Chapter six

Victor perked up a little when he said it and I could see surprise formin’ in his mind though his face didn’t change at all. My Dad was little more than a lower middle class factory hand, according to society, but he had a moral code yeh could bend iron around and an innate sense a’ good and evil that wavered for nothin’, not even the life a’ his son. Aris had taught me to see good and evil, true good and evil, but before that Dad had taught me to be good at any cost. His prejudices against halvers and vamps and weres didn’t come into it, not really. There were a lot a’ reasons why I was glad he and Mom hadn’t made me choose between them and the darkworld, mostly cause I loved them and didn’t want to lose them, but also cause I couldn’t have a better ally than Dad.

“Eastwick,” he said again. “I’ve been sellin’ silver to him for years. He’s been buyin’ more recently.”

“Akeinan,” Victor hissed. I recognized the elfish insult. “He’s hunting werewolves.”

“Huntin’ weres?” Dad frowned. “What for?”

“Were souls are easier to steal, especially in the moments after a were’s killed, and the wolf part tries to disentangle itself from the immortal human soul,” Victor said. “Damn. We didn’t notice—how did we not notice?”

“How can yeh be sure that’s what he’s doing?” Dad asked. “Surely the government would notice.”

Victor looked at me, and I said, “He’s huntin’ the wanderers.”

The first time a were doesn’t come home he’s reported by friends or family, assumin’ he has any left. The silver slingers will keep an eye out for him, but they ain’t lookin’ for him specifically. They’re lookin’ to make sure he doesn’t start attackin’ other people. After about a month, if there’s no reports of attacks or rise in the number a’ weres, which they keep a pretty close eye on, he’s written off. No missing persons file, no one lookin’ for him—he’s just gone. He might as well be dead. Eastwick could hunt and kill every wolf south a’ the river and no one would notice.

“We can’t let this go on,” I said. “If he’s orderin’ a lot a’ silver he must be huntin’ a lot, and not by himself, either. He must be hirin’ hunters. If we knew who he was hirin’—”

“We could what?” Victor asked. “Appeal to their humanity? Have them arrested?”

“Maybe I can do somethin’,” Dad said.

“Charles,” Mom said softly.

“Eastwick’s dangerous,” I said. “Don’t think I don’t realize how dangerous this is just cause I’m doing it anyway.”

“Don’t think I don’t realize just cause I offered to help,” Dad retorted. “My overseer had a brother who was a were, years ago. He was killed for bein’ a were and for nothin’ else, and I know James is still hurt about it. He’ll help me and be glad to do it, and he’s got no family left either, so I won’t feel bad about askin’. Is it true,” he continued, adressin’ Victor, “that moonstone mixed with silver stops the effect?”

Victor nodded.

“There yeh go, then. It’ll still be a bullet, I can’t do anything about that, but at least it won’t be silver. James and I can mix the moonstone in without anyone else knowin’ what we’re doing, but there’ll be at least twenty other people who coulda done it, so it ain’t as dangerous as it sounds,” he added to Mom.

“Won’t he complain to the company?” Pak asked.

“He’ll have to explain how he knows it’s been diluted,” Dad replied. “The company’ll insist he produce proof, cause diluting silver’s a serious accusation to a factory like ours. Chances are he’ll keep it quiet so no one suspects he’s huntin’ illegally.”

“Would a suspicion like that really matter to someone like him?” Victor asked doubtfully. Dad looked at him, and read in that look twenty years a’ bitterness and pain.

“It ain’t like that all over,” he said quietly. “There’s more people out there like James than you know—people who lost loved ones to illegal huntin’, people who’re still lookin’ for their were even after years, people who still look after them and love them cause it’s still their brother or sister or son or daughter. If it came out that Eastwick was huntin’ the lost weres there’d be a hell of a row, cause all those people would be thinkin’, maybe he killed someone I loved. He’ll try to keep it quiet.”

“He’ll try to find out who’s sabotaging him and stop them,” I said seriously. “He’ll be lookin’ for you.”

“Then yeh’d better get him quick, before he figures it out,” Dad replied. “I said I’d help you if I could and I ain’t going back on that now. Lilly?”

Mom put her arms around Aid a little tighter and nodded.

“We’re in it together, then,” I grinned. “Yeh see anything even a little suspicious, call me.”

