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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(4) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

4
 
I CALLED EDWARD FROM my Jeep, because I’d finally figured out how to use the Bluetooth so that I could talk and drive at the same time. It was a little bit like being able to pat your head, rub your stomach, and jump on one foot at the same time while chewing gum, but much more useful and less silly looking.
 
The phone had rung three times before I realized I hadn’t done the time zone math and it was probably the wee hours of the morning there. Had I learned anything that couldn’t wait until he was awake? No. I hung up, hoping he’d slept through it. I wasn’t used to Edward being half a world away from me. We’d never been more than about a five-hour plane ride from each other before. I guess Ireland wasn’t that much longer actually, but the time difference made it feel like more.
 
I wasn’t surprised when his ringtone filled the car just moments after I’d hung up. I’d have called him back, too. “Hey, Ed . . . Ted,” I said.
 
“I’m in my room alone; you can call me whatever you want.” His voice was thick and rough with sleep.
 
“I forgot the time change. Sorry.”
 
“Just tell me you found out something that will help.”
 
“Yes and no. There have always been vampires in Ireland, or at least for the last thousand years and change.”
 
I heard the sheets move as he changed positions. “Say again.”
 
I did.
 
“How do you know?”
 
“First Jean-Claude told me, and then we had one of the vamps from Ireland in town.”
 
“I didn’t know you had any Irish vampires in St. Louis.”
 
“He doesn’t consider himself Irish even though he was a vampire there for about a thousand years, give or take a few hundred.”
 
“You don’t have that many vampires that old, or you didn’t. Is it one of the Harlequin?” See, he really did know most of my business.
 
“No, it’s Damian.”
 
“What? He doesn’t sound Irish.”
 
“Like I said, he doesn’t consider himself Irish. He said, I just died there. He still thinks of himself as a Viking. He was what history calls a Danish Viking, and that’s still how he thinks of himself.”
 
“Even after a millennium in Ireland.”
 
“Yep.”
 
“Okay, I don’t have to understand Damian’s motives. What did you learn?”
 
“His old mistress, She-Who-Made-Him, literally, you can’t say her name without risking her invading your mind. She can do some of the tricks that the Mother of All Darkness could do, and some of the old vampire council could do.”
 
“He tell you, or you experience it?”
 
“She’s visited us once. She caused fear in Damian and it spread to me and Nathaniel. It was pretty awful. I think that if Richard and Jean-Claude hadn’t been able to lend a metaphysical hand, she could literally have killed us with fear.”
 
I heard the sheets move again. I was betting he was sitting up against the headboard. “You mean scared to death, literally?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“I know you’ve met other vampires that could cause fear like that.”
 
“Night hags, yeah, but they were amateurs compared to She-Who-Made-Him.”
 
“You really don’t want to say her name out loud.”
 
“No, I really don’t.”
 
“She spooked you.”
 
“Let’s just say that I don’t want a revisit.”
 
“You don’t spook that easy,” he said.
 
“Not normally, no.”
 
“Why didn’t the Irish know they had vampires?” he asked.
 
“Damian said that they kept their numbers small, a dozen at the most and usually fewer. They took a little blood here and there, and when they did kill it was easy to blame it on war, wild animals, just the violence of the day. He said there was usually some battle or something to blame disappearances on.”
 
“That makes sense.”
 
“He also said that the jail nearby didn’t care if people died a little early as long as they weren’t the ones who paid the jailer for better treatment.”
 
“A thousand years ago jails and hospitals would have been perfect for a vampire to feed from, and he’s right: no one would have given a second thought to a few more deaths.”
 
“Most of the vampires I’ve known well wouldn’t feed in jail or hospitals. It wasn’t elegant enough victims, I guess. I know the vampire council didn’t feed like that.”
 
“They were aristocrats, Anita. They could prey on peasants and no one would question it, or no one that mattered. There were enough human nobles who used the common people like their personal hunting ground and no one questioned them either.”
 
“The only two nobles I know that were ever brought up on charges were Elizabeth Báthory and Gilles de Rais, but at least Báthory was caught because she had the bad taste to use a minor noble’s daughter as a victim. Only de Rais was actually put on trial without a noble victim.”
 
“I always thought one of them must have had a vampire involved somewhere.”
 
“The vampire community actually thinks that Gilles de Rais sold his soul to the devil after his friend Joan of Arc was burned alive. It sort of damaged his faith in God’s goodness.”
 
“I could see that,” Edward said.
 
“You and I both know that even if the devil wanted his soul, the urges that made him a murdering pedophile had to be there all along.”
 
“Yes, but he used his faith in God to not act on them. It was the theory that the Church used for centuries that you could pray yourself out of pedophilic urges, so become a priest.”
 
“Yeah, ask the victims of pedophile priests and nuns how that’s worked out.”
 
“I didn’t say I agreed with it.”
 
“Sorry. Raised Catholic, so it’s a sore point with me.”
 
“Sometimes I forget that about you.”
 
“What?”
 
“That once you were a good little Catholic schoolgirl.”
 
“I actually didn’t go to Catholic school.”
 
“Really, so no little plaid skirt outfit?”
 
“No. Sorry to disappoint you.”
 
“Schoolgirl really isn’t my thing.”
 
“Somehow I didn’t think it would be.”
 
I could almost hear the smile on the other end of the phone as he said, “I don’t think either of us spends a lot of time wondering what each other’s kinks are.”
 
