17 When I awoke the next morning from dreams about garlic and the molecular make-up of vampire saliva – which did include venom – and garlic essence, Raechel was gone, and I was once again being molested in my sleep. This time he was in the cot with me, cradling me from behind, body relaxed, breathing even.
I rolled away, jostling him in an attempt to wake him up. As with the morning before, he didn’t stir. I considered shouting into his ear, but I wasn’t sure it would have the effect I wanted. A wicked thought sprouted in my mind, and I grinned. I put my hand on his chest and shook him gently.
He mumbled something and pulled me a little bit closer. I almost cackled aloud, this was too good. Steeling myself up, I kissed his cheek. “Orcus.”
He opened his eyes. “Did you just kiss me?” he managed to say groggily.
“Yes. Are you duly awake?” I asked.
“Then you should know – ” And I slapped his injured ear again.
He howled and sprung to his feet. The ear was bleeding again, but we would have had to change it this morning anyway, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
“For being so bright you can be incredibly dense sometimes,” I said. “When I told you to keep your distance, I meant it.”
He seemed to be biting back some rather unsavory words. “You plan on changing this, I hope?”
I sighed. “If it’ll make you stop whinging, yes. Besides, you can’t do it yourself, and I’m pretty sure there’s no way Raechel would touch you with a ten-foot pole.”
“Fine,” he growled.
“You crawl into bed with me again, and I’ll tell your dad.”
He laughed. “Is that your idea of a threat?”
“It’s a warning,” I said, “and it would behoove you to pay it mind.”
He was obedient and well-behaved enough while I changed the dressing, and even more so when his sister dragged us into the dining room for a proper breakfast before the work day ahead of us. Mr. Locke wasn’t present, and Grandfather Storenton explained away the absence as business. The look on Orcus’ face said differently, and I briefly wondered what he knew and whether or not it was sinister.
Phyllida sat next to Jo and across from me, and Orcus next to her. It was only when the plump girl had been seated for a good ten minutes that I realized Sebastian wasn’t there. I exchanged glances with Raechel, who didn’t seem to like the situation any better.
Phyllida noticed and said, “He’s asleep now, in one of the guest rooms. Poor thing couldn’t get a wink all night and got to sleep just about dawn.”
“With any luck he’ll sleep all day,” Raechel whispered.
“I think our vampire is finally a vampire,” I agreed. “My only concern is how we get him to not kill people, or create another great mess like we’ve already got at the school. Or worse, how do we avoid his creating more.”
“One’s bad enough,” Raechel rejoined. “If we suddenly have to start dealing with multiple vampires, I may just have all my mail forwarded to Crazytown.”
“There’s a blood-bank in the city, adjoined to the hospital,” Orcus said.
“Are you suggesting we pilfer from a hospital?” said Jo incredulously.
“Unless you have a better idea,” her brother retorted.
“We have the cash,” Phyllida said, “why don’t just buy it?”
“People will ask questions,” Raechel said. “Why are you buying it, how much are you paying, who’s getting it; that sort of thing.”
I nearly shuddered, remembering when my dad had done the same thing with some art pieces and had been slapped with an inquiry. “Believe me,” I said, “that’s the last thing you want; with this sort of issue, no attention is the best kind of attention.”
“So we’ll just nick it from the bank,” Orcus stated casually. “Shouldn’t be too difficult, should it, Mallory?”
I fixed him with a glare. “I am not helping you steal blood. There has to be more than one option to consider before we turn him loose on a couple of packs.”
Orcus fixed with me with a politely interested look. “Do tell, darling,” I twitched at the moniker, “what sort of ideas have you got rolling about in that head of yours?”
He was patronizing me. “I’d venture a guess they like their blood warm – ”
“So we’ll nuke it,” he said.
“ – in which case,” I pressed on, “you might turn him loose in some animal enclosure.”
“That’s barbaric,” Jo interrupted.
“What happens when he’s finished all those animals?” Raechel said, “We can’t very well send him to a new zoo every other week.”
