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It was early spring, but the wind held no hint of verdancy, not even the promise of itit was chill and odorless, and there were ghosts of dead leaves skittering before it. A few of them jittered into the pool of weak yellow light cast by the aging streetlampa converted gaslight that was a relic of the previous century. It was old and tired, its pea-green paint flaking away; as weary as this neighborhood, which was older still. Across the street loomed an ancient church, its congregation dwindled over the years to a handful of little old women and men who appeared like scrawny blackbirds every Sunday, and then scattered back to the shabby houses that stood to either side of it until Sunday should come again. On the side of the street that the lamp tried (and failed) to illuminate, was the cemetery.
Like the neighborhood, it was very oldin this case, fifty years shy of being classified as "Colonial." There were few empty gravesites now, and most of those belonged to the same little old ladies and men that had lived and would die here. It was protected from vandals by a thorny hedge as well as a ten-foot wrought-iron fence. Within its confines, as seen through the leafless branches of the hedge, granite cenotaphs and enormous Victorian monuments bulked shapelessly against the bare sliver of a waning moon.
The church across the street was dark and silent; the houses up and down the block showed few lights, if any. There was no reason for anyone of this neighborhood to be out in the night.
So the young woman waiting beneath the lamp-post seemed that much more out-of-place.
Nor could she be considered a typical resident of this neighborhood by any stretch of the imaginationfor one thing, she was young; perhaps in her mid-twenties, but no more. Her clothing was neat but casual, too casual for someone visiting an elderly relative. She wore dark, knee-high boots, old, soft jeans tucked into their tops, and a thin windbreaker open at the front to show a leotard beneath. Her attire was far too light to be any real protection against the bite of the wind, yet she seemed unaware of the cold. Her hair was long, down to her waist, and straightin the uncertain light of the lamp it was an indeterminate shadow, and it fell down her back like a waterfall. Her eyes were large and oddly slanted, but not Oriental; catlike, rather. Even the way she held herself was feline; poised, expectanta graceful tension like a dancer's or a hunting predator's. She was not watching for somethingno, her eyes were unfocused with concentration. She was listening.
A soft whistle, barely audible, carried down the street on the chill wind. The tune was of a piece with the neighborhoodold and timeworn.
Many of the residents would have smiled in recollection to hear "Lili Marlene" again.
The tension left the girl as she swung around the lamp-post by one hand to face the direction of the whistle. She waved, and a welcoming smile warmed her eyes.
The whistler stepped into the edge of the circle of light. He, too, was dusky of eye and hairand heartbreakingly handsome. He wore only dark jeans and a black turtleneck, no coat at allbut like the young woman, he didn't seem to notice the cold. There was an impish glint in his eyes as he finished the tune with a flourish.
"A flair for the dramatic, Diana, mon cherie?" he said mockingly. "Would that you were here for the same purpose as the lovely Lili! Alas, I fear my luck cannot be so good. . . ."
She laughed. His eyes warmed at the throaty chuckle. "Andre," she chided, "don't you ever think of anything else?"
"Am I not a son of the City of Light? I must uphold her reputation, mais non?" The young woman raised an ironic brow. He shrugged. "Ah wellsince it is you who seek me, I fear I must be all business. A pity. Well, what lures you to my side this unseasonable night? What horror has mademoiselle Tregarde unearthed this time?"
Diana Tregarde sobered instantly, the laughter fleeing her eyes. "I'm afraid you picked the right word this time, Andre. It is a horror. The trouble is, I don't know what kind."
"Say on. I wait in breathless anticipation." His expression was mocking as he leaned against the lamp-post, and he feigned a yawn.
Diana scowled at him and her eyes darkened with anger. He raised an eyebrow of his own. "If this weren't so serious," she threatened, "I'd be tempted to pop you oneAndre, people are dying out there. There's a `Ripper' loose in New York."
He shrugged, and shifted restlessly from one foot to the other. "So? This is new? Tell me when there is not! That sort of criminal is as common to the city as a rat. Let your police earn their salaries and capture him."
Her expression hardened. She folded her arms tightly across the thin nylon of her windbreaker; her lips tightened a little. "Use your head, Andre! If this was an ordinary slasher-killer, would I be involved?"
He examined his fingernails with care. "And what is it that makes it extraordinaire, eh?"
