Make Me, page 22
“Yesss,” the traitorous creature said.
Micah closed his eyes against the pain. He’d hadn’t expected the plan to be perfect, but he hadn’t expected things to go this wrong.
Damn it, now how were they going to get Gwen back?
I sat up, feeling like someone had whacked me in the side with a sledgehammer. But the pain faded into the background when I realized Asmodeus was lying on the ground… and what that meant for Gwen. Damn.
“I’m okay,” I told Fang and the others who were hovering around me.
Fang licked my hand. GOOD. I’M GOING TO CHECK ON PRINCESS.
“I—I’m sorry,” David sputtered as Fang dashed away. “When we grabbed him and Annie fell, I lost control of the Memory Eater.”
I shook my head. There was plenty of blame to go around, starting with me and my “foolproof” plan. Why had I assumed Asmodeus would attack on our timetable? I should have listened to Micah.
“Is he dead?” I asked.
Micah grimaced. “He will be soon. He can’t even remember how to breathe—the Memory Eater is that thorough when she executes.” He glanced at Tessa and the crowd of demons surrounding our little drama. “Could you… ?”
Tessa apparently knew what he meant, because she gathered the dozen or so bystanders together and herded them back to the pavilion. She picked up the gun on the way.
Dan looked like he wanted to murder the Memory Eater. I couldn’t blame him. “Didn’t she know we needed him alive and aware to save Gwen?” he demanded as Austin frog-marched Lilith over toward us.
“She did,” Micah confirmed.
“Then why the hell did she do that?”
“He isss aliiive.”
Yeah, but brain-dead and unable to do anything but drool. Not helpful.
“Tell us why you did it,” Micah said, his tone implacable.
David helped me to my feet as the Memory Eater raised one arm to point at me. “So sheee will freee meee from thisss exissstence.”
Good thing for her I no longer had a problem with letting her commit suicide by Slayer. Not after what she’d done to Gwen. Just as soon as I got my breath back and got rid of this agonizing pain in my side.
“Your death won’t solve anything,” Micah protested.
“Not death. Liiife,” the creep show said. She pointed at the backpack lying next to the mage demon’s crumpled form. “Spelll.”
She couldn’t mean the mage demon–locator spell. “You mean the demon-exorcising spell?” I asked.
The Memory Eater nodded.
“You want to exorcise the demon from you?”
“You realize I don’t know what this spell will do? It might kill you, leave you mindless, or, or I don’t what.”
“Yesss. It isss my only hooope.”
So that’s what she meant by releasing her. “Why should I do anything to help you?” I spat out.
This time, the Memory Eater raised her arm to point a bony finger at Lilith. “To help herrr.”
Lilith squirmed in Austin’s hold but couldn’t get loose. It was hard to think of her as Lilith and a vampire when all I saw was Gwen.
“You already helped me by ridding me of that creep who was controlling me,” Lilith said. “Now, if you’ll let me go, we can all get on with our lives.”
“Hell, no,” Dan barked. “You’re going to let my sister go, and you’re going to do it now.”
Lilith tsked at him. “Sorry, Dan, or should I say Mr. Hero? This time, you and your girlfriend don’t get what you want. I hold the cards now. And it’s sooo satisfying to be occupying your sister’s body. Poetic justice, don’t you think?”
What the hell was she talking about? Dan and I were no longer an item. And how did she know his name, anyway?
“What do you mean, poetic justice?” I asked.
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” the woman inhabiting Gwen’s body taunted. “You know me by a slightly different name. Lily. Lily Armstrong.”
Lilith… Lily. Crap, I should have known. The woman I’d beheaded to save my sister was now back in the body of Dan’s sister. Not good.
THAT’S AN UNDERSTATEMENT.
Austin’s expression turned grim and he tightened his hold. “Traitor,” he muttered. Lily had been one of Alejandro’s lieutenants alongside Austin and caused them quite a bit of pain as well. A very unpopular lady.
Dan said, “Don’t hurt her.”
“Why not?” I asked, wondering if he still had feelings for his ex-fiancée.
“She’s still Gwen, too.” He turned to glare at me. “How are you going to get Lily out of Gwen’s body?”
Me? Why did this fall back on me?
“You can’t,” Lily said with a smug smile. “Asmodeus could have, but so sad, he’s dead. Now the only way to get rid of me is to kill your sister, too.”
Dan looked grim. “Is Gwen even still in there?”
“Oh, yes,” Lily said. “The little weakling is still screaming deep down inside.”
Nausea roiled within me. Gwen didn’t deserve this.
“Maybe you two could share her body,” Micah suggested.
“Not a chance,” Lily said. “I’d rather kill myself first. And her. See how Dan and Val deal with that.” Lily struggled a little but Austin’s grip held sure.
I winced. She’d rather die permanently than give us what we wanted. Talk about holding a grudge.
Micah spoke up. “David and I can control her now that Asmodeus is no longer able to.”
Austin shook his head. “Sorry, pal, but you two didn’t do so well controlling your—” He broke off then nodded at the Memory Eater. “Controlling her.”
“It wouldn’t work anyway,” I told Micah. “You can’t keep Lily under control every minute of every day.”
