My heart was in my throat, my pulse singing with that rush of adrenaline. I looked down at the ground and found I was only a few blood drops away from completing the circle.
But I hadn't concentrated at all. I'd walked circles with just naked steel and my will. Was the blood enough with me on automatic pilot? There was really only one way to find out. I let the blood drip from the machete and took those last few steps. I took my last step, but it was that last drop of Micah's blood that held power like the hot breath of some great beast. That power slid over me, over him, and out into the night, as that last drop of blood fell.
It had that feel that sometimes happens in emergencies where everything slows down, and the world becomes hard edge, like everything is carved of crystal. Painfully real, and full of sharp edges.
I realized in that crystalline moment that I had never used the blood of a shapeshifter to do a power circle, and the only time I'd used the blood of a vampire, the magic had gone horribly wrong. But that vampire had died to complete the circle, and Micah was alive. Not a sacrifice, only blood, but magically there wasn't as much difference between the two as we'd all like to believe. Cut yourself and it is a small death.
It was as if the power circle were a glass and power was poured into it, held in that small space. When I'd accidentally killed a vamp, the power had just been necromancy. This was warmer--it was like drowning in bathwater. So warm, hot, alive. The air was alive with power. It crawled over my skin, burned over me, so that I cried out.
Micah's cry echoed mine.
I turned through the heavy air and watched him collapse to his knees. He'd never been inside a completed power circle. Of course, I'd never been inside a circle when this kind of power went up. It was like some hybrid between the coldness of the grave and the heat of the lycanthrope. That's what had been wrong from the moment I'd hit the cemetery. That's why the dead had seemed more active than they should have been. Yes, my necromancy was getting stronger, but it was my tie to Micah that had made the dead whisper across my skin, Micah's nearness that had made the dead seem more "alive" than they had ever been.
Now we were drowning in that living power. The air inside the circle was growing heavier, thicker, more solid, as if soon it wouldn't be air at all but something plastic and unbreathable. I had to fight to inhale, as if the air were crushing me. I fell to my knees on top of the grave and suddenly knew what to do with all that power.
I plunged my hands into the soft, turned earth, and I called Emmett Leroy Rose from the grave. I tried to shout his name, but the air was too thick. I whispered his name, the way you whisper a lover's name in the dark. But it was enough, that whisper of name.
The ground shivered underneath me like the hide of a horse when a fly lands on it. I felt Emmett below me. Felt his rotting body in its coffin, inside the metal of its burial vault. Trapped underneath more than six feet of earth, and none of it mattered. I called him, and he came.
He came to me like a swimmer rising up, up through deep, black water. He reached for me. I plunged my hands into that shifting dirt. Always before I had stood on the grave but never in it. I had never laid my bare skin into the grave while the ground was doing things that ground was never meant to do.
I knew I was touching earth, but it didn't feel like dirt. It felt warmer, more like very thick liquid, and yet that wasn't it either. It was as if the earth under my hands had become part liquid and part air, so that my hands reached impossibly down and through that solid-seeming earth until fingers brushed mine. I grabbed at those fingers the way you'd grab at a drowning victim.
Hands grasped mine with that same desperate strength, as if they'd thought they were lost and my touch was the only solid thing in a liquid world.
I pulled my hands out of that sucking, liquid, airy earth, but something pushed as I pulled. Some power, some magic, something pushed as I pulled the zombie from the grave.
The zombie spilled upward out of the grave in a shuddering burst of dirt and energy. Some zombies crawl out, but some, most of mine lately, are just suddenly standing on the grave. This one was standing, his fingers still intertwined with mine. There was no pulse to his skin, no beat of life, but when he stared down at me, there was something in his dark eyes, something more than there should have been.
There was intelligence and a force of personality that shouldn't have been there until I put blood on his mouth. The dead do not speak without help from the living, one way or the other.
He was tall and broad, his skin the color of good, sweet chocolate. He smiled down at me in a way that no zombie should have done without first tasting blood.
I stared down at my hands still grasping his and realized that my hands had been covered in Micah's blood when I plunged them into the dirt. Had that done it? Had that been enough?
Voices were speaking, gasping, exclaiming, but it was all distant and less real than the dead man who held my hands. I knew he'd be very alive, because there'd been so much power. But even to me, the only thing he lacked was a pulse. Even by my standards it was good work.
"Emmett Leroy Rose, can you speak?" I asked.
Salvia interrupted me. "Marshal, this is highly irregular. We were not ready for you to raise Mr. Rose from the grave."
"We were ready," Laban said, "because the rest of us want to go home before dawn."
Rose's head turned slowly toward Salvia's voice, and his first words were "Arthur, is that you?"
Salvia's protests stopped in midsyllable. His eyes were wide enough to flash their whites. "Should it be able to do that? Should it recognize people?"
"Yes," I said, "sometimes they can."
Rose dropped my hands, and I let him. He moved toward Salvia's side of the circle. "Why, Arthur? Why did you order Jimmy to put the boy's body in my car?"
"I don't know what this thing's talking about. I didn't do anything. He was a pedophile. None of us knew it." But Salvia's words were a little too fast. I knew now why he'd been trying to delay the zombie-raising. Guilt.
Rose stepped forward, a little slow, a little uncertain, as if he looked more alive than he felt. "Me, a pedophile? You bastard. You knew that George's son was a f**king child molester. You knew, and you helped cover for him. You helped get him his kiddies, until he got too rough and killed that last one."
"You've done something to his mind, Marshal. He's babbling."
"No, Mr. Salvia, the dead don't lie. They tell the absolute truth as they know it."
Micah came to stand beside me, holding his wounded arm up and pressing on it. He seemed as fascinated with the walking dead man as the rest of them. He might never have seen a zombie before, but then he wasn't really seeing one now, not the kind most people call from the grave anyway.
Rose had come to the edge of the circle. "The moment you had Jimmy put the boy in my car, I was dead, Arthur. You might as well have put a bullet in me." He tried to take another step toward Salvia. The circle held, but I felt him push against it. That shouldn't have been possible. No matter how good the zombie, the circle should have been sacrosanct, inviolate. Something was wrong.
I called out, "Fox, your report said he died of natural causes."
Fox came to stand a little closer to the circle but not closer to Rose, as if he found the dead man a little unnerving. "He did. Heart attack. Not poison, or anything like that. A heart attack."
"You swear it," I said.
"I swear," he said.
"Why put Georgie's last victim in my car, Arthur?" Rose continued. "What the f**k did I ever do to you? I had a wife and kids, and you took me away from them the moment that body went in my car."
"Oh, shit," I whispered.
"What's wrong?" Micah asked.
"He blames Salvia for his death. Not the pedophile that hurt the kid." My stomach clenched tight, and I started to pray, Please don't let this go bad.
Fox said, "You'd think he'd blame the guy who put the body in his car."
"He blames Salvia because that's who ordered it done," I said.
"You're scared," Micah said softly. "Why?"
I spoke to Fox, trying to keep my voice low and not attract the zombie's attention. "A murdered zombie always does one thing first and foremost: it kills its murderer. Until its murderer is dead, no one can control it. Not even me."
Fox gave me wide eyes on the other side of the circle. Franklin had moved well back from the circle, from the zombie, from me. Fox whispered, "Rose wasn't murdered. He died of a heart attack."