Magic Bites Chapter 6


"Don't you know it's not polite to stare, boy wonder?"

Derek gave Crest a derisive glance. The boy wonder was wearing sweats I didn't recognize. They didn't come from Greg's wardrobe. He must've gone out. Where exactly did he go?

During the night we had moved into a somewhat reclining position and I was lying on Crest's chest. I sat straight. "You disapprove?"

He shook his head. "It isn't my place."

"You don't like him all the same, though."

"He and you..." he made a put-together motion with his hands, fingers spread coming together but not quite touching. "You don't look right together."

"Why not?"

"You're harder than he is."

"What's wrong with that?"

"The man's supposed to be harder. So he can protect."

"Do you think I'm in need of protection?" The threatening overtone crept into my voice without intention.

"He will never tell you no," Derek said.

I stared at him until he lowered his gaze. "Very few people tell me no," I said.


"How's your leg?"


"Did you go out while I slept?"

"Yeah. Just a short jog."

"Maybe you should go for another one."

He left without saying a word. I woke Crest. "Time to go."

He rubbed his face with his palms. "Did I oversleep?"

"It's six thirty."

"Time enough to get home and change clothes. When will I see you again?"

I thought of the Coca-Cola logo half-buried in rubble and a two-hundred-year-old vampire. Maybe never.

"How about on Friday? Gives us a couple of days to cool off."

"It's Friday then."

He left. He didn't kiss me again.

I PRIED OPEN THE PAPER CONTAINER OF GENERAL Tso's chicken and touched a piece with my finger. It was room temperature. The thought of dumping it into a pan and warming it to an edible temperature crossed my mind, but heating it on the stove would make the vegetables mushy and I hated overcooked vegetables. My father, a great believer in the nutritional properties of boiled vegetables and meat broth, had cooked hearty, hot soups. The memory of him watching in distress as I gagged on soft cabbage and half-dissolved onion flashed before my eyes. I smiled at the carton and extracted a fork from the kitchen drawer. Hot food was overrated anyway.

I speared a piece of chicken with my fork, carefully avoiding the lump of green pepper. Suddenly I was ravenous.

Someone knocked.

I paused, the chicken halfway to my mouth, and glared at the door. The knocking persisted. It wasn't Derek. His knock would be careful, almost apologetic. This bastard knocked like he was doing me a favor.

I looked at the chicken, glanced to the door, stuffed a whole piece into my mouth, and went to see who dared to make demands on my time.

The door swung open, revealing Curran. He wore old jeans and a green sweatshirt and carried a brown paper sack. He raised his face and sucked air in through his nostrils in the manner of shapechangers. "Tso's, seafood delight, and fried rice," he said. "You're going to share?"

I leaned against the wall. The door was open but the ward still blocked his entrance, affording me a bit of leisure. "Oh, it's you." I dug in the container with my fork. "I thought it was somebody important."

Curran stepped forward, brushing against the ward. A flash of carmine rippled through the magic barrier and the lord of shapechangers withdrew.

"A ward," he said.

"A good one."

He put his palm against the ward and pushed. Red pulsed from his fingers, spreading through the ward like waves from a pebble tossed into a quiet pond.

"I can break it," Curran said.

I raised an eyebrow at him. "Be my guest."

Shapechangers had a natural resistance to wards, so his promise had some substance. Still, I had reinforced all of Greg's wards. If Curran did break it, the resonance from the collapse would give me one hell of a migraine, but I doubted he could. It was a good ward.

He considered it. I could see it in his eyes, and for a moment I thought he would try it. Then he shrugged. "I could break it, or we can be civil and you can let me in."

Getting tired of power demonstrations, are we, Your Majesty? I unlocked the ward. A wave of silver rolled from the top of the doorframe to dissipate on the floor. "Come on in."

He strode toward the kitchen and stopped halfway, his face a snarl. "What the hell do you have in your pantry, a dead vampire?"

"No. Only the head of one." I had double-bagged the head, sealing it in plastic, and still he smelled it.

