When Ellen came out in a too-large white cotton robe with a towel wrapped around her hair he had the breakfast table set, in the big airy room that led out onto the balcony. The pensione was perched high on the slope above Amalfi’s little cove, and the Tyrrhenian sea sparkled an impossible blue to the west; white buildings tumbled down the hillside to meet it, down to the Duomo and the half-Romanesque-Byzantine, half-Saracen cathedral.
She felt much better now; the hot water had driven the last of the grue out of her mind and the stiffness out of her muscles, and she found herself eager for the day, sniffing the scent of the coffee. When she tossed the towel aside the mild warm breeze tumbled through her curly blond hair.
“Good morning, Mrs. Brézé,” Adrian said.
“Salut, Monsieur Brézé,” she replied.
“And Buon Giorno,” they added in unison; this was Amalfi, after all.
“You look enchanting. And dressed like that, you also look about twelve.”
“Not really,” she said.
Ellen struck a pose with one hand behind her head and a leg showing through the slit. Adrian’s gaze lingered on it. She was twenty-four; she was also five-foot-six and thirty-six-twenty-seven-thirty-six, taut from tennis and cross-country running, with a face close enough to a certain 50’s actress that it had been embarrassing in NYU’s art-history classes when they came to study Warhol’s famous portrait.
“No, on second thoughts, of a perfectly legal age,” he said, after clearing his throat.
She sat, and began to eat. The breakfast was more or less Italian, except for the chilled mango; ripe figs, crisp crumbly frese, slightly sweet and flavored with anise, torta di nocciole e limoni di Amalfi rich with hazelnuts and tart with lemon, rolls, jam.
“Well, that’s certainly blatant,” Adrian said after a moment, a slight prickle of danger in his smooth voice.
“What is?” Ellen replied.
He showed her his tablet across the remains of their breakfast. She took the reader and held the thin sheet between her hands. This was an announcement in the Corriere della Sera that the…
“Ikhwan al-Fajr al-Aswad is to meet in Tbilisi, Georgia,” she murmured, yawning. “Next year, about this time.”
It was late morning, which was a compromise between their preferred hours; Adrian might be a Good Guy, but his genes gave him a thoroughly Shadowspawn preference for waking up around noon and not becoming really active until sunset. By no coincidence whatsoever, that was a preference shared by many eccentric artists and mad dictators. She’d always been an early-to-bed, morning-type person. Marriage required a lot of meeting in the middle; going to bed late sometimes left her tired despite eight hours sleep, even when it hadn’t been interrupted the way it had last night.
Nobody at the inn objected to their schedule even though it must have played havoc with their housekeeping. They had a long experience with eccentric foreigners, and Adrian had used this place before. Mostly for prolonged recoveries and convalescence, after missions for the Brotherhood during his years fighting the Council.
“It’s pronounced Ikkhh—”
He repeated the name as a rapid series of gargling gutturals and rough breathings.
Mountains ran north and south from here, blue and dreaming in the Mediterranean summer warmth that brought odors of rock and citrus and stone-pine through the open French doors that gave on the balcony terrace. She shivered a little; places like this made the contrast between how the world seemed and how she now knew it really worked all the more dreadful. With an effort she cast the thought away.
“Showoff,” she said sweetly, and kicked him in the ankle under the table. “And don’t repeat it in Tibetan.”
Besides her native coal-country Pennsylvania English, Ellen could speak fair French and some Italian; those were the legacy of an undergraduate degree in Art History from NYU. And a little Spanish, from years spent in Santa Fe. Adrian was fluent in over a dozen that she knew of.
“Merde alors!” he yelped, startled. Then he smiled: “I thought that it was you who enjoyed pain, chérie.”
She smiled back. “What can I say… I swing both ways when it comes to lovely hurting. That’s why it’s called sadomasochism, dear.”
Then more seriously: “Anyway, what does it mean? Ikhwan al-Fajr al-Aswad?” she added, trying to get the throaty sounds right.
“It’s Arabic,” he said. “For Order of the Black Dawn.”
“You’re right, that’s blatant. That’s an elevated finger to the whole planet. The secret conspiracy of evil that runs the world is actually announcing its meetings to the news services?”
“They do want everyone to know… at least, every one of the people who are supposed to attend. Many of whom are both eccentric and hermetic recluses, or quite mad.”
“Why not send an email around?”
