“Impossible.” Janx was at Margrit’s side somehow, his transition from the foyer to Chelsea’s apartment gone unnoticed. “This is impossible.”
Margrit backed away, rattling what was left of the curtain, and fell over toppled bookshelves on its other side. Tears she hadn’t noticed beginning to fall scalded her cheeks and blurred her vision as she climbed to her feet again. “Looks pretty fucking possible to me.” She didn’t recognize her own voice, strained with disbelief and pain. Swiping a hand across her eyes, she crawled back over the bookcases. “Get out of there, Janx. Don’t touch anything.”
His shadow against the beads said he wasn’t listening, that he’d knelt by Chelsea’s body. Margrit could still hear his murmurs of denial, though unlike her, he seemed to have no rage, only bewilderment.
Alban caught her as she stumbled over the last of the bookshelves. She made a fist and pounded it against his chest, silent, useless expression of misery, then ground her teeth against tears and took her cell phone from her pocket.
Margrit lifted a finger, silencing the gargoyle, and whispered a tortured, “Cam,” when her housemate picked up the phone. “This is Margrit. Is Cole home?”
“Yeah? Grit, are you okay? You sound—”
“I need you to do something for me.” Margrit’s heart pounded hard enough to make her body sick. Tremors shot over her skin and her stomach twisted, heaves making her dizzy. Her vision had filmed again. She tried to blink tears away unsuccessfully: new ones rose to replace those that fell. “I need you to go get on a train to my parents’ house right now. If it’s too late for a train, take a taxi. I’ll pay you back. I just need you to do it right now, with no questions.”
“What the hell—?”
“Somebody’s dead who shouldn’t be, Cam, and I want to make sure you stay safe.” Margrit closed her eyes, tears burning her face. Cole would never get beyond this, never find a way to trust or accept the Old Races, not with a phone call like this in the middle of the night. “It’s the only way I can know you’re safe. Please, Cameron. This is really important.”
Cam was silent a few long seconds. “How long are we staying?”
“Until I call you again. Until tomorrow, at least. Do either of you work tomorrow?”
“No. We were going to go birthday shopping for you.”
“The best present you can possibly give me is to do this.” Margrit swallowed against nausea, then nearly laughed in relief as Cameron said, “All right. Okay, Grit. Are you going to tell us what’s going on later?”
“Yes. It’s just more important to get you to Mom and Dad’s right now. I’ll call as soon as I can.” She hung up and found both Alban and Kate watching her with uncertainty. “Daisani is not going to go after my mother,” she said softly. “No matter what else happens, he’s not going after her. He cares about her too much. He won’t go after her and I seriously doubt he’ll go after anybody under her roof.”
“Perhaps we should all take refuge there.” Janx, voice filled with cold fury, came across the fallen bookshelves as silently and gracefully as he’d done once before. He stalked past the trio in the ruined foyer and out the door, all rage and beauty as he disappeared down the street.
Kate stared after him, then turned back to Margrit and Alban with an expression of uncertainty.
“Go,” Alban said after a moment. “Family is—”
A too-familiar eruption shook the windows, the impact of air displacing as Janx transformed. Car alarms went off, and even Alban flinched before scooping Margrit into his arms and running for the door.
“Put me down! Put me down!” Margrit pounded on his shoulder as he sped toward the closest alley. Kate sprinted past as Alban slowed, and launched herself into the air barely a few feet into the safety of the alley’s darkness. Air exploded more softly, her form vastly smaller than her father’s, and moments later a second sinuous dragon beat its way past rooftops and into the city sky.
Alban rumbled in obvious frustration, then, to Margrit’s astonishment, cursed quietly and flung himself after Kate, transforming with a comparatively inaudible bamf as he strove for the rooftops.
“Alban! I have to call the cops, I have to—”
“You have a cell phone,” Alban said implacably. “Nothing is preventing you from calling.”
