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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:20

Most animators need practice and training to raise the dead; I got training so I could stop doing it by accident. A beloved dog that crawled into bed with me when I was fourteen, roadkill that followed me like I was some nightmarish Pied Piper, and finally a college professor who had committed suicide and come to my dorm room so I could tell his wife he was sorry. I wondered if the lone shambling zombies that they'd occasionally find wandering around were accidents from untrained animators like I had been once. I'd learned to raise the dead with the traditional words, steel, ointment, and blood sacrifice, usually a chicken, but I didn't need them. The man who had trained me needed them, but in emergencies I'd learned that they were just window dressing for me.

Edward was in the shadows with his flamethrower propped up against a larger tombstone. He'd only get it out if I could trap the Lover of Death in the circle. If he used a zombie body then I'd have him, but if he chose to ride one of his rotting vampires, that was harder. It was a lot harder to make a circle of power that could hold a vampire in, or out. I believed I could do it, if I stopped being afraid of myself. I realized as I stood in the cool night sensing Truth and Wicked at my back that I was still afraid of who I was, what I was, and there was still a part of me that would have chosen a different talent. Necromancy had given me so much in my life that made me happy, and I'd still have been 'normal' if I could have magically made it so.

I thought about no Jean-Claude in my life, no Nathaniel, or Micah, because they'd come to me because I had animals to call through Jean-Claude's vampire marks. No one in my life who made me happy would have come into my life without my necromancy - not a single one. I thought about how happy I was, happier than I'd ever been, and I let go of the fear, the doubts, and decided to embrace all of me, truly, completely, and just trust.

I turned around and looked at the two vampires. I hugged them to me like I had when I first saw them tonight, but this time I let myself cuddle against their chests and raise my face up for a kiss. Wicked bent over me first and laid a gentle kiss upon my lips, and then Truth bent over me and started gentle, but the kiss grew and I moved my arm from around Wicked's waist so I could wrap myself around Truth and kiss him back, all eager lips, and tongue, and then I lost enough control that I forgot I was kissing a vampire and those dainty fangs are sharp. I tasted blood like sweet copper pennies. Truth made a small inarticulate sound and kissed me harder, lifting me off the ground with his arms around my upper body, so that my feet dangled inches above the ground. It could have turned to the ardeur and heat, but I chose that moment to call my necromancy, though call was not the right word, because that implies you have to coax it, call it like a reluctant dog. I just stopped holding it back, and it spilled up through my body into my mouth and the vampire that was kissing me. He cried out, his mouth coming away from mine, blood trickling down his lower lip. Wicked was at my back, hand curling in my hair, turning my head to kiss him, and the necromancy liked him, too. Animators can raise zombies; necromancers control all the undead. Wicked kissed me as his brother had, all mouth and tongue and teeth, and bled me a little bit more so that it was passion and blood and necromancy all intertwined. The men dropped to their knees and took me with them to the grave underneath us. The moment my body touched the ground, my necromancy flooded into the ground seeking the dead.

It hit the graves one after another like a stone tossed into water so that the power spilled out and out like rings in water, but it was earth underneath us that began to move like water. I heard startled cries and knew it was some of the police with us, but it was distant. The two vampires pressed to my body, and the bodies in the ground were all more real to me, because they were dead, and my power liked the dead.

Truth whispered against my face, 'Oh, my God.'

I said, 'Yes.' I got to my knees with Wicked wrapped around the back of me, his hands still caressing me; my hand was in Truth's, and with the vampires wrapped around me, the graves moved like water, spilling the zombies to the surface. They didn't have to climb their way out; my power brought them up whole and in one piece. But they didn't look like his zombies, they didn't look like corpses, they looked like people in their funeral finery.

It wasn't enough. I sent my power out and out seeking more, and found another graveyard, and I raised it, and even that wasn't enough. For the first time I didn't argue, or hold back, I just embraced how good it felt to find the dead and call them to me, because that was what I did. I raised them and then I told them to come to me, and I knew that the distant ones were making their slow, careful way to me.

I felt him almost on the other side of the city. My necromancy found him like iron seeking a magnet, but it was more than that; his power was seeking me, too. I realized in that moment that we both carried Her power inside us, and those pieces wanted to be whole again.

He came to me, not just because we carried pieces of the Mother of All Darkness, but because he was dead and all the dead are attracted to necromancers. He walked into our cemetery wearing the body of one of his own zombies, so that he was just one of many, though he looked rotted, and my zombies didn't, so that he stood out as he walked in with the first group of zombies I'd called to me.

'My power knows you,' he said.

'We carry the power of the Living Dark inside us,' I said.

