When I awoke the next morning on the cots Orcus had apportioned us in the attic, I couldn’t muster the necessary surprise at seeing the resident sociopath’s head in my lap. I thought about turning him in when we got back to school, except that I didn’t like the idea of not being able to be a pain in Orcus’ derriere. So I quashed the thought. Besides, who was going to believe it? The trouble with getting a charming sociopath in trouble is that no one wants to believe said charming sociopath is a horrible person. Human nature doesn’t like being disturbed, and it certainly doesn’t care to be wrong. It’s where the crazies like Orcus Locke get their advantage: People want to believe them, and no matter the evidence, they refuse to believe anything other than what they’ve really duped themselves into believing.
In any case, I was more surprised to see how – well, human he looked in his sleep. I shook myself; I was in very real danger of thinking there was a hidden depth to Orcus, which would surely be an advantage for him. I nudged his head just a little bit, trying not to damage the ear I’d spent the last evening trying to fix. He didn’t show any particular sign of having felt me move, so I sat up and slapped the injury quite hard.
Orcus’ eyes flew open and he shot to his feet, a look of utmost pain on his face. It didn’t take long for him to realize what had happened, and he set about calling me a lot of very rude names. He didn’t necessarily calm down in the end, but he collected himself enough to bellow, “What’s wrong with you?!”
“You were violating my personal space,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Your point?” he demanded.
“I told you last night I wasn’t going to tolerate it. Did you think I was going to forget?”
He grimaced, still cupping his ear. “I had hoped you wouldn’t be cruel enough to damage me again.”
“Aw, I’m sorry,” I said. “Do you want a hug?”
He smirked. “I was thinking something a bit different.”
“Keep dreaming, Joseph,” I said with a scowl. “Speaking of, what sort of atrocities are you planning to commit today?”
Orcus, ear still cupped, slouched against a desk. “Bringing books up from the library. I want to do some research into what may or may not qualify as a cure for the disease. The answers we can’t find or conclude on our own we’ll pose as questions to my grandfather.”
“Where do you think it’ll be?”
“A cure?” He snorted. “I don’t think it’s a where. I think it’s a what.”
I shook Raechel awake. She opened one eye and glared at me. “Unless it’s an emergency, I’m not helping you.”
“Fair enough,” I agreed. “Where’s the village idiot?”
She rolled over. “I don’t know, and I don’t care. Red vs. Blue.”
“Okay.” Whatever Raechel had been doing last night, it had tired her out considerably, and she wasn’t going to be more than a hindrance if she was in a bad mood.
Orcus did a quick search of the attic that yielded no sign of Sebastian. It was a situation neither of us liked. Even so, we had priorities, and neither of us fancied running about the house looking for him without being alert enough to know where we were. Bathroom rituals completed, we went in search of the poor fool, Orcus verbalizing his hope that he’d fallen out of a window somewhere. I didn’t bother chiding him. As it happened, while we were traipsing the second floor near the kitchen, looking out windows and checking through doors, we ran into a young woman who looked remarkably like Orcus and could be none other than his sister. She was tall and willowy with wavy brunette locks and sharp blue eyes. She frowned when she saw us, and her eyebrow twitched.
I was impressed with his ability to stay focused. “You wouldn’t by any chance happen to have seen a tall sort of half-wit wandering about here, would you?”
“Sort of pompous?”
“Phyllida’s monopolizing him in the kitchen.”
I almost groaned. This could only do bad things to Orcus’ temper, and I was going to have to be the one to calm him down later. He was already muttering under his breath as he dragged me along towards the kitchen. “Encroacher,” I heard him say. “Galling. . .horn-backed toad. . .kill him if it’s the last thing I do.” He hadn’t finished his rant by the time we got to the culinary den, so I pulled him back a minute.
“Would you calm down?”
“No,” he snapped. “That happens to be – ”
“ – your sister, I know; but she’s not territory any more than I am; you go in there guns blazing, the most it’ll do is start a fight and get you bitten again, and I’m pretty sure that a double dose would effectively nullify anything your grandfather gave you. So before you do something unusually and extraordinarily stupid, calm down.”
He gave me one withering look, and then slammed his fist into the wall behind me. The resulting crash was deafening, and while I kept my expression very firmly in neutral, I did wonder if he’d broken his hand. Apparently it didn’t matter to him. He looked back at me woodenly. “Now may I go in?”
And he did. I opted to wait on the steps outside the door, but the proceeding events were perfectly audible. In about two or three minutes another young woman came out of the kitchen. She was beautiful, like the other sister (who I’d concluded must be Jo), but shorter, rather plump, and very rosy. She looked tired, and very surprised to see me sitting there.
