We drove through open wrought-iron gates and into a brightly lit courtyard in front of the huge, hacienda-style, adobe house that served as home for the Tri-Cities' seethe. Warren pulled his battered truck behind a BMW in a circular drive that was already full of cars.

Last time I'd been here, I'd come with Stefan. He'd taken us by the back way into a smaller guest house tucked into the backyard. This time we walked right up to the front door of the main house and Warren rang the doorbell.

Ben sniffed the air nervously. "They're watching us." I smelled them, too.

"Yes." Of the three of us, Warren was visibly the least worried. He wasn't the kind of person to stew about things that hadn't happened yet.

It wasn't being watched that bothered me. What would happen if the vampires didn't believe me? If they believed that Stefan had really lost control, the way he remembered doing, they would execute him. Tonight. The vampires would not tolerate anyone who threatened the safety and secrecy of their seethe.

Not being a vampire, my word wouldn't be worth much here-they might not listen to me at all.

I'd never been certain how Stefan really felt about me. I'd been taught that vampires aren't capable of affection for anyone other than themselves. They might pretend to like you, but there would always be an ulterior motivation for their actions. But even if he wasn't my friend, I was his. If his death were my fault, because I didn't say or do something right... I just had to do everything right, had to make them listen to me.

The door opened wide, making a curious groaning noise. There was no one in the entry way.

"And cue the scary music," I said.

"They do seem to be pulling out all the stops," agreed Warren, "I wonder why they're trying so hard to intimidate you."

Ben had settled down a bit, probably because Warren was so calm. "Maybe they're scared of us."


I remembered the vampires I'd seen last time I was here and thought Ben was wrong. They hadn't been afraid of Samuel. I'd seen Stefan lift his VW Bus without a jack, and the seethe was chock-full of vampires. If they wanted to tear me apart they could, and there wouldn't be a damn thing Warren or Ben (if he felt like it) could do to stop it. They weren't afraid of us. Maybe they just liked to frighten people.

Warren must have thought the same thing because he said, "Nah, they're just playing with us."

We entered the house cautiously, Warren first, then me, and Ben took up the rear. I'd have been happier with Ben in front of me. He might be willing to take a bullet for Adam, but me, I was pretty sure, he'd have been just as happy to eat.

There was no one in the entryway, or the small sitting room it led into, so we continued down the hall. One side of the hall had three doors with arched tops, all closed, but the other side opened into a very large, airy room with a high ceiling and recessed lights. The walls were covered with brightly colored paintings, some of them spanning floor to ceiling. The walls were painted a soft yellow shade that made it feel bright and cheerful even though there were no windows.

The floor was made of dark clay tiles in a variety of reddish browns. Light, neutral-colored woven rugs were scattered about almost at random. Three couches and five comfy-looking chairs, all a rather startling shade of coral that somehow managed to blend into the rest of the southwestern feel, were set in a loose semicircle around a large wooden chair, that looked as though it ought to have been sitting in a gothic mansion, rather than surrounded by all the sunny colors of the room.

Warren had started down the hallway, but I didn't follow him. There was something about that chair...

The wood was dark, but the grain looked like oak to me. It was covered with carvings, from the lion-paw legs to the gargoyle crouched on the top of the tall back. Each of the legs had a ring of brass about a third of the way up. The arms were made entirely of brass wrought with delicate-appearing vines and small flowers and thorns. On the end of each arm, one of the thorns stuck up in a sharp point.

When I was almost close enough to touch the chair, I realized that I'd been sensing the presence of its magic even from the hallway-I just hadn't known what it was. To me, magic usually feels like a tingle, as if I am immersing my skin in sparkling water. This was a dull, bass thrum, as if someone were beating a very large drum while I plugged my ears so I could feel it, but not hear.

"Mercy?" asked Warren from the doorway. "I don't think that we're supposed to be exploring."

"Do you smell this?" asked Ben from the level of my knee. I looked down and saw that he was crouched on all fours with his head extended and slightly cocked. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. "There's old blood on that chair," he said.

