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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:08

Manny answered and I let him. "Anyone who was a priest or priestess in real life of any religion is a question mark, but if they were voodoo practitioners then you don't raise them from the dead, ever. Any psychic abilities, a witch, sorcerer, anyone who was involved in a supernatural event while alive is iffy and best avoided."

I was wondering where Nicky was with the extermination crew. They'd have flamethrowers and the protective suits that went with them; if Warrington came out of the grave still ravenous we'd need them. Nicky had gone up to the main road to lead the crew back to us. He had also made sure that all three of us ate a protein bar from the stash Nathaniel had started putting in my car. It wasn't dinner, but it helped to keep us from having the blood sugar crashes that could make me drain energy from the people I was connected to metaphysically. The grave diggers had already gotten lost and had to reload the backhoe back on their truck once and drive to the right location, which had taken time we didn't have. We had to dig the grave up before dawn or the zombie might be dead to the world because it was dawn, and we still wouldn't know what happened once darkness fell inside his coffin. His--there, I'd thought it again; even though he was a zombie, a fleshcraving zombie, there was enough mind left that he was still Warrington to me. He could still be down there thinking and feeling, and I had to know before I walked away tonight; I had to know.

I stared off into the darkness and wondered again where Nicky was, and . . . It was as if the energy had changed in the cemetery just since earlier tonight. It had that feeling that places get sometimes when people have been performing rites that can affect the sanctity of holy ground, or as if something metaphysical has happened between one visit and the next.

"Do you feel it, Manny?" I asked.

"Feel what?" he asked.

"The cemetery had better energy earlier tonight."

"I haven't been to this one before, but a lot of the older cemeteries feel like this, Anita."

"I swear it didn't earlier tonight."

"Or maybe you just feel guilty," he said.

"What do you mean, it feels different?" Zerbrowski asked.

"Sometimes older graveyards can sort of run out of holiness," I said.

"If they haven't had a new grave and funeral in a long time, it's as if the holy ground doesn't last," Manny said.

"So this is no longer holy ground?" Zerbrowski asked.

Manny made a waffling gesture with his hand.

"A priest can do one quick ceremony, basically walk the boundaries with holy water, or another funeral could fix it," I said.

"Ghouls can disrupt holy ground," Manny said.

I shook my head. "I think the holy wears off and then some of the bodies rise as ghouls."

"Wait, what?" Zerbrowski asked.

"Ghouls are the most mysterious undead, and there's a debate even among animators and witches whether ghouls move into a graveyard and somehow damage the sanctity of it, or if ghouls only crawl out of the graves once the holy ground is no longer holy."

"Sort of a 'which came first, the chicken or the egg' debate," Zerbrowski said.

"It's the one kind of undead I've never seen," he said.

Manny said, "They're harmless cowards. You say boo, and they hide."

I looked at him. "If you believe that, then you've only seen regular ghouls."

"Ah, I forgot, you've seen them when they turn predatory," he said.

"I'm sensing a split decision here," Zerbrowski said.

"Manny's right about most ghouls. They're just scavengers that build tunnels underneath the graves and come up underneath to feed, at first. In fact, the first thing that usually clues a caretaker in that there's an infestation is a few scattered bones, or a grave collapses into the tunnels."

"Or they dig too close to a gravestone and it falls over, or into the tunnels," Manny added.

"Yeah, and the main complaint is that people don't like the idea of their loved ones getting munched on in their graves."

Zerbrowski made a face. "I bet. Nothing like coming to put flowers on Grandma's grave and discovering she's been scattered all over the place like dog food."

I smiled and shook my head. "Yeah, something like that. They call in an exterminator team to fill the tunnels with fire during daylight, and whoosh, no more problem. Usually."

"What happens if it's not usual?" he asked.

"They're always faster, smarter, and less physically fragile than zombies. They don't rot. Bullets hurt them but don't stop them. I've heard of them getting hit by big trucks, so they can be killed if you can crush them thoroughly enough, but it's hard to accomplish without the truck. Set them on fire and they burn like vampires, which means really well."

