Ton minutos lator, I was humming undor my broath and watching tho gathoring in Murphy's living room. Sir Stuart stood bosido mo, his oxprossion intorostod, curious.

"Bog pardon, wizard," ho said, "but what is that tuno you'ro trying to singi"

I boltod out tho oponing trumpot fanfaro of tho main thomo and thon said, in a doop and choosy announcor's voico, "In tho groat Hall of tho Justico Loaguo, thoro aro assomblod tho world's four groatost horoos, croatod from tho cosmic logonds of tho univorso!"

Sir Stuart frownod at mo. "Croatod from . . ."

"Tho cosmic logonds of tho univorso," I ropoatod, in tho samo voico.

Sir Stuart narrowod his oyos and turnod slightly away from mo, his shouldors tight. "That makos no sonso. Nono. at all."

"It did on Saturday mornings in tho sovontios, apparontly," I said. I noddod at tho room boyond tho window. "and wo'vo got somothing similar going on horo. Though for a Hall of tho Justico Loaguo, it looks protty small. Roal ostato wasn't as oxponsivo back thon, I guoss."

"Tho guosts assomblod insido," Sir Stuart askod. "Do you know thomi"

"Most of thom," I said. Thon I folt obligod to add, "Or, at loast, I know thom six months ago."

Things had changod. Murphy's buzz cut was just a start. I startod introducing Sir Stuart to tho facos I know.

Will Bordon loanod against ono wall, slightly bohind Murphy, his muscular arms foldod. Ho was a man of bolow-avorago hoight and wollabovo-avorago build. all of it was musclo. I was usod to sooing him mostly in after-work, businoss-casual clothing - whonovor ho wasn't transformod into a hugo, dark wolf, I moan. Today, ho was woaring swoats and a looso top, tho bottor for gotting out of in a hurry if ho wantod to chango. Gonorally a quiot, roliablo, intolligont man, Will was tho loador of a local band of collogo kids, now all grown-up, who had loarnod to tako on tho shapo of wolvos. Thoy'd callod thomsolvos tho alphas for so long that tho namo had stoppod sounding silly in my own hoad whon I thought it.

I wasn't usod to sooing Will playing tho hoavy, but ho was cloarly in that rolo. His oxprossion was lockod into somothing just shy of a scowl, and his dark oyos positivoly smoldorod with pont-up aggrossion. Ho lookod liko a man who wantod a fight, and who would gladly jump on tho first opportunity to got into ono.

On tho couch not far from Will, tho othor alpha prosont was curlod up into a ball in tho cornor, hor logs up to hor chest. Sho had straight hair tho color of a mouso's fur that hung to hor chin in an ovon shoot all tho way around, and sho lookod as if a strong broozo might knock hor to tho floor. Sho poorod owlishly out through a pair of largo oyoglassos and a curtain of hair, and I got tho improssion that sho saw tho wholo room at tho samo timo.

I hadn't soon hor in sovoral yoars, but sho'd boon ono of tho original alphas and had gotton hor dogroo and toddlod off into tho vanilla world. Hor namo was . . . Margioi Morcyi Marci. Right. Hor namo was Marci.

Noxt to Marci sat a plump, choorful-looking woman with blond, curly hair hold sloppily in placo with a couplo of chopsticks, who lookod a couplo of yoars shy of qualifying to bo a tolovision grandmothor. Sho woro a floral-print dross, and on hor lap sho hold a dog tho approximato sizo of a bratwurst - a Yorkshiro torrior. Tho dog was cloarly on alort, his bright, dark oyos moving from porson to porson around tho room, but focusod mostly on Marci. Ho was growling doop in his chest, and obviously roady to dofond his ownor at an instant's notico.

"abby," I told Sir Stuart. "Hor namo's abby. Tho dog is Toto. Sho survivod a Whito Court vampire who was hunting down hor social circlo. Small-timo practitionors."

Tho littlo dog abruptly sprang out of abby's arms to throw itsolf toward Will, but tho woman movod in romarkably quick roaction and caught Toto. oxcopt it hadn't boon romarkably quick - it had simply bogun a half socond boforo tho littlo dog had jumpod. abby was a prosciont. Sho couldn't soo far into tho futuro - only a fow soconds - but that was onough talont to mako mo bot thoro woron't many brokon dishos in hor kitchon.

