Last Breath

Chapter Eight


Staying in the house was possible for only a day or two before they began running out of important survival supplies, like Coke, hot dogs, and toilet paper. Michael insisted on making the supply run the first time, but on the second, Claire and Eve held a whispered meeting upstairs, and declared that they would be going on their own.

"No way," Michael said. "You heard what Myrnin said, and besides, if Eve wasn't the most popular girl in Morganville before, she's on the blacklist now. They'll lock up when they see you coming, babe. Amelie's not happy at all."

"Maybe she should go ahead and arrest me," Eve said. "Because I'm not hiding in this house for the rest of my life. First, I need a haircut. Second - "

"There's no second," Shane interrupted her. "You're not going, girls. Things are getting weird out there."

"Says who?"

"Me," Michael said. "The Food King is closed down and locked. They just put an out-of-business sign on Marjo's Diner, too."

"What?" Shane blurted. Marjo's was his favorite place in Morganville, and hey, Claire was pretty fond of it, too. "It might be a cockroach factory, but it's been around for what, fifty years? Never closed?"

"Well, it's closed now," Michael said.

Shane shook his head. He was sitting on the couch, game controller in his hands, but he'd forgotten all about it now. On the TV screen, zombies were ripping his avatar apart. "That's insane. You know about my job, right?"

"What about it?" Claire asked.

"Fired," he said. "Well, laid off - they called this morning. They're closing for renovations, or so they said. Pretty soon, we're not going to have anyplace open around here. What is up with this crap?"

"What about Common Grounds?" Eve asked anxiously. "I mean, Oliver let me take the week off, but . . ."

"Still open," Michael confirmed. "So far, anyway. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. This isn't just some financial problem. There's more to it." He hesitated, then said, "And more vampires have gone missing."

"More? How many more?"

"According to the gossip this morning, at least ten. Naomi hasn't been seen again. Neither have the others."

"Well," Eve was saying, "we still have to go to the store. And we're going, not either of you."

"Why?" Michael asked. He'd folded his arms, and was frowning at her, but not in an angry way. He looked concerned.

Eve sighed. She ticked things off on her fingers. "I need fingernail polish, and neither of you can tell decent lacquer from rubbing alcohol. Next, Claire has a prescription she needs to pick up from the pharmacy, which neither of you really ought to be doing on her behalf, since it's personal. Last, speaking of personal, there are intimate feminine products that I promise you neither one of you want to be taking up to a register, manly men."

Shane actually flinched. Michael looked uncomfortable.

Eve grinned. "In case that wasn't clear, I'm talking about tampons ."

"Yeah, pretty clear," Shane said. "And okay, yeah, maybe you should go. Considering."

"Damn right," Eve said. She was in Action Eve mode today, dressed in black jeans, heavy combat boots, and tight-fitting tee with a massive silk-screened Gothic skull wrapped around it. Big spiked bracelets. A leather collar. All her Goth makeup was firmly in place, right down to jet-black lipstick and eye makeup the color of bruises. "Trust me. We've got this. Plus, I'm going armed." She opened a leather pouch hanging from her spiked belt, and pulled out a bottle of silver nitrate, as well as a silver-coated stake. "We'll be fine. In and out in thirty minutes."

"Maybe I should go and just wait in the car," Shane said.

"Maybe you should stop treating us like fragile china dolls," Eve shot back, and spun the stake expertly in her fingers. "What do you say, CB?"

Claire was smiling, she realized. Unlike Eve, she wasn't dressed to aggress; she was wearing plain jeans and a simple blue blouse, but she had her backpack, and inside it (instead of books) were a small, compact crossbow, bolts, silver nitrate, and stakes.

Plus her wallet, of course. She wasn't planning on holding the place up.

"We'll be fine," Claire said, and held Shane's eyes. "Trust me."

He nodded, still frowning. "I don't like it."

"Yeah, I know," she said. "But we can't hide for the rest of our lives. This is our town, too."

The drive to the other store was a little bit longer, but Eve livened it up by blaring death metal and driving with the windows down, which made people not only turn and look, but glare. Oh, Eve was in a mood. It was fun.

Eve pulled the hearse up in front of the pharmacy and put it in park. "Don't get out," Claire shouted over the music. "I'll be right back, okay?"

"Five minutes!" Eve shouted back. "Five minutes and I come to kick ass. That is not a metaphor!"