I perched on the edge of the table and nodded toward the gathering of white cartons. "Help yourself. There's fried rice in there somewhere."

He put his paper bag on the floor, picked a carton indistinguishable from any other, took the spoon I offered him, and popped the carton open. "Peas," he said with disgust. "Why the hell do they always put peas in it?"

"So what brought you here so bright and early?"

He used his spoon to pick out the peas with great care, depositing them into the trash. "Heard that you got something."

"Boy wonder snitched on me?"


"When? This morning?"

Curran nodded. "It's the blood oath. For example, if he were to get his leg ripped to shreds, it's his duty to warn us that he can no longer guard you to the best of his ability. Someone had to come and assess the situation."

"Since when is 'someone' you? Don't you have plenty of flunkies to run your errands?"

He shrugged. "Just checking on the kid."

"Last night his leg looked like it went through a shredder. He won't let me look at it, but I think the bone is intact." A shapechanger's body healed the flesh wounds within a couple of days. Mending bones took much longer.

Curran swallowed a mouthful of rice. "Figures. He's young. It's important to be stoic when you're a young guy. You didn't fuss over him, did you?"

"No. He should be limping in pretty soon."

"You're going to show me what screwed up his leg?"

"After I'm done eating."

"Weak stomach?"

"No. It's a pain in the ass to wrap it back up."

A careful, measured knock interrupted us. I went to open the door and let Derek inside. He saw Curran and stopped. He wasn't exactly at attention, but he came close.

Curran waved him in, and Derek took a chair out of the way. I looked at Curran. "Any more rice in there?"

He chose another container and gave it to me. I opened it and pushed it toward Derek. "Eat."

He waited.

He had to be ravenous. The amount of calories his body burned to repair itself ensured that the mere hint of food filled his mouth with drool.

"Derek, eat," I said.

He smiled and sat still.

Something was wrong here. I glanced at Curran and put two and two together.

"This is my house."

They both looked at me with the patient expression Japanese traditionalists adopt when silly gajin ask them why they go through all that trouble just to drink a cup of tea.

"He doesn't eat until I tell him or until I'm done," Curran said. "Doesn't matter whose house it is."

I set my chicken on the table and crossed my arms. I could argue the point with them until I turned purple in the face and neither would relent. The low-ranking wolves didn't feed before their Pack King. It was the way of the Code. They lived by its rules or they lost their humanity.

Curran put another spoonful into his mouth. Time stretched as he chewed the food. Derek sat still. The urge to slap Curran was almost too much for me.

The Beast Lord scraped the bottom of his container, licked the spoon, reached over the table and took away Derek's rice, replacing it with the brown paper sack he had brought. Derek glanced into the sack and retrieved a bundle of waxed paper tied with a cord. He snapped the cord and unwrapped the bundle. A five-pound shoulder roast looked back at him.

Curran jerked his head toward the hallway. "Don't make a spectacle of yourself."

Derek rose, gathering the roast, and disappeared into the depths of the apartment. I glared at Curran.

"I like fried rice," he said with a shrug. He slid the spoon under the paper flaps of the other small paper box, forced them open, and proceeded to pick out the peas.

The low rumble of a predator feeding came from within the apartment.

"Keep it down," Curran said without raising his voice.

The snarling died.

"So what do you have?"

I sketched it out for him, concluding with the vamp's head. The undead flesh had liquefied over night, turning into putrid black goo. The stench of rot was so strong that by the time I opened the second trash-bag both the Beast Lord and I were gagging in the most undignified manner. Curran took one look at the distorted skull and tied the bag shut.

"Should've done it before we ate," he observed when we managed to secure the head.

"Yeah." I opened the window, letting a gust of cold wind into the kitchen.

"So you're planning on taking this on by yourself? No backup?"


"Going to notify the cops?"

