Home>>read A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10) free online

A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(98)

By:Kim Harrison

Winona lifted her chin as Ceri hissed at him to behave, and I smacked his shoulder with the back of my hand. But I had to agree that she looked monstrous, especially in the early dark of a snowy evening. “My apologies,” Al said, sincere enough, I suppose. “Winona, to better gauge my student’s possible success, may I . . . inspect you?”
Winona looked fearfully at Ceri for advice, but she’d gone to pick up Ray. Standing beside Trent, she gestured for Winona to approach Al. “It’s okay,” I added, and Al gave me a sidelong look.
“Oh, I doubt that,” he said, but Winona had been brutalized so badly that Al held little threat. At the bench, Trent and Ceri had a hushed argument. Clearly they hadn’t united entirely on their child-rearing guidelines when it came to demons. Trent wanted to take the girls into the vault, and Ceri wanted to use it as a learning experience. Me, I was leaning toward the vault.
“You may look,” Winona said softly, her feet tapping the slate as she came forward into the light. I watched Al’s face, not hers, as he leaned closer to her, breathing in her scent. His hand came out, and she stiffened.
“I won’t harm you,” he said formally. “May I touch you?”
I thought it was weird how careful he was being, like she was important or fragile, and after a moment’s hesitation, she nodded. He took her hand with an almost painful care, turning her stubby fingers over to trace the lines of her gray-skinned palm, studying it carefully. I remembered waking up in Al’s kitchen once feeling that fragile, seeing him with curly red hair and a thinner body, one quickly hidden once he knew I was awake.
I backed up to the edge of the light, watching as Al turned her hand over to study the top. It looked tiny in his, and Winona’s lips parted when he rubbed his thumb over it gauging the thickness of her pelt. Worry came from nowhere. I could fix this, couldn’t I? What if I made it worse? 
“You have a pouch.” He made it a statement.
“You’re not seeing that.”
Her fear was obvious, the lantern’s light making her look even uglier as she pulled her hand away. Al’s brow furrowed, and his fingers twitched. He wanted to touch her again, but was afraid of what it might look like. “I thought so,” he finally said. “Wings?”
Winona blinked, looking at me like I had the answers. “No. Should I?” she said, and I remembered the ruin of the woman under the museum floor.
Taking a step back, Al straightened to his full height, seeming to tower over her. “I’m not sure,” he said in a rare bit of honesty. “There are schools of thought that say we had wings once. I occasionally have dreams of being able to fly. It could be . . . nothing.”
“You don’t remember what you used to look like?” Winona said, and Al made a face, clearly uncomfortable.
“No,” he admitted, taking her hand again and lifting it as if showing her off. “I don’t believe that we looked like this—entirely. But you’re in a unique position to help us remember.”
Ceri’s breath hissed in as she jiggled Ray. “Winona is not going into the ever-after to help you!”
Winona backed up, arms around herself as she pulled out of Al’s touch. His hand fell to his side, and he looked disappointed even as he studied her, how she moved, how she clearly could hear things we couldn’t, her ears flicking everywhere.
I licked my lips. “Chris’s data said she was producing more demon enzymes. How can she be that far off from being a demon?”
Al walked around Winona, his eyes never leaving her. “You, Rachel, are producing more demon enzymes than Winona, and you look nothing like her. True, much of Winona’s appearance is closely tied to several genomes that are responsible for the expression of the proper enzymes, but this?” Again he took her hand and pulled her into taking a clicking step forward with him into the light. “No. Every witch has the capacity to look like this if the right genes are turned on at the proper time, but as a species, you never looked like this, no matter how far back in the genetic history you go.” He hesitated, dropping her hand. “Still, Winona, you are very intriguing as you are. I offer you a choice.”
Ceri patted Ray’s back as she came forward to stand with me. “She’s not going to help you.”
“I’m not talking to you,” Al said to Ceri, his eyes on Winona. His gaze was so intense, she blushed.
“No!” Ceri insisted, and he sighed, looking away from the troubled woman. “She would be poked and prodded as you tried to figure out what was turned on correctly and what was a mistake. No. You fix her, or you leave her alone.”
