The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 24


Move Over, Buffy
After a shower, I threw on the most comfortable sweats I owned and returned to the attic to copy down the spell for Locating Paranormal Entities: Vampires from the Book of Light. Rick had left to make preparations to execute the spell at his cottage. When I leaned over the book, pen and notebook in hand, the antique trunk near my feet hummed to me. I crouched down and lifted the lid. My sword, all ivory bone wickedness, waited there for me next to the silver bowl, candles, salt and other witchy paraphernalia. I hadn't picked up after the fight with Marcus, and I was the only one who could touch my sword. I guess my attic had magically organized itself. Cool.
Near the back, the sword's sheath was tucked away. The crisscross of the straps reminded me of my death at Marcus's hand. I'd worn this sword on my back that night. The memory the Book of Light had shown me played out vividly in my head. I clenched a fist, remembering. I owed Marcus. I'd have my revenge.
I yanked off my t-shirt and slipped into the harness. It took me several minutes to sheath the blade while it was on my back. Donning my shirt again, the hilt poked out at the neck. I practiced withdrawing the sword a couple of times and rotating it, clumsily, through the empty attic.
If I had to use this, I was doomed.
Stiff and awkward, I walked to Rick's cottage.
"You found the sheath," he said.
"How did I ever fight with this thing on? It feels like I have a steel beam strapped to my spine."
The corner of his mouth lifted impishly. "Give her a name."
"Excuse me?" I flashed him my most confused look and paused under the wind chimes.
"You always name her. She responds better to a name." He shrugged.
"Of course she does. What magical sword made from the femur of a dead saint doesn't?" I stepped backward into the yard and pulled the sword from its sheath. The bone reflected the sun, its white blade taking on an almost blue glint. Memory or raw emotion flooded me with awe for her, so magnificent, so powerful. But what would I name her? "Nightshade," I said. A twang like singing metal rang out around me.
"Same thing you called her last time," Rick murmured, stepping from the porch.
I resheathed Nightshade and immediately noticed the difference. She seemed smaller and lighter on my back, almost as if she was an extension of me. An extra limb.
"You mentioned you had the ingredients for this spell," I said.
He nodded. "The herbs that grow around the house are yours. You planted them in your last life. Everything from goldenseal to lungwort on this property and in the wooded acres to the back."
I gazed at the wild field to the side of the cottage. "How do I know what's what?"
He slid his hand into my back pocket, temporarily rendering me mute with desire. I rolled into him and landed a kiss on his mouth, but he pulled back.
"There's an app for that," he said, grinning just a little too widely.
"Yeah, we have work to do," I said. "Keep your hands off me."
He winked. We got busy gathering the ingredients I needed, using my phone to verify I had the right plants. By the time we had everything, it was already 1 p.m. and the sun was due to set at 6:45. I followed him through his front door, anxious to get started.
The skulls were back as were the candles and the creepy paintings.
"That first night, when I ran to your door, I wasn't just seeing things."
"No," he said. "This is caretaker magic. Not as strong as yours, but it will help strengthen the spell. We'll need all the help we can get, considering the time of day." He placed a cauldron on the floor between the skulls. I started mixing the herbs I'd collected with the wet ingredients from the pantry, which Rick brought to me as I asked for them. When it was done, I'd made a salve that smelled like eucalyptus.
"It says I'm supposed to spread it on the closed eyes of the searcher and that when I wipe it away, the spell will reveal the path to the vampire. It doesn't say specifically how it works. Should I wipe it on me or on you?"
"You'd better use it, mi cielo. That way I can protect you as you follow the path. Some of these spells are rather compelling, incapacitating the user to anything but the chase until the object or person is found."
"Sounds logical," I said. I smeared each eyelid with the stuff, thankful that I hadn't worn makeup that day. I waited a minute or two and then wiped it off. At first, I didn't notice anything different, but as I stood up and turned in place, a red dot appeared in the northwest corner of the room as if someone was shining a pointer in that direction.
"He's that way," I said, pointing at the wall.
"Let's move outdoors and see where it takes us."
I followed Rick out and toward the rear of the house. The red dot hovered in the trees, beckoning me to follow it into the woods. "He went through the forest," I said.
We picked our way through the brush and trees, the thick forest floor tripping me more than once.