Then two things happened at once. I drew a circle in my mind's eye in a large, sweeping arc, visualizing it glowing as it came up. The second thing was that Seamus leapt like a piece of the night itself toward me. Truth and Wicked moved in front of me, but Jane was there first. They fell to the ground in a whirl of black cloth and struggling bodies.

'You have put up a circle of power,' the Lover of Death said. 'How did you do that without blood to seal it?'

'I'm a modern necromancer; it's all about the shortcuts,' I said.

He didn't understand the comment, but it didn't matter, because Edward called out, 'Hatfield is a go.'

I heard the little hiss, a hesitant click, and I threw myself backward to the ground, grabbing Truth and Wicked by their coats and taking them down with me, so that we were almost flat to the ground when the fire breathed over us orange and yellow and so hot that it made the night air shimmer in heat waves, and made the air above us so hot we were afraid to move.

The Lover of Death was engulfed in flames. Some of my zombies were caught in the edges of it, but the Lover of Death was lost in flame. He didn't scream at first, and then he did, wordless at first, and then, 'My body, you're destroying my body! No! NO! Half the Mother's power dies with me! Nooooo!' He charged toward us as he burned. Edward in the silver fire suit was between us and the burning zombie. I heard the click and whirr and whoosh again and fresh flame spilled onto him. He tried to run then for the edge of the circle, but when he got to that invisible line he could not cross it. He stood on the edge of it and screamed and burned and died.

Jane, Lisandro, Dev, and Nicky had pinned Seamus. Nicky's face was bloody. Dev's left arm hung useless, something very wrong at the shoulder. Jane and Lisandro seemed unharmed.

It took a long time for the flames to die, but when they did we decapitated the corpse and took out the heart, which was mostly blackened, fleshy charcoal. We put the main body in a body bag and separate bags for the head and heart. We'd turn them to ash and then dump them in three separate bodies of running water. Yeah, it was old-school, but we were destroying the last of a very old-school power. But first, there were zombies.

I dropped the circle of power so that I could feel all of them, and it wasn't just my zombies now, it was his, they were all mine. They waited passively for me to put them back. I turned to Truth and Wicked.

'I need fresh blood to put them back,' I said.

Truth dropped to his knees, my hand still in his. 'If it is my blood you need, my lady, it is yours.'

'I was thinking my blood,' I said.

'Are you inviting us to take blood from you?' Wicked asked.

'Come on, Truth, you take the right side, I'll take the left,' Wicked said.

'It's been a long time since we shared like that,' Truth said.

'Too long,' his brother said.

'Left and right of what?' I asked.

'Your lovely neck,' Wicked said, caressing his fingers down the side closest to him.

The thought of them both feeding at the same time tightened things low in my body and made other things wet. I promised myself we'd try this again, with more privacy and more sex, but tonight I just needed blood and power.

Truth faced front, and Wicked faced back; they kissed and licked my neck gently, teasingly, until I said, 'Do it, please.'

'We would like to do this in private some night,' Truth said.

'I'd already thought of that, so yes, but tonight, zombies,' I said.

They both nuzzled my neck and then wrapped their arms around me and each other. I felt them tense and fought not to tense myself, because that could make it hurt without more foreplay, or more sex. I let my breath out in a long shuddering sigh and they struck together as if they'd planned it. The pain was sharp and immediate, but the moment they started to suck, it switched over from pain to pleasure and my spine tried to bow, so that they had to hold me steady or I might have torn their fangs from my throat, spasming with small mini-orgasms. I thought about them doing this with sex added and my knees buckled. They held me in their arms and drank me down.

They had to hold me so I could stand while I whispered, 'With word, will, and blood, I bind you to your graves. Go back and walk no more.'

The zombies hesitated, and I saw that something that lurks at the edges of things pass through their eyes, and then it was gone like a shadow over the moon, and the zombies walked back to their graves and lay down on them. The graves rose back over them, semiliquid and rolling again to swallow them back. When the earth became solid again, you'd have never known the grave had been disturbed.

When every zombie I could see was tucked back in its grave, I stopped trying to be brave and let my legs collapse. Wicked and Truth lowered me to the ground and cradled me between them. I wasn't sure if it was the blood loss or that I'd finally found out the limits of my necromancy, but I was suddenly exhausted.

Sergeant Badger came and said, 'All the zombies have vanished, they're back in their graves. Good job, Blake.'

I nodded and managed to say, 'Thanks.'

Edward knelt by us, pulling the silver hood off the fire suit. He grinned at me. 'Whose the biggest, baddest motherfucking necromancer?'

I smiled at him, and said, 'This girl.'

'Damn straight,' he said.