She gestured at his computer as the flames rolled toward it across the bar. The plastic cover began melting. “Just try to save it, Claymore!” she taunted. “If you go and beat out the flames now, it might not be too late.”

She flexed her hand and Claymore could suddenly feel his feet.

“Go, child of man,” she hissed. “Save what is most precious to you. You will fail! Just like I—”

Lamia didn’t have time to finish before Claymore’s fist slammed into her face.

She crashed against a table. Claymore came down at her with another punch, his hand now coated with black sand. “How can you just stand there and talk like that after you’ve taken a man’s life?” he cried.

She reached up at him with her clawed hands, but Claymore slapped them away. He overturned the table and she toppled to the floor.

“You killed him!” he shouted. “Burly had nothing to do with any of this, and you killed him! I don’t care what kind of monster you are! By the time I’m done with you you’re going to wish that Hera had killed you!”

She opened her mouth. “Incantare: Stu—!”

Claymore kicked her in the jaw, and the lower half of her face dissolved into sand.

The flames were getting harsher now. The acrid smoke burned in Claymore’s lungs, but he didn’t care. He kicked and punched Lamia into a pile of sand as she tried to regenerate, again and again.

Still…he knew he couldn’t keep this up. He couldn’t let his rage be the end of him. That’s what Lamia wanted. She’d be fine regardless of anything he did to her, but he wasn’t invulnerable—the smoke alone was making it hard to breathe. He had to get out of here. Otherwise, the pile of sand underneath his feet would have the last laugh.

It would take at least one minute for her to re-form, he guessed, just enough time for him to disappear.

He looked down at the swirling mass of powder, wondering if it could hear him. “By the time I see you next, I’ll know how to kill you. Your death is inevitable. Once you grow legs again, I suggest you run.”

He picked up his gun from the floor and fired into the pile of sand—one last shot for Burly Black.

It still wasn’t enough. Justice had to be served, and if his hunch was right, he knew exactly the person to do it.

When the police discovered that he’d taken Black’s truck, would they blame him for the fire? Would they accuse him of Black’s murder?

A real monster was after him, but Claymore might be pegged as an enemy of the law. If the situation were different he would have found such irony funny; but not now, not when Black was dead.

Surely Black would have approved of Claymore taking his truck.…Claymore floored it, driving as fast as he possibly could without getting in an accident.

Lamia had an array of spells at her disposal. All Claymore had was a one-minute head start.

He didn’t like those odds, but Claymore had a way of turning bad odds in his favor. He’d had no advantages in his life, yet he’d managed to get a PhD and become a successful author. Through his brilliance he’d made a name for himself. Even if he had been plunged into some strange world where monsters and gods existed, there was no way he’d allow himself to lose. Not to Lamia, not to Hecate, not to anyone.

He pulled into his driveway and ran inside, arming the alarm as he locked the door behind him.

He didn’t plan to be here for more than a minute, but the alarm would give him some advance warning in case Lamia got here faster than he anticipated.

He tried to collect his thoughts. The boy Alabaster must have known about Lamia. In Claymore’s dream, Alabaster had told the woman in white that he was being hunted. The woman had warned Alabaster that she couldn’t interfere in a contest between her children. Which meant the woman in white was Hecate, and Lamia and Alabaster were both her children, locked in some sort of deadly struggle.

What happens if someone finds a way to stop death? the boy had asked him outside the auditorium. Alabaster needed a way to defeat Lamia, who couldn’t die. Otherwise Lamia would kill him. So he’d turned to the foremost expert on death—Dr. Howard Claymore.

He picked up the card from his work desk and dialed the number into his cell phone. But the answer he got wasn’t exactly a cry for help.

“What do you want?” the boy asked in a stone-cold tone. “I know your answer was No. So what now? Do you want me to tell you that your dream last night wasn’t real?”

“I’m not stupid,” Claymore retorted, resetting the alarm on his way out. “I now know it was real, and I also know that your sister is trying to kill me. I was attacked in the shopping district, most likely because you asked me for help.”

The boy seemed too stunned to speak. Finally, as Claymore was getting into Black’s truck, Alabaster asked, “If she attacked you, how are you still alive?”

“As I said, I’m not an idiot,” Claymore said. “But as a result of your dragging me into this, my friend is dead.”

He explained briefly what had happened at Black’s Coffee.

There was another moment of silence.

Claymore started the truck. “Well?”

“We need to stop talking,” Alabaster said. “Monsters can track phone calls. Just come to my location and I’ll explain what I need you to do. Hurry.”

Claymore tossed his phone on the seat and slammed his foot down on the accelerator.

Alabaster’s street was a cul-de-sac, a dead end with nothing behind it but limestone cliffs that dropped into the Hudson River. That meant there was no way they’d be attacked from behind, but it also meant that there was no running away.

It wasn’t by chance that Alabaster had set up house here, Claymore assumed. Alabaster meant this to be a place where he could easily defend himself, even if he lost the option to retreat. A perfect place for a last stand.

