Mr. Eyelids. He’d been the leader of the pack of fae who’d attacked me New Year’s Eve. They’d terrorized me with their sinister appearance and proposed tortures — but I’d been purely mortal, then. Now…
Now a chill ran through me. My survival was clearly in jeopardy. If he’d left, I probably could have dragged myself out of the sun, but I doubted he’d let me while he could prevent it. And as long as he kept me at a curtain rod’s length away I wasn’t going to get a chance to bite him. How long would it be before my body stopped smoldering and actively burned? Before I was a shriveled, helpless briquette like Mr. Salvatore?
My eye narrowed as I shifted my train of thought from fear of death toward survival options. Would Hans get here before Mr. Eyelids disposed of my body? If Mr. Salvatore could be brought back, then so could I.
Mr Eyelids scowled. “You aren’t afraid?” He asked. It sounded like a complaint.
I would have smiled at him if I could — but I couldn’t with what was left of my lips. The barest fraction of a plan had formed in my thoughts: delay. Hans was on his way back from work. I tried to talk; failed. I coughed — a ragged, wet hack, and tried again. “Sorry, Mr. Eyelids,” I slurred cheerfully. “I’m too far dead for that. But if you’re really interested in feeling fear, why don’t you just come a little closer?”
Mr. Eyelids snarled. I laughed as best I could.
“Oh, is your own fear not as appealing?” I taunted. “Too bad. Especially since I can’t imagine being afraid of you anymore. You couldn’t catch me with an entire posse of goblins, so why should I be worried about you now? You’re all by your lonesome, Eyelids. Did Mr. Salvatore kill off too many of your followers? Maybe the rest went awol while you were back in faerie land?” I laughed harder. It was a raspy hack. “I’m a vampire now, you know. I don’t even need to sic him on you to destroy you. I can do it myself. So, no, I’m not afraid of you.”
Of course, I was pretty damn close to helpless and just bullshitting to take up time — but Mr. Eyelids didn’t know that. He shifted uncertainly. Apparently not having much of a face left was doing wonders for getting rid of my tells.
“You will be,” Mr. Eyelids finally growled. “You will learn to.” It looked like my taunting had struck a little close to home. I made a note of it. If Mr. Eyelids had fallen from his previous position there might be some way I could use that against him, other than just pissing him off by bringing it up. “I’m going to kill you, vamp. And then I’m going to throw you in the deepest, darkest pit of lord Archarel’s castle. I’ll feed you the blood of captured mortals until you revive. And once they’ve died in agony — agony you’ll share from their life force — I’ll rip what life you’ve gained from them out for myself. You will pay for what you’ve cost me, my pet.”
That statement conjured a spike of fear. Not because I was worried about perpetual torture, at the moment, but because I’d reasoned out that the fae couldn’t kidnap someone they hadn’t managed to assert a claim over. And Mr. Eyelids had just made a bid for me.
“I’m not yours,” I hissed.
Mr. Eyelids laughed cruelly. “No? But you lack the strength to contest my claim, my pet.”
I bared my fangs at him, but couldn’t do more to refute his statement. I’d lost all feeling in my body. I could move, but I was so far gone from Megan ripping my energy away and the sun’s flaying rays that I couldn’t tell I was moving unless I actually saw my limbs responding to my thoughts.
I reached clumsily toward Mr. Eyelids, anyway. He scrambled back and struck me twice with the curtain rod — then laughed as he leaned into it, keeping me pinned in place and him out of reach. “You see?” He chortled with relief. “You’re helpless,” he crowed.
“That’s true,” Melvin said from behind him. “But she’s still not yours. Or have you already forgotten that I have prior claim?”
Mr. Eyelids started to twist around in surprise. Before he could do more than glance over his shoulder, however, a sleek sword blade erupted from his gut. The blade twisted and ripped out sideways — then plunged into him again and tore out through the other side. For the second time in as many meetings I saw Mr. Eyelids topple to the ground in two disparate pieces.
The only difference was that this time Melvin had cut him down from behind.
