Lash stumbled out of his parents' home with blood on both his hands. His knees were unhinged, his stride jerky. As he tripped over his own feet, he looked down. Oh, God, the stuff was on his shirt and his boots, too.

Mr. D popped up out of the Focus. "You hurt?"


Lash couldn't find any words to answer. Limp and shaky, he could barely stand. "It took... so much longer than I thought."

"Here, now, suh, let's get you in the car."

Lash allowed the little guy to take him around to the passenger side and settle him in the seat.

"Whatchu got in your hand there, suh¡ª"

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Lash shoved the lesser to the side, bent over, and dry-heaved a couple of times over the ground. Something black and oily came out of his mouth and dribbled down his chin. He wiped it off and looked at it.

Not blood. At least, not the kind... "I killed them," he said hoarsely.

The lesser knelt down in front of him. " 'Course you did, and you made your daddy proud. Them bastards ain't your future. We are."

Lash tried to stop the scenes from replaying in his head. "My mother screamed the loudest. When she saw me kill my father."

"Not your father. Not your mother. Animals. Those things were animals in there. Like taking down a deer... or, yeah, like a rat, you know? A vermin." The slayer shook his head. "They wasn't you. You just thought they was."

Lash looked down at his hands. The knife was in one. A chain in the other. "So much blood."

"Yeah, they done bleed a ton, those vampires."

There was a long silence. Like, one that lasted for a year.

"Say, there, suh, you got like a pool thing 'round this place?" When Lash nodded, the lesser said, " 'Round back?" Lash nodded again. "Okay, we gonna take you there and let you wash up. We got you some fresh clothes in the back of this here car and you gonna put 'em on."

Before Lash knew it, he was in the estate's pool house under a shower, washing the remnants of his parents away from his skin and watching the red funnel down the drain at his feet. He rinsed off the knife and the chain as well, and when he stepped out to towel off, he put the stainless-steel link around his neck first.

There were two dog tags hanging off the thing. One was his rottweiler's last license, and the other the record of King's final rabies shot.

Lash's change of clothes went on quick enough, and he transferred his father's wallet from the soiled pants he'd had on to the clean ones Mr. D had gotten for him. He was going to have to keep using the boots, but the stains were browning up, looking less red, which made it more bearable.

He came out of the pool house and found the little slayer sitting on one of the glass-topped tables by the lawn chairs.

The lesser hopped down off it. "You want me to call for the backup now?"

Lash looked at the Tudor. Driving over here, he'd intended to ransack the place. Take anything that was worth a dime. Use a fleet of what the Omega had told him were his troops to strip the place down to its wallpaper and floorboards.

It seemed like the Conan thing to do. The perfect declaration of his new status. You don't just crush your enemies, you take their horses and burn their huts and hear the lamentations of their women...

Trouble was, he knew what was inside that house. With the bodies of his parents and the doggen in it, he was staring at a mausoleum, and the idea of desecrating the place, of sending in a swarm of lessers to defile it, was too wrong.

"I want to get out of here."

"We'll come back then?"

"Just get me the fuck out of here."

"Whatever you like."

"Right answer."

Moving like an old man, Lash walked back around to the front of the house and kept his eyes straight ahead, avoiding the windows he passed.

When he'd slaughtered the doggen in the kitchen, there had been a roasting chicken in the oven, the kind that had one of those little popup thingies that let you know when it was done. After he'd bled out the last of the servants, he'd stopped by the Viking stove and turned the light on. The chicken's popper had gone off.

He'd opened the slim drawer to the left of the stove and taken out two white-and-red-striped oven mitts that had Williams-Sonoma tags on them. Turning the oven off, he'd slid the roasting pan from the heat and put it on the gas burners. Golden brown with corn-bread stuffing. Giblets were in the bottom, on their way to spicing up the gravy.

He'd turned off the potatoes that were boiling in water, too.

"Get me out of here," he said as he slid into the car. He had to move his legs inside using his hands.

A moment later, the Focus's sewing-machine engine turned over, and they started down the driveway. In the dense silence of the shit box, Lash took his father's wallet out of his fresh cargo pants, flipped the thing open, and checked through the cards. ATM, Visa, Black AmEx ...

"Where you want to go?" Mr. D asked as they came to Route 22.

"I don't know."

