way I want. You don't have a fucking clue what I'm going through, neither one of you. So why not stop trying to make out like you're all concerned and sympathetic? Just stop! This is bullshit. I'm fine. The rest of you are going out to hunt that thing down, and I should be there, too!"

"Danny, you know that in the past my enemies have drawn me away from this house as a prelude to attacking it. You've seen it with your own eyes. I assure you, this is hardly 'bullshit.' In fact, I'd hoped that you and your mother could stay together and keep an eye on things."

The way Danny glared at Mr. Doyle and took a menacing step toward him made even Julia back farther away.

"I'm not house-sitting. Can't you get Squire to do it?"

Mr. Doyle did not waver. Instead he lifted his chin, staring down at Danny over his long nose and mustache. When he spoke, his voice seemed to fill the entire room, though he did not shout, and his English accent, usually subdued because of the time he had spent living in the States, grew strong.

"Boy, if you're going to come at me, you'd better bring a friend, because I eat two for breakfast."

Danny faltered, blinking as though coming out of some trance and realizing what he had been doing.

"I'm sorry," he said, reaching up to drag his hand over the rough skin of his scalp, touching the tips of his horns as though to remind himself they were there. "It's been . . . not the best of weeks."

Julia crossed her arms and stared at him. Danny avoided her gaze.

"Apology accepted," Mr. Doyle said. "But you will stay here, Daniel. As for your suggestion that Squire remain behind, there is a great deal to be done, and I need operatives whom I can trust to do what they're told without question. For all of his grumbling, Squire is loyal. He has earned my trust over many, many years."

"So I'm not trustworthy, now?"

Mr. Doyle stared at him. "Watch over my home, Daniel. I am entrusting it to you."

Without waiting for a reply, the man nodded to Julia and turned on his heel. He strode away, and mother and son stood together listening to the sound of his retreating footsteps.

When the house had fallen completely silent again save for the creaks of age, Julia took a step toward her son.

"I wish you'd talk to me, Danny. Normally I'd say if you didn't want to confide in me, you should talk to Dr. Graves. I know you two have gotten close. Is it . . . are you upset because he's gone off for a while?"

"Oh, please," Danny sighed, rolling his devil's eyes. "Don't project onto me. I'm not the one who misses him. You're the one in love with a fucking ghost. You're so wet for a dead guy it's disgusting."

Julia couldn't catch her breath. She stared at her son in horror, searching his eyes, trying to make some sense of his behavior.

She slapped him as hard as she could across the face. His skin felt tough as leather, and he barely flinched.

Danny snickered and walked past her.

"Where are you going?" Julia demanded. "Mister Doyle told you not to leave."

"You house-sit," he sneered without a backward glance. "I've got better things to do."

Then her son was gone, and Julia Ferrick was alone.

She sat on the edge of his bed, tugging at the sleeves of her blouse as though she might withdraw down inside of it and hide. Her face felt hot, and her eyes began to burn with tears. She did not bother trying to wipe them away.

My boy, she thought. What's wrong with my boy?

Baalphegor stood in front of the Beacon Street townhouse, staring at the dark brick building, awash in the preternatural emanations that drew him there.

Something wasn't right, and the demon held back, watching the building for signs of danger. This world could be a dangerous place for the likes of his kind, and he did not want to chance an encounter with one of the realm's protectors if it wasn't really necessary.

Finally deciding that there was no actual threat to him, Baalphegor approached the front entrance, taking the doorknob in his flesh-covered hand. The door was locked, but it was nothing to break the fragile mechanism that sought to prevent his entrance, and he pulled open the heavy, wooden door and stepped into the warmth of the foyer.

The demon closed his eyes, feeling out where he needed to go. What he sought was located somewhere in the upper levels of the structure, and he moved toward the stairs.

Baalphegor stopped short at the sound of a jangling chain. A canine came down the steps at a very quick clip, growling menacingly as it reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Daisy, no!" a human voice ordered from somewhere on the level above the lobby, as the dog's owner began his descent.

