This Side of the Grave

Page 16

"Underestimating you was Gregor's mistake." Marie didn't move a muscle, but all of a sudden, I felt like a mouse staring at a hungry owl. "It won't be mine. But" - a shrug - "no one can hide from death forever. No one, not even our kind. Death travels the world and passes through even the thickest walls we protect ourselves with. You should remember that." Was that a threat? "Not to be rude, Majestic, but it sounds like you're telling me to watch my back with you."

Marie grunted. "When you truly understand what it means, you'll know how to defeat Apollyon."

At last, we were getting on topic. I'd already figured out that I'd need to kill the ghoul to stop him, but if Marie wanted to feel like she was being all cool and cryptic with the advice, I'd play along.

"Okay. I'll remember that."

She smiled, genial and somehow terrifying at the same time. "You should. If you don't, he'll win."

"You could always just spell it out and save us all some time," I said, unable to keep all the exasperation out of my voice. Did being dead for over a century turn everyone into riddle masters instead of people who could just say what they meant?

"I won't join your cause against Apollyon. Last year, my sire could have ordered me to, but with Gregor dead, my loyalty is to my people alone." Anger rose in me. "Even at the expense of countless thousands dying over reasons as stupid as who has fangs versus flat teeth?" I gave her cafe-latte skin a pointed look. "I would think you'd be smarter than to side with a senseless bigot."

"It has nothing to do with bigotry," she replied sharply. "But Apollyon's reach has grown. If I openly oppose him, I will be seen as a betrayer of my race. Even ghouls who disagree with Apollyon may side with him out of species loyalty. It will be civil war. During this, am I to believe the vampire nation will not swoop in to crush us while we are weak from infighting?" Marie gave me a thin smile. "I am not so trusting."

"Oh come on," I huffed. "Vampires have no dreams of subjugating ghouls. You know that's just a smoke screen Apollyon's using."

"There are some among your race who would take advantage of ghouls just as ruthlessly as Apollyon is seeking to do with vampires. If you're not smart enough to heed my words and outwit him on your own, then you deserve to lose," she replied with brutal bluntness before leaning forward and reaching behind her chair.

Everything in me tensed, ready to spring for the knives in my boots, but all she did was pull out an empty wineglass. That previous tension began to ebb. Jacques had served us drinks last time I was here, even though for the life of me I didn't know how he'd managed to procure a cold gin and tonic in this dank underground area. But instead of calling out to him, Marie set the glass on the armrest of her chair without a word. Then she flicked open a ring on her finger, revealing that it hid a tiny sharp point, and sliced it across her wrist before holding the wineglass underneath the cut.

Oh f**k no, I thought, keeping myself from bolting out of my chair with every last bit of willpower in me.

Her gaze drilled into mine as dark purplish liquid began to fill the glass.

"Reaper," she said coolly. "Won't you have something to drink?"

Chapter Sixteen

Once more, I couldn't even risk glancing at Bones to see if he looked as appalled as I felt. Play it cool, she could be bluffing, I chanted to myself, managing not to flinch when she held out that half-full glass to me.

"What an unusual offer, but you know I prefer gin and tonic," I said, praying my heart didn't start beating out of sheer panic. If she did know about my twisted feeding habits, who would have told her? And did that person somehow screw it up and report back that I drank ghoul blood for nourishment instead of vampire?

"Over a dozen years ago, Gregor told me of his vision about a young half-breed who would one day wield the power of pyrokinesis," Marie said. "After his sire, Tenoch, perished, only one other vampire existed who could manifest fire and bend it to his will, and as you know, Vlad Tepesh was no ally of Gregor's. Gregor assumed you'd come into this power about a century after you'd been changed into a vampire, and he intended to have you under his control long before that. Yet you killed him using fire within a month of your turning." I didn't move, afraid that my slightest gesture would betray me. "Everyone knows that," I said as calmly as I could. "Beginner's luck."