Mr. D glanced over. "I kilt my cousin. When I was sixteen. He was a bastard, and I liked it while it was happening and it was the right thing to do. But afterward, I felt bad. So you got nothing to apologize for if you done feel like you wronged 'em."

The idea that someone knew even a little about what he was going through made the whole thing seem less like a nightmare. "I feel... dead."

"It'll pass."

"No... I'm never not going to feel like¡ª Oh, fuck it, just shut up and drive, okay?"

Lash slipped the last card free as they took a right on Route 22. It was his father's fake driver's license. As his eyes hit the picture, his stomach rolled. "Pull over!"

The Focus shot onto the shoulder. As a massive SUV passed them, Lash opened the door and heaved some more black shit onto the ground.

He was lost. Utterly lost.

What the hell had he just done? Who was he?

"I know where to take you," Mr. D said. "If y'all just shut the door, I can get you to where you'll feel better."

Whatever, Lash thought. At this point, he would take suggestions from a bowl of Rice Krispies. "Anywhere... but here."

The Focus pulled a U-ie and headed toward downtown. They'd gone a couple of miles when Lash glanced over at the little lesser. "Where we headed?"

"Place where you can catch your breath. Trust me."

Lash looked out of the window and felt like a total pussy. Clearing his throat, he said, "Tell a squadron to go back there. And take everything that isn't nailed down."

"Yes, suh."

As Z pulled the Escalade up to the Tudor mansion Lash and his parents lived in, Phury frowned and sprang his seat belt free. What the hell?

The front door was wide-open to the summer night, the light from the chandelier in the front foyer casting a golden yellow glow over the stoop and the pair of topiaries standing at attention on either side of the entrance.

Okay, this was just wrong. You expected colonials with porch pots and gnomes in their flower beds to have their doors languishing open like that. Or maybe ranch houses with bikes in front of the garage and chalk drawings on the sidewalks. Or, hell, even trailers with busted windows and decrepit plastic chairs dotting their weed lawn.

But Tudor mansions on manicured grounds didn't look right with their grand front doors wide open to the night. It was like a debutante flashing her bra thanks to a wardrobe malfunction.

Phury got out of the SUV and cursed. The smell of fresh blood and lessers was all too familiar.

Zsadist palmed one of his guns as he shut his door. "Shit."

As they walked forward, it was pretty damn evident they were not going to be talking to Lash's parents about what had happened to their son. Chances were good he and Z were going to be finding bodies.

"Call Butch," Zsadist said. "This is a crime scene."

Phury already had his phone in his hand and was dialing. "I'm on it." When the brother answered, he said, "We need backup here, stat. There's been an infiltration."

Before the pair of them walked into the house, they paused to check out the door. The lock hadn't been busted open, and the security system wasn't blaring.

Made no sense. If a slayer had come to the door and rung the bell, he wouldn't have been let in by a doggen. No way. So the lessers must have broken in by some other route and left through the front door.

And sure as shit they'd been busy. There was a path of blood on the grand Oriental rug in the marble foyer¡ªand it wasn't made up of drops; it was like someone had used a paint roller with the shit.

The red streak ran between the study and the dining room.

Z went left toward the study. Phury pulled a rightie and went into the dining¡ª

"I found the bodies," he said gruffly.

He knew when Z saw what he was looking at, because the brother growled, "Holy motherfucker."

Lash's slaughtered parents were sitting upright in chairs at the far end of the table, their shoulders tied back so they'd stay upright. Blood had leaked from stab wounds in their chests and necks, pooling on the glossy floor at their feet.

Candles were lit. Wine was poured. On the table between the bodies was a beautiful roasted chicken, so fresh from the oven you could smell the meat over the stench of blood.

The bodies of two doggen were seated in chairs to the left and the right of the sideboard, the dead to serve the dead.

Phury shook his head. "How much you want to bet there are no other bodies in the house. Or they'd be lined up here as well."

The fine clothes of Lash's parents had been carefully straightened, his mother's three strands of pearls lying as they should, his father's tie and jacket all arranged. Their hair was a mess and their wounds were Rob Zombie raw, but their bloodstained clothes were perfect. They were like two morbid Kewpie dolls.

Z pounded his fist into the wall. "Sick fucking bastards... those fucking lessers are ill."

"For real."

"Let's go through the rest of the place."

They checked the library and the music room and found nothing. The butler's pantry was untouched. The kitchen showed evidence of a struggle consistent with two killings, but that was all¡ªthere was no sign of where the break-in had occurred.

