Make Me, page 19
Austin had called ahead to let the vampires know they were about to be invaded by a horde of demons. Lisette agreed to host the San Antonio Demon Underground leader and his entourage, so we had no problems going up in the elevator.
Once we were all assembled in the living room of Austin’s suite, and the metal shades clanged shut against the coming rising sun, Micah took charge. “What we need is a way to bring him to us, at a place and time of our choosing.”
I explained to Micah that we’d already ruled out using the finder or a prophecy. I hated to suggest it, but… “Maybe we could use Jack’s funeral?” I suppressed a twinge of guilt. “He wouldn’t mind. His entire life was spent protecting the books.” Now, he could do that even in death. “Asmodeus will expect us to be there, and he won’t question the presence of additional demons.”
“Funeral?” Micah repeated, looking concerned.
Oh, crap. He didn’t know about Jack. I explained it quickly.
Looking pained, Micah said, “It isn’t necessary to use the funeral. I know you want to honor Jack in the right way, so we’ll do that later. Instead, we’ll lure Asmodeus to the Naming Ritual David requested.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. There was no guarantee Micah would still be leader after that.
“I’m sure,” Micah said with finality. “And if he doesn’t show for the Naming Ritual, we can set a trap at the funeral.”
Dan perked up. “That could work. We could deliberately leave Val alone so he’ll think she’s unguarded and vulnerable. I think he’ll take the bait.”
“How do we get the word to Asmodeus so he’ll show up?” David asked doubtfully.
I shrugged. “He obviously knows where the demon hangouts are. We’ll put out the word to all the demons we know and he’s bound to hear about it.”
I checked my phone, surprised by the date. “Today is Christmas Eve. Can we get enough people to attend a Naming Ritual today?”
WE HAVE TO, Princess suddenly said. THE BAD MAN WANTS TO BE LIKE GWEN.
Fang translated. PRINCESS HEARD ASMODEUS THINK THAT HE WANTS TO TURN HIMSELF INTO A VAMPIRE, LIKE LILITH DID. TO BE EVEN MORE STRONG AND POWERFUL.
Austin looked puzzled. “If vampires go crazy when they drink demon blood, what happens to demons who are turned into vampires?”
Whatever happened, it couldn’t be good. Luckily, Gwen was fully human, so we didn’t have to worry about the mixing of the blood.
“The process of combining the two does one of two things,” Micah said, looking sick. “It usually drives the demons crazy as well as the vampires, and they turn into raving beasts. Most of the time, they accidentally kill themselves by wandering into the sunlight.”
“What’s the other thing?” I asked impatiently.
Micah seemed reluctant to respond, and wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“Telll theeem,” came the creepy voice from the bundle of bones huddled in the corner.
YES, TELL THEM, Fang said, sounding grim.
Micah rubbed his hand across his face and sighed. “It’s rare, but sometimes, you get something else.”
Impatient with his reluctance, I said, “Come on, spit it out. What do you get?”
“A… Memory Eater,” he said reluctantly. “They’re able to read minds and memories with the vampire part, while having the added ability of being able to remove those memories. But the two sides are constantly at war within.”
We all turned to stare at the one in the corner. Ohmigod. No wonder she never seemed quite sane. “You mean the Memory Eater isn’t a type of demon?”
“Yes and no. She had demon powers once, but I don’t know what they were. She rides on the edge all the time, balancing the demon and vampire sides of her nature. If she lets one have too much control over the other, she slips further into madness.”
“Is the reverse true?” Austin asked, his eyes narrowed. “Can some vampires become Memory Eaters by drinking blood from a demon?”
Micah shook his head. “I don’t know, but our history doesn’t mention the possibility.”
Austin’s jaw looked like a block of granite. “We never knew.”
I could see why they wouldn’t tell the vampires. Any vampire who turned a demon into a Memory Eater wouldn’t have survived with his sanity intact. I hadn’t realized how much Micah had to worry about as leader. Maybe there was a good reason for keeping some secrets.
