For an instant, I felt like I was frozen, too — like time wasn’t moving for anyone or anything. Not the bullet, not myself. As though I were trapped in that moment when my life was supposed to flash before my eyes, except the only thing I could actually see was how I was actually going to die.
Assuming it killed me, of course. After all, I had survived being roasted alive by the sun — I’d kept moving even when my body had been so badly damaged I couldn’t feel anything. What if being shot in the head only did enough damage for me to expend the last of my reserves healing the injury?
Well, with Fumiko so near to me, she would be the first to die to sate my bloodlust. Followed, I had little doubt, by the gunman for making me kill one of my only friends in this world.
And then Mr. Spiky stood up. “What on Earth…” he started to say.
“Don’t move!” I squeaked. I couldn’t move even to look at him — not with Fumiko’s proximity keeping me frozen in place. My eyes widened. But when I’d gotten close to Mr. Spiky while we’d been fighting, he’d been dragged into my time stream — and apparently he was close enough that he’d been pulled into it again. As long as he didn’t move out of my range, he’d be able to…
I didn’t know what, exactly.
“Abby?” Mr. Spiky asked. “What’s going on?”
“Someone’s sniping me,” I answered. “From across the street. I stopped time, and you got pulled into my time stream because you’re a vampire too and, I don’t know: magic. But if you move too far away you’ll drop back down to your own super-speed instead of mine.”
“Oh,” Mr. Spiky said — as though what I’d told him made perfect sense. Hell, for all I knew it did. Maybe that was a commonly known phenomenon among vampires.
Mr. Spiky stepped awkwardly in front of me. Being wrapped up in a truck bumper seemed to throw off his balance a little. He looked at me, and then at the bullet over his shoulder. Then back at me.
“Well, it appears that my answer has just become a lot more pertinent,” he muttered. “I take it you’re stuck — she isn’t one of your donors and your aura is snagged on hers?”
“Uh…” I said. “Yes?” What answer? What had I asked him before being shot at stole all of my attention?
…oh, yeah: What are you going to do now, Mr. Spiky?
Mr. Spiky sighed. Then he straightened and turned around. Annoyingly, that blocked my view of the bullet. If I was going to die again, then I wanted to see it coming. I’d seen all the other deaths coming, even if they’d caught me by surprise, too.
“Well?” Mr. Spiky said impatiently. “I’m ready.”
My eyes widened — it was about as much as I could move — as it sank into me what he was doing. I tried to form a protest; I tried to ask him why… but I couldn’t do either. I wanted to live. And I knew why he was standing between myself and a bullet, because we had shared blood.
“I… thank you, Mr. Spiky,” I said.
He shrugged and said: “Benjamin. Of the Dolcet family. And please, just make sure you’re back before I get free of these bindings and kill your friends or mine.”
I swallowed back my nerves and nodded. Then I let go of my grip on time.
The crack of the rifle shot seemed to hit my ears at the same time as the bullet hit Benjamin. But that was just because I’d let go of my hold of time and couldn’t process everything that was happening fast enough.
Benjamin jerked and fell back. Standing in front of me had let him use the truck bumper as an improvised bit of armor, and the bullet didn’t tear all the way through him after impact. I tore myself free from Fumiko’s arms, surging to my feet even as Benjamin was blown off of his.
In the distance I heard the whisper-snk of the rifle’s bolt action being cycled again, and the clatter of the spent casing as it struck the flat roof of the convenience store.
Benjamin hit the ground. My connection to his emotions was severed as his curse canabilized his reserves of life force to mend the damage of a sniper round punching into his sternum and tumbling around in his insides. And then I was free of Fumiko, and I froze time again.
I stepped over and past Benjamin, leaving him behind — outside of the area of effect where he would be dragged into my time stream. He froze in the midst of struggling to free himself of the truck bumper. Even with my ability to freeze time I would have to act fast, it seemed: In order to do anything I would have to unpause time, after all, and once Benjamin was free he would feed and kill just as I had thought I would, had the bullet taken my unlife instead.
The only difference was that I knew I could put him down if I had to — and he knew he couldn’t do the same to me.
I charged out of the alley and across the street. Without even thinking about it I leapt and cleared the edge of the convenience store’s roof. I didn’t land cleanly — I was so shocked that I’d actually leapt from the ground to the roof that I wasn’t quite prepared for the landing part.
The rooftop was covered in gravel and stank of tar. I hit it, slipped, and skid. I was also immediately nauseous and violently ripped out of my personal time stream.
Someone shouted, far too close to me. “No good, target is gone!”
I snapped my head toward the voice and saw what had disrupted my super speed: scattered across the roof were small metal disks that made my night vision swim when my eyes passed over them. Even with purely mundane sight I could tell that each had a circle of strange runes inlaid on their surface, however. They dully reflected the city’s ambient light.
Wards? More like landmines: and if they made my night vision fail, they probably explained why I couldn’t maintain my personal time stream, either. I had to have passed over at least three when I went sailing over the roof’s edge, and my landing skid had knocked aside two more.