Adrian chuckled. “My sweet, people don’t change much after their twenties. And many of the ones attending this affair were born before the First World War, and intend to live… well, exist… forever.”
“Of course they don’t change. They’re dead.”
Ellen laughed ruefully herself. “I remember Adrienne saying something about the Old Ones disliking technology, or at least any technology that didn’t involve shoveling coal into a boiler.”
“Exactly. Also this announcement, it is a boast. They draw closer to the day they need not be secret. When they can rule as demon-gods once more.”
“Why in Arabic? I thought French was the Council’s official language.”
“A slight un-blatancy or minor disguise,” he said. “That’s the Arabic version of the original… Ordre de l’Aube Noire. It’s the term the al-Lanarki clan use, too. Probably one of them thought it was amusing; they have an odd sense of humor.”
“Odder than yours?” Ellen said sardonically. “In which I include your disreputable relatives, my love.”
“My ancestors thought they were magicians and loup-garou, before they ferreted out the truth. The al-Lanarkis thought they were ghilan, until the Order of the Black Dawn contacted them and showed them how to reconcentrate the genes. It shows in their… subculture, you might say. As the Tōkairin thought they were Ninja sorcerors.”
“The translation would be… ghouls, roughly.”
“Ech,” she said. “Graveyards and corpses and that?”
“Not quite. The ghūl of the East is not exactly the ghoul of the West. It is a thing that can assume the guise of an animal, lures unwary travelers into the desert wastes to slay and devour them. Ghūl rob graves, drink blood, and take on the form of the one they had fed upon to deceive the living.”
“The Shadowspawn are the source of all legends. Tbilisi is near their bailiwick, they operate out of Beirut for the most part, and they often get handed jobs like this.”
He had a slight accent in English; Ellen thought it was charming and distinguished. It went well with his looks, raven-black hair, olive skin, a slim build muscled like a cat, and no more than an inch or so taller than her five-six. Of course, he had a slight accent in every one of his many languages, as far as she could tell, including French, which was more or less his first. First if you counted a sort of quasi-Provençal patois from the Auvergne as part of that language; it was what his technically dead but still very vocal great-grandparents had spoken to him in his childhood along with the standard tongue.
“My Mhabrogast is utterly faultless, darling,” he murmured, picking the thought out of her mind.
“Yes, but that’s the lingua demonica,” she teased. “What they speak in Hell.”
“Bah, mere superstition. It may be the operating code of the universe, I admit that.”
Then he took the reader back and flicked the pages down with one finger.
“Mmmmm… Name of a black dog! They’re even specifying that it’s to elect new members to the Shura al-Khayal!”
“Council of Shadows, right?”
Ellen sighed. “And then they decide on which version of their end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it plan to implement.”
“Which we must stop. I like the world as I know it”
“So do I, especially now I’m with you. I knew the honeymoon couldn’t last forever. Damn.”
Adrian reached across the table and took her hand.
“Only in the narrowest sense,” he said, kissing the fingers one by one. “Metaphorically we can keep this up forever.”
The kisses sent little tingling feelings up into her hand and arm.
Which is a good sign after a week of really energetic honeymooning, when I didn’t have the collywobbles. And the way Adrian takes care of me then… that’s even better, in a way.
“And there is nothing we can do immediately. Especially if we do not wish to attract attention. We will move slowly, cautiously, until it is time to strike.”
Then he leaned back in his chair, completely at ease. Sunlight dappled across his bare torso and loose chino drawstring pants; he tapped a slim brown Turkish cigarette out of a pack on the table and crossed one ankle across his knee. The bare foot was slender, like his hands, and high-arched.
“Gag. Retch. Cough,” she said. “Ak. Ak. Pthft.”
He raised one eyebrow but didn’t put the cigarette back. Instead he held it up before his face, concentrating, frowning a little with a fixed expression in his eyes, which were a brown almost black save for tiny gold flecks. After a moment smoke began to curl up from the end of the tube, an acrid pungency with a smoky undertone. She had to admit it wasn’t entirely unpleasant; it was tobacco but very good tobacco, and it had been treated with rum.
“Showoff,” she said again. “You only do that so you can look like a François Truffaut character.”
He smiled at her through the smoke, drew, and let it trickle out of his nostrils.
“But darling, I grew up on Truffaut movies,” he said. “L’Histoire d’Adèle H. was the first one I ever went to on my own.”
Ellen blinked; occasionally she forgot that Adrian was over fifty. He looked twentysomething, like her. His breed aged more slowly, even in their original bodies.
