Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang (Page 11)

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“I thought we'd get a good jump on searching for your spirit. This is Eve. Wow, nice room! Oh… er… hi.”

So much for feeding you. I'm sorry.

There wouldn't have been time for the food I was interested in , he answered with a mental image that threatened to buckle my legs.

Oh, that is not playing fair . “That's my husband, Kristoff.”

“Siobhan Gullstein. This is Eve Voorhees, who is the necromancer I told you about, Pia.”

“Hi,” Eve said, holding out a hand. She was as tall as Kristoff, freckled, with short sandy blond hair and wire-framed glasses. Her gaze was straightforward and earnest. She looked absolutely normal, not in the least as if she were the sort of person who raised the dead for a living. “Siobhan says you know where the essence is?”

“Not exactly, but I know where the village was before it washed into the ocean.”

“I see.” Eve had a slight accent-Dutch, I assumed by her name-and although her manner wasn't as friendly and open as Siobhan's, I liked her. She hesitated a moment, biting her lip before she continued. “I don't normally do this. I may be old-fashioned, but I like to honor my commitments, and I don't usually betray a client in this manner.”

“I absolutely understand, and I would never ask you to do so except this is really an emergency.”

She nodded. “Siobhan told me that the spirit in question belonged to you, but his soul was taken by the Ilargi who hired me. I do not judge those for whom I work, but I do not agree that it is right to take the soul of another.”

“I'm glad you feel that way,” I said, relieved. “Naturally, we will pay you the going rate for lich raising. Er… what is that?”

She named a figure that had me reeling for a moment.

Kristoff made a face and pulled out his checkbook.

Thanks, Boo.

“Excellent,” Eve said, folding the check and tucking it away. “Shall we go?”

“Sure,” Siobhan answered.

“I will meet you downstairs,” Eve said, heading for the door.

“She left the car parked illegally, and is worried about it getting towed. You have no idea how on top of those sorts of things the Icelanders are,” Siobhan told me.

Kristoff murmured something about getting our coats as he disappeared into our room.

“Wow, he is… Hoo, mama! Some kind of gorgeous,” Siobhan said in a whisper, taking a few steps to the side so she could watch Kristoff gather up his coat and hat. “I love men with cleft chins! It's so sexy! I bet you suck it, huh?”

I blinked at her in surprise.

“Sorry,” she said with a little giggle. “Didn't mean to shock you or anything. It's just that you didn't tell me you were married to a fashion model. My God, those eyes! Mmrowr!”

“I thought… Aren't you…” I gestured vaguely toward the door through which Eve had just left.

“Oh, I am. That is, I like both sides of my bread buttered,” she said, winking as Kristoff came back into the room with my jacket.

Why are you looking so odd? Kristoff asked a few minutes later, as we emerged from the hotel. He held me back for a second, his eyes bright even in the shadow of his hat as they searched the street.

Because Siobhan just asked me if I sucked your chin.

He shot me a startled look before gesturing that it was all right to proceed.

She thinks you're gorgeous.


“Which way?” Eve asked as Kristoff held the back door for me to climb into the car. She had a map spread out on the steering wheel, while Siobhan was poking at the GPS unit.

“It's broken,” she said, waving toward it. “So we're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.”

“This is the wrong map,” Eve said, frowning at it. “Shivvy, get me the other one.”

“Sure thing.” Siobhan turned and reached back between Kristoff and me, inadvertently knocking his hat off in the process.

Kristoff ducked away from the window, lunging over me to avoid the sunlight coming in on his side.

“Sorry. I… er…”

Are you OK? Did you get burned?

I grabbed the hat she held out and gave it back to Kristoff, who got it adjusted so he could sit up.

Barely. I'm fine.

Eve watched us with curious eyes via the rearview mirror.

Oh, crap. You think they know? I turned in my seat to grab the couple of maps in the storage area behind us. “I'll get the map.”

Siobhan took them from me with a look at her partner. “Er… you're a Dark One?” she asked Kristoff.

“Is there a problem with that?” he asked with absolutely no expression on his face.

You're really good at that. I bet you clean up at poker.

“No, I'm just a bit surprised. Eve…” She waved toward the other woman. “Eve has always wanted to meet one.”

Eve nodded quickly, an excited light in her eyes. “I'm doing a thesis on the relationship between the otherworld and mortal literary conventions. I'd love to talk to you about Dark Ones versus vampires in the popular culture.”

“Everyone loves a hunky vampire,” I said, smiling.

Eve grinned for a moment, then sat back, but she positively hummed with excitement.

“I've only seen one Dark One before, and never up close. Oh, my God!” Siobhan's jaw dropped for a moment as her gaze moved over to me. “You said you guys are married. Does that mean you're-“

“A Beloved? Yes.” I gave Kristoff's leg a possessive pat. “And yes, I am tempted to suck his chin. That cleft drives me wild, too.”