“Nope,” I said.
 
“So why is She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named suddenly going apeshit with her vampires?”
 
“Damian doesn’t think it’s her.”
 
“Could it be some of her vampires without her knowledge?”
 
“He only left five years ago, Edward, and he says she’d kill any of her vamps that were this careless.”
 
“Vampires are legal in more countries than ever before, Anita. Why is she still in hiding if she’s not doing this?”
 
“Apparently, she’s like a lot of the really old ones. She doesn’t believe the new attitude will last and when the humans start killing vampires again, she’ll still be hidden in her fortress in Ireland, untouched.”
 
“Then Damian’s old group isn’t the only vampires in Ireland anymore.”
 
“She was powerful enough to keep out other vampires for centuries. If she can’t stop this new wave, then Damian thinks she’s lost power.”
 
“What would cause her to go from scary enough that you don’t even want to speak her name to letting a bunch of new vampires run riot in Dublin?”
 
“Damian didn’t have a guess on that.”
 
“Do you?”
 
I thought about it as I drove through the night-dark neighborhoods, wending my way toward the old warehouse district that, thanks to the Circus of the Damned, had gotten gentrified into a tourist attraction area.
 
“Anita, you still there?”
 
“I’m here, Edward, just thinking. I don’t know. Vampires either grow in power or fade. The force I felt a few years back wasn’t going to fade away.”
 
“If She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named isn’t causing this, but she can’t stop it either, then what is going on?”
 
“It would almost have to be something more powerful than her that’s just arrived in Ireland.”
 
“What could be more powerful than a night hag that can throw fear halfway across the world?”
 
“I’d say the Mother of All Darkness, but she’s dead.”
 
“We killed her,” he said.
 
“Yes, we did.” I could have quibbled that the actual killing part was mostly me, but if Edward hadn’t fought his way to me with reinforcements I’d have been dead instead of her, so “we” killed her. Striking the death blow without acknowledging all the people who helped you get in place to deliver it is just poor sportsmanship.
 
“Then what else, or who else, is tough enough to make She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named back off?”
 
“You do know it’s She-Who-Made-Him, right?”
 
“Yeah, but saying it the other way is more fun.”
 
“I didn’t know you were a Harry Potter fan.”
 
“We took turns reading them to Becca when she was little. By the end of the series, she helped read it aloud to all of us.”
 
“I can see why you like the books,” I said.
 
“So, what’s scary enough to make She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named scared?”
 
“I didn’t say she was scared, Edward.”
 
“Scary people only back off for one reason, Anita.”
 
“And that is?”
 
“That they meet someone scarier,” he said.
 
“Or you reach an understanding like you and I did when we just worked together but weren’t friends yet.”
 
“True, but I don’t think ancient vampires really have work friends.”
 
“Not really,” I said.
 
“How do I contact Damian’s old master?”
 
“You don’t.”
 
“She has to know something about this, Anita.”
 
“I’ve shared Damian’s memories of this woman, this thing, and you do not want to be alone with her.”
 
“I can take care of myself.”
 
“I know that, but unless you’re going to kill her, leave her alone.”
 
“She really did scare you.”
 
“Yes, Edward, she really did.”
 
“I still need information from her, or one of her group.”
 
“I’ll talk to Jean-Claude and Damian, and the others. I’ll see if I can find you someone to talk to without dealing directly with her.”
 
“The last vampire you were this scared of was the Mother of All Darkness.”
 
“Which should give you a clue why I don’t want you messing with her while I’m half a world away.”
 
“You think I need the backup?”
 
“I think anyone going up against her would need backup.”
 
“I’ll bear it in mind,” he said, and I didn’t like the way he said it.
 
“Promise me that you will wait until I get back to you to try to find her.”
 
“People are dying here, Anita.”
 
“But they’re strangers to me. You aren’t.”
 
“You just don’t want to explain to Donna and the kids why I’m not around anymore.”
 
“Damn straight I don’t, so don’t get dead while I’m not there to watch your back.”
 
“I’m trying to get them to invite you in on this, but they have a serious hard-on against necromancy here.”
 
“The Irish are so welcoming to almost all kinds of magic, except mine. Peachy.”
 
“I may have found a way around the mainstream police to bring you over.”
 
“Do tell.”
 
“No, I’ll share when it’s a reality, or I’ll share when you tell me how to contact Damian’s old master.”
 
“Fine, keep your secrets. I’ve got a date to get to.”
 
“Jean-Claude, or Micah and Nathaniel?” he asked.
 
“Some mix of those,” I said.
 
“Do I want to know?”
 
“Probably not.”
 
“Have fun then, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
 
“Edward, you’re a heterosexual man. I plan to do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t do.”
 
He laughed then, and we hung up on the sound of laughter, which was a good way to end. I hoped Edward would keep his promise to leave Damian’s old master alone. I was supposed to be his best man at his wedding to Donna. They were finally going to make it legal. I did not want to miss the wedding because the groom got killed in Ireland. I said a quick prayer that he’d be safe and that we’d find a way to stop the killings.
 
I saw the bright lights of the Circus of the Damned up ahead, turning the night into a carnival of color. I would avoid the bright front and the happy crowds and go in the back, where it was darker, less crowded, and far more romantic. Jean-Claude was waiting for me. It would be a good night.