Home > The Day of the Dead (Cassandra Palmer #3.1)(3)

The Day of the Dead (Cassandra Palmer #3.1)(3)
Author: Karen Chance

“I have to feed,” he said simply.

Instead of recoiling as he’d expected, she merely took in his injuries with an experienced eye. “Yeah. Heroics have a way of coming back and biting you in the ass. But when you’ve done we need to talk.”

He nodded and hunched over Miguel so at least she wouldn’t have to watch. Tomas couldn’t remember the last time he’d fed from another vampire, but he quickly recalled why it wasn’t common practice. The reused blood nourished him, the light-headed rush of feeding giving the same almost narcotic high as always, but the taste was like metal in his mouth. He forced himself to finish, trying to concentrate on mending and on the grating sensation in his knee slowly fading. The healing of wounds, especially if done so quickly, was excruciating and this was no exception.

Tears had leaked out of the corners of his eyes by the time he was finished, forced out by the pain, but Tomas didn’t mind. Pain was good. Pain meant he was still alive.

“I hate it when that happens.”

Tomas looked up to find the girl scowling around at the cemetery. Or what was left of it. A huge swathe had been carved out of the middle, where nothing but slick red earth remained. On either side, coffins stuck out of the ground like bony fingers, with a few marigold crosses scattered here and there haphazardly. Up above, on the crest of the hill, the remaining half of the church swayed dangerously on its ancient foundations. One last pew teetered precariously on the edge of the abyss, half in and half out of the structure, while inside the church, a single candle still burned.

“You handle yourself pretty well in a fight,” she continued, as Tomas rose from Miguel’s exsanguinated corpse.

“I’ve had some practice.”

She gave a sputtering laugh, short and mocking. “Yeah, I bet.”

Tomas pulled himself over the edge and examined her. Amazingly, she seemed to be all right. There was a shallow cut on her forehead and a few scrapes and scratches here and there, but nothing serious. It was little short of miraculous.

“We need to talk, but we ought to get out of here,” she said, slinging her shotgun over her back again. He’d heard her reloading while he fed. “Half the village is likely to be here any minute.”

Tomas sat down on the edge of a stone bearing weathered Mayan hieroglyphs. “I doubt it,” he said wryly.

She studied him silently for a moment, then plopped down alongside.

“Want to fill me in?”

“This is the Day of the Dead. And in this area, that term has always had more than one meaning.” He spent a few minutes sketching out for her Alejandro’s idea of a good time, making it as clinical and unemotional as he could. It didn’t seem to help.

“Let me get this straight. That son of a bitch has taken my brother to use in his stupid games?”

“Possibly,” Tomas agreed. “Although I can’t understand it. He never took magic users before.”

“Maybe he got bored. Wanted more of a challenge.”

“Does a cat get tired of playing with lizards or mice, and attack the neighbourhood dog instead? Preying on weaker creatures is Alejandro’s nature. But if your brother is a mage he wouldn’t fall into that category.”

“His type of magic isn’t likely to help him much,” she said curtly.

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t need to.” She stood up. “Just tell me where I can find this guy.”

Tomas shook his head. “I can’t do that.”

“Why not? Based on how his vamps treated you, I got the impression you weren’t all that close.”

He smiled at the understatement. “We aren’t. But helping you commit suicide won’t aid your brother.”

“Tell me where to find this Alejandro, and the only one dying will be him.”

Tomas got slowly to his feet, gingerly putting his weight on the injured knee. It held. “For what it’s worth, I’ve come to kill him. If I succeed, it may cause enough chaos to allow your brother to escape. Wish me luck.”

He started to go, but a hand on his arm stopped him. “I’ll do better than that. I’ll go with you.”

“I told you – that would not be wise.”

“Really? And you think you’d have survived just now without me? It sounds like you going in alone isn’t so wise, either.”

Tomas turned to face her, already exasperated. He had enough on his plate tonight. He didn’t need this. “You may be good with a gun, but that won’t keep you alive. Alejandro was once my master. I know what he’s capable of.”

“Uh-huh. And can he break off half a mountain because he loses his temper?”

Tomas regarded her narrowly. “You’re saying that was you?”

“That’s what I’m saying. I’m a jinx.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Jinx. J-I-N-X. A walking disaster area. Fault lines love me. Of course, so does just about anything else that can go wrong.”

“An inconvenient talent.”

