The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 31~32

31

Dominic Dumare showed up wearing a pair of black dress slacks and a black leather jacket unzipped over a grey silk T-shirt. He looked more relaxed without Sabin looking on, like an employee on his day off. Even the neatly trimmed Vandyke beard and mustache seemed less formal.

Dominic walked around the three vampires I'd raised. We'd moved back out into the rubble-strewn main area, so he could see the zombies and the vampires all at once. He paced around the vampires, touching them here and there. He grinned at me, teeth flashing in his dark beard. "This is marvelous, truly marvelous."

I fought the urge to frown at him. "Forgive me if I don't share your enthusiasm. Can you help me put them back the way they were?"

"Theoretically, yes."

"When people start using the word theoretically, it means they don't know how to do something. You can't help me, can you?"

"Now, now," Dominic said. He knelt by Willie, staring up at him, studying him like a bug under a bioscope. "I didn't say I couldn't help. It's true that I've never seen this done. And you say you've done this before." He stood up, brushing off the knees of his pants.

"Once."

"That time was without the triumvirate?" Dominic asked.

I'd had to tell him. I understood enough about ritual magic to know that if we withheld how we'd gotten this much power, anything Dominic helped us come up with wouldn't work. It would be like telling the police it was a burglary when it was really a murder. They'd be trying to solve the wrong crime.

"Yeah, the first time was just me."

"But both times in daylight hours?" he asked.

I nodded.

"That makes sense. We can only raise zombies after the souls have flown. It would make sense that vampires can only be raised during the day. When darkness falls, their souls return."

I wasn't even going to try and argue about whether or not vampires had souls. I wasn't as sure of the answer as I used to be.

"I can't raise zombies during daylight hours. Let alone vampires," I said.

Dominic motioned at all the waiting dead of both kinds. "But you did it."

I shook my head. "That's not the point. I'm not supposed to be able to do it."

"Have you ever tried to raise normal zombies during daylight hours?"

"Well, no. The man who trained me said it wasn't possible."

"So you never tried," Dominic said.

I hesitated before answering.

"You have tried," he said.

"I can't do it. I can't even call the power under the light of the sun."

"Only because you believe you can't," Dominic said.

"Run that by me again."

"Belief is one of the most important aspects of magic."

"You mean, if I don't believe I can raise zombies during the day, I can't."

"Exactly."

"That doesn't make sense," Richard said. He leaned against one of the intact walls. He'd been very quiet while I talked magic with Dominic. Jason, still in wolf form, lay at his feet. Stephen had cleared some of the broken stones and sat beside the wolf.

"Actually," I said, "it does. I've seen people with a lot of raw talent that couldn't raise anything. One guy was convinced it was a mortal sin so he just blocked it out. But he shone with power whether he wanted to accept it or not."

"A shapeshifter can deny his power all he wants, but that doesn't keep him from changing," Richard said.

"I believe that is why lycanthropy is referred to as a curse," Dominic said.

Richard looked at me. The expression on his face was eloquent. "A curse."

"You'll have to forgive Dominic," Jean-Claude said. "A hundred years ago, it never occurred to anyone that lycanthropy could be a disease."

"Concern for Richard's feelings?" I asked.

"His happiness is your happiness, ma petite."

Jean-Claude's new gentlemanly behavior was beginning to bug me. I didn't trust his change of heart.

Cassandra said, "If Anita didn't believe she could raise the dead during daylight hours, then how did she do it?" She had joined in the metaphysical discussion like it was a graduate class in magical theory. I'd met people like her in college. Theorists who had no real magic of their own. But they could sit around for hours debating whether a theoretical spell would work. They treated magic like higher physics, a pure science without any true way of testing. Heaven forbid the ivory tower magicians should actually try out their theories in a real spell. Dominic would have fit in well with them, except he had his own magic.

"Both occasions were extreme situations," Dominic said. "It works on the same principle that allows a grandmother to lift a truck off her grandchild. In times of great need, we often touch abilities beyond the everyday."

"But the grandmother can't lift a car at will, just because she did it once," I said.

"Hmm," Dominic said, "perhaps the analogy is not perfect, but you understand what I am saying. If you say you do not, you are merely being difficult."

