I ran to the back bumper of the truck while Fumiko scrambled to drag the first thug toward me and Dad grabbed the one who’d been kicking him under the arms. I’d done a pretty solid job of getting the truck into place, but there was still room for me to get a grip on it — unfortunately, the first time I wrenched all I succeeded in doing was ripping the back bumper off. I tossed it aside and shouldered my way into the space left between the undercarriage and the wall by the truck’s wheels. I didn’t know much about cars, but I knew that tow trucks would hook onto the axle, so I wedged my shoulder under that, braced my feet against the wall, and shoved.
The effort made still more of my reserve of essence boil away, but the truck shifted, then toppled over. Without it to provide support, I went sprawling as well. I did bounce back to my feet faster then I ever would have thought myself capable of, though — and it was a good thing, too, because Mr. Spiky Hair Vampire had managed to get his feet under himself as well. I was afraid that he would go running into the hotel — I wasn’t sure if the rooms would count as temporary homes or not, but I wasn’t willing to gamble on it and I knew that there would at least be some staff out in the open. The guy at the front desk, at the very least. Although, since he wasn’t out here investigating the ruckus then I had to imagine that he had blockaded himself in a store room and called the police. Although: this wasn’t exactly the nicest of neighborhoods, so who knew how long it would be before the cops actually showed up?
Fortunately? Yeah, okay: I’ll go with fortunately. Fortunately, Mr. Spiky’s gaze snapped to the bevy of broken people on the outside of the hotel as the closer prey. And all he had to do to have one was get past me.
Unfortunately, being a raging psychopath didn’t make Mr. Spiky stupid. He didn’t make a mad dash to blow past me or anything like that — instead, his eyes locked on me and his lips twisted in an appraising smile.
“How old are you, Ms. Abigail?” Mr. Spiky asked. His voice sent a shiver down my spine — did I sound like that when I was thirsty? Holy crap, his tone just dripped with dangerous innuendo. It brought an immediate image of an innocent young woman — myself, apparently? When did I start featuring in these? — being snatched into an alley and thrust against a brick wall, and then… Okay, so I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me. It was like the ‘oh shit I’m in trouble’ vibe I got when Hans was looking dangerous — only on crack, because I knew beyond any doubt that Mr. Spiky was only interested in the ‘leaving you murdered in the gutter’ portion of of that particular fantasy.
“Well, that’s rude,” I snarked at him to get my mind out of said gutter. “Asking a woman her age? Really?”
Mr. Spiky’s lips stretched in a soulless smile. “I’m so sorry, where are my manners?” The apology was as sincere as his smile. “I’m simply not myself at the moment. Perhaps you will be so kind as to let me beg your forgiveness over a bite to drink? He gestured past me. “My treat, Ms. Abigail.” His seductive tone — not his offer — made my fangs slip out. Fuck, why had I expended so much energy breaking geases and freezing time and flipping over cars and beating the shit out of people? But even so: I was not thirsty yet, dammit!
“I think I’ll pass,” I said. Why didn’t I want to? I really wasn’t in need, not like I had been in the past couple days. But then again, now that I knew what it was like to be full, I couldn’t deny that there was a sort of… ache radiating from that emptiness. “But by all means, you should have a bite or three.”
Mr. Spiky looked at me in surprise — then suspicion. “I am not so inexperienced as to blindly feed while my enemy stands near,” he said. “If you will not dine with me then I shall either see you remove yourself, or find my meal elsewhere.”
My eyes narrowed. Could he escape? I had my doubts about how well he could run with a shattered spine — even though it didn’t seem important for anything else since he was undead, it was a structural support. If he stepped away from the wall he’d probably flop over at the waist again. “I have no intention to do anything to you while you feed except make sure you don’t kill anyone,” I said. “Now, you have three injured people here. They could all use some shared vampire regeneration, and if they all contribute to your recovery I expect you’d come through okay without doing any significant damage to them. At least you’d be stable enough to hold out until you could find more healthy donors instead of killing someone. Right?”
Mr. Spiky let out a bark of laughter. “Do you expect me to fall for that? If you actually cared about whether or not people lived or died, you wouldn’t have half the supernaturals in the city hunting you down right now.”
I scowled. Anger bubbled up around the calm I’d been striving to maintain. Every second I wasted with this guy was another second that could bring yet another group of Lewellan’s goons down on us. For the first time I could remember without being starved, I contemplated the fact that my life would be so much fucking easier if I really were a murderous psychopath all the time. “You know what? Fuck you, Mr. Spiky. If I want to do this the easy way, I can just fucking take your head off and stuff your corpse in my trunk.” That way none of his donors would kill themselves trying to revive him — which was why I wouldn’t just take his head off and leave him. Although, driving around town with a corpse in the trunk while being hunted by supernaturals and possibly the police wasn’t exactly high on my ‘this will make life less complicated’ list. And I didn’t really want to leave those three guys lying around without medical attention. The one I’d shattered the legs of, in particular, was pretty badly fucked up. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to give them an in on my brain by taking their blood and doing the healing for them!
Mr. Spiky, however, totally took my observation the wrong way. Suddenly he shoved himself away from the wall and charged at me, face twisted in a hateful, violent snarl.
Time stopped. This time, Mr. Spiky stopped with it. I guessed he didn’t have enough aura to be using vampire super-fast time. Honestly, I was kind of surprised his spine was still straight — maybe his curse had managed to mend it, and that was what had pushed him over the edge?
No… I probably shouldn’t have pointed out that I could have killed him. Whatever. Macho dumbass.
I frowned. Maybe calling him a dumbass was a bit much. After all, I’d been starving before. I guessed I could cut him some slack on the stupid decisions on account of how he wasn’t entirely sane — but still! I hadn’t picked any fights I couldn’t win when I’d been starving.
