New York, New York
Charlotte felt breathless and off-balance, like the earth was shifting underfoot. Her life had been nothing but upheaval since the night that Cortez's lackeys had dragged her from that California parking lot. Cortez had killed her and brought her back, and then tried to mold her into his own monster, as he had done with so many others. She had escaped his influence and tried to start life over, persuading herself that her dreams were still possible. And then the dark influence of Navalica had lured her to Massachusetts and she'd met Octavian. The changes she'd undergone since then had been just as drastic as those thrust upon her by Cortez, but this time, nobody was forcing her to do anything.
Her life had become a tornado, but even though it twisted her around and threw her about so quickly that her thoughts blurred, Charlotte embraced it all. She had been fooling herself into thinking she could live an ordinary life after all that had happened to her. The things that had been done to her were haunting. They had taken root inside of her and would never let her be at ease. She understood, now, that her only path to peace of mind . . . was war.
When Cortez had been destroyed, perhaps then she would no longer feel so haunted. And if it didn't work - if her ghosts remained - at least the son of a bitch would be dead.
A static-fuzzed voice crackled in her ear. 'Charlotte, are you all right?'
She blinked and glanced around the alley, wondering where the TFV soldiers were hidden. Not that she expected to see them. This sort of thing might seem surreal to her, but to them it was just another day's work. If her heart still beat like a human's, it would have quickened. Still, ordinary heartbeat or no, she felt something inside her tighten in anticipation.
It was just after nine p.m. People milled in the alley, most just arriving but some already departing, turned away from the metal security door in the side of the building that housed the dance club. Once upon a time it had been a bank. According to a TFV background search, it had metamorphosed over the years first into a bookstore and then a restaurant, both called The Vault, after which - for six years - it had been nothing but a crumbling vacancy. Now it was a dance club with no sign either at the front of the building or in the side alley, but the barely legal crowd of aloof well-financed club kids knew just where to find it.
The place was called Faux, and as far as Charlotte knew it had earned the name without irony. One online writeup of the club called it the place 'where nobody is who they seem'. To Charlotte it sounded like the perfect cover for a vampire bar, or some other kind of occult operation, but apparently the people who ran the club were just that - people.
With or without the owners' knowledge, though, Faux was the perfect hunting ground. Bored, disaffected, rich kids with plenty of money and nobody looking out for them . . . when they vanished, it took days for people to start looking for them, and if they showed up dead in a bathtub with drugs in their system, bled out from slashes on their wrists, vampires were far from the first suspected cause of death. It wouldn't be hard to find an inhuman predator at Faux, but she was looking for one in particular.
'Charlotte?' Omondi prodded.
She flinched and looked around again, checking out the corners of building roofs and the sleek yellow sports car gliding down the alley. All she knew was that she had backup, but they might have been in dumpsters or darkened windows or already inside the club, for all she knew.
'Going in,' she muttered.
A trio of girls looked up from their chattering and their cell phones to shoot her a wary glance, then gave identical lazy sneers before looking back down to their phones. She suspected they were texting friends, trying to figure out who they knew who could get them in the door. They clustered like birds on a wire, together but hardly aware of one another, tugging down the hems of their dresses but failing to avoid giving the peeks of ass and crotch that they hoped would get them in if none of their friends came through.
This was Faux.
Charlotte crossed the alley, aware of eyes on her. Some were the hidden gazes of TFV soldiers, while others belonged to club kids who stood in line, wondering who the hell she thought she was, walking right up to the door as if there weren't two dozen people behind an invisible velvet rope, waiting for a chance to be judged. Charlotte knew she looked good, knew the red dress and her red hair and her intricate, ornate tattoos would earn her a second look. But that was only to get her to the door, to make sure nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary.
The tall, powerfully built black man who stood beside the metal door watched her approach with an impassive gaze. His head was shaved bald and he had a golden ring in each ear; Charlotte found him deliciously handsome, and it surprised her as she drew nearer to see that he had kind, intelligent eyes. This wasn't just some bruiser. Doorman at Faux couldn't be his only occupation, but tonight it was the only one that mattered - the one that could cost him his life.