That almost made me smile. "So you're saying that I could raise the dead in daylight if I believed I could."

"I believe so."

I shook my head. "I've never heard of any animator being able to do that."

"But you are not merely an animator, Anita," Dominic said. "You are a necromancer."

"I have never heard of a necromancer that could raise the dead in broad daylight," Jean-Claude said.

Dominic shrugged gracefully. It reminded me of Jean-Claude. It takes a couple hundred years to make a shrug pretty. "I don't know about broad daylight, but just as some vampires can walk around during the day, as long as they are sufficiently sheltered, I believe the same principle would apply to necromancers."

"So you don't believe Anita could raise the dead at high noon out of doors, either?" Cassandra said.

Dominic shrugged again. Then he laughed. "You have caught me, my studious beauty. It may well be possible for Anita to do exactly that, but even I have never heard of such a thing."

I shook my head. "Look, we can explore the magical implications later. Right now, can you help me figure a way to put the vampires back without screwing them up?"

"Define screwing them up," Dominic said.

"Do not joke, Dominic," Jean-Claude said. "You know precisely what she means."

"I want to hear it from her lips."

Jean-Claude looked at me and gave a barely perceptible shrug.

"When darkness falls, I want them to rise as vampires. I'm afraid if I do this wrong, they'll just be dead, permanently."

"You surprise me, Anita. Perhaps your reputation as the scourge of the local vampire populace is exaggerated."

I stared at him. Before I could say something that sounded like bragging, Jean-Claude spoke. "I would think what she has done today is proof enough of how very much she deserves her reputation."

Dominic and the vampire stared at each other. Something seemed to pass between them. A challenge, a knowledge, something. "She would make an amazing human servant if only some vampire could tame her," Dominic said.

Jean-Claude laughed. The sound filled the room with echoes that shivered and danced across the skin. The laughter swept through my body, and for the briefest moment, I could feel something touch me deep inside where no hand belonged. In another context Jean-Claude might have made it sexual; now it was simply disturbing.

"Don't ever do that again," Richard said. He rubbed his bare arms as if he were cold or trying to erase the memory of that invasive laughter.

Jason trotted over to Jean-Claude, to butt his head against the vampire's hand. He'd liked it.

Dominic gave a little bow. "My apologies, Jean-Claude, you have made your point. If you wished to, you could cause the damage that my master caused by accident at your office."

"My office," I said. Personally, I didn't think that Jean-Claude could cause damage with just his voice. I'd been in situations where if he could have done it, he would have. No sense telling Dominic that, though.

Dominic gave an even lower bow in my direction. "Your office, of course."

"Can we cut the grandstanding?" I said. "Can you help us?"

"I am more than willing to try."

I walked up to him, picking my way over the broken stones. When I was standing as close as was polite and maybe an inch or so more, I said, "These three vampires are not an experiment. This is not some graduate study in magical metaphysics. You offered to teach me necromancy, Dominic. I think you're not up to the job. How can you teach me when I can do things you can't? Unless, of course, you can raise vampires from their coffins?"

I stared into his dark eyes the entire time I spoke, watching the anger narrow his eyes, tighten his lips. His ego was as big as I'd hoped. I knew he wouldn't disappoint me. Dominic would do his best for us now. His pride was at stake.

"Tell me exactly how you called the power, Anita, and I will build you a spell that should work--if you have the control to make it work."

I smiled at him, and I made sure it was just this side of condescending. "You come up with it, I can pull it off."

He smiled. "Arrogance is not a becoming trait in a woman."

"I find it a very becoming trait," Jean-Claude said. "If it's deserved. If you had just raised three vampires from their daytime rest, wouldn't you be arrogant, Dominic?"

His smile widened. "Yes, I would be."

Truth was, I didn't feel arrogant. I was scared. Scared that I'd screwed Willie up and he would never rise again. I felt bad too, about Liv and Damian. It wasn't a matter of liking them or not; I didn't mean to do it. You shouldn't extinguish someone's life force by accident. If I felt half as secure as my words to Dominic, why did my stomach hurt?

