The lights in every house were on, the doors boarded up, and people somewhere were screaming. It smelled like the sewer system was overflowing. Darian felt like he was walking through a dream. His footsteps made no sounds, and the infected humans staggering through the streets walked through him. He held up a hand, fascinated to see through it to the car parked in front of him.

Zombie vampires!

He almost chortled at the ridiculous thought, wishing someone was there with him to tell. He'd felt funky for awhile, since Bianca fixed his face. He touched it with some trepidation, fearing it'd changed back into the scarred maze that was him for so long.

He was normal, aside from the weird buzz at the base of his skull that'd kept him awake every night since Bianca touched his face. It'd gotten worse after she touched him in the car. Her healing magic zapped him hard enough almost to right his head. He didn't understand it, except that Bianca's touch finished what Sofi started.

At least he was in much better shape than the zombie-vamps around him.

He willed himself solid, surprised when it worked. The zombie-vamps didn't rush him as they would in a real horror flick; no, they ran away. He felt compelled towards them, as if whatever it was he was supposed to do had to be done with one in front of him.

Fix them like Bianca fixed you! She'd told him when he dumped her in the divine world.

"I'm not a healer, Sofi," he complained again.

The back of his skull buzzed harder until he wondered if his scalp was about to spin off and fly away. He rubbed it, vexed, and spotted one zombie-vamp moving slower than the rest. Uncertain but determined, he strode to the teenage girl and snatched her arm.

She stared at him through listless eyes, the gaze of a human awaiting only the final step in the transformation process.

"Ready, set, heal," he said.

The zombie-vamp blinked and leaned away. He let her go, perplexed.

"Sofi?" he called, wondering if her mind-talking would work from the divine world. "This isn't cool, Sofi."

He felt panic bubble within him as he looked around. Dusty was going to kill all these people if he didn't figure out how to fix them. And then, Dusty would kill him. So he deserved it, after all the trouble he'd been, but these people didn't!

Darian grabbed another zombie-vamp and tried to heal him. Then another and another and another. When he was too pissed to think straight, he slammed his hands into the boards covering a store's front door.

"I'm fucking worthless!"

He threw himself down and squeezed his head, furious at his own weakness.

He couldn't resist Czerno. He couldn't save Sofi. He couldn't do anything! He wasn't a god - he was a freak of nature everyone else had to take pity on because he was a fucked-up weakling!


He froze at the distant voice in his head. It was faint, but sounded like the Watcher's.

"Listen to what?"

He waited for more. Nothing came.

Listen … listen … listen … he slapped his forehead with his palm in a rhythmic beat, waiting for some sort of divine inspiration.

He was divine! What the hell on this stupid planet was too hard for a god to fix?!

He pulled out his phone, texted Bianca and waited, willing the message to make it to her in the in-between world where he'd accidentally sent her.

Darian lowered the phone, losing hope once again, when it vibrated.

I don't understand.

Overjoyed at her response, he sat cross-legged, hunched over the only lifeline the thousands of innocent people around him had.

I mean, how do you heal people, like step-by-step? He typed.

There was a pause, then a longer response: I'm not sure. It's just something I do. I put my hand on them and I wait for their body to tell me what's wrong. And then I fix it.

He lowered the phone thoughtfully.

You *listen* to them?

Yes, I suppose, she answered. Sometimes they know how to fix themselves, like you did, and I just give you my power and let them do it. Sometimes, I have to figure it out. Hey - can you get me outta here? Talon's gonna kill me before long.

He bounced to his feet.

He can't kill you in that dimension, he assured her. Gotta call Dusty before he blows me up. Will chat later.

She waited for more, puzzled, but nothing came. Bianca hid the phone as Talon glanced over his shoulder again to ensure she followed. The Black God had been marching for what felt like hours, through the city towards the beach, and now, down the beach. Talon hauled her along until he, too, wore out and she dropped behind both.

The time on her phone was the same as when they'd entered this strange world. She stepped over a tourist in a bikini on the silent beach. No one else would attempt to catch rays with the clouded sky and massive storm clouds in the distance!