“And if he comes here, if he attacks your home,” Paka added, “come straight down to the river, straight through the warehouses. We’ll be watching.”

“Let it not come to that,” Mom said.

“It won’t,” Aid replied confidently. “Tam is se hela kiram. But you should come down anyway. Suora can make the fire burn all different colors, and the stags are very friendly.”

Someday soon, I thought, I’m going to have to have a talk with Aid about when to keep his mouth firmly closed.

“He’s what?” Dad asked.

“You didn’t tell them?” Paka asked.

“Would you?” I replied. “No, don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question, and yes, I learned that word from Aris. We ain’t elves, Paka, or mermaids—maybe it means somethin’ to Terian, and to Marya, and to you, but not to me—not to us. I’m just human.”

“There’s no just about you,” Pak started to say, but I cut her off.

“We ain’t talkin’ about it.” I looked round the room, and met everyone’s eyes but Aid’s. “Not now. Maybe not ever. It ain’t important,” I added to my parents. “I do what’s gotta be done. That’s all.”

Chapter eight

I was silent for a minute, thinkin’. It was too early to warn him—chances were he wouldn’t come right out and ask how I knew Eastwick was rotten, but Chrian was a smart kid. He’d wonder.

“Is that all,” I said. “Yeh don’t have to worry about that. I s’pose yeh’ve been hearin’ complaints about how he’s a harsh grader.” Chrian nodded. “He ain’t harsh—he just plays favourites, that’s all, and what he favours is power. Yeh’re pretty powerful, yes?”

“I suppose,” Chrian said uncomfortably.

“Yeh s’pose,” I repeated. “Yeh oughta know by now.”

“I’m a powerful enough magician,” Chrian said, “I just don’t see that that makes me, you know, powerful. If it came to a fight between the two of us, for example, I could destroy you, easily, but so what? It would be much wiser to listen to you, even if I don’t like what you’re saying—especially if I don’t like what you’re saying.”

I grinned.

“Smart kid. This is somethin’ Aris told me, and it’s worth hearin’, so pay attention.”

“Aris,” Chrian said awkwardly. “That was your roommate before me, right?” I nodded. “I was—I mean, I’m sorry. That he—that he died. I heard it was—hard.”

“Yeah?” I scoffed, thinkin’ a’ the way people looked at me when I went to class. “What did people tell you? No, never mind, I don’t want to know, I can imagine. Like they’d know anything about it.” I paused, then said more gently, cause he was lookin’ scared, “Aris was the most worthwhile person I’ve ever met, but I don’t think anyone realized it. He was so—and they never—” I stopped. What was there to say? I still missed him, every moment, and not just for my own sake. He deserved more a’ the world, and it made me angry to hear the way people talked about him, even when they talked sympathetically. “Yeh said nothin’ wrong, Chrian. I appreciate your sympathy,” and it was true.

“So what did he say to you?” Chrian asked timidly after a moment a’ silence.

“We were talkin’ about power,” I said. “Aris couldn’t scrap for his life, and if I’d wanted to I could a’ beaten him, almost as easily as yeh could beat me, only I couldn’t a’ actually raised a hand against him to save my own life, cause he was worth too much. I told him what I had meant nothin’, really, and he said, ‘Not nothing, Tam. People tend to think that mere physical power means nothing, especially after you see other kinds, but it isn’t true. It does means something, in you especially. It means something very important to me.’”

“What did he mean?” Chrian asked. I laughed.

“We were sixteen years old at the time and we’d just been waylaid by a bunch a’ roughs out in our old neighbourhood, and I won the scrap. At that particular moment it meant he weren’t in the hospital with broken bones.”

Chrian was lookin’ at me with the wide-eyed surprise a’ someone who’s never lived in a gang neighbourhood.

“Did that happen often?”

“Not so much after I got to be about seventeen,” I replied casually. “They learned it was better to have me fightin’ with them than against them.”

Chrian nodded, and didn’t ask any more questions.

“Come talk to me after yeh’ve seen Eastwick,” I told him a little later. “I read him pretty well—I can tell you whether yeh’re in trouble or not.”

Chrian nodded, and thanked me, and not long after that we went to bed.

