DAVE'S FACE WAS THE FIRST THING I SAW when my eyes opened. He smiled.
"Hello, Cat. Are you hungry? Thirsty?"
"Thirsty," I rasped, downing the water he handed me. "Where are we?"
He took the glass back. "We're in South Dakota now, while everyone regroups."
A glance to my left showed bright light peeking through the heavy drapes.
"My God, what time is it?"
"About three o'clock. You lost a shitload of blood and had to be given two transfusions. Then Bones didn't want you to wake up and start to exhaust yourself, so he gave you some of those sleeping pills Don cooked up for you. You don't remember arguing with him about it and trying to spit them out?"
Not at all. I sat up, noticing I was no longer bloody and I was also wearing a clean T-shirt.
"Don's had a hell of a time these past several hours," Dave went on. "He's been pulling every string he has to confiscate footage of empty graves and shuffling dead people, and overall calming the media circus this thing has generated. Thankfully, the Canadian government doesn't want its people believing in zombies, either, so they're cooperating."
I groaned. I could just imagine how Don must be going nuts trying to cover this up.
"What's his angle?"
"They're using a cover story of a small earthquake and an avalanche that emptied some of the graves, but the tabloids are still going to have a field day. At least we were in a remote area-if this had happened in a big city, there'd be no lid Don could find that would be big enough to seal this nightmare up."
"An earthquake and an avalanche?That's what he's saying?"
Dave shrugged. "It's the best he could do on short notice, I guess. It explains the torn-up cemeteries somewhat. Then he's also saying some of the 'zombies' were shell-shocked survivors wearing filthy clothes and wandering around in a daze. You know how it is. People don't want to think what they saw was real. The average person goes through life much happier believing nothing supernatural exists."
"Where's Denise?" Poor Randy. He wouldn't have been involved in any of this if not for me.
"She's sleeping. Spade gave her a lesser version of your tranquilizer. Right now, sleep's the best thing for her."
"Dave…who else didn't make it?"
His face clouded. "You know about Randy. Zero's also gone, as well as Tick Tock…"
He went on, and every new name slammed into me. Some of them I knew, some of them I didn't. Still, they were each an irreplaceable loss. By the time Dave was finished, more than eighteen vampires and ghouls had been listed, a staggering loss. Four more humans had also been killed, in addition to Randy. Bones must be devastated.
"Where's Bones?" I asked, swinging my legs out of bed.
"Downstairs. But first, you might want to put on a pair of pants."
I looked down, seeing what I hadn't noticed while under the covers. "Oh. Sorry, I didn't realize…"
He smiled faintly. "You're like my sister, don't worry about it. And because I'm your friend, I don't mind telling you…brush your teeth. Your breath is scary."
Taking Dave's advice, I'd brushed my teeth, washed my face, and put on more clothes. My feet were bare, since I didn't bother looking for shoes. Dave escorted me to the closed doors of the drawing room and then left.
Bones came to me and I held him for a long time. Saying "I'm sorry" was so useless a comfort that I didn't even bother.
Ian was there, too. He hadn't showered or changed clothes since the battle, and he was shirtless with dirt and other things smeared over him.
"Would have been good of you to figure out the puzzle earlier, Reaper," he bitterly stated. "Not much help getting a bright idea after half our numbers are cut down."
I blinked, unprepared for his hostility. Bones didn't have any hesitation, and he had Ian by the throat before I could even formulate a response.
"Don't you say another accusing word to her or I'll lose the very thin hold I have on my temper," he growled. "If not for her, we'd all be dead right now, or did you forget that?"
Ian's turquoise gaze was blazing emerald.
"What I haven't forgotten is why we were all dragged into this war in the first place. It was all because of her! Her injury was repairable, Crispin, but you can't do anything about our friends lying in the other room, can you? How many more lives will be needed to avenge one woman's injured pride-"
Mencheres appeared out of nowhere, and not a moment too soon. There was a wrenching sound, a blur, and then Bones was thrown backward missing an arm. The scream I made drowned out Spade's shout as he arrived just in time to witness it.
