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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
Don’t you dare let him bind an angel, Jaime. Don’t you dare.
“I—I can’t tell her where to cross over. It’s not like that. She—”
“Eve!” His voice rose to a shout. “I’m sure you can hear me. You’re going to cross into that circle or your daughter is going to die.”
I closed my eyes and concentrated as hard as I could. Do not cross into the circle. I had no idea who this guy was or what he was up to, but he wanted to harness an angel, and with everything that was going on—the freedom group, the immortality vaccine—we couldn’t let it happen.
I’d tricked Leah. I could trick him, too. I just needed enough time.
The sorcerer restarted his incantation, shouting the words now. I didn’t recognize the spell. Didn’t even recognize the language. Not Hebrew or Greek or Latin.
As his voice rose, he pulled the knife away from my throat, tightening his grip on my hair. He flicked the blood-covered blade to the left. Toward the circle.
My fist went up, spell on my lips, but he slapped the blade back so hard my knees gave way, only his hold on my hair keeping me upright. He yanked me to my feet.
“The circle, Eve!” he shouted. “Cross into the—”
He stopped. And he laughed, a low, rasping chortle. “Yes. That’s it. Thank you.”
The knife eased on my neck enough for me to look over at the circle and see …
My mother. I saw my mother. Not a faint image or a shadowy apparition. I saw my mother, as real as she’d looked nine years ago, when she’d left our cell to find us a way out of the compound where we’d been trapped. She’d never returned.
“Eve,” the sorcerer said.
She pulled something off her back. A four-foot-long sword, the metal glowing blue.
“Jaime? Tell him he has five seconds to drop his blade or I use mine,” she said, her gaze fixed on him, dark eyes blazing.
I could hear Mom. Why could I hear her? But he could, too. His knife hit the floor with a clatter. He released me and I fell to my knees, hands going to my throat.
“Good,” she said.
She kept walking toward him, but lowered the sword. I stared up at her.
I can see you. And he can see you too, can’t he? Why can—?
My gaze dropped to the floor where my mother was leaving a trail of boot prints.
She shouldn’t be able to leave boot prints.
The hell-beast. He’d summoned a hell-beast and it had materialized. It had crossed the dimensions and physically entered ours.
What had he said before he started the ritual?
I’m testing out a particularly tricky new spell.
“There,” he said to Eve. “I’ve let Savannah go. I just wanted to bring you here, Eve. We have very special plans—”
My mother lifted her sword. Ready to send him to hell, as she’d done with Leah.
She swung the blade. One clean, effortless cut through the torso. The sorcerer’s eyes bugged. His mouth worked. Then his upper half slid to the floor, blood spurting, the shriek dying in a keening gurgle as his legs fell over and he lay there, blinking, mouth still open, any noise he made drowned out by Jaime’s screams.
“What the hell?” Mom whispered.
She backed up, sword held out, gaze fixed on it as if it had come to life in her hand. She slid on the blood and looked down at the floor.
“What the hell?”
She stared at her jeans and blouse, soaked with the sorcerer’s blood.
“What the hell!”
I stood there, watching her and trying hard, very hard, not to look at that horrible, bisected body.
My mother blinked. Then she leaped forward, sword raised, and stabbed the still-blinking sorcerer through the heart, releasing him to death.
Jaime stopped screaming. At least, stopped audibly screaming, fist jammed into her mouth, eyes closed. Then she went rigid. Her eyes flew open and fixed on something I couldn’t see.
“You—you called her,” she whispered. “I don’t know what you did but—”
She flinched and I knew she was talking to the sorcerer’s ghost. My mother jumped forward, but Jaime lifted her hands.
“I-it’s okay. He’s gone.” Jaime looked around. “I don’t understand.”
“I do.” My voice came out soft, barely audible. Then I turned to my mother. “You’re real. I mean, you’re here.”
I stepped forward and reached out. My fingers touched her sleeve. The fabric dimpled under them and then I was touching her. Her. My mother. “Oh, God.”
My eyes filled and she reached for me. I swallowed. Fresh blood trickled down my neck. She stopped short, yanked at her shirt, and wheeled on Jaime.
“First aid. Find a kit. Now!”
Mom ripped her shirt off, buttons popping, and pressed it to my throat. Then she led me over to a chair and made me sit. All I could think was It’s Mom. My mother is here. I can see her. I can hear her. I can reach out and touch her.
I sat there, feeling no pain while she and Jaime tended to my throat. In shock, I guess. I dimly heard my mother say the cut was shallower than it looked—the sorcerer knew what he was doing, inflicting minimal damage while making it look serious.
I didn’t care. My mother was here. Right here. I kept trying to process it, but my brain refused.
They taped me up. No one said much. I think we were all in shock, even Mom, who kept looking over at the bisected corpse as if she expected it to magically mend.
“How … how did he do it?” I whispered. “That’s not possible.” I looked at Jaime. “Is it?”
She shook her head. “Zombies, yes. A ghost inhabiting a living body, yes. Bringing back a ghost in corporeal form? It doesn’t happen. Can’t.”
“Just like you can’t manifest a hell-beast,” I said. “But he did.” No one answered me.
“We need to go,” Jaime said finally. “We can … figure all this out later. For now, we have to call—” She glanced at the phone, then at the bodies.
“No calls,” I said, snapping out of it. “Or the first person the cops will track down is whoever received a phone call post carnage.”
“Careful, baby,” Mom said. “You probably shouldn’t talk.”
Baby. How long had it been since I’d heard that? Fresh tears made the room swim. I swiped them away as she leaned over, ignoring the blood as she hugged me tentatively, then tighter, when I didn’t evaporate at her touch.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “Everything’s okay.”
