High above the city, the underling appeared tentatively in the doorway. He fixed his eyes on the obsidian desk, avoiding the gaze of the man behind it. "Sir?"

The dark figure looked up. He had not been expecting his underling at this time, and had been a bit surprised when he had called, saying that he had information. "Yes?" His tone was cold and clipped, clearly indicating that the interruption was tolerated but not welcome.

"Sir, I'm afraid I have bad news for you." The man, who had been so confident before, now looked as if he was barely suppressing the impulse to quiver in his shoes.

"Do you?" With a curt head gesture, the boss motioned the man forward. "Don't stand there, then. Come forward and tell me."

Slowly, the man crossed the office until he stood before the big desk. Behind it, the boss stood straight and tall, his arms crossed imperiously over his chest. "Blake—Blake is dead, sir."

The dark figure's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What?"

"He's dead, sir. There was a sending. Last night. He's been incinerated."

For a moment, the man behind the desk did not move. Then, very slowly, his posture grew rigid, his muscles clamped so tightly that they began to shake. His features, which had up until now worn an expression of mild annoyance, took on an attitude of barely controlled rage. When he spoke, it was through clenched teeth. "No. It was not to happen yet! I was not yet finished with him."

"Sir, is there anything—"

The dark figure's gaze snapped up as he once again became aware that he was not alone in the room. With a gesture that was cat-quick but almost negligently casual, he brought a hand up and directed it at the underling.

The man didn't even have time to scream as his body was consumed from the inside out in the space of less than a second. Where there once stood a nervous-looking middle aged man in a suit, there now existed only a faint burn mark on the fine marble floor and a faint odor of charred flesh. With another offhand gesture, even that evidence disappeared.

The dark figure moved out from around the desk, his posture somewhat less casual than before. This was not a positive development. Blake was not supposed to die yet. Those incompetents had held on to the ritual sample this long; why couldn't they have waited a few more days before making their move? He cursed himself for allowing any aspect of his plan to remain in the hands of incompetents. Most of them weren't capable of managing their day-to-day affairs without getting into difficulty—how could he possibly have trusted them with something of this level of importance?

Something would have to be done. There was no question about it. This new event had changed his plans a bit, but he was nothing if not adaptable. He had no doubt that he would be able to bring this around to his advantage with a minimum of effort; it was simply the frustration of having to do so that enraged him.

He continued pacing around the vast office, considering and discarding alternatives. He already knew what he wanted to do, but as always he would examine other options to verify that his choice was that which would benefit his plan in the most effective way.

Soon it would be over. The endgame was drawing close now. He smiled to himself coldly as he allowed himself to imagine the sweet taste of victory.

But that was still to come. For now, he had plans to make. This time, he would not trust them to underlings.

It was time for him to go to Seattle.

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