I grimaced. It had nagged at me since I awoke. To go to the cops would mean bringing in the Paranormal Activity pision, and as soon as the pision gave the MSDU their mandatory notification, the military would try to step in and eat the whole pie by themselves. The pision would cry jurisdiction and the whole thing could stretch for several days. By then my friendly nemesis could be gone or worse, he could have gained leadership of the People. The fact that I had a lot of assumptions and a strange skull wouldn't exactly make the authorities abandon the departmental rivalry and hurry on my account.

The Guild would offer no assistance. There was no money involved, and if I as much as squeaked to the Order that some asshole tried to start a war between the Pack and the People and herded two-hundred-year-old vampires to do it, Ted would take me off the case faster than I could exhale. On the other hand, trying to confront a rogue Master of the Dead by myself was suicide. I was homicidal but not stupid.

I became aware that Curran was watching me. "I don't know," I said.

"I can solve that problem for you," he said. He was offering the Pack's resources. I would be crazy not to take him up on that offer.

I bent an eyebrow at him. "Why?"

"Because I have sixty-three rats who buried their alpha three days ago. They've been howling for blood, while I've been sitting around with my thumb up my ass."

"That's a big risk to take just for the sake of appearances."

He shrugged. "Power is all about appearances. Besides, who knows? It did snow in May once, so even you could be right."

I let the barb go. "And if I'm not?"

"Then at least I've tried."

It made sense in an odd way. "Who'll come?"

"A few people."




"Because someone from the Council has to stay behind to hold the Pack together if I die. The alpha-wolf has hurt himself, and Mahon stayed behind the last time. The new alpha-rat doesn't have enough experience."

"What happened to the alpha-wolf?"


"Legos?" It sounded Greek but I couldn't recall anything mythological with that name. Wasn't it an island?

"He was carrying a load of laundry into the basement and tripped on the old set of LEGOs his kids left on the stairs. Broke two ribs and an ankle. He'll be out of commission for two weeks." Curran shook his head. "He picked a hell of a time. If I didn't need him, I'd kill him."

I ARRIVED AT THE COCA-COLA BUILDING UNMOLESTED and hid in the shadowy alcove of an abandoned phone booth, half a block from the ruined skyscraper. The logo lay partially buried in the remains of what must have been a magnificent building in its time - even now its skeleton covered the entire block. It had been only ten years old when the flair, a freakishly strong magic fluctuation, took it down.

The shapechangers were nowhere in sight. Across the street a ravaged building careened amidst waist-tall heaps of dusty broken glass. Good place to hide. It took me a minute to find a gap in the crumbling wall. I squeezed through and found fiery eyes glaring at me.

They were battle ready. Pink and black tongues licked mismatched jaws and huge teeth, and long claws made faint scraping noises on the concrete floor. Eight pairs of eyes sought prey, fueled by hunger. The primitive savage of my subconscious howled and yelped in terror.

"Oh, it's you," Curran's voice said quietly. "I thought it was an elephant."

"Don't mind him," murmured a lean shape to the left. "He was born rude." A lupine female in a midform. That bordered on cheeky. She was either his main squeeze or the female alpha of the wolves.

An enormous shaggy Kodiak bear towered to the left, a dark mountain of fur and muscle, his muzzle light with old scars. Mahon had changed all the way. Next to him rose something huge, almost eight feet tall. Vaguely humanoid in shape, it stood on two columnar furry legs. Hard muscle corded its frame, and a shaggy, grayish mane crowned the head and the back of the massive neck. Long stripes criss-crossed its chest, faint like the smoke marks on the pelt of a panther.

I glanced at its face, and the power in its gold eyes rooted me to the floor. Goose flesh marked my limbs. I couldn't move. It could have pounced on me and I couldn't have done anything to stop it. The mammoth muscles of its neck bulged as it rolled its head one way, then another, stretching. The twin pads of its upper lip split, revealing three-inch-long canines. The monster licked his lips, long lines of whiskers twitching, and spoke in a deep growl. "Pretty, aren't I?"

Curran. In midform. I broke from his gaze. "Adorable."