Baalphegor watched the animal slowly stalking toward him, its fleshy jowls pulled back to reveal sharp, pointed fangs. The beast was far more intuitive than the dominant species of the planet, knowing at once that he was not what he pretended to be.

That he was a danger.

The demon bared its own fangs, pulling back its mask of human skin so that the animal could see what exactly it was challenging. The dog was certainly intuitive, but far from intelligent, and sprang at him, its open maw aimed to tear out his throat.

Baalphegor caught the beast in his arms, just as its owner reached the bottom of the stairs. The rotund male with the receding hairline had arrived in time to see the demise of his beloved pet.

The dog had done what it had intended to do, ripping at his throat, but its bite had torn away only the fleshy costume that he wore, the demon's own skin beneath untouched. The animal thrashed in his grasp, a flapping swath of skin hanging from its bloody muzzle. Baalphegor lowered his mouth toward the struggling beast. The flesh mask on his face began to rip as his jaws unhinged, and he shoved the animal down his gullet.

The human let out the most pathetic of whimpers, falling back onto the staircase, clutching at his flabby chest.

Baalphegor continued to feed, drawing more and more of the animal inside him, its bones snapping and popping as they were crushed, until at last the dog ceased its useless struggle. The long, fluffy tail was the last thing to be consumed, disappearing down his throat as he stood in the hallway, feeling the fullness of the animal in his belly.

The demon turned his attention to the human lying prone on the stairs. The man was dying. Baalphegor had no doubt of that. The stink of a human body on the verge of death tickled his nostrils as he loomed over the man. He considered killing the thing, ending its suffering, but then thought better of it. He had far more important things to do with his time than performing acts of mercy on the local wildlife. Instead, he stepped over the man's body and began climbing the stairs.

At the top of the third flight, he felt it. For a moment he listened to the sound, inaudible to the human ear, and then moved down the corridor to an apartment door on the left. He knocked, noticing that the skin covering his hands had torn, revealing his own, scaled flesh beneath. This particular suit was proving to be far less durable than others he had worn in the past.

"Yes?" said a woman's voice from the other side of the door.

He could feel her watching him through the small hole in the center of the door. Baalphegor placed his own eye against the hole, attempting to look at her.

"I need you to open the door," he said.

"No, I'm not going to do that," the woman said, her voice frantic. "I suggest you go away, or I'll call the police."

The demon stepped back, raised his foot and kicked the door open. It struck the woman, and she cried out as she fell backward.

"No, I don't think so," he said as he entered the human dwelling.

The woman screamed in terror and scrambled backward, rising to her feet and holding up her hands to defend herself.

Baalphegor fixed her in his dark gaze.

"Silence," he commanded, and she did exactly as she was told. "Close it," he ordered, pointing at the open door, and she scuttled to the door, pushing it closed against the broken frame.

She was terrified, staring at him with huge, fear-filled eyes.

"Take anything you want," she told him, playing with a golden chain that hung from her neck. "Please, just don't hurt me - or my son."

Baalphegor strode closer, and the woman stumbled back against the wall. He could feel her eyes upon him, gawking at the areas of flesh on his disguise that had been torn away.

"Your son," he said, still listening to the psychic emanations coming from somewhere within the domicile. "Take me to him."

The woman shook her head frantically. "No, please," she begged. "He's suffered enough - please."

He was about to pluck out one of her eyes, when he was interrupted by another woman entering the short hallway.

"Mrs. Hoskins, is everything all . . ."

The woman, dressed in white, locked eyes with him and then immediately ran toward the phone on a nearby wall. Baalphegor reacted instinctually, springing across the room to land in front of her. She ran directly into his arms - the stink of her fear arousing his hunger again. He unhinged his jaws, engulfing her head and biting it away at the neck.

The headless body dropped to its knees, a geyser of blood erupting from the stump of the neck with such force that it covered the ceiling in a spray of red.