The second floor was clean, the lovely bedrooms right out of House Beautiful with their toile drapes and their antiques and their luxurious duvets. On the third floor, there was a suite worthy of a king that, going by the textbooks on guns and martial-arts fighting, as well as the computer shit and the stereo system, had been Lash's crib. It was neat as a pin.

In the whole house, save for where the killings had been committed, nothing was disturbed. Nothing was stolen.

They went back downstairs, and Zsadist quickly examined the bodies while Phury ran a check on the security system's master board out by the garage.

When he was finished, he went back to his twin. "I hacked into the alarms. Nothing was triggered or circumvented either through a code or a power outage."

"Wallet's not on the male," Z said, "but the guy's Ebel is still on his wrist. Female has her diamond on her finger and a pair of dime-sized flashers in her earlobes."

Phury put his hands on his hips and shook his head. "Two infiltrations, here and at the clinic. Both with no looting."

"At least we know how they found this place. I mean, shit, Lash was abducted and tortured until he talked. Only way. He wouldn't have had ID on him when he was taken from the clinic, so the addy had to have come from his own mouth."

Phury looked around at all the art on the walls. "Something 's just not right here. Normally they'd be looting."

"But assuming they took the father's wallet, the real assets are no doubt in the bank. If they can get access to those accounts, it would be a cleaner way to rob."

"But why leave all this shit?"

"Where are you?" Rhage's voice echoed through the foyer.

"In here," Z called out.

"We have to let the other families in the glymera know," Phury said. "If Lash has given up his own address, God only knows what else was peeled out of him. This could be a leak of unprecedented implications."

Butch and Rhage walked into the room and the cop shook his head. "Shit, this takes me right back to Homicide."

"Man..." Hollywood sighed.

"Do we know how they got in?" the cop asked, walking around the table.

"No, but let's go through the house again," Phury said. "I just can't believe they walked right through the front door."

When the four of them got upstairs to Lash's room, they were all shaking their heads.

Phury looked around the room, his brain churning. "We've got to get word out."

"Well, look at this," Z murmured, nodding to a window.

Down at the foot of the driveway, a car turned in. Then another. Then a third.

"There's your looters," the brother said.

"Fuckers," Rhage bit out with a grim smile. "But at least they have good timing¡ªI need to work off dinner."

"And it'd be so damn rude not to greet them at the door," Butch muttered.

Instinctively, Phury reached to open his coat, but then remembered there were no guns or daggers to get to.

There was a split second of awkwardness, during which no one would look at him, so he said, "I'll go back to the compound and contact the other families in the glymera. I'll also let Wrath know what's doing."

The three nodded and jogged for the stairs.

As they pounded down to welcome-wagon the lessers, Phury took one last look around the bedroom, thinking that he wanted to be with the others, killing the sons of bitches who had done this.

The wizard faced off at him in his mind. They won't fight with you anymore because they can't trust you. Soldiers don't want to be backed up by someone they have no faith in.

Face it, mate, you're finished on this side. The question is, how long until you ruin it with the Chosen?

Just as Phury was about to dematerialize, he frowned.

Across the way, on the dresser, there was a smudge of something on one of the brass drawer pulls.

He went over for a closer look. Dark brown... it was dried blood.

When he opened the drawer, there were bloody finger-prints on the objects inside: the Jacob & Co. iced-out watch Lash had worn before his transition had smudges on it, and so did a diamond chain and a heavy stud earring. Something had obviously been taken out of the little drawer, but why would a lesser leave such expensive things behind? It was hard to imagine what would be worth more than all those diamonds and still fit in a small space.

Phury glanced around at the Sony VAIO laptop and the iPod... and the dozen other drawers in the room that were divvied up between the desk and the bureau and the bedside tables. All of them were closed tight.

"You have to leave."

Phury turned around. Z was standing in the doorway, gun drawn.

"Get the fuck out of here, Phury. You're not armed."

"I could be." He glanced over at the desk where a couple of knives lay on the textbooks. "In a heartbeat."

"Go." Z bared his fangs. "You're not helping here."

The first sounds of the fighting drifted up the staircase in a series of grunts and barked curses.

As his twin took off to defend the race, Phury watched Z go. Then he dematerialized from Lash's bedroom, bound for the desk in the training center's office.

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