"Defending your life?"
"You bothered that mine wasn't?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Either way, this isn't the time or place to discuss it."
"Okay then," he said.
"Is anything wrong, Ms. Blake?" It was Mr. MacDougal, patiently standing behind the worn tombstone.
I shook my head. "No, nothing wrong, just filling in my assistant on a detail or two. I usually walk the circle alone."
"It's a big bowl," he said.
"It is that, Mr. MacDougal, it is that." I dipped the blade back in the cooling blood and started walking the circle like I had a purpose.
WE WALKED THE circle together, Nicky finding just the right height to hold the bowl so that I could dip the machete in without spattering us, or even hesitating as we moved. He anticipated me in this as he did when we had sex, so that we fell into a rhythm that was almost a dance. It made it more of a ritual, some sort of liturgical dance, but with more blood than I assume the monks use during theirs. It was so smooth, so . . . something I had no word for that I was shocked when I looked down and saw blood on the grass ahead of us. One more sprinkle of blood and we'd close the circle. It didn't seem like we'd walked that far. Nicky offered the bowl to me one more time; I dipped the long blade in, pulled it slowly out, and let the thickening drops fall to touch the blood already on the grass. The moment the fresh blood hit the first drop we had cast down, the circle closed. It closed with a rush and a roar of power that left every hair on my body dancing. It pulled a gasp from my throat.
"Oh, my God," Nicky whispered. I looked into his face and found his eyes wide and his own skin reacting to the power.
It was hard to breathe through the power. My chest was tight with it. What the fuck?
Nicky whispered, "That's more power than I've ever felt when you've put up a circle."
I nodded, swallowing hard to be able to whisper back, "I haven't used a death as big as a cow in a while. I think it was more battery power than I needed."
"What does that mean?"
"It means this is going to be a really kickass zombie."
I shook my head and it wasn't until a sound came from inside the circle with us that I turned and saw MacDougal. He was standing behind the tombstone where we'd told him to stand. He looked a little pale in the moonlight, mouth open and gasping as if he'd been running. I hadn't thought to ask if he was psychically gifted. He couldn't be very gifted, or I would have sensed it, but his reaction said clearly he wasn't a null. They felt nothing when you did magic around them. Mac Dougal sure felt something.
I started walking toward him, and Nicky stayed at my side as if we'd planned it. "You okay, MacDougal?" I asked.
He nodded, but he was still pale, eyes too wide.
"I have to smear blood on you, remember?"
He nodded again, but he wasn't looking at me.
"MacDougal." I said his name sharply, almost a yell. He jumped, then looked at me. "Oh, my God," he said, and it was almost a yell, too.
"Mr. MacDougal, can you hear me?"
He nodded, and then coughed sharply, as if he were having trouble breathing. "I hear you, Blake."
"Do you remember what I said I had to do with the cow blood?"
"You smear it on my face, heart, hands, correct?"
"Yes, very good. How psychically gifted are you, MacDougal?"
"I'm not, I mean . . . I can feel ghosts, but I can't see them. They're what made me want to study history, so I could hear what they were trying to tell me."
I had to take a deep breath and let it out slow, or I would have yelled at him. "You can sense ghosts? But you can't see them?"
"No, just feel them. Gettysburg was so thick with them it was hard to breathe."
"For future reference, MacDougal, if you're around necromancy and you have a touch of it yourself, you need to say something up front, and not make it a surprise."
"Is that why it feels like my skin is jumping?"
"Yeah, that would be why."
Jesus, people just didn't think the logic through, did they? I didn't want to put the blood on him. I didn't want to give him a zombie to control; would it make his own abilities with the dead stronger, so that next time the ghosts could talk directly to him? Or was it just a quirk of fate, the universe laughing up its sleeve, and this would be the closest he'd ever come to the kind of power he might have had? If he'd been in his teens, or even twenties, I'd have called it, and opened the circle and tried for another historian, but he was late forties, early fifties. It was too late for some huge jump in psychic abilities--usually. I was 99.9 percent sure it wouldn't cause a problem. I stood there debating on that fraction of a percent.
"Do you need to use someone else?" Nicky asked.
"Why can't you use me?" MacDougal asked.
"Not sure of what?" he asked.
"A lot of things, but right now how it might affect your psychic abilities to give you a zombie."
I shook my head. "I don't want to say."
"Why, is it something bad?"
"People are suggestible, Mr. MacDougal; you might talk yourself into things that aren't true later."
"I don't understand."
I shook my head again. "It's okay, don't worry about it."
I turned to Nicky. "I don't like this."
"Can you open the circle and put him out, put someone else back in?"
Just that he'd asked that question meant that Nicky had watched me do this a lot lately. It also meant that he thought about my job as logically as possible, the way he did most things. "If I open it, the power gets out sometimes, too. I won't have as much control of it once the circle is open."
"Then that's out," he said.
"Yeah, and we don't have another cow. I open the circle and I may be able to raise the zombie, but weird things happen when I raise the dead without a circle of protection up."
"Like the night we met," he said.
I realized that he was right. His mercenary group's witch had put a circle of power around the whole graveyard to keep me from being able to contact Jean-Claude and my other people. They'd thought that would be enough of a circle of power for me to raise the dead, and they'd been right. I'd raised the whole graveyard for them, and used the zombies as weapons against them. It had worked, but there had been a moment when I felt that mass of zombies fight me for control. They hadn't wanted to go back to their graves that night. They had turned hungry eyes to me, Nicky, and his old Rex. It had worked out, but I wasn't eager to repeat it.
"So you have more power than you need for one zombie; just raise it."
Logically I knew I couldn't give MacDougal more power permanently, but it's not always about logic. "I don't know."
"You're the boss," he said, which sometimes meant he would follow me to the ends of the earth, and sometimes meant that I was being silly, usually overly sentimental. Sociopaths are so fun to work with.
"If I were really the boss I'd have sensed his ability, but my necromancy was too loud in my head, like a tune you hum without realizing you do it. It drowned out his smaller sound."
"Has this ever happened before?" he asked.
"Then odds are you were overdue to hit someone like this."
I studied his so-serious face. I couldn't argue with his logic, though I wanted to, because it just seemed like I should have felt MacDougal's abilities, but even standing this close I felt nothing from him. It was only his own reactions that had let me know anything was wrong with him. Shouldn't I have felt more from him now that I knew? All I could feel was my own power filling the circle, pushing at me to use it. God, I wasn't raising enough dead, or it wouldn't have felt like so
me kind of flood waiting to crash down on us, or out of me and into the ground. The power needed to be used. I looked down at the grave.