Make me, p.25
Make Me, page 25
Micah glanced down at the book again and continued the ritual. “Soothsayers, what is the circle’s will? Who shall protect?”
Tessa turned in my direction. Oh, crap. I closed my eyes, praying, Not me, please let it not be me.
The soothsayer continued whether I wanted her to or not. “One serves as Paladin already without the title. The people name Valentine Shapiro.” My eyes flew open and she bowed to me. “You are called to protect. Will you serve?”
“No!” exploded from my mouth without thought. The circle’s energy reeled with shock. Crap, they probably never had anyone yell in a ritual before. “Uh, I mean, thank you very much for the honor, but I decline.”
NICE SAVE, Fang said. BUT A TAD TOO LATE.
The energy didn’t seem to calm down at all. Dang it, I shouldn’t have yelled. But I was ostracized enough from everyone. They already saw me as the Slayer, the girl who killed people, no matter that the people I executed were monsters. How could I ever have a normal life, make more friends, if they all saw me as some larger-than-life heroic damned Paladin? Besides, it was just a fancy word for an executioner. I didn’t want the job. Someone else could do it for a change.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IF NOT THIS? Fang asked.
I don’t know. Anything else.
The ritual continued, but to my surprise, Tessa didn’t ask anyone else to be Paladin. Instead, she turned to face Micah.
He looked confused for a moment, then must have realized she wanted him to read the next line. He glanced down at the book. “Soothsayer, what is the circle’s will? Who shall act?”
Tension and dread filled the circle. No one wanted to become what Elspeth had been.
Tessa turned toward another part of the circle, away from me. “It is rare that anyone has the strength, balance, and fortitude to become a Lethe, but there is one such here tonight. The people name—”
“No,” I shouted again. “You can’t do that.” No one should ever have to endure what Elspeth had. How could they contemplate dooming a fellow demon to eternal insanity? It wasn’t right.
People looked horrified, and the energy wobbled again. I wasn’t sure if it was because I’d messed up their stupid ritual again, or because they realized any one of them could be a Memory Eater. Whatever the reason, I didn’t care.
Tessa turned toward me. “Do you agree to serve as Paladin?” she asked, sounding implacable, not at all like the Tessa I knew.
“No.” Hadn’t I already answered that question?
“Then we must choose a Lethe.”
She turned away, and I noticed she was staring right at Shade. Holy crap. I couldn’t let her turn him into a Memory Eater like Elspeth. “No,” I said again. “We don’t need either one of them. Ask Micah.”
He wouldn’t answer, but looked to Tessa. He was leader now. Why didn’t he answer himself?
HE CAN LEAD EVERYWHERE BUT THE CIRCLE, Fang told me. THERE, THE SOOTHSAYER HOLDS SWAY.
Tessa answered instead. “The circle has spoken. It must be one or the other.”
“Can’t you choose another Paladin?” I pleaded.
“There is no other,” Tessa said with no emotion in her voice. “You must choose.”
Crap, crap, crap. Why me? I didn’t want to be Paladin, didn’t want to be executioner, but I didn’t want to doom Shade to the hell of being a Lethe, either.
Wait, maybe there was an out, a way to force her to choose another Paladin. “How can I be Paladin, when I’m already keeper of the Encyclopedia Magicka?”
“One does not preclude the other,” Tessa intoned. “It makes you more eligible, not less.”
I glanced wildly around and saw Austin. “I can’t. I have a contract with the vampires. It would be a… a…” What was the term? “A conflict of interest,” I finished triumphantly.
Austin rose, and at a nod from Tessa giving him permission to speak, he said, “There is no conflict of interest. The contract ended when you stopped the chupacabra menace, per our agreement.”
Damn it, why didn’t he back me on this?
HE WOULDN’T WANT A LETHE EITHER, Fang said. IT MEANS A VAMPIRE WILL GO INSANE, TOO.
I’d forgotten about that part.
Then Austin had to add insult to injury. “The New Blood Movement approves of Val Shapiro’s level head in this important position.”
I shook my head. “If the contract is void, that means I go back to working for the Special Crimes Unit.”
This time Dan rose and asked for permission to speak. Good—he’d confirm it.
