Cloud City (Anna Strong Chronicles #9)


Leticia reads the Latin script expertly and without hesitation. It's a long passage, full of pauses during which she waves the bundle of herbs in ways that resemble the sign of the cross. Did Sophie take her rite from a Catholic exorcism textbook?

Nothing is happening. The words provoke no immediate reaction in the two on the floor. I guess I was expecting the dramatic three-sixty head spinning and projectile vomiting pictured in movies when an exorcism is performed. Or at least an impressive string of cursing. Sophie and Prendergast lie still and seemingly unaffected. Even Prendergast shoulders start to relax and his breathing is so regular, I wonder if he's fallen asleep. Will Jonathan's spirit slip effortlessly from Sophie into his body?

But I should have known it wouldn't be that easy.

Leticia is caught up in the words, the magic. Her face takes on an excited flush, her voice rises and falls. Soon the crystals begin to glow. I take an involuntary step back, remembering the flash fire of before. There's no mist this time, no colorful liquid vapor you can touch and send gently rippling with a touch of your hand. This time the crystals send off scorching heat and light as bright as a laser, turning night into day in the confines of the bar.

Prendergast groans. My eyes snap to him. He's writhing on the floor, his face contorted.

I thought Sophie said there'd be no pain?

Sophie is still quiet, not moving. She has a smile on her face and she clutches Prendergast's hand like a lifeline.

Leticia continues to read. Pause. Wave the bundle of herbs. Her face reflects excitement, anticipation. She glances now and then at the two in front of her, as if gauging something.

Then it happens. Sophie's back arches, she cries out. A specter, a cloud of grey, rises from her body. At the same time, the crystals flare and go out. The specter pauses, suspended in mid-air, as if aware but unsure what path to take.

"Now, Anna, the holy water." Leticia's hushed voice rouses me. "Quickly. Sophie."

I uncap the vial and sprinkle the water over Sophie's writhing body. As if the act is a cue, the specter moves away from her and into Prendergast. He bucks once. Then, as the cloud is absorbed into his body, he grows still.

The candles flicker, too, and go out, plunging the room into darkness.

It's so quiet.

I can't take my eyes off the two on the floor. They lie as if asleep. Leticia hasn't said a word either and I feel her tremble. She's as eager with anticipation as I am. I fight the urge to reach out, shake Sophie's shoulders, ask the hundred questions spinning in my head like bits of driftwood in a whirlpool.

As the minutes tick by and there's no movement, no sign of consciousness returning to Sophie and Prendergast, I'm overcome with dread.

They are asleep aren't they?