“Who are you?”
“Mallory. I’m here with Orcus.”
She looked me up and down, the surprised look on her face morphing into approval. “I see what he sees in you.”
“My brother, dolt,” she said, and held out her hand. “I’m Phyllida.”
I shook it, but didn’t smile. “Pleasure.”
She sat down on the steps next to me, both of us ignoring the male voices firing back and forth in the next room. “He’s exceedingly dense, your friend.”
I almost snorted. “I know. He was in my room for three weeks.”
“I guess that depends on what you consider attractive.”
“He’s got the potential if his attention could be harnessed,” she said thoughtfully.
“Admittedly, the vampire thing is. . .a bit of a turn-off. But if he can control that then I won’t mind him.”
I considered acting surprised, but decided that would be rude. “He told you about that already?”
“No; Grandfather did. He said he’d had to give Orcus something for it.”
I nodded. “They got into a bit of a tussle, yeah.”
“You know, I don’t know.” Even though it was the same lie I’d told her father last night. “But I promise it was very violent.”
“I’m sure,” Phyllida said. “Orcus likes his fights.”
I hummed in agreement, but didn’t go beyond that. Orcus and Sebastian had exited the kitchen, and were standing in front of us, Orcus with a thunderous countenance, and Sebastian’s face set in a determined pose. He extended his hand to Phyllida, who grinned wickedly and took it, hauling him up the stairs. I looked back to Orcus, whose hands were in his pockets. He hated losing, almost as much as I did.
“You’re just letting them go?”
He nodded once, stiffly. “He assured me his intentions were far from dishonorable.”
“You didn’t believe him,” I said.
“Phyllida wants the no-account scalawag, and I’ve got much more pressing issues on my mind at the moment.”
“There was no reason why not?” I said.
He scowled and began hauling me up from the steps, pulling me along behind him. “I want to get as much a start as possible on that research. Come on.”
He led me to a secret secondary entrance, and within half an hour we had hauled to the attic too many books to count. We spread them out on a desk by the north-facing window, and settled down to work. We were flipping through pages and pages and pages of material on supernatural beings, monsters, vampires, Eastern European lore, and every copy of every known document that featured the name Claus Traugott-Rothstein. The room was silent for the next four hours, neither of us coming up for air, ensconced soundly into the books on the table. Orcus finally let out a long sigh and slouched back in his chair, face set in an even darker mould than earlier. He wasn’t having any more luck than I was.
I closed the book in front of me and opened another one. “Lots in here about how to kill you; not much on how to cure you.”
“There’s nothing on a cure,” he snapped. “Where’s your head?”
“Don’t lose your temper with me, Orcus,” I said absently. Normally I’d have been a bit tetchier, but reading had taken off my edge considerably. “What are you thinking?”
He tossed a book into a pile, the petulant scowl still on his face. “Thinking that if we’re to find a cure we’re going to have to look for ways tied to vampiric weaknesses.”
I hummed. “Which methods would you prefer to study? Obviously we can’t inject you with silver, as that has considerable potential to be more harmful than helpful. May I make a suggestion?”
“Start with the edible substances that vampires are typically averse to; garlic, leeks, onions, and the like. Leeks aren’t typically very strong, so we’d likely have to confine the observation to the stronger stuff; garlic being what it is, it’s likely our best bet.”
“Degas hasn’t shown any adverse effects to the plant,” Orcus pointed out.
“True, but he also said his mother was Italian, and he hasn’t exactly ingested any since the second week we had him.”
Orcus rolled his eyes. “His mother’s Italian blood has nothing to do with it. In the other context, however, your idea has merit. We mix the elements and observe how they react to each other.”
“That’s an idea,” I said, “except for one small hiccough of a problem.”
“Venom is released during the hunt, yes,” he said. “However, that is according to lore, which is mostly just speculation.”
“You think it’s in his saliva?”
“If not it could be in his blood.”
The light-bulb went on in my head. “Because ingesting the blood of a vampire has the effect of making one like a vampire. And ingestion translates to bloodstream. . .”
Orcus grinned. “We check the saliva if he can’t produce on demand, and we’ll cross-check it with what blood we draw out of him.”
I looked back at my book. “It’d be a hell of a breakthrough if we do this, you know.”
“Yeah, for two of us,” he replied. “The medical community’s only going to think we’re bat-shit crazy.”
“Yes, but at least we’ll have something on hand in case the horde at school become anything like a threat.” Even if Director Carson was helping them along, there was only so much one could do to control a starving vampire; and he had at least three others on his hands.
Orcus chuckled. “If this works, Mallory, I think I may have it arranged to marry you.”
That almost killed my good mood. “That’s not funny, Orcus.”