Two days in the future
I ran. As soon as I heard that hiss from beside me, I pushed into a blinding sprint. My hair whipped around my cheeks, then my terrified face as I checked over my shoulder. From the mouth of the laneway, I could see a shadow darting my way.
I jerked my head back around, a few tears staining my chin. “Just leave me alone,” I begged, my breath coming out in choppy pants.
The guy didn’t leave me alone. He ran faster until I could hear his breath, rhythmic, controlled, and only a few meters behind me.
But who was I kidding? He wasn’t a man. He was a vampire.
I could smell him from here. As my nostrils widened ever so slightly and I turned my head over my shoulder once more, my fear getting the better of me and my heart trembling in my chest, I saw a slice of the side of his face. I caught the light and magic playing in his eyes. Then he parted his lips, and I saw a sliver of his canines, glistening with saliva, ready and waiting to plunge into my neck.
I reached a small intersection in the laneway. I’d never been to this part of the city before. I didn’t know whether to head to the left or right. My decision was made for me when the vampire came swooping in from the right. He shunted me toward the left. I continued to run, but I slipped over. I snagged my stockings on an old can and cut right through them. Blood trailed down my knee. I desperately clutched at it so it wouldn’t engage the vampire’s senses further, but it was too late. I could hear – almost feel – as he sniffed the air once more. It was like he was tasting it with his entire body. I swore his greed now played through every mote of dust, every molecule of oxygen and nitrogen. And it was all reaching out to my tender neck.
I screamed again. I was way past asking people to help me, shrieking at the top of my lungs to get someone, anyone to hear. The vampire had shunted me down here. This would be his hunting ground. He would have prepared the place with strong magic. I’d be able to shriek with all my might, but the sound would not travel, no matter how desperate I became. That didn’t stop me from blubbering, more tears raining down my cheeks. They were so fat and drenching, they could’ve flooded the earth.
The laneway curved around. I got ready to put on a burst of speed – to run into a main street. I didn’t care if I was struck by a car. The only thing that mattered was getting away from him.
But there was no main street. All there was was a dead end and an old, overflowing dumpster rammed right up against it. The rain we’d had earlier this morning had drenched the thing, and unsightly puddles of grime were spreading out from beneath it. I skidded down into one, losing my footing as I desperately tried to change direction, but it was too late. He was right behind me. He grabbed my shoulder in a cast-iron grip, his bony fingers like swords. I had a chance to shriek as he turned me around and rammed me up against the wall. I saw his eyes, glittering brightly, charges of magic chasing around his pupils, outlining them against his shadow-encased face.
“You should’ve made it easy for yourself,” he snarled. He spoke with his lips pressed all the way back so I could see the saliva glinting off his teeth – so I could watch as he practically unsheathed them from his gums.
He pressed forward. His teeth got half a centimeter from my throat when something happened inside me. This jolt – this bolt of power. It rose up from my depths, coiled through my blood, and saw me snap forward until the next thing I knew, my mouth was on his neck.
He laughed. “There is nothing—”
I pushed my lips up, only just clearing my teeth, speaking mostly into the nape of his neck as I growled, “There’s nothing you can do.” My own vampire canines pushed forward, and I drank from the bastard. He was right, though. There was nothing I could do to stop myself. No matter how hard I tried.
Two days in the past
I sleepily got out of bed that morning. It was hard to drag myself from the warm covers. I’d had some pretty wild dreams. It wasn’t the dreams that made me languidly walk down my stairs. Nor was it the dreams that made me almost trip on the fourth stair and swan dive down to the ground level. It was my condition.
It felt like it was getting worse by the day.
By the time I made it down to the kitchen, my flatmate was already there. She had a practiced frown marching across her lips. It was one that got a lot deeper the second she saw me. “I heard that – you almost fell down the stairs, didn’t you?”
“Klutzy, I guess,” I muttered as I struggled through another yawn. I hooked an old chipped chair out with my foot, pulled it free from the equally old and chipped table, and sat roughly. I placed my face in my palm, moving my fingers up into my hairline. It was knotty, and it was right in front of my face, scratching my nose. I didn’t have the energy to push it out of the way, though.
My flatmate, Sharee, took a deep, rattling breath. It was the kind of long beleaguered sigh a parent might give at the sight of a child who simply could not pull themselves up by their bootstraps, no matter how hard they tried.
“Can you put some toast on for me?” I asked hopefully.
“No. I’ve made you a healthy smoothie. And you’re gonna drink it.” She pulled open the fridge, produced the smoothie, and banged it down on the table in front of me.
Though I didn’t want to be rude, I had to make a face. The drink was this unsightly green color.
“It’s spirulina. It’s meant to be packed with iron and all sorts of micronutrients. Which you clearly need.” Crossing her arms, she leaned back against the bench. She gave my pasty white features a once over.
I patted my cheeks. It was a distraction from having to drink the green sludge in front of me. “I’m not that bad. Honest. I mean, I slept heavily—”
“You look like you’re the walking dead.”
I seized up a little. “Are you accusing me of being a vampire?” I was trying for a joke. Anything to lighten the mood – not just her mood, but mine. I needed to chase away the heavy feeling descending through my limbs. If I didn’t, I was certain it was going to throttle me.
“Of course I’m not talking about a vampire,” she snorted derisively through her words. “They’re not technically dead now, are they? How do they define it again?”
“They’re on the edge,” I whispered. We both studied vampire lore in university. That was something our lecturer had repeated all the time. It was the favorite saying of vampires, apparently.
I’d met a couple of their kind over the years. They weren’t on the edge. Their bodies weren’t half rotting out from underneath them like mine felt it was. What they were were super powerful magical creatures that pretty much got to do whatever they wanted. Did they sleep in coffins? I bet a couple of them did – the more dramatic ones. The rest of them were just walking amongst humanity like kings. As for the nonsense about living on the edge, that was their brand. They were all about mystique. If you asked me – which is precisely what I wrote my thesis on – it was more so humans couldn’t pry into their traditions and learn too much about them.
“Stop thinking, for one,” Sharee suddenly snapped.
I made a face. “I can’t even think anymore?”
“You look strained when you’re thinking. You should look after yourself,” her voice dropped, a note of real fear shaking through it. “You’re getting whiter by the day.”
“I didn’t really choose to have a rare blood disease,” I whispered. I’d been trying to keep it light, but I couldn’t anymore. I shoved back in my chair. I was cold, and I had to wrap my arms around my middle. I shuddered against my fingers.
She sighed, walked over to her own chair, grabbed her dressing gown, and furled it around my shoulders. “I forgot. The post is here. There’s something for you.”
I made a face at her smoothie, scrunched my lips around, and decided to take the slightest gulp. It wasn’t as disgusting as I thought it would be. She trotted back into the kitchen with the post under her arm. She flicked through some letters and handed me one.
I assumed it would be a bill. When I saw it, it was much too official for that.
As soon as I saw a symbol on the side and recognized the coiling snake that was synonymous with medicine, I grabbed it off her. I wheezed slightly, incapable of controlling my breath.
“What is it?” She crunched in close over my shoulder.
“It’s from one of the medical firms I petitioned.”
“You mean the ones you reached out to for free treatment of your condition? I thought they all came back and said they weren’t gonna help you?”
“So did I. I—” My hope was rising through my throat, shaking through my belly, trying to lift me up out of the doldrums. It had a chance to make me sit straight in my chair at least before it came crashing down again. I pulled the letter out with an excited twitch of my fingers only to see the words “we’re sorry.” I didn’t even bother to finish reading it. I crammed it back in the envelope and set it down. I had to clench my hands tightly not to let them shake.
Sharee had been standing close enough that she’d seen what I’d seen. She straightened up and clamped a hand on my shoulder. “There are others. Just keep petitioning.”
“I’ve sent my blood samples to every single medical firm I know of in town. None of them are interested in my condition.”
“All I’m saying is you shouldn’t give up hope. And you should definitely finish your smoothie,” she said through a growl.
I clutched it up and drank it without further complaint.
She bustled around. She made me toast and set it down in front of me. Then her phone rang. It was her boss. She backed off out of the room, waving while shooting me one more worried frown. She at least tried to make her lips tick up at the end. Though I wouldn’t tell her this, while I appreciated her concern, whenever she looked at me like that, I felt like I was on the edge of death, and it just made my reality even harsher.
I kept that to myself as I waved her off.
She quickly marched off, grabbed her bag, and left the house.
We lived right out on the outskirts of town. We couldn’t afford any place closer. It didn’t really matter. The public transport was great in these parts. That was about the only good thing that could be said about the city, though.
Reinforcing that as I glanced down at the letter then shoved it right off the table petulantly, I realized I had to get to work, too. I wondered if I’d manage to last the whole day this time. And I wondered if I didn’t, whether I’d finally be sacked. It was only a matter of time. I worked retail – in a big electronics store. I had to be on my feet, dealing with customers, but that just made me dizzy. I’d already fainted three times at work. My boss was understanding, but there was only so much he could do.
I had to clutch the banister as I walked up the stairs to my bedroom. Sharee already had a plan. If it became too dangerous for me to use the stairs, then we were going to convert the lounge room into my room and cordon it off with some curtains. She’d already bought the fabric. She was industrious and had a sewing machine. And I was, “Useless,” I said out of white, stiff lips.
I dressed and headed out of the door.
Shoving my hands in my pockets, I saw that rain was on the way. It usually was. That was my life, ha? No sun for me. Just rain clouds.
I took a step, but I didn’t distribute my weight properly. My knee took that exact moment to buckle.
I managed to shove to the side. I grabbed the railing that led down beside the steps. Fortunately I did not face plant the concrete, but as I was twisted to the side, I saw a flash of paper.
I frowned. Leaning down safely, I clutched it up. It was a letter. It looked as if someone had shoved it under our door.
Frowning harder, I turned it around. And right there, right on the front, right in front of me, I saw another medical symbol.
My heart didn’t even leap. My breath was perfectly even. If anything, my stomach sank. I really didn’t want to have to put up with another dose of disappointment. I almost scrunched it up and shoved it back into the bushes, but at the last moment, I slackened my fingers. With a breath slicing through my clenched teeth, I tore it open.
And there, the first words on the page were not “we’re sorry.”
My knees really did buckle out from underneath me this time. I fell hard on my ass. As the jolt traveled up through me and snagged my hips and lower back, I didn’t care.
I almost began to hyperventilate as I clamped a hand over my mouth. I breathed hard through my fingers. “This… this can’t be real.”
I turned the letter over several times, almost to check if it was actually paper and it wasn’t an apparition.
Right there on the page it said that they could help. They were keen to. They could offer me an appointment anytime I wanted one. And right there on the page it promised me this – they had experience with my condition. And they knew exactly how to cure me. It would be free.
I finally had hope.
But hope always comes at a cost.
I wasted no time. I called my boss and told him I had an appointment. He could hear from the excitement in my voice that it had to be good, so he let me off without question.
I didn’t want to call Sharee. I’d do that once I actually confirmed everything was real.
When I called the medical facility, it took them a while to answer. I was too hopeful to let that rob the wind from my sails. I was already walking down the street, the phone crammed up against my ear. In my head, I could get this done today. The treatment could start. Maybe it would be one of those fancy magical treatments. Maybe it wouldn’t even take that long. It could just be an injection. Then I’d return to normal. I’d be just like Sharee.
“Hello?” someone said.
“Hi, I’m Gina Franks. I—”
“Yes. We’ve been expecting your call,” the person’s tone changed, becoming a lot more professional. “We have already calibrated your blood sample. You’ll be pleased to know that we can offer you treatment immediately. Do you have time today?”
It was so much information. I found myself staggering. I had to plant a hand against the wall beside me. I got in some guy’s way, and he frowned at me as he walked past.
I placed a trembling hand on my heart. “You serious? I’m so thankful. I don’t even remember sending my sample to your laboratory.”
There was a pause. “One of our partner laboratories, knowing that we specialize in conditions like this, handed it on to us.”
I didn’t even question. I closed my eyes. “I can head to your offices right now.”
“Excellent. The address is on the letter. What time will you get here?”
I glanced at the address and quickly calculated how long it would take to arrive. “Half an hour.”
“We will await you, Miss Franks.” With that, they hung up.
I cried. Unashamedly. I didn’t even try to hide a single tear. People looked at me funny. Some sweet old lady even asked if I was okay.
I blubbered and would’ve looked mad, but I did not care.
I finally had hope.
I was in a daze by the time I finally made it to the medical facility.
Things were happening fast, but they couldn’t happen faster in my head.
It had been a long time since I’d had hope. This condition had robbed me of it on every level. It had started slowly when I was a kid. It had only come in bursts. But the older I’d become, the more it had settled in. These days, I had no energy. I was listless. I fainted all the time. Sometimes I couldn’t even finish my meal. I hadn’t wanted to face the fact that this could be it – that this could be death knocking on my door. And you know what? I didn’t need to face that fact ever again.
Soon enough, I would be cured.
I was expecting something fancy. I’d dropped my blood off to a lot of different medical facilities around the city. Most of them were in downtown, and they were exactly what you would expect for a well-financed scientific clinic.
This one was technically in downtown, but it didn’t have an outward-facing business. In fact, it was slightly down a dark laneway. I had to go down an old set of sandstone steps to get to it. When I saw them, I quickly checked the address. Frowning and realizing I was right, I finally trudged down the steps. Anticipation rang through me with each one. I reached the door. I didn’t even have a chance to knock on it. It swung inward, and there was a handsome looking doctor in his mid-forties. He had a checkered white and blue shirt, glasses, and a pronounced, warm smile. It was the kind of smile that promised you that no matter what happened, he’d fix it all.
I forgot all my compunctions about this place, and I struggled through a breath. “I’m—”
“Just in time. Please come in, Miss Franks.”
I closed my eyes, trying to keep a lid on my hope.
But you know what, screw it? I didn’t want to hold this in. I deserved this.
The inside didn’t exactly remind me of a clinic, but then again, I’d been to doctor’s surgeries like this. This building was old. There was only so much retrofitting you could do.
The ceiling was low and was dotted here and there with old chandeliers. The light was bright, but not quite bright enough. This building was practically underground.
He took me down the corridor. He led me inside, and finally I saw a reception desk. There was something that wasn’t quite right about it. Maybe it looked hastily made. Or maybe that was just my imagination.
He sat me down in a plastic seat. There was only one of them. I secured my bag high over my shoulder. “I have so many questions. You said that you could help me in the letter. Is it—”
“Your condition is actually remarkably easy to treat,” he said, that wide smile still pressing over his lips.
I heard those words, but it took a long time for me to process them. You see, they had to fight against an entire lifetime of being told that this was it, and there was nothing anyone could do for me. There was this dense ringing in my ears, and it took a while to fight past it. “Easy… easy to treat?”
He laughed again. The sound of it was so effortless to listen to. It led me up and away from my fears.
“I imagine you’ve been told by a lot of people that there’s no hope for you, ha? Human doctors would not have that much experience with this rare blood condition.”
My lips parted with a slight wobble. “Human—”
He slapped his chest. “Perhaps I should introduce myself. I’m a vampire.” He shoved a hand out.
I never really knew where I came down on vampires. I guessed a lot of them were good. They were part of society now. But I also knew that some of them weren’t. There were still attacks in the city. I only ever heard rumors of them. For some reason, they never made it to court. But….
His smile was still there, warm and inviting, and when I placed my hand in his, his look helped lead me on. “I can only repeat that your condition is actually remarkably easy to treat. It’s very lucky you gave your blood—”
“To one of our sister clinics,” a tall, stunning woman said as she walked in. I recognized her tone from the phone.
I finished shaking the guy’s hand and half bowed at her. “Thank you so much for your help. I….”
I didn’t have any words to share. That I would be indebted to them for the rest of my life? That there was nothing I could do to make up for this?
He chuckled again. “Do you have anyone to stay with you during the procedure?” He looked beside me, even though it was damn clear I was on my own.
I shook my head. “No. I haven’t even really told anyone yet. I’ve just… I’ve been promised cures in the past, but nothing else has ever worked.”
His smile flicked up higher. “I understand your trepidation. But understand this – all it will require is one single injection.”
I heard those words, but it took so long to process them. They were exactly what I’d hoped. There wouldn’t be multiple treatments. This would be over with a single injection….
“I just need to prepare something in the clinic.” He nodded at me, his gaze lingering for a second before he turned. He walked through a blue door at the end of the room.
I clutched my bag hard. “Do you need me to sign something?” I asked the receptionist.
“Doctor Black is only here for 20 minutes this morning. It will be enough to assist you. You can sign your paperwork afterward.”
I didn’t even think about that, about how it went against every other clinic practice I’d ever come across. I didn’t care.
I sat there, practically jittering on the spot, my legs bouncing up and down, up and down.
I tilted my head back. I let the slightest smile part my lips. This was it. Nothing was ever going to be the same after this moment.
His door opened. He cleared his throat. “I’m ready.”
I shot to my feet.
Nothing would ever be the same again, I promised myself one last time.
And that right there was a promise like no other.
For everything from this moment would change. Everything.
I walked in, trembling and not being able to stop it.
I expected a clinic with fancy equipment. Maybe some kind of CT scanner, maybe one of those fancy dentist chair kinds of things. There was an examination table. And there was a desk. There wasn’t a lot of stuff on the desk, however. There was also no protective equipment. There wasn’t even a sink.
He saw me blinking around.
He cleared his throat. “As a vampire, my clinic is somewhat different from those belonging to humans. We can neither pick up pathogens from nor give them to humans. And this clinic exclusively deals with humans,” he explained.
I thought nothing of that. It was true. Everything I’d learned about vampires in University confirmed they couldn’t pass anything on to humans.
“You can place your bag by the door.” He gestured toward it.
I put it down.
“Where’s the injection?” I looked around for a fridge or something. I was basing this on every time I’d had an immunization. Injections had to be kept at stable temperatures, right? It wouldn’t just be hanging around his desk, would it?
He looked me up and down. His gaze was piercing.
“Where’s the injection?” I asked a little louder, figuring he hadn’t heard me.
“I have high hopes for you.”
“I’ve been looking for a suitable candidate for a long time,” he said in a voice I couldn’t place.
“I thought you said that you had experience with my condition?” Those words shook out of my lips, but they didn’t have any volume behind them. What was with that look in his eyes? And why was he taking a step closer to me?
He tilted his head to the side. He looked at me, and from the piercing quality of his gaze, it was almost as if he could see right through me.
I found myself shuddering back slightly. If I’d still had my bag, I would’ve clutched it tighter. As it was, I secured bunches of my jacket in my fingers and pushed them in tight. “I don’t know what you want me to do,” I stammered.
“Lift your neck up,” he said.
Something struck me. It was something that should have struck me from the second I’d received that letter, from the second I’d called, and from the second I’d walked in here.
This was no clinic.
My eyes opened wide. A pound of adrenaline shot through me. It managed to reach my bloodstream, managed to spread out, managed to warn me to run. But he was right there. He grabbed my shoulder, turned me around, and pinned me against the wall.
I had a chance to scream – with all my heart – but no one came running. “What—” I stammered.
“That little condition you have,” he growled, “is less of a condition and more of a gift. You’re a vampire median.”
“… Vampire… vampire median? Please, just let me go. I—”
“Without vampire blood, you’ll die. And with vampire blood,” his lips spread over his teeth until he revealed his canines in full, “you’ll become a warrior like no other. Sweet dreams, Gina.” He shoved in close. I felt his hot breath on my neck.
Either because of my fear or something else, he jerked back. He smiled. “There’s one thing I forgot to tell you. After this procedure is complete,” he had a smile in his voice as he said the word procedure, “you will have an insatiable desire for vampire blood. And you will need it. Without it, you’ll lose all your power. Go too long without it, and you’ll die. But the equation is worthwhile, because every time you drink, you will become unstoppable.”
With that, his teeth pierced my flesh.
I screamed and screamed and screamed until I blacked out.
I awoke in my bed. I was trembling. I shot up. The pillow fell out from underneath me. I clutched my heart first, then my throat. My fingers went to the spot where I’d been bitten.
… But there was nothing there.
I must’ve made a racket, because I could hear my flatmate trundling up the stairs.
I turned over my shoulder to see that it was early morning. But that didn’t make any sense….
She opened the door softly. “There you are. You look shocked. But I have to say, at least you’re not pale.” She shoved forward. She had a warm cup of cocoa in her hand. I could see the steam rising off it.
“What happened to me?” I stammered, fear bolting through me as I remembered every single moment of yesterday. But there was no puncture mark in my throat.
I gripped my arm. It was sore. I pulled the sleeve back. I thought I could see a puncture wound as if someone had given me an injection.
She sat down on the edge of my bed and looked at me. “You fainted yesterday. It was bad. You’ve been unconscious since.”
“Fainted? I was bitten by a vampire.”
She blinked back her surprise. “What? Wait, did you have a scary dream or something?” She shoved the cocoa at me as if that would solve everything.
I just stared at it, incapable of coming to terms with what had happened – or hadn’t. I clutched my neck again. When a human was bitten by a vampire, the puncture marks would last for a long time – up to a month. It was a way to stop other vampires from feeding on the same prey. If you thought about it, it was an evolutionary mechanism. Vampires didn’t want to draw too much from one person, lest they kill their prey. To vampires, at least in the old days, we humans were like stock. The last thing you wanted to do was go around killing your stock.
She nodded at the cocoa in her hands. “Drink.”
“But what about the letter? What about the clinic I went to yesterday?”
Her lips scrunched together, her brow drawing down hard. “Clinic? You fainted on the street. You were picked up by the paramedics. I took you home here after you were seen over. You were in a pretty bleary state.”
“That’s because I was bitten by a vampire. He promised to cure my condition. It was all a ruse.”
Her lips scrunched to the side. It would be obvious to anyone that she didn’t believe me, but she was doing a good job of not making that too obvious. “They said you were really out of it. It’s probably just another symptom,” she added in a quiet, somber voice. “I guess you’re having trouble figuring out exactly what happened. What occurred in your dream, anyway?”
I gripped my face. I turned my fingers in. Then one final time, I let my fingers drop to the point in my neck where I’d been bitten. There was nothing. There wasn’t even a slight bump.
I had a handy mirror beside my bed. I clutched it up. I turned it toward my neck. It wasn’t even red.
I cast the mirror aside. I scrunched my legs up and shoved my head against them.
“Whoa,” she said quickly. “Don’t move too fast. You’ll get lightheaded.”
“I’m not lightheaded,” I said, and I was honest. My head felt fine. “I’m… clearly going insane.”
If I had no puncture wound, then there was no way I could’ve been bitten by a vampire. And Sharee wouldn’t be lying to me. The paramedics really would’ve found me on the street. But it had been so vivid….
“The letter.” I jumped out of bed as fast as I could. I landed quickly and with grace. Which was something I had never done in the past. If I’d been stupid enough to move this quickly before, I’d always fainted.
Sharee shot up, some of the cocoa splashing over her front. “Be careful,” she practically shrieked.
I raced around until I found my bag on a chair by the door. I plucked it up and dumped all of the contents on the rug. I searched for the letter. But it wasn’t there.
I clicked my fingers. “My call history.” I grabbed up my phone.
Sharee was now standing beside me, such a worried expression plastered over her face, I thought it would swallow her.
She didn’t stop me. I searched through my call history, knowing I would be vindicated. But while there was evidence I’d called my boss, there was nothing else.
I shook my head. “It….”
“What?” she asked softly.
“But I called my boss and told him I had an appointment?”
“Yeah, I know, because I had to call him. You’re meant to be on sick leave for the week. He understands.”
“So he agrees that I called him and said that I had an appointment?” I questioned, my voice a wheeze.
“Yeah, he did. But you were lying, right? It wouldn’t be the first time.”
My gut twitched. I opened my mouth to come to my own defense, but she was right. Though I wasn’t proud of this, I had faked medical appointments in the past to get out of work whenever I felt truly sick. I tried to shake my head. What was the point? There was no evidence to corroborate my story.
I walked back to bed. I got ready to flop into it, telling myself I was weak. But here’s the thing. I didn’t feel weak. In fact, as I finally tuned in to my body, I realized I felt stronger than I had in a long time. I stared at my hands. That’s when Sharee leaned over and placed the hot chocolate in them. It was steaming hot. I should’ve grabbed the handle, but I didn’t really care.
She looked at me. “Grab the handle, sweetie. Don’t get burned.”
I frowned down at the hot chocolate. I could feel the heat, but it wasn’t affecting me.
When she realized I wasn’t about to grab the handle, she plucked it out of my fingers quickly. “What’s—” she was about to ask what was wrong with me, but she knew there was no point. We all knew what was wrong with me. She turned the handle around and made me grab it this time. She looked up into my eyes. “You’ll get over this episode, like you’ve gotten over every other episode.”
By episode, she meant embarrassment. She meant I’d get over it like I’d gotten over fainting against a couple that had been buying a TV. Then there’d been that time when that minor celebrity had come to my store – the one I’d had a crush on – and I’d fainted right in his crotch while he’d been sitting in one of the sofas.
Yeah, I’d get over it, because I did not have any other choice. When I got embarrassed – which happened all the time – I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps. Because if I didn’t, I’d just crumble.
I pressed my free hand against my head. Sinking my fingers in hard, it didn’t take long to drag the nails down my flesh.
I turned to her. “I’m—”
I had to drop this nonsense about a vampire attacking me. It must’ve been a dream, after all. “Sorry for scaring you,” I whispered.
A smile spread her lips as she realized I was picking up. “That’s okay. I’m here for you. Drink then get back in bed. Doctor’s orders.”
I twitched slightly on the term doctor’s orders. It brought up the perfect image of that smiling, handsome vampire. I could even hear what he’d said to me just before he bit me. From now on in, I’d have an insatiable desire for vampire blood. If I didn’t get it, I’d lose my powers. If I went too long without it, I’d die. Because I? I was a vampire median.
I stayed in bed. I didn’t want to, but I did. Sharee had taken the day off, so I couldn’t slip out on her. But I wanted to. I needed to hit the city streets. I needed… I needed to move. There was this dense, vibrating energy inside me. It made me want to leap up tall buildings, for God’s sake.
I spent a long time on the edge of my bed, staring at my hands. It was like I was trying to find the point where my newfound energy was coming from. For about the twentieth time, I dragged up my sleeve and stared at the injection point in my arm. According to Sheree, I’d just been given something by the paramedics who’d found me.
By the next morning, I was vibrating. This was energy unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was like I was about to explode.