I was going to ask him about it, but the first vampire entered. He was one I hadn't seen before. In life he'd been a medium-sized man, Irish, by the red hair. His movements were stiff and graceful at the same time, reminding me of the way a daddy longlegs moves. The vampire brushed past Warren and walked across the room without looking at any of us. He sat down on a small bench I hadn't noticed near the far wall.

The vampire's arrival seemed to answer any doubts Warren had, as he followed the vampire in and took proper bodyguard position to my right. Ben rose to his feet and stood just behind and to my left, so I was flanked by the werewolves.

Over the next few minutes the rest of the seats in the room filled up with vampires. None of them looked at us as they came in. I'd have thought it was an insult, except they didn't look at each other either.

I counted under my breath, fifteen vampires. They made an impressive showing, if only in the expense of their clothing. Silks, satins, brocades in all shades of the rainbow. One or two wore modern business suits, but most of them were in period costume, anything from medieval to the present.

Somehow I expected more dark colors, but I didn't see any black or gray. The werewolves and I were underdressed. Not that I cared.

I recognized the woman who had confiscated Samuel's cross the last time I'd been here when she came into the room. She sat in one of the coral chairs as if it had been a stool, her back upright like a Victorian lady in a tight corset, though she wore an aqua-colored silk dress with rows of beaded fringe from the nineteen twenties that seemed oddly frivolous for her stiff bearing. I looked for Lilly, the pianist, but she didn't appear.

My eyes swung past an old man with wisps of gray hair decorating his head. Unlike werewolves, vampires kept the appearance they had when they died. Even though he appeared ancient, I could be looking at the youngest vampire in the room.

I glanced at his face and realized that unlike the others in the room, he was watching me. He licked his lips and I took a step toward him before I managed to drop my gaze to the floor.

Werewolves might lock eyes for dominance purposes, but they couldn't take over your mind if you held their gaze.

Being a walker was supposed to keep that from happening, but I'd certainly felt the pull of his gaze.

A dark haired, young-seeming man with narrow shoulders had entered the room while I'd been playing peekaboo with the old man. Like Stefan, he was more human-seeming than most. It was his clothing more than his face that I remembered. If Andre wasn't wearing the same pirate shirt that he'd been in the night I'd met him, he was wearing its twin. Once he'd taken a seat in one of the plush chairs near the center of the room, he, unlike the other vampires, looked at me directly and smiled in a friendly fashion. I didn't know him well enough to know if he was friend or foe.

Before I could decide how to return his greeting, Marsilia, Mistress of the Mid-Columbia Seethe, came into the room. She wore a brilliant red, Spanish-style riding skirt with a frilly white blouse and a black shawl that suited her blond hair and dark eyes better than I'd have thought it would.

She walked with fluid grace, unlike the last time I'd seen her. Of all the vampires in the room, Marsilia was the only one who was beautiful. She took her time arranging her skirts before she sat down in the chair in the center of the semicircle. Her red skirts clashed badly with the chair's coral fabric. I don't know why that made me feel better.

She stared at us-no, at the werewolves, with an avid, almost hungry gaze. I remembered her with Samuel and wondered if she had a preference for werewolves. It had been because of a werewolf, Stefan had told me, that she'd been exiled from Italy. Vampires didn't have any rules against feeding from a werewolf, but the wolf she'd taken had been the property of a more powerful and higher-ranking vampire.

Ben and Warren, both, had the sense to keep their eyes averted from hers. It would have been instinctive to meet her gaze and try to stare her down, instinctive and disastrous.

Finally Marsilia's voice, deep and lightly accented, broke the silence. "Go and retrieve Stefan. Tell him his pet made it here and we are tired of waiting."

I couldn't tell who she was talking to, she was still staring at Warren-on whom she had gradually focused in preference to Ben-but Andre stood up and said, "He'll want to bring Daniel."

