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Lord of Misrule (The Morganville Vampires #5)(15)
Author: Rachel Caine

"It would be customary," Oliver agreed.

Myrnin turned to Claire. "Thank you."

Somehow, she guessed that wasn't what Oliver had expected; she certainly hadn't. It was the kind of snub that got most people hurt in Morganville, but then again, she guessed Myrnin wasn't most people, even to Oliver.

Oliver didn't react. If there was a small red glow in the depths of his eyes, it could have been a reflection from the lights.

"Um--for what?" Claire asked.

"I remember what you did." Myrnin shrugged. "It was the right choice at the moment. I couldn't control myself. The pain . . . the pain was extremely difficult to contain."

She cast a nervous glance at his wrists. "How is it now?"

"Tolerable." His tone dismissed any further discussion. "We need to get to a portal and locate Amelie. The closest is at the university. We will need a car, I suppose, and a driver. Some sturdy escorts wouldn't go amiss." Myrnin sounded casual, but utterly certain that his slightest wish would be obeyed, and again, she felt that flare of tension between him and Oliver.

"Perhaps you've missed the announcement," Oliver said. "You're no longer a king, or a prince, or whatever you were before you disappeared into your filthy hole. You're Amelie's exotic pet alchemist, and you don't give me orders. Not in my town."

"Your town," Myrnin repeated, staring at him intently. His face had set into pleasant, rigid lines, but those eyes--not pleasant at all. Claire moved herself prudently out of the way. "What a surprise! I thought it was the Founder's town."

Oliver looked around. "Oddly, she seems unavailable, and that makes it my town, little man. So go and sit down. You're not going anywhere. If she's in trouble--which I do not yet believe--and if there's rescuing to be done, we will consider all the risks."

"And the benefits of not acting at all?" Myrnin asked. His voice was wound as tight as a clock spring. "Tell me, Old Ironsides, how you plan to win this campaign. I do hope you don't plan to reenact Drogheda."

Claire had no idea what that meant, but it meant something to Oliver, something bitter and deep, and his whole face twisted for a moment.

"We're not fighting the Irish campaigns, and whatever errors I made once, I'll not be making them again," Oliver said. "And I don't need advice from a bluefaced hedge witch."

"There's the old Puritan spirit!"

Chapter Six

In an hour, the blush of dawn was already on the horizon, bringing an eerie blue glow to the night world. Somewhere out there, vampires all over town would be getting ready for it, finding secure places to stay the day--whatever side they were fighting on.

The ones in Common Grounds seemed content to stay on, which made sense; it was kind of a secured location anyway, from what Oliver and Amelie had said before--one of the key places in town to hold if they intended to keep control of Morganville.

But Claire wasn't entirely happy with the way some of those vampires--strangers, mostly, though all from Morganville, according to Eve--seemed to be whispering in the corners. "How do we know they're on our side?" she asked Eve, in a whisper she hoped would escape vampire notice.

No such luck. "You don't," Oliver said, from several feet away. "Nor is that your concern, but I will reassure you in any case. They are all loyal to me, and through me, to Amelie. If any of them `turn coats,' you may be assured that they'll regret it." He said it in a normal tone of voice, to carry to all parts of the room.

The vampires stopped whispering.

"All right," Oliver said to Claire and Eve. The light of dawn was creeping up like a warning outside the windows. "You understand what I want you to do?"

Eve nodded and gave him a sloppy, insolent kind of salute. "Sir, yes sir, General sir!"

"Eve." His patience, what little there was, was worn to the bone. "Repeat my instructions."

Eve didn't like taking orders under the best of circumstances, which these weren't. Claire quickly said, "We take these walkietalkies to each of the Founder Houses, to the university, and to anybody else on the list. We tell them all strategic orders come through these, not through cell phone or police band."

"Be sure to give them the code," he said. Each one of the tiny little radios had a keypad, like a cell phone, but the difference was that you had to enter the code into it to access the emergency communication channel he'd established. Pretty high tech, but then, Oliver didn't really seem the type to lag much behind on the latest cool stuff. "All right. I'm sending Hannah with you as your escort. I'd send one of my own, but--"

"Dawn, yeah, I know," Eve said. She offered a high five to Hannah, who took it. "Damn, girl, love the Rambo look."

"Rambo was a Green Beret," Hannah said. "Please. We eat those army boys for breakfast."

Which was maybe not such a comfortable thing to say in a room full of maybehungry vampires. Claire cleared her throat. "We should--"

Hannah nodded, picked up the backpack (Claire's, now filled with handheld radios instead of books), and handed it to her. "I need both hands free," she said. "Eve's driving. You're the supply master. There's a checklist inside, so you can mark off deliveries as we go."

Myrnin was sitting off to the side, ominously quiet. His eyes still looked sane, but Claire had warned Oliver in the strongest possible terms that he couldn't trust him. Not really.

As if I would, Oliver had said with a snort. I've known the man for many human lifetimes, and I've never trusted him yet.

The vampires in the coffee shop had mostly retreated out of the big, front area, into the betterprotected, light proofed interior. Outside of the plate glass windows, there was little to be seen. The fires had gone out, or been extinguished. They'd seen some cars speeding about, mostly official police or fire, but the few figures they'd spotted had been quick and kept to the shadows.

"What are they doing?" Claire asked as she hitched her backpack to a more comfortable position on her shoulder. She didn't really expect Oliver to reply; he wasn't much on the sharing.

He surprised her. "They're consolidating positions," he said. "This is not a war that will be fought in daylight, Claire. Or in the open. We have our positions; they have theirs. They may send patrols of humans they've recruited, but they won't come themselves. Not after dawn."

"Recruited," Hannah repeated. "Don't you mean strongarmed? Most folks just want to be left alone."

"Not necessarily. Morganville is full of humans who don't love us, or the system under which they labor," Oliver replied. "Some will believe Bishop is the answer. Some will act out of fear, to protect their loved ones. He will know how to appeal to them, and how to pressure. He'll find his human cannon fodder."

 

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