I hid in the farthest corner of the room, invisible from the door, and opened the file. If you can't make it go away, wait it out.

The last time I assimilated words of power, I was exhausted. Now I felt exhilarated, high on magic. The energy filled me, and I struggled to contain it. I wanted to jump, to run, to do something. Instead I had to hide in a corner and concentrate on the file before me.

The file contained a coroner's report, a summary of a police report, some hurried notes, and several photos of a crime scene. A wide shot showed two bodies sprawled on the asphalt, one corpse stark, pale, and nude and the other a bloody mess of mauled, shredded tissue. I found the close-up of the mauled corpse first. The cadaver lay spread-eagled upon a blood-soaked cloth. Something had ripped into its chest, snapped the breastbone, and tore it away with unbelievable force. The chest cavity lay exposed, the wet, glistening mass of the smashed heart dark against the spongy remains of lungs and the yellow white of the broken ribs. The left arm, wrenched clear of its socket, hung by a thin, bloodied filament.

The next shot showed the close-up of the head. Sad eyes I knew so well looked up into the camera and straight at me. Oh God. I read the caption. This battered piece of human meat was all that remained of Greg.

A lump rose in my throat. I struggled with it for a few agonizing seconds and forced it down. This was not Greg. It was only his corpse.

The next photo provided me with a close look at the other body. This one appeared untouched, all except for the head, which was missing. A broken shard of the spine jutted from the neck stump framed by limp shreds of torn tissue. No other evidence of the head ever being there remained. There was hardly any blood. There should have been pints of it. The body lay at an angle and both carotid and jugular were cleanly severed, so where did all the blood go?

I found four more shots of the corpse and arranged them next to each other on the floor. The smooth marble-white skin of the cadaver stretched tightly over his musculature, as if the body had no fat at all, only lean muscle. Not a single hair marred the epidermis. The scrotum looked shriveled and unusually small in size. I needed a close-up of the hand but there was not one. Somebody had dropped the ball. It did not matter too much, since all of the other telltale signs were there. Even without the nails, the conclusion was plain. I was looking at a dead vampire.

Vampires are dead by definition, but this one had ceased its undead existence. Not even Ghastek, with all of his necromantic powers, could fix a vampire without a head. The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question was who did this vampire belong to? Most People branded their vampires. If this one was branded, it didn't show in any of the shots the moron photographer had taken.

What could wipe out a vampire and a knight-piner? The vampire, super fast and able to take out a SWAT team unaided, would prove hard prey by itself. The vampire plus Greg made for near impossible kill. Yet there they were, both dead.

I leaned back, thinking. The killer would have to possess great power. He would have to be faster than a vampire, strong enough to tear the head off a body, and able to shield himself from Greg's magic and his mace. Off the top of my head the list of possible murderers was rather short.

First, the People could have sought to kill Greg and used one of their vamps as bait. An aged vampire in the hands of an experienced and able Master of the Dead was a weapon like no other. If there was more than one, they could've taken out Greg and their own bloodsucker. It was expensive and improbable, since Greg was particularly effective against vampires, but it wasn't impossible.

Second, the condition of Greg's ravaged corpse pointed to the shapechangers. That kind of damage had to be done with claws and teeth and by more than one set of them. Perhaps it was a loup, a deranged shapechanger. The bodies of those afflicted with Lycos Virus, or Lyc-V for short, yearned to slaughter without discrimination while their minds sought to restrain the bloodlust. If the mind won over the body, a shapechanger became a Free Man of the Code, existing within a well-structured and highly disciplined Pack. If the body conquered the mind, a shapechanger became a loup, a cannibalistic murderer driven mad by hormones, hunting everything and hunted by everyone.

The loup theory was even less probable than the People theory. For one, the beheaded vamp was untouched except for its neck, and loups tore into everything with maniacal frenzy. Next, Greg would've killed more than one of them, and no other bodies littered the scene. Third, if the murderer was a loup, or more likely, several of them, they would've left a ton of evidence at the scene, everything from saliva and hair to their own blood. The medical examiner's office had genetic profiles on almost all known shapechanger types. As far as I could discern, the file contained no paper showing that any shapechanger DNA had been found at the scene.

Rubbing my face didn't give me any special insights into the situation. Most likely, the murders had been committed by none of the above and for the time being I had to leave it at that.

The autopsy report confirmed the beheaded cadaver as Homo sapiens immortuus, a vampire. An ironic name since the mind of a human died the moment vampirism took hold. The vampires knew no pity and no fear; they couldn't be trained; they had no ego. On a developmental level they stood close to insects, possessing a nervous system and yet incapable of forming thoughts. An insatiable hunger for blood ruled them and they slaughtered everything in their path in their urge to quench it.

I frowned. The file contained no m-scan. All crime scenes involving death or assault were routinely scanned for magic. Technically both the police and MSDU could demand access to this file and be granted such access by a court order. The fact that an m-scan was missing meant that it showed something the Order didn't wish to reveal to the general public. Unless the same cretin that took the photographs somehow managed to drop the scan in the trash.

The only remaining page in the file listed several female names. Sandra Molot, Angelina Gomez, Jennifer Ying, Alisa Konova. None of them sounded familiar, and no explanation of the list was offered.

A fresh examination of my hair revealed that it was no longer glowing. I made a quick dash to the desk and dialed the number listed in the police report.

A gruff voice answered the phone. I introduced myself and asked for the lead detective. "I'm looking into the murder of the knight-piner."

"We've spoken to you people," the man on the other end said. "Read the goddamned report."

"You haven't spoken to me, sir. I would very much appreciate any time you could find for me. Any time at all."

The phone clanged and I was greeted by a disconnect signal. So much for interagency cooperation.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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