Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The morning passed in slow motion. Octavian had made the necessary phone calls the night before and then slept for several hours, plagued by dark dreams he could not recall upon waking, but which nevertheless seemed to haunt him from the corners of the room. He'd risen before five a.m., showered and dressed, and then spent hours sitting in a chair by the window, looking out at the gray skies and the rain that pattered the glass. Allison had brought him a bouquet of yellow roses, though he had no idea where she had gotten them in the middle of the night. From time to time he stared at the flowers, reaching out to feel the softness of their petals and to marvel at the fragility of the world.

Nikki had grown up in Philadelphia. Most of their friends didn't know that, or had learned it once and promptly forgotten. His love had been a troubadour from the moment her mother, Etta, had died. Etta had taught her daughter to love the blues and to sing from her soul, as if she had known that Nikki would need an outlet for her grief. Nikki had been sixteen when her mother died. She had never met her father and though her mother had a sister in Baltimore, the women were estranged. When Etta had passed away, Nikki had been on her own, and she had hit the road with her guitar and a few changes of clothes.

When Nikki left Philadelphia behind, she had truly left it behind. There were a few childhood friends she still heard from now and again, but with Keomany dead, the only people she had been close to had been friends she and Octavian shared and those who came from her life as a musician. Word of her death had already hit the media, and this troubled him. Nikki hadn't been a huge celebrity, but she had achieved a modicum of fame - certainly enough that strangers and past acquaintances and photographers would show up at any public funeral service, and he didn't want that.

He'd called her manager and asked him to spread the word to Nikki's old bandmates, and he suspected some of them would show up for the funeral. The details of the service were being kept secret, but anyone willing to do a little digging would be able to figure out that Nikki would be laid to rest with her mother. She would have wanted that, Octavian knew - to share eternity with the woman who had taught her about love and compassion and music.

Eternity, he thought, staring out at the rain. He didn't know how long he would live. Once he had evolved beyond vampirism and become human again, he ought to have lived out the balance of an ordinary lifespan, but with the magic that coursed through him, he had suspected for some time that he was not aging. Nikki had broached the subject more than once, wondering whether they would be able to grow old together, and Octavian had insisted that he didn't know.

Now he had the answer.

Numb and hollow except for the hot ember of fury in his gut that helped to burn away the grief, he sat in the chair and let hours tick past. Metzger and his team were doing their jobs, hunting down leads and trying to locate Cortez, mostly thanks to information they'd gleaned from the interview with Charlotte last night.

Sergeant Omondi had taken Charlotte back to New York with him this morning to trace one of her contacts. Octavian wanted to join them, wanted the cathartic passion of the hunt to ease his sorrow. In the time he'd spent working as a private detective, trying to get to know the modern human mind better and to help where he could, he had taught himself to be perceptive and to make leaps of deductive logic. He wanted to put those skills to use tracking down Nikki's killer, but not until after the funeral. He wouldn't leave her until she was finally at rest.

Afterward, there'd be hell to pay.

A knock at the door interrupted his ruminations. Octavian frowned, this visitation unwelcome. Reluctantly, he raised a hand, contorted his fingers - which crackled momentarily with an icy blue light - and the door unlocked and swung inward.

'Hello?' Commander Metzger said, with as close to uncertainty in his voice as there might ever be. He was not a man prone to self-doubt or uneasiness.

'Come in, Commander,' Octavian said, not rising from the chair.

Metzger stepped into the room, frowning and wary as he glanced around to figure out who had opened the door. But the mystery didn't hold the man's attention for long. Octavian could see by the set of his shoulders and the grim steel in his eyes that this was no mere condolence call.

'The press is looking for you,' Metzger said. 'The hotel is under strict orders not to reveal that you've taken a room here, but don't be surprised if one of them finds you sooner or later.'

'They'll find me only if I want to be found. But you didn't come here to warn me about the media, Commander. Tell me you've located Cortez.'

