Bloodshifted Page 17

By then Jackson had returned with the vacuum cleaner. He knotted up the corners of the sheet that Rex had died on and set it aside so he could run the vacuum cleaner over the dust that remained.

“Do they kill each other often?” I asked when he was done, pointing at the sack.

“I’ve seen it happen a few times. Raven doesn’t tolerate dissent.” Jackson shook his head at the whole situation. “I’m ready to call it a night, even if it’s not dawn yet. We can regroup and compare notes again tomorrow.”

“Sure.” I still had things to do, and I needed to be alone to do them.

Jackson picked up the sack and carried Rex out like a mockery of Santa Claus, trailed by a small dusty cloud, leaving me alone with Lars.

I looked down at the dead daytimer. Had the most defining moment of his life actually been his death? What was happening to him now, inside him—would he be the same person when he came out on the other side?

Would I, if it ever happened to me?

I hope I never have to find out, baby.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Celine was still in our room when I returned, sitting on her bed-throne, and back to being disappointed to see me. She looked like someone had stood her up, and I felt bad for her until I realized who that was.

I wanted to change and put the lighter somewhere safe and fold the rompers back up and keep them separate from my other stuff, but I was uncomfortable with her still being in the room.

“I think I’ll go take a shower now,” I said. I’d picked up my towel and started to slink back out the door when there came a loud knock from outside. Celine hopped off the bed instantly.

“Yes?” She trotted to the door, pushing me out of the way.

The door opened, and Estrella stood outside. When she saw Celine’s face, with her no-makeup makeup on, hair tousled gently to her waist, she smiled. “My lovely, come attend.”

And just like that, I had the room to myself.

* * *

I didn’t have that much time before dawn—if I was going to set the Shadows out to look for the prisoner, I needed to hurry while everyone else was occupied.

Did I really need his help if Anna was on her way? I might have hesitated before Natasha’s demonstration tonight. But now that I didn’t know how many test subjects Raven would turn into vampires before Anna got here—what was that saying, that the enemy of my enemy was my friend? In that context, the prisoner and I should be besties.

I flicked off the lights, bent down, and set my hand down onto the ground.

“Shadows? Are you still here?”

For a time, silence. And then a sarcastic voice. “What, you want us to shake your hand?”

“Remember how we’re on the same team? It’s time for you to help out.”

“With what?” Their voices were closer.

“There’s a prisoner here who’s trapped down in the tunnels in the dark. I need you go to looking for him for me.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“No clue. His cell is covered with a silver grate—that’s how you’ll know you’ve found it.”

“How many tunnels are there?” They sounded unsure.

“I don’t know. But at least they’re in utter dark, and they’re under here, so you can still feed.”

“Why should we help him?”

“Because he’s Raven’s Sire. He’s promised to kill him, and once he does, we can go.” I didn’t want to tell them about Anna or Gideon just yet; there was always the chance they might try to sell me out.

A chill viscous fluid rolled into my hand. Was it just me, or did the Shadows have a little more substance to them? I knew they were still feeding on all the turbulent emotions happening above in the club.

“Why does your hand taste like vampire dust and shapeshifter?”

“It’s been a very long night.”

I grit my teeth and poured them into my tennis shoe again, so I’d know where they were and they could stay in the dark. “One second. I need to change—hide, okay?” I warned, and flipped on the light.

* * *

I took the fistful of vampire-dusted leads I’d plucked from cleaning the autopsy table and looked for a place to hide them. I settled on sticking them underneath the zebra rug’s neck, under the ridge of its mane. Then I took off my rompers, put them back into a box, and safely set the lighter back into my bra.

Then I pulled on the spandex outfit I’d been given earlier and put my tennis shoes back on. Inside the Shadows were cold on my foot and sloshed up between each of my toes.

“Could you make this experience any more disgusting?”

“Do you really want to know?”

I didn’t answer them, I just started walking.

* * *

I ran when I felt safe running, and I walked when I thought I should walk. Asher had told me not to do anything foolish—but Natasha’s experiments called for desperate actions. Even if Anna bled herself silly, she couldn’t do what Natasha’d just done.

Strangely, for once luck was with me. I reached the end of the tunnel—where it opened into unknown darkness—without incident and took three steps inside. Even that was far enough to give me a claustrophobic feeling, as if the tunnel were closing off behind me.

I knelt, pulled off my shoe, and let the Shadows spill on the ground.

“Can you keep track of time?” I asked them.

“Yes. It’s an hour until dawn.”

“How fast can you search?” The quicker Raven was dead, the safer the world would be.

“Depends on where he is. We can return here once we’ve found him, we’ll remember the way.” The utter darkness that made here creepy for me served them well. They could probably keep dividing an infinite number of times, sending smaller pieces of themselves down every possible passageway.

“I’ll come back here then—but I might have to wait until it’s safe.”

“When will you learn there’s no safe place for you here?” they chided.

“I know that. I do.” Now more than ever. “Hurry.”

They slunk away, and it felt like the darkness around me pressed in. I leapt back into the lit portion of the hall and raced the whole way back to Celine’s.

* * *

After that I decided to risk taking a shower. A lot had happened since my last one—I felt like I was covered in a thin coat of dust and darkness. I emerged afterward and made my way back to Celine’s room, only to find Jackson leaving it with a bag.

“I grabbed some of your clothes for the laundry service—smelled like someone puked on you last night, sorry.” He looked apologetic. Maybe because I smelled like his soap again. No—he was too sincere for that.

“That’s fine, thanks,” I said, even as my heartbeat rose in worry.

“You did good tonight. See you tomorrow.” He moved around me and headed down the hall. It was hard not to fling the door open after he’d left.