Claire made an OK sign with her fingers, because it was impossible to yell loud enough to be heard as Eve cranked it up another notch; she escaped from the vibrating hearse, dashed across the empty space, and into the relative silence of Goode's Drugs (known locally, she had learned from Shane, as Good Drugs, because the pharmacist was known to sell some not-quite-legal stuff under the counter from time to time). The thumping bass from the hearse rattled the glass, but other than that, it seemed deserted.

Claire walked past racks of cold medicines, pain relievers, mouthwash, and foot powders to reach the actual pharmacy counter at the back. No one was in sight at the window, so she rang the bell. It made a clear, silvery note in the air.


"Hello?" Claire said, and then louder, leaning over the counter, "Hello? Anybody?"

She caught sight of someone right at the corner of her vision, and turned to look. There, standing behind the counter at the end of a long set of shelves, was a man. Not Mr. Rooney, who ran the pharmacy; not the vampire Claire had seen in there a few times, who probably owned the place. No, this was -

This was the man she'd seen outside Common Grounds. The quiet, nondescript one.

"Hello?" she asked, looking right at him. "Do you work here?" She leaned farther over the counter, trying to get a clearer angle, but when she blinked . . .

. . . He was gone.

"Mr. Rooney?" She yelled it this time. "Mr. Rooney, there's somebody behind the counter! I don't think he's supposed to be there! Mr. Rooney, are you all right?" Nothing. Claire felt her mouth dry up and her palms get sweaty. She took her phone out of her pocket and dialed 911. "Hello, I'm at Goode's Drugs, and I think there's something wrong - the pharmacist isn't here, and I saw somebody in the back. Yes. I'll wait."

The emergency operator told her a car was on the way; in Morganville, that wouldn't be a long wait at all. Claire considered going back outside to wait in the hearse with Eve, and in fact was retreating back from the service window when Mr. Rooney suddenly popped up out of nowhere behind her and said, "Can I help you?"

Claire yelped, jumped, and almost overbalanced as she banged into a shelf. She steadied herself and said, "Where were you?"

"Me?" Rooney frowned, his kindly old-man face turning surly. "Taking out the trash. Why do you care what I was doing, missy? What do you want?"

"My prescription," Claire said. She got her breathing under control as Mr. Rooney entered some numbers on a door keypad and buzzed through to the back. He appeared at the service window a second later.

"ID," he said, and combed through a plastic bin while she got it out. "Danvers, Claire. Yes, right here. Twenty-seven fifty." He eyed her license, frowning. "You're a little young to be taking these birth control pills, aren't you?"

"I don't think that's any of your business," Claire said, blushing. "You don't lecture the seventeen-year-old guys who buy condoms, do you?"

"That's different," he said.

"No, it's really not." Claire put the money on the counter - exact change - and grabbed the bag. She almost walked away, but then turned to say, "I called the police. There was somebody behind your counter back there."

"Nobody's back here," Rooney said.

"Look around. There is!"

"I'm telling you there's nobody," he said sharply. "You go tell your friend out there to turn that noise down or I'll get the police on you!"

He watched her go. Claire glanced back once, just as the door swung shut, and saw the face of that man again.

This time, he was in the store itself. She had no idea how he could have gotten out there; he was standing next to the old-fashioned water fountain, and the electronic door definitely hadn't opened and closed.

She had a split-second impression of something that couldn't be right, something she couldn't even process, before the face came into focus.

And then the door shut.

She yanked it open again, but he was gone.

"What?" Rooney snapped. "In or out, missy. In or out!"

She let it close.

Claire walked back to the hearse, thinking hard; a siren Dop-plered closer, and a Morganville cruiser swung into the parking lot and slid to a stop behind Eve's car, blocking it in.

Eve turned down the music. "Oh crap," she said, and looked at Claire as she walked over. "I guess Grandpa Grumpy got his Depends in a twist."

"It's not for you," Claire said. "I called."

"What - "

She didn't have time to tell her, because a Morganville cop had exited the vehicle and was walking closer. He wasn't someone she recognized, but then, she was glad not to be on a first-name basis with the entire MPD. "You called 911?" the cop asked.

"Yes, sir. It might be a mistake. Mr. Rooney's there now, but I swear, there was someone behind the counter before he got there. A stranger. I thought it might be a robbery."

"Can you describe this stranger?"