“But I can at least shut her up,” David said.
I felt his incubus reach out toward her, and she went limp and quiescent in Austin’s arms. But he didn’t relax his grip any. Wise bloodsucker.
“What are you going to do?” Dan asked, his gaze intent on me.
I remembered what the Memory Eater had said. “Maybe the demon-exorcising spell?”
“How would that help?” Micah asked. “She’s human, not demon.”
“Maybe it works on departed spirits, too.” Lily was put in Gwen’s body by a demon. Did that count?
“You can’t be sure of that,” Dan said.
“We don’t know how it works,” Micah protested.
“No, but there’s one way to find out,” I said. “I’ll use it on the Memory Eater first.” Damn it, I was going to have to do exactly what the bag of bones wanted and lose even more of Lola.
Holding my side, I took a deep breath and searched for the spell inside me. It was easy to find, stirring up uneasiness in my gut. Once I touched it with intent, the spell filled me, feeling as if it wanted to burst from my skin.
Pointing at the Memory Eater, I focused my attention on her and only her, and recalled the words of the spell. Oh, yeah. Demon thou art, demon thou shalt not be. Say it times three, I exorcise thee.
I let the words erupt. “I exorcise thee, I exorcise thee, I exorcise thee!”
The tension left me in a whoosh and the Memory Eater crumpled to the ground in a puddle of black cloth. The spell felt a little stronger, a bit more entrenched in my being. I tested Lola. Yes, I did notice a difference. This time I’d grabbed firm control of her so I wouldn’t lose it like I had before, but still sensed a lessening of her strength.
The Memory Eater didn’t move in the eerie silence. “Is she alive? Did it work?”
“Something worked,” Austin said drily.
Micah knelt down to check her pulse. “She’s alive.”
I stared down at her. “Can we revive her?” It was the only way to know what the spell did to her.
Tessa came over and pressed a small bottle into Micah’s hand.
“What’s that?” I asked.
Oh. Tessa thought of everything.
Micah opened it and waved it under the creature’s nose. She jerked back away from his hand and turned her head away, blinking rapidly.
“How are you feeling?” Micah asked.
She paused for a moment, then something horrible happened. She smiled.
The death’s-head image made everyone recoil.
“Memory Eater, how do you feel?” Micah repeated.
“Elspeth,” she said. “My name is Elspeth. And I feel good.”
There was no more trace of madness in her speech. My hopes rose. “The demon part of you is really gone, then?” I asked eagerly.
She paused for a moment, evidently assessing the composition of her being. “Yes. There is no more demon, no more madness, no more Memory Eater. Only vampire.”
Micah helped the skeletal woman to her feet. She swayed slightly, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the difference in her. Before, she’d always seemed so tense, so controlled, except when the insanity took over, of course. Now she seemed loose and relaxed. Even her voice sounded normal.
“No problems?” I asked. I wanted to make sure this was safe before I used it on Gwen.
“No. I sense a void where my demon powers used to be, as if part of me is missing. But it has been so long since I was able to use them, I won’t miss it.”
“But will it work on Gwen?” Dan persisted.
The Memory—no, Elspeth—cocked her head. “It should. The mage you know as Asmodeus brought the spirit in from the demon dimension.”
Huh? “What does that mean? Lily was fully human before she turned vampire. Why would her spirit be in a demon dimension?”
“She was evil and had been turned into one who sups on blood,” Elspeth said. “The evil vampires who die in this world are reborn as demonic spirits in the next. It’s why they try so hard to get back here.”
We all stared at her, stunned. So that’s what hell was like.
She added gently, “This was well known in my time. You have lost a great deal of knowledge since then.”
“You must have a lot to teach us,” Micah murmured. He paused, looking guilty. “If you will.”
“I will. You always treated me as well as circumstances allowed.”
“This is all fine and dandy,” Dan said, his voice hard. “But we need to get Lily out of Gwen. Now.”
“Are you sure you want me to do this?” I asked. “Gwen’s situation is different. I can’t guarantee what’ll happen.” The possibilities ran through my head… death, insanity, or no change at all. None of them were good.
Dan made an impatient gesture. “Anything is better than having that monster inside her.”
I felt the same, but it was good to have her brother’s permission. I nodded at Austin. “Hold on tight. David, if you’d let go of her?” I didn’t know what would happen if he was still in control of her when I used the spell.
I felt the incubus leave her and Lily struggled in Austin’s hold, yelling horrible things.
Ignoring her, I gathered my will and focused on her. “I exorcise thee, I exorcise thee, I exorcise thee.” I felt a little more of Lola leave as the spell whooshed into Lily.
“Nooo,” Lily screamed then suddenly sagged in Austin’s arms.
The vampire didn’t loosen his hold one iota.
Dan rushed over to tip Gwen’s face up toward him. “Is she alive?”
“Yes,” Austin said.
Well, technically, she was undead. But we both knew that’s not what Dan meant.
“Let her go,” Dan said. “Let me have her.”
Austin shook his head. “No can do. Not until we know for sure that Lily’s gone for good.”
“Micah and David can control her now if Lily’s still there,” I reminded him. “Please, Austin?” Dan really needed to believe Gwen had come back to him.
