Mr. D PULLED UP BEHIND the farmhouse and turned off the Focus. The bags from Target were in the passenger seat, and he grabbed them as he got out. The receipt in his wallet read $147.73.

His credit card had been rejected, so he'd written a check that he wasn't sure was going to clear, and wasn't that just like old times? His daddy'd been a master at bouncing, and not because he played basketball in high school.

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As Mr. D kicked shut the driver's-side door, he wondered if the reason lessers drove shit boxes wasn't because the Society was just keeping a low profile, but because it was out of money. Used to be you never worried if your credit card worked or whether you could get new weapons ASAP. Dang it, under that there Mr. R as Fore-lesser? Back in the eighties? The company ran good-like.

Not so much anymore. And now that was his problem. He should probably find out where all the accounts were, but he didn't have no idea where to start. There had been so much turnover in Fore-lessers. When had the last one with any organiz¡ª

Mr. X.

Mr. X had been good in the saddle, and he'd had that cabin in the woods¡ªMr. D had gone there once or twice. Chances were good that if there was account information around, it would be there in some form or another.

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Thing was, if his credit cards were failing, others' were. Which meant slayers were probably foraging on their own for cash, stealing from humans or keeping stuff they'd looted.

Maybe when he got there, he'd luck out and find that the piggy bank was fulled up, just lost in the shuffle. But he had a feeling that weren't going to be the case.

As rain started falling again, he propped open the farm-house 's back screen door with his hip, unlocked the place, and went into the kitchen. He held his breath at the stench of the two bodies. The man and the woman, as they turned out to be, were still doing their best impression of gruesome throw rugs, but one good thing about being a lesser was you came with your own air freshener. Within moments he didn't smell them at all.

As he put the bull's-eye bags down on the counter, there was the oddest sound drifting around the house, a humming... like a lullaby.

"Master?" Either that or someone was playing Radio Disney.

He came around into the dining room and stopped dead.

The Omega was standing beside the ratty table, leaning over the naked body of a blond male vampire that was stretched out flat. The vampire had had its throat slashed right up close to the chin, but the injury had been stitched up, and not in an autopsy way. That was some pretty little threading right chere.

Was the thing alive or dead? He couldn't tell¡ªno, wait, that big chest was going up and down a little.

"He is so beautiful, is he not." The Omega's black translucent hand drifted over the male's facial planes. "Blond as well. The mother was a blond. Hah! I was told I could not create. Not like her. But our father was wrong. Look at my son. Flesh of my flesh."

Mr. D felt like he had to say something, kind of like he'd been presented with a baby for the praising. "He's a good-looking one, yes, suh."

"Do you have what I asked for?"

"Yes, suh."

"Bring me the knives."

When Mr. D came back in with the Target bags, the Omega put one hand over the male's nose and another over its mouth. The vampire's eyes popped open, but the thing was too weak to do more than paw at the Omega's white robes.

"My son, do not fight," the evil breathed with satisfaction. "The time for your second birth has arrived."

The jerky struggling crescendoed until the vampire's heels were banging on the table and its palms squeaked on the wood. It flopped about like a puppet, all flailing, uncoordinated limbs and useless panic. And then it was done and the male stared upward with blank eyes and a lax mouth.

As rain lashed the windows, the Omega swooped the white hood off his head and unclasped his robe. With an elegant toss, he cast the vestment from himself, sending the satin weight sailing across the room. The thing settled upright in the corner, as if draped over a mannequin.

The Omega stretched up, growing long and thin, rubber-man -ing it toward the cheapie chandelier that hung above the table. He grasped its chain at the point where it entered the ceiling, and with a quick yank pulled the fixture free and pitched it into the corner. Unlike the robe, it did not land neatly, but ended its useful life, if it hadn't already, in a tangled heap of broken bulbs and twisted brass arms.

In its place, exposed wires hung like swamp vines from the stained ceiling, dangling over the vampire's body.

"Knife, please," the Omega said.

"Which one?"

"The short bladed."

Mr. D rummaged through the bags, found the right knife, then struggled to bust through a consumer-proof plastic wrapping that was so strong it made him want to stab himself in frustration.

"Enough," the Omega snapped, and held out his hand.

"I can get me some scissors¡ª"

"Give it to me."

The instant the packaging hit the master's shadowy palm, the plastic burned away, curling free of the blade and dropping to the floor in a twisted brown snakeskin.

As the Omega turned to the vampire, he tested the sharpness on his own shadowy forearm, smiling as black oil rose out of the slice he made.