Tessa nodded at him and Dan said, “I’m sorry, Val, we thought there was an unspoken understanding. With your efforts in cleaning up San Antonio, the rogue vampire threat is much less. And the other scuzzies feel uncomfortable working beside you. Once you accepted the contract with the vampires, Lt Ramirez had to make a hard decision. You have been terminated, without prejudice.”
Damn it, I didn’t even have a job now? Grasping at straws, I said, “But… but without a job, how can I pay for my half of the townhouse? Gwen will have to go it alone. I can’t leave her in the lurch.”
Tessa nodded at Gwen this time. Gwen had to come through for me.
“I’m sorry, Val,” my roomie said. “I’ll have to give up the townhouse now that I’m… now that I’ve changed. Austin has promised me a place in the mansion.”
I couldn’t believe this. Would no one back me? I looked at Fang.
SORRY, BABE, BUT I AGREE WITH THEM. YOU ARE THE BEST PERSON FOR THE JOB.
“So I’ll be homeless and jobless,” I snapped. Back to where I started. “What kind of Paladin would that make?”
Micah shook his head. “Club Purgatory belongs to the organization, not to me. The leader’s salary comes from it as well as the Underground’s investments, as does the Mem—the Lethe’s. The Paladin’s would, too. You will always have a home with the Underground.”
I wanted to cry, rail and scream at the world, but all my protests had been refuted, shown for the lame excuses they really were. I didn’t want to make this decision, didn’t want to turn myself into an executioner. But I didn’t want to turn Shade into a Memory Eater, either. What would happen if I didn’t make a decision?
THAT’S THE SAME AS SAYING NO, Fang informed me. AND SHADE IS CHOSEN AS MEMORY EATER.
“You must choose,” Tessa repeated.
I closed my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to say this. Reluctantly, slowly, I said, “I accept the position of Paladin.”
Tessa nodded gravely. “A Lethe is not necessary. None shall act. So as it has been, so it shall always be.”
The circle, all but me, repeated the words, and, at the soothsayer’s bidding, everyone released their hands, the energy streaming into the night sky.
The others gathered around Micah and David to congratulate them, and Tessa and Annie emerged from their trances, asking what had happened. I wandered away from the crowd, apart, alone like always.
OH, STOP WITH THE PITY PARTY, Fang said in an annoyed tone. YOU’RE NOT ALONE. YOU HAVE ME AND MICAH. LOTS OF FRIENDS. BUCK UP, BABE. YOU’VE BEEN DOING THIS JOB ALL ALONG ANYWAY. NOW YOU’LL GET PAID FOR IT. WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT THAT?
YEAH, BUT YOU DID THE RIGHT THING. YOU SAVED SHADE.
Yeah, once again the Slayer rode to her boyfriend’s rescue, emasculating him. I searched the crowd for him and found him off to one side. He was holding Princess, so I could see his face. It was stolid, uncompromising, promising he’d never forgive me for saving him, for not letting him make the decision for himself.
But if I’d done that, I’d never have been able to forgive myself.
He looked away, and pain stabbed through my chest. I didn’t regret the sacrifice, but was it even needed? Would he have accepted the position? I asked Fang.
HE WOULD HAVE, Fang informed me. HE’S THAT LOYAL TO THE UNDERGROUND.
Shade turned and walked away, and Princess looked over her shoulder at me. THANK YOU FOR SAVING MY HUMAN, she said simply, without a trace
Whoa, Princess was polite? The world must be coming to an end.
Fang poked me in the leg. CUT IT OUT.
Okay, slight exaggeration. It was just my own personal world that was coming to an end.
From the pavilion, someone called out, “Hey, everyone, it’s past midnight. Merry Christmas!”
Hardly. I had a job I hated, had lost my boyfriend, Gwen had been turned into a vampire, my succubus powers had been overwhelmed by the power of the exorcism spell, and I’d just had a big fat target painted on my back, inviting every rogue vampire in the area to try for the unprotected Slayer.
Merry Christmas? Yeah, right. Ho, ho, holy crap.
Table of Contents
Praise for the Demon Underground series:
Val Shapiro has a secret she’s desperate to keep—she’s lost her slayer powers.
Other books by Parker Blue
What Has Gone Before
Parker Blue, Make Me
by Parker Blue have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes