Dark Needs at Night's Edge

Chapter 22

Bowen put his hand on her shoulder. "He might no' have seen it, Mari."

"Anyone immersed in magick of this sort would have seen it. That really pisses me off. I'm supposed to be the most powerful witch, and my spell got owned in two weeks."

Think... think.

Control - never had Conrad needed it more; never had he been more in danger of losing it completely.

Wait...  "Witch, if you don't do something about this, everyone will think they can overturn your spells at will. Who would pay you for spells that don't take?"

MacRieve growled, just as Mariketa said, "You think I can't see what you're doing? Unfortunately, it's working."

"You canna think of this!" MacRieve snapped.

Mariketa cast the Lykae a troubled glance, then told Conrad, "Vampire, understand that I've never done this on a human. And another problem - I don't even have her body. I'd need to scry for the location of it, again while I'm doing everything else!"

"She's fading." Conrad raked his fingers through his hair. "Time's running out! What do we have to lose?"

MacRieve said, "She could come back wrong."

Conrad met his eyes. "I'll do what's necessary if she does."

"It's no' only that," the Lykae said. "Mari can enthrall herself in the mirror. Her eyes will incinerate anything that comes between her and her reflection, and she'll get stuck in an eternal trance. I feel for you, vampire, but I will no' allow her to put herself at risk."

"Sebastian saved your life - and he spared you from an unspeakable fate. You owe him a debt."

MacRieve's gaze flickered over Mariketa and changed color with some fierce emotion. Hardening his expression, he turned to Conrad. "No' a debt like this."

Mariketa turned to N¨Ļomi on the cot. "Would you want this, honey? A mortal life?"

When she nodded weakly, Mariketa stood and crossed to MacRieve. Gazing up at him, the witch said, "I think I can do this. I have to try. I mean, look at the vampire."

N¨Ļomi had just gone unconscious - Conrad knew he appeared on the razor's edge when MacRieve scowled.

"We're running out of time," Conrad grated.

Mariketa pulled MacRieve farther to the side. "You said that if I married you, you would never get in the way of my career. This is spectacularly getting in my career's way. Do you know how good this would look on my r¨Ļsum¨Ļ?"

"I also promised your parents and your coven that I would no' let you get lost in the mirror again. You're no' ready yet, lass! It's too soon after... that last time."

"Bowen, this has sat ill with me since I did the spell on N¨Ļomi. And I know you hate Cade, but he and his brother did save my life. He's been calling for my help with this. If I save N¨Ļomi, I'll be able to repay my debt to them." She took one of his hands in both of hers. "Just believe in me. I can do this. I feel like I can." When he clenched his jaw, evidently a sign of defeat, she smiled. "Will you get my Big-Spell gloves?"

Muttering in Gaelic, he scuffed back into the mirror.

While MacRieve was gone, the witch told Conrad, "The cost is going to be high, vampire. I'm gonna need ten mil for this one. I accept real estate, stones, or bullion. Or stock certificates from the twenties that are exponentially undervalued. And you have to vow to the Lore to pay it, since we don't have time for contracts."

"Agreed, ten million," he answered easily. "I vow to the Lore to pay it. But you must agree to keep this secret. If the demons know, they will only come after her again."

"I'm bound by the mercenary code to keep our dealings confidential," she said, but she was clearly troubled, conflicted about hiding this from her demon friend, a demon who'd apparently saved her life.

"Good, then. For the record, witch, I think you can do this, too."

Her expression briefly turned grim. "Just be ready to make hard choices, Conrad, in case I can't."

Still surly, MacRieve returned with a strange pair of fingerless gloves. The palms looked to be lined with some kind of bendable mirror.

As Mariketa donned them, she took a deep breath, seeming to shake off her disquiet. She told Conrad, "I like N¨Ļomi - I'd have tried this for half that amount."

"I love N¨Ļomi - I'd have paid anything you could dream up."

"Oh, snap! Live and learn, eh? Okay, one vampire's Bride brought back from the grave." She slapped her gloved hands and rubbed them together. "Let's put the fun back in funeral!"

40

Mariketa faced the mirror, tilting her head. "This is the first time I've really looked at my reflection in months." To the Lykae, she said, "No wonder you love me. Could I be any cuter?"

