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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“The virus appears to have been more successful with her,” Cassandra said.
“Not if they were trying for invulnerability.”
“True, but I might suggest you step away. Just in case.”
I moved back fast. Cass opened the door to a private wash-room, poked her head in, and looked around.
“Looking for clues?” I said.
“I sense someone.” Vampires can detect signs of life. “It’s very faint, though. Someone not long for this world.”
“Still a potential hazard. Or someone who needs help.”
“My thoughts precisely. In that order, as well.” She left the office, still talking, expecting me to follow. “Is your sensing spell working, Savannah?”
“Let me give it a shot.”
I cast. It clicked on the first try. I could pick up the people in the reception area. No one else here, though—the spell doesn’t work on those without a heartbeat, like Cass. But there did seem to be something in the other direction. Faint, like she said.
I started walking that way. Cassandra swept in front of me. Halfway down the hall, she stopped and tilted her head. Then she pivoted toward a half-open door.
It was dark inside. She went first. I brought up the rear. As I stepped through, a figure lunged out behind Cass, appearing from the darkness. It stopped abruptly.
“Savannah,” a soft voice breathed. “Thank God, you’re here.”
Roni took one teetering step toward me, then collapsed on the floor.
We stayed with Roni as the Cabal medical team arrived and got busy, sedating the wounded and carrying them down to a waiting van. We brought Roni with us straight to the airport where the backup jet was now waiting. We’d been in touch with Lucas. The situation in Dallas was under control, so he wanted us to take these victims back to Miami.
We loaded the wounded and the dead into the cargo area. All except Roni.
As far as the medic could tell, she wasn’t showing any signs of infection. It looked as if the infected woman had started making a meal of her then got distracted, maybe by the tactical team bursting in. Roni was in rough shape. Really rough shape. She’d lost a lot of blood—and a fair bit of flesh—in the attack. For now, all the medic could do was staunch the bleeding, load her up on drugs, and hope she made it back to Miami.
One problem with pain meds is that they have a tendency to put you to sleep. It might have been more humane to let her drift off into drugged oblivion, but we didn’t have time for humane. We needed her awake, which meant the medic had to give her a shot to keep her lucid.
“What happened in there?” I said as soon as she was conscious.
Her gaze went from me to Adam, whom she’d met, then to Cassandra and Aaron. She stared at them, then whispered, “You’re the vampires, aren’t you?”
Roni squeezed her eyes shut. Tears brimmed along her lashes. “I wish I’d never heard of vampires. I wish I’d never heard of any of it. Vampires, werewolves, demons.” She opened her eyes and met mine. “And witches. I especially wish I’d never heard of witches.”
How different her attitude had been a week ago. Then she’d been a witch hunter who dreamed of being a witch. A human, who dreamed of being superhuman. She’d been getting blood transfusions that Giles promised would grant her that dream, as she was taught tiny spells to “prove” it worked.
“What happened?” I said again, firmer now.
Her eyes closed, tears squeezing out. “I thought he was going to make everything better. Make the world better. That’s what he said and he made it sound so real that we all believed him. We followed him. We did everything he asked us to.” She opened her eyes. “Did you find out who he really is?”
“Gilles de Rais,” I said. “Slaughtered dozens of children in thirteenth-century France.”
“He said that wasn’t true. He said he found the secret to immortality and when he wouldn’t give it to his enemies, they told those lies about him. They had him executed. Except he didn’t die, because he’d found immortality through his research.”
“Or through bargains with demons,” I said. “That’s part of the legend, too.”
Her gaze dropped. “He told us he’d found it through research, by accident, and only now perfected it. Everyone believed him. Some believed him so much that they volunteered to be test subjects. Others waited, but then they got tired of waiting. Like Dave.”
She looked toward the back of the jet, where the rest of the wounded were in quarantine.
“The young guy who got infected?” I said. “He did that to himself? How?”
“The water. In the office.”
“You poisoned the water cooler?” Adam got to his feet. “That means there will be more employees infected. I need to warn—”
“There aren’t any more,” Roni said. “That was the idea—put the stuff in after the office closed. Only Mr. Jordan stayed late with two staff. I wanted to wait until they left, but Dave called Giles. I knew what Giles would say.”
“Get in there and dose the water.”
She nodded. “Dave did it. He pretended—” Her face convulsed with sudden pain.
“Forget how he did it,” I said. “So it was just those three, then Jordan left.”
“There was another woman from down the hall. She stopped by to talk.”
Adam stayed standing. “I’ll call the Houston cleanup team and get that water gone.”
“So Dave decided to help himself to it,” I said to Roni.
She shivered. Aaron pulled the blankets up around her and she whispered her thanks, then said, “That’s who’s left. The ones who are as crazy as Giles. And some who just keep hoping. Keep telling themselves Giles isn’t crazy, he’s just …”
“Devoted to the cause. Really, really devoted.”
She nodded. “It all went wrong so fast that most of us were …”
“Blindsided,” Aaron said.
She nodded again. “First we heard about the Cabals getting involved, and that made people nervous. Some had worked for the Cabals. They spread stories. Then they disappeared and we told ourselves they’d just left but …”
She swallowed. “When the lab blew up, Giles tried to keep it a secret, which was a bad idea because when people found out, they figured he had a reason for hiding it from them, that it meant the whole plan was derailed, the virus gone, Althea dead.”
“Althea” was Anita Barrington, a renowned immortality quester and Giles’s partner. She’d died escaping the blast.
Roni continued. “Then we heard about the subway and the wedding, and Giles said it was a sign that we needed to act faster. But hearing about people dying because of supernaturals made some members think the opposite.”
“That revealing ourselves might be a bad idea.”