Morning classes went to about a half hour before twelve, then there was an hour break, then lunch was served in the cafeteria at twelve thirty. Chrian’s magic theory class was his last class before lunch, and then he’d have his meeting, and I knew he weren’t the kind a’ person to hang around in the caf or the student room or anywhere else while he was waitin’ for lunch, so soon’s my class was done I headed back to our dorm room, and was waitin’ there about twenty minutes before he came in, lookin’ thoughtful and apprehensive. He dropped his books neatly onto his desk and leaned against the wall.

I slipped the book a’ runes, which I’d been studyin’ in the meantime, under my pillow and asked how it went.

“Well, it wasn’t bad,” he replied. “But I have no idea what to think, or what to do.”

Eastwick’s a bastard, I thought. Tryin’ to recruit a kid like Chrian, alone in a strange city, dependent on grades to keep his scholarship. If Eastwick had appeared in our room right then I woulda put his head through the wall.

“So tell me what he said,” I said. Tell me the lies he’s usin’ to recruit students.

“He said he was looking for students to do an extracurricular project with him,” Chrian replied. “He said it wouldn’t show up in our grades, as such, but—I forget how he put it, but basically that we’d get a better grade in his class for doing it.”

And afterwards he could explain what it was yeh’d done, and yeh could either do a hell of a lot a’ jail time and be ruined for life, or yeh could continue to help him.

“Akeinan,” I hissed. Chrian looked at me oddly.

“You speak elfish?”

“No,” I replied. “I just know a couple words.” A couple swears I’d picked up from Orseth and Marya. “Do yeh think yeh’ll do it?”

“I don’t know. It seems like cheating, somehow.”

“Yeh heard much about Eastwick?”

“Not much,” the boy said. “Just that he’s—that he has favourites and that he’s not a nice person. But, on the other hand,” he added slowly, “I don’t want—I mean, if others are going to be doing it—”

“Yeh don’t want to be the only one who refused,” I finished for him. “C’mon, it’s time for lunch.”

Chrian picked up his books for afternoon classes and paused at the door.

“You seem upset.”

“Don’t like Eastwick,” I replied shortly. “Hurry it up—I’m famished.”

Chapter twelve

Friday evening I told Chrian I’d be gone all weekend, probably not back till sometime on Monday, or maybe late Sunday evening, and I left. I dropped in on my parents on the way to the river, since I had to go a fair ways west to hit the part a’ the river the GypCirc stayed at anyway, and after seein’ them and hearin’ what Dad had to report from the factory, which wasn’t much ‘cept that Eastwick had stopped orderin’ silver, I headed south. I left in time to get there about an hour before midnight.

I hit the north end a’ the warehouses about ten, and had gone on about a quarter of an hour after that when the curse hit me. I felt it settle between my shoulder blades, so cold it burned, and sink through my ribs into my heart. I stumbled, and fell to my hands and knees, and knelt there, gaspin’ for breath. The first thought that came into my head was, that bastard. He hit me in the back.

I was aware a’ someone comin’ up beside me, standin’ there, lookin’ down at me, then he knelt delicately beside me and leaned forward on one hand so he could whisper in my ear more conveniently.

“It’s no good, Thomas,” Eastwick hissed. His free hand strayed to my neck where the heat from his fingers burned like fire against skin like ice. He laughed softly. “It’s a pity you found Timothy’s soul before we did—what a powerful spell that would have made. But you shouldn’t have gone on meddling. You’ll never get to him. Even if you discover who it is, there’s nothing you can do about it.” He leaned closer, so close that the breath a’ his voice stirred the hair hangin’ down over my ear. I need a haircut, I thought. Needed a haircut. Now it’ll probably be the mortician who’ll give me one. “He’s protected by the most powerful force on earth. Human adoration.”

Then he was gone.

I stayed where I was on my hands and knees for another minute or so while the cold spread through my body and subsided, then struggled to my feet and stood there, swayin’, dizzy and sick to my stomach. For a few moments I seriously considered collapsin’ again and just layin’ there in the street, but a’ course there was always the possibility that if Eastwick knew I was after him the northsiders and Suora were in danger, and if he found out my dad worked at the factory he bought his silver from he might guess that one too. I put my hand against a warehouse wall to steady myself and staggered off.