"The victims had no souls."
"I was not aware," he replied wryly, "that the dead possessed such things anymore."
She growled under her breath, and tossed her head impatiently, and the wind caught her hair and whipped it around her throat. "You are deliberately being difficult! I have half a mind"
It finally seemed to penetrate the young man's mind that she was truly angryand truly frightened, though she was doing her best to conceal the fact; his expression became contrite. "Forgive me, cherie. I am being recalcitrant."
"You're being a pain in the ass," she replied acidly. "Would I have come to you if I wasn't already out of my depth?"
"Well" he admitted. "No. Butthis business of souls, cherie, how can you determine such a thing? I find it most difficult to believe."
She shivered, and her eyes went brooding. "So did I. Trust me, my friend, I know what I'm talking about. There isn't a shred of doubt in my mind. There are at least six victims who no longer exist in any fashion anymore."
The young man finally evidenced alarm. "Buthow?" he said, bewildered. "How is such a thing possible?"
She shook her head violently, clenching her hands on the arms of her jacket as if by doing so she could protect herself from an unseenbut not unfeltdanger. "I don't know, I don't know! It seems incredible even nowI keep thinking it's a nightmare, butAndre, it's real, it's not my imagination" Her voice rose a little with each word, and Andre's sharp eyes rested for a moment on her trembling hands.
"Eh bien," he sighed, "I believe you. So there is something about that devours soulsand mutilates bodies as well, since you mentioned a `Ripper' persona?"
"Was the devouring before or after the mutilation?"
"Before, I thinkit's not easy to judge." She shivered in a way that had nothing to do with the cold.
"And you came into this how?"
"Whatever it is, it took the friend of a friend; Ihappened to be there to see the body afterwards, and I knew immediately there was something wrong. When I unshielded and used the Sight"
"Bad." He made it a statement.
"Worse. II can't describe what it felt like. There were still residual emotions, things left behind when" Her jaw clenched. "Then when I started checking further I found out about the other five victimsthat what I had discovered was no fluke. Andre, whatever it is, it has to be stopped." She laughed again, but this time there was no humor in it. "After all, you could say stopping it is in my job description."
He nodded soberly. "And so you become involved. Well enough, if you must hunt this thing, so must I." He became all business. "Tell me of the history. When, and where, and who does it take?"
She bit her lip. " `Where'there's no pattern. `Who' seems to be mostly a matter of opportunity; the only clue is that the victims were always out on the street and entirely alone, there were no witnesses whatsoever, so the thing needs total privacy and apparently can't strike where it will. And `when'is moon-dark."
"Bad." He shook his head. "I have no clue at the moment. The loup-garou I know, and others, but I know nothing that hunts beneath the dark moon."
She grimaced. "You think I do? That's why I need your help; you're sensitive enough to feel something out of the ordinary, and you can watch and hunt undetected. I can't. And I'm not sure I want to go trolling for this thing alonewithout knowing what it is, I could end up as a late-night snack for it. But if that's what I have to do, I will."
Anger blazed up in his face like a cold fire. "You go hunting alone for this creature over my dead body!"
"That's a little redundant, isn't it?" Her smile was weak, but genuine again.
"Pah!" he dismissed her attempt at humor with a wave of his hand. "Tomorrow is the first night of moon-dark; I shall go a-hunting. Do you remain at home, else I shall be most wroth with you. I know where to find you, should I learn anything of note."
"You ought to" Diana began, but she spoke to the empty air.
The next night was warmer, and Diana had gone to bed with her windows open to drive out some of the stale odors the long winter had left in her apartment. Not that the air of New York City was exactly freshbut it was better than what the heating system kept recycling through the building. She didn't particularly like leaving her defenses open while she slept, but the lingering memory of Katy Rourk's fish wafting through the halls as she came in from shopping had decided her. Better exhaust fumes than burned haddock.
She hadn't had an easy time falling asleep, and when she finally managed to do so, tossed restlessly, her dreams uneasy and readily broken
as by the sound of someone in the room.
Before the intruder crossed even half the distance between the window and her bed, she was wide awake, and moving. She threw herself out of bed, somersaulted across her bedroom, and wound up crouched beside the door, one hand on the lightswitch, the other holding a polished dagger she'd taken from beneath her pillow.