They broke above the roofs to the sound of shouts from below, people swearing about car alarms and the shotlike explosions of air. Margrit twisted to see if anyone was looking up and nearly fell from Alban’s arms, his grip not intended to hold someone writhing around. They both shouted with panic, Alban tucking his wings in preparation to dive after her if necessary. The beat of falling instead of striving upward brought them dangerously close to the rooftops again. Margrit knotted her arms around Alban’s neck and bit back a scream as he swore a second time and glided over a break between buildings, catching the updraft to work his way higher into the air.
Not until they were well above the skyline did he unclench his jaw enough to say, “Are you well?”
“No.” Margrit muffled her answer against his shoulder, willing her heartbeat to slow from its panicked rush. “I’ve never heard you swear before. I didn’t know you could.”
“Given sufficient cause, yes. There they are.”
Margrit, clinging to him, turned to catch a glimpse of Kate’s slim serpentine form hundreds of yards ahead of them, and losing ground to Janx’s much larger shape. It took only a glance to know where they were going. Margrit buried her face against Alban’s shoulder again and whispered, “Daisani’s penthouse. Don’t let me fall.”
The promise, which had in the past been sensual, was now simply grim. Margrit had never heard the gargoyle sound so severe, and remembered abruptly that the only reason she knew Chelsea Huo was that Alban had sent her to the bookseller as a place of safety and refuge for them to meet at. A burst of apology for asking him to stop, to not pursue Kate and Janx and the more distant Daisani, filled her. She hugged him hard, whispering, “Sorry,” into the lashing whiteness of his hair, then brought her phone back to her ear to call Tony.
He picked up with a groggy, bewildered, “Cameron?”
“No, sorry, this is Margrit. I’m borrowing Cam’s phone. Did I wake you up?”
“Grit.” Tony cleared his throat, and she could all but envision him rubbing his eyes, sitting up, kicking his legs over the side of the bed to plant his feet on the floor and putting an elbow on his knees so he could lean into his hand as he woke up. She’d seen him do it often enough in the years they’d been together. “It’s the middle of the night. What’s going on? Where are you? Sounds like a wind tunnel.”
“I’m…flying. Tony, Chelsea Huo is dead. Somebody needs to get over to her bookstore right away.”
“Che—The one who owns Huo’s On First?” The detective woke up fast. “Are you there?”
“And now you’re…?”
“On my way to Daisani’s apartment.”
“Why? Did he—?”
“I don’t know. I hope not. Can you get somebody to go to Chelsea’s bookstore? I’m sorry to call like this.”
“Margrit, you…” Whatever he wanted to say was eaten by professionalism as he sighed. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll take care of it. Is there any point in telling you to be careful?”
Margrit glanced toward the rapidly approaching apartment building. Daisani’s helicopter was knocked on its side and in flames, as though Janx had regarded it as a rival and dispatched it before entering the building. The fire showed that the rooftop access door hadn’t just been ripped off its hinges: the entire framework for it had been shattered, concrete blocks and steel lying in a shambles.
Kate reached the roof as Margrit watched, flying too fast to come in for a graceful landing. She rolled nose over tail, tumbling in a long, wing-tucked line, and came out of it as a human woman running at full tilt. She disappeared through the ruined door, and Alban put on a burst of speed, wings straining to race through the night and catch up with the unfolding drama.
“No,” Margrit said. “No, there really isn’t. I’ll call you later, Tony. Thanks.”
Alban backwinged a moment later, crashing down to the rooftop hard enough to jar Margrit. She squirmed free of his arms as he transformed, the rush of air temporarily overwhelming heat from the helicopter fire, which blazed with enthusiasm. The smell of aviation fuel corroded the air and she ran for the rooftop door, uncertain if the flame had already reached the fuel and not wanting to be on hand if it hadn’t. Alban was her pale shadow, though he overtook her inside the building by dint of simply springing over the railings as she took the stairs.
A flare of frustrated amusement hit her and she yelled, “Cheater!” after him as she swung around the turn of stairs, jumping down them with the railing as her own guide.
