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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:10

I sent my power out wide and fast, searching for whoever was holding this one's leash. I touched the other ghouls and knew Domino was right; they were trying to outflank us, but like the one at the grave, when my power touched them their energy calmed. I felt them grow quiet under the touch of my necromancy. Whoever was controlling them either was backing off or didn't have that much control over them after all. Good, great, but I still wanted the necromancer. I sent my power out seeking him, or her. If she could do this, then I needed to find her and make it clear this shit didn't fly in my territory.

I sent the wind of my power out and out, then finally sought farther than the wind could reach, until Jean-Claude entered my mind and whispered, "Ma petite, is something wrong?"

"What?" Zerbrowski asked.

"You fill the night with power like a seeking wind. What do you seek?"

I didn't try talking again; I just let him see my night, and know what had been happening. "Ma petite, my love, your night is one of wonder and torment."

"That's one way to put it," I said.

"Put what?" Zerbrowski asked.

"She's talking to her power," Manny said. I wondered if he understood what he meant by that. Did he know I was talking to Jean-Claude? I'd ask later; maybe.

"Oh, sorry," Zerbrowski said.

"Is there anything I can do to aid you, ma petite?"

"No . . . I don't think so."

"Then I will say only this: Your power is like a beacon tonight; it may draw things to you beyond the necromancer you seek."

"What do you mean?" I asked. I could see him sitting in the living room, curled up onto one corner of the living room couch. Someone was with him, a man's hand resting on his thigh. The size of the hand meant it wasn't Nathaniel or Micah; beyond that I wasn't sure. It didn't even have to be a lover; as the other vampires reminded him often, he was far too touchy-feely with his animals. Yeah, that would be the older vamps among the Harlequin that said it.

"Our lesser vampires may find your power irresistible, or even zombies that belong to others." He made a waffling motion with his hand. "You are heady stuff to the dead tonight, ma petite."

"I'll try to tone it down."

He smiled. A blond head came into view, moving so close to Jean-Claude's chest that I could see the hair as he moved upward. It was only as he turned his head to sniff along Jean-Claude's neck that I realized it was Dev.

He smiled and said, "Anita."

I was all necromancy tonight. I realized that it had closed certain doors inside me, and I wasn't feeling my connection to my wereanimals as strongly as normal. Sometimes it was hard to find the balance between all the power.

Dev lay back against Jean-Claude's shoulder and smiled up at my viewpoint as if he were smiling for a camera. He'd seen me inside his head like this before, and for some reason it was always an up view with me looking down, so that we always looked upward into each other's faces from a distance. There were moments when we could just look in and see what the other was doing, but for anything this interactive the viewpoint was always hovering. None of us knew exactly why it worked the way it did.

Dev's smile was content like a cat that's been into the cream. I had a moment to wonder what he and Jean-Claude had been doing to put that smugness on his face, but I knew that it wasn't sex. If they crossed that boundary there'd be discussion beforehand, at least on Jean-Claude's part. I'd let Dev be his own person for most of our relationship, so I wasn't sure on his part. He might consider that Jean-Claude was the king, so . . . I shook the thoughts away. One issue at a time, damn it.

Jean-Claude either read my mind or knew me that well, because he said, "Mephistopheles and I have been talking about his new form and what it might mean for his power level."

"He seems pretty happy with himself."

"He is enjoying the thought of being closer to the seat of power."

It took me a moment to realize it was a double entendre. I trusted Jean-Claude to handle the other man and keep things from getting out of hand before we'd all discussed it among ourselves. An in-depth talk with Asher and Kane was so on the to-do list before we decided what to do with our golden tiger.

"I'll try not to attract too much undead attention; you guys be good."

Dev's smile broadened, and he leaned in against Jean-Claude in a very intimate way. "We'll be good."

I hoped he didn't think he was home free and on Jean-Claude's list of lovers just because of gaining more power. It was a mistake to underestimate how carefully Jean-Claude orchestrated the people around him. He valued domestic happiness highly; even power wasn't always enough for him to upset personal issues. Some of the Harlequin saw that as a weakness, but when you can have several hundred years of companionship from someone, being happy with them should be important. I'd actually begun to think that one of the reasons most of the older vamps I met were miserable bastards was that they spent too much time being all Machiavelli in their life, and not enough time being Cupid. It sounded stupid, but love isn't stupid; it's necessary for a happy life.

