The corner office was immaculate. Everything was in its proper place, no dust or grime dared appear on a single inch of furniture or tile. Mr. Hawthorne could almost forget all the police who'd come trampling in all day long-inquiries over the incident.

At least they'd been satisfied with 'accident', for if they had not, things could have become very sticky indeed. Mr. Hawthorne sat down at this desk and pulled out the files. Mr. Timothy Greneford. A young man, with a wife. Poor dear, no doubt the police had already informed her of the accident. He grimaced, there was also no doubt it would look good to call and offer his sympathies. He'd had other ideas about what to do. Well, sometimes one must sacrifice for image.

He picked up the phone with a sigh, and looked back down at the file, ah, yes, there was the number. He dialed and waited. He heard a click-too bad.

"Hello?" A voice full of pain and grief.

"Yes, hello Mrs. Greneford. This is Mr. Hawthorne. I just want to offer you my extreme condolences…"

Lying was so easy.

). 0. (

"What? What do you mean?"

Billy had just come down to get the phone when she heard her mother answer.

"Oh." Her mother's tone had gone strangely flat. It had been a week for odd phone calls. "Yes, dear, of course we'll come. Don't fret, yes, I know. I'll tell him. Good-bye, Chelsea. Take care of yourself too," her mother said gently, and then banged the receiver down onto the cradle. She walked around the room once, muttering curses under her breath, then went back to the phone and picked it up. Billy watched her mother dial from her position at the top of the stairs.

"James," her mother hissed, "I just got a call from Chelsea. The police phoned her this morning-yes, an accident. How did you know?" Her mother listened for a minute with her head cocked to one side. "At work, too?" She frowned. "Then who called us? Yes, I wonder too, I…oh, I have no doubt. Cover up. But-I won't. Don't worry, Chelsea needn't know. Don't say a word there either. I know. Bye, love you too."

She clicked the phone down and left the room. Billy stayed where she was, trying to puzzle out her mother's odd words. Something very weird was going on, her mother's tone had held a tone of warning, of danger. Sadness, pain, grief, Billy expected, not this tone of hushed urgency, secrecy, that had fallen over their house. Something about Uncle Tim, about her dad's company, about cover-ups and secrets, about things she never thought she'd hear in her own life. In her mystery books, sure, but at her own home?

Nothing made sense. And no one told her anything. Maybe the weirdness would pass after Uncle Tim's funeral. I hope so, I feel so weird. Like something bad is coming, something evil. As soon as the thought had even formed, Billy felt embarrassed, first for actually using the word 'evil', and second, for the shiver that actually ran down her spine. You're being silly, Billsie. Nothing's really wrong except a wonderful man died unjustly and you're feeling shocked and strange. That's it.

She tried to smile as she thought this, mocking herself for unneeded anxiety, hoping it would calm her. But in the back of her mind, she wasn't even convincing herself. Billy walked down the stairs and back into the kitchen, pausing before she entered, so much bad news had been received there recently. Her mom stood there, looking perfectly normal. She smiled, but it struck Billy as false. Another chill ran down her spine. Not all was as it seemed.

). 0. (

"Not that one. Already discarded."

Richard Hawthorne yawned and glanced at his wristwatch. How much longer is this going to take? He leaned toward his father and whispered,

"What is this about? Why did you want me to see this?" He was irritated and hot, and about ready to leave when his father said suddenly,


At first, Richard thought he was talking to him, but realized he was speaking about the pictures. Richard stood, but as he turned to leave, he stopped cold.

Magnified on the screen was a girl, young, but not too much younger than he. Striking. Dark hair, strange eyes. Raven hair, misty eyes. There was a funny feeling in his chest; he was finding it hard to breath. What the hell is happening to me? It's only a fucking picture. And then he looked at his father; something greedy was glowing in his gaze. Richard looked back to the picture and read: Elisabette Detrionne. Age 20. Classified, 1B. What the hell does that mean?

