Terry covered the door to the guest bedroom with her shotgun. Her arms ached from holding it in position, even though she’d only raised it when Lewellan had burst into the house. The tracking fetish she’d pulled together — a morbid thing consisting of a wire coat hanger twisted into a dowsing rod and wrapped in a strip of flesh from the ghoul Henry — practically burned in her pocket. She didn’t need it to tell her that Lewellan was in the house, though — the gunshots and exclamations, the meaty thunks and ripping of flesh and crack of explosions let her know that clearly enough.
And then they went silent.
“Oh, god,” Jessica moaned. Jessica was at the back of the room, in the far corner from the door, cowering in the corner. Terry didn’t blame her for it. She was the youngest girl, the newest to the sorority, the least experienced with magic and just as inexperienced as Terry and Anna with weapons. Jessica was only here at all because she’d been in town for Emma’s emergency, and she had an impressively deep aura for someone who was so new to the supernatural community.
Anna was at the front corner of the bed. She had a shotgun, too. The ghoul, Daniel, had opined that shotguns were the best options for anyone new to handling a gun — he’d said that as long as they could handle the kick, at the range they’d be in in this small of confines they wouldn’t be able to miss.
Assuming Lewellan couldn’t move super-fast and dodge, anyway.
But that was part of the plan. Thomas had explained about it when they’d been preparing their defenses. A vampire couldn’t keep moving at accelerated rates when they were within the influence of another person’s aura — at least, not unless the other person was a vampire too, or a recently fed ghoul. In that case whichever one wasn’t accelerated would get pulled into it by the other vampire’s aura.
Daniel and Thomas had positioned themselves downstairs, in the hallway, just out of sight through the foyer and kitchen doors. It didn’t matter which way Lewellan went, he’d get caught on one of them and be forced to slow down — or to speed them up. They’d set their ambush there, instead of at the next choke point — the stairs — so that whichever way he went one or the other of them would be able to attack him from behind, too. “Classic crossfire,” Daniel had called it — despite the fact that Terry couldn’t imagine anything ‘classic’ about a ghoul and a vampire fighting another vampire at supernatural speeds and point blank ranges.
Terry suspected Daniel had been acting like it was just another skirmish, nothing he hadn’t been through before, purely to try and instill some confidence in everyone else.
Maybe they beat him, Terry dared to think. She knew it was a panic-hope born of desperation instead of reason: she was exceptionally good at reading auras, for all that her own was weak, and that extended to being able to read her own, too. Besides… one of the last stand measures she and Anna had rigged up were trip line wards along the stairs in order to force Lewellan to slow down while he went up them. The idea was for the Director to be caught on the stairs when the plastic explosives Daniel had lined them with went off.
Terry had heard that explosion, and felt it, too, but the fetish in her pocket had continued to pulse right after — a feeling that she would only have gotten if Lewellan was still moving. By the bed, Anna was trembling slightly, too. Her shotgun had dipped down just a hair.
“Maybe we got him?” Anna asked. Terry could hear the desperation in her voice, too.
Terry couldn’t bring herself to agree, knowing it would be feeding a false hope. There was more help on the way: Thomas had left his cellphone with Jessica so that she could coordinate while he stood guard with Daniel. According to the texts there were two more vampires on their way, and one of them had a ghoul and warlocks and soldiers with him… We just have to hold out. It’s a delaying action. If we can make him think twice about coming in here, maybe help will arrive in time.
Terry couldn’t say that, though. Since Lewellan was still moving, he could still hear. And if they let him know they were just trying to hold out until help arrived, well, then of course he wouldn’t let them stall. “If we didn’t,” Terry said — and she was impressed that she kept her voice from shaking, even with the fact that she was using Linda’s mental techniques to keep her own fear and desperation partitioned and isolated from her thoughts. “If we didn’t, then we will as soon as he tries to break these wards.” She threw the words out with a dual purpose. Firstly, to reassure Anna. But more importantly: to make Lewellan think twice about stepping into the guest room.
Because every second he hesitated was a second that help got closer.
