Rio.

I rolled over on my stomach when I heard the low thump next to me on the bed. Or had that come from below? Ari's bare chest rose and fell with every breath; he was completely still – asleep in the deep sense where, when you wake up, you feel like you've only just fallen asleep. He pretty much wasn't about to wake up, and I was pretty much sure that it hadn't been he who made that thump. If not beside me, then below.

Hmm? So did I get up and investigate? Half naked and vulnerable-looking as I was, a killer or robber – or whatever else might be taking refuge in the predawn shadows – might take pity on me. Oh, what a sweet looking little kid. Yeah. And Peter Pan is really God. Right.

Thump.

Oh, hell. I'd investigate already. Shut up, whatever you are, before you wake the weird necrophilia-practicing necromancer in bed next to me. Who knows – the guy could wake up with a sexual appetite to rival a vampire's. You just never know. Some days just weren't as lucky as others. I didn't want to be the main course, especially considering that I was almost certain I'd have to be dead before he'd ever spare a glance in my direction. Of course, I was kind of sure that my appearing twelve and a boy was my saving grace.

Pretty sure.

I got out of bed and walked through his small house. There was a shop in the front – it was run by an old man who thought getting up at the crack of dawn was a peachy idea. The noises might've come from him, but I'd been here long enough to know his routine around the shop. He wasn't loud. It wasn't him. He was probably just moseying along, stocking his shelves with voodoo relics and other strange things.

Besides, the noise wasn't really coming from that direction; it came from below. Was there a basement to this place? Ari hadn't mentioned one, but then again, we'd only been flat mates for about two weeks. Oh, and I'm not allowed to say flat mate. It's "housemate." Housemate? That just sounds stupid.

Who came up with that?

So, basement. If I were a crazy Middle Eastern necromancer, where would I hide the basement? Trap door. Storm cellar, maybe.

Maybe I was just crazy.

Yeah. Sure.

Probably.

My feet felt too soft against the rough hardwood floor. There was a strange break in the carpeting in Ari's portion of the shop/house, where I was pretty sure the carpet had just been torn out. And not in the – oh, let's put hardwood flooring down, way; I mean in the . . . Whoops. Just murdered this guy, so why don't we wrap him up in this carpet and dump him out in a river sort of way. Yeah. Like that.

Totally what I would have done.

Two weeks.

I tested my foot against the splintery floor and wondered why I hadn't thought to do something smart like put on socks, but that might have something to do with the fact that thinking ahead wasn't one of my strong points. I talked fast, ate like a bird, and scared Ari with the amount of salt I piled on my food. Uh . . . Would you like some fries with that salt there, Rio? 'Course not. Me? Shucks, no.

The floor wasn't bad. If I was careful, I wouldn't be spending the rest of the day pulling splinters out of my heel. More like if I was lucky. Which I'm not. Oh, hell. I wasn't about to go back for socks either; I didn't want to risk waking Ari. He's not a morning person. And he really does have a strong desire for sex when he gets up. But not with me.

When he gets up, all I see out of his eyes is a strong lust for such a long moment that I'm always too scared to move. It fades. And when it does, it's like he's seeing me for the first time – he narrows his eyes and gets all grumpy. Maybe he wishes I was female.

Oh, here I go. No wonder he spends half the day calling me addle brained. Basement. I was looking for a basement.

Hmm. You know, some days I wondered if he really did like me . . . He pretended not to but. Basement, damn it. Basement. I needed to look for the damn basement and stop contemplating Ari.

I stared down at the hard floor, wondering. I hadn't seen an entrance to a basement outside and I'd spent half of the first week peeking into all of Ari's doors. He always got angry, too, because there was always something I wasn't supposed to see. One closet was stacked with clothes, candles, and sex toys. He didn't mind me finding the first two, but I guess the leather whips and handcuffs were rather personal. The other had porn and cooking things, like flour and sugar. Who puts DVDs in with the baking ingredients? I just want to know. Maybe it's a Middle Eastern thing.

Could totally be a Middle Eastern thing. No wife in her right mind is gonna look for porn in the kitchen cupboards when she's making cookies. Suuuure.

Two weeks. Damn. Two whole weeks and I still didn't have a fucking clue where Raven was. That's all I needed to know; I was ordered to give him the information. He needed it, and I couldn't very well go back to my darling Ravens – the race, not the person – and tell them that I lost him. That'd go over well. Riiiiight.

