Bloodshifted Page 4

“How are you awake during the day?”

“I’m not awake. When I sleep, I can walk from dream to dream.”

“Which one of them are you?”

“No one that you’ve met yet.” He took a step toward me. “I am a prisoner here, just like you.”

“Why?” I demanded.

He grinned just like Asher did, a little rogue. “Why were you imprisoned here? Bad luck, cruel whimsy? It doesn’t matter why—only that we both long to be free.” He reached a hand out. “If you can find me, I can free us both.”

I crossed my arms. Whatever he was, he was dangerous. I already had a plan; all I had to do was stay alive.

“Do you really think it will be that simple?” he asked, which was when I realized he was in my head. It made sense, all the familiarity and the dreams, but it made his intrusion more violating. I took another step away from him, nearer the blurry glow of the fireplace. “I can only read surface thoughts—only what you’re thinking now.”

“I’m thinking I don’t need your help—”

“But you do. And I need you—to find me and free me,” he said, with Asher’s face, even as his voice was changing to someone else’s. “I’m the only one who can get you out of here alive.”

I shook my head, refusing him—whatever he was—when his face became stern and frightening. A shock of cold fear raced through me as he lunged in and I screamed, diving backward into the fireplace’s imaginary flames.

I went rolling across the cold rugless ground in Celine’s room. Only we weren’t alone anymore and there was a sharp metallic sound as something hard hit the cot I’d been sleeping on. I heard the metal of the cot’s frame bend and break, and even in the dark I had no doubt if I’d still been in it, I would have died.

CHAPTER FOUR

Celine had to know she’d missed. I crouched down, trying to make myself a smaller target, reacting on instinct. Everything in my body narrowed, condensing, focused—maybe the blackness helped—and I calmed down until I couldn’t even hear myself breathe.

I heard Celine take a step and there was no time for thought. If I waited, I might lose her in the darkness. I took a hunched leap to where I’d heard her and then swept up to standing, hopefully inside the range of any weapon she had. I grabbed her bodily and took her to the floor, and heard her weapon clatter away, part of my mind registering where it landed for later—when I realized I wasn’t fighting a she; there were huge muscles underneath the cotton in my hands. The man I was wrestling with took advantage of my half second of surprise and grabbed me, whirling me down, and I knew he was trying to hold me against the stone while reaching out for the weapon he’d dropped.

I punched him with my free hand, in the chest exposed below his reaching arm, and was horrified to feel ribs break. The man groaned but didn’t stop reaching. I knew I couldn’t take the chance of him grabbing it, whatever it was—I punched again, and the same ribs that I’d just broken cracked fresh under my fist.

I wasn’t the only one who was at least a little invulnerable. I punched again, and again in the same spot, remembering when I’d watched Lucas’s hand pierce a werewolf’s chest with his own supernatural strength. With each blow I could feel the man shudder over me as if he’d been shot, but he didn’t let go of me or guard himself; he just kept straining out. It made me even more afraid of him reaching the weapon—whatever it was had to be bad.

Our stalemate couldn’t last forever—and I’d rather it ended on my terms than his. I used the force of one more punch and the leveraging of a leg to get him up and hurl him away from me, and from the thing he was reaching for, and then I went for it. I grabbed a handle, snatched it up, and fell into another soundless crouch. My feet were on top of the zebra skin now. I instantly knew where in the room I was, and from the feel of the handle and the weight of one end, the thing I was holding was a hammer.

My eyes widened in the dark. A hammer wasn’t a joke. Whoever I was fighting had meant to kill me. And if I died, so would my baby. My first instinct was to scream, and I bit my lips to keep it back. I was supposed to have eight months and then get home safe, not be murdered on my first day here. It wasn’t fair—but nothing had been fair for a while now, had it? My baby and I still weren’t safe.

