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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(8)

By:Kim Harrison

Feeling ill, I looked away, noticing that the blood-drawn pentagram under him was one made to gather power from an external source. Jeez, I hoped this had nothing to do with me. The man looked as if he’d been in his midtwenties, fit apart from the half-goat thing.“How many have there been?” I asked. They might only have asked me out here to see if I had done it, but now that I was here, I was going to find out who had. Ivy, too, was studiously looking through the packet of information, clearly eager to take the run. There were a lot of papers. The I.S. wasn’t known for being meticulous about data gathering, meaning this had been going on for a while. They should have come to me sooner.
Spinning gracefully, Nina turned to the body, looking at it as if it were a painting on a wall. “This is the third incident. His name was Thomas Siskton, and he was a university student, missing since last week.”
Jenks whistled by rubbing his wings together, and then he darted to the railing, standing on it and facing the body. “There hasn’t been anything in the news. You’d think a hoofed university student with horns would make the papers.”
“Keep your mouth shut,” Ivy said, knowing how hard it was for the pixy to keep a secret.
Nina looked between me and Wayde, clearly not happy with the Were being here. She probably didn’t know Jenks was the higher risk for blabbing despite pixies being noncitizens. “We’ve kept it quiet. It needs to stay that way.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Wayde said, dropping back and putting a hand in the air as he looked down submissively. “I’m a professional.”
I grimaced, hearing what the undead vampire was saying. You don’t just keep something like this quiet without illegal memory charms. Great. I hated memory charms.
Nina saw my understanding and smiled with her new, confident, sexy eyes and turned to Ivy, a hand out as if to escort her up the stairs. “The site is open for your inspection,” she said as she walked over the blood-painted word of Latin as if it meant nothing. “We’ve already gathered what we need.”
“Good.” Ivy casually sidestepped Nina’s guiding hand and walked up the stairs by herself. “I’ll let you know what you missed.”
Her attitude was surprisingly belligerent, and I wondered why she was letting her emotions show like this. She knew it would attract the undead’s attention all the more, and clearly she didn’t like him. Concerned, I went to follow Ivy up, and Wayde touched my elbow. “Hey, uh, I’ll stay here if you don’t mind,” he said, his face pale as he looked up at the body.
Jenks snickered, which I thought totally unfair, following it up with a “Not used to the blood, wolfman?”
Wayde’s expression sharpened on the pixy. “He’s half turned into something. You know how many nightmares I’ve had about that?”
Yes, I suppose being able to turn into a wolf, painfully, might give one a new kind of nightmare, and I smiled as I gave his arm a squeeze, feeling the hard muscle under his shirt. “You can wait at the car if you want. I’ll be fine.” 
“No, I’ll stay. Just not up there,” Wayde said, and Nina cleared her throat for me to hurry up, even as Wayde looked past me to the body and shivered.
“Rache . . .” Jenks complained, and I headed up the stairs, hands in my pockets and giving the Latin a wide berth, reminded of how Nina had skirted the dead child under the ground.
“This is the third,” Nina said, and I blanched as I now had nothing else to look at other than the blood-soaked, softly pelted, cloven-hoofed, disfigured man before me. Jenks was right; he even had tiny horns, and his skin was gray and softly textured like a gargoyle’s. What in hell had they done to him? And why?
Please, God, may it have nothing to do with me. But I was the first demon this side of the ley lines, and I was getting a really bad feeling.
“We found the oldest one just last week,” Nina added, almost as an afterthought, her voice telling me the vampire speaking through her was deep in thought.
“You didn’t find them in order?” Jenks had parked himself upwind of the corpse. It smelled, but the cold had suppressed most of the stench. Actually the body had a distinctive meadow scent under all the decaying blood, and I wondered if that was part of the faun thing that it had going.
Nina gave Jenks a dry look. “All the dump sites are similar to this one, but the first involved three teenagers from three different schools, missing since the fourth of November. Two were contorted like this one, the other died from heart failure. Her medical history shows she had heart issues, and we think she died from fright.”