So for now I was stuck here, playing the innocent little illegal immigrant. Hmm. I just put 'innocent' and 'illegal' in the same sentence. Goody for me. Still, it was annoying spending all my time with Ari, telling myself that if I didn't already have masters who used me as a puppet, I could stay here. With Ari.

I wanted to stay with Ari, but I couldn't. And that stupid fuck, Gerard Chaostii, absolutely refused to give me answers. Don't worry, though, he gave all the answers in the world about me to Ari. And Ari thought my situation was absolutely hilarious. Well, until he learned that I was working with the guys who wanted Davie dead.

Oh, and get this. Gerard is totally Davie's father. Oh, how paternal, protecting your baby from beyond the grave. I wonder how God would have taken that. Oh, right, you know, my Lord, uh . . . I'm just gonna go ahead and file for 'Unfinished Business' so I can stay on earth and look after my incredibly powerful kid, who, by the way, doesn't need my help. Nope. Not him.

I'm going to stay anyway.

Thump.

Right. The basement. I get sidetracked. Easily.

I started across the rough floor. If there were no doors leading to the basement . . . and there had to be one . . . Where else would the shopkeeper store all his boxes? Point is, if there were no technical doors, there had to be another way. Maybe this nice, rough floor held a clue.

I doubted it, but I was going to investigate anyway.

Damn. Another time, though; it's hard to solve mysterious noises coming from below your feet under the watchful eye of a very talented necromancer.

I didn't have to see or hear Ari come up behind me to know he was there. Call it a gift or something, because I really don't know how or why I can do it. Genetics? They'd have to be damn good genetics and I was pretty much sure that my parents didn't qualify. Boo for them.

I turned around and widened my eyes a little, saying, "Buenas dias," because it would annoy him, and maybe he wouldn't badger me about what I was doing up this early; what I was looking for. Yeah, sure; and pigs can fly, didn't you know?

His eyes moved down my frame and back up again as they did every morning – it was like he was memorizing me and I didn't like it. One of these days I was going to do something about it, but I didn't know what. I could kiss him; that would throw him a little off base. But I didn't like guys as a rule. Occupational hazard. Necromancers are born beautiful, like vampires. Hardy har har. I bet you don't get the joke in that.

Most people don't get my jokes.

"Morning," he replied rather nonchalantly after a long pause. His eyes were lingering on my bare chest, where he'd left a mark. Bite mark? Nah. He'd felt the need to perform some kind of ritual on me. Wasn't necromancy or I'd have known it – at least, I think so. It was meant to keep me from leaving the house. He said it worked in the same way that vampires couldn't enter without being invited; I couldn't leave without his permission.

"Hungry?"

For what, darling? Sex or food, because with you, I'm never sure what you mean. You offer me one thing, and yet I'm sure you mean something else. I could have sex, money, drugs . . . Hell, you'd throw in the rock 'n' roll just because I like mainstream things, wouldn't you? All for a taste? Or do you just like to tease me?

I could have said all that. No, I couldn't have; he'd probably change his mind about me being cute and fuzzy and kill my pretty little ass six feet under. He could still; not like he couldn't just raise me from the dead. Bottle of soul, ash of grave, corpse of human. It could work. Yeah, it could totally work.

I nodded my head, fisting a handful of curly black hair; he aggravated me. I made him hungry, didn't I? But not for sex; for power. Power. Reassuring? I think not.

"Did you hear from Jin?" I asked, tilting my head to the side. Jin was one of the few werewolves that weren't wary around death magic. Hell, anything purely living was uncomfortable around death magic, which pretty much means vampires felt right at home. And necromancers? We're just the oddballs out. Maybe we're born half dead, who knows?

Ari glared at me. It wasn't my business, and on top of that, he didn't want to give me any information on anyone who had anything to do with David Chaostii. Call it a weakness, but everyone around here seemed to love the half-breed bastard child. He even tried to tell me that, given the chance, I'd protect him, that I'd tried to tell him that we needed to protect him in my sleep.

Me? Hardly.

Too bad giving him something peachy, like sex, wouldn't coax him into some answers. Hardy har. When in doubt, prostitute yourself for a few answers. What a nice code to live by, don't you think? Just bloody fucking wonderful.

