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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:21

"What did I tell you?"

"Not to try," she said.

"Because Marshal Blake is better at being a practitioner than the instructors at Quantico seem to think."

"Remember, I sat through those same classes, Teresa. Their information is several years out of date about Anita, and I suspect several other major powers in the states."

"Not the world?" Manning asked.

"Interpol seems to keep better track of their psychics and whether they upgrade their skills," he said.

"Why do you think that is?" Manning asked.

"They've had practitioners on their force longer than we have, for one thing."

I said, "And they keep files on psychics in case they get powerful enough for Interpol to feel they represent a danger to the public, because they have to have enough proof in their files to get their version of a warrant of execution for the witch."

"Witch is a religion, not a psychic talent," Gillingham said.

"In the United States," I said.

She frowned and looked at Larry, as if for confirmation. I wondered if he'd been one of her mentors, or even a teacher. "Anita's right; in parts of Europe you're a practitioner, or a psychic, until you get powerful enough for the government to see you as a danger and then they label you a witch. It's still legal to kill witches in parts of Europe."

"I thought witch meant what a rogue vampire or lycanthrope is here, that they've killed people," Gillingham said.

Larry and I both shook our heads. "They just have to prove that the practitioner is sufficiently dangerous," Larry said, "but they don't actually have to have hurt anyone yet, in some parts of Europe. It's even worse in parts of South America and Africa."

"That's not how the books explain the European system," she said.

He smiled, but it was a cynical smile. "Yeah, it made my little trip to Europe interesting."

"I didn't know you were in Europe," I said.

"Let's say it made me appreciate my own country more, and be a little less judgmental."

"You hit the psychic radar pretty hot yourself, Larry," I said.

"So I was told in several countries that I won't be traveling to again. They accused me of being a necromancer, and that particular talent is an automatic death sentence in several countries, especially in Eastern Europe."

"Former Soviet bloc countries don't allow necromancers," I said.

"I didn't think I qualified as one, but they thought differently."

"Oh, Larry, I'm sorry," I said, and meant it.

He smiled. "Yeah, I wasn't quite chased out of the country with pitchforks and torches, but I think if I hadn't been FBI it would have been even more dangerous; as it is I've been marked as a person non-desirable in several countries."

"Why were you traveling in Europe?" I asked.

"Looking for more animators and necromancers."

"Anyone with gifts like ours hides there," I said.

"They hide, or they're dead," he said.

"Why were you looking for necromancers?" I asked.

He shook his head. "I can't tell you, Anita, you don't have my clearance level, I'm sorry."

"You sound like you mean that," I said.

We had a moment of looking at each other, and he suddenly put his hand out. I hesitated and then took it. We shook, and I saw something in his eyes that I hadn't seen in years: sympathy toward me. He'd been hating on me so long that I'd started to hate him back.

"I am truly sorry, Anita." I was pretty sure he wasn't talking about Europe.

"I'm glad. I'm still sorry it was scary over in Europe for you," I said.

"Me, too. I had no idea the level of hate people have over there for our talents."

"They've had more large-scale undead incidents over the centuries there than we have here, I think."

"I got a little taste of people not trusting me just because I was too good with the dead. I didn't like it much," he said.

"I understand that," I said.

We still weren't back to being friends, and he hadn't asked for that. He knew he'd done too much damage for that, but it was a start. I sat down to watch the videos with Larry beside me, and for the first time in years, I was glad he was there.

THERE WAS ONLY one extra person in the room for this viewing, but the room seemed way more crowded. Maybe it was Larry going pale beside me and saying out loud, "They told me what I'd be seeing, but words can't prepare you for it, can they?"

We'd all agreed that no, words didn't do the horror of the actual visuals justice.

I lowered my psychic shields as the blond zombie was told to walk to the bed. I looked at the man in the corner who was giving her orders. All I could see was a shoulder or arm in a long-sleeved shirt, and that was only every once in a while. He obviously didn't want to be on film, so why stand where he was even a little visible?