"You will no' charm me from my apprehension, so doona bother," MacRieve said. "You're tae pull back if you feel anything amiss. Do you ken?"

She nodded. "Got it. Now, I need two mirrors standing on both sides of me, stat."

Conrad eased away from N¨Ļomi. "The broken mirrors on this wall are all there is."

"Grab them. Bring them to me."

He ripped a sizable shard from the wall in the studio. Blood from his fingers ran along the edges as he shoved the jagged tip through the wood floor until it stood upright. "Will this work?"

Gazing at his blood, she absently said, "It'll have to. Do the second one."

He repeated the process. As she continued staring at the blood, her eyes went wide as if with realization, before they narrowed on the streak.

"Should I clean that?"

She hesitated for long moments. "Leave it," she finally said with a swallow.

Conrad grated, "Witch, what is it?"

She averted her face, as if with guilt. "We're ready."

Once Mariketa was nearly enclosed by the mirrors, she made her hands into fists and closed her eyes. When her lids slid open, her eyes were... mirrors themselves, gleaming and reflecting everything she gazed upon. Her fingers uncurled and light glowed from one of her gloved palms.

Conrad hurried back to N¨Ļomi, but she was fading. The more N¨Ļomi's form dimmed, the brighter the light in the witch's palm grew.

Just as Mariketa's toes left the ground, a language even Conrad didn't recognize began to spill from her lips, but he could sense that her words were throbbing with power. With one hand, she made a fist around the light, as if physically grabbing onto N¨Ļomi's spirit. "She's going to disappear now," Mariketa told him, never glancing from the mirror.

When N¨Ļomi's hand vanished from his own, madness threatened. Her robe, nightgown and the ring he'd given her remained on the cot. He swallowed. Keep it together.

He took the ring, determined to see her wearing it once more.

"Found her grave." The witch pointed the forefinger of her other hand down and stirred. "I'm beginning the body." Again and again, she circled that finger, seeming to be meeting great resistance. The spell began taking a toll. She grew out of breath, nearly hyperventilating.

"You can do this, Mariketa." Conrad swallowed. "Bring my N¨Ļomi back to me... ."

The light in her hands intensified even more. The air grew heavier, ominous. As if agitated by the tension, creatures began skittering in the walls surrounding them.

MacRieve peered around him. "This does no' feel right. As if we're doing something we ought never do!"

"Shut up, MacRieve," Conrad snapped, though he'd felt the same atmosphere, threatening, like they were challenging a force far greater than they - and might be crushed for their audacity.

She began chanting once more. The light was building, building... . She shoved her hands out, seeming to fuel even more magick into the spell. The house began quaking.

"Have to... break through. Need to age... "

Age?

More unintelligible chanting, louder and louder, until she was practically screaming the words. The studio windows exploded. Papers flew in a tempest. "Bowen, I'm... losing it!"

"Mariketa!" With a roar, MacRieve lunged for her, trying to heave her away from the glass. But the Lykae couldn't budge the small female from the mirror's hold.

The silver glaze of her eyes darkened, as if ink flooded inside them. They began to turn wholly black. "This is bad!" she cried.

"No, Mari, doona do this!" He cupped his hand over her eyes, but the skin of his palm began to burn away in two distinct holes.

"Oh, Hekate, no!" she screamed.

The light in her hands exploded like a bomb, so intense it briefly blinded Conrad. "What was that?" he yelled. "What is happening?"

Mariketa gasped for breath. "N¨Ļomi... embodied."

He yanked his head around. "Where is she? Tell me!"

"There's a problem! It - " Her body stiffened, unmoving. She stared unblinking at the mirror.

"Ah, God, no' again, Mari!" MacRieve used his other hand to shield her eyes, until two smoking holes appeared in that hand as well. He snatched at her again, but even with his strength, he couldn't wrest her from that spot.

"What was the problem, witch? Where is N¨Ļomi?" Conrad was frenzied to see her. "Where is she embodied?" He charged for Mariketa. "Wake your witch up, MacRieve!"

The Lykae peered over his shoulder, baring his fangs. "Watch your step, vampire. I'm a breath from turnin'."

