"Oh, I think we will. You've cost him three undead. I don't know of any Master of the Dead that wouldn't want to get even."
Before we left, I chased the werewolf and the vampire out of my office and changed my clothes. Over the years I've learned to leave extra clothes at convenient places, and my office offered changes of clothes and gear. Pack sweats were nice and all, but after fun games with the reeves' claws I wanted something a bit thicker. I put on loose brown pants and a white heat-gear T-shirt. Made of a quick-drying microfiber, it wicked moisture from my body, keeping me dry and cool despite the heat of the summer. SWAT wore these seamless T-shirts under armor. I added a leather vest, securing the strings tight enough to be able to move, and completed my kick-butt outfit with a pair of combat boots: black leather toes, leather heels, and black nylon mesh sides. Almost light enough to play tennis in.
I spun and kicked at my shadow on the wall, adjusted the left vest seam to hug my body better, and slid Slayer's sheath into the rings along the vest's back.
Next, I took my dog-eared Craft Chronicle off the shelf, found the mirror lock spell, put a pencil on the right page to use as a bookmark, and went down the long concrete staircase into the vault. Hidden behind a foot-thick steel door lay five rooms storing everything from weapons and books to objects of minor power, the inventory the Knights of the Order felt was prudent to keep on hand. The foremost room contained a sink, a fridge, sleeping bags, even a closet-sized bathroom.
Andrea was already there, loading firearms and laying them out on the table. Julie froze when I came in. I thought we were past that. I tried my best to grin. "Getting settled?"
"Andrea has jerky and there is pizza." Her voice wilted. Any kid would be thrilled about the pizza. Boy, it just wasn't going too well with me and her today.
"I'm sorry you're mad at me. I brought you a book to read."
I put Craft Chronicle on the table.
She didn't say anything.
Oh, screw it.
I stepped right across the heavy silence hanging between us and hugged her. "I'll be back soon, okay? Stay here. Andrea is very cool. You'll be safe with her." She looked about to cry. "Who knows, I might come back with your mom." I'd go to hell for making promises like that. Straight to hell with no detours.
"You think so?"
"I hope so," I told her. "I've got my saber and I've got my belt." I touched the belt, equipped with a half dozen pouches containing herbs and silver needles.
"Batman belt!" Julie said.
"That's right, Barbara. Protect the cave while I'm gone."
Julie took the monisto off her neck. "Here. I'm not giving it to you. I'm just letting you borrow it for a little while. You'll bring it back, right?"
"Right." I slid the monisto into a pocket under my leather.
Andrea and I nodded to each other and I went.
WE MOVED THROUGH THE STREETS OF BUCKHEAD AT a brisk pace. Few things looked stranger than a vampire forced to run on the ground. No longer bipedal but still too disjointed to achieve good speed on all fours, it loped forward in a jerky gait, leaping and running, at times pressing low to the ground and at others jumping too high. Its gallop was completely soundless, betrayed neither by a scrape of the claw on the asphalt nor a whisper of an errant breath. A vampire belonged to the night, to the darkness, hidden from the world, a stealthy and deadly assassin. Out here, brazen in the sunshine of early afternoon, in full view of the stately old mansions drowning in verdant greenery, it looked grotesque, unreal, a nightmare come to life.
I watched the vampire and couldn't help but think of Julie. She had this abandoned look on her face. But to make any headway, I had to understand what was going on, and for that I needed Saiman. Hopefully, he would give me enough information to sort through this tangled mess, and then I could go back and check on her. She would be behind the wards. In the vault. Nothing should go wrong.
Something always could go wrong.
But as long as she didn't leave the vault, she should be okay. Nothing should force her to leave. Unless there was a fire. Was there anything flammable down there?
I stopped. That way lay insanity.
The vamp crossed the road in front of us for the fourth time. The Order's horses had been trained to work with all sorts of creatures, but no matter how much you train a horse, it still remained a horse. They didn't like the vampire. They didn't buck, but they danced in place and shied.
"I think he's doing it on purpose," Derek growled under his breath.
"He is. He hates horses," I told him. "Allergies."
The purple vampire loped along on the right side of the street and launched itself at the telephone pole. The undead climbed with a gecko's agility to about twelve feet, took its bearings, and casually jumped down to resume its bizarre gallop. Normally it would snow in mid-June before the People let a bloodsucker out in full daylight. The sunlight blistered their skin within minutes of exposure. Unless, of course, they were smothered in a quarter-inch-thick layer of purple sunblock. I wondered what possessed him to take the risk anyway.
"Ghastek? What happens to the Casino during a flare?"
He took a few seconds before he answered. "Lockdown. The Casino grounds all vampires. All personnel are pulled in and put on high alert. The Casino is shuttered and locked. All nonemergency communication with the outside world is restricted."
If the flare made all magic stronger, than the vampires, in turn, experienced a surge in power. How many necromancers would it take to keep them put? I wasn't sure I wanted to know. Nor would I want to be there when the steel chains holding the bloodsuckers within their stables started snapping.
Ghastek drew parallel to my horse, and she tossed her head back.
"How much farther?" Derek asked.
"Patience is a virtue," Ghastek advised.
"Lecturing a wolf about patience is unwise." That was the first time Derek condescended to addressing Ghastek directly, and his face plainly showed he felt quite soiled by having to stoop so low.
"Should I find myself speaking to an animal for some bewildering reason, I'll take it under advisement."
"Are the two of you finished?"
"Quite," Ghastek said.
"Nothing to finish." Derek shrugged.
"Does our bickering displease you?" The vamp leaped straight up long enough to look me in the face.
"No. My ability to get myself into these situations displeases me. It's a special talent of mine." I turned to Derek. "The expert lives at Champion Heights. We're almost there."