Tension rose as Micah and Austin stared at each other.
Ludwig broke it when he stood. “So, the overwhelming odds are good that Asmodeus will be driven crazy, right? Problem solved. Why disrupt his plans?”
“You don’t understand,” Micah said, seeming grateful for the change in subject. “Asmodeus brought Lilith’s spirit into this world, and he’s the only one who can let her go. So, if he’s killed or goes mad before he does that, we won’t be able to get Lilith out of Gwen.”
NOT GOOD, Fang said. I WANT GWEN BACK.
ME, TOO, Princess said in a small voice.
We all did.
“What about that demon-exorcising spell?” Austin asked. “Would that allow you to free Gwen?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Maybe. Will the spell treat Lilith’s spirit as a demon and exorcise it? I have no way of knowing.”
Austin nodded slowly. “And if you exorcised Asmodeus’s demon, it would leave him incapable of freeing her.”
“We can’t chance it,” Dan said. “We have to capture him, not kill him, and force him to free Gwen.” He turned to Micah. “Are you sure he hasn’t tried to become a vampire yet?”
“Not when I saw him last. He had Lilith knock me out, then he was on his way to meet Val to get the books.”
Oh, crap. “He knows by now that we rescued you, and that we know Lilith has control of Gwen. Nothing is stopping him from getting turned right now.”
Dan whipped his head around to stare at Austin. “Is that true?”
“Possibly,” Austin said. He asked Micah, “Who turned Lilith?”
“She found some random vamp under Congress Avenue Bridge.”
Austin relaxed a little. “Some hang out there at night, but they won’t be there during the day. And none of us will let others know the locations of our daytime resting places.”
“What about here, at the blood bank?” David asked. “There are obviously vampires here.”
“They don’t see clients during the day here,” Austin explained. “And none of them would turn a stranger simply because they ask it.”
Not good enough. “But what’s to keep Lilith from turning him?” I asked.
Austin looked surprised. “I thought you knew. She can’t. She’s too newly turned to be able to turn someone else, especially during daylight hours.”
I’d never learned the details of how someone got turned into a bloodsucker. Mostly, I just made the undead very dead dead. But I was really glad to hear that.
“So the odds are good that he won’t be turned anytime during the day today?” Dan asked, looking intense.
“Right,” Austin confirmed. “But once the sun goes down…”
THE POOP HITS THE ROTARY BLADES, Fang said.
“Okay,” Dan said decisively. “We plan the ritual for today. Right after sunset so he won’t have time to get turned and can bring Gwen with him. Can you make arrangements that fast?”
“Tessa can,” I said. I had faith in Tessa’s ability to make just about anything happen. “She’s the ultimate organizer.”
“Even making a ritual happen today?” David asked doubtfully.
“You don’t know Tessa,” Micah said. “I’ll call her. If I can borrow your phone?”
I handed it to him and he went into the corner to make a low-voiced call to his assistant.
Pia talked at David with her hands, and he nodded. “We’ll work on getting the word out to the Demon Underground in both cities. And let a few we trust know that we’d like a good turnout… and why. They’ll come.”
I raised my hand. “That’s my department. Micah said he doesn’t have a shield like Trevor’s, so I should be able to use Lola on him.” So long as I still had control of her, that was. “Then I can force him to get rid of Lilith.”
“What if Lilith tries to control your mind?” Dan asked.
I grinned. “It won’t work. If she tries to control me, it will allow me to read her mind, know what they’re planning.”
“What if he tries for you first?” Micah asked, rejoining us. “He’s awfully handy with that dart gun and the Perdo.”
“I’ll take care of that with a vest that will stop any darts,” Dan said. “But Lilith is in control of Gwen’s body. How do we take her without hurting Gwen?” He looked at Micah. “Can you do that?”
“Not while Asmodeus is still in control of Lilith as the demon who brought her here. No incubus can.”
That left David out, too.
“I can help with that,” Austin said.
“How?” Dan asked doubtfully.
