The City of the Dead had never seemed so alive. The undead still thronged the streets, lapping up the fallen blood from the humans who had passed even as they drew away from Devon. He stalked down the streets, forcing them to obey his whim—it was a skill he used sparingly, as he hadn't even used it when he'd been chasing those damned humans. Now, he wished he had—though there was still no guarantee he would have caught them, not when the Warden had her little minions out doing her bidding, helping her boyfriend and her charity projects to escape back to The Underground.
For the past ten years, ever since Tara had become the Warden in her father's place, Devon and Tara had had an uneasy truce. That meant, simply put, that they didn't try to kill each other. It didn't mean that Devon let his designs on ruling Mydnyte go. No, those he had kept near and dear to his heart, if he even had a heart, and he had worked on them slowly and steadily, stealing a bit of territory here, a bit there, so little that Tara, while she was bound to notice, hadn't truly cared. As long as The Underground was safe, she wasn't bothered to stop him. Until now, he had mostly satisfied himself with taking over the Outer Cities, a job which was three-fifths of the way complete. Now, it was time to finish that job, once and for all, and move on to the real jewel of Mydnyte, its inner sanctum: The Underground.
He would take down Tara Callahan and her little cronies if it was the last thing he did.
With such thoughts heavy on his mind, he blew out the windows on the first floor of the building he called home, and he stalked up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. He wanted to track every step those damn humans had taken, and when he got to the top, he was going to kill the only one that remained. That much he could do.
He was slavering for blood when he reached the top of the stairs, only to find a tight ring of his gang members. They all stood about, quietly talking in a variety of languages, some of which were more hisses and growls than actual words. As soon as they saw him, they fell silent, and hurriedly parted, creating a path. At the end of that path was the landing, where he had left Rhett Carson.
Except Rhett Carson was no longer there.
Devon whirled. "What did you do?" he hissed at the nearest demon, a female of his own kind.
She hissed right back at him, revealing teeth just as sharp as his own. "We didn't do anything. We intended to, of course. We even got in a few nice hits. Got a taste of blood. But we didn't kill him, and we didn't move him. Before we could, he was just—gone."
Devon swore. He'd known Rhett was a Mydnyte-born human, and that, as such, he probably possessed some sort of supernatural ability, akin to Tara Callahan's command over the doors of The Underground and her stone touch. But he had guessed that Rhett's ability had something to do with his line of work, some way of killing people which the rest of Mydnyte didn't possess. He had never guessed that the bastard was able to teleport. If he had guessed—well, he probably would have killed Rhett long ago, just for the potential trouble he could cause, and he would have hired another assassin, instead.
"Do you know what this means?" Devon thundered. His minions flinched back from his rage. "We have two Earthlings out there who can attest that I stole one of them from Earth, against all the laws of Mydnyte. We have Tara Callahan and all the staff of The Underground set against us, and we have a rogue assassin who has knowledge of where we work and live. Do you know what this means?"
"I know," said a cool, silky voice. Devon knew without turning around that it belonged to Charlotte, a demon with ragged black wings, feathers for hair, and talons instead of nails. She wasn't a member of the White Knights, but she sometimes helped them, and she and Devon had been intimately involved for quite some time before he had stolen Gillian. Luckily, Charlotte wasn't the type to get jealous and turn against him; she knew he would come back to her in the end, and so she waited, bidding her time. "It means you have to move now, before they can convince the rest of Mydnyte to move against you."
Now Devon did turn, his eyes narrowed, but with a small, dangerous smile on his face. "Precisely."
The train roared into the metro station beneath The Underground, and the staff spilled out, streaming up the stairs and into the building proper, where they were greeted with cheers from the few staff who had remained; after all, Tara couldn't simply shut the entire store down. Once safely in the building, Grae grabbed Tara and pulled her to his chest, hugging her for a long, long moment, until she started pushing at his chest, and then a moment longer. "Thank you," he murmured into her hair. "Thank you so much, Tara. I thought we were done for back there. I really did."
"Don't be silly," she muttered against his shirt. "I couldn't just let you die, now could I? You're the most useful person here!"
"I thought it was because I'm your best friend."
