"Marla screamed in agony for real -- her earlier convulsions had been faked, of course -- she was suddenly gnashing at her lips and tearing into them with her damned sharp teeth. Garth ran to her side. There was an arc of something black from the creature and then they both went up in flames. They shifted between creatures while burning -- birds to beasts to humans to reptiles without rhyme or reason -- flickering on and off as they tried to escape their deaths. The real humans nearby started shrieking and running for the doors like stampeding cattle. They literally trampled each other and clawed for the exits. It didn't matter, there was no way that they could escape. I felt like I was at Pamplona during the running of the bulls. The creature who had crossed over fried everyone near the doorways. The magic flowed from the center in a crazy arc that just zapped anything of flesh and bones in its path. They all were turned to hunks of burnt flesh and their clothes reduced to little more than cinders." She paused and took an even larger gulp off her wine glass.
She then said, "Albrecht tried to contain the being they'd summoned. It wasn't working. Everything he threw at it seemed to amuse the monster. You know when someone supernatural laughs and your skin crawls? Well, when this thing laughed the humans began to hysterically scream and rend their own flesh. They literally tore thatches of their hair out and bit off pieces of their own bodies. The blood began to flow and more creatures started to push out from the hellhole their magic had presented. Whatever Garth had done with Albrecht to open up the portal, it wasn't closing with Garth's death and Albrecht didn't seem to have any control over it either."
I didn't want to interrupt the flow of conversation. Her accounting oddly mesmerized me. Naturally I did want to know how she survived, but couldn't think of a way to ask without sounding judgmental or condemning. Albrecht hadn't been some casual magic user but from a strong line of supernaturals with some amazing strengths. I couldn't speak to what Garth or Marla were other than deviously nasty and now thoroughly dead.
Ruby refilled her goblet and began to pace. Her movements were fluid for all the wine she'd just tossed down her throat. She knew she had to tell me everything but she was reluctant. It had to be very bad.
"Delilah, you have to believe me when I say that I tried to stop it." I was suspicious of the declaration, but just nodded while sipping a bit more from the glass of wine she'd given me. I wasn't even halfway through my first glass and she was tipping back her third cup at a rapid pace. No, she wouldn't be driving me anywhere later if I decided not to stay. I knew she could magic up some spell to appear sober but eventually all that alcohol would get her. Ruby was rapidly downing her wine. We could drink far more than our human counterparts, but we actually were able to get drunk eventually. I'd seen Ruby drunk many times and it wasn't a good sight. She tended to either rage about injustices or screw the nearest male. It didn't matter what species. Both sides of her were disconcerting at the very least.
"Ruby, how?" I didn't venture any other questions. She'd eventually spill the whole tale but the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was not helping matters. She'd done something to get banished and with all those dead bodies she had to have made some sort of trade. Her eyes met mine and I saw the absolute horror in them.
"I ritually sacrificed Albrecht at his beseeching. There were other creatures that had begun to pour out in waves from the opening that they had created and were heading for the doorways to outside. I sealed the doors with my spell craft first, then gave a bit of my blood and then all of his." Her voice trembled. I shook my head slowly. "Why weren't you killed?" Her offering of Albrecht was tremendous but she still hadn't explained why she hadn't been torn to bits or made into white-gray ashes along with the crowd. "Because my blood had been blessed an hour before by one of the Vermilion Dynasty's heirs. She'd come into town for a blessing ceremony. When we met up in town she pulled me aside and said that I would need the strength of a hundred or more men. She knew things that were happening and told me about Garth's transgressions in very general terms. But it was like she'd seen everything before it happened. She persuaded me that she could help me in my upcoming battles. So now I am blood bound to her." I sat down with nearly lifeless legs on the nearest chair. She was talking about a vampire family that spanned as long as I could recall. I'd never met any of them personally. Often I'd heard whispers and stories about their numbers, strengths and fortunes. The vampire family had come over from China after the War Between the States. They brought with them customs and oddities but mostly fear and loathing.
"Ruby! Goddess be damned. How is it you are even alive? I thought your kind couldn't be blood bound." I was appalled and at the same time oddly fascinated. She was a damn good bounty hunter when she liked to work, but usually she dallied in the magical arts of her craft. She wasn't a witch per se but rather a supernatural creature who used earth craft and spell craft to enhance her numerous talents. Those of her lineage had been long branded witches, warlocks and gypsies, but the truth lay somewhere in between them all. To find out she was fortified with Vermilion Dynasty blood was very odd. She called it 'blessed' but the truth was she'd swapped blood with a vampire. Her spells seemed to still be working from what I'd seen, but who knew what they would ask of her. Or what the cost was going to be down the line. Nothing came free in the world.