"No need to bother with that," said Mr. Rooney; he'd come out of his store and stood on the porch in his white lab coat. He had on his grandfatherly face again, and a warm smile. "The girl just got confused, is all. There's nobody but me behind that counter." His smile thinned, just a little. "In fact, she got so confused she forgot to pay me for those pills she has."

Claire blinked. "I didn't - "

The cop turned toward her. "Is that true?" Before she could answer, he plucked the sack from her hand and looked into it. "No receipt. You didn't pay for these?"

"I did! In cash!"

Mr. Rooney was shaking his head sadly. "No, I'm sorry, but that's just not true. She didn't pay. She ran out of here and straight for her friend's car. I think she might have been planning to take off while you were talking to me."

It made it sound like Claire had called in a false alarm, just to steal the pills. "No, that's not true! I paid him for it! Twenty-seven fifty! And there was someone in the store, behind the counter. I saw him!"

"Can you describe him?"

She struggled to remember. Average, average, average. No matter how much she tried to find something detailed, it all faded into . . . gray. He just wasn't memorable. "He was average height," she said. "And . . . had blond hair. Fair skin, I think. Maybe blue eyes."

"Average, blond, fair skinned, blue eyes," the cop summed up. "Miss, that describes a lot of men in Morganville, including me - you realize that?"

"I know."

"What was he wearing?"

And that, Claire realized, was a complete blank. Clothes, obviously, but she couldn't remember a color of shirt, or pants, or patterns. Nothing.

The cop read her face and shook his head. "Pay the man for the pills, miss."

"But - "

"Pay him or we settle this downtown." He was polite, but hard underneath, and Claire gritted her teeth and dug out her wallet again. Twenty-seven fifty. She had thirty dollars left, and Mr. Rooney folded it up and put it in his pocket. "I'll get your change for you next time," he said. "I'm sure it's just a plain misunderstanding, Officer. No problem."

"All right." The cop touched the brim of his hat. "You-all have a nicer day." He gave Claire a lingering look, as if she were the villain of the day, and walked back to his cruiser.

Claire glared at Mr. Rooney. He was smirking, and he turned and went into his store before the policeman pulled away. She didn't dare follow.

"Rooney got you, huh?" Eve was smiling, but her eyes were hard. "Don't sweat it, CB. He tries to shake down girls all the time if they're getting birth control. Some kind of personal thing with him. You're lucky you got off just getting charged twice. He's put girls in jail for it before, claiming they stole from him." She sounded like she spoke from personal experience. "He is a prime grade-A jackhole, believe me. And if there was anywhere else . . ."

But as usual, in Morganville, there wasn't.

Claire no longer cared about her average-looking stranger, but as she started to get back in the car, she saw him again. The policeman had pulled out and was halfway down the block, Rooney was in his store happily counting his ill-gotten gains, and that man, that stranger, was standing at the corner of the building, watching her.

Claire paused and stared back.

He stepped out of sight.

Not again.

Claire bailed and took off running, pulling her cell phone as she ran. She didn't mean to follow him; she just wanted to get close enough to snap his picture. Then she could prove what she was talking about. Photo evidence.

"Claire, wait!" Eve called from behind her. She cursed, and Claire heard her getting out of the car, but she didn't slow down. She couldn't. She'd seen how fast this - this thing could move. She no longer thought of it as a man, she realized; there was something fundamentally wrong about it. It wasn't a vampire, or she didn't think it was, but it was . . . something else.

Maybe something worse.

She skidded to a stop as she rounded the corner, eyes wide, because behind the building sat a wide, empty field. A block away, at least, were some dilapidated houses turned a dull gray by the relentless sun.

But no sign of her mysterious stranger. None at all.

"Claire! Do not go running off like that!" Eve shouted from behind her. She skidded to a stop, running into Claire, then grabbed her and shook her. "What the hell? I am not going to be telling Shane that you're - "

"He's gone," Claire said. She pulled free of Eve's hold and looked around, really looked. There were some puddles on the ground from the recent rain, and a drainage grate. Maybe he'd gone down that? But it was heavily rusted, and would have made a hell of a lot of noise if he'd moved it.

She hadn't heard a thing.

"He? What he? He who?"

"The - " It didn't matter. Claire shook her head. "Never mind."

"Yeah, good. Let's go, dummy - hanging out in deserted vacant lots around here is a prime way to get yourself dead. Haven't I taught you anything?" Eve hustled her around the building again, and back to the hearse. "I promised the boys we'd be back in thirty. We've got to move it."