Something cold and angry flowed through my veins. I felt as though a tap had been turned on inside myself; it had that feeling you get after certain shots or drugs, where your body knows that what is entering isn’t right. It felt like liquid death—like I imagined embalming fluid would feel if someone held me down and plugged it into my carotids. I forced myself to breathe in and out silently and listened with ears that were eerily good for my attacker. I was standing between him and the door, and he had to know that I had the hammer—he was probably trying to figure out if I was willing to use it.

Half of me was. I could see myself cracking his skull like an eggshell, and while the thought of his brains spilling out made part of me recoil in disgust, this new dark part of me was completely fine with him getting what he deserved. I shivered in the darkness, trying not to listen to it.

A true daytimer wouldn’t think twice about mayhem, and neither did this new part of me. I could feel muscles bunching up without thought, as half of me readied like a hunting cat.

But I wasn’t one of them yet, and I didn’t even want to be one. I hadn’t gotten a choice in being changed—and I didn’t want anyone’s brains on my hands. Maybe I’d feel differently later, or I’d invest in gloves, but not today.

I took the hammer in both hands and snapped the head of it off at the top of the handle before I could do anything else.

The man ran past me at the sound, rushing for the door. I swung the shaft of the hammer up like a club, catching him in his chest and taking him down to the ground on instinct, and then, holding the head of the hammer in my hand like a roll of quarters, I knelt down and punched his stomach, hard. I felt the infirmity of flesh as he gasped, all the air knocked out of him.

Just because I didn’t want to kill him didn’t mean I wanted him to escape.

I knew whatever advantage I had could be temporary, so I didn’t stop. I was scared to set him free until I found out who he was and why he’d attacked me. He tried to leverage his legs up, and I swung the shaft out to the side, punching at this new target as hard as I could without thought, catching him simultaneously hearing and feeling his nearest femur snap. Oh, God—

He exhaled in a rush of pain, and then gasped, “Mercy!”

A ploy to gain time to heal? I didn’t want to hit him a second time—but would he fight me again if I didn’t keep breaking things? He’d tried to kill me—and my baby. I let the darkness do what it wanted to in me and swatted the hammer’s handle down again, smashing the same spot on his leg between the hard wood and the stone floor, hearing a fresh crack.

“Mercy!” he grunted.

The obvious pain in his voice brought me back from the brink. This wasn’t me. I couldn’t torture someone who’d already surrendered. Taking in a shuddering breath, I lowered the handle to the ground. “Jackson!” I howled—hoping that the person I was using as a punching bag wasn’t him.

The light came on in the room, momentarily blinding me. My opponent was blinded too, lying in front of me, leg mangled but healing. It was Lars. Celine—present for the whole fight, ensconced on her bed—finally intervened.

“Why did you attack me?” I shouted down at him. I could see his loose leg pulling into place, the bone resetting. “Why?” I shouted at the top of my lungs. Soon he’d be better and I’d have to make a horrible choice—

“Edie!” came a new voice. I whirled, and Jackson was in the doorway. “Calm down. You’re safe.”

“No I’m not! He attacked me!” I clutched the fist with the hammerhead in it to my chest.

“You’re winning. You’ve won.” Jackson patted the air between us to calm me as if I were a wild horse.

“But he tried to kill me! Why?”

Jackson spared Lars a dark look. “He fought you because he thought he had to. Because he’s a fool.”

Time slowed back down as I did, and I realized my entire fight with Lars had taken thirty seconds. A minute, tops. I looked down at Lars, his leg slowly becoming whole, and looked at Jackson to watch his face when he answered me.

“Will he attack me again?”

“Probably not tonight.” He frowned, but I didn’t get the sense he was lying.

And now that I could see I was kicking and breaking someone already down on the floor—I shook my head and quickly stood up.

“Mercy, mercy,” Celine taunted Lars, from the safety of her bed. Now that he wasn’t in mortal peril, Lars scrabbled backward. It seemed like it was taking him longer to heal each time. Maybe injuries were cumulative? I already knew from Y4 that the healing properties of vampire blood were finite, one of many reasons why daytimers stayed close to their Masters.