But he knew better than to ask. His father didn't trust him that much, he only trusted his son as far he could use him for his own ends. And these pictures. Things got stranger and stranger. He didn't care for the way his father's gaze was voraciously devouring the picture. But it wasn't what most would think, no, his father thought himself above that at least. This had something to do with acquisition of power. The question was, what? How could this girl, or any of these people, for that matter, help his father gain position?

"Dad, I have a meeting. We'll talk more about these, merging ideas you have later."

"Richard. You have more to lose than you think."

Richard turned, shocked, that was the most blatant threat his father had ever uttered to him, usually they were more subtle. But his father's attention was once again focused on the screen, and the flashing pictures. Richard left the office. Lately his father had been acting odder than usual, and especially since that awful accident. But, knowing his father, Richard seriously doubted what he was feeling was sympathy or regret. More likely it was annoyance at the hold up of police interference and clean up.

From what Richard had gleaned, the poor man had basically been blown up in some sort of freak accident. And there had been that disappearance a few months ago, and according to Richard's knowledge, they'd never found the woman.

But, shaking his head, Richard reminded himself his father's company had nothing to do with him, and that he had his own worries. It didn't help ease the innate sense of guilt, as usual. He let out a sigh as he exited his dad's building; there was something about Lorre, Inc. that made him uneasy. Nothing palpable, just a feeling.

But it was a feeling that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He tried to avoid going to see his father there, but nothing was ever entirely unavoidable. Whatever's going on in Lorre, Inc. is avoidable, at least, right now. So keep your nose out of it. Richard shook his head at himself, reprimanding. He should keep out of it. He was going to keep out of it. But as he thought that, a slight tingle ran through him, right down to the bone. Complacency was never long lasting.

). 0. (

Billy lay on the couch, under her mother's orders. To rest. Yeah, like I can sleep at a time like this. But she was certainly tired, and slowly her breathing quieted and slumber claimed her.


T'lar could smell human flesh. It was new and warm, and he could almost taste the metallic tang of blood oozing from the moist chunks of ripped muscle in his mouth. His teeth grew a bit longer, tips razor-sharp needlepoints. Staring through the dark he searched for his meal, his smell impaired by the lingering scent of old blood splattered onto the rolls and left to dry. He floated through the nearest stone wall, but found the aroma fainter. Moving backward, he rose and flew upward until he passed through the top of the tunnel. Yes, the smell was almost overwhelming now.

He almost passed over the small, dark shape, believing it to be a rock, but then he felt the heat emitting from the spot.

T'lar lowered himself to the ground, teeth edging at his lips. He saw it was a babe. He grinned; their skin was easiest to chew. It was small, and he scooped it easily in one arm, and stared at it a moment.

It had been sleeping, but now it gazed dozily at him. Faintly puzzled, he looked at it a moment longer. Most mortals knew fear when a demon passed, and men quivered while babies wailed. Mayhap it was simply very stupid.

He opened his mouth, brought the child closer to incisors, prepared to forget about peculiarities in face of a good meal.

But before he could sink his teeth into the skull, a blinding pain shot through his head and his arms tingled with needlepoints.

Not this one.

T'lar looked up, searching for the speaker. But he was alone in the cave. The baby squirmed in his arms, but the memory of the dazzling pain remained fresh in his mind, and T'lar moved not to eat.

Not this one. The voice spoke inside his mind; it was sot, cold, and expected to be obeyed. T'laraintial.

T'lar's eyes widened; the voice spoke his name. His true and full name. He was now incapable of disobeying. He moved to set the child down, but it grabbed his arm. Attempting to turn insubstantial and be done with these strange events, T'lar was amazed he could not. Nothing had ever interfered with his powers before.

T'lar looked again at the child, into its widely slanted eyes. They were deep, sea-colored in the night, a dusky blue that pierced beyond time itself.

He wanted none of those eyes to pierce him.

T'lar, about to put the babe down again, had a sudden thought. If the child could null his powers, he' d rather have her near, where he could watch, than far, to be used by enemies. He brought the babe up again, and floated down through the thick, cold layers of rock.


Billy woke up with a start. Was it all just a dream? She felt cold and shaky, and decided she wanted to go for a walk. To shake off the demons in her head.