He stood at attention, giving away his military background. Several people bitched loudly as she strode up to him. The doorman didn't speak, but regarded her curiously enough that it amounted to a question: who are you? Or, more accurately, who do you think you are? It was, after all, Faux.
'Hi,' she said brightly, cocking her head. Wetting her lips. Lifting one corner of her mouth in a suggestive smile. 'I'm Charlotte.'
Despite himself, the doorman smiled. 'And?'
'I'm looking for Danny Rouge.'
The delicious, kind-eyed doorman gave her a disappointed look. 'Huh. Didn't figure you for one of them.'
'Donors?' she asked. Men and women who willfully offered themselves to vampires, some out of some bizarre sense of noble generosity and others out of fetishistic sexual interest, had earned a dozen nicknames in the years since the Venice Jihad, the battle during which the Vatican sorcerers had attempted - and failed - to exterminate all Shadows, only to be destroyed themselves.
'That's one word,' the doorman said, studying her.
'Send the bitch packin',' someone called from the line.
'Back of the line!' shouted another.
The huge, handsome man ignored them. His enormous hands were still crossed in front of him; he remained at attention. But despite what he thought Charlotte was there for, he remained curious about her, apparently sensing something was different about her. She liked him.
'What's your name?' she asked, dropping the coquettish act.
Charlotte licked her lips, letting her fangs slide out. She smiled sweetly to give him a good look.
'I don't want to kill you, Marcus. I just need Danny Rouge.'
Marcus nodded appreciatively. Fearlessly. 'We're on the same page, honey. I don't want to die. You want Rouge, check the vault.'
He stood aside to let her pass, provoking a flurry of angry and envious shouts. One guy broke away from the line, rushing toward the metal door even as Charlotte opened it.
'You gotta be fuckin' kidding me!' the guy sneered, reaching for Charlotte, trying to snatch the back of her dress to pull her back. 'This bitch waits in line like every-'
Marcus grabbed him by the throat, lifted him and hurled him backward, where he sprawled at the feet of the three peekaboo girls with their cell phones. Charlotte had paused to watch, but she hadn't come here for the entertainment. She let the door slam behind her and ventured into the wall of sound inside Faux.
Music thumped so loud it felt like a physical assault, felt like she had waded into a rushing stream of drums and guitars and vocals, all fed through a computer to be smoothed into synthetic, soulless music. Charlotte hadn't known Nikki Wydra, but she had heard her music, and she had a feeling this was the sort of thing that would have made Nikki want to throw up. Though she was only nineteen, Charlotte didn't much care for this synth-pop dance crap either.
People swarmed around her, some dancing, some texting, some drinking and some even trying to hold a conversation, which was next to impossible here. She slid through the crowd, avoiding arrogant and desperate men who tried to touch her or draw her onto the dance floor. She saw two waitresses but they weren't what she wanted. Searching the crowd, she focused on a woman near the bar who had a pale, hungry, hopeful expression - one she had seen before.
Human, but wanting so desperately to feel fangs in her throat.
Riding the wave of sound and flashing lights, Charlotte glided toward the woman. A hand touched her arm and she turned to see a too-handsome, spike-haired guy wearing a hyena's grin. He started to speak but faltered and backed up a step. Perhaps he'd seen the brutality in her eyes, her familiarity with blood and shadows. Either way, he glanced away, head hung like an admonished child, and she left him there. No one else tried to touch her.
The woman at the bar saw her coming and searched Charlotte's eyes, maybe trying to figure out if her prayers had been answered. Maybe twenty-four, she had a killer body and a lovely face, with high cheekbones and full lips, but even with the gold eyeshadow, the desperation in her eyes would have driven most people away. Anyone could have seen there was something off about her.
'Hi!' Charlotte said brightly. 'What's your name?'
'Velvet,' the woman replied, wary but hopeful.
Charlotte wasn't sure if it was a stripper stage name or the product of cruel parents, but either way she had to fight not to roll her eyes.
'You know where the vault is, Velvet?' she asked. 'This is my first time and it's a friggin' madhouse in here.'
'I know where it is,' Velvet replied. 'They don't just let anyone in, though. It's like a club inside the club, y'know?'