My job got harder by the minute. "Offer me a way out."

He quirked an eyebrow, eyes flashing down my body, debating. Yeah, that's right. Take the bait. Just don't threaten me the vampires again, because if I wake up screaming, having dreamed – again – of that stupid fucker that tried to eat me the night I ran into you for the first time, I don't want to hear it. And I really don't want to have those nightmares again, either, thank you.

"Give me a way out," I repeated. "Give me something! Say you'll protect me; that what I know means something. Something." I paused.

Ari stood in an archway that separated what was supposed to be a family room from what was supposed to be a dining room. Both were empty of anything but carpet, and even then, there was only a good six inches of dull, thin, forest green carpet in the dining room. The rest of the dining room was covered in the splintery, old wood that I stood on.

His arms were crossed over his chest, body leaned against the wall; he stood there studying me in that calculating way that Gerard had – Argh! I hate Gerard! – so many nights ago. At least he was considering it. Me, become a double agent and work on his side? He wouldn't go for it. Become a traitor? To him, there was nothing worse than a lowlife peon that switched sides.

Ah, how the day was looking up for me. I fidgeted. It was easier when he was protecting me from angry zombies and even angrier vampires.

"Ari," I was pleading. Fancy that. But I sounded cute and innocent, and I pretty much was, so it was okay with me. I didn't want to hurt anyone. Even Davie. But Davie had to go because Davie was a threat to everyone. At least when those witches had him there was a chance that he wouldn't come to full power and destroy us all, mostly because he'd be an empty shell. But nooo. Everybody's gotta be a hero and protect the weak.

Right.

Davie didn't need anyone's protection. He needed to die. But there were always going to be some people who thought they could save him, teach him to control his power, and then everything would be just dandy. Too bad it didn't work like that. And he was too big a threat to let live.

Should I say that? Are you nuts? Ari would probably flat out kill me.

I walked forward and snaked my arms around his waist; he didn't pull back or even go rigid, just let me lean my weight against him. I could have had a knife; I could have shoved it in his back. He'd have killed me before I got within two inches of him. Ah, gotta love men with power.

"Ari, say something to me." Pleading again. I'd tried it for the past two weeks – it got me bits and pieces of information. Time and again, he'd give into me . . . eventually.

I looked up at him and he back down at me, and the only word I could think of to describe his expression was stubborn. Just plain stubborn.

"I told him no." Revealing, aren't you?

"Told who no?" Yay, game time. I snuggled into his chest, arms clinging to his shirt. "Ari, please. Please." Ah, a moment of truth was coming. "I don't want to go back there. I don't. I'll do anything."

"I know that, stupid," he spat. "They can't find you here. Didn't I tell you I could make you disappear?"

I looked up, confused.

He pushed me back and held me at arm's length. "You're my enemy, Rio. You know this. I've told you."

"I don't want to be!" I nearly screamed.

Ari growled low. He just didn't like to be interrupted; I liked to interrupt. Frequently. "But you're not a threat." He pointed to a mark on my chest.

"Yeah, I know. I couldn't walk out of these doors if I tried." A thought struck me. "Where is the basement? Something's moving in the basement. I heard noises." I sounded ominous. Woo for me.

"Oh, good God!" Ari was nearly yelling. Woohoo. This was going to be a greaaaaaaat day. Just peachy.

"What did I do?" It had to be me. He didn't get this angry for anyone else.

Ari walked to the middle of the dining room floor and looked down, speaking something in Hebrew that I couldn't hear. Woo for him, he'd hidden the door with magic. And in the middle of the floor. Face it, who looks for a door there? Not me. Good for him. Damn it, but he was good.

I looked down at his feet; somewhere around there was a door. I couldn't see it. Where was the door? What the hell?

I blinked. Ari wasn't there anymore. No fair.

Pissed, I walked to the middle of the floor where he'd stood and dropped to my knees, hands searching for something; maybe I could grab an invisible doorknob and yank an invisible door open. Probably not. I tried anyway, fumbling around angrily until I hit my hand pretty hard on something that was definitely solid. Anger poured out of me, and I reached down and grasped something solid. It felt like a strangely shaped handle.

I sank through the floor. So much for going in prepared.