'Not yet, but we've identified the San Diego safe house that Charlotte described and the FBI have the building under surveillance right now. They're cooperating fully, searching for emergency exits that might not be on the architect's original plans. I've got a squad on the way there. We're searching Los Angeles for the home base Charlotte claims Cortez and his coven were using, but no luck so far.'

'All right,' Octavian said, already moving beyond the conversation, drifting back into the darkness of his ruminations, thinking about eternity and vengeance. 'Keep me posted.'

'That's what I'm doing,' Metzger said. Then, instead of retreating, the commander came further into the room, taking up a position five feet from Octavian, standing over him expectantly. 'But we have other problems, now. Trouble that requires your attention.'

Octavian tore his focus away from the rain on the windowpane to study Metzger's features.

'Whatever it is can wait.'

'Tell that to the people who are dying,' Metzger said.

Octavian shot Metzger a withering look.

'I've been fighting to keep the wolves from the door for years,' he said. 'And I'll do it again. But this is my time - mine and Nikki's - and I'm not letting anything tear me away from that. If I'd known my days with her were numbered, there are a lot of things I'd have done differently, but I can't get those days back.'

Metzger regarded him carefully. He seemed about to leave, but then came nearer instead and sat on the end of the bed, barely out of arm's reach. Not that Octavian needed to touch the man to hurt him; they both knew that.

'All our days are numbered,' Metzger said, with a combination of steel and sympathy. 'But these people who are dying in France . . . they're down to minutes, or maybe seconds. They're dying right now, and every single one of them has people who are going to wish they could have back the days they squandered on less important things.'

Octavian tried to ignore the words, but he could not prevent them from echoing in his head. Nikki was dead and no amount of mourning would bring her back, so what good could he do here in Philadelphia? If a crisis had broken out in Europe, could he simply ignore it?

He ran his hands over his face, chin stubble rough on his palms.

'Tell me,' he said, without looking up.

'There was a localized earthquake just north of Paris. The Cathedral of Saint-Denis was damaged and there are-'

'That's for the Red Cross to-'

'-things coming out of it. Demons. No one's seen anything like them since the thing with the Tatterdemalion years ago. They're not wraiths, though. Serpentine bodies covered in some kind of exoskeleton, arms on an upper torso, and lots of teeth. We should have images shortly, but I'm told they're not clear. Power is disrupted, along with all satellite and broadcast signals. Not gone, but rife with interference.'

Metzger leaned forward, making sure Octavian met his gaze.

'The French are marshalling a military response, but you and I both know that when an incursion like this takes place, it's usually more than conventional weapons can handle.'

Octavian looked out the window again. The rain seemed to be coming down harder, battering the window so hard that the glass vibrated with its punishment. He thought of Keomany, who had felt the chaos growing in Massachusetts early enough to warn him, to make sure he was there to help set things right. Without Keomany to sense it, he had not seen this coming at all, and he couldn't help but wonder what other horrors were even now stirring beyond the barriers between worlds.

He studied the vase of yellow roses, brow knitting. Rather than wilting, they had blossomed further, growing and blooming with remarkable health, though they had surely been cut many hours before. And had the thorns been so prominent before? He wasn't certain, but the vigor of cut flowers seemed a poor thing to focus on at the moment, a way for him to distract himself from the truth. Every death in France left a little more blood on his hands. He had acted from pure motives, but he shared responsibility for the dreadful state of the world's magical defenses. With the fall of the Roman church and the loss of the Gospel of Shadows - the spellbook that contained all of the magic accumulated by Vatican sorcerers since the founding of the church - the safeguards had vanished. Whatever happened now would be partly his fault, and he couldn't live with himself if he pretended to ignore that. Still . . .

Exhaling sharply, he glanced at Metzger.

'I'll advise you,' he said. 'There are mystics and occultists who can help, at least temporarily, to try to contain the demons. But until the funeral tomorrow morning, I'm not going anywhere.'

'Octavian,' Metzger prodded.

