“Come on, we need to get Eve and Michael out of there,” Shane said. He shoved through the crowd, heading for the stairs that led up to the stage. As they took the steps, they were crowded to the edge by the fleeing choir, but he practically body- slammed his way through, heedless of their yells and cries, and he somehow kept hold of Claire and made enough space for her to follow.

Then they were at the top, and Michael spotted them.

It was what he’d been waiting for, apparently, because he turned and threw a sharp elbow right into the jaw of the man behind him and Eve. Eve let out a war yell, threw her chair aside, and kicked the man solidly in the chest as he tried to throw a punch in return.

It threw him backward and tangled him in the curtains, and they were ripped loose as he toppled off the stage to the rear.

Eve turned back, color burning in her cheeks, and grabbed Claire’s hand. She didn’t speak, but the pressure of her grip was enough. Michael and Shane exchanged quick nods. “What now?”

Michael asked.

“We get the hell out of the way, because hell’s coming,” Shane said. “Come on, man.”

But they didn’t make it. The man Eve had kicked off the stage came scrambling back up, and his companion came back from the other side, dragging the limp body of a red- haired woman that Claire recognized a heartbeat later as Jesse.

He dumped her on the stage beside Fallon’s podium, and even from this far away Claire saw the tremor that went through Myrnin.

She saw his eyes turn bloody crimson.


But if Fallon expected him to attack, he was disappointed.

Myrnin said, “You’re a fool, Rhys. You achieved your own mortal- ity. Congratulations. Let your anger go. Let her go.”

“After I send your friends to hell, where they belong,” Fallon said. He crossed to Amelie, reached down and yanked sharply up on the stake.

He expected it to release silver nitrate and destroy her, of course, and it must have come as an awful shock to him when she opened her eyes, sat up, and said, in a calm, clear voice, “Thank you. That was unpleasant.”

He stumbled backward as Amelie climbed to her feet. She was burned and weak, but moving, and the sight of her sent a ripple through the crowd of vampires that were standing so still. She crossed to Oliver and yanked the stake from his chest, too, then helped him rise. Then Morley.

That’s when Fallon stumbled back to the podium and pulled out a copy of Claire’s VLAD device— the clumsy, bulky gun that she had made and Myrnin had steampunked out. This one looked sleeker, and deadlier, and Fallon aimed it at Amelie.

Of course. She’d been told that Dr. Anderson had been work- ing on making new models. This was a prototype, something he’d brought today to show the true believers. A real weapon they could use to protect themselves from the vampires.

Claire could tell that it had been pushed to its highest setting. It might not kill her, but it would disable her so badly she’d be utterly helpless. My fault, Claire thought in a sickening rush. My invention.

I’m the vil ain after al .

She watched helplessly as Fallon pressed the trigger.

Oliver threw himself in the way of the blast. He must have known what it would cost him; he’d been hit with it before, twice, and he understood the pain he was in for. But he didn’t hesitate. Claire saw the beam hit him, and saw him fall to the stage floor. He writhed in agony and then curled into a helpless ball, shaking with fear and horror.

That gave Morley an opportunity. He grabbed Fallon, ripped the gun out of his hands, and shattered it over his knee as easily as if it had been made out of balsa wood. Fluids sprayed, sparks flew, but just like that, he’d reduced Fallon’s ultimate weapon to junk and recycling.

It cost him his life.

The Daylighter who’d dragged Jesse up to the stage pulled out a silver stake and lunged forward to drive it into Morley’s chest.

Morley might have survived that, at least for a while, but the man quickly pulled it back out . . . which triggered the release of the liquid silver solution inside.

It flooded into Morley’s chest cavity, and he began to burn, screaming.

Claire clapped hands over her mouth and looked away in hor- ror, knowing there was nothing they could do for him; it was fast, and it was deadly. It was also an awful way to die. She heard him fall, and smelled the bitter stench of ashes.

Amelie ignored Fallon, who was backing away now. She moved in a blur to the man who’d staked Morley, and she threw him off the stage— as far as the wall, into the bushes— and dropped down next to her fallen ally. She took his hand as he trembled, staring into her face as the silver bubbled and hissed in his chest cavity.

“I’m here,” she said. “Morley, I’m here. Thank you, my old friend. May God grant you rest.”

He couldn’t speak, but he held her gaze until he was gone, his chest eaten away to a smoking hole filled with ash.

Then Amelie rose, and looked at Fallon with those calm, ice gray eyes, and Claire knew he was finished, one way or the other.

