The Graves of Saints


Chapter 2





New York City, New York

Charlotte knew what they were on sight. Two men in long black coats with the collars turned up, wearing black gloves and wide-brimmed black hats and mirrored sunglasses on a cloudy late September morning? It stunned her that they'd been able to move around New York City without arousing suspicion, but here they were in her apartment building, on her doorstep, and she had no doubt that Cortez had sent them.

Skittish, one hand still on the knob of her open apartment door, she glanced from one to the other, seeing nothing in their mirrored sunglasses, not even herself.

'I'm not going back,' she said, mustering up enough courage to raise her chin and stare boldly at them.

One of the vampires smiled, showing pearlescent fangs. 'He doesn't want you back.'

The two reached into their jackets, hands vanishing into folds of fabric with inhuman quickness and reappearing with guns. Before the first glint of the metal gun barrels showed in the dim light of the overhead fixture, Charlotte moved. She pushed back into her apartment and swung the door closed behind her with all her strength, not bothering to slow down to attempt to bar their entry. Their entrance was not in question. Cortez might bow to vampiric traditions, encourage his coven to return to the monstrous predators of legend, but he wasn't a fool - his children did not need an invitation to come through the door.

Bullets came first, splintering wood and plunking into walls and furniture and shattering glass. Charlotte dived to the floor as the first of the shots seared the air above her, transforming even as she landed on the carpet. She had adapted to the true abilities of the Shadows, but it was still easiest for her to metamorphose into one of the standard forms, and by instinct she chose mist. Her flesh and bone and clothing dissipated in an instant, as if the impact of her body on the floor caused her to turn to smoke.

Mist would be best, because she had a feeling Cortez's killers weren't firing ordinary bullets at her. They wouldn't be that foolish. A bullet would do nothing to a vampire or Shadow but irritate them. But from everything she'd been taught, Task Force Victor had another sort of bullet, one infused with a toxin that inhibited the molecular alteration that allowed Shadows to shapeshift. That was how they caught rogue vampires . . . how her kind could be killed. Now, somehow, Cortez had gotten his hands on some of the UN's ammo.

The door split in two as the first vampire crashed through it, and the black-clad figure glanced around the apartment, those mirrored sunglasses making him look even less human than he was. As mist, Charlotte churned toward the window above the breakfast table in her tiny kitchen, knowing he would notice her any moment. The second vampire slid fluidly into the apartment, distracting the first for just an instant, giving Charlotte a fraction of a second to solve a problem.

As mist she had no mass, and the window was closed up tightly.

A ripple went through the white mist and she drew herself together, resculpting flesh and bone at the speed of thought. Copper-red hair, wool coat, beat-up Timberlands, she crashed through the glass five stories above 2nd Avenue. One of the vampires shouted and both guns coughed again, but by the time the bullets reached her she was mist again, slipping downward toward the street. She was half a block from 50th Street, maybe half a dozen from the UN. The Shadow Registry Office was on 46th, even closer, if she could just get there.

The gunfire stopped. They knew she'd run for it and that meant they had to get down to the street, but Cortez had trained them too well to be nocturnal creatures. These fools were so dedicated to ancient legend, to being the nightmares that had terrified humanity for eons, that they had themselves believing, just like old times. Without the cover of their creepy black ensembles, they'd burn, which meant they had to be damned careful.

Charlotte couldn't afford to be careful.

Transforming into a crow, she let out a caw and stretched out her wings, wheeling into the narrow alley that separated her building from the one next door. With a quick glance to make sure she wouldn't be observed, she shifted again, alighting upon the ground as herself and shuddering slightly, getting used to her own form. Shifting so much in such a short time always made her true body feel a little foreign at first. She had never liked shapeshifting; it made her feel less human, reminded her she was a monster.

A service door clanged open in the alley and she spun toward the sound, mind whirling. No way they'd gotten down from her floor this quickly. Charlotte blinked when she saw the vampire emerge into the alley. She was tall and thin, with long blond hair beneath the same black hat the others wore, and Charlotte recognized her right off. Annabel, one of Cortez's wives.

Idiot, she thought. She'd never considered there might be a third.

In her frustration, she didn't move quickly enough. The gun was already in Annabel's hand. Charlotte felt the pain sear her chest as the bullet struck, even before she heard the shot. A wave of nausea swept her immediately and she knew that her guess had been correct - Cortez had the toxin. She didn't know what the UN had officially named it, but vampires called it Medusa, because it effectively turned them to stone.