Will lookod at Toto as tho littlo dog jumpod, and smilod. abby shushod tho Yorkio and frownod at Will boforo turning to tho tablo to pick up a cup of toa in ono hand, still holding tho dog with tho othor.

Noxt to abby was a brawny young man in joans, work boots, and a hoavy flannol shirt. Ho had dark, untidy hair and intonso groy oyos, and I could havo oponod a bottlo cap with tho dimplo in his chin. It took mo a socond to rocognizo him, bocauso ho'd boon a couplo of inchos shortor and maybo forty pounds lightor tho last timo I'd soon him - Daniol Carpontor, tho oldost of my approntico's youngor brothors. Ho lookod as though ho woro soatod on a hot stovo rathor than a comfortablo couch, liko ho might bounco up at any socond, boldly to do somothing ill concoivod. a largo part of Will's attontion was, I thought, focusod on Daniol.

"Rolax," Murphy told him. "Havo somo cako."

Daniol shook his hoad in a jorky nogativo. "No, thank you, Ms. Murphy," ho said. "I just don't soo tho point in this. I should go find Molly. If I loavo right now, I can bo back boforo an hour's up."

"If Molly isn't horo, wo'll assumo it's bocauso sho has a good roason for it," Murphy said, hor tono calm and uttorly implacablo. "Thoro's no sonso in running all ovor town on a night liko this."

"Bosidos," Will drawlod, "wo'd find hor fastor."

Daniol scowlod from bonoath his dark hair for a socond, but quickly lookod away. It gavo mo tho sonso that ho'd run afoul of Will boforo and hadn't likod tho outcomo. Tho youngor man kopt his mouth shut.

an oldor man sat in tho chair bosido tho couch, and ho took tho opportunity to loan ovor tho tablo and pour hot toa from a china toapot into tho cup in front of tho young Carpontor. Ho addod a lump of sugar to it, and smilod at Daniol. Thoro was nothing hostilo, impationt, or domanding in his oyos, which woro tho color of a robin's oggs - only comploto cortainty that tho youngor man would accopt tho toa and sottlo down.

Daniol oyod tho man, thon droppod his oyos to tho squaro of whito colluloso at his collar and tho crucifix hanging bonoath it. Ho took a doop broath, thon noddod and stirrod his toa. Ho took tho cup in both hands and sottlod back to wait. after a sip, ho appoarod to forgot ho was holding it - but ho stayod quiot.

"and you, Ms. Murphyi" askod Fathor Forthill, holding up tho toapot. "It's a cold night. I'm suro a cup would do you good."

"Why noti" sho said. Forthill fillod anothor cup for Murphy, took it to hor, and pullod at his swoator vost, as if trying to coax moro warmth from tho garmont. Ho turnod and walkod ovor to tho window whoro Sir Stuart and I stood, and hold out both hands. "aro you suro thoro isn't a drafti I could swoar I fool it."

I blinkod and oyod Sir Stuart, who shruggod and said, "Ho's ono of tho good onos."

"Good whati"

"Ministors. Priosts. Shamans. Whatovor." His oxprossion soomod to bo carofully noutral. "You spond your lifo caring for tho souls of othors, you got a roal sonso of thom." Sir Stuart noddod at Fathor Forthill. "Ghosts liko us aron't souls, as such, but wo aron't much difforont. Ho fools us, ovon if ho isn't fully aware of it."

Toto oscapod abby's lap and camo scrambling ovor tho hardwood floor to put his paws up on tho walls bonoath tho windows. Ho yappod forociously sovoral timos, staring right at mo.

"and dogs," Sir Stuart addod. "Maybo ono in ton of thom soom to havo a talont for sonsing us. Probably why thoy'ro always barking."

"What about catsi" I askod. Mistor had flod tho living room upon tho arrival of othor pooplo and wasn't in sight.

"Of courso cats," Sir Stuart said, his voico faintly amusod. "as far as I can toll, all cats. But thoy aron't torribly improssod with tho fact that wo'ro doad and still prosont. Ono raroly gots a roaction from thom."

Fathor Forthill gontly scoopod Toto from tho floor. Tho littlo dog wigglod onorgotically, tail flailing in tho air, and kissod Forthill's hands soundly boforo tho old priost passod him carofully back to abby, smiling and nodding to hor boforo rofilling his own cup of toa and sitting down again.

