Bloodshifted Page 5

“Don’t get out of your bed without telling me,” I warned, and then with a sigh that I hoped that the Shadows could hear, I clicked off the light and lay down in the dark.

CHAPTER FIVE

We don’t have eight months anymore, baby.

Lars’s attack had broken whatever illusions I had about biding my time here safely. I’d been lucky, that was all. If Raven couldn’t give me any more blood without turning me, then my powers, limited as they were, were already on the wane. And the longer I waited to escape the more cumbersome I’d be as my stomach swelled, and the more dangerous it would become for both of us.

But how could I escape when Raven would always be able to find me? The only way out was to kill him—but that would bring all his followers and their daytimers after me, and there was no way I could kill all of them at once. I hadn’t even managed to talk myself into killing one just now, when I’d had a good reason to.

I turned over on my side—facing Celine still, just in case—and brought my fist still holding the hammerhead up to my chin. I wished she hadn’t turned on the light: the image of Lars as he begged for mercy was scarring. Some vampire I’d make, even if I did manage to live that long.

Did it have to be like this? I didn’t think so, but who knew? I’d always thought daytimers were craven before—but if this was what it was like to be one, what choice did they have? All the nice ones got brained. I frowned in the dark.

I strongly doubted whoever ruled the roost next would be willing to sleep on the ground, and I was sure Lars was already planning his next attempt, and Celine was probably still willing to help him, and who knew what stake Jackson actually had in things. And that was all before I even dared to guess whatever longer game Raven was playing with Anna.

I reached out for my shoe and held it like a conch shell to my ear, hoping that the Shadows would be willing to whisper to me. When they’d last talked to me on the life raft, they’d said they wanted to meet my son, so maybe—a moonshot of a maybe—they would be willing to help me out. But either they were gone or my current level of panic was too delicious for them to interrupt.

That left the man pretending to be Asher in my dreams. Which meant I’d have to sleep again, somehow.

Fat chance.

* * *

Eventually I did sleep, but I didn’t dream again, or if I did I didn’t remember it. Celine’s voice pulled me back into the real world.

“I’m getting up now,” she said, and I heard her slide her curtains back. Without any visual cues, being in our room was like being in an abyss. I had no idea what day or what time it was. It was hard to pretend I was somewhere else, though, when I was still holding on to a hammerhead and a stake. “Did you hear me? Are you going to turn the lights on?”

I sat up and found the remote where I’d put it, right beside my shoes, and clicked the largest switch. When the lights came on I found her staring down at me out of her bed like a vulture. “What time is it?”

“Time for some of us to go to work. Assuming I have your permission, of course,” she said, giving me an insincere smile.

“Sure,” I said. She hopped off her bed, swept some clothing out of her black lacquer wardrobe, and gave me a look before heading out the door. The bell hanging over it jingled merrily.

I was suddenly glad I’d taken that fast shower yesterday. I picked up my right shoe and tilted it, trying to see into its depths. “Shadows?”

There was a movement in the toe—something scampered, like a beetle or baby rat.

“Are you still here?”

“Are you trying to kill what’s left of us?” the contents of my shoe protested with a hiss, and I quickly tilted it back, moving to block it with my body from the light.

“Sorry, sorry!” I ducked down, trying to keep an ear out for anyone moving in the hall, or Celine’s return, while cradling the shoe against me to protect it from the light as I cast enough of a shadow to get them to come out and talk. I felt a flood of relief, and then shame—to think that I was so desperate to have a piece of home that I was happy to see the Shadows. “Have you been in there this whole time?”

“Unfortunately.”

My eyes narrowed, thinking back to the talk I’d had with them on the raft—and I remembered that they’d escaped the Maraschino’s sinking by hitching a ride on me. “You all owe me. Get me out of here. Now.”

The disembodied voice inside the darkness of my shoe cackled aloud.

“It’s not funny—” I could easily tuck one of the vanity’s lightbulbs in my shoe and kill them.

“It pains us to admit this, but here we’re almost as powerless as you. We left the vast bulk of ourselves behind in Port Cavell when this small piece went with you in your luggage. And not all of us agreed as to the wisdom of hiding on you in the morgue on the doomed ship, so we became even more divided. Those fools went down with the Maraschino, and met our more difficult cousin. The portion of us that remains, you could hold easily inside your palm.”

“But—” The Shadows back home were able to heal people, and make them forget things and do things they didn’t want to do—

“But nothing. We’ve been trying to escape since your helicopter landed. We want to go back to the rest of us, where we belong. Only there was no dark opportunity to hitch a ride safely on your shapeshifter or Anna, and so now we’re trapped here. Again. With you.” They sounded indignant, as if they were the ones getting the worse end of the bargain. “We went scouting last night, but all the hallways here are lit, and most of the construction is solid stone. There’s a lot of food here at least, not counting you, although we do enjoy your generally high levels of paranoia.”

The Shadows fed on emotions—that was why back home they lived underneath the hospital. My elation at discovering them was fading fast. “Don’t feed on me—”

“We could hardly help it after the attack last night,” they tsked. “We are what we are.” And what they were was self-serving. I frowned again, as they went on. “But we do want to go home, and we would be willing to pool our efforts with you toward that end.”

By which they meant they’d help me as long as I helped them … but if they found their own way back, they’d ditch me without a second thought. Still, it was more than I’d had last night. As far as deals with the devil go, baby—well, at least it’s a devil we know.

There was a knock at the door. “Edie? You still alive?” Jackson’s voice. I dropped the shoe and stood up to shimmy down my skirt, which had become a belt on me the second I’d turned in my sleep. Then I swooped up the hammerhead and makeshift stake, just in case.

“Still breathing,” I said as he pressed the door open and came inside.