As the lights came on, she saw Andre standing in the center of the bedroom, blinking in surprise, wearing a sheepish grin.
Relief made her knees go weak. "Andre, you idiot!" She tried to control her tone, but her voice was shrill and cracked a little. "You could have been killed!"
He spread his hands wide in a placating gesture. "Now, Diana"
" `Now Diana' my eye!" she growled. "Even you would have a hard time getting around a severed spine!" She stood up slowly, shaking from head to toe with released tension.
"I didn't wish to wake you," he said, crestfallen.
She closed her eyes and took several long, deep, calming breaths; focusing on a mantra, moving herself back into stillness until she knew she would be able to reply without screaming at him.
"Don't," she said carefully, "Ever. Do. That. Again." She punctuated the last word by driving the dagger she held into the doorframe.
"Certainement, mon petite," he replied, his eyes widening a little as he began to calculate how fast she'd moved. "The next time I come in your window when you sleep, I shall blow a trumpet first."
"You'd be a lot safer. I'd be a lot happier," she said crossly, pulling the dagger loose with a snap of her wrist. She palmed the light-switch and dimmed the lamps down to where they would be comfortable to his light-sensitive eyes, then crossed the room, the plush brown carpet warm and soft under her bare feet. She bent slightly, and put the silver-plated dagger back under her pillow. Then with a sigh she folded her long legs beneath her to sit on her rumpled bed. This was the first time Andre had ever caught her asleep, and she was irritated far beyond what her disturbed dreams warranted. She was somewhat obsessed with her privacy and with keeping her night-boundaries unbreachedshe and Andre were off-and-on lovers, but she'd never let him stay any length of time.
He approached the antique wooden bed slowly. "Cherie, this was no idle visit"
"I should bloody well hope not!" she interrupted, trying to soothe her jangled nerves by combing the tangles out of her hair with her fingers.
"I have seen your killer."
"It is nothing I have ever seen or heard of before."
She clenched her hands on the strand of hair they held, ignoring the pull. "Go on"
"Itno, heI could not detect until he made his first kill tonight. I found him then, found him just before he took his hunting-shape, or I never would have discovered him at all; for when he is in that shape there is nothing about him that I could sense that marked him as different. So ordinarya man, an Oriental; Japanese, I think, and like many othersnot young, not old; not fat, not thin. So unremarkable as to be invisible. I followed himhe was so normal I found it difficult to believe what my own eyes had seen a moment before; then, not ten minutes later, he found yet another victim andfed again."
He closed his eyes, his face thoughtful. "As I said, I have never seen or heard of his like, yetyet there was something familiar about him. I cannot even tell you what it was, and yet it was familiar."
"You said you saw him attackhow, Andre?" she leaned forward, her face tight with urgency as the bed creaked a little beneath her.
"The second quarry wastheis it `bag lady' you say?" At her nod he continued. "He smiled at herjust smiled, that was all. She froze like the frightened rabbit. Then hechangedinto dark, dark smoke; only smoke, nothing more. The smoke enveloped the old woman until I could see her no longer. Thenhe fed. II can understand your feelings now, cherie. It wasnothing to the eye, butwhat I felt within"
"Now you see," she said gravely.
"Mais oui, and you have no more argument from me. This thing is abomination, and must be ended."
"The question is" She grimaced.
"How? I have given some thought to this. One cannot fight smoke. But in his hunting formI think perhaps he is vulnerable to physical measures. As you say, even I would have difficulty in dealing with a severed spine or crushed brain. I think maybe it would be the same for him. Have you the courage to play the wounded bird, mon petite?" He sat beside her on the edge of the bed and regarded her with solemn and worried eyes.
She considered that for a moment. "Play bait while you wait for him to move in? It sounds like the best plan to meit wouldn't be the first time I've done that, and I'm not exactly helpless, you know," she replied, twisting a strand of hair around her fingers.
"I think you have finally proved that to me tonight!" There was a hint of laughter in his eyes again, as well as chagrin. "I shall never again make the mistake of thinking you to be a fragile flower. Bien. Is tomorrow night too soon for you?"
"Tonight wouldn't be too soon," she stated flatly.
