VOLUME INDEX



Chapter XIX: Seeing Things
Chapter XX: Crime Scene
Chapter XXI: With Much Ado

 
 
 




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Patrick sat on the couch and listened to the shower run. It had been running for what seemed like a long time now. When they arrived at her apartment, Vex had gone straight into her room and closed the door a little harder than was necessary. The act, he thought, punctuated his feeling that she was angry with him—probably over his bursting in on her with gun in hand. Still, he resolved as he stewed, he would have done it again if the circumstances were the same.

Megan had moved across the room after their original conversation had dropped into a lull. In spite of the seamlessly quiet drive to the apartment she was full of mirth and conversation—mostly about the previous events that had transpired, but also a whole lot of questions about Vex and Patrick. If nothing else, she provided a welcome distraction from him fretting over what was going on in the adjacent room; not that most showers weren’t totally mundane. If anything, he had learned over the past few weeks that nothing in his newly minted girlfriend’s life could be easily termed mundane.

“I don’t think anything is going to eat her while she’s in the shower,” Megan said from across the room.

“Am I that transparent?”

Megan flipped her head back to glance sidelong at him; she had one of the crystal skulls that made for bookends on the bookshelf in hand. “No,” she said. “You just remind me of one of my ex-boyfriends, that’s all. He was protective. I thought it was sweet, but he’d make himself sick worrying about me.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” he said, shaking his head. “I think she’s pissed.”

“Does she have any other mood?”

That elicited a laugh. “Oh, yeah. It may not look like it some days, but she definitely does.”

“I’m wondering, since you’re Vex’s boyfriend,” Megan said, “do you have any experience with witchcraft?”

Caught off guard, Patrick said the first thing that came to mind. “Not unless you count my ex-girlfriend trying to kill me with a curvy knife.”

“That’s fucked up,” Megan said and went silent, avoiding eye contact.

He suddenly wished that he’d thought that one through before replying. He started to tell her that he didn’t know what actually happened, just what Vex had told him, but thought better of making any more of a situation of it.

Accompanying him on the couch was Megan’s cat-faced backpack. He glanced at it. It stared back at him with wide brimmed eyes. The girl set down the newest object of her curiosity, a small man made entirely out of straw and corn husks, and wandered back to grab her backpack and sit down heavily next to him. According to the clock on the wall they had been twiddling their thumbs for the better part of an hour. It was a strange cooling off period for Patrick, as he was still a bit amped up from the events in the dorm room.

The ride back had been quiet mostly because Vex didn’t say anything. She moved like a person bent under the crushing weight of a terrible headache. Patrick thought he’d seen that same expression before on his mother’s face; she suffered from dreadful migraines that sometimes rendered her sightless with agony. The pained concentration stretching her features eased a little after all the doors of the taxi had been closed, but when he tried to ask how she was doing, or what was going on, he didn’t get any answers other than, “Just drive. Take us home.” Obligingly, he did just that.

He couldn’t quite define exactly why he’d grabbed the gun, that part was a blur, but the very real gut sense that something was wrong in his neighbor’s room—where Vex happened to be—could not have been more clear. He had told Megan that he needed to change his shirt, and his dorm room was right next door anyway, so he left her in the hall to stand watch. After getting a fresh shirt from the crumpled fresh laundry still sitting on his bed he’d heard something that set unease in the pit of his stomach. The sound of a choked scream, sobbing almost, floated through the wall that separated his room from the next one.

That almost-indistinct sound went from “it could be my imagination” to “someone is being murdered in here” within seconds when he heard something strike the wall and the choked scream turned into a wailing howl. The weapon, a heavy pistol he’d brought from home, happened to be at the very back of the drawer—so, of course, he discovered it in his hands the moment he kicked the door down. Once the door banged open he discovered the room totally vacant, except for Vex, who had backpedaled and looked about ready to take a swing at him.

Recalling the look she’d given him then and there Patrick felt almost like he had been punched anyway. Shock? Anger? Disappointment? It didn’t matter—all those emotions dissolved quickly behind the mask of pain she wore the entire ride home. He was going to have to explain. Apologize maybe. Some girls just didn’t react well to having guns drawn around them, although Vex didn’t seem the type to care.

Next to him, Megan had fished a handheld game out of her backpack. It blinged and dinged and beeped a few times before she suddenly flipped it closed again and looked at her watch. He figured that maybe she was just as bored, and probably as anxious, as he was. There seemed nothing to do now than wait. The life of the party happened to be in the other room.

“Patrick,” Megan said.

“Yeah?”

“Why do you have a gun in your dorm room, anyway?”

“Actually,” said a new voice from across the room. “I’m wondering the same thing.”

Vex stood in the doorway, looking clean and curious. He hadn’t even noticed the shower had stopped running. The pained mask had been washed from her face and replaced with the fresh black curvature of wet hair and the glittering dark lines of her eye makeup. She had shaded both eyes with eye shadow, but the mascara around her left eye extended above and below, almost like an Egyptian eye—a makeup design that Patrick had gotten used to seeing on her—but this time it was subtly different. More intricate than before, extra lines and curves laced themselves across her cheek.