Al lost his serious air, again becoming his customary shallow, self-centered self. “I can’t guarantee my student’s magic will leave you any better,” he said, distancing himself. “At least now you can breathe, eat, and take a shit without help.”
I stiffened. “That’s not what you said a minute ago!”
“Yes, it is.” Al turned to Winona. “Well?”
Ceri dramatically threw a hand into the air and turned her back on all of us, and Ray fussed when her view of Al was eclipsed. It hadn’t been the resounding encouragement that I was hoping for, and my gut clenched as I exchanged a look with Trent. There was a faint hint of excitement in him, a desire to know if I could do it, and I felt my heart thump. Lucy had finally quieted, her little face determined as she wobbled at her dad’s knee.
“I want to be normal again,” Winona said as she gazed down at herself. “I trust you, Rachel. Whatever happens. I want to do this. Please.”Oh God. She wanted to do it. The butterflies in my stomach turned to lead and hit bottom. I’d been working up this curse for a good three weeks. It was mostly cosmetic, and ninety percent of it was concerned with her face. She might end up being forced to be a vegetarian, or the horns might grow back. But at least I now knew how to do a transformation curse and end up with body hair only where I wanted it.
“Okay,” I said, and Al’s breath exploded out of him in impatience. “Winona, it shouldn’t hurt. I’ve already twisted the curse and stored it in the collective. I just have to touch you and say the magic words. If it gets too unbearable or you think it’s going wrong, say the invocation word again, and it will reverse.”
What if I kill her?
Ceri went to Winona, tears in her eyes as she gave her a hug. “I’m going to miss you,” she said as she pulled back, disentangling Ray’s grip from her horn. “After you’re normal, you’re going to leave!”
“I’ll come back for visits,” she assured her, tears welling and spilling over and making dark tracks on her cheeks. “Ceri, you’ve been so kind to me. I’m going to miss the girls. Trent, thank you!”
Al sat back against the table and checked his watch again. His eyes met mine, and he made a “get on with it” gesture.
“I need some space,” I said, and Ceri wiped her eyes. Giving Winona a last hug, she whispered something in her ear, and backed off, coming to stand beside Al, looking beautiful next to him, Ray on the hip farthest from him.
“Isn’t this marvelously exciting!” Al said, and Ceri gave him a dry look.
I was starting to shake, and I forced my jaw to unclench. Smiling sickly, I put my hand on Winona’s shoulder and closed my eyes. I didn’t need to shut them to work the curse, but I didn’t want to see her pain if I did it wrong.
I renewed my grip on the ever-after, letting it pour into me. I could feel it pushing on Winona, and I whispered, “Touch the line. Let it flow through us both.”
She took a shaky breath, and then the blockage eased and the energies between us balanced. “Don’t pull back,” I said, and when I felt her nod, I yanked more of the line into me.
She gasped at the increased flow, and when I felt her soul tremble, I touched the demon collective. “Uno homo nobis restituted rem,” I said, praying that I hadn’t forgotten anything and that Winona wouldn’t be paying the price for my stupidity. I’d picked out the trigger words myself, and though they didn’t need to make sense grammatically, I hoped they did—or I’d be the laughingstock of the ever-after.
Winona made a gasping gurgle, and my eyes flew open. A wash of expected ever-after covered her, a bright gold from my aura stained with demon smut. She began to crumple, and when I felt the magic start to backwash into me, I let go, whispering that I took the price for this before the imbalance could even rise. 
“Al?” I said, backing up as I watched her convulse on the slate. “Al! I did it wrong!”
“Wait!” He grasped my shoulder and pulled me back when I went to help her. His eyes were fixed greedily on her. “Wait,” he echoed himself, softer. “You did it right.”
It didn’t look like that as she jerked and gagged, covered in my aura and a reflection of my smut crawling over her slumped form. Ceri had retreated to stand by Trent; they both looked worried. Ceri was holding her breath, and she let it out in a gasp when the ever-after shimmered a pure gold . . . and ran down from Winona, back into the ground like rain.
My heart thudded. She wasn’t moving. Al’s grip on my arm tightened, and he wouldn’t let go as the woman took a deep breath. Winona had fallen with her back to us, and she slowly sat up. My shoulders slumped in relief and I exhaled. I couldn’t see her face, but it had worked.