It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the near-perfect darkness around me. I got up off my knees – I'd landed on them, rather softly thank goodness – and stood in a long hallway filled with doors on either side. It just seemed to extend forever in a way that was completely obscene; it had to be an illusion. Was I trapped? I'd be pissed.

Not particularly wanting to think about that, I started down the hallway, wondering where I could find Ari and pummel him. Like that would ever happen, but the thought of hitting him really hard kept me going for a while – straight down the hallway. I wanted to open the doors – maybe he'd gone into one of them, but something told me that I shouldn't dare open those doors. There was something about them that just said no.

After the whole sinking-through-the-floor situation, I was pretty okay with that.

"Ari?" Saying his name didn't feel like a good idea, either. It felt like there were things around me, and by saying his name, I made them happy in the way that stroking a kitten's fur makes it purr and knead. Oh, god.

This just didn't feel right.

And I really didn't want to have to be the one to panic and sit on the floor and cry until he found me. What a sight that would be.

"Rio!" The sound of shock.

"Ari?" I sounded really panicked. Really, really panicked. Okay, sitting on the floor time; I could already feel the tears on my face. "Oh, God. Ari, I just wanna go back upstairs."

Arms encircled me from behind, pulling me against a chest too hard to be human, not decayed enough to be zombie, and definitely not belonging in any way, shape, or form, to Ari. Damn it.

"ARI!" Jesus. "Ari!" And no, I don't mean that the person who grabbed me was Jesus.

"Shh," said the thing that held me to it. I felt arms traveling up and down my arms, but . . . there were two arms encircling my waist already. What was going on? Another arm stroked my hair. "Relax, relax."

I'd heard of people experiencing pain just from touch – from being panicked or not wanting to be touched in such a way that the nerves send horrible messages to your brain. My nerves were as panicked as I was. It hurt.

"It'll be okay."

I jolted, trying to get away, and the arms encircling my waist pulled tighter. Terrified, I started to jerk, each movement bringing the arms tighter and tighter around me. I'd be bruised by noon, I'd bet money on it. What I wouldn't bet money on was my being alive at that time as well.

"Ari." My voice was strained; I could hear the tears in my voice, the pleading, begging. "Don't let him hurt me."

"Stop moving." Ari was whispering, and I didn't know why. "It's all right, Hazel Eyes, just calm down."

Calm down? You little fucker; you're not the one being freaking crushed to death. Don't tell me to calm down!

"He'll stop squeezing if you relax."

Liar. I wanted to call him a liar, but I couldn't.

"Trust me, Nut Cake."

I could see Ari's eyes through the darkness, watching me calmly. It was almost as if he were saying not to worry, he'd get me out of this. I just had to trust him; relax.

I tried to relax. "Please," I begged. "Please just let go of me. I want Ari."

He laughed. Not Ari, but the man behind me. I never wanted to hear that laugh again.

"Let him go," Ari said firmly, glaring at the man behind me.

He laughed again. Didn't I say I never wanted to hear that laugh again? Damn it. No one listens to me. "I'm not a zombie you can order around, little sha'ettemu."

Sha'ettemu? Only Ravens – again, the race, not the person – called necromancers that. Only Ravens. And that meant that I knew him, right? I worked for them; did they come for me? To kill me? To rescue me? What? Why? And since when did they have like five arms?

And how did Ari 'know' that he'd relax his hold if I stopped struggling? A zombie might, but a Raven? Hardly. Maybe it was just a law of physics or psychology. Point for Ari.

"Who are you?" I asked the Raven. Woo. If he really was a Raven, I'd just declared my loyalty for Ari – I'd just signed my death warrant. Yes, just the way to start of your typical Monday morning. A little angry magic; a little bit of death. Ah, the days you remember.

"Who am I?" That laugh again. "I can feel you shudder against me. Do I sound cruel to you?"

I felt lips on my neck. Felt the brush of fangs.

Dear God, he was a vampire.

And awake at this early in the morning? He'd be old; so old. Oh, lordy, I was going to become fodder for a damn vampire.

"Oh, beautiful sha'ettemu, you're going to make such a delicious meal." He bit, kissed, and sucked his way up my neck. I resisted – barely – the urge to scream the word pedophile. Somehow, I don't think it would have helped things along.

"Ari." Too many tears streamed down my face. "Oh, God. Ari, please. Please help me."

