Once she had herded the four men around the mound of fresh earth containing Madeleine, Bri pulled a wand—“It’s birch,” she informed them—from her purse and drew a circle in the dirt around them. She smiled as she tapped the air above the line five times, equidistant along the perimeter—“Pentacle, duh”—and a sudden whoosh of her power engulfed them in the largest iridescent half-bubble Milo had ever seen. Magick swirled along the surface, mimicking the familiar pattern of…
“Soap bubbles,” Nate cheered. He clapped his hands and jumped up and down until the three other men shot him a look. “Seriously, you guys need to get in touch with your inner child,” he pouted.
But he had been right. Her magick looked for all the world like a freshly blown soap bubble, akin to the one the psychic had brought forth in the grocery store, but on a much grander scale. It was beautiful and more than a little mesmerizing.
“Don’t touch!” Bri snapped, smacking Milo’s hand with the tip of her wand. “You’ll pop it! And then we’ll have to walk home. Do you want to walk home?” She didn’t wait for an answer, as seemed to be her way. “Now, no touching! Any of you!” If she hadn’t looked so damn cute—in that witchy were-bunny kind of way—it might have been more intimidating, but the boys got the point and kept their hands to themselves.
Even Nate. And that was a minor miracle in itself.
The bubble shimmered, shifted and as Bri raised her hands into the air, levitated not only the humans and weres within but also a goodly amount of the earth beneath their feet. “Don’t worry,” the were-bunny assured Milo with a wink, “she’s all there, too.”
He half-expected them to fly through the air, all Glenda the Good Witch, but instead the sphere seemed to shrink in mid-air. And it wasn’t the claustrophobic oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-be-mushed shrinkage either, but rather they all decreased in proportional size and all of a sudden. The view of the area around them blurred until an audible pop echoed inside.
And then they were standing in the middle of the cleared out conference room at Primogen Construction: All four men, Bri the good bunny witch and a pile of dirt. No longer encased within the bubble, the scoop of earth spread across the carpet with one hand visible to the wrist and a tuft of hair poking through the top. Milo kept watching, expecting the tumbled mound to heave with her breath, which was ridiculous, of course, given the obvious vampires-don’t-breathe thing.
A large hand clapped on his shoulder. Vince gave him a knowing smile. “She’s all right in there, still in torpor. It’s all good.” The werewolf wandered off, snagging the psychic by the shoulders as the younger man tried to get to the elemental mage. “Say good night, Gracie.”
“Good night, Gracie,” Nate pouted, following the man out of the conference room.
“Hey, dude,” Zeke said, grabbing his arm. “If you need anything, you let me know, okay?
Milo nodded. There wasn’t anything to say, really, and if push came to shove, he could just blame it on the exhaustion. Granted, he felt better than he had after punting Tamus out of the canyon and laying down to die, but he still felt worn out. It was a drawback of magical healing, he knew, because no matter how super of a human he might be, he was still human with very human parts that needed more than magick to cure what ailed them. And what he needed now was sleep.
When he looked up, he realized he was alone in the conference room. He knelt beside the dirt and touched the unconscious curl of her hand. Her fingertips and fingernails were covered in blood that had long turned brown and had begun to flake away to leave dark color in the whorls and arches of her skin.
“I hope you’re all right under there,” he whispered. “Bri says you’ll be fine, and I guess that’s good enough for me. But after we get a good nap in, when this shit storm is all over, you and I are going on a real date. Just you and me. No monsters. No mayhem. Maybe it’ll even be a little boring.” He reached up and brushed away the dirt where her head should have been. “Would you like that?”
Someone cleared their throat, and he saw the were-bunny leaning against the door jamb. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” she said.
“What? Talk to her?”
Bri smiled, like he had just done something amusing. “No, silly, not the talking, the touching. She’s worn the hell out, so much so that she’s in torpor, and you want to give her flesh and blood scent? I don’t care who she is, or what you might mean to her, but if she wakes up right now, she’s going to kill you.”
He blanched. “She wouldn’t.”
She shrugged. “Yeah, she kind of will. And she’ll hate herself for it later, but she will kill you. Well,” she rubbed her chin in contemplation, “unless we wake her up properly.”
Milo sighed. “And how, exactly, do we do that?”