 

“You look beautiful,” Patrick said after a long silence.

“Thanks,” Vex said. She moved away from the door, enjoying the resounding clarity of his voice, and hers replying. The breach in her defenses had allowed them through like a crack in a dam. Until she had gotten within the better warded recesses of the taxi, it was impossible to tell the difference between someone real talking to her and one of the voices muttering in her ear. It was good to hear a solid human voice again and know who was talking.

Her apartment, of course, possessed wards significantly more able to provide proof against external intrusion. The moment she crossed the threshold they evaporated from her like fog cut by sun; but the violation had already been too much. Without much ado, she left Patrick and Megan by themselves in the living room and threw herself directly into the shower, as if she could wash the sensation of those clawed desires and their profound lust from her very being. It had been over a year since the last time she’d let her defenses crumble so far as to allow that to happen. It was impossible to be prepared.

Comfortable again from the shower, dressed up in silk, and all of her makeup now back the way it should be. Vex tried her best to sound affable and chipper. If for no other reason than to set Patrick at ease—she had treated him rather unkindly, she knew, but there was nothing for it.

“But you didn’t answer the question. Last I checked, guns weren’t allowed in the dormitory. You could get in a lot of trouble having something like that in your room.”

He shifted uncomfortably on the couch, squirming under the gaze of both Vex and Megan. “Well, it was a gift from my father…for when I went off to college. I think you remember what I said about where I’m from? Everyone is really big into gun ownership. I was no exception. I have another one in my room. I have a permit, of course, my father helped me get it before I came out here.” He paused, studying Vex’s expression, trying to gather what she wanted him to say but her expression remained inscrutable. “Look. I grew up around guns. I know how to handle myself. I thought you were in danger, I went in—”

Vex held up her hand and he stopped mid-sentence. “It’s fine.”

“It sure doesn’t seem that way,” he said. “You seemed angry, I thought I’d explain.”

“I was mad because I almost killed you where you stood,” she said. When he opened his mouth to say something else she cut him off, “Patrick, with my bare hands I am better armed than you can ever be with a gun. What I showed you back at the drum circle is nothing compared to what I can muster in a pinch. Believe it or not, I could have exploded that entire side of the room—and I almost did. Next time, leave the gun behind. Okay?”

“As you wish,” he said. For the first time ever since she’d met him, Vex felt a momentary doubt of his sincerity. It didn’t matter if he kept it with him or not, she mused, if they ever ended up in a situation he would actually need to use it she knew she would be saving his ass—not the other way around.

“And thank you for coming to my rescue,” she said. “Just…next time, trust that I can handle myself.”

Patrick nodded curtly.

“You have messages on your machine,” Megan said, changing the subject. Vex followed her gaze over to the kitchen counter where the answering machine’s light blinked on and off with a rapid beat; the number three glowed furiously on the display. It was probably her father calling. The news reports of the massacre would have sent him into a panic of calls—she didn’t look while she was in the taxi, but she guessed that the message light on the radio would be glowing as well.

“I can get them later. Right now, I have something else in mind.”

“Like what?” asked Patrick.

“When I was in that room,” Vex said. “I found out that the boy killed there was being used as a conduit for visions. Whoever killed him used his life force to look into the future. Kind of reading tea leaves for a serial killer. I tried to reconnect with what the person who killed him saw—and I saw a lot of things. But, one thing in particular, I found out that the dead boy is still there.” She paused a moment. “Well, part of him anyway.”

“He’s dead but he’s alive?” Megan said.

“Well… No, not exactly.” She gestured to Patrick. “A few days ago I found the remains of a ceremony in the library complete with soulstones. I’m still sure one of those kids was trying to trap the souls of the others, and since these two are part of that group I have no doubt of it now. I think, though, that when this boy was killed it stretched his soul between his body and the stone he was connected to.

“When I took the soulstone I got from that candle I might have disrupted part of what was going on. I might still be able to save the souls of these kids from whatever wants them. They’re not entirely gone yet. If a bit of his spirit still lingers in that room that means I can reach him. Maybe I can learn more from him…”

Patrick and Megan stared at her, uncomprehending. Vex looked directly into Patrick’s eyes wondering how far he would really be willing to go to understand the nature of her second-life. This next step would be a lot to ask of anyone not already steeped in the occult community. That still struck her as a strange thought, even the last few times she’d told herself she was letting him, letting him see more, she realized she had been carefully shutting him out. Like how she’d left him outside the room while re-activating the latent blood-magick in the walls.

That wouldn’t fly this time. Everyone involved would be coming along for the ride.

“And, maybe I can set them free,” she finished.

Megan was the first to speak. “How will you do that?”

“I have a friend who can contact the dead,” Vex said, letting a wolfish grin cross her lips. “Patrick met him at the drum circle.”

“I’ve said it before,” Patrick said, “you have some very strange friends.”

“You know a necromancer?” asked Megan.

“No, a witchdoctor.”

 
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