"Let. Him. Go." Each word emphasized; this was a new kind of angry. And then, "Please."

"Ari, I won't let you keep him here. He'll find a way out; he's too powerful not to. We both know this." The voice sounded borderline malicious. "He'd be better dead to us than alive."

"No." He was whispering.

"I have to. I can't allow this to continue."

I felt myself being turned around to face the creature of many arms. At first, I couldn't see him . . .but when my eyes adjusted, the first thing I looked for was those three extra arms. They weren't there. I even had the gull to lift up the only two arms I could see and look for more.

He smiled mirthlessly. "Shadows. They obey me."

When he came into focus, I didn't recognize him at first – my primary thought having been He looks funny. His body was normal enough; he was a slender man with a medium build; pale skin. But his face . . . one eye was missing. Scars were everywhere. And I couldn't decide if his hair was black or blonde. Maybe it was the darkness. Maybe it was his mood. I'd seen enough strange things in my life that I didn't rule out the possibility. In the center of his forehead was a mark like the one on my chest. Did it bind him so that he couldn't leave this strange place?

Ari came up behind me and pulled me to him. I tried to yank away, but he refused to let go. Absolutely refused. "Hush." He wrapped his arms so protectively around me. Paternal, Ari? What was the world coming to? "You can't have him."

"I already do," was the offhanded reply. His eyes stayed focused on me and I shivered.

"Protect me," I said to Ari.

He replied, "I will," so I trusted myself enough to turn around and bury me head into his chest. Bare or not, it was better than looking at that abomination that was barely an excuse for a human being. Hell, he was more of a demon than anything human.

"He will die." The scary, evil vampire glowered in our general direction. I didn't need to look at him; I felt it. I cried.

"Get him away from me," I sobbed. "Please, God, please."

"I won't let you hurt him, damn it." Ari screamed. "I'll fucking kill you first."

"I'm sorry, Ari." Vamp boy sounded regretful.

Everything went black for a moment. I felt Ari drop to the floor and whipped around to scream at the vampire. What good was that going to do? Who knows?

A moment later, everything started to go black again. Was this how he overcame Ari? Had he overcome Ari? Ari? Surely not. Ari was . . . unbeatable; way too powerful for his own good. He could kick my ass and then some, so he'd never be the first of us to fall to this vampire's . . . uh . . . magic. Yeah, magic. Surely the mark on his forehead kept him bound to Ari.

Or was it the other way around?

Couldn't be.

Yeah, I was definitely just telling myself that to make me feel better. And who knows, if I'd had a little more time, I might have even started to believe it.

"Why don't you fall into the darkness?" Ah, you're starting to read my mind, aren't you? I was juuuust wondering the same thing. "It should overcome you, bring you into the near tangible seductiveness of oblivion. Just do it; it's a far less painful death than the one I will afford you if you don't."

Death? All I could think at that moment was: Death? He'd killed Ari? Ari wasn't going to get back up? Bastard. Bastard.

BASTARD!

"I'll kill you," I hissed. I controlled my voice. When did that ever happen?

The vampire laughed, stepping closer to me. I didn't back up; I just let him come so close that our bodies were touching again. Apparently, I thought I knew what I was doing (which is funny; I never know what I'm doing) – I was going to wait; wait for his mouth to come down, lips touching my neck. I would strike before he bit, because so help me goodness, if I didn't, I was dead. The pain of a bite . . . If a vampire wants you to feel a bite. Ah, I don't want to think about it.

He came forward then. I waited, and I struck at the right moment.

What did I do, you ask? That's a very good question. And I promise, I shall be elated to tell you how my hand ended up in his chest if I ever figure it out.

It was like being controlled by someone else. I said, "I control that which is dead. Sha'ettemu. I rule the dead."

He fell backwards and my hand slipped out of his body as he did so. Slimy, hot, sticky blood was all over my hand. I just smiled at it like a happy pedophile in a room with a really cute kid; do whatever you want, this kid is yours. Yeah. No. Not like that. Still, you get the point.

I was a happy little psycho.

I heard something stir behind me, and pissed as I was that Ari had "died," I never thought to look back and check to see if he was all right. I just spun around, ready to kill whatever I saw if need be, and hissed. Killing sounded good; sounded fun right about now. Add some more blood to this, and I could . . . Ah.