Sharee, fortunately, had to go to work. As soon as she was gone, I raced down the stairs. I didn’t have to clutch hold of the railing. I flew down them, two at a time. I tripped halfway down, however. And I rolled. I rolled, and I leaped to my feet on the floor below. I was so shocked, I let out a slight delayed scream. Then I stood there, slowly checking my body for bruises. But there were no bruises, and there wasn’t even any pain.
I shook for a little before turning and heading into the kitchen.
I opened the fridge. I started to look through the items, trying to find what I wanted to eat, but there was nothing. I mean, there was food and all, but I didn’t want a scrap of it.
I shoved a hand over my mouth and bounced from one foot to another. “Something happened to you. This wasn’t just a dream. This isn’t normal. You’re not pale,” I said as I jerked back and stared at my reflection in the window above the sink. “You’re full of energy. And you don’t want to eat human food.”
I’d convinced myself that the incident with the vampire hadn’t occurred, that it had all been in my mind. This very much was not in my mind.
“You have to go back there,” I muttered to myself as the idea jumped into my head. “Maybe the guy messed with your phone, and maybe he stole the letter, but he wouldn’t have gotten rid of the building.”
I was not brave. I didn’t have the energy to be brave. I also usually had to be careful with myself. But what I was suggesting right now was to voluntarily head back to a place where I’d been attacked by a vampire. Or at least where I’d had a dream about being attacked by a vampire.
I clutched my brow as confusion swelled through my head. I turned from the fridge, closed it, and slid down the smooth white metal. I sat there in front of it, breathing hard. “Just drop it,” I tried, but my voice was weak at the suggestion.
I found myself curling a hand into a fist. It was the tightest fist I’d ever made. I smashed it down against the floor beside me. And that would be when I cracked it. It was the slightest of moves. It was only the tiniest of cracks. But the floor was stone.
I jerked up. As a terrifying energy built within me, I twisted around and stared at it. I placed a shaking hand on my stomach. “What?” I stammered.
I lurched away from the kitchen. But that would be when I fell over a chair. I tumbled down. The weight of my body alone cracked it – not just into two pieces, but into 10. As I lay there, the wood surrounding me, I jerked up. Behind me was one of the chair legs. It was sharp, and it had broken off almost as if it was a stake. It should’ve impaled me. But it hadn’t. My clothes were ripped – the skin underneath fine.
I clamped both hands over my mouth. There was no denying this. Something had happened to me. Something that was still happening to me. I yanked up my sleeve, moving so quickly I ripped the fabric. I stared at that injection site. I let my fingers trail back and forth over it, back and forth. That’s when I thought I caught a glimpse of something. Maybe it was a memory – maybe it was just my imagination getting the better of me, but I swore, just after the vampire had bitten me, he’d drawn some of his own blood and injected it into my arm.
I went to shriek. I went to let the tears trail down my cheeks like rain, but I stopped.
“You need to find out if this is real.” I backed away from the table. I stared at the cracked stone. I turned my head down to my arm. And I glanced at the door. “You have to find out if this is real.”
Those words would not leave my consciousness. They ran around and around my mind, pushing deeper in, shoving away the old Gina, the Gina who had stayed indoors and who’d done exactly as she was told, because the opposite was to invite a sooner death.
Not able to take it anymore, I ran back up the stairs. This time I didn’t trip. I flew up them. I reached my bedroom. I dressed. I made it back down into the kitchen. I grabbed up the shards of wood. Several were sharp, but I didn’t get a single splinter.
Still breathing hard, I shoved them in the bin outside the front door, and I stared up at the sky. Clouds were gathering over the horizon. Thick and fast, they looked as if they would bring a deluge like no other. That was appropriate, because the questions gathering in my mind were an even more impressive storm.
Shrugging into the collar of my jacket, not because I was cold, but because it was a habit, I ran down the street.
It didn’t take me long to reach the correct set of stairs.
They were right down the same laneway. It was the same old, rusted, cold railing. And right there was the same red door.
“You can’t be making this up if you remember the color of the door,” I whispered to myself.
I took a step down them. I froze. Did I really want to do this? If I was right, and it was looking as if I was, by walking down there, I’d come face-to-face with that vampire again.
I clutched my throat. I went to turn away, but I stopped. I had to confirm what was happening to me.
I walked down the stairs. I reached the red door. I knocked on it. No one answered. So I knocked harder. When no one answered again, I knocked just that little bit harder. But that would be when I knocked the door right off its hinges.
I gave a terrified shout as it crumpled inward. It was as if it had been made out of nothing more than matches and I’d stomped on it hard with my foot.
As the shards hailed around my feet, I jerked back and grabbed my mouth hard.
I heard a pissed off shout from further into the building. As a blast of nerves sailed through me, it told me to get out of here. It would be the vampire. And this time, he wouldn’t let me go.
I turned and started to run, but I didn’t get far. I felt something rushing up from behind me. It snagged hold of my ankle just as I reached the top of the stairs. I was dragged back down them. For the second time that day, my body thumped against the unyielding steps. But for the second time that day, it did nothing. I was wrenched harshly up, and the next thing I knew, a guy had me by the throat.
I waited to see Doctor Black. But it wasn’t him. It was some guy in a dark black leather jacket. He had slicked-back brown hair and eyes to match. He had long, gaunt fingers and cheek muscles that were carved into his face as if someone had taken a chisel to his bones.
He was also a vampire. I didn’t need to see his teeth as he parted his lips all the way back. I could feel it. Hell, I could smell it. My whole body was getting in on the act. Every single one of my senses was narrowed in on him, and they were all screaming in unison that he was a vampire. But more than anything, they screamed at the proximity of his blood.
I found myself slackening, but it wasn’t in fear.
He snarled at me again, then looked down at the door. “How did you do that, human? You got a battering ram around here? Or do you have a friend? What made you think it was okay to come interrupt me?”
He had a strong grip on my throat, and by reason, I shouldn’t be able to breathe, but my breath was even. “Where’s… where’s Doctor Black?”
He made a face at me. It was snarling and angry, and if I’d seen it before yesterday, I would’ve freaked out and run. I couldn’t run right now. Even if I had been free of him, I’m not sure I would’ve tried. Because his blood… his blood was just there. Right there. It was in front of me. It was in his fingers, in his heart. In his throat.
That last thought sank all the way in. It felt like it found doors inside me I had never even known existed.
“Doctor Black? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Yesterday… yesterday I came here for a procedure. There was a vampire. Doctor Black. Where is he?”
The guy’s face twitched. “Doctor Black? Is he the one who left all the junk in my den?”
“The medical bed. The plastic chair. The reception desk,” he growled. “Are you working for this Doctor Black? He here to check up on me? Was he casing out my magical joint? Well, it’s mine,” he growled right in my face. He dragged me forward.
I was short, so he could easily use his height and grip to pull me off my feet. As I dangled there, I was once again reminded of how little fear I felt. It was kind of there. But it was supplanted in part by the proximity of his blood. For the closer I got to that blood, the more it sang to me.
“You can tell this Doctor Black that if he comes back on my turf, I’ll shred him. And I’m gonna give you a little warning, human, one you’re never gonna be able to forget.”
I knew what he would do. My whole body understood the process. He would lean forward. He would shove his vampire canines into my neck. And he would drink. Hell, I practically understood how every single one of his muscles would help him. I could feel how his magic would rise in him and assist the process.
I understood, not on a technical level, but on such a deep visceral level, it felt like I had been born for this. But not to be drunk from. To be the one doing the drinking.
He brought his teeth down.
He went to shove them into my neck, but that’s when I brought my knee up. I locked it against his chest, and I shoved him back.
There was no reason it should work. He was the vampire and I was just a human, but that didn’t matter. For as my knee impacted his chest, he was pushed all the way back. His grip on my throat was broken. He slammed against the shards of the cracked door. His eyes blasted wide immediately. There wasn’t a lot of room between the door and the back of the old sandstone stairwell – just half a meter. I could barely turn around. But I didn’t need to. I found myself jolting forward.
He snarled wildly. “What the hell are you?” he hissed. He shot to his feet. I could see his snarling, glistening teeth. He snapped them toward me again. But he didn’t just use his teeth this time. Magic danced around him. It was brilliant and as bright as bottled sunlight. It raced down from his throat, around his chest, along his arm, and into his fist. He swiped at my face.
I surprised myself when I ducked to the side. It wasn’t a perfect move. I didn’t give all the way into my instincts and let them control me. But it got me just out of the way. Only the side of his knuckles impacted me. They sent me slightly to the side, but I didn’t hurtle into the back of the stairwell. Nor did I crack my head against the stone. I shoved forward. I didn’t know what I was doing.
He kicked out at me. I actually grabbed his foot and shoved him down. It was easier than it should be. Hell, what was I saying? Easier than it should be? I was nothing more than a human, a weak one at that. In a vampire fight, I was meant to have no chance. But I had a chance. And I also had a desire. The more he fought me, the more I became attuned to his blood.
I could practically see it now. It was as if the vampire himself disappeared and all I could perceive was his circulatory system.
I’d never been a greedy person. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d always wanted with all of my heart to become well, but apart from that, I hadn’t gone back for seconds for anything. I’d been too focused on my health to have dreams.
Now his blood was everything. Every damn thing.
He shoved back to his feet. Snarling, I could start to see this look growing in his eyes. It grew in his voice too as he snapped, “What the hell are you?” He sliced a punch toward my face.
I caught his fist. I actually frigging caught it. It didn’t matter that it was the fist of a vampire and that it was laced with powerful, blazing magic. I held it in my hand, and it did not rebuff me. Nor did the magic burn me.
His eyes opened even wider. It looked as if they would scoop the whole world into their pupils.
“I don’t know what I am,” I whispered. But then the words Doctor Black told me before he bit me rose up. “Median,” I whispered. “Vampire median.”
As soon as I uttered that, he jerked back. He no longer fought me. He looked as if I had turned into an apparition of death. The change was so abrupt, I was certain his face was gonna crack under the pressure.
It was my turn for my eyes to open wide. “What?” I stammered.
“No way.” He shook his head desperately, his cheeks becoming cold and slack. “No way. There’s none of you left.”
“None…. No one like me left?” I stammered.
He turned. He shoved up. He ran. He was a vampire, and he was pretty much twice my size. But he was running from me as if I was the one to be terrified of.
At first I did nothing but let him get away. Then I jolted into action. I didn’t know if it was because I couldn’t let him leave with that secret, or if it was my greed rising up within me once more. The point was, I followed.
He ran right down the corridor I remembered from yesterday. Then he shoved into the room that had looked like reception.
The reception desk was still there – but he’d obviously tried to rip it out from the wall. It hadn’t been attached by much. It looked as if it had just been screwed in in a few minute’s work.
The reception desk was down on its side, and he leaped over it in one clean, deft move.
I reached it. I intended to run around it, but I didn’t have to. Because I leaped right over it, too. My body just… everything was coming to a point. And that point was my desire. It was narrowing in on his neck. It was narrowing in on him until there was nothing left in this damn world but his blood.
I should have been terrified by what I was doing, and on some level, I was. But I didn’t have the mental energy to fight past this. All I wanted to do was get to him. I kept telling myself that I would simply stop him from spreading that I was a vampire median. But why was my mouth opening? Why could I feel something growing in my gums?
He reached that blue door. He kicked it right down, not slowing to open it. He shoved into that room. I skidded in behind him. There was the medical bed from yesterday. It was down on one side. So was the desk. There was a window just above it. He threw himself toward it. It was my turn to catch his ankle. With a cast-iron grip I had no business having, I yanked him down toward me.
He fell hard on his back, his skull smashing against the unyielding desk. He turned around and stared at me, his eyes bulging wide. “I didn’t mean to attack you, median,” he spluttered, forcing his words out as fast as he could, despite the fact his trembling lips wouldn’t play nice. “Don’t kill me,” he spat.
I’d been willing to give in to my greed until that single word cut through it like a knife through butter. “Kill?” I stammered.
This just made him paler. “Yeah, don’t kill me. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Why… why would I kill you?”
His eyes opened, narrowed, then opened wide again. “Because you’re a predator, just like us. But unlike vampires, you prey on vampires, not humans.”
That… was too much information. I still had a hold of his ankle, but I dropped it. I staggered back. I clutched my brow. I let my fingers drag down to my neck. I still couldn’t feel a puncture wound. But I thought I could feel energy picking up underneath it. I fell down to my knees. I couldn’t hold myself up anymore.
He was leaning on the upturned desk. He turned around, kicking his legs up and shoving back until his shoulders were pressed against the wall. The window was right above him. I could tell from the tension growing in his limbs that it would take him less than a second to snap toward it and dive through. For now, his terrified gaze was locked on me. He looked like a baby rabbit immobilized in front of a cat.
I clutched my brow harder, really letting my fingers sink in until it felt as if I would pull my face off. “I’m not gonna kill anyone,” I whispered.
“Is this some kind of act?” he said in a tight voice. It sounded as if someone was strangling him.
“Why did he do this to me?” I ignored the vampire and gripped my brow harder. “Why did he make me into this thing?”
The guy still trembled, but his brow condensed once more. “Who? That Doctor Black guy?”
“Yeah, Doctor Black. Why did he bite me then give me his blood?” I practically cried through my words. The only thing I needed was answers. And without them, I would be crushed.
The guy paled. “He made you his direct.”
“No. Direct. You’re indebted to him. It also means you can’t kill him. You can’t feed on his blood.”
“But why?” I held my neck with such stiff fingers, I should’ve blacked out. But it felt that there was now nothing I could do to myself to lose consciousness. I would have to live with this horror until the day I died.
The guy didn’t look at me like I was gonna pounce on him anymore. He stared at me like a wounded tiger, but still a tiger, nonetheless. “This Doctor Black bastard found an unattached median? Lucky asshole.”
I stared at him. “What’s gonna happen next? What’s gonna happen to me?” I blubbered.
I was asking a guy I had almost killed what would happen to me. He was not my friend. But I had nothing else and no one else.
“You feed,” he snapped. “But not on me. I’m getting out of this town for good.” He jerked toward the window.
“No, please. I have more questions. Tell me what will happen to me.”
I didn’t stop him. He smashed the window with his fists and leaped through. I heard him pause on the other side. “What happens is you go after vampires for the rest of your life. If you stop, you die. You need our blood. Just like we need human blood.” With that, he ran.
I sat there for too long – way too long. I couldn’t move. I was this cold, immovable lump of pure emotion. It shook through my chest, shot up into my jaw, and pounded into my heart. But my heart… I swore it didn’t beat right anymore. It was too strong. Far too powerful, and far, far too greedy.
I couldn’t count the number of tears I cried. I couldn’t tell you when they stopped, either. But abruptly, they dried up. And abruptly, I pushed to my feet. I made my way back to the broken door. I grabbed up my bag.
I went to leave, but I quickly told myself I’d be missing an opportunity. Doctor Black might’ve left some information behind. So I dragged myself back into the building. I searched through the half-broken desk. There was nothing inside it. So I pushed further into the building. I found what that other vampire had presumably called his den. It wasn’t much. He had a bed and some other junk. He had all sorts of vials on a steel-framed shelf against the wall. I stared at them, touched them even, but I couldn’t understand them.
There was nothing that gave me any indication of where Doctor Black was.
By the end, I was so fatigued, I could barely move. But it wasn’t fatigue of the body, just of the mind. I was having to process, with every second, what I’d become. I tried to convince myself, over and over again, that this wasn’t real. I couldn’t be a vampire median. I couldn’t have changed. I’d go back to my old life. It wouldn’t matter – I would take the weakness over this indecision and terror.
But I couldn’t flick some magical switch and return to two days ago.
I finally removed myself from the building.
By the time I turned my head up to the sky, it was already raining. It came down in drenching sheets. They lashed the street. It was appropriate, because they felt like an allegory for what was happening with my mind. Every time I tried to convince myself that I was okay – that this would be fine – reality just lashed harder.
I dragged my nails across my brow. I pushed them in hard enough, they would’ve ripped right through my old flesh. That was no overemphasis. Because as I clutched up my bag with my other hand, I squeezed the strap so tightly, I practically extruded it.
“This can’t be happening to you,” I tried one last time, whispering that with all my might and hope. But the words fell dead against reality.
I walked the city streets. I had nowhere to go. I had nothing I could do. For there was no help, just questions.
When the rain became too bad, I stopped under an awning, right next to a newsagent. I glanced down at the paper in the rack beside me. It had a photo of one of the ancestral vampires in town. His name was Varn. He was meant to be some great philanthropist, but the caption read that he was being investigated by the DA.
With nothing else to do, I grabbed up one of the papers, rain still dripping off me. It instantly stained the newsprint, and black ink pooled across the flimsy paper.
With my eyes scanning across the page languidly, I read that Varn was being investigated by the DA for using blood in illegal ways.
I saw two words – blood and illegal – and all I could do was think of Doctor Black. Everything flooded back into me in a powerful wave, and it robbed me of my balance, driving me down to the pavement.
Fortunately the rain was so strong that nobody else was about, and there was nobody to see me shuddering up there against the blue, chipped concrete wall.
“Was that you?” I whispered. I’d seen what Varn looked like. He was one of those old ancestral vampires – the ones that looked as if they were out of a movie. All cheek bones, muscles, and blazing eyes. And that had not been Doctor Black. But what if Black had been working for Varn?
I knew vampires were a close-knit group. I also knew Doctor Black had to be powerful if he’d had the balls to go into another vampire’s den, modify it, and use it to attack me. Which meant he’d have someone equally powerful watching his back.
“Are you gonna pay for that after ruining it?” someone snapped directly from my side.
I jolted hard, swiveling to see the newsagent. Fortunately, I still had my bag on me. I’d picked it up after my fight with the vampire. Trembling, but the guy not caring, I grabbed out some money and gave it to him. It was way too much, but I didn’t wait around for change. I staggered off with the paper in my hands. I clutched it until my fingers screwed up the title, my thumbnail perforating Varn’s name.
If it was him, I was going to….
It would’ve been so easy to follow that thought, so easy to finish it with a violent bang. That’s what my body wanted me to do. It told me there was only one way to get revenge against a vampire as devious as Varn. I would creep in through his bedroom window, and I would sink my teeth into his neck.
As soon as that thought settled, and the true horror of it struck me front-on, I reeled. I staggered to the side and had to plant a hand against the wall once more. There was nobody to snidely walk past me, nobody to mutter that I was taking up too much room. Nobody saw me at all. Even as I pulled my sleeve up, even as I raked my flesh down the point where I had been injected.
I stared at the paper in my hands once more. I screwed it up tighter. Then I came across a dustbin, and I threw it in.
I didn’t know what was happening to me. But I…. I’d find out.
I made it home, long before Sharee did. I cleaned up after my incident in the kitchen. I even took the trash further away so she’d never find the broken legs of the chair.
I sat on the edge of my bed. It didn’t take long until I fell asleep. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have nervous dreams. Instead I had something much worse. They could only be termed hunts. Every time I closed my eyes and drifted off, my mind would be dragged into action. I would be chasing down some vampire only to pin them against the wall and to drink. Every time I awoke, I was drooling. Worse than that, my hands kept groping in and out, in and out as if I was still clutching hold of someone’s neck.
Pushing myself up and realizing that it was late night already, I crammed my hand against my head and pushed my sweaty fringe out of my face. Shaking, but not because I was weak, I made it to the bathroom. Gripping the smooth white porcelain sink, I pushed down and stared at myself. My eyes were hooded. It wasn’t with fatigue – just the dark emotion swelling through me. Soon enough I gripped my mouth. I did it as hard as I could, pushing my fingers in until my stubs of nails dragged down my lips like swords.
I shook my head once, then twice, then stopped halfway through the third move. One final time, I dragged my sleeve up, and I played with the injection site. “You can’t deny something’s happened to you. It’s right in front of you. You’re…” I cast my gaze back to the mirror, my eyes drawing wide as I prepared myself to face this full horror, “a vampire median now.”
That guy’s warning rang in my skull. If I didn’t regularly feed off vampires, I’d lose my strength. And if I went too long without a feed, I’d die.
Clutching my mouth, I reminded myself I hadn’t had human food all day.
I walked back from the mirror – though staggered back was more accurate. I turned around. I kneeled down next to the bath. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but my hands were clenched as if I was about to punch it. Would my strength crack right through it? Or would my sanity crack instead as my knuckles turned into bloody stubs as I beat them against something I never had the hope to shift?
I would never find out. At that exact moment, my phone rang. It was so surprising, I jolted up.
It seemed that it alone could break me out of my reverie. I rushed over. There was only one person it could be. My boss would never call this late. Neither would my family. It had to be Sharee. Frowning and looking at the clock on my phone, I realized it was 11.
I answered quickly. “You okay?” I spluttered.
She laughed. “That was going to be my line. I know it’s late, but I just wanted to check on you in case you’re awake.”
There was something in her voice. Maybe she was trying to hide it, but I didn’t feel as if anyone would ever be able to hide anything from me again. My senses narrowed in on her. I could hear her breathing over the phone. It was tight. Every inhalation seemed to be coming through a somewhat constricted throat.
“You okay, Sharee?” I demanded, a note of forcefulness in my voice she wouldn’t have heard in a long time.
“Yeah, of course I am. I just called you to check how you are—”
I stopped listening to her. Or at least, her words. My mind just narrowed in on her body. I… I know this sounded insane – but I thought I could hear her heart pounding in her chest. It was too quick. More than that? God, this really was nuts, but I thought I could hear footfall behind her. Her phone was pressed up against her ear, but that didn’t matter. It was like it was a panorama mic and I was picking up everything in her environment.
She continued to speak, but I only paid attention to her with half an ear. She was telling me to make myself another one of those smoothies.
She had not called at 11 o’clock at night to remind me what to have for breakfast the next day. She was afraid. And judging by that footfall I could hear behind her, it was because someone was following her.
“You should get somewhere safe,” I whispered.
“What?” she spluttered.
“Someone’s following you, aren’t they?”
“How do you—” she began. She stopped abruptly. “I’m fine. It’s just my stupid imagination.”
She continued to talk again, but once more, I listened past her words. That footfall…. Don’t ask me how I knew this, but it was close but not too close. Maybe 20 meters back, maybe 25. But now came the really insane part. I knew, right down from the bottom of my soul, that it belonged to a vampire.
I knew, see, because my body suddenly stiffened. My spine straightened, my free arm dropped beside me, and my finger started opening in and out as if they were practicing what I’d learned in my dream.
“Just do me a favor,” she began.
“No, Sharee,” I said in the most forceful voice I had ever used, “you need to do me a favor. There’s a late-night café beside you, isn’t there?”
“How do you—”
“Fine. But I’m meant to be meeting up with my friends.”
“Then tell them to come meet you there. Go inside. That’s an order.”
“You always tell me what to do, and don’t get me wrong, it’s good. But this is me telling you what to do now. Go inside that café. And wait for your friends.”
I could hear as she angled toward it. “This is insane. I’m not really being followed.”
I opened my mouth to tell her she was, but I stopped. The more I acted as if I could hear things that I definitely should not be able to hear, the more she would start to be concerned. The last thing I wanted was for her to come home in a rush because she thought I was having another episode.
I could hear when she got inside the café. And, despite the added noise pollution, I could hear as the vampire stopped.
“Look, I’m here. I’m sitting down. I’m even going to order some coffee and not some alcohol. You satisfied?” There was no anger in her tone. It was full of relief.
“Yeah, I am. You need me to call your friends?”
She paused, then let out a slight spluttering laugh. “No. I don’t. What’s gotten into you, anyway?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re suddenly my protector or something.”
I pressed my lips together and then let out a shallow breath. “I guess it’s nice not to be the victim once in a while.”
“You were never a victim. Just a patient.”
I found myself swiping my tongue over my teeth. I wanted to add that I was no longer a patient, either. I was a predator. The words, for obvious reasons, didn’t make it past my lips. “Call your friends. I’ll call you in a bit to see how you are.”
She laughed and said goodbye.
I walked toward the door. I stopped when I realized I was in my pajamas. I dressed methodically, even picking my darkest, longest coat. I grabbed a scarf, but it wasn’t because I was cold. It was because I wanted to hide my face. I selected a cap and some sunglasses. And yeah, it didn’t matter that it was night. It didn’t really affect the illumination making it to my eyes, anyway.
The next thing I knew, I was down at the door, just by our hallway stand. I paused there. There was a long mirror. I slid my gaze over to it. You wouldn’t be able to recognize me easily – maybe unless you knew my coat.
But it wasn’t the coat that I stared at. It was the glimmer of my eyes just past the corner of my sunglasses. I stared at that, waiting for the real Gina to come back. The weak one, the broken one. The one who absolutely would not go out in the night just because she had sworn that she’d heard a vampire stalking her friend.
But that Gina was long gone, wasn’t she? And this… this was the new me.
I didn’t need to ask where Sharee had been. I’d lived in the city my whole life. I had a relatively good mental blueprint of it. Based on what I’d heard her pass, I knew where she was. And yeah, that was crazy. But crazy was my new life, apparently.
I didn’t bother to take the subway. I took a taxi, and I pushed the guy to drive as fast as he could.
He wanted to get rid of me by the time I made it to my destination. I paid him and jumped out of the car. Then I stopped there on the street, immobilized by fear for a few seconds. It was a healthy fear – the kind of healthy fear, to be exact, an ordinary human would have in abundance. It would tell them that this plan right here was absolute suicidal madness. It would tell them to turn around, head home, and tuck their heads under the covers so they would never do something this stupid again. But I wasn’t human anymore, was I?
That was not an equation I had been able to turn my mind to yet, but as I started to walk away from the taxi, my hands naturally curling into fists, it was one that struck me. For my senses struck me, too. I started to notice it when I’d gotten in the taxi, but now it was way worse. The city… it came alive to me. It wasn’t just with my eyesight – but with every other sense. I could feel even the minutest changes in temperature. And that was nothing, nothing compared to my sense of smell. It was so precise, as I walked past a guy, I knew exactly what brand of washing detergent he used. More than that, I knew exactly how many people he’d been touching – where he’d been, what he’d eaten, even what he’d traveled in. These senses struck me, and it was almost too much. I wanted to reel back, but the thought of my friend in trouble kept pushing me onward.
I soon made it to the café. I did not walk in. I waited across the street. I staked it out, and I shouldn’t have to tell you that I had never staked anything out in my life. I stood there at the edge of the street, just under a lamppost. There was a bus stop nearby, so I didn’t look too conspicuous – save for the fact I was wearing sunglasses and a hat in the middle of the night.
I got a few cursory glances, but to be honest, everyone was a bit wild around these parts of town in the wee hours.
It didn’t take me long to hear Sharee. She was in the café. The doors kept opening. And every time they did, I picked up her less than dulcet tones. I loved her to pieces, but damn did she have a shrill laugh.
