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“Is this going to be an issue?” Arthur asked.
Milo opened his mouth to argue, but thought better of it. Arthur was asking out of courtesy, not as an option. He looked at Madeleine’s still form, and it tugged at his heart strings. She would want to be taken down, taken out, from everything he had learned about her over the past week. She didn’t seem like the type of person who wanted to be the cause of wanton destruction, especially when it could have been avoided. She would hate herself, like Bri had said earlier, if she awoke to the bloody aftermath.
The mage took his gaze off the vampire, refocusing on his boss. “No issue, boss.”
“Are you sure?” The necromancer did not look like he was certain. “I don’t want you to have a sudden change of heart and come to her aid to the detriment of your teammates.”
Milo shook his head. “No issues, boss.”
Arthur smiled and turned to the rest of the team. “Bri, I want you outside the door. You keep those wards tight and strong.” She nodded and walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. “Vince…”
The werewolf nodded and positioned himself in front of the doorway, thick cable arms crossed. “Yeah, gotcha, boss man.”
“Boys?” Arthur nodded to the remaining untasked mages. “Be prepared. Use your instincts. This’ll be a cakewalk.”
Milo closed his eyes and exhaled, letting his power fill him up in a hot electric hum. He could feel Zeke tap into his own power, and on another plane, they would have looked like twin towers of fire. Then slowly, a different power crept between them, like winter after summer, and Milo opened his eyes.
Arthur stood between them and the vampire, his arms outstretched above him, his power all cool waves. “Wake up, Madeleine.” Those three words floated on more than just human breath. An underlying thread of power carried them from the necromancer’s lips to the undead body before him. Nothing happened. He chuckled. “Stubborn vampire.”
He pushed again, but it was no thread this time. His power rode a tidal wave into her, and Madeleine’s body convulsed in a flurry of arms and legs. When the seizure stopped, she rose off the ground, as if a giant hand held her within the palm and poured her gently into an erect posture. It was slightly disconcerting, as her eyes were closed beneath the curtain of hair over her face, arms swinging loosely at her sides. So much like a marionette.
An apt assessment, as it turned out. The necromancer waved his fingers in a variety of patterns that made her appendages dance…and her mouth speak.
“Well, hello, Milo,” said Arthur through the vampire’s lips, in a sing-sing high-pitched voice clearly projected from a man with a deeper range. The vampire puppet waved at him and blew him kisses. Milo was less than amused.
“Arthur,” the mage growled.
The boss shrugged and released the smaller nuances of his hold on Madeleine, leaving her a limp rag doll in the middle of that space of carpet. “Zeke, against that wall.”
The other man stepped forward, cautious, his eyes on the vampire while his hands worked furiously to weave a thick webbing between them. He walked to the left of her and touched one hand to the wall. The fibers stretched as he walked around her to the other side, and almost like a rubber band, the webbing slid her, heels dragging, across the carpet until her back was pressed against the wall. He touched his other hand in an opposing spot, and then he grabbed the bottom and tugged until it covered her from the neck down in the intricate gold mesh.
“It’ll hold her,” he said, eyes still all for Madeleine. “But I don’t know for how long.” He moved beside Milo.
“All right,” Arthur looked at Milo. “You’re up, but there’s something I should tell you first. We can’t just feed her the blood. There’s a very delicate balance between the undead and necromancy, more so with vampires, because they have freewill and are inclined to fight rather than submit to death magicks. Getting the blood into her orally requires a finesse and delicacy I am unsure I can manage, given the state of her torpor.”
Great. Milo crossed his arms and glared at his boss. “How do you propose we ‘feed’ her then?”
The necromancer shrugged. “Be creative, mage. Think of this as a rare opportunity to expand your power base.”
The mage’s jaw dropped. “Are you shitting me? This is some experiment? Some exercise? What if I fuck it up? What if I inadvertently kill her?”
Arthur shrugged again. “Then she’s dead. You don’t figure out how to do this, and she’s dead anyway, right? Think of it as some on the job training.”
The floor beneath them shuddered with Milo’s restrained anger. “You knew this all along. You knew, and yet you decided that now was the best time to tell me? Do better!”
A frigid wave slammed against the heat of the mage’s growing rage. “No, you do better,” Arthur whispered, though his words carried power that singed the surface of Milo’s skin. “I know what preceded this…” he gestured toward the vampire, “this mess. It’s all the rumble in Other World. So you punted a minotaur out of the park. So what? He was already hurt, the imps say, already on the last dredges of his own power, courtesy of your comatose girlfriend, and you really just got a lucky shot in. But you didn’t kill him. Tamus isn’t dead.