Only it wasn’t. We were in a room with dead people. Dead people who’d been carved up and ripped up and chewed on, and at any moment someone was going to come through the station door and find blood and entrails decorating the chief’s office.
Jaime was right. We had to get out of here. And, yes, that meant that after nine years, I couldn’t stop to hug my mother, even though she might disappear back to the afterlife at any moment. But that’s how it was. Life isn’t fair. Not when there are bodies to dispose of.
It took about thirty seconds to realize that we couldn’t do it. Hiding the bodies was useless, given the sheer amount of blood. All we could do was take the first-aid kit—which we’d touched—look around and determine that we hadn’t touched anything else except the baton in the door. Take that, too. Smear our footprints in the blood. Hope that my blood would go undetected. Pray we hadn’t shed hairs—rather, pray they weren’t found. Really, in general, we just prayed that the Cortezes could cover this up.
Could even a Cabal cover it up? I wasn’t so sure. Didn’t want to think about that.
Next we went into the locker room to find clean shirts for Mom and me. We grabbed a blouse and a gym top from Medina’s locker. Jaime changed into Medina’s sneakers. They weren’t a great fit, but they’d do, though she insisted on taking her heels, too—they were her favorites. My jacket was back in the cell, remarkably clean. My wallet and Jaime’s purse were in the front room. Mom found our processing papers hidden inside Medina’s desk. We took those, too.
Last and maybe most important was video surveillance. But we got lucky there. The camera was an old tape one that only monitored the reception room. We’d never been in there. I grabbed the tape anyway.
Before we left, I borrowed Jaime’s phone—which had been in her purse—and texted Adam. A simple we’re fine, don’t come after us. Last thing we needed was to have Adam and Jeremy show up right as the authorities discovered the bloodbath within.
I didn’t even have time to put the phone away before he texted back. Can u call?
Mom leaned over to read the screen and shook her head.
I texted back soon.
As I noted earlier, the station house was on a regional highway surrounded by swampy fields. So no easy escape. If a vehicle went missing from a house near the massacre scene, the cops wouldn’t rest until they found it.
That meant heading back toward New Orleans on foot, through marshy fields of thigh-high grass, our shoes squishing in the mud. The sun beat down and humidity rose from the moist ground like a steam bath. When we made it to a strip of moss-laden cypress, I called Adam.
“Are you okay?” he said in lieu of a greeting.
“I’m fine. How’s Bryce?”
“Holding up. The jet’s almost here. He’s going to Miami—at least temporarily. But about you … ?”
“Yeah, sorry for the cryptic text, but we wanted to make sure Jeremy didn’t try to track Jaime down.”
“He hasn’t yet. Lucas called and said you two had been arrested and that he didn’t want us going after you. He was very calm about the whole thing.”
“Lucas is very calm about everything.”
Adam chuckled. “Yeah, well I wasn’t. Even Jeremy was getting antsy. But Lucas insisted we hang tight until there was a cause for panic. So everything’s okay now? You guys are out?”
“We are. As for okay …”
I stumbled over a vine. Mom caught my arm and whispered, “Watch your step, Savannah.”
“Who’s that?” Adam said.
“Uh …” I looked at my mother. “Long story. Anyway, um, yeah, about the jail …”
“You broke out?”
“Er, not exactly. The officer who arrested us said we were free to go. After the rampaging werewolf episode.”
“He was drugged.”
“Which explains everything.” Adam took a deep breath. “Okay, full story later. Short version: rampaging werewolf and impromptu jail release. Which will take some council work to fix, but the main point is that you’re out and—”
“There’s … more.”
A pause. “Do I want to know?”
“Probably not. The werewolf wasn’t the only one snacking on cops. There was this hell-beast …”
I didn’t get much farther into my story before Adam had me on speaker phone, so Jeremy could listen, with Lucas conferenced in from Miami. I put Jaime’s phone on speaker, too.
When I got to the part about the pile of corpses and the hell-beast slavering at the door, Lucas said, “That’s …”
“Did I just lose the connection or are you actually speechless?” I said.
“I think he’s trying to figure out if you got some of those drugs,” Adam said.
“Jaime?” Jeremy said. “You’re all right? Are there lingering effects from the injection? I presume it was an injection.”
“I’m fine,” Jaime said. “But really, under the circumstances, that’s not our first priority.”
It was his, though, closely followed by the dead werewolf. As for the rest, that ball was in Lucas’s court.
“Can the Cortezes clean this up?” I asked.
“Hold on,” Adam said. “I’m still stuck on the part about a demonic entity manifesting in our world. That’s next to impossible. There are accounts of it, but none less than two hundred years old, meaning none that have been verified. Are you sure—?”
“That the creature with bat wings, a beak, and butcher-knife talons wasn’t just a really ugly police dog?”
“No, I just mean … You said it was a spell. Maybe an illusion. Like a sorcerer’s trip wire. Those things are enough to scare the shit out of anyone.”
“But they don’t rip the shit out of anyone. It tore a guy apart, Adam. Right in front of Jaime and me. Ripped him limb from limb—”
Jaime looked ready to be sick again, so I stopped.
“I’m sorry,” Adam said. “That wasn’t clear and I—”
“Had to be clear. You’re the research guy. I know.”
Lucas cut in. “Right now, I need to mobilize forces. Give me all the details you can. Did you notice the station number or address?”
My mom whispered it, which I repeated. When I’d finished, Lucas stayed silent.
“There’s someone with us,” I said.
“Yes, I noticed. For a moment, it sounded like …” A long pause. “Never mind. That address again … ?”
“The person with us,” I said. “You were going to say she sounds just like my mother.”
“It is,” I said.
“It’s my mom. That hell-beast the sorcerer brought over? It was a test run for what he really wanted to do—which was summon my mother.”