"How can I find N¨Ļomi? Break the goddamned mirror!"

"No' a chance - it could kill her."

"Put something bigger in front of her!" Conrad bit out, struggling to control himself.

"She burns anything away!"

"How long could she be like this?"

"Fucking forever, vampire!" MacRieve roared, his irises turning ice blue, the beast flickering over his form. If the Lykae turned because his mate was in danger, even Conrad couldn't defeat him. "As I'd bloody told you!"

Pacing, Conrad stabbed his fingers through his hair. "Christ, I don't know where N¨Ļomi is!"

He'd dreamed that she was kept from him no matter how hard he fought to reach her. Nightmares of her being... trapped in the dark? He clutched his forehead.

She was trapped somewhere right now. And that was why the witch hadn't returned N¨Ļomi to him here. But where in the hell would she be?

Wait. If the witch had been able to restore N¨Ļomi's body and put her spirit within it, but then got interrupted...

The answer hit him.

"Ah, God, I know where she is!" And he couldn't trace to her because he'd never been there before. "I need a car!" MacRieve and the witch had come through the mirror. Nikolai had driven his away weeks ago.

The Lykae ignored him, curling his finger under the witch's chin. "Mari, love, this is goin' tae hurt like hell." He took a deep breath. And then he stepped in front of her gaze.

The skin of his torso began to melt away as if burned by lasers, but he gritted his teeth, took the pain. "Lass," he bit out, "after this we will have words."

Where am I?

N¨Ļomi woke in a dank, close space, blinking repeatedly in the darkness. She had no pain in her body, none at all. Her wound felt totally healed. Mari had done it! But where was everyone? Why was N¨Ļomi alone?

A horrific suspicion tried to take hold of her mind, but she fought it. Her breaths grew ragged, sounding so loud in the confines.

When her dizziness passed, she rose and immediately knocked her head.

"Nooo," she moaned, beginning to shudder. "It isn't possible." Tears began pouring from her eyes. M¨¨re de Dieu... This can't be happening!

She was in her coffin, which resided in the French Society's tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1. At least thirty other coffins lay within.

Conrad will come for me. Somehow he'll find me... .

But hours seemed to grind by. Gasping rank air, she fought not to think about the bodies decomposing all around her.

None of her bones were in her coffin - it was as if she'd reincorporated them. She was embodied, which meant she was alive once more.

N¨Ļomi had grown a body just in time for it to die... .

Then the insects came.

She screamed. She screamed hysterically until the foul air grew scarce.

41

"Fuck!" Conrad yelled to the sky. He had no car, no idea how to get to her.

Conrad couldn't trace to her. He'd never been to a cemetery in New Orleans.

The Valkyrie compound was near Elancourt. He could sprint the distance and steal a car. Don't know where to drive to.

Conrad had rarely let himself even contemplate asking for aid - but now that he had to, only one person came to mind.

Nikolai. Deep down Conrad was still a Wroth, and he needed his brother's help - the brother who was locked up in Kristoff's jail... .

Conrad traced to Mount Oblak. Though it was daylight outside, the castle was dimmed.

"Nikolai?" he bellowed as he began wending down shadowy corridors. The sound echoed, summoning the castle guard.

Soon groups of soldiers advanced on him, swords at the ready - no doubt astonished that a crazed, red-eyed vampire was loose in the Forbearer capitol.

Conrad took their hits, seizing weapons with his bloodied hands to toss them away. Descending even deeper into the bowels of the castle, he twisted necks, breaking them but not killing the immortal soldiers.

"Nikolai!" he yelled again.

"Conrad?"

Conrad followed the sound to a sizable cell. Inside, behind thick bars, were his three brothers.

They stared in bewilderment. Conrad knew what he looked like. He had blood across his face and body, gaping wounds all over him, his face beaten by those demons.

"What in the hell are you doing here?" Nikolai demanded. "And whose blood is that?"

Conrad studied the cell bars. Obstacles. "I don't have time for questions."

Murdoch said, "You have to leave - they'll execute you if they capture you."

He gave a rough laugh. "Defy them to do either." He clamped the bars. Have to get to her... . Gritting his teeth, he began to strain against them.