Not even the ocean moved. The air was heavy and fragrant, the wet, solid sand near the ocean welcome after her initial attempt to keep up in the sugary sand higher up the beach.

It was the worst place she'd ever been, worse than any horror movie, worse than any nightmare. The world was dead. They'd been there what felt like a day, and yet the sun was in the same position as when they'd been thrown into the world.

Talon didn't even bother to wave for her to move faster but instead turned back around. The Black God was so far ahead, she wouldn't have been able to see him except that he was the only other thing in the world moving. She sneaked a peek at her phone, agitated that Darian hadn't been at all concerned with the situation he left her in. She didn't feel any better knowing Talon couldn't kill her here! She hadn't been able to get through to anyone else and wondered if there was some magic trick he'd done to reach her.

She didn't realize the Black God stopped walking until the speck in the distance grew larger. Exhausted, she reached them some time later, praying for a break or a snack or something!

"Try to keep up, love," the Black God said in distracted irritation. "Time doesn't move here, but it does in the real world."

"It does?" Talon echoed. "It's gotta be well past midnight! I've got important shit to do!"

"Shut up, idiot."

Talon's flush grew darker beneath the red of exertion on his face. His eyes flashed, and she willed Darian to respond to her. If the Black God was anyone else, Talon would've killed him several times over by now!

She held her breath, not wanting to draw the attention of either creature. They glared at each other for a long moment before Talon gritted his teeth and lowered his gaze in reluctant deference.

"Where we going, father?" he asked.

"Don't call me that, shithead. You see the black clouds?"

She followed his pointing finger with her eyes.

"The portal is in the center."

Talon looked as surprised as she felt.

"Without a boat? We're swimming?"

"Fucking idiot."

The Black God shook his head and strode towards the still water. She sensed Talon was about to rebel, as was she at the thought of swimming after so exhausting of a walk.

The Black God climbed a wave as he might a grassy knoll and picked his way across the choppy waters near the beach, walking atop the transparent shallows towards the dark depths beneath the black clouds. Her mouth dropped open, and Talon murmured a curse. They stared for a long moment, then Talon shoved her towards the water.

"Easy for a fucking god," he muttered. "Let's see how you hold up."

She went, curious and hopeful she did fall into the water and end everything right here!

The waves near the shore were like walking on rubber mats. Astonished, she stared through the shallows to the sand, shells, and critters below as she walked, admiring and uneasy with the changes in the terrain and creatures as the ocean grew opaque and deep.

She stopped at the edge of where the clear water dropped suddenly into impenetrable blue depths. Talon strode by her and slapped her on the back of the head, hard.

"Hope you can swim when this is over," he snarled.

She rubbed her head and glared at him, watching as he followed his father in the direction where both sky and sea darkened into blackness. The still air became more charged the closer they got to the center of the storm, the sky darker. She avoided looking down, afraid to imagine just how deep the waters were or how far from shore they'd gone.

What would happen when the Black God righted their world? Would she end up at the bottom of the sea?

Dusty wouldn't be there to fish her out as he had Darian. Her stomach dropped at the thought of him, and her eyes watered. She didn't want to die; she wanted to be with him, even if only during the nights. He cared for her, but she didn't think he'd ever let anything between him and his duty. Maybe that was why he didn't date Jenn seriously.

If that's all she got, she'd take it. He's saved her brother, her, the world. No woman would ever be more than second to a man like that, but being the woman who was second in his world sounded better than anything else she'd ever wanted.

Talon barked at her, and she realized she'd stopped walking. Tired, she wiped her eyes, an ache fluttering through her at the lingering scent of Dusty on her skin.

Runner-up never sounded so good!

God, she was a mess!

The air grew chilled, and she stopped again. The frozen sea beneath her feet was the color of tar, the black clouds paused mid-swirl around a pop of blue sky in the storm's center. Frozen in mid-air were fat raindrops, arching from a wind she didn't feel.

