It wasn’t being shot that was the
problem. Or the fact that someone had apparently decided to beat the
crap out of me beforehand. Or afterwards. Or, considering the way I
felt, possibly both.
I wasn’t sure as I couldn’t seem
to remember the fight that had left me bloody and bruised, with a
bullet hole in my right thigh and another in my left shoulder. I
couldn’t seem to remember much of anything else, either, including who
the hell I was. But that still wasn’t the problem.
No, the problem was that I’d woken up next to a vampire.
One who was maddeningly hard to kill.
“If you would but listen to me
for a moment,” he said, as I slammed his pretty red head against the
concrete floor for the sixth freaking time.
“Okay,” I panted, wondering what
the hell his skull was made of. Granite? “Let’s chat.”
Of course, that would be
difficult since I’d just changed tactics, grabbing his throat and
squeezing for all I was worth.
I wasn’t trying to choke him to
death. That doesn’t work with creatures who don’t breathe, and the
bastard’s neck was too muscular for me to close my hands around,
anyway. But most vamps have instincts left over from their human days,
and they don’t like being grabbed there. It distracts them, messes up
their concentration, makes them panic.
At least, I really hoped it did, since otherwise, I was screwed.
He didn’t have fangs in me yet,
but he didn’t need them because Hollywood had got it wrong. Even plain
old vamps could leech blood molecules through a simple touch. As a
master, this one could probably do it without even that, just by being
in my vicinity, assuming he could concentrate. Which judging by the
bulging eyes was probably not the case.
But then he got a leg over mine and flipped us.
I thought grimly. It looked like the choking thing wasn’t providing
enough of a distraction. Fortunately, he’d left me a hand free.
So I used it to break his nose.
“Damn it!” He actually looked surprised. “Stop fighting me!”
“Sure thing,” I grunted,
struggling for a foothold. “I’ll just lie here and let you drain me.”
“I’m not draining you!”
“Then why do I feel like shit?”
He stared down at me,
exasperation and what looked weirdly like concern shimmering in liquid
blue eyes. “Because you took two bullets in the last hour?”
For a second, dizziness and a
weird sense of familiarity combined to mess with my head. I
stared up at the stranger, trying to place him. It should have been
easy; he wasn’t exactly the sort of guy you forgot.
The hair was actually more auburn
than red, and there was an absurd amount of it for a man, flowing over
his shoulders and my hands. It should have made him look girly, but
somehow it didn’t. Maybe because it framed a strong, aristocratic
face—high cheekbones, sensuous lips, hard jawline—that managed to be
arresting even covered in blood from the broken nose. A nose that was
already twitching back into place, like the smear of red was sinking
back into the pale perfection of his skin, leaving him looking as if
he’d never been injured at all and--
This was how they operated,
I told myself harshly. They drained you until your brain didn’t work so
well, then turned on the innocence or beauty or charm, confusing the
hell out of you until you blacked out and they could finish the job.
Only that so wasn’t happening this time.
Of course, that would be a lot
easier to manage if I had a stake. Or a knife. Or anything remotely
weapon-like, because hand-to-hand against this bastard was starting to
look like a gesture in--
I paused, noticing the shackle dangling off my right wrist.
“I’m trying to help you,” he
strangled, somehow getting a hand under the chain before it decapitated
“Sure you are,” I grunted, really
putting my back into it. “Next you’ll be telling me you’re my boyfriend
come to get me out of this.”
He burst out laughing, since
clearly, he was off his head.
Or maybe that was me, because now I was hearing voices.
word rang in my ear, as clearly as if someone was looking over my
shoulder. My head whipped around, but the only occupants of the
iron-barred cage I’d woken up in were me, the vamp and a desiccated
“I have…ugh…located her.”
“Estimated extraction time?”
“That is…still being determined.”
“There is a problem?”
The vamp’s hand flailed out and
grabbed one of the cage bars. I smashed my foot—the one in the
steel-toed Cat--down on it. He cursed and let go. “Yes, well...a few.”
And suddenly things went from
weird, to super-ultra-weird, as a picture flashed through my head as
vivid as a movie. It was upside down and jiggling, but the best I could
tell it showed some chick wearing a blood-splattered tank and a crazed
expression. Her short dark hair was spiky with sweat, her face was
livid with bruises, and her weird golden eyes were slitted with effort
Oh. I guessed that was me.