Chapter twenty-four

Chrian was in our room, doing homework, and, as predicted, there was a stack a’ notes and assignments on my desk. He looked up when I came in and I could see barely concealed relief on his face.

“I heard you were sick,” he said. “It must have been bad.”

“Felt like I was dyin’,” I replied. Which I was. “This all for me?” indicatin’ the desk. Chrian nodded.

“Er came by to drop off the MT notes,” he said. “He seemed really worried about you—he said you never get sick.”

“Almost never,” I corrected. “Eastwick givin’ you any more trouble?”

“No,” Chrian said, but there was doubt in his voice. I sat down at my desk and said:

“Tell me.”

“He came to me and said the offer was open this semester and next semester, too. He wouldn’t—you know I’m a scholarship kid. You don’t think he’d give me bad grades to force me into this project, do you?” He paused, and smiled self-consciously. “It sounds paranoid, doesn’t it?”

“What would yeh do if he did?” I asked. Chrian stared at me.

“You’re serious,” he said.

“I really am,” I replied. Chrian continued to stare at me for a minute, then looked out the window and shifted uncomfortably.

“Er thinks you know more than you’re saying,” he said.

“Er’s a smart kid,” I replied. “Yeh didn’t answer my question.”

“Of course if he tried to blackmail me into doing it I wouldn’t,” Chrian said. “You didn’t answer my question either. Do you think he would?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I replied. “He wouldn’t hesitate on account a’ any moral scruples, I’m sure a’ that.”

Chrian shut his book and stared at me for a long time.

“If he’s that bad,” he said finally, “why don’t you report him? I know most governments will go out of their way to avoid tangling with sparks, but surely in this case they’d do something. After all he’s not a government spark—he’s not even very popular.”

“Ain’t that simple,” I replied briefly, swingin’ my depressingly full bookbag onto my shoulder. “I ain’t got proof, nothin’ any a’ the judges would be willin’ to accept, and I know Eastwick’s got powerful friends, even if they won’t publically acknowledge him. I gotta get started on the homework. I’ll see you later. Damn,” I added, puttin’ my hand into my pocket. “I left my cigarettes at home,” and realized a moment later I’d called the mansion home. They were sittin’ on the bedside table where Lawrence had dropped them after he took one.

“Wait,” Chrian said, “wait, Tam—are you just going to leave it like that?”

I paused in the doorway. More and more people are callin’ me Tam, I thought. Aris’d be happy. He always thought Tom was too commonplace.

“I ain’t leavin’ it,” I said. “One way or another Eastwick’ll be taken care of.” And I left.

I didn’t see Chrian at supper but Er saw me, and waved me over to his table. I passed Cor’s table on my way over and saw the jealous look in his eye. He would a’ given a lot to be friends with the sparks. I would a’ given a lot not to have to be, but I liked Er and I weren’t going to let Eastwick get to him. Not that there seemed much likelihood a’ that.

“So you’re back,” Er said when I sat down.

“Er was really concerned about you,” Kate said, laughing. “He thought it must be a pretty serious illness, since you’re never ill.”

“It was pretty serious,” I said lightly. “I nearly died.” Kate stopped laughing, which made me happy. I’d never liked her much.

“It was that bad?” Mare asked.

“It was,” I replied, “but yeh needn’t worry, I’m better now. I’ll be fine if I can get through all my make-up work. Eastwick really laid it on this week, didn’t he?”

“He cut breaks for the people who joined his project, I think,” Er said, watchin’ me carefully. I grinned.

“Told yeh it was unfair,” I said. Kate made a face. “Where’s Dev?”

“He joined the project,” Er replied. “I think he’s out now doing—whatever it is they’re doing.”

Bloody stupid idiot, I thought. I wonder how long it’ll take him to realize his mistake?

“What,” Kate said, mocking, “you have nothing to say about it?”

“Kate,” Er said angrily.

“Glad yeh told me,” I said. “I’d be gladder if yeh wanted to give the other names, but I can probably find them out for myself if yeh don’t.”

For the second time in one conversation Kate shut up. Er and Mare exchanged a look and Kate left.

“Do you want to tell us what’s going on?” Er said when she’d gone. I looked at him blankly and he said, “Come on, Tom, something’s obviously—fine. If you don’t want to talk about it then don’t. Do you really want a list of people on the project?”

