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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:17

They wrestled Little Henry into handcuffs on the metal bed rails, but he continued to thrash and jerk so much that Nicky said, 'The railings aren't going to hold; hurry.'

There was no beast inside Little Henry for me to call to mine. He wasn't a vampire that I could call with my necromancy. I'd broken ties between both types of preternaturals and their vampire masters, but I'd never tried to break a human free. I wasn't exactly sure how to do it, but Nicky was right; whatever I was going to do I needed to hurry.

I started with touch, because all vampire powers are greater with skin on skin. The moment I touched him I felt the power of the vampire. My cross flared white, hot, incandescent white just like the police officers' crosses had. Henry screamed louder, his voice growing ragged with the abuse. I tried to trace the power backward, but it was like I got lost inside Henry, like the very warmth and humanness of him somehow confused my power.

'What's wrong?' Dr Aimes asked, hovering close.

'If he were a lycanthrope or a vampire I could do this, but human is harder.'

'Do what? What are you trying to do?'

'Break him free of the vampire that's possessed him.'

'That's not possible,' Deputy Al said.

'I've done it before,' I said.

'It's impossible; once a vampire has you, they have you,' Al said.

I shook my head. 'Not to me, it's not impossible to me.'

I thought about shoving the cross into his skin. It would chase the vampire back for a few moments, but it wouldn't free someone who was already this deeply entrenched.

I walked around the bed to Nicky. 'Help me get into the bed.'

Nicky didn't question it, just picked me up.

Dr Aimes said, 'What are you going to do, Marshal?'

'I need to see his eyes, and I'm too damn short.'

Nicky helped lift me over those long, muscled arms that were still straining against the cuffs and the narrow metal bars of the bed. Two officers were still holding down his legs, or he would have bucked me off the bed. I tried to stay high on my knees above his body, but he was thrashing too much; I knelt over his chest, using both hands to grab his head. He was still shrieking, the sound so loud with me above his face that it was almost painful. My cross flared so bright that I was nearly blinded by it. I needed to see his eyes, and I couldn't. Did I dare take off the cross? But the other holy objects were so bright I wasn't sure it would make that much difference.

The skin of his face was cool against my hands, and I could feel the vampire inside him. I decided to treat him as if he weren't human, as if I had every right to expect him to respond to my power. 'Henry Crawford, Henry, look at me!' I put energy and power into my words.

He stopped struggling and blinked up at me through the edge of the lighted cross. 'Henry, Henry, can you hear me?'

He blinked, staring up at me as if he didn't know what I was.

'Henry, can you hear me?'

'I hear you,' he whispered.

'I'm going to set you free.'

'You can't. He told me I'm his forever.'

'He lied,' I said. 'They all lie.'

The cross light faded a little so I could see how green and brown his eyes were. Most people with hazel eyes really have brown eyes with a hint of gray, or green, but Little Henry's eyes really were green and brown all mixed together. I watched the pain and confusion in those eyes, and then I saw it, like a reflection of something dark. I would never know if I'd truly 'seen' it, or if it was my mind translating the untranslatable. The next moment the vampire threw its power into Henry and tried for me, but vampire was something I could understand. I'd fought two other necromancers that had come back from the dead; one had almost killed me, but that was before I accepted what I was, who I was, and what that meant.

The vampire filled Henry with terror, and he drew breath to scream again, but I sent love in the place of fear. I sent the soft warmth of welcome and friendship; I offered a hand in the darkness. I offered Henry Crawford hope and a way out. I shone a light into the darkness that the vampire offered, and Henry turned to it the way humans always do; we need hope almost more than anything else, for without it we are lost. I helped Henry find his way back from the hell that the vampire had trapped him in, and I saw what he'd done to him. This vampire fed on fear and he'd kept Henry in perpetual terror during the day so he could feed off Henry's fear.

'You evil bastard,' I whispered.

His voice came out of Henry's mouth, but it wasn't Henry's voice. 'I am not evil, Anita Blake; he is mine, my slave to do with as I wish.'