“Worse, while he’s licking his wounds, he’s got time think. Word is that he’s all sorts of pissed off because some human mage flung him around like a ragdoll, and do you know what dark supers do when they’re pissy? They come back, all vengeance and hellfire, and they don’t come back alone. He’s going to bring an army to crush you, to crush her, for this indiscretion, no matter what his marching orders were. Before, he was meant to simply maim you, do some damage and leave you alive to relive the tragedy. But now he’s just going to kill you. Kill her. Kill anyone who stands in his way.
“So before you go all righteous and indignant over what I’m forcing you to do, think really hard about the danger you’ve brought on this company and your teammates. Because you never considered them really, did you? Not when you decided that pursuing a vampire was more important. No, you had to push, had to see what would come of this. And that, Milo, is why we are in this predicament, isn't it?"
Milo wanted to protest, but the words that the necromancer had said were true. All the people currently in the room and those who remain outside of it—the were-bunny and the psychic--were all affected by his choice. Sure, they were supers, too, but he hadn't really given them any other option. Somewhere in the back of his head, he had known that they would be involved, that it would be beyond their character to lead him to his own devices. They would always come to save him, just as he always would for them.
So instead, he sighed. “All right. You’ve made your point. Let me figure this out.”
He walked up to the suspended vampire and studied her. The blood had to be in her body, right? He could conceivably just pour it on her, let her skin absorb it, but that ran the risk of wasting too much of the blood as it dripped off her body. Add in that Zeke had done a great job enclosing her with his webbing, so it would only hit her head and shoulders. Not enough exposure.
Maybe if he made the blood smaller? He had done it with water, when he was younger, just to see if he could manage such fine control of his gifts. And what was blood if not just another element?
He dipped a finger into the lukewarm blood and willed the liquid off his finger. It hovered in the air, a shiny, red bauble. He concentrated and said bauble divided in two, then four, continuing until he could no longer see it clearly with the naked eye.
But he could feel it spread out in the open space before him, the finest misting of hemoglobin he had ever seen. He pushed it forward with a flick of his finger, and it sped quickly toward the intended target, hitting Madeleine on one bared and bruised shoulder. His eyes widened as the blood slipped into her, the bruise darkening then fading into smooth, albeit still dirty, skin. It worked.
She sighed, and Milo took a step back. One glance over his shoulder showed that the rest of the team had done the same, with the exception of Vince, who had moved a pace forward. The mage exhaled slowly, eyes on Madeleine.
“Milo?” Arthur whispered from behind him.
He didn’t even bother looking at the necromancer. “I’ve got this, boss.”
With his left hand out, palm up, he poured the first jar of blood into the open air with his right. The liquid formed a long, red cloud in the space above his hand, hovering just as the first bauble had. He placed the jar back on the table without looking and with both hands, he pushed his magick into the blob. It shuddered, then stilled, before spreading outward like one of Zeke’s nets. The lines thinned and broke into a hundred thousand minute droplets, more than enough to cover the bare skin of the vampire.
He willed it forward, and the almost invisible wall of blood wafted toward Madeleine. And as it hit her, as the pinheads of blood touched her, there became a wave of change. A tiny thread of red upon white skin that was all too quickly absorbed. He could see her body knit itself back together, not just from the shoulders up, but a rippling mass of muscle and bone shifting beneath the binding web below.
She sighed again, this one longer, softer, a sound of relief, and in that instant, Milo found he could taste the blood held within his power as it penetrated her skin. It rolled, hot and metallic, over his tongue, and he caught himself one step closer to the vampire, the need, the want of the blood like liquid lightning through his body.
“Not mine,” he whispered through gritted teeth. He dare not look away, because he was unsure what would happen, so he threw up shields until her hunger waned. It had been her hunger, even through the fog of torpor, and that meant that his efforts were succeeding.
“Another jar,” he said to no one in particular, and though he did not see who did it, another mason jar slid into his palm. He poured it in the air, as he had the last one, and processed the blood into another wave of tiny particulates. Milo covered the vampire in the second curtain, and the flesh of her face filled out, her cheeks suddenly rosy.
“One more.” Again, no question, no commentary, just another glass jar to empty into yet another wave of blood. A sickening ripping sound filled the room, and thick, black wings tore through the webbing in a flurry of feathers and broken magick. She fell to the ground, but instead of falling into a heap, she caught herself with her hands.
A hundred pinpricks of magick lit up behind Milo, all defensive, as they awaited her next move. She lifted her head up and leaned into her right shoulder and then her left. She sniffed the entire length of each arm in a long, slow breath, and Milo saw the pink tip of her tongue touch her lips. She looked up through the disheveled curtain of hair, her eyes bright and pitch black, until she made eye contact with the mage.
“I want more.”