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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:47

"What did they say about putting the soul back in the body after death?" I asked.

"There are ways to steal a piece of someone's soul and get some control over them, though it's a bad idea. It's some kind of karma balance thing; just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should," Manning said.

"There are repercussions to dabbling too far in the blacker side of the arts of any magical path," I said.

She gave me those hard, straight cop eyes. I was betting she was hell in an interrogation room as the bad cop. "Some witches say that blood sacrifice of any kind is pretty black, and that you must have racked up some serious negative karma yourself, Blake."

"Yeah, I've talked to some of the witches who believe that. They're either the Christian witches who are okay with being second-class citizens in their own religion as long as they play by very strict Church rules, or fluffy-bunny Wiccans, or another more New Age flavor of witches."

"I know Wiccan is a modern word for witchcraft as a religion, but what's a fluffy-bunny Wiccan?" Brent asked.

"Fluffy-bunny neopagans seem to believe that there's no such thing as bad energy or evil magic; as long as they don't mess with it, it won't mess with them. It's the equivalent of civilians who think that nothing bad will happen to them as long as they don't go into the wrong neighborhood or hang out with dangerous people. Neither group wants to believe that evil lurks in good neighborhoods, too, and predators of all kinds hunt the good with the bad folk sometimes."

"Most civilians need to believe that to feel safe," Brent said.

"Yeah, but believing it too completely gets them hurt, or worse," I said.

"So you're saying the fluffy-bunny witches believe the blood sacrifice opens you up to the bad stuff, and as long as they don't do it, they're safe?" Brent asked.

"Safe from what?" he asked.

"It's the metaphysical equivalent of bad guys. I've seen some of the fluffy bunnies do major magic without enough magical protection and just believe that the innate goodness of the universe will protect them."

"I don't understand," Brent said.

"It's like a couple wearing mink and diamonds driving their brand-new Jaguar through the ghetto and thinking that nothing bad will happen to them, because they're good people."

"In a perfect world they'd be right," Manning said.

"We don't live in a perfect world," I said.

"Ain't that the truth," Zerbrowski said.

"One voodoo priest who was in his eighties said that there were no spells to accomplish what had been done to the poor women."

"I'm not a follower of vaudun, which is what a lot of their faith prefer to call it instead of voodoo, but I'd say the priest is right. My knowledge of their faith is limited, but Dominga Salvador said she'd invented this method, or whatever you want to call it."

"Well, either someone else figured it out, or she shared the secret before she vanished," Manning said.

"Apparently," I said.

"Can I ask a question that isn't directly on topic?" Brent asked.

Manning gave him a sideways look and sighed. "If you have to, and I know you have to."

Brent smiled at her, then looked at me. "I thought you used voodoo, or vaudun, to raise the zombies?"

"Sort of," I said. "People without any psychic ability with the dead should be able to raise zombies using just the ritual and accompanying paraphernalia, but I haven't met anyone who could do it who wasn't psychically gifted."

"So you're saying it's just another psychic ability, like telekinesis?"

I nodded and shrugged at the same time. "Yes and no. It's a magical ability, rather than a straight natural one, for most people. By that I mean that there's no ritual to enable an empath to sense emotions, but some magical abilities need ritual to prepare and open the mind to it."

"Meditation helps most psychics do better at the tests, so maybe it's all about the same thing," Brent said.

"You do use voodoo to raise the dead." Manning said it like it was just true.

"I was taught to do it that way."

"You sound like you're not sure you need the ritual."

I shrugged. "I've whittled down the ceremony a lot on occasion, but I know other animators who can't raise anything without all the bells and whistles. It's been my experience that the lower their psychic ability, the more magical ritual they need."

"The priest that we trusted enough to show some of the films to, he said the same thing you did, that the souls have been put into the body, trapped somehow. He said he wasn't sure if the bodies would rot with the soul inside them, or not."

"Again, I can tell you what I was told by the Senora. She found a way to put the soul back in the zombie, and once she did, it didn't decay."

"So why are these zombies rotting?"