"Except that he has already gone to lair, having fed twice." He took one of her hands, freeing it from the lock of hair she had twisted about it. "No, we restI know where he is to be found, and tomorrow night we face him at full strength." Abruptly he grinned. "Cherie, I have read one of your books"
She winced, and closed her eyes in a grimace. "Oh LordI was afraid you'd ferret out one of my pseudonyms. You're as bad as the Elephant's Child when it comes to `satiable curiosity."
"It was hardly difficult to guess the author when she used one of my favorite expressions for the titleand then described me so very intimately not three pages from the beginning."
Her expression was woeful. "Oh no! Not that one!"
He shook an admonishing finger at her. "I do not think it kind, to make me the villain, and all because I told you I spent a good deal of the Regency in London."
"ButbutAndre, these things follow formulas, I didn't really have a choiceanybody French in a Regency romance has to be either an expatriate aristocrat or a villain" She bit her lip and looked pleadingly at him. "I needed a villain and I didn't have a clueI was in the middle of that phony medium thing and I had a deadlineand" Her words thinned down to a whisper, "to tell you the truth, I didn't think you'd ever find out. Youyou aren't angry, are you?"
He lifted the hair away from her shoulder, cupped his hand beneath her chin and moved close beside her. "I think I may possibly be induced to forgive you"
The near-chuckle in his voice told her she hadn't offended him. Reassured by that, she looked up at him, slyly. "Oh?"
"You could" He slid her gown off her shoulder a little, and ran an inquisitive finger from the tip of her shoulderblade to just behind her ear "write another, and let me play the hero"
"Have you anysuggestions?" she replied, finding it difficult to reply when his mouth followed where his finger had been.
"In that `Burning Passions' series, perhaps?"
She pushed him away, laughing. "The soft-core porn for housewives? Andre, you can't be serious!"
"Never more." He pulled her back. "Think of how much enjoyable the research would be"
She grabbed his hand again before it could resume its explorations. "Aren't we supposed to be resting?"
He stopped for a moment, and his face and eyes were deadly serious. "Cherie, we must face this thing at strength. You need sleepand to relax. Can you think of any better way to relax body and spirit than"
"No," she admitted. "I always sleep like a rock when you get done with me."
"Well then. And II have needs; I have not tended to those needs for too long, if I am to have full strength, and I should not care to meet this creature at less than that."
"Excuses, excuses" She briefly contemplated getting up long enough to take care of the lightsthen decided a little waste of energy was worth it, and extinguished them with a thought. "C'mere, youlet's do some research."
He laughed deep in his throat as they reached for one another with the same eager hunger.
She woke late the next morningso late that in a half hour it would have been "afternoon"and lay quietly for a long, contented moment before wriggling out of the tumble of bedclothes and Andre. No fear of waking himhe wouldn't rouse until the sun went down. She arranged him a bit more comfortably and tucked him in, thinking that he looked absurdly young with his hair all rumpled and those long, dark lashes of his lying against his cheekhe looked much better this morning, now that she was in a position to pay attention. Last night he'd been pretty pale and hungry-thin. She shook her head over him. Someday his gallantry was going to get him into trouble. "Idiot" she whispered, touching his forehead, "all you ever have to do is ask"
But there were other things to take care ofand to think of. A fight to get ready for; and she had a premonition it wasn't going to be an easy one.
So she showered and changed into a leotard, and took herself into her barren studio at the back of the apartment to run through her katas three timesonce slow, twice at full speedand then into some Tai Chi exercises to rebalance everything. She followed that with a half hour of meditation, then cast a circle and charged herself with all of the Power she thought she could safely carry.
Without knowing what it was she was to face, that was all she could do, reallythat, and have a really good dinner
She showered and changed again into a bright red sweatsuit and was just finishing that dinner when the sun set and Andre strolled into the white-painted kitchen, shirtless, and blinking sleepily.
She gulped the last bite of her liver and waggled her fingers at him. "If you want a shower, you'd better get a fast oneI want to get in place before he comes out for the night."
He sighed happily over the prospect of a hot shower. "The perfect way to start one'sday. Petite, you may have difficulty in dislodging me now that you have let me stay overnight"
She showed her teeth. "Don't count your chickens, kiddo. I can be very nasty!"
"Mon petiteI" He suddenly sobered, and looked at her with haunted eyes.