Stone.

She wasn't a statue. She could move. She couldn't shapeshift but she could run, and though the sky was white with thin clouds, the sun was strong behind them. Staggering backward, she practically spilled out onto the sidewalk, cursing herself for her foolishness. If she had just stayed a crow she could have flown the distance to the Shadow Registry in a couple of minutes, but she preferred to be herself, to stay on two feet, and she'd thought she had left the vampires behind.

'Charlotte, you won't get far like that!' Annabel called after her.

More shots rang out. One of them struck the back of her shoulder, spinning her halfway around. She flashed Annabel the finger and let her momentum carry her into the street. Brakes screamed as cars skidded to a halt, two of them colliding with a crunch. Then she was across the street, racing down 2nd Avenue. Medusa had taken away her shifting, but she was still a Shadow, stronger and faster by far than a human being.

Annabel shouted something she couldn't hear over the bleating car horns and the angry shouts of drivers. Charlotte glanced back at her building and saw the other two vampires emerge, and then all three of Cortez's assassins were giving chase. The wind blew the hat off of the taller male and his face began to burn instantly, blackening and smoking. Screaming, he raced after his hat and the others ignored him, running on, but now they clutched their own hats to their heads, making sure the wide brims blocked most of the sun. They looked so utterly ridiculous that any other day Charlotte would have taken the time to laugh, but there was nothing funny about being hunted, and that was exactly where she found herself - hunted on the streets of New York.

Just blocks away, she thought. And she ran.

Fear drove her to abandon any pretense at being ordinary. People shouted in surprise as she sprinted past them so fast that there was no disguising what she was. A woman screamed and dragged her curly-haired daughter out of the way. On the corner of 49th Street a falafel vendor ducked down behind his cart and crossed himself. She darted between cars, not waiting for a break in traffic. The driver of a UPS truck had his eyes on her instead of the road and struck a double-parked cab. A Lexus skidded to a halt to avoid crashing into the truck and Charlotte dodged between the vehicles.

More screams pursued her down the street, but she knew that these were not because of her. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw Annabel and the two males crossing the street. A police car was among those jammed up by the first collision Charlotte had caused, and as the cop climbed out, gun drawn, one of the males punched a hole in his chest. The gun went off, shattering glass, but the vampires kept coming as if nothing at all had happened. Annabel vaulted onto the police car's roof and began leaping from car to car while the males dashed between them. Then they were on the sidewalk and people were shrieking and jumping aside.

If it had been night, Charlotte knew they would have caught her already. She'd be dead by now. It made her wonder what they'd been thinking, attacking during the day. The only way it made sense was if they had been watching her place for a while, waiting for her to come back. She'd been gone for nearly a week. Somehow she'd managed to get into her apartment last night without them noticing, but when she'd gotten up this morning, they had spotted her, maybe through a window, and had come after her in daylight because they were afraid she might leave town again before they could take her down.

Charlotte raced past the Manchester Pub. A dog started barking and she dodged left to avoid tripping over its leash. There were too many people on the sidewalk ahead and she shouted for them to move, keeping close to the building, sliding along with that uncanny speed, knocking over a diplomat with a briefcase.

She saw the baby stroller just in time to avoid colliding with it or with the woman pushing it, but as she passed them - the woman recoiling from her as if Charlotte were on fire - she crashed into an old man exiting the corner market with a sack of groceries. The bag tore as the two of them fell in a tangle of limbs, spilling cans and fresh produce to the ground. The man cried out as his head struck the sidewalk.

No! Charlotte thought, reaching for him, anguished over the thought that she might have killed him. But though he must have been eighty at least, the old man groaned and started to prop himself up, staring at her as if she were insane.

'What is wrong with -' he began.

'Ohmygod I'm so, so sorry!' she said, extricating herself from him and climbing to her feet. Shaking her head, she backed away from his anger and confusion. 'I'm sorry. I've gotta go. I've gotta -'

The look in the old man's eyes turned to fear and she knew he wasn't looking at her anymore. Charlotte spun just as the male caught up to her. He grabbed her by the throat, his fingers digging into her flesh, cutting off the flow of air she didn't need. In the shadow of his hat brim, he grinned widely, his fangs extending to demonic proportion, and she knew then that the time for guns and bullets was over. This leech intended to tear her apart.

