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"What do you have for me?"

"A large group of strangers came to the mountains. They didn't use the pass or the sea. They came on the railroad tracks on foot. They passed a small village not too far from here." Hibla passed me a photograph. The body of a young man lying on his back stared at me with empty eyes. A bright red hole gaped where his stomach used to be, his flesh gouged out by claws and teeth. They'd fed on him. The second picture showed a close-up of his face. Purple blisters marked his features. I'd seen them before on Ivanna's face.

I held up the photograph and showed it to Hibla.

"The villagers said the bigger ones spit acid."

"What do you mean?"

Hibla shrugged. "We don't know. There were only six survivors. They had killed forty people and eaten most of them. I saw these marks on Ivanna."

"I saw them, too," I said.

"If she was attacked, why didn't she say anything?"

"Unless she was attacked by her own kind," Curran said.

I pulled a piece of paper out and began writing. "The first time I saw Ivanna was before dinner, when Radomil and Gerardo had a fight in the hallway. She saw Doolittle examining Desandra and she was upset."

I wrote it down and drew an arrow down. "Desandra was attacked." I drew another arrow.

"Meeting between the packs," Curran said.

I added it and drew another arrow. "Doolittle is attacked. Next morning Ivanna has purple blisters."

"If I were a lamassu, and assuming that one of Desandra's babies is a lamassu," Curran said, "knowing that a medic is examining her would make me nervous."

"One of Desandra's children is one of those things?" Hibla's eyes narrowed.

"Probably," Curran told her.

"Suppose Ivanna is a lamassu," I said. "She sees Doolittle take the blood. She knows that there is a chance he will discover that a child is a lamassu, and that will blow their pack's cover. She panics and tries to have her killed. Except someone in her pack, either Radomil or more likely Vitaliy, takes exception to that. The attack failed, they're down a shapeshifter, and they still want the child to be born, because they want the mountain pass."

"Of course they want the pass," Curran said. "They glide. Mountains give them a huge advantage. Vitaliy spits on her as a punishment and then decides to destroy the evidence Doolittle had collected instead."

"Doolittle said they smashed his equipment." It wasn't bad reasoning: no need to kill Desandra when you can just destroy the blood. "They also were the only pack that reacted when I asked for the blood test. The Italians and Kral wouldn't give me the time of day either, but the Volkodavi looked worried."

"But why do they eat people?" Hibla asked.

"It lets them grow bigger and sprout wings," Curran told her. I had brought him up to speed on the whole lamassu story. "There are likely a large number of them hiding out nearby. If the birth doesn't work out in their favor, everyone can storm the castle. That's how I would do it."

"I can arrest them," Hibla said.

"We don't have any evidence," I told her. "Besides, Desandra is still pregnant. Once a baby is born, it will be undeniable. We don't know it's them; we suspect. We have to watch them. Tonight at dinner, for example."

Hibla's face turned solemn. "This is why I came. Lord Megobari asked me to find out about the medmage's health and to ask if you would join him for dinner tonight outside the castle. Alone."

"No." Curran said.

Hibla took a step back.



"Tell Lord Megobari I'll be there."

Curran crossed his arms.

"I will pass on your message." Hibla turned and fled out of the room.

"No," Curran said. "You're not going."

"Are you ordering me not to go?"

"I can't order you to do anything. Nor would I try. You want to go alone to have dinner with a guy who killed your stepfather, who serves your father, and who gets a hard-on when you beat the shit out of him. How is this a good idea?"

That's my psycho. Blunt but fair. "He brought us here. You and me and all of us. I want to know why. I think he will tell me, because he wants me to know how big, bad, and smart he is. We need to know what we're up against."

"He puts people in cages and keeps undead in his walls."

"What is he going to do that he hasn't had an opportunity to do already? Before you went to talk to Lorelei on the balcony, he told me that it was all for me. He made this entire meeting happen. Don't you want to know how he managed to get all these packs together and orchestrate this? Aren't you curious?"

The muscles on his jaw stood out. I won.

"Take Derek. Hugh will bring someone with him."

He took a step forward. I could take one, too. "No problem. I can even bring another person if you want."

"Derek is fine," Curran said.

"I'll be back tonight," I told him. "It will be okay. Don't worry."

* * *

At seven, Hibla came to get us. We followed her down the road to a narrow mountain path that led north, to a low mountain thrusting up like a dragon fang north of the castle. The western half of it had been blasted to make room for the railroad, and layers of rock thrust out of the sheer cliff. The path reached the mountain and turned into a paved sidewalk that dived into the mountain's forested side.

Trees rose on both sides of us, not wild growth but carefully cultivated greenery, cut back to please the eye. Every few feet there would be a stone step. Short feylantern torches glowed on both side of the path, with bright sparks of deluded fireflies dancing around them. Unlike the lavender feylanterns in the castle, these were yellow, a color mages in Atlanta fought for but couldn't achieve. Magic wrapped around us. Hugh went all out.

The path climbed up, turned, climbed up again, and turned again . . . We kept zigzagging up the mountain until finally we came to a small sitting area: a wooden bench with a table and some meat and bread under a wire hood.

"You and I will wait here," Hibla told Derek.

"If anything happens to her, you'll die first," Derek told her.

Well, that settled that.

I climbed farther up the path. The greenery parted and I saw a large table set under the trees. The trees on the west side had been sheared and an evening sea stretched before me, azure and beautiful, as the sun slowly set into its cool waters.

Hugh sat at the table. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt. Lord Death at his most casual.