Seconds later, as Alban burst into the chaos of Daisani’s apartment in front of her, she thought it was just as well that he’d cheated. Even with his broad body protecting her, the heat in the flat was appalling. For the first time she wished she had an elemental form to change into, something that would protect her from inhuman extremes. As if hearing her thoughts, Alban flashed to his gargoyle shape, stony body blocking more of the heat and allowing her to gain some sense of what went on before her.
Daisani’s apartment, which had been lush and full of brightness earlier, was black and red with fire. The power no longer functioned, only the city glow and Janx’s flame lighting the room.
Dragon and vampire rolled together in a mass of kinetic energy, Janx’s tail and wings flicking out and smashing tall windows as their body weight flattened furniture and sent walls to shuddering. It was nearly impossible to see Daisani: he was a sliver of darkness in the dragon’s gold-tipped claws, so formless Margrit’s eyes slid off him as she tried to find edges upon which to focus.
Ursula, looking impossibly small and fragile against the roiling bodies, leapt on Janx’s shoulders and pounded on his neck with both fists, like a toddler throwing a fit. Her usual tidiness was disheveled, clothes torn, hair flying askew as Janx rolled again, letting go of Daisani with one foot to claw at the younger vampire riding him.
Daisani slipped free, a fluid wash of blackness. For a fraction of a second Margrit saw puncture wounds, but then he was moving, his presence nothing more than a blur of rage in the room. He ousted Ursula from her bronco ride, taking her place, and Janx contracted like a cat and flung himself upward. The ceiling fell in a rain of plaster and sparks, but Daisani leapt free with casual arrogance.
“Stop them!” Margrit’s scream was nearly inaudible even to her own ears, making her realize the sheer cacophony in the ruined apartment. Alban shot her an bewildered look, as if asking how, and she grabbed his arm to pull him around and make him look at her. An explosion erupted behind him and he collapsed over her, protective, as fire fell from above.
“Stop them?” Even Alban’s bellow against her skin was all but impossible to hear. “How?”
Impatience surged in her, sheerly human response. She wanted to shake the gargoyle, rattle sense and the obvious into him. “Attack them! Use your telepathy! Find out what the hell he’s hiding that’s worth all of this!”
The idea was appalling.
Margrit had suggested such a thing before, as astonishing then as it was now. Changes, changes everywhere, but to turn his people’s gift against another of the Old Races still ran deeply contrary to anything he’d ever considered. And yet, watching the two ancient rivals battle, Alban was unable to see another way to stop them. He could throw himself into the fray, but he would only add another dimension to the battle, give them a third target, rather than have any hope of calming them. Not with the rage that had driven Janx; not with whatever fear of discovery had forced Daisani’s hand. In the thousands of years that they had played their game, they had never, to his knowledge, taken the fight directly to one another.
But now Janx had nothing left to lose, and Daisani, it seemed, still did. Whether it was his empire or his secret, it was worth fighting for. Worth killing for, though Alban’s mind balked at the idea that Chelsea Huo was dead. Balked at the idea Eliseo could have taken her life. That anyone could have, but that Daisani would even try was almost beyond comprehension.
The vampire screamed as Alban stood frozen with indecision. His speed was phenomenal, but Janx had the knack of fighting such a rival. It wasn’t a matter of catching him, but anticipating him. Daisani’s blurred form had rushed one way; Janx had turned another, not as swiftly, but quickly enough, and the vampire had impaled himself on gold-tipped claws. Blood now ran from those talons. Janx roared fire, melting blood and gold alike as Daisani, weakened, thrust himself back and darted away.
Ursula, similarly, raced back into the fight, but this time Kate was in the way, tackling her sister. Her greater weight pinned Ursula, and incomprehensible arguments broke through the flame and ruin. That was something: a small something. The twins, at least, would probably not lose their lives in Janx and Daisani’s battle.
Clarity, like metal striking stone, rang through Alban at that thought. Short of extraordinary measures, the two combatants would kill each other, and for all their sins, the idea of a world without them was infinitely worse than the world with them in it.
Alban breathed, “Forgive me,” without knowing from whom he begged absolution, and for the first time in his life—for the first time in the history of his people—reached to create an uninvited bridge between minds and memories.
The world split in two.