"You have abused my hospitality," Jean-Claude said. His voice filled the room with hissing echoes.
"There is nothing I can say to apologize," Sabin said. "But I did not mean to do it. I am using so much of my power just to maintain myself that I do not have the control I once did."
I moved slowly away from the wall, gun still pointed. I wanted to see Jean-Claude's face. I needed to see how badly he was hurt. I eased around the desk until I could see him from the corner of my eye. His face was untouched, flawless and gleaming like mother of pearl.
He raised his hand, one thin line of blood still trailing down. "This is no accident."
"Come into the light, my friend," Dumare said. "You must let them see, or they will not understand."
"I do not want to be seen."
"You are very close to using up all my good will," Jean-Claude said.
"Mine, too," I added. I was hoping I could either shoot Sabin or put the gun down soon. Even a two-handed shooting stance is not meant to be maintained indefinitely. Your hands start to waver just a bit.
Sabin glided towards the desk. The black cloak spilled around his feet like a pool of darkness. All vampires were graceful, but this was ridiculous. I realized he wasn't walking at all. He was levitating inside that dark cloak.
His power flowed over my skin like icy water. My hands were suddenly steady once more. Nothing like having several hundred years worth of vampire coming at you to sharpen your nerves.
Sabin stopped on the far side of the desk. He was expending power just to move, just to be here, as if like a shark, if he stopped moving he'd die.
Jean-Claude glided around me. His power danced over my body, raising the hair at the back of my neck, making my skin tight. He stopped almost within reach of the other vampire. "What has happened to you, Sabin?"
Sabin stood on the edge of the light. The lamp should have cast some light into the hood of his cloak, but it didn't. The inside of the hood was as smooth and black and empty as a cave. His voice came out of that nothingness. It made me jump.
"Love, Jean-Claude, love happened to me. My beloved grew a conscience. She said it was wrong to feed upon people. We were once people, after all. For love of her, I tried to drink cold blood. I tried animal blood. But it was not enough to sustain me."
I stared into that darkness. I kept pointing the gun, but I was beginning to feel silly. Sabin didn't seem at all afraid of it, which was unnerving. Maybe he didn't care. That was also unnerving. "She talked you into going vegetarian. Great," I said. "You seem powerful enough."
He laughed, and with the laughter, the shadows in his hood faded slowly, like a curtain lifting. He threw it back in one quick flourish.
I didn't scream, but I gasped and took a step back. I couldn't help myself. When I realized I'd done it, I stopped and made myself take back that step, meet his eyes. No flinching.
His hair was thick and straight and golden, falling like a shining curtain to his shoulders. But his skin . . . his skin had rotted away on half his face. It was like late-stage leprosy, but worse. The flesh was puss-filled, gangrenous, and should have stunk to high heaven. The other half of his face was still beautiful. The kind of face that medieval painters had borrowed for cherubim, a golden perfection. One crystalline blue eye rolled in its rotting socket as if in danger of spilling out onto his cheek. The other eye was secure and watched my face.
"You can put up the gun, ma petite. It was an accident, after all," Jean-Claude said.
I lowered the Browning, but didn't put it up. It took more effort than was pretty to say calmly, "This happened because you stopped feeding off of humans?"
"We believe so," Dumare said.
I tore my gaze away from Sabin's ravaged face and looked back at Dominic. "You think I can help cure him of this?" I couldn't keep the disbelief out of my voice.
"I heard of your reputation in Europe."
I raised my eyebrows.
"No modesty, Ms. Blake. Among those of us who notice such things, you are gaining a certain notoriety."
Notoriety, not fame. Hmmm.
"Put the gun away, ma petite. Sabin has done all the--what is your word--grandstanding he will do tonight. Haven't you Sabin?"
"I fear so, it all seems to go so badly now."
I holstered the gun and shook my head. "I honestly don't have the faintest idea how to help you."
"If you knew how, would you help me?" Sabin asked.
I looked at him and nodded. "Yes."
"Even though I am a vampire and you are a vampire executioner."
"Have you done anything in this country that you need killing for?"
Sabin laughed. The rotting skin stretched, and a ligament popped with a wet snap. I had to look away. "Not yet, Ms. Blake, not yet." His face sobered quickly; the humor abruptly faded. "You school your face to show nothing, Jean-Claude, but I read the horror in your eyes."
Jean-Claude's skin had gone back to its usual milky perfection. His face was still lovely, perfect, but at least he'd stopped glowing. His midnight blue eyes were just eyes now. He was still beautiful, but it was a nearly human beauty. "Is it not worth a little horror?" he asked.
Sabin smiled, and I wished he hadn't. The muscles on the rotted side didn't work, and his mouth hung crooked. I glanced away, then made myself look back. If he could be trapped inside that face, I could look at it.
"Then you will help me?"
"I would aid you if I could, but it is Anita you have come to ask. She must give her own answer."
"Well, Ms. Blake?"
"I don't know how to help you," I repeated.
"Do you understand how dire my circumstances are, Ms. Blake? The true horror of it, do you grasp it?"
"The rot probably won't kill you, but it's progressive, I take it?"
"Oh, yes, it's progressive, virulently so."
"I would help you if I could, Sabin, but what can I do that Dumare can't? He's a necromancer, maybe as powerful as I am, maybe more. Why do you need me?"
"I realize, Ms. Blake, that you don't have something specifically for Sabin's problem," Dumare said. "As far as I can discover, he is the only vampire to ever suffer such a fate, but I thought if we came to another necromancer as powerful as myself--" he smiled modestly "--or nearly as powerful as myself, perhaps together we could work up a spell to help him."
"A spell?" I glanced at Jean-Claude.