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    Claymore eyed Alabaster. Though Claymore wouldn't call himself empathetic, he did feel sorry for this boy, having gone through so much at suc...oung age. "If your forces were completely destroyed, how did you escape?"

    "We weren't all destroyed," Alabaster said. "Most of the remaining half-bloods fled or were captured. They were so demoralized they joined the enemy. There wa...eneral amnesty...uess you'd call it-a deal negotiated by the same kid who killed Kronos. That kid convinced the Olympians to accept the minor gods who'd followed Kronos."

    "Like your mother, Hecate," Claymore said.

    "Yes," Alabaster said bitterly. "Camp Half-Blood decided that they would accept any children of minor gods. They would build us cabins at camp and pretend that they didn't just blindly massacre us for resisting. Most of the minor gods accepted the peace deal as soon as the Olympians proposed it, but my mother didn't. You see...I wasn't the only child of Hecate serving under Kronos. Hecate never had many the strongest, so my siblings followed my lead...onvinced most of them to the only one who survived. Hecate lost more demigod children in that war than any other god."

    "That's why she refused their offer?" Claymore guessed.

    Alabaster took another sip of tea. "Yes. At least, she refused it at first...rged her to keep fighting. But the gods decided that they didn't want one rebellious goddess to spoil their victory, so they made he...eal. They would exile me forever from their favor and their camp-that was my punishment for having an attitude-but they would spare my life if Hecate rejoined them. Which is another way of saying that if she didn't join them, they'd make sur...ied."

    Claymore frowned. "So even the gods aren't high and almighty enough to resist blackmail."

    Alabaster stared at the cozy fireplace wit...ook of distaste. "It's better not to imagine them as gods. The best way to think of them is more lik...ivine Mafia. They used their threat to force my mother into accepting the deal. And in the process, exile me from camp't corrupt my brothers and sisters." He finished his tea. "But I'll never bow to the Olympian gods after the atrocities they committed. Their followers are blind. I'd never set foot in their camp, and, it would only be to give that son of Poseidon what he deserves."

    "So you have no help," Claymore said. "And this monster Lamia is after you...why?"

    "I" Alabaster put down his empty cup. "Since the exiled, I've fought and kille...ot of monsters that came after me. They instinctively sense demigods. half-blood, I'...empting target. But Lamia is different. She'...hild of Hecate from the ancient days. She seems to hav...ersonal vendetta against me. No matter how many time...ill her, she just won't stay dead. She's been wearing me down, forcing me to move from town to town. My protective incantations have been pushed to their breaking point.'t even sleep without her trying to break through my barriers."

    Claymore studied the boy more closely and noticed dark circles under his eyes. Alabaster probably hadn't slept in days.

    "How long ago have you been on your own?" Claymore asked. "When was your banishment?"

    Alabaster shrugged like even he'd forgotten. "Seven or eight months ago, but it seems longer. Time is different for us half-bloods. We don't have the same cushy lives that mortals do. Most half-bloods don't even live past twenty."

    Claymore didn't reply. Even for him, this wa...ot to absorb. This child was an actual demigod, the son o...uman and the goddess Hecate.

    He had no idea how that sort of procreation worked, but obviously it did, because the boy was here, and clearly he was no regular mortal. Claymore wondered if Alabaster shared Lamia's ability of regeneration. He doubted it. Siblings or not, Alabaster constantly referred to Lamia a...onster. That wasn't the kind of term you'd use for your own kind.

    The boy was truly alone. The gods had exiled him. Monsters wanted to kill him, including one who was his own sister. His only companion wa...istborn man who sprang fro...hree-by-five note card. And yet somehow, the child had survived. Claymore couldn't help being impressed.

    Alabaster started to pour himself another cup of tea, then froze. One of the symbols scribbled onto his right sleeve was glowing bright green.

    "Lamia's here," he muttered. "I have enough power to keep her out fo...hile, but-"

    There wa...rittle sound lik...ightbulb popping, and the symbol on his sleeve splintered like glass, spraying shards of green light.

    Alabaster dropped his cup. "That's impossible! There's no way she could have broken my barrier with her magic unless she..." He stared at Claymore. "My gods. Claymore, she's using you!"

    Claymore tensed. "Using me? What are you talking about?"

    Before Alabaster could answer, another rune on his shirt exploded. "Get up! We need to go now! She just breached the secondary barrier."

    Claymore got to his feet. "Wait! Tell me! How is she using me?"

    "You didn't escape her; she let you go!" Alabaster glared at him. "You have an incantation on you that disrupted my spell insignias! Gods, how coul...ave been so stupid!"

    Claymore clenched his fists. He'd been outplayed.

    He'd been so busy trying to comprehend the rules of this world and for...trategy that he hadn't expected Lamia to us...trategy of her own. Now his mistakes had led her right to her target.

