"Orgasmic?" Great, yet another thing to fantasize about with Murdoch. "They, uh, like it?"

"I know, right! The coven considers them bite bores. But Sebastian did use Thrane's key to whisk Kad's two sisters back to the future, and he saved Kad's life. Plus, Nikolai tried to sacrifice his life for Myst's. Not that she'd needed him to. So some Valkyries have stopped overtly plotting to massacre the two brothers. Though Murdoch and Conrad are still fair game," she concluded brightly.

"Conrad? I knew he was alive!" Danii said in a rush. "Are the rumors true - is he fallen? Will they ever find him?"

"He lives. Dunno if he's fallen. And yes, eventually the brothers will locate him. I've been helping Nikolai, you know."

And only Nikolai. Nix refused to meet with Murdoch or Sebastian. "I know you have. Murdoch keeps me up to date about everything."

"Indeed? Did he tell you that the Goddess of Impossibility gifted Sebastian with another turn of Thrane's Key? So he could go back in time and bring his own sisters and family forward? Obviously Riora grew quite enamored of the studly scholar."

Murdoch hadn't told her that. But why? This was huge! Instead of answering Nix, Danii demanded, "Why are you meddling in this? You don't even really like vampires."

"How can you say that?" Nix asked in a scandalized tone. "I have never in my life meddled."

Danii gave a harsh laugh. "You even got the House of Witches to sell Nikolai, a vampire, mystical goods." If Conrad was indeed fallen, the brothers planned to capture him to keep him from killing again. Nikolai's first purchase had been unbreakable manacles that prevented the wearer from tracing.

"Gold got those mercenaries to sell to him," Nix countered. "I merely brokered the deal. Would you rather I not help? Hmm. You seem irritable. Usually when I speak to shacked-up Valks, they sound cheerier."

"Bet they can make skin-to-skin contact with their co-shackers."

"Is that the only reason for trouble in paradise? Tell, Nixie, tell. You know I'll just forget."

"I think he's... avoiding me. He spends night after night away, following leads about Conrad. That's where he is tonight."

"Do you think he would avoid you if you two could touch?"

"No, I don't. This situation has to be tormenting for him." Because it is for me.

"I was thinking about Mariketa the Awaited," Nix said. "She's finally begun to come into her powers. In another fifty years, she might be able to help you."

"Truly?" Mariketa was supposed to be the most powerful witch ever born to the House of Witches. "I've been waiting for this since she was a girl!" No one in the Lore had known how long they'd be awaiting Mariketa to attain her full strength, which could've taken anywhere from years to millennia.

"Mariketa's taking deposits, escrowed of course. You could sign up on her waiting list."

Danii could, and until the time came, maybe another less-powerful witch could put her and Murdoch to sleep, hibernating like Woden and Freya. When Danii and Murdoch woke, they'd be able to be together.

Yet she almost didn't want to tell Murdoch about this idea. Fifty years would still sound like an age to him. Besides, it was in no way certain.

"I don't suppose you know of any way that might predate the fifty-year wait?" Danii was aware of other immortal competitions with outrageous prizes, as well as those extensive Lore bazaars where magics were peddled. Both tended to be held around the Accession.

Could there finally be a magic out there that would allow her and Murdoch to touch? Without exacting a devastating - and potentially scaly - penalty?

"I'll have to see into the future on that and get back to you," Nix said. "But for now, let's gossip!"

For half an hour, Nix filled her in on Lorean current events, such as the marriage between Emma and Lachlain MacRieve, her were-wolf protector. "Told you so about Lykae inlaws," Nix chirped.

And she related how Kaderin had set about acclimating her medieval sisters to this time: "Video games can be deeply enlightening to the uninitiated."

"What about Regin?" Danii asked. "Surely, she's drummed up some kind of trouble." Regin the Radiant was the coven's resident prankster, hopelessly immature and proud of it. Her "superhero identity" was The Fellatrix, and she was prone to snicker and say things like "The song 'Come On Eileen' doesn't have a comma after on... "

"She's been skirting nuclear meltdown since her b.f.f. Lucia went scarce without her."

Surprisingly, brash Regin and level-headed Lucia the Huntress were inseparable best friends. Her past shrouded in mystery, Lucia was an archer who'd been cursed to feel indescribable pain if she missed a shot. At least, that was one of her curses. "Why would Lucia do that?"

"She's gone on walkabout, with her own Lykae admirer hot on her heels... "

While she and Nix gabbed, Danii endeavored to explain her obsessive carving and the arcane symbols, but the soothsayer revealed nothing, saying only, "Your ways are not like our earth ways."

"Oh!" Nix suddenly exclaimed. "I almost forgot, I'm sending you a pressy."

"When?" Danii liked gifts! As did every Valkyrie. "How will you know where to send it?"

"As if I don't know exactly where you are! Now, I must go. I have mayhem down at five o'clock and Survivor at eight."

"Will you tell everyone that I said hi, and not to steal the clothes I left behind?"

"The second of those requests has already been rendered moot. Literally a free-for-all."


"One last thing, do you remember those pesky dempires?"

"Do I ever," Danii said. Murdoch had barely survived his encounter with them. "Want to say you told me so about them as well?"

"No, no, I just wanted you to know that they're mewling cream-puffs compared to Conrad Wroth. And when I said that his brothers would eventually locate him? Eventually is tonight. Ciao!" Click.


Murdoch and Nikolai entered Erol's - a ramshackle bayou tavern that catered solely to Loreans - with Sebastian due to meet them any minute.

A contact had told Nikolai that Conrad was within this bar on this very night, and had been returning here repeatedly.

As if to draw his brothers out.

In the past, Conrad had wanted to kill Murdoch and Nikolai, had hated them for turning him, even more than Sebastian had. Did Conrad still want to? They'd soon see.

Murdoch scanned the interior of the dimly-lit tavern -

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