Anna turned her head slightly to say something back to Terry. She shrieked instead when the guestroom doorway tore outward, splintering the door frame as it was ripped into the hallway and revealed the Director on the other side. Anna jerked her gun back up, but didn’t fire. Terry tensed up, but her finger still hovered just off the trigger. They had done everything they could to reinforce the wards around the room, and they’d had a lot of power to work with. Unfortunately, making them strong from the outside going in had made them delicate from the inside going out, and human auras were always leaking into the world around them. If Terry or Anna fired, their bullets would carry with them some of the girls’ fears or killing intent or… In any case, if their auras tore across the wards like that, it was likely that they would collapse.
Terry took a deep breath. Calmness, she told herself. “Steady,” she told Anna. “He can’t get through those wards.” That was bullshit, of course. They knew he could. But it would hurt him. Probably hurt him enough that he wasn’t able to keep moving at superhuman speed. Possibly hurt him enough for them to start shooting him — hopefully hurt him enough so that he would get caught by the two claymore mines Daniel had rigged up to cover the door. According to Daniel, claymores were supposed to be remote detonated by command. Given how fast a vampire could move, he’d torn up some of the carpet in front of the door and set up some kind of pressure plate system before laying the carpet back down.
The idea was a lot like the stairs. Lewellan would step through the wards. They would stun him for a second or two, pulling him out of super-speed. At the same time, the blasting caps on the mines would trigger. And then, if it came to that, Terry and Anna would just have to keep shooting him until he stopped regenerating or they ran out of bullets. Extra shotguns were lined up beside both of them so they wouldn’t even have to reload.
Assuming, of course, that the wards did their job and stopped the Director long enough for them to even have a chance of fighting back. If they didn’t…
…well, if they didn’t then Terry knew she was probably going to die. She stood in plain view of the door. She was a lure. She knew it, and she’d put herself there on purpose. If Benjamin and Daniel had done enough damage, maybe the Director would be starving enough to be after blood instead of outright murder. If that was the case, it was best for him to see Terry first: her aura was the weakest, so she would do the least for him if he got his fangs into her. And Terry had already had that awkward conversation with Anna. The conversation about what to do if she was bitten. If Lewellan got his fangs into her he would have to slow down into normal speeds while he drank. And if Anna listened to what Terry had told her, she’d blow the fucker away.
Even if that meant Terry would get ripped apart in the process.
After all, anyone Lewellan got his hands on was probably dead — and if the Director did decide to spare them instead… Well, after hearing Thomas explain how vampire bites worked, Terry had decided she wasn’t going to wind up the thrall of a psychotic, murderous vampire. At least as long as Anna listened and pulled the trigger, Terry wouldn’t have to worry about that.
All of that flashed through Terry’s head in an instant. In that same instant, she took in the damage that had been done to Lewellan.
Oh, his clothes were torn apart: his suit had been ripped and shredded by everything he’d made his way through. But his skin was unbroken under those rents. He stood straight, and didn’t appear to be in pain. He carried himself with a casual ease — and he carried a blood stained sword. Because he knew he was going to kill Thomas, even if he didn’t know about Daniel, Terry realized. Vampires can move fast enough to dodge bullets, but when they get close enough to use swords they’re guaranteed to be on even footing. Terry felt the tremble of fear threatening her arms again and struggled to keep it in check. She wasn’t certain, but she thought Lewellan smirked under his beard while he looked over their wards.
Then Lewellan tore a damaged sleeve from his shirt and used it to wipe the blood from his blade. It was a short sword: only about the length of a forearm, and thick for chopping or slashing. He cleaned it methodically and tossed aside the scrap of cloth. Then he set the blade down, letting its point dig into the hallway carpet while the hilt leaned against the far wall, by the door to Mr. Salvatore’s room.
After that, Lewellan returned his attention to the room’s occupants. “I can hear your heartbeats,” he said. “I know there are three of you, and I know you are scared. You don’t have to be. Whichever of you breaks those wards for me will live,” he said. His tone was soothing, which just made his words more frightening. “Having an enthralled ‘survivor’ of Abigail’s attack could be beneficial to me. However, if none of you care to live, then I will break the wards myself. After that I will kill two of you and feed on the third to recoup what little your persistence costs me, and then kill her as well.”
Jessica whimpered in distress. Terry braced herself. I’m going to die, she thought. Oh fuck, I’m going to die. She curled her finger so that it actually covered the trigger of her gun. How would the mundane world spin this? Were her parents going to wake up tomorrow and find out that their daughter had been killed in some crack house when a gang tried to chase off a rival for business, killing everyone at the site?