The storm was beautiful and terrifying in its frozen fury. She climbed frozen hills of waves through the raindrops, surprised when they popped like tiny water balloons. Before long, she was drenched and chilled, her skin crawling from the bridled charge of the storm.

And still the Black God walked. Talon swatted at raindrops ahead of her, and she crossed her arms, shivering. Her eyes went to the angry clouds.

She did not want to be there when the storm awoke! The rain fell almost horizontal, and she hurried to follow Talon as he found a path among the black waves, many of which were taller than buildings.

They both lost their footing at the top of one wave and tumbled into a valley, bouncing against the rubbery trough.

"Fucking mortal shitheads! Keep up, or I'll leave you in this dimension!" the Black God barked from atop another wave.

Bianca scrambled up, energized by the threat of staying in the creepy world. Talon shoved her back into the valley with a snarled threat under his breath, and she hurried out of the trough again, breathing hard by the time she'd clambered twenty feet to the top. To her relief, the Black God stood in the center of the storm's eye, bathed in sunlight that touched nothing else.

While Talon was breathing as hard as she was, the Black God was barely sweating.

"What do we do now?" Talon asked.

"We wait."

"For what?"

"I need to be at full strength to send us back through the portal."

The Black God's eyes settled on her with a look that made her wonder why she hadn't just sat where she entered the world and waited for Darian to rescue her. He turned away, hands on hips as he surveyed the distant beaches. Talon threw himself on his back. She suspected the Black God thought her useful, or she'd be in pieces.

"We're not swimming back to shore, are we?" Talon asked the question she feared voicing.

"You both may want to get some rest," the Black God responded then started towards the dark waters.

"Where - "

"Shut up and stay here. None of us can leave without the others. If I could, you'd both be dead. I'll be back."

She moved away from Talon towards the violent waves, then sat with her back to a wave as high as her waist. Talon watched the Black God go. He didn't take his eyes off the god until he disappeared among the maze of waves. She watched him as well.

He ignored her. She wrapped her arms around her knees and closed her eyes for a brief rest. When she opened them, she lay on her side with her back to her protective wave. A form too slight to be the Black God stood beside Talon, speaking quietly. She wiped her eyes and started to sit, then froze.

It wasn't the Black God. It was a man too familiar to be a stranger with beautiful purple eyes, a small frame, and a face without emotion.

She closed her eyes, suddenly remembering where she'd seen the Watcher.

"I can help him," the Other said.

She twisted in her chair to see a man near the dark windows whose eyes were the color of her bright purple Easter dress.

"Are you a doctor?" she asked, wiping her eyes.

"You want to help him?"

She nodded.

"I can make it so he doesn't remember that you did this to him."

Her chin trembled as guilt flowed over her.

"You understand that medical treatment isn't free?"

She nodded.

"It will cost you something."

She stood to dig through her jeans and pulled out the stash of one dollar bills she'd been given for trips to the candy machine down the hall. She counted them with shaking hands.

"I only have four," she said with some dismay.

"I require more than that."

She looked up. His eyes seemed to swirl, around and around, changing from the color of her mother's tulips to a color almost as dark as the night. He wasn't like the other doctors. His voice wasn't kind. He had no emotions, like a man in a Halloween mask.

"I don't have more," she said, voice shaking.

"What else do you have?"

She dug through her pockets then looked around.

"I don't have anything else!"

The Other knelt in front of her. His face didn't look rubbery like a Halloween mask, but neither did he look normal. She took a step back.

"You have to help him," she whispered. "Please!"

"I will help him, Bianca. If you make me a promise."

She nodded uncertainly.

"You must keep this promise no matter what, or your brother will get sick and die. Do you understand?"


"There is a man you will meet when you are older, a man who -"

"This is low, even for you."
She jumped as a hand clamped on the man's shoulder. Her eyes flew up to another man with eyes the color of their Christmas tree. He had Papaw's face, with wrinkles around his eyes and a kind smile.

"By divine code, you can't interfere," the Other said in a tone that made her shrink away.

"By divine code, neither can you."

The Other rose. The Watcher stepped between them, and the Other backed towards the window again.