Wow, I look like shit, I thought, right before I noticed something else. I looped the slack of the chain around the bar behind me for leverage and—
Oh, yeah. That worked better.
“What the hell is she doing?” That was someone new, a crabby voice with an English accent.
“With respect, Lord Marlowe,” the vamp snapped. “What does it look like?”
“And she is trying to remove your head because?”
“She doesn’t recognize me. I
believe drugs may have been involved. She--”
“Drugs have no effect on dhampirs.”
“I will be sure to tell her that,
my lord. As soon as my vocal chords knit back together!”
“What about Laurence?” That was the first voice again.
“I found him at the dock. He is dead.”
“You are sure? He’s first level--”
The vamp’s mental voice was dry. I got another flash—this time of a
vampire, or what was left of one, the pieces arranged almost
artistically on a patch of bloody concrete—and then it was gone.
Someone cursed. Maybe one of
them, maybe me. I couldn’t tell anymore. The longer they talked, the
more my head ached. By now waves of pain were stabbing my brain with
every word, like needles through the eye.
“Where are you?” the voice demanded. “We were tracking you, but lost the signal--”
“Because they took her into one of their labs.”
And suddenly, I was in freaky
visual number three, running through what looked like a time-lapse film
of a city at night. For a couple of seconds, my brain took me on a
crazy ride over mangled fences, under trash-strewn bridges and through
a maze of alleyways that zipped by so fast, all the graffiti streamed
together into one long, obscene snarl. It ended in what looked like a
warehouse out of some dystopian nightmare, except even post-apocalyptic
ruins don’t usually feature a bright orange hell-mouth swirling away in
the middle of a wall.
“What is that?” the English guy demanded.
“The other problem,” the vamp rasped, as the cage blinked into view again.
The transition left me dizzy and
nauseous, and royally pissed off. Whatever kind of trick this was, it
wasn’t going to work. I growled and got serious.
“That is why we have had difficulty finding their test sites,” voice number one said. “They’ve begun hiding them outside our world.”
“Yes,” the vamp strangled. “It would appear that the Black Circle…is somewhat more inventive… than we had thought.”
“Are they folding space?” the English guy asked. “Or did you actually pass through to another--”
“Do you know, my lord, somehow I haven’t had time to look!”
“Don’t take that tone with me when we’re trying to—”
“We will have operatives at your location in ten minutes,” voice number one cut in smoothly. “Attempt to contain the situation until then.”
Great. The guy was like freaking
Teflon; every time I thought I had a grip, he slithered out of it. He
should have been dead a couple times over by now, but he didn’t even
seem to be getting tired, while I was panting like a steam engine and
sweating like a pig. And now he was about to have backup?
Of course, that might not matter,
since I was going to be dead from an aneurysm soon if they didn’t shut the hell up.
“And Louis-Cesare—be careful,” that was voice number one again, sounding grim. “I can control her fits, but not until she reenters our world. And the fact that she does not recognize you is a bad sign—”
“Oh, do you really think so?”
“Listen to me! The two halves of
her nature do not communicate. Therefore the fact that she does not
know you may indicate that her vampire nature is perilously close to
“Yes, I have seen it before. I can handle--”
“You have not seen it before! You
have seen it nearer the surface, perhaps, but still partly diluted by
her human side, which tends to be—”
“--dominant mentally. But when
she perceives herself in mortal danger, her vampire half—”
Mircea!” the vamp had somehow managed to croak that out loud, but it
didn’t help. The needle was an ice pick now, jabbing merrily around the
inside of my skull. I made a sound between a snarl and a mewl, and
smashed the vamp’s head into the floor again.
It didn’t help, either.
“—can assume full control and it is physically far stronger. It is also ruthless, cunning and five hundred years old. You must not—”
“What I must, my lord, is be able to concentrate!”
“Listen to him, you arrogant fool!” The English guy broke in. “He’s
trying to tell you that nobody knows what a dhampir that old can do
because they’re always put down before then! But if you’re not careful,
you’re going to find out the hard—”
“GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”
I screamed, unable to take it anymore. It was mental, because I didn’t
have enough breath left for anything else. But it had an effect anyway.
