She nodded. "She was right there. She stood right there when I swore. She heard every word. If they kill her, she will know it's because I failed."
Note to self: avoid being in debt to the witches like the plague.
"Whatever it is you want, Kate, I will do it. No matter how foul. Even if it means debasing and humiliating myself ..."
Fantastic. Who did she think I was, exactly? "I guess we will start with humiliation, move onto debasing, and perhaps do some torture for a spiffy finish." I glanced at Jezebel. "Is our Torturer in residence?"
Rowena opened her mouth, looking as if she were about to say something sharp, and must've thought better of it, because she clamped it shut.
"How accomplished are you in necromancy?"
She gathered herself. "I'm rated as Master of the Dead of the Third Caliber, Level Two, which means I can simultaneously hold three vampires and effectively pilot two at the time. I've passed all the prerequisite examinations. I rank third in finesse and fourth in power in Atlanta and seventy-first overall among the People. That rank is misleading, as when you're that high up, the differences between the ranks are minute. For example, the range of the person above me is only twenty inches longer than mine. I hold the shield of the Silver Legion. The Gold Legion is--"
"Roland's top fifty," I finished. "You had to climb the Ladder, correct?" The Ladder was Roland's way of promoting education among the People. Each step of the ladder consisted of a work on magic, necromancy, or philosophy. Some steps were books, some scrolls. Once you mastered a step, you took a test to prove your knowledge. The more steps, the higher the pay.
Rowena's eyes narrowed. "Yes, the Ladder of Knowledge. You have to complete ten to be rated as a Second Caliber Journeyman, and twenty-five to obtain the title of Master. How do you know this?"
"How many steps did you complete?"
"Eighty-nine," she said.
"One hundred and sixty-five." She grimaced. "The man is a machine. As I've said, Ghastek can be extremely single-minded. If you are considering using me against him, I will obey, of course, but you should understand that though I can injure him, he'll win this fight."
"When Roland made Arez, he used a ritual to purge him of loupism. The technique involves withdrawing a person's blood and purifying it. Are you familiar with it? Rowena?"
Rowena decided it would be a good time to close her mouth. "Yes."
"Tell me about it?"
"It's the same process he uses to create his Chosen," she said. "You receive a gift of his blood and power, but in return you're bound to him forever. He doesn't use it often."
"Is Hugh d'Ambray bound to him?"
I'd thought as much. Since both Arez and Hugh had been preceptors of the Order of Iron Dogs and were bound to Roland, Voron must've been bound, too. That was why my mother had stayed behind to fight Roland. Voron couldn't disobey a direct order from Roland. If my father had ordered him to hand me over, Voron would've done it; he'd have had no choice.
"Have you ever seen it done?"
She shook her head. "Only what I have read."
"Is the use of the obedience power word necessary?"
"Yes. That's what gives him control over the blood once it's removed from the body." I leaned back. There was no way around it. If she survived, Julie would be bound to me forever.
"Kate, it's a very difficult ritual. Other people, high-ranking members of the Gold Legion, have tried and failed. You can't just do something like that. Roland's blood and power are unique."
Rowena kept going. "I've met him, when I was initiated into the Silver Legion. The magic radiating through his blood is unlike anything I've ever felt."
To the right, Jezebel rolled her eyes.
"It's like meeting a god in person. It's ... I can't even describe it."
I wondered what she would do if I cut my forearm, dipped my fingers into the red, and touched her hand with it. Was it something like this?
I bet she would jump.
I folded my arms on my chest instead. "Just tell me about the ritual, Rowena. That's all I need for now."
She was looking past me. I glanced behind me and saw Curran looking through the glass doors, radiating menace. He opened the door. "The Keepers were sighted at Nameless Square. I need you."
I looked at Jezebel. "Get our guest some paper. Once she writes everything down, make sure she leaves safely."
I CROUCHED ON THE HUGE CONCRETE BOULDER jutting from the pavement like the stern of a sinking ship. To the left, an abandoned building rose from the street, its stucco and concrete long turned to dust. Only a rusty cage of the framework remained, thrusting brown grates to the sunlit morning sky. Down below, the wreckage of Downtown unrolled: oncesolid buildings reduced to heaps of rubble and abandoned ruins, crisscrossed by roads, once busy, now mostly atrophied, and stubby blocky structures born of the new age. To the right, the golden dome of the Georgia State Capitol building caught the light, the copper statue of Miss Liberty on its top thrusting her torch upward. To the left, in the distance, Unicorn Lane boiled with wild magic. The air shimmered there as a dark mist rose between the fallen high-rises marked with garish stains of magic-mutated vegetation.
I scanned the horizon. Nothing.
The sighting at Nameless Square turned out to be a bust. Someone had caught a glimpse of a large metal cylinder and sounded the alarm too early. The metal cylinder turned out to be a massive charged-air converter being installed at the Capitol as a backup system, in case the main charged-air lines went down. Since then we'd been to a half dozen spots within the city, as the magic users scouring the city for the Keepers raised the alarm here and there. Every lead sounded promising, and every lead turned out to be a miss. We were playing Whack-A-Mole and we were almost out of time.
I squinted at the sun. Around ten. Four hours left? Less? Atlanta was a huge sprawling beast. Every ruin doubled as a potential hiding place.
I hadn't seen Jim or Andrea or Derek since yesterday. It worried me.
Below me, Curran gathered himself, jumped ten feet in the air, bounced off the concrete into another jump, then another, and landed next to me.
"Me Kate. You Tarzan?"
"No." Curran bared his teeth at me. "In the first book, he grabs a lion by the tail and pulls it. Never gonna happen. First, an adult male lion weighs five hundred pounds. Second, you grab my tail, I'll turn around and take your face off." He surveyed the city.