The Return: Shadow Souls (Chapter 35)

"Nevertheless" – Damon's eyes took on a steely glint – "without the amulet my assistant and I will not perform."

"But – with it you will? I say, are you saying that you lost your amulet here?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. Just around the time the party arrangements were being set up." Damon flashed a beautiful, haunting smile at the young vampires and then turned it off suddenly. "I had no idea I would have your help, and I was trying to find a way to get an invitation. So I took a look around to see how the place would be laid out."

"Don't tell me it was before the grass was rolled," someone said apprehensively.

"Unfortunately, yes. And I was given a psychic message, which told me that the k – the amulet is buried somewhere here."

There was a chorus of groans from the crowd.

Then there were individual voices raised, pointing out the difficulties: the rock-hardness of the rolled grass, the many ballrooms with their many floral arrangements in soil, the kitchen garden and flower gardens (which we haven't even seen yet, Elena thought.)

"I realize the virtual impossibility of finding this," Damon said, taking the half of the fox key back into his hand and making it disappear neatly by passing it near Elena's hand, which was ready to receive it. She now had a special place for it – Lady Ulma had seen to that.

Damon was saying, "That is why I simply said no at the beginning. But you pressed me, and now I've given you the full answer."

There was some more grumbling, but then people began walking out in ones and twos and threes, talking about the best places to start looking.

Damon, they're going to destroy Bloddeuwedd's grounds, Elena protested silently.

Good. We'll offer all the jewels you three girls have on you, as well as all the gold I have on me, as a recompense. But what four people can't do, maybe a thousand can.

Elena sighed. I still wish we'd had the chance to talk to Bloddeuwedd. Not just to hear her speak, but to ask her some questions. I mean what reason would a beautiful blossom like her have to protect Shinichi and Misao?

Damon's telepathic answer was brief. Well, let's try the top rooms, then. That was where she was headed, anyway.

They found a case of crystal stairs – quite difficult to locate when all the walls were transparent, and frightening to ascend. Once on the second floor they looked for another one. Eventually Elena found it, by stumbling over the first step.

"Oh," she said, looking from the step, which now showed itself through a line of red across its front edge, to her shin, which showed the same damage. "Well, it may be invisible, but we aren't."

"It's not quite invisible." Damon was channeling Power to his eyes, she knew. She'd been doing the same – but these days she wondered which of them had more of her blood in them: him or her?

"Don't strain yourself, I can see the steps," he said. "Just shut your eyes."

"My eyes – " Before she could ask why she knew why and before she could scream he had picked her up, his body warm and solid and the only solid thing anywhere around. He headed up the stairs holding her so that her dress was out of the way of the blood droplets that fell freely into space.

For someone afraid of heights, it was a wild, terrifying ride: even though she knew Damon was in top condition and would not drop her and even though she was certain he could see where he was going. Still, left to herself and her own volition, she would never have made it farther than the first stair. As it was, she didn't even dare wiggle much in case she threw Damon off balance. She could only whimper and try to endure.

When, an eternity later, they reached the top, Elena wondered who would carry her down, or if she would be left here the rest of her life.

They were confronted by Bloddeuwedd, the most enchantingly inhuman creature Elena had yet seen. Enchanting…but odd. Was there not a slight primrose pattern to her hair in back and on the sides? Wasn't her face actually the shape of an apple-blossom petal as well as having the petal's faint bloom?

"You are in my private library," she said.

And, as if a mirror had cracked, Elena came free of the last of Bloddeuwedd's glamour.

The gods had made her out of flowers…but flowers don't speak. Bloddeuwedd's voice was toneless and flat. It ruined the image of the flower-made girl completely.

"We're sorry," Damon said – naturally not at all out of breath. "But we'd like to ask you some questions."

"If you think I will help you, I will not," the flower-petal girl said in the same nasal tone. "I hate humans."

"But I am a vampire, as you have surely already discerned," Damon was beginning, laying the charm on thick, when Bloddeuwedd interrupted him. "Once a human, always a human."

"I beg your pardon?"

Damon's loss of control might have been the best thing that could have happened, Elena thought, trying to keep behind him. He was so clearly sincere about his scorn for humans that Bloddeuwedd softened a little.

"What did you come to ask?"

"Only if you had seen one of two kitsune lately: they're brother and sister and call themselves Shinichi and Misao."


"Or they might – I'm sorry? Yes?"

"The thieves came to my house at night. I was at a party. I flew back from the party and almost caught them. Kitsune are hard to catch, though."

"Where…" Damon swallowed. "Where were they?"

"Running down the front stairs."

"And do you remember the date that they were here?"

"It was the night that the grounds were made ready for this party. Stone rollers went over the grass. The canopy was erected."

Weird things to do at night, Elena thought, but then she remembered – again. The light was always the same.

But her heart was beating fast. Shinichi and Misao could only have been here for one reason: to drop off half of the fox key.

And maybe drop it in the Great Ballroom, Elena thought. She watched dully as the entire outside of the library rotated, almost like a giant planetarium, so that Bloddeuwedd could pick out a globe and place it in some contraption that must make the music play in various rooms.

"Excuse me," Damon said.

"This is my private library," Bloddeuwedd said coldly against the swelling of the glorious ending to the Firebird Suite.

"Meaning now we must leave?"

"Meaning now I am going to kill you."