“I wouldn’t say no,” I replied. “I gotta get back to work. You wouldn’t believe how much I have to make up.”

I stayed in the library that night till they kicked me out, and sat up in the hall outside our room for about an hour after that cause Chrian was asleep when I got back. I got up pretty early the next morning too, and worked all day, and still didn’t have everything done when I fell into bed that night. I tried, but I eventually had to give up from sheer exhaustion. Seemed like I spent most a’ Monday explainin’ to teachers why I didn’t have everything done yet, and most a’ them looked either angry or bored, but I did have one very satisfying moment when I walked into Eastwick’s class and he looked at me and twitched. It weren’t obvious to anyone who weren’t watchin’ closely for it, but a’ course I was and I saw it. He was angry and scared and it made me happier than I had any right to be. It didn’t last long, though.

Eastwick reacted to my sudden reappearance by embarkin’ on a campaign a’ subtle cruelty, not the sort a’ random bad-temper and fasher prejudice I’d faced before, but a deliberate attempt to break me. He did it with a commendable amount a’ care and concealment, too—when, two days later, I happened to be complainin’ to Er and Chrian they both said that they thought he’d eased up on me.

“One would almost think,” Er said lightly, when I assured them that this weren’t the case, “that he was trying to get rid of you.”

I still liked Er, and I understood his curiosity, but his attempts at pryin’ were startin’ to get on my nerves.

“He can try all he wants,” I said. “I’m afraid he’s stuck with me,” probably for the rest a’ his short life, I added to myself.

I remembered Sebas’ expression when I’d seen him, standin’ at the end a’ my bed, covered in blood. If Suora and Cornelius hadn’t been after him about the black market Sebas and Ly would a’ killed him over my curse.

The rest a’ the week was pretty uneventful, ‘cept for Eastwick slowly torturin’ me to death and Er did actually give me a list a’ names. He gave it to me without comment, too, and he’d stopped tryin’ to get me to say what was going on with Eastwick. He knew I was right, though. He and Chrian had seen and heard enough that they both knew I was right. It occurred to me at one point that he probably hadn’t just given up, that he was probably still tryin’ to find out what was going on and, not havin’ my knowledge, he’d probably get himself into trouble over it, and that I should probably do somethin’ about that, but I figured I’d have time enough to deal with it and I should talk to the GypCirc first, and then the events a’ the weekend put all those thoughts completely out a’ my head.

I’d actually been wishin’ for a quiet weekend, too. After nearly bein’ killed and all.

I got my make-up work done during the week but it was brutally hard, and late Friday evening I was not only caught up on what I’d missed but had made good inroads into my weekend homework, so I decided to take Saturday off and go home for a little while, ‘specially since almost the last thing my parents had said to me was that they wished I was home more often. Only, when I got home, there was nothin’ left a’ the house but a smoking hole in the ground with a few remnants a’ the wall still burnin’ around it.

Chapter twenty-five

I made it down to the river in record time that morning. I’d gone with the idea that Suora would be the best person to deal with a situation like this, but the first thing I saw when I came tearin’ up to the fire was my parents, sittin’ between Pak and Aid and bein’ served breakfast with the rest a’ the Circ. And then I spilled at least half a’ their breakfast on the ground in my rush to make sure they were ok.

“And that,” Dad commented, when I’d calmed down enough that he could shove me off, “is how we feel about you most a’ the time. It’s all right son—we ain’t hurt.”

“How?” I asked, and he pointed. I turned to look and saw Mrs. Theran on the other side a’ the fire, smokin’ a pipe with Suora. “So yeh are a seer,” I said thoughtlessly. “I wondered.”

Mrs. Theran took her pipe out a’ her mouth and smiled.

“Not much of one, boy,” she replied. “A day into the future’s about the most I can manage, and none of the big stuff, usually. I’ve only had two prophesies that could be ranked as serious prophesies, real big-time stuff. The first, just before I moved into your neighbourhood, and the second—last night.”

“Thank god and all his forces,” I breathed, and then I had to sit down, cause I was shakin’. Mom sat next to me and managed to hold me with one arm and eat with the other, and Pak brought me breakfast. Aid was so excited he was practically dancin’—my parents and I were the closest thing he’d ever had to a normal family and now we were all together, all the people he loved most in one spot. It only wanted Col to be complete.