'No, I say you cannot have him.'

'It is too late, he is mine!'

'Bullshit!' I threw my power into Henry, threw my necromancy into him like a guided missile seeking its target. Henry was just the sky that I was flying through, searching for the vampire, and Henry wanted to help me, because I had offered him the first peace and hope that he had since the vampires took him. Henry helped me, by wanting me to win. He opened himself up and didn't fight me as I sent a psychic gift into him that had no business being in a human being. I tried to make it a gentle passing, but in honesty I wanted the vampire more.

'He is mine, Anita Blake, mine!'

'NO!' I saw the vampire's body wrapped in dark cloth in what looked like a cave, or bare stone at least. It turned its head, and it was emaciated, skeletal, but the eyes - the eyes were alive, burning with fire as dark as the night itself.

'Yes, necromancer, the Mother of All Things breathed her power into me when you drank her down. She tried to escape to my body, but you would not let her go; thus I have her power but am free of her control. She did not control all the vampires merely for her own enjoyment. Some of us she controlled so we did not destroy all that is.'

'You can't destroy all that is,' I said.

'I can destroy all humans, with my power and hers combined. I am free from this body and free to enter others. The Mother took me with her when she tried to possess you and Jean-Claude and your others, but now I do not need anyone's help to ride the bodies of others.'

'Do you not recognize the feel of me, Anita? You and your lovers have tasted my power before. You denied me deaths once, but you and the police fed me in the mountains, and again in the hospital; with every death, I fed and grew stronger.'

'You are not the Lover of Death, you can't be.'

'Your power feels completely different.'

'I was reborn when you slew our Mother; she filled me with her darkness, and I felt you filled with it, too. We are all that is left of her, Anita Blake, you and I.'

I stared into Henry's eyes and saw a body so ravaged by time that if he hadn't opened his eyes and moved I'd have taken him for a corpse, a long-dead corpse. 'You were in the basement. You just entered one of the zombies so you could move better in daylight. How did you get your body out in time and not burn?'

'I am the creator of my line; you know that rotting vampires do not burn in the sun. The flesh eaters are swift and strong; I carried myself to safety and hid in the woods while you killed all my hard work.'

'Apparently, you got some of Marmee Noir's necromancy that I didn't, but I got something you didn't get.'

'You can only take over zombies you raise from the dead. I'll admit it's impressive that they don't have to be in the grave first, just three days or so dead for the soul to move on and you can raise them. Bully for you.'

'My vampires are more powerful than your master's.'

'Because you inhabit them and share some of your own power with them somehow, but you only take over the newly made ones; why is that? You were trying to take over your older bloodline vamps not that long ago; something about the Mother's power keeps you out.'

'I have no limits, Anita; I will prove that to you tonight.'

'Not with Henry you won't.'

'And how will you stop me?' It was Henry's face, but the sneering arrogance wasn't; it was like a stranger using the other man's face.

'Like this.' I called the ardeur, and I prayed that I could use it like a gentle scalpel to cut away only what needed to be gone but save the rest. I wanted to free Henry, not enslave him to me. My cross flared bright and brighter as I leaned down and laid the gentlest of kisses on his mouth. I thrust my power through that kiss and into him. The Lover of Death fought back, and if it had been night maybe he could have kept Henry, but it was daylight and I was a creature of the day, I had slain the Father of the Day, and taken over his powers as the Queen of Tigers, and from the Mother of All Darkness I had inherited the ability to break the unbreakable bonds between animal to call and master vampire, between vampire and their blood-oathed Master of the City, and between human servant and vampire master. It had been her gift and she had tried to use it on me more than once, and any vampire power that was used on me had a percentage chance of becoming mine forever. I was the weapon that the vampires had created, the perfect nemesis that the Mother of All Darkness, the Living Night, had forged simply by hitting me often enough and hard enough with the fires of her insane power.