“We could feed her someone else.” He glared at her, and she rolled her eyes. “Well, fine, we could always give her an IV.”
“Like a blood transfusion,” he offered.
“Yeah, like a blood transfusion, so that part of her that is all about the blood-sucking would be sated before she saw you.”
“Or,” the booming voice of their boss intruded, “you could ask the nice necromancer you work for. “ Arthur Kent poked his head into the doorway above the were-bunny. “Especially given that his conference carpet is going to have to be deep cleaned now due to an unscheduled team building exercise that has left a hibernating vampire in my headquarters and within my protective wards.”
Aw, shit. Milo stood up and placed his hands behind his back. “Um, boss, I’m sorry about this…”
“Team building exercise,” the necromancer said with a firm gaze. “I trust that everyone feels better about themselves now? All the kinks in the team dynamics are worked out? Right?”
Bri popped up between the two men. “Oh, yes, Mr. Kent, sir. Morale’s high, mortality’s low, and…” He turned his attention toward her, and she chewed her bottom lip. “Er, I’ll get right on those wards in this room.” She disappeared around the corner of the doorway with a squeak.
Arthur looked at the mage again. “Love is a crazy thing, Milo, and while I expect the carpet cleaning costs to come out of your paycheck, I am willing to assist you in this matter. Because our little bunny is right.” He gave him a small smile. “And if she kills you, where am I going to find another elemental mage in this town?” He hovered a hand over the mound of earth, head cocked to the side, eyes suddenly milky white. His power, like so much cold water, poured from him and over the mound and the mage. “She feels old. Not ancient by any means, but she’s older than me, than all of us in this company put together. And she feels…broken.”
He blinked a couple of times, and the clouds left his eyes. “Vampires, for the most part, are broken creatures, don’t get me wrong. Somewhere between the struggle to keep their humanity and the acceptance of their fate, mixed in with a little suicidal tendencies and abject arrogance, they aren’t whole. But with this one, with her, the breaks are in what remains of her soul, for all intents and purposes.”
“That’s good, though, right?” Milo ventured. “The whole soul thing.”
Arthur shrugged. “If you enjoy spending your eternal night with a broken heart, sure. It’s a double-edged sword, something we magic users understand, though probably not to the extent vampires experience.” He unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt and pushed up the sleeves. “So here’s where we come to the fork in the road. I can put her out of her misery, without ever waking her up, or…”
“Or…” Milo didn’t make it a question.
His boss smiled. “Or we bring her back to life with enough necromancy that she can feed herself—I advise never trying to spoon feed a vampire, by the way—and give her enough clarity to not, I don’t know, eat you, and then we can put her back to sleep in a place of your choosing, so she can wake up naturally and most importantly, full.”
It seemed almost too easy. “You can do that?”
Arthur smirked and then pointed at Madeleine. “Dead vampire.” He pointed at his chest. “Necromancer.” He pointed back to Madeleine. “Dead.” And then to himself. “Dead’s master.”
Milo resisted the urge to roll his eyes and raised his hands in surrender. “I get it. So what do we do now?”
The necromancer cocked his head to the side. “Night’s coming. We need to hurry. Go to the mini-fridge in my office and grab about five jars of blood.” He shook his head. “You won’t see them at first, because of a glamour, but if you reach past the ‘cheese’,” he made air quotes, “you’ll break the illusion and see the glass jars. You’re going to have to heat them before bringing them back in here. Cold blood is nasty.” He waved the mage off. “Quickly now.”
Milo nodded, ignoring the urge to ask just how his boss knew that factoid about blood drinking, not to mention why there was blood in the mini-fridge in his office. Necromancers were an odd offshoot of the mage lines, straddling the ethical line between black and white magick use. He did not envy the balancing act, as most were unable to keep from falling all the way into the black. Arthur Kent was honestly the first one he had met who was older—rumored to be over one hundred years old—and remained neutral.
He ran to Arthur’s office and true to his word, there was a well-woven glamour. As he passed his hand toward the back, it actually felt like he was reaching through real objects, like he could have picked out a soda on his quest for blood. His fingers touched the block of cheese and the image popped out of existence.