I got a flash of a couple dark-haired vamps sitting at a table; one
winced as if in pain, while the other let out a curse and stumbled
backwards, knocking over his chair.
But the biggest reaction came
from the vamp beside me. He went suddenly, rigidly still. I didn’t
know if he was dead or just as freaked out as I was, and right then, I
didn’t care. I just wanted out of there.
Fortunately, the door of the cage
we were in was hanging half off its hinges, the bars twisted in ways
iron wasn’t supposed to bend. I looped the chain around the vamp’s neck
another time, and through the sturdiest bar I could find. Then I pulled
it tight, locked it shut and ran like hell.
I couldn’t see much; the
windowless room was dim and there was a bunch of junk in the way—cargo
crates, broken pieces of metal and machinery, and tarp-covered cages
piled high and stacked like a maze. The only light came from a naked
bulb swinging from a wire overhead, throwing leaping shadows against
the walls. It would have been an accident waiting to happen even if I
hadn’t been staggering about like an old drunk.
As it was, it took about five
seconds to stab myself in the side with something, and to bark my shin
on something else. Not that it mattered; even breathing sent burning
signals shooting along my nerves, lighting up a constellation of
oh-shit-points. I grabbed the side of a cage, pulse pounding fiercely,
nausea roiling in my gut, and wondered if the light was really fading
in and out or if that was me.
And then I saw it.
As a door, it left something to
be desired. Like everything, since it was just a dark rectangle set
into a wall of peeling paint and rot. It would have looked perfect on
one of those old B-movie sets, the kind with the dippy blonde edging
slowly towards certain doom.
Only it looked like I was a
brunette. And I’d already met the monster. And right now, I’d take
Or, you know, maybe not.
I pulled up abruptly after a
couple seconds, but not because the vamp had caught me. That’s just how
long it took to round the side of the cage. And to find myself in
the devil’s own operating room.
The low light glinted off a rusty
metal table sitting all alone in a cleared space near the door. It
looked oddly like the trash heaps were trying to get away from it. I
didn’t blame them.
It had a high lip, presumably to
catch slippery organs, and leather restraints heavy enough to have held
Frankenstein. He wasn’t on it at the moment, but there were weird
stains on the restraints and around the drain underneath, and it reeked
like a skunk dipped in sulfur. And if that wasn’t enough to make
the point, there were saws and clamps and assorted nasty things piled
on one end. There were also more cages heaped around, many with
claw-like gouges in the bars.
Oh, yeah. There were also some creatures.
It looked like whatever had been
in the cages hadn’t been too successful at getting out. Because jars of
their not-so-spare body parts lined the room in shelf after shelf of
formaldehyded nightmares. Most were just dark squiggles against the
glass, or pale globules of what-the-hell preserved by somebody who
probably slept with the lights on.
But a few…
A few were staring back.
Ooookay, I thought, gawking at something that looked like an eye on a stalk. Dead things
in jars were clearly a level seven on the creep-o-meter. But the
operative word here was dead, and I didn’t think that something bobbing
about in formaldehyde was exactly a huge--
The eye abruptly spun and looked at me.
And then the milky iris turned black as the pupil blew wide.
And then I don’t know what
happened, because I and my suddenly full bladder were limping like mad
for the door.
"Dory!” Somebody shouted a
name behind me, but it didn’t mean anything. Not when my brain was busy
doing a montage of scenes from the kind of movies they show at 2 A.M.
And apparently, whoever I was, I liked old monster flicks way more than
was healthy, because it had a lot of fodder.
“Damn it! Listen to me!”
The voice came at the same moment that a hand latched onto my ankle. I
was moving too fast to stop, not that I would have anyway since there
were worse things than hitting the floor chin first. But it still
hurt like a bitch, and my bitten tongue flooded my mouth with
That was oddly appropriate, since
a red haze had descended over my eyes, like maybe I’d cut my forehead,
too. But it didn’t seem to interfere with my vision when I flipped
over, jerked my foot back and then plowed it into the vamp’s pretty
face. And broke his nose.
He cursed and I cackled, because
it was funny. And because I was a little tense. Which wasn’t helped
when I noticed the long white hand that was still wrapped around my
The bastard gave a jerk, sliding
me underneath him in a move so fast, I barely realized what had
happened. Until I looked up into the bloody face of death, swift and
sure, glaring down at me. For a second, before I did the only thing I
And kneed death in the nuts.