The older woman had started to scream again, he had to silence her once more with a steely look and a threatening wag of his finger. She then lost consciousness, sliding down the wall in a broken heap. For a moment he believed she had expired, but then he heard the sound of her breathing and knew that she had only fainted.

Softer than before, he heard the psychic cries from somewhere at the back of the dwelling and went in search of the source. In a room awash with sunlight, the demon found what he had been searching for. He stood in the doorway, staring at the large bed in the center of the room, and the small, curled figure lying upon it, hidden beneath a blanket.

"What is this?" he asked, stepping into the room, the sharp, antiseptic aroma permeating the space causing his senses to recoil. Equipment used for the care of the sick was positioned around the bed, and Baalphegor realized the unthinkable. He reached down and pulled the blanket away, wanting to see, yet dreading the revelation.

"What have they done to you?" he hissed, gazing down at the sight of a boy, his body pale, withered and thin, curled into the fetal position. His eyes were open, staring off into nothingness, a thin trail of saliva leaking from his mouth down to the pillow beneath his head.

"He did it to himself," said a voice from behind him, and the demon spun around to see the woman standing in the doorway, her eyes fixed upon the figure lying on the bed. "An overdose - three years ago. He's been like this since."

"How . . . unfortunate," Baalphegor growled, and as the words left his mouth, the child slowly began to move, writhing upon the bed, as if aroused by the sound of his voice.

"He was always such a sad child," she said. "Different. But he never wanted for anything, my husband saw to that, God rest his soul."

The woman stumbled into the room, her movements stiff, erratic, there was the spark of madness in her eyes. His arrival, the revelation of his existence and what it meant for the world, often had that effect on humans.

"I know you, don't I?" she said blearily, pointing to him. "You don't look the same . . . but you were there, at the hospital, the night Charlie was born."

"Yes," Baalphegor answered. "But this is not your child." The demon reached down to the figure writhing upon the bed.

"What do you mean? Of course he's mine. His name is Charlie, I named him after my father." She stood at the foot of the bed and reached out to lovingly touch the boy's leg, swaying, eyes roving like a lunatic. The skin wetly sloughed from the leg, and she pulled back her hand in horror.

Baalphegor chuckled, amused by her fear.

"No," he said with a shake of his head. "He's mine."

The demon allowed the claws hidden away beneath the man-flesh to extend, protruding from the ends of his fingers. He reached down and ran the sharp nails over the boy's skin, ripping it, and peeling it away to reveal another skin beneath. "Most definitely mine."

The newly exposed skin was tough, leathery, like that of this world's great reptiles. It glistened wetly in the sunlight streaming in through the windows.

The woman screamed again and hugged herself. Her body seemed to fold in on itself, recoiling in disgust and terror from the thing she'd thought was her child.

"Your human babe was stolen away, replaced with this changeling modeled to look like your very own."

"You did this?" the woman asked, mesmerized by the sight of the young man's new flesh. Again she began to sway, and to whimper.

"I did," Baalphegor replied. "And on many more occasions than just this." He took handfuls of the shedding flesh and threw it down upon the floor. "They were my children - receptacles for a power found only upon this misbegotten world."

The woman was crying now, standing powerless at the foot of the bed. "How is this possible? How could I not know?"

"Come now, woman," the demon berated. "Don't tell me that you didn't sense the child was different."

She nodded, tears streaming down her pathetic face. "Yes, but nothing like this, how could I possibly imagine something like this?"

Baalphegor growled, rolling the demon spawn onto its back. He reached down to his child's chest, the tip of his finger playing with a loosely hanging sack of flesh. It resembled an underdeveloped piece of fruit, withered upon the vine.

"It should be so much larger," Baalphegor said. "Swollen with the juices of humanity." He pinched his claws at the skin where the sack connected to the body, ripping it away.

"What . . . what is it?" the woman asked with a mixture of curiosity and revulsion.

