The Witch With No Name
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He sniffed, unable to believe I might know what I was talking about. You gained this knowledge of fixing souls from the dewar?
I hesitated, wondering if it had been a mistake bringing up the elves, but if Cormel had followed me here, then he knew whod been going in and out of my church. I nodded, heart pounding. He was making a decision. I could tell. And I probably wasnt going to like it.
Prove to me that a soul of the undead can again be fixed. Do that, and I will call the debt you and Ivy have accumulated null.
I shivered at his expression, both riven with a coming pain and hopeful that I might be lying. It will send Felix into the sun, I breathed, and those in the front whispered my words in a rising wave to those in the back, gaining strength and fear as it went.
Cormel dropped his head. His eyes were a normal brown when they met mine again. Hes halfway there already, he said in regret. We will do this at my house.
Trent scuffed forward with Nina, but I didnt move. I was not going to go under the ground with him. I might never come back up. No, I said, and Cormel jerked to a halt.
Are you suggesting we fix his soul here? he said bitterly, indicating the cold darkness. I wont do this here, nor at your church, nor at any elf holding, he finished, grimacing at Trent.
We needed a neutral place, and unfortunately one was staring at me just across the open grass. Luke and Marshas, I suggested, and I swear I heard Jenks dart off to check it out.
Cormel grimaced, but it was nearby, and I might even be able to sit down. Neither one of them is my child.
But you have enough pull with their masters or you wouldnt have used them in the first place to try to kill Ivy.
The master vampire thought about that for a moment, his lips twitching when Nina regained her balance and glared at him, her fear for Ivy overpowering her fear of him. Clear the building, he said gruffly, gesturing. Make sure the apartment in question is secure.
The vampires began to break up, some jogging to the apartments, but most simply vanishing into the night. Cormel waited, as still as, well, the undead, the wind moving the hem of his coat the only motion about him. Frowning and tucking the bottle back in my shoulder bag, I turned to Trent. Nina jerked away, snarling when I tried to take her other arm, and I backed off.
You sure you dont have any other ideas? I asked Trent as we started across the grass, Ninas aggressive stalking held in check by the vampires around and behind us.
Not any youre going to like, he said. You never know. It might work just fine.
Or it might kill Felix outright, I thought, but I didnt say it as we made our way to the road. But Id do anything for Ivy. What happened after that was not going to be my problem.
Felix sat on the couch not four feet from me, not breathing, not moving, creeping me out as he stared with red-rimmed, hungry eyes while I wiped the glass coffee table with a salt-soaked rag. The three heavies by the door werent helping, even if the undead vampire was bound and gagged. I wished Cormel would get up here so we could get on with it.
I jumped at the thump from the bedroom, but Jenks gave me a thumbs-up before darting to the open kitchen. Trent, too, had started, and he turned from the vampire graffiti sprayed on the inside of the closed blinds. His eyes roved over the space, evaluating the lifestyle of the average living vampire, calculating the difficulty of getting out of here in a pinch, generally doing his warlord/businessman elf thing.
Apart from the ominous jagged and swirled vampire graffiti, the apartment looked the same as when Id last seen it. I wondered if Marsha and Luke were still alive and running. It was possible, seeing that the real intent behind it all had been to get Ivy involved.
Hey, Trent. Be a pal, would you? Jenks called, and Trent went into the kitchen to take the top off a jar of peanut butter. It had been an exhausting night for everyone, but I thought it interesting that hed asked Trent. Hed never asked me to help with anything remotely connected to his admittedly high caloric needs.
Must be a bro thing, I thought as I tossed the rag into the sink in the kitchen. Jenks rose up and down on a column of silver, peeved that Id startled him. We were all on edge as we waited for Cormels thugs to give him the all clear so he could come up, making me wonder if there was a charm or a spell I hadnt found the first time I was here.
