Blood Lines Chapter Nine


Those outside of political circles who thought about the Ontario government at all, thought only of Queen's Park, the massive red sandstone, copper-roofed building anchoring the north end of University Avenue. Although it was the building where the provincial parliament actually sat, the real work got done in the blocks of office towers to the east. At 25 Grosvenor Street, between Bay and Yonge, the Office of the Solicitor General was about as far east as the government went.

Vicki squinted up at the building with distaste. It wasn't that she disliked the pink concrete tower-even though from the east or west it looked like it had been extruded from a Play-Doh modern architecture toy set-it was just that the three extra blocks from Queen's Park, while not far enough to take transit, had been long enough for her right foot to find a puddle and get soaked.

'Toronto in October. Christ. Any mummy in its right mind would hop the first Air Egyptian flight home.’’ She sighed as she passed the sculpture outside the main entrance. It looked like a set of giant, aluminum prison bars, bent out of shape, and she'd never understood the symbolism.

Nodding at the special constable on duty at the information desk, she crossed the lobby to the cul de sac that held the elevators. Of the half dozen spotlights in the ceiling, only two were working, dropping the area into an amber-hued twilight. As far as Vicki was concerned, they might as well all have been off.

Some fair-haired wunderkind probably thought this up as a way of saving money-just before his monthly raise. She dragged her hand along the marble facing on the wall, across the stainless steel door, and finally to the plastic plate that held the call button. Let's hope they left the lights on inside the cars or I'll never know when one arrives.

They had. Although her eyes watered violently in the sudden glare, the reaction was preferable to groping her way into an elevator shaft. Besides, after a ten-block walk in pissing rain, she was already wet.

The Solicitor General's suite was on the eleventh floor and, as government offices went, bordered on palatial. Power colors and a conservative,'modern design were intended to both offend the least number of voters and impress the most. Vicki recognized symbolic decorating when she saw it and knew full well that behind closed doors on this floor and others, utilitarian cubicles carried the workload.

'Can I help?’’

The young woman at the desk served the same function as the decor-to impress and reassure. Vicki, who hated being pleasant to strangers, wouldn't have had her job for twice the money. ’’I hope so. My name is Nelson, I have an appointment with Mr. Zottie at one-thirty.’’ She checked her watch. ’’I'm a little early.’’

'No problem, Ms. Nelson. Please, go on in.’’

She's good, Vicki mused, passing through the indicated double doors. Even watching for it, I barely saw her check the list.

The woman at the inner desk, while still impressive, was not the least bit reassuring. ’’Mr. Zottie will see you in a moment, Ms. Nelson. Please, have a seat.’’

It was considerably more than a moment before the door to the Solicitor General's office opened. Vicki tried not to fidget while she waited. The weekend had passed as a non-event, their only leads unavailable. Each morning she'd tucked Henry in-unsure if she should worry that the dream continued or be grateful that it remained only a dream and he still showed no sign of seeking the sun-then went home and did laundry, a little grocery shopping, called her mother, and marked time. First thing this morning, she'd pulled a few strings to get this appointment.

'Ms. Nelson?’’ Solicitor General George Zottie was a not very tall, not very slim, middle-aged man with a ?full head of dark hair, heavy dark brows, and long dark eyelashes. ’’Sorry to keep you waiting.’’

He had the firm, quick handshake of someone who'd spent time out from behind a desk and Vicki, who despised politicians on principle, considered him to be one of the best. A combination of personal integrity and a sincere respect from the combined police forces he was responsible for had kept him in this top cabinet position for his last two terms of office. If the current government won the next election, which seemed certain, his third term was pretty much assured.

Vicki had met him three times while she'd been on the force, the last occasion only eight months before her failing eyesight forced her to quit. They'd spoken for a few moments after the presentation ceremony and that conversation had given Vicki the idea that had gotten her in to see him today;a plan to raise the profile of the police force in both elementary and high schools. In fact, it was such a good idea that she was half convinced to pursue it once the mummy threat had been taken care of. Provided, of course, that the good guys won.

That conversation would also give her a basis for judging his-stability? Reality? For judging how much of a hold the mummy already had. Or if it had any kind of a hold at all. Anything she found out today would help to arm Henry for Saturday night.