Death, it turned out, knew a lot
of French curse words. I was treated to most of them as we rolled
around the floor, me trying to throw him off, him intent on draining
me. And it looked like he was winning. At least, I assumed that was why
the room kept trying to gray out at the edges, and why my attacks were
batted aside like the antics of an overly energetic puppy.
Until I made a sudden lunge to
the side, snatched a fire extinguisher off a trash pile, and smashed it
into his stubborn head. Which would have been great, except that it
gave Red a chance to get a foot on the floor. He did something balletic
that was too fast for my eyes to track, but it ended with me flipping
over his head and then him flipping over mine, only to land five or six
On his feet, facing me.
“Who the hell are you?” I demanded. “Spiderman?”
“No.” He swiped a hand across his
bloody face. “Your boyfriend, come to get you out of this!”
“In your dreams!”
“Frequently,” he growled--from all of an inch away.
Shit. I hadn’t even seen him
move. And then he fisted a hand in the front of my tank, jerked me up
to his face and—
As crazy as it sounds, that’s
what the lunatic was doing. In the middle of a mad scientist’s lab,
watched by all the creepy things in their little jars. And it looked
like crazy was catching, because for a second there I was kissing him
back, sucking on a bloody lower lip that tasted like heaven, tasted
like candy, tasted like the best thing ever. Until I came to my senses
and abruptly wrenched away, freaked out and furious and turned on and—
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“You are. Tu me rends fou!”
“Fou, fou!” He made some weird gestures in the air. “You make me the crazy!”
I stared at him. “Buddy, I got
news for you. I don’t think you need any help.”
The vampire looked offended, but
he didn’t get a chance to respond. Not with the place taking that
moment to start coming apart. The ground rumbled under our feet, a
bunch of little jars shook their way off the shelves and a big red
light started revolving by the door.
Because yeah. What this place had
really needed was a bloody strobe.
But that wasn’t half so bad as
the ear-piercing alarm that split the air a second later. Or the fact
that a nearby, tarp-covered cage started shaking violently. Something
in there really wanted out, and I really wanted to be gone before it managed it.
But it didn’t look like the door
was an option, since it was currently being used by a bunch of G.I. Joe
look-alikes. Or they would have been, if Joe dressed in black body
armor and slung bandoliers of potions over the parts of him that
weren’t already occupied by guns. War mages, I identified, half a second before all hell broke loose.
I dove for the operating table,
since it was the only source of weapons, and grabbed a couple knives
while sliding underneath. Meanwhile, the vamp was jumped by half
the guards, who he promptly threw into the other half. Mages hit
the deck, bullets started flying, jars started breaking and I
hesitated, feeling conflicted.
The problem was that I didn’t
know if the mages were the bad guys, come to throw me back in my cage,
or the good guys attempting a rescue. And then one who’d fallen nearby
looked up and spotted me. And I barely had time to push the table
over before a couple dozen bullet-shaped dents pinged out of the metal
in front of my face.
Well, okay then.
The guy stopped firing after a
few seconds, probably figuring out that whatever caliber he was using
wasn’t enough to punch through the thick old metal. So he used
knives instead. And they must have been enchanted, because where the
bullets had only pockmarked the surface, the knives sliced right on
But they didn’t slice through me,
because I wasn’t there anymore. Bullets slammed into the wall over
my head and sparked off the bars of the cages I dove behind. But only
one hit me, and it was a minor wound in the calf that I barely noticed
because I was too busy noticing the contents of one of the jars, which
had been smashed by the earthquake or the bullets or
And, okay, maybe that hadn’t been
formaldehyde, I thought, as the hand that landed in it went numb to the
elbow. But it looked like the effect wore off fast. Because
the creature that had been floundering around in it--something that
looked like an octopus if they had six inch fangs—suddenly perked
up. And lunged for my face.
I screamed and slashed out with a
knife, which didn’t appear to do much more than piss it off. It
came after me as I ran and stumbled and ducked behind this crate and
that cage, not being picky, because bullets and fangs.
And then I fell, tripping over something I never saw because I was too
busy rolling to the side to avoid the creature, which hit the concrete
beside me with a slimy, squelching sound that I thought might haunt my
dreams assuming I survived to have any.