"It is power," the demon said, dangling the small sack from his fingers by its stem of skin. And then he opened his mouth, dropped the growth into his maw, and began to chew.

The experience was immediate, a flow of memories rushing through the demon's body. Baalphegor saw it all, and from what he witnessed he acquired a strength totally foreign to one of his kind. Through the boy's collected humanity, the demon now knew the ways of the human animal as if he'd been born to it, and from this knowledge, came power.

Baalphegor knew his child's life as if he had lived it himself, but he was suddenly enraged by what he knew. As the euphoric sense of strength passed, the demon turned his attention and rage upon the woman.

"You knew that he was different - that his body was changing," he snarled, advancing toward her.

She backed away, shaking her head from side to side.

"And you were just as afraid as he - you encouraged him to take matters into his own hands."

The woman spun around, running toward the door to escape his wrath.

Baalphegor extended his hand. Power coursed through his veins, and the door slammed, refusing to open as the woman frantically tugged on it.

"You knew he would attempt to kill himself."

The woman leaned back against the door, terror etched upon her aged features. "He was as afraid as I was," she screamed in defense. "He was afraid that he was turning into something horrible - something evil."

"He was becoming something beautiful," the demon growled, again wielding his newfound power, lifting the woman up from the floor to hang in the air. Baalphegor watched as she struggled in his grip.

"He . . . he decided to do it on his own," she screamed.

"You provided him with the pills," Baalphegor spat, sickened by the sight of this foul creature. And before he was tortured by the sound of her voice again, he manipulated the magics that held her fast, sending her body rocketing across the room and through the large, plate glass window, to plummet to the street below.

He heard the sounds of a wet impact and screeching brakes as the woman's body landed in the middle of Beacon Street.

It was a death too good for her, the demon thought, standing over the atrophied body of one of his children. The child continued to twitch and writhe, as if knowing that his sire had returned for him. But this was no longer his spawn; it was nothing more than a shell of what could have been.

Ballphegor reached down, taking the child's face in his hands, wrenching the head savagely to one side. Bone snapped.

A small mercy for us both.

The demon then raised his hand, passing it over the dead body, calling forth a cleansing fire to consume the changeling's remains.

A horde of fat black insects, big as cockroaches, scuttled along the alley behind the Charles Playhouse. Conan Doyle watched expectantly as others crawled down the rear wall of the theater and emerged from the dumpster there. An urge centered in the middle of his chest tugged him forward, and he took a step after the ticks.

"Arthur," Ceridwen said, reaching out for him.

They linked hands, and instantly a dark, summoning magic crackled around their fingers, the residue of the spell they had cast. It would remain until the ticks had been banished back to the pocket, shadow world from which they'd been summoned, or until they'd been destroyed. The hair on his arms stood up as a frisson of static electricity passed over both him and Ceridwen. At night, the magic that pulsed around their hands and created a dark aura around them both appeared black, but Conan Doyle knew it was the same dark cherry as the ticks themselves.

He had summoned the Malachi ticks once before. That time, many years past, he had found the monster he'd sought, but paid the price.

Eve and Squire followed a few feet behind, the vampiress completely silent. The hobgoblin might have been if not for the crinkling of the open bag of potato chips he carried with him. Conan Doyle sighed at the sound, but said nothing. The noise was annoying, but it would not keep them from accomplishing their task.

"Tell me how this is supposed to work again?" Eve asked tartly. Patience had never been her strong suit. Ironic, really. He would have thought an immortal would learn that, if nothing else.

"The Malachi ticks -"

"They're getting fatter," Squire said, around a crunching mouthful of chips. "That's pretty gross."

Eve laughed. "Listen to you. What a candy ass. I'm going to call you Little Mary Sunshine from now on. Oooh, that's gross!"

"Ah, screw."



Conan Doyle winced. "Would you two please stop?"

Eve and Squire both snickered.

"Yes, Dad," the vampire said.