Following the Solicitor General into his office, she had a quick look around. With next to no peripheral vision she couldn't be subtle about it, but she figured he should be used to first time visitors rubbernecking. Unfortunately, if the mummy had been visiting, it had left no easily discernible signs. No bits of rotting bandage, no little piles of sand, not even a statue of the sphinx with a clock in its tummy.

'Now then,’’ he settled himself behind his desk and waved her into a chair, ’’about this proposal of yours?’’

Vicki pulled a pair of file folders out of her bag and handed him one. As she spoke she watched his eyes, his hands, his overall bearing, trying to spot some indication that he was being influenced, if not controlled, by a millennia-old wizard-priest. He didn't seem nervous. If anything, he seemed calmer than he had at the police reception where he'd spent the evening twitching at the collar of his jacket.

I suppose giving up your conscious will might calm you down, she allowed as she finished up the presentation. But then, so would cutting back the caffeine.

'Very interesting.’’ The Solicitor General nodded thoughtfully and made a quick notation across the top of the first page. Vicki's eyes weren't up to reading his reversed handwriting although she squinted down at it while he continued. ’’Have you discussed this with public relations?’’

'No, sir. I thought I'd try to get your support first.’’

'Well,’’ he stood and came around the desk, ’’I'll have a look at your written proposal and get back to you say, late next week?’’

'That would be fine, sir.’’ Vicki stood as well and slid her own copy back into her bag. Let's just hope we haven't all had our lives sucked out our noses by then. ’’Thank you for taking the time to listen.’’

'Always willing to listen to a good idea.’’ He paused at the door to smile up at her. ’’And that was a good idea. A little visible law and order at an early age might tarnish the appeal of petty crime. I'm very interested in raising the police profile in the province's schools.’’

'Yes, sir, I know.’’ She slipped past him. ’’That's why I'm here.’’

His smile broadened. ’’It was a pity you had to leave the force, Ms. Nelson, you were one of the best. How many citations was it? Two?

'No, sir. Three.’’

'Yes, good job. I can't imagine civilian life suits you as well.’’

'Not as well, no.’’ She adjusted her glasses and forced the corners of her mouth up. ’’But it's been? interesting.’’

'Glad to hear it.’’

Vicki let the closing door cut off her smile and, shrugging her bag onto her shoulder, she crossed the outer office, conscious of disapproving eyes on her back. Give it a break, lady, she thought upon safely reaching the reception area, before I forget which side I'm on and stuff my white hat up your nose.

The visit could pretty much be considered a wasted effort;if George Zottie was being controlled by the mummy, she couldn't see it. Which may mean nothing more than it's a subtle son of a bitch. God, what I wouldn't give for a nice simple divorce case right about now, one where you start out with a photograph of the bad guy?

The elevator chimed and she hurried to catch it before someone called it away. At first, she thought the man who pushed his way out as the doors opened was drunk, but an instant later she realized he was actually unwell. His skin had a grayish cast, sweat beaded his upper lip and forehead. One long-fingered, exquisitely manicured hand crushed his cashmere overcoat toward his stomach, the other groped blindly at the air.

Vicki ducked under the moving arm and deftly guided him toward a chair. Fortunately he wasn't much larger than she was as, during the moment between standing and sitting, his entire weight came down on her shoulders. He murmured something in a language she didn't know, but as his looks placed his ethnic background in north Africa, Vicki assumed it was Arabic.

Recognizing his condition could be adding years to her estimate, she placed his age at somewhere between thirty and forty. His facial features were uninspiring-two eyes, a nose, and a rather thin-lipped mouth in the usual arrangement-but even sick and unfocused as he was, he had a perceptible force of personality.

Attempting to hold him steady, Vicki jerked around at an unfamiliar noise behind her and saw that the receptionist had just finished pulling back the thick maroon curtains that covered a wall of windows. With a convulsive shudder, the stranger fixed his gaze on the view-gray skies, the Coroner's Building, made of more pink extruded concrete, and a little farther on Police Headquarters-and seemed to relax.

Frowning, Vicki let the receptionist adroitly take her place as ministering angel. As far as she could see, there wasn't anything especially comforting out the? Then she had it. ’’He's claustrophobic, isn't he?’’

'Very.’’ The young woman had undone the top two buttons of the overcoat. ’’The elevator is sheer terror for him.’’