He released her, and she took several steps back. "I wish I could say that we had time to relax and recover, but that's not the case, is it? Devon's probably going to move right away, which means that we're going to have to move right away, too." She sighed. "This means we're going to have to go into the subbasements. We're going to have to dig up the old books and invoke the Old Magic from when Mydnyte was founded and The Underground was built. We're going to have to train the employees, including you, Grae, to the ways of fighting non-humans, and we're going to have to try to win allies from the rest of the city if we want to survive." She heaved another sigh. "It's so much."
Grae was quiet for a long moment. "I know it's too late to ask this now," he said, "because we're in it whether we want to be or not, but I feel like I have to ask. Tara, is this worth it?"
She was quiet for a long, long time, slowly sinking down to sit on the steps leading up from the metro station into the store. "I don't know," she said. "I mean, yes, it is worth it. If we can knock Devon out of power, anything is worth it. Then the biggest threat to The Underground and to Mydnyte will be gone, and it'll take a long time for someone to reach Devon's level again. But did I mean to get into this mess, and pull everyone else in with me? No. Would I have helped Ashlyn if I had known this was how it was going to turn out?" She shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe I would have. I like to think I would have. But I think, if I'm honest with myself, that I wouldn't have. I would have weighed the pros and cons, and I would have determined that trying to help her would result in more people dying, and so I wouldn't have helped her. So it's a complicated question, Grae, and I think the only real answer to it is that I honestly don't know."
He sat next to her, draping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her against his side. She rested her head against his shoulder, and he rested his cheek atop her head. "It'll all work out, Tara," he said. "It'll all work out. We have to believe that."
"I know." She was quiet for a long moment, and then withdrew from Grae's hold and stood. "We have to go see Ashlyn."
"Where is she?"
"They took her upstairs to put her to bed. We're going to have to get her a doctor, Grae. She's in bad, bad shape." She looked at him, and her gaze suddenly hardened. "Care to explain how exactly that happened, when you are only a little roughed up?"
He winced. "She ran off," he said. "We were staking out Devon's office building, and she ran off when Rhett and I weren't looking. She delivered herself right into Devon's hands. I guess she wanted to see her sister, but I thought she would have been smarter than that."
Tara sighed. "Great," she said. "Just great. Come on." She waved Grae after her and led the way into the elevator. They went to the floor where the staff lived, just beneath Tara's apartment, and walked into a sickroom.
Ashlyn had been laid in the bed farthest away from the doors, where it would be quieter. In fact, it was quiet—too quiet. Tara frowned, and then realized she couldn't hear the music from the nightclub downstairs.
"We shut it down," said Marshall, one of the young men sitting on the bed nearest the door as he saw Tara look down at the floor. "There were too many people for us to control on a reduced staff, and we figured the fewer people going in and out, the better. We would have shut down the station, too, if we could have, but we didn't know how and we didn't want to inadvertently lock you guys out."
"I see. It was a smart move, Marshall. Good job." Tara brushed past and went to the tight ring of people surrounding Ashlyn's bed. "How is she?" she asked Lucy quietly. Lucy's copies had vanished, leaving only one of the girl for Tara to address.
"Not good. She hasn't woken up yet, Tara. I think she might have slipped into a coma. She's in really, really bad shape. She was a little coherent when we found her, but now—" She broke off and shook her head. "She needs a doctor, a real one."
"I know. We're going to get her one as soon as we can, but I'm reluctant to send anyone out into the city. Devon is still on the loose, and I don't want him getting hold of anyone here." Tara sighed. "I'm sorry about pulling all of you into this," she said to all of her employees.
"Don't be," Lucy said.
"Yeah," said Sara, from beside her. "We knew what we were getting into. Most of us have been in Mydnyte long enough to know what venturing into Devon's parts of it mean. And we like you Tara, so we're willing to go farther for you than we are for other people. You helped all of us when we first ended up here; we owe it to you."
Tara gave her a watery smile. "Thank you for saying that," she said. "Though I think you'll all feel differently when we're on lock down."
The exclamation came from multiple people at once, and Tara winced. "We're going on lock down," she said. "There's nothing else to be done for it. We stole Grae, Ashlyn, and Gillian from Devon, and that means he's going to come after us. He doesn't just let people take what he sees as rightfully his." She suddenly frowned. "Where is Gillian?"
Immediately, everyone began looking around. "I haven't seen her," one person said, followed by agreement the others. "I haven't seen her since we got off the train. She went running up the steps, and then—I don't know. She had to be in the store somewhere, don't you think?"