Every holy object in the room flared so that I was physically blind to everything but the white light, but the parts of my eyes that saw in dreams, they saw the vampire as the light chased down the tie that bound Henry to him and burned it up like a fuse. I tried to thrust that light into the vampire himself, but he turned those night-dark eyes to me and whispered inside my mind, 'You have taken my servant, but you cannot take me. And now that you know I am alive I must destroy you, Anita Blake.'

I thought at him and 'heard' the words in the air of his hiding place. 'Right back at you, Morte d'Amour.'

Then he was gone, the cave or whatever it had been lost to my inner sight. I came back to myself straddling Henry's chest, the holy objects fading back to simple metal, and me rising up from the kiss.

I stared into Henry's eyes from inches away; they were too wide, lips parted, pulse beating in his throat like a trapped thing. I had a moment for my bloodlust to see that pulse, like candy to be licked away at until the juicy center popped in my mouth, but I'd worked too hard to free him to hurt him now. I wasn't new at this game anymore; I didn't have to touch his neck. I moved off, so that I was sitting on as much of the bed as his broad shoulders left, but at least I wasn't straddling him. It was hard to have serious conversations with a man while you were straddling any part of his body.

'You okay?' I asked, and my voice sounded a little breathless, as if it had been hard work or something.

He looked around the room as if afraid of what he'd see, and then he said, 'I think so.'

Dr Aimes came over to the side of the bed and started checking his vitals. I think it was more for something normal to do than because he felt he needed to get Henry's temperature and pulse rate.

Nicky helped me down off the bed and then started handing me my weapons back. Al came over to us. He looked pale. 'I didn't think any of that was possible.'

'Things are only impossible until you find someone who can do it,' I said, as I tucked the last gun back in place.

'I guess so. So he made Henry his human servant?'

'Is that like someone who they bite a couple of times or something?'

'No, the really powerful ones don't have to lay a fang on someone to make them a servant.'

'I thought they had to bite you first.'

His phone rang, and he checked the Caller ID. 'Sorry, got to take this, glad you were able to help Little Henry.' He left to take his phone call.

Dr Aimes came over to me. 'I don't understand everything that just happened, but he seems perfectly fine now, a little shaken, but fine.'

'If you don't believe in angels I can't explain it to you,' I said with a smile.

'Are you saying you're an angel, Marshal Blake?'

I laughed. 'An angel, no, I would never claim that.'

'You were covered in white light at the end, almost completely hidden by the white glow of the crosses, and when you kissed him I swear I saw the light travel from your mouth into him.'

'I prayed for guidance to be able to free him without him coming to any more harm.' Yes, that was an edited version of what I'd prayed for, but God is okay with not explaining everything to everybody; if he weren't, he'd have left more explicit instructions for the rest of us.

'For a moment I could have sworn I saw wings in the light,' Aimes said.

I smiled and looked at Nicky. 'You see wings?'

I smiled at the doctor. 'If you saw wings, Dr Aimes, they weren't mine.'

'Whose were they, then?'

I smiled wider. 'I believe in angels, remember.'

He looked shaken. 'You'll drive a man to drink, or to church, saying things like that, Marshal.'

'It's not my job to drive you to church and not my intention to drive you to drink.'

Dr Aimes looked at me. He had a look I'd seen before, but it was usually the first time people see a ghost, or a vampire, and they get good and truly scared for the first time.

'What is your intention, Marshal Blake?'

'I want to question Henry and see if we can get a clue where the vampire's body is. If we can destroy the original body, we can end this.'

'I'll leave you to question Mr Crawford. I think I'll go get that drink.'

'If any good science-loving atheist wouldn't need a drink after what I just saw, he's a better disbeliever than I am.' With that, he left.

Nicky started laughing and couldn't seem to stop.

'Yuk it up, lion boy.'

That made him laugh harder, until he had to lean against the wall with tears trailing down from his eye. At least his laughing stopped any more weird theological questions; they just couldn't seem to talk about angels with this big, muscled bad-ass guy laughing his ass off beside me.