'Yet he still uses it?’’

'He's very brave.’’ Her expression grew slightly misty.

'That will be enough, Ms. Evans.’’ The older woman from the inner office advanced purposefully across the dark gray carpet, lowered brows demanding to know what Vicki was doing so close to such an important visitor. ’’Please, Mr. Tawfik, allow me.’’

Vicki left before she threw up. Although, she mused, as she rode down in an elevator that suddenly seemed a lot smaller than it had, if this thing causes that violent a reaction and he keeps using it, he is very brave. Or moderately masochistic. While she had no idea of what sort of diplomatic position the stranger held, she wasn't surprised at the reactions he'd evoked. Something about him, in spite of his condition, reminded her of Henry.

'Is there anything I can get you, Mr. Tawfik.’’

'No. Thank you.’’ Keeping his gaze firmly locked on the window and the space beyond it, he forced his breathing to calm. Gradually his heartbeat slowed and the spasms that twisted his gut into knots eased and finally stopped. He pulled a linen handkerchief from the pocket of his suit, fingers still slightly trembling, and wiped the sweat from his face.

Then he frowned at the two women hovering an arm's length away. ’’There was a third?’’

'Merely a visitor, Mr. Tawfik. No one for you to concern yourself about.’’

'I shall be the judge of that.’’ Even in his distress her ka had held a certain familiarity. A flavor he had not quite been able to identify. ’’Her name?’’

'Nelson,’’ the younger woman offered. ’’Victoria Nelson. Mr. Zottie knew her from when she was on the police force.’’

No. Her name meant nothing to him. But he couldn't shake the feeling that he had touched her ka before.

'May I inform Mr. Zottie that you've arrived?’’

'You may.’’ He had made it very clear, right from the beginning, that the Solicitor General was not to be called until he had completely recovered. Control must come from strength and a personal weakness would weaken the whole. The women of this culture were trained to nurture weakness, not despise it, and, while in theory he disapproved, he would, in practice, use the attitude. By the time George Zottie had hurried out to the reception area, anxious to escort his newest adviser into the inner sanctum, he had all but recovered from the effects of the elevator. The mild nausea that remained could not be seen, so it did not matter.

Leading the way toward the double doors, he could feel the heat of the younger woman's gaze. She had created her desire from the merest brush across her ka, intended only to ensure her loyalty;he had not placed it there nor did he welcome it. If truth be told, he found the whole concept vaguely distasteful and had found it so for centuries before he'd been interred. The older woman had responded to a show of power-that he understood.

His plans for the Solicitor General had required a more thorough remaking.

Once they were alone inside the office with the doors tightly closed behind them, he held out his hand. Zottie, with remarkable grace for a man of his bulk, dropped to one knee and touched his lips to the knuckles. When he rose again, his expression had become almost beatifically calm.

The scribe-the press secretary-had given him the key to Zottie and fifteen hundred years of dealing with bureaucracy had enabled him to use it. He had gone to their first meeting with a spell of confusion ready on his palm. He had passed it through the ceremonial touching, activated it, and with it gained access to the ka. In the past, a man with this much power would have had powerful protections, would have most likely kept a wizard in his employ solely to prevent exactly this sort of manipulation. At times, he still found it difficult to believe that it could be so easy.

There wasn't much of George Zottie left.

With Zottie, he could go one by one to the others he needed to build a base for his power but, with Zottie, that was no longer necessary;they would come to him.

'Has it been done?’’

'As you commanded.’’ The Solicitor General lifted a handwritten list off his desk and offered it with a slight bow. ’’These are the ones who will be in attendance. In spite of the short notice, most of those invited have agreed to come. Shall I reinvite the others?’’

'No. I can acquire them later.’’ He scanned the list. Only a few of the titles were familiar. That would not do.

'I need a man, an elderly man, one who has spent his life in government but not as a politician. One who knows not only the rules and regulations, but one who knows?’’ The first ka he had taken supplied a phrase and he smiled as he used it. ’’? where the bodies are buried.’’

'Then you need Brian Morton. There isn't anything or anyone around Queen's Park he doesn't know.’’

'Take me to him.’’