Ian stared with stupefied amazement at the hand still clutched to his throat, the limb beginning to wither. I went to Bones, but he sidestepped me and strode right to Mencheres.
"Did you have a reason for preventing me from silencing that insult, Grandsire?"
Now my whole body tensed. If Bones and Mencheres went at it, all hell would break loose.
"You were going to tear Ian's head off," Mencheres answered. "You would have regretted it afterward, for many reasons, and I think we have already given Patra enough cause to celebrate without further reducing our numbers."
Ian appeared mildly dazed by recent events. He shook his head as if to clear it, then stared at me and Bones with a look of vague disbelief.
"By Christ, Crispin, I don't know what got into me," he breathed. "I had no cause to rail at you like that. Forgive me, both of you."
Bones started to run a hand through his hair, stopped when he saw his limb was only half grown back, and snorted incredulously.
"Two hundred and forty-seven years I've had that arm. Didn't think to lose it while trying to rip your head off. Bugger, I have to pull myself together."
"Now more than ever we all have to pull ourselves together," Mencheres agreed.
"Yes," Bones said, eyeing him in a way that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. "Especially you, Grandsire, because thismust end."
Vlad entered the room. He looked around, saw the staring contest between Bones and Mencheres, and took a seat.
"I know what you're thinking," Mencheres said with bleakness. "And I tell you, I cannot do it."
Bones was next to him in a flash. "The reality is that either you or she will be dead very soon. Whatever Patra meant to you, whatever secret dreams you've harbored of fate intervening at the last moment to make things right-you of all people know better. You told me never to doubt your visions, yet here you've lingered with the hope that you could be wrong. But you're not, so you must end this, because that is the responsibility you have to the people under your line and now also under mine."
I was confused. Mencheres didn't have Patra stuffed in a back room, to my knowledge, so how could he have the power to end this, as Bones was implying? Vlad leaned forward, picking up on my thought. "Don't you see, Cat? When Patra had you trapped in a lethal nightmare, who knew how to break it? Last night when the zombies attacked, who knew the only way to destroy them was to destroy their homing beacon? Mencheres. So if he knows these spells well enough to know what counters them…then he also has the knowledge to cast one himself."
One look at Mencheres's ashen face confirmed it, and then I was right in front of him as well.
"Youhave to. She's not going to stop! Do you want to see everyone around you dead? Because that's what will happen if you don't do something."
"And could you?" Mencheres flung at me. "If this were Bones we were talking about, could you mete out death to him? Could you sentence him so easily to the grave?"
He stopped, showing more naked feeling than I'd ever seen from him, and it hit me.He's still in love with her, even after everything she's done. Poor bastard.
I chose my words with care. "I don't pretend to know how hard this is on you, Mencheres, and if this were Bones, it would rip me apart inside, too. But"-I paused to look straight at the man I loved-"if you ever went so far off the deep end that you'd try-and succeed-in killing those I loved, and you made it very clear through countless examples that you wouldn't stop until I and everyone I cared about were dead, then yes. I'd kill you."
Bones stared back at me and a small smile touched his mouth. "That's my girl."
Then he fixed his gaze back on Mencheres. "I can't offer you any comfort in this but one, single thing: a quick death for Patra. She doesn't deserve it, and I'd promised to treat whoever plotted against my wife to a much more prolonged, gruesome experience, but for your sake I'll amend that. If you do what you must now."
Green blazed from Mencheres's eyes, and so much power crackled off him that I flinched. "Are you threatening me?"
Bones didn't even twitch. "I'm the co-ruler of your line and I'm stating my intentions toward an enemy who has butchered our people. You need to remember whose side you're on. Can't you see Patra has been betting her life on the notion that you're incapable of that?"
Mencheres didn't say anything. Every set of eyes in the room were trained on him. Then at last he stood, reining in that angry flash of power like a bird folding up its wings.
"So be it. Last night Patra unleashed the contents of the grave on us. Tonight, we will give her back its vengeance."