Home > The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines #4)(16)

The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines #4)(16)
Author: Richelle Mead

“You really think this car is important enough to her that she’d help? Something tells me that the last time she drove anything, it was a horse-drawn carriage.”

I opened up a toolbox that had been in the back of Ms. Terwilliger’s car, pleased that it was well stocked and compatible. “It’s not really about the car. This is a test to prove I’m not some ‘flighty girl.’ I think she gets a kick out of seeing others jump through hoops. That’ll hopefully buy me credit.”

He fell silent and watched me work for another minute or so. “Was that true what she said? About virginity affecting magic?”

“For some spells,” I said. “For others, not so much. Some of the witches in the Stelle are married, and Ms. Terwilliger’s still pretty formidable.”

He didn’t say anything, and I could guess his thoughts. He was wondering if that would influence my own views about sex. In truth, it was only one of the many factors I was juggling when it came to going to the next level with him. His being a vampire was one of my smaller concerns. But other things—vague ones, like simply reaching a milestone, and specific ones, like knowing Jill was watching—certainly weighed on me. Magic played into it as well, but to a lesser extent.

One of the biggest influences was just an overwhelming desire to be cautious. Even engaging in our relationship was a reckless thing, and some part of me needed to compensate by holding back on other aspects. That wasn’t to say I didn’t want to have sex. I did . . . enough that I was carrying a secret that not even Adrian knew about: I’d actually started taking birth control pills. Was it because I had a definitive sexual plan? No, not yet. But I had that definitive cautious nature of mine that felt it was best to be prepared. I wasn’t sure how he’d react if he knew.

He helped me up when I finished in nine minutes and made sure I knew that he thought my dirty, sweaty state was adorable. We went back inside and found Inez and Ms. Terwilliger sitting comfortably in the air-conditioned mauve living room. I hesitated to sit on the couch again and instead settled on the floor in front of Inez.

“Took you long enough,” she said. She looked me over and nodded. “Go ahead, then. Ask your questions.”

I knew better than to waste this chance. “I heard that you were attacked by Strigoi, ma’am—that they tried to drink from you but couldn’t. How? What happened?”

“Oh, there was no ‘try’ about it,” Inez said. She touched the side of her throat. “Right there that monster bit me—but you’re right. He didn’t get very much before the taste got to him. When he realized he couldn’t eat me, he got enraged and tried to snap my neck—but then I got a fireball out on him.” There was a gleam in her eye as she spoke, as though she were seeing the battle play out in front of her. “Odd things, vampire bites. In some ways, they’re exquisite. Exquisite, but lethal.”

“Yes, I know,” I told her, once more surprising her. “A Strigoi tried to drink from me too but couldn’t.”

Inez nodded. “It’s our magic. It leaves a residue on the blood when you use it. Hasn’t Jaclyn taught you that?”

“Er, yes . . .” I began. “But how would that matter to a Strigoi?”

“Magic is life. Strigoi have none, so when they’re struck with it—like with a Moroi charmed stake—it goes against their essence. A stake through the heart kills them. A witch’s blood is simply unpleasant.”

“But I hadn’t—” I stopped, realizing that even though I hadn’t been working great spells before that Strigoi attack, I’d begun the preparation of some at Ms. Terwilliger’s behest. They’d required low-level, unconscious magic—apparently enough to leave a mark that had saved my life. Accepting this, I moved on. “But if magic blood can harm them, how come they can drink from the Moroi? Seems like Moroi would be even more potent because their magic is already within them, not like us.”

Inez seemed pleased by my questions. “Exactly because the magic is intrinsic. It’s woven into the blood and doesn’t have the same shock to a Strigoi system. Our magic . . .” She groped for the words. “It coats our blood because we pull it from the outside world into us. A similar thing occurs with a charmed stake. Magic is forced into it, becoming a more tangible weapon against the undead.”

I could just barely follow along. “A lot of nuances here, dealing with internal and external magic.”

“To say the least.” Inez almost gave me a genuine smile. “And it gets more complicated when you compare Moroi and human magic. Sometimes they behave similarly, sometimes completely differently. And of course, there’s the whole other issue of them contradicting each other.”

“Contradicting each other?” Something in those words pricked my inner alarms.

Inez put her hands into fists and slammed them together. “External, internal. Two sides of the magical coin. Sometimes they clash. Your tattoo there. The Alchemists get vampire blood to infuse it with compulsion, right?”

I nodded slowly. “Yes. To stop us from discussing supernatural matters with outsiders.” And to stop us from doing other things.

“Well, not for you. I guarantee your tattoo stopped working when you first dabbled in magic.”

The world came to a halt as the full impact of her words hit me. “No . . . that’s not possible. I mean, I guess it is, but I swear, there wasn’t any difference in me. Not then.” Things had certainly progressed afterward.

Inez’s gaze pinned me to the floor. “Did you ever try to do anything? Try to talk about vampires to ordinary people?”

“No . . .”

“Then how do you know?”

“I don’t, but I figured the tattoo’s magic was still going strong until—”

“Until what?” she asked. Even Ms. Terwilliger was looking at me now.

Last month, I’d run into a former Alchemist named Marcus Finch who’d rebelled and run away from them. Like me, he believed the Alchemists were too harsh on vampires, but he even went as far as to say there were some Alchemist factions actually working with vampire hunters. Marcus claimed to have discovered a way to undo the magic in our tattoos, freeing us of the compulsion magic that enforced Alchemist loyalty and made us keep supernatural affairs secret. I’d undergone the first part of the two-step process to negate the tattoo: receiving injections of new ink that contained “broken” vampire elemental magic. That allegedly had freed me of the initial compulsion. The second step was to get the golden lily tattooed over with a sort of indigo ink Marcus had to acquire in Mexico. He said without that step, the Alchemists could just eventually reinstate the compulsion. I’d declined Marcus’s offer to go to Mexico, however, saying I’d take my chances without the indigo seal. I couldn’t bring myself to leave Adrian, Jill, and the others, seeing as there’d be no returning to my life in Palm Springs after open rebellion.

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