"Because she could take the soul back out at will, apparently, and when she did the zombie rotted like normal."

"But some of the rotted zombies have their soul"--she made little air quotes--"in their eyes. Why are they rotting?"

"Dominga would take the soul out, let the body rot a little, then put the soul back in, until the zombie got to a point that she wanted. She also seemed to use it as torture, or punishment for the zombies. She called the one zombie that was most rotted, but still intact, a good warning, like a scare tactic. Do what I say, or this could happen to you, that kind of thing."

"But the zombies seem perfectly obedient; why would she need to threaten them?" Manning asked.

"It was a horror preview for the other zombies. I think the Senora enjoyed the sadism of it, but the threat was for her frenemies, like me. It was supposed to make me too afraid of her to refuse what she wanted, and apparently it had worked on other people."

"But not on you?" Manning made it a question.

"You've only seen the fear in the women's eyes on video. I looked into eyes like that in person." I shuddered, and couldn't help it. "It was one of the most disturbing things I'd ever seen at that point in my life, and still ranks up there. I wanted Dominga dead in that moment not to protect myself, but to free those two zombies. It was just so wrong, so truly evil, that it needed to be stopped."

"Your face when you talk about it . . . you look like it stayed with you," Manning said.

I realized I'd been staring off into the room, remembering that basement and those two poor, trapped souls. Their eyes had been so afraid and pleading for help, and I'd had to leave them so that I could save myself, but there had been other days, other chances, and eventually I got to do what needed doing. Dominga Salvador would never torture anyone like that again.

I looked up at the frozen image on the computer. But now there was a new player in town and he had figured it out on his own. Fuck.

"What did Salvador want from you, Blake?"

"She wanted me to help her raise more zombies faster for her burgeoning sex slave business."

"Like what we're watching now?"

"Maybe, but if you're powerful enough your zombies can be pretty human-looking and they don't smell if they're not rotting, which they wouldn't with souls intact. You'd have a perfectly obedient sex slave that didn't need to eat, or sleep, or do anything but obey its master."

"But the animator has

to be there to give the orders," Manning said.

"I don't think that was Dominga's idea. I believe she meant to do what I do for clients sometimes: You put them inside the circle and bind the zombie to them so it'll do what they say, and I go on to my next client. We'll make an appointment for them to bring the zombie back and I'll lay it to rest then, but I can't babysit every zombie I raise in a night."

"How many can you raise in a night?" Brent asked.

"It depends on the age of the zombie. The longer it's been dead, the more energy it takes to raise it from the grave. If it's a really old one then maybe only that zombie gets raised in a night, but if it's the newly dead, five or six in a night, maybe more if the travel time works out, but that's rare."

"Why is it rare?" Manning asked.

"I don't raise zombies without a good reason, and it's not cheap. The times when I've had more than five or six clients in one night in one geographic area are really rare. Sometimes I'll travel and do multiple zombies in a distant area, because I'm going to be in town, but most out-of-town trips are just one client who's willing to pay for me to come to them."

"So why is this animator in the room ordering the zombie around?" she asked.

"Maybe he doesn't know how to give control of a zombie over to someone else. It wasn't how I was taught. You stayed at the graveside and put the zombie back after the questions had been asked, or the last good-byes said. Even now it's rare for me to let anyone take a zombie off-site."

"Why?" Manning asked.

"One, some clients won't bring them back. Remember, it looks like their loved one, and I'm powerful enough that my zombies look and act alive, or enough so that if you want to believe Mom or Dad is back for good, you could. Well, for a while."

"Until the body starts to rot. Eventually all zombies decay, Agent Manning, even mine."

"The Catholic Church claims that all animators are trampling on Jesus' territory by raising the dead."

"Yeah, that's what got us all excommunicated unless we agreed to stop doing it. What the Church doesn't understand is that for some of us it's a psychic gift, which means if we don't use it on purpose it comes out in other ways."

"Like untrained telepaths who go crazy because they can't block everyone else's thoughts," Brent said.

"Yeah, except for me it was roadkill following me home, or my first dog that died and came back."