'? an unfortunate occurrence at Queen's Park this afternoon as senior official Brian Morton was found dead at his desk of a heart attack. Morton had been employed by the Ontario Government for forty-two years. Solicitor General George Zottie, in whose ministry Morton was serving at the time of his death, said that he had been an inspiration to younger men and that his knowledge and experience will be missed. Morton's widow expressed the belief that her husband had not been looking forward to his retirement in less than a year and, if given a choice, he would have preferred to die, as he did, with his boots on. Funeral services will be held Monday at Our Lady of the Redeemer Church in Scarborough.

And now, here's Elaine with the weather.’’

Vicki frowned and switched off the television. Reid Ellis and Dr. Rax had died of heart failure at the museum. The mummy had come from the museum. Brian Morton died of a heart attack while in the employ of the Solicitor General. She believed the mummy was using the Solicitor General to gain control of the police and build its own private army. Morton was an older man, his death could be coincidence. She didn't think so.

Henry thought the mummy might be feeding. It had been free for a week now;how often did it have to feed?

She pulled the papers for the last week off the ’’to be recycled’’ pile to the left of her desk and sat down on her weight bench to read them. Sudden deaths in public places? makes sense to check the tabloid first.

It took her less than ten minutes to find the first article. Two inches square on the bottom right-hand corner of page twenty-two, it would have been easy to miss except for the headline. ’’BOY DIES MYSTERIOUSLY ON SUBWAY.’’ The body had been removed from the University Subway line at Osgoode Station, Queen Street, and had been pronounced dead on arrival at Sick Children's Hospital. Cause of death, heart failure. Osgoode was three stops south of Museum. The date was October 20th. The time, nine forty-five. Only hours after Dr. Rax had died and everyone began declaring that the coffin was and always had been empty.

Vicki's hands closed into fists and her fingers punched through the newsprint. The boy had been twelve years old. Teeth clenched, she clipped the article, then slowly and methodically ripped the paper into a thousand tiny pieces.

It was almost three a.m. before she found the second death buried in a story about child care facilities under investigation. On Thursday, October 22nd, a three-year-old had plunged off the top of a play structure at the Sunnyview Co-op Daycare and, according to the autopsy, had been dead before hitting the ground. Only one long block along Bloor Street separated the Sunnyview Co-op Daycare from the museum.

Tuesday afternoon, after seeing Henry safely into the day and catching a few hours of sleep, Vicki stood with one hand resting on the chain link fence that surrounded the Daycare Center where the second child had died. Not much of a barrier, she thought, rubbing at a wire pebbled with rust. Not when you add a reanimated evil to all the other dangers of the city. Although the sky was gray and heavy with moisture, no rain fell and the playground seethed with small people. Here, half a dozen assaulted a tower made of wood and tires and rope while its four defenders shrieked defiance. There, two used the empty cement wading pool as the perfect racetrack. Here, one squatted in rapt contemplation of a puddle. There, three argued the rights of a slide. And through it all, in the spaces between the scenes where Vicki's limited vision couldn't take her, children ran and jumped and played.

There should be one more. She followed the fence up the driveway and, lips tight, entered the building.

'? all right, the death of a child under her care might drive the rest of the day out of her mind-I'll give her that, I've seen it happen before-but it's the way she didn't remember things, Henry. It just didn't ring true.’’

Henry looked up from the pair of clippings, his face expressionless. ’’So what do you think happened?’’

'She was in the playground, not ten feet from where the child fell. I think she saw it. I think she saw it and it wiped the memory from her mind, just like it did at the museum.’’

'By it you mean??’’

'The mummy, Henry.’’ Vicki finished stamping down another length of the living room and whirled around to start back. ’’I mean the goddamned mummy!’’

'Don't you think you're jumping to conclusions?’’ He asked the question as neutrally as he could, but even so, it brought her shoulders up and her brows down.

'What the hell do you mean?’’

'I mean, children die. For all sorts of reasons. It's sad and it's horrible, but it happens. I was the only one of my mother's children to make it out of early childhood.’’

'That was the fifteenth century!’’

'And in this century children have stopped dying?’’