Celine was still with Estrella, so he’d had his run of the place. My rompers were gone—and the hammerhead I’d put into Celine’s bed—and the vampire-dust-impregnated stickers I’d hidden under the zebra’s mane.

The only thing I had anymore was the lighter that’d come to the shower with me. Fuck.

Jackson knew vampire dust was flammable—and he knew that I knew, so he’d searched the room and taken anything I could use as a weapon away from me. He wanted me to play both sides, to betray the friend who was trying to rescue me, to stay here and play our Master’s monster games—how dare he disarm me. I could chase after him in the hall but I could hardly cop to wanting to blow things up.

Or I could chase after him in the hall, tackle him, and break both of his legs just like I’d broken Lars’s. Cold darkness began unfurling inside me—

“No!” I whirled and hit Celine’s mattress without thinking first. It gave, rebounding violently back up, and I caught myself, startled.

That wasn’t me. That was just Raven’s stupid blood talking again. I wanted to be rid of it—I only wanted to be me. Plain mistake-making but well-intentioned human me. I just didn’t know how to get back to that yet—and hell, I couldn’t afford to be just human right now, not when I was swimming with so many sharks.

I flipped the zebra skin back and sat down among the pillows, hugging my knees to my chest, feeling helpless and angry. I’m usually not like this, baby. I promise I’ll make a good mom. You’ll see.

I curled up into a ball on the floor and waited for sleep to come, and hoped that I wouldn’t have any dreams.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Nothing was ever that easy.

The second my eyes were shut, the prisoner appeared. “Are you on your way?”

We were in the desert again, and I lay down in my dream as I was lying down in real life. I just wanted to be quiet and calm. “Can I get ten seconds to myself?”

He was quiet, but I could almost hear him counting down. I waited for twenty-five seconds, then rolled up to sitting and sighed. “Yes. The Shadows are on their way.”

“Who are they?”

“Friends of mine. They’re hard to explain.” And they weren’t exactly friends. “They can only live in the dark. They’re searching the tunnels for you now, and when they find you they’ll let me know.”

He nodded his head. “That’s good.”

“You’re sure you can kill him?” I studied his face, watching for any deception as he answered me.

“Yes.” His brow furrowed. “What’s changed?”

I didn’t know if it was wise to tell him. Whatever Raven was doing, if another vampire figured it out—then I realized he might be able to read my mind.

“It’s working, isn’t it? That’s why they no longer need me.” His face darkened before I could voice my fears.

“You tell me,” I said, trying to sound cagey.

“Your friends are really on their way?” His voice went low, and he looked at me just as intently as I’d been looking at him.

“I swear they are. Are you able to read my mind?”

He paused long enough that I became scared of his answer. “Not entirely. Only your surface thoughts. That’s how I was able to re-create your living space, and your man. And that’s how I know you won’t be scared by this.” He stepped away from me and concentrated, and the picture of him inside my mind shimmered just like my fireplace had. “The image I present to you now is how I used to be. It is not how I look now.”

Here was where I’d find out he had no legs and I’d have to carry him—I shushed my grim imagination as the new image of him resolved.

Clothed, he looked the same. But he tilted his head and moved his hair back so that I could see a band of white around his neck, and then the top half of his toga disappeared to show me the skin of his chest. Like a chameleon changing colors, his dark skin became marred with white stripes, some thick, some thin.

“Do you know how long it takes a vampire to scar?”

I shook my head. “What are those from? Silver chains?”

“Yes. And weapons to hollow me out with.” He pulled the cotton covering his hip away to show me scars spiraling out on him like blurry galaxies.

“With me too weak to fight back, chained down by enough silver to kill anyone else.”

“Then why didn’t you die?”

“Because of Raven.” A dark smile spread across his lips, and I backed away, suddenly fearful of being too close. “Without his interference, I would have joined the rest of them. Osiris the Unrepentant, Constantine the Immortal, countless others with names just as fanciful. One by one, they all disappeared. What do you think keeps a vampire going as the eons pass us by? As we become more separate from the world, and the world itself more complex?”

“I have no idea,” I confessed.

“Only the will to survive. Having to drink your blood keeps us among you, makes us change, keeps us fighting. We may kill humans, but without being dragged into your lives, we would die.

“The others of my kind, dark siblings from my past, became tired of you. Of trying to walk among your kind, learning new ways to be. And their histories became so heavy—imagine living centuries and being able to remember every victory and every loss with perfect clarity. Even we lose sometimes, and the perfect knowledge of each failure sits and burns in the belly like coal. Eventually even we, who ought to live forever, for as long as there are human footsteps on the ground, realize what we’ve lost—or we go insane.”

“All your friends are dead?” I asked, and he subtly nodded. “But if they’d lived so long—what killed them?”

“At the end, if it is of our choosing, we drift off into the dark places and let the waters swallow us whole.”

I wondered if they felt how I had after the Maraschino sank, when I’d jumped off the life raft and been ready for the Leviathan to swallow me—maybe they too had been filled with a profound longing to finally be somewhere quiet and rest.

“Without Raven’s interference, that might have also happened to me. Perhaps I should be pleased he’s trapped me here, and given me this opportunity to be fueled by anger far past my normal time.”

“How old are you?” I could guess from his clothing, but I wanted to hear him say it.

“I was created during what you all call the Roman Empire.”

If he and all those like him had managed to keep wringing enough life out of humanity for themselves to live, over thousands of years—how many people had they killed? If I thought about it like that, he deserved whatever Raven had done to him—it was a small measure of payback for thousands of years of him killing us.

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