'They'll let me in. Maybe you want to come with?'
Velvet lit up, color flushing her cheeks so much it was detectable even with the lights and the makeup. She wetted her lips with her tongue as she nodded and led the way, mumbling something that was lost in the crashing dance beat. When they reached the thick of the crowd, Velvet reached back and took her hand. Many eyes tracked their progress toward the rear of the club, past grinding dancers and bar counters packed six deep. Two pretty girls wearing an air of urgency, hand in hand - the men were going to watch and the women were going to watch the men watching, to monitor just how much attention was being diverted.
The vault still had a door, a huge, heavy thing that Charlotte figured was mostly for ornamentation, and she had to admit that it looked cool. It hung open, and it made her think of the rock that had been rolled away from Christ's tomb. A buzzcut, tattooed bouncer sat on a stool, half-blocking the entrance into the vault. He wore a paisley vest over a cream colored shirt with the cuffs rolled up. Though not the handsomest man she had ever seen, his features were pleasing enough, but his huge hands were knobby and ugly. Undamaged face, damaged hands; the combination suggested a life of violence delivered but very little received. A dangerous man.
'Hey!' Charlotte said, tossing her hair and cocking her hip as she looked at him.
Velvet hung back. The bouncer gave her a disapproving look, but that came as no surprise. Charlotte figured the blood-slut had been turned away from the vault before. As a Shadow, Charlotte had no fear of the sun, but Cortez's vampires shunned the daylight. They believed in the old ways enough to burn, so they hid from the sun. It might be dark outside now, but rogue vampires liked caves and hidden places. The vault was perfect.
Charlotte took Velvet's hand and started through the vault door.
The bouncer reacted instantly, reaching out to grab Velvet by the arm. Charlotte shook her loose and kept going as the bouncer swore and Velvet called her a bitch. The two of them tussled for a moment, giving her precious seconds to take in the layout of the vault. The small room had been done over in racks of expensive wine and plush burgundy booths and loveseats. A private bar at the far end served only expensive tastes. There were fewer than thirty people in the space, but the air felt heavy and the music still thumped - though muffled - from small speakers in the corners. The place smelled of sweat and perfume, of old booze and desire.
Charlotte scanned faces, searching for Rouge. Several guys had their backs to her, but one of them must be him.
A scarred, crushing hand slammed down on her shoulder.
'Where the fuck do you think you're-' the bouncer began.
Charlotte turned, backhanding him hard enough to crack his cheekbone, then took his hand, pivoted and hurled him into a wine rack. Bottles shattered and red wine splashed down on him like a shower of blood. His nose was bent and she realized she had broken it. That was all right with her. A man who lived so violent a life as to have such hands should not have been left unscarred by it.
She spun back around, scanning again for Rouge. Velvet came toward her, cautious but smiling with a dark, erotic fervor. Charlotte had just revealed that she herself was the very thing Velvet desired.
'Oh, my God,' the woman said. 'That was so hot.'
Charlotte searched faces; most were terrified but some were intrigued, and one or two were as openly hungry as Velvet's. One guy had already turned away.
People shied away as she crossed the vault. The bouncer tried to rise but slipped down again into the wine rack debris, moaning at the new cuts he received from broken bottles. Not all of the red on him was from wine.
Velvet was talking to her, maybe even flirting with her in the midst of all of this, but Charlotte couldn't hear her. The song of her own blood was in her ears, the music of violence and hunger that had only grown louder in the months since she had been turned. She wouldn't kill humans for their blood - not now - but the thirst for it remained, and it rushed through her in moments of imminent violence with such force that it made her want to scream, to laugh, to dance . . . to kill.
The good news was that killing didn't always make her a monster. Sometimes, it could make her a hero.
'Hello, Rouge,' she said, standing beside the booth where the vampire sat with a trio of club kids. Charlotte couldn't have described them later. They were beneath her notice.
She shifted, making sure she was directly in front of him. He stared at the table, not looking up.
'Remember me?' she asked. 'I need to ask you something.'