I felt something brush against me. I looked at my arm to see if an insect had gotten into the room, but there was nothing on my arm. I put it down to lack of sleep and went back to watching the blond zombie. Something brushed against my leg, as if there were a cat in the room, and I knew that wasn't true. I stopped trying to "see" what was on the screen, and turned my attention to the here and now in the room.

Larry beside me was like an orange/yellow energy that I could see from the corner of my eyes, but he was just sitting there looking pale and watching the film.

The invisible something brushed my leg again. I'd never experienced anything like it before; it was almost like a ghost, but I knew that wasn't it. I knew what ghosts felt like. I looked slightly back and found Agent Gillingham like a pale yellow/white light. I turned back to the videos, in time to see the man's arm so that his hand showed. Why wasn't he more hidden? Was he the animator who had raised the zombie? I tried to see if I could see a connection between them that wouldn't show to my physical eyes. I wasn't sure I'd be able to see it, even if it was there, but if he was the one who had raised them, then we were looking for someone who could raise the dead and who would be willing to do something this monstrous. Contrary to movies and TV, most animators and voodoo priests are nice law-abiding people, so this kind of shit would narrow the field. The voodoo priest and priestess I knew would help find this guy, if I could prove to their satisfaction it was him standing there, and not just the client he gave the zombie to.

Something brushed my shoulder. I thought it was my own hair, until I went to move it and realized it wasn't. I looked around the room without moving my head, letting my own power search outward, and I kept it aimed at Gillingham. She was the only other psychic in the room; if it wasn't her doing something I'd search farther out, but I'd learned that you start with the obvious and then try weirder stuff.

"Pause the videos, please," I said.

Brent did what I asked without questioning it. The zombie's face was caught in a scream like a clip from a horror film. Shit.

Manning asked, "Is something wrong, Blake?"

"Yeah." I turned and looked at Gillingham. "What are you doing?"

She smiled that innocent smile that went with the big eyes and freckles, the Peter Pan collar and all the rest. She'd dressed to look inoffensive, harmless, but it was just camouflage for something else.

"I'm sitting here," she said, voice mild.

"Cut the crap, Gillingham, I saw you."

"Saw her do what?" Brent asked.

"She's touching me psychically. I don't know why, but it's distracting me from actually being able to aim my gifts at the screen."

ow what you're talking about," she said.

"You're trying to do something to me and my shields are noticing it, blocking you, so your gift translates it to something normal, is that it? A bug on your skin, a cat rubbing against your legs, hair brushing against your arm, some sensation that grabs a person's attention, so they think that was it, and don't notice you."

She smiled some more.

"Agent Gillingham," Manning said, "are you messing with Marshal Blake?"

"I don't know what you mean, 'messing with,'" and she made little quote marks with her fingers.

Larry said, "Teresa, you think you're good, but what you are is powerful. Good would be if you could peek inside people's shields without announcing yourself."

"How did you know it was me?" she asked me.

"Why should I tell you?"

"Because I'm trying to get better and the only way to do that is feedback."

"Are you telling me we waited for your plane for hours, and you're just here to practice your psychic snooping skills, and not to help on this actual case?" I could feel the anger start bubbling up.

"It was your suggestion that you wanted to look at the videos using your necromancy that had them send me. They wanted me to observe you working, and get a feel for your talent when it's not being used to actively raise the dead."

"I don't care about that. What I care about is, did you actually come here and aren't planning to help solve this case?"

"I'm here to help, of course."

"We've discovered that some psychics can use their talent via electronics to a surprising degree. If you can do that, then we want to have you involved in the live event from these perpetrators."

"What do you mean, live event?"

"I can answer that one," Brent said.

"Then answer it," I said, and my voice was still not friendly at all.

"They started out just advertising zombie sex tapes, but then they asked their customer base what they wanted to see."

"You've seen the tapes that have more storyline to them," Manning said.

"Storyline, what storyline?"

"The ones where the younger man seemed to be afraid, and it was made to appear as if he were being raped by the zombie."