It’d been almost two months since I’d seen Col. I’d missed the last full moon cause I was so busy with school.

“When’s the next full moon?” I asked.

“Why d’yeh want to know that?” Dad asked.

“Been a while since I’ve seen Col,” I replied. “Yeh remember—I told you about him.”

“The next full moon is this Thursday,” Victor replied, appearin’ by the fire. “We were thinking,” he added, to my parents, “that perhaps it would be best for you to stay here for a little while, if you don’t mind camping out. It might be safer.”

“We do not think you were attacked because of what you’ve done,” one a’ the mirror threes added. I looked at her carefully, and she looked at me with no expression, and I couldn’t for the life a’ me tell whether it was Aria or not. “We do not have any clear idea why you were attacked.”

“I know,” I said. “I think I know.”

“Seems more or less obvious to me,” Dad agreed, and I knew we were thinkin’ the same thing.

“Why?” Victor asked.

“Revenge,” Dad said. “It didn’t work for him to kill Tom, so he tried to kill us instead.”

“He’s tryin’ to scare me off,” I added.

“Or make yeh so mad that yeh do somethin’ stupid,” Mom agreed.

“So you are not the only one in your family with the ability to read people,” Ter said. He and Seki and Ella joined the group around the fire, and Pak served breakfast to them and Victor. Mom and Dad looked at them and then looked away in a way that meant they were tryin’ not to stare, and I realized they were seein’ the mer-elves for the first time.

“Mom, Dad,” I said, “Ter, Seki, Ella. These are the three I gave a piece a’ my soul to.” It was odd to say it like that, as though I were introducin’ friends from school or work. “I think Victor’s right—I think yeh should stay here.”

“I wouldn’t mind it,” Mom said, smilin’ at Aid. “Charles?”

“I can think a’ worse places to stay, and none better,” Dad said. “Course I’ll have to get in touch with the factory, and Lilly will have to call the daycare, and I imagine the police will want to talk to us—”

“They’re probably lookin’ for us now,” Mom added anxiously. “What’ll we tell them when they ask why we weren’t home?”

“They’ll know it was a spark fire,” Mrs. Theran said.

“They’ll want to know why a spark would have a grudge against you,” I added. “Damn Eastwick! We can’t get the police involved.”

“Tom!” Mom said angrily, and glanced at Aid. I would a’ loved to tell her that I was learnin’ elfish swears from him, but I didn’t quite dare.

“One thing at a time,” Dad said. “Buses don’t run down through the warehouses, do they?” I shook my head. “Then we’ll have to get time off work. What do yeh think, Lilly? Does this seem like a good vacation?”

Aid came tearin’ round the fire and threw his arms around Mom and shouted, “Oh, yes, please stay,” and Mom said it was good enough for her.

“We’ll both take our two weeks, then,” Dad said, “and I don’t think either the factory or the daycare will make any objections on account a’ we just had our house blasted. The government probably won’t want the fact that it’s a spark fire talked about, and I imagine, if we just tell them we don’t know why—which we don’t, not for sure—and keep tellin’ them that, they won’t pry any further. We can give Mrs. Theran’s address if they want to know how to get in touch with us, and Tom’s cell number too—”

“And that just leaves the question of how to explain why you weren’t in the house in the first place,” Mrs. Theran said. “You were with me.”

“All through the night?” I asked. “Your house is close enough that yeh woulda seen and heard the fire.”

“You were with me all night, because I was worried about Lilly’s health—she sometimes has a hard time sleeping alone, you know—but we weren’t at my house. I’d taken you elsewhere for reasons of my own.”

“So far no lies,” Victor said, and I could hear the amusement in his voice.

“And if they ask us where elsewhere is?” Dad asked.

“Refer them to me,” Mrs. Theran said. “You have the authority of an herbalist not to disclose exactly where you were. I’ll take care of the rest.”

“And they shouldn’t pry too much cause it ain’t a matter a’ establishin’ an alibi,” I said. “We already said—they’ll know it was a spark fire.”

“So when should we go back?” Dad asked. “Chances are the police are lookin’ for us now.”

“I went by the house on my way here,” I said. “There was no one there—no police, no gawkers, nothin’.”