“Glad to hear it.” He gave me a genuine smile, then shook his head after looking at my hands. “We’re not allowed to have weapons here.”

I set the hammerhead back onto the post left in the hammer and held the whole thing with one hand. “Look, now it’s back to being just a tool!” I said in my best magician’s-assistant voice.

Jackson snorted. “Points for trying. I figured I could make an exception for you last night, but you can’t walk around with it—I can’t have you killing anyone by accident. Give the stake to me to dispose of.” I handed it over reluctantly. “You can hide the hammerhead somewhere in here for now. No promises it’ll be there when you get back, but it might, if you make it hard enough to find. I’ll wait outside.”

I knew he was probably right outside the door, which given his hearing meant I wasn’t all that private. And the hammer wasn’t the only thing I wanted to ditch—I didn’t like the idea of the Shadows hanging out with me all day. I looked around the room trying to find a place for both things, and my eyes lit on Celine’s mattress.

She was shorter than me—and she wasn’t a princess. I didn’t think she’d feel something if I jammed it into the end of her bed. I pulled up the lip of the fitted black satin sheets and used my unreal strength to shove the hammer head inside, after making a hole. Then I picked up my shoe. “You guys too,” I whispered, shaking it.

For all their blustering, in a lit room they were really at my mercy. I thought I saw something scurry from my shoe to the mattress, but I couldn’t be entirely sure. Maybe they were dividing up again, splitting their chances. I squinted into the depths of the hole I’d made in the mattress, and then into the toe of my shoe, where I didn’t see any abnormal darkness, then I pulled the sheets back down and tucked them into place.

I pulled on my shoes, and rescued my vaguely clean underwear from the corpse of the cot to pull them on too, then went out to join Jackson in the hall.

* * *

“What now?”

“Now I finish showing you around and make you useful,” he explained as he started walking.

I remembered Raven’s comment from the prior night. “Will you be teaching me more manners?” I said, half teasing, half not.

“Yeah, I’m a regular finishing school,” Jackson chuckled, leading us around a corner and down a hall. Other tunnels branched off to either side, lit, but led to doors or sharp turns, so I couldn’t see where they finished, although I got the idea that this place was enormous. “Today we’ll just go clean the club, and then we’ll see what Raven has in store for you later.”

I wondered if our tour would conveniently include the prisoners’ cages, so I could say hi to my dream-time friend. Then I realized that if we were up, probably everyone else was too.

“Will Lars be helping us?” I stroked one hand over the other—it was too easy to remember the feel of my knuckles hitting his ribs, the unreal strength I’d had, and the unfamiliar urge to use it on him.

“No. But he’ll be there when Raven convenes us all tonight.” We reached a set of stairs and Jackson headed up. I stood at the bottom, pondering.

“How did I know what to do? When he attacked me, that is.”

Jackson stopped and turned. “The blood told you.”

“What—how?”

“You’re part of the system now. Blah blah death, blah blah life, black and white, yin and yang, epic struggle, entropy. You’ve heard it all before. What it means is that you’re now on the dying side, and you’ll naturally want to kill things.”

“What?” I said, like I hadn’t heard him.

“It’s worse when the blood’s fresh. Don’t worry, it’ll fade in time, unless you get a new transfusion.”

“But I don’t want to kill anything.”

He snorted. “That’s what everyone says in the beginning.”

“No, really, I mean it—” I said, determined to convince him.

“Well, I’ve never met a vampire who could live without death before. But you’re welcome to try to be the first.” He turned around and kept walking up, and I trotted after him. I felt the need to prove myself.

“What would you have done, if you were me?”

He shrugged. “It’s hard your first night. You seem to know the score, so you must have had some dealings with our system before now. And vampires don’t give blood to complete idiots, so—well, I don’t know. Before here I had what you would call a troubled past. Add to that the fact that I have a temper and I’m a man, and we’re more prone to beating each other’s heads in, and I’m older than I look—yeah. I probably would have killed him. And you should have no doubt in your mind that he was out to kill you.”

The chip of rock Lars had taken off the floor with his first blow was a pretty big clue.

“I’m not telling you to sympathize with him, but the day you don’t get enough blood to be able to fight back is usually the day you die.” Jackson inhaled deeply. We’d reached the top of the stairs, and he pulled a large key ring off his belt. “If you and I had to share the same Master, I’m not sure what I would have done in his place. And if you’d been stupid, or complacent, or scared, or naive, well, his problem would have been solved, neatly. But he failed, and you didn’t kill him, so we’ll all have to keep on being one big happy vampire family.”

I frowned. “The last time someone told me that, she died.” And she’d been a daytimer too—Sike. I remembered her cruel smile and her red hair—and the lengths to which she’d gone to rescue Anna and her final sacrifice to save me. I had so much more sympathy for her now that I knew what it was like to be like this. And whatever being a daytimer was, it hadn’t wrung all of the human out of her. I looked back up and found Jackson watching my face.

“Were you close to her?” he asked.

I shook my head. “Not as close as I am now.” I didn’t know what else to say—all the questions I wanted to ask him were too leading. I’d just said I didn’t want to kill anyone, and yet killing Raven was my quickest ticket out of here. I could hardly ask Jackson for help with that, though.

“Stop worrying about hypotheticals,” he said sagely. “The only thing you’ll be killing today is germs in the bathroom with me.”

CHAPTER SIX

He unlocked a closet, revealing a panoply of cleaning supplies, and then we carried the tools of our trade through two more locked doors. Locks were fine up here—because they were meant to keep prying people paying to dance out of the real catacombs below. The final door led into a basement, and I was hit by a wall of scent. Smoke, old and new, sweat, sex, fear—I stood in the doorway for a second, overwhelmed, but Jackson walked on in.

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