"Marcus was wise to come this way. The forest provides shelter from the sun. He may have been able to continue after the sun came up, if he wasn't exposed directly."
"How far do you think he could've gotten?"
"I'm not sure. Marcus seems to get stronger every day. The way he fought last night..." He shook his head. "I won't underestimate him again."
I tripped again, this time face planting into a fern.
Strong hands helped me to my feet. "You are thinking too hard, mi cielo. Trust your instincts. Your power element is the air. When you run, imagine that you are blowing over the ground and through the trees."
I wasn't excited about the idea, but I tried again. Instead of watching my feet, I looked straight ahead and trusted my instincts. At first my feet plodded forward, deliberately. But then I picked up the pace. Accelerating until the trees blurred, I ran toward the red dot, Rick following close on my heels. He was faster than me, but stuck by my side since I knew where to go. After an hour of running hard, my thighs ached, and I stopped to rest. The witch gave me speed, but she didn't give me new legs. I was going to feel that in the morning.
"Damn. Did you ever think he'd make it this far?" I asked Rick.
"No. I confess I didn't." He inhaled deeply through his nose. "I believe we're close, though. I smell something coming from there." He pointed to a place where the trees parted. The red dot glowed.
"The spell agrees. Let's move." I forced my sore legs to jog toward the clearing. Rick followed at a walk, which must have seemed painfully slow to him. The spacing between the trees widened with each step until I was certain we were on a man-made path, and then the forest opened into a small clearing. At the center was a shack made from roughly hewn logs and branches that looked like they were broken manually from their source and crudely cemented with mud.
"He's here. I can smell him." Rick pointed at the shack.
"Do you think he built that last night?"
"I don't think so. I've seen hunters build these to hide in during deer season. I think Marcus was lucky to come by this."
"So he's inside, then?" The thought of being so close to my killer made my blood run cold.
"What's the plan? How do we kill him? Stake through the heart?"
"That only works in movies. There are three ways to kill Marcus-your blade, my teeth, and the sun."
Great. No pressure or anything. If I wasn't exhausted from the run and hell-bent on revenge, I might have been terrified. As it was, fear was a luxury for the safe. I was not. This vamp had killed me once already. I pulled Nightshade from her sheath and started toward the shack. "Are you going to shift, or am I going to have to do this alone?"
"If I shift, I won't be able to fit inside." He touched my shoulder and smiled like he had a brilliant idea. "I will pull him out of his grave, and you cut off his head."
I swallowed hard. The head cutting off part didn't thrill me. Even if it was a vampire I hated, I wasn't sure I could do it.
Clearly Rick picked up on my thoughts because he frowned and narrowed his eyes. But he didn't say anything. Smart man.
I thought back to last week, before I'd moved into the new house, before I was expected to know how to sort the dead or kill vampires. My, how things had changed.
Repositioning my blade, I reached for the door.
The darkness of the shanty made me temporarily blind, but I was not deaf. I heard a shotgun cock. The back of Rick's arm slid in front of my waist, pushing me behind him before the room came into view. Curled on the dirt floor, a man rocked cross-legged, staring at us through the sight of his rifle.
"Get out," he rasped. His left side was covered in blood. A bite mark on his neck still oozed onto his shirt. Hmm. Marcus had a snack before going to sleep for the day. A bead of sweat dripped down the hunter's forehead onto his shoulders. Shaking. Sweaty. Pale. He was hypovolemic from the blood loss and close enough to going into shock to make me wonder how he was still sitting up.
"What's your name?" Rick asked.
"Shut up," the man said.
Rick held out a hand. "You've been infected. The thing that bit you has poisoned your blood. We can cure you, but you need to come with us, and we have to kill the one who's buried beneath you."
The man shook so hard I thought for sure the gun would go off in his hands. Tears streamed down his cheeks. "Just go away," he pleaded.
Marcus is controlling his mind, Rick thought into my head. The man may be as good as dead. If Marcus forced him to drink some of his blood, he might be a changeling, a servant of the damned soon to become a vampire himself.
How do we know if we can fix him or need to kill him? I asked.
Check if his heart is still beating.
And just how am I supposed to get past the gun to take his pulse?
I'll take care of the gun. Rick shot forward, lightning-fast.
Crack. The gun fired, and Rick curled over.