Huh? What?

I blinked as if I had just woken up and stared down at the necromancer.

Ari sat up and looked at me, tired. He rubbed his chest and grunted softly, angry. "Hell," was all he said. He was alive. Had the vampire lied? He'd done a bad thing if so, making me angry enough to somehow . . . do whatever it was that I managed to do. And all on a bluff? For his sake, I hoped not. What a terrible way to die . . . Over a bluff.

I wiped the vampire blood on my – well, Ari's – sweat pants and stared at him, waiting. He merely looked up at me and smiled, genuinely happy.

People don't generally smile at me when they know I've done things that like. It's like a rule of thumb.

I smiled back.

"Sha'ettemu," he said softly.

"Sha'ettemu." Ruler of the dead.

XXX

Ari showed me how to get back out of the basement – I was rather grateful about that. And, for the first time in our standing relationship, I was the one being evasive; I didn't really want to talk about how I'd somehow killed the vampire. According to Ari, I hadn't actually killed him. He was injured, though, so I suppose that's sort of compensation. Evil Spanish vampire from the twelfth century. What the hell was he doing in Ari's basement? Holy cow. Ari was keeping a damnable pet vampire.

Okay, so it wasn't a pet. Santino was a rogue vampire under Ari's protection, but he also protected Ari. And he was going to be very pissed at me when he got better, which would probably be by that night. Ari suggested we find something to do, away from the shop that night.

And he said to pray that we didn't run into Santino's cousin, Vitelli. Vitelli was trouble.

At least he didn't like Davie.

Too bad.

Ari laughed. "You sure are something." He stopped when his feet just touched the place on the floor where there is actually carpet and turned to look at me. Studying; calculating. "You have too much raw power."

I stared. I knew that.

His eyes narrowed. What was he getting at?

I said, "So?" and crossed my arms.

"You have too much raw power at your disposal and you don't even know how to begin to control it." He made it sound I should have been having a revelation about something.

"And?" No instant revelation for me.

"You're just like Davie."

I winced; he didn't have to make it sound like that. Lord, I was a necromancer (am a necromancer) not a half breed bastard like Davie.

Hands went up. Mock surrender? I wasn't so sure. "Think about it: What you just did isn't possible for any but the oldest, most skilled necromancers. It's been done . . .oh . . . three times in the history of the world, this being the third."

I nodded. Yeah, he was right. I didn't want to think about him being right. "They'll kill me, too."

"Maybe that's what they were planning all along." Ari stepped toward me and slipped an arm around my waist. "Do you think you're evil?"

"If I have too much power," I started very sadly, "then I must be disposed of." I looked at him with nothing short of conviction. "I cannot allow myself to be a threat to those I love. I could never allow myself to be a monster."

"Or a mindless puppet, controlled by the whims of another?"

"What?"

"Your people, they gave Davie to a coven of witches. They wanted to break him so that they could use his power. Do you realize how much they'd have at their disposal?"

"They were trying to have pity on an innocent soul; that's why they sent him. It isn't our fault that the witches chose to pursue something less than ethical." I looked up at him; his eyes said it all: Bullshit. And maybe he was right, but I didn't want to think about that right now. I didn't know if I could handle it.

"Do you think you're evil?" he repeated.

I shook my head. What else could I do?

"No? Good. You're not." Was it supposed to be reassuring; I didn't know. "Just because you have more power doesn't make you a threat to anything but their power. And if they're not evil or corrupt, what do they have to fear?"

"Stop." I didn't want to talk about this.

"Davie isn't evil. Cowgirl isn't evil. They will hurt no one. They know when they use their power; they can stop themselves from using it if they don't want to. Same as you. Same as Raven." Ari shook his head. "No, his name . . . is Snow."

"I'm hungry." It was a plea; he knew that.

To my immense relief, he nodded. "Let's get something to eat, then."

Author's Rant: This is actually Chapter Eight. Chapter Seven is being bad and I have to fix a couple of things at the end (and add a little more to it) so I'll like it enough to actually post it. And here I had a nice pattern going of Davie, Somebody else, Davie, somebody else, and so on. It died. I accidentally killed it. Blame it on Rio, because he had my attention. I think he's kind of funny. Davie's chapter is a little bit . . . angsty?