I smiled. She was fine. So I should just head home, right? Wrong. I opened my nostrils, and I tried to sense the vampire. It was hard, because the wind was blowing from behind me. That didn’t stop me. It didn’t work, but I… I thought I smelled something close by.
I finally crossed the street. I kept as far away from the windows of that café as I could. There was a fair chance that Sharee would recognize my jacket.
Walking several buildings down, I spied a tiny laneway. My heart suddenly seized, and it wasn’t with fear. I stopped in the laneway. I turned my head to the side to see a man leaning next to a dumpster. He had one foot in front of himself, the other curled over it. His body was hunched forward, his hands in the pockets of a slightly ripped bomber jacket. As soon as he saw me – or should I say smelled me – he turned his head toward me.
I was still in my disguise. I didn’t try to shrink further back into it – I just locked my eyes on him. And I smelled. Fortunately my scarf was high up my face. It would disguise just how much effort I put into the action. I would’ve looked like a dog trying to find a treat.
The guy let out a dark chuckle. “Can I help you?”
“No,” I said. I went to take a step toward him. For in that moment I felt what I’d felt back at Doctor Black’s building. This… I didn’t want to call it greed. It was… it was so much more powerful than that. I wanted to push forward. I wanted to get closer to the guy just so I could hear his heart beating more. And I wanted to sink my fangs into his throat. But I didn’t have fangs. I reminded myself of that as I turned quickly. A pulse of the old Gina came ricocheting up through my mind. It slammed into my consciousness, wobbled around a bit, and managed to turn me on the spot. It gave me a shove until I was out of that laneway.
When I was out of sight, I staggered against the wall. I planted a hand there. and I just… I breathed.
But I waited slightly too long. The doors to the café opened. And there was Sharee with her friends.
While some of her friends looked at the shady lady dressed in sunglasses, a baseball cap, and a giant jacket with disdain, Sharee paled immediately. She jolted over. “What—”
“You know this woman?” one of her friends asked.
“Yeah,” Sharee snapped, clearly not ready to put up with anybody’s snide attitude right now. “It’s my friend. She’s in trouble. You guys go on without me.”
“You serious?” one of her friends hissed.
“Yeah, I’m serious. I’ll buy you a round of drinks later. Got it?”
They grumbled, but they soon walked away.
That just left me there, staring at Sharee.
She ducked in close, her eyes opening wide with such palpable alarm, I felt like I could pick it up with my hands. “What are you doing here?” she hissed.
I could see the worry playing over her face. I could hear it, too – and every beat of her heart, and the way her breath wheezed as it passed through a slightly constricted throat.
She grabbed my hand. It was clear that she expected it to be cold, but it wasn’t. It was warm, just like the rest of me.
I finally came to my senses. I also realized we couldn’t have this conversation here, with the vampire just down that laneway. He would be listening. Sharee looked like she wanted to drag me away, but just before she could, I snatched up her fingers, and I led her further toward the café. Its sound would block the vampire from being able to hear us. I practically frog marched her. She could only just keep up. She was wearing long heels, and I was in flats. I was… I was also the vampire median. I didn’t stop until I was certain the vampire wouldn’t be able to hear us anymore.
By that time she was spluttering like an old engine. “What’s gotten into you?”
“What’s gotten into me is that you were clearly being followed by—” I stopped myself before I said a vampire. “You were clearly being followed. I was worried about you.”
Her eyes moistened slightly. She barely ever cried, and I’d only ever seen her teary when she thought she was in danger. “You shouldn’t have come. I was fine.”
“You weren’t,” I snapped. “A guy was following you.”
“You didn’t need to drag yourself out of bed. You need to be really careful about yourself right now.” She grabbed my arm and tried to warm it up, despite the fact it wasn’t cold at all. “I didn’t want to freak you out earlier, but the paramedics who treated you, they said you might be delirious for a while. You might even see things,” she added.
I opened my mouth. I closed my lips. I just listened to her. The words… they washed over me.
“That’s what I assumed had happened when you talked about that dream the other day. It’s not you,” she said as quickly as she possibly could. “It’s the medication.”
“… Medication,” I whispered.
“Yeah. You aren’t… you haven’t been seeing things, have you?” She crunched in close and whispered as several people walked past us.
I opened my lips. All I could do was think of what was happening to me. On some level – okay, on every level, I knew that what was happening to me was impossible. I’d never even heard of a vampire median, and I was the girl who’d literally written a thesis on them. As for what I’d experienced today – that vampire back at that building… there’s no way I could’ve done that. But what about knowing that Sharee had been followed? That was real, wasn’t it? There was no other explanation for it.
Sharee grabbed her throat. Her fingers were white. They slid down until she clutched hold of her collar. “I should’ve called you. Then again, I’m glad you made me go into that café. I’m sorry I worried you. You must’ve picked up my fear from my tone. I thought I was hiding it. Clearly I wasn’t.”
“Yeah, I must’ve picked up your fear from your tone,” I said. There was a completely dead edge to my voice.
I found myself clutching my arm. It was the same position where I’d been injected.
… But what if I hadn’t been injected by vampire blood but just some drug that was unsettling my psyche?
She suddenly hooked her arm underneath mine. “Let’s head home.”
“You’re out with your friends,” I whispered. “You should go back with them. They were kind of pissed.”
“No.” I muscled my way out of her arm. I fancied my movements were weak. That, more than anything, robbed me of my belief that I’d somehow turned into something called a vampire median. It was just me. And I was going insane. Nothing over the past two days had happened.
Sharee stared at me, shocked.
“You only get a chance to go out like this once a month. I’m not gonna ruin it for you.”
“I’m not going to let you go home on your own.”
“Then I’ll get a taxi.” I darted out to the edge of the road and flagged one down.
The guy had been close by anyway. It was a popular place to pick up drunk people.
She looked at me, flabbergasted. Then her lips slowly curled into a smile. “You sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. But go catch up to your friends quickly,” I said, channeling a little of the tone I’d used earlier. But the authority within me – that was gone. It was withering up under the harsh rays of reality.
I’d made all this up.
I tried to keep a smile on my face. I fixed it there until she waved and walked away.
I got in the taxi and gave him my address.
He drove away.
For a long while, I didn’t pay a scrap of attention to anything. It took me far too long to realize that he was not headed back in the direction of my home.
It took so long, in fact, it wasn’t until he pulled up to a secluded section of street where the streetlights didn’t even work and he opened his door.
But by that time?
It was too late.
As soon as the engine stopped and he got out of the car, something happened. My heart started beating faster.
My senses were no longer crazy. Or rather, I wasn’t believing them. My heart did tremble. “Ah, sorry, what are you doing? And where are we?”
The guy pulled off his jacket. He was standing close to the vehicle. He leaned over and grabbed something from the passenger seat.
And that’s… Jesus Christ. That’s when I realized it was him. It was the vampire from earlier.
I froze. But it couldn’t last. I yanked my seatbelt off. I opened the door. I staggered out. I’d thrown on some thick stockings and an old skirt when I’d left the house. I’d figured they were the most nondescript things I owned. As I tumbled out of the car, my stockings snagged some loose bitumen. They were shredded.
He turned, his bomber jacket now fully on. He slid his gaze down to me then up to my face. “I was after your friend. But you… you have a strange scent. The kind of scent I want to get closer to,” he snarled.
I couldn’t remain there frozen on the ground anymore. I bolted up. There was a laneway right in front of me. I could see its dark mouth opening up, beckoning me, promising me safety.
I wasn’t familiar with this area, but I hoped that if I ran down it, I’d reach a main street.
That’s all I could think of. That thought just raced through my head, faster and faster, faster and faster.
I heard him chuckling behind me. It was completely unhurried. It was dark, too. It was the chuckle of a man who did not care how much cruelty he had to dole out. He’d do exactly what he wanted when he wanted it. Because nothing could stop him.
I fell down once or twice. But I kept pushing myself up.
As I ran, at the back of my head, something told me to turn. But I couldn’t.
Turn, and he’d reach me. He’d pin me against the wall, and he’d bleed me dry. I’d end up as one of those rumors. Those urban legends about some poor sod who’d been killed by a vampire. It would never go to court. The police would never charge him. And Sharee? She’d never learn the truth.
I screamed. A couple of times, I begged him to leave me alone. He didn’t. He just chased me.
I fell down and snagged my stockings at one point. I ended up cutting my leg. Blood splattered my shin.
As soon as it did, I knew he kicked into overdrive. I… I had to be making it up again, because I swore I could feel his vampire heart beating faster. I even thought more saliva slicked his vampire canines.
This couldn’t be happening.
He kept chasing me though. And… more frighteningly than that, my senses kept turning around and locking on him. I picked up things that shouldn’t be there. The scent of his jacket. How fast his heart beat. Exactly how much his muscles contracted. Hell, I even thought I tuned into his nervous system and followed along with every single pulse of his neurons.
But that could not be happening. So I squeezed my eyes closed and screamed.
I came to an intersection. One part led to the left, one part to the right.
I didn’t know which direction to run in, but I quickly had my mind made up for me when he swept in from the right. He pushed me to the left.
I kept telling myself that I would make it out of here. I’d come across a wide street. I’d get someone’s help. I’d flagged down a passing motorist. I would—
I came to a dead end.
Right there in front of me was an old dumpster. The rain all day had made foul-smelling juice leak out of it. I skidded as I tried to turn around, but the vampire had already reached me. He grabbed me and pinned me up against the wall.
And I… I started to lose it.
My fear… it gave way. It crumbled inside me, stone by stone. It felt like it had been an edifice – no, some fake mask that had been hiding my true self. And that true self now started to bubble up from within.
He spoke to me. But I didn’t really hear.
And that’s when I did it. I crunched forward. I placed my mouth on his neck.
He laughed. “There is nothing—”
I pushed my lips up, only just clearing my teeth, speaking mostly into the nape of his neck as I growled, “There’s nothing you can do.”
As I secured my mouth over his neck, it happened. I grew teeth.
Everything I had been denying ever since I’d spoken to Sharee just broke away. It crumbled before me, never to return. For I could feel my teeth pushing out of my mouth. I could feel them as they sunk into his flesh. And I could feel, feel as I began to drink.
The guy stiffened. He tried to jerk away, but immediately, he couldn’t move. He locked a hand on the wall beside me, but it was more for support than anything. I could see his eyes. They widened in total, shaking fear.
And I… I just drank. I hooked onto his neck like I was some kind of parasite.
“What… this… can’t be happening. You’re… you’re a vampire median.”
Yes. I was. And as I drank his blood, I felt a process begin within me that would never end. For the day I switched it off would be the day I died.
I was just a human. I wasn’t from one of the magical races. I’d used VR equipment once to try to figure out what it would feel like to practice magic, but it had not prepared me for the reality. For as I drank, power rose up from within me. It darted through my heart, pounded into my sternum, and rose, rose unstoppably. It was like lava coming out of a volcano, like a plume of energy erupting from the sun.
You could put anything in its way, any weapon, any spell, but you would never be able to hold it down.
I hooked onto his neck harder now. His arms dropped beside him. His eyes got this glassy look.
Just when I crunched in further, intent to drink him dry, something rose in my mind. It was the old Gina, and she screamed at me to stop. I thrust back. I pulled my teeth from his neck.
He staggered there, falling back and forth, rocking like a ship in a violent sea. He locked his glassy gaze on me until his eyes rolled into the back of his head. He fell down as hard as a ton of bricks. And me? I just stood there, saliva and blood dripping off my vampire incisors. And make no mistake, they were very much vampire incisors. Trembling all over, wondering if I would ever be able to hold myself still again, I ran a finger over them.
I freaked out. The whole experience caught up with me. I staggered to the side, fell against the wall, and slid down it. I screamed, and I screamed again. It didn’t matter how loudly I did it and how much terror I pushed inside the shriek – no one would be able to hear me. This was a hunting ground for the vampire. I could feel the magic lacing this place. He could have a choir in here, shouting with all their might, and the sound would not travel.
So I just screamed once more. Then I clamped a hand on my throat. I started to retch. It wasn’t because I was feeling sick, but because the fact I had just drunk blood caught up with me. I tried to throw it up, but even as I shoved my hand down my throat, it didn’t matter. The blood remained within me. As did the magic. It rose up more powerfully now. As it shook through my limbs, it finally reached my fingers. I watched, in open-mouth horror, as it began to crackle around my nails. It sunk into my flesh only to rise up once more. I had never seen anything like it. And I shouldn’t have to tell you that I had never felt anything even close.
I… it was like I’d turned into pure force itself.
Slowly, still shaking, but not because of weakness, I pushed up. I shoved my back against the wall, and I walked myself up it. I did not once dart my gaze away from my hands. I stared at the magic with so much focus, I could’ve dried my eyes to dust.
The vampire twitched. I wasn’t expecting it. It shook me so much that I formed a fist. And that’s when crackles of magic darted out from the knuckles. They zapped the air around me. They didn’t go further, but that display was enough to terrify me once more. I fell down to my knees. I clutched my head. One hand fell and slipped down to my stomach. I rocked there, back and forth, back and forth as I reminded myself I’d just drunk blood.
I’d almost killed a man. I had—
My nostrils flared. I’d just caught the scent of something.
I rose to my feet.
The tears were still raining down my cheeks, but I wasn’t actively sobbing anymore. My senses had just turned on to full. I reached the dumpster. My nostrils flared once more. I climbed up the side of it. I pulled it open. And right there on top of some trash, I saw the body of a dead young man. It didn’t matter that he was decomposing. All that counted were my senses. They locked on his neck. Even though the puncture wounds where a vampire had drunk him dry had long since rotted over, I knew they were there.
As I allowed my nostrils to flare once more, I realized he wasn’t the only body in the dumpster. There were two others.
I fell back as a wave of total repulsion took me.
I started to scuttle backward away from the dumpster. I banged into the vampire. Without having to try, my nostrils flared.
I knew that he had been the one to kill those people. His scent was still all over them. It wouldn’t matter if they’d rotted completely. I would still be able to locate who’d killed them. For I was inextricably linked to vampires from now on. And there was nothing – not a damn thing I would be able to do about that.
This was my destiny.
And one cannot fight destiny, no matter how hard they try to no matter what they bite.
I don’t know how long it took me to pull myself up.
The vampire wasn’t about to wake.
He was still alive. Whenever I locked my senses on him, I could confirm his heart still beat. I’d drunk – but I hadn’t drunk enough to put him on the edge of death. That being said, he would be out for some time.
I still had my phone on me. My fingers twitched, itching to call the emergency number.
But just when I plucked it up, I saw the oblong shape of his phone sticking out of his pocket. If I called the police to let them know that I’d found a vampire, they would trace my call.
I inched forward slowly. I honestly wasn’t scared that the guy would wake up. I was more scared of myself. There were a few droplets of blood still on his neck. They made my senses go wild.
I still managed to grab his phone. I snatched it out. I cleared the screen of sweat. Then I dialed emergency services.
I did not speak. Even as the person answered, I remained silent.
Before they went to hang up, I screamed. I put all of my might into the move. I channeled the fear I’d felt only five minutes ago.
I didn’t scream at them to help me. I hoped the shriek would be enough. If I left the phone on, they’d track it right back to this bastard.
I’d left the top of the dumpster open. Even the crappest cop would be able to find the bodies inside. I turned. I dumped the phone on his chest.
I staggered back. My eyes kept flashing from him over to the dumpster, then back to him.
He… was a murderer.
I… I shouldn’t feel guilty about attacking him, should I? If I hadn’t attacked him, I wouldn’t have found those bodies, and he would have continued to murder people.
As I took another staggering step back, the true horror of the situation hit me. He had only locked onto me after I’d disturbed him in the laneway. Before that, his intended victim had been Sharee. She would’ve been another body in that dumpster.
I didn’t stagger anymore. I stood straight. I shot him one last cold glance. Then I turned.
I made it back to his taxi. The door was still open where he’d left it. I went to walk away, but I realized I might’ve left DNA in the back seat.
Worse than that, I could’ve left my scent. If they got one of the vampire detectives from the force to check, they might be able to track me.
My hands were still zapping with magic.
This was insane, but I took a step up to the car. I was shaking.
“Don’t do this. It’s destruction of property,” I heard my old, good self rise up. She was terrified by the prospect rattling through my brain. The new me – the one who’d almost bled that vampire dry and the one who’d found those corpses – couldn’t be stopped. I formed fists. I half closed my eyes, and I let my magic blast over me.
I opened my eyes in a snap and thrust my hands forward. Magic shot off me. It sank into the car. I hadn’t timed it right. This was the only time I’d ever cast magic. The bolt of pure force sliced right through the back of the car. But it did not set the vehicle alight. Swearing and staggering back at the might of my move, I grabbed my mouth and refocused my attention. I could be thankful for the fact that this side street and the laneway had been shielded with strong magic. No one would be able to see what I was doing. No one would be able to hear.
I concentrated once more. Closing my eyes and breathing hard, I opened my hands. I let the magic rise. Then I opened my fingers fast. Magic blasted out of me. It sank into the car. And this time, it exploded.
I took several steps back, staring at the inferno. I grabbed my mouth, but not for long. I let my fingers drop down as I watched the flames engulf the vehicle. I kept smelling the whole time. Finally when my scent was gone completely, I walked away. I shoved my hands into my pockets.
It was over. Or had it just begun?
It had just begun. That vampire’s warning rang in my mind. If I didn’t feed, I would become weak. If I went too long without blood, I would die. So I… I would have to find a way. I would have to track down the seediest, most murderous bastards in this city, and I would have to drink from them. It was horrifying, but at the same time… it had to be done. For as I closed my eyes and thought of those victims in the dumpster, I realized it was time this city got its own avenging angel.
By the time I made it home, my thoughts were a jumbled mess. They kept jumping around to different things I’d seen. I’d see the side of that corpse’s rotting face, only to get a full-bodied memory of drinking that vampire’s blood. I wanted to feel nauseous, but I didn’t. I felt great. And that just made me feel more like a monster. I’d described myself as an avenging angel as I’d walked away from that explosion without looking back once, but now I just… I had to sleep. I had to wake up from this mess. Because maybe I really was on drugs. In the morning, everything would look better.
I staggered up to my room. I got home just in time. I suddenly heard the door open. Even though it was from downstairs, I opened my eyes quickly. I realized that Sharee’s heart was beating too fast. I frowned. I yanked off my jacket and scarf, not wanting her to think I’d only just gotten in. I dumped them on my bed. I got down the stairs to see her collapse a hand over her mouth as she sat at the table. She didn’t even notice that one of the chairs was missing.
“What is it?” I demanded quickly.
“Melanie,” she whispered.
“She one of your friends?”
“Yeah, she is. And she got attacked tonight.”
“She got attacked. And they… they think it might’ve been a vampire.”
I froze. I didn’t know if I was cold or hot. I didn’t know if I’d stopped moving because I’d never move again, or because I was like a tiger paused in the bushes, ready to strike. “What do you mean?”
“Some cop found her and interrupted the vampire. She’s been taken to the emergency department. She’s there right now.”
“We should go see her,” I said without pause.
She looked at me, confused. “You don’t even know her.”
“But I know you. I don’t want you going out again on your own. Especially not if your friend’s been attacked. Come on. Let’s go.”
“Aren’t you… tired?”
“I slept most of the day,” I lied.
She conceded my point, but she still shook her head. “I can’t drag you out again.”
I faced her. I tried not to let myself become too intense. It was hard, though. At the thought there was another vampire out there, attacking innocent people, all I wanted to do was track him down.
And then I’d… I’d bring his victims’ justice.
That was such a weak way to end my sentence, but I didn’t want to face the full horror of what I’d actually do to him. I… It would take time to come to terms with what I was.
I headed toward the door.
“Don’t you want to get your jacket?”
“It’s not actually that cold.”
“What are you talking about?”
I didn’t want to walk out in that jacket again – not in a setting where people might recognize me.
Yeah, I’d just had that paranoid thought. Because now everything had to change.
I… if I really thought about what I’d just done tonight, I had to admit I’d destroyed potential evidence. That taxi might have belonged to the vampire. Or he might’ve stolen it. But I’d destroyed it anyway because it could lead back to me.
I wasn’t innocent anymore.
“I’ll go on my own.” Sharee patted my shoulder.
I grabbed her hand and marched toward the door.
“But—” she frowned at me. “You’re really not cold, are you? You’re usually like touching an icebox.”
“I’ve started taking some new supplements,” I lied.
“That’s great. Do you think my smoothie’s working?”
“It’s working wonders.”
We reached the door.
For the third time that night, I got a taxi. But unlike with the vampire, this guy was just an ordinary human. He also got that we weren’t in the mood to chat, and he drove us to the hospital as fast as he could.
When we got out of the car, I stared up at the powerful, bright neon lights outside of the emergency department.
My stomach kicked. Was I really going to do this?
“Come on,” she waved me forward.
I teetered, but I took a step toward her.
That corpse I’d seen in the dumpster – I’d known who’d attacked him. My senses had aligned. They’d been able to smell that other vampire. So I’d be able to do the same with Sharee’s friend, right?
Just one sniff.
… And then what would I do? Go around the city, attacking every single vampire and sniffing their canines to see if I could locate the attacker?
I’d find a way.
I didn’t know if it was a sense of justice or hunger making me do this. And it was horror having to question myself and my motives.
Sharee soon found where her friend was, and she ran to the correct ward.
I hung back.
They talked to each other, Sharee crying the whole time. Her friend looked like a typical vampire attack. I didn’t say that based on my newfound knowledge. This came from my university studies. She was glassy-eyed. She was stuttering slightly. She was disconcerted.
… As I thought all of that, I wondered what would happen to a vampire after I attacked them? Would they go through the same symptoms? It was unlikely, right? Because they were inherently magically powerful.
So what… what if that guy that I’d attacked recognized me? I’d burned that car, sure. But what if he told the cops all about me and managed to draw up a sketch?
That thought freaked me out so much that I almost forgot why I was here.
I cast my gaze up. I saw that several doctors had just walked into the room. Behind them was a guy in his mid-thirties, maybe. He had sharp features and a certain kind of gaze that would make me pick him out of a crowd. He was a vampire. He wasn’t a doctor or a nurse. It looked like he was a patient. It was hard to say. He had a bandage on his arm. He wasn’t injured.
There was some kind of bump under the bandage, but whatever it was, he’d faked it with magic.
Immediately, he caught my senses. I straightened and stared at him. I traced his gaze as it moved around the room. Three times it locked on the curtain that led to Melanie.
A doctor came over to talk to him.
I stayed outside of the curtain, but now I shrugged in.
Melanie didn’t ask me who the hell I was. She was still way too disconcerted. I clamped a hand on Sharee’s shoulder on the premise of giving her support – which I was. But I was also getting closer to Melanie. I smiled. I let my gaze dart down to her neck. There was a special kind of magical bandage over it.
I didn’t need to get any closer. Even from here, I could detect the specific scent of the vampire that had attacked her. “You want me to go get you a drink?” I whispered.
“I’m okay,” Sharee muttered between a few tears.
“I’m gonna go get you a coffee,” I spoke right over the top of her.
I walked out.
And there was that guy again. His eyes were locked on the curtains into Melanie’s section of the ward.
He didn’t look at me once. He was too focused.
A doctor came over to speak to him once more. I focused my attention on the conversation until I picked it up clearly.
The guy was discharged. That apparent nasty wound in his arm would heal quickly.
Yeah, I’m certain it would. Because the second he stopped casting the spell that made the wound appear on his arm, he’d be right as rain. Unless I got to him first.
I followed him as he turned around. Predictably, once more he turned, and once more he stared over toward Melanie’s bed.
I stopped right behind him, getting between him and his view of the curtains. His gaze flicked across me. I saw disdain in his pupils – and something more. Right there, right inside his eyes, I saw what I’d seen in that other vampire’s eyes. He was a predator. He was specifically the kind of predator who thought that he could do whatever he wanted. He could attack whomever he saw fit.
There was no one that could stop him. Because there was no one who could touch him.
I waited until he finally turned and walked out.
I remained behind him. His nose twitched when we reached the lobby, and he turned. “Can I help you?”
“No. I’m fine,” I said in a fake, wavering voice. “I’ve just been here with my friend. She was attacked by a vampire,” I blubbered innocently. It wasn’t that hard to do it. Believe it or not, this was the way I’d talked before I’d been bitten. And yeah, I could see the irony in that statement. Because the way I’d talked before… that had been what, two days ago?
I watched him stiffen with interest. He tried to hide it – but only minimally. “Your friend was attacked by a vampire? What happened?”
“Sorry, but—” I said innocently.
“I work for the local paper.” He shoved a hand into his pocket and pulled out his card. He pressed it into my hand. All the while, his gaze darted back toward the now-closed doors that led into the wards.
I looked down at his card. I slid my gaze over to his hands.
I could smell Melanie on him.
He would’ve pinned her up against the wall and bled her. And judging by the exact look in his eyes, he wanted to kill her. But he’d been interrupted. Now he wanted to finish the job.
I flicked the card up and down. “Wow, you work for the papers? And you’re honestly interested in the story? Because I feel it needs to be heard,” I stammered again.
I must’ve done a good job acting innocently, because he did not pick up on me. I fancied I could tell, see. If he became suspicious, his muscles would contract, his blood flow would change, and his pupils would slice toward me. He was still far too intent on hunting Melanie.
“Then I’m happy to get this story out,” he said distractedly.
“I’m about to go get a drink. Do you want me to tell you it now?”
He finally pulled his gaze all the way off the doors. He locked them on me. And there in his eyes I saw what I’d seen with that other vampire. He was finally coming around and recognizing that I was an easy target. His countenance toward me changed. He was no longer distracted. I swore his gaze darted up and locked on my neck at least three times. “Yeah, I could use a cup of coffee. There’s a nice café that’s relatively quiet nearby. It’s just around the side of the hospital.”
A nice café that was relatively quiet just around the side of the hospital? What was a café doing being open at this time of night? Yeah, you could get a cup of coffee from a vending machine from inside the hospital. There were no open cafés, though.
I just innocently smiled. I let him lead me out, not through the front doors, but out the back.
The whole while, I walked just a step behind him. It allowed me to lock my attention on him. Every muscle, every pound of his heart – all of it.
I allowed my nostrils to open as far as they wanted to go. He couldn’t see me, and I was certain that the move was controlled enough that he wouldn’t be able to hear it.
“Where is this café?” I asked in a falsely innocent tone.
“It’s not that far away.”