"We're so much better than this, brother," The Watcher said. "Children are off limits."

"For your kind, Watcher. There are no boundaries for us."

"Divine code disagrees with you and your kind."

The Other looked at her, and she shrank behind the Watcher, understanding little except he was bad.

"The Grey God will destroy us all, brother. You can stop him here, now," the Other said with a look that made her snap her eyes closed.

"You're a fool led by a fool. Go, brother."

She held her breath and waited, able to feel the tension between them even with her eyes closed.

"He's gone, Bianca," the Watcher said.

The memory - always fuzzy - grew crisp, and surprise and hope went through her as she recalled the night that'd changed everything.

Her hand went to her phone. She lay back down, hoping they hadn't noticed, then rolled onto her other side.

If he's here, can you come here, too? She texted to the Watcher.

She waited.

I've broken enough Divine codes for the week. I told you not to leave Sofi, came the chiding reply.

I remember you both.

Is the Other there?


This time, do as I say. When the portal opens, go with the Black God. Warn him about the Other.

She re-read the message, startled. A shadow crossed, and she snapped the cell against her body. The Black God shoved her on her belly and pressed his knee in her spine.

"Hand it over, or I'll break you in half then feed you to Talon."

She obliged, tensing as she waited for him to finish with her phone.

"Who is the other?"

She hesitated, and pain spun through her as the pressure of his knee increased.

"I don't know who he is! He came to me when I was a little girl, and the Watcher ran him off. I saw him with Talon!" she exclaimed.

"Describe him."

"A man with purple eyes."

The Black God growled low in his chest, an inhuman sound. He clamped a hand around the back of her neck and yanked her to her feet.

"Say anything to anyone else, and you'll spend eternity in the greatest agony I can create."

She managed a nod at the eyes that had grown darker than the sky. He released her and tucked the phone in his pocket. Dismayed, she shuddered from cold and fear. He said nothing to Talon, gave no trace he knew something was wrong. Yet she knew when his fury unleashed, he'd be as merciless as Dusty was with vamps.

I did it, Watcher. Not on purpose, but it's done!

"It's time," the Black God said over his shoulder.

Talon hurried over. The Black God ignored him and turned to her, a cold smile crossing his face. He held out a hand.

She shuddered to her core at the evil peering through his gaze, feeling very much like the devil was offering her a deal without telling her the price.

Heart quickening, she crossed to him and accepted his hand. Talon looked from the Black God to her, fire in his gaze.

She had no choice but to trust the devil.

* * *

It's time.

Dusty didn't remember dozing off but snapped awake. His sister's warning came an hour after he last remembered looking at the clock. He pushed himself out of bed and stood for a long moment, gazing out the window at the fields of winter wheat glowing in the moonlight. His light was off, a sign he'd been sleeping too hard to notice someone come in.

Two hours before dawn. He replaced his weapons and washed his face, feeling very much like this was to be his last day alive. His jaw clenched as he thought again of Bianca, and he forced the thought of her away. He felt the loss already, a pain similar to the loss of his sister so many years ago.

He stepped into a hall with streams of Guardians preparing for the dawn raid. The warm farmhouse smelled of gun oil and breakfast. A form loitering against one wall straightened as he started towards the stairs.


He turned to see Jonny. The youth's eyes were wide and bright, his skin flushed with health. Jonny stopped in front of him and stared. Dusty turned around and kept walking.

"Dusty, wait, I'm s…sorry. I just … is B ok?"

"For now," he replied.

"For now?" came the uneasy reply. "I thought she was here with you but when I got here, I didn't see her. I started asking around, but no one would tell me, so I - "

"Jonny!" he barked.

"She's my sister!"

He turned to see the young man's face flushed this time with anger, his eyes glittering. The Guardians moved around them in the hall, and Dusty studied the young god-slayer. If the man before him was who the Watcher said he was …

"I have a right to know," Jonny said less forcefully.

"Come with me."

He spun again and continued walking, aware of the anxious young man at his heels. He found Speck on the back porch, smoking a cigar while gazing at the glowing wheat fields. The dark sky stretched far overhead, no sign of morning yet visible.