Claire got in the passenger seat and strapped in. As Eve made the ponderous giant circle that was required to turn the hearse around, Claire stared at the edge of the building where she'd last seen her mysterious visitor.

And there he was, stepping out of nowhere, staring at her. Mr. Average.

"Stop!" Claire yelled. She threw the door open, but instead of chasing him this time, she grabbed her cell and took a picture. Eve slammed on the brakes, yelling inarticulately, but before she could manage to protest, Claire had already slammed the door shut again. "Go!"

"Make up your mind, traffic light!" Eve said, and accelerated again. "I'm afraid to ask, but what was that?"

Claire opened up her photo album on the phone. There, captured in a rush of digitized light, was the rough brick wall of Goode's Drugs, and a dark figure. Except it looked almost . . . translucent. And there were no details to it, just shadows. It's a bad camera, she thought, but that wasn't it, not completely.

Her visitor was there, and not there. Schr?dinger's cat, come to life - neither dead nor alive, existing nor missing.

"Eve," Claire said, and showed her the phone. "What do you see?"

Eve took a fast glance at the picture, then went back to piloting the hearse. "Side of the building," she said. "What?"

"Nothing else?"

"Look, this isn't the time to play a hidden-object game." Eve looked again, and shook her head. "Nothing."

"Not even a shadow?"


Claire clicked the phone off and settled back in her seat, thinking furiously. Why can I see him when Eve can't? It wasn't just Eve. Mr. Rooney might have been lying, but he could have just been unable to spot the stranger, too.

Very, very odd.

The other grocery store on the far side of town was like the Food King, only with less variety. They were, at least, still stocked up. Claire and Eve retrieved their necessary items, and then Eve vanished toward the candy aisle while Claire gathered up chili ingredients. Shane hadn't asked for them, but he would, probably just as soon as they got back home.

She was getting garlic when she saw her mysterious stranger again through the windows outside the store. This time, he wasn't watching her.

He was talking to someone else, but she couldn't see who it was. Well, at least someone else in this town can actually see him, Claire thought, and put the garlic in her basket as she slowly walked at an angle toward the front, trying to see who Mr. Shadow's friend might be.

It was Oliver.

Claire instinctively took a step back, then quickly turned her back and began looking over a selection of pies.

When she risked another glance over her shoulder, the two of them weren't talking anymore. Oliver was standing there, staring off into space, and as she watched, the stranger leaned forward, touched his fingertips to Oliver's broad pale forehead . . .

And Oliver didn't move. Didn't blink.

Something was wrong.

Claire found a display of hand mirrors and grabbed one, which she angled up to see what was happening outside the store. For a second she thought she'd taken too long, but then she focused her mirror on the right place, and saw that the stranger was walking away, toward the corner of the building.

Oliver was following.

It's Oliver. He can take care of himself. But she couldn't get past the sight of the stranger's fingers touching Oliver's forehead, and Oliver's total lack of reaction. There was no way that was normal.

Claire looked around for Eve, but she wasn't anywhere visible, still lost in the candy aisle. Claire dumped her basket of stuff and got her phone out as she headed for the door. Eve picked up on the first ring. "Don't yell," Claire said, first thing. She felt short of breath, and her heart was pounding hard. "I'm going outside."

"What? No, you're not! Where are you?"

"Outside," Claire said, as she stepped through the doors and out into the whipping winter wind. Puddles of water shivered on the ground in the blast, edged with ice. The air felt heavy and humid: more rain on the way, probably. "I won't go out of sight of the front windows, I promise."

"Jesus, CB, you're killing me here. Fine, I won't get any candy. Just get back inside!"

She could see Oliver at the edge of the building, heading north. Claire hurried that way, keeping the phone on. "I'm following Oliver," she said. "Something's wrong."

"Even better reason to get your ass inside," Eve said. "Okay, I'm here. I can see you." She sounded calmer. Claire looked over, and saw Eve standing pressed against the glass, stuffed shopping basket in one hand and her phone to her ear.

"I'm just going to the corner," Claire said. "I'm trying to see if they get in a car." It was overcast, but most vamps knew better than to go out for a stroll without light protection, and Oliver was more cautious than most - yet he wasn't wearing a hat. The big, black coat looked large enough to pull over his head, though.

