Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 22

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Micah had to put his phone in his other hand because she wanted to see that the sapphires went all the way around. "Very pretty," she said at last, but not like her heart was in it. Again, I had the impression that she'd cared for Nathaniel a lot more than he'd cared for her, which surprised the hell out of me. Not because Nathaniel wasn't wonderful, because I thought he was, but because Melanie had seemed crazy and to care for no one but herself when I first met her.

Micah tried to show her the phone pictures again, but she looked past the phone to me, and she wasn't hostile this time. "You aren't wearing the ring that's in all the videos," she said.

"It's for formal occasions," I said.

"What do you wear for everyday?" she asked.

She was a lamia, her dead vampire master had said she was the last one in the world, but she still wanted to see the ring. Melanie might be more girly girl than I would ever be, even with the snake tail.

"I'll show you the ring if you'll please look at the pictures and answer our questions."

"I was going to answer Callahan's questions."

"Then it's a win-win," I said and went to show her the ring and see if we could get past the weird interpersonal shit and actually learn something. Nicky came with me, and I didn't tell him to stay back. I knew that between those red lips were retractable fangs with the type of venom that had almost killed me once. Did I think she'd try to bite me tonight? No, but with Nicky at my side, I knew if she did try, she'd die failing.

13

"WHY WOULD I know anything of this abomination?" she asked after she'd looked at the pictures.

Micah answered, "They think their family curse originated in ancient Greece, and you were alive then, and in the same area of the world."

"So you thought because my beauty reminds you of these monstrosities that I would know how they came to exist?" Her voice was rising.

"I had hoped you would know something that might help them."

"Help them? Help them how?" She stood up, if that was the right word. She was taller than both Micah and me. Given how much tail she had left lying on the floor, she could have been taller than Nicky if she'd wanted to be.

"They want a cure," Micah said.

"If it is a curse, there is no cure, only another spell."

"Do you think it's a curse?" Micah asked.

"No, curses in my time were aimed at one person, a tribe, or a city perhaps, but not a family line. If the gods wished to destroy a family, they would destroy the bloodline. There would be no descendants left."

I had to ask. "Did the gods actually curse people back then?"

"Of course they did."

"Did you ever see a god or goddess curse someone for real? I mean not just a story you heard, but with your own eyes."

She looked disdainfully at me, rising a little higher on the muscular reach of her tail so she could look even farther down her nose at me. "I was worshipped as a goddess once, Anita. I know the gods cursed mortals."

What are you supposed to say to that?

"We meant no insult," Micah said.

She raised herself higher yet, stretching up on that long, multicolored tail so that it gave the illusion she was literally growing above us like some stage giant. She hissed and I saw the fangs between those ruby red lips. Her forked tongue flicked out between them.

I felt Nicky tense at my back and said, "Silver bullets don't work on her."

"How about lead?" he asked.

"Nope."

"Would you kill me, Anita Blake? Would you finish what you tried to do years ago?"

"You threatened me first," I said.

"Anita killed your old master and freed you, Melanie," Nathaniel said, voice mild and soothing. He was trying to talk her down and maybe remind me that I didn't need to add fuel to her fire.

"She did not do it to free me. She did it to save herself and Jean-Claude."

"True, but she still freed you from someone you hated."

She lowered herself a few inches. "It is good not to be enslaved."

Micah said, "I didn't think that the snake lycanthropes in these photos were lamia, or anything close to you."

"Then why bring them to me?"

"Because there aren't that many snake shapeshifters of any kind, and I hoped you might know more than I did about them."

"Do you know every type of feline supernatural being or shapeshifter in the world?" she asked. She was calmer now. Her temper used to be a lot worse than this. Maybe she'd gone to therapy, too, or maybe just being enslaved to the Earthmover had made her crazier.

Micah smiled and shook his head. "No, no, I don't."

"Then why should I know all the snake ones?"

"Fair point, but you are from ancient Greece and the family traces itself back to there."