Charlotte struck in a blink, plucking out his left eye. The vampire screamed and released her, staggering back a step, and she was on him. She stripped off his hat and his flesh began to smoke and ignite. Snarling, she tore at his clothes, ripping the long black jacket off of him and then the shirt beneath. In seconds his whole upper body began to char and burn and he ran toward the front door of the corner grocery to get out of the sun.

'What the fuck did you think was going to happen?' she screamed at him. 'Did Cortez pick the stupidest assholes he could find?'

The other male plowed into her from behind, lifting her off the ground and carrying her into the plate glass front window of the grocery. The glass shattered, raining huge shards onto the floor as they careened off of a checkout counter and knocked over a candy rack. As Charlotte scrambled to her feet, the vamp grabbed her ankle. His eyes burned red as his claws dug into her, down to the bone.

She picked up the cash register and brought it down on his skull with all her strength. The wet crunch satisfied a deep gnawing hatred inside her, but already he was turning to mist, so she leaped over the fallen candy rack and raced for the shattered window. The half-naked, scorched vamp tried to catch her before she reached it, but she hurled herself out onto the sidewalk and he skidded to a halt, not wanting to burn again.

It had all taken only seconds. Outside the grocery, Annabel strode across 2nd Avenue toward her. Charlotte turned south and began to sprint, but Annabel bolted after her on a course to intercept. Running, the human world seemed to slow down around her, but even so the taxicab seemed to come out of nowhere. It shot out of 48th Street and struck Annabel, dragging her under even as it screeched to a halt.

The driver's door flew open and a handsome, dreadlocked black guy stepped out. 'Get in, girl. She won't be down but a second.'

Charlotte's eyes went wide. The cabbie had hit Annabel on purpose. He must've seen it all unfolding, realized that it was vampires who were after her. He thought he'd be her knight in shining armor, help her make her getaway. The fool.

She didn't even have time to shout a warning to him before he was dragged screaming under the taxi.

But he'd bought her a few seconds' head start, and Charlotte wasn't going to waste it. All she needed was two blocks, and she'd be damned if she'd let them catch up to her again. She took off running, swerving into the street to get around a cluster of gawkers trying to see who was screaming. Her wool coat flew behind her, bits of broken glass shedding from it, tinkling as they struck the ground. Even with all the noise of the city around her, the scuff of her boots on the asphalt seemed loud in her ears.

Crossing 47th Street, she wondered how long the toxin lasted. She didn't like shifting much; it made her feel less human. But frozen in one form by Medusa, it felt like someone had put shackles on her.

A delivery man came out from behind a parked truck with a loaded dolly, and she barely avoided another collision. Focus! she thought. Another fall, and she might not be as lucky as she'd been the first time. Legs pumping, hair flying, she increased her already impossible speed, and in moments she saw 46th Street ahead.

'Stop there, bitch!' Annabel shouted after her. 'You speak, you die!'

Charlotte wanted to laugh as she turned the corner and spotted the gated entry to the Registry diagonally across 46th. They were already trying to kill her. It was too late for threats.

The wind blew. She could smell the East River not far off. The Registry had a broad façade of thick glass and guards at the heavy double doors. A garage entrance had a guard posted as well, with a thick metal wall that jutted from the ground, blocking the way in. She'd seen such things once on a class trip to Washington DC, but never since. But she didn't have a car. It was the front door for her, or right through the glass wall if that's what it came to.

Annabel shouted again, and one of the males roared something, still in pursuit and still, no doubt, holding onto their hats and looking foolish. Charlotte couldn't believe they hadn't given up the chase.

The gunshots came from nowhere, echoing off the buildings. Charlotte flinched with each pop and stared at the guards, who were all just now drawing their weapons, ready to defend the Registry entrance. So where the hell had shooting come from?

She spun, even as more gunfire echoed along 46th Street, and saw bullets punching through Annabel and the male vamp still with her. They both staggered and the male went down on his knees. The sun didn't matter to them now; burning in daylight was just another form of shapeshifting. It wouldn't be able to kill them.

'Down!' a voice called from high above, like God himself finally making an appearance. 'Get on the ground!'

Charlotte obeyed, hands behind her head like she'd seen on so many cop shows on TV. On her knees, she glanced frantically around. Traffic had stopped flowing; some kind of blockade in the street, a metal barrier like the one in front of the garage. She looked up toward where the voice had come from, and saw that the bullets had come from there as well. Bullets loaded with Medusa. Windows had slid open in the façade of the building, three stories up, and snipers were leaning out with their weapons trained on Charlotte and her pursuers .