Claire made it to the corner in time to see the stranger bend over and yank up a drainage grate, which tipped up in a rusty metallic groan. Oliver didn't pause. He walked right into the open hole and dropped. Disappeared.

She expected the stranger to go with him, but instead, he let the drainage grate slam shut, stood on it, and . . .

And then he turned and looked at her. His skin was gray, and it looked dead - not pale, like vampires, but a slick, decaying shade like something rotting in the shadows. His eyes weren't eyes. His mouth, as it opened, wasn't a mouth.

She didn't know what it was. Her brain refused to put it into a pattern.

And then the creature melted, and flowed in a rush of liquid down the drain.

Claire gasped, eyes wide, and felt sick, really sick. She didn't know why; it was wrong, sure, but not nearly as wrong as many things she'd seen in Morganville. Something inside her was screaming, as if she'd seen something entirely different from what she thought she'd seen.

Eve's tinny voice was coming out of the phone. Claire raised it back to her ear, moving slowly. She still wasn't sure if she needed to sit down or not. Nothing seemed right now. Nothing. She squeezed her eyes shut and could almost, almost see . . .

See what?

"I'm okay," she whispered. "I'm - "

Claire felt the world tilt and go dim, and with a distant feeling of surprise, she realized that she was going to fall down.

It didn't hurt at all.

She woke up with her head cradled in Eve's lap, and a circle of half-interested bystanders surrounding her. Eve was fanning her face with a folded piece of paper, and as soon as Claire's eyes opened, she cried out in relief. "Oh, thank God," she said. "You scared the crap out of me! What happened? Did someone hit you?"

"No." Claire felt deeply weird, as if her brain was working at one-quarter speed. "I fell." But why? "I tripped." That made more sense than anything else. She'd seen . . . something. She just couldn't imagine what it was, because her brain refused to even try. Gray. Something gray.

Eve was pulling her to her feet. "Enough of the detective shit," she said. "We are going home."

"But - "

"No buts. You get in the car. I'm going in to buy the stuff and I'm coming right back. I will not take my eyes off you. You do not move." Eve looked really scared. Claire thought she should be scared, too, but something in her had just . . . switched off. Burned out.

She felt so wrong.

Eve put her in the hearse and locked the doors, bent down, and mouthed, Don't move! before she dashed back inside to grab up their two baskets and rush to a register.

Claire leaned against the cold window glass and dialed her phone. Myrnin's number. He didn't answer. She felt oddly short of breath, as if she were drowning on dry land.

"Please," she whispered. She'd been angry at Myrnin, she remembered, but none of that mattered now. "Please answer me. I need you."

"Claire?" That wasn't Myrnin's voice, and technically, the phone was still ringing. "Claire, it's Frank. What's wrong?"

"I saw something."

"You don't sound good. What was it?"

"I don't know." She was so tired now. So tired. "I saw something that shouldn't be."

"You mean shouldn't be here?"

"Yes. No. Shouldn't be at all." She struggled to make sense of things. The day looked so gray and misty. Rain. The rain had started again. She could see the bright front windows of the store, see Eve in there buying their purchases, but none of it had any real meaning. That part of her was . . . gone. Burned. "Frank, tell Myrnin - tell him Oliver - I think Oliver is - "

"Is what? Claire? Where are you - are you in the hearse? In the parking lot? I have a surveillance camera - I can see you." Frank Collins was concerned. That made her smile, a little, because that was just wrong, too. He didn't exist. He was a brain in a jar, watching through mechanical eyes, hearing through mechanical ears, and he was concerned.

"Cameras," she said. "Can you run it back?"

"Back to what?"

"To before I fell. Can you see what I saw?"

"Hold on."

Myrnin's cell phone stopped ringing, and his voice mail picked up, but it was her cheery voice telling people to leave a message. She was talking to herself. That seemed odd.

Frank was gone.


"Right here," his voice said, this time from the hearse's stereo speakers. Claire dropped her phone in her lap; it felt too heavy to hold. "I see you coming out of the store. You're following Oliver."

"Just Oliver?"

"Yeah, just him."

"You don't see anybody else?"

"No. Oliver walks around the corner. He drops into a drain. You fall down. What am I missing?"

"I don't know," Claire said honestly. "Except that you are."

"I'm running the recording through filters. I'll get back to you." With a click, Frank disconnected from both the phone and the car's stereo.