Kristoff went into martyr mode, not actually rolling his eyes, but the urge was apparently almost overwhelming.

Oh, stop looking that way. You love it. What man wouldn't like random female adoration?

I am only interested in adoration from one person.

I withdrew my hand slowly, not sure if he was referring to his girlfriend, Angelica, or to me.

His fingers captured mine and returned them to his leg, where he held them.

Warmth pooled low in my belly.

“Hee, hee, hee,” Siobhan said, turning back in her seat, although I noticed she lowered her sun visor so that she could see him in the mirror. “I don't blame you one bit. Man alive, a Dark One and his Beloved. That's so awesome. How did you guys meet?”

A heavily edited version kept Siobhan occupied until we had reached the small village south of the town I had stayed at two months before. It wasn't until we had climbed down a rocky, steep slope from a tiny stone church that sat atop a cliff that she finally turned her attention to the reason we were there.

“There are several essences here,” Siobhan said as she wandered up and down the rocky shoreline, dashing first here, then there, like a shorebird on the trail of a tasty morsel. “There're a number clustered right here,” she added, having taken off her shoes and socks and rolled up the legs of her pants to wade into the water.

“Do you see a horse?” I asked, eyeing the water. I knew it must be very cold, and I didn't particularly want to have to swim. “Ulfur had a horse named Ragnar who died with him. They were very close.”

“Horse… horse… no, no horse. Let me try farther out. Good thing I put on the suit under this, eh?”

She returned to shore just long enough to strip down to a long swimmer's bodysuit, Eve doing the same. “No spirits around here, are there?”

I looked at the stone dangling from my wrist. “None that I see.”

“Hell. So much for the easy way. I guess there's nothing for it but a little swim in the icy drink. Brrr. Here goes nothing.”

It took them two hours and several trips back to shore, where they stood huddled in blankets guzzling coffee from a large thermos Eve produced, before Siobhan called out from about thirty feet off shore, her hand held high in the air as she swam back to shore.

“Got it!” she said rather breathlessly as she stopped in front of us, both she and Eve bright red with cold. I handed them towels, holding blankets at the ready as Siobhan explained, through chattering teeth, how she was just about to give up when she spotted the essence of a horse, and followed that to Ulfur's final resting place. “We may get pneumonia from this, but by God, it was worth it. Behold, the essence of one human named Ulfur Hallursson.”

I looked at the empty palm she held out for inspection.

Do you see anything? I asked Kristoff.

He frowned. No.

“Um. Are you sure it's there?” I asked her.

“Oh, yes, it's there. Only vespillos can see the essences-otherwise, we'd be out of a job. He's right here, swirling around like a piece of blue dry ice.”

Eve had been peeling off her wet suit under the cover of a blanket. She emerged now fully clothed, with her head wrapped in a towel, rubbing her hands to get the warmth back. “Do we want to do this here?”

“Sure,” I answered, glancing around. “No one else is here, and I know you guys want nothing more than a hot bath.”

Have you ever seen a lich raised before?

Not raised, no, Kristoff answered, his gaze interested as he watched Siobhan gently set her handful of nothing on a flat rock. I've seen liches, of course.

What do they look like? Is Ulfur going to be all green slime running off his oozing flesh, and empty eye sockets? I asked nervously, trying to brace myself for the sight of Ulfur as an undead, albeit corporeal being. Or is he going to be nothing but a skeleton, like in those role-playing games?

Liches don't look any different from a mortal, other than having black eyes.

Soulless, dead eyes that leach the life from people around them, you mean?

Siobhan changed into her clothing as Eve sat cross-legged on her blanket, her eyes closed, her hands held out as she swayed and chanted softly. “It shouldn't be long now. Eve is pretty quick. She doesn't do all the fancy ceremonies unless someone really wants them.”

Kristoff gave me a long-suffering look . I will be glad when you move past the point of believing everything you've read or seen in the movies.

Don't get snarky with me, Boo. As of a couple of days ago, I had no idea liches even existed, let alone what they were.

Eve got slowly to her feet, her eyes still closed, her hands held out palms down over the rock. Suddenly she froze for a moment; then her eyes shot open and she brought her hands together with a loud clap that sounded like a shot, causing me to take a step back.

“Holy… Ulfur!” I jumped forward in joy at the sight of the familiar face, even if it was a bit wavery and wispy, as if it had been projected on a curtain of smoke. “Thank God! I thought I'd lost you!”

“Pia?” The smoky figure solidified before our eyes, Ulfur looking down at his hands for a moment.

“Yes! It's me! I can't tell you how glad I am to see you. Oh, well-done, ladies, well-done. Ulfur, I wouldn't blame you in the least if you were pissed at me for leaving you to be sucked up by an Ilargi, but I assure you-“

“Dear God, what have you done?” Ulfur asked, his eyes as black as Kristoff had warned they would be, shiny and filled with horror.

