I rolled out of the portal, falling heavily to the floor and my arm took the brunt of a rough landing. Pulling myself onto my knees, I fought the wave of nausea which beset me from travelling through the portal - further complicated by dizziness from donating blood to the Tines.
It took a few seconds to gather my senses and I caught sight of Epi waving his hand across the closing portal. “No!” Lurching unsteadily to my feet, I watched in dismay as the pentagram disappeared from the wall. “Damn it, Epi! You've got to open it again, I've got to go back…” I swayed shakily and Conal caught me, lifting me effortlessly into his arms.
“Easy, Sugar. You're not going anywhere.”
“You don't understand, he's not dead! I saw him as I stepped through the portal! That thing, it's still alive!” I yelled heatedly, frustrated at my inability to make them understand.
Epi was staring at me as though I'd lost my mind and Conal was frowning as he held me firmly against him.
“Put me down, will you? I'm fine.” I wriggled until Conal lowered me onto the ground, his hand against my elbow to keep me steady. I inhaled sharply, calming enough to make some sense. “Archangelo - the other Nememiah's Child. I thought I'd killed him - but he's not dead.”
“I think you're hallucinating, Lottie. He was dead when we left. You threw the Philaris at him, he copped it straight in the chest,” Ralph stated uncertainly.
“I thought he was dead, but he wasn't. He must have been faking, pretending to be dead or he was unconscious the whole time we were preparing to come back. I saw him watching me when I went through the portal,” I explained bleakly.
Alarm was evident in Epi's wizened features. “Either way, there is nothing we can do about it now. You most certainly cannot go back through the portal again. You're bleeding,” he was scrutinizing my arm where the gash had split open, “and you look dreadful.”
Wrinkling my nose, I twisted my arm to study the wound. “Guess I hit hard on the way back.”
“That should not have made a difference, child. The blood sigil should have sealed it and healed it instantaneously,” Epi announced emphatically. He eyed me with open suspicion. “Why do you look so pale?”
“Gee, maybe because she supplemented the vamps' diet with some blood of her own?” Conal announced, intense sarcasm in his tone.
“You did what?” Epi apparently couldn't decide whether he was astonished or furious and decided on a combination of both. “That was extremely foolish, child. Unlike your vampire friends here, your blood needs are one of a kind. I'm fresh out of Angel blood to give you.”
“That's okay - I'll survive.” Glancing around for the first time since returning, I discovered the church had been altered yet again. The bookshelves and shabby furniture had vanished and beds which appeared to have been liberated from a hospital were lined up in two neat rows. The Tines were being settled into the beds by werewolves and shape shifters, while Nonny flitted between them, handing out bottles of blood. “I like what you've done to the place,” I stated drily.
“Lottie - for Christ's sake, can you never stay out of trouble?” The sound of Jerome's thundering voice startled me and I turned to discover him limping across the room.
“What are you doing here?” I wrapped him in a hug, delighted to see my favorite surly doctor.
Jerome returned the hug and when he spoke, his voice was brusque. “Nick requested my presence and I flew down. He thought I could be of assistance when you returned. Plus,” he threw Nick a dirty look, “I've been none too pleased with his behavior towards you recently.”
“It's good to have you here.” Looking around the room, it was evident that we needed him. We needed all the help we could get.
Lucas caught my eye and smiled, making my heart hammer a little harder. Butterflies twirled in my tummy as I returned his gaze, my feelings for him just as intense now as they had been five months ago. I managed a weak smile before my attention was captured by Katie. She'd been lying with William, held in his arms, but she'd managed to wriggle out of his hold and ran towards me. I dropped to one knee as she threw herself at me, squeezing me forcefully against her small body. “Hey, sweetie.”
“You brought William an' Gwynn back!” she announced with a happy grin. “You brought ev'body back!”
“I told you I would,” I replied with an affectionate smile.
She pulled away to study my face, the expression on her little face serious. “They is hurt.”
I bit my lip anxiously, worried about how this tiny little girl would cope with what she was seeing. I'd never dreamed they would be so badly injured, so hideously disfigured when we rescued them.
Any worry was quickly extinguished when Katie continued on without taking time to breathe, her voice filled with confidence. “You can fix them, you is special. An angel can fix them, no problem.” Wrinkling her nose daintily, she sniffed the air around me. “You smell stinky, Lottie.”
I couldn't help the chuckle which erupted. “Yeah, it is pretty stinky, isn't it?” A hellish mix of demon blood, dirt and sweat plastered my skin and clothes. “You think I should take a shower?”
Katie nodded, her pixie-like face solemn. “I think so.”
“I promise I'll go soon.”
“Shower first, Charlotte. You're covered in blood and that arm needs another healing sigil,” Conal insisted as I straightened up.
“They need healing sigils,” I replied obstinately. There were ten beds in the room, five down each side and every single one held a vampire desperately in need of help. Nick and Ralph were gently lowering Rowena onto a bed, keeping their eyes respectfully averted and handling her with the utmost care. Nick carefully drew a sheet up over her still form before he brushed a tender kiss against her forehead. They were all hurting, each and every one of them and I couldn't desert them now.
“They need blood more than anything,” Jerome announced, “and we've got that under control.” He eyed me with unabashed interest. “What the hell are healing sigils?”
“Hasn't Epi brought you up to speed yet?” I questioned, distracted by the hum of activity around us.
“He's given me a brief rundown on the history of Nememiah's children, but I only got in an hour or two ago. I hit the ground running.”
“You and me both, Doc.”
Conal rubbed my arm softly. “The healing sigils can come later, Sugar. Right now they need blood and lots of it.”
“It's the only thing we can do for them, unless these healing sigils will have an effect on vampires,” Jerome said, eyeing his patients with concern. “These injuries…” his voice trailed off and he visibly forced himself to relax, showing a level of professionalism I admired. “They're going to take some healing.”
“Trust me, Jerome,” Nick said, coming across to join us. “The healing sigils will have an effect. Be prepared to have your mind blown.”
“Why am I here, then?” Jerome questioned tartly, raising one bushy grey eyebrow.
“Because they'll need other help,” Nick said quietly. “This kind of torture… there are injuries that aren't just physical and you know it. We're gonna need your expertise.” Nick inclined his head towards me. “Go have a shower, Lottie, we can hold down the fort for now.”
I sought out Epi, found him rushing across the room with a bowl of water and some towels and he rolled his eyes. “The new shower facilities are through the door on the right. Anyone would think I was running a hotel here.”
“Terrific,” I responded drily. “I'll order room service when I've washed up. Don't suppose you could rustle me up some clean clothes?”
“I keep telling you, Charlotte,” Epi called towards my retreating back. “I'm not some two bit magician!”