"Seriously, boss," Squire went on, "what is up with those things? They really are disgusting. I know you sort of explained this already, but I confess I wasn't exactly paying attention."

At Conan Doyle's side, he heard Ceridwen laugh softly. He glanced sidelong at her. The cherry red aura that pulsed around them both gave a scarlet cast to her eyes, but amusement danced within them.

"Very funny," he whispered.

"He's charming," said the faerie sorceress.

What frightened Conan Doyle was that he thought Ceridwen was serious. As grave as her demeanor could be at times, Squire's coarse humor provided her with a welcome diversion.

"Let me try to put it as simply as I can," Conan Doyle began.

"That's wise," Eve muttered.

"We summoned the Malachi ticks at the subway station, where the demon murdered those two men," Conan Doyle said quickly, before Squire could muster a retort. "Like bloodhounds, they can follow its scent. More than that, they track the magical residue it leaves behind, absorbing it along the way."

Ceridwen glanced back at Eve and Squire, her pale blue-tinged features almost luminous in the dark. She was far too elegant and ethereal for these surroundings . . . for this world. But she'd chosen to be here with him, and he was grateful.

"That is why, Squire, the ticks are growing fat, as you so deftly phrased it."

"Hear that, Countess Chocula?" Squire muttered to Eve. "I've got a way with words."


Squire punched her arm. "Quit it."

Eve shoved him with such preternatural force that Squire crashed into the wall behind the theater, fell over some trash cans, and sprawled on the ground in a clatter of metal and garbage.

"Lovely," Conan Doyle sighed.

Ceridwen held his hand more tightly to calm him. No one else could have managed it, but her mere presence was enough to soothe him. They followed the Malachi ticks out of the alley and across a parking lot. What a strange sight they must have been. Yet Conan Doyle did not worry about drawing attention in the theater district. There was never any shortage of odd sights in this part of the city. And ordinary humans could not see the ticks, so there was no danger of people running off, screaming in terror at the sight of them.

The hundreds of scuttling black things had begun their existence looking much like scarabs or roaches. Now their backs had swollen to several times their normal size, filling with the stink of magic, like leeches filled with blood.

The trail led across the street and down a narrow side road, only wide enough for a single car. Raucous laughter came from an Irish bar. They received stares from the attendant at another parking lot, a tiny patch of pavement whose owner must have made a lot of money from the theater crowd. The parade of ticks turned down another alley between two apartment buildings. Rats screeched and rustled in the garbage along the alley but did not show themselves.

They feared the ticks.

"Do you smell that?" Eve asked.

Conan Doyle frowned and sniffed at the air. He turned and cast her an inquisitive glance.

"You don't? How can you not? The stink of blood and brimstone. Arthur, you must smell it. It's . . . disgusting."

Eve wrinkled her nose.

"Now who's a girl?" Squire murmured.

"I am a girl, dumb ass." She hissed, baring her fangs.

"It's been all of creation since you were a girl."

Conan Doyle sniffed the air again. He paused to glance at Ceridwen. She only shrugged. Then Conan Doyle felt once more the magical tug of the summoning spell they'd used to call up the Malachi ticks. He and Ceridwen started forward again. They had to follow the ticks, no matter where they went.

Then one of them popped.

The tick burst with a wet noise and sprayed something pink and pasty across the paved alley.

"Ah, hell, now I smell it!" Squire said, pinching his nose and backing away as though a skunk had sprayed him. He tossed aside his bag of chips, abandoning them in his quest to keep from vomiting.

"What is that stench?" Eve asked, joining Squire against the alley wall.

Before Conan Doyle could reply a second tick burst, and then another and another in quick succession. The ticks were rupturing and popping. He stared at them in disgust, until Ceridwen yanked him backward, away from them.

"Don't get too close," she said. "There is no telling how you would be affected by demonic energy that's been concentrated like that."

"Oh, this is just so nasty," Squire said, his voice a nasal whine because he continued to pinch his nose. "Bad enough we've got ticks, but ticks exploding with demon spunk . . . that's just wrong."

