The mage on the altar looked to be asleep. The purity of his soul had saved his body, perfectly preserving it. His eyes were closed, with both arms crossed over his chest. Long white hair cascaded over his shoulders, braided in thin sections. The only thing that told me he was dead was the dried out, leathery look of his skin and the fact that he wasn’t breathing.
I reached out to him with shaking hands. I didn’t want to touch him. Disturbing him felt wrong. Only the thought of saving Raphael kept me moving forward.
What was I supposed to take?
I wondered if I could get away with taking a little hair. Hair was used in a lot of spells. It could be enough for Raphael.
But what if it wasn’t enough?
I didn’t travel all this way to come up short.
“Hurry up. All these vampires staring at me…”
“They’re frozen. They’re not staring at you, Lucas.”
“No, princess. Their eyes have been following us the whole time.”
I spun around. “Shut the fuck up.” I slapped a hand over my mouth. I’d never said that word out loud before. Fear was getting the better of me.
His lips were pressed in a thin line. “I’m not joking. Watch their eyes.”
He took two steps to the side. Then two more. I watched the vampire behind Lucas. It was slight, but its eyes tracked the motion.
A shiver rolled down my spine. “This is bad.”
“I know. Get what you need and get back over here.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. “I’m sorry for disturbing you, but you’ll be stopping a very evil witch. Thank you for your gift.” I grabbed a handful of the mage’s long white braids and pulled. They slipped easily out of his dried scalp. I wrapped them in a knot and placed them in my purse next to my cellphone.
Then I noticed the ring on his hand. It was a thick band of silver with a large ruby in the middle. The aura glowed white around the ring, but the ruby had a different aura. It was a hundred shades of red, separate yet all together at the same time. It took me a second to get the ring over his thick, gnarled knuckles, and put that in my purse, too.
Now, I just needed a bone. But what? It had to be something small—something I could take in my purse—but something that held a lot of power.
A hand. That was the implement that we used the most when practicing magic. If I could dislodge his hand…
My stomach roiled at the thought, but I had to try. I hoped it would be enough. I grasped the mage’s hand like I was going to shake it. The whole thing fell off at the wrist.
I screeched and jumped back, nearly dropping it.
“Calm down!” Lucas shouted.
“Sorry.” My heart was racing. “Sorry. I just…” I turned toward him to show him. “I have a some hair, his ring, and a hand. I think I’m done here. That’s all I need to—”
When I turned all the way around, my stomach dropped.
Father Valentine stood in the hallway.
Lucas had been right. Someone had been here before. Someone really bad.
Father Valentine waved his hand in a spell-like motion.
“No!” I finally found my voice. I pointed behind Lucas. “Stop him! Now!”
Lucas lunged, but he was too late. The fire was out in an instant and the doors swung shut with a deafening thud.
We were alone. In the dark.
With at least a few hundred vampires.
“Fire burning bright. Show me your light.” My magic sped out, but I could feel how weak it was. How weak I was.
Not now. If my power failed…
The fire around the altar flared again.
The vampires were slowly starting to move. Turning their heads slightly. A few tensed their arms just a little.
The magic holding them in place was fading as Lucas pounded on the door. “It’s stuck. I can’t get it open.”
“Get back over here!” Vampires didn’t like fire. “Jump onto the altar. The fire will keep them away.”
Lucas frantically looked around, and then ran toward me. He leapt over the fire, sliding to a stop at my side.
“Get under,” he said, practically shoving me down.
“One sec.” I hopped back up and grabbed the athame before crawling under the stone slab. Having some weapon—even a small one—made me feel a little better.
Lucas slid under with me. “The fire won’t keep them for long. They’re blood starved. What do we do now?”
He was asking me? “I don’t know.” Maybe if I had more magic, I could do something. But I couldn’t. I’d been drained for so long… I was below empty. “I don’t have enough energy to do anything helpful.” It was miraculous enough that I’d gotten the fire burning again.