“S’pose there wouldn’t be,” Dad said thoughtfully. “Nor round a spark fire. Not in a neighbourhood like ours.”

“But the police must be lookin’ for us,” Mom said. “Shouldn’t we head back?”

“Now?” Pak asked. “But you barely got any sleep.”

“No, Lilly’s right,” Mrs. Theran interrupted. “The sooner we go back and face the police the better. If we leave now it’s just possible Lilly and Charles will be back for dinner.”

“What about you?” I asked. “Surely yeh’re comin’ back with us.”

“Us?” Dad asked. I ignored him.

“No, I’m not,” Mrs. Theran said. “I’ll stay in my own house. To stall the police in case today is not enough for them.”

“Us?” Dad asked again, in a tone that told me if I ignored him again there’d be trouble.

“It ain’t like I’m going to come with you to the police station,” I said shortly. “I’ll just walk you into town and wait for you, and when yeh’re done I’ll walk you back. That’s all.”

“No,” Suora said.

“They ain’t going alone,” I growled.

“I’ll send someone with them,” Suora replied. “Someone who will be more use than you if Eastwick does try again.”

I would a’ loved to get mad but there was nothin’ I could say. Suora sent Aria—second time she sent Aria on an errand like this, I noticed. The mirror threes looked identical and they acted identical too, as far as I could tell, but I figured if Suora picked her twice I must be missin’ somethin’. We said good-bye and they left, and the way Aid watched them go was heartbreaking. Yeh could see he was hopin’, desperately, fearfully hopin’, that they’d come back safe and not cursed. I was mostly still angry that Suora hadn’t let me go with them.

I spent the whole day wanderin’ around the edge a’ the camp, smokin’ and snappin’ at anyone who came near me. I watched the distant edge a’ the warehouses restlessly and wouldn’t a’ bothered with lunch or dinner ‘cept Pak made me. No one tried to cheer me up, or lecture me on how I was bein’ stupid, although I knew I was. Marya laughed at me, and Aid came and played with me and I couldn’t be mad at him cause I could tell from the way he looked toward the warehouses that he was feelin’ a lot a’ what I was feelin’. And Suora sent Atir to the mansions again. I guess Thursday weren’t soon enough to tell Sebas what had happened.

Mom and Dad didn’t get back till almost dusk, and when they did they looked exhausted and on edge, but other than that they were fine. Aria told Suora in my hearing that Eastwick hadn’t been back into the warehouses or to my house—I mean, what was left of my house—and then she went to join her sisters. I found myself watchin’ her, almost unconsciously, and I noticed that she was left-handed though Anya and Ayla were right-handed. Not completely identical, then, I thought. I wonder how that happened.

Chapter twenty-six

Mom and Dad were all for going to bed right away, and Suora seemed to agree with them, but I told them the vamps were comin’ and they changed their minds. I’d fought with my parents a lot more over the GypCirc than over the northsiders. We were close enough to the Caves, and a’ course Dad was on the night shift, that vamps were somethin’ they were used to. It was too easy, seein’ them wanderin’ around at night, creepin’ into blood bars and never attackin’ anyone, to think a’ them as still human, just—bad human. Like drug addicts. Z had gone through his vampire phase, so I knew better, but I think Mom and Dad just thought a’ Sebas and his command as reformed addicts. I hadn’t told them about Azare and the river war, the real reason we were so desperate to take down the souls market, and I hadn’t told them about Cornelius either. I figured one thing at a time.

All in all I think it was a bit of a shock for them when Sebas and Lawrence showed up that night lookin’ so much less human than they’d expected. I saw them recoil, slightly, when the vamps came into the firelight, cold and cruel and pale and graceful as a nightmare, and felt bad that I hadn’t thought to warn them. I also hadn’t told them about Lawrence bitin’ me. There was no particular reason I kept it a secret, it just seemed—awkward. And I figured it wouldn’t exactly put Lawrence in their favour.

I put my hand in my pocket to get another cigarette and felt the paper with the list a’ college sparks who’d joined Eastwick’s project.

Lawrence and Sebas came and sat down by the fire, and Suora joined us.

“Atir was much less exasperating this time,” Sebas said pleasantly, “but he still wouldn’t tell us why we were being summoned. I wonder if you could break him of his habit of secrecy.”