“It’s still a disgusting vice,” she said lightly. “And not even one of the fun disgusting vices. Plus it’s dangerous.”
“It’s perfectly safe for me,” he pointed out, gesturing elegantly… very much like a Truffaut character, in fact, probably deliberately. “I can’t get cancer. Or heart disease. Or lose the sensitivity of my taste buds, either.”
“I can get cancer.”
“Yes, but I could cure you.”
She put her tongue between her lips and went pffffthttttt!
Adrian let his head fall back and stared at the white plaster that overlaid the arched stone of the ceiling as he smoked; this place had started out as a nobleman’s house six centuries ago, built into the steep almost-cliff above the little city. He was obviously in deep thought mode, and he hated to be interrupted then. Which was fair enough. She loathed interruptions when she was working too.
Ellen poured more coffee, picked up her cup and saucer and walked out on the terrace, under an arch of arbor thick with hanging bougainvillea, purple and crimson and white. Gulls flew by below the stone balustrade, and above the strip of lemon trees on the terrace below. The polished mosaico hidráulico tiles felt comfortable on her bare feet, as if the green and blue floral pattern were a smooth stroking. She lost herself in the moment and the view.
This is a very long way from Swoyersville, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, she thought happily. Or even from Allentown.
His fingers caressed the nape of her neck, touching the fine hairs there—the rest of it was curled up on her head. Then he stripped the robe down, pinning her arms behind her back. She shivered, and then gasped as he gripped the knot of hair and bent her head back. His other hand stroked her. Anyone looking up from the roadway below—anyone with a good set of binoculars, at least—was going to be getting an eyeful of natural blond having a very good time.
Which added to the excitement. And technically, she had a government license—though not one for in public.
“Con il suo permesso?” his voice murmured in her ear.
A slight sting at the base of her throat, and hot fire ran through her body like a wave.
“That could get addictive,” she said some time later.
“It is addictive,” he pointed out, head resting on her stomach.
Ellen lay propped against the carved olive-wood headboard of the canopied bed and sipped at the red wine; it was an excellent way to keep your blood cell count up when your husband had… special needs. It was also around two in the afternoon, which meant she wasn’t starting too early.
“Oh, I don’t mean just you feeding on me and the drug in the bite,” she said. “Though that is very satisfying. I mean the whole setup. Strolls along the seaside, the fantastic sex, we wander off to the Trattoria da Ciccio for lunch, the fantastic sex, sailboating down the coast, the fantastic sex, we go ramble around some Quattrocento palace full of murals I’ve only ever seen in prints and on the Web, the fantastic sex, you buy those prawn things and Mrs. Boriello cooks them up for us with her handmade pasta and we have dinner on the terrace and watch the moon rise over the sea, you drink some of my blood, then the fantastic—”
“Stop, stop, you are turning me into a satyr again!”
He began trailing kisses up her torso.
“You need help for that? Not that I’ve noticed!”
“I needed your help to stop feeling conflicted.”
“Well, c’mon, then, tiger. The safe-word for the day is woah.”
Adrian laughed. “I find I like the safe-word concept very much.”
“So do I, but why very much.”
“It assures me I’m not being a monster.”
“Not the bad kind, at least. Well, c’mon!”
“Not now, my sweet. It is time to begin preparing you. This can last longer if we make it a working vacation… or a working honeymoon.”
She sighed. “I’m supposed to take a level in badassery, right? Starting now?”
“Just a few precautions. An unprepared… normal…”
Human, she thought, and he nodded.
“… is too vulnerable to a Shadowspawn. Even one who isn’t an adept.”
“Tell me. I was your sister’s prisoner for six months, remember. Of course, she is an adept.”
He snarled. She jerked back in involuntary alarm for an instant; it was literally a snarl, a predator’s warning-sign, showing teeth that weren’t quite human. Not her variety of human, at least: Shadowspawn were hominids, but they had evolved to prey on h. sapiens sapiens. They were as territorial as you’d expect a specialist predator to be, too. He loved her and hated his sister, but at an instinctual level he was also furious at another hunter poaching his turf.
“Sorry,” he murmured, forcing his face back to calm.
“‘salright. I killed her, after all. Pop goes the hypodermic in her foot, in goes the poison. God, that was satisfying! Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me the opportunity. And the hypodermic.”
He laughed ruefully. “It is an accomplishment for which I will always envy you. And as you remembered it, your thoughts grew remarkably predatory too.”