Conan Doyle bristled and would have shouted at Squire or at least admonished him, except that the hobgoblin was right. The stench of the accumulated demon residue when the ticks exploded made his stomach roil and bile burn up the back of his throat. It took all of his self-control not to bend over and vomit there in the alley.

"Come, Arthur," Ceridwen said.

Quickly, she led him back the way they had come. He felt the tugging of their summoning spell pulling him toward the ticks but forced himself to go away from them. Squire and Eve hurried along ahead of them. They reached the small parking lot across from the Irish bar. The attendant stared at them harder than ever. Eve glared at him, and for a moment Conan Doyle thought she might do something rash.

Then Ceridwen stood up to her full height, and a blue-white light seeped from her eyes, pluming into the air like smoke. The attendant gaped.

"Do you want to keep those eyes?" the Fey princess asked. She spoke softly, but her voice carried like the breeze across to the man.

The attendant went to hide inside his tiny booth, back to them. He did not so much as glance their direction again.

"So much for the exploding ticks, huh?" Squire asked.

Eve slid her hands into the pockets of her long, leather coat. "Are they all destroyed, do you think?"

Conan Doyle studied her. Of the four of them, she might have been the most out of place here. Squire and Ceridwen and Conan Doyle himself were eccentric in appearance, but with her long, lush hair and her makeup so perfect, and dressed in clothes that cost a small fortune, she might have been a model who had just stepped out of a fashion shoot.

The vampiress was a study in contrasts. But he supposed eternal life could do that to a person.

"Yes," he said. "Or they will be momentarily. Even if we attempted to find those that are still following the demon's trail, they'll burst before we ever reach him."

"Guess we need a new plan, huh?" Squire said. Dejected, he sat on the curb and put his chin in his hands. "Wish I hadn't left those chips back there. I'm sure they're totally skunked."

Ceridwen linked arms with Conan Doyle. They seemed always to be touching now, and he relished it. It was as though he could not survive without the little touches, the constant contact.

"I'm not sure it's a total loss," the sorceress said. "Eve, you've got the scent now, correct?"

"Yeah," she said, and Conan Doyle noticed her attention had wandered. Eve turned and glanced back the direction they'd come. "I might be able to follow it. Worth a try, anyway." She turned toward them again. "But, listen, did any of you think the scent was -"

"Familiar?" Squire asked, looking up intently from the curb.

Eve nodded.

"Yeah," Squire agreed.

"Familiar in what way?" Conan Doyle asked.

"I'm not sure. Just . . . familiar," Eve replied. She glanced at Squire.

"Can't quite place it," the hobgoblin added. "Let me chew on it a bit."

Conan Doyle felt a chill race up his back and his skin prickled. At the edge of his awareness, he sensed something. He started to turn toward Ceridwen to see if she had felt it, too, but then he noticed her attention had already been diverted upward.

"Doyle, what is it?" Eve asked.

Up on the roof of the building beside them, a figure crouched, staring down at them. Eve and Squire began to react as though prepared for a fight, but Ceridwen shot them a withering glance and held up a hand to forestall any rash action.

A chill, unnatural breeze swept along the street and up the side of the building, rasping against the brick. The figure there rose and let the breeze snatch her from the edge of the roof, and she glided gently down to the street sixty feet below.

She alighted only feet from Ceridwen, a young woman of astonishing, delicate beauty, ruined by the filth of this world. Dark circles limned her eyes, and her black hair was wild and unkempt, and streaked with spun gold. Streaks of mascara ran down from the corners of her eyes as though she'd been crying, but Conan Doyle felt certain it had been painted on that way for effect.

Clad in baggy black pants with too many pockets and a belly-baring pink camisole frayed around the edges, she sported multiple piercings in each ear, her nose, her lip and brow, and her navel. Conan Doyle imagined there were others but tried not to think too much about them.