She saw his expression and abruptly stopped teasing. "Andreplease don't say itI can't give you any better answer now than I could when you first askedif Icared for you as more than a friend."
He sighed again, less happily. "Then I will say no more, because you wish itbutwhat of this notionwould you permit me to stay with you? No more than that. I could be of some use to you, I think, and I would take nothing from you that you did not offer first. I do not like it that you are so much alone. It did not matter when we first met, but you are collecting powerful enemies, cherie."
"I" She wouldn't look at him, but only at her hands, clenched white-knuckled on the table.
"Unless there are others" he prompted, hesitantly.
"Nono, there isn't anyone but you." She sat in silence for a moment, then glanced back up at him with one eyebrow lifted sardonically. "You do rather spoil a girl for anyone else's attentions."
He was genuinely startled. "Mille pardons, cherie," he stuttered, "II did not know"
She managed a feeble chuckle. "Oh Andre, you idiotI like being spoiled! I don't get many things that are just for me" she sighed, then gave in to his pleading eyes. "All right then, move in if you want"
"It is what you want that concerns me."
"I want," she said, very softly. "Justthe commitmentdon't ask for it. I've got responsibilities as well as Power, you know that; Ican't see how to balance them with what you offered before"
"Enough," he silenced her with a wave of his hand. "The words are unsaid, we will speak of this no more unless you wish it. I seek the embrace of warm water"
She turned her mind to the dangers ahead, resolutely pushing the dangers he represented into the back of her mind. "And I will go bail the car out of the garage."
He waited until he was belted in on the passenger's side of the car to comment on her outfit. "I did not know you planned to race him, Diana," he said with a quirk of one corner of his mouth.
"Urban camouflage," she replied, dodging two taxis and a kamikaze panel truck. "Joggers are everywhere, and they run at night a lot in deserted neighborhoods. Cops won't wonder about me or try to stop me, and our boy won't be surprised to see me alone. One of his other victims was out running. His boyfriend thought he'd had a heart attack. Poor thing. He wasn't one of us, so I didn't enlighten him. There are some things it's better the survivors don't know."
"Oui. Left here, cherie."
The traffic thinned down to a trickle, then to nothing. There are odd little islands in New York at night; places as deserted as the loneliest country road. The area where Andre directed her was one such; by day it was small warehouses, one floor factories, an odd store or two. None of them had enough business to warrant running second or third shifts, and the neighborhood had not been gentrified yet, so no one actually lived here. There were a handful of night-watchmen, perhaps, but most of these places depended on locks, burglar-alarms, and dogs that were released at night to keep out intruders.
"There" Andre pointed at a building that appeared to be home to several small manufactories. "He took the smoke-form and went to roost in the elevator control house at the top. That is why I did not advise going against him by day."
"Is he there now?" Diana peered up through the glare of sodium-vapor lights, but couldn't make out the top of the building.
Andre closed his eyes, a frown of concentration creasing his forehead. "No," he said after a moment. "I think he has gone hunting."
She repressed a shiver. "Then it's time to play bait."
Diana found a parking space marked dimly with the legend "President"she thought it unlikely it would be wanted within the next few hours. It was deep in the shadow of the building Andre had pointed out, and her car was dead-black; with any luck, cops coming by wouldn't even notice it was there and start to wonder.
She hopped out, locking her door behind her, looking now exactly like the lone jogger she was pretending to be, and set off at an easy pace. She did not look back.
If absolutely necessary, she knew she'd be able to keep this up for hours. She decided to take all the north-south streets first, then weave back along the east-west. Before the first hour was up she was wishing she'd dared bring a "walk-thing"every street was like every other street; blank brick walls broken by dusty, barred windows and metal doors, alleys with only the occasional dumpster visible, refuse blowing along the gutters. She was bored; her nervousness had worn off, and she was lonely. She ran from light to darkness, from darkness to light, and saw and heard nothing but the occasional rat.
Then he struck, just when she was beginning to get a little careless. Careless enough not to see him arrive.
One moment there was nothing, the next, he was before her, waiting halfway down the block. She knew it was himhe was exactly as Andre had described him, a nondescript Oriental man in a dark windbreaker and slacks. He was tall for an Orientaltaller than she by several inches. His appearance nearly startled her into stoppingthen she remembered that she was supposed to be an innocent jogger, and resumed her steady trot.