Well, humans are predators. The Shadowspawn are very predatoresque predators. Like super-tigers evolved to hunt lions. Predators on top predators, on true humans and on neanderthals and h. erectus and maybe on those funny little things on Flores, she thought.
“All of them,” he nodded. “For a very, very long time. A hundred thousand years or more. But Adrienne… knowing she is no longer in the world has lifted a great burden from me, my love.”
He rolled onto his back, one arm behind his head, looking at the ceiling. Ellen propped herself up on her elbows.
“C’mon, there’s something there, lover,” she said. “I can’t read minds, so I have to ask you.”
He was silent for a long minute. Then: “You are not the only one to have bad dreams about Adrienne,” he said. “Or to have good reason for them.”
Her brows went up. “She tried to kill you a lot, didn’t she?”
“That was not the problem. It was war, and we were on opposite sides. We… were antagonists as well as enemies. Counterparts, almost, in command of our respective operations, outwitting each other. That meant negotiations, from time to time. She kept trying to turn me, as well as kill me. Appealing to our memories of our childhoods… oh, not blatantly. Very subtly.”
“Hey, you didn’t tell me about this!”
He shrugged and reached for a cigarette with his free hand. “I do not like to think of it. Then in Calcutta… Operation Black Hole. I was cut off for some time. So was she—a rogue Shadowspawn was involved, one outlawed by the Council as well as hunted by the Brotherhood. I made a very bad mistake; I trusted her.”
“Only tactically, but it was enough. She launched a mental attack on me. I think I was her prisoner for some time, but escaped; Harvey found me wandering. Naked, scarred, bleeding and half-mad.”
“Oh,” Ellen said, and laid her head on his shoulder. “That sounds like your sister, all right. Adrian… I haven’t asked before, but you remember when you contacted me mentally, just after Adrienne took me to Rancho Sangre?”
He nodded without looking at her.
“And I told you that she had two kids? Why did that affect you so strongly?”
He let smoke trickle from his nostrils. “Because,” he said very softly, “they may be mine as well. I am not certain. My memories of those days are scrambled. Fragments, some that must be nightmares, others that were true—I had the scars for some time—and some that might be either.”
She nodded. “I thought so. They… really looked like you, especially the boy. He even moved like you.”
“That does not make it certain. Shadowspawn are inbred, the Brézés in particular.”
“I couldn’t prove it, but I’m morally certain,” Ellen said carefully.
A sigh. “And me also,” he said. “What were they like?”
“Creepy,” she said bluntly. “But, ummm, sort of creepy in an innocent way. Charming, even… in a creepy way.”
“That is the hell of it, this war. So many innocents. So many, and it is so seldom that we can do anything to protect or help. Even Adrienne, once… it haunts me, that if shehad been the one Harvey rescued, I might be on the other side even now.”
“Well, for a girl she’s really hot stuff, lover, but I still wouldn’t have married her. Not even in California and not even if she’d been the Good Guy who rescued me. A brief passionate fling in St. Barts, maybe, with a bittersweet teary farewell; marriage, no. God, whole decades of who took my tampax? No way.”
“I am glad to hear it.”
He laughed as she poked him in the ribs, then crushed out the cigarette.
“And… there is a shadow in my mind when I think of those children. Perhaps merely my emotions speaking. Perhaps the Power; it can be hard to tell the difference. Shadows within shadows…”
“Sometimes I think your mind is mostly made up of shadows. And don’t make the obvious pun.”
She tickled him ruthlessly in the most sensitive spot she’d found, just below one armpit. They wrestled for a moment, and then he said briskly:
“Enough. Now, the protections against the Power will come later. Let us begin with the physical side.”
He lay back on the bed and crossed his arms on his chest, each hand to the opposite shoulder—sthe shaman’s posture. She lay back herself, closed her eyes, let her mind float downward into her tired body—
—and was elsewhere.
This was the image he used as the entry to what he called his memory palace, a duplicate of the main living-space of his mountaintop retreat near Santa Fe, New Mexico. One side held a huge fieldstone fireplace and a polished-concrete sitting shelf before it; a low fire crackled on the andirons, fragrant pinion-pine. The other wall was a stark expanse of glass, rising eighteen feet high.