32

Dominic, Cassandra, and I came up with a spell. The part of the plan that was my idea was very simple. I had put zombies back in their graves for years. I was good at it. As far as I was able, I was going to treat this like just another job: laying the dead to rest, nothing special. Lay the zombies first, worry about the vamps later.

I had Cassandra fetch one of my knives and a wrist sheath from the bedroom. If I'd been acting as a focus for another animator, I wouldn't have let him sink teeth into me, so why did the blood have to come from Jean-Claude drinking it? It didn't, or I didn't think it did. Dominic agreed with me, but he wasn't a hundred percent sure. So zombies first. They'd be the practice. If the knife didn't work, we'd go to fangs, but what little normalcy was left to me, I was going to cling to.

I'd sent Stephen for a bowl to hold the blood. He'd returned with a small, golden bowl. I wondered if the size was deliberate, to encourage me not to spill too much blood. For a werewolf, Stephen didn't seem to like blood very much. The bowl was polished to a shine so bright it almost glowed. The inside showed the dimpled blows of hammer work. Beaten gold, and I knew as soon as I touched it, it was old. Why does everyone think you have to have something special to hold the blood? Tupperware would have worked.

We stood in the rubble-strewn room where the zombies waited, patient as only the dead can be. Some of the eyes that watched me were sunken like the blind eyes of dead fish, a few skulls were empty, and even without eyes, they all

seemed to be looking at me.

I stood, knife strapped to my left wrist, facing them. Richard stood to my left, Jean-Claude to my right. They weren't touching me, by my request.

Dominic had asked for enough details of the first triumvirate that I'd been embarrassed. He agreed with me that the power was probably there without us having to crawl all over each other. Agreeing to that alone earned him brownie points. After all, the plan was to raise the magic tonight in front of the whole pack. I didn't really want to be having sex in front of that many strangers. All right, it wasn't exactly sex, but it was close enough that I didn't want an audience.

The glow was fading. Staring at the partially rotting zombies, it was hard to regain the mood. "My zombies usually hold together better than this," I said.

"If you had pulled this much power from two other necromancers, the zombies would be better," Dominic said.

"Perhaps it was the lack of control," Jean-Claude said.

I turned and looked at him. "I think Dominic means that some of the power that raised them was taken from a dead man."

"Do you believe I am a dead man, ma petite?"

I stared into that lovely face and nodded. "The vampires I raised are just corpses. Whatever you are, it's a form of necromancy. Necromancy only works when you start with a dead body."

He cocked his head to one side. "I hear your words, ma petite, but I do not think you believe them, not completely."

I shook my head. "I don't know what I believe anymore."

"Actually," Dominic said, "I don't believe it matters that Jean-Claude is a vampire. I think it is more that neither he nor Richard know anything of raising the dead. That is your talent alone. I think with practice, you could channel the power into perfect zombies, but in a way, Jean-Claude is right. The wildness of it, the lack of control, made the zombies less perfect."

Something must have shown on my face, because he said, "You had too many things to control to pay attention to all the details. I think you instinctively let the zombies go, because it was the part you were most sure of. You have excellent instincts."

"Thanks, I guess," I said.

He smiled. "I know time is growing short. As we can see from Jean-Claude's presence, not all vampires sleep until full dark. I fear that if one of the vampires passes its waking hour, that he or she will be lost. But I would ask Anita to do one thing for me that has nothing to do with her problem, but everything to do with mine."

"What problem?" I asked.

"Sabin," Jean-Claude said.

Dominic nodded. "Sabin's time is running short."

"Sabin, the vampire at the club?" Cassandra asked.

"Yeah," I said. "What do you need, Dominic? Make it quick, and I'm your girl."

Dominic smiled. "Thank you, Anita. Concentrate on one of your zombies. Try to bring it closer to perfection."

I frowned at him.

"Heal one of your zombies, ma petite."

"You can't heal the dead," I said, "but I can make them more lifelike."

Dominic nodded. "That would do very nicely."

"I usually do that during the initial rush of power. I've never tried to fiddle with my dead once they were raised."

"Please try," Dominic said.

"We could raise the power between the three of us, then try it," I said.

Dominic shook his head. "I am not sure what that would do to the spell. I think it would be taking a great risk with your companions."

I stared at him for a heartbeat or two. "You'd risk leaving Sabin to rot to save our friends?"

