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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:11

"Tell me where you are. Police can be there in minutes, and I'll--"

"It's okay, I think, Larry. Manny urged me to handle it with magic, not guns, and I'm trying."

"What kind of magic could save you from ghouls once they've gone predatory?"

"I'll explain later, but I can't do metaphysics while I'm on the phone."

"You're using your necromancy?" He made it a question.

"If the two of you need backup, call."

"I will, thanks, Larry." I hung up. It was the friendliest conversation I'd had with him in months. He and I had come to a parting of the ways over our views on vampires and the fact that I was a shooter and he wasn't, and the other marshals respected my kill count over his moral high ground.

The ghoul was still pressed to Eddie's back, but it wasn't snarling at us. "I can't find another necromancer anywhere in the city, or the miles beyond."

"But you were able to touch Larry enough for him to call?" Manny made it a question.

"Apparently, so if I did touch someone with our psychic gift they'd know it when I did." I stared at the ghoul, and a quick thought let me feel the others still out in the darkness.

"We need to get him off my dad," Susannah said in a voice that was squeezed down into a tight, frightened sound.

"Ask him to get off the man," Manny said.

"Ask him, or tell him to move."

"So, what, we move him away from Eddie, so we can shoot him?"

"No need to shoot him if he does what you tell him to do, Anita."

I looked at Manny. "I can't control ghouls, especially wild ones that my necromancy didn't do anything to bring to life."

"If it were anyone else but you, I'd agree, but if any animator I know can do this, it's you."

"Try, Anita," Nicky said.

"Please, Anita, at least try before that thing hurts my dad."

I sighed, and looked at the ghoul. It was watching me, not in a hostile way, not even in a neutral way. There was a demand in its large reddish eyes, not the kind of demand human eyes give you, but closer to the way a really active dog will look at its owner, as if thinking, You're going to do something interesting now, right? We're going to do something now, right? And even that wasn't exactly it, but it was the closest thing I'd ever seen to the look in the ghoul's face.

"You"--I pointed at the ghoul--"move off the man."

It blinked, looked at me for a second.

The ghoul blinked one more time and then crawled off the man he'd pinned to the ground. He kept his eyes on Nicky, Domino, and Susannah while he did it, but he moved. I think we all held our breath. The ghoul sat beside Eddie, but he wasn't on top of him anymore.

"Tell him to move farther away from Eddie," Manny said.

"Move farther away from the man," I said.

The ghoul looked at me.

"Try it simpler," Nicky said.

"Like you'd talk to a dog," Zerbrowski said.

If the ghoul were a dog, what would I say? How would I order it to get away from Eddie? I'd say, Get away from the man. I tried it. "Get away from the man."

It looked at me, puzzled, but it moved a few more inches away from Eddie.

"Call him to you, Anita," Manny said.

"He's not really a dog, Manny."

My heart was beating a little fast; it wouldn't work, it couldn't work. "Come to me," I said.

It looked at me sort of sideways, suspicious, but it came to me slowly, each movement stiff and reluctant like a half-feral dog. It wants to be petted and loved, but it's learned humans are bastards and more likely to hurt than help. The ghoul moved in that awkward, nearly four-legged gait they had sometimes, as if the legs didn't quite hold them upright, so they had to use their arms more like an ape. He, or it, sat a few feet away from me, out of reach, but closer to me than to Eddie, which is what we wanted.

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Eddie got up slowly, and when he stood up, Susannah started to run to him, but Manny said, "Don't run; that attracts ghouls and can trigger their chase reflex."

"He's right," I said, softly, still keeping my gaze on the ghoul in front of me.

Susannah went slowly to meet her father around the far side of the grave. They hugged hard. One win for the good guys.

I went back to staring at the ghoul, and he stared back. He was less than eight feet from me. If he tried to jump me I'd never get any of the guns up in time to defend myself. Minimum safe distance for drawing, aiming, and firing a gun is twenty-one feet; anything closer and a human being can close the distance faster than you can draw a weapon. All the people who complain about cops shooting someone from a distance don't understand how fast people can move, and how long it takes to draw, aim, and fire. The ghoul would be faster than a human. Eight feet between us was like giving him a free try at me, or at Zerbrowski or Manny, who were clustered around me.

"I'm not sure," Manny said.

Nicky was moving slowly toward us. Domino started to follow, but Nicky shook his head. The ghoul noticed Nicky and shifted uneasily, making a low anxious sound in its throat. "Hold up, Nicky."

"Why isn't he afraid of me? I've got a gun," Zerbrowski said.

"I don't know, maybe Nicky looks like more of a threat."

"I think he can smell what I am," Nicky said, keeping his voice low and as non

threatening as he could.

"He's more afraid of shapeshifters than humans; interesting," I said.

"Don't go all Mr. Spock on us, Anita. This isn't interesting, it's dangerous," Zerbrowski said.

"Add scary to that, and you're about right," Domino said, still at the graveside. He was watching out into the trees, trying to keep attention on the other ghouls, and trusting that Nicky would handle the one closest to me. He was right; there were four of them still out there, and they might not be as obedient as this one.

"Okay, but now what do I do with it?"

"Dawn is less than half an hour away, Anita. The ghouls will run for cover as the light comes," Manny said.

"I don't believe they came from this cemetery; if we let them tunnel in here to hide from the sunlight, they'll start feeding on the bodies buried here. They need to go back where they came from."

"And where is that?" Manny asked.

I looked at the ghoul. "Maybe he'll play Lassie for me," I said.

"What does that even mean?" Zerbrowski asked; he sounded nervous. I guess we all were, but he usually hid it better.

"Show us where your cemetery is," I said. The ghoul blinked at me.

"Too complex," Nicky said.

"If you say Is Timmy down the well, I'm going to punch you later, just so you know," Zerbrowski said.

"Go back to your own cemetery."

It made a sound low in its throat, halfway between a growl and a purr. I didn't understand the sound.

It made the sound again, but this time it went up and down the scale, and there was more trill to it. There was an answering noise from the dark here, there, over there, so that the whole pack made the noise back and forth at each other.

"What are they doing?" Susannah asked.

"It doesn't sound threatening," I said, but knew I sounded less than absolutely certain, because I wasn't certain. I was so far outside my comfort zone that I just didn't know. Ghouls didn't act like this, and they sure as hell didn't obey me. I'd been chased through my share of graveyards by the damn things. They were animalistic scavengers that would turn into opportunistic predators if they found something wounded enough. I'd heard them growl, howl, chitter, scream, but never this up-and-down, half-questioning noise.