The notion almost had me sputtering. “If you couldn’t withstand a Remnant attack long enough to torch her, I’d have no chance against them!”
He ran his hand down my arm, tracing the exact path where my old scar from the power line accident would have been.
“Cat can’t control Remnants the way Marie can,” he said, a lift of his brow implying, amateurs, what are you going to do? “Plus, the abilities she absorbs are temporary, but she’s clever, so she thought up a way to keep her grave power, if she needed it in the future. Cat withdrew several vials of her own blood after she drank from Marie and stored them away. When she agreed to help me, she had me swallow one of those vials.”
“Why? You can’t absorb abilities.” Or had he been concealing something else from me, too?
His mouth curled. “No, but their summoner is the only person they won’t attack, unless held back by powers Cat hasn’t mastered yet. When I drank blood containing grave power, the Remnants were tricked into thinking I was one of their summoners, too. That’s why they didn’t attack me when I came for you.”
Wow. At the time, I’d thought that Cat must have been keeping them off us—“Wait, then why didn’t they attack me?”
He continued to stroke my arm. “At first, I was so grateful to find you alive that I didn’t pause to wonder. Later, the answer seemed simple: you are scorched earth to them.”
I didn’t understand. Then, I remembered Vlad’s cruelly satisfied comment as he watched the Remnants tear into Szilagyi’s guards. They feed from energy and pain. Ever since my power line accident, I’d had energy running all through me, yet it wasn’t normal, organic energy. It was pure, electrified voltage, and apparently, the Remnants wanted no part of it.
“That’s why I was your backup.” I was stunned and admiring at the same time. “If Marie had called your bluff, the Remnants would’ve swarmed you but not me, and Marie wouldn’t have expected that. Without her best weapon, I could have cut her down with my whip or forced her into contact with you. Either way, she’d be dead.”
His expression was cold, yet his touch was anything but. “Yes. I trusted you with my life, Leila, and there is only one other person in this world of whom that statement is true.”
Now I really felt humbled. He hadn’t just trusted me with his life, which was incredible enough. He had also suppressed his fifteenth-century tendency to lock me away at the first sign of danger. Instead, he’d treated me as an equal by believing that both my abilities and my resolve would prove sufficient for the challenge.
Because words wouldn’t nearly be enough to describe what that meant to me, I kissed him, trying to tell him with my lips and the arms I wrapped around him that I loved him more than anything in the world. His mouth moved over mine with an intensity that rivaled words, too, but he didn’t need them. He dropped his shields and let his emotions spill over mine. The effect weakened my knees while causing my grip to tighten around him as if a thousand-foot chasm had opened up beneath me.
He broke the kiss far too soon, his gaze wary as he glanced around. It was barely eight p.m., so the French Quarter was filled with people, some of whom would be partying until dawn. Most of them felt human to me, but with the crowds, I couldn’t be sure.
“Szilagyi would be foolish to attack in the heart of Marie’s territory since she’d consider that an assault against her as well, but he’s surprised me before,” he muttered. “Come. We still have several things to acquire before we leave.”
His kiss had roused my body and melted my mind, but at that, I snapped back to mental attention.
“Right, and thanks to the information Marie gave us, we’re now in the spell-casting and necromancer-hunting business.”
A passerby would have been charmed by his quick smile. I, however, recognized the danger it represented, as if rivulets of invisible blood dripped from his mouth.
“We’re not the only ones who can’t report the use of magic to the Law Guardians. After everything Szilagyi has done, it’s time we repay him in kind.”
I expected the spell-ingredient treasure hunt, which consisted of Vlad and me going to various parts of the city to get items that on the surface seemed innocuous, but were intended to magically set Szilagyi back on his ass. That part didn’t take long since Marie had given us an equivalent of a shopping list plus addresses of where to procure each specific item. What I didn’t expect was where we went next.
The hospice facility looked like a smaller, prettier version of a hospital. Inside, beneath the heavy scent of air fresheners, disinfectants, and cleaning solvents, it smelled of grief and death more than the cemetery we’d met Marie in.
“Why are we here?” I whispered to Vlad.
“Recruitment,” he replied without bothering to lower his voice. “Szilagyi killed dozens of my people and more will fall before this is over. I can’t hold off on replenishing my numbers, and while that includes changing over all the humans I’d been grooming, I also need people Szilagyi won’t recognize as being affiliated with me.” Then, to the receptionist, he said, “Tell me if you have any male patients between the ages of twenty and fifty.”
Since his eyes had been lit up, she didn’t ask any unnecessary questions. Just checked the computer and then wrote out names and room numbers on a sticky note before passing it over.
Vlad took it, striding to the nearest room. I followed, still a little surprised by where we were, if not by what we were doing. When I thought of Vlad selecting people to join his line, I never expected him to look in places like this.