    Alabaster touched Claymore lightly on the chest. "Incantare: Aufero Sarcina!"

    There was another explosion. This time green shards of light flew from Claymore's shirt and he staggered backward. "What did you-?"

    "Removing Lamia's incantation," Alabaster explained. "And now..."


    Alabaster tappe...ew more runes on his outfit and they all shattered. As if in response...ymbol on his pants leg started to glow bright green.

    "I've strengthened the inner walls, but there's no way they'll hold her you want to you want to ask more questions, but don't. I'm not going to let you die. Just follow me, and hurry!"

    So far today, he'd been confused, alarmed, afraid, and aggravated beyond belief. But now he experienced an emotion he hadn't felt in years. The great, confident Dr. Claymore started to panic.

    All of it wa...rap. Lamia wasn't defeated so easily. It wa...rick so that she could get through Alabaster's defenses. And all of it was his fault.

    Alabaster ran outside, and Claymore followed, muttering every curse he knew-and there were quit...ew.

    He hadn't seen it before, bu...lickering green dome covered the entire house and stretched down at least half of the block. The green glow seemed to be weakening, and so was the rune on Alabaster's leg.

    Even though it had been bright and sunny just moments ago, storm clouds now hovered overhead, bombarding the barrier with lightning strikes.

    Lamia was out there, and this time she wasn't playing games. She was here to kill them.

    Claymore muttered another curse.

    Alabaster stopped when he got to the street and looked up at the sky. "We can't escape. She's locked us in. This storm i...inding't dispel it while the barrier's up. Running isn't an option; we have to fight."

    Claymore stared at him in disbelief. "Black's truck is right there. We can take the truck and-"

    "And then what?" Alabaster stared back, freezing Claymore in place. "It doesn't matter how fast we drive. All we're doing is giving he...igger target to hit. Besides, that's exactly what she'd expec...ortal like you to do. Just stay out of this-I'm trying to save your life!"

    Claymore glared at him, his blood boiling. He'd come here to help this boy, not stand around feeling useless. He was about to argue when the glowing rune on Alabaster's leg burst into flame. The boy winced in pain, falling to his knees. Above them, the green dome shattered wit...ound lik...illion windows breaking.

    "Brother!" Lamia cried over the roar of thunder. "I'm here!"

    Lightning struck all around them, taking out electrical poles and setting trees ablaze.

    The rest of the world didn't even seem to notice...ew houses was watering his lawn. Across the street...oman trotted out to her SUV, chatting on her cell phone, oblivious to the fact that her maple tree was on fire. The same kind of flames that had killed Burly...Apparently to half-bloods and monsters, the mortal world was just collateral damage.

    Alabaster forced himself up, pullin...lash card from his pocket. Instead, this card had the inscription o...rudely drawn sword on it. When Alabaster tapped the drawing it started to glow, and suddenly the sword wasn't so crude.

    A solid gold broadsword extended from the card, glistening into reality and forming in Alabaster's hand. The sword was etched with glowing green runes, like the ones on Alabaster's clothes. And even though the thing must have weighe...undred pounds, Alabaster held it in one hand with ease.

    "Get behind me and don't move," he said, planting his feet firmly on the ground.

    For once in his life, Claymore didn't even try to argue.

    "Lamia!" Alabaster shouted at the sky. "Former queen of the Libyan empire and daughter of Hecate! You are my target, and my blade finds you. Incantare: Persequor Vestigium!"

    The symbols on Alabaster's sword blazed even more fiercely, and every single rune on his clothes shone like miniature spotlights...ollage of magical spells surrounded him, and his entire body seemed to radiate power.

    He turned to Claymore, who too...tep back. Both of Alabaster's eyes were flashing green, just like Lamia's.

    The boy smiled. "We'll be fine, Claymore. Heroes never die, right?"

    Claymore wanted to argue that, in fact, the heroes always seemed to die in Greek myths.

    But before he could find his voice, thunder roared, and the monster Lamia appeared at the edge of the lawn.

    Alabaster charged.

    As Alabaster raised his sword, he felt something he hadn't felt since he'd invaded Manhattan with Kronos's army-the willingness to give his life in the name o...ause. He'd dragged Claymore into this. He could not let another mortal die because of this monster.

    His first swing, and Lamia's right arm disintegrated into sand.

    To normal monsters...ound like that from an Imperial gold sword would b...eath sentence, but all Lamia did was laugh.

    "Brother, why do you persist...nly came here to talk...."

    "Lies!" Alabaster spat, lopping off her left arm. "You'r...isgrace to our mother's name! Why don't you die?"

    Lamia gave hi...mile of crocodile teeth. "I don't die because my mistress sustains me."

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