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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“Well, then, if you want to stop her, I’m the one you need to hurt.”
“No,” I said.
Adam didn’t listen. He was distracting Balaam so I could try again. He believed I could do it. He was betting his life I could do it.
I closed my eyes and if I’d thought I’d tried my hardest before, it was nothing compared to how hard I tried now. Everything disappeared as the incantation took over. That was all there was—the words, the power, the will, the desperation.
If I failed—I didn’t want to think of what would happen if I failed. But I had to, because that was the only thing that was going to make it damned well certain I’d give this everything I had. Fail, and Balaam would kill Adam. Fail, and Balaam would unleash the virus. Fail, and my world—and everyone in it—?could be destroyed.
Do not fail. That was the only option.
I recited the incantation and then I recited it again and then—A hand on my shoulder. A voice in my ear. “It’s over, Savannah. He’s gone.”
I looked up at Adam. I took his arm and I pulled myself up and only then did I look over at Balaam. Only it wasn’t Balaam. It was just Gilles de Rais’s ruined body, lying in a cornfield.
I picked up the vials in my good hand, lowered myself to the ground and sat there, cradling them, Adam beside me with his arms around me.
The Cabal team showed up about thirty seconds later. Figures, doesn’t it?
I radioed Lucas and Paige to meet us back in the auditorium. According to the team members who’d just arrived, something had happened there. Something I really wanted to see.
When we made it back, I saw Elena and Clay first. Elena noticed the blood on my shirt and rushed over, but I waved her away.
“Is she here?” I asked. “Is she okay?”
Elena smiled and nodded. “She’s fine.”
With Adam helping me, I crossed the stage to where Hope lay on the floor, Jeremy tending to her, Jaime gripping her hand. And Karl … Karl was holding a baby.
“Nita Elena Adams Marsten,” Hope said, smiling. “Yes, it’s a mouthful, but she’ll grow into it.”
“She’s beautiful,” I said. And she was—with black hair and wide blue eyes, staring up at her father.
“She’s putting a spell on him,” Hope said. “Not that she needs to. Someone already has Daddy wrapped around her little finger.”
“Takes after her mother,” Karl said.
Everyone laughed. I just sat and stared at Nita. I’m not one for babies, really. But this was different. This was … I won’t say a miracle, because that’s corny. But after everything we’d gone through, this new life just seemed … perfect.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner,” Karl said.
“What?” Hope blinked. “Um, if you mean when I was taken captive, you were nearly dead at the time, so—”
She stopped. Karl had been looking down at Nita. Now he lifted his head and his eyes shimmered. They weren’t orange or green like a demon’s. And they didn’t just glow like Aratron’s. They shimmered iridescent, with points of a thousand colors.
“Oh,” Hope said.
She lifted her hands as she struggled to keep her expression calm. He handed the baby back to her and she clutched Nita tight, her gaze never breaking with those eyes.
“I was watching,” he said. “But it seemed best not to interfere.” She just nodded and cradled Nita, who started to fuss.
“The grandchildren of demons don’t inherit their powers,” he said. “But I am not a demon.”
“No,” Hope whispered. She looked at Nita, and her eyes filled with tears, then she looked back at him and said, fiercely, “No.”
He pushed the sweaty curls from Hope’s forehead. “She will not inherit the hunger for chaos. That is …” He tilted his head. “A consequence of living among demons. It is the powers she will inherit—the visions and the rest. That will not be easy, but it will be … easier. More important, it will be easier for you. She’s taken some of your power. It will dilute it, and dilute the hunger. That will help.”
Hope stared at him, still shaking her head. “Please, no. I don’t want that. I’ll keep it—all of it. Please.”
Lucifer didn’t answer.
I cleared my throat. “The visions aren’t easy to deal with, I’m sure. But you’ve done a lot of good with them. She’ll do a lot of good with them. And if it cuts down on your chaos hunger …”
“That’s good,” Elena said, kneeling and squeezing Hope’s arm. “It’ll make life easier for you, which will make it easier for her.”