I scrabbled for Mr. Eyelids’ remains, desperate to feed, but they were already dissolving into nothingness. I screamed in outrage and fury and need, and launched myself at Melvin. Unfortunately, without any kinesthetic sense I was too awkward; too clumsy.
Melvin twisted aside and slammed the pommel of his sword into my back. Something in my spine cracked, and then I hit the floor hard enough for more bones to break. I didn’t feel it — I just heard my nose splinter when my face collided with the floor.
I twisted around to try again, but now Melvin was standing where I had been, in the sunlight. I hissed in anger and backed away. This was a temporary problem. Melvin was safe, but that wouldn’t last. I was going to survive. I could hide in the shadows until Hans or Fumiko arrived. Once I’d killed one of them, the sun wouldn’t be enough to protect Melvin. And once he was out of the way, I could hunt down Megan. She was my donor; my first blood. Mine. She just didn’t realize it yet. I’d claim her, and we’d kill Katherine. Together.
It would be a bonding experience.
I was almost glad I couldn’t stomach witches’ blood — tearing Katherine limb from limb was going to be a pleasure.
Delay, I thought, pulling my thoughts back on topic. Same plan. It’s just a different faerie, now. I just have to survive until someone I can kill arrives. “Thank you, Melvin,” I said. Maybe I could get him to lower his guard. It was as good a way to waste the time as anything. “How long were you watching before you decided to step in, this time?”
Melvin was staring at me like I was some kind of bug. The creepy kind you want to flush down the toilet, but you’re too afraid to try and catch in a tissue in case it decides to move. “I’ve been here for hours,” he said absently. “Ever since you called for me this morning. That was quite rude of you, Abigail. I know I gave you an open invitation to call for me, but you shouldn’t summon someone to a house that’s warded against them. It’s terribly impolite.”
I tilted my head. It was the closest I could come to grinning: the movement raised one corner of my mouth. “So sorry,” I purred. “Why don’t you put up your sword, and I’ll see what I can do to make it up to you?”
I watched intently, but Melvin’s blade didn’t waiver. Well, I hadn’t really thought it would. Melvin had never struck me as gullible. The sneaky fucker.
He completely ignored my suggestion. His brow furrowed slightly. “You really aren’t afraid,” he observed. “So then: is this the soulless monster who pretended to be my Abigail last eve?”
I laughed, but it was an act. My thoughts were sluggish and scattered, but I’d realized that Melvin might be able to get Hans or Fumiko to stay outside when they arrived. At the very least, he’d be in the way if I tried to take them by surprise. I had to get rid of him.
“I’m still me,” I said, “and I’ll never be yours. As for my lack of a soul: I’m just a little thirsty.” I tilted my head to raise the other corner of my mouth at him. “I’d ask you to join me for a drink so I could prove myself, but I know you must be going. Otherwise you’ll lose Megan, and then what will become of your promise to protect her from harm?”
Melvin scowled. “I keep my oaths, vampire. I’m keeping it now. You know what she is. Your kind hunt ours. And now that I’ve come close enough to feel what’s left of your aura, I can tell that Katherine’s parting words were right: You aren’t my Abigail. And a monster like you wouldn’t hesitate to kill Megan.”
I dropped the pretenses and snapped my fangs in Melvin’s direction, biting the air in warning. “Be careful, Mr. Tophat,” I snarled. “That sort of thinking could get you killed.”
Melvin shifted his stance slightly. “Or you,” he countered coldly.
I didn’t doubt that he could carry my execution through. He’d been almost as fast as Mr. Salvatore when they’d fought. He was uninjured — and although I was strong and fearless in proportion to my hunger, my body was too far gone and I was too inexperienced to be effective in my attacks or defense.
But I did know that Melvin could be bluffed. I knew he could be distracted with word play. If I couldn’t get rid of him, then my best chance at survival would be to distract him until Hans arrived. What had I been thinking? My thoughts felt as flayed and tattered as my body, but I did my best to pull them together; to resist the sense of diffusion that I recognized from this morning as a precursor to dormancy. Hans will try to save me, I told myself. I willed my curse not to shut me down — not yet. I could easily bite Melvin or Hans while they fought each other, but not if I was an inanimate briquette!