“No one?” Lewellan asked. He cocked his head to the side and regarded Terry. “A pity. It gives me no pleasure to cut lives prematurely short. However, this…”
And then he froze. An expression flashed across his face. It was gone in an instant, but Terry could see the after-effect of it in his aura.
It was replaced almost immediately with a surge of anger, which vanished before it even reached the Director’s face.
Terry trembled. What’s happening? Have the others arrived?
Lewellan looked away from the guestroom door, and then back. “Wait here,” he snapped. “I may choose to feed on more than one of you, shortly.”
And then he was gone.
Terry sagged to her knees. The muzzle of her gun tapped the guestroom floor, and the shakes she had been trying to hold back worked their way out. It isn’t over, she tried to tell herself, but she couldn’t make her body listen. The dowsing rod in her pocket was a burning presence that pulsed and faded.
For some reason, the Director had left. There was no sign of him in the hallway. He’d even reclaimed his sword in the eye blink it took for him to disappear.
“What… what just happened?” Anna asked.
Terry swallowed the lump in her throat. She blinked a couple of times. Was she crying? “He’s gone,” she said. “But he could come back,” she added for herself. She wiped her eyes and forced herself back to her feet. Relief was a trap. She put down her gun and judged the distance to the hall and the height of the door frame.
“Terry?” Anna asked. “Terry, what are you doing?”
“This is just a reprieve,” Terry said. “Reset the wards once I’m through. I’m going to check on Daniel and Thomas.” Someone has to. Best it’s me. If the Director doubles back and is thirsty, I’ll be the least use to him. Terry had been in track in high school. It wouldn’t even be a hard jump for her to clear the bit of carpet Daniel had rigged with the triggers for the claymores.
“Terry!” Anna protested, but Terry was already dashing forward. She jumped early, afraid she’d forgotten where the booby trap’s trigger covered, and landed awkwardly in the hall, slipping and burning her knees on the carpet. Then she picked herself up. According to her dowsing rod, Lewellan had stopped moving away. But he hadn’t turned back to the house.
Terry twisted around. “Get those wards back up,” she said. I’m an idiot, she thought. But just like before: she couldn’t hide if there was something she could do. Especially if there was something she could do to help. She dashed down the end of the hall, toward the stairs.
The stairs were a ruined mess. There wasn’t a lot of char or wreckage from fire: the explosions had been high speed, rather than fireballs. They’d reduced the steps to jagged kindling, opening up into a storage space that was probably accessible through the kitchen. A pantry? It was a mess of shattered glass, anyway. Part of the wall had been blasted out, too, letting a sliver of light from a street lamp leak into the house. I think I can make it down, Terry told herself. She’d have to drop into the pantry. The thought of getting cut up on all that glass made her stomach curl with frightened squick, but I’ll just have to risk it. Why the hell did I wear a skirt today?
Although, to be fair: it wasn’t exactly like she’d known she was going to be facing down vampires and long-jumping minefields and climbing through rubble when she’d gotten up this morning. Hell, Terry’s big plans for the day had been a rom-com marathon with Anna in the sorority’s lounge, followed by spending a ridiculous amount of time on the phone with her boyfriend.
Before she could get unnerved, Terry started climbing. She eased herself down until her feet found purchase; glass crunched and some thing squished under her sneakers. The shelf she was on cracked when she put more of her weight on it, and the only reason she didn’t plunge a leg through god knew what was that she hadn’t fully let go of the top of the ruined stairwell.
Heart pounding harder, Terry readjusted her footing and tried to ease her weight down again. This time it held. She lowered herself to a crouch, then turned around and tried to lower herself further. When her feet were on genuinely solid ground she let out a relieved breath. She’d picked up a few scratches, but nothing dire. Her hands felt gross, and she’d picked up some stains from… chili, maybe? She could smell vinegar and a mixture of other scents that were, frankly, revolting in combination. For all I know, they just canned their own tomato sauce and had it sitting next to homemade pickles when the bombs went off, or something.