She knew he meant her to see him, he was standing directly beneath the streetlight and right in the middle of the sidewalk. She would have to swerve out of her path to avoid him.
She started to do just that, ignoring him as any real jogger would havewhen he raised his head and smiled at her.
She was stopped dead in her tracks by the purest terror she had ever felt in her life. She froze, as all of his other victims must haveunable to think, unable to cry out, unable to run. Her legs had gone numb, and nothing existed for her but that terrible smile and those hard, black eyes that had no bottom
Then the smile vanished, and the eyes flinched away. Diana could move again, and staggered back against the brick wall of the building behind her, her breath coming in harsh pants, the brick rough and comforting in its reality beneath her hands.
"Diana?" It was Andre's voice behind her.
"I'mall right" she said, not at all sure that she really was.
Andre strode silently past her, face grim and purposeful. The man seemed to sense his purpose, and smiled again
But Andre never faltered for even the barest moment.
The smile wavered and faded; the man fell back a step or two, surprised that his weapon had failed him
Then he scowled, and pulled something out of the sleeve of his windbreaker; and to Diana's surprise, charged straight for Andre, his sneakered feet scuffing on the cement
And something suddenly blurring about his right hand. As it connected with Andre's upraised left arm, Diana realized what it wasalmost too late.
"Andrehe has nunchuksthey're wood," she cried out urgently as Andre grunted in unexpected pain. "He can kill you with them! Get the hell out of here!"
Andre needed no second warning. In the blink of an eye, he was gone.
Leaving Diana to face the creature alone.
She dropped into guard-stance as he regarded her thoughtfully, still making no sound, not even of heavy breathing. In a moment he seemed to make up his mind, and came for her.
At least he didn't smile again in that terrible wayperhaps the weapon was only effective once.
She hoped fervently he wouldn't try againas an empath, she was doubly-vulnerable to a weapon forged of fear.
They circled each other warily, like two cats preparing to fightthen Diana thought she saw an openingand took it.
And quickly came to the conclusion that she was overmatched, as he sent her tumbling with a badly bruised shin. The next few moments reinforced that conclusionas he continued scatheless while she picked up injury after painful injury.
She was a brown-belt in karatebut he was a black-belt in kung-fu, and the contest was a pathetically uneven match. She knew before very long that he was toying with herand while he still swung the wooden nunchuks, Andre did not dare move in close enough to help.
She realized, (as fear dried her mouth, she grew more and more winded, and she searched frantically for a means of escape) that she was as good as dead.
If only she could get those damn 'chucks away from him!
And as she ducked and stumbled against the curb, narrowly avoiding the strike he made at her, an idea came to her. He knew from her movesas she knew from histhat she was no amateur. He would never expect an amateur's move from hersomething truly stupid and suicidal
So the next time he swung at her, she stood her ground. As the 'chuk came at her she took one step forward, smashing his nose with the heel of her right hand and lifting her left to intercept the flying baton.
As it connected with her left hand with a sickening crunch, she whirled and folded her entire body around hand and weapon, and went limp, carrying it away from him.
She collapsed in a heap at his feet, hand afire with pain, eyes blurring with it, and waited for either death or salvation.
And salvation in the form of Andre rose behind her attacker. With one savate kick he broke the man's back; Diana could hear it cracking like green woodand before her assailant could collapse, a second double-handed blow sent him crashing into the brick wall, head crushed like an eggshell.
Diana struggled to her feet, and waited for some arcane transformation.
She staggered to the corpse, face flat and expressionlessa sign she was suppressing pain and shock with utterly implacable iron will. Andre began to move forward as if to stop her, then backed off again at the look in her eyes.
She bent slightly, just enough to touch the shoulder of the body with her good handand released the Power.
Andre pulled her back to safety as the corpse exploded into flame, burning as if it had been soaked in oil. She watched the flames for one moment, wooden-faced; then abruptly collapsed.
Andre caught her easily before she could hurt herself further, lifting her in his arms as if she weighed no more than a kitten. "Mon pauvre petite," he murmured, heading back towards the car at a swift but silent run, "It is the hospital for you, I think"
"SaintFrancis" she gasped, every step jarring her hand and bringing tears of pain to her eyes, "One of usis on the night-staffDr. Crane"
"Bien," he replied. "Now be silent"
"Buthow are you"
"In your car, foolish one. I have the keys you left in it."