“Superior strength. She won’t be used to her new abilities yet, and I still outweigh her, even if she has figured out how to use them. I’ll hold onto her until Val forces Asmodeus to change Gwen back.”
I nodded slowly. “Thanks for offering to help, Austin. This could actually work.”
He tipped his hat at me. “Consider this a favor returned. Besides, once we deal with the mage demon, you can finish helping the Movement find the person creating chupacabras.”
“What?” Dan asked. “How is that pertinent?”
We explained to everyone what we’d learned about the chupacabra menace. I finished with, “The only problem is, we don’t know where they’re coming from or how they’re being made.”
“I think we just learned the second part tonight,” Austin drawled. When we all looked at him questioningly, he added, “Someone is forcing vampires to turn demons. Mixing their blood makes victims of them both.”
Now that he said it, it was obvious. “They’re crazed so they’re attacking anything that moves.” And it explained the random piles of ash we’d found—a demon-turned-vampire would be too crazed to realize sunlight was dangerous.
“Everyone in the New Blood Movement was warned,” Austin added. “Lisette’s people wouldn’t deliberately drink blood from a demon or turn one. They knew what would happen.”
“And a demon wouldn’t willingly be turned into a vampire,” Micah added.
The light dawned. “They’d do it if they were forced to.”
“Yes, but who could force—” Austin broke off and stared at me.
“I could,” I confirmed. “The missing vamps were all male, right? And if I could—”
“—Dina could,” everyone else finished in unison.
And Dina’s house was very near the park. Didn’t you read that in her mind? I asked Fang.
NOPE. I CAN ONLY READ SURFACE THOUGHTS. AND WHEN I WAS WITH YOU, SHE WAS ONLY THINKING ABOUT KIDNAPPING, SHADE AND THE BOOKS.
That’s right. Fang wasn’t with us when I asked her about the chupacabras. So it probably was her. But she could only control men. Why would she toss away her own people like used tissues?” Then again, it would explain why I’d found Adam Bukowski’s wallet under that rock, and maybe what had happened to Blaine Williamson. Not to mention the ash piles.
“But why?” Ludwig asked.
“To cement her power base,” Micah said with a grim look. “She’s power hungry. She wants to control the women too, so she’s trying to make her own Memory Eater from a man she can control. If she can, she’ll be able to rule with an iron fist.”
“Yesss,” came confirmation from the nightmare in the corner.
Micah looked pained. “There is a ritual to identify demons who have the potential to become Memory Eaters. The demon then has the choice whether to accept the role or not. But most soothsayers, who have all control over the rituals, refuse to subject anyone to that.” He nodded toward the skeletal woman. “This one has been on the job for hundreds of years.”
The poor woman.
Suddenly, the Memory Eater was standing before me, grabbing my shoulders, staring into my eyes. “You seee nooow. Releassse meee,” she insisted.
Obviously, she wanted me to end her torment, kill her. “No. I—I can’t.” I didn’t kill the good guys. And no matter how monstrous she appeared, she was on our side.
She seemed to make an effort to bring her mind into focus. In a barely audible whisper, she said, “I can offer… much. Remove… your memories of… what your family… did to you, remove their memories… of you. Just… release me from… this nightmare.”
Shocked, I backed away from her. This woman was powerful. And very, very scary.
Micah stood and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Come,” he said gently, and I felt him use his incubus powers. “Rest in the corner until we’re done.”
Sudden realization made sheer panic stab through me. Ohmigod. Was Dina planning to turn Shade into a Memory Eater?
I didn’t realize I’d said that aloud until everyone stared at me.
“You can’t think that way, Val,” Micah said.
I not only could, I did. “He’s in danger. Right now.” He might even already be insane and a vampire.
“No,” Micah said in a soothing tone. “You heard Austin. She won’t be able to find any vampires until it turns dark again.”
I glared at him. “What about the ones she’s already used? There’s still at least one out there unaccounted for.”
“The ash…” Austin protested.