She sighed and her shoulders dropped. ’’No. Of course not. But Henry?’’ A half dozen quick strides took her across the room to his chair where she dropped to her knees and laid her hands over his. ’’? these two were taken by the mummy. I know that. I don't know how I know it, but I know. Look, cops are trained to observe. We, they, do it all the time, everywhere. They may not consciously recognize everything they see or hear as important, but the subconscious is constantly filtering information until all the bits and pieces add up to a whole.’’ She tightened her grip and lifted her eyes to meet his. ’’I know the mummy took out these two kids.’’

He held her gaze until her eyes began to water. She felt naked, vulnerable-worth the price if he believed her.

'Perhaps,’’ Henry said thoughtfully at last, finally allowing her to look away, ’’there are those few who take observing one step further, who can see to the truth?’’

'Oh, Christ, Henry.’’ She retrieved the newspaper clippings and stood. ’’Don't give me any of that New Age metaphysical bullshit. It's training and practice, nothing more.’’

'If you wish.’’ Over the centuries he'd seen a number of things that ’’training and practice’’ couldn't have accounted for, but as he doubted Vicki would react well to a discussion of those experiences, he let it drop. ’’So if you're right about the mummy and the children,’’ he spread his hands, ’’what difference does it make? We're no closer to finding it.’’

'Wrong.’’ She jabbed the word into the air with a finger. ’’We know it's staying around the museum and Queen's Park. That gives us an area in which to concentrate a search. We know it's continuing to kill, not just to protect itself from discovery but for other reasons. Feeding, if you wish. We know it's killing children. And that,’’ she snarled, ’’gives us an incentive to find it and stop it. Quickly.’’

'Are you going to tell all this to the detective?’’

'To Celluci? No.’’ Vicki leaned her forehead against the glass and stared down at the city. She couldn't see a damned thing but darkness;since she'd entered Henry's building, the city might as well have disappeared. ’’It's my case now. This'll only upset him.’’

'Very considerate,’’ Henry said dryly. He saw a muscle in her cheek move and the corner of her mouth twitch up a fraction. Her inability to lie to herself was one of the traits he liked best about her. ’’What do you want me to do?’’

'Find it.’’

'How?’’

Vicki turned from the window and spread her arms. ’’We know what area to search. You're the hunter. I thought you got its scent from the coffin.’’

'Not one I could use.’’ The stink of terror and despair had all but obscured any physical signature. Henry hurriedly pushed the memory, and the shadows that flocked behind it, away. ’’I'm a vampire, Vicki. Not a bloodhound.’’

'Well, it's a magician. Can't you track power surges and stuff?’’

'If I am nearby when it happens, I'll sense it, yes, as I sensed the demonic summonings last spring. But,’’ he raised a cautioning hand, ’’if you'll remember, I couldn't track them back to their source either.’’

Vicki frowned and began to pace again. ’’Look,’’ she said after a moment, ’’would you know it if you saw it?’’

'Would I recognize a creature of ancient Egypt reanimated after being entombed alive for millennia? I think so.’’ He sighed. ’’You want me to stake out the area around the museum, don't you? Just in case it wanders by.’’

She stopped pacing and turned to face him. ’’Yes.’’

'If you're so sure it'll be at this party on Saturday night, why can't we wait until then?’’

'Because today's Tuesday, and in four days who knows how many more children may die.’’

Henry shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his leather overcoat and sat down on one of the wood and cement benches scattered out in front of the museum. A cold, damp wind skirted the building, dead leaves rising up and performing a dance macabre in the gusts and eddies. The occasional car appeared to be scurrying for cover, fragile contents barely barricaded against the night.

This wasn't going to work. The odds of him running into the mummy, even in Vicki's limited search area, because it just happened to be casting a spell as he wandered by were astronomical. He pulled a hand free and checked his watch. Three twelve. He'd still be able to get in a good three hours of writing if he went home now.

Then a wandering breeze brought a familiar scent. He stood and had anyone been watching it would have seemed he disappeared.

A lone figure walked east on Bloor, jacket collar turned up against the cold, chin and elbows tucked in tight, eyes half closed. Ignoring the red light at Queen's Park Road, he started across the intersection, following the silver plume of his breath.

'Good morning, Tony.’’

'Jesus Christ, man.’’ Tony scrambled to regain his footing as his purely instinctive sideways dive was jerked into a non-event by Henry's precautionary grip on his arm. ’’Don't do that!’’

'Sorry. You're out late.’’