"You asked for my help, Anita. I think you are not a woman who asks for help often. It would be poor payment of such a compliment if I let you risk your friends for mine. If you can heal your dead cold, as it were, so be it. If you cannot, we will proceed to save these three vampires."

"A very honorable sentiment," Jean-Claude said.

"There are moments when honor is all that is left," Dominic said.

The vampire and the man seemed to have a moment of near perfect understanding. A wealth of history, if not shared, then similar, passed between them. I was odd woman out.

I looked to Richard and we had our own moment of perfect understanding. We valued our mortal life span. The fatalism in Dominic's voice had been frightening. How old was he? I could usually tell with a vampire, but never with a human servant. I didn't ask. There was a weight of years in Dominic's brown eyes that made me afraid to ask.

I looked at Jean-Claude's lovely face and wondered if I would be as honorable, or would I have risked anyone, everyone, to heal him? To see Jean-Claude dead would be one thing, but rotted away like Sabin... It would be worse than death in many ways. Of course, Sabin was dying. Powerful as he was, he couldn't hold himself together forever. Or maybe he could. Maybe Dominic could sew him up in a big sack, like the gloves the vampire wore on his hands. Maybe Sabin could go on living even after he'd been reduced to so much liquid. Now that was a hideous thought.

I stared at the standing dead. They looked back. One of the zombies was almost intact. Grey skin clung to the bones, more like clay than flesh. One blue eye stared at me. The other eye had shriveled like a raisin. It reminded me of what had happened to Sabin's eye.

It would make more sense to say I touched the eye and healed it. Or that I thought at it and smoothed the flesh like clay. It wasn't like that. I stared at the zombie. I touched that spark inside me that allowed me to raise the dead. I drew that part of me outward, coaxed it like feeding a small flame, and threw it outward into that one zombie. I whispered, "Live, live."

I'd watched it before, but it never ceased to amaze me. The flesh filled out, plumping, smoothing. A warm flesh tone spread like heat across the grey skin. The dry, strawlike hair grew and curled, brown and soft. The dead eye blew up like a small balloon, filling the socket. Two good eyes looked back at me. Even the tattered clothing mended itself. He wore a vest with a gold watch chain. His clothes were a hundred years or more out of date.

"I am most impressed," Dominic said. "If you changed his clothes, he could pass for human."

I nodded. "I make great zombies, but that won't help your master."

"Call one of the vampires from the coffin room."

"Why?" I asked.

Dominic drew a small silver knife from a sheath at his back. I hadn't known he had a weapon. Careless of me.

"What are you going to do with that?" Jean-Claude asked.

"With your permission, I will cut one of the vampires and ask Anita to heal the wound."

Jean-Claude considered the request, then nodded. "A small cut."

Dominic bowed. "Of course."

The vamps could heal a small cut on their own eventually. If I couldn't heal it, no harm done. Though I wasn't sure the vampires would agree with me.

"Anita," Dominic said.

I called, "Damian, come to me."

Jean-Claude raised his eyebrows at my choice, I think. If he expected me to call Willie, he didn't understand. Willie was my friend. Even dead, I didn't want to see him cut up.

Damian had tried to mind-rape a woman tonight at the club. Let him get cut up just a little.

Damian walked in, staring until he found me. His face was still blank and empty. Emptier than sleep, empty as only death can make it.

"Damian, stop."

The vampire stopped. His eyes were the greenest I'd ever seen. Greener than Catherine's, more cat than human.

Dominic stepped in front of Damian. He stared at the vampire. He laid the silver blade against the pale cheek and pulled the point downward, sharply.

Blood flowed down that perfect paleness in a thin crimson wash. The vampire never reacted, not even to blink.

"Anita," Dominic said.

I stared at Damian, no, Damian's shell. I flung power at him, into him. I willed him to live. That was the word I whispered to him.

The blood slowed, then stopped. The cut knit together seamlessly. It was... easy.

Dominic wiped the blood away with a handkerchief he'd drawn from his jacket pocket. Damian's pale cheek was flawless once more.

It was Cassandra who said it first, "She could heal Sabin."