"Daniel is being punished. He cannot be brought out." The vampire who spoke sat directly on Marsilia's left. He wore a buff-colored, nineteenth-century businessman's suit, complete with pocket watch and blue-striped silk waistcoat. His moustache was striped like his waistcoat, though in brown and silver. He'd combed his hair back over a small balding spot on the top of his head.

Marsilia's mouth tightened. "Your aspirations to the contrary, I still rule here, Bernard. Andre, bring Daniel as well." She glanced around the room. "Estelle, go with him. Daniel might be difficult."

The middle-aged woman in her beaded flapper gown stood up abruptly as if someone had pulled on a string above her. As she moved, her beads made a soft chattering sound that reminded me of a rattlesnake. I couldn't remember them making any noise at all when she'd first come into the room.

Andre gave me a small, reassuring smile that no one else could see as he walked by. Estelle ignored us again as she passed. It was deliberate rudeness, I decided, though I preferred it to Marsilia's hungry gaze. I had to resist the urge to take a step forward and block her view of Warren.

If my errand hadn't been for Stefan, I'd have gone out and dragged in a few chairs for us, or maybe just sat on the floor; but I didn't want to antagonize anyone before Stefan was safe. So I just stood where I was and waited for him to arrive.

The minutes crawled by. I'm not very good at waiting, and had to fight not to fidget. I'd have thought that Ben would be worse than I, but neither he nor Warren seemed to have any problem staying still while we waited, not even under Marsilia's steady regard.

The wolves weren't as motionless as the vampires, though. None of the vampires bothered with the small touches that Stefan affected to make humans more at ease, like blinking or breathing.

One by one, as if Andre's leaving was some sort of signal, the vampires turned their gaze on me, their expressions blank. The only exceptions were Marsilia, and the vampire on her right, who appeared to be a boy of about fifteen-so I looked at them.

Marsilia watched Warren, occasionally flexing her long, highly decorated fingernails. The boy just stared off into space, swaying just a little. I wondered if he, like the musical Lilly, was damaged mentally. Then I realized he was swaying in time to the beat of my heart and took a quick step closer to Warren. The boy rocked a little faster.

By the time I heard movement in the hall behind us, he was swaying pretty quickly. Nothing like being prey in a room full of vampires to keep the heart racing merrily along.

I heard Stefan and his entourage coming well before they got to the room.

Estelle brushed past us first, and resumed her seat. Andre took up a position on a couch near the odd, wooden chair. I didn't have to turn my head to know that Stefan had stopped a few feet behind me-I could smell him. I turned anyway.

He still wore the clothes he'd been in when I last saw him, but he appeared unharmed. He was carrying a young man in his arms who could be no one but his young friend, Daniel, Littleton 's first victim.

Jeans and a "Got Milk?" T-shirt seemed incongruous on someone who looked as though he'd just been liberated from a Nazi death camp. His head had been shaved, and dark stubble turned the pale skin of his scalp blue. It made me wonder if vampires could grow hair.

Daniel's cheeks were so sunken I could almost see his teeth through them. His eyes looked blind, with irises that were startlingly white, and no pupils at all. It was difficult to judge the age at which he'd died accurately, but he couldn't have been older than twenty.

The man in the striped waistcoat, Bernard, stood up-and finally Marsilia quit staring at Warren, and turned her attention to the matters at hand.

Bernard cleared his throat then, in an appropriately businesslike tone, said, "We are here because early this morning Stefan called us to clean up his mess at a motel in Paseo. Five humans are dead, and there was considerable property damage. We were forced to call in Elizaveta Arkadyevna "-I hadn't known Elizaveta worked for the seethe as well as Adam's pack, but I suppose it made sense. The old Russian witch was the most powerful practitioner in the Pacific Northwest  -  "because we could see no scenario in which the police would not be called in. The local authorities have accepted the story we manufactured and, according to our contacts, there will be no further inquiry into the case. Other than the monetary cost of employing the witch, no permanent harm has been done to the seethe." He bit off the last part a little too sharply, as if he wanted to disagree with his statement.