It was like gutting a pig, and it happened just as fast.While thunder prowled around the house as if it were searching for a way to get in, the Omega drew the blade down the center of the male's body from the wound at the guy's throat to his belly button. The smell of blood and meat rose up, winning out over the baby-fresh scent of the master.

"Bring me the capped vase." The Omega pronounced the word vahz, not vase.

Mr. D brought over a blue ceramic jar what he'd found in the housewares section. As it changed hands, he was tempted to point out to the master that it was too soon to remove the heart, because the Omega's blood had to be circulated through the body first. 'Cept then he remembered the male was dead anyway, so what did it matter?

Clearly this was not your everyday induction to the Society.

The Omega took his fingertip and burned open the vampire 's sternum, the smell of bone on fire sending Mr. D's nose to wrinkles. The ribs were then split open by unseen hands at the will of the master and the still heart exposed.

The Omega's translucent palm went in and penetrated the sac around the heart, forming a new nest for the organ. With an expression of annoyance, he plucked the knot of muscle free from its chains of arteries and veins, red blood falling in a stream onto the pale skin of the male's chest.

Mr. D got the vase ready, uncapping it and holding it under the Omega's hand. Flames burst up from the heart, and a stream of ash fell into the vessel.

"Get the buckets," the Omega said.

Mr. D capped the vase and put it in the corner, then went into a bag and pulled out four red Rubbermaid buckets, the kind his mama had called sloppers. He positioned one under each of the vampire's arms and legs as the Omega went around and opened cuts in the wrists and ankles to drain the body of blood. It was amazing how fast the vampire's skin lost its color, moving through the spectrum past white into a bluish gray.

"The serrated knife now."

Mr. D didn't waste his effort on the blade's plastic lockdown. The Omega burned right through the thing, then took the knife and put his free hand down on the table. Curling his fingers into a fist, the master sawed through his own wrist, the sound as sharp as if he were working through aged hardwood. When he was finished, he passed the knife back, picked up his hand, and placed it inside the empty chest.

"Be of good cheer, my son," the Omega whispered as another hand appeared at the blunt end of his forearm. "You shall feel mine blood course through you in but a moment."

With that, the Omega streaked the other knife across his newly formed wrist and held the wound over the black fist.

Mr. D remembered this part from his own induction. He'd screamed in what had been more than physical pain. He'd been duped. So duped. What he'd been promised weren't like what he'd received, and the agony and terror had made him pass out. When he'd done woke up, he'd been something else entirely, a member of the living dead, an impotent, roaming body doing evil work.

He'd thought it was just a gang. He'd thought what would happen to him was just going to be some hazing and maybe a branding to mark that he was in with them.

Didn't know that he were never getting out. Or that he wouldn't be human no more.

Whole thing reminded him of something his mama used to say: If you make a deal with a copperhead, you can't be surprised you get bit.

All at once, the electricity went out.

The Omega stepped back and a hum started. This time it weren't no Disney crib musical, but the calling of a great gathering of energy, an impending reaping of some unseen potential. As the vibrations grew louder, the house started to shake, dust falling from cracks in the ceiling, the buckets vibrating on the floor until they were doing the do-si-do. Mr. D thought of the bodies in the kitchen and wondered if they was dancing, too.

As he put his hands to ears and ducked his head, he got back just in time.

A blast of lightning hit the farmhouse's roof in what had to be a direct line of contact. With the noise it made, it couldn't have been a ricochet or the feathering off of a larger piece.

Yup, this weren't no chip of a stone that got in your eye; this was the whole boulder landing smack down on your head.

The sound registered as pain in the ears, at least to Mr. D, and the shattering force of the impact made him wonder whether the house was going to crash in on them. The Omega didn't have that worry, 'parently. He just looked up with Sunday-preacher zeal, all rapt and orgasmic, like he was a true believer and someone had just brought out the rattlers and the strychnine.

The lightning funneled through the house's electrical highways, or in this case its back roads and beaten paths, and came out in a liquid shaft of brilliant yellow energy right over the body. The chandelier's hanging wires gave it its guidance, and the vampire's open chest with its oiled heart was the basin.

The body exploded off the table, arms and legs flapping, chest inflating. In a flash, the master blanketed the male, as if forming a second skin so that the four quadrants of flesh didn't fly apart like blown tires.

As the lightning receded, the male hung suspended in midair with his Omega blanket shimmering in the darkness.

Time... stopped.

Mr. D could tell because the cheapie cuckoo clock on the wall halted. For a span, there was no longer any moment-to -moment, just an infinite now as what had been without breath found its way back to the life it had lost.