“And an illegal one. If the magical community ever finds out a jinx as powerful as me is walking around, they’ll kill me. Which is why I got really good at protecting myself – and other people – a long time ago. This vampire has bought himself more trouble than he knows.”

“Bringing down a mountainside won’t help your brother. If he’s where I think he is, it would only bury him as well.”

“I can control it. And this isn’t exactly my first time at the rodeo. I can take care of myself.”

Tomas hesitated, instinct warred with dawning hope. “I tried to draw someone else into this recently, and almost got her killed,” he finally admitted. “I swore that I’d never do that again. This is my fight –”

“It was your fight. Once that bastard took Jason, he made it mine.” When Tomas just stared at her, trying to think of some way to get rid of her that did not involve actual violence, the ground grumbled beneath him. The precariously perched pew gave up the struggle and slid down the hillside, only to go sailing off into the void like a huge wooden bird. “Look, I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. You think you’ve got troubles now? Try leaving me behind. My brother is all I’ve got, and he is not dying tonight.”

“It will not be easy,” he said, wondering how to even begin to explain what they were up against.

The girl snorted. “Yeah. I kind of got that.” She held out her hand. “Sara Lee. And no, I don’t cook.”

“Tomas.”

“Well, Tomas. We gonna stand here exchanging pleasantries all night, or go kill a vampire?” Tomas didn’t say anything, but he slowly took her hand.

She grinned. “Well, all right then.”

“Jason is a reporter for the Oracle,” Sara said, as Tomas hot-wired her brother’s rental car. Hers had been parked in the part of the cemetery that hadn’t survived and was currently exploring the bottom of the valley. “We were supposed to meet up in Puerto Vallarta for a vacation, but when I got to the hotel, he’d already left. All I found was a note telling me he’d got a lead on a story and asking me to meet him here.”

“If Alejandro has started kidnapping magic users, it would be front- page news,” Tomas agreed, as the engine on the old subcompact finally turned over. “Or your brother could have found out about one of his other businesses. He controls everything from magical narcotics to weapon sales in much of Central and South America.”

“I know. I’ve dealt with his people before.” At Tomas’ sideways look, she shrugged. “I can’t buy weapons from legitimate sources, not in the quantities I need. The authorities monitor that kind of stuff.”

“Why would you need huge quantities of magical weaponry?”

“Why do you want to kill your old master?” she countered. “I didn’t even think that was possible.”

They bounced out onto the main road through the village, with only the weak light of a quarter moon to see by. “It wouldn’t be, if he were still my master. I challenged him to a duel a century ago, but he wouldn’t face me. He brought in a champion, a French duelling master, instead. But rather than kill me as Alejandro had wanted, after Louis-Cesar defeated me, he claimed me as his slave. I only recently escaped.”

“And came straight back here.”

“Yes.”

“That’s very … heroic.”

Tomas didn’t think it qualified as heroism if he had nothing left to lose.

But he didn’t say so. Her tone made it clear that the word she’d really been searching for was ‘stupid’.

“Alejandro killed the entire population of my village. There isn’t anyone else.” If the dead were ever to be avenged, it was up to him to do it. And after 400 years, they’d waited long enough.

“So you came back alone.” She shook her head. “People like you are bad for business.”

“You’re a mercenary.” Tomas supposed he should have figured it out before.

“We prefer the term ‘outside contractor’.”

“I couldn’t afford to hire a team,” Tomas said, turning onto the pitted road leading into the mountains. “And you also came here alone.”

A dark shape suddenly loomed in front of them, forcing Tomas to squeal tyres and practically stand the car on end to avoid hitting it. The shape resolved itself into a tall, gaunt man, with the brilliant eyes of a fanatic set deep in the hollows of his craggy face. “Not so much,” Sara said, climbing out of the car. “Boys, glad you could make it.”

“Looks like we already missed some of the fun,” another man commented, stepping out of the jungle that hedged the road on each side.

Tomas stared hard at the new arrival. He hadn’t heard him approach, and that was unacceptable. Unless he eas a mage using magic to mask his breath, the sound of his heart beating, his footfalls – all would have alerted Tomas to his presence. But he didn’t look like a mage. He had a jagged, ugly scar on his right cheek, as if someone had dragged a fork with sharpened tines over his skin. It was the sort of thing that could be fixed by magical healers or covered by a glamourie. Unless, of course, its owner preferred to look like an extra from a horror flick.

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