Through sheer determination, I kept my curse in line — pushing the wave of dormancy down. For once I was grateful for my pathetic emotional self: The determination it took for me to keep myself alive was almost negligible compared to the act of will it used to require for me to go to the grocery store.
While I had the energy, I laughed at Melvin. Pointedly at him, engaging his ego to make sure he would feel a need to hear out my argument so he could try to get the last word in it. He bristled angrily, but I didn’t let him speak. “Melvin, you can’t kill me,” I said as though talking to a small child. “It would leave you foresworn.” Melvin took his oaths seriously. He’d faced down Mr. Salvatore because of one. I was betting I could keep him from cutting me down by leveraging it again.
Melvin hesitated. I could see that my claim had caught him by surprise. I smiled mentally. I’d already won in two of our previous conversations. But this time I was speaking with more confidence, and without the backdrop of fear he would usually feel from me. It had to make him doubt himself; make him wonder what I knew that he didn’t, this time.
Finally Melvin braced himself. “I think not, vampire. You are posed to do greater harm to my charge than any other who knows her. Katherine was right: you aren’t Abigail, and you will kill Megan or cause her to be killed if I leave you alive. I am truly sorry.”
Melvin lunged. The sudden motion caught me by surprise: First, because his protestation of sorrow had sounded genuine enough — and been so out of character — that it had caught me off guard. But also because I hadn’t believed he would leave the safety of the sunlight, even though I knew he would have to if he’d decided to get to me. It wasn’t rational that he did. I yelled in surprise and fell back — Melvin’s sword pierced my chest just above my heart, but tore free as I fell. I landed on my back and tried to push myself upright again, but Melvin was too fast.
He followed up his failed attack by slashing his blade down. I let my arms give out and collapsed to the floor rather than let him carve out my heart. Melvin stepped forward as I fell: his blade bearing down on me.
“Stop!” I screamed.
Unbelievably, Melvin did.
It was a good thing I didn’t need to breathe: had my lungs inflated, I would’ve impaled my chest on the tip of Melvin’s sword.
“I am sorry, Abigail, but if I am to protect Megan then I cannot leave you alive,” Melvin said grimly. His face was set and he held himself with conviction. One more step forward, and I would be skewered to the floor.
Melvin’s free hand, I saw, was curled into a fist. It trembled. That was the only indication that there was a chink in his determination.
“You’re so close,” I said — consciously mimicking the words he’d thrown at me the first time we’d met — “and yet completely wrong.”
Melvin stepped forward again, but bent his arm so that his sword didn’t run me through. I had to give him credit: he was either dumb or ballsy, coming closer to me than he absolutely had to. On the other hand: one thrust, now, and I was done for. “How so?” he demanded.
“I’m already dead,” I said. “That’s the problem. When I’m alive, I’m Megan’s best friend. I would never hurt her then. And even if you can permanently kill me, it would break your oath: Or do you really think it wouldn’t cause Megan harm to discover she’d lost her best friend because she’d accidentally ripped my soul away and I had to be executed?”
I watched Melvin’s eyes widen and couldn’t resist taking a dig at him. “And you called me a soulless monster,” I taunted him. “Megan’s smart. Eventually she will realize why I vamped out — and whether she finds out that you disposed of me or not, she’ll still blame herself for the fact that I’m gone. That’s the kind of thing that can mess someone up.” I chuckled messily. My emotional self had certainly gone bat-shit crazy often enough over the prospect of Megan being hurt on my account in the past year.
And despite all that, I still had one more nail I could use to hammer my argument home. I wasn’t a direct danger to Megan. Not with her being my first blood; being connected to me as she was. I kept that in reserve, in case Melvin tried to fox his way out of the corner I was forcing him into.
“So you see,” I continued instead, “it’s not that you can’t leave me alive. It’s that you can’t leave me dead.” I leered at him hungrily. “I am a soulless monster,” I admitted. “But if you want to protect Megan from harm, then you can’t do it by killing me. No, you’ll have to give me enough blood for me to be alive, instead.”