The smooth stone-tiled floor ran right out past it to the narrow terrace beyond; after that the ground fell away two thousand feet in crag and ravine and pinion and dwarf desert juniper, down to the lights of a little town lost amid the empty moonlit expanse. She enjoyed the view for a moment. Then:
“Hey. I just realized—you have a thing for scenic drop-offs outside the room, don’t you? Here in Amalfi, and in your house in Santa Fe. You like to be in a high place, looking down.”
He paused, blinked, and nodded slowly in agreement.
“You are right, dear one. I had not realized.” A grin. “At least I do not come out on a high balcony and make demagogic speeches to adoring crowds.”
She nodded. “I like it here, though. It felt so good while Adrienne had me, when you came and… brought me here. An escape.”
He sighed agreement. “But frustrating, that I could do no more.”
“You did more, eventually. That was more important than hurrying and failing!”
“Yes. She never…”
“Took me into her memory palace? No. Told me about it, and said we’d go there when she wanted to get more… extreme.”
Ellen shivered a little, and Adrian put an arm around her shoulder. Seriously:
“We must begin your training now. I have no objection to rescuing and defending you, my darling, but you should be able to defend yourself. I may not be enough, some day!”
Ellen nodded emphatically. “Yeah, I like playing at being helpless sometimes. The real thing’s not nearly so much fun.”
“And we will have work to do that will involve risk. I hate the thought, for you, but—”
“Hey, buster, your sister and her friends are trying to destroy the world, remember? You think I’m going to stay in a bunker or… or some resort sipping margaritas and let you do all the work? You’re older than you look, but you’re not that much of an antique sexist, I hope!”
He laughed, and touched the tips of his fingers to her cheek.
“No. Knowing you as I do now, I would expect you to want to fight by my side. This will involve a great deal of effort, though. You must learn how to fight—fight in a number of ways—how to hide, how to pursue, everything from defensive driving to forged documents. And I must show you a number of things about the Power.”
“I don’t have enough of the Shadowspawn genes to use it, you said.”
Adrian nodded. “But I can help plant… artifacts… in your mind that will render you less vulnerable to it. Wreakings, localized permanent modifications of reality. I am an adept, and both more powerful and better-trained than nearly anyone of my generation.”
“That’s comforting,” she said. “Is there an advantage to doing it here in, ummm, your head, though?”
He nodded. “How long have we been here?”
“Oh… three, five minutes?”
“Four and a bit, to us. Back in the real world… less than five seconds. I can stretch the perceived duration. By the time we leave for Paris in a few months, you will have had years.”
She thought for a moment. Something nagged at her:
“Hey, maybe that’s where the Elf Hill legends came from? But look, this is as real to you as it is to me, right?”
Ellen took a breath, tapped one foot on the tile of the floor. Heat from the fire on her legs, thin mountain air in her lungs, scent of burning conifer wood in her nostrils. You couldn’t tell this from reality… until something impossible happened. And she’d learned over the past year that her previous idea of what constituted the possible out in the real world was far, far too limited.
“And you can shape things here just by thinking about them?”
He made a gesture and they were elsewhere. This was a huge room, like a converted warehouse. Metal beams overhead, light from high dusty windows around the top of the metal box, a floor of coarse concrete, with reed mats rolled against the walls and big swinging doors opening on a vista of palms leading down to a river. There were wall-mirrors in some places, gymnastic equipment elsewhere, ropes dangling from the rafters, odd-looking staffs and swords and various esoteric Eastern-looking things racked neatly around the tall rusty steel pillars.
The air had a warm moist feel; there were spices, frangipani blossom and wet earth in it and a hint of diesel fumes. Then she looked down at herself; she was wearing an outfit something like a gi but not quite, loose trousers and a jacket whose sleeves didn’t quite come to the wrists. The coarse tough cotton slid over her skin…
Real. All five senses.
“So,” she said. “How come Shadowspawn bother with, like, ruling the world and stuff? Can’t you have everything you want here? Better than you possibly could in the real world? Sort of like TV, only full-sensory and you’re directing the program.”
He nodded. “But those vulnerable to that temptation didn’t breed very successfully,” he said. “We are a very old species, considerably older than modern humans, shaped by both evolution and the Power. To one of us, this is… fundamentally unsatisfying, after a while. Or perhaps only satisfying in limited doses?. I think the ability to build this interior reality is a side-effect of other aspects of the Power, perhaps the telepathic organ.”
“OK. Second question, it’s just my mind here. I know from tennis—”
At which she was a more than decent player at a level that would have let her go pro if she’d wanted to devote her life to it.