'She loved me. I'm staying with her until the last shovelful of dirt is thrown over her coffin. By then, we'll have more than enough help on hand to deal with whatever these demons are.'

Metzger sighed, but he nodded. 'All right. I'll be back with an update in an hour or two.'

'If you confirm Cortez's location-'

'You'll be the first to know, as agreed,' Metzger said. 'You get the kill.'

Octavian nodded and turned again to study the uncannily healthy roses. With a gesture, he caused the hotel room door to unlock and swing inward. If Metzger felt intimidated by this display of magic, he left the room without commenting.

'I know I should go,' he said, whispering to the rain against the glass. 'But I can't leave you. Not yet.'

I'd never forgive myself, he thought.

A ripple of nausea went through him as he realized that he had already passed that point. On the night when Nikki had needed him most, he had not been here for her. He hadn't been able to protect her.

Some things could simply never be forgiven.

Brattleboro, Vermont

'It's so wonderful to see you.'

Cat smiled. 'You too, Heather.'

The pretty young earthwitch, who had driven all the way from South Carolina, gave her a firm hug, smiling warmly. With her big blue eyes and fairy-smile, Heather had an almost ethereal presence that Cat had always found very soothing. Of all their friends, Heather was the only one Tori ever seemed to be jealous of, which was funny because the younger witch hadn't the slightest interest in women. Not that Tori would have had anything to worry about, regardless. Cat adored Heather, but she loved Tori with all her heart.

Heather sighed, her expression turning sad.

'I'm sorry I couldn't make it here in time for Keomany's memorial.'

'I know you'd have been here if you could,' Cat assured her. 'And we'll say goodbye to her again tonight, say a prayer, and raise a glass.'

Heather smiled, satisfied with this reply.

'You heard about Nikki Wydra, I assume?' she asked.

Cat nodded, a dark weight settling on her heart. 'How could I not? With all the media coverage, she's going to be more famous for having died than she ever was for her music. It's a sin.'

'Did you hear from Octavian? You guys are close, right? Are you going to the funeral?'

Cat frowned. 'Keomany was close to them. We haven't heard from him. I feel for the guy, but I also can't help thinking he's to blame.'

Heather's big blue eyes grew even bigger. 'You think he killed her?'

'No, no,' Cat said quickly. 'But look at what happened to Keomany. Octavian's reckless. So many of his friends have been killed as collateral damage in these battles he's had. I know he's doing the right thing, saving lives, all of that . . . but I can't help thinking that he isn't careful enough, that people like Keomany and Nikki die because they love him.'

Heather nodded gravely. 'I never thought about it that way.'

'Anyway, it doesn't matter. Tonight, we celebrate,' Cat said. 'Go on into the house. You're sharing the attic room on the left with Jaleesa. She's down at the barn getting cider and donuts, I think. You can head on down there or just rest a bit. I know it's been a long journey for you. I have to check on some things in the orchard and then I'll be back and we can catch up.'

'Excellent,' Heather said. 'I am tired, but . . . donuts!'

She picked up her duffel bag, gave Cat a kiss on the cheek, and then headed into the house. Watching her go, Cat couldn't help feeling guilty. She didn't like to deceive anyone, even if she had only committed sins of omission, but she couldn't very well tell the other witches what was going on in the orchard - at least not until they knew for certain themselves.

Cat set off on foot. It was a ten-minute walk from her house on the property to the clearing in the orchard, but she relished the time she spent amongst the trees, the air sweet with the scent of apples and rich with the smell of earth and growing things. She felt cradled in the embrace of the goddess here, and never wanted to be anywhere else for very long.

When she arrived at the clearing, she saw that Ed, the orchard foreman, had put a mesh covering over the enclosure he'd cobbled together around what Cat and Tori and Ed himself had been hopefully referring to as 'the new growth'. There were customers wandering through the rows, picking apples, and as Cat approached the clearing she saw a couple with two precious little boys pause to try to look over the enclosure, through the mesh. The father had one son on his shoulders.