“You and Lars and Natasha share the same Master. There’s not always enough blood to go around—and blood is power,” Jackson explained, as Lars transformed from someone who looked like he’d lost a fight back to the man I’d seen earlier this morning, minus his torn clothes.

“I was here before you,” Lars growled. “Never forget that.” He brushed by me on purpose on his way out of the room. I stood my ground as his shoulder hit mine.

“So he thought he’d get the drop on me? By attacking me my first night out?”

“He was hoping the blood hadn’t taken yet. Apparently, it has.” Jackson shrugged. “Plus, he’s not much for long-term planning. He’s not the lull-you-into-a-sense-of-comfortable-security type.”

I stared at him, trying to keep my thoughts off my face.

“Like me,” he added, with a wolfish grin. My fist tightened around the added weight of the hammerhead. “Oh, come on, you knew we were both thinking it,” he went on.

Despite my horror, it was hard not to crack a smile. I tossed the hammer handle up and down in my left hand. It was old wood, solid. “The only thing I know for sure now is the next person who tries to wake me is going to get hurt.”

Jackson, still grinning, gave me a short bow. “Then I believe I’ll leave you two ladies to sort things out.”

* * *

I watched him head out the door—and realized what the bell I’d seen earlier was for. Daytimers might not be allowed to lock their doors, but they could make sure guests wouldn’t arrived unannounced. Celine had come in last, and she hadn’t set the bell. She’d known Lars would come for me tonight.

Which meant she was conniving, or she didn’t like to dirty her own hands—or she knew she was too weak to fight me herself. I turned toward her, where she sat on her black bed in her black slip—given the whiteness of her limbs, she looked like a porcelain doll—and I kept my eyes on her as I stalked across the floor and set the bell’s hinge out, so we wouldn’t get any other unannounced company. Her lips tightened at this. She knew she’d been caught. Then I walked over to the destroyed cot.

The frame was bowlegged from the violence of Lars’s blow. And the stone that’d weathered the hammer’s first hit was chipped. Exactly where my brainpan would have been if I’d still been lying down at the time. No wonder everything in here was black—it made it easier to hide the blood.

I swept my sheets up and turned back toward her, staring her down while wearing my ridiculous clothing, my spandex skirt only fractionally below my crotch, with the hammer handle in one hand like a knife, and my fist still around the hammerhead brass knuckles I’d made at my side.

I’d won. I could ask for the bed now, and get it. I could make her sleep not on a cot, but on the floor, in the hall. Or in her bed with me, doing whatever I liked.

Or I could be kind to her and manage to live with myself for another day.

The thing was, if I did that, she’d think I was weak. She’d tried to have me killed—and showing her mercy would earn myself nothing in return. I’d had too many sociopaths before as patients at work; I knew how they worked. No matter how kind you were to them, some dogs would always bite.

But I didn’t want to be one of them. Yet.

“Give me all your pillows except one.”

She threw them at me like an insolent preteen, and I kicked them over to the zebra rug. Between it, the pillows, and the sheets, I could make a tolerable bed. I did so, and then sat down in it, like a bird in a strange black nest. I set the hammer handle down and said, “And throw me the remote for the lights.” That she threw more carefully. I caught it, and she angrily drew her curtains closed.

I thought I’d probably weathered all the attacks on my life there would be tonight. I decided to dare kicking off my shoes, but set them carefully beside me so that I could easily find them again—and in doing so saw a splash of black roll like mercury inside the right one, to stay hidden. I frowned instantly—I had a sinking feeling I knew precisely what that was, although I couldn’t investigate with Celine in the room. The last conversation I’d had with the Shadows had been on the life raft before coming here. I didn’t know why I’d assumed they’d have left me alone, but it’d been foolish of me.

Were they responsible for my dream of Asher? It didn’t seem like them to taunt by proxy when I would be so much more depressed knowing they were here themselves. Hopefully I’d get the chance to ask them tomorrow.

“Can you turn the light off?” Celine asked petulantly from behind her curtains, having decided I was unlikely to wreak revenge.

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