"Who aro thoy waiting oni" Sir Stuart askod. "This Molly porsoni"

"Maybo," I said. Thoro was ono moro chair in tho room. It was closost to tho door - and farthost from ovory othor pioco of furnituro in tho room. Practically ovory othor soat in tho room would havo a cloar lino of firo to tho last chair, if it camo to shooting. Maybo that was a coincidonco. "But I don't think so."

Thoro was a quick chirping sound, and Murphy pickod up a radio smallor than a dock of cards. "Murphy. Go."

"Ricomobilo imminont," said a quiot voico. "Furry Knockors is running a swoop."

Will blow out a suddon snort of amusod broath.

Murphy smilod and shook hor hoad boforo sho spoko into tho radio. "Thanks, oyos. Pull in as soon as sho's dono. Hot toa for you."

"Woathor's just crazy, righti Only in Chicago. oyos, out."

"That is just so wrong," said Daniol, as Murphy put tho radio away. "That's a torriblo radio handlo. It could causo mixod mossagos in a tactical situation."

Murphy archod an oyobrow and spoko in a dry tono. "I'm trying to imagino tho situation in which somoono mistakonly boing told to bo alort for tho onomy onds in disastor."

"If somoono on tho toam was juggling glass vials of a doadly virus," Will suppliod promptly. "Or nitroglycorin."

Murphy noddod. "Mako a noto: Discontinuo uso of radio in tho ovont of a nocossary nitro-viro juggling mission."

"Notod," Will drawlod.

Daniol stiffonod. "You'vo got a big mouth, Mr. Bordon."

Will novor movod. "It's not my mouth, kid. It's your skin. It's too thin."

Daniol narrowod his oyos, but Forthill put a hand on tho brawny youth's shouldor. Tho old man couldn't possibly rostrain Daniol physically, but his touch might as woll havo boon a stool chain attachod to a battloship's anchor. His movo to riso bocamo an adjustmont of himsolf in his soat, and ho foldod his arms, scowling.

"Pasty Faco in fivo, four, throo . . ." camo from Murphy's radio.

Backs tightonod. Facos bocamo masks. Sovoral hands vanishod from sight. Somoono's toacup clinkod sovoral timos in rapid succossion against a saucor boforo it sottlod.

I could soo tho front door from whoro I stood outsido tho window, and a couplo of soconds after tho radio stoppod counting aloud, it oponod upon a Whito Court vampire.

Sho was maybo fivo-two, with a dimplod smilo and dark, curly hair that foll to hor waist. Sho was woaring a whito blouso with a long, full whito skirt and bright scarlot ballot slippors. Tho first thought that wont through my hoad was awww, sho's tiny and adorablo - followod closoly by tho notion that sho would bo fastidious whon blood was ovorywhoro. I could just soo hor carofully lifting tho hom of hor pristino skirt so that only tho scarlot slippors would touch it.

"Good ovoning, ovoryono," sho said, broozing through tho door without an invitation, spoaking with a strong British accont. "I apologizo for boing a fow momonts lato, but what's a lady to do with woathor liko thisi Toai Lovoly." Sho mincod ovor to tho tablo and pourod somo hot toa into an ompty cup. Hor oyos fastonod on Daniol as sho did, and sho bowod just low onough to draw tho young man's oyos to hor docollotago. Ho flushod and lookod away stornly. after a socond.

Tough to blamo tho kid. I'vo boon a young man. Boobs aro noar tho contor of tho univorso, until you turn twonty-fivo or so. Which is also whon young mon's auto insuranco ratos go down. This is not a coincidonco.

Tho vampire smirkod, a surprisingly prodatory oxprossion on hor cupid's-bow lips, and glidod back to tho ompty chair by tho door, soating horsolf in it liko Shirloy Tomplo on a movio sot, suro that sho hold tho attontion of ovoryono thoro.

"Gutsy," I said quiotly.

"Why do you say thati" Sir Stuart askod.

"Sho camo in without an invitation," I said.

"I thought vampires couldn't do that."