"You don't leave my side," Dusty ordered Jonny. "Got it?"

"Yes, but - "

"Shut up."

Jonny fidgeted but fell silent. Speck rolled his eyes in amusement, and Dusty paused beside him.

"Any word from Darian?" he asked.

"Nada," Speck replied. "You think he'll pull it off?"

"He's gotta be good for something."

Speck snorted.

"Heya, Jonny."

At the husky female voice, Dusty turned to see Jenn fluff Jonny's hair as she passed. She stopped beside him then indicated him with her thumb.

"He's here. Wanna tell me what you're thinking, boss?" she asked.

"I'm thinking Talon wants him real bad. Will have to take me out to get to him," he replied.

"This kid?" Speck asked, looking Jonny over critically. "Can he even carry a gun?"

"I can shoot!" Jonny replied. "Real well. Any weapon I come across, I can master without even trying!"

"Good you have a talent, or your skinny hide'd be shit up a creek," Speck replied, amused again.

"It's a byproduct of his talent," Dusty said slowly. "Jonny is a god-slayer, which means he can kill Damian, Czerno, Darian, as well as Jule or me. Talon made him into a vamp. Bianca turned him human again, but she can't make him mortal. You're looking at the only known god-slayer in existence."

Speck stared, and Jenn frowned. Jonny looked at once horrified and surprised.

"I get it now," Jenn whispered. "We were right all along - Talon is usurping the Black God."

"Yep," Dusty said and glanced at his watch. "Everything set for tonight in Florida?"

"As much as we can. Will start evacs for our skeleton crew at noon. Most everyone has been evac'd by the state cuz of the storm swallowing up the levies, and we sent folks north. Dusty, there are more vamps than we expected."

"Not for long," he said. "I don't know when Talon and the Black god will reappear, but we need to be ready. Evac our folks out of HQ and southern Florida at dawn."

"Got it."

"Speck, check in on Iggy. Jonny, come with me."

He held out a hand. The young man took it hesitantly, and he transported them to the town, utilizing his god-powers to locate Darian. His skin and senses crawled with the sensations of being surrounded by vamps. He stayed his urge to unleash the hand cannons on them all and stood stiffly.

Darian sensed him and whirled, his eyes lighting up before he looked down. He was surrounded by the half-vamp, half-human creatures of the town and waded through them to where Dusty stood.

"I figured it out," he said before Dusty could speak. "But it'll take awhile. I can only heal them one-by-one, but Dusty, if I don't do it, then you'll kill everyone, and it's not fair when they're just innocent people. Please, please, please don't -"

"Show me," he said.

Darian hesitated then waved to someone. An elderly woman approached.

"The ones I fixed are all over there. This is Hazel. She's volunteered to help me round up the people and knows, like, everyone in town."

Hazel was human, and Dusty followed Darian's pointing finger to a hotel ablaze with light.

"You're taking care of the pets, too?" he asked.

"Yes, everything. I'm killing the rats and stuff. Maybe … if you want to send in someone to help, then they can help me kill the bugs and rats? Oh, and I found where I think the lab was. Iggy asked about it, cuz she said we have to destroy it, too."

Dusty looked from Darian's hopeful face to Jonny's pale features. As if noticing him for the first time, Darian stared at Bianca's brother, an odd look crossing his face.

"I can leave Jonny," Dusty said.

"No," Darian said in a low growl.



Darian had tensed, his gaze suspicious of Jonny. Jonny looked confused and uneasy, while Darian looked like he was ready to pounce.

"God-slayer," Darian added. "He has to stay with you. It must be so."

For a moment, Dusty was reminded again of the strong, confident leader Darian had been, long ago.

"Very well. I'll send others," he said. "But I want you to move the cured people out of here then level the city and the lab. I'm not taking chances that mosquitoes or whatever remain."

Darian's gravity lifted.

"I saved everyone?" he asked, hopeful once more.

"We'll know when everything's done," Dusty replied.

"You won't destroy the people?"