Terry turned around and started toward the hallway door. Daniel had positioned himself outside the foyer, so Thomas would have been at this one. “Thomas?” she asked nervously. This is a bad idea, she thought. Her nerves started to spill over beyond her ability to keep locked down. If he is ‘alive’ down there, what are you going to do? He’s going to want to eat you. Jesus, Terry, are you suicidal?!
Terry wasn’t, of course. She just couldn’t make herself hide. What if just a little blood can get Thomas on his feet? she countered. Would that be so bad? Or what if he’s dead-dead? Lewellan wouldn’t want to let him survive. I could… I don’t know. Hide his body. Maybe someone else could bring him back and find out what Lewellan did here. She was grasping at straws, she knew, but fuck it: I knew what I was getting into when Mrs. Fleischer explained what it meant to be a witch in this day and age.
“Thomas?” Terry called out hesitantly. Something moved in the hallway, but no one answered. “Mr. Cullison?”
Still no answer. Terry swallowed. Oh god, I hope it isn’t Daniel who’s still ‘alive.’ A ghoul wouldn’t need a little blood to get on his feet. He’d try to kill her. I should’ve kept the shotgun.
Terry stepped into the hallway and froze. She snapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a shriek — and to hold back the urge to throw up.
Thomas was dead. Definitely dead. He was missing an arm at the elbow and there was a wedge-shaped gash in his head that traveled the entire length of his skull, splitting it open for the depth of his left temple inward to the bridge of his nose. There were other cuts in his clothes that didn’t have wounds under them — places that he must have healed before he’d been dropped. There was a gun laying beside his remaining hand — his other one was on the other side of the hallway, with a long, mean-looking knife still locked in its grip.
Even worse, though? Thomas was definitely dead, but Daniel wasn’t.
The ghoul was on the ground, too, nearer to Thomas’ feet and the foyer door. Daniel’s legs were shattered, but the rest of him was remarkably intact despite massive tears in his clothing. His face was covered in blood and he had torn open the leg of Thomas’ slacks in order to rip free chunks of flesh, exposing the bone that composed Thomas’ shin. While Terry watched, Daniel’s leg crackled with the sound of bones realigning and mending. She shrank back, and the movement caught Daniel’s attention.
He looked up at her. His teeth were a double row of raggedly sharp teeth and viciously long canines. Even worse still: from his eyes Terry had no clue if he was sane or not.
Daniel pushed himself up from Thomas’ leg and rose fully to his feet. His eyes narrowed. “Lewellan?” He asked. His voice was like granite determination — or, no: Like a whetstone, Terry thought. She shivered. Daniel sounded like anything he said or did would only be part of sharpening his intent.
“He left,” Terry answered.
Daniel nodded. He bent down to pick up Thomas’ severed arm. He freed the knife from its grasp and then seemed to consider the arm itself. He propped it over his shoulder instead of throwing it away.
“Where?” Daniel asked.
Terry reached down. She slid her hand into her skirt pocket and felt a jolt as her fingertips brushed the tracking fetish. She pointed. “That way,” she said. “He’s stopped. Not far.”
Daniel nodded. He tossed Thomas’ arm at Terry; she shrieked and jumped back a step, letting it land on the ground in front of her.
“Take it,” Daniel said. He turned and picked up a bayonet-fixed assault rifle from the hallway floor. He tucked the knife into his belt as he did. “If I come after you, you’ll want to have that to throw in front of me.”
Terry’s stomach flipped. She knelt down and gingerly picked up the arm anyway. It was cold to her touch. It almost felt like it had the consistency of rubber. Like it wasn’t really someone’s limb at all.
Daniel then picked up Thomas’ gun. It was smaller than his, more compact. Some kind of machine gun? He crossed the hallway and handed it to Terry. “Safety’s off. Now lead,” Daniel instructed her.
Terry forced down her gorge. She nodded and hastened through the kitchen, toward the front door. Daniel followed after her. She didn’t want to go out there, to chase down Director Lewellan — but after seeing Thomas? She didn’t have a choice, even if she’d thought Daniel would have allowed her one.
Help was supposed to be coming. Help that consisted of at least two more vampires. But Lewellan had left abruptly, inexplicably — perhaps to intercept them? All Terry really knew was that he’d left…
…and he’d taken his sword — the blade he used to execute other vampires — with him.