“The others can’t get through the energy that fil s this hal . Smoky and Vanzir are going to try, but Camil e, Morio, and Tril ian can’t wade through it. I came by shadow.” He eyed the huddle of figures. “I can take them back one by one, but you’l have to protect the others. I have the feeling the minute I move one of them, you’re going to get hit with one hel of a ghostly punch. The energy in here is like a dark forest, dripping with vines and tentacles.”
Delightful. Tentacles, I could do without. Reminded me too much of the Karsetii demons we’d faced. Just then, Smoky and Vanzir stepped out of the Ionyc Sea.
“You made it. Good—we have to get these people out of here.”
Smoky looked at them. “I can take two at a time. Vanzir—you can carry one. Shade, I assume you can walk one through the shadow?”
Shade frowned. “I can, but it’s more dangerous than what you do. I’l carry the boy who is dead.
That way no one wil be hurt.”
“I’l return for the other one and you,” Smoky said to me. “Do you think you can protect her while we’re gone? We’re going to take them up top—to Chase.”
I nodded, not at al sure I could protect the one who was left with me. “Leave Mocha—the unconscious girl—she appears to be okay except for being out like a light. The man needs medical help.” My reasoning was that if something happened, better she be the one left. She couldn’t feel terror right now—or at least I hoped she couldn’t.
Leia protested, but Smoky ignored her and made her hang onto his arm, tight, and then Shade gathered up Jack and placed him in Smoky’s arms. Before I could blink, the dragon had vanished.
From the moment he had touched them, the hairs on the nape of my neck stood up and I shivered as a gust of wind flew past. Vanzir gathered Teri in his arms, and she let out a cry that was echoed with a vicious howl from somewhere in the darkness. He vanished.
Shade gazed at me. “I’d rather take you—I don’t want to leave you here, even for a moment.”
“Just go, dude.”
He nodded, silently picking up Lance’s body. Stepping into a shadow, he was gone.
The second he was gone, I looked up to see a wooden stake hurtling toward me from the opposite side of the room. A shriek fol owed as I dove to the side and the stake clattered against the wal with a solid thud, dropping to the ground. Before anything could make it move again, I grabbed it and splintered it into toothpicks.
There was another howl and I found myself flattened against the wal , arms and legs splayed as if I were about to be crucified, by an unseen force. I struggled to break free, growling as my fangs came down and I began to see red. It felt as though something were trying to creep inside my brain, but I fought it off, refusing to al ow it, and it retreated even as a fist of energy slammed into my stomach. I would have been doubled over if I’d been able to free my arms, but I could do nothing except let out a loud groan.
The next moment, Vanzir and Shade appeared again. “Smoky’s gone to take Camil e and Morio out the easy way,” the dream-chaser demon said, then stopped as he stared at me, pressed against the wal .
“Enough!” Vanzir strode toward the hal and held out his hands. I could see vague energy lines emanating from them—in reality they were tentacles leading into the astral realm, but I couldn’t figure out what the hel he was trying to attach to.
A keening went up through the hal as a puke-green light began to fil the space. Vanzir laughed, leaning back, his eyes a spinning vortex of unnamable colors as his hands shook. He dropped his head back and let out a howl, and was met in return by a ghostly wail.
“Feed on this, you cocksucker!” With another hoarse laugh, he did something and I could see a pale pink energy feeding into the green from his hands. A shudder raced through the hal , and a piece of the ceiling crashed to the floor opposite us.
Vanzir ignored it, continuing to inject his energy into the nebulous creatures surrounding us, and as he continued, his form began to change. Within a few minutes, he was standing there, vaguely bipedal, but now we could see the tentacles emanating from his hands. He was no longer human-looking but a swirl of lights and sparkles, mesmerizing, and yet the energy of Demonkin rode him like a shroud.
Shade sucked in a deep breath. “He’s trying to overload it,” he whispered.