He backed away from her, and it came to Claire that what he feared most in the world was being made into a vampire again.

Amelie might find that a fitting punishment. Might even find some satisfaction in it.

But Claire really thought she would kill him.

She didn’t do either of those things. Instead, she reached to the podium and took up the wireless microphone and spoke into it.

“People of Morganville,” she said. “Please be calm. No harm is going to come to any of you.”

“Liar!” Fallon said, but he didn’t have the mike anymore. And Amelie turned her back on him to address the crowd. She was blis- tering in the sun, and starting to smoke; she was weak, and still recovering from the wound in her chest. But even with all that, even in stained clothes and with her hair long and wild, she looked like what she was, and always had been.

A queen.

“You’ve gone to great lengths to make us the monsters, Fallon,”

she said. “You talk of how we cannot control our bestial impulses, our appetites. About how those different from you must be elimi- nated, for safety, or converted to a form you find acceptable. But here we stand, different. We could stop every beating heart in this place. In this town. We could rampage across the world, creating more and more of our own kind. But we do not. Do you know why?”

Her calm, calming voice was having an effect on the crowd of pan- icked Daylighters. They were standing now, listening, not pushing or fleeing. If Amelie was worried about the other guards who were closing in on her— Fallon’s fanatical loyalists— she didn’t betray it by so much as a twitch. “Because we are not monsters. We are you, given a curse that most of us never sought but came to accept.

Would we return to our human state if given the chance? Some would. Some would not. But forcing us, with the knowledge that you will destroy so many in the process . . . That’s not mercy, Fallon, no matter what you pretend. It’s murder.”

The Daylighter guards were closing in now, silver stakes out.

Amelie sank gracefully to her knees, still holding the micro- phone. “By all means, murder us in the sunlight you love so much.

Murder us in front of witnesses. Show them just how merciful you are, because I know you, Rhys Fallon. I know the callow heart in you, and the selfish rage, and the bitterness. I know that you pur- sued your humanity with ruthless purpose, and once you had it back . . . you loathed it. You’ve created this to destroy all that reminds you of what you’ve lost.”

It was a powerful image— the most deadly vampire in the world, on her knees, voluntarily. The Daylighters ringing her with their weapons.

But she wasn’t striking out, she wasn’t killing, she wasn’t even threatening.

And the guards didn’t know what to do with that.

Some people in the crowd looked confused now, and some seemed uncomfortable. As if the truth was starting to dawn.

“We’ve been harsh masters here,” Amelie continued. The strength of will it took to ignore her impending death in those silver stakes the Daylighters held, having seen how it had destroyed Morley, was staggering. Claire couldn’t imagine how she was doing it. “Vampires are slow to learn, and slow to change, but we have changed. We know we must change. Before Fallon arrived, we were building a new Morganville, an equal Morganville, one where we might all live in peace together. Don’t let him take that from you— because if you build your new town on the bones of victims, it will never bring you peace. Watch what he does to us now, and remember.”

Fallon knew he was finished, then. He must have. The fact that the vampires hadn’t attacked, that his side had been seen to shoot Oliver and kill Morley, and was now threatening to kill a woman who kneeled, weaponless . . . it was a PR disaster for him. Morgan- ville resented the vampires, yes, but Claire realized that the crowd here in the square wasn’t as big as it could have been. A lot of the town wasn’t here. Wasn’t singing about the sun and celebrating the defeat of the vampires. Maybe that other half still resented the vamps, but if they weren’t here, that meant that they’d had a reason not to show up. It meant that some of them, a lot of them, didn’t agree.

And Amelie knew that.

Fallon could have made a graceful retreat, kept his cool, preached his anti- vampire screed. Amelie would have let him, most likely.

But he wasn’t content with that. He didn’t want to lose.

“Kill her!” he told his men, and snatched up Jesse’s limp body from where she’d fallen to the ground. He took a silver stake from his coat pocket. Sweat was pouring down his face, and his skin was flushing an unhealthy red from the strength of his fury.

Shane dropped the roses he’d been holding and racked the shotgun, then aimed it at the group of men standing around Ame- lie. “Hey, guys? Don’t,” he said. “This won’t hurt her so much, but it’ll definitely hurt you.”

They froze. All but one dropped their stakes, which tumbled to the stage and rolled to the edge.

One decided to go for it. He stabbed down, hoping Shane would hesitate to fire . . . as he did.

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