'Don't shoot!' Charlotte called. 'Please, help me! Peter Octavian -'

With a clatter, metal plates opened in the sidewalk on both sides of the street. Shouting men and women in UN-emblazoned combat gear emerged, some with guns and others with flame-throwers. Charlotte stared at them, terror racing through her like the deadliest poison.

'No, please!' she shouted, but then she saw that they weren't focused on her.

She twisted around and watched as the male tried to flee, staggering to his feet. He made it half a dozen steps before the flame-throwers burned him down, so that he collapsed in a screaming ball of fire. Annabel lunged at one of them, trying to murder her way onto a path to freedom, and the flame-throwers roared. When Annabel's hair went up in a cloud of fire, Charlotte looked away . . .

Into the barrels of half a dozen guns and two flame-throwers.

A terrible sorrow clutched her heart. She looked into the eyes of the nearest soldier.

'No,' she said softly. 'I just wanted to sign the Covenant.'

One of the soldiers, an Asian man with grim features, took a step nearer. 'On your feet, Miss McManus.'

Charlotte stared at him. He knew her name.

'Come on,' he said, lowering his weapon and reaching for her arm to help her rise. 'Up.'

Confused, she staggered to her feet. 'How . . . ?' she asked.

The soldier glanced at one of the others, an African woman she took to be his superior officer. The officer nodded and the soldier looked at Charlotte, dead serious.

'Mr Octavian told us to expect you.'

The officer laughed softly, then spoke in a heavy accent.

'He didn't tell us you would be bringing friends.'

With that, they marched her through the front doors under heavy guard. But they didn't burn her to death in the street, so Charlotte decided to count that as a win.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dark thoughts were nesting in Octavian's brain. He sat in the back of the cab, silently urging it forward and feeling powerless in the face of his frustration. His hands were fisted in his lap, a warm static energy bristling around them. The turmoil of his emotions had stirred up the magic in him so much that it was all he could do to rein it in. There were things he could have done to speed the taxi along its route from the Philadelphia International Airport to the hotel where Nikki was staying, hex magic that would have affected the flow of traffic or spells to compel the driver to ignore the law, common sense, and safety concerns. But Octavian told himself not to be reckless, that he was overreacting.

Nikki's fine, he reassured himself, or tried to. It wasn't working.

This morning he had been only vaguely concerned. It was unlike her not to call him back, but there were so many possible explanations. The fastest way for him to get from Brattleboro to Philadelphia had been to drive the ninety minutes to Bradley Airport in Hartford, Connecticut and hop a flight from there. During that hour and a half in the car, he had resisted the urge to call Nikki, telling himself that the messages he had left were enough, that he didn't want to seem like a mother hen or, worse, a jealous lover. It wasn't that he was jealous; he didn't think Nikki had found someone else. But a tight ball of worry had settled into his gut and would not disperse, so when he had reached the airport, turned in his rental and seen that he had nearly two hours to wait for the next flight to Philly, he couldn't help himself.

Her line rang and rang and then went straight to voicemail, but now he couldn't even leave a message because her mailbox was full. Which meant that other people were leaving her messages as well - leaving her messages and not getting a reply. Nikki had a sold-out gig tonight at the Union Transfer and there would be no way she would let down the people who had bought tickets to come and see her.

During the flight, he told himself that by the time he landed she would have sorted out whatever the problem was with her phone. Or perhaps, he thought, she'd been feeling ill and been trying to rest in order to recover in time for the show. Though he didn't like the idea of Nikki being sick, he tried to persuade himself it was possible. He ignored as best he could the little voice that whispered in the back of his head that she would at least have sent him a text.

He realized he should have checked her social media sites to see if she'd posted any messages for her fans. His phone was in the front right pocket of his jeans and he kept touching it through the denim. Flight regulations required that it be turned off and he wanted to crawl out of his skin, wishing he could check those sites, and thinking that she might even now be calling him back. The idea quickly began to make him feel a bit better and he promised himself that there would be a message from her when he landed.

There were no messages. Worse, a quick search proved she had not posted any messages to fans. As far as he could tell, the show at the Union Transfer was still on. The moment he'd gotten into the taxi and told the driver to get him to the Hotel Sofitel, he tried ringing Nikki again with the same results. No answer. Mailbox full.