Dominic nodded. "She just might." He turned to me with a look of triumph, elation. "You would need the power of your triumvirate to raise Sabin during his daylight slumber, but once raised, I think you could heal him."

"A shallow cut is one thing," I said. "Sabin is a... mess."

"Will you try?"

"If we can put these three vamps back unharmed, yeah, I'll try."

"Tomorrow."

I nodded. "Why not?"

"I cannot wait to tell Sabin what I have seen here today. He has been without hope for so long. But first, we must put your friends back. I will help you all I can."

I smiled. "I know enough of magic, Dominic, to know that all you can do is advise from the sidelines."

"But it will be very good advice," he said with a smile.

I believed him. For Sabin's sake, he wanted us to succeed. "Okay, let's do it." I held my hands out to Richard and Jean-Claude. They took my hands dutifully enough, and it was pleasant holding their hands. Both of them were warm and lovely, but there was no instant magic. No spark. I realized that in some strange way, the sexual interplay took the place of the ritual. Rituals aren't absolutely necessary to most magic, but they serve as a way to focus, to prepare yourself for the act of casting a spell. I had no blood circle to walk. I had no sacrifice to kill. I had no paraphernalia to use. All I had was the two men standing in front of me, my own body, and the knife at my wrist. I turned away from both of them.

"Nothing's happening," I said.

"What do you expect to happen?" Dominic asked.

I shrugged. "Something. I don't know."

"You are trying too hard, Anita. Relax, let the power come to you."

I rotated my shoulders, trying to ease the tension. It didn't work. "I really wish you hadn't reminded me that some of the vamps could rise before dark. It's late afternoon, and we're underground. It could already be too late."

"Thinking like that is not helpful," Dominic said.

Jean-Claude walked up to me, and even before he touched me, there was a rush of power like a spill of warmth over my skin. "Don't touch me," I said.

I felt him hesitate behind me. "What is wrong, ma petite?"

"Nothing." I turned to face him. I held my hand just above his bare chest and that line of warmth traveled from his skin to mine. It was as if his body breathed against me. "Do you feel that?"

He cocked his head to one side. "Magic."

"Aura," I said. I had to fight an urge to glance at Dominic, like looking to a coach to see if this was the play he wanted. I was afraid to look away, to lose that thread. I held my hand out to Richard. "Walk towards me, but don't touch me."

He looked puzzled but did what I asked. When my hand was just above his skin, that same line of warmth came up, like a small, captive wind. I could feel their energy breathing against my skin, one to each hand. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sensation. There. I could feel a difference, slight, almost indiscernible, but there. There was a prickling, almost electric tremble to Richard. Jean-Claude was cool and smooth. All right, we could touch auras, so what? Where did that get us?

I pressed my hands

suddenly forward, through the energy, against their bodies. I forced that energy back into them, and got a gasp from both of them. The shock of it ran up my arms and I bowed my head, breathing through the rush of power. I raised my face up to meet their eyes. I don't know what showed on my face, but whatever it was, Richard didn't like it. He started to take a step back. I dug fingernails into his stomach just enough to get his attention.

"Don't break the connection."

He swallowed. His eyes were wide and there was something close to fear in them, but he stayed put. I turned to Jean-Claude. He didn't look scared. He looked as calm and controlled as I felt.

"Very good, Anita." Dominic's voice came soft, low. "Combine their power as if they were simply two other animators. You are acting as focus. You've done that before. You've laid the dead to rest a thousand times. This is only one more time."

"Okay, coach," I whispered.

"What?" Richard said.

I shook my head. "Nothing."

I stepped back from them slowly, hands extended towards them. The power trailed between us like two ropes. There was nothing to see, but from the look on Richard's face, we all felt it. I unsheathed the knife and picked up the golden bowl without looking down, my gaze on the two of them. There was a difference between this and combining with other animators, there was lust. Love. Something. Whatever it was, it acted like fuel, or glue. I had no words for what it was, but it was there when I looked at them.

I held the gold bowl in my left hand, knife in the right. I walked back to them. "Hold the bowl for me, one hand apiece."

"Why?" Richard asked.

"Because I said so."

He looked like he wanted to argue. I laid the flat of the blade against his lips. "If you question everything I say, it spoils my concentration." I took the knife away from his mouth.