Before I could say anything, he dissolved, just dissolved into nothing.

“No!” I wailed, waving my hands around in the spot where he had been.

“I thought that might happen,” Eve said, shaking her head. “Not good.”

“Not good? Not good? What happened? Where's Ulfur? Why did he say what he did?” I asked, panicking. “Why did he go away?”

“His soul is held by the Ilargi,” Eve answered, her thin face pinched. She glanced at her friend. “I'm sorry; I had hoped that you would have a little time with your spirit before he was summoned from you, but the Ilargi must have been waiting.”

“But… but… I don't understand!” I felt like pulling my hair out, near tears at the thought of being so close to rescuing Ulfur.

“Let us discuss the issue in the car,” Kristoff said, glancing over my shoulder. “The sound of the raising has caused some interest in the village.”

I turned to see a line of people streaming toward us. We didn't hesitate in packing up our things and returning up the rocky path to where we'd left the car. I crawled into the back next to Kristoff, miserable and sick at heart at the thought of Ulfur suffering any more.

“You're going to have to get the soul away from the Ilargi if you want your friend to be free,” Siobhan said a short while later, when we were heading back to Reykjavik. “I'm really sorry, Pia. As I told you, normally liches are bound to the person who raises them, unless, as in this case, their soul is held by someone else. I really thought the Ilargi wouldn't even know that we raised Ulfur, but evidently he's keeping a close watch on the souls in his possession.”

Kristoff's hand was warm on mine, providing me comfort just through the touch of his fingers as they stroked the back of my hand . Do not distress yourself, Beloved. You knew we would have to do something about the Ilargi in order to free him.

Yes, but I thought that he'd get to be with us while we did it. Poor Ulfur. He looked so horrified, so appalled. And it's all my fault.

Unless you have taken to sucking souls on the side, it is not your fault.

Do you ever sometimes think that life is using you like a toilet? I asked miserably, listening with only half an ear as Siobhan and Eve alternated apologizing.

Not frequently, no.

Lucky you. Honest to God, Kristoff! Like we don't have enough to do trying to find Alec, now I have to take a soul from an evil soul-sucking reaper? How on earth am I supposed to do that? I almost wailed into his head.

You will do it just as you do everything else-one step at a time, he answered with infuriating calmness.

By the time Siobhan and Eve dropped us off at the hotel, I was panicking a bit less, and starting to sort through the advice they offered.

“The best I can do is give you this phone number,” Eve said as we parted ways in the hotel lobby. She pressed a small piece of paper into my hands. “I wish I'd thought to ask the Ilargi his name, but all transactions are done through the Akashic League. They send me out a list of people I'm to raise, and any pertinent details. They're very big on confidentiality. The only reason I got the phone number for the Ilargi is because there was some confusion about the location of your friend. If it helps, it's a U.S. number.”

“Thank you both for all the help,” I said, narrowing my eyes at the phone number. “Good luck with your thesis.”

They both waved as I headed for the bar. “I need a drink before I call this ass-hat and ream him a new one for doing what he's done to poor Ulfur and all the others.”

Kristoff grabbed my arm, stopping me. “You need rest. You're exhausted.”

“Drink first, then reaming, then bed.” I eyed him for a second, aware of the growing hunger within him. “Or rather, drink, then feed you, followed by reamage of the Ilargi, and after that, bed, so I can molest you as you've never been molested before.”

“You need rest above all else. I can feel how tired you are-“

“There you are! We've been waiting for you forever! Where have you been?” Magda bustled out of the bar as I tried to peel Kristoff's fingers off my arm. “Hello again, Kristoff. So, what's been happening? Did you find Ulfur? Did you find Kristjana? Where's your boy puppy? Oh! We saw your brother at the airport in Rome, Kristoff, but we gave him the slip, didn't we, honey? Honey? Where'd Ray go now?”

Magda turned around in a full circle before spotting her boyfriend over at the reception desk, where he was unpacking several cartons of film and placing them into his camera bag.

“I'm so glad to see you,” I told Magda, giving her a little hug. “Good job on ditching Andreas. And yes to both questions, although the bit involving Ulfur is kind of long and… well…”

A lump suddenly clogged my throat as tears threatened to form at the thought of having failed Ulfur.

“I'm sorry,” I apologized, making an effort to get a grip on myself. “I don't normally cry.”

She eyed me with a critical eyebrow raised. “You look like hell, Pia. I mean that in the nicest way, of course, but you really do look like you've been put through the wringer. Maybe you need a little break.”

“That's exactly what she's going to get,” Kristoff said, wrapping his arm around me and pulling me to the elevator.

“Oh? Oh!” Magda grinned. “Gotcha. I'll see you tomorrow, then?”

“You'll see us tonight if you come with us,” Kristoff said just before the elevator door closed. “Blue Lagoon. We leave in half an hour.”