'What do you see, Kyle?' the father asked.

'A tree, I think,' the little boy said. 'But it's moving.'

'Dad, come on!' the older son whined, and then the family headed off into the rows. The mother and father exchanged a smile and Cat thought she heard the mother say 'moving trees', with the amused indulgence particular to mothers.

Cat turned right and worked her way around the enclosure. She heard Tori and Ed speaking before she saw them emerging from a gate that the foreman had included as part of the enclosure. It was a crude thing, just hinges and plywood, but it did its job and had a hoop for a padlock.

'What's going on in there?' Cat asked.

Tori looked up, a bit startled, but her troubled expression relaxed and she went to give her wife a quick hug and kiss. Ed had been uneasy with their displays of affection once upon a time, but he'd grown used to it.

'Everything under control for tonight?' Tori asked.

'Yeah, yeah. We're good,' Cat said, waving the question away. 'Except, y'know, for this incredible, impossible thing that we have no idea how to address with our guests. So . . . talk to me.'

Tori exhaled and smiled at Ed before turning back to Cat. She shrugged.

'It's growing. Gotta be two and a half feet high by now,' she said.

Cat nodded. 'That little boy said it was moving.'

'Nah,' Ed put in. 'Just the breeze in her hair.'

Tori and Cat both shifted awkwardly. They had been trying to avoid calling the new growth she or her. It seemed too hopeful, somehow, particularly since they were not at all certain what they were dealing with. The new growth might have a human shape, but it also had bark in some places and skin like an apple in others, and its features were stiff and unmoving. Roots thrust deeply into the ground, long thin branches that gave the illusion of hair, there was no doubt that this thing was a plant of some kind.

Yet, loath as they were to say it out loud, the new growth was also somehow Keomany.

'All right,' Cat said. 'What do we do tonight? Do we tell them all what's going on, and if not, how do we hide this from them?'

'We can't tell them. Not yet,' Tori said. 'Anything could happen. The new growth could be damaged. We have to protect it.'

'There's that space at the end of row forty-six, on the west side of the hill,' Ed suggested. 'It ain't as big as this clearing, but it'd be big enough if you wanted to do your ceremony there.'

'I hate hiding this from them,' Cat said, sighing as she went to the enclosure and peered over the top, looking down through the mesh thanks to her great height. 'They're our sisters, after all . . . tonight more than any other. It just seems wrong.'

Tori edged up beside her and took her hand, squeezing it. 'I love them, too. Well, most of them. Heather, Vicky, Ella, Jaleesa . . . I want to share this with them. It's a miracle, Cat. But I just don't want to take any risks yet.'

Cat nodded. 'I know. Me neither.' She turned to Ed. 'Row forty-six it is. Can you get the staff to set up some chairs there? Tori and I are going to have to start preparing the ground for the ceremony.'

She hesitated, then turned to her wife, taking both of Tori's hands in her own. 'But we're going to check in an hour before sunset. It could be that by then she . . . it . . . will have grown enough that there will be no question about the miracle that's happening here, and then we can share it with all of them.'

Tori smiled. 'Deal.'

They started back down the hill together, hand in hand, both of them wearing enormous grins. The earth magic that had blossomed in their orchard was unlike anything either of them had ever encountered or even heard about.

If - no, when! - the new growth reached maturity, would it open its eyes and speak? And if it did, would it speak with Keomany's voice, or was the thing rooted in their orchard some new creature entirely, given life by the goddess?

Cat couldn't wait to find out.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Kuromaku stood in the hotel lobby, letting the ebb and flow of human life wash over him. The colors of their garments might be vivid or drab, but he saw beyond such outward expressions, felt the heat of their blood and the vibrancy of their aspirations. There were times he thought he could even see the ties that bound them to one another. Octavian had undergone a metamorphosis years ago that had split his Shadow nature into three parts. Kuromaku had not lived long enough yet for that transition, but he did believe himself to have undergone a slow evolution over the years, a series of small epiphanies that led to what he considered the beginning of wisdom.