The vampire was not an albino, but he might as well have been. His hair was the yellow-white of cornsilk and his eyes were blue-tinted ice. Rouge had alabaster skin, but when he had freshly drunk of human blood, his cheeks became mottled with patches of pink, as if he were embarrassed. She had seen him like that, in what he called the afterglow.
Rouge lolled his head back and studied her, brow furrowed.
'If you'd come in here all quiet and meek,' he said, 'I'd have figured you wanted back in Cortez's good graces, maybe hoped I'd put in a good word. But this . . .' He gestured at the bouncer: nobody had gone to the bleeding man's aid, but he had finally managed to get to his feet and begun to stumble toward the door.
'What are you doing?' Sergeant Omondi said, his voice fuzzed with static, crackling in her ear. 'Don't set him off in there. Get him out of the vault, out in the open part of the club. If we try coming in through the door, we won't be able to surround-'
'I'm not good at meek,' Charlotte said.
'So what's your deal? You just want to end it? Suicide by fang?'
'I told you. I have a question.'
'Charlotte, listen -' Omondi said.
She could tell Rouge was curious in spite of himself.
'You gonna ask it?'
Charlotte nodded. No more banter, now; she let him see the disgust in her face. 'Where can I find Cortez? I know he's got a place in New York, that part of the coven is here. Where's the nest?'
'That's two questions.'
Rouge shot from behind the table, his limbs a blur. His companions barely had time to scream as the two monsters came together in a flurry of blows and slashing talons. Vampire versus Shadow. Vampire versus vampire. Charlotte felt her throat flayed open as Rouge tore at her, stronger, older, more barbaric. They hit the floor, twisting and tearing, snarling and snapping.
Omondi shouted in Charlotte's ear; they were coming in. Shots rang out in the club and people screamed, all of it blending into the thumping dance beat. The people in the vault cowered and wept as Rouge and Charlotte crashed into the bar and then into a wall of wine racks, driving each other into the broken bottle necks over and over, digging at flesh and shedding blood. The pain seared her but she welcomed it.
'Stupid move, coming here,' Rouge snarled.
Charlotte laughed and let her flesh shift and flow, let her bones twist and grow. She rose, towering over him, her huge head brushing the ceiling, and then she opened her mouth and let out the roar of a black bear
. Rouge blinked in surprise, hesitating for a second, and she swept one huge paw down and tore off the left side of his face.
Cortez was foolish to stick to the traditions. With a little practice, a little focus, Rouge could have shifted as she did, but what was a wolf or a rat to the thousand beasts and monsters Charlotte could become?
Reeling, screaming, Rouge threw a punch, driving his talons into Charlotte's chest. Bone broke and skin tore, and she knew he was going for her heart. His fingers found it, closed over it, squeezed. Had he done so little homework on the true nature of Shadows that he thought he could kill her?
She tore his arm off and tossed it aside. Onlookers' screams reverberated around the vault, melding with the music. Omondi's voice was gone from her ear; the commlink had fallen out when she shifted. With the speed of thought she shifted back to human again, all of her wounds gone as if they had never been there.
Rouge gaped, fearful and desperate, and she knew the moment had come. Any second, he would turn to mist and slip out through the ducts. It was his only hope of escape.
He didn't see the dagger coming. She slipped it from a sheath at her back and thrust it into his gut with a wet thunk.
Confused, he stared down at the blade.
Shouts came from behind her. Heavy footfalls. The clatter of weapons being brought to bear. Sergeant Omondi shouted at her to stand aside, to get clear.
'You think that's going to . . .' Rouge began.
His eyes went wide and he took a second look at the blade. He'd been trying to mist, mid-sentence, and discovered that his one chance for escape had been taken away. The dagger had been coated with the only poison that mattered to vampires.
'Medusa,' Rouge said, voice low, eyes burning with hatred as he reached for her. 'You turncoat bitch.'
Omondi and half a dozen other TFV soldiers, some dressed for the club and others in full gear, moved in to surround him, weapons trained on him. His face and the stump of his arm had sealed up already, partway healed, but the Medusa had stopped it. Unable to shift or heal further, Rouge could be killed by a single, well-placed bullet.
Charlotte punched him, careful not to break his neck, and then she slid in close, intimate as a lover.