'Nah, I'm out early. You're out late.’’ They reached the curb and Tony turned to peer at Henry's face. ’’You hunting?’’

'Not exactly. I'm waiting for a series of incredible coincidences to occur so I can be a hero.’’

'This Victory's idea?’’

Henry smiled at the younger man. ’’How could you tell?’’

'Are you kidding?’’ Tony snickered. ’’It has Victory written all over it. You've got to watch her, Henry. Give her a chance, give any cop a chance-or any ex-cop,’’ he amended, ’’and they'll try to run your life.’’

'My life?’’ Henry asked, allowing the civilized mask to slip a little.

Tony wet his lips, but he didn't back down. ’’Yeah,’’ he said huskily, ’’your life, too.’’

Henry played with the Hunger a little, allowing it to rise as he traced the line of jaw, then forcing it back down again as he admitted he had no real desire to feed. ’’You should get some sleep,’’ he suggested over the wild pounding of Tony's heart. ’’I think you've already had enough excitement for one night.’’

'Wha??’’

'I can smell him all over you.’’ Henry heard the blood rush up into Tony's face, saw the smooth curve of cheek flush darkly. ’’It's all right.’’ He smiled. ’’No one else can.’’

'He wasn't like you?’’

'I should certainly hope not.’’

'I mean, he wasn't? it wasn't? well, it was but? I mean?’’

'I know what you mean.’’ He made the smile a promise and held it until he saw that Tony understood. ’’I'd walk you home, but I have an assignment to complete.’’

'Yeah.’’ Tony sighed, tugged at his jeans, and began to walk away. A few paces down the road, he turned. ’’Hey, Henry. Those crazy ideas that Victory gets? Well, most times they turn out not to be so crazy after all.’’

It was Henry's turn to sigh as he spread his arms. ’’I'm still out here.’’

'? leave a message after the tone.’’

'Vicki? Celluci. It's four o'clock, Wednesday afternoon. One of the uniforms just told me they saw you poking around the drains behind the museum this morning. What the f*k do you think you're doing? You're looking for a mummy, not a goddamned Ninja Turtle.

'By the way, if you find anything-and I mean anything-and you don't immediately let me know, I'm going to kick your ass from here to Christmas.’’

The house and garden looked vaguely familiar, like a childhood memory too far in the past to put a name or a place to. Remaining a cautious distance away, she walked around to the back, knowing before she saw them that there'd be hollyhocks by the kitchen door, that the patio would be made of irregular gray flagstones, that the roses would be in bloom. It was sunny and warm and the lawn smelled like it had just been mowed-in fact, there against the garage was the old push lawn mower that she'd used every Monday evening on their handkerchief-sized lawn in Kingston.

The baseball glove she'd inherited from an older cousin lay by the back step, the lacing she'd repaired standing out against the battered leather in a way she didn't think it really had. Her fringed denim jacket, the last thing her father bought her before he left, swayed from the clothesline.

The garden seemed to go on forever. She began to explore, moving slowly at first, then faster and faster, suddenly aware that something followed close behind. She circled the house, raced up the front path, leapt up onto the porch, and came to a full stop with her hand on the doorknob.

’’No. ’’

It wanted her to go in.

The knob began to turn and her hand turned with it. She could see her reflection in the door's window. It had to be her reflection, although for a moment she thought she saw herself inside the house looking out.

Whatever had been following her in the garden came up onto the porch. She could feel the worn boards move under its tread and in the window she saw the reflected gleam of glowing red eyes.

’’No!’’

She dragged her fingers off the doorknob and, almost incapacitated by fear, forced herself to turn around.

Vicki shoved her glasses at her face and peered at the clock. Two forty-six.

'I don't have time for this,’’ she muttered, settling back against the pillows, heart still slamming against her ribs. In barely two hours she'd be heading over to Henry's which made sleep the priority of the moment. Although that incident at the museum had obviously spooked her more than she'd thought, dream analysis would just have to wait. She dropped her glasses back where they belonged, stretched up a long arm, and switched off the light. ’’I'm going to blacken the next set of glowing red eyes that wakes me up,’’ she promised her subconscious.

A few moments later, lying awake in the dark, she frowned. She hadn't thought of that jacket in years.