"I've seen a couple of vamps afterward; they go up like kindling if you add an alcoholic drink to them for a starter fluid."

I agreed. "But it doesn't matter how hard they are to kill, most of the time. They seem to be afraid of people, just like Manny said."

"Drop the other shoe, Anita, I know there is one."

"Once they've cleaned out the bodies in the cemetery and don't have any food to scavenge, they can start being more active hunters," Manny said.

"If a drunk passes out, or someone injures himself and can't get away, then they'll become a danger," he said.

"I think they'll always take an injured or incapacitated person; anything that they feel isn't a threat to them is food," I said.

"There's nothing in the literature that says that," Manny said.

"I've been up against ghouls that were real active, Manny, and I just don't believe anything that's that good at killing and eating people doesn't do it when they get the chance."

"Those are aberrant cases, Anita."

"Yeah, but all it takes is one aberrant case to kill your ass."

"So animators can't control them like zombies; they're more like vampires."

"Yeah," I said. In my head I thought, I'd known one animator who could control them, but he'd been mostly dead himself, so I wasn't sure it counted.

"There are legends of those who had enough ability to control all undead, even vampires, but Anita is the closest we have to the necromancers of yore. If she can't control them, then they can't be controlled."

"You're such a brute," Zerbrowski said.

"Wait, you said they're stronger than zombies, who are already stronger than us. Aren't there any undead that aren't stronger than humans?"

We both shook our heads. "Though they did some experiments on zombies, and it turns out they may not actually be stronger than people," I said.

"Zombies just have no stop on using all their strength at once. It's like how a baby will use everything it has to kick a blanket off, but as you get older you use the effort needed, not all your effort together. Until by the time you're grown up you sort of forget you have more strength available to you--until an emergency happens."

"Like grannies lifting cars off their grandkids," Zerbrowski offered.

"So if people knew how to automatically use all our strength, we could be lifting cars all the time?"

"That's one theory," I said.

"Remember before you try lifting a car that zombies will also tear their own arms off trying to lift something too heavy for them," Manny said.

"That's true. Zombies, just like babies, don't seem to understand that even if you can lift something, it doesn't mean your body can handle the load," I said.

"Hanging around you is like the Discovery Channel for monsters sometimes; I always learn something new."

The grave diggers had moved in with tools to help loosen the tombstone, but they were gesturing at the backhoe for some reason, even though they weren't ready for it yet. "What are they doing?" I asked.

"I think they're trying to use the backhoe to move the tombstone," Zerbrowski said.

"How can you possibly know t

"I speak guy hand gestures," he said with a completely deadpan face.

I might have argued with him, but Domino came back to report that was exactly what they were talking about doing. The tombstone was solid marble and taller than I was, so it was heavy and unwieldy. The two men they'd sent couldn't lift it by themselves.

"Can I offer that Nicky and I help them, or do you not want them to know that we're stronger than the average human?"

"Offer. We're running out of moonlight."

"Besides, they'll take one look at Mr. Muscles and totally believe he could lift it by himself," Zerbrowski said.

I gave him a look. "Mr. Muscles, really?"

He gave a head nod like he was pointing with it. "Look at that silhouette and argue with me if you can."

I looked where he'd gestured, to find Nicky outlined by the moonlight and the floodlights that the diggers were setting up. Some trick of the light and shadow made his shoulders look even more massive than they already were, so he was proportioned like some cartoon strongman.

"Okay, I see your point."

"You know me, I try to make my irritating nicknames accurate." He smiled at me.

I rolled my eyes at him, and he grinned.

"You are incorrigible."

"It's one of his charms," Nicky said as he walked up to us, stepping out of the light show and into the darkness near us so his shoulders were just their normal impressive spread, not the caricature that had made Zerbrowski comment.

As if he'd read my mind, he said, "I still stand by the nickname."

"What nickname?" Nicky asked.

"Mr. Muscles," Zerbrowski said, grinning up at him.

Nicky frowned at him, just a little. "I've been called worse."

"You know you're no fun to tease, right?"