I addressed her again. ‘As I said, this demon is utterly bound by its mortal flesh. It can’t sustain it. It doesn’t know how. All the humans it’s taken have lasted no more than a week or two.’
‘All the more reason for it to want you,’ Ruth agreed.
‘But why me? Won’t any immortal do?’
‘It has fixated on you. It chose you when it possessed Magnus and it remembers that.’
Well isn’t that terrific.
‘How do you know?’
‘We know.’ Ruth’s mind was not impossible to read and I picked up nothing that might concern me. I didn’t press the point. I had no desire to stay longer than absolutely necessary.
I continued. ‘It has conscious control. It doesn’t understand mortals but it has learned how to mimic them. It moves and speaks and controls all decisions, but the human soul is still trapped inside.’
‘What do you mean?’ she asked softly. Clearly, she didn’t know everything.
I shrugged. ‘We sensed the soul of the mortal woman. It’s trapped inside, aware of what is happening but utterly helpless to prevent it. The demon doesn’t eject the soul. It simply displaces it.’
‘That fits in with what we think we know about Magnus.’ Greg found a shaky voice. ‘It’s all a question of control. I mean, with your kind it is. With vampires.’ This seemed to require a nod from me before he found his tongue again.
‘We think it only managed to get control of Magnus because it took him while he was still human. It was already there inside him when Magnus became immortal. That’s why it can’t possess you. You’re already a powerful vampire and it doesn’t have enough strength to overpower your will and take control of you. Not directly.’
I nodded as if anything to do with demons or spirits could ever make sense to me. The disembodied spirit had knocked me off my feet but I hadn’t registered any other sort of attack. I knew exactly what that felt like. Presumably it couldn’t penetrate this immortal body of mine, or my soul, however this worked.
‘In other words, I’m safe unless I drink from it.’ A log shifted in the fire with a brief show of sparks. ‘Well then, what happens if I simply kill the mortal?’
Greg exchanged a glance with Ruth.
‘You know,’ I smiled, ‘Speaking as a monster who does such things.’
‘It’s all still theoretical.’
‘There’s one sure way to find out.’
‘You can’t kill it, ‘said Ruth, stating the obvious.
‘It would just have to find another human host. Or stay in its disembodied state.’ Greg sounded genuinely apologetic. ‘I really don’t know what would happen.’
‘And so, you still know nothing,’ added Armand in a low voice.
‘Actually, we do.’ Ruth’s fingers stopped their steady drumming on the cover of her book. ‘Quite a lot. We’ve found details of the original ceremony that was used on Magnus. It’s not complete, but we now know how the demon was imprisoned in his body.’
‘Yes. The spell which destroyed Magnus and released this demon into the world to plague us all.’ Armand really would make a superb diplomat.
‘The spell which prevented Lestat from being possessed by it,’ Ruth said firmly.
‘Are you waiting for my gratitude?’ Now I was becoming irritated. ‘We still don’t know why the Talamasca were meddling with this thing in the first place!’
‘Perhaps they summoned it,’ added Armand.
‘The Talamasca have never directly intervened…’
‘Walter Vanhoutte did a lot more than that.’
Ruth’s face colored. ‘He acted in secrecy! We had no idea what he was doing. He was obsessed with power. This isn’t what the Talamasca represents!’
‘Gitano would disagree.’ I gazed pointedly at her until she looked away. The fire crackled contentedly. Outside, I could hear the patter of rain and the distant sound of a dog barking. I wanted to feel that rain on my skin.