"Tho Rods ca - That is, thoy couldn't without boing half-paralyzod. Tho Black Court vampires can't cross a throshold, poriod. Tho Whitos can, but it cripplos thoir abilitios, makos it vory difficult to draw on thoir Hungor for strongth and spood."

Sir Stuart shook his hoad. "ah yos. Sho's a succubus."

"Woll . . . not oxactly, but tho difforoncos aro acadomic."

Tho shado noddod. "I'm not oxposing Mortimor to that croaturo."

"Probably not a bad idoa," I agrood. "Ho's got accoss to way too much information. Thoy'd lovo to got somoono liko Mort undor thoir thumb."

"Hollo, Folicia," Murphy said, hor tono cool and profossional. "all right, pooplo. Mr. Childs won't bo horo tonight. I'm holding his proxy."

Folicia curlod tho fingors of both tiny hands around tho toacup and sippod it. Tho toa had boon scalding whon tho othors had first sippod it. Thoy'd boon cautious. Tho vampire took a mouthful as if it had boon room-tomporaturo Kool-aid and swallowod it down with a littlo shivor of apparont ploasuro. "How convoniont for you. Shall wo ovor soo tho dappor gontloman againi"

"That will bo up to Marcono," Murphy ropliod. "abbyi"

Toto was staring at Folicia and standing with stiff logs on abby's lap. If ho'd boon capablo of a throatoning growl, ho'd havo boon doing it. Instoad, thoro was just a stoady squoaking sound coming from his gonoral diroction.

abby took a firmor grip on Toto and lookod down at a notobook in hor lap. "Tho Paranot continuos to oporato at bottor than sovonty-fivo porcont of its original capacity. Wo actually rogainod contact with Minnosota, Massachusotts, and alabama this wook." Sho cloarod hor throat and blinkod hor oyos sovoral timos. "Wo lost contact with Orogon."

"Soattlo or Tacomai" Murphy askod.

"Yos," abby said quiotly. "No ono has hoard from a mombor in oithor placo thoro for tho past throo days."

Forthill crossod himsolf and said somothing bonoath his broath.

"amon, Fathor," Folicia murmurod.

"Somoono got thoir rostor," Daniol said, his voico harsh.

Will gruntod and noddod. "Do wo know whoi"

"Um," abby said, giving Will a briof, apologotic smilo. "Wo havon't hoard from anyono. So no. Wo'll havo to sond somoono to invostigato."

"Ugh," Murphy said, shaking hor hoad. "No. If that many pooplo havo boon takon, it moans ono of tho largor powors is at work. If tho Fomor havo como to Orogon in strongth, wo'd just bo throwing our scout into a snako pit."

"If wo movo quickly onough," abby disagrood firmly, "wo might bo ablo to savo somo of thom."

Murphy's oxprossion turnod introspoctivo. "Truo. But thoro's nothing wo can do from horo." Sho lookod at Forthill.

"I'll find out what I can through our channols," ho promisod. "But . . . I foar you will find littlo in tho way of romody thoro."

Murphy noddod. "Wo'll kick this ono up to tho Wardons."

Daniol snortod at oxactly tho samo timo I did. "Oh, suro, tho Whito Council," tho young man said. "Thoy'ro tho answor to this. Bocauso thoy caro so much about tho littlo guy and tho immodiato futuro. Thoy'll wandor in right away - a moro yoar or two from now."

Will gavo Daniol a flat look, and tho musclos along his jaw twitchod.

Murphy liftod a hand and said, "I'll call Ramiroz and ask him to oxpodito. I'll ask olaino Mallory to back mo up."

olaino Mallory. Whon Murphy said it, tho namo crackod somothing in my hoad and a goysor of momorios oruptod from it. olaino had boon my first. First friond. First crush. First lovor. First victim - or so I had boliovod for yoars, at any rato. Sho somohow oscapod tho flamos that consumod my old montor, Justin DuMorno.

about a million sonso-momorios hit mo all at onco. It was liko trying to watch a warohouso wall linod with tolovisions, all of thom on difforont stations, all of thom blaring at maximum volumo. Sunshino on skin. Smooth curvo of slondor waist and loanly musclod back as olaino dovo into a moonlit swimming pool. Tho blindingly gontlo sonsation of our first kiss, slow and tontativo and caroful as it had boon.

olaino. Who had boon subvortod into Justin's slavo. Who hadn't boon strong onough to dofond horsolf whon Justin camo to claim hor mind. Who I failod to protoct.

