Bleeding Hearts Page 58

The fire was everywhere now, and I could barely hear myself think though the crackle and hiss of flames eating their way through the evergreens. I felt sick. I’d burned that woman alive. Even if she’d been trying to maul and kill me, I couldn’t feel good about it. But I didn’t really have time to feel bad, either.

“Go.” Connor crowded behind me, trying to take the blast of heat for both of us.

We crashed through the hedges and finally fell into cold, sharp air, snow, and a view of the mountains. We crawled to a safe distance and collapsed. There was enough bare dirt between the maze and the fields stretching to the forest at the base of the mountain that the fire wouldn’t spread. Still, birds filled the sky above us, squawking in panic. I heaved air into my lungs. My chest felt like an ashtray.

Connor crouched next to me, but I had no intention of trying to stand up again until my legs felt more like legs and less like Popsicles left in the sun. Snow dusted the weeds and the flowers, pretty as a cupcake.

“Are you okay?” Connor whispered in my ear. He was cold, colder than regular body temperature should be, but I felt too hot. He was like cool water on a humid day. I edged closer to him.

“I have no idea,” I answered. At this point I might have recited “The Highwayman” to myself, but I couldn’t even remember the first line. That scared me more than anything.

But it wasn’t over.

There were shadows on the burning edges of the maze and more coming down the mountainside.

“Now what?”

“More Hel-Blar.”

“How many of those things are there?” I asked, scrambling to my feet beside him.

“Kind of an epidemic right now,” Connor admitted.

“I hate this town.”

Someone erupted out of the fire-licked darkness. I threw my knife. It went a foot wide, and Aidan watched it mildly as it flew past him. “You’ll need to get better at that.”

“You scared the crap out of me.”

He retrieved my dagger and handed it back to me. “Learn fast.”

“Where’s Saga?”

“Busy.”

And then we were fighting again.

I’d love to say that I was a natural. That my attitude and my ability to scare bullies made me fierce in the face of battle.

But the truth was, my aim sucked and I was too slow.

I was outgunned and outmaneuvered. The only reason I was still standing was because Aidan and Connor kept me between them. And then it just wasn’t possible anymore. The Hel-Blar were persistent and vicious. Connor had only the one stake, and Aidan was covered in blood and mud. He was the best fighter I’d ever seen, but he couldn’t be everywhere at once. And some of the Hel-Blar had stakes. Well, whittled sticks, but it amounted to the same thing. They pelted us like sharp, deadly rain. One caught Aidan in the left arm and he hissed. The blood maddened the Hel-Blar further, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. The battle was nearly too fast for my human eyes to see.

I didn’t need to see the stake to feel it pierce my skin, to feel it bite through flesh and muscle and slide past my ribs.

There was numb shock. I gurgled a sound.

Pain flared like electrical shocks. I fell to my knees. Connor and Aidan whirled to look at me. I closed my hand around the makeshift stake and yanked it out of my chest just as Connor paled and began to shout.

“Christabel, no! Don’t pull it out!”

“I’m okay,” I said, then I fell right over. Throbbing lances of fire burned through me. Blood spurted, soaking through my jacket. I was cold and confused. Connor was fighting to get to me but he was too far away. His lips were moving. He was saying something but I couldn’t hear him. Why couldn’t I hear him?

Aidan reached me first. “Stake hit an artery,” he said grimly. “She’s losing too much blood, too fast.” He pushed his sleeves up as Connor dispatched another Hel-Blar. There were two more between us. He kept fighting.

“Turn her!” he yelled, and I could finally hear him, though my vision was graying. “Turn her now!”

Aidan used the tips of his fangs to slice through the skin of his inner wrist. Blood trickled, the color of raspberries. He pressed the wound against my mouth.

“Drink.”

I struggled, gagging.

“Drink or die, Christabel.”

My mouth was open because I was screaming. Blood slid down my throat, coppery and thick. I gagged again but I was too weak to do anything but swallow. My eyelids closed as Connor finally reached us, covered in ash and blood. He plucked me away from Aidan, cradling me against his chest. He was cold. Or was I cold?

“Go,” Aidan said. “Run. I’ll keep the rest of the Hel-Blar off your trail. You have to get her back to your farm. She needs blood and it’s not safe here.” He made a sound, as if he were throwing a weapon. I didn’t have the strength to open my eyes to see. I didn’t even have the strength to care if there were a hundred Hel-Blar. “She’s my bloodkin,” he added. “And I’ll claim her as my daughter.

“Now, run!”

Chapter 22

Lucy

I was crawling in through my window when I heard the creak of the floorboards outside my room. I jumped into my bed, messing up the body-shaped pillows and crumpling the note into a little ball, just as my mom knocked and pushed open the door. She paused, eyeing me blearily.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing!”

She swung the door open wider and marched in, flipping the corner of my comforter over. “Lucky Moon, why are you dressed? Where have you been?”

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