The nightmare made a barely perceptible nod, and a ratman scuttled forward with superhuman agility and leaped, finding purchase on sheer wall. Up he went to the gap twelve feet above the floor and dove through it. The scout was off.

Curran turned and walked to the wall, where a long crack split the side of the decrepit building. A furry, taloned hand hit the crumbling barrier, and the wall exploded outward, pelting the street with concrete and rock dust. The King of the Beasts ducked through the opening he had made and we followed, single file.

CURRAN HALTED. TO HIS LEFT THE BEAR RUMBLED to a stop. To the right, Jennifer, the female alpha-wolf, carefully put her clawed foot down into the grime and stood still. We froze in silence, a scattering of bizarre statues in the Gorgon's backyard, waiting for something I couldn't see or hear.

The stench of death was overwhelming.

We stood in a wide foyer, its once polished tiled floor now a dusty mess of dirt and rubble. Massive cracks creased the filthy walls, growing into dark uneven holes. To the left a wide fissure slashed through the floor. Ahead rock dust and garbage choked the once splendid staircase. The new Coca-Cola building was on its last breath.

The faint sound of claws scuttling on stone came from the left. A pair of red-coal eyes blazed from the darkness of a crack in the concrete wall, and the sleek furry shape of the ratman filled the gap and dropped to the floor. While the werewolves were nightmarish, the ratman leaned toward repulsive. Thin and shaggy, he was covered with dark fur, except for the face, forearms, and wood-hard calves, where the exposed skin was light pink and looked soft, almost human. He had huge feet and hands, the size resulting from the long, large-knuckled digits tipped with sharp claws. The beginnings of a misshapen rodent muzzle guarded the mouth, filled with uneven yellowish teeth. Jerky, quick twitches troubled the ratman as he moved, and his human eyes darted to glare in random directions.

The ratman closed the distance to Curran in short rapid leaps, his paws raising small clouds of dust from the foyer floor.

"Dourrnstahrs," he said, his horrid jaws crippling the word. "Big roum."

He offered something white to Curran. The Beast Lord took the object into his massive hand, glanced at it, and tossed the thing to me. I caught it. A human femur. Someone with sharp teeth and a lot of persistence had stripped away the cartilage that once sheathed its ends, leaving narrow scratches on the shaft. I turned it, trying to make the most of the dim moonlight filtering through the fissures in the walls and the crooked arch of the entrance. Stripes of smoother, glossy connective tissue crossed the bone in two places - the mark of the Lyc-V knitting the shaft together after it had been broken. I held the femur of a shapechanger.

The ratman scuttled across the foyer to the gap in the floor, and we followed. The fissure ran some ten feet in length and about three feet wide at the widest place. I leaned over the edge and peered into it. There was a clear drop to the floor, sixteen feet below.

Behind me the Bear made a rumbling noise. Curran nodded and the enormous Kodiak turned away. He would never fit.

One by one the shapechangers dove into the gap, until I alone stood by the edge. I sat on the filthy floor, swinging my legs into the hole, lowered myself, shortening the distance as much as I could, and dropped down. The hard shock of landing on the stone floor resonated into my feet and died.

Nobody waited for me. The shapechangers had departed. How nice.

Ahead, a long tunnel, narrow and dark, offered a faint glow. Behind me the remains of an underground garage stretched into the distance. I turned to the tunnel and trotted down, careful to leap over the concrete boulders littering the floor.

The tunnel ended, opening into a large room, of which I could see very little since a gathering of furry, muscled backs blocked my view. The warm glow came from the torches, thrust into rungs in the walls. They burned with smokeless white fire that had to be magic. The ceiling rose impossibly high, decorated with plaster molded into ornamental design. The floor may have been parquet at one point:

Some sort of banquet hall.

A woman spoke, her voice harsh and laced with metal. "Welcome to the end of your journey, half-breed. Here you will die like the rest of your kind."