'Where is Cortez?'
'You know the places in Cali,' Rouge snapped. 'If he's not there, I have no idea.'
'We'll see,' Charlotte said, sure that the TFV would torture him for the truth and not caring a bit - not after what Cortez's people had done to her. 'What about New York? Where's the coven's local nest?'
Charlotte nodded. He knew.
She stepped back, glanced at the terrified club kids, then turned to Omondi.
'Fucker's all yours, Sergeant,' she said. 'I figure you'll get it out of him.'
Rouge snarled, searching for his courage. 'He'll kill you for this!'
Charlotte laughed darkly, then spat on him.
'Cortez killed me a long time ago. '
Just past ten p.m. on the evening of the equinox, the night before Nikki's funeral, Octavian strode down the corridor of the Loews' twelfth floor with cold determination. He was unused to being summoned by anyone, and the idea that Metzger would have sent Song to fetch him instead of just walking down the hall and knocking on the door himself tonight - of all nights - made him bristle. It wasn't the sort of thing he would normally have taken as an insult. Truth be told, he didn't care enough about the opinions of others to be insulted by much. But tonight, he had too many ghosts in his head and it made him brittle.
Late this afternoon, he had used magic to make the past come alive, so that he and Allison and Kuromaku could bear witness as Cortez murdered Nikki. The vampire had been in shadow and they'd barely been able to make out his face, so Octavian couldn't be sure if this was the vampire he had met long ago, the one who claimed to be the historical Cortez. Not that it mattered. The past had no significance. Only what came next was important.
They had learned nothing of value. Allison thought that Octavian had chosen to torture himself as punishment, that he blamed himself for Nikki's death. And he would not argue. But at least they had a vague impression of Cortez's appearance, and they would know his voice if they heard it again. That was something.
Allison, Octavian, and Kuromaku had remained together for hours, discussing the best uses of their talents and those of the others Octavian believed would be willing to help. Many would be called to aid them, because the incursion in Saint-Denis would not be the last one. They needed to start considering longer-term solutions, ways to rebuild the dimensional defenses. One of those options would mean searching for the Gospel of Shadows, but that was something Octavian did not want to think about yet. He hoped there was another way to keep the horrors from slipping back into the world.
Inhuman horrors, at least. The human ones had never left.
Charlotte had gone off to New York with a TFV strike team led by Sergeant Omondi, trying to get a lead on Cortez's location. He'd been on the east coast long enough to kill Nikki, and might still be local. Kuromaku was handling calls from old friends who were arriving for the funeral. Meanwhile, Allison had begun to make arrangements for the three of them to begin their own hunt for Cortez. Whatever Charlotte learned from the TFV she would bring back to them, and then they would tear apart the loose community of rogue vampires in order to get to Cortez's coven and finally to Cortez. The killer knew Octavian would be coming; he'd ensured it by killing Nikki. There would be some kind of trap involved, but that was all right. Octavian could take care of himself, and when he couldn't, he had friends.
He arrived at the door to the hotel room that Metgzer had converted into a command center. Octavian rapped on the door and someone called an invitation from within, so he turned the handle and entered the foyer of the small suite. A Babel of voices and languages greeted him, along with the soft clatter of fingers tapping at computer keyboards.
Galleti sat on the edge of a chair, looking frustrated and displeased, and Octavian assumed she had been the one to call for him to come in. Now she looked as if she might regret it, but she only nodded in greeting. The transformed hotel room had lost all traces of its former identity. Chairs and phones and a large round table ringed with half a dozen laptops now filled it. The large, flatscreen television was on. Even with the volume muted there was no escaping the tragedy unfolding onscreen, the horror of Saint-Denis.
Metzger stood over a dark-suited woman who sat at a laptop, both of them clearly alarmed by what they were seeing on the screen.
Octavian paused in the center of the room, awaiting Metzger's attention, but the commander was engrossed in his conversation with the dark-suited woman, discussing the inability of ordinary military forces to engage a demonic incursion of this size. One by one, the soldiers and civilian aides in the room fell silent, turning toward Octavian, feeling the quiet weight of his expectations.