Tara wasn't sure. She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath, and began sorting through the different people currently inhabiting The Underground. She recognized aura after aura, only pausing for a moment to dwell on how the mental glow surrounding Ashlyn had dimmed until it was barely there.
In less than a minute, Tara had determined two things. "I need a volunteer," she said to the room at large. "Someone Mydnyte-born, preferably, with some sort of powers which will allow you to get away from Devon. To get away from him, not to fight him."
"I'll do it," Marshall chimed in. "I can run faster than he can, even if he is a demon."
"Good. I need you to go and find a doctor for Ashlyn. Tell them we're willing to pay them, and pay them well, but that they have to come now. And Marshall," Tara added as he moved to leave the room, "be careful."
He gave her a solemn nod of agreement and darted out.
"And as for Gillian," Tara said in a softer voice, "she's gone. She's probably gone to look for Devon again. Stupid, stupid girl." She shook her head. "And unfortunately, we can't go after her. We have too much to do."
"What do we have to do?" Lucy asked. "I thought we were done."
"Far from it," said Grae from where he had been standing just behind Tara. "Like Tara said, Devon is going to come after us, and that means we have to be prepared. So, everyone, we're going to war."
Barefoot and lost, Gillian DeMarco stumbled through the streets of Mydnyte. She had seen her sister, but she wanted to go back to Devon. He scared her, sometimes, but there was something immensely attractive about that, about the way he looked at her as if he were ready to devour her.
Now that Ashlyn was in good hands, she had to find him again. She didn't know what had happened to her sister—she had probably been jumped on the very streets Gillian now roamed—but Devon had found her and gotten her into the building, and as he had dealt with intruders—locking Gillian into her room for her own safety, she was sure—he had sent that Grae man in to help Ashlyn and Gillian.
This was why she loved Devon.
She turned a corner, and ran directly into a broad chest with which she was intimately familiar. "Devon!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his waist and hugging him, and then tilting her head back to look up at his face. "I'm so glad to…" She trailed off, and the blood drained from her face, leaving her strangely light-headed as she stared up into Devon's yellow cat-eyes. For the first—and last—time, Gillian DeMarco knew what it was like to look death in the face.
Emily Doyle happily licked her ice cream cone as she trotted along at her mother's side, trying to keep up and eat her ice cream at the same time, hopefully before it all melted. She was looking around, enjoying the hot summer day, when she saw something extremely strange happen. She'd just happened to glance down an alleyway, and she saw a man appear out of thin air.
Emily stopped walking, not noticing as her ice cream abruptly slid off the cone to land on the sidewalk. "Mommy!" she yelled. "Mommy, a man poofed! He poofed out of nowhere!" She pointed with her free hand.
Jane Doyle stopped walking and turned back to her daughter. "Emily, you dropped your ice cream," she scolded. "Now look at it, it's all over the sidewalk. Don't step in it, sweetie, and come on, we have to go. We're late for your doctor's appointment."
"But Mommy!" And Emily pointed again.
Jane indulgently looked to where her daughter's finger was pointing—and gasped. There was indeed a man lying in the alley, though he appeared to be mostly, if not entirely, dead. Jane grabbed Emily's arm and thrust her daughter behind her, even as she fumbled in her purse with her other hand, finally coming up with her cell phone. She dialed and stammered to the operator on the emergency line, "Yes, I'm here at Beech and Cooper, and there's a man in the alleyway, I think he might be dead—no, I didn't see what happened—yes, yes, I'm still here—an ambulance, yes, immediately—"
And as Jane babbled on, Rhett Carson slowly opened his one good eye and stared up at the blue sky of Earth. He drew a few deep, shuddering breaths which only seemed to magnify the pain shooting throughout his entire body, and then closed his eyes again. He didn't know if he had failed or not—but since he was alive, he thought Ashlyn had to be, as well. Which meant he had done his job, and now there was nothing else he could do.
A/N: Yes. This is the end. I know, it sucks, doesn't it? But it's not the END. See, when NaNoWriMo started, I had this awesome, tightly knit plot. Then, in the last three chapters of this story, it all just fell apart. So now, Rhett may or may not be dead, Ashlyn is in a coma, both of them have been upstaged by Tara and Grae, there's a new villain who I didn't even know existed until this chapter, the entire city of Mydnyte is about to go to hell in a handbasket, and I'm probably going to have to write two more books to fix this mess. So, for better or worse, it will all be resolved. Just not right now.