"Don't do that again," he said, voice soft, almost harsh.

I nodded. "Fine." I held my wrist over the empty bowl and drew the knife down the skin in one sharp movement. Blood welled out of the cut, falling in thick drops, splashing down the sides and bottom of the gleaming gold bowl. Yes, it did hurt.

"Your turn, Richard." I kept my wrist over the bowl; no need to waste the blood.

"What do I do?"

"Put your wrist over the bowl."

He hesitated, then did what I asked. He put his arm over the bowl, hand balled into a fist. I turned his hand over to expose the underside of his arm. I steadied his hand with my still bleeding hand. The bowl wavered where his free hand was still holding it with Jean-Claude.

I looked up at his face. "Why does this bother you more than Jean-Claude tasting you?"

He swallowed. "A lot of things don't bother me when I'm thinking about sex."

"Spoken like someone with only one X chromosome," I said. I drew the knife down his skin in one firm bite, while he was still looking at my face. The only thing that kept him from pulling away was my hold on him.

He didn't struggle after that initial surprise. He watched his blood splash into the bowl, mingling with mine. The bottom of the bowl was hidden from sight, covered in warm blood. I released his hand and he held his bleeding wrist over the bowl.

"Jean-Claude?" I said.

He held his own slender wrist out to me without being asked. I steadied his wrist as I had Richard's. I met his dark blue eyes but there was no fear there, nothing but perhaps a mild curiosity. I cut his wrist and the blood welled crimson against his white skin.

His blood splashed into the bowl. It was all red. Human, lycanthrope, and vampire. You couldn't tell who was who by just looking. We all bleed red.

There still wasn't enough blood to walk a circle of power around the sixty or so zombies. There was no way short of a true sacrifice to get that much blood. But what I had in my hands was a very potent magic cocktail. Dominic thought it would be enough. I hoped so.

A sound brought my attention away from the blood, and the growing warmth of power.

Stephen and Jason were crouched near us, one in human form, one wolf, with nearly identical looks in their eyes: hunger.

I looked past them to Cassandra. She was standing her ground, but her hands were balled into fists, and a sheen of sweat gleamed on her upper lip. The look on her face was near panic.

Dominic stood smiling and unaffected. He was the only other human in the room.

Jason growled at us, but it wasn't a real growl. There was a rhythm to the noise. He was trying to talk.

Stephen moistened his lips. "Jason wants to know if we can lick the bowl?"

I looked at Jean-Claude and Richard. The looks on their faces were enough. "Am I the only one in this room not lusting after the blood?"

"Except for Dominic, I fear so, ma petite."

"Do what you have to do, Anita, but do it quick. It's full moon, and fresh blood is fresh blood," Richard said.

The two other vamps I'd raised shuffled towards me. Their eyes still empty of personality, like well-made dolls.

"Did you call them?" Richard asked.

"No," I said.

"The blood called them," Dominic said.

The vampires came into the room. They didn't look at me this time. They looked at the blood, and the moment they saw it, something flared in them. I felt it. Hunger. No one was home, but the need was still there.

Damian's green eyes stared at the bowl with the same hunger. His handsome face thinned down to something beastial and primitive.

I licked my lips and said, "Stop." They did, but they stared at the freshly spilled blood, never raising their eyes to me. If I hadn't been here to stop them, they might have fed. Fed like revenants, animalistic vampires that know nothing but the hunger and never regain their humanity or their minds.

My heart thudded into my throat at the thought of what I'd almost loosed upon some unsuspecting person. The hunger wouldn't have differentiated between human and lycanthrope. Wouldn't that have been a fine fight?

I took the bloody bowl, cradling it against my stomach, the knife still in my right hand.

"Do not be afraid," Dominic said. "Lay the zombies to rest as you have a thousand times over the years. Do that and that alone."

"One step at a time, right?" I said.

"Indeed," he said.

I nodded. "Okay."

Everyone but the three vampires looked at me as if they believed I knew what I was doing. I wished I did. Even Dominic looked confident. But he didn't have to put sixty zombies back in the ground without a circle of power. I did.