"Stefan," Marsilia said. "You put the seethe in danger. How do you answer this?"

Stefan took a step forward, then hesitated, looking at the vampire he held in his arms.

"I can hold him," Warren offered.

Stefan shook his head. "Daniel has not fed in too long, he would be a danger to you. Andre?"

Andre frowned, but got up to take the starving vampire into his arms so that Stefan could go stand before the others. I expected Stefan to stand where Bernard had, but he sat in the wooden chair, instead. He slid until he was pressed against the back then grasped each of the brass-studded gracefully curved arms, closing his hands around the ends as if he hadn't seen the brass thorns sticking up.

Or maybe he had. The thrum of magic I'd been feeling stepped up in tempo and strength, making my rib cage buzz with power. I tried to swallow my gasp, but Marsilia turned to look at me as if I'd done something interesting.

Her regard didn't last more than an instant before she turned her attention to Stefan. "You choose to offer Truth willingly?"

"I do."

The chair reacted to his statement somehow. But before I could decide what the flare of energy had meant, the young looking vampire, the one who was still swaying to my heartbeat, said, "Truth."

Most werewolves could tell when someone lied, but it was based on the smell of perspiration and heartbeat-neither of which the vampires had. I knew that there were magical ways of telling if someone lied, too. It was appropriate that the vampire's truth spells would demand blood.

"Speak." I couldn't tell from Marsilia's voice whether she hoped he'd be able to excuse himself from the bloodbath at the hotel or not.

Stefan started with his suspicions that there was something odd in Daniel's tale of bloodlust. He explained that when the vampire Daniel had been supposed to contact had returned, he'd seen it as an opportunity to learn more.

"It occurred to me," he said in an unhurried storytelling kind of voice, "that if I was correct in my suspicions I was about to confront a vampire capable of enthralling one of our own kind-though Daniel is very young. I thought at the time that the vampire might have been a witch before he was brought over."

"So dangerous you brought her with you rather than another vampire?" Bernard's tone was heavy with contempt.

Stefan shrugged. "As I said, I thought Littleton was a witch. Nothing I haven't dealt with before. I did not really think I would be facing anything I could not handle. Mercedes was my insurance, but I did not think she would be necessary."

"Yes," said Marsilia sharply. "Let us tell the room why it is that Mercedes Thompson would be someone you would go to for help." Her eyes were narrowed and her fingers played with the fringe of the black Spanish shawl she wore. I didn't know what she was so angry about, she knew what I was.

"Mercedes is a walker," Stefan said.

The energy level in the room picked up remarkably, though none of them moved. I would have thought that all of the vampires had been told about me, but apparently not. Maybe she'd been angry because Stefan had forced her to reveal my existence to the rest of them. I wished I knew exactly why they were so worried about me-maybe then I wouldn't feel like a chicken in a den of foxes.

The boy next to Marsilia quit rocking. When he looked at me, I felt it, like a flash of ice running over my exposed skin. "How interesting," he said.

Stefan spoke hurriedly, as if he were trying to distract the boy from me. "She agreed to come with me as a coyote, so the vampire would not know that she was anything other than part of my costume. I thought the ruse would protect her, and her partial immunity would help me. I was both right and wrong."

His recount from that point was very detailed. When he told them that he'd smelled the demon's scent that told him Littleton was a sorcerer as soon as he'd parked my car at the hotel, Bernard broke in.

"There are no such things as sorcerers," he said.

The boy beside Marsilia shook his head and, in a light tenor voice that would never drop to adult tones said, "There are. I have met them-as have most of us who are more than a few centuries old. It would be a very bad thing, Mistress, if one of us were a sorcerer."

There was a heavy pause, a reaction to the boy's comment, but I couldn't tell what it meant.

"Continue, please," said Marsilia finally.

Stefan obeyed. He'd known that everyone in the hotel was dead when we entered the building. That's how he'd found Littleton so easily: it was the only room where someone was still alive. Stefan had known the woman was in the bathroom before I had. Vampire's senses, it seemed, were better than mine.