Hope looked up at Lucifer, “Do I have a choice?”
She swallowed. “Then we’ll deal with it.”
“Of course you will.” Lucifer leaned over and kissed her forehead. “You always do.”
He leaned back on his haunches and closed his eyes. When they opened, they were blue again, Karl shaking his head.
“What happened?” he said.
Hope just smiled and handed him his daughter.
Back to Miami, where we discovered that after a birth, we now faced the opposite. Bryce was dying. His body couldn’t adjust to the virus. He was on life support.
But we had the antidote, right? Except Giles had played one last trick. He gave us the antidote and the coded instructions, which had been deciphered before we returned to Miami. But it wasn’t just a simple matter of giving the antidote to Bryce. There was a ritual to be followed, a ritual that required a critical ingredient.
The life of a vampire.
“Oh, stop being dramatic,” Cassandra said as she paced the boardroom. “It requires a vampiric life. That a vampire surrender his immortality and return to being human. Offering mine is hardly noble. I’m dying. I have only a few years left at best. Give me the rest of my mortal lifetime and you’re doing me a favor.”
Aaron shook his head “The ritual doesn’t guarantee you a human life, Cass. It theorizes that’s what happens if you give up your vampiric one. For all we know, you’ll turn into a pile of three-hundred-year-old dust.”
“Well, then you’ve saved the cost of cremation, haven’t you?”
He glowered at her. There were only a few of us in the board-room—me, Adam, Paige, and Lucas. Cassandra thought Sean should be present—his brother’s life was at stake—but Sean had demurred. He was staying downstairs with Bryce. This was a decision he didn’t dare influence.
Cassandra might pretend she was being selfish, but she knew the risks. She was offering her last years to save Bryce.
Aaron wanted to find another vampire. Surely there was one locked in a Cabal prison somewhere, on a legitimate charge, a vampire whose crimes deserved the death penalty.
“It would take time,” Lucas said. “Bryce doesn’t have time. However, there may be a larger problem here. Cassandra’s vampire life is nearing an end. It … may not be enough.”
More arguing followed. Aaron retreated to a chair and sat there, staring, until he said, “What if it was two vampiric lives?”
We all turned to him.
“What if we both offered ours?”
Cassandra strode to him. “You are not giving up—”
“I wouldn’t be giving up anything,” he said quietly. “I never wanted to be a vampire. You know that.” He looked up at her. “This is a chance for us both to be human again. I don’t want to be a vampire if you’re not.”
“And if it fails?”
He held her gaze. “Then I don’t want to be here if you’re not.”
Cassandra choked on her reply. She stood there, facing him, back to us, and I could hear her trying to speak, but she couldn’t.
Paige reached over and squeezed my hand. “Let’s go,” she whispered.
We crept out and left them alone.
A few hours later, we were in the Cabal underground ritual chamber. It was another three hours before the rite was completed. It had taken a whole team of spellcasters, including me, Paige, and Lucas to pull it off, and even then, we had a couple of false starts.
When we finished, Benicio dismissed the others. I could tell they wanted to stay and see if it worked, but this next part wasn’t for public viewing. This next part could mean that two of our friends gave their lives—mortal and immortal—for my brother.
Cassandra and Aaron lay on mats beside the ritual circle. They were hooked up to heart-rate monitors. They’d been conscious until the final incantation. Then they’d gone still, eyes closed, the machines remaining dark and silent.
“How long will it take?” I murmured to Adam, who’d been supervising the ritual. “Something should be happening, right?”
He rubbed my good arm, but said nothing. What could he say? This ritual wasn’t in any of his books. It wasn’t in anyone’s books.
I knelt beside Cassandra’s mat.
“Come on, Cass,” I whispered.