At last Metzger blinked, becoming aware of the strange stillness in the room, and looked up from the woman's laptop. For a moment he and Octavian only stared grimly at one another.
'You'll be happy to know your friend, Charlotte, and my strike team have turned up a location in New York connected to Cortez.'
'Is Cortez there?' Octavian asked. 'In the city?'
'We're not talking about the city. It's upstate. They're on the way now and will report back. I've got State Police tactical units standing by to back them up. If there's any sign that Cortez is there-'
'Wait,' Octavian said.
Metzger frowned. 'Excuse me?'
'Put your team in place to observe. I can be there by noon tomorrow. Tell them to wait. If they go in and Cortez is there, he might get away. I can't risk that.'
'That's not your call,' Metzger said curtly. 'I said he was yours and I meant it. But we have no way of knowing if he's even there, and I'd say it's damned unlikely. We've got a lot of fires to put out right now. I'm not letting this one burn until you're ready to do something about it. Besides, Charlotte is with my people. They're loaded with Medusa toxin. On the off chance this guy is sitting there waiting for us, do you think she's going to let him skip? They'll bag and tag him and hold him for you. If he's there. Which logic says he's not.'
Octavian hesitated, thinking about Nikki's funeral. Thinking about what Cortez had done to her, and also what he had done to Charlotte. Anything could happen, of course. If Cortez spooked and ran before they could dose him with toxin . . .
He rolled it around in his mind, feeling eyes on him. Everyone in the room watched him, curious and wary.
'It is my call,' Octavian said at last. 'It's your team. Task Force Victor is yours. But if you give the order for them to go ahead and Cortez is there, and they lose him . . . I'll hold you responsible, Leon. You know I'm the best chance you have of getting this guy, exposing his coven and whatever his big plan is and exterminating them. You really don't think your people can do surveillance for twelve, fourteen hours, until I can be there?'
Metzger fumed for a moment. Then he cleared his throat and gestured for the woman seated at the laptop in front of him to rise.
'Go,' Metzger said, glancing up at the rest of his team. 'Give us the room, please.'
The staff seemed surprised. They were clearly performing certain vital duties, though the real battles were taking place a continent away. For Metzger to dismiss them in the midst of their work was foolish. All of that, just to save face?
'If you wanted a private chat, you could've just come to see me,' Octavian said. 'You're inconveniencing a lot of people to save yourself the trouble of walking down the hall and knocking on my door.'
Metzger waited for everyone to clear out, not speaking until, at last, the door clicked shut, leaving just the two of them and the hum of the laptops in the room.
Then the commander furrowed his brow and glared at Octavian.
'What the fuck are you still doing here?'
Octavian cocked his head and gave a little laugh, restraining himself. 'Excuse me?'
'You have my sympathies, Peter, but I'm done pretending this is anything less than a callous indulgence on your part.'
'Look, if Cortez is there and he tries to leave, the strike team will-'
Metzger threw up his hands. 'Christ, I'm not talking about Cortez! I'm talking about demonic incursions. I know you want to put Nikki to rest, but you could have postponed the funeral until this is all over. That should've been the first thing you did when I told you what was happening in France. Do you have any idea how many people have been killed? Never mind the ruin of homes and businesses and parts of French history. And you're just fucking brooding.'
Octavian shook, his skin prickling with the power that rippled through him.
'You're pissed. I get it. What are you going to do, kill me?' Metzger went on, pointing to Octavian's hands. 'Blow me through the wall? Burn a hole through me? Turn me into a goddamn toad?'
Octavian looked down at his hands, clenched and unclenched his fists, unable to draw back the dark, gold-black magic that crackled and sparked around them.
'I want to kill Cortez.'
Metzger threw up his hands. 'And yet here you are! Stewing in a hotel room. People are dying. Somewhere this Cortez asshole is laughing at you. We both know that's why he killed her, just to piss you off. He wanted to poke the bear. But what does he get in return? Nothing. A statue, sitting in a room. You might as well be made of stone, the middle of a fountain somewhere, birds shitting on your head, for all the good you're doing the world right now.'
'The world is not my problem!' Octavian roared, roiling the air with power that cracked the television and knocked two laptops off the table, sending papers flying everywhere.