Even though I couldn’t face him, I knew that his eyes were darting around. And I knew why. The back of the hospital was still busy. He was desperately searching for a place where we would not be interrupted. He quickly found it. He stopped and slid his gaze to the left. There was some kind of loading bay. It was empty of people – at least. There were a whole lot of boxes. Some of them were stacked together, and they were high. If you got behind them, no one would be able to see you from the street.
“It’s just down here,” he said.
How stupid did he think I was? “Really?” I whispered.
“I mean one of the entrances is just down here. There’s a shortcut.”
Shortcut, my ass.
I prepared myself. Or rather, my muscles prepared me.
I knew what would come next. As soon as we were out of sight of the road, he would pin me up against the wall. Judging by how jumpy he was, he was going to drink me dry.
But he wasn’t ever going to get his teeth anywhere near my neck. I formed a hand into a fist. I didn’t let myself think of how far I’d come. I certainly did not let my mind tick back to what I’d done to that other vampire. I could let no doubt creep inside my consciousness.
Sure enough, we made it past the boxes. Then he grabbed my shoulder. His arm was in a sling, but he wrenched it out of the fabric so fast, it practically ricocheted off him. He pinned me up against the wall. With his other hand, he grabbed my mouth. “Stupid one, aren’t you?” he snarled.
My eyes opened wide in fear. Then I just dropped my fear like a 10-ton building right on his head.
His face twitched. “I’m about to drink you dry,” he snarled, taking pleasure in bringing his fangs close.
I stared at him, nonplussed. It was as if he were talking about the weather. But nonplussed couldn’t last. You see, my hunger was back. Because there was a vampire right there. Right in front of me. His circulatory system was just within reach.
“I’m gonna bleed you dry. I’m gonna find your friend, and I’m gonna finish what I started.”
I nodded. Then it was my turn to shove a hand onto his shoulder.
His brow condensed with confusion. “Give it up, little human.” He snarled right in my face.
And that’s when I shoved forward. I pivoted with my hip. I spun him around, and I rammed him against the wall. I repeated the move. I clapped a hand over his mouth. I opened my lips to say give it up, little vampire, but I stopped. I… was different from him. Dammit, I was different.
His eyes widened with terror. Then they narrowed as he tried to shove against me. Here’s the thing, he couldn’t.
I’d been holding back my magic ever since I’d drawn it from that other vampire. Now it would not be held back anymore. It darted up over my hands. It sunk into my fingers and made it all so much easier to keep him pinned.
As soon as he saw my force, his eyes opened so wide, I thought they’d fall from his head. I felt his lips moving from underneath my fingers. He stammered, “What?”
I brought my own snarling face close once more. “You’re never gonna get your hands on her again. You’re never gonna get your hands on anyone again.”
He stiffened so much, I thought his bones would shatter.
I could see his throat once more. What was I talking about? Ever since I’d locked eyes on him, my gaze had locked on his throat. And I couldn’t just see it. I could feel it. Every muscle, every cell, even. All of it just there, waiting for me.
When my gaze obviously locked on his throat, somehow he stiffened even more. “What are you?” he mouthed under my hand. He still continued to try to fight against me, but he couldn’t.
“What am I?” I wondered if I should tell him I was his worst nightmare. I settled for clenching my teeth. “Why did you go after Melanie?”
I expected him to say that he’d just seen her and she’d been a soft target, but he twitched. He also pivoted on his hip. It was almost as if he was trying to hide something in his pocket. I kept my hand over his mouth but yanked my fingers back from his collarbone. He immediately tried to jolt away from me, but I just shoved harder into him, using my magic to keep him pinned. Then I pushed my hand into his pocket. I pulled out his phone. I frowned at it. “Why were you trying to hide this?”
I glanced at it. There was probably incriminating evidence on it, but it wasn’t as if I had the password.
As I continued to look at it, he freaked out even more. It was this real visceral reaction. I could feel his terror ripping through his body. It was the equivalent of an emotional vampire. It was sapping him of power until I could pin him against the wall with so much ease, I could’ve done it for a year.
I continued to frown at the phone until suddenly, it rang.
He jolted. He almost pushed me off. I just shoved him harder. I slid my thumb across the answer button, and I pressed the phone against my ear.
“Have you done it yet?” a low voice asked. It was the kind of tone that was easy to listen to. The kind of deep rumble that would make a good late-night radio host.
I knew I couldn’t answer. Because this guy was a vampire, it was highly likely that whoever was on the phone was a vampire too. The second they heard my tone would be the second they would hang up. So I just kept the phone pressed against my ear.
The guy on the other end of the line didn’t think it was suspicious that I hadn’t answered. “We need more of the blood. You’re going to get it to me by Friday. Do you understand?”
I tilted my head to the side.
My vampire looked desperate. He was thrashing, but I just kept him locked in place.
“I don’t care how you get the blood. Just get it. That’s all.” The guy hung up.
I pulled the phone away from my ear. I hadn’t glanced at the screen much before, or at least I hadn’t taken it in. Now I did. I saw the name of the person who’d called.
I remembered shoving my thumb through his name when I’d grabbed that paper this morning.
That conversation had just confirmed everything I’d already suspected. He wanted blood. And based on the way he’d spoken – and the fact he’d called this murderous vampire bastard – he didn’t care where he’d get it.
Speaking of the murderous vampire bastard, he bucked against me once more. I finally pulled my hand off his mouth. “Scream, and I’m just gonna knock you out,” I snarled.
He panted. “What the hell are you? Who sent you? What vampire clan do you work for? Understand this, I work for—”
“Varn Thorne?” I whispered, my voice cold. “Yeah, I figured that out.”
He twitched. “You look like a mad bitch,” he snarled, “but no one takes on Varn Thorne.”
My eyes were hooded with shadows. It felt like my entire body was, too. The longer I was having to keep this guy pinned up against the wall, the more I had to fight against my hunger. Let me tell you, that was not easy. It was starting to climb through me. As it snagged hold of my heart, it shook it. It hissed in my ear in every language it knew that it was time to sink my fangs into this guy’s throat.
“It doesn’t matter what clan you work for,” he spluttered again, thankfully his voice not that loud. “Nobody messes with Varn Thorne.”
“I don’t work for a clan.”
“You think that matters? You think I’m not going to turn around and get Varn to find you? There’s no one in this city who can hide from him.”
“Who says I’m not gonna go find Varn Thorne on my own?”
He laughed. “There’s no way to get into his mansion. An ordinary vampire wouldn’t hack it.” He looked me up and down. “You don’t look like an extraordinary one to me.”
“Where is his mansion, anyway?”
“No matter. When I knock you out, I’ll just use your thumb to unlock your phone.”
He stiffened. Then a snarl marched across his lips, practically snapping them off his face. “There’s nothing you can do, Bitch.”
“You’d be surprised.”
His cheeks slackened then tightened. “What, you gonna bite me? One vampire biting another is frowned upon. Sorry, what do I mean?” He jerked his head forward, his neck muscles straining. “It ain’t just frowned upon in this town. Varn will kill you.” He put a lot of pleasure into his words, kill coming out in a violent rasp.
I made no move. Importantly, I didn’t let my gaze lock down on his neck, even though it wanted to – even though it was screaming in my mind to get a little bit closer, to open my lips, to let my teeth protrude.
“You’re going to give me information – you’re gonna answer any question I want. You’re gonna start with why you went after Melanie.”
He laughed. Then he licked his teeth. He had this big fat tongue, and as it pushed over his canines, he cut it ever so slightly.
And there, right there, I caught the scent of his blood. The knowledge of it exploded within me. It ricocheted through my mind, pounded down my neck, and sunk into my hands. I couldn’t stop it, and I clutched him tighter.
His eyes narrowed. “Definitely a vampire, then? It’s rare for you to be turned on by other vampire blood, though.”
“Is… it?” I forced myself to push those words out even though the last thing I could do right now was control my lips. They wanted to break free, wanted to lock around his mouth, and wanted to—
I shook my head, my neck as tense as it had ever been. It was like it was the Eiffel Tower, made of steel beams and not sinew and muscle.
If this guy had even an ounce of self-preservation, he wouldn’t be cutting his tongue and flashing it in front of me. But it was clear from the look in his eyes that despite the fact I had him pinned, he still thought he’d win.
I should’ve taken something from that fact, but I was far too overwhelmed by the feeling of his blood pounding up through his neck.
I was so overwhelmed, I almost forgot why I was here.
“I’m not gonna tell you a thing,” he finally growled. “Varn does so hate it when people share business information.”
“So it all comes back to Varn Thorne, does it?”
“Everything,” he laughed through his words, “comes down to Varn in this town. You’ll find,” he stuck his face forward, his cheeks becoming so stiff, you could’ve cracked eggs on them, “everything comes back to Varn Thorne in the entire damn country. He is the undisputed king. And there ain’t no one who can touch him.”
My lips wanted to snap open so I could say that I wouldn’t just touch Varn. When I got my hands on him, I’d damn well rip his throat from his neck.
… It took a few seconds for the true violence of that thought to settle. I….
Couldn’t go there. I still had to concentrate.
“I’m gonna tell Varn everything that happened here. A vampire going around biting other vampires – he’s gonna be real interested. He’s gonna find you in a matter of seconds. Then he will snap your neck.”
“Whoever said you’re gonna remember what happened here?” I snarled around my lips. They were starting to move like daggers. They even pointed toward his throat. I couldn’t… goddamnit, I couldn’t stop myself. I got that little bit closer. I was now drawn in by the scent of blood on his tongue. I couldn’t control myself. I would break. It was just a matter of time.
I kind of prided myself on my self-control. I had to, owing to the fact my life had been a long, torturous and sometimes embarrassing one. Every time I’d fainted in public, I’d always had to pull myself up, put a smile on my face, and get out of there.
But now my self-control was nonexistent. It wasn’t just crumbling before me – it was turning into desire, red hot and burning brightly in my chest.
He laughed. “I’m not gonna remember a thing? What are you? A median? Their victims forget the last few hours after you bite them, don’t they?” There was a truly singsong quality to his tone. It made it abundantly clear that, to him at least, he was still in control. The fact I had him pressed up against the wall was apparently immaterial.
I’d tell you what wasn’t immaterial. My lips dropped open, and for the first time they were slack. “A… median wipes the mind of her victim?”
“It’s amnesia from blood loss. But what’s this about a her? Most of them are men. Female medians aren’t just rare – they’re practically unheard of anymore.”
“… I see. So you’re telling me that if I bite you – sorry, when,” my voice trembled, “you won’t be able to remember the last few hours?”
His brow condensed down. Then he laughed. It was right in my face – this whooping affair that blew my fringe over my forehead. His breath stuck slightly. “Are you trying to pretend to be a median now? You don’t have the power.”
It was my turn to get closer to him. It was my turn to open my mouth, to let my breath cut across his cheek. “I’m not telling you I am a median – I’m gonna show you. But I will give you one last chance.”
His cheek twitched. But then he laughed again, and this time, it was twice as ribald. Though I could see just a glimmer of fear in his eyes, it was clear that the rest of his mind was trying to come to terms with my act. Because it had to be an act in his head, didn’t it? There would be no way that the frail little woman in front of him would be about to bleed him dry and wipe his mind. “Varn’s gonna come after you,” he defaulted to being vicious. His lips really snarled around his words. They whipped up over his gums as if they were gonna rip off his face. “I’m gonna be there. I’m gonna watch as he tortures you to death.”
“So all of the rot in this town comes back to Varn, does it?”
His cheeks twitched. “Didn’t you hear a word I said?” He shoved his neck forward until his muscles resembled rope. “Varn Thorne’s gonna kill you.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I crunched forward. I let my eyes widen. I also felt something building within them. It felt like circles of light rimmed my irises. “No,” I said, my voice dropping, trembling in my throat until it felt like it would rip through the earth. “I’m going to kill Varn Thorne.” As that promise broke from my lips, it broke from my heart, too. I don’t think I’d ever said something and meant it so much before. This wasn’t just my vampire greed talking. This was everything I’d learned about what Varn had done.
He was protecting vampires just like this bastard. And this monster had tried to kill Melanie. Then there was the guy with the dumpster. Just how much murder was going on in this town? Why wasn’t it making the news? Oh yeah, because assholes like Varn¸would be stopping it.
“Enough of this.” He suddenly smiled. He darted his hand down and grabbed something from his pocket.
I didn’t move fast enough. I was too consumed by what I was going to do to Varn. It was a big mistake. He suddenly thrust something into my stomach.
It was sharp, and I felt it push in, but the pain that should’ve been there wasn’t.
It allowed me to slowly crank my head down, my eyes falling a few seconds later. My gaze locked on the tip of some kind of dagger.
He was holding it, forcing it further into me. His eyes were round – two pinpricks of pure hatred. His lips kinked up, snarling over his saliva-covered teeth.
But… I didn’t fall back. There wasn’t even any blood. From deep within me, I could feel this crackle – this surge of magic. It rose through my body, then finally started to dart around the tip of the dagger.
He looked at it, then up at me, then down at it. It was not a comical move. It was one of the most terrified things I had ever seen. I watched as his cheeks paled – heck, as they practically began to vibrate. They trembled as he pulled his lips up over his teeth. “What—”
I couldn’t take it anymore. Hunger snapped through me. I crunched forward. I settled my teeth on his neck.
He had a single moment – one where I could feel his reality cracking. One where I swore he caught up to the situation. “No. You’re… you’re a median. It’s impossible.”
“But it’s true,” I snarled around my words. And I drank.
I didn’t drink him dry. But I kept him pinned up there until I could pull myself off.
I staggered to the side, planting a hand against the back of my mouth. Then I slowly pulled it back. And I stared at the blood. That’s when I surprised myself – and disgusted myself – when I leaned forward and licked the last few drops off my fingers.
I collapsed. Tumbling onto the ground, I locked my hands over my mouth. I stared over at the guy. I could tell he was still alive – I swore I would be able to feel his heartbeat even if I had moved a continent away.
But I’d done that. And I hadn’t been….
I shook my head. “You stopped yourself in the end,” I whispered, my voice trembling but my sentiment true.
I picked myself up. I staggered, but it sure as hell wasn’t because I was weak. Staring down, I realized the dagger wasn’t in me. At some point, the magic had pushed it out.
I clutched up the dagger. It had a strange curved blade, and I could instantly tell that it wasn’t made from an ordinary metal. As I flicked the tip, a few latent charges of magic sank into it.
He would’ve killed me. In cold blood.
I let my gaze slice over the ground toward him. It locked on his pale face.
And it darted down to his phone. I plucked it up.
I had no clue what I would find inside. More victims? That wasn’t a remote possibility. I’d seen it in this guy’s eyes. Who knew how much practice he had at hurting people?
I grabbed his thumb. I pushed it onto his phone until it unlocked.
I went to the recent call history. And there was Varn.
It didn’t take me long to thumb through to his contact list and find his address. There was a note underneath it. It was a string of numbers and letters.
I searched through his phone, copy-and-pasting that password into his emails. I soon found where it originated from. It purported to be the password into the back way of Varn’s mansion.
My lips kinked in satisfaction as I noted it and the address down. Then I wasted more time in looking at the guy’s photos. I expected to see his victims. He looked like the kind of gruesome bastard to document every act of viciousness so he could gloat over them later. But there was nothing. So I looked at his emails again. There weren’t that many. He obviously kept his phone clean. There was an inordinate number of messages, however, that spoke about livestock. At first glance, you’d think he was some kind of farmer, but as my stomach kicked, it told me that this was a code he used to talk about his targets. I read through several of them, but I had no hope of understanding them.
When I stopped, I stood above him, trying to figure out what to do next. Could I take the phone?
“It’s probably being tracked,” I muttered to myself. “It’s not any use to you, anyway.”
I went to discard it on his chest, but I thought better of it and quickly sent a charge of magic across it. Hopefully it would destroy any DNA I’d left.
I threw it onto his chest. It tumbled down and clattered onto the asphalt. Then finally I turned away.
I made it back to Sharee. I had no idea how long I’d been gone for, but she was too engrossed in caring for her friend to have noticed. I’d managed to pick up a coffee from a vending machine, and I handed it over. She grabbed it, clutching the Styrofoam so hard, I thought her fingers would perforate it. She turned to me, her eyes flooding with tears. “What kind of vampire would do something like this?”
I wasn’t thinking. My lips opened automatically. “Varn Thorne.” I had to be careful, because right now, I wasn’t controlling my tone. His name dripped out of my lips like poison.
She blinked back her surprise. I couldn’t tell if it was at my tone or my suggestion. “Varn? You mean that ancestral vampire? I mean, of course you do. There’s no one like him in town. Why would he do something like this?” There was real indignation in her voice.
It shocked me. Then again, she didn’t know what I did. I turned back to Melanie. I tried to hide the fact I was sniffing. It was getting easier to do that. I didn’t really need to move my nostrils that much. I just needed to catch the scent and draw it deep into my lungs to focus on it. “It was him. I’m sure of it.”
She clutched her cup just that little harder, her fingers sinking in and the Styrofoam squeaking in protest. “But he’s good.”
She said that in such an automatic way, it made me frown. I stared over at her. “He’s currently being investigated by the DA. I saw it in the papers this morning. It’s to do,” my lips tightened like screws over my teeth, “with using blood in illegal ways.”
She shook her head, a few scraps of fringe tickling around her cheeks. “I don’t believe that for a second.”
“But the DA—”
“You’re not the one who did criminology studies,” she reminded me. “You’re also not the one who works for a psychologist.”
There was no way I was suddenly going to stop believing in the fact that Varn was behind all of this. I’d heard his damn controlling voice on the phone. That low, rumbling tone would be with me for life. As would everything that vampire reporter had revealed.
“You know I’ve met him?” Sharee suddenly pointed out.
“What?” It was my turn for my voice to bottom out. I felt like I was channeling Varn. Channeling him without turning into a murderous bastard, that was.
She nodded. She looked down at the cup, her gaze apparently trapped in the wafting steam. “He’s really nice. He’s got this energy about him. He’s easy to trust.”
Of course Varn was easy to trust. Not only was he technically in a position of trust – or would be until the DA got him – but he was a vampire. A perfectly programmed predator who was there to lull his victims into a false sense of security. Then, when he had them exactly where he wanted, he could sink his teeth into their neck and be done with them.
I was damn lucky I wasn’t holding my own cup of coffee. Right now I would’ve crunched through the Styrofoam. Hell, a few charges of my magic would probably have leaped up and burned through the coffee, too.
Sharee was down on the chair. It meant it was easier for me to lock my hands behind my back and scrunch my fingers in. If you got close enough to them, you would have been able to hear the tendons moving in protest. It was like I was wrapping them in wire.
She turned her head back to her friend. She wiped a hand down her face. “I’ve met a lot of vampires in the past. Varn seems to be a truly caring one. Plus, I feel for his situation. I really doubt the DA knows what they’re talking about.”
“You feel for his situation?” My voice vibrated.
Usually Sharee was pretty good at picking up on people’s emotions. Right now she was strung out. So she didn’t hear the disdain dripping off my tone.
“Yeah. It’s not every vampire that could do what he does.”
“And what’s that?”
She looked up at me distractedly. “Hold back the dark.”
I couldn’t keep a straight face. My cheeks twitched badly. “Sorry… he holds back the dark?”
“Yeah. It’s to do with the clan he comes from.”
I opened my mouth, a trillion insults for Varn ready on my tongue. I wanted to tell her – despite how suicidal it was – just how I’d learned this. These weren’t casual facts. I’d heard the bastard’s voice, for God’s sake.
She gripped her mouth, her fingers sinking in. She pushed further back on her plastic chair until the legs groaned. Pressing her coffee cup close to her mouth, she spoke over the top of it, her breath pushing out, sending the steam billowing this way and that. It made it almost look as if she was speaking from beyond the grave. “Yeah, he comes from one of the oldest clans. They originate from the dark ages.”
“What’s this about holding back the dark?” I wasn’t even sure why we were having this conversation. It wasn’t like I could be convinced that he wasn’t a monster. But I guess it was good to know what he told other people.
“I don’t really know. It’s the family motto. I guess it has something to do with other magical creatures. His company is the biggest employer of other magical races, after all. Maybe he holds back their natural desires by giving them gainful employment or something?”
I blinked rapidly. I thought she’d been about to give me something real.
I opened my lips. I was about to snap at her, but I pulled my goddamn head in, and I did it so fast, I could’ve given myself whiplash. She was my friend. And she’d just gone through the hell of seeing her friend bitten.
I closed my eyes.
“You look tired,” she whispered. “You should head home.”
I looked over at Melanie. She wasn’t going to be attacked again. I’d dealt with that asshole.
But I still had to find out why he’d gone after her specifically. It hadn’t been on his phone.
Still frowning at Melanie, I parted my lips. “What does she do, anyway?”
“Melanie? She works in the archive office. You know that big one that deals with most government files?”
“I’ve heard of it. Where’s it located, anyway?”
“It’s underneath the primary library in town. It’s kind of boring work.” Sharee shrugged. “But Melanie doesn’t begrudge it. She kind of likes being down there in the archive office. It’s like a fortress.”
I gripped my mouth. I didn’t make it obvious. But I really pushed my fingers in.
There were only two possibilities in my head. That journalist had gone after Melanie by accident. Maybe she’d seen something. Maybe he’d confused her for someone else. Or there was another reason. It could have something to do with her work.
“What’s in the archive office, anyway?” I asked conversationally.
She shrugged as she took another sip of her coffee. “Like I said, it draws together all the old records from most of the government departments. It’s the biggest in the state.”
I nodded. Things started to slip into place. “Every government department? What about the police? What about the DA?” I added.
She shrugged. “I’ve got no clue.”
“Okay,” I whispered. It was a start. In the morning, I’d head there and find out exactly why that monster had gone after Melanie. And then? I’d pay Varn a visit.
I woke up the next morning. I hadn’t slept that much. But had I dreamed? Yes, I had. It had been more hunting. My body was practicing what I had to do. And it was….
I couldn’t finish that thought. I threw myself out of bed. I was sweating. I saw my reflection in the window beside my bed. Worse than that, there were a few crackles of magic around my neck, under my nails, and down my arms.
I heard a creak on the stairs as Sharee came up to my room. Based on the smell, she had breakfast – another one of those smoothies and toast.
I immediately cast around for a dressing gown, and I threw it on, getting it to cover my shoulders – and the magic crackling over them – just before she knocked and pushed the door open.
There was a shaky smile on her face. “I figured you’d need this. You probably—” she stopped as she looked at me.
God, I wasn’t still covered in magic, was I?
She tilted her head to the side. “You actually look really good. Your skin is really clear this morning. You said you were taking supplements – what are they?”
“Just vitamins someone suggested.” I kept my hands behind my back. Only when I was certain there was no magic crackling over them did I accept her tray.
She scrunched her lips together and looked at me. “I’m gonna go see Melanie again today. Will you be okay on your own?”
I looked at her. Yeah, I’d be okay. I didn’t know if other people would be okay around me, though. I sure as heck did not point that out. I nodded. “I’m feeling so much better already.”
“I’m so glad.” There was an edge of broken emotion in her voice. She would be fatigued from caring for people so much.
So it was my turn to care for her. I settled a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “There is absolutely no need to worry about me. I’ve got this.” I did not tell her what it was that I had.
She looked at me, that smile curling further up her lips. “You really do look great. I’m so glad you’re on your feet. Now, I better go.”
I nodded and waved. I remained where I was until she was out of sight.
I slid my gaze over to the food she’d given me. I did not want to consume it – I didn’t even know if I could consume it. The smell was so anathema to what I wanted to eat.
I placed a hand on my mouth. I pressed my lips lightly over my teeth. I stopped when I reached my canines. I secured my fingers against them. They weren’t sharp yet. Judging by the dreams and everything I’d practiced, it wouldn’t be hard to make them grow.
I took a shuddering breath. “There’s no denying it anymore, is there?”
I walked into the bathroom. I gripped the porcelain sink. I stared at my reflection in the mirror.
Sharee was right. I had changed. Seemingly overnight. My skin was so much brighter. So too were my eyes. Fortunately they weren’t glowing or anything, but I looked a hundred percent different to the thin waif of a girl who’d barely been managing to get by. And that thin waif of a girl had only existed three days ago.
I plucked my firm skin. Then I turned.
I knew precisely what I would do today.
I dressed. I usually rugged up before I went outside. I’d feel cold even on a bright sunny day. Not today. I picked my black jeans, a black high-necked top, and some flat shoes.
I didn’t even throw a jacket over the top. When I was done, I didn’t grab my bag. I shoved money in one pocket and my phone in the other.
I headed out. I had a cap and glasses on, but it wasn’t the same cap I’d worn when I’d attacked that dumpster vampire.
I remembered exactly where the archive office was. I intended to head there. But on the way, I saw something far more tantalizing. It was the vamp from last night. The journalist.
I still had his card on me. I’d shoved it in my pocket before heading out the door. I pulled it out now. For the first time, my eyes flicked down to his name. Justin Fawkes. It wasn’t a vampire name, but that didn’t mean a great deal. He was either a half breed, or he wasn’t from a clan.
He was walking across the street from me. I slowed down, coming into step with him, despite the fact he was across four lanes of traffic.
At one point, he looked up, and he looked straight at me. I waited for him to freak out. I waited for his pupils to dilate – for his heartbeat to thunder in his chest. I waited for any single sign of fear or recognition. But there were none. His eyes appeared to dart right through me.
I could suddenly feel something walking up behind me. It was a vampire. I didn’t freak out. With my hands in my pockets, I turned and slid my gaze up to his face. He walked up the street without glancing at me once. When he reached Justin, he crunched in close and sniffed.
Justin grabbed his neck, holding his palm hard against the point where I’d bitten him.
“What have you been up to?” his friend growled.
“What do you mean nothing? You’ve been bitten by another vampire. What kind of games are you playing at night?” He let out a lascivious chuckle.
“No games. All right? It’s nothing.”
“Why are you so defensive?”
“Because I can’t remember…” Justin began, but he stopped quickly.
I could practically hear his friend’s brow crunch down from here. “You don’t remember? You get drugged or something?”
Justin closed his eyes. “Probably.”
… Were medians that rare that they didn’t think it could be one – despite the fact Justin’s attack had all the hallmarks of one?
His friend crunched in close and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “You told the boss?”
“Of course I haven’t told the boss,” he hissed. “I’m already in enough trouble as it is. She got away.”
“You’re talking about your lamb, aren’t you?”
When I’d been reading through Justin’s emails, the word lamb had come up a lot.
Now I sunk my nails into my palms and dragged them back and forth. I’d show them a lamb. I would wander right up in front of them. Then I’d turn my fangs on their necks and show them how it felt to be livestock.