And then it lunged for me again and I kicked it.
Although, no. To be fair, I kicked
it, with enough force to have sent a football fifty yards to the end
zone. Only there was no end zone, there was only the mage’s face,
which had popped up over the nearest cage with an anticipatory gleam in
his eye right before the creature gnawed it out.
At least, that’s what I assumed
it was doing. It was kind of hard to see considering that pale
tentacles had wrapped around the man’s entire head and neck. But the
munching sounds would seem to indicate—
I blinked and stumbled back as
something tiny skittered underfoot. It might have been a rat or a
roach, but I wasn’t in the mood to take chances. I was in the mood to
make it out the damned door. Which I would have--if another flood of
mages hadn’t been blocking it as they poured inside, taking the odds
from insane to just plain silly.
“Dory! Get out of here!” It took
me a second to realize that the vamp had spoken, mainly because I was
kind of surprised he was still alive. And even more so when he threw me
a gun. “Go!”
I plucked it out of the air. It
was a shiny black 9mm Glock 18. Nice.
And then I sprayed bullets—but
not at the mages. Because pistol ammo probably wouldn’t get through
their body armor and because I wasn’t feeling that charitable right
now. If you’re going to be a bitch, might as well be a big bitch, I thought, a little hysterically.
And took out the shelf behind them.
Suddenly, it was like the
shooting gallery at the fair if the gun was fully automatic and the
ducks never moved. I’m not going to say I broke every bottle, but if
there were more than two or three remaining when I finished emptying
the clip, I’d be surprised. Bullets ricocheted, jars exploded, bits of
flying glass and shrapnel took out other jars, and not-formaldehyde
rained down on the mages. Whose faces went saggy, and whose numb hands
dropped their weapons, even as they stared around trying to find the
source of the barrage. Which they never managed to do since they
rapidly went from confused and pissed off and homicidal to…
Well, whatever emotion can best be described as “lunch.”
The only exceptions were the ones
who had been spry enough to dodge back out the door before the fun
started. Or the ones who had thrown themselves at the vampire, I guess
under the impression that they’d last longer. Or the one who had been
in front but who had ducked behind a bunch of crates.
You know, the one I hadn’t seen.
He emerged shrieking a spell that
blasted me off my feet and through the air, before slamming me back
into the wall hard enough to crack bone. Hard enough to liquefy my
insides. Hard enough to cause the whole room to bleed--
* * *
I woke in the middle of a battle, which was not unusual.
A human was lunging at me with a
knife, attempting to gut me, which was.
I blinked at him.
He was yelling something that I
couldn’t hear over the roaring in my ears, which always took a few
moments to subside. But the sound bounced off the inside of my skull
like rocks. It didn’t hurt, but it was annoying, like an insect buzzing
around my ears until I reached out and--
That was better.
I peeled myself off the wall and looked around.
It was…colorful. The meaty smell
of new blood painted the room in spatters, glowing crimson bright
against the darkness. The stench of tainted magic came from a fire
eating its way across the floor, flaring along the spectrum as it
consumed old potion stains. And a familiar, skin ruffling scent
followed some of the humans, a sickly green that lingered like
aftereffects every time one of them moved.
The combined stench was bad, but
I had woken in worse, in battlefields days old, full of bloated
corpses. No, it was alright.
But something else wasn’t.
Something was wrong.
It wasn’t the strange things
running around underfoot. One started for me, then paused, raising long
feelers like a crab’s out in front of it, before abruptly turning and
scurrying away. I let it go.
Surprisingly, it also wasn’t the
vampire. There was one here, raising every hair on my body from the
power he was radiating. First-level. Old. Perhaps four hundred years,
perhaps more. But the blood lust was cool in him, his outline merely a
vague blue shadow, only the pale mist steaming up from his body and the
thin silvered veins under his skin showing any difference between him
and the humans.
Satiated or gorged.
I let my eyes move on.
The room was cool, too—blues,
grays, darkness in corners, one small source of light overhead. My nose
twitched, calling it to me, only to be flooded with the ozone taste of
electricity. I growled and then ignored it.
But something else gleamed, in
brilliant flashes here and there. I walked through the writhing mass of
humans toward it. One grabbed my arm; I tossed him against a wall.