"I can drive."
"And I have a license. Will you be silent?"
"How?" she said, disobeying him.
"Night school," he replied succinctly, reaching the car, putting her briefly on her feet to unlock the passenger-side door, then lifting her into it. "You are not the only one who knows of urban camouflage."
This time she did not replymostly because she had fainted from pain.
The emergency room was emptyfor which Andre was very grateful. His invocation of Dr. Crane brought a thin, bearded young man around to the tiny examining cubicle in record time.
"Good godalmighty! What did you tangle with, a bus?" he exclaimed, when stripping the sweatsuit jacket and pants revealed that there was little of Diana that was not battered and black-and-blue.
Andre wrinkled his nose at the acrid antiseptic odors around them, and replied shortly. "No. Your `Ripper.' "
The startled gaze the doctor fastened on him revealed that Andre had scored. "Whowon?" he asked at last.
"We did. I do not think he will prey upon anyone again."
The doctor's eyes closed briefly; Andre read prayerful thankfulness on his face as he sighed with relief. Then he returned to business. "You must be Andre, right? Anything I can supply?"
Andre laughed at the hesitation in his voice. "Fear not, your blood supply is quite safe, and I am unharmed. It is Diana who needs you."
The relief on the doctor's face made Andre laugh again.
Dr. Crane ignored him. "Right," he said, turning to the work he knew best.
She was lightheaded and groggy with the Demerol Dr. Crane had given her as Andre deftly stripped her and tucked her into her bed; she'd dozed all the way home in the car.
"I just wish I knew what that thing was" she said inconsequentially, as he arranged her arm in its light Fiberglas cast a little more comfortably. "I won't be happy until I know"
"Then you are about to be happy, cherie, for I have had the brainstorm" Andre ducked into the livingroom and emerged with a dusty leather-bound book. "Remember I said there was something familiar about it? Now I think I know what it was." He consulted the index, and turned pages rapidlyfound the place he sought, and read for a few moments. "As I thoughtlisten. `The gakialso known as the Japanese vampirealso takes its nourishment only from the living. There are many kinds of gaki, extracting their sustenance from a wide variety of sources. The most harmless are the "perfume" and "music" gakiand they are by far the most common. Far deadlier are those that require blood, fleshor souls.' "
"Just so. `To feed, or when at rest, they take their normal form of a dense cloud of dark smoke. At other times, like the kitsune, they take on the form of a human being. Unlike the kitsune, however, there is no way to distinguish them in this form from any other human. In the smoke form, they are invulnerablein the human form, however, they can be killed; but to permanently destroy them, the body must be burnedpreferably in conjunction with or solely by Power.' I said there was something familiar about itit seems to have been a kind of distant cousin." Andre's mouth smiled, but his eyes reflected only a long-abiding bitterness.
"There is no way you have any relationship with thatthing!" she said forcefully. "It had no more honor, heart or soul than a rabid beast!"
"II thank you, cherie," he said, slowly, the warmth returning to his eyes. "There are not many who would think as you do."
"Their own closed-minded stupidity."
"To change the subjectwhat was it made you burn it as you did? I would have abandoned it. It seemed dead enough."
"I don't knowit just seemed the thing to do," she yawned. "Sometimes my instincts just work . . . right. . . ."
Suddenly her eyes seemed too leaden to keep open.
"Like they did with you. . . ." She fought against exhaustion and the drug, trying to keep both at bay.
But without success. Sleep claimed her for its own.
He watched her for the rest of the night, until the leaden lethargy of his own limbs told him dawn was near. He had already decided not to share her bed, lest any movement on his part cause her paininstead, he made up a pallet on the floor beside her.
He stood over her broodingly while he in his turn fought slumber, and touched her face gently. "Well" he whispered, holding off torpor far deeper and heavier than hers could ever bewhile she was mortal. "You are not aware to hear, so I may say what I will and you cannot forbid. Dream; sleep and dreamI shall see you safemy only love."
And he took his place beside her, to lie motionless until night should come again.
This was originally for a Susan Shwartz anthology, Sisters of Fantasy 2.
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