"You're not mad at me anymore?"

Dusty gave him a sharp look, and Darian looked away again.

"You're in charge of this operation," Dusty said with some effort.

"Oh, my god! Realy?!"

"You'll be held accountable if anything bad happens," he reminded him. "Clear the people, wipe out the town."

"Do I get minions?"

Dusty gritted his teeth, feeling much like he was setting a child with a credit card free in a candy store.

"Nevermind," Darian said hastily.

"I'll send a team to help you. They're not minions, Darian, they're Guardians. Treat them with respect and take care of them. You need to learn a few more things on your own. I'm entrusting you with this operation."

Darian's eyes glowed. He straightened.

"I can do it, Dusty!"

He responded with a curt nod, hoping the Grey God was right. His gaze turned to the east, where yellow lined the horizon.

It's time.

"You remember what I told you about family?" he asked.

Darian's face fell.

"I won't fail again, Dusty, I promise. I tried to make it right."

"I've gotta return to Florida. If you fail, I'll send Jonny here after you."

Darian glared at the confused young man and said,

"I promise, Dusty, I'll take care of the girls even after the Black God kills you."

Johnny gasped, but Dusty nodded, aware his fate was sealed.

* * *

Some strange poison ran through the Black God's body. It was familiar to her, but too much a part of him to heal. She glanced up, troubled. If she didn't know better, she'd say whatever it is, it felt like what lingered in Jonny's body.

Talon was glaring at her, ready to attack when the Black God launched them through the portal.

Raindrops splattered against her head. Startled, she looked up. The clouds far above were starting to swirl with hypnotic slowness, the rain beginning to fall again, the sea beneath their feet rippling and shifting beneath the rubbery surface.

The Black God ignored Talon as the vamp snatched his arm to retain his balance, instead wrapping his free arm around her and clamping a hand around her forearm. His skin was colder than snow, the power radiating off him like an arctic breeze. His eyes turned black, fathomless, and she knew whatever creature possessed the human body was loosing its powers.

Despite her fear, she wrapped her arms around him. Thunder roared, lightening exploded. Rain pelted her. The wind snapped free of its bonds, nearly tearing her from his grip with its first gust.

The world exploded into life, sucking the air from her lungs and drenching her.

And then the sea swallowed them. She breathed in nothing but water and panicked, clawing at the arm wrapped around her.

He's going to kill me.

She kicked and fought, unable to escape his grip, when the cold in-between world swallowed her. It freed her atop a pile of sand near the boardwalk with the angry black sea roaring behind her. Her body strained to heal itself and the Black God, whose touch sucked her healing power fast. He released her, and she rolled, coughing. Water, sand, and hair stung her vision and lungs. Through burred eyes, she saw the ocean poised above them and to either side, angry waves kept at bay by whatever magic the Black God employed.

He was the first to his feet and dragged her up the beach, his own body telling her he was spent. He shouted at her, fury on his face, but his words were lost to the storm. She struggled to get her feet beneath her before she finally found her footing in the sand. He refused to release her, instead pushing her into a painful run up the beach, over the sandbags, and out of immediate danger.

She dropped, exhausted. It was then she noticed Talon wasn't with them.

Fury was on the Black God's face as he stared down the storm, ignoring the gale tearing at his clothing. She dared not stand on her own with the winds strong enough to knock her over.

The Black God moved at last, turning to her with his fathomless eyes. She looked away, wanting nothing more than to disappear! He snatched her arm. She felt another drain, as he took another swig of her power, and coldness, then silence.

She fell when he released her. They were in someone's living room. She thought him gone until he knelt before her, phone outstretched. His eyes were closer to normal, swirling black spheres.

"Call him, love."

She inched away at the inhuman tone. He snatched her neck and shoved the phone at her.


"Who?" she gasped.

"Your Watcher."

Confused, she concentrated on gripping the phone. He released her. She hit the speed dial button.

"It wouldn't be fitting for the Black God to call you."

She looked up. Czerno's head was twisted to face a familiar form, newly appeared.