Slowly, Austin released a limp Gwen into Dan’s arms. He lowered her gently to the ground and knelt above her. “Can I have those smelling salts, please?”
Micah handed them to Dan and he waved the open bottle under Gwen’s nose. She revived with a start and glanced around, then burst into tears, hugging her brother fiercely as she sobbed into his shoulder.
“It’s Gwen,” Micah said in relief. “I can feel the difference.”
Thank goodness. Relief filled me, sweet and pure, but my heart hurt for her. She’d been through so much, and none of it her fault. Thanks to me, she’d been kidnapped, had her body taken over by a sociopath, and turned into a vampire. It must have been hell.
Those of us who knew her gathered around, silently lending our support.
“It’s okay,” Dan murmured, rocking her and rubbing her back. “Everything’s all right now.”
Gwen raised her head to look at him and dash her tears away. “No, it’s not. I—I’m a vampire now. I didn’t ask for this, and I don’t want it.” She looked at me, pleading in her eyes. “Can you take that out of me, too?”
I really, really wished I could. “I’m sorry, Gwen, it’s not possible.”
Her eyes widened and tears filled them again. “I can’t live like this,” she whispered.
“Yes, you can,” Dan said, shaking her a little. “You’re back. You’re still you. Just…”
“Just undead,” Gwen filled in for him, looking stubborn. “Like the vampires you kill every night.”
“No, not like them,” Dan insisted and looked up at me, begging me silently for help.
“You know that’s not true,” I told her gently. “We only kill the bad ones, the ones who murder innocents. That’s not you.”
She gazed at me with hope in her eyes. “How do you know?”
“Because vampires aren’t automatically evil. They become more of what they were in life. Look at Lily. Wasn’t she a total skank before she was turned?”
Gwen gave me a tentative smile and nodded.
“See how bad she turned out? Now think about Austin and Alejandro. Totally opposite.”
Gwen glanced at Austin who tipped his hat and grinned. “It’s true,” he confirmed. “I’m sorry you had the choice taken away from you, but I’d be honored to sponsor you into Alejandro’s house. And Elspeth, too.”
Austin glanced at Elspeth, who nodded, saying, “I appreciate your kindness.”
Gwen’s eyes widened when she saw Elspeth’s face, but she didn’t say anything.
Dan started to speak, but Austin cut him off. “There are things she needs to know about herself, things she needs to learn that only other vampires can teach her.” He paused, then added, “It’s not such a bad life. You’ll see.” His pocket buzzed and he pulled out his phone.
She gave him a trembling smile, her cheeks wet. “Okay. I’ll try it.”
Dan helped her to her feet. “Why don’t we talk in the parking lot while they finish their business?”
Gwen nodded, and the brother and sister headed for the cars, arms around each others’ waists.
I relaxed a bit. Somehow, everything was going to be all right now.
Austin glanced up from his phone. “Uh, Val—”
That’s when I heard the scream.
I whirled to see a whole heck of a lot more people than were there before. Dina… and her men.
One of them backhanded a woman and she fell to the ground, her hand to her face. “John, don’t,” she cried at the man who stood above her.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you,” Austin said. “Dina wasn’t there when Lisette showed up. She’d left already.”
Crap. Why couldn’t anything go right today? Quickly, I grabbed control of Austin, Dan and the few male demons she didn’t already have her hooks into. No sense in giving her more ammunition against us.
Dina had Shade by her side, which pissed me off even more. The other female demons were held in the firm grasp of Dina’s puppets, and the ma
THE LATTER, Fang told me from the car.
It figured. “What do you want?” I snapped.
She shrugged. “It’s my right to join the Naming Ritual.”
No, there was more to it than that. This ritual was for Micah’s organization, not hers. “You weren’t invited,” I told her. “Kind of like the other women weren’t invited when you named yourself leader.”
Smug satisfaction glittered in her eyes. “Prove it.”
I couldn’t, of course. Not with her holding on to the men who’d been there, and too many innocents in harm’s way.
“Then you wouldn’t mind undergoing another Naming Ritual?” David asked.
Her smugness turned to anger and she narrowed her eyes at the incubus, probably annoyed because she couldn’t make him do what she wanted. “That’s not necessary,” she said tightly. “But I would like a ritual to determine who should be the next Memory Eater.” She waved at the dozen or so men surrounding her. “I have the requisite number of petitioners.”
My stomach turned. Why would anyone be willing to do that to someone else? Worse, she was not only willing, but eager.
“Oh, and I’ll take the books as well,” she added in a sly tone.
Power hungry much?
“We won’t do either,” Micah said. “We know what you’ve been doing with those poor men. Experimenting on them, trying to create your own Memory Eater. You’re despicable.”
“Not to mention what you did to my people,” Austin added.
Dina shrugged, looking unconcerned that we’d figured out her evil plot. “Well, if you’d help me find a male Memory Eater, I won’t have to do that anymore, will I?”
“You won’t if you’re dead, either,” David spat out.
She laughed. “None of you have the guts to kill me, except maybe the Slayer. But wait, she’s injured and I heard she only kills vampires. Too bad.”