We all fell silent as we saw Zach stumble to his knees on the floor next to Valerie's rotting corpse. Sadly, it didn't take very long for the witch to become little more than a pile of ash, despite the heavy three inch thick ring of salt that Valerie had poured around her. There was no coming back from this incantation. No remaining physical body thus no resurrection was pretty much the standard rule of thumb.
Harry spit out, "Commander William Gregory, sit on the cot. Do not speak until we say your name. Do not listen to us. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Sir," came a hoarse reply, the Commander was looking nearly as gray as Valerie's ashes.
He slowly pulled himself onto the cot bolted to the wall inside the cage. His bare feet nearly touched the concrete floor and his body had relaxed with no coiled energy. It wouldn't take much to push him into the darkness of death. A moan from Jasmine's side of the basement alerted me to how close to the edge of dying the human truly was. Miguel, her vampire ghost companion, was still running her body. He was nearly gleeful at the death whisperer's troubles. Even dead the vampire was a shithead -- nothing I could do about it -- even if I wanted to. Jasmine had long ago selected her life's path.
The basement went silent as everyone gathered their thoughts -- and fears -- deeper into their minds. Caleb was glued to the laptop screen. Eventually he ventured a question into the heavy silence, "Harry, should I go upstairs and bring Zach back down?"
Harry looked to me and arched an eyebrow waiting for my comment. I kept my own counsel -- for a change -- and simply shrugged back. Harry's rodeo -- Harry's team. I wasn't invested in the crew he'd brought with him and Caleb was pretty much Harry's human now as far as I knew. Realizing I wasn't going to jump in Harry said, "No, Caleb, let Zach gather his strength. He needs a moment to recover. Bethany," he addressed me while continuing to arch an eyebrow at me, "any thoughts on what we need to do first?"
I avoided slapping my forehead and mocking his 'asking' me -- he was going to do what ever he wanted. I bit back a snarky reply and instead answered, "Once Zach 'gathers' his thoughts and gets back down here I say we find out Marie Rose's story. She'll be easily manipulated right now because the death of Valerie will resonate in her even with the spells on the cage. She's felt the death by now, I can guarantee." Automatically we all looked at the crone hunched up on the cot in her cell. She looked more than half dead and despite what I knew was possible she also was utterly aware of what had happened in the bedroom with Valerie. It wasn't just in her head it was a fact.
Harry nodded -- as if agreeing with me -- but I knew he'd already drawn the same conclusion, and was trying to butter me up for something I wasn't aware of yet. He really loved his long vampire games -- again reinforcing my decisions to keep the hell away from him all these centuries. On the two laptops we all watched as Zach began slowly standing up and walking back down to the basement. I figured Harry had either mentally called the null or it simply was his desire to get the hell out of that room. The scent of dissolved witch couldn't be very pleasant. Vampires, werewolves and other supernaturals had very good senses. The sense of smell was truly not a good thing around any kind of death. And I must add that toasted witch wasn't pleasant -- don't ask how I know. The slow clattering down the basement stairs heralded Zach's arrival -- Caleb had resumed his monitoring the cameras other than the bedroom.
Once Zach was back in the basement he went to the couch against the wall where Morgan and Jasmine were sitting. Caleb had decided he wanted space from them and sat on his heels before the coffee table where both of the laptops rested. As before Zach sat next to Morgan well away from Miguel, the dead vampire, who was still riding Jasmine, the death speaker witch. Observing the interaction between Morgan and Jasmine I shook my head, I didn't envy Jasmine's power because the cost of such Dark Arts rarely was worth the price of admission.
Once everyone was settled into their chosen spots Harry turned to them and explained what 'we' were planning. Naturally I was included as the co-mastermind of his plot, but it truly was all Harry. I would've chosen to walk away but instead I had my role to play. Don't get me wrong, I knew it without any chit-chatting what was going on but overall, it was Harry's game.
"Zach, are you going to be able to help Bethany when she coaxes Marie Rose to talk?" Harry's voice was subdued -- he well knew how much he was asking from Zach. I, on the other hand, never had a null around to get my back when I performed any spell work. There was no way I was even thinking about asking Jasmine or Miguel for any assistance at the moment. There was far too much darkness around the witch for me to risk it. I might not need Zach but given everything going on for the past few hours I wasn't willing to turn down Harry's offer.
"I'm fine," came the terse reply from Zach. Uhuh -- I wasn't Zach's mother so I just said, "Okay, let's get this show on the road. Harry, you go first."
Harry moved to the cell where Marie Rose was caged sitting on the cot. Once before her he commanded, "Marie Rose, come to me and answer our questions."