"Those are as protected as your chains were," Sebastian said. "The wood, the metal, and the stone surrounding them are all reinforced. You can't possibly - "

Conrad bent them wide, actually breaking the metal.

"My God," Nikolai murmured.

"Need your help to find my Bride!" He yanked the wreckage free. "I'm not mad... but I need you to trace me to every cemetery in New Orleans. Do you know where they are?"

Nikolai gaped. "Your... Bride?"

"His heart beats," Murdoch said.

"Do you know where they are, or not?" Conrad bellowed.

Nikolai nodded slowly. "I know all the cemeteries. Myst and I hunt ghouls there."

"Will you do this?"

"Conrad, just calm - "

"Fuck calm, Nikolai!" Suddenly Conrad sensed great power behind him.

"So this is Conrad Wroth," Kristoff said.

Without turning, Conrad sneered, "The bloody Russian. What do you want?"

"I'd known the Wroths were genetically incapable of fawning to a king, but a modicum of respect... "

Conrad faced the natural-born vampire, surrounded by his king's guard.

"You've taken out my entire castle guard. Something a Horde battalion couldn't do. They didn't tell me you were this strong," Kristoff said in a casual tone. His pale eyes were expressionless, but he was calculating. Conrad could sense it - and he believed he knew what Kristoff wanted.

"But then, you've been blooded."

"I don't have time for this!" Conrad snapped. "I'll kill you just to keep you from speaking."

His guards tensed, hands at their sword hilts. "Kill me? You wouldn't know your Bride if not for me, if not for your brothers. You'd have been dead three hundred years ago."

"I've put that together!"

To Nikolai, Kristoff said, "He took out the guards without killing a single one - almost as if he was making a point. You were right. Conrad isn't lost. He's... quite a few things, but he's not irredeemable. And I can concede when I made a mistake. Though you should have come to me instead of willfully breaking our laws."

Nikolai shrugged. "I couldn't take the risk that you would say no. He's my brother," he said, as if that explained everything.

Kristoff turned back to Conrad. "Swear fealty to me, and all of you leave today as allies. Otherwise we fight."

There wasn't any time left to fight. "I'll vow... that I'll never engage you or your army."

Kristoff studied him, then said, "It will do for now." To the brothers, he added, "Take a week off. And do get your Brides to cease plotting my downfall."

When the king and his men disappeared, Nikolai said, "Conrad, you must tell me what's happened for me to help you. Who is your Bride?"

Conrad hastily said, "N¨Ļomi, this beautiful little dancer. Love her. So much it pains me. Have to find her."

"Why do you think you need to go to a cemetery to find her?"

"She was a ghost, the one I told you about. But no longer. She died again tonight and might have been resurrected - or embodied, fuck if I know the difference - but the witch, the werewolf, and I lost her body. One of the bodies. Or else I just can't find it. I'm going to go to every goddamned cemetery in the city and listen for her heartbeat."

Sebastian raised his brows and said, "The ghost thing again," just as Murdoch muttered, "Con's thoroughly lost it."

Conrad snapped his teeth at them. "This happened!"

"I don't know what outcome I'm hoping for," Sebastian said. "Conrad's either irretrievably mad, or his Bride is a spirit from beyond whose corpse is lost. This seems like a lose-lose."

"He always did things differently," Murdoch said, daring to slap Conrad on the back. "I would like to stay, but I have an emergency that's weeks overdue. Good luck, Con." He traced away.

"Nikolai, do you have this one?" Sebastian asked. "I need to make sure the Valkyrie stand down."

Conrad turned to Nikolai, struggling to calm his tone. He wanted to punch his fist into the wall with frustration, to howl to the ceiling with anguish. His little Bride was in the dark... was she frightened? He stifled a shudder.

To get to N¨Ļomi, he had to convince them that he hadn't lost his mind. "Know this sounds crazy. But I am... I am asking you to believe me in this. Just... just take me to the cemeteries."

Sebastian said, "I don't think he's ever asked for anything."

Conrad grasped his forehead. "Nikolai, please, she's going to be" - his hoarse voice broke with emotion - "she'll be... afraid."

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