By any measure, she was the filthiest, rattiest fairy girl he'd ever seen. She looked more like an underage junky whore than one of the Fey. And she met them each, eye to eye, one at a time, with such an insouciant pout that he thought she needed a year with a stern governess even more than she needed a coat.

"Evening," the city fairy said, and she glanced playfully at Squire, then turned to examine Eve with a lustful glimmer in her eye. "My, aren't you yummy?"

Squire laughed and shook his head.

"Sorry, sweetie. You're not my type."

"Your loss," the filthy Fey girl replied, still the coquette.

Ceridwen stared at her in fury. She raised a hand, black fire crackling around her fingers.

Conan Doyle blinked. "Wait! Ceri, no!"

She stared at him. They all did. He hesitated. The fairy girl had not attacked them. Did none of them realize - Ceridwen, at least - that the girl must have some purpose for approaching them?

He turned on the filthy thing. When she moved, shifting her weight suggestively from one hip to the other, a low musical trill accompanied her, and the air around her seemed to shimmer. Filthy she might be, as urban as fairies ever became, but she still had the magic of the otherworld in her.

"Kneel!" Conan Doyle snapped, pointing at her.

The girl glanced at Eve. "See, babe. He knows how to treat a girl."

Eve smiled, and it seemed perhaps she was not immune to the fairy's questionable charms. "Maybe I could learn. But not tonight."

The city fairy shrugged. She turned to Conan Doyle. "Fuck off, old man. I don't kneel. Not for anyone. And if you unzip, I'll just bite it off."

Conan Doyle's nostrils flared in disgust. He took a step toward her. "You stand before Ceridwen, princess of the Fey, niece of King Finvarra. You will kneel if you wish to address her."

The fairy girl shook back her hair, the gold streaks glittering like stardust, and from seemingly nowhere she produced a package of cigarettes and a lighter. Slowly, she tapped out a butt and put it between her lips, then lit it, drawing smoke in. The tip burned to embers in the night. The pack and lighter were gone as mysteriously as they had appeared, and only the burning cigarette remained.

She took a deep drag, then let the smoke plume from her nostrils. At last, she looked at Ceridwen. Slowly, with obvious ceremony, she closed her eyes and bowed her head.

"I have no allegiance, princess. But there's weird shit going down in all the realms, these days. I don't fuckin' . . . I don't kneel."

She raised her head and stared at Ceridwen with purple eyes.

"This is a hard world the humans have made. You learn never to turn your back, never to give anyone the upper hand. You have my respect. That will have to be enough."

Conan Doyle held his breath. He glanced at Eve and Squire, amazed that for once they knew when to keep their mouths shut. He could see the vampire tensing, ready to lunge, to tear the fairy girl apart if the need arose.

"Your name?" Ceridwen said, her tone clipped.

"Tess. That's what I'm called, at least."

Slowly, Ceridwen nodded. "All right, Tess. We are well met, for now. Should the time arise that you are forced to proclaim allegiance, we may remember this night, the two of us. Now, then, what business do you have with us."

"A favor."

Squire grunted. "Right," he muttered. "She's gonna do you a favor after all that?"

Tess laughed, a light, musical sound, and winked at Eve as though the rest of them didn't exist.

"Actually, I'm here to do all of you a favor. Conan Doyle and his Menagerie. Yes, I know who you are. All the seelie and unseelie in the city know. How could we not?

"There's trouble on Beacon Street, this very moment. You've wasted long minutes being pompous and difficult. Something from another realm, not Faerie and not this world, something of dark magicks, something demon . . . has taken lives there just in these last few minutes. Whispers travel the street. I'd heard you were hunting. Thought you might like to know."

"Where on Beacon Street?" Conan Doyle asked.

Tess shrugged. "Just follow the screams."

Another breeze blew up, and she lifted her arms as it carried her away, along the street and up over the roof of the Irish bar. If the parking lot attendant noticed, he didn't say a word.