Another raised a weapon at me—slow, slow, they moved so slowly I could
have ripped his throat out before he finished the motion. I settled for
taking his rifle away and batting him across the room with it.
I reached the source of the
light, but I still couldn’t see it clearly. I growled again, and this
time, something answered. A strange, haunting cry, and then a hand,
bright, bright like flame, emerged from nothingness. And started
feeling around the floor.
cocked my head to the side, nonplussed. I had seen many hands move
about on their own, torn or cut off of vampires, or spasming from
soon-to-be-dead humans. But they didn’t glow.
Only I glowed.
I growled and grabbed it.
Something gave a shriek, and the
hand jerked back. And there was muscle behind it, oh yes there was. Not
like the humans, two of which jumped me a second later and forced me to
release the hand in order to crack their skulls together. And by the
time I threw them aside and turned back, the hand was gone.
Something else moved, and I
caught a gleam again, like a candle behind a curtain.
I jerked at the fluttering thing
and it slithered easily through my fingers. Cloth; waxed. I pulled some
more and something on the other side grabbed it and pulled back. But I
was stronger, and when I gave a jerk, it came away in my hands.
And the glow flooded the room.
Golden light, like looking into
the sun, spilled everywhere, so bright I wanted to shield my eyes. It
made it hard to see features; hard to see anything. But features didn’t
matter; I normally barely noticed them. Power I did.
I went down on my haunches and
reached for it, but something was in the way.
Iron. New. I could still smell the solder. I pulled them aside and felt
around in the box—why was it in a box?—and finally grasped it.
It bit my hand.
“No,” I told it. “Bad.”
And then I snatched it out.
I still couldn’t see it very
well; in fact it was harder up close where the light hurt my
eyes. But it smelled wrong. I pulled it close and sniffed it,
mentally filtering out the stink of blood and urine and peppery fear
radiating off it, but for once, scent didn’t help. I pawed at it,
checking its limbs. It whimpered again, and the light flickered.
“Hurt?” I demanded, because I
couldn’t find any unclosed wounds.
It didn’t reply.
“Hurt!” I said again, louder,
because maybe it was deaf. But no. It flinched; it had heard me. And
then some gunfire hit the cage, sparking off the bars, and it flinched
again. And kept doing it, in little motions that flickered against the
canvas like firelight.
Oh. It didn’t like the noise. I
stood up and tucked it under an arm. I would take it away from the
sounds, and then it would be better.
I scanned the room.
The humans were dead or as good
as. The vampire, of course, was not. Injured, but not mortally so,
which made it more dangerous. I narrowed my eyes at it. There was a
faint tinge of pink around the blue now, blended by the currents of its
power into mauve tendrils that smoked up from the surface of its
I kept the small thing close as I
skirted the field of bodies. The vampire turned as we did, but made no
forward movement. But the currents shivering through its veins
increased, as its power surged.
I growled a warning.
The vampire was unhappy; I could
feel it in the heat it suddenly gave off, in the way it flooded the air
with ozone. My nose wrinkled. I hated that smell. How humans lived in
cities steeped in the scent of those who hunted them, I would never
understand. How could they know when they were stalked, when every
house already reeked of the hunters? When every streetlight hummed like
the stolen energy in their veins, making it almost impossible to tell
I would take the small thing
somewhere with no false lights. With nothing but trees and wind and
scurrying things even smaller than it was. With sounds of the earth
that would not make it shiver and mewl.
The vampire hadn’t moved.
I eyed it warily. Its power had
faded, the silver current barely visible now, but it was only reined
in. And its wounds were closing. The only serious one was on its
stomach, where some potion had splattered and was eating through the
flesh. But the vampire’s healing abilities were faster than the
poison’s destructive ones. Soon, it would be whole again. And if it fed
from the few humans whose pulses still beat faintly, here and there, it
would be back to full strength.
If I was going to attack, it should be now.
“Dory?” The creature spoke, low
and soft. The name wasn’t mine, but it was looking at me. The eyes were
limned in silver, too, like the veins. They stared at me, deep and
empty and awful.
I growled and renewed my grip on
the small thing, which was thrashing about. I would kill the vampire if
forced, but I was injured, too, and would also need to protect the
small one. This was a fight I would avoid if I could.
“Dory—” It held out a hand.