“Weren’t necessarily all Lisette’s vampires,” I reminded him. “They could have been demons-turned-vampire.” I stopped to think for a moment. “And Dina might come to the blood bank to try and force one of them to help her. That’s probably where she’s been getting Lisette’s vamps, anyway.” And they’d made it incredibly easy for the succubus to find them, enthrall them, and use them.
Austin nodded grimly. “But she won’t be able to do that until nightfall.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Micah said. “I’ll let her know I’m in town, and that she risks my wrath and the touch of the Memory Eater if she does anything to harm him. Dina fears her.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “But why the hell should we leave him there any longer? We know what she is. We know what she could do to him. We have to get him out of there.” Whether he wanted to come or not.
“No, darlin’,” Austin said. “You can’t let her know we’ve figured out what she’s doing. Wait until dark, and the entire New Blood Movement will help you take her down and rescue Shade.”
“But it might be too late,” I protested. Shade was in danger. Couldn’t they see that? “Once it turns dark, what will stop her from forcing a vampire to turn him?”
Dan looked up sharply. “Gwen is in more danger. She’s the priority here, and you’re the only one who can stop Asmodeus and force him to free her. You need to work on that.”
“I’ll tell Alejandro and Lisette what we’ve learned,” Austin said. “And they’ll round up some folks to send to Dina’s house as soon as it turns dark.”
But I wanted to be there, to ensure Shade stayed safe.
YOU CAN’T BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE, Fang said, sounding regretful.
“I know that,” I snapped at him. But how could I possibly choose between them? Save my roommate and my only real nondemon friend? Or Shade, my first and only lover, my very good friend?
My gut roiled with indecision.
YOU KNOW WHAT THE CHOICE HAS TO BE, Fang said, looking up at me with sad eyes.
I buried my fingers in his fur. Yes, I did, unfortunately. Gwen was an innocent in all this, and Dan was right when he said I was the best one, the only one, to stop Asmodeus. I blinked back tears and glared fiercely at Austin. “You swear they’ll be at her house at sundown?”
“As soon as they can make it,” he promised. “I’ll arrange it now.”
That would have to do. “Okay,” I said. But if anything happened to Shade, I’d never forgive myself.
As Austin and Micah excused themselves to make phone calls, Dan’s phone rang. He glanced at it. “It’s that same disposable cell number,” he said. “Why would Asmodeus call me?”
I was baffled for a moment, then realized. “It’s not him. It’s Gwen. I mean Lilith. She doesn’t know that you’re with us.”
“What would she want of me?” Dan asked.
“I don’t know,” I said impatiently. “Answer it.”
He frowned but went out into the hall to answer the phone. We all waited impatiently for him to come back. When he did, the expression on his face was grim, but satisfied.
“What did she want?” I asked.
“Lilith pretended to be Gwen and asked if I knew where you were. I didn’t let her know I was on to her. I told her you were in Austin and that I didn’t know where you were right now, but that you’d be at the ritual tonight.”
“Good,” Micah said. “So the trap is set.”
We finalized the plans as much as we could, made arrangements to meet back at Austin’s room later, then split up to eat, sleep and get whatever we needed for tonight. The ones who’d driven up from San Antonio went to the floor Jack and I had stayed on earlier. I didn’t care to go back there, and since I couldn’t get much higher in the city and away from the mage demon than Austin’s suite, I chose to stay with him. In one of the other bedrooms.
My sleep was restless, haunted by dreams of everything that could possibly go wrong. And in every one of them, I screwed up, ensuring Gwen and Shade both died horribly.
I woke in a cold sweat in midafternoon and decided that going back to sleep wasn’t an option. The vampires had excellent time-controlled black-out shades on the windows, so no light penetrated into the room. I turned the bedside lamp on low and saw that Fang and Princess were curled up together at the foot of the bed, snoring softly. Well, at least if nothing else had turned out right, this had. I was happy for them.
I used the time and the quiet to stare at the ceiling and think. I hadn’t had the luxury to do much of that lately and it felt strange, and good.
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- Bite MeMake Me
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