He was still a warrior, of course, and he had always had honor, even when others would have called him a monster. But he had lived long enough first to grow to disdain human fragility and whimsy, and then to cherish it.

The lobby of the hotel where Nikki Wydra had been murdered held interest for Kuromaku. There had been dozens of so-called journalists outside, along with more than one hundred spectators, many of whom he surmised were fans of Nikki's music. The local police were keeping them out, allying themselves with hotel security to determine who were legitimate guests and visitors. Kuromaku presumed it must be creating havoc for hotel guests, who would undoubtedly want some sort of compensation for the inconvenience.

Nikki's death, an inconvenience. He closed his eyes a moment. As much as he had come to find humanity beautiful, he was far from immune to frustration, and other emotions.

When he opened his eyes he saw the police officer who had let him in to the lobby coming toward him, moving around a furious-looking woman who tugged a tow-headed little boy by the hand, even as a bellhop followed with her luggage. She headed for the front desk, having begun her tirade even before she reached the counter, preparing to check out.

'Mom? Mom? Mom?' the boy intoned, yanking her arm to try to get her attention. 'Are there really vampires in the hotel?'

The boy glanced around, eyes wide with a combination of fear and fascination, as if a vampire might pop out from behind the giant potted fern he had just passed. Kuromaku smiled at the boy's expression. If you only knew. The mother, however, only hushed him.

'Excuse me, sir,' the young cop said, approaching Kuromaku. 'Can you come this way, please?'

Kuromaku glanced once more at the boy and his angry mother and then nodded to the officer, gesturing for him to lead the way. In the chaos of noise and confusion in the lobby, a more polite reply would have been lost. Even now, as he followed the officer past two dark-suited security guards, a man near the concierge desk began to shout about the rights of the press, clutching a camera as he was hustled toward the doors.

'This is a total mess,' the cop said, glancing back at Kuromaku. 'Bad enough you got a celebrity murder case, but throw vamps in and everybody goes bugfuck crazy. It's only gonna get worse as word spreads about how she died.'

Kuromaku silently agreed as the officer led him past the entrance to the hotel's restaurant and toward the opening into a grotto of elevator banks.

Concerned, the officer slowed and looked at him. 'I didn't mean any disrespect, y'know? About the victim?'

Now that they were away from the epicenter of the chaos and it was quieter, Kuromaku nodded.

'Of course. A day like today, I imagine your job becomes difficult.'

'Exactly!' the cop said, nodding grimly. 'It's a nuthouse in here.'

They entered the elevator grotto to find two people seemingly awaiting their arrival. One was a Chinese man who carried himself like a soldier, while the other was an old friend.

Kuromaku smiled and opened his arms as he went to her. 'Allison. I'm very happy to see you.'

Allison Vigeant embraced him firmly. 'And I'm glad you're here, 'Maku. I just wish it were under different circumstances.'

With a sigh, he released her and stepped back, though he kept one hand on her arm as he met her gaze. In that moment, they had forgotten the other people standing in the grotto with them.

'So do I. How is he?'

Eyes haunted, Allison lowered her gaze for just a moment before looking up at him again. 'About how you'd expect. But he'll be glad you're here. There's all kinds of nasty shit hitting the fan. He's going to need us, and more besides.'

Kuromaku nodded once, unsmiling, and stood a little straighter. 'Take me to him.'

When the knock came at his hotel room door, Octavian tore his gaze away from the window. He had been watching the silent tumult of the clouds, his thoughts everywhere and nowhere, his grief lying in wait for him to begin to think again.

'Who is it?' he called from the sturdy, cushioned chair.

'An old friend.'

Octavian froze halfway through a deep breath, then rose and strode purposefully across the room to open the door.

One of Metzger's people was there with Allison - Song, Octavian reminded himself - but his focus was on the third visitor, the one who had spoken, although now he stood behind the others. It had been months since they had seen one another, perhaps more than a year, but most days that seemed like no time at all for men such as they were. Today, it seemed far too long.