The moment he released her from the silence she began cackling and laughing, "Dead little witch upstairs now? Very sad. Very tasty. What do you want?"
She walked to the middle of the cell very cocky with her accurate knowledge of Valerie's demise. I sighed deeply and said, "Stop."
Her laughter bit off like I'd slit her throat. Her hands had uncurled from my earlier spell and were back by her sides. I didn't recast the spell but instead asked for her mind. My arcane gift was deep and powerful. I pushed into the crone's head.
She tried to scream out but my ancient chant overrode her desires. Part of the spell was my ability to share what I found in the victim's mind. Just like that her story spun out and I let everyone hear them inside their thoughts. It was faster than simply letting her speak and I could shut her down if she tried magic. The story was far too familiar to me, but I'd grown up around witches of all sorts before my Master made me a vampire. Sadly it was a common, bitter tale with a girl-like yearning for acceptance and love that drove Marie Rose.
It didn't take much for me to understand how the witch had been enticed to give up her soul to the dark side of the craft. Everyone listened as she disclosed her world and her world view. From what I saw in her memories the woman hadn't been anything special. A spinster who had a lousy job and no real life. A desk monkey working untold hours in a boring office job. She'd been little more than a small replaceable cog in a corporate machine that was forgettable and easily ignored by her coworkers. There was her other side that nobody realized. It was that Marie Rose who worshipped at a doily encrusted crypt at the mausoleum where she had in her family interned for generations -- which wasn't as rare as you'd think. Her family had been generations in the making. They were once powerful and well connected. Viable to the very fabric of the town that they'd run like their own private monarchy. And much like the European royalty her family had fashioned themselves after they were inbred, trying to hold on to all of their wealth. As all inbred lines they eventually diminished, died off and stopped multiplying, leaving Marie Rose as the mostly insane sole survivor. Her mind was filled with how she'd made her choices. A lifetime of booze, bad decisions and even more questionable men hadn't helped her find herself.
I tried my best to keep my expression neutral as Marie Rose had come to be the creature in front of us, the crone who'd killed Valerie as she tried to justify her world view and her evil nature. She was pleading for her life from us. Not even in my grand scheme of things much less Harry's from his expression did either of us consider keeping her alive. I didn't need to mind-speak to hear his input. I well knew that we'd dealt with these types of creatures far too many times both in Europe and on the East Coast as we'd made our way into America. Once these sorts of needy pathetic humans discovered supernaturals the shift from family worship to wholesale selling of their bodies and hopefully their very souls to gain access to the dark world wasn't even a hard decision to make. They became beyond obsessed and believed anything and everything they were told.
Her body was being eaten from the inside as she played with witches and others in her quest to become something more than the last in the line of failed humans. That stupid lack of knowledge coupled with her need to find a spot in the world she thought was available to her was how she'd become a crone, not a sexy witch like she'd thought she'd become once the spells were cast. Her abject ignorance fed her desires despite nothing she thought was true of supernaturals. Her knowledge was little more than fairy tales and fictional accounts that she took to be real and available to her.
Over the decades I'd seen this happen again and again. Humans duped into thinking that they would be these amazing supernaturals with vast powers and legions of worshipping followers. Instead, it wasn't nearly as pretty. The humans kept making ill thought-out deals, offering gifts of money, land, blood anything they had to offer until all was gone. It was because they were the perfect blood slaves and minions. That she hadn't been turned into a vampire, her original choice she mentally told us, meant that she'd been denied vampirism and been forced to go begging to dark witches. It was unlikely and extremely rare for anyone to turn these pathetic creatures. Not to mention not ever approved by the Coven or Council. That was when the real dark side of my worlds was shown for anyone digging deeply enough into what happened to the Marie Roses of this world.
There wasn't any turning back for Marie Rose and she stood defiantly before us thinking we were going to be swayed by her own choices. There were no traces of the young delusional woman she'd been in the beginning of her chasing the unknown. Instead, she was a shiny example of a massive error in judgment and very crappy life choices. Nobody hearing her self-serving tale had even an iota of empathy for her.
"Harry, she's crazy!" Caleb burst out with once her mind grew silent as she tried to look innocent and misunderstood. I know that she felt us all inside her mind; unlike vampiric mind-speak it wasn't a two way street. We could hear her; she didn't get the same from us. Her delusions were firmly entrenched in her very being and she honestly didn't realize how far off the path she'd fallen. Even if we'd tried to explain it wouldn't penetrate her illusions. She saw herself as victorious, and given what she'd just done to Valerie she wasn't completely mistaken. I bit the inside of my cheek to avoid filling in the blanks for the crowd. I knew Harry realized what we'd seen inside Marie Rose, but I wasn't so sure about the rest of the crew.