As I stared down at her pale, still face, my heart started to hammer. What if she didn’t wake up? I hadn’t said good-bye. Nobody had, as if not daring to admit that they thought this could fail. If she was gone, we couldn’t even contact her through Jaime. When vampires passed, no one knew where they went. No one even knew for sure that they went anywhere, and that vampirehood wasn’t their afterlife. An eternity as a ghost traded for a few hundred years more on earth.
“Come on, Cass,” I whispered. “Please.”
The machine blipped. I jumped and looked over. It blipped again. Then again.
Cassandra shot upright, eyes snapping open. She looked around. Then she grabbed her chest, eyes going wide.
“What’s—?” I began, leaping to my feet. “Someone—” Cassandra gasped. She blinked hard as she slowly, almost tentative inhaled and exhaled.
“Forgot that part, huh?” Adam said, grinning. “Yep, you gotta breathe now, Cass.”
“That’s inconvenient,” she said.
She blinked some more, then reached over toward the ritual circle and snatched up a knife.
“Hey!” I said. “What—?”
She ran the blade across her palm before I could stop her. Blood welled up. She studied it, then closed and opened her fist. The wound continued to bleed.
“That’s very inconvenient.” She turned toward Aaron. “I hope you’re satisfied. You do realize I’m probably going to die in my sleep from forgetting to breathe. Or from stepping in front of a bullet because I forgot—”
She stopped. Aaron lay there, his machine silent.
She scrambled up and went to him. She shook him by the shoulders.
No response. She shook harder, panic lighting her green eyes.
She spun to us.
“Don’t just stand there. Get him a doctor. Where are the doctors? Goddamn it! He risked his life for you and you can’t even provide proper—”
“Are you sure you want her alive?” said a voice behind Cassandra.
Aaron’s eyes opened. He yawned. Cassandra’s gaze shot to his monitor, still dark and silent.
“It—The ritual didn’t work for you?” she said.
Aaron reached up and fussed with the monitor, discreetly pulling at something under it. The machine started up.
“Nope, it worked. The machine just screwed up.” He glanced at Benicio. “Better have someone take a look at it.”
Cassandra glared at him. “You did that on purpose.”
“As long-delayed revenge for leaving me with an angry mob in Romania? That would be petty of me.”
He smiled and tugged her over. She sniffed, but sat beside him on the mat.
“Though,” he mused, “if I did want to scare you, it was probably because I hoped to hear abject apologies for past mis-treatment. Or, at the very least, heartfelt declarations of eternal love. Not cursing out your friends for failing to ensure proper medical surveillance of the procedure.”
“That’s how Cass says ‘I love you,’?” I said.
He grinned. “I think it is.” He pulled her down in a kiss and, behind her back, waved for us all to leave.
There had been a doctor nearby, waiting to be called in. Why only one? Because the others were all busy rushing the ritual potion to Bryce.
Despite my moment of panic, Cassandra and Aaron’s recovery had been near-instantaneous. Not so with Bryce. After they treated him, there was nothing to do except wait. His vital signs remained stable and that was the main thing.
The doctors hung around for the first thirty minutes. Then all but one left. By the two-hour mark, they were all working on other patients, rotating through every ten minutes to check on Bryce.
Sean and I sat with him. Adam stayed, too, at first just sitting with me, then running errands, like getting dinner.
“I’m coming out,” Sean said as we ate our Vietnamese take-out. “As soon as I get back to L.A. I suspect the politic thing would be to wait until everything has calmed down and a decision has been reached—whether the split is permanent or Uncle Josef and I can come to some agreement.”
“Only if that agreement includes you handing him the CEO crown,” I muttered.
“Probably. But I’m not going to be the one to break up the Cabal. I’m willing to negotiate. If he isn’t, so be it. I could wait for all that to die down. On a business level, that would be smart. But it’s not fair. If the Cabal stays split, Uncle Josef and I will be campaigning for the loyalty of the employees. I need to be upfront with them.”