Body-jumping spirit Tamsin West hunts the gang of Soul Eaters who doomed her to dust. Only dust is not really the end.
Soul Eaters versus Vampires: The afterlife bites. Hard.
Jumping into the body of a murdered Vampire Princess is everything a lost spirit on the vengeance trail could hope for: Superhuman strength occult power, .
Unfortunately, as a person, the Princess' only power was to piss people off. Dangerous people. The kind looking to start a lethal turf war with the Vampire clan for a cut of Chicago's Dark Side.
Reanimating the body puts Tamsin right in the line of fire. But paranormal politics won't matter much if she can't convince the handsome Fae Hunter holding a knife to the Vampire's throat not to kill her all over again.
Adult themes and language.
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Dust To Dust: Fangs For Your Memories
by Eden Crowne
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
Death like love, has many subtle and varied layers.
Breathe, she had to breathe. Lungs burning, Tamsin fought through the resistance, through the limbo of life and death. The old memories came rushing past. Not hers, the other's. On their way out, the life that had been lived.
The pain was terrible, like being born again. If she'd had a voice she would have screamed. Finally, with one last, agonizing effort, she broke through the surface tension, into the body and back to the world of the living.
Tamsin gave a spiritual shrug as though trying on a new outfit that was a little too tight. Pushing herself into the edges, filling out fingers and toes. The body felt good. Not like some of the others. She focused on the heart, working the muscles, getting it to beat again. It took some effort finding the eyes. Ah, there they were. Opening them fully, she blinked her sight into focus. A man was standing over her, looking down. Dark hair and darker eyes, his handsome face a mask of, what? Surprise? Horror? Horror, she thought, mentally nodding. Definitely horror.
She recognized him. Or the body did. Those last moments before death imprinted on this mind's eye. She tried to speak and only then realized her mouth was full of water. She spit it out.
“Oh,” she gasped, finding her voice. “I know you. You're the man who killed me.”
In one lithe movement he pulled a bright, silver blade from a sheath at his belt, crouched into a fighter's stance and began to back carefully away.
Coughing up more water, Tamsin dragged herself up to kneel on the cold, wet, concrete. She was inside some sort of bunker or something. No windows. A heavy steel door with a spinning handle, like on a ship. The only light came from a bright halogen lantern sitting on the floor near the door. There were a great many pipe outlets all steadily dripping water.
It took a lot of effort but she managed to pull herself into a standing position. Swaying unsteadily, she gave her new body a quick glance, careful not to take her eyes off the dark-haired man for long. He watched her warily, still silent. She was female. Thank God. Tamsin shuddered, remembering. Gender bending was not an adventure she would like to go through again.
Running her tongue over her teeth she felt pointed fangs, rather long ones. What was she this time? Vampire? Demon? She tried to feel what she – or this body – had been. There was only emptiness. She, it, had never had a soul. There was a faint spirit trail of residual energy bouncing around. The energy burned a little. Oh, ouch. A lot. Metaphysically speaking. Perhaps she had not been a very nice whatever. No blood that she could see on the body. Given the amount of water she had retched up and the large puddles still draining away, drowning had been the likely cause of death.
“I hope you had a good reason to kill me, I mean her,” was all she could think of to say to the man.
He came at Tamsin with the knife so fast his body was only a swift, dark blur of continuos motion. She stepped aside, but only just. He whirled, snaking the knife into the space between them, grazing her ribs. She gasped at the swift, sharp pain. It was too soon. She could barely stand, let alone fight, no matter what skills this body had.
She put out her palms in a placating gesture, “Wait, wait, I can explain.”
Shoving her hands aside, he wrestled her down onto the hard floor with bruising force, the knife at her throat with one hand, the other holding her wrists above her head.
“Please,” she gasped. “If she was your enemy, I am not what I was!”