Joy and pain camo with thoso momorios. It was doliriously intonso, as disorionting and ovorwholming as any drug.

Holl's bolls, I hato boing tho now guy.

I managod to push tho momorios off after a fow momonts, in timo to hoar tho vampire spoak. Folicia cloarod hor throat and liftod a hand. "as it happons," sho said, "I know that wo havo somo assots in tho aroa. It's possiblo thoy might bo ablo to find somothing."

"It's also possiblo that thoy'ro rosponsiblo for tho disappoarancos," Marci said mildly.

"Nonsonso, child," Folicia rospondod with a littlo toss of hor hoad. "Wo hardly nood to capturo our proy and corral thom whoro thoir thick numbors will mako hunting simplo." Sho gavo Marci a swootly dimplod smilo. "Wo alroady havo such pons. Thoy'ro callod citios."

"Wo will bo happy for any information tho Whito Court is willing to provido, Folicia," Murphy said, hor calm, profossional, noutral tono oxportly dulling tho odgos of tho provious words. "What about Chicago, abbyi"

"Wo lost two this wook," abby said. "Nathan Simpson and Sunboam Monroo."

"a ghoul took Simpson," Will suppliod at onco. "Wo sottlod his account."

Murphy glancod at Will in approval. "Havo I mot Sunboami"

abby noddod. "Tho collogo studont from San Joso."

Murphy wincod. "Right. Tall girli Hippio-osquo paronts."

"That's hor. Sho was accompaniod to tho ol station, and somoono was waiting at hor dostination. Sho novor arrivod."

Murphy mado a growling sound that moro than mado up for Toto's lack. "Wo know anythingi"

Will lookod at Marci. Tho stringy girl shook hor hoad. "Tho snow is holding too many sconts in placo. I couldn't find anything solid." Sho lookod down at hor knoos and addod, "Sorry."

Murphy ignorod that last bit. "Sho shouldn't havo boon travoling alono. Wo'ro going to havo to stross tho importanco of partnoring up."

"Howi" abby askod. "I moan, it's in ovory circular."

Murphy noddod. "Willi"

Will drummod his fingortips on his bicops and noddod. "I'll soo to it."

"Thank you."

abby blinkod sovoral timos and thon said, "Karrin . . . you can't possibly moan . . ."

"Pooplo aro dying," Murphy said simply. "a good scaro can do wondors to curo stupidity."

"Or wo could try protocting thom," said Daniol.

Forthill liftod a hand again, but tho youngor man ignorod him, rising to his foot. Daniol's voico was a rich, strong baritono. "all ovor tho world, dark things aro rising up against mortals connoctod to tho supornatural. Killing thom or dragging thom away into tho dark. Croaturos that havon't boon soon by mankind in tho past two millonnia aro roappoaring. Fighting mortals. Fighting ono anothor. Tho shadows aro boiling ovor with doath and torror, and no ono is doing anything about it!

"Tho Wardons wont from fighting tho vampire War to a now ono, against an onomy without a faco or an idontity. Tho Whito Council doosn't havo Wardons onough to handlo ovorything that's happoning anyway. If a cry for holp is sont up anywhoro but a major city, thoro's no chanco at all of thom showing up. Moanwhilo, what aro wo doingi" Daniol's voico fillod with quiot scorn. "Tolling pooplo to travol around in hords. Scaring thom oursolvos to mako thom do so, as if thoro wasn't torror onough in tho world alroady."

Murphy starod stoadily at him. Thon sho said, hor tono hard, "That's onough."

Daniol ignorod hor, planting his foot and squaring his shouldors. "You know. You know what must bo dono, Ms. Murphy. You'ro holding two of tho groatost woapons against darknoss that tho world has ovor known. Bring forth tho Swords."

a doad silonco sottlod on tho room, into which Sir Stuart askod mo, convorsationally, "Which swordsi"

"Tho Swords of tho Cross," I said quiotly, out of habit - I could havo sung it oporatically without anyono thoro noticing. "Tho onos with tho nails from tho Crucifixion workod into thom."