Thursday night, the house stood alone on a gray plain and the dream began by the front door. The compulsion to open it was too strong to resist and she walked in, closely followed. She caught just a glimpse of the contents of the first room when the light dimmed and she fought to hold it down.

It wanted to see what was in the house. Well, it could just take a flying f*k.

Although her head felt as if it had been slammed repeatedly between two large rocks, Vicki woke feeling smug.

She was giving him more of a fight than he'd anticipated. His lord would not be pleased. As she had no protecting gods, merely a strongly developed sense of self, the failure would be perceived as being his.

Akhekh did not tolerate failure and his punishments were such that anything became preferable to facing them.

He needed more power.

In spite of the cold and the damp, a Friday afternoon spent in the park beat the hell out of a Friday afternoon spent with the Riel Rebellion and grade ten chemistry. Brian tightened his grip across Louise's shoulders and turned her face up to meet his.

Now this is what I call getting an education! He thought as her lips parted and she flicked at his tongue with hers. I wonder if she'll let me slip my hand up under her? ouch. Guess not.

He opened his eyes, just to see what another person looked like from that angle, and frowned as he saw a well-dressed man watching them from no more than five feet away. Oh, great. A pervert. Or a cop. Maybe we should? we should?

'Brian?’’ Louise pulled back as he went limp. ’’Cut it out.’’ His head flopped forward onto her shoulder. ’’I mean it, Brian. You're scaring me. Brian? ’’Oh, my God.’’

He settled back on the bed, throwing the bags of feathers to the floor. Someday soon he'd have a proper headrest made.

It was eleven forty-three-this culture's preoccupation with the division of time into ridiculously small units never failed to amuse him-and she would be asleep by now, her ka at its most vulnerable. Tonight she would not be able to stand against him;he would throw all the power from the ka he had absorbed this afternoon at her defenses.

He closed his eyes and sent his ka forth, following the path his lord had laid out, entering through the image of his lord's eyes.

It was as if something held her elbow and walked her through the house, observing, discarding, searching. She couldn't shake free. She couldn't dim the lights.

She couldn't let it find what it needed.

Except she had no idea of what that was.

They climbed a staircase and started down a long corridor with a multitude of doors off to either side. As they reached for the knob of the second door, she saw the pencil lines and the dates, realized who waited within, and thought-or spoke, she wasn't sure-’’Not the third door, anything but the third door, ’’ and tried to push them forward.

It stopped her, turned her, walked her down the hall, and into the third room. When they came out, it moved her on. It never came back to the second room.

Obviously, it had never read Aesop's fables.

She managed to protect her mother, Celluci, and Henry. It found everything else.

Everything.

He knew how she would suffer. It would take a while to arrange, even with some of the necessary influences already in place, but his lord could not help but be pleased with the result.

* * *

'You don't look so good. Are you all right?’’

Vicki shifted her grip on the aluminum baseball bat and managed a smile. ’’I'm okay. I'm just a little tired.’’

'I'm sorry I haven't turned up any leads these last couple of nights but, to be honest, I never expected to.’’

'That's all right. It was a long shot. Henry?’’ She sat down on the edge of the bed and with one finger stroked the patch of red gold hair in the center of his chest. ’’?are you still dreaming?’’

Henry pulled the sheet aside to expose a ragged clutch of multiple holes in the mattress. ’’I drove my fingers through here this morning,’’ he said dryly. He flicked the sheet back, then covered her hand with his. ’’If I hadn't caught a hint of your scent on the pillow, I don't know how much more damage I might have done.’’ She looked away and he decided not to say the rest, not to tell her that she gave him reason to hold onto his sanity. Instead, he asked, ’’Why?’’

'I just wondered if they were getting worse.’’

'They haven't changed. You getting tired of standing guard?’’

'No. I just?’’ She couldn't tell him. The dream had seemed so important while it was going on, but now, faced with Henry's basic terror, it seemed stupidly abstract and meaningless.

'You just?’’ Henry prodded, knowing full well from her expression that she wasn't going to tell him.

'Nothing.’’

'Look at the bright side.’’ He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the scars on the inside of her wrist. ’’Tonight's the night of the party. One way or another, something's bound to?’’

'? happen.’’ Vicki drew her hand away and straightened Henry's arm. Sliding her glasses back up her nose, she leaned the bat against the end of the bed. ’’One way or another.’’

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