He looked into her eyes. Deeply. They had been red before, red as blood. He hated those eyes. Hated her and her foul darkness. Now he thought he saw the darkness draining away, revealing something – someone – very different from the lethal Prime Vampire. Not just her eyes, her whole face was changing. Softening. He reached out with his Fae senses. Careful not to open himself too much, in case this was all an act.
Her heart was pounding. Not in anger he sensed. Fear.
Tamsin was feeling the body's strength a little more now. He had relaxed his guard ever so slightly, sensing perhaps the change in her. This body had fighting skills. She might be able to take him, but there was something about the big, dark-haired man. Different. She wasn't getting an evil vibe. Not at all. In fact something quite the opposite. Still, he did have a knife to her throat.
She was tired of being afraid. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.
“Please.” Tamsin tried to put all the honest desperation she could into that one word.
Staring at her, his eyes narrowed until his thick brows formed an angry 'V'. He seemed to be thinking over her plea. The knife didn't strike. At least not yet. He looked enormous from where she lay.
Still straddling her, he gradually let go of her wrists though the knife remained poised and ready. They stayed like that for what seemed like a very long time: Tamsin's heart pounding, him staring down at her. He had a rough, outdoorsman look. Strong jaw and cheekbones, broad shoulders. She could certainly attest to his strength. Dark, thick hair fell in waves over his ears, just brushing his shoulders. The sensuous curve to his full mouth told a different, more subtle story to the man. Whoever she had been, she must have been pretty dangerous. He was dressed for battle in a black, complex Kevlar-style vest that stretched up to cover his throat. Across it rested a bandoleer of knives and other sharp and very lethal looking objects. A gun belt held more weapons.
“Who, who are you?” he said at last, his voice deep, questioning.
She answered truthfully, staring back at him through this stranger's eyes, “My name is Tamsin and I have no soul.”
Transition takes a lot of energy. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
The man set down a tray with a large Americano and a plateful of warm ham and cheese rolls. Tamsin eagerly took a swallow of one and a bite of the other. Oh, bliss. Pure bliss.
“You can see I am not what I was,” she mumbled around a mouthful of food.
“Yes, now I can, much more clearly.”
She sat back in the chair, openly curious, “What's changed?”
“Well, for one thing, I have never seen a vampire so eager to find a coffee shop. Your eyes practically rolled back in your head when we walked in and the aroma hit you."
She moaned as the rich, salty flavor of the ham and cheese filled her mouth again. “Is that what I am? Was? A vampire? It's been months, at least I think it has, since I had a body.” She did a tiny seated victory dance in the chair for the sheer joy of moving. It was good to be alive. Again.
He had put her into his car, a black beast of a vehicle that rumbled with power, parked outside the drowning pool on a cold, windy backstreet. She begged for coffee, her throat raw. He'd driven away from the darkened warehouse district to this boulevard full of shops and cafes criss-crossed by canals and bridges. It had a wonderful, real-time energy that had Tamsin buzzing. He asked her no questions and she was glad of the silence, absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of being back in the mortal world. This was her first time in Chicago and she had no idea where they were even though she had flown across the city many times by now hunting for a body. Time and space did not take the same form in her world. As a spirit she saw the magic – black, white and every shade of gray – overlaying the city's steel and concrete skin, blurring its contours. People, places, and things glowed with an ebb and flow of pulsing energy that burned day and night.
As a spirit seeing had taken a lot of getting used to when she first transitioned. No wonder people had a hard time contacting ghosts. The ghosts were floundering around somewhere up in the ether going, 'Where the hell is this and how do I get downtown?' The thought made her smile.
“You need to put your fangs away.”
One hand flew to her lips, hiding her teeth. She gave the man a wide-eyed look, “I don't know how.”
He seemed to be trying not to laugh, the deep lines around his mouth quivering with the effort, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Just don't smile.”
“What was her name? This vampire of yours.”
“Angelique. Princess Angelique Duprey.”
Tamsin couldn't help the snort of derisive laughter that escaped, though she remembered to cover her mouth. “How very inappropriate. Angelique indeed. She was never an Angel and I've met a few."