“Don’t turn him loose in a zoo, then,” I said. “Send him to some sort of cattle-yard? They won’t really notice, will they?”
Raechel sniggered. “I think they will; your plan will fail.” She sipped her juice. “Never fear: I’ve an idea.”
“Have you, McNab?”
Raechel squinted at Orcus; it was her version of a glare. “Stop being nice.” She turned to me. “If we’re going to turn him loose on people, why don’t we just send him to those states that serve up the death penalty? I mean, what problems wouldn’t that solve?”
Jo and I sniggered, and Orcus looked like he was giving this idea a fair bit of thought, but Grandfather and Phyllida didn’t look at all pleased with this answer. Phyillida, in fact, looked downright horrified.
“I like Orcus’ idea better,” she said.
I sighed, and the thoughtful look on Orcus face transformed into triumph. “Shall we then, Mallory, dear?”
“No,” I said. “We shan’t; you’re doing this on your own. I’ll just work on the garlic.”
He shrugged. “Fine with me,” he said. “You’ll be helping her then, McNab?”
Raechel nodded like she didn’t care. “As long as I don’t have to supervise Stup – er, Sebastian. And we’ll get more done together, because we won’t spend most of our time arguing over the average size of a javelin.”
“Two and one-half meters,” I said quickly.
“There’s more to a javelin than a tip-to-tip measurement,” Orcus said archly.
“Not much more,” I snorted.
“The point here being,” said Raechel firmly, “that I won’t have to watch the vampire.”
Phyllida frowned. “Would that be necessary?” she queried. “I mean, he’s asleep.”
“Just in case he wakes up hungry,” said Grandfather Storenton. “We’ll want to keep an eye on him so he doesn’t set about wreaking havoc on the house, and especially so he doesn’t hurt you, my dear.”
Phyllida opened her mouth to object, but Orcus cut her off. “He’s a vampire, Liddy, and while he may have a good amount of affection for you, he certainly won’t be able to help himself if the need to feed takes over. And it will, at some point.”
Raechel dropped her fork, and I dropped my jaw. ‘Who are you and what have you done with Orcus Locke?’ I exchanged glances with Raechel. If we hadn’t known that Orcus was a power-hungry sociopath we might actually have believed his performance. The look of concern on his face was perfectly painted, his tone had been gentle, and he had covered Phyllida’s hand with his own in a mark of brotherly affection. Her bright blue eyes were wide, and she nodded earnestly, apparently actually believing what it was he was saying.
Orcus rose from the table quickly, downing his juice. “I’ll run down now and sneak in.” He patted his sister’s shoulder. “I’ll be back as quick as I can, I promise.”
“How exactly do you plan to go about this?” I asked.
He smiled his cold smile. “I have my ways, darling.” And then he was gone.
“Stop calling me that,” I said under my breath.
Raechel sniggered. “Hurry up, darling,” she urged me. “We’ve got things to do.”
I sighed, not really wanting to take up the task. “We have to study the garlic, and take away everything – separate all the chemical components, and test them individually with the saliva, and then combine and test them, and then chart the measurements – ”
“Mal, dude, I’ve done this with you before. I mean, it wasn’t vampire venin, but I’ve done this sort of thing. I know how to conduct experiments. We go to the same school.”
As I hurried to eat the rest of my breakfast, Raechel stared thoughtfully out a window. The cogs in her head were almost visible. She was going to spit something out soon enough, it was just a matter of when.
“Do you think it would work on Degas? If it works at all, I mean.”
I looked up at her. “There’s no telling. It could. It depends on how long it takes. Chances are, if he’s too far gone it won’t work at all. It may not even work for Orcus. We have to wait and see.”
Raechel frowned. “You don’t think it will?”
I shrugged. “Who knows? It could. I mean, looking at old lore, we’re not just dealing with venom and changes.”
“This is true,” agreed Grandfather sagely. “Vampire lore declares that vampirism is a curse from Hell, that the first vampires were the spawn of demons.”