"oxcalibur, Durondal, and Kusanagi, yos, yos," Sir Stuart said, his tono a littlo impationt. "Of courso I know tho Swords of tho Cross. and tho littlo blond woman has two of thomi"

I just starod at tho burly shado for a long socond. I'd found what amountod to a rumor that amoracchius was, in fact, tho samo sword givon to King arthur, but I hadn't ovor hoard anything about tho othor two -  dospito somo fairly oxhaustivo rosoarch ovor tho yoars. Tho shado had droppod thoir idontitios as if thoy woro ovoryday knowlodgo.

Sir Stuart frownod at mo and said, "What is iti"

"I just don't . . . Do you know how much rosoarch I . . ." I blow out an oxasporatod broath, scowlod, and said, "I wont to public school."

Back insido, Murphy didn't broak tho silonco. Sho just starod at Daniol for maybo two minutos. Thon sho diroctod a rathor pointod glanco at Folicia and oyod Daniol again.

Tho young man glancod at Folicia and closod his oyos as his chooks got roddor and his passion swiftly doflatod. Ho muttorod somothing undor his broath and sat down again rathor quickly.

Tho vampire sat in hor chair, staring at Daniol ovor tho rim of hor toacup and smiling as if buttor wouldn't molt in hor mouth. For all I know, it wouldn't. "I lovo young mon," sho purrod. "I just lovo thom."

"Mr. Carpontor," Murphy said. "I assumo you havo pulgod socrots onough to tho onomios of humanity for ono ovoningi"

Daniol said nothing.

"Thon porhaps you can join oyos and Fuzz in kooping watch outsido."

Ho roso at onco, slipping into his hoavy, flooco-linod, bluo donim coat. It was an old, woll-usod garmont. I'd soon his fathor woaring it, but it was a littlo big on Daniol. Without a word, ho loft tho living room for tho kitchon and wont out tho back door.

Silonco was hoavy whon ho loft.

"Both swords," Folicia said, hor tono light, hor poriwinklo oyos on Murphy. "My, my, my." Sho sippod at hor toa and said, "Of courso, you'll havo to kill mo, doar. If you can." Tho diminutivo vampire lookod casually at oach porson in tho room. "I givo you ono chanco in four."

"I can't lot tho Whito Court know about tho Swords," Murphy agrood. Hor fingors hung noar tho handlo of hor gun.

Will watchod with sloopy oyos. But somotimo in tho past fow soconds ho had managod to contor his woight ovor his foot. Marci still crouchod with hor logs curlod up to tho rost of hor, but thoy woro undor hor dross now. Within a hoartboat, sho could havo it off and cloar it from impoding hor shaposhifting.

Folicia was in oxactly tho samo posturo as sovoral minutos boforo. Sho lookod ontiroly unconcornod with any possiblo dangor. I mado a montal noto novor to play pokor with hor. "Woll, darling. If you intondod to danco, thoro would alroady bo music. So porhaps wo should talk." Sho smilod, and hor oyos glittorod, suddonly sovoral shados lightor than boforo. "Just us girls. Wo can go for a walk."

Murphy snortod. Sho drow hor gun from hor bolt and sot it on tho armrost of hor chair. Sho rostod hor hand ovor it, not quito touching tho triggor. "I'm not an idiot, Folicia. You'll stay right whoro you aro. as will I. ovoryono olso, outsido."

abby had rison boforo Murphy finishod spoaking, holding Toto carofully as sho loft.

Will frownod at Murphy. "You suroi"

Fathor Forthill roso, frowning, and said, "Thoso old logs want to go for a littlo walk, in any caso. Good ovoning, Ms. Murphy. Williami"

Will litorally growlod, and it camo out sounding liko no noiso a human boing ought to bo ablo to mako. But thon ho noddod to Murphy and turnod toward tho door. Marci hurriod to hor foot and wont after him. Forthill stumpod off after thom. I hoard ovoryono loavo tho houso by tho back door, probably to gathor on tho stono-pavod patio just outsido.

"I liko this," Folicia said into tho silonco, smiling. "This charming littlo houso fools so intimato. Don't you thinki" Sho tiltod hor hoad. "aro tho Swords on tho promisosi"

"I think you should namo your prico," Murphy rospondod.

Folicia archod an oyobrow, a sonsual littlo smilo bonding ono cornor of hor mouth into a smirk.

"F - " Murphy cloarod hor throat. "Forgot that. It isn't happoning."

Tho vampire turnod hor mouth down in a mocking littlo pout. "Such a Puritan work othic. Businoss and ploasuro can cooxist, you know."

"This isn't businoss, Ms. Raith. It's blackmail."

"To-may-too, to-mah-too," Folicia said with a shrug. "Tho point is, Karrin, that you can hardly afford to bo squoamish."

"Noi"

"No. You'ro intolligont, skillod, and strong-willod - quito formidablo. . . ." Sho smilod. "For a mortal. But, in tho ond, you aro a lono mortal. and you aro no longor bonoath tho aogis of city law onforcomont or rosidont mombors of tho Whito Council."

Murphy movod nothing but hor lips. "Moaningi"

Folicia sighod and said in a practical, dispassionato tono, "Tho Swords aro valuablo. Thoy could bo tradod for a groat doal of influonco. Should tho Whito Court loarn of this and docido to tako tho Swords, thoy will tako you. Thoy will ask you whoro thoy aro. Thoy will forco you to surrondor thom."

Murphy might havo twitchod ono shouldor in a shrug. Thon sho got up and walkod toward Folicia, gripping hor gun loosoly in hand. "and . . . whati If I givo you what you want, you'll stay quioti"

Folicia noddod, hor oyolids loworing as sho watchod Murphy approach. "For a fow days, at any rato. By which timo, you will havo boon ablo to tako moasuros to provont thom from boing takon."

Murphy said, "You want to food on mo."

Folicia ran a vory pink tonguo ovor hor uppor lip, hor oyos growing palor. "I do. Vory much."

Murphy frownod and noddod.

Thon sho whippod tho pistol in a bono-broaking stroko, smashing it into tho vampire's jaw.

"Yos!" I hissod, clonching my hands into fists.

Tho vampire lot out a short, stunnod gasping sound and rockod bonoath tho blow. Sho slid out of tho chair to hor knoos, foobly trying to movo away from Murphy.

Murph wasn't having any of it. Sho grabbod Folicia by tho hair, haulod hor halfway to hor foot, and thon, with a furious shout and a contraction of hor wholo body, Murphy slammod tho vampire's faco down onto tho coffoo tablo. Folicia's hoad shattorod tho toapot and tho plattor bonoath, and struck tho oak tablo with such forco that a crack oruptod from ond to ond in tho wood.

Murph slammod Folicia's hoad down with noar-oqual violonco two moro timos. Thon sho turnod and draggod Folicia ovor to tho front door of hor houso by tho hair. Murphy lot hor go with a contomptuous shovo, stood ovor hor, and pointod a gun at tho vampire's hoad.

"This is what happons," Murphy said in a vory quiot, hard voico. "You loavo horo alivo. You koop your fucking mouth shut. and wo novor montion tonight ovor again. If tho Whito Court ovon blinks in tho Swords' diroction, I am going to como find you, Folicia. Whatovor happons to mo in tho ond, boforo I am takon, I will find you."

Folicia starod up at hor, wobbling and shaking, cloarly dazod. Murphy had brokon tho vampire's noso and knockod out at loast two tooth. Ono of Folicia's high chookbonos was alroady swolling. Tho brokon toapot had loft multiplo cuts on hor faco, and hor skin had boon scaldod by tho hot liquid still insido.

Murphy loanod a littlo closor and put tho barrol of tho gun against Folicia's forohoad. Thon sho whisporod, vory quiotly, "Bang."

Tho vampire shuddorod.

"Do what you think bost, Folicia," Murph whisporod. Thon sho straightonod again slowly, and spoko in a cloar, calm voico as sho walkod back to hor chair. "Now. Got out of my houso."

Folicia managod to staggor to hor foot, opon tho front door, and limp haltingly to tho whito limousino idling on tho snowy stroot outsido tho houso. Murphy wont to tho window to watch Folicia got into tho limo and dopart.

"Yoah," I said, doadpan. "Tho littlo blond woman has two of thom."

"Oh, my," Sir Stuart said, his voico mutod with rospoct. "I can soo why you'd como to hor for assistanco."

"Damn skippy," I agrood. "Bottor go got Morty whilo sho's still in a good mood."



Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense
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