"Just because they are of Greek descent doesn't mean I would know the family. Callahan is an Irish last name; do you know all the people of Irish descent?"

He sighed, still smiling. "Of course not."

"Does it amuse you to waste my time?"

"No, no, I'm laughing at myself for wasting both our times and grasping at straws."

"Grasping at straws--what does that mean?"

"It means I'm desperate to help this family, and I'm willing to do almost anything to find a way to do that."

"Why do you care so much about them?" she asked.

"If you'd met them, seen the despair, then you wouldn't have to ask."

She was down to her usual height. She looked at him with her gold, slit-pupiled eyes, and I couldn't read the expression in them. They were different enough from any of the eyes that I knew how to read that she was blank to me.

"I do not think I would be as moved as you were by their plight."

"It's not like any shapeshifting I've ever seen. The snakes are separate from them. It's not them turning into the snake, but as if their body parts are being changed into individual serpents. But the human part of them continues to be separate from it. The snake part doesn't communicate with the rest of them as a normal lycanthrope's beast does."

"My tail does not talk to me either. It is part of me, not some animal trapped inside me as yours is."

"What is happening to this family is neither true lycanthropy nor the ancient magic of the lamia."

"Then they are damned like Sisyphus in Tartarus with no possibility of rescue."

Jamie said, "Sorry, Melanie, but the crowd is getting restless."

"I'll be ready in a moment, Jamie. Callahan and Anita were just leaving." She leaned down to get her bottle of sparkling water and sip from it again. She kissed Nathaniel on the cheek, but the rest of us didn't even get offered a handshake. We were dismissed.

14

THE NEXT GROUP of fans was already being ushered through the door as we went out the exit. The noise of the midway seemed louder for some reason. Maybe I was just tired. Yeah, I was suddenly exhausted. Nathaniel squeezed my hand and got me to look at him. "Are you okay, Anita?" He had to almost yell over the music from the nearest gaming booth, or maybe it was the Ferris wheel, which towered over everything.

"Tired. I think the time-zone change and all the issues with the flights are finally catching up with me," I said, leaning in toward him so I didn't have to yell.

"I know I'm tired," Micah added from the other side of Nathaniel.

Nicky added, "The interview with the lamia was hard on Anita."

We all looked back at him, because he'd let Bram take lead on the return trip. "Why?" Nathaniel asked, looking at me.

"I associate Melanie with a lot of stressful events, Nathaniel."

"Anita almost died twice thanks to the lamia's old master," Rodina added from beside me.

"So Melanie is sort of a trigger for you," he said, studying my face.

I nodded and looked away, because I didn't want him to accidently read my thoughts in that moment, because they weren't fair to him.

"Did you know how close Anita came to dying before you dated the lamia?" Rodina a

sked.

He shook his head. "The last one, because that was in public so everyone in the preternatural community here in St. Louis knew, but I didn't know about the other attack until I'd been in Anita's life for a while."

"He didn't betray you with her, Anita," Rodina said.

I frowned at her. "I never said he did."

"You feel it, though, and I am forced to feel it with you."

Nathaniel stopped walking so suddenly that Nicky almost ran into us.

"You don't normally share out loud the emotions Anita is feeling, in front of the people she's feeling it about," Nicky said.

"Oh, sorry," Rodina said, and she closed her eyes, looking almost pained. "Well, if that burst of emotions is any indication, I have fucked up royally."

"Yeah," I said, "thanks."

"Do you actually think I betrayed you with Melanie?" Nathaniel asked.

"Let's get out of the crowd before we do this," Bram said from in front of us.

I looked at the person running the pellet-gun booth. I'd thought he was human, but a moment of concentration and he was a shapeshifter of some kind. A lot of our employees weren't human anymore, which meant they could hear above the crowd noise. Great, just great.

"Thanks, Bram, yeah, get us some privacy."


Tags: Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Horror
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