Or rather, had been robbed of.

The male floated gently back down to the table, and the Omega removed itself from it, taking form once more. Gasping noises came from the vampire's gray lips, and a whistle let off on every inhale as air passed into its lungs. The heart flickered in the open chest cavity, then got its act organized and started pumping in earnest.

Mr. D focused on the face.

The death pallor was slowly replaced by a freaky rosy glow, the kind of thing you saw in a kid's face after they'd been running around in the wind. But that weren't no health. Nope. That was reanimation.

"Come to me, my son." The Omega passed his hand over the chest, and the bones and flesh cleaved together and soldered shut from navel to the stitched-up throat wound. "Live for me."

The male vampire bared its fangs. Opened its eyes. And roared.

Qhuinn didn't float back down into his body. Nope. As he stepped back from the white door in front of him and then ran like a bastard, life on Earth returned to him in a rush, his spirit landing in his skin like he'd been bootlicked in the ass with the Fade's All-mighty Converse All Star.

Someone's lips were crushed against his mouth, and air was being pushed into his lungs. Then there was a pounding on his chest, with someone counting along with the push and shove. There was a little pause, followed by more breathing.

It was a nice alteration of things. Breathing. Pounding. Breathing. Breathing. Pounding¡ª

Qhuinn's body gave a sudden heave-ho, as if it were bored with having training wheels on its respiration. Riding the jerky spasm, he broke contact with the other mouth and sucked in a breath of his own.

"Thank you, God," Blay said in a strangled voice.

Qhuinn caught a brief impression of his friend's wide, teary eyes, then he curled onto his side and cramped up into a ball. Sucking air down his throat in shallow huffs, he felt his heart pick up the ball and run with it, fisting and releasing on its own. He had a moment of the oh-goody-I'm-alives, but then the pain hit him, washing over him, making him want to go back to being out of it. His lower back felt as if it had been dug out with a hammer claw.

"Let's get him into the car," Blay barked. "He needs to go to the clinic."

Qhuinn cracked an eye open and looked down his body. John was at his feet, nodding like a bobble-head.

Except, hell, no... they couldn't take him there. That Honor Guard wasn't finished with him... Shit, his own brother...

"No... clinic," Qhuinn wheezed.

Fuck that, John signed.

"No. Clinic." He might not have much to live for, but that didn't mean he was in a big hurry to eat a Death Whopper with fries.

Blay leaned down, getting eyeball to eyeball with him. "You were in a hit-and-run with a fucking car¡ª"

"Not... car."

Blay got silent. "What was it?" Qhuinn just held the guy's eyes and waited for him to figure it out. "Wait... it was an honor guard? Lash's family sent an honor guard after you?"

"Not... Lash's..."

"Yours?"

Qhuinn nodded, because the energy it took to move his swollen lips was too much like work.

"They aren't supposed to kill you..."

"Duh."

Blay looked at John. "We can't take him to Havers's."

Doc Jane, John signed. Then we need Doc Jane.

As John took out his phone, Qhuinn was about to shoot down that idea when he felt something flutter against his arm. Blay's hand was shaking so badly, the guy couldn't even grab on to anything. Shit, the guy's whole body was shaking.

Qhuinn closed his eyes and reached out for that palm. As he listened to the soft clicking noise of John texting, he squeezed Blay's hand to comfort his friend. And himself.

A minute and a half later there was a beep announcing the text had been replied to.

"What is it?" John must have signed something, because Blay breathed out, "Oh... my... God. But she's coming, right? Good. My house? Right. Okay. Let's move him."

Two sets of hands lifted him up off the road shoulder, and he grunted from the agony... which he supposed was good, because it meant that the whole back-from-the-dead thing was probably for real. After he was settled in the backseat of Blay's car and his buddies were in with him, he felt the subtle vibrations of the BMW accelerating.

When he opened his eyes again, it was to meet John's stare. The guy was in the front seat, but he was cranked all the way around so he could keep a look-see on Qhuinn.

The guy's stare was worried and wary. Like he was not sure Qhuinn was going to make it... and he was thinking about what had gone down four hours and ten million years ago back in the locker room.

Qhuinn lifted his busted hands and signed in a messy way, You are still the same to me. Nothing has changed.

John's eyes shot to the left and he stared out one of the windows.

Headlights from a car behind them splashed against the guy's face, pulling it free of the darkness. Doubt was written clear as day in those proud, handsome features.

Qhuinn closed his eyes.

What a horrible night this was.

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