A half-breed? What an odd thing to call a shapechanger. I moved to Jennifer's side and saw the Master of the Dead. Or rather, the Mistress. She stood in the center of the room, straight and rigid as a mast, wearing a flowing dress that started off-white around her shoulders, transmuting into blue around her waist, darkening to a deeper purple and finally blazing blood red at the hem. Her hair, long and glossy black, was knotted into a complex plait and tied with long stringy twine. A cascade of small plastic beads hung from the twine. I looked closely. On second look, they probably weren't plastic. Few people made plastic beads in the shape of human finger bones.

I felt no power emanating from her. No shadow, no hint, nothing, except her age. She felt older than Nataraja.

"I am Olathe," she said with the same gravity Greek gods must have used to introduce themselves to their mortal children. "The Mistress of the Dead. The favored concubine of Roland, the Father of the People."

Alrighty then.

"Care to repeat that?" Curran said. His voice was a deep snarl, but his diction was perfect. "I missed the part where I was supposed to be impressed."

Olathe looked down on him. Not easy to do considering he was nearly two feet taller than her. She may have been Roland's concubine but it had cost her: once probably beautiful, she looked worn-out, like an old manikin whose grimy paint had begun to peel. He had drained all of her vivacity, her spark, her humor. Only the eyes remained alive on the soulless face: huge, prideful, and driven.

Something shifted behind her in the shadows of the far wall. A twisted silhouette, then another, and another. I reached toward it with my magic, felt the cold wall of her defenses, and withdrew. No need to provoke her before Curran was ready.

"I'm curious, how long did he fuck you?" Curran strode forward, one enormous foot padding after another. The shapechangers followed him. "How long did you last? A year? Six months?"

"Thirteen years," she said.

Curran kept moving forward. The longer he kept talking, the closer to her we would get. He was going out of his way to be offensive, although for him it didn't take much effort. "Thirteen years. Finally grew bored with you, didn't he? Found somebody younger, prettier, fresher. And now you're here, hiding in some shit hole, forgotten and discarded, like a used rubber. Nothing to show for all those years."

She reeled back. "I've held his body in mine. I've tasted his flesh and he passed a blessing of power onto me."

Technically that would be true. If they had shared body liquids, she would have gained some of his power.

"A blessing of power," Curran laughed, the echoes of his snarls scattering to the walls. "How about a child?"

She did not answer.

"Oh, wait." Curran paused. "I forgot. The Father of the People is too afraid to make a child of his blood. Or maybe he found you lacking in power?"

She laughed. The loud hollow sound ricocheted from the walls, seemingly coming from everywhere. "Oh, no, half-breed. Power is something I do not lack."

Her defenses dropped. I felt the shadows behind her, the enraged, ravenous vampires, younger than the one I had beheaded, but formidable all the same. Evil magic clung to them, like a rotting mantle, fueling their frenzy.

She spoke a single harsh word, and the phantoms behind her burst from the shadows, reeking of undeath and hungry for blood.

The shapechangers broke away into a loose fighting formation, leaving me in the middle of the floor. Curran's talking had gained us about twenty feet, and the vampires' charge came with astonishing speed. I hit the ground. The first vamp sailed over me.

I rolled onto my back. Another vamp leaped over me. My blade slid into the flesh of its withdrawn gut. A black gush of its blood drenched the floor an inch away from my head. The vamp aimed for Curran, oblivious to the wound. The Beast Lord roared. Happy hunting.

I leaped to my feet and launched myself toward Olathe. She spun, a small sickle knife in her hand. The curved blade slit her forearm. The power of her blood slammed into me, and I rocked back, dizzy. She whirled, her hair flying, her eyes wild and bulging. The blood from the cut sprayed around her, falling to the ground in a wide circle. The red drops ignited, and a wall of carmine flames rushed upward, enclosing her in a protective circle of magic. A blood ward. The only way to penetrate it was with the blood of a relative or with overpowering magic. Shit.