Claire listened to the hesitant tap of rain on the roof, but the tap became a pounding, then a roar. Silvery sheets of water veiled the store windows.

She felt very alone. Floating.

The driver's-side door suddenly popped open, and Eve threw grocery bags at her, jumped in, and slammed it behind her. She was drenched and shivering. "Damn, that was freezing!" She turned the key and got the hearse started, then looked over at Claire. "Are you okay?"

Claire smiled a little and made an OK symbol with her fingers. She wasn't, but Eve couldn't help.

The rain hissed and roared, and Eve drove slowly through the downpour. Around them, Morganville had turned into an alien world. None of the landmarks looked right. The streets were rushing rivers. What lights showed were thin and watery, smeared all out of recognition.

How Eve figured out the streets and got them home, Claire had no idea.

"Damn," Eve said as she parked the hearse. "I guess we'll have to make a run for it. Can you do that?"

Claire nodded. She felt distant and floating, but not weak. There just didn't seem to be any urgency to anything now. Or any emotion. If Eve told her to run, she'd run, but it was just physical movement.

She took hold of one of the grocery sacks, opened the door, and stepped out into the rain.

It was breathtakingly cold, lashing at her like whips of water, and Claire stood there, face upturned to the downpour. It felt . . . soothing.

Then her eyes opened, and images flashed across her brain in a vivid, incomprehensible flow, and Claire screamed. She couldn't help it. Whatever wall her brain had built between her and what she'd seen came down hard, and adrenaline flooded back into her body, kick-starting her heart.

Eve was running for the front door; Claire's scream had been lost in a roar of thunder overhead.

In the flash of lightning, Claire saw a gray shape standing next to the car. It was a man, and it wasn't.

Not at all.

She ran for the house.

Eve was already inside, shaking off water, when Claire lunged through the door, slammed the door, and locked it with trembling hands. Somehow, she'd held on to the groceries, but she had no idea how. Her teeth were chattering from the chill, and she sluiced water in silver streams to the already-drenched rug.

"God, we're both soaked," Eve said. "Guys? Hey, guys, we're back!" She headed down the hall, paused to look at the clock, and sighed. "Oh God. We're thirty minutes late. What do you want to bet Shane overreacted? Yep, here's the note - they're out driving to the store. Good job, guys, now you'll get soaked, too. Hey, has he been blowing up your cell or what? Oh, damn, Michael's been hitting mine. I'll let him know we're home. Wait here - I'll get you a towel." Eve headed for the stairs, phone to her ear. "Michael? Yeah, relax, emergency's over. We're home. Claire passed out at the store. I think she has low blood sugar - she seems really tired. I'll get some candy in her and see if she feels better. . . ." Her voice faded as she disappeared up toward the bathroom.

Don't go, Claire wanted to say. She managed to croak something out, but Eve was already gone.

Claire dropped the groceries and staggered into the living room. It felt like the water was turning to ice on her skin, and the cold was sinking deeper and deeper....

I have to tell Amelie what I saw. What I know.

Eve's indistinct voice was still talking upstairs. The house seemed warm around her, as if it were fighting to make her feel better. Feel safer.

But she wasn't safe, and Claire knew that. Nobody was safe.

She turned, and the gray man was standing right here.

Her body threatened to collapse again, and Claire braced herself against the wall. He was just standing there, staring at her with eyes that weren't eyes. She couldn't think of anything now except drowning, drowning alone.

"Shhh," he said, and his voice sounded like the rain outside. Like water coming out of the faucets. "Shhh. It's over now." He tilted his head to the side, as if his neck had no bones. "Curious that you see me. I'm not ready to be seen. Why?"

"I don't know." She wanted to cry, scream, run, but none of those was possible now. "I don't know why I can see you." She swallowed and said, "Who are you?" Because even now, she couldn't let her questions go. "What are you?"

That face that wasn't a face smiled. It was the most horrible thing she'd seen, ever. "Magnus," he said. "I'm the end."

Then he reached out and wrapped those cold, damp hands around her neck, and she felt the house's energy scream and rush around her, but it was as if it couldn't help, not this time.

"Shhh," he said again. In the last instant, Claire thought, Oh no, Shane, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry people keep leaving you. I love you. . . .

Magnus snapped her neck, and everything went star white. It hurt.

But it hurt for only a moment, and then the world shrank down to a bright pinpoint of light, racing away from her. Leaving her behind.

And then it was gone, and she was gone.

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