I backed up, jerking the small
thing with me. “Mine,” I said, low and guttural, and the vampire
started as if surprised.
It probably was. They always
assumed that I did not speak. That I could not. So many had plotted my
death, discussed it, laughed about it, while I was even in the room,
because they assumed I was mindless. Like one of the failures of their
kind, born mad.
But I was not a failure. I was
what I was supposed to be. I was dhampir.
And they never lived to tell anyone they were wrong.
“Mine!” I said, challenge in the
tone this time. If it wanted a fight, so be it.
But the vampire took several
steps back, hands raised. “Oui—yes. Yours,” it agreed. The words meant
nothing, because vampires lied, but it also changed color. The pink
faded to blue, to gray, to black as it went dim and almost seemed to
collapse into itself. Dark and small suddenly, instead of bright with
power. I watched it narrowly.
Unlike the young ones, those as
old and strong as this could summon power in an instant, with little or
no build up required. It was backing down. It was refusing
But vampires lied.
My muscles tensed, adrenaline
drowning my system, power and speed and—ripping, tearing, burning,
yessss. The blood lust flooded me as I prepared for fight not flight,
always the preference, always the joy. And then I lunged—
--at the door, slamming it shut a
second before something crashed into the other side.
The vampire jumped.
“You did not feel them change?” I
challenged, pushing against the clawed hand that was caught in the gap
between the door and the wall. It was longer than a man’s, with huge,
exaggerated knuckles under a covering of black hair, and thick yellowed
talons that scored the heavy metal.
“That kind of distraction can get you killed, vampire.”
“So I see.” It brought the butt
end of a weapon down on the creature’s fingers, hard enough to sever
several of them, and the rest withdrew with a howl. “Shifters.”
“Yes. I smelled their musk when I awoke. Did you not?”
“No.” The voice was clipped. “They scented as human to me.”
That must have stung, because
power flashed through its veins for a split second, before being reined
in again. “There are thirteen, two of them injured,” it said, showing
off. “The odds are acceptable.”
“Not with the small thing.”
“The small—you mean the child?”
I looked down. The little one had
grabbed onto my leg with a grip I would have defiedeven the vampire to break. That was good. It left my hands free.
“Child.” I used language so
seldom, sometimes the words wouldn’t come. But this one…
“I will protect her.”
I didn’t answer. I was looking at
the claw marks the creature had left on the door. They had the same
foul stench as the creatures, wrong unnatural, and were bubbling the
green paint as they dripped down the surface. A moment later, the lock
on the door began to sizzle, smoking as if a blowtorch was on the other
I glanced up at the vampire. “You were saying?”
It scowled. It did that a lot.
But a moment later, I joined it when the room lurched hard to the
right, like a ship on the seas, and ugly cracks ran up the walls. One
split the ceiling all the way to the light, causing it to flame out in
a shower of sparks. But more light flooded through the cracks,
crisscrossing the gloom in slivers of hellish orange.
One lit on the bar of a cage, and
the metal went as molten as in a furnace. But I had never seen a
furnace turn a bar white hot in an instant. Or boil it away to smoke in
I did not to bother to see what
the rest of the rays were doing. My eyes lit on a turned over table not
far away. It was in poor condition, but it had wheels. It would do.
I righted it and started piling things on top.
“What are you doing?” the vampire
demanded. It looked like it might have interfered, but the lock was now
gone and its back was to the door, keeping it closed.
More or less.
“That will become apparent. Where are we?”
“Nowhere. The dark mages who used
this place folded over a piece of a ley line, creatinga pocket in
non-space—” It broke off with a disgusted sound. “There is no time for
this! We have to—”
“There is time,” I said, poking
my nose into a large jar. Little round balls of greasy metal. I added
it to the pile.
The vampire made another
displeased sound, but it answered. “A ley line is a river of great
metaphysical power. Among other things, it separates worlds—”
“I know what a ley line is.”
“Then you know that they are
meant to be travelled through very quickly—as when stepping through a
portal. They are not designed to be used as a permanent residence!”
“Yet someone has done so.”
“Those with an extensive
knowledge of magic and a pressing need to hide have used the trick for
centuries, but it carries great risk. If the spell they used as an
anchor fails, the shield bubble keeping out the ley line’s energy will
fail, too, and in that case—” it broke off with a gesture at the room.
“Do you understand?”