He raised his eyebrows and gave her an appraising stare.
"Not human, either. Everything works inside, you know what I mean? Not dead-come-back-to-life works like a turned vampire. I think she just preferred blood. But you know that, right? Why did you drown her?”
“Angelique was a Prime Vampire, not made, just as you said. Do you know about Primes?"
She shook her head. Even on her accelerated supernatural learning curve there was still so much she didn't know.
"Primes live in Fae. They are a race, not the undead, related to Faeries. Elder Blood and thus nearly immortal. Very rare in this world. Which is a good thing for humans since they are the most powerful of all vampire clans. You can wound but not kill them with wood or silver. Daylight has no effect. Their progeny -- those made, not born -- are not as strong and much more like the creatures you are familiar with. Yet everything has a weakness. Primes are Elementals. Connected to the earth. Again, very much like Faeries. Their power, though, is also their downfall. One of the elements: fire, water, air – the lack of it – or earth can also kill them. The trick is to figure out which one.”
"And Angelique's was water."
“Well, I didn't know that. I haven't jumped into many vamps. Are you a vampire hunter?”
He picked up his cup. Cappuccino. Tamsin, or rather, Angelique, could smell the milk and cinnamon. He took a drink, not meeting her eyes, “I hunt a lot of things.”
“Are you 'the nameless hunter'?”
He smiled at that, unable to hold it back. “Drake. Just Drake.”
“Well, just Drake. I am a hunter, too.” Her voice was light and joking, the joy of being alive again too much to contain. “First name Tamsin, as I told you. However, my parents could afford a last name. Tamsin West.”
She reached out one hand and Drake automatically took it. At her touch, a little frisson of energy ran from her fingertips to his. Not vamp energy. No. Something entirely different. If it had a color it would have been silver. Light and bright and eager. Tamsin did not seem to notice. She settled back in the chair, pulling Drake's soft suede trench coat a little tighter.
Back at the bunker she'd shed most of Angelique's wet clothes – the woman seemed to have a thing for leather and spandex – slipping into the coat he had dumped outside the door and one of his shirts. It was January in Chicago, he was wearing several under the Kevlar. It hung down to her knees. She had kept on Angelique's high black motorcycle boots, wet as they were.
“I am tracking those who took my soul. People I thought of as friends. Best friends." She shook her head, remembering the pain of that betrayal. How ironic. She hadn't even believed in magic. Or ghosts and then, surprise, she was one.
"Soul Eaters. That's what they call themselves. Sorcerers. I don't know if they are human or not. They certainly have very little humanity. They divided my soul between them like birthday cake, turning my body to dust in a terrible ceremony and dooming me to wander forever as a lost spirit. No soul equals no afterlife, at least as humans imagine it. Shut the Gates of Heaven right in my face. And I am not just speaking metaphorically. I spent quite a while moaning and feeling sorry for myself until I noticed the world of the paranormal is actually quite a vast and diverse place – and not all evil. Another soul seeker, a woman, finally helped me. Showed me how I could jump into others with no soul right at the point of death and live again."
"Only those with no soul?"
She nodded, her mouth full.
“Otherwise you have no form?”
She swallowed. “No. None at all, though I've learned how to make my spirit alter the body I take. Making it subtly more 'me'.”
She had run into the bathroom here at the coffee shop when they first came in, curious to see who she was. A thin, angry-eyed eyed stranger stared back. Pale skin, high cheekbones in a narrow face, and black hair that fell like silk to her waist. Angelique had skull tattoos on her arms, throat, the back of her neck, both shoulders, and all the way down to the naughty bits. Nothing but skulls. Over and over and over. That was just weird, even for a vampire.
“So you're searching for the pieces of your soul. That means you are looking for yourself, as it were?”
She nodded, savoring the hot, bitter coffee running down her throat. Savoring having a throat.
“What will happen when you get all the pieces?”