'It's still your world. The only one you've got,' Metzger said, ignoring the destruction.
'Don't tell me how to grieve, Commander. Don't you presume-'
'I didn't know your lady, but I'm betting she'd be feeling sick right about now. Probably turn over in her grave if she knew what you were letting happen in Europe.'
A chill went through Octavian and an icy numbness came over him. The magic buzzing around his fists diminished and he exhaled. How had his life come to this? Why did this weight sit so squarely upon his shoulders?
'We've been through this,' he said. 'I've put in the calls. You've got mages on site in France, people I trust, not to mention fucking armies. I'm not the only man in the world who can do something about this.'
Metzger lowered his voice. 'Maybe not, but you're the guy we need.'
Octavian shook his head and turned to leave. 'There's no funeral mass. Just a graveside blessing and a burial at half past eight tomorrow morning. I don't want anyone to die, but I won't bear the responsibility for them when you've got the French army, UN Security Forces, and Task Force Victor on site, plus two very capable sorcerers.'
'After which, you go hunting for Cortez.'
Feeling deflated, Octavian turned to face him again. 'I'm not a monster, Commander. I'm gathering my own people, Shadows and otherwise. The funeral will be over in twelve hours, probably less. The second it's done I'll send more help to Saint-Denis, and if they're not enough, and if we don't find Cortez in this nest in New York, then yes, I will put off joining the hunt for him long enough to go and try to handle the incursion myself. But it shouldn't have to come to that. You have all the tools to deal with this incursion. Do your job. The French will love you like you're Clint Eastwood. Maybe you'll get a medal.'
'It's not just France,' Metzger said.
Octavian froze in mid-turn. 'Excuse me?'
Metzger frowned. 'You didn't know? I thought Allison would have told you. There's another incursion, this time in Italy.'
'Siena. The basilica there, just like in Saint-Denis,' Metzger said. 'We're sending local law enforcement to check on every cathedral and basilica in Europe and putting out warnings to the rest of the world as well.'
Something niggled at the back of Octavian's mind. 'You think it's as simple as that? We've got incursions coming through major churches, okay. But why these two? They've got to have something else in common. If it was just that they're churches, I think we'd have a hell of a lot more of this happening.'
Metzger nodded. 'Of course I've got people looking into that.'
Octavian didn't reply. He narrowed his eyes, thinking, sifting through what he knew of Siena and Saint-Denis, of the basilicas there. There had to be something more. The demons they were dealing with weren't going to choose churches just to make a point. These were monstrous evils that hibernated or thrived in a thousand hells in realities parallel to this one; most of them were possessed of little more than savage intelligence. Even the smart ones weren't going to do anything for dramatic effect. They were full of hunger or hatred or both, all base desires. All they wanted was to break through. With the wakening of Navalica, they would have become aware that the human world's defenses were failing and they would have sought the weakest part of the barriers to force their way through. They-
He looked up, staring at Metzger. 'I've got it.'
'Well give it to me, then.'
'The Gospel of Shadows is lost, but I spent centuries studying it. The Vatican sorcerers who created the barriers against the supernatural, who banished those things from the world . . . what they did was like weaving, and there had to be someplace to tie the knot.'
'What the hell-'
Octavian hushed him with a wave. 'Better yet, think of them like gates. You build a fence, you always have a gate. And gates need locks. The places where the Vatican sorcerers cast their defense spells were the places where you'd find these locks. But it's been so long since anyone was paying attention to them that they're rusty. The locks. The hinges. The gates themselves. Those are going to be the weakest spots, now. And if you want to crash through, that's where you're going to try first.'
Metzger nodded, processing the information. 'You're saying the basilicas - or cathedrals or whatever - they're the places the spells were done way back when? The rusty gates?'
'Not the cathedrals,' Octavian said. 'It's the crypts.'
'The head of Saint Catherine is buried in a crypt in Siena. The head of Saint Denis is in that basilica in France.' Octavian looked up. 'I don't remember all of them, but you find saints known to have been beheaded. Those are the Vatican sorcerers' gates. You want to figure out where the demons are going to come through next, you locate the graves of headless saints.'