“I fear that may be beyond even my power,” Suora sighed. “He is one of the most determinedly uncommunicative creatures I have ever met.”

“I assume it has something to do with the fact that the Canes are here,” Lawrence said. His tone surprised me. I’d expected him to be angry but he was more than that—he was furious. His voice didn’t betray it ‘cept for bein’ so calm.

“Eastwick destroyed their house,” Suora said briefly, and I knew she could tell how upset Lawrence was too.

“And you think it’s enough to keep them here?” Lawrence asked.

“He weren’t after them,” I interrupted. “He was after me. He won’t come huntin’ them.”

“He hates you more than we guessed,” Sebas said.

“It ain’t hate, I don’t think,” I replied. “Not strictly. He’s scared. His curse should a’ killed me, but I showed up in school healthy as ever. And there’s somethin’ I forgot to tell you cause I was dyin’.” I pulled out the list a’ names and told them how I’d gotten it, and how I’d convinced the best and brightest in the class to stay the hell away. All things considered Eastwick had good reason to hate me. For bein’ just a fasher I’d sure as hell gotten in his way a lot.

“And he knows that was you?” Sebas said when I’d finished. I shrugged.

“Probably. Who else would it be? I’ll tell you somethin’ else, too—if Eastwick ain’t careful Er will be onto him. He’s bright as hell, and less close-minded than I would a’ expected in a spark. And he ain’t got that ‘it’s none a’ my business’ attitude. He’s been tryin’ to get me to tell him what I know ever since I dropped the hint about Eastwick bein’ dirty.”

“Have you told him anything?” Suora asked. I shook my head.

“Trust a spark?” I said. “Just like that? Ain’t likely.”

“What about the woman who brought Tam’s parents down?” Lawrence asked. “What was her name? Mrs. Theran?”

“I have someone watching her house,” Suora replied. “She insisted on staying in town. I don’t think Eastwick is so impulsive that he’ll try anything, though.”

“He might if he guesses she’s a seer,” Sebas said thoughtfully.

“Which ain’t likely,” Dad said. “Lilly has been havin’ some trouble sleepin’, and it’s gotten worse since this started. She worries about Tam.”

“She’s not the only one,” Lawrence muttered. “One thing about being a vampire, you never have trouble sleeping. You,” he added, turnin’ to me accusatorily, “never introduced us.”

“You,” I replied, “are probably the only one who noticed. Mom, Dad, Sebas, Lawrence. Happy?”

“Very pleased to meet you,” Lawrence said, ignorin’ my sarcasm. “You probably would prefer to stay here, with Aid,” he added, “but if you should find yourself missing an actual bed, we do have some. They’re a little dusty, and the water runs intermittently, but you’re welcome to what we can offer.”

“That’s very kind a’ you,” Mom said politely, “but we wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.”

I laughed.

“It’s a mansion, Mom,” I said. “Safe to say it’s no trouble. But yeh will probably want to stay here. Vamp mansions are dead quiet and creepy durin’ the day.”

“Regrettably,” Lawrence sighed.

“Unavoidably,” Sebas murmured.

“I’m comin’ back with you, though,” I said.

“What? Why?” Lawrence asked.

“Cause I’m pissed off and tired a’ sittin’ around waitin’ for Eastwick to attack me again,” I snapped. “I want to go huntin’.”

“You think that’s a good idea?” Sebas asked.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” I replied. “I’m young and strong and the adrenaline kick from seein’ my parents’ house reduced to a smokin’ hole in the ground ain’t worn off yet.”

“That reminds me,” Suora said. “Korata was here. Again.”

I sighed.

“Should I be doing somethin’ about that?” I asked.

“Who’s Korata?” Mom asked.

“The elf who sealed Tam,” Suora replied. “No, Tam is not in any danger from him, provided,” and here she paused and looked at me very hard, “he doesn’t do anything stupid. Korata seems to be very taken with his bravery. Remember Korata is an elf, and Tam is just a boy.”

“Thought I’d gotten past the point a’ bein’ called a boy,” I muttered.

“Korata is nearly two hundred years old,” Suora said. “If you are determined to go hunting with the Stars you had better explain yourself to Aid. Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.”