"They're hypocrites," Muraki said calmly, and stretched his legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankle. "Why else do they keep on coming back?"

"The hope of stopping you?" Akabane suggested casually. He didn't really expect to have the suggestion taken seriously.

"Nonsense. That's just what they tell themselves. You know perfectly well that what they really want is, is . . ."

"The challenge," Akabane completed the sentence. "After all, if they did really want to stop me -- well, they could find a way. They wouldn't even have to be too cold-blooded about it."


Akabane thought about it. "Well, within certain strategic limitations, and possibly involving at least one fatality."

"Yours, I take it."

"It'd be theirs otherwise," Akabane said with a cut-glass smile.

"And look at my toys." Muraki gestured at the empty square in front of them. "They'll probably show up directly in front of me, declaiming dramatically. It's the fight they want. I'm the adversary they need. Yet when I send them a little billet-doux, a mere half-dozen slaughtered bodies, they bristle like offended virgins."

"Are they?"

"That? Oh. No. But that's hardly the point."

"They seem to be taking their time showing up today."

"Hypocrites," Muraki sniffed again. "What about your pets?"

"Oh, I thought I'd let them have the night off. Besides, strictly between ourselves -- don't you find them a little needy sometimes?"

Muraki shrugged. "It makes me feel appreciated."

"To each their own, I suppose."

"Can I offer you some coffee while we wait for my toys to show up?"

"By all means," Akabane agreed. He rose to his feet, trenchcoat flapping in the wind. "You know, I've often wondered . . ."

"Wondered what?"

"Just what sort of challenge you'd be."

"I've had the same thought about you."

"But then, who would I drink coffee with?"