I expected Stefan to stop his account of his actions where Littleton had stopped him and changed his memory, but he didn't. He continued on as if the false memory were his true one until the boy next to Marsilia said, "Wait."

Stefan stopped.

The boy tilted his head and closed his eyes, humming softly. Finally he said, without opening his eyes, "This is what you remember, but you don't believe it."

"Yes," Stefan agreed.

"What is this?" asked Bernard. I was getting the distinct impression that Bernard wasn't Stefan's friend. "What is the purpose of volunteering for the chair if you are just going to lie?"

"He's not lying." The boy leaned forward. "Go on. Tell it as you remember it."

"As I remember it," agreed Stefan and continued. What he remembered of the maid's murder was worse than he'd told us this morning, worse even than what I'd seen, because in his version, he was the killer, bathing in her death as much as her blood. He seemed to be at some pains to remember every moment. I could have done with the short version he'd given me before. Some of the images he called up were going to come back in my nightmares.

When he'd finished, Marsilia stared at him, tapping her fingers on the chair arm, though the rest of her body was very still. "These are your memories of what happened, though Wulfe believes you no longer trust that they are true. Are we then to suppose that you believe this... this sorcerer tampered with your memories as well as Daniel's? You, who have never answered to your own maker, you believe a new-made vampire-excuse me- sorcerer was able to hold you in thrall?"

Bernard added. "And why didn't he give you memories of the other people who died in the hotel? If he wanted to place the fault with you, surely he would have given those deaths to you as well?"

Stefan tilted his head and said thoughtfully, "I don't know why he didn't give me memories of killing the others. Perhaps I would have had to be present for their deaths. I do have some evidence of his ability to tamper with another vampire's memories. I'd like to have Daniel speak."

Marsilia's eyes narrowed to slits, but she nodded her head.

Stefan took his hands off the chair carefully. The brass thorns were gleaming black with his blood.

Andre stepped forward and set Daniel's too-thin body on the chair in Stefan's place. Daniel pulled himself into a fetal position, tucking his hands protectively away from the arms of the chair, turning his shoulder when Stefan would have touched him.

"Andre?" Stefan asked.

Andre gave him a dirty look, but turned to Daniel. "Daniel, you will sit up and take your place in the Questioning Seat."

The young vampire began crying. With the speed of a crippled old man he straightened in the seat. He tried twice to lift his hands before Andre took them and impaled them on the thorns himself. Daniel began to shake.

"He's too weak for this," Andre told Stefan.

"You are his maker," Marsilia's voice was cold. "Fix it."

Andre's mouth tightened, but put his wrist in front of Daniel's mouth. "Feed," he said.

Daniel turned his head away.

"Daniel, feed."

I'd never seen a vampire strike. The swift jerk of Daniel's head made me press my hand over the bandages that covered Littleton 's fang marks on my neck. Andre grimaced as the other vampire bit down, but he didn't pull away.

It took a long time for Daniel to feed. During the whole while, none of the others moved except for the impatient tapping of Marsilia's bright nails on the cushioned arms of her chair. No one shifted in their seat or moved their toes. I stepped back, closer to Warren, and he put his hand on my shoulder. I looked at Stefan, who normally vibrated like a puppy, but he seemed to be caught up in the same spell as everyone else.

"Stop." Andre started to pull his arm away, but Daniel's teeth were still embedded in his wrist. Daniel ripped his hands off the chair, tearing a gash in the hand I could see, and curled both hands around Andre's forearm.

"Daniel, stop."

The vampire whimpered, but he pulled his face away. His hands still held onto Andre. He was shaking as he stared at the blood welling from the fang marks with eyes that glistened like diamonds. Andre twisted his arm away and grabbed Daniel's hands, slamming them back on the chair, impaling him again.

"Stay there," Andre hissed.

Daniel breathed in great gasps of air, his chest rising and falling unevenly.

"Ask your questions, Stefan," said Marsilia. "I tire of this show."