Yeah, it didn’t matter that I’d already bitten Justin once. If he—
I caught myself suddenly. If he what? Continued to be a murderous asshole, I would… kill him?
That thought flashed across my mind, and it stilled me to the spot. I became so stiff, I wondered if I would ever move again. My senses still worked, though, and they were still locked on Justin and his friend.
“You hear about Adam?” his friend asked.
“No. I don’t care about that unhinged bastard.”
“Well start caring about him. They found his corpses. His trophy dumpster,” the friend growled. There wasn’t anger in his voice – just a note of amusement.
“You’re shitting me?”
If I’d been stiff before, now I was on the edge of cracking.
So it had worked? The cops had made it to that guy – Adam, apparently – and they’d found the corpses?
That was the only thought that could thaw me. I’d done something good. I’d saved people.
It couldn’t thaw me for long.
The friend angled his head down, obviously getting a better glimpse of the wound on Justin’s neck. “You sure that wasn’t a median?”
I couldn’t move an inch.
Justin looked up at his friend, and even from here, I could see the anger playing in his gaze. “Can you just quit playing around? As if there are any medians in this town. Plus, though I can’t figure out who bit me, whoever they were, they were female.”
“Yeah, but they left their bite,” his friend noted. “Very few vampires do that. Medians, on the other hand,” his voice dropped low in a chuckle, “always leave little messages to remind their prey not to fuck with them.”
Unconsciously, I clutched my mouth. I let my fingers push between my lips. I caught one of my canines on the tip of my nail. It hadn’t pushed out yet, but it was there, waiting – ready for my command.
“From what I hear, you’d have no clue if a median bit you. No clue, apart from the fact that your vampire powers get cut in half for a month.”
Justin’s gaze flashed up to him. “I wasn’t bitten by a goddamn median, okay? You think I wouldn’t know?”
“Yeah, I don’t think you’d know. You would have absolutely no way of figuring it out. Your mind would be wiped with amnesia,” the friend tapped his head hard with his index finger. “Unless you were a true ancestral vampire, that was. Someone like Varn would be able to take it. You know medians used to be accepted by the ancestral clans? They used to work in unison.”
“Can we stop talking about goddamn medians? I lost my lamb last night,” he snarled. “She’s currently in hospital.”
“Then just go back and find your lamb again,” the friend crunched in close and growled in Justin’s ear.
“She’s being guarded. I got… I got interrupted by a cop.”
“You keep getting unlucky like that, and it’ll catch up to your throat.”
I didn’t know exactly what kind of a threat that was, but as Justin’s friend growled in a particular way, it made it abundantly clear that if anyone was going to catch up with Justin’s throat, it was this guy.
Justin stiffened. They’d started to walk, and I’d been walking in unison from the opposite side of the street. Now Justin came to a stop. “No one is as useful to this operation as me. Who finds most new targets?”
“Yeah, I do. And who’s found the best blood?”
“Yeah, I have.”
“But,” his friend said, a growl trembling over his lips, not in a weak way, but in the kind of way that put you in mind of an earthquake getting ready to roll, “nobody in this operation is indispensable. Keep that in mind. Now go find us a lamb.”
Justin paled. I wasn’t looking at him directly, but I could feel it. God, these senses were insane. He was across the street, but I was so tuned in to his circulatory system, it was like I was some kind of medical monitor.
“I can’t get that lamb, but I’ve got another one. A better one. I’ll get into the archive office today. I’ll find those files.”
His so-called friend clapped a hand on his shoulder and leaned in close. “Yeah, you will. Because this is your last chance.” With that, the friend walked off.
I just stood there, my hands opening then closing. I didn’t know if they were practicing grabbing the guy’s neck or just trying to hold on to something solid.
I’d just learned a lot. It rocked through my mind. It reminded me this was so much bigger than I’d thought.
I’d assumed I’d kept Melanie safe last night. But in keeping her safe, I’d just created another victim.
Justin stood there for a while. He checked something on his phone. Then he swore. He began to jog down the street.
I did not jog after him. I knew exactly where he was going. Anyway – I felt like I could track him across the city. It had to be something to do with the fact that I’d drunk his blood. As it pounded through my body, it must have brought me closer to him – locking my senses on him as if I was a targeting drone. Because I knew – I knew as he ran down a side street, then hooked a shortcut through some laneway. I knew as he reached the back of the archive office. I was 200 meters behind him, but it was irrelevant.
With my hands in my pockets, I clutched my phone. With the other hand, I clutched his card. I screwed it in tightly as if I was trying to make the damn thing implode.
As promised, the archive office was at the base of the library.
It was no surprise that Justin didn’t go in the front way. Instead, he flitted around the back, through a loading bay. Though I couldn’t see him, he stopped and sniffed the air. When he ascertained that there was no one around, he ducked in through a door.
I finally came across it myself.
My fingers paused on the handle. A shot of much needed moral reality caught up with me. Shouldn’t I be calling the police? I had credible evidence against a man – I knew that a vampire attack was about to occur. I was not an officer of the law. I couldn’t dole out vigilante justice.
But… I had to eat. I could not and would never get past that fact again. I might’ve only eaten last night, but the hunger was still inside me, vibrating up through my chest. I was satiated, but I could do with another snack.
And if the hunger was this bad even though I’d eaten recently, what would it get like if I didn’t eat for a while? What about a day or two? What about a week? What about a month?
At the thought of going a month without blood, I actually collapsed a little. My knees wobbled, and I fell hard against the door. The wood jolted as I pressed a sweaty hand against it.
I didn’t need to ask all of these theoretical questions when my body knew the answers. If I went a month without feeding on vampire blood, I’d be a shadow of myself – a walking corpse ready to die and succumb to her final weakness.
It would be way worse than when I’d put up with my blood condition.
Accepting my new reality – no matter how cruel it was – I finally opened the door and walked through.
There was no one around, including Justin. But I knew where he’d gone.
I paused a couple of times. There was a warren of corridors back here. I could hear – and smell – people moving around.
They didn’t cotton onto the fact I was here. I was as quiet as a mouse.
I… it’d taken three damn days for me to turn into a predator.
Just three days. And vampire blood.
As I closed my eyes and waited for several people to move out of the corridor through the door to my left, I wondered what would’ve happened if I’d come across vampire blood sooner. Would I have had to rot away for all of those years? I would’ve had a different life, right?
My lips cracked open. “Yeah, one of greed and desire.” As those words vibrated on my tongue, I turned.
I reached a set of stairs that led down to the archive office.
I could hear and smell people down there. And one of them was my target.
I inched down the stairs, as quiet as I could be.
I reached the door that led into the office.
I pushed onto my tiptoes and stared through the frosted glass. I could see Justin there. He was handing out one of his cards. I guess, as a reporter, maybe he had a legitimate reason to be down here. I did not.
I kept myself pressed up on my tiptoes, and my nostrils started to flare. Justin’s greed had just hit a fever pitch. Tilting my head to the side, I saw as his head darted to the left. It locked on an older woman in her fifties. She was bustling around with a library cart full of archive boxes.
I couldn’t hear the conversation, even as I pressed my ear closer. This door was thick.
No matter. I waited. Justin finished his conversation with the guy on the front desk. Then the both of them turned and walked through the massive stacks.
With my sweaty hand on the door handle, I finally inched it open. I pushed in. My heart trembled – but it wasn’t with fear. I’d never been the kind of girl to be good at sneaking around. I couldn’t control my nervous system. I’d freak out too much. When I played hide and seek as a kid, I’d always been found so easily, because I squealed any time anyone got too near. Now I was… I wasn’t okay, but I was functioning. And it was all because of the fact my senses were narrowed in on Justin like a tunnel.
I quickly flitted between several rows of stacks. They were these massive mechanical contraptions. They were cold to touch, and as I pressed my face against one, it was a welcome respite from my heat. Though once upon a time, I’d been glacial, now I was like a burning star. And the more I ate, the hotter I became. I was thankful that I didn’t melt the metal. Not that that was a distinct possibility. But giving in to my greed was. I caught a whiff of Justin again. More than that, caught a hint of his greed. Maybe it was pheromones – maybe it was his blood flow. But I knew that he was getting ready to feed himself.
My eyes opened wide.
I shrunk closer, and finally I heard the conversation.
“It’s really important for me to find these files,” Justin said in a falsely controlled tone. I remember that, because it was the same one he’d used on me when he’d been taking me to that supposed café. His words just slipped through the air like daggers.
“I understand that, sir,” someone spoke. It had to be the older lady from earlier. Her tone was fraying with patience.
There was a slight thump. At first, I freaked out and wondered if he’d just downed her, but then I realized it was softer and my hearing was just too accurate. Based on the other sounds accompanying it, it probably meant that he’d just placed a hand on one of the archive stacks. And from the way I heard the lady’s muscles twinge, I reckon he’d done it just behind her head. He’d be pinning her close now, wouldn’t he?
Well screw that.
I started to march toward them.
“Winnie,” he growled, “maybe you don’t quite understand. You’ve gotta get me those files, or we’re both dead. I’ve already been handed a warning from our boss. So now I’m handing one down to you—”
I froze. I’d just been about to reveal myself and end this.
Now I was closer to Winnie, I felt something I should have felt before. She was a frigging vampire.
“Listen to me,” she snarled. “I’m doing the best I can. But it’s hard as hell to get access to DA files. They’re not kept here – at least not the recent ones.”
“And I told you, the boss wants one from 35 years ago. So find a way to get it.”
“It’s in the secure vault. I will not find a way to get it. I need help.”
“No,” he growled. “What you need is a warning.”
She spluttered. “What are you gonna do, Justin? Bite me? One vampire biting another? You know Varn hates that.”
I heard him snarl – practically felt as his lips pulled back. “You think I care what Varn hates? Now find me,” he brought his hand back and pounded it on the stack behind Winnie, “those files. We have several days at most.”
“I’m doing my best. But my boss is a hard-ass. He won’t let anyone go into the vault without him.”
“Then your boss just became my next target.”
“What do you mean your next target?”
“I had a snack on one of your coworkers last night.” By the sound of it, he was playing with his canines.
“Justin, you idiot. You mean Melanie, don’t you?”
“Was that her name? I heard she could get me into the vault.”
“Did you bleed her dry?”
“No. I was interrupted. Now where’s your boss?”
“If there are two vampire attacks on archivists in the space of 24 hours, they’re going to figure out what you’re doing. Stop it and just leave it to me.”
He pounded on the archive stack behind her, the sound not carrying – or at least, it wouldn’t carry to a human. For me, it felt like it reverberated through my skull.
“Fine. I’ll leave it to you. But you’ve got hours, Winnie. You’re gonna do it today.”
He started to walk down toward my end of the stacks. I briefly pressed my back against one. Then I turned. I rushed down the stack but stopped. There was no way to get away – but I could go up.
I wasn’t agile. I shouldn’t need to tell you that. I’d never done sport. I’d barely exercised. Whenever I had to, I’d always come down with pounding headaches or fainted. Now was different. I let my magic guide me, and it guided me up. I climbed the stack like a ladder until I pressed myself on top of it. Fortunately I was narrow enough and it was wide enough that it hid me completely. I pressed myself down on top of the dusty metal.
Justin just walked past, muttering to himself.
It was only when he was gone that I jumped down deftly. I didn’t know who to follow – Winnie or Justin.
I had my mind made up for me when I heard Justin from the front of the room muttering something to the guy in charge. I couldn’t catch everything, but it sounded like Justin just wanted a word.
I’ll bet he did.
I edged forward, following them out of the archive room. I didn’t run out. I waited until Justin was out of eyeshot. I slipped up those stairs. I made it out of the back of the library.
I was still locked on Justin, so it was easy enough to follow him.
He’d taken the manager around the side of the loading bay.
I wasted no time now. Justin’s greed sang to me.
“Why are we here?” the manager asked in a confused tone.
“You’re about to have an unfortunate accident. Sorry.”
I put on a burst of speed. I came around the side of the laneway, grabbed Justin, and shoved him against the wall so hard, he crumpled. At the same time, I crunched in close behind the manager. I didn’t want him to see my face, so I secured my hand over his eyes. He went to scream. I just pushed my face close to his ear. “That vampire bastard was about to bleed you dry. I stopped him. But for your sake, I’d go call the cops. Go back inside. Don’t come out.”
With that, I turned him bodily around the corner, shoved him in the small of the back, and set him loose like a wild animal.
Thankfully, he scampered off back in the direction of the library without turning around once.
I could already hear him reaching for his phone. Which meant I didn’t have that much time. But I didn’t need it.
Justin was down on his front. I hadn’t hit him that hard, but combined with his blood loss from last night, it was obviously enough to keep him down.
I walked in behind him. I stared at his back. I didn’t know what to say. My lips wanted to do something else, see.
“Who… who the hell are you?” he snarled. “You got a death wish?” He was crawling forward. He went to turn around.
I secured a foot on his back. “Do you?” I tried to disguise my voice as much as I could.
He stiffened. “Do you have any clue who I am?”
It was easy enough to part my lips and whisper, “Do you have any clue who I am?”
Maybe he had a body-memory of what had happened last night. Because unlike last night, he didn’t keep pushing. He stiffened, terror clearly gripping him. “Are you the bitch who bit me last night? The vamp that went too far? You have no—”
“I assure you, I know exactly who I’m dealing with.” I opened my mouth wide. Was I just gonna give in to my greed now? Was it finally time to feed?
I’d never find out. His phone rang. I think I recognized the call tone from last night. It was Varn.
I stiffened, but it was nothing compared to what he did. I think I saw every single one of his muscles down his back and up into his neck contract. It looked like they would squeeze all the blood out of him.
“I have to answer that,” he stammered.
“All you have to do is stay exactly where you are and tell me—”
The phone vibrated in his pocket. At first it was slight, but then it started to shoot around as if it was gonna rip out of the fabric.
“I have to answer that, or he’s gonna answer for me.”
I opened my lips, but fortunately I didn’t say what was on my tongue, for, as promised, the phone answered itself.
I heard heavy breathing. “I’ve come to pick you up,” Varn said. And make no mistake, it was Varn’s sonorous, easy-to-listen-to voice. It wheedled into my mind, grabbed hold of my back and lengthened it with a snap.
Justin stiffened. “Boss, I—”
I crunched forward. I grabbed his mouth, stopping him from screaming about his situation.
It didn’t matter – it didn’t seem as if Varn was listening to him, anyway. “I’m outside the archive office. You will come, and you will get in my car. And there will be no complaints.”
With that, the phone hung itself up.
I slowly pulled my fingers back from Justin’s mouth.
He was blubbering. “There’s no way. I haven’t done anything wrong. There’s no way—”
“What the hell are you talking about? Why is it so bad that he’s come to pick you up?”
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he blubbered again, his voice darting up high and sounding as if it was about to shatter through his windpipe.
I couldn’t forget what I’d heard Varn say. He was just outside the archive office. He was also an ancestral vampire. If Justin kept screaming like this, Varn might be able to hear.
So I only had one option, didn’t I? I had to knock Justin out. And I had to ensure it happened in such a way that he wouldn’t remember me.
… Which was essentially giving me permission to feed on him.
I knew I didn’t have time to waste. Who knew how long Varn would hang around in his car for? But I… I was still fighting with that monster inside me. I was still fighting with the old Gina. The one who understood that what I was and what I was becoming was not good. I was a monster teetering on the edge.
I still had my hand over his mouth. I could hear him trying to scream underneath it. I didn’t know if the fear was directed at me or Varn, though. He had snapped when he’d heard Varn’s warning.
Maybe Varn was upset that Justin hadn’t been able to deal with his lamb last night, I thought viciously.
That finally let me do it. I remembered Melanie’s dead eyes. Then I remembered the corpses I’d seen in the dumpster, even though they weren’t Justin’s victims. They were, however, victims of this larger situation. I jolted forward. My teeth were out long before I settled my lips on his neck. I bit him.
He didn’t take long to stiffen this time. Nor did he take long to give up. He blacked out in under a few seconds. It was… it was easier to stop myself this time and draw away. I didn’t know if that was because I’d already fed on this guy. But as soon as he flopped, I managed to pull away. Don’t get me wrong – I still shook. I still had to press my palm against my lips. I still thought I was a complete monster.
As I pushed up, I didn’t shake. I did, however, stiffen. I could feel something. Someone approaching.
I stared around desperately. There was a dumpster. Above was some kind of grating. It was only two meters up. To the old me, two meters would’ve been impossible, considering my height. To the new me, I didn’t think twice. Especially now I was crackling with magic. I thrust up the dumpster, managed to grab the grating in one neat move, then pulled myself up onto the roof. I landed on it just before I heard those footsteps around the corner. I peered over the roof. And there… there I saw him.
The most powerful vampire in the city. Varn. A man who was meant to hold back the dark, but a man who was accepting it with open arms.
I could not appreciate now that this moment would change my life. Nor could I appreciate that it would change the lives of everyone in this city forever.
I knew I had to be careful. Varn wasn’t an ordinary vampire. He might be able to sense me. But… I could sense him. And that was the point. As he rounded the corner and stopped in front of the comatose Justin, one hand in the pocket of his long, Cashmere jacket, I….
I exploded inside. I damn well exploded. My senses came to a point. Then they began to rush through me in wave after wave of… something. I couldn’t describe it. This wasn’t the standard greed I faced around vampires. This was….
Varn got down just as I crammed a hand over my mouth and stopped myself from making a single noise. He ran his finger over the bite on Justin’s neck. He pushed his finger up to his mouth. He did not lick it. He simply sniffed. I could not see his expression properly. I was top-down. I was treated to a view of his head instead. So I didn’t know what his mouth was doing as he smelled that. I had no clue how much his eyes narrowed. He soon wiped the blood between his fingers. He pulled his phone from his pocket. “Justin’s had an unfortunate accident. Come and pick him up before we leave.” He turned the call off and shoved the phone back in his pocket.
Then he stiffened.
I… I knew what he was going to do. He was going to turn his head up.
So I jerked back. But then I inched forward. His head was still in exactly the same position. “Who’s up there?” he whispered. His voice did not carry. You would have to be a vampire to hear it.
God. No. I knew I wanted to attack Varn at some point, but not here. I could hear footsteps coming toward him. I didn’t know how much energy it would take to fight Varn, but I knew if I were to have a chance, I would have to do it in a surprise attack.
“I take it you bit Justin. A vampire cannot feed on another vampire – not in my town.”
I… there were a thousand reasons not to answer. But there was only one pushing me to open my lips and whisper. And that one reason was… the desire. The desire that thrummed through me now. It throbbed up through my throat. It pounded into my lips. It opened them up of their own accord. “This isn’t your city.”
He kept his head directed forward. Not once did he jerk it up. Reason told me that he was going to – any second now – but he kept staring ahead. One hand was still in his pocket, the other loose by his side. “I am responsible for the city. So that makes it mine, in a way.”
My lips ticked up into a snarl. The rest of me still trembled in his presence. “I know what you are. I know what you’ve done. And I—” I stopped myself. I wanted to scream at him that I’d come for him, but at the same time, I couldn’t push the words out. It was all well and good to think that I could attack Varn when all I’d had was a name, an address, and a memory of his face from the news. Now he was here in person… it was so much harder to conceive of ever beating him, let alone biting him.
“I can’t allow one vampire to go around biting others. Not in my town,” he repeated again.
“And I can’t allow one murderous vampire monster to bleed everyone dry. I know what you are. I know what you want. And I know how to stop you.”
He jerked his head up, but just in time, I threw myself backward.
And I ran. With all my damn heart.
With all my frigging blood, too.
I actually managed to get away.
I knew he wasn’t following. My senses had locked onto him with such minute awareness that I would’ve been able to tell.
I must’ve run so fast and desperately that his men hadn’t been able to follow, either.
I found a nice secluded laneway. I stood there with my back pressed against the wall, rocking breaths pounding through my chest. They pushed into my diaphragm, rattled up into my ribs, and shook into my lips. They were parted open, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to close them again. My hand was loosely clenched around my mouth, my fingers pushing in and touching my canines every few seconds, as if to check that they were there.
I didn’t know what to think. And I certainly didn’t know what to feel. I crammed a hand underneath my top and secured it on the flat of my stomach. I soon curled my fingers in.
I didn’t want to put into words the pang of desire that had ricocheted through me at the sight of Varn. The only thing my body wanted was to act on it.
He was unlike an ordinary vampire. And my hunger promised me that he would not taste like one, either.
“Jesus,” I stammered to myself as I slapped my cheek. It wasn’t a light move. It rang through the abandoned laneway. I did it again, but if I was hoping to slap my greed out of my body, I couldn’t. Nor could I remove the reaction to him. It was now in my flesh, baked into my bones, melted into my blood, and carved into my heart.
I tried to tell myself that I’d done good. I’d saved Melanie’s boss. I’d stopped Justin again. But….
“He knows your voice. And he’ll know your scent. You aren’t dealing with an ordinary vampire, you idiot,” I chided myself. I clapped my hands around my stomach and crunched against them. If I thought I could shut down just by curling in on myself, then I had another thing coming.
I darted my head up. I could feel movement. My nostrils flared. It was just a rat heading through one of the walls to my side. And yeah, I could smell that, despite the fact it was blocked off by double brick.
I closed my eyes again, more tears trailing down my cheeks. “You’re a monster,” I whispered.
I wanted to stay in this laneway forever. I wanted to rot here. But I couldn’t. I had to push myself up.
It wasn’t hunger doing it. I’d fed three times in the space of 24 hours. I was fine. I was better than fine. It felt like I could jump off tall buildings.
As I staggered forward, I stared at my hands. There was something to that thought. Without even closing my eyes, I remembered how Justin had plunged that dagger into me.
I’d hid it in my bag then thrown it off the dock this morning. I didn’t know if it could be tracked.
And that right there was the most maddening thing. Now I had vampire senses – now I understood viscerally just how accurate they were – I imagined most things could be tracked.
“I’m screwed,” I muttered to myself as I continued to stagger, my arms still around my middle. They were anchored there, holding me in place. Without them, I’d crumble. I felt like little more than a paper doll right now. A vicious wind – let alone someone’s prying fingers – could rip me in half.
Lo and behold, it started to rain again. The clouds had hung thick over the city for days now. It seemed appropriate – felt 100 percent right as the rain bashed into me. It was hard, and it came down in drenching sheets that marched across the street like a relentless army. The gutters beside me instantly started to churn water that gushed down the mold-covered walls. As I slashed through the puddles, I didn’t bother to pull my collar up further. I didn’t care. I wasn’t cold. I doubted I could ever be cold again.
“But you could be dead,” I found myself hissing under my breath.
That was a cold remonstration, but it was one I required.
Up until now, I’d been assuming I was invincible. Okay – maybe I hadn’t specifically thought that. But I had acted on desire and instinct alone, and I hadn’t tempered it with reality. Now Varn was looming in my mind, the greatest reality of all.
I ground my hand on my stomach again. Something was trembling inside me. It was this energy. I didn’t want to turn to it, didn’t want to face it, didn’t want to try to understand what it was. I had to run from it.
Wait. That’s it. That’s all I had to do. I could run. I could tell Sharee that I was going back home to my parents. Then I’d just… I’d get out of here. With my vampire senses, I’d be able to live a different life, right? I’d be able to find somewhere secure and just hunker down.
I grabbed my face and turned my nails in, raking them hard across my brow.
I knew I couldn’t stay here all day, wallowing in my self-pity. I had to pull myself away. So, staggering step after staggering step, I did it. I used the rain as my cloak as I finally made it home. I fell face-first on my bed. I didn’t want to wake again. I wanted this world to wither up and die. Because if it didn’t, I knew I would. Or worse. I’d have to kill to live.
Once more I dreamed, and once more they were wild. They were these visceral, painfully physical things. By the time I flung my covers off, it felt as if I had been running for hours. Feeding, too. There was even a little drool marking the outside of my lips. I wiped it off with a rough movement of my hand and pushed up. My senses started to go wild. Maybe it was because of my dreams. Maybe it was the fact I’d fed three times in the space of 24 hours. It didn’t matter. I started to become aware of different parts of the house. I could hear the roof as an owl landed on it. I could hear the rats in the walls. Hell, I thought I could even hear the rats in the neighbor’s walls. So it was easy enough to discern Sharee’s voice. She sounded like she was down on the couch. “You serious? And are you sure this is a good idea?” She was using that patient tone she often used on me whenever I wanted to push past my limitations. It was kind and caring and all, but it was pregnant with a warning.
I took a step over to the door. I went to walk out. Something told me she was talking to somebody important. But then I realized I was drenched in sweat. There were also marks along my hands from where I’d obviously been drawing my nails in and dragging them back and forth across my palms. I wiped the sweat off my brow and threw on a dressing gown, even though I wasn’t cold. I felt like the heart of a molten hot chunk of lava.
I reached the top of the stairs and paused on them, my hand rounding around the smooth, old banister.
“Melanie,” Sharee said with a long-suffering sigh, “of course I’ll go out with you tonight. But only if you’re absolutely sure that you’re okay.”
I scrunched my nose up. An image of Melanie’s dead gaze met me. Yeah, I’d learned in vampire studies that, even after a vicious attack, you could pick up with the correct medication – but going out after her attack was suicide.
I had no business listening into the conversation, but I still marched down the stairs. Sharee saw me and gave me the once over before drawing her thumbs up. She was obviously happy at how healthy I looked. I just crossed my arms.
“Look, okay, I’ll come with you. Especially if it’s to the Ring Master,” Sharee’s voice cracked with surprise. “But if you feel sick, we’re out of there.” She finally hung up. She looked at me. “You—”
I didn’t give her the time to finish. “What the hell is your friend doing going out after she was attacked?”
She looked a little surprised by my over-the-top reaction, especially considering Melanie wasn’t my friend. She shrugged. “She got an offer that’s kind of too good to pass up.”
My brow immediately knitted together. “And what does that mean?”
“You know the Vampire Association?”
I frowned even deeper, but I managed a nod.
“They heard about her attack, and as an apology, they’ve given her tickets to the Ring Master.” Sharee pushed forward on her seat. She bounced her legs up and down, formed fists, and tapped them on her knees. Even a fool would be able to tell that she was seriously excited. Fair enough. The Ring Master was the most prestigious nightclub in town. It only let in celebrities and the seriously rich. So why the hell would it let in Melanie and her friends?
“That sounds really suspicious and dangerous—” I began.
“It hardly sounds suspicious. The Vampire Association often hands out charity.”
I opened my mouth whiplash fast to point out that this wasn’t charity. Melanie had had no problem until a vampire had tried to kill her. This was buttering someone up.