Raechel’s frown was now reflective of the scientific lines her brain was taking. “If that were the case, what would be the point of making a cure? Unless the curse was meant to introduce vampires as what they are in a secular context.” She turned to me for my input. “Except that curses aren’t real….”
I was thinking hard. In that case, the problem was much like a family trait, and we were dealing with a genetic issue rather than a communicable one. It was a perfectly logical leap, too. Raechel was making the same connection, I could tell. She sank back down into a chair, resting her chin in her hand.
“Breeding would be in the biting,” I said.
“That could be considered your genetic material – which would explain,” said Raechel, drumming her fingers on the table, “why new vampires are tied to their ‘parent’. . . .” She looked at me with a pained expression.
“It could still work,” said Jo.
“There is the chance,” I admitted. “If a serum paused the transformation for six months, it’s entirely likely that a cure would be just as feasible. If it’s a genetic material, though, it might be a little bit more complicated than we anticipated – ”
“What I mean,” Jo interrupted, “is that it could be an imitation DNA; I’d say synthetic, but that would be inaccurate. It would make sense to view it as a virus, as a sort of sickness.”
I knew what she was saying was valid, but. . . . “I’m not completely sure what you mean.”
“Both are organic compounds,” she said patiently. “DNA or not, it doesn’t belong in Orcus’ system, therefore his body would treat it as a sort of viral infection – ”
“ – hence the vomiting, fever, and general pain of transformation!” Raechel finished.
The idea had merit; Orcus would be proud. I turned to Grandfather Storenton. “What did you give him?”
His brow furrowed. “He didn’t tell you?”
“He neglected to mention it.”
“Phoenix tears,” he said calmly. “Typically they will cure any injury, but because vampire venin is morphing the body’s natural course, rather than impeding it, the tears will not act as an end-all cure; they will only make the transition that much easier.”
I felt a black mood coming on. “Why wouldn’t he have mentioned that?”
Storenton sighed. “That, I feel, is a different story altogether. Come, Phyllida,” he said, getting to his feet. “Let us see about your vampire love.”
Raechel was busy tapping out a rhythm on the table, and barely noticed they had gone. She had that intense look on her face, like she was trying to piece together some sort of puzzle, but couldn’t quite find all the parts.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“I’m thinking,” she said, “that in the off-chance this vampire cure does work, Locke’s either going to be thrilled, or completely pissed, and I’m having trouble deciding which one.”
“If he wanted to be a vampire, wouldn’t he have just let it happen?” ventured Jo.
“He told me he didn’t,” I said, “and for once I think I believe him. He wants power,” I insisted at Raechel’s dubious look. “He wants all the power he can get his hands on, and he doesn’t want a weakness to get in the way.”
Jo hummed her agreement. “It’d be so much more useful to have a vampire in his employ, rather than doing nasty work himself.” She sighed. “Except for the fact that he hates Sebastian Degas.”
“There’s no record that being a vampire makes you intelligent,” Raechel said. “Degas may hate his guts, but there’s a whole family for Locke to choose from; Stupid isn’t his only option.” She finished off her orange juice. “But how in the hell did the whole thing even begin in the first place? Curses aren’t real things, so vampires couldn’t have come from Hell itself…but they exist all the same….?”
“I think,” I said slowly, “that perhaps we should wait to answer that question. For a later time. It would be good to know, but…I don’t think it’s terribly important just yet, do you?”
Raechel shrugged, pushing back from the table and rising from her seat. “I hope not, but you and I both know that it very well could be. And Orcus is going to be doing what he can to take advantage of it.”
Once again I found myself in the position of not liking the connections my mind was beginning to make, and I tried ruthlessly to suppress them. It wasn’t that I was worried about Orcus; if anything I felt a little gleeful that he was finally doing something heinous enough that people might actually begin to believe me in regards to his dangerous mental habits. What had me worried was the volume of ramifications on society at large if Orcus Locke achieved his ends. He was working very hard towards that goal, and I suddenly found myself wishing I had gone with him to rob the blood-bank.