She's fine, he told himself again as the cab slid along 17th Street toward the hotel. All those messages, someone would've checked on her. The club promoter. Her agent or manager, getting no answer, would've sent someone, maybe even asked the hotel's front desk to send someone up.

But you didn't. It's only been a day, so you didn't. Octavian knew it was the truth. He hadn't called hotel management because it was only a day and wasn't it just possible that Nikki was pissed at him, or pissed at the world, and hibernating? Of course it was. Perhaps she'd learned about Keomany's death somehow, or had some other emotional crisis that had caused her to retreat from the world for a while. Anyone might decide to hide from the world for a single night and day.

Except she wouldn't. The thought turned that anxious knot in his gut to lead. After all they had been through together, all of the horrors they'd faced and the dangers they'd survived, Nikki would have known what her radio silence would do to him. Even if he'd somehow pissed her off so badly that she never wanted to speak to him again, she'd make one last exception to tell him that.

The taxi drew up in front of the Sofitel. Peter shoved two twenties through the hole in the partition and didn't wait for change. He jumped out of the cab before the doorman could reach it and raced for the hotel's revolving door. A young, perfumed couple in Euro fashion were speaking to the concierge and all three shot him a disapproving glance as he stormed past them, glancing quickly around for the elevator and then hurrying toward it.

'Sir?' called a front desk clerk. 'Is there something I can . . .'

Octavian ignored him. His haste and demeanor had raised some concern in the lobby - he could hear two employees talking worriedly as he hit the "up" button and waited impatiently - but he didn't mind if they wanted to send security after him. If there was a rational explanation for Nikki's silence, he could simply apologize.

He prayed that he would have to apologize.

The elevator dinged, the doors slid open and he stepped in. For half a second he frowned and stared at the bank of buttons, trying to remember Nikki's room number. It had been in his mind just a moment before and now he couldn't recall it and wanted to scream and shatter the rows of buttons, wanted to lash out with a wave of destructive magic that would obliterate the elevator and the shaft above, wanted to tear his way up the stairs and wreck everything he passed along the way.

Seven-two-seven. That was it.

He exhaled and pressed the button for the seventh floor.

When the doors slid open on five to reveal a middle-aged man in a suit holding an ice bucket, the urge toward violence rose again. Then he noticed that the man's shirt was untucked and that he wore no shoes - only black socks with a hole at the left big toe - and his frustration dissipated. The businessman had had a long day and wanted to put something on ice for tonight. Octavian couldn't blame him.

The guy flinched when he saw Octavian's glare.

'Going up?' Octavian said.

With a wary nod, the businessman stepped in to the elevator. He said nothing as they rode up two more stories, but when the doors opened again and Octavian stepped off, the businessman wished him a good night. Could it be night, already? Not quite, but the day was coming to an end.

'You, too,' Octavian replied, the sentiment sounding emptier than any words he'd ever heard himself say.

As he rushed along the corridor, his phone began to vibrate in his pocket. He slipped it out, thinking it must be Nikki, but the screen said unknown caller. If her phone was broken it might be her, calling from another line. He touched the screen to answer.

'Nikki?'

'Peter, it's Leon Metzger. I think you and I need to have a chat.'

Octavian grimaced. Metzger was commander of Task Force Victor. A call today could only be related to Charlotte showing up at the Shadow Registry to sign the Covenant and telling them about Cortez. Octavian had called ahead to tell them she was coming and not to make it difficult for her, promising to explain himself in greater detail soon. But not today.

'Leon, I can't do this right now. I'll get back to you.'

Commander Metzger started to argue, but Octavian ended the call. He held his phone as if it were something alien, staring at the hotel room door in front of him.

727.

He knocked, calling out her name. Several seconds ticked by and he lifted his hand to knock again, but faltered. A faint odor emanated from behind the door, and the moment he'd caught the scent it became stronger. For a second, he refused to accept it, but he knew that smell all too well, and always had.

Octavian splayed the fingers of his right hand against the door and slumped forward, deflating so badly that he nearly sank to his knees. Ice seemed to flow through his veins and he shuddered as the sick knot in his gut twisted harder. For a moment he feared he would be sick.

He found himself staring down at his phone, which he still clutched in his left hand. It remained defiantly still and silent.

There would be no call from Nikki. Not ever.