"Daniel," Stefan said, "I want you to remember the night you believe you killed those people."

Stefan's voice was gentle, but tears welled out of Daniel's eyes again. I'd been taught that vampires can't cry.

"I don't want to," he said.

"Truth," said Wulfe.

"I understand," said Stefan. "Nonetheless, tell us the very last thing you remember before the bloodlust hit."

"No," the boy said.

"Would you rather have Andre question you?"

"Parking at the hotel." Daniel's voice was hoarse, as if he hadn't used it in a long time.

"The one in Paseo where Cory Littleton, the vampire you were supposed to question, was staying."


"Bloodlust begins with a cause. Had you fed that night?"

"Yes," Daniel nodded. "Andre gave me one of his sheep when I woke for the night."

I didn't think he was talking about the kind of sheep with four hooves.

"So what caused you to hunger? Do you remember?"

Daniel closed his eyes. "There was so much blood." He sobbed once. "I knew it was wrong. Stefan, it was a baby. A crying baby... it smelled so good."

I glance around at the crowd in time to see the elderly vampire lick his lips. I quickly looked back at Daniel. I didn't want to know how many of the vampires were made hungry by Daniel's recount.

"The baby you killed in the orchard?" asked Stefan.

Daniel nodded his head and whispered, "Yes."

"Daniel the orchard is outside of Benton City, a half-hour drive from Paseo. How did you get there?"

Marsilia quit tapping her fingers. I remembered that Stefan had said that a vampire in the grips of bloodlust would never be able to drive a car. Apparently Marsilia agreed with him.

"I must have driven the car. It was there when I... when I was myself again."

"Why did you go to Benton City, Daniel?"

Daniel didn't answer for a moment. Finally he said, "I don't know. All I remember is blood."

"How much gas was in your car when you got to the hotel in Paseo?" Stefan asked.

"It was on empty," Daniel said slowly. "I remember because I was going to fill it... afterwards."

Stefan turned to his silent audience. "Bernard. How much gas was in the car Daniel was driving when you found him?"

He didn't want to answer. "Half full."

Stefan looked at Marsilia and waited.

Suddenly she smiled, a sweet smile that made her look like an innocent girl. "All right. I believe that there was someone with Daniel that night. You, I would believe, could drive twenty miles and fill up the car while under the burden of the bloodlust, but a new vampire like Daniel never could."

Daniel jerked his head toward Stefan. "That doesn't mean that I didn't kill those people. I remember it, Stefan."

"I know you do," he agreed. "You can leave the seat-if Wulfe is satisfied of your truth?" He glanced up.

The teenager next to Marsilia, who'd been cleaning something out from under his nail with his teeth, nodded his head.

"Master?" whispered Daniel.

Andre had been staring at the floor, but at Daniel's words he said. "You can leave the seat, Daniel."

"This doesn't prove anything except that there was another with Daniel that night. Someone who drove the car and filled it with gas," Bernard said.

"That's right," agreed Stefan mildly.

When Daniel tried to stand up, his legs wouldn't hold him. His hands also seemed to be stuck. Stefan helped him pry his hands free and then picked him up off the chair when it became apparent that despite the feeding, Daniel was still too weak to stand.

Stefan took a step toward Andre, but then he hesitated and brought him back to where the wolves and I were standing.

He set him down on the floor a few feet from Warren. "Stay there, Daniel," he said. "Can you do that?"

The young man nodded his head. "Yes." He held onto Stefan's arm though, and Stefan was forced to unwrap the other vampire's fingers before he could return to the chair. He took a handkerchief out of a back pocket and cleaned the arms of the chair until the brass tacks gleamed. No one complained about the time it took.

"Mercy," Stefan said, putting the handkerchief back in his pocket. "Would you please come and bear your truth before my mistress?"

He wanted me to go stick my hands on those sharp thorns. Not only did it seem somewhat sacrilegious, thorns and pierced palms, but it was going to hurt. Not that it came as a terrible surprise, not after Stefan and Daniel.