I had to watch my step on the rubble-strewn floor. It wouldn't do to fall and spill all this blood, all this power. Because that's what it was. I could feel Jean-Claude and Richard at my back like two braids of a rope twisting inside me as I moved. Dominic had said that I would be able to feel both of the men. When I'd asked for specifics about how I would be able to feel them, he had gone vague. Magic was too individualistic for exactness. If he told me one way and it felt another, it would have made me doubt. He'd been right.

I stirred the knife through the blood and flung blood on the waiting zombies with the blade. Only a few drops fell on them, but every time the blood touched one, I could feel it, a shock of power, a jolt. I ended in the center of the once walled room, surrounded by the zombies. When the blood touched the last one, a shock ran through me that tore a gasp from my throat. I felt the blood close round the dead. It was similar to closing a circle of power, but it was like the closure was inside me, rather than outside.

"Back," I said, "back into your graves, all of you. Back into the ground."

The dead shuffled around me, positioning themselves like sleepwalkers in a game of musical chairs. As each one reached its place, it lay down, and the raw earth poured over them all like water. The earth swallowed them back and smoothed over them as if a giant hand had come to neaten everything up.

I was alone in the room with the earth still twitching like a horse thick with flies. When the last ripple had died away, I looked out of the blasted wall at the others.

Jean-Claude and Richard stood at the opening of the wall. The three werewolves clustered around them. Even Cassandra had knelt on the ground beside the wolf that was Jason. Dominic stood behind them, watching. He was grinning at me like a proud papa.

I walked towards them, my legs a touch rubbery, and I stumbled, splashing blood down the side of the bowl. Crimson drops fell onto the swept earth.

The wolf was suddenly there, licking the ground clean. I ignored it and kept walking. Vampires next. Everyone moved to let me pass as if they were afraid to touch me. Except for Dominic. He crowded almost too close.

I felt his own power crackle between us, shivering over my skin, down the ropes of power that bound me to Richard and Jean-Claude.

I swallowed and said, "Back up."

"My apologies." He moved back until I couldn't feel him quite so tightly. "Good enough?"

I nodded.

The three vampires waited with hungry eyes. I sprinkled them with the cooling blood. They twitched when the blood touched them, but there was no rush of power. Nothing. Shit.

Dominic frowned. "The blood is still warm. It should work."

Jean-Claude moved closer. I could feel it without turning around. I could feel him coming down the line of power between us like a fish being reeled in. "But it is not working," he said.

"No," I said.

"They are lost then."

I shook my head. Willie was staring at the bowl of blood. The look was feral, pure hunger. I'd thought that the worst thing that could happen would be for Willie to simply lie down in his coffin and be truly dead. I was wrong. Having Willie crawl out of his coffin craving nothing but blood, knowing nothing but hunger, would be worse. I would not loose him, not yet.

"Any bright ideas?" I asked.

"Feed them the blood in the bowl," Dominic said, "but hurry before it grows colder."

I didn't argue; there was no time. I wiped the knife on my jeans and sheathed it. I'd have to clean it and the sheath later, but I needed my hands free. I dipped my fingertips into the blood. It was still warm, but barely. The eyes were still brown as they followed my hand, but it wasn't Willie looking out of them. It just wasn't.

I lifted the gold bowl to Willie's mouth and said, "Willie, drink." His throat moved, swallowing furiously, and I felt that click. He was mine again. "Stop, Willie."

He stopped, and I took the bowl away from him. He didn't grab for it. He didn't move at all. His eyes were blank and empty above his bloody mouth. "Go back to your coffin, Willie. Rest until nightfall. Back to your coffin to rest."

He turned and walked back down the hallway. I'd have to trust he was going back to the coffin. I'd check later. One down, two to go. Liv left like a good little puppet. The blood was getting pretty low by the time I raised it to Damian's lips.

He drank at it, his pale throat swallowing. The blood passed down his throat and something brushed me. Something that wasn't my magic. Something else. Damian's chest rose in a great breath like a man struggling back from drowning. And that something thrust me backwards, cast out my power, turned it back on me. It was like a door slammed, but it was more than that. A force thrust at me, hit me, and the world swirled around. My vision was eaten away in greyness and white spots. I heard my own heartbeat impossibly loud. The thudding chased me down into the darkness, then even that was lost.