She liked how he said 'when' not 'if'. He was very calm and relaxed with her. It was such a relief to talk frankly. She'd met seers and warlocks and others of that sort. They always seemed either too edgy or too detached. This man Drake, whatever he was – she was sure he wasn't human – had strength. Spiritual as well as physical. Her altered state let her see it, feel it. Plus he bought her food. She liked a man who knew to feed a woman.
“Not sure exactly. There isn't a manual. It's taken me years of research, trial and error, rather an amazing lot of errors actually, to get this far. I'm hoping they will just sort of stick themselves back together like magnets.”
“Have you found any, um, parts?”
“Where are they?”
“In a Swiss bank vault.”
He choked on his cappuccino.
Leaning over, she she patted him on the back while he gagged.
“You're joking?” He gasped out.
“No. I have a safe deposit box with a private bank in Zurich. Right off the Bahnhoffstrasse, close to the lake. Because of the body switching it's complicated. I have an agreement with a very sweet Swiss succubus who is a partner in the bank, but that's another story. They are locked away, glowing in two little crystal vials as I search for the rest.”
Much to her surprise he started to laugh. A deep, rumbling, good-natured laugh that had the other people in the coffee house turning and smiling with him. Wishing they could share in the joke with the big, dark-haired man and his wide smile.
“What?” she asked. “What's so funny?”
He wiped at his eyes with the back of one broad hand, “I envisioned many, many ways this evening could turn out. Most of them involving blood and terror. Sitting in a coffee house sipping coffee with a toxic Prime Vampire opposite me smiling away like a country girl who just hit the big city and talking about a sweet Swiss Succubus. That was never on the list. Never even close.” He laughed harder.
Tamsin flushed, “Is that how I look? It's just,” she tried to find the right words. “To feel everything again so fully. When I am spirit, the real world has very little substance.” She took a big bite of the roll, “And no taste.” Though the words came out like 'mumble, mumble, garble' because her mouth was so full.
Still chewing, she looked longingly at the counter.
Drake correctly interpreted her expression, “What else would you like?”
“Do they have any almond croissants? I would kill for an almond croissant.”
He gave her a sharp look.
She made a face. “I didn't mean that literally. Whatever Angelique's appetite's were, they are not mine.”
“Obviously, since you apparently have the appetite of a 200-pound man.”
She nodded, still chewing, “Yea, I've been that.”
Drake froze in the midst of rising from the chair and gave her a shocked look.
Later, when he thought back on all that was to come, Drake realized it was her laugh – honest, direct, laughing at herself, at her terrible fate or in spite of it – that had subtly changed the direction of that night.
He was just turning away from the register, plate in hand, when he sensed their presence.
Four of them.
Watching his posture, watching him because honestly, this was a man worth watching in action or repose, Tamsin knew immediately something was up. Returning, he set the croissants on the table and placed his hand on her elbow. She stood, forcing her new senses into overdrive. Blood, she smelled blood and something else. More elusive, yet very familiar.
The four men pushed through the doors. Two of them fair; two of them dark. A double set of twins. They were dressed in such cutting edge fashion it was a wonder the men didn't slice themselves on the wool and leather couture seams and bleed to death right in the doorway. Their boots, handmade and stitched, jingled with metal amulets. If she focused her eyes, she could see each amulet in minute detail. Vampire vision rocked.
“Are the Lost Boys friends of yours?” She asked as he steered her towards a small alcove near the bathrooms.
“Oh crap.” That was why they smelled familiar. It was her smell as well. “There's no back door through here, you know that, right?”
He nodded, “There's something I have to tell you. Angelique's father runs Chicago's Dark Side. Like most Prime Vampires, he uses the mortal world as his personal playground. It's like one vast X-Box game catalog for the supernaturally enhanced. Currently he likes playing a complex game of cops and robbers. Obviously he's not the cops. You're going to have to find another body. Soon!”
One of the fair men raised his head, sniffing the air. He looked directly at her, “Angelique!”
No more time for talk. She stepped out of the alcove.
“Don't smile,” Drake hissed. “Angelique never smiles.”