She just got up and yawned. “I hadn’t exactly wanted to go out again tonight. But I guess I have to.”
“Don’t do it. Call her back and convince her not to go.”
Sharee laughed. “Convince Melanie not to go? Firstly, clubbing is her favorite thing in the world. Secondly,” she looked at me with an unshakable gaze, “this is the Ring Master. Sharee could be half on the edge of death, and she would still drag herself to it.”
“Fine,” I said automatically. “Tell them I’m coming.”
Sharee shot me the kind of look that deserved. I had to go back to the fact that Melanie didn’t even like me. Hell, she’d been the snootiest to me when I’d appeared outside that café the other day.
“What are you talking about?” Sharee frowned.
“I don’t like the idea of you going on your own.”
“Look, she did tell me I could bring someone, but you’re—”
If she was about to tell me that I wasn’t in any condition to go, it was damn apparent that wasn’t the case.
She flicked her gaze up and down me again. “I mean, I’ve got to say, whatever you’re taking is doing wonders for you. You look like twice the woman you were last week.”
I pressed my tongue against the top of my palate. It was that or point out that I wasn’t twice the woman – I was twice the vampire. “Message Melanie and tell her I’m coming. I’ll go get dressed.”
Sharee blinked back her surprise. Me, I rounded my hands into tight fists as I strode back up the stairs. I threw some clothes on. Screw this. Some vampire was up to no good. It couldn’t be Justin, could it? It was damn obvious he had deep connections into the vampire community. It wouldn’t be hard for him to get someone tickets to the Ring Master.
I would assume, having bitten him twice, that he would be down and out for a while. But if he was going to try to attack Melanie again—
I formed a fist. I smashed it against my wardrobe. It was not a calculated move. Worse, I had no idea of my strength these days. I didn’t just crack the wood – I splintered it.
I waited, poised on the tips of my toes to turn around and hide it if Sharee burst into the room, but she hadn’t heard it. I put a chair in front of it, hit it with some jackets, then finished off my outfit. I didn’t look at myself in the mirror once. I didn’t damn well care.
I strode back down the stairs to find that Sharee was ready. She was bouncing from one foot to another. “I mean, we’re actually going to the Ring Master.”
I just shot her a dead-eyed gaze. Yeah, we were. But this was not going to be fun.
She called a taxi, and we got to town in good time.
I wasn’t taking any chances anymore. I sniffed the taxi driver before we got in. He was just an ordinary guy, and thankfully he wasn’t that chatty. I wouldn’t have had the brainpower to talk to him, anyway. I had to focus on what was going on here. I kept going over everything I’d learned, over and over again as if I was trying to carve these facts into the face of reality. By the time we made it across the road from the Ring Master, I was paying so little attention, you could’ve whacked me over the head and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Sharee paid the driver, shoved in close, and pushed her arm through mine. “This is the first time you’re going clubbing, isn’t it? Since…” she trailed off.
I didn’t need a reminder. Once upon a time, what she was talking about had been one of my most painful memories.
I’d liked this guy. We’d gone clubbing. And I had thrown up all over him. Then I’d fainted onto a table and it had broken in half under my weight. The paramedics had been called. And my face had been splashed over social media for weeks afterward.
When I’d always winced at that memory, now I just thrust it to the side. I had far bigger fish to fry.
Sharee caught up with her friends. They didn’t offer me a second glance. They probably didn’t recognize me now I was out of my massive jacket, cap, and glasses. It wasn’t like I was being particularly friendly, either. I was staring ahead. Most of my focus was locked on my senses. I was fully aware of the fact that vampires were inside this club. Hell, it felt like they were inside my head. My sensations of them were that precise.
We didn’t have to wait in the long line making it around the block. I think Sharee would’ve preferred to wait, frankly. There were bona fide celebrities in that line. But we were allowed straight in.
I think I’d seen pictures of the Ring Master on the Internet. They didn’t do it justice. It was an old electricity substation. It was all concrete and tall pylons with a really high ceiling. It made it echoing. You’d think that would be the worst thing for a club, but whoever the sound engineers were, they must’ve been worth their weight in gold. As I strode in, the beats throbbed up my legs. They shook across my heart, high into my mouth, then down my back. It was like an embrace – like the music was grabbing me from all corners. It wanted to pull me onto the dance floor. But I was far too focused for that.
As Melanie virtually lost her mind at the sight and everyone else ogled all the celebrities, I subtly sniffed the air. It was…. I couldn’t describe it. Because if I described it, I would have to set my mind to focusing on it. If I did that, I felt like I would lose control.
I told myself that I only fed on bad vampires, but as one came past, blind drunk and with a cut down his thumb from where he’d broken his glass, I still stiffened as if he was the greatest sin in the world.
I could hear things from around the room. It was this ungodly cacophony of voices, the clinking of glasses, even the passionate meeting of lips.
It was almost too much.
Too damn much….
Sharee grabbed my hand, probably subconsciously realizing that I wasn’t up for this and assuming it was just my sickness. She tenderly tightened her grip on my fingers and led me as we went past the dance floor. There were several mezzanine layers, and I expected we’d go up there, but we went directly to the side of the main dance hall. There were booths. Most of them were packed. And if I thought I’d seen celebrities outside, they’d been nothing. There were several movie stars in here. There was a pop star or two. And there were bona fide vampire models.
Melanie was honest to God weak at the knees. I couldn’t tell you if that was the celebrities or the fact she’d dragged herself out of a hospital bed to go here.
I had no clue who’d given her these tickets, but I would find out, and I would barrel them up against a wall.
I didn’t need to finish the second half of that thought. All I had to do was wet my lips.
There would’ve been a time not so long ago when I would’ve thought that was disgusting. Now I couldn’t think properly. My senses were far too engaged. Another vampire walked past. He had a strange scent. It almost made me want to follow him, but before I could turn my head around, Sharee just tightened her arm through mine and led me forward. It looked as if we were in one of the most prominent booths. The bar was just there and the dance floor only a few meters away. It was loud, but the other girls didn’t seem to mind. I sat on the edge of one of the plush leather chairs, my hands dangling loosely between my knees. I’d specifically worn jeans. No heels, either. Something had told me I was going to fight tonight.
Who was I kidding? I’d come here to feed, hadn’t I? Yeah, I wanted to keep Sharee and Melanie safe. But there was only one way I could do that.
My brow was suddenly sweaty. I pushed my hand over it. I was glad that these downward lights were dim and it would make it harder for people to see my exact condition. No one was paying too much attention to me, anyway. Melanie was waxing effusive about the experience, saying it had been almost worth it to get bitten by a vampire. At that point, I sliced my gaze over to her.
Worth it? If the cop hadn’t interrupted, Justin would’ve bled her dry. She might not appreciate that, but I’d bitten him enough times to know his mind.
I started to get jittery. All of these sensations – the sights, the sounds, these feelings – they were getting too much for me. I pushed up. But that’s when my strongest sense of all went wild.
Some smell struck me. I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was. All I could tell you was that it was one of the most powerful experiences I’d ever had. I felt like the universe itself suddenly narrowed in until it was just me and that scent. Everything else dropped away as if it had always been irrelevant, anyway.
As I stood there, my hands slowly twitched, clutching into bloodless fists. Then the tension ran up my arms. It pushed into every muscle then climbed, climbed to my neck. It shoved into my mouth. It almost pushed my incisors out, but at the last moment, I clamped my lips hard.
And that’s when I heard something from behind me.
Someone had just walked up to the booth.
“Oh my God, it’s him,” Melanie said. There was the sound of scattering heels and the rumpling of a sequin skirt as she pushed to her feet. She wobbled, but clearly didn’t care as she thrust her hand forward.
“I’m glad to see you here,” a certain deep, sonorous voice shook out from behind me.
It was him.
He was right behind me. Right behind me.
“Oh my God, you didn’t tell me that it was Varn Thorne who gave you these tickets,” Sharee hissed in Melanie’s ear.
“As one of the clan leaders in this city, I feel indebted to make up for your unfortunate incident.”
Unfortunate incident? She was almost killed. It’s unfortunate when you stub your toe. It’s unlucky when you lose your wallet. It’s damn well criminal when someone tries to kill you. And it’s worse when someone else – their boss – tries to gloss it over with tickets to a frigging nightclub.
My hands had already been clenched. Now I scrunched the fingers in, further and further, further and further. I didn’t really care if I pushed them right through my palms. I would do anything to push away this tension as it marched through my body, sank around my neck, and threatened to strangle me.
“I can’t believe it’s really him,” I heard several other patrons whisper excitedly as they walked past.
I sliced my gaze over to them. I… I had to move. For several reasons. Now I’d found out that Varn had been the one to lure Melanie here, I had to get all the girls out of here.
And I… I had to leave. What if he could pick up my scent?
He’d known I was up on that roof. He could have been reacting to movement – but it could have been a far more accurate scent that had placed me there. I was a sitting duck. But I couldn’t move a muscle.
Worse… I swore something was happening to me. This uneasy wobbly sensation was pushing through me. It was starting in my knees, climbing up my legs, twisting around my hips, then making it up my spine. It was unsettling me, one muscle at a time. By the time it reached my mouth, I didn’t feel like my fangs would come out anymore. I felt like I would faint.
“I know that this can’t go much of the way to making up for what—” Varn began.
I lost it. The strength that had been pulsing within me ever since I’d woken up shattered. I lurched to the side. I didn’t choose to – my neck became wobbly, my head lolling as if it had been attached to my body with a limp rag.
There was a barman carrying drinks right beside me. I fell face-first into his tray. Alcohol splashed around me. But it wasn’t over. I twisted my knee at just the wrong moment, and I fell against some vampire moving past. I knocked him over and fell face-first in his crotch.
Screams erupted – laughs too.
I didn’t pay attention. Not a thing. I… had to get out.
I couldn’t begin to understand why I was weak, but it felt a little like what had happened back when Sharee had pointed out I could be hallucinating. I’d been riding on a cloud of power until that moment. But as soon as she’d brought doubt into my mind, I’d gone weak at the knees.
What was happening to me had to be that. Because there was another possibility – but I couldn’t face it, not in a million years. What if Varn’s mere presence was unsettling me? If it was, then every plan I’d made was irrelevant. I had to run. I had to get out of this town now. So I did it. I pushed up.
Sharee had just lurched down to grab me, but I just ran. My senses at least allowed me to dodge through all the laughing people.
I didn’t run at my full speed – I didn’t have my strength available to me anymore. I was still wobbly, but I made it out of a side door just as some staff member was lugging in a case of alcohol. He snapped at me for shoving past, but I didn’t care.
I reached it. The outside world. Fresh air.
This door was close to the road. I paid no heed. I thrust forward. I was vaguely aware of the fact that a car was coming fast around the corner. I was aware of it like on the edge of sleep you’re vaguely aware of who you are. It’s a distant fact. One that doesn’t matter.
This one did matter.
I jerked toward the car.
It didn’t have a chance to knock me flat and kill me. Someone – someone strong, someone with the grip of an ancestral vampire – grabbed my wrist and pulled me around. My hair, covered in sweet dripping alcohol, slapped across my cheeks and blocked my view as I came to a stop. I was leaning away from him, but he still had my hand. He yanked me up, and I momentarily fell against his chest. And that’s when it struck me again.
I didn’t need to tell you this guy was just someone. From the second he’d appeared behind me, my body had recognized him on every level. Varn.
“Are you all right?” he asked, that sonorous voice now right there in his chest. I was treated not just to the sound of it, but the feel of it. As it shook up and reverberated, it pushed into me. I swore it was the kind of voice that could slip past even the strongest defenses.
It took me too long to realize he’d actually spoken words. My body was trying to convince me that he didn’t speak to convey anything but the deep throbbing power that pushed up from within him.
I had to pull away. I tried, but dammit, I was still weak. At least I jerked back a little. A few strands of wet hair fell from my eyes. And there he was.
Everything I had told me he’d recognized me. He would only have chased me if he’d realized I was the very vampire median who’d attacked Justin.
But his expression—
I would never find out what his expression was. There was a scream. It was bloodcurdling. It had the edge of someone who was trying their hardest to avoid death.
He whipped his head around in the direction of it. “What—”
My nostrils flared. He was no longer looking at me, but I could see the side of his face. It was at the exact moment that his nostrils flared, too.
A vampire had… some vampire had just fed. I was certain of it. My gut churned, my back lengthened, and my free hand curled into a bloodless fist.
Now I was standing, he dropped my wrist. There were more screams from inside the bar. He took one last cursory glance at me, his gaze so quick, I couldn’t judge what emotion was behind it. Then he thrust back into the club.
It left me standing there, cold but somehow getting stronger by the second.
It couldn’t have been his mere presence. He was a fundamentally weakening force. But something had reversed the process that had been robbing me of power. Once more I was feeling like the median I should be. I stood straighter. My head angled up. I sniffed once more. I was 100 percent certain that a vampire had just fed inside the club. I swore I could practically hear blood still dripping down their fangs.
The last thing I wanted to do was run back into the club, but I teetered on the edge of the doorway, my hand gripping it, my fingers sinking in against the wood tightly.
But that’s when I smelled something. I opened my nostrils wide. I even closed my eyes, getting rid of every distraction as I let that one sense take complete hold of me. Waves of contractions pulsed through my stomach, up my back, and into my face. I found myself naturally jerking my head to the side, following something my eyes would never be able to see. The vampire who’d just fed – he ducked out of a window in the bathroom.
I twisted to the side, following him. I took a few jerked steps. Then I jolted into a run. I would’ve looked like a lame tiger who’d just forgotten all hints of injury.
I pushed myself faster than I ever had before. It didn’t feel like my weaknesses would return ever again.
The vampire had come out of the side of the building. I couldn’t reach it from here. I would have to loop all the way around the front, and I didn’t want to do that. But as my nostrils opened wide, I kept a lock on him. I swore it could start raining – coming down in a torrential downpour – and it wouldn’t matter. Nothing – I mean nothing – would get between me and that scent.
My nostrils flared just a touch wider again, and as I breathed deeply, I drew it into my lungs and held it there. I even somewhat disgustingly licked my teeth. My canines were already out. They were the sharpest they’d ever been. Heck, they were also crackling with magic. It was darting up around them, sinking into my gums, and playing through my mouth.
I put on another burst of speed. I finally found a gap between buildings. I pushed down it. Right at the end, I caught a glimpse of the vampire. He was tall, lanky, and wearing half a suit. His pants were expensive, and he had a gold watch on. He also had a pristine white shirt – sorry, one that would’ve been pristine had it not been covered in blood.
As I sniffed again, I realized it was human blood. It belonged to a male – maybe in his early twenties.
And from the smell of it, it wasn’t just fresh arterial blood. It smelled like the vamp had gone to town on his victim – biting him in multiple places.
I now formed such a tight fist, I could’ve made my knuckles explode.
I ran as fast as I damn well could. Finally the pound of my footfall must’ve caught up with the guy. At the mouth of the laneway, I saw him turn and incline his head toward me. Though I was certain he couldn’t see my eyes, I could see his, and I could feel as they dilated, taking in more light to try to find out who was tracking him. He opened his lips with a spluttering move. “Piss off,” he snarled.
“No,” I snarled back.
He ran out onto a road. He darted across it using skills only a vampire could.
But I had those exact same skills – on overdrive. A taxi had screeched to a stop not to hit him. I flung myself over the hood, landed, then pushed in front of a truck before it could stream past. The truck driver probably didn’t even see me – I was that quick. I reached the railing, jumped over it, and landed. I’d already cut the distance between me and the vamp by half. He turned, stared at me, balked, and threw himself down another dark laneway.
I pushed on after him. When I reached it, he’d seemingly disappeared. But he hadn’t. He’d opened a doorway halfway down and thrown himself in.
It felt like there was nothing I couldn’t track. These senses… I didn’t feel even mildly human anymore. Because the human mind was not built to deal with this kind of information. If I hadn’t transformed, and I’d been assaulted by this kind of data, my mind would’ve exploded.
I reached the door. I wrenched it open. I pushed down to see some rickety old stairs that led into some kind of basement.
The vamp swore. Then he snarled.
There were no lights on down here. That didn’t damn well matter. I could see in the dark. Heck, I thought that I could see better than I could even in the light. I threw myself down the stairs. Halfway down, I hit water. Fair enough – it had been raining heavily for several days now. It was well known that basements in this city flooded unless they were well reinforced and drained.
The water stank. It had this real moldy quality to it. There were other strange chemical scents in it too – maybe an amalgamation of old paint, methylated spirits, and some kind of plaster breaking down.
If I had jumped into a toxic stew like this four days ago, it would’ve made me sick for a month. I didn’t think twice about it now. I was already down to my knees in water. I jumped off the last stair, and the dark water lapped up to my hips.
This basement was a lot like a warren that branched off in multiple directions. The main room had several stacked shelves – or at least, above the waterline. And my nose had been right. There were old floating paint tins strewn near the shelves. There were also reels of molded wallpaper. One floated past me. Even without any light, I could see the pattern on it. They were these old poodle dogs with eccentric hairstyles.
I took one look at it, sniffed, half closed my eyes, and realized the guy had moved to another section of the basement. I headed directly to it. I flung the door open. This part of the basement was even lower. As I pushed down into it, the water was now at breastbone height.
The guy was on the other side of the room, struggling with another door. With the door handle in his white-knuckled grip, he turned over his shoulder. He snarled at me. Then he sniffed. He jerked his head to the side. “You’re not even a vampire. What the hell are you doing following me?” He promptly dropped the handle. He was much taller than me, and it was easier for him to walk toward me.
I remained exactly where I was, the water lapping up against my chest.
… He couldn’t smell that I was a vampire?
He strode toward me again, and the sound of the water lapping off him reverberated in my head. He got about a meter in front of me, then he sniffed. His nostrils opened all the way out, twitched a little, then closed again. They were like groping hands. They were nothing compared to the sick smile that suddenly flattened his lips and jerked them higher towards his cheeks. “You’re not even a vampire. What are you? Somebody with a death wish?”
“What do I smell like to you?” I asked innocently.
I took a step back. It wasn’t because I was scared of him. I didn’t want to freak him out. I needed to act exactly like scared prey – even if I had thrown myself across the street, diced death with a truck, and swum through a moldy basement to get to him. “Would I smell that way to all vampires? Even ancestral ones?”
To him, at least, that question would’ve come out of nowhere. He tipped his head back and laughed. It was this real guttural whooping affair. He took another step toward me. I backed off dutifully, playing my role as innocent prey. I clutched hold of the banister beside me and started to walk backward up the stairs, the water lapping around my hips and playing with the loose sides of my top.
“You smell like a human because you are human. Now—” he snarled.
I could see the light glinting off his teeth.
I had more I wanted to question this monster. First I wanted to see something.
I turned right around and threw myself up the steps. I didn’t use my full speed. I didn’t want to give this guy the impression that I could get away from him. Do that, and he would start to question his conclusion that I was nothing more than some frail idiotic human.
I even let out a slight delayed scream as I pushed back into the main basement. It should have been hard to thrash against the hip-high water, but it was easy. I was like a bullet from a gun. You could shoot me at anything, any substance, any wall, and I’d just rip right through.
There were a couple of old wooden crates in here. They floated around me. I pushed past them, but the guy finally reached me. He grabbed me by the collar, ripping my blouse. There was no wall to pin me against, so he just shoved his teeth toward my neck.
I had no clue what would happen if a vampire bit me. It kinda sounded sick, but I wanted to find out. I’d had no clue they couldn’t smell me, see.
As his teeth punctured my skin, I waited. I knew from experience exactly what happened when a vampire drank. But drink he did not. He froze. It felt as if someone had just injected him with concrete. I felt his lips twitch. It was a twitch that was repeated down his entire body. It contracted every single muscle in a wave of pure dread. I sliced my gaze down to him. The lack of light was immaterial. I could see his expression. His fear opened up across his face as if it was a crack in the earth. “Median,” he spoke around his teeth.
“Yeah,” I whispered in a somewhat disconnected voice.
I pulled him off my neck. I shoved him to the side. It was as easy as 1-2-3.
He splashed into the water. He pushed back up, but he was wary. In the darkness, I watched his eyes round with palpable fear. It practically vibrated through him. Who was I kidding? It didn’t practically – it did. As his heart pounded, emotion and fear shook his entire body. It looked as if he was going to fall over headfirst into this toxic brew of water.
I stood between him and escape.
It was clear that he understood escape wasn’t a possibility, anyway. He shoved his hands up. Opening his fingers wide, I thought he would tremble enough that his frigging arms would fall off. “I didn’t mean to attack you, Median,” he said, his voice shaking worse with every single syllable. “I had no clue. I—”
“You couldn’t smell me,” I whispered.
He looked up at me sharply. “You can’t smell full medians,” he spluttered. “If I’d known. I—”
“But female medians aren’t even meant to exist anymore, are they?” I parroted something I’d heard before.
His lips twitched. “How—”
Though all I wanted to do was feed on this guy, and my hunger was about to get the better of me, I had to slow myself down. I needed to find out what he’d done, anyway. I sniffed at his shirt. It didn’t matter that the water had lapped at it and started to dissolve some of the bloodstains. There was still enough information there that with one more sniff, it took me back to when this vampire had fed. “Why did you feed on some poor guy?”
His lips twitched. “We’ve all got to eat.”
“But there are vampire blood banks. Why did you feed on him?”
“The same reason you feed on us,” he snarled, but it didn’t last long, and he quickly dropped his angry act when he presumably reminded himself of what he was up against. “It’s just the way we are.”
There was something about him. As I tilted my head to the side and sniffed again, I got the impression that he wasn’t telling me the full truth. “Someone… someone sent you to feed on him, didn’t they?” I was well aware of the fact that my eyes would be shining with magical light. I could feel it – honestly sense it as it traced around my irises. They tickled as if I had just outlined them with a pen.
The guy twitched. “There’s no way—”
“If you’re about to tell me that there’s no way you’re going to reveal why you attacked that guy – remember what I am.”
Somewhere at the back of my head, I caught up to what I was doing. I heard myself. And a part of me shriveled up and died. The me from four days ago would not have been able to imagine this. She wouldn’t have even been able to believe it in her wildest dreams. I was… I’d moved beyond a monster. I was threatening this guy. Yeah, it was for a good cause, but the point was, I was no longer recognizable as Gina. I had turned into something else completely.
His eyes boggled wide. I could hear the skin around them straining. “There’s no way I’m going to tell you. Just bite me and get it over with.” His teeth clenched.
“You’re gonna tell me everything,” I warned. I didn’t have to follow it up with any particular threat. My mere presence was threatening enough.
Sure enough, he jerked back. While he’d been pretending to be strong seconds before, as I opened my mouth and revealed my own canine teeth, he trembled back. “There’s no way I’m going against him. You understand me? I do that, it will be worse than death. So do your worst, Median. Drink if you have to.” He grabbed his collar and ripped it down, revealing his neck.
I stared at it. I wanted so much to crunch forward. My hunger was getting the better of me, but my reason caught up just in time. “Varn Thorne,” I hissed.
His lips twitched. “What about him?”
“He’s your boss—”
He shot me a confused look.
I opened my mouth to point out that I already knew who his boss was, and it had to be Varn, but that’s when I heard something from the laneway outside. It was heavy footfall. God, what if it was Varn’s men? Worse, what if it was Varn himself?
That slight distraction was all the guy needed. He pulled something out of the back of his pants. The next thing I knew, he stabbed it in my back.
The last time I’d been stabbed, it hadn’t hurt me. The pain had been nonexistent. This time I wasn’t so lucky. I felt it, all right, and it was the most excruciating experience of my life. I screamed. I was loud, but I wasn’t as loud as him as he spluttered and jerked back. He staggered a little, his eyes opening wide in surprise, then his lips jerking high. “Shit, you’re still a new median. You only changed recently, didn’t you?”
I stumbled around. I tried to clutch the dagger, but my whole body was becoming stiff. The cold water that hadn’t bothered me at all previously now threatened to be my grave.
His eyes opened even wider. “Who turned you? Where did you even come from? How did someone get to your age without realizing they’re a median?”
I heard his questions, but it wasn’t like I was ever going to answer them. I finally grabbed hold of the dagger. I went to pull it out. He crunched forward. It was damn clear what he was going to do. Now he had discovered my weakness, he was either going to chop me in half, or knock me out. And who knew what would happen when I woke?
A blast of desperation sailed through me. I tried to call on my magic – I used every last trick I knew, but he still reached me before I could grab that dagger. He sunk his fingers around it. Based on the gleeful expression he shot me, he was about to rip said dagger all the way up my back. And believe you me, he had the strength to fight against bones. He could probably cut the wall behind me in half.
With a snarl right by my ear, he pulled the dagger up. Just at the last minute, before he could start to carve up my internal organs like they were nothing more than a chunk of bark, I shoved into him. I screamed, a few splatters of blood splashing from my lips. I found the strength to shove him back. Then I reached around. I grabbed the dagger. He warily got up, but he sure as heck no longer looked content to run. He had me exactly where he wanted me. “You poor little thing,” he said in a singsong tone. “You probably don’t even know what’s happening to you. Because if you’d had a clue,” he looked me up and down, “you wouldn’t be out on the city streets making trouble.”
I staggered to the side, but dammit, I kept standing, and I kept my grip on that knife.
He began to circle me, the sound of his body splashing through the water filling up my world.
He snarled again, the move practically ripping his lips up over his teeth. “A new median like you needs a lot of rest. You also have to learn how to control your hunger between feeds. If you don’t do that,” he brought his hands off his chest, “you undermine your fragile growing magic system. But look at you. Vampires will even be able to smell you between feeds.” He sniffed and took delight in what he found, his lips kinking high. “And here you are with me, between feeds,” he said, his lips snarling around those words.
He put on a burst of speed. I slashed out wildly with the knife. It was way too slow. He reached me, sunk his elbow into my stomach, and sent me back. I splashed into the water. As it closed in around my head, I thought this would be it. It wasn’t. He pulled me up by the back of my collar. I dangled there, a few molded roles of wallpaper banging against my legs.
The knife was now in his hand. He held it right in front of my stomach. “You know what the boss is gonna pay for you?”
I was too out of it to answer.
“The world,” he answered for me. He thrust forward.
This was it. I would die. Apparently I’d be handed over to Varn. Which would be worse. As that thought settled inside me, it dug deep. It scrounged something up from inside within. It pushed and pushed and pushed against my weaknesses until I found the strength to shove forward. Just as he stabbed me in the middle, I sunk my teeth into his neck.