'My brother,' Octavian said.

Kuromaku smiled. Allison did as well, as she stood aside so that the old friends might be reunited. Kuromaku might not truly be Octavian's brother - they didn't share the same father or mother or the same vampiric progenitor - but they were comrades in arms and had been friends for centuries, and to Octavian's mind, they were closer than any brothers who shared the same blood. Their bond had been forged in blood and in bloodshed, their own and that of their enemies.

Octavian pulled him close and clapped him on the back.

'Thank you for coming,' he said.

'It is where I belong today,' Kuromaku said.

They shared a quiet moment of understanding. Octavian could have said more, but they would have been words he had spoken too many times before. They stood together today and all days, whatever might come.

He nodded and turned to Allison. 'Come with me, both of you. Now that Kuromaku's here, there's something we all need to see.'

Octavian pulled his door shut behind him and started down the corridor. All three of them made to follow him, but he paused and glanced at Song.

'Not you.'

'Commander Metzger instructed me to-'

Octavian held up a hand. 'Stop. This isn't an argument, kid. And no offense meant. But these people here? They're my family, and what happens next is family business. You go and explain that to Metzger if you want, but if you try to force your way into family business, there'll be blood, and none of it ours.'

He said it as kindly as he could, though he watched Song's eyes to make sure the soldier understood he meant it. From Song's irritation, and the sliver of fear in his gaze, it was clear he had gotten the message.

'As you say,' Song replied, his words clipped, and colored by his accent. 'I will deliver the message.'

'You do that,' Allison said, and she gave him a little wave. 'Buh-bye.'

Octavian led the way down the corridor, past hotel rooms that were either empty or were occupied by members of Task Force Victor. Metzger had turned this level into a temporary command center for his team and for the investigation into Nikki's murder. Allison had a room and there was one waiting for Kuromaku as well. Given the killing that had taken place here, the hotel had willingly accommodated the request to clear the floor of guests and reinstall them in other rooms. They might not have been happy about it, but Octavian suspected most of the guests were only too pleased to be away from the police, FBI, and TFV foot traffic.

'You don't seem to like Corporal Song,' Kuromaku said.

Allison sniffed. 'He's Task Force Victor. Our disdain is mutual.'

Octavian knew that Kuromaku would want a longer conversation with him. His old friend would want to offer his condolences more formally. But they had stood side by side or back to back in enough battles and lost enough loved ones down through the years that Kuromaku's sympathy was understood. To soldiers such as they were, the aftermath of tragedy was nearly always the time for action.

'Here,' Octavian said, stopping in front of Nikki's hotel room. He was surprised no guard was on duty.

A rap on the door brought a swift reply. With a click, the door swung inward to reveal a thin, fortyish woman in an FBI jacket. The room was a mini-suite, with a little sitting room sort of foyer and the main bedroom area beyond. Beyond the FBI agent, Octavian could see Barbieri - the TFV forensics specialist - along with a couple of FBI crime scene techs.

'Can I help you?' the woman asked, frowning as she gazed at the three of them.

Octavian ignored her, looking at Barbieri. 'I need the room.'

The FBI woman scowled. 'Who the hell are you?'

Barbieri had the good sense to look uncomfortable. 'Agent Kline, this is Peter Octavian.'

The woman's face went blank and she drew back slightly. 'I see.'

'I need-' Octavian began again.

'I'm sorry for your loss, Mr Octavian,' Agent Kline said, 'but I'm sure you understand that the crime scene is still being processed.'

Octavian felt a flare of anger that caused him to clench his fist and make his hand crackle with the dark purple light of deadly spellcraft. It was happening more and more, his emotions stirring the magic within him, and he knew he had to be cautious. There was danger here.

'Bullshit,' he said evenly. 'Philadelphia PD was in here. Barbieri and his UN vampire hunters have been over the room, top to bottom. Your own people have been in here for hours. You're done. It's my turn, now.'