A sharp laugh came from her. "Then, curiously, you weren't reported to use fire again, even when you were in dire circumstances. You were reported to have used telekinesis against a group of vampires in Monaco a few months ago. So that's two incredible powers, all manifested less than a year after your changing. More beginner's luck?"

"I'm a lucky girl," I said, thinking if I were still part human, I'd be puking from stress right now.

Marie glanced at the glass of blood in her hand before meeting my gaze. "Let's find out," she said, her Southern accent changing until it sounded like hundreds of voices suddenly spoke through her, and none of them friendly.

Bones moved at the same time I did, but an icy blast of power knocked me back into my seat hard enough to topple me over. I came up with knives in both hands, only to have them ripped from my grasp by what felt like razor-sharp claws. In disbelief I saw Bones suspended in midair, shadows swirling around him, his mouth open in a roar that still didn't drown out the horrible keening noises that filled the room.

Marie hadn't moved from her position, that glass of blood still resting on the side of her chair. I started toward her again, only to be met by a wall of ghosts that shot up from the ground, their features indistinct due to their sheer numbers. When I tried to push past them, it felt like they slashed my body with thousands of razors, but worse than that, my energy drained away as abruptly as it had at dawn when I was first changed. Pain radiated in me from my boots to my eyebrows. I looked down, expecting to be covered in blood, but only a faint smudge of dirt marred my front even though I felt like I'd pass out.

"Stop," I gasped to Marie.

She shrugged. "Make me. Call forth fire, or knock this drink from my hand with your mind, and I will."

Bitch! Rage filled me as Bones was flung against the wall by those malevolent shadows.

He wasn't shouting anymore. He looked, frighteningly, like he was trying to speak but couldn't.

His features twisted as he struggled, more searing pain flashing through me, but not mine this time. How could these ghosts be able to inflict so much damage? Fabian couldn't even poltergeist up a limp version of a handshake!

My gaze narrowed as I looked at Marie. It had to be her power enabling the ghosts to do this, what with how her voice sounded like a microphone to the grave and the icy, vibrating waves pouring off her. Even though I hadn't manifested as much as a spark recently, I still tried to turn my anger into flames, picturing Marie, that fluffy chair, and even the package of chicken by her feet bursting into a fiery inferno. Burn. Burn.

Nothing. Not even a hint of smoke leaked out of my hands, let alone any fire. I tried focusing on the wineglass next, picturing it shattering and splashing her blood all over her. More hard thwacks came from my left, audible even above that awful high-pitched moaning the ghosts made. A glance revealed they had Bones's arms and legs extended straight out, those shadows appearing and then disappearing from his flesh. Fragments of agony sliced across my consciousness, made more intense by the brief periods of blankness between them. Dammit, Bones was trying to shield me from his pain, even in the midst of being pureed from the inside out by those spectral freaks.

I looked away, tears spilling out my eyes, to concentrate back on that blood-filled glass. It hadn't been too many months since I'd drank Mencheres's blood. Some of his power still had to be left in me! Break, glass, break! Or just fall from her hand, at least.

More of those lightning-quick flashes of pain flitted across my emotions, the periods between them growing shorter. I couldn't stop myself from glancing at Bones again. His back was arched, eyes closed, muscles contorting every time one of those shadows dove into him. The agony leaking through to me from him was nothing compared to the searing pain that ripped through my heart seeing him that way.

I tore my gaze away and glared at the glass with enough loathing that it should have exploded into sand. It didn't. Not even a shiver of movement disturbed it. Maybe it was because I hadn't drunk nearly as much of Mencheres's blood as I did with Vlad that one time. Maybe because I'd stopped drinking Bones's blood, I was now weaker and less able to summon any residual telekinesis power left in me. Ultimately, the reason didn't matter. All I knew was that the man I loved was being tormented, and even though I was in the same f**king room, I couldn't help him.

I wasn't surprised when a dull thrum slowly began to sound in my chest. Marie's eyebrows rose, but she looked more curious than startled. Hatred surged through me at how calmly she sat there, directing all this mayhem as though it were a puppet show. I'd whipped out two knives from my boots and flung them at her before even planning the action, only to let out a scream of frustration when they were batted away by the wall of ghosts without even grazing her.