I glanced up. In the few seconds
I had worked, the scene had changed. It now looked as if the room was
made of glass, and someone had thrown a ball at it. The impact point
was a solid heart of flame, with boiling orange-red energy radiating
outward in jagged rays. They lit the remaining pieces of the room like
the sun through stained glass, causing the gunpowder in the air to
shimmer like gold dust.
So much power.
It was beautiful.
I tore my eyes away. “I understand that we need to get out.”
“Yes, yes! We need to get out!
Therefore making a barrier will do us little—”
“I am not making a barrier.”
The vampire looked at the heavy
pieces of trash I had gathered on the table. “Then what is that?”
I didn’t bother to answer. “Open the door,” I said instead.
“Efin!” It threw up its hands,
and then had to replace them quickly as the door buckledbehind it.
“Yes, yes, d’accord. Now you and the child, you stay behind me,
do you understand?”
I looked at it. It liked to
scowl, it liked to demand things, and it liked to talk. It reminded me
“Good.” It took a breath. Then
another, which made little sense as it did not breathe. And then it
spun to the side.
door crashed open and a snarl of fur and unbridled savageness boiled
into the room. And stopped, several yards in, slavering mouths agape.
Which is what most creatures would do when faced with the solid field
of flame the back half of the room had become.
They would have recovered in a
second. I didn’t give them one. I swung the table outward, putting all
my strength behind it, and with the heaviness of the metal augmented by
the tower of machinery on top. Machinery that spilled over when its
base slammed into the shifters’ backs, or stomachs for those with
slightly better reflexes, not that it mattered; not that anything
mattered. Not with a thousand pounds of falling steel and iron and tiny
rolling metal bits sweeping them toward their doom.
And then I was jerked back by the
vampire. Its teeth were out and its blood-lust was rising. But I did
not think it was about to feed with the flames licking towards us. “Get
on,” I told it impatiently, shoving the table at it.
“You get on!” It snarled, and
threw me and the small one onto the pitted table top. And then through
the door. And then down a corridor, which was fast collapsing behind
I twisted around in time to see
that several of the shifters had somehow made it out also, but they
were uninterested in attacking us. They barreled into two of their own
who had stayed behind, and then attacked them in their panic to get
out. They went down in balls of fur and thrashing limbs and the next
second were consumed by the gaping maw of energy behind us.
It was less like glass now, I
thought, holding the whimpering small thing as the corridor curled up,
concrete, brick and plaster, all the same. As if the scene were merely
an image drawn on paper and held to a match.
was oddly unreal, like the expression on the vampire’s face as it ran,
pushing us with inhuman speed, racing the impossible until fire lapped
at its heels and I jerked it onto the table with us. The flames
followed, crackling like lightning across the width of the tunnel,
burning through the vampire’s jacket and scoring a searing wound in its
arm. Smoke, stinking of burnt flesh and fabric, flooded the air. The
corridor bucked and buckled. Electricity lifted the hair on my arms and
prickled at my exposed skin, the space left to us sizzling with it as
we scrambled backwards, as the tunnel flamed out around us, as
beautiful death reached fiery hands out for us—
The floor bucked wildly one last
time and, suddenly, we were bouncing into darkness, the table smoking
like a flare, the portal behind us burning not orange but bright,
incandescent white for one, brief instant. Before it exploded
like a bomb, picking us up and throwing us through the air and into a
large group of people that were rushing through what looked like a
But they weren’t people; they
were vampires. Dozens of them, some getting out of the way in time,
others somersaulting along with us as we hit the ground, as we rolled
toward a street, as I reached for the small one the impact had torn out
of my arms and a knife at the same time, because the fight was not over
yet. No, the fight was just beginning as I rolled to a stop and surged
to my feet and--
The voice tore through me like a
hundred knives, plucking me out of the air halfway through a leap and
sending me crashing to the ground. My body twisted, but the power
wouldn’t let me rise. Not the vampire’s—not this vampire’s. There was
only one who could do this to me, and I looked up with no surprise at
all to see the diffuse outline of a being made of moonlight, shimmering
in the air above me.
“No,” I told it. And “wait” and “child.”
But it didn’t listen. It never listened.
And then the glow faded, and there was nothing but darkness.
Look for Fury's Kiss on October 2, 2012!