He stuffed the phone into his pocket and took a deep breath. With a thought, he sent magic flowing up his arm. A crackle of dark green fire glowed around his right hand as he grabbed the door knob and released a focused burst of concussive sorcery that blew the knob inward, tearing out the locking mechanism. He pushed on the door and other bits of the lock and the wood around it gave way before he strode across the threshold and into the room. There were other scents within, the sorts of perfumed soaps and air freshener spritzes that one would expect to find in a French-owned hotel.

Nikki lay in bed, curled beneath the covers in a picture of peaceful repose that would have been adorable, if not for the dreadful paleness of her skin, and the utter stillness of her form. And the spatter of blood on the carpet, and the light spray of it across the bedspread.

Octavian breathed her name. His chest ached with the suffocating weight of grief and tears began to slide down his face. In his long, long life he had lost so many that he had loved, and had seen so much death and suffering that he often thought himself immune to it. But as he watched her lying there in the false comfort of the twisted tableau her killer had created with her corpse, he could hear her singing still, not just the songs that she had written but those that had been her favorites by other artists, the ones who had inspired her and spoken to her heart and given her the faith in herself to allow her to speak to the hearts of others. He could see the crinkle of her nose when she smiled and hear the lilt of her laugh. He could recall the curve of her body when he pressed himself against her in bed after a long day and the smell of her hair when he buried his face in it.

He felt small and broken as he walked over and knelt beside the bed. Growing numb, he drew back the bedclothes. Nikki was naked. Her skin was alabaster pale and there was not a drop of blood under the sheets. Her killer had carefully arranged this picture of her for him to find.

Octavian stroked her hair, pushed it back behind her ear, then bent and kissed her cold lips. Rigor had long since set in and showed little sign of dissipating, which meant she had been dead at least twelve hours, though he knew it was longer than that . . . probably shortly before he'd left Massachusetts for Vermont, or soon thereafter.

With both hands, he rolled her slightly to get a look at the underside of her neck. The wound there was ragged and gaping, a chalky pinkness of torn flesh flecked with brownish dried blood. Other than what had splashed onto the carpet and sprinkled the bedspread, it was all that remained of her blood.

All the rest had been drained from her.

It hadn't been blood he had smelled from outside the door, though that odor was also much too familiar to him.

No, the scent had been that of death. The death of his love.

He kissed Nikki's forehead as he returned her to the illusion of sleep and drew the bedclothes up to cover her again. Tears were drying on his cheeks. Eyes narrowed, he stood and glanced about the room, cold, murderous rage building inside of him. He had been a warrior and a vampire and a sorcerer, had faced demons and madmen and true monsters, but he had never wanted to kill more than he did in that moment.

Octavian took a breath, and then another. In a few minutes, he would use his phone to call Leon Metzger back. The police would have to know about Nikki's murder, but Task Force Victor would want to be on top of it as well. No Shadow had done this; it had to be a rogue vampire. And Nikki hadn't been chosen at random. Someone had wanted to hurt him or to send him a message or both. Octavian had problems with the way Task Force Victor went about their work, but he would provide them with whatever information he could.

As long as they stayed out of his way. As long as they understood that whoever had done this would die by Octavian's hand.

Moving around the room, he began to study everything more closely - the walls, the windows, the carpet, the pattern in the bloodstains. For decades while he was still a vampire, after he had abandoned the coven to which he had belonged for centuries, Octavian had lived amongst humans without killing for blood. He had taken only what was freely given, or what could be gotten through other means. During that time he had blended into human society by crafting an identity for himself in which he could interact with people. Influenced by films and novels and television, he had become a private detective, and found that he learned a great deal from his clients and from his enemies. And he helped them, trying in some small way to begin to atone for the horrors he had committed over the ages.

There would come a time, quite soon, when he would need to rely upon the savagery of the warrior and the vampire. But first he had to figure out who had done this thing and then he had to find them. The crisis in Hawthorne, Massachusetts would lead to others, and soon. Evil must already have been tearing at the crumbling barriers that kept it from the world.

None of that mattered.

The world would have to wait. The only thing that mattered now was blood - the blood that had been shed and the blood that he would spill in return.

'I love you,' he whispered, knowing even as he spoke that Nikki's spirit would be long gone. Wherever she was, she could no longer hear him.

So he spoke to the person who had been in the room with her when she died. The monster who had killed her.

'I'm coming,' he said.





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