I didn’t have time to think about that, though, because now I was on the roof with two guys who were moving at least as fast as I did. Shit, did I even have super human strength while in the effect of these wardmines? I hoped to god I did as my gaze finished sliding across the roof and settled on the man who’d shouted.
He had a swarthy complexion and buzzed, bleach blond hair. He was young, wire-thin and crouched on one knee, watching the alley through a blocky set of binoculars that he held in one hand. The other propped a wicked looking shotgun across his lap. I was almost certain it could be fired multiple times, like the one Hans had used to put down Mr. Salvatore.
Next to the spotter — past him, from where I’d landed — the shooter was prone with his rifle propped on the short lip around the roof. He had short-cropped dark hair and fair skin, and looked young — young but hard, with bulky muscles on his short frame.
They were both wearing long-sleeved, dark grey shirts with some kind of padded vests strapped over them. Probably bullet proof? There were spare clips and at least one grenade each tucked into webbing over the vests, but those still looked bulky enough under that to be armored. Each wore combat boots and cargo pants with who knew what in the pockets. They each had a pistol — the spotter had two — and a knife sheathed either at the small of their back or on the side of a boot. Laying in easy reach next to the sniper was another one of those shotguns.
Just what I needed: Militant warlocks.
I ran at them as fast as I could because they were already turning toward me, too, and their guns had range that I desperately lacked. The one with the binoculars dropped them and rose to his feet, snapping his shotgun into firing position and shouting: “Nine o’clock!” as he did.
My stomach lurched each time I crossed a warded tile, but I didn’t have the time to weave between them — they were too close together for that, anyway. I remembered how Hans had blasted Mr. Salvatore backwards out of the air, so I didn’t leap. I tried to keep my center of gravity low, hoping that if I did get shot I’d be able to stagger through, grab one of them and get my fangs into him.
The spotter fired before he even finished raising the shotgun. The boom echoed off the rooftop and left my hyperactive hearing ringing in agony. The slug blew a chunk of the roof apart just to the left of where I was running, which let the part of me that shrieks fearfully in the back of my head briefly overwhelm the emptiness in my aura. I lunged forward anyway, but the spotter rode the recoil of his missed shot and adjusted his aim, continuing to fire as he did. Boom boom boom.
The second shot hit my left hip, shattering it. The thin, broken reserve of life force holding back my vampire instincts shattered as well when the curse tried to pull in more than the power remaining to me for healing the damage. I stumbled, but made it another step on a partially mended hip, only for the third shot to blow a hole clear through my gut. That barely fazed me. I had a plan, and I just needed to clear another step or two. Grab one, rip his throat out with your teeth. Use the surge in energy to catch the other and properly feed while the first is too busy dying to interfere.
Then the fourth shot ripped through my chest, shattering the left side of my ribs as it ripped through me — and at the same time, the sniper finished rolling to a crouch and raising his shotgun. The fifth and sixth shots — one from each of them — took me at the same time, or near enough to make no difference. One made my right leg splinter and twist. It gave out beneath me even as the force splintered the bone apart and obliterated my knee.
I fell like a bullet-ridden marionette.
But not like one whose strings had been cut. With a mental snarl I shoved off the lure of dormancy: I had been burned alive, to the point that my body was a withered husk of bone and charred flesh, but I’d still been able to move, to fight, to kill. I was not going to let fucking food be the end of me.
The spotter put two more slugs through me, center of mass, blasting out more of the roof beneath me as I tried to rise. I stopped trying to rise. I didn’t move at all.
“Holy fuck!” The spotter exclaimed. He sounded like a kid. I bet Daniel would call him one. An excited kid: one who’d just gotten off a roller coaster. He turned toward his partner. “Did you fucking see that? Holy shit! I haven’t even seen Mr. Fiore just barrel through…”
I didn’t wait for him to finish. While he was distracted and his back was turned, I surged up and forward, tackling his legs. My plan had changed, informed purely by the relentless need to sate my thirst and heal my mangled body. I tackled the young man clumsily, but I managed to yank his legs out from under him regardless. I caught the top of his boot and hauled myself up while he screamed — then bit down hard through the leg of his cargo pants, right over his calf muscle.
But that didn’t mean biting into his flesh.
Instead, my teeth shredded cloth and then skittered and caught over a tightly woven metal mesh: like some sort of synthetic, light weight chain mail. I screamed in frustration while the fallen man screamed in fright — then I tried to bite him again. He responded by wrenching back his other foot and then lashing out: smashing the sole of his combat boot into my face. For the second time tonight I lost teeth. My nose and cheek splintered too, and he kicked twice more while wrenching free of my grasp.
“Jesus! Fucking! Christ!” The spotter yelled, punctuating each exclamation with another kick to my head. I tried to rise up and pull myself over him so I could get to his exposed neck or face or hands, but the repeated face stomps kept me at bay.
Then his partner — who had yet to say a damn thing — stepped past him. The sniper smacked me with the barrel of his shotgun, knocking me off of the spotter. Then, before my broken, ruined body could respond, the man who’d tried to snipe me in the alley slammed the barrel of his gun against the side of my head. Not like a club, but like a spear: a straight jab that left the muzzle grinding into my temple and my cheek being ground into the roof.
And then he pulled the trigger.