Make no mistake, the dagger had impaled me. But in a blissful moment as I started to drink, none of that mattered. His grip on the dagger slackened, and his fingers slid right off. He staggered back, but I remained hooked on his neck. And as I drank, my magic came back. It surged through me. It was like it had never been gone at all. And as it pushed deeper within, it reached the dagger. I heard this strange squelching noise as it was shoved out of my stomach. It fell into the water.
At first I could feel myself bleeding. But it didn’t last. The injury started to heal.
The vamp wasn’t so lucky.
He wasn’t snarling at me anymore. His eyes were rolling into the back of his head.
I stayed there, drinking until finally I had to stop. I pulled myself away just before he collapsed.
He fell backward into the water, floating there like a dead starfish.
I staggered to the side, the dank water still lapping against me. I pressed a hand against the back of my mouth. I closed my eyes. I let my hand drop down to my middle. I was no longer cut. It had healed itself. God. I was fine.
I went to stagger away, but I realized I couldn’t leave the vamp like that. He would drown. Though it sounded like he’d tried to kill that young guy back at the bar, I still pulled him up the stairs until I deposited him on the last one. His legs would be wet, but his face would be dry. I went to dump him and leave, but that’s when my grip on him accidentally ripped his pocket. Something fell out. Weirdly, it was a pin. By that, I didn’t mean a tack – I meant a tiny brooch. I plucked it up. As my gaze traced along it, I found myself shoving it in my pocket.
I grabbed up his wallet and checked through it. There was nothing in there. There wasn’t even a credit card – just cash. I dropped it back down into the water. Hopefully the toxic mix would get rid of my scent.
I turned. The disturbance I’d heard earlier had disappeared. It was clear no one knew we were down here. I inched out of the basement and back into the night. I’d fed. So now it was time to rest. Rest, and question exactly what it was I had become.
By the time I made it back home, I’d found a new lease of life. The pervasive weakness I’d felt in that club was a long-past memory. Heck, the incident with me falling and getting splashed with drinks had pretty much been forgotten. But Sharee certainly hadn’t forgotten it. She was waiting for me on the doorstep. As I trundled up, my head somewhere else, she thrust forward. Then she jerked back as she stared at my top. The front of it was ripped. The back of it, however, was covered in blood. I quickly straightened.
She jerked forward. “What—”
“It happened at the club,” I lied, my tone falsely calm. “Sorry for running away like that. I was just so embarrassed.”
She looked completely freaked out. She went to push in and hug me, but I was terrified that her fingers might move past my ripped clothes where I’d been stabbed. I kind of edged past her. “I really need to change my clothes.”
She locked her eyes on me. “Do you know how worried I was—”
“I’m sorry for being a coward,” I stammered, coming up with an excuse quickly.
“By the time I made it out,” I whispered, trying to force fear into my voice, “I heard that scream. I assumed it was some kind of vampire attack. I just… I ran. I’m so sorry for being a coward.”
She pressed her lips together. “You idiot. It was okay. Varn was there. He came rushing in. He found the poor guy that had been attacked.”
My gaze flashed up. There were a thousand things I wanted to say. I settled for pressing my lips into a line as I backed away from her through our house, never showing her what was behind me. “You sure Varn helped?”
I spied my dressing gown. I inched toward it, grabbed it, and furled it over my shoulders. As soon as I wrapped it around me, I felt a hell of a lot better.
“You poor thing. You look so cold.” She walked over and rubbed my shoulder. I let her. “What do you mean about Varn?”
“Never mind. Did they get the guy who did it, though?”
“I’m not sure. The police were called.”
“I’m sorry for ruining Melanie’s night.” I looked down at my hands.
She chuckled. “Believe you me, your little episode will not be remembered. That scream will be. I’d never heard anything like it.”
I wanted to grab Sharee’s shoulder and give her a comforting pat, but I couldn’t let go of the ties of the dressing gown. “How about I make you a hot chocolate or something?” I turned around. I went to walk, but something dropped out of my pocket. It clanged onto the floor.
It rolled over to her. She leaned down and picked it up. It was the brooch I’d stolen off that guy. Fortunately, it didn’t have a single bloodstain on it.
She frowned hard as she looked it over. “Where the hell did you get this?”
“Ha?” I said, my voice unnecessarily high-pitched.
“This?” She twisted it from side to side. “Do you know what this is?”
“I picked it up off the street,” I lied.
She got this unknowable look in her eyes. “I actually studied this in uni.”
“What do you mean? What is it?”
“There was a massacre at a nunnery 35 years ago. This pin comes from that time. You know, it’s probably worth something.” She handed it back to me.
I stared at it. Then I looked at her. Justin had wanted DA files from 35 years ago. Could that be a coincidence? “What exactly happened at this nunnery?”
She shrugged. “Horrible, really. Someone went on a rampage. They bled the nuns dry.”
“You mean a vampire went on a rampage.”
She shook her head. “No, it wasn’t a vampire.”
“But you said they were bled dry.”
“Yeah, but not by a vampire. By something else.”
She scrunched up her nose. “I can’t remember. It’s something to do with vampire lore.”
She fobbed a hand at me for interrupting. “It’s some kind of predator. A predator that drinks vampire blood,” she said, clicking her fingers as she remembered that detail.
I froze. I didn’t think I would ever move again.
“You know how vampires are. Their lore is pretty opaque to humans.”
“And was… was this predator,” I said, stopping myself from saying median at the last moment, “ever caught?”
She shook her head. “It’s a cold case.”
“I see.” I turned around and started to head to the stairs.
“I thought you were gonna make hot chocolate?”
“I kind of feel woozy,” I said, being completely honest.
“Then you better get some sleep.” She cupped me on the shoulder warmly, yawned, and headed off to her own room.
I swayed up the stairs, one at a time, my whole body shaking.
I… medians only drank vampire blood, right? Someone would’ve told me if we drank human blood, too. There had to be a mistake in that cold case. Because… if medians drank human blood too, I was screwed. I already thought I was a monster. But if I started snacking on real, innocent people, I would… it would be over.
I collapsed on my bed. I had to pull off my bloodied clothes. I settled for putting them under the mattress. Sharee would never find them there. I’d deal with them sometime. For now, I had to sleep.
It took no time at all for sleep to take me. As I fell into its blessed embrace, I didn’t want to wake ever again. But this would be no restful sleep. I dovetailed immediately into a dream.
The dream was located in my room. I was aware of the fact I was sleeping, but I was aware of the fact this was not an ordinary reality. I could tell, see, because blood was dripping down the walls.
That pin was sitting right by my pillow. It was vibrating up and down, crackles of magic dancing around it.
I shoved out a hand and went to grab it, but it always moved out of my grip. Letting out a frustrated gasp, I pushed up, but the more I moved, the more blood drained down the walls. I clutched my mouth. But that’s when I cut my hand on my canines.
Jerking back, I tried to wake myself up from the dream. I shook and pushed, but it didn’t matter.
Just as tears started to trail down my cheeks, my door opened. I looked down to see a pair of shiny shoes right in front of me. Then I slowly let my gaze tick up. It was Varn. He stood there, his hand reached out to me.
I remained pressed up against the wall, the blood still dripping down all around me.
I shook my head. His smile widened, and he shoved his hand further forward.
I simply shook my head once more, the move practically trying to unscrew it. “No. No way. I don’t need to join with an ancestral vampire. I’ll make it on my own.”
“You won’t,” he whispered, the first words he’d said. His voice was right there yet somehow felt far off as if it was being projected into my dream.
I shook my head harder. I went to clamp my face against my knees, but that’s when the bed below me began to bleed. I shrieked and jerked up. He grabbed my wrist. It was the exact same wrist he’d grabbed earlier today in the real world when he’d protected me from nosediving into traffic.
He swung me around. My hair fanned around my face. I would’ve fallen to my ass had he not tightened his grip on my wrist. He looked me up and down. And in that look, I saw something I needed.
He grabbed hold of his collar and yanked it down just as he pulled me up. The move was hard, and I banged into his chest. But I paid no attention to it. In a moment I’d never forget, my eyes locked on his neck. I could see the blood – the power – pulsing within.
His lips opened a crack. “All meridians need to feed in order to live. So bite me.”
The words so bite me reverberated through the room. They shook louder and louder, louder and louder until I thought I would explode.
My lips parted open a crack. “But—” I whispered.
“Bite me, Median,” he said, his words slipping through the room. He let his gaze slide toward me. It locked on me, darted up to my neck, then moved toward my lips.
I finally broke his grip on my wrist. I staggered back. I stared at him. I was shaking all over. The door behind me was open. Don’t… don’t ask me how, but I knew it was my last escape. It was still available to me. All I would have to do was turn and run through it. Then all of this would be over.
I could go back to my ordinary life. If I stayed, and if I… if I bit him, there’d be no going back.
He stood there, his fingers rigid, his body a frame of stiffness as he leaned toward me, revealing his neck once more. “Meridians can’t last long on their own. They need an ancestral vampire to share their power – and their blood.” His voice dropped down even lower.
I shuddered. I fell back. I landed on my knees.
“Ancestral vampire blood is not like the rest. You will not have to feed as frequently. For every bite,” he whispered, his teeth impacting his lip and pushing in hard, “will mean more.” He took a step toward me.
I remained there on the floor, shuddering. But it wasn’t just fear anymore. It was changing. From deep inside me, the horror at what I was becoming began to twist. It morphed. It moved up through my chest. It reached my mouth. My lips dropped open.
This heat started to pulse through me. It started all over my body but coalesced in my mouth. Then finally I felt it – my teeth began to grow.
I found myself pushing to my feet. The open door was still there, still right behind me. I could turn around. I could thrust myself through it. I could flee what I was. Or I could take a step forward. And I could bite his neck and go deeper.
I reached out a hand. My trembling fingers pushed toward him.
He stared at them then up at my face. “Sooner or later, your desires will decide for you. For no matter what happens,” his voice dropped down, vibrating as low as it could, “sooner or later,” he repeated, his voice dropping down even further, “you will feed on me.”
I jolted forward. I couldn’t take it anymore. The emotion – the power – surged through me. I hooked my hands on his chest and drew him close. I pushed my teeth into his throat. I could see the corner of his lips. And as I watched, they curled into a smile.
I awoke in the morning, beads of sweat sliding down my face. I shot up, terrified. I checked the walls then yanked my head down to note that the bed was not covered in blood. I looked over at the door. It was closed.
All night… Jesus Christ, all night I’d dreamed of biting Varn. And not… let’s say not in a PC way.
I sat there on the edge of my bed, pushing backward and forward, rocking like I was a China doll getting ready to crack.
I waited for Sharee to trundle up the stairs and ask what was going on, but I glanced over at my clock and realized that it was already two in the afternoon. Had I slept that long?
I placed a hand on my brow. It was sweaty. My hair was stuck to it.
It didn’t take long for my fingers to drop down to my lips. Nor did it take long for me to touch my canines. They were retracted. For now.
I rushed into the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror.
I swore I could sense Varn in the room. Or if not in the room, in my mind. I slapped a hand on my head, grinding my palm in hard. “That was just… that was stress talking,” I tried to tell myself. My voice shook. I paced back and forth in front of the mirror for way too long. Every now and then, I would shove in close and stare at myself. It was like I was waiting for my body to change. I was waiting for the tears – the anger. Something. Because this nervous expectation in my gut could not be real. It told me to throw caution to the wind. It begged me to head to Varn’s mansion tonight.
I needed to put an end to this torture.
And make no mistake, it was torture. For as I crammed a hand on my stomach, my tummy grumbled. It was so bad, it sounded as if several packs of wolves had somehow gotten stuck down there.
I didn’t know what to do for the rest of the day. So I paced around the house. I couldn’t bring myself to go out. But I kept stopping at the door, my heart wanting to lead me out against my best intentions.
Every time, I would stop there, curl my hands into fists, and shake my head. “You can’t go out. What if he’s waiting for you? What if… what if he somehow sent that dream to you?”
I suggested that, but I quickly shook my head. The last scrap of reason in my mind told me that vampires were not psychics. They did not have the capacity to enter someone else’s dreams. That – what I’d done last night – that had been down to me and my unconscious desires. Accepting that, I crammed a hand over my belly again, screwed my eyes shut, and shook my head.
“You really are a monster now, aren’t you?” I whispered.
Either it was because of that undermining thought or just a natural process, but I became weak at the knees. I remembered what that vampire had told me in the basement last night. Because I was a new median, I needed to rest. I dragged myself over to the couch. I flopped onto it. That’s when I realized the newspaper was on the armrest. Though all I wanted to do was rest, I did not want to sleep. Sleep, and I could dream. Dream and… I didn’t want to go there. I clutched up the paper. My hands were shaking. I turned it around, and right there on the front page was Varn’s face. I actually shrieked and dropped it as if he’d just bitten me.
It took a long time to edge forward and grab it back up. I pulled it around and finally glanced at the headline. The DA had dropped all charges. Varn had been exonerated.
That fact alone could wash away all of the fear of my dreams last night – all of the energy and pounding nerves. All of the forbidden desire I’d thrust into the corners of my mind.
I edged forward, pushing close over the paper, shaking as I held it in two stiff hands. “What do you mean he was exonerated?” I hissed. “Everything bad in this town is down to him. Why the hell did the DA give up?”
It wasn’t like the paper could answer, but that didn’t stop me from vehemently spitting my questions. You see, at the back of my head, I’d had a hope that even if I’d failed to protect people and stop Varn, the DA would be there to pick up my slack. But now that wasn’t the case. I felt my world narrowing in again. But this sure as hell wasn’t a pleasant sensation. Fear shook up through me. It grabbed hold of my throat and felt like it wanted to rip it out.
All I could do was think of that vampire I’d fed on last night. He would’ve killed that guy back in the nightclub. All for Varn. Because everything – everything came back to Varn.
I don’t think I’d ever been colder. Paradoxically, I didn’t think I’d ever been hotter, too. A few charges of magic zapped up from some unknown place within me, powered into the newsprint, and burned it. They concentrated on his face appropriately until there was a hole right between his eyes.
Giving in to my anger, I shrieked and threw the paper across the room. My overreaction in no small part was due to my dream and the lingering effects of his touch. But I could not forget the injustice here. Varn would kill again – it was only a matter of time. And now the DA had backed down, there was no one to stop him but me. So I would stop him. I clutched up the paper again. I screwed it up in my hands until my magic burned all the way through it. It caught alight, smoldering then leaping with flame right there in my palms.
I would make sure the same thing would happen to Varn himself. His days of terrorizing this city were over.
I had nothing much to do that day. Not that there was that much left of the day. I knew it was too risky for me to go out and search for Varn or any of his other vampires. I had not forgotten the lesson I’d learned last night. Between feeds, I needed to rest. But I would not sleep, no matter how tired I became.
A few hours later, Sharee came home. She was already on her phone. I could hear her from outside. Hell, I could also hear her body and judge how it was reacting to the conversation. She was amazed and pleasantly surprised. By the time her keys grated in the lock and she walked in, this enormous grin had spread across her face.
“I know he has public parties at his mansion sometimes, but this is insane. I can’t believe you got an invitation.”
I heard the words mansion and invitation, and froze, my skin instantly becoming clammy.
Sharee smiled at me, looked me up and down, gave me a thumbs-up, and walked over to the kitchen.
I didn’t bother shadowing her. I didn’t need to be pressed over her shoulder to hear everything that she was saying.
“Of course I’m coming,” she hissed. “He looked so cool the other day after that… attack.” It took her a while to push the words attack out. Her voice shook, indicating there was more of trauma there than she let on.
So it was him, then? Varn. I’d already figured that out, but as it was confirmed, my hands naturally curled into tight fists. They were the kind of fists that had to do something. They couldn’t just hang there by my side. They wanted to find my enemy, pin him up against the wall, and make him stop. But I was far away from Varn. For now.
Sharee couldn’t see me, so she had no clue how dark my expression became. Nor could she see the sudden wave of conflicted emotion that blasted across it. It would’ve looked like a gale trying to push away some storm. Yeah, I could be angry at Varn all I wanted, but could I really make a difference? Rage can only get you so far. When it runs out, you need a plan. And most importantly, strength. I liked to think I had that, and I ran my fingers over my retracted canines to point that out. But I had to remember what happened the last time I was in his presence.
“Because you hadn’t rested enough between feeding,” I mouthed to myself.
There was only so much I could convince myself of. Every time I tried, I remembered two things. One was the way I’d fallen weak at the knees at the mere sound of his voice. The other was my dream.
There was another possibility other than failing. What if I succeeded and I actually drank his blood? What if it didn’t do what I wanted it to? What if it didn’t weaken him, but it….
I couldn’t finish that thought. Trust me, it was fully formed in my body, but I couldn’t give strength to it. Do that, and….
She ended the conversation. She got up and walked out of the kitchen. By that time, I had to make my expression even again. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. Inside, I was so conflicted, I was certain I was going to crack underneath the pressure of it.
She clapped her hands when she saw me. “God, you’re looking better every day. Whatever those vitamins you’re taking are, keep taking them. At this rate, maybe you won’t even need some experimental procedure.”
Her words washed over me. There was only one thing I could focus on. “You’re heading to Varn Thorne’s mansion?”
She looked a little surprised that I’d overheard that. Then that enormous grin I was so used to cracked over her lips. It could’ve embraced her face, it was that powerful. “Yeah, I am. And it’s insane.” She walked over to the couch and flopped onto it. Though I’d dealt with the remains of the paper, there was some ash on it. She frowned at it. “Where did this come from?”
“I had some dirty clothes. I accidentally sat down on the couch with them. I forgot to clean it off.” I walked over and rubbed it industriously, the entire time trying to take hold of my internal reactions. All I wanted to do was scream at her that there was no way she could go near Varn’s mansion. But what if I could use it as a way to get there?
“He has these functions about once a year – they’re open to the public. I never in my wildest dreams expected to get an invitation – but because of what happened at the Ring Master, Melanie’s gotten one. She’s invited me.”
I made my decision quickly and slid my gaze over to her. “Can I come too?”
“It’s a pretty open invitation. I’ll see if I can get you in. But why do you want to come?” A pronounced frown marched across her lips. “I thought you were the one who was suspicious of Varn? Did you hear that the DA have completely dropped their investigation? He’s been exonerated.”
I nodded. I couldn’t really control my neck. It was doing what it wanted to do. Hell, my entire body was doing what it wanted to do now. Every process was out of my hands. If I continued to react like this, I might even lose it completely and start to show magic. I knew I had to pull my head in, but it was impossible. Because every time I tried, all I could think of was that damn dream. His smile lingered in my mind. More than that, the feel of him. When I’d been pressed up against him, and my lips had been on his neck….
I couldn’t go there anymore. I shook my head lightly.
She frowned. “Is this you saying that you’re not suspicious of Varn anymore?”
I’d completely forgotten our conversation. I shrugged, trying to make it look as natural as I possibly could. “I guess you’re right,” I lied, though it was damn hard to do. “The DA have exonerated him.”
She seemed satisfied. “The party’s tomorrow. I have no clue what I’m gonna wear.”
I didn’t care what I would wear. But I would find out absolutely everything I could.
Her gaze ticked up to me. “Your color’s back and all, but you seem a little bit wobbly. You okay?”
I looked down at my knees. I was just as surprised as she was to note that they were buckling slightly. This was the weakness between feeds, wasn’t it? Fine. I would drag myself back to bed. I would force myself to sleep – regardless of what dreams I would endure. When I woke tomorrow and I dragged myself to his mansion, I would end this. I was no longer fighting what I was. I was going to use it to the full advantage of this city. Come Saturday morning, Varn Thorne was no longer going to be a problem.
I could repeat that all I wanted in my head. I could practically pray it. But it would not be true. In fact, it could not be further from the truth. Come Saturday morning, Varn Thorne would be my world.
I did as I promised myself. I slept. Heck, I slept most of the night and into the morning. By the time I woke, Sharee was already getting ready.
Me? It took a long damn time to pull myself up from my bed. Had I dreamed?
Yeah, I’d dreamed. Nonstop. Over and over again. And I….
As I sat there on the edge of my bed, I clutched my retracted canines. I let my fingers drag across them. My whole body shook. As I squeezed my eyes shut, I tried to drive the memory of Varn from my mind, but it was almost impossible. He was all through it now. My dreams had been variations on the one I’d experienced earlier. Varn would appear in some incongruous scene. Then he’d invite me to bite him. And every time, though I had the option to turn away, I chose to bite him anyway.
By the time I dragged myself downstairs after having thrown on one of the only dresses I owned, my stomach was a trembling mess of nerves. It felt like I had swallowed firecrackers and they were going off inside me with no reprieve. I crammed a hand on my gut, pushing it in hard until I snagged the fabric of my cheap dress and pulled it to the side.
Sharee was in the kitchen, finishing up her makeup. She frowned at my dress. “Don’t you want to wear something more….”
“The dress will be fine,” I said. I should’ve controlled my tone. It was weak.
Sharee was like a heatseeking missile when it came to my condition. She pushed up. “You’re a little pale. You shouldn’t come.”
I looked at her, dropped my hand, and straightened. I forced away every thought of him – and trust me, that was about as hard as pushing Mount Everest out of your path. But I managed it. I smiled, and I tried to channel my innate strength now.
She tilted her head to the side. “Actually, you don’t look so bad, after all.”
“I’m just really hungry,” I pointed out. My stomach gave that exact moment to rumble like crazy.
“There’s meant to be food at the party. If you want a snack—”
I looked at the fridge, and my stomach felt like it would twist itself into a knot. The entire thought of human food made me want to throw up. “I’ll wait until the party. You’re right. I’m sure it will be the fanciest food I’ve ever had. I can hold on a little longer.”
“You should eat something for energy, though.”
“I have some muesli bars up in my room,” I lied.
“Right. You go get them, and I’ll meet you at the door when you’re ready.”
I looked up at the clock, surprised to realize she was right. It was almost time to go.
I didn’t feel ready. I’d barely had any time to process this – to think it through and question if this was smart or damn suicidal. I had been sleeping for the past 24 hours. That hadn’t exactly left enough time for deep thinking. But there was no backing out now. I had to do this.
I trundled up the stairs, intent to grab my phone and to fake getting some muesli bars, and I clutched my stomach once more. It gave another rumble. This had nothing to do with snacking. This wasn’t at the prospect of whatever fine food would be on display at Varn’s mansion. This was the vampire himself. I swear my treacherous body had been practicing biting Varn so much that the thought of feeding off anyone else was now like the thought of eating garbage.
I forcefully dropped my hand. I grabbed my phone. I looked around my room. As my nostrils flared, I realized I could smell my bloody top underneath my mattress. I still hadn’t had a chance to remove it. I turned around, and as crazy as it sounded, I could hear that crack in the wardrobe I created when I’d punched it the other day.
My senses had somehow become twice as sharp after all that sleeping. I could tell myself it was because of the vampire I’d fed on at that club. But it felt like the dreams had done it. It felt like they were preparing me for—
I shook my head. “Don’t think it,” I snapped at my subconscious. I got my phone, whirled around, and threw myself down the stairs.
By the time I was down there, Sharee was already on her phone to Melanie.
The two of them sounded like total fangirls.
I had to put up with the conversation as we got into a taxi and drove. All I wanted to do was lean over and point out that Varn wasn’t anything like what they thought. He wasn’t some kind of hero. He wasn’t noble. He was a beast.
Though beast was the wrong word to use. Because that just drew me into my dreams.
I could see his smile, see it like it was right there in front of me. See it like all I would have to do was reach out and pull it closer and then it would be not just next to my lips, but on them.
At that chilling yet somehow fiery thought, I looked up to see that we were already heading to the outer suburbs where his mansion was.
There was a small amount of farmland to the side of the city. The rest of it was just a sprawling metropolis. This stuff was for the ancestral vampires. It didn’t matter how rich you were, if you weren’t a vampire, you couldn’t buy-in. Which summed them up completely. They liked to believe that they were just another part of this world – just another species alongside humanity – but they kept all of the best things for themselves.
“This is amazing,” Sharee said, her jaw practically dropping off her face as she shoved forward in her seat, clutched her phone tighter, and stared at the land around us. While you could travel to the east, get out of the city, and find forests and nature reserves, this was different. This looked like the English countryside. But on steroids.
It didn’t take too much longer to come across a set of fantastic looking gates. They looked as if they were there to cordon off heaven. Or hell, my imagination inserted quickly, knowing precisely who I was dealing with.
See, this was it. As soon as those gates opened and we drove through, I suddenly realized there was no going back.
This was his house, his turf. His scent would be all over it. His feel, his magnetism – everything. And I was about to walk into there. I’d been confusing myself into thinking that I was a predator, but what if I was prey?
Sharee talked to me, but I didn’t listen. A choir could’ve been screaming at me, but I wouldn’t have noticed.
I was so focused on how foolish this was. But it was way too late. We pulled up in a car park, got out, and paid the taxi driver.
Had I seen the mansion in my dreams? It was hard to say. Over the last 24 hours, I’d had so many dreams about Varn, I couldn’t really track where each of them had come from. But the mansion seemed familiar, nonetheless. The tiny rational scrap of my mind that had somehow managed to fight back my growing madness tried to point out that I would’ve seen this mansion on the news multiple times. The fact I remembered it was not an indication that… what? Varn had somehow lured me here?
Vampires were not psychic. I had to go back to the fact that all of those dreams were down to my own stupid subconscious and warped desires.
I found myself clutching my mouth as I followed after Sharee. Fortunately she’d just spied Melanie, and the two of them weren’t paying that much attention to me. A couple of their other friends were there. It allowed me to blend in with the back of the crowd. That just gave me all the time I needed to slip a finger into my mouth and press it against my teeth.
We reached the front of the mansion. There were a lot of people out there. Some were guests – some were security. The security guards were dressed in black suits. Each one of them was pristine. It looked like they were all wealthy bankers.
They could pack a punch, though. As I walked past one of them, my nose naturally flared, and I smelled the magic within him. I… hadn’t been able to do that yesterday. My senses had been crazy and all, but I hadn’t been able to take one sniff and recognize how powerful a potential enemy was.
Hell, as my eyes half closed, I swore I could tell exactly how this guy would fight – which leg he would favor, how he would go after me, and how long it would take to break him.
At that last thought, I involuntarily formed a fist, locked it behind me, grabbed it with my other hand, and sunk my nails in. I didn’t hurt myself – it felt like I would currently need a chisel and a mallet to even cut my hands, let alone scratch them.
The doors into the mansion were huge. They were painted – appropriately – this devilish blood red. It looked like arterial blood, if I was an expert.
And yeah, I’d just thought that.