"Turns out we can if motivated properly. And it hurt!" She whined -- so much for 'blessed' I thought to myself -- and she carefully topped her glass again while holding the bottle up for me. I shrugged and let her add in a slug or two to my still half full glass. I needed something to strengthen my nerves. The whole day was bizarre from the pixie on the plane to finding out my friend was now blood bound to an ancient vampire line. Yeah, San Diego was proving to be fun and relaxing. Not.
"Which heir?" That was the only thing I could think to ask without sounding stupid or judgmental.
I gulped. That 'heir' was next in line to be the queen if she survived the assassination attempts that seemed to crop up weekly.
"You don't mess around do you?" I was stunned.
She flashed me a weak grin. "Nope."
"Lilah" -- she was using my nickname, which meant she had calmed down, while in turn she'd made me not so calm -- "I didn't mean for the monsters to freak out when I offered the blood and slit Albrecht's throat." She was glowing. Not like a smiling happy and joyful glow, but a light pink aura surrounded her as she mentioned the blood and the sacrifice. A curl of fear wound through me but I pushed it down and smiled nicely back, not mentioning her changing hue. She had done more than just sacrifice Albrecht for her to have kept her skin. The creature sounded strong, as well as the supporting creatures it brought with it. I stopped trying to puzzle it out. I really didn't have a clue what the skin walkers had summoned with their mistaken use of dark magic. Not to mention also swindling the gullible humans.
"Okay, so you're in San Diego to sit and be watched for a century?"
"Pretty much. The Vermilion Dynasty doesn't have anyone this far West, and the committee figured it would take at least that long until all the blood ran out of my body. One old goat from the committee suggested that they bleed me for four moons nearly to death, and then see if that made a difference. But that wasn't an option, since I so recently had performed the blood binding ritual with Aster, and it could have resulted in calling up the Vermilion Court to come play with them." She seemed pretty calm all things considered, but still I was uneasy.
The Vermilion Court were the enforcers for that line of vampires. While Ruby and I were pretty much straightforward supernatural bounty hunters for the committee, we weren't in the enforcers' league. They were simply ruthless.
"Glad to see you didn't get drained. Which 'old goat' was this?" Her ideas of 'old' and mine seemed to vary and I was curious which of the committee had such gall. Blood draining had been done over a half dozen times in the past few years with all the new dialysis machines available, but the results on supernaturals tended to be extremely unpredictable and usually fatal for either the patient or at times the entire staff monitoring the procedure. I'd drawn the short straw on one of those slayings, and had had to release the resulting ghosts of the slain traumatized supernatural and the staff she'd killed before I put her down. Thankfully before they could burn all of the buildings down in the block. That fire blazed for a week before it was fully contained. Nightmares about that time still cropped up when I was extremely tired.
"Archibald Roberts, of course." She actually pegged an older member of the committee. Arch was at least four hundred human years, maybe more. He was a tad nasty, but mostly left me alone. Ruby always rubbed Archibald the wrong way. He wouldn't have cared one bit if the 'cure' had killed her.
"Yeah. He's a bit rough." I went for the understatement. I wondered if Aster was looking out at me from behind Ruby's eyes. Blood bonds with humans tended to make meat puppets of the host, but I didn't know what power there would be with Ruby as the puppet. She wasn't weak or suggestible -- just different.
Ruby must have read something in my face because she said, "Delilah! I am not being controlled by Aster! I mean really. I didn't do some elaborate long ceremony, just a little bit of blood."
I didn't correct her but sipped from the goblet and wondered what ritual exactly was performed that assured her Aster wasn't mind linked.
"So why did you get sent here? I could have handled anything happening. I told the committee to call me for stuff." She peered deeply into my eyes, I tried to figure out a way to gracefully answer when she did it herself.
"Oh, hell, they aren't going to let me do anything for a while are they? I am stuck watching the grass grow and the surfers get old. Shit, fuck, damn!" I could see that the wine was making her blurred on the edges. She stomped her feet and went back to refill her glass. From the sunlight dropping into the west she snapped on a single lamp to aid her search once she found the bottle was empty. Ruby then took the time to go find another bottle and open it. I didn't say a word. She didn't need my opinion and she'd figured it all out on her own. Leastways the Ruby of old would have understood what was going on around her -- this Ruby was starting to make my senses itch. That was never a good thing for one with my skills. I'd never turned my inner soul on my friend to see what was around her, but the continuing seeping out of the pink aura from her center was not good.
"I don't know, Hon. Truly."
I pondered how to get out of any more conversations on this topic.
To be continued...