I cast another look at the mist-shrouded, gleaming black building. With that brutal history, we wouldn’t only have to worry about the Law Guardians or the sorcerers holding Mircea finding out about our intrusion into the magical underworld. We’d also have to watch out for the understandable prejudice our lack of heartbeats would elicit. No wonder Elena had said that they normally didn’t allow “our kind” in her place. Vampires were to witches what Cortés had been to the Aztecs.
“Second thoughts?” Ian asked, still in that light tone.
“Not from me,” Vlad said at once. Then his voice softened. “Though perhaps you should remain here, Leila—”
“Are you serious?” I interrupted. “No way, Vlad. Bad things happen when we try to go it alone, remember?” Then I moved closer, putting my arms around him. “For better or for worse, it’s you and me together, just like in our vows.”
He caressed my back as he drew me nearer. His hands felt different due to the appearance-altering aspect of Ian’s spell, but the warmth they radiated was singularly Vlad. So was the look in his eyes. I’d recognize the unyielding determination and relentless love no matter what gaze it stared out at me from.
“Reminds me,” Ian muttered, shattering the moment. “One of you will slip and call the other by their real name, I just know it. Luckily, I have a spell for that, too.”
I glanced at the mystical hotel. It was only about twenty yards away, and patrons were still coming and going from the nearby Pirate’s House restaurant. “You want to do it here?”
Ian waved at the hotel. “They can’t see us until we cross the warding line, and no one on this side of the line will understand what they see. Besides, this will be quick. Now, stick out your tongue.”
I did, feeling a bit foolish at the strange looks a couple walking to their car gave us. Ian touched my tongue with his finger, said a few strange-sounding words, and then nodded.
“Try saying Vlad’s name now.”
“Angel,” I said, then frowned, trying again. “Angel. Angel. ANGEL.” It made no sense. My mind was saying Vlad, but my mouth wasn’t listening to my commands.
Ian nodded, satisfied. “Until I lift this spell, that’s the only word that will come out of your mouth when you attempt to say ‘Vlad.’”
Vlad gave Ian a sardonic look. “An endearment? How unexpectedly sentimental of you.”
Ian’s smile slid into a grin. “Angel was a TV vampire whose endless angst was only outweighed by his devotion to his one true love.” As Vlad’s expression grew murderous, Ian added, “He did have a magnificently violent dark side, if that helps.”
Vlad’s hands erupted into flames, and I was afraid that he was about to show off his own magnificently violent dark side right now. Good thing Ian’s spell hadn’t resulted in me calling Vlad “Dracula.” I don’t think Ian would have survived that.
Then Vlad doused his flames and flashed Ian a decidedly tight smile. “I don’t have to break my promise to repay you for that.”
“True, but life’s not worth living if it’s dull,” Ian replied, wagging his brows as if to say, Bring it, Impaler!
I rolled my eyes. Ian either had a death wish or he was the most reckless person I’d ever met. Vlad would pay him back, guaranteed. Ian had to know that. Why did he keep baiting him?
“Let’s get my part of this over with,” Vlad said shortly. “And if the name ‘Buffy’ comes out of my mouth, it will be the last word you ever hear.”
Ian sighed as if disappointed, but touched Vlad’s tongue and said those same strange words. When Vlad tried to say my name afterward, all that came out was “Mia.”
“Shall we?” Ian said, extending both his arms.
I took one of his arms and Vlad, after a loaded glance at Ian, took the other. As we started toward the mist-laden perimeter, I fought the urge to chirp, “We’re off to see the Wizard!” But this was no yellow brick road, and our destination wouldn’t end with a fake wizard behind a mechanical mask. No, the wizards we were about to meet were all frighteningly real.
“Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo,” Ian said in a singsong voice as we walked into the thick mist.
I could feel a thrum of power when we crossed the barrier that separated the magical territory from the normal world. When I looked back, I could no longer see the parking lot, the restaurant, or the highway. All I could see was mist behind us, and the gleaming black building in front of us.
Now that we were closer, I noticed flashes of color appearing and disappearing within the waterfall. It was as if someone was periodically squirting huge gobs of food coloring into the roaring falls. I looked up toward the roof, but couldn’t figure out where the waterfall’s source was. Then I frowned. Either the stars had disappeared, or the mists rose high enough to cover the sky with their thick, dark haze.
I looked down when the mists around us parted, revealing the entranceway of the building. I stared, realizing I had been wrong about the bellman dressed in stereotypical wizard garb. There was no bellman. Just a bunch of skeletons tightly grouped together, their rotting clothes billowing in the wind.
That wasn’t the only thing I’d been mistaken about. The oddly shaped “doors” weren’t doors at all. They were row upon row of crystalline teeth, and as we approached the building, they drew back to reveal a huge, obsidian-lined open mouth.