“At least we should slow down. Then Thomas Nast died and people were talking about angels and demons and … it just …”
“The liberation movement imploded,” I said. “Too much pressure from too many sources. Members bailed. Outside support dried up. Giles went ballistic and swore to show them all the error of their ways by launching the first wave of infections. With a virus that still hadn’t been proven. Am I close?”
She nodded. “He said it worked. That they’d finished trials and Bryce Nast was an immortal, superhuman warrior. He even showed us pictures. That’s why Dave drank the water.”
“Photoshop is a marvelous thing,” I said. “My brother is lying in a hospital bed in Miami.”
Her gaze dropped, and I knew that whatever she’d been telling herself, she’d still hoped she was wrong.
“Are there two strains of the virus?” Adam said. He’d come back partway through the conversation. “The one in Austin seemed different.”
She nodded. “That one has to be injected. The other can be spread through water or food, which is easier, but the chances of it working aren’t as high.”
“So what’s the plan now?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Giles stopped talking to me. He just gives orders through Severin and Sierra. I know he was trying to contact Lucifer. He says Lucifer holds the key. Lucifer can make this work.”
“Where is he?”
“I—I don’t know.” She started to shake. “I want to help, but I don’t know. No one does.”
“The place where they were holding me. Where is it?”
“Where in Indiana?”
“N-near Indianapolis. B-but not too near. It isn’t in a city. I’ve never gone there by myself. We just get in the van and Severin or Sierra drives.”
I tried to get more—landmarks, distance from the airport, anything. I kept the grilling as gentle as I could, reassuring her that it was okay, no pressure, but of course there was pressure and she knew it, and it wasn’t long before she began hyperventilating. Then the medic intervened and said he had to sedate her for the rest of the trip. Whatever else she could share, she’d need to do it in Miami.
Veronica Tucker died before we landed. There was no agonizing, dramatic exit. We weren’t even sure exactly when she passed. We were sitting there, talking among ourselves as she slept. Then the medic came in to check on her and said she was gone.
Her injuries had been severe. He told me he’d doubted she’d make it through the trip. He kept reassuring me until Adam told him to shut the fuck up. I hadn’t asked him if my interrogation led to her death. I understood that it may not have helped, but we needed that information.
I hadn’t liked Roni. She’d gotten me kidnapped and could have gotten my friends killed, all because she wanted supernatural powers so she could be “special.”
A silly, selfish twit. Not the best epitaph. I hadn’t wanted her dead, but I wouldn’t lie awake at night thinking of how it could have been different. She’d done us wrong and then she’d helped us. The slate was clean.
The jet landed right after that. We were getting off when I stopped and hurried back on, Adam behind me. The medic popped his head into the main cabin as I headed for Roni’s body.
“I need to grab something from her,” I said. “Does she have any rings?”
The medic stared at me.
“It’s a personal item,” Adam snapped. “In case a necromancer needs to contact her spirit to ask more questions.”
The medic mumbled something about tending to the living and withdrew. I folded back Roni’s covers. She was indeed wearing rings.
I was tugging one off when Roni tugged back, her arm jerking.
Adam yanked me away. “She’s infected.”
Roni’s eyes opened. They stared at the ceiling. Then her lips parted. They stayed like that for a moment, then she whispered, “Child of Asmondai. Is that you?”
“Who are you?” Adam said.
The corpse didn’t move. It just stared blankly at the ceiling. After at least ten seconds, we heard another whisper from the corpse. “Kimerion. I am Kimerion.”
“Yeah?” Adam said, stepping forward. “You’re no demi-demon if you can’t move that body.”
“Weak,” the voice rasped. “I got too close to de Rais and Balaam’s demons found me. Haven’t been able to contact you.”
That part was true—Kimerion had been out of contact for days.
“Lucifer,” Kimerion said. “De Rais needs to summon Lucifer. His only chance.”
I sighed. “We know that.”
“Like your grandsire, you have no patience,” the demi-demon hissed. “Yes, de Rais has long wished to summon Lucifer. That wish is now an obsession. He is desperate. He thinks he knows the key. He no longer waits and plots to obtain it.”
“And that key is … ?”
“The blood of Lucifer.”
“Hope,” I said. “He thinks her blood will open the lines of communication with Lucifer. Let Giles offer his allegiance. Cut a deal.”
“No deal. No allegiance. A threat.”
Adam answered. “He’ll threaten to kill Hope and her baby.”
“Threatening a lord demon? Is he crazy?”
“I believe we’ve already established that,” Cassandra said, coming up behind me.
“But that won’t work. Lucifer may take an interest in his children, but not enough to save her.”
“Lucifer is diff—” Kimerion began.
A long, exhaled hiss of breath. Roni’s eyes closed.
Karl was prowling. From one side of the bed to the other, into the hall, down the hall, up the hall, back to the bedroom, pacing like a caged lion. Or caged wolf, Hope supposed she should say.
She could stop him. Tell him he was making her dizzy and keeping her from getting some rest. But she was enjoying watching him pace. He was wearing only sweat pants and the sight was very nice indeed, muscles rippling under scarred skin. It was not a sight she got to see outside the bedroom—he was too self-conscious about those scars.
He paced back into the room and stopped at the foot of the bed.
“You should be sleeping.”
“Mmm. Later. Not tired yet.”
Hope gave him a once-over. He chuckled and bent forward, hands on the end of the bed.
“I could help with that,” he said.
“You could …”
He crawled across the bed and tugged down the sheet over her, his hand sliding down her thigh. She considered the offer. Not sex, sadly. That had gotten unwieldy a couple of weeks ago, and they’d switched to backup plans. Karl’s backup plan was nice. Very nice. However …