I threw myself against that spectral barrier next, determined to make her pay, but no matter how many times I bashed against that writhing wall of otherworldly bodyguards, I couldn't force my way past them. Worse, it seemed to weaken me, replacing my rage with the same dizzying lethargy I'd only felt the day Bones drained all my blood to change me. After what seemed like hours but was probably only minutes, I couldn't even stand. Despair choked me as my legs gave out. The unearthly keening in the room seemed to grow louder in triumph.

"You can't win against them," Marie stated, her voice still echoing in that creepy way.

"These aren't ghosts. They're Remnants, slivers of the most primal emotions left over after someone crosses over to the other side. Every time you touch them, they feed from your energy and pain just like a vampire feeds from blood, and they grow stronger." Almost in a daze, I stared at the concrete floor. Nothing marred it except cracks and mildew stains, but I'd seen something similar to these Remnants when Mencheres raised wraiths in retaliation for a vicious spell against him. Even though those had looked like ghosts, too, they were utterly lethal, cutting through dozens of vampires like a hot knife through butter.

And these Remnants seemed just as strong.

"Did you work the spell before we got here?" I forced myself to ask, even though talking seemed to suck the last bits of strength from me. "Where'd you hide the symbols?" Her laugh resounded around the room. "I need no spell. I don't practice black magic; I am black magic."

Normally I'd say something caustic about how pride always went before a fall, but considering I was the barely conscious one on the ground, I didn't think the insult would have the same effect.

"What are you waiting for, Reaper?" Marie asked calmly, glancing at Bones. "If they continue to feed from him for much longer, eventually they will kill him. If you want him freed from the Remnants, unleash these great abilities of yours. Show me fire, or move this glass even an inch, and I will send them back to their graves." I stared at her, my heart still sputtering out sporadic beats due to my fear and fury, noting every speck of her appearance as though the details could help me defeat her. Those large dark eyes, smooth ageless skin, and full wide mouth framed by black hair that barely brushed the lace shawl covering her tailored navy dress. Everything about Marie looked modern and normal right down to her sensible yet stylish heels, but this woman was the most dangerous adversary I'd ever encountered. I'd thought only Mencheres could wield enough power to clean my and Bones's clock without even getting up from his seat, but here was Marie, doing that very thing. Her ability to control these Remnants must be what Apollyon was counting on to make the difference in a war between ghouls and vampires, and I had to admit; it was a damn frightening sight.

I looked at Bones. His face was still contorted, pain blasting across my subconscious like rounds from a machine gun, but though his mouth moved, not a word came from him. Not only could Marie direct the Remnants to hold him against the wall, but she could also make them keep him from speaking. Rage gave a flare of energy to my limbs, making me drag myself to my feet as I faced her.

"We both know if I had any of those abilities left in me, I'd be decorating the walls with your bloody, smoldering remains right now," I said, wishing I had the stamina to sound more threatening. "I only picked up those powers for a short time when I drank from Vlad and Mencheres."

Satisfaction flitted across her features before they became smooth again. "Like a Mambo," she said, drawing out the unfamiliar word. "In my sect of voodoo, select Mambos drank from blood sprinkled with Zombi's essence to absorb the god's powers over the dead - temporarily. When I was changed into a ghoul, those powers became permanent, and increased more than anyone could imagine."

"Get those things off Bones and you can tell me all about it," I gritted out. Marie had confirmation of her suspicions about my power source, but we were still alive, so she must want something from us. I didn't need a Magic 8 Ball to know if she wanted us dead, we'd be nothing but shriveling heaps in this dingy room by now.

Her hazelnut gaze met mine, no mercy in their depths as she held out the glass filled with her blood. "Drink this or he dies."

I looked into her eyes and knew, down to my soul, that she wasn't bluffing. No matter that I feared what would happen when I drank from that glass, I'd drain it dry to save Bones.

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