My fingers were cold, and I knelt with the low table between me and Felix. I could feel him watching as I brought the bottle out of my shoulder bag and set it on the table. Felixs eyes turned a savage black, but he didnt move. My heart thudded, making things worse. This was so dumb. Where in the hell was Cormel?
My head snapped up when the man searching the bedroom ghosted out with a vampiric quickness, his nose wrinkling at the smell of burnt amber. Vampires didnt generally like burnt amberthank God. My thoughts swung to Ivy, whod never said much either way, something I appreciated. Nina was downstairs waiting for herwhich didnt sit well with me.
I knew Ivy could take care of herself, but not when she was suffering from internal injuries and was weak. But Nina loved Ivy. That made her dangerous as shed do anything to be with Ivy, up to and including killing her. Vampire logic didnt make sense to me.
The hiss of a match drew my attention as Trent lit a huge pale green candle. Better? he said as he waved the match out. He looked odd in someone elses kitchen. I should stop being selfish and tell him to go save the world with Ellasbeth. He has a daughter with her, for Gods sake. Why am I letting him endanger himself like this?
But I needed his help, and I forced myself to smile even as Felix began a weird growling hiss. Better, thanks, I said as the clean scent of sea foam overpowered both the scent of sulfur from the match and the reek of burnt amber rising from all three of us. Leave it to a female vampire to have a candle that could outstink the ever-after.
Youre doing the right thing, Trent said as he sat in the closest chair. His eyes were on Felix, but all I could think was, This is a mistake.
I dont like being forced, I said softly, and he gave my shoulder a squeeze before picking up the bottle and giving it careful scrutiny. In front of us, Felix groaned.
No one does, he said as the vampire began to pant through the gag, black eyes bulging in anger. Dont blame yourself for what follows.
Maybe. Uneasy, I took the bottle from Trent and set it back on the table to get Felix to settle down. I prided myself on being able to find a wayout of just about anything, but not this time. Cormel was going to get his wayto the letter of the law and no further. My eyes flicked to Felix, and my jaw clenched. Ivy, I will not let this happen to you.
My bag of scribing salt hit the glass table with a gentle hush and I dug deeper. Jenkss wings clattered, an instant of warning before voices rose in the hall. It was Cormel, and Trent stood when the unassuming-looking man came in without even a knock, flanked by three more of his heavies and an aide. I stifled a shiver as we made eye contact, but he was already frowning over Trents presence. How many guys did Cormel need, anyway?
Conversation low to the point of inaudibility, Cormel toured the apartment, making me uneasy as he circled to finally settle at the most comfortable chair between the gas fireplace and the shuttered window. He wasnt exactly behind me, but I didnt like it, and the Mbius strip clinked loudly when I set it down. Felix was staring at me again, and Cormel steepled his fingers, smiling at me, making me shudder. Do I stay where I am with Cormel just outside my easy sight, or turn and put Felix out of my sight?
Hes good, Trent said as he shifted to a second chair so he could see both vampires.
They dont let you run the United States if youre not. Stomach knotting, I reassured myself that I had everything. Salt, rod, little bowl for the egg, the egg itself . . . Nina hadnt known what color Felixs soul radiated originally, so the scarf was a neutral black.
Technically, I was never sworn in, but thank you, Cormel said as he idly peeped through the blinds from where he sat.
Jenks rose up from the counter, his fingers buried in a torn piece of paper towel. We doing this or not? I got plans tonight.
I knew his mood stemmed from worry for Ivy. Cormel let the slat fall and turned to me, black eyes showing his impatience. My heart thudded. Landon was a conniving, backstabbing elf focused on his own redemption. I was reasonably confident the charm before me was going to do exactly what he saidif only because its origins were so nastybut it was still going to turn and bite me on the ass. I knew it down to my toes. It wasnt a question of if, but how, and I steadied myself. Can we clear the room a little?
Cormel waved impatiently, and his scar-covered aide headed for the door. It creaked open, and the aide jumping back with a cry when a scruffy white dog skittered in, followed by two vampires.
