My hands wrapped around the goblin’s neck and I yanked him out of his perch beneath the bridge. He was small enough that he was actually smaller than me. Since I had superhuman strength, holding him aloft by his neck was effortless.
He shrieked in surprise and grabbed my wrists. I held him at arm’s length so his flailing feet couldn’t kick me — it looked like he had clawed toes. His eyes were huge, and I couldn’t help a moment of schadenfreude: he clearly hadn’t seen me when my grip on time had stumbled, and hadn’t had a clue that I was hunting him until I’d appeared in front of him and hauled him up by his neck. I couldn’t help myself from smiling. After decades of being afraid, all the time of everything, I had somehow turned full circle. Now, the creatures in the night were afraid of me.
Unintentionally, smiling flashed my fangs. The little goblin’s eyes got even wider when he saw them, and he screamed again. His thrashing redoubled, but it wasn’t any more effective. The hazy sense around him vanished: either I’d broken his spell of illusion, or he couldn’t concentrate enough to maintain it through his fear. I suspected the latter, because all the corpses I was standing among had collapsed into rivulets of shadow that faded into the night.
I was slightly surprised by that: Melvin’s sword didn’t disappear when he was hurt or distracted. But maybe that was because it was a constant part of his appearance? He had said that glamours were easier if they were a more consistent part of the faerie who was maintaining them. In retrospect, maybe the goblin had deliberately dispelled the illusionary corpses because keeping them around would have left a chink in his magic — if I was right about those people being lifted from his victim’s memories, then they were glamours that very clearly did not belong to the goblin who’d made them.
And hadn’t Melvin said something about stealing someone’s image being a very dangerous proposition for a faerie?
“Stop struggling,” I snapped, “or you’ll make me angry.” It was a calculated bluff: I knew that the goblin could sense emotions, and could probably tell that I was furious enough already. I was hoping that the implication that he could make me madder would give me a little more control over the situation.
I knew how I needed this encounter to end — I needed to end this monster, and I needed to take his life force so I could have it passed on to Emma — but now that I actually had him, I wasn’t entirely certain what to do about it.
Tear his throat out and feast was the obvious answer — but I was too alive for that to be intrinsically appealing. In fact, my brain rebelled against the idea pretty adamantly: it was violent, gruesome, and horrific. Not to mention squicky as hell. I needed to build up my courage first.
The goblin stopped fighting. He trembled in my grip. The sadistic glee I’d been seeing when I paid attention to his leyline? Gone. He was scared shitless — not that I really thought an entity that lived on emotions and life force actually had those biological processes.
And I was not doing a good job of getting up the gumption to do what had to be done, if that was the route my thoughts were going instead of focusing on things that mattered.
“Much better,” I hissed. He was shaking like a can of paint in one of those mixing machines at the home improvement store.
“What do you want?” he squeaked. Maybe he thought he could talk his way out of this — hell, maybe he could. Now that the sliver of his soul I was looking at was pure terror instead of delighted sadism, it was a lot harder to remember that he was fucking evil. And I’d spent enough time terrified of abduction scenarios to know that the best thing you could do to ensure your survival was to get your captor to see you as a person. Starting a conversation was step one on that route.
“That depends on you,” I answered. “A few nights ago, I dared you and an army of your friends to kill a vampire. You failed.”
His mouth opened and closed. I needed to come up with something to call him — no, wait, that would be a mistake: you should never name something you intended to eat. That was how prehistoric people ended up with pets, I was pretty sure, and I did not need a pet goblin. Fuck, I already had Melvin.
“You think I owe you a boon?” the goblin squawked and for a brief second his own outrage overrode his fear and he scowled at me.
I raised one corner of my mouth in a smile. Just enough for him to see a fang. I was winging it, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with piling on the intimidation. “You might want to think twice before you say I don’t,” I told him. “Because either I’m here because you owe me something I can collect, or I’m here because I’m hunting. And right now it’s up to you which way it’s going to be.”
The goblin’s gaze fixated on my fang. I let my smile spread to the other side of my mouth, so he could see both of them. Then, because apparently I’m a sadistic fuck inside, I concentrated on pushing out my fangs a little more. Just so I could see his reaction as they lengthened.
He whimpered. Then he started babbling. “I yield,” he sobbed. “Saints and sinners, I yield. Just don’t destroy me.” He was actually crying: big, fat crocodile tears that almost made me feel bad. Almost, but I could hear the man on the ground behind me twisting around in the dirt — hear his pounding heart beat and ragged breathing, and I knew the goblin would have shown no mercy to him.
“Oh, lords, please,” the goblin whimpered.