I found myself pulling my bottom lip into my mouth and dragging my retracted canines back and forth across it. There were a lot of guests in the foyer. And what a foyer it was. It was huge. The floor was marble. The walls were made of different wood paneling that led up to what could only be termed a gallery. There were hundreds of different massive portraits. This foyer had more wall space than my entire house put together.
It was also expansive. And it led the eye up. There was a sweeping staircase on the opposite side of the room that led up to the other floors. There were bouncers stopping people from going up there. But my eyes could travel. At the top of the staircase, I could see a hint of a corridor.
I wanted to go up there. As I sniffed, I….
He had a certain smell, see. I’d picked it up the two times I’d met him – though I could guess you could say I hadn’t really met him when I’d been hunkering down on the roof. Encountered was a better word. The point was, his smell was now in my nose, in my mouth, in my body. I would be able to pick it out of a crowd. And right now it told me that he was up there. I took an unconscious step toward it, but Sharee waved me on.
I didn’t once stare at the celebrities around me. Maybe once upon a time I would have. Even then, before I’d found out I was a median, I doubted I would’ve ogled them too much. I’d always been too interested in my own little world to care too much about things like that.
And I would give up anything to go back to that tiny little world.
But there was no point in wishing.
This mansion had a ballroom. Of course it did. Vampires – especially the ancestral ones – were dramatic old things. And trust me, by ballroom, I meant exactly what I said. This looked like it was out of some kind of Disney movie. It had to span most of the bottom floor of the mansion. It was regal in every way. There were these gilded mirrors set at even intervals across the walls. It gave it an even more epic scale. There were massive chandeliers, and right in the center, there was the motherlode of them all. The chandelier was so big, I swore it was larger than a van. It glinted with crystal. Then again, considering how rich I knew Varn Thorne was, it could be diamond.
There wasn’t anything a vampire couldn’t do – and if they wanted something, there wasn’t anything that could stop them.
I crammed a hand on my stomach again.
A waiter was shifting past with drinks. I grabbed one off, the alcohol splashing down my wrist at the quick, jerked move. I just needed something in my hand right now. I didn’t want to drink this – in a million years – but I just had to calm my nerves.
Fortunately Sharee was too distracted. Fair enough – for an ordinary person, there was a lot to distract them here.
Though the ballroom was only just filling up, what a sight it was. There were vampires and other prestigious members of the community. While I had thrown on the only dress I owned, they were in bona fide ball gowns and three-piece suits.
It honestly felt as if I’d wandered into a fairytale.
A dark one. Because their fancy clothes, jewelry, and highfalutin conversations were just a backdrop for the spiraling thoughts in my mind. Come midnight, I was not going to have a dance with the prince, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to kiss him. But if everything went right, I would bleed him dry.
At that brutal thought, I pulled a little away from Sharee.
“Where are you headed?” she muttered.
“The bathroom,” I lied. I only just managed to keep my voice even. I started to push through the crowd. It was thick, and the old Gina would have been elbowed in the face, the gut, the throat – you name it. I was an awkward height – one that always meant I got up close and personal with people’s pointy arms in crowds.
But right now, nothing touched me. A lady moved back, unaware that I was there, but I ducked around her gracefully, the simple skirt of my black dress flaring around my legs. A waiter almost tripped, but before he lost his tray of drinks, I propped it up from underneath, pulling it off him until he got his balance back. He muttered a thanks. I simply nodded and walked on.
When a crowd of large, tall vampires walked through, my gut tightened. But I walked right past them, ducking in between them like a minnow. They didn’t recognize me – and God knows they didn’t smell I was a vampire too.
By the time I made it out of the ballroom, my senses were tingling again. It felt like there was a fire going on in my brain.
I managed to dump the drink somewhere. I didn’t even care where.
More guests were filtering in. Very few people were walking out. It made me conspicuous, and several security guards swiveled their gaze toward me.
All I wanted to do was reach the foyer then march up the stairs. No more waiting. I’d find Varn, and I would—
I reached the foyer. I angled toward the stairs, but a security guard marched up to me. “Can we help?”
“Um… where are the bathrooms?”
He jammed his finger toward them. They were very well signed.
I nodded. I went back to clutching my stomach. It was that or have it practically scream out in hunger.
What the hell was wrong with me? I had fed plenty in the last few days, but if my stomach was anything to go by, then I hadn’t had a single drop of blood my entire life.
And yeah, I’d thought that. Rather than saying I hadn’t had a single scrap of food, it was a drop of blood – because I had now one hundred percent accepted that I was no longer human. I couldn’t snack on sandwiches or muesli bars – I couldn’t drink water or expensive alcohol.
There was only one thing that could sate me. And it was in pursuit of that that I found myself staggering off to the bathrooms. I wasn’t even wearing high heels – just these small kitten heels. It didn’t matter. Every movement was jolting.
Fortunately there weren’t too many people going to the bathroom yet. I waited as an old lady bustled out without giving me a second glance, and I threw myself in, knowing full well it was empty. I grabbed the sink – the expensive marble one. I dragged my gaze up the mirror to stare at my face. At this rate, if I couldn’t control my hunger, my teeth would come out, and I would. I….
“What? What are you going to do? Start eating people?” Even though there was no one in the room, I made sure my voice was as low as it possibly could be. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to admit that out loud. It was….
I crammed a hand over my eyes. I pushed it in as hard as I could until I saw stars. They darted over my vision, zapping through my brain, feeling like I’d shoved fire through my eye sockets.
I couldn’t forget what Sharee had told me yesterday. 35 years ago, there’d been a massacre at a nunnery – and a median had committed it.
“But I’m not interested in human blood,” I tried to tell myself. My stomach gave that exact moment to give this treacherous lurch. Then it growled like a hungry wolf.
I couldn’t take it anymore, and tears trailed down my cheeks.
I also smelled people headed toward the bathroom. I pulled myself away from the sink. I went to angle in through the closest door, but then I realized there was a window right above the stall over in the far corner. I lurched toward it and closed the door just as the guests came in.
They were a group of young women. They were waxing lyrical about this experience. A few of them were talking about the fact they’d just spied Varn. He’d gone to the ballroom.
… Which meant that I couldn’t go back to the ballroom. Because I wouldn’t be able to control myself near him.
I sat on the toilet lid, pulsing my hand back and forth into a fist, wondering what I should do.
… I should just leave, right? I could pretend I was sick or something, message Sharee, and just run. That would have the benefit of using my body – and if I forced my muscles to do something other than practice clutching Varn’s throat, I could stop myself.
I could hold on to this last scrap of sanity before it broke under my billowing desires.
As soon as I thought of the word desire, it brought me right back to my first dream. Varn’s warning played in my mind. My desires would soon be made up for me if I didn’t make them up for myself.
I shook my head. I clamped a hand over my mouth. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.
The girls finished doing what they were doing and left.
I could smell more people angling toward the bathroom. From now on out, it would be pretty hard to get alone time here. I darted my head up. I saw the window above. This area had tall ceilings. It was a good meter and a half above the cistern. It was also small. Thankfully I was tiny. I didn’t think it through. I leaped up off the cistern. The window was locked, but I just broke the lock. All it took was a single twist of my white-knuckled grip. I had to hang off with my fingers pushing against the sill and nothing else until I finally managed to push the window open. Then I clambered outside of it just as the door opened and more people walked in.
I threw myself down the side of the outside wall and landed. I was in a patch of rosebushes. They snagged my clothes but couldn’t do anything to my skin. I pushed past them.
I was on the east side of the building. In front of me, I could see a wide-open green field. I could just run. I could….
I caught a whiff of something. My head turned of its own accord. As my nostrils opened, I knew exactly who it was. Varn. He was still in the ballroom. I….
“You can’t forget what he’s done – what he’s continuing to do,” I growled at myself. “The DA has dropped all charges. No one is going to stop him. Unless you can.” My voice vibrated, practically cracking on the word you.
This was it – it was just me now. Me standing in the way of his barbarity and the rest of the city. I could run. I could tell myself that there was no way that I could ever control my desires. But if that was true, then there was also no way that the city could be saved.
My mind was made up for me. I wanted to believe it was my reason talking, but in a large part, it was his scent. Now I was close to it, I didn’t want to get further away.
I found myself walking around the side of the building. There were no guests around here. Playing over the blueprint in my mind, I realized it was because no one should be able to get around here. Security were funneling people from the car park into the mansion. No one would be permitted to walk around the back.
… The back of the mansion. I suddenly shoved my hand into the pocket of my dress – and yeah, I’d worn a dress with pockets to a fancy vampire soirée. I pulled out my phone. I thumbed to the message I’d taken after I’d attacked Justin the first time. And right there was the passcode.
I had no clue exactly what it was for – it had mentioned a back way, but that could mean multiple things. It could mean that there was a backdoor and this was the passcode to get into it. Hell, for all I knew, it could be a password onto Varn’s protected servers or something. Still, I had to try. Even if it didn’t work, I told myself in a pang of hunger that I would find a way. I would climb the outside of the building. I would even knock someone out….
I winced at that, but then I pointed out that if anyone worked for Varn, they knew what they were getting into.
I slunk around the back of the building. A few times I had to stop and hide behind trees or shrubs as I heard security walking past.
It wasn’t until I angled all the way around the back of this massive building that I overheard a conversation that solidified my will.
“The blood’s here. It’s on the third floor in his primary office. It’s almost over,” one of them said, a deep chuckle filtering out.
The blood. Of course. I’d forgotten about it, but I’d already heard he was getting a delivery of blood for Friday, and today was Friday. I had been overcome by my thoughts and dreams. Now I reminded myself that Varn’s crimes, apparently, never slowed down.
With my will solidified, I finally made it to the back of the mansion.
There was a backdoor. But there was no passcode to it. It was also unlocked. Obviously the security guards were arrogant enough to think that no one would be able to make their way around here on their own.
I reached out, intending to open the door, but I paused just before my hand settled on it. I could feel a crackle of magic underneath it. Was it some kind of booby-trap? Was it a remnant from when a magical creature had touched it?
I had no clue. I tilted my head up, judging how long it would take to climb to the closest window. For all I knew, they could have magical booby-traps, too.
I stood there for way too long, vacillating, hating myself for not being able to make a quick decision. But my pause was fortuitous. I felt somebody approaching from inside the building.
I ducked to the side. There was a handy lip of bricks jutting out. I pushed myself behind them.
Sucking my stomach in and ensuring my small form was well hidden, the door soon opened, and someone walked out without glancing my way once.
As I stared at them, I realized they were a vampire.
Their hands were in their pockets, their head held forward, a certain kind of smile on their lips.
I knew that smile. I’d seen it in my dreams. It was one of control and victory. It made me pull up a hand and tap it ever so lightly on the wall behind me. Then, when I judged I could, I darted around. The guy hadn’t closed the door – he’d let it swing shut on his own, and a gust of wind had reopened it. Before it could slam closed, I ducked in. As it slammed behind me, I pressed my back against it, took a shaking breath, and let a slight smile flicker over my lips. I’d actually done it. I was inside the mansion.
I looked up. And right in front of me, there was another vampire.
Because nothing is ever easy, apparently.
The guy took one look at the fact I was coming from the back door, and went to grab something from his pocket. I shot forward. I didn’t think about it. I shoved my hands on his chest, and I pushed him down. He was easily twice the size of me, but that counted for nothing. His knees crumpled out from underneath him as I slammed him hard against the patterned carpet. His eyes bolted wide, and he went to scream, but I locked a hand on his mouth.
I didn’t want to do this, but I couldn’t think of another way. I went to crunch forward, to feed on him, but at the very last moment, I stopped. This guy hadn’t done anything bad. Unlike the last three vampires I’d bitten, he hadn’t consumed the blood of innocent humans. This would not be revenge. For all I knew, this guy could just be a guest.
He looked at me, alarm really opening his eyes wide. I was crunched forward, but my teeth hadn’t pushed out yet.
At the last moment, as I grappled with my greed and it threatened to drag me under, I pushed back. I formed a fist and smashed it across his jaw. It cracked, the move more than hard enough to knock him out. His head lolled to the side. I slowly unstuck my hand from his shoulder. My fingers wanted to grope up to the nape of his neck, but I had to grab my wrist and hold it down.
“You’re better than this,” I hissed at myself, my breath choppy and coming out in a wheeze.
I pushed up. I was slightly shaky. I turned around and looked at the guy. I’d been about to stagger off, but if I did that – and I left him right there for everyone to see – alarms would be raised.
Opening my nostrils wide and sniffing with all my might, I found that there was a storeroom close by. Judging by the airflow, I doubted it was ever disturbed. I broke the lock and shoved inside, carrying him on my shoulder. Then I dumped him down.
When I was done, I went to shrink away, but I pushed in close. I smelled him one last time, and this wasn’t my hunger getting the better of me. I wanted to ensure that I hadn’t hurt him too much with that punch. I shouldn’t have been worried – underneath, he was a strong vampire. He’d be fine when he woke – albeit with a ringing headache.
I pushed up.
I had to hide for a few seconds as several security guards wandered past. Then I broke free.
And it literally felt as if I broke free. Because in my mind, I was finally giving in to what I had come here to do. Now I’d come this far, I had to go all the way. First things first, I would investigate this mansion. If there was blood here… I’d find it. Maybe I’d take it with me – I’d give it to the DA. I’d force them to reopen the case. I could do that, right? And… if I had to… if I came across Varn… I would.
I crammed a hand over my mouth again. I didn’t want to go there.
I slunk back into the shadows, relying on my sense of smell until I managed to get to a set of stairs. It wasn’t the same sweeping staircase from the foyer. There were multiple little staircases at this side of the mansion. I took one up, moving slowly, always keeping my nose locked on people moving on the level above.
The conversation I’d overheard had detailed that the blood was in his office on level III. It took a while, but I finally got to level III.
There was more security up here. I couldn’t just walk all the way down the hallway to his office. But when two security guards changed over, it gave me the chance to at least duck into one of the rooms. It was some kind of sitting room. It didn’t look well used. This mansion was huge. It needed an entire village to use every single room. At least it gave me the confidence that I wouldn’t be disturbed.
I searched around for a bit, but I couldn’t find much. I could, however, find a window. As I tried the latch, dragging my fingers across it, I realized there were no magical booby-traps. I opened it. Based on the room I’d seen the security guards protecting the most, Varn’s office was right on the corner of the building. I would be able to get to it from this window. Sorry – let me explain that fully. I would be able to get to it if I climbed out of this window then jumped to every single window ledge in between. That should have been a completely impossible thought, but as I angled my head, my limbs twitching, I judged I could do it. Because if I couldn’t… if I couldn’t, all of this would be for nothing. And it could not be for nothing.
If I’d been aware of what I was doing – what I was really thinking – I would’ve realized that it wasn’t reason pushing me on. And nor, necessarily, was it a desire to stop Varn. Both of those were there, but the thing that was really pushing me on was my sense of smell. It was getting stronger the more I came toward his office. As I pushed out into the night, hung off the window ledge, and ignored the wind as it pulled my skirt, whipping it around my hips, that sense struck me even more. It allowed me to line up my jump. That allowed me to push off. I leaped through the air. I had just a chance to realize this wasn’t going to work and I was an idiot, then I actually reached the other window. I was so surprised, I almost spluttered. I stopped myself in time. Pressing my lips together and holding my tongue, I repeated the move. I was lucky that I was currently jumping along the back side of the mansion. If it were the front, countless guests and security guards would have seen me. As it was, I finally did it – I made it to one of the large windows that led into his office.
His scent was… everywhere. It permeated everything. The brick, the glass, the brass catch as I undid it and pushed it up.
But more than anything, it sunk into my bones and vibrated through my flesh. It reached my heart and pounded, pounded, and pounded. By the time I pulled myself up and fell onto his plush cream carpet, all I could do was shake with its force.
I’d already checked that his office was empty. While there were guards outside, none of them were coming in.
It was just as you would expect – expensive. There was a massive partner’s desk angled toward the windows, a high plush chair behind it. There were bookcases – and there had to be thousands of books in the damn room, because they were floor-to-ceiling, and this place was huge.
There was expensive furniture, art – everything you would expect. Then there were several things you would not expect. Lined up on trestle tables on the opposite side of the room were vials of blood.
Though I had gotten around to describing them last, my senses had locked on them first. As I stood there, shaking on the spot, I angled forward. I took a step toward them, but I fell back. Then I took another step toward them, my hand opening, my fingers pushing out wide. But I stopped once more.
I crammed a hand over my mouth. I told myself that I would take some of that blood, and I would hand it to the DA. But if I….
My stomach grumbled. It was so hard, I thought it was planning to rip out from my gut wall, march over to that blood, and drink it itself.
I took another step, and my knees became weak.
No. No way. I was not going to go through another episode when I was right here, in the proverbial beast’s den. Then again, there was nothing proverbial about Varn. He was a beast through and through.
Though my knees wobbled a little bit more, I pushed up. I finally made it to one of those trestle tables. I had to grab the edge, and it shook slightly. I glanced at it then over to the door. I didn’t know if they were vampire security guards out there or human ones. Regardless, they would be magical, and they would presumably have good senses. But thankfully as I gazed at the door, I realized it was thick. I imagined it also had magical protections in place to ensure no one would be able to eavesdrop. That had to be the case, because, as my weak knees became wobbly once more, I knocked into the trestle table, and every single glass vial tinkled. But nobody interrupted me.
Unable to control myself anymore, I plucked up one of the vials. The blood within sang to me. I couldn’t stop myself, and my teeth extended. They didn’t stay – they were retracted quickly – but that wasn’t the point. It was more evidence that I was uncontrollable.
I went to shove the vial down before I could do something stupid like unscrew the lid and tip it down my throat. But that’s when I smelled it.
It wasn’t human blood. It was vampire blood. And that’s why I was going crazy here.
I managed to control my hand. I put the vial back down. I went to another side of the trestle table. I picked up another vial. It too was vampire blood. As I stood there between the tables, shaking, I voluntarily opened my nostrils wide. I took in one insane breath and realized it was all vampire blood.
It started to get to me. No – it had gotten to me the second I’d clambered in here. Now I knew what it was – and I knew what my body needed – I couldn’t take it anymore. I fell down to my knees. I started to shake.
“You… have to get up. It’s evidence. He’s a monster. You need to stop him. So you have to get up,” I promised myself, my voice shaking.
It was the thought that he was a monster – and that I was the only person who could stop him – that finally allowed me to push up. To control my greed, I wouldn’t allow myself to look at that blood again. I concentrated on his desk. For the blood would only be a certain kind of evidence. Presumably his desk would be teeming with his misdeeds. I staggered over to it. If I’d been aware, I would’ve realized that I was leaving my scent everywhere. But the reasonable side of my mind had taken a raincheck.
I pushed a few papers around. I couldn’t really understand them. They appeared to be account codes.
I still took photos of them. I opened his desk. There were various objects inside. There was a letter opener – there was even some kind of thermometer. It was all just random. I went through a filing cabinet, knowing that there I would find the juiciest evidence. But once again, either I was stupid, or I just didn’t understand. There was no smoking gun – no document that detailed all his victims.
And behind me, all the while, there was that vampire blood.
I had another little episode. I fell against his desk. Something rolled off it and fell onto the floor.
I leaned down and picked it up, and that’s when my entire body froze. It was one of those pins. It was from the nunnery where that massacre had occurred. That was my smoking gun. That connected Varn to the guy I’d fed on at the bar. I clutched my hand around it. The pin should’ve perforated my palm, but it didn’t. I shoved it into my pocket. It gave me the strength to push past my desires. I didn’t glance at the trestle table once. I got back to searching through the filing cabinet. My kingdom for a computer – but there wasn’t one in here. It was decidedly low-tech.
It was when I was down on my hands and knees, searching through the files, that I felt him approaching. Despite the fact the door was thick, my sense of smell was so much more powerful. Varn had just arrived on the third floor, and he was angling toward his office.
I bolted up. I shoved the pin in my pocket. I didn’t make any effort to straighten his documents. At least I closed the filing cabinet. I made it back over to the window. I threw myself out. I managed to close it. Then I hung there. Where the hell would I go?
I just moved, letting my body decide. There was another level above this one. I jumped up. It was insane. There were several meters between me and the window ledge above me, but right now, that didn’t matter. I swear I could have jumped over the moon if only it would keep me safe from him.
I grabbed hold of the windowsill above me, and I pulled myself up. I broke the latch on the window and shoved in. I collapsed on my knees on an expensive, patterned red and blue Persian carpet. For a few seconds, I kept my eyes closed. Then finally I opened them. And I realized where I was.
You see, it only took one smell. One breath, and my mouth opened, my lips trembling.
It was his bedroom.
I kneeled there, broken, frozen, confused, and… alive. The alive bit started in my gut, darted up into my heart, and pulsed through me. I felt this jolt. The weakness that had been robbing me of the ability to move down in his office was gone. By God, it felt as if it had been burned up.
I took a step forward, and I did not stagger once.
His bedroom was, predictably, large – but his massive bed stood out and drew the eye.
My eyes locked on it. My nostrils flared. I shouldn’t need to tell you I could smell him.
The smell was so intense that I swore I could recreate his presence. As I closed my eyes, it was like he was right there in front of me.
I took a step forward. Now I did stagger. But it had nothing to do with the fact I was weak.
I wasn’t paying attention to anything anymore. A bomb could have gone off in front of me. The door could’ve opened into the room. I wouldn’t have noticed.
Which was ironic, because the door did open into the room.
My eyes closed.
The scent of him became stronger – almost impossible to ignore. I thought it was just the room.
Until I felt something moving in front of me. I opened my eyes. And there he was. Varn Thorne.
My dreams were about to become real. That, or my nightmares.
I couldn’t really tell you what happened to me. My sensations – my thoughts. All of it was a mess. A mess with him standing right in the middle – the only clear thing, the only real thing, and the most dangerous thing of all.
I didn’t have time to think that I shouldn’t have come here. Nor did I have time to think that I should run.
Because he loomed in front of me like a storm cloud.
His scent wasn’t just all around me now. As he let out a slight growl and ducked forward, his arms pushed open. But this would be no embrace.
In a snap, my mind caught up to me. I was in danger right now. This was no time to flutter my eyes closed and let my nose get the better of me. I had to get out – or fight.
I kicked back, rolled, and pushed up. I managed to somersault. I landed down on my hands and knees, a few meters away from him.
He turned around. His movements weren’t so much slow, as simply not fast yet. He rounded a hand into a fist and ticked his head to the side. Then he sliced his gaze down my body. “You’re the woman from the bar the other day.”
My lips twitched. I gazed at the door. I could hear the security guards behind it. Clearly Varn had told them not to come in. Yet. So my eyes slid toward the window again. He followed the move. “You might’ve got in that way, but you won’t be getting out that way.”
There was menace in his voice.
It snapped me back to reality. It reminded me exactly what he was.
“What? Are you going to bleed me dry? Am I going to become another one of your countless victims?” As I pushed those words out, I reminded myself of what they meant – because I reminded myself of what he’d done. That was enough to pull me up. I stood. I didn’t know if I looked menacing, but inside, I made my decision. I pushed away the last of his lingering smell.
His lips twitched. “You broke into my office. Now you’ve broken into my room. I’m not the criminal—”
“I am?” I asked, my voice falsely even. “I know exactly what you’ve done, Varn Thorne. I know precisely who works for you. Murderers, thieves, and monsters.”
His cheeks twitched. “This coming from the mouth of a thief herself. I know you went through my office. And judging by the way the documents were arranged, I know you took photos.”
“I’m going to hand it to the DA. They’re going to investigate you again. And they’re gonna pull you down. Someone has to.”
He looked me up and down again. As he did, I knew it was a move to mask the fact his nostrils were opening ever so slightly. His cheeks twitched. “You have no scent. You’re just a human. Why—”
“Just a human?” My voice hit a grating pitch on the word just. “That’s all we are to you, ha? Livestock? Toys? Things to be used and thrown away?”
“I would say I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you don’t seem to care about facts. You should be informed the police have been called.”
I laughed. “So they’re in your pockets, too? Are you going to whip them into shape? Are you going to ensure that next time they don’t interrupt your vampires as they feed?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about—”
“Justin does,” I snapped, my lips moving around the words. “An officer interrupted him from following out your orders. What have you done to the police officer? Fired him? Or lured him into a dumpster and bled him dry?” All of the horrible images I had witnessed over the past week came flooding back in. They reminded me I felt nothing for Varn other than anger. I had come here to do one particular thing.
And it was time to do it.
I took a step toward him. My hands were behind me, clenched into the kinds of fists you could use to punch through solid rock.
His cheeks twitched. “Who—”
“Who am I?” my voice cracked. “Who the hell are you? Your family motto is to hold back the dark, right?”
I got to him. He winced. I watched as his shoulders jostled hard. They moved against the tight fabric of his white shirt. “I—”
“Instead, you give the dark a pathway right through the heart of the city. Someone has to stop you.”
He looked at me again. “And you’re going to stop me, are you?” There wasn’t any menace in his voice, even though there should be. Because to him, I was nothing more than a lowly little human.
Well, this lowly little human was about to show her true colors.
I heard the sound of sirens. That would be the police he’d called. At the back of my head, I realized everything was catching up to me.
Which meant I had to move. So I did. I threw myself at him. I reached him, but that’s when he grabbed my hips, pivoted, and pushed me to the side. I did not let myself be thrown off. I hooked one leg around his back and pulled him over with me. I rolled until I pinned him, my hands on his shoulders.
His eyes opened wide with surprise. “You’re—”
“Not human,” I growled.
His face twitched, anger pushing through it. Just before I could crunch forward, he shoved into me. It was his turn to grab my shoulders. He pulled me up and pinned me against the wall, ramming me so hard, a picture hanging to my left fell off and tumbled against his shoe.
“You’ll find,” he looked right into my eyes, “that I have always and always will,” his lips parted wide, “held back the dark.”
I expected him to crunch in to bite me. He didn’t.
So it was my turn.
From within, I felt the energy I’d been holding back. I’d felt it before. But not like this. I’d been telling myself ever since I’d come here that I had stopped running from what I was, but it wasn’t like this. This was like facing a mirror – a reflection I would never be able to turn away from. This right here was the most defining moment of my life.
I let my teeth push out. And I bit Varn Thorne on the neck.
At first, he stiffened, fear flooding through him, his arms falling loose by his sides. But then in a twitch, he brought an arm up and flattened a hand against the wall by my neck. “Median,” he hissed by my ear.
My eyes locked on his mouth. And there, I watched his lips turn and curl into a smile I would never forget.
This was no dream. This was really happening. And now, there was no turning back.
The end of One More Bite Book One. There are four books in this series, and it is complete. You can continue the story with One More Bite Book Two today.