"Come," he said. "I've cleaned them so that you will suffer no taint."

The wood was cool and the seat a little too big, like my foster father's favorite chair had been. After he'd died, I'd spent hours in that chair, smelling his scent, ingrained into the polished wood by years of use. The thought of him steadied me, and I needed all the nerve I could get.

The thorns were longer and sharper than they'd looked when I wasn't about to push them into my flesh. Better to do it quickly than to stew about it. I closed my hands over the ends of the arms and pulled them tight.

It didn't hurt at first. Then hot tendrils of magic snaked in through the break in my skin, streaking up the veins in my arms and closing around my heart like a fiery fist.

"Are you all right, Mercy?" Warren asked, his voice rumbling with the first hint of challenge.

"Wolves have no tongues in our court," snapped Bernard. "If you cannot be silent you will leave."

I was glad that Bernard said something. He bought me time to understand that the magic wasn't hurting me. It was uncomfortable, but not painful. Not worth causing the fight Warren was ready to begin. Adam had sent him to guard me, not to start a war over a little discomfort.

"I'm fine," I said.

The teenager stirred. "Not true," he said.

Truth, huh? Fine. "My face hurts, my shoulder hurts, my neck hurts where the freaking demon-riding vampire bit me, and the magic of this chair is about as gentle as a lightning strike, but I'm not suffering from anything that will do irreparable harm."

The boy, Wulfe, resumed his catatonic rocking. "Yes," he said. "Truth."

"What happened last night?" Stefan asked. "Please begin with my phone call."

I found myself telling the story with far more detail than I'd intended to. Certainly they didn't need to know that Stefan's driving had scared me, or the smells of the woman's death. But I was unable to edit, the memories coming out of my mouth as they rushed through my head. It would seem that there was some of the vampire's magic that had no trouble dealing with my walker blood.

That didn't stop Bernard from claiming that it did. "You cannot have it both ways," he said when I was through. "We cannot believe that the seat has power over her and at the same time that she was able to resist a vampire who was able to feed memories into Stefan. Stefan, who of all of us, is able to resist the Mistress's, his maker 's, commands."

"The seat isn't dependant upon our power," Stefan said. "It functions by blood, but it was a witch who worked the magic. And I don't know if the sorcerer could have done the same to Mercedes as he did to me. He didn't know what she was, so he didn't try."

Bernard started to say something, but Marsilia held up her hand. "Enough."

"Even five hundred years ago, sorcerers were rare," she told Stefan. "I have not seen one since we came to this desert. The seat has shown us that you believe that there is a sorcerer, a sorcerer that some vampire turned. But you will have to forgive me for not believing along with you."

Bernard almost smiled. I wished I knew more of how justice worked in the seethe. I didn't know what I could say that would keep Stefan safe.

"The walker's testimony is compelling, but like Bernard, I have to question how well the seat works on her. I have seen walkers ignore far more dangerous magics."

"I can feel her truths," whispered the boy as he rocked. "Clearer than the others. Sharp and pungent. If you kill Stefan tonight, you'd better kill her, too. Coyotes sing in the daylight as well as the night. These are the truths she carries."

Marsilia stood up and strode to where I was still held captive in the chair. "Would you do that? Hunt us while we sleep?"

I opened my mouth to deny it, like any sane person faced with an angry vampire, then closed it again. The seat held me to the truth.

"That would be a stupid thing for me to do," I said finally, meaning it. "I don't hunt for trouble."

" Wulfe?" She glanced at the boy, but he merely rocked.

"It doesn't matter," she said at last, dismissing me with a wave of her hand as she turned to survey her people. " Wulfe believes what she says. False or true, we cannot have vampires, any vampires," she glanced briefly at Stefan to make her point, "running around killing without permission. We cannot afford the risk." She stared at the seated vampires for a moment, then turned back to Stefan. "Very well. I believe that this vampire did the killing-not you. I give you four sennights to find this sorcerer of yours and present him-or his body-to us. If you cannot do it, we will assume it is because he does not exist-and we will hold you responsible for endangering the seethe."