Turning down the corners of her mouth in what she hoped was an expression of fierce boredom, she faced them and motioned subtly towards the door, as though she wished to speak outside. She took Drake's arm and gave him a push in the direction of the exit. As they walked past their table, she grabbed the croissants and shoved them in the coat pocket.
Drake shot her a disbelieving look and she tried not to grin.
They walked out into the cold night, the buzz of traffic still busy even at this late hour. People on the streets were bundled up in coats and mufflers, out for a good time despite the fearsome wind-chill factor of a Chicago winter. Though this was her first visit, the severity of the city's weather was legendary. Even Tamsin, or rather Angelique, shivered. Nearby, a massive black Hummer limo stood idling, surrounded by a fog of exhaust, its bank of lights practically blinding.
The other vamps entered first.
As she and Drake stepped through the double doors, one of the dark ones, fangs extended, said in a bored tone, “Here, give him to me.”
In a heartbeat she was crouched inside the Hummer, all vampire, her teeth fully extended, hands like claws. It had been surprisingly easy to slip into this mode, Tamsin thought. Angry was probably Angelique's default emotional setting.
"He's mine," she hissed. "Touch him and I will tear out your hearts and eat them in front of you!” Malice radiated from her almost visibly, like heat off an open flame.
The fair-haired pair sat further back in the rich leather seats and stared.
The dark ones did not seem quite so impressed.
“Angelique, Princess, daughter of my progenitor, what are you talking about?”
Tamsin thought fast. “Is there nothing sweeter than to turn an enemy? Make him a slave?”
All twins looked blankly at her for a moment, then at each other, then back at her.
“Why are you talking like a character in a movie?” asked one of the dark pair.
“And Drake is Fae,” his brother pointed out, speaking slowly as though to a child. “You can't turn him. You know that. You two have been frenemies forever and we're all just a little sick of it. All I meant was let him sit by me.”
The other rolled his eyes, “Have you been doing Jell-O shots again? The red ones? You know how badly that turned out last time.”
"Or those blueberry martinis. I bet it was that," said his brother nodding. "Duprey's and fruit-laced cocktails do not a happy mixture make."
They both shuddered.
Tamsin felt she was losing control of this conversation. “You dare argue with me?” Revving into vampire speed, she wrapped her hand around the nearest one's throat, the nails breaking his skin. She had no idea what she was doing but Angelique had been an uber bitch, she guessed. Might as well play it for all she was worth. Otherwise their lives might not be worth anything at all.
Unfortunately, he did not seem impressed. “Damn. Chill, girl!” He pushed her back, rubbing his throat. There was a trickle of blood where she'd scratched him. “What is up with you? Take a Midol or something.” Wiping the blood away with his fingers, he held them out to his twin who licked each fingertip with slow – and to Tamsin, disturbing – care. “We've been trying to call and text you for hours. Your father has a meeting tonight with his lieutenants – that means you, too, as you well know – over what to do about that slimy sorcerer trying to muscle in on our territory. The bastard has redone the wards around several of the docks to lock us out and summoned a gang of Kelpies as enforcers. The damn things are as big as elephant seals. They ate an entire crew of longshoremen last night from one of our docks. The bastards. We crossed your scent a few streets back and followed it here.”
“I bet she shoved her cell down someone's throat again and just left it there,” said his brother, pausing mid-lick. “God you have no concept of time.”
“Or money,” the other sighed in agreement. “That's like the fifth one in as many months. iPhones do not grow on trees.”
The two fair ones, who had until now observed the conversation silently, looked at each other, nodded, then spoke simultaneously, “That's not Angelique. She's a jumper.”
“Ah, damn,” Drake sighed.
The world slowed down as they all moved between time at paranormal speed. Tamsin was not shocked the Primes could pull this off. Drake, though, was moving right along with her. Slipstreaming, the supernaturals called it. That was a surprise.
He pulled two jagged-edged silver knives from hidden pockets on his vest. “She's good with blades,” was all he had time to say.