Rache! Jenks shouted, and I yanked my bag to me, digging for my original bulky but true strong-magic detection amulet.
Its a dog! I shouted as the two men chased him into the bedroom amid the hoots and derisive comments from the watching thugs.
Hey! someone yelped. Watch it! No! That way!
Buddy barked and ran back into the living room. His feet were leaving muddy prints on the carpet, and panicked by the reaching hands, he skittered under Trents chair. The vampires slid to a stop, unwilling to reach under Trent, sitting with his ankle on a knee and his hands laced. Buddy growled, but it was a frightened noise.
Relax, its a dog, I said again, trying not to watch Bis crawling in along the ceiling. Hed been downstairs with Nina, and if he was here now, then everything was okay.
I can tell its a dog, Cormel said sourly as his men clustered around the one whod been bitten, his hand cradled protectively close. Felixs eyes had dilated to a full, hungry black. I frowned, anger finally finding a toehold in my anxiety and shoving it down.
I mean, its Buddy, the dog that lives here, not Luke or Marsha under a transformation curse, I said, and Cormels eyes narrowed even as he beckoned to one of his people.
Remove him, Cormel said, pointing. He belongs in the pound.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, there, vamp boy. Jenks darted to the center of the room. This is his turf, not yours. If someone got bitten, thats not the dogs fault.
Trent dropped his hand below the bottom of the chair, and Buddy stopped growling to sniff it. Hes probably just hungry, Trent said, and I watched, surprised when he stood and went into the kitchen. You hungry, Buddy? he called, voice high, and Buddy thumped his tail.
Everyone leave him alone, I said when Buddy slinked out from under Trents chair, skulking into the kitchen when Trent began opening cupboards, looking for his food.
We dont have time for this, Cormel said dryly.
You want him out, right? Trents expression was calm as he searched. Thats not going to happen until he trusts you. Hes probably not eaten for days. His attention went down and he smiled. You need a bath, Buddy. Where have you been?
Jenks hovered over them, and I watched a camouflaged Bis inch into the kitchen, intrigued. Dumpster, by the smell of it, Jenks said, fingers pinching his nose. And the river. Cats are better, even if they do try to eat you. They at least keep themselves clean.
Trent found a bag of food and Buddy whined, nails clicking. Good boy. Here you go.
The kibble clattered into a salad bowl, and Trent set it down with a disarming look of satisfaction. Jenks on his shoulder and Bis clinging to the ceiling beside the fan only added to the odd tableau. All three watched him eat, and then Trent bent to shake even more into the bowl.
Smiling, I turned away, shock a cold slap when I found Cormel had moved and was sitting in the chair right beside me, staring. Holy shit!
Right, I said, smile gone, and Cormel nodded for me to get on with it. Ah, he needs to be prone, I said, glancing at Felix, the undead vampire glaring malevolently at me, apparently not appreciating the kindness to stray dogs.
Two of the men by the door came to shift him, seeing that his hands and feet were bound.
Soon, Felix, Cormel crooned when Felix began to struggle. Soon. Give her a chance to work. Ill remove your gag if you promise not to howl.
Felixs eyes were entirely black, but when he nodded, Cormel patted his hands, taking a small jackknife from his pocket and cutting the gag himself. Jenks and Trent hastened back to the living room, leaving Buddy to growl at the vampire inching forward to grab him.
The gag fell away. She stole it, Felix said, his voice crawling down my spine as he fixed his unblinking eyes on me. Make her give it back. Its mine!
Cormel patted his shoulder and stood, the knife tucked inside his overcoat along with the gag. She didnt steal your soul. She captured it so she could fix it properly. He turned to me. Isnt that right, Morgan? he threatened.
I nodded, glad when Trent took the chair behind me again. Keep him there, I said, not liking Cormel being this close. If Im interrupted, his soul will return to the ever-after.