"Agreed," Stefan bowed while I was trying to remember what a sennight was. Seven nights, I thought, four weeks.

"You may pick someone to help you."

Stefan's eyes traveled over the seated vampires without stopping. "Daniel," he said at last.

Andre was surprised into protest. "Daniel's hardly fit to walk."

"It is done," Marsilia said. She brushed her hands together, as if to rid herself of the whole matter, and then stood up and walked out of the room.

I started to get off the chair, but I couldn't pull my hands away: they were stuck fast, and wiggling hurt. I couldn't make myself pull hard enough to get free. Stefan noticed my problem and gently pried my hands up as he had for Daniel. The sudden warmth as the spell disengaged made me gasp.

As I stood, my glance fell on Wulfe, who was the only vampire still seated in the room. He was staring at me with a hungry look. Bleeding in a room full of vampires wasn't very smart, I thought.

"Thank you for coming," Stefan said to me, putting a hand under my elbow and turning me away from Wulfe's eyes.

"I don't think I helped much," I said. Either the chair, or the eye contact with Wulfe had made me dizzy so I leaned a little harder on Stefan than I meant to. "You still have to hunt down a sorcerer on your own."

Stefan smiled at me. "I would have anyway. This way, I'll have help."

Andre, who'd been standing somewhat to the side, came up to us. "Not much help. Daniel, even healthy, isn't much better than a human-and starved as he has been, he's weak as a kitten."

"You could have prevented that." There was no reproof in Stefan's voice, but something told me that he was angry with Andre over Daniel's condition.

Andre shrugged. "There was food for him. If he did not take it, I wasn't going to force him. He'd have been driven to feed eventually."

Stefan handed me over to Warren and then bent to help Daniel to his feet. "Since you brought him over, it is your job to protect him-even from himself."

"You've been hanging around the werewolves too long, amico mio," Andre said. "Vampires are not so fragile. If you had wanted to bring him over, you had plenty of time to do it."

Stefan's face was turned away from Andre's as he steadied Daniel on his feet, but I could see the red glow stirring in the chocolate depths. "He was mine."

Andre shrugged. "That is an old argument-and I don't believe I ever disagreed with you. It was an accident. I didn't mean to turn him, but I had no choice other than to let him die. I believe I have apologized enough for it."

Stefan nodded. "I'm sorry I brought it up again." He didn't sound it. "I will return Daniel to you when I have accomplished the Mistress's will."

Andre didn't walk out with us. I couldn't tell if he was angry or not. Without normal body scents, the vampires were difficult for me to read.

Warren waited until we were standing by his truck before he spoke. "Stefan, I'd like to help you. I think that Adam would agree that a demon-riding vampire is not something to be taken lightly."

"And I," said Ben, unexpectedly. He saw my look and laughed. "Been right boring around here lately. Adam's too much in the spotlight for now. He hasn't let us do more than a Moon hunt once a month since the first of the year."

"Thank you," said Stefan, sounding as if he meant it.

I opened my mouth, but before I could say anything, Stefan put a cool finger across my lips.

"No," he said. "Samuel is right. I almost got you killed last night. If Littleton had had the faintest inkling of what you are, he'd never have let you live. You are too fragile-and I have no desire to start a war with Adam-or worse, the Marrok himself."

I rolled my eyes-as if I was important enough to the Marrok for him to take on the seethe while he was trying so hard to keep the werewolves looking good. Bran was too pragmatic for that. But Stefan was right; besides, there was nothing I could do that a pair of vampires and werewolves couldn't do better.

"Get him for her," I told him. "For that maid and for the others who should be with their loved ones tonight and not buried in the cold ground."

Stefan took my hand and bowed low over it, touching his lips to the back. His elegant gesture made me conscious of how rough my skin was-mechanic work is not easy on hands.

"As my lady desires," he said, sounding utterly serious.

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