I breathed deep, trying to get beyond the atrocity so I could think. The scent of wine and salt tickled a memory. Electricity, ozone, old books: it all added up to demons, except for the fact that there wasn’t the faintest hint of burnt amber. Demons stank of it. Jenks had assured me that I didn’t smell like the ever-after, but I think he was lying.
I’d been born a witch, but my blood kindled demon magic and the way the coven of moral and ethical standards saw it was that if it looked like a demon, did magic like a demon, and could be summoned like a demon, it was a demon. I couldn’t find fault with them. It had been a shock when I realized my blood didn’t invoke every witch charm, failing at the most complex because of the demon enzymes in it. Al, my demon teacher, was the same. I was a demon, like it or not. The first of a new generation thanks to Trent’s father. How nice was that?
The soft sound of pixy wings pulled me from my sour musings, and Jenks landed on my shoulder, his wings tinted blue from the cold. He knew where my thoughts had gone just by looking at me. “I don’t smell any burnt amber,” I said, and Nina nodded. Her canny gaze looked wrong on someone so young.
“It wasn’t at any other sites, either,” she said. “That’s why we thought of you.”
Ivy cleared her throat in reproach, and Nina broke eye contact with me to stare at her for a long, slow moment, the smaller woman quietly asserting her dominance until Ivy looked away. “All the victims had a large quantity of their blood drained from them, as you see here,” Nina said, turning back to the body. “The first victims showed evidence of being held against their wills: split fingernails, bondage marks, bruises, cuts, contusions. They resisted their capture and restraint. Evidence points to one to six days’ worth of torture. The moulage was old, but we’re fairly confident that none of the victims was killed where we found them.”
The man before me looked worn, in the dry air his dead eyes starting to sink back. The moulage here was clean, too, or Ivy would have said something. I couldn’t see emotion imprinted on the world, but vampires could. Most moulages faded with the sun, but murder left a stronger impression that could last weeks or even centuries if the crime was heinous enough and the spirit desperate to continue life. It was the source of ghosts—most times.“Where were the others found?” Ivy asked, and Nina aggressively took the packet of papers from her, handing them back with a page of photos flipped open.
“The first victims were at an abandoned school,” Nina said as she looked down at the page, her jaw tense at Ivy’s subtle refusal to accept her authority. “It had been built on property that had once been a cemetery. Like this,” she said, her gaze lifting to the surrounding bare trees as if seeing it in another time. “It’s one of the ties between the crimes. The second victim, who we found first, was in the driveway of a museum.”
“Let me guess,” Jenks said snidely. “It was built on an old grave site.”
Nina inclined her head, smiling with her teeth hidden. “Cincinnati is riddled with abandoned churchyards. Bodies were moved a lot, and not always back into the ground.”
Brow furrowed, I thought of our own graveyard, attached to the church. I didn’t want a body showing up there, especially not one with hooves and horns.
I didn’t even know this man’s name, and I carefully stepped over a blood-soaked cord holding his, ah, hoof so I could see his back, forcing myself to look closer to try and make sense of this. A hint of a tail made my stomach clench. I’d caught a glimpse of the school photo before Ivy turned away, and it made me even more uneasy. The pentagram surrounding the body here was the same they’d used at the school. It was fairly common in the higher charms, but drawing it in blood wasn’t. Someone was playing at being a demon.
“The victims at the school were decomposing badly when we found them,” Nina said, distracting me, “but they had clearly been restrained. The second victim had been kept sedated. We don’t know about this man. The tests haven’t been run yet, but he’s clearly been held against his will.”
Jenks took off from my shoulder, his wings clattering in anger. “Decomposed!” he exclaimed, clearly disgusted. “In this weather? Just how long had they been dead?”
Nina ignored his anger. “The three at the school had been dead somewhere between eight and ten days. We know they went missing on the fourth, but we aren’t sure how long they were dead before we found them Tuesday.”
Tuesday? Like three days ago Tuesday?
“Tink loves a duck!” Jenks exclaimed. “What have you been doing? Sitting on your thumb and spinning?”