Varying heights of glass mason jars lined the shelves. He grabbed the trash can under his boss’s desk, tied up the trash bag, and piled the ordered jars of blood into the can. After a nerve-wracking pit stop at the break room to heat them all up, he dashed back into the conference room to find Arthur brushing away the dirt around her body.
He noticed that the necromancer was doing his best to avoid skin to skin contact and basically carved a Madeleine-shaped silhouette in the earth.
Milo sat the trashcan on a nearby office chair and then knelt beside them. “Got the blood.”
Arthur did not even look up. “That’s good. We need to move the dirt without touching her with our hands. Do you have that kind of control?”
It was the mage’s turn to smile. “Piece of cake. It’s what I do, after all.” He stood up and examined what lay before them. “I’ll assume you’d rather not have dirt everywhere.” Milo tapped into his overflowing reserves and a single bubble appeared. It expanded like the soap bubble until the earth and the vampire were completely contained within an iridescent half-sphere on the carpet. “And I’ll also assume that I can touch her with magick without any negative repercussion, since you did so earlier.”
His boss smiled and nodded.
Left hand extended to maintain the integrity of the bubble, Milo slowly spun his right hand until it was palm up. He lifted it, keeping his left still, and willed the currently invisible half-bubble into inverse. In his head, it worked. He could push it up and over her, and simply trap the dirt within the concave double layer of bubble. But if there was an significant amount of dirt within her clothing, he risked tugging hard enough with his magick and quite possibly waking her up that way. And this bubble, though it could hold all that earth, would be no match for a sentient being fighting to get out. Much less a ravenous vampire.
So he tightened the flow of air and wove the bubble tighter. He bit his bottom lip as he pushed it upwards, through the carpet, and he was pleased to see the dirt sliding off the inverted bubble to the edges, caught cleanly and rather thoroughly as he had hoped. He inched it over her, and through the magickal link, he could almost taste her slumbering life essence, like so much liquid metal waiting like a silver pond for a stone to disturb the surface.
She sighed, fingers curling, and he almost dropped what he was doing. A hand dropped on his shoulder. “Steady, Milo, you’re almost there,”
Arthur whispered. “She isn’t going to wake up.”
He didn’t ask, trusting his boss to keep them safe, and he finished pulling every vestige of her grave from her body, minus the minute traces that caught in the blood spatter that remained. He brought his hands closer together, and the mass formed into a bubble about four feet in diameter.
But what to do with it now?
Disposal was not as simple as touching his hands together. That would only cause a mess. They couldn’t toss it out of a window for the same reason. And the effect of his errant thinking was visible in the ripples washing over the orb. “Arthur…”
“Hold on.” His boss was quiet for a minute, and then Bri’s head popped into the doorway.
“Yes, boss?” She looked from Arthur to Milo and then the sphere. “Oh, you want Zeke.” She disappeared before the necromancer could answer, and in about the span of time it took to wonder how long it would take to find the other mage, she reappeared with Zeke in tow.
“Oh, I got this,” Zeke said, and in two strides, he was next to the bauble, magickal netting alive in his hands. Together, the two mages managed to encase the ball of dirt in a skin of web that fit comfortably within the hollow of the other mage’s hand. “Can I keep it?” he asked their boss, and Arthur nodded.
“But before you wander off,” the necromancer said, his finger motioning for Zeke to come closer. He looked around the man to his secretary. “Bri, could you retrieve Vince as well?”
“No Nate?” she asked.
Arthur shook his head. “No, no Nate.” The were-bunny dashed off, as their boss turned his attention back to the mages. “Gentlemen, what we’re attempting to do here is not impossible, but it does have some--how shall I put this?—delicate issues as we would like her in one piece, I imagine, and I would like my entire team intact. Is that understood?”
“So, why am I here?” Vince asked from the doorway. He leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms. “I’m not exactly your ‘delicate work’ kind of guy.”
“You, werewolf, are the insurance policy.” Milo wasn’t the only one who gave Arthur a curious look. “Vince, if this doesn’t work, if we can’t get the subtleties of this magick to work in our favor, and she comes out of this ready for a supernatural buffet, I need to ensure that she doesn’t get out of this room. Am I clear?”
Milo shook his head. “You’d have him kill her.”
The necromancer favored him with a long, cold stare. “To save you, this team, my company and the innocent people outside these four walls, yes, I would.”