In fact, number 273 was at the very end of the cul-de-sac.

It was nothing fancy, nothing special. The grass needed mowing and the walls needed a new coat of paint. It wasn’t the nicest house in the world, but it was good enough for an average family to call home.

Claymore walked up to the door and knocked. It didn’t take long for the door to open.

It was that man from yesterday, Alabaster’s father. His blank eyes scanned Claymore, and he smiled. “Hello, friend! Come on in. I’ve made tea for you.”

Claymore frowned. “I honestly don’t care at this point. Just bring me to your son.”

Still smiling, the man ushered Claymore inside.

Unlike the outside, the living room was meticulous. Everything was perfectly polished, straightened, and dusted. It looked like all the furniture had just come out of plastic wrap.

A fire roared in the fireplace, and as promised, tea was sitting on the coffee table.

Claymore ignored it. He sat down on the sofa. “Mr. Torrington, correct? You do understand the situation I’m in? I came here for answers.”

“The tea’s going to get cold,” the man reported, smiling cheerfully. “Drink up!”

Claymore looked him in the eyes. This was his secret weapon? “Are you stupid?”

The man didn’t get to respond before a door opened to the main room, and the boy walked in.

Same freckles and brown hair as yesterday, but his outfit was downright bizarre. He wore a bulletproof vest over a long-sleeved, dark gray shirt. His pants were gray as well, but the oddest thing about his clothes was the symbols.

Nonsensical markings were scribbled in random places all over his shirt and trousers. It looked like he’d let some five-year-old go crazy with a green Sharpie.

“Dr. Claymore,” he said, “don’t bother talking to my companion. He won’t tell you anything interesting.”

All of the nervousness and anxiety seemed to be gone from the boy. He stood grim and determined, like the moment he had tried to mock Claymore in the auditorium.

Claymore glanced at the man, then back at Alabaster. “Why not? Isn’t he your father?”

Alabaster laughed. “No.” He plopped down on the sofa and grabbed a cup of tea. “He’s a Mistform. I created him to serve as my guardian so people don’t ask questions.”

Claymore’s eyes widened. He looked at the man, who seemed completely oblivious to their conversation. “Created? With magic, you mean?”

Alabaster nodded, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a blank note card. He placed it on the table and tapped it twice.

The man, the Mistform, disintegrated right in front of Claymore’s eyes, melting into vapor as he was sucked into the card. Once the Mistform was gone, Alabaster picked up the card, and Claymore could see that there was now a crude green outline of a man imprinted on it.

“There, that’s better.” Alabaster managed a smile. “He gets annoying after a while. I know this must be a lot to take in for a mortal.”

“I’ll manage,” Claymore said, dismissing him. “I’m more interested in learning about Lamia, particularly a way to kill her.”

Alabaster sighed. “I told you already, I don’t know. That’s why I asked for your help. Do you remember what I asked you in the parking lot?”

“What would happen if someone found a way to stop death?” Claymore repeated. “Why is that important? Does it have something to do with Lamia’s regeneration?”

“No, all monsters do that. There are only two ways to kill a monster: One is with some sort of godly metal. The other is with some form of binding magic that stops them from re-forming in this world. But killing her isn’t the problem; I’ve done that. The problem is that she won’t die.”

Claymore raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, won’t die?”

“Exactly what it sounds like,” Alabaster said. “If I kill her, she doesn’t stay dead, no matter what I try. When most monsters disintegrate, their spirits go back to Tartarus and it takes years, maybe centuries before they can regenerate. But Lamia comes back immediately. That’s why I came to you. I know you’ve researched the spiritual aspects of death, probably more than anyone else in this world. I was hoping that you could figure out a way to keep something dead.”

Claymore thought about it for a second, then shook his head. “I want nothing more than to destroy that creature, but this is beyond me. I need to understand your world better—how these gods and monsters operate, and the rules of your magic. I need data.”

Alabaster frowned and took a sip of tea. “I’ll tell you what I can, but we may not have much time. Lamia is getting better and better at seeing through my concealment spells.”

Claymore leaned back. “In my dream, Hecate said that you were a member of the army of Kronos. Surely there are other members of your army. Why not ask them for help?”

Alabaster shook his head. “Most of them are dead. There was a war between the gods and Titans last summer and most half-bloods—demigods like me—fought for the Olympians. I fought for Kronos.”

The boy took a shaky breath before continuing. “Our main transport ship, the Princess Andromeda, was obliterated by an enemy faction of half-bloods. We were sailing to invade Manhattan, where the gods have their base. I was on our ship when the enemy half-bloods blew it up. I only survived because I was able to put an incantation of protection on myself. After that, well…the war didn’t go our way. I fought on the battlefield against the enemy, but most of our allies ran. Kronos himself marched on Olympus, only to be killed by a son of Poseidon. After Kronos’s death, the Olympian gods smashed any remaining resistance. It was a massacre. If I remember right, my mother told me that Camp Half-Blood and its allies had sixteen casualties total. We had hundreds.”