“—and running that the body has to learn too. If I learn something here, will my body know it?”
“Your nerves and reflexes and memory will. Somatic memory transfers very well. Your body is already in excellent shape from the tennis and the cross-country running…”
He looked her up and down with frank appreciation and snapped his teeth at her. Ellen shuddered with a complex of emotions, pleasure and fear. He wasn’t the first Shadowspawn who’d used that gesture around her. It was playfully flirtatious in a way that might be sexual or not… unless it wasn’t friendly, in which case it was a sign you were being given the sort of look a chocolate-coconut macaroon got before the first nibble.
Bad Shadowspawn liked to play with their food; strong emotions and sensations made the blood taste much better. Like a wink, context was all.
“… so this will cut down on how much you have to train… you will need to build more upper-body strength, work on your flexibility, yes, and some real-world repetition to key the lessons into muscle-memory, but not much beyond that.”
His face went somber; not exactly cold, but a little remote.
“Understand, Ellen, that while we are training I am not your lover or your husband, or your friend. I am the teacher, and what you are learning may be the difference between life and death—or between life and eternal damnation. You accept this?”
“Yes.” She stopped herself from adding darling.
“And it will be very hard work.”
“I’m not afraid of that.”
“There will be pain, serious pain.”
“OK, understood. Look, Adrian, I know you’re a lot older than I am and have all sorts of knowledge and power and… and shit. If I wasn’t OK with that, I’d have saidthanks for the rescue, fuck off not yes, I’ll marry you. So here, you’re Yoda and I’m the padawan. Right. I’ve assimilated that. Let the hard stuff commence.”
He reached out, plucked a knife from the wall, turned and threw in a blur of speed. The hard impact knocked Ellen back. She could see the black hilt standing in her right shoulder, and her hands tried to grasp it. Then the shock passed and there was pain, enormous, all-pain, everywhere, the floor rushed up and her head went thock against it and she screamed—
—and she was back on her feet. Her hand went to her smooth, unmarked shoulder.
“You son of a bitch!” she shouted. “That hurt!”
“It does,” he said somberly, and laid a hand on her shoulder. “But here I can… reset, undo. My darling, training is wonderful, but the only way to learn to fight well is tofight. And learn, if you survive. But here you can fight, lose, die, and still learn from the mistake that killed or crippled you.”
“Oh,” she said. “OK, remembering previous words here. Unless I get too blasé about it because I know it’s not real.”
“You will not. The fear and pain operate below the conscious level.”
“Ok, if you say so… Where is this, if it’s based on anywhere real?”
“The training salon… dojo, though the Thais don’t use that word… of a man named Saragam, in a little town north of Bangkok.”
Adrian made a gesture, and the place was gone. Others flickered by. A crowded street in a European city with a blare of noise and a waft of pastry baking, a tiny atoll with a single palm-tree and cerulean waves breaking white on a sugar-grain beach, a pine-forest stark and silent with winter, snow freezing-cold on her feet and heavy on the boughs. Then the converted warehouse again.
He sighed. “Harvey Ledbetter took me here, not long after my… foster-parents died, as part of my training for the Brotherhood. The real here, that is. I miss him.”
Ellen felt her mouth quirk. “I realize Harvey’s your wise grizzled mentor and second dad and comrade in arms and all those manly-bonding things, and I like him myself. He helped save my life. But he’s not welcome on our honeymoon, darling.”
Adrian grinned at her. “Actually, I had a very bad crush on him for the longest time. He was a strikingly handsome man then, you know, and very charismatic. There were attempts at seduction. All failures, alas.”
She laughed, a startled gurgle. “What did he think of that?”
“Quiet horror and loud irritation, my sweet, and the odd swat upside the head. Now let us begin. First, how to stand—”
What felt like twelve long hours later Ellen opened her eyes, and spent a moment being astonished that she wasn’t exhausted. For a moment the tiredness was there, like the ghost of sensation, then it faded completely and she stretched, refreshed from sleep. Adrian was sitting up and looking at her, twining a lock of her curly blond hair around one finger and smiling. She made her face grow thoughtful, almost awestruck, and spoke solemnly:
“I know… kung fu.”
He frowned for a moment. “Saragam’s style is not really—”
Then he winced. His film experience wasn’t entirely with Euro-classics.
“For that, I should make you fold Paris in half. Or spank you,” he said.
“Not until after dinner. I’m hungry, too.”