A vampire hit me from the side. It clung to me, jaws snapping as we skidded across the floor. Pain shot through my stomach. Not again! The magic inside me boiled. I grabbed Slayer's blade with my hand, oblivious to the icy burn, and jammed it into the pale dead eye. Slayer hissed, triumphant. The vamp crashed to the floor and thrashed, dying. I kicked myself free.

Another monster rushed at me. I sidestepped, lunged, and grazed its neck with Slayer's tip. The vamp spun around and buried its claws in my thigh. I rammed my saber into its throat, severing the arteries and slicing through the bones of the neck. The vamp's mouth hung open, spewing blood. My kick hammered into its leg. The bone snapped with a crunch. The vamp dropped on its gut, flailing. I jerked my sword free and went looking for Olathe. Behind me the last spark of the vamp's magic dissipated into thin air.

A third bloodsucker leaped, horrid mouth gaping open.

My blade cut into its chest, sliding smoothly between its ribs into the bulging sack of its heart and out again before the twisted body hit the ground. I kept walking.

The hall was drenched in blood. The shapechangers fought in pairs, their movements coordinated with military precision. In a corner two furry bodies were down, with Curran standing over them, beset by three bloodsuckers at once.

I saw Jennifer and someone spotted like a leopard battling back to back, pressed by four vampires. She dropped and kicked the first one, her claws ripping into its side, wrenching free the bloody shard of a rib. Her partner fell onto the bloodsucker, tearing into its neck. More vamps swarmed on top of them.

Nobody paid me any mind. In the battle of monsters, I was just a human. I kept moving.

The east wall shuddered. Dusty plaster exploded, scattering across the floor and something huge charged through the gaping hole, roaring like a tornado. It hit the clump of the vampires with awesome force. An undead body flew through the air, slamming against the wall. The vampire twisted on reptilian feet and leaped back. A colossal paw swept it from midflight, snapping the spine like a dry twig. The Bear of Atlanta had arrived.

Olathe's blood wall shimmered before me. She stood within the barrier, watching the slaughter. The blood from her forearm slid onto her fingers, dripping to stain her dress. She looked at me and smiled. What the fuck was she so happy about?

She kept grinning, her face bright with sick glee.

"You like blood?" I snarled. "I'll show you blood."

Slayer's blade slit my arm and across the hall the bloodsuckers paused for a single beating of my heart. They knew the blood, knew whose power flowed through my veins. They stood still, mesmerized, paying homage to the magic, and then slashed back into their victims.

I thrust my bloody arm into the red fire. It seared me and solidified, cracking like a fractured windshield. The smile bled from Olathe's face. The carmine fire shattered. A myriad of tiny flames fell at my feet. I leaped into the circle and thrust.

Olathe made no move to counter my sword. It sliced into her stomach with a wet sucking noise. I dragged it upward, cutting through the intestines, cleaving the liver. She sagged forward on the blade, and in her eyes I saw the satisfaction of recognition. She knew my blood, too.

I jerked the blade free and let her fall. She sagged to the filthy floor and lay on her back, drawing hoarse short breaths. A dark stain blossomed on her dress above her navel and spread through the fabric. She possessed an unnatural vitality, but soon the magic that sustained her would dissipate. She expelled it from her body with every labored breath.

I watched the blood stain grow. My anger died. I was tired. My thigh hurt and my stomach felt like someone had taken a red-hot rake to it.

The bloodfire had surged anew after I had passed through it. It would burn until the last of Olathe's blood dried or decomposed, and the banquet hall shimmered red past the translucent wall of ruby flames. It was almost over.

I rolled my head back, cracking my neck, and saw why Olathe had been grinning.

The ceiling teemed with vampires.

Dozens of them, nude, twisted, wriggling obscenely against each other, packed tighter than sardines in a can. They covered the plaster completely, like a medieval painting of hell that had somehow sprung to life, and more were coming, squirming one by one through a dark hole in a corner.

How many? Forty? Fifty? A hundred? How many of them were pre-Shift, pre-magic? I tried to feel and was swamped in the wave of icy hate. At least twenty.