“I think I’m going to call you Pipsqueak,” I mused instead of answering. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with this development. On the one hand, Melvin had been taken his boon damn seriously. On the other, there wasn’t anything I actually wanted from Pipsqueak other than his life force — and, maybe, an excuse not to be a murderess. But I had to make sure he never threatened anyone ever again, and those three goals were pretty much mutually exclusive. I could probably do two out of the three, but I didn’t see a way to pull off all of them, and Pipsqueak’s babbling wasn’t really helping me think.
Plus, it was kind of annoying in a surreal sort of way: I’d been just as terrified myself in the past few days and I’d held up better than this.
“Oh, shut up Pips,” I snapped. “It’s not too late to go with calling you ‘BonBon,’ you know.”
He clamped his jaw shut for all of three trembling seconds before blurting: “Please, lady, tell me what you want. It’s yours!” in a desperate rush.
Behind me, I heard the homeless man shifting again. It was too much for my hindbrain, so I pivoted until I could see him past Pipsqueak’s dangling form. The last thing I needed was to get freaked out by the man I had rescued moving around behind me. I looked past Pipsqueak to get an idea of what the homeless man was up to. He had risen to his feet, but was crouched like a feral animal ready to flee. He was watching us with a bizarrely fascinated horror. His eyes were huge, and his mouth slightly ajar.
My resolution hardened. Even worse — for Pipsqueak, anyway — I’d had an idea. It was the sort of thing that my autopilot would have done. In fact, if I hadn’t made such a point of suppressing my autopilot and owning my decisions tonight, I’d probably already be doing it on autopilot. It made me start to wonder if maybe my autopilot actually was me making and following decisions, but doing it in a way that wouldn’t let my anxiety centers watch the process and cripple me. A survival mechanism, if you will: an internal mental short circuit through my subconscious that allowed me to do shit that needed done and not freak out about it until after the fact.
Or maybe I was just telling myself that so I could feel a little better about all of the really fucking scary shit I’d done in the past few days that I’d done without actively thinking about first.
“Please, lady, mercy,” Pipsqueak gasped. “I’ve done nothing against you. I’ve not harmed you or yours. Please, what do you want of me?”
“Bullshit,” I snarled. I’d found my anger again in the eyes of that terrified man, and I rode the wave of relief as it surged up, pushing aside my uncertainties. I had to end this fast. “You haven’t harmed any of mine? You may not have noticed, but this is my city, Pips. My home. You’ve come into my home,” I growled — building my courage — “and terrorized its people. My people. Even if it weren’t for the boon you owe me, you owe all of us recompense. And I’m going to collect in full.”
Pipsqueak whimpered, and I let go of him with one hand. The other was all I really needed to keep him aloft. I twisted my wrist in a way Fumiko had shown me once — I was surprised I remembered it — turning it so that the outer edge, the thinnest part of my arm, lined up with where the tips of Pipsqueak’s fingers met his thumb in his grip around it: Like a wedge facing the weakest part of his grasp. I pulled my wrist free with ease — though I probably had the strength to have just torn out of his hand by brute force if I’d really wanted to.
I made time hiccup just to make sure Pipsqueak wouldn’t get a chance to pull something like grabbing for me again. The hand that still held him and my entire right arm was frozen with everything else while time was stopped, but I could reposition my free hand. When I started time up again my left hand snapped shut around Pipsqueak’s wrist, instead.
I yanked Pipsqueak’s arm out to the side, pulling until it was fully extended from his body. He shrieked and started to flail again. I kept my eyes on his. I had to. This was the part that could break me, and watching his eyes as I said what I was going to do was the only way I could test my resolution.
“I want a lot of things, Pipsqueak,” I told him calmly. Oddly, it was a calmness that I actually felt. I’d chosen my path and there was no turning back now, so there was nothing to freak out about until it was done. “But the only thing I’m going to take from you is a meal.”
Pipsqueak jerked spasmodically in my grasp, but it didn’t do a damn thing to free him: I was too strong. He clawed at the hand around his neck and kicked at me as I pulled him close, bringing his arm up to my mouth. I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn’t have to watch what I was doing. Beef jerky, I told myself. It’s just like biting down on a piece of beef jerky. I sank my fangs into Pipsqueak’s arm as near to his wrist as I could — holding the bulk of his body as far back as I was able. His clawed feet still found my side: they raked through my clothes. The pain was intense, but it actually helped: I instinctively bit down in response.
It was like biting into a piece of leather. Pipsqueak screamed and sobbed and kept kicking, but his blood flowed, too. My side was mending before I even tasted his life, and then his blood hit my tongue and everything else seemed to fade out of significance. Energy flooded into me. An ever expanding awareness of the entirety of Pipsqueak’s soul blossomed in the back of my mind. He sobbed and cried and kicked, and I just clamped down harder.
Gradually, Pipsqueak’s struggles subsided. I barely noticed.
I just continued to gorge.