"I don't know. There's a crazy chaos-eating monster flitting in and out of me," I said. "You're going to try to frisk her out. Seems like there's a high likelihood things might end up pretty not okay."
"Ye of little faith." He too disappeared.
Vincent and I stood there for several moments. Finally, I sighed once more.
He touched my shoulder. "Let's go back home."
We ventured back into the cold and walked to my apartment, saying little. Vincent look tired and thoughtful, no doubt from all the Nyx stuff. As we approached my apartment, however, his expression began to change. At first, he simply looked puzzled. Then he grew surprised, then startled, then horrified, and finally, disgusted. We stopped on the building's steps.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He pointed upward. "There's something...evil in there."
"Like...my apartment? Because, you know, I'm technically evil..."
Vincent shook his head. "No, no. It's a different kind of evil. You're evil by nature - no offense. This is something different. A created evil. It's black and wrong. Unnatural. You know of anyone else who lives in the building that plays for your side?"
"No. Just me."
He grimaced. "Well, let's go in then and see where it's coming from. Ugh. To my senses, it's like...rotting garbage."
We went inside, and it didn't take him long to figure out where this different evil was coming from. My own apartment.
"Told you I was the only evil thing in here," I joked. But I was a little uneasy at his reaction.
Vincent didn't respond and simply pushed past me, searching in a way that brought the earlier hound reference to mind. He disappeared into my bedroom and reemerged with Dante's arts and crafts project.
"This," declared Vincent, holding it at arm's length.
"That?" I asked, astonished. "That's...nothing."
"Where did you get it?"
"This guy I know made it. The one who was helping me. He's, I don't know...a pseudo psychic. Maybe a real psychic. Interprets dreams and claims to be a magician." I stared at the wicker ball. "Are you saying he really is a magician?"
"Oh, he's something all right. This thing is so filthy, I can't believe you can't feel it. Well, I can believe it...I mean, it's a different sort of magic than you're attuned to, but Jesus. It makes me feel like I just...I don't know, went swimming in a sewer."
"Well...I know he's supposed to be, like, bad...he and another friend have said as much. But...I don't know. I thought it was just hype."
"There's bad and there's bad," Vincent said. "And this is bad. This thing's a repellent, right? Did he give it to you to keep Nyx away?"
"Yeah...but he wasn't sure if it'd work..."
"Oh, it'd work. It'd keep about anything away. To make something like this...man, Georgina. It's incredible - the kind of power required. Very few humans are born with this kind of power. He certainly wasn't. This is stolen power."
"Everyone steals power," I noted dryly. "Me, Nyx..."
Vincent's eyes were hard. "You and she suck it from people. This was ripped out of someone. The way you'd rip someone's heart out of their chest."
"So, what..." I stared. "Are you saying Dante killed someone to make this?"
"To make this specifically? Perhaps. But someone would need to already possess great power - independent of what he might put in this - to even attempt making it. And to be someone with that kind of power in the first place, he had to have done something, at some point in his life, that was bad."
"More than that. A special killing - something sacrificial. You know the kind of power those can yield."
I did. I didn't have a choice in the succubus soul-stealing thing, but I tried to keep my hands clean of other atrocities. Still, you couldn't work for Hell and not know about the full range of evils out there and how to achieve them.
"And," continued Vincent, "you know that the greater the impact - the greater the meaning - of a sacrificial killing..."
"Right. The greater the power." Goosebumps rose on my neck as I started to see where Vincent was going with all this.
"Whatever he did to get this kind of power wasn't just some random, clean killing. It had meaning for him. And it was horrible. He would have had to turn on himself - give up part of his humanity - to get this kind of power."
I stared at the wicker ball. I couldn't sense what Vincent could, but now I too was feeling disgusted and uneasy by its presence. And suddenly, Kayla's repulsion suddenly didn't seem so strange after all. I'd had the charm in my purse when I saw her. She'd said I was 'bad' because I was probably covered in the charm's power. What had Dante done? What act could sarcastic, laconic Dante have done to achieve the kind of power both Vincent and Hugh had said would be needed to make this kind of charm? Whatever it was, it was the reason Erik hated him.
I shivered. "Can you destroy it?"
Vincent nodded. "You want me to?"
A tiny part of me remembered that it had the ability to repel Nyx. But it wouldn't make her disappear, and we needed her to come back if we were going to stop her for good. Swallowing, I nodded. "Yeah, go ahead."
It took only a few seconds. Green light encased the wicker sphere, then Vincent's hand was empty. I'd felt no change in power or anything, but the nephilim looked relieved.
I exhaled. "Well. There's nothing to stop her now, huh?"
"Nope," he said, rubbing his hands together. "Get ready."
Seth wasn't at the bookstore the next day, which I took as a bad sign. It was usually his passive-aggressive reaction to whenever we had a fight.
I thought about him a lot while I worked, thinking of that awful blowout. We'd had a lot of uncomfortable talks in our time together, but we'd never had anything like that. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what about it bothered me - aside from the obvious - but I kept feeling like it was a pivotal moment, something that was going to have long-reaching effects. It scared me, and I wanted to fix things.
And, of course, there was Nyx to worry about. I was going to find a victim after work, and then Vincent said the angels would come while I was asleep - when Nyx made her move.
I looked up from the stack of checks I was signing in my office. Maddie stood there in a black pencil skirt and fitted white blouse that made her look super amazing. She'd worn her hair down too.
"Wow," I said. "What's the occasion?"
"Nothing," she said, with a shrug. "Wardrobe overhaul." She lifted one foot, revealing three-inch black heels.
"Holy shit," I said. "You don't do anything in halves."
She beamed, and I noticed something about her that had nothing to do with the new clothes. There was joy in her eyes - a happiness that made her confident and even more radiant. She was a far cry from the bitter woman who'd shown up at the auction.
"What's going on?" I asked, not fixating on myself for the first time today.
Her grin widened, revealing her phantom dimple. A moment later, she turned more serious. "I'll tell you later. My news is good. But you...what's the matter? You look awful."
Yasmine had said the same thing last night. It really was a sad day when a succubus couldn't stay on top of her game. I shook my head.
"It's...complicated." I offered a weak smile. "I'll deal with it, don't worry. Now, come on. I'd rather hear something cheerful. Tell me what's going on."
"Can't. They need me out there. I just came to drop these off." She set a stack of papers on my desk. They practically melted into the other stacks I already had. My office was so chaotic, it could have been a lair for Nyx in and of itself.
"Come on, the suspense is going to drive me crazy," I teased.
"Well...you think you can give me a lift to the airport tomorrow? I'm going home for Christmas."
"You taking Doug with you?"
"Nope. He's your holiday gift. But I'll give you the scoop then if you can give me a ride. I'd probably need to leave around five."
"Five o'clock traffic on the Friday before Christmas. We're going to have a lot of time to talk."
A bit of her normal nervousness reappeared. "If it's a problem..."
"Nope. We're closing early anyway. We'll go then."