“Are you sure he won’t bring down the building on us? Maybe you should take Mocha out of here.” I was getting nervous now. Vanzir was caught up in a private war against whatever this was, and we were likely to be caught in the crossfire. “Vanzir—stop! Now.” I put al the force I could into my voice, and he jerked his head around.
“No, please! I’ve almost got it!”
“You can’t kil it this way. You’l take down the building and us with it.” I shook my head.
“Fuck you, bitch!” He glowered, but then was back to himself as he ripped his energy out of the rol ing green mass of clouds that were headed our way. But the look on his face was one of obedience. He grabbed up Mocha as Shade pul ed me into his arms and, just before the ghostly vapor reached us, we flickered into the ether.
Traveling through shadow was far different from moving through the Ionyc Sea. With Smoky and Vanzir, it was like we were in a protected bubble, but with Shade, I felt as though my body melded into the shadow, became smoke and mirrors, filtering through the hidden cloak brought about by light.
I’m dissolving, losing form, losing myself . . . a sweep of panic ran through me and I clutched onto Shade harder, but we were drifting. What’s my name? What am I? Another shot of fear raced through me as I realized I had no idea of how long I’d been like this, of what this real y was.
As we landed next to the police cruisers, stepping out of a nearby shadow, I found myself shaking. The ride had been rough, and I kept touching my arms, my stomach to make sure I was al back together. Shade gave me an odd glance, but smiled.
“Mistress Menol y, you are intact. Never fear. I wouldn’t expose you to harm. My journeys can be dangerous for the living at times, but for the dead—and the undead—they hold no threat.” He backed away as Camil e ran up to me. She looked tired, beyond weary, and I realized that she and Morio must have expended a tremendous amount of energy trying to protect us.
“Are you okay?” I drew her to the side.
She grabbed my hands. “Oh, Menol y, when that thing took possession of me, I almost kil ed you. That was too close, and I’m not sure how it happened. One minute we were focusing on a spel to drive the spirits back and the next, boom, I was standing there like a ventriloquist’s dummy with a ghost’s hand up my butt.”
“It’s okay. I wasn’t hurt. The only damage left is to my shirt.”
“You could have been, though. And what if that had been Delilah, instead? I could have kil ed her with that lightning bolt. I have to find a way to protect myself from that happening again, so I don’t accidental y let someone take over who can hurt you guys.” Pensive, she shook her head and turned to Chase, who was walking our way.
I wanted to lighten the mood, but there wasn’t much I could say. She was spot-on in her concerns. The lightning bolt would have fried Delilah to a crisp. So I turned to the detective. “Hey, Chase, how are they doing?”
He shook his head. “Lance Carver is dead. We can’t figure out what kil ed him—probably a heart attack the kid shouldn’t have had. Mocha Jervis is stil in a coma. There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with her, not physical y, but she’s wal ed herself off inside her mind. Sharah is trying to figure out what’s going on with her.”
That wasn’t good. Wal ed off inside her mind probably meant that whatever the ghosts had done, it had been as bad as or worse than what we’d been through with them.
“Teri has a broken leg, two broken ribs, and a fractured pelvis. Leia managed to get away with some scratches and cuts, but she’s traumatized and can’t handle being alone—every shadow freaks her out. And Jack Riley’s suffering from internal injuries and swel ing in the brain, as wel as a fractured skul . He’s stil unconscious, too, and we don’t know the extent of his brain damage.”
“What the hel were they thinking?” I kicked the ground. “Out hunting for vampires and ghosts, not knowing what the fuck they were doing—not thinking about the ramifications. And we had to go clean up their mess.”
“Except we couldn’t clean it up.” Camil e’s lips were pursed. “We have a building fil ed with angry, volatile spirits, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them. I don’t even know who to cal to deal with this. But evil can spread like a disease.”
“We need an exorcist, someone who’s used to dealing with ghosts. Wilbur’s bound to know someone.” Or Roman, I thought. Roman probably knew everybody who was anybody. “Let me ask Roman first. He might be able to help us.” I moved off to the side, wel aware of how tired Camil e was.