Agent Kline glanced beyond him at Allison and Kuromaku, then focused on Octavian again.

'For what?' she asked.

Octavian stared at her, then shifted his gaze purposefully back to Barbieri.

'To do it my way. Get them out of here, Barbieri. I won't ask again.'

He didn't need to. Agent Kline continued to protest, but mostly in muttered asides. Octavian was certain that Barbieri - like Song - would report back to Metzger, but none of that mattered. Metzger needed him far more than he needed Task Force Victor.

'This is the place, then?' Kuromaku asked, when the others were all gone.

Octavian glanced around the bedroom, his eyes lingering on the bed where he had found Nikki displayed in a macabre tableau. Kuromaku knew the answer. He had asked only to give Octavian a chance to speak, to explain.

'This . . . yes,' Octavian replied. He gestured to the bed and then around at the markings and little numbered plastic tents that the forensics people had left behind. 'Most of it you can imagine for yourself. I've tried not to imagine it, but I've failed. It's in me, now . . . this thing. Every breath I take, it haunts me.'

'We're going to kill him and his whole coven,' Allison said.

'We will,' Kuromaku agreed, but he reached out and put a strong hand on the back of Octavian's neck. 'But it won't help the pain.'

'Maybe not,' Octavian said, 'but we'll kill them just the same.'

He took a deep breath, steadying his heartbeat and narrowing his eyes. Reaching down within himself, he summoned up the magic there and extended his hands. During the millennium he had spent in Hell, he had learned thousands upon thousands of spells and hexes and enchantments and glamours, but at a certain point his understanding of magic had outstripped what could be studied and entered the world of intuition. Sorcery was a combination of elements that included the extant supernatural energies woven into the fabric of reality, as well as a facility to wield and weave those energies. Nikki had once compared his abilities to a nuclear scientist being able to manipulate atoms merely by thinking of them. She hadn't been far off, though magic was more involved than that.

It took focus and discipline, knowledge and purpose . . . And it took passion. Love worked, as did anger. Or grief.

'I could have done this before you arrived, but I wanted you both to see it,' he said.

'What are we seeing?' Allison asked warily, her usual bravado gone.

Octavian contorted his hands and dragged them through the air, which had become warm and malleable around him. It flowed sluggishly around his fingers like paint and slow ripples spread outward, reality shuddering and changing.

The room grew darker, and the curtains that had been open a moment before were now closed. The time here in Philadelphia, on the twelfth floor of the Loews Hotel, was late afternoon, but a sliver of early morning sunlight shone in through the gap in the curtains.

'Just in case,' Octavian said softly. 'I'm worried that I'll miss something important . . . some detail that we'll need.'

'Peter?' Kuromaku said warily.

'Hush,' Octavian said. 'Just watch.'

He kept his back to them. He didn't want to see their expressions, or his own reflected in their eyes.

Out in the foyer of the mini-suite, there came two clicks, one soft and one slightly louder. The door swung inward and Nikki entered the room. Octavian felt a surge of love and longing that quickly turned to ice inside him. He could smell a citrus odor that he realized came from the maid's cleaning products, a scent that had been lacking when the crime scene people had finished their work.

'Peter, you don't have to do this,' Allison said. 'We know what happened.'

'Just in case,' he said again, steeling himself.

Octavian, Allison, and Kuromaku stood like ghosts in the room as Nikki put the key card for her room on the small coffee table by the loveseat out in the mini-suite's foyer. She walked into the bedroom and stripped off her black shirt, glancing around until she spotted the discarded pajamas laid across a chair by the heavily draped windows. Looking tired and grateful to be able to exhale, she unhooked her bra and removed it.

Shadows swirled like liquid blackness in the corner of the room, coalescing into a lean, sculpted figure.

'You are lovely,' the figure rasped.

Cortez had arrived to murder her, to tear out her throat and nail her to the wall, and Octavian could only watch, for these events had already unfolded.

Revenge seemed such a small thing to him, now.

But it was all he had.