I shook my head and closed the link between us; anything else I said was just going to distract me more. I needed to find the necromancer who had loosed the ghouls from their cemetery. I was almost a hundred percent certain that they hadn't originated in this graveyard, though it would definitely need a priest to visit soon or they might spread here.

I knew how to search for the undead, or even vampires, but I'd never tried to search just for someone like me. I knew what vampire felt like to my power. I let it "taste" the zombie in its grave. Warrington felt it, because he said, "What would you have of me, Ms. Blake?"

"I'm trying to find other undead, but first I have to ignore your energy, so I won't keep picking up on zombies." He probably didn't understand most of what I'd said, but he replied with, "Let me but feed and I know I can help you."

"You're craving flesh again?"

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"So hungry," he said.

I still didn't know what to do with the zombie in the grave, and I didn't have time to figure it out right that minute. "I'll attend to you later, Warrington; right now I have other dead to visit."

"Free me and I will help you."

"Be quiet, you're distracting me." He stopped talking, either because he wanted to be helpful or because I'd given him a direct order and he couldn't disobey it. I hoped the latter, because that would mean he was closer to a normal zombie, and I needed some normal tonight.

I aimed my necromancy at the ghoul closest to me. He went very still, that stillness that zombies and vampires can have, as if the body stops. It's a cessation of movement that live beings can't do. We can hold our breath, but we can't stop our hearts from beating, or the blood from flowing through our veins. The undead can do exactly that.

The ghoul looked at me and gave me the stillness that only the dead can, and my power tasted him, and then spilled out into the night to taste his brethren. There were five of them. The typical size for a group was between three and six, though I'd seen much larger packs before, but that had been the one under control of the other necromancer. I took their being a standard-size group as a good sign, because either the other necromancer couldn't raise more, or it had been a normal pack that got taken over but not raised from the grave by the other necromancer. The first was impressive; the second would have been scary impressive.

I let my power taste all the graves, but in a cemetery this old there weren't many hot spots; more likely over newer graves if the soul hasn't gone on like normal, haunts that are more active hot spots, and then the very rare graveside ghost. Ghosts usually haunted places they'd lived, died, or enjoyed in life; most weren't that attached to their actual graves. There were no ghosts at all, no hot spots, and only two haunts. I didn't know what had tied the spirit to the graves, but it was wearing away like a string rubbing against a sharp rock; eventually the connection would break and the remnant of soul woul

d join the rest of itself on the other side. Just getting a priest down here to reconsecrate the ground might free them both. Older graveyards like this one were usually quiet places, downright peaceful by my standards.

I knew the feel of all the dead and undead near me, so I set my necromancy searching for something that wasn't a vampire, or a zombie, or a ghoul, or a ghost, or a haunt, or a hot spot, but was still of the dead. Manny flared next to me, his own power showing up now that I'd narrowed my search. That was a good sign; if I could sense Manny this strongly, then I'd be able to find someone powerful enough to control ghouls. They couldn't hide from me now.

I aimed and searched for someone like me. I found others, but they were known powers: my coworkers at Animators Inc. and fellow U.S. Marshal Larry Kirkland. I'd combined my power with theirs back in the nights when I needed more help to raise multiple, older zombies. Manny had been the one who taught me I could act as a focus for other animators' power. As I tasted the other animators' magic I realized that combining all of us hadn't been that different from bringing together all the different types of wereanimals, or even the vampire marks with Jean-Claude and the rest. It was all about combining power so you'd be able to do more together than apart, except the vampire version was permanent and the other wasn't, but I still recognized their magic from miles away.

I reached past the familiar energies and searched for someone I didn't know and had never worked with, but there was nothing. Nothing close enough to be controlling the ghouls around us in the dark. That needed proximity to work, just like controlling zombies.

"There's no one close," I said softly, my voice distant with power.

My phone rang, sharp and jarring, so I lost some of the thread of what I was doing. It's easier to do magic while shooting a gun than answering a phone, or so I've found. I fumbled it out to turn the sound off, but recognized the number, so I took it.

"What the fuck are you playing at, Anita?" In person he looked like a grown-up Howdy Doody complete with orange-red hair, freckles, and a boyish face that still got him carded, though the fact that he was about my height probably didn't help.

"Well, hello to you, too," I said.

"Your power is all over me and you think I'm being rude?"

"Manny and I are in a cemetery with predatory ghouls; forgive me if my trying to control the situation got my psychic cooties on you."