…okay, whatever. Moving on.
I was lucky: Melvin had shown me how to deal with a starving vampire that wasn’t listening to reason. On the other hand, I didn’t have a sword and Mr. Spiky wasn’t prone and I couldn’t give him my blood… but I figured I could work out something that was functionally equivalent.
I looked around briefly for anything that might be useful. Finally, I picked up the bumper I’d torn off the truck I’d used as a barricade. It seemed to be fairly heavy — plus it was steel and not fiberglass or some weird composite that would probably shatter if too much stress was put on it. I hefted it a couple times to get used to the weight and my grip, and then I marched toward Mr. Spiky. But then, when I got to the point where I was expecting to run into that weird movement resistance, he suddenly bowled into me.
Time was still frozen — I couldn’t hear anyone other than us moving, no other city noises. But there was no denying that Mr. Spiky was moving, too — and what was more: he was moving in the same accelerated time frame as I was, instead of just creeping along like he had been before.
I yelped in surprise as he knocked me over. He fell over, too — he clearly hadn’t expected me to suddenly appear right on top of him. He reacted to the surprise faster than I did. Probably because he’s in psycho mode, part of me observed — though I found myself wishing it had been reacting defensively, instead, when Mr. Spiky slammed a fist into my side hard enough to splinter my ribs.
I lost my grip on vampire-time, and the world started moving again. Unfortunately, Mr. Spiky never stopped moving. Even though he was lilting sideways at the waist he managed to straddle me — and his next punch hit me in the face. I felt my cheek shatter at about the same time as my skull cracked against the tile floor, sending a dizzying waves of pain through my skull. You know how when two pebbles get thrown into a body of water, they both send out waves and where those waves hit they interfere with each other and fall apart in a sort of ordered chaos? I felt like pain was doing that in my head, with one point being the back of my skull and the other being my abused face.
I tried to fend him off, but at this point I could barely even see through the fuzzy dizziness — like television static encroaching on my vision. I flailed ineffectually as Mr. Spiky landed a third punch. This one shattered my jaw. I felt broken teeth land in the back of my mouth. I might’ve swallowed one if I’d been breathing still.
Then I heard the pop pop pop of gun fire and Mr.Spiky jerked backwards. Pop pop. Pop pop pop. The brief reprieve was all I needed to pull myself together. Literally — I felt my reserve of essence shrink even further as my jaw regrew teeth and the pain in my skull faded to a phantom memory. But Mr. Spiky was off balance, and my auto pilot capitalized on it.
With a yell I shoved Mr. Spiky off of me and scrambled over him. Now he was on the defensive — but he wasn’t healing, and on top of his shattered spine he now had a grouping of eight bullet holes clustered around a couple of inches in the center of his chest. Mr. Spiky’s arms flailed at me — still super strong, but no longer coordinated enough to matter. I caught his wrists and forced them to his side, overpowering him with my own strength. He probably could have just lifted me up and thrown me off of him — but with his spine shattered like it was and the muscles across his chest and shoulders shredded he didn’t have the leverage.
I risked a glance over my shoulder because I couldn’t help myself. Fumiko must have dropped her thug. I couldn’t see him because of the truck blocking my view, but she looked about ready to charge in and help me. Behind her, Dad was calmly loading a fresh magazine into his pistol.
“Fumiko, get one of those guys over here,” I called to her. “Dad: cover the other two. I’ve got this now.” Dad nodded and Fumiko ducked down. When she straightened, she was dragging the guy with the broken arm.
I turned back to Mr. Spiky. He snarled at me and tried to say something, but I didn’t have the patience for manipulative psycho-vampire bullshit. “Oh, shut up,” I snapped. “We can talk when you’re sane.” I forced his wrists crossed in front of him so I could hold them with one hand, then heaved him over so that he was laying on the truck bumper. I pinned one end of it down with my foot, then grabbed the other with my free hand and wrenched it up until it was bent around him. The metal creaked in protest, but didn’t shatter. When I had it flush across Mr. Spiky’s arms I let go of his wrists and bent the other end of it around him, too. Then, to keep the whole thing in place, I twisted the overlapping ends together like a trash bag twisty tie.
More or less. I mean: it was still a fucking truck bumper.
Once I had Mr. Spiky secure — well, secure enough: he could probably work his arms free with some effort, but not before I could pound him into submission — I hauled him to his feet, then marched him out to meet Fumiko half way.
As I did, I felt a familiar twitchiness start to descend on me. Anxiety. For some reason, I hadn’t been feeling it quite so badly while my aura had been bloated. I mean, it had been there but not overwhelmingly so. Now, though, it was coming back with a vengeance, and the first topic it chose to hit me with was the very fact that my reserve of essence was virtually gone now. Worse than that, though, was the aching emptiness where that reserve had once filled me. I’d never noticed it before… but then again, maybe I’d never actually been full before.
My grip tightened on Mr. Spiky. I swallowed while my panic centers ranted about how every second I wasted on him and his goons brought more of Director Lewellan’s cronies closer. I was still tapped into my vampire instincts, though, and their suggestions — kill them all and book it — didn’t help. I tried to find something sane to focus on, only to have another vampire-thought surface. This one didn’t come from the center of no-longer-quite-so-suppressed psychopathic instincts, though. It did do the trick, however, by grabbing my attention in a way that forced my roiling fears and surges of murderous intent out of the spotlight. I licked my lips nervously, and a tiny part of me was grateful that my face was hidden from Fumiko and Dad by Mr. Spiky being in front of me.
The all-consuming thought that managed to keep my panic and murderous impulses at bay? It came from the aching emptiness in my soul.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Spiky was still up for sharing that drink.