Roman answered on the first ring. “Menol y . . . have you spoken to Wade?”
“I’m headed there after I finish up here. But we have a problem and I wondered if you could give us any help. I need someone specializing in ghost removal.”
He let out a snort. “You’re looking for the Ghost-busters?”
“No, I’m looking for somebody who can bust the bal s off some evil spirits that have been stirred up. You know as wel as I do that they won’t go back to sleep once they’ve been roused.” I quickly ran down what had happened.
Roman was silent for a moment, then cleared his throat. “I know someone who can help you. But you must tel your sister to go home and cast a protection spel before she heads into the field again. Camil e’s magic leaves her open to possession, and Earthside spirits who are soil-bound work differently than those in your homeland. She’s in danger every second she’s near the building until she invokes protection.”
I pressed my lips together. Great. Just what we needed. “Yeah, okay. So what should I do?”
“I am going to give you the phone number for Ivana Krask. She’s a gifted . . . psychic. She can take care of angry ghosts.” He rattled off a number and I repeated it, then motioned for Chase to give me a paper and pen because I wasn’t sure I trusted my memory.
“I’l cal her. Who is she?”
“As I said, she’s a gifted psychic. She is not human, but do not ask her what she is. That isn’t a question she’s prone to answer. If anybody can take the spirits down, she can. But she wil demand payment. Don’t have any kittens or dogs or children near you at the time. Offer her ten pounds of steak. Make sure it’s a prime cut. She wil help you for this, but she wil argue at first.
Ignore her counteroffers and just state again that you wil pay her ten pounds of steak and no more.
The third time, she wil accept the deal. Whatever you do, do not say thank you at any time.”
I stared at my phone. What the fuck kind of creature was she? But I knew I wouldn’t get the answer out of Roman. “I’l cal her and set it up for tomorrow night—”
“Then cal her tomorrow. You must complete the deal on the day you contract it—so cal before midnight and meet her there early, or cal right after midnight and meet her before dawn. Trust me on this: You do not want to break the terms of her contract, or I won’t be able to help you.”
“Okay, wil do.” I frowned, wondering just what kind of deal I’d be making. I wasn’t into playing Faust. But if she could clear out the lot of evil spirits, then it might be worth it.
“Cal me after you talk to Stevens. I wil be waiting.” Roman hung up abruptly.
I slowly put my phone away, thinking that the night just kept getting stranger and stranger. Chase lightly touched my arm.
“Roman told me who to cal in, but leave it to me. From what little he told me, you aren’t going to want to meet the person . . . or creature. I’l get in touch with her tomorrow night and we’l come clear out the area. I need ten pounds prime-grade steak for this—and it better not be cheap meat.
No cutting corners on this.”
“Steak? Ten pounds of steak? What the hel are you getting yourself into?” Chase looked skeptical.
I gazed up at him, not smiling. “Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.”
He inclined his head. “I believe you. I guess we just mark this a crime scene and post guards to keep people out. The crowd down the block has dwindled, but this isn’t the last we’re going to hear out of them.”
That was the truth. I could feel it in my gut.
After Camil e and the men headed for home, I took off for the bar. Not only did I have to check on Erin, but Wade was—hopeful y—stil waiting for me. I hustled through the door, noticing that the gate had been instal ed as I’d asked. At least we’d have some measure of protection from vandals during the off-hours.
Stripping off my jacket—I wore it only for the fashion, I didn’t need it for the cold—I lightly jumped over the counter to land behind the bar. Derrick was adeptly fil ing orders. He gave me a two-fingered salute without missing a beat, catching the bottle he’d sent flying into the air before it could spil a drop.
“How’s it going?” I gave him the once-over. He looked at ease, comfortable, like he’d been here for months instead of just a couple of days.
“I like it. Much more my style than working an FBH bar. People here al are quirky—or out to see quirky.” With a soft smile, he quickly maneuvered five drinks onto Chrysandra’s tray and cal ed,