"No, it wouldn't," the Watcher said in a tone more subdued than any she'd heard.

"You know what I can do, Watcher."

She was even more unsettled to see the Watcher's reluctant nod. The emerald eyes stopped sparkling, and his face grew long.

"There must be a Black God," the Watcher said. "Only one."

"My time isn't up!"

"You started down this path when you enlisted the help of the Others. When you forsake divine code, it has a way of forsaking you."

"Yet you warned me," the Black God stated.

"I did."

"It wasn't you influencing Talon."

"The Others betrayed you and chose Talon to replace you. I cannot let that happen, lest the balance sway permanently, and all is lost," the Watcher said.

"No one will replace me!"

A thick silence fell. The Watcher looked at her. The Black God was bristling.

"Then keep the healer with you," the Watcher said with resignation. "She has the power of ancient healers to return to life that which otherwise wouldn't live. What's been set into motion can't be stopped, but you at least have a chance if you have her."

"Get the fuck outta here!"

Her mouth was slack as she watched the Watcher disappear in a wink of light. She'd wanted to yell at him to save her, and he'd all but guaranteed the Black God would enslave her!

Czerno snatched the phone from her.

"Stay here."

He disappeared. She sagged, horrified and fatigued. Looking around, she realized why the tiny living room was so familiar.

It was her father's.

She pushed herself up, cold inside and out. Without even asking where she lived, the Black God brought her home. The apartment was identical to when she'd left it a week before.

Bianca stood, wobbled, and straightened. The cluttered apartment where she'd spent two months this summer was inviting and warm, yet foreign. She couldn't explain the sense that she didn't belong despite the pictures of her and Jonny on the walls and all her things sprinkled around the room.

She made her way to the notebook near the desk phone.


Her eyes went to the wall clock. She was supposed to meet him in a few hours. Such a normal thing seemed … weird.

With a frown, she wondered why she'd never seen it before, why she wasted seven years trying to make things work with someone who couldn't hold a candle to the man she was meant to be with.

Her hand went to her throat, where Dusty's necklace dangled.

She belonged with him, even if she was second rung to his war against bad guys or even if he was never able to devote himself to any one woman at all.

She was doomed to fall for men unable to commit to her!

She rubbed her face and wobbled towards the bedroom, determined to change before the Black God returned for her. A few minutes later, she sat in the living room, granola bar clenched between her teeth while she tied her shoes.

She felt him appear, like the AC was suddenly set to high.

"Why don't I show you what I'm going to do to that little shit of a brother of yours?" he asked with a slow smile and a gleam in his eyes that made her breath catch.

The Black God was covered in bright blood. She winced as he snatched her arm, and familiar coldness descended over her. When the coldness released her, she stood in the middle of a large conference hall. The storm beating against the windows had shut down the power; the hall was lit by candles and makeshift torches. She looked around.

One buffet table sagged beneath the weight of five kegs while another held food wrapped in cellophane and tinfoil. The room was otherwise arranged as if for a wedding with two sets of neatly lined chairs on either side of a long aisle. Where the altar would've been were two long buffet tables lined with weapons.

She shivered, not wanting to know what Talon planned.

Czerno slammed open the doors at one end. She started to follow and tripped, then stifled a cry. What looked like a leg lay in her path, and a pool of blood and more mangled flesh nearby indicated where the Black God had gotten the blood covering him.

She covered her mouth and hurried away. The Black God strode through the quiet buildings until he reached a long hallway overlooking a courtyard packed with hundreds of vamps and several bonfires. She slowed, unwilling to join the throng of bloodsuckers. Instead, she pushed open a door leading to a small balcony overlooking what would've been a large garden, prior to the vamps arrival.

The first story of the building was overflowing with vamps. She wondered what Czerno planned on doing, until she saw him stride out of the building towards the center of the vamps.

"Gotcha, bitch!"

The vicious whisper was accompanied by a thick hand clamping around the back of her neck. Talon hauled her away from the balcony.

"You left me in the fucking ocean! When I'm the Black God, you'll be the first human to suffer like no one else ever has!"