The undead blanket writhed. A sweet surprise Olathe probably planned to spring on us when we thought we had won. Except that in a moment she would die, releasing all of them from her control, leaving them to blood frenzy.

A horde of ravenous undead left to their own bloodlust. We would all die here. Curran, Mahon, Jennifer. Me. And death would spread, when the undead monstrosities burst into the streets after they finished us off.

Across the room Curran tore a vampire in a half, throwing the mangled pieces to the floor.

Dozens of now peacefully sleeping people would perish. They would see their children torn to pieces while they screamed.

I dropped to my knees and cleaved Olathe's chest. The flesh and cartilage parted before the blade and I pulled her rib cage open like a bear trap. She hissed at me. I reached into her chest and grasped her heart, forging a link between us. Through her blood I felt the multitude of vampire minds, drowning in their own madness.

That's the wrong way, my father's voice said from my memory. Don't give in to this.

There is no right way.

I cut my arm deeper, letting my blood mingle with Olathe's, slowly gaining control. She shuddered, her heels kicking the floor. If I let her die, turning the vampire horde loose, they would scatter before my mind could fasten on them. I lacked the proper training in piloting the undead, and my only option was to merge our power through the bloodlink, controlling the moment of her death, so when she passed on, fading from the undead's minds, they would find me already there.

She knew what I was doing. Her teeth bared in a feral grimace, but she didn't have the power to resist the blood-link. The magic of my blood overwhelmed hers. My power spread, flooding the vampiric minds. Clenching my teeth, I squeezed, crushing her heart and her life with it. Power exploded in my fist, forcing me to my feet.

Olathe jerked. Her eyes rolled back into her skull and the full weight of the horde settled upon me.

The room shuddered. Too many. There were too many.

A fiery band enclosed my chest, engulfed my throat, my head, and compressed, crushing me. I stumbled. My knees quivered. My mouth hung open. I couldn't breathe. There wasn't enough air.

I knew I hadn't gotten them all, despite the bloodlink.

Through the hammer of their minds I could feel inpidual stragglers, drowning in bloodlust. I sent the horde against them. The ceiling churned with bodies tearing into each other. A chunk of plaster broke off and plummeted to the floor, breaking into dust two feet away from me. The bloodflames blocked the sound from the rest of the room.

My arms held wide, trying to balance, I looked through the eyes of the vampires and saw a long crack in the plaster. Thank you, God.

The ceiling quivered as dozens of talons ripped into it.

Dimly I saw Jennifer through the shimmering wall of the flames. My lips shaped a word.


She stared at me, unable to hear through the bloodwall.


Suddenly Curran was beside her. He said something, but I couldn't hear.

"Go. Now. Go."

He thrust his hand into the fire and leaped back, his fur melted, his skin red with future blisters.

Another chunk of plaster crashed to the ground outside the circle. To me it made no sound, but they heard the dull thud, jumped, and looked at the ceiling. Jennifer cringed like a whipped dog.

Curran stared at me.

"Go now. Go. Go."

He understood. His clawed hand grasped Jennifer's shoulder and pushed her back. The she-wolf hesitated for a moment and ran.

My sight faded completely. The beating of my heart filled my ears like a tolling of a great bell. I couldn't feel my body, as if it no longer existed. Blind and deaf, I remained in the middle of nothing, swaying, while above me the undead brought the ceiling down. They dug through the plaster and cement to the framework of steel support beams, holding the five stories of concrete above us. Thin arms grasped the beams and pulled with supernatural strength.

God. I haven't been very good.

The metal whined in protest.

I could have tried harder. I could've been a better person. I stand before you now as I am. I make no excuses.

The beams gave, bending.

Please, have mercy on me, Lord.

In my mind's eye I saw the enormous beams breaking. I saw tons of plaster, cement, and steel falling down, onto vampires, onto me, burying us beneath the rubble, sealing a tomb from which not even a vampire could get out.

I felt their hate-filled hungry minds vanishing one by one. Finally I could let go. I released the awful burden and the awareness left me.

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