By normal standards a Hummer limo is a big vehicle. Really, really big. For six supernaturals fighting for their lives, the interior was a little cramped. The driver, Tamsin saw out of the corner of her eye, wisely scrambled out the door and scampered away at the first spurt of blood.
Tamsin didn't think; she just let the body feel. She had done this many times before in many bodies. Muscles have memories, too. These vamp boys were not full Primes but they fought and struggled and a couple of times she thought she was done for. Finally she took them out, the knives so sharp the blades nearly severed their heads. Unlike on TV, the blonds didn't burst into flames or poof into dust. They just sort of sprawled there on the wide leather seats oozing blood and looking very dead in their fashionable clothes. She had been in a body much like a vampire twice before – and been killed in that form – forcing another transition. They hadn't been human on the inside, obviously, since the bodies would have spit her right back out. Maybe the true death differed from vampire-type creature to made vampire, or even clan to clan. Or maybe they weren't really dead, dead and just needed their heads sewn back on like Drake said. That was just too gross to contemplate.
It was hard to tell exactly what was going on with Drake and the others. There were arms and legs and blood and body parts everywhere at once and she scooted around trying to get out of the way. Certain rules of physics apply even in the paranormal and there just wasn't room for her to insert herself into the melee. In the end, only one rose up from the blood-soaked floor.
Drake was breathing hard, “You fight really well, Tamsin.”
She gave him a rueful smile. “Those Soul Eaters I'm hunting don't just give me back the pieces of my soul. I have to kill them – dead, deader, and deadest. Death having many layers as I am sure you know. All the bits of souls they've captured, the ones sustaining their immortal youth, are then set free. Including mine if I'm lucky.”
He gave her a measuring glance which slipped into a grimace. The night was bright as day to Tamsin. She could see his face had gone very pale. He seemed to sag a little, as though gravity was suddenly too much. Tamsin smelled the blood soaking the hollow under his arm.
“Nicked me pretty good,” he wheezed. “Not a normal blade. Poison. Can't seem to find my feet.”
Tamsin's mind kicked into overdrive. Everything happened so fast, she had just hung on and run with it. The transition. Drake. The vamps. Now though, she had to make a decision. Drake and Angelique apparently had a long and extremely twisted history together. On top of that, some kind of paranormal gang war was brewing between the Prime clan and a new sorcerer in town. Their battles were not her own. It had taken a lot of effort to locate this body and she did not want to squander the opportunity.
Some months and several transitions ago, she tracked and fought a Soul Eater in Prague. Not just any Soul Eater. One of those who destroyed Tamsin's life. Her name was Nicole. At least when Tamsin knew her. An antique dealer. A dark French beauty and, Tamsin's research discovered, once a favorite at the court of Louis the XIV.
In Nicole's house, between the blood and dismembered limbs – it had been a hard, dirty fight – Tamsin discovered that first clue. Nicole collected far more than antique furniture and paintings. She was an archivist of arcane spells. Tamsin was always hunting for new spells that could be used in battle. Shifting through the dead woman's many (many!) documents, she came across a reference to the four objects and the powerful runes they held. The clue that made her think the story more than just a legend was so insubstantial, she almost missed it. That clue led to a sorcerer in Madrid, then a shapeshifter in Zagreb and finally, step by step, here to Chicago and the first of the four objects on her list. An ancient, demonic little statue from Mesopotamia that lay sleeping in a museum right here in this city.
She looked at Drake. His eyes were nearly closed and he was breathing in short, fast, gasps. Really, she owed him nothing; yet she couldn't just walk away. Tamsin sighed as the West family motto ran automatically through her head: no man, woman, dog, cat or gerbil (the last had been added by her little brother one gerbil-filled summer) left behind. She supposed that included supernaturals. You'd think she would have learned by now being nice didn't get a girl very far in life – or death.
She didn't need vamp baggage to slow her down, she had her own. The museum and statue would have to wait until tomorrow.
“Tell me where to go.”